29 April, 2024

Rainy Tokyo Walkthrough Blues

Rain falls on the screen-lit streets of Tokyo. Cars pass the flashing storefronts. Billboard trucks, illuminated from within, trundle by. Lanterns cast their glow over scooters parked in alleys. People, sheltering under mostly transparent umbrellas, ignore each other except as noticing them is necessary to dodge and weave around other pedestrians. I watch the video and wonder where everyone could be going.

These walkthroughs are apparently popular on YouTube, where my boss downloads them for us to play on one of the in-house TV channels that my coworkers and I program and maintain. We've shown forest walkthroughs, downtown walkthroughs, lakeside walkthroughs, desert walkthroughs, park walkthroughs, beach walkthroughs.... Whether one exists I can't be sure, but about the only kind we haven't shown is a space walkthrough.

Seoul, South Korea, on a quiet snowy evening, was one of our most popular. It's been requested by several different people to replay since we first broadcast it last year on Relax. Relax is the channel where we show all of this type of content. (All of our channels have an X in their names, a tradition I claim to have started but the groundwork for which can technically be said to have been lain before I ever came to work at XSTREAM.) Some of the other things that play twenty-four hours a day on Relax include landscape flyovers, trippy fractal patterns, outer space photography, steaming cups of tea, nature footage, closeups of burning incense, and vacant jazz coffeehouses. We try to keep things varied. Walkthrough videos are probably a lot more popular where I live — in prison — than in society at large. At least out there you (theoretically) have the option to visit another place whenever you choose to do so. My options are more limited. Glimpses of the outside world, such as those offered by walkthrough videos, can be as refreshing as they can be melancholy. As I observe the people on Tokyo's wet streets, I also observe myself and consider the nature of my watching. Am I watching because Tokyo has been on my bucket list forever? Am I watching because of all the pretty colors? Am I watching because I miss the unique type of human contact that only takes place in a crowded metropolis? No matter what the specific reason, I recognize my watching as a symptom of WITBO — wishing it to be otherwise. Rainy Tokyo Walkthrough caught my eye because I'm dissatisfied with my current situation. I wish for something other than what is. I wish here and now to be there and then. Can you blame me? Part of Buddhist practice involves cultivating contentment and equanimity. For all my personal and spiritual development, for all the comments people make about my so-called enlightened state, I doubt I'm anywhere near Nirvana. I watch videos of nighttime in a Japanese city and dream of the sound my shoes would make splashing along its crowded crosswalks. I fantasize about the food offered in its intimate little restaurants. I ogle its huge billboard advertisements. I'm a prisoner of not only the state but of the masochistic workings of my own human mind.
The best thing to do is turn off the TV and turn inward, to sit awhile with the ember that is my humanity, let it smolder, let its smoke sting my eyes, let it slowly, at a pace impossible for me to measure or even conceive, exhaust itself.

10 April, 2024


I do a lot: President of the Speak Easy Gavel Club; head of the prison media center (aka XSTREAM); host of Real Talk, a televised forum about issues affecting imprisoned people; showrunner for several regular TV series; producer of a daily news broadcast; events coordinator for monthly speaking engagements, graduation ceremonies, and concerts; liaison for the ERDCC book club; and more.

Day to day, I fill several roles that demand a high level of performance brought to life's little stage. There's showmanship in what I do, but I'm really using the word "performance" here to mean "engagement" — attentive dedication to a task.

I make time to breathe. I do stretches in the morning, before leaping down from the upper bunk, because I know the day won't afford time to do them later. Moving forward, I keep a natural pace. I try not to rush. Sometimes I even dawdle. But my time is limited and other people's needs are frequently great, so discernment is required. You have to recognize the difference between a necessary pause and a waste of time. Amid the passing of hours, I weigh every moment, then lean as close as physically and psychologically possible in the direction that keeps me most balanced. The key is not to tip over. People think I do a good job of staying on an even keel. There was a time when ANNOYED was my default mode when interfacing with the world, so its fascinating to me that I'm now regarded as a chill dude. "I never see you look annoyed," an acquaintance said to me last week. A lot of the time I'm just too busy to be irritated. When you operate on a higher plane because some driving purpose compels you forward, there's no incentive to get lost in the weeds, obsessing about tetchy details. You literally can't be bothered with little shit when all your concerns relate to matters of sizeable significance.
I started this post to kind of talk through the awe that I sometimes feel at how busy I am. Sometimes I ask myself if I'm a workaholic. As long as I can continue to answer "no" to that question, I figure I'm good. It's just that I get to fulfill so many useful purposes through my job, to be creative, to exercise some agency during my life of confinement, and to make money on top of it all. May I be forgiven if I like these things too much.