A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Honoring my 100 year old O bāchan

The ability to connect with a wide range of students on a human level is my special talent as an educator. To get anyone to respond to you, which any coach on any level must be able to do, requires a "human touch," a quality which an editor noticed in Donald Richie, author of The Japan Journals: 1947-2004, after he wrote a human interest story about a man living under a bridge in 1947, a little story which launched a long and successful writing career. Without the "human touch," nobody will do anything for you.

This past spring, my decision to be "real" with my school about my self-diagnosed ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), as well as the skill in which I was able to weave in my own personal experiences, often painful, but generally hilarious, enabled me to secure and hold the attention of a difficult population of middle school students as they prepared for their state testing and final exams. Instead of yelling at students whenever they went off task, simply for effect, i.e., playing to an audience of adult evaluators who might be expecting more controlling teacher behavior, playing that role for an audience of students expecting me to play that role, a role which I have never played well, I decided to follow the advice of one Principal and simply be real.

The data shows that a population of students who had had a 48% pass rate on their 5th grade mathematics state tests in Mathematics responded to me with an over 90% pass rate on their state tests as 6th graders. Since the "numbers speak for themselves," according to Dr. P, I was willing to submit to Dr. P's suggestion that I take a vacation, and commit to attending my O bāchan's 100th birthday party in San Francisco later this summer, even without the commitment of a job offer, rather than apply for any position at Home Depot and stress myself out before I go before a panel sometime around Bastille Day.

Since on my O bāsan's 80th birthday party I gave a speech which was well received, since I have always been somewhat of a family historian, and because of my natural flair as a story teller, my Okāsan asked me to prepare something for my O bāsan's 100th birthday party to be held in San Francisco a month fromnow. While I wish I had a copy of that speech written 20 years ago, not having what I had previously written has been somewhat liberating, as I have been forced by circumstances to begin with a clean slate.

In typical ADD fashion, to prepare, I have polished off audio versions of the OdysseySaint Augustine, The trial & death of Socrates, and have in the queue The Aeneid, Guns, germs and steel, and James Madison and the struggle for the Bill of Rights. Last week, while riding the exercise bike at the Audrey Moore Rec. Center, I finally completed reading Jan Morrill's The Red Kimono, a mystery novel which characterizes the Internment of Japanese Americans and explores the concept of gaman from three different perspectives, Sachi, a 10 year old girl, Nobu, Sachi's 18 year old brother, and Terrence, Nobu's African American friend, who upon learning that his father had died during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, gets caught up with a mob and beats up the first "Jap" he comes across to the point of death.

Currently, I am reading The Japan Journals: 1947-2004, in order to get a better feel for what it must have been like for my O bāsan as she worked as a translator in postwar Japan, and to better imagine the manner in which she was forced to ply her feminine wiles in order to secure the best available food, shelter, and other essentials for her family, including the flour with worms in it, which my Ojisan made into doughnuts, without degrading herself. For similar reasons, I will be reviewing Embracing Defeat: Japan in the wake of World War II, a Pulitzer Price Winning book by John Dower, which explains the psychology occupation.

I also plan to take another peek at Edmond Morris's Pulitzer Prize winning The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which explains Theodore Roosevelt's role in America's rise from a time of Rough Riders to global super power status. Don't want to miss anything. Eventually, I will get around to rereading the paper I wrote for Dorothy Brown's course at Georgetown University, U.S. in the 20th Century, "Rising Son in the West," in which, largely through California newspapers read at the Library of Congress over Christmas Vacation nearly 30 years ago, I explored circumstances in California which led to the enactment of Executive Order 9066, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and wove in the factors which led my Ojīsan to swim to shore from a tall ship across San Francisco Bay in 1915. I framed Yunosuke Tsuchitani as a sort-of Horatio Alger story with a twist, as he was one of the first to be rounded up by the "men in the black suits," detained by the FBI for his contributions to Dai Nippon Butoko Kai, a service organization for widows and orphans, sent to a federal prison in Bismark, North Dakota. Reunited with his family four years later, he departed Tule Lake penniless.

Thanks to Jan Morrill, and how she developed her characters in The Red Kimono, I have come to the realization that the character my O bāsan represents remains largely a mystery to me, a mystery I need to plumb, for she has become for me, perhaps, the more intriguing character. So many questions about gaman. So many secrets. I am hoping that my "human touch" serves me, so I can seize on what will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to get some answers, or more likely, be left with more questions, and a greater respect for all that I do not know.

I imagine my O bāsan as a sort of Japanese Penelope, who must have had a special gift for warding off soldiers of the occupation, and rising above the envious. How to get her to talk about post-war Japan?

Considering how tight-lipped my O bāsan has always been, as a matter of decorum, now that she has finally demanded that I pay attention by holding this 100th birthday party, a certain amount of poetic license in composing a brief narrative with her as the central character will probably be necessary, although in this case, the truth is probably stranger than fiction. In The Phaedo, after a jury of 500 had condemned Socrates to death for corrupting the youth of Athens, and Socrates had been spared a few extra sunrises by the fortuitous occasion of celebration of a Festival during which no executions were to take place, Socrates shared with his friends a dream he had in which he had been instructed to "compose fiction ... not true tales." I think Socrates realized that it is possible to be more real with fiction than with "true tales."

How does one make it to 100? Why would somebody want to be 100? The number 100 is shrouded in mystery, and as a measure of success, the number 100 speaks for itself.

What was it like to marry somebody 15 years her senior? Why did she refuse my Ojisan's request to sign papers to own land in her name? How did roles change after Pearl Harbor, (a question explored in The Red Kimono)? I know so little about the Otsukas. So many questions about family.

How has somebody with so little, who has always appeared so frail, been able to attract the support of so many during the darkest of times? Even my 15 year old son, Joe, who lately has seemed so lackluster, is feeling that connection with his great grandma, "Boom, Boom Tsuchitanisan." By coming to San Francisco, he will hopefully get a better sense why I was screaming at him at 8 o'clock last night to put up his net and do 50 low swings, and 50 high swings, and why I was recommending that he read Miyamato Mushashi's Five Rings.