Posts Tagged advice
Her letter to the Governor had been over a week ago; her visit with Henseit a few days. Kaori was now worried. She had agreed to her brother’s gamble because it would cost the Governor nothing to say no, and gain everyone something if he said yes. But Kaori had always grown up with the phrase “Bad news travels slowly”, and now she was worried that bad news was what was traveling towards her. Kimiyasu tried to get her out of the house again, and again Kaori pleaded that she had to work on her dress. This time, Kimiyasu let it go. Katai found her at her desk, waiting for something to happen.
“Kaori?” She turns to look at her mother.
“The fabric has waited for you, longer than it should have. In your sister’s household you will have much work to do and a short while to do it in. You cannot afford to get distracted so deeply by the events around you. Especially those you can’t control.” She extends her hand out to Kaori, who lifts herself from the chair and heads towards her mother. She takes her mother’s hand, and the two begin walking towards the workroom.
“Let the work you must do be your refuge against the work you cannot do. Your Father has taught you how to become one with your art, so take those lessons into the household. Learn to become one with the tasks you must do in the household, forget yourself in those tasks, and you’ll find that when they are over, the world isn’t quite as bad as you thought it was.”
“With all due respect, Mother, that’s art. Not housework.”
“Has your Father not taught you to approach all your work as artwork?”
“He has but…” Kaori sighs. “Its not the same.”
“And why is that, Daughter.” Katai doesn’t bother with formulating a question, the conversation falls along lines that are almost rote. Katai’s fan whips out to warn caution, but in truth it is to arrest the progress of Katai’s knowledge that soon, her youngest daughter won’t be here to have these conversations with.
“Art is… yes its work, but its a liberating work. It is the work which brings the spirit into the world, it is birthing work, generative.”
“And housework isn’t?” This is new to Katai, and now the discussion is joined in earnest.
“Housework is… sustaining? Maintaining?” Kaori fans herself as they walk slowly, deliberately through the house. “It isn’t generative.”
“Even the creative work of creating your own clothing?”
“That is transformative, but still not… creative.” Kaori sees the folly too late.
“Why can the work of maintenance not create? Do you not change the state of what was into what is? Is that change not new? The answer is to see the new state as being that, something new, and not the change of something old. Besides, focusing on what you can control is how you forget what you cannot control.”
“Thank you Mother, you’re right, I should stop worrying. I just… It would be so great an opportunity. I hope Weili knows what he’s doing.”
“Your Father would not have let him do it if he did not believe in your brother. You must have faith. In the meantime, you must have clothing.” Katai smiles at her daughter as the two enter the workroom. Lacquered wood paneling frames a wooden floor and smooth worktables. The fabric chosen in town over a week ago sits folded on one of them, near a series of wooden bars with indentations carved into them where posts will sit in order to measure. Several other colors of thread and sewing needles are arranged on the table. On the other side of the room a few works in progress are draped over dress forms. Kaori recognizes her mother’s style and her sister’s stitching on some of the clothes, projects abandoned in favor of the elaborate white costume that occupies the focus of the room.
Kimiyasu’s wedding dress, even half finished, looks exquisite to Kaori. Next to it, a more humble white arrangement is even less finished. Kaori realizes that will be her dress for the ceremony.
Against her will, Kaori goes rigid. She knows she will not be working on it, as she should, because she doesn’t know if she wants to. Neither, for that matter, does her family. Katai leaves her side to pull up some painted silk screens so that Kaori can focus only on the task at hand. “Go measure your fabric and make sure we have enough, Kaori.”
Kaori walks to the wall, her movements are stiff, she knows, but she cannot relax. The dress makes everything so real… She puts up the posts, wraps them in silk-covered cotton, then proceeds to measure the fabric. She comes up short for the measurement she needs.
“There isn’t enough Mother, the shopkeep shortchanged us.” The anger restores some of the grace to her movements.
“For a married woman?”
