Memories typically take the form of images. Even vague re-experiences triggered by senses other than vision tend to crystallize pictorially. An author can meditate on such images, describe salient features, make connections to the abstract realm of ideas, and create impressions that in turn summon new images to the mind of a reader. In the case of a memoir, personal recollections of factual accounts are woven into a “true story.” Traditionally, the author employs the past tense and reflects on events that occurred long ago.
My memoir Japanese Summer breaks this tradition. Written in the present tense about experiences occurring just hours beforehand, the work emerged organically from a preexisting and open-ended journal. A three-month stay in Japan naturally altered the focus of that journal, but at the time I thought nothing of it. Only later, when I reread the entries of that period, did I realize their fortuitous cohesion. Travels widened, relationships evolved, and narratives unfolded. Ideas already in motion intensified with increased cultural exposure.
Writing a book takes much effort, but sometimes an author gets lucky. On occasion words flow from beginning to end without much rearrangement. And at rare moments, memoirs can be written in real time. Perhaps an intuitive sense of the Japanese concept mono no aware came to fruition that summer (a delicate sadness that accompanies an understanding of impermanence). I didn’t go to Japan as a tourist with set expectations or as an academic with a thesis to prove; I went there with a modicum of knowledge in the spirit of being open to whatever form the adventure might take. I found a lot to praise and a lot to think about.
Of course, viewing one culture from another cultural perspective can be a sensitive topic. But I don’t feel entirely at home within any culture; I don’t have a sense of allegiance to contend with. Ultimately I engage from a point of view that regards all cultures as different ways to skin a cat. Questions of morality interest me less than contemplating beauty and paradox. Japan has much to offer in this respect but is by no means the sole inspiration behind Japanese Summer. Regardless of place, people exist in the conundrum of time. Tales of intimacy and alienation bridge cultures on a variety of levels. Memories serve as bookmarks but also transcend the pages.
To read a description of Japanese Summer, visit Outliars.com