Zuihitsu is an ancient style of Japanese literature consisting of aesthetic essays and personal accounts as well as short and elaborated lists which follow in no chronological fashion. This short collection of random thoughts and aesthetics is attributed to the great Sei Shonagon, who documented her extremely particular tastes on this and that in The Pillow Book over a thousand years ago at the Heian court.
. . .
On a Cloudless Autumn Afternoon
On a cloudless autumn afternoon, the light turns old and the world unwittingly surrenders to nostalgia and longing to a most beautiful effect. As the day slowly fades, blinds cast artful streaks both charming and mysterious, and all that is polished and new finds itself overwhelmed by the elegance of shadowed imperfection. The trees, having long soaked up the colors of summer, release the last of their warmth in the brilliant hues of a night fire. Lovers lost in passionate contemplation send their ciphered hearts on the long reaching shade. When the sun retreats with a glimmer at dusk and the cold evening descends, it is all so entrancing that one is inclined to light the home by nothing but candles and old dull lamps so as to invite the shadows to stay through the night.
. . .
Elegantly disheveled hair. Unassuming intelligence. Deep shadows. A slab of rough slate.
A man who finds it altogether impossible to conceal his nervousness.
One who has effortlessly cultivated a simplicity of outward appearance, yet whose character is unusual and complex.
A flickering neon sign on a lonesome street; if it should be happened upon on an especially rainy evening or barren night, it is all the more alluring.
Hidden meanings and secretive things.
The scent of old forgotten books.
A photograph whose depth of field is narrow; the heavy pull of a film advance against the thumb.
A cat watching from the end of a dimly lit alleyway.
. . .
A Film Arrives at the Projection Booth
A film arrives at the projection booth in seven or eight or nine reels, roughly encased in well-worn, heavy, octagonal tin canisters. It sits unassumingly on the scuffed floor amidst stray sharpies, abandoned memorabilia, and half-used rolls of gaffer’s tape until it is ready to be built. Under the flickering spare light and the clattering din of intricately designed Century machines, the makeup table drones and whines for the thousandth time, stopping intermittently for the weighty clunk of a guillotine’s splice at each change of the reel. It’s an old film, and I think on all the times it has been made up and broken down, and ponder on how many screens it’s played since its first run in the summer of 1986. As reel one feeds onto a core ring, I inspect number two on the bench. It’s been broken down backwards for whatever reason, so as it winds onto a new two hundred foot capacity reel I use a mini mag light to inspect the strip for abrasions and cinch marks and tiny silver dots of forgotten changeover cues.
The last frame of reel six is covered in projectionist graffiti. Initials are crudely scratched into each of the corners, and across Sigourney Weaver’s terror-stricken eyes: “Ed was here.” I know that if I leave the frame it will only flash on screen for a mere one-twenty-fourth of a second, but I decide to remove it anyway. It’ll go in my box of movie house souvenirs, I decide, all single flawed frames, casualties of someone’s past tail-wrap disaster or mismeasured splice.
I’ll have to run the print through a dusting roller before it plays for an audience, but overall the film is in great shape. Just before its midnight run, I maneuver the leader over and under dozens of guiding pulleys in an intricate celluloid web. Films aren’t made of celluloid anymore, but I have such an aversion to the idea of plastic, that my hopelessly romantic heart much prefers its predecessor. With the magnetic sound strip facing toward me, I set a two-finger loop on turrets both above and below the gate and lock the frame in the trap. My threading time clocks in at a minute twenty-two.
Tiny sprocketed gears grab onto the perforated film edges, shooting the leader through the gate at twenty-four frames per second as the shutter happily clamors away. The first cue hits the sensor, exciting the lamp, and as the last of the leader runs past the aperture plate, I pull the douser wide open. On the screen, the film glows with a subtle and charming tinge of magenta; evidence of a veteran print.
The film runs for two hours, thirty-four minutes, at which point a cue I placed on the tail of the print triggers the auditorium lights. I watch patrons shuffle up the aisles from my little projection booth window, and start preparations to break down the film. It’s nearly three am, but the print has to be back in the tin cases for delivery soon. Such exacting work is so utterly absorbing, it would be impossible to not obsess over it.
