book review – ‘i called him necktie’ by milena michiki flasar

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“I called him Necktie. I will write: He taught me to see with eyes of feeling.”

I wanted to read this novel from the very moment its publication was announced. Somehow, I never managed to pick it up, but was fortunately given a copy this past Christmas (by my very thoughtful fiance). I have been somewhat obsessed with Japanese literature for some years now (the author is half Japanese), and particularly interested in hikikomori. The author describes hikikomori in the novel’s glossary as such: “…word used to describe Japanese youths who refuse to leave their parents’ house, shut themselves in their rooms and reduce their contact with the family to the minimum…” More information on the phenomenon can be found here: Hikikomori.

Blurb for the novel (from Amazon): Twenty-year-old Taguchi Hiro has spent the last two years of his life living as a hikikomori—a shut-in who never leaves his room and has no human interaction—in his parents’ home in Tokyo. As Hiro tentatively decides to reenter the world, he spends his days observing life around him from a park bench. Gradually he makes friends with Ohara Tetsu, a middle-aged salaryman who has lost his job but can’t bring himself to tell his wife, and shows up every day in a suit and tie to pass the time on a nearby bench. As Hiro and Tetsu cautiously open up to each other, they discover in their sadness a common bond. Regrets and disappointments, as well as hopes and dreams, come to the surface until both find the strength to somehow give a new start to their lives. This beautiful novel is moving, unforgettable, and full of surprises. The reader turns the last page feeling that a small triumph has occurred.

As I expected, this novel was beautiful. The writing sparse, direct, and elegant, very nearly a work of poetry in prose. Organizationally and texturally, the work lies near perfection, carrying the reader through the worlds of Hiro and Tetsu, allowing us to observe them interacting, gradually revealing their backstories, and developing an intense empathy for them both. Tetsu teaches Hiro, and Hiro, in turn, teaches his elder.

Apart from the sheer beauty of Flasar’s writing, my favorite aspect of the novel was the deep reflection on topics of life, meaning, choices, and chance that the characters’ self-realizations engendered also in me. I frequently had to set down the book in order to ponder my personal interaction with the text. I love a book that makes me think, that makes me introspective, and especially one that, as this novel does, naturally accomplishes this without manipulation on the part of the author.

A spectacular novel that everyone should pause and read.

Two Quotes
“A sad charm. With him it as a sad weariness. When I opened my eyes I noticed that the people surrounding me were mired in this weariness, and we all appeared to be waiting for someone who would set us free. A cold hell we persevered in. Now and again a sentence recurred: You must do something.”

“If I think: Society. Then my head spins. Too big. What is that? I can’t see it. What I see are details. That’s what I want to stay with. With small things. And there, everyone is marked, everyone has a flaw, everyone needs each other…I reach out my hand towards you, and, that’s the answer to your question, perhaps it really is this reaching out, this reaching towards someone else, that’s needed most of all.”

this week + a poetic thought

Guess I'll publish a little here sometimes…might as well try it out.

A photo posted by Matthew Jackson (@mejwrites) on

General update:
It’s been one hell of a two week period for me.

