Your will and their will

Although not unique to us will and intention are two of the foremost hallmarks of a human being. Each of us have any number of objectives that we are attempting to accomplish or to see happen or brought about at least partly through the efforts we make, and our actions and plans are aimed at such. Many of us will even have recently made New Year’s resolutions to that effect, and some of us will have so far been able to keep them. These objectives are of course different from mere desires or wants in that we actively pursue them and expend energy, time, quite possibly money, on trying to ensure as far as possible that they are realized. Other people will often be involved in our plans and although we do tend to recognize that their presence represents something of a question mark in the whole affair it is fairly easy for us to forget that they too have their own objectives and that their wills and intentions will likely not align with ours.

On the other hand, much of our days are probably not spent in a single-minded and dedicated struggle to achieving whatever it is that we are presently bending our will towards. We will have errands to run, we will have duties to attend to, we will have work and social engagements that require the same limited resources of energy, time, and money. We will also be culturally influenced and our attention will be taken by the things that others in our circles are concerning themselves with and which we find, largely by default, to suddenly be of concern to us as well. We open a news page or click on a link and what we see or hear takes us in a different direction and consumes yet more of our energy, time, and maybe money too. Our will may waver under the onslaught of the ever-present now of the multitudinous distractions that define modern life. But hold that thought, I just need to check my email. On and on it goes.

As with us, so it is with our characters. Katy is bound and determined to win first prize in next month’s spelling bee but Bob is bound and determined to wine and dine her in an extravagant lead-up to her thirtieth birthday which she will never forget. Both of them are after Katy’s time and energy but Katy cannot know what Bob is also after nor can Bob know just how Katy is experiencing the places he takes her to on his tour of all the starred restaurants in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. He may know of her championship spelling aspirations and may even be helping her study but his intentions in doing so will be other than her’s. The two may even find that their wills clash.

So much so obvious; of course. Yet where does this leave us in our writing? Are we telling our story from Katy’s perspective or from Bob’s? Or from outside both of them? Who is the main character and who is the supporting character? The decisions that we make on these issues will influence – often quite subtly – how we approach the narrative we are creating. If Katy is our protagonist we may be tempted to shrink Bob down to a one-sided character who is only experienced via the lens of Katy, her will and her intentions. We might even think it right to do so if we are telling the story from Katy’s first person point of view. That, however, would be doing a terrible injustice not just to Bob but to our human experience of life. We all quite naturally look out at the world through eyes that are fixated on the will and the intentions born of the brain behind those eyes and driving what our seen hands and feet are doing. We see others as assisting or obstructing our will and our intentions, neglecting to take note that what they are up to is based on their own will and intentions. They aim as we aim, and so does Bob as Katy does. No matter how much of an accessory Bob is to Katy’s important story of the road to spelling stardom he remains an individual in the fullest sense that Katy is, and so when we write him we must keep all of that in mind. It’s Katy’s tale, sure, but the sequel could just as easily be Bob’s; that is, if he is allowed to really be Bob and not just here’s-Katy-with-Bob. A nuanced difference perhaps, but an important one I think.

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Happy holidays

From the Winter Solstice to Pepper Pot Day the holiday season is upon us. We at Drugstore Books wish you only the happiest of times with family, friends, and undecorated aluminum poles. We’ll be back in January with a lot more posts, an upcoming By Prescription Only showcase, and some long-awaited new titles for our Book Rack. Till then!

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Plumbing your depths

To our readers: Our deepest apologies on the site being down for a few days from early last week to early this week, we had unexpected server difficulties. The issue has now been resolved but we’ll be examining ways to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again. We’re looking forward to providing you with more thought-provoking blog posts and to launching some exciting new titles over the course of the next year so be sure to keep on visiting the Drugstore.

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Almost exactly one year ago I wrote a post about beginning a new novel and how I planned on taking elements from myself to fill out and define the main character. In that post I highlighted how common a technique doing such is, citing Herman Hesse and Kurt Vonnegut as two luminaries who provide examples of the practice. I also mentioned that by doing so “your main character’s head is your head” and thus “it’ll be much easier to get inside it.” On that aspect of “getting inside” there is an earlier point made that writing about people that you actually know, rather than just imagine, can add depth and edge to your characters that otherwise might not be there. A year on from that post and with lots of writing in between I want to revisit the idea with some fresh perspective.

