Friday, March 31, 2006

Special Mention

I bought a copy of the 2006 Pushcart Prize anthology just to see my name in the back. (Thanks, Vicki, for the heads up on this.) My essay, "The Sound and the Worry," which was published in Brain, Child received a special mention. It's a thrill to see my name on the same page as Pico Iyer and Lee Smith, who were also cited.

Haven't read the whole book yet, but I did, with some trepidation, read Ann Hood's heartbreaking essay "Comfort," about the death of her daughter. I met both daughter and writer when I attended Bread Loaf several years ago.

Terebi Champion in Africa

I had to watch Terebi Champion with my son this week because the contestants went to Kenya. The challenge was to photograph as many wild animals as possible. They got extra points for rare shots, such as an animal hunting, or a leopard in a tree. I believe they were on a game reserve. Anyway, this was the first Terebi Champion I've seen that involved danger. There was a guy with a rifle in each open jeep, and at one point, on hearing a lion's roar, the contestant wanted to go in closer, but the guide warned that the lion might leap onto them. And then that would be like the Japanese tourist who fell into the Grand Canyon while trying to get a good shot.

One of the contestants was an animal illustrator. The winner was a safari guide, which didn't seem fair since he probably knew better about where to find the animals than the others. I couldn't help wondering what the African villagers on the show thought of these crazy foreigners.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Those of you who like will want to check out my new literary blog Yomimono, which is an offshoot of the print journal that I intend to resurrect.


Okay, here's something that I will NEVER do: babysit my kids' electronic pets. I see Japanese mothers all the time these days pushing those little buttons to "play with" or "feed" or "medicate" their kids' tamagotchis while the owners are at school or whatever. Today at the pool, there were two mothers with about four tamagotchi toys each. I suppose the mothers may secretly like playing with the things, but I'm glad that my kids haven't shown much interest in them so far.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

My Last Post on Ebay

So I'm done with Ebay, for now at least, and am entering the Days of Austerity.

In case you were wondering, I finally did win an American Girl Doll on Ebay for a pretty good price. It's not one of the character dolls - not Felicity, or Samantha, or Jess - but one of the generic ones. I figure I can write a story for her myself. Maybe I'll dig up that one I started about the girl living in the jungles of Indonesia with her anthropologist mother. And maybe I should give her a name. Lilia, being deaf, doesn't really get that you should name your dolls. She hasn't been exposed to the wide range of names in the world.

About dolls. While I was looking around on Ebay, I found a line of newborn dolls, some of them preemie dolls. As the mother of a couple of kids who were born at 26 weeks, I ask you, what kind of person would want a preemie doll???

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Muse

My daughter is the inspiration for the story I'm working on right now, but she has also served as a muse for others. A few years ago I interviewed textile artist Mary Edna Fraser. In the course of our conversation,I told her about my daughter's disabilities. Shortly thereafter, she e-mailed to say that she had begun a batik for my little girl.

Here is what she wrote about the work:

"Crater Aurelia" Venus, batik on silk, 57" x 49"

This silk is dedicated to Lilia, a two year old deaf child, and for all who are handicapped. The volcanic dome Aurelia is one of many on Venus. The image suggests a delicate ballerina skirt with Lilia dancing across the planetary landscape.

I wish I could afford to buy it!

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Parking Lot Attendant

From yesterday I've been taking my son to the YMCA for spring swimming. (My daughter wanted to go too, but they didn't have enough teachers for her to work one on one with someone and she would drown on her own.) We parked in a lot next to the building which is manned by a guy with cerebral palsy. I first encountered him many years ago, when my husband and I parked there to go see a movie or something. Back then, when I didn't really think too much about these things, I assumed that he was mentally incapable of doing anything else and I thought it was great that he had a job. But yesterday when I pulled into the lot, he started speaking to me in English. I was stunned because so very few able-bodied people around here can speak decent English. He was directing me into the parking space in English, which is more service than you get at most parking lots. It occurred to me that he is vastly underchallenged by his job and that his skills could be put to use somewhere else. But there was another, older guy, sitting in the booth, taking the money. His father, maybe? It all made me think of Lilia's former teacher who, when she saw my four-year-old daughter stringing beads with concentration suggested that she might be able to do something like that for work when she grows up. Hey, I was thinking more along the lines of lawyer.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bidding Fever

