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Pillow book

In Japan they used to use wooden pillows which had a storage space in them. Women would keep private things in the little drawer, including their journals and poems. Sei Shonagon was a lady-in-waiting who lived about a thousand years ago, and her pillow book contained idiosyncratic lists which are iconic – amongst a certain set, anyway. I’ve taken some of her lists, and slipped in some of my own additions.

THINGS THAT CAN NOT BE COMPARED

Summer and winter

Night and day

Rain and sunshine Rain and mist

When one has stopped loving someone, one feels that he has become someone else, even though he is still the same person.

Depression and contentment

My faults and yours.

THINGS THAT ARE DISTANT THOUGH NEAR

Relations between brothers and sisters.

A game of backgammon in which one wins the first throw of the dice.

A zig-zag path leading to the temple

The last day of the 12th month, and the first day of the 1st

Desire

Moonlight

The leaders of one’s own country, invading another. 

HATEFUL THINGS

One is in a hurry to leave, but one’s visitor keeps chattering away

A man who has nothing in particular to reccommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random, as if he knew everything.

To envy others.

To complain about one’s lot

An admirer has come for a clandestine visit but a dog catches sight of him and starts barking.

A flight of crows circle about with loud caws.

Racism.

The mind that wishes to harm.

Tapeworms.

Plastic grocery bags filled with only one or two items each.

THINGS THAT ARE HARD TO SAY

Long messages.

Its hard to frame a reply to someone with whom one feels ill at ease.

I want my money back.

Its hard to say if Jeffersonian democracy is a useful blueprint for world order.

Please leave now.

I’m wrong and I’m sorry.

THINGS OF WHICH PEOPLE ARE RARELY AWARE

The aging of their mother.

Inauspicious days.

Subconscious desires.

The political atmosphere of Surinam.

THINGS THAT MAKE ONE SORRY

One has written a poem for someone, and then hears people praise it as if it wer that person’s own work.  It makes one sorry yet at the same time its rather gratifying.

Losing one’s temper at someone who is very stupid or uneducated.

Being ostracized.

Ostracizing others.

THINGS THAT ARE NEAR YET DISTANT

Paradise

The course of a boat.

Relations between a man and a woman.

Thunder

Accidents

Sunshine

THINGS WITHOUT MERIT

An ugly person with a bad character

Rice starch that has become mixed with water.

The theory of trickle-down economics.

Complaints submitted anonymously.

Greed

Ill will

Derisive language

THINGS THAT HAVE LOST THEIR POWER

A large boat which is high and dry at ebb-tide

A large tree that has been blown down in a gale and lies on its side with its roots in the air

A religious figure who has been implicated in a scandal

My brother’s hatred

My mother’s scorn

A uranium isotope, 3.7 billion years later.

THINGS THAT SHOULD BE LARGE

Priests.

Fruit.

Houses.

Provision bags.

Men’s eyes

Round braiziers.

Winter cherries.

Pine trees.

The petals of yellow roses.

Penises.

Silence

Cocktails.

THINGS THAT SHOULD BE SHORT

A piece of thread when one wants to sew something in a hurry.

A lamp stand.

The speech of a young girl.

The speech of a politician.

Moral rectitude.

Sorrow.

Defeat.

THINGS THAT DO NOT LINGER FOR A MOMENT

A boat with hoisted sails.

People’s age.

The four seasons.

Thoughts.

The generosity of people who have recently had a stroke of extraordinary luck.

Spring snowflakes.

THINGS THAT MAKE THE HEART BEAT FASTER

To notice that one’s elegant Chinese mirror has become cloudy.

To see a gentleman stop his carriage before one’s gate and instruct his attendants to announce his arrival.

To be accused of something one did not do.

To enter a dark, silent forest at noon.

Coffee

THINGS THAT LOSE BY BEING PAINTED

Pinks

Cherry blossoms

Yellow roses

Men and women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.

Sunsets.

Well-made oak furniture.

Grief.

Awe

Catholic saints.

THINGS THAT GAIN BY BEING PAINTED

Pines.

Autumn fields.

Mountain villges and paths.

Cranes and deer.

A very cold winter scene.

Voodoo dolls and totem poles.

Ancient ruins.

The accomplishments of heros.

Buddhist icons.

THINGS WITH FRIGHTENING NAMES

A pooll of green water.

A cavern in a valley.

Iron.

A clod of earth.

Thunder.

A hurricane

Prison

An anchor

A living ghost

Dried charcoal

Collateral damage

The Internal Revenue Service

Surgery

Zimbabwe.

PEOPLE WHO SEEM TO SUFFER

A man with two mistresses who is obliged to see them bitter and jealous toward each other.

An exorcist who has to deal with an obstinate spirit.

A woman passionately loved by a man who is absurdly jealous.

Nervous people.

Large-breasted women.

Small-breasted women.

Men who are no longer useful.

Adolescents.

THINGS OF WHICH PEOPLE ARE RARELY AWARE

The aging of their mother.

Inauspicious days.

Subconscious desires.

The political atmosphere of Surinam.

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