Michaeline: May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan!

Five carp banners on a pole in 1900 in Japan.

Carp streamers signify the hope that we can overcome the daily obstacles and become strong swimmers in our own lives. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

May 5th is traditionally Boy’s Day in Japan (Girl’s Day comes earlier on March 3), but became Children’s Day in 1948. It’s the last in the series of fixed holidays known as Golden Week, and what it means to me, in purely practical terms, is that I had a three-day holiday last weekend, got two days of day job in, and now I’m enjoying a four-day weekend. I am rested, I am recuperated, and I am stuffed to the gills with good story after a binge of: Jane the Virgin (5 episodes), Parks and Recreation (season 6, seven episodes), An American in Paris (Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in 1951) and the first disk from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (I’m up to Darcy’s lousy first proposal).

I should be ready to do some writing. But I’m still floating around in a river of swirling ideas – grasping water and watching it dribble out of my hands. I’ve got enough ideas for a year; what I need is some containers – something to scoop out the water and give it a shape. Something to show off the ideas and mold them into something interesting. I need a good collection of bottles and colored flasks – I am writing fantasy, after all, so it’s not very good if I stick my water into a clear container. I need to preserve a little mystery, and boost my writing with some extra-special artificial enhancements.

Or not. Looking for pretty metaphorical bottles is going to take more time than the writing.

It’s Children’s Day, and I start remembering what my dreams were as a kid. I remember the first story I got praise for – I was in second-grade, and my beloved Miss Byleen said I did a good job on putting a caption to a beach scene. I spent two years in Panama as a pre-schooler, and I guess I missed the place. I was drawn to beach pics and parrots and mysterious jungles with howling monkeys in them. I looked at my little assignment, recognized that I was speaking my truth, and I was touched that I could touch another person with my work.

Or maybe I was just praise-hungry. Oh, I loved Miss Byleen! She was beautiful and she dispensed praise so freely! I wanted to be better for her.

The second major writing episode in my childhood came near the end. I was almost a teenager, and a bit restless and angry. I started a mean little soap opera in the back of one of my school notebooks. It was about high school rivalries, and a girl getting pregnant and giving birth in the gym locker room. I wish I still had that notebook; it was lost in a fire. My classmates loved it, and passed it around. I appreciated the praise, but I was a little annoyed that I didn’t have my notebook to write in. I never, ever thought about what my writing said about me as a person, or the way it could hurt people. I think I got lucky; even though it was scurrilous, it never got into the wrong hands. It never came back to bite me on the butt. And now it’s gone, so I can’t look back on it with adult eyes and see if I really was a mean little monster, or if I was good enough at that age to disguise my inspirations and just provide an interesting story.

In junior high school, a couple of friends and I decided to write a novel for a school project. I knew there’d be no pregnant girls in this one. I was the typist, and I generally wound up writing the first draft. Typing it, mostly, on half-sheets on my mom’s old (even then) manual typewriter. The half-sheets were so it would feel more like a novel.

One of my friends, J., was a gifted writer in her own right. I never asked how she felt about my taking over the whole inception of the project, but man, she was good. She edited my half-sheets (despite the lousy margins and spacing), and smoothed out the rough edges. We were writing a pastiche of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, but borrowing heavily from the terrible puns (both word and described sight-gags) from Piers Anthony’s work in the early 80s.

That one was lost in the fire, too. Probably for the best, but damn, it was so much fun to write. Well, not the actual writing part. The thinking part was so much fun. Watching J. work her magic was also amazing. And having finished the story (I think it came in around 90 half-pages, but it might have been only 46) was a great deal of fun. Our teachers, as I remember it, had very little input. They may have encouraged us a little when we wanted to quit, and gave us some pointers about teamwork. And, most importantly, they praised us. They thought it was funny, and they thought we were gifted. What more could we want?

“The Child is father of the Man.” (William Wordsworth)

One more thing about Children’s Day in Japan. Almost every home with a young son will fly carp banners from a pole. The carp, I was told, shows strength and vigor while swimming up stream. It’s a wish for sons who fight against the streams of life and come out at the end. Looking at Wikipedia today, I also found out there’s an old Chinese legend that “a carp that swims upstream becomes a dragon and flies to Heaven”. It’s Wikipedia, so take that with a grain of salt. But it still speaks to me. The carp is the father to the dragon. That’s the kind of story I could write.

How about you? Did you have any moments in your childhood that paved the way to becoming the writer you are now?

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan!

  1. The carp becomes a dragon! I’d read that.

    When I was still at junior school (under 11), my dad had to work on Saturdays so he took me in to work with him. His office was in the same building as the Children’s Library, so every Saturday I’d change out the previous week’s books and sit in the corner of his office, reading. I’m amazed now that our small town had a separate library just for kids. I don’t remember the librarian, but somebody did an amazing job, because that place was a gold mine. In addition to Louisa May Alcott and a series about a young woman’s nursing career (she started as a student nurse and worked her way up to a senior position; she also married the hunky doctor), there were Ian Serraillier, Alan Garner, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien – lots of excellent fantasy and adventure. I owe that anonymous librarian a huge debt of gratitude.

    • I had such a weird relationship with books. My parents let us read anything, and there were a lot of not-for-children books out there. So, when I was in 3rd and 4th grade (nine or ten years old), I was constantly wandering into the section for the bigger kids, and the school librarian did not like it, but my parents went to bat for me, and I was allowed.

      But then when I got to fifth-grade, I started getting interested in the art in the stuff for 1st and 2nd graders. Oh, the librarian was miffed! She seemed to think I’d missed the boat for that, so I shouldn’t get to check them out, but again, my parents went to bat for me.

      Town library was much better.

      The young woman nurse didn’t happen to be Cherry Ames, student nurse, did she? I remember reading a lot of those series; my mom introduced me, and the library in that small town had so many of them. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, of course, but also Trixie Belden, and I think one about a young flight attendant. We moved, and our new library had the best section on weird stuff (well, it wasn’t THAT great, but more than enough for a young person) — Atlantis, witch trials, pyramids . . . . The librarians there were always great!

  2. I did not grow up around a children’s library like Jilly, but there was a branch of the local public library a few blocks from my house. I spent hours and hours there during the summer and the librarian, Mrs. Cook, was one of my favorite people. I still remember how thrilled I was when she first let me check out a book from the “adult” side of the library. I think I was about 11 and the book was The Lark Shall Sing by Elizabeth Cadel. I’m pretty sure that kick-started my love of romance (with a side of light mystery).

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