Entry #19 – Thanksgiving, and Acoustic vs. Electronic Music

Hey everyone, it’s Kohaku. Hope you all had a safe and happy week.

Well, American Thanksgiving happened, and Black Friday and all of that. For those who celebrate Thanksgiving, did you have a good, authentic time with your families? Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see some of my family this year, but I enjoyed the time I had with those I could. That’s important, don’t you think?

Well, anyway, what are you all thankful for? What does this holiday mean to you? Holidays are pretty subjective – I said that when discussing Halloween. I guess for some people, Thanksgiving is about food. For some, it’s about the upcoming Black Friday sales. For some, it’s about seeing family and friends. For some, it’s about mourning America’s history of genocide. Thanksgiving is different things for different people – just like Halloween, New Year’s Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and so on. Holidays are interesting like that.

Anyhow, beyond Thanksgiving, I thought I’d like to talk about something music-related this week, since I think I mentioned my new guitar last time.

Here’s a question for you all: do you prefer acoustic or electronic music?

An interesting question, I think, especially in this day and age. The use of electronics in music is getting more and more prevalent – and there’s different levels to electronic music, different types and so on. So the question itself can be surprisingly broad.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I think that for me personally, I definitely prefer acoustic. But sometimes I’m okay with electronic amplification. Electric guitars, for instance, I generally do like. So for me it’s not about a strict electric versus acoustic “sound.”

In debating this question, the thing that bothers me is how the music is made – how the sound is produced, and who is producing it. I value virtuosic, technically-skilled musicians who have gone through years of practice and training and effort and can produce unique, incredible sounds on their chosen instrument/s. I value hearing the actual instrument – hearing the strum of the guitar, the sliding of the fingers up and down the strings, the vibrations beneath the piano, the tiny characteristics unique to each singer’s raw voice. I value being able to actually watch a musician play their instrument in this way.

In contrast, I don’t like music that is very electronic or synth-heavy, music that is programmed, music that is produced, pre-recorded, and altered digitally and then played by pressing a button. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this kind of music, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t take skill and artistic creativity to produce it. Many people do like it, and it’s certainly the right of musicians around the world to be able to utilize the latest technology to pursue the limits of what is auditorily and musically possible. I’ve also nothing against electronic distribution of music, which is definitely better for the environment at any rate. I just personally do not like music that is not really produced on an actual “instrument.” It feels to me almost inauthentic.

Some musicians are able to balance these two types of music very well. And some musicians can produce very good electronic music. It’s really quite up to personal preference, so having stated mine, I’d like to ask: what about you? What does “acoustic versus electronic” mean to you, and which do you prefer? Do you care? Does it matter?

Give your musical preferences some thought this week, won’t you? Music is important. I think a lot of people underestimate how important it can be.

Take care of yourselves.

KT

diminished seventh

a silent figure sits alone
the ruins of his shattered throne
his hands gracing all he can own
and no one there to watch him.

he strikes a chord and heaves a sigh
and starts to play that famous lie
conceived by those now gods on high
who never cared to watch him.

“No more of this,” he starts to say
but even still his fingers play
a room of spirits start to sway
they blindly cannot watch him.

the song moves on from verse to verse
he protests more, his speech grows terse
he looks around to find his hearse
who ever could have watched him?

shattered, he leaves his soul behind
a man now to his fate resigned
he crosses the border of his mind
with no one there to watch him.

Entry #5 – Recent Artist Inspirations

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a really great week.

For this entry I’m just going to be discussing the music and books that have occupied my free time for the past few days.

Here we go!


Music

~ HYDE

I spent some time listening to some of HYDE’s albums that I hadn’t gotten to until now. I put on Roentgen, and it surprised me how soft it was in comparison to his most recent album Anti (which I absolutely love!). I really liked Roentgen and found it to be a good album to just have playing in the background while working. Listening to it does help me focus somehow – I cranked out three new chapters of Chasing Life With You in a single day! I also prefer the Japanese version of Roentgen to the English, but then, HYDE’s English skills have certainly improved a lot since.

