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Friday, August 13, 2010

travel, transience, transition

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I have been thinking that we are now living in an age of change, so rapid that it is hard to keep up, and that this is sort of new. Change is so prevalent, we're wired for it. Before the latest iPhone is released, we're anticipating the next version. But the truth is, everything is transitory. It always has been.

There is a way of living that is called wabi-sabi and looks at the transitory nature of things. My friend George has been talking about the wabi-sabi way. His excellent posts are here and here. I also wrote about it back in April 2008. It's hard to sum up wabi-sabi, as George says -- a world view that has been around thousands of years, but this is what I'm focusing on in this post: it emphasizes the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

My friend Tracy is moving soon, transitioning, traveling from her temporary home in Australia, back to Texas. She sent me a poem she'd heard the other day, which made her think of me, because it's about Michigan. I told her I'd posted it back in 2008, accompanied by this temporary map collage of Michigan I laid out with some significant Michigan symbols. (See that post for good comments about them.)



The map of Michigan existed for an hour or so in June 2008, then I put everything away. But the photo is still here for us to see. Think of photographs, and how they last and last, making us feel that things are permanent. They make us think we can hold on to something. As Susan Sontag said, on top of the already overwhelming happenings in the world, we also have photographs of them, adding to the weight of what we "know." Somehow by seeing those images, we think we understand, or think we should understand.

So. Things change, evolve, wear out. Funnily enough, I have a preference for material things that do change. Patinas that evolve. Not chrome. Not plastic. I love organic things. Wood. Leather. Paper. Natural fibers. Have you noticed that for the most part, organic materials age gracefully, but man made materials do not? A wool carpet is better after decades of foot falls. A wooden door frame gets polished with oil from hands. The marble floor of a cathedral begins to lie less perfectly flat after centuries of scuffling feet, in beautiful subtle waves. But a chrome fender is less attractive after a few decades of spreading rust. Plastic just looks dirty over time, with embedded grime in those artificial textures that factory molds create. Do you think it's an accident that my laptop made of steel and plastic is called Apple. And I named mine Apple Blossom?

It's time for another temporary collage -- this time, of me. Ruth. Featherhead. I have already been dismantled and elements put away. What is doesn't stay is for long.

But guess what. Sometimes things stay constant too. A little synchronicity I just found, post script: the tiny striped feather slipping down off the Upper Peninsula in the Michigan map collage is the same feather in the me collage below, in the middle of my forehead. Post post script: 2 more items in both collages, I just noticed -- two petals of the orange flower in Michigan became my lips, and the shell near Lake Michigan became my nose. EEEEEE.




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59 comments:

João said...

just beautiful...and that won't change.

C.M. Jackson said...

I agree with Joao--just beautiful!! have a wonderful weekend.

willow said...

I love the wabi-sabi-ness of your collage. Beautiful post.

George said...

I love this posting, Ruth. Your words, strung together like elegant pearls, provide not only illumination, but also music, to that elusive idea of wabi-sabi. I also love each and every photo. I was initially struck by just how lovely and how interesting stains and seeds could be on wood. Then came the map of Michigan, which is a marvelous example of spontaneous creativity. I also loved the photo of the stick and its residue on the sidewalk; there is so much here, and yet most will never see it.

The best was saved for last, however. The self-portrait is just amazing! Perhaps we should all do one of these and use them for identification purposes on our blog sites.

I will be coming back to this posting later today, I'm sure. It's so entertaining, so insightful, that I want to spend a little more time with it. Thanks for such a wonderful contribution to my day.

ellen abbott said...

Oh, I don't know. I think photographs show that things don't stay the same. You may collect a moment in time to remember, but as soon as you look at it you know that moment is gone, changed.

I love your self portrait. so clever. I too much prefer natural materials.

Bonnie said...

Ruth: You have offered us an experiential (well, as experiential as the virtual world can be) lesson in wabi-sabi. How much beauty do we literally and figuratively sweep away each day - such as your tomato juice stain?

To accept what is we have to learn to be comfortable with change and decay. To attend to the beauty in change we are forced to move at a slower pace. I love the design elements in the shadows and stains of the subjects of your photographs ... and your reflections on impermanence and weight when it comes to photography. I have photographs of paintings that no longer exist, because I painted over them. It is also a relief to have them as virtual images rather than concrete ones collecting dust in a drawer.

Once one begins to take a wabi-sabi approach to living - one finds its applications are limitless.

Oh, and btw, who styles your hair? Love it!

Pat said...

What a beautiful post. So well written. I know that my photographs are just captured moments frozen in time. Time is slipping so fast, like sand through my fingers, and photos are my way of trying to hold on to SOMETHING.

