Sunday, May 29, 2011


I am not quite sure what happened to my memory. I am barely in my mid-30s, but things just don’t seem to stick anymore. My memory has never been particularly great, but these days especially, everything seems to just go in one ear and out the other. And that is really pissing me off.

At the risk of sounding kind of nerdy, when I was a teenager I could remember things much better. I was no genius then either, but I seemed to be able to keep things in my head better. I was never any good at maths or science subjects, nor was I any good at French, which for reasons which were never entirely clear, was the foreign language at my school. I was much better at English, history, literature, legal studies. On a nerdier note, I could remember most of the dialogue from the original Star Wars trilogy verbatim.

The fifteen years since then have gone by very fast, and I don’t have much to show for them. But I do have a memory that seems a lot worse than it used to be. I don’t think this can really be due to age. Early-onset Alzheimer’s seems rather unlikely. Part of it is probably due to depression. Some of it may be from side-effects of medication. Some of it may be due to being socially isolated. But whatever the reason, it is frustrating as hell.

It probably isn’t just memory either. My ability to really comprehend, to take things in is not great either. And a lousy ability to understand combined with a lousy ability to retain things is, well, a pretty lousy combination!

I’m frustrated as hell about the whole thing, and I don’t know what to do. I eat pretty healthy, I exercise more than many people do. I tried doing a “brain training” book for about a year but it didn’t seem to really make much difference. I’ve tried to study Japanese probably about ten times since I moved to Japan and always give up for some reason or another without having improved much at all. I’ve tried to learn to play the guitar but nothing seems to stick there either.

I’m not quite sure what the point of this post is. Basically, I just wish I had a better brain that would allow me to have a better life. But that doesn’t seem to be on the cards, so I guess I have to struggle on with the one I was issued.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Barefoot in the Sunshine

Tokyo had a lot of nice weather recently. The sun was warm but not hot, the humidity of the rainy season hasn’t come yet. The warm weather recently indicates we are probably in for another very hot summer, one that will probably come with blackouts or power restrictions given the loss of power from the tsunami damage to the nuclear plants. But for now, it is just a nice day to be out.

I have been feeling a bit up and down recently, so I thought it might be good to get out and get a little more exercise. I went running a few times in the last week, but I am planning to enter a few races this year, including the Osaka marathon in October, so I need to get out and do more distance for that. More importantly, I know that when I run more I feel better. So I threw on my shoes and my iPod and was out the door.

Last week I bought my first CD in some time, The Sound of Sunshine, by Michael Franti and Spearhead. It is a lot lighter and more joyful than a lot of their previous stuff, and as I jogged around I listened to a mix of it and a few other Franti albums. I couldn’t have asked for better audio accompaniment for my run.

I ran at a fairly slow speed, not pushing myself, just wanting to do the 10k with some enjoyment and a lack of pain. I did so, and about two thirds of the way through the run I reached, not exactly runners high, but a stage where I feel better. Where the sun, the run, and the music had flushed out my mind and body of at least some of its depression and anxiety.

At the end I checked my watch, it had taken a little over an hour. I stretched a little, and enjoyed the moment. Then I took off my shoes and socks and walked back home. I’ve been doing a little barefoot walking recently, and it is pretty enjoyable. It reminds me of being a kid, my feet touching the ground without being imprisoned in stiff shoes, being able to feel the texture, the temperature of the ground. It is a simple pleasure, but it is really something.

You would expect that the ground is rough and dangerous, but actually it is not bad. In Tokyo, despite a near-total lack of rubbish bins there is little litter, and while the pavement and roads are not exactly made of rubber, they are perfectly fine to walk on. I haven’t been to the beach for a long time, but I think I’d like to try and get there at some stage in the near future. I’d like to feel the sand between my toes, feel the sunshine, see the waves coming in. That’s definitely on my to-do list now.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Born to Run

“The real reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other.. but to be with each other.”
-- Christopher McDougall, Born to Run

I have never liked sport. I’ve never liked watching it, doing it, or reading about it. I’m not terribly well coordinated, so I’ve never been particularly good at it either, although I do seem to remember being not too bad at playing dodgeball in high school.

Despite this, about eight or nine years ago I started running around the neighborhood occasionally. After I came to Japan I did it more, and in the first spring and summer I was here I ran a lot. I remember running late at night by myself enjoying the quiet, the warmth, the run.

Then came winter, and the gradual fall into depression, which I am yet to really escape almost five years later. The worse I felt, the less exercise I did. Gradually I improved a little, and while I have been up and down over the years, I’ve never really fully recovered. That first plunge down was not even the worst one. In fact, the major episodes seem to get worse each time. Whether this will continue to its logical conclusion remains to be seen.

One of the things I did last year to try and save myself was to start running more often, in a more consistent way. I did the the Tokyo marathon again, and have done a few other, shorter races too.

While I rarely feel the “runners high” that people often talk about, it can make me feel better. The physical exercise itself, but especially when I run with others. There is something that feels good about it on a basic level. Maybe it is just the natural combination of exercise and having company. But I can’t help feel that it is something else, that it is somehow more than just that.

