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I don’t want to downplay the severity of what is going on worldwide. It is serious. How serious? Nobody knows. I wrote a piece titled “Fear” a few days back about more or less keeping it in perspective, or as those Zen Masters like to say, “Keeping it in the now.”

Living in the moment there is no fear, no problems, nothing to worry about. I know for most of you this is a hard concept to grasp. Living in the past or the future is easier to control in your mind. This is what they call delusion and manifests in many different forms.

What I want to talk about today is a few oddities I have noticed in Tokyo in relation to corona, fear and delusion.

Imagine …

… you are standing on a packed commuter train in Tokyo unable to move. The corona virus is a few weeks into its long journey towards worldwide infection. Convinced mask wearing offers protection and a modicum of relief, everyone on the train is wearing one. The exception? One haggard looking elderly salary man who clearly should have retired over a decade ago. This non-mask wearing octogenarian surrounded by a sea of mask-wearing paranoid younger salary men suddenly coughs without covering his mouth, spewing forth droplets of saliva easily seen by the naked eye.

The already deafening silence on this morning train reaches a depth of silence that would frighten any meditation practitioner. With this simple act of coughing, everyone within eye-shot in their minds has pronounced him guilty of murder. Nominating himself executioner, a young brash up and coming salary man begins to yell at the perp for coughing in a crowded train, “What the hell do you think you are doing old man? You’re going to kill us all!” Lavishing in the attention the executioner continues his delusional rant, “I think it’s best you get off the train at the next stop or else we will have to take matters into our own hands.” Stunned and speechless by the lack of respect, the old man gets up from his seat and with head held low shuffles off the train at the next stop.

Imagine …

… you are at an Italian style coffee shop in a trendy part of central Tokyo minding your own business writing your next blog post. Sitting at a large dark mahogany table that could easily seat twelve disciples + 1, it is empty thanks to the corona virus scare, save for one patron. This university age Japanese mask wearing male stands in front of a glass counter and home to a plethora of deserts to savor along with a cappuccino.

Having already ordered your banana bread and cappuccino you are sitting down at the hulk of a table getting ready to write. You look up to see the university student with tray in hand sitting down directly in front of you. Annoyed by the fact that of all the chairs to choose from this guy sits within corona giving proximity. You remind yourself that Japanese personal space and yours are not the same. Returning for a moment to your writing you look up for a second and notice the mask on your new friend is hanging from his chin. The stark whiteness of the mask accentuates the red pock marks that overwhelm his face. Thinking he is sick with the big “C” you consider moving further away. At closer inspection you realize it’s puberty related.

You glance at his tray and realize why he has so many of those pesky pimples on his face. He has ordered one of every desert displayed in the glass case, not one two or three, rather six, along with a small cup of coffee to wash it all down with. With mask removed he begins the devouring session with the same banana bread you have ordered. Followed by a slice of cheesecake, then shoe cream (think cream-filled-doughnut). With your stomach getting queasy just watching him, you go back to your writing to push this gluttonous juvenile out of your mind. Then it occurs to you, he is eating out of fear. Fear of the big “C”.

Imagine …

… you are in Tokyo church (yes they have them here too) praying for the sick and the dying, the priest mentions corona in relation to the prayer, a collective sigh moves through the room and heads drop ever lower, as if this is more important than the myriad of other issues that affect the world. The priest says, “Reach out and grasp each other’s hands. Let’s bond and give strength to the poor and hungry, the sick and dying of the world.” Your first thought, “What the hell I am not holding hands with anyone. I’d rather not be one of those sick and dying we are praying for now!

You notice that of the one hundred or so parishioners attending mass that day, nearly everyone is having similar thoughts. One third chose to live on the edge and are actually holding hands, the other third simply opt for survival and do not hold hands. With the final third coming up with a clever alternative, tucking their hands underneath the armpits and touching elbows. You stifle a chuckle at the sight and ingenuity of this life-saving alternative.

The unified reluctance to hold hands is perceived by the priest. He speaks in a calm god-like tone, “God is watching your every move. He knows what you do, what you think.” This Christian koan goes over the head of everyone. Each parishioner holds their ground continuing to do what they are doing.

You don’t care about that at all, you have chosen to cram both your hands into the front of your pants.

True to oneself. Comfortable in skin. Occupy space. Knowing the knowing. Honorable. Responsible. Flawed.

Life is change. Living is now.

Past is pain. Future is pain. Hearing it in the voices of others. Heartless and head full.

Asleep, unable to hear. Awake, not wanting to. Pay no heed go on with life.

The task at hand. Pass no judgment. Listen, speak and live. From the heart a faint recognition. Experience a faint connection.

Lost are the masses. Driven by what? Those words I dare not speak. If you have to ask you are not found.

