(Please click on the images to see them at their full size.)
More drawings and sketches from my journals and sketchbooks.
(Please click on the images to see them at their full size.)
More drawings and sketches from my journals and sketchbooks.
Today my blog is five years old. I’m amazed that I’m still at it after my first post in 2003. Since that time the blog worked its way into an important aspect of my life and the way I think. It helped me meet new friends and challenged me to sometimes think deeply about how I saw things or how I acted. Much more than a diary, it grew with my thoughts and often branched out from interactions I had with others. Intellectually and perhaps emotionally the blog acted as a slate to compare myself to.
So much has changed since I started the blog, so much of what I wanted to do here has mutated and adapted, so much of how I feel about myself and the world has evolved. The rage against the war has quieted and my very lifestyle has taken a big sidestep way off the path I had earlier imagined my life would be. If I am honest I can’t say it was for the better, at least not yet. I just spent two months almost totally solitary, without anyone to talk to or go see (my university doesn’t allow the teachers to go anywhere during the two month break). I’m just barely hanging in there mentally and with the university school year starting up again tomorrow at least there will be contact with people to offset the loneliness. But it is a rather empty poultice due to the school’s awful indifference to its employees and the terrible morale. In my whole life I’ve never worked in a place so unorganized, full of discrimination, and rife with resentment.
But I realize it is just a stepping stone and I must endure for a while. In the meantime I am making plans. I hope to get a degree in environmental education and eventually work with place-based education, hopefully while still using my background in writing and art. I’ve been researching online degrees and, for later, resident degrees at different educational institutions, places like The North Cascades Institute and The Antioch New England University Department of Environmental Studies. I’m not sure I can follow up the education with good jobs here in Japan, though I do hope to spend some time with Kevin from One Life Japan and learn a bit more about alternate lifestyles in Japan. I’m not even sure that getting yet another degree will help me in the direction I want to go at all. I’m more interested in grassroots education than the big, disconnected world of academia.
Socially Japan has been a disaster for me and as I see it right now it is time to move on. In August I hope to take a few weeks and visit Vancouver, Canada and take a look around at possibilities. I think it has all the advantages I am looking for in a place to live, including all the natural wandering grounds I need so badly, a diverse culture, a softer political atmosphere, connections with Asia, and relative proximity to my mother and brother on the east coast of the States. I also have friends there so I wouldn’t be starting out completely alone. I still think about New Zealand, and want to visit possibly next winter, but it is awfully far from family. But I haven’t completely ruled it out yet. Of course, I still have to find a way to get into any of these places I am looking at.
It’s really too bad that I couldn’t find my place here in Japan. Maybe it is bad luck or maybe it is my terrible social skills. It doesn’t help that I am shy or that I don’t like pushing my ambitions on others, though I know that in order to survive and get your way in the world you have to be aggressive. That’s the Japanese aspect of my personality, I guess. The only thing is that it doesn’t work if you’re not Japanese, so I end up being humble without the benefits. But who needs benefits? (^J^)/”
Keeping at the blog for five years has been an interesting ride. It still hasn’t ended yet and I hope to organize it better so that I can post more regularly and keep in better touch with those who visit. If anything it is the people I have met here that have made it all worth it.
It’s like a path out of the mountains that you just finished. You look back and the rain clouds have obscured all signs of where you came from. But if you trace your route back you can find the places where one path separated, or joined, or veered off.
I got a letter from a cousin the other day detailing my family history back ten generations, something I didn’t even know was possible because my paternal African-American and Filipino sides had been so ruined by my ancestors having been slaves and a populace taken over in a colony. No records had been kept of family lines here. But my great-great grandfather in South Carolina, where my African-American family is Gullah, from Hilton Head Island, was a white Jew named Driesen. I going over the records my cousin was able to step back ten generations, 1621, to a couple in County Cork, Ireland, Teige and Elizabeth Cantey.
You can imagine my reaction… “I’m part Irish???”
I wonder what traces filter back down through the genes as one generation flows into the next. Is there such thing as genetic memory? Or do ghosts of a person’s experience and sights burn into the film of the next generation’s life plate? Does it mean anything that somewhere in the mists of time two Irish people nudged my existence with their children and then made the frightening crossing over to North America?
But there is something deeply comforting in catching a glimpse of the trail that led me here. All these years it has been a blur. I feel more connected to the earth now, as if my cells now lead further back and I am not just an afterthought.
Arrived in Champex this evening tuckered out from a harder climb than I had anticipated. Most of the early part of the walk wound through little hamlets with mazes of streets and crooked, weathered chalets that looked as if they had been standing there for several hundred years. Until now it was probably the most beautiful and cultural immersed portion of the walk, giving me a real sense of what the old Alps must once have been like. I wish I could see it in winter.
