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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I Have Wine and Moon and Flowers: Reading Su Tung-P’o During a Pandemic

As we watch spring growth overtake last year’s dead bracken and grasses, there is both consolation and brutality. This year’s greenery melds with disease: the emergence of flowers entangles with the blossoming of a pandemic.

While the novel coronavirus rages through communities, our lives have shrunk down to fit the small rooms and little neighborhoods that we must now be still in. What do we do in this diminished space? What do we see?

 

6th Moon, 27th Sun: Sipping Wine at Lake-View Tower

 

1

 

Black clouds, soaring ink, nearly blot out these mountains.

White raindrops, skipping pearls, skitter wildly into the boat,

 

Then wind comes across furling earth, scatters them away,

And below Lake-View Tower, lakewater suddenly turns to sky.

 

2

 

Setting animals loose—fish and turtles—I’m an exile out here,

but no one owns waterlilies everywhere blooming, blooming.

 

This lake pillow mountains, starts them glancing up and down,

And my breezy boat wander free, drifts with an aimless moon.

 

Su Tung-P’o (trans. David Hinton)

 

As the great poet Su Tung-P’o knew so well, we see our own natures in everything. The outside world becomes a reflection of our own states; though if we can still ourselves enough as we gaze out, a depth opens and time becomes immaterial.

A master of reflection and stillness, Su Tung-P’o 苏童 lived nearly one thousand years ago and is considered one of great poets of the Song Dynasty. He led a brilliant and varied career as poet, politician, writer, calligrapher, painter and aesthetic theorist. Due to his outspoken and opposing views on the government, he was jailed and sent into exile on three separate occasions.

After his experience in jail and subsequent exile, his poetry evolved and deepen and his surviving work reflect his delicate, painful relationship with loneliness and desolation.

 

Moon, Flowers, Man

 

I raise my cup and invite

The moon to come down from the

Sky.  I hope she will accept

Me. I raise my cup and ask

The branches, heavy with flowers,

To drink with me.  I wish them

Long life and promise never

To pick them.  In company

With the moon and the flowers,

I get drunk, and none of us

Ever worries about good

Or bad.  How many people

Can comprehend our joy? I

Have wine and moon and flowers.

Who else do I want for drinking companions?

(trans. Kenneth Rexroth)

 

To help alleviate the sufferings of a difficult life, he became the devotee of Zen Buddhism and his poetics reflects the practice of the “beginner’s mind,” the ability to meet each experience with equilibrium and a “spontaneous and crystalline responsiveness.”

 

At Seven-Mile Rapids

 

A light boat one loan leaf,

a startled swan two oars—

 

water and sky are pure clarity

reflecting deep. Waves smooth,

 

fish roil this duckweed mirror

and egrets dot misty shorelines.

 

We breeze past sandy streams,

frostfall streams cold,

moonlit streams aglow.

 

ridge above ridge like a painting,

bend beyond bend like a screen.

 

Here I think back to

Yen Tzu-ling’s empty old age,

 

lord and recluse one dream.

Renown’s empty then as now,

 

just mountains stretching away:

cloud mountains erratic,

dawn mountains green.

 

Out of his poetry emerges a beautiful balance, the ability to look at both joy and sorrow with gentle tranquility and wry amusement.

 

At Brahma-Heaven Monastery, Rhymed with a Short Poem of Crystalline Beauty by the Monk Acumen-Hoard

 

You can only hear a bell out beyond the mist:

the monastery deep in mist is lost to sight.

 

Straw sandals wet with the dew of grasses,

a recluse wanders. Never coming to rest,

 

he’s simply an echo of mountaintop moon—

light coming and going night after night.

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Su Tung-P’o’s poetry illuminates the beauty and loneliness running throughout ourselves and Nature. His work becomes a sort of map for this strange new world we find ourselves in: isolated yet surrounded, weary but still observing, cut off but yet deeply involved.

 

After T’ao Ch’ien’s “Drinking Wine”

 

3

 

This little boat of mine, truly a lone leaf,

and beneath it, the sound of dark swells:

 

I keep paddling in the depths of night, drunk,

pleasures of home, bed, and desk forgotten.

 

At dawn, when I ask about the road ahead,

I’ve already past a thousand ridges rising

 

beyond ridges. O where am I going here,

this Way forever leaving ever returning?

 

Never arriving, what can we understand,

and always leaving, what’s left to explain?

 

(trans. David Hinton)

 

Tides of Snow and Ice

This winter has been a continuous series of freezes and thaws: it’s the warmest winter on record, the tenth one in a row. A more usual winter starts with a deep freeze and then stays cold for months. Instead, snow falls, piles up and vanishes; rises up again and retreats, now falling as rain, swelling rivers and creeks. Rain and snow mingle together until everything runs with water; hillsides and flat-sides are coated in a deep, dark mud.

I stopped on my walk today, halted by a sudden flash of gold. The sunset rays were falling into a tiny puddle spanning the space between the root and trunk of a maple. The puddle reflected gold and silver on top and below was dark mud, black and brown, full of microorganisms and other tiny creatures unseen by the human eye. I briefly considered putting my hand to the shining surface. It beckoned, winking like a diamond, but pull of my walk was irresistible and I continued forward. 

Mud is for March and April, mud so thick and heavy that it can pull shoes off and make them disappear like a magic trick beneath the solemn and still brown. Mud in February is a strange slight, an awakening that shouldn’t be occurring yet. It’s all the more cruel because even though the temperatures rise, they inevitably dip into the single digits and everything freezes solid. Many times I’ve spotted squirrels and tiny birds on the creek’s ice, searching for openings to drink from.

During this particular thaw, the creek casts off ice, it’s center opening like a dark cut. The water sings as it cascades over the rocks, proclaiming it’s momentarily relief from the grip of winter. In Scandinavian folklore, there is a belief that given the proper offerings, a creek could teach a human how to play the most bewitching music. I crouch down near the creek, record a video of it singing on my phone and replay its music in the evening while lying on the couch. I should give something in return for the pleasure of its song and I consider. Perhaps some lavender buds I have stored away for a certain recipe, or a small pinecone I keep on a shelf to admire, or birch bark I retrieved from a favorite tree cut down years ago. 

The next day I return, and after waiting for a few dogs and their owners to pass by, I crouch next the side of the creek and sprinkle lavender buds into the small, clear stream. The buds vanish as soon as I drop them into the water– as if they never existed. I drop some more in and the same occurs; they’re gone before I can blink. The current flows by, washing over stones, fleeting by banks of mud, until it vanishes around the bend where the pine trees tower overhead.

As I gaze at the water, first downstream and then upstream, my own self quiets, stills, and momentarily dissolves into the landscape. The relief, though short, is palpable. Alone becomes together and perhaps that is what’s this practice of thanking the creek has been about all along.