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Art of Living Blogging Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Moulting

Moth chrysalis waiting out the winter

Moth chrysalis waiting out the winter

Just as spring seemed about to step into the garden another snowstorm has hit Tokyo. For Tokyo this is unheard of… four snowstorms in one winter. Something is definitely amiss in the planetary teacup.

Weeks have now gone by since I announced that I would go on hiatus and I think the decision to take the time away helped a lot with both figuring out what I want to do with my time and with the kind of relationship I want to have with computers and the internet. More than anything is the conviction that taking a lot of time to engage with the natural world must be a top priority in my life. It may not mean as much to other people, but ever since I can remember the natural world has been the defining element of what makes me happy and what brings a balance to my emotions and my understanding of what it means to be alive. Whenever I’ve been apart from natural things I’ve always felt unbalanced and always felt as if that necessary extension of myself that completes the feeling of “embodiment”, but which exists separately from my physical body, is missing. I am more than just myself, and just like a member of a community, my relationship to the natural world has always felt like a completion of parts. I honestly don’t think that individuals can find fulfillment in themselves alone; somehow the natural world, as we like to call it, but which I would rather call the “real” real world, acts as an engine for our identities as physical beings in a living community. Without the Earth we are incomplete, because the Earth itself is the summation of its vital parts.

The time away from the blog came in part from a major systems failure on the part of my former web host, losing all data and promptly going bankrupt. It all happened last November, with a failure to notify me. So one morning in January, when I tried to log on to the blog to do maintenance on spam and outdated links, there was nothing there. It’s taken me all this time to get the basics back on line, most of it in the form of manually writing in all the old entries from seven months ago. This was all made possible by a happy coincidence of using ecto for the offline blog writing. (for anyone who uses ecto… and in my case the Mac version… and needing to retrieve lost old blog entries, just go into your home/library/application support/ecto/entrydata.plist file and you will find all the post data there. Unfortunately the whole retrieval procedure must be done by hand, which takes a lot of time) I was able to get back all the old entries, though I lost all the wonderful comments that went along with them.

So the blog is back up in basic, default theme form. I also migrated away from Movable Type and am camping out in WordPress for now. The whole web page will undergo major changes, with more focus on writing about nature, travel, and cultural identity and as much cutting out of political comments and personal gossip as possible. I am putting together a multiblog/gallery/online store/online nature and community magazine/freelance illustration and design business/ page that I hope will bring together all my interests and better exhibit who I am and what I love to do. Eventually I hope to be able to run a business with enough income that I can support the kind of lifestyle that I’ve always wanted to live… namely living part of the year in one place, doing stationary work, and the other part of the year traveling, visiting all those places in the world I’ve wanted to see and actively working toward learning about, helping to protect, and actually spending real time in the world’s natural places, while at the same time coming to terms with the unrest of being from a multicultural background and never feeling at home anywhere.

In a way I hope to make the web site a learning tool, a teaching tool, and a storytelling tool that will both communicate with other people while entertaining them, and showcasing my skills in such a way that people might buy my books and illustrations, possibly join a paid membership “online theatre” (at first with static drawing stories, called “Kamishibai” (paper play) in Japan, but eventually and hopefully with flash animated stories, and, for Japanese readers, possibly even online English-teaching story service) or ask me to do projects for them. (In some ways similar to FusionSpark and FableVision, though with a much less “canned” outlook, perhaps more like John Shelley Illustration) I have no idea if this is going to work, but I’d like to give it a try.

Ever since an online misunderstanding I’ve become wary of the way things are expressed on the internet. Too much is taken for granted and too much is enclosed within the limited language of the written word and the faceless, gesture-less, expressionless world of online communication. So much of how one is perceived hinges on the careful selection of words and not enough on who one is in real life. It is so easy to misconstrue one’s intentions and to write one thing, but mean something completely different. I’ve often wondered why it is that from the start I had to be careful about opening myself too much on the internet; now I just think that it is like any time you meet people you don’t know well… too much information without the proper context can come across as threatening or unfriendly. Those times that I’ve met or spoken to people I got to know first on the internet have proved to reveal personalities remarkably similar to my original impressions, but with subtle differences that only meeting them in real life could affirm. And it is the substantiality of the meetings that made the difference.

