20 December, 2007

For All the Christmases You Write



I'm feeling a bit more Christmas-y since I decided the only way out of the clutter was to mount a major cleaning-out campaign, and miraculously got the energy to begin. I've been living in this small flat in an old Japanese house for seven years as of this spring, and in that time it was easy to amass a whole lot of things that I thought I needed for living here. Some of them are just ridiculous. Who needs oil powder papers for blotting your face? Or numbers of postcards that would rival a collector's? (They were gifts; I don't even like post cards). Or 79 and 1/2 key chains from various spots around Japan and the world? (Again gifts.) Or an electric shaver to get the lint balls off your sweaters? (Actually, that one has proved useful for re-newing old rather than buying new sweaters.)

When you live with clutter, it's easy to lose things, and when you don't think about it, you end up buying one more, so that you have duplicates or even triplicates of nail files, box cutters, post-it notes (which never to be in sight when you want to post a note) containers of paper clips, stickers, compacts, glue sticks, even too many Japanese-English dictionaries, and way, way too many textbooks for teaching English. Things so totally uneccesary that it's hard not to feel like a loser for having brought them into your life, since you've used them little or not at all.

Yesterday I found a box cutter I didn't know I had, still in the package (when I'm always hunting for box cutters), a full set of extra blades for said box cutter, in case I should ever wear out the blade cutting my trillionth box, an extra paper-cutting board, light bulbs I had forgotten I had, and happily, a bag of vacuum cleaner bags that I had forgotten I bought, so that I have been mentally telling myself to buy them for over a month now, but now can quit doing that for another month.

One or two things, like my computer, I was right about. Before the computer it was easy to feel cut off from home, and get completely out of touch with what is happening in North America and the rest of the world.

Now I can tune into news from home and even read articles in my home town newspaper, but strangely enough after the novelty wore off, I rarely do. I find I'm more interested in reading blogs. I like knowing about how people are thinking about the things that matter to them, their lives and loves and even hates. People from all over the world. I think what's so good about blogging is that we get to see that people everywhere are more alike than not. And we can really empathize with what they are facing in their lives. I love this the most, that people are willing to share a lot of who they really are on the Internet. It takes a little bravery and foolishness to do it, considering how much of ourselves we have to expose to information gathering entities these days. But this, I think is important. If there is anything talked about as one of the most important features of the first part of the 21st century I think it will be the phenomenon of blogging.

Blogging has made it possible for me and millions of others to stop buying magazines that insult our intelligence, are all about selling us things, or have only 2 pages that interest us, as they harp on about the glories of business, war, or mainstream politics. Personally I'm not too interested in those things. You might be, but then with blogs and online magazines, you can choose what to read and quit reading any time. And you don't have a pile of paper magazines that you have to try to find a way to re-cycle. Efficient both in terms of time and allowing me to choose to sample a range of sources rather than just be stuck with one point of view, usually a commercially-oriented one.

I like reading for pleasure, inspiration, and enlightenment. I like to learn something new. This year I and my students discovered and discussed a lot of topics about the environment, living, health, democracy, human rights, culture and more in excerpts from blogs and news articles. Articles collected from a range of countries and continents, from people with different points of view. Writing that I hope helped to broaden our understanding.

And the blogs that I love, that I read regularly, have some of the best writing I've ever read, certainly better than most magazines. And others are interesting to pop in and discover someone's world, or the small corner of it they are publishing. It's great for a teacher to keep in touch with what's current in music and culture for the next generation or two or three.

This week I discovered, through the Blogs of Note list, a guy who I think must be in Switzerland, writing about his sadness about lost love. I know just how he feels, and so do the thousands of people who are sending him messages of support. You can find his story and fantastic photographs at One Pic a Day.

I often drop in to Seattle (in my mind anyway) to read one of my favourite bloggers, Gluten-free Girl . Shauna has a fabulous story that has inspired massive love from her fans. Sick and tired and recovering from a serious accident she discovered that she had celiac disease, and began a diet to eliminate gluten from her life, starting blogging to share recipes as she learned to cook and recovered her health, and ended by falling in love and marrying a chef and getting a book deal. Now that's a story that keeps me coming back to see what will happen next, and it doesn't hurt that she's a very good writer either.

And inspirational. Because of her blogging about her symptoms I thought I would try cutting out gluten and eliminated my biggest health problem, lifelong chronic eczema on my hands that had to be contolled with topical steroids. For about forty-some years, doctors and specialists could offer me nothing to help and my hands were not good even with the strongest of steroid creams.They cracked and bled and the intense itching kept me from sleeping well. Anyone who's ever experienced that kind of chronic itching and scratching knows the relief when it stops. Now I'm eczema and steroid free, and the regular migraine headaches, that were with me for about 10 years, (with nausea) have disappeared. I owe a big thank-you to Shauna for pointing the way to much better health.

