Synchronicity Always Strikes the Same Place Thrice

If, as Holbrook Jackson maintains, your library is your portrait, then surely your public library loans are your latest snapshot.

My list of current loans reflects my recent fascinations with tea (social, cultural, historical, comestible), simplicity, Jane Austen’s times (tea and crime) and Victorian-era New Zealand (mostly crime). I also have books on undertaking and rhetoric, which simply caught my eye as I browsed.

Jean Siméon Chardin - Woman Taking Tea - WGA04749

I expected to see wabi-sabi mentioned in the book on the Japanese tea ceremony and it seemed natural to encounter it in one of the books on simplicity. But when it popped up for the third time in the book about modern Canadian undertaking, I was surprised.

My favourite of the three encounters is the essay ‘Wabi-Sabi Time’ by Robyn Griggs Lawrence; in the book Less is More, edited by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska.
Wabi being notoriously hard to define, she gives a variety of descriptions, including “a little monk in his torn robe, enjoying a night by the fire – content in poverty.”

Habito de s francisco

Sabi is a bit easier to define: it refers to the effect of the passing of time (literally: rust).
Together, the words wabi-sabi conjure a sense of imperfect beauty, tarnished with time, but valued all the more for its age and imperfections.

Wabibitos live modestly, satisfied with things as they are. They own only what’s necessary for its utility or beauty (ideally, both). They revere humans over machines, surrounding themselves with things that resonate with the spirit of their makers. Wabi-sabi is imperfect: a beloved chipped vase or a scarred wooden table… It’s like going to Grandma’s house.

“Our Depression-era grandmothers knew wabi-sabi. And their houses were so comfortable because they understood, inherently, the difference between wabi [or possibly sabi -DM] and sloppy. Their tablecloths and linens were faded, but they never had rips or tears. Their furnishings had a settled-in quality, but they weren’t dilapidated. Their floors showed wear, but they were always swept, with rag-rugs that wove together memories in their use of old garments.” (Less is More p.160).

Ghanaian Broom

I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as a pretty good way to live. Banish perfection, or the illusion of perfection for which we strive; banish the cheap (or expensive) tat which is heading for planned obsolescence, or never had a purpose to begin with. Have little, but take joy in the little you have.

Beauty. Simplicity. Usefulness. Mmm.

Have you been surprised by synchronicity lately? What’s your take on wabi-sabi, or similar concepts? And what do your library books say about you?

In Praise of Old Technologies

A bit of a oxymoron, I know, but in these days of planned obsolescence, last year’s technology can be dismissed as ‘old’.

Now, I’m no pitchfork-wielding Luddite demanding a return to the good old days before the Industrial Revolution. It would make it harder to have a blog, for a start. But I do think there is a case to be made for some of the old technologies.

Angry peasant mob

Take my sewing machine, for example. (Please don’t – I’m using it.) It was made soon after World War II by Japanese craftsmen, in an early example of the time-honoured principle of using someone else’s idea and selling more of it (the idea in this case being Mr Singer‘s).

It is largely composed of cast iron and weighs about as much as a moderately-sized child. I wouldn’t call it indestructible, but if I dropped it on the floor I’d be more worried about the floor than the machine.

Ceiling Hole

The best thing about it is how relationally-friendly it is. OK, the marketing guff on modern machines probably talks about how quiet they are instead (it’s a shorter word, to begin with), but the result is the same. And I’ll bet mine’s quieter. I can have it running at full speed (i.e. as fast as I can turn the handle) and still keep up an audible conversation. In a whisper.

Not to mention my machine is about as old as the oldest surviving member of my family, and is still in perfect working order. Look so good when you are sixty, you will not, o sewing machine of today!

iWaste

It isn’t just sewing machines. I’ve mentioned before that I write with a fountain pen (more than one, in fact). I wouldn’t give one to a five year old, perhaps, but once you’ve mastered the art of writing, using a fountain pen is not all that esoterically difficult. And it’s beautiful, fun, and better for the environment – same as the sewing machine.

And then there’s the candle-lamp with glass shade I inherited from my grandmother. No naked flames, so it’s fire-safe, but it provides enough light for me to read by. Again, there is no obsolescence, planned or otherwise. As long as they keep making machine needles, candles and ink, I’m set.

Reading By Lamplight

Of course, there are those who are all for the new and shiny and can’t imagine why someone would see value in the pre-penicillin era. Well, we’re rapidly approaching a post-penicillin era, so at least I’ll fit in.
And when the fossil fuels run out (or the price is more than most can afford), will my life be obsolete? No. I’ll be sewing, writing or reading, by the light of my candle-lamp – just as I do now.

What’s your favourite ‘old technology’ – or would you like to make a case for the new? If you’d like to make the argument for no technology at all, get off the internet, you hypocrite! That aside, all comments welcomed – have your say.