Kaori opens her mouth, stops, then turns back to the fabric. She adjusts one of the posts. The fabric is a little more than enough, exactly what Kaori needs. She realizes that there would have been no where else to get the fabric: he knew they already had the wedding dresses and assumed this would be for after the ceremony, so he gave enough for a married woman’s outfit. Kaori goes to take it off the post, and a small splinter catches at one of the edges, she groans.
“Mother, I’m not ready to do this, I can’t—”
“No. You found within yourself wisdom. Now find within yourself nothingness. Fold the frays into the seam. You can do this Kaori, you must.” Katai’s voice does not leave room for argument, she knows she cannot command her child to have confidence, to do, and be, better, but she cannot help but try. She would not be a mother if she didn’t.
Kaori takes a deep breath, extricates the fabric from the wall carefully and without further damage, and then proceeds to do exactly what her mother has said.
Sorry for the delay, I’ve decided, in this draft, to change some pretty major things, and this is the divergence point, which naturally required a rewrite. Updates might slow down a bit to once every 2 weeks as I slog through them.
“Pilgrims pack their things,
their faith is commendable.
You stay in taverns.
The ivy that grows outside,
Grows strong because of your care.
She folds Hensei’s letter into a simple, locked triangle. He will recognize it as a mountain fold, and attaches to it a small, shiny pebble with some string. She writes more letters to the others that were present in town that day, after Kimiyasu reminds her. The tenor places her as a demure young girl taking uncertain steps, yet the humor is in the possibility that she knows more. She hopes they will be well received. Finally she writes a letter to Tsubasa Changfu, the last in the list of names from her Father through Kimiyasu.
“A single swan sings,
Praised by the one watching.
Empty sake cups.
Best to speak of what is known,
To those who would listen most.
She folds the letter into a swan, and to it attaches a stick of temple incense. The subtle message shouldn’t scare him off, but perhaps, Kaori hopes, force him to consider whether or not his undue interest in her presents a problem of etiquette. Although… she wouldn’t say he wasn’t handsome…
“Sister?” Kimiyasu enters. “I waited a few minutes after knocking, but you didn’t respond. Are you all right?”
Kaori turns around. “I’m sorry sister, I was writing letters, I didn’t hear you.”
“Shall I go then? I don’t want to interrupt.” Kimiyasu takes stock of the letters, folded and ready to go. She looks at the one that Kaori was tying. “Purity and loneliness? Is that for Tsubasa Changfu?”
“Is it too obvious?”
“From what Father said of the way he behaved towards you? Not at all. I think you’ve done…” Kimiyasu stops herself from saying surprisingly, “Well.”
“I would hope for excellent. I was unsure if Father had noticed or not, but since he did not respond as I expected, I presumed he hadn’t.”
Kimiyasu smiles at her sister. “We all hope for excellent, and since the only thing I have to go by doesn’t include the verses within, I’m certain you’ve managed to reach it, if not beyond. I hope you weren’t too hard on him though? Certainly the beginning of a correspondence is also the hardest. You want to make sure he is not chastised into sending you letters through our Father.”
Kaori shakes her head. “At least, I don’t believe so. I would certainly hope he doesn’t scare easy, but I have a feeling there’s more steel underneath the silk than Father and I perhaps give him credit for. There’s something about him.”
“Mother said his clothing was off color?”
Kaori pulls back just a touch and squints at her sister. “I didn’t think mother had noticed.” She tilts her head. “Which is silly really, when has Mother not noticed someone’s clothing? It wasn’t upsettingly off, just a couple of shades too light to be appropriate for the season, or his station.”
“As though perhaps he is a little forgetful and left it to bleach in the sun last summer?”
“As though he does not have a wife to choose the correct colors and fashion something for him on a regular basis.”
“How is that different from what I said?”
“That’s what you like about him though, isn’t it?”
“The off-color clothing?”
“The fact that he’s not certain about how to belong.”
Kaori turns back to her writing desk. Sometimes her sister’s wit can be a little too sharp, too quick. If words were swords, Kaori was certain Kimiyasu would give her Father a fair challenge.
