Column on Nader home page

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My column from yesterday’s edition of the Grand Junction Free Press made it to the home page of Ralph Nader’s official Web site. By the time you read this, it may have already been bumped off by more recent news, but just go to the News & Analysis link at the very top of the page and click on It’s a Democracy; Get Used To It. If it’s not listed on the home page anymore, just click on More and it’ll take you to their News page with lists of all the Nader articles from publications around the country.

So far I’ve received email from as far as the Netherlands about this column. Don’t tell my editor, but this one actually took me maybe a couple of hours to write, tops. Of course, I spent all week thinking about it, but the actual writing took relatively little time. Funny how the stories I agonize over are the ones that never get a reaction.

Also, I think it’s funny that the Nader people changed the title. The original title, of course, was It’s a Democracy, Stupid. They either thought a lot of their readers wouldn’t get the joke (1992 was a long time ago, after all), or they wanted to tone down what they thought was an aggressive headline. No matter. At least they directly link to the column itself, which does have the original title. Kudos to my fantastic editor for keeping it.

Jessica Zafra Rules!!!

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I totally heart Jessica Zafra. Am in the middle of reading her latest (?) book, Twisted 7, a compilation of columns she’s written for a Philippine daily paper. She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s snarky, she’s brilliant, she’s Twisted. She’s exactly the kind of columnist I want to be, sort of like a Pinay Janeane Garofalo with a wicked, wicked pen.

I just submitted another column to the local paper. It’s supposed to be biweekly (it was originally weekly, until I got a full-time job that morphed into the Job That Took Over My Life), but lately it’s been Whenever I Can Squeeze In The Time. Anyway, like Jessica, I write about whatever comes to mind, whether it’s the whole immigration controversy in the U.S., traveling, gay marriage (a rather weak attempt at satire, I have to admit, but hey, I was new at it), and stuff like What Women Don’t Want. It suddenly occurred to me earlier this afternoon that I’m one of very few women columnists they have, and possibly the only one who contributes on a regular basis. It’s not necessarily the editor’s fault, as he’s fantastic and helpful and just plain adorable, but I wonder why this is so, as I’ve met plenty of very talented women writers in town, most of whom have opinions out the wazoo. Where the hell are they? (Knowing us women, they’re probably doing the whole Superwoman routine everyday, which doesn’t really leave much time to spout off on paper. But then again, maybe that should change. If we don’t stand up and demand attention, we’ll never get it.)

MRA

The Printed Word in the Philippines

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One of the things I did enjoy doing when I was in the Philippines was scooping up as many magazines as I could get my hands on. Content-junkie that I am, I love love love anything to do with news, gossip, info…anything printed. I used to get several newspapers a day when I lived there many years ago, but the magazine industry has boomed tremendously since that time, with glossy pages, high-quality color photography, and more sophisticated content finally making their way onto the newsstands. Newspapers just seemed a little too boring, ya know? (Especially since I could get the same stuff online, especially the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)

Some of the magazines I picked up were Enterprise (local business), Marie Claire (local franchise of the American title), Metro (beauty, fashion and society), Sense & Style (ditto), and Yes! (like OK!, the entertainment/gossip rag). I was disappointed by Enterprise, which was poorly written and even more badly edited. Articles about outsourcing and the call center biz in the Philippines were interesting enough, but it could’ve used more profiles about successful entrepreneurs instead of stuffing a bunch of numbers and statistics into each article.

Marie Claire, Sense & Style and Metro were, as expected, glossy, gossipy and glamorous, if a bit over the top in its fawning articles about the celebrity du jour. I know that all fashion magazines, to some extent, are mere catalogs for the products advertised, but the Philippine versions seemed more so, with content including interviews with product managers of global brands such as Lancome, Shiseido and Shu Uemura on what makes their respective lines so “powerful.”

Yes! was unexpectedly good, as far as celebrity mags go. The in-depth story of concert queen Pops Fernandez‘s fantastically bad marriage to balladeer Martin Nievera, was surprisingly interesting and intimate. Granted, I was appalled that Pops (of whom I was once a big fan) would choose to open up really, really old wounds (c’mon, girl, it’s been nine years since your annulment — ever heard of the term Let sleeping dogs lie?), especially since she kept harping about how she was only thinking of her two kids with Martin, Robin and Ram. Martin did a despicable thing, but can’t you guys just be adults and move on, for cryin’ out loud? Did I mention that it’s been nine years?

