Monday, June 30, 2014


Hard to say goodbye to family and the time in Cincinnati, but I've safely arrived back in Japan.  And  now another round of jetlag before settling into a a place more familiar every return.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Water to Water over Water

I've eaten more almond butter and educational Spanish cookies today than necessary.  Tomorrow they will fly behind me, crossing the International Date Line.  My family will stay with them, the world will shift its position under all the points of land and sea, and I will emerge in Japan.  Japan, where life is soft and hard, where the words mean less as they leave and arrive, where patience, time, and silence have new meanings.  Japan, where love seeps from hard rocks, carefully collected with eyes closed.  My hand is slowly lifting away from this basin of water, one drop cleaving from the next.  And tomorrow away, away to another place.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Staying and Leaving

Every time I move from one country to another I feel something in me flex and release, grow stronger and change.  I grow accustomed to a place, to a way of being, and then leave it for another.  There is a need to support oneself in the transition between two places, to be separate from the world, before reorganizing in a new space.  Is there a danger of becoming detached from any place?  A danger of true independence?  Would there be anything wrong with skating upon world seamlessly, connected and apart from the coming and going of place and time like a blade on ice?  The magic of owning it all and holding on to nothing.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stop and Go

Few things feel like an arrival more than lying in the grass under a tree.   From the top of a hill in Kentucky my mother and I watched the sky, and the birds, and the skyline of Cincinnati, and the cars pass over the Ohio River on Interstates 71 and 75 below us.  To the airport, from the airport, back and forth again: how many times on this visit home have I crossed that bridge?  In a few days, once more to return to return.  To step back into the stream and take part in the passing of time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Visits and Departures

The world moves quickly and the world stays still.  The sky is unchanging and never the same.  We move from place to place, and always these places are there for us to find.  Another round of visits and departures and plans for yet another round to come.  On and on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I had an audition today for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  It was something that I had wanted a great deal: the opportunity to play in the orchestra and to live in Cincinnati near my family.  I did a lot of preparation for it in all the ways that I could and with the limitations that I had, but it wasn't meant to be.  It has been a valuable process to prepare for it.  I think I've learned a lot in working towards something that I really want, of really trying.

And after the audition, I sat in the park with Andrew and then went home to my family.  We went out to see my grandfather, explored music and books at the public library downtown, enjoyed car rides together, ate ice cream.

For the past few months, in preparing for this audition, I've been afraid of facing something that I want and not accomplishing it.  I've been acknowledging how the fear of wanting something can block the decision to pursue it.  And in the aftermath I find that while there is a lingering feeling of disappointment, there is so much here already.  There is a satisfaction in wanting something, in working towards something that is of value; but in the midst of that, life is already complete.  I think it is a perspective.  To want, and to have everything that one wants. Both are valuable ways to live, and I think they can inform one another.   They can give one the freedom both to want and to have.  I look forward to the next challenge, to another opportunity to grow.  But for now I am enjoying the time with my family and friends and all that I have.

Monday, June 23, 2014

TV Reds

One of the joys of being home in Cincinnati is the Cincinnati Reds.  But today I learned that they will not make it home before I must leave.  The time is too short.  Perhaps it is always going to be impossible to do all the things there are to do in the time given.  But the time is always filled with other things.  A time for everything.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


When I live in Japan, I hardly really interact with other people.  But in America there are family and friends to talk with, to dance around in a little house, to invite over, to extend favors, and to receive them.  The web of life is here, of giving and taking, interacting.  And I remember that here, I'm not as helpless as I am in Japan.  I can read instructions and understand them.  I can ask for things and offer them.  Separate from any aspects of the individual cultures of Japan and America, is my place in this one where all the people I've known my whole life live.  Becoming caught again in the samsara of living.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Within and Without