Where is the heart, not a sound. Blinded by the darkness residing within. Light emanating grows slowly so dim. Knowing they know not.

Light if found, the way out. No longer fear, no longer doubt.

Gratitude abound for another breath. Another day. How many left? This I can say I know not.

At least I know there is another word, another thought another something that reveals in time.

Fear is funny. Yes I know, how can one say the word fear and funny in a sentence. I just did and because by making that claim that fear is funny, I am saying that by not giving fear too much credence, then I am also not giving it too much power.

Fear in the right context, say in nature with a bear approaching is one thing. But in others like thinking of the future, that is just plain suffering. You suffer now for something you don’t even know will happen yet. By fearing the future you are implying you are doomsayer because you are thinking you know what will be.

The reality is this is just not true. In this context I think fear is funny, because nobody is a teller of the future even though somewhere in our minds we all think we are. Otherwise why would be doing what we are doing in the first place. This must be part of the human condition, pre-loaded for some purpose. Maybe some kind of residue or leakage from evolution where we need to have a sense of fear in certain contexts, but it has seeped into the psyche causing unnecessary suffering.

The choice is yours. Give in, suffer now and later.

Or

Be here now. Don’t suffer now. Don’t suffer later knowing that later will some day be now.

You know the old adage about opinions? If not, google it!

For someone who didn’t have much in the way of opinions when I was younger it certainly has changed. I seem to have an opinion, sometimes strong, on a myriad of topics. It’s all based on experience and knowledge I have in whatever it is the opinion has to do with. I have learned over time that an opinion on something I know nothing about or have never experienced is simply lying.

I think this in some ways ties in with having a voice, a perspective on the world based upon knowledge and experience. These opinions have fermented with age on the inside for a long period of time and only in the last few years has it come to the fore ready to be put into words.

Finding a voice and perspective in which to write challenging notions, offering up alternative perspectives and getting people to reflect and think about life is the approach.

While people change on their own accord, putting it out there in words in hopes that people read it is the best one can do. If they begin to think and reflect on what they read connecting it with how it may pertain to their life, that’s a bonus.

I am finding that is the way in which you can find an audience, keep putting it out there in different ways and themes, with the voice being the same.

Blogging is a platform that is a place to write on a variety of topics, especially cultural related. I have the luxury of straddling two cultures. Being on the outside of both gives me clarity to see things that may be difficult for those living amongst their own culture. And having transcended some of my biases has also afforded me a level of clarity I might not never have had if I were to remain in the same place.

In the end, people will read and glean what they want and back it up with you know, that thing everyone has.

Saying and doing are two very different things, yes they are. Of course they are and yet we all say something and do not really do it.

These days I do the things that I say far more than when I was younger. I think this is connected to integrity, trust and age. If I say something you can trust I will do it. Reliability is another word that comes to mind. Being one of those people you can rely on. I will be there for you. Again something I am more adept at than in my youth.

I used to give lip service to just about every aspect of my life. Looking back it is any wonder I had any friends at all during that time. Then again I think we were all the same. Or at the very least this was the kind of people I hung out with – a lot like me.

I am not sure. I may have just been one of those people that do not do what they say and people just put up with it. Ahhh that’s just AL, (they used to call me AL in those days) he does that all the time. If that is the case, I apologize to those that I did that to. I know there were many out there.

I still have it inside me. There are times that I make plans and then want to get out of it. On occasion I do in fact do that.

Cultivating integrity, trust and reliability is important in my life. I am not perfect and strive each and every day.

I chose this title in advance of writing today. This has been on my mind as of late. How does one go about touching madness? Just what is madness? Is it a man-made definition about something that simply does not fit in the constructs of the human mind so it is labeled as madness? When in fact it is simply a letting go completely and allowing that which exists within to come forward to be expressed in some form, whether it be a painting, books, a song, or any other myriad of expressions.

Is there a varying degree of letting go to get to that place of madness? Does one tip-toe bit by bit or is it a full run and a jump into the abyss? I know all of this in and of itself sounds like madness, but really these are questions I have.

I also know that this all resides on the inside and cannot really be actuated internally. Or to put it another way not something that is really tangible other than the expression of it on the other side in the form of creation. And even then there is only so much one can glean by the form of expression because it is only being experienced by that individual.

I have always been fascinated with artists and their willingness to let go. Lately I have watched a number of movies and tv shows having to do with artists, singers, comics and painters. Fascinated by the process and how they got to the place of letting go, and finding their voice. Having something to say is one thing and having an audience willing to listen is another.

Then along the way they are given the opportunity for their voice to be heard and expressed, acknowledging to the artist what they are doing is in fact what they are supposed to be doing. This in turn propels them forward to go deeper and create more.

I like the idea of a comic going on stage and just letting it all go, hanging it out there and taking big risks in the hopes of getting laughs. And while at the same time having something meaningful to say. It is truly brilliant.

