Resolution.

It’s officially the last day of 2010. The last hour of 2010. The last post of 2010. After spending a rigorous day of cleaning (Yes…I know you can’t imagine it, and I really don’t require that you try) so that the house is ready to welcome the good fortune of the new year, I’m settling in to spend the next 50 minutes preparing myself for the turnover of the old year into the new.

I take the whole New Year’s and New Year’s Resolutions thing pretty seriously (self-improvement fixation, afterall), so I never got into the  partying till I drop gig. I prefer my New Year’s to be cognizant so that I can reflect clearly on the year behind me, and approach the oncoming year’s first light with striking and definitive poise. With determined resolve.

Because I adapted certain Japanese traditions into my New Year’s celebrations, the welcoming of the year happens in 2 stages. At midnight, I’ll open a bottle of champagne with the people I care about and make toasts and reflect on my resolutions. And then I’ll stay up until about 6:30, 7:00 AM when the sun starts to rise, and at that point, when the first light of dawn touches the sky, I will make my New Year’s wish.

Resolutions and wishes.

Today I’ve thought more about the difference between them than the actual content of the things I’ll state.

Resolution

1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
2. A resolving to do something.
3. A course of action determined or decided on.
Wish
An expression of a desire, longing, or strong inclination; a petition.

When it comes to horoscopes and  fortune telling and resolution stating and wish-making I am a firm believer in the idea that our experience is what we make it, and therefore “luck” and “fate” and “wishes coming true” are, by that school, the expression of an intention followed through with inspired and/or focused action, that results in desired, and/or usually unforeseen, results. I don’t believe in blowing out the candles and expecting your desire to be fulfilled (passive tense). I believe in stating your wish, blowing out your candles, watching the first rays of dawn light hit the horizon on the first day of the year, and knowing implicitly that you, and only you, hold the power to make that wish come true. It’s midnight, Visualists. Go write your resolutions, clink your glasses, blast GACKT, watch fireworks, do whatever you do at midnight on January 1st, 2011. And at dawn, when the first light touches the horizon, make your wish. Make your wish, but make your first resolution be that you will see it through.

Happy New Year.

あけましておめでとうございます。

 

 

Tadaima

It is with an intense sense of relief that I am sitting here typing this. The past three or four months have been, easily, the most hectic time of my life so far. I realize this is merely the problem of having a productive life on earth, and fully expect it to get busier as the days, months, years go by. I will accept that challenge when it arises, but for now, this time was intense enough to satisfy the morbid cravings of the last shredded remains of any over-achiever in me.

The reason that I’ve been away from blogging for so long is primarily thanks to my being committed pretty heavily to my job. Working 10+ hour days, 6 days a week while scavenging a life outside of work can start to add up fast, and during the past 5 or 6 weeks, I felt distinctly as though I was running on the final scrapings of the last reserves of my energy, and physically, all I wanted was sleep, all the time. The only thing that kept me going was the thought, I cannot lose to this.

I have a general interest in personal growth and, since my introduction to Japanese social philosophies, an avid obsession with “becoming stronger”. I feel as though this almost-academically-observational sense of perspective of my own experience, as well as that of others’, affords me a certain unsympathetic awareness of my innate human weaknesses and an ability to overcome them.

As most of my more melodramatically tragic habits are, I believe I picked this tendency up from GACKT. I thought often of the stories of him literally working until he collapsed, fell ill, etc. While these instances are examples of pushing extremes unhealthily far, the core value demonstrated within them has inspired me greatly, and I’ve carried the base sentiment in the not-so-back of my mind through this intense and hectic period.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T.S. Elliot

When natural energy became replaced by caffeine, pain-killers and pure willpower, I got to the point where every day my body was telling me no, while my mind continued to say yes. In the beginning, it was a struggle to make it through the craziness of each day, and in many ways, it only got harder as the weeks went by. But also, like moving through physical pain barriers and the struggles of physical improvement, after a while I could really begin to gauge the progress of my spirit, and how much my capacity to deal with the crazy experience had increased from Day One. Of course, it’s not enough to acknowledge that you’ve grown – from the place of flexing new muscles you didn’t really believe you were building, the desire to become stronger only increases.

