I'm reading Amy Schumer's autobiography at the moment. She's the sassy comedian who loves to shock with her foul mouthed tirades and assertions to do with sexuality. She has that common American quality of being brazen and un-checked which can so often go wrong but works well if it's backed up by authentic talent and dedicated self edit. In her case, it mostly works.
I wasn't sure what to expect but have been welcomely surprised by her honesty and the tale of her assiduous rising through the stand up ranks due to passion and a dedicated and focused work ethic, as well as plenty of tears and tear-me-down-and-I'll-get-right-back-up attitude.
There's some pretty funny stuff including a chapter titles "Letter to My Vagina" - which made me consider attempting a letter to my penis for fun and irreverence. But nah. It would serve no one.
One thing, though, that I was somewhat moved by and did bring up some memories and long lost feelings of my own were her chapters on her adolescence. I was reminded of what a trying time it is - how emotionally turgid and confusing it can be. Everything is new and a lot of intense and bewildering thoughts and feelings flood in out of nowhere and catch you unprepared. It's fair to say my years from 13 to sixteen were no walk in the park.
I had to put up with some violent bullying at school. I was a long haired, mellow dude - peace loving and kind spirited. But I could also be somewhat cheeky and somehow drawn to provoking ire in thick headed, mentally imbalanced older and larger students resulting in physical attacks on numerous occasions. This eventually subsided (once I started lifting weights - hmmm - a correlation?) but I did have to endure a good five years of it.
As well as that, I was frequently a target for imbalanced and sadistic teachers because I would not bow down to their unjust displays of authority heavy manipulation. Nice teachers - no problem. Assholes - problem. A few times it was like the classic prison guard vs prisoner scenario. I refused to bow down and paid for my stubbornness in various forms of legal abuse. Sadly, on the home front, too, I was misunderstood and unexpectedly troublesome to my parents who were relatively young and unprepared for my esoteric and eccentric behaviours. As the eldest of three boys my artistic temperament was vexatious and at times troubling to my parents resulting in miscommunication and detachment.
I'm happy to say that now, four decades later - it's all good. LOL. The rebellious, angsty kid has settled the fuck down. And, of course, can now appreciate how difficult it must have been at times to contend with such a mini maelstrom. (I love you Mum and Dad!)
But, yeah, all that. Done and dusted. So heightened at the time but then slowly surpassed and perhaps suppressed as new challenges presented themselves in my twenties - spiritual awakening, anorexia (what? yes. ahead of the curve!), an ill-fitting marriage, adultery, divorce... the usual stuff.
So why am I talking about myself? Oh, yeah, just happened. It's because of Amy Schumer. She got me remembering. Got me thinking about how tough those years can be for most of us. And yet we make it through. .... to a different kind of tough. Eventually, the edge gets taken off, you become somewhat of a veteran, a long game player, and find that you have somehow lived a fair chunk of life.
It's just one thing after another, really. You do your best - even if it's not technically your best. You do what you have to. It would make a hell of a reality show. So dense, so full of twists and turns, so.... relentless. And only you know the full extent of it. It's your show. Ta daaa! Surprised? Yeah, me, too. (shrugs).
For me reading is an integral part of my existence. I find the actual process of reading - rushing across letter, bouncing from word to word, sucking them in with your eyes, letting them swirl around in your brain and amplify into meaningful sentences, paragraphs... concepts. Munching on delicious combinations of adjectives and nouns, inventive, rhythmic phrase clusters that titillate and delight the cerebral neurons like cheeky pixies.
I began really loving reading around the age of ten or eleven - comics were a big part of it, of course, but also magazines like Time and Newsweek and books. The Hardy Boys series was a huge favourite. Those cliffhanger chapter endings! My love for books really kicked into high gear around the age of fourteen when I started reading adult fiction in paperback form. I would buy them second hand from a local second hand bookshop in Tokyo. The shop was filled with Japanese books, of course, but there were about three or four shelves of titles in English. I chose very carefully. To buy a book and not be able to read it, legitimately enjoy it was something I only did once or twice. I hated to think of the title I had missed or excluded that would have perhaps opened a new world. So, I ended up spending one, two hours in the shop sometimes, before deciding on my purchase. As a discipline, and because I wasn't very cashed up, just one at a time. Unless there were two amazing ones, guarenteed reads that I didn't want to miss out on.
It was a thrill to be able to read 'adult' fiction - whatever I wanted from a young age. It helped me mature, formulate my world view, learn things about the world and it's inhabitants. Authors like John Fowles, Alistar Mclean, Woody Allen and on, that guy who wrote The Joy of Sex, all contributed to my development.
