Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Despair and Hope hr631

It happened a long time ago when I lived in Tokyo. My partner and I had dinner at a restaurant one night after we hung around the mall. We came back to our apartment that we had rented on the top floor of the building as our home and the office for our record label.
When I tried to turn my key on the front door, I noticed the door had remained unlocked. It was weird. I may have forgotten to lock the door when I left, which was highly unlikely since I was fussy about locking and couldn’t leave without making sure that the door wouldn’t open by trying the knob for a couple of times. I got in feeling dubious, but our apartment didn’t look unusual. Then my partner suddenly said, “Why is the cabinet open?” My heart began to beat fast with overwhelming uneasiness and I hurried into the bedroom that had a balcony. The tall window to the balcony had been smashed broken. It was a burglary.
I called the police right away while my partner was gingerly looking into the bathroom, the closet, and behind the drapes to see if the burglar wasn’t still hiding. Those minutes were the scariest as too many movie scenes flashed back to me. Thankfully, there was nobody. The police arrived quickly since the station was ironically only a block away from my apartment. Such a location apparently wasn’t safe enough to prevent burglary.
The policemen came in and looked around. As they saw the messy rooms, they showed sympathy saying, “It’s played havoc, huh?” It was funny because my apartment had been messy as it was long before burglary. But probably thanks to it, the burglar didn’t notice an envelope that held a few thousand dollars for the bills and was mingled with scraps of paper on the table. Instead of cash, a dozen of Disney wrist watches that was my collection, a cheap wrist watch that was my partner’s memento of his late mother, an Omega wrist watch that I received from my grandparents as a souvenir of their trip to Europe decades ago, and one game software were missing. Actually, those items had been the only valuables in my office apartment. Other than those and litter, my apartment had been quite empty. The reason was simple. I was near bankrupt at that time.

sofa chair beside window

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I had started up my music label with my partner and it had grown steadily as business. A person I had trusted offered substantial financial support and I took it. I rented this apartment and hired staff with that money. Then the financial supporter tried to take over my label and threatened to suspend further finance if I refused. Amid horrible disgusting negotiations, money stopped being wired into my account. The label came to a standstill for lack of funds. I laid off all staff and saw what took eight years for my partner and I to build from a scratch crumbling down. The blow was amplified by anger and self-loathing from the fact that I was deceived by a person I had trusted. Despair and emptiness led to apathy. I stopped doing or thinking anything and had played a game every day.
In hindsight, if there hadn’t been burglary, my partner and I would have kept paying the costly rent for the apartment and playing a game until we spent all the money that was left. But something clicked when I saw the very game software I had played every day picked among other many games to be stolen, and the glass window of my dream penthouse apartment smashed. It marked the point where I hit the bottom but also was a wake-up call. We moved out the luxurious apartment immediately and rented a cheap studio apartment in a small two-storied building.
That move left some money in my bank account. The deposit of the penthouse apartment was returned, too. Also, I received an unexpected insurance payout. The expensive rent of my former apartment included a damage insurance. The insurance company assessed the damage based on the report I submitted to the police. For some reason, they calculated the payout more than the total price of what were stolen. I discussed with my partner about what to do with the money. We decided to go to California. A new start from zero. And that was to be the beginning of all these, everything that I do at present. My works have been taken to the world by that decision, made by the burglary.

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A Long Journey hr600

I have been estranged from my friends for a long time. There are only three people with whom I keep in touch by a Christmas card once a year. They are my kindergarten teacher and two high school teachers. I feel a lifelong obligation to those three for each reason. I came across one of the two high school teachers when I was a senior. She had just graduated from a university and started teaching at my school as a new teacher. She taught Japanese classics and I was one of her first students. The Japanese classics class consisted of a mere dozen students who selected the subject to prepare for the entrance examination of a university or a college. As the class was unusually small and the new teacher was young and friendly, it soon became like a big family. It was as if we had a weekly family gathering that happened to have a specific topic of Japanese classics, rather than a school class. In my dismal and miserable high school life, the class was a chink of light. It was the only place at school where I could breathe and came to life. I took the initiative in having fun. Mostly my target was the new teacher. I pulled various pranks on her at every class, such as all students hid in the cupboards and she walked in the empty classroom, perplexed. On a perfect sunny day, I suggested having the class outside and she taught us in the schoolyard like a picnic. I tried what hadn’t been done at my school before and she just cracked up every time. It seemed I was really good at making her laugh. The whole class eventually laughed all the time, and the old strict teacher who had her class next room often came in to tell us to shut up. She sometimes called my teacher out to the hallway and reprimanded her. Nevertheless, my teacher never hushed us, and continued laughing at my jokes and having fun together. She helped me with those bright hours in my dark last year of high school and I’m thankful for that forever. She quit and moved to the other school when I graduated. We have exchanged New Year cards or Christmas cards ever since. While I write simple season’s greetings on them, she somehow knows and writes what I want to hear most. For instance, toward the end of the year in which I’d had a hard time and felt discouraged, her Christmas card said ‘Hang in there! Things are turning better!’ and made me wonder how she could ever know. We somewhat have a lot in common with the way of living, too. In those years, most Japanese women got married and quit working when they did. While I work and stay single, she also continued teaching at school and didn’t change her last name to her husband’s when she got married as the Japanese tradition goes. Without seeing her in decades, I’ve felt strange bond with her. Last year, my parents moved and their new address startled me. By pure coincidence, it’s weirdly close to the teacher’s. I mentioned about it on the Christmas card to her and then things developed quickly. During my latest trip for a visit to my parents’, we had a chance to meet each other for the first time since I was a teenager. The hotel I stayed in on the trip was located in Osaka because I flew in this time instead of using a train. From Osaka to the station we would meet though, it was a two-hour train ride with several transfers. It would be a long trip but we would bridge a decades’ gap in two hours. I thought of the gap, and suddenly came to myself. Shouldn’t a reunion with one’s former teacher be an opportunity to show some achievement for gratitude? I had forgotten about it because the process to this meeting had strangely gone smoothly as if it had been happening automatically out of my will. I had tried and worked hard all those years, but achieved nothing, no money, no fame. I recalled I had said to her that I would become a musician when I last spoke to her. During the course of life, I did. But that’s it. I haven’t gotten anything to show to her. I wondered if our reunion might be an embarrassment where a teacher would see her student’s unfruitful result of many years…

