But everyone else there is far more experienced and invested. For the past two classes I've attended, I've found a changed classroom environment. There is an incredible amount of focus and concentration. Everyone is working together, looking at pieces, critiquing them, talking about the paper and the ink. There is always a space for me to set up my stuff and work, but they are occupied on another level. This morning my table faced them and I could watch them between my attempts to draw straight lines (and sometimes curved lines). Several women, gathered around tables pushed together, unwrapping long, soft pieces of calligraphy paper, gently arching each piece upward and laying it on the table, patting it down, smoothing out the creases. It reminded me of my grandmother who was a quilter, and my aunt who quilts and teaches quilting as a profession. The beauty and grace of their movements, the care in their gestures which likely comes from the care in their craft. The quilters of Japan, preparing their canvas.
I got started again with "spring breeze (harukaze)" from two weeks ago. It had most certainly eluded me then, and this morning seemed to be no different. The straight lines still seemed impossible, the diagonal curves and sense of direction still mystifying. Part of me felt like this was going to be the end of me and shodo. I would be stuck on this spring breeze forever, into the summer, fall, winter, and still stuck and stale into another spring.
Take it apart, just keep looking, keep trying. And finally I did one I felt I could show to Sensei, even though there were still things about it. I think she had noticed my stasis and very generously circled it and praised it and passed me along. The groundhog emerged! Spring was on its way!
And then she gave me another one. A word concept that we don't have in English. "Sakura fubuki," which is when wind blows through blossoming trees. It looks like snow.
The first character, "sakura (桜)" is the only kanji and is comprised of the characters for "tree(木)" and "woman(女)." I spent some time on the component parts and on the spacing of them. I spent some time on the hiragana for "fu(ふ)," "bu(ぶ)," and "ki (き)," as well, enjoying the way the brush leaves the page and then falls back down to the next part of the character. It's such a living thing, the way the ink touches the paper.
They handed out tea, coffee, and sweets as usual, and having finished their scrutinizing work for the day, I saw them circle up around the tables and sit together to enjoy the refreshments. I kept working, sipping some tea, and made a version I though good enough to give to Sensei. And then I sat and watched them and listened to them talk, picking up words and ideas here and there that I could make some sense of.
It's a wonderful thing to be able to craft something, to seek perfection in some art or some task, even just a routine matter of work. I think it's one of the most satisfying things that a person can do in their life; to invest themselves, their actual self, in the acts that they do. And it is a pleasure to be surrounded by people that are able to do this and practice it, even if I can't understand all their words. There is a sense of fulfillment, I think.
When the conversation seemed to have broken off enough, I asked Sensei to look at my "sakurafubuki." She looked at it for a minute and reached for her orange-inked brush, but instead of writing on my copy she reached for her sample that she had given to me and started to write on it. Was she correcting her own work?? She was telling me that it was really good. Apparently good enough, in fact, that it could go in the exhibition. Really??? Sugoi! She wrote my name on the lefthand side of the original and wanted me to write my name on my copy as well. A little more anxiety and a few practice trials and I managed to do it. And if only I had an inkan to stamp right below it. And I did! Not a nice shodo inkan, but one with my name in katakana that I use for official matters. The whole class was watching now, happy for my work, amused at me trying to write my name on it and stamping it with a tourist-grade inkan. But there it was! So exciting!
But now I don't have that copy. Sensei has it and will prepare it for the exhibition, as I understand it. But I wanted a picture, since I won't be there. And then one of the members of the class took a picture of me and Sensei with it.
Spring blossoms falling from the trees in the wind. Sakurafubuki.
It's really exciting to be a part of this, to share something with the other members of a class (though in a very fractional way compared to the work they are doing), to have something that I did on display in Japan. I wish that I could continue along with them for years to come, to grow and share experiences together. But I'm really grateful to have had this time and opportunity. So many thanks to Sensei for letting me participate. And now spring blossoms will carry something even more beautiful with them.