(Subject is a slogan at a cafe)
I haven't written in a while but I keep thinking of things to talk about to you.
One of these things is the Global Artist Movement art gallery that I participate in every year.
My piece for the event this year is called, "Tomoe" based on an ancient Japanese symbol that holds a special, spiritual place in my heart. This symbol can also be found on the wings of the Tomoe moth, which is called Spirama in its scientific name. But for the gallery I named the piece it, "Rinpun" instead which means, "scales of a moth's wing." Why? Because people kept thinking my painting was just a pixelated photograph, or a painting based on a computerized image, or that I'd painted over some blown-up pixels. No, it's supposed to be each and every scale of the Tomoe symbol on the wing of the moth. I thought if it was called, "Rinpun" then there would be less of a chance of people mis-interpreting it.
I carried my painting to the gallery by hand, stopping first to stay a night at a friend's house so I wouldn't have to make the whole journey in one day. (The gallery is in Toyota, and I live in Tamano, if you have a map on hand, it is pretty damn far!)
My friend lives in the "Yagoto" area of Nagoya. I didn't know much about it other than one stop along a train line. But there is a diagram outside of the station which shows that "Ya" means "Eight" and refers to the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism, as there are 8 hills in the area, each with its own road leading its own way..... Which in modern Japan means that there are 8 convoluted and congested streets leading 8 different directions fanning out from the train station and I'm supposed to somehow know which one my friend lives on!!
I had to stop and ask directions awkwardly holding my painting. Trying not to bang my art in to other people. Trying not to block doorways. Trying to free up my hands to check my map by balancing things on my shoulders or knees. At one point waiting for a stop light, an elderly woman came up to me and asked if I'd painted that. Being elderly, she had the unclouded knowledge that this was indeed a painting, and not computer work or pixelated photographs. I told her yes and let her see it. She grabbed me by the elbow and told me to keep up the artwork and I'll be great some day. How wonderful of her! I'll have to remember to do that if I ever see someone with their painting. And it was nice to have that lifeline of a human interaction while panicking about whether or not I'd ever find my actual friend's house. That gave me courage. I held my head high, lifted my picture, and crossed the street.
A week later, I was taking my painting down and wrapping it in a plastic film so I could walk it back from the art museum to the station. A wonderful handful of people offered to give me a ride, but I couldn't... It's hard to explain how much I really love walking around new places. It's hard to explain why the heat doesn't bother me, why I don't mind the exertion, how I don't think of my travels as getting from A to B, but relishing all the awkward moments in between. I wanted to walk.
I was thinking of that woman who stopped me on the street. The kindness and energy she gave me. That kind of random interaction. You can't get that if you're stuck in a car.
And then another of the artists said to me, "Where is your box?"
My painting hadn't come in a box. It's wrapped in clear plastic. I showed the plastic to her.
"Are you going to ride the train with your painting just out in the open?" another artist pressed, "Aren't you embarrassed?"
I couldn't understand what she was getting at. What's embarrassing?
"People can see your art."
I was taken aback by that statement.
I said, "Isn't that the point? We brought it here to be seen in a gallery."
Something that seemed so matter-of-fact to me brought on a rush of surprised exclamations from the people around me. Like they'd never thought of it that way before. Really?
The first artist spoke again, "Japanese people would be very embarrassed."
I thought about how Japanese people cover their books in paper to keep others from knowing what they're reading. Maybe this is the same kind of thing. Outside in public, you're supposed to be completely anonymous. A mutual agreement from all parties to ignore and be ignored.
If I was that way, I would have never been elbow-grabbed by an old lady and told that some day I would be great. Those words stick with me.
On my walk to the station, I took the way that would pass the most people. Almost out of spite. I dared people to say something about my painting. Am I making people feel uncomfortable? By breaking that unspoken agreement? No one can ignore the curly-haired girl in a long skirt clutching a giant painting. I didn't feel bad anymore about bumping in to things and blocking doorways. And then!
On a tree growing at the side of a road, I saw a very long snake slither down. I haven't seen such a long snake before in Japan. I was enthralled by it. This is why I didn't take a ride to the station. This is my random encounter for the day that you can't get by taking a car. The snake stopped and lifted its head. It was aware of me, and unsure what to do next. The idea of some other being with such an alien perception of its surroundings compared to what I knew about the world, being aware of me and giving me notice.. that was such a thrilling feeling. What did that snake think of my Tomoe?
I waited until it slithered out of sight.
I ended up missing my train and being an hour late coming home, but I didn't mind.
These moments are what life is for.