; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Days of Gong Fu Standing ;

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Days of Gong Fu Standing

What is the tea that celebrates Loss?

I'm not sorry to turn over a new year. Even better, turning the year over twice: once with the western calendar and again with the Chinese calendar. The more I can turn over the past year then perhaps I can find some new hope going into the next. Last year has to go down as one of the most difficult of my life, following the horrible death of my mother, loss of friends, body going downhill, work drying up, droughts and polar vortices. Even my son commented on my constant bad luck, "you're cursed, Mom," he said.

So what is the tea that celebrates Loss?

I know this tea, what I drank last summer after Mom died, standing next to the stove raising the cup to my lips. Not even sitting down, back then I did my gong fu standing up, listening through the windows to my roommate yelling in the street. Some days are so awful that all I can do is relentlessly drink cup after cup, every night rinsing that tea table out, stacking the dishes neatly again for tomorrow. During the Days of Gong Fu Standing I drank longjing, silver buds, oolong, spring tips, gyokuro, sencha, hongcha, maocha, pingcha, beengcha, yancha, gushu, dashu, ujeon, sejak, jungjak, and shou.

At this point in my life, I'm not a person who needs an answer for the meaning of loss, pain or suffering. A tea name will suit. I don't believe that anything I might experience is part of some grand plan, or holds any redemptive value, or represents a kind of test of whether some God exists because I already carry the answers to those questions within my body, which is where I happened to find them. Well, maybe one redemptive aspect makes sense, only with regard to a singular note of empathy for a particular kind of person. The kind who doesn't have trouble with the big questions of life, but instead has trouble with the little ones. Such as when Sister Mary P. said, "You know, you write beautifully but your handwriting is atrocious." In a similar way, perhaps, I write comfortably about loss now and yet cannot find the name for a tea to suit. I can recognize how spoiled rotten I am, this much tea given to one who complains and not even about some sort of grandly important unique pain of historic proportions, but instead more like the wife sitting next the hospital bed of a husband wrapped in bandages and she notices "oh dear, I broke a nail."

What is the tea that celebrates Loss, when you think it can't get any worse but then you turn the silver mylar tea bag upside down into the gaiwan, shake it out, and realize, oh yes it can. Do you then drink what is most convenient, the next bag or sample in line of many more? Shall I reach for tea that matches the mood, and go for a dusty, dirty stick-filled tuo of wet stored shou? Or try to rise above myself with a pristine first flush darjeeling, have I wondered enough yet how they manage to get such a perfume from regular old tea leaves, and despite this miracle of drying and processing I actually don't like the tea which then makes me feel more dirty and rotten than drinking the truly rotten old shou. Perhaps I can convince myself I'm just lacking green vitamins in the dark of winter and dig out some other spring tea, a Laoshan green, or something left of last year's sencha. The only truth I know isn't in the tea, but in the ritual of drinking. Rinsing out the tea ware means more to me now than what's in the cup. Ignore me when I talk about my latest tea drunk because the wizard behind the curtain is nothing more than an old lady with a tea stained thumb and tea has no answers for me.

At least it tastes good.
 My now-gone mother thought tea held answers. When I was 15, she took me to a tea leaf reader. This wasn't so weird. Mom took me to a séance once, we watched a woman fall asleep sitting up and turn into a guy named "Alexander" who, in the end, couldn't answer questions on whether God really exists. You'd think if a guy is truly dead, then he'd have something to say on that topic. By contrast, Rose the Tea Leaf reader was the grandmother of a family friend, with more than a little Russian in her. She handed us a regular tea mug filled with small bits of black tea and instructed us to drink around the cup. As the tea got close to empty, the tea leaves stuck to the sides of the mug. When the tea was gone, she "read" my future by looking at patterns in the leaves. Somehow in the bits of twig and leaf she decided the tea told her I would be a doctor and have a good marriage. I realized my mother had probably given her a few hints on what to say, since I was in my then-phase of wanting to be a Quincy, MD nun when I grew up and to dissect dead bodies for a living. Thinking that Mom had tipped off the tea leaf lady, I asked impertinent superstitious questions like why Dad always sneezes seven times. She answered "asthma" but not from the tea. Rose's one insightful answer came from her own real-life  observation. I could only feel glad at least my own mom wasn't trying to find patterns in swirls of her instant lemon Nes-tea floating down along the ice cubes.

What is the tea that celebrates loss, when tea leaves say nothing? I suppose this is why my tea blog is mostly about fluff and nonsense, instead of a site about meditation and conscious change and all that. To me, tea leaves tell me about aging and storage. Quite honestly, if I wanted to create an existential blog then I'd write one about Sauerkraut because at least I can wax on the wonders of the bowel and skip the drain cleaner posts. Humor and math do more to set me right in the Days of Gong Fu Standing than desperately trying to find more meaning in tea.

For me the start of a Year of the Goat is double vision. For my son is a double Goat, he is both the year of the Goat and the Capricorn goat of astrology. He and his father have the same birthday but a different year, and of course I take credit for that fine coincidence since I drank the castor oil and went through 43 hours of labor to achieve it. So his father is a Capricorn goat, my father is a Capricorn goat and my brother is a Year of the Goat baby as well. I'm surrounded by goats. Although a snake is no good for a goat, perhaps by holding on to a small goat's tail I can be carried by some sort of goaty momentum into this new year and another cuppa tea. For now though, actually I would love to sit down.

Requiescat in Pace


  1. Dear Cwyn,

    Our memories make us into the person we are today.

    Wishing you prosperity, good health, and a wonderful year of laughter and rich experiences.

    1. Yes, I'm the product of fishnets and chastity belts. Thanks for the well-wishes, same to you and thanks for stopping by! C.