Instead of chasing down dust bunnies or writing a letter to my 90-year-old grandfather who lives alone or working on my novella this afternoon while my children were momentarily distracted, I was madly bidding at Ebay on American Girl Dolls. The Doll of 2006 is the best: her name is Jess and she's half Japanese-American and half Irish-American and her parents are archaeologists. In the book that goes with the doll, they all go on an adventure to Belize. I'm trying to get this doll for my daughter's birthday. Lilia is half Japanese and half German-American. She can't read the book yet and she's more interested in the blonde dolls, but I think Jess is really cool. I had a winning bid on a naked Jess doll when I went to bed, and even though I was starting to think that without the clothes she wasn't such a great deal, I was disappointed to find out this morning that I lost.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tea With Milk

At bedtimes this weekend, we've been having the Allen Say Lit Fest. The night before last, we read Say's latest book, The Kamishibai Man, at the end of which I always get all choked up and hope that Jio doesn't notice. Last night we read one of my favorites, Tea With Milk, which is the story of how Say's parents met. His mother was born to Japanese parents in the United States, but moved to Japan when she was in high school. His Korean-born father was raised in China by European foster parents. At one point, May, the mother character is longing to go back to the United States where she can live the way she likes, but Joseph, her suitor, says if you have certain things, like a home, food you like, work you enjoy and good conversation,one place is as a good as another. I try to remember this when I am discouraged about living in Japan and wanting to uproot my own kids even though I read somewhere that Say was miserable as a child and his parents got divorced.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Champions of the World

For years I have been trying to convince my baseball coach husband that if his team practiced less, they might win more. There is no need, I said, to practice seven days a week, 365 days a year. The body needs rest and studies have shown that athletes who train too much achieve less than they could. I have scoffed at the coach of a nearby high school who holds practices at 5AM on the day of a tournament game. It's overkill. On the pro level, I've argued, American players show up for spring training overweight and out of shape, yet American Major League Baseball is the gold standard.

Yesterday, the Japanese national team held a full practice, while the Cubans just lifted weights. And look who won! Japan is now the champion of the world. My husband will never listen to his lazy American wife's advice about baseball again.

My Daughter, the Psychic

I often inadvertently blurt out non sequiturs when trying to participate in Japanese conversations that I don't fully understand. My daughter, on the other hand, sometimes exhibits an uncanny understanding of what's going on around her. Take today, for example. When we arrived at the therapy room, I explained to Lilia's therapist that her grandmother was visiting graves (something that people do at the change of the seasons) today so I had to drag along my son. I wasn't signing or otherwise trying to include Lilia in the conversation, but she started pointing to the calendar on the wall. It looked like she was pointing to the red 21, which is Spring Equinox, and then she signed "dead grandfather" and "praying," which is what you do when you visit the graves of dead relatives. It was really freaky. Understand that my daughter is deaf and can maybe distinguish between two familiar words if she is concentrating really hard and lipreading. She certainly doesn't know the word "o-hakka-maeri." I thought her grandmother must have explained to her in similar fashion that she would be visiting Grandfather's grave, but when I asked her later, she said no. She said that yesterday Lilia wrote a letter to her grandfather and left it at his altar, and that she seemed to know that this was the sort of thing you do at this time of year. In my mother-in-law's words, "Lilia knows things beforehand."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Loose Tooth

My daughter lost her front teeth a couple of years ago when she fell down the stairs. Her adult front teeth came in last summer. She has been visited by the tooth fairy on numerous occasions (the girl LOVES fairies). In Japan, you're supposed to throw bottom teeth on the roof so the new ones will come up, and top teeth under the house so the new ones will come down, but once Lilia learned about the tooth fairy, there was no going back. After I took her last tooth from under her pillow and left a hundred yen coin, I threw it on the roof.