  • First, there was my diagnosis with mononucleosis. Adults typically don’t get mono (since most people are exposed when they’re young adults), so being older, my symptoms were awful. Fever, horribly swollen lymph nodes and tonsils, and terrible pain. I ended up with a steroid shot for the swelling, plus pain pills and antibiotics for secondary infection. After 8 consecutive days missing work, I was finally able to return for a half day Wednesday, and I’m hoping today to complete my first full day at the office since my diagnosis. The fatigue from the illness can last for weeks or even months, but I’m hopeful that I can manage to push through and at least work – I’ve already devastated my sick days and vacation days for the entire year.
  • Then our 2 year old was diagnosed with strep, which has been a trial. He feels so bad, had a high fever for several days, and it just a poor little miserable fellow. Thankfully, he’s feeling somewhat better now. But my poor fiancé, dealing with 2 sick guys in the house at the same time…and she didn’t kill anyone! What a saint.
  • Because of all the illness, I wasn’t able to see my kids two weeks ago, which makes this coming weekend extra exciting since we’re all finally well enough for my 5 to come for a visit!
  • Just before I fell ill, I managed to do something that I’ve wanted to do for several years now. I put together a chapbook and entered it in competition! I have a longer book of poetry put together (just over 100 pages), but there are still several poems I want to write and include to make that collection complete. So I pulled thematically related poems, interspersed with shorter pieces, and put together a 25 page chapbook. It was quite exciting for me, having a small book that felt cohesive and complete, and that I was proud to enter for reading and judgment. I’ll be sure to post once I hear the results of the contest.
  • And, of course, there’s Trump. I’ve made a few posts already on this topic, and I’m certain more will come, so I won’t rehash that in this post other than to say that I’ve spent a good bit of time online, watching him slowly destroy our rights and our republic. Seeing what’s happening is distressing, and feels like a near constant weight in my life. I’m doing what I can (calling, writing, marching, interacting), and I plan to continually do more in the days and weeks and months to come. The ridiculousness happening in our nation now has bothered me even more than the awful illness I’ve been dealing with – how to help protect others, and the nagging thought of “…but, my children…”
  • Finally, it looks like I’ll be doing a bit of reviewing again! One of the major things I did with this site for over a year was post book reviews. I was just sent a book to review, and have almost finished a book I wanted badly to read, so I should have at least 2 reviews coming soon. I have to remember to nourish myself amidst all the chaos, and reading and writing does just that.

How have your lives been going?

For your reading pleasure:
I’ve known, and still know, quite a number of people with the same mindset that this girl was raised under…and was fearfully close to it myself, not too many years ago. An interesting read – “know your enemy.”

“I grew up in the far-right evangelical conservative (Christofascist) movement…Christofascists have been wanting someone like Pence in the White House and, until now, didn’t have a way to get one in… Pence has a proven track record of legalizing discrimination and acting against women and marginalized people…A single powerful person who is convinced of their own Rightness with no thought of introspection is dangerous. We now have a government full of them…”

Read Now – I Was Trained for the Culture Wars in Home School, Awaiting Someone Like Mike Pence as a Messiah

anger, apathy, and despair – “how do we manage under this onslaught of wrong?”

despairI am currently alternating between states of extreme anger, apathy, and despair. As I scroll through social media posts, read various blogs, and monitor current events, I know that I am not the only person struggling with how to process the ridiculousness spewing forth from the White House since the swearing in of Donald Trump. Those of us who listened to the words he said during his campaign and made no excuses for them, but rather took them as an expression of how he truly felt, knew that bad things would begin happening as soon as he held the reigns to (arguably, for the moment) the most powerful country in the world.

It has been even worse than I anticipated.

I will paste at the end of this post a list of what he’s done thus far (compiled and commented on by someone else, provided here as a reference)…but my main focus for this post is: “how do we manage under this onslaught of wrong?”

Honestly, I don’t know that I have the answer, since I am struggling daily with the very same question. My answers have varied, from trying to stop reading so much about what Trump is saying and doing (that never lasts long, since I’m not much for burying my head in the sand), investigating a move out of the country so my family doesn’t have to directly deal with this bullshit (though personal circumstances make that a difficult proposition, and I don’t think I could leave those who will suffer to fight on their own), to applying for positions with companies and organizations directly involved in the resistance against this man and his goals (I still like this idea), to volunteering with the resistance (still like this, too). I think I will end up staying and fighting, though my personal path for doing so is certainly not clear to me at this time.

I had a talk with a wonderful woman, a dear friend, yesterday, where I expressed my despair and overall frustration, my feelings of uselessness and anger and hopelessness. Her responses buoyed me, restored some of my hope, and led to an evening of thought regarding what I can do.

