Whew.

There are those teachers out there who are vastly more experienced and graceful than I am, and were able to blog from SOAR. I think Sara’s secret is that she does not sleep, and that this in fact is part of what gives her the opportunity to make all the rest of us look like total disorganized slackers — as I’ll note that she’s the only SOAR mentor who blogged at all during the week.

I arrived Sunday afternoon, confident that my shipped materials had already arrived. I had shipped my Louet S45 and Louet Julia, along with 110 spindles and a huge pile of fiber, much of it in packets ready to go for my workshop. I had packed an Ashford Joy in my hard-sided suitcase, and was carrying on my Victoria and my laptop bag. I was pretty sure all my prep time would pay off with the hectic week to come.

Just as I was getting out of the airport limo at the hotel, I spotted a familiar face unloading from a van in front of me: Paulino Huarhua, husband of Nilda Callañaupa, my lifelong friend and mentor who I knew was coming to teach at SOAR as well. Just inside the door, there was Nilda, along with a lady named Aquilina Castro, and there too were a whole slew of folks I hadn’t seen since last year’s SOAR: folks with whom I’d spent one week, and undeniably forged incredible bonds.

We went to the introduction session, where I realized I had totally forgotten to prepare an answer to the mentor question: what one piece of advice would you give someone who is just starting out spinning? I seriously considered simply saying “Take a class!” and sitting back down, but that seemed wrong. So then I thought about saying “Take a class, and here’s why!” and explaining it, but then that seemed… I don’t know. Sort of like I was preaching to the choir, to say that at SOAR. Plus, you know: “Hi, I’m a teacher. Take a class!” I wracked my brains while the list of folks whose last names started with letters before F gave their advice. Then it was my turn. I know I said I couldn’t pick just one, and that I had three things… but now, after it’s all over, I can only remember one: that spinning is really a pretty low risk proposition. You’re not likely to poke your eye out or be seriously injured and you’re not likely to cause major damage to person or property other than yourself either. Worst case, you’ll get a result you don’t like, and even if that happens, you’re going to learn something.

Then I said more words. I’m usually pretty decent at finding words to say. Or so I’ve been told. Then we were off to dinner, which seemed to last forever, and as fatigue started to settle in, Denny and I went to go set up my classroom, which I’d looked at only briefly. It had been neatly arrayed with a table at front and several rows of chairs… you know, classroom style. That order had to be destroyed.

Ah, there’s a start… you really need a circle in my opinion, with everyone facing in. You could do it other ways I suppose, but the circle is best. Denny helped me arrange chairs and get things set up.

I like to stake out my spot in advance if I can — I want a power position of course! I want to be able to see the whole classroom, but get in and out with relative ease if I need to; I need an area close at hand to stash things; I want to be able to see the door so that if something unforeseen comes in, I can be prepared. I don’t want the coffee service guys coming in and me not knowing! I don’t want the class distracted by something and I don’t know what it is! No, teaching a class is a little bit of a control freak thing where you have to set up the room to your best advantage. I want people to walk in the door and feel like they’re in a welcoming, yet controlled, environment, with me as benevolent dictator. Totally.

Denny is very helpful. She talks a lot of trash and isn’t the meek type, but she’s a get-things-done kinda gal. A trained professional, really. I’m very fortunate with my permanently-assigned SOAR roommate. We were thrown together last year as newbie scholarship recipients, and it really worked out.

It was her suggestion, in fact, that photos needed to be taken before and after the workshop. “You know you trash the place at all your gigs,” she pointed out. So yeah. Observe above the neatly ordered fiber packets with the little booklet about what we’ll cover. Observe… well you can’t, but there are 2 extra spots set up just in case. Anything could happen, and it usually does, so I like to be ready just in case. JUST IN CASE!

Denny also clearly snuck in with my camera at some point because I found these when I pulled off the photos — I thought I had nothing but the before and after shots, on account of how hard it was to take my camera with me and take pictures. Bad, bad blogger. I should be fired. Anyway, she snuck in and took some great pictures to show how I really need to be hitting the gym.

