Ghosts of Halloween Past

gogojan (4)As I anticipate my grandson, Tommy’s, first Halloween, I perused my old scrapbooks for old Halloween pictures. Remembering those fun days made me smile.

rbtnnt I was one of those moms who didn’t want to just go to a store and buy a costume. Oh no! That would have been too easy. Even if Andi and Adam had begged me to buy a Rainbow Brite or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume from K-Mart, I had to be creative and make one.

Let me just say, some of them didn’t turn out the way I’d envisioned, and I will be forever grateful to my kids for being good sports about it–at least outwardly. (The one that really comes to mind is Adam’s Bart Simpson costume, where I spray-painted his spiked hair yellow, and cut ping pong balls in half for eyeballs.)

img005 (2)

So, here’s my gallery of memories. What Tommy will be for Halloween is a surprise that I’ll post later. But, we’ve been practicing a certain growl for weeks now. :)

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Beautiful Monsters

Sometimes, a convergence of “hints” whacks me across the face, wakes me up and tells me it’s time to do something. Here’s what smacked me this time:

220px-F_Scott_Fitzgerald_19211)  I read an article in The Atlantic about F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s thoughts on writing, titled “Nothing Any Good Isn’t Hard.” In it, he says:

But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

nin2)  This lead me to an article on the blog, Brain Pickings about Anais Nin‘s diaries, titled “Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity” where Ms. Nin was quoted:

You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.

3) A few days later, this tweet whispered in my ear screamed “AHA!!”



Can’t wait to read this book about a man’s “coming of age” in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.


Mr. Flanagan’s quote, in particular, has stayed with me, for I have always striven to show only what was beautiful. I’ve always hidden what is “monstrous” inside me, or, at least what is not beautiful. They are my imperfections, the things that I was always taught would make me “lose face”–one of the greatest sins for someone in my culture. At least that’s what I was taught.




4) Linda Austin’s recent interview of memoir author, Kathy Pooler fell right into place with these other “hints.” In the interview based on Pooler’s book, Ever Faithful to His Lead, when asked about her fear of what her real-life characters’ reactions to the memoir might be, Ms. Pooler replied:

In the end, I reconciled my concerns with the belief that this story is about my truth and my choices, and I made sure I did not intentionally disparage him in the story.

The fact that these “hints” appeared in the middle of a family maelstrom was not lost on me. It was as if someone was trying to send me a message.

In the years decades of my life, I’ve learned a person (me, specifically) can’t keep a monster hidden for long, for any monster worth its weight in ferocity, ugliness, excess, cruelty or sin cannot be kept forever locked behind even the most fortified door in the darkest corner of my an (oops!) internal prison, no matter how intensely one wants to please, to “save face.” Eventually, he (or she, as the case may be) breaks free.

I can’t tell you the number of times “secrets” about me, about my life, have blocked my writing. Isn’t it true that the purpose of writing is to make connections by sharing our experiences, our imperfections, our deepest, truest feelings, whether through non-fiction or safer fiction? Remember what Mr. Fitzgerald said?

…the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

Of course, it isn’t always a “first tragic love story” an author might try to tear out of her heart to put on paper. Maybe instead, an author’s deepest emotion revolves around a dysfunctional challenging childhood, or the birth and end of a beautiful and monstrous marriage. Maybe she’d like to share her thoughts on lessons learned (or not) through mistakes she’s made.

And what about the others who are a part of those stories? People who are also both monstrous and beautiful, no matter the “face” they hide behind. Is it a betrayal to write about their involvement? How do I write the full truth of my story without writing the full truth about their story? Though I may decide there’s no value in “saving” a false face, is it fair to make that decision for them?

I want to write about beautiful things–and monsters, too–because I agree with Mr. Flanagan, and I want to be fully human and not a paper doll cutout of Miss Goody Two Shoes.

Though I make no monstrous confessions here, I am inching toward authenticity. But does authenticity necessitate confessing everything? I am obviously battling with what Mr. Fitzgerald called “what is nice.” I am currently a soldier who is only a “little brave.”

I’ve asked a lot of questions here, and I’d be most interested to read any of your thoughts. In the end, I ask:


What’s the value of “saving face,” if that face is only a mask?

Posted in Life, love, Truth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Greater Kansas City Japan Festival


I’m excited to head north to Kansas City this weekend for the Greater Kansas City Japan Festival. The festival is organized by a group of friendly, dedicated people and I look forward to seeing them again.

This will be the second year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the festival to talk about my book, The Red Kimono and the history of the Japanese American internment.

