The Red Kimono


IMG_0368Without giving away too much of my book, The Red Kimono, there is a part in the story where Mama hands Sachi her red kimono. It is Mama’s offering of acceptance and forgiveness. That’s how, for me, a red kimono came to symbolize acceptance and forgiveness. And so, that is what I call this blog. In so much of our past and present, the world could use more of both.

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Christmas Excerpt from The Red Kimono


My historical fiction, The Red Kimono, opens with eight-year old Sachi searching for a Christmas present on December 7, 1941.

mom girlThough Sachi was loosely based on the life of my mother, this scene was based on memories of my own childhood–sneaking around, trying to find Christmas presents my parents might have hidden.

Now, as an adult, I must admit, I’d rather be surprised.

What’s your favorite Christmas memory?

 

EXCERPT:

Like a broken record, Papa’s words played over and over in Sachi’s mind.
Remember gaman, Sachi-chan. You must learn to be patient.
But Christmas was still eighteen days away. Be patient? It was like asking a bird not to fly. She tiptoed into her parents’ room and opened the closet door, hoping the squeaking hinges wouldn’t tattle on her. Pushing her mother’s dresses apart, she searched for presents that might be hidden in the darkness. Anticipation tingled in her hands. Finally, Papa had convinced Mama it would be okay to celebrate Christmas. Sachi giggled to herself, imagining how he must have convinced her.
“Sumiko, I doubt Buddha would have a concern with our family celebrating Christmas the way most Americans do.”
Pearl Harbor . . . surprise attack . . . sinking ships . . .
Sachi jolted at the words that came from a scratchy voice that drifted in from the living room radio and grabbed at Mama’s dresses to regain her balance. Several fell from their hangers.
Taro is in Pearl Harbor!
Images of her oldest brother, surrounded by explosions, flashed in front of her eyes as she ran downstairs. “Papa! Mama!”
Her parents sat across from each other in front of the radio, so still they reminded Sachi of mannequins she’d seen in department store windows. All that moved was the steam rising from the hot tea on the table next to Papa. His eyes looked strange as he stared at it.

The first person to share a Christmas memory in the comments will receive one of my original collage or painted cards, similar to the one below. If you’re the first person to comment, be sure to click HERE to send me your mailing address.

card

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Posted in Excerpt, Family History, The Red Kimono, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Our Cracked Nation


There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
~~Leonard Cohen

Yes, it’s been over a week ten days since Leonard Cohen passed away, which will give you a clue about how long I’ve been working on this blog post, which should give you a hint about how scattered my thoughts have been since the election.

Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, wrote in her column, “Leonard Cohen on Democracy and Redemption”:

One of [Cohen’s] most beloved lyric lines, from the song “Anthem” — a song that took Cohen a decade to write — remains what is perhaps the most meaningful message for our troubled and troubling times: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

In the last week, my feelings have ricocheted between anger and shikata ga nai (Japanese for “it cannot be helped) as I’ve searched for “the light trying to get in.”

After five seven eight nine days of reading hundreds of people’s comments on Facebook/Twitter and watching the news media’s struggle to figure out what happened and what is yet to happen, I can’t tell if I’m coming out of my election-induced fog or going deeper into it.

That’s probably why I’ve been working on this post for three nine days now, not only trying to figure it out for myself, but debating what should and shouldn’t be said.

My hesitance in posting this blog has a lot to do with the criticism I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter toward those who do not appear to be angry enough or reactionary enough. I do understand this. As with every other election in which I’ve participated during my lifetime, everyone is dealing with the results of the election in his/her own way. But this cycle, the divisiveness of our opinions has led people to talk about “unfriending,” or even leaving Facebook all together–myself included.

Then, a few days ago, a friend (my cousin’s cousin) and I, while discussing the election, began talking about gaman.

gaman

I had to laugh when I read one of his posts in reference to a documentary on the Japanese actor, Toshiro Mifune:

gaman

Oddly enough, this Facebook conversation gave me focus on the underlying feeling I’ve had as I’ve seen the interactions of friends and family on social media and listened to news stories full of nothing more than opinions on what’s going to happen next.

We need more gaman, “enduring with patience and dignity”–maybe even more quiet, (or as Ron learned, “shutting up”), at least for now.

I mean no offense to anyone, so let me explain. Here’s where I think we need a little “quiet”:

Social Media
Each person has his/her own ideas of . . . well, everything. And although part of the “light” I’ve seen is a need for open, honest, respectful, conversation, unfortunately, that’s very difficult at this moment in time when emotions still run high, especially on social media.

Maybe it’s our inability to hear voice inflections, or to see the expression on each other’s faces. Or, perhaps it’s that social media often serves as a bullying safety zone. Regardless of the reason, there’s no doubt, the opportunity for misunderstanding/defensiveness/anger/hurt is great.

Staying “quiet” on Facebook has not been an easy thing to do, and I have slipped a few times. We all want to express our opinions, but problems arise when we don’t want to hear anybody else’s opinion, and this seems to be happening more and more on social media.

