I am on a reading BINGE. Picture a bull dozer just loading up mountains of books and then dumping them into my eyeballs. It’s all manga of course because something is wrong with my brain and I can’t seem to pay attention to novels these days. I need pictures! Which is ridiculous given that I AM A NOVELIST. What is wrong with me? I start reading a novel and I glaze out after half a page. Wait, actually I have read several novels in the past couple of weeks, stories written for critique exchanges with writers I know. So it IS possible, it’s just kind of…painful. In contrast, I have to set timers to keep myself from reading manga too long, and I’ve been regularly staying up way too late reading while everyone else has dropped off. I wonder what my deal is?
Anyway, ready for a rundown of some of the best of my recent binging? Remember, I don’t review the shite, only the goodies, and believe me, you can figure a half-dozen, a dozen, maybe more, titles have been read and enjoyed somewhat, or read for a bit but ultimately discarded, for every one title I mention here on the blog. Oh and it’s mostly relationship stuff lately. No mecha-robots or apocalypse zombies or multi-generational fairy wars this time. Sorry! Next time.
And don’t forget the great titles on the previous couple of blog posts! Because apparently, this blog is all about the manga this week.
So. Today I offer you three high-school girl shojo stories because (1) they are ubiquitous, and if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, plus (2) they are funny romantic-comedy stories, which I love on rainy days, while eating chocolate, which is what today is all about. I also have, for another post, three great yaoi stories, and a couple of weird what-is-this stories…I always love to find those. But this post is going to be long enough as it is! More reviews will have to wait until later.
My Little Monster rises above the masses because it has hilarious, interesting, well-written characters, something I always fall for. Shizuku, a super straight-laced study-bug gets entangled with Haru, a crazy, super-smart but severely ADD (or something like that?) guy with a rich family that he is avoiding and a tendency to beat people up when he doesn’t understand the social dynamics in a given interaction. Which is all the time.
If this doesn’t sound funny, trust me, it is. Missed signals, impulse control, exasperation, test-score competitiveness (one-sided on Shizuku’s side, Haru could care less that he gets the highest scores), plus a cast of funny, sweet characters. Rom-com at it’s best. Seriously, I just love watching these characters get so befuddled about each other and about their own feelings for one another. Really fun.
My Little Monster is on-going, so I can’t comment on the whole story, bummer. I HATE WAITING. And yet, I must.
Missions of Love, has, I think, a terrible title obscurring a very enjoyable story. I’m almost too embarrassed to put the cover up here with that stupid title. Oh, you know what? I’m going to put the Japanese version here to obscure my shame. Okay. This one is about a Yukina, a writer, actually a high-school girl who is a secret (but very dedicated) writer, who uses the people and interactions around her as a base for her stories. When she realizes she knows nothing about romance, she decides to do some research. Classic romantic comedy set-up! She sets her sights on Shugire, a popular guy who dates everyone—and finds out some dirt on him which she then uses to blackmail him into doing her “research” with her. Thus begins a strange adversarial relationship where they each keep trying to manipulate the other one, all while doing her “missions” that start with “holding hands” and work up from there in a pretty steady arc.
I’ve got to say, I’ve seen and read full-frontal sex scenes that don’t have nearly the juice that Missions gets out of hand holding. I am dead serious about this. The missions are simultaneously chaste and hot. They haven’t even kissed yet but it’s all about lust and who one is willing to feel it with and why. It’s pretty great. Yukina has a child-hood friend who is in love with her and would gladly do her “research” with her, but she doesn’t feel it with him. High concept rom-com love triangles for the win! A great, fun read with great characters, which is all I usually ask for, really. Once again, this title is on-going, so I don’t know the ending GAH. Waiting is THE WORST part about reading manga.
Next! Hana to Akuma (Flower and the Devil) got off on a weird foot with me because the premise just sounds so wrong, and yet I found I kept reading. A dashing, top-hat wearing demon named Vivi comes to Earth for some reason (we find out later) and sets up an English-style mansion in Japan where he lives, bored, until he happes upon a baby girl, left outside his front gate. He takes in the baby, on a lark, and, with the help of his demonic butler, raises her. The story starts when she is fifteen and a romance is starting to bud between the two.
Now doesn’t that sound weird? Wait, isn’t he her guardian father-type? What’s up with this? I don’t know, I can’t explain why it worked for me because usually anything that smacks of kid/parent incest is a deal-breaker for me. I’m not interested. But this…the girl is named Hana, which means flower. Demons can’t touch flowers without them withering at once, and yet Hana gives Vivi a flower every day because they are pretty and she wants to make him smile. He can’t understand it. The whole story, really, is about him coming to understand this one thing. It’s so….sweet.
The relationship develops very, very slowly. Hana is ridiculously sheltered and talks about herself in the third person like a little child, which weirded me out even more, but her innocence is part of the whole deal. And here is the thing:
THE ENDING IS ONE OF THE BEST PAY-OFFS THAT WASN’T THE PAY-OFF YOU THOUGHT YOU WANTED BUT WAS WAY BETTER, EVAR. I’m serious. I was weeping, I mean, ugly crying, and it isn’t a sad ending, because you know I hate those.
