The one in which I talk about my hometown and research

I made a reservation yesterday, in the midst of my addled brain desk-warming. I was working on dystopian Tokyo but it was grueling work as my brain had gone numb from sitting still for too long. There is a text I wrote to my co-parent: Hey, what is that place where you put shit in Zelda? (I am writing about a video game in my story and, for those of you who do not know this, I do not play video games. Or, according to my kids, cannot play video games. Just not in my skill set.) He replied: His pocket? though the answer, folks, is inventory. I remembered it as I peddled home. Inventory.
Anyway, what I did remember mid-afternoon, two hours before I was released back into the wild, was that I am going to Florida at the end of July. I had really forgotten about that, what with the whole quarantine thing. I suppose I should say hopefully I am going to Florida at the end of July. Either way, I made a reservation to set up my tent for one night at the state park in my hometown, on the beach side so I can watch the sunrise over the Atlantic at least once during my time there. Yes, I realize this means I am completely mad as I just signed up to camp, in the woods, in Florida, on a summer night. But if worse comes to worse, I will just go out to the beach for the night where the mosquitoes and coyotes and ticks and snakes and alligators can’t get me. Sure, the rapists will find me easy pickings but hey, it’s Florida. Pick your poison, right?

I am going back to my hometown to look through the archives and interview some people regarding the history of witches, voodoo, hoodoo, spiritualists, the occult, what have you, in the area. Of course, there won’t be enough time this trip for everything but I know this book will take me a while. There is just so much there, so many layers. This morning I came across the name Felipa the Witch in a list of Spanish land grants which is how, after a few twists and turns, I found myself listening to Gullah Geechee singers and reading this very long and cringe-inducing treatise by Zephaniah Kingsley.

It will be strange visiting my hometown, that is a given. I have lived most of my life away from that place and my parents don’t even live there anymore. And yet it will always be my hometown, the place I am from. It is such a strange, awkward place and I am equally strange and awkward when I am there. But the beach is beautiful. White sugar sands, broken shells crunching under bare feet, low, gentle waves lapping up against the shore. And I will sleep near the jetty, my favorite part of the island, where the river gives way to the ocean. My friend told me to go to Cumberland instead, to avoid the mess that is Fernandina and yet I am not into avoiding things. Not anymore. Besides, it is just one night. If I do it right, I will go there, rent a bike, set up my tent, peddle around town, sleep in the woods, wake up for the sunrise, swim a bit, then go to the archives so I can look at things that are not digitized yet. In and out with no social interactions, no reunions; I will be nothing but a stranger passing through with too many strange questions.

creativity writing

The one in which I ramble on about writing projects in order to make the time pass

I am staring down the barrel of eight solid hours of desk-warming. I am here, just barely on time. I have on no makeup and am 100% wearing sweatpants and sneakers (I have on a striped top to distract from this truth). There are no students until April. My grades are done and besides for some light reflections and preparation for the next school year, I have very little to do. So I am here to write, essentially. Write and research.

Research is by far the easier side of the whole writing scheme. Research is where I get enthusiastic. Writing is where I get sleepy, mainly due to bearing the weight of my anxieties regarding capital w Writing. The whole point of having a day job is so that I can write without worrying about Writing. And yet, and yet, like so many before me, and so many after me, the day job gets all the energy and the writing subsists on the dregs, frail, exhausted dregs. This means when I do actually put words to paper, they feel more precious. Which is a bad thing as words are not a limited commodity.

