Start from here see where it goes. I am not sure what to write, but I will.
Looking at the Pepsi on my desk beside me, it’s what’s they call a tall boy, more than 12 oz. It packs a punch with a ton of sugar. A treat instead of my usual afternoon coffee.
For some reason on occasion after a hard day of cycling, funny my favorite band The Replacements line from a song just came in mind, “After a hard day of nothing at all.” Is this telling me something? I certainly do not live a live of nothing at all. Not that important for sure, but I do tend to do things. Many things truth be told. I have a laundry list of what I get done in the morning, including laundry. And you know what? I am never really tired. I have a ton of energy. I do love my naps though.
Okay where was I? Oh right Pepsi. I am drinking this as a treat after a kick-ass bike ride with two Frenchmen. Their nationalities don’t really matter, just that they are French. Okay, I lied, one is French Canadian and the other is French. Both have accents though and really good guys. I don’t know why I mentioned their accents. Really we all have accents. I get on with them very well. They are strong riders and challenge me. Usually we have a coffee afterward and always interesting conversations.
Now back to my Pepsi and writing anything, something.
Monday, Saturday, Wednesday, any day it makes no difference to me I like em all!
Actually, today is Saturday and I’m going to simply start writing on this day and see where it takes me.
I never really get why people get so excited when Friday rolls around. I get that it’s the weekend and no work for the the next two days for most people. Why get so excited about it? What do you do on weekends? Relax? Work more in a different way? Party hard because it’s Friday night and the next two days you get to recover? I guess everyone has their reasons for being so excited about Fridays.
Let me pose this to you. Why judge one day any different from the next? What if it were all simply a change of attitude and perspective? Why not change your thinking from TGIF to TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday! That way you are looking forward to the work day and don’t have to think about Friday or even Wednesday as being halfway to Friday known as hump day.
What if you changed hump day to Thursday, halfway to Monday? I think it just might change your attitude.
To be honest I never really dreaded Mondays. I know many do. Is it because you don’t like your job? And because you don’t like your job the only solace is looking forward to Friday knowing the next two days after are not working days. Then it’s the dreaded Monday again and the cycle continues.
I don’t recall where this ever came from, but part of my personal philosophy has been, “If I don’t like my job I will quit and find a new one.” What I mean by this statement is that life is short with a large percentage of that life taken up by work. If I ever found myself complaining more about my job than not, that is 50% more on a regular basis I quit. I bet you’re thinking, “He’s never done that!” Well you’d be wrong. I have and did, twice!
The first time was in my late 20s working in sales. At the time I was hired away by a competitor. I was happy at the original company, but they dangled a larger salary carrot in front of me, and being in my 20s, naive and “wet behind the ears,” I took it not giving any thought to the type of company atmosphere. Pure unadulterated greed drove me to accept the job. Miserable, I found myself complaining and getting caught up in petty arguments with other company members. I quit within a year.
The second time I was working at an ad agency in NYC. This time in my late 30s and well-seasoned. I had worked my way up from Production Manager to Director of Operations managing a department of around twenty-five designers, copywriters and programmers. It was during the internet bubble and the money and perks were great! Like all bubbles it burst.
We hung on doing our best to maintain morale for the teams. The atmosphere became more and more difficult. As the director it was my duty to layoff friends and colleagues one by one as budgets got tighter and tighter. I found myself becoming more and more despondent.
Then one Sunday afternoon I read a piece in the New York Times about the top 25 companies with the largest stock price drop due to the internet bubble bursting. Our ad agency was on that list. The article went on to display the CEOs salaries. Despite the massive drop in stock price our CEO was still paid an incredible salary. Yet I was laying off my colleagues. That was the last straw.
The following day I went up to my boss and asked her if I could be laid off. With an “I don’t think anyone has ever asked to be laid off look,” agreed. I received severance, health insurance and uncontested unemployment insurance for a year.
It was the best thing I had ever done. If it wasn’t for my personal philosophy I would have stuck it out at one or both of those companies and continued to be miserable for a very long time.
After getting laid off at the ad agency I moved back to my hometown of Minneapolis, lived off my unemployment insurance while completing an unfinished undergraduate degree with a focus on Japanese language. During that time I ended up meeting my now Japanese wife. And well, the rest is history as I write this blog from Tokyo, Japan.
Next time you’re looking forward to Friday or hump day and not Monday, ask yourself why.
I love music. It has been an integral part of my life since as long as I can remember. The earliest memories are of my Dad putting on records of John Denver’s “Take me home” or Gordon Lightfoot‘s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
Entering my teens and all that goes with that, angst, hormones and rebellion, punk rock became my beacon of no hope fueling the feelings that were raging inside.
Nowadays, I have a very eclectic taste. I choose music that represents my mood on any given day. Music and lyrics inspire me. It doesn’t matter the mood I choose music to match it. Or, if I am in a funk, I choose music to get me to a mood I would rather be in.
These days I am listening to an upbeat ska punk group that fits my energetic view of life. I am leading the most interesting period of my life right now. Rich and full of possibilities. Turn the corner and you never know. Open a door and you never know. Go somewhere and you never know. That’s it! You never know.