Seriously, I usually go for dark, complicated, fucked-up relationships and this one is so…not that. I can’t even type out words like “pure” with a straight face and yet this book wants me to.
Just goes to show that I really will read anything.
Hana is complete, at least, so no waiting for the pay off I promise is coming. Hang in there until the end!
Anyway. So there you have it, today’s offerings, three sweet, funny romances about teen-aged girls. Maybe I’ll do guys in love next, or cross-dressing fashion lines, that one is awesome. Or the one about apprenticing with a space-time witch? Or maybe I’ll read something terrific tonight! Did you know you can buy emanga for cheap and read it on a kindle or an ipad right then, one click instant gratification???? This is probably not a good thing.
And really, what IS with this binging? I’m not avoiding my own novel—which, it would seem I can still work on, thank goodness. I’m about 70% through the revisions and it’s going well, whew.
Dunno. Phase of the moon maybe. But I say, LET THE BINGING CONTINUE!
After reading the terrific Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai, reviewed in my last post, I started sucking down yaoi manga like the crazy person that I am and I’ve got to say, it’s kind of eye-opening and here’s why.
Where are all the complex, troubled, intense, sexual, interesting relationship manga involving straight couples? Am I missing something here? Why can’t I find them? And why are all the straight-couple romance stories so predictable?
Don’t get me wrong, yaoi is, as far as I can tell, chock full of sweet, romantic, predictable fluff/smut fests (your choice), just like manga written about straight couples. But there IS a whole subset of stories I’m finding now about actual adults having actual adult relationships (vs. the idealized romance arcs typically found in shojo and even josei—written for adult women—manga). Salarymen (Japanese “business men”) struggling in their gay relationships are not super common, but they can be found, it is a subset of the genre, for example, No Touching At All, a terrific story by the same author as Saezuru, or The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese and it’s wonderful sequel The Carp On the Jumping Block Jumps Twice. Those were all really well done, chewy, interesting stories about complicated people. Highly recommended.
So where are the analogous thirty-year old women stories? Because I’m having trouble finding them.
Realistic, complex stories, about realistic, complex characters. That’s all I’m looking for. Is that too much to ask?
Tramps Like Us, remains the go-to working-woman-in-relationship rec, as far as I can tell, and it is tres delightful, to be sure, but it can’t be the only one. Say, “I love you” has the sensibility I’m looking for although it is about high school, but it feels real, if that makes sense. There are a couple of others (although nothing is leaping to my mind at this moment). But on the whole, straight-relationship-manga seems to be, for the most part, about high school girls being wooed by older dudes in a blushing, oh don’t touch me there, kind of way. If you want strong, complex, older characters dealing with realistic relationships in manga, it seems like you have to go to BL.
Tell me I’m wrong. Point me to some titles. Why are woman characters so wimpy in manga? Am I reading the wrong books?
Okay, I was trying to think of novels, too, and it’s been awhile since I read novels heavily but examples that come to mind are, say, White Palace (and the terrific Susan Sarandan movie that was based on it), or Endless Love (and the terrible Brooke Shields movie that was based on it). I know there must be tons of others. Recs?
Anyway. I love me some manga—and all kinds of stories, not just romantic ones—as anyone who has read my blog recently can attest. And I DO have a soft spot for high school girls falling in love that can enjoy well done shojo, no problem. But sometimes I crave something else. A something else that I’ve been finding this week within BL, which surprised me. So. What’s up with that? Why is it that in order to tell a juicy, complicated, sexual, relationship story, we have to make both the characters men?
I welcome recs! Basically I’m in the mood for any complex, interesting, relationship stuff, straight or gay, I don’t care, anything as long as it is interesting. This stuff must be out there. I can’t be the only one who wants it. Why is it so hard to find?
I’ve just been blown away by an amazing story about a Yakuza boss who is one of the most interesting and complex characters I have come across in a long time. Seriously. You know what? I’m even going to say this guy is in the top five, maybe top three, most complicated, fascinating characters I’ve ever read. His name is Yashiro and he is powerful, tough, smart, wryly funny, deeply feeling, cruel, a sexual masochist, elegant, manipulative, kind, brutal, self-centered, generous, harsh…how can one character be all of these things? Rarely am I so impressed by a writer’s characterization as I am by Yoneda Kou’s depiction of Yashiro. I do not say this stuff lightly.
[Please note that I am writing this review based on the first 8 chapters, all that are currently available. I can't comment on what comes after that because I haven't read it yet.]
I think Yoneda Kou must be similarly interested in Yashiro because she has written and drawn him for three stories. I stumbled upon her work with the most recent, Saezuru Tori wa Habatakanai (pictured left), a longer work, on-going, currently at a cliffhanger, have I mentioned how much I hate WAITING. Yakuza political maneuverings. Violence (“damn, I got blood on my shoe again”). But mostly this is a character piece on Yashiro, as revealed by his burgeoning relationship (what is it, friendship? lovers? boss/subordinate? it’s not really any of these) with his new, silent, impotent, ex-cop bodyguard, Doumeki.