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The New Song Completed hr597

At long last, my new song is finally complete. It took about five years to finish it, which seemed too long, but my previous song took more. That previous song of mine was my everything. I had always craved just one song that I could think I was born to write, that represented myself, my life. The song was exactly what I had been after. Since I put everything I had into the song, I was almost going to retire when I finished it. I said all things I had wanted to say to the world and summoned up all skills I had to the maximum in the song. I thought I had nothing left in me. But once I tried to retire, I found myself at a loss. Nothing except for music interested me. I also realized I couldn’t do anything well other than music. I decided to continue writing songs and singing, by way of retirement. I set about my new song with an easy mindset intending to make light work of it because I considered my chief song done. However, it didn’t go that way. As I went on, I couldn’t help working seriously. My easy attitude toward the new song quickly vanished. The more I worked on the song, the deeper I was in it. The concept of retirement was simply pushed away. I even revised the words and the song became profound. I was as focused and eagerly desired perfection as for the previous song. As a result, it took five years while at first I had meant to finish it in a week. I put everything I had again in the end, and I was filled with rapture that I didn’t feel in my everyday life when the new song was completed. The feeling lingered for several days and I didn’t feel like doing anything. It was like all energy was drained out of me and I was absent-minded all the time. It seemed I lost my concentration as a whole. I knocked off a glass and wasted my drink that I never do, though I’m clumsy and a regular dropper. Even my bowels were loose. The completion of a song doesn’t necessarily mean all the work is over. I need to make a backup of all data, store them, convert to several different formats, release publicly, arrange distribution, and so on. Although those mountainous tasks of post production await me, I still have a thick head and haven’t gotten down to it for a few weeks now. I noticed that I was less anxious to release and promote my new song than before. I used to get down to post production right after a new song was completed so as to make it public quickly. But I don’t have zest for it as I did before. It’s probably because I don’t expect the world so much any more and my trust in human beings has decreased over the years. I’ve learned that songs in which I do my best and with which I’m satisfied completely don’t have to do with the market. My previous song proved it. The song was fruition in which I got a real sense of fulfillment. Yet, it was totally disregarded by this world. I get used to seeing my songs ignored and my expectations failed. Big sales or admiration are no longer such a big deal to me. I just wish my new song would reach someone and help her or him in some way when it’s released a few months later. I hope my songs are heard by those who need them, and play an important role in their lives. I believe it will happen, somehow…

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Illusions of Completion hr592

