Decades ago, when I watched more television, I saw a made-for TV movie about an Appalachian family that had moved to Detroit because of jobs available there in the 1920s. The “movie family” had been designed to include a spectrum of responses to the move; from “I love it here,” through “the money’s good, but the work is killing me,” to “I just want to go home.” The father worked in a factory, where he adopted a mass production mentality. The mother stayed home, cooking, doing laundry, and coping with her children’s problems.
She and son about 12 years old began hand-making wooden toys which the son peddled on street corners. One evening the father suggested using power tools to up production, lower costs and increase profits. The son related that he had been warned by a police officer that peddling without a license was a violation. He told how he had given the cop a free toy for his kids and gotten out of the citation. The mother was appalled by both the idea of mass production and the reality of bribing a policeman. She wanted to go home. Eventually the family came apart, and viewers were treated to the moral of the story, “There’s no place like home.”
Industrial handicrafting became a reality for me in Taiwan starting in 2006 when I began doing fabric art. I didn’t plan things so much as throw them together, making patchworks of recycled campaign flags. The materials were free, the work was easy, and when results were ugly could be tossed without regret.
Of late, a different “industrial” process has taken over the “handicrafting” I do with words. My project has been the mass production of short sung pieces for use in churches These are not “hymns” but “buttons” that move a worshipping congregation from one thing to another, or that “do” the thing in and of themselves. These are things like “call to prayer”, “assurance of pardon” and such. Most start with an on-topic Bible verse that gets bent, stretched or squeezed into a tune. The tunes themselves (I can’t write tunes) are public domain things, sometimes ‘classical’ stuff from Europe, and other times folk tunes from wherever.
I’ve learned that by selecting the verses one by one, “lining them up” on a computer screen, I find a singable line, choose a tune, and then “work the magic” on what’s left. In the past 3 months I’ve done more than 150 of them. Like the patchworks I did in Taiwan, many may be “ugly” and others worthy of disposal, but I’m having a good time.
Though I long to go home (“there’s no place like Taiwan”), I’m finding something to do here.
By the way, DON’T look for me on Etsy.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.