GUFF...A med- ley of thoughts, fragments, poems, hirsute musings, and of course, nonsense.
guff | gəf |
trivial, worthless, or insolent talk or ideas
ORIGIN early 19th cent. (in the sense 'puff, whiff of
a bad smell'): imitative.
Like most, I embarked on the journey of fiction writing with the goal of eventually becoming a published writer. Did I imagine all those years ago it would be digital self-publishing?
A good place to guff ...
Komeda’s Café on the rise on Onohara Nishi has to be one of thee most boring café’s I have ever spent a lot of time and money in without ever receiving a free coffee. Just kidding.
A film review
I just watched a strange and interesting film (maybe grotesque lies between these two terms), a kind of humorous and grotesque take on aging New York, read Williamsburg, hipsters.
I drive past, a surly man at the wheel.
The whale’s glow, the great whale’s belly;
how I long to be so fed & such warmth –
the great whale’s leviathan indifference.
Osaka: First Impressions
Strange, everything is so quiet: No loud cars or sirens, no shouting or arguing, no gunshot retorts in the middle of the night.
You are horrified
when its head emerges
between my two toes
of course you are
as am I
Notes On A Sumo Tournament
One of the funnier sights my family has witnessed in Japan were three Sumo wrestlers struggling into a taxi. First, one got into the back seat in one side …whhoooooaaaahhh, then the other straightened up proceedings ...
After a long winding drive into the hills above Minoo, and after acquiring a car park, which can be difficult if you leave it too late in the day, you enter into lovely grounds ringed with trees, the air crisp and clear.
Isherwood In Particular
I’m being lazy and not engaging with the character’s sensory experiences. Taste. Sight. Smell. Touch. Don’t I love writers that evoke a lovely tactile relationship between the character and the world? Don’t I love characters that do things?
I grew up in New Zealand, in the small town of Invercargill, in the province of Southland. As a teenager I raced bicycles, and this poem is an ode to a Southland racing cyclist that tragically lost his life in an accident, and to all those brave souls who cycle-race or have competed on Southland roads.
Old Man Winter
A poem with slideshow
It's winter here in Japan, so hence, a winter-themed poem with winter photographs I've taken from some different parts of the world.
Be quiet, Old Man
Leo Tolstoy - The Death of Ivan Ilyich
It’s like Tolstoy died from some kind of hideous disease/disorder, came back to life right after dying, and sat down and wrote the death of Ivan Ilyich.
self-publishing in the digital age
I thought they were all dicks until I got over myself and realised I’m not there yet. I’m years away from where they are now - published authors, either self-published or otherwise, crapping on about their publishing war stories and wounds. It depressed me so much I left the conference to go sightseeing, but only after ingloriously walking into a large glass window I mistook for a door in the conference lobby.
I don’t know when it happened, but maybe going to that conference helped plant the seed for what I was going to eventually embark on. That, and some of the success stories that were emerging out of the self-publishing world. At some point I realised I had to take some ^&($#>% action. I decided the most important thing for me to do is get my work out into the world. I resolved to create an online presence and, no matter how humbling the results, keep writing the best stuff I possibly can and keep doing it until something sticks.
Musings on how the greats would feel about self-publishing……
Despite its rise in market dominance, self-publishing is still seen by many as a form of self-defeat. Yet, self-publishing has strong and impressive roots. Way back in the day, many writers did pretty much the same thing. Take, A.R. Ammons with his book of poetry, Ommateum, with Doxology (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1955) that nobody wanted to publish, and when published failed to gain immediate acclaim. Now that book takes pride of place in the American canon. And wasn’t Frank Herbert’s, Dune, after many, many rejections, published by an auto-repair manual publisher? How about Wallace Stevens? He endured a decades long publishing hiatus and is now considered the forefather of 20th century American poetry. A more recent novel that fits into this mould is Tinkers by Paul Harding. A fantastic and stylistically challenging novel no one was willing to publish, but when Bellevue Literary Press finally did, lo and behold, a classic was born. What would the modern-day equivalents of Ammons, Herbert, Joyce, and Stevens do today to get a break if they had e-pub available to them?
Musings on my writing style and online suitability ...
