Archive for July, 2006

Absolutely Fabulous

July 31, 2006

Nothing can bring me down for too long — not even lunatic spinsterhood — given my apartment, an engrossing novel, enchanting music, my bike, sunshine, and a park nearby. Later, under a gentle night sky, I had spread cheese, crackers, and a chilled bottle of white wine out on the balcony and had read from the flickering light of a Turkish candle holder.

A perfect Sunday — altogether a dream.

Throughout the day I was reminded of the most beautiful opening to any book I have read, written by James Salter in “A Sport and a Pastime”:

September. It seems these luminous days will never end.

— Only it is still July, and the glory will continue for at least another month or two. By the time September rolls in, I will have made myself a new, somewhat more solidified self.

Violated

July 30, 2006

I got my apartment broken into today.

But it’s not what you think. My own fine parents broke into my apartment. This is how it happened.

I had been refusing to get up this morning, partly due to the bottle of white wine I singlehandedly downed last night, and partly due to the fact that I had nothing planned this particular Saturday save for an evening of fireworks in Asakusa with my friend Ali. Besides, moping around in bed (even if single) is one of the best ways to spend a weekend.

Around 1:30PM, my cell phone started trembling in fear. (I had it set in silent mode.) Then my home phone started ringing nonstop. Then, the door bell rang. Again, and again.
Who the hell comes to a girl’s apartment unannounced? Could it be the ex-fiance trying to evacuate his stuff out of my apartment? I tiptoed to the front door and peered through the peephole, only to find my mother pacing impatiently outside.

This was very bad news. Just two days ago, my mother had called me at work and managed to phrase things in a way that ripped open my heart’s wound. I subsequently had a nervous breakdown at work. I consequently had to explain to my female coworkers about the jerk who dumped me — which actually flourished into a liberating discussion on the shortcomings of husbands and almost-husbands.

Anyway, I decided I’d have nothing to do with my mother for at least a week. From where her conversation was leading the last time we talked, it was clear that she wanted me to get back together with my ex. But why in the world would you want to feed your daughter alive to a narcissist who wants only to succeed at work and doesn’t give a damn about family life? Obviously, this mother saw that his credentials were more important than his personality. Or, lack thereof.

So I kept on ignoring my mother. The calls, the rings, and the knocks on my door continued. I even received an email saying something to the effect of “I’ll be back, I know you’re there.” Then she really did leave. I gleefully went upstairs to the loft and practiced my mid-day Ashtanga yoga. An hour later, while I lay blissfully in shavasana position, the calls, door bell, and incessant banging on the door returned to haunt me.

I decided — and this was my BIG mistake — to ignore everything. I went back to bed for another nap. I couldn’t dare take a shower or open the fridge and take out my chilled bottle of water, in fear they will find me out.

Before I knew it, I heard bewildering shouts below my living room window. Then, the sharp sound of a window being opened in haste. And then — sounds of someone trying to crawl in through my living room window. Oh, the utter terror of knowing that someone is violating your private, sacred space — someone with dirty shoes, a crow bar, and of unknown identity! Meanwhile, I was still in bed and dressed rather skimpily. I didn’t budge. I didn’t dare make any sound. The guy went straight for the front door. God forbid, is he letting his buddies in?

Yes. My parents, actually.

I couldn’t even look at them, I was so raving mad. What were they thinking!? Are daughters’ apartments property upon which parents claim unlimited access to? What if this hired professional “key opener” guy returns in the cloak of night to rob me stiff? The worst part is, they brought along my ex. Apparently they were all quite chummy. They had formed a secret coalition against my imperfections, against every little thing I did wrong in my life — and they were there to point fingers at me.

Wait just a minute here. Were I the one who got dumped? Were I the one whose apartment got broken into by some stranger hired by my own parents?? Am I insane to think I have a right to be upset?

And of course, my ex added to the damage by calling my landlord and telling on him. Oh, great. Wonderful. Now my landlord thinks I’m some kind of psycho who loves to scare the pants off of family and friends. Just fabulous.

I remained cynical for the rest of the afternoon. I actually chuckled to myself when I witnessed my ex explaining to my father about why he decided to leave me. In all seriousness and dolour, he was explaining about the magic little chair that flew. My dad, similarly dead-serious, was nodding in agreement and saying, “Uh-huh. The chair. Terrible.” They could have been discussing business for all I know. Men are so pretentious sometimes.

Overall, a surreal afternoon. I had to miss the Asakusa fireworks. Afterwards I drank too much coffee to assuage my anger, and here I am writing my bloody little blog at 4 in the friggin’ morning. I absolutely refuse to acknowledge that half my weekend had already gone.

