Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Zip Zip Zinging In The New Year

It's New Year's, and to me that means watching "The Twilight Zone" marathon or re-watching Henry Jaglom's movie, "New Year's Day." It also means watching the Ball drop on TV from Times Square in New York City at midnight, wishing it were still an apple like it was during the 1980's. I can remember New Year's Eve in the '80's more than I can in any other decade. I'd watch Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and when 1984 passed into 1985, I realized that from this point on, every year would now be a year my dad would never see. But that's a downer! Truth is, I see each New Year as a year full of promise. 2019 will be the year I'll finish the first draft of my latest novel. I've been having a hard time getting it off the ground because it's too close to me. It's my mind focused on serious things, such as living as a woman in the Trump era. My characters have a lot to say, but all I want to do is escape with a glass of Chardonnay and a plate of fried shrimp.

Hopefully, I'll push my fears away and get into a groove with what will be my fifth novel. The problem with buckling down with a novel is that it leaves little time to work on shorter stories and to give them the attention they deserve. I'd love to keep submitting and seeing my stories posted on the Web because that's such a thrill, but sometimes, writing a good short story can take as many months of rewriting and editing as a short novel can. I see 2019 mostly as the year I'll write another novel, but I'm also excited that later this year, one of my short stories will appear in an Anthology, so I'll have to let that sustain me until I can devote the kind of time that quality short stories deserve.

So here's to 2019! Here's to remembering friends who didn't make it out of 2018 but who remain in our memories along with all the music we'd listened to with them, the glasses of wine we drank together and all those lengthy discussions of life.  Let's read, talk, and give a toast to 2019! My books aren't going to write themselves, and as much as I want to escape, I also need to express the things that weigh heavily on my mind. I want to give something back like my favorite writer, Anais Nin, did when she reluctantly went deep inside herself to bring out what we often suppress. Reading helps all of us bring our own hidden thoughts to the surface so we can feel like we're never truly alone.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

It Was An Era

Last week was the 17th anniversary of 9/11. Every anniversary of 9/11 makes us all relive what we were doing on the day the Twin Towers came down. I was on the Staten Island express bus on my way to work at a law firm one block away from the World Trade Center, and I found out from one of the few people on the bus who had a cell phone who got a phone call saying that "a small plane flew into one of the Twin Towers." As people learned about the events occurring from more calls on their cell phones, I was reading a computer print-out of a J.D. Salinger story that my friend Chris Dillon let me borrow from a rare collection he printed off the internet.  I listened with one ear and read about J. D. Salinger's character stuck in a partially underground trench as a soldier in the other ear. It wasn't pleasant reading, and that image of war from J.D. Salinger's story is the last thing I remember thinking about before the actual painful truth of the terrorist events of 9/11 unfolded and clouded all of my thoughts for days, weeks and months. I lost six pounds just from being upset. Last Tuesday morning (9/11 happened to be on a Tuesday also), I didn't know that while I watched the footage reliving the days of 9/11, Chris had died the day before on September 10th from tainted heroin.

New York City had a very different vibe before 9/11. We used to feel free in New York City, but on September 11, 2001, the City forever lost its innocence. During the first half of 2001, Chris and I were musicians on the East Village, NYC music scene and even played in a band together for a short while. The clubs were always packed, and it was an exciting time to be in NYC. But after 9/11, the clubs were suddenly empty, losing money, and nobody wanted to go out anymore. It was depressing to accept the sad truth that our City could be attacked that way, and nothing could ever feel the same again.

On September 10, 2001, I ate my lunch sitting under the Twin Towers. I didn't know that would be the last time I ever sat under those silver towers. About two years ago (maybe it was less, I don't know), I saw Chris, and we talked all about the old days. He had gray hair now and told me that his dog who he loved so much was named Katniss after the "Hunger Games" so he nicknamed her "The Hero Pup." He handed me some Hero Pup stickers, which was his new band that was really just him, singing and writing songs, that had a caricature of his precious dog on it. I put it on my Kindle that I carry everywhere. I didn't know that would be the last time I ever saw him.

