Friday, May 24, 2019

Week in Seven Words #462

On the train, a toddler keeps asking why the doors aren't closing yet. His mom rephrases her answer several times, providing explanations that he doesn't seem to understand or accept. Or maybe he just enjoys the series of answers, each one tweaked to be slightly different while remaining reassuringly repetitive at the same time.

For part of the year, they live in a motor home. It's a little over 24 feet long, with a bed tucked in back, a seating area like a small diner booth, and a shelf full of books above the opening to the cab area.

She doesn't know what to do with herself without her phone. She craves the infinite scroll, the fresh supply of images.

Two wolf-like dogs oversee the debate from the sofa. They look mildly interested, and a bit intimidating. Maybe they could be moderators, growling at anyone who goes off-topic.

There needs to be a game in the style of Oregon Trail, only the characters are trying to navigate the phone system of a major corporation with the ultimate goal of speaking to a human being who can provide accurate and complete answers. Along the way, your characters suffer from: disconnected lines, misinformation, long stretches of obnoxious music, rising blood pressure, automated voices that request and fail to process your input, a dozen paths or more and only one leading to competence.

The Ghirardelli squares left on each seat are a lovely touch. Chocolates on chairs, a fantastic way to welcome people to the event.

The toddler has a helmet with spikes on it. In between bursts of smooth gliding, he trips and topples over his scooter. Picks himself up, looks over his shoulder, and glides and trips and topples again. He's like a baby dinosaur learning to walk.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Week in Seven Words #461

They give me a beautifully crafted card. It opens like a red flower with many delicate petals.

Two teenaged boys take turns stepping on the head of a rake, to make it fly up at them. They want to see if they can stop it from hitting their face at the last moment.

The ice breaker activity he proposes: after stating your name, demonstrate your favorite stretch or warm-up exercise. Someone else has already done jumping jacks, so I go with toe touches.

I've been visiting their house for years and only now discover that they have an attic.

I study the table in appreciation before the food gets demolished. There are green glistening vegetables, a mound of mashed yam, two small bowls of gleaming cranberry sauce, trays of beef, turkey, and chicken... a feast.

The crackle of leaves. The scrape of the rake. The hiss of leaves compacted in trash bags.

A rough edge of anxiousness and resentment, a perception of favoritism, mars an otherwise fun board game.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Holding Beauty and Sadness at Arm's Length

I’m talking about the novel by Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness, which I had begun to read for the Classics Club Challenge.

The start of the novel opens with the main character, Oki Toshio, reminiscing about bells ringing during New Year’s Eve in Kyoto. A little later, he is sitting in a tea house on the grounds of a temple on New Year's Eve. The great bell at this particular temple doesn’t sound quite right; he and the women he’s with are too close to it. The experience of a bell winds up being different in-person than in his nostalgic thoughts about listening to the ringing over the radio.

The moment reflects a theme in the novel - the stories we tell about ourselves and others close to us are prone to distortion, warped by our character, our feelings, and what we wish to focus on. Oki, who is a novelist, understands that fiction can distort reality, including idealizing people or removing essential parts of their humanity. His fictional distortions have led to a bestselling novel and to pain and betrayal for people in his life.

There are genuinely beautiful passages in Beauty and Sadness, including descriptions of paintings and the possible psychological state behind them. What kept me from finishing the novel was the hollowness of the characters and the way they seemed programmed to fulfill certain functions in the novel. They appeared to act on desire, jealousy, vengefulness, and what they consider love. But each struck me as not quite human. For example, there’s a teenaged character, Keiko, who uses her beauty and sexuality to enact vengeance. She just doesn’t seem real at all. More like a figure from mythology or fairy tales, something like a succubus.

Maybe that’s what the author aimed for, but within this particular work, I don't think it was effective. As for the other characters, they also appeared to be stuck in various ways, hurting each other or acting on impulses, each in the manner of an automaton following instructions from the author. Was the author deliberately making puppets of the characters, and showing that their passions were just strings jerking? I don't think the characterizations worked well.

I also don’t think my reaction to the novel stemmed merely from cultural differences. I’ve enjoyed works by other Japanese authors and have enjoyed various Japanese films as well. But the characters in this one pushed me out of the story with their hollowness. They were vessels that sometimes rattled weakly and emitted steam and other times leaked a bitter lukewarm liquid. I set them aside and turned away from them.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Week in Seven Words #460

I mention a recent interest I've taken in plants, and he mistakenly assumes that I'm talking about cannabis.

Now that it's her turn to talk, she doesn't want to stop. She steers the conversation towards animals and how she can't resist rescuing them. Her body shifts and contorts through her monologue, until you can see her seizing the puppies from the box where they've been abandoned and clutching them to her chest.

An evening of yellow roses, candle light, and pleasant conversation.

Walking home at night, I spot the Microsoft logo reflected off the glass of a church door.

The pale flowers have sprung from a crack in the pavement, as if the sidewalk is offering them up gallantly to anyone passing by, anyone who cares to notice.

We're an odd assortment, like the lint and leftovers in the pocket of the world.

"Get to them before they get to you," he says. Out of context, the words sound sinister. But he's talking about setting the tone of a conversation or any social encounter. From the start, he says, be forthright, courteous, and, if it comes naturally to you, crack a joke. Disarm another person's irritable mood or complaints, right at the beginning.