reasons to travel: discomfort, fear and failure

Crossing the border at Tecate is like finding a magical door at the back of a wardrobe.  When you step through, you are suddenly and instantly in another world.  A strip of corrugated metal with an opening wide enough to accommodate a single car separates one country from the other.  You slip from rural desolation into a little city of densely packed homes and businesses crowded together with a giant expanding brewery, which stands at the edge of things like some red giant.

I clutched the steering wheel and commanded Adam to navigate, because I had no idea where I was or how to get where I was going, and this not knowing terrified me.  It was my second ever time driving in Mexico.  The first time is occluded behind the gauze of memory, which is itself speckled with holes,  incomplete and porous like a sponge.

That time was two friends in my mom’s truck, federales with machine guns on a flatbed laughing at our monolingual-ness, and finding a surf spot based on referential directions, which may have been something along the lines of “take the third right after the rock painted white”.  This time was google maps, a detour, and a long line of stop signs and stoplights stuttering us out of the city.  And then Interstate 3, winding through sable-coated hills toasted warm with the coming summer and singed with the desert slinking in from the distance. The emptiness of the long ribbon of pavement, going somewhere correlated with a position on the map, comforted my angst.

I think this might be one of my hidden reasons for traveling.  Yes, I will confess it is to see something new, to understand life outside of all of my norms, my expectations and biases.  It is to peer through the curtain, and like a little voyeur revel in the shapes and textures of another life. But that is only part of it.

Slipping into another place, especially a different country where you don’t speak the language, where everything feels disjointed and like shadow or imitation of what you know—familiar enough, but still so different with its hand-painted business signs, the awkward shape of its streets and the composition of the road beneath the tires, even the chemical smell of the cleaning products—a hundred subtle things say, “this is not your home.  You don’t know this place,” and my brain at the same time insists that it must know because, besides the murky similarities, knowing is the best way to survive.  This is the dissonance; the jolt that brings fear and shakes me out of my complacency.

I hate not knowing. I hate being wrong. I hate failing. But THIS is the stuff of growing.  We can never be more than what we are, or different than what we are if we are never challenged. Living in the safe center of our lives is like living in a wax museum.  Artificial.  Constructed.  Perfectly the same.  We have to touch the edges of our capabilities in order to expand beyond our limitations. These experiences, uncomfortable though they are at times, provide the space to be challenged, to cast aside preconceived notions and to see the world through a different filter.  It is a spark to ignite the evolution of being.

The Power of Now

An assembly of recent strangers and now acquaintances were sitting on a sunlit patio in Italy at the end of a consensus conference.  They agreed on next steps for a new educational program and were congratulating themselves on surviving the two-day journey of “storming” and “norming” (as they say in group formation speech).  It was then, in the last moments of this meeting of minds, that one of the participants, Janet, said “We have ten minutes. Let’s go ahead and pick our case studies.”

Everyone groaned and protested.  They felt they had worked so hard, and now deserved a rest from the doing of anything. But Janet persisted. In that ten minutes they selected two stories to turn into case studies, outlined the contents, and nominated the working groups.

Janet did this time and again throughout my association with this particular organization.  Some people rolled their eyes, and protested, but in the end her gentle insistence won out, and progress was made.  I came to call this “the power of now”, and it is one of the greatest lessons I learned from Janet.

Procrastination, one could argue, is a general human tendency.  If it isn’t urgent, life-threatening, or otherwise pressing, why do today what you can put off for tomorrow.  While living in Italy, I became familiar with a phrase embracing this concept: Doppo domani. As in, I’ll do it the day after tomorrow.

I used to procrastinate, somehow feeling like a hero for staying up until 3 A.M. to put together a shoddy paper less than 24 hours before it was due.  While I have been able to whittle this mindset out of my life, it does still exist in various incarnations.  Do I get gas now, or put if off for the morning? Do I do that less desirable project now, or prioritize something over it? Do I take these last five minutes in my working day to be productive, or do I slide through that time?  Do I write this post, or zone out on facebook?

Here’s the thing; procrastination takes so much energy and is much more painful than just doing the task on a normal timescale.  I have never once regretted doing something now, which could be put off for tomorrow.  More often than not, I’ve been grateful to have tackled something on my ever-expanding list of things I want to accomplish.

