“There are some sketches of Nezumi in this book, Shikashi said, handing it to Mike. “My mother couldn't stand to hear me say I wanted to do art. 'Art ruins lives,' she said. I could think of a whole lot of things that ruined lives worse than art did, but to say so was the wrong answer.”
Mike flipped through Shikashi's sketchbook. “I always thought of art as a somewhat noble pursuit,” he said. “We all have so much energy inside of us – love, hate, anxiety, frustration – with no guidebook on what to do with it. So we could turn it against ourselves, with self-destructive behavior, or try to release it through violence, or we exercise, or we can create art that cleanses our soul, and makes beauty out of life's suffering. We can communicate with ourselves and other people the things which can't or shouldn't be expressed in words; it's a non-imposing way to unburden the soul. The artist just puts something out there, so there it is when somebody else wishes to come along and view it. And then maybe the viewer's life is enriched as well. You sure draw a lot of insects and plants.”
“I like green,” Shikashi said, “and I like drawing bamboo. It was one of the first things I remember learning to draw. Those are mosquitos,” he pointed, “but I can't say I like mosquitos. They're fun to draw, that's all, with their freakish angles.”
“I know they're mosquitoes. I didn't think they were puppies or a bowl of fruit! Hmm, 'Art ruins lives,'” Mike pondered. “Did that have anything to do with...?”
“I don't think it had anything to do with my father and her. I think she was concerned I would live this mythical artist's life, full of drugs and danger and that I would live in a squat and contract diseases, all because I like to draw.”
“She didn't think you might someday be recognized and well-paid for your talent?”
“I think she believed the lifestyle would kill me first. There's something to that. A lot of artists think they have to drink or take drugs to be creative. I have to be sober, pretty much, to produce anything of value, but the process works me up into this state of distress. When I search my soul for inspiration, I drag out a lot of loneliness and despair that I didn't realize I had been suppressing. And it's sort of necessary to feel these things, because how can I express myself without first finding out what I need to express? And then I find what's missing from my life, and I feel hollow and miserable, and the more I try to express it and get it out of my system and onto the medium, the more clearly I'm reminded that I was abandoned, that my father almost lost his mind, that if my mother could see me now she would disapprove of my life, that I can't find a woman to share my life with and even if I could, I probably wouldn't be able to talk to her. And then what happens? I feel the need to get stupid and numb, and I drink and smoke and do all kinds of irresponsible or impulsive things. And then I feel like my life is falling apart, and I think, would I be in this condition without my art?”
Mike said nothing but just looked deeply into the sketch he had found. It was a portrait of Nezumi, framed by an incredible art nouveau border containing stylized images of rodents and bugs, flowers and flytraps and bamboo, and multi-tierd waterfalls. Her eyes were cast down, her long eyelashes reflecting the grasses and carniverous plants in the border. Her lip shape was perfect, and Shikashi had adeptly translated Nezumi's characteristic expressionless mask onto the page. It was the face she put on when she didn't want to trouble anybody with her problems. Mike knew this face as well as Shikashi did, and it was just about the saddest thing he had ever seen.