Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lost in Kyoto


I’m overwhelmed, head spinning, crying in the rain in downtown Kyoto.

This was not the start to a good day. Now, I will say I was crying more from exhaustion; jetlag always makes me weepy. The silent tears flowed behind my over-sized sunglasses, which hid my embarrassment for the most part. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was the luckiest girl in the world, that this rain would end eventually and that I would just hail a cab to take me to my hotel, which I was most certain had got up and moved across town while I was away.

Japan has almost always been my dream. I can’t pin down one particular thing that lead me to my love of all things Japanese but I can remember exactly when I fell head over heels.

When I was 13, I moved to a new town, thousands of miles away from my previous home. (That home only had been ‘home’ for 2 years before the move before that one and so on…) No friends, awkward and alone.  It’s your typical sob story of an angsty teen so I won’t bore you.  But there was a specific turning point that I distinctly remember, changing everything in my addled teenaged brain.

 I was given a horrible schedule by my high school councilor which gave me a ‘lunch’ break at 10:30am. Rather than brave the cafeteria alone, I went up the library and sat at a desk near the stacks, trying to be invisible. I would sneak away and pick a book to occupy my time for the 45 min period. This particular day, I picked Fodor’s guide to Japan. I hadn't given much thought to Japan before really. Godzilla movies and ninjas were the only thing that came to mind.  But this book took me far away from the ugly little desk in a place I didn't really want to be.  And the more I read, the more I realized that I felt a lot like the Japanese. Americans thought they were strange, so alien in their manner and ways. They were so different. Just like me. I felt to alien and different from everyone else too.


I thought that perhaps one day I could go there and I would be accepted and I could find ‘my people’ as my mother called it. As I got older and read more and more, I knew that to be untrue as well. Regardless of how well I could speak Japanese, know the customs, trying to fit in, I would always be an outsider. I could never truly belong here. I wasn't born Japanese in Japan so I would never really be anything but Gaijin.

But as I sat having coffee yesterday in the heart of Kyoto, watching the Dekotora trucks and white gloved taxi drivers go by and I realized something. Even though I would never belong here, I am as different and strange looking as I feel. I stick out like a sore thumb, which is exactly how I feel all the time. I don’t blend. I don’t mesh. I am a 5’10”, redheaded, white chick in a yellow silk dress in a land full of… well, not that. It’s a little validation on how I still feel, that feeling my 13 year old self has yet to shake.  It’s a bit of a weight lifted.

And there are still many things that Japan and I share. A value of careful thought and what  many consider ‘introverted’ thought patterns. Finding perfection and beauty in all things. Consideration and respect  for those around you. A love of all things cute. Desire to fit in yet every person is so different, which is ok and not at the same time.

So dearest Japan, even though we can never truly be together, let's settle on this glorious love affair from time to time. We will come together, make beautiful music, and leave each other feeling more enriched for it. 

What do you say?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Born

"Do you want to film me shaving my head?"
"Alice?"
"I'm going to shave my head. You can film it."
"Alice? What are you talking about? Are you in town?
"I'm at The Treetop. We can have a drink or two. It'll be an thing. Why don't you come? Bring clippers."
And she hung up.

I sat there a moment but just a moment. Alice had blown in and out of my life so many time and she was always there but always far far away. She was untouchable. Maybe because I knew it was better that way. Probably because of whatever boring hulk guy she was leaning on would pummel me if they knew she was in the same bar as me. They never lasted long though. She always came to me, eventually.

The Treetop was a hole. There were no pushers or junkies though. Mostly quiet drunks, homeless moms and the whores just lived there and turned their tricks in alleys and in cars a mile down the pocked road because they knew better. Merrily, the owner, was quick with a Yankee slugger and scared of nothin' and a soft spot in her heart for the down, out, lonely and lost. She kept the assholes out, nursed to broken hearts as she could, collected rent and sent the dead on to their next destination when the situation called for it. Sara was in room 202. The door was open.

She kissed me on the mouth like she always did but there was something different. She had lingered for just a moment. She held a handful of my tshirt on my back like she was fallin'. Like it might be all she had. But as soon as I was catching on, she walked away.

She was still beautiful. Tall boots with the leather all scuffed. Her bare collarbone so frail it looked like it might break. Red lips to match her hair that came to her waist.
"Clippers?"
"Yeah. When did you get in? Your mom was calling me couple weeks ago looking for ya. Not worried yet, just curious. You're not really going to do this are you?"

I laughed a little. She didn't.

She grabbed a fist full and with a pair of orange handled scissors labels "Front Desk" she separated 13 inches of hair from her head and let it fall to the floor. I grabbed my camera. The lighting flickered as I found her in my lens as another 13 inches fell.

I hadn't realized how quiet it was until she turned the clippers on and removed the last of the red. The buzzing resonated in the grimy little bathroom moments after she shut it off. The skin on her head with impossibly white, paler than her pale face, arms, legs. Her eyes found me in the mirror, through my camera. She took off her shirt.

She stood for a moment, just moment, letting me film her in bra surrounded by her hair and something in her eyes that I hadn't seen before.  I couldn't decide who she was: an indian woman tonsuring to give their hair to God. A cancer survivor. A woman shamed. A witch before burning.

She turned and walked past me, grabbing a clean shirt and her bag. I followed her movements in the mirror until she said,
"Buy me a drink."
and walked out the door.

Sammy's wasn't far. I filmed her smoking, walking down the street, tossing a few coins at an old man talking to himself, touching her head and pulling a long strand of hair off her skirt. She flicked her cigarette into the gutter and had her drink ordered before I sat down next to her.

The bar was lit by every neon beer sign Sammy could get his hands on. He was leaning over the bar handing Sara a bottle of beer and a shot of something. He touched her face and told her she was beautiful and she smiled at him. She rested her head in his hand, just for a moment. He pulled away and she downed the shot like it was air.

She danced. The juke box that never stopped. She swayed and pulled her arms up, exposing the soft skin next to her breast and she softly spun with eyes closed. Another shot. Another. She swayed. She was beautiful. She swayed again.

I caught her and with one mascara tear down her right cheek she asked me
"What do you see in my eyes? Do you see anything?"

I looked past the green with amber flecks and found not something missing but too much. The camera ran as she dragged me into the stall, slammed me up into wall. It ran as I half carried her home. It ran as she kissed me so hard it hurt. It ran as I touch the soft skin and she tore at my clothes. It ran out of tape as we fell asleep, bruised and better then we had been in a long time.

And then, she was gone.