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art cats creativity design dogs friendship happiness quilts trees wisdom

small mercies

It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.

Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:

“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”

Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:

“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”

— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.

And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.

Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!

And now, about that weather…

Categories
health nature trees

day 60, listening to the sea, not the usual

Today’s morning walk took me back down the mountain to the sea. More precisely, from the tip of West Seattle to the point where Puget Sound enters Elliott Bay, at Duwamish Head. Walking along Alki Beach, I realized I had forgotten how much I love that place and how wonderful it smells, sounds, and feels. (If you wonder why we don’t go there every day, check out this view of the hill from down below, on the way back up.)

It's an uphill climb May 18 2020

While walking by the water, I was swept up in a deep feeling of peace, the waves’ calm rhythm reminding me of some long ago lullaby. We can’t spend all our time gazing at the sea, but we can listen to it more than we do.  For now, I’m listening to this ad-free ocean soundtrack, instead of the usual stuff. Or maybe I’ll turn it off too and listen to “nothing.” (Which is never really nothing; there is always birdsong, car noises, people talking now and then, far-off trains and sirens.)

Let’s give our ears a break, and our minds a rest. All that bad stuff will still be there when we tune back in.

See you on the other side of tonight,

 

Fyi: yesterday’s face mask production:

Face masks made on May 17 2020

 

Categories
art creativity nature trees wisdom

day 30: About trees and people: Distancing is good for all of us

As I was walking around the neighborhood this morning, it felt very peaceful to find empty streets in the drizzle. Did you know that distancing is crucial to trees, just as it is to us during this pandemic? Like many parts of his fascinating yet extremely dense book, The Hidden Life of Trees, this passage from Peter Wohlleben sounds like a parable for our times:

“You can check this out for yourself simply by looking up into the forest canopy. The average tree grows its branches out until it encounters the branch tips of a neighboring tree of the same height. It doesn’t grow any wider because the air and better light in this space are already taken. However, it heavily reinforces the branches it has extended, so you get the impression that there’s quite a shoving match going on up there. But a pair of true friends is careful right from the outset not to grow overly thick branches in each other’s direction. The trees don’t want to take anything away from each other.”

Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World. Trans. Jane Billinghurst (Vancouver, Canada & Berkeley, CA: Greystone Books, 2016), p. 5.

-Some quiet scenes from the morning

-Finally, yesterday’s mask production, including the two new Limited Edition models!  (very exciting)

Masks produced on April 17 2020

Enjoy the pitter-patter of rain on your rooftop,

And see you tomorrow

Categories
creativity happiness nature trees wisdom work

day 13: purpose–and cheer–are back!

Hello dear readers,

After yesterday’s slump, I am surprised and delighted to announce the return of good cheer.  Who knew?!  three things helped make this turnaround.

First, there was a major job yesterday, when I finally overcame procrastination and met the 3/31 deadline for revising my second children’s book, A Spooky Tale of Spring, or How the Grumpy Mom Got her Cheer Back, now set in today’s world with the coronavirus playing a minor role. This rewriting of A Christmas Carol has moved into the hands of illustrator Kiera Highsmith, and we plan to publish it with Honey Girl Books and Gifts by Fall 2020. It feels good to make plans for the future in a grim moment like this.

Second, the morning gloom was considerably brightened by the article by Farhad Manjoo, “It’s Time to Make your own Face Mask” which includes a pattern and directions for sewers. Yay! I can now get to work!

Finally, I just got back from my fourth anomie-beating walk of hmmm… well a bit more than 4k (I got lost!), during which a mossy old bridge provided a boost of wisdom. Looking at the bridge, my mind focused on the old cement, thinking of urban decline, neglect, and the isolation of prison (the bars). Then suddenly something switched, and I saw myriad shades of green signifying new growth and resilience, and the bars became a tool of fun (for playing peekaboo with the trees, or spying on people down below).

Blah or bountiful, why we feel what we feel, nobody knows. But having a purpose helps.

Au boulot!  (To work!)

 

Categories
American literature art creativity design nature quilts trees wisdom

day seven: on time and its vicissitudes

Yesterday I got the best present for these cloistered times: a huge English dictionary (in two volumes!) and a book on psychology by William James. These generous gifts from a new friend (thanks, Emma!) have already improved my life and arguably improved our dinner-table conversation. According to me, anyway. Our resident Millennial rolled his eyes about my newfound enthusiasm for etymologies, saying “OK Boomer.”  Go figure. 

