Monday, July 29, 2013

Spirit Line

When you talk to yourself - and we all talk to ourselves, especially when we become elders, having improved over the decades into scintillating conversationalists - you're generally after clarity or understanding, working out an idea or seeking resolution, somewhat like traditional prayer in many respects except for one key point: it is not other directed. It is not not a plea for help from elsewhere, but a conversation with the closest presence of what most folks call god. 

When we talk to the god in ourselves, however, we are talking to an entity we know to be extant; no need to conjure faith out of printed matter. It feels comfortable and comforting to talk this way-- it feels natural, and there is a listener; it is also something to do in a tight spot, an action to take, if only to say something. What's better, it can guide us toward a solution that arises from all the tomorrowstuff our bodies in their ancientness know like the back of our hands.  

We spend our early lives asking upward, looking to our elders for such answers as we can find there, and when at last we have no elders but are the elders, we keep on asking upward, though now we ask of the height in ourselves, of the spirit that embodies us, that in every living person reaches directly back to beyond the start of time. 

We can speak to spirit about anything - and without reservations, since it is our own - most often about the lower, immediate emotions that ever trouble the bodied. It is best we ourselves deal with our own problems, to the extent we can, learn from them as we have evolved to do. We grow strongest without leaning.

The strength we have gained of ourselves is of greatest value, worthy of passing on down the spirit line.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tiny so green frog 
sunning on garden latch -
 I'll get lettuce later

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It Made Robert Wonder

We were sitting at dinner the other night, serving the last of the salad - which Miasa was about to finish up - when her sister Mitsuki said "Mitsuki wa mada tabetenai!" ("Mitsuki hasn't eaten any yet!"). I had heard this J-syntax countless times before, but for some reason I heard it literally for the first time, and it dawned on me that Mitsuki was speaking of herself in the third person! This form of Japanese is used mostly by females, toddlers to teens; not by males or older women.

I wonder if that is a cultural practice in any other language, and what effect that subtle sublimation of the "I" might have on the socio/psychological development of the female self. She is thereby enabled to consider and speak of herself as another person! This unique structure seems to be a sort of semantic means of averting negative emotional response to actions that would otherwise be seen as overtly selfish (by saying "I want x"), focusing any social negativity on a target abstraction out there in the semantic ether that bears one's name, but is not one, exactly; rather it is a selfless third entity, apart from oneself, a sort of cavitation in the emotolinguistic sea. It is only used in that specific way; Mitsuki wouldn't say "Mitsuki saw a great movie last night," a declaration of past action that would beget no possibly negative reaction.

Offhand I know of no other language in which it is traditional to distance selfness with such facility, pretty much enabling one (at least a young female - and why only females?) to speak of oneself as an additional member of the group... I know of no other culture wherein the power of politeness drives the need to make an other of oneself (only young females!), so as to deflect any negative reactions toward overt "I"-ness. I try to sense the difference between me saying: "I haven't eaten any yet!" and me saying: "Robert hasn't eaten any yet!" But as an adult male American semantic alien, it doesn't work for me; I can't 'feel' it, even in the slightest way.

Whence in long-ago Japan was such a word structure inspired to appear in a moment's discourse - and be understood! Be approved! Be carried on into the future of the language as useful! Apparently, when it was first said, no one went "Huh?" They accepted the distancing, and the need for it.

Given the cultural changes now ongoing in Japan, I suspect that this subtle usage, like the need for it, may disappear before too long; thought I'd mention it.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Monkeys Hate It When You Steal Their Beans

The other morning from the deck I shouted a solo monkey out of the garden, a female, not big but bigly disappointed at being rousted from her quiet (sneaky) moment in that peaceful, beanfilled, monkeyloving place. She climbed slowly back over the fence with that over-the-shoulder resignation that monkeys are so good at, because they really own everything. She was a scout; the troupe of beangrabbers would soon follow.

So I got my work duds on and went out there because I'd seen yesterday that there were lots of on-the-verge beans that would be ready now anyway. I opened the gate and walked in to check the damage, saw that there was none; the furry spy had been rousted before she could even nip a cuke-- she'd just memorized the inventory.

As I was going around double-checking the zooks and cukes and rows of climbing beans, nigglethinking what  a fool I am to grow such things in monkeyworld, I noted that the scout had remained nearby in simian confidence, sitting quietly in the shadows between the garden and the roadside trees, keeping an eye on her vegetables, feeling a bit proprietary toward her beans, just now at the front edge of their profusion (I had harvested a large bowlful of them yesterday in anticipation of just this sort of event, even though I'd seen only one stray monkey in the past 6 months). 

Seems monkeys are as punctual as bean caterpillars, which emerge hungry at precisely the time the beans are ready to feed them, a bug-bean arrangement finalized many eons ago, long before we learned to plant for our own purposes, despite bugs and monkeys. The bugs don't even bother to laugh at the thought that these are planted beans, and the monkeys don't care, they have the same sort of paleoagreement with the beans and the like: you grow it, we'll eat it. Pretty basic. Way unlike our Nietzschean struggles. 