I suspect that here, I’m attempting to convince people that sampling really can be a low-risk, low-investment proposition — the sort of thing you can do the basics of using nothing more than the little teeny bit of fiber someone’ll give you while you’re shopping. Yeah, you heard me: we talked about how to shop for a purpose too. Because shopping, er I mean fiber selection, is totally part of the whole equation.

I did ultimately have to explain to victims students that I am, in fact, such a professional smartass that Interweave had made me a nametag that said so. Seriously. Then they borrowed it for setting up the workshop review session, in which they nobly demonstrated the many valuable things we learned in class.

Here, Kelly is demonstrating the proper technique for practicing one-handed long draw. If you have one hand totally tied up doing something important like managing your beer, you’ll have a harder time getting it into the mix with your spinning. It works, I swear! You could also use a cup of coffee or tea or something I suppose. But beer is traditional. No, seriously. It’s way important.

Speaking of beer, the Poconos are a great source of an old favourite of mine.

Mmmmm. And it was only $3 at hotel bar prices even. But there was also cheap swill of course. Never let it be thought that Phreadde and Dan would fail in that department!

Nobody could escape the cheap swill. It is best served very cold, in a disposable vessel.

Aquilina, who is from Pitumarca, Peru, is an astounding master weaver (and thus by extension, spinner and more). This was her first trip outside of Peru and she handled it all with enormous grace and aplomb — far more than most people would if plopped in the middle of a bunch of crazy yarn people in a creaky old hotel with weird food where you don’t speak the language or even have any way of knowing how much ricotta would usually be in the ravioli (which is not a common dish in Peru).

In addition to being well-known as a weaver and spinner, Aquilina is in high demand in her region for her talents as an entertainer — a singer of songs for all occasions, definitely someone who knows how to be the life of the party.

I was truly thrilled by the two-way exchanges everyone shared with folks from Peru: trying out wheels and fibers, sharing projects, so much of the lore of hands that was exchanged in both directions, which is something that isn’t always the case when folks come from somewhere else to share their expertise. This is part of what makes SOAR so different from many other events where fiber knowledge is shared: everyone there, the entire community, is a mentor and a teacher and someone with something to share, and everyone does — even those who are incredibly new to spinning have things to share, and it’s all treasured.

It was also wonderful to see Andean textiles for sale to an audience who understood them to a far greater degree than is typical. Helping out a little in Nilda’s booth at the market, I heard people say “Wait, this is cochineal? And so is this? Is it different mordants? Tell me more about the process!” and “Wow, the way the decreases and shaping are worked seamlessly with intricate colourwork in this hat… wow… from the purl side, you say? Huh…” and “Omigod, the spinning alone in this piece must be a year’s work!” If you’re a spinner, and you’ve talked with folks who don’t spin or knit or anything… you know how hard it is to convey the work that goes into an individual textile. Now imagine trying to do that across cultural and language barriers. Imagine spending a lifetime getting good at doing so… then going somewhere where you don’t have to. Seriously. Imagine. The shared love of all things fiber, the common willingness to really get your hands in there — it makes a foreign world less foreign, whether it’s a gringo going to Peru or a Peruvian in the Poconos.

I totally failed to take a picture of my mother, who came up for a visit, and brought my niece. I didn’t get a picture of Nilda and her husband Paulino. I didn’t get a picture of young Maggie Smith, 7-year-old scholarship recipient, who taught my almost-12 niece to spin with a spindle, then dragged her to the Schacht booth to get her started with a wheel. And speaking of Maggie, she did fabulously at her first SOAR. I’m so proud to know her… and even prouder and more awed by the incredibly precious gift she gave me: her very first finished object.

Seriously. Her very first FO. No lie. A knitted scarf from her own handspun — her first knitting, her first finished object. I didn’t want to take it off. A gift like that is precious. It is a once-in-a-lifetime treasure.

