Mono no Aware

Mono no Aware – Definition: the awareness of impermanence or transcience, and a gentle sadness or wistfulness at their passing.

Red.  The colour of our youngest child’s puddle suit.  It’s like a second skin to her that winter. Puddles are an irresistible draw.  Ditto mud.  The post box red soon turns to sludge red, to brown.

The first summer we take her to the little bay on the coast, we have a wet day.  The suit comes out. The waves kiss the bottoms, leaving white surf marks along the legs.

Eventually, the puddle suit legs become too short.  Her denim-clad ankles peek out of the bottoms, and the top of wellington’s leave a gap.  Time to let it go, along with her pushchair and soother; the baby words she uses that we have, as a family, adopted.

*

A hot summer at the bay, the puddle suit replaced by a Hogwart’s t-shirt, cut-offs, and Crocs.  Her older sister, now a teenager, is soon reduced to a child again as the shore works its charms.  The unusually warm weather has brought in jellyfish.  Purple, blue, pink, fading into translucent gooey bodies.  The smallest the size of a fried egg.  The largest specimens sprawl on the rocks, brought in by the tide.

The youngest is thrilled.  We tromp around, rescuing the stranded, after the lady in the Coastguard museum tells us they will soon dry out and die on the warmth of the rocks. She now makes this her mission: she must rescue the jellyfish.  She has one in her yellow sandcastle bucket, one of the larger ones, which I notice she seems reluctant to return to the sea.  We peer over the rim of the bucket, examining it together.  It is pink, its tentacles bent to accommodate the smallness of the bucket.

She has named it Bella, she tells me, because it’s clearly a girl, it’s so pretty.  I gently explain that it will die without returning to its home in the waves.  That it cannot survive as a pet.  That we are lucky to have held it so close; been allowed to share in its beauty at all.  That eventually, we have to let such beauty go.

We tiptoe to the water’s edge together.  She tips the bucket gently, prodding Bella out with the end of her spade.  The jellyfish merges with the water and begins to move away. We watch together, sea rippling gently over our toes, until we cannot see it any longer.

Heading back up the beach, hand in hand, she tells me her heart hurts a little bit because she really wanted to keep Bella safely with her.  I tell her I understand.  I understand completely.

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The Fifth Element

I have a stone beside my bed in the shape of a heart.  Dark grey slate, there’s no mistaking it, it’s perfectly heart-shaped. 

The first day of our holiday, walking toward the retreating waves, about to explore the scaurs reaching out into the wider sea, I walked over the stone.  Bending to pluck it from the sand, it was as though it had been placed there deliberately.  It has laid beside my bed ever since, like a talisman.

I didn’t know the term wabi-sabi then, a Japanese term celebrating the beauty of imperfection. Recognising the beauty of natural objects: the gnarly knot in a fallen log; the raised ridges of time etched on my heart stone, representing the years it has been tossed in waves and buried in sand.

How wonderful that the Japanese have a term for celebrating imperfection.  This is what I love about Eastern philosophies: they often tend toward recognition of nature, and of human beings, as being beautifully imperfect, and ultimately connected.

Buddhists, for example, believe we are all interrelated, interdependent.  When a tree in a forest is at threat of being felled, Buddhist monks often dress in their orange robes and dress the trees in their own vestments, to indicate their spiritual connection to all living things.

This connection to nature isn’t exclusively the proviso of Eastern brethren.  I remember my grandfather, years ago, predicting the rain by placing a fir cone on the windowsill of his home.  When the cone closed up, he would look out of his net-curtained window gloomily: rain was coming, preventing his escape to his rose garden.  The opening of the fir cone indicated sunny weather, changing his personality along with its changing shape.

We often wander into a wood and comment on the wonderfully dense thicket of tress; or the way the river surges rhythmically over rocks.  But it is too lazy simply to recognise these natural features as merely ‘trees’ or ‘rocks’.

The leaves of our many varied trees, for example, distinguish its species, each silhouette representing a way to identify it, just as fingerprints identify the individuality of human beings.  The rings around their trunks are often used to date them, perhaps similar to the wrinkles we all develop as we age; and their long roots spread through the woods, making up a connection referred to recently by scientists as ‘the wood-wide web’, feeding other plant species, similar to the communities we belong to.  Even their seeds eventually leave the branches to pollinate and procreate new saplings throughout the woods, just as our own saplings grow into adults and lay down their own roots.  We are far more connected than we realise.

Our trees are legendary, magnificent, and necessary.  Standing steadfast, used for healing, for hanging a tyre swing, for kissing under as young lovers, carving initials in for future generations. Planting new trees is a way humans can touch the future: an oak tree planted on the birth of a human child will still be standing, growing steadily, when that child is a grandparent, or great grandparent, and so on.  Once we begin to look out for these connections, these examples of interconnectedness, we find them everywhere.  It’s a clear case of reticular activation: the idea that you notice more of something when you become interested in it.

To enter a wood can be to pass into a new world, where we find ourselves, as with the natural elements of our environment, transformed.  The healing and transformative powers of immersing oneself in nature – given the official term of shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing’, in Japan – is now widely recognised, treating a variety of conditions including depression and anxiety.

