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The last few months have been such a frenzy of things I haven’t had the time to sit down, center, and write.
Between all the hurried travelings and doings, there were some times I got to space out and go on long thought tangents. I wish I did a better job of writing notes down but I’m gonna work on that after a ranty life update.
Trip to Japan in five words: family, meetings, trains, humidity, food.
I went to see my grandpa in Chiba with my mom and my sister Hanami. We call him “Jiji”, which sort of translates to “gramps.” He’s 88 now and is as grouchy and dour as ever. If he had miraculously become a fun and energetic person, it would have felt very wrong and very weird. But really, this time he was so especially awful it was sort of amusing. The only times he would speak up was to complain about mundane things that only made other people in our family feel bad. Like ripping on the traditional sweet confections my 13 year old cousin brought all the way from her school trip to Kyoto.
We were all crammed on couches around this little table enjoying these treats, when Jiji suddenly went on this long ass tangent about how everyone who thinks highly of Kyoto is a shallow idiot with bad taste. All 13 of us fell silent as he went off for a while. When he was done, someone was brave enough to change the subject.
Even though my grandpa was as cranky as ever, and even though he sat through all the family meals munching his food so sternly and silently, it was comforting to see him and be near him. I used to go to Japan every summer growing up, and he was always difficult. In the mornings, he used to wake my sister and I by banging on a pot with a ladle for a straight minute and walk away. I also got to spend time with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, and there’s something bonding about experiencing and talking about the wrath of Jiji together.
He lived through some of the hardest times in Japan. During World War II he was a plane engineer, during which he was called out to carry the bodies of the dead after the Tokyo fire bombings by Americans. He ended up building a family business from nothing and worked 60 hour weeks to support our family for decades. So while he’s difficult and can be really stressful to be around, he did everything for us. I’m always going to be deeply grateful and respectful of him for that.
Trip to Detroit in five words: biking, activism, art, vacant, renewal.
Straight, long streets divide endless stretches of ruined suburbia, where lone homes stand next to vacant overgrown lots. My colleague and I bought cheap used bikes for the 5 days we were there and used them to explore the desolate neighborhoods. I felt guilty for being fascinated with it and felt bad for finding it beautiful.
I guess what’s so appealing about it is how raw and vulnerable the city looks. It’s like you’re witnessing the deep scars of a long lost U.S.A.: a country blind with irresponsible optimism and incoherent capitalistic growth. We’re definitely coming to the end of that, slowly, agonizingly. The decades of seemingly endless prosperity given rise to a corporate class willing to give up prosperity and stability at home to feed their corporations’ insatiable hunger for profit.
Detroit especially suffered from that neglect for years but you can see that it’s transforming. The young Detroiters that I met there talk about their city with an intense pride that I think only happens when people invest so lovingly in their community.
Anyway, I could go on and on about it. I haven’t even mentioned how incredible Allied Media Conference was. I’ll save that for another time.
Next blog post here will be less diary-like…