Pillow books

Pillow book, n.  In classical Japanese literature: a diary or private journal of miscellaneous thoughts and comments. Oxford English Dictionary


Battir, Palestine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArt is calling to me. Day in and day out I think about art, about making books, longing for my sewing machine and fabrics, longing for a paintbrush and paint. I feel it coming, lurking behind partially closed doors, in the shadows of the almond tree…

Years ago, I saw the film The Pillow Book. I was captivated by the idea of a pillow book. I remember waking in the middle of the night with an inspiration, a play on “pillow book”—I would create books out of the pillows I was sewing.

Pillowbook for Sue

In the film, Nagiko, influenced by the writing of Sei Shōnagon, records ‘things that make the heart beat faster’.[1] Beguiled, I made my own list: the first snow, a long-awaited letter from a lover, the song of peepers in the spring, the deep crimson of blueberry barrens in the autumn—things of beauty, of simplicity, of love.

Things that make the heart beat faster—a refrain wafting through my mind like a snatch of remembered melody as I walked along the hiking trail, and my heart expanded with love and gratitude for this beloved land, for thOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe friends walking with me, the splendor of sunshine on a spring day, almond blossoms, cyclamen with their deep green patterned leaves and dainty pink flowers pushing through crevices in the rocks, the pungent smell of thyme, a spring in the desert.

Today, standing at the kitchen sink, looking out to the hills across the wadi, thinking of art books, pillow books, and things that make the heart beat faster, I heard the familiar leitmotif, but it was altered. Until that moment, things that make the heart beat faster had always been associated with things that touch the soul, that open the heart, but as I watched the Israeli soldiers—ever-present across the way “guarding” the train—I realized that other things also make the heart beat faster—fear, rage, and violence.

[1] Sei Shōnagon, a lady at the imperial court of Japan during the 
height of the Heian period (794–1186) and author of The Pillow Book.

One comment on “Pillow books

  1. Thank you for sharing this deeply emotional and impact filled story. As an artist, I now have an interest in pillow book studies. Sharing our stories is the essence of the journey, as we are all one.


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