Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

On the Difficulties of Transitioning Out of Survival

The difficulties loom large as I transition out of survival living and into a living where I am able to take the time to look around me. A large part of being a survivor is ignoring large swathes of life for sanity’s sake. The terrible occurrences and ongoing abuses are glossed over so that we can survive. A grave side affect to this is that slowly but surely the day to day annoyances are skimmed over too– the cooking, the cleaning, the self-care. Soon everything is lumped under horrible things to ignore and by then, everything is ignored and hardly any living is done at all. Surviving is happening. Reaction is happening. But not interaction. Nor action.

Even when the abuse and the abusers are left behind and the baggage has been unpacked, the half-living continues. It hurt to look at anything for so long, it was not possible to live and look and still function, and now the habit runs deep.

One way of lessening the fear of living is looking at art. Art can be like honey, it can be the healer, it can look when we’re too scared to look but would still like to. It takes what could could be an image of every day grimness and it can make the image sweet, make it worthy of examination.

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This is Garrowby Hill by David Hockney. It is just another hill in Yorkshire, England, one that has to be driven along to get from Point A to Point B. It stands in the way for a lot of drivers who just want to get to their destination. The boredom of driving along this road day after day must be interminable and undeniable.  But under Hockney’s gaze the road and landscape become joyful and alive. For Hockney, this is a view of rich possibilities. The possibilities here are endless, the life is endless, and the joy is endless. Hockney’s art teaches that looking with an open heart is worthwhile and can be a palliative to our sadness and pain. It’s scary to look so joyfully at anything with a wounded heart and so his art looks for us. The art beckons us forward to new kind of living.

North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire

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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.