japanliving

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.

Sometimes just stating the obvious that is right in front of you is the place to start. Looking out over the outdoor Starbucks table on this day, the weather is beautiful. A cool, perfectly clear sunny day. The mood near the station is on the festive side thanks to the weather. People are full of energy, you can see it in their gait.

I sit here under an awning writing and observing people coming and going. It is what I have always enjoyed doing, spending time watching the world go by. I like to use this time to take a break as I wait and let the next set of words well up before putting them down. It seems to be my style. I cannot force words, only let them come up and take shape as I see them in my minds eye before arriving on the keyboard. It is creativity. I have always been fascinated and now I am living it.

I just finished watching for the second time a documentary that won the 2012 Academy Award called “Searching for Sugar Man.” It’s about an obscure Bob Dylan-esque musician by the name of Rodriguez from Detroit who put out a few prolific albums in the 1970s. For whatever reason they never really sold in the US. My theory is that the record industry machine gatekeepers never really allowed him in and singers like Dylan overshadowed him, despite his songs being just as poetically prolific.

Even though he was never popular in the United States he sold nearly a half a million records in of all places, South Africa. I will stop here. If you have never seen the documentary, I highly recommend it. It’s heart warming and offers insight into a truly creative genius who creates by putting his music out there with no pretense. What I mean by that is that he creates for the sake of creating.

To me that is what it is all about, putting it out there. If people read, watch or listen to it, so be it. If not, so be it. The chances of anyone being on par with the likes of Dylan, Rodriguez or even getting people to truly pay attention is not an easy task. In this twitter world people have to be loud, obnoxious, over the top or create some sort of hook or giveaway just to reel them in, rather than trust what they are saying is of value.

I don’t know maybe I am old, old-fashioned, but I still appreciate genuine creativity. I am discerning in what I read, listen to and watch, most is mediocre at best.

Someone like Rodriguez brings me hope in a less hopeful world.

Photo Source – Jason Rosewell – Unsplash

I used to be an actor many years ago in both Minneapolis and New York City. During the time in Minneapolis, I attended a voice workshop. The workshop was run by a member of the Roy Hart Theater Group, located in a mountainous area outside of Montpelier, France. This was no ordinary voice workshop, actually I have no idea what an ordinary voice workshop would even be like. All I know is the experience I had in only a few hours time had an impact on not only acting, but my life. This is where I discovered a voice I never knew I had, and compelled me a few months later to hop on a plane to attend a week long voice workshop at their artistic center in France.

As you know explaining and experiencing are two very different things. I will try to paint the experience as best I can with words. Picture eight actors standing in a circle. The Roy Hart teacher sitting behind a piano off to the side instructing us to to raise our voices and match the high notes he played on the piano. The notes are so high there is a strain and a break in our voices. He then works his way down the scales having us match the notes all the way down to the lowest. A different kind of voice strain and break in the voice. He works his way back up the scales, as do we with our voices. Then back down doing repeating this a number of times.

Suddenly, out of the blue the teacher chooses me out of the line up of eight. I have no idea why, but I go with it. He continues going up and down the scales as I follow along with my out of key voice. He keeps my voice in the high range pushing the limits and my breaking voice. (This is not quite singing by the way, and it doesn’t matter if the notes are exact. We are “exploring sound and discovering voice” is how he put it.)

Then for some reason I do not quite understand at first, he asks that I sing the following, “Who took my vodka?” He plays around with the range of notes again asking me to repeat over and over the same phrase, “Who took my vodka.” He finds a place where my voice matches the notes he is playing and asks that I stay in that range and continue to repeat the phrase over and over.

Suddenly without warning or planning, the phrase I am repeating is now in a Russian accent and I spontaneously find myself running around the circle of seven actors asking each of them “Who took my vodka?” while the teacher continues to play the same notes over and over. I am lost in the character, I am the character, a Russian in search of vodka.

As he slowed down the piano playing the Russian character recedes and I am back to being myself. When it came to an end the room burst with applause at the reality of what they had witnessed. I was shaken to the core having been fully committed to the Russian character.

Afterward, I came to learn that the teacher looks for students whose movement and voice are “ready.” He intuitively chooses those who are in the process of discovery and proceeds to explore with the individual on a deeper level the notes and phrases that come to him. Apparently, he saw a Russian in me, and he was right!

