December 31, 2004

Being Young and Getting Old

Every week I go to some store,
a different one, or the same one,
and buy something I may or may not need.
This improvidence outlasts my joy,
and while I watch my spendless spending
I see this invisible curtain
which separates your vision from mine.
Though I hand you a symbol, a token,
it is not recieved. It is not given.
It is not a piece of me nor is it a whole,
but something I found and remade, a puzzle.
It is easy to keep going,
to force oneself out
to ignore the necessity of sometimes
reliving a past like the widow's bleak memories.
Your childhood spills out over the sky,
the entire bottle emptied,
and you watch the hand that wipes up this mess,
confused and flushed with embarassment
you did not get that last sip.
In the company of the moon and stars,
you now sing our own lullabyes.
At noon you enjoy a deep sleep.

December 16, 2004

Going and Coming and...

Tomorrow I will make my sixth trip across the Pacific Ocean in a little bit over one year. I am going back to Berkeley, but that hasn't really been on my mind at all. The last time I was there I couldn't feel the same fondness I had for my hometown as I did for my memories of my hometown. So, I am not going "back" anywhere because I, just as the ambiguous "we" of all generalizations are, am always in a state of "falling forward." That's an idea you can find in many places, as disparate as Rastafarianism and T.S. Eliot, Darwin and your next-door neighbor. When I made my return to Japan in early August of this year, I felt on the plane a visceral sense of not knowing where I am being led. Even in the physical sensation of take-off--my stomach getting a little off-centered as the plane made a steep jerk towards the heavens and the engines roared--produced in me the feeling of plunging knowingly into the unknown. There are two ways to look at this singular experience. I like an image I read in Suzuki's book on "Zen and Japanese Culture":

If you can, imagine a rickety wooden rowboat out in the middle of a vast sea. There is nothing in sight but waves crashing upon waves, the uninterrupted horizon, the sun, and maybe a few clouds or birds here and there. You can either sense one of two things, the vastness of the endless sea, or the isolation of one's vessel. Through both perspectives, the same thing is seen.

A friend of mine asked me (or maybe she told me in a nicer way than "telling") if I was looking for reasons to stay in Japan. I have felt lately both the need for me to study literature, religion, or something else in a graduate program. I have also felt an acute reversion from the life of academics--a world of insipid, ass-kissing egotism, obfuscating and specious heralds of the "newest mode of thought," and a few spare and rather precious souls who fit in between the cracks of the institution. It is a shallow thing to say, but I feel safe in Japan. My mother said that voting for Bush made her feel safe. I wonder if taking a whole bottle of antihystamines would make me feel safe from catching a cold or if it would kill me? I am looking for some reason to stay, perhaps it is the urge to resist the current that sucks us along in our lives, the resistance to change which is both wonderful and paradoxically antithetical to that which we wish for. At the end of "Great Expectations," Pip feels a "shadow" run across him. I think Dickens wrote it in one version of the book as "a shadow of No"--which I understand as a presence of emptiness, of lack, which we follow and which follows us around our whole lives. There have been countless moments in my life where I have been content with the present. Perhaps I have never truly experienced discontent, and if so I am blessed. I am not one to claim to know the true nature of something as problematic and relative as human happiness. For the most part, I have been happy in Japan, although when I have not been happy there has been nothing here I can find to divert myself from being sucked down by the tempting whirlpool of despair. One year and four months in a foreign country is a significant experience, especially when it is your first life away from the nest, the first time that one has drawn blood from the falconress's wrist. Let's see what I can choose--wait, it is not clear to me. Neither the choice, nor the desire to choose is in me, which is what must be changed. I may be stuck right now between two sections of my life that will never mix with good results. The safe, secluded, and often sacchyrine shelter of my home on one end, and the bottomless, paradoxical 'security in insecurity' of an adult's independence on the other. I'd rather write differently about this, perhaps tell a story in this time of madness, but I am incapable. This is the way I work, for worse or better.

Anyways, I am signing off temporarily from Bloggland, scheduled to return sometime in January 2005. Mata ichi gatsu... Merry Christmas

December 13, 2004

I lost a friend and finished a book this weekend. Or maybe I lost something else and didn't finish anything, I don't know. The winter has been unexpectedly warm, so much that I am starting to remember words, faces and places that I had expected to freeze by now. Let' s see if I can get through a whole blog without any ty9pos. Maybe it's already too late (or too early).

I was going to write about something important when I woke up this morning. A professor of mine advised me to keep a little palm-sized notebook with me at all times. I have never done this, for it just seems too pretentious or something. Well, I guess you have to be pretentious to be great at something, which makes my prospects for the latter look quite emaciated. I think there was a sentence I read last night that said "All great and precious things are lonely." I find myself writing less and less about Japan on this Blog and more about language, relationships, and abstractions that I find difficult to write about. That shouldn't be a bad thing, though it is quite hard to read this stuff day in day out. Perhaps there is truly nothing interesting going on here, or I am not letting the wonderful stuff that is happening to me flourish in reflective splendor. Some people just have a better knack for reflecting the concrete, physical details of our experiences into language. Sometimes I feel like my writing is the act of making a photocopy of an image whose original I do not possess.

Well, going back to Berkeley in a few days. The last time was a strikeout. I am hoping it might be better this time, but I have the feeling it will be more of the same, more of the changed. It is a pretty fatuous thing to say that nothing has changed, just as it is to say the opposite. Sometimes I wonder about a choice in the middle between the two. I'm starting to get used to this surreal feeling of being home and nothing having changed though everything's changed. Even if I don't want to be there, it is still a very easy place to be.

