Tea House

Buddhist Creative Writing and Inspiration

Category: Living Mindfulness

Make Something

Ratnadevi

When I joined Facebook a few months ago I was slightly concerned that it might turn into another of those addictions, like binge watching television series on Netflix (something I have to watch!). But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way, I am glad to say. The holiday adventures of a distant friend just aren’t that much of a page-turner, as it were. But every so often I come across a little Facebook gem; a link to an interesting article or a witty exchange that stays in my mind. Like this one, about a week before Christmas:

G: Don’t buy anything.

Me: Make something.

A: Like, what???

Till very recently, people constantly made things. They sewed, knitted, wove, embroidered and darned their clothes. They carved, hammered and incised tools, toys and weapons. They shaped stone into houses; clay into pots; grass into baskets; flour into bread; fruit and vegetables into conserves and mammoth ivory into talismans. Their bodies, in turn were shaped by the repetitious actions; as were their minds and communities.

I am sure some of this shaving, whittling and pounding was a bit of a grind at times. People must have got repetitive strain injury. (In an experiment a stonemason using Stone Age tools took 400 hours to make a replica of the 30 cm high figure of the “Lion Man.”) Maybe it was a bit mind-numbing as well, even if it was done in community, with plenty of chatting, chanting and storytelling going on. But it was also an enviably healthy way to spend one’s time: rooted in sensory experience, with a sense of purpose and belonging. The writers Richard Maybe and Kathleen Jamie visited an exhibition of ‘Ice Age Art’ in London in 2013, and, looking at small sculptures bearing the imprint of their Palaeolithic makers, agreed that they ‘felt something strangely akin to homesickness’.

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This is just to say

Ratnadevi

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

By William Carlos Williams

I was reminded of this poem recently when it was recited in the film Paterson, by Jim Jarmusch. The movie is as counter-cultural as it gets: nothing (or almost nothing) more dramatic happens than a bus breaking down. It has no sex in it, but breathes tenderness, right from the starting scene, where you see a couple waking up, entwined in each other’s’ arms; streaks of golden-white morning light playing on their skins. You see this scene repeated throughout the film, with variations in posture and light, as the days of the week unfold. He is a bus driver in Paterson, the town William Carlos Williams lived and wrote in, and also writes poetry, jotted down in spare moments around his shifts. She is a designer/artist in waiting, developing her style at home, by painting every large enough surface: crockery, curtains, clothes and even homemade cupcakes in black and white patterns.

This slow-paced, meditative film has generally been very well received, which, in itself, gives me hope for our media and action saturated world. Paterson, the film’s unpublished “hero,” doesn’t own a mobile phone or other screen device. He still writes everything by hand, into a notebook with un-ruled pages. As the camera bouncily follows the familiar bus route you are impelled to view the scene through a poet’s eye. Ordinary house walls in juxtaposition to other ordinary house walls, the rambling conversation among passengers or with his colleagues are given significance as potential material for poetry. They are worth taking note of.

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If you think of the dark

Ratnadevi

the-dark_1

I see this poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the current UK poet laureate on our bathroom wall every day; it helps me to keep my cool when faced with the many concerns of 21st century living that easily spark fear. For example: the recent election of Donald Trump as the American president. In a delightfully whimsical tone, the poet counsels us in how to deal with fear: you simply change the way you look at things. There is no absolute reality out there called “the dark”—why not see it as a “park?” Similar sound, and still pitch black, but it is transformed into more familiar, manageable territory, particularly in the light provided by the moon. We’ve bounced it up there ourselves in fact; we’ve made use of our ingenious magical powers, fortified by rhyme (ball, at all).

And then there is a pause, where we hold our breath: has it worked?

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Wagging the Tail at Digital Dilemmas

Ratnadevi

Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Kelvin River. From Panoramio

Last week I had a Skype call with Raymond Lam, Buddhistdoor’s senior writer, to discuss my new blogging venture. At some point I mentioned that I have trouble attracting interest for some of my courses. He replied that Facebook is now what the telephone and email have been in previous decades: if you don’t use it you are off the radar. He wasn’t the first person to stress the importance of social media for promoting one’s work, but something about his youthful, calm and confident presence, sitting there with this headphones in his sun-filled office in Hong Kong, tipped me into action.

Someone actually had already set up a Facebook page for me about a year ago, but I lacked confidence and conviction to use it. I mentioned the issue to my peer-coaching partner in Bangkok, Kanya Likanasudh, and she, bless her, taught me how to use Facebook via screen sharing in zoom. “And you need more friends!” she said.

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