I went for a walk yesterday afternoon and with the exception of face masks and hand sanitizer being sold out everywhere which has been the case for a few weeks now, nothing else seemed any different. A few more masks being worn on the street but not enough that you’d notice unless you were looking. This is a stark contrast to the scene about 20 minutes away from here at Shibuya crossing where easily 80% of people are wearing masks, though most of those people are wearing them incorrectly.
And then late last night it was announced that all elementary and high schools will be closed for the several 4 weeks.
This morning people were joking that there was going to be a rush on toilet paper. This afternoon Tara walked over to the neighborhood pharmacy and they were completely sold out, she went to 2 other stores including the one at the train station near our house – all empty. At the train station everyone was wearing masks, and people were staring at her enough that she felt uncomfortable and put on a mask just to blend in.
I remembered I’d put a pack of toilet paper in my shopping cart on Amazon Japan and went to look but it had been removed as it was no longer available from the seller. Searching for toilet paper shows everything is out of stock. Literally everything. There are some 3rd party sellers who will let you pre-order a 4 or 6 pack for the equivalent of about $150 but with the caveat that they don’t expect to ship it until mid April. I bought a 24 pack on Amazon Dot Com for $25 and then paid $50 to have it shipped from the US to Japan. It’ll be here next week, so that’s fun.
Rumors are whispering that China has closed shipping borders and that paper products are coming from there, so this could be the tip of the iceberg – but I haven’t seen any real confirmation of that. Lots of rumors.
We actually have a really well planned emergency kit with fully stocked bug out bags and several weeks worth of supplies. But those are in Los Angeles. In storage. While some other staples like cereal and milk are also selling out, the vegan options seem fully stocked. I was able to order a few cases of vegan ramen delivered next day without any problem, but not sure how long that will last before the regular people get hip to the tasty vegan options.
Moments ago the major of Hokkaido declared a state of emergency and asked everyone to stay in their homes all weekend. Here in Tokyo, Disneyland has closed until mid-March and events are being cancelled left and right but we’re still not in panic mode, at least not outwardly. This evening I walked over to the grocery store and the shelves of perishables are empty. The shelves of disinfectants and cleaners are empty. Everything else is mostly well stocked. It feels weird, like simultaneously on the brink of something but desperately clinging to some semblance of normalcy. A slow motion explosion happening right in front of your eyes. We’re planning to go to a park tomorrow afternoon to see plum blossoms.
We still have power and internet, but if this was a zombie/apocalypse movie they’d cut out soon with no warning.
Feeling parallels to the days back in 2011 just after the Tohoku earthquake. But that was more of an aftermath with a hopeful eye towards the future with thoughts of rebuilding and this is an ominous hesitation about what is coming, but at the same time refusing to acknowledge the inevitable as if that will somehow prevent it.
At the start of 2019 I wrote a blog post called Ten for Twenty Nineteen, which was simply a few things I was thinking about as I began the new year. It was primarily forward looking as opposed to the reflective Year In Review, In Photos posts which I published annually between 2007 to 2013. In 2008, I wrote about the previous year:
“I don’t know if 2007 was as shitty as I’ve been saying it was. It was certainly full of change, and mostly unexpected. It had some very low lows, but also some very high highs. I lost a lot, but I think in the end I’ve gained even more. And standing here looking back over the last 12 months I don’t know how much of it I’d change if I had the chance.”
I found significant value in revisiting the previous year with hindsight perspective and it often helped me appreciate my own narrative in a way that my memories alone hadn’t allowed. I remembered things in the moment, but the blog posts gave me a greater context.
