Complexities

I’ve been thinking about my last post. I don’t think it’s the case that I literally want to hurt people who want a heteronormative relationship with me. Saying that was a quick way to get across my frustration, whereas if I were to write out what I really feel, it would take a great deal of thought and deliberation to seek out words I could say which might be understood.

Now that isn’t to say that I haven’t broken up with others who had dreams of my being their wife and mother of their children…but the case I’m thinking of was a special one, and it was extremely frustrating. Not least, because the person in particular knew I didn’t see myself as a woman, and that I had no interest in participating in their erasure of my identity.

Growing up, I never bet on being legally able to marry anyone I wanted. Nor did I feel any sense that I controlled my own sexuality or my own identity. As I’ve aged, I see the care my parents have put into raising me, their continued support of me, and the hereditary problems I likely carry which have made my own life more difficult. I kind of don’t want to pass those problems on to a child of mine. And just because I can bear a child, doesn’t mean it’s anything I’d want to do. There are too many unwanted children; and particularly, everything else remaining the same, I’d be okay being sexless.

So…I want to revise what I said, last, but I don’t quite have the words for it, yet. I did find a book on asexuality, today; according to that I may be “graysexual.” This means that once in a very (very) long time, I may find someone I’m attracted to. That also often means not only that my attempting to communicate this is stilted, but that I’m just not attracted to most who are attracted to me. That’s on top of the gender issue, where I’m often assumed to be something I’m not.

Writing that out helped clarify something to myself. I guess it’s a trait of the written word that I can express myself here without the pitch of my voice or the appearance of my body intervening in the communication.

It’s funny; earlier today I was talking with a coworker about how writing here the other day (and getting back into beading with natural materials) got me to remember that one of my core beliefs is best described as Panentheism. I don’t consider myself Christian (and have no need to be), though I can see the significance in seeing myself as a spirit first, and a person second. (Most of the information I’ve found on Panentheism is based in mystic Christianity…which I don’t follow.)

It might indeed be weird if I became strongly Panentheist (the belief system states that the Universe is the body of God, but God is also more).

Aww, am I going to have to go to the crystal store, now? πŸ˜‰ (HA! I have too many. I just need to get back into contact with what’s here, maybe…maybe.)

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Nerdette

So…last night I got an alert that there is another local Librarian I position opening up, this time in a Public Library sector. I have until two weeks into January to submit an application, whereas the Academic Library application is due the first week of January.

Is it a good thing that I didn’t narrow my focus between Public and Academic Libraries early? I guess I’ll find out.

I still have to confirm my references and find out who to address my Cover Letter to for the position I’m working on now, but other than that, I think I’m good.

Today…well, we didn’t do too much celebrating, though I think we’re all happy that the Sun is on its way back. To my surprise, I actually did get a few gifts, the cutest of which is a…really big Rilakkuma plushie. With a zipper in his back, and everything. πŸ™‚

(Google it!)

Last night I realized what a nerd I was. (Wait, is it, “nerd,” or, “geek?” “Dork?”) This has been confirmed tonight by the fact that I fixed a computer issue on my own…and it was easy (!).

Then there’s the fact that I work in a Library. And the fact that I’m trying to learn Japanese (for heritage reasons, tho’!), and that I used to be into video games and anime/manga. And am trying to learn coding and Web Programming. And that it’s easier for me to communicate with other people through text as versus speech. Not to mention the arts/crafts/graphic design/literary arts angle, and the fact that I actually aspire to making a webcomic. And have assembled enough resources to make that possible.

I could go on; I just probably shouldn’t. πŸ™‚

I’m not totally sure that the arts angle is nerdmaking, but the fact that in the past, at least, I would be associated with, “books,” is likely notable, and distinguishes me from some…other people, I know. Who live in an entirely different world, one which I have no interest in being a part of. To those people, “nerd,” “geek,” and, “dork,” would be words of condemnation, which means I take it as a mark of pride.

(Of course, now our books are interactive…and, I’m thinking, more of that is coming, as electronic media become more ingrained into society. Does this mean I should be learning video and animation rather than comics? I really don’t know.)

I guess it would be different if I actually did go back to school for math (it would be Calculus) and learned advanced statistical analysis…I just don’t want to do that. I mean, seriously, Database Design was enough. I don’t even want to do the Big Data class, out of fear that I’m just going to get lost, again.

