Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 in Review

New Year's sunrise at Enoshima Beach.

Tom Robbin's "A Roadside Attraction" sends one of it's characters all over to world. "I'm voyaging back to the source" he says. And aren't we all. And what does that mean, particularly. We return little by little to the wisdom that was so simple to us as children? We voyage back to our homes, literal, physical, spiritual? We search a moment of truth and love that we have glimpsed dozens or hundreds of times but still eludes us? Where are you going? I'm voyaging back to the source.

We are voyaging, not hurrying, not fighting and we are going back. Whatever this source is, we have known it at one point and have now lost it. Our journey takes us back to places and people we have already known. And it does.

It's been a year not only of filling myself with new experiences but also of seeing the old with new eyes. Perhaps if this source is a place, be it a source of joy, love, or wisdom, shifts to a zillion different places. Perhaps it depends who you are. How can mine not be scattered over a handful of continents and a dozen countries and hiding in every new friends' eyes?

It's been a year of changing my mind about a lot of things.
Last year found me very worried about being 28 and single and likely childless in the near future. And sure enough, I'm still childless... but I no longer feel rushed. I no longer feel worried. The clock isn't ticking so loudly that I run through my life grasping at every almost-good-enough straws that peak up. The last year has been full of crazy short term intensely wonderful relationships and crushes. It has been a year of romance like I would have never imagined and it has made feel like I am still young and beautiful. It's made me feel that I'm ok being me. It's a lovely feeling.

I've grown to love hammocks, which I once hated.
I've decided okra isn't so bad after all.
I've come to appreciate that Death Cab for Cutie is not just a whinny miserable excuse for a band and that though their music still screams emoTASTIC, their lyrics can be beautiful enough that I don't mind. Decemberists are still out.
I got contact lenses for the first time in my life and not only managed to stick my finger in my eye to fish them out, but got damn quick and non-squeamish about it.
I started introducing myself again as "Corinna" to make it easier for Spanish speakers after years of campaigning to only be called "Kori." And if they couldn't even get that and preferred to call me Carolina, as often happened, I didn't mind either.
After years and years of always having my hair tied back, I've recently cut it a bit shorter than shoulder length and have been wearing it down, often even falling in my eyes and liking it anyway.
I let myself be changeable and good things happened.

I have returned to friends and smiled with my first year of smile lines around my eyes and had them grin back at me, "you're better than before." and for that I'm glad. The journey has changed me, strengthened me, centered me.

My hot water went out about a week ago and more than anything, it just made me homesick for the park in Bolivia (Parque Machia is Parque Machia. Parque Ambue Ari is "the park, el parque" just ask at the Santa Cruz bus terminal and see where you end up...). The hot water ended up being too expensive to fix so I moved to an apartment directly below the old one and though not as nice in many ways, had food in the cupboard. Judging by some of the dates it's probably been two years since someone lived in this unit. Nonetheless, I cooked the spaghetti, ate the packaged cookies. What's the worst that could happen, I thought? I ate most things that presented themselves to me in South America and only got really bad food sickness once. eh. It wasn't that big a deal in the end.

This year has left me with a much more pronounced view on how much of our culture centers itself on convenience and avoidance of pain but when you stop caring, a much more beautiful world emerges. The possibilities multiply. The only way anyone kept from going crazy about the dangers of Buenos Aires was just to surrender to it. I may be robbed today. This is the reality. So I won't carry much cash or anything important. And you didn't, so being robbed stopped mattering so much. If you lose 20 bucks and a little bit of ego but otherwise walk away unscathed, is it really worth being that upset about. That said, though 60+% of my friends got pick-pocketed, held up, or robbed, I was lucky and never had anything worse that getting fake bills as change.

The first day at Parque Machia we are told that when working with animals scratch and bites are to be expected. And the first time it hurts a lot when a parrot climbs on your arm and digs their claws in for balance. But it's not enough of a reason to stop, to love the bird less, to change what you're doing. It certainly isn't a good idea to start flailing around and make the parrot grip tighter.

The first time the puma jumped me, just playing that time, my mind went blank unable to comprehend the cat wrapped around my leg. But generally, I came back to camp bruised more than anything. My mind relaxed into knowing what could happen and as I became aware of the jump, with much less fear than in the beginning, I could respond, my reflexes quickened. The bites and bruises, much like the mosquitos and the swamp rash, just became something that happened. If you spent time and energy trying to avoid it, you missed the beautiful jungle around you.

In Oakland, my brother's lovely girlfriend spontaneously invited me to join her in a yoga class and the first part of the lesson was about some of the principles of Enlightenment and the spiritual foundation of yoga. We talked about courage/determination and how that relates to our lives and the practice of yoga.

The yoga teacher led a discussion that led to us agreeing that often, in our lives and culture, we often classify things as good/bad, delicious/disgusting, fantastic/terrible but if we throw off all that urge to classify and leave things in the ambiguous category of "just is" how will that change our lives? How does that relate to courage? The upshot of it was that if, instead of thinking of an exercise as hard or painful or negative, we just let it be, we are more likely to try. If we slough off the fear of stepping into a yoga class and not being as flexible or strong as your peers (i.e. being judged) and instead just let the class be what it is, we are more likely to come, to practice, to improve.

She used the word surrender and I remember a sticky note on my uncles car. Silence. Surrender. Serenity. And my best friend, when talking about her 36 hour labor with midwives and no pain medication spoke also of a surrender to the pain of natural childbirth.