Those gifts have inspired today’s thoughts on time and its vicissitudes. But first, let’s all remember that our lives had vicissitudes well before this crisis! Perhaps it’s the lack of vicissitudes that’s making us miserable? More on that below… let’s recall what the word means:

*Vicissitude (Etymology: Latin vicissitudo, from vicissim, “by turns” + preposition -tude [forming an abstract noun, as altitude, exactitude, solitude]

  1. Reciprocation, return, an alternation, a regular change (Rare)
  2. The fact or liability of change occurring in a specified thing or area; an instance of this.
  3. Change or mutability regarded as a natural process or tendency in human affairs.
  4. In pl. Changes in circumstances; uncertainties or variations of fortune or outcome.

Aha! It is the lack of apparent change, the sameness, of life under coronavirus that makes the time feel so long. Let’s play a mind game to test that: try to grab the now.  You’ll find you have to continually say, “Ok now!” “No, now!” “Now!” “NOW NOW NOW NOW!” because as soon as you speak the word, it is already no longer it.  But that does not make it any more interesting.

The great lecturer and pioneer in psychology, William James (1842-1910) articulates that paradox nicely:

“Let anyone try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.”

“Reflection leads us to the conclusion that it must exist, but that it does exist can never be a fact of our immediate experience. The only fact of our immediate experience is what has been well called ‘the specious’ present, a sort of saddle-back of time with a certain length of its own, on which we sit perched, and from which we look in two directions into time.  … with a bow and a stern, as it were—a rearward- and a forward-looking end.”**

Then why is the present is so boring?  Back to vicissitudes.  As James writes,

“A day full of excitement, with no pause, is said to pass ‘ere we know it.’ On the contrary, a day full of waiting, of unsatisfied desire for change, will seem a small eternity. Tœdium, ennui, Langweile, boredom, are words for which, probably, every language known to man has its equivalent. It comes about whenever, from the relative emptiness of content of a tract of time, we grow attentive to the passage of time itself. Expecting, and being ready for, a new impression to succeed; when it fails to come, we get an empty time instead of it, and such experiences, ceaselessly renewed, make us most formidably aware of the extent of mere time itself.”

He suggests another experiment:  “Close your eyes and simply wait to hear somebody tell you that a minute has elapsed, and the full length of your leisure with it seems incredible.  … The odiousness of the whole experience comes from its insipidity; for stimulation is the indispensable requisite for pleasure in an experience, and the feeling of bare time is the least stimulating experience we can have. The sensation of tedium is a protest, says Volkmann, against the entire present.”

If tedium is a protest against the lack of stimulation inherent in our current “Lockdown,” “Stay at Home” or “Shelter-in-Place” lifestyles, what can we do?  Aha, the dictionary again comes to the rescue!  Sometimes understanding a word can lead to an action to activate it or prevent it. To avoid the enemy–insipidity–we must know what it looks and feels like.

Insipid*** (Etymology:  comes from the French insipide or late Latin insipidus, formed as IN– [prefixed to adjectives to express negation or privation]+ sapidus, [savory, delicious, prudent, or wise])

  1. Adjective. 1. Tasteless, having only a slight taste, lacking flavor.
  2. Lacking liveliness; dull, uninteresting.
  3. Devoid of intelligence or judgment; stupid; foolish.
  4. Noun. An insipid person or thing; a person who is deficient in sense, spirit, etc.

The answer to insipidity–that is, boredom– is to find things that are opposite to all of the words above. We turn to the word Interest.

Interest**** (Etymology: from Latin interest, it makes a difference, it concerns, it matters]

Many meanings follow, but for us it is nos. 8 & 9 that matter

  1. A state of feeling in which one wishes to pay particular attention to a thing or person; (a feeling of) curiosity or concern.
  2. The quality or power of arousing such a feeling: the quality of being interesting.

CONCLUSION!  To change the dull into the savory, without moving beyond our homes or speaking with strangers, we must change our perspectives.  We must find something that arouses the feeling of curiosity. Take one thing about your life and change it.  For me, I went outside and took a new photo of our window with the sign, from a slightly different angle. The new photo hides the damage on the window frame and ushers in the view of lovely young buds poking out of a tree branch. Now this photo journal will also track the progress of spring!

Week 2 photo detail Mar 26

I’m also creating a new quilt design, by channeling memories of travel and experimentation in a stream-of-consciousness for a young woman far away. These squares show how I’ve deconstructed Alice in Wonderland by stitching some key moments from the book (where Alice puts the key in the door, meets the hookah-smoking caterpillar and follows the anxious rabbit) into a patchwork that includes scraps of one of her old dresses, surrounded by scenes of Paris and a cityscape by night, trees, French words, and a crane for long life and good luck.

