Monthly Archives: June 2012

Treats for ears

Reviving an occasional series on ten minutes hate, here are the Top 5 Records currently bringing joy to my ears:

1. Javeon McCarthy – Lost Time (T Williams Remix)

It is rainy season here in Japan, so there are days when we can’t see much of anything through the rain. Still, these haunting lyrics of lost love, set against a beat you will find difficult to ignore the invitation to dance to, will make even the greyest of skies seem suddenly brighter:

2. Fact mix 327 – Disclosure

The series of mixes released by Fact magazine are always worth more than one listen and this from Disclosure doesn’t buck the trend. By three minutes in I already knew it wa the best mix I had heard all year and then it proceeded to get even better. Don’t miss out!

3. Cajmere & Russoul – Let’s Dance

Watch the video, practise the moves, hit the club, be the toast of the town.

Thank me later.

4. XLR8R podcast – Braiden

Another quality series of mixes, another great DJ. What’s not to like?

5. Flight Facilities – Foreign Language ft Jess (Will Saul & Tam Cooper remix)

More great lyrics, an amazing vocal and deft remix by Simple Records founder, Will Saul. Almost too perfect…

Hopefully that has you in the perfect mood for whatever shenanigans the weekend holds for you. As ever, let me know your top 5s in the comments, below and be sure to have a cracking one!

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Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46 by Our Man in Abiko

I consider myself lucky to know Our Man in Abiko and was proud to be part of the team he assembled to put #Quakebook together, containing stories of the Great East Japan Earthquake, before signing up again for light editing duties on the Abiko Free Press’s attempt to assess what had changed for Japan since those catastrophic events: Reconstructing 3/11. As the Man mentioned in his review of my own book about Japan and earthquakes, The Teas That Bind, it is incredibly difficult to be honest about a friend’s work. So why trust anything I write about his latest book, Hana Walker’s Half Life 2:46?

I may be a slight bit biased but to miss out on this fantastic story because of such fears would be a shame. By Chapter 4, as our hero Hana hurtled towards the seventh dirtiest lake in Japan, trapped inside a Mercedes with a lecherous hoodlum, I was hooked. Reading the book on my phone for the final seconds before work, or burning the candle late into the night to finish the last few chapters, testifies to the gripping nature of Hana’s quest. It takes her far from her Abiko home to find schoolgirl Emi Blackmore, missing in Ishinomaki in the North of Japan, on behalf of Emi’s estranged and distraught father, while getting some disgruntled gangsters off her back and trying to come to terms with her own chequered family history.

Hana’s mission is realistically located in the Japan residents will recognise as the one they sometimes love to loathe, peopled by less-than-helpful bureaucrats, crabby ramen shop grandmas and inept English teachers, bedevilled by mama-charus, noisy pachinko parlours and daytime cooking shows. Tatami mats, onsen, 100 yen stores and ‘nihongo jouzu’: it’s all here. American tourists wear cowboy hats, the yakuza exude menace, and so life for the characters is proceeding in its almost-usual channels as the clock ticks around to 2:46pm on 11 March 2011.

The recreations of that day are note-perfect and will be recognisable to everyone who was in Japan. Interspersing tweets with the story shows characters reacting to real news events and sharing darkly humorous catalogues of exactly what in the kitchen had smashed, just as we did. Half Life has plenty to say about the nature of belonging and nationality, about Japan and her relations with the world, in parallel with the occasionally thorny paths of father-daughter relationships, both real and surrogate. There is more to learn here – about conventions on punctuality, how blood type determines personality, that wallets can be left anywhere to be handed in later with cash intact, Japan’s unique and distinct four seasons and what always happens to the nail that sticks up – than from any etiquette guide. The cosy government, yakuza and TEPCO culture that contributed to the disaster at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant is likewise illuminated.

Yet all this is covered without once detracting from the fast-paced tale of Hana’s attempts to find Emi, escape the police and the bad guys, while avoiding getting framed for murder or eaten by kittens (yes, really). And the serious moments never detract from the humour of what is at times a real caper – the bicycle scenes providing exactly the right mix of comedy and suspense – because our Hana is no suave detective, perhaps with more of Philip Marlowe about her than Lisbeth Salander.

In The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler writes, ‘down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.’ Abiko’s streets may be less mean than the City of Angels’, but in desperate times, Ms Walker displays those same qualities. Hints have been dropped regarding a sequel, which is fortunate, as with Hana around Japan is sure to remain what Chandler called ‘a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in’.

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Content creation

There is a commonly held belief that in these days of social media, what we do is manufacture content. How many times have you been told that when you use Facebook or similar sites, you are not the customer, you are the product? Your engagement, your clicks, your likes, these are the items that are being sold, and for huge numbers if the Instagram purchase is taken as evidence.