Don’t have time to write a lot right now, but during the last climb of the day I came upon a valley that so looked like what my grandfather used to take me walking to when I was a boy that all sorts of memories of my childhood in Germany, of relatives who died, like my grandparents and last year my aunt, from diabetic complications, that upon arriving in Champex and the still lake there with its tourist boats and little pensions, I almost broke down crying in the restaurant. I guess loneliness of the walk is getting to me… though I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, nothing really longer than a few hours, then I’m on my own again. In the restaurant a group of other walkers sat together relating the day’s experiences and it was hard just sitting there looking out at the lake with all those memories coming unasked. I closed my eyes for a while after drinking my coffee and wished each of my loved ones well, hoping everyone was peaceful and happy and not lonely anywhere.
The fight to keep your composure and make it through these trying moments is part of such a walk, of course. I hope I can make the walk something really worthwhile.
Wishing you all good night.
One more day to go. I’ve been so busy with work and preparations that I haven’t had any time to post anything here. As with all such things problems pop up at the most unlikely times. For one, another big typhoon is making its way along the Japan archipelago, but hopefully it will veer off toward Korea. Then there was the problem with travel insurance. I applied for membership with the Austrian Alpine Club, UK branch, specifically so I could get the mountain walking insurance (including health and rescue) and discounts on mountain huts in the Alps. However, when I recieved the membership card in the mail, my name was printed out wrong, with no sign anywhere of my last name. I emailed and then twice made an expensive international call to rectify the problem, and you know what, they flatly denied that there was any problem with either my registration information and the card, in spite of evidence right there in my hand. They cancelled my membership without looking at the scan I sent them and had the audacity to say that I didn’t know what I was looking at! Well, now I don’t have travel insurance and with diabetes that is a BIG worry. I just can’t understand what induced those people to treat me like that. It took me four months to find a travel insurer who accepts diabetics.
All I can do now is either completely give up going up to the mountains, or just damn the torpedos and hope for the best. I’ve been dreaming of this trip for more than ten years, so giving it up would be self-defeating.
I’m excited about getting out of Japan after all these years, but full of trepidation, too. Yesterday as I was wishing a good summer to people with whom I work and ended up walking home along my now daily route through the rice fields, I wondered why I was doing this, heading off yet again alone to some mountain somewhere, undoubtedly to go through bouts of loneliness and sadness. Why don’t I just stay home, find someone to settle down with and love, and forget about subjecting myself to the rigors of the road? The other day an old woman sat down next to me on the train and indicated two children across from us sitting in the “Silver Seats” for handicapped and elderly. “Japanese children these days are so spoiled, don’t you think?” she asked me (already a rare occurance… most Japanese will never assume that I can speak Japanese) “When I went abroad last year I was shocked when someone next to me told me that the two children standing next to me were not allowed to sit down, because to stand built character and showed respect for the elderly. Don’t you think that Japanese children should do the same?” She turned her coke-bottle glasses to me and blinked at me with big expectant eyes. Of course I had to agree. Then she asked, “Do you have children?” “No,” I replied. “Ah, but you’re still young,” she said, nodding. “I don’t know. I’m already 46,” I said. She shook her head, and then, in a loud voice so that everyone in the car could hear her, she boomed, “Oh that’s so sad. What is it, something wrong with your semen count?” I think I must have shrunk to the size of a grapefruit. “Oh, don’t worry about how much semen you have. You can always go to some countries I know, get an operation, and soon you’ll be squirting the stuff all over the place and having 20 or more little rugrats!”
In spite of the humor in that encounter, I thought a lot about her saying that it was sad that I didn’t have any children. I’ve often wondered if that is what is missing from my life, because I can’t seem to find that one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes me feel like a human creature that has filled its purpose in this world. I don’t know, maybe that has nothing to do with children at all, though.
So tomorrow I’m going to the Europe. I will arrive in Zurich, Switzerland, spend a day or two there, head over to Lucern and Interlaken, maybe catch a jazz festival or so, then head into France to Chamonix where I will spend two or three days acclimatizing to the altitude and seeing how my legs are faring. From there I hope to head up to the Tour de Mont Blance, about a 10-day walk about the biggest massif in western Europe. I hear it’s one of the greatest walks in the world. Most likely I’ll have some more days after that and if there is enough time I will head on along the Walker’s Haute Route towards Zermatt, where the Matterhorn is. Even if I can’t walk it I think I will at least take a bus there just so that I can see that famous peak. Then it’s down to Italy to relax and do some architecture viewing. If it’s not too far I’d like to go see the architect Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery, one of my favorite examples of architecture. But none of this is set in stone; I’m aiming to be very flexible and not be too hard on myself.
