How’s Your Summer Going? – Artist Check-In

Hi! This is different from my usual posts. I felt like it was time for a bit of personal reflection, so here it is!

Question: How’s your summer going?

Overall, this summer is shaping up to be a very creative one for me. I think it’s great! Here’s a quick look at what that means in terms of my writing.


1 – I’m pushing myself to write something almost every day.

For me, this is highly unusual! In the past, I would just write “whenever I felt like it,” and while I do believe that the writing process should flow naturally, I think taking this season to push myself more will help me grow and expand my abilities for whatever comes next.

2 – I’ve introduced myself to poetry, which is an art form I’ve never tried before.

Because I’m new at it, it’s very difficult, and in comparison with my prose pieces (which I’ve had 8+ years of experience with) I think I have a lot of room for improvement. I’m not happy with my poems, and hopefully I never will be. However, I am finding that poetry is a good way to express my feelings toward certain current events: for instance, Rally for Democracy expressed my thoughts toward the extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, and At the Edge of the Earth reflected my feelings about the tragic KyoAni arson attack a few days ago. It’s not a perfect form for me yet, so I’ll keep working on it!

On a related note, art as a tool for activism has been heavy on my mind this summer… but I’ll have to write a separate post for that one.

3 – I’ve experimented with zuihitsu more.

I’ve loved this genre ever since I read Kamo-no-Chomei’s Hojoki in the summer after 11th grade. Eleventh grade for me was all about social justice, exploring all of the failures of America, all of the false promises, all of the human rights violations, all of the (largely successful) attempts to cover them up. The bitter hypocrisy of the American Dream was weighing heavily on my mind, and I was starting to feel depressed again. For me in this vulnerable state, Hojoki was like a lifesaver. It freely explored many of the unanswerable questions I’d been dealing with for ages, and it painted a picture of zuihitsu as a genre through which I could explore them, too. I figured I’d give it a try, and this project evolved into Life = Suffering + Love, a 25-entry zuihitsu collection I wrote for my friend’s birthday.

My modern, personal interpretation of zuihitsu is definitely different from what the genre was originally, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I believe it’s important that genres evolve with the times, and it’s also important that artists don’t feel limited by the genre/s in which they write (or speak or sing or play or…).

At any rate, while working with zuihitsu initially came very easily to me, I’ve recently discovered that it’s not something I can just write whenever I want to write it. It might sound strange, but zuihitsu is easiest or most natural to me when I’m depressed. If I’m not depressed, it’s harder to convey my thoughts in that genre… so even though I love it and want to keep working with it, I can’t promise zuihitsu as a regular feature or anything like that. There might be long gaps in between zuihitsu entries sometimes, but really, for me, that’s not so bad.

4 – I’ve begun working with short stories.

Believe it or not, short stories are pretty new to me, too! Prior to this year, everything I wrote would be novel-length or at least in a long novel-like style. I wrote my first short story, Life Beyond the Setting Sun, sometime this past spring. It was inspired by a comment my friend made about shadows, as well as “The Chrysanthemum Pledge,” a story out of Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain. I spent only two or three hours on it, with very minimal editing, and immediately handed it to my friend the next time I saw her. (She didn’t like it very much, ahhaha…)

Actually, I didn’t like it very much either, at the time. I thought it was great for a first try at a short story, but I think I was trying to do too many things with it, and as a result I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the finished product. However, I did send it to one of my long-distance friends, and he recently got back to me saying he’d read it and loved it. Unlike most readers, who just say “I thought it was great!” or “Meh, not really my thing,” he spent ages carefully detailing all the reasons why he liked it. Because of his words, I dug the story up from my files and reread it for the first time since, and I’ve come to conclude that it’s a pretty passable, enjoyable story, a good first effort, and something I’d be willing to put up on my blog.

My friend’s encouraging words also led me to write a second short story: Songs Without End. Now this one I really like! Actually I was a little rushed to finish it, so there are definitely some parts I’m not happy with. But in the end, I’m pretty proud of it, and now I’m looking into writing more short stories. Even though I’ve only published two, I think short stories suit my style pretty well. What do you think?


That’s where I’m at with my writing so far. This summer, I’ve also reconnected with music on many different levels. Here’s what I mean by that.


1 – I’m exploring and expanding my musical interests.

