The Finished Book

It’s been about two months since I wrote here. And the book is done. It was done shortly after the last post and it has been sitting in the book press ever since waiting for the person who commissioned it to come back from Europe. He has family matters to attend to and I have no information re: date of his return. No matter. The book is a book for all that. I’ll not be able to get to another one for a while as the summer is the time to work on the house to try to get it finished. Today I did the final coat resurfacing the bathtub.

The zen in all this is just the zen in all this.

I got up on stage and played bass and sang in front of 200 people a week ago. Conquering an old fear has changed my life. Tonight I have a opening of abstract drawings; no fear.

I am starting to remember people’s names. Something I’ve always been bad at. This is so I can start doing a little community organizing with all the many wonderful artists on the island. Can’t talk to people if you can’t remember their names.

Where did I read this,” “Student: I’m so discouraged. What can I do?
Teacher: Encourage others.”

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The End Papers

When one knows nothing about a topic, it is not necessarily a bad idea to jump in head first – as long as one is willing to put up with all the mistakes one is invariably going to make. In my case all the things that I could do wrong I have done wrong. The process of putting this rather large format book together has been a process of screw it up and fix it.

My Iaido teacher, sensei Ken Manecker, always talked about the importance of the beginner’s mind: One can only learn when one is in the embrace of the beginner’s mind. I wonder if, as in zen, the practise is not so much getting to the point that one does things perfectly, but rather one gets faster and faster at figuring out solutions to the problem of the mistake at hand.

The book is now sewn and glued. Next I will finish the spine and make the case.

The picture above is of the end papers, done with acrylic paint, that keep sticking together whenever I put the book into a press. Then I repair the paper. Why can’t I remember to put waxed paper between the pages? The solution: I thought to write a reminder on each press: “Wax Paper”. I wonder if I will pay any attention.

Glueing Up The Spine

If I had bad days any more this would be one of them. But not being a bad day, it is merely one beset with fear and trepidation. Everything is sure to go wrong. What have I gotten myself into? I know nothing about book binding. Reading books on the subject is no substitute for having a good teacher who can direct one away from the most common errors. Me, I decide to go it alone. Figure out what I am doing as I go. So today I suspect that my signatures are too thick. When I press the signatures into my gluing frame, it looks like the glue will run down at least an eight inch between them. Is this good or bad? I have no idea. After procrastinating for hours, I go ahead, and glue everything up. If it doesn’t work, I have enough paper between the spine and the pictures that I can sew through the face of the paper. There is always a solution. Sometimes it just takes remaining calm in the face of habitual panic and self-loathing while waiting for the solution to come. So I procrastinated by going for a walk with my companion, in the sun, on the beach. She said, “Everything is shining.”

It still is.

Haywired Book Press

So I’ve been making things needed to bind my book of drawings. The latest is the book press. Crude and haywired. I used a square screw from an old bench clamp, a bunch of re-purposed 2 x 4s and melamine from old shelving. Today is a holiday or I’d go out and buy some bolts to strengthen up the joints. That’s where patience comes in. Waiting for tomorrow. Knowing tomorrow will come and forgetting about it.

And then I will sew my signatures and assemble the book. Maybe the press will even work.

But what I’ve noticed in this whole process, being completely ignorant in respect to book binding, is how instead of doing things to a fine degree, I do haywiring. Why didn’t I make a cabinet quality press. I don’t worry about it, I just say that I don’t know how many books I will bind so good enough is good enough.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that I’m terrified of making mistakes. I make lots of them. And then I have to figure out how to fix the mistakes – the goal being, after all, a highly skilled work of art. So far, I haven’t destroyed the project, but I’ve spent more than one night unalbe to go to sleep, plagued by various problems that I don’t have any solutions to. Like how to relax the wrinkles in my end papers. I dampened them and stuck them between two boards and left them there for a day to dry. But how do I keep two pages, painted in acrylic, that face each other from sticking to each other? They can’t have glassine between them. What makes acrylic surfaces non-sticky? Anyone have an idea?

Zen and the art of Impatience

I started making books because I was comissioned to do a book of abstract drawings/mixed media. The books that were commmerically available contained paper that was too thin to allow washes, so I opted to research bookbinnding and fell in love. So here is where the zen comes in – as a tool to allow me to continue to make the drawings (60 [+,-] on 9.75″ x 12.75 paper — ideally to sewn into signatures) when I want to fall into my new obsession and spend all my time there. But the commission comes first, and only then do I get to do anymore bookbinding. Ah, the anguish. All my life I’ve had a problem with impulse control. My impusle is to experiment wildly with bookbinding but my need and promise is to make a hand-made art book. I draw and wait for all things to pass. I don’t need to be impatient. In fact, impatience is best served by breathing and focusing on the art. I’ll post one of the draswings as soon as I decide that one is finished.

Liberation and Bread Baking

ww and millet, score the top and pop into the oven

The very first post on this blog was just short of four months ago in April. It concerned the four Bodhisattva vows. Since then I have done an initial survey of the Bodhisattva vows, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Now I am starting at the beginning again and bring the ideas contained in these fundamental Buddhist texts to bear on my daily life. Right now my daily life consists primarily of making objects of art and baking bread. In art I am not exactly a beginner; but in bread baking I really am, least ways in terms of sourdough and steamed-oven baking using baking stones. My Iaido teacher always insisted on the cultivation of the beginner’s mind. So, today I will attempt to talk about my latest bread making experiences from the point of view of beginner’s mind and the first line of the Bodhisattva vows.

Beings are numberless I vow to liberate them.