I LOVE your self portrait!

Jeanie said...

What a JOY this post is! I must click on your other wabi-sabi links. I've always loved the concept from the moment I heard it. It also applies to reusing, repurposing. I have decided that my next cat, who will no doubt end up in my yard, homeless, when I least expect it (or come from the rescue) will be named Wabi-Sabi. It applies to so much of the art I do and the way I live. And I couldn't agree with you more about patina versus chrome, well-worn footsteps on the cathedral floor versus -- what -- linoleum, maybe?

Your collages are simply splendid -- I thought the first of Michigan was divine (and a wonderful idea for a creative challenge!) But your self portrait -- well, it's as divine as you, my friend!

Sandy said...

Wow Ruth, excellent post, maybe my favorite of all time here. I love the Ruth at the bottom with the feather hanging down - great portrait.

I will come back and go through those links when I have time.

Gwei Mui said...

A beautiful, and absorbing post with some wonderful photogrpahs and pictures. I espcially found the Wabi-Sabi concept very interesting
The eveloution of Wa harmony, peace, tranquility and balance to Wabi sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. As I undestand it Sabi by itself means the bloom of time. "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man." So how do these two words come togther wabi - humble and simple with sabi which over time came to mean rusty and weathered. I guess this is where my interest really lies the root from CHAN to Zen Buddishm

Bella Rum said...

Ruth,
What a wonderful post.

You remind me of Johnny Appleseed - dropping little kernels of inspiration everywhere you go, and I love your self-portrait.

Terresa said...

Love the wabi-sabi, collage, orange flower petal lips. I feel an innate, inextricable connection to Michigan via my husband, but I've never visited there myself (oddly enough). He would appreciate the Michigan map.

Love the Sontag thoughts. She is riveting.

Judy said...

beautiful art!

RD said...

What a rich, rich post! I love it--it speaks to me today. I didn't know about wabi-sabi, but a light bulb went off in my head. Beautiful thoughts you've put down. I'm so glad I found your blog

Char said...

beautiful and thoughtful.

Ruth said...

Obrigada, João.

Ruth said...

Thank you so much, C.M.. I wish you the same.

Ann said...

You are so funny. I LOl at the tomato juice and seeds.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Willow. If you did one, you could use willow leaves for your hair.

Ruth said...

George, your generous and kind response is important, since I referenced your inspiring posts. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I do think it would be very fun to see what each of my friends would come up with in their own self portrait. I can see magazine clipping collages. If you do one, I wonder what materials you would use. It would be cool to see one of those photo collages that creates your image, using only your photos from the C2C trek. I wonder if there is a computerized generator that does them.

But that thought is rather un-wabi-sabi!

Ruth said...

Oh, here is one source for making photomosaics:

http://www.complang.tuwien.ac.at/schani/metapixel/

Ruth said...

Ellen, yes, you are so right. Remember when National Geographic published a photo of the Afghan blue-eyed woman 20 or so years after that first haunting image of her? How she had changed! I was surprised at how I felt certain she would always look as she did when she was young. And I could see how life must be hard for her.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bonnie, for such a thoughtful comment. Even if the world seems to move at a faster speed, I think what you said is right, that if we keep our own place slow and circumspect, we can manage balance. I so appreciate everything you wrote.

My hair stylist? I have several, mostly Mr. & Mrs. Mourning Dove.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Pat. With digital images, I am stockpiling so many thousands that I have gotten very lazy about maintaining files. I need a secretary.

Your cranes are so beautiful.

Kate said...

Oh, Ruth! Thanks.
Today is a bit overfull already, but I eagerly anticipate tomorrow when I will visit here again...and George's site; I only took time for one of his posts, but i will be back there, too.

thanks.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, oh thank you very much for those kind words. The art collages you do, the keepsakes, are gorgeously wabi-sabi, incorporating Victorian elements. And a cute name for a cat! I'm sure you'll know when you meet him or her if it fits.

Ruth said...

Sandy . . . WOW! Thank you. :) I think a lot of those splendid porches you share are quite wabi-sabi, with stone, wood, and beautiful plantings.

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, you've expressed it beautifully.

It fills me up, bringing these two concepts together. For me, it's focusing on the essence of things, just a few, and not accumulating too much. Use over time makes them more precious.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Bella, being compared to Johnny Appleseed Chapman is a real compliment.

Stiggy said...

Hi Ruth - I can't believe (well actually I can) how lovely your photos are these days.

I can only aspire to create the feeling you get from looking at them.

:D

ds said...