I’m listening to music everyday, thoroughly immersing myself in new artists, watching videos of their concerts and listening to their songs. Before this year, while I was kind of into music having grown up in a musical household and played two instruments, I’d never really had any famous musicians or genres I really liked, besides a vague “I like songs from the romantic era” and “RADWIMPS is a powerful band.” But at the beginning of the year (or maybe the end of last, I don’t remember, haha), I almost simultaneously discovered X JAPAN and GACKT. I was immediately hooked! And, you know, one thing leads to the next, right? Before I knew it, my playlist also included songs by sukekiyo and LUNA SEA as well as the individual works of artists like HYDE, Sugizo, ToshI, MIYAVI, Kyo, hide, and Chachamaru. And I have a long, long list of bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to!

2 – I’m playing piano more often.

Honestly, I used to hate playing piano… but it wasn’t the instrument itself or the music that I hated. I hated having to practice and perform songs that I didn’t actually want to play. I also hated being made to compete – competitions and competitive pursuits were never my thing. My shoulder also made playing and practicing difficult sometimes, so for most of last year I stayed away from the instrument as much as I could. However, this summer, I’m actually playing a lot! This is in part because of my new musical interests, and also because I’ve taken it upon myself to find my own music. I search up sheet music for songs that I like and artists I know, and then I’ll sight read them for fun. If I really like the piece, I’ll go on to learn it. Of course, I’m not a professional pianist, and I have a lot of room for growth – but being able to play the things I want to play makes me really happy.

3 – I’m exploring music as a way to deal with depression.

Music as therapy has been on my mind recently. Songs, and the human voice in general, are really powerful, don’t you think? Even though the lyrics are sad or the background of the artist is tragic or the melody is melancholy, I always feel some kind of peace in my heart and mind after listening to such songs. I wonder why?

4 – I’m exploring music as a way to connect with other people and the past.

As Ryū says, music is communal. I love making music with other people – I think it takes on a very special meaning. The interaction between musician and listener is also meaningful – in the past I’ve made efforts to learn songs my friends like for their birthdays, and I want to continue doing so. Music is the universal language, that’s what I think. It transcends all barriers and reaches deep into your soul and makes you feel. Even if there are no lyrics, or the lyrics are in a different language that you don’t understand… there’s still something there that is so incredible I don’t know how to describe it. I want to think about this more!


So, this is basically how my summer is going. Writing and music are my life.

As for mental health… I’m doing pretty good right now. I haven’t felt seriously depressed or suicidal in several months. I’m pretty comfortable where I am, and I can recognize when my thoughts are starting to head towards chaos. (Of course, sometimes I can’t do anything about it, but so far this summer, music, writing, and comedy have been working pretty well for me!) Hopefully, this good trend will continue.

Maybe this is off-topic, but I wanted to mention something else. Today my mother made dinner for me and after taking a few bites I told her that it was really delicious. But even as those words were coming out of my mouth, I started to think, Do I really mean that? Of course it was true that the meal was very delicious. But I had a feeling that I wasn’t truly enjoying it to the best of my ability. I was kind of scarfing my food down, without taking the time to thoroughly chew it and taste the flavors. I want to pay more attention to my food from now on and savor it for all the work that has been put into creating it, from farm to table. Towards the end of the meal I also started to think, If this is my last meal, I want to enjoy it more…

Hm, maybe that’s a bit of a depressing way to end this post. But, I’m getting rather tired, so I think I’ll sign off here. This is how my summer is going – how about yours? I hope everyone is doing well.

Take care of yourself!

Kohaku

Aren’t Many Like Us

I remember that day. On an overnight island trip, we woke up early one silent, misty morning. We rose from our beds, exited our tents, and wandered the paths down to the beach – together. We walked, side by side, parallel to the shoreline, watching the waves crawl across the sand. We held hands. We found rare seashells. We embraced this quiet, powerful moment of communion, something that neither of us could put into words back then, something that many do not understand even now. It was a morning I will not forget.

I close my eyes and wonder why the image of this day comes so strongly to my mind. But the answer comes to me quickly: I probably wouldn’t be alive today, if you had not given me memories such as these.

I wasn’t the greatest friend to you, I know that. In middle school I was struggling with symptoms of depression that I couldn’t understand. I was too focused on myself, on my problems, to see yours. But still you held my hand. Still, you stood with your back to mine and promised we would face the world together. And we did – and we won.