What I don’t like about magazines in the Philippines is that they’re almost always encased in clear plastic cellophane. The better to discourage squatters from engaging in some free reading at the newsstand, I suppose, but it makes it more difficult to judge the quality of the writing and content, ya know? Nearly all new books at the shops were given the same ultra-secure treatment up until a few years ago, but thankfully it appears that practice is slowly being phased out. If only Barnes & Noble or Borders could step in and shake things up a bit…

I did buy a couple of books while I was there:

a) A biography of John L. Gokongwei, Jr., by Marites A. Khanser. Gokongwei, one of the richest men in Asia, started out as a dirt-poor, fatherless boy in China and now commands an enormous empire throughout the Southeast Asian region. The book, John L. Gokongwei, Jr.: The Path of Entrepreneurship, narrates his life story as well as his philosophy on entrepreneurship. I love reading about self-made men and women, and this particular bio can’t be found here in the U.S. It’s also rare in the sense that this is the only biography I know exists of a Chinese-Filipino mogul.

b) Killing Time in a Warm Place, by Jose Y. Dalisay, Jr. Never heard of the book, but I’ve heard of the author. A novel set in the Philippines during the Marcos years, the story centers around a young, male, middle-class protagonist who finds himself involved in the events and places that defined that era.

c) Tw7sted, by Jessica Zafra. I’ve read a few of Zafra’s columns, but wasn’t really wholly familiar with her humor and intellect. I found this at Powerbooks in Robinson’s Mall (owned by the aforementioned Gokongwei) in Malate and bought it on impulse. She seems just like the person I’d enjoy hanging out with.

I think I’ve started reading more collection-of books by columnists because of my own current gig at the local paper. While I haven’t read Zafra’s book yet, my hunch is that she has a similar sensibility to mine, so I can’t resist but take some inspiration from this remarkable woman’s ouevre.

M.

Hello, Spring!

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Yeah, yeah. Don’t wanna hear it.

I ran into the news editor of the local paper (for which I write a column and occasionally freelance) today. She’s half-Filipina and apparently a reader of this blog, and so of course she asked me about updates.

Errr…. Busted. (Thanks, Tracy!)

I can’t even remember when I started the job at the library (sometime in late January or early February…?), but I do know that I haven’t written in my blog since I did. I was flattered that she even remembered I’m writing a novel, which was a nice affirmation that someone cares that I write. Too often — and you can ask any writer about this, and they’ll agree with me — the only person who really cares that you write is you.

And why should it be any different? Why should anyone care one writes? Isn’t half the population in the United States in the painful throes of writing something, anything (their memoirs, their Great American Novel, a poem, a letter, a memo), at any given moment in time? Why should you be any more special?

As it was, I ended up not writing my column for weeks, not too long after I became a regular staff member at the library in early March. The schedule took a while to get used to, as I’d quickly gotten accustomed to the delicious freedom of writing all day and hanging around with the hubby at night. Big surprise when I re-entered the full-time workforce. Has it always been this bloody tiring? The column was the first to suffer.

Imagine my surprise when I occasionally ran into people at the library whom I’d never met before and who, upon realizing that I was that Minority Report (the name of my column) girl, would ask me when my next one would come out.

Wow! I mean, we’re talking maybe half a dozen people or so, but nonetheless I was floored that anyone really paid that much attention. I’d gotten so used to hearing only bad things about what I write that I’d forgotten that, in most cases, if someone enjoys what you write, chances are you won’t hear from them.

So I’ve come back, albeit perhaps a little less often. I told the editor that it may likely be a biweekly submission on my part, or at least until my schedule stabilizes. I also try to freelance for them, and I’ve also gotten involved with the local Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America chapter (Denver), so for now my schedule is a little packed. It’s not something I’m proud of — I hate when people moan about how busy they are, and yet the trace of pride and arrogance in their voice is unmistakable — but for now it’s what I have to work with. I’m thirty-five years old, and as I get older I’m only realizing just how much more work I want to do before I keel over and merge with the worms.

