Nikujaga, or Aphrodite

I write when I’m pain mostly because writing is what cools the pain. It does not cure nor resolve it, but it does cool it; it brings its temperature down into the world of the bearable. But the unintentional result of writing-as-healing, repeated over the course of years, is that the posts on this blog are, in their majority, sad to the point of histrionics. This August, “Conscience Round” will be ten years old. I began writing here when I was fourteen, an age that can be forgiven for sentimentality, but I will readily confess that, even as I’ve aged, I’ve never lost that taste for unpalatable, indigestible melodrama. I will confess too something most of us know already: writing about the bad is usually more fun, and somehow easier, than writing about the good.

But the map is not the territory. I don’t want to reach my twenty-fourth birthday in possession of an online diary that is textual misery. I promise, there’s plenty about life that I enjoy. Really. For instance, not too long ago I fell in love with Olympic figure skating, and especially, specifically, in the nature of physical strength and physical beauty. How a single movement can be a hybrid of that which is strenuous, and that which is sensuous. It was not so long ago that I practiced martial arts and felt that same energy enter my body as I crouched into fighting stance, and I remember, with the same tenderness that one recalls a first love, how immediately explosive, charismatic, and powerful just that motion could make me feel. I have decided to reform my now sedentary living habits, and maybe build up to a standard of athleticism that would permit me to comfortably practice karate again. I have bought a bicycle, which is still lacking a name (I’m debating between “Aphrodite” and “Nikujaga,” a Japanese meal of beef and potatoes) but which has expanded my radius of exploration several kilometers in every direction. The countryside to the north is dominated by inclines and traditionally-constructed houses veiled in bamboo and cypress. My calves ache as I crest the hills, and I’m suddenly aware of how blood moves underneath my skin, its speed and sound.

I’ve been trying to rediscover my love for fiction, both the consumption and production of it. It’s been years now since I wrote a story, but last night I dreamed of a thick, dusty manuscript which could be mine. What a tragedy it would be, if I gave up that dream entirely. I’m doing my best to reconnect with the muscle in me that commands the urge to write; if that sounds as esoteric as holy communion, know that the ghost of God and the writer’s muse are never far apart. I’ve started reading fantasy novels again, which return to me the three relics of childhood: imagination, curiosity, and the instinct for adventure. I had almost forgotten the pleasures of a magical playground, which lies outside human realms but is still familiar enough that I can reenact the theater of human emotions there. There’s something so fulfilling in rejoining its vision now. While I suspect I’ll never return to writing pure fantasy, I think I’ll always gravitate towards stories that contain its elements, and resurrect its flavor and mood. Threads of gossamer, dragon scales, spells of healing. A heroine’s journey. The soft gray mist around a castle moat, the last of three trials. A sorceress in a grove of willows, turning to face an approaching visitor.

I’ve taken to listening to music from the cheesy, indulgent 2000’s, and it transports me, for at least a brief moment, through the fine mesh strainer of youthful, gem-flecked optimism. Nostalgia is almost the sister of romance in how thoroughly and universally she bewitches. I’ve also been exploring music as an art form that warrants response; I’ve never been a sophisticated or scholarly listener of music, but I love reading critical reviews of performances and albums. The literature of music is peppered with fascinatingly textured onomatopoeia and technical language that manages to convey, with startling specificity, the ethos and engine of a song. When a writer can ground the experience of sound in a relatable world, but still leave a degree of the mysterious, the mystical, what was once abstract takes on a second life in the text.

I know this has been a meandering laundry list of what I love, but I’ll finish soon, and I’ll leave you with something important. The last month of winter is rupturing over the Japanese landscape. I’m a voyeur to its departure, which despite representing an end to the season, feels like triumphant performance by nature. Snowflakes collect in my hair during sudden daytime storms. I walk through the neighborhood wearing a checkered scarf bought for me by my father. The cold wind feels like something supernatural. Slowly poking through the trees, spring arrives in bashful, pink-plum blooms, like a bruise spreading through the forests. The world is changing like a mind in transition. Gradually, but powerfully. Eventually, I will wake up one morning to find the view from my window totally transformed.


  • happy blog birthday, and life birthday!

    ‘the three relics of childhood: imagination, curiosity, and the instinct for adventure’ – this is perfectly succinct; just by reading it the sense memory of those things rises up in me

    the blooms like a bruise spreading line really got me, too. you’re a magnificent writer – and I could see you writing, if not a fantasy, something with magical realism – in the veins of ‘the particular sadness of lemon cake’ or even a more lyrical ‘spellbook of listen taylor’ type of thing. write your book, or at least don’t lose sight of doing it.


    Em edit: Thank you for the kind words and encouragement, Erin 🙂 And thank you, as well, for bringing those titles to my attention. I’d never heard of either before, but from my cursory Internet search, both seem fascinating. I look forward to reading.

  • What a pleasure to see a post from you after so long. Missed your words.

    Em edit: So lovely to see you here, Holly! Hope all is well.

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