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Hollyhocks and Bamboo and Monkeys! Oh My!

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Day 9: May 15, 2015

Had a traditional Japanese breakfast this morning: fried mackerel, miso soup, greens with tofu, and rice. Good and filling, but I still needed to grab a coffee from the cafe.

By the time I arrive at the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) at the Imperial Palace, it feels like it’s 27 degrees…at 1030 in the morning. I jam my sun hat on, but I’m still a hot mess. I notice that this is a ticketed event  and that most people are dressed respectably: hats with visors, shirts and ties, long-sleeved tops, gloves, panty hose. And everyone brought a personal towel to wipe the sweat.

I find a couple of old Japanese guys with long lenses seated in the ticketed section, so I stand behind them behind the rope; I figure they know the good vantage points. They’re nattering away when one of them notices my camera, particularly the make (Nikon). A older woman next to me asks where I’m from. (None of them speak English.) One of the men points to my camera,”Good one,” then gestures at the lens to see the focal length (55-200 mm) and I show him my second lens (18-55mm). He nods his approval. Then he points at his friend’s camera and laughs. I have no idea why because we’re all using Nikons. The woman says something and the next thing I know the three of them are sneaking me under the rope and into the ticketed area, telling to me move quickly, pushing me to get a better seat, nudging me as if to say “Hey, get a shot of that.” Love it. Cameras do it every time. My tribe. And I got photos of them.

In the afternoon, I take a train to see a bamboo forest. Before I hit the “trail” I inhale chicken on a stick and pineapple on a stick. It’s the first fruit I’ve had in days. Scurvy averted. Whew! I follow the steady stream of tourists into the cool and lovely foest. Keep in mind, this is a maintained road, so there isn’t much forest-like about the place, but that what the locals call it. The bamboo grow tall and green and I’m in awe. I’ve never bamboo in the wild. Long stalks stretching into leaves, some with leaves sprouting from the stalks. What could this have looked like before it was cultivated?

On the way, many people asked me to take their photos, including a couple from Toronto; tells me that as soon as he saw my Canadian flat luggage tag, he knew I’d help out. We chatted about cameras a  bit then I told him about Toronto Photo Walks. Perhaps he’ll show up.

As I exit the forest/grove, I hear someone mention monkeys. I check the map and sure enough there’s a monkey park nearby. Once I get directions from a couple of Brits, I’m off to cross the “famous bridge” then follow the signs. The hilly scene stops me in my tracks (this happens a lot in Japan). After the requisite photos, I begin the trek up the hill/mountain. Semantics mean nothing: I’m walking up a steep incline with no water, it’s about 30 degrees Celcius, humid, and I’m sweating like a pig. Damn monkeys better be worth it.

OH MY GOD MONKEYS! Macaques with red butts and red faces sneak around, play fight (or fight fight? I can’t tell), groom, and … um, hump? Right, lets just look over here then. We’re definitely in their territory and there are rules, even if they are in badly translated English: “Don’t stare at the monkeys in the eyes. Dont touch the monkeys. Don’t feed them outside. Don’t take picture on the way. Please take a distance more 3m with monkeys.” What if the monkey stares at me? What if it invades my personal space? Perhaps I take the Japanese tack, mutter “sumimasen,” and back away. Or I take a Western tack and snap photos. AND OH MY GOD A BABY MONKEY! I’m going to die of cute.

I leave the macaques to do their thing and make my way down the hill to the train. And I bet I smell a treat: sweat and monkey. Who cares. My next stop is the lovely kimono shop next to my hotel where I swear I saw a kimono onsale for 30,000 yen. It’s now 4:30 and it closes at 6. Will I make it?
Just barely. Except the kimonos aren’t on sale; in fact, they run from 140,000 to 190,000 yen. Gulp! I buy something else for much less money and take my leave.

Hard Day’s . . . Night

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The Night Sky by  Blake Nancarrow

The Night Sky by Blake Nancarrow

Legend has it that after a particularly long recording session, Ringo Starr left Abbey Road muttering something like “That was a hard day’s…” when he looked up, realized the time and said, “…night.”