So the plushie is kind of funny/weird, because in Japan at least, Rilakkuma is supposed to represent a bear suit. Rilakkuma isn’t really a bear. He just puts the bear suit on on top of himself…so you don’t really know his true identity.

But arguably, he could be wearing the suit because he likes the way he’s treated when he’s wearing this adorable suit which he intentionally puts on (like being held against young women’s bosoms, which I have done much of, and which Rilakkuma’s flat head encourages). Rilakkuma roughly translates to, “relax bear,” which kind of suggests that he’s setting an example for you to relax with him.

I’ve thought about his design as an extension of a mask, or, “face.”

Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just my interpretation, and I can’t read Japanese well enough yet to get the entire backstory. But I guess that’s what you get when you have adult-themed plushies, as an adult: existential anxiety over not knowing what it is you’re cuddling. Which someone intended.

I’m not even going to get into Gudetama, though that one is kind of funny, if you can muster up the schadenfreude to laugh/worry (and then self-reflect) at the pathos of this apparently clinically depressed egg that wants to go back into its shell…

Though I believe that’s a more common sentiment than some (most?) people would want to acknowledge.

I just realized that I’ve gotta get up early, tomorrow. Rilakkuma’s waiting for me.

πŸ˜›

Feeling optimistic.

It’s fairly amazing, how fast things are changing. As has been stated, my Culminating Experience requirement has been turned in, so I know I’m graduating. My paper for my other class, however…has not been. The major push on this is for me to actually learn something with my term paper. I have until Saturday to get that done, which will be…a lot of work. But it all ends, this week, and it looks like it’s going to be all right.

Yesterday…I think it was yesterday, we went and visited J-town, a.k.a. Japantown, a.k.a. Nihon Machi. We had originally intended to go to a Christmas fair, but there was an accident on the freeway, and — to be honest, I wanted to go to Japantown, more. This was largely to visit a stationery store that has pens you can try out.

I didn’t realize for a long time, that the value I put on writing, reading, design, and art, might be related to my ethnic heritage. But it’s weird, in that…I think it is. (I wouldn’t have known why without looking into it, though.) I ended up buying a clear Pilot Prera fountain pen with a Calligraphy Medium nib. I AM NOT DISAPPOINTED AT ALL!

It’s actually really beautiful, in both form and function. I’m also glad that I took the trip over there to compare and try the pens. I wouldn’t have known that I actually really did want a stub nib, otherwise.

I also got a little Rilakkuma and a Korilakkuma plushie. So, two. They are…entirely too cute. I still haven’t cut the tags off of them, though! I haven’t decided whether to put them away so they retain their value, or play with them like the stuffed toys they are.

For some reason I never got into human-looking dolls, but plushies are different (like that whole Beanie Baby thing I got into, in high school). One of my parents used to animate them for me (given the chance, I think they still would). πŸ™‚

So…I really don’t need Christmas presents, at this point! Actually, I am not sure what, if anything, is happening for Christmas, although it will probably be drama-ridden.

I also have the subject of my final paper selected…which was helped by going to the bookstore across from the stationery store. One book is called Bad Water…I’m thinking it will be interesting reading, when I have time. I’m pretty sure it’s about environmental crises in the 19th and 20th centuries, in Japan; which ties in with my awareness of the itai-itai (an illness from toxic mine drainage) stuff. I think they may be talking about the same things.

I know I have to get through this next week: but that’s more for me, than for anyone else. Then I have to get on finding a new job…and I can rev up to more hours at work, to try and acclimate myself to working more. I can also do some reading to help me out for when I do become a Library Assistant or Librarian (I have two slim volumes I had to take off my desk because I had books everywhere); and I can get back to studying my coding and Japanese language! And I can write stuff that doesn’t have to be written! Awesome!

I’m also intending to read a lot more that I haven’t gotten the chance to, while in school…

I should note that as I was cleaning up the books that were littered everywhere, I realized that having paper volumes let me know what resources I had at my disposal, while digital volumes go unseen. It’s a reason to buy things in hard copy (two of these books I need to buy next year, when their new editions come out), though then there is also the fact that they are not backed up to the cloud.

However, I don’t have to have an e-reader or a computer to read them, so I never have to worry about my device running out of battery, dying, or otherwise failing.

