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Worst Kept Secrets › It’s personal.
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The Trouble with Timeline

I’ve been on Facebook since October 28, 2004 (I now know, after trying to wrestle my Timeline into a presentable state). At the time, a .edu email address was required, and I had never heard the phrase “personal brand.” Facebook was correct in removing the ridiculous .edu stipulation and opening up to the world at large, but I mention this in order to emphasize that in the beginning, no one was under the impression that the site was anything more than a platform for college kids to say stupid things that we thought were charming and clever for the purposes of winning love and glory. No one was looking to break into a career path or advertise a product or service or their own marketability - we were mostly interested in bantering with each other and sharing the gory details of our bad decisions. Immature and shortsighted, most definitely.

Then our professors started joining, and we started hearing rumors of people making REALLY bad decisions, like bragging about cheating on exams, or missing class because of various illegal substance indulgences. For the most part, I don’t think professors minded us acting like we were coasting through a period of extended adolescence, but it became immediately apparent that you needed to be careful about what you said and posted, especially if it was something against academic rules and regulations.

Then our parents joined. Then our bosses. Then every person we ever crossed paths with ever. Then it became a situation where saying anything political, religious, or otherwise opinionated put you at risk for a Facebook tussle with someone you’d never dream of offending in real life (though perhaps you hadn’t even thought about the person in years). And I think that’s fine - being a social critter is a messy, tricky business in real life, and of course a wildly popular online social service will mirror that. And the golden rule of the internet is, post not that which you would not say to your mother. Please understand that I’m not trying to say I don’t want the world to have access to a special college kid clubhouse - I’m just trying to explain how Facebook evolved from a fairly obnoxious college kid clubhouse to something much bigger, and much more interesting.

However. This new Timeline business seems tailored not to socializing, but to stalking - the casual “I wonder what happened to so-and-so” variety that most of us do occasionally and joke about often, or the “so-and-so thinks I should hire him, so let’s see what dirt we can find” style which seems a little unfair to me on separation of work and play grounds but that I’ve accepted as part of the world I live in, or the truly threatening kind. Older posts on Facebook have always been accessible, but Timeline makes them infinitely more so, lowering barriers to serious amateur private investigation. It’s upsettingly simple to get dates on all of my major life events (which might help an unscrupulous person figure out my account protection secret questions in one extreme and unlikely scenario), and it’s embarrassingly easy to catch me out as not having always been a relatively mature adult with reasonably well-supported opinions and tempered judgment. Looking at the earlier sections of my Facebook feed didn’t fill me with a warm glow of nostalgia - it felt like a one-click-away dream in which I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing any pants.

Combining user profiles with user walls is streamlined, and I like that aspect of it. I’m also grateful for the seven-day cleanup period, and for the fact that in spite of my obsessive/self-obsessed anxieties about being “caught out” as less than a perfect human being, there’s really nothing that bad in my backlog. I am not shy about using privacy controls and I’ve mostly made good sharing decisions (except for all those China party pics - ex-pat life is just different, I don’t know what else to say). Nevertheless, I did not craft the past seven and a half years of Facebook activity as a cohesive document that explains who I am as a person, and that’s exactly what it’s about to become, whether I like it or not.

I own the fact that I started out on Facebook as an excessively privileged and naive child, and I do understand the internet well enough to know that you can never really take anything back. I just feel really weird about having all of my online skeletons summarily exhumed from underneath layer after layer of “older posts” links for public perusal unless I do some labor-intensive housecleaning. I understand that it’s my responsibility to make sure everything’s in good order, but it’s going to take an awful lot of time to get through the past seven and a half years to prepare for a compulsory and drastic change in the way my profile functions.

[I did enjoy the existential character of old-school status updates, though. Here's a transcript from 2006:

currently unavailable for comment.



happy as a clam, hidden from predators, with an endless food supply, and whatever else might make clams extra happy.

just a lonely puppy.

all about fortune cookies.

What does it MEAN?]