“That was sharp, sister. You’ve cut to the heart of it.” Kaori has not turned back to her.
“I’m not sorry, Kaori. It is good that you are finding an attraction in your memories of him especially if… but be careful not to… well, you do have a tendancy to over-dramatize things, little sister.”
“I do not.” Kaori responds, her bottom lip jutting out as she fires the comment back over her shoulder.
“I did not say it was a fault. Just something to be aware of. If Tsubasa is to be a candidate for marriage, then it is good that you are discovering feelings for him. But potential and action are as yet very separate, and you must be prepared for either eventuality. At any rate, you are young and an artist, you are not expected to know yourself, you are expected to explore the arts and through them learn of yourself. But everyone likes knowing they aren’t alone, either in their manner of appreicating off-color clothing, or in their feelings.” There is a pause, filled with the evening notes of songbirds. “Shall I take these to be delivered through post?”
“If you would be so kind, Kimiyasu. I should get ready for dinner. Thank you, sister.”
“For reminding me of these letters, for these illuminating conversations of ours. For being my sister.”
“Your welcome, Kaori. And thank you for much of the same.” Kimiyasu leaves, carrying the seven letters with her.
After she leaves Kaori has time to stop and listen to the songbirds. She wonders about Tsubasa, about what her sister has said. She cannot deny that her heart beats ever-so-slightly faster when she sees him, or that she is excited to know his response; to correspond with him. However… Kimiyasu is right, and for a brief moment, the crushing weight of being a concubine bears down on her and forces her to sit back in her chair. What would she do? How would she help her sister? Would she still have time for art? Kaori shakes her head and grinds more of the inkstone with a little less water. She changes her brush for something thicker and begins putting it to the paper, outlining mountains and rivers in weighty, bold lines. She knows it should be lighter, even just a touch, but the goal is to bring her peace, to bring her the stability and solidarity of this mountain valley. Soon she is adding the colors, the greens of grass and pink of flowers. Along the sky she writes a simple poem:
“Soft, loamy, clay riverbed,
Only finite streams can join.”
Kaori stares at the paper, still wet and heavy. In the morning, when it is dry, Kaori takes the picture and rolls it up. Tying it shut with another piece of paper, she places it gently into the embers in the fireplace, and with her fan, relights it. She can hear her Father’s voice from the first time her showed her this:
“This is how I am strong, Kaori: I learned to burn away my weakness.”
Kaori spends much time sitting in the garden, despite the slush and snow. When it gets too cold or too wet she stares at the cherry tree from her window, wet black boughs against a gray sky. Her writing desk is bare, even though she grinds the ink-stone every time she sits down and then doesn’t use it. It is Kimiyasu who comes to her first, after three days without one of Kaori’s spontaneous poems that the family is grown accustomed to. She next to her on the cold stone bench, wrapping an old quilt around the both of them. It was made for winter, from scraps of wool and silk, its chambers thick to bursting with cotton, the colors all harmoniously arranged so that it spirals gently from a cool green to warm purple. The wind blows the clean scent of icy air and frozen ground around them. For a time, Kimiyasu simply stays inside the blanket close to her sister. Finally, as she can feel the bone-chill of the stone seeping through even the thick quilt, she speaks without looking at her sister.
“Sluggish black water,
even fountains flow in circles
outside of winter.”
Kimiyasu waits for a response verse from her sister. With no response other than Kaori’s glance in her direction, Kimiyasu continues: “We’re worried about you, sister.”
Kimiyasu’s fan comes out, the blanket slipping down her shoulder, and points at her sister’s obvious untruth. “I’m not so sure. You spend most of your day out here in the cold, staring at the frozen pond. Mother worries that you’ll get sick if you keep this up for much longer.”
“She gave me a lot to think about, I’m thinking about it.”
“Father didn’t want to give you a choice.” Kaori looks at Kimiyasu, inadvertently pulling the quilt more around herself. “He said that this sort of decision should be theirs to make in your best interest. Having lived through it, Mother argued vehemently that you should be given a choice. Father did not believe you were strong enough.”
