Tuesday, July 24, 2012

a move

hello friends and readers. i just want to let you all know that i have moved. i will now be posting my thoughts, stories, and mostly things i find interesting at: http://tragicsadchaoticandlovely.tumblr.com/ hope to see you there! thanks.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Near-Death Experience"

Today, I stopped
to lie beneath the cherry blossoms.
Really, I should say
‘between’ them.
I gazed upward
at the white and pink petals
coating dark branches in their beauty,
while those petals dearly-departed
provided a soft and sweet bed
upon the grass.

As I breathed deeply
and emptied my mind,
I began to feel as though—
if I laid there long enough—
I may melt into the ground.
With time, I may simply
grow down.
And indeed,
I would.
And for a moment,
I did.
I left my ‘self’
and became
the bed of blossoms.

I wonder about those
who speak of the hopelessness
of a life without
an afterlife
in another world.
And I wonder why
anyone would want
to leave this world.
While there is much pain
that we have created,
still there is more beauty
than we could hope to see
in our lifetimes.

As I lay silently,
breathing in the universe,
one petal came floating down
and landed softly on my cheek.
All at once, I felt
its silky softness, and
the weight of the world.

When my atoms scatter
for the final time,
I hope that some
will find their way
to a budding cherry blossom.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” - Albert Camus

I would find it equally true to change 'unfree' with 'terror-filled,' 'angry,' 'lonely.'

Monday, March 5, 2012

Things that make me happy: March 2012

It's been quite a while since my last T.T.M.M.H. updated. Please forgive me. It's not that things haven't been making me happy. It's been a busy couple months, and, well, I honestly have a hard time making myself sit down to write these things out. But here goes!

As my time is wrapping up here in Japan, I'm trying to pay even better attention to the things that make me happy, large and small. For those who don't know, I have decided to move on from Japan when my contract ends in April. The reasons are vast and diverse and best discussed over a cup of coffee or a skype date, rather than in a blog post. But overall, I am hoping to travel a bit in April and May before returning to the US in June to start the job-hunting process again (feel free to send any suggestions/leads/contacts...).

Anywho, here's what's been making me smile in- and outwardly lately:

-The coming spring! surprisingly beautiful afternoons.

-Enjoying every moment of my last weeks with the kids. I'm really going to miss some of these little humans.

-Considering travel plans. I'm not deciding anything for a while, I just like thinking about the possibilities. I am so privileged...

-The documentary "The Interrupters" about a great organization called CeaseFire in south side Chicago. It actually made me cry, but it was a good cry--reminding me what I want to do and why. Watch for free on PBS's Frontline website.

-This website: http://www.lettersofnote.com/

-Love! I got to watch my friends sign their marriage papers last week, after watching the one of them run the Tokyo marathon. It was an exciting, lovely day. I feel so lucky to know them and be a part of their lives!

-Tokyo. I continue to love the city. Marathons, Chicago-style pizza and craft beer restaurants, dancing bachata with a Japanese guy who grew up in Mexico, amazing Bohemian neighborhoods, used book stores, art museums, animated film festivals. I've never gone into the city and left disappointed. I usually leave poor, but not disappointed. For photos, check Facebook.

-New Music: The Robert Glasper Experiment--amazing hip hop with jazz, soul, funk infusions. And an amazing jazz-style cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." And great featured artists (Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, yasiin bey, Bilal, among others.) Also, the newest Bjork album, called Biophilia. I've never been a huge Bjork fan, but this has converted me. It is an amazing album.

-Other music highlights: Astro, The Roots, Wilco, Bhi Bhiman, Curumin, Los Rakas, The Weeknd.

-Eagerly awaiting new albums from: Andrew Bird, Santigold, MIA, Spoek Mathambo.

