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Lapham’s Quarterly – Memory

This is one of my favorites. I am fascinated by the passage of time and as this blog is a testament, to preserving memories. For me, memories are not only remembering what happened, but the feelings, emotions, environment and mindset at the time are all part of it. Where I think most people look back and see only silent, black and white film, I strive to see full surround sound color. This is not easy but there are certain things that help. The scent of a perfume, swinging on a swing, a certain song, alcohol, all serve to resurrect dormant memories as though they’ve jolted them alive with a bolt of lighting. I’ve come to realize however, that over time the full and vibrant color of my memories are fading. As I grow older the portion of my life I remember is shrinking and I am forgetting.

That is why this blog, aside from my family, is my greatest treasure. It is a recording of my life and contains thoughts, feelings and actions as they happened. When I re-read them I’m able to catch a flicker of my actual mindset at the time. If I didn’t have these entries then I would not be able to remember the mindset. It is no easy thing for the current version of yourself trying to remember a previous version. It is like a new operating system trying to recall the old operating system it replaced. Yes, for most, there are still a few files around but the old system is gone and mostly forgotten. For me, this blog is my backup of those old systems, separate from the one I’m using in my brain. I’m able to access these entries directly and thus my memories are much fuller and vibrant than they otherwise could have been.

I am almost 43 years old. Being able to access my past so directly through this blog brings up something sad. When I really think back and put myself in the past, there is a deep sense that what I’m remembering is a dead world, it no longer exists. Those people, events, places, entire zeitgeist of the time are all gone, they no longer exist. Those people are now very different people, different versions of themselves. Things people think, and things they do are all different. And so yes, given the right circumstances and concentration I can put myself back in those worlds but those worlds are static and lifeless. It is like Stephen King’s The Langoliers where a few people get trapped a few minutes in the past, in a time that is over. Then the Langoliers come to eat that world as its no longer needed. I enjoy being able to remember so fully, but it also brings greater sadness that those times can never be revisited.

I realize memory is fragile. I used to think that once you learned something it would stay in your mind’s filing cabinet forever. I learned in my 30s that that is not the case at all. It was easy to recognize this through reading books. After I had just finished a book the story was vivid for a while in my mind. But over the years I only remember a few main points of the story. Once I discovered this I started highlighting parts I found interesting and made a post of them in this blog. Therefore, when I want to re-remember a book I can just look it up here, read my entry and then I will remember the book much more fully. This blog is an extension of myself. I have so much material here I wonder if artificial intelligence would be able to create bot that thinks and responds the way I would. It would be similar to how deepfake needs a massive amount of images to create a very realistic video of a person. In the same way, perhaps my descendants will be able to chat with a bot version of me? Maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to chat with myself?

I’ve gotten off track a bit. As always, I’ve put my favorite quotations below and have added commentary.

What is memory and where is history? The questions have been shaping the hyperpolarized forms of American identity politics for the past thirty years, demanding removal of statues from public parks, freedom of speech from private schools, drumming up the sound and fury of the country’s culture wars, dividing we the people into militant factions of us and them.
The discord follows from the absence of a fable agreed upon, the asset listed in Plato’s Republic as the “noble falsehood” that binds society together in the swaddling cloth of self-preserving myth.

Every generation rearranges the furniture of the past to suit the comfort and convenience of its anxious present.

I found the above two quotes fascinating. We re-create our own history over and over so that it suits are present. We can never understand the past as it actually was, the memories and analyses will always be in flux. Just to try and get an accurate picture of the American past has been a real challenge. The history books in school never spoke of the atrocities committed upon the Native American. Those books said we were all friends! Similarly, Japanese schoolbooks whitewash the Japanese atrocities of WWII. And the American schoolbooks whitewash that America put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Again, the deepfake example is applicable here. Deepfake requires a massive amount of photos to create a realistic fake video of a person. Similarly, we need read a massive amount of books from different sources to acquire an realistic understanding of the past. Current books will portray Native Americans in a very positive light while books from the 1700 and 1800s refer to them as savages. Well, which is it? The past is lost to us. The only way to try to gain anything more than a cursory understanding is to read, visit the actual place, speak with descendants, go to museums, and read some more.

Madison and Adams addressed the well-educated members of their own privileged class. Pain talks to ship chandlers and master mechanics and tavern keepers, to wives, widows and orphans.

This is no different from today. The Republicans speak to the upper class and the Democrats to the working man. The only difference recently is a massive amount of poor and middle class whites in America have a deep and innate need to feel superior. So they align themselves with the rich person’s party even though the policies work directly against them. I grew up middle class so Pain speaks to me. He is the only founder that I have read thoroughly. His ideas are Common Sense which is sorely lacking in America today. Having any sense certainly is no longer common.

Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.

Departing life has made their names forgotten; it is writings that make them remembered. – 1200 BC: Egypt

Of course I’m going to love this quote; this blog serves to not only help me remember myself but for my descendants as well. Without these writings I would just be another name on a tombstone with only a few facts and dates to go with it. These writings are who I am and I’m hoping that through them I will live forever.

It is a general complaint among men of reading, and to many a discouragement from it, that they find themselves not able to retain what they read with any certainty or exactness.

Yes! That is why many years ago I decided to highlight parts of books which really speak to me and record them in an entry about the book. I’m then able to simply look up the book here and remember it again. This blog is a database extension of my own mind.

When a great orator makes a great speech, you are listening to ten centuries and then thousand men – but we call it his speech and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing – and the last man gets the credit, and we forget the others.

Yes, it is Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Bezo’s Amazon. Neither of these person’s riches would have been possible without the work of hundreds of thousands. Yet only they get the credit. This notion became a political issue when Obama referred to a similar idea in that it takes the cooperation of many to build things. The Right jumped on it and twisted it into Obama saying “You didn’t build that.” America is such a disgrace these past few years. This is what societal decline looks like and I have to say it is very depressing. The only safeguard my descendants is move to where people are more enlightened and ignore the stupid people, of which there are many. I am happy to live here in the Bay Area where most are enlightened beings. I’m also happy to mute the neanderthals who continue to be a presence through the magic of Facebook. Facebook has turned into more of a hindrance than an advantage these days.

The past is always in flux, surviving not in icily dust-free facade restorations but as a dynamic undercurrent – in the slope of hills, shapes of streets, breadth of squares; in lintels, shutters, courtyards; in habits and associations and prejudices; among working people and recent immigrants and the aged and a lot of youths who didn’t go through the career door; among what remain of vagrants and eccentrics and clochards; among a great many people lying low who remembered things.

I used these exact words of history being in flux above. I got that idea from this quote. It is interesting that the information we read and watch become part of our own thoughts. My very mind is built upon the ideas of millions. I didn’t build my own mind Obama, millions have built up human knowledge and ideas and these have shaped my mind. My mind is not my own, it was molded and shaped by everyone else. The more I learn, the more it continues to be shaped. Therefore is any thought in my head truly my own or is it a random data string spun off by thousands of databases in my mind exchanging information, morphing over time. Who am I? Just a product of an enormous amount of input over 43 years.

Troll – Neanderthal – Pg. 93

Folklore is often based in historical truth. Over countless generations these stories change and morph into something very different then what they actually were. They are shadows of the ancient past preserved in cultural memory repeated again and again until they are nothing more than silly children’s stories. But through the work of scientists and historians we are able to make connections and strengthen the binds to our past. And so I really enjoyed this connection on page 93. Trolls are a part of Scandinavian folklore and Scandinavians share 2% of their DNA with Neanderthals. There are reports from the 18th century of hairy wild men on a “the Swedish island of Oland” which “have led some scholars to speculate that a small band of Neanderthals may have escaped the extinction event thought to have wiped out the species around 30,000 B.C.

The connection therefore, is the idea of trolls is an ancient memory of Neanderthals in the collective memory of Scandinavians. This also hits me quite personally as I have more Neanderthal DNA than 71% of other 23andMe customers and it accounts for 2% of my DNA. The study of history is so very fascinating to me. I only wish more of humanity were able to do the same. If everyone could understand the past as well as travel and be exposed to other cultures and ideas I think we’d live in a much more peaceful world. But alas, humanity is still a bunch of monkeys itching to gather more things, have sex and generally just cause a mess.

Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness, however thorough or revealing their documentation.

Again, a quote which formed ‘my own’ ideas as I wrote the beginning of this post and compared it with The Langoliers. The past is dead and I can only see it through the glass, no touching allowed. How I would love to go to the Grandview pool as a child again and fall asleep afterwards exhausted on orange shag carpet in front of a fan in summer. How I would love to travel back in time and visit my Grandfather when he was a young man, hang out with my own Dad as children the same age wandering around Grandview. I however don’t want to stay in the past, not unless I could have the knowledge and life experience I do now. It has taken a long time to get to this point and I have a strong grip on life, whereas in my youth life had a strong grip on me.