Library School Blues Part II, In Which I Rediscover the Internet

I was FURIOUS about the sudden loss of Google Reader when it got summarily eaten by Google +. A lot has been written about this, in much better words than I could come up with:

When I first heard it was being integrated with Google+, I rolled my eyes and thought, cue the unnecessary/irritating outrage. Then I realized that the number one way I consume online information was basically being rendered obsolete. And don’t you dare tell me that it’s still a serviceable RSS reader - my friends’ shared items was the first and often the only place I went. When it actually disappeared, I almost started crying at work over it. I didn’t grasp how much of a loss was going to register with losing my main online interaction mode until it just vanished (though if this is the worst thing that happens to me this year, then it’s been a pretty great year for me, and I do recognize that).

But the fact of the matter is, if you don’t already care about this, you probably won’t start now, and I don’t have anything in this post to comfort you with if you do care - homegrown alternatives, former designers graciously offering to return to Google to fix it, or anything like that. I’ve spent the last week hopping over to Google + every so often to see if anyone’s posted any new news about the whole thing, preferably news of the “we are so sorry, Anne, here is the service that you and a fraction of our users loved so much that very few people understood or used, it’s fully restored, and here is a direct line to Google in case we ever accidentally make you feel sad or ignored ever again” variety.

Then last night I got mad. I realized that even though I was only on Google+ to look for and participate in griefing Google, I was still driving up the thing’s page views, thus justifying the entire redesign from a statistical perspective. So I gave myself license to be completely immature and turn my back on what really could be a very significant online service, and I logged into my Twitter account instead. And discovered that I absolutely love Twitter. And the internet. And all this stuff on the internet. The Librarian in Black just helped me clarify my professional goals - I am now positively driven by the ambition to one day be able to curse in a professional capacity. I’m a long way away from that now, but one day. One day I will drop an f-bomb online again in an unfiltered environment and not worry that I’ll somehow be fired for it or that I’ll be denied an interview for The Best Most Well-paying and Emotionally and Socially Satisfying Library Job Ever [So we're clear, the LiB also has a really smart, well-written blog on libraryland issues, and I don't mean to sound like I'm disparaging her or her glorious cursing]. And the internet has so much to say about grad school burnout! And how your thesis doesn’t even matter and no one will read it! And how sometimes stress makes your hair fall out! And how to get organized! And poo turkey cakes, which heaven help me, I cannot look at without cackling hysterically!

Which is basically a long way of saying that I have eight major projects and my thesis due in the next two and a half weeks and I’m getting too freaked out about it to get any real work done.

Failing at the first imperative (library school blues)

So, I’m really badly stuck on a paper, and it seemed like as good a time as any to blog, which is a wonderful word that sounds exactly like the mental vomiting I feel like I need to do right now. Internet, I’m tired. My head hurts. It’s gorgeous autumn time and I don’t have the stamina to even care. I can barely remember my husband’s name and have taken to referring to him as The One Who Brings Me Food and Makes Sure I Don’t Rot in a Puddle of My Own Filth (in all seriousness, if you must work full time and take four grad classes the same semester in which you write your thesis, I highly recommend marrying Chris Clanton first).

I’m working on a review of a business book for my library management class. Incidentally, I’m really grateful that it’s a required course, because I never would have taken it on my own and so far, it’s been the best in my program. The book I’m working on is Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader. The three imperatives are: manage yourself, manage your network, manage your team. I am struggling to manage myself these days, let alone my network or my team (I don’t talk to anyone anymore).

One of my biggest issues with online education is that I don’t have a good verb phrase for it. “Going to school” isn’t right - believe you me, I’m not getting much further than occasionally shifting position on the couch to avoid bed sores. “Doing work” is what gets used around the Gresham-Clanton household. As in, Chris might ask, “are you doing work tonight?” as a polite way of asking if I’ll be acting like a normal, responsible human being who enjoys goofing off and would like to watch a silly horror movie, or will I be shrieking unreasonable demands while foaming at the mouth and behaving like a wounded, rabid bear when directly spoken to? “Doing homework” doesn’t cover it - that suggests a specific component of a larger educational experience. There’s no not-homework in my not-work time. I sometimes use “working on school stuff” on a good day, but that seems awfully mild and misleadingly pleasant.

Another big issue: the writing. I can’t get away with massively overstated and flowery opinions that soar to dizzying hyperbolic heights, daisy chains of improbable adverb-adjective pairs, deliberately overextended metaphors, or completely unsupported assertions about human behavior and desires. Just the facts, madame, in to-the-point language and direct, unadorned style. No, Anne, you may not go off on tangents about how the ineffective management of library staff is similar to that time you tried to keep too many fish in a tank and all the guppies got eaten by black skirt tetras and you stayed up all night watching them die and sobbing. I’m just not good at this kind of writing, and it takes me forever to finish even relatively simple assignments.

