All I Have Need Of

I have never seen airport employees work harder.

They are running endlessly, to and fro, looking at me with a smile that asks a question: “Do you need me to run with you to your gate?” “Would you like me to hold your bags?” “Would you like me to tow the plane back so that you can hop on it?” And I just slightly shake my head with a similar smile, perhaps not so inquisitive.

“I’m all right.”

I am at the Haneda airport in Tokyo, waiting for my 6:55 A.M. flight for New York City. It’s currently 1:41 A.M. I tried to sleep on the benches like the U.S. Soldiers were, but I could not. I think I may have offended a few Japanese sensibilities. A young woman, lying down in a public places to sleep.

I am exhausted. This vacation has long been needed. Months went by without so much of a long weekend, and I can feel it in my bones, my mind, my spirit, and my eyes right now that are closing but refuse to stay closed. My co-teacher will be different when I return and so will my classroom. So will the little free time I have. It will be easily overtaken by wedding planning in all its shades and scopes. Table settings, honeymoon, boutonnieres, confetti…

I cannot wait until I am in the arms of my beloved. It’s been almost exactly six months since I have seen him in person, and I forget many things about him. One of the first things I notice is his height. He is about a head taller than me. He walks like a boy, and his fingers are bony. I remember the freckles scattered over his left cheek, like some sloppy constellation. His liquid laughter, when given life, colors the walls of the room and brings a glow to the eyes of those who hear it. His suffocating hugs, ones that a hardy father would give – my beloved attempts these with his lanky arms nonetheless. His unabashed stares of contentment, the ones that leave me wondering again and again, what it is in me that he sees, feels, and knows.

I relish the solitary travel. The feeling of being unknown but realized. The state of being unimportant but present. I sit for hours and hours next to a complete strangers, and if by chance, we hit it off, we talk until it gets awkward and then talk again. And after we disembark, we may become Facebook friend who like each others’ pictures of our families, but we’ll never again have that delicious conversation that seems so precious and clandestine. Travel is fascinating. You embody nothing. One just is.

Gobbledygook. I think I think I’m being genius right now, but I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a week. Here I go. Offending Japanese sensibilities once more.

Fresh, Crisp

Those are my favorite words.

I am currently spending a (barely) shameless self-indulgent hour and a half sitting at a café, listening to old recordings of me and my friends’ songs, writing a blog entry, and having a cup of Darjeeling tea.

There are many things that have come to pass since my last blog entry, almost a year ago.

  • I became a vegetarian
  • I became a full-time daycare/preschool teacher to a class of 2-3 year-old children
  • I started to play bass for the church band.
  • I became a fiancée to my boyfriend of 2.5 years, friend of 13 years.
  • I joined a gym.
  • I decided three-quarters of the way to not attend law school in the next two years.
  • My parents left back to Liberia.
  • I got a smartphone.

Many things. I believe those listed above are the ones of most moment. I hope I can write a blog entry at least once every two weeks.
Here’s to the remainder of 2013.
I’m excited.

Grace.

Old Ideas

ImageHere’s a review of Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas that I wrote a while ago.

Some may have hoped or dared to expect optimistic transfiguration from Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen’s first studio release in eight years. But as Cohen confesses on the cover of the album, the ideas are not of a novel fabric. We hear him sing the same sorrowful notes of enduring life, of love – broken and mending, home. As Cohen’s ideas have aged, so has he. At seventy-seven years old, he spins his stories with a certain depth and urgency – as if time is running out to transmit all the tales of coming and going, beginnings and ends out into cosmic void… or else, not so cosmic. Perhaps our hero hopes that his learnings will not fall on deaf ears.

Cohen is a Jewish, ordained Buddhist monk who has been in mountains in the last few years. He shaved and traded his robes for a suit and a pair of shades to tour and put into notes and lyrics his life pursuit and wrestle for peace. On his last tour, Cohen performed a sundry of his old songs with new orchestral and sweeping arrangements. On Old Ideas, like many of his other studio albums, Cohen paints with a palette of simple melodies and instrumentation.

Old Ideas is reminiscent of Gospel and blues. Cohen’s deep, round voice is placed at the forefront of each song, his rasping and whispering so close to the microphone that the intimacy almost makes you uncomfortable. The uncluttered musical setting of the songs thrust the lyrics of each song forward, making the struggle behind the words unavoidable and stark. “I’ve got no future, I know my days are few,” he sings with the memorable brass riff on “The Darkness.” “I thought the past would last me, but the darkness got that too.”

Cohen does not search for the punchline in the long lines of gloom. He will either make one or deal with the absence of one. Songs of anguish and despair suffer from overpopulation, but what distinguishes Cohen from the others is the sheer depth of perspective, insight, and compassion that he has for the suffering of an individual. In the song “Amen,” you can hear him looking for a moment’s peace in the sad revelation of knowing there is no one to blame but himself for his scars.