There is a more philosophical tack to take on “the power of now”.  None of us know how much time we have in this existence.  A friend of a friend suddenly and unexpectedly lost her soulmate.  In these moments we reevaluate things we consider important.  When we are on the threshold of leaving this existence, what parts of our lives will bring us joy, and at what parts will we despair as distractions from the heart of living?  We can all use the power of now to build a more fulfilled life.

the incongruous spoon

It’s not just a spoon

People are interesting creatures.  We encode meaning and memory into objects, and frequently project our psyches into tangible things. There are some objects, which elicit the most pure and concentrated memories, laced — like an oatmeal cookie — with nostalgia.  A. and I came upon one such object on a Spring afternoon when we were running errands on foot.

The heat of the day was swelling, but it was still mild enough.  We cut through a shopping center driveway, next to Taco Bell, to get to the crosswalk.  We discussed art, the goings on of the world, and what was next on our list.  In the midst of all our chatter, a shiny object caught my gaze.

There, in the grass median between vast swathes of blacktop, rested a spoon.  It wasn’t just any spoon.  It was one of the ones you buy in airports or curio shops, the kind never meant to touch food.  The edges of it folded into a delicate scalloped edge.  A braid of metal made the handle, and atop the braid stood a keyhole, from which a trolley dangled.  San Francisco scrawled across the top, and also in its concave surface.

Meme.

That was the first thought I had upon seeing this bobble.  You see, my grandmother, being the practical woman she was, collected spoons from the places she visited.  Other people also collected them for her, as folks are wont to do when someone curates a blessed collection of curios and whatnots. What to get Mabel?  Of course, a spoon!

She displayed the spoons in a specially crafted shelf.  They would dangle from their hand-carved notches and behind them rested porcelain creamers from a less manufactured era.  They weren’t her prized possession, but they warmed her heart nonetheless.

I hadn’t thought about Meme’s spoons in years, and now I was on the verge of recalling when I had picked out one for her.  I shared all this with A. as I turned the spoon over in my hands.

“This one’s had a hard life,” I told him as I puzzled over the blemishes in the metal.  “That’s so strange.  I wonder…?”

an aberration

My mind was on the verge of teasing out exactly what had happened to this little kickshaw when A. found the next item in our macabre set.  Perhaps those of you who are more savvy have already conjured all of the possible uses of a spoon, including the sinister ones.  Alas, it took locating the hypodermic needle to fully elucidate its recent history.

This was a heroin spoon.  As in some had used it to cook drugs and shoot up.  Maybe even right there in the parking lot, or as they were driving into the shopping center, chucking it out the window when they were done.

Needy.  Addicted.  Selfish.  Dirty.  Sick.  Disposable.

Was that black tar on my hands? How much residue was left on the surface of the spoon I had just been fondling with all the genial fuzziness of my childhood and shiny goodness of sweet family memories?

“I think you should put that down,” A. calmly instructed me, as if instead of dropping a spoon he was saving me from a rattlesnake.

“Jesus Christ.  Seriously?”  A decorative, commemorative spoon?  Who in the hell does heroin with a trinket like that?  I held my hands away from my body until we could get to the nearest bathroom.  I felt robbed. The world had intersected with the memories of my grandmother in a way I could not have anticipated.  I had a very specific emotional and intellectual meaning wrapped up in “spoon”.  And here was this cruddy little shlock. Scorched from a lighter and pot-marked from a caustic heavy-duty drug.

It was aberrant.  Not only did it not fit, it was incongruent with my reality, and because we intersected, it became part of my experience.  Now “spoon” not only means Meme, summer visits, travel, and gifts, it also means addiction, desperation, disease, and decay.

hangry in Antigua

As my boyfriend and I walked down the cobblestone streets and alleys of the ancient capitol of Guatemala, a dusty, colorful and quaint remnant of Spanish colonialism, I grew quiet.  Everything around me faded as if the world beyond a five-foot diameter was an undefined white miasma.

Then I blurted out: “Just to let you know, I’m going to need to eat in the next five minutes.”

The ‘oh-shit’ look transformed his features as we embarked on a not so pleasant adventure to find the closest eatery that had: 1) food; 2) vegetarian options that wouldn’t cause vomiting or severe intestinal cramping; and 3) had a chance of being delicious and heathly.

