Day 292: The Man and the Drawing Comparisons; ‘Roots’

Kimi No Na WaSo a while back I mentioned seeing Your Name, which was (or rather still is) a phenomenally popular anime and the most profitable one in Japan ever. Its director, Makoto Shinkai, is being projected to become the next ‘Hayao Miyazaki’. The man currently and indubitably sitting atop the throne of anime stardom. Now, as a lifelong fan of Studio Ghibli and almost all of Miyazaki’s films (he’s not perfect folks, even Miyazaki is gonna have a few duds), I think this kind of super-hype is a bit misleading and not very productive. For one, I feel an artist desires to stand on his or her own work, and not on top of the work of others. No one praises Michelangelo for being ‘the next Da Vinci’ or vice versa and certainly the works of Miyazaki and the works of Shinkai should be venerated and admired separately and not always in contrast to one another. Second, I haven’t seen much of Studio GhibliShinkai’s works, and to place so much emphasis on just one piece seems a bit imprudent. He could legitimately be a master of animation and storytelling or he could just be a one-hit wonder waiting for his 5 minute feature on VH1’s Anime One-Hit Wonders of the 2010s. Hahah.

Me Watching

So last weekend I decided to sit down with a bowl of vanilla ice cream with some cookies and peanut butter and watch Garden of Words. This was an anime drama from 2013, three years before Shinkai would go on to make Your Name. Armed now with two of his works to analyze, I think I can better speak to his own characteristics and qualities and skills as an animator, and while I don’t want it to become the crux of the conversation, draw some parallels between him and Miyazaki as well. Ready?! Let’s go!

Garden of Words

On feature length: So first off, I was surprised to find out that the entire anime was no more than 46 minutes long, including the credits. I was a bit thrown off when I first saw that after looking up the movie. My main concern was going to be ‘how can they possibly fit a satisfying story line with enough growth and complexity within such a short time’. I thought maybe I had missed something and it was a serial anime versus a movie, but sure enough it was a stand alone feature. While I won’t go into too much detail about the story or the plot, I will give you a brief synopsis. Takao is a 15 year old high schooler who secretly dreams of becoming a shoemaker. He has a bad habit of skipping his first period classes on rainy days so he can spend his morning in peace in a nearby park, listening to the rain and sketching his shoe designs. One morning he meets a mysterious, beautiful older woman who also seems to find some comfort and solace in the rain. Over the rainy season they consistently spend their mornings together on rainy days and over time find themselves equally looking forward to gray skies and meeting. It is a romantic drama that speaks so close to my heart as it centers around the themes of love and loneliness.

Shinkai said in an interview that the inspiration for Garden of Words was the original, native roots of the Japanese kanji for ‘love’, before it was influenced by Western ideals of romantic love. The native kanji for ‘love’ was written as two characters brought together to mean ‘lonely sadness’. ‘Love’ in the true ancient Japanese sense was more like the chivalric love of Medieval poetry and lore, like the loving longing of Lancelot for Guinevere. It lets Shinkai and the movie focus on love and loneliness not as disparate parts but two sides of the same coin. In this way, ‘love’ doesn’t require the return of affection of the other party. It can be the pure and bittersweet, beautiful longing and yearning for someone or something. I think this is especially inspiring and hopeful for people who have had those feelings of loneliness and/or despair when pining after someone. It lets them view their emotions and feelings as equally valid and legitimate even if their love is not returned, and it portrays loneliness as a natural by-product of love, something to accept and not something to be fixed.

This is a lot to unpack and present in a cohesive and digestible way. And through masterful subtlety (as opposed to overt explicitness) and strong use of motifs, metaphors, and imagery, Shinkai is able to deliver, if maybe a tad bit underwhelmingly, a very deep message about his interpretation of love and loneliness that does present Garden of Words as a complete work. I don’t know if a lesser talent could have done the same with two or even three hours without the soft, gentle hand that Shinkai has when dealing with the subject.

On fate: In East Asian folklore, particularly China and Japan, there is the belief that the gods tie an invisible red cord (oxymoron I know) around those who are destined to meet, fall in love, and end up together. It is a powerful Mitsuha.jpgand beautiful metaphor for fate and destiny that is very often used in Asian manga, anime, and films. One of the best
examples for me is the Japanese film Dolls in which two characters go through the entire movie with a red cord wrapped around their waists. Shinkai very clearly heard this story as well, as in both Garden of Words and Your Name, it is a strong presence. In Garden of Words one cannot escape the feeling of inevitability and fate. The rain acts like the red cord that continues to bind and reunite the two characters. In Your Name it is much more apparent, as Taki wears a red braided cord that is later on revealed to have been given to him by Mitsuha early on. I happen to love themes and motifs like this, so I am glad that Shinkai is able to ‘weave’ (HA) it into his stories so masterfully.