. . .
The taste of a martini in a dimly lit jazz bar overlooking the Kamo River at dusk.
A stolen kiss under the torpid bloom of a street lamp late at night.
Wisps of fog in the blurred morning light after an exceptionally wanton evening.
The bleak cry of a crow against a dark grey sky just before a summer storm.
A rich saké warmed to the temperature of a lover’s skin.
. . .
Round toes flexing on matte black hexagonal tiles on a frigid winter’s morning.
A song played in slight delay over itself, although this can, on occasion, produce a most appealingly dissonant sound.
When one’s heart begins to beat for someone new, though it has long belonged to another.
. . .
A Sensei Really Should be Handsome
A sensei really should be handsome. He may be lauded as the most intelligent man around, but if he is a strain on the eyes, his lectures will only cause one to yawn and to glance frequently at the time. Such a thing would be a very sad waste of his own learning. If he has a charming air and pleasant face however, one feels inclined to sit properly upright, and to think on even the most boring subject matter with great poignancy. In decades past, a sensei would hardly dream of appearing at lecture in anything but a fitted tweed jacket with his smart leather briefcase. But nowadays, anything goes. The savvy ones might still do well to keep their hair short and keenly parted to one side, though I certainly find it all the more charmingly handsome if he arrives just a touch flustered and tousled, and has unknowingly misbuttoned his shirt. Alas, such a sensei is rare indeed, and the general lack of attention to scholarly looks is just so very frustrating.
. . .
Things that are in Poor Taste
A man who finds it pertinent to provide a long winded personal story for every conversation, and who is regrettably inclined to repeat himself. One ultimately feels it would be best not to embarrass him by mentioning that the story has already come to be quite familiar, and is then forced to listen intently for the third or fourth telling, while taking great pains to appropriately react as if it is novel and entertaining.
Self-important customers; even worse if they are noisily glib about fad diets and self-diagnosed allergies. Even though one must take extra care to fulfill their needs, it is often the case that such guests will leave a less than favorable tip.
One finds the time to enjoy an exceptionally engaging work of literature in a delightfully hidden spot, when a huffy man finds it a good idea to plop himself at the table and loudly chew over a bowl of pungent curry.
An acquaintance is feeling outstandingly curious and chatty when one is in a particularly downtrodden state and there seems to be no way in which to politely make an excuse to leave.
A refrigerator which hums shamelessly in an old wooden house.
A person who has spent all evening blathering on about useless things, yet is quite unaware of having grossly over-stayed they’re welcome.
One who runs around complaining about the time as if they were terribly busy, yet succeeds in accomplishing very close to nothing.
. . .
When I was First Informed
When I was first informed that I was to dance in the corps de ballet, my mind was so blank with shock that I could do nothing but stare out the vaulted windows down to the people milling about on Broadway eight stories below. Earlier that morning I had spied Alessandra Ferri, a seasoned star, warming up to rehearse her role as Giselle in the studio across the hall. I had thought it absolutely absurd that she might be any more devastatingly elegant than she was on the glamorous stage, but there she was looking impossibly stunning and waifish in heavy-knit, thigh-high leg warmers. The next studio over, a horde of giddy dancers pressed their noses to the glass to catch a glimpse of Ethan Stiefel as he jumped on a trampoline for a magazine photoshoot. Angel Corella had stopped in to watch our pirouette class; the man himself can burn a flawless duodecuple en dehors. I pondered over the last eight weeks, and how my feet were a bloody mess, and how I had bruised two toenails and lost a third. I remembered all the times I had fallen over the years, all the partners I’d pretended to love on stage, all the hours I’d spent fretting over a few pounds of weight. “If it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t doing it right,” was one of my director’s favorite catch phrases. I had danced as Marius Petipa’s black swan, Alan Hineline’s muse, George Balanchine’s dark angel. And now I would dance at the infamous Metropolitan Opera House. I had treasured every moment of the soreness, fatigue, and emotional pain, but even the sting of masking tape being pulled from freshly blistered skin couldn’t shake me from my foggy thoughts as the sun set perfectly beyond the Manhattan skyline.
