Peter's Note: I can't quite recall when the last time was I saw Drew Luan Matott. It was either here in Pownal, Vermont, with Drew Cameron as they took my old rag shredder to Burlington, or it was in Washington, D.C., dancing on a table as women stuffed money in his trousers.....
Papermaker Pam Frandina Meheran found Drew sunning himself on the beach in Valencia Spain. He was burned and a bit tipsy, which she felt was not unusual. As they sipped on a luscious peppery 1994 Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Gran Reserva, she questioned him on his recent international adventures.
Pam Frandina Meheran: Mr. Matott, as a young American originally from rural New York State, how has international travel changed your perspectives on life? What have you been doing with your time? And what is your view on living life from a suitcase?
Drew Matott: I have been traveling overseas since January. I left the United States from San Francisco, traveling with only a small leather side satchel. The contents I will list here: two pair of socks, two pairs of underwear (one doubles as sea trousers), two sleeveless undershirts, one button shirt, a small journal, three pens, a bag of toiletries, and a few boxes of EmergenC nutrition packets. The suitcase life can actually work for me in Europe, more so than in the US, because Europeans really aren’t concerned with trivialities such as repeat wearing of the same clothes. Or maybe I haven't stuck around long enough to be noticed in the same old rags.
PFM: So what are your plans? Where are you going, how long are you staying, and what do you seek to accomplish?
DM: With no return ticket to the United States, I have no real destination or objective to this trip, except to see where the wind and my feet would take me. Hence the light baggage. Originally I had anticipated traveling with a peddle-operated beater, and commissioned Lee MacDonald to make a suitcase sized model, but while contemplating in the SF airport parking lot (where I observed many people make major life decisions), I began mulling over the possible mess of explaining a beater to international customs agents, who undoubtedly would assume it was a weapon of mass destruction. Ultimately, I decided it was best to make this initial foray without it.
PFM: What peaked your curiosity to see more of the world at this point in your life?
DM: Part of why I left was to rediscover the joys of anonymity and leisure. I was was getting a little burned out due to rigorous demands of Combat Paper. I felt the need to get some distance to see it in a new light. I intentionally left my cell phone and laptop in the states so I could drop out for a while. To be honest, I am really enjoying this beach. I can't seem to locate any papermakers in Valencia, which to me, translates as "niche market".
PFM: Hmmm ... dropping out. Yes, I do recall previous attempts towards that state during moments of your undergrad years. But, okay, moving forward .... so you've been spending lots of hours at the beach? Can you summarize what else you've been doing with your time overseas?
DM: Yeah, ummmm.... what have I been up to....
from San Francisco, I flew to India where I taught basic book and paper arts to women who have been rescued from prostitution in Kolkata and Delhi.
PFM: Tell me about that project. How did the women respond to the paper processes? Was it a cathartic experience for them? Given their history, how did they respond to your male presence?
DM: I worked with Arizona State University's Creative Writing Professor Melissa Pritchard to conduct a sampling of artmaking, bookbinding and writing workshops at several orphanages and programs that assist rescued prostitutes in India.
We used handmade paper that I had made to make journals. I taught pamphlet stitch with pages that utilize the accordion and gate folds as a means to emphasize different narrative elements of the page turn, i.e the element of surprise, etc... The girls then used the pamphlet books to write their poetry in. I think the most important thing that I noticed was how much care they took in making their books. And when finished, generally speaking they couldn't wait to arrange their writings in the pages. I don't think it was cathartic as much as just being creative and learning. But I suppose that is a part of catharsis.
Phew... I am really not sure if they responded to me any differently as the result of me being a male. At first they were very quiet and reserved, but by the end of all the workshops they were laughing and we were having fun. I think the fact that we were strange American-folk was more of an alienation than my gender.
The exercises never addressed the girls' past directly, they were always about expressing where they were at and where they want to see themselves- that was Melissa's charm, she was able to get them to broadcast a sentiment of hope for a better future. I think that is something I can take with me.
PFM: How did the project affect you? What did you learn?
First of all, I had no idea of the rise of such an industry in India. Girls are often kidnapped or sold into prostitution. It is really quite a rattling reality.
I thought my work with the veteran suffering from PTSD would have better prepared me for this kind of work, but each injustice has to be met with a keen understanding of the issues at hand. I think that's what I learned most from my experiences in India: there are no blanket solutions. As creative beings, it's important to spend thorough amount of energy in understanding the issues before attempting solutions meant to address them.
I fostered some good exercises, but in the end I was kind of treading water –meaning, I did not come adequately prepared for what I experienced. Melissa Pritchard has done this kind of thing several times … she was my saving grace!
I learned a lot. Mostly that there is so much work to be done out there. It may take me a lifetime to digest my experiences in India. I don't think that is too uncommon for westerners to say. I suppose I will leave it there.
More to follow.....