Taking positive action to bring about change

As many of you may know, I’m an audiobook junkie. Due to my attitude towards the use of time, reading physical paper and ink books is difficult. I feel uncomfortable using my time in that way. If friends give me books, I start to read them, but usually by the time I reach page twenty I’ve either decided that the book is not worth my time, or that the book is worth getting on Audible. If an audio version is not available, I either pass the book on, or keep it for those rare occasions when I feel comfortable with the idea of reading.

Anyhow, I’m lucky to have a fellow audiobook junkie here in Tokyo – someone with whom I can swap recommended listens. Recently, he recommended ‘Manage your tune, Master your life‘ by Robin Sharma, a very short audiobook that had helped him make some positive changes. I downloaded it this morning (in addition to Obama’s speech which is available for free), and listened to it whilst on the train to the city office.

In brief, Robin points out just how precious our time is, and how important it is that we do not postpone the things that matter most to us. He gives practical advice – one suggestion being to join the 5am club. Having started my own 6am club last week, I can vouch for the amazing difference it makes to have an extra hour in the morning. Whereas many people wake up and find that they are chasing their day before it’s even started, if you get up that little bit earlier, you will find that not only can you get a ton of stuff done before the daily routine begins, but also that you entire day will be more orderly and productive. From experience, I’d say that’s very true.

Listening to Robin’s session today, I was finally compelled to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for about a month now but have been lacking in courage to face – quit one of my part-time teaching jobs. I love the students (and judging by the emotional scenes tonight the feeling was mutual), and found myself learning a lot through working there. But (as I mentioned last night) I’ve got other projects that represent my passion, and the feeling of frustration in not being able to make time to pursue them has reached epic proportions.

It was funny though. When I gave them notice this afternoon, I felt compelled to re-write my email and explain why I was quitting, and pass on some of the advice from the audiobook. I talked about 2009 being the Year of Change. I wasn’t entirely sure why, I’d only ever exchanged very short emails with them about scheduling. But next thing I knew, the member of staff who deals with foreign teachers was asking me to come in a bit early – they needed to talk to me. It turned out they since last week they have been at exactly the same crossroads as me. There were further emotional scenes.

I think we humans are pretty good at knowing when we’re not acting in harmony with spirit. If we practice being in touch, we can tell if a job is no longer in congruence with our true paths. But taking that next step – causing inconvenience and possibly upset, stepping into the unknown in the face of (sometimes strong) opposition from those around us, is incredibly hard sometimes. But it has to be taken if we’re to move forward.

I’m glad I took that step today. In the grand scheme of things it was insignificant, but carries a lot of meaning for me as I continue on my journey.

Gaijin Bubble – Being a good husband – Taking action

himonya sunset _2475

Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of ‘being a foreigner’ is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I’ve been out and about, and completely forgotten that I’m a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I’d regressed to those times when I didn’t understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I’m becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly ‘Japan’, they’re just ‘home’.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I’m somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don’t like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don’t see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I’m the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube – I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this – it’s called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone…

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I’m finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it’s awareness that’s the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this ‘fact’, the film became even more translucent.

It’s all my perception.

I know this. I’ve always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.


Recently I’ve been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I’m not sure what brought it on, but it’s likely to have been my experience at the office, as that’s where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases – the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I’m not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That’s pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn’t have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I’m currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I’m finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I’ve Mumbled about it before, and I’ll say again what I said then: there’s nothing in this book that you haven’t read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins’ books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It’s this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or ‘lack of Japanese language skills’.


This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it’ll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography 🙂 But still, I found other people’s reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme’s, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they’d changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).

This got me thinking about how I’ve grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to know. I’m fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered ‘ok’ by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I’ve not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I’m also glad I had a few ‘serious’ relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren’t quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn’t have to put up with all that kind of crap (it’s not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It’s taken New Year to make me act on this one. It’s only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to ‘be nice’ when one really doesn’t want to be nice isn’t actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer’s work – he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention – I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I’m also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don’t see last year as having been the real milestone – that’s this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I’m far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I’m only making the situation worse. It’s time for an end to ‘recognising’ things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let’s make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I’m greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I’ve not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven’t got time.

That’s a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I’ve just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I’ve taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I’ve also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that’s a distinct possibility.

I’m going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I’d best be off to bed, I’m doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I’ll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

Wondering what’s around the corner


I’m about a third of a way through the 27-hour audio version Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicles.

Murakami is the first fiction author whose books I’ve read more than one of – this is my third (following Kafka on the Shore & Norwegian Wood).

I’m finding this one as involving as the previous two, and I’m wondering, is it now reaching that point where it start to teach me whatever it is I need to learn from it?

