Saturday, November 23, 2013


The word "happen" by itself might be interpreted as an imperative and might provoke some confusion. After all it is not a command we ever give.  We resort to "making" or "letting" it happen, whatever it might be.  Giving or obeying the command "happen" is paradoxical, at least as we use the word in English.  There is a passivity that we attribute to people who allow things that happen and we often assume that things that happen (without being made or let) are beyond our control.  Accidents, earthquakes, robberies and sunrises happen and we may have the option of coaxing them into happening or letting events and their consequences wash over us.

My two year old son, has made me more conscious of the word happen and more importantly his interaction with the world around him.  There is not a lot of "do" or "make" in his world right now, but so many things "happen."  His vocabulary is an incredible thing as it evolves from a set of words that he's come up with to the bits and pieces of English he imitates and adopts with greater capacity with each day.  Gako and lalo each had their place in his ergot as his term for water and they have been consigned to memory for now.  He has other words that may or may not meet the same fate and his use of "happen" may remodelled and then relegated to the place where the rest of us use it.

We speak so much more of doing as adults and of being more and more proactive.  I'm not certain if the emergence of the word proactive is a consequence of adulthood or something vaguely selfhelp-ish in the pursuit of goals or achievements or the meeting of expectations.

For my son, however, expectations are not part of his routine.  He follows his curiosity and the consequences that happen - whether they are accidents or wonders - are things that he continues to be open to and allow himself to be molded by.  The sequence of the experiences he makes himself open to may have a huge impact on the passions, fears and that he forms.  At the moment, he does not have a plan to execute or a range of medium- or long-term goals that he is putting together.  The growth and development that will occur between today and his first day of school will be exceptionally rapid, its breadth will be (and has been) astounding and it will happen rather than be done.

Adults, however, tend to attach dread rather than anticipation to what will happen.  We are more inclined to buttress ourselves against the threat of the random or the unknown and there is a tendency to give more respect to men and women of action rather than the passive.  There is an expectation that we act against the elements that may pose a threat or to seize the opportunities that are presented to us.  Many of us strive to prevent as many things as possible from happening, but the efforts to control things keep things from

There is, however, so much excitement and opportunity to allow things to happen, or to make ourselves open to those possibilities as well.  Closing ourselves off to such interaction could only be justified by either a feeling or contentment that perfection has been achieved or out of a fear of the threat that the passing of time poses.  Acting out of fear or the delusion that perfection has been attained only invites decay and draws attention to it.

It is more ideal to be open to the passage of time, to make ourselves available to more things that can happen to us.  We ought to invest ourselves in our passions in a way that allows more to happen or to provoke serendipity to play a bigger role in our lives because of the events that are happening.  It is not an invitation to be passive, but rather to place yourself in situations where things are happening.  For the second time in the brief life of this blog I refer again to the movie Almost Famous (to my surprise.)  One of the "band aid"characters in the movie, Polexia Aphrodisia, declares "It's all happening."  The term may be an expression of the wonder at the heady bacchanalia of 1970s rock music, but it was also a reflection of the main character William Miller's experience as a passenger on this magic, delirious bus ride that he is witness to.  As a journalist, he is required to be observant rather than interfering in the events unfolding and despite the calls to go home he heeds his passion to write and to learn and be around these people and everything that happens.  By being open to those opportunities he grows much more than he would if he made a more concerted effort to control his situation or limit the risks incurred from what might happen.

Being open to what might happen can simply be a matter of choosing to be a passenger on the voyage rather than staying in a safer, controlled environment.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Calluses and Their Counterparts

If one were to look through my previous posts on wabisabi, there may be a desire to attribute to it an element of nostalgia and that would likely be hard for me to argue, but it is not nostalgia for its own sake.  In many instances there is a stronger degree of artisanship with the things that I cite as possessing or contributing to wabisabi in one's surroundings or life.  Another word that I might use and even put ahead of nostalgia is intimacy.  It would be something that we would embed in relationships where we take the time to build a conversation of deep value and meaning with someone or have enough polite greetings and exchanges to invite that opportunity for a deeper bond.

That intimacy does not limit itself to people of course, but materials objects as well.  The ideal is to have an intimate familiarity with them and a closeness to a smaller number of objects rather than a more fleeting relationship with a wider number of objects.  If we can simplify what we surround ourselves with and reduce the mediations to our interactions, the healthier our relationships and perhaps our bodies as well.

