Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Reminiscence of Summer Blues to a Red Autumn Beat

A drooping flower
Head bent in defeat
overbearing, oppressive heat

The summer sun
down on me
my head the surface
on which the unforgiving
rays of solar energy
belt out their
summertime riff

as lazy black and yellow
keep the time
that neverending beat
Bop bopping around
the listless drooping flower
that is me

Summertime blues
my July August identity
head still bent
in defeat

Oh please
I beg that yellow orb
so circular and infinite
Cease, Cease grant me


My Autumn self
lazes, gazes
stretching limbs and breathing deep
the crispness in the air

a timpani
Resounding for all
to hear

Fall air is wisdom, knowledge
books cracked open, pens gliding
over crisp white paper
telling stories, rhymes and myth
of summertimes past
that no longer exist

For Autumn is here
her glory unfolding
oranges yellows fiery reds
my head
held high to see and breathe
and feel at long last
a sensation
that is truly
My Mother Is Human

My mother is human. To many, that is abundantly clear. This is not simply because the statement itself could hold true for any of the six billion inhabitants of this earth. No, it is much more than that. It is plain to see for those who have come into contact with her because she exudes humanity in all she says and does.

For anyone who hasn't met my mother, I offer an image. It is of a later-years Audrey Hepburn surrounded by needy children in Africa, caught unawares by a photographer in a freeze-frame image familiar to many. She, as always, exudes a certain grace and elegance that belies the environment she is in. She holds one of those children in her arms, captured forever in an evocative black and white photo whose image will translate, without words, the story of the sadness in Africa to the masses in North America.

That picture may have been taken to pull at heartstrings, create lumps in throats, and possibly to induce guilt in our overfed Western sensibilities. But all that doesn't matter when you get past the emotion and simply look at the subjects. She doesn't care about the cameras surveying her. She is simply giving comfort to a child in need, and that is all she cares about for that brief moment in time. This unselfconscious ability to give without thought to what will be received is at the core of who my mother is.

This is not to say my mother is a Saint. Absolutely not. And she would be the first to contradict anyone who came close to branding her with such a lofty and unrealistic title. Again, she is human, and with her humanity comes something intrinsic to my mother's whole being; insecurity. Saints may be altruistic, forgiving and kind; however I do not recall any insecure Saints being introduced to me in my early Catholic school years. Although often humble, Saints could go about their daily business knowing they were serving a higher power. My mother's insecurity often clouds and distorts her original good intentions, and she ends up feeling incredibly misunderstood and under-appreciated. Only those closest to her are aware of this.

Compassion and insecurity go hand-in-hand in the making of my mother's humanity. There is, however, one more vital ingredient in the mix that makes my mother who she is. The ingredient is Guilt with a capital G. My mother carries her Guilt so tangibly on her shoulders that she actually stoops when she walks. She blames her bad posture on a slipped disc. I know it is actually the burden of the Guilt she imposed upon herself nearly 25 years ago. Indeed, a Silver anniversary is approaching for my mother. It is not her 25th wedding anniversary; that event took place nearly a quarter-century ago. No, this anniversary marks the day when an old and incredibly self-destructive chapter in my mother's life was finally closed and laid to rest, and a new one opened, rife with possibility.

It was nearly 25 years ago that we almost lost my mother. Her insecurity had manifested itself, over the course of several years, from self-doubt to self-hatred to self-destruction. My mother had tried to kill her insecurities by drowning them in alcohol. In the end, she very nearly killed herself. The insecurities, of course, remained on dry land, intact and at the ready to set sail at any time. The years during my mother's alcoholism are not only a blurry haze for her, but for the rest of the family as well. There are of course some concrete, horrible memories that occasionally bob to the surface, but for the most part, it is a time in the life of our small family that remains submerged, held down firmly in place by the weight of my mother's Guilt over the pain she feels she inflicted upon us.

