Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beverages, Quotes, and a Song

I keep thinking about J.K. Rowling: how did she write so much in a coffee shop? At least that is general story I heard. There is a neighbor who often goes to the Starbucks by the train station to write. I think he's been writing for at least the four years I have lived here. He is a single man. I often wonder why he writes at the Starbucks- maybe he needs the noise. Actually, in Japan if no one is with me, I can write in public places like swimming lessons because I am not distracted; a foreign language sounds like, "wah, wah, wah," a relaxing background noise, if I am at least alone. I am rarely alone and so free time with my own thoughts? That would be at swimming lessons or when I skip social events. I take what I can get, realizing that by the time I have free time, I will likely have no thoughts.

The Japanese generally are extremely respectful of your time and quickly depart if the slightest hint is given. I have encounters with Americans who can't take a sledgehammer- they just keep talking and talking- dumping their anxiety or at least every last molecule they can hurl in that moment. My husband referred me to Monty Python's film The Meaning of Life. The Grim Reaper appears at a dinner party to collect all of the dinner guests courtesy of the salmon mousse. He points to the American guest and says, "You always talk, you Americans, you talk and you talk and say 'Let me tell you something' and 'I just wanna say this.' Well, you're dead now, so shut up." If it is fodder for British comedy, then some of us are obviously guilty.

There is a great description by Brenda Ueland of giving a tired man an alcoholic beverage, a drink. Before the drink, his fatigue keeps his tongue in check as he has to measure the effort of what he has to say with the energy he has to say it, whereas with the drink, this inhibition deserts him and doesn't hold back. A beer is a social lubricator; it gets people talking. In college, libations were utilized to talk, talk, talk. At some point you either sober up and keep talking or you see it for what is was "beer talk." Her point was to be ware the mindless chatter we have courtesy of the drink.

Perhaps it is not such a sad thing that I rarely have time to drink, but then I still don't have time to think either; I am drowning in busy work like every one else except my brain is mumbling, "this is crazy, get out, let go, stop." I am beginning to see this vague need for quiet, for a break. It has been lurking for a long time. My soul is desperately whispering to my heart, "Don't let me go. Come find me." I feel so profoundly moved to have realized that in wanting stillness and quiet, I am wanting simply to reconnect to some part of myself that has been buried under responsibilities and duties and tasks. For a long while I thought I was selfish or asocial for wanting time away from my family or friends. You can't do it once and be done with it, you have to do it everyday. It doesn't take all day, but to wean the world off of me for a chunk of time each day, seems difficult.

I commented to my neighbor that he was looking fit. He said, "I get up at six everyday, and before I can think about it, I just go running." I laughed. I get up at six everyday too, but I have to think about other people at that hour. It means I should get up at five at my house. Whoever we are, we have different reasons, but we all want some time to ourselves- to run, to write, to think, to play an instrument, to paint; we need it.

Work life in Japan is absurdly long. Office workers trek into the office via a one to two hour commute which is usually a combination of a walk and a train ride, a twelve hour work day, and the return trip. Do the math, this is why everyone sleeps on trains in Japan. They don't have enough time to sleep. It is also why they elevate relaxing in hot water to a fine art- everyone is worn out.

My daughter (seven) told me of her friend (nine) telling her that she doesn't see her otosan "dad" much because he works long hours and on the weekend he has to go surfing in the early mornings. She only gets to see him on weekend afternoons. My daughter can relate as she rarely sees her dad during the week either. I was surprised by their conversation topic. They talked about- not kobito fairies or hula or barbies- missing their dads. My husband swears he has no choice in his long hours at least until he retires from the Navy; I try not to grump about it too much. Apparently, it is fairly common for at least some sailors to work long hours even with a desk job. It seems easier when they go out to sea- away for some period of time, but when they are home but never at home it is harder to bare. Compared to the Japanese, Americans generally do not work as absurd hours, but then I used to live in Washington, DC, where mandatory fun occupied quite a few evening hours as folks tried to make personal connections over those glasses of beers (or not) to pursue company goals and agendas for some political concession.

What do we gain from these long hours of devotion to work, companies, or political issues? I don't think it truly enriches us. We ignore our families and hope auto pilot works out? You miss a lot. I paraphrase Bob, the main character in Lost in Translation, the people who should be some of the most interesting people to you in the whole world, grow up and move on, and then it is like the song "Cat's in the Craddle" by Harry Chapin:

A child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."
He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

We get conditioned to working too much and mistake it for real life.