Ruth, my clever, clever friend, you have outdone yourself with those collages. Michigan is "wow" but the one of you is fabulous--feathers, orange peel & all!
If we could all relax enough to accept wabi-sabi, it would be a more peaceful world, don't you think? Could I sell the idea of wabi-sabi housekeeping to the "eat-off-the-floor" family?

♥ Kathy said...

This is so awesome Ruth! You always make me think :)

Tamara said...

Hi! Thanks for the food for thought - I love the concept of change and how we live with it. I'm about the head out to the ever change world of my vegie patch where I'm sure I will ponder further the thoughts on wabi-sabi way.

kenju said...

LOVE,LOVE,LOVE the last one!!

VaNeSsA said...

Lovely post, of course! Two things - Your feather hair brought to mind a post you wrote last year, I believe, about trying to tame your hair whilst on vacation in Paris (I am thinking maybe you either didn't have your usual taming tools or couldn't get them to work while you were there?) Anyway, it was so funny how you carefully explained what your hair is NOT - perfect smooth ringlets. I remember laughing aloud when I read that post, and it delightfully came to mind the second I saw that glorious head of feather hair.
Second - have you heard of (I'm sure you have, I don't even know why I am asking like that) the sand paintings that are created by a group of, I want to say Buddhist monks, perhaps Tibetan? (Oh gosh, please don't tell me I heard about them from YOU? That would be mildly embarrassing, but I do read a lot, so who KNOWS where these things come from?) A-N-Y-W-A-Y, while not perhaps Wabi-Sabi, they are gloriously impermanent.

Ruth said...

Dear Terresa, if ever, ever you decide to come to Michigan, I would love to get together if you can fit it in. I didn't realize your husband is from here (? which is what I think you mean?). I have found over the years, living and traveling in many places, that an awful lot of people are from Michigan.

Sontag is a wonder.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Judy. And now, after reading your Trailblazer? post, I know that yours are artist's lips. A beautiful revelation, that painting.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear RD, I'm so glad you found my blog, and wabi-sabi. I hope the lightbulb will illuminate more ahead. But now I can't find your blog, because you didn't embed a link in your RD. :(

Ruth said...

Thank you, Char. I just ramble.

Ruth said...

Ann, isn't life fascinating? What makes one person pause for interest and beauty, makes another giggle! :)

Ruth said...

Kate, I'm glad something in this arrested you and made you want to read more. George's blog is an incredibly absorbing place where I find that all my feeling and thinking powers go on alert. And his photographs and paintings are breathtaking.

So glad you and I found each other, Kate.

Ruth said...

Hi, Stiggy! What a kind a wondrous thing to say. Thank you. You are a wonderful photographer with that glorious camera of yours. And what a carpenter. Don and I just marvel at your handiwork. That lucky broody hen and chicks! :D

Ruth said...

My dear DS, thank you, I'm glad you like my collages. I had not thought of making a second one after two years, until suddenly it came! I enjoyed making them so much that now I want to construct more.

Well you know your question has me curious. I wonder how we might think of wabi-sabi housekeeping? I think it is slow (like me) and meditative, and it doesn't use any chemicals. I think there is a feng shui sensibility about it, keeping drawers and rooms tidy, but not out of a strict sense of sanitary-ness. More out of a desire for a clean sense of space. I have some dreadful not-feng-shui-or-wabi-sabi spaces that need attention, badly. And I'm trying to be zen about them. :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, ♥ Kathy. Oh dear, I hope that is a good thing. :)

Ruth said...

Tamara, thank you so much for the blog mention. As I told you there, I'm fascinated by how our moments are shaped and directed by small things, like a butterfly effect. Gardening can be meditative, but I confess I have been avoiding it in this summer's heat.

Ruth said...

Kenju, YAY! :D Maybe you should try one yourself.

Ruth said...

VaNeSsA, WOW, I am so impressed that you remember that post about my frizzy hair and styling it in Paris with inadequate styling tools and hands. :D I thought about it too when I found those fluffy feathers in my feather vase, and you're the first to notice (or at least say so), and so I would happily mail you a fluffy feather if you give me your address at my email:ruth[dot]mowry@gmail[dot]com. I'm serious, if you would like it. :)

It was not I who told you about the sand paintings. I think I'll go look for some now. I have seen a video of a woman who did one for a talent contest though.

Marcie said...

Oh..I just love this collage. So very clever and creative. And - I'm a big fan of recording impermanence...of embracing it. I do wonder if the generations to come will appreciate the 'organic' things that we all so love.

Montag said...

Interesting.
I remember a fellow who found the illegibility of the signs in Times Square reflected in the rain on the pavement ever so much more fascinating than the signs themselves.

rauf said...

self portrait is stunningly beautiful and vibrant Ruth.

