this memoir is a personal journey of love for a strong mother … to the land of the rising sun … and a new pathway out of conscientious objector status
Every war is a war against children.
–Egalntyne Jebb, founder Save the Children a century ago.
These introductions to people I have, that is, keyholing into their lives, immersing into their dreams and sharing their gifts of living, learning their avocations, and then welding connections to my own life with theirs have happened this way many times over the course of decades:
“I found your website through something of a circuitous route. I first listened to a Courage to Resist podcast interview with Dan Shea and got interested in his story and background. A Google search took me to your interview with him for LA Progressive. From your bio, I did another search and first found some of your Dissident Voice stories and finally landed on your website, where I spent the next few hours.
I especially got caught up in the “Autobiography Through Many Lenses” page. The very mention of Henry Miller, napalm, Mark Twain (on autobiography being the truest of all books), ancestors from Ireland, and good God Malcolm Lowry (truly one of my favorites!) was enough to make me want to pore through everything of yours I could find.”
[Article and photo: “Call of Duty: Resisting War in Venezuela”]
So it goes, and then the book comes to me as a PDF and then a hard copy.
So, we’ll see if the good lord’s willin’ on this review, if I get something right, and do not immerse it all in my POV: “If the good Lord’s willing and the creek stays down I’ll be in your arms time the moon come around.” (Johnny Cash)
The linchpin for me is his refusal to go to THAT war, and some of his narrative, the memoir, deals specifically with those times. He also went from American, Western American, to Japanese. THAT war (sic): During the Vietnam War more than 170,000 men were officially recognized as conscientious objectors. Thousands of other young men resisted by burning their draft cards, serving jail sentences or leaving the country.
THAT war: United States’ military involvement in the Vietnam War began in February 1961 and lasted until May 1975. Approximately 2.7 million American men and women served in Vietnam. During the war, more than 58,000 servicemen and women lost their lives.
“One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”
―Wallace Stegner, The Sound of Mountain Water
“I am convinced that human life is filled with many pure, happy, serene examples of insincerity, truly splendid of their kind-of people deceiving one another without (strangely enough) any wounds being inflicted, of people who seem unaware even that they are deceiving one another.”
— Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human
Family for Robert Norris is everything, and he starts spinning tales about his grandfather Frederick, born in Union County, Pennsylvania. He moved around, from Minnesota to North Dakota and then to White Salmon, WA, and that’s where Robert’s mother grew up, with the history of the Columbia River, Celilo Falls before the river was dammed up, coursing through her DNA.
Interestingly, his mother Kay talked to Norris about Kyoko Nakagawa, a Japanese-American girl who was her best friend until World War II broke out and the Nakagawa family was shipped to an internment camps.
“I was in high school at that time and remember well the events of that day and the days and months that followed. There were so many things I didn’t learn about until many years later. One of my very best friends in high school was Kyoko and we spent many lunch hours together gigglin’ and talkin’ about our futures. We’d usually exchange sandwiches because mine were on homemade bread and hers were on the store bread put out by Wonder Bakeries. We thought we were being so sneaky and clever to exchange our sandwiches. How young and naive we both were. I think when I was a junior in high school, I went to school one mornin’ and couldn’t find Kyoko. I didn’t know what happened to her. I was very hurt to think she left and didn’t say goodbye.
“I thought all her family were so nice. They had a home on the river and I remember I got permission to walk down there to see if she was sick and there was nobody home. Everything was gone. I found out a long time later that she and her family had been transported to an internment camp for Japanese in Idaho. I did try very hard and seriously to track her down and finally did only to find out that she died in childbirth just after her family was released from the camp after the war. I felt very sad for a long time after that.”
This man, Robert Norris, with his deep regard for the family, especially for his strong and adventuresome father, ended up deep in Japanese culture in the 1980s, becoming a language teacher, and then marrying a Japanese woman. He’s called Japan his home for more than 40 years.
He’s there now, in Japan, writing me emails, and his life now is slow, he says, with old age and some medical issues from the past catching up to him now.
I can hear those metal bars slamming: The date the cell doors slammed on him was in September, 1970:
“A military policeman places handcuffs around my wrist and leads me to a patrol car waiting to take me to the base prison. Jerry and Midge Kelly follow me to the patrol car.
I force a smile and say, ‘It could have been worse.’
Jerry shakes my had. Midge says, ‘You were very brace on the stand. I was proud of you. Make sure you write us.’
I get into the patrol car. A cloud of dust rises behind the car as it lurches toward the prison. I crane my neck for a final look and see Jerry and Midge grow smaller through a brown haze until they’re tiny specks in the distance.”
My name is Robert W. Norris. I’m a Pacific Northwest native, Vietnam War conscientious objector, and longtime expat resident of Japan. I’m one of those guys who took that 1960s jingoistic catchphrase “America, love it or leave it” seriously and ended up in Japan back in 1983.
From there it was on to the video interview with David Rovics. Imagine my surprise when I heard you mention that you and your sister had inherited some land near White Salmon, Washington. I mean, my mother grew up there and graduated from Columbia High School in 1943! Small world, indeed.
So that brings me to the reason I’m writing to you. My life story and tribute to my mother was published in January by Tin Gate, a U.K. hybrid publisher of memoirs, travel books, and biographies. I hope I’m not being presumptuous in thinking you might be interested in looking at it with an eye toward a possible review, or perhaps passing it along to others who might be interested in whatever happened to some of us old-timers who told the military to fuck off way back when. The following summary is from the book’s back cover.
“‘The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me’ traces the trials, tribulations, and unbreakable bond of two Pacific Northwest characters. Kay Schlinkman grows up on the banks of the Columbia River in the 1930s and 1940s. She overcomes a small logging town’s ostracism in the late 1950s for her divorce, excommunication by the Catholic Church for remarrying, severe criticism and rejection for defending her son’s refusal to go to war, and the burden of paying off her second husband’s gambling debts. She takes night classes to become qualified as a legal secretary in her fifties and continues to work until she’s seventy-eight.
“Robert Norris goes to military prison as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, embraces the counterculture upon release, wanders the world in search of his identity, and eventually lands in Japan, where he finds his niche as a university professor, spends two years as the dean of students, and retires as a professor emeritus. Despite their separation by the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Robert and Kay maintain a lifelong commitment of love, respect, and support that enriches both their lives. This story provides a heart-warming example of how far a mother and son can go in maintaining their bond against all odds. A must read for all mothers and sons, and for those who’ve wondered what the road less traveled would’ve been like had they taken that first step.”