I also listened to his self-titled album, the second most recent. It didn’t hit me as much as Anti or Roentgen, but I feel like it’s an album I’ll enjoy better the more and more I listen to it. It’s interesting to see HYDE’s diversity as an artist evolve through the years.

~ L’arc~en~Ciel

I finally put on a “best of” compilation and gave L’arc~en~Ciel a try. Their music was softer than I expected – I thought they’d be more of a heavy rock group. I also couldn’t feel each member’s power as much as I thought I would. I do really enjoy a lot of their songs, however, and I’d be interested to go through the rest of their discography and learn more about the band members.

~ LUNA SEA

I’ve honestly never been a huge fan of LUNA SEA, but I tried them out again and enjoyed a few of their songs. Put simply, I can understand why they’re popular, and I respect their musical skills, but maybe they’re just not my thing. I’m not averse to listening to them, though. Maybe one day in the future I’ll like them more.

~ DIR EN GREY

My first impression was: this band is disturbing…

Probably, this isn’t new to dir fans!

I couldn’t get through a lot of their songs. Dir is definitely a powerful band with powerful members, and the way they express their artistry is intense. I admire their skills in that respect.

I think I prefer vocalist Kyo’s work in sukekiyo to his work in dir, the same way I generally prefer HYDE’s and Sugizo’s solo works. But maybe this is because I don’t know the other band members very well.

Anyway, I’ll have to rack up some courage before continuing on with dir’s “best of” compilation.


Books

~ goodbye, things (Fumio Sasaki)

This is one of my favorite books! I’ve read it many times, and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s an easy read, though not a particularly fast one, and I like to pick it up every once in a while to keep minimalism fresh in my head.

Take a look at this book if you haven’t yet. If you’ve never heard of minimalism before or are averse to the idea, read it with an open mind. You’ll be surprised how much happier you can be just by living with fewer things.

~ The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston)

I have to admit, I didn’t love the book as a whole when I first read it a couple of years ago. It’s essentially several short stories tied together with common themes of being a second-generation Asian immigrant, Chinese legends and folktales, and living as an Asian-American woman. While I wasn’t a huge fan, I found Kingston’s style at least interesting, especially her discussion of “talk-stories” and her frequent inclusion of legends, famous stories, and cultural symbols that would easily be missed by someone unfamiliar with them. Outside of that, the book wasn’t very impactful for me.

There is one story in this book that I really do love, however, and it’s the only one I’ve cared to reread multiple times – “White Tiger.”

Don’t get me started on the connection to my name.

“White Tiger” is probably the most female-empowering story I’ve ever heard. Whenever I need special strength, whenever I feel like I have to become a “warrior woman,” I’ll pick up this story and read it again.

If you’re looking for more books from female or Asian authors, give this one a try. Even if you don’t like it as a whole, maybe one of the stories will hit you hard and give you the power to keep on living.

~ After Dark (Haruki Murakami)

I’m steadily working my way through Murakami’s long list of publications. He’s my absolute favorite author, and the themes he consistently touches on are really powerful.

That being said, I didn’t enjoy After Dark as much as I thought I would. It was still a really good book, though – just not one of my favorites of his. The interesting writing style jumped out at me immediately and successfully kept me hooked all the way to the end. I think that was the best part of the book for me – how Murakami was able to express the mysteries and dangers of nightlife through the ways he manipulated the written word. It was impressive and kind of fascinating. I wouldn’t mind reading it again.


I guess that’s all for today. Now I want to listen to more L’arc~en~Ciel for some reason.

What works of art – books, music, or otherwise – have captured your attention recently? Think about it. And maybe, tell me. I’m always looking for new artists to love and learn from.

This week, try out a new artist’s work. It’s important to always be expanding your worldview and increasing your breadth of knowledge through art, no matter your age. I once read somewhere that the day you stop learning, you die. We are all “students” in this sense.

Take care of yourself!

KT

Entry #2 – Times Are Changing. Children Are, Too.

Hi! Kohaku here. I hope everyone had a great week. Let’s all say hello and give August a warm welcome.

I think this journal entry will turn out to be a little long. Sorry if you think so, but I have a lot to say!