-Books: I should really write a whole post or two about this, since this is how I spend the vast majority of my time not at work (and some of it at work--break time, of course). But in the interest of your time and attention, I'll try to keep it short. PLEASE let me know if you want to discuss any or all of these more in-depth. These are from the past month or so:
---"Embracing Defeat", a book about Japan in the years right after WWII. I found it fascinating. It looks at not just political and structural effects, but the psychological, emotional, and spiritual reconstruction that took place. It has caused a TON of questions about Japanese culture then and now that my lovely friends have had to deal with with amazing grace.
---"1Q84" by Haruki Murakami. It would be hard to describe, especially briefly, how amazing this book is, and how important it has been for me. It is another amazing Murakami story, with explorations on art, writing, God, religion, love, death, family. It is an amazing book.
---"The Angel Esmerelda" by Don Delillo. This is a great book of stories that led me to buy:
---"White Noise" by Don Delillo. This novel from the 80s is an amazing look into how individual people (especially in hyper-consumeristic societies) face death, and therefore, life. How does rapidly advancing technology and knowledge and production of things change how we feel about (and ultimately, fear,) death? As anyone who reads this blog at all regularly knows, my favorite author is David Foster Wallace, who loved Delillo. And it's obvious why. And there are some definite similarities to my other favorite author, JD Salinger. All good things for me.
---In an attempt to keep variety and not get too set in a particular genre (post-modern fiction, for now), I've just started a book called "The New Jim Crow" about the way the US criminal justice system has become a system for repression of (most specifically) African American men. I just started it today, but it seems really interesting thus far.

There's so much more, of course, that makes me happy. Lots of words (usually written), smiles, breaths. I continue to learn so much, every day, about what it means to be alive. My time in Japan has been so different from anywhere else I have lived, and so being, as taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined (other than just my reluctance for bath houses...). I so look forward to continue the journey.

What's making you happy?

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Kaito-sensei...kowai!": On Being a Scary, White Lady

This week, an elementary-aged student said I looked “kowai”—scary. This was the third time I’d heard this from a student (that I could understand). The first two times, it was my light eyes that were needlessly terrifying the children. This time, it was my ‘scary hair like a witch’ that struck fear into their little English-learning hearts. And while it feels good to finally be able to surprise them by understanding their brutal honesty in Japanese (while also choosing not to think about all the other things they probably say about me that I can’t understand), I’ll admit it stings for a minute. But only a minute. Such is the joy of working with children, right? They will bring out all your insecurities (not that I was ever that insecure about my hair looking witch-like), make you confront them, and let you move on. And as a tall, white woman with piercings, tattoos, and bright red hair, I would be somewhat delusional not to expect them to notice that I look different.

As the initial sting wore off, I started to do my typical sociological analysis. (You try living abroad all the time and getting stared at like you’re a different species. I bet you’ll find yourself making the whole thing a little more abstract too.) Why do the kids find light eyes and big, curly red hair scary? I remember being told in Sri Lanka that I was “so beauty with [my] white skin and big nose!” At the time, while accepting the hilariously ironic compliment, I was also frustrated. Obviously, the influence of Western culture and its definition of beauty were incredibly strong, even in this poor, war-torn section of a relatively isolated country. Even here, these young girls were taught that beauty meant being tall with round eyes, a big nose, and—above all—white skin. So, when relating this to my current students, I’m thinking that maybe it’s a good thing that they find me scary. Maybe this means that they haven’t learned to internalize these Western, Hollywood definitions of beauty. Maybe they, with such a plethora of Japanese entertainment available to them, are able to appreciate the immense beauty that I see in the people here. While I don’t necessarily agree with all the manifestations of beauty that are promoted in Japanese culture (specifically the obsession with youth, especially in women—but this is another essay altogether), at least they are able to see beauty within their own culture and their own people.

