The New Year and the Dentist-Feeling. Plus concerts coming up near Liverpool.
Crystal Palace House Concert, Nov 30, 2019. Photo by Graham Frear.
The New Year and the Dentist-Feeling
I have a new essay for you, but first a few actual news items.
In mid-February, I'll be playing two concerts in the Liverpool area forMaghull Folk Club and Bromborough Folk Club. This will be my first visit to Maghull Folk Club, so naturally I'm excited about that, and Bromborough Folk Club has some of the best floor singers and one of the most jubilant audiences I've every met. Dave Burrows runs excellent sound there. You can hear his live recording of my cover of "A Few Old Memories" on my new CD Homecoming Queen. My longtime friend Alfred Hickling, aka Stringbean Slim from York's only vegetable string band King Courgette, will be joining me on mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, and harmonies for both shows. Both nights promise to be great fun!
Over the holiday season, I built a new website because my old web host was subsumed by a bigger company. I like my new website and I hope you do too!
Thank you for ordering my new CD, Homecoming Queen, in real life or virtually. Because I printed each one by hand, I get an especially zingy feeling every time I wrap one up for the post. You can order copies via my Bandcamp site, CDbaby, and iTunes.
Here's a letter about Homecoming Queen from my longtime fan in Southwest Virginia Robyn, "I did not like Homecoming Queen as much as Oxygen Girl on first listen, however Homecoming Queen is now stuck in my bones and I find myself repeating songs two and three times to just soak in your words."
Now, here is that essay I mentioned. Enjoy!
“Next morning she had to take a note from her mother to Miss Spencer, and at eleven o’clock Miss Spencer sent for her. She tapped at the study door with the usual feeling that she called a dentist-feeling, because one had it in a dentist’s waiting-room. Lately she had it before recitations, too . . .” – from Making Conversation by Christine Longford
I’ve just finished a book called Making Conversation by Christine Longford. The book is a sort of bildungsroman about a girl name Martha whose father disappeared from her life at a young age (arrested, it seems) and whose mother takes on boarders – politely called “paying-guests” – to make ends meet. Therefore, Martha overhears and is made to engage in a lot of conversation, especially with adults. For a long time, much of the conversation swims above her head, but that doesn’t necessarily keep her from confirming, in her mind, that she is a conservative one day and a pacifist the next.
One of my favorite moments in the book – a book which was ultimately a bit over my head because it was chockfull of jargon and references belonging to interwar Britain – comes when Martha has to knock on the door of her school headmistress. She describes her emotional state as a kind of “dentist-feeling.". As the novel goes along, Martha gets this dentist-feeling before many important life moments. And I love how succinctly the dentist-feeling describes that hesitant dread of what must be faced behind a door, behind a face, behind an unknown.
I remember when I lived in Ireland while studying at the University College Galway that I had the dentist-feeling every time I opened a Virginia Woolf book and every time I had to face my cold and unsympathetic Woolf tutor on a Tuesday and Thursday morning. How I hated Virginia Woolf. She was my enemy. Horrible woman who would not tell a straight story. Woman determined to shatter my already teetering grade point average with her flowers, lighthouses, and mirrors. Just the sight of Virginia Woolf’s photograph made my teeth ache.
And then two years later, I read Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway again in North Carolina with a charismatic professor who gave me a little clue about Virginia Woolf. She mentioned the words “stream of consciousness.” Oh, that! Oh, it’s not meant to be like Romeo & Juliet with a five act structure. It’s not meant to follow that narrative arc we learned about in theme-writing when we were nine years old. All will be well if I just think of people walking about and thoughts tumbling from their brains, parallel streams from that fellow and that woman, sometimes a thought is dropped and someone else picks it up, la la la . . . Oh! I see.
If only the dentist-feeling in the actual dentist’s office was as easy to dispel as the dentist-feeling I used to have about Virginia Woolf! I went on to study Virginia Woolf’s novels in two courses in graduate school. I wrote passionate essays about her. I carried a book bag featuring Virginia Woolf’s portrait. I re-read her books for fun. For fun! Last year, I visited Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in East Sussex, saw the controversial movie Vita & Virginia, visited Vita Sackville-West’s houses. I begged poppy seeds from the gardener at Virginia’s house, so I could plant them this spring. The Englishman and I scrumped apples from Virginia’s orchard and baked them in a pie and called it Woolf Pie. (He said trying to grow an apple tree from the apple seeds was a step too far). I went to Virginia’s sister Vanessa’s house. I pressed flowers from the churchyard where Vanessa painted frescoes barely escaping the censure of a grumpy tourist. I confess, I am a bit of a Virginia, Vita, and Vanessa freak now.
This time of year, and this year, 2020, is a good time to remind myself how far I can travel from the dentist-feeling to tremendous enthusiasm. I have a bit of a dentist-feeling right now. I supposed it’s a bit similar to the feeling I often have just after Christmas – that feeling of the expectation of a new year and how that can be exciting, but also dreadful.
So very much has changed for me in the last four years. And I feel a bit like a character who curiously removed a book from a shelf in her own library and found herself swept around on a revolving floor into another room entirely – Alice through the looking glass. The difference from protagonists in most of those kinds of tales being that I can only go forward. There is no false panel or camouflaged lever that I can engage to pop me back in time and place. We are all heading into the future, ready or not.
Happily, my new “room” suits me very much. I like the look and feel of the new place, but I had such a firm idea of exactly my part in my old library before I removed the book from the familiar shelf. I know the dentist-feeling I had when stepping into this new room was simply that – just that old dentist-feeling. And, really, I’ve been walking around a familiarizing myself with this new room for a few years now. But, do you ever wonder when the first moment is – the first moment that you begin something on which you’ll be reflecting in two or three or twenty years time and say, “Ah-ha! It all started there!”
During that first day of class in Galway, Ireland, with that awful dentist-feeling, I had no idea that was the moment Virginia Woolf and I would begin our twenty year tug of war which she, thankfully, won. So, what now is beginning? Or what has already begun? This time of year, those questions are making my teeth ache, but they are also making me so excited that I had to write to you just as I opened my book before bed.
Re-use, mend, donate, recycle, transform. Or use the magical erasing paste!
Jeni Hankins: Homecoming Queen Eleven songs recorded between 2005 and 2018. Eight studio recordings, three live recordings. Handprinted linocut artwork in an edition of 200. Listen here. Buy on Bandcamp, CDbaby, or iTunes. Listen on Spotify.