Letter Home From Japan

I am still in Tokyo.  It has been more than a year since setting foot back on this volcanic archipelago of my childhood.  In many ways, the Japan that I remeber has crumbled into the sea.  That Japan stays forever in my memory, but what remains – presently – before me, is a land of opportunity.  It is like my ‘wild west’ has shot far past California and the Polynesian islands to come full circle and rest here in the ever-renewing, ever-crumbling Land of the Rising Sun.

Here, I can be what I want to be.  I can be White or Asian, American or European.  I can be an Artist or a Businessman or a Scientist.  I can be young or old, exotic or commonplace…  whatever I say is what I am.

I am trying to produce this show.  Starting in June, I go to Taiwan to make a new circus show.  I am working with a director friend of mine as new project coordinator and assistant director.  I am trying to produce the Japanese leg of the tour.  We are also directing the first major modern circus festival in Asia.  We get to work with former classmates, cirque du soleil artists, and some of the biggest names in circus today.  I will finally be a “producer” with a company starting to making a name for itself.  I am brokering deals larger than any I ever imagined while living in a one-room apartment with two Lithuanian roommates and no shower.

I’m reading voraciously.  At least two books a week.  Science journals.  Social criticism.  Philosophy.  Novels.  I read in French, in English, in Japanese, anything to stay mentally active.

Most people aren’t as interesting as these opportunities are so I don’t lose to much time to social things.  The friends I do have are as close to me as they are different from each other.  Journalists, politicians, teachers, public relations experts.  They keep me moving in different circles from each other so the water around me cstays clean and swiftly-flowing.

I have my vices…  I like to drink, I drink a lot every couple of weeks, and I like flirting with women.  I’m liking it a lot more than I was liking having a girlfriend.  Every month, I find I need to spend money on a nice dinner and show to feel like (despite my less than luxurious living conditions) can still appreciate finer things from time to time.

I get job offers frequently for nice, stable jobs that I will not like.  Interviewing for such jobs helps me practice negotiation and learn for myself that business is all about convincing people that they need you, and then proving it.  It is about finding out what you are worth, knowing what you are worth, getting more, and then living up to it.

I am enjoying myself, but whenever I give myself a break, I get depressed.  A fifteen-minute break from the computer writing business emails or running from meeting to meeting makes me feel like I am building everything on a lie; that everything is escaping me.  I wake up in the middle of the night to edit publicity videos, to write web pages, to contact investors.  I am never alone from my thoughts.

This is why I love meeting people.  They provide the best way to escape my own head.  I simply enter theirs, care about what they care about, and learn about a world that is as alien as any extraterrestrial planet:  my world as seen by someone else.

I am forcing myself to take a break.  I will go to Hawaii and Minnesota at the end of March, and will only allow myself 3 business stops a week of no more than 4 hours each.  I will think of nothing, and write all the time.  I will climb mountains and hike rainforests and drive in lazy loops and piercing treks across the plains.  I will excersise outside and breathe clean air and smoke a cigar on the beach.

All this will come to an end.  If I accomplish what I truly hope to accomplish in the next two years, it is time for another change.  It is time for university; it is degree time.

I am sure that someday in my life I will grow up and settle down.  I am sure that someday I will find a way to keep my mind on one path, but for now, at age 28, there are so many mountains to climb and so many paths to take.

Science, art, business, politics, writing… who know what it all means and where it all leads.

At least I have moments, every couple of weeks or so; in the neon underbrush of Shibuya or the quiet, European streets lining the inside of the Yamanote loop… in Japanese lessons with the woman who has taught my father, sister, and me for almost 22 years…  biking through the rain, or drinking a fragrant, inky wine with a beautiful woman over a savory meal and spicy political discourse a quarter mile above the quiet chaos below…  when I can step outside of myself, my life, into the realm where I exist close to the people I love – my family – a place far removed from the four dimensions of everyday life.

Where your presence warms my spirit and moves my soul and makes me understand that wherever I go, whatever I do, I am not alone in the world.

I hope to make you all proud someday,

Your loving son and brother,

The Travelling Acrobat

Superspy Mythos

A friend of mine told me that my life out here sounds like an anime – asked if I’ve been fighting off attackers on motorcycles…I wish I could say that I was, but the only part of my life that comes close to these fantasy visions is some watered-down version of the hard-drinking, “love-em and leave-em” cliche of the superspy mythos.

Which was cool for a long time, I guess, but it is true that as thirty catches up to you, you start to wonder what the future is going to hold.

But on the other hand, with a hip-flask of tequila in your breast pocket and your index finger hooked around a Cuban at a jazz club “somewhere in Asia” as a mysterious woman with an accent looks happier and happier to see you as the night goes on, there is something to be said for the superspy mythos…

That’s not to say this is what I do on a day to day basis…  moments like that are just perks.

