A Good Quiet Set of Directions – An Essay from March 2019
A good quiet set of directions
1000 Words on the Pleasure and Pain of Instructions
“I was up there in my room, reading some directions. That’s something I find I like to do when I have a few minutes to myself – I don’t know about you. How to put on furniture polish, transfer patterns with a hot iron, take off corns, I don’t care what it is. I don’t have to do it. Sometimes I’d rather sit still a minute and read a good quiet set of directions through than any story you’d try to wish off on me.”
– Edna Earle from Eudora Welty’s ThePonder Heart
Yesterday, I needed a nap. I’d been down to the charity shops in Sydenham, near where I live in London, and I came across a good book on Paper Mache. So, I snuggled under the duvet (what we call a comforter back in Virginia) and began to read directions. There were lists of supplies, there were cautions about inferior materials, there was encouragement about improvisation. Then, there were directions for specific projects, and I fell asleep in the middle of the instructions for a flower in a pot made out of a cottage cheese tub, a drinking straw, and some cardboard.
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, if I can’t sleep because I’m too hot or too cold, or I am thinking up too many ideas, I settle my mind on pretending that I’m making something. I go through every step of the project very slowly and then I drop off to sleep. If that doesn’t work, I try saying the alphabet or I just get up and write a song or bend to some Yoga with Adriene (do you know Adriene? I’ve done so much yoga with her, sometimes I turn around to tell her something and remember that she is in Austin, Texas).
So, I was tickled when I recently read Eudora Welty’s excellent book, The Ponder Heart, and came across narrator Edna Earle who also loves reading “directions.” I am reluctantly coming to the realization that I might not live long enough to make all of the things I have it in my mind to make. But I am going to die trying. And I can supplement the making with reading about making.
This brings me to this year. Recently, I have been wading through a morass of red tape and bureaucracy to do with my life and work visa here in the UK. The directions are very poor. The fact that bureaucracy is so difficult to spell, nearly makes it onomatopoeic. Bureaucracy is where directions are stuffed, in no sensible order, into a sad brown chest of drawers where some of the drawers are locked, others are falling apart, others are boobytrapped, some smell bad, and where dealing with them conjures very crass words in the head of someone who worshipped Pollyanna as a child. “Bureau-crassy.”
The great thing about directions for sewing, for making gingerbread, for cutting linoleum, or for playing the mountain dulcimer, is that the authors of these directions have your best interests at heart and they would like you to think of them as worthy guides who will have you making dresses and portraits of your friends in no time. If their directions are poor, misleading, infuriating, or just plain wrong, you won’t be inclined to buy their patterns or books again. I can hear the voice of my mother ringing in my head, “I won’t be buying a Voguepattern again because they just make skirts more difficult than they should be.” But rarely have tears been shed over a Butterick sewing pattern in the Hankins household.
Applying for my visa here in the UK has been much like working with a dress pattern that when put together looks like a horse wearing a potato. I am very patient with forms, applications, and questionnaires . My accountant (back when I had one) once asked me if I was really a performer because she’d never seen such organization from her other clients. When my sister needs someone to organize her stationery and toiletries, she knows I’m her girl. But this visa stuff has been much more complicated than separating Q-tips from cotton balls or rationalizing a Quickbooks report.
Because I am working through this visa process, my ability to work in the UK is on hold, and my ability to work in the USA is limited because I need to physically be in the UK to meet the UK residency requirements. This all means that when you look at my touring schedule for 2019, for the first time in eleven years, the page is blank. I can’t in good conscience commit to a slate of concerts for 2019 when my whereabouts and work permits are entirely up to the Home Office, and I may have to cancel or rearrange plans at short notice.
If my future was in the capable hands of the cast of Spooks (fantastic British spy series not to be missed by my American friends), I would have my work permit in hand, my residency sorted, and I would merely be a subplot as they foiled a dastardly plan by some criminal to achieve world domination. But, my future is in the hands of an office where, in my last meeting, I came up with the work around for a defective QR code and called technical support while they poked around on their keyboards like chickens. Lawsee-Beesee, as Mawmaw Margie would have said whilst adjusting her pink hair-net.
Why do I mention all of this? Dear reader, I would very much like to play a concert for you and, contrary to conjecture, I have not decided to become anyone else other than who I am – your sewing, singing, songwriting Jewell Ridge Girl. But I do need to have patience with the bureaucracy and I simply have to wait. I wish we could be together in some cozy house concert or eating chips at a bluegrass festival.
So, in the meantime, I am writing, singing, strumming, and making things. I am dreaming up a show for my 2020 tour. Depending on this and that, I may make a few appearances on stage here and there in 2019. It is very odd for me not to be traveling around singing for you for the first time in a decade. But, I shall keep in touch and I would be glad if you will, too. Speaking of which, thank youfor all of the kind messages about my being especially ill ten days ago. All better here.
Here’s to a “good quiet set of directions” which is harder to find than one might think – all you have to do is look at world politics and little ole household ones, too, and see what a muddle we humans have made of it all. Luckily, the sun is still coming up and so is the moon, so we could do our part, too. I’m going to go work on a song and then try some more linocutting.
I wish you well in all of your directions – from the IKEA chair you’re assembling to the yoga tree pose that has you jumping like a pogo stick.
Good for you! Keep going! I’m right with you!
How terrific to visit the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern and meet this little girl who was teaching all of the crocheted dachshunds how to read. In the end, she said only one of them could really read. I'm so crazy about Bonnard's use of magenta and purple that I've been to the show twice. Head over to Tate Modern to see a door that can be yellow on one day and pink on another. Only in the world of Pierre Bonnard. Photo by Graham Frear.
I've been working on a Jeni rag doll made from tea-stained muslin.
Celia Pym and Visible Mending
I really love this interview with world famous mender, Celia Pym. She talks a lot about repair. Repair is happening all of the time, isn't it? Repair makes me think of my favorite British emergency road sign which says:
You can now purchase the last Jeni & Billy album, the epic history of the Smiths in Appalachia, Heart of the Mountain, on CDBaby. With 27 tracks including songs, spoken word, and instrumentals plus two deluxe paper inserts, this record harkens back to the concept albums of the 1970s where an album told you a story. The story is fragmented and impressionistic and there are mysteries everywhere, but every song is about a real person. Plus, you can make Aunt Erma's gingerbread to eat while you listen. The directions are good.