Wednesday, June 30, 2010

 

Fiction Writers Review

A few months ago, the lovely Jessica Haberli came to my apartment and sat with me (and with Ewan) and asked some smart questions about writing and about my novel. The interview has been transcribed and edited. Please have a read, then take a look at the rest of the site which has tremendous resources for writers and readers. Thank you to Jessica and to the Fiction Writers Review, and to Celeste Ng, fellow (pregnant) Bread Loafer for making this all happen. It is an unusual treat to get to talk about one's work in such a thoughtful and carefully considered manner.

Friday, June 25, 2010

 

Solid Food



One thing people kept asking me in Japan: had Ewan started eating solid food? No, I explained. I was waiting until I got home to the US, so my husband could be a part of the foodie fun. We are, after all, both lovers of food. But the constant questioning was a reminder to me of what a foodie culture Japan really is. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who didn't love food, or didn't speak about it enthusiastically in Japan. And it's sort of not a surprise, seeing as how Japanese food really is one of the world's great cuisines (in both the high and low eating experience sense).

So, I picked up a Japanese book on how to start feeding a baby. We've been examining it carefully here at home and I have to say that it is eminently more detailed and helpful than any western book I've found so far. Look, for example, at this, well, charming and useful illustration of how the baby's tongue is able to move at 5-6 months, 7-8 months, 9-11 months and 1 to 1 and a half years. I mean, that's useful and fascinating information! I plan to watch Ewan's tongue the next time I feed him.

And then there are helpful pictures like this which show you exactly how finely a carrot should be chopped/pulverized/pureed to correspond to age and tongue movement. And then there is the list of acceptable foods, which includes fish right from the get go! Take that, western books recommending bananas and sweet potato only! This whole marrying of art and science when it comes to food can start at such a young age. And why not? I mean, if food is something you take very very seriously, best to start good habits when very young.

I think I'm going to the farmer's market this weekend to find the perfect carrot, which I will steam and puree . . .


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

 

Congratulations, Tyler Hutcherson

Congrats are due to young Tyler Hutcherson (my cousin!) for winning first place in Black and White photography at the San Mateo County Fair for this photo:



Photography as an art is a mystery to me. The outside world seems static and immutable, unlike a story or a painting, which can be manipulated. So how do some people just manage to take great photos that speak? Why aren't all photos the same?

This picture was taken two years ago at harvest. My father had just died. I was in shock and desperately sad and my brain racing to try to process the very many things it had to understand (something that is still trying to go on) and attempting to also still make me feel like I belonged on earth. I think grief is the most destabilizing emotion I know. I was thinking about the generations of family members who had run this farm and how they could not have predicted that we would be so disconnected now . . . and yet still farming. And somehow Tyler got all this in his photo. Of course, I doubt anyone would know all this information unless they knew me. But still the emotions are there. In fact, I distinctly remember not putting this photo on my blog because it seemed too personal--too revealing of something I was feeling too deeply.

Congrats to you Tyler! I'm so proud. But not at all surprised. I told you all summer you had an eye for photography! Long may you keep taking pictures.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

 

Happy Father's Day (with a father)



Friends know that my dad passed away just before Father's Day two years ago--and that we were incredibly close. I still feel that I am adjusting to this new world in which he is not present. And at the same time, I still feel as though my relationship to him continues because I reevaluate what he has said, or recognize what he might have said to me when I face certain obstacles.

I really haven't enjoyed that past two Father's Days. There was nothing to celebrate.

But this year, Gordon is a Dad and I wanted it to be a special day. So I planned ahead and purchased tickets to a baseball game. Even though we are (apparently) decidedly not Yankees fans, our team of choice was playing at Yankee Stadium today. So it was that I went to Stubhub a couple of months ago, looking for the best deal.

I woke Gordon up pretty early this morning and after some minor protesting, he agreed to open his Father's Day card. And then got out of bed to get going to the game.

It was not a great game. It was very hot. But it was a lovely outing and a nice way to spend the time. Afterward we would things down with a trip to Sripraphai.....and Ewan had his second meal of solids.