I was known around school for always having at least one, if not two, paperbacks in my blazer side pockets. The commute to and from school was close to an hour - three train lines, two switches - which was two hours a day of extra reading time, thanks very much. There's no question I learnt more from reading books of my own selection than I did from set scholastic studies. It's possible, likely even, that my respect for and love of writing stemmed from my reading passion.
It's a habit that continues today. I always have one book on the go that I will read from cover to cover over a week or two period. Then there are the 'circlers', two or three that I pop in and out of. As well, there are the 'chancers'; ones that deserve a chance - a chapter, 20 pages - if they keep my interested I keep going with them.
These day fiction writing mostly doesn't cut it for me. I visit the library several times a week - generally gravitating towards the art books, of course, but then the auto biographies. Mountain climbers, creatives, criminals, soldiers, inventors... a good yarn told in the first person - particularly one that is honest and illuminating - is satisfying and often inspiring in some way, insight into the headspace of a person who has done something extraordinary.
So, yeah, to me books are beautiful things. Powerful, mysterious, full of promise - teachers of the best kind; they lay it out there for you to discover for yourself. No pushing. No hard sell. A simple invitation... come along for a few steps... if you are compelled to continue, well, let's take the journey together. At completion you will be a slightly different person. You will have evolved.
Bosozoku. Japanese motorcycle gangs.
The literal translation is Speed Tribes. They sure liked speed and were an effective and homogenous tribe that lived by their own rules.
There decades of ascension were primarily was the 70's and 80's. I was churning thorough tumultuous teen years of my own in Tokyo.
I first remember seeing and hearing them when I was just ten. They were truly wild. Daredevils. Often riding without helmets (a ticket offence for any other bike rider) they'd have their kamikaze scarves across their foreheads or V-ing across their mouthes. When they went by - everywhere - they'd bang bats together, fill the usually Tokyo serenity with their custom made melodic horns. They'd be sparks. And fire.
I didn't really know it but they also enjoyed fighting amongst each other's gangs and clashing with police.
They were tolerated, though. But mostly all. (Who's going to argue with mad max machined maniacs high on adreniline and who knows what else.
The police, though, had an understanding with them. Stay away from innocents. Certain streets, areas, times. Not like a rule book but a standard and acceptable set of behaviours that would not embarrass either.
It was like a circus riding through town. They'd shout and swear with an almost over acted enthusiasm.
When I got my own bike in Tokyo, occasionally, they'd appear beside me, outta nowhere. I'd honk and follow as best I could like the youngest brother on his tricyle. Sometimes I'd just enjoy the majesty of a force of nature. It was like Akira, in real life.
It was said that they didn't like foreigners but on the few occasions I encountered them they were good humoured and encouraging. They liked that I spoke Japanese and had long hair. I might have even had a peace patch on my bag. (School bag - not weapons bag.)
They had no fear. They were truly wild and reckless. What sixteen year old kid isn't going to have some respect for that.
Writing is a great form of healing and understanding. Often with these posts I will just begin with just a vague notion of something in mind and coax it out gently as I go. Later, I will read it back and be informed by my jottings. 'Oh, that's how I felt! That's what I was thinking! Very interesting.'
I find it's also good to draw out and expand upon memories. These days I will sometimes remember something from decades ago, something that I had not thought of for a long time but that was a big deal at the time and influential in my personal development.
One of those such things is my ninth grade in high school. It was an interesting time. I was thirteen going on fourteen. We had a new teacher to the school - an international boys private school run by Canadian Christian Brothers called St. Mary's in Tokyo - and his name was Brother Robert Scripko. He was in his mid twenties, rotund and powerful. He came in an took over, revolutionised, the English and Drama departments. And he also happened to be our homeroom and English teacher. Everything he did was by the rules - his rules. One thing that was clear to everyone, very soon, was that he didn't take shit. He had a huge physical presence - tall and rotund- and the booming voice of an orator or a fish market spruiker. On the upside, he had plenty of positive energy mixed in with his dictator-like character and a great passion for both english and drama.
One of the best things he did was give us each a journal and demanded that we write a page - about anything - every Tuesday and Thursday. On top of that we would fill it with longer, specified assigments, once a week. When we were first told of this, there was a lot of resistance. Filling a whole page without guidance or direction at that age seemed challenging. But after not long, most kids got in the swing of things. We had to hand them in every few weeks and Brother Robert would write comments. He would grade the assigments but not the journal pages. He was sometimes harsh but also encouraging.
