Detachment

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Detachment

Vivian Gornick, writer of In Search of Ali Mahmoud; An American Woman in Egypt, once said that her problem with documenting her life in Egyptian was detachment. “I didn’t even know [detachment] was something to be prized—that, in fact, it was crucial, that without detachment there can be no story” (They Went: The Art and Craft of Travel Writing (The Writer’s Craft), p.111). How two people are different—an accomplished author and travel writer who has lived double the life of an American teacher in Japan—can suddenly look similar is what makes writing about our lives so fun.

When I try to convey Japan in text, I’m paralyzed with emotion sometimes. I want readers to understand that the wonders of Japan, whether it be its famous anime industry or its traditions, need to be treated with respect, not excitement or narrowness. But I can’t find the right words to explain everything I’ve experienced in 5 years. Maybe I haven’t found the right second to write it.

While Ms. Gornick was in Egypt, she took notes of her adventures. Tobias Schneebaum kept a journal when he visited the Asmat that resulted in his book, Where the Spirits Dwell: An Odyssey in the Jungle of New Guinea. Notes! Journals! Why am I so unprepared and unorganized in tracking my life through the urban woods of Japan? I think back at the times when I wanted to write about the Dream Robot Exhibition where the Terminator, AstroBoy, and other robots danced and shined in my childlike vision; when I took pictures on an obsolete slider phone, hoping that later I’d email them to myself and didn’t; when the numbers and email addresses and names on my contact list fail to bring a face to my memory.

It’s a good possibility that my memory, though fuzzy as it is, holds more emotion than actual memories. My best friend from mainland Japan is my brother. My friend with CWH on my contact list is my beloved uncle who makes me laugh and think, a real mentor and father figure for the one I don’t have. And my Japanese tutor who corrected my diary entries brings calm and warm conversations to mind. The many students who tried to hug me but policy forbid any physical contact between foreigner and student made me feel pride at their graduation and joy at their transition into college goers. The teachers who changed my view of every day life in Japan, picking apart my quiet stereotypes and giving me laughter and lessons, remain at the forefront of memories labeled “work life”. I struggle to sort these feelings into cohesive thoughts, and I suddenly understand, after being shy of 2 months in the US, Ms. Gornick’s detachment issues.

Every writer—every person—needs to take a step to the side and look at their experiences and surroundings with unclouded eyes. Without that clear vision, the memories tumble out and confuse listeners and readers. I’d like to lead an unambiguous life, a life without struggle for both me and those around me.

The real question for me is: can I construct a real memory without emotion, or do I stand on one side, sifting them from one another, without actually saying anything? The latter is what I fear the most. I hope in the future I’ll understand what my memories truly mean to me.

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Great Magical Realists from Around the World

Since many readers like my post on Japanese writers from my personal blog, I thought I would share a similar about writers in the magical realism genre.

Massimo Bontempelli (Italy)

Considered the father of magical realism, the Italy-born author has left tracks for authors from all over the world in the magical realism genre. He is famous for L’amante Fedele (The Faithful Lover), a short-story collection that won him the 1953 Strega Prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award. His stories are written with clarity and realism, yet, the magical elements emerge in a slow, deliberate manner, as if they were always meant to be a part of reality. His writing style doesn’t fair as much on the poetic side as it does in a direct, easy-to-read way. If you’re into Franz Kafka and you know your way around Italian culture, Bontempelli will surely deliver you a good read.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbia)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is seen as the godfather of magical realism. His popular works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, has earned him multiple awards, including the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Marquez’s works follows the theme of solitary and family life in a fictional village called Macondo. Similar to Bontempelli, Marquez is easy to digest, but his writing style is heavy on the poetic side.

Isabel Allende (Chile)

Author of The House of Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), Isabel Allende entered the writing world with an activist’s pen, cutting through criticism and becoming a popular magical realist author comparable (but definitely different) from Marquez. As letters to her family (The House of Spirits was created by a letter to her dying grandfather, and Paula was a letter to her daughter), Allende possesses both vivid story-telling and realistic backdrops of families. If you like Marquez, Allende should definitely be a favorite as well.

Ben Okri (Nigeria)

Although his works deals greatly with post colonialism, The Famished Road author has been a favorite among magical realism fans for years, even claiming the 1991 Booker Prize. Okri, a Nigerian novelist and poet, has written numerous books that uses spirits in a realistic setting. Though his works are comparable to magical realistic greats like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Okri does not place himself in the same genre. Still, his work is appreciated by magical realism readers as he continues to write stories of his childhood and homeland.