I genuinely regret (unintentionally) abandoning the In Photos series, as I would love to visually revisit 2013-2019 (heres 2010, 2011, 2012). As I’ve mentioned before, when I started it I was actively “life blogging” so at the end of the year it was fairly easy to scroll through the posts over the last 12 months and pull out the highlights. In an attempt to improve my photography skills, I began transitioning from frequent documentarian cameraphone pics to more curated film photos, but I didn’t realize at the time that instead of posting them when I took them (easy to sort by date) they would now be posted when I developed them, sometimes months later. This significantly complicated my previously simple date search – something I learned too late. I also used to say that I moved away from Flickr because a series of unfortunate acquisitions made the future of the site questionable, but to move away would require going somewhere else, which I didn’t do. I had also slowed written blog posts from several a day to one a month, if that. So it’s more likely I was just burned out on it all. That said, this year I’m trying to put Flickr back into my workflow, so we’ll see how it goes going forward.
A friend recently told me that Russian Physiologist Ivan Pavlov had a thing where every 10 years he’d completely change his focus – arguing anything you can contribute to a field you can do in 10 years, beyond that you are just taking up space. I haven’t found direct confirmation of a hard and fast “10 year” rule, though he did work in many different fields throughout his life. I liked that idea and related to it deeply. I could see parallels in my businesses and wondered if this “10 year” thing applied to other interests and focuses as well? While I might not have the same kind of images to easily allow an almost week to week revisitation of the last 7 years, I can identify some major events and accomplishments. And so, with all that in mind I wanted to look back over the last decade, to put some things into a larger context for myself, as inspiration and motivation as I move ahead into the next, whatever and wherever that might lead. So here it goes.
How I spent The Last 10 Years…
I started the decade living in Venice Beach, California (USA) with my wife Tara. With our bedroom windows open, we could hear the waves crashing on the sand all night long. Ten years later I’m living in Shibuya, Tokyo (Japan) with Tara and our 9 year old son Ripley. On a clear day, from our bedroom window we can see Mt. Fuji. It’s my feeling if you spend more than a consecutive month in a single place you’ve lived there, and using that definition, in between there and here, we’ve also lived in Singapore (Singapore), Vincennes (France), Vienna (Austria) and Boulder, Colorado (USA) as well as the Los Angeles (USA) neighborhoods of Silverlake and Atwater Village.
In addition to residing in the aforementioned locales, I also bounced around the world for business and pleasure – several times. Sometimes with my family, sometimes with colleagues, and sometimes alone. I’ve spent a lot of time in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Dublin, Fukushima, London, New York, Paris, Sarasota, and Vancouver. I’ve also spent not a lot of time, but time none the less in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Climping, Costa Rica, Dubai, Florence, Geneva, Honolulu, Iriomote, Jackson, Kagoshima, London, Malta, Manila, Marrakech, Milan, Newark, Oman, Piza, San Benito, Siquijor, Savinja, Toronto, Venice, Winchester, Whistler, and the Yucatan. Among others, that was an incomplete “top of my head” list.
For new chapters to start, old ones need to end and with that in mind I decided to walk away from the blogging company Jason Defillippo and I started almost a decade earlier. I started (and ended) a coffee company with Stephen Morrissey, Peter Giuliano, Kyle Glanville, Brian Jones, Brent Fortune and Tim Styles. We built Coffee Common as an educational, inspirational mouthpiece and produced several absolutely insane events, then shut it down to move on with our lives. For a while after that I curated a coffee subscription project as well. As a board member of CicLAvia I helped people Los Angeles connect with their neighbors and neighborhoods. Along with Joi Ito, Pieter Franken and Ray Ozzie and countless volunteers I built Safecast which has become one of the most important citizen science projects ever. We changed the way the public expects to get environmental data, and the expectations researchers have about public projects. Tara and I recently started Street Sheets because most of you have crappy taste and we wanted to improve the aesthetics of the world around us.
Music has remained a constant and important part of my life. In the 90’s I worked mostly behind the scenes, in the 2000’s I embraced just being in the audience. In the 10’s I got on stage. I sang backups for a Strife record, joined Brevi, DJ Muggs and Andrew Kline as part of Cross My Heart Hope To Die, Massacred Saturday Night with Wil Wheaton, contributed a soundtrack to a short film by Uchujin, and dicked around with various other noises. I’ve performed live in front of audiences in Los Angeles and Tokyo. I started 2010 with no musical instruments or know how of any kind and now possess and play a few more than none with a growing fondness for guitar and synths.
