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The Hidden Stream is an autobiography in prose and verse, similar to a Japanese form which dates back to the 16th Century. Stepanie Sugioka is blending the relationship between her life and her art. In her Preface, she states:
In twenty‑first century America, art is very much a spectator sport. Music, drama, dance, and poetry stand somehow apart from our everyday experience—relegated to theaters, concert halls, and universities. I have always chafed at what seems to me a sort of cultural schizophrenia. I have a deep need to integrate my art with my life, and this impulse is closely related to my need to incorporate the sacred into my everyday existence. A New Yorker columnist whose name I’ve forgotten once commented, “Life is dumber than fiction.” Yes, but does it have to be? Can’t our art inform our lives so that they are wiser than before? Can’t our lives inform our art so that it has direct bearing on what we feel and do here and now? So that it becomes at least as relevant as the evening stock market report or what we’re planning to fix for dinner? This book is my small attempt to bring my life and art together. I am hoping that truth and beauty are not so incompatible after all. Keats would have approved, I think,
From the Play
(1) My father is a samurai doctor.
He has a samurai sword.
Daddy, the case is urgent
and we must operate.
So take your samurai sword, Doctor,
and split me in two like a watermelon.
Daddy, split me in two.
Half will be red inside
like a Celt or an Anglo‑Saxon,
the other half red like a a Jap.
And is this pathological?
Of something cerebral
Logic will find a way, Doctor,
so let us dissect.
(In this poem, only a portion of which is represented here, Sugioka attempts to integrate the struggles of her family with her own experiences.)
Most of what the poem says about my grandfather is true too. He was descended from samurais but was the second son and, true to Japanese custom, inherited virtually nothing as a result. This—along with a stepmother who made his life a misery—was the reason he came to this country. He had nothing to gain by staying in Japan and thus nothing to lose by coming here. And so he came, but his adopted country proved crueler than his stepmother. It almost simultaneously wiped out his family in Japan and deprived him of his hard‑earned lands in California. What the poem does not say is that he was an alcoholic—small wonder, I think. This may have been the only sane response to his outrageous circumstances.
My grandfather had something of the artist about him. An excellent cook (my grandmother never did learn to make a decent meal) and a consummate gardener, he apparently really could graft almost any tree onto any other—an art my father says has since been lost. Though my father was often at odds with his father, they shared a love of growing things. My father’s gardens never fail to thrive, and he has a gift for flower arranging as well. At any season of the year, his house is always full of flowers. And it has the traditional raised alcove—the tokonoma—that contains the family’s sacred objects. In his tokonoma, his most recent arrangement of camellias, dogwood blossoms, or daffodils coexists with the silk‑wrapped samurai sword.
From the beginning, I was my father’s daughter. He adored me, and I adored him back. Early in my life, my mother retreated behind her bedroom door, and our black maid ran the household in her absence. When my parents were divorced in 1964, custody of my brother and me was granted to my father while my mother got custody of my sister. Shortly thereafter, in 1965, my mother moved to Berkeley California with my sister. In 1990, when I was only 38, she died of cancer. She was conspicuous by her absence, and I have spent much of my life trying to fill in the great blank spaces that she left behind.