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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Grandma's Revenge

"Perhaps more than any authority on human behavior, [Victor] Frankl's knowledge is first-hand and springs from objective evaluations of destitute humans living with the daily probability of death. These experiences enabled him to make a sharp departure from the theories of Sigmund Freud. For example, Freud taught that if humans were deprived of food, their behavior would become more and more uniform as they resorted to their level of their basic "animal like instincts. But Frankl states, 'In the concentration camps we witnessed to the contrary: we saw how, faced with the identical situation, one man degenerated while another attained virtual saintliness.'" - Dr. Denis Waitley, " The Psychology of Winning
Attending the celebration of my Obachan's 100th birthday party in San Francisco was a life shaping event for me, my son Joseph, and everybody who attended. The last time I was in San Francisco was 20 years ago at my Obachan's 80th birthday party in 1993, just before I met my wife Karen, just before our family learned that my father had colon cancer, that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and he was given just 5 years to live. I remember her being presented with 80 cranes, a symbol of long life.

In preparation for my opportunity to speak, 20 years ago, I first learned of the stormy ride my mom took with my obachan took on a boat from the Tsuchitani homestead on the island of Iwaishima, in Yamaguchi Ken, to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu, in search of work, a few months after my mom's family first arrived in Japan on a military transport ship, and her fears as a 12-year old that the boat might sink. I had studied difficulties my mom had overcome, but unfamiliar with the term gaman, and how it has defined my Obachan's life, I harbored considerable anger about everything my otosan had lost, which I wrote about in Rising Son in the West, the seed of what I hoped would become a book, but which I abandoned at age 19, while a student in Dorothy Brown's class on 20th century American history, fearing my anger about the unfairness of it all would consume me, and decided to research what I considered more positive things that my dad had been doing.

I first learned about gaman when I visited The Art of Gaman, an exhibit at the Renwick, a few years ago. I learned more about gaman earlier this. summer, thanks to Jan Morrill's Red Kimono, which dramatizes the concept through the eyes of a small girl and her teen age brother, who find themselves in internment camps, and a young African American, who finds himself in jail, after he is caught up in a tsunami of hatred of Japanese Americans, immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Joe and I had been in conflict all summer. At 15, Joe had a hard time understanding the depths of my hatred toward the X-box Live game, Halo, and the  hours upon hours I felt he was wasting on what I considered a brain deadening game, totally disconnected from real goals, that might get him somewhere in life. Joe's experience has been only with me struggling professionally and economically, ever since I left Allied Plywood in February 2002, when he was 4 years old, without much of a plan. Determined to go well beyond my comfort zone, I had no idea about the levels of discomfort I would experience, such as when I tried to read James and the Giant Peach to my first class of 3rd graders, a class with the vast majority of the class 2nd language learners, and got zero response. Welcome to teaching!

Until Joe traveled with me, my sister Dawn, and her husband Rowland, and stayed in a beautiful house in Daly City, and delivered a message to all the attendees at my Obachan's 100th birthday party, Joe had difficulty understanding why I had always been so brutally honest, and held him to such a high standard. He had become resistant, partly because he knew how much his resistance to taking care of his business by finishing Lord of the Flies, lifting weights in preparation for tryouts, and practicing his hitting frustrated me. In the Lord of the Flies, Golding chillingly dramatizes Freud's erroneous view that people revert to a primal baseline, when separated from society. Knowing what I know, I wanted for Joe to begin to develop a little more depth. Being exposed to 4 generations of family and hearing the stories, I noticed a difference in Joe's self-motivation, which as a parent and teacher, is truly the gold standard.

20 years ago

In 1993, I was working in the credit department at Allied Plywood, a 100% employee owned company, and had come to expect $16,000 year-end annual bonuses. I had recently helped save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Virginia Sales Tax audit, working under the direction of Larry Richards. Larry and I politely challenged every finding of the auditor, customer by customer. Ultimately, Larry and I turned a handsome profit for our company on the sales tax audit, after our contention that all of our write-offs should be credited back to the auditor's spreadsheet using the same formula the state was using to penalize us, was upheld.

