Hand in Hand
a pair of magpies settled in our tree.
twig by twig their nest grew.
a season passed before the day
we saw a young one puzzling with its wings
by sunset all were gone….
I used to fear someday I’d meet someone
who’d smash my front, reveal the ugly me.
then I found my love, who’s loved me just the way I am,
together we’ve helped each other grow.
hand in hand we fell from the world,
where title and money count more than what you can do.
from the world where too much is made too easy,
where with all their wealth,
no one has what they need.
should we laugh or cry or scream
at these small humans,
who think they’ve triumphed,
love everyone, and know everything.
how different from our new world
where what you do counts more than what you have,
where everyone must work endless hours,
must use their bodies and their brains,
but no one even dreams they know everything.
now we too are a bit ground down,
like our tough new friends
we have no time to suffer.
but when we rake the fallen leaves our arms are strong.
before dawn the magpies chatter by our window,
sometimes they hang by their old home.
sweet wise birds,
if we’re still good enough,
next year please build your nest again…
In this modern world being serious is considered naive and unhip. Still we are glad that we’ve taken our lives seriously.
In “hip enlightened” society (which also tends to be wealthy), walking your talk is seen as unsubtle and even rude. In that world what you say is far more important than what you do, and there is an unspoken agreement that “I won’t look at your behavior if you don’t look at mine.”
As Arthur sang and wrote in Dark Clouds, noticing that what our old “birth class” friends said and what they did were quite different was the first step towards realizing that we and they have been travelling on separate paths for a long time…
For people born to privilege, unless they are “silly” enough to believe in noble principles such as honesty, integrity and hard work, and to act accordingly, if they just go with the program and become some sort of professional or businessman, then social and financial success in their early adulthood is pretty much guaranteed. Of course when they decide to go for such easy success, then naturally they prefer to believe they achieved it because of their great brains, integrity, and well thought out sound choices, even though in fact their success was merely the almost inevitable result of doing what they were supposed to do. Unfortunately once they have convinced themselves that their early success came from their own hard work rather than from riding on a conveyer belt, they seem to immediately lose all critical attitude towards themselves, or to say it differently, they start believing in their own rap.
But we don’t seem to have ever learned to adopt this “sensible” attitude. Instead we prefer to mean what we say and to do what we’ve said we would do. Even worse, we seem to be unable to avoid seeing the contradictions in other people’s behavior.
Still, so far taking our lives seriously has worked very nicely for us. Sure we have not yet completely paid off the debt we accumulated last year, which means that every time the flow of translation jobs slows down, we become acutely aware of our financial vulnerability. But except for this financial anxiety, our life is beyond sweet. Unlike most couples from the social class which receives higher education, we are each other’s allies not enemies. Furthermore, the food that’s good for us tastes good to us, our indoor and outdoor living space is both exquisite and functional, and our friends are people whom we like and respect…
All of this wonderful rich life we see as the result of our having for many years taken our lives seriously (as individuals before we met and since then as a team). We never have been tempted to believe that in reality everyone is only interested in making the maximum money for the minimum amount of work…. and that any other attitude is unrealistic and naive. This is of course the way people from our past feel no matter what they say…
Even in my involvement with music, it turns out that I have been more serious than many of my fellow students.
.…. When I started taking piano lessons as a very young child, I had no idea that the purpose was to prepare me to become a cultured wife for some highly paid company warrior or professional. I thought I was merely following in the footsteps of my brother who had already started taking music lessons. (Actually I would have preferred dance to piano lessons because back then in Japan there were several popular manga series with young ballerinas as their heroines, but with hindsight I am grateful to my parents for choosing music because in view of my personality and abilities, trying to become a dancer would have been a disaster for me.)
Studying piano taught me the joy of working hard to accomplish something very difficult, which I feel is the most valuable lesson I took away from all my years of piano practice, a lesson which proved much more important than any piano specific skills. Tasting the delicious fruit of working hard and the fact that when I was practicing no one bothered me, was enough to keep me going until eventually I found myself a college student majoring in music.
But since I was far from having the exceptionally fast fingers, the indestructible body, and the super memory, which are necessary to perform classical pieces the way they are supposed to be played, my 4 years in college were neither easy nor straightforward. So during my senior year I was a bit shocked and didn’t know what to think, when some of my classmates whom I had thought to be much more talented and serious than I was, whom I had even seen as having much more music in them than I did, started to appear wearing diamond engagement rings. These girls had shed so many tears after their lessons, had persevered in the face of so much physical pain, I had thought they were a bit more ambitious about their music…
(This was not because I’m in any way opposed to marriage, and in fact I have a lot of respect for wives who take their jobs seriously, who are good cooks and impeccable housekeepers. Indeed, having been trained by my strict mother, I pride myself on having a very together household. Arthur also grew up in a orderly household, and we evenly share the work needed to keep our home impeccable. For example Arthur washes and cuts all the vegetables while I take responsibility for cooking and seasoning them, Arthur sweeps the floors and vacuums the rugs while I clean the bathrooms. We’re happy to do all of this work because we know that doing it ourselves is the only way for us to have a totally together house.)
Then in India we were appalled by the expats who after just a few months of music lessons, felt that they were good enough to perform or even to teach. These were the same people who as soon as they learned the word “shruti” (which is like absolute tuning that involves microtones) felt they were much hipper than those who had merely done “well-tempered” western music. And this was even though they couldn’t hear an out of tune note in one of the well-tempered scales which they sneered at. Of course in our innocence at first we believed and were impressed by their claims, but once we discovered they had precious little accomplishment to support their raps, we backed off from the expat music scene. Music was too important for us to see it as just a step towards becoming something like “the best Indian classical musician in north west Taos county.” Instead we began our long journey towards the creation of our own music, a journey which 20 years later we feel has still only begun.
But to return to the lazy people from our past, I suppose it’s human nature to want to do things the quick and easy way. However having fallen from the world of the privileged, we now know many people who have no choice but to be strict with themselves since if they were not, they would lose their jobs. So now we find it even more disgusting that those in the privileged class feel they are entitled to get away with doing as little work as possible, and that even their few tasks need be done to no better than the lowest standard which will be accepted.
… Of course, this must be at least part of why the system is finally collapsing…
By the way when we say “people at the top”, this includes most of the professionals and small business owners who like to consider themselves part of the struggling “middle class”, despite having for their entire lives been grossly overpaid. These are people who have often earned less than they inherited and always less than they feel they deserved.
Though they may indeed be struggling in the sense that many of them don’t have quite enough funds to forever support their grown children who are incapable of taking care of themselves, but who still feel they are entitled to very exalted standards of living (big houses, fancy cars, long vacations, endless graduate school, perpetual therapy…)
Anyway as I wrote earlier these privileged people are convinced that in the face of very difficult situations they have lived their lives with honesty and integrity, and that their financial security resulted from their own hard work. This means they see their success as proof of their superiority, rather than as evidence that they went along with a sleazy unfair system.
And so they have this peculiar idea that anyone poorer than themselves must be either damaged and homeless or a criminal. Which means they don’t even notice the existence of that huge group of humans who for disgracefully low wages do the work of keeping everything going (who run the grocery stores, banks, and post offices, who answer the phones at customer service centers…) If by some chance they do notice a working class person, they manage to convince themselves that he is struggling so hard to make ends meet only because he was not smart enough to go to graduate school. Somehow it never occurs to them that these people grew up with less privilege, and that this unfair world gave them no choice but to start supporting themselves immediately after high school.
We are often puzzled that these well-off people are nearly totally blind to the very existence the majority of humans (even though all the time they encounter workers who are cleaning their houses, serving them food, and repairing their cars), and by their fixed belief that these people, whom we know to be amazingly together, are easily manipulated by media and not nearly as intelligent as themselves. To the contrary, in our experience it’s the rich, since they have so little contact with reality and so little idea of who they are, who are addicted to and manipulated by media.
… Unfortunately the modern world view that money is everything and that more wealth is always better has infected some of the working class. So some hard working people buy into the crazy ideas that rich people have about what is necessary for a good life. Sadly since these people don’t get overpaid and don’t receive huge inheritances, they end up killing themselves working for things they don’t need and may quite possibly never get. Even worse, as a result of making material wealth their priority, they lose their innocent sweetness and ability to be happy. We’ve seen this happen even to people who actually managed to achieve financial success through their own hard work, and it is truly painful to see them totally lost and wallowing in uncertainty, just like the rich people from our past…
At this point we feel entitled to give ourselves credit for learning to live happily and for not lacking anything important though we spend only a fraction of the money most Americans think they need. I suspect part of why we’ve learned to live an elegant life on so little is that we’ve been broke most of our adult lives, but also we feel it was great good fortune to start our shared life in India, where many people manage to keep their self-respect while living on almost nothing. It puts things in perspective to see poor obviously contented Indians (and here I’m talking about people like pilgrims from poor villages, not beggars) sleeping on the stone steps leading down into holy Ganga-ji, and enjoying meals of plain white rice cooked on small cow dung open fires. Here in the developed countries, everyone including us is off scale spoiled compared to these people, but still remembering them has certainly helped prevent us from being totally sucked into modern materialism.
… But enough of this social criticism and back to my song.
Like with my first song, for this one I wrote a rough outline which Arthur then extensively rewrote and polished. However this doesn’t mean my job was over when I gave my draft to Arthur, rather it means that the serious process of jointly creating the song had finally began. So every time Arthur made a change in my song, we both looked at it very critically to see if it actually made the song better and if it still said what I had meant to say.
This is very similar to the way we translate Japanese business documents into English. In that process too, I first provide Arthur with an often clumsy initial English translation of the original Japanese, and then he writes in proper English what he thinks I have been trying to say. Next we together look at his English translation and keep changing it until I am satisfied it has the same meaning as the Japanese original and he is satisfied that the sentence is correct English.
But there is one huge difference between translation and writing our songs (or writing this post which is also the product of the same sort of collaboration). Since translation involves rendering the not always clearly expressed thoughts of someone else whom we have never met, it can take quite a lot of imagination to dig out their meaning. Indeed often the writing is so ambiguous that we are forced to translate it somewhat literally. However since our songs (and this post) come from our own thoughts, we feel free to say things anyway we want.
… The editing process continued all the way through recording my vocal on top of the duet between two quatertone kalimbas, and in fact some of the most radical changes happened after we started recording my vocal. Whenever we noticed that I was having difficulty pronouncing a word, we changed it, or when necessary even the whole phrase containing it. We even ended up rewriting some entire verses just to make them easier for me to sing, but remarkably these changes usually also made the message clearer.
We feel it’s been extremely helpful that our unspecialized approach has allowed us to continue making changes in our songs until we are completely satisfied. Indeed, since we ourselves invent and build the instruments, play the music, write and sing the songs, and act as our own producers, recording engineers, and editors, we can do whatever we like at any stage of producing the music.
Since we are such primitive types, not clear thinkers, this organic way of creating and recording seems to suit us. This way we don’t need to know where we are going until we’ve gone through the process of getting there.
So we have no clear idea of what we really want to say in a song until we’ve read it and rewritten it many times, and even then until we have finally finished singing it, we just don’t know…