True or not, I’m sure you’ve shared that experience: a long work day during which you rarely look up and made worse if you don’t leave the office or have a window. The concept of time that was once gauged by the sun is now dictated by the clock. How many times in the winter have you looked up at 5 p.m. and said, “It looks like nine o’clock at night!” Yes, but who said what nine o’clock looks like?

Indeed the appearance of time, day and night, has changed since the invention (and popularity) of gas then electric light. Compounded with the popularlity of “smart” devices, we are inundated with light to the point that we can’t sleep. And if we can’t sleep then, well, shouldn’t we be productive?

We haven’t always slept through the night. In the distant past, we used to go to bed “early,” dog tired after a labourious day, wake up later in the night or early morning, do stuff in the dark, fall asleep again, and wake up with rooster. Some people still do this, only they write, as Karen Emslie tells us in her Aeon piece, “Broken Sleep.”

Unfortunately this schedule doen’t work for many people. Perhaps we’ve been programmed. Regardless, light affects our melatonin which affects our sleep which affects our mood which determines our mental and physical health. Sure there are pills and exercises and sex and yoga and mantras, but let’s to go to the source: light. Humans cannot cope in a world without darkness, says Rebecca Boyle in her article “The End of Night,” published in Aeon. Not only does it rob us of biological needs but it compels us to produce, to be “on” all the time. We’re surrounded by (very rich) role models, leading us to believe if Highly Successful Person can be highly successful with only four hours’ sleep, then so can I because I’m efficient, not a slacker like other people! For the record, I count myself among the “other people.” You really don’t want to around me when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep. In fact, I think that says something about Highly Successful Person too.

The idea that we must be productive most of the time makes me wonder about the definition of productive. From my North American perspective, it appears to mean making something tangible. Thinking isn’t seen as productive. Oh, you’ll hear lots of discussion about “creatives” and “knowledge workers” “innovating” in “collaborative work environments,” but I think that’s all marketing spin. As I sit alone in my home office by my window looking out onto a tree and a neighbouring building, I wonder what a boss would think, all buttoned up in a dark blue wool suit. He or she would likely scold me for daydreaming then request a status report on something, probably the very thing I was “daydreaming” about.

One thing I do daydream/think about is space. It gives us perspective. Once upon a time I witnessed the northern lights. Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with other people’s photos of the glorious phenomenon. I’d like to see the northern lights again as well as the other celestial shows, but judging from Toronto’s light-polluted night sky, I’ll have to drive pretty far north to do so. Having lived in a city for most of my life, I used to shrug this off. Then I saw the wonderful doc The City Dark and I realized I’m missing something–something important.

It’s a hard day’s night, indeed.

Travel Bug

I have some news: I’m travelling to Japan for a month! The prospects make me excited and terrified. At first this was because I didn’t speak Japanese, but I’ve since learned this obstacle isn’t insurmountable. What has me more worried is money, which entirely in character. What is out of character is that I haven’t planned enough. Too late now, right? Anyway it’s all part of my long-term plan to lift my eyes from the page and see the world for myself.

With that in mind, I’ve invested in a backpack

45 L of Travelling Goodness!

45 L of Travelling Goodness!

… and light hiking boots

Sexy and Sturdy, Yes?

Sexy and Sturdy, Yes?

My to-do/to-buy list is long and tedious so I shan’t bore you with it, suffice to say that every time I scratch something off I add something else. Gah!

More later. Till then, if you want to see my photos, scroll down to my Flickr account. I’ll be adding photos of my trip.

[Enter Time Cliché Here]

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Time is one of those things what we all want more of, yet when we’re each allotted our twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year it all gets frittered away.

I’m not alone when I get to the end of any given day and wonder what happened. What did I get done? Was I even productive? These questions are more keenly felt when you freelance. I manage to get to my desk by 9 am most mornings, though I wonder if I should get up earlier. I take small breaks to stretch then an hour at noon for lunch. I look at my page count and wonder what I’d done for three hours. I fire up again at one, take tea at three then calmly carry one. By five I look at my page count and chide myself for being too unproductive.

