Monday, September 10, 2007


I recently read of a fifty or sixty year old Japanese woman who, fearing that her brain was getting a little lazy, her outlook on life a trifle static, decided to throw caution to the wind and move to Moscow. She's been there for over ten years now, teaching ikebana -- the art of Japanese flower arranging -- to eager, energetic Russians. (Or cold and frigid Muscovites, looking for a place to come out of the cold. One of the two, at any rate.)

Part of the reason why I keep studying Japanese, no matter what country I'm in, not matter how meager my progress, is that I, too, worry about my brain becoming dull. Ineffective. Like a razor that has long lost its sharp and ragged lustre. They say that writing and reading are great for the mind, and reading and writing in a foreign language is even better, especially when that language is Japanese, composed of odd and engimatic picture-shaped symbols that appear more artistic than linguistic. If I keep studying, poking away, plodding along, eventually comprehension will follow. Not complete, no, but my comprehension of English is not complete, either. (Having Japanese students ask me the meaning of certain English medical words only confirms this.) The best I can hope to do is refine my English ability by reading and writing in my native tongue, and hope to harness a teensy weensy bit of Japanese, because the more I learn, the more I comprehend, and the more I comprehend, the better I feel. The larger I feel.

The irony, of course, is that part of the reason why I meander my through the endless intricacies of the Nihongo language is that I feel myself becoming too self-satisfied with English itself. Having been a fairly steady readyer for almost twenty years now, a certain, well, smugness has settled in. Almost arrogance, you could say. I know the authors I like; I know the styles I like. I choose my books accordingly. Which, in and of itself, reveals a certain presumptuousness: How can I, just past thirty, assume to know what is and what isn't pristine and refined in the written word of the English world?

And that's the thing: The older we get, the more self-satisfied we become. I'm more and more amazed at people (myself absolutely included) who are convinced about the rightness, the goodness, the overall completeness of whatever it is that they believe. Whether it comes to art or sports or politics or science, there is something within each and every one of us that affirms the validity of each of our individual opinions. We all see the word through different eyes, and usually assume that our eyes are the most perceptive eyes.

Yet there's a double irony involved, I think, in that the older we get the more static and certain our viewpoints become, and yet at the same time, deep down, deep inside, we realize that we don't know much at all. If anything. So we have to overcompensate by recklessly and ruthlessly defending that which we do believe in, whether it's the potency of a particular political candidate or which burger chain produces the best hamburgers. (I vote for Harvey's, a Canadian original.)

So by studying Japanese, I admit, daily, that I don't, know, shit. And by admitting that, I'm allowing myself to learn a little bit more, for a little while longer. Something has been gained; something has been added.

Being a perpetual beginner, an unapolegetic amateur, ensures that I will always have something to shoot for. And being clumsy but curious is surely the most we can hope for out of life.

And, given that Blogger tells me that this is my 500th clumsy but curious blog entry, many thanks to those desperate souls who have read all (or one!) of them.

I don't know if I have another 500 in me, but I'm fairly certain I have at least another, and yet another, and perhaps, for the moment, that's enough.