I’m not sure what lasting effect any of my online comments have made in the past. I know I have been offensive at times and at times too whiney. I’ve tried to speak with earnestness and have never meant anyone harm, but in my anger or neediness I may have asked for too much or assumed too much before thinking or taking the time to understand. I’d like to be more careful from now on and to use the internet less as a bouncing board than as a pool of words to contemplate, listen to, and learn from. If I can’t give the best of myself to this pool then there are no words to be added. In the eight years that I’ve been deeply involved with the internet I’ve found that little of the critical contributions I’ve made or read have made much difference in how I feel about things overall or perceive things. Even all the information I gleaned about the Iraq war and the goings on over the environment have only served to raise my hackles and punch out. I’ve lost a few friends. Little was gained.

What has made a difference are the stories people have told and the way they have done things and the beauty in things they have seen or created, things that have moved me like Subhankar Banerjee’s photos or Beth’s sensitive and searching ruminations or haunting work like Plantage by Jakub Dvorsky of Amanita Design. Such encounters have shown me the wondrous possibilities of the internet and after coming in contact with them I can honestly say that I sat back and felt deeply satisfied, the way a good book gets you.

This is my intention on the internet. If I am to speak and to show my hand in drawing or photography or storytelling, it must wind around the heart and leave people with a seed. And hopefully a flicker of movement in their souls that they can take with them into the light of the real world. Otherwise my speaking here has no meaning, and my time in the real world no connection to this electronic vision.

To me my time in the real real world is everything.

Categories
Art of Living Blogging Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Detour

This morning I made a comment on an online group I am a member of that must have hurt some of the other members. A mean and craven comment. It goes against everything that I believe in and the way I wish myself to live my life. I just don’t like the person I’ve been becoming lately.

It is time I take an honest to goodness look at myself and my life and to focus on making the changes. I need to quit getting distracted by the computer and the internet. I need to feel substantial again and I can’t do that while continually living in an electronic world.

So I will be going on hiatus. If I come back it will be with more focus and discipline. And I hope to have a lot of unnecessary things cut away. It was nice sharing all these experiences with you these last two years. Perhaps we can do it again some time, perhaps soon.

Take care everyone.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Skipping Stones

Cherry leaves clinging
Last year’s cherry leaves still clinging to the branches

Last year’s cherry leaves still clinging to the branches

After seven days of insomnia, the last three of which I got no more than three hours of sleep, I finally put my foot down and forced myself to reset my biological clock. Two nights ago I struggled to keep my mind from spinning out of control in the darkness, but to no avail, and so the snowshoeing day trip I had planned for myself fell through. I was just too exhausted to attempt walking in the mountains… Probably not even a good idea. So yesterday I forced myself to stay awake all day, no matter how woozy I got, so that by the evening I could be exhausted enough to make it through the night.

It worked, sort of. It was a fitful slumber: I kept waking to the pellmell rotating of my miind as it slid over various sticking points like the tines of a mucis box. During the week before my mind was an amorphous mass, all the anxieties and self-doubts bristing with urgency, so that none of it made any sense, but sifted through with a kind of red alert alarm: “I have to get all this stuff done now! I have to make the big changes *now*! It can’t wait till morning. I’ve put things off for far too long!”

Of course, by morning the troubles had accumulated to the point of mild insanity. My heart and head throbbed and just trying to accomplish daily responsibilities served to nudge me into irate outbursts. I couldn’t think straight.

Waking last night, though, I waded into the pools of anxiety and just stood there, taking deep breaths. Calming the wild-eyed horse inside me. Whispering to myself as if I were a skittish wild animal. Being gentle to myself and telling myself that everything was okay. That the morning would come and I could take a first step. The poinding heartbeats slowed, the fingers of cold air that seemed to have slipped under my quilt drew back, and the odd shadows around the room relaxed into familiar forms… a jacket, a bed post, a slipper, a book…

It reminded me of what one of my oldest friends, my first girlfriend, A., from Germany, a treasured friend since I was fourteen, said to me when I last saw her just after my wedding: “I think you don’t feel safe in the world and that is why you can’t sleep at night.”

