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Notes from an improviser

Chamnongsri Rutnin Hanchanlash

There has been such a formidable influx of writing on the art of living, the art of happiness, et cetera, that I wondered what I could write for this column that would tingle the mind with freshness and originality. `Nothing,' came the answer from inside my head ... rather conclusive but liberating and comfortable, like a smooth, newly-fluffed pillow to lay one's head on while spinning out an article.

I confess to being the play-by-ear or `improviser' type, not by birth but by encounters with the twists and turns of life _ some of them hairpin swerves, believe me. Life is a great concoctor of the unexpected. We human beings, on the other hand, are great concoctors of expectations. I like to think that the art of improvisation evolved out to this duality in human lives.

Taking a bird's eye view of my own life, I can see the majority of the plans I made did not turn out as expected. Not that it mattered all that much, because other ways were always found, other goals were always reached, others plans came into being. Life remains what it is: multi-textured, challenge-filled, and yes, full of tricks and uncertainties _ `vagaries' is the word.

Recently, an English publisher pointed to the line `long-tutored by the vaquaries of life' in one of my poems from On the White Empty Page. He asked whether it was a misspelling of `vagaries' or a word I had deliberately coined. Honestly, I couldn't remember. The poem was written years ago. But would he let the word stand? He re-read the poem, mentally scratched his head and said yes, agreeing that it added a nuance of vagueness that deepened the message. What did it matter whether it was accident or intention!

On a hillside fringe of Chiang Mai, my husband and I built what was to be our idyllic `permanent' home, surrounded by lotus ponds and tall trees. We moved our official registration there and even built a little office. Years passed, and we are still stuck in Bangkok. The home of our dreams is now no more than a holiday house, occasional refuge for friends in search of nature and peace, and, once or twice a year, venue for Buddhist meditation retreats. Not as planned but no less rewarding.

The dreamy leafy garden has also become home to an assortment of immensely lovable dogs _ all six cross-bred. I like to think of them as outcomes of nature's improvisations. For an instance, there is the Labrador-Afghan hound, a Terrier-Thai, Rotweiller-Golden Retriever and so on.

The latest addition is a progeny of a Rottweiller bitch and an unidentified male. My husband, a Rottweiller-lover, adopted it for its Rottweiller look. But he gradually metamorphosed as he grew older (the puppy, not the husband). The yellow spots above the eyes spread into a pair of angular eyebrows joined together giving him the uncanny look of a perpetually worried monkey.

The metamorphosis continued. On our last visit we found him changed into a beautiful German Shepherd (we Thais like to call them `Alsatians') albeit with short floppy Rottweiller ears. I was delighted, having been looking for a mongrel with a German Shepherd parent for quite a while.

Aha, after all these years of improvisations on my part to please life, life has done a cute little improvisation on its part for my pleasure. How nice! Now that I stop to think about it, life has done little improvisations for me here and there all along, but I wasn't observant enough to take note.

Of creation and improvisation, Christian Dior once said something in French to the effect that `Beauty cannot be improvised, it has to be created'.

I, however, find that so many beauties in my own life have been the results of improvisation. When one doesn't hitch oneself to expectations, plans that go awry can turn into great venues for creativity.

So, who can argue that the art of improvisation is not in itself creativity? Without creativity can one ever master the art of improvisation?


From: Outlook, Bangkok Post September 1, 2004

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