Shogun

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: Second Time Around

Second Time Around: Tell us about a book you can read again and again without getting bored — what is it that speaks to you?

July 1979 found me on tiny verandah in Washington DC. I had worn out my poor feet visiting every museum and gallery in the National Mall and I just wanted to sit down and read. My uncle had a copy of James Clavell’s Shogun. It appealed, far more that the books on international commerce and economics. It started well, a ship wrecked on the coast of a strange land. I got as far chapter three, and then the Greyhound beckoned and I was off west to further explore my own strange land.

April 1984, the north of England, and I am in a converted barn for a week. I have with a freshly printed version of a book I had begun to read some years earlier. This time I survived the ship wreck and entered into the strange land. And I was hooked. I knew little more of Japan than did the shipwrecked Elizabethan friend. But together we were to learn, and like him I came to love it. The characters, the culture, the attitudes, all supported by a compelling story. Since then I have read the book many times. Dog-eared and battered it has travelled around with me. We are now old friends.

The 21st Century, and there remains something special about the book. I know the story well; it holds no surprise, treacherous characters and plot-twists are soon remembered. And yet, still, I read it. Again and again. I love the way it is written, the way the characters are developed and most of all for the way it describes the the country and its culture; and with a passion and admiration in many ways, that I would not have expected from an author who was imprisoned by the Japanese and left with little reason to love them.

The descriptions of the behaviours and attitudes of the samurai lords and the peasant retainers are finely done. In one scene the ‘hero’ has a close encounter with his own death. Clavell describes how the hero feels when the he realises he is still alive, how all the senses are sharper, and life suddenly has a wholly new excitement. I think Clavell knew this first hand, he captures the essence of the moment perfectly, as I too was to learn.

And there is more. The intricate strategies wrought by the warlords; the frustrations of learning, and teaching a foreign language and culture where mistakes could be painful; and the beautiful love story that weaves its way through the book. Reading the book is an exercise in escapism, education, entertainment, and meditation. The concept of harmony, and by implication tranquility permeates the book; no matter how I feel when I start, I always end the book feeling calmer. Soon I may have to retire the old 1984 copy, for I known I shall be reading it again, and again, and again.


Image is of the battle of Sekigahara which is forms the basis for events in the book. Image credit: Public Domain. By User LordAmeth on en.wikipediaCollection of The Town of Sekigahara Archive of History and Cultural Anthropology [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Luring me back to cancel half a line

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Personal Space.”

To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? How do you balance that? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it?

This is my blog: I have chosen the name, the design and its purpose. It is for me, for my own enjoyment; and to practice my writing. Hence I write about what appeals to me, I use vocabulary that speaks to me, and I say what I feel.

Thus to answer the question posed by this prompt, a tripling of traffic would not lure me back to cancel half a line, nor wash out a word. Attracting readers is secondary. Although, contrariwise, if you are reading this then that is lovely. Continue reading

To have or to be… or to feel

Verbal Confirmation

“To be, to have, to think, to move — which of these verbs is the one you feel most connected to? Or is there another verb that characterizes you better?”
This was the daily prompt for October 1. It got me thinking, a lot. I felt I just had to write.

I was a teenager, as rebellious as most and my mother, had just read what she thought was the best book she had ever seen. Written by the philosopher Eric Fromm, it was called To Have or To Be. I was to read it, then and there, it was important and could change my life.

No.

My motorbike, my girlfriend, my hidden stash of tobacco, now these were important and going to change my life. And besides didn’t the title say it all. Life was too short, I wasn’t going to read it. Fast forward a few decades. The motorcycle I sold soon after; the girlfriend got married, to someone else; and the cigarettes, well I saw sense. And I have still yet to read that book – some rebellion burns in me still.

Yet, the question it asked was a good one. Is it better, however you may define better, to have lots of something or to be something. Partly out of guilt perhaps, I have often found myself wondering about this and I have always come to the same conclusion. It is better to be than to have. Having is good, make no mistake, especially when you have not. I see it as a threshold thing. Below a certain level money, shelter, food, are all potentially critical. On the other hand beyond that threshold, their importance can rapidly diminish for me and then it is simply habit or competitiveness that motivates me to gain more.

Being happy, loved, healthy, these I do not feel have a simple threshold; and yet, I began to question that too, something about being just didn’t feel right. Feel, I have now use the word twice in one sentence. To have, to be or to feel. I have to say that now I feel that ‘to feel’ is the critical verb. Do I feel happy, healthy, or loved; do I feel I have enough money, a warm enough house, or enough food.

Whether I am happy, or healthy or whatever, is less important than whether I feel I am.

Addicted to learning

Writing 101, Day 4.

Today’s suggestion from WordPress Blogging U.

“Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more. (A twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.)”

My name is El Amarillo Camino and I am an addict.

A reformed addict to be fair, and in my case sadly so. I was addicted to the Open University, that marvellous degree awarding institution set up in the late 1960’s to enable under-privileged people to go to university. It has no entry qualifications; you don’t even physically attend it. It is all done via post, or nowadays on-line. Continue reading