On food: One of the first and most important comparisons I think that should be brought HowlBaconup between Miyazaki and Shinkai is on how they treat food in their movies. If you’ve ever seen a Miyazaki film, you will know that food often times plays a pivotal role in immersion and world-creating. Who can forget how delicious something as simple as instant ramen looked in Ponyo, his anime take on The Little Mermaid. Or the almost obscene but absolutely mouth-watering and tempting PonyoRamensmorgasbords of food in Spirited Away. Bento boxes eaten in My Neighbor Totoro. Even something as simple as bacon and eggs is elevated to animated perfection in Howl’s Moving Castle.

 

In comparison, the food in Shinkai’s films are almost always stale and still. They lack the Makoto Lunchvibrancy, life, and urgency to consume that Miyazaki imparts into his meals. Both Your Name and Garden of Words feature food and/or drink to a certain extent. There is a deep spiritual tie to the sacred sake that Mitsuha’s family makes and brings to offer in the shrine. Though the scenes of them drinking it (and making it) elicit no desire in me. Takao is seemingly a pretty confident if not at least comfortable home chef, and we can see him making lunches for himself and the mysterious woman in Garden of Words. But I don’t feel any hunger or longing to join them at the table.

I think the reason why Shinkai’s food falls so flat is, ironically, it is the one place where he lacks subtlety. If you take a look at how Miyazaki animates his food, it is simplistic. They are not the food itself but the avatars. He doesn’t get bogged down in the details or the nuances. The bacon doesn’t look like bacon, it looks like what we think bacon looks like. It is universally understood. If you look at Takao’s lunch in the picture above, as a non-Japanese person, could you tell that the yellow was an egg omelet? To be perfectly frank, I can’t even differentiate what the brown meat is. Meatballs perhaps? You’ll also notice how all the senses are seemingly engaged in Miyazaki’s meals. The bacon sizzles. The hot ramen steams. You see, hear, and can imagine to smell and taste and feel the food in the room.

On weather and the seasons: Change in Shinkai’s work often comes from nature, rather than from the people themselves. Garden of Words lives mainly through the rainy season and it is the immutable march of time and the changing of the seasons that moves the story and gives it its urgency as well as its context. Part of establishing environment Your Name Islandand atmosphere in Shinkai’s work relies heavily on establish what season or what weather we are experiencing. In Garden of Words the rain needs to be present but subdued. In Your Name the weather is a sign of the passing times as Mitsuha and Taki grow together, closer yet ever more distant. Shinkai’s works often spread themselves across a vast time span and without having to stress or draw direct attention to it, we realize it as we watch the characters change their clothing, activities, and outlook. The seasons affect their personalities and mirror their emotions. Or do their emotions mirror the seasons?

On magic realism: Often times you hear fans of Miyazaki’s film express the sentiment ‘oh I wish I could live in [insert anime title here]’. This is of course a testament to the awe-Princess Mononoke.jpginspiring and fantastical world building skills of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. The best way to describe a viewing experience with a Miyazaki film is first he establishes a very real and present world, the world in which we inhabit, and then through some incredibly circumstance or event we are transported into the world in which the majority of the story takes place. What this means then is for as much as Miyazaki develops and fleshes out these worlds (Howl’s castle, the inn in Spirited Away, the forest in Princess Mononoke, the ocean in Ponyo), there is always this clear line, this demarcation, of their world and ours. And we are invited to view and to experience, but never to inhabit. His worlds have clear cut rules and structures as well as forms. I believe part of this is in agenda and beliefs. Miyazaki has not been shy in voicing particular agendas in his films. The Wind RisesPrincess Mononoke, often times he depicts man in conflict with nature, and therefore, uninvited guests into those worlds.

Shinkai has no such ambition or goal as to take on industrialization or deforestation. His worlds are simple and understated, and therefore, even in the most unlikely of Your Name Boobcircumstances (body switching being one of them), we feel as though this could be part of our world. His characters react very casually, after some initial confusion, to the events of their world. ‘Oh, I go to sleep as a boy and sometimes I’ll wake up as a girl. Imma squeeze boobies.’ This is Shinkai’s simpler version of magical realism. A reality tinged with a hint of magic, versus two worlds living parallel to each other. I am not stating that one is better than the other. Both are able to fully encompass their respective genres and create rich, interwoven tapestries of story. But it is worth bringing up because again, two very different approaches for people to be trying to predict one succeeding the other.

[SPOILER ALERT IN THE FOLLOWING SECTION]

On poetry and tanka: When Takao first meets the mysterious woman (Yukino), she leaves only one clue as to her identity when they part. As she leaves Takao, she says to him

A faint clap of thunder,

Clouded skies,

Perhaps rain will come.

If so, will you stay here with me?

This is a tanka, a form of Japanese poem similar to a haiku meant to display an entire mood or emotion. In particular, this is a tanka taken from a very famous anthology of classical Japanese poetry from the Man’yoshu collection. The origin and meaning of this strange departure confused Takao, until the film’s climax where it is revealed that Yukino is actually a classical literature teacher at Takao’s school who has been avoiding coming in due to students’ harassment and bullying. It is also another callback to the ‘lonely sadness’ that pervades the entirety of this movie. When Takao realizes who she is, and why she was hiding in the park, he takes it upon himself to act on her behalf, and afterwards they meet once more in the park, where he finally responds with

A faint clap of thunder,

Even if rain comes or not,

I will stay here,

Together with you.