Minds are formed by language, thoughts take their color from its ideas.

The learning of foreign languages has been a major contributor in shaping who I am today. Through this study I learned that mind is absolutely shaped by language. Ideas cannot take shape without words to graft them upon. Ideas are ephemeral things floating around that really cannot be pulled down and grasped without the net of language. I wrote a post back in 2010 called Speak American – Fun Lesson in Language” which touches on this among other things.

You think you are teaching him what the world is like; he is only learning the map; he is taught the names of towns, countries, rivers which have no existence for him except on the paper before him.

I love this as it is so very true. Most education only focuses on the names, dates, places and expects the student to repeat it back. These things mean nothing to the student without more context. Explaining how the name came to be, that it is from Latin meaning “Land of the Franks” and that “The Franks” were a tribe of people is better but inherently means very little to the student. The only time it really comes alive is to travel to France, learn some of the language, be present in their culture, and experiencing their history through historical places and museums. But even then it is not enough. You must contrast it with other places. Go to Mexico and visit the temples of the Aztecs and the museums. See how different they are. Then read more history. Read of the English, Spanish, French and Portuguese competing with each other to discover and take over the recently discovered lands. Once these have been done then “France” and “French” will mean something. Until then, it is nothing more than a name for some place one hasn’t been and knows nothing about.

There was one teach in my past who could make words come alive. His name was Will Dryer and he would tell us historical stories of the words in mathematical word problems. He made learning come alive.

The image I have of my father continuously evolved over time, not only because my remembrances of him while he lived accumulated but also because I myself changed and my perspective altered as I occupied different positions in my family and, more important, in other milieus.

Another fantastic quote which encompasses one of my own thoughts that has formed as I’ve grown older. This is the idea you have of your own parents. At first, they are just your parents, those people that take care of you, scold you and are in charge of your life. The idea of parents is of an authority figure and ends there. In adulthood however, the image of authority figure evaporates and reveals a person who was also a child once, who wasn’t perfect and whose personality and decisions your able to analyze as an adult yourself. It is through looking at old photos and videos, listening to stories from

It is only in memory that we are the same person for others and for ourselves. At the age I am now, there is probably not a single molecule of my body that I had when born.

I have been away from my hometown for over twenty years. When I meet up with old friends I know very well the person they were. I don’t really know the person they’ve become. So I look towards those familiar traits and personality. Anything changed from twenty years ago seems strange and the passage of time becomes very apparent.

Since typical neuron proteins start breaking down within as little as two weeks after being formed, “every long-term memory is always on the verge of vanishing.”

It is odd to think that I cannot remember most of my life. It is the same as with books, I only remember the highlights. If I had the ability to recall each and every detail I may spend the majority of my time in memory of days gone by. Perhaps it is good that we cannot remember everything clearly as though watching a movie. We would spend too much time in the past and rarely in the present.

The discovery that “memories are not formed and then pristinely maintained,” as neuroscientists used to think, but rather “formed adn then rebuilt every time they’re accessed” has far-reaching implications: every time we think about the past, “we are delicately transforming its cellular representation in the brain, changing its underlying neural circuitry.” So a memory is changed every time it is remembered.
These findings upend the model of memory still held by most people, namely that memory “works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.” It raises questions whose answers may have far-reaching consequences.

Again, I learned a long time ago that in order to remember my own life I should write about it in this blog. What I didn’t know is that the things I do remember have changed as described in this quote. Do I even remember things properly? Again, this blog is an absolute treasure as the words are closer to the source than my memory of today.

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things, and once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774

Religion, religion and again religion. Religion is full of the most fantastical of tall tales and billions of people will believe it. Science will prove it wrong and a billion people will do mental gymnastics either ignoring the science or making it somehow fit into their belief structure even if it is in direct contrast to what they have been taught. My disappointment in otherwise rational adults who cling to the absurdity of religion runs deep. When you’re a kid you think adults know everything. To learn this is as far as you can get from the truth has been an incredible shock.

American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply “put the past behind,” “move forward,” “be pragmatic,” and “get over it.”

Humans are still tribal beings with an almost non-existent ability to understand any viewpoints other than their own. If people had a perfect ability to empathize as well as understand history we should have national mourning over what was done to the Native Americans and under slavery where every person would shed real tears and be put into a very dark gloom. But this is not the case. What sports should I watch next??

No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human homes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the worlds of laborious meditation and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to increase the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavors, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power?

How many scholars will publish books nobody will read today? There is so much knowledge yet the amount an average person will learn barely registers. So much knowledge yet with their precious time they choose to devour entertainment whether it is in the form of propaganda “news” or the latest waste-of-time show on Netflix. The idea used to be that ignorance was due to lack of access to information. Boy was that completely wrong.

“Let me tell you a story.” It would be the first time I heard this story, but not the last. “In our homeland,” she went on, “there was a reporter who said the government tortured the people in prison. So the government does to him exactly what he said they did to others. They send him away, and no one ever sees him again. That’s what happens to writers who put their names on things.

There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considers all things; our fathers find their graves in our short memories and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Gravestones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some tress stand, and old families last not three oaks.

The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man.

Gravestones do not tell stories. Those buried under them will be forgotten within 50 years. We do nothing more in this life running around doing things we deem important and then as abruptly as it began it is over. Time washes away who we were and what we did. In the end, does anything really matter? As far as I can see the only thing worthwhile in this life is to help and bring joy to others. The story of life: you’re born, you do a bunch of activities, you die, the end.

The night of time far surpasses the day, and who knows when was the equinox?

The thinking part of the human race, which is to say, about the hundred-thousandth part of it, had believed for a long time, or at least had often said it did,, that we had no ideas except those which came to us through our senses, and that memory was the only instrument by means of which we could join two ideas and two words together.

Again, are any thoughts or ideas in my head my own? Or is it simply the massive accumulation of data in my head interacting and reforming to create new combinations?

This it happened that in the middle of the night, every brain was dulled, so that the following morning everyone woke without the slightest recollection of the past. Some of the ministers who were in bed with their wives desired, by a remnant of instinct unconnected with memory, to make love to them. The wives, who very rarely had any instinct to embrace their husbands, tartly repulsed their disgusting caresses.

So memory is one of the culprits responsible for loss of libido! I suppose everything can get a bit boring and in need of change to make them really exciting again.

I figured people had to know the basics – World War II isn’t exactly east to miss. It was the largest war ever fought, the largest single event in history. Other than the black death of the Middle Ages, it’s the worst thing we know of that has ever happened to the human race. Its aftereffects surround us in countless intertwining ways: all sorts of technological commonplaces, from computers to radar to nuclear power, date back to some secret World War II military project or another; the most efficient military systems became the model for the bureaucratic structures of post white-collar corporations; even the current landscape of America owes its existence to the war, since the fantastic profusion of suburban development that began in the late 1940s was essentially underwritten by the federal government as one vast World War II veterans’ benefit. (Before the war there were three suburban shopping centers in the United States; ten years after it ended there were three thousand.)

This entry is simply that people do not know history, not even very much about the largest events in human history and even though those events continue to shape our lives today. We humans will run our course, living and not learning as Calvin once said to Hobbes. I like how they mentioned radar in this quote as my Grandfather mentioned it in one of his letters during World War II. Here is the link to that letter.

Decades after it was over, the war was still expanding and dissipating in our minds, like the vapor trails of an immense explosion

My friend suddenly had the impulse to ask a question that had never occurred to him in his entire adult life: “What was it really like in a battle?”
His father opened his mouth to answer – and then his jaw worked, his face reddened, and without saying a word, he got up and walked out of the room. That’s the truth about the war: the sense that what happened over there simply can’t be told in the language of peace.

But we continue to glorify war through our propaganda “news” channels, in video games and movies. This glorification of war is intrinsic to American society and cannot be separated from it. For me as a kid it was through G.I. Joe action figures. For kids today it is Call of Duty and every other movie that comes out. Somebody is always running around fighting someone else. However, for those that have actually been in war they know the truth. They know it so much it disfigures their own minds. There is reality and there is the lies we are all indoctrinated with.

No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed as a consequence of countless unknown alliances that are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

The truth that there is no pure race, and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed.

There is no ‘pure race.’ Now, through the magic of DNA testing perhaps we can finally make some headway into dispelling that stupid notion. We’re all part of tribes that were formed through the mixing with other tribes and DNA testing can prove that fact. What I’m looking forward to is the final realization that there were different types of ‘human’ races that also mixed to form who we are today. For example my own DNA is 2% Neanderthal. Science continues to make discoveries and I’m quite sure there are a number of different ‘races’ or lines of ancient humans that combined to make up what a “human” means to us today.