Right now, I am researching for a novel that will be my second novel. Well, technically my third. A long, long time ago, when I was pregnant with my fourth kid, in desperation, I wrote a novel called The Timeless. I was trying to write a cheap book for Amazon and it was a cheap book for Amazon. It was about a group of ageless people, immortals, living in this mortal world. They were endowed with gene-repairing elements in their bodies. They were not superheros, not Highlanders, not anything, just one-offs of the human species. I had listened to an interview about gene-repair and the possibility that soon we would get to a point where we could become immortal and the idea came from there. It was a small thread of an idea and my writing was small as a result. Nothing was fleshed out. It was timid and terrible. It was a classic first novel. (To be fair to my desperate writer self, I did write it before a lot of other books by the same name and concept were written. I was actually told to pull it due to copyright infringement, despite the fact that I believe I was ripped off and just hadn’t thought well enough of the idea to copyright it first. )

With my second novel, I am writing about a family here in Japan. It involves Japanese mythology as well as bi-cultural family dynamics and the role of the media in shaping our perspective. It is about belief, it is about shapeshifters, it is about courageous children. I am almost finished researching it but it is going to be huge when I am finished, epic even. I have learned a lot with this one despite the fact that my enthusiasm has waned a million times. I have come to accept that enthusiasm is a frivolous, albeit fun, feeling. It is like having a crush on someone. A light fizziness that makes you feel full even if it is empty.
To continue with this metaphor for a moment, writing a novel, on the other hand, is a marriage. A lot of hard work, all uphill; you are lonely and doubtful and prone to throwing things across the room. You might not finish it and even when you do, you will always have regrets.
(And then there is writing, both lower and upper case. Writing is like being in love. You are compelled, the longing is unshakable and never far from your mind. You would sacrifice everything for it, if need be, devote yourself completely to it. )

Right now I am married to my second novel and flirting with my third. I was going to get a divorce but I think there is something left in the marriage, something worth the fight. The third novel brings me back to Florida but also gives me the opportunity to research the occult and quantum physics. And in the meantime, I am writing two short stories, one about a dystopian Tokyo and the other about a teenager raising a half-shapeshifting baby. Both of which I hope to finish during this long stretch of desk-warming.

And now, of course, I should be working on those stories that I am so smitten with but I am here, with you. Procrastinating. As usual.
Jya, one more cup of coffee and I am good to start. And look at that, two hours gone already. With only six more to go after that. (As well as the next three weeks.) Okay, okay, I am going. Dystopian Tokyo wasn’t built in a day, you know. (Well, actually it became a dystopia in a matter of minutes but the aftermath takes time.)

creativity writing

The one in which I share my love of cemeteries

On Tuesday, a national holiday, I took the youngest two for a short hike halfway up a mountain behind a shopping complex. I had been hoping to make it more than halfway but we got to a point where Luca, who is seven, realized that each bend in the trail only led to more trail and so he stopped and declared that we had “hiked enough for the day”. I conceded mainly because we were ill-prepared, having failed to find a convenience store between the station and trail head. We also did not have a first aid kit or hiking poles, which would have been useful on the steep and rocky trail. The fact that we had found the trail head at all was based purely on luck as the book of regional hiking trails was rather vague on where it was and all the signs had become tattered or disappeared all together. I was just happy to get the kids beyond the reach of pavement and commerce for a bit.

In the neighborhood surrounding the trail head, there were many cemeteries, as pictured above. I am fond of cemeteries and the way they are nestled into neighborhoods, making death a more common reality than the fenced off green gardens of graves in America allow. When I lived on the island in the middle of the East China Sea, I used to do most of my writing in cemeteries since there were so few places to sit in the rural splendor of the place. I always felt comforted by the reminder of mortality, the clutter of stone cubes and locked cabinets of ashes a tribute to our strange predicament: needing to take life seriously but not too seriously.

In the evening, after I put my young hikers to bed, I went out for a walk under the full moon. It was almost too extravagant to look at directly so I sat by the river and watched it wavering on the surface, keeping company with the reflection of traffic signals and tail lights. And that is when the story began flooding into my head, unabated. A story of parallel dimensions, of astral projection, of witchcraft and humanity, of destruction and hope. A story unlike any I have attempted but a story so full and demanding that I have set aside everything else, recognizing that this is what I am supposed to be working on now. I cannot type fast enough to pull what is running through my mind out onto the page and there is just so much of it, so many details and plot twists, that I do not have the time to dedicate to it as it so demands. All I can do is try and wrangle it when I can and know that whatever I manage to capture is only a fragment of what is to come. I have been waiting so long for this story and all I hope is that as the moon wanes, the story will continue to flow as steady as it does now, coursing like rapids through my mind.