This year, I will be giving an additional workshop on writing haiku, a poetry form I enjoy writing to describe life, as I did in my book, Life: Haiku by Haiku. The following slide from my presentation spotlights a few haiku from one of the masters:

basho haiku

The workshop will also have a haiku exercise–my favorite part, because I get to hear the magical seventeen-syllable stories of the attendees.

This year, in conjunction with the workshop, the festival sponsored a haiku contest. We had over 200 entries in the adult and children categories, and the finalists are now up on the website, where anyone can cast a vote. If you’d like to read the haiku finalists and vote, click HERE. This is the last day to vote!

The festival will be at the Johnson County Community College:

12345 College Blvd
Overland Park, KS 66210-1299

My presentations will be:

2:00 – Wearing the Red Kimono, Recital Hall
4:00 – Haiku Presentation, Hudson Auditorium

Click HERE for a full schedule of events.

And of course, I’ll be selling and signing books from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. So, if you’re in the Kansas City area, come experience a little Japanese culture and . . .

stop by to see me, too!

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Aha Moments

When we open ourselves, it heals us and it heals the other person, too. ~~Pamela Foster


Few people are as talented in “opening” up as Pamela Foster, and though she writes and speaks about a variety of topics, I believe she is most gifted in talking about PTSD.

Recently, she recorded a 30-second spot for Mutual of Omaha’s Aha Moment Tour. She is now a Top 10 Finalist and could use your vote to continue to move up in the ranks. And, it’s important to note that you can vote once a day.

I’ve voted every day, not because Pamela is a very good friend of mine, but because I believe PTSD and our veterans are two very important causes that, unfortunately, in today’s news cycle, are too often forgotten.

Pamela will not let people forget. Instead she opens her heart, and her husband, Jack, “allows” her to share very personal stories. (Though, knowing Pamela, “allow” is probably not the best word I could have used.) My point is, both Pamela and Jack know the value of being painfully honest to get the story out there. And as the quote above says, their opening themselves “heals the other person, too.”

Please vote and vote every day until October 10. It only takes 30 seconds. All you have to do is click on the following link, watch the video, then click the orange “VOTE” button in the lower right-hand corner.

Thank you!

If you’ve had an “Aha” moment you’d like to share, please leave a comment!

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Ah, Life!

I started to post this little complaint ruse on Facebook, but thought I might get a little long-winded, so I’ll do a blog post instead. I can’t make any promises about not being too long-winded, however.

In the last several days, squeezed in during Tommy’s naps and my evening hours, I’ve been packing and preparing three presentations I’ll make next week between here and Chicago:

Saturday, August 23 – Springfield Writers’ Guild, 1:00 pm-2:00 pm at Heritage Cafeteria, 1364 E Battlefield in Springfield, Missouri. I’ll be presenting a workshop on Interviewing Your Characters.

Thursday, August 28 – Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, 12:00 pm-1:30 pm at Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street (Video Theater, Lower Level), Chicago, IL. I’ll be conducting a workshop titled Wearing the Red Kimono, which will teach participants different methods to turn family history into stories.

Thursday, August 28 – Japan America Society of Chicago, 6:00 pm-7:30 pm at Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State Street (Video Theater, Lower Level), Chicago, IL. Book signing and Q&A about The Red Kimono.

Saturday, August 30 – Japanese Festival-Missouri Botanical Gardens, I’m excited to attend Obon (and see Steve try to dance) and I will be helping and selling my books at a booth from 4:15 pm-8:15 pm.

If you’re in the area, come by to say “hi!”

IMG_3811 (2)Anyway, back to my day. As my mind raced with everything I need to get done before we leave on Friday, as I tried to figure out what to pack, as I organized my presentations, as I “re-directed” Tommy now that he’s learned to climb over my pillow barricades (time to get safety gates!) . . . I received an email that my townhouse, which I’m renting, is on the market AND the realty company will be putting a lock box on my front door on Friday, the day I’m leaving.

Which means . . .

I ALSO HAVE TO CLEAN MY HOUSE BEFORE I LEAVE!!! Of course, I probably would have done so anyway, since for some reason, I always clean house before I leave. Nothing like coming home to a clean house, just to clutter it up with dirty laundry and bills that need to be paid, right?

Let’s not forget I’ll be packing up and moving in the weeks after my return. . . again. But, no complaints! I’m excited to say, this time into a house. I plan to stay for awhile, and I’m looking forward to making it home.


I guess I thought the surprise notice from the leasing company gave me something to complain about. Plus, it gave me a good excuse to post my schedule. Oh, and I also got to brag that Tommy is crawling, too. 