Both men have terrible pasts. Both have been damaged by what has happened to them. But both are also extremely strong and ask for no pity. The whole thing is just so unlike anything I’ve read or seen before. It’s fascinating.
The art is great, too, spare and cool, like Yashiro. The artist does great facial expressions, terrific body language—so much is conveyed without dialogue here, many panels of characters not speaking. Really, characters like this come around so infrequently.
Oh! Yashiro reminds me a little of Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Grace Hanadarko from the television show “Saving Grace,” another childhood rape-victim turned complicated, powerful, sexually voracious, self-destructive, open-hearted, violent adult. That’s a great show (except for the terrible, terrible last three episodes that were written when they just found out the show had been canceled, do not watch those episodes!! But the rest of the show is some of the best written stuff out there, if you ask me). Streaming on Netflix, go watch.
Anyway. Yaoi, sometimes called Boys Love, is a genre of manga about homosexual relationships between men, but written for women. Technically, Saezuru falls within this category, but from what I’ve read of the genre (which is admittedly, not much), putting it in the same category is sort of like saying Sweet Valley High books are the same as something complicated and painful like, oh, say, Anna Karenina…just because they both have love-relationships at their heart. BL seems to largely focus on idealized romantic stories between guys, lovey dovey sparkle fests, which is fine. But, man, that is not Sazeuru with its realism and psychological depth.
Listen, while I wouldn’t recommend BL as a genre to that all that many people (it’s a very specific taste), I would totally recommend Sazeuru to anyone who wants interesting, complex, complicated, painful, masterfully told stories. In the same way that I would recommend Brokeback Mountain (the film or the terrific short story it’s based on) to anyone who values powerful storytelling. The gay part is sort of secondary to the power of the storytelling itself.
But as I said, Saezuru is ongoing. I came to the end of the available chapters and did this Kahn scream of “NOOOOOO!” that could be heard across the galaxy, and then started hunting Yoneda across the internets like a bloodhound. And, as I also mentioned, she has written two other times about Yashiro. More, more, I want more!
Tadayoedo Shizumazu, Saredo Naki mo Sezu is a one-shot that shows some of Yashiro in high school. Too short! The story, about Yashiro’s first and only love for a fellow (straight) student, Kageyama, feels a little rough to me compared to Sazeuru, like Yoneda was, perhaps, finding her way into this complicated person. But it was interesting to get this glimpse into his past. Well worth a read. Beautiful ending.
On the other hand, if I had started with this, I don’t know if I would have gone further (and what a loss that would have been!). Yashiro’s darkness is on display here without the room (just 40 sparse pages) to get in his more complex kindnesses. I might have been turned off by his extremes, judged him as damaged goods and moved on. I’m glad I read this one after Sazeuru.
Don’t Stay Gold, is another one-shot, taking place a few years after Tadayoedo. Yashiro has joined the Yakuza here but is still quietly in love with Kageyama, who has become a doctor. Yashiro sets up Kageyama (without his knowledge) with another character, Kuga, a wild, beautiful thug, despite Yashiro’s ongoing feelings for the man. Again, an interesting glimpse into his character, but not the storytelling of Sazeuru. Read after.
Okay, having praised Saezuru so highly, here are a couple of warnings.
First, the first dozen pages or so of Sazeuru are really a tag ending for Don’t Say Gold…something I totally didn’t understand when I read them, having not read the other work yet. They made much more sense to me later. I recommend just buzzing by them. The real story starts with Doumeki’s entrance.
Second, it took me the first chapter to get straight who everyone one was and to sort out how to tell who was saying what. It’s worth the effort! I went back and re-read the first chapter after I had gotten it figured out and it made a lot more sense. So if you’re confused at first, hang in there and maybe go back. Clues: Yashiro is generally wearing a vest and has that sly smile. He’s always smoking. Doumeki has that buzz cut and unchanging facial expression.
Finally, there is some explicit sex here. Not porn explicit, but if two guys getting it on with power dynamics is going to offend you, go elsewhere. There are also two (so far) brief flashbacks of rape. Yashiro is completely accepting of his own strange preferences and has zero shame about it, but sex is a big deal to this guy, so it’s a central focus of the story. It’s not really for turn on, the way most BL sex scenes are. It’s all about the character.
For a great essay on yaoi in general and Yoneda Kou in particular, see Pank Literary Magazine’s take on it.
Really great stuff! Highly recommended!
I got a few comments and several emails from blog readers wishing me a Happy Birthday, so sweet! Sophie (now nine years old, I can’t believe it, we share a birthday, she’s the best birthday present I ever, or will ever, get) and I had a lovely party yesterday, lots of fun, friends, family, two cakes, a fire out in the fire pit, marshmallows, the works. I am continually shocked and dismayed at how fast my life is going by, but it’s a pretty good life, so there’s that! Anyway, thanks y’all. We had a great time.
And I had planned to serve up another Manga Monday today—I have a couple of great ones to tell you about—but man, I just couldn’t get to it last night. After two marathon cleaning and cooking days and then the party itself, I was wiped, just soaked in the bath for almost an hour after everyone left and let myself mindlessly turn into a prune. I’m still not recovered, I think. Maybe tomorrow….
