Wilderness in a Coffee Cup

Underlying much of our Western writing is a mostly unconscious assumption that humans and nature are two different things, at odds with one another. We think of it as “wilderness,” or a cornucopia of “resources,” or some kind of utopia, among various other metaphors, and we think of ourselves as, well, something else, something that usually stands in contrast to the definition of nature that we picked up at the cultural resale shop. Most of these metaphors hark back to biblical times, if not further, encouraging us to consider nature a harbinger of the millennium, or, alternately, an idyllic, prelapsarian state to which to aspire, or, along the same lines, something to be cultivated and managed. Though some of these don’t sound entirely bad, a significant problem presents itself if we think we’re separate from nature: It’s easy to think we can get away from it, when we start feeling uncomfortable about it. Of course, we can’t do that. Because we are it, and it is us. I would even go a little further and claim that humans are incapable of doing anything that isn’t naturally possible. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t do things that threaten our own existence, or that violate our own moral and ethical codes (which, though equally as natural, are no more universally true than the morals of a praying mantis).

The reason I’m thinking about this now, in relation to writing, is that the knee-jerk reaction, particularly in the West, is to look beyond human pursuits and human environments when one wants to write about the natural world. This dualistic view misses the wilderness of the familiar, the “domestic,” the “human.” I constantly try to remind myself of this when I begin to shape any work at all, but particularly when I work in forms such as haiku, which have traditionally been expected to evoke the natural. I remind myself to see the wilderness in the coffee cup, the savagery in a cup of tea, the river bed in a brick, the hive in a tower.

This entry was posted in Studio. Bookmark the permalink.