Although I have dozens of things I want to write about (little yellow post-its litter my desk), I think that I may have to fade away for a couple days. There are a lot of heavy things on my mind, and I need to come to some serious conclusions about myself and where I’m going in certain aspects of my life. Hopefully I’ll find some good answers after several good nights’ sleep. Peace and flowers….

On books, intelligence and frustration

I have been meaning to write that I finished “Flowers for Algernon” last Thursday. So I guess I got through it in about three or four days– it was a pretty good story. I was standing next to a small restaurant out of the misting rain when I got to the end. I didn’t cry but there were tears forming in my eyes. It took me on a journey and it made me think about more than one key think, so I guess that says a lot; the message was multi-layered. At the beginning I was confused and a little frustrated (due to the lead character’s inability to write and speak decent English). Towards the middle I became fascinated and emboldened; I wanted to become smarter myself and break down all the barriers that prevent me from living a balanced, happy life here. Three-quarters the way through I found myself sharing perhaps a little too much in common with the story, and I began to miss New York City. And as the book drew to a close, I felt genuinely sad yet satisfyingly content. I won’t say anymore to spoil it for you, but I recommend you try it.

Now that I’ve finished “Flowers…”, I have had the chance to get deeper into my Dalai Lama book. Though I have yet to conclude how rigidly I should interpret his teachings, I am content to discover that throughout the course of reading the book in conjunction with some experimentation on my own part. In the meantime, I’ve already started trying to apply some of the tenets to my daily life. I question myself before I make decisions on how to behave, and when I am frustrated I attempt to take an objective look at why, so that I can backtrack and diffuse the situation earlier in the future. Though it may be a little laborious, I think in the near future I’ll start sharing some quotes from the book with you when I frame a blog entry around the metaphysics of happiness and self-awareness.

I want to be a creature of shining light in harmony with all of the world’s inhabitants. I must be careful and choose my steps forward wisely so as to purify and project the love in my heart.

Life in the suburbs

There is a really good piece by Future Sound of London that captures almost perfectly the way I feel right now. “Domain” is two minutes and fourty-seven seconds long, which I am not sure is a blessing or a curse, for every time that it ends, I am half-wishing it went on longer and I want to loop it, but part of me feels deeply satisfied, as if it served its purpose in full, and we are each complete in having experienced it together. Regardless, it fits a certain kind of mood at a certain kind of time, and that time is now.

My apartment in Sendagaya is fairly close to the business district in Yoyogi, giants like Glaxo Smith Kline and See’s Planning are dark, quiet giants for most of the hours that I am home, so an open wind brings no company to my ears other than the rare cheer of a victorious soccer crowd at the national stadium about a mile to the east.

However, lying in bed here in Kawasaki, I am blessed with a curtain of bubbling warmth from my fellow Tokyoites nearby: children laugh and run down narrow alleys, a car starts in the lot below and meets others in a dull sea of whooshes several streets away. The trains come regularly, and their gentle clacking reminds me of time spent by my window at Lambeth, or the occasional freight deep in the woods behind my grandmother’s backyard.

These are the sounds of suburbia, a place I’ve been away from for too long; buried in stuffy, dimly lit study rooms, or under the weakening fluorescent flicker of the sticky mocap lab. I grew up like most Americans on the outskirts of a city pushing 50,000; the base of a mountain surrounded by cow pastures and horse farms. As a child, some of the most exciting events for the city included visiting The Golden Mile and seeing what sorts of Christmas decorations were up on the outside of Eyerly’s department store.

I don’t think that I begrudge living in the center of a grey slate commercial metropolis, it’s location is prime and not completely without charm. I think as an artist I should like to move as a stray dog, drifting from borough to borough with sporadic pockets of consistency, sampling with vigor each welcome house’s flavors and aromas.

A very important thing

I am sorry to change subjects in one day, and to interrupt again, but after turning off the computer I just remembered why I wanted to start today’s blog in the first place; and it is a very important thing to say…

I believe that if any person in this world contemplating aggression toward another would look at a photograph of the object of their fear (before age 13), there would be no more war to worry for. Few things are as leveling and capable of dissolving ill feelings as that of looking at someone’s childhood pictures. In this, we remember there was a time we were all young, pure, and without prejudice or contempt. Children are the most noble thing I person can aspire to give to the world and the greatest hope for peace and love.