First of all, whatever my intentions may have been, my main character ended up being only a very little bit like me. I am grateful for that in some ways as there are many things about my main character that I came to dislike (as a person, not as a character) in the course of writing. I was able to really get into his head though, and certainly my starting point granted an easier and smoother entry there. In writing him too I realized how cathartic the practice of writing can be as I took parts of my psyche and exaggerated them in my character, working through elements of my self that might have remained hidden had I not been so introspective in my writing process. That was illuminating, actually, and I feel like I can say that I personally have made some progress towards better mental health as a result – no small thing.

Elements, then, of me became elements of him but he does not reflect me in either totality or even in an exact degree regarding those very same elements. How so? For each of us, wonderfully complex as we are, our wholes are much more than the sum of our parts. In the final stanza of “Fever 103°” Sylvia Plath (I’ve been reading her a lot lately) includes the very striking line “My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats”, implying that she has a number of “selves”, a number of “faces” that she inhabits, embodies, exhibits, etc. as she turns towards the world around her. Of course she is not speaking only of herself, this is a statement of universals; we all, the case can be made, have a vast number of selves and there is no singular “me” (the case can also be made against this view – and I would make it – but I here use “selves” as different from Self (or me or I) in order to differentiate and to refer only to this idea of “faces” or “masks”). Her old “selves” dissolve, they are dirty and discarded, as she forges a new identity and new way of being, of relating to the world. In this she experiences herself as a multiplicity.

She experiences herself; now we have come to the real rub of the matter. If I am writing a character based on someone I know, or on a type of person that I know, my view of them will be based on my interactions and experiences with them. I know them only in that indirect way, and how they see themselves will necessarily be different from how I see them. What does that mean? That in truth I can but write a caricature of them even if I have associated with them for many years and think of them as being one of my closest friends. My knowledge of them is only – and can only be – knowledge gained from the outside; even if they open their heart to me and share all their deepest desires I will experience that sharing through the lens of my own mind and my own thinking and my own feeling and my own being. I can never have their view of themselves as it is from the inside. For that, for that purely error free and impeccable view, I have but one source and one destination: myself. How then to write who we know? The answer seems clear; write out of yourself, scour your own depths of being (your own “selves” or “faces”) for elements, take from this or from that and then from there build and expand. Naturally in the course of such an undertaking elements of others that you know or have observed will come into play and there is no problem with that, nor is there any real issue with the inevitable failure to have an inside view of someone else for when it comes to your characters you do have an inside view. You have made them, after all, and it is your challenge to inhabit their heads to the full extent that you inhabit your own. How well you are able to do that, I think, will depend on how well you are able to explore your Self.

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Our server has been down

Our deepest apologies to our readers for suddenly going offline and being down for a few days. Unfortunately the server which hosted our site had some issues and we were caught just as unawares as all of you. The issue appears to be solved for the time being but over the course of the coming year we will be looking at ways to achieve a more lasting and stable service. Our apologies again. We’ll be back with a new post tomorrow.

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Boring crap about nothing

Being middle-aged I now consider myself entitled to the odd (frequent) curmudgeonly rant and so fair warning that this post will contain some. Entertainingly curmudgeonly though, I hope.

I recently read a review of a new novel about a Japanese-American couple living amongst the Japanese community in Los Angeles. The wife is a mixed Caucasian American and Japanese American, her father of Irish extraction and her mother Japanese. The husband is a “pure” Japanese American and condescends on this point to his wife, declaring that any child between them would be “more Japanese than its mother”. Into this situation comes a female graduate student from Japan to work with the husband and the wife suspects infidelity, though she does warily befriend the student and the two of them travel to Japan together following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Also at some point apparently a murder is involved somehow. In reading the review I thought the plot lame, tired, and boring, but then in thinking of that judgment something struck me: is it really the plot that matters?

I haven’t of course read the actual book and almost certainly I never will given both the depth of my current reading list and general lack of time but it seems likely that my reaction to the review was overly harsh, and that in part due to how the review itself was written. Take the husband’s racist attitude; if that is included then the book seems to be setting itself up for an extended exploration of identity. That is a very, very interesting topic, and a timely one. What question is being asked with more fervency in our era than that of what am I – where do I fit – and what does it mean to be me in this place and time? That topic is especially pertinent when it comes to a culture like Japan’s where ethnic “purity” is lauded so highly and is so intensely tied up with nationalistic issues, even to the point that schoolchildren are taught what it means to “be Japanese”. Surely those considerations and how the characters deal with them in their own internal struggles are far more interesting than the externals. The inner exploration that a book allows, where we even have access to characters’ thoughts, gives every writer a powerful tool that should never be overlooked nor underestimated.

