Monday, May 30, 2011

Moving, 2011 version

It's just stuff, I say.
I'm lying. like I so often do.
There is my old cell phone with the radio, lying in the trash. There
are the hopes that I would listen to the radio like I did in high
school here, feeling part of the pop culture, singing the same songs
everyone knows, feeling full of hope that this could be my life too,
feeling like I wasn't just an outsider posing in a uniform like
everyone else (but on the weekends running to the park and listening
to Sheryl Crow over and over and dancing all alone)
Box and all, goes in the burnable? no, I should separate out the
instructions... which I've work so hard to read, though repetition
drills and sitting with a coworker reading out loud between classes,
with hundreds of dollars invested in books and dictionaries. It's not
my language anymore.

And the phone should go in unburnable, right? Or can I maybe recycle
it? Does it still have my old pictures of biking through the Nikko
mountains and feeling so unstoppable and free? Is the browser history
long dead after long train journeys skimming through craigslist ads,
wondering how I can find more people and fluff up my life and settle
down here?

And those comics on the wall? I might as well throw them out. I
mean, sure they are my brother's but they are printed off the online
versions. Sure they are this link to what we both felt in the jungle.
Sure they are a link that pulls us closer in a common subtext that no
one else really gets.

Burnable.

And the maps. Sure they are just from a hundred yen store. One I
made a point to go out of my way and visit because most dont have
these maps. Maps that I stare at and find inspiration over and over.
But where will that inspiration lead me now? I have different hill to
train on and different roads to ride. These mountains will soon be
too far away to hear their seductive calls weekend after weekend. But
no. I'll pack these anyways.

My mother's art and a beautiful handwritten birthday letter, packed
safely away. But what about all these drugstore cards? My experience
tells me that you never know when that stupid and simple card will be,
suddenly, the last letter that loved one has sent. And what then?
Does that make everything memorabilia for the possible sudden death of
everyone I know.

Sometimes.

Burnable, nonetheless. I know how they say the words, 'I love you'
and I know how they sign it on the bottom of cards. I know that in my
heart. I will always be able to picture my mother's hand writing.
That is enough.

People tell me of all the things I should keep. People tell me that
surely, I'll have room in my bag for this or that... maybe I do. but
really I don't

I can still feel the cold of sitting on the cement in the storage room
with all my moms stuff. One year after her death, my brother and I
finally doing something about it all. Her old clothes with the same
smell. The childhood chair that was the best fort turned upside down.
The flour grinder that she used before baking her own bread, the
house smelling of yeast and a warm oven for days.

I will never find cinnamon rolls as good as those, filled with walnuts
and brown sugar and hours of her strong hands kneeling the dough.

But what could I do with a 100 pound flour grinder when I live my life
out of a backpack more than an ocean away?

And away it goes.

The pots and pans I don't mind. Most are stolen anyways. When I
moved back I swore I was going to invest in a good set of kitchen
knives and that, alone, would make a symbol of home.

Backpacking through Argentina, my temporary romance blooming with a
man who loved to cook and got so tired of hostel knives he bought his
own. Carried it around in his backpack as we traipsed through dusty
wine country towns. Because to cook is to make a home. Even if it's
for a single night. Garlic and onion stained hands, the rhythmic
attack of vegetables preparing to make a lovely piece of a story that
seems to always be so filled with laughter.

But in the end I never got good knives. In the end I picked up some
cheap but sharp ones off of craigslist. Slicing open my finger early
in the year, desperate to make dwindling savings account stretch to my first
paycheck, sacrificing sleep to cook for myself and save a few yen.

Those knives can go. Any home is fine for them.

And the mirrors, glued to the shelves that had to be moved closer to
the floor as aftershock after aftershock hit my life. The mirrors
that I stared at my naked body, sometimes with a proud smile and far
too often with eyes trained on imperfections. But that is too normal
to mention really. What I will miss about those mirrors, much more,
is how my lovers would catch secret glances of themselves. In that
quiet relief of, ok, I guess I'm good enough after all. Or in that
hidden grin. Or in that understated flex. In that raised eyebrow and
that completely personal moment when we regard ourselves so truely
naked. I will miss being that witness. The mirrors will go where ever the shelves do. Burnable?

The last time I moved myself across the ocean, preparing to adventure
with only a backpack full of sundries to my name, I culled my life
with the glib motto of 'burn it all down.' The glib is gone this
time. Perhaps because I tried harder. Had stronger intentions. Sunk
my teeth in more. This time wasn't a lark. And nor is what I'm jumping into.