If there was one reservation to be voiced, it would be for the fact that his songs have walked the well-worn path of sadness before, and a few of the songs on Old Ideas don’t travel far, making them seem weak in the dust of its predecessors. But this is Leonard Cohen. Anywhere one lends his or her ear, a magnificent breadth is found. “Show Me the Place,” with its ambient organ, smooth piano riff, and equally smooth vocal counterpart, makes one want to slowly shift into the fetal position and try to grasp the story behind the words.

Lessons? Do not live in your past. Do not live in your future. The witty bleakness of Old Ideas leaves one nostalgic and grasping for hope. Be cautious that it doesn’t thieve you of your day’s joy. This isn’t Cohen at his best, but it certainly gets close. He has declared himself lazy and filthy and unable. He has declared the same things before. Neither celebratory nor stricken, Leonard Cohen continues.

And the curtains go up once more!

For everything.

And I Miss Your Precious Heart

I was in Tiberias.
I was in Nazareth.
I am in Jerusalem.
I have been in Tel-Aviv.
I have been in Haifa.
I will be in Tel-Aviv.

But Beautiful

Goodness, I have so much to do. I’m not doing those things.

The yellow dust from China has been settling on my skin quite disagreeably. There are angry rashes on my forearms, and I haven’t had a case of such epidermic irritation in years.

Music has been evading me lately. When I commute, I end up listening to podcasts or just take off my earphones in the middle of a song to enjoy the orchestration of happenings around me. The last new album I listened to was the new tUnE-yArDs album.

I never type out “tUnE-yArDs.” I always copy/paste it.

Books have also been evading me. I can’t concentrate at all. My thoughts are packed so tightly into my head — not unlike brown sugar when baking.

Subway

I walk toward the subway exit, a gaping mouth on the pallid brick sidewalk. Spring has realized with the kick of April that oh, spring does include sunshine. It’s only a few minutes until the human traffic starts to fill up the cavities of the underground and the automobiles flood the asphalt. Men and women make their ways back home; to dinner with friends, colleagues, family; or to destinations that escape the normalcy of daily life. The light is a wan yellow as I descend the steps. The shadow of the walls engulfs my face, and I am swallowed whole by the entryway. The distinct pungency of the subway station drifts over my nose, and I smell urine, dirty hair, waffles, sweat, and putrid water. Neither unpleasant nor potent, it is a familiar odor and one I’ve come to expect.

I walk down another flight of stairs to reach the entrance gates. The transportation card does its job with its confirming beep, and I push through with my hip. I avoid the string of people veering to the right and step in the opposite direction. I hope for fewer people in my car so I can read, but to little avail. It is nearing five o’ clock. Playing on my mp3 player is quiet, acoustic fingerpicking with a soft, corresponding voice. With the music deadening the external cacophony, what I see resembles a scene from a film: coats, sweaters and windbreakers of all colors and textures; eyes, noses, and mouths on faces – no two the same; loafers, sneakers, and stilettos cover fidgeting feet; and these all belong to restive bodies that stand in countless lines and clumps – all amalgamated in the trying act of waiting.

The bell rings once, twice, three times. We are told of the train approaching in four different languages. I understand two of them, and as I wish for polyglot capabilities, the glass safety doors slide open. A beat passes as the doors to the subway train open, and a fresh flow of bustling individuals bursts forth. The patient wait for the disembarking passengers, but a substantial assemblage lacking a mustard seed of tolerance elbows past. I pause my music. I hear grumbles, a few profanities, but mostly, my ears are filled with the din of shambling feet. I stand at the midpoint of my queue with perhaps six people behind me. As the multitudes begin to enter the train, filling the spaces soon becomes cramming, and my body is carried forward. Before ten seconds pass, I am in the nucleus of the teeming compartment. Backs against chests. Chins against shoulders. Toes against ankles. I am closer to these unknowns than I am to friends, coworkers, and family. I let slip a small, furtive grin as I relish the nearly spiritual proximity of utter strangers. The man whose left shoulder is against my arm catches my smile and turns away uncomfortably. He knows nothing about me. I know nothing of him barring his hair part and his cologne. It smells like a fusty log cabin.

The subway stops twice before I detrain. There is an equilibrium maintained in the number of people: I don’t feel any less or any more crowded than I was when I got on. There is a reverberation of voices, of laughter, of the moving train, of coughing, of sniffling noses, of moving limbs. We lurch forward and backward as we travel the digestive tracts of the Underground. The fluorescent lights cast an anemic layer of unfamiliarity on the visages, and the sheen pulses with the jolts of the car. The sudden silence is ineffable, a foreign interlude in the symphony of clamor. We brace ourselves as we feel the brakes fulfilling their vocation beneath our feet.

The awkward shuffle toward the doors begins. As the abrasive commuters nudge their way in, those alighting skirt around them, eager to be free, eager to go. As we exit, those who were separate turn into one, breathing in unison, sashaying in rhythm, making toward the noiseless escalators. It’s a river of people – babbling, rolling and flowing. The movement never stops. I take cognizance of this and conform my pace to the rest of the wayfarers. Bypassing the congested escalators, I ascend the stairs, a faint trace of agoraphobia in the air.