Saturday, July 18, 2015

Am I The Me You See?

I took one of those online, Facebook quizzes that are supposed to tell something about yourself.  "Are you a Southerner or a Yankee?"  "What Type of Fantasy Character are You?"  "What Were You in a Past Life?"  
This one was "What Nationality are you Sub-Consciously?"  After answering the questions, this is the answer that popped up: 

You're subconsciously Japanese! Your deep respect for tradition and passion for progress make you far more Japanese than you may have realized. With a long and unique history of isolation from the outside world, Japan has preserved a fascinating and ancient culture amid a modern and thriving economy. Japan's tradition and radical technological progress are perfect for your unique approach to life. You are a perfect mix of the past and the future that only Japan could produce! You're health conscious, ambitious, independent and incredibly hardworking. You're bound by tradition but you're always looking forward to the next great idea. You are subconsciously Japanese!

Ok.  Not bad.  I wasn't even trying to get that answer.  This is one of those answers I'd post on my Facebook page, which wouldn't surprise any of the people who know me more than superficially.  
While being an admitted Nipponphile, though, it isn't thing included in my sense of identity.  Being "Male" has been with me for my entire life.  As has being an "American."  Being a "Nerd" was something that grew slowly.  At least in the positive sense, when I started embracing my nerdy loves and accepted that I was different when it came to things like that.  In recent years, looking around me, it seems that society is starting to catch up with me.  There are a lot more nerdy TV shows and movies being made, anyway.  We certainly seem to be living in a science fiction world. 
This week someone won an award for coming out with their new identity.  Caitlyn Jenner, who used to be known as Bruce Jenner, the gold medal winning Olympic athlete, won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.  Since she announced to the world her transition from woman to man, Caitlyn has largely been lauded for her courage and supported in her efforts.  Some people have commented that it is easier for her to display such positive traits given her celebrity and economic means, though they have conceded in the next breath that the coverage of Ms. Jenner's life choice will probably raise awareness of transgender issues in a positive way.  
There was another person who transition whose expression of self-identity made the news, about the same time as Ms. Jenner's.  That was Rachel Dolezal.  She was the head of a local chapter of the NAACP in Washington State who, it was revealed, had been born and raised white.  One of the answers Ms. Dolezal gave when questioned about her parents revealing themselves to the public was that she considers herself to be black.  Due to the furor over the revelation about her ethnic heritage, Ms. Dolezal was forced to resign her position.  
I recognize there is a difference between these two stories.  When I heard the news about Ms. Jenner, my thoughts went something like "Good for her."  I do not have any experience with transgender issues.  I am, and half always been, a heterosexual male and feel no impulse to act differently.  But I've also had a live and let live attitude.  If someone feels that the expression of their genetic code is in error and has the means to do something about it, I have no problem with them doing what they can to address it.  
When the story about Ms. Dolezal broke, my initial reaction was more like, "Holy Crap, you're kidding."  I knew that it was going to end badly for Ms. Dolezal.  The end result of her resignation was inevitable.  
It was after a few days though, that I began to wonder why her fall was so inevitable.  The science fiction writer in me took a step back and thought, "Here we have two people who say that the expression of their genetic code does not correspond with who they feel they are inside.  Both are taking steps to correct that, and live in accordance with the identification they want others to use with them.  One, whose sexual expression  needed revising, has been praised for her courage.  The other, whose racial expression was revised, has had her mental health questioned and has been forced to leave the position that, according to the reports I've seen, she did very well at."  
Yes.  There are differences between the two situations.  The most obvious one is that of openness.  Caitlyn Jenner came out and told the world of her transgender nature.  Rachel Dolezal hid her transracial nature, and in doing so has been accused of "deceiving" people.  But if Ms. Dolezal had announced from the beginning that she was "Now Black," would she have been given the opportunities she had within the advocacy community she worked in?  I don't think so.  Gender is an identity that can be safely adjusted while Race is not.  At least as far as someone with Ms. Jenner's social position is concerned.  
I wonder if we will get to the point where our exterior identities will become as malleable and as changeable as our wardrobes.  This is taking a big leap off to the side but I am curious as to what that would do with other people's perceptions of us.  How would a group like, the Klu Klux Klan, for instance, go about their business if any given person who looked one race might be another "passing" for the day.  How would we treat the job applicant that showed up for the job interview as a man, but arrived the first day after being hired as a woman?  Both race and gender are loaded with societal preconceptions that limit and/or enhance one's standing in society, depending on what you have and what is happening around you.  
What would happen to me if, one day, I arrived at the office looking like a middle-aged Japanese man and I told everyone to call me Kumori Matsushita?  Would it help if I told them that they had no need to worry, that I was just dressed up for my trip to see the cherry blossoms in bloom?  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lessons from Comic-Con 2015