Quilt in progress Mar 26 2020

Wishing you an interest-ing day!  And see ya in the a.m.!

 

P.S. Interesting. (Etymology interest + suffix ing [forming nouns from verbs, by analogy denoting a) verbal action [i.e. fighting, swearing, blackberrying, or an instance of it, as wedding], or an occupation or skill [i.e. banking, fencing, glassblowing]. Our goal is to create a skill out of being curious with the banal….

 

*The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, 5th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), vol. 2, p. 3532.

** William James, Psychology: The Briefer Course, ed. Gordon Allport (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), pp. 147-152.

***The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 1387.

**** Op.cit., vol. 1, p. 1400.

 

Categories
art creativity design nature sustainability trees Zen philosophy

Kimono silk quilt no. 2 projects yin, healing energy!

I just finished Kimono silk quilt no. 2 in the “Rainbow” series, and all I can say is: what a difference a border makes! Both this blanket and “Rainbow” no. 1 are made of scraps of vintage Kimono silk, but where quilt no. 1 projects a “yang” feeling, with its bright white background and dramatic splashes of purple color, quilt no. 2 represents the “yin” force, with its dark green ginkgo leaf border. The leaves look plump and curvy; they remind you of other living things such as butterflies and deer hooves. A stylish black floral binding ties it all together. A back in pale green tweed with pink hearts completes the look, making a holistic yin message of comfort and coziness.

Yin and yang, rest and activity, nesting and flying: we need all to feel healthy and alive.

Good health to you, wherever you are!

P.S. I hope you noticed the cranes, in the blue fabric above!  As promised in my 2/8/20 posting, each Kimono silk quilt will have a crane/ or some cranes in it, to bring long life and good luck to my clients. Together with the yin / yang design, these quilts are sure to provide comfort and balance, wherever they may go.

Yin-Yang-1200x1181

yin / yang symbol: a dualism, suggesting how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. In the symbol, Yin–black–is the receptive force and Yang–white–is the active principle; since they are equally present, the circle remains constantly in balance. This complementary dualism exists in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both women and men as characters, and theories of sociopolitical history (disorder and order).

Categories
art creativity generosity health nature trees wisdom

little ideas for an enchanted life

Fritillaria by Rory McEwen

Hi readers,

Did you ever discover a writer who seems to be saying what you wish you knew, or are in the process of discovering? As one with an active imagination (some might say over-active), this has happened to me on several memorable occasions, starting maybe with Richard Kraus (in the wonderful set of books known as “Bunny’s Nutshell Library”), later with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the Confessions), and most recently with the books by Sharon Blackie. I have not quite finished The Enchanted Life yet but it is due back at the library so I’m going to order my own copy today and, to make my commitment public, share some tips here.

Little things to do, to make life feel more enchanting:

  1. Build an attachment to some “things” in the place where you live. This can be done by speaking or singing to some living creature (birds maybe?), touching (a special tree perhaps?), or otherwise learning to love some part of the natural world on a regular basis. It could be visiting a special stone on your daily walk, and addressing it as you pass.  As Blackie writes, “Like any new relationship, it is about building attachments to particular locations and features which, over time, become familiar and loved. You can learn to belong anywhere, in this way, if you choose. It’s an act of creation, and like all acts of creation, it’s also an act of love, and an enormous leap of faith” (55).
  2. Allow wonder back into your vocabulary, and seek out places that fill you with awe. Quoting philosopher William James, Blackie notes, wonder is “a key to human potential.” Such experiences “break us open, and invite us to open ourselves to the possibility that there might be an order of reality which lies beyond that which we can experience through our physical senses” (77). For me, this is the Pacific Coast and all the wonderful saltwater beaches of Seattle. I feel like a little kid again, walking on those slippery, sandy logs and looking for sea anemones in the cold and windy tidal zones…  (the pic below was taken at one of my all-time favorite places, the Quileute Nation beaches near LaPush, WA).
  3. Accept not-knowing. Consider each day a phenomenon that unfolds as part of a long-term mystery, instead of a list of chores to check off before you’re allowed back to bed. Embrace philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s maxim–“Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.” (88)
  4. Blackie’s book is full of little quizzes you can take, and concrete suggestions to improve your state of mind. For example, she suggests thinking about plants you love. As Blackie writes, “Scan your life, and you’ll find there are at least one or two plants that intrigue, comfort or inspire you. Like any good relationship, your connection with this plant will need tending. … Perhaps put a picture of it in your bedroom, or try growing it, or sit with it. Eat it if you can! The more intimacy you create, the more you will learn (just like in human relationships)” (251).

