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There are two different aspects of what I've been calling ritual labor which may represent the two aspects of materialism. The Intelligent Craftafarian is the great scholar of crafts and Americanist materialism, and has recommended books on same, if not exactly copping to a Marxist thing, that I am far too foolish to comprehend. Still trying.

I've been calling the two threads here "ritual labor" and "everything I know I learned getting lost on the 405", and it strikes me that the first is about the intransigence of matter and the second is about its tractability. (Is that what I mean? I must go Google tractable, mutable, biddable....)

Yes, all those things, including the nuances of willing itself to be influenced and deceptive shape-shifting. Mutatis mutandis!

Ritual labor has in it aspects of odium and terror which attend the big medicine of the motives -- propitiating the gods, acting for the honor of the ancestors, aligning one's self with the flow (?) -- and the consequences -- piercing the veil, contamination, mastery(?)* and resurrection. The ritual or automatized aspect of the action helps the grasshopper detach from the disgust -- a contamination which concentration camp survivors forced by "excremental assault" (diseases of mass exodus entail sewage and unburied bodies) find almost impossible to survive. The ritual detachment also helps the grasshopper to access the courage, resilience, and patience to attack the same soul-murdering problem for the 20,000th time. Chop wood, carry water never goes away, and those are way less odious than the very quotidian chores which attend, for example, one's obligation to one's parents -- scrubbing out a blind man's toilet or having the same conversation five times a day every day with someone who is mentally ill -- the work of which is never finished. Just shovelling out your own stable is horrific. Nothing is more skull-confronting, more Hamlet-esque, than washing your own suet-saturated dishes and clothes and putting out the mountain of garbage you produce in one day.

In my experience, the pay off has absolutely nothing to do with being ethical, moral or religious. Being a rootless cosmopolitan, I've only really felt it once -- when I went to my father's hometown and recognized so many aspects and fragments of his being that he wouldn't and couldn't talk about. One of the places he and his brothers roamed around is still a field today, part of the protected land bounded by six-lane interstates and entailed to a 17th century historic house. There's an old graveyard on the property, from which I remember years ago he plundered vinca to transplant to the shade garden he made at our house up here under the Norway maples. Home ground kind of thing. And as I glimpsed it, driving by at 80 mph on the interstate, which used to be an Indian trail the people in the old house watched from their windows, I saw it on the horizon and got the rush. I am here because of them and I am here to see and care for things they saw and cared for; I'm their agent here, and they're my agents wherever they are. Terroir, it's big, and ritual labor engages deeply with the home ground of the homeys -- transplanting the vinca or the quilting in the ditch the way the great-grandmother I never met did. I only know her from a quilt I have of hers, and from some of the linens she made for my mother's trousseau (ca. 1936) which were falling apart by the time, 20 years later, I became aware of the tiny stitches she had placed. My father never talked about his feelings, but when I think about his transplanting the vinca I cry and miss him terribly. My next doll quilt is going to be Daddy's shade garden, pieced jacks in the pulpit on one side, and a crazy quilt of Virginia red clay colored patches on the other, with silk embroidery.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, my latest experience in craft life of this odium is the saga of Rachel Vinrace's teeny weeny navy blue coat. It is so fraught I squirm at writing it down, which is spiritually significant in itself. Suffice it to say I was absolutely horrified that the pattern I followed so carefully resulted in a perfectly hideous and terribly ill-fitting garment which really depressed the living shit out of me. There's something about doll clothes which requires them to be really, really, Platonically perfect. Or she turns from a baby into a stick with rags on it, and her garments the dolly equivalent of suet-saturated dreck. I finally decided it was important for me to fix it. I've torn it apart at least twice. Applied design principles as far afield as those from a 1940s British how-to-sew manual (thin silk facings, for God's sake, not deformative thick wool ones!) and the Paris catwalk (way easier said than done) and memories of an outfit worn by the best-dressed woman I ever knew, who was an Imperial Wizard at the hometown church where previously my grandmother, also Purejuice, had been IW. And so on. I've been working on it for weeks, and the overcoming of the revulsion by persistence is paying off, even though an 8-inch-high navy blue doll coat will never give me the bang for my buck many of my other -- much less and much more onerous -- projects do. Persistence over odium, mastery of that fucking 8-inch-high navy blue coat, also means I feel as if I can solve and deal with other much more important technical problems, including mastery of the more saurian aspects of my mother's personality (this would be when she's sane), and the rehabilitation of my knee and lungs.