…I’ve been dealing with this in Collection Development (the tension between print and digital)…can you tell? πŸ™‚

Feelings on Japanese culture

This post is about my internal conflict (as a mixed-race, fourth-generation [yonsei] Japanese-American person [nikkeijin]) as regards learning Japanese language (nihongo).

This majorly has to do with tensions around widespread equation of race to ethnicity; past insecurity about being a legitimate member of my ethnicity; being part of a wider Asian-American community including other A/PI (Asian/Pacific Islander) people; mixed feelings over the popularity in America of Japanese pop culture (over the output of other cultures); historically-based Japanese racism; internal family tensions bridging off of that history of racism; how my own identity has been shaped by intra-familial racism; and ideas about cultural appropriation, or who has the “right” to display what ethnic signals (or to represent Japanese-American people).

On top of that, I now have ambivalence over describing myself (as I have for most of my life, and has been implicitly encouraged by my family) as more Japanese-American than African-American. I was raised with my Japanese-American family, while my extended African-American family is relatively distant. While relations with neither side are perfect, the methods of relation are markedly different. Seeing the problems now arising on the Japanese-American side of my family, as well, causes some tension in my knowing that I don’t want to follow in their footsteps (with the possible exception of my father and brother — though I know very clearly that I am not my brother).

There are a lot of complicated feelings here, so I can’t be sure I’ll be able to get them all out in this posting. I can’t assure anyone that what they read here is going to be accurate to what I’m thinking; I’ve realized that my English communication skills have been a bit overestimated. Nor can I really assure anyone that they won’t be upset by reading about my experience, but I ask that they own their own emotions and look at why they feel what they feel. If what I write is anything, it is a catalyst, and a way for me to express my own reality (which is likely different from everyone else’s).

It’s been a while since I’ve last studied nihongo (Japanese language). I have been involved with this since middle school, at the earliest, when I learned to read and write kana (Japanese syllabary). It is — or has been, since I was young — a life goal of mine to learn Japanese. In the beginning, I realized that I meshed much more with media emerging from Japan, than I did with American media. I’m fairly certain that a lot of this had to deal with the gender fluidity exhibited in shojo (girls’) anime (animation) and manga (comics).

As someone who was nominally female but who did not fit into feminine gender norms (at the time)…this, and the compassion displayed toward the “villains” in anime (who were actually relatable, and in some ways respectable), caused me to really kind of attach to anime. In turn, this caused me to seek out manga, which helped push me forward when it came to writing fiction, to drawing comics, and to beginning to learn how to read nihongo.

Since I was little, I’ve been watching Fuji TV and now NHK World. It’s something that has been kind of like PBS, and has helped with my comprehension of spoken Japanese.

When I was in my first years of undergraduate study, I chose nihongo as my language of choice, to fulfill my Foreign Language graduation requirement.

In any case…this entry is about my now being ambivalent in my drive to learn this. I’ve started to question my motivations, that is: what they’re based in. I’ve also started to question whether I even have a chance of being considered as human, should I ever travel to Japan. Maybe “human” isn’t the right word; there is a lot about rank and status in what I know of Japanese culture, so being considered “equal” is a more American ideal.

Maybe the question is whether I have a chance of being respected and accepted in Japan, as a mixed-race person, when one of those races originates in Africa. Then that leads me to the place of why that dialogue should ever come into my head; why it should even matter, because I know that it’s stupid. (After all, all humans originated in Africa.)

But humans aren’t known for making sense, not in any country.

I also realize that a lot of this concern arises from some of my experience with my own family (particularly those who don’t know me very well, and my late grandmother), and my experience with one particular clique in middle- and high-school. Whether it was because of the fact that I didn’t fit in genderwise (I was more active than any of them; they probably thought it was because I was boyish) or that I didn’t fit in racially (I was the only half-Asian)…most of them never really accepted me, with the exception of one, who is still a friend.

Of course, it’s also possible that there were interpersonal things going on that I was unaware of, which ironically, I think I’d be better able to understand.

Going off of one of my readings, by the third generation in the U.S., the original diasporic language — in this case, Japanese — is lost (as happened in my family). Going off of what I’ve seen, by the fourth generation, partnering only to people of the same diaspora ceases to make sense. That is, by the fourth generation (yonsei), mixed-race (hapa) children start showing up a lot more frequently.