—Robert Whiting, author of “Tokyo Underworld” and “You Gotta Have Wa,” wrote,
“A most impressive achievement by a highly talented writer…an emotionally powerful memoir that spans nearly a century and several continents. Riveting and rich in detail with passages that evoke Hemingway and Maugham, it draws you in and doesn’t let up. For Japanophiles, the sections on life in Osaka and Kyushu offer important lessons on cultural assimilation. You come away from this book with gratitude to the author for having written it and respect for a life well lived.”
—Michael Uhl, author of “Vietnam Awakening” and “The War I Survived was Vietnam,” wrote,
“A bumpy, coming-of-age tale set in the logging country of the Pacific Northwest, dosed with a mother’s love, transforms an alienated young man into an expat and ultimately an emeritus professor in Japan. Robert W. Norris crafts the stages of this extraordinary journey—punctuated with a turn as a Vietnam War resister—in a narrative style that is both graceful and seamless.”
His book, the stories, the backdrops, all the encounters with his mom, before getting into the military hell we all hope those like Robert never have to get into, and those were the draft days, and, alas, he joined the US Air Force. Not going to college and living and working in Humbolt County, he was sure he’d be drafted and end up in Vietnam and dead, or dying.
The Air Force or Navy were options for he and his buddies, Troy and Shannon, sign up for the bombing brigade, the dirty Air Force. He made the Arcata all-county basketball team, but the boy Norris was depressed, disinterested.
Here, another salvo from Robert to me after I tsunamied him with emails a yard or so long.
Thanks so much for such a quick and great reply and all the links! Wow, I now have my reading set for the next few days. I’ve already gone over a couple of the Finding Fringe stories (great stuff) and the attached interview with Emily Green. Interesting that you mentioned the documentary “Sir, No Sir.” While working on the initial draft of my book, I queried the director David Zeiger and he kindly provided a nice blurb.
I’ll write a better letter later, but I wanted to send you the PDF first and ask for a phone number. Neither Amazon nor IngramSpark will allow me to order an author copy if I don’t have a phone number to provide the shipping company in case they need to contact the recipient of the package. Amazon allows P.O. Box numbers it seems, but IngramSpark doesn’t; they require a street address. Also, this PDF is large at 23 MB (there are about 20 pages of pictures), but most of the email addresses I’ve sent it to have handled it OK.
Thanks, too, for agreeing to read the book and for the offer of doing an interview. I really appreciate it. I’ll check out Cirque’s site and see if I can come up with an idea or two to pitch to them. I’ve had a little bit of success in having excerpts put up on a couple of Boomer sites, with another excerpt (from an earlier novel) to be published around Easter in Psychedelic Press (a U.K. journal dealing in research about the history, culture, philosophy, and science of psychedelics and other drugs) and yet another in the summer peace issue of BeZine, a literary rag out of Israel focusing on peace and spirituality.
OK, so here’s the PDF. I’m also enclosing a cover pic. I think you’ll agree my mom was pretty good-looking! Looking forward to getting a phone number (and street dress if that’s OK) so I can order an author paperback copy to send. I’m about to dig into the link on the Japanese poets writing about Fukushima.
Ahh, that military life, short-lived, but here, in living color from the memoir:
While the majority of airmen return home on leave and report to other bases for their technical training after basic training, the others chosen to be military police (the most despicable and lowest career field in the Air Force) and I have to remain at Lackland for ten more weeks of specialized training. The hand of irony has played a cruel trick. Country bumpkin that I am, I’ve joined the Air Force thinking I’ll never have to carry a weapon, but now I’m to be trained in the art of combat and the use of deadly weapons. I know I can never kill another human being. It’s always been and still is an abstraction. Besides, I lack the courage even to use my fists to defend myself. The very thought of violence makes me sick to my stomach. I pass through the training without incident. But during those days of martial arts training; war games; kitchen labor called K.P.; stripping, cleaning, loading, firing, and handling of M-16 rifles, .38 pistols, hand grenades, bayonets, and knives; the classes on crowd dispersal, first aid, attack upon and retreat from an enemy, arrest and seizure, drugs, communism, terrorist activities, patriotism, military police history; and the propaganda the instructors use to inculcate the soldiers into submission and obedience, there grows within my heart an inchoate attitude of rebelliousness. It lies dormant, simmering below the surface, waiting silently for the right moment to emerge from its hiding.
For a while, however, the Air Force succeeds in brainwashing me. One image sticks in my head: a drill instructor during a training session in the use of a truncheon screaming at me in front of a gymnasium full of military police trainees. “Goddamn it, Norris! You dumb shit! You’ve got a left-handed stick! I told you to get a fucking right-handed stick. Now get your ass over to that pile and bring me a right-handed stick!”
“Yes sir,” I bark, turning redder each time I return to him with another “left-handed stick.” Finally, it dawns on me that all the sticks are the same. A wave of shame passes through me. For the rest of the military police training, the drill instructors call me Left-Handed Stick.
But the Air Force Base in Yuba City is not cloistered from the world:
During this time, I’m thinking about Vietnam and having a gut feeling that the war is wrong. Although we’re not allowed to take anything other than our guns and military equipment on The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise 116 the line, I smuggle a portable radio and earphones and listen to the lyrics of popular songs instead of just the melodies—songs by Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and all the others protesting the war. I’m also reading the underground newspapers that are finding their way on base and contain antiwar, anti-government stories about the My Lai atrocity, the shooting of Ralph Bunch at the Presidio, and the hysteria running rampant on American college campuses. All the little irritating items of military brainwashing and propaganda gradually build up inside of me. Things I’ve taken for granted before now make me bristle. There’s the time three of us guards are called before the squadron sergeant after roll call, and he reads us our rights and charges each of us with defecation on duty. “What’s defecation, Sarge?” I ask. “It’s taking a shit inside the marked line you are NOT supposed to enter, only guard, and you know that only the flight crew are allowed inside that line, and last night one of you smartasses took a FUCKING SHIT inside that line and right under the cockpit—that’s what DEFECATION means!” the sergeant screams. “You’ve got to be shittin’ me,” I say. The sergeant doesn’t think my remark is funny. There on the table as exhibit A for the prosecution is the big, black turd, hard as a rock, found the day before under the cockpit of the bomber I walked around for half my shift before changing to another place to guard. They’re actually planning to court-martial one of the three of us who was stationed on that post during the night and use the turd as evidence. It’s the final straw in realizing that military life isn’t for me. From that day on, I can’t keep my mouth shut in pointing out the inconsistencies and lies whenever I spot them. I miss haircuts and am constantly reprimanded for my shoddy appearance during inspections. I lose days off and am forced to undergo crowd control practice in case we’re called upon, like the National Guard, to break up a civilian demonstration. I know my sympathies would be with the demonstrators. I begin to think that if there really is an enemy, it’s the military. If the situation ever really comes up, I’ll cast aside my weapons and join the other side.