There are so many ways to feel an emotion.  There are so many ways to react to it.  How do we experience sadness, fear, happiness, contentment?  Is it really different from one person to another?  Is it different from one culture to another?  If I were Japanese living in America, would I feel differently, act differently?  Would I become nervous in the same way, impatient?  Would I enjoy life in the same way?  How does the accrual of individual emotions sculpt the way we interact, create a culture and a community?  And how much control do we have as individuals?  Has my time in Japan endowed me with any more choice in how I experience the world around me and the impressions it creates within?  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Goodbye David

And as quickly as he became married, my brother moved out this morning.  The house has become quite empty with so many families gone.  It almost feels like my life in Japan tonight.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Last Night for Eunjung's Family

It is the last night for Eunjung's mother and brother.  Tomorrow they will return to Korea.  To celebrate their visit, we went to a restaurant on the river and walked around the riverfront.  In the last few years, Cincinnati has seen a lot of new growth.  There are lit fountains, and swings, a new stadium, and the buildings on the surrounding hills make the skyline twinkle even more.  The suspension bridge over the river sings with every car that crosses it.  As we walked through the new development, Eunjung's mother and brother took pictures of all the lights and water dancing in the night.  It's a beautiful city and my home.  They were here for a such a short time, but I hope that they take with them good impressions of America and my hometown.  And I hope that they return.  Our families are now connected in a new way, across a very large distance.  The world is getting smaller and smaller.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Midwestern Skies

Driving through the weather fronts of the Midwest, the drama of lightening and thunder, heavy winds and rains, the dark clouds abutted against the pure white, stretching over miles of flat green farmland, the perfect battlefield for the gods of the skies.  People joke that the Midwest is boring, but they forget that it is the land of big skies and that these skies carry a great many wonders and excitement over the slow growing fields of corn and soy. There is something mythical and grand about it, simple and endlessly terrifying and beautiful.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Meeting Madison

It is possible to stay connected in this modern world, but there is nothing that can replace presence.  The pauses between conversations, the feeling of a hug, of looking into someone's eyes in the same shared space, seeing the world around you together.  It has been wonderful to be back in Madison, to see these people again, to be in this space, the air on the terrace, suggestions from trusted teachers, kihoping with a group and feeling their support.  Tonight, more storms are on their way; tomorrow, perhaps another blues skies today in the morning, and a drive back to Cincinnati.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Arrival in Madison

A thunderstorm is approaching Madison.  This land of big skies is filling them with lightening and rain, expected to be here throughout the night.  It's amazing how a place can contain so any memories in its air, waiting to be breathed on arrival.  Another day and then another morning in this beautiful land of lakes, skies, and green.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Wedding Day

My brother is now wearing a wedding ring.  There was so much support from friends and family to put together the day, to help make the whole event happen, to get us to this point.  It was a beautiful thing to see such a ceremony unfold.  The flurry of the day finally rested in the steadfastness of my brother eyes as he said his vows.  And now he is wearing a ring.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Day of People

I've done Tae Kwon Do in a number of places in my life and this morning was the first time I did a workout in Washington Park in downtown Cincinnati.  When I went to school downtown 10 years ago, Washington Park was not a place that one would enter alone.  But in the past few years, downtown Cincinnati has seen incredible rebirth and this morning it was bustling with activity.  Food kiosks, and a flea market with dozens of booths were setting up on the green in the park.  The dogs were in their dog park, the children in their's, a group dance workout got underway during the time I was there, people were laughing and greeting one another before 8am.

As I began my workout, two African American women walking on the sidewalk yelled out to me, "Yeah, you get it, girl!"  I waved to them and one of them started over to me, "Girl, what you doin'?  I'm 'bout to get up in your business.  What you doin'?"  I told them it was Tae Kwon Do and they didn't understand but they wanted to be involved all the same.  One of them had a stereo with Reggae music playing, "We came here to do some exercise but they setting stuff up over there.  We lookin' to do some exercise.  Can we join you?  I seen you and I liked your energy."  I welcomed them and said that it would be fine if we had Reggae music with us.  We went through some of the workout together, sit-ups, leg lifts, etc. It's challenging but they were doing great and we got several opportunities to punch and kihop (yell) together in the blue and green morning.  Afterwards they just lay there and we chatted for a bit.  Ti and Naia were their names. They spoke about their understanding of marital arts and mentioned a self-defense class in one of the centers; they spoke in such a way that I became aware of a necessity that I've never needed in my life.  It was very memorable to share a piece of the morning with them.

