How’s Your Summer Going? – Artist Check-In

Hi! This is different from my usual posts. I felt like it was time for a bit of personal reflection, so here it is!

Question: How’s your summer going?

Overall, this summer is shaping up to be a very creative one for me. I think it’s great! Here’s a quick look at what that means in terms of my writing.


1 – I’m pushing myself to write something almost every day.

For me, this is highly unusual! In the past, I would just write “whenever I felt like it,” and while I do believe that the writing process should flow naturally, I think taking this season to push myself more will help me grow and expand my abilities for whatever comes next.

2 – I’ve introduced myself to poetry, which is an art form I’ve never tried before.

Because I’m new at it, it’s very difficult, and in comparison with my prose pieces (which I’ve had 8+ years of experience with) I think I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m not happy with my poems, and hopefully I never will be. However, I am finding that poetry is a good way to express my feelings toward certain current events: for instance, Rally for Democracy expressed my thoughts toward the extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, and At the Edge of the Earth reflected my feelings about the tragic KyoAni arson attack a few days ago. It’s not a perfect form for me yet, so I’ll keep working on it!

On a related note, art as a tool for activism has been heavy on my mind this summer… but I’ll have to write a separate post for that one.

3 – I’ve experimented with zuihitsu more.

I’ve loved this genre ever since I read Kamo-no-Chomei’s Hojoki in the summer after 11th grade. Eleventh grade for me was all about social justice, exploring all of the failures of America, all of the false promises, all of the human rights violations, all of the (largely successful) attempts to cover them up. The bitter hypocrisy of the American Dream was weighing heavily on my mind, and I was starting to feel depressed again. For me in this vulnerable state, Hojoki was like a lifesaver. It freely explored many of the unanswerable questions I’d been dealing with for ages, and it painted a picture of zuihitsu as a genre through which I could explore them, too. I figured I’d give it a try, and this project evolved into Life = Suffering + Love, a 25-entry zuihitsu collection I wrote for my friend’s birthday.

My modern, personal interpretation of zuihitsu is definitely different from what the genre was originally, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I believe it’s important that genres evolve with the times, and it’s also important that artists don’t feel limited by the genre/s in which they write (or speak or sing or play or…).

At any rate, while working with zuihitsu initially came very easily to me, I’ve recently discovered that it’s not something I can just write whenever I want to write it. It might sound strange, but zuihitsu is easiest or most natural to me when I’m depressed. If I’m not depressed, it’s harder to convey my thoughts in that genre… so even though I love it and want to keep working with it, I can’t promise zuihitsu as a regular feature or anything like that. There might be long gaps in between zuihitsu entries sometimes, but really, for me, that’s not so bad.

4 – I’ve begun working with short stories.

Believe it or not, short stories are pretty new to me, too! Prior to this year, everything I wrote would be novel-length or at least in a long novel-like style. I wrote my first short story, Life Beyond the Setting Sun, sometime this past spring. It was inspired by a comment my friend made about shadows, as well as “The Chrysanthemum Pledge,” a story out of Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I spent only two or three hours on it, with very minimal editing, and immediately handed it to my friend the next time I saw her. (She didn’t like it very much, ahhaha…)

Actually, I didn’t like it very much either, at the time. I thought it was great for a first try at a short story, but I think I was trying to do too many things with it, and as a result I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the finished product. However, I did send it to one of my long-distance friends, and he recently got back to me saying he’d read it and loved it. Unlike most readers, who just say “I thought it was great!” or “Meh, not really my thing,” he spent ages carefully detailing all the reasons why he liked it. Because of his words, I dug the story up from my files and reread it for the first time since, and I’ve come to conclude that it’s a pretty passable, enjoyable story, a good first effort, and something I’d be willing to put up on my blog.