It is the response tanka to the first one Yukino says in the very beginning of the movie. It’s a poignant and important moment in the film where you can see that these two characters are searching for very different answers to their ‘lonely sadness’ and yet somehow have found much of what they seek in each other. I won’t spoil the entire ending, but I think it’s important to stress that these themes of ‘lonely sadness’ and ‘love’ are not things to be won or conquered. They are not broken things waiting to be fixed nor are these broken people. It is about finding something, learning to live with certain things, and the strength to persevere and continue on. It’s about communication and miscommunication, and the importance of one and the folly of the other. After these two glimpses into Shinkai’s talents I have high hopes for his next project. I would never place him on a pedestal once occupied by Miyazaki, but I have no problem creating a new one just for him.

Day 292

Man: 259 Loneliness: 33

 

 

Day 291: The Man and the Work Uniform Update; ‘Gray’

Just wanted to let you all know on this gray day (at least in the northeast US) that I am still alive.

Sorry for the lack of updates.

I didn’t want to say anything until I knew for sure one way or the other, but basically over the past month I’ve been secretly looking for a new job, and this past week I had some pretty serious, promising interviews.

The stress and guilty feeling of hiding my plans of departure from coworkers and making sure my boss didn’t find out and fire me prematurely were kind of getting to me and after the most recent interview my heart has been in my throat. There was a part of me that wanted to hope, but another part that was almost certain it wouldn’t work out and I would be disappointed.

Well, today I can tell you for a firm fact that I’ve just accepted a job offer!

It’s the same type of role, a field trainer with 50% on the road responsibilities, but the pay is a tiny bit better, the geographical area is smaller, and the 50% not on the road will be from the comfort of home.

I also feel like I’ve freed myself of the toxic environment of my boss, though I do think I’ll miss some of my coworkers.

I feel so guilty though. I’m working on a presentation I’m supposed to present at a conference in Punta Cana. They already paid for my tickets and my room. All-inclusive, the Hard Rock. We’re talking like, 9 restaurants, 12 bars, and the largest casino in the Dominican Republic y’all.

I don’t know if they’re gonna still let me go, considering it’s this Monday to Friday (imagine the first of my last two weeks is basically a vacation to the DR!). Hahah. What I do know is I asked my new job to start me in three weeks so I can give myself a week off and take that trip to Canada I’ve always wanted to take.

Anyways, I’m ecstatic. And aside from my family, you are all the first to find out.

Cheers. And now that that stressful episode is over, back to our regularly scheduled programming!

Day 291

Man: 258 Loneliness: 33

Day 286: The Man and the Spoken Verse; ‘Fry’

I’ll be honest with you.

I have a very complicated love/hate relationship with spoken word poetry.

In the sense that I love really good spoken word.

And that I absolutely hateloathedespise really bad spoken word.

And unfortunately, the vast majority of current spoken word is really really bad. So I hate more, and nowadays, hate by default.

BUT…there are a few glimpses of hope. Some rays of sunshine. Some good examples that, I don’t know if it’s because of the muck that they are surrounded with or the true merit of their extraordinary talents, really do blow my mind.

When I was first introduced to spoken word I was just in awe of the emotion and animation that spoken word poets brought to a normally quiet and subdued art. Poetry was something you wrote and read in your mind, or in hushed tones, or in quiet circles. It wasn’t the outraged, excited, enamored, depressed, wildly gesticulated performance art that these young writers were using to talk about things like racial representation, love, and society.

What has happened nowadays to spoken word is the same thing I fear has happened to art and other more…’subjective’ matters. We gave too much power to the creators and too much leeway to ‘creative license’. We lost the standards of measure. All save a few that were recommended to me by a blogger friend are examples from the early 2000s or so, when I feel there was still some structure and expectation of spoken word. Yes, it is a style that allows the writer to go beyond standard conventions, and to impart and convey much more emotion and volume, but it was still something that had to be held responsible to some sort of measure. Topics were diverse, meaningful, and investigated with different voice and perspective. You could still, behind the performance, behind the movements and the volume, find the cadence and measure and reason behind what had to originally be first and foremost, a good piece of poetry.

Spoken word is poetry. And poetry has mechanics. It has structure. And from that structure, we can better measure and understand and appreciate the skill of the artist. These poems, on paper, would still be beautiful. Would still have that sharp repartee, like fencing with words. There’s cleverness and skill and incredible ways of dancing with words and meanings. There’s deep, meaningful, relatable emotion. These poems have to work as poems, after all. To me, spoken word is just another tool, another style, and one particularly appreciated because it gives more power to the author to direct and influence its meaning and understanding. How could we have known how this was supposed to be read or performed or what to stress without the performance aspect of it to then elevate what is already a functioning, fully appreciable poem, to the level of spoken word art piece.