In Japan I meet many people during my workouts, but none have ever had the audacity to join.  Several other people came over to talk to me for awhile this morning, telling me things about themselves as naturally as though we were old friends.  This is another voice of America that I have missed greatly.  The audacity and natural openness of this downtown community, of this shared space.  Hearing their laughter and openness in the morning.

This was also the day of a great family gathering before the wedding.  My brother Ben and I worked to create an active volcano cake with dry ice in honor of the many strange special effects cakes made over the years in our home.  Several of our extended families gathered together to play games in the backyard, lie in the hammock, and make s'mores.

Volcano cake with bride and groom ducks, birds, palm trees, and aquatic animals (not pictured)

Afterwards we all helped my brother load up the car for the wedding tomorrow.  It was a day of community and being together.  And tomorrow, a joining of two.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Welcome to Mrs.Kang

My brother's fiance's mother arrived today from Korea.  The first of many arrivals.  She speaks very little English, and while the bits and pieces of minutia can be communicated through Eunjung and her brother, her eyes remind me of my time in Japan, appealing to the goodwill of those around me.  It is very exciting to have her here, her first time outside of her country.  I wonder how it seems to her.  I hope she finds comfort in our home.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Visit to Granddad's

Today a visit to my grandfather's home after so long being away.  Walking onto the porch and greeting him on the porch swing, stepping into the home that I remember visiting so often in childhood.  Some things have changed–the extra step into the living room, the chairs in the side room–but somethings are untouched.  The trinkets on the wall, the door frames and wall paper, the calm of the place.  And having the opportunity to sit and hear his voice, to talk about the idea of "voice," to talk about listening, about different cultures and memories.  And I realized that voice is something that can be carried within, that can be remembered.  Being home, I'm now hearing voices of my family that I've heard in silence in my time in Japan.  They are real, they come from a real place.  We live within one another.

My grandfather shared several ways that the things I've shared with him from Japan have been of value to others in his life.  Important to realize how our sphere continues beyond ourselves.  Something important to remember.  We have been with one another, gaining inspiration from one another at such a distance.  One wonders if time and space are real and yet the act of physical presence, to hear another's voice fill the air, is indeed such a blessing.  But we can carry it, we can live, it lives within us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


There is a difference in voice in America.  Or perhaps it is because I'm able to understand the words.  In Japan there seems to be more silence, and sound seems much quieter.  In my Japan, there is no sarcasm or impatience.  I don't know if these things are true; it may only be my experience.  Where does a voice exist?  Is it internal or external?  How much control does one have in the voice one hears, in the voice that one speaks?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Looking into a Wedding

The better part of the day was spent rehearsing for Sunday's wedding.  Or perhaps more accurately, talking about every detail of the wedding.  The place settings, decorations, arrival times for each person, photo shoots, lighting, transportation of all the needed goods.  My brother and his fiance are have a very small wedding, but it occupies a very large part of everyone's minds.  It is the common goal towards which all are working.

Coming into it at this very late time of the planning process, I have little responsibility to foresee all the logistical issues that need to be ironed out before they happen. I merely have to concern myself with looking after her dress and veil, which causes enough stress in itself.  I can pretend that I'm still in Japan where I understand so little that I'm only able to play the part of the child, letting others make the plans and decisions and tell me what to do.  Perhaps in the next few days that will change.  Perhaps I'll re-grow-up in America.  It's a funny thing to step in to others' lives at these junctures, to be so distant from the context of the events.  But I think it's the nature of things during this period in life.  One day, I will be more fully living wherever am I.  For now, a step removed.