If I think of Kafka working in the library, I’m back there on the carpeted floor of the Mongolian Yurt on day two of my stay last summer- thankfully not being skinned alive (not the most relaxing bedtime story. I could hardly bear to listen to it). If I move on a bit to Hoshino trying to open the stone I’m bumping along on that 9-hour car journey back to the capital, Ulaanbatar. I almost feel like I wouldn’t have survived that journey without sharing in Nakata’s own journey.

Norwegian Wood (which sees me clearing the path on the Welsh Garden Project site) led me, I realised afterwards, to finally come to understand an old Japanese friend of mine. I’d lost contact with her, abruptly, and I never figured out why. When listening to Norwegian Wood, she popped into my head once or twice, and i recognised her in the characters portrayed. It felt good to have closure on that.

As I listen to Toru tell the story of his marriage to Kumiko, I can’t help but think of my own marriage. It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot in any case, as is only natural. What does it actually mean to me? This feeling of responsibility it contains – is that coming from within me, I mean really within me, or is it more a product of outside influence?

How will our life differ this time from last time we lived together? Then, I was a student, on a temporary stay. This time it will be very different. There will be an element of …permanentness.

How will this affect my attitude towards life in general? In a way I have had it easy for the past 8 years. Ever since I split up with my ex in fact, and left Torquay for Switzerland. But even then,despite the fact that we’d bought a house together, deep down we knew that it was only temporary. Since then, I’ve lived knowing that even if I made absolutely no effort at instigating change myself, my life would change in a big way anyway, all by itself, within a maximum of 12 months.

Switzerland: I was on seasonal contracts.
Japan: My visa would expire
Bristol (UK): My Access course would come to an end
Sheffield: I would graduate

And now, as of August 2008, I will not have this safety net of prescribed change. If I want things to happen in my life, it will be entirely up to me. If I let myself drift along (as is only to easy to do), I may be happy in the short term, I will get things done, change will occur …but I’ll feel somehow unfulfilled. I don’t think I’m the kind of person cut out for that. Many people are, and that’s great, I’m not knocking them for that, but I feel like I am so absolutely packed full of energy just bursting to be channelled into ‘stuff’ that I’d be stifled by having no prospect of guaranteed change or progression.

In a way, this is another reason why i want the CIR job in Japan. With an annual contract (renewable up to 5 years) there’s that time limit. It would push me to make the most of today, every day, and never put off trying to realise dreams for some tomorrow that will never come.

I sometimes wonder where this excitement has come from. Did I always have it? According to my beliefs, yes, I did. I have always been a little hyper; “OTT” was how I was described to my parents by my teacher as a teenager (I felt terrible about that at the time, like I’d really let them al down).

Hmmm.

I hope to get a reply from the embassy this coming week. It’s nearing a month since everyone else was informed. I can only assume that my application is continuing to give them grief due to my request to be near *Twinkle*. In a way though, I feel the longer I wait, the better the chances that this will all work out for the best.

It feels a bit like sitting in the bottom of a well though, waiting for a line to be cast down. It’s not a well of doom and despair, just a well of contemplation and nervous tension, wondering what the view is going to be like when I get out.

Ho hum. Start of a brand new week in the morning.

Norwegian Wood reaches a close

I had a really enjoyable morning today. So enjoyable in fact, that I never really moved on. I’m still there, in this morning, and in Japan.

Anyone who’d seen me wouldn’t have thought I was in Japan. They would have thought I was on my knees in the garden, weeding, covered in mud, getting absolutely drenched by the pouring rain. It was that kind of rain that induces surrender after just a couple of minutes. You’re out there attempting to stay semi-dry, trying to make your jacket reach to your ankles, but it’s no use. You’re getting wetter and wetter, trousers becoming sodden, drips running down your bum, until finally you cast aside the scowl, and burst out laughing, “I couldn’t get any wetter if I tried!”.
I only gave my capitulation a moment’s thought, briefly looking up from the wood-chip path I was clearing and across the yard to the house. I laughed with surprise at the density of the great globules of water that filled the air. A second later, and my eyes were back on the path, my hands, stained red in new leather gloves forced their way under the mat of bark and roots, prizing it from the black plastic strip below.
But as I said, I wasn’t there. My weeding was almost unconscious – I was in Japan. I was in Tokyo, following the fortunes of Toru Watanabe as his partner in Kyoto, Naoko, became increasingly ill. I became emotionally involved as Reiko told the horrendous story of how she came to be hospitalised, and I was delighted and enchanted by Midori Kobayashi, a girl I felt I’d known for a long time. I was shocked when news came through of the death, and had to stop for a moment, squatting there in sadness, lost in the rain.
I don’t think I’ve read more than 5 novels in the past 15 years. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining why I became so involved in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood . I’ve long shied away from it for the simple somewhat silly reason that it was popular. Now I’ve read it, I feel it has every right to be popular. It’s wonderful.
Another reason I’ve not read it until now is that it’s fiction.

‘I don’t have time for fiction, I only have time for books I can learn from’.