Oh, and of course, there’s the novel. And I need to dust off that play and finish it. Damn it, I wrote the first scene in less than a week. Surely I can finish the second — and final — scene in less than a month, even with all the other things I have going on.

Thanks to Tracy, I’m a little more inspired to write in my blog as well. If nothing else, I love the writing exercise. Sometimes I forget that, no matter what else is going on in my life, when push comes to shove, my writing is my life.

MRA

Sticks and Stones

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Last week’s column in the local paper (another one about immigration) elicited a rather scathing letter to the editor that claimed that I “railed” against a variety of institutions, including the media, the welfare office, and the Minutemen (of which the letter-writer is a member).

One of the most frustrating things about reading criticisms of my columns is when readers obviously don’t take the time to really read the piece and understand the message. This particular letter-writer did at least get most of my points, but I’m stumped as to where he got the idea that I was “railing” against any of these groups. I don’t especially enjoy being excoriated in print (this is a small town, after all, and my ego’s as fragile as anyone else’s), but I’m never really sure what to do with those arguments that stem from a misunderstanding of what I actually said.

The majority of the responses I get from my columns make the same mistake, so much so that I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I’m the one in error. If someone misunderstood my point, that could mean one of two things: a) the reader has poor reading comprehension, or b) I failed to write my piece in a way that could be clearly understood.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter were true in some cases. I’ve been known to be unconsciously obtuse, even (especially?) in my writing, particularly when there’s a lot at stake. (I once wrote a love letter to someone that I was so worried about that I had a friend review it for me. He very wryly informed me that the word love doesn’t appear in the text at all, something that my fearful brain had completely overlooked.)

But I’ve read and re-read a lot of these columns I’ve written, and I think I’m fairly straightforward, sometimes more than I should be.

Several weeks ago I received an email from a reader in response to a New Year’s column I wrote about how women should forgo the usual diet resolutions and instead focus on more substantial challenges that really change one’s life (travel, write your memoir, take charge of your finances, that sort of thing). I began the column with the line “Forget the Iraq War for a moment,” and then proceeded to make a tongue-in-cheek comment about how the biggest news of the year to me was when a health magazine reported that a majority of women polled said that they would be willing to lose a few points off their IQ in exchange for the perfect body.

The rest of the column briefly covered gains in the women’s movement, Time‘s Person of the Year (i.e., You) and how technology has allowed individuals to achieve so much using so few resources, and that we should take advantage of the wealth we have relative to just about anyone else in the world to really make a difference. End of story.

Well.

The anonymous woman who wrote the email response was irate. I mean, irate. She ranted about how one should never forget the Iraq war, not for a moment, and that I was selfish and unpatriotic and that she had a son (or was in nephew?) in the war and blah blah blah blah.

I was so taken aback by the email that I didn’t read it again for a few days. When I did get back to it though, I re-read and thought, Lady, did you even read the damn column? She admits halfway through her incoherent message that she didn’t read the rest of it and apparently didn’t read beyond that first line, for she writes that she had “no idea what the rest of it was about.”

Arrrggghhhhh.

I ended up not responding to her. It wasn’t worth it, ya know? I’m always happy to respond to any criticisms about the column, but when the criticism isn’t about the column itself but about a single line that was taken completely out of context, then, ah, I don’t waste my time.

Today’s output: 4-1/2 pages. Woo hoo! I meant to work on the play this morning as well, but problems with my tax return arose. Oops.

Cool doc on the History Channel last night about the history of the Star Trek series as well as the auction of Star Trek memorabilia at Christie’s last year. Even if you’re not a Trekkie (or Trekker, whatever the case may be), you have to admire Gene Roddenberry for being so committed to creating a show with a message, one that unabashedly explored social, moral and political issues and challenged conventional thinking about all of them. It’s so rare to find that kind of vision on TV nowadays, where the so-called “vision” of contemporary entertainment execs is to make people laugh. Admirable goal in and of itself, but when that’s all you have to offer, it can get really stale.