I’m not a writer who has a respectable or laudable pile of rejection slips from print publishing companies. In fact, I only have one and it’s an email. I’m aware of the slim chances for a first time novelist getting their novel accepted for print publication, or obtaining an agent’s services. This is especially true for my chosen writing niche that explores challenging, uncomfortable, or fantastic subject matter in a unconventional manner. Publishing advice usually includes a recommendation to explore subjects that warmly embrace an audience comprising a plethora of demographics. The result: a feel good Disney story for adults. You know the one, a middle-aged New York executive quits or is forced out of a stressful executive position, purchases run-down villa in Tuscany (substitute with any exotic locale) with a goal to make renovations and live in it. Cue comic and romantic misadventures with locals, a mild but conquerable experience of xenophobia, and voila, a happy ending. Damn it. I wish I could write a novel like that. Ultimately my novels may have questionable audience appeal, but who’s to say what people prefer? If reading choices are filtered through the biased perceptions of agents we might be robbed of the next literary trend. Surely its better to let the crowd decide?
A recent rant by an ex-MFA writing teacher points out that no one knows what the hell is happening in the publishing industry, and calls for writers to reject old models and take over the production of their own writing.
Check out: Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach In One, by Ryan Boudinot.
I guess that’s where we’re all at. For writers, interesting times lie ahead.
GUFF travel - Osaka: First Impressions
As always, I want to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of the places I visit and the cities I live in. Now I'm to call Minoh-shi, a city on the outskirts of Osaka one of Japan's largest cities, home - at least for the new few years. During my first days in Japan, with a dodgy tooth in need of root canal and my ten-month-old fighting off a virus, what did I first notice?
One of the first sights from the monorail is the stretch of city that pushes up against distant green (apparently unoccupied) hills. Everything is so civilised: no loud cars or sirens, no shouting or arguing, no gunshot retorts in the middle of the night. There's the sound of a distant lawnmower, but I haven’t seen any lawns. The day gives up its fierce heat. Apparently you can’t escape the ever-present heat and sopping humidity in summer, or the deafening hum of crickets in the morning, so loud I have to focus to unhear them. From my early excursions – by foot and car - the street structure is completely labyrinthine: winding and counter-intuitive - especially for a guy brought up on a grid-based system of navigation. Eventually, I notice the absence of rubbish, and how orderly and clean everything is, despite so many people.
Already I miss the dirt, trash and graffiti of my previous home, New Haven a small town in the northeast of America. The noise and clamour of America, of New Haven especially: the police and fire engine sirens, the cars; our apartment block on Elm Street and the Hispanic woman in one of the upstairs apartments who let everyone know when she was having sex with her boyfriend, her loud vocal performance unfortunately exacerbated by the weird acoustics of the apartment building’s U-shaped entrance/courtyard. It seemed funny then and still seems funny now when I remember it: I’mmmmm coooommmmeeeeennnggggg, Ohhhhh … myyyyy … Godddddddd … I’mmmmmm …
Connecticut was conservative, but also so vibrant, especially when we moved out of the cosy Yale University campus area to the fringes. For various reasons, we chose to nestle in amongst drug dealers and the predominantly poor black society that circles the prestigious inner-city sanctum. Some mornings I’d strut down the wide avenue towards campus, pushing my then months old Henry in his (N.Z. designed) stroller, and loitering smartarses would make a show of taking a phone call and holding the phone out towards me, saying you've got to take this call, somebody urgently needs Doogie Howser’s assistance. I miss those morning walks. I don’t think I’ll get called Doogie Howser here in Japan. I’ve got a hunch the Japanese have a bunch of different terms for white guys that strut down the street in their skinny summer shorts.
There's a preconception that Japan is all about tradition and filled with historic buildings. But I'm struck by the newness of things. Especially when I saw the monorail stations for the first time; I had a feeling of having entered a city of the future. It’s a feeling I can’t shake. Nothing feels truly old about the area we’ve moved to. Our region of Minoh has shot up in the last four or so years, a boxy- kitset housing area that now covers what used to be a bamboo grove. Unlike New Zealand or suburban American houses, these houses are narrow slivers slotted in-between each other like slim books on a shelf.
That’s a strange thing about living in Japan and adapting to a small apartment. It’s not a tiny house movement, it’s just the norm. You learn about minimalist living quickly and the benefits of ingenious space-saving compartmentalization, such as sleeping on a futon you fold up in the morning and stuff into a specially designed cupboard. One soon wonders why people in other countries with their big houses need all that space.
Leviathan Empire - A poem
I drive past, a surly man at the wheel.
The whale’s glow, the great whale’s belly;
how I long to be so fed & such warmth –
the great whale’s leviathan indifference.
The whale knows not symmetry,
why should it?
A small child’s fist-fumbling efforts,
the ball of blue wool the cat
likes playing with, the half-
finished finger-less mitt.
The mad among us, cold
hearts bloodied on a stain-
less steel bench.
This vicious need.
The whale grows.
Every morning the whale carries me past.
I only swim so far, necessary fictions;
jet-stream sucker-fish nibblings,
pigeon feet printed on a map.
