Kiku-girl

About Tamiko: The Professional Version

Tamiko Nimura is a Sansei/Pinay writer and editor, originally from Northern California and now living in the Pacific Northwest. As a professor in English and African American Studies, she taught classes in writing, humanities, and multicultural American literature for the last seven years. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The San Francisco Chronicle, Kartika Review, the Rafu Shimpo, and Crosscurrents Literary Journal. Last summer, her book proposal reached finalist status in the SheWrites.com “Passion Project” nonfiction contest. She received degrees in English from UC Berkeley (BA) and from the University of Washington (MA, PhD). She has received awards from the Ford Foundation, the University of Iowa, the Asia Pacific Fund, the University of Washington, and the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

She now works on memoir, personal essay, and food writing here.

About Kikugirl: The Backstory

My parents swear that I learned to read when I was 18 months old. That’s about 6 months younger than my youngest daughter, and I can barely picture it. (“I have a tape!” my mom insisted, a couple of years ago.)

Nevertheless, whenever I began to read, however I began to read, I haven’t stopped. The written word is, for me, like breathing, like water, like sunlight: elemental, essential, lifegiving, lifesaving. Even during my busiest and worst moments and years, I have always carved out a few minutes for a few pages of pleasure reading, every day. (I am sad that not many people do this, but that’s for another time.)

Given this love of reading, and my relatively early start, it may have been inevitable that I was my dad’s dinner party trick.

Early one Saturday morning in the 1970s, we were playing with that white magnetic letter board, with the red plastic frame and those kid-party-balloon colored letters. We spelled other words, I’m sure: cat, and maybe paper, and maybe house. But the word he asked me to memorize (how old was I, anyway?!) was a long word. I have no idea if my dad meant to pick a word this long, just for the sheer silly challenge of it all.

(Does this help us to figure out his reasoning?–later, when we traveled to visit family friends, he’d trot out a college textbook, and ask me to read a paragraph out loud, even if I had no idea what it meant. I’m sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.)

And yes, this was the word: chrysanthemum.

I learned to say it-spell it quickly, as if it were its own poem: c-h-r-y-s-a-n-t-h-e-m-u-m. Except that with the dashes in between, it actually looks even longer, and I always said it out loud very, very quickly: “ceeaitcharaiessayen [breath] teeaitcheeemyoumum.” Amazed laughter, a sonic memory that my cousins still use to tease me.

The chrysanthemum was one of my dad’s favorite flowers. I’ve always known it as a thing of beauty, for the green glass vase at the center of the dinner table. I’ve also known it as an edible flower, since we used the greens in making sukiyaki.

My dad died when I was ten. I don’t know how anyone processes the death of a parent at a young age. And I have come to realize that there are many worse ways to lose a parent–through abuse, for example, or prolonged neglect–but losing my dad is one of the losses that has defined my life. So there will certainly be more about him here. The chrysanthemum has been the flower that I associate most with my dad, and if I ever visit his grave, it is the flower that I will bring to honor his memory.

The Japanese word for chrysanthemum is kiku. When I chose my very first e-mail name, a hotmail account way-back-when (so 90’s!), I chose kikugirl.

I’ll use this blog as I ask my students to use the writing process itself: I’ll be writing to discover, rather than simply writing to record. I’ll be writing about what brings light and color to my life, including my family, the written word, food, friends, and those who work for social justice. I am about to re-enter the writing life. If you asked me what I was going to be when I was little, then a teenager, then even a college student, I would have said “writer.” I haven’t written creatively, even creatively nonfictively, in some years. And sometime this year I am going to re-open the manila envelope with my dad’s book manuscript, which I haven’t read since I was in fifth grade, some twenty-odd years ago. I know that this will be an amazing and difficult year of change and transformation for me.

Thank you for being here.

5 Comments

  1. Dear Kikugirl,

    I’m over here because of Gluten-Free Girl Shauna. I’ve read through your posts up to this point, and I sit here and wonder what to write, if only because everything you said resonates so deeply it’s almost an ache. I’m no writer myself even though years ago it was the first thing I wrote on the top of our ‘Ambitions’ list that our teachers made us do, year in and year out in primary school. Somehow, somewhere, it got lost in the process of growing up and being intimidated by other people’s prose and poetry. I never intended to take English as a second major, but I did. I almost wrote about T. S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins, how their poetry developments intersected and then went in opposite directions, but I never did have the time to finish that honours thesis either. I took an MA in Film, went on to do nothing at all related to it, and somehow stumbled into teaching choral singing to adults and teenagers. At the bottom of it all though, it’s still words and the writing of them that sits closest to my heart – except I haven’t been able to write forever, not since reading others’ writing and feeling that familiar little clutch of fear and discouragement.

    I read like I breathe. Can’t do without it. The written word defines so much; perhaps too much sometimes.

    I look forward to reading about your journey, if only so that perhaps I might be able to find the courage to pick up all those discarded words and thoughts, and give them some shape.

    Thank you for your willingness to share. It certainly has touched me in a way few things have over the years.

  2. Dear Shuku,
    And thank you for such an encouraging, heartfelt first public comment! Strange how life takes its twists and turns, isn’t it?

    I keep thinking about Pablo Picasso’s saying that “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when one grows up.” I think about that as I watch my 5-year old daughter drawing, over and over, and I hope that she doesn’t lose her love of making art and sharing it with others, in whatever form.

    I hope you’ll begin to write more, too: here, and elsewhere. A big hurdle for me has been to acknowledge and name the fear of sharing my writing. So the blog puts me up against that fear with each entry–but writing it has SO much fun, thus far.

    Gratefully, Tamiko

    • Dear Tamiko,

      Picasso did have his finger on it when he said that! Key word being ‘child’. Children experiment, they’re not afraid of dipping their fingers into paint and smearing it all over the walls, the floor, the dog – or taking crayons and colouring the white French windows (and in the process earning mother’s ire. Why no, that wasn’t personal experience talking, she said, whistling).

      Somehow when we grow up, we start comparing more and we start fearing more, and that’s when experimentation goes out the window, doesn’t it? Teenage years and all those lessons in conformity leave a mark. I’m so glad you’re finding the blog writing cathartic and fun! I really look forward to reading it – and yes, I might possibly sneak in some writing too, or at least more than is -on- my blog at the moment. It started out as a journal for my art experiments and I keep telling myself that it’s writing of a sort, even if it’s dreadfully informal!

      ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust.’ Eliot knew the human condition very well indeed. We fear so much, sometimes, it gets ridiculous and writing seems to attract that sort of fear. Here’s to writing, burying the dust where it belongs, and a long fruitful journey with words!

      –Shuku

  3. I look forward to your writing. I did indeed find my way to you via Shauna’s blog, and I’ve found your reflections to trigger my own. If I can find that quiet space inside my own head, I hope to write on some of them as well.

    In a way, even more than fear, it is the challenge of finding the time to think and write that stops me from writing. But I am trying. I’ve sent my own goal of trying to produce just one blog post a week for a while. It can be short or long, it doesn’t matter; what matters is the habit. But the challenge of the long posts is, once again, the problem of time.

    I will keep trying. I look forward to seeing your own attempts.

    • Thanks for the message. I hear you about the pressures of time. But I’ve been having so much fun, and I’ve actually been sleeping better at night. I hope you keep trying, as well. Feel free to post a link to your assignment responses in the comments sections, though I may set up a “forum” section eventually.

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