Tag Archives: Miyamoto Musashi

Death, Antiquing, and Why I Don’t Buy Souveniers

Impermanence has been on my mind lately. There’s a certain freedom that comes with a lack of attachment, but sometimes I want to forget this truth.

I went to an antique show for the first time this past weekend. It was sunny and windy, and I got amazingly sunburned. There was a wide array of stuff — as you might guess — everything from 70s kitsch to ‘ancient’ coins to furniture in various stages of refinishing. The crowning glory of all of this was a medical model for giving birth. As my friend and I walked through the twenty-six aisles of history, we came across more energy-loaded objects. Piles of children’s shoes. Chipped bayonets and spearheads. Finally, a case with hundreds of diamond rings inside.

As I looked at the case, (I love sparkly things, one of my dearest friends calls me Magpie for this reason) I started to feel some kind of resonance off them. These had belonged to someone, once. How many broken marriages — or refused proposals — were sitting under this case? How many had been sold by happy couples, raising money for something greater than themselves? How many had been stolen, or lost, or trickled down from estate sales?

From then on, being in the presence of these precious objects became intensely surreal.

All these antiques, from jewels to dressers to road-signs were plucked from time. They’re imbued with their own stories and history even if they’re valueless otherwise. I can’t participate in collecting the way my friend and the other shoppers can, because I’m averted to souvenirs. I’m afraid of losing them.

Whenever I travel, I don’t keep things for myself. I’ll either leave them for the next person, or give them to my family. All the scrolls I brought back from the monastery are in different states — storing my memories in the safety of my loved ones’ homes. I move around a lot, and I’m concerned anything precious I collect will be lost or destroyed. My brother and sister are rooted, with families of their own; whereas I flit around, digging and exploring.

I can’t become attached to these objects without knowing — to my bones — that they will be destroyed in the fullness of time. I feel as ephemeral as they are, and I know that I too, one day, will be destroyed.

I only keep small things, sentimental things. I brought two stones back from China. One was for a friend by request (a chip of the training ground that Sifu threw at me in good-natured abuse). The other was a piece of stone from the mountaintop.

There had been so much mica on the mountain that the dirt and tree-roots glittered halfway up it. Once we had ascended, I remember looking out and watching the leaves blowing in the wind — rustling so loudly they sounded like waves crashing on a beach. The walkway to the temples are long stretches of stone that look like melted silver. I have a chip of that silver.

I feel so close to the knowledge that everything dies that it sucks the meaning from objects… Except for small things. Sentimental things. I’ll lose a souvenir, but I’ll always remember a scent, or a bit of music.

All of my stories have a character who experiences this. Someone so old, or so deep into the truth that they can’t cope with it. They can’t remember how to be human anymore. I’m grateful for their company, and the warning of what I could become if I’m unable to turn away from death now and then.

I can collect and lose objects. I have befriended, loved, and lost people. My memories of experience endure, like scent, like sight; but I’ve never found a way to capture and store the feeling of bonding with another person. My characters help me understand what it means to be detached — not only for them but for the friends and family they leave behind.

The ability to connect with others is as vital as food and water, to me — and I think it’s why I would never choose enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps us from losing ourselves in the sea of time. The ring is nothing. Attachment is nothing; and yet it is everything.


Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.”
― Miyamoto Musashi


Nothing endures but change.
― Heraclitus





Writers Aren’t Insane, We’re “Disinhibited”

I’m really looking forward to meeting new people at the conference this weekend. It’s a networking event, and that means we’ll be sizing each other up left and right. Writers constantly try to connect the dots and guess at others’ motivations, and other writers provide a fascinating slice of humanity. We spend so much time up in our heads that we can forget what’s expected of us here in the real world. To some degree, we forget to come back to ‘reality’ at all. It helps us question and consider other possibilities.

In order to create really meaningful work, writers learn to suspend themselves between worlds, harvesting intensity from minutiae.  We do it in dozens of different ways; insisting on certain music, losing sleep over metaphysics, wearing strange clothes, filling our homes with bladed weapons or drinking soup from wine glasses.

Most people don’t do this. Most people don’t get us, and write us off as strange or too hard to relate to.

This article talks a bit about the fine line between creatives and psychopaths, and mentioned something called “cognitive disinhibition.” Cognitive disinhibition occurs when we’re unable to ignore irrelevant or extraneous information. The inability to ignore those details, coupled with a spoonful of intellect, helps us connect dozens of unrelated dots — from plot construction to new inspiration from amalgamated ideas!

Cognitive disinhibition is nothing to be afraid of. The ideas we extrapolate and chase after are as important as the butterflies that kids chase through meadows. Every butterfly is a concept, a character, a line of poetry. Don’t be discouraged if people look at you like you’re crazy. If they could see the butterflies, they’d chase them too.


Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.”
— Ray Bradbury

“A specialty of martial arts is to see that which is far away closely; and that which is nearby from a distance.
In martial arts it is important to be aware of opponents’ swords and yet not look at the opponents’ swords at all.
This takes work
— Miyamoto Musashi

Monster Artist Now Drawing Humans!

I met Dordji through a mutual friend, and found out he draws some spectacular monsters. A gallery of these strange beasts appears in American Fantastic, and he recently launched his debut web-comic, Icon.

In order to practice caricatures, he asked for volunteers. This baby came back to me within the hour.

Ball of sunshine!

And then this one.

“Setsu can’t not look like a supervillain, I guess. Maybe we like her that way.” – Dordji

Polish your wisdom… study the ways of different arts one by one.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

I do not paint a portrait to look like the subject, rather does the person grow to look like his portrait.”
― Salvador Dali

Objects, Symbols and Affectations

When you’ve had a habit for many years, it becomes part of your persona. Your image, totem, signature, symbol — however you like.

When folks see someone with your habit, they think of you.

When they’re looking for you, they look for your symbol.

It could be anything from a piece of clothing to the way you walk. There’s something you do that’s yours.

Someone once told me that my combat boots are my signature. I started wearing them in fourth grade to be practical. When my class shuffled through the hallways in two parallel lines, some dickhead always stepped on my sneaker and make my heel pop out. I hated it. Flat tire, we called it. It was probably accidental each time, but it still drove me nuts. I started wearing boots to address an immediate problem. They became familiar. Comfortable. Preferable.

Things are different now. I don’t walk in line with a bunch of other kids. The boots’ intended purpose is gone. It doesn’t rain enough, or get cold enough here to justify heavy boots; but I still wear them every day. As a little kid, I didn’t plan on incorporating a symbol; but now the boots are part of the image I project. I still wear them because they’re familiar. The tricky thing is, I couldn’t tell you if the familiar thing is the boots themselves, or that projected image.

When you see someone walking down the street in big black boots, what does it say about them? What does your perception say about you? These objects are telling in both directions.

What’s your signature?  Your symbol?  How do objects and affectations affect your story?

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” ― Oscar Wilde

From one thing, know ten thousand things.” ― Miyamoto Musashi

Untitled by Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) from the "Muslima" exhibition

Untitled by Shadi Ghadirian (Iran) from the “Muslima” exhibition