What strikes me when I think about the Guilt my mother has imposed upon herself, is how incredibly unscathed I am from what I know has destroyed many children who were touched by alcoholism. I have met many scarred and hurt women who often blame their mothers for their woes. Mothers who relentlessly reminded daughters to watch their weight, apply their make-up properly, get the right man and produce grandchildren upon request. These are bitter daughters, brought up on a steady diet of Guilt. Not me. My mother, knowing Guilt as she does, never imposed its wrath on me. I was reminded constantly of my worth, told I was pretty and smart, encouraged to travel, and never, ever pressured to get married or have children. I have received a wonderful gift because of my mother's inverted Guilt. I have the freedom to be me and not who she wishes she could have been.

Even though she hasn't touched a drink in almost 25 years, my mother freely admits to being an alcoholic. She uses the present tense adhering to the adage that "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." If she is in a position to help someone in need of advice or can offer an ear to listen when a person is hurting, the compassionate side of her humanity takes over. The insecurity is momentarily forgotten, and she is in her element. She is confident and helpful and caring when someone is reaching the end of their rope. When I hear her offering advice to her sister-in-law, or listening to her brother when he is down, I can easily conjure up that black and white Audrey Hepburn image of a woman who is so unaware of the outside world while so focused on what is in front of her. When my sister, a hard nut to crack at the best of times, momentarily lets down her guard and talks frankly to my mother, the weight of the Guilt is momentarily lifted. Her back straightens up, she leans closer in order to hear better, and simply listens, nodding, smiling and feeling, to her core, the emotions being shared.

I am learning, as I straddle the threshold of middle-age, not to judge my mother. Having spoken to many daughters, I know I am not alone. We wonder to ourselves why we get so angry and frustrated with these women who brought us life. I watch how men communicate with their moms and there doesn't seem to be this animosity. But, as tiny bits of that wisdom brought about by living life settle in, the picture is becoming clearer. I only have to close my eyes and think back to that moment in every teenage girl's life when she looks at her mother with contempt and says (sometimes for all to hear), "I will NEVER be like you."

When I said those spiteful words to my own mother, she lost her momentum for a mere fraction of a second. Her hurt was almost indiscernible. She stopped what she was doing, (applying makeup), turned to face me in the small space we were in, (the bathroom) and said in a very steady, firm tone; "Someday you will understand why I do what I do." She then picked up her mascara wand, turned to face the mirror, and continued what she had been doing before I had interrupted her with my grand revelation. It was definitely not the reaction that I had anticipated, and I suppose that is why I remember it so well.

She was right. I understand her actions, her mistakes, and, most of all, the things that make her human. I understand these things because she taught me, she nurtured me, and she guided me away from some of the paths I could have unwisely followed without her direction and experience. My mother's humanity, her compassion, her insecurity, and her Guilt, make her who she is. Daughters have been told through the ages that, over time, they will become their mothers. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Perspectives on Friendship while far away from home.

My Friend Gordon

i Reminiscing

My friend Gordon is positive. He sees the world through glass-half-full goggles. He can walk into any room and make it feel as though someone has opened all the windows and allowed a fresh spring breeze to flow through. People inevitably smile when my friend Gordon is around.

When my friend Gordon was simply Gordon, we were working side-by-side in a Trust company, taking care of the incredibly large deposits of our incredibly wealthy customers.

We weren’t so wealthy.

We were first-year university students working at this part-time job in order to keep our fridges full of beer and wine and the occasional loaf of bread or quart of milk. My freshman year brain was bursting with negativity. Why did I have to hold down this part-time job while the rest of the more privileged girls in the all-girl dorm were back in residence laughing, joining sororities, eating peeled grapes and savouring chocolate-filled bonbons (or so my overactive imagination would have me believe).

I would walk into work with the weight of my angst slumping my shoulders into a premature hunch. A quick peek at the interest-rate board would be my predictor for the evening. Interest rates increased one-quarter of one percent? Excellent. My customers would be mentally adding those extra pennies onto their million dollar bank accounts and would be blissfully unaware of my scowling face. A dip of even one tenth of one percent? I knew I was in for an evening of complaints and anger directed at me, the lowly teller, as if I were responsible for the Bank of Canada’s fluctuating interest rates. As the mis-directed vitriol of my pampered customers washed over me, I would peek at the wicket next to me. There was that smiley guy Gordon.

