Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing and the Tools of the Trade

Most of my writing ends up at the keyboard of my laptop computer, an object that will never come to illustrate the definition of wabisabi.  The passage of time will only mark itself with the obsolescence of its CPU or operating system, the shorter life of its battery and the occasional nick and scratch that is never quite as quaint on the metallic surface as it might be on wood or leather.

While this is the tool I turn to most of the time, I pause and imagine what pours out of a crazed Bic pen onto the pages of a coil bound scribbler, that last bit of the coil stretch after a tangle or two on a sweater or the opening of a backpack when being packed or unpacked.  There is something I want to honour or sneak up on whenever I see one of those Writers journaling, composing, drafting or scribbling and editing words into the order and form that they aspire to form.  Apart from the coil, the rest of that scribbler is a gorgeous example of wabisabi as pages and covers get dog-earred or colour fades from the cover with the scuffing or erosion that occurs throughout that same journey over time in a backpack.

I do get to pen and paper regularly and hope to do so more often.  As my son watches me in front of the computer, there is less sense of the purpose of my activities and there is little to distinguish writing at the computer from playing a game or otherwise diverting myself.  Just as there is more evidence of purpose in an old phonograph with his bullhorn attached to the stylus than there is with the black box of a stereo component, the same is clear of being hunched over a journal or page with a pen in your hand.  The evidence of purpose that we can attribute to older tools and older ways of doing things communicates a passion for the pursuit more than an obsession with the trappings and toys that so much of modernity has bestowed on us with technology.

Surrounding Yourself

Glen Hansard's Takamine from the movie Once.
Much of my recent reading on wabi sabi, that which centers on the aesthetics risks an interpretation that may get a reader rabbit-holed in a superficial application to interior design and encouraging people to simply buy old stuff to decorate your home.  There is a risk in applying a little knowledge and not adopting wabisabi in a deeper manner.

The risk in this misinterpretation is in accumulating while failing to attach awareness of what we possess. Too much of interior design may encourage possessing an object to leave it in a place without regularly interacting with it, whether by contemplating it or using it.  Wabi sabi is present in the strength of the attachments we might form to the things we possess.  The key, however, is to maintain that attachment and be conscious of how the things we own wear or age with our use or simply the passage of time.  Those things could be tools of our trades, implements that we use regularly, our clothing, the favorites we turn to again and again for the comfort that has come as object and individual mold to one another.

As a runner I am very conscious of how a pair of shoes - despite being as mass produced as they are - ages with each stride or step and how they gradually come to influence my stride or the state of my entire body as I run and the shoes' treads, soles and stitching acknowledge the stress as the miles are accumulated on both of us. For the hours or so that they are on my feet each day, they dictate much about the body they transport and my own state of mind as well.

When seeking to identify or apply wabi sabi, it is important to consider the impermanence, imperfection and incompletion of the things you surround yourself with and strive for awareness and appreciation of this rather than mere possession.  It would be even more wabi sabi to appreciate the bare trees or the frost of autumn as it is to sit down to write at the desk and with the pen that you have formed an attachment to over time.  If you are conscious of the changes that those trees possess with their stark, bare reminder of this moment and the promise of renewal to come in the weeks or months ahead, you become more aware of impermanence.  As you look at the fractal stretch of branches into the sky and the disdain for symmetry in those branches, you may pause and wonder at the whims of matter that cause it the branch.  In this awareness you have surrounded yourself more completely for this moment than you could with any antique or handcrafted porcelain that remains cupboarded and unused.