The Process of Grieving

July 28, 2006

Without music, I would have no doubt disintegrated into a puddle of blood and tears by now. Music kept me sane. There was a procedure in which music helped me (or, is helping me) heal.

satie.jpg

First, there was Satie. Only “Gymnopedies” resisted the silence as my former fiance and I ate supper in resignation. Later there was “Sarabande” when we talked to each other about our own destruction.

teion.jpg

Then there was Teion Kankyo — literally “low(bass) sound environment” — when I was really in the low. This unit consists of Daisuke Fuwa, conductor extraordinaire of Shibusa Shirazu, and his fellow tuba-toting bandmate, Daisuke Takaoka. It’s solid good music, and of course it’s good listening even if you’re grieving about nothing in particular.

ivy_itc_300.jpg

Then, once I’ve cried so much I felt dessicated and frigid, I succumbed to a long, lusty sleep until my cells started answering to other desires. It happened to be very early in the morning when I did finally get up. I had to listen to Ivy’s In The Clear. Especially the very first tune, “Nothing But The Sky.” I keep hearing its echoes at random lonely moments of the day.

cannonball_bn.JPG

Once Cannonball’s Bossa Nova started ringing in my ears, I knew I was headed towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

evans_alone.jpg

But of course we all have our ups and downs, and I teeter off the pinnacle of my alcoholic euphoria — and then Bill Evans comes into the limelight. Alone is classicly tragic. It’s the perfect music to feel sorry for oneself.

evans_symphony.jpg

Same Bill Evans, but I knew I’ve come a long way when I wanted to listen to the Symphony Orchestra piece. There’s still much melancholiness, but a new dimension emerges out of this music — a majestic calm. A beautiful, majestic calm. Like an elephant’s stride or a lily’s gait. It made my problems appear so petty.

handsofguido.jpg

It’s like flying (I imagine so — I’ve never flown.) When you sense a slight tremor in the wind telling you of an updraft, you ride it. You have to catch the wind when you can, and not worry about the inevitable fall that comes afterwards. Sometimes this means drinking yourself silly. Sometimes it means spending oodles of money on whimsical purchases such as a pair of suade leather stack-heeled high heels the color of midnight, or an airplane ticket across the Pacific. Sometimes music can do this for you. And Satoru Shionoya’s “Hands of Guido” will do this for you. Not only does it take you up in a whirlwind in energetic numbers like “According to La Meteo” and “Skinnydipper,” it later cushions your fall in a series of delicate numbers like “Azami,” “En Harmonie,” and “4-0-10-5” (click here for a video clip about the last title.)

And then, finally there’s…

aretha.jpg

Aretha!

When I came this far, I knew life was eventually going to be okay again. I still have the occasional crying bouts and severe nights of insomnia, but I thank all my amazing friends for their time, understanding, and willingness to hear me swear and bitch. Family is a little too close and a little too much to handle during times of crises. Parents all too often look to the past, and try their damnedest to restore what’s been broken. Friends, on the other hand, are keys to future doors. They tell me to keep looking ahead. They make me laugh. I am truly blessed with good people all around me — surely they have their own personal crises too, but they choose not to dwell on it for the sake of making me feel human again. And that makes me want to look ahead in life, so that I may someday return their favors.

The Magical Little Chair That Could

July 23, 2006

urban_chair.jpg

This is a magical chair.

It has a strange and potent power to charm people’s minds.

A very similar type of chair can be found and bought at IKEA (a bargain at 5500 yen), but no — this is not just your regular IKEA chair. This is a story about a magic little chair that could break off a marriage engagement.

The magic little chair sits in the dining room of an unspecified household. The Groom-To-Be had always hated it. He said it looked and felt hideously artificial, and the Bride-To-Be couldn’t blame him: the chair is made of reinforced polypropylene and synthetic rubber. Not your regular eco-friendly, mother-naturely chair. But anyway it was cheap, sleek, and readily transportable from the IKEA store to the dining room. In the absence of a car or a Groom-To-Be’s help, the Bride-To-Be had carried two such chairs from the store via public transportation.

One day, the Bride-To-Be and the Groom-To-Be had a little quarrel in the dining room. The Bride had wanted to shop for wedding bands. The Groom refused, flashing his anger as he spoke. “I’m never wearing a ring on my finger, and I’m never buying one for you. If you still want one, go and buy it yourself.” The Bride burst into tears. At this, the Groom quit the dining room and started vacuuming the living room with appalling ferocity.

The Bride sighed. She knew that at times like this, it was best not to bother him for a while. She arranged things in the dining room so that it might be easier for the Groom to vacuum. She pushed the fan into the corner of the room, tucked away the piano chair, and gathered up the newspapers strewn on the floor. Then she picked up the magic little chair and stacked it over the sofa.