“Good evening Mrs. Wickford Von Pillingham. How is Mr. Wickford Von Pillingham? Muffy’s visit to the vet went okay, did it? Let’s have a look at Muffy. Ah, yes look at the sparkle in her eye. You take such wonderful care of her…”

I would look at Mrs. Wickford Von Pillingham and see how charmed she was by the crap this guy Gordon was piling on.

What a jerk.

And so it would go, day after day, week after week, trudging into the Trust Company, glancing at the interest board, hunching my shoulders, readying myself for the inevitable complaints of the customers. And of course silently cursing the happy guy next to me, with his daily pleasanteries, platitudes, and positive, gung-ho, life-is-great demeanour.

One particularly sunny day I walked in with my personal black cloud hovering ever-so-close to my down-turned head. I put my cash drawer in place and pasted on my best “Can I help you” smile. I looked next to me. Gordon was hunched over his own cash drawer, counting coins, piling up the twenties and tens, calculator in hand. Why was he cashing out so early? I watched him closely, getting ready to comment on the injustice of his early departure.

He seemed to be recounting the same pile of quarters over and over again, pausing, sighing, and piling them up yet again for another go. And then it happened. There was a resounding crash as he threw his cash drawer, contents and all, onto the floor. He swore.

“Fuck”. He said it half-heartedly, arms at his side, staring at the mess in front of him. He started weeping as he bent over to pick up the scattered bills and coins from the floor.

Now this was interesting. Where was all that positive energy? Was my own negativity so powerful as to unnerve Mr. Happy? I couldn’t believe it. I bent over to help him. He looked at me, and we were facing each other, down on our knees on the cold company floor. In his eyes I saw such a look of sadness and defeat that I was left momentarily speechless. Our eyes were locked in that moment of sad recognition for what must have been only a few seconds, but the memory of that gaze, and the underlying emotion it conveyed will always be with me.

We cleaned up the change and bills and tucked them back in the drawer. His tears had stopped, and he looked a little sheepish.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “My dad’s been quite sick for the past 3 months. The call just came from the hospital. Tonight is probably his last night.”

He started to count his money again in an attempt to end his shift properly and balance his cash drawer. I grabbed his calculator and pushed the coins back into the drawer.

“Go see your dad.” I could hardly look at him. “I’ll balance your cash.”

And then he did something that is very Gordon, but, because I didn’t know him then, it was new to me. He grabbed me and hugged me in the tightest, most heartfelt embrace I had ever encountered. It took my breath away. He said thank you, and then he left.

Three days later, I was back in the bank. My shoulders hunched a little less, a feeling of anticipation was building up inside of me as I got closer to the front doors. Would Gordon be back? That look that we had shared and that spontaneous bear-hug earlier in the week had left me with a need to get to know him better. When I walked through the front doors of the bank, he was already at his wicket, smile from ear to ear, and waving to me as if he were on the bow of a ship leaving port.

I smiled and waved back.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that has seen us grow and change and become the people we are today. I know that many of the positive traits I carry and espouse now are because my friend Gordon is by my side, even though he’s a million miles away. His positive energy, his constant eagerness to learn new things and meet new people have inspired me to be a better person.

ii Negative vs. Positive

My friend Gordon is the one who taught me perspective. By age twenty-two, a steady diet of nihilist philosophy, radical feminism and Sylvia Plath poetry had created in me a certain sense of doom. The feminist courses taught me that, as a woman, I would have to fight a constant battle against 50 percent of the population. The philosophy courses were less specific in their battle lines but made it very clear to me that our reason for existence would never be clear, no matter how many books were cracked open or papers written about it. Sylvia Plath, well, that was just the perfect dessert for my already depressing diet of despair for the human condition.

One day, I decided I’d had enough. I sentenced myself to isolation. For my final year of university, I had left the all-girl residence behind, and found a run-down and incredibly cheap 2-room apartment in the Bathurst/College area of Toronto. An acquaintance of mine moved in, and we co-existed, each in our own respective dark bubbles of pessimism. She was studying to be a funeral director. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect roommate.

