Awa Odori and Pow-Wows

In July, I moved to Japan after years of dreaming about doing so, and it’s been a whirlwind. Living in a foreign country can be very stressful as you do your best to understand and use a language that you’ve never needed to use in a practical way before. It’s a strange change from the way I had to actively seek out Japanese when studying it at home, and it’s entirely different.

Living somewhere new also means adjusting to a new culture, and Japanese culture is very different from the American Midwestern culture.

One of my experiences in Japan so far was Awa Odori. Bon Odori is a festival that takes place throughout Japan, but Awa Odori is specific to Tokushima, the prefecture I’m living in. It’s a special dance meant to honor one’s ancestors and is unique from the Odori dances of other areas of Japan. Legend has it that the Awa dance was created by drunk people, which explains why it looks the way it does. (If you want to see if for yourself, there are plenty of videos on Youtube.)

The Awa dance is older than the United States, yet people still celebrate it year after year. Schools here in Tokushima teach it to students, I’ve been told, and there are so, so many different groups who perform in the festival, some of them famous and some of them just doing it for fun. There are even more people who practice Awa dance but never plan to enter in the festival.

The closest experience I’d had to Awa Odori previously was attending a pow wow in the United States. Music and dance play fundamental roles in both events, and both have roots older than the United States. They also both have huge religious and cultural significance.

Maybe you weren’t expecting me to start comparing Japanese and Native American cultures in this post, but I think they have a number of things in common, even if the initial realization kind of surprised me too. I was struck by it as I watched the dancers at Awa Odori, and I was struck again when, while talking about traditional Japanese music, a student commented that Japanese and Native American people “have the same origins”. (That is one theory by the way, though not one undoubtedly proven or accepted by everyone.)

That being said, there was one key difference: the amount of people.

I saw more white people in Tokushima during Awa Odori than I had the entire rest of my time here. People travel from all over Japan to see it too. It’s a huge event with entire streets lined with food stalls and various groups all dancing at once.

The pow wow I attended, however, was much smaller. It was inside one building. There was one dance going on at a time, one stand serving food. And, as my sister so aptly pointed out, the two of us were the only white people there.

The same pride went into both events, but the amount of outsiders who cared was vastly different. It’s a striking difference. The two events felt so similar in tone and even in what events they contained, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if more Americans expressed a passing interest in attending Awa Odori than the pow wows that happen in their own backyards.

(Please note that this is not a call for Americans to take over pow wows, and I’m definitely not saying that Native Americans need for white people to be interested in their events. If you go to a pow wow, please be respectful of the fact that it’s not your event. Also, make sure you’re actually invited, not personally but as someone who isn’t a member of that Native nation.)

I’d highly recommend going to both if possible. After all, I can’t judge anyone for wanting to experience Awa Odori, it’s a truly great experience, but don’t assume that America doesn’t contain the same richness of culture or events that have been handed down for centuries. (A lie that even I fall for at times.) It does, even if, in America’s case, it’s not white culture.

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Dear Azula,

Note: It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these letters. This one is to Azula, who’s a character in Avatar: The Last Airbender. This is a result of recently reading the Avatar comic The Search and contains spoilers for that comic trilogy as well as the TV show. It was difficult to write because it was impossible for me to put into words what I’ve been thinking.

I can’t say that I ever expected to write this letter. Throughout the television series, you’re characterized as someone who cares only about power. You did things that were inexcusable, but by the end of the series, it was clear that you needed more help than you received.

Your brother, Zuko, wished for a closer relationship with you and struggled to see why that wasn’t possible. Despite loving Zuko dearly, I do wish he had shown more initiative in getting you help after he was crowned Fire Lord. Maybe he did somehow, but if he did, it was unseen.

You’re convinced that your mother didn’t love you. I have to say that I didn’t believe that for a long time, but then I read The Search and was disappointed. It didn’t entirely change my belief. I do think your mother loved you, but I think she failed both you and Zuko in greater ways than I had believed before.

Throughout your life, you have desperately needed someone, though you couldn’t see that yourself, and there has never been anyone willing to make the effort needed to help you. The only bright side I see is that Zuko and Ursa do seem to want to help, even as they remain completely oblivious as to how. I understand running away from them, but I can’t stop hoping that one day you will speak to them again. Maybe, just maybe, that could be the beginning of bringing you peace.

Sincerely,

Haley

Dear 2016,

Judging by the state of my Twitter feed and Tumblr dashboard, you’ve been rather universally loathed. That seems to be a trend year after year. We reach December, and I become inundated with “this year was terrible” remarks everywhere I look. In years past, I rolled my eyes. Yes, terrible things happened each of those years, but I always struggled to believe that any of them were worse than the years that had come before. They all seemed rather equal in their terribleness. We were never going to have a year where something bad didn’t happen.

You, though, did seem different. I have to admit. Things seemed to reach a new level of awful, and I don’t think I was the only one broad on board to the “this was the worst year ever” sentiment who may not have indulged in the past.

However, you also weren’t all bad. I saw a tweet the other day about reconciling personal great moments with the less than stellar moments of the world. It resonated with me. I mean, I graduated college this year, and while that’s been terrifying, it’s also rather important. Maybe I would have been more excited about it if the overall tone of the year had been different, but I’m too preoccupied by everything else to give it much thought.

It wasn’t your fault really, 2016, even if you’ve become a great scapegoat. There are a lot of people at fault for a lot of different things, which means 2017 won’t be inherently better, but I do hope that it does get better.

Sincerely,

Haley Keller

The Spill

It’s been a long time since I’ve written something this short and without planning. We’ll see how it goes. I watched a documentary on the BP oil spill recently called After the Spill. That’s what this is based on.

