the miles

learning milkweed

i call it putting in 
the miles.
or hours
or reading 
(you know, the research) 
what i mean is 
doing the work.
i like teaching and i like watching 
students of all ages
"getting it"


and then it disappears.
and then it returns, more and more, till you know it.
a little.
i've had students a few times 
j u s t    n o t    g e t    i t.
usually those students have this:
s o m e t h i n g    i n    t h e    w a y.
and i've had students 
w o r k    t h r o u g h    i t.

case in point: 
long ago i had the great opportunity to teach beginning handspinning at
 pine mountain settlement school in kentucky. 
i was barely an intermediate spinner, despite having spun several pounds of fleece using spindles and wheels. i was told by a friend that i could teach beginners. 
i believed her, so tried it. 
well, it was amazing and all of them got it and i was so proud. 
except for one woman. 
her hands couldn't relax and allow the wheel to work. 
she fought the wool. 
backing up a bit: i learned to spin on my ashford traditional that i put together right out of the box...i spun in my ridiculously ugly apartment complete with green shag carpeting. 
and i pushed that three legged beast through the thick shag, that's how hard i treadled. 
but eventually i stopped chasing it across the floor and my hands began to learn the wheel, the wool, harmonize their particular tune. back to pine mountain: she failed, tried a few times, then refused to try, and left the class. i was mortified: i'd failed her. i knew i was young to be teaching and therefore couldn't figure it out. 
again, the same thing happened. 

teaching shifu to a beginner group. this time i was older, a longtime teacher. 
she sat close to me, 
eventually disclosing some difficult personal issues, 
and could only work for a few hours each day. 
her issues, that baggage, clogged up the capacity to learn. 
those paths were being used by other demanding things. 
she tried, but she couldn't, her hands hard and stifled.
i wrote about how making shifu has helped some of my students 
with healing, processing their own personal stuff 
in Hand Papermaking (summer 2016).
 it's not always a big processing that's going on. 
sometimes it's just daily detritus in the way.
(the "you need to walk" or "do the dishes", or "ride your horse") 
which is why you put in the miles.
waiting for the bigger ideas that come along when they please.
meanwhile you

practice. practice. practice.

i talked about this with a friend sunday, at my table, drinking tea, 
sharing ideas and our lives. 

practice. practice. practice.

being present, too.
with practiced skilled hands head heart.

as i teach young students i mourn some of the things 
those in education have chosen to leave behind,
 things like sewing, measuring, drawing, choosing and understanding tools. 
hand skills. 
determination. focus.
empowering another person, 
teaching them how to approach problem solving, 
how to attempt, 
how to succeed, how to fail 
and try again
or adapt.

in the last two years i've made a lot of paper, 
much of it from raw flax, 
but some from linen rag (retired clothing). 
i went to pbi and took an amazing busy class 
with flax expert mary hark, 
and i continue to put that new learning into practice. 
in two years what i know is a bit about how raw flax becomes paper. 
by hand.
i know a bit. 
and that's the truth. 
i haven't hurt my body doing this or bankrupted myself, 
but i have worked hard and continually at it. 
and now i know something about flax papermaking 
(and a bit about using it, 
how it behaves)

this format, the internet, makes it easy to think that mastery, 
or even competency is easy. 
it could be. 
i say it isn't. 
not at all.
i belong to a few forums 
and the ridiculous questions people ask instead of 
trying things themselves or reading or practicing or understanding
 bother the heck out of me. 
because to be a maker, to be adept, to be skilled, 
you have to 
and every single one is, may i propose, 
your own sacred.
and owned.
none of us have to be the best, the smartest, 
the whatever we were measured against.
we do have to do our work well.
and with a few other qualities that you already know
or will learn.

i'll be teaching North Country Shifu in Pocatello, Idaho 
at the end of march.
i'm looking forward to making string again.

my slu freshmen are keeping me busy
with a class called what is an image?
 together we'll find out 
a little bit about 
that very question.

still learning milkweed