A Snake, a Kitchen Ninja, and Japanese Art? (Plus Announcement*)

Back in early October my dog, Scarlet (aka the kitchen ninja I mention in my author bio) wanted to befriend a snake. Determined to kibosh that opportunity before it got started, I intervened. I knew it wouldn’t end well. As a result, I fell, hit my head, and suffered a mild concussion. (On the upside, I was right- it didn’t end well. But only for this silly human-snake and Scarlet were unharmed).

Scarlet resting after Snake encounter- while I was on opposite couch with ice pack on my head and back

  Thankfully, CT scan ruled out any internal bleeding from the blood thinners I take. But I became overly sensitive to lights/sounds which led to some severe headaches. A scarier symptom I had at the beginning was having a word in mind to write down yet writing a completely different word. I’m happy to say that hasn’t happened in a while.

Concerned when my severe headaches continued into December (past the usual 20-30 days), I decided to do what calms me- research. (Some people knit, I research) 😊 Before that, my husband reminded me that my noggin’ had been jostled in a rollover accident years ago. So, this is not my first concussion-is anyone who knows me really surprised?! 😊 (29 years ago, my husband and I were in a rollover accident on my birthday-yup true story! I hit my head on the passenger side window. My guardian angel definitely watched over us because it could have been so much worse-the car looked like an accordion). This could account for my symptoms lasting longer.

According to the Concussion Alliance, a concussion breaks the connections of the “billions of neurons” that form a pathway allowing our cells to communicate to do various tasks as well as react to emotions.
It takes a lot of cell energy to reconnect the network of neurons. That’s been the probable cause of my difficulties performing normal daily functions like focusing, forming words, pouring that much needed cup of java in the morning.

To complicate things further, as many of you know, I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). RSD already messes (technical medical term) 🙂 with the sympathetic nervous system, so that could also prolong my concussion headaches.

But another issue resurfaced after my CT scan- anxiety attacks. The test brought back traumatic memories of the two years that I spent having MRIs and CT scans as I went in and out of hospitals-at weeks at a time and nearly dying from a blood clot I had no control over. It probably doesn’t help that February 14th marks 20 years since that first hospital stay with a DVT that began my RSD journey.) Those memories added to the layer of swirling anxiety we all have with COVID-19, put my panic attacks on warp speed.

On a day that my headaches wouldn’t let up and I was feeling sorry for myself eating crispy rice treats straight out of the pan (yeah it was one of those days); I was reminded of God’s perfect timing when I received this beautifully painted wooden ornament from a talented artist and sweet friend- Kat Whitham in the mail.

This ornament represents the art of Kintsugi. Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a Japanese art form (over 400 years old) that mends broken pottery. But it isn’t just gluing pieces back together-the art is expressed through the materials used such as a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. So instead of blending in or hiding that it was ever broken in the first place, it highlights the broken area thereby bringing a new beauty to the item.

Interestingly, over 9 years ago while researching and writing TLCB, I came across Kintsugi art for the first time. I kept the notes in my folder labeled “to be used in sequel”- I was nothing if not hopeful 😊.

Being someone who tends to drop things a lot (even before RSD affected my hands) I have become quite a whiz with a glue gun. Whenever I mend a broken object, I try to make it look as seamless as possible so no one can tell (anyone else remember that Brady Bunch episode of trying to fix the broken vase from playing ball in the house?) I digress…

So, as I work on my sequel (ever hopeful), I truly feel that Kintsugi-beauty in one’s brokenness- applies to my mother. Her heart and life shattered into so many pieces on August 6th. Because of her survivor guilt, PTSD, and prejudice against atomic bomb survivors (out of fear of radiation poisoning) she didn’t think she had a reason for existing anymore, so why should anyone else want her? She felt she should hide so much of her pain.