How right she was. I rarely have trouble taking naps during the day. Perhaps it is the free rein of my imagination that partners with the darkness and the wind outside the bedroom window.

And then there is the silent presence of my wife beside me in the bed, to whom I cannot turn for reassurance or conversation. Too often the solution is to roll out of bed and tiptoe into the living room where I turn on the light so as to banish the wraiths floating about. Or occasionally to huddle in the darkness there, while my pet turtle eyes me from his rock, whispering to myself all the mistakes I have made, or all the wrongs I have commited, or confirming my cowardice over taking a stance and changing my life. Sometimes I switch on the late night TV and begin weeping with the sentimental movies. A stupid, weak, inadequate, pupper of a man for not holding up to the expectations and wishes of the women in my life. Or so I sometimes keep telling myself. What is it they want? Why do I have to continually fight to remain myself around them? Why is it that my sense of identity and joy has come to revolving around some other person’s whims? What happened to that adventurous and world-delighted boy who always knew what he wanted and the way he wanted to live?

Perhaps, and more likely, it is the sheer grip I have on my own expectations of myself and no one else can live up to those standards. Not even myself. I look over my shoulder and recall all the times my wife, my family, and my friends have told me that I am a difficult man, someone whom it is hard to like. An accusation that feels like arrows every time.

But I never willed myself to be this way. I never set out to cause others to find me difficult. It is like sitting in a tree and watching my shell perform some other person’s play. From up here all I can confirm is that I feel as vulnerable as anyone, as human as all of you out there. It doesn’t matter that I am a man. Or that some of you are women. Or that the way I perceive the world or act within it is any less strange or difficult or incomprehensible than that of anyone else.

I feel sad all the time these days, 24 hours a day. Even when I am laughing with my students or with my wife it is surrounded by sadness. I just cannot shake it. I read other people’s blogs, record the onward flow of their lives, listen to the range of activities and relationships and interests, and I get more and more down. I am jealous. I feel that I am trapped and haven’t a clue how to get out. I try to think my way out of it, but the logical arguments cancel one another out. I try to adopt a “positive” attitude as so many people (who always seem to be in an upward swing of their life at the time) keep harping for me to do, forcing myself to joke around and laugh, being silly when I don’t feel silly, or switching to intellectual argument mode, so as to keep from feeling anything. From people who don’t know me, haven’t taken the time or had the inclination to know and spend time with me over the years and see the whole, instead focusing on one little incident or stray comment that sums up, to them, who I am and what I am like.

And it seems it has been this way a long time now. Few people have watched me struggle with these past few years, at least not intimately. Almost no one has spent physical time with me, sat with me, shared times of quiet or laughter or eating together or just walking together. Not even my wife. And so I’ve been breaking down, slowly but surely. Loneliness and silence can softly rip you apart.

My inentions are good, but I never mention the leaks in the hull. I haven’t opened up about my breakdown on this blog so as to protect others and keep them from worrying. I kept repeating over and over that keeping quiet was a good thing, a strong and mature thing. That there was nothing to be done about it any way.

But I am not doing well. Talking about my anxiety over the demise of the natural world, while just as true, is partly a cover up. The truth is that I have tramped into the age of 44 and I look around and find myself almost completely alone. I am not happy with the work I do for a livelihood. My marriage has stalled and I can’t even find professional help, here in Japan, to see how to save something of it. I spend most days speaking not a word to anyone, until I head off to teach English to students and colleagues who see me as no more than a resource, something so ironic that I have to laugh. Those people who I know are my close friends and with whom these years apart have no effect on the bond of our friendship, seem shores away, almost like dreams from another time.

So the forced resetting of my biological clock was a necessary first step. Taking first things first. It is time to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on those things that I *can* affect. Like caring for my diabetes. Like paring away all those cobwebs of ambitions and distilling a few skills and potentials that would culminate in work that I would find fulfilling. Like thinking about my own needs for now and getting them right. Like being honest and forthwith about what is really important and discarding anything that wastes time or feels unworthy. Like slowly rekindling the old friendships, looking for those whom I have lost, and finding new ones. Like stopping just talking and actually doing. Like starting life again at 40.