I wanted to start out talking about the music and musicians I’ve been into recently. I’ve gotten into HYDE’s solo work this past week, and I actually really love his style. I think he’s an incredible artist. He sings very well in both English and Japanese, and he’s very effective at conveying his worldview through song lyrics, visual elements, and depth of sound. 「MAD QUALIA」is one of my favorites in terms of mixed-language lyrics and subject matter. So too is 「WHO’S GONNA SAVE US」, which has an extremely thought-provoking and even disturbing music video. 「SET IN STONE」, while I can’t call it a “favorite” because of its theme, is a thoughtful, artistically explosive cry against gun violence. Similarly,「TWO FACE」for me is reminiscent of how I and those I know have grappled with depression and other mental illnesses. What really does it for me, though, is the English version of 「ZIPANG」. Granted, the Japanese version is stunning as well, but the English one completely exceeded my expectations. I haven’t made it through all of HYDE’s discography yet, but you can bet I’ll be working on it next week!

I’ve also been listening to a lot of GACKT’s older songs and concert videos. He’s been my favorite singer for a while now, but it’s only recently that I’ve started to pay attention to the members of his backup band – Chachamaru, for instance, who plays lead guitar and also frequently sings backing vocals. I know I’m late to the party, but he’s really an incredible guitarist, and he sings pretty well too! Also… he’s just really pretty…

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about visual kei as a whole and the impact it’s had on me as an individual. I’ve said this before, but I currently identify as queer and non-binary, and I think it was really lucky for me that I got into j-rock and visual kei just as I was beginning to explore my gender identity and sexuality. It was extremely empowering for me to see artists who were willing to challenge their traditionally conservative society on so many levels. I was amazed to see guys who weren’t afraid to present themselves in a more androgynous or feminine way, guys who weren’t afraid to express their genuine emotions, guys who weren’t afraid to touch and kiss each other on stage, even if it was just fan service. From when I started questioning to where I am today, this kind of thing really does mean a lot to me. I still have a long list of visual kei bands and artists I’ve yet to listen to, and I want to look into some female artists as well. (I say that as if I have all the time in the world to just laze around listening to music all day…)

Well, anyway, this talk reminded me that I wanted to mention LGBTQ+ rights and representation in Asia. I’m ethnically Taiwanese, so I was really proud and excited when Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage this past May. But at the same time, I was really sad. A lot of Asian countries are dragging their feet on this, and rights and representation are typically severely lacking. However, this past week I did read an article about Japan’s recent elections that gave me a bit of hope.

As in basically every other Asian nation, same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Japan – if I remember correctly, there’s a clause in the constitution that states something to the effect of “marriage shall only occur under the consent of both sexes”. Sexual orientation is also not protected under anti-discrimination laws, and even though gay sex has at least been legal for a while, LGBTQ+ folks remain largely suppressed. Well, I’m not up to date on modern Japanese politics, so don’t just take my word for it – go search it up and educate yourself! And if I’m wrong, let me know. But anyway, I read that in the recent elections for parliament, Japan elected its first openly gay male lawmaker, Ishikawa Taiga. I don’t know much about him, so I can’t necessarily say he’s a good politician or anything (if such thing even exists). But, I’m really happy in terms of representation. He sounds like he’s determined and dedicated to the fight for marriage equality. The current prime minister and ruling party are opposed, but, we can hope.

I also read that in this same election, Japan elected its first two severely disabled lawmakers – one with ALS, and one with cerebral palsy. I’m really happy about this, too. Maybe, attitudes are beginning to change in Japan on not just LGBTQ+ issues but disabilities as well. Just because someone is in a wheelchair, requires medication, needs a caretaker, or thinks about things in a slightly different way, doesn’t mean they are incapable of living fully and making their voices heard. Physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, mental illnesses – we all have something, and really, at the end of the day, who’s to say who can and can’t participate in society?