My order to fight in Southeast Asia comes through. I’m given thirty days leave before having to report first to a base in Texas for a month of intensive war training and later to a base in northern Thailand near the Cambodian border. This happens shortly after Nixon escalates the war into Cambodia, where B-52 bombers are now dropping tons of napalm. When I leave Beale Air Base for the start of my thirty-day leave, I know I’ll never make it to Texas.
He gets out of spending five years total in prison, and after six months, when he’s out, his only constant was his “mom’s complete and unconditional love and support.” He of course was dazed and confused, and he ends up on this journey of kicking around, mixing with counterculture, blue collar work, slaving in mills, hitchhiking, then to New York and following a one-way flight to Luxembourg, leaving behind the country of his birth, “the country I no longer felt a part of, venturing forth with no itinerary, just the hand of fate to guide me.”
He does the hippie trail through Europe, ending up in places he only dreamed of as a baseball-playing kid in Humbolt County, California. Paris, Spain, Greece.
The journey had given me an answer to what I’d been seeking since my court martial. The single sentence [ “I don’t feel I’m mentally or physically capable of killing another human being”] I uttered in response to my order to fight in the Vietnam War had saved four and a half years of my life and instilled in me an inchoate awareness of the power of language. The experiences in Europe had now reinforced that awareness and stimulated a need to express myself. I now had a purpose. I’d try to become a writer. I’d learn the craft. Through the writing, I’d rid myself of the confusion and derangement that clung to me so tightly.
Ahh, so the communication is back and forth, between me in Oregon, with some land in White Salmon I mention — his mother’s stomping grounds and Robert’s as well, as sort of an unusual glue — and he in Japan. Another long one from me, to him, and here is his measured and kind response, and I won’t fill in all the contextual asides:
Hope you’re doing OK. I’ve spent parts of the last few days going through some of the links you sent, as well as following down the rabbit holes of other links on those pages. Some fascinating stuff to read, a welcome change from the corporate drivel that comprises the majority of English reading material available in Japan.
Among the things that really grabbed my attention this time were your review of the documentary “The People vs Agent Orange,” the related article “A Spray by any Other Name: Agent Orange or Clear-cut Agent?” “Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War,” and your interview with David James Duncan. As you wrote in one of those articles, “I easily segue from one massive war crime after massive war crime — the American War Against Vietnam — to a small rural county in Oregon,” I too often connect what on the surface seems to be a completely unrelated thing or idea to another. As a reader, I like to read that kind of style. As a writer, I think it conveys an uninterrupted and natural flow. Maybe I just took too many hallucinogens in my youth! Anyway, here are some thoughts.
You may have mentioned him only once or twice, but I constantly had Henry Miller on my mind while reading your articles. So much so that I dusted off the cover of his The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (which had been sitting untouched on my bookshelf for a good 25 years) and started reading it again with great pleasure. It’s amazing how so little has changed in the U.S. since he wrote that book back in 1940 and ’41. In the midst of ranting about how fucked up and doomed America is/was, he still, like a magician, pulls out a gem of a phrase on almost every page that makes the reader practically double over with laughter. I once worked as a cook for a restaurant owner who had lived in Big Sur in the 1950s, ran a kind of trading post, and would barter with Miller, who was always broke, and would end up giving him bags of groceries for rough draft manuscripts of whatever Miller had pounded out on his typewriter that day. This dude was Irish-American, in his 60s at the time, had a plump and red nose from too much booze, and told great tales that got better with each embellishment. I first met him when I was down to my last $20 and drinking a beer at his bar. When I told him The Colossus of Maroussi was my favorite Miller book, he hired me on the spot. I ended up working for him for about a year and a half. He taught me everything he knew about cooking, a skill that became my main source of income for the next five years as I wandered throughout much of the U.S.
Next up, that documentary “The People vs Agent Orange.” To tell the truth, I hadn’t thought much about Agent Orange for years, not since the use of depleted uranium “bunker busters” in Iraq and the resulting cancers, birth defects, etc. among Iraqi children in the ensuing years. Since about 2005, however, it seems someone I knew well or from a distance has died almost every year from some Agent Orange-connected cancer. Occasionally, I’ve wondered if I’d’ve died myself by now if I’d followed my order to fight in the war. In a sense, military prison saved my life. My job had been guarding B-52 bombers and I know I would’ve been one of the airmen who had to spray the perimeters of Southeast Asian bases with that poison to keep the jungle from encroaching on and overgrowing the fence lines.
I was in other parts of the States when the spraying of Oregon forests began. I was in southern Humboldt County (working for that Irish-American) in 1977-78, but the only helicopters flying above the forests then were the ones doing surveillance on the marijuana farmers. They didn’t spray anything; they merely landed on the property and sometimes busted the larger farms, that is, until the farmers starting shooting at them.
The fact that much of the documentary took place so close to where I grew up intrigued me greatly. After reading your review, I had to watch it. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get my hands on a copy. My wife and I watched it a couple of nights ago. Jesus! What a gut punch! Like so many, my wife was aware of what Agent Orange was and the horrible damage it had done (still does) in Vietnam, but she thought its use was limited to that part of the world and that time. Wrong!
This is indeed an international problem, right up there with the Fukushima disaster (by the way, those poems in that book were quite powerful, too). Even though the Independent Lens program was sponsored by and shown on PBS, the only place I could find that had it available was for Amazon Prime customers. Why is it so limited in availability? Is PBS also intimidated by the corporate power wielders and so won’t distribute it widely? It should be required viewing (and actively discussed) in classrooms worldwide.
I finally resorted to using a VPN and accessing a couple of pirate sites. Even among those sites, it seemed a dead end. Just as I was about to give up, however, I found one place that actually had a pretty good quality file that I was able to download. I plan to make a few DVD copies and distribute them among a couple of academics I’m still in touch with. Being retired seven years now and having not kept up any correspondence with most of my former colleagues since the pandemic started, I don’t have many contacts anymore, but still this is information that needs to have a wider audience. It was sad to learn that the French court threw out Tran To Nga’s lawsuit.