Ok, good talk, internet. Back to it.


Last night around 11 pm, I was in bed playing Angry Birds, which is the mindlessly obsessive thing I do all night now, and there was a weird rattling noise in my closet. All of the cats and the dog were visible, and this sounded exactly like a crazy creature banging on the inside of my closet door desperate to escape and probably kill us.

Throughout college, I spent the summer giving tours in a show cave (stay with me, this is going to be relevant eventually). I was really, really proud of my cave tour. I did a lot of homework, worked really hard to make the science-y bits accessible, and I did my best to have an accurate, educational tour (though 28 year old me has more reservations than 20 year old me about the degree of perfection attained). However, I did occasionally get driven into a hyperbolic storytelling frenzy on two subjects: 1. my experiences as a caver, and 2. the New Madrid earthquake of 1812.

I couldn’t stop myself from injecting a little bit of fiction into #1. I think the reason I liked that job so much had a lot to do with having up to thirty people completely willing to see me as a rough n’ ready adventuress possessed of intimate knowledge of the blackest depths of the earth obtained in the name of science and ultimate truth.

I’m absolutely nothing of the kind - at the time, I was an English major for whom pooping outside constituted a major life event - but good lord I think geologists are sexy, and I think that tourists who think I am one are sexy, too. So, you know, if they wanted to ask me questions about getting off the lit man-made path in the cave, I’d give them some answers. Some memorable, death-defying answers.

The other thing that gave me fits of narrative inspiration was the New Madrid earthquake in 1812 (Wikipedia). Just thinking about it makes me want a mag light to wave around while I shriek about how the Mississippi River got turned around backwards (true), how the church bells in Boston, MA rang (true), how entire towns were swallowed whole (well… there was a lot of damage), and how the quake caused every single observable instance of damage in my cave (it probably caused some of it).

Earthquakes absolutely terrify me when I get to thinking about them. I’ve never really experienced one before, and while I understand that people in California may be relatively used to the occasional tremor, the idea of the ground moving around is incredibly, hypnotically upsetting to me.

Apparently, earthquakes don’t scare me as badly as monsters in my closet, since monsters rated as the more likely explanation in my head for the noises last night. I was still worried about the monster in my closet this morning, even after reading we’d had a 4.7-magnitude quake in the state, and it wasn’t until a friend mentioned her bedroom rattling a bit as well that I put the whole thing together.

Report your earthquake experience to the USGS

NY Times article about quakes in Arkansas

6 Ways to Fail at Learning Chinese

Ok. I have been wrestling with Mandarin Chinese for well over three years now, and it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon, so I thought I’d tell the internet about a few mistakes I’ve made in trying figure out how to learn Chinese. Full disclosure: my Chinese isn’t great. I lived in Nanjing from 2007 to 2009, and I’m in my second semester of intermediate Chinese classes at an American university. I can’t write a post about how to be fluent in Chinese, because I haven’t accomplished that. But I CAN tell you about some pitfalls that have slowed me down. Also, to be fair, there are better writers on this subject out there, and you really shouldn’t be reading this when you could be reading Sinosplice. I’m also just going to use the term “Chinese” throughout this post - I’m studying standard Mandarin, but I’m pretty sure that this stuff applies to Cantonese as well, or any other dialect you might be studying, you brave person, you.

So, if you’re still here, here we go:

Anne’s Six Ways to Fail at Learning Chinese

1. Move to China (and think that’s enough)

If all you do toward learning Chinese is pack up and move to China, the only thing you will accomplish is seriously freaking yourself out.

This is not to say that spending time in China isn’t a crucial ingredient in studying the language. I promise you, though, that most normal English speakers (normal meaning lacking in unbelievable linguistic talent) are not going to “just pick it up” by being around a ton of people speaking it. You will learn how to say hello, good bye, thank you, and “I don’t understand” this way, and that’s about it. You can learn these things from any textbook introductory lesson in about an hour, incidentally, and it will be much cheaper than a plane ticket.