I think there’s something really interesting in physically, knowing that you need to stop, and yet mentally, wanting to know how much farther you can take it. In my life, at least, that’s at the root of self-improvement.

Since we’re in the last week of the year, I’ve been considering the hurdles I’ve faced in 2010, and appraising the resolutions I made, and whether or not I was able to achieve them. At the beginning of the year, I wanted to change a lot of things, and part of that was a resounding desire to overcome the things I was afraid of, to be able to overcome the things within my mind that held me back. I wanted to live my life to the fullest that I possibly could — and not in that wishy-washy greeting-card canned response way; I wanted that sincerely. This is very un-zen, and I’ll own that, but I believe at least part of figuring out how to live life fully, is to increase the velocity of your experience as much as you can. Although this isn’t really “living life to the fullest” at all, filling each moment with something and never letting yourself stop, but constantly continuing to add more to your experience is one way of feeling like you’re living life fully, and as a result, discovering, hopefully, what that desire really means.

But as you’re racing along, charging through life, trying to make the most of it, live it to the fullest that you possibly can, at a certain point it seems like it’s entirely too possible to get too lost in the moment, to forget where you’re going, who you are, what you’re working toward and why. The velocity and intensity of experience, any experience, can just completely overwhelm a person’s being, their sense of self.

When you run out of energy, and you feel like you have no strength left to muster, I think everyone has to reach a place where they can acknowledge that there is something feeding their determination. That their “sense of self” is, in fact, rooted firmly somewhere. And the more you get stretched out, the more you drag yourself along independent of that origin, that source, the more you end up on the waning tide.

Drained, exhausted, those last fragments of energy completely sucked dry, feeling sorry for ourselves, the animal need for rest, sleep, rest sleep, overpowering our vision, making us forget who we are and why we do any of it. We forget how we were even able to do any of it.

This is when you realize what your source is. You find that thing that rejuvenates you, restores your strength, reminds you what you’re fighting for. None of it is empty challenge and reaction. For some people, I’m sure that thing that gives you back the will to continue is other people, material pleasures, whatever. For everyone, it’s different. The only thing that is the same is that we all have it, and inevitably, when we’re running on that last store of energy, we return to it. Sometimes we don’t even really know what it is until we’re at the point of total breakdown and suddenly it shows itself to us.

But I believe that whether you know it or not, when you’re there at the point of collapse, some instinct or inspirational nudge leads us back to that source place. Without interrupting the flow of what we’re doing, without taking any steps back, without requiring anything other than a sudden burst of awareness, we tune into that one thing that reminds us, blindingly, of who we are and what defines us, what gives us strength and the will to fight.

Finally, yesterday I had a detestable moment of weakness. Woke up with a pretty lousy cold, and although my now well-trained mind kept telling me to get up and go to work, to push through it, my body was screaming a pretty strong no. My ravaged immune system needs a break, so I’m giving in. Drained, exhausted, feeling sorry for myself, I instinctively turned to something that my being craved more than sleep: music.

Sitting around in the dark, WHAT’S MY NAME playing through at full volume, it was like I was hearing Jrock for the first time all over again. It was like I was hearing music for the first time all over again. All the wiring in my blasted zombie brain seemed to fuse back together again. I was able to remember something I knew all along, but somehow had completely lost track of: Visual Kei and Jrock are that source place I return to when I’m at the point of collapse. Visual Kei and Jrock are what define me, what give me strength and the will to fight. They are what give me the obsession with accepting challenges, and they are what lend me the strength needed to overcome the weaknesses that arise when I am teetering on the point of collapse. It’s this sense of unwavering courage that happens when I’m led to GACKT or MIYAVI‘s music at the right moment that is something I wish I could express in words when I am asked why I am a Visualist.

++

I find that when I don’t write on Secret Garden for an extended time, when I log into my Dashboard, I always experience this strange paradox of both feeling like a complete stranger, and at the same time, like I’ve finally made it back home.

Tadaima.