However, I think there is another side of the issue to explore. By appreciating and respecting a more Japanese definition of beauty, are they learning to be fearful of what is different? Most people would agree that Japan is far from an “immigrant-friendly” nation. There are much worse places, of course (*cough* Arizona *cough*), but Japan definitely has a past and present of a unique type of nationalism that does not exactly encourage or welcome high levels of immigration. So, is my students’ fear of my foreign features some kind of symbol of their learning to fear all things (people) foreign? Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch, but I think it’s worth noting. How do they learn to find those things ‘scary’ and not just ‘different’? Do most people in Japan have a reaction of ‘kowai’ when they see me?

And then, I remember the compliments I’ve gotten since I’ve been here as well. I’ve been complimented for being tall and light-skinned. I’ve been complimented for my hair color, my round eyes, and my long eyelashes. (I don’t feel too arrogant mentioning these things, since I am only responsible for one of them. As for the rest—thanks, mom and dad!) While riding on the train one morning, I was called ‘kawaii’ (cute, pretty) by a group of giggling high school girls. (Although, judging by the shocking- and rebelliously short length to which their skirts had been rolled, I suspect they may have been commenting more on the rebellious nature of my nose ring and red hair than mere ‘cute’-ness.) So, what does this mean? Perhaps the influence of a Western depiction of beauty does in fact infiltrate the culture, it just hasn’t hit my young students yet. As they grow older and have more contact with Western media, it seems they, too, learn that beauty means white skin and round, light eyes. This easily explains the growing trends of skin-lightening aesthetic treatments and eye surgeries to change color and shape. Maybe its not that Japan isn’t within the sphere of influence of Western concepts of beauty, but that it just takes more than 8 years to really imbed in the psyche. Now that I think about it, even in Sri Lanka I made a little kid burst into tears upon seeing me for the first time.

In trying to make sense of it all, I think I should take it one step further and ask: what do we in the US consider beautiful? (The very question of who we are is, again, another essay altogether. At this point, I’ll define we as those who look the most like me—white women). As white women, we generally learn that “a healthy tan” is beautiful, rather than paleness. We want to be impossibly thin, with big eyes and lips, and small noses. Skinny, dark, and doe-eyed—something almost none of us are. And what about women of color? They are traditionally taught (whether overtly or not) that they, too, are more beautiful and “desirable” with lighter skin. It’s the same with many of the women I knew in Chile and Mexico.

To attempt to pull it all together, I think that maybe it’s not as much about the exportation and internalization of Western definitions of beauty and desirability. Perhaps it’s nothing more than greener grass—wanting what you don’t have. Maybe it’s more the case that everyone is just looking to others and wanting what they have—basing our definitions of beauty on whatever we don’t see in the mirror. Of course, this is not true for all women. And hopefully, it’s not true for most. As I think of my two nieces—both so beautiful, but in such distinct ways—I hope this is not always the case. But I readily admit that I have all too often become entranced by the beautiful women of Latin America and Asia, longing for their dark features and tiny waistlines. But I guess, like all things, it’s a matter of balance—learning to see the beauty in others without denigrating your own beauty. And always, we must continue to question why it is we think the things we do, and the ways in which they influences our relationships with others and the world around us.

In an effort to end on a less cheesy, “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy” sort of way, I want to mention that I plan to use my “kowai”-ness to it’s fullest potential as long as I’m teaching here in Japan. I’m learning to which kids I can give a quick, intense, wide-eyed stare to get them to quiet down, rather than a harsh word. And maybe for the real troublemakers, I’ll tell them that if they don’t behave, I’ll have my boyfriend come in to ‘discipline’ them—and then show them a picture of the guy from the movie Powder.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Supposedly Relaxing Thing I’ll Probably Never Do Again*

*Is it plausible for a title to be an homage, rather than just a rip-off?

One of the most common questions I’m asked about my time thus far in Japan is whether I’ve visited an onsen yet, often translated as “hot springs” or a “traditional Japanese bath house.” I, for one, had heard the former term much more often than the latter. So, as I made plans to finally visit an onsen during my week of traveling in and around Kyoto, I was expecting something like the hot springs I had been to while traveling in South America. I knew it was indoors, rather than the outdoor natural springs of Chile, but I was still expecting something involving hot tubs, saunas, and maybe even some ambient music. And in a way, I guess I was right. In a way.