Colin Wilson once said that he writes what he does because he believed that people feel too much and think too little. He wants to restore that balance and write stories that make people think. Would that modern entertainment media (books, TV, art, films, radio, YouTube, whatever) were to take up that mission as well.

MRA

Writing & Scheduling Woes

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Ahem.

So much for my New Year’s resolution to write in my blog everyday. I don’t think that was actually officially in my resolution list, but it was [very vaguely] implied. Sigh.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took a full-time job at the local library and, well…Damn. How do women with children, spouse, pets, mortgage, Scouting, soccer practice, etc., do it all? Is there some kind of Superwoman drug I’m not aware of and which my doctor has refused to share with me?

So far, I’m still tweaking my schedule, but last week it looked like this:

Monday: get up at 4:15 am, write until 6:00 am. Take B. to work at 6:15. Return home, watch half an hour of TV. Get ready for work at 7:00, leave for work at 7:40 to be in library by 8. Get off work at 5:00p pm, pick up B. at hospital, get home. Dinner at 7 or so. Bed by 10 or so.

Tuesday: get up at 4:15 am, write until 6:00 am. Take B. to work at 6:15. Return home and write until 11:00. Get ready for work, leave at 11:40, be at library by noon. Get off at 5 for dinner, get B. at hospital, take him home, have fast dinner, and return to library by 6. Get off work at 9:00 pm, in bed by 10:00 pm.

Wednesday: Repeat Monday’s schedule, except at 6:30, meet contact for local vegetarian society at coffee shop for interview for upcoming article in paper. Interview lasts almost an hour and a half. At home at around 8, dinner at 8:30, bed by 10:00.

Thursday: Repeat Monday’s schedule, except during the lunch hour, I go to local community radio station to take photographs during veggie group’s half-hour monthly program to accompany article. Have quick Clif bar in car on the way back to work at 2:00 pm.

Friday: Repeat Monday’s schedule. 5:15, pick up paycheck at temporary agency.

Weekend: cook several meals to freeze for the following week. I spent nearly the entire Sunday on the couch, alternating between sleeping and half-watching a Mythbusters marathon. Lack of sleep will do that to you. Plus, the library job is way, way more physically demanding than it appears — we’re standing an average of six hours a day (only sitting down during lunch, two 15-minute breaks, and the occasional period of making phone calls informing patrons of their holds), plus all the lifting and bending and crouching — so by the time I get home, I’m completely spent.

This week I experimented with waking up at 5:00 am to give myself more time to sleep, but I find that, as it usually takes me about 15 minutes just to actually wake up, and I really only have about 35-45 minutes of decent writing, which seems pathetically short to my frazzled brain. Yeah, I know, I should be realistic about the new schedule, but the problem is that I’m stubborn. Pathologically, self-destructively stubborn. So I persist. Possibly to my detriment, but I’m determined to get this book done, and writing every f***ing day helps keep it fresh; otherwise, I return to the novel with the same feeling one would have returning home after a long absence: everything looks vaguely familiar, but it takes awhile to actually feel comfortable being there again.

On the bright side, the veggie article I wrote last week made it to the front page of today’s paper. Woo hoo! If I’d known it was going to be smack dab on the front, I would’ve taken a better photograph. Of course it also appears on the same day a letter to the editor is printed attacking me for a previous column I wrote on immigration. Lots of fun, people.

MRA

Writing & Scheduling Woes

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Ahem.

So much for my New Year’s resolution to write in my blog everyday. I don’t think that was actually officially in my resolution list, but it was [very vaguely] implied. Sigh.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took a full-time job at the local library and, well…Damn. How do women with children, spouse, pets, mortgage, Scouting, soccer practice, etc., do it all? Is there some kind of Superwoman drug I’m not aware of and which my doctor has refused to share with me?

So far, I’m still tweaking my schedule, but last week it looked like this:

Monday: get up at 4:15 am, write until 6:00 am. Take B. to work at 6:15. Return home, watch half an hour of TV. Get ready for work at 7:00, leave for work at 7:40 to be in library by 8. Get off work at 5:00p pm, pick up B. at hospital, get home. Dinner at 7 or so. Bed by 10 or so.