Here’s the confession:  I am one of those people. You know the kind. The ones who go from 0 to scary in five minutes if they don’t receive immediate nourishment.

It’s embarassing, and causes its share of problems. As my boyfriend has pointed out, food is the source of 95% of our arguments.  Considering we don’t fight often, that’s  significant.

So what is it that drives me to become the explosive ice queen whenever I get hungry?  Or ‘hangry’ as some people call it.

As it turns out, there’s a science-backed answer in the giant morass of the great intergalactic library called the Internet.

That’s right … Science is on my side.  (And my physiology is to blame.)

Hungry is an emotion

Some things are happening in your body when you get hungry.  The concentration of glucose in your blood is depleting. Once it achieves a certain level (from 3.8 to 2.8 mmol/L), your brain, which survives on glucose, initiates a desparate cry for help.  A progressive SOS goes out to the pituitary gland, pancreas, and adrenal glands who in turn respond by releasing growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline and cortisol, respectively.  The body releases these hormones in stages.  Early stages are supposed to trigger glucogenesis, a process whereby the body converts amino acids into glucose so that your greedy, gluttonous brain doesn’t have to stop bingeing.  Adrenaline and cortisol come into play when the glucose levels further drop.

Being low on glucose is a bit like being drunk.  Muddled thoughts, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating are some typical symptoms.  Being really low on glucose is dangerous, and can lead to seizures, coma and death.  Seriously.

The link between adrenal, cortisol and anger seems obvious, however it’s not the only thing driving this irrational behavioral response.  You know how genes provide the basis for our programming.  Well, the one controlling hunger also controls anger. Neuropeptide Y (benign name for such an implement of destruction) is found to be significantly elevated in the cerebral spinal fluid of some lucky individuals, together with a higher incidence of the Y1 receptor. [ASIDE: Neuropeptide Y, like many things in the body, has  different functions, and can induce various responses to diverse stimuli.  For example, it plays a role in obesity, aids in dealing with PTSD, enhances performance under stress, and may provide protection against alcoholism.]

Is anger ever a good thing? 

Evolutionarily speaking (because who doesn’t like gazing back on those knuckle dragging days with misty-eyed nostalgia) increased aggression while hungry probably served a very important biological function… like making sure you beat out the competition and didn’t die of starvation.

As it turns out, my irritating habit of losing my rationale mind when I get hungry may have been beneficial in some kind of yesteryear.  I imagine my ancient self racing across a muddy savannah, flecks of earth sailing through the air like miniature bombs against the smoke-filled sky.  Spear in hand.  Prey trying to escape me, but turning its sharp tusks at me once I finally corner it.

*sigh*

It’s no excuse, nor is it fair to my amazing friends and family to become she-hulk when my blood sugar drops.  How do I combat evolutionary biology?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Some basic tricks are always having a healthy snack on hand, no matter where on the planet I am.  Maintaining blood sugar levels requires a bit of vigilence, as well as a deeper knowledge of our own internal bio-rhythms.

Perhaps the main thing is to remember a moment of hanger is temporary, and to stay grateful for my boyfriend, who is so patience with me, and keeps an internal map of all the closest eateries.

The Follower

The Spell of the Night

Thuraiya shivered beneath the tattered rags she used as blankets. It was always coldest at this moment, when the near endless night was the darkest, except for the brilliant orange flares occasionally flickering through the clouds, and at the edges of the skyline.

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Fire ©JL Colomb

Booms thudded in the distance. Flares in the sky. They faded. The night returned to black, and there was no difference between night and her body. Her limbs stretched over the horizon, and she floated over the notion of cities and mountains, drifted through doorways, hovered over graves. The arc of the atmosphere prevented her darkness from slipping into the galaxy, where there was something; where satellites spun around the earth and planets orbited a sun, where the moon was, glowing its pale radiance, and where stars still existed. Long ago and far away, but still alive in the way they speckled the night sky, fueling our dreams and our myths.

It had been a very long time since she had seen the stars.