creativity writing

The one where I recommend a book

I am reading Richard Powers’ The Overstory. It is one of those books I initially resisted because of all the accolades it has garnered but now that I am halfway through I can attest that they are well-deserved. It is a book about trees and the humans who exist beneath the trees. It is a book about life and death and all the nagging details that fall in between. It is a necessary book, one we should all be reading as we walk into the shadowlands, uncertain as to the fate of our species and the environment that supports us.

I was raised by trees. A lonely child in the woods, often neglected, a late-in-life child born into a family already raised. When I was a child, we were surrounded by oaks with a thick undergrowth of impenetrable palmettos. I lived at the edge of the woods, playing on the boundary of human residence and wilderness. The woods housed threatening creatures, or rather creatures that could do harm when threatened. I respected their space and never suffered from anything more than a mosquito bite and the occasional tick. The trees were my family, my guardians. The wind, water, and dirt were my teachers. It is no real surprise then that I ended up living in a country where trees are worshiped, where the natural elements are known to house spirits. (This is not to say that all trees are worshiped, that all elements are respected but I do think that having an animistic-based believe system will give the Japanese environment an advantage once the humans come to their collective senses. I did not come to Japan because of their animism but it definitely has helped me to feel more at home here.)

Once upon a time, I was a teenage-activist, full of righteous indignation over the plight of our planet. In high school, I felt powerful but when I left my small town for university, those powers faded, diluted by an indifferent population. My ideals unraveled and I fell headlong into anxiety and depression. In the midst of that period, I began working at a homeless shelter. I was working the front counter one night and reading a book about all the species that were vanishing under our watch and feeling rather hopeless. One of the clients came into the lobby to get some water and have a chat before bedtime. He asked me about what I was reading and I handed over the book for him to examine. He flipped through slowly, appreciating the photographs of the Amazon and Arctic Circle. Then he said, I would like to give a shit about these things, child, really I would. But I’ve got other things on my mind these days.

And that was really it, how I stopped focusing on the destruction that humans are wrecking and began to study the human condition. For how are humans just barely surviving supposed to give a shit about deforestation and habitat loss, about overfishing and the rising sea levels? Then you have the suburbanites, living in the comforting cocoon of materialistic acquisition, too detached from the elements to be concerned about anything other than furthering the acquisition of materials. And above them, the job-creators, the material manufacturers, whose ambitions distort their realities, making them feel as powerful as gods and therefore immune to the limits of their physical environment.

Thus I realized that it is too problematic to be solved with just recycling programs and bike lanes (two of the ideas that I helped to implement in my hometown). Within humanity exists the solution but humanity is complicated. It is easy to be overwhelmed when you study it, easy to forget where you are and what you are doing because while you are trying to examine the species you are also busy being a member of it. And so I am grateful to Richard Powers for writing a book that has served as a trail marker, helping me to orientate myself as a writer and artist, showing me that I am on the right path even if I can’t see what lies beyond the bend.


The one in which I mull sea creatures and smoking

Sitting on the steps that lead down to the sea, I watch the sea slaters scurry into rocky crevices each time the waves rise a few centimeters. When the danger is over, they return to the flat steps and approach my feet which I promptly stomp to make them disappear again. I smoke a rare cigarette and look at the constellations that stretch in all directions over me; I do not know the names and do not care to for it is better to leave some things unnamed, unknown.

I sit and smoke and wonder how I would react if at that very moment a sea monster slimed its way out of the water in my direction. Most likely I would just sit there, waiting for it to do as it liked. Unless it was an obvious threat, like if had a face that was nothing but a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, gnashing in my direction. I would probably have enough sense to scram if that was the case.