Tuesday: get up at 4:15 am, write until 6:00 am. Take B. to work at 6:15. Return home and write until 11:00. Get ready for work, leave at 11:40, be at library by noon. Get off at 5 for dinner, get B. at hospital, take him home, have fast dinner, and return to library by 6. Get off work at 9:00 pm, in bed by 10:00 pm.

Wednesday: Repeat Monday’s schedule, except at 6:30, meet contact for local vegetarian society at coffee shop for interview for upcoming article in paper. Interview lasts almost an hour and a half. At home at around 8, dinner at 8:30, bed by 10:00.

Thursday: Repeat Monday’s schedule, except during the lunch hour, I go to local community radio station to take photographs during veggie group’s half-hour monthly program to accompany article. Have quick Clif bar in car on the way back to work at 2:00 pm.

Friday: Repeat Monday’s schedule. 5:15, pick up paycheck at temporary agency.

Weekend: cook several meals to freeze for the following week. I spent nearly the entire Sunday on the couch, alternating between sleeping and half-watching a Mythbusters marathon. Lack of sleep will do that to you. Plus, the library job is way, way more physically demanding than it appears — we’re standing an average of six hours a day (only sitting down during lunch, two 15-minute breaks, and the occasional period of making phone calls informing patrons of their holds), plus all the lifting and bending and crouching — so by the time I get home, I’m completely spent.

This week I experimented with waking up at 5:00 am to give myself more time to sleep, but I find that, as it usually takes me about 15 minutes just to actually wake up, and I really only have about 35-45 minutes of decent writing, which seems pathetically short to my frazzled brain. Yeah, I know, I should be realistic about the new schedule, but the problem is that I’m stubborn. Pathologically, self-destructively stubborn. So I persist. Possibly to my detriment, but I’m determined to get this book done, and writing every f***ing day helps keep it fresh; otherwise, I return to the novel with the same feeling one would have returning home after a long absence: everything looks vaguely familiar, but it takes awhile to actually feel comfortable being there again.

On the bright side, the veggie article I wrote last week made it to the front page of today’s paper. Woo hoo! If I’d known it was going to be smack dab on the front, I would’ve taken a better photograph. Of course it also appears on the same day a letter to the editor is printed attacking me for a previous column I wrote on immigration. Lots of fun, people.

MRA

Sex, War and Other Reasons I Can't Write

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I received the nicest email from a woman who read my last column about sex offenders. In it she related her own story of abuse and how she’s especially keen to raise awareness among the public about the prevalence of sexual abuse and the need to erase its stigma among survivors, the major theme of that particular column. It was so inspiring to read and reminded me of how powerful a tool writing is, especially when one can use it to influence a person one has never even met, and to spark debate and discussion on an issue that other people may be too afraid to touch. I’m actually surprised it didn’t garner more feedback than I expected. I don’t know whether to attribute that to reader apathy, or just general lack of interest in the topic, or my own inability to clearly convey the message.

The woman in the email is apparently keen to perhaps continue the conversation, possibly in the public square, an action both encouraging and intimidating. Kinda contrary to the ideas I put forth in the column, but a project like this can be pretty daunting to begin with. Having just moved to this town, I’m not really familiar with the resources that are available to survivors of sexual abuse, but I suppose that’s something we can find out together, if we decide to take this a step further. If.

In other news, no feedback yet on this week’s column satirizing the gay marriage controversy (published today), but my editor did call yesterday to discuss one particular line that bothered him. In the end he chose to run it, but he did half-jokingly warn me that I may be stirring up some trouble with this particular article. On the other hand, we both agreed that sometimes, the most controversial columns end up eliciting the least amount of feedback, while those that may otherwise be light and humorous often generate the most reader responses. Go figure. I haven’t received any emails about today’s column, although I’ve learned from previous experience that some readers take days, if not weeks, to send in their feedback. As I mentioned, I did love writing that piece, and not just because, unlike other columns I’ve written, this required little to no research. As much as I love digging for facts and figures — the academic in me desperately trying to claw its way out — it’s a relief to just write and write and write without having to amass all kinds of data to support one’s argument. Takes up way less time, and did I mention it’s lotsa fun?