Friday, June 18, 2010

 

Things Japanese



It's basically summer now in Japan, which means that seasonal decorations are changing. Gone are the cherry blossoms (plastic or natural) to signify spring. And in their place: watermelon, fireworks and . . . goldfish. Why? Because in the summer time, it's fun to catch goldfish as part of a matsuri.



Here are some people catching goldfish--I took this photo a number of years ago when Gordon and I went to the Gion matsuri in Kyoto. And since then, it just seems like the goldfish is everywhere as an emblem of summer. It makes sense. Japan is so hot. The goldfish live in nice cool water.

And this year, all of the sudden, I kept seeing ads for "goldfish jelly." And finally, I found some for sale in the Takashimaya in Nagoya station. The jelly packs come in a "net." I had to buy one. I ended up eating it in the Kansai airport, convinced I couldn't take it through security. Honestly? The flavor was okay (no, the fish weren't real). I think it probably tastes best chilled. And really, the whole point is that the jelly is cute to look at.





Everywhere I went, Ewan and I were well taken care of. There was, in the women's bathroom, a little chair where I could "park my child." Here is the chair.



Here are the directions--bilingual, you will note. As a mother, I am actually quite adept at going to the bathroom while carrying a baby. Fortunately, I had Ewan in the stroller most of the time, so I didn't have to demonstrate my dexterity. But oh for a baby parking place in the bathroom stalls at home--and on a plane!



People deplore the decline in manners in Japan and the fact that it is quite possible to ride a train with a small child, and for someone not to get up and give you a seat as they would in the old days. I don't know. These things are sort of like comparing the standard of service for airlines. United *used* to be so great and now is just trying to make a buck. Well, Japan is still pretty great when I think of what life is like in the US. Look at the following, for example.



That's right--it's an elevator just for babies and the the elderly. And it was even policed by a woman in a blue suit. Granted, it was also in a very high end department store. But I'd never see this at home in New York, where an asshole of an attorney cut in front of me in line at the airport precisely because I had a baby and looked like an easy target. And did I ever let the United Airlines agent have it when she proceeded to route a group of people in front of me for the same reason.



I'm generally fascinated by elevators in Japan. Almost all the train stations now seem to have them. And of course, the design is so practical and so much better than the pee infested steel traps of the New York subway. Not sure if you can see from this photo--but the train station elevators are all curved, with two sets of doors. You go in, naturally curve to the right, and then exit through the opposite doors. The boxy elevator is sculpted to allow for traffic to flow.




The elevators are also almost always glass, so you rarely feel claustrophobic. It can be a trip to be in one of these things, and to pass by floors, and to see the innards of a multi-storied building. That's a photo for next time.







I'm not too sure what to make of this trend. These are fingerless gloves, designed to keep the sun off of your arms. Of course, gloves like this don't do anything to protect hands. I suppose that the gloves are lighter than wearing a sweater over a short sleeved shirt and in that sense are practical. I meant to check some out in a store, but never got around to doing so.



No, these are not baby clothes. These are dog yukata (summer kimonos). I found this rack at a 100 yen shop, which I guess means that even dog clothing for Japanese puppies is made in China.



Japanese hotel breakfasts are still the best, most nutritious food you will eat in the morning. No cardboard donuts, or pellets from a plastic dispenser. No dried out toast that is advertised as "continental breakfast." Just, real food. Generous portions too.





There is a trend here. I cannot leave Ewan alone in a department store before he is surrounded by women (Okay. I didn't leave him completely alone. He was with my mother). It happened in Beverly Hills, and it happened here in Nagoya. One minute I was shopping for something and the next thing I knew, a group of women in kimonos had gathered around my son, who was very happy for the attention.

He is going to be trouble.

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RIP Angus the Cat



June is a cruel month. A few days ago, Angus the cat passed away. He was 13, which is a pretty good run for a cat, and certainly for an indoor outdoor cat. But I thought we'd get more time with him and I imagined how he and Ewan would play. I am again reminded of the fact that imagination is not fact.

