June 22, 2020・Zuihitsu
“When we believe in absolutes we become blind to reality,” this piece begins. I wonder, will we ever be able to live as one people, as one global humanity, without giving up our absolute universals?
The world is a vast place and every creature living upon it lives differently. There are nearly 7.8 billion humans right this moment, and each one is living their own unique life. People are diverse, cultures are diverse, ways of thinking and feeling and believing are diverse. When we uphold ideals of universal science, universal medicine, universal justice, we often steamroll over this diversity.
Even things we often consider to exist outside of ourselves are to a great extent a product of culture. Mental illnesses are culturally created and experienced (which is not to say that they are not real or serious). The way we do mathematics – and whether or not we do math at all – is also a product of cultural language. It is not simply that some cultures are “more advanced” or “better” than others. Great truths and lies and ways of living exist everywhere around the world – everywhere, including the US, and Mexico, and Tanzania, and Taiwan, and in the lives of our many fellow animals. I think that this is something to be treasured, something to be valued and respected. In particular, this diverse treasure trove is, for me, something to be learned from.
Even if this idea is hard to accept, I think it is important to recognize the flaws in our own ways of living. Western science has flaws. Western medicine has flaws. Sometimes these are hard to see, because we are culturally biased, or because some people work so hard to cover those flaws up. But isn’t everything flawed? Nothing is perfect. It is important to open our eyes to the reality that we have not come close to any spotless universal Truth.
To say that universals do not exist, or that believing in absolutes is wrong – these statements are also in themselves absolute universals. So I’m not saying that Western science is trash, or that we shouldn’t be grateful for Western medicine, or that my way of thinking and living is the one “right” way. But, I still feel that the sentiments contained in this piece are important to consider.
June 23, 2020・Free Verse
This poem is inspecting how we conceptualize and react to death.
Last week, it was announced that DEAD END’s guitarist and main songwriter, You, had passed away. I have never listened to DEAD END or any of You’s work, so I want to respectfully make clear that this piece is not about him or about anyone in particular. Still, there are references to the deaths of several people in this verse that I will mention and credit, and it was some posts about You that I saw circulating on social media that first inspired me to write this.
- You’s bandmate, Crazy Cool Joe, tweeted a message to You after his death. In it he mentioned You’s laughter, and the message concluded with the phrase 「またね〜」, which means “see you again” or “see you later”.
- The lines “and the tears of your countrymen/saying ‘we’re sorry, we could not save you…’” are a reference to the murder of Kazakhstani figure skater Denis Ten two years ago. The phrase “we’re sorry, we could not save you” is a translation of something I saw online at the time. It really stuck with me. I couldn’t find the original article again, but here’s a link to Denis Ten’s Wikipedia page.
- For the line “and the off-season blooms carry on” – “off-season blooms” translate to 狂い咲く, which is the first word of hide with Spread Beaver’s song “Hurry Go Round”. 狂い咲くis just a word, so in itself it’s not a reference, but that song was what I was thinking of when I wrote it. hide died in 1998, and “Hurry Go Round” was finished and released posthumously.
- Mayflies are a familiar artistic theme. They are often used as a symbol to represent ephemerality, because once they become adults, they live for only a few hours to a few days. “Mayfly” translates to かげろう (kagerou); the band Kagerou named themselves that to honor their vocalist and lyricist, Daisuke, who had heart problems. Daisuke died in 2010. I’ve never actually listened to the band, but here’s Kagerou’s Wikipedia page, where I first learned about mayflies.
Again, this poem isn’t about any of these people in particular. As you can see, some of them I hardly know anything about. Still, I thought it would be better to mention and credit inspirations.
Rather than concentrating on a specific person, this verse is in general about how we think of and react to death – and it’s about a particular lighthearted, understanding, accepting reaction. The narrator says “laughing at a funeral shouldn’t be taboo… no matter the situation, I’ll find peace and walk away”. In the second half, there’s an emphasis on the cyclical nature of life and death. That cycle isn’t objectively “perfect” – there are “off-season blooms”, for instance – but it’s still a complete cycle. If that’s the case, terms like “eternal sleep” and “never to return” are “old, overused lies”. Why not laugh at a funeral? It’s not meant to slight one’s death, but to celebrate their life and allow the cycle to continue on. The narrator declares that they will “spraypaint 「またね〜」over our hearts” – because although someone they loved died, they’ll meet again, they’ll see each other again. Death is “not a tragedy” anymore. I think that this way of thinking is a wise, healthy reaction to death, and I hope that when death intersects with my life in the future, I will have the wisdom and courage to meet it in this way.
June 24, 2020・Zuihitsu
This piece has to do with environmentalism.
