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 : )

 

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

 

 

The Third Thing

Natalie Goldberg, in her book on writing memoir Old Friend From Far Away, writes that “Couples need a third thing – a child, a dog, a house, a business – to gaze upon.  Side to side, not face on.”  She is referring to couples being very similar to writers, needing a ‘third thing’ to write about.

I can see this is true of writers, but wondered if this was also true about couples.  Is it not enough to just be one half of a couple?  Sometimes, when life has been too busy, too hectic with kids and family and work and all the circus of the trappings of our lives, sometimes at those times, I’ve longed for couple time.  Imagined a time when there would just be the two of us, together.  Alone.  Alone together.

But yet…this statement from Goldberg made me stop and think.  It makes clear: couples, like writers, need a third thing.  And I think she might be right.  I think of our lives so far, and the third thing that maybe we had or have, did or do, side to side:

Worked hard and had friends, gone to Yoga and Wing Chun, played squash and read books, separately but together.  Had a child, lost a mother, had parents divorce in middle-age.  Bought and sold houses, had another child, to keep the first company.  Built a business, working side to side, sold a business, and did new things.  He taught; I wrote.  We both raised two daughters.  Owned cars, volunteered.  Got part-time jobs, reviewed books, had writing published.  We both completed degrees as mature students (at different times in different subjects), and ran blogs.  Separately.

And side by side, we move onward, onward together, us two but with many third things between us.

Keeping life interesting.

 

 

 

 

Balance

Trees.  I love them.  I’ve probably banged on about my affinity with all things natural and simple on here before, but once I started to take notice of the natural world around me, I kept seeing similarities and connections everywhere.  As I’m typing this blog post, for example, BBC Radio has just mentioned that my home city has the most trees of any in Europe.  See?  Coincidence.  Connections.

Take the Banyan tree, known as ‘the tree of many feet’.  This is because of the way its many roots spread.  Sacred in Hinduism, the Banyan is grounded, fixed to the earth by a multitude of connections.  For this reason, it is often seen in images reflecting practises from the East, such as Yoga.

When I began a regular Yoga practise, I felt like I had finally come home.  That sounds like something new-age-y, I know, but it was the truth.  It was like I had turned a switch and finally realised what I should have been doing with my body for my whole life previously.  I very much define my life and my body in before Yoga and after Yoga terms.

It wasn’t just the Yoga itself, but that once I started on that path, I began to look at every area of my personal being.  My attitudes to ageing, to health, to my writing life.

Or there’s the cherry blossom.  The Japanese see cherry blossom as representing the passage of time, transcience, impermanence, and mortality.

I recently wrote a piece on here about facing the changes brought about by my eldest going off to university.  I’ve also just had a birthday, which always beings about a bit of internal reflection.  It can often feel disheartening when another year passes and we maybe feel we haven’t achieved goals we may have set.  I should have finished that manuscript by now…I hoped to be earning more from my writing by now… and so on.

The Danish have a phrase which is considered a high compliment, manhviler sig selv, which means someone who rests in him- or her-self.  Essentially being happy in one’s own skin.  Maybe being happy with the type of writer I am, appreciating the successes I have had and seeking out more, but in my own time and my own way.  It’s all about balance, about the harmony between what we want and what we need.

It used to bother me that there were grey hairs beginning to appear, and that lines were creeping around my eyes when I smiled.  Yet, spending more time in nature has made me look anew at the negative way we assimilate women’s looks and women’s lives.

Then I read about the Silver Birch.  These trees have smooth, perfect trunks when young saplings.  Their barks grow rough and broken when mature, however, just like our own skin can do.  Yet, we don’t pull them from the ground, assuming them to be of no more use.  We cherish trees and woodlands the older they get.

In this, as in many ways, we maybe could learn important lessons from the natural world.

Kate  xx

 

Blackbird

Sitting at my desk this morning, searching for inspiration and trying to keep warm as I stared out at the wintery landscape, a blackbird on the tree outside my window nips at the orange berries.  There are very few left on the bare branches now.  The fat pigeons have taken most of them already, as I’ve sat here watching from my desk, trying to make words appear on pages.

The bird must be freezing; it has been sub-zero temperatures lately, and thin snow and ice lay on the garden, littering the branches of my blackbird’s tree.  Yet, I also envy the bird.  Its life appears so simple, so uncomplicated.  There are berries; he eats the berries.  He will come back tomorrow and eat some more, until all the berries have gone.  Then where will he go?  Maybe he will visit the generous gardeners who buy nuts and fat balls from the shop I work in in my other life, where I need to make money to support this habit of writing. The life when I am not at my desk, but dreaming of being at my desk.  Maybe the bigger birds will get there first, leaving the small blackbird to starve.

Even so, as I drag myself back to the page and try to make sense of the work I’m trying to make, today I envy that little blackbird his freedom and simplicity.

As I return to my writing, I try to remind myself to keep it simple, always.  To allow myself freedom on the page.  To be more bird.

Kate xx

ICYMI, I have a little flash up over at spelkfiction.com called ‘Arrivals’ https://spelkfiction.com/

It’s had some lovely comments left by kind readers, which make it all worthwhile : )

Manhviler sig selv

The Danish have a saying: ‘manhviler sig selv’.  Someone who “rests within him- or herself”.  Essentially, someone happy in their own skin.

I love this saying.  I found it recently, and like all things I’m afraid I’ll forget, I scribbled it down into a notebook to come across some day when I needed a hit of inspiration.

I’ve been restless lately.  Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been restless my whole life.  I often see this as a bad thing, as a fault or weakness.  Why can’t I just be like everyone else and stick to one thing?  I ask, often.

Why can’t I just be happy to rest within myself?

The thing is: though I love this Danish saying, and wish wholeheartedly to feel restful and at one within myself, I’ve come to realise that maybe I need to be restless in order to find what makes me happy within my own skin.

I don’t know if all of us are searching for what we’re meant to do with our lives.  Some  people seem to be content to sit in front of box-sets, a glass of wine to help them unwind from the day, unquestioning.  It sounds a really relaxing way to live.  I often envy such people.

And then I don’t.  Because my discontentedness and restlessness often drives me to make changes.  It drives me to get involved in things I might never have known about.  It drives me to make changes in my life to make it better, or at least more interesting.

It drives me to write, write, write about it all.

I recently saw a documentary about the writer Joan Didion, ‘The Centre Will Not Hold’.  I’m a big fan of her writing and reportage, and a line in the documentary struck me as relevant to my own feelings on writing: ‘She always writes to find out what she thinks, and what she feels’.

I will keep striving to reach this elusive manhviler sig selv; to rest and try to feel happy in my own skin.  But in the meantime, I’ll write about the adventures on the path to getting there.

Happy adventures of your own.

Kate  xx