Sunday, August 31, 2014

Japanese Tales

I have just finished reading this delightful compilation of tales from medieval Japan (the bulk of them originating from the Heian era, c. 794-1185), translated by Royall Tyler. There are over 200 tales included in this translation, but the main source used by Tyler, the Konjaku monogatarishu ("Tales of Times Now Past" c. 1100), is itself a five-volume compilation.  I won't complain further, though, as this tome in its entirety requires the investment of an exceedingly large sum of money.  (Mr. Tyler's is the affordable snack-size version, and every bit as tasty).

The Heian period is generally described as a golden age in Japan when arts and culture flourished (one of the more interesting aspects being the existence of a number of renowned women authors and poets). The folk tales featured here are tiny windows into everyday life in medieval Japan spanning history, myth and fantasy, superstition, religious/Buddhist ideals, and the prevailing thoughts and desires of the day and featuring courtiers, beasts, demons, spirits, monks, warriors, gods, thieves, ghosts, and ordinary folks.

Many tales contain a surprising humor, like the one about the little acolyte who cleverly tricks his master in order to steal his master's sweet syrup; and others strike one as horribly tragic, such as the tale of a man who falls in love with and marries a goddess; he becomes homesick and is sent back to his own land, never to return, only to realize eons have past and he has now lost everything. They can sometimes be shockingly frank, as in the descriptions of the lustful snakes and foxes that can take on human form; or creepy, like the spirits that silently place their hands on the faces of those who sleep near their ponds. Some are quite profound, like the falconer who has a nightmare that he and his family have become the quarry he has long hunted; he watches as they are graphically picked off one by one, and upon waking gives up his passion for falconry.  There are frightful encounters, like the demons that know you are hiding from them and announce they will find you and eat you; and disturbing contexts, like the man who in his religious zealotry believes he can fly and instead lands on a jumble of rocks. Yet other tales were surprisingly reassuring of one's faith in humanity, like the Governor that understands the plight of a hungry, desperate thief and spares his life; or the various monks that, unable to bear the cruelty endured by a fellow creature, save the life of an animal.

As this was a time period which solidified much of the cultural heritage of present day Japan (a time when the absorption of Chinese and Korean culture and ideals came to a close and was melded with their own local aesthetics, customs, and beliefs), one gets a better understanding of Japanese culture in general by reading these tales.

It is a strange and wonderfully winding path to walk.  And now that I've read something more fanciful, I shall return to my bulky, picture-less The Cambridge History of Japan Vol. II : Heian Japan encyclopedia-like volume to learn more...I hit the chapter about land taxation, and well, you can see why I wandered...oh, suiko...right where I left off.

Thank you Mr. Tyler!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Weird Fishes

The eel-like kuhli loach and neon tetras, acclimating to the temperature in a plastic bag

Nothing weird about these fish, I just happen to be humming the Radiohead song of the same name (Weird Fishes).

On my way home today I stopped at an aquarium store and finally brought home the tiny denizens that will populate my tiny tank.  I decided to go flashy and ended up with three neon tetras and a kuhli loach.  The loach, as expected, disappeared immediately upon release into the tank, burying itself who knows where in the substrate. I brought home a tiny sword plant and java fern as well, and in a few weeks, after the tank has cycled through its current nitrogen load, perhaps I will add two more neons...and another cherry shrimp.

Cherry Shrimp

...or perhaps I will get that honey gourami...

Saturday, August 23, 2014


This is my version of release...

The Rabbit skittered in and out of my life as quickly and quietly as you would expect a rabbit to do.  A sweet early morning specter nibbling the grass that disappears like the mist as the sun rises; lasting perhaps more than a season, but not two.  In these dealings with the ephemeral, one can only be grateful to take joy in what joy there was, learn lessons that still need learning, and keep moving forward with one's own life.  I originally created this sign for the Rabbit to serve as a beacon on a joyous occasion - to stand out in the sea of folks waiting for their friends, families, and loved ones to exit the airport terminals:

The Dancing Rabbit

I held it at midsection and was found.  It is perhaps 12" by 12", composed entirely of cut pieces of paper, and remains in the Rabbit's possession so far as I know. Now the early morning mist has dissipated, the specter is gone, but despite my clearing vision, I felt compelled to give new life to my dancing rabbit. I wanted to remove its former association by transforming it into something else; namely, a linoleum (lino) block print for my shop. It will never again be the joyful beacon it once was in its original incarnation, but for all of its representative joy, I wished perhaps to mollify whatever it is that tells me to look back. There is no looking back. This rabbit delights in the present. It does not care for the past, or worry about the future. The process of cutting the lino block, which requires my entire focus not only to keep my lines straight, but also for the safety of my own fingers, is the perfect reminder of that. A lesson in taking care of one's self and being present.

