We are well into the spring baseball tournament, the one that leads to Koshien. I haven’t been to any of my husband’s games, yet, because the stadium is not handicapped accessible and also because while my son loves hitting, kicking and throwing balls, he does not enjoy watching others do the same. Leave the kids with the mother-in-law you say! Well, she wants to go to the games, too, and does. So anyhow, Yoshi’s team won its second game today, which puts them in the quarterfinals on Friday. He was very pleased with his pitcher and the 7-1 score. Only thing is, his team is currently plagued by the flu. Three or four players are sick. This evening, he got a call saying that his pitcher, the one who pitched today, his ace, now has the flu. Oh, dear.
On the last day of school, Lilia received an award for a painting she did in art class. Her teacher entered it in a prefectural-wide concours of artwork based on students’ reading. Lilia’s was based on a book called Pao’s Christmas, or something like that. She got an Honorable Mention. When I heard that, I got tears in my eyes. I remember when Lilia was the only kid in her class who still scribbled, who couldn’t draw a recognizable face. Back then, I had no idea of what kind of progress she would make in school. Also, there was a boy in her class who was really good at drawing. He won first prize in an art competition of deaf school students all over Japan. There was an award ceremony at school, and a well-known actress came and made a speech. This boy was featured in the newspaper. I figured with him around, Lilia had no chance of ever impressing anyone with her drawings. That boy, who is going to be integrated from April, has been more interested in baseball than art, lately, and he didn’t win anything this time. I am very proud of Lilia and all she has accomplished this past year. (Please excuse the messy room!)
Last Sunday evening I had the great privilege to be a guest reader at Four Stories Osaka, a spin-off of the Four Stories reading series held in Boston. The whole thing was started (and is continued by) Tracy Slater, an emerging writer who teaches gender studies at a Boston prison. Tracy decides on a theme (this time it was loss and desperation) and invites four published writers to read for fifteen minutes each. I’ve been to three of these events so far, and it’s always a good time. Tracy is enthusiastic and supportive and a boon to the arts in Japan; every writer should have a Tracy!
The event was held at Portugalia Bar & Grill, just down the street from the American consulate. There was lots of food and wine and an attentive, literate audience, including a reporter from the Japan Times. I got to read along with Holly Thompson, author of the wonderful novel Ash, and a contributor to my anthology The Broken Bridge. It was fun to hang out and talk with her, and to have a look at the dummy of her forthcoming picture book. Brit Chris Page read a funny story and a man whose life is going down the drain, and American Jerry Gordon read a heartbreaking tale about a boy’s uneaten last lunch.
All of the readings and some photos from the event are now online. Mine is here. (I was holding a mike in one hand and my pages in the other. If you here a pause, that’s me trying to get tot he next page.) Depending on how fast your computer is, it may take awhile to download the audio portion.
While in Osaka Sunday for a Four Stories event (more on that later), I picked up a copy of Kansai Scene. There was a great article by Laura Markslag about the all-important Park Debut, that is, the first time a mother ventures onto a public playground in Japan with her child.
Markslag writes, “Many parks in Japan are controlled by gangs. No, not by the gangsters that sell illegal substances to children or the kind that would steal your grandmother’s purse. These parks are controlled by exclusive bands of mothers, your average neighborhood housewives, and they decide exactly who can and cannot play at the playground with their children. These gangs of mean mamas have more power than many thugs do and instill fear in the hearts of the new mothers.”
I was blissfully unaware of any such groups here, and besides, we usually met up at the park with other foreign friends when we ventured out, but I find this whole scenario very easy to imagine. And people wonder why bullying is such a big problem in Japan!
Today I made apple pie with the four fifth graders at the deaf school – two boys and two girls. Awhile back, their teacher invited me to their class to talk about what we eat in America. When I mentioned apple pie, they all said that they wanted to try it and would I make it with them? With only a week left of school to go, we finally got around to it.
I didn’t understand everything the kids were saying to me, though I tried. I noticed how among them they seem to have a designated speaker, the one who is deemed to speak the best. So when I didn’t understand something that one of the boys was saying, he referred me to one of the girls. I’m sure they’re used to not being understood, but still, I felt that I was letting them down whenever I didn’t know what they were saying. (Whereas many hearing Japanese feel that their language is too difficult for foreigners, and don’t expect me to understand anything at all.)
