Friends and Community

posted in: Uncategorized | 8

I realize that I have been away a long time. Lately I am finding it harder to get my thoughts together and to sit at the computer, writing. I start putting a few words down and then just give up. I become restless and distracted, feeling perhaps that the time I sit at the computer is time wasted from an active engagement with the real world, and as the years go by this time in the real world has grown with poignance and significance.

At the university that I am working at I’ve made a few friends with whom I get together three times a week after work to do Crossfit workouts. Besides beginning to finally get myself back in really good shape (after 24 years I did my first 53 pull ups again the day before yesterday), the time spent with these friends has made all the difference in emotionally handling being in this place. I find myself eagerly looking forward to the workouts and even when I am not feeling too well I try to make it there just to hang around with everyone.

It is almost as if I’d forgotten just how important other people are in my life, how much they reflect who I am and help me find purpose in making it through each day. I’m finding that so much of my reasons for getting so depressed and despondent over the past two years had to do with being alone and spending too much time with my own thoughts. Now I finally have people I can laugh with and share common experiences with and both let out the pain I am feeling and to listen to theirs. I still don’t like this place and the work, but with these friends it has all become a lot easier.

So two weeks ago when Kevin from Bastish.net invited me to visit him and his wife Tomoe on their farm in Nagano, north of here, I was both nervous and fascinated about the possibilities of what a different lifestyle, one based on sharing and sticking close to one’s beliefs, might be like. For a long time I had wondered if it would be possible to find a place in Japan where people still took care of one another and lived close to traditional Japanese values, in part a place where the land still meant something deeply spiritual and sustaining to those who lived on it.

For three days Kevin and Tomoe took me into their lives and showed me just how rich such a community could be. It seemed every moment of the day had some neighbor visiting or stopping by or saying hello on the street or driving by to offer some vegetables or bread or rice cakes. The other people Kevin had invited and I joined Kevin and Tomoe for walks in the hills to gather wild edible fiddleheads, or dig out rocks in their fields, or take a stroll through the town to look at the old farm houses and temples. There was talk of the hard winters such as this last one where the snow reached three meters (in 1945 the snow reached 7 meters deep!) and everyone had to pitch in to make sure all everyone could get through the winter. The first night three friends of Kevin and Tomoe, a family that supplied the village with delicious, homemade bread leavened with apple juice, dropped by suddenly and the modest dinner immediately turned in to a feast for nine. We laughed and joked and drank champagne and beer and wine while gobbling down barbecued local produce and I have not felt so at home and peaceful and satisfied in a long, long time.

It is what I long for.

I don’t know if I can be satisfied being a farmer, or if living in a such a rural community without access to books and talk with non-Japanese can be rewarding enough for me to put down roots in such a place, but it definitely is the right direction. LIfe is still uncertain for Kevin and Tomoe, and they both struggle with how they are going to make a living once their savings run out. But perhaps that is part of what living in such places entails, that you find a way to live there and that is what makes you strong and that is why you rely on the community to make it through hard times. It feels right.

That is the direction I want to go, and though, like Kevin and Tomoe, I am uncertain about how to go about doing it, I think my life will be the richer for bringing in community as the slate of my way of life. And I think it is the future for us all.

8 Responses

  1. It’s always good to hear your words here miguel, whether they’re frequent or otherwise.

    I’ve had some very similar feeling myself lately – increasing isolation, diminishing success at communicating anything to anyone – and I’m stumbling towards much the same realisation, that the answer lies in seeking and cultivating friendships (although I’ve yet to take any positive steps to do anything about it…)

    With your move into a more rural environment I think you’ve hit on something key – that a real sense of community is more likely to be found (although not guaranteed) where people share much more of their daily lives than is commonplace in an urban environment. Looking at people I’m aquainted with (I can hardly say I have many friends) we only share a small aspect of our lives, just a tiny window, the rest remains hidden. But where lives have so much more in common, there seems so much more opportunity for a real strength of community to grow. I hope so, anyway.

  2. Yes, why is it that writing seems to get harder, not easier? I’m noticing the same thing.

    Great to hear you’ve found something that looks like a direction. It certainly sounds appealing, with a kind of hard but delightful simplicity to it. As for the uncertainty about it, well, speaking from experience, a little trust goes a long way—trust, that is, that things will work out.

    Cheers Miguel; good luck with it.

  3. Miguel, I’m glad to hear things are going better. Coincidentally I was thinking of getting in touch with Kevin and seeing if you and he would like to get up Mt. Naeba before you leave for pastures new.

    53 pull ups is quite something. I need to get my butt back to the gym..

  4. 53 pull-ups?

    Yikes.

    I’m glad you visited these friends, Butuki. I can imagine living in a loose community very easily; a tight one, well, less so. It gets too fraught. I like the idea of people dropping round and a spontaneous dinner growing out of that.

  5. Hey everyone, thanks for the well wishes. The trip to visit Kevin was definitely a highlight of this year so far. In many ways it reminded me of families and places I knew when I was growing up in Japan, the same slow-paced, good-natured lifestyle and organic richness that I remember. Maybe that is one reason it felt so right. I really think we are all getting far too caught up in the fascination of our own technology and are drifting away from daily interaction with living things around us. Maybe that is why this lifestyle feels so sterile and unsatisfactory.

    Andy, I always thought I was happy being somewhat of a loner, and it is true that I like spending time alone, but I am realizing, painfully, that I very much need people around in order to maintain some measure of mental health. No man is an island…

    Pete, yes, the writing is getting harder, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps, unlike a simple oral conversation, because it is constantly demanding and never really fits into the living of each day. I always feel like I’ve sacrificed part of the day when I take time to write in the blog, or even spend a lot of time on the internet. I feel like I haven’t lived while I am doing it.

    Chris, I definitely want to go up and see Kevin again, perhaps when he isn’t so busy! Naeba sounds great!

    Pica, yes I know what you mean about inflexible communities; there is a reason why so many people in the past moved into the cities. Just have to find the right balance of people. Japan can be very provincial, even in the midst of Tokyo, so it is something I always think about, especially as someone who isn’t a white American.

  6. Butuki: please email me; I can’t remember your email address….

    Thanks!

  7. Butuki, so nice to hear about these lovely turns in your life! Like you, I too am finding community in the offline world very nourishing these days!

    (formerly of alembic)

  8. Hi Maria, so good to see you back! It’s been a while hasn’t it?

    I’m heading out to Vancouver this August, so there might be a chance to at talk. I’ll contact you by email.

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