Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Postcards, Gin, and Japanese People Taking Photos With Me: A regular night in Nasushiobara

Despite the lack of space, there is something completely satisfying about writing a post card. My laptop is broken, so it does not accept my iPhone camera (and hasn't for some time), but I rummaged through a free box on the farm tonight and found some choice items that I could not pass on sending to my friends and family in the States and other places across the Globe. And as it's an unexciting Tuesday night, and I spent the day building a greenhouse, I decided to leave the farm to come to one of the few bars in Nasushiobara that has free Wifi to take part in the lost art of letter writing. I even found a way to figure in writing here. The bar, Gorilla Lounge, is not all that relaxing. It has a projector that plays one video, a Dutch saxophonist playing a concert circa 2009 (?) in Germany. The best thing I can think of to say about her is that her debut album was called "Saxuality", but I can't remember her name.

The postcards I'm writing tonight aren't entirely from the Free Box. They range from 19th century depictions of Japanese settings, scenes from Hong Kong I picked up while visiting, to cartoons showing early 20th century Japan, but oddly reminiscent of Bill Waterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"). The setting of Gorilla Lounge includes me plugging my headphones into my computer and listening to Jim O'Rourke's "Eureka" and "The Visitor", which are fantastic albums, and he also is a gaijin living in Japan. Also, gin.

The point of writing here, however, is I was reminded that I have not been lonely, truly lonely since I arrived here. I'm 30 (old? starting my road to adulthood?), so maybe that has something to do with my lack of homesickness, but so many other things must be a part of it as well, right? Besides the couple of days when Klara left (won't post about her on here, but she meant (means?) a lot to me)--and even then, labor has its way of pushing personal thoughts away--I haven't really even thought about loneliness. So, work helps. I am also blessed to have good, often challenging conversation with many of the other people who work and live at ARI. I wish I could say that spirituality has helped, but the church here is terrible, so my chances at communion with God are pushed, maybe focused, to my relationships with the earth and friends. This is not a bad thing, it's a really good thing for how strong those relationships are/can be, though I do miss that particular Anglican/Episcopal way of church and prayer.

Completely unrelated, while writing my first set of postcards, two strangers came up to me and asked whether they could take their photograph with me. This is the second time this has happened, and I hope I enrich the FaceBook pages of people in the Nasu region. At least this time no one asked to touch my hair or questioned why my eyes are blue.

Bien à vous,


Sunday, March 8, 2015

I wanted to start this post with a statement, something crass and terse, something like "At ARI, I'm lucky if I shit even once a day". This was the thought moving through my head as I went jogging this morning. It isn't an entirely true statement as it applies to my life on the farm, nor is it very descriptive of my daily activities. It's also certainly too bold, too coarse, and without any intelligence. Yet, there are moments of my life here where oafish and cryptic statements seem to be the only way to describe what's going on in my head, and to describe what I do every day.

I haven't written on this blog as I'm supposed to, considering my position as a missionary, a representative of the Episcopal Church, in Japan. A lot of that has to do with how I manage my time, but I'm also a bit of a coward when it comes to responsibility. Regarding the first part of my previous statement, how I manage my time, it is rather true I don't often find space in my life to hash out an essay describing what's going on in my head, relating it to St. Paul's message, and providing this information to my family, friends, and the world---I haven't written a group email about my life since December, either. Why I haven't squeezed this in is hard to describe, but I can say that I've been working on things that only this experience on the farm, and in Japan, could have given me. These things have taken time; they require a dedication I didn't know I had; they are new to me, or fit like a sweater I thought was lost but recently found behind a box in a closet.

After just under five months here, I still can't speak Japanese, but I can reply in English to simply worded statements my Japanese coworkers ask me. My ears now pick up words and phrases on the streets and in others' conversations that would have been completely unintelligible two months ago. I know how to clean, sharpen the blades, and fix the motor of a chain saw (!). I bake bread, including decent baguettes. I can perform simple feats of carpentry. Sometimes I spend four hours chopping wood. I jog every morning starting at 530 am in an (so far unsuccessful) attempt to quite smoking cigarettes. I work nine to ten hour days of hard, back-aching work on the farm. I read Kafka, debate which scenes of "Roman Holiday" (I watched it for the first time in February) or "Tokyo Story" are the most lovely, and I go to bed at 9 pm to do it all over again the next day. I can also say I've been traveling (Hong Kong, Tokyo, day trips around Tochigi on the weekends), but this is too much of a cop out. Yes, being away from my computer makes it hard to email and blog, but I still find time to write in my journal---an activity for which I can thank my time and the people at the Holy Cross Monastery.

The other part of my thesis here, my cowardice when it comes to responsibility, is of course more existential, but also something I've struggled with for some time. I have no problems making sure all of my duties on the farm are finished before I sneak off to smoke a cigarette, or if I'd like to go out on a certain night, to make it back in bed in time so I can get enough sleep for waking up for jogging and work. However, if you ask me to plan anything other than my own pleasure for my life in the future, I put it off and smile it away for another day. Life on the farm is slowly changing this, I hope, but as the great show "Community" says, I may be part of the generation where adulthood starts at 30 years old. There are small ripples of this change coming into my life: I'm working on graduate school applications; I'm looking for opportunities to keep me living an expat life; I'm not spending anywhere near the amount of money I did while living in the US. These changes are occurring at a faster rate than ever before, and the farm and my spiritual relationships with God, labor, and the Earth are a huge part of this.

I hope to write again soon. My voyage into adulthood isn't the only thing changing at ARI. The new class of participants will arrive soon, and spring is here, whether we still have to use the fireplace at night or not. Until then,

Bien à vous,