Passionate Statement

[Uh, I haven’t written for a while. I’m exhausted somewhere between grad school applications and a full-time teaching job that often feels more like playing taskmaster than educator (how does this country function with such poor school discipline?). I’m probably going to need to slow down this site even more. Lately, I come home, eat dinner, and just sleep]

Oh, what to do when procrastinating a graduate school application essay… why, quote a dead French intellectual of course! After all, what better way to demonstrate your academic pretentions? Make it snappy though, I can’t slack off for too long. Nicolas Chamfort wrote in his Maxims:

 “All passions are exaggerated, otherwise they would not be passions” (trans. Hutchison)

Yeah, that sounds about right to me.

Continue reading “Passionate Statement”

Living in a glass house, ‘Terrace House’ is my nightmare

Via Netflix

[A friend recommended that I watch Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City on Netflix to keep my Japanese listening in good practice with “real” conversation. Except despite that genre label “reality TV,” I doubt that anything I’m seeing is actually like… real. Nooo no no, it’s creepy instead!]

Terrace House: a plain record of six strangers – three men and three women — living together in a nice home with a nice car and no script! Hailed by reviewers as a gentler form of reality television without the exploitative excesses of American drama farms like The Real Housewives or The Bachelor, Netlfix’s Japanese docu-soap has won praise as unpretentious “real” reality television. Or, to paraphrase a friend, “Yeah, it’s reality TV, but it’s not stupid reality TV.”

Alright, sure, it’s not that stupid. It doesn’t have (much) contrived drama or forced romance or (thank god) any humiliating mini-games. Terrace House matches the blurb — six people just live together and get on with their lives. But oh man, how could anyone call it real either? And “wholesome?” No friend, it terrifies me! Big Brother is watching, the panopticon, living in a glass house… choose your strained metaphor. It’s my surveillance nightmare.

Continue reading “Living in a glass house, ‘Terrace House’ is my nightmare”

Cruelty in print, vicarious regret

I wanted to write about the Japanese documentary / reality television show Terrace House (on Netflix) but the post has taken too long to complete. So instead, for now, how about a brief comment on an excerpt from this conversational review of the series via the New York Times of all places. In it, the reviewers discuss their least favorite subjects in the documentary:

Continue reading “Cruelty in print, vicarious regret”

A few impressions from Kiyosawa’s Diary of Darkness

Via Amazon

I’ve been reading A Diary of Darkness, kept by the Japanese journalist Kiyosawa Kiyoshi from 1942 until his death in 1945 (trans. Eugene Soviak and Kamiyama Tamie). Oh, it’s so good.

The diary covers international affairs, political happenings, and daily life in Japan over the course of the Pacific / Greater East Asia War. Despite strict censorship enforced by the military government and the arrest of several of his intellectual friends for “thought crimes,” Kiyosawa bravely risked his own arrest to produce an honest account of the madness that descended on Japan during the war.

But it’s not just a typical diary either. Kiyosawa kept the journal on the hope that he could use its material to produce a history of Japanese international relations after the war. Thus, along with recording illuminating vignettes of everyday life, Kiyosawa managed to produce a real-time account of the collapse of the Japanese homefront with scholarly rigor as good or better than any secondary source for understanding Japan’s progress during the war.

In politics, Kiyosawa was a committed liberal – more than anything, he complains about the stultifying effect attacks on the freedom of speech had on Japanese society. It’s remarkable then that the journal survived, a powerful testament to the singular importance of that freedom in maintaining a peaceful and democratic society. I regret that he did not live long enough to see Japan become such a society. But hey, it’s nice that he tried.

So anyway, in lieu of something more substantial, here are three quick impressions:

Continue reading “A few impressions from Kiyosawa’s Diary of Darkness”

Buddha and the Boozer

Habushu, an Okinawan snake alcohol. Image: Wikipedia

Have you ever come across such a perfect line while reading translated literature that you just have to go check it out in the source language, comprehension be damned?

I found one such line in the Konjaku Monogatari Shu, a collection of hundreds of late Heian-period Japanese short stories, 90 of which appear in English in Japanese Tales from Times Past (trans. Naoshi Koriyama and Bruce Allen). It was a Christmas present, but I’ve already hit volume 19, tale 21 in the Buddhist moral tales section, titled “Snakes are seen in a vat of sake made from rice cake offerings.” In the context of its most delightful line though, I think I might want to rechristen the story “Buddha and the Boozer.”

But first, a quick synopsis of the barely two-page tale for context:

Continue reading “Buddha and the Boozer”

I know this, but what good does it do me to know?

