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travel

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

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People (Unreal life)

Soup

Soup: 1: a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food.

Dear Friends,

This post has a lot of liquid and a few things of substance. Life soup with the week’s events cut and diced.

1) Yesterday, my student M told me that at his alma mater, Kyoto University, students who major in Science fields have the option of staying in school anywhere from five to eight years. When I asked him why and how it’s possible to be an approved, perpetual student, he told me that the university is well-aware that “catching purpose” takes time. It’s clear to me, since I took that extended path of learning, for my undergraduate degree, that Kyoto University was where I should have gone. It’s also clear that for years I’ve been trying to “catch purpose,” and it’s proven as hard to grasp now as when I started reaching for it. In the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Chopra defines dharma (or “purpose in life”):

  •  Each of us is here to discover our higher self or our spiritual self. This is the first fulfillment of the Law of Dharma.
  •  The second component of the Law of Dharma is to express our unique talents.
  • The third component of the Law of Dharma is service to humanity– to serve your fellow human beings and to ask yourself the questions, “How can I help?”

2) Speaking of dharma, last night, on Skype, I caught up with Tan, a friend I’ve known forever and a day. It seems that she’s caught her purpose in life and it’s gold. As long as I’ve known her, she’s said that she’s wanted to help children. Years ago, she’d spoken of opening an orphanage, so it was no real surprise to me when she told me that she, her husband, and one or two others had founded a school in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The school, The Academy of Science, Technology, and the Arts (ASTA), which opens in September, plans to empower seventh and eight graders to think critically, in a non-traditional way. Their website states:

The academy is built around the principles of critical thinking and logical reasoning. The academy offers the traditional Caribbean secondary curriculum to students, utilizing traditional and non-traditional teaching techniques aided by technologically advanced tools and good practices.   Encouraging the use of critical thinking and logical reasoning, emphasis will be placed on the disciplines of Science, Technology and Arts and their practical use. Through interactive sessions, practical applications and utilizing a holistic approach ASTA aims to achieve academic excellence and produce well-rounded students who are mentally and emotionally prepared for international tertiary education and equipped with the necessary life skills for the real world.

I forgot to ask her if they’ll accept older students, because it’s increasingly clear that I have not been “equipped with the necessary life skills for the real world.” (Go T!)

3) Last week, a fabulous woman who I had the pleasure of interacting with at my old job in the States visited Tokyo. We happened across a free concert at a temple that was promoting energy conservation and general harmony. The surrounding areas of the temple were lit only by candlelight, and even the lights of Tokyo Tower were turned off for a few hours (happens only once a year).

She, as I have, fell in love with Tokyo and she asked me what my future intentions were in and for this great city. After a brief summary of my days, and what’s been going on, she advised me that to make life complete, it was necessary to get out there and date. Honestly, I hadn’t been pressed for a minute about dating, though in truth, a few months ago it was on my mind. (I’ve deleted the February post where I spoke of my crush– I wish life were as easily revised as this blog).

Emotional landscapes, they puzzle me. – Bjork

Dating’s never been an area in which I excelled, like say spelling, so I cringed when she suggested online dating.

* I went on one good date with this guy; and one evening, I’m sure I became his least favorite person in the world. 

I shared with her as I did with you all my woeful attempts at online dating with Match. com, and how I vowed never ever to online date again (See December posts). However, she said something I’ll never forget, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” I do recognize that failure is inevitable and that it doesn’t mean that I should stop trying. Though her words resonated with me, I didn’t sign up for the dating site until 2am two nights ago, and regretted it the very next morning when I received this message:

Hi M here , how are you i want to know you and see you soon, i am in tokyo working here . i live near tokyo tower in azabu east. i am alone want to meet you and make good friendship with you , waiting for your quick response if you have any skype or messenger please do share with me , or share your contact number so we can meet in a day or two. Plz reply. Can we have date soon . i love black beauty. i am also great at love you will like and love our meeting for long time.

I’ve also received normal messages, but it looks like I’m gonna soon have to hit up some of the cute guys that are checking out my profile and not sending messages. Honestly, I’m not cut out for online dating, when I went to check a message, and my profile showed that I was “Online,” some guy started messaging me and I promptly signed out. Hopefully, it’ll be worth it. (Giving it more than a week.)