I didn’t get any pictures of my retreat sessions. Folks brought wonderful and fascinating spindles, and my only disappointment was not getting to spend more time talking about some of them, and not getting to sit with Triste, textile scholar extraordinaire, to discuss the subject in more detail.

I swear I tried to do what Sara Lamb and Deb Menz told me to, and make a checklist of everything to be sure I said, because by the time I was going through 4 classes of the same topic in a row I’d totally forget what I had and hadn’t said. That helped; but it wasn’t enough. But even so, every class is different. Every group of people is different; every single time, a teacher must be prepared to rise to the occasion and teach differently. I hope I pulled it off. I hope it was fun. I know I had fun, sharing spindle obsession with about 80 people over 2 days of retreats.

That’s the real privilege of being a mentor at SOAR: you get to share your pursuits with around 100 people in a classroom setting, and another several hundred informally in the hall, waiting for dinner, standing by the bar, walking through the gallery.

The only down side is that you don’t get to take the other mentors’ classes. I would have loved to take Sarah Anderson’s innovative “Wrap and Roll” class. Spending lunch with Deb Menz talking about carding was delightful to be sure but oh, it could have been in a class with carders and fiber and everything! I never got to sit with Nancy Bush and look at her amazing Estonian lace collection. I forgot to ask Judith about 800 things. I barely saw Robin Russo and Rudy Amann. I barely traded a few wisecracks with Maggie Casey. I neatly avoided having Sara Lamb ask me if I’ve yet finished… certain projects about which she knows quite a bit, though, so maybe that’s a win. I would have love to have felted a fish with Sharon Costello, who last year showed me that felting is way cool and way harder than I thought. I wanted to get to really meet the famous Patsy Zawistoski after having learned so much from her videos and writing over the years. I almost cried with envy at the things Vivian Hoxbro was getting folks to do with colour — she was magically, masterfully making people like colours they hated, I kid you not! And as for Nilda, well, she’s one of my oldest teachers, role models, and friends. She’s like my big sister. And I still envy everyone who got to have three whole days of her time — a rare treasure indeed considering all the work that she does and how huge its scope is.

And that’s just the mentors. The list goes on and on for attendees I didn’t get to spend enough time with. That’s the thing about SOAR — it’s a crazy, hectic, breakneck-speed event, where you’re ON the whole time, where you don’t stop because you can’t. You steal time to sit with true masters of the field, obsessing over details of yarn design, minute qualities of fiber that others can’t even necessarily see, swooping out to the broader picture and thinking really really big about what could be made to happen if the right people all come together to work on something, and omigod, they’re all RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, let’s have a meeting, and… then it’s over. And you pulled off a lot of it, but not everything you wished you could have. There just wasn’t enough time. Every instant that you could squeeze out was still somehow not enough.

So there’s nothing for it but to go back next year. Anything else is inconceivable. One way or another, you know you have to go back and do it all again, because however fatiguing and crazy it was, however strange the food may have been, however tired you are and even if you caught the SOAR cold, you know you have to go. My father told me so, years ago, and I didn’t listen, and he was RIGHT, and I’m sorry.

So now I’m on to the next part of the SOAR equation: working on my proposals for classes for next year. As part of the SOAR’s self-aware, dastardly humour… I have to get those done in under 2 weeks. So my mind is roiling with thoughts of what classes to propose. There are so many possibilities and I want to teach them all! I want that, even as I don’t know yet whether or not this last round of victims students found what they wanted, found something else, or would come back for more. So now’s your chance, folks — if there’s something you’ve always wished I would teach… let me know, because I’m in a proposal-writing frenzy, and whatever doesn’t go into SOAR applications will likely go somewhere else.

And as to the rest of you SOAR veterans out there, the ones who told me last year, in 2007, that I’d be back, and that I’d keep coming back, and that I should try to teach there… yeah, you guys were right too. The nerve of you lot, with your “being right” and everything! I swear. But I’ll see you next year, and by then, I’ll have thought of a good smartass retort, I promise.