I had instructed my roommate that during my isolation period she was to tell anyone who called that I wasn’t home and that she didn’t know when I would be back. By day four, I knew she’d had enough. My friend Gordon had called at least ten times and he knew something was up. I heard my roommate yell into the phone, “She’s in her bedroom and she’s not coming out.”

Fifteen minutes later there was a knock at my door.

“Sarah, let me in.”

Of course it was my friend Gordon. I didn’t budge. I wasn’t going to let his positive energy ruin a perfectly good depression.

“Sarah, open the door.”

There was absolutely no way I was going to move. I had taken earlier precautions for just such a confrontration. I had purchased and installed a little lock on the door specifically for my isolation. Gordon gave up. I could hear him stomping off down the hall. I could hear voices and the banging of drawers coming from the kitchen. I could hear his footsteps coming back. And then I heard something else; a grinding noise, a steady “Grrp grrp grrp Ping. Grrp grrp grrp Ping.”

After a few more grinding bangs resounded from the other side of the door, I realized what he was doing. He was taking the screws out of the hinges of the door. In mere moments he had the door removed completely from the frame and was standing in front of me, screwdriver in hand, a big grin on his face. Gordon was indeed very satisfied with himself.

I viewed him with as much contempt as I could muster from the vantage point of my unmade bed. I was a mess, but was doing my best to throw him a powerful look of disdain worthy of Joan Crawford. By the shaking of his head and the positioning of his hands firmly on his hips, it was abundantly clear to me that Gordon wasn't going to tolerate any of my theatrics.

He had a garbage bag in his hand and was picking the various bits of crap from the floor and the shelves that had accumulated over my four days of solitude . He made a stack out of the pizza boxes in the corner and put a little cloth on top. “Ta da. It’s like a little bistro table, isn’t it?” I remained on my bed, arms crossed over my chest, refusing to let any of his energy budge me from my cluttered hideout. He ran out to the front of the house and came back with a fistful of bright yellow dandelions. He put them in one of the many half-full glasses that were lined up beside my bed and placed the homemade bouquet on the newly christened bistro table.

He grabbed my laundry bag from the end of the bed and upended it. Dirty shirts, a couple of sweaters and a half-eaten ham sandwich landed on the floor. Gordon rolled his eyes. He left to throw them in the washer and came back with a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt. They must have been in the dryer.

“Get dressed.”

“No.” I didn't move a muscle, my arms remained defiantly crossed in front of me.

“Okay then. I’ll wait.”

He pulled up a cushion beside the bistro table, opened a magazine and waited. And waited. He hummed and would occasionally laugh at whatever article he was reading. I realized he really was going to wait for as long as it took for me to get out of the bed.

I slowly crawled off the bed, being sure to let out a multitude of long, drawn out sighs as I did so. I peeled off the dingy excuse for pajamas I had been lolling about in for four days, and pulled on the jeans and t-shirt. He smiled and threw me a piece of cloth.

“Put this over your eyes. I’m taking you somewhere.”

I knew there was no point in arguing, so I did as he said. I grabbed the cloth and made a makeshift blindfold. He held onto my hand, led me out the front door and let out three short whistles when we were close to the street. He steered me into the backseat of a car and had me sit down. I could detect a distinct pine and stale cigarette odour that only a taxi could have. He told the taxi driver not to say the name of the destination. He had apparently written down where we were going since the taxi driver hit the gas and we were off without a word.

Already blessed with an incredibly bad sense of direction, with the blindfold on I truly had no idea where we were when we got out of the cab. He led me this way and that, navigating me through God knows what until we were somewhere that my other senses decipherd as being a very small and very quiet room. Without warning, my stomach was suddenly in my throat. We were most definitely in an elevator. An incredibly fast and smooth elevator. My ears popped as the air was sucked out of them. I swayed and my arms flew out seeking some sort of balance. My friend Gordon giggled, grabbed my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He was enjoying every second of my bewilderment.

