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Ginichiro: “Good morning – or evening – and welcome back from the break. If you’re just tuning in, welcome to PenBenBenPen with Pen Ginichiro and Benzaiten. This is the last half of the show where we answer emails from the listeners.”

Benzaiten: “Today we’ve got just enough time for about two or three, I think. I guess it depends how long Huck lets us stay up.”

Huck: (Murmur in the background.)

G: “You say that now? It’s already 2:53 a.m….huh? the neighbors?…no, we know…well, if Lunaire hadn’t made a mess with the mochi maker then we could have pre-recorded this instead of going live… Sorry. Yeah, Benny, 3 might be Huck’s limit this-morning-tonight.”

B: “Can we start off with the one written by ‘Tujiko Noriko Fan 516’?

G: “Sure, wanna answer it, then?”

B: “Yeah!”

G: “Alright, then I’ll read it off.

‘Dear PenBenBenPen,

I used to write to you by the name, “Lazuras’ Nursery Limes.” Remember me? I once asked for advice about where to put those lilies my neighbor gave me, and another time I told you I’d donate a lime-a-limerick to your festival cocktail booth.

Recently, I’ve got my hands full and I can’t seem to dish off the load. Just so much time. So much potential boredom hiding around the corner. So I tweet, I twitch, I tik, I tok, I snap, I chat, I gram, …just grabbing the lowhanging fruits between me and boredom. Any thoughts? I’d like to kick the habit. Any suggestions for fun activities, or maybe some more of your crazy cocktail recipes? Those were fun! I wish you’d share wacky cocktail recipes again. Anyhow, looking forward to your response.

Best,

Tujiko Noriko Fan 516’

Aww, that’s so sweet of Laz-..Tujiko Noriko Fan 516. Haven’t heard from them in a couple of months! Well, Benzaiten’s up to bat.”

B: “Hmm, not sure you’re gonna like what I have to say. First of all, thanks again for listening and sending in mail. It’s good to hear from you, Tujiko Noriko Fan 516! Ok. Here I go.

I’ve got a case for boredom. It’s locked shut with ten thousand locks: each a unique key. Tinkering about with it won’t do you any good, to get in. That’s where the boredome is, though: complete with its own stratosphere and subterraneous plate shifting, grinding of teeth, and molten priorities. I like to keep it locked down. Until it bores out an’ runs loose. It takes forever, though, if you ignore it. Genius never strikes under spotlight, and boredom never boils unless you watch it. Sit there. You can’t tinker with it, though. Tinkering just puts off the wait. You gotta wait till it bores out. Someone’s gotta watch it boil over. Watch the bubbles come as they will, as you willn’t. It’s not about your will, in the end.”

Diary – 5/17/2020

It takes me great effort to put together a meal. If I have to, I can cook; but it’s nothing to write home about. During this time I find myself looking forward to eating other people’s cooking… and not simply because mine is bad, but because eating someone else’s cooking is like getting to chat over hot toddies and heartfelt silences, or a private audience listening to someone perform their music, or seeing someone act their truth on stage. So, this weekend I took a midday jaunt outside to pick up some noodles. Being cooped up inside for so much of the past two months, I barely had a chance to register that spring was well done, and summer was already maxing out 2nd gear. The 28 degree Celsius high-noon sun threatened to lift the skin right off my scalp, so I returned home for a baseball cap.

When I eventually arrived at the noodle shop – tucked between the store of timed-out oddities and the 24 hour grocer – it took about half a minute for my eyes to adjust to the cavernous kitchen opening in from the take-out window. I couldn’t tell if anyone was there.

“Good afternoon.” I took off my baseball cap to get a better view. Cool air from the empty kitchen window greeted the sweat accumulating on my brow beneath the midday heat.

Haaai! Just a minute!” A voice came from way in the back. Still no sight of anyone.

My eyes continued adjusting. I could just make out the calmness of the kitchen. Like a catalog photo: unnaturally clean.

A short woman appeared from the darkness with handkerchief overhead and mask over mouth. Between the cloth, a pair of eyes pulling on well worn wrinkles. “Hi! What would you like?”

“Can I get the tempura set to go?”

“Udon, or soba?”

“Udon.”

“Right-right. Please have a seat and we’ll bring it out to you. It’ll take about 15 minutes though. Hardly anything’s made, except the noodles.”

Have a seat? The shop looked closed inside.

“Ah, the bench over there.” She leaned out the window and pointed to a little bench near the entrance. “I’ll bring you some iced tea for the wait. Go on, take a seat.”

While I refrained from using the washcloth she brought out after I took a seat, I couldn’t resist the iced barley tea. One can only take in so much sun without something to wet the whistle. At least I was getting some much-needed vitamin D.

I waited. Sounds of someone else cooking escaped the kitchen. I closed my eyes, and exhaled, wilting a little but pleasurably so.

I made it about ¾ of the way down the barley tea by the time she came out of the kitchen: a neatly packaged meal in one hand and a transaction tray in the other.