The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from. – John Still, 1930.

The most striking example is the activity of raising children, which reliably diminishes measured happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole. Then why do people do it? This has been called the “parenthood paradox.” And its resolution is simple: people have children because doing so gives meaning to their lives.

Again, we are born, we run around doing things and then we die. The desire to have children is embedded in our subconscious. The instinct to reproduce is native to all living things. Humans being the most vain of all creatures have a need to invent more profound and noble reasons. But in the end, it is an instinct, a sense of accomplishment and purpose other than being born, doing things and then dying. I have children! I have a purpose! I am needed! Yes, for the majority, having children simply gives them something they deem worthwhile to do. For many women without children they will get a dog or cat. Again, they are fulfilling their own needs to care for something giving them a sense of purpose.

I know not what there is in perfumes that powerfully awakens the memory of the past. Nothing so soon recalls to the mind a beloved spot, a regretted situation, or moments whose passage has been deeply recorded in the heart, though lightly in the memory. The fragrance of a violet restores us to the enjoyment of many springs

I tried to think of a few scents which would jolt alive any dormant memories. Smell certainly is one of the most powerful in terms of awaking memories:


Freshly cut grass – Working on the golf course
Tulips – Spring, especially May in Ohio.
Vanilla – My first girlfriend’s perfume.
Wrestling room smell – Memories of high school will become very vivid.
Fish – Calle de Pescado in Toledo, Spain
Japan – Japan has its own particular scent. Japan smell reminds me of Japan of course.
Durian – Vietnam

Categories
Books

Einstein’s Dreams

Looking at my post list I had quite forgotten this one has been waiting some time for my personal comments. I finished this book last year. I put in my favorite quotes but then it just sat, forgotten. So without further delay let me get to it and post it.

While people brood, time skips ahead without looking back.
– Middle age is a time when people stop and reflect on their own lives. They look back to their youth, when things were exciting and the future full of possibility. They look to those times and wonder how they ended up as they did. Life is no longer exciting, the vast array of future possibilities have all dried up and there is a feeling of sadness. Then, without warning, five more years have passed and they’re even older. Time is not influenced by the feelings and emotions of anyone. It continues on without care.

Each person knows that somewhere is recorded the moment she was born, the moment she took her first step, the moment of her first passion, the moment she said goodbye to her parents.

– This makes me smile because yes, my life is recorded somewhere, it is recorded right in this very blog! So if the universe is always recording that would be great as I have a big gap from when I was born to about 17 years old when I didn’t write much at all. I like to imagine that I’m an immortal being and this life is just one of an infinite many that is recorded in a book and placed on a divine bookshelf. I can either re-read it or relive it if I wish. I like this thought better than there being just nothing upon death.

Each section of the village is fastened to a different time.
So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and do not get free.

– This is true. Many are in situations that they never really grew past a certain time period in their lives. Some grew a little but the effects of that time period caused any growth to be severely stunted. It is no surprise that the experience of high school continue to influence and weigh heavily on how people turn out. Yes, time marched on and everyone got older but it is still very easy to see their experience in high school in their character. Some people believe growing is to completely forget certain periods in their past. These people like to forget and it seems their lives are one episode after another that the person living it wasn’t to continually erase. Growing is not about forgetting your past, it is about embracing it and using it to make more informed choices in the future. It is part of your ‘life book’ whether you want a specific chapter to be there or not.

The tragedy of this world is that no one is happy, whether stuck in a time of pain or of joy. The tragedy of this world is that everyone is alone. For a life in the past cannot be shared with the present. Each person who gets stuck in time gets stuck alone.

– We are inherently alone. The lives we live and the thoughts we have are ours and ours alone. To combat this we as humans like to be with others and strive to build familial and social supports. Life has no joy if we do not have people to share experiences with. Yet, all things considered we inhabit our own worlds and our minds are worlds unto themselves exclusive only to the owner.

For it is only habit and memory that dulls the physical passion. Without memory, each night is the first night, each morning is the first morning, each kiss and touch are the first.
– Memory is a sedative. Does anyone middle age remember how exciting a first kiss or (first you know what) was? I remember speaking with an older work colleague who said he’s probably rather watch the World Series than have sex. At 18 I thought this man was absolutely mad. Well, I still think he is crazy but at 42 I can understand his point much better. New experiences are exciting. They lose their luster after a while.

A world without memory is a world of the present. The past exists only in books, in documents. In order to know himself, each person carries his own Book of Life, which is filled with the history of his life.

– The past still only exists in books and documents. Here we are in the age of the internet, with all human knowledge at our fingertips. Yet, humanity uses the internet primarily for social media, arguing, and the selling of products. How disappointing. The past is being forgotten at a faster pace now, with all the knowledge readily available, than it was pre-internet. Experts have been replaced with the opinions of friends on social media. Friend’s opinions used to be kept much more close to the chest, now they are spread like a barrage of cannon fire to everyone and anyone whether they are wanted or not.
– This very blog is my Book of Life. Its existence is so I can continue to know myself and not forget. That is its main purpose.

The Nows and Laters have one thing in common. With infinite life comes an infinite list of relatives. Grandparents never die, nor do great-grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, great-great-aunts, and so on, back through the generations, all alive and offering advice. Sons never escape from the shadows of their fathers. Nor do daughters of their mothers. No one ever comes into his own.
– This is true now and I can think of no better example than religion. People adhere to their particular brand of religion because it was the religion of their parents and their parents before them and so on. They were taught the faith by their parents and it has been passed down from generation to generation. That’s it! That is why most people are religious and it is not complicated to understand.

Such is the costs of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free. Over time, some have determined that the only way to live is to die. In death, a man or a woman is free of the weight of the past.

– Sometimes the past will weigh people down indefinitely. They can no longer grow. I have seen many examples of this.

Some people fear traveling far from a comfortable moment. They remain close to a temporal location, barely crawling past a familiar occasion. Other gallop recklessly into the future, without preparation for the rapid sequence of passing events.
– Reading the above I think of Christmas. I never want the season to end and I hate taking down decorations. But I know if I do not and if I could remain at that comfortable moment then I’d never get to the next holiday or fun experience. I would in fact, stop growing. This is the same on New Years Day when I’m comfortable with the past, it is familiar to me. The New Year is the unknown and causes concern because we do not know what it will bring. The year 2020 has so far shown this concern is not without good reason. You can take all the precautions in the world yet everything could still fall apart.

While his teacher is speaking, the young man gazes out the window, studies the way snow clings to the spruce beside the building, wonders how he will manage on his own once he has received his degree. Sitting in his chair; the young man steps hesitantly forward in time, only minutes into the future, shudders at the cold and uncertainty. He pulls back. Much better to stay in this moment, beside the warm fire, beside the warm help of his mentor: Much better to stop movement in time. And so, on this day in the small library, the young man remains. His friends pass by, look in briefly to see him stopped in this moment, continue on to the future at their own paces.
– If I had the power to do this then there are more than a few times I would have remained in a cozy spot not wanting to advance. Here are the moments:
– Sitting on the furnace vent when I was about 5 at 4:00 AM among the presents on Christmas morning. It was cold outside and snow had blanketed everything. The air blowing up warmed me and I was dazzled by the Christmas tree lights. If I could have stayed in that moment forever I would have. But if I did, I’d still be 5 and not have experienced the wonder that is so many foreign countries, people and experiences.
– Sitting with my girlfriend in front of the grill at Kyu-Kaku in Tokyo. We were at the communal table next to a big window. It was cold outside and we could watch people hurry past in their winter coats and hats. But there I was with my girlfriend (now wife) in front of a warm grill and a large mug of frosty beer. If I could have stayed in that moment I would have.
– Taking a warm shower at home before a wrestling meet. I hated wrestling meets and the warm shower was so comforting. I didn’t want to end the shower and start the day.

The memory has become his life. When he wakes up in the morning, he is the boy who urinated in his pants. When he passes people on the street, he knows they see the wet spot on his pants.
– Like the influence of high school I mentioned above, some memories are so strong that like a black hole they influence an entire life. This is why I’m so concerned with ensuring my own kids have a great childhood. I need to know what is going on in their world to guard against painful experiences. It is my opinion that painful experiences in childhood leave lasting scars, much deeper than bad experiences when older. I need to help them with their confidence so that they can more readily protect themselves.

But what is the past? Could it be, the firmness of the past is just illusion? Could the past be a kaleidoscope, a pattern of images that shift with each disturbance of a sudden breeze, a laugh, a thought? And if the shift is everywhere, how would we know?

– I know because I wrote it down as it happened in this very blog.