Still, I think I need an excuse to soothe myself, as well as an excuse to end this blog post. I think I’ll go out for a milkshake.

Posted in Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Something New: Day–oh, who cares!

In case you hadn’t noticed, life has gotten in the way of my “Something New” series. Oh my, I just checked to see when I last posted about trying something new, and it was June 26, when I dreamed about renting a beach house! Geez. I’ve been even more remiss than I thought.

Anyway, taking care of Tommy, making trips to Tulsa to check on my mom and buying a house have all squeezed themselves on top of blogging on my list of things to do.

But, that doesn’t mean I haven’t TRIED new things — I just haven’t written about them. And, because life DOES often get in the way, and I’ve taken on a more “go-with-the-flow” attitude, I’ve decided to keep trying new things, but it probably won’t happen every day, and I probably won’t write about every new thing I try, because some of it frankly, not very interesting.

But, I DID try something new last weekend that was fun (and surprising,) and it’s something that’s been on my (secondary) bucket list for a long time — riding a mechanical bull!

Steve and I attended Taste of Dallas on Saturday, and, in an attempt to escape the 108 degree temperatures, we entered one of the air-conditioned buildings. Lo and behold, there, right at the entrance, was a mechanical bull, and beside the bull stood two rather bored-looking teen boys who appeared to be wondering why nobody wanted to ride their bull.

So, the conversation between Steve and I went kind of like this:

Jan: “Do you want to try it?”

Steve: (Grinning) “Uh, no.”

Jan: “Oh, come on. I’ll do it if you do it.”

Steve: “Okay, you go first.”

Jan: “No way, you go first.”

Steve: “Nope. Let’s go play basketball instead.”

Jan: “Oh, okay. I’ll go first, if you promise you’ll go after me.”

Steve: (Still grinning.) “Deal.”

I have to admit, it was kind of like that old Life cereal commercial from the ’70s. Remember it, the one where Mikey was finally the only one brave enough to try it?

Well, I was the brave “Mikey” to ride the bull first that day. But first, I had to figure out how to get on his back. Of course, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, attempting (and failing, I’m sure) to hoist my leg over. And I sure didn’t want to leap (and fail miserably) on top like a real cowboy might.

photo 5 (2)


Finally, after enough scratching my head as I circled around the bull, one of the teens felt sorry for me and offered his knee.

I was able to save face–at least temporarily.

Now, mind you, I hadn’t planned to ride a bull that day. So, I obviously wasn’t wearing the proper attire, which added to the rather mismatched pairing of Jan and Bull. No cowboy hat, no blue jeans and no cowboy boots, not to mention I was trying this for the first time at the age of 56.

photo 2 (5)

Here’s how my very short ride went:

Though the bull moved like he was even older than I am, I still struggled to hold on, even grabbing his horns at one point, at which the teen behind the controls stopped and shook his finger at me.

Oh, you mean I’m only supposed to hold on to this tiny piece of rope?

Before mounting the bull, I’d imagined myself waiving my hat in the air, yelling “yeehaw” to the world, but instead, all I could do was press my thighs tight against that bull, clinging for dear life. The crowd began to grow and cheer me on. to watch the crazy old woman fly off the bull.

Finally, eleven seconds later, (I think that was including the three seconds where the teen shook his finger at me) I could hold on no longer and gave up the fight.

But it was fun, fun, fun! And, Steve did fulfill his part of the deal, with just a little coaxing. After all, he DID have to follow my performance.

But best of all, after we rode the rides-of-our-lives, a long line formed, and we left those two teens much happier than they had appeared when we first walked into that nice, cool, air-conditioned building.

blog-smileSo, this was definitely a thumbs-up experience!




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Getting to Know Author, Gwen Plano

I’ve gotten to know Gwen Plano (so far) only through Facebook and visiting her website. I related to much of what I found on her website, especially her journal-keeping and wanted to get to know her better. So, I invited her for a blog chat. Now, more than ever, I look forward to meeting her in person one day. I think you’ll enjoy meeting her, too!

Gwen Plano

Gwen Plano

JAN:  Because I’ve always kept a journal, I was drawn to the fact that you, too, write many of your hopes, dreams, joys, disappointments and prayers in a journal. When did you begin journaling and why?

