marie mutsuki mockett with maud newton @ mcnally jackson!


from last thursday (2015 march 5) (when it snowed and the world was magical):  marie mutsuki mockett wrote a book called where the dead pause and the japanese say goodbye (w.w. norton, 2015) (which i really must read) of her time in japan after her father's death, which was also after the 2011 tohoku earthquake.  this is my second time hearing her read (the first was at AAWW with emily st. john mandel; post here).

maud newton is currently writing a book on the superstitions and science of ancestry for random house.

  • mockett wanted to do an event with newton because she (mockett) writes about very ancient rituals and newton is writing a book about ancestry from a modern approach.
  • the question of how we deal with loss/suffering is an ancient one.
  • when she (mockett) was a child, she'd be confused when she went to people's homes in japan and the first thing she ahd to do was go to the family shrine and light a stick of incense, but, now that she's gotten older, she's come to appreciate that ritual, that sense of assuaging the past and, in a sense, befriending it.
  • refers to japan as the "land of exception" -- i.e. owakare is the final parting (of loved ones) ... except for when the dead come home in august (or sometimes july) (again, the land of exception) during obon.
  • on the collective experience of grief in japan:
    • she didn't think she was writing a book about herself but about japan -- a common criticism is that there isn't enough about her.
    • it's very clear, though, that's she is grieving.
    • if you're grieving, there isn't one way of dealing with it -- found that useful about japan's many rituals for grief.
    • the common message of all these rituals acknowledged that they couldn't get rid of your pain or make it easier, but they could help you see the collective and see your pain against the pain of others.  they didn't make her pain smaller but made her feel like she was expanding, which in turn made her pain feel smaller.
    • i.e. a trip she took to see a specific temple in kyoto:  she was pissed because it was so crowded so she couldn't see the temple but had to go through these steps of writing something on a sign/paper, but she had to wait on line to get a pen, then to do this, then that -- and the effect of all that was to make her realize that she was one person among all the people there.
  • newton:  you can't generalize about DNA.
  • newton:  ancestry actually used to be a good thing until christianity intervened and supplanted ancestors with saints.
    • because we're such a rationalistic culture, we tend to look at DNA as a purely scientific endeavor (the idea of scientists as thinking of DNA as a purely technological and scientific endeavor, as something they will be able to decode)
  • mockett:  "if you're grieving and you get a card that says something like, 'don't worry; he's still watching over you,' it makes you angry because it's such a platitude."
    • grief is a very raw emotion.
    • tells a story about a temple with a puppet hag (you stand in front of this box, and a terrifying puppet hag pops out at you -- this is a very simplistic explanation of the ritual; she did a much better job describing it):  the idea is that, when you cross the river styx, the hag jumps out at you.  if you're wearing clothes, she takes them, but, if you aren't wearing clothes (because your family wasn't wealthy enough to afford sending you into the afterlife clothed), she takes your skin.  if you look at this hag face-on, she's terrifying, but, if you look at her from the side, she's sad because she doesn't want to do this but has to because it's part of life.
    • the puppet hag shows how death is terrifying but that death happens, and we have no choice but to be sad.
    • old cultures have ways of explaining things in these indirect ways, but mockett also found comfort in that, to think that, a hundred years ago, people had already been thinking about these things.
  • used to love ishiguro and was obsessed with steinbeck, but she's starting to read a lot of nonfiction nowadays while exploring the idea of "how can we stretch the story?  where do we go with being east asian and/or multicultural?"
  • talked about the duality of being seen as quiet/shy in the west but louder with a lot of questions in japan.
  • the beauty of japan is that there are places to go and grieve publicly.  this doesn't really exist in the west.  the west has a narrative of "you grieve ... and then you move on."  she appreciated that, in japan, there was constantly a place where she could go to grieve, the joke being that, if this temple didn't work for you, then you could go to another temple or another because we have lots of temples!  we have lots of gods you can pray to!
  • "the thing about grief is that it's universal."