Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life


Latest addition to my mum’s art portfolio

Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I’ve been saving it for such an occasion as today’s), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook – Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I’ve not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved ‘Kafka on the Shore’: I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey’s West.

Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I’m really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).

I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister’s webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I’ve purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It’s going to be great.

One ‘issue’ that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty ‘God’ …so why do I want to get married in a church?

Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, ‘church’ weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be ‘real’ and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese ‘Christian weddings’ in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

What others may label as “God” I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the ‘presence of God’ is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

There’s other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it’s in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I’ve been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.

Dad

I’m not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.


It’s been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won’t go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It’s all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There’s a sign there too. It reads:

Paint your future. Then Live it.

Aghh! I can’t deal with that! Where’s the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I’ll succeed, everyone does!

…but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? …But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

I must work to accept that it’s only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made – and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

I’ve not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I’m being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

It’ll come to me. I know it will. I needn’t be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

It’s also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke – I’d never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I’m looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

Hmm, it’s very exciting.

What’s even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

The ups and downs

I’ve been playing with my zoom lens. 1 second exposure, zoom out whilst the shutter is open.

This was yesterday…
Strange feeling of finality today. It could be due to my having taken part in my last ever SEAS open day, an event I always enjoy a great deal.

As with every time, it was interesting watching everyone file in. I saw myself, 4 years ago, doing just the same. Seems like 5 minutes ago, and yet, a lifetime too.
With that over, and everyone away on their Easter holidays, I feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath my feet. It strikes me how much I depend upon familiarity and routine for a sense of peace.  Perhaps what is disturbing me is not simply the fact that with the holidays my routine has been changed, but rather, it’s the fact that although I remain in a very familiar place, somehow, everything is different
Hotplate

Despite being very fond of them all, I don’t socialise with my classmates much. But now I’m not seeing them every day, I’m missing them.

Hokkaido

It’s important that I have times like this, when suddenly life seems to have no meaning and nothing really matters, as without these experiences, I wouldn’t be able to relate to others when they were having hard times. I can understand how people can feel that there is no meaning to life…

This is Today

I stopped writing at that point, as I felt too crappy. I think it was partly tiredness, partly the isolation, partly unhappiness with not getting things done that I’d wanted to get done. 
Oh, then the car got another puncture, had to change the wheel for the second time this week. I finally sorted out my parking tickets this afternoon. It was a bit of battle with the staff (who are in desperate need of customer service training), but eventually my appeal was referred to the department manager.  Comparing his reply to the correspondence I’d had with the clerical staff beforehand, I was struck by the differences between the two. Here he was telling me that my appeal was being rejected, but doing so in a way that actually made me want to pay, and feel good about it. The manner in which the clerical staff had dealt with me though made me feel like a piece of shit, and made it very hard for me to want to co-operate with them. What a graphic example that was of what the difference is between an inspiring leader and, er, someone who is unaware of how others are feeling.
After the ticket extravaganza had been dealt with I sent the manager the letter I’d written detailing the appalling customer service I’d received. I explicitly pointed out that this wasn’t being sent in anger or pettiness, but rather, it was being sent in the hope that it would mean that others would not have to go what I had gone through (in the past week I’ve spoken to several university staff members who have had similar experiences to my own, so I know it’s not a personal thing!).
Returning home I couldn’t help but laugh when I opened my post: a payslip from the University of Sheffield for £123 – the EXACT amount that the two parking tickets had come to!
I love working for free…!
Anyway, my friend is home now, and the car is gone. Phew. More work than a baby.
Finished the audio version of Michael Palin’s 1969-1979 diaries today, wonderful stuff. You know, I’d never truly appreciated just how popular Monty Python had been in the 1970s. With that book finished I couldn’t resist but sign back up to Audible.co.uk; got £80 worth of audiobooks for £14.99 which I’m happy with. They’ll keep me going for a while (I’ll tell you about them in due course).
Went to the cinema last night to see The Bank Job. The acting wasn’t superb and the story was pretty simple, but I enjoyed it as it was based on the true story of one of the UK’s most successful bank robberies – the details of which are still protected under the Official Secrets Act. Why? Apparently such information could do a lot of to the damage to our royal family and government. We only have to wait another 50 years to find out the truth!
Tomorrow morning I should be receiving a phone call from somewhere in Indonesia. Or maybe it was Bangkok. I think an Anthony Robbins wannabe is going to try to sell me a $1000 self-development package. Eyes Wide Open Joseph, Eyes Wide Open.
I’m starting to regain a sense of clarity now my list of things to do is shrinking. It’s good. It’s all good.
love joseph

Organic vegetables, Nelson Mandela, and your own thought processes

Ha. It’s another of those nights. Those nights when I go to bed, but feel so excited about everything and nothing that I have to get up again.

