Two Years, Baby

It was exactly two years ago today that the last wisp of smoke sailed past my lips and snaked its poisonous path down my throat and into my undeserving lungs. Two years since I finally admitted what a dope I was being. Two years since I found the wisdom to forgive myself and start to move on.

The path to recovery has been long and difficult. Maybe the hardest part, but also the most fulfilling, was discovering that I wasn’t giving anything up. Instead I was finally earning my freedom, taking control of my life, finding strength I wasn’t sure I had.

Now the Nicodemon only rarely appears. When he does I quickly toss a muddy boot at his evil head. I can get through my work without getting twitchy. I wash my hair less often. Food is starting to taste better. I walk past designated smoking areas and see lost souls hunched over filthy ashtrays and almost feel sorry for them.

At long last, I am no longer a smoker who isn’t smoking. I am a non-smoker. I am free.

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Stasis

On the plus side, the sun is shining and  the sakura is popping.

On the minus side, I’m stuck in a third basement studio all day.

On the plus side, this morning’s yoga was particularly pleasant, accompanied as it was by two fuzz  monkeys rasseling in the corner, and neither of them peed in the bed today.

On the minus side, my knees hurt and my claustrophobia won’t let me ride in the coffin-sized elevator so walking down the stairs to the studio was hard.

On the plus side, I’m getting paid to sit on this comfortable couch and share these thoughts with you.

Also on the plus side, I discovered this morning that they’re finally changing the name of my bus stop. I doubt you can begin to grasp how humiliating it is to get off at Nichidaiseibutsushigenkagakubumae. As of April 1, it will be simply Nichidaimae.

For some reason, this makes me very happy.

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I assume this is not an April Fool’s joke. I sincerely doubt the bus people have that  much of a sense of humor. Bus stop naming is serious business, after all.

So all in all, the plus side wins. Yay!

Monkey Boy

 

I went to the zoo the other day. There I saw some playful, chattering lemurs. Suddenly I understood where Monkey Boy’s stolen tail and squeaky voice had come from and why it felt so natural to call him Monkey Boy. Unless something more sinister was afoot, his mother had been doing some ethically questionable monkeying around (ahem) with the gene pool. Mystery solved. Sigh of relief…maybe.

And then yesterday morning, purely by coincidence, I finished both Adriene’s 30 Day Yoga Camp and a Headspace 10 day guided meditation on Change.

Things are changing, in some good ways and some bad. Change is rarely easy. It’s unfamiliar, scary, invasive, sometimes violent but it’s also the thing that keeps the heart pumping and the synapses snapping. And like warm cake fresh from the oven, daily yoga makes everything better. Overall, there is stasis. The good is counterbalanced by the bad and vice versa. I keep making efforts to tip the scales toward the former. So to that end, here are some positive thoughts:

The sun is shining
the sakura is about to blossom
and the oatmeal isn’t lumpy.

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Cheesy Pencil

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The Setagaya Art Museum is doing a special exhibition called Pleasure in the History of Fashion. It features a bunch of historical prints of Western fashions from the 16th to 20th centuries. The prints are complimented by actual clothes, mostly dresses, from the Kobe Fashion Museum Collection.

I didn’t care much about the prints, but loved looking at the dresses. I know a fair amount about the history of women’s fashion; I studied it in college and have always found it fascinating. There was a time when I could look at a dress and tell you when it was made to within a decade.

There were no barriers or glass partitions or any other sort of security that I could see. The clothes were so close one could lean forward and touch them, or at least get a really close-up view. There were silk and satin, velvet and taffeta, brocade and lace. I saw panniers and hoop skirts and corsets and bustles, tassels and bows and embroidery and ruffles. There was a woolen one piece bathing costume from the 1920’s. A Marie Antoinette-type get-up featured a three foot high white wig festooned with pearls and silk flowers and feathers and ribbons. The woman who wore it must have had to squat to get through doorways.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing was the (replica) robes Napoleon and Josephine wore for their coronation. They were blood red silk satin and silk velvet trimmed with gold thread, ermine, silver and zircon. Quite stunning, so I asked if I could take a picture.

“No!”

OK. But I wanted to remember the details so I pulled out my trusty notepad and pen. The woman swooped forward thrusting a cheesy plastic pencil at me, the kind you use to write down your scores at miniature golf.