4) Speaking of love, I went to Thong, a Thai Restaurant in Coredo Nihonbashi, last night with B and the waiter served us dessert in a heart-shaped bowl. (It’s also definitely time to have meals with guys who’re not romantically entangled, completely head over heels with other women or aren’t just friends.) My male friends here are beyond cool, but it’d be nice if the next time I see something heart-shaped, it induced something more than laughter.


* Sticky rice, mango, and coconut milk.

For our entrée, we shared Tom Yum Talay (spicy) soup.

Sayonara,
Val

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life

“It’s Getting Frosty,” but “I Hear Music In the Streets”

We keep the wall between us as we go. – Robert Frost (Mending Wall)

Hi Friends,

For the last two days, it has been rainy and cold in Tokyo. However, this morning I walked to work in the rain, grinning like a fat cat, singing “Borderline,” followed by Fulton Street,” then “Victim.” I paused in my tracks for a second, wondering why in hell I was feeling so euphoric, despite the settling chill. When the temperature drops below sixty and the sun’s nowhere to be found, my mood is usually in the toilet. And there I was, on a blustery day, singing on the way to work. To work! What the hell? I wondered if I’d finally gone over the edge into such a state that the only thing that could happen was a sudden and unhappy crash. Then, I got a grip on myself and continued to sing. Why not enjoy a moment for as long as it lasts?

My fear of fleeting happiness wasn’t unfounded. It seems in the past that when I have been deliriously, giddily happy, it was often followed by a period of sadness. Maybe I should rephrase that and say that it was hard for me to hold onto joy… largely because I was unable to bring down the many walls that I’d erected around me over the years. There is an art in appearing to be open and revealing nothing, an art I perfected. Let me tell you that in conversations, deflection is key.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall (…) –
Robert Frost (Mending Wall)

It always seemed the only way to protect myself from being emotionally crushed/devastated was to not let anyone get too close. There were people, who refused to let me push them away, but for almost every close friend or lover I had (the lovers were few), I rejected them when I felt we’d reached our peak of closeness. I’m still not quite sure why up until now I haven’t laid on a strange man’s couch (a professional that is). I systematically, subconsciously, made myself miserable. Things couldn’t be too good; bliss couldn’t be trusted.

Thankfully, many of my friendships were able to recover my temporary insanities. I’ve asked my friends how they would know if I ever truly “lost it,” as many of my past actions have pointed to the road of crazy. They assure me they’d be able to assess my level of crazy and tell the doctors to let me have the bed with the view. Somehow, I feel this note is repaying one small karmic debt.

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour. –
Robert Frost (Nothing Gold Can Stay)

Life is fleeting, but for as long as we’re here, our happiness doesn’t need to be. I can trust my feeling of contentment and hold it close; I won’t dim my joy to make others who want to be miserable and complain feel better.  Sustainable happiness can be achieved by adhering to the spiritual laws laid out so clearly and concisely by the gurus; the messages I’m holding close to my heart are: Don Miguel Ruiz’s “Don’t take anything personally” (from The Four Agreements),  Deepak Chopra’s “This moment is as it should be, because the entire universe is as it should be” (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success) and the Bible’s encouragement to “forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).

Only good things friends, only good things.

Ciao for now,

Val

 

 

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life

Letter from Tokyo: Bulleting Life or A Life in Bullets

Just another day, living in the hood. Just another day around the way. Feeling good today. — Queen Latifah (Just Another Day)

Dear Friends,

  • In school we learn that we need food, water and oxygen to survive. How is it that no adult has sued on the basis of miseducation? We need food, water, oxygen and money to survive… and the greatest of all these is money, because it provides the others plus clothing, shelter and happiness. Don’t fight me on this one, money provides happiness. The greatest words ever written were that, “Man can’t live on bread alone;” and neither can woman.
  • Even in an exciting, foreign locale, life settles around one’s feet. However, when one’s cash flow is tight, life doesn’t just settle, it straight up thuds, and almost severs pinky toes.

(Let me pause here and tell you that I’m writing this on the second floor of McDonalds near the Oshiage Station eating some tremendous fries. I’m looking at a woman staring at her own reflection in the window. She’s taking slow drags of her cigarette, and she taps her foot to every third clash in the song (classical music). She looks more bored than pensive, and I know she’s imagining herself in a Parisian cafe).