It's certainly strange what we do to others and what others do to us, without knowing any of it until long after the fact. No, it's a lot more than just queer or odd. It is a brutally painful necessity. I don't know where it comes from, the constant tearing down of building blocks at the structure's nascent stage. I don't know if I am speaking of a temporal thing now or a universal thing, this restlessness with our words and how we use them to communicate with others. Hyprocrisy seems to be an acceptable and even praiseworthy trait these days (much more so because it is not recognized at all), which makes me shudder with a feeling of helplessness. There is always a choice before us, but as this choice is stretched thinner and thinner on the continuum of languages, it grows more and more impossible to determine what we are choosing and why. There are so many motives we can attribute to others when they say something beautiful, poignant, and loving; the same also if they say something caustic, insincere, and full of fear. However, this attribution of motives, the judgment of value, or interpretation, is a dangerous act whose danger is no longer recognized as such. I can't believe how many and perhaps all of the foreigners here (myself included) talk about "Japanese Culture" in the light of one's own orientation to the world--pushing anything living in this country to a marigin that we have designated for mythologies, fictions, and fantasies of every shape and size. It is unavoidable, but recognizable. If we understand this, at least, there is the possibility of change and not the empty word for it which remains the same and consumes itself in its own lack of meaning. Speaking of lacking meaning...

It's funny how we think one thing and say the opposite. Sort of like emotional dislexia, or maybe the logic of our emotions.

Hopefully there will be snow this year in Wakayama. We all need some bit of winter to remind us of how good spring is.

December 09, 2004

Sticks and Stones

I am getting tired of looking for something. Again. That is usually a cause to despair, right? When one doesn't want to search for anything, when there is nothing at all that one reaches for or out to, even if it is right here in the present. Writing is a difficult task. Writing to someone is an even more difficult task. Writing to someone clearly and communicating one's experience with some degree of accuracy is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks we face with language, especially if that person is someone whom we care about, trust, believe in as a friend, family member, or lover; a fellow human being. What I won't talk about is speaking. Speaking is too difficult too mention, but when we get to the base of it all, the only way we can say whether or not we love or are loved is through the words we share, inflict, suffer, offer, enjoy, sacrifice, etc. in the company of each other. Who says there are too many words to understand what we say to each other? If we are deluded into thinking that this life is an evolving set of stairs that progresses from confusion and mystery to the clarity and robustness of a fully autonomous individual--one who has no need to be humble or grateful for another person's voice--than that is probably a sign that our words are being abused and contorted in most uncreative and unnecessary ways. Our language is devolving as science evolves--it is turning back against itself to retract what it originally wanted to say or do, so that our words, like the machines we have invented, often malfunction against us, with the potential to kill us. Perhaps nothing has changed in the longer run of language's evolution. Perhaps it will always be like this, and I am getting close to taking out that "perhaps." Sure, there are many English words and expressions---or in fact the whole face of the language--that are not the same as they were 600 years ago, but have we been able to overcome the distrangement from our world that our own symbols effect upon our lives? This entry has nothing to do with being in Japan, I just realized that, but in some way it is only about being here in this chair, sitting at the computer, not wanting to teach my last class of the day.

December 06, 2004

The Third Choice

Why do people always apologize after the fact for what they say when they are drunk? This is completely unecessary. Perhaps my own personality affects me enought to say something like this, but usually when one is drunk one speaks something of the truth, whether it is hurtfull, crass, fatuous, or incoherent, it is still an idea that sprang forth from the life of the mind. Why do people blame alcohol as a factor which has driven one to say the conventionally unsayable? For instance, if I told someone how I feel, let's say in terms of romantic love, how is this something to apologize for? Is there any credit in honesty in this world? Apparently there is scant, if any. With the advent of technological wonders like cds, MDs, ipods, from analog to digital, mono to stereo, etc. etc., people nowadays barely listen. They are too busy being absorbed in an image of what they fascinate themself or the world to be. Perhaps I am a bit maniacal in my reversion from technology, but what really do these new techniques offer us?-- more things to buy, more incoherences, problems, maintainence, further translation, further loss. Concomittant with the mammoth increase of memory in this computer age is the equally grand and devastatingly irrevocable loss of memory. Are we finding ourselves taking the perfect drug to celebrate this loss of memory, this loss of responsibility, this loss of tradition?

So people are more and more lazy these days, myself included. Maybe our capacity to remember is not affected, but instead of memorizing folklore, histories, poems, names, events, faces, we now remember logos, slogans, brand names, commercials, etc. If this is a repetition of the work of many well-read writers, so be it. I am trying break out of my own incredibility--in the pejorative sense of the term meaning unable to believe. Let's try the third choice between the two extremes.

December 03, 2004

The Same Window

Deep in this furnace, I fall asleep.
When I am sick, I do not think
of another place other than this bed.
The room doesn't spin.
It is still, warm, full of the same light,
which has passed through this window
all day long.

I have been up once or twice to refill my cup.
I did this with trembling limbs,
the leafless ashes full of sun and silence.
When I think of you,
to whom I am given and give nothing
that we could ever give,
I sink into that tender blankness of my head.

Some say sickness is the remedy for forgetting
that an immutable relativity of happiness
grows heavier as it is grows stronger;
when we are sick we are capable,
only in the reality of our sickness,
to picture the world again as it is
without ever changing it.

While I lie here, in front of you,
you are years away, and this sickness,
which too is too far to tell,
may be a reflection in the window
of when you first met me.