Part of it’s the music, I know. I’m listening to Everything But the Girl – Walking Wounded. One of the few CDs I ever owned. Bought it in Switzerland I think, Interlaken. That was before I knew any Japanese. I remember that as the CD case has a bit of Japanese on it, and it was only a few years after I’d bought it that I realised what it said (Eee bee tee jee = EBTG). It’s truly wonderful how music can take you back in time to a place, to a feeling, to a state of mind. Listening to this and looking at my swiss photos sees me up that Alp in 1997. Caw, that part of the world is staggeringly beautiful. I do hope that *Twinkle* and I end up back there one day (by that I mean that I hope that that remains one of our goals).

My weekly Organic Vegee box from Beanies

Doesn’t that fruit and veg look delicious?! I love organic vegees so much, more than any form of processed food – including Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. The taste of a fresh organic salad is, according to the interaction between my taste buds and mind, the most delicious taste there is. The taste of this pile of fruit and veg could only be surpassed by an identical box of produce that I’d grown myself. It will happen.

I had a difficult day yesterday. I was feeling troubled by Nelson Mandela’s treatment having finished his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. What an incredible story. Certainly puts things into perspective. I think of his 27 years of incarceration, and of the appalling hardships endured by black South Africans under Apartheid, and then I think of complaints that I or my friends might have about noisy neighbours, our language course, or what so-and-so said… and I am reminded how spoilt we are. We have so much to be grateful for. Every single day.

Thank.

You.

When I reached the part of the book where he described his release I paused and paid a visit to You Tube, where I observed the same scene from outside of his body. Having just gained an insight into what had led to that moment I found it to be incredibly moving. I wiped the tears away, and bang! I was back there. Not South Africa, but our lounge, in front of the TV. It was the 11th of February 1990; I was 12 years old. …I can vividly recall watching that live news report on the BBC. I’d heard of Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, and I remember being excited, and so happy, running around the dining room and the lounge.

It was cold outside.

Sun shines down beyond the Arts Tower

I went to give blood today. Unfortunately due to my history of epilepsy, I’m unable to be a donor until 2011, and was actually advised to never give blood. It’s not that my blood poses a risk to others, it’s that giving blood poses a risk to me in that it could trigger a seizure.

The nurses were very good about it – they could see I was upset. In fact, they treated me even more nicely after that, insisting that I go and sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

So, I’ll just have to make do with saving people when I die instead 🙂 …and keep on buying cakes all week from the Bone Marrow Society. (Bloomin’ good cakes too).

I was pretty surprised by how many people were there. It was like discovering a whole hidden culture of Good Samaritans. How come I had never tried to donate blood before?


Been missing *Twinkle* a lot this week. In a way I wish I could bottle this experience, and keep it as a reminder for future years when we are ‘always’ together, to ensure that I don’t get complacent, to ensure that I stay concious of how fortunate we are (will be) to be able to share our lives with one another.

I feel I’ve become more aware of our differences this year. Having so much space enables one to step back and think about how differently one sees some things. That’s not a bad thing at all. I see her as my teacher, thus the more differing perspectives, the more we can both learn (I would add that I don’t think that the differences would be so welcome if there was not an underlying meeting of spirit!).

I’m grateful that over the past year I have been encouraged to explore the idea that there is no right and wrong – there is only differing perceptions of ‘reality’. This proves to be especially helpful in situations where social norms would normally dictate that conflict was the appropriate response. With there being no ‘right’ and no ‘wrong’ there is no impulse to convince the other that one is ‘right’. One can have a completely different opinion from someone else, and yet accept that they are just as ‘right’ as you. After all, the ‘thing’, whatever it is, just is. It has no implicit meaning, it only has the meaning that we assign to it.

This way of thinking has really helped me to back down and accept *Twinkle*’s way of thinking without my pride getting in the way. I’ve not quite got it down to a fine art yet though – far from it! But, being aware is the first important step, and I’m glad to have taken that.