When the doors slid opened, he was guiding me again, leading me with a certain determination that I had become familiar with over the course of our friendship. I knew to let him take the lead, and kept my normally sassy tongue in my mouth. We stopped, and Gordon placed the palms of my hands on something cool and smooth. Glass. Perhaps a window? Maybe a mirror? He gently nudged the back of my head until my nose was also touching the polished, flat surface in front of me . And then he pulled the blindfold off.

I let out a yell. We were in the clouds! Through the gauzy mist on the other side of the window in front of me, I could discern the glittering golden yellows, whites, and reds of the city’s lights. I could distinguish ant-sized cars making their way here and there on the maze of streets and highways below me. What were really skyscrapers when viewed from sidewalk level, were now merely toy lego rectangles, lined up in perfect symmetry hundreds of feet below.

The length of the elevator ride should have been enough of a clue as to where we were, but my lack of sight had disoriented me. We were in the tallest free-standing structure in the world; the CN Tower. I turned around and my friend Gordon had his characteristic huge grin on his face. He grabbed me and enveloped me in that wonderfully comforting bear hug of his. He stepped back, hands outstretched to grasp my shoulders, and looked me in the eye.

“Doesn’t your room seem a little small now?”

I had to agree. With a city of two million people buzzing below me, living, breathing, thinking, and feeling, my self-pity and self-imposed isolation seemed a little silly. We stayed and drank fancy umbrella drinks, watching life go on below us for quite some time. When I got home, I sat at my pizza-box bistro table, appreciating the yellow glow of the dandelions in front of me, and realized how lucky I was to have my friend Gordon to teach me the value of perspective.

iii The Not So Distant Past

Living in Japan, as I do now, home seems a million miles away. It is because of this physical separation from family and friends that I feel a hint of dread when I receive phone calls at odd hours. I know it is Canada calling when a pre-dawn call interupts my sleep. Even while the phone is ringing, my mind races to all the negative possibilities that this particular conversation may bring. I think many expatriates can sympathize with the early morning/late night telephone call stomach flip.

It was 5:00 am on a Sunday morning last July when the phone was ringing out in the kitchen. I rolled over onto the tatami-mat floor and crawled my way towards the source of the noise, not wanting to answer but knowing I must. When I answered the phone with a Japanese "moshi moshi" greeting, it turned out to be my sister, sounding quite cheery and upbeat. She knows of my telephone angst and always tries to put me immediately at ease. The usual talk of weather, family and work followed and the call was winding down when she said; “Sarah, I have to talk to you about Gordon.”

My friend Gordon is like a son to my small family. I remember 5 years ago, when his mom died, he called and said “Sarah, I’m an orphan.” I told him my family would adopt him. I don’t know how many 32-year olds are formally adopted, but I do know my parents would be the first to sign any papers that would allow it. They love my friend Gordon.

The seriousness in my sister’s voice worried me. I gripped the phone tightly as her voice travelled miles over land and sea to deliver the news.

"Sarah, Gordon is positive."

Through the fog of the early morning, my mind couldn't immediately register what these words meant. My first thought was of how incredibly positive Gordon is. Why was she telling me this? My sister, after a few moments, had to break the silence with three small but meaningful letters.


I sank to my knees on the cold kitchen floor. Sadness and dread washed over me as I looked all around, searching for anything to ground me in this moment of shock. But I was alone. My sister’s voice was trying to get through, knowing I was not handling the news very well. Through the steady buzz that was building in my head, I could hear her throwing words like they were life preservers, trying to keep me afloat on the sea of sadness into which I was beginning to sink. She was doing her best to reassure me. Some of her more upbeat offerings included;

“Gordon is fine..." and, "He's handling it so well..." and finally, "He’s not sick at all..."