After the workshop I spoke with the teacher and he suggested I consider coming to France to explore in-depth voice and character. Of course I did and it was an incredibly magical experience that I will share in detail in a future post.

I am no longer an actor, but that workshop experience and all the work I put into being an actor continues to inform my life today, including my teaching and writing.

A performance from a Roy Hart Theater member

Welcome to part 2 of a 2 part series. If you missed it you can read part 1 here.

Last paragraph of part one … After a few days of whining to myself, I just let it go and learned to step out of the way and be on call. For the first six months I was never called upon, which did not help my self-esteem in any way. I wanted to know exactly my role. I’m one of those guys who refused to ask for directions when lost and the same goes with asking my wife what I am supposed to do. The result, a lot of standing around and annoying looks from the women of the house.

With reluctance I accepted this fact and self-relegated myself to being the breadwinner – a label I could wrap my head around. Don’t get me wrong I never became one of those absentee fathers in Japan I used to hear so much about. These are Japanese business men who work long hours including weekends for the sake of the company. The company first, family a far second. Sure the money may be good and the camaraderie among peers in the same boat is reassuring, but what awaits them at the end of the tunnel (retirement) they hadn’t a clue.

This older generation put their trust in the company for job security sacrificing family life. For many, after retiring they came to the realization they no longer had a bond with their wife or children and ended up spending their remaining lives gambling during the day at pachinko parlors (gambling halls) and drinking in the evenings at izakayas (Japanese style bars). Then one day while walking home from a night of drinking keel over from a dark epiphany in which they could no longer deny reality; lack of connection or direction in life.

Worse case scenario, jump in front of a fast moving morning or evening rush hour train with two objectives; put an end to their miserable life and disrupt as many commuters as possible while the train line grinds to a halt to scrape their remains off the track. They usually choose the very same train line they used to take for thirty plus years of their working lives. (As of 2019 the suicide rate – 19,959).

Now what I have said up to this point is not some sort of anomaly. This is based on experience being on a train where a jumper ended his life, and also supported by my English Circle community center class I taught for more than eight years to mostly retired men and women. In the case of the men, they have found meaning in retirement. They are the outliers choosing to engage with a hobby, learning and studying English among others

The women in the class over the years have offered insight into the reality of family life. While privacy is held to high esteem I have had the privilege to have been give the inside scoop. It seems over the years they have come to trust me. I would add that Minnesotans tend to be trustworthy folks. “We are good peoples,” as my friends like to say.

At times it does seem the English class has become both a place of language learning and therapy. While I do not necessarily plan the class, I prefer to let it develop organically and on occasion when it airs towards therapy I have become privy to family life, mostly in the form of complaints from the women. Love is not part of their lexicon, it’s more like annoyance. They would prefer that their husbands continue after retirement to remain outside of the house for as long as possible.

This explains pachinko parlors and izakayas. Don’t get me wrong the men in the class are inspirational. These men realized somewhere along the line during and after their careers that while they had to follow the cultural expectation of work life, they knew deep down that there was more to life than that. These guys not only study English regularly, but have been and continue to be engaged with their families and have other hobbies such as tennis, cycling, and hiking. One eighty-two year old in my class even after retirement returned to school to learn acupuncture at age sixty-two, graduated and has had a practice ever since.

Bringing it back to my family life, I want to end on a positive note. That is I have learned never to let work life interfere with my soon-to-be ten year old son. To always be engaged in his life and to make that a priority over many other things in my life.

So far I have done pretty well.

In times like these a level head is needed now more than ever. And yet we have the opposite running countries. If you were to survey citizens across the world what it is they want in life, it would be food, education, health care, shelter and a fighting chance for the next generation or two to have the same things. And yet is it really human nature to make it so complicated that we have to struggle to maintain an even adequate standard of living? Why is it acceptable for the few who have amassed both money and power to continue to make more and more money so the rest have access to less and less? Is greed and power so much of an aphrodisiac that people lose sight of their humanity? I have news for you – we will die.

Death limits what we can take with us and makes things equal in the end. This begs the question how can one enjoy in a lifetime that amount of money totaling in the billions? And why is this acceptable? I remember the day when making millions was quite an accomplishment. Billions would take multiple lifetimes to spend. It’s not like that amount of money can stave off the inevitable. It will happen no matter what, and leaving a legacy at what cost? What makes this unacceptable is that there is a cost to be paid when individuals become this wealthy. Someone somewhere down the line that you and I will never see pays the price. Actually many are paying the price, whether it is in the form of low wages, child labor, unfair labor conditions or all of the above. Nobody is immune to paying the price when someone makes that much money – nobody!