The less control the more richness of life. Shutting down parts of my being, I short change the ability to fully engage. There are days where I feel it bubbling to the surface ready to burst. It is those times when I I want to scream to the world thank you for it all! Crazy? Indulgent? I think not, as long as it comes out in words and actions in the spirit that serves others.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not painting a rosy picture. When I speak of richness I am speaking of it all. I have posted this before, but worth posting again. It is the poem by Rilke at the end of the film Jo Jo Rabbit.
Go to the Limits of Your Longing
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and Terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final
In my middle age I still want to put up the good fight. This time with words challenging the status quo and people’s notions of what they think. Only this time around a softer gentler approach, not going for the throat. This is something I have learned living in Japan. There is power in the subtle, nuance and details.
Time to deepen after having spent time on a plateau and getting my bearings. Letting what is there be there with acceptance, love and a modicum of grace. The fight is no longer on the inside, it’s out there!
I love with this band with their poignant, timely protest lyrics.
What if I were standing on a peaceful Tokyo mid-morning train, rush hour long over, a rare time to enjoy American sized personal space. Listening to my favorite punk/ska band, “The Interrupters,” I am lost in the music with a female Joan Jett-like singer of poignant protest lyrics, “What’s your plan for tomorrow, are you a leader or will you follow, are you a fighter or will you cowl.” I am suddenly startled into reality when an impeccably dressed black man wearing the whitest mask covering most of his face except eyes and forehead invades my personal space. A quick glance I do nothing. I feel his presence even closer. I dare not look.
Without warning he sticks something into the side of my stomach and says, “Stick em up!” Surprised by such a daring act, I look over and see the finer details of the would be robber dressed in a blue blazer, Republican red tie framed by a blindingly white shirt that happens to match his mask made even whiter by the darkness of his skin. He is staring right at me. What is happening? This is not registering. How can it be that I am getting robbed by a well-dressed black man on a Tokyo train in broad daylight? Japan is a safe country with one of the lowest crimes anywhere in the world.
A vivid imagination? Not for me. This actually happened on Tuesday, February 18th 2020. In this day and age who would have thought the words “Stick em up” would ever be uttered in public. Well dear readers context is everything. It turns out all of it was true except for one piece of information I left out, the well-dressed “Robber” was my friend and former colleague. He was playing a joke. And what a joke it was.
As soon as I recognized him, somehow his eyes and forehead looked familiar, I took out my earphones and said to him, “That was wrong on so many levels.” That was all it took for our boisterous laughter to overtake the silent train. I mean we didn’t just laugh and stop. When the laughter was about to subside, I would repeat the phrase “Stick em up,” and the laughter intensified. Then it was his turn, “Stick em up!” This ebbing and flowing went on for a good two minutes. I imagine everyone on the train was thinking, “These two foreigners have lost their minds.”
After the laughter died down I looked at him and said, “That was the funniest thing I have heard in a long time. Can I use this for my blog site?” To which he replied, “Of course.” We went on to small talk, getting caught up on our lives and making plans to meet before getting off at our respective stops.
After parting ways and walking to my appointment I thought about what had happened. And every time I replayed it in my mind I laughed out loud. I am still laughing as I write this now in the evening. As you may know from previous blogs, my process is to pose questions and let the words flow. So, “How can I use this in my blog? What is this all about?” Then it occurred to me, context is truly everything!
Let’s unpack this for a few sentences. If you think about it, my reply “This is wrong on so many levels,” I was referring to racism in America. A black man robbing a white man. The fact that it was a joke initiated by him, makes it humorous, and we are in Japan, where the history of African Americans is quite different. Imagine wearing a white mask on a New York City subway saying those exact words, “Stick em up!”
Back to Japan. As you know unless you are still under a rock, there is the Corona Virus. If the media had its way, affecting everyone on the planet. While Japan has one of the largest number of infected after China, it has caused a panic with a run on the sales of white surgical masks, the same mask worn by my robber-friend. Just about every store I have been to in Tokyo is out of masks.
What most people don’t know about Japan, it is a country of masked avengers. Everyone wears masks, whether cold or flu season or simply as a protection against pollen allergies, which seem to be year round. Thanks to the Corona scare, everyone, foreigners including my friend who stuck me up are wearing masks.
So if you are ever in Tokyo and you see a well-dressed black man wearing a white surgical mask, chances are he is my friend and you will not get robbed.
Did I get your attention? Don’t worry this is not a cheap ploy. Okay, maybe it is. But there is a legitimate reason why I wanted to get your attention, and you’ll learn why if you read on.
What this post is not is a detailed review of all the movies I have seen that were up for awards this year. All of them very good for different reasons. Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time” taking liberty rewriting a storyline and paying homage to a period of time in Hollywood.
1917, every award season needs a war picture.
Parasite from the director whose work I have been following for a number of years, Bong Joon-ho with its strong message about the haves and have- nots among other things was brilliantly done.
The character study of the Joker and the strong message about society was powerful.
The Irishman, same old same old, emphasis on old.
There is one film I want to focus on which for some reason or another was overshadowed titled, JoJo Rabbit, by the brilliant director Taika Waititi. Why this film didn’t receive top awards and accolades is beyond me.
This was a pitch perfect artistic film that tackled a dark subject with nuance and humor. I loved this film so much I saw it twice, something I rarely ever do and a testament to its brilliance. While there are many incredible scenes in the movie I want to focus on one, the beginning.