I silently added the “yet.”

iv The Here and Now

It is now well over a year since the news was broken to me. I know the final outcome of this positive status, and it isn’t good. For the first time in his life, for my friend Gordon, being positive is not to his advantage. He visited me here in Japan recently. He looks older and I would sometimes catch him lost in thought as he would gaze out the train windows at the passing scenery. Those pensive moments were few and far between, but I was very aware of them when they happened, and I knew what he was doing. He was making an indelible etching in his memory of all the new things he was seeing here. He was creating an image that he could pull out at a later date when he may not be feeling so great. My friend Gordon has a talent for finding beauty in the mundane. He has the extraordinary ability to unearth meaning in daily events and chance meetings and it is this ability that I so cherish and admire. I would miss so much if I didn't have my friend Gordon to remove the blindfold I still often wear unconsciously.

On his first day here in Japan, we were walking side-by-side on a street close to my apartment. I had been talking for I don't know how long when I realized he was no longer beside me. I looked around to find Gordon was about 50 feet behind, laughing and pointing at something on the ground. I walked back towards him to find out what was so fascinating. He was staring at a sewer cover.

“Have you ever seen this before?” he was asking as he pulled out his camera. He was hovering over the cover, zooming the lens in and out in order to get the best angle. I leaned in to get a better look. The iron sewer cover was emblazoned with a six-legged cartoon character. It was the stamped raised image of a bug with a smiling face and 2 antennae, and it covered practically the whole surface of the covering. It truly epitomized city life in Japan to find something so cute and sweet in the centre of gray concrete and ever-present soot. Although Gordon's discovery was practically outside my front door, I had never noticed it before. I rationalized that one sewer cover in a city covered with thousands would be easy to miss. I was wrong. That day we saw dozens of those same covers all over the city as we criss-crossed Nagoya from temple to castle to shrine. That happy little bug was everywhere. Each time we saw one, we would laugh and Gordon would grab my hand and give it a little squeeze. I now see that bug each and every day and can not walk by without smiling and thinking of Gordon.

v Lessons for Tomorrow

My friend Gordon has taught me to appreciate the small things in life, to pay attention to the little details that surround me everyday. He sees beauty in dandelion weeds and sewer covers. He understands sadness and loss but can turn those experiences around to become something positive. He learns from the sad events that have occurred in his life, and he doesn’t hesitate to share what he has learned in his own Gordon way.

The time bomb that is ticking away inside him has made him acutely aware of his own mortality and it has made him even more positive, more in-tune with the people and things that surround him. He never hesitates to let people, even strangers, know what is special about them. Simply put, Gordon makes people happy.

Positively beautiful, beautifully positive. That’s my friend Gordon.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wednesday 3:00 a.m Perspective
Nagoya is very quiet, empty even

Dedicated to the Cho-Cho san that exists
in all women, West, East, North or South
All the beautiful Madam Butterflies who
wait, patiently.

the comfort woman She/she

She is there, waiting and
an environment, an atmosphere
for those in need of brief respite
from the world, the now
the here

but this one's special
and all can see
She's not there for them
the needy masses
She exists only for He

but because He
is a he
there's a certain ignorance
(a dash of arrogance?)
in the presence
of she who is She

a lack of deeper understanding
of the depth and scope of passioned
sensitivity carried

by her
for him

She, creating
an environment, an atmosphere
of solitude, understanding his need
to escape the world in which He lives

the bed is warm
(not conjugal, that's not her destiny)
the cup of tea
oh calm perfection, thinks He
in her oasis, sweet tranquility


she looks later at the bedclothes
crisp linen now gone limp
the teacup on the table
only dregs to offer memory
of the figure
of he who is He

The sheets are straightened
tea leaves drained from the cold
cup that once held comfort
her gift of solitude now long forgotten

because He needs
a brief respite, an environment
an atmosphere not created

for him
by her

And all can see
He needs to be
in a place
where there is

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Nagoya Friday Night Perspective

Shrouds Shrugged Off
Shrouds Which Remain

Here sit I
a fly
on the wall
silent witness
to thoughts which
normally remain unsaid
behind a shroud of
Political Correctness
when in the West

The voyage East
to the Land of Mystery
the shroud shrugged off
(sometimes with hesitance)
as the Newcomer
his rusty sexist lexicon
a shy glance here, there
and then declares
"Look at That One!
I'd fuck her in a Flash!"