It was a warm, rainy Wednesday in August when I arrived to Kyoto on a train from the nearby town of Nara. I had spent two days in Nara, and was planning to spend two to three days in Kyoto before heading back to the Tokyo area and back to work for the start of the fall term. I was truly enjoying my few days of traveling alone. Nara is a small, peaceful town with some of the most farmous and amazing Buddhist temples and statues in the world. But after two days of traveling exclusively by foot (I have a thing about using public transportation while I’m traveling, when I’m really in no hurry and have nowhere specific to be), and a few outrageous moments (involving hostels, bats, deer, ambulances, and more, that could be stories all on their own), I was somewhat exhausted—physically and emotionally—and ready for a more relaxed, recovery-type day. So, as I arrived to the rainy former capital of Japan, I planned to slowly take in some sights around my hostel before setting out to find a barely-marked onsen from my guide book. I figured this would offer me just the right amount of adventure and relaxation to recover and prepare for two more days of temples, castles, and reevaluation of the way I’ve conceived of World History for almost 25 years.

I was amazed at how quickly I found the onsen. On the map in the guidebook, the place was simply a very tiny dot on a very big map with very few street names. I didn’t even know what the word “onsen” looked like in Japanese. But sure enough, as I walked the streets, holding my guidebook parallel to the ground and turning around it as if I was doing one of those dizzy baseball bat races, I found the blue awning with pictures of water and steam—this had to be the place. As I approached the sliding glass doors under the awning, I saw the automated ticket machine outside, which the guidebook had mentioned: son of a bitch—I really had found it. (The profanity really is necessary. Anyone who knows what it’s like to look for specific things when you’re traveling, especially cheaply and alone, knows that it is damn-near impossible to find things on the first try. And for anyone who knows the crazy things that tend to happen to me when I travel, know the extra level of ‘miraculous’ that this small moment involved.) I was feeling like a downright badass as I went to by the ¥410 ticket (about US $5), and make my way into the onsen. As I turned towards the doors and waited for them to slide open, I realized they were the kind which you actually have to touch where a handle would be, in order to open them. But they still didn’t open. Maybe they’re not automatic at all, I thought. I’ve been wrong about much more ridiculous things than this before. So, awkward as it was, I began to pry the doors open and push aside the oddly-placed banner hanging right inside the glass. I quickly noticed a man about 60-years-old, sleeping on a bench just inside the door. But with the ability and propensity of most Japanese people to sleep anytime, anywhere (it really is amazing, I have to admit) I didn’t think much of this in the moment I had to think. About a second later, the sounds of my struggles with the doors and the banner must have reached the man in whatever world he was in, because he was startled awake—to find a tall, red-headed white woman inside his shop. He quickly crossed his arms in front of his chest (a pretty common thing in Japan, especially with kids, it seems), and said “Mata! mata!” Luckily (in some ways), I knew this meant “not yet! not yet!” “Sanji kara!” he said, with a look somewhere between amused, annoyed, and downright angry for being so quickly awakened. Again, I was relieved to know that he had said ‘three o’clock.’ I quickly glanced at the clock and saw 14:45—I was 15 minutes early. “But…um…I already bought my ticket!” I stammered while I held up the ticket. Again, if you’re traveling on the cheap, you don’t just throw away $5! That could be a whole day’s worth of food, if you’re smart. “Sanji kara!” he repeated. Clearly I wasn’t going to ask any other questions or get in any earlier. “Ok! Sorry!” I shouted while bowing my head in embarrassment and trying to awkwardly back out of the doors I had so struggled with (although at least I now understood) thirty seconds before. As I stepped back outside, I quickly forgot my initial luck in finding the place, and began to feel that like any good future-story, this onsen thing was doomed from the beginning.