The great whale listens, everything
is useful, cunning, & cases need built.
Tail obstinate as mountains,
the great whale ploughs & feeds, ploughs & feeds …
I found the great whale
washed up on a beach.
The raw, chapped nipple –
slurp, bite & suckle, minion.
Dread-filled I beat my fists
on the hard, horny hide.
A gull flees on the wind
One leviathan broad eye fastened in its talons –
I can see the world, I can
see you –
& how I knew no whale.
I chisel at the whale,
eat great chunks of it, whole
blood-oozing pink chunks;
to be so beaten, to fester,
rank & swell.
I loved lightly, was afraid, & fast-
moving crabs clicked & cackled,
swarmed the whale’s rotting underside,
feasting upon lesser insects spawned in
or drawn to the dead flesh.
Bestow mercy on their Gods,
They carry me, not you.
They carry you, not me.
The Comedy - A film Review
I just watched a strange and interesting film (maybe grotesque lies between these two terms), a humorous and grotesque take on ageing New York, read Williamsburg, hipsters. The main character of The Comedy is a trust fund baby, who at thirty-five-years old never grew up, except if you consider the size of his stomach, which grew out.
It opens with naked very drunken (older) men playing at being frat boys; spraying beer and slapping asses, pseudo-homo erotic groupings and dry humping. The film didn’t start for me until the main character, a fat and shaggy hipster at the helm of his yacht, (read: Dad’s yacht, I don’t think this character had anything that was truly his) whoops a few times, joyous, rebellious whoops typifying the sheer pleasure of a perfect early morning out on the water, except they’re not. The whoops came out sounding like question marks, an exhausted effort to rekindle/reaffirm the youthful joyousness of life that is no longer there. Throughout the film the questing whoops of the opening are replaced with a growing self-awareness that anti-social behaviour and giving the bird to Wall street types (probably his father) is no longer fun and no one finds it funny, no one appreciates it anymore; the joke’s over, the character is no longer cool or hip, he has become an unlikeable obnoxious weird asshole. With his breath screaming in his lungs, he rides a crapped out ten-speed across town to the beach so he can frolick in the surf. This scene could be a life-affirming every once in a while we should drop everything and throw caution to the wind on a sunny afternoon, but in this film it has a desperate note, so desperate it becomes a sad pathos-filled sequence, especially when he plays (whoops and splashes) with a small boy who runs down to the surf. We realise this is who the hipster really is; a character for whom nothing is serious, and when he feels the need to take life seriously he gets a job as a dishwasher in a cafe.
One of the very few times something affects the hipster and penetrates his impervious sense of hipster cool, is when he crashes a hospital ward after getting a nasty cut on his hand treated. He walks in on a very old man, possibly not conscious, and in a weirdly grotesque leap of logic combs the man’s hair with a brush he finds on the bedside. It may be the presence of mortality, or something about the man’s serenity and vulnerability, but this man gets under the hipster’s skin to the point he is visibly perturbed on his dinghy ride back to his yacht, something we haven’t seen happen to the hipster before, his face always a carefully neutral mask.
In the absence of having anything real to talk about the hipster aims for witty, often nasty racist sexist bullshit that depending on the gender of the company or how out of depth he feels, descends into the disgusting grotesquerie we come to know him for: brushing his teeth in front of his female coworker, trying to get a rise out of his father’s male nurse, trying to break his soon to be ex-wife with a crass, vulgar performance in a Southern gentleman’s accent. The grotesquerie starts early and builds until it implodes towards the end where he finds himself with nothing left to say or do to the female coworker who can outlast him, and like him for who he is.
The Comedy got under my skin and left me squirming in my seat, sometimes with laughter, but mostly with a weird desire to walk away and clean things. I liked it. It’s one of the best character studies I’ve watched in ages, along with Woody Allen's, Blue Jasmine, which explores the grotesque from a different angle: tax evasion and business fraud.