So with every piece of stuff, out goes a good intention, a fantastic
idea that might make everything ok, straw after straw after straw that
were never enough to break down my resistance to settling for this.
And with every clunk into the trash I send a small prayer upwards that
my life is not just doing the same thing over and over and expecting
different results.

That despite my constant movement and slipping from one place to
another. Despite never owning a goddamn plate all 5 years in Tokyo.
Despite all the trouble I have having a real conversation with
anyone... That I still made some mark here.

Being on the road I came up with something. And when I told it to
people they tended to repeat it. So maybe it was something worth
saying.

Home is where you can find your way to the bathroom in the dark. Where you know your trails.
Home is where you plant something and it grows, whether it be a friendship or an idea or a fix to some problem.
Home is where you'll be missed when you are gone.

And so even with the culling of things. Even with the murdering of
all those lost good intentions that never bloomed. Even with the
eagerness and hope I find in thinking about dancing in Oregon and
being able to kiss someone goodnight.

I hope that this was still home. I would rather grieve for losing it
than for failing to make it. Better to have loved.

And with that.

The adventures continue.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sakura 2011


I've spent a lot of time this year trying to put into words what makes the cherry blossoms feel so downright profound here. There are cherry trees in D.C. (supposedly). There are cherry trees in Eugene and Portland... but somehow the trees I've seen elsewhere never felt quite like the event that the cherries blooming in Tokyo are.

Perhaps, as I love this city in part for it's remarkable doublethink/hypocrisy the cherry trees are a part of that.
When the cherries bloom even the most workaholic salary-man stops for a moment, pauses and appreciates nature.
In a city so safe, so clean (well...), so polite, the park is still full of trash and half eaten food and stale beer in the mornings. And the crows, loud and ecstatic. Shouting and cawing, "This is the best day of my life!"

In the most boring cement suburbs, along a stoned in slew (full of murky slow water and feral coy) the blossoms at night catch the light and the beautiful smell catches you by surprise.

This year, local/neighborhood governments put up signs saying please do not party in the parks as usual out of respect for the tragedy in Tohoku (northern Japan). After all nearly 130,000 people are still homeless with no where to return to. The evacuation zone around the nuclear power plants increased. The after shocks continue... how could it possibly be appropriate to party in the parks?!?

Well, at least as appropriate as continuing to work 10-12 hours a day 5-6 days a week like 'normal.' and pretending, for the sake of the country, for the sake of the students, for the sake of our friends that everything is ok.

To say that we are all back at work and that the blackouts have been postponed is true. Some days do feel normal. Some days when everyone got woken up in the night by earthquakes and then rattled all morning... don't feel normal. And I don't think we should be hurring back to this type or normality.

So the Emporer and the neighborhood governments said don't party in the parks. And what did the people do? Well, there were fewer revelers this year. The parties were smaller and a little more low key, but they still happened. One park, the revelers got kicked out with a guilt trip so they moved to the stairs of the Government buildings with their musical instruments and put out a hat for donations to send north. They raised about $3000USD that day.
I think a lot of iconic Japanese imagery--the cherry blossoms, the cicadas, the maples etc symbolize not onlyl the seasons but rebirth. They are something we wait for every year. They are something we track-- have they started in Kyushu yet? There are forecasts for when which part of the country will burst into bloom. We collectively hold our breath. And Japan is all about the collective action, expectation, oo of 'that's awfully pretty'
It's an event worth celebrating and often coincides with the beginning of the school year and the when freshman workers enter new companies. Last year, there I was nervously scurrying to the train early in the morning, glancing up at the cherries and smiling as I rushed off to my brand new shiny job full of optimism and eagar to impress.

It's on of many of Japan's rites of passage that I've hit. A black suit with a white collared shirt, introducing myself to my new collegues with the set phrases. Hoping to work hard enough to succeed. Hoping that this job will be 'the one.' The one that becomes a career.

It didn't work out that way, but I've certainly grown from the experience, the challenge, the successes here and there.

And in two weeks, the moment has passed. The city as a whole relaxes a little and lets out a sigh of satisfied relief. The green leaves bloom immediately so that it's hard to remember that there was a frosted winter sky beyond those branches just a month ago.

The days warm and life moves on.
I keep working on this year's "Songs to Skip Town By" and read books like "Down and Out in Paris and London." I look forward to the new chapter and the new career. I look forward to eventually tramping through the jungle again and dancing Oregon nights away. But that's not to say that I won't miss 35 million people packed together and collectively holding their breath for the first cherry to bloom.