At the Heart of Brock’s Jelly Donut

I was just on Purple Sky reading their interview with D’espairsRay, anticipating the release of their latest album MONSTERS, and preceding the onset of their world-tour which kicks off this month with dates across the US. Reading through the questions, I admit, although the band members were quite entertaining (e.g. when asked which Monster he would be, HIZUMI answers “Pokemon”. Vuvuzelamon? Or is that Reggae? Visual kei has too many random cross-references in it now, I don’t even know who I am anymore.), the more I read, the more I found myself getting riled up. Had I not known  that this interview was only sitting in my feed for a week, the questions posed to the Monsters would have led me to believe this was posted sometime in 2004.

I realize this sounds harsh, but taking that risk, I’ll say it. Are all Japanofiles neanderthals?

I’ve been following the Japanfandom thing for 5 years now, and seeing as Alzheimers hasn’t totally set in yet, I recall quite clearly the discussions and FAQs of the era. Unless of course journalists are simply given a sheet of preset questions that are never updated, I want to know why exactly they still insist on asking the droll, pointless, unenlightening questions of our generation’s troubled, AMV-watching youth? I was under the impression that we were advancing in the world. That the Japanese music scene in the West was beginning to liberate itself from the clinging, snotty tentacles of the emerging, adolescent internet and bloom into a better blogsphere. That we have actually been evolving over the past five to ten years. Apparently, as it was made clear to me this evening, this is far from the truth. At least in some respect, all Japanofiles are inherently neolithic, and while a few of us may have advanced to the Bronze Age, more or less we’re still wallowing in a dark, cave-like existence devoid of fire or arrowheads.

In response to this mind-blowing interview, I would like to pull those questions that particularly offended the intelligent Japanofile in me, and address them, hopefully, for the benefit of Ogg and Zug, my brethren:

1. Illegal downloads: The illegal download phenomenon exploded on the Internet many, many years ago. I remember Limewire from way back when Yoshiki was still a Japanese man (okay, well, that’s kind of a hard line to draw, but hey), and billions of websites and programs have since enabled such notorious activities. People download illegally off the internet– all it takes is one Google search and you have new albums for free. Entire websites and blogs have emerged devoted specifically to “promoting” their favorite bands by having one person acquire the album, and then upload it for the masses to leech off of.  This is not breaking news. We are no longer excited about this topic.

Musicians create music because it is their calling, passion, talent, or simply what they want to do as their job. Be that as it may, they do actually do this for their job– a job being, that is, a means of acquiring the papery stuffs we use in daily business in order to survive: in layman’s terms, money. When a band releases an album, DVD, or otherwise product, they do put it on the market for sale. That is to say, to be purchased using money. Obviously if they wanted people to download it for free, they would upload it onto the internet as free downloads. Asking bands what “they think about illegal downloads” is absolutely pointless. Unless one is fishing for that one band to say “Oh yeah, we just love it when everyone refuses to support our livelihood and just downloads for free everything we release.”, there is no longer any answer that can result from this question that can possibly shine a light. You have limited time to ask the band questions: for all our sakes, use it well.

2. People download illegally because Japanese CDs are “expensive”:

The Japanese music industry works slightly differently than the Western one. For example, in the West it’s not that common to release singles every other day. Most artists release albums frequently instead. In Japan, however, bands release full-length albums much less often, but tend to release singles several times throughout the year. A Japanese single typically costs around $10.00 – $12.00, and you get anywhere from 1 to 4 songs. Full-length albums typically cost around $30 – $35, with some as low as $25 and others as high as $40. Assuming it’s being shipped, that adds anywhere from $5 onwards in shipping fees, depending on who you buy from, method of shipment, and how much you order.

The misconception is that because it’s going to cost $45 to order an album from Japan, it’s okay to steal it by downloading online. Because a pair of denim from a chain store costs roughly $60, does that mean everybody shoplifts? No, I don’t think so. And yet does everyone wear denim?

“Expensive” is basically not an excuse. CDs, like everything, cost money, even if they come from Japan. If you have no money, get a job.

3. Japanese CDs are unavailable for Westerners to buy:

If you live in a rural part of the United States, let’s say like Wisconsin, where there are no strip-malls, no FYEs, no chain stores, no Hot Topic, and you have no access to the internet or a computer of any kind, then yes, Japanese CDs are totally unavailable for you to buy. Also, if you live in one of these places, you probably are out digging potatoes and not listening to Japanese rock music and Visual Kei on your 16G iPod with Skullcandy headphones.

