…why the hell not???
I feel very fortunate that I didn’t meet someone like me when I first came to Japan. Someone who’d been here a while, knew the ins and outs and ups and downs of life in this tiny island nation, but could, without an excessive amount of cynicism or negativity, present me with guidelines to make my transition here easier and more enjoyable. I probably would have been grateful, but I would have missed out on a great growth opportunity by avoiding what may be the best thing to ever happen to me: going loco.
I might have remained the same person I was when I arrived here. Not that that would have been so bad, but…well, yeah, it would have been unfortunate, actually.
It’s my assertion that the rewards of going loco far outweigh the drawbacks. Sometimes when you lose it, you win…going a little nuts can be very liberating. Many people don’t relish the idea of achieving one’s liberation this way, but I not only think it’s the best way, it’s perhaps the only way. Any student of history can tell you that freedom always requires risk, struggle and sacrifice. It can’t be given. It must be earned or taken, or both. Especially in the case of mental liberation, which is arguably the form of liberation of greatest value.
Some foreigners come to Japan fully evolved, complete, and satisfied with themselves, for whatever reason. So, no matter what they learn here, about the world or about themselves, they will pretty much remain the same. That must be wonderful (I think.) But, for the rest of us who came here with a little wiggle room (if not a lot) I’ve found that Japan is tailor-made for self-discovery…but maybe I’m just speaking for myself and projecting. If I am, please let me know.
I came here with a lot of baggage, most of which I hadn’t even known about. I thought I had traveled light. I’d sold most of my belongings before I left NY and gave away most of the rest. And what I couldn’t sell or give away or store in my mother’s basement, I threw away. I squeezed 30 some-odd years of consumption into a couple of cheap suitcases. Once I got here and got settled, that’s when I realized that I’d brought a lot more than I’d packed. A virtual grab-bag of human drama had stowed away inside of me. Maybe I hadn’t noticed because I had been carrying all this shit around for years, maybe my entire life, like accessories. I wasn’t quite conscious of their weight, like one doesn’t often notice the weight of belts, socks, watches and jewelry. But once I got here I noticed, and how. Like dumbbells in my pockets.
There’s something about the very nature of life in Japan that inspires an epiphany. Perhaps it was the combination of isolation, glorification and stigmatization that I encountered here that acted as a catalyst. Whatever it was, it raised my already heightened narcissism to an even higher sense of self-awareness.
It’s an incredible gift, or a horrifying curse, to be certain. I could see myself with a frightening clarity. I could see every ingredient in this gumbo I call I. I could see what gave me my bitter taste, what made me sweet, what made me too spicy , what gave me my irresistible aroma. I could see which ingredients I had chosen, and which were chosen for me. Which I had borrowed from the Americana recipe book of life, and which were inherited or environmental.
With this gift I was presented came a choice: I could try to manipulate the concoction, try to make something remotely palatable out of it, or…I could throw it all out, and essentially start from scratch. I began to see myself as I’d never seen myself before. Not as one among millions upon millions, but as less than one. I was invisible here. People didn’t see me. They only saw whatever they projected. But I was a zero, and zero is a hard number to face. Zero can make anyone go a little loco, until you realize the opportunities, the miracle of zero. That takes time. Time well worth the taking.
First, I saw myself through stages, through the eyes all around me, through the mirror that is my life here, through the Japanese: Bigger, stronger, blacker, scarier, cooler…stupider, incomprehensible, shameless…less patient, more impetuous, alien, different, strange, bizarre…dangerous…passionate, emotional, surprising, unpredictable, opinionated…free-thinking, free-willed, free-spirited, free…
Was it true, I wondered. Well, I definitely wasn’t Japanese. No matter how hard I tried to fit in, that just wasn’t going to happen. They wouldn’t have me. Not maliciously. It was just inconceivable to them and thus impossible. And, I wasn’t American. In my mind, at least when I came here, America was a theory, an illusion, a motto on a bumper sticker, no more representative of me than Disneyland was. I was free, sure, the way homeless people are free. The way refugees are free. A very unsettling freedom to say the least. And terrifying. I’d never known that type of freedom.
Nevertheless, before I could make the transition from living life according to the mores and truths that have been impressed or forced upon me, or presented to me as self-evident, to living a life with my own flavor, where my only allegiance is to the personal mores and truths that I’ve decided upon of my own volition, a crisis of identity occurred. Yes, before I could decide what was best for me, I had to figure out who I was.
And during such a crisis, yes, there will probably be a time when you appear, and indeed presume that you’ve gone, for all intents and purposes, loco. I know I did. But, in the end, you can look back at your transition, your liberation, your gumbo, and see that clearly it would not have occurred, at least not in a profound way, without first relinquishing your grasp on this so-called sanity that’s clung to so desperately, and cherished so recklessly.
it is a heavy price to pay. Most cannot afford it for they are heavily invested in their lives as they are. Their portfolios are chockful of this sanity. Some are literally trapped within the cultural constraints of their society’s expectations and beliefs, a straitjacket on their souls. Some are so afraid of life outside the straitjacket that they’ve totally submitted to it, reconditioned their minds to not only accept it as natural (and reject anything contrary as unnatural), but foster submission. They proselytize, offering straitjackets to everyone they encounter, wholeheartedly believing it’s in their best interest. They wear their straitjacket proudly like a coat of arms, or thrust before them like a standard.
Going loco, I’ve come to believe, is the only way to pull a Houdini, shed that straitjacket, and ultimately discover (or uncover) the real you.
However, despite my disclaimer, if you still want to hear my 10 ways to keep it together here in the land of the Gods, stay tuned. I’ll hit you off ASAP.
In the meantime give me a shout.