What the Kowa Really Say

A few sharp-eyed readers have noticed that the Japanese translations of the chapter titles in Smile at Strangers don’t quite match up with the English versions. Because I was a little nervous about riffing on the somewhat formal genre of the Japanese proverb, we decided to have a little fun with the translation process. Here are the literal translations of each chapter heading, as best I can render them in English:

1. Fall down seven times, get up eight: 七転び八起き。
Fall down seven times, get up eight.

2. If you want to feel safe, be prepared to feel uncomfortable:  安全や安心感を得たいのなら、気まずい思いをすることも覚悟しよう
If you want to feel safe, be prepared to feel uncomfortable.

3. Smile at strangers: 見知らぬ人に微笑もう。
Smile at strangers.

4. Paradise doesn’t count if it’s compulsory: もし無理矢理いさせられるのならば、パラダイスでさえも不快なものとなる。
Even paradise is unpleasant if one is compelled to be there.

5. You’re doing it all wrong. And that’s perfect: あなたのやり方は完全に間違っているが、それでいいのだ。著者は、劇的な効果を出すため、あえて矛盾した言い方をしている。要するに間違いを恥じることはないと言いたいのである。
You’re doing it all wrong. And that’s perfect. She’s being contradictory for dramatic effect. What she really means is that there is no shame in making mistakes.

6. To fight fear, you must also fight ignorance. And occasionally, argumentative jerks: これは日本語に翻訳するにはあまりにも乱暴である。趣旨は、安心感を醸成するには、知識を他人と分かち合い、がんこなひねくれ者は避けるべきだということである。
This is too rude to render in Japanese. The general meaning is that, to foster safety, one should share knowledge with others and avoid willfully contrary people.

7. Don’t be afraid of the dark—grab darkness by the throat, kick its ass, push it down the stairs, and laugh at its haircut: これもかなり乱暴である。(あまりうまいとは言えないが)詩的なイメージを使うことによって、読者は自己の恐怖心と対峙し、できる限り軽くあしらうことを求められている。
This one is also quite rude. By means of a not-very-successful poetic image, readers are urged to confront their fear and also to treat it with the utmost disrespect.

8. Push yourself past your limits; then let your friends push you further: 限界を超えるために、自分で自分を駆り立てよう。そこから先は、今度は友達に背中を押してもらおう。
Push yourself past your limits; then let your friends push you further.

9. We are connected by the distance between us: 我々は、互いの間の距離によってつながっている。
We are connected by the distance between us.

10. What you’re good at is less important than what you’re good for: 何が得意かは、どのように役に立てるかほど重要ではない。
What you’re good at is less important than what you’re good for.

11. Remain centered, no matter how many building permits you have to obtain: この意味はよくわからない。正直なところ、この章はあまり注意して読まなかったのだ。要点は何か家庭における和についてのようだが。
We’re not entirely sure what this means. Honestly, we didn’t read this chapter as closely as we could have. The point seems to be something about domestic harmony.

12. Everybody wants to have adventures. Whether they know it or not: 誰もが冒険したいと考える。本人が気づいているか否かに関わらず。
Everybody wants to have adventures. Whether they know it or not.

13. Sometimes the only way forward is to go back and start over: 時に、前進する唯一の方法は、最初からやり直すことだ。
Sometimes the only way forward is to go back and start over.

14. Once a place becomes part of you, you can leave it without regret: ある場所が自分の一部になると、そこから後悔せずに離れることができる。
Once a place becomes part of you, you can leave it without regret.

15. Parenthood is the most terrifying ordeal you will ever undergo. Enjoy it: ここでは皮肉が用いられている。著者が言わんとしているのは、親になると多くの試練が待ち受けているが、それでも親であることを楽しもうと努めるべきであるということである。
She’s employing irony here. What she really means is that parenthood presents many challenges but one should strive to enjoy it nonetheless.

16. See yourself clearly, and you won’t dread the scrutiny of others: 明確に自分自身を見れば、他人の目はこわくない。
See yourself clearly, and you won’t dread the scrutiny of others.

17. A warrior cultivates the virtues of loyalty, courage, and discretion. Along with some light typing and filing: ここには、立派な勤め方と、現代のビジネスの世界についての雑多なメッセージが含まれている。著者はここでも皮肉を用いている。
This one contains mixed messages about honorable service and the modern-day business world. She’s being ironic again.

18. Self-criticism is easy. Self-improvement is hard. You’re here for the hard stuff: ここで著者は、自我によって駆り立てられる自己批判と、謙虚さの産物である自己改善との違いを指摘している。自己改善の方が良いのである。なぜ著者がはっきりとそう言わないのかはわからない。
Here she’s pointing out the difference between self-criticism, which is driven by ego, and self-improvement, which results from humility. Self-improvement is better. We don’t know why she doesn’t just say that.

19. Survival is the bravest fight, and the most beautiful victory: 生き残ることは、最も勇敢な戦いでありそして最も美しい勝利である。
Survival is the bravest fight, and the most beautiful victory.

