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Still frame from: I Realise You're a Bitch

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But Josef, like many boys of nineteen, was under the misapprehension that his heart had been broken a number of times, and he prided himself on the imagined toughness of that organ.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon

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Part profile of Gotemba, part day-in-the-life-of, this gives you an idea of my Japan experience.

You tell people that you live on Fuji-san (Mount Fuji). But today is not one of those days.

You ride to school through a two-day old fog. Fuji is usually right there, but today she is fixing her kimono behind the clouds. Come the change of seasons you’ll have to re-assign gender. Throughout winter she powders her nose and looks pretty, cut into a clear blue sky. But come summer he is ominous and ugly, his volcanic ash complexion exposed. Every evening, however, amidst the swirls of pinks and oranges, he charms photographers, climbers, and fools alike. They say only a fool climbs Fuji twice. You are an everyday fool.

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Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a mater of misplaced self-respect.

[…]

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notion of us. We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our willingness to give. Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Annie Sullivan; no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous. At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.

On Self-Respect, Joan Didion

For those who were in harm’s way.
For those who help those who remain.

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating of both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be “healing”. A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place.  When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to “get through it,” rise to the occasion, exhibit the “strength” that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral will be the anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaningless itself.

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

[…]

 me:  Should I make that decision when I’m miserable or when I’m happy?
 Matthew:  When you’re happy.

“I think for me there gets to be a sort of reversal after a while, and then mostly things don’t matter.”

“Reversal? Explain, explain.”

“This is embaressing.”

“Please.”

At first you maybe start to likes some person on the basis of, you know, features of the person. The way they look, or the way they act, or if they’re smart, or some combination or some thing. So in the beginning it’s I guess what you call features of the person that make you feel certain ways about the person.”

“Things are not looking at all good, here.”

“But then if you get to where you, you know, love a person, everything sort of reverses. It’s not that you love the person because of certain things about the person anymore; it’s that you love the things about the person because you love the person. It kind of radiates out, instead of in. At least that’s the way… oh, excuse me. That’s the way it seems to me.”

– Ch. 13, The Broom of the SystemDavid Foster Wallace

[…]

She watched how what she said made it hard to see out.

– Ch. 17, /g/, The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace

 

Before you dive into making new New Year Resolutions you have to face up to the old ones and assess where and when they went wrong and how and why you might need and want to make ammends in the forthcoming year. This would alll be very painful if I had not had such an excellent New Year’s Eve. So, while my mood is good, we’ll cut a puzzle together from 2008: Resolve.

So…

1. Be bilingual by NY, 2009.

Ha! I may be able to tell you I climbed Fuji-san, yesterday or I’m going to school tomorrow, or ask you what book you like, but that doesn’t mean I’ll understand, or have read the book. I believe it was Jana who said Japanese would be impossible to learn. And might I add, now, that I was, and still am, naive to all things Japanese.

Read:

2. One book per week (an even spread of fiction and non-fiction).

Only 28 books this year, compared to the previous year’s 44. I’ll write about the year in reading at a later date. Well, once I finish The Broom of the System, and the year officially ends, I will do a write-up and make tenuous links between the grab-bag of books I’ve read, from Austen to Kawabata to David Foster Wallace.

3. One graphic novel, book of poetry, or play text per fortnight.

This resolution really went to shit when I moved to Japan and texts became impossible to find, online or otherwise. Part of the reason why I can’t stay in Japan is because I want/need a big library to satisfy my whims and fancy.

4. One short story or personal/ critical essay every third day.

Not through any concerted effort, but I think I managed to fulfill this resolution. As I said above, texts were sometimes hard to come by, and I spent most afternoons printing off long articles and short stories that I could sneakily read at my desk. Yay for me.

Write:

5. Three plays (in three different styles/ structures/ genres)

Oh, God: The depth of my failure is starting to reveal itself. I wrote one very short radio-play (The Most Unpopular Dog in the Spareroom) which some of you may have received in your inbox during the middle of the year. Otherwise…

6. One flash fiction or short story every fortnight.

Every fortnight?! My, I was ambitious and optimistic at the start of last year. My list of successes (we count attempts as successes in this year) include (x) Days of Photography, Cob & Hangdog, Potbelly, 10,000 words on an unfinished children’s ghost story and lots of e-mails with enough inconsequential detail and florid musings on Fuji-san to choke a donkey.

7. One blog post per week related to reading and writing.

In the last part of this year I have finally started doing with my blog what I’ve wanted to do for a while: make it more like Voltaire’s Monkey and I Shot Frida Kahlo. It all started due to a case of writer’s denial. So:

I tell them to get an exercise book.. If you haven’t got any ideas just copy out something that you’ve liked in someone else’s book… But copying is what artitsts do; it’s often how they start, I think. And, I know (if) because I still use a pen quite a lot, I know that if I copy something out, there’s a sense that, you’re sensing with, sensing with your body the sort’ve joints of the sentence and how the, the weight of the sentence is gathered and carried and how it’s kind’ve slung from one end of the sentence structure to another. That always gives me a great deal of pleasure. You have to write slowly, and you can see how it’s done, even though you don’t know how to do it – but you can – you can see the joints of the thing.

– Transcribed from ABC Radio National coverage of Sydney Writers’ Festival 2008, Helen Garner

8. One post per week about me (an even spread of fiction and non-fiction)

Yes, well, this resolution was included to be funny, and to impress a girl, and for a very short time she thought me funny and was impressed… I think. But, like this resolution, nothing much came of it, for reasons that were different and yet, all the same, my fault.

9. One pop song every fortnight.

I have written some pop songs, but not 26 of them. It was a thrill to hear my lyrics sung for the first time by someone other than me. Thanks, @. And through karaoke I feel I’m getting the groove of a good pop song… or maybe I’m just getting too much of that friendly karaoke echo back in my ears.
And…

10. Love! / make friends with strangers.

Because sometimes you need to be reminded to do the simple things.

To the new faces and voices in my life: Jeremy, Imogen, Julie, Katie, Rina, Sugu, Mariko, Markus…

So that was 2008 hastily re-capped through the prism of stringent resolutions that didn’t account for obsessive consumption of movie musicals, or an addiction to The West Wing, or any other thing that existed outside a narrow gaze. Perhaps I failed because I was oh so serious about making my quota of books read, words written: culture consumed. This strikes me now as a bloody terrible way to go about it. Reminiscient of the procession of books I had to read at university, the essays I made myself enjoy.

For this year, then, no resolutions. I am open to all experience; impossible to be, I’m certain, but I’ll try.

And so, to end one year and start another, to carry on, an expression David Foster Wallace used when he addressed a graduation class, and one I’m rather fond of of late:

I wish you way more than luck.

D.

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