I received them both, and fished for appropriate change.

“It’s hot, yeah? This sun and all…” she said.

“Yep. But getting some good food like this is just the trick on hot days.”

The small talk visibly surprised her, and she suddenly softened. “Wait, …do you live around here?”

“Yeah, just down the corner, kind of across from the Inari shrine.”

“Really? That’s so near!”

“Every time I go to get groceries I walk past here, so – since you were open today…”

Masked and handkerchiefed, the stretching of wrinkles around her eyes conveyed warmth. “Thanks.”

I nod-bowed and put my mask back on. “Take care,” I picked up the meal and started off.

You take care!” She giggled. Probably because customers don’t normally tell the cooks and staff to “take care” in Japanese.

How long had it been since someone stopped in? How long had it been since I stopped in somewhere for a meal?

It’s dangerously easy to get into the routine of buying the same types of foods. I bought a beer for the first time in about …two and a half months… Since I came to Japan again-again. I feel like that one beer had quite an effect on me when I woke up. No pain. Just a little duller than normal. Maybe my system is just not used to beer anymore. Maybe that’s thanks to how much sake I’ve had instead.

Anyhow, today I feel like I can’t concentrate, but every time I go to my “to do” list, I’ve “to done it” – at least, as much as I should reasonably do it. Should I lesson plan and material create for the next unit starting next month? Should I rough draft my portfolio work due at the end of the month? Done did, chicken little.

All the while, I really know why I “can’t concentrate.” It’s not last night’s beer, I can tell you that. Have you ever been hung over so bad that your body heroically discharges your evils from whence they came? Hard to stop, isn’t it. You could try to hold it back, but it wouldn’t do you much good. I think I’ve had a case over there in the corner, but I haven’t been watching it appropriately. Seeing as I’m getting hung up on the to-do-littles and mutil-taskimins, maybe I’ve got a case of indigestion.

It’s really all about this writing I have to do. You might be thinking, well, Huck, now that the portfolio rough draft is in – you can get started right away on editing, revising, and final drafting that puppy! But what was the point of getting the work done if there isn’t a pause between the work? Constant work kills quality. All things need pause.

If I don’t stop working on the portfolio, I’ll never get to that writing I have to do, for example. Time for a pause.

My students are finding too much pause in their lives, now. So they say.

Wednesday mornings I’m staying after class to just chat for a half an hour. Just for this one course. No one gets credit for it. There’s no academic reward, on paper, anyway. It’s the one day of the week where I don’t have a class immediately after the first period, so – why the hell not? I’d like to say there’s some research evidence to support this move – but there isn’t: students complained that they couldn’t do the mandatory extra-curricular for-a-grade chats with me during said mandatory-extra-curricular for-a-grade chat classes I conduct. There are 50 other teachers, and half of them are probably offering similar chat courses outside of their own normal courses as well. My students are like guests at a 5-star hotel buffet: none of the options are going to do them wrong, but they still find themselves looking for something familiar. If you were a freshman in your first semester, would you feel more comfortable talking to your class’ English teacher instead of a teacher from another class? Maybe.

Who knows why they really brought it up. Who knows why I offered more of my time. I’m not sure any of that really matters at the moment. To be frank, I’m lucky to have someone to talk to besides the oddballs I live with.

Near the end of one of these post-class chats, May said, “but – sometime soon – I will run out of things to watch… on youtube, Netflix.”

“What will you do when you run out of things to do?” I asked

June was quick to answer, “I’ll just buy other things.”

Ginichiro: “Ok, here’s one. Writer’s name: Fezzywig’s Hop.

‘Dear PenBenBenPen,

Lately I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Have you ever taken medicine to help yourself sleep? I went to pick some up from the pharmacy, but I freaked out when I saw the line inside. I’m not gonna wait 15 minutes in line inside a pharmacy with 20 other people roaming the store, are you crazy?

I abandoned that mission. By time I got home I had another quart of ice cream in the freezer. That’s three now. I’ve opened two of them already, and neither is even half finished. Strawberry banana, blue moon, and coconut crisp.

When you’re in isolation the 4 o’clock raven conference is a nightingale madrigal. That shrieking baby, a sign of life. A sign that time is rapidly passing, for someone. My time is stopped, and yet I’m getting more and more of it. Before you know it, I’ll have a fourth opened yet unfinished ice cream carton. Rocky road?

So, I’ve been listening to your show – before going to bed – hoping you’ll put me to sleep. Which brings me back to the point above. What do you suggest for getting better sleep?

Sincerely,

Fezzywig’s Hop’

Alright, Benny, you got anything?”

Benzaiten: “Hmm. Sure, you can medicate yourself to sleep. You can also medicate yourself to death. Not sure I would recommend either, but they are possibilities. Some are taking advantage of one or the other – maybe both.

