By MARI NAKANO
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 15, 2012.)
2012 has gotten off to a frantic start for me here in New York. My student loans seemed like they were about to do a massive belly flop on my life and I started to fear that any of the dreams I’ve been chasing for the past two years were about to be placed on a very distant backburner, perhaps never to be revisited.
Like the Mayans, I too felt as if my world was going to end. I thought I had it under control, but after the 2012 ball dropped, I awoke to find that my education loans were leeching my bank accounts dry. For a moment, even paying for a cup of coffee and a train ride began to stress me out.
In the months before the commencement of this new year, I was just starting to follow a few new directions in my life, all of which included developing new portfolios of artwork and interacting more directly with people. I was getting mentally ready to invest more of my time in my art – in writing, in stationery and home accessories and, yes, weaving art.
While I’ve been yearning to just dive in and become a full-fledged artist, the reality was that I needed security for my sanity. In other words, I needed money. Starting up an artistic career in this economy is like trying to plant rice in the desert. After a long 4 a.m. talk with my husband, I tearfully decided for the time being that my full-time artistic pursuits would need to take a back seat.
Why is this such a heart-wrenching issue for me? Well, after spending the majority of my life in California, I uprooted and committed myself to living in this amped-up and unfamiliar place devoid of the sunny, laid-back vibrations of the West Coast. As the dust started to settle here in New York, I started to feel the weight of missing the familiar – of my friends, my family and the Little Tokyo community.
I suppose I desired to hold on to something comforting, so I turned to doing things that were more tactile and that touched upon my Japanese and Japanese American heritage. Working with my hands makes me feel back at home. In my own way, creating my art makes me feel connected to California and to Japan. As I weave, cook, draw or write, I begin to think of things like Bombu Taiko, my former taiko group, my friends in Little Tokyo, my mother, my father or the beaches I used to surf in Los Angeles. I think of Japan and contemplate how I’m going to share my Japanese and Japanese American experiences with my children one day.
I wonder how long it will take me to feel like New York is truly a home. It’s been two years now, but I still must say that my heart isn’t all here yet. While I’ve been able to connect with the community, I miss walking around Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. I miss all the summer Obons. I miss listening to Traci Kato-Kiriyama’s poetry or eating hamachikama at Mitsuru Grill. I miss being able to visit my mother so easily or meet my brother for dinner.
At the peak of my New Year’s stress, I was luckily graced with a few job offers that allowed my franticness to subside. While I have a sense of stability now, I only wish I could just ditch it all to spend all my days making, drawing, writing and weaving about home, about LA, about San Francisco, about Little Tokyo, about Japan…
I write about this all to remind me not to forget that this is me. This is who I really want to be. While the border is fuzzy between my occupation as a graphic designer and my aspiration to be a full-time artist, what is clear is that what I love the most is being able to stay connected with others through creating art and food inspired by the people and places that not only touch me the most, but that make me feel at home.
Mari Nakano can be reached by email. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.