Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Get Behind the Mule

Kanazawa, circa 2012

Today marks a full year of my full-time position. I have worked hard, and been lucky, and can honestly say that things are going well. Hopefully, after submitting my thesis at the end of the year, I will be able to slow down and make more time for stuff outside of work.

Physically, this past year has taken a toll on me. Sitting in front of a computer most of the day is not good for me, and especially when I am writing something, I tend to inhale snacks. It is a slow decline, but I noticed without the safety of a sweater to cover up, my belly pokes out a bit.

Mentally, I am all right. Making the transition was a little difficult at first, and it was hard to get a sense of my professional identity and the role I was expected to play. The euphoria of being selected for the position evaporated when I learned that being accepted into the small-culture of an academic department takes a little bit more time than I had thought. I think I have done well to stay clear of the politics, but maybe that is because I have been so busy sitting at my computer inhaling snacks. There is some stress, especially with research, but nothing that serious.

Creatively, I feel a bit empty. I am still not really comfortable with digital photography, although I do feel it is probably worth pursuing. The daily walks I used to take with my film camera are no longer possible due to work hours. The time to write anything other than academic stuff for work also became scarce. My only worry is that I will lose my soul and become a has-been, even though I never really arrived anywhere in the first place. For now, I am still holding on to the dream that the thousands and thousands of exposures I have made over the past 20 years, now all packed up in stacks of boxes, will someday yield something artistically valuable or at least be able to document the sentiment of honest creativity that I think I used to have.

No matter what, I am moving and not stuck in any ruts. I have come a long way in the past five years or so, and I know that if I keep getting behind the mule in the morning, the fields will get plowed.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

50 Years



July, 1966, Philadelphia

Last month I turned 50. To be honest, I wanted to do something memorable and thought of having a  big show of photos, with me and my old blues band playing at the opening. I also entertained the idea of putting together some kind of book of 50 photos and 50 stories. But in the end, I just had cake with my family. And, that was just fine.

As a present, my family in the states all pitched in and bought a watch for me. It is a self-winder, but very subtle and classy. Last thing I need is a big power watch on my scrawny wrist. I am not really a material-guy, but I admit that I like the watch for two reasons. One, when I look at it, it reminds me of my family and how much they cheer for me despite that I have not made the best effort to stay in touch over the past few years. The other reason is that the watch has no batteries, it gets its power from the simple fact that I keep moving. That has been my creed for a while, just keep moving. Get up and get working on something. Keep going, the gears will turn.

I had also hoped that I could write some masterpiece blog post, that would reflect on the past 50 years, but, hell, that's a lot of reflecting. All I will say is that along my path there has been a few rough stretches, and once or twice I got lost in the jungle not really knowing where I was, but they are nothing compared to all the great things I have experienced. My life, so far, has not been boring, and even though I am a bit tethered at the moment, trying to get a grip on some new responsibilities, I know that even greater things are coming. That is, if I just keep moving.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Family-Work Balance



As much as I hate to admit it, I have been spending too much time with work Not really on purpose, but out of survival. Teaching is no problem, but  the research side of my position is something that has required a bit more time in the office than I have been used to.

Sometimes I wonder if I really have a good balance with my other job, being a father-husband. I used to have so much time to play catch, take care of the garden, take day trips, have picnics, and just plain hang out. My wife and son are cheering for me, and that keeps me going, but I hope that I can get back to really letting go of work when I am not on campus.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Grace of Spring

Nishi Chaya-gai, Kanazawa. Spring, 2016


I have had an incredible Spring so far and good things just keep coming out of the blue. Not exactly sure what to call it. Karma? Grace? Luck? Shedding the final layer of my mid-life crisis? Whatever it is, I finally feel that I have arrived somewhere. Don't ask me where, though. I am seasoned enough to know that I have only reached a plateau and not the summit. I still have to keep on going, but I am less concerned with what is above or below me, and I am content to enjoy the climb.

For the next three years or so, my goal is to find a way to link art-craft-design with applied linguistics and language learning. I always thought that teaching English was my job and photography was my island of solitude for recreation. Now I am starting to feel that I can mix the two, or at least hang out with creative people and develop ways to teach English as a second language.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dezomeshiki

Kanazawa, dezomeshiki, 2016


Even though this the event was around New Years, I  just printed it today. The firemen celebrate by shooting their hoses in the air. Years ago they used to do this in the Saigawa river, now it is done on the lower grounds of Kanazawa Castle. The guys with the hoses are dressed only in loin cloths, and the trucks in the foreground are sucking water out of the pond.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hi-dee hi-dee hi-dee hi

Antique paper, rubber stamps, ink. 2007


I have had an excellent week. That's all for now. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lucky Rabbit


There is an out-of-business liquor shop in Kanazawa that has this cute mother rabbit painted on its rusty shutter. I have photographed it before in b&w, and was passing by it the other day and took the photo above. One the walk home, I think the rabbit made me think about a few things.

My creativity is fading and rusting, probably due to my responsibilities of work and post-graduate studies. Maybe this is a good thing, and a slow decline can bring me down to earth so I can start over and move on to something that will bring satisfaction. There was a time when I thought that recognition of my photography would give me that satisfaction, but I have learned that the only meaningful validation can only come from with in me, and not from the approval of others. Getting recognition, requires self-promotion, which is something that I lack the stomach for.