We won, because we both made it out alive. And although we are divided now, separated by time and distance and situations over which we have little control, I know that if I ever need you again, you will come for me. And if you ever need me, I will come for you. Together we will stand, back-to-back, alone in the rain, until the storm subsides… until the world decides to let us free.

Because, as you told me so long ago, there aren’t many like us.

Happy 50th Birthday, Sugizo

Here’s a birthday tribute for another musician I really like!

Fifty years old today, Sugizo plays lead guitar and violin and sings backing vocals for visual kei rock bands Luna Sea and X Japan. He also works with several other groups and is a renowned solo artist. He’s absolutely brilliant on the violin, and he does charismatic guitar improv on stage. His recent experiments into electronic-type music are also great, and I love his latest studio album Oneness M which features a different vocalist on each track. The video below, uploaded by Youtuber Daniel Branco, is track five, “Meguriaerunara,” on which Sugizo collaborated with vocalist Teru from the rock band Glay. Give it a listen:

Besides his music, Sugizo is also very well-known for being an activist for environmental sustainability, world peace, and human rights. Many celebrities, in Japan and elsewhere, don’t express their views on these issues and try not to get involved in anything that might be political or controversial; however Sugizo is not afraid to express his thoughts on what is important to him and what he believes should be important to all of us. Among other activist events, he has frequently participated in Peace on Earth and Earth Day Tokyo, and recently he powers his guitars and equipment on hydrogen fuel cells. He was also part of Sakamoto Ryuichi’s “No More Landmines” campaign, project Stop Rokkasho, and Greenpeace’s campaign to stop whaling in Japan. Further, he has been involved with volunteer and memorial work for the victims of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, and he has performed various times at camps for Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

What I admire most about Sugizo is how he consistently uses his art as a tool for activism. This can be seen in many of his songs such as “Enola Gay,” “Pray for Mother Earth,” and “No More Machine Guns Play the Guitar,” which I quoted previously in my post Stop the Killing. His work pushes me to use my writing, music, and artwork to advocate for the issues that matter to me.

If you like violin, or even if you haven’t listened to violin very much, here’s Sugizo’s beautiful performance of “Synchronicity” at a 2008 concert, uploaded by Youtuber EINxSOF:

Give some of his music a listen and see what you think! Happy 50th birthday, Sugizo – keep on doing what you do best, inspiring your fans to stand up for what is right.

Sleep, Wake, Sleep…

As the sun creeps slowly below the horizon I sit at my desk, earphones in, thinking myself haunted. I see faces at the window that aren’t there. Voices from the past scream into my ear, giving impressions of beauty and sorrow from a time long gone. I close my eyes.

One of the songs on the playlist pulls at me; I put it on repeat. Slowly I listen with care, feeling the rhythm of the dead musician’s pain, the lyrics made even more tragic by the circumstances of his life and death. It makes me think of something… something I can’t quite get at, a feeling I can’t name. I wonder what I’m doing, listening to this song in the silence.

After four or five times around I realize that the night has settled, and it’s about time for me to go to sleep. I turn the music off. As I stand up I glance over at my bed, at the blanket and the sheets, and I wonder with a sudden heaviness: what if I just never woke up?

I think about what would happen. Who would find me, what they would do, who they would call. The suffering it might create. But even then, it would be easy, right? Just close your eyes and drift into nothingness, and it’ll be alright.

Yes. It would be easy – but only for me.

People die in their sleep all the time. Some want to die, others don’t. Some actively seek it out, others have no idea what’s coming to them. And then there are some people who just have a strange, ambiguous feeling, as if their life is rushing very quickly towards some undefinable conclusion – and all they can do is close their eyes and go along with it, because in the end that’s all any of us can ever do.

Who am I?

I close my eyes, stop thinking, and just go to bed.

Happy 46th Birthday, GACKT

If you’ve read my About page or blog intro, you know that GACKT is my favorite singer-songwriter. He turns 46 today, so I thought I’d briefly talk about who he is and why I respect and admire him!

Mainly considered a rock or pop artist but very difficult to define, GACKT is known for his previous work as the vocalist of the visual kei rock band Malice Mizer. Visual kei is a Japanese musical style that emphasizes crazy make-up, hair, and costume, and sometimes a frequently changing androgynous appearance. (My favorite band, X Japan, is one of the founders of visual kei). While part of Malice Mizer, GACKT became close to the band’s drummer, Kami, and also became known as a very powerful vocalist.

