Before I got on a plane to live on the other side of the world I had entered a time of my life marked with confusion and unrest. Inside of me there existed a frustrated energy that culminated as a result of several life changes occurring at once: the breakup of the alternative band in which I sang for 4 years, trudging through the haunting remnants of a volatile romantic relationship I had trouble letting go of, an economic depression that threatened my already meager salary, and immense family pressure that—at any moment—touted the possibility of leaving me homeless. Needless to say, I needed a break, a disappearing act; I had to abscond, suddenly and mysteriously, with little or no warning—and that’s exactly what I did.
The story of how Japan healed me begins with the fundamental makeup of who I am; I am an artist. As an artist, feelings of worth, of who I am, of my life as a whole, of happiness, are simplified down to one common denominator: what have I created today? Some days I have an answer; some days the answer is “nothing”. On the days where the answer is nothing, I often feel sick. There comes a deep pain in my psyche from feelings of energy wasted on making money, on participating in a complex theatrical production of social-politics and numbers: How much is in my bank account? I should start networking for more opportunities. Better get my career going. I’m getting old; what about marriage and kids? Apartments are friggin expensive. (Sigh) I need to learn how to cook. I wish I had more friends. I should go out and cut loose more. Am I doing this right?
On the days when I have created something, elation is abound and I relish it, endlessly—my own personal happy pill. It’s a real feat to be the source of one’s own happiness, to be sufficiently independent enough to take in, process, and filter life in the raw and create something that somehow ties it all together— something beautiful and reflective. Something that leaves a genuine mark of humanity, as humanity itself has made a career of trying to make better of chaos through the filters of its own consciousness. For me, making art was never about money or fame; my compulsion to create was present long before I could even understand such worldly accolades. For me, creating art—whether it be a writing piece like this, a song, or a performance—was always about lifting people up to realize something bigger than themselves. Its about smacking people in the head and hoping that they might look up from their desks, from some mindless task, to look around and realize that all of their efforts and current desires are not of their own choosing, but merely an amalgamated reflection of collective fear shared by anyone who is afraid to starve, hit the bottom rung, and abandon status. Creating something from nothing is a miracle, and to me, has always been about reaching out and grabbing that part of everyone that understands intuitively that we are not robots, damned to a life of playing the numbers game, staying safe and hoping we survive—but rather that: we are much more than what we have become.
Ever since I was very young, I felt that I was special—not better than anyone, but just special. I felt that I could see things within myself and in the world that most people didn’t see; I could see their limitations, the limitations that others put on themselves, but also, that I didn’t seem to have these. From the age of 5 or 6, I remember realizing that I had this amazing power to make things happen: if I liked the cutest girl in school, somehow she would end up liking me; if I wanted to be the best student in the class, I was; if I wanted to show a bully that I didn’t take shit, I’d throw a desk and knock his ass down with one punch to the face in front of the whole class (true story). I once successfully convinced my kindergarden teacher that I wasn’t punished any longer by asking her a bunch of math questions that inflated her ego enough to hinder her punitive judgement. Some might have called me precocious or cunning; I’d say I was just creative.
Albert Einstein once said that creativity is more important than knowledge. Having been able dethrone 200 years of Newtonian laws of physics by means of using simple thought experiments, he knew this better than anyone. It’s simple really. You see, if you think about it, finding truth through knowledge alone is slow business. It requires prerequisites and a rigid path that only allow progression through the channels of previous knowledge. This means that you have to rely on the work of others and are forced to assume that any previous knowledge is indeed correct, but ever more troubling is that, if you don’t know something, you can’t go any further. Also, more often than not, knowledge will tell you “it can’t be done”. If we had to rely on the knowledge that no one had ever been to the moon, we never would have gone.
So, while other physicists were following the math in order to make new break throughs, Einstein was busy asking creative questions that didn’t necessarily rely on mathematics or previous knowledge, such as: What would happen if an elevator’s cable was suddenly cut and allowed to free-fall with a man inside it? Because the elevator weighs more than the man, would he fall slower and smack his head on the ceiling as they fell? (The answer is that all things fall to earth at the same velocity regardless of weight, and thus, the man would not smack his head on the ceiling because he and the elevator would fall at the exact same speed—creating a feeling of weightlessness for the man). Truth be told, creativity is a shortcut around all obstacles and problems—even the one’s inside of our own minds.
Regarding this basic principal of creativity, it’s easy to realize how the unstoppable creative force I possessed as a child helped me to traverse overwhelming difficulties, just by believing that I could do things—requiring no proof and no judgement. That power continued until I graduated college. But then, everything changed.
