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LISTENING TO THE OBJECTS



The Autumn equinox is upon us, complete with one typhoon after another and increasing chill, especially at night. Soon it will be kitties-under-the-covers time again. In Japan autumn has many associations. We speak of Appetite Autumn, the time when with cooler weather, we regain our appetites and the autumnal foods taste really good; Exercise Autumn, when we can once again feel happy to move our bodies without sweating buckets and just wanting to lie down under a fan; and Literary (Book-Reading) Autumn, when we can enjoy sitting still in the cooler breezes with a book, and getting down to that stack of books we have been collecting for months but just didn’t have the energy to read.


Please check out the new photographs I have uploaded to the website. The top picture is a watercolor painting called “Zinoasis” by US painter Cara Brown. (Wish I could paint like that!) My self-portrait is actually several years old, though I still look like this; I’m standing next to a noren (door curtain) made by my friend, Noda San, now deceased. (This curtain now hangs in my house.) The person who took the picture commented that the clothes I was wearing exactly matched the colors of the noren! That’s serendipity for you. The picture at the end of the website is my shadow, taken while collecting rice straw for the garden last year.


I’m using this blog to introduce a project I’m doing, drawing 100 objects in my house (see photo). I’m now up to No. 69. These “objects” include ceramics, stone, fabric, and wood; small sewing tools and large parts of the house such as garden gates; things that we inherited that go back over a hundred years, and some more modern things. I hope to make a book out of these pictures with English and Japanese explanations. Perhaps it will see the light of day next year sometime.


Doing this work, I am struck by the stories these old things have to tell. Every object used by human beings has a story, and the longer life it has enjoyed, the better the story. A small old-fashioned sewing tool makes me imagine the kimono sewing classes my mother-in-law’s mother used to teach (circa 1930) in this very house. A sketch of the house’s roofline, complete with “smoke hole” which used to be a place for smoke to escape from the kitchen and living room hearth, can evoke days gone by, when every bit of fuel had to be painstakingly collected and fires made before heating and cooking could commence. A shaped stone found outside, now just a piece of stone sitting outside with a weed growing next to it, it turns out was once part of a grinder for small seeds.


Some of these objects I use or look at on a daily basis; some are sleeping in the storehouse or archives; some hadn’t seen the light of day for years, until I decided to draw them. They all have voices that echo the people that used them, or made them, so carefully in days gone by. The people who used to live in our house were thrifty, ingenious and very present in the moment. It’s nice to imagine them at the same time as I listen to the voices of these objects.


I have had occasion to write about “sentience” before. It’s a fruitful topic (Blog 50, “What Does it Matter?”) I think the line between “animate” and “inanimate” is very wobbly and fluid. Some objects become part of our lives, to the point where we can’t imagine living without them, and these objects receive life from the energy we give them. Who can say that, when we die and the objects we have accumulated are sorted by our children or somebody else, that they will not speak to the people, telling their own story?


“Inanimate” objects, plants, animals, people – all things and creatures that are around us -- have a certain life span and when that is over, they go somewhere else. I recently remarked to my husband that if every little thing that has passed through this house were still here, we wouldn’t be able to get in the door! The pencils we used to write our compositions in primary school, the postcards we got from traveling friends, the very towels we used to dry ourselves after a bath, these things have vanished. Their lives are over. For a while they floated separately on the symbolic ocean of Potential as forms, but now they have rejoined that ocean. So it is with us. At some point we will rejoin the ocean from which we came. Right now we are separate, but sometime we will return to the Source, one with everything.


One of the reasons I came to live here was that I felt “rooted”, because of the long history of this house. The various objects in the house are part of this. This latest project is partly undertaken to honor the lives and stories of those objects.


Happy Equinox to all!

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