Panel: Writing Rituals

Shoji here and I am talking to Natsuya Uesugi about the Easter holiday that is coming up. Natsuya and I went to Catholic College and well, taught by Jesuits who were strict when it came to following the Golden Rule and keeping the ceremonies of the church each year, well Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter were all holidays that were observed at the school. Natsuya went to services more than I did, I had the ability to sneak out and hide in the dorms or skateboard around campus between the Sophomore dorms and the Jesuits priests quarters behind the main campus and the clock tower. Natsuya used to be a server when he was growing up and he even put the character Acolyte in the grydscaen series, a hacker who runs the Acolyte Forward Base because he enjoyed serving his church while he was a teen as a server.

For years Natsuya has been observing a writing ritual for Good Friday which he came up with in college before we were old enough to drink. The ritual surrounds writing and since Good Friday is coming up in two days yet again, I wanted Natsuya to stop by the blog today and talk about what this writing ritual means to him, what it is and how it impacts his writing. Lets start the discussion, shall we.

Shoji: Welcome Natsuya, today is Wednesday before Good Friday. How are you feeling?

Natsuya: I am excited that once more I can celebrate Good Friday like I have for many years. It is such a great day to commermorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on this day of fasting and penance.

Shoji: I thought you were Buddhist?

Natsuya: I grew up with Shinto, Buddhist and the Catholic faith as a child. I converted to Buddhism in college after studying Asian religions and Asian Studies, as well as minored in Japanese.

Shoji: Do you practice your faith now? What does this Catholic holiday mean to you as a Buddhist?

Natsuya: Because I grew up Catholic, the teachings of the church are ingrained in me. The Nicean Creed which is a statement of belief in Christianity is something that is close to my heart along with the Lord’s Prayer.

Shoji: That is definitely Catholic which we grew up with all the Jesuit priests in college.

Natsuya: True. Now, I am Buddhist so I have a spirituality that runs through my life and I meditate regularly to center myself and reach a higher understanding of how i fit into the world and everything around me. I believe in impermanence and that change is everywhere. My beliefs are that the path to enlightenment is through deep involvement in morality, meditation and wisdom. I believe that life is endless and subject to ephemerality and impermanence and that suffering and uncertainty shape our being. It is through understanding of self and enlightenment of the mind that we can sit in the now and be one with the universe.

Shoji: Tell me about what Good Friday means to you?

Natsuya: Good Friday is the day Jesus died on the cross. It is a day of fasting and penance. Ever since college it is a day that I celebrate writing and being a writer. There are many things I do on Good Friday to celebrate my craft.

Shoji: Do you fast on Good Friday?

Natsuya: Yes, I abstain from eating food on that day. Can’t say drink falls in that category.

Shoji: Do you write on that day as well?

Natsuya: Yes, if I am writing a first draft of a manuscript or editing then I have certain writing tasks I must do to honour my Good Friday ritual.

Shoji: Like what?

Natsuya: Well beside drinking a glass of red wine, usually Merlot, which celebrates the Eucharist and the body of Christ, I also celebrate with Champagne and in the past with gin.

Shoji: What is writing like on that day?

Natsuya: There are little things I have to do during the day to keep with the ritual, such as reading a specific passage from 19 Miles to Utopia the journal that became the book grydscaen: utopia and also writing a certain passage into the book I am working on that day. If you go through all my published grydscaen books you can usually see where it was Good Friday in a specific books. There are at least a few grydscaen books that have the specific passage in the story that was written on that day.

Shoji: So the passage you write is always the same?

Natsuya: Exactly the same and it has to fit with the story so that means I actually created holidays in grydscaen to surround that statement.

Shoji: If you would, what is the exact statement so I can go look for it?

Natsuya: The statement is “it was just another Good Friday” and it has to work in the story. The next book that will include the statement will be grydscaen: scout which will be published in July.

Shoji: How do you work it into the story?

Natsuya: There is a holiday in grydscaen celebrating the Last Emperor, a day of remembrance. There is a whole ceremony that occurs in the story. I think the whole ceremony is listed out in grydscaen: utopia because Good Friday happened when I was writing that book and it got written into the story where Anis is doing the observance at the Viceroy’s palace and Lino Dejarre is watching it on television in the Hallet Hall house.

Shoji: That is excellent. It is like an easter egg in the story that readers have to find.

Natsuya: Sure, you can put it that way.