“Pencil only! No pen!”

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I can’t imagine why I wasn’t allowed to use my pen. Perhaps they thought I would go berserk and doodle a mustache on poor Josephine. At any rate, this is Japan and there are rules and sometimes it’s best to just shrug it off and use the cheesy pencil. I may even make that a mantra. Whenever I get frustrated I will take a deep breath and use the cheesy pencil.

The iPhone Revolution

The little mechanical monster has been in my life for exactly one day longer than the little fuzzy monster. Both have had profound effects.

Once he finally stopped peeing in the bed, Monkey Boy began to curl himself around my heart and now has a pretty firm grip. The phone has proven to be both a bane and a boon, but more boon than bane. Case in point: lunch today at Royal Host.

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Problem:
Four tables of young women with small children all competing to see who could scream the loudest. The only single adult was the man at the next table who couldn’t stop blowing his nose.

Solution:
iPhone, earphones, and Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”. LOUD. Foul mood to fair in under 30 seconds.

Conclusion:
The phone exists to serve me. I am the Goddess.

Five Years Later

Earthquake tree

The afternoon of March 11, 2011 was pleasant enough. The weather was mild and I had spent some time at the gym. I was on my bicycle pedaling home when the world started to shake. It didn’t stop for a really long time, off and on for days and days that melted into weeks and months of aftershocks. (Details from my perspective are available on my earthquake blog or in magazine form at Shaken Up in Tokyo.) While all of that was quite frightening here in Tokyo, it was nothing compared to the unspeakable devastation caused not by the earthquake but by the following tsunami that hit the Tohoku region up north. Five years later, thousands are still living in temporary housing and only a tiny dent has been made in reconstruction.

In April of 2015, I was with a group of people a few days after the massive quake in Nepal. Some of them were bitching about how the Nepalese government hadn’t prepared enough for the crisis. I said softly, “You can’t prepare for a major earthquake.” One of them turned to me, smirking, and said, “Yes, you can.”

I turned away, stunned, feeling like I’d been kicked in the gut. I wanted to say, “Japan has some of the planet’s most sophisticated earthquake prediction technology. The greatest experts in the field have concluded definitively that it is just not possible to predict a quake. Mother Nature will not be pinned down that way. Since it is not possible to know where or when a quake may strike, or how big it will be or whether or not it will cause a tsunami, it is not possible to prepare for a major quake.”

Instead, my generous side told me he probably wasn’t really aware of what had happened here and couldn’t know what I and so many others had lived through. I do admit, though, that at the same time, my less generous side wanted to gently remove the frosted cocktail from his hand and pour it over his smug face.

What I learned from this experience:

1) Whenever possible, be kind. I know it’s not always possible; I’m no Dalai Lama. But you can’t know what kind of pain the person standing in front of you is carrying with them and you should never assume they aren’t. Dead baby jokes are funny until you tell one to someone who’s lost a child.

2) When you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut the fuck up.

Penguins and Prairie Dogs

The journey from home to the studio is just over 16km, which doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about the number of streets and buildings and vehicles and bikes and dogs and feet the trains pass under in that distance, the numbers get overwhelming pretty quickly. Add to that the trains were running late so the platform was human gridlock. She  had to wait for two trains to pass before she could even descend the staircase.

Space is plentiful in a sardine can compared to the crush of humanity inside the cars. The man crammed against her chest has beads of sweat on his upper lip. Someone smelled of mothballs, another of garlic, but worst of all is the tobacco stench, which curls its hateful fingers into her nostrils no matter which direction she turns her head.

The train lurches and rattles. The bodies getting on and getting off press against each other, each determined to reach its destination, oblivious to the others. The pain begins in her feet and slowly travels to her knees, intensifying as the journey lengthens. Tears threaten.

And then, at long last, train arrives at the station and she makes her way to the street. She passes through an elegant bamboo gate…

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…into a wonderland where she is greeted by sophisticated penguins…

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…and prairie dogs rise out of the pavement to greet the warmth of the sun.

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She indulges herself in a celebration of this magical world, then takes a deep breath and turns her footsteps toward the studio, the work, the people, drawing strength from the electric fibers in the threads that bind the universe.

Sometimes a moment of recharge is all it takes.