The trapped moment grows withered and without life.
– Nothing further needs to be said. Do not cling to moments, appreciate the day as it comes both good and bad. We are all lucky to be alive.

Categories
Books

The Tale of Genji – Genjimonogatari

I first read the Tale of Genji when I was studying in Japan around 2002. It is Japan’s most famous work and was written a millennia ago. I find that one can gain a much deeper understanding of a culture by reading these famous works written long ago. Within them are ancient pieces of DNA which make up the modern culture. Just like actual DNA, most of society doesn’t know it is there even though it is the basic building block of who they are and how they act.

In most modern societies it is rare to find a person who has actually read their nation’s most famous literary works. I don’t know any Japanese who have read The Tale of Genji aside from being exposed to it a little in high school. I am also just as ignorant as I haven’t read any famous American literary works since high school. I can remember a little about them and know that they too are DNA inherent to American society but I just don’t have the time to read everything.

I remember little of my first reading of the Tale of Genji and only two things stand out in my mind. The first is how the Rokujo lady was treated badly having her carriage pushed aside during a parade so she couldn’t see it. This combined with her longing for Genji who also treated her badly made her very angry and caused her soul to become a malign spirit which possessed and killed two girls. Japan has an incredible ghost culture and this story is a great example.

The second thing I remember is the authors praise for all things Chinese. The Chinese koto, the Chinese writing, all of it is much more elegant and refined than Japanese which seems rustic by comparison. I found this fascinating since the Sino-Japanese relationship has drastically changed in the past century. During the time the story was written China was a world center of civilization and Japan would have seemed quite inferior in comparison.

Below are some quotes that stood out to me for various reasons. The quote is in italics and my commentary in regular font.

The other lady had not particularly encouraged his attentions and had been the victim of a love too intense; and now, though it would be wrong to say that he had quite forgotten her, he found his affections shifting to the new lady, who was a source of boundless comfort. So it is with the affairs of this world.

This is a crush. Crushes come on strong and like an intense flame have a ferocious burn. If not careful they could cause a lot of damage and destruction. Then just as quickly as they arrived can just as easily go, being easily put out by just a glass of water. This same topic was discussed in Don Juan De Marco which I wrote about here.

It is with women as it is with everything else: the flawless ones are very few indeed. This is a sad fact which I have learned over the years. All manner of women seem presentable enough at first. Little notes, replies to this and that, they all suggest sensibility and cultivation. But when you begin sorting out the really superior ones you find that there are not many who have to be on your list. Each has her little tricks and she makes the most of them, getting in her slights at rivals, so broad sometimes that you almost have to blush.

I’ve found this to be very true and it is the same for both men and women in this superficial culture we live in. People put on a show. Collectively they spend billions on ways to improve their appearance with makeup, expensive clothing, nice cars a big house. The put on the appearance through social media that their lives are just perfect. But just scratch the surface a little and you see that most of it is nothing but an act for the sake of appearances. I’ve found the ones who put the most effort into appearing beautiful and successful are the ones with the least self esteem and most chaos in their lives. They are a hot mess covered with a veneer of Chanel.

In the most important matter, the matter of running his household, a man can find that his wife has too much sensibility, an elegant word and device for every occasion. But what of the too domestic sort, the wife who bustles around the house the whole day long, her hair tucked up behind her ears, no attention to her appearance, making sure that everything is in order? There are things on his mind, things he has seen and heard in his comings and goings, the private and public demeanor of his colleagues, happy things and sad things. Is he to talk of them to an outsider? Of course not. He would much prefer someone near at hand, someone who will immediately understand. A smile passes over his face, tears well up. Or some event at court has angered him, things are too much for him. What good is it to talk to such a woman? He turns his back on her, and smiles, and signs, and murmurs something to himself. ‘I beg your pardon?’ she says, finally noticing. Her blank expression is hardly what he is looking for.

This quote really stuck out to me as it is true in most marriages and even my own. I don’t know any men who can really talk about their work life to their spouses. The wife may listen for an instant to be polite but it really is terra-incognita and so any fears, anxieties, problems are best left unshared. There are things you can talk about with your wife and things you cannot. We each have our own worlds and although we are together everyday we only catch a very small glimpse into the worlds of our other family members.

When there are crises, incidents, a woman should try to overlook them, for better or for worse, and make the bond into something durable. The wounds will remain, with the woman and with the man, when there are crises such as I have described. It is very foolish for a woman to let a little dalliance upset her so much that she shows her resentment openly. He has his adventures – but if he has fond memories of their early days together, his and hers, she may be sure that she matters. A commotion means the end of everything. She should be quiet and generous, and when something comes up that quite properly arouses her resentment she should make it known by delicate hints. The man will feel guilty and with tactful guidance he will mend his ways.

I find this advice is much more applicable to Asia than the western world. Japanese society values harmony above all else and I find that so long as that harmony is not disrupted many things are permissible there that would not be in the western world. Women of pleasure have always existed but the influence of Christianity made that trade go underground. Buddhism took root in Japan and although I’m no expert the focus is not on calling just about everything sinful but instead living a peaceful and harmonious life.

Only in Japan will you find ‘hostess bars’ in plenty where men pay to simply drink and chat with women. If it leads to something else it is up to the woman but this is all normal. In western society it would be shut down for prostitution and everyone would be arrested.

Japanese society is ancient, deep and much more complex than the me first society we live in here in the USA. So long as the harmony is not disrupted most Japanese wives would look the other way so long as it is just a hostess bar or fling with no feelings or too much money involved. In America everyone thinks of themselves first so if this were to happen then something bad has occurred to ‘me’ and ‘I’ am hurt and my feelings need to be addressed first! If they need to take the nuclear option and blow up the family because of a dalliance I think a majority of women in the USA would do it. American society is a selfish one. The man who cheated gave no though to his family, only his selfish desires. Then when caught the woman only thinks of herself, gets a divorce and wants money.

Let me back up a bit. All men have desires, this is part of evolution and can be really difficult to tame. Religion tells us sex is bad unless it is to produce children. You cannot have men running around producing children all over the place as it wouldn’t make for a stable society. So religion and society keep men in line. There is no outlet in the form of legalized prostitution or even hostess bars like in Japan. So women expect men to stamp out their innate desires and have the backing of societal norms and religion to vilify them. Personally I think prostitution should be legalized. But on the other hand men should learn how to control themselves. In the west they are bound by the constraints of religion and societal norms. If these were suddenly taken away I would imagine they’d be running around like a bunch of stray dogs. I mean after all, just the sight of boobs gets most men excited in the USA. They are like children.

The chrysanthemums were at their best, very slightly touched by the frost, and the red leaves were beautiful in the autumn wind. He took out a flute and played a tune on it, and sang “The Well of Asuka.”

This is an example of imagery and appreciation for nature that is uniquely Japanese. I imagine it comes from Shinto which also makes up part of the Japanese DNA. Everything has symbolism and a deeper meaning. The falling leaf in autumn, the crescent moon on a cold winters night, all of nature brings with it something profound that reaches the depths of the soul. It is hard to put your finger on what it exactly is, but although we cannot grasp the source we can catch a whiff of its fragrance through poetry (haiku in this novel) which capture these beautiful nature scenes.

Her letters were lucidity itself, in the purest Chinese. None of this Japanese nonsense for her.

This is the example I remember and which surprised me. The Sino-Japanese relationship is terrible due to Japanese atrocities during World War Two. This was the limit of my knowledge and it is easy to see the two cultures don’t get along. So I was surprised to learn there was a time when all things Chinese were considered superior. This would have been the time of incredible Chinese dynasties and Japan would have seemed like a small, poor relative out there on some small island. Civilizations rise and fall and China certainly did fall being called “The sick man of Asia” these past few centuries. It seems to be rising again so the story continues to be written and in dramatic fashion if one reads the headlines these days. China is transforming from a backwards place to something incredible although their path seems to be writing a lot of chapters a lot of people will be loath to read.

The ancients used to say that a secret love runs deeper than an open one.

Tayu had to smile too. He was so young and handsome, and at an age when it was natural that he should have women angry at him. It was natural too that he should be somewhat selfish.

This reminds me of my own late teen and early twenties years. I had the idea that women wanted macho, “strong” men. And you know what? In America they still do! I observed time and time again my female classmates going for the “jocks” the guys who were very proud of themselves. Women flocked to them in droves and the “nice guys” were continually relegated to the friend zone. There is a lot of talk these days about feelings and being sensitive. This might all be true in the philosophical sense but nothing has changed in terms of women wanting men who exude confidence and are not going to bend just because a girl told them to. The guys that bend are friends, the guys that don’t are boyfriends.

