Everything flows: On salt water, pillow book and the 21st century

                               Everything flows | salt water & ink on canvas

What has salt water done?

The Danish writer Isak Dinesen (read HER!) said once: “The cure for anything is salt water. Sweat, tears or the sea.”

The series of canvas mosaic spell out: City, and it’s done with salt water. I wanted to paint the sea of life with sea and hoped to cure whatever imperfection there is to be cured. For, art is about the/a process.

I want to say two things with today’s blog post; two things that flow together towards a new century. Mark my words: the 21st century is about “flow”, and when I look deep into my crystal ball, the “flow” tells me that it’s the golden age of NEW reading awaiting us in the offing. It is up to us if we miss the call again or not.

On 21/01/2012 (note the mysterious symmetry),  Liam Lyles posted on his facebook status a list of dead people, which I now re-named as The honeywell project. I decided it’s a poem. It reads like this:

 …………………The honeywell project

Richard Sheirer, 65, American public servant,

///////////officer-in-charge of the rescue and recovery effort after

the September 11 attacks, pulmonary edema.

The Senator, American bald cypress,

………………………….world’s fifth oldest known tree, fire.


Marv Davidov, 80, American peace activist

……………………….The Honeywell Project.


Sándor Fehér, 38,

………………………..Hungarian violinist, drowned.


Natalee Holloway, 18,

……………………American student, missing since 2005.

(declared legally dead.)


Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. Liam’s words are poetry out loud.

Liam’s list brought my thoughts to a classic work, The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, who is able to turn endless, ordinary lists into literature with a big L.

Her lists breathe such freedom! No need to worry about the cadence, flow or order of sentences – just the satisfaction of getting directly to the heart of things and churning out concrete, meaningful stuff. Lists as Art, written by a woman who lived in the 11th century Japan and served EmpressTeishi.
The Pillow Book is entirely non-linear, so modern that the reader has to remind himself from time to time that it’s written 1000 years ago. A collection of observations and stories of life unfolding around an opinionated gentlewoman, who is funny, sharp-eyed and captures those unspoken nuances of human interaction with breathtaking precision and insight that her simple words bring tears to  your eyes. Sei can talk about weather and make it read like a love affair you will never forget. Yes, Sei is priceless.
But I’m not here to eulogise Sei, it’s the genre I’m talking about, which has survived the test of time and made Sei’s writing timeless and universal because it’s NOT a genre.
Suibi (Zuihitsu in Japanese), “the flowing brush”, consists of loosely connected personal essays and fragmented ideas that are responses to the author’s surroundings. You can take any topic and go in any direction with it.

“Flowing brush” is a theme arching, genre arching “genre”  that lingers between reality show, journalism and everyday philosophy. Its power lies in its directness and its immediacy, and its description of things that no-one else notices except you, things that give you confidence, things that make the heart lurch with anxiety, love and, yes, regret, because life flows away and that’s why you need to keep a list of the precious, highly personal moments.

“Things that are far yet near: paradise… the course of a boat… relations between men and women,” wrote Sei Shonagon.

“The Magician of Kume, the legend runs, lost his magic power through looking at a maiden washing clothes. This may well have been, for here was no charm from without, but the real beauty of plump and glistening limbs,” wrote  Yoshida Kenko (14th century) on Beauty and its terror.

Kenko continues: “To wile away the idle hours, seated the livelong day before the inkslab, by jotting down without order or purpose whatever trifling thoughts pass through my mind, truly this is a queer and crazy thing to do!”

Are you a list maker? I thought so.

Let your life flow then through your random pen. Register the intimate moments of your floating, everyday life and be the creator of your own pillow world.

In the 21st century, the reader is the writer! Panta Rhei.

*This post is part of the event “I have a date with you in 2012: Lobachavsky Prize” on my Amazon Author’s Page. Find out more about the Lobachevsky Prize here (scroll down to event &forum).


1 Comment

Filed under Gimme butterfly kisses!, Picnic on literature, Uncategorized

One response to “Everything flows: On salt water, pillow book and the 21st century

  1. Pingback: Re-writing rules of beautiful (& some superfluous explanations) | Julie O'Yang

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