The next time you’re upset at someone, look at a photograph of them from their youth, or failing that, one of your own. We were all once honest and in respectful wonder of everything that was different or foreign to us. Have we grown so cynical that we cannot feel that way again? For myself, my contemporary neighbors and my unborn children, I hope not.

Counting Japanese cars…

Living in another country is strange for a lot of reasons, especially if it is a country in a different hemisphere.

As I type on a Japanese keyboard (they are more different than you think, notice the lack of contractions in this post), I realize yet again it goes beyond yen and driving on the left side of the road. As my companion lies sleeping peacefully, snoring everso gently, I decide I need some starch to offset the voluminous amounts of alcohol I have already consumed in addition to the 70-proof spirits that wait warming in my class. So being the inventive chap I am, I go outside, leaving the door unlocked. Also being the traditionalist, I take the stairs instead of the elevator (which turns out to be a very good thing) because this apartment building takes security beyond front doors (and rightfully so). So I get to the bottom of the steps, and work with the self-closing door for half a minute before the simian in me realizes I can leave my right shoe to prop it open NOW, and then hop over to the discarded ironing board and exchange it for the oh-so-necessary shoe, which may be replaced on my foot before going to the convenience store.

So I get about 2.00$ worth of popcorn and chocolate-covered breadsticks, and return the apartment building 30 seconds away to eat and think about my conscious insobriety. Despite the fact there is a perfectly functional bathroom not more than 3 stories away, I decide to hang around outside and go through some light acrobatics to hoist myself onto a sub-garage roof and worm my way into the terranium of a nonexistent backyard behind the building to satisfy my craving. Base and boorish, yes, but well, maybe there are some evil vices left unsatisfied after leaving college.

After retrieving all of my effects and regaining entry into the abode of my charmingly snoring companion, I work my way out onto the standard clothes-drying balcony and consume my popcorn and Okinawan sake in solitude.

Hmm, how many of the double-deckered (via the aide of mechanical lifts) cars below are Japanese…one…two… After about twenty seconds of counting, I conclude with blinding clarity that in fact they are ALL Japanese model cars. Yes, my friends, he can be taught. The following twenty minutes are spent in thought that I do not have the patience to go into with this keyboard, but suffice it to say there are fragments of existence here where if I woke up in the middle of one, I could not honestly tell you if I was in the suburbs of just another big city in the US. Though I live alone and devoid of western humor, understanding, or family, Japan deserves full credit for the fact that at times I cannot deny the feeling that I am just another pensive individual in a silent, sprawling metropolis of capitalism. God bless you, Nippon, for taking pity on one who is not worthy of your splendor and kindness.

The difference between men and boys…

Well, I _had_ a nice post from about 30 minutes of work but because this stupid thing is rooted in POST/GET architecture, if the internet connection conks out, blogger will send your data into oblivion. Anyway, here’s a not-as-verbose summary.

I’m somehow starting to rationalize the purchase of a fist-sized piece of technology that costs nearly as much as my first car. I was whining to my mother on the phone last week about how I want to make a little money from my hobbies, be taken seriously as an artist, etc., and I informed her that I can’t develop my imaging skills any further with the pinhole handicap I currently employ. So she said “How much would one that will let you do the things you want cost?” I told her I didn’t know because I hadn’t done any research into, fearing that if I did I might actually go out and buy something.

I am usually immune to nearly all forms of Japanese train advertising, but last week I caught sight of poster for the Kiss. This mechanical wonder carries the grand Canon EOS tradition into the digital realm with more features than I can currently translate. However, it costs about four times that of my current photographic apparatus. My old Casio is small enough that it still turns heads when I produce it from my pocket, and does a fair ~two megapixels (emulated), but the CCD sucks and the quality of contrast in dark/light scenes (basically anything outdoors involving the sky) is virtually non-existant. This results in me often trying to salvage the poorly sampled saturation values by dolling things up with gaussian blurs and color balances in Photoshop. Anyway, the EOS Digital family sports resolution in the six megapixel range and has the option of interchangable lenses, each which costs roughly twice the entire package I currently employ. You really should check out the sample images from some of the cameras. They’re like 32 megabyte raw tiffs. I was quite impressed by the sharpness of little hairs on the raspberries myself.

