Flying High

From Morocco, to Hungary, then on to Japan. Next came China and India. From there I traveled to Estonia. My next trip was to Scotland, later to Panama and Thailand. Zimbabwe followed, and from there I went to the Philippines, then to Bhutan and Ghana.

Here I sit in the U.S. at my computer, yesterday my thoughts were on Ghana, today, I dream of Haiti.

I researched weaving in Morocco and the Philippines, and studied embroidery in Thailand and India. In Scotland, I learnt about kilt hose, and in Panama I found molas, the colorful reverse applique of the Kuna Indians.

When I mentioned a couple of my trips to a friend, he asked me when I got back. I laughed—I don’t travel in person. I wish I could.

I write articles about textile techniques from around the world. And now I’m working on a book, each chapter based on one of those articles. I have fabulous photos of the textiles. But I have none of the artisans at work. I want, I need such photos. For the book. For myself.

I wish I could travel as much as I do virtually. I would like to go to Morocco and hang out with some of the Berber rug weavers. If I could only watch the Jalq'a weavers of Bolivia in person, there's so much I want to ask them. To be able to get an up close look the double ikat weaving in Patan, India... I’d love to visit my friends in Bhutan, one of whom was a weaver to the king.

Marilyn shook her head. “But the altitude...”

But— But— I’ve wanted to go for so long. I was planning to go within the next few years. I hadn’t thought of the altitude. That ruled out Ayacucho and Cusco in Peru as well, both places I wish I could explore, where I have friends.

I was in the highlands of Guatemala when I suffered my acute brain bleeds. According to many members of the Angioma Alliance, high altitudes can trigger bleeds. Some members won’t travel by plane for fear of hemorrhaging.

I refuse to give up on traveling. It’s an important part of my life. I fly to visit friends and family in Israel at least once a year. Colorado is another of my regular destinations. A few months ago, I was in New Mexico. My brother lives in Massachusetts. I’m long past due a trip to England. And Iceland sounds good, as does Laos, and Ghana, and New Zealand, and, and...

Yes there’s a danger of a bleed, and travel is beyond exhausting fatigue exacerbated my deficits. But…

Maybe I won’t go to Peru, and hold off on Bhutan. But I will go back to Santa Fe in February, and Israel in March, and Iceland… sometime. I just have to watch myself, to pick and choose.

Most of the time I'm fine about giving up on my dreams of travel, but whenever I work on one of my textile articles, I feel a brief twinge. Then I remember the shemagh (or keffiya) that Ghofran brought me from Saudi Arabia, the piece of Assisi embroidery that Matteo found for me in Italy, and the gorgeous shawl Poonam sent me from India. And I realize, that really I'm very lucky. When I travel vicariously through friends and family, I feel fulfilled, especially when I know they've been thinking of me. I can feel the goofy smile on my face as I listen to them recount their adventures as they searched for the glorious textile they just presented to me.

There's something about a thoughtful gift from a good friend accompanied by a story that counteracts all the twinges in the world.

The King and I

Rinzin pointed at her mother, Leki. “She’s a weaver to the king.”

Leki nodded and smiled. She didn’t speak English.

My friendship with Rinzin Wangmo, began in the summer of 2006 at a weaving conference, where Rinzin and Leki were selling their gorgeous handwoven textiles. Apparently, Leki is well known in Bhutan for her weaving. (She is a master weaver.)

The next time I saw them was the following summer. I was in Pheonix for a consultation with Dr. Spetzler, my soon to be neurosurgeon. Rinzin and Leki passed through there after participating in the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. They just happened to be holding a trunk show shortly after my consultation. They had heard of my ill health from a mutual friend, and had lit butter lamps for me in their local (Buddhist) temple.

The textiles were fabulous, all woven by either Leki or Rinzin. But one stood out from the rest--an exquisite silk piece that Leki had woven on a backstrap loom. before Rinzin opened it up all the way, I thought it was a table runner--it was more than two and a half yards in length, beautifully patterned with stupas and human figures, Buddhist monks perhaps. Apparently, Leki had originally woven it as a Hand Towel to the King, intending to present itto the (fourth) king. I couldn’t begin to to imagine anyone drying their hands on it, royal or otherwise.

