Youth Is Wasted on the Young

Last night I went to a performance of The Vagina Monologues. I had wanted to see it for years, so signed up for a Meet-Up, which usually means I have people to sit with and reserved seats to sit in, but when I got there, the reception people had never heard of a Meet-Up and my name wasn’t on the list. I could still get in, but had to sit at the back, which was populated with very young people. I perched on the armrest of a chair from which I could just barely see the stage between the shoulders of the people seated at the bar.

Sadly, young people have the attention span of goldfish. Before half of the performance was over, most of them were nattering away at each other. Two young women in front of me in particular seemed to have a lot to say. I struggled to hear the performers over their chatter. I tried to be patient. The generous part of me thought maybe they were close friends who hadn’t seen each other in a while and needed to catch up. But then one of them turned her head far enough for me to hear what she was saying.

“So do you use gel to make your hair so fluffy?”

“Yes, I do. I use gel.”

All right. SHUT THE FUCK UP!

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA…is what I wanted to say, but instead I stepped toward them and said, quietly, “Do you think you could talk about that later?” And shut up they did. But the nattering continued throughout the venue and the rest of the show.

During the intermission, a young guy, fresh out of college, showed me an app he’d written for smart phones. It was for house cleaning. You can tap on various tasks and the app will send someone to your house to do them, while displaying how much it will cost. He was very proud. But then I asked how he found people to do the actual work. He said, “Yeah, that’s the hard part. I thought you could help me with that.”

Huh?

Oh, sure! My life is jam packed with people who are eager to go clean other people’s toilets. I have to beat them away from my front door with a stick. In fact, that’s one of the most popular part time jobs among both Japanese and foreigners. But if you think I’m giving up my army of sanitation engineers to some snotty nosed kid, you’ve got another thing coming.

OK, I didn’t say that. But fortunately, intermission ended just then and I had to leave before the next act was over. With luck, I’ll never see the silly git again. Leave it to a young person to come up with something so utterly impractical.

The whole experience left me feeling flat-out alienated. Granted, the performance was in a bar, but even so, is the audience not generally expected to sit quietly and listen? Is that not why we went? And it was more than just the noise; it was the sense of entitlement, of self-conscious self-importance. “Look how cool I am. I came to see The Vagina Monologues. It doesn’t matter that I’m not listening because I am here.”

Grrr. I will leave you with some sleeping ducks, because they are peace and beauty, and also because maybe if I stare at them long enough, my own feathers will unruffle.

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Love You, Honey

My mother raised me on whole wheat sourdough bread, which she baked in an old juice can so it was round and had a mushroom cap. She would make me round school lunch sandwiches with that bread, homemade mayo, and lettuce from the garden. Naturally, I was jealous of the girls with their Wonder bread/ketchup sandwiches.

Remember that this is the same dope who smoked for nearly 35 years. But I seem to be recovering from all those years of inhaling poison and still have low blood pressure, normal cholesterol, better-than-normal bone density and almost all my own teeth. I wonder how the Wonder bread girls are doing.

I do find myself with some of the normal complaints of someone my age, the worst of which so far has been belly pain. Two internalists found nothing wrong and shrugged it off. Another doctor suggested that it was merely gas. I tried medication but it had unpleasant side effects. So I tried organic coconut oil. The Shamen and Witch Doctors and New Agers and Voodooists were right. The pain is gone and the plumbing works fine.  ♫ Just a spoonful of coconut oil helps…

So while I was allowing myself to indulge in homeopathy, I stumbled across some other left wingers touting the virtues of organic honey. While it is not possible to get a decent cheeseburger in this neighborhood, we do have a shop that specializes in honey.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAWe were told that honey bred from the feathery shoots of the delicate acacia flower produces the best honey in the world. The ones in the middle and left are acacia, from Aomori and Iwate Prefectures, respectively. The one on the right is ordinary supermarket honey. According to the honey lady, the supermarket varieties are 4th tier mixed breeds not worthy of recognition. To be exact, she scoffed, “Hah. That’s mizu ame (sugar water).” To use a car analogy, the first is a Toyota Lexus, the second a Nisan Infiniti, and the third a Suzuki Rice Burner.

