When I lived in Japan I joined a flower arrangement club. I didn’t have any interest in flowers, or tradition, or grace, so it was an odd move.

I did, however, have a friend who was the president of the Ikebana club at our university, who had helped me out a lot in the first months of school. In classes Ryoko made sure I was following along by grabbing my sleeve and whispering, “Understand, Emi?” She blinked a lot and made audible breathing-in noises whenever she was about to explain something difficult or ask me a question she thought I could potentially answer no to. So when she invited me to come watch her Ikebana club, I could only say yes.

The sensei, who was in her late 70s, helped me prune my branches and buds into the appropriate shapes. Then she impaled them at specific angles onto a square… More…