I’m not sure why I needed to write this post at this particular moment. Just needed to get the load off my chest, I guess. For anyone reading it, please take the self-recrimination with a grain of salt. It is a casting of one stone to skip across the lake’s surface. I have many more to follow, some of which might skip a little better, others worse. But just wanted to let you know that upon writing it I feel a lot better. The steam is letting off the coffee and I can heave a big sigh. And the sun outside already looks just a tad bit brighter. this dark cloud will also pass.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Adapting the Fire

Everyone’s comments have made me think a lot about my own attitude, and how my own attitude probably helps in shaping my misery. Though my love for nature is genuine, and I do need to find the kind of natural environment that brings me close to a sense of balance within myself and the surrounding environment, I also knew what kind of environment I was getting myself into when I moved here (though this place is exceptionally unfriendly and developing way too fast, with little thought given to the quality of the neighborhood. My last apartment may have been too small, but, even in the heart of Tokyo, it was quiet and the neighbors were so friendly that we had parties together and took care of each other’s children and pets). Aki’s comment particularly rang true with her insistence that it is how you choose to view a situation that in the end determines how that situation affects you and the people around you. Her example of Nelson Mandela was powerful. Here was a man who had been locked up and abused for years, and still he managed to get out of it with hope and grace and respectability. Instead of nurturing hate and revenge, he insisted upon fairness and understanding and thus managed to end a state of affairs that was intolerable for the black people of South Africa. And to relinquish power, too! What a generous and wise spirit!

I further read some thoughts by Robert Bateman, perhaps my favorite wildlife artist, in which he speaks of the need for people to learn, as he did in Europe, how to live within one’s circumstances. While I don’t intend to start another diatribe against America, I do think that the expansionist, pioneer attitude of Americans today is inappropriate in a world so overcrowded, and that it is this attitude, in great part, which has contributed to the intolerance that began the Iraq war.

I have to look at my own development, too, when I speak of “nature” and our relationship to it. Before I left Japan after high school, to attend university in Oregon, I loved Japan and Tokyo so much that I wanted to become Japanese. I saw no ugliness in the city and the crowds and jumbled development actually felt normal to me; it was the world I had grown up in. Upon arriving in Oregon everything felt odd and overgrown and frighteningly over-spacious. For more than a year I couldn’t get used to the empty streets and never bumping into people. The stretched out lawns in front of people’s houses, without walls, and the vast concrete wastelands of parking lots seemed a shocking exploitation of precious land. The gargantuan invisible wall of wilderness, where bears and cougars and men with guns roamed, was so alien and vast that for years I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and never dared venture too far into it without friends.

Living in Oregon for ten years, though, gradually eroded my conceptions of space and humanity. Concentrating on courses revolving around the environment and listening to passionate professors speak about the “loss” of this wilderness and the supplanting of old growth forests with human plantations, biased my ideas about what was a fair assessment of “nature”, and what an ideal human habitat might look like. The ideals were particularly American, home grown from a land of people used to great open spaces, abundant wealth, complacent in their expectations of land and standard of living. When I began studying architecture the mantras of relevance and respect for existing historical precedents meant thinking of buildings like an American, building with an American sense of size and personal comfort, ways of seeing the built world that were completely outside of my own experiences in Japan and Germany.

I returned to Japan carrying this new load of cultural baggage, my eyes newly attuned to a different wavelength of tolerance and expectation. Whereas Tokyo, before I left, had seemed beautiful in its details and the people finely accentuated for living within the environment that had shaped them, I now saw only seething crowds and a mess of unkempt buildings. And I hated it. Try as I might I couldn’t restore the old faith in things Japanese and join the people in delighting in the trivial trinkets that so plague the society today. Part of what I sought had been lost during the social shakedown of the Bubble Era and I was returning to a different world, but in large part it stemmed from my own changes. I had lost the Japan of my youth.