Spoken word isn’t about how loud or angry you can be. But unfortunately nowadays a lot of spoken word is more about very angry, very misunderstood, very noisy people who look to ‘spoken word’ as an umbrella term to give them free license to yell and stomp and rage at the perceived slights society has given or not given them. In a very complacent, relaxed, too-correct world, we let go of the standards and structures that, though present were never so rigid as to prevent artistry and creativity, and focused so much on ‘attempt’ and ‘meaning’ that we forget ‘delivery’ and ‘form’. It ruins an art form that never really got to shine in its Golden Age because while it was trying to find itself and define itself, it got derailed by other people’s agendas. Which is a shame, because I do think spoken word can be a great instrument and tool for connection, understanding, and change.

I’m not saying that matters and subjects these days are any more or less legitimate, or that taking up these causes isn’t any more or less pressing and responsible for society. But do you notice the difference between all four of these examples? They’re all different topics, different deliveries, but all very much still, poetry. Now when I look at spoken word, I hear one voice. And it’s yelling and loud. One topic. And it’s usually just being angry at social justice. One style. It’s like an old record player getting fried and just repeating itself over and over. The original song may have been beautiful, but the record is so scratched and so deeply etched on the same chord that it’s become a cacophony, a horrible screeching noisy one tone yell. And that’s really a shame because I was really ready to see spoken word blow up and be celebrated. I mean come on, we had an HBO series on this! We need to bring back SOME rules, SOME conventions, SOME standards. We can’t just keep giving participation medals and good humored applause. We’re talking about the legitimacy and survival of an art form here people!

I’m not a spoken word kind of person. I can barely write a poem to begin with. But I know there are people out there who could be truly great at this. And I don’t want their voice to be lost in the crowd. And I want to know people can recognize the examples that are worth taking the time to appreciate.

Day 286

Man: 253 Loneliness: 33

Day 285: The Man and the Humorous Verse; ‘Chuckle’

In honor of today’s prompt, here are a few poems that I hope give you a couple good chuckles.

Anyone who’s had to deal with upstairs neighbors can relate. Anyone who hasn’t, will be glad.

The People Upstairs

-poem by Ogden Nash

The people upstairs all practice ballet
their living room is a bowling alley.
Their bedroom is full of conducted tours,
their radio is louder than yours.
They celebrate week-ends all the week,
when they take a shower, your ceilings leak.
They try to get their parties to mix
by supplying their guests with Pogo sticks.
And when their fun at last abates,
they go to the bathroom on roller skates.
I might love the people upstairs more
If only they lived on another floor.

I don’t know much about limericks, or if the English have any actual love for them or not. To me they were always associated with dirty jokes so I wasn’t too sure what the actual perception of them has been. But here are a few because they’re old and famous, which hopefully means they’re okay. Edward Lear seems like the kind of guy who’d be fun at a party.

-Limericks by Edward Lear

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’

There was an Old Man of Peru,
Who watched his wife making a stew;
But once by mistake,
In a stove she did bake,
That unfortunate Man of Peru.

There was an Old Person of Ewell,
Who chiefly subsisted on gruel;
But to make it more nice
He inserted some mice,
Which refreshed that Old Person of Ewell.

There is a Young Lady whose nose
Continually prospers and grows;
When it grew out of sight,
she exclaimed in a fright,
“Oh! Farewell to the end of my nose!”

Day 285

Man: 252 Loneliness: 33

 

Day 284: The Man and Always a Day Late; ‘Opaque’

A missed golden chance

International Haiku

was yesterday.

 

Established in two

thousand twelve, the heart of the

month of poetry.

 

One of Japan’s most

famous forms of poetry

is easy to grasp.

 

First, five syllables.

Second, seven syllables.

Third, same as the first.

 

Now, find a subject.

The seasons, nature’s beauty,

Find it all in love.

Old pond

Frog jumps in

The water’s sound

-Matsuo Basho

Find the subtlest

ways to show humor and loss

and laugh while you cry.

Over-ripe sushi

The Master

is full of regret

-Yosa Buson

Learn lessons on life,

death, and values of children.

Mistakes in snapshot.

I kill an ant

and realize my three children

have been watching

-Kato Shuson

The language and

emotions of haiku should

be clear, not opaque.

 

Decipher the code.

A frog is spring. Just like

melting ice and kites.

 

Thunder, yukata,

the shade of a young maple,

cooling in summer.

 

The morning breath, chilled

in the air. At night the full

moon, all signs of fall.

 

The feel of warm tea

cupped in my hands, as the hot

pot cooks in winter.

 

Simplicity gives

way to hidden meanings in

jewelry box form.

 

Consider me

As one who loved poetry

and persimmons

-Masaoka Shiki

Day 284

Man: 251 Loneliness: 33

 

 

 

Day 283: The Man and the Power of Your Lie; ‘Jolt’

I hope everyone had a great Easter, or just an overall generally great Sunday. Another blog has me thinking about lies, ‘what is your lie’, and it reminded me of another greatly narrated and animated poem about the destructive power of a single unchecked lie.

