It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and I know I have much to be grateful for. Minor difficulties crop up constantly, but that’s to be expected. I try not to dwell on the small hurdles. And while I also try not to give too much weight to those moments that seem magical, there they are nevertheless. They consistently tell me that I’m doing the right thing – that if I can give thanks for nothing else, I can appreciate the path I’ve walked and the road ahead.
The essay that follows fell onto my keyboard in March of 2002. Which is to say, this piece of writing is older than the keyboard I am currently using. But it remains one of my favorite tales of faith and of fate. I share it now in the spirit of Thanksgiving…
The other night, I was in one of those moods. So I opened the hall closet, and I scanned the possibilities: a stack of journals dating back to 1972; scripts from sit-coms, plays, and movies; starts of novels; short stories and essays; loose-leaf journal entries; just plain chrons…
I decided to pull down from the shelf a small, unlabeled box. I didn’t know what was in it, but I knew I’d find a treasure or two. Once I opened it, I saw the little composition books that I filled when I was probably 26 and 27.
At the time, I was reading voraciously. And although I didn’t realize it then, the authors I had been drawn to – Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, Richard Adams – wrote from a metaphysical perspective.
I was so moved by what they wrote that I always had a pen handy when I was reading. I would use the pen to star paragraphs, to draw lines in the margin, to provide some reminder to myself: Return Here.
After reading the first two or three of these novels, I decided to take it a step further. And so, in little composition books, I began recording the lines and paragraphs that were particularly resonant. It was a relaxing, meditative task, sitting there on my couch/perch, holding the fountain pen that had become my lucky charm. I think, too, that I thought the task would serve me ultimately. I believed that if these writers’ magical words traveled through my magical pen, I would elevate my ability to write. I would absorb not only their wisdom, but also their eloquence.
And so the other night, I came upon the little composition books. I opened one, and I began to read. This particular book began with passages I had copied from Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi.
Even after reading most of the passages – and I must have copied 50 or so of them – I couldn’t completely recall the book. I did remember that it was obtuse; certainly heavier than Richard Adams, and not nearly as prurient as Henry Miller. And I kind of got a recollective sense of the plot – a boy goes to an other-world prep school, where he learns wisdom, where he learns the meaning of life and what matters.
As I read the passages that I had rewritten in my own pen, I came across a reference to the Glass Bead Game, but that first appearance didn’t strike me. I simply remembered that such was the name of the game that was played – and mastered – by disciples of the Magister Ludi school.
I kept reading.
As I continued and nearly reached the end of this group of entries, the phrase appeared again, this time as the title of a poem: “The Glass Bead Game.”
This time, it stood out.
GLASS BEADS. God, I know what they are! Glass beads. They had entered my life a few years back. They became part of my life – toward what end, I could not know.
With unexpected intrigue, I read “The Glass Bead Game” – the Hesse poem that I had recorded nearly 20 years before:
“We re-enact with reverent attention
The universal chord, the master’s harmony,
Evoking in unsullied communion
Minds and times of highest sanctity.
We draw upon the iconography
Whose mystery is able to contain
The boundlessness, the storm of all existence
Give chaos form, and hold our lives in rein.
The pattern sings like crystal constellations,
And when we tell our beads, we serve the whole,
And cannot be dislodged or misdirected,
Held in the orbit of the Cosmic Soul.”
I could not have known, when I held my magical pen and recorded those magical words, that nearly two decades later, I would play my own glass bead game. I could not have known then how profound Hesse was.
When I first embarked on what I have come to call “the unbearable lightness of beading,” I knew full well that it was meditative. I knew it was settling. And I knew, even though my bank account would dispute it, that it was moving me forward. I couldn’t prove it with facts; I could only feel it in my soul.
And now, I am realizing it. The beads were not about making jewelry or launching a website or becoming some sort of designer. The beads were about getting back to me and my destiny. The beads were about welcoming my right brain back into the world that is my Self; allowing the artist in me to have her space.
The right brain is back now, and she is not fighting with the left. There is balance between the two. Balance that allows me to do what I do well – for myself and for others. Balance that allows me to absorb the magic of life and the blessings I have been given. Balance that allows me to learn constantly and to recognize those moments and those people that make the learning happen.
The glass bead game… at the moment, I feel that I’ve won.
But, I am a process person.
And so I know, this game ain’t over yet.
Postscript: for an abridged look at my experience with the “unbearable lightness of beading,” please visit my website at www.katiegatesdesigns.com.