From my dear friend and supporting angel (emphasis mine): “we will get through it, we will fight every step of the way, and we’ll rebuild…phone your representatives every single day. write letters. donate when you can. march when/if you can. educate. get involved with politics on the micro local level…that’s all we can do. and stay strong. apathy and despair are the enemies…you guys are fierce warriors. for real. we can only do what we can, but if each of us does it…we’ll be a revolution…it’s never too late. if they burn it all down, we’ll build it back even better…i totally get the despair. i’m just working hard to channel it into anger and will to fight. we can do this. we will do this. it won’t be easy, and it will be painful, but most good things are like thatjust remember you guys are loved, and you’re not alone.”

We need support. Even the strongest of us (which I, admittedly, am not) need strength from others. Perhaps this is one of the most important things we can do, to support and encourage one another in these dark and troubling times.

I will continue to write, to be active on social media, and to look for any way I can actively participate in the movement against hatred. I’ve never been involved politically, but I will seek out ways to be involved. I see my biggest personal work to be with the written word, so that will be my main thrust – but if you have any other ideas for me, please share them.

And my request for us all:
Support each other. Comfort each other. Allow your friends and co-resisters to break down, and then help build them back up again. Brainstorm and plan and work together. We need each other more than ever. Be the help to others now that you are certain to need later.

As a stark reminder:
The “give him a chance” grace period is officially over.
“We are 5 days in.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
* On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
* On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
* On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
* On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
* On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
* On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
* On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
* On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
* On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
* On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
* On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
* On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
* On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
* On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
* On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
* On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
* On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources.”
*credit for compilation: Karen Cornett-Dwyer
Share widely. (Cut and paste.)

#antitrump
#trump
#notmypresident
#theresistance

– my random thoughts on this wonderful day –

IMG_9255#WomensMarchJXN

10:55am Kate, Lily, and I are in the car headed downtown. The excitement is palpable – we’re nervous, happy, and determined. We’ll be meeting an old friend of Kate’s with her daughter there, and hopefully many hundreds of fellow marchers.

11:12am I sit in the back seat and wonder if there will be people present protesting the March. I’m also thinking about the very real possibility that we see free speech come under attack from the new administration. I’m worried…

11:36am Parked at the corner of Yazoo and West. Walking to the March.

IMG_927212:45pm There was a picture at noon of all marchers on the capital steps. We then heard 2 dynamic speakers, and MARCHED! We stood in front of the governor’s mansion a while and chanted and sang…I’m not sure how many people are here, but it felt like a large crowd, excited and energized to have our voices heard. Now we’re back to the capital steps and listening to additional speakers.

1:15pm We called it quits for this march. I was feeling a little pitiful, plus we had 2 kids who seemed about ready to go as well.

It’s was a great protest, for my first time doing it! Kate and I agree that we’ll definitely be looking for the next one to participate in.

Women’s March on Jackson

wmojThis election season found me much more politically active than any other election cycle of my adult life. My past involvement with politics was limited – I voted once, in a presidential election, when I was 18…and that was about it. In 2016, for the first time, the conversations left me energized. They were important, not only for me but for people I love in the surrounding society.

I decided, post-election, to try and be more active and involved politically, especially on the local level. When I saw the Women’s March announced, and began following the various details, I knew this would be the first step for me.

I will march today for the women in my life – for my fiance, Kate, for my step-daughter, Lily, and my 3 biological daughters, Abbie, Zoe, and Dorothea. I will march today in support of women everywhere. It’s not much, but I will witness by my presence to my full support of women’s rights.

The rights of any traditionally marginalized group, whether women, children, racial minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, or others, are very easily trodden down again. We cannot take the progress in our society for granted, but rather we must continually push forward, support, and remember.

It is my privilege today to march with the women I love, in support of women everywhere.

Won’t you join us?

#WomensMarchJXN

For more information, visit the Women’s March on Jackson Facebook page.