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Drawings Sketchbook

10 Years Today

(Please click on the images to see them at their full size.)

Laughing Knees is 10 years old today! What started out as a way to express my rage and anguish at the Iraq War and Bush, gradually lost it’s fever and mutated into something much closer to my heart. It’s been a long, long journey, not always easy, but also never boring. Blogging has connected me with people around the world I would never have met otherwise, some of whom have become close friends, and most of whom I am still in touch with even today. While I haven’t been around much for the last two years, lately I’ve begun to revive my interest in blogging and slowly uploading material that wasn’t part of the blog in the past. I hope to make Laughing Knees more comprehensive, but also more focused. Hopefully you, my friends, will find more to read and think about in the coming 10 years.

(These are not the best of my drawings, just a sampling of my recent, first scans. I hope to get some of the better ones up soon.)

lk_studies_004_banner_ideas
Laughing Knees started out as a reaction against the Iraq War, and was the only way that I was able to express the rage and anguish I felt. But as time went on I couldn’t sustain the anger, and reverted back to my normal, daily thought-about connection to the natural world and being outdoors.
lk_studies_003_front_page_layout_notes
Laughing Knees started 10 years ago today. I’ve been designing and redesigning elements of the design and layout again and again, never quite happy with what came up on the Web, or simply too unskilled to get it to be the way I wanted it to be. My original goal was to make the blog resemble pen-and-ink drawn illustrated books of the 1920’s, and of Tove Jansson’s wonderful, wonderful series of Moomintroll books. Alas, I could never quite figure out how to get the images in there. I’ve gotten the basics of CSS design and layout down, but not well enough to really do a good job controlling the elements.
lk_studies_001
Study for a sidebar banner for Laughing Knees.
lk_studies_002_windblown_trees
Originally the blog was supposed to have a separate banner for each category, but at the time I didn’t understand what the difference between categories and tags was, and hadn’t quite understood the way that loops had to be used, so was never able to implement more than one banner for the whole site, except when I divided the website into 5 separate websites… way too much work!!!
lk_studies_005_banner_ideas_002
It took quite a few years to begin to really understand exactly how a website navigation system is supposed to work. Coming from books, I had a tendency to think in static pages, not quite getting my head around the fluid nature of hyperlinks. Because of that there was a lot of redundancy in both pages and links.

Naturally it wasn’t all the blog that was on my mind all those years. However, besides writing and photography, I’ve also spent countless hours drawing the world around me and figments of my imagination. Recently I took out 30 years of sketchbooks, backs of envelopes, napkins, and margins of tests and note-taking during boring work meetings, and started to scan what I hope are the more interesting outtakes. Here are a smattering I’ve started with:

field_notes_001_rock_meadow_massachusetts_1991
Drawing something helps you to understand something, and see it, much more comprehensively than taking a photograph does. I’ve been drawing and examining and sitting for hours watching insects, birds, plants, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, spiders, the wind and rain, clouds, mountains, and ocean waves all my life. I can’t imagine my life without them.
1994_04_15_yatsugatake_with_yumi_rainstorm
I have to been to the Yatsugatake Range more often than any other higher mountain range in Japan. I’ve been going there since I was 10 years old, staying at a school camp in Kiyosato. For some reason it holds a special place in my connection to mountains, seeming to pull me toward it every opportunity I had. I got married there, did my one and only hike with my father, wandered the higher trails crying my eyes out the week after my wife and I made the decision to get divorced, and immediately followed by the tragedy in New York on September 11, and slept for the first time in snow. A special place.
domestic_plant_studies 001
I’ve never been very good at taking care of plants at home, though I’ve always had some growing if just to bring in some life to the often dreary living quarters I had. I have doubts about keeping any kind of living thing captured, away from their natural homes.
notes_penmanship_practice
I love writing by hand and doing my best to make the writing look well proportioned and flowing. I started when I was in elementary school and am still learning to get the proportions right. Because of my diabetes my nerves don’t work so well anymore and at times it is very hard to get the pen to do my bidding. Practicing the writing helps keep me steady and to see new ways of forming the letters. I’m still not happy with my signature after a whole life attempting to get one I like!
ul_hiking_001
In the early days of my lightening up my backpacking load, I started out with this gear. The Hilleberg Akto tent was, at the time, one of the best lightweight solo tents around. 15 years have passed since I started, and along the way I went to the lightest I could get it to go, just about 3 kg. But when arriving in camp late in the evening in the cold and rain, with nothing but a long night under my tiny tarp to contend with, I began to miss being able to read or while away the hours with my camera. So I began to add back those things which allowed me basic creature comforts so I could enjoy the trips, just enough to make it worthwhile, but not so much that I ever got bogged down again. Ultralight changed the way I walk and spend time outdoors, or even traveling.
Beth 1991
It’s amazing how the women I’ve known in my life have changed me and unwittingly helped me to grow as a person. While not always tranquil, much of what I learned was an opening my eyes to both what other people are and how they see the world and want to live, as it was a growing understanding of who I am and what worth I have. Beth, probably more than any other woman I’ve known intimately, helped to understand that life is for living fully, no matter how difficult the circumstances. I will never forget her elfin smile and indomitable flair for adventure.
people_studies_002_plane passenger
Airplanes are like hell to me… an enclosed tube in which I must sit for many hours without moving. One way I pass the time is to draw sketches of people around me. It often helps me to empathize more with the often short-tempered or unpleasant reactions many of them have when I encounter them. Often it’s led to conversations and friendships.
people_studies_003_izu_beach_father_son
When you take the time to look, you will see tenderness everywhere. It isn’t all anger and violence and indifference, that seem all-prevading when you browse the Internet. This is what the world is made of and what keeps it beating. Without it where would we be?
1994_04_16_yatsugatake_with_yumi_climbing_akadake
View of Akadake, the highest peak in the Yatsugatake Range.
1994_04_15_yatsugatake_with_yumi_country_road
Walking along a country road outside Kiyosato, in the Yatsugatake Range, Yamanashi Prefecture
people_studies_001_east_izu_1992
People are endlessly fascinating. I love sitting somewhere and just letting myself become part of the place, while watching people and drawing them in all their emotional and behavioral range. strange for someone who is very shy and doesn’t communicate easily with people…
nude_studies_001
It’s been a while since I did live model drawing, but it is still one of two of my favorite subjects to draw. The other is landscape drawing. Even though the subject is just a human being, the expressions you can discover and the connection that we humans have to one another becomes more and more apparent, and trying to bring that out without making it look like a caricature is one of the most difficult tasks an artist can try to master.
foot_studies_001
Hands and feet are among the most difficult parts of the human body to capture correctly. Especially the hands. I have a particular love for feet. They can be incredibly beautiful.
animal_studies_singapore_zoo_african_elephant
Zoos are very painful places for me to enter. Few zoos treat animals with enough knowledge and respect to allow them to live even close to their natural way of living, and I believe no animal should be in a zoo. But the Singapore Zoo was, to some extent, an exception. I wandered about the park-like grounds and spent hours drawing the inhabitants.
Categories
America: Society Journal People