Perhaps this learning process comes in big steps that you take at certain junctions in your life. First was the pastoral wonder of the world in childhood, then the reinforcement of ideals to reach for in America, the plunging into reality in my post graduate period, an awakening to the enigma of arrival in my early middle years, and now, something new, a further step in awakening and change. It is an often painful struggle, like the writhing of a moth pupa when something dangerous touches it, but cleansing, too. Perhaps the step to be taken is not some harboring of resentment against the people around me, but to actively take part in transforming the world I inhabit, to embrace it and mark it with my own brand of charm and vision. Certainly sitting here fuming alone in front of the computer can’t spell an iota of influence upon the neighbors. But if I were to offer something to admire and like, something beautiful and open, with my heart ready to suffer the gauntlet, then perhaps my own spirit will emerge free. After all it is a pact with humanity that I seek, not nature. Nature is there of itself all the time; it is the vagaries of the human experiment that so troubles me.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Unsheltered Sky

Magnolia Storm
Magnolia visible from my living room window in April, just before blooming, Tokyo, Japan 2004.

It’s been a month of losses. Losses in time, losses in money, losses in confidence, losses in trust, losses in sleep. And recently a great loss for my sense of balance within my own home: the small, deserted lot just outside my living room window, over which I would peacefully gaze every morning as part of my ritual of waking up and feeling at least a little connected to the natural world, was suddenly converted into a two-story apartment building. Within one day the only view of the sky that I have in my apartment was wiped clean of any further connection to the horizon. And a disconnection to the magnolia tree that I have been gazing at every day for the past four years.

Here is what has been taking place (along with daily pounding of hammers and screeching of saws) You can see the magnolia tree in the back, between the scaffolding:

 

 

 

New House Building

Now my home is completely surrounded by windows and walls. With the recently moved-in family on the other side of the apartment, complete with four screaming little kids (promptly waking me each morning at 5:30, effectively drowning out the birds, and continuing unabated all day until the first crickets begin to try their tentative chirps), and my wonderful college kid neighbors upstairs who love rearranging the furniture at three a.m., I feel as if the spirit of Tokyo has flooded my sanity with its hordes of restless crowds. This also being Japan, however, you are expected to grin and bear it, taking it all down to “shoganai” (It can’t be helped). But shoganai it ain’t, because my heart and soul remember much freer pastures and greener grass. Certainly I’ve never in my life felt this hemmed in before.

To make matters worse, the hotel project I was working on came to an end, finally, only to leave me with the news that I will only be getting paid about half of what was originally expected. Still not sure about the logistics behind this, but I suspect a disingenuous spirit on the part of my benefactors. It’s been, to say it mildly, a crappy sort of day. Now it looks like I have to put up my dukes and fight it out for proper compensation, though I have the sinking feeling that, as has happened five times before here in Japan, I will lose the round. If anything this experience has confirmed in me a great disillusionment with design work and any sort of foray into advertising and such. I knew it when I started this project, but like money always does, especially when you really need it, I listened to the clinking of coins.

House View Gone

I do have to say, though, that taking a run later in the evening, along the darkened proliferation of reeds and vines along the river, cleared my head quite a lot. Bats and toads and feral cats and a bellowing American bullfrog greeted me along the path, reminding me of the simple pleasure of moving and smelling the cut grass in the night air. And as I ran the knot of anxiety and feeling of being wronged evaporated. Perhaps it was a good thing that the project ended with a flop. After all, it was never what I wanted to do in the first place. So I finished the circuit around my neighborhood and slowly came to a stroll. A gibbous moon hung pregnant in the sky.

Is it just me, or does everyone feel a primordial need to live close to the seasons and to the breathing of the Earth? Does everyone else also feel an almost unutterable ache somewhere in the interior when it seems as if your life is disconnected from the very source of its heartbeats? Why can I just not feel happy with this citified world that has heaved up around me? Why do I constantly, every single blinking moment of the day, and on a deeper, soundless level at night, feel that my life is unbalanced and shallow and hungry? And yet I can sense the source of satisfaction and joy somewhere around the corner. If only I wasn’t so groggy and full of fog. If only there was just me and the open door, all the stuff released behind me.