I recently read McDougall’s book, in which he talks about persistence hunting, still practiced by the Kalahari bushmen in Africa, in which hunters working together can literally run an animal to death, and McDougall speculates that this may be at the root of our ability to run. Members of the tribe would run together, and be able to bring down game that they would never have been able to catch individually, and in doing so they would be able to feed the group.

I might be just deluding myself, or making too much of a simple thing. But when I run with others, even though we are simply running to keep ourselves healthy, I can’t help but wonder if that special feeling I can’t quite define is not the ghost of those long millennia of persistence hunters, generation after generation of runners working together to survive for another day. Maybe we are indeed born to run.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pets and their passing

In recent months a few bloggers have posted pet-related stories. Snowbrush posted about the death of his dog Baxter, and getting a new cat called Brewsky. Similarly, Stephi has written and posted some pictures about Milo, a new young cat (who turned out to be male!) that she rescued from being shot.

I enjoyed reading these posts, and while I have not had a pet for some years, it is always nice to read about others experiences. But I was especially moved by reading a new post from 4-Lorn. He wrote the entry about the life and death of his dog Townsend. I’m not going to summarize it, but if you like, you can read it here.

4-Lorn wrote about his experience in a very honest, very direct way. He usually blogs about his long and determined battle with depression, and his many attempts to find a solution. But in this post he really wrote something special.

His writing made me think a lot about my own experiences with pets. I haven’t had any pets since I was a kid, but at different times our family had frogs, fish, mice, birds, and at different times two dogs, a Border Collie and a Jack Russell. Both came to fairly sad ends, and after that the family never had any more pets. I think my parents made the decision that pets were too painful to have, and I can understand that, given the circumstances.

Having pets is painful, especially when it comes to dogs and cats. They enter our lives, and we watch them grow and change like a little furry human in fast-forward, see their eccentricities and quirks. See them grow up. And see them age. And before too long, we see them get sick. Or be injured. Or die. It is a painful thing.

We never really get over the death of a beloved pet. It has been almost twenty years, and despite the fact my memory is not what I would like it to be, I can still remember the feeling of those deaths just fine. It is not a good feeling.

In Australia and many other countries it is commonplace to have pets. But after I came to Japan I met many people who had never had any type of pet. Apartments are too small, and many prohibit residents from owning pets. So many Japanese people never had the chance to experience the joys and sadness of having a dog or cat. Some people actually rent dogs or cats, but that is hardly the same thing.

I don’t know what the future holds, and I may never have another pet. But I’m very glad that I was privileged enough to have many in my life when I was young, and while the pain of their loss has never gone away, it is the same for people we lose. And we don’t stop having people in our lives just because they will die someday, and I think the same can be true for pets.

In a previous post In the Pink awarded me an “Honest Scrap” award for my blog and asked me to pass it on. I’d like to give it to 4-Lorn for writing the post about Townsend. It is a great piece of writing, and I think Townsend was fortunate to be taken in by such a caring family.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Anzac Day

This past Monday, April 25th, was Anzac Day in Australia. Anzac Day is a public holiday, the anniversary of the 1915 landings in Gallipoli in Turkey during world war one. British, Australian, New Zealand, and other allied troops invaded Turkey in an attempt to knock Turkey out of the war. This date is often given as the day Australia, then only an independent country for 14 years “came of age”.

Whether entering a war is a true test of coming of age is something that can be debated. But what can’t be argued with is that the Gallipoli campaign was a bloody, futile campaign that resulted in a decisive Turkish victory. The victory came at a huge cost – 44,092 allied dead, 96,937 allied wounded. The Turks, defending their home, lost far more, an estimated 86,692 dead, and 164,617 wounded. Altogether this adds up to almost 400,000 people, mostly young men, dead or wounded.

The most successful part of the campaign was the withdrawal. By December 20th 1915 all the allied troops had been withdrawn, leaving behind a peninsula criss-crossed with trenches, covered in shell craters, and soaked in the blood of hundreds of thousands of shattered lives.

Anzac Day is a day to reflect on those lost in war. As far back as recorded history takes us we find records of war. From the mess that is Afghanistan today, the trenches of World War One, Napoleon’s troops marching on Moscow, the crusaders sacking Jerusalem, the Romans razing Carthage and salting the earth, to Alexander’s troops carving up the Persian empire, we see troops on the move, cities on fire, rape, destruction, murder and theft, century after century. I am not enough of a dreamer to think this will ever come to an end.

But I’m enough of a dreamer to hope that it will. That some day the swords, rifles, and laser-guided bombs will be put aside, and we will find a better way.

I can’t help but think of a quote, very famous in Australia, from the first president of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, who had fought at Gallipoli. Talking of the war, he said:

“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

That sentiment is only talking about one war, one set of enemies who have ceased to kill each other. But it is a start. And I hope someday such eloquence will not be needed ever again.