Katanagareshitate

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One of the many intriguing and inspiring images in Japan and Japanese gardens is the way they care for old trees and the way they achieve aesthetically creative tree shapes. The crutches created to support branches from heavy snow and to give added support to aging trees, as well as the technique used to aesthetically extend branches, is known as Katanagareshitate.

Today JB and I created a support for a long branch of our recently radically pruned tree peony. This tree peony with its richly purple and magenta flowers has been growing in the east garden for close to 25 years, stretching southward towards the sun. We used an old cedar fencepost that was given to us by a neighbor some 20 plus years ago which was stashed in our garage. We tied rope carefully around the fencepost so it wouldn’t split after drilling a hole for the branch to sit in. The rope was covered with melted wax to prevent its rotting. We pounded the support into the moistened earth with a wooden mallet and lightly tied the branch to the support.

We worked together slowly and carefully, propping each other up. Growing older together, all three of us.

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Abiding wonder of reaching out

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Since retiring, I have been doing a little tutoring to help make ends meet. It has been interesting, surprising sometimes, to see how academic work assigned in a class gets translated through the eyes of a particular student. Having been a teacher, it is enlightening to see how a student grapples with what a teacher has assigned.

Tutoring so far has been quite awesome. The ability to pour 100% of my effort into one student at a time as opposed to homogenizing it to work for myriads of students simultaneously, all of whom learn differently from each other, has actually been quite refreshing and liberating.

One student I work with, I actually taught last year in the 8th grade — a quiet, engaging, and bright young man, who didn’t always express himself fully or completely. He really came alive as a student twice last year—once during our research project when he discovered the wonderful photographer Jun Fujita and the second time when we read All Quiet on the Western Front and studied World War I. Over the summer he emailed me with information about a book he had discovered, Company K. He had read it and thought it was an amazing book about World War I. In fact, he said, he read it many times, each time a different person’s story catching his attention. He had an original copy, one that belonged to his grandma’s great aunt. I was touched by his email in which he encouraged me to find a copy and read it.

This novel, written by William March, which includes 113 vignettes by different Marines from the same unit in WWI, is considered by some to be the strongest American literary piece which grew out of the war, according to Wikipedia. It was first serialized in The Forum between 1930-32 and in 1933, all the vignettes were published together as a book.

Today, at our first tutoring session, he lent me this book. The very book owned by his grandmother’s great aunt. I was humbled and honored that he wanted me to read it and that he trusted me with this very precious copy.

I think about connections. And relationships. Generosity too. And the abiding wonder of how we reach out to one another.

I will begin reading Company K tonight. Slowly. Carefully. Sensitively. Eagerly, but gently handling this unexpected gift.

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Starting in Wuji- complete emptiness

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At the beginning of each TaiChi class, we do a short standing meditation. Our instructor says, “Starting in Wuji- complete emptiness.” Physically this means that our tongue is off the palate, our sacrum is slightly tucked in, our chin is slightly tucked in, our knees are slightly bent, our arms are at our sides and slightly away from our body leaving the armpits open, and that, well, we are completely “empty.”

Wuji, 無極, means limitless or infinite, the “ultimate of nothingness,” the limitless void, that point between movement and quiescence. It is visually represented by an empty circle. Tai chi is represented by the yin yang symbol. Wuji is stillness. Tai chi is movement made manifest from that stillness.

The Tao Te Ching, Lao Tze’s Book of the Way of Virtue, refers to Wuji in its 28th verse translated below by Jonathan Star. Wuji is translated here as “No Limits”:

Hold your male side with your female side
Hold your bright side with your dull side
Hold your high side with your low side
Then you will be able to hold the whole world

When the opposing forces unite within
there comes a power abundant in its giving
and unerring in its effect

Flowing through everything
It returns one to the First Breath

Guiding everything
It returns one to No Limits

Embracing everything
It returns one to the Uncarved Block

When the block is divided
it becomes something useful
and leaders can rule with just a few pieces

But the Sage holds the Block complete
Holding all things within himself
he preserves the Great Unity
which cannot be ruled or divided

I have not been posting for almost 6 weeks, in part due to just retiring and seeking more breathing space. Working one’s whole life not only to support oneself (including having to get up each morning at 5am), but also (and more importantly) to manifest a felt calling (teaching), I wanted a respite from some habits and traditions, even ones like blogging.  I wanted to do some emptying. I wanted to hit the refresh button. I wanted to come back to the “Uncarved Block.”