I’ll probably have internet access here and there and will try to post occasionally, but since I want to get away from the computer I will only post a little. Hope to stay in touch with you all!
Have a nice summer!
Fred from Fragments From Floyd first made the call to people to try their hand at this exercise, an expression, in verse, of your origins. ( Fred’s version ) I first discovered it through Pica’s version in Feathers of Hope, and a little later from Bill’s version in Prairie Point. It’s a delightful exercise and, like Fred, I encourage everyone to try their hand at it themselves, and either post it on their web journal, here in the comments, or over at Fred’s. Here is the basic format: I am from…
Here is my version: ( “Nature Boy” was the nickname that I was given in elementary school and that stuck with me until I graduated from high school. I hated it in the beginning, but have come to feel that it describes me very well )
I am from cobblestone streets wet with oak leaves,
from the tantivy of pigeons circling.
From Tante Luise’s soft fingers grasping a worn potato knife
and Oma tiptoeing by the window sill, watching pedestrians.
I am from terra cotta roof tiles and forests of chimneys,
from a grandfather clock chiming at midnight.
From cherries and plums and dewey blueberries in bowls,
from echoing stairwells and the acrid bite of coal and potatoes in sacks.
I am from Opa’s tar-stained fingers grasping a hazenut stick,
from stock still hares and barking roe deer.
From an open top Morgan purring down the Autobahn,
from clanking trains pulling into iron framed halls.
I am from Mama’s worn diary and sepias of country lanes,
from Papa’s white lab coat and Vespa touring the tarmac.
From ship smokestacks gliding atop a levee,
from a first kiss in the westering sun.
I am from brick walls laced in ivy,
from mantis nymphs spilling down a papery shell.
From smashing a neighbor’s igloo and squirrels clattering along eaves,
from a blue blizzard toppling my friend, a weeping willow.
I am from the tales Joseph told of elephants in Rhodesia,
from the Planet of the Apes and a bone tossed into space.
From hoola hoops and Hot Wheels,
from pansit served with yams and cranberry sauce.
I am from candle balloons filling the air and cherry bombs in toilets,
from Auntie Soli dancing the tiniklit, between bamboo poles.
From Josh’s sister abducted and never seen again,
from Tatsuro’s Egyptian cartoons and Bitsy’s flying tackle with a kiss.
I am from a short-eared owl staring from a barn roof,
from the white teeth of children in a black Brooklyn school, streets shouting, “Integration!”
From horseshoe crabs washed up on Jones Beach,
from hoary firs standing silent as I land.
I am from limestone walls bulging from muscling zelkova trunks,
from sweet straw mats and shoes kicked off by the door.
From cicadas electrifying the summer haze, making trees speak,
from wooden sandals clip-clopping along train platforms.
I am from helmeted students shouting, “No war!”,
from pantomiming five comedians on black and white TV.
From shaved ice with melon syrup and glass balls punched into bottle necks,
from the girl down the street who never said hello.
I am from Jonathan shouting, “Jumbo Jet!”, everyone rushing to the window,
from Peter’s water pipe and my bloody nose.
From a family of foxes pausing on the dirt road up north,
from rhinoceros beetles and luna moths and azure-winged magpies.
I am from hitting tennis balls at a wall, sobbing and wishing for friends,
from jam-packed commutes and girls in sailor uniforms.
From lying beside the Okhotsk Sea with my brother, watching Perseid meteorites streak the wide ink sphere,
from clouds drifting across the face of Fuji, crowning her in white.
I am from the North,
I am from the West,
I am from the East.
Is there time, still, for the South?
I received a letter from my brother in Boston today, telling me of his fear and worry for the future. What struck me most and filled me with sorrow was his sense of despair, saying that nothing could stop Bush from doing anything he wanted. I didn’t recognize the fear in his voice until I read his letter a second time, and I realized that the atmosphere around him in America was overhwelming him, breaking down his defenses and confidence. Talk of war and destruction, lies, deception, injustice has been going on much too long. People are at a breaking point all over the world.
I cannot give in to despair. That world of the arcing sun, of clouds of birds, of wind and rain, people dragging themselves out of bed in the morning to head off to work, of children’s laughter, of seeds sprouting and dogs barking… this is what I live for. And I can’t abandon it. I must protect it anyway I can. It is the treasure of my life, all life. Life and the Earth are what it is all about.