In New Zealand, Pohangina Pete walks the still wild-looking country of the Pohangina Valley and takes pictures of birds, animals, water and sometimes people, that take my breath away. His portraits of birds and animals actually are able to show the character, even the soul of each, as much as a great portrait of a human can. He has the talent for making me feel I am just a few steps away from those beings, caught with time suspended in that freeze frame between one breath and the next. And his writing is wonderful, poetic and evocative. He's not afraid to ask the big philosophical questions on his mind as he walks through his world.

Colin Beaven has completed his No Impact Man year, when he went off the grid in a New York city apartment, and now, with his wife and little girl, is trying to find balance between reducing environmental impact and living a joyful life. What he's found, that less stuff and less power use means a more joyful existence, as he connects with family and community around doing rather than consuming, is reflected in my own experience here in Japan. Quite a few months ago I discovered his blog and have been trying to follow his example as much as I can. I have discovered, as he did, more health and sanity as I began to cook at home, cut shopping except for food and essentials, learn to re-use and make things rather than automatically buying them, and spend time thinking about how I could better help rather than hurt this place I live in.

The key to feeling good, I think, is having a sense of control over your life, feeling that you can actually choose some of your path, rather than swirling along with the millions who are confused into thinking that things = happiness. Actually, in my fortunate middle age I have discovered what makes me happy has nothing to do with what I have. It has to do with enjoying life. It has to do with getting up in the morning, seeing the trees and flowers and herbs in the garden, looking at the lights and colours of the seasons, cooking a tasty meal with healthy ingredients, and eating that meal with pleasure. It has to do with feeling I can make a difference, however small, to people. Teaching and sharing discussions, talking about what we care about. Having a family to care about and for, even if it's your friends or a dog or cat. These are the enduring loves. These are the treasures we have all but forgotten in our busy, busy youth.

For friendship and cooking pizazz, I always return to the ebullient and tireless Super Seamaiden of Book of Yum, to remember the early years of marriage and being a student, and then the fun of discovery of learning to cook for a family. Her enthusiasm and youth are contagious; she looks like she enjoys every day. And man, can she produce copy. Her almost daily posts often contain two or even three recipes. Usually she's in California, but right now is in Austria for the holidays with her husband. (I'm not jealous, oh no.) Hi SS, hope you are having the best time!

For news of what's happening in Japan, and updates on the food and consumer front, and the environment I rely on Martin J. Frid of Kurashi News. He knows things I only dream of knowing, if my Japanese were much better than it is now. His blog is a fantastic resource for anyone that needs information in English, updated frequently. Thanks Martin!

For these, and many more blogs, I am thankful. I am thankful that I can learn and enjoy and be surprised and delighted at the creativity, intellect, talent and spunk that is out there for any of us lucky enough to have a computer to read. I am thankful to them for delivering me from stodgy, conservative, violent, and boring journalism that has infected much of the pulp trade. There are still a few good magazines published, and fortunately they usually put something online, otherwise in Japan I could never read them. But for the rest, I can save my money, my shelf space, and my mind for the small amount of "clutter" I want it to hold.

Bloggers, wherever you are this holiday season, "May your days be merry and bright!" And thank you, for all the Christmases you write!

24 comments:

  1. I'm so honored that you mentioned me in this way. And that my writing inspired you to your health! Every day, I am amazed.

    the happiest of holidays to you, my dear.

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  2. HI! i´m from argentina and now it´s very hot. 36ºC. I´d like to ask to the very number one Cheff (that´s you) which plate does you recommend to me for this chrismas! I will do it.

    thanks a lot !

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  3. Thank _you_,Shauna. This year will be much happier because it'll the first year when I know I don't need to be sick (and understand why that is.) It's a wonderful gift!

    Happy Holidays to you and your family. :)

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  4. Hi lalo:

    So much power, I have.:) Well,if you like curry and can get the spices I recommend the Bollywood Curry and spinach dishes. They are pretty easy and tasty.You don't really have to dance afterwards, unless you want to. :)

    If you want a nice non-alcoholic, very tasty drink, I'd try the Nirvana Soy chai. You can let it cool a bit and serve it over ice in a glass (chilled).In that case you might want to increase the sweetening just a little bit.

    36 degrees is as hot as Japan in the summer! I know when it's that hot your appetite sometimes drops off. In that case I would make the Minestrone soup and serve it lukewarm or even cold (not chilled, just room temperature). If you eat bread a nice plate of garlic-y bruschetta would be lovely with it.

    And some yummy desert to finish off. Maybe the Pumpkin Pie muffins, if it's not to hot to bake.

    Or buy some ice (cream) and drizzle it with a little of your favourite liquor in a wine glass. I love soy vanilla cream drizzled with kahlua. Yummy.

    Merry Christmas!

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  5. Who needs tv when you've got top quality blogging right here :) Thanks for sharing some of your favourite blogs, and have a fantastic christmas!