Anyway, posts to come, I have a couple of good ones in the hopper if I can just sit down and finish them. Why am I always so busy? Busy with good things, but wow, it’s rushing by. I guess turning 42 has me feeling all introspective and philosophical, haha. It’s only because it seems like in another five or ten minutes, I’ll be turning 82 and it will all be over…. I don’t want to miss anything!
I know five hundred kanji. No kidding! (Here is the first post about learning Japanese.) There are 2000 in the official basic literacy set for Japanese folk, so, in theory, I am 25% there. I’m adding about 20 kanji a day, which so far has been doable and leads to about 100-150 or so cards a day in Anki (that’s like electronic flashcards in a spaced time schedule depending on how well you were able to remember a given card on a given repeat). Takes less than an hour. This photo is one day’s Anki SRS session. If I keep doing it, 20 kanji a day, I’ll know all 2000 kanji by the end of April.
Sophie is learning maybe 5 a day. She has an amazing memory, although much less stamina than I do for sitting and studying. It’s kind of a foreign concept for her, haha. Luc picks up maybe one a day, without trying, although he picked up all the kana very quickly. “What’s ‘mi’ again?” I say and he calls out from the other side of the yurt, “the one that looks like a ’21′ !” He thinks all the kanji look like our cat, Momo. “She’s sitting down, that’s her profile.” “She’s standing, that’s her tale.” “That’s Momo when she sleeps on her side!” I have to say, I just don’t see it.
Here’s the thing: I have no good reason to learn Japanese. Shouldn’t I use this time and effort on something that makes more sense? Why am I doing this? What is the point? All I’ve got in answer to that is, it’s fun. It’s interesting. Maybe it will stave off dementia a few more years. But mostly, it’s fun. So why not? I admit, I feel a little guilty. Which I think is weird. But there it is.
But it’s so cool to recognize about 25% of the kanji and maybe 80% of the kana on the credits and street signs in the anime we watch! And I can recognize radicals (parts of kanji) in many others, even if I don’t know the particular kanji. “That’s ‘wild dogs’ and ‘rice field’ and ‘king!’ ” or whatever. (I just made that up, I don’t know if there is a kanji with those three parts!) The kids and I pause on any screen with writing and point out the ones we recognize. Which adds a whole fun game-dimension to watching our usual shows. I wonder if one day I’ll be able to read manga in Japanese?
But, more practically, I have no end goal. I just don’t want the pressure. Mostly I just say, “what is the next fun thing to do in Japanese?” ad do that. Although I would like to hit that 2000 kanji. Doing that is such a proscribed picture, much more defined than “learn Japanese.” We’ll see.
Oh, and it’s my birthday today. 42! My life is passing before my eyes.
I got this niftykeen gadget that sends the signal from a chest strap to an app on my old wood-burning ipod touch and now I walk around experimenting with what makes my heart rate go up or down. I’m sure I’m driving my family crazy, because, however much they may love me, knowing my heart is beating 114 or 103 or 82 times a minute at any given moment of the day is just not that interesting to anyone but me.
BUT I am now positioned to answer that age old question we all wonder about: IS Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series aerobic?
Let’s find out.
Some context for the numbers: My resting heart rate (measured upon waking) seems to be about 70. Fairly typical. I’ve been doing Primary for about 3.5 years, so I figure my cardiovascular system is acclimated at this point. I mean, it isn’t like in the beginning when I felt shaky and nauseous just trying to get through standing, you know what I’m saying? I did not imbibe caffeine this morning before practice so as not to artificially elevate the numbers. Also, I’m not sure it matters but it’s about 60 degrees in the yurt this morning, and I practiced in two long sleeve shirts and long pants and did not sweat a drop—I even had to remoisten the electrode pad thingies on the chest strap with spit half-way through. This is fairly typical for me. Anyway! Here’s what I got…
Oh, and in case you’re thinking what a crazy anal chick to make heart rate graphs, it only took about ten minutes at this fun kid’s website. The hardest part was trying to spell the asana correctly (which I probably didn’t do). Isn’t the internet grand?
[ETA: it just occurred to me that I should mention that the poses and vinyasa mentioned on my graphs are just the points where I noted down my heart rate, usually because it had shifted one way or the other. This isn't a list of every pose and vinyasa I did!]
Aren’t my graphs pretty? Anyway. Although my HR did get up to 140 during chair pose and vira 1 and 2, it only lasted a minute at most. More typically, high points, vigorous standing poses or vinyasa were around 120 and lower points, forward bends, hovered around 100.
100-120. Pretty low. It’s a little lift off my doing-the-dishes rate of 85ish. It’s a little higher than walking the dog which seems to stay around 100 (except for that one hill where it might touch 120). But not by much.
In fact, I never noticed it before but the series seems designed to keep the heart rate low-ish, with forward bends coming right after each more vigorous pose (long padangusthasana after surys, for example, and long paschi after the viras). Vinyasa in between all those seated forward bends keep me warmed up a bit but not so I’m “working out” breathing hard or anything. Which makes sense since we’re supposed to be doing long slow deep breathing.