In 2010 I sold my first artwork, some music related post-it note sized drawings as part of Giant Robot’s annual exhibition of the same. I have no idea who bought them, but I love that they are out in the world somewhere. The same year, I decided to get a film camera and thought it might be interesting to take photos of people on the streets. Since then my photos have hung on gallery walls and sold to people who buy artwork. I published a photobook of my Tokyo street photos and some of my other images have been published in the Leica published book Leica Myself, Souris Hong’s Outside The Lines, Too, Peter Gilmore’s The Devils Reign and Invader’s Invasion Los Angeles 2.1. While I officially ran away screaming from the world of music design in the late 90’s, I popped out of retirement to design the first Die Antwoord album, in collaboration with Clayton Cubitt and Gary Baseman and a bunch of merchandise for Bad Brains with Glen E Friedman. Yeah sex is cool but have you ever tried making cool art with your friends?
I wrote an introduction to Shepard Fairey’s book Covert to Overt, a few sidebars for Algis Tamosaitis’ Rock Your Travel, and cowrote a book about the future of philanthropy for the Shuttleworth Foundation, with whom I’ve been a Fellow since 2014. Morgen and I wrote books about Zombies and Oklahoma. Either I or my work was written about in books by Colin Harmon, Mike Walsh, Dr. Mamie Lau, James Wynn, Joi Ito, Shaka Senghor, Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher, and others.
I gave dozens of talks about various topics to audiences all over the world. A few standouts including talking about minimalism at TEDx in Vienna, about Safecast at 29c3 in Hamburg and at CERN in Geneva, and about my life at Re:Publica in Berlin.
I learned to snowboard and scuba dive. I biked hundreds miles and skateboarded hundreds of feet. I snorkeled with sea turtles and hiked through rain forests.
I’ve lost friends and family to overdoses, diseases, suicides, honest mistakes and dishonest bullshit. I’ll cherish and remember the beautiful moments, and I’ll never forgive or forget the betrayals. I stay in regular contact with friends I’ve had for decades, who amazingly still put up with me. I’ve reconnected with friends and family who are important to me, but I’d lost touch with over the years. I’ve made new friends and new family, and my life is richer and more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined it would be because of them.
I’ve watched my son grow from a boulbous poop factory into a bilingual, dangerously smart young man with a razor sharp wit. He’s a pleasure to be around, and I can barely wait to hear what he says next. Currently a few months past our 11 year wedding anniversary, this decade was all about my love affair with Tara Tiger Brown. As a muse, she’s woven into everything I do. As a partner she always there to kick my ass or bandage my wounds, depending on what the situation calls for. She’s the architect of our adventures, and wind in our sails.
Even though I never really gave a shit about it and dropped out of college, in the last decade I’ve become a Researcher at MIT and a Professor at Keio University. Conversely, after decades of practice I now have the licenses & certificates to legally prove I’m both a ninja and a Satanic priest, fulfilling all of my 1980’s suburban American teenage dreams.
Not a bad way to spend 10 years if I do say so myself. Can’t wait to see what happens next.
Landed in the UK and pelted with sleet upon arrival at Heathrow, moments outside of the door. Honestly, I’d expect nothing less. London for me has always balanced between quaint and brutal. Teetering from National Lampoons European Vacation to UK National Front.
Some people find that duality uncomfortable, preferring things to be one way or the other but that leads to disappointment as nothing is really ever one way or the other. There are extremes, and we all find some comfortable middle ground and occasionally bounce into the walls. This was what attracted me to punk rock and straight edge – goodie two shoes kids who ‘just said no’ but would also throw a brick through a storefront window or jump Skinheads in the park without thinking twice. And I enjoyed embracing that duality then, being impossible to fit nicely in any single box.
I think about that middle area a lot these days, I used to write off “moderate” or “centric” as a static form of inaction, unwilling to commit or take a stand. I saw clear lines and firm positions. Now, for me, I find these notions come more from intimate familiarity with the edges and the damaged that can be caused by running into them too hard, and the understanding that constant motion rather than fixed inaction is where I live.