This is, after all, the way of our new product-based civilization — in order to participate as a citizen of the social web, you must yourself manufacture content.

And manufacture it we do, every occasion photographed and uploaded, often before even saying farewell to our companions, for every location a check-in, every issue from the critical to the trivial can be extensively and rabidly commented upon. We must be the generation both with the greatest opportunity to express ourselves and the least inclination to notice when others do the same – who can say that they regularly keep up with everything they have bookmarked or flagged? Most days, scratching the surface and sharing a little of what we have unearthed is the best that can be hoped for.

A camera-phone photograph is a captured moment, a tweet or a status update is a passing thought crystallised. None of them are meant to stand for eternity, perhaps for the first time our means of recording what goes on around us are designed to have a transitory quality (if you don’t believe me, try searching for tweets you wrote more than a year ago as I did when writing The Teas That Bind, it was the biggest headache of the whole process).

So, where does that leave those creators, the writers, photographers and artists who are trying to produce something of more lasting value? In this eloquent exploration of ‘the Facebook Problem’ for photographers by Martin Parr – a photographer who relies on a seeming lack of awareness of the camera on the part of his subjects – he notes that:

[n]ot having everyone looking at you in these situations is a major achievement.

As we have become more aware of our roles as content creators, so we are also developing a more heightened sense of our public image, so that calls for unflattering photographs to be deleted and retaken are now so routine that they pass without comment except in jest. Few of us, I expect, would be happy with an unfavourable photograph being displayed on the internet, even if the button was clicked by a legend like Mr Parr.

For writers the social media problem is often one of focus, as when everything ever written is available for you to read – often via the same machine you are attempting to use to create – it takes a strong soul to turn away from the delicious yet distracting fruit being proffered. Writer Sean Lotman notes, in this interview with the Diverse Arts Project:

[Doing art] … entails removing yourself from the outer world with its tweets and status updates and general distractions. It’s not easy to do. In fact, it can be like hitting your head against the wall…  it’s easy to be influenced by others’ work.

It appears to me that creators are caught on the horns of a twin dilemma, building your social media presence to establish an audience for your work takes you away from doing the work that the audience are meant to be appreciating. Investing time in the creation of vibrant online presences will only enhance the wealth of some Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. Hell, at least in the ‘bad old days’ the writers and photographers routinely got paid, without having to send emails like this.

In that case, why do it at all? Back to Sean Lotman for a final word:

Don’t expect to get rich or famous. Don’t let your ego be manipulated by ‘views,’ ‘faves,’ or ‘likes.’ The best art is rendered because it had to be. You don’t have a choice in its creation.

The only choice, then, might be who you create the content for. That being the case, be sure to choose wisely.

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This is where I live

At times you have to escape the city, to see a wider sweep to the horizon, feel fresh air on your face and remember what it is to have elbow room, before returning feeling charged and able to appreciate the urban beauty again.

My home city, looking as beautiful as it gets, courtesy of the very talented Samuel Cockedey.

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Reading list

So you take a look at this:

and then you factor in this:

to which you add the latest issue of Tsuki magazine with its mix of great fiction and other writing from Japan, the essential life guide ‘Feel The Fear And Freelance Anyway’ by Kris Emery and a host of other well-written posts and updates and it all leads to one thought:

Can I have a week off please?

So tell me, what’s on your ‘to read’ list – virtual or otherwise – at the moment?

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Love those redheads

I have profuse apologies to make. I can’t remember the last time I took a whole week off updating ten minutes hate. Thanks to all of you who have been passing by to see if I had written anything new, I hope you managed to find something sufficiently entertaining in the Records Department.

Rest assured that I haven’t only been spending the time lazing around with a pot of Earl Grey, I have also been working on my entry for Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story Competition, doing tons of planning for a new course which I am enjoying teaching no end, as well as daydreaming and plotting a final assault on my first novel which I am aiming to have done by the autumn (kick me if it doesn’t materialise!)

Before it does, be sure to pick up a copy of the five-star rated The Teas That Bind, available either to download now or in paperback.

And finally, here is a clip which always makes me smile, for obvious reasons:

A very happy Sunday to you all!

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Good Reads

If you are into books and talking about books and having a nose at what books other people are reading, then I can recommend the website goodreads as something you are likely to enjoy.

I now have an author profile on the site, so you you can add me, ‘like’ The Teas That Bind, write a review or even, should you so wish, become a ‘fan’. More important than all the adoration though, is the chance to swap recommendations for books.

So go on, tell me, what are you reading?

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