Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Summer Reading List

When I was a kid, I would bike the blocks over to the library (making sure the creepy old man of the neighborhood wasn't following) and take my pick. I was a cautious reader, relying heavily on old favorites. I read a lot of outdated books- those books written before WWII, that the library was stocked with. Everyone always seemed happy in those, ready for adventure and ready for escapades. I still have a few of these old books in my own collection, picked up from library sales.

I find their allure is rather gone and their happy worlds a trifle tiring. I finally read "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" last year and loved it. I couldn't read it as a kid- I was too shaken by the deep depression that hung over the family in the book. Not surprising I couldn't read it then, after all, I was an undiagnosed child with deep depression myself. Sometimes things hit too close to home. And though I was an avid book reader and pedaled to the library more times than I could count, I never considered a Summer Reading List. No, summer was the time when you could read whatever you wanted and not be hampered by things like Ten Boom's "The Hiding Place" or Richardson's nauseating "The Peace Child." No more dull christian biographies or equally dull fiction. I read books by George MacDonald, allured by the idea of fish leading someone to a fairy woman and hardly understanding what Unitarian (as MacDonald was) could be. They were happy days when I poured over Beatrix Potter (even at twelve, I would sneak into the kid section and read them one by one), MacDonald, Agatha Christie and biographies on Mary, Queen of Scots, Katharine Hepburn (who knows) and Rose Wilder of Laura Ingalls Wilder fame. All this to say: this is the first summer I have created a list for myself of summer reads. There are only two entries but I think that's enough.

1. Jane Eyre: for month's now, St. John Rivers has been an illuminating figure in my life. He deeply believed that God would have him go be a missionary and yet, this belief only made him rigid and unhappy and in essence, a dangerous person. Stepping away from the branch of christianity I was born into, I can't help but seeing this in every person I encountered in that religion, including myself. Rivers allowed himself to be a person only in a very particular way (using God as the justification) and because of that decision, he refused to realize his self. So anyway, it's time to reread Jane Eyre and read over Rivers again and since I have a Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre, I'm ready to go!

2. Tess of the d'Ubervilles: I've held out on Hardy for a long time. Reading archaic dialect is not my idea of a pleasure reading but hells. I recently read a short story about a girl reading Tess and Wuthering Heights for Her summer reading and lets just say I've been inspired. Besides, if I read Tess, I know I'll understand the aforementioned short story in a much deeper way. And that's like swinging candy in front of a candy addict. So does anyone out there have a Summer Reading List too? Show and tell!

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.