Between the beauty of the piece and the story that went with it, I had to buy it.

Only recently, more than nine years since I purchased the Hand Towel to The King, did Rinzin tell me why I got the towel and not the king. Apparently, Leki needed money for that trip to the U.S. so she brought it with her for sale instead of presenting it to Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth king of Bhutan.

Ah... the king and I.

P.S. Druk Gyalpo means "Dragon King," which is the title that all five of Bhutan’s kings have held. An apt title for the kings of Bhutan, also known as Drukyul, or "Land of Dragons." (The people of Bhutan call themselves the Drukpa, meaning "Dragon people.")

P.P.S. Given the timing, Leki must have planned to present the piece to the fourth king just before he abdicated in favor of the current king, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Superwoman

When I wore skirts or dresses, I walked differently, my hips swayed more, it was almost a floating sensation, as if… as if I was a girl.I felt awkward, ungainly, like I didn't quite fit in the role, like I wasn't myself.

I haven’t worn one in more than a decade. When I needed to dress up, I usually wore a nice top with slim fitting black pants, occasionally harem pants.

And now, I wanted to wear a skirt. I needed a skirt.

I was off to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where I was to interview several of the artists, two of whom were Muslim. I thought that by wearing more modest clothing, i.e. a skirt rather than a pair of pants, or, worse, a pair of shorts, I’d reduce potential causes of unease. I also regarded it as a way of showing respect.

It was time to go shopping--one of my least favorite activities.  I wanted something that didn’t restrict me too much, not too expensive either. This was a one-time deal. Made in India should do the trick. Not an Indian wraparound skirt—I never liked those. A broomstick skirt, perhaps. But not too long—I didn’t want to get tangled up in it and trip.

I was surprised at the one I chose, the one that felt right. It was made in India, it was the right length—mid-calf. It had an elastic waist and gave me a full range a motion. And it was soft. But it was sparkly. I didn’t wear sparkly. Ever. This one had sequins. And it jingled with my every step, with each sway of my hips.

I loved it. It felt good. It felt right. As if a side of me that had been hidden for too long had resurfaced. I bought it. I also bought a feminine top to go with it.

The morning of the interviews arrived. I pulled the sparkly skirt off the hanger and the top out of the suitcase. I chose the most stretchy bra I could find—I had to find comfort wherever I could find it. Next knickers. I had a choice of Thor, Spiderman, or Superman. The choice was clear—superman. The Thor and Spiderman underwear were covered in comics. The Superman underwear just had the emblem on the front. I could be Superwoman under my feminine finery. In my mind I could be flying around, one arm outstretched the other bent at the elbow, toes pointed, one leg straight the other bent at the knee, and my skirt streaming behind me.

Yup. That would work. With a goofy grin on my face all residual doubts about wearing the skirt disappeared. Not only could I do this, but I would actually enjoy it, wholeheartedly.

There was no residual awkwardness inside me, not even a hint. I was comfortable in my own skin, as I hadn't been in decades.

Flap-Happy

I couldn't contain my joy—jumping up and down, flapping my hands, squealing. I caught sight of myself in the mirror—I looked like a happy T-Rex.

I did the T-Rex dance when I received notification in the mail that one of my hand woven pieces got accepted into the yardage exhibit for Convergence 2008 (an international weaving conference held every two years in North America). I flapped when Daniel got into the college of his choice, and when Sarah surprised me with a present.

I danced when was when I finished my first complete draft of my book “The Bloody Brain,” and a couple of years later, when I signed a contract with a literary agent. And again, a few weeks ago when a publishing company accepted my book proposal for the now-titled “But my Brain Had Other Ideas” manuscript.

I did my T-Rex imitation when a long-awaited book arrived in the mail and when I saw the first mock-up of my book on textile techniques. I flapped when an international TA told me that he passed the English test, and right after I pressed the submit button for the grant proposal I'd been fretting over for far too long.

When I received the contract for the bloody brain book, my heart skipped a beat. But I did not allow myself to flap. I still needed to work my way through the “hereto”s, “parties, and “hereby”s before I could sign it—Ugh. But after I signed it, I flapped and flapped.

A few days ago, my hands flapped furiously once again--I received a contract in the mail from a (different) publisher for the textile techniques book.

Woohoo!