Here is one of my own stories. I was studying at Arabica at Ohio State with one of my female friends where the possibility of something more existed. I liked to dip (smokeless tobacco) at that time and would often do so while studying. She told me not to dip or she would leave. She went to the bathroom and I put a dip in. She came back, got mad and left. I laughed. And then I met up with her again the next day. She was “mad” but it also made her like me more as ironic as that sounds.

A lesson to my sons. For the girlfriend scene, don’t bend when they tell you too. You can be sensitive but don’t do what they ask you to at least half the time. Women say they want a “sensitive guy” but this is a lie even though they may not realize it themselves. If you do you’ll be in the friend zone. This has been the case since ancient times as written by Murasaki Shikibu 1000 years ago. Modern society is full of all kinds of bullshit but women haven’t inherently changed much.

It was his first impression that the figure kneeling beside him was most uncommonly long and attenuated. Not at all promising – and the nose! That nose now dominated the scene. It was like that of the beast on which Samantabhadra rides, long, pendulous, and red. A frightful nose. The skin was whiter than the snow, a touch bluish even. The forehead bulged and the line over the cheeks suggested that the full face would be very long indeed. She was pitifully thin. He could see through her robes how narrow her shoulders were. IT now seemed ridiculous that he had worked so hard to see her; and yet the visage was such an extraordinary one that he could not immediately take his eyes away.

The principle enemy of women are other women. The strong woman, we have to stick together movement is nice, but it is in a woman’s DNA to inherently judge other women. You know when the last time a (non-gay) man mentioned the clothing or facial features of another man was. Never, that is when.

The thought came to him that she spirit of the departed prince, worried about the daughter he had left behind, had brought him to her.

Again, Japan has a wonderful ghost culture and it persists to this day. The dead are not completely gone in Japanese culture and even return home during Obon once a year.

With the spring come the calls of countless birds
Everything is new, and I grow old.

I love this quote as I am obsessed with the passage of time. I do grow old and find it hard to believe I am 42 years old already. Tomorrow I will be 60 and equally as stupefied.

“Sere and withered though these grasses be,
They are ready for your pony, should you come.”

Withered is the grass of Oaraki
No pony comes for it, no harvester.

“Were mine to part the low bamboo at your grove,
It would fear to be driven away by other ponies.
And that would not do at all”

This is an invitation for sex (and Genji’s refusal) and in the Japanese way is indirect although there is no mistaking the meaning. What stands out for me here is that people both from ancient times until now are very similar. I used to think older generations were completely unlike modern people. The only examples I had were senior citizens and these are people who would go to church, sit on their porches, watch game shows and do the crossword puzzles. I had thought that this must be how all people were in previous generations and how they must have acted their entire lives. I was mistaken.

I grew up in a Catholic environment where everyone puts on the appearance that they are upstanding, moral Christians who do their best to abstain from sin. Now that I’m out, I realize what a bizarre environment Christianity is. Human beings like sex, they like to have a good time and religion is the great buzzkill. The ancients also like to have a good time and it is through dialogues like these that I stop seeing them as gray haired old people who don’t do anything but sit around. They were also young and also had the same desires as all humans.

The cuckoo calls, to tell us that the grove
Of Oaraki is its summer lodging.

Though she had felt sorry enough for herself, she had not wished ill to anyone; and might it be that the soul of one so lost in sad thoughts went wandering off by itself?

This is the Rokujo lady. Another example of ghost culture.

He told himself that a fate which they had shared from other lives must require that they know the full range of sorrows.

I like the belief here there former lives influence your current life and your current life will influence future lives. This is mentioned a lot in the novel.

Where shall I go, to what cave among the rocks,
To be free of tidings of this gloomy world.

There is a strong emphasis on the world being gloomy amont the aristocrats in the novel. I find it ironic that those at the top of society seem to be the least happy. I find this to be true in modern times as well. The happiest people I’ve ever met were simple village people in Vietnam. The angriest people seem to be those with the most. I’ve met a few extremely rich people in my day and none of them wore a smile.

Strong my yearning for what I have left behind.
I envy the waves that go back whence they came.

In what spring tide will I see again my old village?
I envy the geese, returning whence they came.

I like the strong sense of nostalgia in the top two quotes. Through this very blog, my immense trove of well organized photos and a chest of relics from my past I often enjoy remembering and attempting to feel and think as I did in the past. I have no desire to relive the past but I do like to be a sort of ‘archaeologist’ of my own life, uncovering old thoughts, emotions and feelings that have long been forgotten.

What interest can he possibly take in a country lump like her?

Like most Asian countries I’ve visited, the countryside is always disparaged. Girls shield themselves from the sun so they are not mistaken for farm workers and they always get a little embarrassed if they have to explain that their hometown isn’t near a major metropolis. It seems this idea of being from the countryside has always been and will always be.

All the fisherfolk had gathered at what they had heard was the house of a great gentleman from the city. They were as noisy and impossible to communicate with as a flock of birds, but no one thought of telling them to leave.

Here in plain sight we see the author’s disdain for the rustics. City people everywhere always think of themselves as better than country people and the rich always look down on the poor. Welcome to humanity.

Lowly rustics, though they could not have identified the music, were lured out into the sea winds, there to catch cold.

Another example of Muraski Shikibu’s dislike of the countryside people.

There was a Chinese elegance in his touch,

Another example of all things Chinese being better than Japanese.

Women of pleasure were in evidence.

The Catholic church had me believing these people didn’t exist except for Mary Magdalene. If they did exist then they were sinners and needed to be brought to God. Through this simple entry I see that “women of pleasure” have always been and in many cultures are very much accepted. Thank God the Japanese never let Christianity take hold in their country.

Tree spirits are shy of crowds, but when people go away they come forward as if claiming sovereignty. Frightening apparitions were numberless.

The belief in spirits being pretty much everywhere still persists to this day in Japan. Spirits are an everyday part of life and has been as demonstrated by this quote since ancient times.

He wanted to withdraw quietly and make preparations for the next life, and so add to his years in this one. He had purchased a quiet tract off in a mountain village and was putting up a chapel and collecting images and scriptures. But first he must see that no mistake was made in educating his children.

Another example of the belief in reincarnation with a new life following the next forever.

Yes, thought Genji, the world was an uncertain, dreamlike place.

I very much agree. Perhaps it is an imbalance of chemicals in my brain or perhaps I’ve reached another level of awareness through my meditations but life is an absolute mystery now when it was not before. What is all of this and what is the nature of my mind? Surely it isn’t just a vast knot of neurons and chemicals firing? There are the big questions and once you ponder them enough the entire word becomes inherently fascinating.

It was a time when the skies would have brought poignant thoughts in any case, and a falling leaf could take one back to things of long ago.

This is a powerful quote for me. I have a powerful memory and share in this nostalgic longing for the past. I remember the chill of an autumn breeze and the smell of dried out, fallen leaves as they crunched beneath my feet. I remember my childhood in the ’80s, the shooting star I saw on Halloween when out trick-or-treating and the joy I felt that night. Through this quote I can imagine ancient royal parties where everyone is dressed up, sipping sake and the dances are magnificent. There are secret loves, intense feelings of happiness and all take place under a bright crescent moon as the crickets provide a peaceful ambient sound. Now, as that leaf falls the old emperor and most of the court are dead. They now only reside in the memory of the author who is greatly saddened to know that those events will never happen again.

It is when there is a fund of Chinese learning that the Japanese spirit (Yamatodamashii) is respected by the world.

This quote is interesting because not only is something Chinese praised (as occurs quite often) but she now says something positive about Japan. Yamatodamashii is still alive and well although it took a severe beating after losing in WWII.

There is a sad thing that I have more than once witnessed, a father who grows stupider as his son grows wiser.

This is a fact and one I thinks takes place around 60 years old for men. The world changes and older people have a harder time adapting. They’ve been shaped by the environment of their own generation, a generation whose time has past. Around 60 the older generation starts to lose control and the younger start to shape the course of society.

The ancients did not know what they were talking about when they said that a father knows best.

My koto does not, I am sure, have the effect of that Chinese koto, but it is a strangely beautiful evening.

Was it merely silly, his own inability to forget the beauty of a girl who was being unkind to him?

Humans always want most those things which are denied to them. As soon as a thing is acquired it loses a lot of its value.

They say that a man is only as low as his thoughts. You must pull yourself out of it.

This is a powerful quote. At its most basic and purest form, all of life and the experiences that come with it are simply mind. In our society people put too much emphasis on the external and severely neglect the inner world that is mind. Happy thoughts will make for a happy life and sad thoughts will make for a sad life. This is a simple truth.

The moon was almost too bright in the dawn sky and there were snow flurries. A wind came down through the tall pines. The soft yellow-greens and whites of the carolers did nothing to break the cold, white calm, and the cloth posies in their caps, far from seeming to intrude with too much color, moved over the scene with a light grace such as to make the onlookers feel that years were being added to their lives.