Meanwhile, the novel plods on. Or rather, this writer plods on with the novel. I scratched out two pages yesterday and watched another film, a 1967 Toho (Japan) feature called Japan’s Longest Day. It recounts the 24-hour period leading up to the Emperor’s historical broadcast announcing the end of hostilities in the Pacific War with the Allies. The film is definitely long — over two-and-a-half hours — but what a picture! Filmed entirely in black-and-white, it has the trademark minimalism of so many classic Japanese films: little or no soundtrack except for a handful of key scenes; a dispassionate narrator; tight, terse dialogue; lots of shadowy corners.

One or two rather graphic scenes jump out at you — it’s a war movie, but only in the sense that it takes place during the war, as the story plays out largely within the homes and offices of the Japanese military officers and politicians who oversaw the imperial campaign — but what lingers is the realization of just how close — I mean, thisclose — Japan was to virtually destroying itself, mere hours before the unconditional surrender.

I guess one can argue that the young, rebellious officers didn’t really stand a chance, but considering that coups d’etat don’t have to actually succeed in order to destabilize the country (are ya listening, Philippines??), the outcome could have been really brought on Japan’s complete self-destruction. What was really amazing was that, despite the fact that Japan had almost six million soldiers in the Imperial Army by 1945, and that they had accumulated over 1.7 million casualties during the war, these upstarts were still obsessed with fighting to the last man — which, of course, would have meant not only every man on the archipelago, but every woman and child as well. The mind reels.

I’m not really sure how this film will tie in to my story other than to give another glimpse of the military machine that my main character will be up against. The second most important character in the book is a Japanese military officer who won’t even show up until well after the war actually begins (probably a good fifty or so pages in), so this film’s unique perspective of the Japanese military ideals will come in handy. I haven’t seen Letters from Iwo Jima yet — don’t think it’ll make it to my corner of the world, so I’ll have to wait for the DVD — but that’s another one that’ll probably be quite enlightening.

One of the main things that’s really hooked me into the research is the realization that the story of the Pacific War, as it’s told here in the U.S., is awfully one-sided. Granted, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the Japanese side, particularly when you think about the Bataan Death March, the Burma railway campaign, the so-called comfort women, or the Okinawa battle, but the history behind their imperialism is so complex, and when compared to the West’s own manifest destinies (part of which involved forcing Japan to sign treaties unfavorable to its own interests), it’s difficult to argue that they were entirely in the wrong. Am I becoming a Rising Sun apologist? Hope not, but as I do more research for the novel, it’s starting to look as if the backstories will be much richer and more intricate than I ever dreamed — or wanted.

Am reading Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. I hadn’t really understood the role that fear plays in every writer’s life. I just thought I was alone in this malady! Check this out: “Among rookies and veterans alike, the most basic writing fear is of simply not being up to the task. Now that I’ve told the world, and myself, that I can write, suppose it turns out that I can’t? Even the prolific Anthony Burgess said he thought constantly about giving up writing because of the debilitating fear that his work wasn’t good enough.”

Well, thank ya, Jesus. If Mr. Burgess himself dreads not only the horror of the blank page but also the terror of the filled one, I guess I’m in good company. And I like what Annie Dillard has to say about writing, how any work is in an “untamed state” that matures over time. “You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!'”

I think I’ll program a sound file on my laptop so that, when I boot it up each morning, it’ll scream, Simba! That oughtta scare the s*** out of me and get me to write.

MRA

p.s. Almost
forgot!!! Having been honored with a mention in Deborah Ng’s Pay It Forward Tuesday post, I’m returning the favor. Two of my favorite blogs: Coffee with Amee and Trixia in Singapore. Amee’s a writer in LA, and Trixia is a journalist in Singapore. Check out the blogs of these smart and funny women.

p.p.s. Overheard this conversation at the local Kmart:

Elderly man: (walks, stops, looks back) Hey, I thought you were right behind me.

Elderly woman: (shuffling along at least ten paces behind him) I’m comin’. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t poop as I walk.

Thanks for that, Ma’am. All the Kmart customers that day were especially grateful for your caution.