After cheering in the autumnal equinox this evening with baked apples and a glass of hard cider, after these six weeks of restorative indulgence, I am feeling particularly generative. Available. Open. Responsive. Grateful. Blessed. I feel ready to reopen my blog and start again —- in Wuji, complete emptiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All the wrinkled ladies

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Judging books by their covers: I

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Off and on this summer I have been organizing the multitude of books in our house. Over these many years I have picked up appealing old books with awesome illustrations, intriguing titles, and/or engaging covers. Some of them I have already used in artistic projects. Some I am still planning to use. Some are just beautiful to look at as they are.

These photos are of books from the first shelf (of 69+ shelves) of books in our house.

Above— The Works of Charles Lever Vol. IV: The Dodd Family, The Confessions of Con Cregan, New York: Collier Publishers, n.d. (Probably late 1800s at the height of Lever’s popularity).

Below—Little Journeys to the homes of the Great: Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Artists, Memorial Edition, (no author), New York: Roycrafters, 1916.

Bottom of post— Lady Missionaries in Foreign Lands by Mrs. E.R. Pitman, New York: Fleming H.Revell, n.d.

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“Choices We Make When We Are Too Young To Make Them” by Lois Parker Edstrom

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Evenings at the table with my father,
stewing over algebraic equations,

chemical reactions, my young life
sloped toward science and healing.

He didn’t recognize, nor did I,
how I fingered letters

the way the devout touch
prayer beads, that I held them

up to my ear to hear the music
they made when strung together,

a child rearranging alphabet blocks,
balancing them into a fragile

tower that spelled out something
I was too young to understand.

I can’t say how we know
we please, without hearing the exact

words, but I knew. His pride in me
slipped into my hands with soup spoons

and Yardley’s soap as I fed and bathed him
during the last months of his life.

I often wonder if he is surprised,
living as he does, in the spaces

between words, there among
the pages of my books.

“Choices We Make When We Are Too Young To Make Them” by Lois Parker Edstrom from Night Beyond Black. © MoonPath Press, 2016.

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Gembaku no ko

Today is the 71st anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. We visited there four years ago with our son who was teaching in Satsuma Sendai at the time. The many memorials and monuments to peace and nuclear non-proliferation were moving, powerful, plaintive, sometimes even hopeful, though the world itself seems not to have heeded their messages, not to have learned many lessons regarding the value of human life and humanity.

I came across the movie, Children of Hiroshima, Gembaku no ko (1952), the third movie of director Kaneto Shindo, which was the first movie made after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima which actually dealt with the devastation of the atomic bomb (because American censorship had ended on April 28, 1952). The movie itself was commissioned by the Japanese Teachers Union (established in 1947) and is based on the novel by Arata Osada, itself based on personal accounts of survivors of the bombing. The movie was filmed in Hiroshima so has a very convincing feel of a documentary. Though there are definitely parts of this movie that are clearly very sentimental, it is an understandably poignant look at post-war Japan through the lives of survivors and from a Japanese point of view. The movie was first released here in the U.S. just two years ago (2012) when the Brooklyn Academy held a retrospective of Shindo’s films. (Shindo died a month later at 100 years old.) This film in Japan is considered one of Shindo’s most important (of the 48 films he directed and 238 films which he wrote).

Justified in the name of politics and power, the trauma we inflict on each other must end. Recognizing, honoring, valuing our mutual humanity is the work to which we must continue to commit.

The magic of the internet has allowed me to post the film in its entirety below.

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