On this note, I want to mention my friend E. It was her birthday yesterday. She’s my junior, so I try to look after her and take care of her as much as I can. I can teach her things to help her navigate her life situation, but she also teaches me things in return. I think that people should not just take care of their juniors better – they should be more open-minded to learning from those who are younger than them. This is really, really important. To the older generations, don’t be so quick to label today’s youth as lazy, arrogant, disrespectful, stupid, or overly sensitive. Remember that they are growing up in an environment entirely different from the one that you grew up in. Try to imagine that.

To illustrate, today’s children are growing up in the face of climate change, school shootings, mass gun violence, political corruption, rising hate crimes. They are growing up with a 24-hour news cycle and journalism that heavily prioritizes tragedy. They are growing up in an age where internet and technology make it incredibly easy to educate themselves on all of the current genocides occurring in the world (do you know how many? search it up), as well as incredibly cruel human rights violations in the present and the past (look up the report Human Rights Watch has on your country), and all of the terrible things humans have done to each other throughout history. They are growing up with school textbooks that bluntly recite hundreds of years of humanity’s failure to learn from our mistakes. They are also growing up with all of the consequences of the careless ways older generations treated and continue to treat our environment – climate change is not the beginning nor the end of it.

This is not to say that other generations have not faced some of these issues, and it’s not to say that the issues today’s youth are facing are any “worse” than the ones other generations have faced. I didn’t grow up in a different time, so I can’t make that kind of subjective judgment. But the issues now are undeniably different, and I think older people would do well to remember that. Times have changed – children have changed, too. So, if you’re of an older generation, I ask you to please make an effort to be more open-minded toward those younger than you. If the youth are protesting, if they are voicing dissatisfaction at something or someone, if they are demanding change, listen. Be respectful. Try to imagine what it would be like to be a young person today.

A lot of people seem to have trouble with this. The other day I read an article about Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old activist who became famous after her school strike for climate caught the media’s attention. I’ve been following her activities for a while now, and I really respect her a lot. But this article detailed the ways in which a columnist named Andrew Bolt attacked her in writing – calling her names, falsely representing autism (Greta is on the spectrum), and using her mental disorders as well as her youth to ridicule her and those who support her. I found the language he used extremely disrespectful, rude, and thoughtless… really, I was repulsed.

Question: on the day Greta Thunberg turns 18 years old, will you suddenly start listening to her because she is now an “adult” and therefore “worthy” of your respect?

Please, stop judging people for their age. It’s just a number and really means little in this society where many adults act like children themselves.

Another question: if Greta Thunberg did not have Asperger’s, would you listen to her then?

If you do not know what Asperger’s is, please search it up. It does not make someone incapable of rational thought and decision-making. It does not make someone unworthy of fully participating in society and making their voice heard.

Not in this article but in others, I’ve also heard people accusing Greta of allowing herself to be politically manipulated by those older than her. This too I find kind of ridiculous.

Third question: at what age do children suddenly develop critical thinking skills and free thought?

If you’ve heard any of Greta’s speeches, or read about her at all, you can see that she is incredibly coherent and very well-educated on the climate crisis, probably more so than most adults. Just because she is a vocal sixteen year old, does not mean she is being politically manipulated.

Besides – climate change is not a political issue.

Neither is any part of HIPPCO (look this up!).

Neither is human rights.

This week, practice being more open-minded. Listen to those younger than you, and be willing to learn from them. Also practice educating yourself. Live with the intent of learning something new every day. Right now, go to your search engine, and type in “japan’s recent elections.” Type in “climate change.” Type in “Hong Kong protests.” Then read all of the articles you can – even the news sources that you know reflect a different political opinion from you, even the scientific journal articles that sound like they’ll go way over your head. Don’t depend on other people to spoon feed you information from their biased perspective. Fight your own hidden biases by never, ever forgetting the value of self-education.

And, as always, take care of yourself.

KT

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!

Underwater Moments

I’m busy at the piano when he arrives, deep into a piano arrangement of “Forever Love” that I’ve been learning recently. I always play when I’m expecting guests, my way of saying I’m here, you’re at the right house, I’m waiting for you. My phone is on the music stand, so I see when he texts me that he’s here. He says that someone is playing the piano and he doesn’t want to interrupt by ringing the doorbell. I smile, stop in the middle of the chorus, and get up to greet him at the door.