I think about this in temporal ways as well, not just in immediate thinking. Where did I come from, where am I going and is there really only one path or several running concurrently. I guess as a kid from Florida who grew up on food stamps, with no lights in the house because the power bill hadn’t been paid, who is currently flying around the world on a Billionaire’s dime, that’s not an unreasonable thing to consider. Those pieces don’t fit nicely together, but it’s folly to assume they would should in the first place.
Our lives are puzzles. The already completed pictures are boring, the ones with lots of pieces that you can’t figure out where to put are vivid, challenging and exciting.
Here in the UK, today is March 11th. It’s hard to overestimate the impact the events of this day 8 years ago had on my life. Upon writing that I immediately recognize the criticism of making this about me, however that’s really the only thing I can honestly do and my best writing has always taken the form of introspective diary. It would be disingenuous for me to try to tell anyone else’s story – I’m not a documentarian and have never been good at that. There are thousands, 10’s of thousands of stories about people impacted by disaster, and perhaps millions more from the ripple effects – those stories need and deserve to be told but I’m not the one to do that. The only thing I can do is look at myself, consider how one thing leads to another and marvel at the chain reactions.
Without 3/11 there would be no Safecast, and suffice to say I wouldn’t be where I am today. Quite literally as I type this sitting in an old farm house in the British countryside that used to be a recording studio and birthed works by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Oasis, The Beat, Roxy Music and Whitesnake – me being here to to co-write a book about the future of non-profits and how open thinking can change the world. There’s no conceivable way I end up here today without 3/11, and that’s true for a hundred different reasons that spill over onto the people around me every day. That could be an entire essay itself, but this is to say I recognize that, and appreciate the people who have joined with me on this ride. Occasionally running into the walls, often correcting course and always dreaming of where we are headed next. We’re the compass people, eschewing maps, and I love you all for that.
There is a stretch of sidewalk between the train station and my house that is a bit precarious. It’s narrower than usual, it has a telephone pole right in the middle of it and on the side closest to the building it passes in front of it runs right into a tiled 45 degree slope downward that is easily double the width of the sidewalk. Often, if there is anyone else on the sidewalk, rather than struggle with the lack of space, I’ll just walk over onto the tiled slope and skip past them without issue. Of course I’ve always done this while wearing the shoes I wear all the time.
The other day it was cold and raining pretty hard when we went out and I decided to wear my snow boots because they are more waterproof and also pretty warm. I’ve never worn these in a non-snowy situation and I learned quickly that the grip on their soles is lacking. It works great in snow, not so great on wet slippery pavement. All day long I was slipping and skidding, it was not fun. Walking home at the end of the day I was tired and anxious to be off the streets when I passed this narrow spot in the sidewalk which of course had other people on it. I thoughtlessly stepped off to the side like I had a hundred times previously without remembering that this slope was tile and that I’d been slipping in my boots all day. And I went down instantly, fast and hard. My back felt tweaked, my hip clearly took a direct hit. I felt really old right away. I also immediately noticed that my right hand was completely numb and had a big abrasion along the thumb part of my palm – as that seemed to have taken the brunt of my fall when I smacked it hard into the curb. I was pretty annoyed.
I got back up and as I continued towards my house I realized that my hand wasn’t getting any feeling back and felt very ghostly when I tried to squeeze it. I could squeeze it which was great, but the numbness was lasting much longer than it should have. I was also starting to feel a little nauseous. Having broken bones before, I wasn’t excited about this particular combo. I got home and put ice on my hand and immediately started googling broken thumbs. Over the next two hours while the numbness faded and the pain kicked in I read that the symptoms of a broken thumb were very near when I was currently experiencing. That and my hand had progressed to a solid 8 on a 1 to 10 pain scale. I also read that the longer you wait before getting medical assistance with a broken thumb the more likely you’ll have lifelong side effects of it, so I decided I should go see a doctor. And because no emergency in my family ever happens during weekday business hours, it was not 8pm on a Sunday and the ER was my only real option.
