Friday, September 23, 2016


You may have wondered about that portrait I included with Jayme Odgers's story yesterday. I myself had not thought to ask--had thought it a kind of charming metaphor for insouciance and defiance as the face and body age and disease takes its toll. Turns out I was pretty much right in my interpretation, though I was ignorant of the back story. Jayme sent me a follow-up yesterday, as a clarification. Here's the image again:

Jayme Odgers, Wearing the Toothpick High
And here's the back story:

Wearing The Toothpick High
by Jayme Odgers

The title for the self-portrait came to me by way of a story I was once told by a dear Japanese friend.

During Japan’s feudal era life was good for the samurai. Being at the top of a caste system of farmers, artisans and merchants, they were kept well fed so they would have strength to protect those that hired them. The samurai code of bushido, or the way of the warrior, was one of high honor, extreme discipline and deep morality.

Samurai traditionally made their living on a fixed stipend from landowners. However, with more peaceful times, circa 1588, stipends dwindled. This literally put many of the samurai out of work. Many lower level samurai starved to death, unable to get work.

The few that survived had immense bushido, or warrior pride, in themselves and their highly evolved skills. Being seen as hungry was the surest sign of their appearing to be out of work, therefore unwanted. To be desired one had to appear successful—this was most easily accomplished by being seen as well fed.

Unemployed samurai would stride around making a show of themselves by rubbing their bellies while brandishing a large toothpick in their mouths, acting as if they had just eaten a hugely satisfying meal while actually being starved. This hopeful pretense was called “wearing the toothpick high.”

I made my “wearing the toothpick high” self-portrait to show that, even though being wasted away by a dreaded disease, I can still appear the picture of health. I might even convince myself!

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