While I’ve grown to enjoy living in the bright and shiny meadows of Las Vegas in the heart of the Mojave desert, one of the things I miss the most are the torrential downpours that occur on a daily basis in the middle of August. That’s not to say that I welcome the impending hurricane season that will bring more than one terrifying well-organized storm towards the Floridian peninsula. It’s that I love the descending darkness, the tension, and the strange hush that builds right before the storm brings its orchestral climax. Storms in the desert, when they do occur, rarely crescendo in the same manner.
August is one of those dog days of summer months that bring with it the cruelest temperatures. It was once one of the slowest months of the year, because of the fact that its terribly hot in most areas of the country. In spite of this, and perhaps because of it, a new kind of productivity seems to have begun to spring up. I’ve noticed that this August there are several ongoing monthly challenges such as the #Sealeychallenge, created by the poet Nicole Sealey, which is calling for readers to spend time each day reading one book (or chapbook) of poetry for the next 31 days. Then there is the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge, which offers writing prompts for you to complete 31 short plays in 31 days.
Because of all of these challenges in the midst of the most languishing month of the year and because I just finished CampNaNoWriMo and completed my goal while participating, I decided that August would be the perfect month to kickstart a writing group that offers various challenges for its members each month. Thus, WriteShop was born. Currently we have 9 members on board for this month’s challenge with plans to continue on with various challenges and opportunities to make new writer friends from all over the US and world. And no, I’m not charging money for this, despite the fact that some organizations do this same thing by charging writers $500 each for a three month writing accountability group (I’m looking at you, Literistic). I think we as writers and artists should be trying to get wealthy individuals and companies to pay to sponsor ventures like this, with no strings attached, instead of asking other hopeful writers and artists to pay up. When we have finally established ourselves financially, then we can contribute back so that others can also take part in these programs. So many writers and artists have very little means. This is how an equitable and beneficial model for the arts works.
Besides starting WriteShop, which is allowing me to socialize with others around writing and holding me accountable to my goal of finishing the novel I started this past year, I’ve been gearing up to launch a side hustle business, polishing a chapbook I co-wrote with Sakurako Yamashita, a TASK 沖縄 colleague, and am also spending time seeking employment. I’ve been working on my goals, both long term and short, and realize that while everything can look shiny and glittery on social media, the real work on projects, on writing, on the self, requires long hours spent in contemplation, in the pleasures and pains of writing and spending time with ones thoughts, or in diligent organizing mode. You can boast all you want and maybe convince some suckers into believing the hype, but if its a paper-mâché kingdom, it’ll crumble eventually. I believe the old adage is: all that glitters is not gold. It takes long hours and lots of work, but if you put that work into anything on a daily basis, you will get to the goal that you wanted to reach. There are no real shortcuts to living a productive life. It may take your entire lifetime to be recognized for the hard work you’ve done. You may never be recognized in your life. But you’ve led a productive life engaging with your creativity, making new things, and contributing something back to the world. Social media is important to get the word out, to connect to others when needed, and to stay informed, but it shouldn’t be where all your hours are spent as a writer or an artist (or as any individual, really).
August is the perfect month to take one of these challenges so that you can fill the well, use the hours spent indoors avoiding the heat to work on a stalled project, or begin a new project. It is also the perfect month to spend as much time as you can watching the clouds roll in, marveling at the natural beauty this world offers to us on a daily basis
My writing is worthy of publication. I’m worthy of being hired. I’m very good at directing and creating theater. My creative work shows my talents, creative problem solving, critical knowledge, etc. I’ve got so much to offer. I show up and I am constantly renewing myself, learning new things, building and creating new projects, putting new ideas out into the world, never giving up. I have a deep understanding and sensitivity towards others, other cultures, and perspectives. I want others to succeed. I’m adept at telling stories and using language in creative ways. I’m self motivated.
HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME. HIRE ME.
PUBLISH ME. PUBLISH ME. PUBLISH ME. PUBLISH ME. PUBLISH ME. PUBLISH ME.
CHOOSE ME. CHOOSE ME. CHOOSE ME. CHOOSE ME. CHOOSE ME. CHOOSE ME.
“I started to write in surroundings that drove me to reticence. Writing, for those people, was still something moral. Nowadays it often seems writing is nothing at all. Sometimes I realize that if writing isn’t all things, all contraries confounded, a quest for vanity and void, it’s nothing. That if it’s not, each time, all things confounded into one through some inexpressible essence, then writing is nothing but advertisement. But usually I have no opinion, I can see that all options are open now, that there seem to be no more barriers, that writing seems at a loss for somewhere to hide, to be written, to be read. That its basic unseemliness is no longer accepted. But at that point I stop thinking about it.”
– from The Lover by Marguerite Duras
I’ve been thinking about the books we read and re-read that are as significant to us as any important experience is in our lives. One of these books that changed my life, and the way I write, is The Lover by Marguerite Duras. Originally written in French (its title is L’amant), it was made into a movie in the early 1990s. I discovered the book through the film when I rented it after reading a review of it in a magazine. I was 12 years old and probably should not have seen that film at that age, but I did. I remember blushing and turning the video on and off during its numerous steamy scenes (for fear that my parents would catch me watching what was, in essence, an erotic film). But if I had not seen the film, I would not have discovered Duras. I would not have read her at the age of 13 and I would not have been influenced by her writing and her life.
The story of The Lover seems simply about a love affair between a wealthy Chinese man living in Vietnam and a poor French school girl whose family lives in France’s colonial Indochine. The social and economic issues she writes about are not to be dismissed, of course. But Duras writing is much more complicated than that for the book is really about writing; the power, freedom, struggles, and failures in the process of writing.