I’ve never been to a doctor of any kind in Japan and was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, though I’d been looking forward to the first time I got to use my fancy new National Health Insurance card. Heath care is socialized here in Japan and I pay $300 annually for my entire family to be a part of it. Compared against the $1000 a month we used to pay in the USA this was already an improvement but how would it work in practice? I was about to find out.
I got to the hospital and the check in receptionist spoke perfect english which was a relief as I didn’t know what to expect. The nurse he handed me off to didn’t speak a word of english though, and we had to communicate via a live translator who she called and we kept passing a phone back and forth. Apparently “I fell and I think I broke my thumb” is a new one in Japan and they kept asking me about my head, if I’d passed out today before falling or another day recently, or had been drinking. I finally conveyed to them that I didn’t hit my head, hadn’t been drinking and didn’t pass out, I simply slipped on some slippery tiles. They seemed disappointed. What a boring injury.
I was told that I’d see the specialist in about 30 minutes and about 10 minutes later he called for me. He spoke better english and went over the details with me. After looking at my now swollen hand and seeing where it hurt me when he moved it he confirmed that it was acting very much like a break, but he’d need x-rays to confirm the idea. I agreed and was whisked off to the x-ray room, which was right around the corner. When I’ve gotten x-rays in the US they cover me with lead aprons and the doctors hide behind several walls and layers of thick glass. Here, the doctor lined things up and just reached out of the room with one hand to fire the x-ray. It was so casual. The x-rays contradicted our suspicions and showed no break. This was good news. My hand was really killing me by this point though. The doc told me to keep it rested, put some ice on it and take these pain pills, then sent me home. I walked back in the door almost exactly 1 and a half hours after leaving. I also got hit with a $20 bill when leaving the hospital, a fee they were very apologetic about. There won’t be any more fees, that was the entire cost of this endeavor.
A few days later and the swelling has gone down and my hand feels much better, but I’m still amazed at how much easier the ER experience was here than eery time I’ve ever gone in the US. For comparison, even with insurance in the US, the last time I went to the ER I was there for 6 hours and walked away with “nothing wrong!” and a $5k bill that insurance didn’t help with at all because my deductible was around $10k. So, let’s just say this experience – all things considered – was pretty great.
2 months ago we landed in Japan. Me, Tara, Ripley and our cat Vincent. We moved out of LA, packed half our stuff into a storage unit and brought or sold/trashed the rest. We dumped our LA apartment and US mobile phone accounts and got a house and new SIM cards in Shibuya, Tokyo. We moved to Japan. If you follow me anywhere else on the internet you’ve known this for a long time but I wanted to lay out the backstory here for later context. I keep thinking of things I want to talk about relating to this move and thought doing a blog post every day might be a good excuse to do that, as well as motivation to jump start the blog again. I’m fast approaching my 20th anniversary of having a blog, and it would be a shame for that to roll around and this place be covered in dust, I think anyway.
Today I registered my bike. All bikes in Japan need to be licensed and you get a little sticker which is like a license plate on your bike and the registration lasts for 10 years. There’s a lot of reasons for this, it helps reduce theft because cops can (and do) stop anyone on a bike at any point to check the registration. I’ve been told “anyone at any point” is a nice way of saying “foreigners only” but I’ve never been stopped and I know many Japanese people who have, so at least in my limited experience it’s a wash. I also know people who have had their bikes stolen, and weeks later returned thanks to the license. I also know people who have left $3k bikes unlocked outside restaurants in Shibuya and forgotten them only to go back the next morning and find them still there. Bike theft in Tokyo is seems is more the drunk guy accidentally grabbing the wrong bike and riding home than it was in LA where anything and everything loose will be stripped and sold off in minutes. In LA I used 2 heavy duty U-locks and had to super glue BBs into the allen wrench bolts on my bike to prevent people from running off with my saddle or handlebars, in Japan the tiniest cable lock is enough of a deterrent that sends the message. Anyway, I got my bike registered and it was a perfect example of a smooth and streamlined system that flies off the rails when something isn’t the usual. What I mean is, my bike isn’t a brand name, or rather, isn’t a brand at all. It was built by hand, in the 1940’s by a guy in Europe. There’s a number on it that passes for a 4 digit serial number but in all likelyhood that’s actually just the part number of the plumbing tubing that the bike builder used. The registration calls for a make, model and 10 digit serial number. The guy at the bike shop had no idea what to do. We laughed about it and he figured something out, but this is a common thing I’ve seen – There are 4-5 possible options and as long as you fit perfectly in one of these it’s smooth sailing, but if by some unfortunate luck you happen to be a combo of two of those, or worse – one they hadn’t considered, people get completely stuck and have no idea how to improvise. This is a operational and societal issue, but one of the many things that I’m seeing now as a resident, but never had reason to encounter as a visitor, even a frequent visitor for over 10 years.