About Writing - Isherwood in particular
I’m being lazy and not engaging with my character’s sensory experiences. Taste. Sight. Smell. Touch. Don’t I love writers that evoke a lovely tactile relationship between the character and the world? Don’t I love characters that do things? Work, mostly, even if it isn’t paid work, but just work; doing things, making things, planning, creating, I don’t know, doing something that involves an intense amount of concentration and/or physical effort. I think Michael Ondaatje nailed it in The English Patient with his character Kip, the bomb defusal expert, and another book that always pops up in discourse like this, Peter Hoeg’s, Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. Christopher Isherwood’s novel, A Single Man, has a main character (George) that in many respects, especially if you compare it to a contemporary novel/genre novel (murder, espionage, conspiracy etc) doesn’t really do anything. He breakfasts, takes a dump, goes to work, has conversations, visits a friend in hospital, goes to the gym and the supermarket, has his evening meal with an English friend round the corner, goes to a bar, meets a student he teaches, goes swimming, goes home, goes to bed, masturbates, falls asleep and dies (dying arguably being something). But the intensity with which George invests in every single activity is similar to a character completely immersed in the world of work; his observations, opinions, insights; the painful process he engages in with the every day routine - of coming to terms with his grief, the death of his beloved partner Jim - it lends weight to every single thing, no matter how dull or insignificant the business he pursues during that one day. All his desire, regret, rage and pettiness, Isherwood explores pretty much everything you can of a single human being although there wasn’t any self-indulgent wallowing in the character’s parents. There was a section where he described the mouldy house he grew up in juxtaposed with the lovely village pub: cold and damp, versus warmth and cosiness. Or perhaps the lack of potential he escaped from contrasted with the enticement of new potential; the life he obviously didn’t have in England as a kid could have been the life he wanted as an adult in England as a pub owner beside Jim. Anyway, time to move on.
GUFF travel - Notes On A Sumo Tournament
One of the funnier sights my family has witnessed in Japan was three Sumo wrestlers struggling into a taxi. First, one got into the back seat in one side …whhoooooaaaahhh, then the other straightened up proceedings … waaaaheeeyyyyyyy … and then the third’s addition lowered the taxi chassis dangerously close to the tarmac … Jeeeeesssssuuuuussss … and then the taxi took off, slowly.
We weren’t to know it, but we were near the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in downtown Osaka (Namba) for sightseeing, coffee drinking, while the Osaka Sumo Tournament was running. I must have said something about how amazing/interesting it would be to go to the tournament, and my wife must have made a mental note, because two years later, she presented me with a ticket to the annual event.
In the meantime, I had not investigated or followed the Sumo tradition in Japan. So on a rainy grey day I headed off on the train, armed with a hand-drawn map to find my way to the arena and a vague idea that it might be fun to take notes on what I see at the tournament as it happens, from the viewpoint of a complete Sumo-gumbie. Hence ...
Notes on a Sumo tournament
There are times in Japan when I wonder how I get myself into certain situations. It’s more like, how do situations like the ones I get into exist, and how did I get here?
I’m at the Osaka Sumo Tournament watching cascading mountains of cellulite trussed up like bulls at a rodeo in what looks like padded nappies crossed with a thong, then covered in super-glue and run through one of those 1960’s-1970’s beaded door-curtains. Like everything, or at least, like most people in Japan, especially women, the wrestler’s hair is immaculately set, hitched up in a tight bun.
Everything is ceremonial, ritualistic. That’s the first thing that occurs to you when you arrive in Japan and the culture seeps into your system. Even the cries of spectators (always in unison, rarely solo) that encourage the wrestlers seem ritualised – devoid of feeling. Delivered in a loud monotone, their shout apparently contains a form of a word I recognise: gambarimasu, which I take to mean as something between break a leg and good luck.
Only in a country as old and cultured as Japan could a spectacle this grotesque and beautiful, as ritualistic and savage exist.
I’m sure the wrestlers learn hundreds of techniques, but from the get-go it looks like two very fat men having-at-it in a small dirt-covered elevated space in the same way you’d expect two grizzly bears to have-at-it in a small dirt-covered elevated space.
The referee; a much smaller man (also with perfect hair) wears a gown that looks like a cross between a dress, a dressing gown, and a kimono. He keeps score. With only one bout, one winner, it’s easy to adjudicate – one wrestler gets bounced/scragged/lifted out of the ring, or collapses face first into the dirt, all of which constitutes a bout losing foul.
The ring (I call it a ring) is a simple affair: a small flat circle bounded by a heavy rope laid into the dirt of the ring floor. Occasionally a wrestler will topple down the side into the waiting wrestlers seated on cushions on the ground. A good fight is when one competitor teeters on the rope edge, balanced almost on the tiptoes of one foot, desperately hugging his opponent, or grabbing the beaded-nappy-thong, while the opponent desperately tries to push him out. There can be only one outcome, of course, but like most things in life, the anticipation is delicious.
There are also two smaller, youngish men (the size seems to be hierarchical down on the ring, from the centre, bigger to smaller). These two men, dressed in purple or green traditional costumes, rush up onto the wrestling platform with thigh high brooms – they look like traditional brooms, possibly made out of bamboo – and quickly sweep spilled dirt, neither into the ring, or off the platform; they appear to push it to their left or right, in effect never moving it anywhere. As I watch more of the second string fights, I realise they also perform the more important function of rushing into the ring between bouts and grooming down the distressed ring soil, sometimes watering it from a large silver kettle.