My work for the new song is drawing to a close and it’s in the mastering process now. I usually make the master track and leave it for a few days before the final check. The interval is essential for me because it gets me out of the zone, calms me down and gives me ears to listen objectively. Since this particular new song of mine required difficult mastering, I had trouble with finding the solution. It took much longer than I had expected to make the master track. I finally got to make one and tried to forget all about it for a few days. After the interval, I got so tense and excited that couldn’t sleep the night before the final check. What made me sleepless was the thought that on the very next day, I would finally end this painfully prolonged mastering and could see the song completed. I knew I needed a good night’s sleep for a good physical condition to make good judgement, but that pressure for all good kept me awake all the more. I listened to the master track the next day carefully and objectively, and found one slight flaw. I was disappointed that it wasn’t the day. I had to correct it and hold the completion over. I repeated the process of mastering, taking an interval, having difficulty sleeping, and making the final check. Then on the day I believed this would be the day of completion, I noticed one minor kink. I redid the process all over again. At the moment, I’m in this loop and can’t get out of it. I’m literally stuck in the mud of mastering. I make it a custom to open champagne when a song is completed, which doesn’t happen often because I’m a slow worker. Completing a song is so infrequent that I celebrate with Moet Chandon. It’s my favorite but too expensive for me to drink except for New Year’s Eve. This time, I put it in the fridge months ago when I thought this song was completed at any moment. And it’s been there unopened for months, as I’m deeply caught in the mastering mire. Every time I open the fridge, I see Moet chilled so long and almost frozen up, blaming my prolonged work. I keep declaring to my partner that today is the last day for this song, and retracting it at the end of the day. He doesn’t say anything but I feel his disappointment and anxiousness. As I’ve taken back my words of the completion so many times, I fear that he might see me as a useless liar who is just lingering slow work. I can take as much time as I like in theory since the deadline doesn’t exist for the song. Even so, I’ve already spent five years working just on this song and it’s too long for a slow worker like me. That notion puts a lot of pressure on me to complete fast. It seems to me as if both Moet’s and my partner’s patience is running out. Workdays have dragged on and on, and it has begun to eat me mentally. These days, when I finish my day’s work and tell my partner that the song hasn’t been completed again, I sense that he throws me a cold glance implying, “I thought so.” The other night, I had a dream in which I cried for joy because the song’s mastering went perfectly and it sounded flawless. The other day, when I failed to finish the song for umpteenth time, I was so irritated that I took it out on my partner and had a nasty dinnertime. In this anguish, winter ended and spring has come. I’ve been correcting small parts that I’m not satisfied with, which hinders completion. The thing is, those parts are too small to be called flaws or even kinks. I’m certain nobody would notice when he or she listens to it. Then what am I doing? What am I chasing? I may have lost a definition for completion. What is completion, after all? I’ve asked basic questions to myself and the answer is the same. I just want what I’m entirely satisfied with. If I called anything other than that completion, it would be a lie. I would actually become a useless liar and be done for. I would rather be bogged down in this mud of searching for my perfection than that. So I go on, starting another loop yet again, while I keep crying completion to my partner, to myself, and to Moet Chandon…

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A Picture-Card Show hr586

I was absorbed in one kind of play when I was about seven years old. It was paper play called ‘kamishibai’ in Japan. It’s a picture-card show in which a performer tells a story while showing a picture that corresponds to it. A performer impersonates the characters to say their lines and flips a picture to the next one when the scene changes. It’s a sort of street performance that is hardly seen these days. But when I was little, an old picture-card showman came to the small park near my house every two weeks or so. He would walk around my neighborhood while ringing a bell to let children know the show was coming. When I heard the bell, I would spring toward the park clenching small change in my hand. The show was free, but the performer sold cheap snacks and candies before the show. His theater was his bicycle. On the back of the bicycle, a big wooden box was fixed that contained both the pictures and candies. Once the show started, the box transformed into the picture holder. By tacit agreement, children who had bought candies stood in the front and those who hadn’t stood on their toes in the back to get a view. Although the story itself didn’t interest me so much, I loved the experience that I saw a live performance while eating delicious snacks. It was a luxury to me. Probably because I liked it too much, I asked my parents and got a picture-card show play set. The play set was available at a bookstore and came with a sono-sheet. A sono-sheet was a very thin flexible vinyl record on which the story, the lines of the characters and the sound effects all that corresponded to the picture cards were recorded. The instruction for the timing to flip the pictures was also recorded. The story and the pictures were from a popular TV animation program for kids. Unlike the picture-card show at the park, with this play set, I was a performer. Since there was a vinyl to be played along with it, I could sit in front of the picture holder and watch it as a lone audience while listening to the record. Only, I wasn’t interested in being the audience. I’d rather stood behind the picture holder and flipped the pictures according to the instruction played on the record. The characters’ lines were printed on the back of each picture and I read them along with the record. The number of the picture cards were over twenty and I practiced flipping each one of them in the perfect timing and reading the lines with emotions by imitating the voice actors on the record. That was my favorite play of my childhood and I spent a lot of time and energy every day. The funny part was, I didn’t need any audience. I practiced intently not to show the play but to perform perfectly. And I performed exclusively for myself. This play couldn’t be accomplished without the record player that sat in the guestroom of my house. I would sneak in there to play with the set because I couldn’t concentrate on my performance if someone heard or saw it. In case my younger sister asked me to play it to her, I drove her away. Not to be bothered by anyone, I didn’t even turn on the light of the room. I would play the show along with the record alone in the dark, and relish satisfaction and joy when I thought the performance went perfectly. Recalling my favorite childhood play now, it awfully looks similar to the way I engage in my work of music. I guess I make my songs strenuously for perfection not for audience’s reception. I always thought I pursued people’s attention and stardom, but it wasn’t true as long as I remembered how I felt happy in my childhood. That explains why my songs don’t ever sell. I perform to no audience. It seems that’s the way I liked, and the way I’m destined for…

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