He smiles at me a little shyly; we haven’t seen each other since graduation. I explain that nobody else is home, so it’s just the two of us. I ask if he wants a house tour, since this is his first time here, and he says yes. I show him around.

When we’re done I ask him what he wants to do. I say that I have video games; he shakes his head, laughing, and tells me, “I’m not a gamer.” He says, “How about we just sit and talk?”

We sit on the couch together. I’m grateful for his suggestion – most people these days seem to not understand the value of just having a conversation, and I’m so glad that he does. We talk about everything – what we’ve been up to, what we plan to do this summer, places we want to travel to. We spend ages reminiscing about the books we read in our childhood – books like Septimus Heap and Eragon, books I haven’t thought about in years, books I can’t name or even vaguely summarize anymore. When we tire of the couch we go outside and sit in the backyard. We talk for over an hour, and I treasure every second of it.

When the conversation starts to taper off I check the time and then ask him, “Can you eat now?” He’s told me that he eats at odd hours, so I want to make sure I’m not forcing him at a time when he’s full. But he nods and says sure, he can eat, so we go inside and I boil water to make pasta. He takes my phone while I’m cooking and takes pictures of both of us.

The pasta is ready before long. I offer him my two usual sauces, yuzukosho and mentaiko, and he says, “I think I’ll just have butter.” I put yuzukosho on mine and we sit at the table to eat a decent lunch. We talk sparingly, just enjoying the meal and the company, and we both have seconds.

By the time we’re finished with lunch, the clouds have cleared and I think the pool is warm enough for swimming. After we’ve changed into our swimwear I ask him if he wants to go in the jacuzzi too, and he says yes. Then I ask if he wants bubbles, and he laughs at me. “Do you have to ask?” he says. I turn on the spa mode and we head outside.

He goes into the jacuzzi first, and I follow him. The water heats up slowly around us. He brings up how if you put a frog in a pot and turn up the heat slowly, it supposedly won’t jump out – it’ll just boil to death because it can’t sense gradual changes in temperature. I laugh. He says a friend gave him his swim trunks for his birthday, but they’re a little too small. I say that my swimsuit is way too small for me now. We talk about bleaching hair and getting tattoos.

After a while he gets up to go in the pool, and I follow. I yelp as I step into the shallow end, because it feels ice cold compared to the jacuzzi. I say we probably should’ve gotten in the pool first and he nods in agreement. He throws himself into the cold water and adjusts well ahead of me. He wipes his face with one hand, looks at me, and says, “This is refreshing!” He goes back to the jacuzzi while I’m still crouched in the shallows, trying to acclimate to the colder temperature.

After a few minutes I’m finally able to dunk myself in the pool. I tread water and swim around a little; he watches me and smiles. I rejoin him in the jacuzzi and we talk for a little while longer. Then the heat starts putting us both to sleep, so we go back to the pool again. This time it doesn’t take me as long to adjust. We swim towards the center of the pool and he dunks himself beneath the surface, eyes closed; I go down with my goggles on and look at him underwater. His shirt drifts up in the current, revealing the snake tattoo on his hip. I think to myself that this is one gorgeous image, something I’d like to remember forever.

We surface together and swim to the side of the pool, looking out over the city below us and the mountains in the distance. I say, “Sometimes you need to just stop and appreciate life.” He passionately agrees. We go back to the jacuzzi, joke about boiling like frogs, and when it gets too hot we get up and go back inside.

I put the dishes away while he’s changing in the bathroom. I don’t change out of my swimsuit, planning to take a shower later, but I put a shirt on over it and try not to drip all over the kitchen. He comes back in his normal clothes, sits on the island, and I sit on the counter and we talk for another forty minutes. I give him the letter I had planned to write him before graduation. He reads it and hugs me.

Before long he says he has to go. I walk him to the door, and we hug again. He says maybe next time he’ll play Dynasty Warriors with me.

I hope there’s a next time. Even in the summer, such beautiful days are hard to plan.