Changing the subject, this past week I’ve been marvelling at the brain’s ability to assign meaning to things I see. I’ve been playing a little game whereby I look at something, and then observe my thought process as meaning is assigned. Of course normally it happens to fast that we barely notice (you look at a traffic light, and before the you know it, you know it’s a traffic light!), but you can slow it down. One method is to turn the lights off so the room is pretty dim, then look around until you make out a shape. You can actually see you brain sorting through an amazingly comprehensive database of images, experiences, feelings, meanings! Absolutely amazing (and we think Google is clever…!). Another way to set yourself up for this experiment is to reduce the exposure on a bunch of photos, so the subjects are barely visible. Or, next time you meet someone whom you know you recognise but can’t actually place or name, watch your brain sift through your memory bank in a bid to come up with a match of sorts.

Ahh, the pleasure of introspection!

Well, I’d best be off to bed. Up early tomorrow, and my list of things to do is almost as long as my nose 🙂

Mush love xxx

p.s. I want this girl’s voice.

Time for a new book

This morning, whilst attempting to do more than 15 press-ups next in the park, I finally finished listening to the 13-hour audiobook version of Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It’s been a great listen, and I can understand why it has been received so well since its publication in 1989.

Naturally, much of what he writes about is covered in other success / personal development literature, and of course he makes no claims to have dreamed up these habits himself. It’s just another way of putting them.

There was one tool that I picked up from this book that I have not seen elsewhere, and that is the Time Management Matrix (worth taking a look at). Whilst initially somewhat sceptical about its relevance for my life (and somewhat put off by what I perceived to be an attention-seeking title), looking back I can see I have actually referred to it and found it positively useful several times in the last couple of weeks. Specifically, I have felt myself motivated by the idea that those activities that are not urgent but important (they go into the top-right corner, that being quadrant 2), such as regular exercise, studying kanji etc, actually have a huge impact upon the quality of one’s life.

So, for example, this morning I woke up at 6.30am and looked out of the window. It was raining. “Hmm, maybe I’ll give exercise a miss today” was my natural reaction, but then recalling that this was a quadrant 2 activity (important but not urgent), I realised that I could say that same thing every single day – without penalty – and nothing would change.

OR, I could appreciate that as a quadrant 2 activity, all efforts put into it would in the long term reap enormous benefits , and it was worth the short-term ‘pain’.

As it happened, despite getting a bit wet and despite being left outside for 15 minutes when I got home having forgotten to take my key, I really enjoyed it, and I feel energised for the day. And I got to stretch my self-discipline muscles too!

It was actually the Time Management Matrix that helped me reach the decision to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test too. There is something which will never be urgent, but boy-oh-boy is it important for me.

So what’s next? I’m out of Audiobooks for now. I do re-listen to some of them every few months, but I want something fresh. Ah, yes, I know…

I’ve signed up to Audible.co.uk again, and for £7.99 have got Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom, and for a complete change, Michael Palin’s Diaries, 1969 – 1979, as recommended by Andy Ihnatko. I’m really excited about listening to these! I can also feel good about my shopping-for-pleasure not having a big impact upon the environment, as all it is is data, data that makes me very happy!

A few weeks back I was talking to a friend of mine about spending time on self-development. They mentioned that although they would love to look into this realm, they just couldn’t make the time for it.

I couldn’t help but smile. “Didn’t you just spend three years at university studying something which you now admit you have little interest in, and are unlikely to work in any industry where you can use the knowledge that you acquired through your course?”

My friend was silent for a while, and then smiled at their own logic.

I would argue, that when it comes to things that are Important but not Urgent, you can’t afford to not have time at the moment, because unless you make time for them, today, they will never happen.

Just think, all those life-changing things you could do, whether it be studying your chosen language, exploring thought patterns, or learning how to communicate effectively with your spouse and children, these things could remain as ideas associated with some conceptual ideal life – unless you choose to make them your reality by acknowledging their importance today and acting upon them. Now.

By investing even a tiny fraction of the time that my friend had put into their university course in learning about themselves and their own potential, they could improve their levels of satisfaction, happiness and general well-being for the duration of their entire lives. And, as a bonus, they wouldn’t be lumbered with another £24,000 debt either!

Of course, I’m not denying that the university experience is all about degrees. Far from it. It is also an amazing Life School, teaching all manner of skills that could never be learnt through, for example, an audiobook alone.

For a start, it teaches one when it’s time to shut up, and get on writing that dissertation introduction..!

(and suddenly, he was gone).