The Chinese count wood from trees as the fifth element, recognising them as our barometers of weather, just like my grandfather with his fir cones.  They relate to the changing of the seasons; we tell the time of year by them.  Who is in any doubt that autumn has arrived in the Northern hemisphere when they take a walk in a wood, observing the myriad changing colours of the leaves?

I heard a story stating that woodland people, communities unaffected and untroubled by hectic city living, can often tell the species of a tree from the sound it makes in the wind.

Perhaps this is a lesson for us all: perhaps if we begin to slow down and listen, to breathe once in a while, to separate the umbilical cord of the Smartphone, we too will begin to pick up on the messages the natural world is sending us.  

Happy September! – Get out and breathe in the trees : )

 

#flashbackFriday

Looking for inspiration for my own writing this morning, (which has been in short supply since my recent house move/job change/life getting in the way), I went back to my bookshelves to hunt out some of the stories and writers who give me hope that I’ll get my writing mojo back.  My first port of call was Grace Paley (as so often it is), so I thought I’d share an essay I wrote for Thresholds short story website on her awesome talent:

http://thresholds.chi.ac.uk/two-ears-three-lucks-a-profile-of-grace-paley/

Hope it inspires you to pick up her books, if you haven’t already found your own way to them, and then to pick up your own pens.

Now, back to my writing…

 

 

Symbiosis

Hi all,

Just had a little nature inspired, creative non-fiction essay published on the fantastic lit mag website The Sunlight Press.  If you fancy a quick read, here it is:  https://www.thesunlightpress.com/2018/06/17/symbiosis/

I’ve had several pieces published on this site in the past couple years, and have to say, to anybody wanting to submit work, they are a wonderfully supportive and professional literary website.  They accept all types of writing, and even photography, and unlike most places, they pay for work.  I’ve found them to respond quickly to submissions and give excellent editorial advice.

As a writer, it’s often difficult enough to find the time to write, to come up with good ideas, then to have the confidence to send out work.  You can then often come up against a brick wall with regards to magazines and websites.  It can be very disheartening to new writers.  But when you come across a website such as The Sunlight Press, run by two great editors and writers themselves, you really appreciate the effort they put in to make writers feel they respect your work; regardless of whether the work submitted is accepted or not.

If you’ve come across any similar wonderful resources, please share!

Best,

Kate

 

 

Will I still be a Writer?

There’s been a lot of change floating around my world lately.  In the processing of downsizing to a smaller home with my family, attempting to simplify life, taken on part-time paid work and contributing time to a charity.

I’ve plodded along with my writing for the past couple of years, experiencing some really positive successes, such as publications, paid writing work, editorial work, and competition wins.  I’ve also experienced much rejection.  If you’re going to put yourself out there in a creative field, you are going to face inevitable rejection.  I’ve even got to the stage where I don’t take it personally.  Well, mostly.

The loss of some lucrative editorial work I had last year, together with a slowing down of paid reviews, meant I took on more paid part-time work outside of writing, as well as Yoga teaching.

Now, an opportunity has arisen that’s shaken me up a bit.  A more involved role with the charity I volunteer for has opened up.  It’s something I love.  Something I strongly believe in.  But my hesitation at jumping straight in is partly tied up with my idea and image of calling myself ‘a writer’.  What is one, specifically, and can I still call myself one if I’m dedicating more time to other paid work?

The idea of claiming the term ‘writer’ is a tricky one, I think.  Many of my writerly friends will say they can’t even begin to call themselves that title unless they are earning a living from their writing.  Yet, if you are writing, and especially submitting work, doesn’t that qualify?  Does it only count if you’re published; and does online count, or just print?  Or does it depend on whether you’ve been paid for your efforts?

If you don’t need to do another paid ‘day job’ in addition to writing, or you are on the bestseller lists, then it’s pretty cut and dried.  But as with many things in life, there are lots of grey areas.

The dictionary definition of a writer includes many variations, including: “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, especially as an occupation; a clerk or scribe; a person who commits his or her thoughts and ideas to writing”.

So in this respect, perhaps it’s time to let go of the pretensions and hang-ups over who can and who can’t say they are a writer.

If you: blog, write letters, journal, act as scribe, apply for grants, scribble poems, submit flash fiction, write reviews, write essays, publish online content, publish in print, or are working on the next bestseller: you are committing your thoughts and ideas to writing.

You Write.  You are a Writer.  Own it.

 

 

Nice Girl

The girl – the other girl – is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright.

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.
Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet.
I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.
He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake.
The baby with his eyes, his lips.
I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement.
In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.
When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say.
I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely.
I’m the nice girl, remember?

First published on Cafe Aphra

Father’s Guitar

Father’s Guitar

His guitar stands resplendent,

Statuesque.  His muse – ethereal,

awaiting him to place it into its tomb-like case.

He strokes it with long, practised fingers,  

caressing the taut strings.

I watch as he takes the instrument into his arms,

gently placing it into the case lined with purple velvet,

as one would place a newborn,

holding the back of the spine until last.

Clicking silver clasps shut, he leaves.

I crawl from my hiding place,

lying myself down on the cheap carpet beside it.

I am the same length exactly

as my rival.

I move close, closer still –

and, like osmosis,

try to absorb a piece of his affection.

Kate Jones ©

Previously Published in sicklitmaagzine.com