When I tell people I lived in China for a while, they usually and understandably ask, “do you speak Chinese?” A lot of us former “foreign experts” (as printed on our little magenta permit document) will quite happily lie to you in answer to this question, and when we toss off a phrase or two, you will probably believe the lie, because it’s definitely going to sound like we’re speaking a foreign language. I usually recite my MacDonald’s order, which, much to my chagrin, is probably the most on-the-tip-of-my-tongue chunk of dialog I’ve got. What my audience doesn’t know is that in a Chinese MacDonald’s, this little monologue was almost always delivered while pointing to items on the picture menu, and the employee was paying a lot more attention to my fingers than my speaking.

Plenty of non-native speakers do live in China and learn to speak Chinese, but plenty are able to get by just fine with hello and thank you. I got by just fine, and when I got off the plane, I sort of knew how to count to five and that was it. I also lived in a large city, and I didn’t have a single close friend who wasn’t at least proficient in English, though, and I think people in less expat-saturated situations have a little more motivation to successfully learn the language.

Don’t get me wrong, you’re probably never going to reach fluency if you don’t spend some hardcore Chinese-speaking time in China. But being there isn’t a magic bullet, and you shouldn’t expect to learn Chinese there without a serious amount of effort that you may or may not have time for. Furthermore, you can’t hole up in your accommodations and drill characters and then expect to jump in a taxi and discuss politics with the driver. You also run the risk of getting pretty discouraged after spending hours studying only to have people stare at you like you’re a feces-flinging lower primate when you try to inquire what time the next train to Shanghai leaves. You’ll get there eventually, but it’s a long, slow road, without the false validation you might get from acing a Chinese midterm in an English-speaking university. Which brings me to #2.

**EXCEPTION** Moving to China to teach eighteen year olds is a wonderful, just-add-water way to learn how to cuss in Chinese!

2. Take a Chinese class (and don’t do anything else)

Much like spending time in China, I think that you need to take a Chinese class or find a Chinese tutor if you’re going to get anywhere. But you’re going to have to do a lot more beyond that. Three hours of classroom instruction a week plus the time needed to finish homework and get a handle on the exam material isn’t enough. In my experience, an intermediate Chinese class is not the same thing as intermediate Spanish or French class. I have a really good professor, but it’s a slow, uphill battle, and even though my class will have met the college language requirement at the end of this semester, I seriously doubt that any of us have anywhere near the proficiency of students at the same level in a western language. You really, really, really need to supplement your classroom stuff with something else (Chinesepod is really worth the cost of a subscription), and you need to have appropriate expectations - namely, that you will learn some grammar and some vocabulary, but they will not amount to fluency, and maybe not even proficiency if you’re not willing to go the extra thousand miles.

That said, my class has really consolidated a lot of stuff for me, thanks to my awesome teacher and my decent textbook (Integrated Chinese - I’ve hated every other Chinese textbook I’ve tried to use, but this one is working for me). The trick is to not revert to student habits of the bare minimum necessary to get by - do the exercises that aren’t assigned as homework, use new grammatical structures the next time you see your conversation partner (you DO have a conversation partner, right?), and get on a daily regimen of podcasts or something manageable that may or may not be related to anything you’re working on in class.

3. Read a grammar book

It’s going to make you cry and you’re not going to retain it. The grammar isn’t that hard, but it’s useless if you’re not using it. I can read a chapter about resultative compliments until I’m cross-eyed, but I didn’t really understand them in a way that I could use until I’d heard them used over and over and over and over again and memorized a fair number of expressions. The few grammar books I’ve looked at were written for linguistics folks, not necessarily for language learners (unless you’re a specific sort of language learner, which I’m not). Worry about this stuff after you’ve laid the groundwork - get your basic understanding of grammar from a Chinese class and a LOT of practice with a conversation partner. Some of this stuff sounds really weird when you try to explain it, even though in practice it’s not so bad. Except 了. That’s bad (for me, at least). It will make more sense if you can apply it to a phrase or set of phrases you’re comfortable with. [I could be totally off base with this - I'm not a linguist, just a 28 year old who got burned by confusing grammatical explanations sans examples.]