I think because of this, it’s a lot more understood for Japanese-Americans to be diverse, in the U.S. And because of that…I actually feel understood and accepted in a place like Hawaii, which has a very large A/PI population.

And I’ve wanted to learn Japanese, to be able to get back to my roots and get deeper into that of my cultural heritage which is GOOD. It may be because I’ve been reading into historical documents…by this I mean 1950’s English-language books about Japan and Japanese culture…but it’s reawakened some of those old, negative feelings about the source of my diaspora. Particularly the bitterness over how certain members of my family were not, “good enough,” for my grandmother, due to the region of the world their ancestors were from.

Then there is the giant World War II legacy, which is complicated on a number of counts: both the Japanese Internment and the fact that the former Japanese military was famous for war crimes. I suppose it could be said to be penance that the country no longer has any Armed Forces…but to be honest, even though I personally had nothing to do with this, it’s still visible that there are race tensions in Japanese pop culture. Which doesn’t make it necessarily non-problematic to deal with.

At one time, I had to take a break from dealing with anime (for a number of years), in order to be able to feel good about my own racialization. Because there was no one in those anime who represented me. The ones who supposedly came close, were being made fun of (though I still appreciate Cowboy Bebop for disrupting this).

On the up side, I have a lot of respect for the work ethic of so many Japanese artisans and craftspersons. I know that the people who were on the islands of Japan during the War were not the ones doing the crimes. There is so much beauty and aesthetic sophistication in so much of what I’ve seen come out of Japan. The language itself is beautiful. And I doubt that much of what is published in the English language about Japan can even hold a light to what is published in nihongo, itself (from library translations, and what I’ve seen coming out of Kinokuniya Books).

I don’t know what to think about there not being stronger laws to protect women and sexual minorities in the nation, but I know that as someone seen as both, I may not be safe there. The history of Japan is full of war and violence inflicted against its own people, and that it would spill outside the country at some time, was near-unavoidable. It’s a cultural difference that interpersonal interactions are more important in what I know of Japanese business, than supposed merit.

There is a lot of difference, culturally, between California (outside of Japanese-American community) and Japan. That doesn’t mean California is necessarily better. That means I’m between cultures, and find myself exposed to both. Am I actually navigating both? I am not sure.

I think I’ve just had a taste of Japanese culture, and that, while being initially enthusiastic about that exposure, I’ve now matured to the point of being able to become ambivalent about it.

While it is, undoubtedly, better to choose to accept the good and reject the bad, trying to disentangle those two, as in trying to disentangle the good and the bad in American culture, may be more of a full-time job than it seems. I do still want to learn Japanese. I just am not positive that I will ever be able to use it comfortably, in Japan. The thought of that possibility is difficult to deal with.

Then again, I don’t think the 2020’s will be the same as the 1950’s. Looking toward the future, there is always hope.

Bodhisattva questioning. It’s probably immaterial, in the long run.

It’s been about eight hours of work, but there is now space in my office. Not to mention, a lot less dust. I still have some stuff to clean up, but it’s minor. I also still have books (and folders) to go through.

I didn’t realize how many materials I had, here. I rediscovered my little, “treasure box,” from the time I was collecting things like this…I had forgotten that one table in particular had been designated for spirit-nurturing stuff. Right now it also has a file holder on it. Not sure how I feel about that…

…but it’s…just odd, being on the verge of becoming a Librarian, and having worked with community organizing before. Plus being so involved in creation. There are other things that are important to me, but my own sense of integrity will not allow me to take some paths. Possibly, many paths.

I also did find a Kuan Yin figurine which had been gifted to me, a while ago. Around the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the Bodhisattva thing…particularly if the conditions of my life this time around are because of past-life directives.

Just now, my attention was drawn to an acorn I picked up some time ago. What is a seed if it’s never planted? (If I hadn’t picked it up, chances are good it would have been crushed, or food for a squirrel. If I plant it…I’d better be sure it’s away from gas lines!)

And I guess it’s worth mentioning that seeds are planted in the Earth…which can be as nourishing as it is polluted. Or, more to the point, the Earth provides disease-causing organisms as well as beneficial ones. We just hope the beneficial ones keep the others in check, most of the time. (And we all depend on it.)

