Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy snaps

When I first came to Japan I took pictures all the time. Everything was new, so I wandered around taking pictures continually. I think we often do this when we travel to a new place. We notice the sounds and sights, historical buildings, interesting people, unfamiliar scenes. We record them as best we can.

I tend to take more when I am with other people. But I am with other people less than I would like, and in the last couple of years I haven’t taken many pictures at all. I catalog and order all the pictures I take on my hard disk, so it is easy to see how few times I have actually taken my camera out and taken pictures.

Recently I am trying to build better habits. To exercise three times a week. To play guitar a little each day. To eat better. To learn to cook a few more things. To keep my place tidy and organized. To take pictures more often.

Most pictures I take are not particularly good, and I really don’t have any idea about how to use a camera in more than a very basic way. But occasionally I do take photos that I am happy with. There is something satisfying about capturing a good image, especially if it is a thing that no one else seems to have noticed, or captured in quite the same way.

I have started carrying my camera around with me on a more regular basis. Sometimes I set out with a plan to take pictures of something, other times I happen across things that seem interesting and take a picture. I’ve put a couple of them on this blog, the guitar from the previous post, and the cherry blossoms from the post before that are my pictures.

They say that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, and this week I was in Osaka on one of my rare trips outside of Tokyo. The Japanese Mint is located there, and it is opened to the public for one week a year so we can enjoy the cherry blossoms located there. I happened to be nearby with a little time to kill, so I wandered through there and took a few pictures.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Making Better Habits

Friday has rolled again. There have been no radical changes since last week. A little up, a little down. The main thing for this week has been trying to maintain the better habits I am in the process of establishing.

Every day I am playing my guitar (see left) a little. Some days I just pluck a few strings but mostly I spend 15 or 20 minutes doing some basic exercises from the guitar book or just generally playing around with it. It is somewhat calming, and gradually I am building up calluses on the ends of my fingers. That is something that I’ve had trouble with before, but hopefully continual effort will fix that problem.

Also I’ve been trying to exercise three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m a creature of habit and if I can force myself to keep doing it each of those days I think the pattern will stick. Living in Japan means that I have a decent amount of walking in my daily life anyway, but having a run or yoga session three times a week seems to be good for me.

Before, whether it was running, playing guitar, or other things, I seem to set goals for myself that I’m not currently capable of achieving. I don’t achieve them, then I get into a spiral of disappointment, negativity, and all that good stuff.

Now I am trying to just do what I can, but do it on a set schedule, so while the effort I can put in varies, I am still working at things all the time. I’m not sure how much difference this will make, but time will tell.

Also, I’ve started taking pictures again. I have started taking my camera around with me on a regular basis so that if I see something interesting I can snap a picture. In the last weeks there were a lot of cherry blossoms on show, but I also took pictures of posters, street scenes, and miscellaneous other points of interest around town. I used to do this all the time when I first came to Japan, but gradually fell out of the habit. It is good to start again, and I’ll be posting some pics here.

Well, that is about all for now. Best wishes to all, and I hope that things are going well for you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Running under the cherry blossoms

“I have the same commitment everyday when I wake up – today I’m going to try my best, today I’m going to give it my all.”
--Dean Karnazes, ultra marathon runner

It is Friday again, and I just came back from a run around a park near my house. My legs got sore so I didn’t run as long as I would have liked. Still, it was good to see the cherry blossoms (picture above), which are in full bloom. Many people are walking around admiring them, some groups are picnicking and drinking under the trees, as Japanese have done for generations. There seems to be less people doing so than usual, in deference to the recent disaster, but people are still out and about.

I don’t feel great, but I am trying to do some simple things to keep my head above water. This week I went running three times, and I did a major spring clean. I threw out a bunch of junk that had been cluttering up my place for some time, and reorganized things. I have more space now, and I think having an organized place helps my state of mind.

In the midst of the spring clean I also pulled out my guitar. I bought an acoustic guitar years ago, before I came to Japan, and have attempted to learn how to play it on several occasions. I seem to find simple things very difficult to learn and remember, and this includes how to play music. On Wednesday I pulled out the guitar for the first time in a year and practiced some very simple exercises from the Mel Bay Grade 1 book. I told someone that I seem to pull out the guitar every year and realize that I don’t have guitar skills. He made the simple point that if I practiced every day, maybe I would realize that I did have guitar skills. I am only three days in at this point, but time will tell. Usually I get ashamed of my own inability to improve and give up.

While I was out running I was listening to the Radio National Breakfast podcast, and today’s included an interview with Dean Karnazes, an American runner who is running across the US. At the time of the interview he was in Missouri, heading for New York. He talked about how he took up running seriously because he was bored and in his regular life everything came easily to him, but he found an almost spiritual experience in his extreme runs.

As I, an Australian running under Tokyo’s cherry blossoms listened to him, an American charging across a entire continent, I thought about how different the two of us were. Unlike what Karnazes said about his own life, nothing seems to come easy to me. Every day is a struggle.

I’m not running because life is too simple and easy, but because for me it is too much to deal with. And some exercise, like therapy, medication, and other things, can help to take the edge off a little bit. I am very much a creature of habit, and I hope that by establishing better habits I can manage my condition a little better. I know this depression, this anxiety will never go away. It is part of me. But I need to learn to tame it, control it better. I hope I am on the way to doing that, I really do.

I am not capable of running across a continent. But I, like Karnazes, am capable of giving every day my all. And that's what I'm going to do.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

March is Dead, Long Live April!

It is another sunny Friday, the first day of April. Things are looking up a little bit since last week. Firstly, the horrible month that was March is over. Good riddance. For the first time in a month or so I went to a yoga class, which was nice. I also went running twice, over 5 km each time, for the first time in a month. There are no quick fixes, but being able to exercise again definitely helps.

This afternoon I got out and ran about 7km or so. It was nice to be outside. The weather was beautiful, a clear blue sky, strong sunlight and just a little bit of a cool breeze. The cherry blossoms are starting to come out now, and soon the parks will be full of people having hanami (Cherry-blossom viewing) parties.

I took my iPod along but didn’t bother to listen to it, I just ran. I’ve heard that putting too much pressure on the heel of the foot is bad, so I am trying to change my posture to land more on the front of my foot. It felt a bit awkward, but seemed to help. Exercise is essential to managing my mood, and having the continual small injuries that come from running incorrectly is not helpful at all.

There are many things that I would like to do or achieve, but until I can manage my depression more effectively I can’t do them. And the most effective way of dealing with the depression seems to be exercise. It doesn’t fix the underlying problems, but it helps my mood lift and gives me a chance to start working on other things, rather than being crushed under a cloud of misery, loneliness, and confusion.

As well as exercise being generally beneficial, I have found that ordeals like climbing Mt Fuji or running a marathon can provide a focus that allows everything to make sense, at least for a short time, for everything to be devoted towards a single goal. I’m not religious in any sense, but for me there is something transcendent in those experiences, and having them more frequently would probably be a good idea.

A couple of days after the earthquake I signed up to do the first Osaka marathon. I’m not sure if I will get in, as it will no doubt be popular. I should find out in May. But if not, there are other marathons that I can sign up for. I don’t think that running, or any kind of exercise by itself can help one banish depression entirely. But I think it can definitely be a major help.

March was a tough month, with recovering from the marathon, the earthquake and all its consequences, plus yet another visit from depression and anxiety. But March is over now. The sun is out, the flowers are blooming. In Japan, the fiscal year and the school year begin in April. The last month, the last year, were very rough. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.