The image above is of a flower called Fritillaria meleagris (painted by Rory McEwen). I had never seen this flower until 2002, when I had the good fortune to make friends with Isabelle Pottier Thomas who then lived in Saint-Jean-des-Mauvrets, not far from my then-home in Angers, France. Once a week, I would drive out to Saint-Jean and we would go for long walks around her village, in the vineyards and orchards of the beautiful valleys near the Loire river, and our friendship gradually took on a wondrous shape of its own. It was an odd and awkward friendship at first, between two opposites–she the stern, reserved Norman, and me, the over-enthusiastic, naive American–or that’s how it felt, until we realized that each of us mirrored the feelings of the other, deep down. The Fritillaria was a fragile spring wildflower that Isabelle brought to my attention on one of those walks.  They don’t last long, so you have to enjoy them while you can. Neither did Isabelle, who died way too young.

I ordered some Fritillaria seeds this week. They are coming from very far away, and they won’t flower for months after I plant them, but the very fact that they are on their way now makes me happy.  I hope that the purple blooms will rekindle memories of those walks, and Isabelle’s feisty funny spirit will continue to enchant this life…

In the meantime, I’m going to the park again today with Honey Girl!

Me on the beach at Quileute La Push April 2019.jpg

Categories
American literature humor loss nature trees

strange smoky weather brings back childhood memories

 

 

We rejoiced over our arrival here in Seattle in early July, when we discovered our amazing view of downtown across Elliott Bay. But look at it now.

The weather report is weird:  “77 degrees, Smoke.”

Honey Girl and I went for our walk as usual this evening and my eyes have been burning ever since. It is a very strange sensation to live in smoke. The neighbors I talked to on my walk all seemed kind of rattled by this too. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” we think anxiously, but it does not make any sense. We’re surrounded by water on three sides!

Seattle_Map_-_West_Seattle

(map of West Seattle)

One of my favorite children’s books has a harrowing forest fire scene that I’ve never forgotten. It’s not Bambi, it’s Smokey the Bear. 

Title page Smokey with funny childlike signature.jpg

I so love this book. As you see, when the fire engulfs the little bear cub, separating him from his mother, Smokey follows his mom’s advice: “When danger threatens, climb a tree.”

Smokey and the forest fire.jpg

But still, it is a traumatic experience!  The text reads: “So up a pine tree Bear Cub went. Around him the forest fire roared and crackled. Flames licked at Bear Cub’s shaggy fur and singed his tender paws. But he closed his eyes and just hung on. When he opened his eyes again after a while, he could scarcely believe what he saw. Instead of the cool, green, shady woods, all around him stood hundreds of ugly blackened sticks with trails of smoke still curling from them.”

Smokey gets better with the little girl

The scene where the forest ranger’s daughter gets to play with Smokey was always my favorite. What a dream come true to play with a living Teddy bear!

However, the shrewd critic might point out a few flaws in this tragi-comedy. Where is Smokey’s mother, for example? And what about Bambi and Dumbo? Why do writers of children’s literature dispense with mothers so often?

Maybe because the kids secretly wish for that…

Then there’s the little problem of watching Smokey grow into a grown-up man-cub. Like the female creature dreamed up, then destroyed, in Shelley’s Frankenstein, the grown-up Smokey of reality might not be quite so nice…

grizzly-bear-upclose-igbc.jpg

Wish it would rain.

 

Categories
Chinese literature dogs happiness health nature T'ai chi travel trees

Road trip day five and beyond: in our new home at last

Hi everybody,

Sorry to leave you up in the air like that, on the road trip! The fifth day began in Moses Lake–a vast and wind-swept desert setting. It was fun to see the sign for George, WA–I had not thought of that town since my days at WSU–and like every other tourist I could not resist:

 

 

As we spiraled down into the Columbia Gorge, signs finally started listing Seattle–what a thrill to the traveling trio, five days away from South Bend!

Seattle is on the sign.jpg

Snoqualmie Pass is beautifully mysterious, with its sudden waterfalls and misty views:

 

I drove for the last leg, with tears of joy as I realized that our dream had come true: we are home at last!  Honey Girl likes it here too.

 

That enormous moving truck made its way down our tiny street (a dead end) the very next morning. It was truly an engineering miracle to see him get that rig into the street, and to back it up all the way out. Hats off to Daniel, the North American Van Lines driver, who navigated the whole move like a true pro and is a nice guy too.