As for the apple pie, we made it as per Betty Crocker’s instructions. Apparently in Japan, it is customary to cook the apples before putting them in the pie shell. We didn’t do that. We put the pie in the oven and started to clean up, and then Lilia’s teacher appeared and said that she had a fever and would I please take her home. So I didn’t get to try the pie. I hope it turned out okay.
Yesterday was White Day. For those of you who don’t live in Japan, White Day is the day when boys who received chocolate on Valentine’s Day return a gift of something white, such as marshmallow candy, to the girls who were so generous on February 14. As you can see, it’s a crock. Who would choose marshmallows over chocolate? But my daughter, who gave away a pile of chocolate last month, was very much looking forward to March 14. Frankly, I’d completely forgotten about it, but someone must have mentioned it to her because every time she got her hands on a calendar, she’d draw a little heart in the space for 3/14, clasp her hands, and gaze heavenward. She was thinking about what she’d get from R-kun, who has replaced the former object of her affection, D-kun. (She doesn’t even remember the HUGE crush she had on Y-kun when she was in kindergarten.)
Fortunately, the boys at school delivered. They mostly gave her junky candy that they no doubt picked out themselves. The best gift of all was from S.-sensei, one of the first grade teachers. It was wrapped in blue paper and adorned with a pin made out of pencils. Inside, was a little white cake with almonds on top. I was going to ask him if he made it himself, or if his wife did, but I decided that I’d rather just believe the former. He seems like the type of guy who would be able to bake a cake. He’s the one who showed the kids how to make wreaths and rings out of twigs. His New Year’s card depicted a kind of still life that he’d obviously arranaged himself. In another life, I knew men who could cook better than I can. I would like to believe that there are men like that in Japan, too.
So the other day I opened the paper and happened upon an article about Iriomote Island in Okinawa. I showed my family the page and said, “I want to go there!”
My husband, who has been to Okinawa three or four times already, mostly on school trips (I’ve never been) said, “It’s too far.”
“But look at this beautiful beach,” I said. “And the ox-drawn carriage! And this island is home to the rare wild Iriomote cat!”
“Then you go by yourself,” said my very conservative son, who hates it when I go to Osaka overnight, and abhors the idea of travel.
“Okay, I will!” I showed the pictures to Lilia and asked if she’d like to go. She nodded and signed “Ikitai! Ikitai!”
Lilia would also like to visit Germany, after having seen a teacher’s honeymoon photos, and, of course, Tokyo Disneyland. I’m glad there is at least one person in this family who shares my wanderlust.
Lilia, honey, let’s go to Paris when you’re twelve!
Okay, so here’s the cover.
I’m having some issues with my daughter’s crawling. On the one hand, I’m glad that she can get around speedily on all fours. It gives her some measure of independence. And she likes to be free. It took her something like three years to be able to crawl, so now, seeing her do it so well makes me kind of happy.
On the other hand, crawling lacks dignity. When children see her crawling, they say that she’s like a baby or a dog. That really bothers me. If she was hobbling along with a walker, they might find her courageous – or feel sorry for her – but crawling seems sort of deviant. Or maybe that’s just my bias. Maybe I am the one with the closed mind, with the prejudice for crawlers.
A couple of days ago, we were in a restaurant. Lilia decided that she had to go to the bathroom, and that she would go by herself. She got down from her chair and started crawling on the restaurant floor, past the other diners, toward the bathroom. She’s really fast! But I can’t help but think that crawling is not appropriate restaurant behavior.
There is also a hygiene problem. She crawls all over the place and then she sucks her thumb. (By the way, a hundred dollars to anyone who can give me an idea I haven’t tried for making her stop sucking her thumb!)
So I finally found out when my novel will be published – January! – and I got a look at the cover. My publisher sent me some cover samples a couple of months ago and asked me to pick out what I liked. Most of the covers featured a photo of a woman smoking. I thought she looked desperate, like the woman in my book, and that the photo captured the mood of the story, but I worried that a lot of potential readers wouldn’t even give it a try because of the cigarette. (For the record, she quits smoking in the course of the novel.) Also, I asked my American sister-in-law to throw a book party for me, and I told her that I want there to be a cake of the book cover. I didn’t really think a smoking woman cake would be very appetizing! The cover that my family liked best featured a sweet little boy holding a pink paper heart behind his back. My woman friends and I thought it was very appealing, but I have to admit it was a little too treacly. The new cover – the one my publisher just sent – is perfect. It’ll look great on the cake and it’s not at all sappy. It perfectly conveys the tone and theme of the book. I will post it here when everything becomes a bit more official.