Holiday Wishes

Like Hiro from “Heroes” I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew I was standing downtown in Manhattan, the yellow cabs bustling past and all the noise and hubub of New York all around me. I was back in America! It’s been a long way since all the craziness of the tragedy and my refusal to have anything to do with this country. But family is family and you can’t be angry forever. It was time to return and take stock. So here I am at my mother’s apartment in uptown Manhattan, trying to get over jetlag, but joyous at the empinada I ate yesterday evening and the friendliness of all the people on the streets, but most of all to see my mother again. Living across the ocean from her really makes distances hard. And such a relief to open the door and see her standing there.

The big surprise was immigration at Kennedy Airport. Instead of a reenactment of the horror stories that everyone around the world is grumbling about, going through immigration and customs was actually pleasurable. The immigration officer was playing Christmas music on his iPod, with little speakers to fill his cubicle. He gave me a big smile and was a friendly as can be. He asked about Japan at this time of year and wondered if it was cold and people celebrated. Then a song came on the iPod, one by Josh Groban, and the officer lit up like a Christmas tree candle.

“Have you heard of him?” he asked. “Man, a voice like an angel! You’ve got to listen to this.” Then, in spite of all the exhausted passengers waiting on line behind us, he turned up the sound and closed his eyes as the music flooded the immigration hall. I stared at him as if I had entered Wonderland. This was the fearsome American immigration?

Within fifteen minutes we had made it out to the arrival lounge. Ten minutes later a shuttle bus driver drove up and asked us if we wanted to go to the city. Two other passengers, a Japanese woman traveling alone and a Colombian who lived in Atlantic City were huddled in the van together, heading for Port Authority in Manhattan. Bobbing to Salsa on the van CD player we all laughed and shared stories of Japan and working there. I had forgotten how easily Americans speak to each other.

With a quiet night of sleep behind me and a rather warm, sunny Christmas Eve morning to wake up to, the start has been wonderful. I guess as always it is important to just take the steps out of your door and let things come as they may. My brother arrives from Boston this evening and then we can really start laughing and enjoying each others’ company.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope you have warm and memorable time with your own families. Deep peace and quiet hearts to everyone.

love,
Miguel

Categories
America: Society Iraq War Journal Musings

Why Non-Americans Often Hate America

I am so angry I can barely find words to express what I want to say here.

Tomorrow my Brazilian wife has to go to the American Embassy in Tokyo to be subjected to an “interview” (substitute that with “interrogation”) to determine whether or not she will be eligible to transit in Houston, on her way to her home country of Brazil. She has to get a visa for transit! Not to stop and spend any time in the States, just to transit! And get this, she has to pay a non-returnable “fee” (read “extortion”) of Â¥18,000 (about $180.00) for the privilege. On top of that, she has to be fingerprinted while in transit. And furthermore, she has to do the interview in English, even though she doesn’t speak English very well.

There is no other country which does this. Transit for God’s sake! I wish the world would hit back and force only Americans to be subjected to such “interviews” every single time they cross a border, to be fingerprinted with indelible ink on every finger at every port of call, to be forced to undergo the “interview” in every language but English, and to pay $200.00 every time they even fly over another country not their own.

