Building traditions

Things that are regular and predictable are comforting. It makes me feel like I’m in control, and that I have a sense of purpose. So, I have a handful of annual events that I try to attend, and when I miss out on them it saddens me. One is the daradara matsuri, a festival at the famous Shiba Daijingu at Daimon. For hundreds of years this shrine has been important to Edo-Tokyo life, and every year in September the wondrous powers of fresh ginger are celebrated. So I go to the shrine and buy a bundle of the pungent and exotic plant from the kind, ceremonially-clad elderly folks at the shrine.

This year I managed to get there at about the same time as usual, just before closing. I got a special preparation for receiving the last roots in stock at the moment, and along with my purchase a bag of delicious ginger candy as well. The jovial man who sold it to me beamed as he extolled the many virtues of ginger, in particular how consuming the root would make it easier to bear healthy children, and give me the “strength” to invoke such a process– in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening as well, apparently.

Behold the all magnificient ginger! It’s delicious! It’s nutritious! It helps you get up in the morning!

After thanking the gods for so much fortune in my road to Geisai, I went to the nearby Zojoji, arriving just in time for the monks’ five o’clock meditation and chanting. I wish I could say that I came to some sort of realization, or even that I calmed down a little, but unfortunately I’m still wound way too tight for any of it to even scratch the surface of my shaky mental state.

It was this little shot of Cuervo at dinner in Azabu Juban that got me motivated to make a spur of the moment decision about travel. Diego would be proud.

But I have my ginger to make my brown rice stir fry with, and I have the solace of performing one more annual ritual that makes me part of this culture-dripping city of old.

How Geisai was (finding that one person, or maybe not…)

I have not written yet, and I have not told you how it was. I’m sorry. I am tired. And I have some domestic problems. In a few words, Geisai was, a good experience. It was everything I said it was going to be, most of it was what it was before I even got there. But I did get there, and I had some good help. I wouldn’t have gotten there if I didn’t. I woke up at four, after a total mount of four hours sleep over the previous three days. I tried to be quiet, I tried to pack with efficiency. I carried great amounts of wood onto a train, and then a monorail. It took every minute I had to get set up, and then some (finishing about ten minutes after the convention hall doors opened).

From early on, a podlike mech was roaming the convention hall. In a pinch, I arranged my photographs instinctually, which turns out to be the way an engineer would– a recursive partitioning of space to provide symmetry and lay out items in order of decreasing priority. Black and white, color, large to small, etc. Though I deeply regretted not putting more time and thought into it, it did end up being a unique means of presentation as it seemed I was the only mathematically-rooted presenter at the show. In short, it was far too rigid and cold, I could have done a lot better to not make it look like a fifth grade science project on how the greenhouse effect works.

I spent over two hundreds hours and nine hundred dollars in preparation. I showed forty-four photographs. I sold about ten postcards, four of which were not out of obligation from acquaintances. I distributed a dozen business cards, stood in front of my booth inviting passersby for about seven hours, and in the end shuffled home in the rain like a zombie, dragging my wooden peg boards along any semi-smooth surface I could find.

One thing I added to my “let’s improve on this next time” list right away was displaying my merchandise in a more appealing and eye-catching manner. This was far too “streets of Manhattan beneath a movie poster” for anyone’s tastes. I was hardly surprised to see an Akiba-kei idol show up for a performance, though the rear end sumo matches in front of my booth did catch me off guard.

I had one friend blanket me with kindness, and a couple others make good on their promises to stop by; while others did not. In the end, I was caught in the warmth of one selfless soul who displayed more strength and ingenuity than I could manage all week. I will forever be indebted to the selfless supporters of my cause, or more appropriately, the selfless supporters of just me.

Renowned “Hard Gay” Razor Ramon even showed up, and did his own mural in real time at the show. I think he got a lot more attention though for entering the sumo ring. Towards the end of the day, Hirota-san must of felt terrible seeing me look like death, he came back with a cache’ of water and quick sugar. I was floored. I’ll have to think of something really nice for him…

In the minutes leading up to the final bell, I got a visit from what one might say is a potential aficionado. He said that he had seen many works that day, but mine genuinely moved him. There was something about my photographs that was nostalgic, something powerful, something that reached inside. He even came back twice to say it again, shaking his head as if in disbelief, reiterating how affecting my pictures were. He invited me to join in a semi-private showing at Matsudo before Christmas. I gave him my information, and a few postcards. I will always be doubtful that anyone could really understand a bit of what I’m trying to convey, partly because it’s so complicated and partly because I’m so bad at portraying it; but, the lonely soul in me will always maintain a tiny bit of hope for true appreciation. [After rereading this for editing I realize how incredibly loutish and jaded I sound, but I don’t have the energy to write it again. As usual, upon really thinking them over, I’m already answering most of my own questions and doubts.]