I received a sourdough starter from my friend, Peter. I don’t know the starter’s provenance (was it started from the wild, or from a bought innoculant, or with the help of commercial yeast?), but my bread doesn’t seem to want to become sour for me. I suspect that to get a starter that is as sour as I want, I might have to start from the beginning, not that I am trying to insult Peter’s starter, but starters, as I surmise from internet research, do not travel well from one flour-environment to another. Yeasts get themselves sorted out for particular micro environments and have to adjust, evolve, to fit into new ones. It is also possible, after years of my store-bought bakers yeast bread baking and wine and beer home brewing, that these blander yeasts have leapt the fence so to speak and caused the yeast in my garden to become creamy and uniform instead of sour. And my bread now does taste sort of creamy, rather than sour. In which case even starting from scratch any new starter I might begin, using my own local yeast, will not produce that desired sour taste. On the other hand, maybe I just don’t yet know what I am doing.

What to do? What to do?

All the numberless yeasty beings floating around in the atmosphere, coating the apples on the trees, the grapes on the vines, or just floating in the air, waiting for a suitably wet environment and enough starches and sugars to act as a delectable food source to encourage their reproductive exuberance. Maybe I should just continue baking bread with the yeast I have and not worry (definitely do not worry) about how sour, or not, my bread might be. I will make the best bread I can.

Beginner’s luck for me began with a recipe for a sourdough sweet potato bread with pumpkin seeds. Everyone raved. However…. although the bread was a delight, after paying full attention to some basic critical benchmarks (as gleaned from the sourdough internet community) I must say that I screwed up the crust by not making it smooth enough and scoring it properly before baking, and what is it with all my bread that I never get that looked for large, holey crumb. I get a cake-like crumb. So what does the beginner’s mind do? Make more loaves of bread, of course, content in the realization that I may never solve the crumb problem but glad the bread tastes great. I feed it to who ever is around and thereby liberate them from the pangs of hunger.

Question of the day: quite often I have heard people say that they are on a yeast free diet and so only eat bread made with sourdough. Sour dough is, of course, yeast. So do I say anything to liberate these deluded people from their ignorance of the nature of sourdough, or do I leave them alone and let them get on with the delightful pleasure of eating yeasted bread by any other name.

For now I will go check on my loaves and maybe pop them in the oven.

Right Mindfullness

sweet tomatoes

Again from Wikipedia.

“Here, practitioners should constantly keep their minds alert to phenomena that affect the body and mind.”

How simple can this be? Oh ya, real simple. So simple that it’s hard to notice that you ever do it. Paying constant and complete attention? Giving full awareness to all the phenomena of mind and body? When do we do that? In this culture we’re trained to pay attention to TV. To money. To who won the World Series, World Cup, Stanley Cup, Miss Universe Contest. The latest traffic accident or robbery. And are all those beautiful people going to make it out of the jungle without throwing up because they have to eat grubs? Oh, the anxiety, the excitement, the suspense! What might happen?!

Right Mindfulness is noticing what is happening to oneself right now. We each do this some time during the day, but we don’t necessarily notice we are doing it. The first step is to pay attention to yourself so you notice those times when you are awake noticing the simple fact of your existence, noticing those times when there is nothing happening in your head beyond simple engagement in what you are doing.

In my case I pay full attention to my existence when I paint and when I garden. Then the only thing going on is the brush against the board or the water pouring over the soil under the tomato plants. The feel of cold as the water splashes my hand as I weed. The green smell as I pick off new growth so the tomato plants won’t grow too big. The snap of picking peas for dinner. The tight hobbling sensation in the small of the back when I get up from a crouch. Bending the upper back backward to relieve the old tendons. Failing at the task of mindful attention every once in a while when I notice how many raspberries are half eaten by the d#@m robins, or worse, when a berry has only been slashed at with a beak. The robins sit on the berry canes and break them with their weight. Whenever I walk out into the garden, those wing-rats give a cry of warning and fly off. As far as they are concerned, I’m the one stealing their food.

But how to take the mindfulness I get while engaged in the small activities in the garden, or at my easel, into my day to day life? There are all sorts of techniques. By now, for old fart me, it is simply a matter of remembering to do so. And I have to remind myself to do it a lot. The hardest times are when I get stressed out, like immediately after the opening reception for my show. That night, about 3:00 pm, my mind just would not stop. Monkey mind, jabbering away. This and that. Who said what and why. Old patterns in my mind reawakened, stimulated by the strange energy of exhaustion. Not one thought important because I didn’t need to make any of it important. But nothing I could do in the situation except just watch the thoughts go by. Sleepless. Here I am awake, I thought. Trying to be awake to being awake.

Here’s a technique I learned in my twenties: in a whisper recite the phrase, “This is what I’m doing now.” Say it over and over. All day long. Quietly, but out loud. Then, the next day, repeat the phrase all day long to yourself, in your mind. After a week or so of remembering to keep saying the phrase, it sinks into your subconscious mind and becomes the observer, watching what you are doing, noticing what you are thinking. Then whenever you notice you are not paying attention to the things right there in front of you, or the things inside you, start saying the phrase to start the observer up again. It’s pretty hard to get distracted when you are reciting a phrase, or counting your breath, or fixing on a mandala or candle (on the other hand it’s pretty hard to focus on a candle or the breath etc)….

And after you get good at bringing your mind back to the phrase, the candle, the mantra, the breath, then the next trick to master is to take your developed, practised focus and generalize it so that it encompasses whatever is happening to oneself at every moment, day to day, so that you become totally aware and awake to the infinite world of your own experience. Right Mindfulness, Right Now.

May you be blessed with a day full of awareness.

The source for above image