Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

My life is in rework. Oh yes, this always happens- it's a part of life. Change, growth, etc, etc. But this time…this time its different. I've always been a stickler for inside change, praying and reading things till I've dealt with the turmoil inside of myself, shaking off old ways of thinking that don't work, getting on with the new ways, that sort of thing.
This time though, this time, my outward life is changing. This is odd because it hasn't happened all that often in my lifetime.
I write less. Oh, I write everyday. But I don't write fiction and I'm not focused on writing. It's turning into a dear old friend whom I love instead of a murderous conniving vixen. The murderous hold it had on me (write to be a success) is falling away. In fact, I don't view myself as a writer. Do you know what a relief that is? what heaven? Oh, I write but I don't have to. No one's making me. It's not my career. It's my choice. And everyday, I think…hmmm…I'll chose you writing to explore the day and the past days. Oh! You're great for that. I really enjoy hanging out with you.
I've stopped posing on paper- I've stopped trying to be someone else on paper. That was a revelation during this time that I haven't been able to write due the discomfort of post-hernia surgery. It came to me…I was trying to be someone else on paper. And now I'm me. I'm not sure when it happened but it did. I am many many things (thank you very much) but I am me. On paper. No more of this trying to be highbrow and meaningful and deep and symbolic and cool and tempered. Oh, I'm all those things all right but I'm so much more.
So there's that. But that's still an inside change.
No, it's this outward change I'm trying to get to and that is this: I sew. I'm a crazy sewing woman. I love to sew. I'm piecing together this child's quilt by hand and I just adore it. I'm moving slow as slow can be (because of the hernia recovery) but this gives such pleasure. I can savor. I can sew out straight lines and then just savor it for a day. It's such incredible satisfaction. I love to go slow. It gives this creation of things such a zest and tang. It gives color.
And I pour over sewing books. I took my beginning sewing class so things make sense and the books make more make sense. It's coming to me. I pour over my sewing machine manual. It's fun! Reading about my sewing machine (which I know so little about) is fun. Which sounds insane but there you are.
I'm finding what I really love and guess what? It's sewing. I do like clothes (okay, maybe it's more than just liking) but it's that sewing thing. You sew it and it exists. It's there. I think I like the process more than the awesome product. Funny like that.
Oh, I still love Literature. That'll always be there. I'm a bookish girl but I'm so much more than just a bookish girl with a BA in Literature and Writing. And because I'm more than that…things fall into my lap. Like a few nights ago…it came to me. Just came to me. I know exactly who I want to do my doctorate work on. I want to do it on L.M. Montgomery. She wrote all these fabulous novels and her writing is Good and her descriptions are Great and I have loved her since I read her at twelve and college made me ashamed of liking her but now that I'm past college and being out of college doesn't mean I'm not intelligent anymore…well, I just adore her. I love her mention of how Little Aunt Em is known for her spinning and her knitting and her cables. And this mention of knitting (because I've never seen Montgomery mention it for any other character in her novels) illustrates a ton about Aunt Em. She's a mysterious tiny woman, chock full of wisdom. Spinning and knitting give this breadth and depth. So yeah. If I get my doctorate, I'm doing it on Montgomery. My thesis study will definitely include something about the domestic arts because she was a big believer in them- while still being a professional highly successful woman. And I'm a big believer in them too. Montgomery was so highly successful and she left behind massive amounts of journaling and tons of interviews so the material is there and well…I have a strong resonance for her. Her descriptions of nature have always cut to my heart. I'd like to think my own ways of speaking about nature are influenced by her. My writing on nature has always been my most excellent and I'd like to think it has to do all those years of reading her.

Anyway. Things are happening. Changing. I'm growing and moving and pushing and resting. It's wonderful just to spend time resting and pondering. It's a good time.

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Winter in the Time of Climate Change

There is a stream near my home and I walk along it nearly every day; I know its moods and seasons nearly as well as I know my own. We are family and our connections are pure: we’re both made of water.

Every day brings more distressing news about the environment. Big changes need to happen but whatever change that does happen is so slow. Global warming is now being felt by everyone, some more than others. I go out and walk along the stream when the news and all the unfortunate future unknowns press in too hard. Right now, it is running fast. This winter has been a series of freezes and thaws. November hit hard with a heavy, deep freeze and I expected this to lead to a  white Christmas but instead, it’s been a muddy, wet winter, full of more temperate days than frosty ones. The thermometer rides up and down, every day propelled by a bouncing ball rather than a steady progression of tiny fluctuations.

The stream locks and then unlocks. It accepts each freeze and thaw with inestimable grace. After reading the news, it is hard to know what is near or far, here and up in the sky, in the mind or in the present moment. But the stream is always present, it knows no other moment. It lives in eternity; as David Hockney said, “It’s always now. It’s now that’s eternal.”