It's in their genes; the earth's output is clearly their heritage, so in that sense she was sitting there watching me grab her beans and pluck them-- then not even eat them before another walker could get them, but put them in some kind of pointless container that interferes with climbing - What the hell for, she looked like she was thinking, stomachs are all you need... never understand these walkers - but I was bigger than she was, which is the way monkeys roll, bottom line - humans too, in more technological ways that include kill ratio and stopping power...

Once I started picking the beans, Scout finally gave up, ambled on out of the shadows, down the stone steps and across the road to the forest where she found a nice vantage tree and sat in it watching me through the leaves and uttering a regular sort of grieving sound, a single syllable moan, like those Italian grandmothers in my old NY neighborhood used to do when as outfielder I had to sometimes go over the fence into their kitchen gardens where there were the most delicious tomatoes in the world. Yes, I was a monkey in my younger days and this is all a form of karma, though I no longer grow tomatoes because I get so few of them, and none ever as delicious as those were...

Scout sat there continuously making that slow rhythmic lament all the while I went carefully along my net wall of her ready beans, taking for myself any beanpod that seemed large enough to catch a monkey's attention, because I knew that she was just being a sound marker, spotter, guide for the approaching troupe (which showed up before long), her eyes following my every move; a  companion of hers - male, probably retired, was not far away, breaking branches off an oak tree and throwing them onto the ground in a kind of bluster, which didn't work on me. There was much frustration in the air, except where I was.

The troupe arrived, as always with an unexpected flourish. About 20 minutes after gleaning the beans I was sitting at the kitchen table, sipping my coffee, keeping an eye on the garden, my bedding hanging out over the deck railing in the nooning sun, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown furry rocket leap from the cedar into the weeping cherry, thence with a whoosh down onto the deck railing, zip across my futon and from there into the plum tree, on into the bay tree and down to the ground, streaking for my garden. 

I looked out the big window and there was brown fur everywhere: there were mothers with newborn wee ones on their backs ambling along, slow loafing males who would get there after the harvest, midrange females just then sneaking over my garden fence but by then I was clacking a stone on the deck railing and whistling, shouting pretty nasty monkey curses and clapping my hands; tossed a rock or two and they all loped away to beyond rock distance, where they would wait until I went back inside my big box...

The word was getting around, though: there were no beans left. The troupe was buzzing; they couldn't believe I had taken their beans, and they were pissed: I could tell by the way they looked at me from the road, their faces an even angrier red than usual; they can't stand it when we steal their stuff.

Monday, July 01, 2013

You Talkinna Me??

This morning I was out doing the usual early Saturday round of little chores that build up during the week. I'd earlier scattered the kitchen refuse atop the compost pile - now nearbelow the cherry tree - and was bucketing the last of the wood stove ash from the ash heap to scatter along the feet of the biwa (loquat) and natsume (jujube) trees, the blueberry bushes and the mountain azaleas that line the inner road, then to sprinkle the last of it all atop this morning's compost. 

The bucket was heavy with damp ash; I was just passing head down beneath the cherry tree when a blast of raucous sound from above made me look up. There in the branchy shadows blustered Mr. Crow, who owns this turf. Japanese crows can be uncomfortably loud even from a hundred meters away, but Mr. Crow was right there, yawping in my face. He wasn't flying away, as he normally would have done from this sudden proximity; he was staying put, hopping mad on a low branch: I had entered his dark presence just as he was planning his daily breakfast selection from the compost buffet, freshly laid out for him below. There was beaksome orange peel, onion skins,  tomato trimmings, cabbage core, tea leaves, broccoli stems, eggshells, you name it, all interlayered for Crow delight, what a feast it would be-- then I blundered into the picture and he became the essence of umbrage.  

I just stood there staring at him; he just hopped there, flaring and glaring. Then he raised his head and let out another blast, whoa loud under that canopy of leaves. Crow had never confronted me directly in this way, or this close up; only a couple of meters separated us. This was a bit too near even for my taste. I stared at him some more. He tilted his head and fixed me with his blackest eye: was I gonna get the hell out of his face or what.

For me, the next move was clear. I'd been waiting a long time-- about 35 years, actually. "You talkinna me??" I said, in my best Nooyawkese. He looked dumbfounded. "You talkinna me??" louder this time, more ominous, more threatening, half a step forward, just like De Niro, except this was for real. The big crow beak hung open in dark disbelief, like he could not believe his ears; like he'd seen that movie too! And I was using that very trope, out here in the -- semiwild, which was Crow's alone! What was Crow culture, then, if this was also an element of the human... whatever?

I seemed to sense a deep rift in the crow cosmos; a psychic shock wave passed through me. Crow looked here and there to his heavens for affirmation, as though he'd just read all of Nietzsche or its corvine equivalent. He gave a little croak upward. Forget about the select breakfast buffet. Human and Crow had just had a cultural exchange. We had crossed a line; there had been a merging of artistic elements. If this got out, things would ever be the same. 

The question now was, would Crow tell the others, or would he keep this bright secret for his own? Mumbling to himself, he flew off into the upmountain forest, likely to a distant higher branch of contemplation where he could be most alone-- as though he had to think about it. I'm sure he'll keep it all to himself, like that whole thick slice of bread he got not long ago. He'll never share this historic experience with another crow; crows don't do such things. 

But humans do.