If you infuse a bottle of white wine with a handful of parsley, a little wine vinegar and some organic honey, you get Parsley Wine, the world’s healthiest sleeping pill, which also helps the liver do its job and strengthens the respiratory system. Yeah, it’s expensive, but to quote L’Oreal, I’m worth it.

The other night, I was invited to a fine dining experience in celebration of finishing a project.

Sugata

My colleagues warned me that it is difficult to find the restaurant. It wasn’t, but when I got there, the name was only written in kanji. I didn’t want to walk into the wrong restaurant, so I approached the man at the veggie stand across the street. There was the usual moment of panic on his face when he saw mine, but then I said, “Is that place called Sugata?” Big smile, bobbing head. “Oh, yes. That’s Sugata.” “Thanks,” says me. “I couldn’t read the kanji.” He looked genuinely surprised, which seems so odd. He didn’t expect me to be able to speak Japanese, yet somehow did expect me to be able to read it.

Fine dining doesn’t often cross my path, so I was delighted to accept, but wary. I’m a fairly picky eater and fancy Japanese food generally involves parts of sea critters I am not comfortable with, among other things. I am not a big fan of raw fish and never eat eggplant, but there’s a reason this stuff is so expensive. I ate and truly enjoyed all the sashimi (except for the squid shiokara: Wiki definition: small pieces of meat in a brown viscous paste of the animal’s heavily salted, fermented viscera. Can you blame me?) Other than that, it was dish after dish of the finest, freshest seasonal specialties, lightly seasoned and gently teased into palatal perfection. I honestly loved the octopus; the lumps of eggplant in a crabmeat laced soup even went down fairly smoothly.

My point is, just what is the best? Is it the world’s finest honey? The freshest sashimi? A Toyota Lexus? Or bread with love baked right into its mushroom cap?

P.S. Then there’s this:

http://www.upworthy.com/inevitably-someone-will-say-but-my-juice-cleanse-worked-no-it-really-didnt?c=ufb1

The Tale of the Ivy Lady

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She married young, as was expected, and produced two kids. She spent her days on her bicycle, pedaling them to and from daycare, school, activities, doctors, one kid at the front, one at the back, grocery bags dangling from the handlebars, dry cleaning draped over her arm. They grew bigger, learning to feed and dress themselves, eventually getting their own bikes, finding their own friends, finding themselves.

Watching them blossom over the span of 20 years, she probably served 100,000 bowls of rice and nearly as many of miso soup, uncountable pickles, several schools of fish. She was up at 5:00 every day to start the laundry, pack the bentos, plan the evening meal. She was there for torn jeans, scratched knees, bruised egos, broken hearts.

And then one day she woke up and realized the children had grown. She sat across the table from a man she didn’t really know, her slippers suddenly feeling strange against the soles of her feet, her hair pulled back too tightly, air going in and out of her lungs but supplying no relief.

So she had herself copied at Kinkos and sent the clone home to cook and wash dishes, then sat down on an unobtrusive tree stump. She closed her eyes and waited for peace to come. Birds rested on her head, cats and clouds wandered by. Through the riot of spring’s rebirth, ivy began to creep toward her toes but on and on she sat. During the summer’s swelter, ivy snaked its way along her shins and toward her knees but patiently she sat. While the autumn leaves did their exquisite transformation, ivy made its way across her lap and up her belly but still she sat. Winter’s rain and snow fell, icy winds blew, the ivy crept over her breasts toward her neck, and yet she sat.

One spring night as the tendrils of ivy started to caress her chin, the shadow of a smile touched her lips. She opened her eyes. The full moon shone with such lurid clarity that she could see the veins in the ivy leaves, the motes of pollen dancing in the gentlest of zephyr breezes, the ants’ footprints trailing in the dust.

