Kakuzo Okakura’s classic 1906 long essay about the east, west, tea and everything in between is less about tea itself and more about the history and philosophy of the east, west and cultural differences as explored through the lens of tea.
His essay links the role of tea, or teaism, in Japanese aesthetic life. It was written by Okakura in English to be read by a western audience. He learned english as a boy and was known throughout his life for writing and explanation Japanese culture to early 20th C westerners. You can feel the cultural tension in his writing.
“Those who cannot feel the littleness of grea things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will se in the tea-ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him. He was wont to regard Japan as barbarous while she indulged in the gentle arts of peace: he calls her civilised since she began to commit wholesale slaughter on Manchurian battlefields.”
Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, p.10-11
Sometimes his writing is pretty tongue-in-cheek. This is a guy who was known for his eccentric habits. His prolific writing and visibility in the pop culture of the time gave him a high statue in Japan. This stature was marred by the fact that he had an affair with his patron’s wife.
His patron was a man nammed Ruichi Kuki and the woman was named Hatsu. She was a former geisha whom Kuki asked Okakura to accompany from the US back to Japan when she was sickly. When the affair became public, Okakura had to resign from his position as Principal of the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. Just some background for you.
Back to tea. Okakura gives a nice historical account of the bringing of tea to Japan for cultivation (near Kyoto) as well as a good nod to Sen no Rikyū who almost 500 years before had brought the way of tea to Japan, and made it a cultural necessity. His poetic description of Rikyū’s final tea ceremony and death and breathtaking. It sent chills down my back.
Okakura speaks at length about the art of tea and the ideals of tea masters. How to appreciate tea. How they select good tea. How the cultivation of a good tea practice becomes really a microcosm to examine the art of living.
I loved reading Okakaura’s explanations of how we fail to appreciate what is in front of us. He talks about people who refuse to live in the present because of nostalgia. This and other societal habits he addresses make me smile in a way because it reminds me that people have been dealing with the same shit since the 1900s. How many Facebook memes do you see today that say something akin to, “Live in the now.” That’s what Okakura was saying. A hundred years ago.
This is why reading is so important. The cure for whatever you’re dealing with now is out there now, written by some philosopher, ages ago. We’ve been fighting the same age-old battles since the dawn of humanity. We only fool ourselves into thinking they’re new.
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of tea, the art of tea or the history of Japan. It was entertaining and educating. The essay itself is broken up into several chapters. You could read them out of order and still take away the same message. They do relate to each other but don’t require chronological progression to be understood. Sometimes he goes on rants, albeit, very nicely-phrased ones.
Occasionally while reading I pretended I was scrolling through the Tumblr of a well-read 1900s philosophy student obsessed with tea. I think that’s the best way to describe it.
Okay, shhhh. I’m still technically on hiatus (sort of), but I worked out a way to sell my homemade prints on the blog and I was excited and couldn’t wait to share it.
There’s also this whole new WordPress theme going on you might have noticed. It looks almost the same, but not quite. My old theme didn’t have WooCommerce support (that’s the plugin I used to make the shop) so I found another theme by the same designer that did.
I made some fresh prints!
That pun will never get old. You can find them all in the shop and I’ll be adding more over time. They’re printed on Epson Archival Signature Ultra Premium Photo Paper, 13″x19″, 10 mil, 240 g/m2 with Epson UltraChrome K3™ inkjet ink.
They’re all printed and signed by yours truly and they would all look great in your bathroom.
I also made a new logo!
Yeah, funny that! I had some creative momentum yesterday. I’ve been meaning to do a little redesign of that teacup for ages and yesterday I just took out my tablet and went to it. The new theme had me wanting to refresh a bit.
So, new theme, new logo, new shop but same ol’ goals: drink lot of good tea, have loads of adventures, take lots of great photos and tell lots of good stories.
This book had me gripped in its clutches from day one.
For those of you that have been reading along with Galbraith’s (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling’s) Cormoran Strike mystery series, this is the novel where we see determined and valiant assistant Robin Ellacott transform from victim to avenger.
No spoilers in this review, but we do find out a lot about both more Strike and Ellacott’s pasts in Career of Evil. In fact, a lot of the dominos and breadcrumbs that Galbraith set up and led us with in the first two novels get knocked down or absolved in this novel. In fact, one question that entered my concerned mind after it ended was, ‘is there anything left to knock over? Is it too tidy? Where’s she going to take it next?’
