Getting Happy: Staycationing and Appreciating

Get happy, in any way you can. If you have to run away from home, do it. If you have to go to the beach everyday, do it. - Abraham Hicks

Dear Friends,

1) It’s incredible how memories wash over us like waves. Vibrational waves. You can feel them, and often they physically move you.

2) Earlier this morning, I was chatting with Y, my student at HP, when a memory swept me. My Aunt Pam came to mind as vivid as ever: glowing and deep chocolate and smiling with a gap between her front teeth and her hair cropped close to her head and her face dotted with salt water and her open hands supporting my thin five-year-old back in the warm sea at License Beach. When Aunt Pam lived near the sea, she, my cousins and I lived at the sea.

3)  You’re not deliberate about feeling good, because you don’t understand the power of feeling good. – Abraham Hicks

My student Y is fast becoming one of my favorites, in a pool of “favorites.” He told me that he took his family to Tokyo Disneyland over the weekend. He related that they went on rides, ate sticky amusement park treats, and got splashed with water. He, then, gifted me with a Minnie Mouse pen that his six-year-old son chose. His thoughtfulness and deliberate kindness touched me. Of course, the expression of the day was “You made my day!”

4) If people say, ‘How are you?’ Say, ‘Irrelevant.’ How I are and have been is irrelevant. It’s where I’m going that I want to talk about.-Abraham Hicks

You all know what I love: the sea, getting away, seafood, clear skies, cycling, regular silences, a new book, and frozen drinks. I mention a few of my loves, because on Thursday, I’ll be going to Shimoda, in the Izu Peninsula, for three days. Almost three and a half hours from Tokyo, Lonely Planet states that “its beaches are among the best in Japan.” Four days ago, while sweltering under Tokyo’s unrelenting sun and insane humidity, the thought came,”I need the sea.” Immediately, I googled Izu accommodations, found a cute bed and breakfast, and emailed the owners (because their website stated “no single travelers in the busy season”). Mr. Yamomoto responded to me that there was a room available and that I was welcome. (I knew there would be room at the inn; the universe always answers favorably.)

Friends, I’m not just “getting happy;” I’m living deliberately in a state of happiness.

*Courtesy of Sakuraya

Love,

Val

beach

Shizuoka: Everything is Good and God

Everything is good and brown. I’m here again with a sunshine smile upon my face. – Jamiroquai (Space Cowboy)

Dear Friends,

Years ago, VP and I saw Jamiroquai perform at a music festival in Finsbury Park. For more than an hour, under a clear evening sky, the crowd jumped, danced and sang until hoarse. It started drizzling, and still we danced.

We all have collective memories and individual memories. Some of us remember where we were when the World Trade Center fell, when Michael Jackson died, when we heard that OJ was on the run, etc. We remember our first kiss, our first time, our first high, etc. I remember all those things, and the first time I heard Jamiroquai’s “Space Cowboy.”

I worked at Urban Outfitters, in the Women’s Department, for six months when I was twenty, and the manager, Scott, had a real thing for Jamiroquai. We all did. The Space Cowboy single, with its multiple mixes and remixes played for months on heavy rotation in the small store.

After work on Thursdays, a group of us would trek to Giant Step or some other small lounge on the Lower East Side or East Village. House, trance and dub step have never been my favorite genres of music, nor have they been forms of music that I can understand while sober, yet I journeyed to Giant Step because a) I was 20 and up for almost anything b) Group activities brought satisfaction c) Three guys on the Men’s Team were hotter than fire (Purple, Jay, and Darryl) and d) I was between colleges and had nothing but time on my hands. We really felt we were living Jamiroquai’s sentiment that “friends are close at hand and all my inhibitions have disappeared without a trace.”

One day, I went to work to discover that Scott had fired the entire Men’s Team. I never found out the reason. The summer wrapped up quickly, as summers do, and we discovered that we were friends of convenience. Making plans to get together rather than simply falling into an impromptu after work shift party are different beasts.

I may be too old now to build solid friendships. Too old or too tired of transient relationships, I’m not sure. Yet, it’s been my fortune to continue to meet wonderful people despite my resistance. A few days ago, S invited me to Shizuoka, two hours from Tokyo, to embrace “mega nature,” as he calls it.

His family’s vacation apartment overlooks the ocean. We slept and woke to the sound of waves  beating on man-made barrier reefs. A special kind of music.

In the morning, we drove into the mountains of Nihondaira for freshly squeezed orange juice. That juice tasted like life/joy/laughter. We were so high in the mountains, we walked amidst clouds. S wound further and further into Shizuoka to show me his favorite spots: a cascading waterfall in a deserted forest, a gushing stream on the side of a mountain, a man-made beach, replete with sand, palm trees and a pirate ship, an all you can eat Italian restaurant with sorbet, ice-creams, various pizzas, a playground with a waterfall in its center, and the busy, downtown streets of Shizuoka City.