Those who missed out on the materials in the show, I will try to put together a new “collections” page in the next week or so, then you can see scans of the material presented there.

[Fans of the up-and-coming electronic musician Pango will be disappointed to hear that the intense drum and bass from a DJ booth the next row over drowned out his experimental lunar sounds for most of the day. However, Pango himself was not very pleased with what he brought with him anyway, so it didn’t really matter. But next time, yes, headphones!]

To the fire that burns in me:

Seven years ago I was listing and adrift. Seven years ago I was a confused teenager, with no direction, no motivation, no success, and a whole lot of, “Why?” Things weren’t going well, and it looked like they were only going to get worse. Then one day I had to help coordinate an event for a guest speaker. Vice Chair of the ACM, I got a room reservation and a projector. That late evening in the fall of 1999 I sat in for your talk, second row, two seats right of center. You held up a Furby, and said that this was the future of entertainment technology. You passed out crayons, and told us all to close our eyes and focus on them: the texture of the paper, the smoothness of the wax, the smell that brought back memories of childhood. From that moment on, I’ve never doubted what I wanted to do once.

You inspired me to make something more of myself. Without directly telling me, you gave me a goal to shoot for; something so far and so high, I almost lost it in the sun. But it didn’t matter how many people said it was a long shot, or how much I was told that I should prepare myself for the chance that I wouldn’t make it. There was no chance. I knew what I had to do. I had to take the latent flame in my heart and make it erupt like magma. You were strict, but fair. You spoke unlike anyone I’d ever seen before, boldly and with such disarming confidence. You were everything to me, and everything I wanted to be.

I worked my tail off for a year and a half, inventing parts of myself that I never knew could exist, laying track just seconds before the fury of my momentum came rumbling down the rails leading to the stars. I built cities, castles, networks, and libraries. The roaring cavalcade of the human spirit reverberated through me and leapt onto all manner of media. I poured every drop of life I had in me into my CMU application package, and when I got that call in the hotel room in Seattle, the call that said I made it, I couldn’t believe it.

I was euphoric. I couldn’t believe it. But later, talking to you, you said that when you saw my portfolio, you knew at once that I had to be in the ETC. You knew right away that there was no doubt I belonged there, in that environment, so I could help build the amazing things you spoke of. To receive that kind of praise from you, it meant everything to me.

You have been, and always will be, my hero. Your vision and passion are unmatched, and you’ve changed more lives than you will ever know. You told me the most honest and straightforward things anyone had ever said to me, and you said them when I needed them most. It breaks my heart to hear about what’s happening in your life. I wish beyond words that there was something I could say or do that would make things different. You deserve so much more, more than I could make in a lifetime.

On Tuesday, you’ll be in my thoughts all day. Already, your spirit is in every noble thing I do. Next week, I will pray for you. But for now, I dedicate this, my first art exhibition, to you. You gave me the courage and determination to choose this path, and I will do all I can to honor that by giving every fiber of my life to being the very best I can be.

Thank you, Randy. This weekend is for you.

Forever your student,

Kathy’s Song

I have one day until Geisai. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my life, I just know it. I’ve worked so hard these four months to prepare for this, devoting my heart, my resources, and virtually all the non-working time I’ve had for this one event. Ten hours, ninety minutes of music, five pages of poetry, four dozen photographs, one heart dreaming of humble reflections and another to truly understand them.

It’s just coming up on midnight, and I am about to start on translations of my poetry. I’ll do all I can with my limited vocabulary, and when that’s done, with what energy I have left I’ll mix my music for the show. In the morning I have a few things left to buy, and then a sample layout on the display. After that, it’s just break down, packing, and waiting. Tomorrow night I’m going to see Hamada Mariko, one final muse before my christening sunrise, a last sympathetic heart to push me on my way. Then on Sunday, it’s just me; just a fool with crude inventions, with his heart pinned to the collar of a torn jeans jacket. This is my exhale of unrequited passion. Thank you, Lord, for giving me these gifts of self-realization.