She shook herself free of the ivy and raised her arms toward that too perfect moon. Taking the deepest of breaths, she threw back her head, arched her spine and exhaled everything that ever was and ever would be.

And then she was gone, nothing but a twinkling luminescent dusting on the ivy leaves, which mourned her passing but grew on into the night.

Undercover

They say that when you have to give a speech and you’re nervous, just imagine your audience in its collective underwear, or better yet, underwear and socks. That should humanize them and thereby make them less scary.

We started a little later on this, our final day, so the trains were less crowded. Toward the end, the seats were all taken but there were few people standing, so I could look around and surmise. The weather is crap today so everyone was bundled up to their teeth, but I could see faces. And I wondered how many pairs of underpants were hurtling along the rails with mine and how those underpants matched those faces.

(Today I’m wearing green cotton bikinis. It is not possible for a woman shaped like me to buy underwear in Japan. Underpants only come in three sizes: itsy-bity, teeny-tiny and grandma. So I found a brand that fits well, lasts a long time and is commonly available in the States. Hanes for Her, cotton bikini–not high cut or low rise–size 7, assorted colors and/or patterns. Boring, I know, but reliable underwear is one of the things that makes my world a happy place. My birthday is July 2. Thank you.)

hanes
Yeah, that’s me. Like my tan?

So I was looking around the car and found myself starting to analyze. I figured it was safe to assume there were at least as many pairs of underpants as there were people, give or take a few. The more intriguing question was what those underpants might look like.

Of the ladies, what percentage wore cotton? Silk? Lace? What percentage bikini? Thong? Up-to-the-armpits Grannypants? As for the men, how many wore boxers? How many briefs? How many conservative stripes or plaid? How many more risque flowers or hearts or dancing Mickey Mouses?

How many were fresh from the mint? How many torn or stained? How many had shot elastic? How many were bought in person? How many by wives or mothers or creepy uncles? How many came from fancy department stores or upscale shops? How many from local supermarkets? How many were stolen from upscale shops or local supermarkets? How many were stolen from the neighbor’s balcony?

Whatever the unknowable answer to these questions, I started to grin and couldn’t stop. As I looked around the car, peering at people’s faces and contemplating their corresponding undergarments, they would occasionally look up and catch me staring with a goofy grin on my face. Just as I’ll never know what they were wearing, they’ll never know what I was thinking. And that thought made me smile even more.

So, this begs the obvious question. What are YOU wearing?

Day Five

150204_1027~01Coming down the back stretch of this filming marathon, she’s intent, engaged, fully absorbed in the job. She’s taking this seriously, her professionalism a gleaming example for all who will come after.

She’s not thinking about Candy Crush or constantly checking Facebook. She’s not visiting the snack basket and stuffing herself with almonds swathed in creamy, smooth chocolate. She’s not getting the puppet people to take silly pictures of her and then writing in her blog.

Actually, every “not” in the second paragraph should be moved to the first one. What she’s really doing is all of that plus fake yoga in a fake chair.

150204_1027~01Things are not always what they seem.

But one thing in the first paragraph is true; I am more engaged. I’ve arrived at just about 300 days smoke free and all sorts of things are changing. Instead of dashing outside for a smoke at the first hint of a break, I sit calmly. I talk to people, commiserate, build relationships. I am more a part of the moment. The process of rebuilding my life, rebuilding me, means not only me looking at the world in a different way, but also me finding a different way to fit into it.

The more I learn about smoking, the more I’m coming to understand that the physical craving for nicotine is only a small part of the overall addiction. I am unlearning a whole slew of knee jerk reactions and defense mechanisms that I’ve come to realize I never really needed in the first place.

Doing this kind of work is a lot like quitting smoking. It takes patience, dedication, patience, endurance, patience, patience, patience and patience. I just need coping strategies. For this job, I have to leave my house and ride trains seemingly forever to get to the studio, then turn around and do the reverse, six times each, for a total of 12. Coming here this morning was trip #9; going home tonight, if we ever finish, will be #10. Tomorrow I get to complete the dozen. They say that only 7% of quitters make it through the first year, but 80% of those fabulous people make it through the second. This moment is significant because I am at the same point in the dozen as I am in that first year.

