Shogun has thoroughly eaten my brain. It's a wonderful story, now rising to a suspenseful crescendo where I'm holding my breath waiting for the characters' world to catch on fire and heads to get chopped off. The book makes me consider what about samurai culture we cultivate in aikido and other budo--what has endured beyond a feudal society, and what has deserved to be left behind. I don't know enough to tell for certain how much of Clavell's portrait of feudal Japan is romanticism: on the one hand it's difficult for me to imagine a society running that smoothly and its citizens being happy under that degree of authority, but on the other hand I recognize that for all that many things from Japan come to me very naturally--bowing, Zen, some amount of the etiquette, sushi-- the Japanese are still essentially space aliens as far as I'm concerned and I do have to make an effort to understand the society as a whole. I also have difficulty imagining the Chinese people being happy with their government, but as far as I know (including a semester of Mandarin, a couple of courses studying Chinese history and government, and reports from people studying or living there) a pretty solid majority of them are. And those endless millions of people aren't stupid, or blind to their society's flaws; they're just not me, raised in a brash, young nation with, on the whole, little sense of humility, wisdom, or genuine propriety despite a stunning puritanism. Instead they have 3000 years of continuous civilization and scarcely a drop of democracy in the whole stretch, going from warlords to emperors to what stills calls itself Communism. Democracy doesn't have to seem reasonable to everyone, no matter what I think about it. Hell, I live in California, an ongoing case study in why direct democracy is such a stupid idea that the Founders didn't implement it.

I pushed myself to aikido tonight. No runner's high, but still a good time. I feel my body re-settling again, more relaxed, mostly, but also my muscles gaining endurance as well as power, getting used to consistent long-term training (it's been about 18 months now) and not reacting like it's a novelty. I think I've loosened my ukemi as well, making it smoother instead of jerky, thus making it more like the endurance-building exercise of lower stress for longer times, instead of the power-building of higher stresses for shorter times.

I feel very here, very present. My housemate was gone for a couple of weeks, and I discovered that I can probably live alone now (I feel that way most of the time already, with our schedules--we live in a 2-bedroom house and share a bathroom between our rooms, and I've gone two or three days without seeing him). In the past I've gotten all tied up in my head with thinking, but now my moments are largely filled by whatever I happen to be doing, which is pretty cool. Not that I'm never bored, but I don't seem to feel despair these days--I'm just here, and I have stuff to do today and tomorrow and maybe not the day after that but certainly next week, but first I have stuff to do today. In fact I seem to be so occupied with what I'm doing that I'm having a few weeks of hermit-mode: normally I'd make more efforts to see people on weeknights, but I'm really low-energy and I'm just leaving it to the weekends.

2003 federal tax refund: $72. Woot! Time for a nice dinner and a hot tub at Watercourse Way.