The slaps the wrestlers give themselves, on their thighs, the nappy-thongs, their bellies, shoulders or upper arms, punctuate clearly as far back as my seat in the B arena, nearly at the top of the stadium complex.
A Gaijin (foreigner) comes out to fight. A helpful, older Japanese man who speaks a little English and has taken it upon himself to befriend me, informs me that this wrestler is from Georgia, U.S.A. and weighs 200 kilograms. The American settled a contract worth a million, or a million and half yen, which I took to mean for this tournament alone. The two great current champions, both Mongolian, earn something like 10,000 yen a tournament, not including bout prize money. The American’s ceremonial gestures don’t quite seem right. His leg doesn’t raise as high; the way he brings it down to stamp on the ground seems less convincing than his Asian counterparts, and he takes longer with his gestures than other wrestlers in the second tier. I’m not sure if I want him to win or be made an arse of.
He loses, but it’s an exciting bout.
He fought differently: he was more agile, faster, a different athleticism. His Japanese victor looked a little bit prouder, a touch arrogant if that is possible. None of the victors I have seen have showed off, nor have the losers shown poor sportsmanship.
The waiting wrestlers, two at all times, sit patiently on large cushions. Fresh from their bout, the wrestlers wait on their brethren just taken the ring, offering a dipperful of water to the preparing wrestler, before he walks to the edge of the ring area, bows, and walks off under the stadium seating.
Does one decide to become a wrestler, or is one born into it, as in a caste system? How would a caste system, or something similar, explain the Gaijins: the American, the Mongolians?
As the bouts proceed, I wonder if the wrestler’s mind plays tricks on him. A moment’s inattention must prove fatal, or does the mind wander at all? I guess I want to know what is going through the wrestler’s mind from launch, take-off, through contact and unfortunate landing, or victory. Does he know what he will do before he does it? Does he change his mind in that second he drives up off the floor?
My newly acquired Japanese friend informs me an old sumo is 37 years old. One sumo competing today is 40 years old, and he is a champion.
All of the wrestlers of the second string come out for a ceremonial parade, an introduction/send off to the crowd. In single file, they walk out from the wing and take up position around the edge of the ring. Once in a circle, they throw their hands up in the air.
The first string performs the same ceremony, and then the two champions come out and give a demo. One performs an insanely deep sumo squat, balancing on one leg, with the other leg raised high in the air before he slams it to the ring floor. While the first champion watches on, the second performs the same ritual. Then an announcer in a bright red costume comes out and announces tomorrow’s fighting list. Finally, an official walks around the edge of the ring pouring water on the ground from that big kettle, while the maroon and green lads get busy with the brooms and frantically groom the dirt.
The speed and scale of impact increases with the better wrestlers, especially the Mongolian; I can feel the impact from way up here.
People in the crowd in front and below me check out the wrestlers profiles on their Ipads.
The narrow corridors outside the seating arenas are thick with cigarette smoke that insidiously presses its way inside the stadium.
Does it matter to the outcome if you are the wrestler that has both fists touching the ground first and waits for your opponent, or if you are the second wrestler that briefly touches for a split-second before driving forward? And what about where you plant your feet relative to the white line? Does it matter if they are closer or further back? The minutiae in this sport would drive me nuts.
And why do the Japanese fetishise flesh? Is it because they’re all skinny?
5.00pm and the arena is pretty much packed now.
For whatever reason, the wrestlers on the right side of the ring slap themselves more and get more amped up than their opposite ringside opponents. Are the wrestlers, or their coaches, aware of this phenomenon?
The age of the referees gets older as the first string bouts progress.
Seating structure: lettered arenas. Below me are floor mat areas that can hold four people but are recommended for two. Carpet covered and squared off by what looks like scaffolding piping, each person is supplied a green cushion. With ringside seats also on the floor, also supplied with a cushion each, you could get goobered or hit in the face with hot cellulite-sweat.
The aged champ, strapped up and crowd popular, is beaten by the younger man, just as in another bout, the new boy, barely wrestling for six months, beats the older vastly more experienced wrestler. The young man is an Osaka local and apparently considered very handsome by the Japanese; the crowd goes wild, tiny little women especially, as he heads away under the seating.
The crowd throws cushions at the ring after the final bout. I can’t figure out if it’s disgruntled or victorious audience members throwing cushions, or if it’s a ritual everyone armed with a cushion performs. The cushions are thrown politely.
