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Ninja Lesson via Carly Rae Jepsen June 9, 2012

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

09 June 2012


Cover of Curiosity EP (2012)


I wish to offer my gratitude to Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen for helping me end the longest writer’s block I’ve ever endured.

Hah-hah, no. I don’t know her personally. Like the rest of the world, I’m merely acquainted with her pop songs, which have been gaining more attention following the release of Jepsen’s debut EP, Curiosity, earlier this year. It’s from this EP that I found one song that made an unexpected contribution to my recovery.

I’ll explain.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I had a writer’s block that had been persisting in my head for about a year. Whenever I attempted to write something that mattered, I’d go through the motions of opening the word processor, type a few lines, then feel drearily unmotivated and take a short break. Only, at the end of that “short” break, I would look up and realize that I had yet again finished watching more episodes of Downton Abbey or Sherlock or whatever else I’d downloaded that was more fun at the time than writing. The end would always be the same: I’d delete the drivel I’d set down, close the page and pour myself a bloody drink.

I’m glad that’s all over now. Last month, I was finally able to write my first piece in a long spell (I wrote on the subject of music and moonlight). It feels wonderful to have written something meaningful again.

Still, it wasn’t an easy ride getting over the hump. A year’s hiatus had left me rusty. Writing for the first time in a long time, I found that my words were staggering through; steadily, yes, but painfully so.

So I tried listening to music to help me write – the kind of music that I rely on to calm my thoughts and coax the words that say exactly how I feel. I started with something tranquil from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, expecting the words to at last flow smoothly.

An hour or so later, I was still slogging through trying to say what I wanted. Deciding that I needed something up-tempo, I switched to the exhilarating performance of Jascha Heifetz playing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

That didn’t help either.

So I pulled out the big guns. This is the stuff that never, ever fails when I really want to write. I listened to The Three Tenors in Concert in Rome. I even listened to Rachel Portman’s beautifully captivating film score from The Lake House, which always puts me in the perfect mood.

And nothing worked. Billions…of blistering…blue…barnacles…

I sat there staring at the page, utterly frustrated by what little progress I had made. Call it serendipitous but, in that moment, something made me reach for Carly Rae Jepsen’s EP, Curiosity, which I had in the hard drive but hadn’t yet listened to in its entirety. What the heck. Nothing else was working. I let it play.

Hmm…nice, I thought, as one pop song followed after another. Jepsen’s stuff is actually refreshing. Nearly all the tunes are feel-good and catchy, with honest lyrics that make for easy listening. No wonder she’s been getting more attention lately.

As I went back to writing while listening to her music, I noticed that I was doing just that. I was really writing.

I then noticed that one song, “Talk to Me,” was helping me write better than the others. So I put that one song in a loop. For the next hour or so, I was happily writing and writing and re-writing…

Hah-hah, I never would have thought. After I got up for a break, having nearly finished what I was writing, I couldn’t help thinking how similar this was to a lesson I learned from one of my favorite Japanese anime movies.

“Carly Rae Jepsen,” exclaimed my friend, Wes, with a big smile across the bar counter as I told my story to him a week later at the wine shop. “No kidding?”

“Yes,” I said. “Nothing else was working. But I started playing that one song and just like that I was writing.”

“Dude,” he said with a bigger smile, “that’s totally counter-intuitive.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “I did the complete opposite of what I normally do and it worked. It’s just like what the hero did in Ninja Scroll.”

“Oh, yeah,” Wes responded enthusiastically. “I’ve seen it! Ninja Scroll is cool!”

“You remember the fight scene between Jubei and the blind swordsman?”

“Yeah, that’s an awesome fight scene!”


Ninja Scroll movie poster from Japan (1993)


Here’s the background. Ninja Scroll is one of my all-time anime favorites (originally titled Jubei Ninpucho in Japan). When it was released in the early 1990s, it blew audiences away with sumptuous visuals and intense, brilliantly choreographed action sequences; even by today’s standards, it’s cool stuff. Edgy heroes and villains, however, are what make the story work. My favorite scene, as you may have just guessed, is the duel between our ninja hero, Jubei, and the villainous blind swordsman.

Confronting each other with swords drawn, the two foes race into a bamboo forest as their battleground. Unfortunately, the blind man’s extraordinary sense of hearing gives him the advantage as he anticipates Jubei’s every move.

“It’s really difficult to defeat a blind swordsman,” the villain calmly but haughtily advises during a pause in the fighting. “To do so, you must be perfectly quiet.”

“Well, I’m unable to do that,” Jubei replies pluckily. “So I’ll do the opposite instead.”

Suddenly, the forest starts to move. To the blind man’s surprise, all around him bamboo trees are lazily toppling to his feet, creaking loudly as their trunks slowly collapse and creating a thicket of sound from masses of branches and leaves scraping against each other. Too late, he realizes he’s been lured into a clever trap: while they were fighting, our hero was also slashing the bamboo with his sword, creating a buffer that surrounded the blind man. Using these falling trees as a sonic camouflage, our hero now vanishes from hearing, leaving the blind villain no choice but to stand very still and strain his ears in the hope of locating the next incoming attack.

“Well,” I continued, “this Carly Rae Jepsen thing was like that ninja technique.”

“Yeah,” Wes concurred. “Yeah, I get it…do the opposite!”

So there it is. I appreciate the ninja lesson, Carly Rae. If you’re ever in the Philippines, please let me know so I can tell you in person. Call me, maybe?





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