Many popular Jrock bands are available on the most simplistic platforms such as iTunes and other online MP3 stores. Anything you can’t find there is readily available through a multitude of respectable English or multilingual websites dedicated to making Japanese music accessible and available to non-Japanese.

Get out from under your rock.

4.Westerners have no means of sampling/hearing the music:

MySpace, Facebook, iTunes, Amazon MP3, official websites, this amazing invention we all should have heard of by now: YouTube.

Get out from under your rock.

5.”Its either people don’t hear your music, or they download it illegally.”

I suggest moving from Wisconsin. That is all you can do.

In the beginning of time, these were once relevant, interesting topics, the answers to which many young Padawans were eagerly seeking. They were, yes, interesting topics back in a time when we all thought onigiri were donuts because Brock and Misty thought we couldn’t handle the truth. Now, however, we know what lies at the heart of the rice-ball, just as we now know that there are a lot of people out there who download music illegally. However, unlike being asked and consulted about the existence of illegal downloads, we are no longer constantly told “those are not jelly donuts. They are sweet rice packed around a shriveled plum with a little seaweed slapped on them.” And over and over again we do not go “oooh…is that what that is.”

The reason for this, is that a cultural awareness has developed in the West for things Japanese. We have learned about the existence of rice on earth, and even that it is shaped into triangular luncheon friends. As a media-driven, entertainment-industry society, we have evolved since the days when we were watching Pokemon on VHS. Although I never had problems inputting search queries into Google and clicking through results, I do recall that time when it seemed as though everything was truly on the other side of the world.

As of the year 2010, though, I really believed that our cultural consciousness around Japanese rock and Visual Kei had, like our awareness of onigiri, evolved and developed. CDs, merchandise, product, and even live shows are at least moderately available.

In response to the above mentioned questions, all I can say is, are all Japanofiles still completely paleolithic? Am I the only fan of Japanese rock music who has whole CD racks full of Japanese CDs that were neither unavailable, extortionately priced, or downloaded illegally? No. I am not. So why are we still asking these questions.

No disrespect to the folks at Purple Sky.

ATH-M30

…No, it’s not a firearm model. Rather, it’s the name of the incredible audio- technica headphones I got for my birthday (yeah, that un-poetic backdrop is my rather un-poetic laptop. It’s seen better days).

For the past five years or so I’ve been a bit of a headphones-scavenger. I’m not sure what I started out with, but I moved on to Koss a few years ago, and was really impressed with their quality (they seemed to last forever). When the wires finally disconnected from the right ear-piece, I tried some other brands, the names of which I don’t even know, nor think you need bother yourself with knowing. Skull Candy were, frankly, a huge disappointment last summer. The sound-quality isn’t what you’re paying for (despite the hype.)– but please don’t lynch me. Just my personal opinion! And that aside, they broke after about a month of light wear and no travel.

Since then I’ve just been using Apple ear-buds (yeah…the ones that came with my iPod). These are the most comfortable ear-buds I’ve used (not a fan of the slippery Skull Candy ones– plus it’s a better investment to just buy iPods and get the free Apple buds…hah.), and they’ve been extremely durable. Heavy wear, inconsiderate travel, and general abuse accounted for, they have lasted for an unhealthy amount of time. ….However, it’s finally time to retire them. Or not. They have been thrown unceremoniously into a backpack, and will probably be used, due to their minute mobility, for the iPod and excursions. Yeah, I know, the wires are poking out and the casing is split. They’ll probably catch fire next time I listen to GACKT’s ZAN– but hey.

I’ve been going through my musical library and listening to all of my favorite albums to test these new guns out…It’s like hearing them all again for the first time. “Ah, so the bass-player actually had a part in that song?” The bass pick-up is amazing, and the layering and everything is so defined and clear that I can actually hear what’s going on in a song– it’s not just solid noise.

….Now I’m starting to think about a new iPod to go with the headphones… When I bought mine I, naively, thought it would take forever to use all 4GB up, but it didn’t take that long, and here I am. I guess it was good that it happened, because I cleaned out my music-closet and put some new stuff on in place of the old. It will have to be 8GB next…After a new computer. SIGH.

Today’s soundtrack has been GHOST, by GACKT. Enjoy.