I realized that this post needed a picture so I took a picture of a book in protest

[assay!]

Now that I am teaching again, I find that I have the most trouble answering questions related to motivation, usually some variation of “Why do we need to study this?” And as awful as this might sound, I truly don’t know how to satisfy that question. I do try — depending on the student, so far I’ve replied:

  • “Maybe if you study it more, you will learn that you do like it. I used to hate algebra but look!, I’m teaching it to you now. 
  • “Oh, you want to make video games? Well, you’ll need this math when you start programming classes…”
  • “Yeah, I don’t know why the Ottoman Empire is a state standard either, but you need to study a wide breadth of subjects because you never know where those connections will come in handy.”

Of course, every discipline will have their own specific answers. A US Government teacher will discuss the importance of civic education for a functioning democracy. Or a geologist might just say “‘cause rocks are cool” and that’s a fine and dandy reason. At the very least, I hope I’ve done better than a coworker who told a student that if he hated social studies, “Just wait ‘till you’ll have to take economics. Economics is the worst.” Yeah, sure, that’s a great way to prime students with a good attitude for their required courses in an already maligned field

I think though, I struggle to answer because I never considered the question important. When I went to school, I studied because I felt that I had no other choice. Then, by the time I reached college, I had developed strong enough interests that I no longer needed to put effort into the choice anyway — I would have pursued the topics that I enjoyed regardless of the opportunity to do so at a university (and as I continue to do now in a hobbyist capacity here).

So, with the students, I’m dodging the question. I give two vague hypotheticals (“Maybe…” “You never know…”) and a cutesy if cynical appeal to self-interest (“You want to make video games?”) but ignore the more fundamental problem of education:

What good does knowledge do me?

Continue reading “I know this, but what good does it do me to know?”

When does Girls’ Last Tour take place? …and why it may not matter

No computer, no screenshots — I got a scan!

[computer still broken, so a short phone ramble]

When does Girls’ Last Tour (Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou) take place? I googled the question and found no answer on the first few result pages. So, while re-reading the manga through a surprise digital detox sprung on me by a broken computer, I thought I could provide an answer:

Continue reading “When does Girls’ Last Tour take place? …and why it may not matter”

Porco Rosso is a surprisingly apolitical disappointment

Maybe more like a thumbs sideways?

Porco Rosso, the 1992 anime film about a flying pig-pilot who does battle with sky pirates in interwar Adriatic floatplanes, might be Studio Ghibli / director Hayao Miyazaki’s most memed movie. In addition to that thumbs-up image above, plenty of lines make common appearances on anime meme boards like “You make me think humanity’s not a complete waste,” “Laws don’t apply to pigs,” and the classic “Better a pig than a fascist:”

On sourcing: my computer broke this week so I referenced this script for quotes and pulled screenshots from stupid meme posts on reddit. As the memes show, lots of different fan-sub versions float around out there so sorry for any inconsistencies.

But for all the memes, Porco Rosso is a surprisingly apolitical film, with those lines representing more throw-away jokes than a vigorous thematic ideal. Yes, the titular character Porco is a typical anti-authority anti-hero who chafes under the rule of Depression-era Italian fascists. But he’s also such a severe misanthrope that if he happens to take anti-fascist action, he only does so because the facists happen to be in charge. Combine that apathetic position with what might be Miyazaki’s weakest feminist message among his otherwise excellent cast of believable female characters and I don’t know what to do with Porco Rosso. Yes, it’s beautiful, as all Ghibli movies are. But despite the anti-fascist hype, it lacks much of Miyazaki’s characteristic thematic focus. In a word (or two), it disappoints.

Continue reading “Porco Rosso is a surprisingly apolitical disappointment”

Removing ads and changing names

I caved and bought one of those WordPress.com plans. I’ve wanted to move away from the free system for a while now but kept putting it off out of sheer laziness. I would have preferred to use a self-hosting option but, eh, I’m starting a new job soon and don’t want to deal with any of the technical headaches that might come with managing my own site. And plus, I hardly care about extensive features or design anyway; for this silly notebook, I don’t need the greater freedom afforded by a more open system. At just a few dollars a month, whatever, I’ll take the convenience.

Most of all, I’m sick of the ads. My friends have started making a joke of sending me screenshots of the outlandish clickbait garbage WordPress hoists on my site — despite my youth-skewed content, I get so many manipulative pieces trying to trick the elderly into buying god knows what with their meager Social Security checks (or worse yet, a reverse mortgage). I just lost a grandfather to mild dementia among other accumulated diseases and don’t want any association with the advertisers that would have tried to take advantage of him.