Then, the magic little chair did its little magic. It flew.

It made a rather unsubtle racket as it crashed to the floor. The roar of the vacuum cleaner stopped dead in its tracks. The Groom came sauntering into the dining room to find the magic little chair lying helplessly on its side. Slowly he asked the Bride, “Did you kick the chair?” “No, I didn’t,” replied the Bride, “It just fell.” She didn’t tell him that she had arranged it on the sofa so that he may enjoy an easier time with the vacuuming.

The Groom went back to the living room. Pretty soon, he was packing up his things to leave. The bride, stepping out of a quick refreshing shower, was bewildered. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the office to fetch some important papers,” the Groom said. He left unceremoniously, and that was the last the Bride ever saw of him for a long time.

For two weeks, the Bride spent her days waiting for the Groom to return her calls or acknowledge her e-mails. But no word ever came from the Groom. Confusion turned into anger. Anger slowly turned into despair. Despair slowly morphed into concerns over his physical well-being, and this is when the Bride started binge-drinking every night. Was he sick? Did he mess with the wrong crowd and get buried alive in some lonely mountain landfill? The tears were limitless.

Then, on the 14th day, the Groom finally answered the Bride’s call. “We have to talk, whether you like it or not,” the Bride said. The Groom agreed to come home in time for supper.

The talk was not very forthcoming, so the Bride finally shot a Rodong into his airfield. “Why do you want to leave me?” she asked. It was then that the Groom dropped the Taepodong. “The chair,” he said. “You kicked the chair. I can’t spend the rest of my life with someone who goes around kicking chairs when she’s upset.”

“The chair?… I don’t understand. I never kicked it. You mean… when you were vacuuming?” “Yes.” “Oh, GOD. GOD, no! I just stacked it on top of the sofa so you won’t have to vacuum around the chair!”

“Oh……………………”

Silence. The two airfields lay battered with smoke and debris.

For two weeks, the Groom had played in his mind a terrible image of his butt-ugly fiancee kicking the magic little chair around in rage. For two weeks, the Bride sat on that very chair and pondered death.

The Groom realized that his vision had been mistaken. He apologized, and regretted the two weeks he had lost. He wondered out loud if they could start all over again. But things were never going to be the same, regardless of the apology, the ring, or the chair.

And so it was that the magic little chair altered the lives of two people forever. The chair is doing very well, supporting the butt of the butt-ugly ex-Bride-To-Be as she types this.

Mr. Tomita’s Diaries

July 21, 2006

A set of diaries and journals is about to change the course of Japanese history.

In my mind, Nihon Keizai Shimbun‘s discovery and publication of Tomohiko Tomita’s journal entries (related article in The New York Times, among others) on Thursday, 20th July, revealed at least two precious truths:

ONE — and this is what made the news — that Emperor Showa (Hirohito) refrained from visits to Yasukuni Shrine after 1975 due to his “strong displeasure” over the honoring of Class A war criminals at said shrine since 1978; and

TWO — this is what personally moved me to tears — that diaries can provide so much insight into the author’s life that normally remain intangible and change too quickly for the mind to register — things like the softness of heart, degrees of humilitude, clarity with which one regards the future, gratitude, mood, affection, hope.

Mr. Tomita embodied a beautiful respect for the Emperor, and wrote it down in his journals with habitual brevity. His diaries and journals continued without fail for 22 years. He is terse but warm. He is caring without being self-conscious. His prose exudes humbleness, a willful quietness that purposefully steered clear of political waters.

More than the political impact these diaries will have on the ongoing debate about Prime Minister Jun-chan’s visits to the war shrine, Mr. Tomita’s embodiment of the Japanese concept of giri-ninjo (義理人情) deserves historical credit.

One entry in particular profoundly moved me:

一九七八年 九月一六日

長官になって三カ月半。俺一人少なくとも毅然として在りたいとひそかに思い、この夏を過ごした。数えて見れば那須往復は七度。だいぶ那須になじんだ。両陛下にも近く又親しくお話できた。あのお人柄。戦いの日々―細川日記でも間接ながら知りうる―終戦から三十年。一人で胸にしまわれて行動されてきたのである。

16th September 1978

Three and a half months since I became Grand Steward [of the Imperial Household Agency]. I spent this summer secretly wishing that I alone will at least remain a dignified existence. The number of times I have accompanied His Highnesses to Nasu totals seven. I have grown quite accustomed to Nasu. I was able to exchange intimate conversations with His Highnesses. Such fine character. Those days of fighting — one can know indirectly from the Hosokawa Diaries — it’s been thirty years since the war’s end. His Highness has kept those thoughts locked inside his heart and have come this far alone. 