Anyway, we’ll see how I balance this with the much pined-for DV camera and 55-key synth… and of course the obligatory 600$ a month in loan payments.

A recent attempt at artistry.

PS – Today there was a guy standing on the train platform eating a sandwich and drinking a Kirin — at 9:16am. That rocks.

Kickin’ it old style

Aha..aha…uhuh..ha. Amusing doesn’t begin to describe Tuesday’s holiday festivities. So late last week I took another stab at contacting my friend Yusei who went to CMU with me. His parents and sisters live just down the road actually near Rainbow Bridge, so after meeting them at graduation, I was attempting to get in touch with them again. By a stroke of luck it all worked out and through a quick volley of bilingual emails, we set a date and got together yesterday evening for tonkatsu at the much talked about Katsugen. The food was great.

When I first came to Japan last year for the International Workshop on Entertainment Computing in Chiba, I took a day early on and visited Tokyo proper. At the time, this wasn’t the best touristy kind of thing to do as the area around Tokyo station itself is rather upscale and full of huge corporate skyscrapers. Nice but not the first thing you want to do. Anyway, visiting yesterday, I was quite taken aback at how wide and tall everything was, in contrast to the older districts of Harajuku or Koenji. Tokyo station itself was designed by mega-architect Frank Lloyd Wright. [see below] All the financial buildings surrounding it are just massive. Anyway, we visited the area around Tokyo and Shimbashi ekis.

We got to see them filming a tv drama on the street, though I’m not sure which one. It was pretty ghetto actually and everyone looked like they were late 20s. Weird. We had 10 dollar cocktails on the 45th floor of some impressive building in a restaurant called The Oregon Bar & Grill that smacked of any number of overpriced places I was taken to when working for MSFT. It was nice, it’s staggering, you look at the Tokyo skyline and it reaches forever and then you realize you’re just looking at the southern tip to the bay, like 11% of the bulk of the metropolis.

Afterwards, deciding it wasn’t late enough we went karaoke-ing, which I was hesitant about at first, since usually I’m with some girl my age that I’m getting soused with. But Yusei’s mom is really a character. She has boundless energy that I have no idea as to its origin (she replied to my thank you email at 2:00a), and never seems to allow a dull moment in conversation. Anyway, she really liked my rendition of the drunken Pioneers party classic “Sweet Caroline“, so I had to reprise it for her at the end of the night. The most fun I had though was our ending duet (completely impromptu) of “Woman of Osaka”. I had never heard the song, and its got your standard traditional Japanese up-and-down the scale action. But wow! It was a riot, I’ll have to remember that song and improve my knowledge of popular Japanese music and reading the teleprompt.

Yusei’s mother suggested that I hang out with his sisters and company when they go kicking around. Hmm…

The things that make life sweet (pt. 3)

I carried “Flowers for Algernon” around in my coat pocket today so I could read it during lunch and break. I also have gotten into the questionable habit of reading it when I walk, I just started this morning and I’m already up to page 50. Books have an interesting way of affecting my behavior. It may be kind of silly, but as Charlie is growing more and more intelligent, I’ve found myself walking with better posture and thinking about everything in more than one dimension at a time. I want to believe that I have the potential to be exceptionally bright, and just as the Dalai Lama says of happiness, I feel my capacity for intelligence and learning is dependent largely on my attitude and the way I approach the challenges I encounter each day.