To find out more about sumo and its terminology, click here:
Old Man Winter - A poem with photo-slideshow
Old Man Winter
Be quiet, Old Man
I have never understood
why you are considered
against a back wall
by a big man in his truck,
that would do: frozen,
ice caked, grimacing monad.
This shitty stuff we’re made of
turns vermilion in the right light.
So huddle down,
quiet the senses, be numb wind,
the grey empty street below
swept clean, like an elder brother’s
swift battle wrath.
GUFF travel - Katsuoji Temple
Happy New Year. I started the morning at McDonalds with a big and gratifyingly greasy breakfast and then spent the rest of the morning at a large temple complex called Katsuoji. After a long winding drive into the hills above Minoh, an outlying city of Osaka Prefecture, and acquiring a car park, which can be difficult if you leave it too late in the day, you enter lovely grounds ringed with trees. The air is crisp and clear. After crossing a stone bridge that spans a large pond, you head up a stack of stairs with hundreds of other people, mostly Nihonjindesu, who aim to pay their New Year’s respects. One rarely sees Gaijin (foreigners) at this temple, unlike the more famous temple-complexes towards downtown Osaka, or in Tokyo, where it’s a photo-snapping Gaijin-fest.
I had Henry on my back on the ascent (he wasn’t old enough to tackle the climb) so it was kind of like an early winter workout. As you climb you pass by several attractions ; a hand washing shrine where you pour a small dipper full of water over your hands and give them a quick wash; past little Russian doll-like things that crop up in strange places to either side of the path; up and up until you are funneled into a narrow alley of charm-selling booths. The further one goes along the alley the more expensive the charms become, so how’s that for capitalism meeting oriental religion? Charms relate to specific industries – one was a small plastic police car.
After you purchase a charm, or charms, you tie it onto a leafy branch that you received upon entry to the complex. The branch can get quite heavy if you buy up large. Other attractions include incense burning shrines, where you can buy one or three sticks for a set price and stake them in the small sand box provided as part of the shrine structure. Same goes for candles, normally located adjacent to the incense stalls. The candle shrine comprises a series of small metal stakes housed within a glass cabinet. You can also make a small coin offering and ring a bell; the size of the bell varies from shrine to shrine. The largest bell is right at the end of the walking tour, just round the corner from the prayer-burning bonfire.
Like McDonalds for breakfast on New Year’s morning, swinging a large heavy piece of wood at a big wonderfully donging bell is gratifying. Later in the day, prayers written in Kanji on small wooden blocks are tossed into a sizeable bonfire that gives off a fantastic pine scent. And then it’s a trailing walk back down to the large pond, back through the large gift store, which mostly sells exquisitely packaged food, and on to the car park and the drive home. A great brisk way to start the New Year.
A Good Place to Guff - Early Mornings at Komedas Cafe
Komedas Café on the rise in Onohara Nishi is one of those odd commercial barn-like structures strangely empty of ornament, with lots of visible wooden crossbeams and fading once-plush pink seating. Like an American diner it has booths, and a front window counter for singles. Until recently one side of the cafe was reserved for smokers. Their second-hand smoke used to waft down into the non-smoking side so later, back at the apartment, you couldn’t help feeling you’d just returned from a 1990’s nightclub: your clothes reeked, and that slightly buzzed irritable sensation had nothing to do with drinking too much coffee. This can be a problem for the ardent anti-smoking brigade, especially if, like us, you have a little one in tow.
Komedas offers Japanese variations on burgers, one of these is a breakfast burger with what looks like scrambled eggs, and a variety of what we in New Zealand would call club sandwiches, the only difference being in the choice of fillings. The style of chicken in these club sandwiches differs; crumbed and deep-fried instead of a cold slice, with the taste more like tangy chicken katsu. There's also pork, also katsu-style, on the sandwich menu. The menu also offers a variety of hotdogs made with spicy skinny sausages, coffees with lots of cream, and a bread bun desert that to the uninitiated looks like cream lathered warm apple pie. This can be a problem ordering and buying Nihon Ryori (Japanese food); what may look like something familiar, or look like something so utterly fantastic it’s impossible to contain drool, is often something completely different or just a lot of lukewarm blah. Depending on your depth of homesickness and level of patience (I was dying for a good old fashioned warm pastry apple pie with cream on the day I ordered what turned out not to be apple pie) it’s easy to be sucked in and left feeling disappointed. On my early morning writing visits I opt for the breakfast special: a coffee and a free bun with jam or butter, and a hard boiled egg, for the bargain price of 420 yen.
Guffing about not being at Komedas
Due to budget restrictions, I have to curtail my early morning Komedas Café ritual and instead sit at the kitchen table in the apartment with a cup of coffee and toast and try to recreate the same working environment.