Anyway, I’m also taking the opportunity to make a name change. The moment after I created it, I never liked the name for this site… “Marshmellow Pastel” Bleh. It feels too sappy and self-important, which was exactly the opposite of my intention when I mixed soft things and soft colors (and that stupid misspelling!). But lazy inertia preserved it so I’m finally taking my last few free days ahead of re-entering the workforce to eliminate it before busyness steals the chance. With that Real Neat Blog Award I received last week (thanks again!), I can even pretend to retire it on a high note.

For a name, I always wanted something stupid and meaningless, something that reduces everything I do here to the vain frivolity that it is. My old title was, I think, just vain.

So, taking inspiration from the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi* and an old inside joke, I’m going to re-title this place “Everything is Marshmallows!” — a name too broad to mean anything and too long to ever successfully brand which, I hope, will also gently mock my own worst impulses and keep me from the despairing excesses of the pessimistic writers that I otherwise admire (like Leopardi himself). Maybe if I keep myself in good humor, I can achieve a style closer to Girls’ Last Tour than On the Heights of Despair.

And finally, with that new job, I might need to abide by a less rigorous schedule and decrease my output — expect more of the short-form content I’ve fallen back on in the past couple months while I traveled and fewer long researched pieces. I don’t know how this site will change, but I doubt the new school will tolerate the amount of writing-desk-warming time I had at the old job. Unsettlingly, I also have a small audience now – I hope I do not disappoint.

* [From Leopardi’s own notebook, the Zibaldone: “Everything is evil. I mean, everything that is, is wicked; every existing thing is an evil; everything exists for a wicked end. Existence is a wickedness and is ordained for wickedness. Evil is the end, the final purpose, of the universe… The only good is nonbeing; the only really good thing is the thing that is not, things that are not things; all things are bad.”

Hey, cheer up Jimmy! I’d offer you some candy, if you weren’t dead.]

Where did the “Real Neat Blog Award” come from? Also, I got one.

The original Real Neat Blog Award logo from December 2014 by dearkitty1.wordpress.com

So, Inskidee over at Inskime (an anime blog) nominated me for one of those Real Neat Blog Awards. Thanks Inskidee. I’m a bit of a cynical, unexcitable iconoclast so awards maybe exist outside of my wheelhouse. But, I’ll try my best to take it with grace.

I do have to ask a question first though: where the hell did the award even come from? Before I was nominated by Inskidee was nominated by Lynn Sheridan was nominated by xxanimexxgirlxx was nominated by Crow was nominated by Yomu and Keiko was nomin– huh, a forking origin that loops back to Crow again and then Yomu and Keiko again and then Lynn Sheridan again and… I’ll stop this incestuous bit of viral internet-epidemiology there for now, but trust me, I followed links for well over an hour (please people, use links, date your posts, and add a search function to your sites!).

Anyway, after getting bored and cheating with Google, the oldest Real Neat Blog Award acceptance speech I could find after a lazy first-page search came from this September 10, 2016 post on the lifestyle blog “Stay Young and Beautiful.” The recipient links to an awarder at a blog called “Universe Unexplored.” Oh, but a broken link!, the case goes cold… Universe Unexplored has since gone private.

“Stay Young and Beautiful” does offer another clue though. The award image (one of the most endearingly awful MS Paint drawings I’ve ever seen) includes a half cropped URL crediting dearkitty1.wordpress.com, a blog that covers “Animals, peace, war, civil liberties, science, social justice, women’s issues, arts, more.” And wow, dearkitty1 still publishes, an OG WordPress blog from way back in August 2005, around the original WordPress.com beta test. This cat has a pedigree! 

In December 2014, dearkitty1 created the very first award, nominated 20 people, and asked them seven questions with these original rules:

1. Put the award logo on your blog.

2. Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.

3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.

4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.

5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

Of course, since then the award has metastasized as viral internet content does. The wording of the first four rules has changed and it seems that most bloggers replaced the redundant 5th rule with one asking the recipient to generate a new set of questions. Most significantly, dearkitty1’s 4th rule didn’t require the recipient to nominate anyone, unlike the modern award that asks for 7 to 10 victi– …candidates like an old chain letter pyramid scheme (FORWAD TO EIHGT PEOPLE OR YOU LOOSE A KIDNEY TOMOROW). I suppose that the lack of significant change in the award attests to its continuing appeal five years later.

Anyway, enough stalling — I’ll quit pretending to exist above the process like a dashing investigative journalist and follow the rules as relayed to me by Inskidee:

Continue reading “Where did the “Real Neat Blog Award” come from? Also, I got one.”