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 Iraq War Journal Musings

The Ugly Little Man in the Closet

American tortureI had to remind myself today why it is that Bush cuts so deeply into my soul. It felt as if I had almost forgotten. The zoetrope of news images, flickering by so quickly that one outrage blends into another cause the colors to mash into a sickly brown that no longer has any distinction. If you look back on the last four years, though, you have to ask how it is possible that so many American people could have systematically and so quickly forgotten something as stark and irrefutable (yes, I know nothing is irrefutable in political spin) as the torture in Abu Ghraib. It is as if nothing happened. No one of any consequence was held accountable. Like oily slivers of rope the leaders most responsible slipped away into forgetfulness, like so many other things they slipped out of. If you are at all a decent human being and sincerely believe in all the hype about American ideals and greatness how can you possibly turn your eyes away from this, or to even let it sink into oblivion, and then smugly go ahead and vote for the people most responsible for it?

I visited The Memory Hole again and sat for a long, long time whispering prayers to myself and for the victims in the pictures. I couldn’t turn on the news for fear of being presented with those images of Bush and his wife strolling about like royalty. I wanted to be sure that I was grounded in the reality of my outrage for Bush and to keep reminding myself why I can’t loosen my grip on the armrest. So many people tell me to relax and not let these things bother me, because there is nothing I can do about it. I just wish there had been someone there to tell that to people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or even Jesus Christ.

As a non-American living far away on the other side of the world the elections were more of a sticker shock value than a potential reordering of the universe. It was sobering and enlightening to report to work earlier this evening and have not one of my Japanese co-workers so much as mention the elections. It was sobering because the true place that America has in the world and in the hearts of people around the world was made abundantly clear: America figures not much in most people’s lives and the elections were nothing more than an enormous fiasco of people blathering to themselves. My sense, in the Japanese silence, was that Americans tend to take themselves entirely too seriously, raising themselves upon media pedestals all out of proportion to the honest reception that most people in the world are willing to give them. “Yeah? So what is new,” could have been the reaction here. It was simply perplexing to see this glittering pageant, like some kind of coronation, over-running the airwaves. Let no one say that the Americans have abandoned the monarchy or subservience to the overlord.

Perhaps it is the very desire to find conflict in every little discussion or statement that twirls Americans around with such contention. Even blogs, like this one, seem to survive on contrasts, and little stories behind the back. The entire Bush strategy resides within a bubble of inflated fear and controversy. In this climate it will always remain impossible for communities to flourish and nurture one another, or for diversity to strew an odd mix of seeds among the roots.

Let no one forget Abu Ghraib. Let no one render it merely an anecdote or a behavioral anomaly. When you find yourself wavering in the effort to nurture peace and understanding, or grow weary of the unrelenting madness of Bush, go back to the pictures of the tortures and remember how it all started. That should jump start the old cables and fire up that engine again.