Anyway, it's been such a long time that I sort of forgot her twin brother would be losing his front teeth, too. Then, at graduation, I noticed that one of his best friends, who is a bit younger, lost his front tooth. This is rather apropos as we've been reading Charming Opal lately. In this charming story, the pigs Toot and Puddle get a visit from Cousin Opal, who happens to have a loose tooth. Opal loses it in the pond for awhile. Maybe because of this, my son is worried about losing his tooth and he wanted me to try the doorknob trick mentioned in the book. I told him that it would come out soon enough.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Graduation II

Today was my son's kindergarten graduation ceremony. Here he is, accepting his certificate of completion. When each kid went up to get his certificate, a picture of what he/she wants to be in the future was projected onto the screen. My son wants to be a baseball player. Most of the boys want to be soccer players. Two want to be magicians. Most of the mothers and teachers cried. The university president's speech was very long. Among other things, she warned the kids that they would be walking by themselves to school from now on and wouldn't have their mothers to protect them, and they should not get into cars with strangers.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Words for a Deaf Daughter

Here's a writing exercise for you: Go into a room with your brain-damaged, deaf, seven-year-old daughter (or perhaps a normal daughter or son) and start writing to her. Don't ignore her, but let her frequent interruptions, a sudden screeched "Eeee," influence the course of your writing. This is more or less what Paul West did in writing Words for a Deaf Daughter. In his introduction to the Dalkey Archives edition, West writes, "It suited [Mandy] especially that I was writing on the backs of envelopes slit open; something homespun and undignified in that appealed to her, not least because it was on such paper that she did her own extraordinary daubs and composed what passed with her for prose. The original manuscript sits in a steel drawer in a university library now, an uncouth bundle of penciled, ball-pointed, crayoned handwriting joined, quite often, by Mandy's scrawls and squiggles: a garish obbligato in the margin, sometimes on the middle of the page. Often enough, in her ecstatically ebullient way, she would snatch a page from me and run away with it, giggling."

Although parenting a disabled child can be challenging, to say the least, and heartbreaking at times, West ponders his daughter with good humor and wonder. The book reads at times like a sustained freewrite wherein West, set off by something that his daughter does or says, riffs on everything from wine labels to birds to airplanes, always circling back to Amanda. While it may have been written in the presence of a child, it's the kind of dense, poetic, thought-filled book that you'd best savor after yours are asleep.

For the record, I have tried, on occasion, to write in the presence of Lilia. My own daughter, however, loves notebooks almost as much as she loves shoes and whenever she sees me with one, she tries to take it away and write on it herself. Thus, like West's manuscript pages, my various notebooks are decorated with Lilia's drawings and letters. I like to think that she will be a writer someday, too.


Today was Lilia's graduation ceremony. She had to give a little speech, and this is what she signed (as translated by me):

"In kindergarten, the funnest thing was 'The Mitten' play during the Culture Festival. I was the dog. I said 'bow wow wow' in a loud voice. Everyone praised me so I was happy.

"When I grow up I want to work in a clothing store. I want to sell pretty clothes.

"Thank you teacher and mama. When I become a first grader, I will do my best.

"That's all."

Sadly, her father didn't understand her signing, but we were both very proud of her.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Arts and Crafts

Only three more days of the deaf school kindergarten, three more days of the Mother's Room and forced arts and crafts and the competitive nature of the mothers when doing said arts and crafts. Not being, in general, an artsy craftsy type, and also not being a conformist, I have resented spending hours making obligatory birthday cards for the monthly birthday party, and also the hours spent on the name tags for the annual sleepover. (Why don't the kids make these things? It's their school activity!) If you look closely, you can see that we had to chain-stitch the names of the teams (in this case, kujira, or whale, and kabutomushi, a.k.a. stag beetle. We spent more time making the name tags than the kids spent wearing them.

