I can’t remember my first choir concert, but my parents can, and they love to bring it up. I was 2 years old, in pre-primary school. I went to a Montessori school that was big on music (choir especially), and they had us singing as soon as we began attending. Every year, there would be a few big concerts in the church down the street from the school, and even though our school was very small, there were several different choirs broken up largely by grade level.
The pre-primary kids (ages 2-3, after which they transferred to primary) usually sang about three short songs, and every kid was supposed to have a buddy from the elementary school. It was always a super cute thing, and because of the age, something usually happened that wasn’t supposed to happen. Most of the time, it was really funny and adorable, like when a little boy one year stood up in the middle of a song and yelled out into the crowd “Hi Mommy!” before being pulled back down by his buddy.
I’ve talked before about my crying issues (read my journal entry from a couple of weeks ago, Camping Trip, if you want to get an idea. It’s funny, I promise), and this concert was no different.
Also, at this time, I had several objects that I was very attached to, that helped to comfort me (though at the concert, they didn’t seem to do anything). The first was what my parents refer to as my “piece of garbage”, though it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. It was just a piece of wrapper from a diaper package or something similar. It wasn’t like I didn’t have tons of toys and stuffed animals, but that was what I loved. My babysitter had actually tied a ribbon to it to make it look nicer. The other things were two tubes of Vaseline of different sizes, which I called “mommy cream” and “baby cream”. I would carry these everywhere with me.
So at the concert, during pre-primary choir’s turn, all the kids filed in one by one and sat down on the stage. Then there was me, in the arms of my teacher, Deirdre, screaming and crying while she was walking me on stage, with my piece of garbage and one tube of Vaseline in one hand and the other tube in my other hand. Throughout the entire performance, I never stopped screaming, and I never sang.
And that was my first choir concert.
(Just so you know, even though it doesn’t seem like it from the story, I loved choir, and I still do. I was in it continuously through all my school years, and I’m hoping to be involved with it in some form or another as the years go by. This is just one (hopefully) funny story, and it does not in any way represent my actual feelings about being in choir, or choir in general.)
I noticed this quarter that there’s something odd about the way that, in our society, we treat age. It started when somebody found out that I’m nineteen. He was surprised, and when I asked him how old he thought I was, he said probably around twenty-one or twenty-two. I instantly felt flattered, in the same way that I’ve felt throughout my teen years whenever somebody told me that I looked older than I was.
And then I started wondering: why is it a compliment to be told that you look older than you actually are when you’re young? And at what age does it become a compliment to be told that you look younger than your age? With celebrities who are in their forties and older, it seems like the biggest compliments they can get from the media is that they don’t look their age, as if it’s a bad thing. Is there ever a time when people want to be told that they look as old as they actually are?
I’d like to explore these questions further at some point, because I feel like age, and our preoccupation with it, and about how we look in relation to our age, is something that we talk about a lot, but I don’t really know how or when it started, or why.
Eye of the Story
Close Viewing of My America… or Honk if You Love Buddha
The film My America… or Honk if You Love Buddha is a film that combines humor with very serious subject matter as a way to explore what it means to be Asian-American. In my close viewing, I will be focusing on a few minutes from the segment about Bill and Yuri Kochiyama.
The scenes that show Yuri Kochiyama taking pictures with the camera she keeps around her neck are a good example of something that the film does so well, which is to inject humor into very somber subject matter. By blending humor and seriousness, the film its story in a way that makes it easy for the audience to relate to. Many of us, in our own lives, have that one family member who always wants to get a picture to capture the moment, and they won’t allow you to move on until they get the perfect shot. Our first introduction to Yuri is with her standing in front of the camera, with her own camera ready, and then we hear the click that means that she’s taken the picture, and then she says, “Wait a minute, I want to get another one.”
The scene in which Bill and Yuri are talking to Tajima-Pena about their first meeting is also a good example of this. They are conversing back and forth about when exactly they met, and it’s a very sweet, short glimpse into how they interact with each other, lovingly bickering about certain details. We find out that they met in the Jerome, Arkansas camp, where Bill went with his army company for the weekend and in which Yuri was being interned. The entire setting of their meeting is very dark; after all, it’s a camp where Yuri was literally kept prisoner for several years. But that’s not what they dwell on. Instead of focusing on what could otherwise make for a very depressing story, they talk about how they met, fell in love, argue good-naturedly about the specific date that they first met.