Teacher Grades.jpg

For the uninitiated into the world of public education, this could very well just be a A veteran of hundreds o parent-teacher conferences, fifth grade teacher Sheila Wurtz was prepared for anything.'cautionary tale about letting oneself get carried away with rumor and hearsay, or how one seemingly harmless yet very manipulative lie could create a ripple of disastrous consequences. And if it were only just that, it would still be very powerful, very twisted, and very sinister. I mean, ‘don’t tell dumb, potentially dangerous lies’ seems like a pretty universal and safe to bet on lesson for decent human beings. ‘Don’t be a jerk kid’ or ‘don’t be terrible parents’ could definitely also be derived from even just a cursory reading of the poem. But coming from that field, and having spent time on that side of the desk, the fact that the subject matter revolves around a well-meaning teacher and a student with no sense of consequences, there is a very specific extra jolt that sends a chill down my spine.

I know what it’s like to feel as though everything you’ve worked so hard and so long for can hang so delicately in the balance between the reckless words of one child and the all-too naive and gullible ears of the parents and the eager to please subservience of a timid Blame the Teachersand fearful school administration. I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line the public stopped trusting teachers as much as they used to. Suddenly there are now a thousand other voices in the classroom, trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs. Parents, businessmen, politicians, everyone seems to know better than the person who actually trained to educate and spends the most time in the classroom with the students. That this character’s entire career and life has been drastically changed because of the pressure of parents choosing to blindly follow their ‘perfect little angels’ really strikes a personal chord with me. It’s often times these ‘angel children’ who are the most uncontrollable and overall, the least mature. It’s easier for their parents to look at the faults and inactions of their teachers than to reflect on perhaps their own shortcomings as parents or to address any real actual needs or problems their child might have. In my school we had to be extra careful of what we said or did, especially because by high school that kind of school culture is so ingrained into the students, we were constantly being warned that they knew they could cling to any sort of perceived slight and get away with it. ‘F’s became ‘E’s because the ‘F’ had too much of a negative connotation, and if they did receive an ‘E’ for whatever reason (including their own inability or irresponsibility to respect deadlines or requirements), we were required to give them a chance to redo the assignment for full credit, no questions asked.

There’s a Man in the Woods

-poem by Jacob Streilein

There’s a man in the woods.
What a spectacle.
Before the stories started, this school was still respectable.

My students used to skip down the hill to the honeysuckle,
pluck a couple,
and collect their nectar till they picked their fill.

Except one obnoxious kid, Sid.

Who just watched them eat the flowers
while he seethed and scowled
’cause he couldn’t bear to share his sweet treats throughout our recess hour.

I remember Sid saying:
“There’s a man in the woods!”

That’s how the rumors began.
Of course, Sid had spotted him first.

The poor kids. He got ‘em immersed in his spiel
about a serial killer whose gun barrel glint hint said peril.

A visit to the nurse, or worse, a hearse,
waiting just beyond the dale.

The children saw him everywhere.
“Look! Over there!”
“That man had Batman ears! We – we swear!”
“And crazy yellow eyes!”
“We saw something rusty! His shotgun? It must be!”
“I saw a lady’s severed thigh!”

Trust me,
every word I heard was absurd.

Yet each day, Sid would stray down
way past the playground.

Who else was brave enough to save us from the killer’s next plot?

The rest of the lot would stop back at the black top,
sure that any closer they were bound to be found
deep in the woods, left to rot.

I pleaded for the kids to think,
and learn to be mature.
But after a few more rumors doomed my attempts to prove
the school was secure
their fear was undeterred.
And when the buses drove them all home,
the parents finally heard.

Everything just blew up.
I received a wall
of emails and calls
full of shrieks, wails, and all.
From terrified families
who’d heard word of the murderer,
and didn’t like my lack of action at all.

What was I supposed to do? Comb the whole forest?
Yeah, right. Would you?
That means I didn’t care? That’s not fair!
The stories that worried you weren’t true.

Of course I would feel regret,
had there been a real threat
and I ignored it,
and some poor kid got kidnapped
while the kids were napping.

But you couldn’t admit that your
good little kid
would formulate a fib
so you ignored what I said.

Your little angels could never cook up such incredible creations?
“An overactive imagination, maybe, but my kid could never lie!”
How dare I.
Accuse a child of being dishonest?
Just monstrous!

The parents were displeased,
and when the PTA took action,
they dismissed me from the classroom.
Like THEY knew what was best for their kids!

Do you know how difficult it is to get a job
when a bitter mom
slanders your rep
with child neglect
from the outset?

NOW who’s in control of your classes?!

Single file lines!
Single file lines.
Little vile swine,
a killer by the pines.

Really? Are you blind?
Will you find your spines?
Sid. A child decides
to fill our minds with lies
and the next you see
is people treating me
like I’ve committed crimes.

I WAS IN MY PRIME!

Those kids were lucky to have me.

Do you see what you did?!

But I can play along.
I can be good.

Do you hear that, Sid?

There’s a man in the woods.

I hope that was dark enough for y’all. Keep your kids in check. Hahah.