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve started to write this and then given up and deleted everything I’ve written. I try to write something and then feel like I need to preface it with something else so that people don’t jump to conclusions and then feel like I’m second guessing myself and so on and it ends in a select all and a delete. So I decided to just tell some stories instead which may explain how I’m feeling better than if I just tried to write about that.
I’m vegan. Many of you know that and know that I’ve been vegan for approaching 25 years now. More than half my life. In my ideal world it would be illegal to kill animals for food, but I’m very capable of knowing the difference between my ideal world and the real world, and the difference between the two. I’m able to understand that just because I want something really badly doesn’t mean it magically happens. I decided a while ago – after years of taking the opposite approach – that it was more productive to lead by example and answer people’s questions when they took notice and asked, than to attack them and try and force them to change. That’s just me.
Additionally, I like to talk to people who have differing opinions than I do. I find people who always agree with me boring and like to discuss the merits of my positions with people who aren’t convinced. I like to be able to sharpen my take on things on be persuaded otherwise. I count many people with drastically different world views in my circle of close friends and I appreciate that they put up with my hassling them about how wrong I think they are. And they do the same. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing frequently with my friends on the right and the left.
I don’t fit well into any category, which I think helps me with perspective. I try to look at issues on their own and not based on which politician supports and decries them. I know this isn’t a common position, but it works for me.
I have friends who were die hard Hillary supporters and friends who were die hard Trump supporters. I was neither. In the early days of the primaries I was backing Bernie pretty strongly. I said several times during that time that I didn’t believe Hillary could could beat Trump and I really didn’t want Trump to win. Once Hillary got the nomination my position remained the same. I didn’t want Trump to win, but I didn’t think Hillary could beat him. I could write many long winded think pieces and hot takes on why I felt that way but it’s kind of moot at this point so I won’t waste anyones time. I’m in a few private slack teams and private email lists. Some of these are very political. Some of these didn’t take kindly to someone not jumping on the party line. I’m not, nor have I ever been a registered Democrat so party lines mean nothing to me. I vote for who I want to based on their own merits. So while Democrats were expected to all get behind Hillary, I maintained that hopes and dreams aside, that while I didn’t want him to win, I didn’t believe she could beat him. In some of these groups I was called a Trump shill. In some of these groups I was called a Bernie Bro and a misogynist. So I left those groups.
My friends backing Hillary ranged from being completely sure she would win, to being completely sure she would win in a landslide.
My friends backing Trump ranged from being completely sure he would win, to being completely sure he would win in a landslide.
I knew both of these groups couldn’t be right.
Again, I’m weird so I recognized that what I wanted to believe and the outcome I wanted might not have been the same thing as what realistically might happen. This was not a welcome opinion.
The echo chamber was in full effect. All these people were only listening to people who agreed with them, and who were saying things they wanted to believe. Most of these people wanted nothing to do with anyone saying anything other than that their candidate was going to slay it.
Then the election happened.
My friends who were backing Hillary are largely in shock. They keep saying things like “How did this happen?” and “How could we have been so wrong?” Someone who called me a Trump shill for saying Hillary couldn’t beat Trump asked me with a straight face “How could anyone have seen this coming?”