4. Memorize a million flash cards

There’s something vaguely comforting about the numbers game. They say I’ll be functionally literate when I reach 2000 characters, eh? Well, it’s a large number, but not an impossible one. Enter the flash card game. I could correctly enter the pinyin and select the multiple choice definition of about 800 characters before I could produce a full sentence in a social situation. Worry instead about actual words, which may consist of one or several characters, and the individual character recognition will follow.

That said, a good flashcard set or program is great for keeping massive amounts of material fresh in your mind. I really like ZDT, which is free software that lets you build your own character lists. Just try not to worry about numbers and focus on words that you need to know. And don’t just memorize them - use them in sentences, write little stories with them, and make a conscious effort to use them the next time you meet your conversation partner (seriously, the conversation partner is non-optional). That 2,000 character number isn’t a guarantee, and I’d try not to pay attention to it unless you’re gearing up for the HSK.

5. Watch Chinese movies

Well, watching Chinese movies is fun, and it gives you something to talk about with your conversation partner (I’m very serious about how much you need a conversation partner). Sure, every once in a while, you’ll hear someone say something that you sort of get, like “hello”, and that feels good. By all means, watch Chinese movies for the cultural content and to occasionally pick out a word, just don’t expect it to radically improve your listening skills until you don’t need the English subtitles anymore. Incidentally, that day’s probably a long way off if you found this post by googling “how to learn Chinese” or something similar (and I’m not trying to be hateful - I’m in that boat too). As an example, I was pleased as punch when I caught a shift from Mandarin to Shanghainese in Lust, Caution - didn’t understand a thing, just heard the difference in dialect.

I DO think it’s important to hear native speakers talking to other native speakers, on the street, in a movie, or whatever, because it sounds quite different from the textbook recordings or the way your Chinese professor or tutor will speak to you. But don’t have any illusions about making rapid strides when you sit down to watch something in Chinese, because those illusions probably won’t last long.

6. Study Chinese without a conversation partner who is a native speaker.

Ok, I’m really shy, and I was sort of amazed when I finally gathered the gumption to send out an email to the local Chinese student association. I was really surprised with how many responses I got, and wound up with three conversation partners, who all turned out to be really great people and have helped me IMMENSELY with my Chinese.

The thing about conversation partners that usually doesn’t get mentioned in language learning advice is that it is actually awkward as hell the first few times you meet. Meeting with someone who is not a professional language instructor is going to really drive home how little your perfect test scores and memorized character lists actually mean, and it’s embarrassing and frustrating. No one likes to look stupid, and it’s hard not to feel stupid when you can’t understand a word and they can’t hear you through your atrocious pronunciation. You’ve also got to really battle your instinct to speak in English, especially when your conversation partner’s English is almost assuredly better than your Chinese. But it got better quickly for me. I met some really cool people, and now our meetings tend to involve lots of giggling and back and forth exchange. And it’s a dynamic where I feel comfortable making mistakes every time I open my mouth, which is one of the fastest ways I learn.

In addition to giving you a chance to practice trying to speak, conversation partners are also a good way to remind yourself why you’re bothering with this in the first place. Memorizing grammar structures and drilling new vocabulary isn’t fun. Talking to another human being can be a lot of fun, though, and learning a new language makes more sense when the goal is to get an idea out of your head and into someone else’s.
I hope that was useful for someone! Apologies if I’m polluting the internet with another insubstantial Chinese advice post…

Japanese Ghosts (with non-threatening illustrations)

[Disclaimer: I know enough about Chinese culture to have a reasonable idea of how little I know about Chinese culture, but I don't even have that going on for me with Japanese culture - PLEASE correct me if I'm interpreting anything wrong or just being obtuse]

A while back, Photographer Chris Clanton and I watched A Tale of Two Sisters. It was a pretty decent, very atmospheric Korean psychological horror film spinning off of a Korean folk tale. And it scared the pants off me. This movie opened up with a shot of a mental institution patient with dark hair entirely covering her face, and for whatever reason and no matter how cinematically clichéd it’s become, I simply cannot handle it. I blame this entirely on Ringu – the so-so American version scared the crap out of me, and watching the source material nearly made me throw up.