As an example of a story where the externals are everything consider Star Wars. Now, I am only familiar with the movie series and not the many spin-off books and so I can only comment on that, but nevertheless it seems fair to say that what takes center stage in the tale is the action and events, even allowing for the fact that aside from techniques like an overdubbed narration we typically don’t have access to explicit thoughts in films (that is where the actors’ expressiveness comes in). There are many thoughtful movies where the main element is the characters’ inner lives but Star Wars is not one of them. (Admittedly, Luke Skywalker’s identity struggles in the original one and to an extent the following two of the first trilogy arguably fit this model and that is certainly what makes the three classic films the only really decent ones in the series of twenty-five or however many we’re up to now.) Without any pathos involved a story about flying around shooting things and running from one puppet-filled locale to the next is ultimately pretty shallow and, frankly, boring.

To be human is to have experience, to not only undergo the events that happen to us and to take the actions that we do in the wide world in which we live but to feel each and every tiny detail all along the way. What separates us from, say, a robot or even the most advanced artificial intelligence is that fact of feeling, that fact of the internals of which we are aware when we pause to look at them and which affect us in thousands of ways even when we are rushing about desperately trying to get this or be there and currently unaware of them. We have feelings that involve far more than just locomotion or objectives and every writer worth their salt will need to take such into account. Every writer worth their salt, I’d say, will need to place them centrally in any story. And every writer worth more than their salt, it seems to me, will make them the core of their story. That is what makes the difference between boring crap about nothing and an exploration of the human and the human condition; even if it is about “nothing”.

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Goals and targets

“Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.”

That’s a quote from Frank Herbert, author of the Dune saga and a self-proclaimed stranger to writer’s block. His approach to writing was apparently just to sit down and do it, when it was “writing time” to simply sit there with pencil in hand and put one word behind another. He claimed that in later re-readings of his works in progress he was unable to see any difference between sections of writing that had come easily to him and those that had been difficult. The idea seems to be that when it comes to writing (or, presumably, any creative pursuit) we really ought to just get on with it.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on daily writing word count goals that took the position that forcing yourself to write X number of words everyday is a largely empty exercise. (Incidentally, that post contains a nice discussion in the comments section afterwards that is perhaps more worth revisiting than the post itself.) I did not then state it so straightforwardly as this but one conclusion there is also that spending time daily on a project is almost certainly a good idea. In that post my position seems to have been that we will anyway obsess over what we are engaged in and so any work towards progress in that regard should be considered as worthwhile even if it does not necessarily involve writing the set X words or even writing anything at all. At this point in my writing life I think that I’d make that more explicit and say that daily work at a project – again, in whatever from that work takes – should not just be something arrived at by the default setting of a natural obsession but should be purposely stated and set. Basically, I’m agreeing with Herbert’s “writing time” though I would maybe just call it “working time”.

This is what I mean. As a premise we can take it that writing is not fun. It may be enjoyable at times if we’re in the groove and pleased with what results, but enjoyable is not fun even if fun almost always includes enjoyable within it. As another premise we can take it that time spent at writing or a writing project takes away from time that could be spent elsewhere, and often it will significantly take away from that time elsewhere as writing is such a very demanding task. We all of course have our reasons for why we write and usually they will include something along the lines of “because I must”. It is part of who we are, for better or for worse. Taking our two premises then, we find ourselves faced with an endeavor that is not fun and that requires large amounts of time to complete (and then of course there is always the next stage within the current project, or the next writing project, waiting for you and grinning suspiciously at you from around a dark corner); what could possibly be the response to this situation but discipline?

The setting of daily targets to write X number of words or edit X number of pages can be very useful in helping to structure and attain this discipline but those types of goals can also very easily be overdone. In the comments to the previous post linked to above Paul j Rogers called such “self-imposed dogma” and it is an apt and worthy label and in that also a cautionary note. But it probably still is a good idea to set them (at least roughly) if for no other reason than as motivators. The important thing is that we remember that we needn’t feel bound by law to them. What happens to us when we take breaks from a project can be instructive in this regard; after a time away do you feel recharged and ready to go or do you find yourself with a waned level of interest and in need of some reason to return? If the latter especially discipline will be important and having goals and targets will help you on a functional level. In the case of the former too though discipline will prove paramount as the feeling inevitably will not last and yet there the project will remain. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: however you arrange your writing life it will need to be formatted in some way, and maintaining that format will be important. Just waiting for the muse to strike will get you nowhere.

