On a lighter note, my essay “My Life in Vogue” was recently published in The Mid. You can read it here.
I brought up the subject of the Confederate flag with my son at dinner the other night. I could have avoided it. We live in Japan, after all, and my son hasn’t been to the States in about four years. As a sophomore at a public high school in Japan, he is absorbed with his friends, and studies, and baseball. But I teach at a Japanese university where a lot of students have no interest in what goes on abroad. They chose to attend the local university because it’s close to home, and when I ask them what country they’d like to visit, they say, “Nowhere. Japan is best.” I want my son to be engaged in the world.
To be fair, he is more interested than most. His favorite subject is Social Studies. He reads the newspaper and watches the TV news. So he probably heard about the massacre of nine African Americans at the AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, before I brought up the issue of the flag.
I didn’t really want to bring his attention to the fact that this horrible tragedy had occurred in South Carolina, the state where his grandparents and uncle and aunt and cousins live. I didn’t mention that the killer, Dylann Roof, attended the high school down the road from my parents’ house for a time. I would rather that my son have a postive image of South Carolina, that when he thinks of his visits to the state he remembers playing in the surf at Myrtle Beach, or the carriage tour that we took on our visit to Charleston, or making a snowman with his cousins. But in two years my son will be elgible to vote in both the United States and Japan. He needs to have an awareness of current events and their significance so that he can vote for the change that he wants to see.
Thinking about the Confederate flag, and how it represents racial prejudice and hate, is a way to prepare my son to think about issues in Japan, such as the Prime Minister’s insistence on visiting the Shrine at Yasukuni in commemoration of Japanese soldiers who died in World War II. Just as many Americans, both black and white, see the Confederate flag as a symbol of the brutal enslavement of human beings, many see the Shrine at Yasukuni as a symbol of atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Asia during World War II. Just as a minority in South Carolina defend slavery and white supremacy, the current administration in Japan defends the enslavement of women — the so-called “Comfort Women” — as a business deal. Just as taking the flag down from the pole outside the South Carolina state house would be a welcome step toward healing festering wounds, I think that the Japanese government would be wise to avoid re-opening wounds by retracting apologies and denying the past. (And by not making official visits to Yasukuni.)
In Japan, teachers are not allowed to be “political” and there is some handwringing among educators as to how to prepare young Japanese to become part of the electorate (the current voting age is 20). Personally, I don’t think it’s the school’s responsibility to teach kids how to vote. I think the conversation can begin at home.
A week or so ago, Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering appeared prominently in the movie “Stockholm, Pennsylvania,” starring Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City Fame! How cool is that?! My publisher shared the deets on her blog.
For the past two years, I’ve been working on an MFA in Creative Writing through the Optional Residency Program at the University of British Columbia. It’s been challenging and exhilarating, especially since during that time I also started my first full-time job in fifteen years, and launched a new novel. I’ve now finished my course work. I still have to complete a dissertation, but I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I took some classes in subjects that I wasn’t quite comfortable with, such as poetry. I’m so pleased to present a couple of poems that I produced in that workshop and revised with feedback from my classmates, many of them well-published poets.
I’m so excited that Screaming Divas was well-reviewed in Jasper Magazine! And as a bonus, it’s reviewed opposite another book I loved recently, Mark Powell’s The Sheltering.
Rock girl fantasies aside, I’ve always been shy. For a long time, the only thing worse than speaking in public was having to sing in public, i.e. at those end-of-the-year parties I had to attend while working at the Board of Education in a small Japanese town. I didn’t know many of the songs on the karaoke machine because they were in Japanese. There were some Beatles hits and Carpenters classics, but that’s about it.
I sometimes sing while listening to music, or when I’m by myself, doing something mindless, but I don’t regularly hang out at karaoke bars. My daughter, however, wanted to go. She enjoys trying out her rock star moves while attempting to follow the lyrics on the TV screen during music shows. To be honest, she’s not good at singing, but she has a good time.
My son likes to sing, too, and I can often hear him when he’s plugged in to his iPod, wailing away. He’s started going out to karaoke boxes with his friends. I’d heard rumors that he was pretty good, that he’d gotten nearly a perfect score on “Let it Go.”
When my husband suddenly suggested going out for karaoke last week, I thought it might be fun. The kids would enjoy it, and we’d be doing something as a family. I was pleasantly surprised that my son was willing to go with the rest of us.
We went to a karaoke club and rented a box (a room with a table, sofas, and a karaoke machine) and started picking out songs. A lot had changed since my last trip to karaoke. Instead of looking through a song book, there was now an electronic device that seemed to have every song in the world. Also, the machine rated each performance.
My son, with his renditions of hits by Exile and One Direction, had the highest scores, and we started re-thinking his future. Maybe he had potential as a pop star. My daughter tried the theme songs to her favorite anime shows and stayed above 50 points. We realized it was a good exercise in reading and in voice control. My husband sang some Japanese songs that I didn’t know, and I tried “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells “Come See About Me,” by the Supremes, for which I got one of the highest scores of the night.
Two hours and about 8,000 yen (approx. $80) later, our time was up. As we got ready to leave, I thought about how I would practice my Beyonce for the next time.
Fellow writer and expat Rachel Piehl Jones invited me to participate in this blog hop on the writing life. Be sure to check out her post and her excellent blog on living in Djbouti. Below, I will introduce more writers and books for you to discover.
Here are my replies:
1) What am I writing or working on now?
I am in various stages of three different projects including a young adult novel about a Japanese boy who returns to Japan after having lived abroad for three years, only to find that he no longer fits in; a follow-up to Gadget Girl in which Aiko visits post-disaster Japan and finally gets to know her father; and a mother-daughter travel memoir. I also occasionally write short pieces such as this newspaper article on writer Mariko Nagai, and a column for All Nippon Airway’s inflight magazine.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I often write from the experience of being an expat American in a conservative part of Japan where there are few foreigners. There are many expats writing about being a gaijin in Tokyo, for example, but not so many writing about what it’s like to raise a child with disabilities in the sticks.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Like many people, I write the kind of books that I want to read, and that I think my kids would like to read. The YA mentioned above was intially written for my son. The main character plays baseball here in Japan, as does my son. I read the whole book to him at bedtime. The books about Aiko are written for my daughter, although she doesn’t read English. Hopefully someone will translate them into Japanese one day! (Hint hint!)
4) How does my writing process work?
When writing a first draft, I usually have an idea of the arc of the story and how it will end, but I don’t outline. I tend to write out of sequence and then piece everything together later. I don’t usually show my work-in-progress to anyone until I have a full draft, but last fall I enrolled in the MFA Program at the University of British Columbia, and I have been sharing chapters of my new novel with my classmates. It’s a delicate process.
After I’ve finished a draft, I usually senin to a few trusted beta readers and then revise. Rinse. Repeat. It seems to take me about four years to finish a book.
Check next week for posts from:
Fellow expat blogger and writer Melissa Uchiyama whose writing appeared recently in Literary Mama