You kicked off the “Wrestling the Blind” story with Robert Bly asking you when you first saw yourself as strong as or stronger than your old man. The complicated relationship I had with my dad was in my thoughts the whole time I was engaged with the story (which is a beautiful one, by the way). My dad was a World War II hero who piloted a P-38 in over 70 combat missions out of England. How he survived was a miracle. After the war, he and his brother and dad started a lumber mill and redwood logging business in Humboldt County. For the next 25 years, he was heavily involved in the American Legion (and helping to destroy almost all the old growth redwoods!). Although not political by nature, he followed his family’s guidance and always voted Republican and hung out mainly with other loggers and John Birch Society types. I had an idyllic childhood in the redwoods and spent most of my time fishing, playing baseball, and doing all the things country boys love to do. Until my parents divorce put an end to all that. The script was set. I was destined to rebel against whatever he had hoped for my life. When I became a conscientious objector (from within the military, to boot) to the Vietnam debacle, my actions, thoughts, and appearance all constituted an affront to everything he’d considered sacred in life. Of course, all this stuff takes up a good portion of the first half of my book, but that story of your trip in the desert with your dad was almost like looking into a mirror of my relationship with my dad. Particularly the parts about how you two bonded over wrestling. In my case, we bonded over basketball, or I should say he was proud of my skills (I made the all-county team my senior year) and even though we could never get on the same page about political shit, we could always communicate meaningfully about sports.
Another one: by the time I hit 15, my dad didn’t know me, either. I still had a couple of years to go before my hair hit shoulder length, but some of my buddies were growing their hair out at that age and Dad’s comments were always about how they were turning into girls and sissies, the inference being he didn’t want to see me with long hair. Like you, I didn’t consider until way too many years too late that my dad’s reluctance to talk about his war experiences might’ve been his version of PTSD. And the first time I really noticed his vulnerability was on a rare trip home from Japan (escorting some Japanese students on an American homestay program). His hairline had receded greatly (he was in his 70s by then), his eyes appeared softer and kind of milky, and his handshake had become weak. You wanna hear something ironic? He died at the age of 89 on June 6th, D-Day, the one day of the year (in his 30s and 40s) when he’d actually mention casually that he’d flown with the invasion of Normandy and also a few days later with an escort squadron flying cover as Churchill crossed the English Channel.
I admired the way you ended that story — “Bly was right. The moment the war lifted from my heart, I saw my old man. Just a guy waiting for daylight, waiting for fish.”
Lastly, it was great to read your interview with David James Duncan. That was done quite a long time ago (2008). To me, your questions had a bit of a provocative ring to them, as if you were demanding definitive answers to complex questions about life, activism, and the future of our planet and humankind’s place on it. DJD sounded like someone on the verge of Buddha-hood (or maybe a character out of a Hermann Hesse novel), what with his calm acceptance of everything and the insanity surrounding him. The image I got reminded me of that cartoon showing a searcher of the truth struggling to scale a mountain to find the Buddha and finally at the summit sees him and gasps, “Oh Great One, please tell me, what is the answer to mankind’s struggle to find meaning in life?” The Buddha peers down at him, points a finger at the opposite direction, and replies, “My friend, you’ve climbed the wrong mountain. The Buddha you seek is over there on that other mountain.”
Do I have a weird interpretation of what I see and read, or what? Anyway, here are a few DJD quotes from that interview that made me smile.
“There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures decay, and that life’s end is death.”
“Mother Teresa spoke with the heart of a wild salmon when she said, ‘God doesn’t ask us to win. He only asks us to try.’ I’m in the business of trying. I leave the scorecard to the Scorekeeper.”
“When small things are done with great love, it is not a flawed you or me who does them: it’s just love. I have no faith in any kind of political party, left, right, or centrist. I have boundless faith in love. The only spiritually responsible way I know to be a citizen, artist, or activist in times like ours is by doing a daily and nightly, faith-driven skein of small things, each of them done with all the love I can muster.”
“I trust my hands more than my mind. My hands are enlivened by my lungs and heartbeat and by the Earth and by Spirit directly. Only indirectly are they guided by the mind. My aging hands have done so much cool stuff it staggers my mind.”
“He (Cesar Chavez) didn’t demonize those who caused this suffering. His life of love and service is the opposite of a World Bank project or a papal decree or a government program. It was grass roots love. Love from the ground up, not the top down. Love with the mud of the fields all over it.”
Duncan’s novel The Brothers K is one of my all-time favorites. It has many parallels with family and other people in my life, as well as my own experiences — Seventh Day Adventist parent, conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, baseball, a father who was a logger, siblings who traveled entirely different life roads, and the town of Camas (which is on the Columbia River, not that far from White Salmon, Washington, where my mother grew up), and much more. When I finish The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, that’s the next book I plan to reread.
So, all in all, thank you Paul for giving me much to think about and providing a bit of literary enjoyment to balance out all the other shit that’s happening around us. If you’ve actually read this far, thanks for that, too. You take care, OK?
I think Robert knows that this review of his work will not be some bullshit LA Times crap or Kirkus reviews milquetoast. The memoir is his life, his concerted effort to get from pre-birth to now, in Japan, and then finding meaning in a journey which is always galvanized by his love of and interest in his mother’s life, who was still in the USA while Robert made his way to Japan, doing part-time work as an English Teacher, and then eventually language school fulltime work, and then teaching for a college, a deanship, getting an advanced degree and becoming now retired, emeritus.
Ahh, as a battler and endless communicator and ranting fool, I hit Robert with another email, and here, again, his thoughtful response:
Thanks for letting me know the book arrived in one piece, and thanks for all the recent links. My aging body and mind don’t move very quickly these days, so I’ve taken my time in checking out some of your media recommendations. At this stage of the game, I don’t want to burden myself with information overload. I’m afraid Japan’s stick-its-head-in-the-sand approach to the world has rubbed off a bit on me. 🙂
What I have read has given me a better indication of why most of my American friends, contacts, and relatives (not that many left in all three categories) seem so frustrated and filled with rage these days. Much of that, it seems to me, comes from a deep disappointment in “the system” and a feeling of having been deceived by everything they’d been inculcated into believing was sacred — American exceptionalism, the so-called American Dream, the righteousness of capitalism, the sanctity of Christianity, the worship of Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, and Babe Ruth, and on and on. Everything, in fact, that Mark Twain and Henry Miller spat on in their different times.