I am a believer that no matter what artistic medium you are involved in, if you don’t grab your audience in the first few moments you will struggle to get them later. I first learned this from a New York City acting teacher who said, “The moment you step out on that stage is the moment it all starts. You better be present and prepared to grab your audience.” I would add, this is true of all art, writing included. It can start with the opening line or better yet title. (See my title again)
A painting needs to grab you from the first look. Recently, I read a New York Times article about a famous artist I had never heard of. Part of it is that I do not pay attention so much to the art world. His name, Anselm Kiefer, known as the “Greatest Living Artist.” First thought, “That’s quite a title to be given,” followed by, “Boy am I out of the loop.”
Reading the piece on this artist was fascinating. I am always curious to learn what makes a great living artists. What really caught my eye, and this is going back to what I said about grabbing your audience in the first few moments, the power of a painting he did in 2006 titled “Schwarze Flacken” or “Black Flakes.”
The energy emanating from the painting, the darkness, and flood of images that flashed through my mind was incredible. Now I understood why he may be the greatest living artist.
Getting back to the director Waititi and the opening of JoJo Rabbit. Let me describe it for you, keeping in mind that words and imagery are a different experience when compared to seeing the film. I suggest you see it.
Opening scene, we hear an iconic melody. The singing begins, but the words aren’t in English. The song? ” I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles, in German!
Cut to screaming fans.
Followed by a seamless cut and shot of Hitler addressing his adoring fans at a youth rally while The Beatles song plays in the background.
Cut back to Beatlemania. By the way, we never actually see The Beatles, only hear the German version of the song.
Final cut to a massive Hitler rally.
Returning to my point about grabbing the attention of the viewer, this was the best I’d ever experienced. Think about it, one of the most popular rock bands in the world espousing love contrasted with the complete opposite end of the spectrum and evil and darkness personified. Yet both revered by many. What a powerful opening statement.
This director created the perfect film balancing dark and light, humor and drama, love and hate all beautifully done with storytelling and cinematography. This is risk taking at its best.
The question I have, “How does one pitch a movie idea like this to investors and movie producers?” I can see it now sitting in a corporate meeting room with the director describing his vision of the opening scene I have described above. Who in their right mind would be open to investing in a story-line that opens with The Beatles and Hitler, both solidified in history for very different reasons.
I am inspired whenever I see a film such as this, or a painting or a good piece of writing, hell any good art. What I am drawn to is risk- taking and true creativity.
Living in Japan for as long as I have my attention to details has become refined. It is all in the details. And what I am finding as a writer, the pursuit lies in perfecting the way in which I write about details. There is power in the subtle, in the nuanced way to describe something. To be able to connect and go deeper in ways that are universal and portrayed from a unique perspective, pushing the limits and taking risks is what it is all about.
This is what the director of JoJo Rabbit has achieved and what I aspire to.
Today is my son’s tenth birthday. I cannot believe it! It’s gone by so fast. Is it because we had our son later in life? My wife and I were in our mid 40s. And because of that, it feels faster? While I cannot compare having a child in my 20s or 30s, I can say it definitely has gone fast.
I am fond of saying, “Every year my son gets older, I get old.” Don’t worry that doesn’t bother me in the least. I am loving “mid-life fathering.” In fact, I cannot imagine it any other way. Being way too selfish and caught up in my own “stuff,” there is no way in hell I would have been ready. It wasn’t until I got all of what I wanted to do out of the way and setting down roots, in of all places Japan, that I was ready to have a child. I cannot speak for my wife, but I think she feels the same way.
Of course carrying a watermelon size package inside you for nine months and then figuring how to get it out in the light of day is a helluva lot more work for my wife than me. Add to that all kinds of worries and potential complications carrying and giving birth at forty-five, I will forever be grateful to her.
Presenting to the world ten years ago today, February 15th at 9:46 in the morning, (six minutes from the time I am writing this) a beautiful boy we named Luke. Naming this bundle of joy came easy. Even though my wife is Japanese, thinking she would prefer a traditional Japanese first name, she came up with Luke. My contribution? If it were a girl we would have called her “Lilly.”
This feller changed our lives forever in more ways than I could have imagined. All of it amazing, some of it without its challenges. Confronting my own cultural expectations and child-rearing based on my own experiences being raised in a culturally different place than Japan made for a trying first few years. All sorted out, I am a better person for it.
There are many unforeseen gifts Luke has given along the way. Unconditional love being at the top. We don’t have to be doing anything in particular when we are together. I just enjoy being in his presence. Although we do many things together, lately skiing, dual masters card games, monopoly or just hanging out watching YouTube episodes of “Dude Perfect.”
He is coming into his own as an individual with a character not unlike his father, sorry mom, he may be a handful in his teens. I am looking forward to seeing how it all manifests for him in the future.
Living in Japan can be a challenge if you are not willing to learn the language and pay attention and adjust to the social mores. For many it can be a very lonely isolating place as a foreigner. Luke coming into my world has had the opposite affect by expanding it. With his interest in soccer I took to co-coaching his team for a few years and have become friends with many of his teammate’s parents. It’s not uncommon while walking down the street in our neighborhood when off in the distance I will hear a “Ohayo gozaimasu Aren coachi” translated as, “Good morning coach Allen.” No longer coaching I am still coach.
