Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

A dog named Flush

I just finished “Flush”, a novel by Virginia Woolf. I was surprised to run into “Flush” because I’m fairly acquainted with Woolf’s writing (I’m a huge fan of her Common Readers) but I had never heard much about this one. “Flush” is put out by Persephone Books and like all of their books, is a real gem.

Flush was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel given to her a friend to cheer Miss Barrett up while she lay on her invalid bed doing invalid things. Like writing poetry and reading books and having friends occasionally visit while she cocooned herself up in Paisley Shawls. “Flush” then is the biography of Flush himself and it starts out with his ancestry and their love of chasing rabbits and running free as a breeze. Of course, this very great love of chasing things outdoors runs like quicksilver in Flush’s body but he is destined…for other things. And he resigns himself to the fate of living in a stuffy room and mostly eating and lying about. The first half of the book was difficult for me to get through. This clearly is no life for an energetic young dog. He rarely goes out and when he does in a park, it’s on a chain. Oh, Woolf whips it up all right and the puzzled longing of Flush to gallop about and play goes like nails into the heart. He loves Elizabeth, of course, but in his heart lies many turmoils…not just his need to race about in the sun…but there are jealousies and hurt feelings too.

The claustrophobic feel in the first half the book is pretty hard to get through. Elizabeth Barrett is cooped up in a room and sure, it’s been artistically and tastefully decorated but…it’s just one small room. She’s one of many children and an invalid and it’s hard to exactly know why she’s an invalid. She doesn’t feel well most of the time but it’s hard to think who Would feel good trapped up in a room nearly all the time. And why am I throwing conjectures about her when this book is about Flush? The book is about Flush but because he’s in this sweltering atmosphere, it gives us a good idea what Elizabeth Barrett is stuck in as well.

Release comes in the form of Robert Browning, whom Flush despises at first but who ultimately whisks the pair off for a life in Italy and Elizabeth Barrett’s and Flush Barrett’s lives are ultimately changed…

I galloped through the second half, managing to take a little bit of time to linger in the Florence that Flush hustles through everyday and the Apennines which Flush barely concedes to notice but whom his mistress exclaims over…yes, the first half sets the second half off, like a foil for a jewel.

And there really can be no doubt on how Woolf felt about Victorians and their “invalids” and I really cannot forget how sick I felt over the straightened ribs of that lone room, holding dog and mistress in its crush…and now I’m grateful too that at least one woman and one dog escaped that savage confine.

(yes, it is really them!)

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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.