That’s what I used to think, but recently, I’ve been reconsidering. If I think of the few novels that I have read in the past few years, each one takes the form of a vast collection of images, of meanings, of emotions, of relationships. Each one has played an important part in my making sense of certain changes in my life. Given me comfort, offered me advice – just as much as any friend or non-fiction book has done.

And today, listening to Reiko advising Watanabe on how to deal with his relationship dilemma, it struck me how familiar her words were. Don’t take life so seriously. Trust. Believe in yourself. If you are being true to yourself, you have nothing to fear.
And Watanabe himself – what an amazing person. To have such insight and awareness at such a young age; incredible. A really likeable, genuine and trustworthy guy, one that were I that way inclined I too might well fall in love with. Meeting someone like that is truly inspiring; we need people like him.
Death appears throughout the novel, and this got me thinking again about what it means to me – you may recall that I was ‘studying’ death last time I was here on the Welsh Garden Project. One thing I picked up on was that no matter how expected death is, one cannot stop those intense feelings of sadness that accompany the loss of a loved one. If death occurs suddenly and unexpectedly however, the shock can be devastating, moving way beyond any normal sadness and plunging one into a black pit where everyday life ceases to matter. It’s something I don’t think any amount of thinking can prepare you for.
Sometimes I think about what it will be like when someone close to me dies. I imagine life without that person, and sure enough, the feeling of loss and sadness is all encompassing. I know I’ll get through it, but it will be very hard.
This makes me think even more, it is so important that I am happy today, that I am grateful for all I have, that I make sure that those around me know just how much they mean to me (*Twinkle* alone has been the recipient of over 2200 of my emails since I left Japan last summer, that’s about one every 2.5 hours ever since I sailed from Osaka!).
Initially, I was a bit shocked by the (multiple) graphic sex scenes. I wasn’t expecting them. But then, they were described in such a matter-of-fact tone by the superb narrator, and they were such accurate descriptions of what it really is like to sleep with someone, how people behave, that they ceased to be anything out of the ordinary, and made these relationships all the more real. I didn’t dwell on them though. I miss *twinkle’s* warmth enough as it is.
Norwegian Wood is the second of Murakami’s novels I’ve read, the first being the superb ‘Kafka on the Shore’. I’ve since added ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle‘ to My Next Listen on Audible, so I’ll be able to download that in a couple of weeks. (Check out the author’s official website here. (I’ve just kept it on in the background as I like the music!). 
It’s now bedtime, and although I came in from the garden some ten hours ago, somehow, a part of me in still there, hands tearing at the weeds in the wood-chip path, rain falling all around, and my head lost in Toru’s vivid world so far away.

After 14 years they rose again


Anne Tame the artist, at work

I’m back on the Welsh garden Project site today. It’s good being here and doing some physical work. My hands smell of cow skin, and I have a delicious feeling of knackeredness. Thought I’d take advantage of the lack of rain and get the chainsaw out; spent an hour or so doing a circuit of the garden, dealing with the trees that were felled by the recent gales. With a new chain it makes for satisfying work, quickly cutting through broken boughs and branches to relieve the burden being felt by surrounding trees. It appeals to the tidyman in me too. I like natural-looking gardens, but I especially like tidy natural looking gardens. 
Opening the garage for the first time in a while, I smelt death. It was a strong smell, no mistaking it. It was rising from the corpse of a large rabbit that must have been chased in there by Taize the cat some time ago.
Coming back in at lunchtime I found that same cat sleeping with my pet penguin, Pepe.

What you lookin at?


The morning-after shot: The powerful Tom has had his way; Pepe is left with conflicting feelings regarding his own sexual orientation. 


After lunch, it was back out to clear up the polytunnel. 
But I wasn’t really in the polytunnel emptying out last year’s tomato plant pots. Instead, I was in that sanatorium in Japan with Naoko and Reiko, as described in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which I’m continuing to listen to, and liking very much. I love being read to. 
(I’ve just come across a source for free audiobooks at http://librivox.org. I’ll give them a whizz as it’s a while before I can get any more on subscription from Audible).
I’m pretty good at multi-tasking. As well as listening to a book and clearing up a polytunnel, I was wearing my ‘new’ patchwork trousers.

I found them under the bed the other night. They aren’t really ‘new’, as I’ve already worn them for a couple of years, from early 1994 to 1995. I  got them when I was about 16, and had them coat my legs almost everyday during my year at sixth form college. I think they were supposed to attract girls as they have home-installed zips running almost the entire length of each leg. Unfortunately they didn’t really work, and in the end I had to leave the country to lose my virginity.
Anyway, they still fit me, both in terms of waistline and length, so I think I’ll give them another spin.
Righty ho, on with ‘stuff’.
[edit] it has been pointed out that the cat has had his testicles removed, and thus it is unlikely that he was actually having sexual intercourse with Pepe, which is a bit of a relief as if they had become too close Taize may have taken advantage of his being a cat and eaten him.