Saturday, April 03, 2004

Magnetic Poetry, Magnetic Friends

I used to teach at an engineering college in Kanazawa, Japan and the building that housed my office was a big concrete slab monstrosity with all the warmth of a dungeon pit. The foreign teachers' offices were old science labs that had been partitioned off with metal walls. It wasn't the greatest office I've ever had but it was the first and only time I've ever had an office to myself. There was no sound proofing and it was possible to have quite satisfactory conversations with my neighbors through the thin metal walls.
I remember the day I met my new neighbor who had moved into the office previously occupied by a crazy paranoid lady who had been convinced the school and our boss had been spying on her. I also remember hearing her threaten to slit another co-worker's throat if she leaked a certain piece of information to the boss, but that's another story.
This new neighbor was a guy about 10 or 15 years older than me. He came into my office, introduced himself and proceeded somehow to tell me a whole lot more about himself in a very short period of time than most people ever would. He had an attitude and a chip on his shoulder the size of his home state of California. We became fast friends, I think in part because we were in the same boat of being somewhere we really didn't want to be, but feeling like we didn't have a lot of control over that fact. We joked around a lot and found we shared a common interest in music. In the beginning he be all frantic about prepping for classes and I would tell him, "Hey, we have 5 minutes before the bell rings. What're you worried about?" I think that put his mind at ease. At least it made him laugh. (I mean, how much do you really need to prep for a class of kids who just want to follow what's in the textbook?)
I had a magnetic poetry kit up on the metal wall and he would come in and create obscene poems, or as obscene as you can make them with the words in the kit. He was the only one who would ever come into my office and play with those words on the wall, other than me. Everyone else just thought it was profoundly weird.
He and I saw each other through some tough times. Times when one or the other was staring straight down into the abyss, with ten toes on the ledge. We shared a lot of secrets. Still do, actually. I haven't seen him in about 5 years, but we still keep in touch. My favorite thing about the time we spent together was seeing him get back into music. He had left it behind, along with alcohol and drugs, many years ago. I can't remember what part, if any, I played in his going back to it, although I do remember one night walking through town, talking about it and understanding what a big part of him it was. About why he'd stopped and why he had to start again. It was something he needed to be in touch with himself and his soul. I think watching him make his journey back helped me start on my own journey, which is still very much underway. Think it will always be a work in progress. At least I hope it will.
He's always challenged me to be true to myself and he never lied to me that it was an easy thing to do. He still sometimes sends me letter and poems with questionable content that make me laugh. I'm not exactly sure why he's on my mind today, except that I just came across the magnetic poetry link on someone's blog and the weather here has been so rainy and gray, just like it was in Kanazawa.

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