 As soon as I learned of Chris' passing, thoughts of the days I knew him flooded me. I remembered the poetry written in magic marker on the walls of his attic room, the candles that smelled like chocolate that were always burning as we talked and talked and talked while we drank wine around the coffee table that was my grandparents' when I grew up. I was so grateful he took some furniture I'd remembered from my childhood home in Bay Terrace so they didn't have to be thrown away, and I could still enjoy a piece of something left from when I was a kid. At Chris' memorial, his brother and I reminisced about how often we all saw each other during those days many years back. "It was an era," he said, and that's the best way to describe it. Life is full of eras that come and go. But those long days existed, and certain things will always unexpectedly pop up to bring them back from time to time. It's true that things can never be the same again. But at least we had that era.

RIP Christopher Dillon Micha a/k/a The Hero Pup

Monday, July 9, 2018

I'm Celebrating That Summer Feeling! (Oh and more of my writing being published!)

Summer is finally here! It's my favorite season because it's the time of year when I feel the most free. Something about it being hot all the time reminds me of being a kid and playing with my friends in the street when the days seemed like they'd never end. The way I feel freedom these days is through my writing. This summer, I am honored to have three of my short stories included in an upcoming Anthology called "Howls from the Underground" which is being released by an independent publisher called Screamin' Skull Press. I couldn't be more excited! Here are short descriptions of my three short stories:

1. "Beer and Sunlight"

This is the longest short story I have in the Anthology. It takes place in the early 1990's, and it is about the unique friendship and relationship between a young woman and an older man. The illustration at the top of this blog entry is a picture I found in my writing sketchbook from my initial notes of the story.  A short time later, I did a psychological quiz from one of my books where you had to draw the sun, a tree, a house, a river, and a snake. When I drew the house and the sun, I drew the sun shining over the house in the same way I had drawn the sun over the bottle of Heineken beer in this illustration. The quiz said that the house symbolizes yourself and the sun symbolizes your father. I suppose I could have drawn the sun way above the house, as you often see in children's drawings, as a circle having short rays extending around it. But I've never drawn the sun that way. I've always drawn it the way it is here, radiating over the beer bottle. Possibly, the memory of my dad encompasses everything in my life.

2. "We Love to Watch Zee Cockroaches"

This story is about an Austrian woman who uses "Z's" in her speech because she is unable to use the "th" sound we use in English. She has a Spanish boyfriend, and the two of them entertain an American couple in their rather odd apartment. She offers the couple straight vodka in a shot glass with a glass of water on the side and insists that this was never her original idea: “You know, we never drink vodka zis way till we meet you," she tells them. "We never have straight. Wiz ice and juice before.” But the vodka drinking is the least unusual thing about her living situation.


"I'm Sexy AF"

This story is my take on Instagram "models" and the general degradation and dumbing down of our society thanks to fads like the Kardashians. Reality TV and filtered photos aren't real. I'm very much looking forward to the day that all of this self aggrandizement goes away.

In addition to "Howls from the Underground," I am working on my fifth novel. I'm looking forward to writing it this summer but have no idea when I'll finish it.  I don't even know if I'll release it independently as I did my first two novels: "Iggy Gorgess" and "Bliss, Bliss, Bliss." I still fantasize that someday I'll publish a blockbuster novel. But right now, I'm content with being an indie writer. Sometimes I wonder if I resist making commercial novels my goal because I don't want to sound like everybody else?  In my mind, the appeal of commercial novels to the majority of people is the same thing as how most people identify with music like the Beatles and Joni Mitchell. Maybe my novels and short stories speak more to the primal parts of ourselves and would resonate better with passionate, wild people who prefer a musician like Brian Wilson during his "Smile" period or every song that Laura Nyro recorded on her own? The best scenario would be to appeal to both sets of people, similar to the way Anne Rice's vampire books are commercial but also literary. But those books are rare. I just hope to someday find an editor who will understand me or an agent who will know exactly where to place me. In the meantime, I'm perfectly satisfied with being labeled as an underground, independent writer, and I just aim to get my writing read by as many people as possible.