When I look back 20 years ago, I see the beauty of the time my mom poured her heart out to me with memories of the atomic bombing at a time when I felt broken and that my life would never be the same because of the RSD diagnosis. Kintsugi’s concept that objects can still be beautiful even while emphasizing the breaking point made me realize that when life events shook me leaving a crevice that I felt could never be filled, followed by the belief that I would never be whole again-nor even want to be whole again; hope still existed. Instead of hiding these fractured moments in my life, it’s okay-even preferable to let them shine recognizing that they make me who I am today. The spaces in my heart now filled in with fortitude, empathy, and compassion.

Mom & I shortly after my RSD diagnosis 20 yrs ago

My Mom never discussed Kintsugi with me, so not sure if I’ll actually use the specific art in the sequel. But I can say you’ll definitely recognize a similar theme for the main character, Yuriko, as she tries to come to her own conclusion as to what “living her life” means for her after the atomic bombing.

Okay, back to the beautiful and timely gift. I love the hearts on the ornament. I feel that they are representative of the love of family, friends, along with my faith that slowly fills in the gaps yet, leaving me open to opportunities. Opportunities to share empathy with others who may have gone through something similar health wise as well as keeping my mother’s voice as a Hibakusha alive. I can find my purpose again (just as my mom once told me 20 years ago). ❤

It’s taking longer than I’d like for my neuron pathways to reconnect and I’m still working through my anxiety attacks. But the timing of receiving this ornament, being reminded of Kintsugi, has given me a new way to look at what I saw as a loss because of the months I had to take off from email, virtual events, and screen/phone time to deal with extra pain. I’m already limited from my RSD pain and I was angry at myself for doing something so stupid that made me feel even less productive.

Yet in that space, I found comfort working on my sequel. I couldn’t do it for too long because of the headaches but that took the pressure off of writing until I thought it was “perfect”. We eat by candlelight which was kind of nice-dare I say, romantic. Okay we can’t always see what we were eating, but sometimes that works to my advantage though. In addition to this, I’m learning to be better at setting boundaries with my time/energy.

So along with a lot of deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, virtual appointments with my therapist, and prayer, I have also been journaling my thoughts of helplessness, fear, and panic. I hope that it will give me some peace. I’m also hopeful that journaling about my panic attacks, will give me insights to my character Yuriko’s (based on my mom) PTSD symptoms in the sequel to The Last Cherry Blossom.

January and February can be reminders of the various breaks in my heart. My Godfather passed away on January 4th 7 years ago, my mom passed away 6 years ago on January 15th and February 14th marks the event 20 years ago that my current panic attacks are connected to. But even though I still feel the loss, I can also feel the love of all those that were there for me then and are here for me now.

I hope that some of my rambling today may help someone else see beauty in their brokenness. And I pray I’m able to continue to share my empathy and compassion for the emotional scars that my mother had from the atomic bombing with students/future voters so nuclear weapons are never used again.  Which leads me to my announcement:

*I’m humbled by and very grateful for an invitation from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to participate in a virtual event to honor my mom and discuss being a 2nd gen Hibakusha in the US, this Friday night(Feb 12th 8pmEST)!! ❤   My session is titled “A Hibaku Nisei’s (2nd gen survivor of atomic bombing) Labor of Love.” My friend (Hibakusha sister) and amazing award winning author Naomi Hirahara (Mas Arais mystery series) will also be speaking about her parents who were both in Hiroshima atomic bombing. The museum enjoyed the program we did together for the Japanese American National Museum last August.*

P.S.  In case you’re wondering, the snake was a black rat snake (Pantherophis Obsoletus – for you snake aficionados out there). They are supposedly harmless but did not look that way to me at the time! From now on the (aging) kitchen ninja can fight her own battles-I (also aging) have learned my lesson…

 

 

 

Also sharing at Joanne Viola

Reflections and Changing Seasons

This month has been very reflective for me in many ways. August 1st was my daughter’s first full day home from Japan after 4 months of attending Tokyo International University. Even though she needed to catch up on her sleep-just knowing she slept in her own bed under our roof comforted me and I could finally exhale.