The other day, I suggested to someone I know that they should conserve water by taking used, clean kitchen water (from rinsing rice, soaking vegetables, etc.) and reusing it to water the plants. A lot of water is used in the kitchen, I felt, so I brought this up during a conversation with them. They responded pretty firmly with, “If there’s an easy way to do it, I will, but there isn’t [so I won’t]”. The statement kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I spent a while thinking about it. That is the background that went into writing this piece.
A lot of people, consciously or unconsciously, hold a similar sentiment with regard to becoming more environmentally friendly in their behavior – “I’ll do it if it’s easy and convenient”. I’m sure that many times in my daily life, I act the same way. But I think that this is a big barrier that is holding us back from addressing environmental issues more proactively. For sure, I understand the feelings that go into this “easy and convenient” mindset. For instance, for a working parent trying to put healthy meals on the table three times a day, or as a student coming home from 7-8 hours of school, or as an office worker commuting back home from a full 9-5 workday – life is tiring, and we are all just trying to get by. So, I’m not blaming anyone or saying that this mindset is necessarily wrong. But, after thinking about it, I feel that with regards to the destruction against the environment that we have wrought, and the current climate crisis, this kind of mindset is not going to cut it.
There are different ways to go about thinking about this, right? For one, we need to change our individual beliefs and feelings and behaviors. A lot of people say they care about the environment and are concerned about climate change, but the majority of those people will still drive cars everywhere and fly on planes for vacation, they will decide not to install solar because it makes the house look ugly and seems expensive, and they won’t take small actions to reduce their resource usage, such as reusing kitchen water and going out to shop less often. To be clear, it’s not about being a hypocrite – but isn’t something about this not quite right? For those of us who care about environmentalism and feel strongly about climate change, I think we need to do an intense reevaluation of every little aspect of our lives, and start making small but broad changes to better align our actions with our beliefs.
On the other hand, we can also think about this from a scaled, systemic point of view. Rather than saying “it’s not easy, but I will try to do it anyway,” we can also try to make larger changes so that it is easy. If something is easy and convenient, people are more likely to do it, especially if they already care in the first place. Social psychology tells us that, but also just common sense. If public transportation is good, if solar is cheap, if rerouting used water from the kitchen to the garden is simple, then we will all take advantage of them. This is where things like business, innovation, and politics come in. Voting for environment-minded politicians, supporting local green businesses and innovators, these things are very important.
I think that for something as big and imminent as environmental destruction and climate change, we need to encourage action on both fronts. Review yourself, your beliefs and your actions, and try to behave green even when it’s difficult – but also look for broader ways to scale that change in your community and the larger social world. What I’m saying here isn’t new, of course. Environmentalists have been saying this for a long time. But it bears repeating, because I think that a lot of people, myself included, don’t always fully understand what it means.
June 25, 2020・Tanka
Normally, we think of abstract “warmth” in a person as a good thing – it implies empathy, kindness, friendliness. But when these traits are in excess, they can be damaging. Being extremely empathetic, for example, makes it hard to live in a world with so much suffering. Maintaining a relative balance (not necessarily 50:50, but a possession of both) of coldness and warmth therefore seems necessary for us to get by. But how do we even obtain that balance? For someone who is extremely empathetic, tempering that empathy is not easy. It’s another thing we have to struggle to achieve.
June 26, 2020・Tanka
Mentioned in an earlier piece this week, the title means “off-season blooms,” with an implication that the unexpected timing makes the flowers all the more precious and beautiful. Overall, there aren’t a lot of people who appreciate this kind of thing. In my experience, we tend to think of things like off-season blooms as abnormalities, as something being wrong. But there are still those few who do not overlook them and actually actively seek them out.
June 27, 2020・Free Verse
One of the key points of this poem is the use of ellipses to manipulate the pace of the piece. It’s good to understand it while holding the metaphors of sleeping, dreaming, and steady ocean waves in mind.
Another key point is introduced at the beginning: “the shadows they lay crawling into my dreams/to restore balance and peace”. Normally we would think of shadows in this context as possibly signaling danger, as causing nightmares, but in this case, they are exactly the opposite.
One possible interpretation for the next two verses is that they are examples of dreams. There are many concepts contained in them that could be considered strange or wrong, depending on your sociocultural perspective. For instance, in the first one, a woman athlete runs alone, bare-chested, achieves a new record, yells to voice her pleasure, and is greeted by her wife and her child. In the second one, a dead man and a living man walk side-by-side down the beach, both leaving footprints, both delighting in the new time they have together. But even if these kinds of dreams or scenes could be considered strange or wrong by some, in this verse, they are completely normalized. The pace of the overall poem is not interrupted, the shadows do not come in to change or eliminate the stories in favor of “balance and peace” because there already is balance and peace. In the end, the narrator explains that “the stories that are real must still be written” – because these stories are real, and it’s important to continue writing them. At least, that’s what I think.