The creek is still here, I think to myself whenever I see it, it is still living. It runs forward through this strange January, sometimes under the ice and sometimes not. Patches of green moss dot the banks nearby, beyond that the nearby plants are broken, brown, and dried. They are asleep, listening to things I cannot hear, dreaming of things I barely know of.

The Tale of Genji: A Timeless Novel of Messy Relationships

“Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.”

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

I read through The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu over the course of the summer and autumn, and I finally finished last week. I’d read it in the early morning with my first cup of tea and cat in my lap. The cat becomes upset and depressed if I don’t hold her for a little while in the morning so it was a good fit to settle in and read as much as I could from the 1200 page novel before moving into the rest of the day, accompanied by one happy cat. Now when I get up, blearily make myself a pot of tea and settle down, it’s a strange sensation not to reach out for the massive, multi-generational novel.

Set during the 11th century in Ancient Japan, The Tale of Genji spans three generations and is loaded with all sorts of characters, locations, and religious observances. It deals with the relationships between people, nature, the arts, and the gods. Emotions are celebrated in waka poetry, seasonal changes are closely noted and cherished, religious observations of Buddhism and Shintoism dominate daily life, and people’s lives change due to the current Emperor in power. At the center is the story of Hikaru Genji (Shining Genji) and later on in the novel, his descendants. Despite having a father as Emperor, his mother was a low-ranking consort and as such, he has commoner status– but for all that, lives a wealthy, fabulous life. Added on top of this is his intense, near-otherworldly beauty and grace, acknowledged by both men and women. Loaded with money and charm, he seduces and sleeps with many. Hundreds of pages are devoted to his thoughts and feelings on his lovers (to whom he sends piles of poetry and presents) and in turn, the thoughts and feelings of his lovers are revealed privately to the reader. Nearly every woman who comes in contact with him (and a few men) has deeply conflicted feelings about Genji and his behavior.

Noble women’s lives in the Heian Era are so delicately arranged that any mere whim of Genji’s can affect their futures deeply. The women live entirely at home, tucked into the deep recesses of their houses. They rarely even stand—though if a noblewoman does get up and walk, life is about to get spicy. To express their sadness and depression over Genji’s cavalier behavior, they watch the seasons change through a veil of tears, lie face down on the floor, refuse to talk to him, or can’t stop sending him messages. Whatever their behavior, they ultimately have accept his treatment of them. It is not an easy path to walk. They find consolation in the surrounding world: by reading, writing, playing music, observing the seasons, flowers, and birds, caring for their children, and talking to other women.

Seasons, religious observances, and rulers flow by and the main characters change too, from Genji and all the people surrounding him, to his grandsons and the women they love. There is a possibility that different author wrote the story of the grandsons, Kaoru and Niou. The style is different, somewhat smoother, and the characters’ thoughts and motives are revealed in more depth. I like to think that it was Shikibu’s work, a return to her great story after many decades of refining her craft.

“The world know it not; but you, Autumn, I confess it: your wind at night-fall stabs deep into my heart.”
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

The final third of the book centers on a succession of autumns, and a melancholy light flickers through the last few hundred pages. Genji is remembered but in passing—little of him is left except for his great house and his descendants. Kaoru, Niou, and three sisters that they love are on center stage. Genji’s grandchildren live in much the same way he did and though their personalities are different, their lives are just as fleeting and as frail. People make many of the same choices as the previous generation; the circle of life wheels around and around as the seasons flash by. The story has no neat conclusion: the book ends abruptly with protagonists still navigating their lives and affairs. I imagine Kaoru, Niou, and Ukifume out there in another dimension or time, wrestling with their lives, emotions, and circumstances, trying to make do with the choices available to them.

The Tale of Genji is an immersion into another life and era; it is an ancient gift that has survived for nearly a millennium. It is a book of shadows and barriers, a world that exists in lamplight.

“In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.”

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

It is miracle that so massive a book, copied out by hand year after year, decade after decade, century after century, then at last into print, should survive into the modern era. Due to its venerable age and old language, many translations of The Tale of Genji have been written: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s in Japanese and Edward Seidensticker’s in English are among the most well-known. I read Royall Tyler’s translation, occasionally dipping into Arthur Waley’s and Seidensticker’s earlier ones. What comes through strongly, regardless of the translation, is how incredibly easy The Tale of Genji is to read despite being nearly 1000 years old. Part of this is Shikibu’s very modern skill of weaving plot points in and out of characters’ motivations and thoughts. Shifting narrative perspectives and stream of consciousness prose both play a part; but an even bigger contributor to the story’s strength is its centering of relationships. If readers love anything, it’s hot, messy love affairs, tangled family and friendships, and all the accompanying emotions that go with them. Genji, full of tumult, even ghosts and possessions, is ultimately about human nature and all the triumphs, frailties, and failures that come with it.