Haruki Murakami (Japan)

Probably one of the most famous contemporary writers in magical realism, Haruki Murakami has set the bar high for writers nowadays. Though his books are easy to read, they are laced with complexities and concepts that slowly seep into the reader’s mind. Many of his books, including The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and 1Q84, have met great success around the world, and in his homeland, Japan, his books are consistently sold out before they hit the stands. Although I’d recommend many readers to Murakami first for magical realism, his perspective comes from that of a displaced Japanese person, and thus, many of his works reference Japanese culture.

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Just a personal note

All of these writers are in some way or form associated with social and/or political change. Bontempelli was an active Fascist; Marquez was a journalist for El Espectador, and ended his time there with an expose on illegal smuggling; Allende escaped her hometown to Venezuela because of a CIA-backed military coup; Ben Okri consistently writes about post-colonialism, criticizing the government to the point he’s been added to death lists; and Murakami spoke out about Israel’s bombing of Gaza when receiving the Jerusalem Prize in 2009.  What does this mean? It means that even when you’re writing fiction, understanding political and social issues helps your work.

The First Books

 

When I held a giveaway on Goodreads, I gave away five copies of my book. Since I used Createspace for publishing my book, I ordered the discounted copies they offer for the authors (or you can pay full price for your own books through Amazon). Unfortunately, after I confirmed the giveaway winners and the books were ordered, my timing was off.

The books didn’t arrive after three weeks.

I live in Japan, so it’s easy to think, “Maybe the books are delayed overseas.” But I know from ordering books through Amazon (usually ships from the U.S.), Ebay (ships from various locations), and Book Depository (ships from the U.K.) that it takes only one week for books to reach my location in Japan. I emailed Createspace’s Member Services about the situation, and they replaced my order. It wasn’t my fault to expect the books in a timely manner. After all, my replacement order came in one week’s time.

But I do have to hand it to Createspace. They remedied the situation without any hassles and in a timely manner. I received a confirmation email about submitting a concern to them, and in twenty-four hours, they provided me with a solution (the replacement order) without any extra costs. In most situations, Member Services would put a hole in your consciousness just to squeeze out a dime from your wallet because, well, there’s no trust. It’s only business, right?

So what’s the lesson learned here? Don’t have high expectations in self-publishing. It’s not to discourage you from thinking highly of your book (that, you should do). It’s just everyone else out there who can let you down. Keep your expectations standard and don’t get down just because something or someone didn’t come through for you.

2 Days

Official book launch is September 30th, 2012!

Let’s start with “T” today: typhoons, twenty-eighth, twenty-seventh, and twenty-four. A super typhoon rolled through Okinawa, Japan on  September twenty-eighth–my twenty-seventh birthday. The typhoon yanked power away from us for about twenty-four hours, leaving my husband feeling uncomfortable (he gets upset at the slightest increase in temperature) and us without internet. Those things alone, you realize how dependent we are on technology. When all the power disappeared from our tiny Japanese apartment, a silence permeated the air, and you’re faced with seeing the world as it is. The world can be peaceful–if we allowed it. But there’s so much in-fighting between each other and ourselves, electronics just cover up serenity with noise. Once in a while, it’s good to step back and see ourselves before technology swallows us whole.

3 Days

Official book launch is September 30th, 2012!

Although three is an odd number–and odd numbers are normally seen as “bad” numbers–three is my favorite number. I played basketball with the number 33 and many literary and artistic devices rely on the number three (triptychs, gallery design’s “Rule of Three’s”, triple repetition for humor, etc.). Even in Japan, three happens to be a special number (have you ever noticed that Hokusai’s Waves of Kanagawa from The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji has three Mt. Fuji?). Next time you see the number three, don’t think of it as a bad number. After all, it’s just a number.

4 Days

Official book launch is September 30th, 2012!

Since there’s four days left, I’ve decided to go with another “F”: foreign. It’s a word used in one of my stories called “The Day the Sky Fell”. The story, set in a Japanese senior high school, follows me through a rainstorm of the sky, which has decided to fall on my birthday. The sky continually falls as I desperately race towards my husband’s job.

The word “foreign” is what my husband and I are in Japan, especially as English teachers in our respectable schools. In English, it’s not so bad a word, but in Japanese, gaijin (外人) carries a passionate weight for people who understand Japanese culture. When someone calls me a gaijin in Japan, it’s normally to express the differences between us. “You and I are different, but you’re foreign.” Some kids who are half-Japanese face this word in their Japanese schools.

Sometimes, the word is used as the only word to express anything that isn’t Japanese. “Of course, foreigners are good at English games,” one student said during a game of Scrabble. Gaijin is sometimes the only substitute Japanese speakers know in regards to non-Japanese things or people. But I don’t mind being called a gaijin or a foreigner in Japan or in the States (my home country). For me, gaijin is just another word in Japanese.