A long time ago, when I was still notably ill, I did seriously question whether I had taken bodhisattva vows in a past life. The thing is, even if one is ill, it’s hard to move forward without acknowledging that one experiences what one experiences. My life didn’t really start to move forward until I acknowledged my reality, even if that reality didn’t match what anyone else experienced. Even if my explanation of reality was untrue: the experience of it was not.

I also had to own that no one else could have a clear window to objective reality, either: assuming that one’s thoughts are always true and right just because one thinks them (but others can be wrong), is part of what makes people ill.

The major thing about the entire bodhisattva concept, here, is that “American” Buddhism is still in its infancy. I also find that it is relatively vulnerable to romanticized and wrong ideas of other cultures, and people from other cultures, including the ones from which our knowledge of Buddhism has come.

Thus there is this thing about “how to be a Bodhisattva”…which, I’m not sure is actually true to how people in non-English-speaking countries, who are exposed to non-English texts and cultures including a more mature interpretation of Buddhism, experience being a bodhisattva.

A bodhisattva is someone who has sworn not to enter nirvana (liberation beyond rebirth and duhkha [“suffering,” or, “unease”]) until all other sentient beings have done so. That is, they have sworn to be reborn until the last sentient being ceases to suffer and is liberated from the cycle of birth and death. It gives them implicit motivation to help other beings toward their own enlightenment.

Bodhisattvas are also, notably…shown bedecked in jewels, with long hair (as versus shaved heads), and as beautiful. This is symbolic. From what I know, basically all the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) paths advocate this as an ideal, as versus just trying to get oneself to liberation.

What I read in English texts, however, seems like a cotton-candy idealized perfect version of something which was already idealized to begin with, so it’s like “How to Be A Buddhist,” and “You’re Not Being Buddhist Enough,” when I am not certain it is actually to anyone’s benefit to identify as a Buddhist. If the goal is to let go of fixed ideas of Self…the idea of identifying as, “a Buddhist,” is a stepping-stone at best, and grasping for permanence and identity in a world with a defining trait of impermanence, at worst. (“Grasping,” is noted to cause duhkha.)

Let me say this: I don’t think Bodhisattvas are perfect; because if they were perfect, I don’t know that they would be here.

That does bring up the question of whether taking Bodhisattva vows is born of imperfection, and I would say that, given the level one is at when one first takes them, it has to be. Does it start to make one, “clean?” I don’t know. But I would say it likely does give one a community to fall back on, at least in spirit.

There are people I’ve known and presences I’ve sensed which actually are beneficent…the process is called Taking Refuge (in the Buddha [the one who taught the way to live; note there are many Buddhas], the Dharma [the path out of pain], and the Sangha [the religious community, in whatever form that takes]). I have done this in the past, privately. It did help me. A lot. Particularly when I sought Kuan Yin (who is known to give compassion, and is one of the Bodhisattvas who appear both in male [Avalokiteshvara] and Goddess forms).

Do I understand Taking Refuge? Intellectually, no. But, emotionally, it helps.

I have not tried reaching out in person to any Buddhist temples — most of the ones around here are of the Pure Land variant, which isn’t where I’d ideally go first — but the aura I get from two actual Buddhists whose presence I have been in…is very different. (I am assuming my past sensei was at least lay Buddhist, if not monk…just, many things point to that.)

This is long enough. I started to get into stuff here linked with possible past-life influence…but it’s unnecessary and off-topic.

And this may have been partially caused by an artwork I did of a temple, which someone said did remind him of his visit to the Himalayas. (I did not paint this from a reference.)

The point is, for me, that the path I’ve taken in this life is actually kind of…congruent with what I would expect, if I did take Bodhisattva vows. The grad work shapes a person, but on top of that is the public service thing, and how we are not supposed to assume what a person is like, by their appearance. This hits me on the levels of gender, orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, occupation.

I have the ability to communicate. I can be a force for good.

And I am very glad I have certain people in my life…

Cultural location and creative context: Part 3

I suppose this is where I can get into the multiracial and multicultural aspects of what I’ve realized, is the impact of my personal, cultural, social, and generational identity upon my art. If I were really trying to be thorough, I would add in gender identity and sexual, “identity,”…but that’s still something I’m working on. (I’ve made more progress on the former, than the latter.)

It might actually get interesting here — or, well, at least new.