Monday, June 9, 2014


The Reds are playing baseball on TV and losing.  Some seasons aren't as strong as others.  Along the bottom of the screen, a green bar appears and says: Avocado is back.  Avocado, that isn't a player for the Reds or the Dodgers, it's an ad for Subway.  I wonder how often it happens in Japan that the things that don't make sense to me, really don't make sense.  Is  it me, or the world?  What does avocado have to do with a baseball game?  But in this world it does.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Houston Airport

I woke up at 2am this morning and after several hours of listening to the air conditioner and thinking about the various people I had met during the previous day, I got up and went downstairs for an American hotel breakfast.  Cereal, toast, biscuits, danish, and the opportunity to make a waffle in the shape of Texas greeted me.  A proud way to start the day.

I went to the airport via a shuttle driven by a man wearing no white gloves (as is the custom for every driver in Japan) and seemeingly proud of how quickly he was able to maneuver the large vehicle through parking lots.  "It's really bumpy in the back," he said as he whipped around another corner.  In the airport I spoke with countless people looking at the cello on my back, calling it a guitar, a violin, asking if I played in a band, telling me they or someone they knew played an instrument.  A girl named Déjà who sold me a banana at a kiosk in the airport and looked no older than 14, stared at me and asked, "Is there really something that big in there?" as though I might tell her Santa wasn't real.  "Yes," I said.  Perhaps on the way back I'll see her again.

I spent five hours waiting for the flight, watching the staff work at the fast food counters, staring at the clouds and the planes taking off and landing while children bid them farewell and country music played loudly over the sound system.  

And now I'm home.  In the hands of my family.  Perhaps some Ohio waffles in the morning.

American Wellcome

I'm writing from today.  It is a place where I understand the language, and yet nothing seems to work as well.  Flights are late, staff are overworked and full of the stress of patrons, and I'm expected to pay for errors that are not mine. There are many garbage cans, but litter everywhere.  

It is such a valuable peace of mind to be able to trust in authority.  To trust in set rules and expectations.  And when that isn't there, one must push to take care of oneself.  There is fear that what you have handed to another-whether it is the trust that you will get somewhere, or the valuables you have placed in their hands-will be taken care of.  I find myself very much missing the service, care and reliability of Japan.  And also reflecting  on the way that cultures shape us.  In such a place, children must be taught not to trust, to look out for themselves, to be wary to of strangers, to get ahead in line.  Cleverness and cunning are values.  To follow a rule, even if it is as simple as a common courtesy of standing to one side on an escalator, requires the relinquishing of self for the sake and awareness of others.  It is a practice in group versus individual mentality.  But having learned the respite of thinking of others, I'm tempted to keep it as a choice for myself, even in this mayhem.  

Everything is louder here, more disorganized, more open.  I find myself wondering if the things that I hear in English are also spoken in Japanese when I can't understand.  From various people waiting with me for our luggage, "I came from Hong Kong, my direct flight to Washington, D.C. was cancelled, and now I may miss the next flight, and it's my birthday!"  "What would it take for me to get you to play something for me right now, cause I'm so stressed and I love the sound of the cello." Announcement at the baggage check, "Please be aware that if you make jokes to the security inspectors, you may be arrested."  The woman driving the hotel shuttle bus, "You play that guitar?  My daughters play the guitar and my mom, she never had a piano lesson in her life but she can just sit down and play anything."  Do people say these words to one another in Japan?  Are they the same people?   Not being able to understand the Indian accent of the receptionist when I call for a shuttle, seeing the tired in workers eyes, some still able to help, others beyond themselves.  

This is America, where there are no strangers, where everyone is a friend and foe, and voices carry freely.  Where the group is defined by its individuals and individuals are defined by the source of the wind.  I'm here, today, and happy to hear their voices.  But part of me still lives in tomorrow.

