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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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.