On Mud and Lotuses

When humans ascend they are still human.
When humans descend they are still human.”
-Heaven Official’s Blessing

I can’t get enough of reading these days; the outwardness of the last few years, for better or worse, may have finally reached its fill. Just in time, work conversations have become book-swapping, friendships taking on new risks and dimensions.

It is a surprisingly vulnerable thing to recommend a book to someone, or to read a book they’ve recommended when it is a relationship not begun on those grounds. Suddenly half of my co-workers are reading Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, so along with Circe, I decided to read (well, I listen to) that again, while also reading a series of detective/mystery novels—>normally not my thing, but I’m enjoying. The writer is Kate Atkinson, and she’s clever enough that I find myself smiling in surprise often, even in moments I’m not ‘supposed to’.

Of course, there is also TSK.

If I’m completely honest though, the books I’ve been zipping through in long sessions, relishing in an immersive way, are the Chinese novel adaptations of Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. Heaven Official’s Blessing*, which I quoted at the top, is one of three sets of three, and creates a tangible world quite near (to me) to fantastical virtual reality adventures. I’m especially drawn to the natural way in which reincarnation is handled, with characters sometimes remembering previous identities and lives, working out karma. They’re both fun and thoughtful, escapist and contemplative.

Just a few months ago, what I needed most was music and chatter, endless new encounters and conversations, puzzle solving, surprises and busyness. The store, which had always been a back burner place I wandered to clear my head, was there to take me in, giving me a place to actively settle worry and restlessness.

Especially, I hadn’t realized how the drumbeat of pre-Covid cafe’ writing sessions–being with people yet not–had well balanced my life and ordered my time, until I could no longer refuge that way. I used to call those sessions my finishing places, since I would often start many things, then finish them away from the apartment.

Now, although a few cafe’s and libraries are again available as third places, I’ve lost the strings. ‘Home’ is once again writing and writing, reading and reading, fantastical lands and listening to the wind outside. Which is me? I’m the last to know, and ponder whether the shift is simply a coping mechanism gently helping settle the reality that health might not allow me to continue as I have been, mitigating despair.

The last few weeks have been a blur of doctors’ appointments and too much laying in bed, waking uncomfortably in the middle of the night. But also of dreaming vividly, experiencing edges between realms more softly, then embracing such softness as none-other-than. I’m not sure there has ever been a time in which I was less concerned with being good, being interesting, being this or that. I do keep in mind that when I look back on my life, times like these have been richer than I realized when in them.

I’m not yet resigning, not even from the store, but perhaps easing into surrender.

*Disturbingly, there seems some validity that this author has been detained in China for at least three years for distributing books with so-called BL content, even though her TV adaptations passed censorship with skillful editing. It isn’t illegal to write romantic relationships between two of the same gender, but it is illegal to sell such materials, so tightrope lines! With infuriating and intellectually lazy book banning trends in the US, we (I’m in South Florida) do well to remember the “freedom” we’re always touting as making this country unique, symbolic though it may be.


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