Another boom. And there it was, the light, a flicker of orange. It was just enough to see the faint outline of her hand, her arm, the edge of the floor where it dropped off into nothing. She smiled, even as her eyes stung from keeping them open for so long, because the afterimage stayed, reminded her.

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Night at Plaskett Creek ©JL Colomb

“Why are you still here?” she asked herself out loud. Her voice didn’t belong in this place, though, where the only other sounds were of crumbling concrete, wind, dust particles, and detonations. All dead sounds. Except for her sound, which reminded her of so many things. That her family was gone. Her friends.

She pressed her face against the concrete floor, felt the grit there. This was the day. It was time to leave.

She waited for the daylight to come.

 

The Spell of the Dawn

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Desert Sunrise ©JL Colomb

There was silence and dust, and colors beginning to burn the sky in the east. In these brief times of light, she gorged herself on everything there was to see. Pressing her cheek against the jagged wound in the concrete, she looked out over the city. It sprawled across the valley like detritus washed upon the beach after a storm.  Tiny square plugs of buildings made up the flesh of the city. And the gorges of its streets channeled the flow of life living there.  At least, they used to.

There on the corner, beneath tons of concrete and bodies, she had enjoyed the most succulent kebab, which was rivaled only by the kibbeh they made each day. Apaya sold lavash next door, fresh and hot enough to burn your mouth, but you’d eat it like that anyway because it tasted so damned good.

These ghosts lingered everywhere she looked, even though her city was awash with rubble.

Cities weren’t supposed to vanish so easily, and the roots of home weren’t supposed to be so fragile. But there Thuraiya was, perched on a middle floor of a building, the exterior walls of which lay scattered in the street below. A great portion of its height had collapsed on itself.

But the silence; it was just as consuming as the darkness.

Thuraiya listened. On a normal day, she would have heard motorcycles and dogs. Vendors would have called out the delicacies they had as they wheeled their carts down the street. Adhan would have sung from the heavens, and enticed followers to pray. On a normal day. Before this.

She curled up against the column, wrapped her arms around her legs, and rocked herself as she stared. Her lips twitched in constant movement, but she wasn’t chanting Allahu Akbar. “Today is the day you have to move go go go get up you stupid girl.” These words. Again and again.

“Move,” she shouted as she slapped her hands against the floor. Plumes of dust rose, and her voice echoed in the ruined city.

She slid against the column as she stood, as if it propped her up and kept her from falling. Her first step came next. The world twisted, righted itself, and she shuffled forward to the place where slabs of her building sloped down to the street. Her face twisted out of her control, and tears dripped down her face. This was the place she had played with her sisters, sung, hugged her mother and father, and marveled at them both.

“Go.” She screeched out the word, clenched her fist and beat her chest with it.

Inching down the concrete, the rebar groaned and trembled, and the whole building swayed like a boat. When she was finally on the street, she tried not to breathe too deeply, or look too closely. She followed the long deep chasm of the street to the north, to Jabal Qasioun.

Already the sky dimmed, heralded the coming of the night; but the city still loomed around her. She gathered up the rags draped about her, and ran as fast as her wasted muscles would carry her.

 

The Spell of the Wandering Souls

Jabal Qasioun had as many caves as grandmother’s tea had sugar cubes. From one of them, Thuraiya peeked her head out into the waking world. The day came much sooner than it usually did. And instead of the slow dim crawl through sunrise, the sun was sharp and bright in the sky, like a magnifying glass to scrutinize everything in its domain.

Her city stretched out in front of her, took up too much of the horizon.

Then the shadow of a helicopter twirled over the rubble, and two canisters tumbled from it.  They started off silent.  Their bodies gyrated through the air like falling maple seeds.  As they approached the city, they whirred, and hit and exploded. Those last two things happened almost simultaneously.  What was left of the city shook.

She waited for the helicopter to drift on to another target. Only when there was silence did she tiptoe out of the cave.

Above her, a man stood on the ridge line.  A real man wearing a hem-stained thawb.  He was squinting his eyes against the sharpness of the light cutting across the valley. Wind ruffled the thawb against his ankles, and teased tiny granules of earth up from the ground, called on them to dance in the air.  They nestle into the weave of the fabric, and joined the other rich tawny particles of dirt.

Thuraiya gasped, and ducked back into the cave just as he looked in her direction.