Last night in the grocery store there was a Western dude I had never seen before. He was pale with reddish blond hair pulled into a frizzy ponytail and for some reason, I wondered if he was this guy I used to know, despite the fact that they looked nothing alike and my friend was definitely on the other side of the planet. And yet, I wandered the aisles slowly, worried that it was him, that I had failed to recognize him in his evolved state, the state of being slightly shorter and much heavier and balder than when I had seen him last. And with brown eyes instead of blue. I thought how terrible he would feel walking into this suburban Japanese supermarket and not being recognized for who he was. So I decided to go closer, not to confirm that it was not him but to give him a chance to see me, just in case it was him. When he passed by and failed to acknowledge me, I felt relieved. It was just a stranger after all.

All my imaginary friends are circus folk. One walks on his hands the whole time. The other is a giant, like an actual one. I go up to his knee. He is the most understanding of all of my imaginary friends but it is hard sometimes because it gives me a crink in my neck, looking up at him as he talks. When I was younger my imaginary friends were based on people I knew but that proved disappointing because they were rarely as interesting in real life as they were in my head. This was not their fault but all the same, I had to forcibly replace them with a new crowd, who just happen to staff the freak show at a very impressive traveling circus. The only person I don’t get along with is the snake-charmer but that is simply because I do not trust snakes and so therefore I cannot trust the human whom snakes trust.

I know I shouldn’t smoke but I am doing it to quit a bad habit. It satisfies the urge, touches on the deep-seated longing from which the habit was born.
It is not healthy but it is healthier.

mainichi writing

The one in which I talk about running, swimming, and wildness

At night I run along the seawall, past the line of parked cars with their lights off but their motors running. I cross two foot bridges on my route and pause on each to look over the side for stingrays. The rivers here in Hiroshima are full of stingrays. On the island where I used to live, there were stingrays too but also jellyfish, tiny translucent ones with stars near their crowns, larger yellow ones that were leopard-spotted green, and even larger ones that were a deep burgundy, making them look more imposing and solid. There were also squid and octopus and schools of bright blue fish, darting across the current. The island was a special place, a place where the wilderness reigned supreme and the human colonizers huddled together in clumps to resist being overrun by their environment. In suburban Hiroshima, everything is covered in concrete and convenience stores. Spotting stingrays in the river is my way of remembering that the human world is not the only world, that there are things out of our control, wild creatures rolling along the sandy riverbeds.

I run every night but I would not call myself a runner. I see lots of runners on the seawall, going at paces that make me awestruck. Perhaps one day I will be able to manage to go at full speed for miles but for now, I have a simple 4 kilometer route that I alternatively run and walk along. I have the tendency to sprint so I have been working on slowing down, learning the art of jogging. I started running as a soccer player, which explains the walking/running style. I never liked doing laps around the field. As a player, I was quick and brutal, having more yellow cards bestowed on me than any other girl in our regional division. It was a point of pride for me. Now, of course, there is no longer any battle to be won except for the battle against lethargy.

I prefer swimming to running but at the pool, the lifeguards worry when I slip into the 50 meter lanes, thinking that I will be too slow for the other swimmers. They think this because I am not skinny. I am not fat either but in Japan, not being skinny means you are fat. So I am essentially running to get in better shape so that I don’t worry the lifeguards at the neighborhood sports center and I can swim in the fast lane. I don’t swim for my health though; I swim because I love swimming. The logic is admittedly a bit crumpled but regardless of the motivation, I am moving and getting healthier even if that is not my aim. I like going to the sports center because it is full of old people and I love old people. I love how unconcerned they are with most things that concern me. I love their confidence, their chumminess. In the locker rooms, younger women wrap themselves in towels but older ladies are shameless about their bodies. They stand there in the nude gossiping about neighbors and complaining about their husbands, making plans to go on excursions to patisseries. It is fantastic. I have to change in the shower because of my tattoo but even if I could change in the open, I doubt I would be so bold and yet, if I am lucky, I hope one day I will be like them, entitled to brazenness.

In the meantime, I will keep racing myself in the darkness, pausing along the way to take videos of dancing light and lean over the bridge railing, looking for wildness.