What makes me hopping mad is that this is being done to my wife, one of the gentlest, kindest, most unassuming people I’ve ever met. The whole New York tragedy and Iraq war insanity was something that made so little sense to her that just watching it on TV was like watching a conversation between lunatics. She’s so scared tonight that she can’t sleep. And since she’s alone in Tokyo, I can’t even comfort her. I cannot forgive people who scare those whom I care about. There is no reason whatsoever that my wife should have to feel any kind of fear about going home. And since several of her Brazilian friends have been plucked out of lines in the American airports and strip searched, she’s worried about being subjected to indignities.

God damn it! How I wish that Americans would get their come-uppance for how they’ve treated the rest of the world for the past five years!

Categories
Japan: Living Journal Life In

Bristles

What a way to wake up in the morning. There I was watching the news the other night when Japan’s main news station NHK was focusing on the best rainwear to use in the recent torrential rains and thinking, “Boy, everyone is just itching for something awful to happen again.” Then I wake up, turn on the news for the weather (a huge deluge is predicted until the end of the week, with record flooding), and come across this, North Korea launching six missiles toward Japan.

All of them fell into the Sea of Japan, but as yet no one is sure if they were intended to fail or if they just hadn’t worked. Needless to say, the response has been one of reserved alarm, everyone rushing about on TV trying to figure out if this really is a threat or to give their opinions on Kim Il Jong’s intentions. The Japanese news is naturally directly concerned with Japan’s own safety, and the mood on TV and from my friends sending me e-mails, is of grave concern. One of the NHK panel experts stated that between the launching of the missiles and their reaching their target the response time is, at longest, 4 minutes, three being the average. The fact that even after having launched an assumed 6 missiles no one is really sure exactly how many were launched.

And yet, the general mood is one of deliberation and forbearance, rather than the outright “Bomb them into the Stone Age” response of some other countries I know.

Watching the American (supposedly “international”) news typically their response is “What danger does this pose to the US?” Not even any mention of what danger this much more immediately poses to Japan and even more so, South Korea, at and over which the missiles were launched. CNN hauled up the old 2002 Bush pronouncements of “The Axis of Evil”, taking the opportunity to justify all that Bush has done over the last five years. Never mind that these missiles were actually launched and people’s concerns here deserve more attention than, for once, the eternal and all-pervading paranoia of the US.

Meanwhile us mere mortals here on the ground are feeling our mortality. Sometimes it seems the juggler has all the knives up in the air and his hands are no longer as deft as they used to be.

Categories
Journal Musings People

Book By Its Cover

Just finished watching the first three episodes of the American television program Black. White.. It is very likely the most difficult television program I have ever watched. Five minutes didn’t go by in which I wasn’t clenched up and tight-jawed, and so wound up that I kept fidgeting in my chair and getting up to visit the kitchen or the bathroom or just to look out of the window.

The program is about two families, one black, one white, who, through make up and coaching, switch places as blacks and whites and experience what it is like to live life in the opposite shoe. Watching the different family members go through their individual awakenings and gradual comprehension of what it is like to be black or white really has you sitting at the edge of your seat, especially because some of the transformations get quite intensely emotional. I found myself agreeing with and cursing at both sides, coming as I do from a family of both blacks and whites and Asians, and having experienced all sides of what these people are going through.

More than that, though, the program had me looking intently at myself and my own daily experiences and prejudices that I carry around. The other day one of my readers wrote that they didn’t see any difference between the experience of whites and non-whites, that much of the hostility that goes on is just in people’s heads. I did not want to reply because it is such a common belief among whites that trying to argue about it usually results in denials and resentment, even heated fights. But if you happen to be non-white, the way that other people, even other non-whites, see you and react to you comes out in a million nuances that will just not appear when you are white. There are big differences in how whites and non-whites experience these little and big things in every day life. As the members of the white family in the TV program soon realize, when you live in the white world in general you don’t have to be on guard; you can blithely speak your mind or interact with people around you without worrying that others will not accept you on looks alone. Things like where you walk on the sidewalk or which words you use or how you might inadvertently touch a stranger can make or break your chances to get into restaurants or be served at a store.

But what I really admired about the people in the program and the program itself is how they try to be honest about how blacks themselves hold preconceptions about whites and how those preconceptions can affect everything about how they understand whites. There is one scene where the white woman, Colleen, visits a black neighborhood as a white with her husband dressed up as a black and the hostility that they encounter and the realization that the simple fact of her skin color being different totally closes their world to her and conjures up hatred among those blacks with stronger feelings and closed minds. It is quite sobering to watch her struggle with the anguish of dawning comprehension as her face literally alters from one of someone simply having fun to one of grave recognition of reality. Her husband Bruno refuses to budge, still clinging to his safe, unchallenged, middle class white views of a world existing in relative utopia. Their 17 year old daughter, however, embraces the chances she has and makes courageous efforts to both immerse herself in black culture and be completely honest with them. Of all the people, she seems the most able to gain something from the change. In some ways the white family resembles my mother’s German side of the family, but Germans tend to carry a quieter, more self-effacing outlook on life than the almost oblivious, unassailable self-assurance that the white American family seemed to take for granted, so there were differences.