Sara in front of A-Bomb mother Ginkgo tree in Shukkei-en Gardens

Sara in front of the Osaka Castle

However, my heart may have been happy, but my body was not. Increased pain in my left leg returned (surgeon said this might happen because the stent couldn’t fully open the vein) along with worsening osteoarthritis in my left hand. So, when Sara moved back to UNCW for her senior year (EEK! It doesn’t seem that long ago when I moved back to Stonehill for my senior year…) I had to give in to my pain and remain at home. I, of course, did the only thing I thought would help me almost as much as prayer-yup, I made some crispy rice treats to bring to my pity party of one. 🙂

I saved my reflection of August 6th for last. The memories of what my mom and my family went through on that day, as well as the years that followed live in my mind and weigh on my heart.  So, in closing, I’d like to share my guest post,Changing Seasons, I wrote for MG Book Village about my mom and her memories here

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SECOND TO NONE

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, hopefully you missed them. 🙂  I had been dealing with a lot of firsts: my first birthday without my Mom, first Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her first anniversary in January. It took (and still does) grief therapy sessions, prayers, wonderful family and friends to help me make it through them. Not only that but they reminded me of the grace and joy still in those very days.

In the midst of these firsts, I began my first major round of edits for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, with my publisher. It excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. I Grabbed a paper bag and began hyperventilating into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email, never mind a blog post, and certainly not a novel.

But, I then made a batch of crispy rice treats, hot cocoa (to soften the blow) and opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives for new scenes. They also had a lot to say of what they liked-that renewed my hope.

An interesting thing about the timing of these edits, aside from having a tight deadline around the Christmas holiday, recovering from a pain flare, and researching for the new scenes(OK I did enjoy that), was I could visit with my mom once again. I looked through some of my research books and found notes of questions I had meant to ask my mother but never got the chance. But I also found information about her family tree that I had forgotten about.

I could hear the catch and tremble in her voice when she recalled the sad, horrific times. But I could also hear her voice retelling me the joyful loving events of her childhood. I could see the smile on her face and the love shining in her eyes. I remembered the long and tight hugs she would give me afterwards.

So as I approach the second Mother’s day without her, I realize that with each presentation I give, with each person who may read my book, with each hug I give to/receive from my daughter, and with each pain flare I get through, my mother’s love and perseverance are there. These realizations do not erase the ache of losing her. But knowing and remembering that she will always be with me, begins to fill some of the cracks in my broken heart.

the three Ishikawas

Happy Mother’s day Mom, with love from your daughter & granddaughter.

And Happy Mother’s day to all of you Moms out there!

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A New Year Ushers in a New Reality

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet on the blogging front.
My mother, as I have mentioned in my last post, has been battling a serious disease. I have gratefully spent all my time and energy helping her on this journey of her illness. On January 15th, my Mother Toshiko, went to heaven. She gave me the gift of life some number of years ago. On that January day she blessed me with the gift of her last smile.

There is a new reality I must get used to. A new reality shadowed by emptiness and a broken heart.
My mother had to quickly adapt to her new reality of hospital stays and sickness beginning the week of Thanksgiving. But as sick and exhausted as she was, she certainly was never fragile. She exuded such mental strength. She knew how she wanted to treat her disease and made sure the doctors understood as well.

She worried about the grief I would feel and how that would increase my RSD pain after she left.
Once a mother always a mother.

However, she was not just my mother. She was a walking glimpse of history that inspired me and my writing. She lost so much at the age of 12 in Hiroshima. I will always be amazed and continue to say that she never lost the ability to love; especially when it came to my daughter or to me.

Mom and Grandfather
I am grateful that she read the latest draft of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, and knew that it would be published.
She leaves an empty space in all of the upcoming first holidays and celebrations, but in time the cracks in my heart will fill with the memories of her love for me. I take comfort in knowing she is smiling down at my family and me, as she is reunited with hers in heaven.

If I can live my life with just half the strength and love that she lived hers, then I will truly be a success.
I miss you Mom and am so proud to be your daughter. I love you very much.

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