Friday, February 24, 2012

200 Posts and Counting

I realize that 200 is an arbitrary number — in and of itself no more or less meaningful than 199 or 201; but it's nice and round and gives me a convenient excuse to stop and look back at where I've been and what I've written since I started this blog in March of 2010, just about two years ago now.

When I started, I had not long before been editing a Poetry Review site called CutBank Reviews. I was also just learning how to mess around with Photoshop. Added to that, the shoe boxes of paper ephemera I was collecting from the overflow of an online bookstore I was running, and it seems now that my early posts were struggling to find their voice as some weird mixture of serious book review and in-joke. But it's not like anyone needs a review of an eight year old book. And my own artistic impulse wouldn't have been content to offer merely that anyway.

So I did Humpy the Moose meets Lydia Davis, photoshopping a Davis quote onto the cover of a children's book from the 70s I had found at the Milwaukee bins and subsequently mutilated. We make things and hope they are appreciated. A friend to whom I sent the link wondered how I knew he had been called "Moose" in high school. Of course I hadn't, but I didn't let on.

Around that time, I remember I was itching and angling to return to Japan. Living in Portland, Oregon I used to haunt the mecca of the book world, Powell's. In that section of town, the Pearl District, there's a neat Asian import store called Cargo which, at that time, had an old Japanese drug store sign out front advertising condoms. I photoshopped in the English translation. Echosquirrel said that it was much too seamless; that I needed to make it rougher so the viewer would know it had been shopped. (What does she know? Just because she was graduated from RISD?)

I had completed about fifteen eclectic posts that first spring. Then I moved to Japan.

Even though I had lived in that country for the better part of four years about a decade earlier, I don't think I was completely prepared for the shock of re-entry. Shikoku is not Tokyo. It would be like coming back to the U.S. and landing in Charlotte when previously all you had known was New York.

I threw myself into teaching English and translating Buson, a project I had begun the last time I was here. The break from the life I had been living in Portland and Montana though was severe. I found myself frozen on the blogging front; everything was too new and too bizarre for me to put down in writing.

So I went into hiatus for the better part of the year. Made one sad post in the heat of the summer and then nothing until the following February when I had the urge to resurrect my dormant Reactor.

I started thinking about the Japanese concept of sabi and the literal rust and decay all around me. I went around taking pictures here and there of the sad scene.

Then March 11th happened, the earthquakes and tsunami; the breached reactors. It was as if everything around me stopped. And the barrage from the people in the states urging me to come back. And the curiousness of being here in a becalmed part of Japan with no earthquakes, no tsunami, seemingly no repercussion at all. So I stayed here quietly. And made a contingency plan to return just in case.

My re-entry into blogging was framed, then, around the events of March 11th. Everything seemed imbued with more meaning after that. Too, I was getting familiar with my surroundings.

But it was me wanting to learn how to use my camera a little bit, and then spring is my favorite season and I just needed to get out somewhere and explore. And there were buds everywhere and if you went out late in the afternoon with sun slanting just right you could see things in novel ways.

So I started doing shorter, more naturalistic posts on the things I saw around me. Some impressionistic, some cryptic, some poetic, some just a scene in search of a voice or a tone.

I started getting interested in abandoned places. We'd go out into the countryside, in the hills, and find these little villages that no one lived in anymore. We'd cut our way through the vines and the bamboo, take out our flashlights and enter sacred dwellings where no one had set foot for fifteen or twenty years. Bats flying above the kitchen table, the teapot just where it had been left. We moving gingerly over the rotten tatami, trying to stay on the support beams of the floor.

We moved together and knew where each other were.

In July we went back to Montana and got married. A simple affair, we recited Alan Dugan's "Love Song: I and Thou" to each other in front of family and friends on a spot overlooking the Clark Fork River.

My blog went into summer hibernation.

When I got back it was hot — too hot to blog. So we'd go down to to the river in the afternoons and laze about in the hammock reading books. Every so often we'd pick our way down the riprap and immerse ourselves in the cool river. A little later we'd eat a picnic lunch at one of the stone tables under the cherry trees.

Around the middle of August I decided to climb Mt. Ishizuchi, the highest mountain in western Japan. So early the first morning of a three day weekend I rode my bicycle to a temple in town called Zuouji and, after passing through it and paying my respects, I headed up the steep trail behind it into the woods.

This trail, though well marked and easy to follow for the first few hours (I had been out on it as much as a half a day several times before) was not on the map I had. The best I could do would to be to follow the contour of the ridge for the better part of the day, making sure to stay on the highest part, and with luck I would find the trail that would eventually lead me to Ishizuchi.

I didn't blog this adventure because I'm saving it, I'm sorry to say, for a book I'm writing, fiction oddly enough, about the enchanted land I found in the interior with its fairies and magic dust and strange unicorns and other wild beasts.

When I came back from my trip, having scaled Ishizuchi, wet and stinking like a lost dog, I felt the strange need to find something, I didn't know what, so I started combing the local beaches and hills for some treasure. I stopped at a fertility goddess I found in our park and prayed. I picked up a talisman on the beach, a little stone magatama (曲玉) that I instantly started rubbing and lo and behold it worked!

In December, my family came to visit from the U.S. and we met them in Kyōto. Echosquirrel and I by chance hopped off the bus in front of Waratenjin, a temple in the northwest of Kyōto that's dedicated to safe childbirth. We walked through the torii and up the stone walkway to the temple and paid our respects.

I guess my point in retelling all of this is that sometimes the most important events or journeys don't make it in to the blog. Or they make it in in other ways. I'm going to keep blogging, though who knows where it will go or who I will be this time next year?

I must say there have been plenty of times when I've been discouraged, thinking "Oh, no one's reading. It's too much of a bother. I'm just going to stop." And then someone will leave a comment showing they've read the post and got it and cared. And that keeps me going. So thanks.


  1. Unimportant, indirect and/or without any particular destination = very interesting too. (Possibly more.) Thanks.

    Anyway what about the kingfisher? Keep going. Please.