Blood surged in her veins, threatened to burst through its channels. She had not seen a man in weeks. Or maybe it was months. And she knew well enough that just because he was flesh and blood, real and breathing and living, that did not make him good. It didn’t make him worthy of trust, or safe.

Sweating and shivering at the same time, she paced in the cave on careful silent feet. She had to stay hidden.

She listened for footsteps, displaced pebbles, and prayed for him to disappear. After peeking out again, relief seeped through her. He was gone. She waited a little longer. Thankfully the sun did not gallop through the sky, like it usually did. It strolled upward, slowly climbed to its crescendo before it would slip back down.

When her feet tingled from their constant worrying, it was time; she peeked once more and saw no one. Breathing deeply through her mouth, she called on the air to give her courage and overcome her inertia. She started up the path, to get to the top of the mountain, to go over it and move ever steadily westward.

She turned a corner, and almost collided with him. Screaming, she stumbled backward, turned and ran.

He chased her. “Wait,” he called out, his voice hoarse as if he hadn’t used it in an epoch. His hands grabbed at her trailing rags and tugged. They tumbled, and scraped themselves bloody.

Thuraiya cowered on the ground, pressed herself into the hard rock despite the pain. Melt. She wanted to melt, and disappear into it. His hands hovered in air above her, descended, hesitated and scattered.

She scurried away from him.

The man didn’t come after her. Instead, he backed away, sat cross legged and looked not at her, but the ground before her.

“What do you want?” she asked.

No emotion trickled into his features, but he said, “For the world to be right. To have back everything I’ve lost.”

She stared at him.

“For now I would settle for a friend.”

 

The Curse of the Survivor

“I am Aldebaran,” he said, still not looking at her.

She inched herself to the edge of the path, where it would be easier to throw herself from the mountain.

He winced as she did it, and scooted further away from her. Blood dribbled from his temple, brilliant red against the grey of the city, and the sulfur-colored mountain.

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Anza Borrego Desert ©JL Colomb

It was the most beautiful thing she had seen in a long while.

“I come from the North,” he said, as if that explained everything.

And it almost did. She had to stop her head from nodding, and fight to keep the frown on her face as empathy warred to take its place.

“My home. Gone. My family. Gone. I’ve almost disappeared, too. And maybe I have, because I’ll never be the same after all this. It’s impossible. To go back.”

Yes. That was it exactly. “Do you want to go back?” Thuraiya asked.

His hands twitched on his knees. He examined them, and rubbed them together, skin rasping. “I don’t know how I can.”

The sun hovered overhead. It felt like it had taken two whole normal days and nights for it to reach its zenith. And more, it gave warmth, just enough to cut through the sting of late autumn.

“What are you doing out here?” He asked. ‘Alone’ was implied in the question.

The truth came out of her mouth, whether or not she wanted to speak it. “I’ve lost everything, too. For a while, I wanted to stay. To wait for them. But the longer I stayed and didn’t go anywhere, the more I wondered.” She dabbed at the scrape on her chin. “But they are gone. And the pain of staying has outweighed the pain of leaving.”

“Two lost souls,” Aldebaran said.

 

The Spell of the Follower

Thuraiya glanced over her shoulder at Aldebaran, who trailed behind her. He had insisted she walk far enough ahead of him that she felt safe. Now the distance felt more like a burden. She could hear only her feet scratching against the ground. Only her breath marred the silence of the air.

“What do you wish to do next?” he had asked in his quiet voice.

“Leave this place.” More helicopters had come to bomb what was left of the city. They flew closer to the mountain, as if they could destroy it, too.

She did not wish to go alone, and he did not wish to see her leave. So they left while they still had the daylight. The sun now approached the horizon in the west. Color soaked the sky. She spotted an alcove just ahead. The carbon of fires past stained the floor and walls and ceiling black.

“There?” She pointed at it.

He bowed to her.

Once they arrived, she nestled into a crook in the alcove, but he stayed outside.

“I feel safe now,” she said.

“Still, I stay here.”

The night descended, and left them blind.

Just as she thought he had gone, or perhaps had never been there at all, he said, “I heard a peculiar thing about crossing one’s fingers.”

“Oh?” She curled on her side, rested her cheek against her hands, which were pressed together, as if in prayer.

