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


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