Small Pieces


Watching contemporary dancers last night I sensed that my passion (as a reader, as a teacher, as a writer) is the beautiful enigma of human expression.  Trusting these bodies to tell their truths, I found myself completing the dance in my mind, creating reasons for each movement, finding narratives behind the motions, dwelling within the dancers’ bodies.  To sit still where I was, untouched and unmoving, was to be bereft.  At the end of the dance, four people were invited from the audience to move gently on stage, each with a dancer, intimately alone in front of us all.  Instead of horror and fear of the spotlight, I felt envy; I thought how fortunate those four were to have been chosen for the moment and to have been touched by a dancer.


The rarest feeling I know, the one I covet most, is the sense of being safe:  You are safe.  There is nothing to fear.  Everything will work out. For years I have harbored an image of a place, some verdant corner in the core of the nation where it is possible to reside without striving or fearing the failure to write or work.  Had I been raised differently or elsewhere, I imagine wildly, it could have been more possible to feel safe.  There is something American that makes a life into a small container, judged on its capacity to contain.  Though my American life has held much for me, and my work has done some good, still there is the fear of being judged empty.


A small informal essay casually sent to a refereed journal, rejected with the usual whiff of pettiness and snoot.  I feel shame in having asked for its acceptance.  It is the same self-contempt and shame I felt as a disregarded faculty member.  Now beyond respect for anyone’s judgment of me, I should have learned this sooner.  All of my anguished feelings at work – frustration, isolation, contempt – came from having remained on the faculty in a state of shame.  I remind myself and find solace:  knowing that it was not an entirely wasted professional life. I tell myself that I did not trade the trust of students for the tainted favor of colleagues.  I tell myself that I can overcome the shame of having wanted something.


To wake fearlessly from dreaming is a gift.  To feel no fear throughout a day is a gift.  To enter the process of making something unafraid, alone, is a gift.  To feel a day that promises no fears is a gift.  To anticipate fearlessness, and an end to striving to prevent fear, is a gift.  Come that day.


In the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among Asian ceramic vessels, only rarely can I sustain my intention of having no intention.  Objects I do not expect win me.  A bowl of late seventeenth century Edo, underglazed with cobalt blue, is perfect.  The “Black Raku Teabowl ‘Shōrie’ (Aged Pine) with Crane Design” is not perfect, but it absorbs my vision.  The canted flower vessel of the Momoyama Period with ash glaze, imperfect for seven lifetimes:  I cannot look away.  The shapely stone jar, Tokoname ware, twenty inches tall, twenty inches wide, has remained imperfect for eight hundred years.  Attention, perfection, intention all burnished in the accidents of fire.

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