20. Believe it or not, you are more than equal to the challenges you face: 信じられないかもしれないが、あなたは自分が直面する試練以上の存在なのだ。
Believe it or not, you are more than equal to the challenges you face.

21. Behind each triumph are new peaks to be conquered: 一つ一つの勝利の背後には、常に新しく征服されるべき頂点が
Behind each triumph are new peaks to be conquered.—Mas Oyama

The Email that Changed My Life

Randall Klein is an editor in New York who was working at Random House when he sent me the email that changed my life. He’d been reading my McSweeney’s column, he said, and loved it, and by the way, had I ever thought about writing something longer?

Three years later, I have written something longer, and it wouldn’t have happened without the input of many people, but Randall is more responsible for my new life as an author than any other single person (including me).

All of which is a lead-up to a very touching post Randall has written on his blog, A Thousand Paper Cuts, about Smile at Strangers:

The book marketer in me says that you should get this if you are a woman, or you should get this for your mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, niece, granddaughter, etc. And that’s true, every woman should read Susan’s book. But you’d also do right by your college-bound son to get him a copy, or one for your dad for Father’s Day. It’s a book for everyone who lives in a world that is occasionally scary but pretty much always manageable.

I’m eternally indebted to Randall for many things, and the fact that Smile at Strangers lived up to the high hopes he had for it before I’d even conceived of the project makes me very happy indeed.

If you’re a writer, or interested in publishing from any angle, I urge you to bookmark Randall’s blog, because it’s a rich source of useful information about the industry. I’m delighted that anyone with an Internet connection can now benefit from Randall’s expertise!

Today is the Day!

Smile at Strangers coverSmile at Strangers is available in stores TODAY, May 28th! Ask for it at your local book shop, or order online:

Also, check the Events page to see the cities where I’ll be reading, signing, and generally making a nuisance of myself!

And if your book club or reading group is interested in reading Smile at Strangers, I have a whole slew of suggested discussion topics and activities on the Book Clubs page.

Funny Women at The Rumpus

If you aren’t already familiar with the Funny Women feature at The Rumpus, you’ve been missing out. Founded and edited by the wonderfully funny Elissa Bassist, Funny Women showcases humor written by women, for everyone.

And I’m not just saying that because I have a piece up there this week. But I do! It’s an unholy fusion of my interest in risk assessment and my encyclopedic, somewhat embarrassing, knowledge of the Nancy Drew canon: Threat Assessment and Risk Analysis for N. Drew.

“Young Man, Is That Your Dog?”

Toy DogEesha Pandit has a wonderful piece over at The Nation about bystander intervention. I’m loathe to summarize it because she does such stellar job of explaining the problems and contextualizing them in light of Charles Ramsey’s heroism in Ohio. You really should read the whole thing.

Pandit is addressing a problem self defense instructors know all too well: Our tendency to assume that calling the police is always a productive response to threats. Yes, reporting crimes is important. The police can and do intervene helpfully in lots of ugly situations. But the truth is that for many individuals–women of color; women in general; gay, queer, and transgendered people; the impoverished; the uneducated–calling the police can actively worsen the impact of violence.

Our flawed criminal justice system is part of the problem of violence in this country–why it persists, why it affects some communities so severely, and why the obvious solutions don’t seem to work very well. That’s one reason that, to me, “self defense” now means not just knowing how to deescalate an encounter or escape an assailant, but also recognizing my obligation to speak out about systemic problems that make our communities less safe–problems like poverty, homophobia, and institutionalized racism.

One reason individuals often fail to act when they witness violence is that we are encouraged not to. If we do act, what happens? The police say they can’t do anything. The principal claims the kid’s behavior is no big deal. The neighbors tell us to mind our own damn business. The senator responds with a form letter. It’s hard to be persistent in the face of such discouraging, belittling, shaming responses. But, as I keep telling myself: We need to do it anyway.

A couple of weeks ago, my son was walking his younger sister home from her after-school program. She had taken a stuffed animal to school with her that day, and asked him to carry it home for her. As they trudged along the sidewalk, a woman in a station wagon slowed down and eyed them suspiciously. Then she executed a U-turn on a busy street, drove back, and pulled into the parking the kids were crossing.

“Young man!” she called out to my son, “Is that your stuffed dog you’re carrying?”

“No, it’s hers,” my son said, pointing to his sister.

“Then why do you have it?” the woman asked.

“She asked me to carry it,” he explained. His sister verified this, and the woman, after observing them closely for a minute, said, “Well then, you’re a good kid. I just wanted to make sure nobody was teasing anyone or anything.” And she drove off.

My kids were perplexed by this encounter, and my husband thought it was ridiculous. But I was pretty happy about it. This woman thought she might be witnessing a teenager tormenting a third-grader, and she stopped to find out. And yes, she came across as a little weird. I get the sense that she could have been a bit less brusque with my son, who is as mild-mannered as they make them. Still, she did something that was clearly uncomfortable for her, because she didn’t want a big kid to hurt a smaller one.

That’s all we’re really called upon to do, if we want a safer world. It’s just that we have to do it persistently, along every path we travel, and on others’ paths that intersect with ours.