Writing Book Review: Still Life with Teapot by Brigid Lowry

I came across Still Life with Teapot by Brigid Lowry by chance. There was something about the byline: ‘on zen, writing and creativity’ that caught my interest. I downloaded the sample chapter and laughed and felt so comfortable with the writing style that I downloaded the book to travel along with me. Lowry is a New Zealand author who has been published in various genres and predominately in young adult fiction. She has taught writing extensively, lived in a Buddhist community for years and is a Zen practitioner. There is a link to more about her work here.

The book is divided into three sections: on zen and creativity, writing, and memoir. Each section offers a wealth of riches. The book has a conversational tone, an honesty and simplicity that resonated for me. Lowry is a journal keeper, and as my stash of books filled with words and thoughts continues to grow, I felt I was in good company. It was like reading a book written by a kindred spirit. Lowry writes of how truth, or our perception of it, isn’t always reliable:  ‘Our lives are not solid. They are stories that twist over time. Cobwebs, smoke, mirrors. Fictional accounts, not facts.’ 

I also loved how she collects random facts, amongst other things: ‘… I collect teacups, old postcards, neurotic friends, recipes, scarves and decent pens.’ These lists of facts were a delight, and Lowry paid homage to The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which in itself is an inspiration. I have a copy on my shelves and there is much to enjoy including lists of ‘nothing annoys me so much’ and ‘things that should be short’.  Lowry’s list of disappointing things: ‘Missing the train. Some haircuts. A phone that stops ringing just as you pick it up. Dry, tasteless mandarins.’

There is a depth to her writing, particularly in relation to zen as a way of life. This had echoes of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which is noted in the reading list. The depth required by zen is identified: ‘Zen, like art, calls us to attention. It asks us to slow down, to allow, to be still.’

The portrayal of a writing life is given with grace and humour, but also with the reality of frustrations, doubts and loneliness that can come with the act of creating in isolation. The section on writers festivals was entertaining and informative to see what it is like from the other side. The art of creativity is illuminated in a myriad of ways, including the gathering of material in books and journals which will ferment and, if alchemy occurs, take form in stories, poems and narratives. Above all there is a deep respect for the process itself.

Memoir is the final section of the book and it is moving and emotional, devastating and uplifting. Stories and the act of invention are seen as the ‘creative road to healing’.

For me there was much to enjoy in this book as a writer and a person interested in creative pursuits, as well as looking for a life with a deeper sense of meaning. It is a book that has stayed in my thoughts in recent weeks, and will be one of the books that I return to when I need solace, some grounding, or to revel in pleasurable writing.

Have you read any books lately that have inspired your creativity?

[Photo: sculpture honouring Lithgow Pottery as part of Lithgow History Avenue]

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