haibun

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January 2019, vol 14 no 4

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Ray Rasmussen

New Year’s Resolutions

Minus 20 C and snowing, which provides me with the excuse I needed to stay home all day, and particularly not attend tonight’s office party. Avoiding large social gatherings fulfills one of my resolutions made last year.

I start my day with a bowl of porridge while reading the newspaper’s usual dose of very bad news. This brings to mind E.B. White’s adage, “Breakfast – the hour when we sit munching stale discouragement along with fresh toast.” I make my first resolution to stop reading the news, and instead, to do more research for my writing and to read more literate essays by quality writers like E.B. White.

Mid-day, listless, I watch the samurai film, “Throne of Blood,” in which my favorite actor, Toshirô Mifune, chops up a satisfying number of bad guys. While I enjoyed it, I now add my second resolution, to stop watching male violence films, which should fulfill one of my ex-wife’s dearest wishes.

Dinner, warmed over leftovers from Oliveto’s – the only Italian food restaurant in town that comes close to my mother’s pasta dishes. But warmed over doesn’t do it. So I make a resolution to learn to cook mom’s special sauce that I recently found among her hand-written recipes. It looks as if it will take 6 hours of chopping, sautéing the onions, browning the meatballs and simmering the ingredients. … Hhmmm, I’m already waffling on that resolution. Maybe I’ll order in tomorrow night.

Post dinner, stuffed with leftovers followed by ice cream and pie, which I deserve since I’m busy making sound mental and physical health resolutions, I add a third resolution. I vow to stop snacking after dinner especially while watching TV. I consider buying a time lock for my fridge, but that would be cheating. It’s will power that’s needed!

TV time, even though it’s not yet January 1, I remain true to my second resolution to shift my viewing and reading habits. Instead of an action-adventure film replete with car crashes, explosions, fights and killings, I’m watching a “classic drama” – an Ingmar Bergman film which could have been titled “Endless Misery and Depression in the Darkness of Winter.” It’s about a man, Håkan, spending his ending days alone, suffocating under blankets of unpleasant memories, but for that one time as a young man with Sigrid on a picnic blanket in a meadow. For meals, Håkan mostly eats warmed up porridge and pasta while pondering the nature of life.

As soon as there’s a commercial break, I race to the fridge for the last of the frozen yogurt. To my credit, it’s not yet midnight, so not a resolution breaker, and yogurt is health food and the strawberry jam I added is essentially fruit.

TV time, Håkan, returns with a boquet of daisies to find that Sigrid has been attacked by a bear while he was off catching butterflies. His dog, Loki, named after the Norse God of fire and deceit, howls, as Sigrid dies in Håkan's arms. Håkan makes a vow never again to love anyone but his dog. The film ends with Håkan walking into a fjord to drown himself while Loki howls. I make a resolution to never again watch a Bergman film.

Beggar, my dog, visits and gives me the “Let’s go for a walk” gaze. I mention that it will soon be a new year and it’s snowing outside, and finally he tires of standing up and curls into his usual stupor. Do dogs need to sleep 23 hours per day? I make a resolution to research the subject on the Internet.

Google Research on the life and habits of canines tells me that it’s normal for them to sleep unless they’re out hunting or at their food bowls eating or by our sides begging either for food or a walk. In short, they sleep to conserve energy. Beggar is probably saving up his energy for chasing our local rabbit, who has so far evaded him. But the chase won’t happen unless I take him for a walk. Fortunately, I’ve made a resolution to walk him every day, which means walking myself, another health goal.

Now Beggar is again giving me the "walk" gaze. “Tomorrow,” I tell him, “is when resolutions kick in.”

New Year’s morning –

a pile of snack dishes

by the sink

snow flurries –
Beggar races past
the white rabbit


Season's Greetings from Ray Rasmussen


Notes:

This is a revision of a haibun originally published in bottle rockets.

1. Commentary on humor and exaggeration in writing haibun:

I’m hesitant to post pieces like this, even if an editor has previously accepted an earlier version for publication. For one thing, I've done some fabricating in this piece and thus it crosses the line between writing about real experience (which I think of as one of the defining aspects of haibun) and short fiction which I think is its own genre whether or not it contains a haiku.

Still, the real me does reside behind my style of humor through exaggeration for effect. For the record, I have broken resolutions to the extent that I no longer set goals or make resolutions. And, I do have a dog, not named Beggar, but he should be so named. He does chase rabbits, sleep a lot, and he has the demanding “I want something” gaze. Also, I’ve tried to wean myself from “escape” reading and viewing. I did stop reading the news for several years and felt better for it, but am back at it. However I more frequently read essays by writers  of E.B. White’s quality.

2. Commentary on long prose pieces with very few haiku/senryu.

I’ve noticed that some writers are tending to intersperse their prose with numerous haiku, as many as one after each short  paragraph. The Japanese Masters were long on prose and short on haiku, as Michael Dylan Welch points out in his article in this issue. Jeffrey Woodward has pointed out that too many haiku can break up the prose and has suggested that good practice is to only place haiku where there is a natural break or shift in the narrative. In that case, the haiku can assist with the transition between themes.

3. The information about an Ingmar Bergman film is completely fabricated. However, it fits my memory of the last film of his I watched some 30 years ago when I vowed never to watch another one. That resolution I've held to faithfully.

4. Toshirô Mifune is one of my favourite samurai film actors and the samarui films are not usually about gratuitous violence, although there is often violence aplenty. My favourite film in which Mifune starred is The Seven Samurai, about seven Ronin (once samurai warriors, now drifters, having lost their lords and clans through battle) who help a group of poor villages fight off the predations of a robber band. On display in the film is the best and worst of human morals and behaviour. And I would never vow to stop watching the Japanese classics by Master directors like Akira Kurosawa.


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