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies

My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day

And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I

Inching, crawling, turning over

Last night I finished preparing my postcard shots for sale at Geisai. This morning I handed them off to Kinko’s to print and cut, in the end I’ll have about two hundred with me for sale. Initially I was thinking three hundred, but after seeing the color quality of the laser jet printer, I revised my estimates. The sad irony of my preparations is centered around this key principle of media transmission. The quality of printing from film clearly manifests the errors in preparing my shots, whereas the lack of quality in consumer printing to paper obscures the true beauty of my digital camera images. In the end, I feel lacking on both sides of the medium, and I’ll have to rethink the entire process with which I approach photography and publishing. At least now I know firsthand that there is a process.

All these late night art sessions after twelve-hour workdays are starting to wear me down. I know I said I’d stop watching TNG this week, but to “blow off [just] a little steam” (as Barclay says), I’ve been giving myself those forty-two minutes.

However, now that I’ve finished photography, the only major things left are translating my poetry, arranging it nicely, and editing my music. I think this will end up with an all nighter Friday, leaving the zombified me to trivial shopping and assembling tasks on Saturday, then I may fall dead asleep for a good six hours before the show. If the good Lord smiles on me, it won’t rain on Sunday.

Shambling, shuffling, now is the time when it all comes together…

ALIGN( 16 )

A Walk in Andante

After my industrious session of shopping and preparing, my fatigue got the better of me, and I ended up spending the middle of Saturday afternoon in a half-conscious daze on the sofa. However, I did manage to get some good source material from the microKORG before heading out for dinner in Kagurazaka. This week I don’t think I can afford myself any relaxation (TNG) given the amount of time remaining, so I’ll be spending my nights this week in the cycle of producing and processing audio data between Sound it! and Cakewalk (yes, I’m a ghetto rookie). The thing is, since I doubt any one person is going to be staying around my booth for more than fifteen minutes, I actually don’t need any more music than that for my audience. However, I have no doubt that I will loathe my own compositions enough to want to quit music forever if I have to listen to a twenty-minute loop for nine hours.

Thanks to some Illustrator tips I got from Risako, I managed to put together a personal business card that I don’t hate completely. Of course, after uploading it to the print shop online, I’ve already come up with a number of shortcomings (e.g. I don’t list the fact that I’m an engineer anywhere on the card). [This in itself is interesting in that I spend over seventy percent of my life being one.] Still, it really improved during last night’s power session after watching X-Men 2 on Asahi TV’s Sunday night movie.

I’m beginning to notice patterns in design that are pleasing to me. Everything seems to start out big and complicated, and I iteratively whittle away at what I want to convey until in the end I just have a condensed, subdued morsel left over from my initial delusions of grandeur. One of the key points to creation (at least for me), is to be acutely aware of my resources and limitations (time, technical skill, ability to focus), and do the best I can with that. Stretching myself to accomplish more than what is feasible is what results in half-finished and flat looking material. After flipping through the couple hundred business cards I have piled up on my corner shelf, I realized that the ones that appealed to me most were the ones that didn’t have bitmapped backgrounds, tons of text, or bold marks. To me, professional is subtle curves, thin lines, and a conservative use of space. Everyone has their own sense I suppose, but I think it’s more than chance that I embrace this kind of philosophy now after growing continually disenchanted with inefficiency, hype, and gluttonous amounts of shellac on a dearth of substance. At last, I am learning to accept this is part of a process for continual improvement, and not push myself beyond what I can adeptly accomplish. I must be content and proud of what is achievable now. To illustrate remedial concepts with prowess and exhibit the glistening promise of future potential will serve me well, I believe.

I also had several depressing reminders that Japan is small and you always have to be thinking of other people before you do something. Putting nails into pine is a very noisy process, and can’t be done in my home, in front of my house in the alley, or in fact anywhere near any number of tightly clustered buildings. I went to the park to assemble the base of my display, but ultimately succeeded only in learning that there are way too many biting insects in late summer, and nails are good for little more than hanging pictures. I have since upgraded my philosophy to screws, which, by the way, quickly show just how overpriced the low-grade lumber at Tokyu Hands really is.