At the same time you watch the black family and I guess whether you are white or black or something else you will run through a gamut of agreements and objections to their observations and experiences. They resemble my father’s side of the family (Filipino/ South Carolina blacks who have lived mostly in New York’s Brooklyn, the Bronx, and across the river in New Jersey), with the same openly expressed strong opinions and colorful language and awareness of less privileges in life. I found myself almost ready to shout at the the members of the family when they walked into a white place and without anything happening immediately raising their hackles. You could almost feel them fishing for hostility. Since the show has only just begun there hasn’t been much development in how the black family learns to see the white world, but it would be very interesting to see whether they can learn to appreciate the reality of being white. Things are not always what they seem.

Probably the most powerful message I might get out of watching the show is in changing the way I angle my view of situations. So much of politically correct conversation these days acts upon established stereotypes of what entails such no-no’s as racism and sexism. If you go to a movie or watch a television show or read a popular book, you can almost predict to a letter what the women and men and blacks and whites are going to do or say before anything happens. Whites always “don’t get it” and always subject blacks to indignities and losses of chances. Men always miss what women are asking for and trample women’s “empowerment”. The women in the movies have to be strong and morally incorruptible. The blacks in the movies always have to be indignant and full of rage against injustice. There is rarely room for real human beings who make mistakes, learn, hurt others, fail, or question their own identification with their predetermined roles.

Recently, Chris Clark of Creek Running North, wrote a piece about feminism. He ran through a list of reasons why a man cannot count himself a member of the coalition for women’s issues, simply because he is a man. I unreservedly agree with Chris’ assertion that men simply cannot know the details of living as a woman, in the same way that a non-white cannot possibly know what it is to live as a non-white. However, what rankled me about the post, and the consequent comments, was not its defence of women and the need to work to improve women’s situations in the world, but with its assumption that all men are somehow innately misogynistic and that women are somehow morally and socially superior to men, basically lumping all men together in the same way that men are accused of having done to women. That kind of thinking has become almost universal in the States now, so much so that it is extremely difficult for any man to publicly voice his opinion without automatically being voted down as ignorant and opportunistic. In the comments, as in so many such posts on feminism, no one dared contradict Chris, especially not men. The present climate in these debates is that rape and mistreatment of women is a trait all men carry and that men should take it on faith that whatever comes out of their mouths has no worth in the conversation. Either the men acquiesce to the pronouncements made by women, or they should shut up. Forget the fact that there are plenty of men like me, and for that matter, Chris Clark, who have always respected women, often the “nice” men whom many of the women ridiculed in high school and at social gatherings, for not being “cool” or “sexy” or “bad” or “confident” enough. Chris’ post stereotypes all men as the macho jocks that I so hated in high school. Indeed, much of the whole debate takes on the high school flavour of cliques and hierarchies. There doesn’t seem to be any room for diversity among men as there is always assumed among women.

One thing that I find so important about the “Black. White.” show is its attempt to get blacks and whites to experience what it means to live in another’s shoes and then to get the participants to talk about it and to not set the individuals into molds as to how they should react as things unfold. This, more than anything, I think is the crucial point to learning how to live with and deal with social issues such as racism and sexism; all the people involved need to somehow get a view of what it means to live as the other does before they open their mouths and paint imagined pictures of the truth of others. You cannot solve such problems by sitting with your own kind and beating the bush; eventually you have to come out and face those things which you fear to face, namely your own ignorance and unwillingness to give another the benefit of the doubt.

My one question though, in terms of authenticity… how exactly do the participants get genuine reactions with the camera crew hanging around in the background all the time? How much of what is going on is pure entertainment, and how much unadulterated truth?

Categories
America: Society Journal Musings

A New Step

Gingko leaves on ground
Gingko leaves piled up along the edge of a bridge. A de-saturated photo, in real life the yellow of gingko leaves is brilliant

Ever since the avalanche of disappointment following the defeat of Kerry in the U.S. elections I have been pondering what it is that so disappointed all of us and what exactly it was that we expected. For the hope seemed to include more than the sum of American voters themselves; there was a worldwide investment in the expectation of a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous future for the planet as a whole, and the defeat of Kerry let down a lot of pent up frustrations.

Rana, over at Frogs and Ravens, in her usual eloquent and challenging way, asks what direction the blues might take in the dealing with the many social questions and problems that America and the world face. Her post approaches the question from a mainly internal American point of view, and focuses on how the American governing system might be changed. The comments that follow attempt to answer her with various analyses of American history and government structure. Rana herself questions the wisdom of continuing with the present government system and suggests working with a new group of progressives who might reform the system.

In my own reading of articles on the internet, blog posts, listening to discussions, watching the news, and going over the whole shebang in my head, more and more I return to the cause of the great disappointment people all over the world felt. Why was it that the path America, a separate nation, chose to take meant so much to so many billions of people? The most common and immediate answer invariably is that, with America on a rampage around the world and with Bush manning the guns, self-preservation and altruistic concerns for countries like Iraq would be the motivating factors behind everyone’s wishes. And rightly so. In just four years, Bush has managed to upset nearly everyone and seriously undermine worldwide peace.