Happy, For Now

I sit on the piano bench, let loose my fingers on the black-and-white keys. For a moment I feel detached from myself – listening to the music as if I’m not the one creating it. The melody washes over me. I breathe slowly, feeling a powerful calm, treasuring the moment.

Two songs later I pause for a break, and he takes advantage of the moment to say, “You should stop now.”

I feel my face flush. “I know.”

He stares at me, amber eyes burning, and gives a wry smile. “You aren’t going to stop, are you?”

I laugh and lay my fingers back onto the keys. Another song fills the air, charged with sorrow and pain, almost haunting. I fumble on some of the notes, the piece still new to me, and struggle to turn the pages of my sheet music while retaining the heavy emotional mood.

Behind me he says, “You’ll pay for it later.

I ignore him and continue on. I wish he would make himself useful and turn the pages for me.

When at last I land on the final tragic chord I look over at him and say angrily, “I’m not stupid.”

“You sure look like it,” he retorts. “What are you doing with yourself?”

“Making myself happy,” I reply. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Making yourself happy? You won’t be happy tonight when your shoulder hurts so bad you can’t sleep. You’re an idiot.”

I’m happy right now,” I say. “Isn’t that enough? Wouldn’t you rather be happy now and miserable later than miserable all the time?”

He quiets for a moment. “I don’t understand how you live,” he says.

For some reason I find the statement ridiculously funny. “I don’t understand how I live either,” I say amusedly. “But why do I have to try to understand anything? Why can’t I just live?”

He reddens and looks away. “If you’re going to keep playing, shut up and play.”

I shut up and play, and the day wears on.

Zuihitsu #26

Day by day,
I am reminded
Of the simple, healing
Power of music.

Across time,
Instruments change,
Styles evolve,
New genres are born –
But the purpose of music
As art remains the same:
To express the depths
Of the human heart –
To connect us to each other –
To heal our hurts –
To prove we are not alone
In all our pain.

In times of suffering –
Always –
I gravitate to music.
Composing,
Playing,
Listening,
Singing.
Even if the music simply
Gives my pain and sorrow back to me –
Even if it can’t
Give me any answers –
Even if it drives me
Further into depression –
I find peace.

And isn’t that what we’re all looking for, in the end?

Conversations in the Night (2)

I sense the storm coming an hour before it hits. The sky has been clear all day, and it doesn’t look like the weather will change, but I know it will. I lay on my bed, listening to raging music through my headphones, waiting for the rain to come. Fear, anger, and grief course through my body in alternating currents, both meeting and overpowering the passion of the tenor vocalist. I lay there with my eyes closed, listening and breathing hard, struggling not to let the tears overtake me. There’s no reason to cry right now, but I feel like I will.

The sound of my name comes abruptly out of nowhere. “Haku!”

I sit up quickly, tear my headphones out of my ears, and wipe my face on my sleeve. “Hi,” I reply, clearing my throat.

They look at me curiously before going over to sit in my chair. I hadn’t heard the rain start, but with the music silenced the raging of the storm is shockingly loud. I walk over to close the window I don’t remember having opened, and my hair gets slightly wet in the process.

“What’s up?” they ask me.

“Nothing,” I say. “I was just thinking.” I go back to my bed, take the winter blanket off, and sit with it draped over my knees on the floor.

“What were you thinking about?”

“Death,” I say casually. “I was thinking about how people die.”

“Everybody dies,” they say.

“Yeah, I know, but some people die for no good reason. Some people die for no reason at all. And some people die because they want to die, and other people don’t want to die but they’re forced to die anyway.”

I shut my mouth and stare at them, waiting for a response. They close their amber eyes, pondering my statements for a long time. The gentle pattering of the rain fills our silence.

Finally they say, “What about you?”

“What about me?” I ask, surprised.

“Do you want to die?”

“Me?” I choke trying to find a good answer. “I mean, sometimes, yeah. At least I know for sure that I don’t want to not die. That’d be even worse than living.”

“Life sucks,” they admit. “Especially eternal life. But is death better?”

“It’s easier,” I say.

They nod in agreement. “So – what do you think will happen when you die?”

“I have no idea,” I reply honestly.