Categories
Art of Living Journal Musings Self-Reflection

Desert Flowers

Wall Lizard
Female Japanese Grass Lizard (Takydromus tachydromoides) sunning itself on the wall of my apartment, Chofu, Tokyo, 2004

Funny how the mind works. After quite a spell of feeling pretty good about myself and the window into my own heart, suddenly this enormous feeling of close despair hit me for a week. Everything around me suddenly seemed too much, nothing was lovable or nurturing or wholesome. Even the words that I attempted to wrangle into some kind of meaningful dialogue about the world seemed to coalesce into beetle browed grumbles about any and everything. Worrying and seething over things happening in faraway Iraq and America… What an exhausting week.

Then, while riding the train and doing my usual reading I came across this quote from David James Duncan’s “My Story As Told By Water” :

“Aren’t one’s mental energies a bit like a knife-scoop of mustard and one’s geography a bit like a piece of bread? Isn’t it true that if your bread is thousands of miles across, you’ll be spreading your mustard mighty thin? The world, it seems to me, is awfully big, a human is awfully small, life is awfully short, and most of our plates are mighty full for our personal geographies to approximate the international or national geographies. When humans go global with their geographies, bad things happen to their thinking.”

He goes on to talk about the necessity for us to wrap our minds around what we are capable of grasping, that any more than that we risk losing touch with what make us what we are. There is a lot more than that, of course, but it hit me then and there on the train that one thing I lack is a true sense of dwelling in a place. Not just existing somewhere, but actually becoming wholly involved with the function and symbiosis of a habitat, including more intimate responsibility over the food that I eat, deeper knowledge of the creatures that live around me, and a stronger presence with a supportive community. There is none of that here where I live, at least with me as a foreigner, more or less outside any spirit of neighborhood goodwill that so far I have not seen to exist any where around my home.

These last three weeks have begun to awaken me to new goals and possible further errant steps in this haphazard track I’ve wandered down all my life. First it was a realization of a need to delve deeper into feminine ways of seeing the world, now it is an active search for a real place to call home. Quite a few people have criticized me for searching for “a perfect place”, chastising me with the worn phrase, “there is no such thing as a perfect place.” I’ve maintained that I have never searched for heaven on earth, but rather a more or less constant state of deep involvement with a natural place, that numerous times throughout my life have culled a state of grace and joy while I interacted with such places… even during the hardships that often accompany such places. Maybe other people can’t identify with natural things… but I know that when I walk in a healthy wood or along a wild river or even just wander an ecologically balanced human landscape, such as some places I’ve seen in Norway, Sweden, and a few small villages in the mountains in Japan, the sense of completeness fills my soul. When I see plants and animals in abundance, living their own lives alongside mine, then I feel the world is whole and wonder sustains me as much as the healthy food I eat.

It seems other people have been going through this sense of despair throughout the blog world. Quite a number of people have been voicing doubt about why they blog and what significance it might have in their real lives. A lot of it has to do with the awful things happening in the world and the sense that something fundamental is being lost. The words in the blogs funnel around a empty core from which people seem unable to escape. Hope seems to be evaporating with each proclamation the world leaders make.

But there are people pushing back the envelope of fear and hopelessness, too. Denny, of Book of Life has held on to those things that give meaning to each of our lives, the “personal geography” that David James Duncan speaks of. And Charley Reese’s latest article, “A Sense of Wonder” retreats from Reese’s usual preoccupation with the darker things happening, focusing instead on the joy that children experience of the world, and how we must find the childlike enthusiasm of the enlightened, delighting in the simpler things, the living things, the magic that is the very material of existence and the world.

I want to try an experiment: instead of keening about the terrible things going on, let me try to rediscover the old rhapsody that I carried with me while I wandered the fields and woods as a boy. Beneath the concrete surrounding me the soil still harbors seeds and little creatures, all the little live things. There is my door, there the sky, there the cracks in the concrete and the birds in the trees. It’s a start.

I used to sing a lot. Time to listen to the melodies again and love the world. To, as Denny put it, be grateful.