Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

hmmmm…for the last few months, something has been stirring in the depths of my mind. It is now finally coming to light…

About a month ago, I started watching two documentaries on the artist/eccentric Tasha Tudor. She is an children's book illustrator. She also…lives in a time of her own. You see, Tasha believes when she dies, she will go straight back to the 1830's. She lives her life then, as close as she can to the habits and conditions of the 1830's. She lived without running water or electricity for six years while raising four small children. Now she continues to spin her own wool, work her own looms. She gardens, she knits, she cooks on her wooden stove. She paints, she draws, makes dolls, makes clothes, makes cheese and butter and on and on. She's somewhere in her 90's now but somewhere in her 80's, she decided it was time to be interviewed and documented.

Her videos are called Take Peace! and Take Joy! and once I got them, I watched them. And then I watched them again. And again and over and over till it was a ritual.
I knew something was going on in the back of my brain as I watched these videos. I had no idea what it was but it was happening back there. Something very slow and very deep. At times, it was tough. I felt obsessed and a fanatic for watching these videos daily for I'd say, two months. I knew though, something was stirring. I was watching this woman really closely. And I mean closely. I was watching her do something. Something…but what was it?

And now, only a few days ago, it started to dawn on me. The idea was very slow at first but now it's spreading through. I was watching Tasha Tudor enjoy her work. And not just fun work but ALL work. Even the hard work, like weeding and lugging around buckets of manure. She enjoyed all of it. You could tell. She was 86, trotting around and glorying in the process. The process. She loved the process of work. She liked the outcome but she loved the process. That's why she had three million projects. She said, “I don't believe in hurry,” and you could tell. At 86, you don't hurry. You can't. And she doesn't. She meanders around, doing things, sauntering barefoot with her dogs tagging after her.

And then after that, I started noticing things. Kinda scary but they were adding up. I started noticing people enjoying their work. I even started READING about people in books who enjoyed their work. They enjoyed ironing. Not for the straight clothes in the end but for the ironing. The process of it. And this keeps happening everywhere I looked and look. People enjoying the process of work.

Well…I knitted my brows. I still knit my brows. It is dawning on me that work doesn't have to be the hell-land, spawn of despair ordeal I thought it out to be. That it always has been.
I have started to enjoy my writing. Believe it or not, I haven't enjoyed writing. I felt it was my vocation and that I could be good at it sometimes but there was no enjoyment there. I liked it when people liked it but otherwise…who the fuck cared? I didn't care for writing. I did it because I felt I had to. And that's still there, of course. But…but…there's a window now, isn't there? I read in “Art and Fear” (which probably started it all, really) that creating art isn't about the product. It's about the process. Enjoying the process. And that's what I have come to. And slowly but surely, I'm getting towards there. And the landscape inside of myself is getting wider. I hopped a fence and am walking into a bigger area. It's scarier than…well, it's damn scary but is it interesting. Not having the eye glued on the end perfection opens all sorts of places.
I keep hoping that sitting down to write will stop being so terrifying. That the love-hate relationship will end. It hasn't yet. But…somethings are beginning to open up. I need a few more keys, a few more steps in the process…

I've also been reading Richard Rohr who comments on the product-result drivenness of the West. The obsession with success and results. And then he goes on to say that prayer is not about results or success. It is not about product. It is about relationship. That also keyed me in…I thought…wait…work is a relationship. And relationships are not about the end project that leads to money and fame.
I have no idea, none whatesoever how I could ever pull apart perfect product from writing but I do know that I want something more. And that I intend to go straight towards it. Again, I have no idea but I intend to pursue this. This relationship. This joy in the process. Ending this fixation on the perfect end. And we'll see…

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Winter Aconite & Snowdrop

Spring is whimsical and wary right now, first appearing in a patch of sunlight and then fleeting away in an ice-cold breeze, only to reappear a little later in the liquid song of a redwing blackbird. I wear my winter coat one day, a hoodie the next, and then it’s back to the winter coat the next morning as a heavy frost sparkles on rooftops. Only recently have I given up my thick scarf, though if there’s a wind tomorrow, I may have to pull it out of the closet and wind myself up in it once more.