 

No, Thanks

I went to the pet store today to buy cat food and, of course, to look at the kittens. They usually have a pretty good selection of designer breeds, generally in the neighborhood of $1500. But today they had this, a Scottish Fold with very unusual coloring.

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She was practically a clone of Little Guy, right down to the liquid eyes and stolen tail. I was shocked. One of the things that make both Twitchy and Little Guy so special is that only the Goddess could have created their unique coloring. I have to admit to feeling a bit betrayed. But then I noticed the price tag on the little charmer.

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Yup, with tax she’s 375,840yen. That’s a bit over $3000 at today’s exchange rate, two months’ rent for me, nearly the cost of my vacation in Bali last year, enough to buy more than 4500 bottles of my favorite Italian wine.

Little Guy only cost me a train ticket to Nihombashi, which was about $6.

Oh my.

I can just see the Goddess rolling on the floor laughing so hard she wets herself.

The only designer cats that will ever enter my home are this American Shorthair and Russian Blue, but these are evil ghost cats and therefore funny, not innocent victims of some puppy and kitten mill.

(Thanks, Jonelle.)

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The Silence of the Kitten

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At lunch today, we were sandwiched between two families, both with small children. People with small children are accustomed to a level of noise and chaos that we middle aged childless types find hard to stomach, especially when we’re trying to eat. We have to really focus on our noodles and try to tune out the rambunctious ankle-biters. I do the same thing when someone nearby is inhaling half of Tokyo as they slurp their noodles. I call it “Noodle Zen: the art of shutting out obnoxious noises and foul manners.”

So I was doing my Noodle Zen, finding inner peace, silence of the soul and a higher plane of gustatory harmony when it occurred to me that Little Guy doesn’t speak.

It’s not that he can’t; he just doesn’t.

When we first brought him home, I put the kitty jail on the floor and opened the door. Twitchy came over to see what was in it and the two of them immediately got into a rather heated discussion. Big meow, little mew, big meow, little mew. It went on for quite a while and probably included some mild kitty profanity. (“Your mother has sex with strays!” “Oh, yeah? Your father has tuna breath!”)

After a while, Twitch abruptly turned away and retreated to the top of the fridge. Since that day, Little Guy has said nary a word except for the time I stepped on his tail. That was an accident, not an experiment, and what he said was less “mew” than “HEY!”

Little Guy and Twitch love to wrestle, which they do with a great deal of gusto, rolling each other over and over, all the while biting and scratching. This goes on for quite some time, broken up with sudden spasms of chasing each other up and down the curtains and stairs, thundering along the hallway, jumping on the table and sending things flying in all directions. All that time, Little Guys says not a word except for an incredibly cute squeaky noise he makes when Twitch gets him into a headlock. I suppose it’s the kitten version of “uncle”.

The downside of all this silence is that Little Guy doesn’t purr. Unlike the wild and somewhat terrifying monster who used to scream bloody murder when she first came here, Twitchy has become much less vocal than she used to be. She likes to be picked up and cuddled and she purrs a chocolate syrup river as she rubs her head against my chin. Little Guy sometimes lets me cuddle him, but soon enough something catches his attention and he squirms away, completely purr-less. I’m hoping Twitch will school him in that gentle art. I’ve tried, but my purr isn’t very convincing.

And as I came to the end of that train of thought, I also arrived at the bottom of my bowl of noodles, satisfyingly full of both noodles and Zen. Namaste.

What the fork?

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In Japan, curry and rice is nearly always served with a spoon. This makes sense when you’re eating something as drippy as curry. But my Western orientation told me that only babies and invalids eat from a spoon. The first time I was given a spoon I thought I was being insulted. But I learned that this is standard practice and in time got used to it. You certainly can’t accuse the Japanese of being backward or childish when it comes to food. These are the same people who can pick up a single grain of rice with a pair of pointy sticks, not to mention the inventors and/or perfectors some of the world’s finest delicacies.

But I digress.

Yesterday, I ordered curry and rice for lunch. The eating utensil it came with was wrapped in a paper napkin. Imagine my surprise when I unfolded it and found not the expected spoon but a fork. My colleagues, all Japanese, just shrugged and said, “That’s how they do it here.”

Just when I’m finally getting the hang of things, they pull the rug out from under me. Or maybe it was the tatami mat.

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