If you are an animal lover, then you know how it feels to lose a treasured friend who has been there with you through breakups, through drafts of novels (even those discarded), the death of your father (who died almost two years ago to the day). You feel terrible that you didn't sleep with your beloved cat one more time because you were too focused on the baby. You are glad your cat died of what appears to be a massive heart attack, that he didn't have a long and drawn out disease and that he didn't suffer. But you miss him. And June, a somewhat cruel month already, seems even crueler.

Goodbye to Angus, most noble and gentle of cats, killer of mice and birds (okay that wasn't so gentle) and sentient being who once looked at Skype and went behind the computer to see where the human was hiding. You will forever be missed.

 

Los Angeles



I grew up in California, and yet I spent very little time in Los Angeles. Usually we drove down for a special exhibit at LACMA, or a performance at the Chandler Pavillion that would not be repeated in SF and yet that, as art devotees, we felt we needed to see. We went to Disneyland, and Universal Studios--but not much beyond that.

Then last year, I read in Los Angeles for the Vermin on the Mount reading series. Though I was eight months pregnant, we gamely went around LA, looking at some touristy places--and some not. And Gordon and I absolutely fell in love with Los Angeles and decided we would go back, whenever the opportunity arose. Needless to say, I had a fantastic time again. But for the traffic, I'd consider LA to be quite possibly a perfect city. In the photo above, Ewan poses next to a gigantic oreo cookie which Gordon and I tried and failed to eat for breakfast.



Gordon's plane was about 5 hours late getting into LA, so to entertain ourselves, Ewan and I went to Neiman Marcus (as one does) where he was promptly admired and urged to get an agent.



That first night, we had dinner with David Moses--an old friend--who works in Studio City. We ate at Kiwami--quite possibly the best meal of the trip--and learned about Los Angeles and its workings. Having discovered that David and I share a love of food, I suspect it won't be long before we all attack some kind of high eating experience again.



The following day, we met writer Cecil Castellucci for breakfast at Lamill. Did I know that coffee could be so divine? Or that Cecil and I would spend 4 hours talking at a constant clip? I met Cecil for the first time last year at Vermin on the Mount and since then, we've corresponded a bit. I also met up with her this past January, about a month after having Ewan. I remember feeling that 8 o'clock was very, very late. Anyway, we talked up a storm and had a wonderful time and I know we'll see each other again.


Later, it was off to Venice Beach where I found a store that was pretty much me in a nutshell. It's called Principessa and, well, I think I'll be going back there seeing as how everything fit and I just loved everything in the store.






Gordon informed me that we would need to watch at least part of the World Cup Game in which England was to play the US. As a Scotsman, he was of course rooting for the US and needed to teach Ewan to do the same. I don't think Ewan will have any problem emulating his father.



Later that weekend, we met up with some musician friends who happened to be in town. So it was that we all stayed out until late, talking and eating some more. Ewan fell asleep, content that we were all close by.



Now we are home in New York, and the adjustment from jet lag has begun in earnest.


 

Mixed Roots Festival, Los Angeles



A couple of photos from the Mixed Roots Festival, where I was lucky enough to read last weekend in Los Angeles. I've posted about the festival before--having now attended I can tell you I was incredibly, immensely impressed. What fun for someone like me to see so many "mixed roots," and the interest in mixed-up-ness. How nice not to have to explain my heritage. The National Museum for Japanese Americans is not to be missed, and manages to span a great deal of (sometimes difficult) history. What a treat to see Maya Soetoro-Ng read in person. I'd tell you what she read and what it all looked like but we were asked not to do so, as the book is to be published next year. Needless to say--for reasons that will be obvious next year--I found her story lovely and moving. And how wonderful to have met Tara Betts and Neil Aitken--I don't know how I missed Carleen Brice.

Thanks to all who came and spoke and bought my book! And thanks to Heidi and Fanshen for organizing a much needed and singular event.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

 

Ewan in Japan



Ewan is now a world traveler. He's been on planes, trains and automobiles--and in this picture, is happily riding the bullet train. Probably the most challenging thing about traveling in Japan with a child, is wrangling all the luggage on public transportation. There is a wonderful service in Japan called "takubin," which allows you to ship your stuff anywhere, and we did a lot of sending our luggage ahead. But this meant carrying a lot of other stuff on our bodies, which was tough. I am going to again look into the perfect luggage solution--probably some kind of backpack--which makes it easy for me to push a stroller and carry diapers.