“Well, you know a lot of dead people, right?” they say. “Do you think you’ll get to see them again?”

The question strikes me. I sit for a while, thinking about it, while the storm rages around us. “I’d like to believe that,” I say.

“You’d give anything to see some of them again, right?”

I nod slowly. “Yeah.”

“It’s hard to live without them,” they say sympathetically.

Lightning flashes outside my window, and within a second I can feel tears spilling onto my face. “It’s so stupid,” I say. “He never said goodbye.”

They come over and sit next to me, laying a gentle hand on my shoulder as I cry. “It’s hard,” they say softly into my ear. “Whether you knew or not.”

“I knew,” I whisper hollowly. “I knew. He was rushing towards death, and I was waiting for him to die. Isn’t that… isn’t that so wrong?”

“Nobody could have saved him,” they say. “It’s not your fault.”

“But we could have saved him,” I insist, reaching up to wipe my face. “If people cared more, he’d still be alive. If people took him seriously, if they paid attention, if they…” I trail off into a thundering sob. I’m embarrassed to really cry in front of someone, but it’s too late now.

“You care about people too much,” they say gently as they stroke my hair. “You say you hate humanity, but admit it – somehow, at the same time, you love humans. You love them too deeply, so when they make mistakes, when they give up, when they die, you hurt. You hurt a lot.”

I choke down another sob and shake my head. “Of course I hurt. What’s the alternative?”

“You could choose not to love,” they say.

“That’s stupid,” I say, suddenly wildly angry amidst my tears. “What kind of life is that?”

“You could also choose death.”

“That’s stupid too,” I snap, surprisingly incensed by the thought. “His death destroyed us all. It destroyed me. I’m not putting my friends and family through that kind of pain.”

They smile at me gently, amber eyes sparkling. “Exactly. So you’ll live, and you’ll love, and you’ll hurt, but for now, that’s okay. Right?”

My tears have stopped. I sit in silent awe for a moment, wondering what it was they said that got me to this startling conclusion. “I guess,” I say. Part of me feels defeated, but my heart is singing only emptiness and acceptance.

“Well, that’s all there is to it, then.” They rise to their feet and go to look out the window. “The storm is letting off already. I should probably go.”

“Okay.” I remain where I am on the floor, too tired to stand.

They look down at me, grounding me. “See you later, Haku,” they say.

“Later,” I reply.

They stand there, grinning at me awkwardly. “Um.”

Oh… sorry.” I haul myself to my feet and go over to open the window, struggling against the old, partially-broken sliding mechanism. And as soon as I’ve won the fight, I’m alone.

I pause, breathing in the misty air, readjusting. Then I smile, put my headphones back in, and turn on the music.

Conversations in the Night

Cold air rushes into my room as I prop open the window. I stick my head out for barely a second, just long enough to glance up at the night sky. The moon and stars are there, but I can’t see them under their blanket of dark gray clouds.

I sit back on my bed and wait for the coming downpour, something I can sense in the heaviness of the air. The drops come down lightly at first, but within minutes a full storm is raging. Water pours violently off the edge of the roof and floods the narrow dirt paths around my house. I listen silently to the sound of the final autumn rain, and before I know it, I’m not the only one in the room.

“Hi, Haku,” they say.

“Hi,” I say back. “It’s raining.”

“I know,” they say, smiling a little. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.”

The rain is now coming down in sheets, and the wind is starting to blow it sideways. I get up to close the window and then fall back onto my bed.

“Why are humans so stupid?” I ask, staring up at the ceiling.

They smile again, sadly. “We just are.”

“I don’t get why people refuse to learn,” I say. “I don’t get why we teach our children to hate, or why we spend our short lives just killing each other and everything else on the planet. I don’t… I don’t understand any of it.”

They think for a moment. “I don’t understand it either. But what do you mean people refuse to learn?”