Sex, War and Other Reasons I Can’t Write

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I received the nicest email from a woman who read my last column about sex offenders. In it she related her own story of abuse and how she’s especially keen to raise awareness among the public about the prevalence of sexual abuse and the need to erase its stigma among survivors, the major theme of that particular column. It was so inspiring to read and reminded me of how powerful a tool writing is, especially when one can use it to influence a person one has never even met, and to spark debate and discussion on an issue that other people may be too afraid to touch. I’m actually surprised it didn’t garner more feedback than I expected. I don’t know whether to attribute that to reader apathy, or just general lack of interest in the topic, or my own inability to clearly convey the message.

The woman in the email is apparently keen to perhaps continue the conversation, possibly in the public square, an action both encouraging and intimidating. Kinda contrary to the ideas I put forth in the column, but a project like this can be pretty daunting to begin with. Having just moved to this town, I’m not really familiar with the resources that are available to survivors of sexual abuse, but I suppose that’s something we can find out together, if we decide to take this a step further. If.

In other news, no feedback yet on this week’s column satirizing the gay marriage controversy (published today), but my editor did call yesterday to discuss one particular line that bothered him. In the end he chose to run it, but he did half-jokingly warn me that I may be stirring up some trouble with this particular article. On the other hand, we both agreed that sometimes, the most controversial columns end up eliciting the least amount of feedback, while those that may otherwise be light and humorous often generate the most reader responses. Go figure. I haven’t received any emails about today’s column, although I’ve learned from previous experience that some readers take days, if not weeks, to send in their feedback. As I mentioned, I did love writing that piece, and not just because, unlike other columns I’ve written, this required little to no research. As much as I love digging for facts and figures — the academic in me desperately trying to claw its way out — it’s a relief to just write and write and write without having to amass all kinds of data to support one’s argument. Takes up way less time, and did I mention it’s lotsa fun?

Meanwhile, the novel plods on. Or rather, this writer plods on with the novel. I scratched out two pages yesterday and watched another film, a 1967 Toho (Japan) feature called Japan’s Longest Day. It recounts the 24-hour period leading up to the Emperor’s historical broadcast announcing the end of hostilities in the Pacific War with the Allies. The film is definitely long — over two-and-a-half hours — but what a picture! Filmed entirely in black-and-white, it has the trademark minimalism of so many classic Japanese films: little or no soundtrack except for a handful of key scenes; a dispassionate narrator; tight, terse dialogue; lots of shadowy corners.

One or two rather graphic scenes jump out at you — it’s a war movie, but only in the sense that it takes place during the war, as the story plays out largely within the homes and offices of the Japanese military officers and politicians who oversaw the imperial campaign — but what lingers is the realization of just how close — I mean, thisclose — Japan was to virtually destroying itself, mere hours before the unconditional surrender.

I guess one can argue that the young, rebellious officers didn’t really stand a chance, but considering that coups d’etat don’t have to actually succeed in order to destabilize the country (are ya listening, Philippines??), the outcome could have been really brought on Japan’s complete self-destruction. What was really amazing was that, despite the fact that Japan had almost six million soldiers in the Imperial Army by 1945, and that they had accumulated over 1.7 million casualties during the war, these upstarts were still obsessed with fighting to the last man — which, of course, would have meant not only every man on the archipelago, but every woman and child as well. The mind reels.

I’m not really sure how this film will tie in to my story other than to give another glimpse of the military machine that my main character will be up against. The second most important character in the book is a Japanese military officer who won’t even show up until well after the war actually begins (probably a good fifty or so pages in), so this film’s unique perspective of the Japanese military ideals will come in handy. I haven’t seen Letters from Iwo Jima yet — don’t think it’ll make it to my corner of the world, so I’ll have to wait for the DVD — but that’s another one that’ll probably be quite enlightening.

One of the main things that’s really hooked me into the research is the realization that the story of the Pacific War, as it’s told here in the U.S., is awfully one-sided. Granted, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the Japanese side, particularly when you think about the Bataan Death March, the Burma railway campaign, the so-called comfort women, or the Okinawa battle, but the history behind their imperialism is so complex, and when compared to the West’s own manifest destinies (part of which involved forcing Japan to sign treaties unfavorable to its own interests), it’s difficult to argue that they were entirely in the wrong. Am I becoming a Rising Sun apologist? Hope not, but as I do more research for the novel, it’s starting to look as if the backstories will be much richer and more intricate than I ever dreamed — or wanted.