After several years and for several different reasons, GACKT chose to leave the band to start his solo career. He was on his solo debut tour when his friend Kami died in his sleep from a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Greatly affected by his death, GACKT dedicated the song “U+K” (Kami’s initials) and the live performance of “E’mu~for my dear~” to Kami, and to this day he still visits his grave twice a year on his birthday and the day of his death. GACKT spoke openly about this years later at the screening of his single “P.S. I Love U”, where in an interview he explained that the deaths of others push him to continue struggling through life, and that since Kami’s death he has been determined to live without regrets. Roughly ten minutes of this touching interview with English subtitles can be found below, with all credits to YuzuTranslations.

GACKT has become a very famous solo artist, currently holding the male record for the most consecutive top ten singles on the Oricon charts. He also works as a film writer, actor, playwright, voice actor, is a frequent guest on several T.V. shows, and has a dedicated global following. He is close friends with several famous Japanese celebrities such as Hamada Masatoshi (Downtown), Yoshiki (X Japan), and Miyavi, and his backing band has consisted of well-known artists such as Chachamaru, Ju-ken, and Chirolyn.

In terms of musical style, some of GACKT’s songs are heavy rock, some are ballads, and many are combinations of the two. His lyrics are known for being extremely emotional, poetic, and oftentimes philosophical, exploring issues such as the flaws of humanity — i.e. why we repeatedly go to war and create tragedy for ourselves when we can be loving each other instead. After 9/11, he wrote “Juunigatsu no Love Song,” which is a beautiful anthem for those who love the world at peace. GACKT often blends traditional Japanese instruments with modern rock instruments, as can be heard in “Returner (Yami no Shūen)”, creating a very distinctive sound that I personally enjoy a lot. He also sings a great vibrato and conveys a depth of emotion that many singers can’t quite reach.

What I most admire about GACKT is how much thought and effort he puts into everything he does. Incredibly passionate and perfectionist, he works very hard, planning and practicing events down to the smallest detail. As a result, his concerts and live shows are always fantastic, and he consistently turns out new music. He is very gracious to his fans, often arranging private trips for his fan club, and is extraordinarily supportive of all of his staff, band members, and backup dancers. He is also known for always having great things to say about topics like friendship, love, and finding meaning in life. In the video below, also subtitled and uploaded by YuzuTranslations, he encourages a hesitant caller to take her relationship one step further with the woman she loves.

I hope you can see why I respect him! If you haven’t heard of him before, please give some of his songs a listen. Many are on Youtube and many have English subtitles so that you can read along. Translated lyrics and notes for most songs can also be found here, with all credits to Amaia.

Happy 46th birthday, GACKT!

花火 – Hanabi

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. In the US, it’s Independence Day. Full of parties, barbecues, family gatherings, and fireworks.

My sister calls it “National Day of Air Pollution.”

As this article by terrapass explains, traditional fireworks create an immense amount of pollution and cause damage to human health and the natural environment in many ways. This CityLab article traces and graphs the dramatic spike in air pollution caused by July 4th activities. Please take a look – it’s frightening.

And so, for everyone planning to celebrate tomorrow, I ask you to please, please, be environmentally conscious. If you’re going to use fireworks, make sure they’re wrapped in biodegradable paper and the materials used were mined in a sustainable fashion. If you’re planning on going to a display organized by your city or another group, make sure they’re putting in genuine effort to make the event ecologically friendly and carbon-neutral. If they aren’t, badger them about it. Insist on sustainability because we can’t afford any less. Or, better yet, don’t support the fireworks at all. Stay home, stay with your family. Play games, make music, talk. You don’t need fireworks to celebrate – and I often find that sitting around the piano with my loved ones is much more valuable than going out to watch bright flashes on a thick layer of smoke.

Please give some thought to how you’re spending your time tomorrow. Enjoy the day – but don’t forget your impact on this fragile earth we live upon. At this point, everything matters.

Just a Beetle

I’ve just finished a seaside lunch of grilled fish, potatoes, and rice. As I walk back to my car from the restaurant, I see it – a little black beetle crawling across the asphalt. Something about it gives me pause; I stare at it, slightly entranced, wondering. The beetle starts to cross a stretch of the parking lot that cars take to exit. “Don’t get run over by the cars,” I tell it hopefully.