I feel that surrender more this year and feel calmer because of it. Not that surrender means laziness, inaction, or lack of ambition. No. I'm getting up at 5am on New Year's Day to bike through nearly freezing weather to see the first sunrise from the beach and have done dozens of interviews rather than accept the first job I was offered (and it wasn't a bad job...). I will start the process of getting my K12 teaching license this year while working full time. I plan to but away about $500 a month so that I can go back to the park... These things will be hard work.

Rather than surrender meaning taking the easy way, I find it means to me not being afraid of the difficulty that taking the more ambitious route will bring. It means not wasting my energies pushing at the immovable but not shirking the obstacles in my path either. I don't find the concept of surrender in this sense to be particularly passive but rather like the concept of Aikido, directing the energies in swirling circles rather than trying to stop them.

Kerouac would say "just dig it"
Vonnegut would say "so it goes"
Friends from the park might say "Let it ride" or "this is ridiculous!"
They mean the same thing I do when I speak of this "surrender"

The last year was great for relaxing me, bringing me closer to the ground, helping me shrug off the persistent feeling of Japan that I'm always running late (it's true). The next year will be busy and will need a lot of discipline and organization to make it happen, but I feel ready.

Moving from one routine to another is another type of voyaging back to the source, I think. If we can do the same thing but with different light, we do something different. I have returned to the routine of Japan, filled with trains and bike rides, and drinks and teaching, cooking, reading, studying, wandering around lost.

Come April and the beginning of the school year here, I hope for a job teaching science and a bike ride to work. I hope for time in the evenings to work on my teaching course but also to meet friends or be a bigger part of the couchsurfing and cycling communities. I hope to fill my small apartment with couchsurfers and new ideas and energies. I hope to work on my Japanese and grow strong as I hit the mountains on my bike. I hope to return to the States for at least two or three weeks in the summer. I would like to have a roommate and cook a lot. I think these are things I can definitely do.

and the adventures continue...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

a quiet Christmas

This year Christmas will not be so unlike every other day. I'll wake up to the alarm on my cell phone in a temporary apartment and hit the snooze. I'll mutter to myself, not wanting to get up: it's cold, I'm sore from my latest enthusiasm for exercising. I'll check my emails on my cell phone and try to engage my brain. I'll turn on the heater and climb out of bed ten minutes or so later. I'll pull the curtains and smile at the sun. Yes, it's chilly and winter but it's lovely here.

I'll boil water for coffee and probably corn soup, an instant soup that is thick, salty and sweet enough to perhaps be the perfect comfort food. I'm so addicted, I'm beginning to think they must mix crack into it or something. There may be some toast or rice or yogurt. Perhaps I'll splurge a little and buy a cinnamon roll on the way to work.

I'll leave the apartment around 10:30 am and if it's a clear day, see Fuji, covered in snow, the perfect cone of a mountain, looking down on me as I walk to work. I'll unlock the school, get the heaters going, the computer system up, change into work clothes, make myself another cup of coffee, and be ready to go just as the clock rolls to noon.

There will be a handful of classes scattered through out the day with plenty of time to read or study Japanese in between. Perhaps a student will bring cookies or a Christmas cake and there will be treats. Maybe I'll go and pick some up myself. The lobby will be filled with the same hip Christmas songs we've been listening to for a month. Perhaps I will remain anti-social in my room with better music playing. I'll finish at nine and meet some friends who live in the same building for a little foreigner Christmas dinner. Perhaps we will go to the near by Chinese restaurant and fill our selves with gyoza and noodles.

It will be a quiet day with few exclamations and little drama. And I am totally ok with that. There will be no boyfriend's parents to meet or make nice with. There will be no awkwardness of Christmas presents for people I don't know. There will be no pressure to make this day special and normal in a family that have had too many hard holiday seasons recently. No one is dying this year. It's been a while since I could say that. There will be no subtext of, I'll probably never see you again. I love you. There will be no tears to hide. This year Christmas will be a slightly boring normal day. It feels like a relief. Though my family are all spread out this year, we are all solidly on good paths. We are healthy and learning, and for that I am infinitely grateful.

The 27th starts a week long holiday and it will be filled with friends and bike rides along the rivers and the coast. On the 25th, my first pay check in over a year should be transfered in to my bank account. It's good to be working, mostly. I still dream of the jungle and returning to the park.

The plan seems to be continue working for Ye O' Eikaiwa till mid March. It'll give me a place to stay and enough time plan the next steps thoughtfully. I have landed what will hopefully turn out to be a good job. Though exact start date (late March or early April), money, vacations, details of what work I'll actually be doing, are still very much in the air, the general idea is that they are hiring me to create an English as a Second Language component to their "Super Science School." In an often typical Japanese way, they decided to first hire a good candidate and then make the program to match their talents. So, the program will be brand new and the science/EFL curriculum my own creation. I'm waiting to see the details before I sign on the dotted line, but it sounds really interesting and good fun. The interview was funny, we hardly talked about my resume or skills but rather talked about cycling and triathlons, my interest in Japanese language and culture and ended with them asking me what my favorite Japanese work was. お疲れ様, Otsukaresama, I answered. A word that has no real equivalent in English or Spanish. It's said at the end of the day to denote a, "thanks for your hard work" or "good night." You would say it to your coworkers at the end of the day or to your friends after a long hike. It means you've finished something together. Hmmm, they answered. That is a good word.

And with that, I got the job. It will be sunny with some clouds on Christmas. There will be a high of 12C.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanaka or Solstice to you all.
More than anything, I wish you a day of peace.

and the adventures continue....