One more day; two more months. See you at the finish line. I know I’m going to make it.

Alone Together

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Yesterday was the first of six days of filming. The studio is inconveniently located on the far side of the city, so I continue my lifelong quest for silver linings. Saturday’s trains weren’t too bad; today being Sunday, they were even better. They jolted along, their wheels objecting to the early hour as they screamed against the rails.The cars of the trains were strewn with bodies in various states of consciousness, many lolling in unseemly poses, mouths hanging open, heads thrown back against the windows. Most of us were bundled up in down coats, our necks swaddled in wooly scarves. Two girls in matching sweats clutched lacrosse sticks, stared blankly at the floor. A large man in a suit snored, snorted and woke himself up. I felt an odd sense of unity. Our sleepiness lent us a communal vulnerability; we allowed ourselves to be seen in ways we would normally avoid, averting our bleary eyes, pretending not to see. We were seen but did not see. But at least we had space to breathe.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Dreading, dreading, dreading.

Grandmother Curry

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Grandmother Curry

I would bet a bazillion, no, a gazillion dollars that my grandmother never, ever, not once in her entire life, made curry and rice. And I’d be willing to bet almost the same amount again that she never even tasted it. But as I’ve mentioned before in these sacred pages, curry and rice is mac and cheese to the Tokyo taste bud, soul food, a taste of home, of childhood, of comfort, of permanence in this all too transient world.

What my grandmother did make was really great vegetable soup. I remember once, in my snotty childish way, I asked my mother why grandma’s veggie soup tasted so good (with ‘better than yours’ implicit). She just sighed and said, “She puts sugar in it.”

And that got me thinking about our relative attitudes toward sugar. I read recently that America’s obesity is not altogether our fault. Yes, fast food and large sodas and triple scoop ice cream cones are personal choices, but apparently there is hidden sugar in nearly every product in American supermarkets.

I think that’s less true of Japanese food. In traditional cooking, sugar is added to most dishes, but we’re talking a teaspoon of sugar in a dish that serves four people. If there’s dessert at all, it’s most likely fresh fruit. So while sugar is rarely added to main dishes in Western food, our desserts usually start with a full cup of sugar, often more, and don’t forget to add eggs, butter, cream and chocolate.

Thoughts of my grandma also brought back thoughts of childhood fun, like summer fairs and carnivals, where we ate cotton candy, candy apples, caramel corn–in other words, sugar, sugar, sugar. Of course, sugary things are available here, but it is not uncommon to see a kid at a summer festival happily chomping on a cucumber skewered on a chopstick, perhaps with a bit of miso or salt, perhaps plain. Healthy, cooling, sugarless.

I suppose it is possible that my grandma had a secret life where she made and consumed curry with gusto. Perhaps she spent her summers following the country fair circuit, traveling around dispensing curry and rice from the back of a brightly painted van. If she did, I’ll bet another gazillion dollars that she put sugar in it.

Finding Balance

Give me tuna or prepare yourself for the consequences.
 Give me tuna. Now. There is no “or else”.

There’s something going on in the balance of the celestial energy and it’s having a perverse effect on me. I think it began in June when Twitchy arrived. I’ve lived with cats on and off for most of my life, but had never taken on a feral one. Neither of us had any idea what we were getting ourselves into. People who have recently quit smoking should not be expected to have this amount of patience, but six months later, we’ve come a long way. I have very few scratches on my hands and arms, she hasn’t peed in the bed in ages, and when she’s in the mood, she’s almost aggressively cuddly. This is GOOD.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERALast week, Karlina came to visit. We’ve known each other for about fifteen years but had never met, I had never even heard her voice. She was my main contact at Sesame Workshop when I was liaison between New York and NHK. As she put it, she inherited me when Veronica (who it turns out is NOT Jewish) got promoted and we were in nearly daily contact by email. She’s been going to Cambodia, where she does good things, now and then for the past ten years and decided to drop by on the way home. We had a grand time, as I knew we would. This is GOOD.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve also started going to the theater again. I love the theater but had been badly disappointed and painfully overcharged a few times in recent years so pretty much gave up. I knew there was English language community theater, but assumed it was a bunch of ex-pat housewives with zero talent and too much time on their hands. I was wrong. There are some truly gifted actors out there doing it simply for the love of the art and I’ve been lucky to see a good bit of it in the past year. Pictured above is the lovely and talented Rachel Walzer who recently appeared in God of Carnage. I’ve had the pleasure of directing her in narrations but had never seen her perform live. She was GOOD.