Day 283

Man: 250 Loneliness: 33

Day 280: The Man and the Metre of Spring; ‘Measure’

It is Good Friday for all you Christians out there, which means that Easter is only two days away. For me, Easter has always been the real herald of Spring. It’s when as a child I would spend my entire day running outside hunting for eggs and, as far back as I can remember, I’ve never had a rainy Easter Sunday. Now that we have the Rita’s Ice stores and we’ve grown, Easters are no longer the leisurely events of egg hunting and family gathering it used to be. Still though we go in our absolute Sunday best to mass, then go to our favorite diner for a nice big breakfast, before my parents go off to run the stores, my brother and I go separately to leech some free ice cream, and I make a simple dinner for when my parents get back. I still like to spend some time outside as honestly, Easters have really always been such beautiful days. This year with my new bow and with the range I built in the backyard maybe I’ll just spend some time shooting and enjoying the weather.

xkcd pentameter

Good Friday and Easter have me thinking of Spring, and today’s prompt, ‘measure‘, has me thinking of the most famous poetic measure of all, iambic pentameter. Best described as lines of ten syllables paired in unstressed and stressed syllables. Best exemplified by Shakespeare’s sonnets. (If you’re a lover of conspiracy theories, you should check out the Oxfordian authorship theory, which was the subject of a pretty cool movie, Anonymous. First time I ever heard of this theory was when I was in middle school and read Blue Avenger Cracks the Code. Ever since I’ve decided that this is what I will choose to believe.) It is said that the reason why iambic pentameter comes so naturally to us is that it is the form of metre that most closely resembles our natural breathing and speaking pattern, and that the rhythm mimics our heartbeat. I mean, that sounds like a hell of a lot of patting oneself on the back, so I really don’t buy it.

Anyways, so for today’s poem selection I present Sonnet XCVIII, in which the author continues to lament his long absence from his beloved.

Sonnet XCVIII

-William Shakespeare (supposedly)

From you I have been absent in the Spring,

when proud-pied April dress’d in all his trim

hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,

that heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.

Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell

of different flowers in odour and in hue

could make me any summer’s story tell

or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;

nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,

nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;

they were but sweet, but figures of delight,

drawn after you, you pattern of all those.

Yet seem’d it winter still, and you, away,

as with your shadow I with these did play.

For those of you celebrating, happy Easter, and for those of you not, I hope you have some fine weather to enjoy as well.

Day 280

Man: 247 Loneliness: 33

Day 277: The Man and the Dining on Verses; ‘Unravel’

I’ve been on a Japan kick recently, and over the weekend I went to Edgewater, which in my area is a town with a very large Japanese population, to enjoy a nice Japanese lunch, Kimi No Na Wa.jpgdo some grocery shopping, and then watch Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name). If you haven’t yet heard of this anime, and I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t, you should know it is the highest grossing anime film ever, and Japan’s fourth largest grossing film overall. This movie is big, people. If you find the opportunity to watch this movie I would highly recommend it. It started a limited theatre showing in the US on April 7th but was actually released last year. It is a beautiful film, both visually and emotionally. I love that Japan has continued to keep alive the great tradition of hand drawn animation. Most US animated movies have become completely CG, and while it is technically brilliant, it lacks, for me, the same emotion and care. Traditionally drawn animation still reigns supreme in my heart for animated movies. Yes there’s a very special place for films like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke and The Secret World of Arrietty but I don’t leave out Western films too like Lion KingAladdin, and my personal favorite Western animation, Mulan. These are then followed by clay-mation like Studio Laika’s Kubo, Coraline, and Boxtrolls. CGI is fun and the technology is incredible with great potential but I have no real heart for them. Kimi No Na Wa is full of spirit and heart, and its delicate story is enhanced by the subtlety and lightness of traditional animation. I have seen more of Japan in anime than I have in real life, and yet I feel I can speak so much already on the spirit of Japanese landscapes and cityscapes based on how they treat it in their drawings. I won’t lie, there were times during the movie when tears would not stop falling, and the ultimate resolution of the film had me emotionally invested. As the stories and relationships between Taki and Mitsuha tangle, unravel, and come back together, I’ve no doubt you’ll find yourself drawn in as well.

I also got to enjoy a great Japanese meal at Mitsuwa, which is a supermarket chain in the US specializing in Japanese imports and usually has a few stores and a kick ass food court to boot. I always end up over-ordering because there are just too many great choices but I’m proud to say I was able to control myself and stuck just to my kaki-fry (deliciously crispy and light fried oysters), some rice, and miso soup. And a bowl of ramen. Okay, and two onigiri. And some green tea ice cream. Afterwards I did some grocery shopping to make a special bento lunch for myself for Monday. I’m starting a new project at work learning a new system and getting ready to train in the near future so I decided a new haircut and a big lunch would help put me in the right mindset and get focused.

Bento Lunch

One day I will definitely write at length on the culinary traditions of Japan, particularly the ‘5 pillars’ of Japanese cooking. It is a wonderful philosophy that harmonizes taste, nutrition, aesthetic, and Buddhist teachings all in one beautifully delicious package. But as it is National Poetry Month and in the spirit of such, I will instead dedicate this time to trying to capture the essence of food in verse. Poetry and food have always had a deep, visceral connection. There is nothing quite like the appearance, texture, and taste of truly divine food to awaken the poetic muse, and nothing like good poetry to elicit the same hunger in the soul as the thought of food does to the stomach. Some truly wonderful poems have been composed to food: the memories, the experiences, the tastes, the emotional and spiritual connections.