So that’s me, living a life that is stressful with money that comes in spurts… I wish I was more responsible with it, I wish I was less lonely sometimes, but I am glad that there are enough distractions around when I am…

Maybe I’ll even try to get in a fight with one of these scooter-kids out here tonight.

Fatigue

Things here have been crazy, and complicated.  My life has not been as productive, especially from the creative point of view, as I wish that it could have been for a lot of reasons.

For example, I still haven’t been able to get back to writing.  I want to, but for some reason, I feel like I need to wait for something more – like if I write now I will look back on it years later and just feel like I was wasting my time for not seeing things more clearly!

It’s weird.  In a way, in all the things I create, I see a trend to use less and less.  my writing becomes starker, my choreographies become simpler, my music becomes less cluttered…

A perfectly straight and rigid blade extending to the horizon, organic, imperfect, simple simplicity.  No words to describe it other than “it is” but only understandable be people seeing it for themselves.  All artists see it from times to time; something so beautiful that it puts tears on your cheeks before they even have a chance to wet your eyes.  when emotion sucks the breath out of your rib cage in a short burst, or when you see so deeply into the night sky that you see something that you never saw before.

Did you know that there is a structure to the darkest part of the night sky?  I remember peering through a telescope at it as a child.  It was velvet on my eyes, like the skin of a sea cucumber in my hands on a small volcanic island off the coast of Japan as an awkward 13-year old with big glasses, no girlfriend, and ill-fitting, too-bright synthetic-fibered clothes.  This ugly lump of flesh, this specimen of divine design.  A simple little sea creature with the night sky for a coat; I felt like I was touching heaven.

The perfumed fuzz on the cheek of a woman sitting next to you dangling her bare feet in a rapidly flowing desert stream –her touch enough to send you sprawling backwards and upwards into the pastel collage of cobalt blue and black moleskin that pulled your brain out through your eyes as a child to send it back to you, twenty-two years later with a question that is its own response, wondering what you might have discovered today and what might turn you upsidedowncrazy tomorrow…

I start to think that all the women who have ever been in my life are just phantoms of the same one, all haunted by the spirit of themselves, and are cursed by the fact that I’ve known them all before…

Funny how the words that start a relationship off are so often reflected right back the other way at the end.

I feel a patina of grey just kissing the color that could have been had I just let things in more, or less, or had just made a decision between the two.

Fatigue.

Things that used to seem so clear now are all turned in on themselves like the valves of a heart.

I can’t even seduce a woman, anymore.  I smile to say “imagine I could say all the right things… would you?”  and they would.  I guess they are tired too.

Ah, but there are still those moments from time to time, those fleeting ribbons of red racing past my temples when I’m distracted by something else…

Triple Strawberrysweetshit to Numb the Pain

They have this great thing here in Tokyo: at a restaurant that is inexplicably named ‘BLDY’ (bloody? baldy? bliady (a lithuanian/russian swear word)?, there is an all-you can drink fruity cocktail bar for about $4.50.  Though I did not imbibe excessively, it was the site of my public breakdown over the recent drug overdose and death of a good friend from MIT, and The Political Scientist was kind enough to pour me a triple strawberrysweetshit and soda to numb the pain.  His loss is a real shock.  It is strange, he was far from someone that i thought of on a daily basis, but to think that he was out there somewhere doing the sorts of things that he did was a source of stability…  grounding in a way.  He was the kind of guy I was proud to tell stories about… one of the mad geniuses of my MIT past that I would dredge up every once and a while to dazzle the so non-technical artist types around me.

He was a brilliant man, and on top of that, the only other person I know who went from science and engineering wholeheartedly into the arts.  The things he made, you could hardly believe them when you saw them. His medium was light and technology, and his was the realm of bright and moving and huge and sublime…and it’s all gone now, he has been put into the ground, and for some reason, I have not been able to write for myself since hearing the news; haven’t written a word for the sake of writing since hearing about his death.  I have, however, started regularly emailing old friends and my family to get back in touch with them all.

Trying to get back to the writing is still a priority for me – I’m trying to continue exploring a method that uses stream-of-consciousness flow from one word to another to build forward momentum.

This is basically an application of a movement theater and choreography techniques to writing, that and the concepts of full stops, extension, and so forth.  I’m realizing that writing and theater and dance and acrobatics is all part of the same thing; different vantage points to look at the same infinite obsidian column extending up out of the salt flats of Utah.  Let’s say.

It’s like a magnificent hip hop/spoken word piece that I just listened to by none other than Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab.  The piece was called ‘Release,’ which starts out talking about being positive or some bullshit like that, but about halfway through it turns into this haunting and impeccably written object poem about life in a most balanced and subtle tone.  Brilliant.

