It takes a village to raise a sentence. Trying my hand at calligraphy feels almost as challenging as raising a child and I realize it takes a village to create a sentence that has the artistry, flair and flourish of calligraphic script. I’m trying to listen to inner and outer instructions at the same time, while being mindful and focused on doing nothing, just being in the present moment letting what needs to happen, happen. It’s a pirouette, an act of spinning on one foot, with the raised foot touching the knee of the supporting leg. Only it’s not.
It’s the annual Hermanus arts festival, Fynarts 2019 and I am sitting at a small wooden table in “Duchies”, the restaurant at the sand’s edge of Grotto Beach. The wind howls against the canvas blinds, the rain pounds the corrugated ceiling, the heaters glow in vain, and I arrive in full Norwegian, winter gear – pulse warmers, woollen undies, ski hat. I give a shit that I look like an eskimo at a picnic – this is no catwalk, this is serious need to be warm. I have ink to trail across the empty landscape of a snowy white page. And I’m as terrified and excited as if I were opening up the Arctic with Fridtjof Nansen at my side.
(I promise in a future blog, to tell you an amazing Fridtjof Nansen story.)
“Why calligraphy?” My sister asks. She loves to ask why I do anything.
“I love the art of handwriting,” I say. I’ve loved it ever since I sat in first grade and dipped my nib in the inkwell of my desk.
“Light strokes up, heavy strokes down” Sister Mary would chant as she walked up and down the aisles of wooden desks shadowed with downward heads; the sound of scratching nibs grating the air like iron shavings. Sweet Sister Mary whose beloved Jesus’ iron-edged ruler stayed ever close at hand, poised to hit if we did not do as told. I loved to please her; ached to be a nun, exactly like her. (Tried hard to scrub the Jewish out of my pores in the bathtub at nights, to allow it to happen).
The village? There are many parts to the process of writing in script I am to discover. It’s the italic nib dipped in ink, then blotted; it’s the fingers who must relax control and give voice to the pad of the hand, who gives bounce to the letters. (Who knew?) It’s the bend of the wrist at the right angle; the gliding guide of the forearm. It’s the feel of the feet’s must-rest on the earth; the breath moving consciously in and out; the vegus nerve’s relax to the parasympathetic, so that the brain can hear the gut’s impulse. All this is to happen, while the muse is tickling the insides with suggestions of something completely else. Somethings wanting to be written fast and furious before the words of ideas disappear into a mist of memory.
It’s an Olympic event, this raising of the sentence; of watching P’s and Q’s, E’s and B’s. “Be as your presence is, gracious and kind” the Bard says sonnetly. “Easier bloody said than done,” I say, watching the other wanna- B calligraphers at their desks; monks of the new millennium, hurrying slowly to get to the other side of the punctuation point. “Be kind” I say to the critic who is shouting at how useless I am at letters in ink that slant in all the wrong directions.
Perhaps if I ask Sister Mary…she might be able to help me get to the paper’s edge? I sense the flutter of her veil in the sepia blot as my pen glides across the open space, supported by “the village” to just let the original script of my soul reveal itself. “You are in essence, the perfect flourish, the clean kerning, your descenders dance with your ascenders in rhythm and grace,” she says. “Just take the sticky fingers off, switch the guidance on and let it be.”
The page begins to fill with words that flow down the pipeline like the rain. “Gentle, She-rain,” as the Bushmen say, “that touches the sand without disturbing a leaf”. The pen nibbles across the page with a scratch that sounds ticklish. I’m smiling. Home. What I see on the page to me is illegible, chaotic and perfect. It’s me, it’s not trying to be me and I see it for the first time with new eyes.
The rain beats down on the corrugated roof, the day goes on, the waves of samsara continue to pound the beach beyond. Nothing is new, yet everything is. The villagers in action, doing nothing but being present to support and hold and guide the hand and heart and whole being, across the empty page.