It’s proving difficult.
The apartment, due to child-minding time-induced restrictions (kindergarten holidays) is messier than usual, and the writer, a hot mess of stress and adrenaline, made foolproof chocolate muffins yesterday that erupted during the cooking process and emerged windblown and deflated from the oven. The remnants of that effort sit in the sink, a waterlogged mass of dishes and implements. After staying up later than usual last night watching an episode of Gallipoli, the writer feels drained and cold (the apartment heating struggles to make a dent here in the kitchen area) and the writer struggles to make his own dent in achieving significant writing output. He waffles and moans because he is temporarily at a loss as what to do with the few minutes he has before his wife and child awake and submerge his world with noisy demands. One thing similar to his café experience is finding his cup of coffee nearly finished with the last dregs at the bottom stone cold. There is no button to push at this table to summon a blandly dressed and indifferent female employee to take his order for a second cup of coffee. This, he realises, is what he really misses: the button. And the warmth. And the brisk walk through the quiet streets to the café on the rise, and the small basket containing his warm bread roll liberally smeared with raspberry jam (the jam flavour hasn’t changed in the years he has been going) and the hard boiled egg with the shell intact that promptly arrives at his table soon after ordering. In short, he wants to be there in that café, and not here in his smelly cramped apartment reminding him of everything that needs done every time he looks around: the pongy sofa that needs vacuumed and deodorised with deodorising spray, the carpet rug that needs beaten, or at least vacuumed, the surfaces that need wiped or dusted; the grease-plugged kitchen extraction fan filters that need removed, soaked, and scrubbed in the kitchen sink; the gas-stove top hobs that need scrubbed, although they may be beyond simple scrubbing; the sofa that needs pulled out from the wall and the vacant area vacuumed; the dishes that need done from the night before; the walls and wallpaper that somehow need to be cleaned but cleaning proves difficult as the wallpaper disintegrates under the ministrations of a damp cloth; the kitchen cupboards that need their contents removed and the shelving then scrubbed clean; the fridge that needs cleared of old food and then cleaned; the kitchen floor that needs vacuumed and mopped; the curtains that need removed, washed, and hung out to dry; even the busy wicker lightshade needs attacked with vacuuming or dusting apparatus, and all this just to achieve an acceptable level of cleanliness for this one room.
The writer gets up to make his second coffee.
Rough Breakfast #4
Guffing at Komedas Cafe
I’m wasting time. I can actually hear myself thinking that I’m wasting time. I can hear the sound of wasting time, it sounds like the soft tap of keys on a laptop keyboard. It sounds like corny muzak in this café. It sounds like the low murmur of conversation. It sounds like the loud wet swish of a car passing by outside. The clunk and clatter of crockery and cutlery coming from the café kitchen. A timer going off. A saxophone solo – that muzak! Cups returned to saucers. That saxophone! A customer slurping his coffee. Cretin! A knife on a chopping board – bang bang bang, chop chop chop. An employee greeting a customer. A couple struggling in with their baby stroller. A face-masked woman walking past outside, who looks into the café with a fathomless expression on the little you can see of her face. Will that baby wail? Will it matter if it does? That saxophone! Another timer? What are they cooking that requires a timer to go off every few minutes? Hard boiled eggs? Toasted buns? I love the egg and the bun that comes free with a cup of coffee in the morning. Morning service. I love morning service. That baby wails. I don’t love it. I don’t love babies. I don’t want another one. I don’t want to be a father again. Nor the grey day outside. I want to finish something. I want to push the button and order more coffee but that would be selfish. I’m selfish. I’m a writer. I’m a selfish writer. I’m sitting in a café that I can’t even begin to imagine how many mornings I’ve sat in, waffling about sitting in a café that I sit in most mornings of the working week and waffle. I wish this café served waffles. I love waffles. I’m supposed to be writing about this café. Okay, trivial details: there are two, well, three large framed prints on the walls of the non-smoking section. One print is a portrait of a woman with the words: Amedeo Modigliani, and under that in smaller print, Jeanne Hebutverne 1919. The other print is of three vases, with a single red flower coming out of each, probably a Japanese artist, and the third an advertisement: a cream swirled baked good over on a different wall. The front counter seat looks out over the busy street and across at the small gourmet supermarket. I’ve sat in that window seat many times and watched the seasons pass: rejuvenating spring with cherry blossom blooming, sapping humid sweat-dripping summer; mild relief bringing autumn – thank God for autumn – winter snow covering the ground after a brief skiff before the grey wind blows it away. The only interesting or anecdotal event I’ve witnessed from the window seat was watching a well-dressed man sweep leaves scattered from a tree directly outside the café. A breeze continually scattered the pile he made, requiring more sweeping, more scattering, sweeping, scattering, until I thought I’d go mad from watching his repeated efforts. I’ve seen the same thing in other countries. America for example, when I used to go out bike riding through Connecticut, I noticed a man using a large, loud leaf-blower to gather leaves in a pile: same result, different country. I don’t take a window seat anymore. I sit further back in a booth, safe in the knowledge nothing has changed from the front window seat.
