Family Journal Musings


It’s like a path out of the mountains that you just finished. You look back and the rain clouds have obscured all signs of where you came from. But if you trace your route back you can find the places where one path separated, or joined, or veered off.

I got a letter from a cousin the other day detailing my family history back ten generations, something I didn’t even know was possible because my paternal African-American and Filipino sides had been so ruined by my ancestors having been slaves and a populace taken over in a colony. No records had been kept of family lines here. But my great-great grandfather in South Carolina, where my African-American family is Gullah, from Hilton Head Island, was a white Jew named Driesen. I going over the records my cousin was able to step back ten generations, 1621, to a couple in County Cork, Ireland, Teige and Elizabeth Cantey.

You can imagine my reaction… “I’m part Irish???”

I wonder what traces filter back down through the genes as one generation flows into the next. Is there such thing as genetic memory? Or do ghosts of a person’s experience and sights burn into the film of the next generation’s life plate? Does it mean anything that somewhere in the mists of time two Irish people nudged my existence with their children and then made the frightening crossing over to North America?

But there is something deeply comforting in catching a glimpse of the trail that led me here. All these years it has been a blur. I feel more connected to the earth now, as if my cells now lead further back and I am not just an afterthought.

Japan: Living Journal Life In Musings


(In January, 2012, my site was catastrophically hacked. I managed to get most of the content back, but unfortunately all my Japanese posts and comments have been rendered illegible. This was one of my best-loved posts, with some of the most interesting comments, so it is a loss greatly felt. I hope to keep the Japanese continued in my posts.


(edit: Managed to find the original Japanese text in the .plist file of my old Ecto software…an offline blog writing application, no longer available. Unfortunately, still can’t find the comments, though I know I have it somewhere on a .PDF copy of my old blog.)

(編集:やっと元の日本語長文を古いブロッグソフトの .plist ファイルにみつかりました。残念ながら、まだコメントの方がみつかりません。しかし、もしかして、昔ブロッグを .PDFに変えた時のファイルがまだ有るかもしれないです。)







Family Humor Journal Musings Race

Good Grief

DaisyWinnefred, of Animated Stardust relates a hilarious experience with an off kilter heterosexual. Her grace and humor in an intolerable encounter certainly are lessons in humility and kindness. I wish I could be so charming and tolerant. But, I guess, what else can you do in such a situation?

Reminds me of a story my mother told me of when I was a baby in Hannover, Germany. This was back in the early 1960’s, when Hannover harbored precious few dark-skinned creatures and just seeing a black or Asian was as rare as flamingos in the Black Forest. My father is a Filipino/black American while my mother is a cream-skinned German. The resulting cocktail is an olive-skinned mutt who can pass off as Mexican, Nepali, Turkish, Iraqi, Brazilian, Italian, Indian, Spanish, even Portuguese (all of which I have been mistaken for). Suffice it to say that in Germany, in the small city of Hannover, in 1960, I was pretty much an organic representation of an exclamation mark.

Anyway, my mother told me, she and I were taking our leisure in the hallowed walls of the hospital where I was born, waiting for my checkup. There were a few tables lined up against the wall for mothers to attend to their babies and my mother stood beside one, changing my diapers. Another mother with her little, curlicue-haired, blonde baby was changing his diapers, so that he and I could begin our first jaunt into urinal bathroom comparison rivalry. I’m not sure if I initiated any undue cause for attention, but the woman leaned toward my white mother, gave her a rundown with her eyes, switched headlights toward me, this swaddled muffin, lightly browned, gave me the once down, glanced back at my mother, then me again, all in head-cocking appraisal, before standing up straight and inquiring, in all earnestness:

“Please, tell me. How did you manage to get that particular shade of skin tone? My son’s skin remains as pink as when he was born. What do you do? Feed him carrots? Do the carrots make a great difference?”

It wasn’t my fault! I do happen to like carrots. I often wonder now if my affliction could have been prevented with a bit more forethought on my part. A bit more whole milk, perhaps. Or maybe tubs of yoghurt. Marshmallows? Or how about Cool Whip?

Journal Poetry

Herbsttag (Autumn Day)

Orkney Quoyloo Window View
View from a friend’s cottage window in Quoyloo, the Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

In 1991, while attending a writer’s gathering I was invited to in Glenbrook, New Hampshire, Walter Clark recited this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, and favorite poems:


Es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr gross.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren lass die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Fruechten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei suedlicher Tage,
draenge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Suesse in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein is, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin and her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blaetter treiben.

It is difficult to translate into English the inherently melancholy voice of the German language and even more difficult to ascribe the longer rhythms and consonant rich sound of German words that Rilke uses so masterfully in his poems. It is simply impossible to bring across the full beauty of Rilke’s poems in English. For the sake of most of the readers of this weblog, I’ve made my own attempt:

Autumn Day

Lord: it is time. The Summer was so grand.
Lay thy shadows upon the sundials,
and upon the fields let the winds loose.

Allow the last fruit to grow full;
give them yet two southerly days,
press them through completion and throw
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house, builds none more.
Who now is alone, will so long remain,
will wake, read, write long letters
and in the alleyways two and fro
restlessly wander, as the leaves drift down.

German books are still published in small formats that are easy to carry in pockets. Japanese books, too. When I introduced a Japanese friend to The Lord of the Rings series last year, at first she recoiled when she saw the huge paperback volume in the English section of Kinokuniya, the giant six story bookstore in downtown Tokyo. “It’s too heavy!” she protested. “Who’s going to carry around a lump like that?” She was reassured, however, when she went downstairs and discovered that the Japanese versions had been split into seven volumes, each small enough to slip into her purse’s side pocket.

I’m puzzled why western book companies now issue most of their books in these huge bricks that barely fit into your bag and add up to the equivalent of a weightlifter’s barbell when stuffing a bag for school or work. During the Second World War publishers distributed the newly designed “pocket books” so that soldiers might carry a volume in their back pockets, but the mobility of these books still holds true today. Not only would carrying the latest edition of the Harry Potter series while walking the mountains make my pack a lot lighter (no I don’t bring such big books into the mountains!), but it would certainly make having books shipped from in the States here to Japan a lot cheaper.