I don’t think either will solve your problem. I don’t think you have a problem, either. I’m sure you’ve thought of all the obvious: fresh air, healthy food, moderate exercise, lot’s of water, hot baths at least twice a week, making a habit of waking up at the same time everyday.

Here’s some other things you could do. Abandon hope, for a minute. Abandon hope that your lack of sleep can be fixed – if only as an experiment.

Do you remember how long it took to arrive “there?” I’d hate to presume you had caretakers as a child…but I’m pretty sure every child knows at least one time when you simply never arrived “there.”

I used to ask my mom all the time in the car, “Are we there yet?”

It may not look like it, because you’re at home – almost all the time.

But you’re not really at home. You’re on your way somewhere. Whatever home meant to you in the past is being rewritten day in day in day in day in day in…and we won’t see the daylights-out for a while. Home has changed even for the luckiest and it looks like – chances are – you’re not the luckiest. I can help you out with that. Luck’s my purview.

Ice cream will distract you from feeling, but it won’t actually make you feel better. Medicine will knock you out, but you’ll just put off abandoning hope for another night. Helpful for some folk, honestly. Depends entirely on the situation.

But for you, I recommend two things:

The first thing: Observe and document your feelings and thoughts throughout the day for one month. You can use old fashioned diary writing, or audio recording, collaging, laundrying, or rust scrubbing, potato peeling, even video conferencing if you’re not totally burned out on it, …whatever. Just keep track. Notice the changes.

The second thing is: during that time, do what you feel you have to do. Get on that Rocky Road! Go ahead, knock yourself out.

Then, feel the damn things. Notice your changes. Keep track. Every couple of days look back at everything, take it all in. Make your own changes.

The very essence of what “home” is and who “you” are in that space is on a radical journey. You’re not there yet. There’s no shortcut there, either. First you have to keep watch, feel the damn things, and notice. We aren’t there yet. But you can sleep along the way, before we arrive. It’s alright. Go ahead. You’re allowed sleep before you arrive.’

G: “Some ball of yarn for Fezzywig there Benzaiten.”

B: “Fezzywig’s Hop.”

G: “My bad. Alright, Gin here. I’ll be answering the next letter.”

B: “I get to have a go at this one? It’s short, looks like…

‘Dear PenBenBenPen,

Everyone I know keeps talking about all the things famous people accomplished during their isolation and quarantine. I feel like there is so much pressure to produce something incredible. I almost feel guilty at the end of the day when all I’ve done is barely keep it together.

What do you think? I feel like I’m wasting time, like I should be improving. But every day ends and I don’t feel like I’ve made progress towards achieving anything out of the norm.

Warmly,

Lauren’

Well, Pen, what are your thoughts on this one?”

G: “…Have you ever heard those references to Shakespeare writing a masterpiece during quarantine? That’s bullshit. Shakespeare didn’t write a masterpiece during quarantine. That’s not how creation and creativity work. Shakespeare’s entire life before that quarantine was the preparation for that masterpiece. The masterpiece didn’t come out of a period of time so short as a quarantine: it came from all of Shakespeare’s experience, devotion to craft, study, practice, and knowledge leading up to that quarantine.

Make a masterpiece now that you’re in quarantine? …Quarantine is not the time to beat yourself up over not producing something miraculous.

If you use this time to accomplish things, that’s ok. But there’s no argument for ‘this is the time to evolve into the real you.’ This is not ‘the time’ to create your masterpiece. That’s not how it works. Every creation is a result of the entirety of your life leading up to that moment. Also, masterpieces aren’t necessarily creations in the first place. ‘Masterpieces’ are a thing of evaluation, canon, reputation…Focus on sustainable creation that fulfills you, not on insubstantial standards that deplete you.

Well, I think that’s all the time we have today. Benzaiten, anything to add before we wrap up?”

B: “Yeah. This concerns Fezziwig’s Hop as well as Lauren. While I agree that you probably shouldn’t get anxious about being maximally productive during this time – as there are greater concerns to deal with – having this time may help you reassess your productivity. Sometimes you have to get down on that yoga mat before you can see the dusty spots you habitually miss when you sweep. If you always clean the room with the door swung open, when will you clean the floor hidden between the door and the wall? Dust builds where the eye doesn’t know it doesn’t see.”

G: “So, they should do yoga?”

B: “No. No, it’s about assessing habits and routines, and adding a few new ones to help the mind gain new perspective. That will likely do more for them than only having one fixed, and honestly unfair, goal in view. …Even when you think you’re actively doing something about the situation, there are all sorts of ways in which your habits, perspective, and subconscious assumptions keep you from fully achieving what you set out to do…”

G: “Huck, what would we do without Benzaiten around?”

(Muffled noise heard in the background.)

B: “Thanks listeners and writers alike, it’s been a pleasure to sort through your mail, especially now that we’re all just here for the time, being.”

G: “Thanks for listening. We hope you’ll join us on the next broadcast of PenBenBenPen. Until then, be well.”