About Writing - Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
It’s like Tolstoy died from a hideous disease/disorder, came back to life right after dying, and sat down and wrote The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I think this book will change my life if only to give me a splendid terror of dying.
Tolstoy creates this sense of terror through a carefully unfolding story structure. From the opening, where we learn from the main character Ivan Ilyich’s Law colleagues that he is dead, without knowing what he died from - “The doctors couldn’t say … at least they could, but each of them said something different” - and onto the banal funeral minutiae as experienced from an old friend and colleague’s point of view, Peter Ivanovich, we arrive at the life story of Ivan Ilyich: “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” After a succinct back story, we arrive at the fateful moment, the character’s piffling with interior decoration and arrangement of furniture that ultimately undoes him when he painfully bangs his side putting up curtains. Inexplicably, the growing pain at the site of the injury develops into a terminal condition.
Tolstoy’s matter of fact almost blunt tone, especially during the character’s massive decline, eventually feels brutal to read. I guess the character's self-examination - his facing up to the various realities of his condition, and his life - helped achieve this honesty, but the unexplained or unknown nature of his condition was terrifying to explore alongside this character, right up to the moment of his death. Imagine dying from something hideously painful and never knowing exactly what it was? But even worse than the terror of the unknown is the pettiness Tolstoy captures through the character’s obsession with furniture and curtains. The naked pettiness and smallness of human emotions and motivations – material possessions and the acquisition of wealth - that Tolstoy delves into somehow illustrates the grandness of human nature when Ilyich reconciles his death.
Examining the largest and smallest of motivations in my own writing, I enter an exasperated despair as I look back over the course of a character’s lifetime, in this case my character Stuart James. I’ve been trying to rewrite a novel about this character for ages but see nothing but pettiness and stupidity in his story. Yet deep down I know that somehow this is correct. It doesn’t necessarily make a good story, I suppose, but somehow I know it’s the story I want to write.
Southland Cyclist - A poem
In memory of Noel Eade
For those who ride Southland roads,
keep riding, keep riding,
and for those who carry cycled memories
of rugged beach sweep & forested hill,
rolling green plains, a guarded small town’s
gradual approach and larger hospitality;
for those who have experienced
the excitement and pain
of suffering one last kilometer
into a ruthless westerly
and mastered themselves, enough
to finish well, finish with pride
regardless of place –
you have earned a tough love,
you were fast moving color in the landscape;
a precise image of human and machine,
cherished by many for exactly
what you represented, and remembered
by others for what they could not understand:
a Southland cyclist, adding miles
to the seasons of an undaunted heart.
Worm - A poem
You are horrified
when its head emerges
between my two toes
of course you are
as am I
the blind earth-red
head, the thick
its glistening body
its a stubborn worm
that’s burrowed in
at the base of my toes
I take it
between my fingers
and the more I pull
the greater our
dark blood spatters on my hand
I’m sorry for this
but all the same I think
I’m fascinated, all the same
I’m careful where it lands
the dark rush of wings
What is GUFF?
- a blog.
- my ego run rampant on a website.
- a way of posting poems I've been working on for some time that I'm too lazy to submit to a journal.
- a way of sharing travel experiences I've been lucky to have.
- a previously unknown desire to create some kind of psuedo-literary journal where I am the sole contributor.
GUFF is the inspiration of David Bath: novelist, occasional poet, and duck out of water.
I live in Osaka, Japan, with my wife and son, and juggle my time between writing and performing my duties as a shufu (housewife). Overqualified with degrees in Art History, English Literature, and Physical Education, one day I decided to add creative writing to the list. I have published poetry in literary journals in both New Zealand and America, which sounds more impressive than it really is. I had a brief stint as an english conversation teacher, but the experience didn't last long and only served to harden my resolve to finish my novels, create a blog, and find subtle ways to indefinitely postpone re-entry into the so called REAL WORLD.
You can find descriptions of my novels on this website, with links to Smashwords where you are able to buy them.
Think of contacting me as an informal subscription. If you want to receive material from the latest GUFF, just leave a note in the message box saying, Yes, I want to GUFF.