Friday, July 26, 2013

Long Beans

Today is gray and muggy and solitary and internal, and I am particularly missing the Literary Lab. Why is it gone? I loved working with a group. I loved people coming in with different opinions and skill sets.

I'm currently reading two books. One is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I was really engaged with it, but lately, at about page 600, it just feels long. I feel like the story is being drawn out just to take up more pages. I also recently joined a book club, and the first book I'm reading with them is The Interestings. So far, the point of the book seems to be to tell the story of people who hoped to be interesting but turned out to be ordinary. And that's what it feels like. I'm dragging myself through paragraph after ordinary paragraph. To be fair, I'm only about 70 pages in, and I figure something will happen eventually.

What's Peanut Eating? Watermelon juice, following a rather funny two-day episode of Big Red making watermelon sorbet--there was blood involved, and the sugar was left out.

(and in the optional reading section, more from Sister Soul, continuing from here):

All the dancers formed a large circle around the center stage. In their bright costumes, Maria imagined they looked like a giant Hawaiian lei from up above. They faced inward as a city council member from Little Tokyo gave a few introductory remarks. Maria didn’t pay attention to what the old man in a powder blue sport coat and straw hat was saying. She had heard similar speeches seven years in a row. Besides, at the moment, she was overcome by a nagging feeling that she had forgotten something, an anniversary or a birthday. Her conversation with Asami had triggered it.

She went through her family members: husband, son, mother, father, stepmother, sister. Nope, as far as she knew she was safe, at least with birthdays. Today wasn’t the anniversary of her mother’s death either. She would never have forgotten that.

Though the nagging feeling didn’t leave her completely, Maria tried to focus again as the council member stepped down to tepid applause. She had to remember which routine they were about to perform. The music started, and the dancers began their first bon. Kikuta Kai had chosen to dance with wooden fans this year, and Maria enjoyed the attention they were getting from the crowds. Each year, the event seemed to grow more popular. The sidewalks were so crowded that pedestrians couldn’t make their way through in some areas, and hundreds of children were nudging their way into the street to get a closer look.

As she danced, Maria let her mind wander. She had performed this bon so many times that the choreography was second nature to her. She looked out at the people. Judging by their looks, they were mostly Japanese or Japanese-American, she guessed, but plenty of others were there too, including her Thai husband.

I am Yonsei…I am Yonsei, she repeated mentally to herself. The sense of history that came with that label always made her feel secure. She could trace her own family back several generations, long before anyone came to America. And she had a large collection of old photographs, kimono, cutlery, birth certificates, even a purple heart that one of her distant uncles had earned during the same war that had detained so many members of her family. Many of the objects were so delicate. At the same time, she wanted to make sure she could share them. She carefully scanned many of the original documents and photographed other objects, compiling the copies into several scrapbooks that she made my hand. The work was so impressive that most of the Sansuis, her father’s family, and the Nakamotos, her mother’s family, had declared her to be the unofficial family historian.

Soran Bushi was the second dance, and the dancers mimicked the daily tasks of fisherman. Maria made the movements of casting out a net and gathering it back in again. She watched the faces of the children for signs of recognition, but maybe this generation wouldn’t know what fishing was. Her own son was only five. His life was full of all sorts of gadgets. The only fish he saw were digital. Well, at least he still enjoyed sports and being outside. He stood beside her husband, his big brown eyes gleaming. The August heat beat down on them, but Maria was in a good mood all the same. She imagined facing the clear ocean waters, pulling in the nets heavy with fish. She imagined the smell of salt in the air and hungry gulls flying and squawking overhead. How different her life would have been, she thought, if she had been born at a different time, in a different place. Her life could have had so much more struggle, so much more turmoil. As it was, all she had to worry about was how to improve her dancing and what to make for dinner that night.