The other thing that makes me feel free is swimming in the ocean.  Last summer, I went to Florida but didn't get to swim in the ocean because I went to the beach during a thunderstorm!  This summer, I need to get myself into the ocean so I plan to go to a New Jersey beach or to Coney Island. I'll just pretend I'm in a more exotic locale. Fantasy is another amazing vehicle for feeling free. I love to just imagine and live vicariously through others. I'm going to do this by watching the entire series of "Parts Unknown" by Anthony Bourdain. I literally was JUST getting into his show when he committed suicide. I still don't understand it. How could someone who gets to travel the world, eat the best food, and drink the best liquor -- all while getting paid for it -- not want to live this life anymore? I know from reading articles in the wake of his death that he had been fighting "demons" which nobody else could really understand.  So I just want to honor the legacy he left us. I plan to sit with a glass of wine and a plate of cheese and crackers and celebrate his life, reveling in that feeling of freedom I always strive for during summer.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

My Top Four Female Artists Most Important To Me In The Trump Era

The above photo is a Joan Semmel self-portrait.

The one positive that came as a result of Trump becoming president is that women are finally able to speak out against sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. When we now have a president who is on tape saying: "Grab them by the pussy," what more do we have to lose? What do we gain by staying silent when the leader of the United States has displayed a complete lack of respect for women? We've already hit rock bottom.

I've compiled a list of four female artists who I feel have created works of art that reflect our newfound freedom to express ourselves in ways that go against the grain of what we've previously expected from women artists. Some of these brave works were created before the Trump era, but they should be revisited because they perfectly reflect this move towards a change in consciousness. These examples of their art below bend our way of thinking and push us toward new directions in our roles as women:

1.  "Locker Room Talk" (song/video by Dolltits) - Musician/Songwriter Therina Bella and Musician Magie Serpica have refused to let Trump's "Grab them by the pussy" words be forgotten. Instead, they've recorded a song and video that will keep his words remembered forever, and they've laid it all out in the open by using Trump's own actual words as every single lyric in the song. We've all heard Trump's own words in the recording of the "Access Hollywood Locker Room Tapes": "You know I'm automatically attracted to beautiful...It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." All of these words sting, but my particular favorite part of Dolltits' video is when a little girl appears and sings along to the line: "You'll never be a 10." This stings even more than the "pussy words" because think of the message the president of the United States has given to young girls by rating females for their supposed "beauty" or lack of it? Think about it.

Dolltits (Still from "Locker Room Talk" video)

2.  Joan Semmel - A female painter born in 1932, Semmel decided to paint female nudes in the 1970's, but the dilemma of painting the female nude body - which was usually seen as an object of desire for men - created a conflict with her identity as a feminist. Semmel resolved this problem rather perfectly when, while in her seventies, she took nude mirror selfies and then painted them. It is rare to see older women in nude paintings much less based on nude photos they have taken as selfies! Women continue to be sexually active throughout their eighties and beyond, so why shouldn't Semmel paint her own nude female body too? Semmel is an inspiration as an older woman who refuses to be pushed into the background and meant to feel that only younger women can openly display their bodies.

3.  "Trapeze" (book by Anais Nin) - Nin was born in 1903 and is best known for the publication of her Diaries which are the unabashed, brave and honest account of a woman constantly torn between needing to identify herself as an artist and wanting to take care of the men and friends she loves. Nin struggled to not confine herself to the traditional role of woman, and her diaries depict this battle of gaining her own identity separate from the men in her life. By the time she wrote the diaries that were published last year as "Trapeze," she was living a complicated bi-coastal lifestyle in which she had a longtime husband, Hugo, who lived on the East Coast in New York City, but also had a new lover, Rupert, who lived on the West Coast in California. "Trapeze" shows her near impossible feat of bouncing back and forth from coast to coast while keeping each relationship secret from the other. In Nin legend, before "Trapeze" was released and we could get her uncensored version of the story, it was believed that Nin only remained with Hugo out of loyalty and really wanted to be with Rupert full time. Most romantic tales would have us believe that too: The long-suffering wife as the victim whose unfaithfulness we forgive because she really only seeks love just like every other woman and has no other reasons behind her bad behavior.  But in "Trapeze," we learn that Nin enjoyed the wealthy, New York lifestyle she had with Hugo where she had a maid and could be a writer 24/7. She claimed the sex was better with Rupert, but he drove her crazy with his fastidiousness and insistence that they save money and eat dinner in, and that she do all the housecleaning herself. After a couple of months of this, she often couldn't wait to get back to Hugo and her New York lifestyle. In "Trapeze," Nin gets real and admits that she has chosen to stay with both men because of her own needs. She doesn't try to write a romantic story with a happy ending. Instead, she tells the truth of her story wherein she makes the best out of her imperfect relationships and imperfect life. She does this with a maturity we don't always see in both fiction and memoirs of women who are often depicted as near children and as victims of the people and circumstances around them.