Working an ingenious plan to increase our annual sales to from $50 million to $100 million overnight, Bob Shaw had established Atlantic Forest Products under the shadowy AWood umbrella.We were secretly brokering railcars and truckloads to all of our much larger competitors including Lowes and every other lumber yard in the area, which caused our credit lines to balloon, our banker to call every day to complain, and a spike in profitability which was fueling our expansion into Atlanta and Charlotte. Bob's clever ruse was only discovered when Mike P, an ex-Georgia Pacific salesman, sent a fax to Fairfax Lumber, which caused quite a ripple. The fax machine had been moved to Baltimore from our main branch in Alexandria. The header still read, "Allied Plywood." When called into the offices of Fairfax Lumber for an explanation, Mike P quickly came up with the story that he had bought the fax from one of his customers.

20 years ago, I was living in a townhouse on Buttercup Ct., which I owned in partnership with my brother, my uncle Isamu, and his friend Soon. We rented out two rooms in the upstairs. My room in the downstairs had a fireplace with a blower unit. I was proud of my solid mahogany mantle, and how, with the help of my buddy Steve we had hidden its anchors, rated at over 2,000 lbs. per anchor, as well as the counter top with a bullnose a carpenter on disability from Smoot had installed over my custom built bookcase, all cut from the same 12/4 mahogany board, originally about 20" wide and 20' long, which I had pulled myself when working for Austin Hardwoods. My 5.0 Mustang felt rumbled home every night, music blasting. My ESOP retirement account seemed like a certainty.

Two Weeks Ago

20 years later, I was preparing to board flight 77 on Virgin Atlantic, a non-stop flight from Dulles to San Francisco, where I would continue to nag my son Joseph to finish Lord of the Flies, which he has had all summer to read, and still needs to annotate for his honor's English class. On the flight, I challenged Joe that I would be finished with the audiobook version, read by William Golding, before the plane touched down.

The last time I had been on a plane was on my honeymoon to Swept Away in Negril, Jamaica (December, 1995). Going through TSA for the first time, I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle. Had my dad not asked beforehand whether I had read the instructions for carry on luggage on Virgin America's website, I would have been totally unaware of the 3-1-1 rule, the need to pack any loose carry-on luggage in plastic bags for easy screening, and the advantage of packing gels and liquids in my checked luggage.

Joe's childhood has been largely defined by 9-11, which was largely why I was so appreciative of the airline industry's remarkably efficient response to 9-11, considering the CNN news reports about a series of drone attacks to disrupt terrorist cells in Yemen, and a terrorism alert, which flashed on Virgin's inflight media screens, along with news about Washington's first preseason football game, as I flipped through channels. This was Joe's first flight. Flying Virgin America, Joe knew we were in good hands. When we descended in total fog for a blind landing, I thanked God that we had such a professional pilot, and felt really smart about our decision to fly Virgin America.

In preparation for my opportunity to speak at my Obachan's 100th birthday, about a month ago, my mom had filled in additional details, as I sought to compare impressions of post-war Japan described in Donald Richie's Japan Journals with her recollections of what it was like to arrive in Japan after departing from Tule Lake. I brought with me a map of Japan, so that I could use it as a prop, and publicly ask my Obachan, in front of all the attendees, to help me fill in details about where and when she went in Japan, hoping to to get her to open up to me, so that I could visit Japan within the next 10 years, and write more richly about her experiences. Never did get much of an opportunity to speak with her! Being present seemed good enough.

Anger at age 19

At age 19, racism became personal.

Joe's generation does not understand the depths of racism, the evils of Social Darwinism, and the power of bad ideas. Ultimately, Grandma got her revenge. She was able to feel the love of 3 generations at Green Hills Country Club in San Bruno. Indeed, "revenge is sweet," and "revenge is a dish that is best served cold."

A thousand cranes


Tomorrow, I will take a cash advance from Discover to pay back the remaining $12,000 that I had rolled into an IRA, but had withdrawn so that I could continue to pay my share of the bills, so that I can avoid yet another 30% tax penalty. Resigned to the probability that I would not be able to afford the trip, I had told everybody in my family for months that, since I had no job, I probably wouldd not attend. Thanks to Dr. P, I was willing to take a major leap of faith, with the implicit promise that I would have a job waiting for me when I got back home. Time to get serious about becoming a more professional teacher!