Friday, June 6, 2014


It isn't that it's difficult, but it takes a lot of practice and cultivation.  From the stage or the audience, there is a giving.  And where these worlds meet, love dissolves all insecurities, mistakes cease to exist.  It is a space I think many of us look for in life.  There are no words. It is a space of silence, of emptiness, of unending creation.  It cannot be held.  Yet as it leaves us, we look after it, caught in the fragrance of its grace.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

After it rains

After it rains, the sky falls into the puddles of the bike path and I become a bird, flying above Japan, in the clouds and the blue.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bananas in a Bag

It's hard to believe that I will be leaving for a visit to America in only a few days.  Among other things, this means careful rationing and purchasing of perishable food items.  At the time of writing, I only need 3 bananas to get me to my departure.  But unfortunately, in Japan, that is not so easy to accomplish.  Why?  Because in Japan, bananas come in a bag.

This is also true of carrots.

I believe on occasion I've seen some singles, vulnerable to the passing touch and discretion of any customer, but the bag is the norm.  A piece of protection, a sense of order where one can be claimed.  It seems I'll be enjoying more bananas than normal in the next few days.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I say, "Arigatou," you say, "Odajini."

The first time I set foot into the Kiuchi Ladies Clinic, I walked in without a thought of removing my shoes at the door.  My now thorough familiarity with the whole routine of visits is a small victory and a great pleasure.  I now know to remove my shoes and put on slippers, to walk to the desk and hand them my patient card.  They may ask for my health insurance card and then I hand that to them.  They say something, and then I correctly respond by going into the side room to measure my own weight, blood pressure and pulse (which I can now do without any help!), they hand me the card in a plastic holder on a lanyard which I put around my neck and then I wait for my name to be called.  I then go sit outside a door until it opens, from which point I bask in the glow of a doctor who speaks English.  She then sends me back out into the world of uncertainties where I once again wait for my name to be called, get my medicine, and then pay the amount on the slip that is handed to me.  By this point I feel pretty appreciative of all I've learned and the help given to me, so I say, "Arigatou gozaimasu," (which means "thank you")  and on cue, all the women at the receptionist desk–because it is a doctor's office and the proper response–answer, "Odaijini," (take care).

Monday, June 2, 2014

PAC Strings Begins

It is the week of strings chamber music at HPAC.  In the large rehearsal room, usually filled to the brim with winds and brass and percussion, the chairs of the morning sextet rehearsal face the chairs of the afternoon conductor-less orchestra.  There is plenty of room for waltzing about if one felt inclined to do so.  And it feels as though we are; our bodies fill the void of the conductor's hands and awaken to the sound of the music they are making.  An energy bubbles from within, taking form in those who are creating it.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gift Giving to Shimono-san

It's hard to know how to fully show someone your appreciation for what they do.  A few days ago, Shimono-san gave me some of his time to listen to my excerpts, and because gift giving is part of the culture here, I thought it might be appropriate to give him something out of gratitude.  Luckily, in Japan, most stores have lots of gift-able food items, beautifully wrapped and then beautifully wrapped again by the clerks.  Prices range from a few hundred yen to several thousand.  And so the question, what is an act worth?  What is a person worth?  And also to balance this with the inevitable indebtedness that this bequeaths on the recipient.  To me, sometimes it seems that a gift undermines the feelings behind it.  A large part of me wanted to leave the issue untouched.  But I was truly appreciative and thought this might be the most interpretable way to express that.

I found some fresh, sesame gift mochi.  It seemed small enough not to make a big deal out of it but a token at least.  I gave it to him after the performance on Friday, as awkwardly as possible.  How else does one express gratitude in a way that is short of what is actually felt?  His musicianship and integrity have been models this whole week.  I looked up at him during the Schumman symphony and saw in his face a sincere need, something deeply personal, something driving him to open his vulnerabilities and trust to the moment.  A face of one who is being watched by no one.  I wish I had looked up more often.  Indeed, there is nothing graceful about giving someone mochi, or anything else, for that.

It's just what he does, who he is.  He is a channel through which something is passed.  There is nothing stoic, or proud in his demeanor.  To whom, to what did I give?  Is there some other way to show appreciation?  I trusted him in the performance.  Perhaps that should have been the end of it.  At the very least, I hope my awkwardness in the giving expressed something, and that he enjoys the mochi.