Everything I Know

[I know this is awfully quick for a new entry. If you haven’t yet read the previous posting, “The Reality of Dreams,” I urge you not to miss it!]

One of the movies I enjoyed most in recent months was The Last Station, about Tolstoy in the twilight of his life. The film begins with a quotation from his book War and Peace:

“Everything I know, I know because I love.”

I recommend this quotation as a springboard for discussion here. What do you make of it? Do you like it? Do you agree? Thoughts? Feelings?

I was trying to discuss the quotation earlier this evening with someone here, and even though I’m sure my Japanese translation of it was perfect, it just wasn’t making sense in a literal rendering to the Japanese mind. I’ve often encountered that barrier: people are people, to be sure, and I believe that we all think more or less the same thoughts, although the vehicles for expressing them are vastly different. But sometimes there’s just a Wall, and a thought that makes sense to westerners doesn’t make any sort of sense in Japan . . . and vice-versa. Who wrote, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”? I’m guessing Kipling.

The last writing class before the holidays went well today. We studied parentheses, quotation marks, and conclusions of essays. When we come back after the break, rough drafts of the five-paragraph essay are due. Then I’ll be checking/correcting day and night in order to get them back to the students by the following week. Hard work, but fun. Today a student sought me out in the part-time teachers’ room with some excellent questions. When you’re able to answer exactly what someone wants to know, you’re very glad to be a teacher. It was a great final note before the holidays.

Anyway, I have this eccentric custom of, when I write in my journal each night, reading the entry from a year ago and the entry from ten years ago on the same day. It’s interesting to see what I was doing then — the ways that life has changed, and the ways it’s stayed the same. Tonight I came across this entry from ten years ago — December 23, 2000 — that had me laughing so hard my eyes were streaming. See what you make of it. In this excerpt, I’m describing the Christmas caroling event at Shirone Lutheran Christ Church (the church at which I was most recently a volunteer before I retired from OVYM). Here’s the (partial) entry:

“Mr. Kobayashi wore a Santa Claus suit, complete with a white beard. We drove in 3 cars to a nursing home. Sang first on a stage, with Mrs. Yosai playing a piano & Ms. Takeda playing ocarina; then we sang in two different rooms (4 beds per room) of people who were bedridden and couldn’t come to the common room. Then we caroled inside the main entrance of Jusco. [Jusco is like a Japanese Wal-Mart.] Finally, we sang outside, on the sidewalk in front of a strange little health-food store. The owner seems to have some kind of connection with the church, but I didn’t ask what. Rachel pointed out that it was like a store in a dream — not quite focused or logical — a rack of used clothes, stacks of unlabeled cans, weird pictures on the walls of people with exotic illnesses — and a few other items like omochi and soy sauce. Rachel & I had fun talking & laughing; we rode in the Nakanos’ car. I’m really going to miss her when she goes back to the States.”

[Rachel was the OVYM volunteer, two generations after me, at Shirone.] I do not at all remember those pictures on the walls, but isn’t that something? I’ve got to use that store description in a story someday! I do remember that caroling event as if it were yesterday. The organizer of it was so deadly serious about it that we started rehearsals in the spring. Throughout the summer and fall, we moved outdoors for practices, so we could get used to singing in the open air. That was the best-rehearsed caroling I’ve ever been a part of!

Okay: at the request of Marquee Movies, seconded by Mr. Snowflake and Scott, I tried taking a self-portrait of myself wearing the Christmas tie mentioned in the last posting. Here you go:

Fa la la la la -- la la la la!

Yes, there are more paintings coming soon to a blog near you! (And yes, the picture is totally staged. I don’t really paint while kneeling on my bed, and I don’t paint while wearing a necktie.)

Again: a merry and blessed Christmas to all! The world is dark and cold, but we can laugh and sing; we can rejoice. Because of the baby born in Bethlehem, there can be a happy ending to every story, no matter how dark the journey.


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7 Responses to “Everything I Know”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Oh, okay . . . that must be the famous tie, then!!! (Smart idea, not painting in it. I painted in a pair of pants I particularly liked once and ever after have had an interesting red splotch on one leg.) 🙂

    I know I can only write deeply about a setting I love and/or find extremely interesting, if that has anything to do with your quote. If I hate the setting or simply don’t find it that interesting, all the life goes out of it. I have to be able to enjoyably walk the streets of it before I can actually write anything good out of it. But when I do love it . . . well, then; my audience probably scratches their heads, but I feel the very breath of the wind on me as I detail everything from dust to houses. It’s so helpful for homesickness, or when you’re waiting for something you remember from previous years . . . that’s probably when I do my only decent writing . . .

    They always say “write what you know” (or, “what you can come to know about”) but I think it’s equally valid to say “write what you love”.

    Merry Christmas, in English, this time!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I absolutely agree about “Write what you love”! If we had to know everything we write about firsthand, fantasy writers would be up the creek.

  2. Scott Says:

    That tie isn’t nearly as bad as you made it out to be. I’ve seen and owned much worse.

    The company that I work for used to require men to wear ties. There wasn’t any stipulation as to what the ties could or should look like. We just had to wear ties. I stretched the limits and boundaries of good taste with many of my selections.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      That is the way to deal with a silly rule like that! (Did the policy say you had to wear the ties around your necks?

      By the way, a few more excellent comments have come in at the end of the previous post! We don’t have to abandon that one just because this one is started.

  3. jhagman Says:

    When you translated “everything I know,,” you were translating a translation! It sounds like Princess Maria Bolkonskaya’s character. She is a long suffering, gentle-soul of a character. I might be wrong though, it has been over twenty years since I’ve read “War And Peace”. Concepts as we understand them are not always translatable, some of my Mother’s foreign (literally) ideas are often beyond my understanding. I admire people who can command multiple languages, and have an understading of multiple cultures!

  4. Daylily Says:

    One can know something well without having a love for it. Much of my learning has been due to necessity, not love. So I think that “Everything I know” is putting it too strongly. Yet I can see some truth to the statement. That which one knows the best is likely to be due to a love or passion for the subject which draws one on to learn as much as possible.

    Thanks for more glimpses of your life in Japan, Fred! It’s always interesting to read these “slices of life.” Indeed, that “strange little health-food store” would make a terrific addition to or even setting for a story. And very intriguing, your habit of rereading old journal entries in a systematic fashion! I should think this would be quite enlightening. I have journaled for years. I may have to give your idea a try in 2011!

  5. tandemcat Says:

    The Tolstoy quote has been so literally true for me, transforming the second half of my life, sending me back to college (where I met Fred) and making me into a very different sort of person from what I was in the first half.

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