This is Just to Say

-poem by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

 

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast.

 

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold.

Now I’m not saying the next time you’re hungry try to satiate yourself on some Shakespeare. But what I am saying is the next time you have a particularly wonderful meal, or perhaps happen to come upon a particularly beautiful fruit, or find a special memory being formed around food, try to imagine how a poet would capture that moment. Would it be in the satisfying sounds of a meal as you crunch down on crispy crackling or the feeling of sweet wine on parched lips that smile with each sip or in how the secrets of the universe open up in the sweetness of a peach around its dense dark star-like pit. In the spirit of my wonderful bento lunch from yesterday and in honor of Japan’s own poetic claim to fame the haiku, I end first with a poem by Matsuo Basho, the master of haiku from Japan’s Edo period, and then a haiku of my own composition about the joys of office bento.

-poem by Matsuo Basho

Coolness of the melons

flecked with mud

in the morning dew.

Bento Second

-poem by ManVsLoneliness

Office icebox hides

hidden treasure of five tastes,

colors, but one mind

Day 277

Man: 244 Loneliness: 33

 

Day 273: The Man and the Missing Tree Where the Sidewalk Falls Up in the Attic; ‘Outlier’

Before you ask, no, I am not having a mini-stroke. Today’s post title actually comes from Early Bird.PNGthe amalgamation of poet, writer, screenwriter, author, and illustrator Shel Silvertein’s most notable works. Shel Silverstein will always hold a very special place in my heart as one of my earliest literary idols. His freedom and style with poetry is right up there with Jon Scieszka and his bastardized (read: improved) fairy tales. There was something so cool about reading Shel Silverstein’s poems as a child. You know you go to school and you inevitably learn about poetry but you learn about rhyming couplets and syllable counts for haikus and ABAB rhyme structure and iambic pentamenter and then suddenly you’re reading this adult who’s gone and defied all the rules and teaches you what so many have forgotten. Poetry can be fun. It can be experimental. It can be visual, auditory, tactile, it can be anything you want it to be.

Something Missing

His poems are often short and very simple, but can express in those few, easy to understand words, deeply powerful messages especially for young readers. He is the Dr. Happy Ending.PNGSeuss of ‘explain like I’m 5 years old‘. The drawings he made himself to accompany many of his poems are simple and silly but just perfectly punctuate the poem’s meanings. There was something subtly adult about his poems and pictures. Maybe it was the lack of big bold straight shapes or subject material sometimes of his poems. Me Stew is literally about a chef who, having nothing else to serve in his stew, stews himself! I think he wrote these poems knowing that the children who read them would one day become adults, and would want to revisit them and realize he had hidden so much more to be enjoyed and appreciated even later on in life.

Lazy Jane.jpg

I remember reading one of his books of poetry and having to physically take my book Circularand turn it, twist it, flip it upside down, to follow the long and winding trail of words that he had written across a two-page spread to turn the poem itself into the accompanying image of it. He was the first person to really show me that visually you could play with the wording and spacing and physically you could create a new reading experience by changing the way you held the book. I mean, to a kid, this was like, mind-shattering revelations. We were changing the way people read and held their books. He used as many senses as possible to make poetry fun and interesting. I was moving and manipulating the book to read poems, or looking at poems shaped as other things. He was the great innovator of my youthful literary adventures.

Diving Board

I think nowadays that’s what’s missing in so many aspects of our life. The spirit of fun and adventure and innovation. We spend a good long time learning about the forms of things and trying so hard to capture and perfect that but we forget to learn the essence of these things. And that’s where you get to play the most; when you know you’re true to spirit you can experiment with form. There’s a lot of fun missing in a lot of the things we do. Or did. Or are doing. Fun should not be the outlier in the characteristics of our life.

Day 273

Man: 240 Loneliness: 33

Day 271: The Man and the Dignity of Hotel Dining; ‘Champion’

So I’m on the road again this week, and after a long stint in the office it’s nice to feed the wanderlust again. As is my custom, all last week I was researching the towns and cities I’d be visiting for work and finding the restaurants I’d be dining at for dinner; you know, highlight of each day’s work is a nice meal on the company budget. That’s why I stay at hotels that offer free breakfast. Hahah. For today’s trip I found a great seafood shack that served Cajun style seafood boils and fried or blackened seafood as well. I’d be coming off of a two hour drive so without even considering it, I was already planning on spending my entire budget on a few items and ordering them all to go to eat in my hotel room. My brother heard me and said ‘you’re really going to eat $40 worth of food alone in your hotel room at night? Isn’t that kind of, you know, depressing?’