I feel a part of the community in a culture where many people feel it is closed off to foreigners. I can only hope to give back even a little of what Luke has given me when he made his presence in this world ten years ago today.
As some of you may know by now I get my inspiration from anywhere. This means I can never run out of things to write about. I hope.
Waking up this morning, as I usually do and sure most of you as well, with the first morning coffee in hand, I glanced over my SNS feed. Most of the time nothing ever really catches my eye and I move on to reading a bit of the news. Today in the Facebook feed something grabbed my attention. It was a comment underneath a Facebook post.
You may be aware that these days Facebook is popular among the old(er) crowd posting photos of food and family, recent vacations or simply funny quips from the internet. The one that caught my attention falls under the vacations heading.
I am from Minnesota, and Minnesota winters can be brutally cold with a ton of snow. Many stay indoors during the winter months waiting for spring to arrive. Over time cabin fever sets in and they either get out of the house or go crazy. There is a swath of the Minnesota population like myself that takes winter head on by participating in winter sports such as skiing, skating and broomball. (Learn about broom ball here)
The other swath would rather not deal with potential frostbite and the loss of fingers and toes so they head south to a warmer climate. We call them snowbirds. The comment that caught my attention this morning came from a snowbird who had gone south for the winter. South, as in south of the border to Mexico. I love Mexico and have spent a lot of time both sober and not. I don’t recommend not being sober in Tijuana. A story for another time.
This Minnesota snowbird was clearly in a resort town along the ocean as evidenced by the beautiful deep blue ocean beach pictures he posted. Along with the accompanying photos, he had simply written.“Enjoying vacation in Mexico.”
This is not what caught eye. I know we all like to make comments underneath the postings and this was no exception, 25+ at last count. Most likely all from Minnesotans from what I could tell with comments like, “looks beautiful,” “I want to go there,” “I remember going there,” etc.
Scrolling down near the bottom I noticed a comment from the original poster which went something like this, “I am enjoying a part of the world not yet ruined by US influence, there is a community of expats here that are enjoying the richness of the Mexican culture, with a strong revolutionary attitude, something we need in my country as it has fallen in disarray.” He goes on to say, “With the time I have left on the planet, I want to better myself, fight the good fight for justice and not be tied to the outcome. All the intellectualism of the world won’t bring a solution. It was as John Lennon said all along, ‘All you need is love.’” How beautiful is that?
This comment got me to thinking just how caught up we all can be in our bubbles. Notice I did not write bubble? That’s right we have multiple bubbles in our lives that cut us off from fully experiencing what life has to offer. There are far too many bubbles to list, the obvious ones, religion and politics are the driving force behind the chasm between one another in the United States at this moment. But there are many more.
Bubbles are really anything that you are a part of that reinforces your ideas closing you off from other possibilities. We all do it. Maybe it is human nature I don’t know. What I do know is that people have substituted the word bubble with the words camp and tribe avoiding the reality that they are in a bubble.
What I found so amazing about his quoted comment above was his literal transformation as he wrote it. He simply had to get out of a bubble I call the “provincial bubble.” Provincial in this case means the area in which you live. This can be neighborhood, state or even country. He stepped out of all of the above and it unexpectedly opened his mind and heart. It’s as if he became enlightened in that instant. You could feel and experience his amazement and joy.
I bring this up not only for you to read and ponder, but also as a reminder to myself. I am prone to bubbles. I recall a time in a university writing course. The professor gave us an assignment to write about something that influenced our life. At the time (early 1980s) I was really into punk rock music. It was my life and fueled my anger and other darker parts of my life at the time.
I wrote the paper with such conviction laying out reasons why corporations and governments are evil and it was only punk rock that could call out truth power and take it on. (Yes I was 20 and naïve at the time). Handing in the paper with a smile and job well done knowing that the assignment turned manifesto will convince the professor to listen to punk rock and fight the power alongside us.
The following week he handed back our papers. Calling my name last, I went up to get my “Manifesto.” The professor handed me my paper, but it was heavy, as in not paper light. I had no idea why until I turned to the last page to read his comments. He had taped a cassette tape to the bottom of the back page.
(For those born after the 1980s, this was the main form of listening to music along with a tape player)
I was confused by the tape and thinking the two paragraphs long comments the professor wrote meant I had gotten an F. That is until I read what he had written.
“You have provided a cohesive description about punk rock music and why it is so important to you. But your last sentence, ‘punk rock is the only music that is powerful and unique enough to change the world not country music.’ may be correct in this moment for you, but don’t close off your mind to other forms of music. Give this tape a listen and tell me his lyrics and music is not as powerful.”
What he had given me to listen to was music by the original country singer “Hank Williams.” I immediately went home and listened to the tape. You know what? He was right. It was amazing listening to the combination of blues and country, and the emotion behind Williams’ singing was amazing.
It was then and there that my musical bubble popped for good. It was from that day forward that I will always remain forever open to new music and why to this day I have an eclectic taste.
Fast forward many decades, although I have been out of the United States for well over a decade living in Japan, what other bubbles have I put myself into? This is something we all need to ponder and change. All the evidence I need? Anytime I become dogmatic and defensive it is time to pop that bubble and find a new way.