I’m kind of surprised, though, because the practice can seem so intense. I’m usually tired afterward, a bit wobbly even, for a little while. I practice at a fairly brisk rate, this was full Primary minus the butt balance poses (my sacrum has been hurting) in about 58 minutes. But I also don’t push.
I’d be interested to try again back in that David Garrigues workshop last spring where I was sweating a ton (90 degree shala) and felt wrung out after. I don’t practice that hard at home, too hard to maintain.
Conclusion? Is Ashtanga aerobic? I’m going to say No. Got to get that cardiovascular workout (if you value such a thing) elsewhere.
Has anyone else tried practicing with a heart rate monitor? What were your results? Maybe ashtanga just isn’t aerobic for me? Or for the way I practice? I’d love to hear.
Sidebar! For anyone who is curious, I’m using (birthday present!) a Wahoo key that plugs into the bottom of my ipod and collects data from other devices such as a heart rate monitor chest strap (what I have) and translates it to a variety of apps on the ipod. It works great, although my ipod is so old that most of the apps out there do not run on it because you can’t update the iOS to 5, boo hoo. But I found an app that works on iOS 4.2.1 (last supported update for ipod touch 2) and I’m in business.
In addition to heart rate, the key plugged into your ipod or iphone can also collect data from such things as a sensor on your shoe to collect strides, pace, etc, or a sensor that can go on your bike, tracking distance, speed, and it can even map your route with the GPS in your iphone (if you have an iphone and you get service where you bike), or all of these, plus heart rate, at once. It’s pretty cool. Totally makes working out like a video game with stats and graphs and all. You can practically see the energy bar floating above your head as you sweat.
It started as a joke. It was late last fall and I was feeling, shall we say, down in the dumps about life the universe and everything, and so, never one to turn away from a struggle, I announced to the yurt that I had come up with a Plan.
“I’m going to give up all my worldly ambitions, get fat, and read manga until I’m dead.”
“Right,” said Paul.
As such ridiculous pronouncements can, this became a thing. As in, “I have to eat this cookie because it is part of The Plan.” Or, “Are you really going to finish off the last of that béchamel sauce?” “Yes. Because I am committed to The Plan.” Or, “Mom, you have a roll hanging over your yoga pants.” “Ah-ha! The Plan is working!”
Huh? There is a roll hanging over the top of my yoga pants?!?
Wait just a cotton picking minute. That whole “Plan” thing was a joke. JOKE. As in, NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.
But holy shit I really AM getting a muffin-topping roll over the waist of my yoga pants and (after I finished freaking out) this stopped me in my vain, self-centered, manga-reading tracks.
That’s right. This is winter I have put on almost ten pounds.
Clearly I need a new Plan.
Concurrent to this revelation, was the back-bending post of a few days ago. I really thought, when I asked Sophie to take the pictures, that there would be more progress. I thought for sure I was bending more deeply. And I probably am. By a few millimeters. But honestly, I was disappointed by how little progress my spine had made in the last year. Not that it matters, not that there is a race to get anywhere, not that Enlightened Omnipotence is unlocked if one has a nice, bendy back. But, you see, I hunch, I struggle with posture, and just yesterday in front of me in line at the post-office was the nicest old white-haired lady who’s face was permanently pointed towards the floor, meaning, she could not arch backward, couldn’t even straighten up—and that right there is the fear that has driven my back-bending Quest since day one. I must not let my spine calcify! I must maintain my backward range of motion! I do not want to become an old lady who can’t look up!
Okay. So, the new Plan.
First, I unburied the indoor bike. It was under a mountain of winter coats and sweaters taller than me. It was like uncovering the steel skeleton inside the body of a very obese person. That I do not want to become. I also got a new battery for my old heart-rate monitor and downloaded an app that lets you track all kinds of stuff with pretty graphs and statistics, plenty of motivational crack for a data-head like me. Because, as Tim Ferris likes to say, tracking is the number one step to motivation.
So, the Plan, Part 1:
From now on, if I want to read manga, I must do it while cycling! And eat less, for heaven’s sake.
Also! The Plan, Part 2:
I also dug out my old Iyengar folding chair yoga prop and set it up with blankets for passive back-bending, five minutes stays or longer, which actually really feels wonderful, and why haven’t I been doing this all along? AND I reinstated the David Williams 5 Breaths in Up-Dog Method during primary. Bam. In other words, longer stays in easy, pleasurable back-bends, and we’ll see if that has any semi-decent effect after a month or two.
Actually, lets give it a set timeframe. Let’s say I check back in on tax day, April 15, and we’ll see if my sedentary, chocolate loving, cement spine self will have slimmed down or improved my back bend any amount at all.
I am determined! I am committed to my New Plan! No more béchamel sauce for me! Stay tuned….
Time to do a back bending check and…not much to report. It’s so sad! I think I’m just….stuck.
Anyway, black sleeves is this morning, 2013, and red tank is 2010, three years ago, or about six months after I started ashtanga. Which definitely shows some improvement, but….