After we first find out about Yuri being interned at the camp, the film cuts to the voice of a man speaking cheerfully over images and videos of people setting up a camp in the middle of nowhere. The voice says: “Here in the land of Buffalo Bill, the government is erecting model camp towns, towns in which they’ll (meaning Japanese Americans) live unmolested, not as prisoners, but free to work, and paid by the United States government. Bathtubs, yes, all the comforts of home. The Japanese in America are finding Uncle Sam a loyal master despite the War.” The images that are playing underneath the voice show people happily setting up and constructing a camp, then proudly surveying the finished product. This is obviously propaganda, shown during the War to prove the government’s point that the camps were a great place to be.
Tajima-Pena shows this is in an ironically humorous way. The audience, hopefully somewhat knowledgable about U.S. history, has already heard the Arkansas camp be called a concentration camp where Yuri was kept prisoner, and they know that this was not some sort of haven where Japanese Americans could go if they so chose. Tajima-Pena’s choice to inject humor in this way very effectively contrasts with the very next scene, and the rest of the film, to show just how troublesome conversations about the internment camps were, and still are. In this scene is Bill and Yuri visit Jerome, Arkansas, expecting to see the camp where Yuri had been interned. Instead, what they find is an empty field, and Yuri is dismayed and angry when she realizes that the camp is gone. She exclaims “Wait a minute-what’s that empty space? Is that the camp?” She finds out from the man who comes by in his truck, John Ernest Owington, that he buried the camp, and he’s very unconcerned about her obvious dismay about this. Their conversation continues with him saying “Y’all wasn’t prisoners of war”, to which she responds, “Well, we kind of were”, and he denies this, saying, “You were interned for your own protection”. Yuri replies that the Japanese Americans who were in the camp thought of themselves as prisoners. (We find out later on in the film that one of Tajima-Pena’s teachers actually claimed that there were never concentration camps for Japanese Americans during the War, that something like that wasn’t possible in the U.S., thereby denying the experiences of an entire group of people, and invalidating the painful memories and experiences of the past.)
Even this troubling exchange is lightened, again by Yuri and her desire to document her life through taking pictures. Even though she has just found out that the place where she had been a prisoner for several years was buried, she keeps talking to John Ernest. When she finds out that he spent some time visiting with the Japanese Americans in the camp (although, to be clear, this is according to him, the same man who thought that it was for their own good and that it had been their choice to be in the camps), she is surprised, and wants to get a picture of him. She then proceeds to try to get a good shot of him, and when she can’t because he’s in the truck, she says “Put your head out more, cause I can’t see you,” and she actually gets him to open the door and face out of the side of the truck, towards the camera. It’s a moment that the viewer can easily relate to– most of us, or someone we know, like to document important moments in our lives, try to get that perfect shot, even if it’s impractical and exasperating for everybody else. Yet it’s also a moment that is based on a very painful past, something that remains in the back of the viewer’s mind, even as the interaction brings a smile while watching.
What My America does so well is to combine humor and history and very serious subjects in a way that allows the viewer to be absorbed in the film, and to empathize with the characters, without making the subject matter and the mood so heavy that a feeling of gloom permeates the entire film. Instead, what we see is an exploration of what it means to be Asian-American, in different ways and through the stories of many different people.
It’s the end of Week 7, and I have to say that this wasn’t a particularly easy week for me. I actually really didn’t enjoy Grace Paley’s Collected Stories for the most part. There were a couple of the stories that I did enjoy, but really overall I just wasn’t a big fan. I did really like the film for this week, My America, and I think that that is what I will do for my close viewing next week. I’m mildly stressed about getting that done, but I’m still feeling okay about it, since I still have about a week until it has to be done.
The biggest issue that I had this week was with my project. I’ve really been trying to stick to a schedule of doing one piece of my project every day, and for a while there it was working, but I hit several days this week where I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe it was that the words just weren’t coming to me, or maybe I was just too lazy, but either way I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped.
Also, this week was my biggest moment of doubt so far in the quarter, where I was just disappointed with how my project was so far and questioning everything I’d done. I’m still not completely over that, but I’m past the worst of the doubt, I think. I am worried that my project won’t turn out well, or at least as well as I’d hoped, but I’m trying not to let that interfere with my working on it.
I cried a lot when I was little. Like, really a lot. I mean, that in itself I could write a whole journal entry on (and it would be pretty long), but instead I’m going to focus on one particular incident.