Everything is good and green. – Jamiroquai (Space Cowboy)

It’s with good reason that yogis, gurus and zen masters insist upon occasional solitude and reconnecting with nature. Nature is the ground for meditation. Nature’s silence resonates within. Nature is music. Nature forces us to recognize that we are trivial and inconsequential. Nature compels us to see that we are divine, miraculous and part of a greater whole. Nature forces us to recognize that no person is perfect, and that’s okay. (Can you compare to a bamboo tree, a goldfish, a dragonfly?– Maybe).

Aren’t crescendos in musical pieces only the imagined roar of the ocean? Aren’t driving beats in music the imagined joining of sky and sea? Aren’t we dust? Aren’t these memories as sheer as dust?

If you want to make full use of the creativity which is inherent in pure consciousness, then you have to have access to it. One way to access the field is through the daily practice of silence, daily meditation, and non-judgement. Spending time in nature will also give you access to the qualities inherent in the field: infinite creativity, freedom, and bliss. – Deepak Chopra (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success)

Hope you’re dancing :),

Val

An Interlude: Life’s a Musical Thing

In music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. – Alan Watts

Dear Friends,

This evening, I met up with R in Ginza to belatedly celebrate his birthday. For those of you who don’t know or remember, R is my fellow American and incredibly awesome housemate from Borderless House. He’s a friend in whose company life becomes “more”: more special, calmer, brighter, and just all-around better.

He led the way to the restaurant in Ginza, Isola Blu, a comfortable, yet spartan in decor, three-floor, Italian restaurant on a quiet side street. We arrived before the dinner rush (if they have a dinner rush), and for almost two hours had almost the entire second floor to ourselves.

We ordered a Margherita pizza, a rich gnocchi, warm bread, and glasses of wine. The  creaminess of the cheese sauce on the gnocchi created such feelings of rapture in R that he closed his eyes after almost every bite.

For dessert, he ordered the Amaretti pudding, which, if our dining experience were a boxing match, kicked my Hazelnut and ricotta tart’s behind. Ridiculously smooth, amaretto-soaked, and heavenly.

* The delicious loser.

Over coffee, we continued to catch up. (It’s been a long time, since we’ve each seen other.) While on the subject of getting the most out of our everyday lives,  R introduced me to Alan Watts, a British philosopher (who has been blowing my mind from dinner until now. Three hours later, I’m still listening to his lectures on YouTube.) Before R and I parted, he reiterated that life’s a dance and encouraged my urge to wander Tokyo by bike.

Though a tad muggy, a slight breeze blew, so with Alan Watts in my ears, and a quiet mind, I danced across bridges and down alleyways. What a wonderful night.

Smile everyday, sing everyday, dance everyday.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end– success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven, after you’re dead. But, we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance, while the music was being played. – Alan Watts

Take care (and dance),

Val

Balloonery

A balloon is an inflatable flexible bag filled with a gas, such as helium, hydrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, or air. — Wikipedia

Dear Friends,

1) Today, I spent the afternoon with B and LD in a Kagurazaka, a part of town I’ve never visited. Kagurazaka feels like the suburbs or countryside; there are trees and large houses and winding roads and small alleyways and bakeries selling warm croissants and custard bread and gelaterias showcasing tropical gelato and fruity gelato and chocolatiers and parks with children throwing water balloons, and tiny, old women slightly bigger than their canes and more pregnant women than anyone can count and cheap 100 yen shops and smiling people. It felt for a moment, in the few stops from Nihonbashi to Kagurazaka, that we had left Tokyo altogether.

2) For lunch, we ate ramen at ABC Ramen. (For the record, that’s a guess at the name, because none of us really know). My ramen was good, a spicy soup, reminiscent of hot wing sauce, with cold noodles topped with miso on the side. Good, not fantastic. Apparently, LD, firmly disagreed with me, which was clear when he lifted his bowl to his mouth to make sure that he got every last drop. I prefer my spot in Ningyocho, especially since I left the restaurant with no gifts, which never happens in Ningyocho.

3) She wears a long fur coat of mink, even in the summertime. — Sheila E. (The Glamorous Life)

Ah summer.  Tokyo blazed today. Who was the girl Sheila E. sang about in The Glamorous Life, and how in God’s name did she wear fur in the summer? What kind of summer was she talking about– a summer in Oslo, Tokyo, New York or Athens? To think, I used to think that girl was incredible; however, as I biked to Nihonbashi from Suitengu in a short-sleeved white dress, I could feel the sweat building and rolling down my stomach (a sweat avalanche), and I knew that I was decidedly un-glamorous. Not a good feeling.

As you know, I grew up for the first eleven years of my life in a tropical climate, but the humidity that comes with Tokyo’s heat makes an eighty degree day feel at least ten degrees higher. Please take me out of this season that we’ve only just begun. What’s happening here? Where I once prayed for summer, I now call to fall.

4) On Sunday, I spoke to my father on Skype. He had just come home from church and was in the middle of reading my blog. Reading this blog just doesn’t seem like it should be a post church activity. Maybe, it’s more of a pre-dinner, during work, or a post-nap kind of thing. He let me know that he finds my life amusing, even the “Lonely Hearts Club” stuff (the online dating). When I asked him, if he was praying for me, he said that I wasn’t really in that much need, and I was in his general prayers, but now he’ll be step it up (my words). Just letting you guys know, if there’s a sudden turnaround in my life, it was from my father’s mouth to God’s ears.