Shoji: Tell me the importance of writing rituals to you. I know writers are quirky and each writer has a little eccentricity that they have about them. What are some of the other little quirks you have as a writer?

Natsuya: With the original few volumes of grydscaen I kept the typed manuscripts in binders of different colours. The highlight colour of each book was based on the colour binder the manuscripts were in at the time. That stayed with the series until volume 4 grydscaen: insurrection.

Shoji: Lets go back to spirituality because Good Friday is a very somber day for Catholics and Christians in general. How do you reconcile being Buddhist with having been Catholic?

Natsuya: Nothing to reconcile. Buddhism believes in impermanence and reincarnation, heaven and Bodihsattvas and the Buddha, and teachers who can lead others in their reaching sati or enlightenment. There is actually a character in grydscaen named Sati Ima which means “enlightenment now” who was named specifically for that purpose. Catholics believe in Jesus Christ who was first a teacher and himself enlightened and taught others like the Apostles the ways of honour, faith, praise for the father, peace and love.

Shoji: But Buddhism is about englightenment, right and belief in Buddha’s teaching, the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha?

Natsuya: Buddha is not a god in so many words. The Catholic teachings of Jesus Christ are in line with my understanding of Buddhism and compassion. Personally the Boddhisattvas Kannon (Kuan Yin/Avoloketishavara) of compassion and mercy, and Jizo who is an enlightened being, a monk who postponed his enlightenment after Gautama Buddha’s death and the arrival of Maitreya Buiddha. They are the two that I most resonate with. I strive to center my mind through meditation and to not hold on too tight as desire is suffering. I center to pursue enlightenment just I “just sit” as striving for enlightenment in and of itself can mean suffering as it a desire of the ego and is not “in the now.”

Shoji: That is pretty deep.

Natsuya: Not really. Being present is in everything I do. I am present when I write. The words flow, I do not force them.

Shoji: So you are a pantser?

Natsuya: The words come from an enlightened place, even from the heavens or the gods. I do not force them. If they come, they come. If they do not, I do not force them out. They will come when they are ready.

Shoji: grydscaen: imperium the final book in the main grydscaen series is currently in production. How does that make you feel?

Natsuya: That imperium can be in production during this Catholic Holy Week is a great achievement. It was not so much planned that way but with imperium, the culmination of the series, we can see the great achievement, my life’s work, what I will leave behind coming to fruition.

Shoji: Seeing all of grydscaen published must be a dream come true?

Natsuya: To be able to write a whole epic series and see the whole thing published when some people takes years to write a single book or can’t write at all, it is a humbling thing and something I have wanted to do since childhood.

Shoji: When you were younger did you want to be writer when you grew up?

Natsuya: I wanted to be a fighter pilot and a writer. Writer happened, fighter pilot did not but I wrote about fighter pilots in grydscaen: insurrection so that made up for it, and I purposely published three grydscaen books in the same year just so my dad who had been a pilot could read that specific insurrection story. He asked me to write a book about pilots and i did it for him to give back because his days of flying were always special to him.

Shoji: Going back to Good Friday, are you ready for it this week?

Natsuya: Yes, everything is set and I will be finishing up the manuscript for scout hopefully by this weekend so we will see the Good Friday ritual in that book when it comes out.

Shoji: Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have an excellent time writing and can complete your ritual this year like so many years in the past. I remember you writing 19 Miles to Utopia in college in the fourth floor stairwell of the Sophomore dorm, do you still have that journal?

Natsuya: Yes, I still have it and reading part of it is one of the things that I do as part of the ritual. We will be coming out with grydscaen: sheer next month which includes more of the backstory that went into grydscaen: utopia. The story in sheer takes place before utopia and delves more into some of the scenes from the journal it was based on. I really wanted to bring sheer to life and being able to publish it after imperium is also something that I will be really proud of. Being able to write Ameliano Dejarre’s story is a gift that I will cherish since it means so much to me and has helped me immensely get in touch with myself through my meditation practice and with being cathartic.

Shoji: Yes, I saw you writing in your journal all the time in college. You were kind of a loner when we were at school if I remember correctly.

Natsuya: And you were the outgoing socialite. We were an odd pair. I still don’t know why you talked to me back then.

Shoji: Well, glad I did. You were always impressive to me and intellectual, you have the wisdom of a Buddha.

Natsuya: If only. I am a beginner every day.

Shoji: You are humble.

Natsuya: I try to be.

Shoji: Thanks for stopping by today and I wish you a Happy Good Friday.