Granted, on this side of the pond there has also been a rapid increase in violence, murders, alcoholism, suicide, and depression in the last few years, but it’s nothing to compare with the States. I still feel relatively safe whenever I leave the house. Of course, that might be different if I were living in Tokyo or Osaka, but here in Kyushu things are relatively calm. Okinawa, Taiwan, and all the potential for the start of World War III are not that far away and in the back of people’s minds, but for the most part people don’t talk about it much. It’s the ol’ “see no evil” approach (until it affects someone directly, that is).
One thing that caught my attention while reading your own and other recommended stuff is the issue of “sensitivity editors/readers” and the related issue of book banning in Florida and other red states. I’d seen a little bit about this here and there over the past couple of years, but nothing in detail. Your substack article sent me on a search and I was amazed at what a big issue this is becoming. The danger here is the tendency for this kind of thing to catch fire with all sides on the political spectrum. Again, I refer to Henry Miller and his reasons for leaving the States to live abroad in the 1930s, George Carlin’s later rants on the idiocies of American culture and political thought, and Groucho Marx’s quote on group behavior: “I’d never want to be a member of a group that would have me as a member. They must be crazy.” Or something along those lines. If nothing else, that about sums up my philosophy of shying away from any religious or political affiliation. Somehow, I’ve managed to make it this far in life without relying too much on group-think or support. I plan to do my best to continue forward (limping, of course, and assisted by my trusty cane) in the same manner. Of course, I’ll always listen to and think about what others believe and rationalize about their own behavior, but I’m not going to be signing up for their activities anytime soon.
You mentioned earlier that you’d like to do a Zoom chat. Sure thing. I can’t promise any usable quotes (the ol’ noodle seems to switch on and off these days at a pace I can’t control — somewhat like a pitcher who has control of his pitches one day and can’t find the strike zone the next day). Probably more than trying to share political philosophies, I think it’d be more fun to simply share stories from the different places and eras we’ve experienced and survived. I’ve got a few things to take care of over the next couple weeks (e.g., I have to try to change internet providers as my current website has no security certificate and is deemed “not secure” — not that a lot of people drop by, but the browser warning probably scares off 90 percent of those few curious visitors), but any time after that would be fine. There’s a 16- or 17-hour time difference, so we’d have to take that into consideration.
Take care, Paul. Try to get some rest from time to time. We ain’t spring chickens anymore. I’m amazed at how you can keep up such a rigorous writing pace. That’s all for now.
I sent Robert a long list of open ended questions, and we’ll see how he receives them. The interesting part of the book is Robert’s second trip there heading to Iran (Turkey) and Afghanistan, and he ended up in India, too. His so-called around the world walkabout and flowing love of learning about people, keeping an open mind, asking questions, and shutting up to hear others’ biographies.
Here, a slice from Robert’s journey, when he is about to head back to the USA:
I usually visited Rolf in the evenings. We’d prepare a dinner of rice with raisins and lamb meat, then retire to the top of the bus to smoke some hashish, watch the stars, and discuss life. One night, I told him about my journey from Paris to Afghanistan and the various adventures I’d had.
“So what have all these experiences taught you? You seem to me to be more of an observer of men than an active participant in their affairs,” Rolf said.
“I suppose you’re right about that,” I said. “The one political stand I made landed me in jail and I’ve spent a good portion of my life since then trying to rationalize what I did. This journey I’ve taken has carried me halfway around the world in search of something I can’t put a name on. I know I don’t care much for capitalism. I have an attraction for some form of socialism, but I can’t commit myself to what I don’t understand. Idealistically, it seems the best answer to man’s inability to live together peacefully, but socialism, too, has a history of violence and upheaval. It’s all pretty hard to figure out. What do you think?”
Rolf considered my question for a moment, scratched his head, then said, “Socialism, communism, Marxism, all these ‘isms’ have no soul. They’re connected only in terms of class struggle and a fight for equality in the production and consumption of material goods. In that sense, they’re not so different from capitalism. What about the spiritual struggle? Islamic Marxism? It’s a joke! It’s just another form of cultural imperialism that would force people to conform to a standardized way of thinking and behaving. “Democracy, individual freedom, human rights? Also a bunch of rubbish that can never be inflicted upon impoverished nations and peoples. What do uneducated peoples know about such things? They think only about where the next meal comes from. It doesn’t matter what form of government they live under. It seems to me, there’s only one reality and that’s mankind’s inability to organize itself. I think we have to accept man’s weaknesses, his greed, his stupidity. And love him for it all. No one can possibly know what the answers to life are until after we die. It’s like the preacher said, ‘All is vanity and a striving after wind.’
“You can’t save the world alone or through any ideology or ‘ism.’ That’s the only truth I know. Oh sure, you can chase after a spiritual path. Become a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist if you must. But you won’t find any answers there, either. I’ve tried. The world’s religions are just a bunch of exclusivist groups, too. Stick with science, knowledge, the art of survival. Study languages, communicate, make life interesting for yourself, that’s what I try to do. Here, go on, have another hit off the pipe. Concentrate on the moment, look at the stars, appreciate what is here and now. If you’re meant to find any answers, they’ll come to you in due time.”
What prescient and profound advice for the beaten-down young man, Robert, a babe in the woods who was put through the ringer by the military and the judicial forces. I have a feeling these words from Rolf, whether they are sort of silly to me, are deeply embedded in his consciousness.
After the second trip through Europe and Asia, he ended up working in the USA, cooking, even on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. All of that in condensed form is covered in the book.
While memoir is an amazing form, not a pure autobiography, that is, more of an enlightened journey, a walkabout, a talk with the writer’s own ego and intellect and self/muse, Robert attempts to reconstruct those days, those moments, the dialogue, his thoughts, other’s thoughts. We are with him, and in many cases it feels like a journalistic recalling of events. Again, this man coveres his great grandfather, the journeys there in the Norris Family, Pennsylvannia Dutch, and into the New America, the tough life of hard work and his mother’s own emancipation from a sexist and closed world for women to venture into male territory.
This is not anti-memoir, for sure, and this search for his identity throughout his life is compelling, and this piece, this big tome is surely a Mother’s Day gift, an act of love, a tribute to his mother’s deep cut into his life. Her imprint on him and his words. This woman vaulted above the strictures of American, Lutheran, Catholic, misogyny.
