Trying out living

Posted October 9, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Uncategorized

Melvin Konner considers play to be a biological puzzle.  Play requires energy, and even risk, without serving any particular purpose – and yet intelligent, larger-brained animals tend to be very playful. 

By my own observations of children, playing resembles a sort of rehearsal for life – kids mimic real life.  They practice for parenthood by playing house; or they make sense of good and evil by playing cops & robbers; or they construct buildings or cars as a designer or engineer might.

Art may be a similar biological puzzle.  Without fulfilling any of the basic human necessities for survival – food, clothing, shelter – it has been known to consume entire lives.  I know I would gladly trade a meal for a ticket to a Broadway show.

To the extent that the arts are an adult form of play, John Cage created a parallel when he said, “Art is sort of experimental station in which one tries out living.” 

Well, maybe art/play really is a necessity for human survival.  Konner also wrote that “Research suggests that people in positive and playful moods are more open to experience and learn in better and more varied ways.”



Posted September 16, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have a strong sense of imposition.  That is, I don’t like imposing myself and being a burden to others.  The problem is that this is the quality of my life right now:  having no source of income, I am currently the definition of a burden, and have been for almost three months now.

I am very lucky. I have a sister who was kind enough to invite me (and my son) into her home without asking for anything in return.  She does not begrudge us anything we need in the household – be it food or supplies or games.  She loves my son and me unconditionally, and has gone to bat for our well-being, finding us health insurance, bargain prescription medications and keeping us on healthy diets. She makes her car available for my use even. 

I conduct job searches at my leisure, but haven’t scheduled any interviews yet.  Still, she hasn’t proposed any deadlines for payment of rent or for my eventual departure.  From my perspective, it’s a positive conundrum.  The only pressure I am under is the pressure I impose upon myself.

I have the pleasure of picking up my son after school every day at 2:10 – a convenience I have never had in my life as a working single mother.  I sneak in a 45-minute nap most days.  I play volleyball once a week.  But the very idea of enjoying myself while in this state of chronic imposition seems almost criminal.  And yet there’s nothing stopping me from doing so.

I need a job more for my own self respect than for the money at this point.  Over time – I wonder how long that will be – my sister’s altruism may uncover the true opportunistic, malevolent layer of my spirit.

Was I raised to believe I was a burden?  Was I taught that generosity was nothing more than a social obligation and a pretense for getting something in return?  Can I learn to believe that people act out of sheer selflessness and love?  Will I ever learn to just enjoy generosity?  And if I do, will that make me a bad person?


Posted September 13, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Uncategorized

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, has caused me reëvaluate my entire perception of humanity.  Its conversational tone belies a profundity that is orgasmic. 

What’s more, I see Gladwell’s theories reiterate themselves at every turn.  In the August 30, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian wrote about the “laughing guru” who argues that laughter – even forced, contrived laughter – can be a panacea for all manner of ailments.  Madan Kataria, Khatchadourian writes, “likes to cite William James, who, in 1884, made the case that emotions were not manifested in the body but, rather, created by it.”

It reminded me of a paragraph in Gladwell’s book: 

All of us have had our spirits picked up by being around somebody in a good mood.  If you think about his closely, though, it’s quite a radical notion.  We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state.  I feel happy, so I smile.  I feel sad, so I frown.  Emotion goes inside-out.  Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true.  If I can make you smile, I can make you happy.  Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in. 

This is consistent with a broader theory.

The Broken Windows Theory was the brainchild of the criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling.  Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder.  If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. 

It is possible to be a better person by changing your environment.  That was the theory that motivated me to leave Hawaii.


Posted September 10, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Uncategorized

Is it possible to be both too common and too unusual at the same time?  And, is that necessarily a problem?

In Hawaii, to the extent that I am ethnically mixed, I am commonplace.  My one close friend Sharon is like me – half German, half Japanese.  My other friend Stacey was born of two mixed parents:  she’s half white, a quarter Japanese and a quarter Korean.  My ex-husband is Japanese-Chinese.  My big crush in college was Okinawan-Thai.  My mentor from college, who is blond, married an ebony-skinned African guy.  My Okinawan uncle married a Tahitian-Hawaiian girl, and they had four kids.  My Okinawan grandmother got flack in the 50’s for marrying a Japanese man. 

Mixed marriages strike me as a bit rarer and maybe more scandalous on the Mainland; but times are changing, and, in this day and age, at least in the countries I’ve visited, people are less likely to the feel the need to apologize for their personal life decisions.  And that is as it should be.  If you bring different groups together, intermarriage is inevitable.   And in any case, from my perspective, to be mixed is to be gifted:  I have the privilege of enjoying a personal connection – a deep, genetic connection – with multiple worlds. 

So, if I am typical of the culture I grew up in, why did I never fully integrate into it?

To the extent that Hawaii people have been intermarrying for so long, many can claim a half-a-dozen different ethnic heritages or more.  Being half-half, now, is unremarkable.  Yet my being ethnically trite does not comport with the rest of my heritage.  Despite appearances, there is nothing typical about me. 

Out of 18 cousins and their myriad children (totaling some 40 or 50 or more), I am one of only five that graduated from college.  (Two of the five are, coincidentally, my mom and her brother.)  I never went to Japanese school like my classmates; I studied French.  I didn’t have a soccer mom – I hauled myself to dance lessons (jazz, tap, modern, ballet) several times a week.  My mother wasn’t a housewife; she was a single mom and an opera singer.  And she isn’t sansei like every other Japanese person in Hawaii her age.  At yonsei (fourth generation), she’s an extra generation further removed from the homeland. 

My Japanese grandmother wasn’t Buddhist; she was catholic.  Well actually, she wasn’t even really Japanese – she was Uchinanchu (Okinawan).  She wasn’t a housewife either – she was a concert promoter and record producer.  My father didn’t have union job down at the docks by Pearl Harbor.  Both my parents have college degrees in music.  Both of my dad’s parents are college graduates as well. 

These atypical qualities of the generations that came before me have only served to set me apart from my peers.  As much as I willed myself to be swallowed up in the sophomoric sea of conformity, that was never – and never would be – in conformity to my destiny.


Posted August 24, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Familial Dysfunction

It wasn’t Robert Redford’s good looks that caused me to become smitten by the 1986 Ivan Reitman movie Legal Eagles; it was his clumsy dorkiness.  Even though he burned toast and bumped into things, was a closet tap dancer, and didn’t have his life together, he still managed to sleep with two women during the course of the movie:  women found him attractive.  Even Debra Winger’s disorganized, flustered, desperate character got to sleep with Robert Redford’s character.

In 1986 I was a junior in high school, and that movie gave me tremendous hope that I, gangly legs always tripping over the slightest ripples in the pavement, might be one day able to attract a guy.  I suddenly felt it was okay to be my clumsy self; and my mother’s unique chiding (“Spatial relationships!”) took a pause in resonating so loudly and so frequently in my mind.  That Robert Redford and Debra Winger could be dysfunctional and also be attractive offered me a kind of permission to be myself, in whatever unappealing (so I believed) form that might have been.  It was a silly movie, but it changed my life, I think.

I thought about this while was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.  He wrote:

When I’m waiting at a traffic light and the light is red, sometimes I wonder whether I should cross and jaywalk.  Then someone else does it and so I do too.  It’s a kind of imitation.  I’m getting permission to act from someone else who is engaging in a deviant act. . .  I don’t know whether any of us knows how much of our decision is conscious and how much is unconscious. 


Posted July 16, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Uncategorized

I have an overwhelming desire to go home – to be in an environment of my own design where I can make my own sense of the world. But then I realized that I have no home. I am 41 years old and have yet to find a good fit for my awkward spirit.

Rohinton Mistry wrote on October 11, 2010:

the loan masquerading as the colonizer’s gift would be repaid in emigrant sons and daughters, raised to believe that this ancient country [India] was futureless, the only solution to settle in the West, to make a better life. . .  exchanging my life, my country, for one that I had never seen and knew nothing about . . . Couldn’t go home, couldn’t leave home.  How to make sense of these two?  In time, the answer began to crystallize.  In the space between the two, where the paradox resides, the idea of home could be built, anew, with memory and imagination, scaffolded by language. 

Inadvertent Espionage

Posted July 9, 2010 by dorothyfieldsfan
Categories: Familial Dysfunction

Last Easter Sunday, my mom embarrassed me in her signature style.  My cousin had invited us to her house for dinner, and during the course of the conversation, she showed us pictures of a luau during her mother-in-law’s visit.  “Bob must not be very close to his mother,” my mother remarked.  “Why do you say that?” my auntie asked. 

My mom proceeded into a very long Philip Marlowe-esque analysis of the picture, as if she herself were some sort of private dick – as if she were honing her observational skills to make a point. 

It turns out Bob’s posture and angle are quite revealing:  he is standing next to his mother, but not touching her; and not only is he not leaning in towards her – he is angled away from her.  He is, in fact, standing in closer proximity to the rippling, half-naked male Tahitian dancer posing in the picture with the family.  (Of course, even my mother is sensible enough to not extrapolate on that theme to this deeply religious family.)  She made some further observations about the lilt of his head, and the direction of his eyes, and I left the room.  However credible her analysis, she presents it with authoritative flair, and has absolute conviction that she had captured the full truth.  She has the offensive quality of believing that she is never wrong.

This state of constant espionage is what I grew up with.  It is unpleasant, to say the least, believing that the slightest angle of my posture or the over-extension of my knees or the position of my tongue or my poor sense of spatial relationships could betray some dark pathology that, when I was little, I always presumed to be an accurate portrait of me.  I hid from view whenever I could.  If no privacy was to be had, I used the closet.  To be seen was to be judged.

“It seemed to me that I could see a great many things that other people missed,” Somerset Maugham once said.  In October 2009 I wrote (here in WordPress) about Maugham after reading “The Razor’s Edge”.  Maugham observes while withholding judgment; but he sees everything.   I wrote:

What I like most about the narrator, though, is that he observes and sees the complexity in people, almost in an omniscient way.  He x-rays peoples’ hearts and appreciates the mechanics of how so many wonderful and not-so-wonderful qualities come together and never fail to create a dynamic, textured work of art in the form of human being.

In the May 31, 2010 issue of The New Yorker, Ruth Franklin critiqued Selina Hastings’ “The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham” and reiterated many of my own impressions.  Summarizing a portion of “The Razor’s Edge,” Franklin wrote: 

Larry has embarked upon a spiritual quest.  “I want to make up my mind whether God is or God is not,” he tells Isabel.  “I want to find out why evil exists” . . . He asks Isabel to join him, but she refuses to live frugally on his small inheritance . . . She tells the narrator that she broke off her engagement because she didn’t want to stand in Larry’s way.  He scoffs. “You gave him up for a square-cut diamond and a sable coat.”

Yet, if you read the book, the narrator sees these flaws of Isabel’s – her haughtiness, her self-delusion, her opportunism – in full synchrony with her inner beauty and strength, and holds Isabel – in her entirety – in great esteem.