I returned from the San Diego Comic-Con last night.  It was, I figured out while there, my 20th Comic-Con in a row.  It was my eighteenth as a registered professional.  
That’s something of an accomplishment.  I’m happy to have maintained enough published work to keep up my professional status, even if I’m not writing full time as I hoped.  A credit to my persistence if nothing else.  
My relationship with Comic-Con has changed over the years.  The eager hopefulness I took with me when trying to get my first comic book script published gave way to a sense of accomplishment and validation when I got in wearing my first badge with “Professional” printed on it.  That sense of belonging was replaced by frustration in time, as the projects I worked on failed to reach the level of success I’d hoped for.  In recent years I’ve wondered if my participation has been more out habit than a genuine desire to go.  
But one thing that has remained constant is that Comic-Con has taught me things that I’ve needed to know.  At least it has reaffirmed things that I was on the verge of forgetting.  Or worse, about to turn into unfelt platitudes.  This proved true with this year’s convention.  The lessons included...
Writing is an art form.  Publishing is selling copies of art.  Don’t confuse the two.  Be good at both. 
This came from a panel on writing hosted by Jonathan Maberry.  It was something he heard from Ray Bradbury when he was a youngster.  His wasn’t the only panel that touched on the business of writing, Maxwell Alexander Drake spoke about it in his panel on Plot Structure that I attended Sunday morning, and the two were in close agreement with each other.  I liked Maberry’s succinct way of putting it.  The fact that he attributed it to one of my favorite authors growing up didn’t hurt either.  He also said that you should write the book you love, then edit the book you can sell. 
I have not been good at the business side of writing, at least not for some time.  In the early days of going, when I was focused on comic book scripts and working with an artist as a team, I think I was better at it.  I left this year’s convention feeling that I need to get back to that level of participation in the business side of writing, and go past it.  I want to get good at the business side of writing.  
Write from your Core. 
This is not the same as “write what you know,” which would actually be quite hard to do for a fantasy/science fiction writer.  As Drake mentioned in his Plot Structure panel, he’s never in his life been a dragon, but he has write from a dragon’s point of view.  
I think it’s about writing from the inside.  Writing the stories you want to tell.  The story you would want to read if you were buying a book or a magazine or comic.  Brandon Sanderson in the panel on Fantasy Literature called “chasing the market,” the effort to write something you think will sell, a waste of one’s time.  “All work is worth your time,” he said, because if you write something you love it will be a step on the path to make you someone who can write great stories.  
A little antidotal evidence, I found out that the Expanse Series, by a pair of writers using the combined pseudonym of James S.A. Corey, grew from a role-playing adventure they ran for the game Traveller for friends years before.  Even some of the characters in the books are named after their fellow role-players that participated.  I think that’s cool.  
I think I get stuck most often while writing when I start wondering if I can get the story or script published before I finish it.  I need to think about that AFTER I get done with it.  After I write something I really love. 
Good work inspires More Work.
I make a point of checking out the Science Fiction entries in Comic-Con’s Independent Film festival.  I usually try to see as many of them as I can.  This year I stopped after the second one.
The film was entitled “Dust.”  It was the best movie I’ve seen at the Comic-Con Independent Film Festival.  I can even say its the best movie I’ve seen, period, in the last six months.  
After the presentation was over, I followed the creators out into the lobby to talk with them.  I gave my card to the director and got his in return.  I was so jazzed by the experience of watching this short movie that I turned to the friend that had accompanied me to the presentation and said, “I want to write something.  Anything.  Now.”  I was so turned on by this feeling that I decided to not watch the rest of the entries, because I didn’t want to lose that feeling.  
“Done is the Engine of More.”  I heard that at a panel entitled Kill Your Idols, about how to get past the works that inspired you to write your own work without being derivative.  The best thing one is working on should be the current thing you’re doing.  Yeah.  I’ve said this myself, but feeling the inspiration from the viewing of Dust reminded me just how good it feels to do something good.  I want to finish what I’m doing now so I can go on to do something even better next.  
At the first Comic-Con I went to, back in 1995, I was a bit unsure of myself.  I had one short story published a few years before.  I was getting to the halfway point of my 30’s.  I was wondering if I could ever get something else published again.  
I went to a panel on writing, the first I ever attended.  I can’t remember who was the writer, though I remember his work was mostly in comic books.  After opening it up to questions from the audience, someone stood and asked him how one could know that the could “make it” as a writer.  
The panelist hemmed and hawed for a bit.  Then, he said, “Look...  If I were to tell you that, in order to ‘make it’ as a writer you had to write...  Let’s say, ten million words, and all those words would be absolute crap, but that after you got done, you could start writing words that could be published, would you do that?”
Sitting against the wall, off by the door in the crowded room, I immediately answered his question under my breath.  “Yes.”  I would do that.  That was the lesson of that first Comic-Con.  
On the first day of the convention, I wore a tee-shirt with the Japanese kanji for “Dream” on it.  On the last day, my tee-shirt bore the kanji for “Samurai.”  That is the nature of the convention.  A place where you go to dream, and get the drive, and weapons, to fight for it.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Language will NOT be a Barrier in Shizuoka

