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A Ragged Steno Pad

I used to have a forty-minute bus ride from my apartment here in the Jiyugaoka section of the Meguro ward of Tokyo to my classes in Minato-ku, Tokyo. During that time I took to writing in a ragged steno pad that serves as notebook, journal, draft and drawing pad for me.

I traded that sitting time for physically and visually exercising time, as readers familiar with my bicycling will know, but the habit finds a place even so. It is a habit familiar to any travel, any experience, to any period of my life.

The habit of squirreling away thoughts in old writing pads is prompted by the advice everyone passes on but to which too few adhere…Record everything. Write a journal or scribble notes in a ragged steno pad. Take pictures, make video, do anything that will extend your travel experience or, dare I say, your life. I am fortunate that JYA is allowing me to do that more effectively and holistically than ever before. There are so many things I would have lost if I didn’t write reflections of every trip or experience I have encountered.

If it weren’t for that ragged steno pad I would certainly forget about this little girl I keep seeing here.

There is a girl, a beautiful, little girl, no older than ten or eleven who, I swear, I see time and time again always wearing the same pink shirt. I can’t quite decide if there exists some Japanese girl who clings to her favorite shirt like my sister once clung to her favorite stuffed animal, or if my mind has exceeded the number of new images and ideas it can handle and has taken to repeating old thoughts. See, with this sort of immersion travel every day is a lesson and the next day acts as both test of the previous material and review for tomorrow.

Like the academic classes I am taking here at Temple University-Japan, a satellite campus of my Philadelphia home college and the country’s largest and oldest foreign university, I need notes to pass each day’s examination.

This past summer I hitchhiked through South Dakota to watch a Lakota Sundance festival near the Rosebud Reservation. My memories of the 300 miles I managed in one day wouldn’t be nearly as vivid if I hadn’t written down the name of the long-haul tractor-trailer driver who took me a large portion of that way. Cal.

I went kayaking in a phosphorescent bay in northeastern Puerto Rico once. I am told that microscopic bacteria created the light that swarmed my moving arm and my splashing body. My mind might not recall it the same way I did then if I didn’t have the words I used to describe it then.

Writing your thoughts now will allow you to gauge the inevitable changes in personality and memory you will find later. Even the moments you might not want to remember are valuable.

This is because bad things will happen. During my travels, I have been robbed. I have lost my passport, hundreds of dollars, licenses, bus passes, and more. I have been lost without any recourse on the streets of Tokyo…many times, already. There is no real challenge if there is not a real chance of failure. You haven’t learned anything if you haven’t been embarrassed and nervous and lost.

The way I understand travel is to aggressively pursue immersion, best discovered on one’s own. This is best appreciated in short doses. If you haven’t been lost, you aren’t trying. It is in this way you find things to appreciate about where you are.

So I do, those that know me will tell you, travel alone a lot for someone who isn’t terribly awkward socially. I think it is a mandatory portion of a well-developed life, lonesome train hopping and solitary street searching. Sometimes my determination gets me in trouble, though. I am so intent on pursuing my goals that I forget what I really want. Unless, of course, I learn what I want and I write it down. Unless I record it in a ragged steno pad.

I ate alone in a tiny ramen restaurant late last night, enjoying a moment with a waitress who didn’t speak English but had no trouble understanding how amusing my loud soup slurping was. I enjoyed it and was glad for the opportunity to order food I didn’t recognize without the words to do that aimless ordering in words. But, as I have only very recently realized, it wasn’t nearly as much fun as it would have been with a friend with whom I might enjoy the story.

I wrote it down in a ragged steno pad: finish your study abroad in Japan and do your independence-inspired isolated movements, but return with a new mindset. A mindset of inclusion in travel. I have friends who might be willing to accompany me somewhere, but I have ignored their interest. Perhaps I have just exited a long-held phase of mine? Maybe, I might have forgotten in time, booked another plane or packed another bag alone, if I didn’t have a ragged steno pad to remind me.


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