Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The joy of creation

Yesterday, I talked about my first real hurdle in learning the banjo: I have very small hands, which makes some of the fingerings a real stretch. I'm getting around that by changing as I go, but it means my left hand must not only know what my right hand is doing, but keep up with it, doing something else at the same speed. For right now, that means I go slowly. My metronome stays for now set at 40 beats per minute.

What I didn't talk about is what keeps me coming back. And not just to the banjo: I often sew my own clothing, weave, braid, crochet, and knit. I am skilled at the "clean out the fridge" dinner, and have been known to produce pretty good meals out of leftovers, occasionally even cooking from random ingredients someone else has bought. (I have friends who used to do this just to get me to cook such a meal. Oddly enough, I still enjoy doing so every now and again.) With only one exception, all the art in my home is by either me or else artists I know. I like to listen to music made by friends. (And folks, seriously, go check over at Quiet Paths. There's a recording of "Soldier's Joy" on banjo and viola. It was supposed to be a sound check, but is just fabulous.)

I think that all too often, our culture puts us in the position of "recipient" - we eat the food someone else grows, wear the clothing that other people make, listen to other people's music, watch other people's stories. It is a powerful statement today to do things for ourselves, to tell our own stories, dance our own dances, grow and cook our own foods (did you know you could buy pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?), to make for ourselves.

Yes, we are all interdependent. While I can take freshly sheared wool and take it through every step to make a shawl, I know nothing of raising sheep or of shearing them. But I do know the quiet delight of seeing the work of my hands taking shape. How many are denied the pleasure of seeing the competence of the hands they were born with? And the joy of giving gifts that are handmade? For my husband's grandmother's birthday, I have some lovely fiber that I will be braiding into a necklace, with tassels at the end and polished shell beads interwoven. Her card will be ornamented with origami and handpainted detail. (And will use fewer resources than a traditional card, since the materials I use are environmentally sound - I take materials that would otherwise be headed for a landfill and reuse them.)

I take pride in the job I do when making things, and wish that others could be so encouraged - whether to raise a bit of a garden, or to make their own cards, or to sing their own songs. Although, apparantly, with some folks, we'll have to begin with spreading their own peanut butter.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so fortunate to have your gift with clothing & materials. I am hopeless, really. Oh, I had the usual 4-H sewing projects at age 14, which often ended in tears. My poor mother... I can sew many things now but I stick to the machine and don't worry about puzzling out patterns. Life is better for me if there are not needles involved. All you wrote here is quite bang on.
On a banjo note: your hands will loosen up and the tendons become more flexible. Don't push... take it from me. Thanks always and again for lifting our music up... *hugs* c.

5/01/2007 6:11 PM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

College was a bit of a shock for me. At home, my mother and I had often worked together to make clothing for the family - especially nice church clothing. (though I do confess that I felt very grown up when she purchased a lace collar and cameo for me to wear to the Shakespeare festival up in Ontario...) While I recognized that my more fashionable classmates wouldn't be caught dead in homemade clothes, I was not prepared for the horror of my first roommate when she discovered that (oh the humanity!) not only were my clothes homemade, but so were my blankets - a quilt and a crocheted spread for particularly cold nights. ("What, you need an extra blanket? Why don't you just turn the heat up?")

It turned out that I never used the crocheted spread because the dorms were kept very warm throughout the winter, until I desperately wanted to leave the window open, for some fresh air.

It was definitely an opportunity for cultural exchange that went far beyond her getting me hooked on Korean noodles and chajang (a salty black bean paste, usually served with veggies) and me getting her hooked on butter noodles and apple cider. (Late night study sessions require carbs. I am convinced of it.)

And for right now, the banjo instructor worked with me to figure out a fretting pattern that would work with my hands. It means remembering to finger the same note two different ways, but my hand just flows through it. And this week, I'm practicing the whole song through, to see if I can't get it to sound like a song rather than 4 different bits, smoothing out the timing. So when Dad gets back, I should be able to play "Skip to My Lou" smoothly, even if I can't play anything else.

5/02/2007 6:26 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

We call that "Eat What You Can Kill" night.

I hear you on the fingering thing: I've got stubby, crooked fingers and now my left hand/wrist are starting to feel the effects of 25 years of playing music. I never could play bar chords on the guitar and I use a capo all the time to avoid playing A and D chords, which are compact and make my hand tire out very quickly. The capo lets me play G and C chords instead, which are "stretched out", so I can play for hours.

My college roommate was not "crafty" herself but had a beautiful album quilt made by her mother's friends for her when she [the roommate] was a baby, so she didn't think my crazy quilts were weird.

5/03/2007 11:16 AM  

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