Friday, May 31, 2013

Are you a writer?

When do you get to call yourself a writer?

Some jobs require a qualification. Noone calls you a lawyer until you pass the appropriate exam. Whether or not you work in a law firm. By the same token, it doesn't matter if you've ever tried a case or not, people will assign you the title once you've got the qualification.

Other job titles are in the doing. Doing a culinary course does not a cook make. But if you work in a kitchen, preparing food, then people will happily assign you the title. No matter how much or how little you did to get to that position.

When do you get to call yourself a writer?

It's certainly not by qualification. If we look at writing certificates alone, many of the industry's biggest names would not make the cut. Is it in doing the job? If so, where's the starting point? Do you get to be a writer because your novel is published? How about when it sells to a publishing house? When you get an agent? When you have a polished manuscript? First draft? When you publish a short story? A single article in a major newspaper? What about self-publishing?

Years ago when my mind was drawn to this paradoxical question, I struggled with it for quite a while. I call myself a writer, but I've never published a novel. I've written a handful of short work which appeared in anthologies or newspapers. Was that enough?

Then I was watching some medical drama and one of the characters provided the definition of pain. "If a patient says they're experiencing pain, then they are." I don't know if that's truly the definition of pain, but it makes sense to me. As far as I know, there's no objective way to measure pain. If you think something is painful, I can't tell you it's not. And that's exactly what it's like being a writer.

It's not about qualifications. For me, it's not even that much about the act of actual writing. Being a writer iss a state of mind. It's seeing things that others don't. Hearing voices. Loving stories. It's in imaginary people being painfully real.

You're a writer because you feel it.

You're a writer because you say you are.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Far Out Friday: Hikikomori

There are lots of beautiful, amazing things about Japanese culture and society. I love the privilege of being able to share them with you. But I also believe, above all else, in truth. Which is why I don't shy away from the stuff that might not be all unicorns and rainbows.

The meaning of the word "hikikomori" falls somewhere between the English "recluse" and "hermit." Hikikomori are people who don't (or seldom) leave home. As opposed to a recluse, who may just not be sociable, but be perfectly functional in society when they need to be. Or a hermit, who's withdrawn completely and lives in a cabin in the woods.


I think the reason that hikikomori are so common in Japan is partly due to the society. Everybody knows that Japanese society is a very strict one. There are rules governing everything, from the ways you can use chopsticks to the order in which colleagues should sit in when riding together in a taxi.

The flipside of all of these rules is an extreme aversion to failure. In Japan, it's not uncommon for a leader to take responsibility for any failure by resigning. It's a major part of the reason that I've seen 6 Prime Ministers in my not-quite-5 years here.

Another side effect of the strict society is the hikikomori. Hikikomori have usually failed at something. Some did badly in school. Some haven't worked out well with the opposite sex. Recently, I even saw on a drama one girl who ended up being a hikikomori because a guy called her ugly.


The thing is I don't think Westerners can really be recluses of the hikikomori variety. If you don't get up and go to work, you can't support yourself. And your parents or whoever else aren't going to keep leaving food on your bedside table if you refuse to brave the 10-minute walk to the supermarket. Not to mention the school-aged hikikomori. What do you mean, you're 13 and you've decided that going to school is too hard? Let me introduce you to my friend the truant officer.


When I first came here, hikikomori were bad ju-ju. Not in that they were bad people or something, but in that, somebody should have been doing something to help them. But I'm kind of re-evaluating that. The truth is that lately, I'm leaning (almost horizontal) towards being a hikikomori. One thing led to another, and being around people is kind of painful.

I'm not like some hikikomori who CAN'T go out or anything. And it's not like there isn't at least one place I still really enjoy going to. But I don't see the point in making myself go out if it's not fun. Spending my weekends and weeknights, curled up under a blanky (snowed earlier this week- Spring, where are you?) and watching J-dramas is fine by me. In fact, as a Japanese student and a writer, watching the ridiculous amount of dramas that I go through (an average of 11 episodes on the days I'm not at work) counts as studying in more ways than one.

I expect I will go back to the real world at some point. I suppose the writer in me doesn't have a choice. Unless I want to write re-hashings of J-dramas or anime, all the material is outside. But for now, I'm not sure that retreat is such a bad thing.