4.  "Peek Hour" (short story by Adrea Kore) - Kore's brilliant and sexy short story refuses to stay silent on an issue that women usually don't speak about: penises. At least, they don't usually speak about it in the manner that female protagonist Roxy in "Peek Hour" does. Roxy has what she describes as "feelings of affection and admiration of the penis." Her favorite thing to do is ride the crowded train where she weasels her way into the specific seat that gives her the best view of the "packages" of the men standing closest to her. She says the men don't even notice that she's eyeing their pants because they've traditionally been too busy focusing on HER parts so it never even occurs to them that she's obsessed with stealthily examining THEIR parts. She examines their bulges and notices their different sizes and shapes and whether they lean to the left or the right. She laments the fact that most penises are hidden away and wishes to liberate them all. She wants to build giant statues of them so they can be monuments that people can visit. While she fantasizes about these things, the bumps of the train often force men's crotches into her face. This excites her, and she says it happens so fast, the men usually don't notice, and it's her little secret. She does whatever she can to brush into men's crotches "by accident." I love this story and find Kore's depiction of Roxy's penis obsession fascinating because for once we can see a woman's point of view of the penis that doesn't seen to be influenced at all by the man's point of view of his penis.

This is a penis sticker by Luna Snaps that is on Redbubble.

I hope to spread the word about these amazing artists and their music, stories and paintings! Women have been categorized, marginalized and misunderstood for too many years. We have different things to express than what has previously been expected of us. These women are my favorite examples of a new feminine consciousness, and they remain such inspirations to me!

You can find my Top 4 at their websites listed below. Please check them out!


Monday, October 23, 2017

The One Thing Every Fiction Writer Needs

Keri Russell as Jenna in "Waitress" movie written by Adrienne Shelly

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." - Anais Nin

It amazes me how some writers are able to muster up the courage to write about troubling and controversial feelings that most people won't even admit to, much less write about. Sometimes I'll read a writer's story and wonder: What did her mom think (and say to her) after she read this? I have definitely written my novels and stories from my heart, but I know that I haven't written entirely from my mind. I don't write everything I'm thinking, and I hold back for fear of what others will think about me after they've read me.

When I saw the movie "Waitress," I was blown away by how deep and honest the dialogue was. The screenplay was written by Adrienne Shelly who also directed and acted in the film. Tragically, she was murdered at the age of forty shortly before the film was released. The film is about a young woman's feelings about her unborn baby while pregnant. Shelly was also a mom whose young daughter was only two and a half years old at the time of her death.

Jenna is the lead character in "Waitress," and she is a compulsive baker of delicious pies. I use the term "compulsive" because she can't stop herself from baking them whenever she needs to release her emotions. She names the pies according to what she's feeling while she bakes. One pie is named "Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie" which is a good example of the unsettling feelings she's having during her pregnancy.

Jenna isn't happy about being pregnant at all, and she definitively says so to anyone who asks. But she feels a sense of obligation to have her baby. When her doctor tries to assure her not to be nervous during her first sonogram because it is normal to be nervous, she surprises him by telling him that she isn't nervous about her baby at all. Noticing how unenthusiastic Jenna is about her pregnancy, one of her friends gives her a notebook to write letters to her unborn baby, hoping this will summon up some feelings of warmth in Jenna. These letters are read throughout the movie, but instead of helping Jenna feel more bonded to her unborn child, she writes letters telling her baby how much she resents her. Later, when she has to pay for the crib, she writes the baby a letter telling her that the money she spent on her crib was supposed to be her money to get out of town and start a new life. She writes that now every time she puts her baby down in her crib, she's going to blame her for the fact that she had to pay for this crib and, in turn, couldn't start a new life. Once her baby is born though, Jenna immediately falls in love with her.  Shelly poured her entire heart out in the screenplay, and if any of these feelings and thoughts were actually Shelly's during her own pregnancy, it took an amazing amount of courage and self-examination to write these down for the script.