But I’d also like to suggest another motivation behind people’s bated breath before the elections: The world is ready for a great reformation. Countries all over the world are beginning to let down their guards and talk about opening borders. Europe has already taken the first step with the formation of the E.U., overcoming millennia of enmities and cultural differences to attempt to work together and seek a common vision. South America seems to be taking the first steps toward pulling themselves out of poverty and corruption, toward a continental unity that could well put America’s rhetoric to shame.

Perhaps what most infuriated people around the world, including a huge portion of the American people themselves, was America’s blatant refusal to bide by the world community’s carefully established and hard-won rules of communal governing. Humanity’s first honest attempts at tackling such huge global problems as environmental destruction (the Kyoto Treaty), human rights (the World Court), and nuclear disarmament (the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) were simply brushed aside by the American government, constantly putting itself above the common rules. America wants to impose its standards and desires, but will not respect those of any one else.

I’m wondering, though, if what so many people want is a better way to deal with things like terrorism and environmental destruction, instead of feeling helpless all the time. It is time that some kind of system was enacted which allowed people all around the world to, on a grassroots level, have a say in what goes on in the world. The election of Bush, for instance, is a decision that deeply and directly affects all people around the world and, as many have suggested, solely leaving his election to the American electorate is unfair to the rest of the world, to say the least.

With the internet vastly improving transfer of information around the globe participation by people around the world has, for the first time, become a growing reality. Would it not be possible to form a global network of citizens, each acting locally, but participating at different levels of global involvement, that would allow all people around the world to have a direct say in what happens to their world? For international issues such as one country attacking another, putting it forth to the entire population of the world and allowing their votes to determine what ought to be done or prevented? Isn’t it time we stop thinking in terms of petty borders and think of the world population as one, with every man, woman, child, non-human, and element of the Earth carrying an equal share of the rights American espouse so much?

I believe that the reason no one can find solutions to the dilemma of such dinosaurs as the American or Russian or Chinese governments right now stems from a deep satisfaction with inbred ways of thinking. We have become a global community, whether we like it or not. It is antediluvian for us to still think in terms of “us against them”. While local cultures and government surely must continue to deal with the day-to-day workings of local communities, and national governments must still maintain a coherent order according to cultural realms, global problems like global warming and war cannot be left in the hands of unilateral decisions. The world is too close-knit for such sensitive and potentially disastrous decisions to be left to a few, self-interested individuals. This world belongs to all of us.

I am not suggesting revolution or violent action. I am suggesting a parallel, worldwide civic movement and, hopefully, eventually, citizenship of an organization that works mainly on information and keeping citizens informed. If the vote is truly as effective as it was meant to be then setting up a system whereby people around the world can vote for worldwide matters might stop people like Bush from regaining or gaining power.

Simply protesting is not enough. People all around the world need to have a say in all the matters that affect us all. And peacefully saying no and affecting worldwide decisions with methods similar to those employed by Gandhi to motivate the Indian populace against the British might possibly bring about a reformation in global politics and stewardship.

Categories
Humor Journal

The Warm Glow of Distant Turkey

One of the things I’ve always loved about the Thanksgiving holiday in America is that more often than not it falls right on or around my birthday, November 26. Here in Japan it is already the 26th so I can bathe in all that cross- world cheer going on on the lighter shade of pale end of the globe. All those people unwittingly celebrating my birth! And going out of their way to bake, broil, roast, boil, saute, flambe, rotisserie, simmer, fry, deep fry, stir fry, chill, freeze, mix, toss, and stuff that groaning weight of delectable table fare, just in honor of my coming into the world! How nice of them! Like an offering. Or a tribute. They even brave the binary storms of air traffic control to ratchet across their landscapes, pulling together for genetic camaraderie, all to thank me for my existence. I must say, that though I never asked for it, there is a wonderful sense of delight, knowing that people will even go on holiday and proclaim a national weekend off so that I might have a day to myself, comfortably ensconced in a cornucopia of food. Winter may be coming, but the fat that will build up will last until spring: the closest form of nature worship that I could have hoped for. I feel like the Green Man or Bacchus. The revelers dancing for plenty and sheer forgetfulness!

Well, I am 44 now. I had promised myself that by this date I would get myself into Adonis-like shape and go prancing in the hills alone, in search of Diana and her stag. Unfortunately the bud of a belly still rings my Saturn and the mountain I plan to climb when the light reaches these longitudes will extract more grunts and heavy footfalls than willow-like grace. But the heart is dancing more than it has been in months, like a little satyr, and I’ve even taken to singing. I hope the clouds clear enough for me to view the snowy tresses of Mt. Fuji from my favorite secret spot to the south; for a day I want to feel small and insignificant, just the pinprick of awareness behind these eyes lost to the vast serenity of Fuji’s great seat. A day for stilling my existence and losing myself in anonymity, celebrating the integration of myself with the wind and leaves. The joy of the windblown soul.