Here, a quick look at anti-memoir: from Yiyun Li, author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
A memoirist is always trying to connect with the reader and to make sure that the reader reads the memoir – reads the subject of the memoir, that is, the author – in the right way, on the writer’s terms. That’s what makes me hesitate to want to write a memoir or to call what I have written a memoir. I think if a writer does not set out to challenge herself in her work, her foundation is a little off.
Is that what you mean when you say, ‘One cannot be an adept writer of one’s life’? Because you’d have to start by admitting that there is no such thing as a consistent and stable ‘I’?
That’s a crucial point – if you write without questioning your own life, without questioning your ‘I’, the book that you write is not going to be one we can trust. But if you write while questioning yourself – constantly questioning that ‘I’ – that book will reflect many of the conflicts you experience. That makes it a very messy tale, much messier than a memoir with a neat arc. But, you see, you can’t pretend your life is a ‘neat’ story or even a ‘good’ story – life isn’t a good story. If you try to make it into one, you are simplifying too many things. (source)
You as the reader will get stepping stones, big lily pads from which to travel with Robert on his life, the ups and downs, sweeping thoughts, focused intrigue, all the trials and tribulations, and his own life in Japan, the struggle there, language and culture crashing like an earthquake basalt tipping over.
He comes to love a woman, her family, the home that is Japan, and his mother comes to Japan and becomes both enamored of and engaged in the language, learning, an open hand to understanding her own life throught the lens of where her son embarked, disembarked and then set down roots.
Robert’s stand against fighting, against killing, against using a weapon was remarkable in his time or in fact during any time in history:
When Harold Bing was in Winchester Prison, there was one wing for male criminal prisoners, one for women and two for conscientious objectors. The conditions for COs were exactly the same as those for criminal prisoners, but COs did succeed in getting prisons to offer a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism was common among COs, as it had an obvious affinity, particularly with humanitarian pacifism. CO prisoners were allowed a very limited number of censored letters, though one of the COs interviewed by IWM said ‘filling the notepaper was quite an art’ because there was nothing to say after months or years in prison. They had no calendars, no newspapers, and few visits – those visits they did receive were through a grille. They were limited to a few books from the prison library at infrequent intervals, but after a while COs were allowed to have books sent in under the condition that they donate them to the prison library once finished with them. Later CO prisoners were impressed to find prison libraries stocked with titles by William Morris, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and other writers of the left. Here, Bing recalls the constrained and degrading conditions of prison life. (source)
It might not be difficult for Robert living in Japan, a culture before he showed up that has been militaristic to the max, imperial to the max, and now, the country is building up military once again, another flavor of the Nazism of Ukraine and UK and USA, and alas, they, Japanese, do not all agree, but it is a country that seems cemented over in terms of defying the powers that be. Robert takes a country one person at a time. Here, the nutshell of Japan’s march to war:
Japan is undergoing the most significant changes to its security strategy since the end of World War II. In late 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government approved three policy documents—the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Strategy and the Defense Buildup Program—that propose a significant expansion of Japan’s military capabilities and a major increase in military spending over five years. The documents enable important modifications of the senshu boei (exclusively defence-oriented policy) that Japan has followed since 1946, not least allowing Japan to participate far more actively in collective self-defence with the United States and to substantially increase its ability to project force beyond its borders.
And to be THAT Japan, the vassal of the West, USA, in its hate toward China, what terrible times, really, and that is a question I posed Robert, who is in his 70s, has had medical issues for years, and seems to be happy and content with not rocking boats and rattling cages. You’ll see again, people are people, wherever he ventures. That is his chi.
Without further ado, here’s the interview, in his words, unadulturated:
1. What do you miss most about your mother?
Her smile, which could light up a room, her infectious giggle, her stories, and the warmth of her hugs.
2. What do you believe have been the most transitional and emblematic changes in your character as you have become an ex-pat of Japan?
I’ve become much more accepting and patient. Too many times, especially in my early years in Japan, I would react to things people around me did or said based on my limited and direct interpretations of Japanese into English in my head. Without having the cultural advantage of knowledge of nuances in intonation, idiomatic language, sarcasm, gestures, and even levels of politeness, there were often huge differences in what was really being conveyed and what I thought was being conveyed. I committed many cultural faux-pas.
Eventually, I learned to pay attention to how native speakers interacted with one another. I tried as much as possible to copy what they said and did in certain situations. The concept of wa, or harmony, is indispensable to the functioning of Japanese society. Individualism is accepted but not necessarily encouraged. When you think about it historically, it’s easy to understand. I mean, you’ve got a country with 120 million people crammed into the space of California, and probably 70 percent of that land space is mountainous and uninhabitable. People in most cities are piled one on top of another like sardines in a can. In order to survive, they have to be able to put up with a lot. In that sense, I’m lucky that we live in a somewhat rural area with plenty of space and greenery.
When I finally got around to noticing in detail how Japanese really communicated on a daily basis in public and in private, as well as trying to accept things as they were instead of judging, I found my own life improved and I had a lot less stress, despite still not understanding 100 percent of everything that was going on.
3. What does it mean to you to be a conscientious objector?
That’s a bit of a loaded question, wouldn’t you say? If I tried to answer it with some kind of philosophical or religious tenet, I’d probably come across as a self-righteous and condescending asshole.
To me, it’s really just a matter of common sense. I’ve never felt the need to align myself with one particular group or way of thought in order to express the importance of nonviolence. I’m not against the idea of using force to protect myself or others, but just the idea of violence, whether verbal or physical, let alone killing, especially in the name of one’s government or tribe, makes me sick to my stomach.
In one form or another, I think we’re all conscientious objectors at heart. In retrospect, most people come to see wars as senseless and insane. It’s never a matter of one side being more righteous than another. Even today, we see a tendency to point fingers at perceived perpetrators of criminal acts and claim the superiority of what our government tells us is reality and truth. In the case of what’s going on in Ukraine, I think we should do what we can to provide support to those young men refusing to kill on either side, Russian or Ukrainian.
4. What key lesson in your early years, post prison, up to way before Japan, did you gain as both personal philosophy and a way to move forward with your life?
My journeys across the U.S. and Europe in 1973 and around the world in 1977 resulted in my having less fear of the unknown and more trust in total strangers. From the moment I first stuck out my thumb while hitchhiking on the highway leading out of my hometown, I had nothing but positive experiences. This newfound faith was in a sense akin to Bob Dylan’s line in that song “Like a Rolling Stone”: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” By throwing away any worry of not having to follow a plan and basically casting my fate to the wind, I opened myself up to experiences, places, and people that would ultimately lead me to a multitude of adventures, opportunities, discoveries, friendships, and an appreciation for living life in the moment.