Amy Koppelman - writer of novel "I Smile Back"-  and Sarah Silverman who starred as "Laney" in the movie

Another writer who is incredibly brave is Amy Koppelman. In her novel, "I Smile Back," she writes about a wealthy mother who feels so much pressure to lead the perfect life of a suburban mom that it causes her to break down and secretly live recklessly by using drugs and having sex with strangers. Again, not autobiographical, but it was written as an exaggeration to show how a woman often struggles trying to live life in the role of a happy and well-adjusted suburban mom. Koppelman, who is also a suburban mom, has stated in interviews that all of her novels contain at least something of herself and her life. Koppleman's book takes courage to have out there because no writer would want anyone to believe that the things Laney does and says are in any way autobiographical. Readers often believe that at least SOME of a novelist's protagonist's thoughts and actions come directly from the writer's own psyche and experiences. It took a lot of courage to write so uninhibited and to take the chance that anyone would think Koppelman felt Laney's feelings or worse did the things she does in "I Smile Back." There is one scene where she masturbates with her son's stuffed animal and another where she tells a stranger she just met in a bar to lick her ass during a sexual encounter. Laney acts out due to fear and depression which is explained in much of the dialogue in the movie: "I just don’t understand why anyone bothers to love anything at all. I mean by the time you’re three you’ve pretty much figured out that everything you love is going to be taken away." Laney doesn't see the point of being happy when there is so much misery in this world.

Quote re having a child said by Sarah Silverman starring as Laney in "I Smile Back" movie based on the novel by Amy Koppelman 

I feel that both Shelly and Koppelman have successfully and commendably completed works with a no-holds-barred approach. They have dug deep inside their souls and wrote about the feelings that all of us women have lurking somewhere inside but would never have the courage to admit, much less write about.  Again, not everything a fiction writer's protagonist says should be deemed autobiographical, but we do know that many literary giants have admitted to basing their novels' protagonists on themselves and that events in their plot lines were often true events.

I still have yet to conquer this fear of what others will think about me when they read my writing. This is a hurdle that every fiction writer needs to overcome in order to be truly great. Of course, the best way to write is as if nobody will ever read it, and then, once it's done, just release it and throw caution to the wind! We have to become fearless in writing, same as we need to take chances in all other facets of our lives. For women, this often gets easier with age. Most of us can only become truly radical once we are older. We have to risk being not liked. We have to risk not being dutiful and good. We have to deal with the verbal onslaught and mistrust that will ensue once we have gotten our writing out there. It's not the end of the world. I guess that's the only way to be brave enough to write EXACTLY what we are feeling and thinking and to never hold back in writing ever again. To realize that whatever happens after we've released our writing to the public, it will never be the end of the world.

Adrienne Shelly

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I Choose Writing (Over Wine, Opiates, Laudanum...)

When I'm upset, if there is a choice between having a glass of wine or writing my thoughts down on paper, I'll always forgo the wine and instead find a pen to write my feelings down on paper. I've released my emotions through writing for many years now.  I call this habit "Therapeutic Writing." I just let all my words flow out in a stream of consciousness until my mind is finally less foggy.

As a teenager, this essential outpouring of feelings most often took the form of song lyrics, stories and poetry. But in my early twenties, I was given a gift of a blank journal with inspirational quotes on each page called a "Book of Days." At the same time, I'd been indulging in reading my first Diaries of Anais Nin. Inspired by Anais, I decided to write in my "Book of Days" daily, under each labeled day. By the end of the year, I filled the book up completely, even if some days only contained one sentence. I was amazed at how there was always SOMETHING I could come up with to write once I formed the habit of sitting down every day. I believe this is how I developed the "necessity" to write.

These days, therapeutic writing is no longer a conscious habit. Instead, it is now a sense of urgency where as soon as I feel emotional about something, I just HAVE to get it down onto paper. Even if it's on bits of scrap paper that I tear up afterwards, just the act of emptying my thoughts from my mind through my hand makes me feel so much better.