The school I went to was a Montessori school, and the head of the school, Leslie, was big on tough love and forcing us kids to be independent. I skipped kindergarten and got put in first grade at my teacher’s insistence, which meant leaving my friends behind in primary while I moved to elementary. So that summer, there was a camping trip with the elementary kids, and my parents figured it would be a good way to bond with my new classmates. They were a little worried because I had a lot of separation anxiety, but I had already gone on a short camping trip before and it had gone fine, so they figured this should be okay. Even so, they told Leslie to call them if I was having a hard time, and they would pick me up. (I didn’t know this part until years later. Maybe if I had things would’ve gone differently.)
I’m sure you can see where this is going. I was a little kid who already had a history of crying a huge amount at the slightest provocation, around completely new people, without my parents. I am really not exaggerating when I tell you that I spent those entire five days crying. Like, through meals, activities, boating trips. I think the only time I stopped was when I was asleep, but then I’d wake up early the next morning and start right up again.
The main reason this trip is memorable requires a bit of backstory. I grew up in an almost completely non religious Jewish family. We celebrated the major holidays, but religion wasn’t a part of the day-to-day in our house. I had certainly never prayed before. I don’t even know how I knew what praying was at that point. Also, at this time, I was in the middle of a several years long obsession with Greek mythology. I just loved it, and I knew all of the stories from my (children’s) books about Greek myths.
So, what happened was, I was so desperate to go home that every night before bedtime I would sneak off behind the Port-a-Potty and pray to the gods (Hera, Zeus, Athena, etc…) to take me home. Like, just picture it: a little five year old Jewish girl, who has never prayed in her entire life, praying to the Greek gods to reunite her with her parents, while sitting behind a Port-a-Potty, all while still crying. That might actually have been the lowest point in my life so far.
Whether or not my prayers were heard, I did eventually go home. And while the camping trip was a fairly traumatic moment in my childhood, the story of me praying to the gods has become a favorite of my family’s. So maybe in the end it was worth it, because now I will have this story to tell for the rest of my life, a story that will hopefully bring laughter and at least a moment of joy to the people I share it with.
Oh, screw it. It totally wasn’t worth it.
It’s now almost the end of Week 4. Oh god. I’m getting a little freaked out at this point, if I’m being completely honest. I mean, I have my outline done, which is fairly detailed, and I’m pretty happy with it. I’m constantly thinking about my story, putting together sentences in my head, coming up with things to include, all that good stuff. And yet, I’ve hardly started writing the actual thing. So I just need to sit down and do it.
I’ve also begun rereading The Stranger Beside Me for some inspiration and ideas. Unfortunately, I’m finding it just as creepy and terrifying as when I first read it. Don’t get me wrong; I love it. It’s just one of those things where I know it’s not good for me but I do it anyway because it’s so good. Except this is for school, so at least I have a solid excuse.
But back to the actual writing. I guess my issue with just sitting down and just doing it is that the whole is a bit scary to me. First of all, I’ve not actually written much fiction, so it’s different from what I’m used to. And second of all, I’ve never really written fiction (or nonfiction) in more than just very short short stories, so the scope of this project, even if it only ends up being like 15 pages, is totally unfamiliar territory. And lastly, as of now, my project is still full of potential. I mean, sure, it could turn out like total crap, but it could also turn out to be completely great.
In my head, I know that it will most likely fall somewhere in the middle (hopefully leaning more toward the “great” side), but saying goodbye to that potential and possibility by actually taking the ideas and turning them into a story is still frightening, and even a little bit sad.
But I’m going to do it, with the hope that it lives up to at least part of that potential that I’ve been imagining.
Since we watched Lise Yasui’s “A Family Gathering”, I knew I wanted to relate it to my own relationship with my grandfather and great-grandfather, but I wasn’t sure how exactly to go about it. So that’s why it’s taken me so long. I’m still not exactly sure how this is going to turn out, but I’ll do my best.
My great-grandfather, Phil, died way before I was born, and yet, oddly enough, I feel like I know him better than any of my other great-grandparents (including the one I actually knew while I was growing up). Unlike Ms. Yasui, I don’t have any false or imagined memories of Phil, yet I feel this closeness to him, as she does for her grandfather, even if there’s no concrete reason for it.
I didn’t really know anything about him when I was a kid. Then, one night at dinner, when I was eleven or twelve, I randomly asked “has anyone in our family killed themselves?” I really don’t know why I asked it. And I definitely wasn’t expecting that anyone actually had. So it was really shocking when my mom answered: “you mean, other than Grandpa Phil? Nope, no one.”
“What? What do you mean? Grandpa Phil killed himself?”
