Saturday, February 20, 2010

Calligraphy-Rededicated To Shaista

Many scrolls of calligraphy hung in Uncle Tu’s main halls. His maid, Deng Zi Mei, wondered how she could learn the meaning behind the beautiful lines and considered it a dream if someday she could surprise the kindly Uncle Tu by reciting all his poems as soulfully as he had written them.

~~Sometimes I paint something long ago and then I see it in a new light, under new circumstances, or through a new lens of experience.   I completed this painting over three years ago at a time when Deng Zi Mei, a real woman had inspired me.  She is a lowly clerk who works in the factory that produces my goods. She is dedicated to the smallest detail.  She does accounting not in yuans, but in tenths of yuans, in threads, in snaps, crumbs, loose grams of stuffing fuzz.  The smallest and most insignificant thing does not escape her eye in my factory.  It used to drive me crazy when she would ask if I preferred a new kind of thread because she thought she might be able to save me .0025 RMB per day in floss cost.

Then I learned this frugalness and thrift was her love language to me and the kindly Uncle Tu who owns the factory and for whom she tries so hard to please.  I have always sensed  hidden greatness in her.  It would not surpirze me to learn she had millions of dollars stashed away under her mats or had written an epic novel under a pen name or is the party secretary of our province. I have seen her single handedly take on government officials and customs bureaucrats to win some insignificant concession  for me. It is this spirit in her that reminds me of Shaista, my friend who fights Lupus and who brings forth from her long and surely tedious days the most amazing efficient poetry. Tiny and sparse words, like Miss Deng's pennies and loose threads, that knitted together are mighty and grand.

Now, during the Chinese New Year holiday, our factory is closed.  Only Miss Deng stops by daily to check that the gates are locked, and that the spent red fire cracker paper is swept up, and that no lights have been left on to burn wastefully.  She does this while she waits as the sole resident of our workshop for the return of Uncle Tu, our workers, and me at the end of our holidays. I have no doubt that as I write this post, she has written in her beautiful calligraphy, spring couplets on two strips of chalky red paper and pasted them on the doors to our factory. Her poetry, like Shaista's is short and to the point.  It will say something like, Hark! A New Year! Spring Comes. Work hard. Blessings Here.

And so it will be true.

Lupus In Flight---fly there now.


  1. Another wonderful story. You need to put these together in a book. I know you have done so by way of your paintings, but the thing is...your writing is every bit as luminous, eloquent and touching as your art.

    And of course I agree 100% about Shaista's spare, crystalline words. She writes far beyond her years and it never ceases to amaze me.

    Thinking of you, my dear, and of your mother. Wishing you both strength of whatever variety you need. There are all sorts of types of strength, and we need each an every one in our arsenal for times like these...a whole sewing basket full of random strength-bobbins of different colors and sizes from which to select as the need arises.

  2. I think I have told you as many times as Maia to write a book. All this magic and humanity needs a place to speak, so that everyone can savor it.

    This woman sounds so endearing to me, salt of the earth. Hope you and your lovely mother are sharing a peaceful New Year.

  3. Such a beautiful story. I can sense the immense amount of warmth and love.

    May this new year bring forth a mountain of blessings to Miss Deng, Uncle Tu, but most of all to you and your dearest family. :)

  4. I echo all of the beautiful sentiments above! So strange to have just posted a link to your work at the top right hand of my blog (so no one can miss it!) and then to immediately get a comment by you. Unrelated, and yet utterly related :)
    How are you today?

    I am working on a book of my poems so perhaps we can exchange our books one day? Although to truly appreciate your work, how can it possibly be captured in a book? It must be felt, like your mother feels it, in person, with great care and attention...


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