In doing the research for one of my most recent assignments, regarding the impact of (Japanese) Zen on Japanese art, I ran across a couple of sites of tension. One of these is the definition of, “Japanese,” as in, “when defining ‘Japanese art,’ what do we mean by ‘Japanese?'”

It is relatively clear until large amounts of Japanese people begin leaving the islands to live in other countries. Then they have kids, who may not be totally ethnically (that is, culturally) or, “racially,” Japanese; then their kids have kids, and it goes on. All of them are also influenced by the cultures they’re living in.

In addition, once artists within Japan begin bending the rules and incorporating outside influences into their art, is it still, “Japanese art,” or has it morphed into something beyond that?

This impacts me if only because I am at a site where I have to choose where to go with my art, as with my mind and identity and purpose; I am not totally Japanese, and trying to be so would likely not work in my favor. I am also not totally culturally of African-American descent, though I can’t know how much of what I get from that side of my family, is sourced from where.

By the fourth generation (of Japanese diaspora), it’s extremely common to have a lot of mixed-race youth of partial Japanese descent, loved by their parents and representing a conundrum for earlier generations, who may have wished their family to remain, “Japanese,” whatever that means.

There is no question for me that Japanese culture does have its own value and gifts to give to the world. However, conflict arises within the idea that people should not blend, racially or ethnically; that we can have a global civilization as long as we each keep to our own kind.

It sounds harsh, but I’m not sure how else to put it. And I’m not sure how much of it comes from the Internment, and how much of it comes just from nationalism.

The ideal of marrying within the, “race,” is something my nuclear family has had to deal with, long-term. It has been a large site of conflict from the Japanese-American side of our family. Obviously, I’m racially half-Japanese-American, and culturally…well, that’s more of a mixed bag, given the fact that my family has been in the U.S. for multiple generations, and local culture’s impact — by this I largely mean California, Mexico, Louisiana, and possibly, Hawaii — has been extremely strong.

In American lexicon, there is a difference between “Japanese (from Japan),” and “Japanese-American (a citizen of the United States who is of Japanese descent).” These concepts are paralleled in the nihongo (Japanese language) terms nihonjin (or Japanese-from-Japan) and nikkeijin (or Japanese-of-foreign-birth).

Even here, though: I would likely have learned Japanese as an undergraduate major, if I thought I could expect decent treatment within Japan. I wanted (and still do want) to understand how those cultural links have helped form who I am now. However, the interactions I’ve experienced within my own extended family, have taught me that this isn’t something I can look forward to — at least, outside of Hawaii, or other various settlements of Japanese diaspora. This is especially because my skin is relatively dark (something I do take pride in), and my hair, voluminous. Unless I’m in Hawaii or my name is known, I generally am not recognized as of Japanese descent (though it used to happen more often when I was younger).

I suppose I should mention that a lot of people of my grandmother’s generation and before, did have to deal with the question of what it meant to have been in the Japanese Internment, and how to deal with the problem of discerning or defining, “Japanese,” identity. That wasn’t fun stuff: I ran across it on reading a bit of D.T. Suzuki.

The introduction to his book, Zen and Japanese Culture (2010 edition) mentions some attempts of Suzuki’s then-contemporaries at establishing Japanese identity in a global context. (Jaffe in Suzuki, xix-xx) With the publication of this book having been so close to World War II, this is obviously…not easy stuff for anyone to deal with, and apparently Suzuki did not address the issue, at least in this book. (Jaffe in Suzuki, xix)

At a certain point, I feel better acknowledging that I am mixed, and that I have an American metropolitan perspective, rather than having a burden and privilege of, “racial purity.” It was never said to me in exactly those terms, but that is what was meant.

I may have mentioned in the past, that my grandmother tried to make me as ethnically (i.e. culturally) Japanese as possible, regardless of the fact that I was racially different. But this is only partially the case.

When I declined to wear a maru obi on top of my kimono at about seven years old, because of its constricting function (I have a big thing about not being constricted in my movement, which is one of the reasons I began to cross-dress as a teen), she never offered to show me how to tie one again. Nor did she relate the importance of knowing how to tie one, or that I would not be seen as authentically Japanese-American by my Japanese-American peers, without one.