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Does knowing about a writer help us appreciate their work?

The answer to the titular question may at first seem obvious. We may be tempted to simply say “Of course it does!” and quickly move on to the next thought, the next article, the next post, the next photo, the next next. I would ask us though to pause a moment and reflect because what our question here turns on is not a matter of understanding it is a matter of valuing. Knowing about an author helps us read, or sometimes read into, what they have written and think that we therefore know what it means or is anyway supposed to mean (an issue of interpretation) but that may or may not be the same as appreciating a work. That judgment, or reaction, will fall I think on where we place the balance of appreciation: do we think that assuming that we know what an author herself meant by her words is where our own appreciation of them should lie or do we instead think that whatever a work does to or for us, regardless of what it might “objectively” mean, is where we should place our appreciative conclusions?

Take the case of Sylvia Plath’s famous poem “Daddy” (1962). If we know certain things about her life then we can guess what certain lines in the poem might mean. The reference to the “gray toe/Big as a Frisco seal” in the second stanza are probably about her own father’s necessary foot amputation due to untreated diabetes (the resulting consequences of which would cause his death, when Plath was a mere eight years old (though in the poem she confusingly refers to being ten at his burial)). Or the references to the German language, to Germany, to the Luftwaffe, “panzer-man”, “Chuffing me off like a Jew” (the ninth and seventh stanzas, respectively) and the Holocaust extermination camp names might mean something more for us if we know that her father immigrated to the United States from Germany. Knowing that, however, raises certain problems as the senior Plath immigrated at the age of fifteen a full thirty-nine years before war broke out and thirty-three years before Hitler even became chancellor. What connection was there between Plath’s father and the Nazis?

None, naturally. We can very easily imagine that he detested the Nazis, but Plath nevertheless draws a clear line between how the Nazis treated the Jewish people and how she feels about certain treatment received from her father. Or rather, her poem can be read in that way. Interpretation again points a finger at itself here and we find that knowing about the author of the work might actually mislead us in that regard. At any rate a bit of simple knowledge does nothing to help us feel our way into her work and if we are thinking about appreciation of the poem then certainly that feeling-into is far more paramount than knowing certain tidbits about Plath’s childhood and family. There is a point for every work of art (and certain topics such as death) where analysis simply breaks down and feeling – feeling alone – must take over.

If anything, it seems, knowing all about the author’s life makes “Daddy” less powerful as if it is read with all of that background in mind the poem simply becomes a relating of Plath’s personal experience dissociated entirely from our own lives. In the fifteenth stanza Plath writes “The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year,/Seven years, if you want to know.” Ostensibly this is about her relationship with Ted Hughes, which lasted for seven years; yet if we know that we will almost inevitably focus on the fact of it, the mere datum, and lose the nuance of fullness, of perfection, that the number seven carries for us culturally. Or her “I was ten when they buried you” (twelfth stanza) when in fact her father died a week and a half after she turned eight could easily become a point of focus yet the number ten may have been chosen for linguistic or other reasons although it is not technically accurate. Perhaps Plath did simply mean to indicate her own life through the figures but even if she did doesn’t what they could mean for us as readers carry more weight in our appreciative efforts? This, I think, is the real crux of the issue. We can never know what it was to be Plath or how she felt about her own life and experiences from the inside; all we can know in that fullest of regards is our own lives. Every single person is of course in this very position. As such I think that the balance of appreciation that I referred to above ought to fall on the side of valuing a work more for what it does to us, how it affects us as us. For that the only real knowledge that is needed is knowledge of ourselves. Note though that this conclusion does not apply to interpretation, it is instead only about appreciation. Must the two go hand in hand? That, I’m afraid, is a topic for another day.

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Writing the unseen

You have a character, the character has certain ideas, feelings, desires, hopes, dreams. The character has goals and motivations and is involved in actions aimed at expressing those motivations or achieving those goals. The character inhabits a place and time and moves in a world that is filled with other characters, objects, items, spaces, locations. The character is navigating all of this well or poorly, successfully or unsuccessfully. Just like all the rest of us the character is alive. But how, why? These things we tend to consider; what I think that we often overlook though is: where?

