I must apologize. The On The Couch series has been postponed.
My intention was to give a blow by blow account of my sessions with my…well, with myself. I have not actually gone to a therapist in Japan…not yet. I didn’t write that post especially for entertainment purposes, though. It was an earnest attempt to self-analyze through writing. My therapist persona is an amalgam of all the therapists I’ve ever seen, including the real therapist I went to for a brief period back in NY, as well as the ones in Woody Allen (IMHO the cleverest, funniest, most astute screenwriter alive today) movies, TV shows, books I’ve read, and comments I’ve received from readers that I have found useful. Oh, and of course, a whole lot of me.
I was really getting into it, having a ball writing it, when I ran into a few snags. What happened was, as I was writing parts 2 and 3 (both are nearly complete) I realized something I thought ought to be addressed before I continue. So you can think of this post as a prelude or introduction to the On the couch series (should I resume it.).
At the risk of being redundant and over-stating what might be obvious, let me say this: When your life consists of hundreds of people a day looking at you as if prudence dictates that you should be watched carefully (not with curiosity-which would be annoying but, here in Japan, well within reason- but, with suspicion and fear-unreasonable and unacceptable under normal conditions, which these are not), when virtually no one (Japanese, that is) can relax in your vicinity nor can ignore you whatsoever, and engage in the most bizarre behavior as a result of this inability, or, though you haven’t caused them nor intend to cause them any harm, they behave as if you have indeed previously caused them harm and intend to do so again, or move away and/or evade coming near you in a manner that suggests they believe you carry a contagion that would render them dead or dying if direct or even indirect contact was made, and this fictional infection has been known to even take to the air, so it’s best to not even breathe the miasma you release when you exhale…when some variation of the above responses to your presence occur on a daily basis, it’s bound to have some effect.
What do you imagine that effect could be?
Before I go there, let me go here. And please bear with me…
For me, rationalization of Japanese behavior has been a priority, a daily requirement. In order to do it effectively it requires a certain amount of desensitization. I have to close my mind and heart to the world around me and lock them away soundly several times a day or risk serious damage.
For example, when I see that empty seat beside me or the Japanese-free bubble around me on the crowded train I must rationalize it. I must tell myself convincingly something that doesn’t cast my Japanese hosts in a dark light. I must tell myself, “That’s just the way they are…it has nothing to do with me personally or racially. They’re completely unaware of any offense I might feel. They don’t mean anything by it. I just look strange to them, like a circus freak. Hell, I wouldn’t want to be near a man with 3 heads, either.” And I read my book, or play Tetris, and try to luxuriate in the bonanza of leg or breathing room on a Japanese rush hour train. Or, I tell myself, “Every society has its good points and bad points, highs and lows. Here I have some very high highs and some very low lows…and that’s balance, therefore my life here is for the most part pretty good.” Or, I tell myself, “this behavior of theirs is like a social tax, a levy on the quality of life, and like they say nothing is certain but death and taxes!”
I rarely rationalize the way most Japanese I know (and surprisingly a good number of foreigners as well ) persistently suggest I do. That is, to tell myself that they are a homogeneous people unaccustomed to foreigners, or that they can’t speak English thus they freak out when they see someone who they presume cannot speak Japanese…these types of rationalizations always leave me wanting.
Depending on my mood, I might tread on dangerous ground and ask myself if what I’m seeing is real or imagined. Am I paranoid? Am I delusional? Have I created a nemesis that does not really exist because interesting stories require genuine conflict? Is my perception of what I see distorted by my sensitivity?
Truly dangerous ground.
Sometimes I can’t help but enter the danger zone and tell myself, “they’re just ignorant. It’s perfectly natural for them.” Or, “Grandma would be so disappointed at me for getting all worked up and bent outta shape over this foolishness. At least they’re not trying to throw a rope around my neck and string me up on a tree. Just ignore these…people…and live your life.” When I catch a whiff of something foul in the air, something not so innocent, not so naive, something proudly ignorant, flagrantly insensitive, almost aggressively so. Something seemingly intended to offend. That’s when I get all bent and I may slip and stumble into the danger zone . At these times I really have to batten down the hatches and steel my soul…These are the really perilous moments. The moments that make or break a person.
It’s funny. There was a time when I thought of my life here as ultimately inconsequential, at least in the long run. Just a collection of memories and experiences…something to impress friends and thrill (or bore to tears) grandchildren with someday. I thought my essential self was safe from Japan because I truly don’t get to be me that often here anyway. I felt like my essential self was back in NY waiting for my adventure abroad to come to its inevitable end and upon my return home I’d be back to my regularly scheduled programming. But, somewhere along the line…maybe on that third trip to NY for a visit, I realized that the essential me hadn’t wanted to be left behind. It would not endure neglect any longer. It would not be forgotten and abandoned. It realized that significant changes were occurring and it would be part of this change, for better or for worse. It wanted to be with me, so it had stowed away and made the trip back to Asia with me…
So, whatever mental, emotional or spiritual damage I may incur as a result of my life here will be permanent, now, I realized while I was putting together that On the couch series. I realized with a certain amount of alarm that I’m playing for keeps and so I had better proceed with due caution and diligence.
My soul is truly on the line.
Those thoughts, like the ones I described on the train, aren’t perilous in and of themselves but because of what lurks in and around and between the words. That’s where the peril resides. If I, for example, think of Japanese people as ignorant, then aren’t I, in effect, raising myself above them, condescending to them? And by thinking of them as a them, as an entity with little variation,wouldn’t I be guilty of the same thing I feel is being done to me unfairly? And, if I evaluate Japanese people’s behavior in comparison with the behavior of the racist whites my grandmother endured in Savannah Georgia in the 1940s and 1950s, wouldn’t that allow me to transfer some of the feelings I have held about those white people who abused and humiliated grandma to Japanese people, whether or not they deserve it?
VERY perilous territory, indeed.
And that was just the shallow shit! I hadn’t even gotten deep into the side effects of rationalizing the irrational, yet.
…to be continued.