. . .
A Patch of Rust
It was an unusually dull summer’s evening when I happened upon a patch of rust on a long forgotten sign and considered it hauntingly elegant. On its first day, I imagined, the sign had been no doubt promised many visitors eagerly seeking direction. It stood with pride and purpose, yet years later, overtaken by weeds, it wilted to the ground like the tall surrounding grasses for a sublimely melancholic scene. Beyond the sign, just barely perceptible over the groan of an ancient branch, a weathered chain creaked in the wind. Rust had consumed a once mighty structure and eternally smiling mascots had come to wear robes of moss and leaf-strewn webs. I couldn’t help but think on how years of neglect had made this place so marvelously pleasant.
. . .
Strange Things Interesting People Have Said
“Some days you’re all salt and savory and dried rose petals. And some days you’re reduced and volatile.”
“Your hair looks incredible—it’s like an illusion!”
“Stick your fork in that duck gastrique and take a whiff of that Palo Cortado.”
“I’ve seized all the superior quality pillows.”
“We’re not going into combat, I just need a digestif.”
“All I wanted to say to you this morning was ‘just what is this cheeseburger business?’ but I was afraid if I opened my mouth it would break the sleep cloud.”
“Accidentally got excited when my boss told me there was a Weezy demo called ‘Sandwiches Time.’ Turns out he said Weezer. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I think I’ll go for a cigarette instead.’”
. . .
Fast food Chains are an Eyesore
Fast food chains are an eyesore. How is one to keep their wits about them when constantly assaulted by shamelessly loud and tacky billboards, unpleasantly dissonant color schemes, and hideous architecture? The dull sheen of too-red plastic and bombastically flamboyant text is all so distasteful, it throws one into a rage. Plastic, in itself, is unquestionably garish and in poor taste. The sight of cars idly waiting to shout orders through a ruddy tin voice box is just too disheartening. And at night these monstrously constructed buildings rudely drown out the soft glow of the moon and stars with flooding spotlights, drawing the masses to them like gluttonous mosquitos to a naked shoulder. If one doesn’t take the time to design a pleasing environment, it’s a complete failure and a waste of time and energy.
. . .
On the Death of Friends
I watched my friend Martin die of dehydration on a temperate summer’s afternoon. He just sat there, quietly soaking in the rays, until his skin turned dark and shriveled like something you’d find in trail mix. I remember the first time we met, I was sitting in my usual spot, minding my own business, when in all his goofy glory he trounced into my life. We got into a pretty bad fight once in the beginning, but other than that we were best buds until he passed on.
I met some guy named Rocky once at a party, but I didn’t see him again because he succumbed to iron-poisoning right afterward. He must have had such an awful diet; I feel really bad for the guy.
A couple of my friends died in a freak deep-fryer accident on the 4th of July. Their names were Alex and Christopher. You can still see remnants of burnt oil on the windowsill.
Kendra still visits me in dreams with her cheeky strawberry colors. She was prone to wearing black on every occasion, and I think it may have been due to her self-conscious nature. I miss her inelegant honesty and propensity for novel gossip.
My friend Heather is still around, yet even though we live in the same neighborhood, we can’t often see each other. She just got engaged, which is really awesome for her after all the heartbreak she’s gone through. Both of her last two serious relationships just couldn’t persevere the hardships of long-term long-distance, and a lot of guys came and went. Some just flat out died, and others simply didn’t look too great next to her. Because she’s amazing. But now she’s fallen in love with someone who’s going to stay right beside her, because it might be too cumbersome to move him otherwise.
Sometimes I think that so many of my friends have passed on that I may as well just throw in the towel myself. But I’m sitting in such a comfy spot in the shade right now that I don’t at all feel like making any rash decisions. Although I am a little thirsty. I wonder when that lady will get home and water me. I hope she doesn’t forget again.
A busy person should not keep house plants. We are on the bottom of that person’s list of priorities, and are therefore the first to fall victim to neglect.
In honor of my friends sitting neglected on the windowsill.
. . .
Such are things which may have been said by one more confident than I.
© 2015 Devon Lois Duncan. All rights reserved.