Then I reassured myself, ‘It’s Rowling. She knows what she’s doing.’
According to what Rowling’s been saying in the media, there is a fourth (and possibly many more) Cormoran Strike novels in the works. Woohoo!
My favourite thing about this book is how it’s essentially a giant examination of violence against women.
We’ve got short term violence, chronic violence, women who try and help other women, women who reject help, women who hurt women, women trying to break free of what violence has done to them, men who hurt women and men who hurt men who hurt women.
The lens of fiction let’s the author accordion and play with time, so we get to look at these relationships and their evolution through key moments in the characters’ relationships.
Also, there was a time when I was working in the Asset Recovery and Insolvency department of a law firm where I seriously considered becoming a private detective or a bailiff. These novels definitely stir up that same excitement in me. Luckily, with journalism I’m still hunting down stories and searching for the truth every day. Signs that I’m on the right path. I wish I could hang out with Robin – I think we’d be good buddies.
I was sad to reach the end of this book because it meant not getting to go back over and over again to these characters to peek in on what they were doing. At least for a little while. Hurry up Galbraith and publish another one!
Over the course of last year I found there were a few things that really worked for me to help me get through my list. I hope they help you too!
Never underestimate what you can do with five minutes.
You don’t need half an hour to ‘sit down and read’. You can grab your book and read a chapter while waiting for supper to defrost in the microwave.
Always keep your book at hand.
Use public transit. Even if it takes longer than driving, you can focus on a story instead of traffic. Sounds like a worthwhile tradeoff to me. Plus, you’ll save money on gas!
Keep a reading log.
Hold yourself accountable. You’re also way more likely to remember what you read in a few months or a year if you jot down a few sentences about what you thought of the book or ideas that came to you while reading it.
Reading books is great. Remembering them is even better.
Read books you like
This may sound obvious but even I’ve found myself slogging away through the latest à la mode thought piece or trending book club hit for the sake of having said I read it, only to hate it the entire time.
If a book is not working for you, just dump it.
There are better books out there for you and any person who says you’re not complete unless you’ve read Naomi Klein or Eat, Pray, Love should probably be avoided at all costs.
That being said, don’t be afraid to give things a try. Even if they’re not your usual cup of tea.
[white_box]I worked tea into the post. Yippee![/white_box]
Read before bed.
I’ve got an alarm that goes off and tells me to get ready for bed. It also puts you in a great place to fall asleep.
Put your phone in ‘silent’ mode.
Distractions kill the mood and your focus while reading. Ain’t nobody got time for texts (or worse: push notifications. Blech.)
It is a special thing in this world when you find someone who masters two crafts and then blends them together seamlessly.
This collection of six short graphic stories by the Optic Nerve and Shortcomings author Adrian Tomine takes us through issues of failed dreams, mistaken identities, parenting, cancer, immigration, family relationships, how the pursuit of an idae can make us dicks, abusive relationships, substance abuse and stand-up.
We knew Tomine was an excellent illustrator from his regular work in Optic Nerve, The New Yorker and his other publications, but reading Killing and Dying confirms he’s also a masterful storyteller.
The writing in Killing and Dying is honest and dark; funny and true; heartbreaking and empathetic. It had me weeping for characters my social engineering would normally have me despise: the racist, the deadbeat, the pathetic, the misogynist, the unfixable, the tragic, the violent.
His stories leave us feeling uncomfortable with our own feelings and that’s a very interesting place for a reader to be.
Tomine is very economic with his storytelling. Although his pieces are heavily narrative-driven, not a line of ink or word are wasted. His dialogue is as clean as his pencil lines. There is no overdone complexity.
Each story really has a distinctive narrative and graphic style. There’s no mistaking where one ends and the other begins.
The story ‘Intruders’ is drawn in a dark pencil sketch reminiscent of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tomine and Tatsumi worked together through their published, Drawn and Quarterly. Tomine has said Tatsumi was a mentor to the younger artist. Tatsumi passed away in March, 2015, before Killing and Dying was published.