GWEN: I grew up on an isolated farm where the only books available to me were books about the saints and Nancy Drew mysteries. This strange mix of religiosity and adventure, fed my dreams of travel to worlds unseen. I was just a child when I wrote about these fantasies, but with the passing of time, my diary morphed into a journal, which then included heartaches and loves imagined. I scribbled in notebooks and on scraps of paper as ideas or questions came to mind. And, I was particularly productive if I was struggling with a life crisis. I learned to wait for answers, and as these tidbits of wisdom emerged, I recorded them. Ultimately, my journal writing became a way for me to process life.

JAN: Do you still have your earliest journals? If so, what have you learned from them?

GWEN:  I’ve kept many of my early journals and in fact, I reread them before writing Letting Go into Perfect Love. Walking through the pages of time, I was humbled and at times deeply saddened by what I found. The younger me was insecure, sometimes frightened and often felt alone. I wanted to embrace and reassure her that all would be well, but in the end, I simply let the tears flow. As I reread the volumes, I also noticed the threads of stories that ran through the journal entries—the longing for love, the fear of failure, and recurrent hopes and dreams. And, I saw that the writing process itself had helped me sort through the confusion of the day. It brought clarity and insight; and once there was understanding, I could better craft my way. 9807883

JAN:  Why did you write Letting Go into Perfect Love? What do you hope your readers will take from your book?

GWEN:  When I began writing, I expected to simply tell my story—of love found and lost, of terrors known and of joys discovered. As the pages unfolded though, I realized that my story was everyone’s story. Letting Go into Perfect Love is not a tell-all book; rather, it is a book about a journey—through life’s challenges and heartaches to the one love we all seek. As I wrote, I experienced compassion—for the young me who did the best she could, for the old me who has found peace, and for all humankind. This unexpected sentiment redirected my writing, and quite frankly, my life. My hope is that readers recognize themselves in the book. Though my journey is unique to me, the emotions accompanying those details are universal. We all know sorrow, fear, or regret; and, we all travel through life trying to make sense of it all. What I hope I conveyed is that we are never alone, every moment is imbued with meaning, and even the most devastating circumstance is held tenderly in the heart of love. My deepest desire is that readers feel hope as they walk with me through the pages of my book.

JAN:  How do you define “perfect love?

GWEN: Perfect love is a love that has no limitations or conditions. It simply IS. Religions across the world call this love by many names, as it is all-inclusive. For me, though, perfect love is what I understand as God. And, I believe that what is not of love is not of God. I have found that the more I trust and let go into this love through prayer and meditation, the more I know peace. And with this peace, I have found joy.

JAN:  If you could speak to any one person, living or dead, who would that be and why?

GWEN: Much of the turmoil in the world is due to conflicting understandings of God or religious texts. People justify killing because of their interpretation of the divine; they violently protest one cause or another because of religious texts; they imprison and torture others based on their beliefs. It seems that no facet of life is more divisive than man’s perception of the Source of all love. Though there are many religious leaders with whom I would like to speak, I would especially like to talk with Jesus. And, if I could do so, my first question would be to ask him if Christianity has faithfully represented him. He who lived among the poor, who healed the infirmed, who taught in the streets and in the temples, who forgave those who hurt him, who respected women and held them in a place of honor, he who died among thieves….this man is who I want to meet.

Gwen, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about you and I look forward to meeting you in person soon! Thanks for visiting with us today!

Gwen will be giving away a copy of her book, Letting Go into Perfect Love to one lucky person who leaves a comment. Drawing will be held at noon on Friday, July 11!

Here’s more about Gwen:

Synopsis of Letting Go into Perfect Love:

In Letting Go into Perfect Love, Plano recounts her experiences in a twenty-five-year abusive marriage, and as a survivor who came out of that relationship determined to start over, artfully depicting the challenges and triumphs of balancing the obligations of motherhood and career with her family’s healing process. Alternately heart-wrenching and joyful, this is a story of triumph over adversity–one woman’s inspiring account of learning how to forgive the unforgiveable, recover her sense of self, open her heart, and honor the journey home.

Follow Gwen:


Facebook: Gwendolyn Plano, Author

Twitter:  @gmplano

Amazon: Letting Go into Perfect Love

Click here for Gwen’s Press Kit.

And the winner of Gwen’s book, LETTING GO INTO PERFECT LOVE, is . . . sustainabilitea!!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, and thank you again, Gwen, for visiting with us on my blog!


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Something New: Day 11

Welcome to Day 11 of my challenge to try something new/creative for 30 days.

I sat on the couch today, occasionally popping up like a kernel of corn over an open fire every time USA approached the goal. In the slower moments of the game (huh?) I took at peek at Facebook, while in the back of my mind I wondered what my “new” thing for the day would be.