(Excerpted from Nihon Keizai Shimbun 21st July 2006; translation mine)

I wish I can find better words to describe the sense of revered affection oozing out from beneath Mr. Tomita’s quiet words. Somehow I am reminded of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day.” 28 years later, Mr. Tomita’s words has provided this miserable wretch a reason not to forfeit life.

The World According to Bush

July 20, 2006

“What they need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.”

Kicking the Habit

July 19, 2006

It really doesn’t do ANY good to write depressing things when you’re already depressed. Only a few opportunities in life present themselves with an excuse to shamelessly dote on yourself, so why not seize the moment? Let decadence rule tonight — especially after a hard day’s work!

Music of choice: Kylie Minogue’s “Fever.” Over and over and over again. Karaoke-ing to “Love at First Sight” while playing Zookeeper over and over and over again. Have you ever gone past level 8 or scored higher than 21,000? You play better than moi!

Friends are antidotes. They’re also a little like drugs. Friends far and near sheath me from pain and numb me from the unbearable miserable-ness of being. Thank you, Eli. Thank you, Kaoru.

And thank you, Usman, for the funniest postcard I’ve ever harvested out of my mailbox. It bears Piet Mondrian’s “Trafalgar Square” from the MoMA in NYC. God, I miss NYC. And it would be so lovely to visit Radhi in London again. Turning over the postcard I find, in lieu of the hackneyed “Dear XXX, How are you?” etc., four irregular rows of… O’s. It’s a very long and expressive “soooooooooooooo.” It’s part of the beginning of an enigmatic sentence to be continued onto postcard #2, and I am already expectant of its arrival. It’s Usman, my funniest Bhoma. Friends are also a bit like Bhoma. What is Bhoma??

Hanabi

July 16, 2006

Sometimes I feel like everything is about to crumble inside.

Usually it starts off with a lousy misfortune. A petty mistake at work, perhaps. Or a fiance gone AWOL. That starts the ball rolling, and a sense of crisis slowly starts building up. Usually I can’t help myself. I watch, filled with a mixture of subjective fear and objective anticipation, as I tumble deeper and deeper into depression.

The depth and duration of these depressions vary. I used to hurt myself in all sorts of trivial ways to make myself feel more sorry for myself, or to ask for help in a round about way. Sometimes I contemplated on neat, painless deaths. I never could commit to the final act, obviously. I am too chicken — too blessed a chicken to really bring myself to end it all. I own too many precious things.

These days I’ve settled on spasmodic walking journeys with no destination, no map. Last Sunday I walked from Odaiba to Meguro in the drizzling rain. Today I walked from Meguro to Shinagawa, which wasn’t where I wanted to end my journey but thank capitalism for all those commercial traps and thank JR for the nice train ride. I really couldn’t have walked all the way to Yokohama in one day.

Once I got there I settled on dinner at Jonathan’s and waited until 7:30pm. And this is what I got at 7:30pm.

hanabi.jpg

Fireworks. In Yokohama.

I wasn’t planning on seeing them at all. In fact, I had to turn down a friend’s offer to go see it together because I thought I was going to attend another friend’s spoken word gig in Harajuku tonight. I had to ditch that one too — depression does not make for a very reliable friend.

The view of the fireworks were distant and obstructed (I watched from an overpass above Shin-Koyasu station), but thankfully it made me forget that I had wanted to make myself miserable. I think I was actually happy while I watched those artistic bombs explode and die. It was cathartic. It felt good to see something else crumble to its death so brilliantly. Yet another sign telling me to go on and live my life.

A Hard Life

July 16, 2006

Living in Tokyo is a challenge — maybe more so for plants than humans. A roadeside sunflower still grows toward the sun even after some heartless scoundrel tried breaking off its stem. Signs like this give me hope.

sunflower.jpg

otona?

July 12, 2006

今日は新宿国際名画座に行ってきた。ちょっと大人になった気分。

今年の夏は、いろんな意味で大人になれと背中を押してくれている。大人として責任を持って対処しなければならない試練をいろいろ与えてくれている。

弟に「寿の便り」 なんて言い回しをされて、そんなフレーズを聞いたこともなかったこの姉としては、そろそろ本当に大人にならなければいけない。

いままで自力で生きていける自身がなくて、ずっとまわりの人に迷惑をかけてきた。実際、ひとりじゃ恐くて寂しくて、死んだほうがマシだと思える日もあるけど、それでもなんとか自力で生きていかなきゃいけないんだね。それがotonaっつうことですかな。そう自覚した理由は、もちろん国際名画座ではない。