Kappy Kayako

Happy Kayako

But while listening to A Tale of Two Sisters from the relative safety of Chris’s armpit, I got to wondering why it bothered me so badly. I’d previously assumed that Ringu was so horribly freaky that every horror director in the world decided to imitate it to death, but it turns out that the white-dress-black-hair-crazy-eyes-jerky-walk thing has really deep roots in an absolutely fabulous ghost tradition. It’s interesting as all hell to read about, but the trouble is that it’s hard to do much reading on the subject without having to look at that thing crawling out of a television set (links to a picture of that thing crawling out of a television set).

So, for you, dear (four) readers, I’ve ruined my sleep for the next few weeks to gather enough information to give you an overview of Japanese ghosts minus freaky movie stills (and I’ll give you a heads up when I link to them).

Ringu’s Sadako can more or less trace her ghostly heritage back to early Edo Japan and a parlor game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidan. Hyakumonogatari Kaidan parties involved lighting one hundred candles. Then guests took turns telling a spooky story. After each story, one candle would be extinguished and the room would get darker and darker. Supposedly after the telling of the one hundredth tale and the extinguishing of the final candle, something supernatural would happen. This may have had roots in a Buddhist practice involving telling one hundred tales to produce miracles, or in samurai exercises designed to improve their ability to cope with fear, but once the general population got ahold of it, it had very little to do with religion or endurance and everything to do with how much fun it is to scare yourself silly, which anyone who’s ever spent time in a closet with a mirror tremulously calling Bloody Mary’s name should understand (Reider, 2000, 85-86).

Predictably, ghosts were a staple of kaidan. Now, let’s get some terminology laid out. A Japanese ghost is called a yurei. A yurei isn’t necessarily vengeance-obsessed, but the ones that are (onryo) make for great horror stories. The important thing about a yurei, according to Screech, is that’s not really a person, but the embodiment of a purpose, namely, getting whatever business that prevented it from reaching the afterlife sorted out. [onryo at Wikipedia] [yurei at Wikipedia]

Now back to Edo Japan. The popularity of Hyakumonogatari Kaidan gatherings did not go unnoticed by anyone who made a living entertaining people. Printed kaidan anthologies began coming out, and the stories began popping up all over kabuki and ukiyo-e prints. Kabuki uses a lot of visual cues to signify the actors’ roles, mental states, etc., and a visual iconography for ghostly characters eventually developed, both in kabuki and ukiyo-e art.

That ghost look had a lot to do with burial customs (as most ghost fashions do). In Edo Japan, a corpse would be dressed in a plain white kimono, and his or her hair let down in contrast with the elaborate hair styles of the time. So it stood to reason that someone rising from the dead would be wearing a plain white kimono and have long disheveled hair. This worked well in both art and kabuki theater. Sometime in the 18th century, ghosts lost their feet, which allowed for fun flying special effects in kabuki and a surreal flavor in paintings (Screech, n.d.). For examples of kabuki ghosts, here’s a “lovely lady ghost who enjoys alcohol”, and here is Oiwa,who’s not nearly as friendly looking. I’ll come back to her a little later.

There are also a metric ton of ukiyo-e ghost paintings that range from this entirely lovely Maruyama Okyo print to the more deranged (for another scary ukiyo-e ghost, see also here).


Happy Sadako

So, Sadako in Ringu turns out to be a completely classical Japanese ghost. She’s coming straight from Kabuki Theater and ukiyo-e paintings, with her white dress and tangled black hair. Also, at the very end of the theatrical version of Ju-On (the Japanese original of The Grudge), the final shot is of Rika’s body, stuffed in a white bag, with long black hair - the living character had a short cut. I think that the white bag and long black hair are supposed to signify her transformation into a yurei, though we get to see her eyes open and hear her rattle a little just so we’re clear. [still of living Rika] [still of dead Rika - not great, but all I could find]

Again in Ringu, the actress playing Sadako, who had a background in kabuki, ruined the rest of my life by approximating that off-balance, unnatural, footless way of locomotion by jerking around horribly as she walked. The director filmed her walking backwards, then played the tape in reverse, resulting in the freakiest thing to ever become a cliché that I can’t stand to watch. [IMDB trivia page]

Here’s a youtube video of an evolution-of-Japanese-horror-inspired fashion show, if you’d like to see an interpretation of jerky-ghost-walk without getting upset (third model):

(and here’s a link to the scary version on youtube)