It makes me think of parkour, which the French also call yamakasi (from the Congolese Lingala words ya makasi, or “strong in one’s person”).  All the videos I have seen (given, about two years ago) showed an art in the process of maturing.  I respect this idea of moving through space with a rhythm and a flow and an open mind – a free-form physical jazz reverberating in ‘found’ urban landscapes, but for me personally, I find that the actual technique needs development.

Jazz dance and ballet and even classical martial arts could bring so much to breakdance and parkour.  While the latter two are all about unlimited free expression, and their hardest-core proponents seem to see such suggestions as attempts to curb that freedom.  But there is a liberty in pushing yourself to master technique; as long as your goal is to transcend it.  In writing, acrobatics, dance, and love – life? Bloody, baldy, bliady?

Technique gives us the opportunity to convey a freely-conceived message that much more clearly, that much louder, to bounce off the uneven concrete walls in a flanging reverb of our own artistic impulses.

Clarity.

For me, anyways

 

Funeral Story

“Wake up.”

I moaned and curled up into a ball to hide from both the cold New England autumn air and my best friend who was on the other side of the room fiddling with an object on the floor.

“Wake up,” he repeated again and then paused, head down, eyes closed, before kicking the object hard.

The suitcase sailed through our cheap Vermont motel room and smacked into my side.  I grunted, and sighed, but did not move.

“You’re going to make me piss blood.”

The case fell to the ground, spilling its contents across maple flooring.

“Fuck,” Stephan stormed to the mess on the floor, gathered up the essentials, a shaving kit, his wallet, and a small plastic bag full of our drugs “if you want anything of this shit, bring it yourself.  I’ll be in the car, and I’m leaving in exactly three minutes.”

With that, wallet stuffed into the back pocket of too-large gray carpenter pants, he left the room and slammed the door behind him hard enough that the whole room vibrated.  Outside, I heard a car door open and slam, and an engine start.

“Two minutes!”

The sun was not up yet, and a cutting draft snuck between the windowpane and its ill-fitting frame.  Outside, a few late-October snowflakes swirled in lazy cyclones over the asphalt of the parking lot.  I pulled myself up to a sitting position and rubbed my eyes, the tequila from the night before slow to relinquish its hold on my fuzzy brain.  My shoes were at the foot of my bed, and as I bent over to reach for them, I had to fight back a sudden urge to empty the poisoned contents of my stomach all over the floor.

“One minute.”

This is a shitty way to start the day, I thought to myself, as I grabbed the shoes with one hand, and gave the gutted contents of the suitcase a cursory once-over.  Anything I really needed could be lifted from any convenience store or gas station along the way, so I left everything where it was and blearily stepped outside, barefoot and shivering.

“You’ve got ten seconds, mon ami,” headlights flared, “and then you can walk back to Boston for all I care.”

I picked my way carefully over the broken glass that littered the ground, fumbled the door open, and slid into the passenger side seat.

“Your father’s funeral better be worth all this,” I told him through chattering teeth as the car lurched forward.

Stephan clenched a cigarette tightly between pale lips drawn into a half-smile as he spoke in his twangy Quebecois accent, “It will be.  You’ll see.”

We peeled out onto the highway just as the grandmotherly innkeeper and her husband emerged from the office, gawking after us in tired confusion.

Lethargy And Paralysis

Lethargy has become the rule of the road for me now.  What road?  The road that winds me through the life that I no longer feel in control of.  I am lost now, and free at the same time.  I feel and see my body wasting away, unfed by the nutrients or the exercise that they are so used to.  At the same time, what it has for the first time in many years, is rest.  But it is so frustrating to see the work that went into keeping my body in shape to do what it needed to do, and to see that after just a bit of loss of focus, it can fall around me like a suit that fits too loosely…

The answer, of course, is fanatical dedication to a new regimen, one that dictates fatigue as being roughly necessary to the process of improvement.

And where, in all of this, does the notion of fairness or honesty to the people around me, specifically, those people who care about me or who wonder where I have disappeared to, what it is that I am doing?  Where is the idea of a narrative, of a character?  How do we know if we have an idea of genius or just one of stark convenience… maybe no one has ever done something like this simply because the idea is too damned pedestrian; too damned boring.

So this is my pledge to myself…

I will be at the gym for 4 hours a day, starting tomorrow.  I will leave the house before noon in order to do it.

I will email everyone on my list.

I will take this as a profound and deep failure on my part if I am unable to carry out these simple pledges to myself.

There will be no game-playing, there will be no wasting of time.  I will eat when I am not hungry, and I will drink when I am not thirsty.  I will take my vitamins, and I will write three thousand words a day because I claim to be an artist, an acrobat, and I need to take such things seriously!

Perhaps it is time to put things into perspective, perhaps it is time to take matters in hand.

I will be tired, I will be unhappy, and I will be bored, but I will have some sense of necessity in my life.

