I sit here each day in the company of bamboo plants edging my porch. They look primordial and talk to me as beings with humanlike gestures and individual personalities.
It’s a grass, a flowering perennial evergreen. It is sustainable, rapidly self propagates and renewable. It is naturally antibacterial, efficiently converts carbon dioxide to oxygen, is naturally thermally regulated and stronger than steel by weight.
It’s long life makes it a Chinese symbol of uprightness. In India it is a symbol of friendship. Several Asian cultures believe that humanity emerged from a bamboo stem – both man and woman from a single split branch.
In Vietnam, it is a symbol of the soul representing ideas of hardworking, optimism, unity and adaptability. The Vietnamese have a proverb ‘When bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear’. Meaning that they will never be annihilated because if a previous generation dies, children will take their place.
For me that proverb could also be about growth and maturity, the painful process of acknowledging ugly truths and working with them. To be upright in spite of the elements that suggest otherwise. I’ve spent this residency alone with the inspirational words of so many that I’ve had the gift of time to read, and alone with my personal vulnerabilities and alone from the chaos that is happening at home.
To grow into one's own doesn't happen overnight. In spite of how we value spontaneous epiphanies, these awakenings are dormant under the surface waiting for the crack in the foundation to let the light in (thank you Leonard Cohen). Cracks that usually happen during tumult and strife, and according to Buddhist thought, require attention rather than avoidance to dissipate their hold on us.
I'm halfway around the world to find space and time to reflect on all of this. Then there was the election. The results brought many of us out of our complacency to face the reality of what the other half of our country believes, and it’s chilling. This is a good time to look to bamboo for inspiration. To help us remember to stand upright, be strong, go forward and sprout blossoms.
This sculpture, in progress, is inspired by a young bamboo shoot from my grove.
The fabric is cut from women’s blouses from the market, the stitching is meditative,
the stuffed form is an abstraction of bamboo posturing as a human. Rebecca Solnit, in her book
Hope in the Dark, talks about change. How it seems like it’s spontaneous
but the roots already exist underground and that when these transformations
happen it's rarely remembered. To continue the metaphor, my seeds were planted
before I arrived and now they may finally be finding their way to daylight
in spite of all the shadows. We’ll see.