Sunday, May 10 – Wanting Nothing is Having Everything
By Jorah Kai CHONGQING, CHINA
Day 108. Today I feel peaceful, lighthearted, and free. It’s a wonderful change. If you found my last blog a steaming pile of emotional horseshit, then I guess I’m an excellent communicator, because that’s how I felt. Today is different somehow. I woke up curious, feeling ready to explore.
My problems of late that weighed me down so much did not matter to me at all.
Broken gear? No problem
Lost PPE? No problem
Cranky wife? No problem
Everybody hates me? No problem
Fucked book? No problem
“The greatest portion of peace of mind is doing nothing wrong. Those who lack self-control live disoriented and disturbed lives.” – Seneca.
I read this and wonder, in what world could this ever apply to me? Well, today I will strive to be at peace with both my actions and reactions, and my conditions, my reality, just let what is, be and stop wishing for something else. It’s the wishing that gets us all twisted up, isn’t it? (it is)
I woke up yesterday feeling pretty good and taught two classes for four hours. Other than screaming at a bratty boy who first wouldn’t stop removing his mask to take a sip of pop every two minutes, then playing with his mask like a toy, then using the chair as a pommel horse for a new acrobatics routine and finally picking up Hachoo by her neck to hold her, I screamed at him, took my dog away, and explained to them that being in a teacher’s home to study was a privilege and my things and my pets are not their toys. Be respectful, or we will not continue lessons, and either way is fine by me.
Things got better after, as we prepared for a nice family dinner, relaxing, just in time for Jinn (or Djinn if you prefer) and his girlfriend Cici to come over. Time… what a marvellous thing, time is.
You know I have my doubts, but it’s easier to work with others when I play along. For example, when a friend asked me last spring am I coming back to Canada for the summer of 2019, I told them I had to see the old world before everything changed. I’m a bit of an oddball, so answers like that generally go unquestioned, but in retrospect, it’s all eerily prescient and points to the fact that I believe we are all time travelers. Awake, we generally only move forward, second by second, but asleep, I feel we have much more flexibility.
I read yesterday that the tourism scourge has made many cut their investment ties with Europe, freeing up the locals to rent many affordable and posh apartments now that they are not in demand vacation rentals. That’s definitely a blessing, but so was my trendy apartment in Paris, and the dreamy spot above the pub and bakery by the old harbor in Marseille, and the stoic, spotless place we called home in the old district near the national history museum in Athens. Our little home in Perissa, Santorini, Greece was more than a cute photo. It was a lifetime compressed into a week. Our apartment near the bus station in Chinatown, Rome, was too hot and too sunny at times but was another lifetime for us, as was our breeze upper flat in Florence or the dreamer’s house in Pisa. Air Bnb allowed us to travel through reality as surely as my dreams let us travel through time: and so it comes to mind that all luxuries of the rich are borne at the expense of the common man, and we should enjoy them sparingly, fleetingly, and leave as many as possible for the next visitor.
As a time-traveling detective, there is very little that I can say I find strange, so enjoying a mother’s day dinner with my wife, Shaolin, my grown son Jinn, and his girlfriend Cici in China, only 6 six years after moving to China and meeting her, while video messaging across the world to my own dear sweet mother to show the spread of Korean BBQ, Japanese Sushi and American Donuts we’d prepared in her honor was special in the sense that it was meaningful and filled my heart with joy, but no questions. Only peace. The dinner was delicious, Jinn really turned out very well and he and Cici are obviously in love and we watched a thriller later about a young couple that gets too much money and it makes their life complicated and unhappy.
Later, I called my 90-year-old grandmother, who, despite losing socialization and control over her space (hiding from an invading virus even as she was waging war against a suddenly infesting bug invasion), she was quite cheery. My mom told me really, Grandma loves two things more than anything: a friendly person to chat with and a clean house, and losing both of those at one time, at her age, is a daunting challenge, but if she can keep a smile on her face, I sure can too.
Even some of the inconveniences can bring joy. Lately, we’ve had a day without power, another without running water, as maintenance and other work goes on. We make due, and in the end, realize that despite being inconvenient, we manage to survive and find a way to have students come in, wash their hands, use the toilet, maintain protocols, even without running water and power. Now, to go for extended times without our ‘necessities’ creates new realities and requires new solutions, but even 24 hours without my comforts reminds me that life is still life and a week or a year without internet will highlight the wonderful library of books I could be reading or rereading. Within every problem, lies a solution and every inconvenience a blessing.
If we want nothing, we truly have everything.
I have ignored messages from my publisher for the last few days, but after having my agent talk with them a bit, it seems we’re all committed to putting out the best possible book, and that means they want me to take a revised look at what is essentially dream sequence that reads like a psychedelic spiritual acid trip at Burning Man in the middle of my book, and ok fine, they won’t cut it… but could I .. revise it? I read: Make it longer? They suggest: Make it shorter or … less trippy?