The rabbit also reminded me of somebody I respect who considers a rabbit spotting to be a sign of good luck. I am hoping this works for me, even if it is old and rusty good luck...I'll take it. I need all the luck I can get.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rusty Tears




Cortona, Italy 1998

Rusty Tears

by
M.H. Inchiki
(roughly translated)

The gold stars left me
and the dragon lady
moved in quickly.
I try to hide
my soul
in the backyard shed
but the
metalic roof
drips
tears 
that land in my hair
and roll down
my cheeks
until they reach my lips.
The rust tastes
just like blood.
I feel
so
damn
helpless.

The Laughing Heart





The Laughing Heart
by
Charles Bukowski

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed 
into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.


Now that I have finally submitted the academic paper that has dogged me for the past six weeks, I thought I would write just for the fun of it. The Bukowski poem has been on my mind, and I wonder how many more chances the gods will offer me. I have been lucky so far, and am, as Bukowski says, beating death in life more often than not.



Saturday, February 20, 2016

Growth


In front of Kenrokuen, late winter. Circa 2013.

The cherry (sakura) tree in the photo above is probably close to 100 years old. Maybe its roots are boxed in by a stone wall, or the branches have been sawed off for the public's good or safety, but it is still growing and gloriously being what it was meant to be. The very early buds were covered with snow, it was not in bloom yet, it can do much better.

That is how I feel recently. I am growing (although not always 'glorious') despite the stone walls, the necessary pruning, and occasional branch that the wind or the weight of the snow breaks off. And, if I may say so while retaining some humility, I can...and will.. do better. Just wait and see.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kingston MInes, Chicago






Winter, mild until a few days ago, is here with an attitude. Snow dumped and the temperatures dropped to the minus range. The weekend was too cold to really go out and do anything, which activated my annual case of cabin fever. I had hoped to get to the darkroom and work on some prints, but that would have involved digging the car out and then going to a freezing cold, dark, concrete room and hoping that my photographic chemicals would be warm enough to function. But, I stayed home and watch cartoons with my son and took a cat nap.

I did shift through some old prints and came across this one. I took it at the Kingston Mines Club on the North Side of Chicago, probably in 1999 or 2000. I think the guy was just jamming for an open mic song or two, since I only had a few shot of him. If was a regular in a band, I probably would have had more.

I dig his eye light. I would like to think that he is just playing rhythm and supporting the band, but he could have been soloing. I can't remember. In life in general, I used to always hope for the spotlight that the solo calls for, but my mid-life groove seems to be rooted in just keeping time and being on the backside of the stage. No more need to show off.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Resonate

Kenyatta Beasly, at Big Apple in Nonoichi





resonate
verb [I]: to continue to have a lasting effect or value.

Happy New Year. Now that we are five days into 2016, I had best try to take a look back at 2015 before it slips away.

What truly resonates with me is the experience of interacting with several professional Jazz musicians and educators from New York at the Nonoichi Big Apple event. I was asked to interpret for one of the workshops. I agreed, thinking that it would just be some one-on-one stuff, which I can generally handle, especially in informal situations. Later, I heard from a few people, that it required interpreting musical terminology and instruction in front of a large crowd. This made me a bit anxious, and fortunately I was able to get somebody to assist me, Sasha, a university sophomore, who I have known since she was (literally) a baby. Actually, she totally saved me, and did more than help, she took over and was absolutely incredible.

At the time, I was embarrassed that I couldn’t really do what others expected of me. My confidence crumbled and my “failure” resonated for a week or so after the event. Even though I never stated that I was a professional or even competent interpreter, I still felt like I completely bombed.

However, looking back on that day, I can now understand that I contributed to the success of the workshop. The organizers needed somebody so they asked me. Even if I had tried to slug it out on my own, I would have had no choice but to do the best I could. It would have been ugly, but it would have been better than nothing, which is what the organizers were faced with. I had the sense to ask somebody to help me, and that made the big difference. Because of me, not despite of me, the guys from New York got a top rate interpreter and the participants in the workshop benefited. As time went by, I transcended the personal let down and could see that the I didn't really let anybody down.

 Dezron Douglas, at Big Apple in Nonoichi

What also resonates from that day is when I was walking out on to the stage from the dressing rooms. The workshop leader, trumpet player Kenyatta Beasley, was beside me and I confessed to him that I was a bit nervous. He looked at me said, “Yeah, me too”. We strolled out on the stage and there was a high school jazz orchestra, and of course they were nervous, especially their teacher. Everybody was hoping to live up to what was expected of them. Despite this, the workshop got going and nobody fell on their face.

During the break, Kenyata and I talked some more. He told me about his experience of starting teaching as an associate professor. He mentioned that at times he felt almost like a fraud, and that his confidence was not always there. This surprised me since Kenyatta was so articulate, confident, smooth, and (please forgive the trite adjective used for jazz) downright cool.  Matter of fact, all the New York musicians participating in the event, had true grace. There was no pretentious vibes of any sorts. But what I got from Kenyatta was that everybody (even very cool people) gets anxious when they walk on the thin ice of the outer limits of their confidence zone.

There was a jam session at the end of the workshop, and even though I tried to hide, I was just about pushed on stage to sing. It has been years since I sang in front of folks. Luckily it was 3-chord blues, not really in my favorite key, but I was able just belt out "Baby! Baby!" and almost got into a groove. Later the bass player, Dezron Douglas slapped my back and (in a friendly way) imitated my "Baby!" line and told me I had put some feeling into it. That compliment still resonates, and it made me think how just a few kind words from somebody you respect can really have meaning, even if he was just being nice.

The chord struck by the Big Apple brings a message that being nervous and feeling at times like you are not what others think you are is nothing to beat yourself up about. Do your best, know when to ask for help, and always put you true feelings into your work...Oh, and be cool when you can.


Photos from 35mm film negative contact prints. Haven"t had much time to get to the darkroom.