For decades her family had lived on this land; Angie hadn’t expected that to change. Since childhood her ambitions had been to stay here and take care of it herself once her parents had passed. She’d broken up with a boyfriend over it. He’d had dreams of living in New York. Last she’d heard, he’d made it there.

Maybe she should have followed him, she thought forlornly as she struggled to pull her boot from the ground. Tar coated them–the boots, the ground, all of it. The oil was everywhere now, engulfing much of the land that had already been disappearing. That was what she owned, oil. It was supposed to make people rich. She laughed bitterly. It had ruined what little she had.

She stooped down, taking a handful of the oil and mud in her hand. She wasn’t sure why she did this to herself, came out here day after day and scooped up another handful. She’d given up long ago at actually clearing the oil from the land. That was a hopeless mission. The land was gone along with her dreams.

The Society and the 2016 Election

It’s been a while since I’ve said much of anything about The Society, which was the writing project that was my primary focus for such a long time. The silence about it on my part hasn’t been because I quit working on it. Rather, I have just shifted focus and, recently, haven’t been devoting as much time to it as I was.

(Lately, I have been writing more fanfiction than anything else. I recently finished the first draft of a Harry Potter fanfiction that is the longest thing I’ve ever written, and I’m quite proud of it so far.)

The Society has taken the back burner, though I am still committed to it. Now, however, I feel a new hesitancy about writing it that wasn’t there before when my lack of focus on it had more to do with Cursed Child feelings needing to be fully explored so that I could get over that disappointment.

Now the political nature of The Society is on my mind more than ever. I’m not sure how apparent this has been in what I’ve said about The Society in the past, but I’m writing a fantasy story that hinges around a fictional political system. My main character has been caught up in this political system since birth (having been born into an important family), and her relationship with the system is key to the entire plot. The story would not exist without it.

While this is very much a fictional political system that has magic as a key component, it would be foolish to suggest that it was not influenced by real life political systems. My goal is to write about a worldwide political system of the magical world, and this has meant painstakingly exploring the ways the real world politics of various regions of the world would influence a magical government in that same area and doing so in a way that’s accurate and respectful. Needless to say, that has been a lot of work, and it’s the biggest reason why this project is still in an infancy stage of sorts. While I have rough drafts of multiple stories in the series, none of them are anywhere near what I expect the finished projects to be because I have so much work to do fleshing them out and reworking them.

I have operated under the belief that the series would be set over a number of years, with the first of those years being the same year when I first began working on the series. My timeline for the series placed some of what I have planned into the current future, meaning the story I have would overlap with a Trump presidency, but that was the case long before I had any idea Trump would be running for president.

This has put me face to face with a situation I never expected. While I’m writing about fictional politics, I don’t feel like the world I am writing can be disconnecting from this election completely. With much of the story set in the United States, my characters would surely feel the impact of this election despite being magical beings.

Of course, I could set my fantasy world in some alternate reality where this election, with all of its partisan glory, never happened. I could set the world up to ignore non-magical (or “real world”) politics completely. But I can’t help but feel that that would be doing a disservice to what has happened, is currently happening, and will soon happen in the United States. It’s not how I have thus far dealt with real politics in the story, and changing that now would feel disingenuous at best.

So now I will begin the process of reworking the story in a way that I didn’t expect at the start of this process. Truth be told, even during the election I wasn’t thinking much about the impact it would have on The Society. (To be fair, I was a bit more preoccupied with its effect on the real world.) I was really only struck by it today. I’m not sure, exactly, what the ultimate influence it will exert on the story will be. Only time will tell.

And that may be quite a bit of time. While I have had this realization and know it will have an affect on the story, I don’t think I’m at the point where I can begin working on The Society again. That time will come, hopefully not in the distant future, but I cannot say when that will be. We shall see.

Learning

I enjoy learning new things. Sometimes, when I’m up to my neck in schoolwork, I can forget that I like learning, but even then, I may spend a break from my schoolwork by watching educational videos on YouTube or reading a nonfiction book. I genuinely like learning.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if I spend too much time trying to take in new information and not letting old information sink in. Learning, after all, doesn’t happen unless I can recall and use the information, which requires at least hearing it more than once. The vast majority of the time it also requires using the information, which in many cases I can be even less apt to do.

I do think I let it sink in at times. I read multiple books on a topic. I follow multiple blogs/websites on the same broad topic, and I’ll read articles they each post on the same thing (although in that case it might also be to see if they say anything different). I do make attempts to really learn things.

Of course, when it comes to doing, I can’t use all of the information I take in. Some of it doesn’t call for physical action, and I also can’t write essays about everything just to make sure I’ve got it. That would be a lot of essays to write in too little time.

But maybe that’s something I have to accept. I like taking in new information. It’s interesting. Maybe I won’t remember all of it, but hopefully, I’ll remember some of it, which is better than not having any of it at all.

Which Would You Choose?

Another flash fiction thing that’s purely dialogue. This was really only written because of a fond memory I have from my freshman year of high school. (But not meant to be the actual story of the memory.) Maybe you you probably can figure out who Lincoln and Sean actually are. (Clue, I was a high school freshman in 2009.) But I think it says a lot how you could easily insert a million different names.

“Lincoln is her soulmate. I don’t understand how you think she should be with Sean.”

“Because Sean’s a good guy. You only think Lincoln is awesome because you think he’s hot. If you take that away, he has no personality.”

“That is so not true. He loves her. He would do anything for her. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s the perfect relationship.”

“No, it’s sickening. Sean actually has a character, but she doesn’t deserve him anyway.”

“You have that all wrong, but it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t choose him anyway.”

“Just add that to the list of terrible decisions she makes.”

“No, no, no. Choosing Sean would have been stupid.”

“Will you two just shut up? God, I can’t listen to this anymore.”

“Sorry.”

“Sorry.”

“But how can you-”

“For the love of god!”