A coworker once told me that my emotions are all at the surface. I asked her if this was good or bad. She said it was good. She said it meant I was in touch with my emotions. I know that when I get upset, my thoughts are completely ruled by my emotions. Most of the time when I have a desperate need to write, I am either angry or very confused. Somehow, the act of writing my emotions down allows my brain to understand what I'm feeling. Even if I can't solve the problem, I do gain a sense of clarity, and I don't stop writing until the familiar feeling of relief comes over me. Suddenly, something that seemed insurmountable just minutes earlier has now become clear, and I'm finally calm. I am able to write down the facts of my situation and to identify the fears that are behind these emotions.

Speaking of coworkers, years ago, I noticed that two of my coworkers seemed constantly upset. They were very negative in general and always conflicted about decisions they had to make. So for Christmas, I gave both of them blank journals and told them about my very essential, daily writing habit. I suggested they write something in it every day, even if it's just a sentence, just so they can develop the habit. I explained that in no time, they will be able to use their journal as a mental medicine that will help them think clearly about what is positive in their lives and to identify their inner thoughts in order to enable them to make decisions. Sadly, I don't think either of them took me up on it. Maybe they needed an expert in the field to guide them and to confirm my beliefs about the benefits of therapeutic writing. I believe that the book I'm reading now, "Writing For Bliss," by Diana Raab, Ph.D. would have convinced them!

I met Dr. Raab through our devotion to Anais Nin because we both contributed writing pieces to Volume 13 of the Anais Nin Literary Journal "A Cafe In Space." Another thing we have in common is that both of us use the word "Bliss" in our titles! My first novel's title, "Bliss, Bliss, Bliss," is based on a quote that has the word "Bliss" in it several times and is from "The Early Diary of Anais Nin, Volume 4." Dr. Raab's new book is a great starting point to learn how to use writing to heal and to release the usual everyday tensions and stressors in a healthy way through writing rather than engaging in destructive outlets.

Dr. Raab describes the importance of journal writing in these quotes from "Writing For Bliss":

"A journal, diary, or notebook - whatever you choose to call it - can play many roles.  It can serve as a vehicle for self-expression, a tool for clarity, a repository for observations, and a container for thoughts.  A journal may also be a powerful tool for comfort during difficult times...Journal writing can be as calming and grounding as meditation is.  It can orientate you and stabilize your emotions."

I highly recommend Dr. Raab's step by step guide, "Writing For Bliss," which is extremely thorough and includes numerous exercises to get you in the habit of therapeutic writing. It is a good way to get real with yourself and to confront painful memories from the past. It helps you to learn to write from your heart, which is where the truth is, rather than from your mind. It also helps get you started on writing your own poetry and memoirs, if you've ever considered doing that.

Basically, I don't know what I would do if I didn't have writing to release my tensions and emotions. It's truly amazing how something so simple and cheap can heal so much!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Reading "Moshi Moshi" And Sharing Tea, Grief, Hotels, And Smiles With Banana Yoshimoto

"I nodded and sipped my cocktail. The taste of fresh fruit spread over my tongue.  This was all that being alive meant, really." - From the novel "Moshi Moshi" by Banana Yoshimoto

The first novel I read by Banana Yoshimoto was "Kitchen." It is a short novel about a woman in her twenties dealing with grief. I was also in my twenties at the time, and it hadn't been that many years since I had lost my dad at the age of fifteen. In "Kitchen," lead character, Mikage, has just suffered the loss of her grandmother to whom she had been very close. To deal with her loss, she takes to sleeping on her kitchen floor because the hum of the refrigerator makes her feel less alone. "Kitchen" is what hooked me to Yoshimoto's novels and solidified her as my favorite modern author. Yoshimoto's newest English-translated novel is called "Moshi Moshi," and it continues to display her genius in describing twenty-something women suffering early loss. What is different about Yoshimoto's novels is that although her characters are hurting, each of her novels shows a glimmer of optimism. I haven't come across any other writer who accurately depicts the devastation of dealing with grief while simultaneously describing the protagonist's ability to maintain a positive attitude. Each of her characters finds happiness in the simplest of things. This trait matches Yoshimoto's "deceptively simple" prose, as her writing has often been described. Her language is simple, yet the meanings underlying her novels' themes are deep.