Get Your Goth On

image by aoi_loves_you

image by aoi_loves_you

To follow up my latest post on Visual style and how it interfaces with cosplay, I’m going to take it upon myself to do a short series of featurettes displaying some of the best Visual Kei cosplay I’ve seen on the web lately. If looks could kill, these cosplayers would be unwittingly massacring the cosplay community.

As I mentioned briefly in Of Corset Is, in my personal opinion I believe that the true purpose of cosplay is not to achieve the most correct costume of the character, but to capture as closely as possible the essence and personality of the character. It is important to remember that despite what the image on hand shows you, you are your own person, and unless you adapt the cosplay to be true both to yourself as well as to the character you are portraying, the cosplay will never really hit the mark. I have seen some really wonderful cosplays, but the cosplayer donning them had spent so much effort on getting the exact pattern of brocade for their Ten-Ten tassles, that they forgot to affect her airs and that particular feeling we associate with her. I’m (a tiny bit) less fussy about anime and video-game type cosplays than Visual Kei or Jrock ones, because with VK and Jrock we are attempting to affect the styles of a real person, and besides that– I’m just wicked touchy about the subject. ;)

The reason I have chosen to feature these particular cosplays, is because the cosplayers have done an exceptional job not only at piecing together the outfits, makeup, and hair-styles, but they have also worked to portray as closely as possible this elusive essence of the object of cosplayification.

Stay tuned to Secret Garden… roseblood

“Of Corset Is!”

Ha..ha..get it? AAAACzViJZYAAAAAAB1LVA

Crimson leaves are starting to fall, and rockers far and wide are digging up corsets, frock-coats, and implements of bondage to identify with the gloomy change in weather.

The other day I was talking about how Halloween is coming up, and how I will be spending it at a con. I hope the rest of you have interesting plans for the gloomy un-holiday. I at least hope that you have a party to attend, where much Malice Mizer will be blaring. Martha Stewart suggests complicated green curries cooked in gutted pumpkins, and acrylic-nail application parties for Les Halloween ’09. But we’re a long way from Connecticut, Visualists…

nail-art081

Visual style has wormed its way into the apple of rocker fashion. Most Visualists are rooted strongly in their individuality and creativity, hacking their own look into the world of Visual style. However, because of the nature of Visual style and the rising popularity of Visual Kei as a mainstream genre, it has also transcended personal style and gone into the, shall we say, band-boy-band-girl and/or cosplay modes of expression. A lot of people who appreciate Visual Kei style and music feel that cosplay and band-fan-dom is a way of forging a closer bond to their favorite artists and bands.

Although I personally believe in Visualism and Jrock as a life-source, not to mention life-style, I also believe in cosplay  as legitimate means of expression and appreciation of bands and idols. Even if you decide to do a simple cosplay, and can’t find all the Moitie accessories to glam up your Mana-sama, cosplay well, (and this goes for everyone across the board—) and cosplay with integrity. There’s nothing less appreciative of a band or specific band member than half-assing your depiction of them. If you’re short on time, cash, garb, gear, or all of the above, consider simplifying your effigy by focusing on several very characteristic traits (hairstyle and makeup, for example…whatever the personality is really defined by.) and toning down the other elements. For example, Kanon Wakeshima? Broke? Full-time job (yup, they do go together)? Con in a week? Simple solution! Focus on the hair and makeup and any accessories you can manage, and then try and emulate the experience and sentiment of her outfit without actually recreating it in full! This is much more appropriate than buying a $14 cheesy prom dress from Salvation Army and hauling a cello around.

kanon-wakeshima…and remember…next year, start making the costume right after the convention, not right before. (To be fair, I tried this and failed miserably. Wish me luck that I don’t return a hypocrite….Not that you’d know  either way :D).

Whether you’re seeking to improve your own Visual style, or considering cosplaying your favorite band-member, here is something that may help along the way– and remember, do your best, and have fun! ganbatte ne!:

If you’re totally green to Visual style, but want to go the whole nine yards, a DVD was released in September called Visual Makeup Lesson. The DVD has a variety of lessons to show Visualists how to do typical Visual Kei style makeup. Japanese language with English subtitles. Learn it from the best– and by that I mean, of course, learn it from the Japanese…