It's Menka here with another Just Looking Letter, all about slowing down to notice more of the current season that is our life.
How are those New Year resolutions shaping up? Just kidding! (See the last Letter to get the joke, sort of.) For many of us, we are still in the depths of Winter. It can be a time for pausing. For quietly listening to inner whispers. For tuning in to possibilities. And so, if you haven't arrived onto this side of the New Year with shining clarity and resolutions yet - that's fine, we can take our time before sowing new seeds.
Seasons give structure, meaning, and momentum to our lives. Japan, inspired by classical Chinese sources, has 72 of these microseasons. Each lasts just a few days, making note of tiny, delicate changes in nature.
Here are some examples of Japan's microseasons...
February 4-8- East wind melts the ice
June 11-15 - Rotten grass becomes fireflies
July 17- 22 - Hawks learn to fly
July 29 - Aug 2 - Earth is damp, air is humid
November 22-26 - Rainbows hide
Recently Lev Parikian, a British music conductor and writer, wrote a new book (he says there hasn't been much concert work during the pandemic!) called "Light Rains Sometimes Fall". The title is actually the name of one of the Japanese microseasons, and the book attempts a British equivalent. Across 72 short chapters, there are descriptions of bramble, woodlouse, and urban fox, hawthorn, dragonfly, and peregrine. My plan is to read the book in real-time this year.
I don't know of other cultures that have this many microseasons, but calendars do often have far more seasons than just four. Indian calenders have "Monsoon" as well as two different autumns. Crimea has a "Velvet season" which is when it is pleasantly warm but not hot (just the right time to wear velvet instead of fur!). And in the northern parts of the US, they have "Stick season" when all the leaves have fallen off the trees, but it's not quite cold enough to call it Winter.
As the author Lev Parikian notes:
“There’s a lot more out there than anyone sees, and you can’t see without looking . . . look, look again, look better.“
Closely observe nature unfolding for the next five days. You don't have to bundle up for an expedition, just look out of your balcony or window, or walk down your road. Is there a theme? What looks the most ephemeral, and unlikely to be around for too long. And at the end, name this microseason that has just been!
If you like, make some photographs.
As always you're welcome to reply to this email with your photo (I love seeing these!) and microseason name, or go big and share it with the wider community on Instagram using #wearejustlooking.
Five Links about Looking
We hardly know anything of our garden at night. A few weeks ago we left the Lento microphones there, to find out. Under a waxed hat they recorded the passing hours of the night. City slumber, silk softness, and a band of tranquil, spacious rain.
The Endless Doomscroller [Read / Scroll]
What are we looking at these days?
Habit Stacking [Read]
I've been re-reading James Clear's Atomic Habits book recently and thinking about how I can use "habit stacking" to notice more of the overlooked moments of my life. For example, I already have the habit of opening my bedroom window in the morning to get some fresh air in, so can I add on (stack) the habit to spend a minute looking outside at the trees, birds, and passerbys?
Artist Residency in Motherhood [Read]
This project encourages new parents (this could apply equally to fathers) to allow the upheaval of parenthood to inform and shape the direction of their work, rather than to keep going on "despite it".
Ouisi - Game of visual connection [Play]
Loved playing this game recently. So simple and joyful to discover that everything is connected when we look really closely.
This reminds me: I've been working on a similar-but-different concept for a visual deck of cards. Will discuss this in more detail with Just Looking Supporters at the next meeting! I'm currently looking for an illustrator to collaborate with if anyone is one/knows one, be great to chat!
It's always fun to hear from you, feel free to hit reply. And if you enjoyed reading this today, please share it with a friend who might want more microseason inspiration, falling rain recordings, and such!
Yours in curiosity,