I’ve been so enjoying the exciting build-up to our move; I’ve been looking forward to this event for almost three years! It does however deliver a very intense impact to the nerves when many things suddenly come to a head: in the last six months, I’ve retired early from a career I rocked at, sold and packed up a house I adore, abandoned tons and tons of books and notes from that job, and made plans to create a new life in a city I haven’t lived in for 34 years. Oh, and I launched a new business too. Phew.
It makes the stillness and silence of this house feel quite precious. Doing T’ai chi in Nick’s old room is now very flowing. Readers of The Tao of Painting will not be surprised by that. Mai Mai Sze explains that “Silence and emptiness of space possess vast powers of suggestion, stimulating the imagination and sharpening perception. And only through exercise of these highest faculties can the Tao be apprehended and expressed.”*
The emptiness and silence of the house when I’m sewing is filled with my happy thoughts and wonders about the life to come. I’ve barely even been in that Seattle house, apart from one day at closing and a one-day walkthrough each summer. In creating, one can only focus on present thoughts, so I’m channeling all that wonder and joy as a feeling into my new Night designs for Tranquility Pillows.** Sewing extremely detailed work like this is a profoundly engrossing activity: perfect for training the “wild horses” of your mind and keeping them in harness.
There’s another reason why I’ve been feeling immensely creative and inspired lately: Because I don’t have much more time! It’s an old habit of being a student for so long—we always procrastinate. We think we work better under pressure. And actually, we often do.
It is interesting to realize that even when we retire from a job, as an entrepreneur we can still create that same thrill of discovery. You can force yourself to jump forward conceptually under pressure. Only now I’m doing it for my own fun (and potential profit), in hastening to create prototypes for two new pillows: the Baudelaire “Giantess” pillow and the Tranquility Night pillow (with the new “Freak Out” Star for suicide prevention). I’m working with my hands in satin, cotton, and flannel, instead of working only with my Mind. This new life is thus a genre-change as well as a new way to relate to people through literature, and an effort to forge an art of my own making. Oh, and there’s that moving over 2,000 miles. That’s all.
Maybe all these crazy-making details are why I’m so drawn to the spare, evocative simplicity of Chinese aesthetics and the abstract thinking of Zen. I love Chinese Calligraphy and the way Chiang Yee describes his work:
“One of my incentives in writing this book is to help such people [ie Westerners] to an enjoyment of our calligraphy without putting them to the labour of learning the language. If the student can understand the literal meaning of the words, so much the better: for an aesthetic appreciation it is not essential. You will understand my meaning if you think of a landscape painting in which the familiar forms of scenery of your native land touch a chord of memory. You have a different and more pleasurable sensation from such a picture than from a painting of an unfamiliar scene. But I do feel that, without this sense of recognition, it is possible, provided one has a sense of line-movement […] to appreciate the beauty of lines.”***
The beauty of lines and the sense of line-movement: so obvious yet overlooked!
My own thinking led to the question of how to create the right shape of star for my new Tranquility Pillow Night design. There are so many star styles to choose from, but after a bit of reflection, it was obvious: Le Petit prince. Le Petit prince has the best stars: being handmade and imperfect, they project a winsome air. (See last blog post for a few cute examples)
So I got a pic of that up on my screen. Then I went hunting around for a piece of cardboard to write on. Since we’re moving in one week, everything’s a mess and there are no tablets to be found. Finally I looked in a wastebasket and found a file folder from the Hesburgh Library reserves department from years ago, for a photocopied chapter of Mlle de Scudéry’s Clélie, a long slog of a novel from 1654. (I know I know! I was crazy to inflict such torture on my students, for which I apologize.)
At the sight of the stamp “2hrs. Library Use Only” under my name, I felt a surge of tenderness. For those nameless, long-ago students and for all students. As I drew my version of Saint-Exupéry’s star, I tried to make the line-movement convey a sense of hopeful yearning, a reaching forward.
Lesson of the day:
it is amazing what you can do with a simple shape, if you focus on intention.
Question: but can you use intention to make a prickly situation less prickly?
Short answer: I am trying to do so.
Long answer: you may be wondering how or if I’m going to keep up the rigorous morning routine during the five days it will take us to drive across the country. La chance ça se prépare (Luck is planned). I’ve already announced to my dearly beloved that we will not hit the road until 10am each morning. He will sigh, and grumble, and pace around impatiently, but he is a man of his word. That gives me time to get up punctually, have my coffee and fruit, and then find a quiet spot somewhere in the motel or outside to bring my laptop and do T’ai chi along with the video of Master Peng, like I do every day. I may draw some strange looks!
It is crucial to continue this routine when spending the other 12+ hours of each day alone (apart from Honey Girl) in a car with the same person you’ve been married to for 32 years, whose lack of self-trust and aggressive ways frequently grate on your nerves, although he means well. Honey Girl and me will keep him calm somehow, or block him out. 🙂
*Mai-Mai Sze, The Tao of Painting, 96.
**Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 220.
***Chiang Yee, Chinese Calligraphy, 3.
The new styles coming to life!
Zen message of the Night pillow: “Even when we enter disturbed waters, we can still align with the moon, until such time when we can see it directly.”
- Tranquility Pillow-Night design no. 1, shows the satin moon’s reflection on a sea of navy flannel.
- Tranquility Pillow Night design no. 2, features lines of grey, black, and white satin and navy rayon, on a navy flannel sea below a white satin moon.