CodeWarrior Error

Second nature

Yesterday I did, in fact, accomplish a lot at work again. So much, [in fact] that I have the luxury of spending today and tomorrow doing what humans were intended to do– living practically. I often exhibit some sort of snowballing momentum when it comes to mindless chores. After getting home slightly past one, I read some email and got some disconcerting news, which came quite close to throwing a wet blanket over the wonderful feeling of satisfaction that had developed from my accomplishments. However, a little bit of luck kept me from getting out of control, and I started with what I do best, cleaning. The humidity in my apartment gets incredibly high towards the end of summer, so the bathroom quickly slides into a state of unnerving disarray and filth. I knew action had to be taken before things got any worse, so I spent a couple minutes working strong chemical cleaner into the synthetic tub walls with a brush. This of course led to more scrubbing, and more polishing and a rinsing of the floor, trash being collected, clothes picked up, etc. In the end despite the fact I “stopped” to watch another episode of Next Gen, I put away all the laundry, straightened the bed, and put away my camera supplies. Then it’s just after three and only lack of sleep could wrest me from the unrelenting single-mindedness with which I dispatched all of the minor details I can control in my life.

The point of all this mundanity, if you’ve bothered to read this far, is that you must understand that I’m really quite methodical when it comes to domestic affairs. I really can’t be stopped once I get started, and even intense physical seduction would at best have only an even money chance of getting me to stop. Things being orderly for me has become, like many other ticks in my life, something that both agitates and calms me. I cannot stand to have it undone, but the completion is a soothing font of absolution from which I draw a few precious drops of solace. In general, as people get older they tend to collect more and more things; things that are only partially, seldom, or never used at all. Having these things around, around contributing to the eternally degrading condition of my domicile’s cleanliness, is a constant and ever-widening needle in the back of my head. And so to futilely (but nobly) combat this unwinnable war of decaying consumer goods, I more and more often participate in free markets, yard sales, or what have you. I don’t even need money for these things, for if it was truly of any value than I’d be using it frequently, because that’s how I purchase things. Nothing of any consequence is bought on a whim or without deep deliberation as to how much it truly will be used in my life. I am my father, only twenty years ahead of schedule in all areas except marriage, parenting, and financial stability, the later of which is of very little importance to me until the other two come into play, which don’t seem to be for some time, judging by the incredible resonating growth of my ambitions.

The real purpose behind this blog was to talk about how I’ve woken up this week to realize that living in Japan has become trivial (in terms of effort, a la Dave Luebke) to me. I can read, speak, listen, and survive with a minimal amount of effort. I know where to buy what for how much, and all the important ratios and benchmarks of my tiny, insignificant life (like calories to yen, adjusted for vitamin content). Today, in three hours, I went to Office Max, Kinko’s, Horiuchi, Seikaido, lunch, and lastly the drug and liquor stores, procuring a wide range of information and consumer goods for an affordable price. Postcards may be printed at Kinko’s for about 63 yen a piece, from which I will sell them for 150-200. The color most certainly will not match exactly, since this isn’t Horiuchi, but these are acceptable discrepancies in light of how simple and cheap it will be to have them fabricated. Accordingly, I will select images which do not rely on shadow or subtle color differences, as translation of the gamma of my monitor to the tone of their laser printer is sure to be quite incongruous. Horiuchi has almost all of the prints prepared to my satisfaction. A large shot of west Shinjuku must once more be redone as a direct, manual enlargement, and dust spots need to be removed from the corner of an image of an apartment building in Nakano Shimbashi.

I bought a carrying case for my humble products, but was dismayed to find that the classic brown cardboard-style portfolio, which I toted in and out of Brooks Hall so frequently at Virginia, is no longer vogue. Now I have a more durable, less campy, black plastic B3 wallet to take my shots to and from the printer. Drafting tape was also procured, at the advice of Mari-san, for attaching my delicate gems to the fiberboard walls. I realize now that I forgot screw-in hooks to mount the walls with, but I’ll look at plain old nails tonight and see if that will suffice.