I don’t remember very much after that of that particular conversation. Family members exchanged glances, not speaking, but I imagine they were thinking something along the lines of: “I guess she didn’t know. Oops.” And then I got the bare bones story of why and how. It would be several years later when I’d learn the details of Grandpa Phil’s death.
Philip Prince was an Eastern European Jewish immigrant who for a long time was a Communist and an active labor activist in his community in Newark, NJ. Later on he owned a plumbing supply store. At the time, bipolar disorder was not well known or diagnosed, but my family is fairly sure that he had it.
All of his life, my grandfather, Carl, had a difficult, complicated, and often antagonistic relationship with his father. I don’t doubt that Phil loved my grandfather in his own way, but, from what I’ve heard, he could be very cruel to his son.
Grandpa Phil killed himself in 1971. He hung himself in the upstairs bedroom of his and my great-grandmother Anne’s house, while she was out playing bridge with her friends. He left a note telling her not to go upstairs, and to call Carl to come over and go into the bedroom, which she did.
My grandfather was the one who found my Grandpa Phil hanging, he was the one who cut him down, and he was the one who was left to deal with Grandpa Phil’s affairs, including paying off creditors, reading the letters he left to family members, including his young grandchildren, and deciding whether or not to share them with their intended recipient, because some of the letters were also judgmental, cruel, and blaming.
I’m fairly certain that that was the worst and most difficult time in my grandfather’s life. Not many of us can imagine what it would be like to be in that situation, how we would feel, and how to possibly go forward. Learning about Grandpa Phil has both made me feel as if I have some understanding and connection to him, ambiguous though it may be, and has also given my relationship with my grandfather a new level.
I don’t pretend to know Grandpa Phil and all that he was as a person, and I’m the first to admit that I’m judgmental and negative towards him more than maybe I should be. After all, I‘ve never met him, never had the chance to speak with him, and I never will. But at the same time, I do feel a certain closeness to him that I don’t feel with my other great-grandparents. And it might sound odd, maybe even inappropriate, but I feel a kind of gratitude for learning about his story, because I have a deeper understanding, respect, and admiration for own grandfather, which I will always be grateful for.
The Eye of the Story
Close Reading of Mrs. Dalloway
Although it might often be a cliche to say that time is of the essence, in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, it is particularly true. This paper examines her exploration of time in the novel, and the various techniques that she uses to convey different facets of how time is experienced.
On pages 10-12, the reader glimpses into Mrs. Dalloway’s mind, following her thoughts and her actions during this one seemingly mundane moment in her life, when she is walking through London to buy flowers for her party. In this moment, which probably takes up about fifteen minutes or a half an hour, on the one hand we are walking with Mrs. Dalloway up Bond Street to go to Mulberry’s, the florist shop, to buy flowers from Miss Pym, while we are also tracing her thoughts, from her displeasure at Elizabeth’s relationship to Miss Kilman, to how much she dislikes her tendency to not do things solely for herself, but to instead make a certain impression on others.
As she walks, her thoughts go to how much she dislikes her looks and would like to look more like Lady Bexborough, and from there she makes a commentary on the the ways in which women are seen in society merely as mothers and wives. She thinks about how “often now this body she wore…, this body, with all its capacities, seemed nothing-nothing at all. She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible, unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only… this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more, this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway,” (10).
By taking us through Clarissa’s thoughts and actions, Woolf is giving the reader a glimpse into how people work, how every day is filled with the ordinary and the mundane, but also the unexpected, the life-changing, and how we always exist simultaneously on the inside of our bodies and the outside.
Time is itself a character that is present and woven throughout the novel, always there, important to each of the characters, whether it is mentioned by them or not. The whole novel takes place in a day, from Mrs. Dalloway going to buy the flowers early in the morning to when her party is almost over that night, and it also goes through Septimus’ last day alive. Even though the novel is bracketed in the day of the party, the actual content of the novel takes place over decades, because practically every character, even the very minor ones, have some sort of flashback to the past, such as Clarissa and Peter constantly thinking back to their days at Bourton.
There is a huge contrast in the book, where Woolf is showing the fluidity of time while constantly reminding the reader about what time it is presently in the book– the ticking of clocks is often brought up, such as when Richard is finished meeting Lady Bruton and is walking home to see Clarissa, and Big Ben begins to strike to signify the passing of the hour, “first the warning, musical; then the hour; irrevocable,” (114).