“You cross them for luck, you know. But originally, it was two people. Not just one.”

“Why?” she asked as her eyes drifted closed.

“Because every wish needs two things. Someone to want it; and another to believe in it.”

 

Fingers Crossed

When Thuraiya woke, Aldebaran was standing, looking away from her to where they had been the day before. Even laying on the ground, she could see the plumes of smoke rising from the city. She stood, walked to him. “I didn’t hear the bombings.” Nor did she feel remorse over missing the glimmers of orange. There was more light in her life now. Real light.

“What is your wish for today?” he asked.

She turned to the west. “I thought I wanted go to the sea, and sail north. Now I understand. I just want to see the stars again.”

“I will try to make your journey safe. I will leave when you ask me to.”

She held out her hand.

He hooked his index finger to hers.

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Anza Borrego Desert ©JL Colomb

 

~~~

DISCLAIMER: “The Follower” is not meant to be a faithful reproduction of the world we currently live in. It is a shadow land, a patchwork.

Samurai Noodle Bowl

The way of the Samurai is honor, duty, and loyalty.  The code of ethics a Samurai lives by is so pure, it is unattainable for most.  And in the end the only real response is to either leave a path of annihilation behind you, or to die by seppuku.

The way of the Noodle is to nourish and sustain.  And to dominate the world.  Noodles have been feeding people for millennia.  La mian, ramen, spaghetti, spaetzle, erişte, and dozens of other incarnations have touched our plates and our lips.

The way of Date Night is to mash them together in gory, delicious bliss.


A and I spend time together in a variety of different ways, but one that became an instant tradition was Samurai Noodle Bowl Night.  It’s hard to say what takes longer, cooking the food, or picking the movie. We delight in both tasks. On the movie side of things, we vacillate between the absurd and the haunting.

The recipe changes, too. We’re experimental kinds of folk, ya see, but here’s the basic gist:

I’m in charge of the broth.  I take scraps of all kinds (mushroom stems, onion, garlic and carrot bits, serrano chili nubs, cabbage cores, chunks of ginger) and simmer them in water with soy sauce (or liquid amino acids) for as long as we can stand it. We add other things along the way, adjusting the flavor until we’re both satisfied.

We both take on chopping, and a good noodle bowl is completely encumbered, practically overflowing, with veggies. So, that’s a lot of chopping. Every once in a while, I fixate on how the pea pods look like rice paddies, with the way they’re stacked together.

Pea Pods

snow pea stacks

The flesh of a bell pepper is equally intriguing.  The internal striations reveal the shape of water-packed cells.  I love how crispy it is, and how a fresh piece bursts when you bite into it.

red bell pepper

crispy tangy flesh

Usually I get regular carrots.  Every once in a while I’ll go crazy and splurge on the exotic rainbow carrots.  Of these, the purple carrot is the most intriguing.  The first time I cut into one, I was mystified and delighted. It resembles a jeweled kaleidoscope, an exploding star, a dragon’s eye.

Rainbow Carrots

kaleidoscopes of color

And the tofu seems a invading army, ready to storm the pan.

Tofu swarm

the horde

A is soundly in charge of all things fire.  He mans the fire pit, barbecue grill and stovetop.  Which is probably for the best, considering how accident prone I tend to be.  The sauté is a parade of ingredients.  Each vegetable has its own distinct aroma, which erupts as soon as it hits the surface of the pan.

First Casualties

A can also flip.  This would totally backfire on me.  As in food would be stuck to the countertops, cabinets, ceiling, and floors.

Flipping

I love really intense flavoring in my noodle bowls.  One of my go-to mixes is liquid amino acids, sriracha, rice vinegar, and sesame oil.  A healthy dose of the pungent aromatics, ginger and garlic, don’t hurt either.

The joos

We put in the noodles first (this time udon), then the stir fry goodness and broth.  Toppings vary, but there’s something really satisfying about the spicy crunch of fresh green onions over the top.

Green Onion Bombs

And one must not miss an extra dose or two of Srirachi. For A, a dap of Reaper hot sauce does quite nicely as well.

Finished Noodle Bowlz

On the surface, date night is hanging out with the most important person in my life. (ASIDE: Date night is not just for romantic partners.  I believe in date nights with friends and family, too.)  But there’s more.  We get to craft this temporary world of flavor together.  We’re not only connecting, we’re also collaborating and creating. Which is to say nothing of how we interact with the movie, and discuss motifs, themes, direction, and more.

