Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Times to Try the Soul

This summer has been a grind. Due to unpleasant family upheaval, I have been looking  more deeply into what I believe, what I’m interested in and how I’m going to make things happen.

One thing I’ve felt a growing interest in is learning how to design knitting patterns. My friend, Ashley, is a fearless designer, creating darling patterns in her pattern book and then whipping them out on the needles. It’s magical watching her do it. It’s a sort of magic I’d like to try my hand at as well. I feel pretty tentative about the whole thing but I must give it a try instead of wishfully thinking I was doing it. What I’d like to start out with is a bad-ass lace shawl pattern. Shawls are my thing. I love to knit them and I love to wear them. I’ve been working on Ysolda Teague’s Orchid Thief for a little while now and it’s a beauty. Something like that would be nice to start with but maybe I should work my way up!

Another goal is to finally finish a story, edit it to where I’m finally satisfied (lower standards if needed. Such a wrestle for this perfectionist) and send the thing out. Send it out before next year. Deep breath. I think I can do this…

One of the things I struggle with is to find the motivation. There’s a deep tired place in me that makes me too exhausted and hence afraid to go forth. It’s like my bones melt and I just want to lie down and close my eyes. Anybody else out there struggle with inward fatigue about sallying forth into the wonderful world of doing? Becoming gluten-free has helped with this feeling a great deal but the inward canker of deep tiredness still lingers. I’d love to hear anyone else’s experience with this. I struggle valiantly on but it would lovely to hear others.

Comments (6):

  1. Pamela

    August 7, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    The key may be the first line of your post – this summer has been a grind.
    Of course I can’t know what you’re going thru, I can only talk about my own experiences. I think it’s almost impossible to find motivation when you’re going thru or have just been thru upheaval and massive life changes. I’ve learned, during similar situations, to listen to my body and to take care of that deep, tired place by giving it the rest it needs when it demands it. By nurturing that need, by seeing it not as a deep canker but as a natural response to what’s happened in my life and an inner re-stitching of the fabric of my being, I find that it mends itself more quickly than if I fight against it or try to tell myself to snap out of it or try to motivate myself out of it and into something for which I’m not ready. I don’t know if this helps at all, Catherine, but it’s what worked for me.. honoring that tiredness, giving myself what I need and when I was ready to move on and do things that energized me again, I found that I didn’t need any outside stimulus..the motivation was there, automatically. Wishing you much support on your journey.

  2. Dan Slanger

    August 7, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Catherine,

    I think I feel the weight of indolence more than any other vice.

    Maybe pick a person to update everyday with what you did re your needlework—both pin and pen—and what you plan to do the next day. Or you might put the update in a public place like this blog or Facebook. There are websites built on this premise but I’ve never reviewed them closely. I suppose the ideal update buddy would also have a daily met goal they could update you with.

    And just do it. A bit of it. Everyday. Same time.

    Best,

    Dan

  3. Liza

    August 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm

    Cat, I’d really like to be designing more than I have been, too. Of course I’m in the midst of finishing up my thesis so I have to keep most of my focus in that direction. But, I’ve been finding that I’m peevish when not designing or at least creating something with fiber. If you ever need someone to share goals/achievements/hold accountable I’d be happy to set up some sort of system with you. Let me know if you’re interested.

  4. Catherine

    August 7, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    Pamela,

    Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful reply. There is much wisdom in what you say. It’s very hard to be patient while going through change that can completely reassess the direction we want to go in life. While it’s scary, it’s revitalizing as well. I have bursts of motivation but the tiredness seethes back in at times. Taking a deep breath and being okay where one currently is…well, it takes grace. Thank you.

  5. Catherine

    August 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    Dan,

    Great idea. I have a few friends that I meet up with and discuss yarn and pen with but it’s very loose and on a week or bi-weekly way. Tightening up on that could be an important key. I believe I’ll give it a try. Thanks! I was glad to hear from you. I hope you’re doing well and finding your way.

  6. Catherine

    August 8, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Liza,

    I’d be very much interested! The first key is for me to design something and see if I like doing it. I imagined grand things for a yarn spinning career but realized after taking a great spinning class that while I like spinning, it’s incredibly monotonous and my mind needs variation to stay happy. I’m thinking design would work well in that way. I’d love to chat with you on how you started designing and how you go about it. There’s a book I can pick up on knitting design at the library and I get it about grabbing a book of lace patterns but I’d love to hear how you go about doing it. Thank you much for your interest about creating a buddy system together. It really touched me.

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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.