A beautiful scene that in its simple elegance is so typically Japanese. I feel as though I am there. One of my passions is the attention to ambiance. Every morning I put a peaceful scene up on the big screen TV which corresponds to the current season. Perhaps I am drawn to the change in seasons because here in California the weather looks pretty much the same year round. I’m caught in a never ending “groundhog day” with everyday looking just like the one before it. Sunny and 60 degrees. Maybe there will be some fog.

Might I recommend the Japanese koto, for instance? It is a surprisingly bright and up-to-date sort of instrument when you play it with no nonsense and let it join the crickets in the cool moonlight of an autumn evening.

Praise for something Japanese and I like how in tune the Japanese are with nature. Play an instrument and let it compliment that which is being produced by nature. Then we have the scene set for us which of course is absolutely elegant.

Pure, precise speech can give a certain distinction to rather ordinary remarks.

Those with the most intelligence can transmit their thoughts with the least amount of words. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication said DiVinci.

End of Part I of the Tale of Genji. I’m have now started Part II but not sure how long it will take me and I don’t want this post to just sit so will go ahead and post. I also may modify my thoughts in this post from time to time. There are some weighty subjects here that deserve something deeper. It takes time to come up with profound thoughts.


On September 11th, 2020 I finally finished the Tale of Genji. Here are my notes for volume two:

An air of cool indifference had served him well thus far and it must be maintained until the end.

The light of the quarter-moon was soft and the pond was a mirror, and the wisteria was indeed very beautiful, hanging from a pine of medium height that trailed its branches far to one side. It did not have to compete with the lusher green of summer.

He had his little dalliances, it would seem, none of them very important to him, and there were ladies who felt pangs of jealousy as they saw him off.

Genji remembered another Kamo festival and the treatment to which the Rokujo lady, mother of the present empress, had been subjected. “My wife was a proud and willful woman who proved to be wanting in common charity. And see how she suffered for her pride – how bitterness was heaped upon her.”

And the results would have pleased a Chinese empress.

I came upon strong evidence that dreams are to be taken seriously..

stepmothers are not famous for their kindness.
There may be stepmothers, they tell us, who seem kind and well-meaning, but this is the worst sort of pretense. But even when a stepmother does in fact have sinister intentions a child can sometimes overcome them by the simple device of not seeing them, of behaving with quite open and unfeigned affection. What a horrid person she has been, says the stepmother of herself, and so she resolves to do better.

that on an autumn night there is sometimes not a trace of a shadow over the moon and the sound of a koto or a flute can seem as high and clear as the night itself. But the sky can have a sort of put-on look about it, like an artificial setting for a concert, and the autumn flowers insist on being gazed at. It is all too pat, too perfect. But in the spring – the moon comes through a haze and a quiet sound of flute joins it in a way that is not possible in the autumn. No, a flute is not really its purest on an autumn night. It has long been said that it is the spring night to which the lady is susceptible, and I am inclined to accept that statement. The spring night is the one that brings out the quiet harmonies.”

There are the troubles that go with the glory of being an empress or one of His Majesty’s other ladies. They are always being hurt by the proud people they must be with and they are engaged in a competition that makes a terrible demand on their nerves.

There are wellborn ladies of strongly amorous tendencies whose dignity and formal bearing are a surface that falls away when the right man comes with the right overtures.

The malign spirit suddenly yielded after so many tenacious weeks and passed from Murasaki to the little girl who was serving as medium, and who now commenced to thresh and writhe and moan. To Genji’s joy and terror Murasaki was breathing once more.

The cherry blossom is dearest when it falls.
Nothing is meant in this world to last forever.

The conclusion was inescapable: women were creatures of sin. He wanted to be done with them.

It was not unknown for a young man to seduce even one of His Majesty’s own ladies, but this seemed different. A young man and lady might in the course of their duties in the royal service find themselves favorably disposed towards each other and do what they ought not to have done. Such things did happen. Royal ladies were, after all, human.

The poetry, in Chinese and Japanese, was uniformly interesting and evocative, but I have fallen into an unfortunate habit of passing on but a random sampling of what I have heard, and shall say no more. The Chinese poems were read as dawn came over the sky, and soon afterwards the visitors departed.

That is the sort of world we live in, and we cling to a life that is no more substantial than the evening dew.

Though a great many years had passed, the ink was as fresh and if it had been set down yesterday. They seemed meant to last a thousand years. But they had been for him, and he was finished with them. He asked two or three women who were among his closest confidantes to see to destroying them. The handwriting of the dead always has the power to move us, and these were not ordinary letters.

Yugiri had observed – it had been true long ago and it was still true – how quickly the mansions of the great fall into ruin. Enormous expense and attention went into them, and one could almost see the beginning of the process when their eminent masters were dead, and so they became the most poignant reminders of evanescence.

People go streaming off in the direction of power and prestige, and though the treasures and manors from Higekuro’s great days had not been dispersed his house was now still and silent.

It is a very old tree and it somehow makes me aware of how old I am getting myself. And I think of all the people who once looked at it and are no longer living.

The wrestling meet will keep me busy for a while but I will see you again when it is out of the way.

The mountain scenery seemed more capable than ever of summoning the showers that dampen one’s sleeves, and sometimes, lost in their tears, they could almost imagine that the tumbling leaves and the roaring water and the cascade of tears had become a single flow.

A road, I knew, that all must one day go.
But not so soon as yesterday, today.

Of hamlets where fishermen dwell I know but little.
Must you insist that I be your guide to the seashore?

If someone comes along who is neither entirely pleasing nor entirely repulsive, well, such is life. They make good wives, rather better than you think.

Country life did have its points, said teh women as they cooked the greens and arranged them on pilgrims’ trays. What fun it was, really, to watch the days and months go by with their changing grasses and trees.

Since the empress held court with such quiet dignity, nothing was allowed to appear on the surface; but women have their ways, and there were those in her retinue who let slip hints that they found him interesting.

Oigimi lay gazing vacantly out at the garden. Was she prety to self-deception when she told herself that she had not decayed to any alarming degree, that her face was still not too sadly changed and wasted? The ordeal of appearing before a fine young gentleman would be worse as time went by, the ravages would be all too evident in a year or two. Youth – how very fleeting and uncertain it was! She looked at her thin hands and wrists, and though of him and the world and gazed sadly out at the garden.

The vine yet clings to the stone-walled mountain village,
Longer-lived than he whom once I knew.

Wild geese leaving the mists of spring behind them –
Is it that they prefer a blossomless land?

Left alone to think these dismal thoughts,
I am resentful of the whole wide world.

Wasted the dwelling, the dweller left to grow old.
Garden and fence become an autumn moor.

It seemed an easy, relaxed friendship, thought Niou, that offered no ground for jealousy; but he was suspicious all the same, knowing that he himself would not dream of allowing everything to meet the eye. It was not an easy situation for Nakanokimi.

She’s had proposals, but I haven’t been able to make up my mind. The reports I get about the younger generation aren’t good….

Categories
Books

Memoirs of a Geisha

I just finished the book and I have to agree with the reviews; it was hard to put down and refused to stay shut.

I’d like to first mention a bit of controversy surrounding the novel. It was written by a westerner named Arthur Golden. I wanted to know if this book was worth reading and so read up on his sources. Well, his main source was a real geisha named Mineko Iwasaki. The controversy lies in that he was allegedly not supposed to name her as the source since the geisha world is very secretive. She ended up getting into quite a bit of trouble with that world over this book and even some death threats.

I dug into it a little and it is hard to discern the truth. On one hand I would give a Japanese person the benefit of the doubt when it comes to honesty. But on the other hand I cannot see the author agreeing to this and then outing her anyway. She is the first person he mentions in the acknowledgements and she is integral to this entire work! My own theory is that Mrs. Iwasaki might have been fine with it but didn’t expect it to become as popular as it did which then caused problems and she needed to cover herself a bit. Otherwise Mr. Golden is just a terrible person. Again, it is very hard to understand this because as Japanese culture is based on honor I don’t think either side would have purposely done something so dishonorable as an outright lie (without excellent reason).

I read up on Arthur Golden’s background and as it turns out he is a member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family which owns controlling stock in the New York Times. That means trust fund baby. I had my suspicions when reading his brief autobiography in the book. He went to Harvard and majored in Japanese history. Who goes to Harvard and majors in Japanese history??? Trust fund babies do. Secondly how did he even have access to a former top Geisha? He comes from a very powerful family that knows other powerful families, that is how.

