Stephanie Karlik

Junot on Reading, Reconstructing, Reconstituting

“How do we get anyone to read in a culture where there is no space for contemplation? If full-grown adults can’t muster the time to sit still for two hours, how are the greatest market sectors of these corporations going to be able to resist the urge to check their Twitter every five minutes, to scroll down Tumblr all day long? The thing is is that there are trillions of dollars trying to capture young people’s imaginary and move them away from any contemplative life, from any life of deliberation, from any human rhythm. And books, novels, poetry, essays, sculpture, dance, this is from a much more human rhythm. And it’s a literacy that you have to fight to preserve because the whole country’s trying to disrupt that literacy. The whole culture’s trying to say that there’s no time, that you’re living in a sped up world. So just even beyond the fact that one comes from a Latino background, we’re already at a baseline that doesn’t encourage people to sit still and read, to just take time, to deliberate and to contemplate. I think that we need time to deliberate and contemplate to feel human. I don’t think you can reconstruct and reconstitute yourself after every day without that time. Part of the reason most of our souls feel so heavy and so frantic is because we don’t get the deliberation and the contemplation that would allow us to reconstitute ourselves after a day of living in a society that only encourages you to compete, create hierarchies and accumulate. “


Almond-shaped Astigmatism

Got an almond-shaped eye exam today.

Filled out a medical history form. Any almond-shaped glaucoma in the family? Or almond-shaped cataracts?

I used to only have an almond-shaped astigmatism in one eye, but the doctor told me I’ve got it in both now. I can give you toric lenses to correct it she said.

No, I’ll stick with what I’ve got I told her.

Tango Mío

Tango mío

Tango tuyo

Tango suyo

Tango nuestro

Tango loco

Tango lento

Tango rápido

Tango romántico

Tango trágico

Tango en un círculo

Tango mágico

Tango nostálgico

Tango futuristico

Tango propio

Tango sucio

Tango limpio

Tango bueno

Tango malo

Tango poco

Tango mucho

Tango de los tangos




Oudin & Hibi はいく


Oudin’s unforced errors

turned to winners and “come on!”

3rd set tiebreak comes.


Fate blows two her way,

Hibi bows her head,

Packs her Yonex bag for home.

Let Me In


that’s what steph said artwork by noodle slurps

Serena & Sloane はいく

Cat-eyed Serena versus

doe-eyed young Sloane

Serena still dominates.

Momo と Banana と Ocha

I hadn’t opened a Japanese textbook in months. Lord knows life had a way of getting in the way.

And then Mom told me one day, “My friend Nanako’s husband died.”

“He what?” I asked.

“Died,” she repeated, “fell over, died.”

Like little kernels of popcorn popping in an aluminum pan, questions popped into my mind, not one at a time sequentially, but sometimes three or four at a time, followed by a lone straggling question and then again, several at once.

What happened? How old was he? Where was he?


Was it sudden?


Where was Nanako? Did she go to work? How is she?

There were no answers. Only questions. “I’m going to bring food over to her and her father on Monday,” Mom said. She was always showing her love through food, to those close and to those not so close. “Will you come with me?”

“Of course.”

So I sent an email to Makoto. “How do you say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ in Japanese to acknowledge when someone died?”

He wrote back the next day, “You say, ‘konotabi ha goshushoo sama deshita/ この度はご愁傷様でした,’ or ‘gomeifuku wo oinorimasu/ ご冥福をお祈ります.’ Both pretty hard to say. It’s one of those things you only use for the specific occasion.” One an acknowledgment of grief, the other a reference to happiness in the next world. The richness of the sounds rolling off the tongue in Japanese and the dignity that went along with them made me never want to express the sentiment again in English. I said the words aloud a few times, and then the words were mine. Maybe for life. Maybe not.

We went over carrying trays of grilled meat, corn on the cob, and green beans. The meat, whether intentional or not, carried a slight hint of Taiwan.