Here comes that huge moving van July 3 2018.jpg

I made a bee-line to the Seattle Kung Fu Club as soon as I could and I’m grateful to now be among the T’ai chi students of Grandmaster John S.S. Leong and his staff. (So far, I’ve been relegated to doing long arduous stretches for the duration of the 1 1/2 hour classes, but I look forward to learning the Wu Form in due course). It is wonderful to look into the eyes of people at the Seattle Kung Fu Club–they all look so vital, healthy, and alert.

Seattle Kung Fu Club

To go there, I walk down a dizzying street from our house on the top of a hill to Seacrest Park at sea level and take the water taxi 15 minutes to Pier 52 in downtown Seattle. Then I walk through Pioneer Square and beyond the eclectic mix of upscale art galleries and fancy restaurants alongside homeless missions and the people who gather nearby, to a tiny building in old Chinatown. It is a minuscule second-floor studio with an enigmatic grandmaster who inspires reverence among all of us sweaty people–just perfect. What a feast of sensations!  the dazzling water and lively boat traffic to see, the smell of diesel, the sound of the waves and the rumbling engine, then the strangely relaxing and familial smell of sweat and body warmth… it is just what all the “mindfulness” books suggest leads to wellbeing.  Check out the pics of the commute below. That long grey ship seems to be sending us a message to persevere in the inner arts and to stay strong with exercise… The pagoda-like entrance to King Street and the dragon mural at Hing Hay park delight the eyes and bring a smile to the spirit, every time:

 

 

I’m in heaven. With both brothers (and fabulous sisters-in-law) nearby, nieces, nephews, and one out of two sons close to home, family is finally near at hand. Yet there is much I do not know. Who knows what lies on the other side of that doorway in our backyard?

Threshold in back yard.jpg

Maybe it beckons to inner space: leading into the Space of Now. As philosopher Eckhart Tolle famously wrote, “you may be surprised that by becoming aware of the space of Now, you suddenly feel more alive inside. You are feeling the aliveness of the inner body–the aliveness that is an intrinsic part of the joy of Being.” (A New Earth, 252).

Thanks for joining me on this journey. There really was a rainbow waiting on the other side!

Rainbow on July 6 2018 with Nick's visit.jpg

Categories
dogs meditation memory nature trees

39 days to go. Day One: our trees are us

 

Today marks 39 days til we depart from the Midwest. That means 39 days to capture the essence of this region, to appreciate the people (and dogs) we have come to know here, and to contemplate what it means to return home after so many years spent in that vast region known to Seattlites as “East of the mountains.”

The trees seen here, laden with April snow and tender spring leaves, can be interpreted many ways. As I have gazed on them during my morning routine over the past year, my eyes were drawn to the point where the branches touch. You can see it in the right of the snowy scene. They touch gingerly yet steadily, tip to tip, jostled by the wind yet ever returning together. Neither one dominates. They look like friends, I’ve often thought.

Or, they could be likened to a teacher and a pupil. As The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting points out, “Old trees should show a grave dignity and an air of compassion. Young trees should appear modest and retiring. They should stand together gazing at each other.

Two trees crossing each other.

Two trees together yet separate.”*

Lovely thoughts.

Yet the Midwest where these trees grow can be a harsh environment for people. South Bend, Indiana is home to extreme poverty, violent crime, and thousands of people living in man-made misery. The state is a place where lawmakers systematically neglect the vulnerable, such as children born into poverty and elders lingering in nursing homes. Not to mention the chronic racism and homophobia that live on here in America’s Heartland… **

So the trees reaching in vain for each other could symbolize the human tragedy going on below.  They could remind people to try harder to fight these trends. You might think of the situation with the melody of “Ebony and Ivory” in mind, (in homage to the classic song by Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney),

Sycamore and Cottonwood,

Side by side in my South Bend neighborhood,

Live together in perfect harmony

Why can’t we?

***

* reproduced in The Tao of Painting by Mai-Mai Sze, p. 54

** https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/study-indiana-rate-of-kids-in-state-care-double-that/article_bf1139e4-1315-5c61-8774-1f228b2c71ff.html

https://www.southbendtribune.com/news/local/indiana-ranks-last-in-long-term-services-for-elderly-disabled/article_8a3e734e-efb5-11e7-9290-9f2188d5196b.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Freedom_Restoration_Act_(Indiana)

https://www.courierpress.com/story/opinion/columnists/jon-webb/2017/11/07/webb-indiana-still-has-racism-problem/827560001/