The rest of his autobiography says he then went on to earn an MA in Japanese history at Columbia where he also studied Mandarin Chinese. With all these Japanese studies why wouldn’t he study the Japanese language? Then he studied in Beijing, worked in Tokyo and then got an MA in English at Boston University. This is totally the autobiography of a rich kid with a fascination for Asia with the means to be a ‘forever student.’ The book was fantastic so Mr. Golden is a great writer. I guess he should be expected to be a great writer as his education would have cost a fortune!

However, I’m more interested in real history and from the source. So after this controversy arose, Mrs. Iwasaki wrote a book of her own called Geisha, A Life. Mrs. Iwasaki says many things are greatly exaggerated and even untrue in Golden’s book so now I have to read Mrs. Iwasaki’s book as I’d like a picture that is closer to actual history than Mr. Golden’s book, which is stated fiction, has given me.

This book became a popular movie but that created its own controversy. Three very popular Chinese actresses were selected to play roles that are 100% Japanese exclusive. This didn’t sit well with the Japanese or Chinese sides.

As for the story itself, I found myself imagining what it must have been like to be in that exclusive club found in only one town in all of Japan. Yes there were geisha elsewhere but it was in Gion where the old traditions held sway according to the novel and I’m assuming is based on historical fact. The elites would gather to drink and be entertained in a style only found in Japan. Perhaps it wasn’t that special at all to them, it was just how the upper class was accustomed to being entertained. Something that would seem otherworldly to a foreigner, or a time traveler was just a part of life to the men who frequented those places. The elites always have their places to play although in the West we do not have a culture of normalized female entertainment thanks to a Puritan strain that unfortunately continues to run through this country.

If I were to compare then my thoughts immediately go to the Moss Beach Distillery which was a play area for elites here in San Francisco during the ’20s and Prohibition. It was an entry point to California for booze from Canada and was one of the only place (if not the only one!) that didn’t get shut down all for the simple reason is that is where the elite of society liked to party. There you’d drink the sweet prohibited nectar of alcohol, listen to music, dance and maybe, just maybe, they had some dancing girls or something like that but nothing like a geisha.

Now days, it seems the tradition of female entertainment and geisha has evolved into hostess clubs in Japan. You still make conversation, drink and enjoy the company of a woman. Like geisha times this can also lead to sex but is not prostitution and at the volition of both parties. The money is paid for the company and drinks but if it progresses then that is more because both parties want to do so and money much less of a role.

In the modern USA you have clubs like The Battery in downtown San Francisco where the rich go to drink and look at each other. If there are women comforts then I imagine it is kept under wraps since prostitution is illegal thanks to those fun loving Puritans and the various Jesus movements that infect our entire society today. I’m sure things still go on in a big way but I’m not part of that world so wouldn’t know.

My Favorite Quotes:

Since moving to New York I’ve learned what the world “geisha” really means to most Westerners. From time to time at elegant parties, I’ve been introduced to some young woman or other in a splendid dress and jewelry. When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile, although the corners don’t turn up quite as they should. She has no idea what to say! And then the burden of conversation falls to the man or woman who has introduced us – because I’ve never really learned much English, even after all these years. Of course, by this time there’s little point even in trying, because this woman is thinking, “My goodness…I’m talking with a prostitute…” A moment later she’s rescued by her escort, a wealthy man a good thirty or forty years older than she is. Well, I often find myself wondering why she can’t sense how much we really have in common. She is a kept woman, you see, and in my day so was I.

She cannot see the similarity because along with that Puritan strain we have a very strong culture of hypocrisy here in the USA. A good majority of people in the USA want to appear upstanding and moral yet they watch scandalous entertainment, segregate themselves and care very little for those unlike them, the divorce rate is well over 50% and the main motivator is greed. Need an example? Take a look at the President of the USA now Donald Trump. He is a con man and a crook yet the envy of a good part of American society. It makes no sense at all. And what about the wife that he bought Melania? She married Donald for money of course and anyone who says differently is an idiot and perhaps a voluntary idiot. How simpler it would have been if our society would just permit mistresses as socially acceptable. Then we wouldn’t have to go through this nonsense of pretending to be in love when in fact the guys want sex and the women money?

Here is the twist that an average American couldn’t understand. I do not look down on Melania nor think poorly of her at all. I’m sure she is a decent person whose great looks are both a wonderful asset as well as tremendous curse. She gets the money but has to put up with a husband as crass, vain and idiotic as Donald. I imagine she doesn’t love him at all and like geisha has to bury her true emotions and true loves due to circumstances. I for one am in favor of allowing for mistresses and doing away with the fairy tail nonsense of true, everlasting love. Real life isn’t a Disney movie for God’s sakes but a good majority of Americans are absolutely infantile that increasingly can barely get their own affairs in order. For a great example of and infantile man/boy look no farther than VP Mike Pence. Poor guy cannot even have dinner alone with a woman other than his wife, or something might happen!!! My God, it is all so depressing the way society has gone.

So in short, young women who are marring wealthy older men are “kept” women just as a geisha is kept. The difference is a geisha can keep the relationship much simpler and cleaner without all the fake appearances and bullshit we do here in the West.

An en is a karmic bond lasting a lifetime. Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.

In the West we have the illusion of making our own choices and controlling our own destinies. It is something we like to tell ourselves as part of our national character. Yes, we can control our own destinies and our futures are determined by individual choices there is so much about ourselves that is shaped by others. Here are some examples.

How many people share the same religion as their parents? I would guess it is around 80% or so and religion is something that is very hard to shake off when you’ve been brought up believing the nonsense and so does everyone around you.

How many people live further than 50 miles away from their parents? The typical American lives only 18 miles away from Mom and Dad.

How many children share the same education level as their parents?

How many kids share the same political opinions as their parents and/or those that surround them? If people were able to truly form their own opinions then shouldn’t we have a smattering of red and blue all over the place in the electoral map instead of huge blocks of red and blue?

So the fact is, we have gotten very good at telling ourselves we make our own decisions, that we are individuals. Nope, the majority here in the USA are pieces of clay shaped by those who have been in their lives.

Over the years, she probably succeeded in drinking herself to death. She certainly wouldn’t have been the first geisha to do it.

When I read this I think about the false faces we show to society. My first thought is to social media where everyone portrays only their best sides and that their lives are perfect. The reality of it is depression is on the rise, drug use is on the rise and we’ve got (mostly women) uploading picture after picture of themselves for social approval and to feed that need for “likes,” yet who are actually falling down a pit of depression.

I then think of actors such as Robin Williams, Chris Farley and many others who show a happy face, just like geisha, to the outside world but are dying on the inside. Seems we all have similar experiences as humans although our circumstances can be quite different. Same feelings, completely different worlds.

In summary, I certainly enjoyed the book and am looking forward to re-watching the movie. I also need to buy Geisha, A Life and read that as well. I noticed it is exactly the same price as Mr. Golden’s book but I imagine has not sold nearly as many copies. That is too bad.

Categories
Books

Travels in Asia and Africa – 1325-1354 – Ibn Battúa

I heard about this book from Reddit and knew right away that I wanted to read it. I love history and traveling and here is a first hand account from a well traveled (for the times) man from over 600 years ago. This is unlike a history book. History books are the past seen through the prism of the historian and these can be tainted by the passage of time as well as the nationality of the author. From a first hand account I can gain a better idea of what times were really like and how people thought.

Furthermore, due to the time I spent studying in Spain I’m very fascinated with the Muslim/Moor identity as Spain was one of the borders where Christian civilization ended and Muslim civilization began. Spain was for a few hundred years a Muslim country and this is easily seen in its architecture as well as the traits of its people.

In understanding the past I can further understand the world today and it is easy to see that although much has changed the core identities when it comes to religion have not. We still have the same hatreds, same wars and same divisions as over 600 years ago.

Below are some passages I’ve pulled out that I found rather interesting and wanted to comment on.

To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, whcih costs an effort of the imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortune to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians, for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader.

This is the opening and it is wonderful. Whenever we travel overseas we take pictures next to monuments and maybe read a blurb about it or two if that and then it is on to the next thing. There is a reason those monuments are there and when traveling to the ‘old countries’ these monuments go back centuries if not millennia. In the case of Japan one can see shrines and writings on the sides of roads whose meaning is only known to the monks if by anyone at all! I feel very thankful for today’s technology which can offer a glimpse into what the monuments are for without my smartphone they would just be another statue. How interesting the world is and how little we know of it!

This is the church of which they are falsely persuaded to believe that it contains the grave of Jesus. All who come on pilgrimage to visit it pay a stipulated tax to the Muslims, and suffer very unwillingly various humiliations.