“Maybe he was right. I don’t know what to do anymore. Both of my choices are right answers, in a way. But they cannot both be.”
Kaori looks at her sister before repeating her father’s words. “’The path of virtue is clear to the virtuous.’”
Kimiyasu shakes her head. “That doesn’t say anything about choice. Or what to do when two virtuous options present themselves.”
Kaori’s brow furrows. “No, but that’s what Father always said to me when I had to make choices…”
“Perhaps, then, what you need is a different opinion. Father will not always have the answers. You must learn to interpret the verses for yourself, in the context of your own life, dearest sister. Come let us go to the temple, the changing scenery always helps when I must puzzle out a vexing situation.”
Kaori smiles slightly at Kimiyasu. “I fear I would do much the same thing at the temple as I am doing here, sitting and staring, lost in my own mind. Or worse, distracted by the colors there at this time of year.”
“But there you will have the wisdom of the place and the austerity of the monks to guide you.”
Kaori has no response for her sister’s seemingly infallible logic.
“That settles it then,” Kimiyasu claps her hands and Mikan comes after a short while. “Mikan, have one of the others prepare my cart. Kaori and I are going to visit the temple.”
“Of course. Oh, Kaori.” She looks at the older woman. “Your mother wishes to tell you the fabric has arrived from town.” Kaori nods, and Mikan continues towards the front of the house.
“Sister, I should get to work on the clothing I’m to make, I know—”
“That I mean well?” Kimiyasu sighs. “I think you would try and get distracted, or worse yet, make so many mistakes you’ll ruin the fabric. You need time to still your mind before you begin the project Kaori. Isn’t that what Father always told us? That we should begin our works clear of mind and spirit, that we might give full attention and full… what was it he used to say?”
“The better to give our projects full attention to the spirit of their purpose.” Kaori supplies the missing answer for her sister.
“Yes that, now go, grab your coat, and come with me to the temple. I will not discuss the matter further.” Kimiyasu looks rigidly into the pond. Kaori opens her mouth a few times, and realizing her sister is serious, gets up to go and choose a coat, and possibly do up her hair. For the first time in three days, Kaori’s mind turns to the simplicity of dressing appropriately to go outside and sheds itself of the choice her mother gave her.
Kimiyasu stares at the recently raked furrows in the snows of the garden, subtly reflecting the overcast gray sky, until Mikan comes to tell her the cart is ready.
“Do you think our Father asks too much of Kaori?”
“I would not presume to know Huiren’s actions.”
Kimiyasu looks over at Mikan, one eyebrow delicately raised. “And yet… you refer to him by first name and very obviously have an opinion on the matter, or you would not have been watching from the overhang.”
Mikan nods. “Well of course I do, child. I helped raise the boy. That does not mean that even our families cannot be mysterious, full of hidden depths, or that we do not worry about the well-being of our charges. Just that, as the chick that is stuck in its shell, sometimes we must let things be.”
Kimiyasu nods. “I am too young to ignore my sister’s hardships. But I hope I can help her find her own answers.”
Mikan shuffles towards the doorway that will lead her towards the warmer kitchen, she finishes the conversation over her shoulder. “Then I have raised you to be a good sister.”
Kaori sits on the bench in the garden as the lanterns are lit. Hensei has left, with the poem the three of them wrote earlier. Kaori stares into the thawed pond, feeling much like it: still and reflective. She does not notice her mother approaching.
“Hensei is nice, a good friend of the family, works in the government.”
Kaori interrupts her mother’s line of reasoning before it goes too far. “He is a good friend of the family, yes. A boon to my career as well, but certainly not a husband.”
Her mother smiles at her, when Kaori looks again, she is still smiling. “What?”
“Sometimes I wonder where your stubbornness comes from. But then I ask myself if I would prefer a docile, unaware daughter, or one that notices and questions everything. Too often I find I love you just the way you are.”
Kaori tilts her head at her mother as a petal falls onto the water.
“Why do you think Hensei would be a bad husband?”