Woolf also plays with the idea of time both as an objective quantity, as with the constant references to clocks, and of time as an experience. The narration is often similar to stream of consciousness. Sometimes it is used to reflect people’s typical experience of time in consciousness, as one thought following another, somewhat random but also corresponding to the normal flow of time. But the narration also expresses an expansion and compression of time. Time is expanded, for example, when one moment in writing contains an enormous amount of experience and consciousness, such as when, as Mrs. Dalloway is walking up the street to get to the florist, she experiences a flood of thoughts, about her life, her decisions, thoughts about her own soul and how she feels about Miss Kilman, her hatred, and how much she is angry that she hates Miss Kilman but can’t seem to stop, because it’s always present in herself, never allowing her to “be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred,” (12). We experience compression in the reading similarly to how we experience it in life, in that the characters, like us, go back in their mind years and years, compressing time into a single moment or thought, such as when Mrs. Dalloway is reflecting on Miss Kilman and how she, Miss Kilman, has worn the same coat all the years she’s known her, and in that one moment is reminded of all of the negative feelings that Mrs. Dalloway has felt towards her compressed into one memory.
Even the format and structure of Mrs. Dalloway is another way that Woolf deliberately plays with the idea of time as both fixed and fluid. There are no chapters– it is just one continuous narrative. There are small breaks to signify a shifting of the character focus, but nothing abrupt, final. The narration of the characters’ internal world shows how their consciousness does not exist in a single experience of time; rather, their thoughts are constantly shifting between the past, present, and future. The structure of the novel is also conveying this sense of time being very fluid: there isn’t really an introduction or conclusion in the usual sense of the word. The reader has a sense of just suddenly being thrown into this world of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith for a day, no more and no less, just as their lives would be– their lives don’t merely exist in the pages of the novel. They had a life before the novel takes place and their lives, with the exception of Septimus, will continue after the novel’s last sentence.
After high school, I attended the University of Washington in Seattle very briefly. I hadn’t planned on it being brief; it was supposed to be where I would get my degree from after four years. But, for various reasons, it didn’t work out, and I transferred after my Early Fall Start program ended.
That first week (my first week of college!) my parents stayed in a hotel to help me get settled into UW. I was extremely emotional those first few days, and my parents were a big comfort, so I hung around them a lot. Midway through the week, my dad drove back to Olympia to check on our house and the cats, and the next day came back to Seattle.
Now, in order to understand the context of the events I’m about to describe, you need to understand something about me. I have a terrible habit of laughing uncontrollably during serious situations. For instance, when my great uncle died, I couldn’t stop smiling for several minutes as my dad relayed the news to my mom and I. Another time, my dad and I were home alone. All of a sudden, he had this terrible stomach pain. It was so bad that he was debating whether or not to call 911 (it turned out to be a kidney stone). But the entire time that this was going on, I couldn’t stop laughing. I was still giggling on the drive to the hospital. I think you get the picture.
So, anyway, back to the story. It was either the second or third day of class, and when it was over I hung out with my mom in the hotel room, with my dad set to come back anytime. I remember is that I woke up, and my dad was there. When he saw I was awake, he came and sat next to me, looking pretty serious.
“Alana, I have to tell you something,” he said. I just sat there, waiting.
Now, before I go further, there’s one more part of the story you should know. Apparently, my grandfather had died the day before, which is when my dad found out. So, on the drive up to Seattle, my dad was preparing not only to tell me that his father was dead, but also was preparing for my inevitable reaction of laughter. He knew that it was just the way I dealt with serious situations, and that my outward glee didn’t mean that I wasn’t feeling sad or scared or unsure on the inside, but it would still be tough to watch me laugh when he told me. So these were the thoughts at the forefront of my dad’s mind when he told me. Okay, now back to the story.
So it was an odd, surprising moment when he was the one who started laughing as he said to me “Alana, Papa died.”
I, on the other hand, immediately burst into tears.
The next moments were like something you could imagine taking place in a comedy. As I was sobbing and wailing “what?! Papa died?,” and just completely falling apart, my dad was telling me about how it was peaceful, he died in his sleep, family was already flying out to take care of Nana, all while he was laughing and smiling, and trying to get himself under control.
Later on, my dad compared what happened to a famous episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, in which a clown on the TV station in which she works dies. Mary’s colleagues all make jokes about Chuckles the Clown dying, and Mary is very judgmental about their flippant attitude. Later, at the funeral, when everybody is in a solemn mood, Mary starts giggling uncontrollably. What I’m getting at with this whole story is that sometimes we laugh, not because we think things are funny, but because it relieves our sadness, anxiety, or fear.