Tuesday, March 16, 2010

the pillow book

the-pillow-book

Are you a list maker? I am, and I love the potential lists provide for art journaling. Such freedom! No need to worry about the cadence, flow or order of sentences - just the satisfaction of getting directly to the heart of a topic and churning out concrete, meaningful stuff. The book I keep coming back to for inspiration is an old favorite, and I mean old as in a thousand years old.

The Pillow Book (translated by Meredith McKinney) is the diary of Sei Shōnagon, an 11th century gentlewoman who served the Empress Teishi during the Heian period in Japan. It’s an entirely non-linear, willy-nilly collection of social observations, anecdotes, lists and stories of life unfolding around her while she serves at court. She’s opinionated, funny, sharp-eyed and captures those unspoken emotional nuances of human interaction with breathtaking precision. She changes tone on a dime - one moment she tells a story with such empathy and insight that it brings tears, in the next she whirls around and excoriates someone for his lousy handwriting, then she prattles on about the weather. And she is capable of a cattiness that would take any reality show cast to its knees.

But her lists, her lists! I always seek out the lists first when I read The Pillow Book. They seem almost custom-made as page prods for art journals - you could take any one of her topics and go in any direction with it. Here are a few of my favorites (and her responses, equally priceless) which I have to constantly remind myself were written a thousand years ago. Her observations are so timeless that it is easy to forget.

"Nostalgic things: things children use in doll play. Coming across a torn scrap of lavender or grape-colored fabric crumpled between the pages of a bound book. On a rainy day when time hangs heavy, searching out an old letter that touched you deeply at the time you received it."

"Infuriating things: a guest who arrives when you have something urgent to do, and stays talking for ages...someone who butts in when you're talking and smugly provides the ending herself...some newcomer steps in and starts interfering and lecturing the old hands as if she knows it all... fleas are also infuriating things...a chorus of dogs howling on and on is quite hair-raisingly horrible... I hate people who don't close a door that they've opened to go in and out."

“Things that give you pleasure: piecing back together a letter that someone has torn up and thrown away, and finding that you can read line after line of it...when you’ve had a puzzling dream which fills you with fear at what it might portend, and then you have it interpreted and it turns out to be quite harmless...someone you love is praised by others...finding something you need in a hurry...managing to get the better of someone who’s full of themselves and overconfident.”

"Moving things: dew glinting like multi-colored jewels on the grasses in the garden in late autumn...a mountain in snow... a young couple who love each other but who can't be together because someone is preventing them."

"Things that are smug and cocky: present-day three year olds."

On and on she goes, providing lists of things that no one notices, things that give you confidence, things that make the heart lurch with anxiety, endearingly lovely things, things later regretted, occasions when something inconsequential has its day, situations you have a feeling will turn out badly, people who look as though things are difficult for them, things whose outcome you long to know, things that can't be compared, startling and disconcerting things, dispiriting things, things that a house should have, things now useless that recall a glorious past, things that one must be wary of, elegantly annoying things, and her favorite birds, lakes, mountains, ponds, and trees without flowers (among many other splendid things). Things that are all relevant to anyone in any day or age, yet open to infinite interpretations.

So just imagine what fun prompts these would be for journaling pages - or maybe they’ll spark your own ideas for lists! Even if you are not a journal keeper, The Pillow Book is a spectacular diversion - it has been for me, anyway, ever since my good friend Jo recommended it to me long ago. It is full of intellect, wit, insight, culture, philosophy, intrigue - and proof that human nature has not changed one speck in the last thousand years.

31 comments:

painted fish studio said...

i first tried to read this post word for word but my mind kept drifting off to "isn't this the movie where ewan mcgregor shares his goodies with us?" but then i give myself a little slap in the face and read the wonderful text and soak it in. i must create more lists...

aimee said...

a movie should have never been made from this book, even with such goodies being shared! print on paper is the only thing that could do this tale complete justice.

**WE BLOG ARTISTS** said...

OOOooooo...I think I may just have to pick this up!
Thanks for sharing sounds wonderful.
Char

Ces said...

I ran here immediately as soon as I saw the title "Pillow Book". I have three pillow books: a Chinese, a Japanese and a Hindu Pillow book and they certainly do not sound like the one you are describing. The Hindu Pillow Book for example shows all the positions from the Kama Sutra. But all three books have breathtaking illustration albeit bordering on the pornographic according to some but to me they are beautiful master illustrations. The Japanese Pillow Book was rendered in the style of Hiroshigi for example. So I think this is a different type of Pillow Book. Aw Shucks I thought you illustrated a Pillow Book! My heart was racing!!!

Curls O Fred said...

adding it to my book list...

kendalee said...

sounds like my kinda book. adding it to my wishlist (an eternal list) immediately!

Aris said...

i am looking forward to reading this. I love words that mingle together in casual clothes. honest and unpretentious and often unexpected.

Kim Hambric said...