“Oh, thank you so much!” Nanako said as she held the house’s front door open for us. A smile turned into a whimper and a few tears that were gone in mere seconds. Grief was the strangest of experiences: jerking us around from heart-wrenching pain one minute to inexplicable joy the next. It was no wonder that the Chinese hired professional mourners at these times to put on a show for neighbors. How could anyone understand anyone else’s grief and the mysterious outbursts of absurd behavior that came along with it? How much easier it must be to cover all this up with people trained to wail, sob, and deflect the criticisms of others.

“O jama shimasu,” I said, loud enough only for myself to hear, taking my shoes off at the door.

Nanako’s father, an old Japanese man in his seventies came downstairs and into the living room, a minimalist space with Japanese accents here and there: a scroll painting hanging on a wall, a single orchid plant on the coffee table, individually wrapped crackers from a shop in Ginza.

If there was a confusing grief showing from Nanako, there was no grief here from Sato san, as I learned to call him, just a bright, toothy smile and lucid eyes behind square spectacles.

“Hajimemashite,” he greeted me.

“Hajimemashite.” And if there was any time to deploy the shushoo or the meifuku phrases, this was it, but as I felt the energy of the man in front of me, I knew that this actually wasn’t the time to utter them at all. There was peace in the home already.

“Dozo. Dozo,” he said to me, gesturing towards the couch, and there we sat reminiscing on the good old days in Tokyo: the food, the kabuki, and Togoshi Ginza of all places. Turns out we had the same former stomping grounds.

“Sou desu ne. Sakanaya san no chikaku ni sundeimashita,” I told him as we identified the exact location of my former apartment and the best fish vendor on the road.



Togoshi Ginza’s white sign with black writing hanging over its crowded shops flashed into my mind, all the bicycles parked on the side of the road, the baskets of fruit laid out in front of fruit vendors, the mess of flashing hiragana and kanji billboards luring customers into dark izakaya caves. Natsukashii. Yappari.

“Momo wo tabemasuka,” he asked. (“Do you eat peach?”)

“Hai, tabemasu.” (“Yup.”)

He disappeared into the kitchen momentarily, then came back with gorgeous orange momo.


Momo we ate.

“Banana wo tabemasuka,” he asked.

“Hai, tabemasu.”

Back into the kitchen. He presented frozen banana slices.


And bananas we ate.

“Kono banana wo chotto kitte, reitouko ni irete, sono mama de tabemasu. Konbini no aisu mitai desu ne.” (“I slice the bananas, pop ’em in the freezer, and eat them like that. They taste kind of like iced candies from the convenience store, don’t they?”)


“Ocha wo nomimasuka,” (“Green tea?”)

“Hai, nominasu.” (“Sure.”)

Ice cubes clinking against my glass, “Itadakimasu,” I said, and iced green tea we drank.

So what about the deceased husband? It seemed there was no time to speak of him in-between the nostalgia, the laughter, and the fruit feast. Not for Sato san.

I looked at Nanako, engaged deeply in conversation with Mom, where the details emerged. Jerry was an American, a soldier, a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, had a heart attack suddenly in the bathroom, fell over and died. The end.

Was he a kind man? An intelligent man? What were his hobbies? His passions? I don’t know. All I know is that Jerry was an American, a soldier, a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, had a heart attack suddenly in the bathroom, fell over and died. The end.

And now I find myself going over to Sato san’s for Japanese classes. An educator for most of his life and a Japanese teacher now, he sets up an easel and a board, which he taps with a pointer made of connected pencils, lecturing me on sonkeigo and kenjyougo. We eat momo and banana and drink green tea and talk about Jerry’s indulgences.

“Are you gonna go back to Japan?” I ask Sato san.

“No. Fukushima won’t be my home anymore. This is home now,” he tells me.

I nod my head and write my keigo.


Schedule B

Schedule A: M to F, 9 to 5.

Schedule B: 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結. 起. 承. 転. 結.

Sights and Sounds of New York City

I was back in New York.

Chillin’ on a bench in Central Park.


Eating baos at Eddie Huang’s Baohaus.


Playing sake drinking games with Giri-giri san and Champion Cuddler.


Sitting on the bus as New Yorkers refused to hold back their feelings on other boroughs.


Watching street dancers back at Central Park.


And in the end, I could only confirm what we already knew: no place does bagels, breaking, boroughs, and brutal honesty like New York City.