Months ago I sat on the floor between rows of wooden shelves in Powell’s Books. I had found The Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence and couldn’t wait to walk the block or so back to Stumptown for my morning coffee before I opened it. Its pages looked a bit dated and glossy, the black and white pictures mildly disappointing, but I had found a gift of a book – a second hand copy that smelled of wood, dust and laminated paper. It holds a warm, accessible invitation to embrace the ancient Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the art of accepting and celebrating transience and imperfect beauty.

 

The book’s message is about slowing down, taking time to, ‘find beauty in what seems ordinary – and to turn the ‘ordinary’ into something beautiful’, the value of shedding materialism, of authenticity, of living simply, of the hand made, well loved, worn and flawed. It’s about an appreciation of three simple realities: ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’ And the value of learning to consider others before ourselves.

It feels relevant. And almost accessible.

 

Wabi-sabi is not the self-conscious simplicity and nostalgic collecting of thrifted and lovely things to photograph and share with each other on Instagram.

 

Like hygge, wabi-sabi is about being not having.

 

I still have an awful lot to learn. For months, I’ve been staring at my avarice, emptying our drawers and sheds and buying less.

I can see beauty in a curved stem, a cobbled street, a patched rug. But I am still wanting, in so many ways. Lacking. And still convincing myself that I need more.

I’m embarrassed by my greed, by the piles of magazines, books and trinkets. There is so little space in my life to move quietly, to exhale, to grow things, to be creative, to think because of what it takes to manage the stuff of my life.

When I sat down to write about wabi-sabi for Kinfolk, I realized that it would be coarse to attempt to define a way of being that the even the Japanese are reluctant to articulate.

 

Just before my deadline, I skulked about on the internet, re-read The Wabi-Sabi House and procrastinated by walking the dogs and visiting my elderly neighbour for coffee.

It was in her quiet, ordered, simple home that I found wabi-sabi – in the stillness of her wooden kitchen, in the texture of her morning and the shape of her favourite ceramic cups, in her honesty and grace.

And I found it in my admiration of another dear friend who has the beauty of a San bushman and lives like an artistic shaman in a tiny coastal settlement on the west coast of South Africa. He walks barefoot, quietly sweeps his home every morning and evening, folds, mends and makes. And often stands still to smoke and think.

So, I wrote a piece that attempted to capture but not define the intangible spirit of wabi-sabi. It’s an acknowledgment, I suppose, of both friends and my hope that when I grow up (I’m forty five), I’ll learn to live wabi-sabi in the same generous, unselfconscious way.

 

Lou x

wabi-sabi

wabi-sabi
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 19 June 2013

This is a hard admission for me – I didn’t quite get Christmas right this year.

The cottage was decorated with huge paper snowflakes, evergreen branches and red wooden hearts and of course there were candles lit everywhere. There were moments of hygge; wrapping gifts, drinking Schnapps and laughing hopelessly with my eldest daughter and her silly, loving man, the glow of the fire, waiting for the whole almond in the risalamande on Christmas Eve, standing in front of the tree bright with candles, looking down the length of two tables pushed together at our family and friends gathered to celebrate, sitting alone at the bottom of the stairs to keep the tree company for a little longer before bed.  I held on to those moments but my underlying feeling was of the silence and real stillness that was escaping me, possibly us all.

 

How many of us really found the peace we look for at the close of the year, the space for just a bit of contemplation and time to feel restored?  If we’re honest, could we admit to feeling compelled to uphold all those lovely winter traditions for each other but silently bear the mounting cost? I don’t just mean the escalating price of the gifts we choose to give or the pace of the festivities, I mean the fatigue of pretence. Honesty and real hygge are interlaced.

 

Hygge isn’t the ‘complete absence of anything overwhelming’ that it’s often declared to be. It’s a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life, a way of illuminating the dark and inviting the warmth, simplicity and connection that contrast chaos and smooth anxiety.

Hygge can’t really happen if we are hiding from reality, from admitting to the strain of expense and expectation. Few of us can comfortably sustain the pretence that Christmas and New Year don’t bring enormous strain for thousands of people but with honesty and a good dose of love we can make it easier.

Lighting a candle doesn’t pay the bills, empty the septic tank or excuse spending wildly in the post Christmas sales but it can help us keep perspective and remember to celebrate the light in each other through the year to come.  Lou x

 

 

Honesty and hygge
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 2 January 2013

‘A crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.’

Francis Bacon

 

The house is still and warm. Sun is melting the night frost. I am alone in our bed, writing and procrastinating. There are uniforms to be washed, three dogs to walk, grates to be emptied, books to be written and calls to be made. But I’m making cups of ‘Mother Pukka‘ tea, eating apples and toasted rye bread, pinching Christmas chocolate from the fridge and scrolling through Maria Popova‘s inspired literary jukebox to listen to great tunes, cut and paste quotes for you and celebrate my solitude.  To be alone is easy when you feel loved.

Lou x

 

 

 


Celebrating solitude
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 2 December 2012

Through recent years I have found my kinfolk – the friends and family who are my tribe, who understand my language and wholeheartedly share their own with me.

 

They are the makers, writers, potters, thinkers, weavers, painters, walkers, clog wearers, tattooed dancers, gardeners, photographers, drummers, crafters, DJs and homemakers; the coffee drinkers, festival goers, diamond divers, teachers, bakers, mothers, fire keepers, cooks and foragers:

the people who have offered me friendship, love, sanctuary and opportunity.

 

Imagine how happy I was to find the first copy of Kinfolk. I felt as if the twenty years I had been parenting, nurturing, home-keeping, dancing, travelling, teaching (and reading Hopkins and Mary Oliver to keep my head above water) were all well spent.

I had been led to the right place and had waited for my youngest child to grow more independent before I could dedicate time to the writing I have always longed to do.

In my hand was a magazine created for ‘a growing community of artists with a shared interest in small gatherings’; a magazine that spoke to me, that seemed relevant, that recognises that ‘there is something about a table shared by friends…that anchors our relationships and energizes us’.

 

Kinfolk is about connection and community.  And hygge.

 

The current volume is dedicated to the people who quietly make things happen at this time of year – the people at the heart of our festivities who know how to hygge, how to reach out, how to prepare our food, honour traditions, light candles and plan our merrymaking.

 

I’m so proud to be a contributor.

Lou x

 

 

Kinfolk
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 29 November 2012
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