What makes matters worse is that average folk think if that person can be rich so can I. People get sucked into the myth of, “I can be if I just say it is so and do it.” Truth be told it – it isn’t true. The unfortunate consequence is it becomes a dog eat dog world at the cost of humanity. A free for all where we step over one another and get what little pieces are left at whatever cost. And if you cannot hit it big, then the least you can do is put on airs by literally adorning yourself with the accouterments of the rich by buying name brands that proudly send a message of wealth or upward heading mobility – a facade. While at the same time amassing mountains of debt. Actually, if you think about it you are most likely simultaneously creating debt for yourself and paying the wealthy more and more. While you both will be leaving a legacy, the rich in an obvious way you will be leaving a negative legacy. And that is required to be paid off because thanks to the rich you have been paying have influenced politicians to enact laws that make you have to repay any debt accrued on a credit card or unpaid loan you may have taken out before you up and died.

Initially they will memorialize you and talk up a good game at the funeral. Funerals bring that out in people. When the food stops coming and the friends who were there for your family move on with their lives, your wife, husband or significant other are stuck with not only the memories of photos during poignant times in your life, but also with what starts out to be monthly credit card and loan bills. The legacy continues with unpaid bills accruing interest while they continue to grieve having lost sight of life. This is normal, but not to the bill collectors who begin to call weekly. Calls are answered to explain the extenuating circumstances. At first they lend a sympathetic ear. It is a false empathy meant as a form of manipulation as they connect to the grief. Really they are taking notes so that each time they call they wear them down. Over time the goal is to get them to pay so that they too can get their commission for a job well done. You see they are in debt just like your mourning family members. But they will never say anything because they pay their bills on time, they tell themselves each time they make a phone call.

No savings left and the calls are daily now. When will they start knocking on the door? Soon they repossess the car, then the furniture. I didn’t know my deceased rented the furniture. Makes sense in hindsight it looks too nice. The car, no not the car! Once that is gone there’s very little left except the house. Bankruptcy is the last option – A word that connotes disgrace and shame. Thing is they can no longer get out of it that easy. Thanks to your friendly neighborhood politician who come knocking on doors during the election season to get votes has voted not in their best interest. He sided with the rich who own the companies that make the most off of your still grieving family members. Declaring bankruptcy is not an option because the rich want what’s theirs – more money. The only way out is to follow in the footsteps of what you have started this in the first place. It’s killing them one way or another.

In the end how do you want to be remembered? By building a mountain of debt? Or living within your means?


Do we just delude ourselves on a daily basis? How much of what we actually do has any meaning to life at all? And yet we must do it. Are the choices we make just another way to reinforce who we think we are? Who do I think I am?  Is there I in this equation? So many questions and yet even as I reread these questions I think how contrived they feel. I really begin to feel that there is no I and that it is being in relation to the world and people that really creates experience, and to think that there is something that exists inside is really not it. We just make moment-to-moment choices, grab those things to help reinforce who we think we are. But that is not to say there is anything wrong with it. I think that is part of the human condition.

I may be writing in such a manner that feels like judgment, but in fact is really more just an observance and acknowledgment of something that is very much a part of life. I look around and observe people, letting the feeling and notice the little things in people, and you can see just how much of their character shines through. Everything from the way they walk, look in their face, clothing and if it is someone I know the way in which they speak, the choice of words, mannerisms etc. Most people do not notice these kinds of things as they are all caught up in their own little world on the inside or outside, me included. We all do this, caught up in our thoughts as we walk, multi-task, or are ready to answer a question or speak instead of listening and feeling out what the other person is saying.

I just want to be present as much as I can throughout the day. There is a simple richness to being awake to the moment without getting caught up in the thoughts or emotions. It is like a river flowing from moment to moment. Some images are just apt for a description and do not need anymore explaining than that.

Living in the place of the heart is a really different experience when walking through the world. And one thing I am beginning to understand is the sense that we need to be responsible if we are awakened to the world, responsible to helping others to awaken to the world and help them to realize their own delusions. Each person is different in how this is and so there is not a one way for all. Some people may be ready to hear it and others will not or may fight it or intellectualize it or do what it is their character is designed to avoid. If awake to the moment you can begin to feel that out and not go too far into delusion and very quickly awaken yet again.