Monthly Archives: November 2007

NO MORE LESSONS, NO MORE CURES

This week, I seem to be fascinated by people and things in a way that I haven’t been for quite a while. It’s the sort of week that shows me how much I still have to learn. In a good way. Like, at nearly 23 I’m still very much a kid, and the prospect of gaining more insight into myself and others is an exciting one. There are a number of reasons why this week has been different from others, most of them above my head, but I think the fact that I have been so fascinated means that people have been more willing to tell me things. You can’t fake interest.

I’ve decided that some array of endorphins is released when I speak a lot. Tuesday was a very good day, largely because I was talking for much of it. I feel a similar way when I play goalkeeper in futsal, barking constant instructions to beleaguered teammates. For people who naturally talk loads it probably isn’t such a big deal, but for me – the archetypal strong and silent individual – it’s kind of a rush to have people paying attention and responding to my words. The deal on Tuesday was that I had to trek in to Shinjuku for training in the morning, then halfway back to Yokohama for regular work in the afternoon, and finally home. All up, I was out of the house for a 15 hour stretch, and much of that time was spent talking, so when I arrived home at 23:30 I was exhausted but utterly content.

During one of the many group conversations, I realised something about myself. I’m pretty good at working off what other people say, throwing in comments or adding to (or subtracting from) their words. When I have to produce, I’m not nearly as strong. It’s like being an art critic, I s’pose: you consume and you react, but you never create. Maybe it’s the fault of my hundreds of film reviews that my conversation relies so heavily on the words of others. Or maybe it’s the thousands of hours of self-imposed solitude undertaken during my teenage and university years. It’s not a problem, anyway. If I’m verbalizing and the people are responding positively, everything is fine – who cares whether the inspiration comes from within or without?

The only difference is in relaying a well-rehearsed story. But an organically well-rehearsed story, mind. Last Friday this American guy swore loudly at me, repeatedly, both across a crowded bar and in my face, so of course I used that story whenever people asked me what I did over the weekend. After about four or five tellings, I knew how to make it more interesting than it should be. What to dwell on, what to cull. By that point, it isn’t so much production as it is recitation. Thing is, though, I rehearsed it in actual situations, learning how to tell it by, well, telling it, rather than sitting and studying notes and getting all the words right in my head. That organic practice-without-thinking leads to a story that flows naturally and gets the reaction you want it to.

So I have two modes: /respond and /recite. Oh, and /listen, the default mode where I don’t speak at all. Cool, I can live with that. But you’d think that such an individual would find it difficult to make friends, right? If they have little of worth to say out of their own head, and they know it, how do they go about convincing other people that they’re an interesting person worthy of your time? (Clearly I can’t stop thinking about how others see me, though it’s less with concern and more with curiosity as each year passes.)

And yet somehow, it happens. How does that work? How is it that people are drawn to me and have a relationship with me that is unlike that with anybody else? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe that’s just how I feel at times. Maybe that’s what friendship is at its fundamental level, a deeper connection that means something only to the two of you and nothing to anybody else. You build up your own language, your own points of reference, and you become comfortable enough with each other to show things that you usually hide. At the beginning it’s all building, which is why it doesn’t quite feel natural for a little while. Of course this is just one theory, and probably only holds true in selected situations. Some people walk into your life like you’ve known them forever. I guess it depends on the person.

At one point in Dance Dance Dance, the last book I read, the narrator draws a diagram connecting all the people around him at that point of his life, and it was interesting to see it all laid out like that, sort of like one of those ‘six degrees of separation’ diagrams. Thing was, there were no more than two or three connections for each individual on that map, but if he’d put himself on there, he could’ve drawn connections from himself to every single other person. Weird, that. I’m not too different, yet I’m nobody special for knowing all these people. I’m just here. I s’pose Facebook does the same thing. I wonder, does that map get smaller as you age? Like everything else, it probably depends on the individual.

So yeah, it was just the sort of day I relish, with one positive hit after another. A steady stream of people I could talk to and not feel stupid about myself with. Those strong, euphoric or flattening experiences – having children, fearing for your life, meeting The One, watching 2 Fast 2 Furious – are what you remember and tell people about year after year. However, I can’t help feeling that days of pure contentment such as this are what really matter. Most of us only have 2 or 3 truly life-changing events happen to us, and they do have a profound impact, but the compound effect of all those happy days and their simple delights is an immeasurably greater influence.

Those days are what shape me as a person, more than anything else. Same goes for the bad days. Big things come and go, but day-to-day life is always there, so I reckon if you’re waking up in the morning and you feel like getting out of bed, you’re doing okay.

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PUT THE SPEAKERS IN THE WINDOW

Personal living space matters differently to different people. I think its importance to an individual depends on how much time they spend in it – if you prefer to be out of the house, you tend not to mind coming home to a little box with a bed and a chest of drawers, while if you spend a lot of time in your home, you value having a space that you’re happy to occupy. I belong in the second camp, given as I am to reading on the interwebs, watching films and TV series, and playing the odd game. My legs are slowly turning to jelly through lack of exercise, but I’m enjoying myself, and I’m going to start running the day after tomorrow so screw you.

For the vast majority of my life, my living space has been perfectly acceptable. Except maybe that year without a door on my room, or the first two years at school in a dormitory with 14 other boys. Even my last flat in Christchurch, a particularly small place by NZ standards, was acceptable – while my room was tiny, it had a separate lounge and kitchen, so I could waste time in them without feeling hemmed in.

When it came to light that I was going to move to Japan, I had this picture in my head of me in a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats, sliding doors, and a futon that I pack away each morning. That wasn’t what I got. Instead, I was given a room that, subtracting the bed, desk, clothes rack and chest of drawers from the equation, only had about 1.5 square metres of floor space. Not only that, but there was no real lounge to speak of, just an austere kitchen/dining area. I was happy to be in Japan, of course, but it kind of sucked coming home each night to such an unwelcoming space. Students told me it was small even by Japanese standards. And as for bringing other people round, fuggedaboudit.

My relentlessly pragmatic brain didn’t get upset, though. It just said ‘right, we must find a new space where we can make rays of sunshine and pink unicorn’s tails’ – to wit, a new, better place. Rather than putting any sort of plan into action, however, I half-heartedly performed online searches and sent off a sum total of 0 inquiries. Then, a little over two weeks ago, a gentleman brought an advertisement for his small guest house to one of the schools I teach at. It told of a place in beautiful Kamakura with a big, traditional room in a decent location. I fired off an email and went to check it out.

Of course it was just like the picture I had in my head. Why wouldn’t it be? I was lucky in getting my job, lucky in meeting certain people here, now exceedingly lucky to have something like my dream living space fall into my lap. I took it, and moved in last Friday. Now I live in one of my favourite places I’ve visited, in a space I adore, with wonderful people for landlords and a month-to-month contract (should something else miraculously turn up). You never appreciate things until they’re gone, and now that I’ve gone a few months of preferring not to go home to my tiny cupboard of a room, by golly, I’m appreciative of this.

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