In my own case, the callus on my left pinky, the consequence of longhand writing from elementary school on to now.  The callus as softened as the keyboard has superseding the pen and page, but the callus is still there as a sign of a partnership with the pen, paper and the written word.  The more mediated communications where the keyboard, not to mention the mouse, has intervened lacks the intimacy and attention that goes into the handwritten page.  Further to that, I'd much rather bear the visible callus than the hidden jumble of rearrangement that a mouse invites.  It is a mark that signifies commitment to a craft and a desire to excel.  In those close relationships

There are other professions or occupations where the calluses are much more significant and the relationship between craftsman and implements is much more intimate.  While calluses form, handles and grips acknowledge the passing of time and the erosion of use as well.  This interaction between artisan and tools speaks to a slow transience of material instead of the transience of relationship you would encounter in a factory.  That intimacy imparts itself in the things that are accomplished through a relationship infused with passion and discipline, whether it result in a piece of furniture, pottery, a Stradivarius or a poem.

In my own case, the tool (other than a pen) that has borne my imprint with the passing of time is my digital camera. On first blush it bears no relationship to wabisabi, with its hard plastic sheen, and digital processors. The passing of time and the wear on the camera's finish, however, has allowed me to mark it with the time I have gripped it and raised it to my eye.  It ceased to be a technological device and became an extension of my way of viewing and capturing my surroundings.  It also the means with which I mark the passing of time and the transience of the material.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Bath

A steeping of the soul. 

The heat of the water which shocks to the first toe, the buttocks upon getting in is adjusted to then welcomed.  We may even desire to wrap ourselves in it and bring it closer and tighter in some way.  Time slows and intensifies.  The sound of each lingering drop from the faucet plays in time to the point where the splash is imperceptible to the ear and the plunge results in a quiet, calm merger a reconnection of the isolated drop caught in the infrastructure that brought it to that precipice to the mass below.  Thoughts can go just about anywhere in the bath and need to escape from the mundane preoccupations with the material.

During that calm privacy, we would be more inclined to surround ourselves with transcendent things.  We would not get caught up in the new-fangled touches or the jet engine sound of a jacuzzi.  We want the calm and quiet and do not want to clutter our thoughts with the brand of the soap, the space age material of the tub.  In our dreams, we probably conjure a lion claw tub and can imagine the grit of older porcelain against our hands or arms as we lounge.  A handmade bar of soap over the sculpted perfection and image of a manufactured bar of soap that has been advertised to us with a calculated precision to assure us of the health and sanctity of whatever reputation we want to project during this moment of solitude.

The opportunity to renew during that time should not be compromised by steering away from what you would envision during your moment.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Kitchen

Few places in our home could ooze more indelibly with the beauty of wabisabi than the kitchen.  It could be the dim-lit pantry with an array of homemade preserves, each labelled with a handwritten label on the front of the jar or on the lid, the pickles spaced out more luxuriously that a store-bought bottle, the raspberries jams seedier and tarter than anything that would don a Kraft or Smuckers label.

Moving beyond there, into the space that is shared and open to anyone who is invited or is familiar enough to gravitate into the kitchen on their own rather than dwell in the less intimate space of the living room, there is the view of the space where so much of a family's life hums with activity and interaction.  Meals are made, cuts kissed, bandaged and healed, chores learned and passed down with stories as dishes are washed and dried.  It is not ideally a domain of stainless steel surfaces or a push button gratification.

For most of us, our strongest attachments to the kitchen are not to the modern conveniences or most recent home design images, but the evening light over solid but well-worn table as winter lurks beyond the window.  A hand-made mug of tea or hot chocolate and the comfort of intimate, meaningful conversation that will reflect and deepen the connections among those gathered around the table.  The warmth of that place in the home, whether the tea, a fire on an old wood-burning stove, a drowsy dog huddled on one's feet waiting for the night to end when it was supposed to or just the personal bonds, is what is given root in such a kitchen and is appreciated by those gathered, even the dog.

In such a kitchen there is no desire to lean back and talk about renovations, to gesture to new imaginary additions or open space that a wall is denying us at the moment.  The passage of time is allowed to proceed at its pace without a desire to modernize and perhaps no desire to patch up and deny the wear that has passed.  The space has those elements of the organic and the handmade - pottery that has been of valued service over the years, the dried flowers that stand in the center of the table, the evidence of home baking, whether an ancient tin packed with fresh cookies separated in layers by waxed paper, or the canisters of flour and sugar that have been so frequently used that the acoustics of lids are as embedded in your memory as the smells of fresh bread.  The ageless certainty of heavy cast-iron surpassing the uncertain tinctures and rapid disposal of supposedly superior teflon surfaces.

We have moved further and further away from such spaces for our kitchens.  Modern counter spaces have probably shrunk away or been disrupted into smaller swathes that make it harder to do much more than microwave and boil.  Open concepts, not to mention the televisions that would normally be beyond that removed wall beckon us away from the quite and calm of the table, a mug of tea or a more solid dram for a gathering over a game, a tale or a bit of communion with those who are closest to you.