Left ... Right ... Left ... Right
I'm sitting in a coffee shop, notebook open in
front of me, pencil in hand, staring out the window at the world
going by. I had prepared a little slip of paper this morning with a
few essay ideas scribbled on it, but now that I look it over, I see
that they are all too 'serious' for my mood at the moment. I don't
quite feel like tackling a particularly deep subject today ...
It has become something of a routine recently, to
spend the two hours that Himi and Fumi are in their piano class at a
nearby music school, in 'scribbling' in this little notebook. I've
fallen so far behind schedule in the printmaking work this year, that
it's been difficult to justify spending time on this essay hobby
during the working day, but as there is no way that I can use this
particular time slot each week for any 'real' work, my conscience is
clear if I 'steal' it for writing ... Those schedule problems though,
mean that unlike last September, when I wrote one of these little
pieces every few days, I am now down to about one a week, each one
written in this Thursday evening time slot. One a week though, is
still 52 a year ... a fair body of work for an investment of just two
hours a week ... But as I feel that my suggested topics all seem too
heavy, perhaps today will be a 'pass'. Maybe only 51 this year
As I sit daydreaming, I notice that just across
the street, with a large sign facing directly towards me, is the
office of the real estate agent who manages our apartment building,
and with whom I signed our lease nearly nine years ago ... and there,
I see that a topic has found me after all ...
I'm a 'planner'. I always like to know where I am,
what I'm doing, where I'm going, and how long it's going to take to
get there. I mean this in both senses ... the 'micro' daily sense ...
and the 'macro' lifetime sense. Or if perhaps not lifetime, then at
least for some years down the line. I suppose this comes from a
desire to feel like I am in control of things, and am not simply
being buffeted in a random fashion to and fro around the universe,
and through life.
But have you ever noticed how it is that no matter
how seriously we try and direct our own affairs, and how carefully we
plan things, it seems that major changes in our life frequently turn
out to hinge on some tiny serendipitous event, unplanned and
unexpected? In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that
this may be the rule rather than the exception.
This real estate office across the street is a
good case in point. Quite a lot of very important things in my life,
including: - my current occupation (producing a series of 100
woodblock prints) - my residence (and thus my entire circle of
acquaintances and friends) - my marital status and partner, indeed
just about every single aspect of my life during the past decade, all
depend ... on my having turned left instead of right at that corner
over there one particular day ... on my noticing out of the corner of
my eye a tiny 'For Rent' notice ... and on a certain 'friendly to
foreigners' staff member being on duty at that particular moment ...
If any one of those things had been different ... Where would I be,
and what would I be doing now? Of course, it is impossible to tell.
My life could be much worse ... or it could be much better. About the
only thing certain, is that it would be very different.
Now there are two viewpoints on this sort of
thing. One says that if you have a goal firmly fixed in mind, then
these little 'turn left/turn right' incidents may influence the
particular path one follows towards that goal, but they will not
affect greatly the 'big picture'. Your life can indeed run basically
in the overall direction you intend. Only some details will be
different. You are mostly responsible for what happens to you.
Whether I had turned left or turned right that day nine years ago, I
would probably still be in pretty much the same position now. The
other person would argue that no, no matter how well we try and
direct the course of our lives, the universe is just too complicated
a place to do so with any real chance of success, and that we will
always be caught up in the flow of events beyond our control. Have
goals in mind if you like, but don't kid yourself that you will be
able to 'control' things to the extent that you may like. Those left
or right turns can, and probably will, truly send you down completely
different paths. And as you can't possibly have any idea what will
transpire along each route, it is a complete waste of time to even
consider the consequences of such decisions.
As you can tell from what I said earlier about
being a 'planner', I suppose I fall into the first category. I pride
myself on my 'thinking' abilities, the way in which I feel I can
shape the course of my own destiny ... Just look at the facts: ten
years ago back in Canada, I had a dream of becoming a woodblock
printmaker ... and here I am, after any number of subsequent 'lefts'
and 'rights' ... a woodblock printmaker.
But the fact that I turned left that day ... and
thus found this particular place to live ... and thus visited that
particular library ... and thus was shown that particular
illustration ... and thus started my Hyaku-nin Isshu project ... and
thus became successful ... brings up the question, "What if I had
turned right instead? Surely, in that case, I wouldn't have found
this success." I think though, that this is faulty reasoning. If I
had turned right, the opportunities may have been different, but what
I made of them, would have possibly been the same. I may not have now
been involved in making Hyaku-nin Isshu prints, but I would be doing
something of the sort. I could still have become a successful
printmaker. If my committment to that goal had been strong enough.
My friend Sadako though, in as much as I have so
far learned what her personality is like, seems to lean more towards
the second type. I don't know if this is a 'built-in' aspect of her
character, or results from her having been buffeted around by fate
somewhat more than I, but whatever the cause, she definitely thinks
that I 'think' too much, that I 'plan' too much, and that overall, I
worry too much about the 'how' ... 'why' ... and 'what' ...
Whereas I feel that my life could be described as
a journey across interesting territory in some sort of vehicle that I
am able to steer this way and that, exploring until I ultimately 'run
out of gas' one day, she rather looks at life as a trip floating down
a wide, long river. Although one may indeed get to some interesting
places, there isn't much point trying to 'drive' too much, because
you're only going where the river carries you. Yes, have some goals.
Of course don't just be a vegetable. But don't lose sight of the fact
that a very large part of your life is actually out of your own
hands. And that in the end, we will all end up in exactly the same
What do you think about these ideas? Actually, for
me a more interesting question at the moment would be: what do you
think about a couple who hold such differing ideas? Would they be
like that standard comedy couple in a car, never able to agree on a
destination, let alone a route? Or would they perhaps be good
'medicine' for each other, keeping each other in contact with a more
realistic, practical way of living?
We'll see ...
P.S. What was it I said a couple of pages back ...
'I don't quite feel like tackling a particularly 'deep' subject today
...' Well, perhaps if I had turned right instead of left when looking
for an empty table in the coffee shop, I wouldn't have got myself
into this tonight ...