I made off with a bevy of household cleaners, toiletries, and paper products for about the price of three days’ food, and since these will all last at least two months, I am pleased. So pleased, in fact, that I treated myself to a bottle of (marked) organic Chateau La Mau Bastit Bordeaux, with which to inspire me throughout this writing, and the music experimentation with which I will soon follow.

Life is my ocean, and how I cross it reflects the tension and slack I fumble through each day, like the sails on an old, wooden ship– with the rise and fall of the sea I flutter and fall empty, then billow in the wind and cut through sweat-moistened evenings of salt and contentment by the eternal arc of the sun.

Getting there

Today was the first day in a long time that I left work with a truly clear conscience. My performance lately has been abysmal, and it’s most certainly an attitude thing, where difficulty hamstrings confidence which drives me in to a downward spiral of being able to think clearly, rest, etc. But, in any case I woke up fairly early today, and had time to prepare breakfast and lunch, in addition to getting a shave and the trash out. That and the cold front that swept in last night put me in a good mood, and it went up from there. Of course I’m never ecstatic to get home from work after midnight, but with a couple more days like today, I may actually have a day off before the show next weekend.

My bullet list is down to the finer points, and though there are question marks still hanging around for some things (like how I’m going to get all this oversized lumber to Odaiba without it getting destroyed), all of the difficult things should be taken care of in the next seventy-two hours. It’s hard work, and there are as many mundane steps as there are inspiring ones. The crux of this weekend is securing printers for the more professional bits, and doing in theatre what we call a “technical rehearsal” with props, before going off-book next Saturday. I suppose what I’m looking forward to most is building the “set”. There’s something very satisfying about assembling something out of wood and metal. I only hope I can match a fraction of the quality my father would produce if he were handling the affair.

I checked the prints at Horiuchi yesterday, for the most part they looked pretty good. It’s going to cost me an arm and a leg, but this is my first show, and all things considered I think it’s going pretty well. Although I maintain a subdued appearance now (I’m almost 27), I have no doubt that come next weekend, I won’t be able to sleep from all the energy streaming out of my pores. They’ll have to peel me off the rafters before striking the set. It won’t take much of an effort for me to generate the effervescent caricature of myself I’m thinking of playing at the show. I wonder kind of advice Roger De Bris would give me in preparing my repertoire.


Is this the start of something new? I’m not sure how things will change, but at least I’m trying to make them better. I must concentrate…

I don’t need an education
I learnt all I need from you
They’ve got me on some medication
My point of balance was askew
It keeps my temperature from rising
My blood is pumping through my veins

Somebody get me out of here
I’m tearing at myself
Nobody gives a damn about me or anybody else

I wear myself out in the morning
You’re asleep when I get home
Please don’t call me self defending
You know it cuts me to the bone
And it’s really not surprising
I hold a force I can’t contain

Somebody get me out of here
I’m tearing at myself
Nobody gives a damn about me or anybdy else

And still you call me co-dependent
Somehow you lay the blame on me
And still you call me co-dependent
Somehow you lay the blame on me

Holding My Thoughts in My Heart

Tonight, after much effort and a little luck, I at last took a great step forward into my little personal renaissance. I finally got the Edirol, Cakewalk, Sound Canvas, and microKORG to all work together. What this means is I can bask in eighteen voice MIDI polyphony to my heart’s content, or have percussion back my performance on the synth and record all of the sound to digital audio.

Unsurprisingly, as a helpful poster noted in a reply to my post on Usenet, I have “experienced serious ‘lost time’ episodes.” However, despite his concerns, I believe that I can generate enough music for the show in time, as now that I have the Edirol working, I plan on trying to get in a little playing time each night. The other thing my astute colleague noted was that hobbyists often end up spending thousands of dollars before they know it. I must not be a serious hobbyist yet because I can only count about four hundred. I have a monitor, mixer, and synth all donated to my collection. [Don’t ask me how much I’ve put into photography this year, though.]

Of course, true to my introverted, sentimental gamer roots, the first thing I did to test the KORG and Roland working together was play a selection of the more touching ballads from Final Fantasy VII. But enough of that…I have to spend just a few minutes with the Edirol and the KORG, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

This is definitely a very exciting time indeed. I don’t want to sleep, but I know I have to if I’m going to make it through the next few weeks.

Like my boss always reminds us, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” If only I could come up with something that didn’t look totally tasteless for my personal business cards, though.