I watch with care as the first car approaches. I would very much like to put my hands up, to stop the car to make sure the beetle gets to the other side safely – but I’m almost certain the driver wouldn’t appreciate it. I just say again, “Don’t get run over.” For a moment I’m afraid, but the beetle turns away from the car’s tires. I breathe a sigh of relief.

After a short while another car comes. The beetle hasn’t made it to the other side yet. “Don’t get run over by the car,” I say. The beetle evades the front tires, and I begin to relax – too early. It starts to turn back towards me, as if having second thoughts, and disappears under the rear right tire. The car drives away.

I’m shocked and almost violently saddened, staring at the blob of beetle on the ground. I start thinking about how many little creatures must get run over by cars every day. I start thinking about how unfair it is that just because a creature is small, its life isn’t given as much notice or value. Then I wonder why I’m so sad just because a beetle got run over.

Just…

My own thoughts make me feel sick. I head back to my car, and I try not to think on the way home.

Memories, Hanging on a Thread

When I search through old pictures I find pictures of you. I find screenshots of our conversations from four years ago, conversations I don’t even remember having. I wonder at how your pictures ended up on my computer, because I’m not quite sure. But they immediately evoke feelings of another time, another place – the days when we were so, so close – and it’s not as if we aren’t close now, but things have changed.

Things have changed, and we can’t go back.

I miss you.

I miss talking to you for hours every day. I miss sending each other pictures of our lives. I miss our nightly discussions, debating great philosophical questions as they applied to us. I miss the camaraderie of the home we created, the place where people didn’t have to worry about being judged based on their age. I miss recognizing each other’s flaws, knowing which responsibilities you could take on and which ones I’d be better off taking. I miss the time when we had the power and the platform to make each other happy – every single day.

I hope I will meet you someday. If there’s this much undefinable nostalgia, I know I can’t just let you go.

Pieces of a Shadow

My heart fills with fear when I realize what you’re doing. I stare at you, sitting on your bed with a calmness I haven’t seen in years. I watch as your fingers deliberately tie the rope. I call out to you, confessing my love, pleading for you to live, but you can’t hear me.

Please, stop. I can’t lose you.

You can’t even see me. I fall to the floor, reaching in a panic for the tiny pieces of darkness scattered across the room. Most of them dissolve in my hands without form or depth; others, like shards of glass, draw pain and blood. I give no mind to the scarlet running down my arms onto your carpet. I struggle to fit the dark pieces against each other, trying to stitch together a shadow so that you can live again. But it’s no use, and I know it.

You’re not even dead yet, and in my head I’m already reciting the speech I’m going to give at your funeral.

I watch as you sit at your desk and write your letter, a short note overflowing with pain and anger and sorrow. I close my eyes and pray into the silence that you won’t sign it. But you do, happily. You stand up and cross the room, and I don’t open my eyes again until you’re hovering ten inches off the floor.

I thought I could save you. But all I could do was give you a broken shadow and a formless hope that you would make it.

“I’m Not Gay.”

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I was at a dear friend’s house the other day. Her younger brother Brandon was home, and he had also invited a friend over, a male friend we’ll just call Matthew. My friend went upstairs to clean her room, so it was me and the two boys. I didn’t talk to them much, not knowing what to say.

After a while Brandon had to duck out to take care of something, so Matthew stood up and hugged him and went to the door to say goodbye. Then, as soon as the door closed, Matthew turned around, saw me watching him, and said quickly, “I’m not gay.”

For a moment I was surprised. But after that all I felt was a deep sense of sadness.

I was sad, because we live in a society wherein men are told they cannot show any form of affection to their same-sex peers, and if they do show affection they are immediately labeled as gay. And I was sad because whether or not Matthew actually identified as gay at the time, he felt it urgent to clarify to me that he was not, because he knew that being perceived as gay could threaten his safety.

I just looked at him and shrugged and said, “So what if you are?”

But I wish I had also said, “Compassion doesn’t dictate sexuality.” I wish I had said, “It’s okay to show affection towards your friends, and it’s also okay to be gay.” I wish I had told him he was safe with me either way. And I wish I had applauded and thanked him for being willing to show emotion in a society where it’s violently suppressed.

I didn’t have the right words at the time, but I do now. So, Matthew, here’s to you. And here’s to all the gay teens, and all the questioning teens, and all the guys who daily demand the right to show affection to other guys without it being judged as a component of their sexuality. Keep on living, just the way you are.