My original drawing.

To begin, I miniaturized my original image into a tiny 2" by 2" square.   

It was transferred to a 2" by 3" lino block, since that is the smallest I have.

...the cutting...takes...hours...

...and that is partly the point...hours of concentration for what is happening right now...
...keeping the blade in the center of the graphite lines...
...choosing which lines to cut and which to leave...
...turning block and blade in unison to create curves...
...minding the fingers and the pressure placed on the cutting tool...
...accepting imperfections in this imperfect life...

...steady, steady...

The finished lino print...

...which leaves me here now, with half a day past, an empty stomach and a want of tea; but also satisfaction in the completion of a tiny work and dare I say less anxiety?  I'm not sure yet if I have succeeded in altering the rabbit's association within myself, as creating change in the mind can take time, but I will keep reminding myself that this particular rabbit, the one that dances with the moon and the lilies of the valley, demands I live and rejoice in the present, take care of myself now so there is a future, and leave the unchangeable past firmly behind. Here's to what never was.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bottle Garden

A portion of my energy went into this today...I re-planted my bottle garden.  The palm and African violet which were its previous inhabitants had become overgrown, and the poor fern died.  So here I have replaced them with a type of bird's nest fern, a much smaller variety of African violet, and a really beautiful variety of club moss with deep green upper foliage and deep red underneath.  I have a little glass plate to put on the top to help keep the moisture in.  It's always a balancing act with the moisture when you first set them up.  I will be removing/replacing the plate multiple times over the next week or so. 

I also received a small aquarium from my friend L today, and I got it up and running.  I haven't kept fish in over five years, and I am really excited to have an aquarium again.  It came with a few live plants and a wee cherry shrimp.  I intend to plant more, and next weekend I will add fish.  I would really like a honey gourami if I can find one, but I may just go with some neon tetras.  

And now I am exhausted!  I wish it were not Monday tomorrow.  

Guess What?

Forgive my visual pun.

I always tell my out-of-town visitors about the Downtown Chickens, but if the chickens happen to be hiding that day, they don't believe me.   They do exist!  See!

Here they are all gathered in front of the Post Office with Popeye's Chicken n' Biscuits in the background.  I'm often running to the post office for my Etsy shop, so I see them frequently. They're old news with the locals, including jokes that they help keep Popeye's in business, but I post my proof for those not used to seeing chickens in a more urban setting.  It's probably good that chickens (like most other birds) don't have a sense of smell.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

By way of Introduction.... is my current tiny house on this overcast and rumbling day.  It is right around 500 square feet, and its biggest problem is that I rent it.  It is otherwise an absolute delight to live here, and I consider myself most fortunate to have stumbled into it.  (I concede that I would rather have a larger than shoebox-sized freezer and broom-closet shower, but that's another least I have such things!).

This is my tiny sun-scorched garden (hooray for August in Florida!) better known as the Dirt Patch, a tribute to its humble beginnings as a partially grass-covered sand box.  Most folks would probably consider weeding a chore, but the fact that I can go out there and pull weeds - from the ground and from my mind, as my grandma has phrased it - is one of my favorite things about it.  Soon I shall sow seeds for winter plantings.  Nevermind that I meant to do that in July...

All of the fencing is to keep the cows in their place.  My landlord and neighbor, henceforth LL, keeps them for tax purposes.  They have once trampled and many times sampled my garden, despite the fencing.

Here is my handsome boy, Maceo, on his kitty leash.

He became a tripod last year as a result of a blood clot, but he gets around very well now for an old man with a missing leg.

This is his brother, Okie:

Directly above him I am holding a photo that the vet took of him during his last visit and then kindly sent to me in the mail.  That was a good mail day. 

House, garden, cats...what else do I need?