"Moshi Moshi" takes this grief theme full circle from "Kitchen." "Moshi Moshi" is the story of a young woman in her twenties named Yoshe who has just lost her father by carbon monoxide poisoning. Her dad had recently begun a relationship with a bewitching woman without Yoshe and her mom knowing.  This woman wanted to die but needed someone to take along with her, so she coerced Yoshe's dad into a car parked in the forest and poisoned them both.

Yoshe is an only child, just barely a woman, who is living on her own. She is fresh out of culinary school and now has a job helping out in the kitchen of a bistro. Yoshe tries to deal with her grief, and as she is "finally starting to be able to feel the joy in sitting down to a cup of tea or just getting up in the morning," her mom decides she can no longer bear living in the condo the three of them had shared in the town of Meguro. Instead, she wants to move in with Yoshe to the city of Shimokitazawa which has younger residents and many tourists. She tells Yoshe that Shimokitazawa reminds her of the first city she and Yoshe's dad lived in when Yoshe was a baby:

"Back then both your Dad and I were happy, for no particular reason - maybe because we were young, or it was just that kind of age.  We'd shop every day in Yanaka Ginza - we'd get deli food for dinner, savory preserves, roasted rice crackers, and then a cup of tea. If we had time, we'd stop at the traditional dessert parlor and have a beer, or some isobeyaki."

Yoshe realizes that her mom needs this time to heal. Yoshe absorbs herself in her cooking and waitressing work at the bistro and begins dating a customer she meets there named Shintani-Kun. But her grief overwhelms her.  Still, she shows up to work every day at the bistro no matter how badly she feels:

"Even so, come tomorrow morning, I'd be kneading bread dough, boiling water, shredding salad vegetables, mopping the floor. My body would know what to do, and I'd smile and greet customers when they came in."

Pretty soon, Yoshe and Shintani-Kun start going out for drinks after she finishes her workdays at the bistro, and she feels a sense of hope:

"I felt joy. Working at the bistro, Shintani-kun feeling at home there. Seeing my apartment across the street. I knew it wasn't going to last forever - things changed and moved on, and if you thought they could stay the same, they got ruined, like our family had done. Still, I desperately wanted all of this happiness to stay, just the way it was."

My Banana Yoshimoto collection of books on my couch

When your parent dies while you are still in childhood, a part of you remains arrested in that state because the only place you can be with them throughout adulthood is in your memories. I definitely related to the solace Yoshe seeks in her memories that she relays throughout "Moshi Moshi." Yoshe remembers her childhood vacations this way:

"The light from the TV dappling the dark room made me think of family vacations of old. I felt as though I was back in a room in a traditional inn, already asleep, while Mom and Dad watched TV lounging on the mat floor."

I particularly liked this hotel memory because my happiest memories from childhood are the times my mom, dad and brother took family vacations to Disney World or the Poconos, and we had our parents' undivided attention. We explored the parks and swimming pools by day and then shared the same hotel room by night.

Yoshe believes that memories of her dad are etched not only in her heart and mind but also in the places he walked through: "Of course, there were some things that didn't change - the familiar and nostalgic colors and smells, tastes and places in our memories.  But we could no longer relive them as things that were real to our own bodies."

These lines remind me of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" poems which were a favorite of my dad's. He even wrote his own rock opera in the late 1960's-early 1970's by composing his own versions of Whitman's poems through several original songs, often titled the same as Whitman's poems.  The main theme in "Leaves of Grass" is how we are all connected as entities who live the human experience. This includes all of us now living in the present, those who have lived in the past, and those who will walk this earth in the future. Whitman talks about how all generations have physically walked over the same grounds as each other, and when blades of grass grow, these blades are nourished and grown out from the bodies of our ancestors. There is a connection between past, present and future generations because we walk the same steps over the same parts of earth together. The following line from "Moshi Moshi" reminds me of Whitman and also of my dad:

"I started walking again, and even though I was wearing grown-up shoes on a grown woman's feet, the lightness of my step felt just the same as they had when I'd walked in my favorite childhood sneakers, which Dad had taken me to buy."