I try to get my thoughts in order before I answer. “It’s like this,” I say. “We’ll start this huge, stupid war, right? And millions of people die horrible deaths. Soldiers and civilians alike. Children too. And during the war, because of our fear and distrust, we’ll decide to ignore basic human rights, and we just start locking people up and torturing them and killing them for no legitimate reason. And then the war ends somehow, and everyone who’s still alive will say, ‘That was terrible, we mustn’t let that happen ever again.’ And for a few years we all believe that. We believe that we’ve come out of the war having learned something. We believe we’ve become better human beings. And we write down the history of the war and all the terrible things that happened during it, hoping that future generations will learn from our mistakes. But the thing is, we don’t learn. The war generation forgets the war. Their children don’t read the history books, or they read them but don’t know enough to care. And then after some years have passed we start another stupid war over some pointless thing and everything goes to hell again and at the end everyone promises, ‘Never again,’ except nobody really believes that anymore. At least, I don’t. Because nobody remembers, and nobody learns.”

As soon as I’m finished, a roll of thunder pierces the stormy sky. The windowpane rattles. I look out into the darkness of the night and wait for a reply.

They think for a while, as they always do, before posing a hypothetical. “You sound like you’re not happy as a human being,” they say. “So if you could choose to be reincarnated as anything you want in your next life, you wouldn’t come back as a human?”

The question makes me laugh. “Of course not.”

“Why?” they ask, sounding genuinely interested.

I ponder this for a minute. “Don’t get me wrong — I think humans have won some very great things in life, and I agree that we should all be grateful for the comforts and pleasures we have now. You know, medicine and technology and sanitation and things like that. These things are amazing and I’m duly grateful for them. But I think humans overall don’t deserve all of this. We don’t deserve such great lives because we spend them just being so terrible to each other, to the world, to ourselves. So no, I wouldn’t come back. The legacy of humanity is not one I am willing to bear on my shoulders again.”

“You’re not even willing to bear it now,” they say.

I feel my face flush. “Sometimes I can’t deal with it,” I say.

“Pretty often, right?” They look at me with soft concern, brushing their hair out of their eyes with slim fingers.

I look at them and nod. “Yeah.” I’m a little embarrassed now, and I shift my gaze towards a streetlight that has turned on outside. The raindrops on the windowpane cast little dots of shadow onto my desk, and I stare at them, entranced.

“Why don’t you play something for me?” they suggest. “On the piano.”

“Okay.”

We get up and walk downstairs together. They crash on the small sofa in the corner of the room, and I go over to the piano bench. My fingers find my book of sheet music, and I flip through it absently, trying to find something to reflect my current mood. Another roll of thunder shakes the house around us.

I put the music away and sit down at the keys. Within moments the fragile melody of Yiruma’s “River Flows In You” fills the room. I play without thinking, and they listen quietly.

When I finish the piece I pause for a short breath and then go straight into a Brahms intermezzo. Then it’s more Yiruma, “Hope” and the much darker “Indigo.” The music fills my soul and calms me with a powerful grace, but it just as equally threatens to tear me apart. I finish “Indigo” and just sit for a minute, staring at the off-white wall, listening to the sound of the rain.

“What now?” they ask after a while.

“I don’t know,” I say. I touch the keys again, and we’re automatically enveloped in a rich, solemn Chopin nocturne. They close their eyes, and for a moment I close mine, too, letting my fingers run, letting the piano take over.

A few minutes later, the piece comes to a dramatic conclusion. I look over at them, curled up comfortably on the sofa, and ask, “How was it?”

“It was good,” they say. “But could’ve been better, right?”

I nod. “I’m tired of being human,” I tell them.

“I know. But there are humans out there who need you, so for now, you’re stuck with it.”

“I’m stuck,” I agree heavily. “It’s okay. It’s not all bad. Just sometimes.”

Outside I can hear the storm easing, the violence of the sky over and gone within an hour. I get up and open the front door, peering out into the dripping darkness. The clouds seem brighter, the moon and stars shining more powerfully behind them, even though the clouds are still all I can see.

They move up beside me, and we stand side-by-side in the doorway, watching the lingering raindrops hit the ground.

“Time to go,” they say finally. They look me in the eyes then, something most people these days never do. “See you later, Haku.”

I nod and smile. “Later.”

I miss them as soon as they’re gone, but I’m just as glad to be alone.