Upon graduating college, a mix of several life-changing events had crippled my confidence—the most devastating of all were the end of my creative music outlet on stage, and the bitter conclusion of a romantic relationship with the only woman I had ever loved at the time. As a result, what emerged was an obsession with academic excellence, and a series of tumultuous romantic flings dotted with casual sex and hard partying meant to save me from despair. Though I kept at writing and continued to dabble in music, my creative flow was weak and growth from its roots was often stunted, resulting in many unfinished products and subsequent self-loathing.
As an adult, it soon became clear to me that what made me so powerful as a child was my ability to perceive no boundaries for myself, while at the same time, understanding the limitations that others placed on themselves. As I got older, experiencing the conscious pains of deep wounding failure, I became more timid, and began to place those same limitations on myself in the form of harsh self-criticism and a lack of effort to prevent disappointment in myself. The power I had once yielded had waned and left me feeling utterly helpless, floundering in a shallow pool of self-doubt that was especially adept at extinguishing any creative thought that might have come to me. Later, I would learn that no matter how far you fall out of faith, no matter how lost you feel from that inherent power to make things happen, it’s never too late to get it back.
Having lived in Japan for about a year and a half now, I have experienced a return of that special creative power that had nearly died just a few short years ago. The explosion of subsequent creativity stemming from this rebirth has led me to unending happiness and confidence that has extended to heal even the most difficult parts of my life. After 18 months, I have attained the balance that I had sought for so long. Of course the obvious question is, how? The best way to explain this is with a small example:
When I was young I grew up in an abusive household of drugs, and of physical and mental violence. My step father often beat me and my mother spent most of her time high on potent pain medication from seedy licensed professionals. For the most part, though I wasn’t particularly fond of the situation, I was used to it. But then, something I didn’t expect happen, did. When I went away for my first year of college, and came back for Christmas break, everything that I had missed from the subjective point of view became instantly clear from a new objective vantage point. I immediately understood what was wrong with my family, and most importantly, that I needed to get out. After my freshman year I moved out of my mom’s house and in with my grandparents—and that has made all the difference in my life. But, if not for that one year away from being so inextricably involved with the turmoil of my own family, I may have never seen the truth. Filled with anger and disappointment, along with feelings of helplessness, any talent or creativity left within me would have been crushed completely. And ultimately, I would have wound up seeking safety and security rather than true happiness. F*ck safety. F*ck security.
So how did coming to Japan save me? It put a fish out of water, that’s how.
Two factors are at work here: reflection and expectations.
PART 1: THE FISH IN WATER.
As mentioned previously, in America, I had grown increasingly self-critical of myself to the point where no creative idea could survive my scrutiny. In the wider view, this self-criticism was birthed from distractions created by the implicit expectations of my own culture. As a young man reaching the peak of my health and the beginning stages of a career, the expectations of my own native culture had prompted me to make endless comparisons of success between myself and my peers: Who should I be? What should I do? Should I follow my passions, or shoot for the paycheck? Oh wait, jobs are hard to find; you should go back to school to become more competitive for the low low price of 80k in a job market that doesn’t want to pay you. Ummm. Yea.
All of this noise created by the immense pressures of my native culture had caused me to lose grip of the creative power that once sustained me so well. Distracted by negative feelings of disappointment and self-doubt, I could only faintly hear the music within me, though, it never fell completely silent.
PART 2: THE FISH OUT OF WATER.
When I came to Japan, everything changed. Japanese culture is not my culture, and therefore expects nothing from me. Aside from conforming to the basics of Japanese social culture and niceties, Japan itself imposes no distractions or comparisons on me because there is no measurement of my success here that I value. Because Japan is not my native culture, nothing in its society overtly reflects anything particularly significant to me. It is this simple fact which released me from my inner struggle. Free from the former reflections of my own culture, I was encouraged to look inward and listen more carefully the to music that had then begun to grow louder and broader. Once jaded by the mixed messages of my native culture, the clarity that emerged forced me to measure my worth on my own terms, of my own making. As a result, I’ve discovered new ways of thinking, of approaching goals, and most importantly, an endless well of creativity and focus. The clarity that this experience has afforded me has been immeasurable, and it’s something that I would encourage everyone to try at least once in their life.
Some people have asked me if, when I return to the U.S., I might succumb to the same distractions I had before, and therefore, lose the power of my gifts once more. The answer to this is simple:
When you have experiences, they build upon you in layers. These layers pile high and are interwoven in a complex manner that connects them all. It gets to be that, while you may continue to add new layers or revisit old ones, nothing is ever truly lost; once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
So I tell them,
“I’ve got it now. Once you know Santa isn’t real, you stop writing him letters. And eventually, you start buying the gifts yourself.”