Ewan also met a lot of folks. Here we are--all four generations of us: my mother, grandfather, Ewan and me. It's strange for me to think that Ewan is actually of even more mixed heritage than I am, though he looks far more white than anything else. I should add that he was much admired in Japan for his pale skin and blue eyes. He is a natural flirt, and took all the admiration as a chance to smile and win everyone over. He was a delightful traveling companion.



A less formal picture of Ewan and my grandfather. I love that Ewan looks so engaged and even slightly skeptical. It was as though he understood he was meeting someone special, and someone the likes of whom he'd never seen before. In this photo, Ewan is being held by our friend Nobata.



Regular readers know about the temple in the north which my family owns. Sempou, our cousin, is the head priest, and here he is holding Ewan. I try very hard to get Sempou to smile in photos, but it rarely works, since the default expression for pictures is this sort of blank and formal face.



Ewan also had a delightful time in Hadano with more family. Here is my cousin Masako--Ewan loved her and her mother. I have more photos, but need to sort through them, which is a challenge when one has to clean, do multiple loads of laundry, look after a baby and type up interview notes . . .



Ewan also spent time with Isao and Nono--the latter pictured here with Kawa-chan, my very favorite manicurist. Nono was a natural father. We all had a great time running around Tokyo together--Nono feeding Ewan and changing diapers and taking photos.



And I was able to get my manicure (for research purposes) while Ewan played nearby with friends.



The finished result.



Here is Isao--the perfect uncle.



Every time I spoke to my husband via Skype--and Ewan squealed upon seeing his Daddy--I was asked to recount what I had eaten, because Japanese food really is some of the best cuisine in the world. So, herewith--two photos of food.






We took Ewan to a particular shrine that I like to visit. I have a relationship with the guujisan (priest) there, and often go to interview him or to ask questions about Japan and Shinto. Here, Ewan gets his hands washed in the traditional way. Usually shrines have water outside for hand washing. But this inside fountain permits the priest and guests to go seamlessly from one building and into the shrine without going outside--in case of rain.



Everyone expected Ewan to cry during the drum banging and the bell rattling. Instead, he was completely transfixed.









Tuesday, June 15, 2010

 

Nashville Public Library

Oh, libraries. How do I love thee? Librarians have been so very kind to me and to my book, Picking Bones from Ash. Here's a conversation I had with Deanna Larson at the Nashville Public Library. I loved the intelligent and perceptive questions--and our conversations. It all made me want to visit. Our talk was back in November, but the podcast just recently went live. Please give a listen and enjoy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

 

Mixed Roots Festival

I'm here in Los Angeles for the Mixed Roots Festival, co-founded and run by bestselling and prizewinning writer Heidi Durrow. Picking Bones from Ash is about many things--travel, family, spiritual seekers--but it is also about "mixed roots," something I understand very well. Selfishly I wanted a book with a heroine who was from different worlds, because growing up it was difficult for me to find novels where characters blended places and backgrounds as I did. Picking Bones from Ash celebrates the reality of a mixed up life.

The festival will be at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles. I read at 3:30 PM. I hope to see you there!

Friday, June 04, 2010

 

2010 Paterson Fiction Prize Finalist

I woke up in Japan this morning (more on that and some photos in the near future) to a lovely email from Marisa at Graywolf, who had written to inform me that Picking Bones from Ash is a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. Jayne Anne Phillips' book, Lark and Termite, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, is the winner. Also on the list, Joyce Maynard, who I loved meeting in Portland last fall, and Bonnie Joe Campbell, who was also a National Book Award finalist. The list:

First Prize:

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips

Finalists:

Picking Bones from Ash
by Marie Mutsuki Mockett

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Claiming Kin by Laura Marello

Irish Girl by Tim Johnston

Labor Day
by Joyce Maynard


Congratulations to everyone. I had no idea I was even in this contest, and am grateful to everyone who gave the book a chance and read it. This is some nice company to be keeping.

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