To all those who celebrate it, I raise my glass and toast to your lives and your hearts, for Thanksgiving, in its original sense. Thank you for your company and thanks for the gift of life. Thanks all around for another year. And thanks to the Earth for giving me this moment of simple joy, of being alive on her shores, and for the passage of night and day, toward another rounding of the trail along the sides of the mountains.

It is so good to be alive.

Categories
America: Society Iraq War Journal Musings

When You Fall, Get Right Back Up

I slept like the dead these past two days, giving in to my body’s demand for reconnection to both the grounding of cellular reality and the votive healing of dreams. The sun and the stars vaulted overhead twice before my eyes stopped the light and measured time once again. The fever and the coughing had receded and my throat felt dry. I got up to get a glass of water.

It was very reassuring to read both Pica’s and Numenius’ reactions to the seminar they both attended. Seeing people gather and talk about how to solve the problems encourages me to keep up hope. Part of the difficulty for me is that even though I know that there must be similar gatherings going on here in Japan, I find them hard to locate because my Japanese reading is poor, rendering me practically illiterate in a country of people rated among the most literate in the world. At the same time there is little sense of urgency here. Most people hardly refer to any big issues when conversing. A nation of people in complete denial, even though their prime minister is sending troops to Iraq against the wishes of 90% of the populace, the economy has been in a 12-year slump, and their precious landscape is going to ruin, mainly because of government farm subsidies which render nearly half the farms unattended to, indiscriminate government sponsored road construction, and complete lack of imagination when coming up with schemes to revive local economies. Because there is so little protest going on and grassroots movements are so insular and are actively discouraged by the government and social mores, it is difficult to make a stand on any issues. While politicians yearly inundate neighborhoods with blaring election campaigns from loudspeakers mounted on vans driving through the local streets (something I can’t imagine an American or European town would tolerate), citizens who protest are openly derided on the news as being “too noisy” and “dangerous”. Even one of my close Japanese friends, when I took her to her first anti-war demonstration in 2003, voiced almost hysterical fear of “the mob” before she experienced the peaceful bonding that often occurs in such gatherings. All because of a lifelong subjection to a government-favoring education and society, promoted entirely by a very conservative government.

I’ve been trudging through emotional mud since the American election, trying to find some redeeming bit of news to give me reason to feel I can still trust the human race. It seems as if the world is descending into hell, and that we are teetering on the edge of the anihilation. It is all bathed in pain and I thrash about in my words like a fish snagged by a hook. I am so angry. I am so hurt. I struggle with the urge to hate, though I have no idea which face it is that I am supposed to hate. The Iraq war, the political climate, the threat of nuclear bombs, the impending collapse of the sky and oceans, the holocaust of other living things, even the danger to the very food and water we consume… How can we maintain sanity with such an overwhelming doom-sense hanging over us?

Hate is simply a knee-jerk protest against pain. Surely I have matured enough to draw the pain nigh and encompass it? Surely I can learn from this pain and evolve within the moral landscape? Surely there must be a way to evoke recognition of the fundamental common denominator of being children of this planet? Surely it cannot all be debatable, that there exist some universal truths that cannot be denied?

It is so easy to forget that the TV snatches only a smattering of the leaves of reality fluttering through the air. And like trying to catch snowflakes, you only get a tiny collection of insights into all that is happening. All you can know is the little that your senses bring you, and even that is selected by corridors of concentration.

I glanced up just now at the stillness of the branches and leaves outside the window, burning yellow in the November evening sunlight. Amidst the stillness scribed a hawk moth, wings blurred and hot, all energy tight and focused on the white camellia blossoms she touched and whirled around. She was like a restless scholar with her nose buried in a book, life too short and precious for anything else. An orange-brown speck in my eye, her feeding swept through the moment in an angry delight, arriving out of the air for those traces of sugar, then darting off towards whatever tendrils of taste she followed, out of sight. There and back again, with nary even a word of greeting.

These four years have eaten away at the roots, both in my personal life and in the life of the commons. Sometimes I shiver before opening the front door. But it is all momentary and there is nothing else. You might start by loving, intensely and with all urgency, your immediate surroundings. Recognize that they will soon pass and that nothing will ever again hold quite this shape or pattern. So that when we look up and look further, it is all connected and one, a matrix of pulsing energy and, yes, the glue of love. For what else is life and the world but the congelation of grace?

It is grace that I seek when I scramble for hope.

Categories
Journal Musings People

Dungeons and Dragons

Back in college at the University of Oregon I knew a barrel-chested, hamburger-scarfing, gas-guzzling, giant macho-jock of an American man named Dave. He was a member of a fraternity and every Friday night would subject the dormitory halls to his obnoxious, booming laugh and kegs of beer drinking, sex-driven, rock music-blaring, Animal House-inspired (this was the University of Oregon in 1978 after all, the year after the movie of the same name was filmed on our campus) toga-clad-and-butt-naked-mass-dashes-across-the-courtyard parties. He was an outspoken member of the Republican party and had voted for Reagan. He would throw food at the table of Birkenstock-wearing earth people I hung out with in the cafeteria (those were the days of Animal house-style food fights, which, to my Japan-filtered eyes, represented the realization of all the horrors I had fretted over before I left Japan to attend univesity… a zoo of a country), shouting with a great, Viking grin, “Hey, Granolas, why don’t you go back to California where you belong? (this was also the period when Oregonians broadcast beer commercials turning back Californians from the border).