My friend’s encouraging words also led me to write a second short story: Songs Without End. Now this one I really like! Actually I was a little rushed to finish it, so there are definitely some parts I’m not happy with. But in the end, I’m pretty proud of it, and now I’m looking into writing more short stories. Even though I’ve only published two, I think short stories suit my style pretty well. What do you think?


That’s where I’m at with my writing so far. This summer, I’ve also reconnected with music on many different levels. Here’s what I mean by that.


1 – I’m exploring and expanding my musical interests.

I’m listening to music everyday, thoroughly immersing myself in new artists, watching videos of their concerts and listening to their songs. Before this year, while I was kind of into music having grown up in a musical household and played two instruments, I’d never really had any famous musicians or genres I really liked, besides a vague “I like songs from the romantic era” and “RADWIMPS is a powerful band.” But at the beginning of the year (or maybe the end of last, I don’t remember, haha), I almost simultaneously discovered X JAPAN and GACKT. I was immediately hooked! And, you know, one thing leads to the next, right? Before I knew it, my playlist also included songs by sukekiyo and LUNA SEA as well as the individual works of artists like HYDE, Sugizo, ToshI, MIYAVI, Kyo, hide, and Chachamaru. And I have a long, long list of bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to!

2 – I’m playing piano more often.

Honestly, I used to hate playing piano… but it wasn’t the instrument itself or the music that I hated. I hated having to practice and perform songs that I didn’t actually want to play. I also hated being made to compete – competitions and competitive pursuits were never my thing. My shoulder also made playing and practicing difficult sometimes, so for most of last year I stayed away from the instrument as much as I could. However, this summer, I’m actually playing a lot! This is in part because of my new musical interests, and also because I’ve taken it upon myself to find my own music. I search up sheet music for songs that I like and artists I know, and then I’ll sight read them for fun. If I really like the piece, I’ll go on to learn it. Of course, I’m not a professional pianist, and I have a lot of room for growth – but being able to play the things I want to play makes me really happy.

3 – I’m exploring music as a way to deal with depression.

Music as therapy has been on my mind recently. Songs, and the human voice in general, are really powerful, don’t you think? Even though the lyrics are sad or the background of the artist is tragic or the melody is melancholy, I always feel some kind of peace in my heart and mind after listening to such songs. I wonder why?

4 – I’m exploring music as a way to connect with other people and the past.

As Ryū says, music is communal. I love making music with other people – I think it takes on a very special meaning. The interaction between musician and listener is also meaningful – in the past I’ve made efforts to learn songs my friends like for their birthdays, and I want to continue doing so. Music is the universal language, that’s what I think. It transcends all barriers and reaches deep into your soul and makes you feel. Even if there are no lyrics, or the lyrics are in a different language that you don’t understand… there’s still something there that is so incredible I don’t know how to describe it. I want to think about this more!


So, this is basically how my summer is going. Writing and music are my life.

As for mental health… I’m doing pretty good right now. I haven’t felt seriously depressed or suicidal in several months. I’m pretty comfortable where I am, and I can recognize when my thoughts are starting to head towards chaos. (Of course, sometimes I can’t do anything about it, but so far this summer, music, writing, and comedy have been working pretty well for me!) Hopefully, this good trend will continue.

Maybe this is off-topic, but I wanted to mention something else. Today my mother made dinner for me and after taking a few bites I told her that it was really delicious. But even as those words were coming out of my mouth, I started to think, Do I really mean that? Of course it was true that the meal was very delicious. But I had a feeling that I wasn’t truly enjoying it to the best of my ability. I was kind of scarfing my food down, without taking the time to thoroughly chew it and taste the flavors. I want to pay more attention to my food from now on and savor it for all the work that has been put into creating it, from farm to table. Towards the end of the meal I also started to think, If this is my last meal, I want to enjoy it more…

Hm, maybe that’s a bit of a depressing way to end this post. But, I’m getting rather tired, so I think I’ll sign off here. This is how my summer is going – how about yours? I hope everyone is doing well.

Take care of yourself!

Kohaku

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