I wonder what Duras would think about all the writing that we produce on social media sites and blogs. I think she’d disapprove of the flattening of the self that happens when self hood is the commodity that drives products. Having spent half of my life in a pre-social media era and a quarter of it within, I can say that I long for what Duras means by writing being “all things confounded into one through some inexpressible essence.” Maybe I’m just lamenting what our current era has reduced writing to — and maybe it’s not just social media that has reduced it. The commodification of the self was happening before the advent of social media. But I can remember when blogging started and how exciting it was to read about the inner world of others. Now I think we’re in an era in which we are expected to bare all while seemingly reducing our complexity to simplistic labels in a system that increasingly treats the complex, interior life as suspect. There is power in naming and mapping out the unknown via language. What are labels but words?
This past year I began studying how language affects our thoughts and behavior in relation to distorted perceptions of the self and the world. Words are like fences in that they can bind us into something that may seem, at first, freeing or helpful but will inevitable be limiting in the long run. That’s how defense mechanisms can be formed. They originally are created to help us, but eventually become what drives our suffering.
I think we aren’t spending nearly enough time thinking about language and the way it is both world building and destroying. What will our world become if we’ve turned all of our words inside out, slimming them down to a sliver, emptying them of their expansive depth, hooking them to big data’s algorithms and driving a particular world building around commerce? If we’re spending all of our lives reading words that are closer to advertising in the way that Duras refers certain writing to be, what happens to literature? What happens to complexity? What happens to writing? What happens to the individual self?
I revisit Marguerite Duras’ work every so often because I want to go much deeper into the meanings of words, into their origins, into the crevasses of their sounds. I do this when I feel exhausted by the artifice I see on a daily basis – in quotidian polite (or impolite) interactions whether online or in our real lives (yes, even that dichotomy deserves an enormous amount of introspection). Our lives and selves are complex. I don’t know if we can ever know others because we barely know ourselves. The self is endlessly shifting, and the words we use are one of the reasons for this. I think this is what Duras means by the “contraries confounded.” If we aren’t digging in deep into this “inexpressible essense” than why write at all?
It’s been quite some time since I even opened up this page to update it. In recent years, I did most of my blogging at 英語の弁当 or Gluten Free in Japan, and even then the majority of my writing/commentaries went straight to good ol’ Facebook, the ultimate time waster and everyone’s favorite spot (besides Twitter) to do some gates of hell-style ego tripping.
Recently, I made the decision to separate business from pleasure and shut down my Facebook wall and start an actual FB page instead. I was tired of people commenting on my posts as if it were a Yahoo news page comments section. I also thought it might be a way for me to spend more quality time focusing on writing, except I started to notice that I still spent time surfing the feed for interesting information about poetry, writing (in general), performance, and film (among other topics of interest). I been itching to post again about a number of really cool pages I’ve read recently, but I didn’t want to fall off the FB sobriety wagon. So I’ve decided to resurrect this page and shift it from an official ethnography of performance blog to a catch-all blog on awesome things in the literary and performance world(s), especially in the interstices where the two meet. And of course…my thoughts on these things and on the writing life in general.
So, let’s give this one another go shall we? 😉
Last month, I was interested in visiting Cotonoha Art Space to see an exhibition of paintings by Okinawan artist 宮城オサム (Osamu Miyagi) that were on display. I was checking out the Cotonoha website for more info on the exhibition, when I noticed that a live performance event was booked at the gallery. I immediately recognized the musician’s name from the year I spent on Ishigaki island. Yuusuke Maehana and his wife and manager Asako were introduced to me by a mutual friend. While I was living on Ishigaki, they took me around the entire island on a tour and invited me to numerous music events whenever they happened on the island. Yuusuke often performed at a hidden Jazz space. His music is a combination of traditional Yaeyama-Okinawan folk music, complete with sanshin and modern rock with acoustic guitar. He often performs with a band. Because his family is involved in their town’s cultural heritage, Mr. Maehana also speaks Ishigaki Uchinaaguchi, which is increasingly rarely heard anymore. He also sings in this language in some of his original songs. His music is very beautiful and its refreshing to see a young Okinawan artist combining both traditional elements of his culture and updating them to keep them relevant in this era. He also puts his heart and soul into his music, with the subtle elements of Okinawan culture weaved throughout his work. It also appears that he might just be Okinawa’s answer to Dave Matthews. Check out a performance of his that happened on Iriomote Island earlier this year.
On January 26, 2013, I attended Mimi Wada’s sumi-e live art performance titled “Paris in Saturday’s Afternoon”. During the performance, she painted a sketch of Parise in Sumi-e style while Sanshiro Hashimoto sang chansons with a live band composed of Shinichiro Kanda on piano, Jun Kawasaki on bass and Hitoshi on the bandoneón. While this is not the first time I’ve seen live painting done simultaneously during another performance, this is the first that I’ve seen that was coordinated around a theme. The entire event was meant to transport the audience to Paris and was held in a night club called “Le Baron de Paris” located in Omotesando, Tokyo. The nightclub itself is modeled after a Parisian-style salon, but done with darker undertones than a typical Parisian salon. The night club lighting unfortunately was not the best. The stage was too dimly lit and did not flatter the performers. The artists themselves also noted this circumstance. Still, this hindrance did not stop both individuals from creating a whimsical afternoon of a Japanese fantasy of long ago Paris. In perhaps unintentional post-modern fashion, both Ms. Wada and Mr. Hashimoto conjure up a form of nostalgia for a Paris that may have never quite existed in the world. In doing so, they offer an imaginary Paris for the audience to participate in. Inverting France’s colonial obsession with the orient and “les Japonaises,” these two young Japanese artists combine both traditional Japanese culture with traditional Parisian images and songs.