I knew of course that I despised this asshole, everything he did and stood for.

During this time of my life I spent quite a lot of time with a new game I had become entranced with: Dungeons and Dragons. It involved sitting about with a group of friends, rolling dice, and imagining ourselves lost in a world of heros, dragons, elves, and orcs, role-playing long scenarios dreamt up by a “dungeon master”, who would run the players through a fantasy world of magic and intrigue. With my love of fantasy literature and writing I used the opportunity to write a number of book-length dungeon master games (which sadly I threw away upon graduation, losing the chance to make a lot of money!) that soon became very popular in the dormitories and later throughout the west coast universities. People came from as far away as Washington state and California to play in my games. I saw a possibility in creating more than a novel here… attempting to create a world of the imagination that could be experienced by players, replete with both traditional heroic fantasy themes and further, a concentration on real human themes like love, death, friendship, hate, deception, sex, even religion and philosophy. I was so involved with the game that I would play for three days straight sometimes, forgetting to eat and to go take bath. Some games were so emotionally involved that players would rear back in horror or jump for joy. One scene in particular, within a darkened room in which cadavers lay under a frosted glass floor, left all of us so spooked that we decided to stop the game and go to bed, our hairs still standing on end.

Dave the Bear would, of course, come barging in on these lounge room games and hassle us for our kiddie pursuits and out-of-touch-with-reality hobby. He’d sit on the arm of one of the lounge chairs and peer over our shoulders, guffawing at the crude pictures and odd-shaped dice. “What I see here,” he once jeered, “is a bunch of long-haired fags wanking out together ’cause they can’t fucking figure out the buttons of those dames out there.” (seemingly oblivious to the fact that three women were sitting right there playing the game) “Jeez, get a life!”

I couldn’t imagine someone I would less want to spend any time with.

But one evening one of the players invited him to play a game with us. Dave joined us, somewhat bashful at first, but soon getting right into the excitement once he figured out how the game was played. Within two weeks he had bought his own set of dice, had built up his own proud character, and sat with us at the cafeteria tables discussing strategy and plans for upcoming campaigns. He talked with me about the philosophy I was trying to infuse into the games, focusing less on fighting and war, and more on building up relationships between characters and people within the stories. Somehow these discussions turned from the game itself and began addressing both of points of view out in the real world. The boorish man who terrorized the dormitory halls transformed, in my mind, into this compassionate thinker who, in spite of all the noise he made, honestly cared about the people around him and even vehemently opposed the vast military spending that Reagan upheld. One evening Dave and I sat in the student center (yes, that place where the food fights took place in Animal House), doing our English literature homework together, when he sat back, rubbing his, eyes and began, out of the blue, discussing the dilemma of Macbeth. i couldn’t believe my ears. I had assumed so much, not knowing the first thing about the depths of such a man.

We became close friends. He even invited me to his home in Washington for Thanksgiving one rainy autumn day, something I was deeply thankful for, since I had no place to go home to (Japan was always too far away and expensive to get to) and would spend most Thanksgiving holidays during my college years alone in the deserted dorms, tossing playing cards at the walls. Dave grew into a caring, responsible ally to whom I could open my heart and, even though we often disagreed about politics and religion, splay my feelings about what was happening in the world. Dave helped me grow as a person and to see America from under its wings, in a way that no amount of perusing news articles abroad could ever hope to in revealing the inner workings of the country.

We lost touch with one another after we graduated and I have no idea where he is now. I often think about him and all those other people I grew to love during my college years, people who changed my life and how I see the world. Everything seems so much bigger and more complex now and rich beyond my capability to comprehend. But, within it all, the context of simple, friendly words, of gestures of understanding, and of a willingness to listen on both ends has made all the difference.

Dave, where are you? It would be a great time to have one of our talks right about now.

Categories
America: Society Blogging Journal

Mirrors

There is an enormous discussion (via On Gaien Higashi Dori) going on over at Joi Ito’s page following Joi’s… a Japanese with close ties and long experience with America and Americans… statement about how he feels about the U.S. election. For me it is interesting in that Joi’s perspective more closely parallels my own, but at the same time provides insight into how many Japanese around me feel. You don’t often get these perspectives in the blog world, because most Japanese cannot enter into the discussions at this level of English and therefore people around the world tend to miss what the Japanese might be thinking. It is a close approximate of how much of the rest of the world feels, too. The resulting comments provide a lot of food for thought, but is, perhaps, somewhat unfair, in that for the most part only English speaking readers, dominated by Americans, can necessarily contribute to the discussion.