None but the bravest flowers are blooming, the winter aconite and snowdrop. Winter aconite is a small yellow flower that’s easy to overlook; it remains shut until the sun has deeply soaked its petals, then pops open like a tiny jewelry box to reveal gold petals centered on delicate pistils and stamens. The snowdrops this spring huddle close to the ground, nearly lost in the mud and dead leaves. As of yet, there are no daffodils blooming—their leaves have come up only an inch or so out the brown ground. They are cautious and since it freezes each night, I cannot blame them.

Beyond the flowers there is the ground itself: a muddle of browns, thick with the rotted tree leaves and the dead foliage of last year. There is nothing lovely to see here, only the form of the land itself. It swells and slopes up from the river, lies low along the horizon, and finally drops into a ditch.

On an unexpected day in early March, once the snow disappeared, city workers came to clean up the young trees and invasive species that have been growing avid and unchecked along the creek near my home. It is the first time I can see the contours of the land clearly in all the years I’ve been living here, and I’m struck by the curves and lines that slope down towards the creek, a rollicking bed of dark brown that makes a strong contrast to the bright blue overhead. The undulating land here is small but it’s a dream, a reason, a mysterious being that wraps through the neighborhood’s mind. Soon enough, this dark and curving space will be clad in green, heavily wreathed by plants, bushes and eager saplings. But for now, it is bare and exposed, revealing the dark space between winter and summer. This is where the wind snaps cold like a knife, but the brilliant sunshine keeps calling everyone out despite the drear.

Tips on Surviving the Never-ending Winter

It’s been a long, hard winter. Now that it’s mid-February, the cold days have started stealing into my bones, urging me to stay in bed and sleep until the warm weather comes. As much as I long to take a three month long nap, there’s stuff to be done and living to do.

I’ve gotten more intentional about warding off the winter blues this year and not let myself, mentally or physically, wander off into a nearby snowbank and fall asleep. I’ve been observing and writing down little notes to myself on what lessens the gloom. These notes have become guideposts of sorts, gently illuminating the path through a difficult winter.

  1. The first guidepost may be the most essential: drinking hot beverages continually and consistently helps to ward off the deep cold. I brew a small pot of my favorite breakfast tea blend in the morning, switch to ginger and lemon herbals mid-day, and then return to caffeinated teas like black or green at night. Other people love coffee and others their tisanes. Find one or many and slurp away happily all day. Hot drinks are so deeply comforting when it’s cold and dark.
  2. I’ve learned to take walks even when the weather is crap. Obviously if everything is sheeted in ice, a walk isn’t going to happen but for the those other days, time willing, I make an effort to head outside. There’s the exercise aspect but more than that, it’s important for my spirit and soul. I walk to de-stress, to come in contact with a bigger world than my own, and to climb out of my circular thinking. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that clears junk out of the mind and soul. Our bodies evolved to walk over this earth and so when we participate in it, the old rhythms occur. Walking is a way to feel freedom. And it’s a way to fight too. I feel incredibly alive upon coming inside after walking through high winds and bad weather.
  3. Reading extensively helps to cast off the smothering feel of an endless winter. Last winter I read Alexander Pushkin and discovered the joy of reading Russian literature during the dead of winter. This month, I read City Folk and Country Folk by Sofia Khvoshchinskaya, one in a pair of sisters that wrote during the mid-1800’s. City Folk and Country Folk is a delightful satire, ridiculing a variety of “city folk” and everyone else besides. Among the cast of characters is the intellectual Ovcharov, a dead ringer for Austen’s Mr. Collins. The book centers on neighbors visiting each other, eating each other’s food, drinking each other’s tea and generally getting on each other’s nerves until they all decide to stop visiting one another. Needless to say, I adored this plot line.
    And after a three month long wait, I received The Library Book by Susan Orlean from the library with two week checkout period to read it. No way was I going to read part way through, return the book, and then have to go back into that long waiting line. I set up a rough estimate of how many pages I needed to read a day to make the two week goal and then started. To my surprise, I enjoyed having a book reading goal and  diving into Orlean’s generous and easy-flowing prose every evening.
    My last read for this month is Frederick Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. February is Black History Month and the perfect time to read his work. I’m only a few chapters in but his thoughtful and beautiful prose has pulled me in hard into the tragedy of his story and it’s hard to stop reading his eloquent prose.
  4. Spring will come. It feels so far away and even the evergreens and pines are looking haggard but it will come. When the sky is a certain shade of blue, I remember that it will. I remind myself of this daily.