5) Take a look at one of my favorite pics; my father’s exasperation while looking at me looking at the coconut and my brother’s obliviousness to it all.

See you soon,

Val

p.s You don’t have to understand something to love it; for example, 99 Luft Balloons.

Z, an Unknown Variable

Dear Friends,

It’s often said that before one dies an entire life will flash in quick succession before one’s eyes. (You know it, you’ve seen it in movies a million times.) While teaching my student Y, this morning, fragments of my life flashed before my eyes. He had me in a zone of tuning-outdom. He’s been taking English for five years, but seems to have retained little, and since I don’t speak or understand Japanese, and he doesn’t take correction, we didn’t have much to talk about. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to need more than an occasional nod here and there, and the requisite English word. He didn’t perceive my “Could you please repeat that?” as a sure-fire sign of inattention.

While nodding in seeming agreement with Y, I was thinking of many things, and this post will be a flash of my life before your eyes:

Long time, we no have no nice time. – Bob Marley (Nice Time)

1) On a cool summer evening many years ago, my mother took my friend Janine L. and I to Broadway to see Lend Me A Tenor. We were giddy to drive into the city from Long Island, from trees to lights– a play and dinner. I can see clearly what I wore, and how I styled my hair– high on top, down in the back. Janine and I had taken tie-dying classes at the Smithtown Public Library that summer, and we both wore our tie-dyed tee-shirt creations with white pants to the play (which made me laugh, but now I can’t remember even one line). Maybe then, we thought we could be designers; we thought we could meet Kirk Cameron; we thought Now-n-Laters could solve all sadness. I hear Janine is now a mother of two living in Arizona, and I’m where I never imagined I’d be. (I’d like some Tropical Punch Now-n-Laters). New York City was everything to me then.

2) At my corner convenience store, Family Mart, in a state of hunger, I decided to try the fried chicken behind the counter. It happens to be ridiculously delicious fried chicken. No joke. Yes, friends have repeatedly said that my palate is undiscerning and too “easy,” but this chicken is well-seasoned, not overly crispy, and moist– all for 120 yen ($1!). In an extremely short time, I’ve eaten more fried chicken than is good for a healthy heart, or a healthy waistline, and I’ve asked the girl behind the counter not to sell me any tomorrow. Sadly, her only English words are “I don’t speak English,” so naturally she looked at me like a straight up nutcase. (What does she care how much fried chicken I eat?) The Japanese know a thing or two about frying chicken.

3) Why don’t you practice what you preach? That’s what everybody keeps telling me. I tried to occupy my mind, keep myself busy all the time. – Candi Staton (Victim)

 The other day, I was reading Chronicles of Some Jamaican Chick‘s blog post, where she speaks of keeping herself very busy to avoid unpleasant thoughts. (I don’t know how to do the hyperlink thing, so please check out the blogroll on the side). Her post inspired me, because why can’t that tactic work as well as any other? Why do we need to examine and delve into every feeling and emotion, no matter how putrid and messy, until the “air has been cleared?” From now, I’m going to be a big advocate of avoidance, and try to keep myself a lot busier.

4) I must tell you that one way I won’t be keeping myself busy is with online dating. I just couldn’t do it, and had to delete my account. There are nice guys online, (I’ve been told), but my mind couldn’t get into the idea of meeting any strangers (unseen) at Starbucks. I’ll just have to “occupy my mind, keep myself busy all the time.” It would’ve been better to have started initial contact with voicemail messages, and not the written word. (Why don’t people use capital letters anymore?)

Life should be simpler, shouldn’t it? When, I was eight I was sure it would be.

5) In the latest issue of Oz magazine, a young Japanese woman cafe hops from Meguro to Daikanyama to Jimbocho to Asakusa to Hiroo to Ebisu… you get the picture. The magazine showcases new and old, trendy and staid, conservative and bold cafes and restaurants in Tokyo and Chiba. My friend S and I have decided to patronize a new cafe every Sunday. Lonely Planet: Japan states of Tokyo that “there are more cafes, and bars in this pulsing megalopolis than in any other city in the world.” We started our tour today at the Aoyama Flower Market Tea Shop.The tea shop, a large space in the back of the flower shop, features a different flower each day. It’s possible to sit there with a cup of tea for hours, listen to jazz or classical music, inhale the aromas of mingled flowers and scented teas and forget the hectic streets of Omote-Sando. We’re not supposed to repeat cafes, but I’d love to go back there soon.

6) Those pretty faces always make you stand out in a crowd. But someone picked you from the bunch, one look is all it took. – The Jackson 5 (I Want You Back)

This life hasn’t been anything I’ve expected, any step of the way. It’s been wonderful, and depressing at times. Sometimes now, I fear getting old and dying in a foreign country. (I fear many things). They hit me late at night. Then, on days like today, I walk in the drizzle and the damp of this Tokyo summer, to a flower shop, and my spirits lift incredibly. There’s nothing an anthurium can’t fix.

* I had an anthurium in NY in 2003; his name was Harry. This red one will join the pink one I bought earlier this week. (They’re both still unnamed).

x,

Val