Beauty Will Save the World

Life at the office has been slow. No complaints, just a statement. In that down time I have been allowed to think about my upcoming self-introduction (yes, I have actually thought about the teaching side of living in Japan), and touch up photos galore. Today, however, I parted ways with my trusty laptop and ventured to work solo. The rains this morning were threatening to drench all who dared pass, and with a typhoon on its way to these parts, I felt caution with my most precious cargo was in order.

But, like a certain episode of the Simpsons where Bart’s day takes every bad turn it could, I walked to work in the rain and the sun burst through the clouds as soon as I stepped into the parking lot. It didn’t rain the rest of the day. But no worries; better safe than so terribly sorry.

Really, that could have been the introduction to a miserable day. But for some reason, today’s grief actually rolled off my back. Imagine the surprise of this overly sensitive lad when all efforts to discern R’s from L’s with his students failed miserably and didn’t frustrate him in the slightest. Imagine the shock when the entire afternoon was spent with absolutely no productive endeavours to occupy his time, but still the best was made of the situation by reading anything his English eyes could understand. And the idiotic drivers. And the multiple household mishaps, not the least of which was the ingestion of unwanted meat products in spring rolls that looked ever so delicious in the store. And the aching body from the previous night’s badminton. And the post office delivering my modem a day early instead of the promised due date when I planned on being home to receive it. And the solitary confinement. And the distance from my friends and family.

No catastrophes, certainly, but certainly, these separate incidents were easily enough to shake me up in days past. They would definitely qualify as enough to put me into a not insignificant depression in circumstances where I have no recourse to friendly counselling. But here I am, alone, and happy. (And full of meat. Eww).

I have a few theories on the matter.

Number one: Perhaps I’m finally just growing up. Is this part of what happens? If so, aging isn’t so bad after all.

Number two: The good of today is not insignificant when compared to the bad. For lunch today, Michiko-san, Aya and Kazue allowed me to tag along for a lunch of hot soba and it was the best meal I have had to date in Japan. Kazue and Aya expressed excitement at their upcoming trip to visit Sarah in England. Even Michiko-san, made respectable efforts to use her English skills – her confidence sometimes fails her and she resigns herself to her native tongue, even though she is capable enough with my mother tongue. She even properly used the idiom, ‘It’s my treat’ as a final bonus to the lunch hour.

Continuing with theory number two: I received an email from the good Mr. Stiem and as brief as it was, it was nice to be in his thoughts. I don’t know if it is exclusively his influence or the fact that I am currently reading Umberto Eco’s ‘Foucault’s Pendulum,’ but I have been prompted into a bit more introspection than is customary for me these days. Let me explain; first Tyler: his fondness for intellectualism his habit of asking piquant questions (even though today, they were as brief as could be) often force me to delve a deeper into the shallow pools of my brain. As for Eco, there we have the intellectualism again, but perhaps more importantly, a well-written first-person narrative always prompts me to make a greater effort when exploring my own thoughts. I inevitably walk in the shoes of the storyteller and hope that my thoughts might (at least occasionally) be as clearly and eloquently elucidated.

And lastly, for theory number two: Chocolate-covered almonds. So good.

Now, onto theory number three: I think I may have found some sense of purpose in my life. I’ve been hunting for so long and so earnestly. Too earnestly. The weight that I have placed on my own shoulders while trying to discover my place in the world is a good explanation for why my back has been hurting for so long.

But, while my back continues to ache on occasion, the pain has been lessened, the burden has been significantly lifted. In a movie called Unbreakable (an enjoyable film – go check it out) one character suggests to another that when he finds his purpose, the mundane, melancholy life that has plagued him will disappear and satisfaction will then dominate.

Another film reference – this time from Fight Club. I am Raymond K. Hessel. Mr. Durden’s gun has been pointed at my head and I have run off into the night to make my dream come true. And indeed, my corn flakes taste great in the morning. Even the soba I eat for lunch every single day has not become dull.

And the purpose? Travel photography of course. For the last year, I have trained myself to be here, to be in an exotic land and to make beautiful images. I have to resort to another film reference, this time, Adaptation. After watching it, I remember Kevin and I discussed it and both expressed envy at the main character’s passion, his drive to succeed in his field. Neither Kevin nor I could completely identify with such intense desire. I made misguided projections about what mine might be, but even at the time, I knew I was fooling myself. I suspect Kevin knew as well.

Well Kevin, I think I may have found a place next to whichever Kaufmann was so zealously scribbling his manuscript. May it last. May it last because this feeling is wonderful. It is contentment. Contentment has seemed to elude me, but here I am, uncomfortably resting my back against the world’s most poorly designed love seat, feeling satisfied.

I get excited at the prospect of the next time I will raise my camera. Maybe tomorrow, if the typhoon dodges Japan, I can mount my bike and head to Gembeikei gorge. If not, perhaps Saturday. If not then, maybe Hazuki and I can find some spot on the coast free from the rain, if not there, then damn it, we’ll go underground at Iwaizumi and take some long exposures in the caves. And when next I’m shooting, I will lose myself, as I have with every other time I have watched Japan through my lenses. I forget I haven’t had dinner, or lunch. I forget that I woke up at 5:00 am. I forget that it’s above 30 degrees and humid as the inside of Ruben Studdard’s butt crack (just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention with that lovely image). And when I’m done, I’ll look forward to processing the photos and seeing the results then learning from my mistakes and taking heart in my successes.

I realize I still have so much more to learn, but that’s part of the fun. I have always loved learning and photography is something that will forever challenge me. I will always have room to grow or a new subject to explore in a new way. I will always have to learn about those subjects and I will, no doubt, be forced into writing about them as well (another minor passion of mine). I want to see the world, capture some of its wonder and share that knowledge with others. I want to learn how to better communicate with subjects and to create a mutual comfort between model and photographer. I want to continue to use my web skills to further my ability to share photos. Photography is very much a synthesis of many of my past pursuits. (now I just have to better integrate it with my love of music – some concert photography along the way perhaps?)

And I have not forgotten what Dostoevsky said: ‘Beauty will save the world.’ I can easily adapt his words to fit my needs. For him beauty was that which made life tolerable. Often true. But eventually, I hope eventually my photos can become even more than an escape from drudgery. I want to learn to convey a message. I want to inspire people to experience this world for themselves. I want people to make connections to these faraway lands, these foreign faces.

I’m verging on sounding like a hippy here. But for all this sentiment and idealism, I believe in these words. I hope they keep ringing true for me for some time. I recognize I have a lot of work ahead of me to be able to make this into any sort of viable career and that there are some daunting and terrifying tasks ahead of me (especially for a closet introvert like me). But I suspect this thing I have found, this passion might actually prompt me to stay the course.

Finally, while I was writing this, one of the songs passing through my randomized playlist uttered the following lyrics, the theme for the evening: ‘So, this is continuous happiness”

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