5. What if you had not gotten called up for overseas duty but were still in the Air Force? Would you be a much different man, thinker, and person if none of that happened to you? Explain.
I’ve never been one to dwell on “what if” situations. I’ve always tried to move on and deal with the consequences, good or bad, of whatever fork in the road I’ve chosen. At any rate, I probably wouldn’t have naively entered the Air Force if there hadn’t been a war going on or an eventual draft notice coming with my name on it. I can’t imagine myself as still being in the Air Force. As I see it now, that was simply one path I traveled early on in life that led to the next path. I’ve come to accept all the paths I’ve walked as necessary and natural in the arc of my life story.
6. Truly, Japanese culture-people-history is so much different than the history of your birth country and your mom’s place of birth and death. A few contrasts you think would be worthy of prominence in this interview?
I’ve lived in Japan for so long now that I hardly ever think in terms of comparisons or differences between the countries. Besides, even if I tried to make comparisons, they would be outdated as the images I have in my brain about the States are mainly from the 1960s and 1970s. I’m stuck in a time warp. What I have noticed about Japan is no different from observations I made on my journeys through other countries in the 1970s. People everywhere go about their daily lives in much the same way. They’re concerned with putting food on the table, health, family, and all the rituals of working, celebrating, grieving, showing appreciation, getting high, entertaining, and taking care of one another. If you are open to them, they’ll open their arms to you.
7. Is there anything you like about the US foreign policy, US government? if not, why, and if so, expand.
I like that the U.S. is often way ahead of most other countries when it comes to helping out in times of a natural disaster. The main thing I don’t like is the U.S. having military bases in almost every country on the planet. I mean, come on! Think of how much good all the money wasted on military expenditures could be used for in battling poverty, disease, crime, pollution, all the things that will probably wipe us out as a species.
8. Being a young man when you grew up and came of age, well, so different than now, as an 18-year-old. Give us some insight into what you think is different now being a young man growing up compared to 1965 to 1975 in your case?
When I was an 18-year-old, we got much of our news from just three different TV news stations. My generation was probably influenced more by the music we listened to, the underground newspapers and magazines we read, and the movies we watched than anything else. I think we had time in those days to digest and discuss the issues that concerned us.
With the advent and ubiquity of today’s social media, news is aimed at and consumed by insulated tribes at a break-neck speed. Memes and 30-second Tik-Tok videos present issues that are gobbled up and replaced within minutes. It sometimes seems as if critical thinking has disappeared. Young people have to contend with too many forms of media demanding their attention 24 hours a day. No one seems to have the concentration or time necessary to read slowly and carefully and think about something that doesn’t reinforce the opinions they’ve already had formed for them.
I’d like to see someone develop an audio or video app that would read stuff like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and every ten pages or so take a break with a hip-hop or rap song or whatever music is popular at the moment and then summarize the contents of what was just read and ask you what you thought. That would be cool.
9. What about writing resonates with you, your spirit, your intellect that you can share with say readers who are not wired that way.
Originally, I came to writing as a means of exploring the confusion I felt about life, family, meaning, everything I didn’t understand in my youthful angst. I can’t say it led to any profound revelations, but it was cathartic. My exposure to young hippie artists, musicians, and poets during my first journey to Europe in 1973 influenced me enough to want to explore a means of expressing myself. At the time, the lives of those people seemed so fulfilling.
I think my mother’s influence played a strong role, too. As far back as I can remember, she was always playing music, writing poetry, painting scenes of nature, and expressing herself in many other ways. Her eyes always lit up when she was involved in something artistic. I guess I ended up just trying to follow her example. Writing has given me great satisfaction in life, and whenever I’m in a state of confusion, frustration, depression, or even excitement, I put pen to paper. At the end of a writing session, I always feel somewhat relieved and even interested in where some of the thoughts and descriptions came from.
Mom used to say, “Try making some lemonade out of the lemons in your life. You might find yourself feeling better.” I think the answer is as simple as that. No harm in trying, and it’s a helluva lot better than drinking yourself to death in order to forget.
10. You know where I stand politically and ethically. Japan is not my cup of tea in terms of the history of hate and mayhem with China, Korea, and in the Pacific, etc. And now, Japan is so aligned with the dirty USA, so I can’t really muster up a great theoretical love of the place. But, you do love your wife, the people who shepherded you and those you have shepherded. Riff with this.
That’s it right there. The people. Again, maybe this stems from my journeys as a young man, but I found that as long as I was open to others without any preconceived notions based on any country’s history or on the things I’d heard or read about it, people anywhere would be open to me. We should always separate the people of any country from their government’s actions or policies. We shouldn’t judge individuals without trying to communicate with them first.
I’ve shared drinks, meals, pipes of various substances, and time with people from many different countries who had reason to hate me simply because I was American and my generation or my ancestors had been responsible for the suffering of their people. Or even some of them personally. In some cases, it was the other way around.
The fact is we were able to communicate somehow without judgement. At some point, I’d learned how to be a good listener. I didn’t try to force my feelings or beliefs on them, and they didn’t try to force theirs on me. We expressed ourselves — sometimes with the help of interpreters, sometimes not — but what seemed to matter most in those moments of attempts at communication and understanding was the sincerity of the individuals involved. In my case, Japan was never an ultimate planned destination. I could’ve just as easily ended up in Greece or Spain or someplace else. As it turned out, fate intervened and I ended up here. I was lucky things turned out the way they have.
It may sound corny, but I really believe, more now than ever before, that we are all members of one family. I don’t think of myself as an American; rather, I think I’m a world citizen. If the human race can’t ever fully grasp that we’re all connected and dependent on one another, then I’m afraid we’re doomed.
Concerning that, a George Carlin quote comes to mind. In one routine about how he thought people trying to save the planet was bullshit, he said he thought that the earth didn’t give a shit about us human beings and it’d be just fine after we self destructed. He said, “The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.” I think he’s right. In the overall scheme of things, the existence of the human race is really inconsequential.
11. What do you want people to know about your mother — key points — from and after reading the memoir?
Her compassion and her capacity for total and unconditional love. Her courage, curiosity, tenacity, sensitivity, perseverance, insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding, and dedication to family. Her stubbornness, self-sacrifice, generosity, strength, zest for life, and the joy she gave others simply by being with them. Do you want me to continue? I can go on and on. Good Lord, how I loved that woman!