My cranky computer takes enough time to save (or think about saving) for me to open email. The pressure mounts again: Can I do this? Wanna do that? Please give us another. Sigh. Flag for later, sorry can’t, bugger off you. I see starred emails and the guilt overwhelms until I hit close and open my newly saved document almost dripping with blood-red edits.

If I see one more list about how I can get my shit together or why I’m such a failure or why I’m super-awesome-great or how I cannot live as a woman without reading this list of pastel-covered books I will puke. No. That isn’t a joke. I got the bag-lined bin beside me. I warn you. Projectiled lunch is but a buzzfeed away.

Relighting the Fire with a Spark

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In the process of tidying up some errant code from some old posts that I moved from another platform I realized that my writing was much saltier once upon a time. Recently, I’ve been posting book reviews, gardening missives, and moans about accessibiltiy issues. Christ almighty, I sound like an old lady! But why? My friends and co-workers would heartily disagree (I hope, anyway) that I’m retiring and resigned. Thinking about it I realized that much of my piss and vinegar is reserved for Facebook, which I reserve for folks I know. I also admit that I pick my battles a little more; anger is exhausting and, frankly, many of its targets are undeserving of my energy. Having said that, I really should take a stand more often. So, among my resolutions for 2013: spout off more. There’s more to me than books reviews, walking sticks, and weed pulling.

Shooting the Moon

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Ok, so here’s the thing. I was recently laid off from a job that I loved, but for which I was underpaid. (I know, me and everyone else, boo hoo.) Characteristically, I’m seeing this as a much-needed kick in the ass to find a better job doing what I love whilst doing freelance work. I’ve spent the better part of the week updating, revising, social networking, and actually applying for positions that at first glance appear way out of my league. Redundancy can do wonders to your ego sometimes.

During this endeavour I’ve come across the old saw, “Shoot for the moon and you’ll hit the stars,” meaning even if you don’t get as far as you want, you’ll go farther than you are. Unfortunately, I think science differs on this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but stars are suns many of which are dying hence their brilliance and reason why we can see them light years away. Why would you want to be around a bunch of dead suns? More to the point, they are actually past the moon that is in our solar system, which is home to just one sun that is very much alive and fiery.

So do I shoot for a moon and hit…a satellite? That would cause an international incident, I should think. The ensuing headlines (“Unemployed editor shoots down TV satellite: millions of Americans riot”) wouldn’t make for good job prospects. (Then again, whatever did happen to the air steward who swore on mic? Bet he got a book deal…) And who wants to reach a satellite anyway. Yawn.

I’ve decided, then, to shoot for a planet, maybe that new earth-like one scientists found recently. Hmm. If you were to believe author John Grey, women are from Venus so perhaps I ought to aim there. Nah, too Oprah. Mars? Too trendy, plus the film crews will be there any minute. Uranus? Next. How about I shoot for Pluto, which sits on the outermost reaches of our solar system, and reach the moon.

Yes, that will do nicely. Now where are my bow and arrow…

Happy New Year!

>Well, 2008 has been an interesting year in the Confucian sense. I needn’t remind anyone of why; the headlines will do that. But personally, it’s been twelve months of reckoning and re-evaluating. Working in the Canadian cultural industry is always perilous, and the past year has been particularly unsettling: economies going down the toilet, layoffs, parity, elections…I expect to hear the clatter of apocalyptic hoof beats soon. It makes one tired physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The only highlight was Barak Obama’s election to the White House. I was able to let my growing cynicism take a break, and basked in the warmth of possibility. It was nice.

Tomorrow is the last day of this tumultuous year, and Thursday will the first of 365 days of what I hope will be positive change if only for me and my friends: marriages, babies, passports, new jobs, better attitudes. I don’t expect the economy to boost or for governments to realize that their job is, in fact, to govern and not bully. I do expect 2009 to be a year of progressive adjustment. Ghosts will give way to realistic goals.

Normally, I make resolutions that are realistic and achievable. One year I changed my career, the next I lost weight (and it remains lost). Among my promises is that I will spend more time writing and not let my small space on the worldwide web become as dusty as I have in the last six months.

Here’s hoping for positive change! Cheers and happy New Year!



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