For the past couple of weeks, the mothers have been making shikkishi for the teachers. These are the Japanese equivalent of yearbook pages, and at most schools the mothers just dash off a little note in a corner and sign it. At the deaf school, each mother-and-child had to write joint messages on construction paper cut-outs to all the teachers. That was the easy part. Then, each mother is making a very elaborate shikkishi for her kid's homeroom teacher. One mother is making some sort of flower, a hydrangrea, maybe, and cutting out dozens of millimeter-sized flower petals, which she then affixes with a toothpick and a little bit of glue. The other mothers have been oohing and ahhing over her creation. They totally snubbed mine, which hurt my feelings, but then again, why do I care so much? I've been brainwashed! I have to get out of there. Three more days...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Call Me Sensei

I've been sort of looking for a job, which means I handed over my resume to a friend who knew of a job opening at the university where she works. It's two classes one day per week teaching English Communication. There was an exchange of e-mails about the details on my resume, and then a committee met to discuss me and my resume. I figured they'd call me in for an interview and I would get to wear my new Armani suit, but they sent me an e-mail saying that I start in April! So now, after seven years of being a stay-at-home mom, I'm employed!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Long Sayonara

The end of the school year in Japan is filled with emotional events and ceremonies. The farewell activities at the deaf school started a couple of weeks ago with the wakare ensoku (translated, it means "separation field trip"). This was supposed to involved a picnic in the park with all of the kindergarten classes, giving the three-year-olds and four-olds one last fling with their elders, who will be moving up to first grade. It rained, however, so they ate lunch in the playroom.

For the past couple of weeks, the different classes have been preparing gifts and performances for today's wakare kai (farewell party, I guess you'd say). This began with a ceremony in the playroom. The three five-year-olds took turns as master-of-ceremonies. The first event was the ceremonial giving of presents. The four and five-year-olds made medals and bags out of construction paper and presented these with as much formality as you'd expect. Then the mothers of the younger kids gave the graduates-to-be bouquets of flowers and wrapped gifts (which turned out to be pencils and erasers to be used from April).

Next, the six-year olds presented their gifts - handmade furoshiki (wrapping cloths) and pictures of themselves decorated with origami roses. Each kid had to say a little something. Lilia was supposed to say/sign, "We made roses out of origami. Let's be friends always." She got the first part right, but she was really nervous and forgot the second. She wound up signing "We were always friends." Oh, well.

This was followed by the entertainment portion in which the two three-year-olds and their teachers managed to perform "The Three Little Pigs," the four-year-olds acted out "Billy Goats Gruff," and the six-year-olds played the castanets. Finally, the mothers did a song with sign language, which we practiced for many times.

After lunch, everyone played at shopping together. The big kids had a crepe stall.

The next big event in the long sayonara is the graduation ceremony which will be held next week.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I have been worrying about how I will keep up with my kids once they start first grade and I have to help them with their homework. Yesterday in the car on the way to school, Jio asked me the English definition of three Japanese words that I didn't know, and the day before that, Lilia was supposed to practice writing the word for the kind of rice cakes you put out for Girl's Day, and I couldn't remember it. Neither could she. Luckily, her dad was home, so we asked him. (The answer, in case you were wondering, is hishimochi.)

Worse, Lilia is supposed to fold five origami roses by Monday. You'd think I could help out with that by looking at the printed instruction sheet we were given, but I can't get past the eighth fold.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Terebi Champion

My son's favorite TV shows these days is "Terebi Champion" (Thursday nights on Osaka TV at 8PM, if you're in Japan). Translated, it means "Television Champion." Every week, contestants compete at something. One time, everyone built masterpieces out of Legos. A Japanese high school kid constructed the golden temple, Kinkakuji, and a European guy made a ship with a sushi restaurant hidden inside. It was very impressive. Last week, owners of Vietnamese pigs put their pets through the paces, nosing along balls and such.

This evening, my son made me sit down and watch a bit with him. The event was sausage-making. One guy made a soccer ball out of sausage, and then there was the loaf that, cut crosswise, had a picture of a pig on every slice. The winner made his face out of sausage. In addition to being highly original in presentation, it must have been delicious, too, as good taste was a factor in scoring. My personal favorite was the picture book made out of sausage. It was a story about ogres.

In future, I propose a bento-making competition. Get a bunch of ambitious mothers together and see what kind of box lunches they come up with for their pampered darlings. On the last deaf school outing, there was one kid who had link sausages in his lunch that were carved into the shape of crabs. I still don't know how his mom did that.