Nostos Octopus

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, grilled octopus starter

And I really had to think about that! After months and months on the road, I don’t really bat an eye anymore at the concept of having a few nights where it’s just me in a dimly lit cheap hotel room with a mountain of food in front of me and just taking bites from one styrofoam container to the next while the umpteenth episode of Law and Order: SVU plays on the TV. The life of a road warrior is very different from that of the leisure traveler. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a very real sense of adventure and glamour in being able to travel at someone else’s expense, and it’s certainly one of the key factors that convinced me to move into this department. But it’s not always the best destinations. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful places in the world aren’t exactly the best for business, and some of the best for business aren’t exactly always beautiful. There’s a lot of Bumble-whatever, USA and remote hotels whose sole sign stands as a beacon along long dead and desolate dark highways. That’s why when I get the opportunity for a nice meal at a nice restaurant and be among civilization, I want to take it. But you really can’t say you’ve lived the road warrior life, or that the road warrior life is for you, until you can reconcile a certain level of love and affection for cheap, greasy Chinese takeout or generic pizza in the same box with the same mustachioed chubby paisano that every small town pizzeria uses. At a certain point the ‘sad’ is elevated to the ‘unique’ and ‘oddly endearing’.

I could be home right now actually, believe it or not. In fact, the hotel I am in right now is no more than an hour away from my actual home. My own bed. My own shower. My family. But when given the option if I wanted to, to stay on the road or to just go back

Seafood Village Crab

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, fried soft shell crab platter

home and then drive back to another store the next day, I decided I’d just keep going on the road. Could I say I would always choose that? No, definitely not. But I really hadn’t had the opportunity to sleep on the road in a while and I was beginning to miss it. I think it’s like when a chef, long out of the kitchen, develops a twitch. A friend of mine was a professional restaurant chef for twenty years and after she left the kitchen…her body, so used to the frantic chaotic pace of the kitchen, developed some twitches to cope with the sudden and uncharacteristic calm. Her fingers constantly drum the desk and she finds herself often times craving the adrenaline of handling ten different dishes on the burner at a time. But she left because she wanted to focus on family and recover from a failed marriage (partly due in fact to the job). She misses the field but when asked, she vehemently says she would not go back at all. In much the same way I know that this chapter of my life, though fun, is not sustainable. The road can get wearisome. The isolation can become comfortingly addicting or painfully alienating. Single, no place of my own yet, no ties or roots to one place, I can continue to enjoy the benefits of the job. But there’s going to be a time when I’ll only be able to reflect back on this unique experience.

This is the sentiment, the complicated love-hate, consistent yet unsustainable, feeling of

Nostos Gyro

Nostos Greek Restaurant, Allentown PA, gyro platter

the road warrior’s life that John Updike’s On the Road so beautifully and somberly portrays. It’s why it speaks so deeply to my own experience and best illustrates why anyone would ever choose the nomadic life of the unique brother/sisterhood of the road warrior. A calling that is answered in the most uncertain of terms. For a good, long time vita can be found on the worn out treads of a tire and the accumulated mileage of a frequent flyer card. It is in finding…maybe not joy, but peace, and fulfillment, and equal parts thrill, in that familiar dusty smell of the hastily vacuumed and cleared hotel room. For someone who is so often times reserved, quiet, and comfortable with his own company, it is a great fit.

On the Road

-poem by John Updike

Those dutiful dogtrots down airport corridors

while gnawing at a Dunkin Donuts cruller.

Those hotel rooms where the TV remote

waits by the bed like a suicide pistol.

Those hours in the air amid white shirts

whose wearers sleep-read through thick staid thrillers.

Those breakfast buffets in prairie Marriots-

such venues of transit grow dearer than home.

 

The tricycle in the hall, the wife’s hasty kiss,

the dripping faucet, and uncut lawn-this is life?

No, vita thrives via the road, in the laptop

whose silky screen shimmers like a dark queen’s mirror.

In the polished shoe that signified killer intent,

and in the solitary mission, a bumpy glide

down through the cloud cover to a single runway

at whose end a man just like you guards the Grail.

The road warrior’s life is by no means a life for everyone. Nor am I trying to champion it as such. It is a unique occupation that inhabits a niche corner of life, whose best paragons are the long lost traveling salesmen of old, carting their wares through old, marked, hastily folded atlases. And since I imagine a good majority of you will not have

Seafood Village Cajun

Seafood Village, Wayne NJ, shrimp and crawfish combo in spicy Cajun sauce

the opportunity, or the desire, to live like this, it is my rare and wonderful opportunity to share a glimpse into it. To try my best to portray why even the supposed ‘saddest’ and most lonely aspects can be so wonderful, when they aren’t not. Maybe one of the best ways to show you some of the highlights is to share with you pictures of my meals the past two days. In the end I did relent and decide to eat at the seafood restaurant. Not out of loneliness or the ‘sadness’ of the alternative, but because I won’t always have that luxury in some of these locations. They’re not half bad looking, and let me tell you, they all tasted incredible. If you know where to look, you’ll find something good every time. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how far removed you may think you are from it. People always appreciate good food. Bad food doesn’t last long.

Day 271

Man: 238 Loneliness: 33