My own lists are depressing, overwhelming, are far less poetic. Usually, they are mental.

I should write them out. Add. Subtract. Enjoy the written words just for themselves.

Must find this book. It has been recommended to me before, but I had no idea why.

Thanks for sharing this.

peggyfussell said...

I can not wait to get a myself a copy. Thank you, dear.
I have to confess, I do love the movie, but for entirely different reasons.

Tyggereye said...

That book sounds neat. I'm going to have to check it out.

Liz said...

i AM a list maker, oh indeed I am... now must find this pillow book, and indulge my list making obsessions a bit more... I love the infuriating things list....

la ninja said...

hello, miss thing, you just got me all giddy and looking forward to reading this.
right, first and foremost I need to make more lists (particularly now I'm in the process of deciding what I want to be when I grow up :) but also you describe it as "a willy-nilly collection of social observations, anecdotes, lists and stories of life (...) she’s opinionated, funny, sharp-eyed and captures those unspoken emotional nuances of human interaction with breathtaking precision. she changes tone on a dime (...) and she is capable of a cattiness that would take any reality show cast to its knees."

what is not to love, narrative without boundaries that follows no convention and... seems to be catty as well. hooray, hooray.

ta, me lurvely, off to the nearest bookshop. t(d)oodles.

by the way, I had the film on the to watch list (it's been there since it came out a century ago like so many others... boo hoo) but mainly because of greenaway, not particularly "the goodies", sorry j.

Ecobatt said...

I have an ongoing list of books that I revisit often (I've kept the list since I was in 3rd grade)and it seems I simply must add this one to the bottom. Off to see if I can catch a Kindle copy so I don't have to wait any longer. Lists are so satisfying to me, even if I don't accomplish much on them anymore.

Jane said...

I am a lover of lists too and I'm definitely going to check this book out! Currently I'm reading Julia Cameron's Walking in This World where so many of the weekly exercises ask you to take pen in hand and make lists of all kinds. Although it's a heck of a lot of fun to write my lists in blog land, there is nothing more satisfying than writing them with pen in my own journal :)

rachel awes said...

ooooh, i'd love to look inside!

jane said...

oh this sounds wonderful. i´m going to check it out now. thank you!

Kate said...

This sounds wonderful, I wonder if it is still in print. I am going to check that out.

Jill said...

sometimes we think we are more sophisticated than our ancestors and live more complex lives, but as you say, nothing changes and this definitely looks like one for the pending list.

●• Thereza said...

those lists sound timelessly wonderful! i love lists and might just get this book :)

Jeannine said...

Oh - snap - added this to the tippy top of my "must read" list! Sounds like Sei Shonagon would've been a great blogger ... can you imagine?

I have an old book called 10,000 Things To Be Happy About, a little doorstop of an ongoing list of things that make the author happy. It's a quirky little book. Between that book and this post, I see a lot of possibilities for making lists with specific categories.

Color me very very intrigued.

Bella Sinclair said...

Things that are smug and cocky: present-day three year olds. Hahahahaha!

This IS a fantastic book. Amazing, the constancy of human nature. That's both comforting and worrisome.

Veja cecilia said...

lists are helpful and it´s very nice to keep them as fragments of time that have passed. in my journals I have alot of old lists that I smile when i read!

soulbrush said...

i will try to find this, lists are extremely helpful the older you get,tee hee. the only problem is i make a list, then forget where i put it! now i have a notepad stuck to the fridge, yet still write lists n scraps of paper all over the house. tee hee 'stay young for as long as your birthdays will allow!' ooh that's a nice saying aimee

Jennifer said...

I'm adding it to my next Amazon order, thanks Aimee!! I am SUCH a list keeper, maker, follower, and yes they are excellent for journal pages! Thanks for sharing!!!

aimee said...

indeedy it is a gem, and i find something new every time i go back to it. she would have made a fine blogger!

Beth Niquette said...

What a fabulous post! I enjoyed every word. (grni)

Le blÖg d'Ötli said...

Wow ! Nice work ! For a great book...

http://otliblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/les-mots-des-autres-notes-de-chevet.html

Jane said...

Happy Sunday Aimee! Go on over here to my 52 Projects )http://52paintedhouseprojects.blogspot.com/2010/03/week-9-painted-tiles.html) to see how my "drunken tiles" turned out. Thanks for the inspiration and for such a wonderful project idea!

Sarah said...

I am a list maker too-it makes me feel good and if I have no energy to create or do anything else-I can alwasy summon up the energy to write a list! I love the snippets you have shown here so much-and I now have my very own copy of the book on its way from ebay-I had heard of it vaguely-but you made me have to have it! I hope they are a quick poster!

gypsy said...

This sounds delicious, off to add it to Goodreads. And your description is sheer brilliance. Enjoy your day!

Desiree said...

Aimee! I could read this post over and over from now on. Seriously, feel like printing it and posting it someplace where can be read all the time. Awesome book, Ive already wishlisted it for my bday! :D