After 15 minutes of wandering the surrounding blocks and replaying the embarrassment in my head, I slowly made my way back to the building. Of course, I gave myself a few extra minutes so I wouldn’t arrive right at 15:00, causing the guy to wonder why the hell I was so eager to sit in a hot tub. By the time I made it back, there were at least seven bikes outside, and the automatic doors were opening, you know, automatically. I was relieved, upon entering, to see that the same guy wasn’t sitting in the entrance or working at the desk. Instead, a young girl was standing behind the desk and was probably a bit confused, as I awkwardly handed her my ticket, at how I had gotten it without her seeing me use the machine before I came in. At the moment, I was thinking, “Come on, lady. I think I’m clearly awkward enough for both of us in this situation. You don’t need to be acting so weird too.” After standing uncomfortably for a moment, waiting for directions, she finally motioned me to a doorway on my left. “Doozo,” she nodded. “Go ahead,” by translation, “What the hell are you waiting for?” by interpretation. Now, looking back, I kind of wonder if she could tell this was obviously my first time, and she was trying to contain her amusement at what she knew (and I clearly didn’t) was ahead.

I slowly walked in to the locker room area and began scoping out the lockers and wicker baskets in which to put my things while I was “relaxing.” Standing by the bench, facing the wall of cubbie holes, I noticed a lady to my right who was putting things in her locker—completely naked. ‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘Ballsy. She’s obviously pretty comfortable with herself.’ But, she was probably about 40 and had a pretty nice body—I guess it makes sense. And almost immediately, as I instinctively turned my eyes away and instead towards the glass doors leading to the bath area, I noticed that there were a few more women getting in and out of the baths—all over 60 (maybe over 70?) and all completely naked. If my life were a movie (and this was a more important event than a funny cultural moment), this would be the part when the camera would spin all around me and slowly close in on my confused and horrified face. This wasn’t a place where tourists sit around sipping drinks in relaxing hot tubs. This was quite literally a bath house, where a lot of Japanese people, espcially older ones, come to bathe and to a certain extent, socialize with the people they’ve probably known (and bathed with) for more years than I’ve been alive. Needless to say, the swimsuit I had brought was not necessary.

In that moment, I decided I basically had two options: either I could repress my “no money wasted” travel ethic and just leave, or I could repress my “don’t get naked in front of a bunch of strangers” life ethic and just do this thing. I’m 24, living in Japan, don’t know anyone within a few hundered kilometers, and I already paid my $5, damnit! If I can’t do something crazy like this now, when will I be able to do it? And what’s the worst that could happen, really? Yes, I’ll feel awkward, but that obviously is not new, especailly when traveling. Yes, the women will probably stare, but again, that’s something I’m more used to than maybe I should be. And I guess yes, someone could say something, if I’m in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing, but knowing what I had learned about most Japanese people at that time, no one would say anything to me under almost any circumstance. And if they did, I probably wouldn’t understand it anyways! So, why not? Most guys do this their whole lives, in locker rooms and fitness clubs, right? If pre-pubescent teenage boys can do it, so can I.

I slowly began to undress and put my things in the basket to go in the cubby hole. I wrapped my towel around myself, figuring I might as well delay the “full reveal,” as it were, until absolutely necessary. As I slowly shuffled towards the steamy room with the faucets and pools, I found myself battling the line between trying to look at the other women for some type of direction or guidance, and trying not to be obviously looking at the other women in all their older Japanese lady nakedness. I imagine, again in retrospect, that this little inner-mental battle of looking and trying not to look like I was looking ended up coming off creepier than…well, I don’t really know what my alternative was. There was absolutely no English anywhere. This was obviously not a place designed for or used by tourists.