Maybe in the end life is simply a series of bubble popping as we grow and get in touch with what really matters – LOVE.
A few years back I read a book by the author Malcolm Gladwell titled “Outliers” about how successful people reach their goals. Chocked full of excellent examples of successful people and ideas what stood out:
One – Successful people, while they may be talented, never do it on their own. They get help from others along the way.
Two – The author talks about what is called the 10,000 hour rule. The key to success is by doing something for 10,000 hours. (10K) This boils down to 20 hours a week for 10 years. That’s right ten years.
Two of the more famous examples Gladwell highlights, I am sure many of you have heard of The Beatles and Bill Gates, both allegedly putting in more than 10K in their respective fields. Now whether or not they did, or even if this 10K rule is true or not, you certainly have to put in your time to be good at something. I would add, dig deep by pushing yourself to the limit, test boundaries and take risks.
It is point number two that I want to explore a little further in today’s post. Here is my take on it, by doing something for more than 10k hours you may become an expert at it, or at the very least really good whether it is sports, art, work etc.
Two questions come to mind, “Does this take into account someone who is endowed with talent to begin with? Or anyone who is willing to dedicate that many hours to something realizes over time the talent and is simply perfecting it by tweaking every nuance and detail to be the best?
Either way, anyone willing to dedicate 10k hours to something, whether it be a sport or creative endeavor is pretty amazing. Stop for a second and think about how much 10,000 hours actually is – 20 hours a week for 10 years, 10 hours a week for 20 years, 5 hours a week for 30.
I have been sitting with this question all day, (I started this blog this morning and back to it tonight) “From age eight until twenty, how much time did I dedicate to the two sports, cross country skiing and ski jumping known as nordic-combined?“
I know with cross country skiing I most certainly closed in on 10,000 hours, which explains why it was the stronger of the two sports. As for ski jumping, this is a little more complicated, mainly because an actual jump from the top to the bottom takes less than 10 seconds. Do the math on that and you begin to get an idea how many jumps, crashes included I’d need to do to hit the 10k mark.
I guess I could add non-ski jumping training known as dry land training such as running, weight lifting and other exercises to develop strength and power, but that does go against the 10k rule of actually doing it.
Then I started thinking the time dedicated to writing. I have been writing on and off for many years. Included in the hours are the numerous research papers as well as the creative endeavors such as the book I have written and currently revising and the on-going blogging.
It’s got to be somewhere close. Maybe? This does raise another question, “Does the 10k rule include doing something consistently for years on end or can there be breaks in between?” This is a rule after all. I guess we need to defer to someone who is making sure that we adhere to the rule? I haven’t a clue who that might be.
What I do know is that I continue to write adding seconds, minutes and hours chipping away at the 10k hours. In fact I just spend sixty minutes on this.
I have been blog posting nearly everyday for at least a half a year. Prior to that irregularly for over a year. With all of the postings, the evidence is overwhelming, most people don’t read, they glance. Wait stop! Don’t go back and read what I have previously blogged, that is not what this is about. I don’t take it personally.
Truth be told, people do not read for a couple reasons. First and foremost, technology and SNS has made it much easier to make it seem like someone has read something simply by “upvoting,” “liking or “hearting.” The other reason, there is so much content, who in their right mind has the time to read it all. I don’t blame you.
Why do I bring up this topic? Because I’m going to fess up, I do the same. I don’t profess to know other‘s reasoning besides the two, but my other reason, many of what people write about I’m not interested in reading. However, I will show my support with a “Like,” “Upvote” or a “Heart,” but chances are I have only done a passing glance.
Everyone has their motives for writing. For some it is a personal diary for public consumption. Others it is therapy putting whatever comes to mind without a care in the world. Many are looking for attention and accolades wanting as many votes and followers for whatever reason. And there some who, albeit with well intentions offer support and help in areas where they are not trained. And finally, those that simply want to make money by any means possible, the confidence man.
Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with any of the above, except the con man. Question I have, what are your motives? Do you know? Is it clear why you are doing what you are doing?
It is getting clearer with each passing word why I do what I do. And I am finding with that clarity what I am drawn to reading. There is less than a handful that are doing something creatively with a voice and focus that is worthy of my attention and limited time. Don’t worry, don’t let it get you down, or take it personally. It’s not you, it’s me. See I am well over the middle age mark and I cannot squander my time. This is the world we live in. With so much content out there and people vying for attention we have to sift through the mediocrity to get to the good stuff we are interested in.
Personally, I don’t care if people notice or not, I just do it. Well okay, that last statement about “not caring” is not altogether true. I care a little, but not that much. Why? The answer and inspiration comes from a very strange place, the Ken Burns documentary on Jazz, which I happen to be watching.
These early Jazz pioneers perfected their art by just playing, constantly playing. These musicians embodied everyday life experiences and struggles and it came out in their music. They didn’t care who was listening or not, they had to do it. They had to express. Upvotes and like buttons never factored into what they did, they just played.
Over time people began to take notice and show up to listen. Word spread, and the music took off in a big way. A number of musicians rose to the surface standing out among the crowd. They pushed the boundaries of the music, their playing was their voice, loud and clear. The clearer the voice the more they stood out. People resonated with the familiar sound that spoke to them of their same experiences.