Besides:

facebook-change-mind

So, for now anyway, this is one area I think we may need a little more gaman, even if it means being quiet on social media.

Our Inner Voice
I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes I am easily offended. Though I have no problem at all with an opinion different from mine, those differing opinions are sometimes expressed in less than respectful ways, especially at a time like now, when emotions run high. I sometimes take that personally.

One of the agreements in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements is:

four-agreements

Quiet your inner voice. As this agreement says, what others say is a projection of their own reality and has nothing to do with you.

News Media
Lots to talk about here:

  • Speculations and Crystal Balls
  • Fake News
  • Confirmation Bias

Speculations and Crystal Balls: If you’ve followed my blog, you probably already know I’m a news junkie addict. I want to know what’s going on, and in the past, I’ve believed the pundits knew what they were talking about, which gave me a feeling of security control.

For over a year, I watched the news daily, sometimes hourly, to see what was going on–what Trump said, what Hillary said about what Trump said, vice versa and blah, blah, blah.

Tuesday night, November 8, almost every news media organization predicted Hillary Clinton would be our next president. Even by President Elect Trump’s own admission, neither he nor his team believed he would win.

In the end, what a waste of time to have watched so closely.

And it continues, even after the election–the sensationalizing of stories that drum up fear and the doling out of mega-doses of guesswork by “experts” about what a Trump presidency will be like.

At this point, it’s almost ALL speculation, and I’m doing my best to quiet my fears about speculation. What I verify has actually happened, (which leads me to the next topic!) I will take action upon, but it probably won’t be via social media.

Fake News
Another reason I’ve been tempted to get off of Facebook is all the fake news I see being shared–as serious news. The problem has become so rampant that both Google and Facebook are taking aim at fake news sites.

For obvious reasons, fake news is something about which we all need to SHUT-UP. In nicer words, please verify news before sharing it.

confirmation-bias

Click HERE for excellent information on websites known for fake/misleading/unreliable/slanted/satirical news.

Confirmation Bias
I used to watch Fox News all…the…time. As a result, I could hardly stand the thought of watching MSNBC or reading the New York Times. One day, I’d had enough of their FOX NEWS ALERTS (everything was an ALERT!) so I started watching CNN.

Now, although I primarily watch CNN, I occasionally switch over to Fox or MSNBC, just for the sake of seeing the difference in how the news is being reported. If you’ve never tried this, take it from me. There’s a huge difference in either how news is being reported, or what news is being reported.

Seeing this difference, it’s no surprise to me that people saw Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton so differently during the campaign.

If you’ve never compared how news is being reported on different venues, click HERE to take a look at this Wall Street Journal graphic titled “Red Feed, Blue Feed.” This graphic publishes liberal and conservative Facebook posts side by side in close-to real time.

red-blue

We need to challenge our confirmation bias. Read or listen to sources that are outside of your comfort zone, with as open a mind as possible.

_______________________

I hope you understand that the “quiet” I speak about is not that we should remain quiet about wrongs or injustices. But there is a time and a place for speaking out, and at least for now, I’m not sure about the effectiveness of social media because nobody is really listening. We’re only pounding our chests.

Most of all, I believe we need to do what we can to silence the fake news and minimize our confirmation bias. How else can we come to understand what’s true, and not what’s to be feared? More important, it’s how we can better come to understand each other, which for me, is the light shining through the crack in our nation.

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Unhyphenated Patriots, Part 2


“All of us can’t stay in the camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don’t know if I’ll make it back.”

The above is an excerpt from a letter written by Tech Sgt. Abraham Ohama of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team–Killed in Action 1/20/1944.

It could have as easily been written by Captain Humayun Khan.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family’s history as I watched his father, Khizr Khan, talk about the loss of his Muslim American son.

In 2011, I wrote a post titled “Unhyphenated Patriots” about the service of Japanese Americans during World War II, even as their families had been “relocated” to internment camps secured by barbed wire and armed soldiers. One of those patriots was my Uncle Yoshio.

uncleyoshioc

The fear-mongering propagated by Donald Trump (and, being a life-long Republican, I’m ashamed to say, also others on the right) about Muslims–whether it’s denying entry, (Trump), “patroling and securing” Muslim neighborhoods, (Cruz) or testing for their loyalty (Gingrich), is, for me, all too similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.

I’ve spoken around the country about The Red Kimono and the internment of Japanese Americans. In my conversations, most, if not all agreed–the internment of Japanese Americans is an ugly event in American history.

And yet, we’re on a slippery slope toward repeating that ugly time in our history.

If you don’t see the similarities, read about Executive Order 9066, which established military zones and curfews, and cleared the way for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

9066

Or, read Questions 27 & 28 from the Loyalty Questionnaire, given to all Japanese American internees 17 years or older:lq

Uncle Yoshio served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in the history of American warfare. He was awarded the Bronze Medal and in 2010, the Congressional Gold Medal. Most importantly, he returned alive.

