Commentary and Lessons Learned: Snapshot of a desk space by the window

On the whole, I had a lot of fun with this piece, which ended up being more personal than I thought it would be.  Part of it was because I mined both personal material (ex. Old textbooks, assignments, emails the two times I got bachelors degrees) and existing writing – namely my 2018 project.  Part of it was due to this bringing back memories of ultimately not choosing to continue in academia (though ironically, my day job is essentially teaching).  But the biggest part was simply playing around and having fun writing a story without actually writing the story.  


The main idea for this piece was from Chapter 22: A supposed history.  However, instead of doing something that was a propaganda piece, I wanted to do something that was more honest and hopeful.  And to me, learning is one of the most honest and hopeful acts people engage in.

I was also inspired by art installations, especially those where it’s a dedicated space that you can wander through and take in every inch of what’s there – “environmental storytelling” in a sense. 

A textbook on the lower left hand corner

I mined several of my textbooks to find the structure for this and adjusted the content based on my own learning of both world languages (ex. Japanese, Tagalog) and “internet languages” (ex. markup languages like HTML, and programming languages like Javascript).  In both cases, I feel strongly that having an understanding of the culture the language is from – and the culture(s) in which the language is used – is essential to learning a new language.  It helps you develop a “mindset” for the language, or even the “heart” of it – it’s like how when native speakers will tell you to use a certain phrase because “it feels right” but can’t really explain why.  

I also was really interested in this idea of being on the forefront of something new and this excitement of building a community around it.  After all, the beauty and strength of a language is in its use within the community. 

A desktop monitor slightly left of center

In these emails, I wanted to give the sense of a teacher who was structured and strict – out of a sense of duty for her students. I realized I didn’t put timestamps, but the intent here was to show that she was staying up just like her students, and would be grading all of the papers and would be on time just as she expected her students to be.   

(Aside: I feel like there’s some folks who teach – not just in academia mind – who are strict for the sake of having that kind of persona, which in my opinion, often isn’t as effective as those who are strict for a specific purpose.) 

For the instructions and the extra credit: I actually had intended to do a whole textbook, but I need a bit more experience with longer pieces, so this is what came out instead.  I had a lot of fun going through my character list for the 2018 project to get ideas for the local figures presented here and also just coming up with the achievements. 

For the bit about interviewing family/friends: I wanted to give this sense that the study of Song was also an opportunity for students to connect with others.  In my head, students who enroll in these programs aren’t just folks straight out of high school, but also older folks who may be getting their degree later, or even just folks who want to study Song now that there’s a formal way to learn it. 

Fun fact: The given name Setsuna comes from several characters that I’ve been fond of over the years, the most recent from the game “I Am Setsuna” (いけにえと雪のセツナ), which as of this writing, I’m still playing (badly).  

A stack of papers in the center

I really wanted a moment to show Ongawa’s devotion to her students, where she does as much as she possibly can for them — and how that in turn inspires her students to work hard as well. (And then of course continues the cycle because Ongawa sees their hard work, which reignites her passion, etc.)

A folder organizer on the top right corner

Fun fact: This is definitely taken from my work life – I have a digital “happy folder” filled with mostly silly things, things that remind me of the work I do and why I do it.  I go through it every now and then when I need a pick me up.

So the italicized description here – and well, the whole piece really – is something I’m not content with because I never really figured out whose perspective it was from.  It’s something I know I’ll have to continue to work on for future “experimental” pieces like this.  (That said, I still liked the description of the happy face.)

As for the survey itself, I had a lot of fun thinking up the references here.  For me, Shouji is a bit of a sly dude but warm-hearted.  I wanted to also give this impression that many of Ongawa’s students come to really admire her after taking her class.  (Perhaps she even has a fan club? Who knows!) 

Other fun facts: 

  • I still have a Japanese textbook – developed by the professors of that university – that I still review after, oh wow, 7 years now
  • The surname Tanaka comes from a character in one of my favorite manga, Haikyu!! by Haruichi Furudate (absolutely love the writing and structure of that series). 

A frame placed between the monitor and folder organizer

This is absolutely taken from Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know by Michael Sorkin.  I really loved this idea of a set of rules-as-advice that are specific yet also universal.  I also was just really amused with the opportunity to present references and in-piece-in-jokes (I’m not sure if that’s a phrase, but it is now).

Fun facts:

Lessons learned

  1. Mine your past/memories for inspiration: “Inspiration” being the key word here.  Sometimes, I got caught up in judgement of myself for opportunities missed or mistakes made as I looked through some of these materials.  At the same time, it also was a nice opportunity to acknowledge how much I’d changed and how I could put that into the piece. 
  2. Mine your past work: But you don’t have to be beholden to it. While I was delighted to see that there’s so many things that can be explored from that 2018 project, I felt much freer about things when I thought of how classical artists back in the day would sketch and study the same things for years and years, changing as they went.
  3. Hope is an active choice: The original piece this was modeled from had a very different tone and I found that tone creeping in several times while writing this piece.  Although there might have been more “drama” if I’d continued along that route, having conflict really wasn’t my intent (and part of why I continue to study kishoutenketsu).  I wanted to show folks who were hard at work because of the hope and belief they had in their world and in each other.
  4. Cull / make it smaller: At the beginning, I had planned this to be a much larger project, a complete textbook complete with history, exercises, etc. Though I realized I don’t yet have the experience to write something that large just yet, the exercise of figuring out what pieces I needed to convey a sense of something similar was just as valuable.
  5. When in doubt, have fun: For me, stories are about joy, both the reading and writing of them. I found that the moments that were the hardest were when I got too self-serious, whereas the moments that were the most fun were when I just threw all that away and said “let’s just play.”  Even if it’s not the best piece, not perfect, etc. it still ended up being one that I enjoyed writing and proud to share.

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