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Change is hard – even if it's welcome, and especially if it's not. How do we react to it, and why? What does it show us about others and ourselves? When the ground shifts under our feet, what are we capable of doing? We all have our stories. Here is one of them:

Change or die

Photo by Robert Muller

"I had been a musician," said Kasumi, "a full-time musician, and I was getting weaker and weaker and weaker. And I didn't know what was wrong."


Now a highly regarded visual artist, experimental filmmaker, computer wizard, Guggenheim Fellow and former Cleveland Institute of Art professor whose recent work includes digital pieces built on patterns of movement to evoke memory, Kasumi had started out as a lute player who performed internationally. After 15 years of living and working in Germany and Japan, she moved to Cleveland to raise her young son on her own, but her health mysteriously started to fail. She had so little energy, all she could manage to do was take her child – a theater kid who grew up to be film and television director Kitao Sakurai – to rehearsals and sleep. Her hair was falling out. She made her will.


At last, she reached the end of her strength. Kasumi was in the front room of her house with a friend and fellow lute-player, talking about doing a program together.


"I was standing about two feet from the wall and I felt that death was that close to me," she recalled. In that instant, she thought, "I don't want to be doing lute duets for the rest of my life. I have to find a new way to give my life meaning. It's now or never."


Though her doctor finally recognized that Kasumi was suffering from an extreme but treatable thyroid condition from which she eventually recovered, her sudden urge for change had lasting impact.


"I think that moment opened up a whole new avenue for me," she said. "I think it brought a kind of clarity about how I should be living my life. It was like an epiphany – it had that kind of life-changing feeling. Like, 'this is the last time I'll ever…'. It was palpable."


The intense mix of desperation and elation she felt revealed to her only that she had to do something better, something bigger and more important, with her time alive – not specifically what that something would be. Instead, she slowly discovered it through many small, logical steps that she willingly took.


They started with the audition tapes she'd been shooting for Kitao. She had thought, "Man, if I could just edit these …." She had recently begun learning how to use a computer and decided to get some editing software. That proved hard to master, but with her health improving, she began to understand the computer's artistic potential, "and it was just mind-blowing." Soon, she began exploring a visual version of the theme-and-variation approach she had used so much in her music.


That work has taken Kasumi far. From her split-second of crisis have come unending new skills, ideas and applications that she might never have tried if she hadn't regarded her near-death sensation as a door opening for her. The experience "sort of symbolized getting out of a rut," she said. Because of it, she added with a laugh, "my rut-extraction techniques got better."


Now, Kasumi deliberately shakes her life up from time to time. "I don't fear the change as much. It can be like walking off a cliff," she admitted. "But wow, yeah: Change is good."     



To learn more about Kasumi and her work go to:







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