His visual narrative style is extremely understated. Tomine’s simple clean lines and plainly-drawn characters fool us into thinking the topics are not incredible hard to write about, he does it with such ease.
There’s one panel in the titular story, ‘Killing and Dying’ where, without ever saying anything, simply by the way he draws the panel, you know one of the characters is no longer with us. It’s never been stated anywhere in the story, but the way he draws it you all of a sudden feel this whole undercurrent of unstated grief and loss and unfairness. He doesn’t have to say anything. It is so good.
As for categorization. Maybe we can call this the visual short story. Can this be a thing? I feel like Tomine has made it a thing. Reading the stories of intimate lives set in non-descript and slightly decrepit urban American harkens me back to Flannery O’Connor and her short stories in southern gothic style, with their grotesque characters and questions of morality.
Killing and Dying is sad and perfect. It transcends the graphic novel medium and has me itching to read more of his previous work. This has been one of my favourite reads of the past year.
In honour of today being Clean Off Your Desk Day (yes, it’s a real thing) I want to share a post about something I’m oddly passionate about.
Yes. It might not sound sexy, but there’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down to work at your computer and having organized icons, a clean desktop and a logical filing system.
I just tingled a bit.
In my undergrad I was the T.A. for Digital Imaging. When I’d look over students’ shoulders and see files scattered willy-nilly across the desktop, named variations of ‘fgfdh’ and ‘untitled’, it drove me crazy.
“Do people actually live like this?” I asked my professor.
Some people thrive on chaos and disorganization. They can walk into a hoarder’s closet and expertly tell you where the yellow sock with the pink flowers is.
But for most of us, digital clutter is exhausting, distracting and unnecessary.
My desktop at the moment. And no, I didn’t just shove everything under the rug into my Documents folder. This is generally what it looks like and how I always try to put it back after I finish working.
Why You Should Care
If you feel stressed when you look at your desktop, or the thought of rooting through your Pictures or Documents folders causes you anxiety, this post is for you.
If you quickly open your Internet browser to block the poorly-named JPEGs from glaring menacingly, this post is for you.
If a friend asks, “Do you have a copy of that audio file from the project we worked on last month?” and you panic, this post is for you.
We do so much work on our computers. You might be able to shut your laptop and walk away, but even if you can’t see the mess, you know it’s there.
There are also practical benefits to organizing your computer.
Less crap on hard drive = faster computer
Less clutter = easier to find things/finish work faster
Finish work faster = more time to enjoy non-computer life*
*This is the important part.
There’s a Better Way!
You’re tired of your desktop looking like it held a rager last night. Let’s get down to it. You can even pull out the glasses-cleaner, cloth and clean the screen at the same time. Hold a spa day for your computer.
Have a Filing System
And stick to it.*
Have one central location for your files, be it the Documents folder, Google Drive or Dropbox. Keep it all in one spot.
Within that spot, sort by project.
If you’re a student you might try:
Documents >> Undergraduate >> Year >> Class Name
If you’re a freelancer, you might try:
Documents >> Client Work >> Client Name >> Project Name
And then within Project Name have subfolders like Client Questions, Assets, Source Material, Presentations or whatever makes sense for you.
Here’s an example from me. This is from a class I did last semester during my Masters. It was called ‘Radio Workshop’, so my hierarchy looked like this:
Dropbox >> Masters >> Year One >> Radio Workshop
Because we had a daily production schedule, within the Radio Workshop folder I sorted my folders by date, production type, role, story name.
Ex: 2015 12 01 – RADIO ROOM – HOST/EDITOR
Whatever folder hierarchy you create, try and create the same one for each project. This sounds like a lot of work, but I swear it’s worth it. Your brain will start to think in these terms and you’ll find things a lot faster.
The nice things about naming things chronolgically from as YEAR MONTH DAY is that if you hit Shift +⌘ + 1 they will automatically grid-sort to chronological order.
*This is the most important.
Have a Naming System
And stick to it.**
Same as your folders. Be intentional. Don’t jam ‘dgjkhf’ into your keyboard when you hit ‘Save As’ because it’s quicker. It’s not quicker if you spend 5, 10, 50 minutes looking for it later on. Nobody likes looking for files after midnight.
When you’re working on a project, you might call the final file Project Name – Final. This is great. This makes sense.