My dad and me

As the seasons pass, Yoshe's mom embraces the fact that there are so many young people living in Shimokitazawa, and she seems to be returning to a previous youthful self that Yoshe didn't even know existed.  My mom did that too after my dad died. Suddenly, she started hanging out with friends who were in their twenties, and she listened to pop music on the radio and went out dancing. It makes sense now because she was so young back then: my dad was only forty-one when he died, and my mom just turned forty the next month. I remember one of my mom's friends gave her a birthday card that said: "Life begins at 40," and my mom hung that card up in our kitchen.  But I didn't like that card. I wasn't ready for anyone to have any kind of new life other than the childhood I had grown familiar with.

Yoshi expresses similar thoughts. It appears to her that her mom suddenly doesn't need any help with her grief while Yoshe is still struggling so much. It feels like a blow to her when she finds out her mom has landed a job in a tea shop. Yoshe wants to be happy for her mom but realizes she is initially unable to:

"I'm the one who didn't want Mom to get better, I realized. I was shocked at my own immaturity. I was the one who wanted her to stay at home in my apartment, who wanted to keep my mother to myself.  Now, standing in this shop, she was back in the wider world, among everyone else."

I can relate to those feelings too.  All children believe that even as life changes, and they leave school and move on to work life, at least their family will still remain intact. It was a rude awakening for Yoshe and for me when our lives suddenly changed before we properly reached adulthood.

Yoshe tries to follow her mom's example to move forward, but she is still very vulnerable and not in the proper mindset to enter into a healthy and mature relationship with Shintani-Kun. When she finally allows herself to take the next step in their relationship, she's not really into it: "We're probably going to sleep together now..., but so what? What's it going to change?"

Yoshe's nihilistic attitude is a common example of the depression that often hits young women after a major loss in the family. Your entire world has been turned upside down and everything you thought you believed in as a child has suddenly changed due to that one event. I remember sitting in a movie theater in 1990 watching the film "Sweetie" and relating to one of the lead characters, a woman named Kay. She analyzed everything but felt nothing. She looked for symbolism to try and make sense out of life and find messages in things while performing obsessive rituals. In her case, she was obsessed with trees and cracks in the sidewalk. But her anxiety only increased. I also suffered from obsession, anxiety and a feeling of meaninglessness. Looking back, I see I was still trying to make sense out of life and to heal from my grief. Life is frightening when you have to recover from loss. You long for the security you knew as a child.

At the end of the novel, Yoshe visits the scene in the forest where her father and the woman were found dead in the car. She tells her dad it is alright to let go, and he can be at peace. She realizes that she must now focus on the present. Once you suffer a loss, you always fear it will happen again. It's probably more on your mind than someone who has never experienced a significant loss in their life. But we have to be thankful and mindful of what we have in the present. We don't have to worry every single minute. The people we have in our lives are still here:

"My father was gone now, but my mother was here. I could be with her today, for certain, at least, and hopefully much longer than that. I'm coming home now, Mother - Mother, I'm glad you're here - I'll be coming through the door in a moment."

My mom put this yellow happy face in her car to cheer herself up on cloudy days

While getting ready for the paperback version of "Moshi Moshi" to come out, Banana Yoshimoto lost her own father unexpectedly. For years, people had criticized her for not writing about grief in a realistic way. After all, many of her novels are about losing primary family members, but she had never lost one. I remember after I'd read "Kitchen," I was shocked to learn that she herself had not lost a parent. Yoshimoto says that after she lost her father, she realized that she indeed had been on the right track all those years. She said her own writing in "Moshi Moshi" gave her the answers she now looked for as if she somehow knew what she was going to need to help her heal.

Recently, I posted my Goodreads Review of "Moshi Moshi" and was thrilled when Banana Yoshimoto responded to me and thanked me in English for my "beautiful review!" Previously, she had only communicated to me through emoticons and emojis because she doesn't speak or write in English. But just like how Whitman believed previous generations can communicate with present and future generations through shared experiences, language is not a barrier either. I will forever treasure the time that Banana Yoshimoto sent me this smile:

I'm still dreaming that one day I will take a trip to Japan and meet her in person. Why wouldn't I want to meet my favorite novelist?