But, many Japanese Americans did not return from World War II, and many Muslim Americans like Captain Khan, did not return from wars in the Middle East.

I understand fear. I won’t deny I, too, am afraid at times. Perhaps I resist reacting to it because I’ve seen the “other side”–my family has been touched and affected by this kind of fear. Whatever the reason, as long as I can, I will resist allowing my fear to lead me to make decisions that discriminate against an entire people because of the actions of a relative few.

courage

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Harnessing Heartbreak


banner

I’m heartbroken about the events of the last week, at a loss for words–at least the right words. But my mind is swirling with a hundred different thoughts. So, this may be a rambling post, but I’m going to write it anyway.

Some of us may not want to admit it, but we all have prejudices. Worse, many of us, including most of our leaders, are also bigots. I don’t mean to be name calling–I’m counting myself in this, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But if you read the definitions below, I think you might agree.

prejudice2

bigot

It’s human nature to have prejudices–to make assumptions based on what we’ve experienced in the past. It’s safe. It’s easy. But rarely can an assumption about how a few people think or act be cast across an entire group of people.

And as far as bigotry goes, it too, feels safer–more empowering–to stick with those who think like we think. Who wants the discomfort and hassle of having to consider the “other side,” to compromise, to come to the center?

Yet, these “safe” zones of prejudice and bigotry have led us to fear, contempt and ultimately, hatred.

Where has it gotten us?

Nowhere. Except backwards and retreating deeper and deeper into our “safe” zones, which I believe is what led us to the tragic, horrible, sad, unbelievable events of the last week: police officers shooting and killing Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The sniper massacre of five police officers in Dallas.

My mind so exploded with questions of why and how I can hardly organize my thoughts. But here’s my attempt:

  • Our bigotry–our refusal to consider the other side–has led us to a state of living in black and white. (Pun intended.) We’ve become divisive, as though there’s one right and one wrong. There are as many diverse opinions as there are colors, though we often refuse to consider them. A perfect example is people who get offended by #BlackLivesMatter or #CopsLivesMatter. One does not exclude the other.
  • Our leaders have set the example, and not in a good way. If the men and women we elect refuse to talk to “the other side,” and infer or outright preach that those who think differently are either stupid or evil, by definition, they’re bigots. If it’s okay for them, why not for us?
  • We don’t take the time or the risk to talk to those who are different from us. It’s “safer” to keep our mouths shut and hold on to our stereotypes. Too often, this means only those on the fringes voice their opinions, which serves to divide us more.
  • We’re too easily offended.
  • Social media has made all of the above worse.

blm

We have a common enemy that’s on a path to destroy us. That enemy is hatred born of prejudice, and the fuel that feeds its fire is bigotry.

I wonder if, as we have in the past, we’ll unite against this common enemy?

mlk4

I wish I knew the answers to all the questions in my head, but I don’t. But I do know violence is not the answer. And silence isn’t either.

Posted in Current Events, Hate, Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where I’m From – A Poetic Study of Nobu


Cherry blossom

April is National Poetry Month, and perhaps purely by coincidence I was recently assigned a poem.

I’ve learned so much during my Foundation class, the pre-requisite to all other classes in the Writer’s Path series at SMU. I would like to share one of the many excellent exercises we’ve done in class. I liked this one in particular, because I think the end result of this character study captured Nobu so well.

Kay Honeyman, the instructor, and author of The Fire Horse Girl, first asked us to read the poem, “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon:

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

She then gave us the choice of re-writing this poem for ourselves or for one of our characters, taking each phrase, each word, and customizing/fitting it to ourselves or our characters.

First, I tried to personalize it to me. But I found it very difficult to spend that much time “analyzing” who I am. So, I chose one of my characters instead. Anyone who has read my book, Creative Characterization or who has taken one of my workshops knows I can spend hours and hours studying, analyzing and trying to figure out who my characters really are.

Interesting that they are actually all a part of me. But I suppose it feels more safe with fiction providing a little distance.

The character I chose was Nobu, and here is what I “customized” for him:

I am from pride and principle,
from fakery and façades.
I am from kimonos and culture
scented with mothballs
I am from the cherry blossom
whose flower is fading.

I am from sake and sin,
California teen relocated to Arkansas internment
I’m from know-it-alls yelling “Get out, Jap”
and pass-it-ons who preach gaman. Patience. Perseverance.
I’m from shikata ga nai, nothing can be done about it
yet my head pounds. “Why the hell not?”

I’m from Buddha and the Bible,
wise words and pages that held
secrets my mother kept,
while Papa shut his eyes so he wouldn’t see.

Under my bed was a diary
spilling all my secrets,
a sift of lost truths
to tease me in my dreams.
I am from all those moments–
snapped before I budded –

I should have been a different tree.

If you’ve read The Red Kimono, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on whether I captured Nobu with this poem. Or, even better, I’d love to see how you “customize” George Ella Lyon’s poem!

Posted in Japanese Culture, The Red Kimono | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments