October 26, 2010


I last saw Annie when I was in high school. I do not remember when, exactly, but she would have been 7 or 8. Annie is my cousin Marti’s daughter, and, coincidentally, we share the same birthday (and Marti’s is the day after, if I remember correctly; these family coincidences made a vaguely strong impression on me when I was young, and although I rarely saw Marti and her kids, I was aware of them for this reason).

Little Annie had spunk. She was small, energetic, a little shy but very affectionate. I did not have much patience for kids when I was in high school, but after a couple of days of hanging out with Annie I had come to the conclusion that she was alright.

I do not remember how long she stayed, though it can’t have been more than a week. I do not remember much about her visit, why she and her mother were there, or what we did together in that time. But I do remember her energy, her unruly red hair, and my conclusion that this kid was alright.

It was the rare visit from Marti which reminded me of Annie’s existence, but I had otherwise not heard or seen anything of her since then.

About a week after I landed in Japan, I received this email:
Hey Ian! It's Annie :) I just wanted to say that I was told you were in Japan and you know.. I totally love Japan hehehe.

How have you been?

We're good here lol. I'll have to send some pics to you 'cause we all look really different.

How's Japan so far?

Well I'll talk to you later!!

The voice is naïve and affectionate, the same as the girl I can barely remember from so many years before. I was amused by the email, and responded with a question I knew the answer to: And what is it about Japan which interests you? Comics, she says. Manga and anime.

Of course. She would be the type. I do not know much about manga, but at about the time I decided to try for Japan, I picked up a minor interest in anime (having hated what little I had been exposed to before then). I have learned a lot about anime and anime/manga culture in these past few months and am beginning to understand its place in a broader Japanese social context. And, having watched my share of anime, I understand the creative influence it exercises on a young soul.

She, I thought, would surely enjoy Japan, more so than me. In those first few weeks, I was overwhelmed by so much that was new; had I been a Japan nerd, or had I been with a friend, I imagine all the stimulation would have been exciting rather than exhausting, and I would have been happy rather than bewildered. I wondered what Annie would feel in my place. I asked her: What should I do while in Tokyo? Shopping! she said. Oh! and see the Hachiko statue.

For those who do not know the Hachiko story:
In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo took in Hachikō as a pet. During his owner's life Hachikō greeted him at the end of the day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where his friend was waiting. Every day for the next nine years Hachikō waited at Shibuya station.
This sentimental story is popular in Japan, especially among children. A statue of Hachiko sits just outside of Shibuya Station, forever waiting for its master.

I visited Hachiko. I did not think back to Hachiko’s story, however, but to Annie. How characteristic of this naïve, affectionate girl! She is a Hachiko herself, and she will undoubtedly stand where I am standing at some point in her life.

On October 18, 2010, Annie was shot and killed by her (ex) boyfriend Gabriel Dye, who then turned the gun on himself. She was shot in the back of her head--she had been trying to run away. She was 16. You can read an article about it here.

My mother sent me an email telling me what had happened. She added an extra “I love you,” imagining, I’m sure, her oldest son meeting the same fate on the other side of the world. After hearing about Annie’s death, stunned and emotional, I sent Annie a final email. No one shall ever read what I wrote.

Today is her funeral. You can read her obituary here.

Goodbye, Annie. I was glad to have your company here in Japan.

October 14, 2010

why I write so poorly

Having set myself about the project of publishing to my blog everything I write, I find that contrary to what I had intended I am less eager to write than ever. Most of my thoughts just aren't meant for any head but mine, and it would be an alarming mistake to give those thoughts to the world. I am a man of caution. This bold and reckless project is against my temperament (though whether good or bad for it I have yet to tell).

You are free to dismiss this excuse and replace it with your own, more plausible explanations for my sluggish pace.

But as it stands, I am unable to pick a suitable topic to write on. To resolve this issue, I have decided to make why I am unable to pick a topic the topic of this post. What follows is a rough portrait of your author. Read on and judge fairly.

*For writers struggling to find a topic, one typically advises them to “write what they know.” I believe it is more accurate to say: “Begin from what you know, and proceed to what you don’t.” This has been true for me, at least, especially when writing about film. Writing is a process of discovery and affirmation. I find that my thoughts on a topic are only sorted out having written, and even then there is a lot I do not understand. From this observation, I conclude: I write to understand.

I wrote about film to better understand film. I wrote about philosophy, literature, and politics to better understand those, as well. I write at the present moment to understand why I am unable to write. &c. Therefore--

I write about nothing because I understand everything.

And that is all there is to say on that point.

*I write as a reader. And I read as a writer. In other words, I do neither for the pleasure of the thing.

Before I continue with this point, I should make it clear what sort of reader I am, as many readers do not consider me a reader at all. What I do read: philosophy, drama, poetry, history, criticism, scholarship, travel &c. In fact, it is more precise to say: of the world of literature, I seem to have the patience for every sort of literature written but fiction. (I should add that this category includes: comics, religious works, most journalism, and other dregs of the literary world.) The majority of readers happen to read fiction, and furthermore they do it for the pleasure of the thing. The divide between me and readers, it seems, is unbridgeable. It perplexes me that so many people would waste their time reading fiction and, even more perplexing, writing it. And it justly perplexes these readers that I could call myself a reader and hardly touch a bit of fiction.

But, so that I might make my next point, please consider me a reader.

As a reader, I write under the influence of what I have most recently read. Montaigne one day, Musset the next--emulation is necessary for creation. But emulation (and imitation) will only bring you so far. I am at present reading Laurence Sterne and Cicero; I challenge you to trace even a single phrase back to the ancient statesman (those seeking a chain between me and Sterne will have an easier time of it, but do not let this fact diminish my final point). And now, finally, my point: I have reached a stage in my writing in which I have shed most of my influences but have yet to discover a voice which is fully my own.

*My third point is the most bleak, and likely the most honest point on why I am unable to find topics to write about. I shall approach it directly--

At this moment in my life, I have no direction or ambition. I have a vague notion that I want to live, but I as yet do not know how to go about doing so. Writing, like living, requires ambition, an end towards which you can pitch your soul; and even though you are likely to end up a good distance from where you had aimed, you have at least thrown yourself somewhere.

I write poorly because I live poorly. I do not know what I am doing in this world, how I got here, or where I will be going. My writing is as confused and indefinite as my existence. But I struggle on all the same.

I would like to continue with this portrait, but I have delayed this post long enough. I shall remember to write my writing history someday, when I think my history is worth writing.

But, for now, I need to find a new topic to write on.