Perhaps there is something to be learned from Joi Ito’s (and several other Japanese commenters) responses, most of all his willingness to both make an unpopular (among Americans) statement to Americans (hell, you open your mouth and they jump all over you) as well as a willingness to appear human by admitting his own faults and those of Japan. Rarely have I spoken with a Japanese about the state of Japan in which they didn’t apologize for the way Japan is. There is this inherent understanding here that things could be better and, while people here have a long way to go toward getting more involved with their government and the Japanese government itself is a creaking dinosaur, there is a steady, if slow, progression towards newer ideas and social reform. Anyone who was here from back in the 70’s would see clearly just how much things have changed. From a Japanese perspective, comparing Japan’s changes to those of America, there is a real sense of things moving backward in the States. Joi, I think, speaks from that perspective, which most Americans, knowing almost nothing about Japan or other countries, even Europe, cannot hope to use as a base from which to gauge their own society or their situation. Joi’s view, by the very nature of Japan’s necessarily dependent relationship with the rest of the world, tends toward cross-cultural dialogue, whereas American politics and opinions tend to be ingrown and self-focusing.

Americans wonder why so many people around the world criticize them so much. It is not because people around the world arbitrarily hate Americans or feel some genetic need to disparage them. And there are a great number of non-Americans, like myself, who respect, like, and even love Americans (my brother and father are Americans and I have many friends who have been very close to me for over twenty years), but vehemently oppose the government’s policies. The problem is that so many Americans can’t differentiate between themselves as individuals and the identity of the country. As a nation the United States is committing atrocities around the world and forcing themselves upon the rest of us. Any person in their right mind would strongly oppose this and even show disgust, disdain, or outrage. Why these feelings are lumped together as “hate” only tells so many of us that Americans as a whole do not think deeply about social issues and their causes.

The “world as village” model can help us see what has been happening and provides a means for an individual to imagine the emotional gammut that all parties run through. It is the American refusal to acknowledge themselves as a just one member of the community, rather than the big cheese on the block, that so grates on people. Most people around the world after the New York tragedy voiced their sympathy towards Americans. With the Afghan war and then the Iraq war, very few people went so far as to call for the deaths of Americans; rather they called for dialogue and an attempt at reconciliation and understanding, mature and conciliatory gestures from within a working community. Even Sadam Hussein and Muhammad Omar (for those who can’t remember him, he was the leader of the Taliban) requested debates with Bush. Instead the American government sought to lie to everyone, ignore them, threaten them, insult them, and finally roll over their heads and attack two countries which had done absolutely nothing to them. If someone had done that to the Americans, if Americans are even able to empathize with this example, how would the Americans have responded? Graciously? With restraint and patience? Stressing non-violence and respect?


All that being said I can’t help feeling that here we all are going again. For the past three days I’ve been raking over the coals, wandering aimlessly through the wilderness of words between the two huge camps in the night, leaving scraps of food to chew on (with all the outrage of anyone else), stopping to converse with various sentinels, bounding back and forth in my head. I would have thought that in my heart I live among those who opposed Bush, and for all practical purposes, I do. But there is something insidious in the wall of anger all around and in the indifference of those who voted for Bush towards those who now grieve. The divisiveness reflects two sides of a lusterless coin. Either way the elections had gone, one side would now be up in arms, gnashing their teeth, and seeking revenge and reasons to get back at the other side. The very nature of the rift reflects the nature of the whole mess… people have ensconced themselves within a single perspective and refuse to budge from their position. The blogosphere is ablaze with bombs lobbed upon either side, not a soul seeming to stop and consider that the heart of the problem lies in the very inability to talk and find the same vocabulary. The doctrines don’t seem to really matter. Something much deeper is at play and it threatens the very frame of the world’s society. A new Babel over the airwaves, with the towers in flames at our feet.

I propose that the underlying threat arises out of our refusal to acknowledge the state of the physical world, and that in denying it, we have lost all sense of who we are and where we belong. The contention resides in our bones; just look at any other species… it is always a fight over the territory or male dominance. When the territory vanishes, when an animal loses ground, all hell breaks loose. We like to deny it, but we are animals, too.

One reason I stopped blogging at the end of the summer was in great part because of this sense of something in myself dissipating into the light of the screen and my muscles forgetting the stop-motion of walking and immersing myself in the arms of other living things. I had found myself following one contention to another through the cerebral world of blogs and the internet, arguing and sitting alone fuming and gradually darkening my mind with clouds of imagined wrongs. I wasn’t dealing with real people or learning more about living in the real world of nature. The very purpose of my feet and fingers, eyes and ears escaped my notice.

So I must stop myself here before I dive back into the water; I do not want to live my life fighting ghosts and demons. I want to learn to engage them and talk. I want to discover what it is that binds us all together and actuates language. Bush preaches hate and warmongering and revenge and absolutes. He refutes the mystery. And so many have fallen in step behind him, taking up his chants and marching to the beat. That is not how I want to live my life. That is not how I see the living things around me or how I want to greet other people. Not in the language of defeat and bloodletting.

So, as John from Journal of a Writing Man carefully deliberates, it is not the election or the aftermath that I want to embrace, but rather the stuff of our everyday lives, and a willingness to push through the brambles and emerge on the other side. Bush is a reality. I will work steadily for change, not rush it for the ego of one misguided man. The Earth moves along a different chronology from ours. It is up to us to match our footsteps to its rich rhythm. And to learn to speak its language and to remember the origins of work.