  • Though my primary purpose for being in Japan is to save money, it seems that these weeks have been some of the brokest of my life… and that’s saying a hell of alot for a woman who lived on sardines and cornflakes for weeks.
  • In 2008, I was so broke that I had the bright idea to market and sell my poverty by producing a line of tee-shirts. The tee-shirts would be called Poor People’s Tees and have slogans like: “Piss Poor Princess,” “Poor People Need Love Too,” and the really insightful, “Poverty Sucks.” The tee-shirts would only be available in black and brown, because there is no happy, shiny poverty, as much as artists and brokies try to tell you otherwise.
  • The point of the previous bullet is that I know what it’s like to be living on the last dollar, but thankfully, and unlike many others, I know who I can call when the last drop of stone soup is finished. I’m not complaining, and most days I feel really euphoric… (could be left over Vivarin in my system from 1996, but who am I to question bliss?). I also recognize that this brokie macbrokerson period is temporary. In 27 days, only 27 more days, I’ll get paid again, and not just for five days, but for a full month. Soon, life will be better than normal.
  • Though I’m strapped for cash, and not expecting to do much this month in terms of sightseeing or hanging out, I know life is full of surprises. I’ve already received an email saying that money’s tight for all, yet we should meet up for drinks ’cause Thursday’s a holiday (yet another holiday). Can I argue with holiday logic? The answer is no.
  • Deepak Chopra said it best:

Relinquish your attachment to the known, step into the unknown, and you will step into the field of all possibilities. In your willingness to step into the unknown, you will have the wisdom of uncertainty factored in. This means that in every moment of your life, you will have  excitement, adventure, mystery. You will experience the fun of life.

So friends, I’m going to act now, step out of the known, this smoke-filled Mickey Ds; step out of the known of fretting about money; and step into the unknown night.

Ciao,

Val

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People (Unreal life)

Herbie

It’s been awhile since Herbie the Lovebug’s been in the public eye. I’d assumed that he was living off his Hollywood earnings in Boca Raton, or cruising along the streets of Malibu without a worry in the world. Like everyone else, I surmised that Herbie’s star turn and subsequent riches had put him in the lap of luxury for life (good muffler, paint jobs, transmission, shocks). Imagine my surprise when on my way to work I saw Herbie sitting on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd and Warren Street. What’s Herbie doing in Newark; once an original Brat Packer, has his life come to this? Of course, even more than twenty years later, I’d recognize Herbie anywhere; after all, as a child I’d seen all of his movies and even dreamed of one day possessing my very own love bug.

Seeing Herbie on the corner, looking a little worse for wear, reinforced the third agreement in Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements that one should “not make assumptions.” I haven’t heard anything about Herbie since the eighties, nor have I called his publicists to check in, so why would I think that all was fine with him? It’s been a shock to see that Herbie’s not okay, as anyone or thing sitting on the corner of Warren Street on a Wednesday morning needs help/comfort/hope.

Now, I’ve been reflecting about my other assumptions. Just yesterday, I was speaking to the “Voice of Reason,” aka Tanique, about my forthcoming move to Paris. I’d started to get a twinge of nervousness regarding finding employment at the end of a four week course I’m taking (mind you, the same course is also offered across the bridge). I bought a ticket for three months, and somewhere in my mind, I must’ve made an assumption that I wouldn’t get a job in that time, so I called Valic and AXA about cashing out both of my retirement plans. I’d also made the assumption that I’d love the City of Light so much that I’d do anything to stay, including becoming a student yet again. I spent a good portion of yesterday researching programs, so that I could obtain a student visa, and ensure at least a solid year.

Not only had I broken the agreement not to make assumptions, but I’d broken Chopra’s first spiritual law of success to chill out and live in the present moment. The Voice of Reason told me “No.” No to all niggling doubts and assumptions. No to racking up debt for a degree to stay in a country I may not love as much as I imagine I will. No to dipping into both savings plans, because according to her a job will come either in Paris or somewhere else. Leaving and moving elsewhere would be fine. No to worry, the antithesis of faith/belief.

So, yes to new adventures. Yes to living in the present moment, but still planning for the future. Yes to believing in myself, but knowing that I have others to lean on. Yes to not assuming (trying hard as hell at least). Yes to living fully while I’m healthy and able. Yes to appreciating and loving all that I’ve been given (including The Voice of Reason).

Herbie

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