[WHY can't I get wordpress to put these pictures next to each other??? It is driving me batshit. Oh well. Moving on.]
…but I’m not sure there is any difference between today and 2011 (blue tank top).
My back had opened quite a bit between 2010 and 2011, and so I thought for sure things would continue in that vein, but not so much.
Can we say plateau?
One thing that has shifted (a tiny bit) is that my upper back has a bit more give. In the 2011, I was hinging at the lower back a lot, with nothing in the upper back. Here is the upper back without the lower back hinge (so I wasn’t going back as far as I could, rather, trying to lift through the upper back), this morning:
Compared to the red tank picture three years ago, there is something happening now in the thoracic. But not much.
As for urdhva dan…
(Gah, hate that my shirt was all baggy, oh well…vanity is bad for me anyway)
Compared to last year…
Maybe those hands are slightly more underneath the shoulders? Maybe my arms are slightly more straight now? When Sophie was taking the pictures this morning she kept saying, “Come on, Mom, straighten your arms! Straighter! You can do it!” “I AM straightening them! This is straight!”
Millimeter by millimeter….
But, and perhaps more importantly, backbends are still grueling. I have to talk myself into it every time. “You can do it, Maya! Stop being a wuss!” It’s hard to make myself do them, which, I’m sure, contributes to slow progress. What to do, what to do? If anything. I long for a strong and flexible spine, but instead I’ve got a back made of cement. Longer stays, but they are so uncomfortable. Longer stays in milder versions of the poses, but I’m having a hard time finding that balance, I guess.
Backbends and jumpbacks: the two parts of the asana practice I just can’t seem to make progress in.
How did my spine get so intractable? I seriously wonder whether it is even possible to soften up at this point. Or if, at 42 (well, not quite, birthday is next week), this as flexible as it is going to get?
In contrast, here is Sophie’s 9 year old spine (well, 8 today, birthday next week, too):
Full kapo with ankle grab, no warm up, just flopped onto the mat and slammed back into it. She calls this pose “the lump” because a lump is what she feels like she becomes.
A lot happens to a spine between 9 and 42. Little fairies come and inject cement into the intra-vertebral spaces while you sleep….
Confession. I finished the first draft of Lucidity Effect mid November and then spent TWO MONTHS fucking off. I mean, I was opening the file and fiddling around, supposedly doing a second draft—but, honestly, I was spinning my wheels, twiddling with sentences, feeling depressed. Sentences are not what a second draft is about, by the way. Sentences comes much, much later. I know this. But I forgot. Or something. Anyway, it wasn’t until mid-January that I faced facts: I needed to do a real revision. As in, STOP WASTING TIME, LASSITER. Buckle down and do the work!
I’m so annoyed with myself for throwing away two whole months on fiddly twiddly depression. I week or two, fine, but two months!??
Anyway, I am doing a real revision now. A guts and blood sort of revision, the kind where you rip things out, smoosh characters together, toss the losers and the boring bits, move scenes around, insert surgical metaphor here. I actually feel a great deal of relief. For those two months I could barely show up to the computer, wasn’t getting up early, had no motivation, pondered giving up writing, the usual, all the stuff I had managed to avoid during the drafting that went so smoothly this time.
Maybe I had to do all that emotional shit at once? I didn’t avoid it, just postponed it? Where was I that I didn’t notice that I was wheel-spinning? Had my head up my bum, that’s what.
But listen, now that I’m working again, really working, my motivation is back! It’s easy to get up early and write again. I’m hot to do the next thing. Thank god.
So I spent the last part of January going through the ms and working out The Plan. Then I finally got started working with the actual book again last week. Scene one got tossed, scene two got re-written, scene three had held up through pretty well, only a few tweaks, scene four got some new scaffolding, which brings me today to scene five which requires a total and complete overhaul. Scary, but fun.
The point of the post is in this paragraph: It is SO GOOD to be working again, and even though I am deeply uncertain about whether this book is going to survive the current tsunami, here’s the thing: I get depressed when I don’t write and then I think I’m too depressed to write, when really, if I just start working again, I’ll feel better.
I can’t tell you how many times I have forgotten that. It’s embarrassing, really. I can’t believe I forgot it AGAIN.
There are thirty scenes in Lucidity, I think, at last count. That puts this draft at a couple of months. I think I’ll aim for March 21. GAH I was supposed to be at that point NOW, but I fucked off for two months. Did I mention that I am really pissed about that?
Oh well. Every novel is different, and, apparently, this is the the path Liv Hannity (main character of Lucidity) is going to take to her birth.
Today I have for you two high-concept romantic comedies that both manage to transcend their formula bones to become frothy, lovely, richly-charactered pieces well worth spending time with. Romcom done well is such a delight! Especially because it is so often done so badly. And it is often done badly because when it IS done well it looks effortless, even silly—which is why romantic comedy can get so little respect.
Here’s why its hard (part of it). In order for romcom to work it has to make you feel. It is not a mystery, say, where the intellectual puzzle can carry a lot of the weight. Romcom is all about the feelings, the laughter the romance, the building sexual tension… In order to feel anything you have to care. And in order to care, you have to have great, well-written characters. Because if the people in the story are boring, flat, or too stupid to live, you will not care. You will look at these people in these ridiculous situations and it will just seem stupid.
