The End of November (By Golly!)

As I look back over the month of November, trembling, like the last of the autumn leaves before it crosses into December tomorrow, I am aware of feeling the quiet, the necessary quiet I have entered, perhaps a kind of repentance, perhaps a kind of sorrow, settle.

I have held in my mind this month a sentence from Intuition of the Instant, an essay by Gaston Bachelard, that reads ‘There is but one general law in truly creative evolution—the law that an accident lies at the root of every evolutionary attempt.’ This I find hopeful. For accident, you could substitute the words mistake, disruption, trauma, brokenness. When everything we thought we knew shatters . . . well, as mystics have expressed it, and so memorably did our contemporary, Leonard Cohen, ringing the bells that still could ring: ‘There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.’

I’m thinking of hope, as one does at Advent, and of my friend Mags’ short reflection on this. She writes that the way things look does not encompass the whole reality. That is emerging in you and being shaped and influenced by your heart and mind, your actions, your choices, your awareness of all the ways your very being is inter-dependent and part of a marvelous, complex whole.

I’m also thinking of my blogging friend Fran’s post-Camino Advent reflections, Waiting in Motion, which have made me remember a lesson about this that I learned kayaking last summer. I was out in the lake a ways and had to turn back to get back before dark. The wind had picked up and what was a swift doddle out into the deeps became, on return, more of an effort. It would be in my nature to work hard at it but I switched on a different response and decided to just take it easy. I paddled and paddled and paddled. I decided to try not to try, not to wear myself out: and, slowly but surely I got closer to the shore. As I was resting from all that paddling somewhere in the middle of nowhere out there, a divine lightbulb illuminated. Ha! Persist, but soft and gentle – it still gets you where you want to be. This insight has occurred to me, too, swimming laps at the pool.I sometimes wonder: Am I almost there, yet?  I am so bored! I am sick of this. Lap after lap. And then I watch the Ancient Ones at it*, slow (and I mean slow!) and steady, and I remember myself.

I have taken a few (too few!) enjoyable, autumn walks in painterly light but it has been a ferociously busy month of teaching, meetings, conducting and marking early entrance examinations, working on a translation of a local nineteenth century children’s literature writer with a colleague, organising for a new stream in the department, preparing for (at least one) possible/likely new course in the new academic year, and attending an academic meeting in which one of the foremost Endo scholars (another colleague) talked about his work for the opening of the movie Silence in Japan.

As part of my own silence I borrowed a stack of books from the library and have, for the moment, forsworn the ‘news’ in favor of literature. And jolly good it is, too. (Final Book Review, Pick Up Lines IV, forthcoming in a month or so). I signed up for Spotify which has only recently come to Japan and have been enjoying that service immensely. I enjoyed a terrific night out with friends last Sunday at a saké bar I’ve never been to and would never, ever have been able to find had not one of the party been before. It’s a gem of a place hidden down a dark alley with no signage at all. Inside, it’s small, cozy, warmly-lit and stylish. The food was good, the saké delicious. Perhaps the best highlight of an otherwise tough month was my visit to the annual Japanese traditional craft makers’ exhibition. It is a feast of color and shape and texture that leaves me swirling in the happiest of dreamy states. I love that it exists. I love that artists are still making beautiful, remarkable and oftentimes, surprising, things. Kimono, ceramics, lacquerware, metalwork, wood-work were the main categories and there was delight to be found everywhere. The kimono section remains my favourite. Going with a dear friend who has a respectable collection of kimono herself along with a deep knowledge of the craft was the best! Who could fail to be imaginatively transported by clothing whose names and appearances suggested things like: ‘Asking Questions of the Sea’, or ‘Traces of Wind’, or ‘Fireflies in the Evening’, ‘Among the Clouds’, ‘Fragrant Road, Early Morning’, and ’To a Faraway Place’? It was just the kind of light I needed!

* My gym is on the top floor of an seniors’ center.