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  6. VJ, thanks for your beautifully generous words — I'm honoured *blushes*.

    Thanks also for the great recipes and ideas (I still have every intention of trying the Bollywood curry, although with so much time recently spent in the mountains, my food has had to be very economical with cooker fuel!)

    Very best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

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  7. pohanginapete:

    All true! Thanks, hope your holidays are full of more beautiful days. :)

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  8. mushroom4eva:

    It's a tiny Santa and reindeer made by one of my ex-students. She carved the Santa from wood and painted his face and the reindeer is a tiny pine cone with cloves for feet and horns. I love it and use it to decorate with every year. :)

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  9. You have a wonderful blog, a real inspiration. Thanks for mentioning my humble blog about consumer and environmental news, glad you like it and keep coming back. I try to keep it upbeat but it is not always easy to be merry.

    As for clutter, sounds like you are doing better than most of us!

    Happy holidays!!

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  10. VegetableJ,

    I come here far too infrequently. I just wanted to tell you, as clearly as I can, that your friendship and constant encouragement and warm words have made a big difference to me throughout this last year. I may not have said it enough, but thank you, and, I appreciate it a lot. You, better than many others, really know just how Japan can be, so your kindness really shines.

    I hope that you are not alone during the vacation and that you are able to feel at some of the holiday cheer. I hope we can communicate more in the new year.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    butuki

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  11. I suffer the same thing of having so much clutter you can't find anything and when you do find it you already bought a new one and don't it anymore.

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  12. Thanks Martin. I'm grateful to you for keeping me up to date on what's happening here. And Happy Holidays to you!

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  13. butuki:

    Thanks for the warm words and greetings. I do know about Japan, and just want you to know you have a friend here.

    Hope you are having fun with your family. :)

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  14. cody:

    Good luck in attacking _your_clutter in the New Year. And have a happy one! :)

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  15. Hi VegJ!
    I'm baaaack! (And glad to be home with my kitties and my own kitchen.) Thank you for the sweet mention of my site... aww... such a nice description! I look forward to checking out the other sites you recommended.
    I was reminded of your blog as we stood in line at the wretched security screening at Heathrow London airport. It was one of the most unpleasant airport experiences of my life. Will the world ever be sane again? And was it ever sane to begin with? Unclear.

    -SS

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  16. I am interested, now that I have discovered your blog, to hear more about your life as an American in Japan, and to browse your recipes (I love adventurous food!).

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  17. SuperSea:

    Welcome back! I've already visited your site and left a comment. And the new food is looking goood!

    Sorry about Heathrow; haven't been through there. I'd be interested in hearing about the experience, for comparison. And yes, The League of Paranoid Governments with Tiny Peashooter Brains are all mad.

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  18. Hi artontheedge:

    Welcome! Thanks for your comment but you won't find much about my life as an "American in Japan", as I'm Canadian.:) From Nova Scotia. Yes!

    But I do talk a lot about different stuff I do or see here as well as recipes, so browse away. :)

    And I love art and do a bit myself, but don't think it's much on the edge. I wish!

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  19. a HA! Canada is in N. America so like it or not, you are American!

    as for my art...it is on the edge in a geographical sense, as I live at Grand Canyon Nat. Park! come check out my site

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  20. Just saw your closing line... 'And yes, The League of Paranoid Governments with Tiny Peashooter Brains are all mad.'

    I'll be snickering to myself for a while over that one. ;) Too funny.

    Heathrow can't decide what they want from us- laptops in bags, laptops out of bags. Liquids are all so suspicious they seem to take samples of everything, even wanting to sample sealed lotions. There's literally a dumping area outside security where people have abandoned stuff- clothing, bags, whatever, because you're only allowed one carry on through security even though other countries people are coming from allow an additional personal item. Total nonsense. Just thinking about it and the whole revolting process makes my blood boil- I got on the plane in a state of impotent fury- starving, too because thanks to the hellish line to security no time to get anything to eat. GAR.

    -Sea, now grumpy. lol

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  21. SS:

    It seems to have become just another beureaucracy, the security procedures now, and those are not famed for the intelligence with which they handle things. Some of those people have missed their calling as cowboys, ie herding cattle, I think.

    I often feel exasperated as you getting on flights, in fact just about every time I travel by air. Because there is the way they treat us all like semi-dim children, or nuisances rather than customers, and the way the flight attendants have become "police", for want of a better word, and you'd better not ask any awkward questions or complain about anything, heaven forbid, unless you want some very curt treatment.

    In fact you'd better not ask if there's any fish if they offer you "chicken or beef" either, unless you want an eye-rolling and a pre-packaged lecture.

    Air Canada is the worst for that. I speak from some experience. Unfortunately.

    Glad you are back where you can feed yourself well and safely.

    Happy New Year, again.:)

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  22. Hi,

    just found your blog ... hungry already!

    Will read more later. Are you still in Japan?

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