Anyway, I’m writing mainly to report that mood is continuing to skyrocket. It seems that ever since the weather changed things have been markedly different. I still feel great mentally, even though I am fully conscious of how precarious a position I’m putting myself in by not resting. In addition, the temperature has plummeted from a humid 87 on Friday to a poor shadow of summer with a high in the mid 60s. People say this kind of dramatic change makes it easy to get sick, but I’m so thrilled to be able to have my window open and feel the brisk evening I don’t care. I didn’t get to cleaning the dishes I mentioned earlier as I probably should, in fact at work I toyed with the idea of putting it off until tomorrow morning when I have to take out the trash, but the odor right now is demanding otherwise. It’s just a pain in the neck dealing with the common space downstairs that I’m trying to avoid, not the actual dish washing itself (which I actually enjoy).

Tokyo is a city of 12 million people. I’m not sure how many I get to see on a daily basis just walking to the train station and back, but I’d guess it’s close to several hundred if not a thousand. Shinjuku eki is the busiest train station in the world, over one million people go through it _every day_. I’m one of that million, twice, though I have the entrances, exits, times and train doors memorized so well it’s quite effortless for me at this point. The great thing about the cold weather is the crowds are no longer oppressive with heat and humidity, but rather a Dionysian field of pleasant fragrances both synthetic and natural. I CAN’T GET OVER how fantastic girls smell. It may just be that I’m starstruck, or in one of the most fashionable cities in the world, but Japanese women seem leagues more feminine than their American counterparts. Ack, my head is going to explode from so much coquettish allure.

Life is an ever-evolving, biomechanical, multi-dimensioned beast of synaesthesia, and I possess the means to navigate its bloodstream en force.

The Tokyo Game Show is this weekend. w00t.

The things that make life sweet (pt. 2)

I feel so happy and content today, I wonder why. This is like the polar opposite of how things were last week before I got my project schedule extended. I think I remember hearing something about how when you’re sleepy you may have low blood sugar levels, so you get light-headed and a little nutty. This phenomenon was once described by a coworker of mine at DSR [which coincidentally was bought just last week] as “Silly o’clock”. You know, that time of night when you’ve been staying up late doing something so you just start laughing at everything for no apparent reason. I dunno, maybe this is different. Regardless, my body is so beat now but my mood is fantastic. I love every thing and everybody. In the words of Russell from Almost Famous “I am a golden god!” … “Tell Rolling Stone that my last words were…’I’m on drugs!'”

Tangentially of interest, I procured some much-needed books at Japanese megastore Kinokuniya over the weekend. Usually I’m cheap as dirt and would never _buy_ books, I’d borrow them from the library and keep renewing them, but I was tired and didn’t feel like doing the legwork to find a library in Shibuya that had a decent English language section. [I _should_ do this soon as I really want a book on Shinto and one on Japanese history] So while on the sixth floor and looking through the English books section, I discovered a number of gems that I MasterCard’ed (thanks, Dad) as I didn’t have any cash. [Maybe I had some cash and didn’t want to admit it…I forget.] I’ll give little reviews of each after I finish them but for now let me introduce you to our lucky contestants:

1) The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by His Holiness, The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler MD. I read a little Buddhism 101 book last summer over my daily tonkatsu in the ATR cafeteria and kinda dug it. Not that I’m looking for spiritual meaning or anything, but I definitely think there is much to be gained from a) a basic understanding of eastern philosophy and thought, and b) material about self-improvement as I am always striving to further master the talent of living and making the word a better place throughin and throughout. That and the fact I love learning like some people love speed or coke. Anyway, I’m into this one 14 pages and already I feel a little wiser. Thanks D.L.!

2) Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes. You may laugh, but I didn’t really think about this title until I was watching Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and following the subplot involving the Tachikoma (highly intelligent AIs in police attack robots). In one episode focusing on their independent and extraordinary development of human-like emotions and autonomous thought, some of the mechs are discussing the meaning of life, death, and the imperfection of humanity when one of them mentions this book. As I was in the fiction section of Kinokuniya and looking for Kerouac (see below) and Keyes was right there, so I figured “What the hell?”. I’m trying to read more modern classics anyway despite that (unfortunately Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man kinda let me down with its the excessive extollings of Christianity). Mom said she liked it [Flowers…] and the movie, so it looks like a win-win-win [damn, I sound like a slot machine].