Am reading Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. I hadn’t really understood the role that fear plays in every writer’s life. I just thought I was alone in this malady! Check this out: “Among rookies and veterans alike, the most basic writing fear is of simply not being up to the task. Now that I’ve told the world, and myself, that I can write, suppose it turns out that I can’t? Even the prolific Anthony Burgess said he thought constantly about giving up writing because of the debilitating fear that his work wasn’t good enough.”

Well, thank ya, Jesus. If Mr. Burgess himself dreads not only the horror of the blank page but also the terror of the filled one, I guess I’m in good company. And I like what Annie Dillard has to say about writing, how any work is in an “untamed state” that matures over time. “You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!'”

I think I’ll program a sound file on my laptop so that, when I boot it up each morning, it’ll scream, Simba! That oughtta scare the s*** out of me and get me to write.

MRA

p.s. Almost forgot!!! Having been honored with a mention in Deborah Ng’s Pay It Forward Tuesday post, I’m returning the favor. Two of my favorite blogs: Coffee with Amee and Trixia in Singapore. Amee’s a writer in LA, and Trixia is a journalist in Singapore. Check out the blogs of these smart and funny women.

p.p.s. Overheard this conversation at the local Kmart:

Elderly man: (walks, stops, looks back) Hey, I thought you were right behind me.

Elderly woman: (shuffling along at least ten paces behind him) I’m comin’. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t poop as I walk.

Thanks for that, Ma’am. All the Kmart customers that day were especially grateful for your caution.

The Joy of Satire

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Weekends are a total bust for me, writing-wise, and this last one was no exception. The fact that it snowed heavily the other day didn’t help, either, although you’d think that spending so much time indoors would actually inspire one to stick their ass in the chair and crank out a few hundred words. But you’d be mistaken.

I wrote my column for the local paper on Friday. While I usually stick to a straightforward commentary on a hot topic like immigration or the fact that a registered sex offender just moved into the neighborhood, this time I decided on a whim to write in a completely different format: the satire.

I love irony, I love sarcasm, and I love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central. I’ve never actually tried writing any satire of my own, though, so I was a little apprehensive about the project. However, the idea in my head was just too funny, so I thought, What the hell, if my editor doesn’t like it, I can always give him something else.

Normally, when I write one of these columns, it takes me anywhere from two to six hours, depending on the subject and research requirements (if any). This one, though, was such a joy to write that I think I was finished in less than two hours, which of course made me a little nervous. I think that good writing must always involve some wailing and gnashing of teeth, otherwise its quality is questionable.

Anyway, I chose to satirize the gay marriage controversy, particularly the claim by certain politicians and conservative Christian groups that gay marriage threatens the institution of marriage in general, not to mention our nation’s family values. It’s a rather simple piece, nothing quite so gut-busting like this Colbert Report segment, but it’s actually not too bad, if I may say so myself. To make sure I was doing it right, I did some quick research (okay, I went to Wikipedia — isn’t that were you would start?) on the history of satire. It was eye-opening to read about how this particular literary form has been used by some of history’s most prominent writers to influence public opinion on issues ranging from slavery to poverty to Hitler and the Nazis. I’ve never read Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, whereby he recommends that poor parents sell their children in order to afford food, but it does sound like juicy reading, no?

And what woman wouldn’t want to read Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, about the women in ancient Greece who were are so fed up with the Peloponessian War that they refused to have sex with their husbands in order to secure peace? Anyone out there friends with Laura Bush? How ’bout Lynne Cheney? Anybody?

Anyhoo, back to my essay. I had B. and a friend read it to see if they got my point, then sent it off to the editor. I’d be interested to see the reactions, if any, from the paper’s readers. It’s completely different from what I usually write, so I’m not sure what to expect. The town leans toward the conservative side of the political spectrum, and I know there will be a few who will take the piece literally and believe one of the following: (a) I advocate gay marriage; (b) I advocate child abuse; (c) I’m a God-fearing woman who would never allow a gay man or woman to step foot into my home; or (d) I’m totally bonkers. I’d love to hear from one and all.

MRA