Friday, September 21, 2007

Grief and Passion in the Mundane World

“’My home is above the Sphere of Parting Sorrow in the Sea of Brimming Grief,’ she answered with a smile. ‘I am the Goddess of Disenchantment from the Grotto of Emanating Fragrance on the Mountain of Expanding Spring in the Illusory Land of Great Void. I preside over romances and unrequited love on earth, the grief of women and the passion of men in the mundane world. The reincarnations of some former lovers have recently gathered here, and so I have come to look for a chance to mete out love and longing. It is no accident that we have met’.”
- Cao Xueqin and Gao E, trans. A Dream of Red Mansions, Vol.1

The naming of Chinese gardens is an ancient tradition, recorded here in what is considered to be the original fictional novel about – among many other things – Chinese gardens.

Beginning with overwrought names, Chinese gardens are weighed down with belabored metaphor and obvious symbolism to the point that the visitor finds mystic beauty in rocks, yes rocks. Beautiful and tortured, shaped like gods stumbled upon out of the mists of the early morning, awakening some dream within a dream.

One thing about reading several books concurrently is the connections and inspirations stumbled upon like a misshapen monk at a roadside shrine, who dispenses enigmatic riddles. What Woody Allen or somebody described as a clue within a riddle wrapped in the dust of dreams and sewn into the smallest of ornately painted Russian stacking dolls. And shipped UPS ground to an enigma, to be delivered next Tuesday.

The backyard this morning was still so saturated with the dew that the air sparkled, I saw the yard like a Chinese garden – laden with moist portents and secret messages from the future. I usually spend time in the back yard in the afternoon. The sun highlights a completely different habitat in the morning. Spotlighting things lost in afternoon shadows, and turning familiar sights into trespassing strangers. (The pictures are from a trip up the California coast in 2004.)

I was chased from the yard by the morning round of sprinklers, so I came inside and picked up a book that was at hand – and that’s where the quotation is from. The sprinklers are almost done. Then, I’ll go back outside and try to hear the sirens and decipher their cries. Sometimes it’s all about grief and sorrow. This morning it was about how the world isn’t so mundane at all, if you look carefully.

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