In what I hoped to be following the lead, I grabbed a small bucket from a stack and slowly walked to one of the many hip-high faucets along two of the walls in the shower room. there were about six different small pools in the center of the room and along the other wall. There were also stairs going to another floor above, but i didn’t even want to begin thinking of what wonders may lie up there. I reluctantly put my towel and bucket down and took a deep breath of “this is it” awareness. As I awkwardly (I wish there was another, equivalent word, but I just can’t come up with a good one) tried to rinse off with the low faucet that only ran for about 10 seconds with each push of the button, I realized that all the other women using these faucents were sitting on small plastic stools from another nearby stack. As I considered the possibility of sitting my bare ass on one of these plastic stools, and found myself thinking, ‘that seems kind of gross. But will I stick out more if I don’t do it?’ And then, I came to realize the full ridiculousness of this situation. There was no way, under any circumstances, that i was NOT going to stick out here. It wouldn’t matter if I had pulled out some chopsticks or a rice ball and started babbling away in Japanese. I was not going to “blend in” in any way, shape, or form. This not only helped me decide not to bare-ass it on the stool, but it also made me completely relax about the whole situation. Yes, I was standing naked in front of a bunch of strangers. But, so what? As far as I could tell, nothing bad was going to happen. This is why I travel, I thought: to learn a few new things about myself and the world.

Having traveled and lived in five different countries in the past four years, and usually being about a head taller and a few skin-shades lighter than anyone else, I’m pretty used to being stared at. Admittedly, the red hair, nose-ring, and tattoos probably don’t help. And the women in this bath house (the term I now use to describe an onsen) were no exception. Although, I can’t exactly fault them for looking. Not that this would come as any surpise, but my body is quite a bit different from a 70-year-old Japanese woman. In addition to height and weight and curves and such, I’m pretty sure I was the only woman in that room that had never had a child. (I also feel compelled to mention that while I have generally gotten a lot of stares in all the countries I’ve been to, the way the majority of Japanese people stare is really quite different. In all other places, including the US, when you catch someone looking at you, they acknowledge this by either quickly looking away or, if they’re more friendly and outgoing, by smiling or nodding. But in Japan, I’ve found that most people don’t do this. Instead, they just keep looking, as if they hadn’t even noticed that I could see them and am looking back. I have found that this generally makes me feel a bit less like a human being with the capability to look and connect with someone, and more like a car accident. Again, the women in the onsen were no exception; as if I was a tall, white, naked creature that had wandered in and couldn’t see them looking; as if I wasn’t clearly confused and uncomfortable.) Nonetheless, like the bare-ass stools, I realized I could do nothing but embrace the stares, quickly learn to be comfortable with my body in a way I had literally never had to be in the past, and find some way to enjoy this.

I began to wander from the faucets to the pools, which all seemed to be unbelievably hot. With my growing comfort level, I decided I would just grab my bucket and head my naked self upstairs to see what might await me there. Maybe there would be a more ambient setting or a sauna or something after all. The first thing I saw on the second floor was another room of faucets and stools. No, thank you. And then, a large, sliding (I hoped) stainless steel door. With no read-able signs to guide me, I just decided to go for it. (Obviously, I was feeling pretty daring at this point. I’m already walking around a random place with random people completley naked. Why the hell not?) I was a little nervous that this door might open to an outside area or a co-ed area or something, but I realized that that was pretty unlikely, considering the fact that the locker rooms were so far away. And if it was something somehow more embarrassing, I could always scoot back to the locker room and away from this steamy, wet house of awkwardness. But lo and behold, the huge door opened to another small pool, with fake rocks and plants and—yes—even ambient music! I was right all along! Well, you know, other than the whole naked thing. It had a price, but I had finally found the relaxing hot tub setting I had been looking for. A part of me was even starting to like the idea of being able to sit without the confines of a swim suit. I was determined to like this; determined to relax.

