This year, I am pleased to say that it was the greenest Christmas I’ve ever done. All the presents were simple and inexpensive or even free, and bought from small shops (as opposed to buying from a large online store which shall remain unnamed!), and wrapped in old paper from previous Christmases or in newspaper (the Guardian does central spreads which are worth using as wrapping paper!). My cards were all homemade using leftover card, ornaments and paints. The food was all home cooked as ever. I made my own cranberry sauce this year- it was extraordinarily simple and very tasty. Finally, my fake Christmas tree and its ornaments – all of which have been going well for the last 16 years!
I found this piece of paper while clearing out my parents’ home. I had written it more than thirty years ago. I had no money, we barely had enough to eat and no proper clothes and I lived in one bedroom with my parents and sisters in India. This was an excerpt from Thornton Wilder’s, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
This was the best selling novella by Thornton Wilder, published in 1927 that won the Pulitzer Prize. It recounts a fictional event when an Inca rope bridge collapses between Cusco and Lima, Peru; and takes down five people with it. A friar who witnesses the tragedy reflects on why these people were there on that day and time on that bridge; and whether their fates were connected in some way, and seeks a cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die in that way at that spot and time.
The same year that I copied this paragraph was the year I took up Buddhism and by strange chance, was asked to design a mural which was then later inaugurated by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. Four years later, competing against thousands of applicants, I won a scholarship to do my post graduate degree at UK’s prestigious Cambridge University. This year I was able to go to Peru and see the Inca bridge at Machu Picchu. It wasn’t the same bridge but for me it was the bridge between my young teenage hopes and dreams and where I have got to.
I often think that life is really connected- there are events and things happening that you may think are unconnected but years later, you will see a pattern. That scrap of paper was my connection, my bridge to the past which inspired me to take an action to visit a place where I thought I’d never go. It is never too late to dream and somehow life will turn out to make that dream come true.
Many artists like to produce perfect artworks- that is understandable. They see beautiful works of art before them in museums, cities and in homes; and now in the media. So the quest for perfection is ‘even more in your face’- if your work is not perfect, perhaps you are not perfect. I have now heard from two artists who are suffering from depression and exhaustion, trying to be perfect, and trying to produce perfect pieces of art. There is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection
But there is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection. So cracks in pottery are filled with gold, literally emphasizing and embellishing the imperfection, instead of hiding it. The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. It is quite like our physical selves- our bodies are not perfect but using clothes, shoes and make-up we make them look perfect. But the most memorable faces are those that highlight imperfection- such as David Bowie’s mismatched eyes. The actress Jennifer Grey who had her nose done, regretted it- she felt she had lost herself or her unique character.
These are two pieces of pottery that I found destined for the skip. The creator had discarded them in this bin in a pottery workshop.
I took them home and I have used them regularly for the last three years. They have not broken or cracked (and I have washed them in the dishwasher) and were perfect the way I have used them. As I use them, I thank the creator of these two pieces and sometimes feel sorry that in the quest for perfection, the artist threw away two little gems. I am pleased they came my way- each time I look at them, I think about the imperfection of life and how we can create value of each imperfection through acceptance, patience and love.
Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes. Recently I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s. Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like. This can done even today. It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice. Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!
Creativity comes from all sorts of places and things that inspire or make connections. David, my friend, who has a problem in his hips, was visiting a friend when he spotted a back frame of a ‘Thonet‘ chair, waiting to be put into the rubbish dump. A trainee furniture designer had been making it for practice and had left it behind. David asked his friend if he could take it and she said yes. On the way back home, as the crowded train swayed back and forth it , he realised that he could put his weight on that frame and it supported him. He also realised that when a bus braked, it was good to put it at the side so that it steadied him. So he put some plastic feet on the two ends and there it was, a sexy curved support instead of the awful grey walking frames used. If he didn’t need it, then he could put it on his shoulders, so it is easily portable. Here is David showing the different ways he uses the chair back.
For me, the main lesson here is that you can have a problem but you need to put it in the back burner of your mind. Then slowly and unexpectedly, you will find a solution in your own ‘Eureka’ moment. Archimedes shouted”Eureka! Eureka!”and ran out naked in excitement after he noticed that the water level in his bath rose and he made the connection that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. Friedrich Kekulé’s theory on the structure of benzene, which proved to be correct, was apparently influenced by the image of a snake eating its own tail. Einstein also arrived at his theory of relativity when he was watching a train move as he sat in another. There are many more examples of such moments- from artists, scientists to inventors and engineers- who have made connections to arrive at solutions. Where 2+2=5 or more!
The other thing I noticed was that it is the creative mind that notices and makes the connections. When David walked in, I was the first person to notice his innovative walking frame. No one else commented or looked at it. David said that on the street, it takes a certain kind of person, to come up to him and ask him about it. So I guess, if you have noticed something creative in another person, then it is most likely you have the same creativity yourself.
Every country has age old traditions that manifest themselves creatively in days of celebration. But these traditions have become commercialised. So in an age of mass produced goods and of artificial perfection where the sign of hands and any ‘errors’ have been carefully removed, it is good to make things by hand and make them not too perfect. Easter offers one of those occasions where the hideous and unhealthy tradition of factory made ever larger chocolate eggs have captured children and parents’ hearts and stomachs. On the other hand, many traditional Easter foods have been home made, free from additives and perhaps more healthy, if not entirely so.
Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal. Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs. Here are some of my efforts. I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them. I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red). I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight. In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water. I used organic hens and duck eggs. Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool. When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine. Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs. We ate those eggs with some goats cheese, yoghurt, traditional bread, olives and tomato and onion salad. My children had been given some of the shop bought chocolate eggs but after eating lunch, they did not feel like eating those! What did I do with the waste? The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old silk blouse. No waste- a perfect end to Easter holidays!