Marquez, the general, and his labyrinth

labyrinth

When I first started writing the kernel of what ultimately became Adam’s Stepsons, the multiple/mixed genre story The General in His Labyrinth had just been published, by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I’d been searching for character names, desperate not to have them all sounding like the people I knew at the time (i.e., white guys in my rural hometown).

So “Marquez” sounded like a great name. I had a general in the story. General Marquez fit. Why not. Continue reading

On “En”

DSC00976I’ve been meaning to add a personal essay page to my web site for stories that didn’t seem to fit into any neat categories. The immediate impetus is an essay that was recently “rejected” by my former graduate program’s in-house literary journal…probably because it’s an essay and not a short story (I posted elsewhere an article about the quirkiness of the English-speaking world’s insistence on an artificial separation of “fiction” and “nonfiction”).

Rather than wait up to half a year to see whether I could get it published online in a magazine (most of which seem to only publish US-centric, “woe is me” or “OMG look at THIS” sensationalist drivel) I thought that at least I could share it here…

The essay is “En” (縁), a topic that Asians (particularly those in Confucian-influenced societies) know a lot about. I first encountered the concept as a teaching assistant in Gojo High School, Nara, about 15 years ago. Almost like a previous life. Maybe it was…

Check it out here.

Notes from the Nineties: The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha

This is the fourth preview of my upcoming collection of short stories and poems, Notes from the Nineties. In the first part, I explained the background behind the first story and poem pair, Cois Fharriage and Ag an gCrosaire. In the second part, I took a look at some of my experiences in Japan that informed Asian Dreams and Training the Mountain Warrior. In the third part, I delved into the “true story” of The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale.

teethToday marks the first day of spring, as well as the start of the Easter Week. And while it is the end of Spring Break for some schools in North America, it’s still spring break for others…and it was, in fact, around this time of year back in 1996 that the seeds of “The Four Teeth of the Apocrypha” were planted. Like teeth.

That remark alone should let you know that this is not a typical story (if the title hadn’t already tipped you off by now). Continue reading

Notes from the Nineties: The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale

This is the third preview of my upcoming collection of short stories and poems, Notes from the Nineties. In the first part, I explained the background behind the first story and poem pair, Cois Fharriage and Ag an gCrosaire. In the second part, I took a look at some of my experiences in Japan that informed Asian Dreams and Training the Mountain Warrior.

Bunny-smalljpg

Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it?

The first story in the anthology takes place in Ireland; the last, in Japan. But I’m from Upstate New York (NOT White Plains and Yonkers; those are downstate for the rest of us), so many of the stories in the middle of the book take place there. Most such stories were originally written for my undergrad or graduate thesis, from ’93 to ’96 (hence, the name of the book, actually…).

“The Lost Bunny Shrine of Annandale” was not written back then. However, the events do take place in the mid-’90s, and the style (I hope) is similar to those stories.

The main event — finding a post dedicated to a bunny rabbit in the middle of the woods — actually occurred. The details are fuzzy (most of the night was…) and of course I’ve changed around the names of the conspirators, as well as combined two or three people into a single character with some exaggerated personality quirks. But there is, in reality, a bunny shrine in Annandale. And we did find it. Among other things. Continue reading

Single, hyphenated, or double?

dolmen.JPGDuring the final proofreading of Notes from the Nineties, I’m finding small amusements in MS Word…which seems to be contradicting previous versions of spellcheckers.

Or is that spell-checkers? Spell checkers?
I’ve always had a habit of using single words where others prefer double or hyphenated words. To me, reproducing spoken language makes dialog in particular (of course) and prose sound more natural. Now that the automated spellchecker (spell-…spell…) is suggesting single words over other options, I’m finding a number of inconsistencies.

Continue reading

Notes from the Nineties: Cois Fharraige / Ag an gcrosaire

From now I’ll be spending some time on the blog briefly explaining the background of some of the stories and poems in my new book Notes from the Nineties (already available for pre-order! Only $1.99!).

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The first story in the volume is called “Cois Fharraige,” which used to be subtitled “or, By the Sea,” which is the meaning of the Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge) title. The poem that follows the story (“Ag an gcrosaire,” which means “at the crossroads”) stems from the same time period and experiences.

From 1995 to 1997 I studied creative writing, literature, history, and Irish language in the University of Notre Dame MFA program. (Actually, when I entered the program it was an MA but changed to a “terminal degree” at the end of my first year, but that’s another story…). When I told my roommate that I was studying Irish he first said “don’t the Irish speak English?” And then he added, “Gee, that’s going to improve your job offers” (or some such words). Continue reading

My life as a tree

  

Kyoto, where I work, is chock full of temples and shrines. Every day I walk to campus, I walk through a Rinzai Zen temple along the way. While the temple itself is not as famous or as old as others nearby, it is popular among tourists for its gardens, open public lectures, and guest houses. There’s a nursery school within the temple grounds, and TV crews occasionally can be seen filming for various end-of-year specials. Because it’s located in a residential neighborhood near several high schools, students and office workers alike travel through it daily. After a long, crowded train ride during the morning rush hour, walking through a zen temple is an incredibly relaxing experience. I’ve walked through the temple grounds every day for three years now; I have to remind myself how lucky I am.

Last week, after a typhoon crossed over Japan just south of us, I was heading home through the temple when I saw an older man squatting down in front of a small pine tree. He had taken off his hat, with a small white towel draped over his shoulders to prevent sunburn, and was silently contemplating the tree. I watched as he took a drink from a water bottle, then poured the rest of the bottle around the base of the tree.

I don’t know what he was thinking, of course, but I like to imagine: how long would it take for the sapling to equal the other pine trees in the temple precinct in size? He might no longer be alive then. How long ago had the older trees been planted, as saplings? Perhaps he had not even been born yet. 

Pine trees (matsu) have long been associated with zen Buddhism and zen temples. Zazen (sitting meditation) is practiced by Rinzai Zen monks, and visitors to this temple are encouraged to join the morning zazen when they stay at the guest house. But really all you need is a tree, and your imagination, to understand how short life is. How mysterious. How tenacious. How precious.

A sobering reminder on the way to and from work.