Tonight there was a protest in Los Angeles, condemning the pick of Steve Bannon as Sr Advisor to the president. I think Breitbart News is very good at stirring people into a frenzy and very bad at reporting the news. I think picking the guy who runs that for a position equal to Chief of Staff is dangerous. I wanted to go and take photos, my wife Tara wanted to go and hold up a sign. Ripley, my 6 year old son also wanted a sign but I’m not a fan of indoctrinating children to anything, and didn’t want to write up a political sign that him carrying around would suggest he was making the statement. I told him what the protest was about, and asked him what he wanted on his sign. I told him he could put anything that he wanted. He wanted a happy sign that would make other people happy too, so he decided his sign should say “I Love Cats.” I thought it was great. On the other side he decided the sign should say “It’s past my bedtime” because the protest was at night and he would be tired and this would show people that even though he was tired and it was late he was there with them. I loved this sentiment. We drew up the signs and headed out.
Tara and Ripley joined some friends of ours on one side of the crowd and I walked around taking photos. The mood of the evening was largely positive, people were protesting something they were upset about but the crowd working together. There were the expected “Ban Bannon” and “No KKK” signs, as well as some more original and light hearted ones including one older lady with a sign that read “I’ve been protesting this same fascist shit for 50 years!” and someone with a trans flag and a sign saying “This isn’t the kind of dick I wanted.” Anytime I was near my family people were taking photos of my son and his sign, with many people telling him they loved it and it was the best sign there, which made him smile big.
He got in on the chanting, memorizing the rhymes. He waved his sign for people and smiled when they took his photo. This was his first protest and he told me he really enjoyed it. He said he loved seeing all the people together, hoping for the same thing.
By 8:30 it was in fact well past his bedtime and we decided to leave. Tara and Rips started to move to the edge of the crowd and I was behind them. As I turned to leave two younger women tapped me on the shoulder. I only spoke with them for a moment but I’d guess they were late 20’s-ish.
“Hi, can we talk to you for a moment about your son’s sign?”
“It’s very cute, but we are concerned that if someone sees it and takes a photo it will misrepresent the feeling of this event.”
“Lots of people have taken photos of it all night, everyone has been enjoying it”
“That’s the problem, it’s sending the wrong message – I Love Cats? This isn’t about cats”
“He’s 6, that’s what he wanted on his sign. I’m not going to put my politics on a sign and make him carry it.”
“He doesn’t support immigrants rights?”
“There are lots of kids here with political signs”
“Sure, that their parents wrote for them”
“But what will people think if they see this sign”
“I don’t really care”
“YOU DON’T CARE?”
“Are you really upset that a 6 year old isn’t protesting correctly?”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t a white man, maybe you should meet an immigrant and find out how they feel, you are mocking the serious people here… Racist!”
I turned around and to walk away and one of them punched me in the back of the head.
I kept walking, they shouted something but I wasn’t listening anymore.
In the 5 minute walk back to our car, at least 10 more people said “Love that sign!!”
As some of you know, my wife is an immigrant.
I’m going to sleep now, disappointed.
The sun will rise tomorrow.
(A version of this was sent out to my mailing list last night. It’s the first thing I’ve sent out since the election. Feel free to subscribe if you want. All photos by me, I’ll probably post more on instagram as well.)
I sent out a newsletter today and in it linked to a story I found about people who fall asleep on other people’s shoulders on trains in Tokyo. I mentioned I’d seen the same thing happen many times and recounted a not entirely dissimilar experience of my own years ago. I remembered writing about it at the time but I looked around and couldn’t find what I’d written anywhere. Moments ago I remembered a long forgotten blog I set up and made one single post on back in August, 2007 – and it was the post about the train. As I’ve already lost that once, I thought it would be worth it to repost the story here for future reference. For context, at the time I was working through how to write and tell stories that weren’t entirely from my perspective and weren’t entirely based in fact. So this is that.