3) On the Road, Jack Kerouac. Yeah, I’ve read this one several times already, but I didn’t have my own copy yet (a la aforementioned cheap-skatedness) and I needed some hopped-up mad poet love to play on the solitude I’ve been so reeking of lately. It’s a great book, and I only regret this bookstore didn’t have Big Sur as well, because the two dovetail so well together, and its hard for me to decide which I like more. Long story short (haha), On the Road: great book about _living_ life and surrounding yourself with people equally as zealous for just that. (I have a large poster of the man over my desk). [Note: I’m crazy about this guy…this book and Sur are on the “Great friend/lover of David Ventura Required Reading (to understand me) List”]

BTW, I advanced my UFO Catcher (those wacky toy and claw games they have at bowling alleys in the US) hall of fame with a sleepy (like me) bedtime Minnie Mouse holding teddy. The question of the day is: will I keep this snuggly, chamois sleepmate for myself or go for the gushing gratitude of a garrulous girl?

Minnie and Tama-chan (and the $130 pillow in the background).

The things that make life sweet

I’m tired. Pretty tired. And I haven’t even LEFT for work yet. Well, tomorrow is holiday, so I’ll just try to pound a little caffeine and tough it out until 8:00 today. It was worth it though.

So I had a thing yesterday. A friend of mine and I braved the typhoon and went to the Mandarake in Shibuya (an emporium that deserves its own entry), and afterwards hit up the usual mania that is department store food shopping in the basement of Tokyu. This was in preparation for a hack of a meal, my FIRST attempt at cooking while in Japan this year [note this means I ate out for every meal for four months].

It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t fabulous…but considering I have _a_ bowl, 1.5 plates and three chopsticks, it was tolerable. I can’t say I really want to do the DISH now, but, eh….why invite our exoskeletoned, multi-legged friends in for feast while I’m at work?

We drank an impressive 2.7 bottles of wine of monotonically decreasing quality and ate half a bunch of friggin’ weird “grape-like” fruits, as she put it. At some point I put on the soundtrack to Laputa, prompting her to exclaim after 7 bars “I wish I could see it now!” Subsequently we did just that as I have nearly every Studio Ghibli film tucked away in one digital cranny or another. However, I think we got half way through, paused to do the bathroom rotation, and then fell asleep/passed out on the bed until next I discovered it was 1:40a. Oops. Well, not really. I don’t give a damn, I’m already home. Kinda nice.

So we brushed our teeth, I grinned at myself in the mirror and gave her a hentai nurse t-shirt to wear and we retired for the evening. I probably slept less last night than I have in weeks, _despite_ the lousy work-delerium mess at the beginning of the month. But I don’t care. Some people are just a bouquet of stimuli to assuage the big five. She tastes like autumn and her scent reminds me of the passenger seat from some sedan I sat in on several random cold days from the 80s. I must have roused two dozen times to slide my arm around her fine-boned porcelain frame and sigh.

Hell I didn’t want her to go, and I sure as hell didn’t want to go to work today. But I’ve started the day, and walking to the station with her I had to sing old John Lennon songs, because the matted hair and recently-arrived chill wind were like an afghan nap in a leather chair; so decadent I had to beam. On the way back home I noticed for the ten-thousandth time all the corny campaign posters for local council members and felt a laugh rising in my haggard body — I should gank a bunch of these things and wallpaper my room with them…my pals making Sendagaya a better place to live.

The park

Lying on a park bench in a small gravel playground, I get to think. As usual I’m bushed from two until about six. Functionally, I’m trying to sleep, however, I’m probably getting more out my mind running around than actual rest. It’s these delirious tired moments that my memory is prone to cough up something I haven’t thought about for years. Hell if I know why, but it’s usually the kind of events psychologists say forms your personality.