I am not putting myself in the league with these greats, but inspiration comes from any true creative endeavor. They did nothing more than play music.
The moment I get carried away with likes, upvotes, followers and money is the moment I will stop writing.
It is then that I will have lost my way forgetting that I write for the love of writing. Anything beyond that is a gift.
One of my reluctant routines is to go to Starbucks to write. While I am not a fan of the coffee shop, my excuse, it’s the only one open at 7 am in the morning. I have a schedule two days a week in which I get up early to write before getting on the morning train to commute to work.
The other day while waiting for my soy latte to arrive I looked around and noticed how many people were at the shop so early in the morning. I know not everyone is writing like me. As a part of my warmup writing I sometimes simply pose a question and let the writing take over. In this case the question, “I wonder what everyone at Starbucks is doing at 7 in the morning?” I never know beforehand what will come out after posing the question. I took a sip of my latte and the words began to flow.
BE FOREWARNED, it turns dark.
There were a few of us with computers who seemed to be doing something. Writers, working remotely, “freeters” passing the time away, or officer workers in suits telecommuting. It is the office workers that grabbed my attention.
How many of the around twelve suit wearing company men have lost their jobs? I bet there is at least one in the bunch that is simply putting up a front by getting out of the house. For many months he has been lying to his wife making it look like he is going to work, when in reality he is at Starbucks whiling away his time before returning home after “work.”
Why would he go to to the local Starbucks where the chances of getting found out is much higher? Does he want to get caught no longer able to keep up the lie due to the dwindling bank account?
The better play? Go at least three or more stations away to minimize that risk. That way it’s easier to maintain the lie. It would be more natural as he gets on the train every morning at least feeling like he is commuting to work, even if it is Starbucks.
His charade continues for more than six months. Severance has run out. He has blown through all his savings and now into his family’s life savings all to maintain a front and avoid the shame of having lost his job. With two kids and a wife to support how much longer can this continue? The question is, “What to do when the savings is down to nothing with no job prospects in site?” At what point does it occur to him that in being middle age in Japan it is nearly impossible to get a job in the IT world? Who wants to hire him? Nobody that’s who.
Next, what to do about it? There are options, he could look for a part-time job. Problem with that, not nearly enough money to cover household expenses. How about fessing up to the lie? Well there is his wife who already despises him due to the lack of engagement in the home with the kids. She would use it against him to file for divorce. Justified, he thinks it doesn’t matter, the sex life is long gone. Does that suppress his libido? No way! Thanks to daily Starbucks coffee laden with chuhai, he gets up enough courage to get a quick glance at porn on the laptop when nobody is looking, followed by a two-minute wank in the Starbucks bathroom, practice makes perfect and satisfies that urge.
In the end, the money runs dry and the only way out of his miserable existence is to jump in front of the very commuter train he used to take before losing his job.
Cruising along on a Tokyo commuter train to my job grateful to be alive, and “then there’s that.” “That” is a text from a friend back in my home state of Minnesota, “Give me a call when you can.” A call I did not want to make. I knew from the friend what this might be about. It wasn’t “that” call yet, but it turned out she suffered a brain aneurysm and was on a respirator being kept alive so family members from outside of Minnesota could come to be with her before they unplug the life supporting system. After she told me the news, we spent the next few minutes sharing a few memories and stories of our dear friend Lisa aka Lulu.
People will remember Lisa in different ways. One of many that stands out, Lisa connected people from different walks of life. A creative soul who created by connecting people. I don’t mean a matchmaker, rather anyone who seemed to have similar views and a creative bent. Lisa would simply name drop and let the other make the connection. This was her very last act she did for me.
During our month-long vacations to escape the oppressive summer heat of Tokyo, my son Luke and I would return to my hometown of Minneapolis. We always made a point of seeing Lisa, whether for lunch, dinner or at least a cup of coffee. Luke really liked Lisa and the feeling was mutual.
On our most recent visit last summer (2019) we did something a little different. At the time, Lisa was working as the front receptionist at Dick’s Barber, a longtime establishment specializing in crew cuts. I asked Lisa to make appointments for the two of us setting us up with the best barbers they had. She did, Dick the owner’s two sons. They did a great job.
With newly cropped tops we joined Lisa after her shift for a late lunch at a funky restaurant nearby. She always had her pulse on the best places for coffee, food, music and art. Meeting outside the restaurant Lisa walked up to Luke signaling she wanted a big hug. Living in Japan all his life Luke was not accustomed to arms wide open as the cue to what Minnesotans do best, hug. I wanted him to get used to it. I nudged him saying, “She’s a really good hugger. Remember?” She bent down to his level opened her arms bigger to let him step into her space. Feeling the warmth of her invitation, without hesitation Luke hugged her right back. It was a sweet couple of moments. Of course, we hugged, we had been doing that for more than thirty years.
Thirty years I’ve known Lisa. First as my very first girlfriend and then as a dear friend. We had a long and complicated relationship. Life is messy. If you stick it out, the messiness falls away and what rises to the surface is love and adoration. I loved and adored this woman.