According to Bahmain (2006), there were two particular ghosts of importance in Sadako’s ancestry - Okiku and Oiwa. Okiku involves a maid, a broken plate, a disproportionate response, and a ghost screaming from inside a well (angry ghost inside a well = Sadako). [Okiku on Wikipedia]

Happy Toshio

Happy Toshio

Oiwa is the major one, though. She hales from the 1825 Kabuki play Tôkaidô Yotsuya Kaidan, which is a bloody, violent mess of awesome (if you’re into that) - the phrase “Japanese Macbeth” comes up a lot in discussions of it (including theater superstitions - best visit Oiwa’s shrine before you act in this puppy). There’s a summary here and you can read Act II in translation here (starts on page 847). At one point, Oiwa’s face is rather famously projected out of a lantern, a little bit like Kayako coming out of a wall in Ju-On(links to Kayako coming out of a wall - that scene was also probably the only time in my life I’ve caught a painting reference all by myself), and also not  such a far technological cry from crawling out of a television. On a tangential note, there’s a great great great print on printed page 18 (not PDF page 18) of Sumpter’s article that I couldn’t find in a linkable form anywhere. It’s a painting of a ghost coming out of a painting, much like Ringu is a movie you watch on a screen about a ghost coming out of a screen.

But back to Oiwa. In addition to the standard yurei get-up, her disfigured face makes her very easy to recognize. She was poisoned, which caused the disfigurement, and then committed suicide upon seeing her reflection. She’s usually depicted with a swollen eye, which is also relevant to Ringu (links to close-up of Sadako’s messed up eyeball) and possibly the distorted television image in Ju-On (though that sentence of the Wikipedia article was flagged as needing a citation).

For more Oiwa, here’s a youtube excerpt from an animated Japanese horror series - it’s really cool, and plays with the idea of a self-perpetuating cursed narrative (which, incidentally, is at the heart of both Ringu and Ju-On). Not very scary, with an inoffensively post-modern flair, and it also contains a lot of non-animated Oiwa-related ukiyo-e art, theater masks, and stuff.

There’s a Chinese proverb, Ye Gong Loves Dragons, referring to a man who was completely obsessed with dragons until an actual dragon heard about it and stopped by to have a friendly chat. Ye Gong took one look at the dragon and fled in abject terror. So you say “ye gong hao long” to refer to a person who professes to love something but can’t handle it in real life. It’s very applicable here. We watched Ju-On last night, and even after reading up on all this and excitedly chattering about it to anyone who’d listen, I still spent about seventy-five percent of the movie with my eyes closed.

Further Reading/References

Antoni, Klaus (1988). Yasukuni-Jinja and Folk Religion: The Problem of Vengeful Spirits. Asian Folklore Studies, 47(1), pp. 123-136

Bahmain, Colette (2006). Inside the well of loneliness: towards a definition of the Japanese horror film. Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies.

Leiter, Samuel L (1976). Keren: Spectacle and Trickery in Kabuki Acting. Educational Theater Journal, 28, (2), pp. 173-188.

Reider, Noriko T. (2000). The Appeal of Kaidan: Tales of the Strange.  Asian Folklore Studies, 59(2), pp. 265-283

Reider, Noriko T. (2001). The Emergence of “Kaidan-Shu”: the Collection of Tales of the Strange and Mysterious in the Edo Period. Asian Folklore Studies 60(1), 79-99.

Screech, Tim (n.d.). Japanese Ghosts. Mangajin, 40.

Sumpter, Sara L. (2006). From Scrolls to Prints to Moving Pictures: Iconographic Ghost Imagery from Pre-Modern Japan to The Contemporary Horror Film. Explorations: The Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Fantastic Ghost Ukiyo-e Prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

  • 36 Ghosts - GREAT captions, i.e. “A monk did not get a major wish granted. He starved himself to death. His infuriated spirit changes into rats. The beasts destroy sacred books and scrolls.”

a generally uneducated statistical perspective.

I just took a massive tumble while hustling across the street so as not to unduly inconvenience cars stopped at the crosswalk. I tripped on a rock, and went hurtling through the air for enough of a duration to be aware that no part of my body was in contact with the ground, and landed, hard, in front of a large crowd of people and a caravan of vehicles.

