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To while away the idle hours seated the livelong day before the ink slab, by jotting down without purpose whatever trifling thoughts that pass through my mind, truly is a queer and crazy thing to do!


Kenko (1283-1350)


The Japanese ink slab is one of the Four Treasures of the calligrapher's study. The Four Treasures are the artist's brush, the ink stick, the paper, and the ink slab or stone. The ink slab is made of stone with a flat surface upon which rubbings of the ink stick are liquified with salt water. The ink slab is the only one of the Four Treasures that will last the whole long life of the calligrapher, making it the very soul of the artist's studio, inseparable from the calligrapher's practice. The Four Treasures are tools used in Sumi-e painting as well.1


One of the classic works of Japanese prose, Kenko's Essays in Idleness (the Tsurezuregusa of Kenko; selections of the essays can also be found on the Web at,2 is a series of 243 essays. They were composed in the years after he left public life as a court official at the age of 41 and became a Buddhist monk and hermit. "The book was composed of random ideas written on small pieces of paper and stuck to the wall. After Kenko's death, one of his friends compiled them into Tsurezuregusa." The collection was considered a classic from the 17th century onward and is still part of modern Japanese high school curriculum and some International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Schools. The original Japanese name of the collection derives from the expression "with nothing better to do." The themes of the essays include the beauty of nature, the impermanence of life, tradition, friendship, and other abstract concepts.3


Tsurezuregusa of Kenko is "written in zuihitsu* (follow the brush) style, a type of stream of consciousness writing that allowed the writer's brush to slip from one topic to the next, led only by the direction of thoughts. Some are brief remarks of only sentence or two; others recount a story over several pages, often with discursive personal commentary added."3


The reader might say "Well, yes, that's interesting, but what does this genre of writing or Kenko and his ink slab have to do with me, or my nursing practice for that matter?" "And anyway, I have no time, I'm not retired and I don't know anything about calligraphy, nor do I have a studio or even a study."


I would postulate that although the reader may not have time or space nor the talent of a calligrapher, the genre of zuihitsu writing is perfectly suited to the practicing clinical nurse specialist's life. In a time span of a minute or an hour, one can note thoughts or fragments of thoughts. Over a period of days and weeks, a collection of random thoughts are collected. One can add personal comments to each if desired. It does not matter if the thoughts are not related to one another. This is stream of consciousness writing. It allows an appreciation of the flow of life and thought and understanding that might not otherwise be available to one. A person simply comments on anything that comes to mind: family traditions, friendship, collegial relationships, nature, art, music, dreams, long-held private memories, humor, sorrow, patient or caregiver stories, anecdotes, essentially the day-to-day experiences of life. I would assume that any clinical nurse specialist writings of this kind would be similar to Kenko's: conversational and frank, not formal in any way. In fact, Kenko's essays, in their candor and concerns, resonate with our own although we are separated by several hundred years. Just as he was a public servant, so are we. We, too, are all too familiar with the impermanence of life. What will we discover from our own brush strokes on pieces of paper? "Blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing, but the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch."3




1. The art of calligraphy. Accessed November 30, 2011. [Context Link]


2. Kenko Y. Essays in Idleness. Keene D, trans. New York, NY: Columbia University Press; 1967. Yoshida Kenko 1283-1350. [Context Link]


3. Yoshida Kenko. Accessed November 30, 2011. [Context Link]