Lisa had been having health issues for a number of years. She was always hesitant to share them with me during texts, calls or visits. On one visit a few years back, Luke and I were both really looking forward to seeing her. As per usual, I texted her my schedule to confirm to meet at least once, preferably twice this trip. On this occasion I never heard from her before during or after our visit. I thought, “Did I do something wrong? Was our relationship still messy?” My own shortcomings and insecurities rising to the surface I let that go. It turned out that she was hospitalized for the duration of our visit and had nearly passed away. She rebounded and a few weeks after our return to Japan she called and apologized profusely for not being able to see us. I told her no need to apologize. What was important was that you were still here with us.
That day last summer at the restaurant she was in good spirits, but a little under the weather. I could tell the continuous health issues were taking its toll on her, but she did not overtly show it. That was Lisa. She didn’t want to burden to people with her stuff. Both a Minnesotan and Japanese way of being. We talked and she asked Luke questions about school, soccer and his newest sport skateboarding. She really listened to his answers. She was so lovely with Luke and I imagine other kids as well.
Conversation turned to adult topics as Luke played a game on my iPhone. We caught up with the usual stuff of family and friends. I pushed her on the topic of health to let me know how she was doing. Then something happened that sums up one aspect of Lisa. She loved to name drop. And I don’t mean name-drop as in a form bragging because I know so-and-so, rather names of people she is connected to in the food, art, music or theater world, any creative world for that matter. She knew a lot of people and they knew her.
I have been living in Japan for many years and the topic turned to restaurants. She mentioned the name of a new fusion style Japanese restaurant that was gaining popularity in Minneapolis. Then she mentioned the owner’s name. I said, “Can you say his name again?” She repeated his name, which was a typical Minnesota first name followed by an atypical Japanese last name. Then as I repeated his name out loud a memory flashed in my mind. “Why do I know that name?” I immediately asked Lisa if she was connected to him via SNS. “Of course I am,” with a confident, this is who I am reply. She pulled up Instagram and started scrolling through for a photo. Finding one she handed me the phone. In that instant, I realized I knew this guy from a few decades earlier. Long before Japan was ever on the radar I used to sell printing, and this guy was one of my customers. While it was technically a vendor/client relationship, he and I talked much more candidly about a myriad of personal topics. Fast forward, and both of us went in very different directions. Thanks to Lisa, she put me in contact with him and we exchanged a few messages and a “Let me know when you are in Japan and I will when in Minnesota.” We have yet to meet.
Just as Lisa was hospitalized a few weeks ago I happened to check my Instagram, something I rarely do. There was a message from Lisa, “Hey, it’s the Awful AMERICANS super bowl tomorrow. Per usual at least 4 out of 6 years I will be looking at the stadium from my hospital room. Been a rough month, dude! Btw, JOHN IS COMING TO TOKYO! Or did you already know that?” My initial reaction, “Hey what, you’re in the hospital! Sending love vibes from TO-KI-O.” That was Lisa, never wanting to put others out by making a big deal with her stuff if she didn’t have to, followed by making sure people are connected. I did connect with John and we will be meeting in a few weeks in Tokyo.
I am looking forward to seeing him for the first time in decades and getting caught up with our lives. Now it will not be just that, rather about how much Lisa played a part and touched lives as she did even during her last few days of consciousness, bringing us together in of all places TO-KI-O!
From now on, every time Luke and I return to Minneapolis there will be a hole in our schedule no longer be filled with Lisa’s physical presence. She will be missed.
This is another take on a topic I have previously written about. Recently listening to a Sam Harris Making Sense podcast I am inspired to revisit the “Path.”
The path we walk while wide and early in life tends to narrow as we age. This is not to imply it is a bad thing. I do believe it narrows with age if we are fortunate to find what we are meant to do.
My approach early in life was like a fishing bobber on the water floating around wherever the tides would take me going from one thing to another without ever really engaging or paying attention.
It took a while and I eventually became more engaged with life, making conscious choices, trying new things out and taking risks. This coincided with knowing the kind of person I was both becoming and wanting to be.
Then something happened, the path narrowed as I became the person I was meant to be, by letting go and getting out of my own way. This is not the approach I was accustomed to. I thought I had to make it happen. Over time I began to create a world in which I wanted to live, surrounding myself with supportive people, music, art and literature.
A further narrowing of the path coincided with a further letting go to create a simple life and heeding the call of what I was meant to be doing. This is where I see the narrow path benefiting our lives, it becomes clearer.
Continuing to walk the narrow path there comes a place and time where it widens to an expansiveness never before experienced. A world of freedom and possibilities. A world of participation, service and love. Getting there is not easy, and one must walk it alone, learning, experiencing and adjusting until it is time for the world to open.
What you thought your life would be, plans, is never what the world has in store for you. One such example, twenty years ago if you would ever had said that I would someday be living in Tokyo, Japan working as a university teacher I would have said you are crazy. Or that I would someday write a book and even have a blog. My reply, “You’re out of your mind.” Looking at the path up to this point, it now makes complete sense.
Knowing what I know now, I cannot imagine what life will be like one, two or even five years out. What I do know is that I will walk this path I am on now to see where it leads. Once there, I will know this place, as if it were a familiar feeling that I knew existed all along.
There are a number of words that come to mind for me these days. With the passing of friends and acquaintances these past few weeks it is clear that we all need one another for support. And the only way is being inclusive.