She was in the middle of these thoughts when she heard the sound of drumbeats. At first, Maria didn’t think anything of it. The parade was on a crowded street right in the heart of Little Tokyo. So many people were gathered there that all sorts of noises could be heard. But the drumming continued, a loud and steady boom, boom, boom, boom coming from one of the taiko drums. When she had the opportunity, she glanced over to see a young man pounding a mallet on the largest of the drums. Though her face didn’t show any anger, the muscles around her lips tightened. She hoped someone would put a stop to it quickly and teach the rude guy a thing or two about the importance of good manners.

 Boom, boom, boom, boom!

The sound began to disrupt the dancers. Several of the less experienced ones fell out of step. They looked at each other, shrugging and scurrying back into place. The drumming was getting to Maria too. Each beat felt eerily like the ticking of a giant clock. It magnified her nagging feeling that today was an important day, a day to be remembered.

“Why don’t you cut it out?” someone in the audience shouted. But the drummer continued to play. Maria watched as a pair of security guards in yellow jackets marched over to him and asked him to stop. When he ignored them, they took hold of his arms. The mallets fell to the floor. The player began kicking and shouting. His face was strained and red. His eyes looked glazed over, like he was in some sort of trance.

When the performance music ended, the councilman primly rushed back onto the stage.

“The Grand Parade will continue in a few minutes,” he said with an uneasy laugh. He made to bow, but just as he was hunching over, another sound rose up from the crowd. This time it was a scream. An old woman. Maria turned to see a bundle of wrinkled limbs flailing around on the ground. Someone had fallen. A bag of groceries had spilled, its contents scattering all around.

Maria ran over as fast as she could in her geta to help the woman up. She looked to be in her seventies, maybe even her eighties. Her white hair was disheveled. She wore a faded dress, thick wool socks and tennis shoes, an old knit coat that looked far too warm for this weather.

“Are you okay?” Maria asked, bending down to take hold of the woman’s arm.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Damn it! Look at my things!” The woman’s voice was tinted by a slight Japanese accent. She seemed to have just come back from a shopping trip. Around her were various bags and boxes. On the stage, the Councilman was once again assuring everyone that things would be back to normal in no time.

“I’ll help you, but are you sure you’re okay?” Maria asked.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” She scrambled to her feet. Despite her age, she moved rather well. She was a short but thick woman, her face as round as a pincushion. “What’s important are my things. I’m in a hurry. Where’s the blue?”

Though she still seemed unsteady, the woman began to stumble around, picking up her things. Along with some other items like ginger, garlic, and daikon, Maria noticed several boxes of food coloring. One of them had been smashed underfoot, and a dribble of dark blue fluid was leaking out of the corner.

“Is this what you mean by blue?” Maria asked.

But the woman didn’t seem to hear her. “What time is it?”

“What?” Maria asked, confused.

“Damn it! I said what time is it?”

Maria didn’t have a watch on, but luckily by now a few other people had gathered to help. Someone said it was 11:45 am.

“We only have fifteen minutes,” the old woman declared, rushing even more. She abandoned her other things and focused only on the blue food coloring. Once she had grabbed two handfuls of the small boxes, she grabbed anything else she could and tossed them into a canvas bag she had been carrying. Then, she started to hobble away.

“Don’t you think you should go to the first aid station?” Maria asked. “It’s right over there, by that white sign.”

“Forget about first aid. If anything, it’s time for fourth aid. Just come on,” the old woman shouted over her shoulder.

Come on? Was Maria supposed to follow this strange woman? She looked back at the crowd, at her family still standing among the other audience members. She thought to call out to them, but everything was chaotic enough as it was. Most of the people were distracted by the drummer, who was still putting up quite a struggle between the security guards. The sounds of police sirens could be heard approaching.

“We have to hurry!” the woman shouted. She was nearly half a block away. Maria rushed to catch up to her. She glanced back, hoping some of the others would follow, but they did nothing more than shrug. When she was side by side with the woman, she looked over and saw a fierce look of determination on the wrinkled old face.