This “where” is not a spatial setting. Of course the character lives in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, chess capital of North America, where she enjoys the status of being a Grand Master and spends her mornings in preparation for upcoming tournaments and her afternoons teaching the game to children. This much is obvious. No, our “where” is a “where” that is entirely inside her head, it is a major part of the perspective that she brings to the world, and it defines much of her thoughts, feelings, and actions. She does not live in “the” world so much as she operates in “a” world, her world, the world as it is to and only for her, if you like. This has nothing to do with neurosis, it is a fact of how we all are and how we all interact with where we find ourselves.

Keeping with the idea of perspective we can extend it beyond how she is with the others that she meets regularly and with whom she is involved. When she relates to others she naturally operates from her own internal point of view, but this extends to the world that she inhabits as well. What I mean is that she is less a part of the world than she is her own world. This is about the objective/subjective distinction. What I am trying to suggest is that for us, and perhaps for all sentient creatures, there really is no objective world. What there is instead is the world as we interact with it and as we wish to shape it. We can only ever see the world from our own limited viewpoint and thus will necessarily not experience all of it. If there is an externally static and fully definable in neutral terms world then it is not the world that we live in and it is not a world that we can really hope to fully know. If we accept these thoughts then we have to lessen what has become our default trust in physics to some degree and realize that as astonishingly detailed as the scientific description of the physical world is there is much that we do not and cannot know and moreover that all that we do know is the result of experiments done by people who invariably brought their own perspectives to bear on their work, their interpretations, and their conclusions. (Of course the scientific method is meant to mitigate this but is it infallible? Is it not itself a human product? Very good does not after all equal perfect).

What does any of this mean for writing? If we are in a situation where we really only have the subjective to go on then where does that leave us as we craft characters and characters’ environs? Potentially in a very interesting place. There isn’t a chessboard on the table in front of her, there is a chessboard as she sees and experiences it. There isn’t a red car parked outside the Chess Center, there is a red car viewed from a particular angle which is visible in a certain way only, some features of the car standing out clearly and others hidden from view (and so too thought?). The possibilities of playing with this kind of thinking in our writing seem endless and are fuel for all sorts of conflicts, strife, disagreements, even simply differing experiences amongst our characters. If all of us view the world where we find ourselves as “a” world and from a strictly inner and mental perspective then what we bring to each other is also so bound. Misunderstandings are inevitable. What she said about the bishop moving in that manner was born of a view and thought process that is very different from her student’s and how her student understood what she said and interpreted what she meant might appear to her – if ever it could – as entirely foreign. This seems revelatory not just for writing and not just for the writing life but for life itself; life as we experience it from inside.

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On dialogue

Dialogue is fun to write and fun to read and so it’s no surprise that many writers turn to it to advance their plots and even at times to provide the bulk of their book’s structure. Plato of course famously framed his books in Socratic dialogues and he is considered by many to still be philosophy’s best writer. Ever. That’s quite the legacy. Depending on how you date the material found in the Bible – that is, who’s dating you trust – either earlier or later dialogue from God itself also gives us a model for the form, and in the running as well we must add ancient Egyptian texts and many from China, with Lao Tzu surely close to the top though it’s probable that Sinologists could correct me on that. The practice is tried and true to say the least. Six years ago on our site Mark Porter gave us some general tips on writing dialogue and his post (here) is worth revisiting; I also more recently wrote a post on characters’ perspectives which may prove useful to those interested (see here). In this week’s post what I want to discuss is both a step back from those more nuts and bolts pieces and also some further thoughts on practicalities. I’ll cover those areas in reverse order.

First of all on practicalities, and in keeping with the points I discussed in my earlier post on point(s) of view, the narrator and the narrator’s position should always be kept in mind when working on a section of dialogue. If the narration is done in first person then whatever is being said to the narrator will need to be kept far less descriptive; the narrator of course has no access to the thoughts of the person who is speaking with them and has only the verbalized words themselves, facial expressions, tone, stance, attitude, and accompanying physical actions to go on. This is an important dearth of knowledge. If the narration switches between perspectives then each character has only their own internal framework from which to understand and interact with their world and the others in their world; this is another important dearth of knowledge. If the narrator is however outside of the story itself and has a fuller or possibly even fullest (omniscient) knowledge of the characters, their thoughts and their feelings, then quite a bit more will be possible (though there will then be the other issues involved that were considered in my post at the end of September).