That is, I know that she held something against me because of my non-Japanese parent, and/or because I refused to be traditionally feminine. But those two things are separate variables. (Or, maybe she thought I was right.)

The major problem that I had and have been dealing with is that the majority of the ethnic identity I can identify, is Japanese-American. The other side of my family relates to me via what I don’t know how to describe as other than folk ways. Particularly, I gain insight into spirituality and the unknown from that side, as well as a knowledge that it’s okay to be fiery, powerful, and blunt; and when need be, sometimes rage actually is an appropriate response. (My parent on that side did characterize me as having a, “warrior,” mentality, much like them: we’re both straightforward, and it goes against our nature to disguise our feelings.)

I’m not sure from where those ideas originate, or where exactly those traits come from. With my great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and grandmother on that side having passed, my grandfather absentee and now apparently passed, and the rest of the family scattered, I’m not sure I will know.

I could always ask those who are still alive; though I don’t often see them.

The thing is, I don’t see those traits as particularly ethnic, more than just who that parent is. I mean, who they are overrides any way they might (but don’t) think they’re, “supposed to be,” because of the culture they grew up in.

And yeah, actually, that is kind of cool. πŸ™‚

Edited to add links to: Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Cultural location and creative context: Part 2

Part 1 of this series, where I introduced the fact that I (surprisingly) have come to view myself as more Japanese-American than I thought I could be (as a multiracial person), is at this link. (At this point, I wish my thoughts had been more together when I wrote it! Also at this point: I realize that I don’t need to try to be more Japanese-American than I am.)

What I had thought of, but didn’t have time to relate in that post, was the concept of being, “grounded,” in some sort of definite culture. Going on the assumption that most artists in the past didn’t necessarily have a global/multicultural/metropolitan viewpoint (which might be wrong; I haven’t checked it out yet), I find myself thinking that it must have been easier for them to locate themselves within a cultural milieu.

Or, as I found myself thinking in one of my Art History classes, we don’t bash Michelangelo because he didn’t know anything about Chinese brush painting.

Of course, I can’t be certain about the factual certainty of that: but…is it clear? There are so many cultures worldwide, and all of them have their own traditions and ways of approaching the world. Being good at one way doesn’t mean one is a “Master,” because we live in an era where being a Master at one thing means having taken time away from something else (and that generally means not being too great at it).

As an example, I’m a fourth-generation Japanese-American, and have found myself trained (though minorly) in linoleum block printing (a.k.a. linocuts), which I learned in high school. I’m closer to American than I am to Japanese, but I have a ton of underlying family influences which make me different from majority Americans and are traceable to the culture of one side of my family’s diaspora. At the same time, my training is Western in nature.

On top of that, now that I think of it…is the other side of my parentage, which is where I get my mysticism. Where that originates (other than with my great-grandmother, and where she got it from), I don’t know. But I’m trying to work it into my thoughts that it is okay to be a little non-rational. πŸ™‚

I was taught about linoleum block printing, but not woodblock printing. Thus, on initially encountering woodblock printing, I was ignorant of the vast differences between both techniques. I didn’t quite get a clue until trying to carve a block for the first time and realizing how differently wood behaves, than linoleum. It made me realize how skilled carvers had to have been, in order to create things so detailed and precise.

The Honolulu Art Museum has a rather famous collection of woodblock prints going back…a very long time, I would say over hundreds of years, at least from theΒ ukiyo-eΒ era forward through shin hanga and sosaku hanga to what might possibly reach modern mokuhanga? (–although that is a flash in the pan, comparatively.)

I’ve mentioned this before: while I was there I picked up a book titled Shin Hanga: The New Print Movement of Japan, text by Barry Till. I’m hoping the Reader will pick up on my last mention of this book; otherwise, I can hunt for it after I post this. (EDIT: my first mention of this book, is at this location.) In any case, I picked up the book because it reproduces a great number of color prints which have beautiful composition and flow. I had hoped that studying them could help me learn how to improve composition and color usage in my own projects.

What happened later is that somehow I began searching out information on mokuhanga (so far as I can tell, this is the modern version of Japanese woodblock printing). There are some sources existing on this; the one I found (and bought) was Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer. Not realizing the difficulty of what I enamored to undergo, I set about collecting tools to use to draw my own prints.

