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to hang a birdcage in a tree.

September 15, 2008

These past few weeks are the most sparsely populated my blog has seen since its inception. I’ve been suffering for not writing here. Keeping a blog is sort of like exercising. When you’re in the habit, it is as integral to your daily well-being as anything else; but, when you fall off the trail, it’s terribly hard to get back on. I’ve been experiencing so much change lately, and yet–oddly–feel as if I have nothing ‘new’ and of interest to blog about. I’m brooding a lot, but not in a fruitful way. I spend most of my energy on things I’d rather not have to do– finances and job-hunting and whatnot. Well, it’s not wholly unenjoyable. Applying to jobs feels like trying to unlock that barrier between my skill-set and other people’s perception of my skill-set. I’m intelligent and able-bodied. To my mind, and in a perfect world, that would be enough. But, it isn’t. And I’m trying to get better at selling myself, spreading my plumage and strutting a bit, but it does not come naturally.

I sat down to have lunch in my apartment today and flipped on the Travel Channel. I’m aching to take a trip– it’s been over a year since I have been out of the country, and all that’s tied me over was a brief road-trip back in February. On TV, they were showing a special called “Wild China,” narrated by the reassuring stock voice of a British man. Just as I was turning it on, I saw a snip-it that reminded me of a custom I observed in China myself, three years ago.

My travel group had the afternoon off on one of our days in Shanghai. My friend Laura and I walked out of the compound where we were staying (hotels were like this– complete with little grocery stores, pharmacies, & businesses built around the central hotel building) and caught the attention of a man on a rickshaw. In retrospect, this was one of those terrific moments while traveling where something could have gone wrong, but thankfully nothing did. He spoke the English phrases “thank-you,” “beautiful places,” “very cheap,” and “shopping.” Turns out that’s all you need to get two Western women into the back of that terrifying wagon. He flew through side-streets, while we laughed hysterically with fright and joy, and gawked– there was meat hanging outside the shops, complete with flies, children everywhere, odd smells, bamboo scaffolding on buildings.

Some twenty minutes later, he dropped us on an alley hooded by “scholar’s trees,” and surrounded by tea shops leading into an open-air market. We watched in amazement as people filed out of their apartments carrying beautifully carved wooden bird cages, complete with painted porcelain dishes of food and water, and one or two darting, laughing little birds. One by one, the birds were hung from tree branches, railings, and awnings in all directions. The chorus seemed deafening. One of our guides later explained the custom of keeping the tiny grey or green-streaked birds as household companions. The cages were elaborate and expensive, and people took great pains to choose a bird whose personality and chi would meld with their own. What’s more, if someone wanted two birds– the first would be taken to the pet shop and sat down with the prospective newbies, to see if they would be endeared. The people realized, however, that birds get depressed if you keep them inside alone, so everyone takes their bird out to the parks and teahouses and stoops and sidewalks, to hang in the trees for a while in the morning or afternoon, so they can talk to other birds.

I’ve been consumed by domestic duties for the past two weeks. My new kitchen is much better equipped, so I’ve been cooking– a lot. And, I have accumulated quite a few new houseplants– bamboo, cacti, spider plant, english ivy, a fern, african violets, an orchid, and a couple others whose names I don’t know. There is a sort of synergy to feeling like I feed and water the people, cats, and plants every day. It’s satisfying in its own extraordinarily small way. It also makes me feel very tied to my mother and my grandmother, both of whom are tremendous cooks and have always had flowers. My grandmother, in particular, was synonymous to my childhood mind with pink geraniums and never measuring any ingredients while cooking, except with her fingers or palm– “a pinch,” “a dash,” “a handful,” and so on. Most of my great-grandparents were farmers, and apartment-living affords slim chances to connect with land. So, in four generations, cows, corn, and tobacco, have become cats, ferns, and flowers. And everyday, when I walk around to water my plants I think about my great-grandmother, whom I never knew, but who supposedly walked around her sun-porch with a drinking-glass full of water, telling my young mother that plants just need “a little sip, and a little talking to” to make them grow. I talk to my plants, for her.

All of this energy has been funneled into crafting a beautiful space, a kind of finely carved wooden cage with delicate porcelain dishes. But I am feeling very isolated, and in need of a good “hanging out” (pun intended) to talk to the other birds. So, as the job search surges ever onward, I have signed up for a drawing class (that starts Wednesday!), and am attending a meeting to volunteer for the Children’s Museum. Maybe there I will meet other birds.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Momma permalink
    September 15, 2008 12:47 pm

    Good for you! I have missed your stories and insight in the written form, even with our frequent talks of late. (Just as I miss our talks when I only get to read your musings). I’m so glad you are feeling your way and searching out places to meet other birds in your new city. It is, in some ways, another form of traveling, though more in the vein of permanence, rather than escaping from permanence. I am so very proud of you, Sweetheart. You are handling this move with grace and purpose. Both are admirable, and admired. I love You. Momma

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