But fear not! Today’s manga selections manage to pull romantic comedy off beautifully. Great characters, lots of caring, lots of feelz right where you want them—all wrapped up in a fun, silly, funny package that looks effortless.
Okay. First we have Gokusen by Kozueko Morimoto, a charming story although at first glance I’m hard pressed to say why—when it starts out it feels so slight. I think the sum of its parts may exceed the charm of any of its individual components in some alchemical process I don’t quite understand—but am happy to enjoy. Gokusen is about Kumiko, a Yakuzu (Japanese mafia) heiress, the granddaughter of a Yakuza Boss, who follows her ideals to become a high school math teacher and homeroom teacher at a school mostly populated by delinquent, not-very-smart guys (with the exception of red-haired Shin who is in the school for…complicated reasons). It’s a perfect job for her because she is (not surprising given her background) a total badass who is completely unperturbed by gangs of rough young men. Although she has to keep her Yakuza background a secret in order to keep her job…. Highjinks ensue!
At first I thought the story suffered from too many lovable stupid mafia guy trope characters. You know, those movies where the mafia killers are really sweet guys and the shooting and mayhem are all in good fun? I mean, the real Yakuza is not a comedic element. Look at this gal, Shoko Tendo, author of Yakuza Moon, a REAL daughter of a Yakuza boss. Drugs, rape, beatings, forced marriage, it is not a pretty picture. I wonder what Shoko Tendo would make of Gokusen? Humor? Insult? Disgust? For a while, as I read the first few volumes of Gokusen, this troubled me, this making light of something that is not light at all.
But the humor to be found in the contrast between badass killers who have, um, a different moral compass, and the gentler side of their personalities, well, it’s a rich vein. Look at the Bruce Willis, Helen Mirrin, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman movie, RED, about ex-CIA agents and assassins who are all a lovable bunch of crazy-heads. I love that movie. “If you break his heart, I will kill you. And bury your body in the woods.” I love Helen Mirrin! Mary Louise Parker spins comic gold out of her every line. For RED, I’m willing to turn off the part of my brain that knows in the real world, it ain’t funny. Because RED is. Very, very funny.
So, I got over my discomfort and just went with it, accepting the world of the story, and enjoying the funny. It’s easy to do because Kumiko is such a great character, so pure of heart and yet so ready to give anyone who needs it an ass-kicking, so loyal to her students and her family, so quick to rush ahead without a plan. She’s got a code of ethics that is hilariously atypcal, and she follows it with honor and great responsibility. She trucks with no nonsense. And the other characters are equally well drawn and likable, down to each goofy student in her class (thank god for weird hair cuts or I never would have kept them all straight).
I’ll warn you though, Gokusen is bit of a slow starter. Some manga pull me from the get go, but this one I would drift away, then come back, then drift away…until I was a couple of volumes in and totally hooked.
One reason might be that the art put me off at first. Morimoto’s art is homely, even sort of ugly at times, and I don’t mean badly drawn but rather drawn to look ugly. This is not your typical big-eyed manga style. But I have to say, the art really grew on me. It fits these ugly-on-the-outside characters, these lumpy, insecure, tough-guy guys. It’s kind of the point, that the appearance may be rough and unusual but the sweet insides are worth getting through the superficial. That’s kinda cool. But it took me a while to get it.
Another reason it started slow for me is that the romance component has got such a slow burn I probably read a hundred or two hundred pages before I even identified that there was a romantic lead and who the romantic lead was. But that character, too, grows substantially through his adventures and his coming realization of his love for Kumiko and what that means for his life. It was wonderful, really, to watch the relationship develop without the characters even knowing it for quite a while. He’s a great character, so subtly done but a cornerstone of the plot—like the character himself, not flashy, just quietly getting the job done.
Anyway, once I was in, I was in, and I really enjoyed all the various subplots and mini-plots and the huge cast of crazy characters and mostly Kumiko. Very fun. Recommended. Won’t change your life, but will totally entertain you in a sweet, funny way. And it’s complete, too, which is always a blessing when it comes to manga. I see there is a live-action version, as well, I wonder if You-tube has it? I’m always a bit nervous when I have liked a manga so well, to go looking for the other iterations…and maybe have my inner manga iteration somehow sullied. *shiver*
On the other hand, sometimes I come to the manga from the tv-version first, which is what happened, in the case of Kamisama Kiss or Kamisama Hajimemashita, by Julietta Suzuki. The kids and I caught Kamisama Kiss on Hulu and enjoyed it enough that I sought out the manga. The anime covers the first five volumes of the manga which is now on its 14th volume and still going (cliffhanger! beware!). It’s about a high school girl, Nanami, abandoned by her debt-ridden father (mother is dead) who inadvertently (she thinks!) becomes the human god of a local shrine populated by Tomoe, a kitsune (fox demon) and a couple of masked shrine spirits. Talk about high concept. But it works and all the pieces are explained well enough to get the story in gear and moving.
