Throughout this year, I have included many friends from different parts of my life in this Giveaway project – friends in Scotland, Canada, England, the United States – but I sadly left out many dear friends in Japan. This isn’t because I don’t feel grateful to them for all they have done for me in my life. On the contrary, I carry a debt to Japan and my Japanese friends that I will never be able to repay. Rather, it’s because I communicate with most of them in Japanese and it would be too hard for me to write about them in Japanese – and impossible for my regular readers to read what I write. But today, before the year ended, I wanted to send a gift to one family in Japan who have been very special in my life and who, in many ways represent the immense kindness that I have felt from my Japanese friends since I first visited the country when I was 21.
Michael (see also February 4) loves telling stories – from the one about his compassionate 3rd teacher who encouraged his dyslexic younger self to keep trying even though he was getting poor grades, to the one about finding a Mark Twain manuscript in a yard sale. He has written some of his stories down over the years but his most remarkable storytelling has been done with a camera, spending decades as a photographer for Time magazine and other major publications. A successful documentary photograph captures the essence of a story in a single frame, and many of Michael’s stories have done just this, from the iconic 1979 Time cover photo of Robin Williams to heart-rending images of LA’s homeless community on Skid Row.
There’s a chill in the air so I doubt I’ll be going on anymore evening walks this year. So this evening, I left what I think will be my last Guerilla Giveaway under our local Chandelier Tree. Over the last few years, this sycamore hung with 30 or so chandeliers has become increasingly popular with people from all over the city, and recently it’s been hard to turn the corner into our street in the evenings because of all the people standing (and sometimes even lying!) in the middle of the road taking pictures of it. To raise money to help pay the burgeoning electricity bill for the tree’s lights, our neighbor Adam (the creator of the Chandelier Tree – see January 30) has refurbished and beautifully decorated a 1960s parking meter and installed it under the tree, and I often see families out there enjoying the magical tree or taking pictures in front of the glowing parking meter. Lately though, I have been noticing more and more couples dressed to the nines standing together enjoying the tree. One night I think I may have witnessed a marriage proposal. Why else would a man have been down on his knee?
I have been wondering a lot lately about creativity. I am spending several hours a day writing essays about incredible origami artists, using my own creativity as a writer to attempt to capture the essence of their work in just over 1,000 words. Of course, images will accompany the text so that their creativity will be clear for all to see however successful my words are. During this ongoing writing process, I notice that on some days the words and ideas flow smoothly as if a tap has been turned on in my mind, while on other days (quite a few, unfortunately), there seems to be something lodged inside the tap jamming the passageway so that nothing of any value can escape. Then quite often lately, I might be feeling satisfied with my writing for the book and have been ready for a rest, but then I realize I still have to write my blog. On those days, as I sit back down in front of my computer, neck and shoulders aching and head feeling very blank, I ask myself where I’m supposed to find more creativity today. Where does it come from in the first place? Do we have a finite supply of it? Does it appear in cycles? And how are we supposed to find it again if we lose it?
Lately, our 10-year old son Theo has been coming home from school with a spring in his step. For the last couple of weeks, he and the other 5th-graders in his school have been learning ballroom dancing with Dancing Classrooms, a program that was originally started in New York with the aim of fostering life skills and confidence in children through dancing (https://www.dancingclassroomsla.org). At first Theo wasn’t very enthusiastic about learning dancing and gave us hilarious (even to him!) reports of all the boys’ faces when the instructors told them they’d have to dance with their hands touching girls! Fortunately, most of them have overcome their initial disgust and seem to be having fun now. Theo has even started teaching me some of the dances. The other day, he explained the Rumba to me and we danced around the dining room for a bit – our version, the Dining Rumba?
Today is Day 265 of My Daily Giveaway. Only 100 days left. And I am feeling it! After meeting with our son Theo’s teachers in the morning, and then giving a lecture to the docents of my former museum, finishing up an essay for my book, helping Theo with his homework and making dinner, I wasn’t feeling up to the Giveaway. There have been very few days when I’ve actually entertained the thought of not giving something away, but today was one of them. But I’ve made a commitment, and I have to follow through. So while my husband David took Theo to his soccer practice, I set out for my daily walk and opened up the back of my car to see if there was something that might feel right for a guerilla gift this evening. I still have a handful of CDs so I pulled one of them out – a CD of Rimsky-Korsakov’s music including his most famous work, Scheherazade. I pondered the CD for a few seconds and then laughed to myself as I thought about the story that had inspired the Russian composer’s symphonic poem.
I did give a gift today to my best friend, Lynn (see January 4), as a slightly belated birthday present, when we met for lunch today after my doctor’s appointment. The gift was some hammered silver earrings bought from a local artist at a sale in our neighborhood a few days ago. She loved them, which was great, but since the earrings were gifts that I bought and didn’t already own, I can’t count them in my Giveaway.
Mercifully, today was a far better day than yesterday – but that’s not surprising really. True, I still haven’t heard the results of my mammogram redo, but I was able to concentrate on my writing for much of the day and keep away most of the anxiety demons trying to occupy prime real estate in my psyche. Mercifully, because school’s out again for a long Labor Day weekend, our son Theo came home from school with no homework today. So the whole day today has been relatively mellow.
Although I fell in love with the visual arts of Japan and have devoted my career to learning, teaching and writing about various aspects of them, I have not felt as passionately about Japanese music. Although I find the woody tones of the shakuhachi bamboo flute hauntingly beautiful and I love the frenetic energy of the rapidly strummed Tsugaru shamisen, I haven’t been as drawn to what my mother used to refer to as the “plinky plonky music” of East Asia. I don’t have a well-trained musical ear (nor did my mum probably), so I honestly don’t think I have the musical sophistication to appreciate the tone and rhythm of a lot of Japanese music. So when it comes to listening to music to relax at home, I am more likely to play baroque guitar, Spanish classical guitar, classic jazz, or even Indian flute and sitar music. As I was clearing out my CD collection recently, I discovered a few CDs of Japanese koto and shamisen music. They are beautiful CDs, but I have never chosen to put them on at home while I work or relax, so I decided to donate them to the Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden, where I have been helping with their programs for the last few months.
A hot day in LA,
Temps around 100.
Not too brave in this heat wave
Stayed indoors with my kindred.