Today I was in the kitchen when I heard water splattering in my living room. This happens every day when my upstairs neighbor waters the plants hanging off her pseudo-balcony. And like I do every day, I rushed over to close the sliding door separating my unit from the courtyard so the water wouldn’t splash onto my desk.
With the slam came a fluttering of wings, and a disoriented moth landed on the glass inside my apartment. Over and over, it thrust itself at the glass. I watched its futile attempts with pity as the water cascaded down the other side.
Oh to be that moth: jolted out of your reality, fighting to get back to your place of contentment, but there is an invisible barrier between you and your preferred state of being. Everything is blurry and you don’t understand why, but you suspect maybe this is the end. Life is life.
Also, there is also a giant monster behind you.
I waited until the water droplets stopped falling and slid the door a little bit open, but the moth remained fixated on its point of reference on the glass. Its delicate body bounced off it over and over as it tried to pass through, as if hoping its own confusion of the physics at work would give way to an equally confusing but advantageous escape.
I slid the door further open, but didn’t want it to get stuck between the doors, so I grabbed a piece of paper and gently encouraged it to move to the left, toward freedom. Not trusting the monster, it kept trying to exit through the glass with greater urgency. The more I tried to help it walk onto the paper, the more it went the other direction, until it flew to the top pane of glass, exasperated.
I stared at that moth and considered the implications. Overwhelmed by its most basic instincts for survival, the moth was actually increasing its chances of death. And sometimes life is like this. Perhaps it is like this for all creatures living in artificial worlds. How ironic that the behavioral traits which would have ensured our survival in a world without man-made constructions, that the behavioral impulses that would have deemed us most fit, are sometimes the factors that can now put us at the gravest disadvantages.
There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.
It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:
It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.
While eating breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.
Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.
The rain sounds different when it hits the tops of houses in Kyoto. I woke up and listened to it for an hour today, then went downstairs and watched the turtles in the inner garden pond. Animals here are not afraid of people. They don’t run and hide the way animals who have learned the hard way what humans are all about do. Even the little birds don’t mind. The only ones who run from people, my house mate told me, are the cats. Given the obsession with cats here, this strikes me as wise behvior.
I arrived in Kyoto today around 7pm. I should have gotten here earlier but I went the wrong way in the Osaka Loop train, which didn’t really matter, I just had to wait for the longer side of the loop. When I finally got to Osaka Station, I switched to the Kyoto line, tossed my bag on the subway rack and just zoned out into my headphones.
A nice thing about Japan is that people don’t steal things from other people here, at least overtly and rampantly like they do elsewhere. I learned from my friend who’s an English teacher in Osaka that kids get moral training in elementary school, where they are given different scenarios and have to pick the more ethical choice. It permeates the culture.
When I was in Thailand, I studied Buddhist meditation in the jungle with a runaway princess. There are many stories to be told about what happened there, but today is mother’s day so I will tell you just this one.
In the US and other Western cultures, we sometimes say “you can’t pick your parents.” It comes up in times of familial strife, when things aren’t all Hallmark ad-like and you wish you had a different life with different people in it. It’s to remind us that, nope, we can’t. Our lives come pre-fabbed with certain people in certain roles, and nothing can ever change it. You have to deal.
Two weeks before I left the US to travel in April of 2013, I was pursued by a headhunter. She was representing Exxon Mobil, and she wanted to bring me on as a senior copywriter.
“Why me?” I couldn’t help but ask her. She told me their current talent pool was only trained in soundbyte-level messaging; there were few writers able to create the kinds of long-form technical pieces they could display in full-page magazine spreads—the ones designed to make people think they’re reading the most juicy features produced by the actual magazine, until they get to the part about how Exxon cares about the environment, and Exxon makes the world a better place for everyone.
It was a six-figure salary above what even veteran journalists make. I would enter as a senior copywriter—as Don Draper, not as Peggy. This job would have resolved all my debt and financial worries.
I told her I’d call her back, and I never did.