“Damn this useless old body,” the woman muttered, more to herself than to Maria. Without slowing, she turned to Maria and looked her up and down. She didn’t seem the least bit stressed over what had just happened. “What’s your name now?” she demanded.

“My name?”

“Megumi? Michiko? Mariko?”

“It’s Maria. What do you mean now?”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stir fried vegetables with subtle flavors

I recently have found some joy in writing fiction again. I'm sure it helps that I've been stressed out with house hunting, deciding whether or not to sell my property, and applying for another job. Whenever I get pulled in too many directions, fiction comes in to remind me to have fun.

I've just been playing with a book called Sister Soul that I have wanted to write for a couple of years. It's inspired by the book I wrote for my nephew a few Christmases ago about him in this fantasy adventure story. The story was too scary for a 7 year old, but his mother and aunt--both big readers--loved the idea. Sister Soul will be about them discovering they have super powers and different aspects of Japanese-American culture, including the interment camps. It will also include an experience from their childhood in which one girl lodged a chopstick into the back of her throat and was paralyzed for several weeks. (In my story, this sets off much of the conflict and magic.)

Here's some very rough first draft material. Since it's for an audience of about 3, I'm hoping to write it in just a couple of drafts:

The rhythms of the taiko drums were building to a climax. On the folding stage, arms and mallets moved in intricate patterns like the inner workings of a clock. Maria watched with a smile as she waited in the shade of a fig tree for her own performance to start. Around her, the sidewalks were packed with people. It was the launch of the Grand Parade in L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Nisei Week had begun.

Maria’s hair was pulled up into a bun, and her face had a light coat of makeup: rouge and lipstick—she never liked to put on too much. She wore a kimono that was mostly white, gradually transforming into a rich panel of glistening blue silk just over her right shoulder. Her obi was black and adorned with a simple pattern of red gingko leaves.

Maria had been dancing with the Kikuta Kai dance group for over ten years, ever since she was a young girl. Having been born and raised in Southern California, the dancing was one of the few things that kept her tied to her Japanese culture, something she was always afraid of losing. By now she was one of the more experienced dancers, even though several of the other women were years older than she was. After performances, strangers often came up to tell her on how talented she was. At the same time, Maria always felt like she was never quite good enough. Even at her best, she constantly felt slight errors in her arm movements and the angles of her head. The art demanded so much precision.

“You’re just being too hard on yourself,” her sister, Lynn, would tell her. But there was no denying it. In videos, she always found something to criticize about her performance.

The taiko players finished to thunderous applause. They always delighted the audience. As they prepared to leave the stage, the dance groups stepped into the street, the mingled colors of their various kimono and yukata slowly organizing as the members of each dance group gathered with one another. The sounds of their wooden geta shoes clacked against the asphalt.

“Remind me again, are you Sansei?” another dancer, Asami Tsukamoto, asked. She had approached suddenly from Maria’s left side, startling her a bit. Asami was true Nisei, the youngest daughter of parents who had immigrated to Los Angeles from Hokkaido. She was newly retired and had only recently joined Kikuta Kai.

“Yonsei,” Maria said. “I’m the great-granddaughter of immigrants on both my mother’s and her father’s sides. My father was actually born in Santa Anita.”

“Ah, really?” Asami said with wide eyes as she was struck by the realization of what that meant. Both of them suddenly became aware of their surroundings. A few minutes before the Grand Parade didn’t feel at all like an appropriate time to bring up the internment camps…or what it would have been like to still be living in Japan.

I've also been reading Murakami's "epic" 1Q84. I find myself hungry to read it every morning and evening. It's a strange book because the prose itself doesn't feel very sophisticated, but the story is so intricate and interesting. It's a page turner. I also joined a book club and will soon be reading The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I know nothing about this book yet. But I like the title and the cover.

What's Peanut eating? Hot dog chunks.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Hey kids and detective novel writers,

Did you see this? It's a story of a writer writing under a pseudonym and not selling very well while getting some nice criticism.

What's Peanut Eating? I think it was Kix.