I remember being at a Famous Amos stand in the subway mall of Taipei and hearing a perhaps over-enthusiastic manager of the tiny cart remarking to my companion something about something that made her mention the fact that she had lived in Africa.  He says that life is simple there.  She says, “Yeah, real simple.  People’s kids dying all the time…”  he doesn’t understand her English.  He pauses.  He smiles and says in Taiwan, people have lots of heart attacks.  She seems to see his point.  I don’t.  but I don’t see hers either.

I agree that the world is a messed-up place, and I am the first agree that we need to do something about it, but at the same time, I think that we need to accept these little injustices without drama for the time being.  People die more in some countries than other.  Of course, looking at these things from a humanistic perspective gives us a lot of pause, but at the same time, we need to have the option, and only the option, of looking at it in a more detached way.

I need to write an email to The Contortionist now, and in it I need to include a white lie.  It is about why I did not email her last night as I am trying to email her every night.  I will tell her that my roommate suddenly fell ill and my other roommate and I had to take her to the doctor’s office.  That is not a lie, that is really quite true, but we did that in the morning.  The evening, she was still healthy, and we engaged in wine drinking and general revelry until the wee hours, and that was why I did not email my girlfriend.

I don’t know exactly what it takes to have a girlfriend in the world any more, at least when you are living outside the norms of a regular address, a phone that works, and a group of friends that you can disappear into.  Will I miss this instability if I am ever to actually sit down and have a more stable life?  Will that life be just as stifling and soul-killing as this one is feeling for me?  Maybe the world itself is a stifling one, and this sense of despair that I am feeling is just some sort of metaphysical entropy, and it is exactly this sort of decay that we need to steel ourselves against to keep living as “beings,” and not as “beens.”

I want to meet my future head-on, standing straight and tall against the winds, not feeling like I need to destroy the city of Tokyo with an earthquake just to feel better about my writing.

What are the balls that are in the air right now?  A modelling agency that is not responding to my numerous emails, a job from Adco that may or may not have me exploring the corporate side of entertainment, a job offer from a man that I met at a Lithuanian film festival who may or may not be interested in engaging me in a job that has me once again performing acrobatics for Toyota, of all possible clients…  I have my number itself, which comes and goes in terms of how viable it seems, I have a possible grant which can take me possibly to Mongolia, to Bulgaria, to Lithuania, if my contact there ever decides to write me back.  I have the idea to teach something at my old university, but so many of these little attempts keep coming back faced with a wall of white, insurmountable silence.  Silence in the form of unanswered emails.   Makes me realize exactly why people need phones and face to face in the real world these day.

I need to make handstand blocks, I need to make new DVD’s I need to write emails, I need to train, I need to feel a zest for life and to feel that sort of poetic cloud that can sometimes well up and swallow my head whole.

I think that it comes from new environments, though, and what are my new environments now?  There seem to be none.

Handstands, ironically enough, is a discipline that requires stability in more ways that simply on your hands, inverted.  We also need the structure in our lives to fit in a bit of training here or there.  Once the number exists, we can run through it once a day in an hour, given that we have the space and the discipline, but once the technique falls by the wayside, you are trying to work your way up a hill… I guess I really need to focus my training now on the number and them concern myself with training later.

This is the way to go, I guess.

But god, it would be nice to look at myself in a mirror naked again and like what I see.  What I see right now is mediocracy at best.

I feel forgotten, like a rocket that burned brightly, arcing over a hill where no one can see it anymore, and even less people care.  I like the notion of a journey, and I like certain images in my writing, but in the end if I cannot harness it all into a tale of some sort, if I cannot craft what I am writing into a format that someone else would want to read, I am lost.  Floating in space.

Sickness

Brain Tumor Story

I am an investigative journalist.  Today I’m investigating a local medical anomaly and his distraught family.

He is a boy who thinks that he is god, and why not?  All people get to this point in their final dementia – rubbing elbows with god in heaven – this kid just got to that point too soon.

But what can a boy’s body do when its master is an injured brain that is trying to will itself into oblivion?

The boy was lucid for long periods of time but would slip into a trance so quickly.  And suddenly he would be back – haunted eyes were full of earnest belief that he wasn’t ill, he was being transported. 

It was a tumor, actually.  Aggressively over stimulating the imagination of a young child.

He thought he was god?  No, but he travelled to other worlds and recounted them in such detail that you wished you could go there too.  He could tell you of the time he had caught a quadruple somersault by just two fingertips in Monte Carlo.  He was so convinced that the world was more than what it was – and you wanted to believe him.

 “None of your dreams are real,” his family told him, hoping to cure him of these fantasies – and his face would fall.  They loved him too much to delude him.

But nothing they said made his experiences any less real to him.  This world view was based not in his experience but in something that existed inside him from the beginning: he was part of an unfortunate brotherhood obsessed with what the world could be.  And like any sickness, it consumed him.