I gave a lecture at the Maiwa Textile Symposium a month back. It was to be on how I came to be a silk farmer in this mountain village in Japan. I've lived through it and haven't found it that entertaining and wonder why any one else would want to hear about it. Weeding mulberry fields under the scorching sun, cleaning up silkworm waste and dealing with neighbours who still have one foot in hunter gatherer and the other in survival farming for twenty years lost it's novelty about 19 years back. I had written the lecture out and practiced it while driving back and forth the studio in Atsugi for a month. Being here in Japan and having never really given a lecture where people had actually paid to hear me speak made the whole thing hard to visualize. Sort of like facing a firing squad. The countdown was agonizing and I comforted myself that it would be over before I knew it.
When I got to Vancouver and looked at the venue and watched John Gillows give his lecture there a week before mine was due, I panicked and started re-organizing it. This is always a bad move. The speech and your head get terribly mixed up.
I don't panic but I go blank. I had bought a new iPad and organized silk farming and indigo pictures into neat little albums. The photos would pull me through if I had a mental hardware crash. I would simply say things like, 'this is a mature silkworm before making a cocoon', and thumb through photos and finish up answering a few questions and quickly head for a cold beer.
Thirty minutes to stage time and I went blank. I probably couldn't remember my name if asked.
I went to the woody west coast handicapped washroom and tried to get the new order of the lecture straight and to wash my face in cold water to get some kind of expression on it. I peeked out to see if I recognized any faces in the crowd. I saw the woman whom I had ordered a silver earring from a few days before and she motioned me over and told me she had finished it. I was on in two minutes but invited her into the woody washroom to put it in my ear and close it with pliers. This was going well and we were having a good laugh as someone pounded on the door and told me that the projector wasn't working and I would have no pictures. I slid open the door to see five pairs of the lecture staff's eyes meet.....ours. And five pair of eyes roll up in unison.
I shivered in dread and mumbled that I would explain later. I heard a snicker...
Nightmare number two...the projector really wasn't working. No pictures. Every third sentence introduced a photograph. So one third of my speech lead no where. I thought I might point to the blank screen and say things like, "This is supposed to be a picture of silkworm pupae minutes before the moth emerges". I was no longer worrying about going on stage with blank expression. Desperation and embarrassment are easy enough to read.
During the question and answer part at the end of the lecture some one remarked that I had started to talk about the influence of Buddhism on Japanese textiles and had suddenly stopped mid-sentence. I jokingly replied that I had noticed five people in the front row yawn when I had said that and decided to change trajectory. This was partially true. I realized mid-sentence that the album with the pictures wasn't going to open and therefore I wasn't going to let the pictures do the talking.
I went on with the lecture. Sympathy filled the air and I bumbled through with bad jokes. Pity laughter echoed. The tech man fumbled beside me and part way through the lecture unrelated photos from my iPad came up on the screen behind me.
On the iPad screen before me there was a recent selfie with my shirt off showing off a new tattoo on my less than muscular chest and a ridiculous look on my face. There is a god, and whatever it is was merciful and the selfie did not go up on the big screen. I had altogether panicked in front of the audience though. There was plenty of laughter and someone actually shouted to show the tattoo. (Once again God was merciful and I didn't show it.) This was supposed to be a respectable textile symposium. I muddled through the lecture and realized at the end I had told a few too many bawdy stories....at the textile symposium. (The Japanese guy who had tried to dye his equipment indigo blue from behind and fell into the vat bottom first and couldn't get out.)
I gave three workshops at the symposium as well. The first was on Japanese indigo. Against my better judgement I had agreed to make a Japanese fermentation indigo vat using sukumo (composted Japanese indigo). There are too many small things to worry about and too much can go wrong so far from home. I arrived in Vancouver a week early to get these going. They really didn't look as if they were going to bloom in time so Charlotte and Anne helped me get a fruit indigo vat, a madder indigo vat, going just in case. The God of Fermentation graced the vats at the last minute and all went well.
The Japanese Indigo two-day workshop was great. But not how I had expected it to go. There were sixteen participants. One woman had been growing indigo for twenty two years, (two years longer than me) and several other participants had never even seen an indigo vat. How do you teach a group with such a diverse background?
I played group aikido and let them teach each other. There was a huge volume of information and personal stories of indigo successes and failures and insights exchanged and I was more a mediator with a lot of experience than the teacher. Indigo is very very fickle. There are several ways of preparing a vat and they differ and are similar to varying degrees. It was an exhausting two days but I believe everyone left somehow richer in indigo knowledge. I was satisfied.