The platform at the Jiyugaoka station was packed with people waiting for the next train, an express going towards Yokohama. Suits. Salary men. A few school kids and ladies who all seemed to have some sort of shopping bag with them. He’s seen this scene several times in the last week and blends right in the best of his ability. Headphones in place blocking out the noise of the tracks and book in hand to occupy the time between stations. The train arrives and everyone boards. It’s not as crowded as he expected it to be, but still very much standing room only. He’s reading Pattern Recognition and is a little freaked out that all of the places Cayce visits in Tokyo he also saw, though a day in advance of reading about them. Patterns for sure.
People get on, people get off. Somewhere near Kikuna a seat opens up and he takes it, careful not to take up any more room that absolutely needed. It’s next to the wall and he slides right in. Everyone sitting is doing the same thing – arms and shoulders tucked in tight, attention focused on a book or mobile device. No one looks around, no eyes ever meet. The further away from Tokyo they get the more the ratio of people getting off the train beats out those getting on. About the same time he notices that there are only 3-4 people still standing he notices her. He’s been sitting next to her the entire time, either that or he sat down next to someone else who go up at some point without him noticing. It’s possible because he’s been sucked in by Gibson at this point, but doubts it. She’s on his right, the wall is on his left.
Another stop and more people get off. For the first time on this trip there are vacant seats, and no one left standing. Another stop and more people exit for whatever destination they are off to. She’s still pressed tight against him and he stops thinking about the footage, and wonders how long until she slides away from him. More people get off, vacating more seats but she doesn’t move. He looks at her but she doesn’t return the glance. Her hair is long and black, though barely concealing a set of white iPod earbuds. He sees the nano she’s holding but can’t see the screen, not as if he could read it anyway. It’s the pink model. He smiles and turns back to his book wondering what she’s listening to. The Jesus and Mary Chain are pumping through his own sound isolating plugs. They are good and he can’t even hear the train which says a lot.
“I get an electric shock from you”
He almost jumps when she touches his hand, but doesn’t. He jumps inside, but it doesn’t register outside. He realizes he’s been holding the book with his left hand and let his right drop down near his leg on the seat. She’s done the same with opposite hands and her fingers had just brushed the back of his hand. He didn’t know if it was an accident, her eyes still fixated on something else, some other direction, not him. But her hand doesn’t pull away. She moves it closer. The backs of their hands are touching when their fingers start to merge. Another stop, more people getting off the train, no one new gets on.
“And there’s something going on inside”
He’s still staring at the book but hasn’t read a single word in what seems like an hour. The only thing he’s aware of at all is the two fingers pushed in next to his pinky and ring finger. She hasn’t looked but there’s no way she’s unaware of it. Another station, another stop. There’s no one else on their bench but she hasn’t moved away at all. The doors close and he grabs her hand. It was a bold move, the first thing that couldn’t be brushed off as accidental. She doesn’t pull away. She keeps her hand there, she never looks.
“Yeah, the world could die in pain, And I wouldn’t feel no shame”
They are definitely holding hands. She’s never looked at him, not that he’s been aware of. He’s never seen her eyes. She hasn’t looked. He’s trying not to. The last other person gets off the train leaving them completely alone. He looks at her but she keeps looking the other direction. He turns back the book which he’s completely lost interest in and feels her squeeze his hand just the slightest bit. She still hasn’t looked. He realizes that this is equally the sweetest and strangest moment he’s shared with anyone in possibly years when the train reaches it’s final stop. She lets go of his hand, puts her iPod into her bag, stands up and walks off the train. She never looks at him. He watches her walk out the door, down the platform to the escalator towards some random exit. She never looks back. He doesn’t follow. He sits there and listens to the song. The train doesn’t move.
[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]
Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.
Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.
Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:
“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”
“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”
I’ve been living in Tokyo for the last 3 years, previously from Los Angeles. I’ve run hackerspaces and blog networks, an art gallery, a design firm and a record label. I’m one of the co-founders of Safecast, and currently act as Global Director. I’m an Associate Professor at Keio University, a Shuttleworth Fellow and sit on the board of CicLAvia. I make noisy ambient music under the name Delay 5000 (D5K).