February 27, 2006

The Sublime

Wondering how I will ever meet the elusive part-time music teacher at my school. She shows up surrepitiously some time on Friday mornings, when I am in class, and every once in a while I pass her by chance in the hallway as she is leaving. We've only excahnged "Konnichiwa"s and "Ohayo"s but it all seems too much to describe, and yet as beautiful as words can be. Sat through the whole day with no classes, no work, no nothing. I tried studying Japanese, pass. I tried reading a short story, pass. I tried forging through a volume called "Introducing Postmodernism," but that turned out to go in and out of my head. I read some reviews and autobiographical information on the web about Haruki Murakami, my new favorite author. I drank coffee, went for a walk, and found various ways to let the time pass away. I tried to not look at the teachers' photos too much out of fear of doting too long on Ms. Sakai's picture. I failed even that simple measure of self-restraint and self-respect. There has to be something for me to do today. There has to be.

February 20, 2006

An Exclamatory Awareness of Being

It is such a strangely satisfying sense of the world that one feels upon witnessing the resurfacing of a vivid image from one's life, one that was once pulled down deep into the undertow of the past. This afternoon, while reading through the beginning chapters of Murakami's Norwegian Wood (if one is reading this blog regularly, it is unavoidable to notice that I am going through a twentieth-century Japanese novel phase), I found myself writing to a friend, in the process of which unearthing a few charms of the past. It was too much to bear--the long mornings spent in college by myself, drinking coffee and reading Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, the sunlight on a Wednesday morning, waiting for the bus with my walkman on, reading Paradise Lost at an A's vs. Giants game because there was nothing happening and it was still spring training.

In the past year or more, most of my thoughts have been directed to the act of memory and the thing itself. There is "to remember" and "memory." Bergson once talked about "pure memory" as opposed to that of our practical working mind, the one that remembers to pick up some milk and toilet paper on the way home. What is pure memory? I am not sure if I remember the definition, if there ever was one, but let's make up a new one just for the sake of re-creation. Pure memory reminds me of the sensation that Gabirel Marcel called "an exclamatory awareness of being." Pure memory is connected to that moment when you are awakened by a strange dream or a stange sound and hear your voice utter out a cry even before you have time to think. It is an unmediated connection between you and the world you are in. In Bergson's words, memory is the locus at which mind and matter are joined. That locus, where the acts in the world and the acts in your mind are conjoined, is what constitutes being a person and not just a record of things done. Actually, over "mind" I would prefer the Japanese word 心 more for its suppler ambiguity. It is more representative of life in its endless ways.

So now that I have been on earth for a fair amount of time, have memories rich with colors both dark and light, things start coming back to me, like the fact that I am out of toilet paper, but pure memory is qualitatively different from the latter. It is not only a thought I have about the world, but it is a thought which is me. These memories are my experiences, places I've been, things I've observed, people met and lost, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, visions of every sort under the sun or moon. It is strange to think back on who one was a few years ago. A particular day or habit comes back--like waiting for the bus in the morning light, all alone on an empty street and feeling doubt as to whether time is real or not--and it is as real as the present. I mentioned the "phantom mirror" that Mishima had depicted in the end of his tetralogy. But unlike Mishima's main character Honda, who at the end of the book remembers and regards nothing except the present moment (i.e. reaches enlightenment) in the temple garden at noon, the sun glaring in a sharp, transcendent whiteness on the garden's green, I have lived more richly in a life of confluence, of simultaneity, polyrhythmic and harmonic. A life of complex chords and symbols that sometimes don't reach me until well after the fact.

ALTs all have figured out ways to idle their time at work. As I sit here, trying to figure out my future and also trying to forget it, in order to not waste my life worrying; trying to balance the deep, life-sized figures of the past with a present which often seems flimsy and two-dimensional (like those stand-up cardboard pictures of celebrities), and trying to revive the present from its immovable ennui and aporia, I get knowhere but the same place I left off, a few words richer than before.

I have sat by the heater for too long, so I must move. There is always some other place for one to go.

February 13, 2006


Somewhere along Redwood Road, you turn off--
I forget if it is left or right--and there is Christina's house.
We are getting out now, or maybe getting in,
an old, polished white Cutlass--I forget the year.

This image comes back to me, I am too young
to remember it with clarity or depth.
It is a picture suffused by that year's spring light,
and, almost blinded by this light,
which passes through the spotless windshield
like water into a vase,
fire into wood,
I hold the flat, empty picture,
like all restless, powerful words,
in my heart. Because there is no choice
in being born.

Unravelling this mystery--
unthinkable suffering, confusion,
and joy beyond words or memory--
I curl up into bed, many years away,
finding it impossible to recollect
how I got here.

February 06, 2006

In the World, At Home

The rain. It brings so many things back to life, both physical and mental. Buds on skinny, weather-beaten tree limbs, grass from damp soil, worms unearthed from that same soil, birds anxiously hopping along the wet earth, heads cocked as their eyes raze the damp grass for some grub. Later in spring, the birds sing early in the morning. Sometimes I am lucky to hear their songs. A nexus of memories accrued over years, then stored in a room of the mind's mansion that is seldom used, returns to the surface of consciousness, the veritable "living room." I inhabit this space for a moment, as though I were granted only a momentary glimpse at this--a token has granted me a five seconds' view of something vital and everlasting.

I was fascinated by a line at the end of Mishima's The Decay of the Angel in which he calls memory a "phantom mirror." It makes things that are far away seem close, things that are too far away to see appear in front of you. As I walked outside my school today, drained again by the comatose sensation of sitting and reading at my desk in the staffroom, the guilt of deferring my future to another day, and reading a book that is beautiful and provocative (already I presage the small, subtle grief I will feel when I finish the book and must move on), I confronted the song of the rain--an inimitable rhythm and melody, not just of sounds, but sights, smells, textures, even thoughts and words; yes time too has its share in the rain. I crossed the street, made it up the stairway to Brazilian Coffee (local coffeehouse), and suddenly, before I entered the cafe, was stopped in my step by a eviscerating sense of my past--of a place I once was, let's call it home, and a person I once was, let's call him someone who resembles me now, and of a time that once was, we can only call it the past. Standing there in the drizzle, caught at a standstill with my life in front of me, behind me, all around me, and in me, I continued into the coffeehouse, drank coffee and continued reading Haruki Murakami's Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

The coffee was good. The book is better. This morning I thought about what job to pursue. Many lead to the same non-life, avoiding which is a very thorny matter. It is a "life" of 9-5 in an office, evenings at home in front of a television with a beer. Sleep and the next day. Already I have caught glimpses of it here, even though my experiences in Japan have been profoundly different on a qualitative level. There is the decisive element of inconsistency in this experience, of everything having never been done or seen before. This rawness, an experience of just coming into a world, is in many ways a mirror image, if it is only reflected in that 'phantom mirror,' of when one first came into the world. In many ways, the mirror also reflects the other end of ourselves. So, as a shadow looms over me--the decision that I will be forced by necessity to make in the upcoming months--I check to see if my shadow is there. I must say with extreme gratitude that I have not yet lost my shadow nor my mind.