Hey, at least my favorite parts are back in the book. Things are going to be ok. Eye of the tiger and heart of the lion and all that, I know it’ll be fine.
Up at the crack of 10 today, I prepare for my 11:20-12:05 class before lunch. I opt for a black shirt made by NASA engineers and my red Raven Power Haida tie from Vancouver, over jeans, a hand made belt I’m rather fond of, and my suede, wheat AF1 sneakers. My new mask pinches my nose a bit but lets me wear glasses without them fogging, which is cool and just a smidgeon more protection.
I pack up my air purifier, having just scrubbed it clean and put a new HEPA filter inside, feeling good after researching the science and how they will catch all those 1-micron respiratory droplets that are host to all the bacteria and viruses floating in the air.
My first week with Monday was two weeks ago, but I was getting my COVID-19 test. Last Monday was labor day holiday, so now, in week 3, this is my first class with them. I walk in the room, and it’s just me, alien face masked foreigner and them, a room of bare-faced Chinese students. I feel so weird again, look at me, starting the dance floor all over again.
I decided to blend my “intro” class with clips about my book and research on the news into a Shakespearan examination of “To Mask or Not to Mask,” and it generally goes over well. This class has one boy at the back that wears a mask, too, but the rest are bare-faced. Then we watch a video about sneezes and why the elbow is the best place to park their germs and talk a bit, and then it’s lunchtime, and I’ve made a reasonable impression on one more group.
I go home, play some hockey with my dad, who should be sleeping, while I eat leftover sushi. Shaolin is at her sister’s place for Meimei’s birthday, and I’ll call them later after my 3-6 pm classes are done to wish her well.
I’m wearing a new mask, and I’m not so sure it’s big enough but I can wear glasses that don’t fog. It does pinch my nose a bit, but I have lots of filters and feel good about it. I’m going to make it work. I post a new, stoic philosophy quote in “Pocket-Sized Stoic Philosophy” For the 3rd or 4th day in a row now, and it’s good to remember what makes me happy; really, just my breath, my meal, my peace and that’s that.
After lunch, I went back to teach 3 more classes, and I did something crazy. I, standing in my dome of purification, aware of the risks but also our protocols, our temperature checks, our 106 days of good health, took off my mask. What can I say? In Chongqing, we Trust. If we open up the borders again, if things change, maybe we will have to close down again, but for now, I am trusting, somewhat, that we are safe.
Still, I kept social distance. I washed my hands well after class. I stayed inside the air purifier bubble, and when a student at the back sneezed I bolted out of the room, put my mask on, and taught the rest of the class with my mask on. But it was a big leap of faith and I hope it’s going to be ok. I taught them not to speak mostly, and that was a big hit.
To recap, everything is good today because I don’t need anything to feel happy, odd as that sounds. (Even a mask? Even a mask)
Broken gear? No problem: I adapted, and the important part for me was my family, and I still have that. I can try to get the screen fixed one day. I’m ok.
Lost PPE? No problem: Actually, it was just a mistake, and nothing was lost or wasted.
Cranky wife? No problem. We let things pass…water under the bridge or water under the fridge?
Actually, it’s just life. Sometimes we’re cranky and then we’re fine the next day, and I’m happy.
Everybody hates me? No problem. Actually, it was always just a small, vocal, minority of people mad at China and me for living there, or mad that I am working when they lost their job, or mad that I’m happy when they’re having a bad day. I have a great, supportive community, and I love them, and even if I was all alone, I’d be just fine all alone. That’s the kind of person I am.
Fucked book? No problem. I’m fixing it, and my stubborn care to nurture my vision will mean it’s a book I’m proud of. And if everyone hates it, that’s ok. I’m busy working on another one, and another one after that.
It’s really easy to feel like your job, your wife, your home, your life is all wrong, and it’s easy to fantasize about getting a new one, in which everything goes your way and nobody challenges you, but that’s just it: it’s a fantasy, and although everyone deserves a break, because well, we know, not everyone can handle the same amount on their plates, some people have tiny plates right now, some people have paper plates that are soggy and bulging, my plate has lately felt like a spoon, but actually, the best of friends, lovers and situations will push us to be better because, like when exercising, we don’t become strong when we’re stagnant, but when we rise to resistance and overcome adversity. That’s how you build muscle, and that’s how you build character. Bruce Lee once said, “I don’t wish for an easy life, but the strength to endure a difficult one.”
I wish for that as well, and at least for today, I’ve found it.
This diary entry is part of Kai’s collection, from an upcoming book titled The Lighthouse, his second collection of COVID-19 diary entries, this one is a collaboration of voices from around the globe. He shares with them iChongqing, and at www.theinvisiblewar.co.
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