This is another blog entry to have you consider Shizuoka, Japan for the 2017 WorldCon.
One reason someone might choose one of the other sites bidding for the 2017 WorldCon would the perception of a language barrier.  The two North American cities, Washington D.C. and Montreal, are guaranteed to be English friendly.  Most Europeans seem to speak English as a second language, so Helsinki would be fine as well.  
Japanese, on the other hand, is just too...  Different.  You can’t even sound out the street signs.  This is what someone might be thinking.
I don’t think you need to worry, though.  Here is what my experience has taught me.

1) There will be more English there than you might think.  
By the time they graduate from High School, the average student has about six years of English study.  Japanese going into service or travel industries often get more training on top of that.  This is most apparent in the larger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, where numerous times people would come up to me when I looked lost and ask, “Do you need  help?”  Even in a smaller town like Shizuoka, the hotels have people on staff to assist you in English.  
This was actually a disappointment for me when I went to Japan in 2007.  I’d been studying Japanese for about a year at the time.  I was looking forward to using it.  
The first time I stood in a line at Narita Airport, I would listen to the attendant greeting the passengers.  
“Irashaimase!” is the traditional greeting given to customers entering your business.  It means something like, “It’s an honor to have you here.”
They helped one customer after another in typical Japanese efficiency.  
I was waiting my turn, practicing in my head what I would say in Japanese.
I stepped up to the counter.  I opened my mouth to make my request...
“Welcome!  How can I be of service to you?”
I don’t think I ever got my “Irashaimase!” 
The closest I came was when I went to have dinner at one of the two best ramen shops in Kyoto, which happened to be next door to the other one of the two best ramen shops in Kyoto (only the Japanese would do something like this, I think).  
After waiting in line (both shops had long lines to get in extending in the opposite direction from either entrance), my fellow members on the tour stepped inside and up to the hostess station.  
"Irashai!" She said as grabbed some menus, using a more informal version of "Irashaimase!"  When she turned to look at us, though, she went stock still and her eyes widened in surprise.  
"Oh!  She doesn't know English!  I can use my Japanese!"  Again, I opened my mouth to display what I hoped to be my hard won level of fluency.
Before I could utter a word, she spun the menus around in her hand and thrust them toward my face.  There, on the back, was the English version of the menu.  To order, all we had to do was point. 
Damn!  I soon learned that if I wanted to use my Japanese I would have to just use it, even as they answered back in English. 
But if that doesn't convince you, then remember this...
2) This IS the 21st Century.  We have tools at hand to help.  
When I went in 2007, I didn't have a smart phone.  And Google Translate wasn't available.  Today it's very different.  The Japanese have been ahead of the United States in this area of technology from the consumer standpoint for a while.  I would guess that if there was any issue in getting something across, someone will pull out their phone, type something, then show you the result.  Google Translate can come up with some pretty odd translations at time, but the basic meaning will come across.  