At first we focus on Nanami coming to grips with this change in circumstance, still trying to go to high school but also fulfill her new duties as god. Then her relationship with the hilariously grumpy Tomoe, who becomes her familiar, or servant, and gradually, slowly, her love interest, starts to take over and Nanami is swept up in the strange and whacky world of youkai (spirits, demons, monsters) politics and complicated situations, and, you know…Hijenks ensue!
Nanami is a great character, another pure of heart girl who is quick to love and refuses to give up even when the odds, and the youkai, are seriously stacked against her. Tomoe, too, is wonderful, and more complex, a powerful badass who is tremendously bored and usually pissed at his whole situation in this delightful way. Why are grumpy badasses attending to the needs of big-hearted, determined girls so funny? You know what? Tomoe reminds me of Elliot Spencer from Leverage, taking care of Parker, except that Elliot is all American hetero-sexual masculine and Tomoe somehow manages to come off as super masculine, badass, and sexy…despite wearing a dress (kimono), long nails, and carrying a fan. How DOES he do it? And that’s the tamed Tomoe. Don’t even get me started on long-haired, wild fox Tomoe of his past. You see, he’s over 600 years old and used to be a rape-and-pillage kind of demon, until he fell in love with a human girl and got himself cursed, and then Mikage, god of the aforementioned shrine, made him forget all that and tamed him by making him Mikage’s familiar. It’s complicated. But those wild roots run deep….
Okay, I totally have a crush on an animated character who has fox ears and a tail. I don’t care! No regrets!
But seriously. Kamisama Kiss is sweet and fun with loosely connected stories gradually building an over-arching plot, a nice device by the way in a serialized story and not easy to pull off well. Various sub-characters and sub-plots get side-stories and back-stories and all are funny and full of Nanami saving the day through sheer determination and belief in love, and often Tomoe saving her. And then her doing something surprising that saves him…. you know how it goes. Nanami never gives up, and it’s fun to see her, the only human in the cast sometimes and with few powers, surrounded by mystified youkai who don’t understand her. All the while she is gradually winning a place in jaded Tomoe’s foxy heart….
I did drift a bit in a couple of the longer stories, Kurama’s Tengu mountain plot, Himemiko’s swamp youkai princess in love with a human boy plot, the dragon king under the sea…whenever it got too far from Nanami and Tomoe, I did find myself skimming a little. But it always came around again quickly enough, and the sub-stories are interesting in their own right…it’s just that I’ve gotten so attached to Nanami.
And THEN. Things get serious in volume 14! Time travel. Threat of death. Dark pasts come to light. Bascially everything that has been hinted at and glossed over comes to a head and the shit gets real, people, as real as drawn kitsunes can get. Stakes, I’m talking stakes! And I’m not telling you a thing about it except that it is a great example of taking characters that start out as light and funny and pushing them deeper by asking why would they be that way? And then coming up with really interesting answers….
Honestly, even though the whole thing starts from a very formulaic place, at this point I totally don’t care. Great characters, fun and frothy at times, sweet, funny, but with a healthy dose of Tomoe’s dark past. I’m in hook line and sinker.
And we have to waaaaait for the next one! NOOOOOOO!!!
I HATE WAITING.
Great reading, fun, recommended. Again, not a life-changing rip your guts out story. But sometimes, that is not what one wants. Sometimes we want romcom done well. Either of these titles will take you there.
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coming next: The Lucidity EffectLucidity is now with the editor, woo hoo!
today's yoga practice
June 16, 2013 | 10:10 am
Primary to supta konasana. Long stay in baddha and uphavista, then ollapse. i feel so winded today!
June 16, 2013 | 10:09 am
June 16, 2013 | 10:08 am
yin yoga again. lazy yoga.
June 13, 2013 | 2:19 pm
Primary to Janu B and then I ran out of time. Better than nothing, I guess.
June 11, 2013 | 11:09 am
Primary to navasana. Chatted with Luc about his favorite show for the second half, so breathing and focus were zilch. But mama/little boy time is worth it.
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upcoming book releases
a few greatest hits
- the yip-yips do not cause childhood obesity
- how to build a yurt (1 of 10)
- the power of mom’s day can melt even the most bitter of hearts, not that my heart is bitter, but it has gotten a bit crusty around the edges
- yurts: the downside
- writing without pencil sharpening
- the amazing emu
- living the tie-dyed life
- happy birthday, sophie!
- bad things come in threes. or fours. (or maybe fives?)
- diggers watch tv, too
- lucille ball moment
- go, go, godzilla!
- the TOOL shed
- spike and buffy got screwed--now with proof! (part 1)
- welcome to mayaland's virtual macabre crawfish feast of death!
- screen time for fun and profit
- crafts for karma
- the incredible hulk invades the yurt
- cool felt picture fun for kiddos
- the way of the bento
- "Dusi's Wings" April, 2003. . . . "One thing fantasy can do for us is to give shape to the mysterious in the world; another is to make emotional yearning concrete. The early sections of "Dusi's Wings" do just that...there was a strong grasping towards the spiritual in fantasy here that was very promising, and I look forward to reading more by Lassiter." --review, Tangent Online.
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