“I didn’t say he would be a bad husband, I just said he wouldn’t be my husband.”
“It would feel strange, there is so much history between him and Father that I would feel… like an intruder. Only their teacups would know exactly what has happened between them.”
“When I first came here, I was jealous of the friendship between your Father and Hensei. I even went so far as to confront your Father about it and said some terrible things. The next day, Hensei came to visit and told us he’d received a posting at the nearby records office for the city. I saw that despite the well-wishes and companionship between them, they were sad that it would mean less visits. I apologized to your Father for intruding in something that was none of my business.”
Kaori shifts, both from the cold of the bench, and from what her mother had said. No, how her mother had said it. Kaori had never heard this story, and isn’t entirely sure why she is hearing it now. Kaori reminds herself that it is not her place to question her mother and remains silent and mostly still.
“Your father says the Governor turned down your request?”
“The Governor,” Kaori pauses, “wished to express his sorrow that a verse of mine would not grace the pages of his commemorative poem, something about not having enough room at his Estate for both the Spring Festival and my sister’s marriage. He was polite and expressed his hope that he would still be made aware of my work in the future.”
Kaori’s mother places her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. “Kaori, he was not being polite. Propriety extends to his expression of sorrow and his gentle rebuke, but continued interest in your work is not required in a letter such as this. Was it his hand?”
Kaori’s brow scrunches, “Having not received letters from the Governor before, I cannot make that comparison.”
“Show me the letter Kaori, if he took the time to write it himself, the Governor is genuinely interested, and you may yet have your opportunity after all.”
“Full moon hangs unseen,
cloudy skies and autumn noise.
A good time for talk.”
Kaori’s father smiles. The verse is good, better than some of Kaori’s other verses, including some from this evening. She makes a mental note to write it down later.
“Well done, daughter. Your verse is dense, yet subtle, and your meaning unclouded by the metaphors. Furthermore, it helps that you are correct in your point. Your mother and I have discussed many things without you, even your siblings an your parents seem to be making plans and you are none the wiser. This is no way to treat a soon-to-be-lady. I forget sometimes that you are not your mother, and then I am thankful when I remember.”
“But mother is an excellent lady, I should strive to be like her.” Kaori’s fan comes out, it flutters slowly, curiously.
“Your mother is, but she can be forceful and nosy, and often gives an opinion on matters that do not concern her, nor that I would like an opinion for. Don’t mistake me, I love your mother very much, but I thank Heaven that I can simply tell you what is to be without responding to an inquisition about it.”
“Will my husband appreciate my servility?”
Kaori’s father frowns. “Yes and no. You must learn carefully when to balance servility and action. A good wife is informed of the household’s actions, understands what is happening and what needs to be done to support her husband, often without asking or being thanked. For this you must be forceful and imposing. But there will be times when your husband requires you to be still, and quiet; to allow him to make plans without input. It is a balance that can only be learned after much time with one another.”
“Thank you, Father.” Kaori’s face remains neutral, unchanging, the fan works it way back into her sash. She looks down into her teacup. Her voice does not echo through the room, she is not performing anymore. Her father almost does not hear.
“When is my sister’s marriage?”
“In two weeks time your sister will be married. The vagabond I thought she was spending her time with is none other than our distant neighbors son. It will bring our houses closer together, and help us to avoid conflict with anyone.”
Kaori thinks. She has not spent much time with the neighbors. She knows their children from spending time together at festivals. Often they would invite Kaori to play in public, just as often they took her refusal as an insult. It was not that she didn’t like them, but there was just so much to see, so many things to make verses out of. So many verses to keep inside in order to write down.
“But if my sister marries into the Ippintsu household, will not our other neighbors be jealous?”
“The Sengicha household has no desire for our land. Even now, they are making deals two prefectures over to marry their oldest son to the daughter of a warlord. They see the recent conflicts as opportunity to become closer to the powers that rule, instead of what this chaos really is.”
“And that is…?”
“The opportunity for death to take all you hold dear.”