I slowly stepped into the shallow rock-covered pool and was unable to ignore how unbelievably hot it was. Maybe it’s just me, I thought. It’s like a hot tub—I just need to get used to it. So, still determined to relax, I sat in the pool, sweat dripping down my face and heart racing as though I had just tried to sprint a 400. I even tried to put my elbows up, head back, and close my eyes, as a couple other women came and left the room. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, I was getting light-headed and feeling my chest tighten. But, I had been through so much for this, damnit. I couldn’t possible give up now!

I gave up. My practical mind is just too damn practical to potentially give myself some sort of heat-enduced cardiac event. Plus, I started thinking about that anecdote about how frogs, when sitting in increasingly hotter water, won’t hop out because they don’t notice the small changes in the temperature. In the end, they will sit there while they unknowingly boil to death. If I don’t get out, I thought, what makes me any different from the frog? That practicality is what separates us, right? (Along with a few other characteristics of course.) Plus, if I was so embarrased by being in this place naked and alive, I didn’t even want to think about the alternative…

And so, I slowly gathered up my bucket while giving myself a moment to shake off the residual dizziness, and I started back down the stairs. I tried out a few more of the small pools on the first floor before heading back into the locker room. I had stayed for almost an hour, which seemed like a reasonable amount of “relaxation” time for my money. I quickly wrapped my towel around me and decided to sit in the room for a few minutes, watching and listening as some of the other women (mostly towel-covered as well) sat on the benches and chatted. I imagined they had known each other for years, and were catching each other up about their lives—sighing about cute things their grandchildren had done or laughing about their ridiculous husbands. In the comfort of my towel and my place along the far wall, I began to somewhat understand the draw of this for an older Japanese woman. I was able to see the community and friendship, and to understand the unique freedom this women-only escape must provide for them in their otherwise male-dominated and -infused (my assumption, of course) lives. I found myself really wishing I could understand them or even ask them what they were talking about. I wanted to laugh with them. I’m sure this was also because I had just forced myself to walk around naked in front of a bunch of foreign strangers, an event I found extremely funny, and had no one to laugh with about it. I kind of laughed vicariously through the women and let their joy express some of my own.

I left the onsen and slowly began the forty-minute walk back towards my hostel. I began replaying the afternoon in my head and making notes for the future story. I laughed out loud (probably another understandable reason I get stared at—I laugh out loud by myself a lot in public) at the lengths I had gone to and the determination I had employed to “relax” and try to “fit in.” But, I also realized that I had, in the end, found some peace and relaxation in the whole crazy event: not only through the peace of the women communing in the locker room, but through forcing myself to be naked in front of a bunch of people (something I’ve never had any desire to do whatsoever), and through forcing myself to get over it; through facing this idea of embarrassment, deconstructing it, and stripping it (no pun intended) of its power. I was reminded that in the end, a large part of embarrassment comes from the extremely self-involved notion that what you do (how you look, what you say, etc) matters to other people as much as it matters to you. As if everyone else is thinking about you as much as you are. And when I have these moments (that seem to come way more often when traveling—which is probably part of why I love it so much), it really is like taking a deep breath in and out and consciously settling back in to the small, beautiful corner of the world in which I have the pleasure to exist.

Nevertheless, I have no intentions of returning to an onsen any time soon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

we young.

the following is a passage from page 694 of david foster wallace's novel--and my current hobby--Infinite Jest. i'm genuinely not sure how much sense it will make without knowing the book, but i figured it was worth a try. someone may get something out of it. but if you don't know the context, don't read too much into the political aspects. i think this resounds with me largely because i currently live in a country where people rarely show emotion or sentiment (in my experience.) but i do think he also speaks to an american generation that i absolutely grew up in and am part of. but it may not be only in the US. it really makes me wonder about why, though. why do we--young, old, american, japanese, whoever--so fear ourselves?

"We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we've hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it's stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naivete. Sentiment equals naivete on this continent...[and] naivete is the last true terrible sin in the theology of millennial America....[It's] about a myth, viz. that queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naivete are mutually exclusive. Hal, who's empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic... One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he's really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pulls and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia."