It’s the 10th of November, 2022, and here I am biking around in a fresh white t-shirt, the humidity levels solicitous, the temperature perfect (too perfect; I am struck by why are you not walking a thousand kilometers you fool?! guilt), a powder-blue sky filled with the cutest stupid little clouds, and a lovelorn Fuji-san somewhere out there in the mist behind it all.
I’m Craig Mod and I’m so very late. This is Roden but you didn’t get one in October and this November issue is ten days behind. It’s been a busy few months.
More Adult Camp
I spent October walking and photographing and note-taking 300+ kilometers of the Kii Peninsula. In part, a last spat of research for my next book, and in part leading / walking with a group of walk-n-talk folks. Everything went off without a hitch. Nobody was mauled by a bear or fell off a cliff. (Not too long ago an Australian woman fell to her death on one of the less dangerous parts of the Kumano Kodō. It’s a thing — danger — and easy enough to avoid if you’re paying attention.)
I feel transformed by these walk-n-talks. Truly. It’s strange, only because I think this kind of “sense of transformation” should be more baked into contemporary adult life. Yes, I’m advocating for more and better adult camps. Let me explain.
Kevin Kelly and I invite folks (6-10 people) from around the world, and then off we go, walking 10-30 kilometers from morning to late afternoon, capping the evening with a big “Jeffersonian-style” dinner around a table, discussing a single topic. This format works surprisingly well. All day you can wiggle into and out of sub-conversations, walk with this person for an hour, that person for an hour. Like this, emotional barriers begin to fall inversely proportional to the number of kilometers walked. By definition, the side-by-side distances make the trial feel shared. We’re not “struggling” but, believe me, you’re tired by the end of the day. Several walkers expressed worry about being able to finish the days. And yet, they did. They did great. Their bodies rose to the challenge (again, not that much of a challenge, but enough to feel it). And you could see a silly sense of accomplishment (“I walked!”) seep into their hearts and minds. It sounds so dumb when you write it out like this, but the profound simplicity is, I believe, what ratchets up the impact.
So you walk together and then you eat together and you talk together. Each night, the dinners usually last two or three or four hours. The topics range from “How do you deal with anxiety?” to “What are your heresies, defined as something you believe but this group might not?” (a fabulous prompt if there ever was one), to “What technological breakthroughs are we on the cusp of, that we might be overlooking?” People speak one at a time, side-chatter is curtailed, Kevin gently moderates in his wise Kevin way. Do this day-after-day for a week and you may know the people in the group better than your own kin.
I try to be “vulnerable” on the very first night. Even just saying something like, “Hey I’m adopted and here, in part, is what that feels like …” doles out a useful permission, picked up by others. By day three folks have split their chests. Which is a way of saying: We trust each other. Maybe this is the crux what’s remarkable? Forming new trusting friendships rapidly as an adult? It’s so rare. It feels like what happens when you’re eight? Nine? When you can bond instantly over a baseball team or fantasy novel or video game or YouTuber or whatever. But here, instead, we’re bonding over lives lived and work committed to. Sometimes haphazardly, mostly deliberately, usually with a lot of pained self-awareness.
Hugging erupts. People start hugging more. Squeezing each other’s arms. There’s a lot of hands on backs in pushing-you-up-the-mountain kinds of ways. This may sound like a support group, but it isn’t, which is what makes it so palatable. They flare spontaneously, the hugs. No one is asking for help, and we don’t dish out pain and suffering and sadness hoping for a squeeze. Mostly we share the joys and conundrums associated with large-scale problem solving. Personally, my day-to-day life isn’t filled with these kinds of interactions. There’s a lot of solitude in this little life of mine (fact, not woe). And when I watch the emotional walls of other walkers fall, I begin to suspect that there might be more solitude out there in general than we realize. That even in the context of a family, you can feel alone. Maybe the most alone. And here, on the old roads of Japan, walking past the last days of so many of these villages, you find at age thirty-nine or forty-six or seventy, friendships as fresh as any you might have divined as a child. You feel changed by the walk and changed by the people you walk beside. The world yawns in new ways. Every river becomes a thing to dunk yourself in. Every piece of fruit to be tasted. Each farmer to be greeted and acknowledged and seen.
I feel variations of this on my solo walks, too. I’ve written about the sense of daily renewal you have on a good long walk. Maybe I’m feeling the impact of the group walks precisely because I’ve cultivated this solo-self, that I’ve found ways to be absolutely delighted by the world on my own, and now, here, I get to share a bit of that with others, walking as a kind of fast Fourier transformation for breaking down the signals of delight, understanding their constituent frequencies, divvying them up. Together, you electrify everything in your path and leave the world better for it. Whatever it is, it feels vital and like all the world’s problems stem from a lack of this.
Paradoxically, I finish a group walk and am empty — just a worthless husk. I’m am introvert through and through. And so as the group walk may buoy part of the soul, it burns my life force something fierce on the other side. Only now — about two weeks after finishing — do I start to feel rebalanced again (like the chemical table of the mind has finally reset to a stable baseline), enough so to get this issue out to you all. But it is a muscle — the muscle of community and friendship and family. It was used heartily on the trails and, after this period of post-walk silence, it feels stronger than ever. This is how trust and belief in the power of these processes is built: repetition. Kevin and I have done four or five of these walk-n-talks and I think about how I was before and who I am now and it’s both terrifying and exciting to feel so much bridged distance.
So, yeah, “adult sleepover walking camp” — it’s good.
Books / Work Updates
The fourth edition of my book Kissa by Kissa is rolling off the presses as I type these very words. It’s set to go on sale around November 25th. (I’m supposed to get a finished copy on the 22nd, at which point I can photograph and prep for launch.) There will be 1,100 copies of this next edition. SPECIAL PROJECTS members and folks on this Notification List will be the first to know when it’s live (there are over 400 people on the list now). Yearly members will get a $40 off coupon. Books are scheduled to start shipping by December 7th and will arrive well in time for December holidays. It has a brand new cover, a few fixed errata and should be the best edition yet.
My next book continues to be worked on! July was chopped up by a breakup. August was slashed by TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO. September was diced by the trip to NYC. And October was wang-jangled walking Kii. Anyway, such is working on a book. I am sending out members-only updates to my Nightingalingale newsletter; issue 114 went out a few days ago.
While in NYC in September, I was interviewed by author Matt Rodbard at Random House’s offices for the Taste podcast. We talk about food and Japan. Thanks for having me, Matt.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to Twitter, nor do I really care, to be honest. I think the general sense of Twitter’s impact on society / the universe has been grossly overindexed, mainly because so much of media itself is Twitter-addicted (and therefore must believe its power to justify the addiction). I feel like Twitter is, if little else, an avatar of solitude, for what happens when everyone is alone in their rooms, feeling the crush of that isolation, snapping out at the world. A hug-free zone. That said, having “public” places to announce things is useful, so I’ve set up a Mastodon account, if only to hedge the total collapse of Twitter. You can follow me here. And no, I don’t know how Mastodon works or which server to join. (I joined mastodon.social due to choice paralysis.)
I rewatched Stand by Me (1986) for the first time in decades and it holds up well. Extremely well. Shockingly well. The script is as tight as can be, funny, moving. The kids nail (most of) their lines. The music is fabulous. It’s solid filmmaking through and through. It also seems to have had more of an impact on me than I imagined; I remembered almost every line. I don’t think I had watched it more than two or three times, and yet, there it was, embedded in the back of my mind. As a kid, I think I saw a lot of myself in what was onscreen.
Watching it with a critical “adult” eye felt like watching the twelve-year-old version of a walk-n-talk, a perfect instantiation of what it’s like being that age (of a certain race, socioeconomic class, citizen, of course), surrounded by other kids, your “best friends,” (a tenuous marker) who are in many ways fucked by the system, fucked by parents, trying to work out the pecking order and sequence of life and the future. Just on the cusp of middle school, when it all changes — the Cans and Cannots get cleaved apart as the system starts to divvy us up. But before that happened you could get away for a day or two. Unfurling before you was life to come, but that could be forgotten when cooking hamburgers on sticks with buds.
Few scenes more heartbreaking in film than when they say goodbye at dawn at a crossroads in their little Oregonian town. The adventure done, the ideals evaporating, boring realities waiting for them at home. They had seen a dead kid, sure. But they also knew not much separated the corpse from their own lives.
In the wake of so much beautifully shot but ultimately subpar Netflix / Apple TV+ / Disney+ lazily scripted, overly-extended TV series (“tell us how you really feel, Craig”), to watch a self-contained single unit of visual storytelling was refreshing. Just ninety minutes? Right, this is what you can do with ninety well-planned, well-executed minutes. It’s enough.
On the polar opposite of the film sphere from Stand by Me sits Man Without a Map (1968). A loner. Old guy. No story. A series of Showa-era Japan technicolor tone poems. A young (miscast) Shintaro Katsu (who then later comes into his own, much older, as Zatto Ichi of Zatto Ichi), bounces between random places — a kissa, an apartment, a factory — acting as a a poster child for deus ex determinism. Lots of shots by Hiroshi Teshigahara draw attention to themselves for how self-consciously “weird” they are trying to be. BUT. Worth watching. If only for the views of late ‘60s Tokyo which, of course, feel weirdly similar to so much of Tokyo today. But not all: i.e., the scene of old school buses in a gravel lot turned into some black market prostitution and oden ring? Not many of those left. Also, the music is fun. It’s available on, of all places, archive.org for free. If you download it and load it into VLC, it can find subtitles for you on one of the open-source subtitles sites.
MWaP inspired me to go back to The Conversation (1974) to see what was happening there. Hadn’t watched it in about ten years. And, wow, it holds up. Coppola is in full control — the music, pacing, fetishization of then-somewhat-nascent cold-war surveillance apparati reaching into non-governmental hands. Hackman, who is supposedly 44 (or 42 he later says; but my god … to be 42 in 1978 was to look about 60 today), plays the paranoid to perfection. Although the ending feels like a cop out (Better Call Saul inspiration though), it can be forgiven for ultra bizarroness — fake sax playing in a torn up apartment. Which is all to say: You can have tone — mega tone, weird tone, weird shots — and coherence and story in spades. They don’t have to compete.
Map Without a Map was first a Kobe Abe novel, which may be why it feels so tonal and non-narrative. Teshigahara and Abe collaborated on three other films. Off to watch them now. But as far as trilogies go, I can’t imagine Kieślowski’s Three Colors Trilogy will ever be topped. Back to watch them, too.
OK, time to get this out. Tomorrow I head off on a 7-10 day research adventure. Not quite Adult Summer Camp, but also not not Adult Summer Camp. If you’re out there feeling isolated, figure out ways to bake humanity into your schedule. (It’s taken me about twenty years to figure it out, and even now I don’t get it right most of the time.) Even if that means via animals, which are great humanizers. Friend of Roden, Sam Anderson who lives in The United States of America, had a great essay on his dog Walnut come out in September:
For Berger, this was a profound loss, not only for the subjugated animals but also for the humans who did the subjugating. “The animal has secrets which, unlike the secrets of caves, mountains, seas, are specifically addressed to man,” he writes. “With their parallel lives, animals offer man a companionship which is different from any offered by human exchange. Different because it is a companionship offered to the loneliness of man as a species.” Our lost closeness with animals ushered in a sharp existential pain — a state of beastly alienation.
Modern humans can try to rationalize that loss in infinite ways. (Is it such a bad thing that most of us no longer have to worry about wolf packs stealing our leftover caribou meat?) We can concoct all kinds of synthetic replacements: ant farms, sea monkeys, pet rocks, chia pets, Tamagotchis. (Growing up, I fell in love with a battery-powered robot owl named Hootbot.) We can sit at home with our pets in our laps, clicking on animal videos, laughing and crying and forwarding them to our friends. But none of these will fill the creaturely hole at the center of human life. They’re not even close to the same shape. We will continue to feel that loss, to yearn for those “parallel lives,” for the ancient strangeness of animal familiarity.