Anyway, lying on this bench completely beat I think about the kids that may come to the park while I’m there. They’re almost always little kids, and accordingly are accompanied by their moms. I can imagine the little Japanese children seeing this 187 cm tall shaggy dude in wore out thrift store clothes, sprawled over a bench, perhaps dead. It would probably freak them out, I think it would bother me if I was a little kid and some sketchy dude was in the park unconscious. So I think about the kids running to tell their moms, the moms worrying amongst each other and telling a shopkeeper, the shopkeeper calling the police, the police telling the immigration agency, and the immigration agency calling the embassy to tell my consulate to get my bony ass out of Japan, because you can’t sleep on benches in parks in the middle of the day. I actually envision the electricity going through the telephone lines from Japan to Washington so the local authorities there can be made aware. [I later think they probably don’t have telephone lines strung up over the ocean, so it must be done with satellite, but before satellites how did you call Europe during the war? So there must be lines under the ocean, so I think of all the video games I played where you had to go under the ocean to find something and how freaky it was…etc…you get the idea].

After an ambulance drives by with sirens on a couple streets away, I jolt out of daze and start thinking about something else. I remember how nice playing in the park was in summer when I was a kid, and subsequently how I don’t remember being so tired as a kid, but then again playing ball in the park near the local elementary school. So I think about playing ball at all kinds of places: the park, the field behind my high school, the quad in front of my first year dorm at Virginia. In all these places I think it was always me and like one of my friends. Neither of us were very good at the time, and I always had a complex that if other kids came by and wanted to play. Virtually every boy was better than me and more aggressive in sports, and the ones that weren’t didn’t like chucking the ball around anyway. So I was always worried that some big kids or older kids would come and ask if they could play too, or worse invite themselves in. Then they’d throw the ball too hard and I’d drop it, and I’d get all choked up and throw it weak, or in some crazy direction. And when I wanted to go, they’d want to keep playing, and I’d be afraid to ask for my ball back, so I’d have to wait until _they’d_ gotten tired of it and left already. This was a very serious problem for a number of years, but hell if I haven’t even half-considered it since I was 17. Anyway, I can throw the ball decent now, not great, but decent. I’m not afraid of people asking to throw with anymore, but they never do so it doesn’t really matter. It’s probably a big part of my subconscious and my confidence stuff. Probably.

Anyway it’s been like over 20 minutes now I think I better go back to work, so the boss doesn’t notice I’m gone, and so the little kids and moms can come back and play in the park; and so the immigration office back in Washington doesn’t get that phone call, because I _know_ they’ve got enough stuff to deal with already.

More beauty

There are things in life that make me weak– the kind of weakness that old men dream for and young men dream they can admit. Very, very high on that list (to the point of tears today), is an evening star that walks upon the lonely. Mariko Hamada sings and I am powerless. Her voice is simple, but it will allay your every fear and put worry to rest. It’s a plain, unpretentious light from a pure, loving soul and your heart knows it. Even if you don’t speak a word of Japanese, you understand to your very core what she’s singing about; because it’s the most eloquent way anyone has ever thought to convey it.

She sings in English as naturally as she does in her native Japanese…tonight’s encore concluded with a delicate version of “Love Me Tender“. Her next concert is in November…in a church. No venue could be more appropriate.

Look closer

We can feel things. Music, photographs, and film can make us happy, or they can make us cry. One of the most important things media can do is make us think. For some that’s easier than for others. I think too much as it is, whether that’s a side effect of activity or an innate behavior I don’t know.

Life is a beautiful thing. The more we realize it, the more we treasure it. The more we treasure it the more we don’t want to let it go. Children may worry about death because it’s scary and doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes I worry about death because I don’t want to leave life, because there are things I feel like I have to do in the future. These are the kind of things one can’t force to happen because doing so makes it artificial, and life wasn’t created artificially. So I’m scared of dying; scared because I feel like I don’t want to leave life alone, without having given the greatest things to someone else. But I worry even more that maybe if I did get to give those things, I’d want to die even less afterwards, because that would open a sense of being greater than I can imagine now. I guess this is one of those things that will make more sense when I get older. Bits and pieces of it make sense now, because I believe I’ve already received more than any imperfect creature could wish for– to see and feel beautiful things and understand how wonderful they really are.

It’s like Kevin Spacey says in “American Beauty“… but then again I’m back at the movies, a reflection of reality, or how some people perceive it. Regardless of what’s causing what, I’m still scared.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst; and then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.