Saturday, October 3, 2015

Cultural Musings, Weekly Miscellania, Cat Refinements

I recently came across this article in The Atlantic about how common it is to see young children in Japan out in public, unattended by adults. I was captivated by the accompanying video, even though it’s somewhat poorly shot and bizarrely edited. (I’m not able to link to this particular cut here, but you can watch it on their website.) The video is from a popular Japanese reality show that films young children going out on their first unaccompanied errand. I found small details poetic. For example, the older brother is terrified and crying at first, but at some point along the way, he stops to pick up a dandelion seed pod and painstakingly blows on it until every seed is released. Somehow in the midst of his fear, he’s able to give his full attention to the act of re-populating dandelions. (Then he goes right back to sobbing.) I love how his little sister just keeps urging him along, comforting him, but moving him forward, all with a gentle little smile. She even offers to carry his backpack at one point. I also enjoyed the very small moment where the older brother takes some candy from a jar and hands it to his sister first, before taking a piece for himself. The adults in the shops patiently help the children figure out what items they need and which coins are worth what, while the other patrons wait without complaining. Their kindness, and the impulse to put others first, seems automatic and effortless.  

I know there are issues in cultures that value the good of the collective over individualism, and I don’t want to idealize that—I’m aware that Japan’s society has a lot of problems. But I’m amazed at the idea that two tiny children can walk around in public unattended, and the ingrained expectation is that everyone will keep an eye out for them and help them if they need it. The cultural anthropologist quoted in the article says that this is called “group reliance”, and that Japanese children are taught early that “any member of the community can be called upon to serve or help others.” I’m not saying Japan is perfect, I’m just saying that if this had happened in the U.S., CPS would be called, the parents would be arrested, the little sister would have smacked her brother and called him a wuss, the boy would have taken all the candy for himself, and the whole incident would become another internet outrage of the week.

Let’s see, what else to tell you, what else…I’m still in between writing projects, but I have an idea for a new poem. I’m bound and determined to finish my damn rug, already, and soon. And I really want to get back to my regular weekly writing group, which has just not happened for various reasons the last few weeks, most of those reasons being my fault. On that topic, please go and read my friend Lisa’s flash fiction piece here—it just got published and it’s fantastic!  I got 10 cc’s of blood and fluid extracted from my other knee, which is still swollen from the fall I took almost a month ago now. And, I signed and mailed off a contract this week for the new publisher of “The Acme Employee Handbook.” I really hope it works out this time.

I received some hand-knit coasters for Christmas last year, and ever since we got Buddy, they have been MIA. Then I looked under the couch and discovered that he’s been putting his own, Dali-esque touch on them make more interesting:

Before Buddy:

After Buddy:

Which is better? You decide!

Kristen McHenry


Frank Moraes said...

I don't remember hearing about your fall and knee. That sounds terrible. Can you walk? Are you going to be okay?

I have some stuff to send you. But I keep putting it off because I just want to make one change. And I'm just not getting to it because I've been working so much. Not that there is really enough for you to sink your teeth into, but you might get a better idea of where it is going.

The story about children in Japan is fascinating. This was, of course, more or less how I grew up. I think with regard to that, things are worse. On the other hand, riding around on bikes without helmets seems crazy to me. But Americans are not good with moderation. So we take everything to extremes. Personally, I just don't think there are that many people out there who want to steal our kids. I always think back on an old story about a bratty kid who was kidnapped and the father refuses to take him back. I'm thinking it was written by Mark Twain, but I can't remember.

Your coaster is just as useful as it ever was. Actually, more: it works as a coaster and a cat toy. BTW: the "thing" I thought I saw in the bathroom a couple of weeks ago, has now been identified as a mouse in my kitchen.

Kristen McHenry said...

Hi, Frank! Yes, I took a serious tumble about a month ago and haven't been the same since. I blogged about here; if you go back 5-6 posts or so, you should be able to find it. I can walk just fine, but I'm beginning to think I cracked my patella on the left side. Both of my knees filled with fluid/blood and both have had to be drained out. It was really bad. And the annoying thing was there no real reason for it. The sidewalk was not in great shape, and my shoes were crappy, but still there was nothing I could point to specifically that precipitated it--I just ate concrete for no particular reason and I've been messed up ever since.

The idea of story where the bratty kid's dad doesn't want him back makes me laugh. I would like to read that story. And yep, I too, grew up in the era of "Get out the house and don't come back until the street lights come on." Myself and all of my friends pretty much ran wild with zero supervision from a young age. I'm not saying that was all great--I think it went a little too far in the other direction--but I get really sad when I see a kid on a scooter wearing a helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads, being watched anxiously by her mother as she limply scoots back and forth on the same three feet of sidewalk.

Whenever you can give me whatcha got is fine! No worries, no judgement.

L.L. Heberlein said...

Not your fault! My fault, too. I think the writing collective, as a whole, needed a break. But your renewed determination has renewed my determination, too. (And thanks for the shout-out, and the encouragement) (Also, I think "no worries, no judgement" should be our writing group motto)

Kristen McHenry said...

Yes, LL, I agree!! That would be a motto I could live with. I really do value our Monday nights at Bauhaus and hope to keep soldering on as often as possible.

laura grace weldon said...

I thought the video of young kids in Japan being sent on errands was interesting too. It reminded me that children in indigenous cultures around the world have been casually permitted to use sharp knives and axes, been allowed to play at the edge of cliffs and rapids, have basically been treated as whole people who learn as they're ready to learn. It's our culture's monitored kids who don't understand risk, who have no real experience that making mistakes is part of the road to mastery.

But, seconds into that video, I realized that not only were those small children being forced to go on those errands, but that a panel of adults were laughing and mocking them for the TV audience. That's seriously messed up.

Hope your knee is up and kicking soon!