In the rural areas of India you would see virtually no change in agriculture, centuries old methods still in practice. A few hundred feet away you can see harvesters and modern farming equipment in use. You can very easily go back in history watching silk and cotton weavers talking on mobile phones while working on ancient looms.

Things have evolved, there have been changes in the past but at very slow pace. It took more than a century for fashions to change. History took a sharp turn in the 60s. The Beatles brought a wave of change. It swept the world.
This perhaps is the result of restlessness. The changes were fast since then. My friends keep changing their mobiles every now and then. i am still holding my first mobile from past 3 years.

i remember my cousins who had natural straight hair wearing curlers before going to bed. They are all old ladies now, some no more. oh, do you remember puffed sleeves Ruth ? They were beck in fashion recently.

We are a restless species Ruth. We need change still we hope somethings never change. It is said that Indian culture is decaying but not dying. i don't know if it is good or bad. i don't know if it is a curse or a blessing to be an Indian. i don't know if restlessness is good or bad for human race.

Deslilas said...

Inspirated and inspirative post !
I remember approximatively a quotation from René Char "We don't learn how to live, life is a single shot experience".
Making a piece of art of one's life is a bright challenge when we meet the proper conditions (how many people are allowed to ?)

Ruth said...

Marcie, thank you. We have to teach them to appreciate it, I guess, as you do with your photographs, like the turkeys roosting in the tree today. I've never seen a photograph like that before. That you value it will be passed on to those who see your images, young people included. We just have to show it.

Ginnie said...

Your self-portrait, Ruth, is so YOU. I love it. I see so much of Lesley in it, too, which makes me wonder who has become whom from whom! :) You are connected at the hip in so many ways. It's actually pretty astonishing to see. I was just thinking about how so much of my Journey is about Travel in the geographical sense. Yours is a Travel of the mind...and I love where you take me! Thank you.

Ruth said...

Montag, I can picture that, and imagine feeling that. Neon signs are beautiful, especially in isolation -- "motel" on a long road when you need a place to sleep. Times Square isn't too beautiful to me, but reflected in a rainy street? That sounds gorgeous.

Ruth said...

Thank you, rauf.

I think in India you get to see changes to society in the extreme, maybe more than any other place, I don't know. To think of the depth of human history in India, the conquests and culture - ancient and rich. You have such diversity tightly woven together, in one square block, one square mile. It's astonishing, and I think no other place comes close in that way. So your Speed series at Daylight Again is fitting and models for the rest of us what has been happening these last decades. It's brilliant.

It's so funny to look back through the last 150 years and understand how much people resisted change. I laughed when I read Jane Austen say that novels were considered a waste of time when they developed. People resist technology. Somehow reading a book on a Kindle is less respectable than reading pages of a book. People put value on things for their own reasons, then they want to dictate to other people why something is right or wrong. It's hard to keep an open mind to changes. That restlessness thing will always bring changes, but for me, a person who has always liked change, I have to be careful that I am not just restless for change for its own sake. Sometimes what already is is just fine.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Daniel. Well, I do not agree with the quote. This life has been one long learning experience. I know I have changed, thank god. But I do think life is pretty fleeting, and one life in the grand scheme doesn't amount to much.

So glad you received some much needed rain in France. What a lovely thing to see you walking in the rain.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dearest Boots. There's no telling what shapes us, is there? Who shapes whom? Both Lesley and Peter are such human wonders that I sit stunned much of the time and try not to feel bad that they are so much more advanced in understanding life than I was - even until recently. I am so grateful for Lesley's aesthetic, one that I didn't understand when she was younger, with jeans under skirts and army boots (all of her style has come to be, 10-15 years later). She always had a strong sense of design, and space. What can I say, she's an artist!

Susan said...

Well, just when I think you couldn't possibly top yourself, you come up with another brilliant gem in the necklace of Ruthie. Criminy, lady! Where does all this come from? I humbly bow in your presence. Beautiful, just beautiful. (I'm so envious of your depth of talent.) :)

dutchbaby said...

I absolutely adore the concept of wabi-sabi. You and George described it with great depth and fluidity. The impermanence of flowers, with their fleeting fragrance, is what attracts me to them.

My sister and I spent countless days, first as children and later with my kids, at the beach making sand castles adorned with driftwood, seaweed and feathers. Occasionally we would use found objects to make portraits similar to yours, though ours were usually were of the entire body. Then, the best part, we loved to watch the surf lick our creations back into the sea.

I never knew that this had a name. I thank you and George for teaching me about wabi-sabi.