The flipside of the odium, the commemorative, the circle-of-life, the undead aspects of ritual labor is the digressive or 405 aspect I've been writing about, which is basically walking meditation or unfocussed kind of samadhi. It's basically leaning on the solution of technical problems until they're solved, not saying fuck it.

It's figuring out that the solution to Rachel's coat problem is silk facings, which you only learn if you put away Rachel's coat for two months, forget about it, and start reading vintage tailoring books from cover to cover. It's solving the problem of Godzilla Pillow # 4, Youko's, pocket lining -- I ran out of the orange denim, having purchased the last remaining two yards in the universe -- by taking it to the sewing shop and asking the sewing chicks there. They said, piece it from scraps. I did that, which I've never done before, including the less aesthetic and more Soccer Mom regions of the stitching dial on my sewing machine.

It's keeping a really open mind about the translation of the Godzilla pillows from Harajuku street outfits to pillow covers -- I thought about Youko for ages, and also Tan, and came up with solutions that look very different from their role models. Much simpler and, in the case of Tan, less referential. I started out thinking about her combination of tulle, punk Prince of Wales plaid, and a cowboy hat, which turned me on big time, and on account of the open-minded-samadhi process veered in totally another direction. The pillow is now about her plastic shopping bag and the beautiful subtle lingerie under her punk exterior, and I would never have been able to pull the plastic concepts together had I not been reading the crunchy mama suburbs of the craft blogs.
Those are the girls, dumpster-diving mamis, who are paying forward their DIY, straight edge, punk youths, by fusing plastic shopping bags for upcycling.

A very great deal of ritual labor -- the tractability of a design problem to gentle leaning on it -- is about how a design and a technical problem can and will be solved not just by persistence and patience, but by digression and backing off.

That the thoughtful concatenations of my fellow beings, over a period of some 60 years -- the vintage Brit seamstresses, the sewing shop chicks, the dumpster-diving mamis, that wildass girl in Chicago who spins Safeway shopping bags -- should provide exciting new materials and elegant paradigmatic old solutions, that I should feel their helpfulness and enjoy their brilliance in solution and innovation, is part of the letting go of the volition and its self-will, which never produced anything worth a damn. The digression is the solution.

The digression is also part of the miracle of tractability, that this little ball of purple thread can be shazammed into four yards of purple fucking lace, with a few years' lessons and practice. This first hit me when I made a rag doll once for a god child: the transformation of the flat fabric into a three-dimensional....baby....first made me aware of the form-conferring and resurrection aspects of arts and crafts. It is voodoo, and it's voodoo for sure. Plowing the furrow as straight as your grandfather did really is the resurrection and the life. It helps ensure too that he's doing it for you, wherever he may be.

That victory over matter -- Twain called it "the eternal cussedness of things inanimate" -- and community with the living and the dead are the fruits is only part of the great pleasure. Mastery, or the illusion of it, is very nice. The way anxiety and remorse are lanced utterly is merely hygienic. The real pleasure is waking up every morning itching to solve another one.

* I'm adding the asterisks because I think mastery and flow are both aspects of the 405/tractability/samadhi thread, and not of the ritual labor/cussedness/resilience thread. And I don't have the bwains to trace that out here today.

Date: 2009-03-14 10:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] aulaitcru.livejournal.com
Not really about ritual labor, but I thought you might find it interesting anyway:

Date: 2009-03-14 10:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] purejuice.livejournal.com
beautiful, thank you.


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January 2012


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