When I was doing drama in high school and working for a costume shop in college, my favorite part about the whole thing was the small props. This actor has a newspaper, this actor carries a pipe. I happen to know that the back of a prop shop is a right mess, and if you can find a thing in it, chances are you’ll find a collection of that thing in incarnation infinite. Next time you go to see a play, know that some poor schmuck spent hours finding it, going through boxes with the moths and the spiders in either an attic or a basement, alone, while the lights flickered and buzzed and what was possibly a ghost wandered by.
I am not kidding, you guys, I saw a ghost in the costume storage at the University of Puget Sound. Never go up there unless you want to be both fascinated by all the vintage blouses and terrified that a high-collared wedding dress will fly around the corner and grab you up and take you to hell.
Okay, but what’s the point?
Where was I going with this? Yes, yes, objects, especially the small ones. They don’t define characters, per se, but they sharpen them. Why this pipe, why this robe, why this tablecloth. And what is really important is what they do with them. The connection in theater between action and intention is–how do we say it–pretty damn important. So when you see a play and the actor snaps his newspaper open, know that the actor, if he is any good, thought for a long while about why he snaps his newspaper open instead of casually folding it or spreading it out on the table (also carefully chosen). The actor is doing this in his ultrasubtle theater manner so that you know what kind of person he wants you to think he is. Furthermore, he acts a certain way because he knows that everyone in the audience will see an action and make roughly the same conclusion about his character’s personality. It’s a pretense and like any good lie it’s based on what the pretense’s audience will find plausible.
Look, if you didn’t want to blog about tea, you shouldn’t have started a tea blog.
I’m getting there. I do tea once a day, twice if I’m home. In the mornings around five am, I do some gongfu cha. I consider that wake-up time, read the news time, watch the sun come up time (well, not in October). This is the first time that I’ve had such a regular tea routine, and it is actually sort of helping my caffeine addiction since my body knows when the fix is coming. I’ll probably end up like Mrs. Dubose, BUT NOT WITH THE RACISM, OBVIOUSLY. I may have blogged about this, maybe not, but last spring I quit using measuring implements or timers in my tea. I thought I would learn a lot more by making mistakes, and I have! But it failed to internalize until I was practicing every day. Now, I brew a more excellent cup of tea every morning. Better all the time.
When I first learned about practicing gongfu, the thing that delighted me the most was the communal aspect. English tea parties had that, but they were too social. Same with using samovars. The Japanese tea ceremony wasn’t social enough. I know there are plenty of other tea rituals out there, but this one was perfect for me. Every step in gongfu is traditional, but it keeps with the tradition of making good tea. I need rituals, but I don’t want a superfluous step. The other thing about it is that you can talk! About anything! But especially about the tea! Gongfu is flexible–I feel just as reasonable doing it while reading the news or making small talk as I do pouring an extra cup for the dead and drinking in silent ponderance.
I was drawn to it because of its social aspect. It might be ironic that I mastered it alone (I say might because I am truly no longer sure whether or not something is ironic). In fact, recently my favorite tea companion has been taking pictures for this blog (you can recognize them by the fact that they are good pictures, and they are on this blog). Despite my affection for the social posturing and interaction that tea time compels, I’m not used to it. A lot of the pictures have to be scrapped because I don’t think about the camera and my hands are blocking the action (finally, I understand the reason for a delicate hold on teaware during the brewing process). I love to make tea for other people, don’t get me wrong! As a supremely awkward person, sometimes making tea is the only way I can express my affection. What I haven’t grasped yet is the performance aspect. My intentions correspond only superficially to my actions. I’m not representing anything here–I’m not thinking about an audience at all.
Should Gongfu Cha even need an audience though? You just said it was flexible.
I remember, thank you. And yes, it’s flexible, I’m not taking that back, but it’s still a ritual, no matter how adaptable it is. My mindset during it doesn’t change the basic steps, just the reason I do them, and so far, I have yet to master the performance of gongfu, as opposed to the process. Although I like to talk about tea and do give off the impression of knowing my shit, none of my actions during teatime are performed with the caution, grace, or reverence of a ritual or tradition. A ritual is supposed to have significance to its audience. As long as I’m practicing gongfu without considering the audience, whether it’s me or someone else or a whole bunch of someone elses, I might as well just be waving my hands around and yelling gibberish. Although that wouldn’t be great for my caffeine addiction.
I want to say that now that I’ve gotten the timing and scooping and candle-lighting down, this is the next thing to tackle, but I don’t know if I could say that is is a thing one can tackle. A better approach might just be to keep doing it, and doing it with purpose. The more consideration I can attach to my actions, the more I convey about how important tea is to me to people drinking tea with me, and more my love for tea solidifies when I drink it alone. The people and the tea and the process defines the tea ceremony, but the manner in which the tea is drunk is what sharpens it and turns it into a worthwhile experience.
So, I kind of lost my train there, not that I was following one. But, food or trains for thought! This kind of thing, whatever it is, never wraps itself up neatly.