Monday, August 25, 2014

what the paint will do

A few months ago I started working on a portrait of my friend's daughter, for fun. I had already done the ground in loose, wash-y strokes, and wanted to try to keep the same looseness in the face, too.

From the outset, though, I layed down some heavy, chalky colors that simply would not harmonize. Too much contrast; too dark, too purple... Next layer, I'll reconcile that, I told myself.

Next layer: I merely solved one set of problems and created another. I probably should have left well-enough alone but oh right ha ha ha I never do that. Still too purple. I can fix it.

So around and around I went, falling into the same traps, having the same struggle, session after session. Stubbornness is a sneaky beast, isn't it? I worked myself into such a lather, determined to render the effortless sweetness of this expression with MORE effort.

A painter friend suggested, despite my frustration and against my better judgment, to keep pushing.
Just to find out what the paint will do. Here's the evolution:


Wednesday, August 20, 2014


I dreamed the other night that we were at Kyoto Station, and there was a huge crowd waiting to board a train. The kids and I were getting pizza across the street, and when we turned around again the crowd was gone. They had all boarded the last train, and we had missed it.

"Like you were stuck in Kyoto?" Jason asked when I told him about it.
"No, like all of Kyoto left me." I replied.


Back in January, Jason did this thing where he applied for a position at a university in Oxford, England. I knew he was on the look-out for job openings, but I naively assumed any possibilities would bring us closer to home, not around the world in the other direction. He applied almost as a warm-up for the slew of postings that come available in the fall of every academic year, so I put it out of my mind and forgot about it until he found out he'd been short-listed as a candidate, in early March.

A couple of months later, he had a phone interview. Because of a time-zone calculation error and further delays, the call ended up happening at 2 o'clock in the morning, in the freezing front foyer of our Kyoto machiya. The following morning he summed it up like this: "I bombed it."

I reminded him that he usually dramatically underestimates himself, and that he probably did better than he thought. He was adamant, though, and actually a little relieved to be free of the torturous post-interview wait.

We were both genuinely gobsmacked, then, when they called barely four days later to offer him the
position. I was too shocked to even muster an I-told-you-so about his middle of the night interviewing skills.

ENGLAND?! I wrote in my date-book. And then cried for two hours straight.


As our remaining months in Japan unspooled, I tried my best to keep an even keel. While we worked through the logistics of an international hop-scotch move, I mapped an inner topography for the emotional trade-off and energy needed for yet another beginning.

I couldn't imagine going back to Rhode Island, I couldn't imagine what life in the UK might be like, and I couldn't figure out how to enjoy the waking present moment in Kyoto. I felt unmoored and brutally homesick.

I just had to make it here, to this day, then. Things would become clearer.

"We don't have a home," Auden started telling people, "We just rent a house and then move to another country."


Jason left last night, the kids and I will join him in three weeks. Now is the limbo, the space between the things. After all the moving we've done, you would think I'd be all practiced and limber and enlightened about Living in the Now, but it is painful and graceless every time. 

No, not graceless: while we wait for our future to take shape, we are being housed and fed and entertained and shuttled about by my gracious and generous family, who ache just as we do in the bitter and the sweet of this move. And there is the lake.

But because all our moves seem to be pushing us to the ocean and to islands, I have taken to heart this line from Neko Case's "City Swans":

And it breaks my heart just like the day
I looked down and realized
I'd been sailing so long, I'd become the shore.


Sunday, August 10, 2014


When we're in Michigan, the first thing to do is go to the lake.

After a year of feeling perpetually uncomfortable and hungry, of reaching and trying and keeping myself aloft, I can rest and be filled up on this lake. 

Jason and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary; the kids are bingeing on cereal and TV. It is undeniably easy to be here... It's too easy. I feel guilty.

But the light on the water at eight o'clock is like something sinking into me, smoothing over what has been ragged and hyper and demanding, reflecting back something pure and unsayable.

Driving home at dusk last week, I watched fireflies light up the ditches by the side of the road -- astounded, in reverie, that there were so many. They lit up the edges of our way home, they kept flashing, pulsing, flickering... What is it? I thought. What is it like? It's so reassuring, how they are there they whole way, no matter which way we turn.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

sayonara, and other pieces out of time

Already, Japan is worlds away. 

Even as we packed our last boxes, distributed our things among friends and neighbors, bade elaborate goodbyes to one and all, I was trying to grasp at something. That fleeting, floating thing I knew I would inevitably ache for as soon as we left. 

Not the house, not the streets, not the encounters, but the air that filled in all the spaces between them. 

I knew I couldn't take it with me, knew I would miss it; can't talk myself out of it.

That air, you know? That light, falling in between our narrow rows of houses, falling on our shoulders as we walked to the park again again again, the corner store again again again, not aware but painfully aware of how beautiful it all is, even as the flaws are apparent, the loneliness ever-present -- the shoji are lovely, but a few have holes, are sticky in their tracks -- still, it is special and therefore WE are special. 

One doesn't like to give up one's loneliness so quickly, it turns out. It lingers, like a vivid dream.

The kids are not sentimental: they are bingeing on cartoons and cereal, entirely spoiled by trips to the Lake and access to the neighbor's pool. It is summer! There are long-forgotten toys! 

We return to something so familiar and so comfortable, and it's this I missed all those long months away, so you can imagine my confusion when I glance at a picture of myself sitting on a stone wall in a temple, and even though I know I was crabby that day, and tired, and the kids were bickering, I want to go back there. Just for a moment. 

But I can't take what I already have, and so I go around noticing the air here, too -- slanting through the giant maples, plied by the lazy calls of mourning doves -- while Auden races ahead, out of view, and Isla falls off her bike, and cries, and then laughs through her exhaustion. 

It's this, it's this, it's this.