I don’t have much skin left on my palms or my knees, but after it happened and I skittered away from the onlookers with burning ears, my first thought was, “well, I’ve had my statistically probable accident, but didn’t really hurt myself, didn’t break my glasses, and didn’t kill anything. Nothing bad will happen for a while after this, and so now I am in an awesome mood.”

Google Translate (to cabbage it)

I’m working on my Chinese homework this afternoon. It’s a simple restaurant dialog, and I’m pretty sure I wrote everything correctly - I wasn’t using any new grammar and hardly any new vocabulary. Out of curiosity, I ran my Chinese through Google Translate, and here’s what I got:

Waiter: Welcome, welcome!
Guest: There is no seat?
Waiter: Yes, there, there. Please come with me. On one side you?
Guests: Yes.
Waiter: What would you like vegetables?
Guest: I’ll have a bowl of white rice, a plate of dumplings.
Waiter: Pigment or meat?
Guests: meat. Also a bowl of hot and sour soup.
Waiter: OK. A bowl of white rice, a plate of meat dumplings, a bowl of hot and sour soup. Anything else?
Guests: even a cup of Coke.
Attendant: To cold?
Guest:. Tom Do not MSG.
Attendant: To salt it?
Guests: can be added. There is no cabbage?
Waiter: Excuse me. Chinese cabbage has just sold out. To cabbage it?
Guest: Never mind. I do not eat vegetables. This way you can.
Waiter: OK. The bowl of white rice, a plate of meat dumplings, a bowl of hot and sour soup, no MSG, salt, a glass of cold cola. On quickly.
Guests: Yes. Waiter, I’m starving. Good food?
Waiter: food just do a good job. Immediately go to.
Guests: good.

This is why learning a foreign language is hard.

Tomatoes are legally veggies.

There are three papers I’m supposed to be writing right now, and page after page of Chinese characters I’m supposed to be drilling, but I wanted to take the time to share this tidbit I found in a footnote in one of my textbooks:

In 1893, a guy named John Nix went to the Supreme Court to try to get around a vegetable tarif being imposed on his imported tomatoes on the grounds that they are actually a fruit. The Supreme Court of 1893 apparently had a similar means of comprehending the world as I do - by dividing everything in it into Dessert and Not-Dessert categories. Tomatoes aren’t a dessert, and therefore, legally are not a fruit.

That Wikipedia article is here.

back to school!

I’m taking an undergrad Chinese class, courtesy of an incredibly generous tuition discount offered through my employer, and it starts tomorrow. I just bought mechanical pencils and a binder, I’ve got my syllabus all printed out and stapled, and I’ve been dutifully reviewing the material we’ll be covering in class tomorrow. The entire process is cracking me up a little bit.

I haven’t been in a classroom since I graduated in 2005. I’m in the middle of an MLS program, but it’s entirely online. Taking classes online feels a lot less like Going to School, and more like a really weird way to choose to spend your free time. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a different experience from wondering what your classmates are going to be like (and how obvious it’s going to be that you’re eight years older than most of them), picking out your school supplies, and trying to find a decent outfit to wear.

I’m also in such an entirely different head space than I was my freshman year at Carleton - I don’t remember being particularly thrilled about learning when Mom and Dad loaded up all my Nine Inch Nails posters into the minivan to pack me off to Minnesota. I was more excited about the possibility of cute boys who read lots of books and wanted to stay up late having impassioned discussions about them, decorating my dorm room, and pretending to be a grown up. This time around, though, I’m so wholeheartedly, single-mindedly intent on learning as much as I absolutely can that I’m worried I’m going to be a thoroughly contemptible object to my classmates, who are probably not spending their shower time reciting an introductory speech in Chinese or frantically tearing through the dictionary in a desperate weekend long cram session. I’ve been a bit of a teacher’s pet/goody-two-shoes all my life, but throughout high school and college was able to cut it with a lot of black eyeliner and an angsty scowl. I have no idea how my lunatic inner over-achiever is going to go over now that I’m a thousand times more likely to rhapsodize about my dog’s doggy smile than the existential beauty of a dead rat I saw in the parking lot that made me think a lot about the fleeting nature of life and love and unspeakable bleakness, and would you like to see the poem I wrote about it?

I have quite literally spent the last hour and a half working on the questionnaire our professor sent out, which probably was meant to require about ten minutes. I hope she likes me! Go Razorbacks!