I didn’t realize this at the time, but it seems obvious to me now: Japanese woodblock printing evolved within a relatively insular society. This means that there is a unique way of doing things. This also means that there is a unique, apparently self-contained way of doing things, which does not necessarily cross over with superficially similar methods of other cultures.

For example, there are special brushes used to disperse pigment over the surface of the wood block, which have to be prepared a certain way (the ends of the hairs have to be singed and grated against “dragon skin”, like a metal rasp; sharkskin was used prior). (Vollmer 83) This means — for a Westerner — if one wants to have the possibility of doing things precisely like professional Japanese artists do, one will have to go out of their way to find, buy, and prepare specialty brushes which aren’t widely available overseas (except as imports).

Of course, there is not really a point to a Westerner trying to mimic ancient techniques (except to preserve them), because for one thing, a lot of these prints were made in production workshops, not just by one single artist.

Sosaku hanga, a term used for “artist’s prints” (I am not sure that’s the direct translation, but it’s what I can remember and not find right now in Till — the book lacks an Index), differed from these and came about after the opening of Japan to the West. They focused more on the total control of the artist from concept through production of the finished print.

Before that time, the total control of the artwork being in one person’s hands, doesn’t seem to have been a concern; but it came to be felt that the spirit of the work was not as pure if the artwork was a collaboration. (I don’t know exactly where this idea originated, but I think I read it in Till.)

Of course, though; there is a big emphasis on collaboration and teamwork in Japanese culture, generally; whereas expressing individuality…I’m not entirely certain where that philosophical idea comes from. I would make a guess that it is someplace and sometime in Europe, and I’d check the Renaissance, first.

Anyhow, what I mean to get at is that we each have our own cultural locations, and I think they’re getting more complex. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be more difficult to locate oneself in culture, if one happens to have a ton of differing cultural influences (not limited to one’s family, but including work, peers, community, food, religion, gender, philosophy…).

Having these cultures colliding means that generations like my own have choices about what techniques to employ and whether to employ them fully traditionally, or whether to mix our influences. There’s a choice between trying to preserve an old way of life and going on to make something entirely new, but still based on what came before. Innovate, I guess.

I read somewhere that it had been an ideal in some cultures to mimic what the artist saw. I believe this was in Six Names of Beauty by Crispin Sartwell.

“Art, both in Japan and in the West, is traditionally accounted for as a mimesis of the world…[yet] in suiseki, nature is used as an imitation of nature, earth of earth, reality of reality, truth of truth…Plato’s critique, in which he condemns representational arts as deceptive, is entirely out of place.” (Sartwell 119-120)

I think what’s holding me back within my art (particularly drawing and painting), is this idea of representation, of trying to copy what I see — but for what? Why? Why are things so important? Why are bodies so important? Physicality?

I think it’s because no one has really — directly, at least — taught me any other way to approach image-making.

I also think it’s because my education was lacking in philosophical breadth. And I didn’t realize I was lacking the information until I read something which had a message different from the one I was familiar with.

I am going to try and get back on the Zen train and read what I have, even though I’m not sure I knew what I was getting into when I embarked on the quest.

But I don’t think I’m Zen. I actually am doubting whether I still want to hang with Buddhist philosophy (though it does come in handy when I need a reality check). My draw to Zen occurred because I associated asymmetrical composition with wabi sabi, but I am thinking that this isn’t exactly accurate; I think the love for asymmetry predates wabi sabi. And I’m doubting anatman (the doctrine of no-self: conditional arising negates the need for a concept of a soul or identity), at this point.

What has been happening over the last few days has gotten me back to the point of thinking that what I experience is not my body. It is through my body, but it is not my body. The body is just a channel for something beyond.

And…now I’m talking like I’m philosophically Greek or (East) Indian…or a New Ager. Or a psychic/medium. Which…I can get into that, another time. Been there. (No offense intended to any of these groups!)

I just am starting to believe in souls, like I’ve started to develop a concept of evil, and I’m starting to develop a concept of Deity and the hereafter. And I’m thinking about what it means if everything I think I know is wrong. (Or, just some of it…)

WORKS CITED:

Sartwell, C. (2006). Six names of beauty. New York, NY: Routledge.

Till, B. (2007). Shin hanga: The new print movement of Japan. Portland, OR: Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

Vollmer, A. (2015). Japanese woodblock print workshop. Berkeley, CA: Watson-Guptill Publications.