I love words and love to write. I don’t know how much I have to say, I feel as though I do, and I do know I have a voice. So I continue to write and put it all down while tip-toeing up to the edge of the cliff and jumping into into the abyss of creativity where it all just comes out.

It is not clear, it is not certain, it just is. Being present in the moment letting the words spring forth on the computer screen without a thought in mind. No censoring, just letting it come forth like a well-spring of never-ending water wanting to reach the light of day. No idea, no word, no concept is a bad idea. Judgment is not an option. Ease and commitment is the key.

Where to go next is not known. The experiences of life is being forged into words as a means of expression. Waiting for the next wave to come forth needing to be expressed. What will be said? That is the question.

I write like a sculptor. Put it down, chisel it one word at a time tightening. It always needs more tightening in ways I do not know. Not knowing is the way.

It will be interesting to see how it continues to take shape.

Here I go another step towards madness!

After a recent blog post about disliking Mondays, someone tweeted back the question, “What do you think it would have been like had you stayed at your job?” This person was referring to the ad agency job, but it could have easily been the first job I quit after being lured away from a competitor for money.

Because I was in my 20s and naive, I will give myself a little leeway and know that was all part of life experience. Knowing that, let’s go back to the original question posed in relation to the ad agency job that I quit. This is a good exercise in writing, “What if …?” Even as I read that question the first time on twitter a flood of ideas came forth. So without further adieu “What if I had stayed at the ad agency in New York City?”

Before continuing on I encourage you to read up on my previous post so you can understand the context – “I Don’t Like Mondays”

As Director of Operations, let’s begin with the fact that I had already laid off at least three of my colleagues in the first week thanks to the internet bubble bursting. Each week I was given a spreadsheet with co-workers names and salaries. At the bottom was a number I had to hit, as in adding up the salaries of however many it took to hit that number. That number coincided with the employees to be laid off. The first week was easy, three. With each subsequent week it got more and more difficult as that number total was rising, so too were the number of layoffs. It would have taken a toll on my feelings each time calling my friends into the office only to tell them they were being laid off.

I was truly the messenger, but it did not matter to them in their eyes I was management. This despite the fact that I was one of them for most of my tenure at the agency. I had only been in the director position for less than six months. So had I stayed on I would have laid off countless number of employees. Some taking better than others, with many taking it personally and no longer my friends.

I can also imagine that for a job well done in the end after hitting those weekly numbers, I would have received a bonus. I would have seen that bonus in relation to the salaries of my colleagues I had laid off and felt worse. How do you justify a bonus for laying off friends? Money does not buy happiness. At least not for this guy.

I am sure in the end I would have stayed on at the soul-sucking company and continued working in a corporation doing what employees do best, passing the buck, playing politics, attending long boring endless meetings and going on occasional trips to meet with other directors at various sexy locations, the last one, having been Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. Fun? No! It’s all a game as far as I was concerned.

Had I stayed in the position at the ad agency that would have meant I would continue living in New York City. Up to this point it was eight years. That is a long time in one place for me. The longest to date, with the exception of Tokyo now.

I had a great studio apartment in the West Village (Greenwich Village) paying a relatively reasonable monthly rent. I would have certainly remained in that place. The thing is, a year before 9/11 happened, which I had witnessed, my Father passed away and I was newly married. Talk about the spectrum of experience.

My wife and I at the time were living separately and planning on moving into our own place together. The problem, my attitude about work life was carrying over into life life. How can it not. Work consumes so much of our thinking that it becomes habitual once you walk out that door and into “the real world.” At least for me it did. Take all of that had happened, mix it up and I was a swirling mess of a New Yorker. And do you know what New Yorkers do when a swirling mess? Find a therapist that’s what!

I am sure I would have found an overpriced therapist whose main goal was to get me to talk and rehash over events beginning from my earliest childhood. That would have been the first sixty minute session. Then the following sessions for the next, I don’t know many years, we would continue to talk in chronological order with him probing me, verbally that is, by asking how I felt about such and such and so and so, all the while ponying up $150/hour, and making little to no headway whatsoever. But hey, at least I would be covering the costs for his kin to attend university.

In the end, I am sure I would have been forced out of my rent cheap apartment because of gentrification. Not able to afford rent in Manhattan I’d be forced to move to Queens. Brooklyn by that time would have been way out of my price range.

Living in Queens and commuting to and from work on the subway each and everyday would grind me down over time and in the end I would have divorced my wife, moved back to my hometown, finished an undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, met my now wife and moved to Japan.

Same journey just a longer time to get there.

I am glad that this is a “What if …” scenario and not reality. I’m breaking out in hives just writing about it.

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.

Really? I do.

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.

You never know what you might find.

Or do for that matter.

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.

Write To the point Tight Clear