One time, just outside the Inari Shrine in Kyoto, something like that happened to me.  I spotted a bakery and decided to buy some “anpan” for me and my roommate on the trip.  Anpan is a bun filled with red bean paste, very sweet and tasty.  
I asked the girl behind the counter in Japanese if they had any anpan.  She lead me to two bins against the wall, saying they had “koshian” and “tsubuan.”  
Huh?  I had not heard these words before.  I asked her to repeat them more slowly.  
Instead of repeating them, she pointed to the first bin and said, “sumuuzu.”  She then pointed to the second bin of identical looking anpan and made a pinching motion with her thumb and forefinger.  “Tsubu...  Tsubu...  Tsubu...” she repeated with each pinch.  
I shook my head.  It made no sense.  She asked me to wait then retreated to the back.  She returned after a moment leading another young lady.  She was explaining the situation very rapidly in Japanese, pointing at the two bins.  
With an air of authority and confidence, this new store clerk stepped up to me.  She extended her hand to point at the first bin. 
“Sumuuzu.”  She then pointed at the other bin, and lifted her other hand up to make a pinching gesture.  “Tsubu.”  
OK.  Not a help.  
But the new girl did have her cell phone with her.  She flipped it open, typed something into it then showed me the screen.  A Japanese-English dictionary.  The top entry was the word, “Grain.”  
Ah!  I got it.  The first set of anpan had a creamy, “smooth,” filling.  The second set had a filling made from coarsely chopped red beans that was “grainy.”  I bought a dozen of the anpan with the “sumuuzu” filling. 

Which brings me to the third point about language being a barrier.  This one is not so much an assurance than it is a reassurance.
3) There will be misunderstandings.  But they’ll be worked out.
When I arrived in Japan in 2007, they were hosting the International Track and Field Championships that year.  The headquarters for the event was the same hotel we were staying in Osaka.  That first night I heard almost no Japanese, though I did hear lots of French, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Spanish and English.  Lots and lots of English.  I felt more like I was in a hotel in Los Angeles than Osaka.  
I boarded the elevator to return to my room on the seventeenth floor.  A crowd of people followed me in, pushing me to the far back corner.  A Japanese woman dressed in a sweat suit was standing by the door and the buttons to push.  
"Sumimasen...  Juu nana kai, onegaishimasu!"  Excuse me...  Seventeenth floor, please!
The woman acted like she didn't hear me.  Well...  It was crowded and noisy, so...
"Sumimasen!  Juu nana kai no botan wo oshite kudasai!"  Excuse me!  Please press the button for the seventeenth floor!
Still nothing.  Did this Japanese woman not like Americans?  Was my Japanese pronunciation THAT bad?  
"Sumimasen!"  I raised my voice until everyone in the car stopped chatting and looked at me.  "Juu nana kai de oritai desu.  Sono botan wo oshite kuremasen ka."  Excuse me!  I want to get off on the seventeenth floor.  Could you do me the favor of pushing that button for me?
The woman heard me then, turned and looked back at me.  
“Are  ya’ll talkin’ ta’me?”  She was with the American team.  From Texas.  She pushed the button for me after that. 
It goes to show you that even between two English speakers, there can be problems.  With patience and persistence, you'll be fine.