he then smiles as his comrades
expatriates young and old
give Newcomer a fraternal
Slap! on the back and reinforce
his stance with a
"Fucking Right! I'd give it to her

As the girl they are referring to
blinks "Clink Clink" and smiles knowing,
understanding the words the
but letting the shade and colour
of her skin, the shape of her eye
shroud her in feigned

I've travelled not East but
back in time

Sunday, August 28, 2005

One View of Mount Fuji

The idea of a blog was introduced to me by a friend over a year ago. We were part of a small group of co-workers, thrown together because of work, but choosing to stick together after work hours because we like each other. One of the fold fled for soggy England, and I soon flew the coop as well, supposedly for a 3 month stint in Japan. I say supposedly not because of a change in geographical location; I am indeed in Japan. But a quick look at the calendar indicates that 3 months has transpired into a year and a half. What the hell happened?

In the interim, not only have I stayed here much longer than anticipated, two more comrades have also been bit by the travel bug, and now find themselves in opposite ends of the world; one in Columbia, the other in Korea. We are Generation X personified. All of us are walking that line that separates 30 from 40. Were we in our 20's, we'd be "finding ourselves", but, because we already have a pretty good grasp of that concept, what then are we doing?

Perhaps through my musings I will better understand this place I find myself in now. I call this blog "Western Woman" because, first and foremost, that is the identity that has been firmly placed upon me here. And, with that label comes certain expectations, expectations that, as time goes on, I am finding I am definitely living up to. Self-fulfilling propehecy? I'll say.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Western Woman in Japan phenomenon, the term itself will probably seem quite innocuous. To them I give a loud and forceful "Ha!". To Japanese and foreigners alike, the idea of Western Woman conjures up many descriptive adjectives and images. I can say, having spent a cumulative total of over 6 years here, neither the colourful desriptive words nor the full-blown 8 by 10 glossy image of the Western Woman is a very pretty one. Oh no indeed.

I would like to, over time, get a different perspective of this place; one where my Western Woman goggles aren't so firmly intact, and my guard isn't so at the ready. I want that fresh, just-off-the-plane naivete that happens to all first-time travellers. But, I know that isn't possible. I could, of course, pretend, but that pretense would soon wear off, and I would be back at square one, possibly feeling even more frustrated. So, I have another idea.

There is a famous set of Japanese ukiyo-e prints (and a not-quite-so-famous American book) called "36 Views of Mt. Fuji". Katsushika Hokusai drew Mt. Fuji from different perspectives in order to have a better understanding of its beauty. This is exactly what I need; small daily injections that remind me of the beauty that surrounds me. Mt. Fuji, in all her majesty, needs no airbrushing or touching up in order for her beauty to been seen and appreciated. Japan, the country and its people, however, has been so coated in artifice since the end of the war, that seeing its beauty is not always quite so simple. To appreciate the beauty that I know exists (and which I have witnessed, though briefly) is only a matter of taking the time to scratch the surface with a little more vigour and determination.

For a lazy girl like me, finding the motivation needed to scratch that surface, to get past the labels imposed upon me (and the ones I impose upon others) at times seems like an insurmountable task. But, I have long been an appreciator of perspective, relying on the clarity it gives me. Without exception, that clarity inevitably comes from a perspective captured from only one view - the one in retrospect. That proverbial light bulb flashes days, weeks, even years after certain life experiences, and though I can smile contentedly, better understanding why I had to endure certain hardships, it often feels like too little too late. That flash of understanding would have been put to better use at the time I was living the experience.

Today's decision is to open up the window on perspective, to not only see things from a backward glance over my shoulder. I would like to think that when Katsushika Hokusai was circling Mt. Fuji, drinking in her exquisite allure, he also witnessed flaws in the landscape. And, as he noted the flaws, he knew they were part and parcel of the beauty of the scene he found himself in. Perhaps my own personal "36 Views of Japan" will not only give me a different perspective of the country and the people who inhabit it, but a new and, hopefully, positive view of myself, Western Woman, as well...flaws and all. I can certainly hope so.