I grew to love my journal. I found a great pleasure and freedom in making up stories. As a big reader of comics and magazines, and, more and more, books - it was a revelation to me that you could create fiction of your own devising. It was like a game. A fun game with very broad parameters and unlimited options. One evening, about two thirds of the way through the year, I shared my journal, proudly, with my parents. I waited in my room while they perused it, anticipating high praise or at least positive acknowledgement. Finally, they called me into their chamber.
"We notice that you write a lot about death. A lot of your stories are about death..."
They seemed concerned and slightly perturbed. It was not the encouragement I had been looking for. I didn't really have an answer for them. But looking back, since then, I put it down to a few things.
Death is drama.
Life is death.
Death is the ultimate mystery.
Death is extreme and elicits an emotional response.
Writing about death is a way of coming to terms not only with it's eventuality but also a way of frame-working life.
Death is powerful and confronting. Writing about it is challenging and brave.
Of course, I knew none of this consciously back then. And I had no satisfying response to their concern. So, I slunked away back into my room. They don't get me. It was clear.
By that age I had two near death experiences already. One at age nine when I was bitten by the most venomous of spiders, the Funnelweb. I was rushed to hospital and released after a short stay and observation. Having been bitten on the toe, not too much poison entered by bloodstream. It made me unwell briefly but I survived.
My second encounter with death was when I was eleven. I was in a Japanese hospital for an operation. Being a foreigner there, the doctors and staff were a unused to someone of my age being bigger than expected. I wasn't easy to put out and actually punched the anaesthetist as I was going out. He overcompensated with far too much drugs and I woke up post op, on the verge of an overdose. I was fully tripping out and could feel myself very close to leaving this earthly plane, hanging on by a thread of consciousness. It was an incredibly disturbing and powerful experience - one that left me with easy access to out-of-body perception and an existential world view.
Aahhh.. but enough of death. Let's get back to life. And the ninth grade. As well as my story writing, I was mostly known for my joke making. Practical jokes, impractical jokes, written jokes, comics, surreal and obtuse poetry... l loved to laugh and make others laugh, too. One thing about school - although I really did not like being a prisoner and being bossed around by a group of, for the most part, mentally imbalanced adults - I did enjoy sharing time and company with my classmates. Any chance for a bit of fun and I'd be in. Fun loving. That sums it up. And I find it hard to imagine that Brother Robert was not well aware of this.
So when it came time for drama tryouts I was keen as mustard - knowing that there was to be a comedy piece (I forget now what it was) in the mix. I recall running to the notice board to see who had been cast in what and was deeply perplexed to see my name as the lead in..... 'The Winslow Boy'. Huh? This is a very heavy, somber play by Terence Rattigan set in the Edwardian era - about a young lad being accused of and interrogated about a petty theft at the Royal Naval College. It had no laughs in it at all! And no death!
It made no sense to me. So many lines to learn! (Not my forte - not then, not now.) So much seriousness and angst and drama! This was not me. But sadly, by the time I realised what was happening I could not pull out. The boss would not allow it. It was the miscasting of the century and a most mystifying occurrence. I hated every moment of the whole experience - from rehearsals to performance. I was so afraid of making a mistake during the live show that I had a full out-of-body experience for most of it.
The pressure on me was intense because during dress rehearsals I ad libbed and got the other actor to laugh uncontrollably. This made me start laughing and throwing in more funny lines. Soon everybody around us, viewing, behind the scenes and in the flanks joined in with laughter. For a brief moment I was in heaven - making more and more mischievous asides and cracking up the crowd.
But then - BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! - Brother Robert, in a wild rampage, had made his way down from the bleechers and had crashed his way onto the stage. His face was red and sweaty and full of rage. He was foaming at the mouth.
"If you screw up my show, you foolish little punk, you will be MUD! MUD!" His voice was booming. It quashed any remaining giggles and only amplified more by the surrounding silence of fear and astonishment from the thirty of forty people present. Bar none, I guarantee you that every soul in that room was thinking - 'I am sure glad I am not him right now!' I was him - and it wasn't good.
Scripko dug his index finger hard into my solar plexus more than once to accentuate his threat and magnify his horrifying presence. I was determined not to cry, not there, not in front of everyone and I didn't. But I was literally shaking in my shoes. I was very afraid. Not just in that moment but until I muttered the last word of the last line on the final day of performance. It was the most intensely unpleasant experience I had had since the near deaths.
Like I said at the beginning of this piece - sometimes this forum enables me to revisit and recall moments from my development that have been filed far up the back of the internal cabinet. This was one of them. I've never been able to work out why it happened - why I was even put in that position in the first place. Just weird.
Fucking Winslow Boy bullshit! I was Neil Simon material, dammnit. I just wanted to laugh. And make others laugh. Oh, and write about death. Is that so hard to understand?!
ART GETS ME HIGH
Author & Artist