We need to support one another along the way. Life is hard and we cannot do it alone. I know I have learned about community in a variety of experiences. Being inclusive is walking the path with a welcoming heart. That is the way I prefer to live life. Being supportive and letting go of competition. I am supportive of people living their life and putting it out there for the world to see.
I have been heading in this direction for quite some time and it seems ever clearer. People are not the enemy. While there are some not so good people out there most are just trying to get by and live.
I am totally revamping my life to such a simple way of living with the words, truth, honesty, freedom, love and inclusive guiding me along.
Freedom to be, freedom to let it all go. Feeling it taking shape on the inside manifesting on the out.
Life is connection and experience limited by time on this earth.
Making changes in our lives is one of the greatest challenges. I am not talking about simple things like changing clothes. What I am talking about is a fundamental way we live our lives. This includes the way in which we live in the world. This includes our thoughts and actions. Usually, rather than simply change, people hold on for deal life until something comes along to loosen our grasp, and only then do we let go making room for the change.
For someone like an alcoholic it takes hitting some sort of bottom, perhaps losing it all before realizing they need to change. For others, it may the death of a family member or a life threatening illness. Otherwise, people just go on living their lives without a care in the world, even with a nagging feeling for change.
I am fond of the saying “Everything Changes.” The deal is, change is inevitable. It is so true it, and does whether we like it or not. Most don’t realize this truism. Rather than having me tell you what changes, think about your life? What has changed in all your years on this earth? There’s a lot more to come.
Speaking from experience, holding on for dear life was something I did on many occasions before letting go. These days it is far less holding on and more letting go, I like to think. What makes it so difficult is that there are a whole host of things one has to do to let go. Depending upon the type of change there are things that have to happen before letting go.
There are also things that happen after letting go as well. Our thinking changes. We may look at the world in a new way. What was once acceptable is no longer. I also think that what comes with change is a level of honesty and truth. An admittance that the life we were living is no longer the life we want to live and need to make those changes.
A simple example, I changed my diet and lifestyle because I wanted to be healthy. I had to change my thinking from, “Just because I am an athlete I can eat anything I want” despite it being unsustainable. To eating healthy supports being an athlete and the chance at longevity. I had to consciously buy healthy foods and let go of junk food.
I wanted to get fitter so I made a commitment to exercising regularly. I wanted to have a clearer mind and approach the day with some gratitude and well-being, so I incorporated meditation and prayer into my daily life in the morning and evening. I wanted to make a commitment to writing so I started writing. And before you know it almost two years later the book is complete, and I am still writing, both the book and blog everyday.
By now you may be getting the picture. It’s not simply paying lip service to wanting change, it’s taking the actions and doing it until it becomes a part of you.
Here’s the kicker, just when you think you’ve go it, along comes that inner feeling asking for more change.
This is a short one today. Why? Because I am beginning the process of mourning a dear friend of mine of over 30 years who has been put on life support until the rest of her family arrives. And then it will be time.
I have been writing about death quite a bit these days. It is what I write about, life experiences. This time, death is reminding me of the word truth. Death is one of life’s truths, the great equalizer in a world of inequality.
Death is a fast track to truth. What I mean by that is, experiencing the death of someone or one’s own mortality forces you to either look within for answers to your life and truth. Or you look on the outside for answers and avoid your truth.
I have been watching an interesting television series. It is no coincidence that one of the lead actors resembles my friend on life support. What I found fascinating was a line from the main character, “Truth is found only after we let go of our shame, anger, resentments and regrets.” I would add, otherwise it is only a partial truth viewed through the prism of these emotions and tinged with lies. It isn’t until we let it go absolutely and transcend by whatever means possible before we fully touch our truth. And here’s the rub, it takes a lifetime, however long that is.
For my friend on life support, she found her truth. A lovely, kind soul who will be deeply missed.
Bounding out of bed as a soon-to-be 55 year old to greet the day is not quite the same experience as when I was half that age. The difference, pain and stiffness, now not then. I notice it most when I bend over to put on my socks. I work on balance by attempting to put each sock on while standing on one foot. I can say my balance is pretty good overall. I can still do a bike track stand at stoplights. (This not me by the way)
For some reason as I rise every morning, my balance is not quite there and my back screams out to stop. Determined, I override the clear message from this body part to prove to myself that “I Still got it!” Still got what? At what cost is more like it.
When the day comes that I have to sit down to put on my socks, it’s game over. Until that day comes I am determined to I continue to put my socks on one foot at a time while standing. Back be damned!
On the plus side, I have noticed that after a few minutes of moving around mobility begins to improve. When I was younger mobility was never an issue. Hell, it was not even in my vocabulary. The only time I would use the word movement might have been in a research paper in reference to immigration, as in “the immigration in the 1970s saw a large movement from Vietnam to the US after the war.” Something to that affect.
It’s funny how language changes as we age. I never thought of that until I became old(er) and began using words to describe my state of mind and body. Again, never had those kinds of conversations back in the day.
Regardless of it all, I awakened in Tokyo with the sun shining and a forecast of 15 degrees Celsius (above 50 F). Stepping outside greeting the sun on my face, thoughts about age, pain and movement of any kind falls away.