The thing is, often when we tweak those projects after we think we’re done we end up with things like:
Project Name – FinalFinal
Project Name – FinalForReal
Project Name – ActuallyFinalThisTime
Project Name – UseThisOneSorryMark.
It’s hard to look back at that a week later and say, “So… which of these was the real final?”
When you’re done, go back and edit the names of the false finals so they don’t say final. Better yet, just delete them.
Think of your computer like a room. Digital files take up physical space there. Be intentional. Where is this file going to go? What am I going to call it? How am I going to find it later?
**Seriously, the most important.
Try These Habits
Set your default Downloads location to your desktop.
Downloaded files on your desktop you’re more likely to deal with right away. You can change this in your computer browser. In Google Chrome, you can find it by going to your settings > advanced > downloads.
Delete files as soon as you’re done with them.
Program installers and that cat GIF you were sending to your friend. Anything you’ve sent via gmail doesn’t have to be on your computer as well. It’s saved in gmail.
Keep your desktop clean.
Treat the things on your desktop like clothes lying around your room. Or dirty dishes. Whatever works for you.
Anything you download to your computer is like kitsch you’re bringing in to your home. Do you really need that third bear GIF? Do you need an intervention?
Know your redundancies.
Get rid of any double files or things you don’t have to hold on to. For example, anything you import to iTunes gets copied over to the iTunes library, so you don’t need to keep that original file. Delete that sucker! Double-check under your iTunes settings to make sure yours is set up before you start deleting.
Organize your browser bookmarks
The more organized every aspect of your digital life is, the better. Get rid of bookmarks you never click on.
Photos in one central place
Whether it means using Lightroom, Photos, or another service. Any program that makes you sort your photos in a consistent manner is useful.
I recommend sorting photos by Year, Month, Day. If you’re in Lightroom you can set that up in your Import module.
Schedule regular backups
This is just a good practice that will save your butt if anything ever happens to your computer. Once it’s organized, back it up!
Always run the latest OS & be diligent about software updates
They’ll make your OS quicker and save you all sorts of trouble.
Try These Tools
External Hard Drives
Great if you’ve got a lot of media to store.
Disk Utility / Disk Repair
Get familiar with the functions of Disk Utility on your Mac. One really useful thing it does is run ‘First Aid’.
The First Aid option is in the upper menu – left hand side. Click it and it will automatically run through your disk to locate and detect any problems. A good idea to run this every few months.
Cloud Storage Services
Dropbox, Google Drive, Flickr (for photos) can all save you space on your computer and also make it easy to access documents on the go, from any computer.
The caveat: you need the internet to use them. Files stored locally with Dropbox or Google Drive can be accessed offline.
Cloud Mail Server
Gmail. Plain and simple. It connects seamlessly to any other email you’re using and has a very smart storage system. Use it. It’s quickly becoming the global standard and is quite secure.
Google Calendars is the way to go. They’re more useful across platforms than iCloud’s.
I use Sunrise.am to view my Google calendars. They also have a great feature that lets you send your availability to people. You can also view your Sunrise calendars in-browser as well as using their desktop and iOS apps.
Cloud Writing Services
For taking notes on the go and syncing with all your devices. Great for class, meeting, workshop notes.
Ulysses in night mode.
Evernote is a popular choice. Alternote is a beautiful Evernote desktop client. Ulysses is what I use. I prefer its minimalist interface and option for dark mode for night writing. Notes is also a simple and effective option.
Disk Cloning Program
You want to develop a regular backup habit (water your plants, sweep the floor, back up your computer and hard drives). I like Carbon Copy Cloner because you can automate and schedule your backups. I have it set up so that whenever I plug in my PHOTO and PHOTO BACKUP hard drives, it’ll automatically backup PHOTO to the other for me.
These programs can help you locate where your system might be hiding extra weight. Some examples are Omni Disk Sweeper and DaisyDisk. They analyze the contents of your computer and break it down for you. From there you can choose to delete what you don’t need.
Good to run this every couple months or if you suddenly run out of space. You may be surprised what you find.
Hazel is a bit different. Hazel lets you set up rules to organize your files. For example, I have it set up to mark with a red tag files I haven’t accessed in 3+ months. You can colour code images, videos, etc. and have it empty the trash for you. Like a digital maid.