A friend and I had a discussion about whether there is energy because there is life or there is life because there is energy. I’m a supporter of the former; I believe energy is created when life begins. My friend believes energy continues when life no longer exists. I’m starting to think maybe he’s right, but not in a reincarnation sort of sense. Maybe when life is gone, its energy goes someplace else. Maybe it does create new life. That’s possible, but maybe it does something else. It might become an idea or inspire someone to do something great. Maybe it makes the bread rise or the rain fall or the flowers bloom or the sun set. Or maybe it inspires just the right amount of empathy and kindness at just the right time to make a difference in someone’s life. That would be GREAT.

Yoga Queens

Kelly impossible poseI am loving the private yoga practices with Kelly, but we’re both pretty busy so sometimes it’s hard to find a time that suits us both, and once a week isn’t really enough anyway.

My gym offers a bunch of different yoga classes, so I thought I’d check some out. One class is called Queen’s Yoga. I’d heard of hatha yoga, and Kelly does vinyasa, but Queen’s? I just can’t see Elizabeth in her practical shoes and dopey hats trying to balance her whole body on one earlobe.

I asked a couple of yoga teachers and none of them had ever heard of it. So I showed up for the class at the gym and asked the instructor, who said it’s a trademark for their group and I wouldn’t hear it anywhere else. OK, fair enough. But why queen’s?

It was a popular class–there were about 40 students–but the movements and poses were pretty standard. So I was still puzzling about the whole queen’s issue when I noticed the instructor prancing around the room in his unnecessarily tight sweatpants and it hit me: they’d put the apostrophe in the wrong place.

Gratitude 2015

I'm the one in the orange sheet.
I’m the one in the orange sheet.

We made it through our first smoke free holiday season, and I find myself profoundly grateful for a lot of things.

I’m grateful for the wonderful new people who have come into my life. I’m grateful for Kelly, who is not only teaching me to trust my body but also to look inside myself to try to understand my place in this universe and my attitude toward it.  I’m grateful for Rob, who can keep me both thoughtful and laughing for hours on end.  I’m grateful for all my quit sisters, particularly Jan, Leanne and Susan. Our cyber-hand holds and hugs have helped to make this journey bearable in ways I can’t begin to explain.

I’m grateful for Twitchy, for the irony of being given a chance to share my home with something more beautiful than the greatest masterpiece of classical art yet more evil than the darkest specter of hell. I’m grateful for understanding that the world is often as out of focus as she is.

I’m grateful for whatever it was that at long last helped us find the strength we needed to stop smoking. Working through the whys and wherefores of all that continues to be one of the greatest challenges of my life, and the most fulfilling.

I’m grateful to the Dalai Lama for helping me understand what happiness really is. I’m grateful for the Christmas dinner we finally had time for last night. I’m grateful for the people who shared it with us. I’m grateful for being able to care about people. I’m grateful for the interwebs and the air in my lungs and sunlight and kerosene and smiles from strangers and oatmeal cookies and shoelaces.

dessertI’m grateful for being given another year to stumble through. I’m grateful for whatever gifts and challenges it will present. I’m grateful for knowing I have the strength to handle whatever those things will be, and for having the sense to know just how great a gift that is.

Drawing by Renaissance Man Rodger Sono. Used with permission.
Drawing by Renaissance Man Rodger Sono. Used with permission.
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