Glasses clinked and spoons rattled against porcelain as we sat in a backstreet cafe in Tokyo. Our table was three chairs one one side and a low couch on the other.
Across from me was Jimmy. We met a couple years ago because a mutual friend moved to Jimmy's town in New Zealand. He introduced us over email and we became fast friends. Right of him was John, who I met a few days ago through Jimmy and had already bonded with over standup sushi and plans to buy a cruise ship. To my right were Adrienne, a 21 year old who keeps a fascinating journal of plans. We met briefly at Karaoke six months ago, and then got to know each other on the cruise. And at the end of the table were Chris and his girlfriend Kaori. I met Chris by random chance, having shared an apartment with a mutual friend seven years ago. It just so happens he's also friends with Jimmy.
That's about half of my social circle in Japan, at least right now. Only Chris and Kaori actually live here.
It's strange, having this ephemeral group of friends. Most will be my friends forever probably, but maybe that's the only time we'll convene in that particular group. It's not like Friends on TV where it's the same gang every episode.
There's something sad about that, I guess; looking out at those faces of people I like and knowing the moment is fleeting. But the other side of that coin is that there's something special about that meeting. Maybe we're just casually getting tea and dessert at some cafe one Tokyo night, but hey-- it's our night. This is the time we're all together.
Building this sort of group of friends takes a long time. There was a while when I traveled alone and was actually alone. Not lonely, exactly, but aware that I was there by myself. I'm not that outgoing unless there's some driving reason to be, and there often isn't.
Eventually, though, you start running into people a lot. Last time I saw Chris and Kaori, we happened to be in Berlin at the same time, so we broke into an abandoned building together. Jimmy and Adrienne I saw last in Austin, Texas for South by Southwest.
And then, through these chance encounters, you start building real friendships and you travel together. When I plan a big trip I email a bunch of friends and I'm often surprised at who has a gap in their schedule and jumps. And then even as we travel in a group, we all seem to run into friends as we go.
I've been really lucky when it comes to friends. I bumbled into a group of friends my first day of high school, and many of them are still my good friends today. There's something special about those friends you've had for a long time, too. You see each other age and you know the whole context firsthand.
But there's also something special about these ephemeral friendships that grow in glimpses and moments. As we sat at that table in Tokyo, I was aware of how comfortable and normal it felt. When so many of your meetings are fleeting, you cut past pleasantries and awkwardness and just act like you've been hanging out every day for years. I like that feeling.
Photo is the interior of Il Duomo in Milan.
Today's my last day in Chiang Mai with Todd and his girlfriend, Shammy. They go on to Myanmar, and I have a day in Tokyo and a day in Shanghai before heading to New York and Boston to be with my family for Christmas.
I have an accepted offer on a place in Vegas, but the inspection was really bad, so I might have to keep looking.
"Make your crew your finest act of curatorial courage. Just as many wise spiritual teachers have argued that our thoughts beget our actions, I would argue that our friends beget our culture. They become the force we measure ourselves against, the source of so much of our joy and courage. They are our respite, and our welcomed responsibility. And all that choosing makes for a very rich life."
An excerpt from this article: http://www.onbeing.org/blog/in-praise-of-chosen-family/7158
I had a similar experience in Japan when I was there in October. I traveled there with a friend...we stayed with a former band mate who is now working at Universal Japan, we met up with a CouchSurfer I hosted 4 years ago and a guitar student of mine that was in Japan by coincidence at the same time. I will never forget riding down the streets of Kyoto on bikes in the rain with my old band mates who I hadn't seen in ages and losing very badly at pachinko while laughing the whole time with my student.After a solid year of traveling and Couchsurfing a few years ago, I've grown to value a lot of these "ephemeral friendships" at the same level as the friends I see every day. It makes the world seem a whole lot smaller and more friendly.
I always want to write about a "typical" day here in Austin, but it seems like no day is actually normal enough for me to write about, so it ends up not happening. So, since I have a few minutes in my RV before it's time to head to late night dinner, I'll just write about today. I always wonder what people do with their days, so maybe my regular day will be interesting to you.
((Note: I'm aware that this is a bit like those rambly livejournal entries that no one actually ever wants to read. ))
I woke up at around 10am, which is pretty early for me. The sun comes in through the RV window at just the right angle to hit me in the face at 9:45. This happens every morning. Sometimes I wake up then and sometimes I roll over and sleep until 11am when it finally gets too hot to keep sleeping.
I met this kid a long time ago, ages ago, back when I played all the school sports, back when all I cared about was winning games. I was, in my mind, an exceptional athlete; I got to play and played pretty well. Won a few MVP awards. All that stuff.
Then, one day, all of that ended. I left the small private school I had attended from 1st to 10th grade for The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, and after that things started to change. I felt like I was becoming a different person. MSMS introduced me to a world of possibilities different from the small town, small school, everybody and they momma know what everybody and yo' doggie been doin all day kind of world that I had been living in for the past 16 years. I was all like, “Wow! Science!” and, “Wow! Writing!” and, “Holy shit! Art!” For the first time in my life I had been given the chance to recreate myself. I began to discover hidden talents and interests that, I think, I wouldn't have found had I stayed at my first high school. (Kudos to MSMS).
But yeah. When I came back to visit my old friends and my old high school it was just different. I wasn't very enthused to talk about how good this years football team is or how tall Jimmy Newguy is or how fast Susie Whoever is going to be or what ever they wanna talk about. I don't know. I was just different.
Anyways back to the point, I met this kid. The little brother of Dragoo, we called him Lil' Nera. Long story behind that one, but he was the football team water-boy. We loved him so much. He gave off this positive energy with a smile so wide you could see the sunshine. When he wasn't busy handing out water, he would always run up and say “What's up!” and throw up his hand for a high-five. His presence was probably more refreshing than the water he handed out. And when I'd come back to my old school's football games and see my old teammates playing, I'd see Lil Nera out there on the field. He'd come up to me and just be like old friends again. What's up-ing and hive-fiving. He'd ask me questions all about what Math and Science school is like and (later) how college was going. He was a genuine person, refreshingly connected to you every time you'd talk with him.