Then I came upon a post by Natasha Hanova:


It gave me fuel to keep going on a 30-day challenge that sometimes gets more challenging than I’d anticipated. Trying to think of something new that I can complete in one day and that will be entertaining enough for people to want to read. I’ve succeeded with a few posts, failed with others.

When I read this quote, it reinforced the value of trying things I’ve never done.

So, the first thing I did was to think of what I want that I’ve never had. It may sound shallow, but the first thing that popped into my head was to live in a house on the beach. It’s the one thing on my bucket list that I have doubts I’ll ever accomplish.

I dream of having a house with a writing place that overlooks the ocean, where I can open the window and smell the salty air, hear seagulls cry and waves roar to the shore. Better yet, I dream of falling asleep to the ocean’s rolling lullaby.

writer spaceRemember the house in Something’s Gotta Give, and the place where Diane Keaton’s character wrote? That’s the place I dream of. Hey, if you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big, right?

My next thought was to think of something I’ve never done that would (1) move me toward living on a beach and (2) accomplish my goal for the day.

I’ve never really searched for beach houses. Instead my dreams have stayed in my head, halted by the voice inside that says, “That’s silly. You’ll never be able to do that.”

Of course not, if I listen to that voice.

So, I googled beach houses, knowing that barring any unforeseen miracles, I’d never be able to own a house on a beach.

Well, lo and behold, the first beach houses to come up were rentals. So, while I’ll probably never own a beach house, I do believe I can look forward to renting one someday. A few nights of seaside sensory delights is better than nothing!

Years ago, I trained for a job in San Diego for a couple of months. Some evenings after work, I would go to the beach and walk. As the waves tickled my toes, I daydreamed about one day drinking a glass of wine on the deck of one of the houses that overlooked the ocean. Needless to say, that’s where I began my search.

What? Oceanfront is $500-$1400! Not per week, but per NIGHT! No way I would (or could) pay that much. Find another beach. So, I checked Florida next, but most of those were high rises and I’d rather have a house.

Feeling only slightly discouraged, I tried Alabama and that’s where I found what looks like a perfect beach getaway.

beach (2)

Finding these beach rental houses has brought me one step closer to a dream, all because I tried something new.


I can smell the salt air already–a definite “thumbs up!”

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Something New: Day 10

Welcome to Day 10 of my challenge to try something new/creative for 30 days.

Today I played with something I’ve been wanting to try since the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Conference in May, when Heather Davis, during one of her workshops, mentioned sharing her PowerPoint presentation via a website called SlideShare.

So, today, almost two months later, I decided to give it a try and uploaded the presentation for one of my most popular workshops, “Interviewing Your Characters.” I’m not sure it’ll have the same “punch” without my verbal stories of what I learned about Sachi, Nobu and Terrence (and even myself) from interviewing my characters, but it’ll give you the method I use and a good list of questions you can start with.

So, here’s the presentation for “Interviewing Your Characters,” now on SlideShare:



blog-smileI’m giving today a “thumbs up,” not so much for the presentation I uploaded, but because if I hadn’t been struggling to think of something new to do for my challenge today, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten around to finally giving SlideShare a try.

Let me know what you think!


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Something New: Day 9

As any of you who follow me closely will note, I missed Day 8, mostly because it was Monday and I couldn’t think of anything new. Actually, I did think of something new that I’ll use on another day, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do it.

I did, however, make a post on (one of) my other blogs,, titled “Yuri Kochiyama: Sachi’s Mentor.” That counts for something, doesn’t it?

Day 9’s “New” thing for the day: I believe today was the first time I used the word “aphorism.”



noun –a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation.

It’s funny that I don’t recall ever hearing that word before, and now, in the last few days, I’ve heard it several times. Today, in fact, I actually used it for the first time, when I told my friend, Ruth, that I love her aphorisms.

Now, admittedly, I’m not all together sure I’m using the word correctly, so if not, please feel free to correct me. Still, I love the way the word rolls off my tongue.

Here are a few of Ruth’s:

Tans my hide
Trips my trigger
Frosts my cookies
Chaps my chipper

Are those aphorisms?

blog-smileWhatever they’re called, every time I hear them they make me laugh, which definitely earns a ‘”thumbs up!”




I was pretty sure I was not correctly using “aphorism” and have since learned that Ruth’s phrases are colloquialisms. That’s okay. I like the sound of colloquialism even better than aphorism. And, it’s more challenging to spell, too. :)


Posted in Creativity Challenge | Tagged | 9 Comments