12. What gives you hope?
Children at play. Children who know they are loved. Parents in the kitchen preparing healthy meals for loved ones.
13. What presents you with the half-empty glass scenario, and if you always see it half full, then riff, discuss.
Watching corporate news programs gives me a bad case of seeing the glass as half empty. Looking at great paintings, reading great literature and poetry, listening to favorite music, hearing children laugh, eating healthy and delicious foods — these things bring back an awareness of the beauty of life and a “glass half full” viewpoint. Mom used to call herself a “cock-eyed optimist.” I think I inherited that characteristic from her.
For those readers who want to get under the skin of a regular guy, who was growing up in California with a strong mother in the 1960s, with a family connected to one another, and then of course, with those so-called ‘black sheep,’ including many skeletons in various closets, following a pathway from naivete to enlightenment, to immersing into an Asia society, to being one with the language and one with his wife’s roots, the reader will find much to explore here. Alcoholism within an uncle’s life , missing in action relatives, divorce (his mom’s), and a legacy of stories and narratives from his mother and her family, the book Robert Norris wrote has an undying commitment to family, his mother, her legacy. His mother is infused in his answers above in the Q & A.
Go to his website, poke around, and email the fellow. It will be worth the time.
And that creek’s rising: Hurricane Katrina, put that great NOL underwater in five minutes:
If the Good Lord’s Willing/ Song by Johnny Cash
… If the good Lord’s willing and the creek stays down
I’ll be in your arms time the moon come around
For a taste of love that’s shining in your eyes
If the rooster crows at the crackin’ of the dawn
I’ll be there just as sure as you’re born
If the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise
… I’ll comb my hair down, brush my teeth
Shine up, slick up, dress up neat
Get everything looking just right
‘Cause I want to look pretty when I see you tonight
Just as sure as the rabbits are a jumping in the hollow
I’ll be there, you can bet your bottom dollar
If the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise
… If the good Lord’s willing and the creek stays low
I’ll be there a knockin’ at your door
With a hug and a kiss for the one I idolize
… I’ll wear my suit, my Sunday best
I’ll be there lookin’ my best
If the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise
… I’ll feed the mules and stop the hogs
Feed the cows and chop all the logs
Get all of my working done ’cause tonight we’re gonna have lots of fun
Just as sure as there ever was a preacher man
I’ll be there with a ring for your hand
If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise
Digging the variations on a theme, that Norris title:
“God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise”
Lyrics, a la Ray LaMontagne
In the mountains the sun sets up in ribbons so high, it’s like I don’t never wanna get old… don’t ever wanna die. We been seein’ steady rain, ’bout to drive us all insane, nearly lost a few head up in the pines. At night, when some of the boys get to talking up their girls back home, you know I tell ’em there ain’t none as fine as mine. I can hear old Chapman sayin’ come morning we’ll break the range, be pushin’ hard now for the plains.
I close my eyes and I can see you… I close my eyes and I can feel you here. God willin’ an the creek don’t rise, I’ll be home again before this time next year. Though I fear this fever won’t break…
-All my love
One thought on “A Kid in California Heading to the Brig”
I’ll be presumptuous and give the author’s comments, Rober Norris’ that is, after reading my meandering play on critique with his book, “If The Good Lord’s Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise: Pentimento Memoires of Mom and Me.”
We live in shadowy and unauthentic times, so bear with me when you read Substack. Yep, I have been around many blocks many different ways, but for now, stasis is setting in all around me. LaLaLand disease, shifting baseline disorder, Collective Stockholm Syndromre (where toothless Joe — noth TOOTHLESS In Wisconsin Kelly, that is, will bend over and also valorize and honor his emotional, economic, medical, culltureal, community, familial rapist — the collective politicians-CEOs-BLackrock sychophants, the entire dirty Chlamydians in Capitalism). Then, Infantalization of fucking EVERYTHING until gruel is the order of the day education and media wise.
Here, Robert’s kind words: Note the website URL change.
The better side of our angels, uh?
I’ve been thinking half the day about how to express my gratitude. I still can’t find any words other than Wow! I mean, like, Wow! What an incredible piece! It’s hard to imagine the time, thought, and care you put into it. I really appreciate it. Thank you!
There are so many deft touches that caused me to shake my head in wonder. First off, that link to the YouTube video of the Hank Williams, Jr. song “If the Good Lord’s Willin’ (and the Creeks Don’t Rise)” was a great way to start. I clicked on it and thoroughly enjoyed the whole honkey tonk song. I’d never heard it (or of it) before. My foot was tapping the entire time. Wonderful for setting the mood to ease into the story.
Next, that Dazai Osamu quote near the beginning took me by surprise. Dazai’s No Longer Human was one of the first books of Japanese literature that I read (in English translation, of course) after arriving here in 1983. The first girlfriend I had was a huge fan of his and insisted I read that novel. I even included a drunken discussion she had with a Japanese writer one night about who was more important, Dazai Osamu or another author from the same era (1930s and 1940s) by the name of Sakaguchi Ango, in my novel Toraware, which was about an obsessive relationship among three misfits in the 1980s, the relationship based on experiences from my first three years in the country.
The juxtaposition of the pictures following the Dazai quote was fascinating. I spent quite a few minutes contemplating them. Too bad it’s next to impossible to get one’s hands on any weed here because that would’ve been an ideal time to toke up and let my thoughts wander (maybe to the extent of not continuing to read until the next day).
Then comes the main event — the combination of email exchanges, excerpts from the book, scattered background comments and transitions, and pictures from the book at appropriate moments, all leading up to an introduction to the reader of what comprises “anti-memoir” and an example of such. Quite unique and interesting.
Then the jump to WWI COs. I loved the pictures of “The C.O. in Prison” and the U.K. CO Harold Bing. And finally the interview questions and answers, followed by a couple more appropriate pics from the book, and two more songs on video with their lyrics. You even took the time to put up the banner from my homepage and a link. Mind-blowing!
I’d like to close this note of gratitude with a small request. The link you have to my website is to the old one. I’m going to leave it up for a while longer, but some browsers won’t access it because the security certificate ran out ages ago. I finally got around to getting a new and secure website (with exactly the same pages) a couple of weeks ago. Could you change the link you have now (www2.gol.com/users/norris) to the new one? The new URL is
Thanks, Paul. Much appreciated. Hang in there and take care of your health. You put a big smile on my face today. My wife thanks you, too.