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Under Construction
Blues man, Oakland Art and Soul festival

September 7th, 2002

Am I Naive?
My morning Saturday bubble gum reality listening to Car Talk on public radio while sitting at the computer has been interrupted by what appears to be a non stop world wide dial-in dialogue on 9-11 and the head changes that 9-11 has brought to us over this last year. There have been changes, of course, but most of them have been internalized. I talk about what's going on with friends, but it's not something that comes up often, since this conversation can be painful, digging at too recent fears and feelings about the future. We have a new understanding about the future.

I've had parallel thoughts while reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer I'd never heard of before reading a review of his short story collection after the quake in a recent Sunday Chronicle. The emotional after shock of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe is used to bind his stories together, and, although none of the stories themselves are set in Kobe, all of them taking place after the event, each shares the quake's psychological impact. My thought, the reviewer's thought, was the earthquake theme was a pretty good parallel to 9-11. Probably the reason I bought the book.

The reviewers (well, a reviewer) has called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles an exposition of modernOakland Art and Soul Festival. Japanese culture (it says so on the cover: "...most ambitious attempt yet to stuff all of modern Japan into a single fictional edifice.") OK, I thought, turning the book over in my hands, the entire culture of modern Japan in this one volume. I know little of Japanese culture. I was taken, in college, with the films of Kurosawa: The Samurai Trilogy, Yojimbo; all of the Mifune portrayals in the Zen mold of Miyamoto Musashi. I've read The Book of Five Rings, written by Musashi himself, of course, before it became popular within American business culture back in a time when Japanese business culture meant something positive, and I've read the wonderful Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (Translated by Charles S. Terry), borrowed many years ago from a similarly Samurai besotted friend.

I suspect that saying you know something about Japanese culture because you've brushed against the Samurai mythology, Samurai pop mythology, anyway, as evidenced in Musashi and The Samurai Trilogy, is a little bit like saying you understand America by reading True Grit or watching any of the John Wayne westerns. Well, you do, but there are other doors and other rooms to be explored before you can gain, um, perspective. I had a Korean girl friend once and later tumbled for a Chinese American woman who didn't tumble back (sigh), so I've learned to be careful in admitting my Japanese cultural fascination. You need to probe a bit, tread carefully, see if Nanking or Hiroshima ring a bell.

Anyway, this started with reading Murakami and listening to 9-11 on public radio, the two melding together somehow into a Murakami mind set, the question "do we control our lives?" or "are we driven by forces unseen" (but not altogether unfelt), forces embodied in a "Wind-Up Bird" who signals your fate with a clock work "Chirrrp!", more like Carlos Castaneda than Kurosawa, and my thought (we're finally getting to what started me off on this) that the Japanese feeling for unseen forces and terrible events (engendered by WWII, Hiroshima, earthquakes, nerve gas in subway stations) might make more sense here, right now, what with airplanes, smallpox, dirty bombs and bin Laden incidents.

Which is to say, recently lying in my morning bath, the water hot, my feet propped up against the wall above the faucet, thinking, well, why not go mystic in a book? A set of short stories like Murakami's, but set in San Francisco. Make it arty and opaque, so people will think it's hot, written by a seer in the "most ambitious attempt yet to stuff all of modern America into a single fictional edifice". Or is San Francisco the wrong place? Mystic events? In San Francisco? The hand of fate? I get a lot of ideas in the bath, don't you think?

There's a story in today's paper about Sylvie Tellier, "the reigning Miss France", who will boycott the Miss World Pageant in Nigeria to protest the death by stoning sentence upheld recently by a Nigerian court against a woman "for having sex outside of marriage". The woman gave birth to a daughter more than nine months after divorcing her husband. I can't imagine any Miss Anyone on the planet who wouldn't join with her. Miss America for example. Or am I naive?

The photographs were taken at the Oakland Art and Soul Festival.