This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now in the hands of the Israelis’. It is the place where the Crusaders fought to reclaim and the surrounding land still ground zero where the religions still fight for control. This is also the spot where one of the most exciting archaeological studies are taking place since for the first time ever have been granted access to open it. The whole world was waiting for the results but checking this article it looks like if Jesus’s remains are there or not is so far inconclusive. This is some real life Indiana Jones stuff and is truly incredible. Whether you believe in religion or not is irrelevant as this is history that has changed and continues to change the world and the findings could further change the world.

Thence to Ma’arra, whcih lies in a district inhabited by some sort of Shi’ites, abominable people who hate the Ten Companions and ever person whose name is ‘Omar.

Ibn Battuá was a Sunni and this passage is interesting to me as the Sunnis and Shi’ites still fight to this very day with Saudia Arabia on one side and Iran on the other. It is a dispute over how one interprets Islam and the wars of 600 years ago persist with even more devastating consequences today.

One day a Turk happened to be there, and hearing a broker call “nine and one,” he laid his club about his head “Say ‘ten,'” whereupon quoth he “Ten with the club.”

Again, this is Sunni vs. Shi’ite.

Land of the Armenian infidels.

I’ve learned a lot about the Armenians and their sad history. The persecution continues today with Turkey being a main offender.

Thence we journeyed to Ma’an, which is the last town in Syria, and from “Aqabat as-Sawan entered the desert, of which the saying goes: “He who enters it is lost, and he who leaves it is born.”

How frightening crossing the deserts must have been in the middle ages. In fact, without airplanes crossing a desert is still a formidable challenge today. Deserts represent a mythical land where the veil between life and death is very thin. It is no wonder this is where the idea of genies which come from “the Jinn” was born and all of the superstitions that come with it.

Isfahán is one of the largest and fairest of cities, but the greater part of it is now in ruins, as a result of the feud between Sunnís and Shi’ites, which is still raging there.

Additional testament to the war between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam.

We went on from there to the town of Ta’izz, the capital of the king of Yemen, and one of the finest and largest towns in that country. Its people are overbearing, insolent, and rude, as is generally the case in towns where kings reside.

Isn’t this still true today in our major cities? I’ve found the people of the countryside to be a refreshing change from the uptight and pretentious people that inhabit our modern cities. Some things never change.

Greek slave called Michael
I bought a Greek slave girl here for forty dinars.
He gave me a young Greek slave named Nicholas
Here my slave, on taking my horses to water along with a slave belonging to one of my companions, attempted to escape.
In this town I bought a Greek slave girl called Marguerite.

It was interesting to me that a man of religion would think nothing of taking slaves. Does religion not teach us that we are all God’s children? How does a religious person reconcile this with the taking of slaves. Religion is a blight on humanity full of contradictions and mind twisting feats of logic to explain why they believe and act the way they do. I wrote down the names of these slaves as these were real people, cared for as babies who were cruelly torn from their families and put into slavery. For me, these are not just a names from 600 years ago but real people that were born in a very cruel world and who I feel very sorry for. Looking at their names a feeling of sorrow envelops me and I feel their souls are close since I, one of the living, are remembering them.

A day’s march from this town (Ukak), are the mountains of the Russians. These are Christians, red-haired and blue-eyed, with ugly faces and treacherous.

One tribe encountering another. Nothing has changed in modern times and we are still as apart today as we were 600 years ago.

I was out one day with my Greek guide, when we met the former king George who had become a monk.

I clasp the hand which has entered Jerusalem and the foot which has walked within the Dome of the Rock and the great church of the Holy Sepulchre and Bethlehem,'” and he laid his hand upon my feet and passed it over his face.

This was in Constantinople and the Byzantine empire. He visited the Hagia Sophia and at this time it was still under Christian control. It wasn’t until 120 years later that it was conquered by the Turks and remains under their control to this day. I was amazed that the Emperor would touch Ibn Battua’s feet because they had been in the Holy Sepulchre, how religious he was! Kingdoms come and go and I wonder what further changes are in store for humanity in the next 600 years.

He who enters it must needs prostrate himself before the great cross, for this is a rule which the ancients laid down and which cannot be contravened.

This is the Hagia Sophia. Here I am reading an account from 600 years ago and in this quote they are referencing the “ancients” which was 600 or more years ago for them! How things involving religion remain the same even though we have made such advancements elsewhere.

The burning of the wife after her husband’s death is regarded by them as a commendable act, but is not compulsory; only when a widow burns herself her family acquire a certain prestige by it and gain a reputation for fidelity. A widow who does not burn herself dresses in coarse garments and lives with her own people in misery, despised for her lack of fidelity, but she is not forced to burn herself.

Each elephant has on its back a sort of large chest capable of holding twenty warriors or more or less, according to the size of the beast.

This reminded me of Lord of the Rings and how the evil men from the south rode elephants or “Oliphants” as the hobbits called them. JRR Tolkein got his idea directly from history which is described above.

Yogis, appearing in the shape of a tiger
The men of this class do some marvelous things One of them will spend months without eating or drinking, and many of them have holes dug for them in the earth which are then built in on top of them, leaving only a space for air to enter. They stay in these for months, and I heard tell of one of them who remained thus for a year. The people say that they make up pills, one of which they take for a given number of days or months, and during that time they require no food or drink. They can tell what is happening at a distance. The sultan holds them in esteem and admits them to his company Some eat nothing but vegetables, and others, the majority, eat no meat; it is obvious that they have so disciplined themselves in ascetic practices that they have no need of any of the goods or vanities of this world. There are amongst them some who merely look at a man and he falls dead on the spot. The common people say that if the breast of a man killed in this way is cut open, it is found to contain no heart, and they assert that his heart has been eaten.

Such superstition and myths continue to this day. Again, things change but remain the same.

I want a cabin to myself because of the slave-girls, for it is my habit never to travel without them.

I can’t imagine why. A religious man preaches against the sins of sex yet still engages in the practice. At least with him it wasn’t little boys.

“Are you going to go on the raft and leave us?” So I put their safety before my own and said “You two go and take with you the girl that I like.” The other girl said “I am a good swimmer and I shall hold on to one of the raft ropes and swim with them.”

This was a moment when they were sinking and at least Ibn Battua had the decency to think of his female slaves.

In the morning the infidels whom our troops had captured the previous day were divided into four groups and impaled at the four gates of the camp. Their women and little children were butchered also and the women tied by their hair to the pales….. This [slaughtering of women and children] is a dastardly practice, which I have never known of any [other] king, and it was because of it that God brought him to a speedy end.

Very violent the Middle Ages were. Oh wait, we’re still very violent today and nothing has changed. Only now this murder is done with air strikes and on computer screens. How civilized!

If he desires to take a concubine, the keeper purchases a slave-girl for him and lodges him in an apartment opening out of the hostelry, and purveys for them both. Slave-girls fetch a low price; yet all the Chinese sell their sons and daughters, and consider it no disgrace. They are not compelled, however, to travel with those who buy them, nor on the other hand, are they hindered from going if they choose to do so.

The Chinese seem much more compassionate here unlike in the West where if you found yourself in slavery you were in a very bad spot.

“What we thought was a mountain is the Rukh, and if it sees us it will make an end of us.”

It took me a minute to understand what they were referring to here but it is a mythological Roc which is an enormous bird that preys upon everything. This passage showed me how superstitious the people were for the time. Although nobody had actually seen these mythological creatures they were still very real to their minds. I imagine dragons, sea serpents and other creatures would have also been very real in their minds during this age.

Two months after this we reached Jáwa and landed at the town of Sumutra. We found its sultan al-Malik az-Záhir just returned from a raid, with a large train of captives. He sent me two girls and two boys, and lodged me in the usual manner.

More trading of slaves which seems to be all very normal at this time.

I had left a wife of mine there pregnant, and I learned that while I was in India that she had borne a male child, whereupon I sent to the boy’s maternal grandfather, who belonged to Miknása [Mequinez] in Morocco, forty gold dinars in Indian money. When I arrived in Damascus on this occasion I had not thought but to enquire after my son.
“He is dead these twelve years.”
“told him the name of my family he informed me that my father died fifteen years before and that my mother was still alive.”

I guess it was not a big deal to leave your wives pregnant and never to be seen again. I’m sure the idea of children and family was very different at this time compared to what it is today. It is stories like this that make my the story of my own DNA very interesting. To a modern mind you’d think it is just a succession of families in orderly progression but as we get further back in time it all turns into a bit of a mess. Looking at my own DNA I have traces of Nordic countries, some Southern and given how times were back then cannot imagine that one tribe would so easily accept someone from another tribe into their family. The story of humanity is one big mess and any common idea of “purity” from a certain land is a bunch of nonsense. We’re already a melting pot and erecting walls isn’t going to change anything. People will mix and we’ll all eventually become a blend no matter how many wars, walls, or hatreds come about through the years.