Regardless of the details involved I think that first we must ask ourselves why dialogue is even taking place; that is, what is the purpose in having this dialogue occur between these characters at this point in your story? What are you as the writer trying to accomplish by it and why are you using a dialogue to do it? If the intention is simply to make the unfolding story more enjoyable that might be enough of a reason but it probably isn’t. If the intention is to draw the reader into the story then that too might be enough of a reason but if so then why this device and not another? What is more likely to be a good reason for including some dialogue is to advance the plot through the revelation of previously unknown or unrevealed knowledge. This is especially the case when the narrator is a character in the actual story and therefore knows certain things while being ignorant of certain other things. Just like in real life hearing about a topic from someone else is a great way to learn. Another good reason to include dialogue is to flesh out or reveal to the reader something previously unknown about the character her/himself; the reader is made to understand the narrator, main character, supporting character, etc. better through what is learned of them via the dialogue. This can of course include backstory details and it can either be of the internal or external dialogue type (although conceptually internal dialogue is admittedly hard to justify as being “dialogue” rather than “monologue”). A final noteworthy justification that we might consider is the use of dialogue to allow the reader to figure out what is going on, and possibly even figure that out before the main character herself does. We are all familiar with the clunky style of having a character spell everything out for us at the end of a story; isn’t it much more satisfying to get clues from the characters and action in a book and then to solve and/or predict what is going on ahead of time yourself? Dialogue can be an important part of that process, and it can be used both to allow the reader to understand and foresee elements for themselves and then later to confirm whether or not their reasoning was correct.

What seems most important to keep in mind when writing is that at all times your dialogue be both pertinent and purposeful. There are many different ways to tell a story and including dialogue just for the sake of dialogue – or for no sake at all – should not be one of them. Dialogue is a tool, and like all tools it has a time and it has a place; let’s find the right one for each.

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Angst

I recently read a review of Krys Lee’s new novel How I Became a North Korean that tells the stories, in alternating chapters, of two North Koreans forsaking their birth nation and a Korean-American missionary, all three stuck in China and waiting for their chance to enter South Korea. Lee currently lives in Seoul and has volunteered helping North Koreans get settled in the South, something that has evidently taught her what it is to not belong.

It seems that lesson was one she had already learned, however. The review remarks that Lee was born in South Korea, grew up in the US, and then was educated in England (I assume this means she went to university there). Identity and belonging are said to be issues close to her heart, and that is something that many of us, I’m sure, can relate to. The world is on the move in the twenty-first century in a way that it never has been before and the question of “home” is one that countless hundreds of thousands faced even before the current refugee crisis that has occupied so much of our thought and lives began. How does someone fleeing daily horror, or even someone like Lee, find “home”? What does it mean to belong to a place or to a group of people and what does it feel like to be out of that? These are not new questions but they are core questions and they resonate now in a way that they never have. Martin Heidegger wrote about the blindness we exhibit to the typical, how the very everydayness of our lives prevents us from seeing ourselves, as selves, in a way that is separate from the time, place, and community that we inhabit. We are stuck in the overarching threads of the contexts that we happened to have been born into and it is only through angst that we are able to tear ourselves out of them and find out just who we, as an “I” and not one of the “they”, really are. Discovering that you don’t belong is a way to realize yourself; perhaps the best way, perhaps the only way.

It is not pleasant though. As regular readers of our site here will know, my family and I – for family reasons – recently moved out of Tokyo and into a place that is about as opposite of Tokyo as it’s possible to get and still be in the same country. As observant readers will know this has not sat well with me. After years abroad I am used to not belonging but in Tokyo I was able to feel like a normal person and that was quite wonderful; I’m afraid I got used to it. Here I find myself back to being met with the curiosity, trepidation, bewilderment, consternation, that is the foreigner’s lot in too many places around the world. The planet is after all not really globalized, just its big name brands are. This is a burden that I and many others carry, and it is a burden of not ever being “home”, of always being out of place, always being the stranger in the room, always being out of sync and out of rhythm, holding only memories of what it was to belong, memories which no longer even apply. The moon and the sun and how they were there, then. Now?

Discontent is a great teacher. Pain and dissatisfaction reveal much. Angst shows us ourselves when we are forced out of the comfort of the automatic. When we finally have to take a look at ourselves what will we find? I haven’t yet read Lee’s book but I gather that it touches on these very issues and, given her personal background, it deals with them in a way that only she could have written. Her characters speak out of her heart and what she has found to lie there within, as it is and must be for all of us when we write. Only she could have written her book and only you could have written yours. That is a very heartening thought, and it lies on the far side of angst.

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