Rituals are repetitive acts imbued with meaning.  They are built around a time or place, and ingrain memories stitched together with feelings (think of any holiday spent with your family; it’s gonna conjure something).  Samurai Noodle Bowl night is an intentional ritual.  It is elaborate, and it’s creating a rich matrix of shared history.  May the Noodle Bowl be with you and your loved ones.

Random Trivia

  • The Japanese swashbuckler:  The Japanese refer to the samurai movie genre as Chanbara, which signifies “sword-fighting”.
  • Buddhism and Zen philosophy heavily influenced samurai culture and training.
  • The oldest bowl of noodles was found in China and dates back 4,000 years.
  • Akiro Kurosawa’s Ran is based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. (Aside: this movie is an excellently staged tragedy.  The cinematography (lighting, camera angles, set design) is so beautiful and poignant.)
  • La Mian is the OG.  That’s right.  Archeological evidence supports this type of noodle as being the oldest known preparation.  Slurp it up.
  • The first Samurai movie, “Orochi”, was produced in 1925. The full-length film is available here.
  • Orochi is a mythical serpent said to have eight-heads and eight-tails, with a body long enough to sprawl over eight peaks and valleys.  Need to do battle with one?  Get its heads drunk.
  • Eight was considered to be a holy number in ancient Japan.  Scribes also used it to signify a grip load (many, multitudinous, millions).
  • Samurai follow Bushidō, “the Way of the Warrior”.

My Imaginary Cockroach

I had been driving to work one day (yes, one of those stories), minding my own business and getting my NPR on, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something.  A BIG something. A cockroach large enough to transcend its commonplace name and don the illustrious title of water bug, scurried across the floorboard on the passenger side, and out of sight.  I attempted and succeeded to not vomit and crash the car all at once (or at all).  For the rest of the drive I obsessed over where it was, what it was doing, and how it had gotten in my car, the cozy me part of it, in the first place. I spent the next 20 minutes stomping my free foot on the ground and slapping my seat, hoping to scare it away from me.  Because it and all its exoskeletal, “We are the Champions” nature of cockroaches was far more frightening than the fact I would win on the sheer basis of mass.  Ever aware of the shoulder of the freeway and the maneuvering I’d have to do to pullover, I made it to work without seeing the unwanted companion again.

A colleague and friend graciously tried to ferret out the little beast, and rid my car of its presence, but it was no where to be seen.  After vacuuming the car, and placing roach traps in it, the cockroach dominated my thoughts.  I had to know what I was dealing with with, so I researched its kind.  Did you know cockroaches can eat glue?  They can live for a year. Without food they can live up to three months. And without their heads, they can live for weeks.  Seriously.

I took to wearing jeans and boots everyday.  Whenever I got into my car, I would check the entire interior with greater acuity than a bomb-sniffing dog. I figured if he was going to be in there for a year, I might as well name him. (Earl, if you’re wondering.)  Every leaf caught in my vent was Earl.  Every bit of trash my tires crunched was Earl.

Then came my first drive up north after the first sighting.  I was on a desolate stretch of the I-5, 150 miles from home and another 150 miles from my destination, imagining cockroach eggs hatching and instantly infesting my car.  What would I do?  Walk to the closest store and buy something to fumigate the thing with?

At some point I realized I had been obsessing and fretting over Earl for months, and yet I had only seen him that one time. Why was I spending so much mental energy on something that wasn’t there?

Earl isn’t the only example of this.  Anytime I’ve ever contemplated someone else’s thoughts and feelings about a subject or problem, or relationship, I’ve built  elaborate constructs of what’s going on in the other person’s head.  Guessing, filling in the details, and building fictional worlds. This generally leads to worry.

Over nothing.

Sure, human intuition is a powerful thing, but nothing informs like viewing a situation objectively, and with all the details as they actually exist.  Or a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.

I’d rather worry when there’s something to actually worry about, and base my judgements on verifiable evidence instead of imaginary cockroaches (thanks Earl).