THROUGH THE FIRE: Since 1980

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By MARI NAKANO

(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on September 16, 2010.)

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My business card doesn’t state a particular job title. It just says under my name, “Since 1980.” I figure I’ve been working on something since the day I was born. Some people know me as a freelance designer, but for the most part I’m just a jack-of-all-trades. I don’t have an expertise in one particular medium. Since moving to New York, I’ve attempted to look for jobs at design studios primarily because I felt I needed to do justice to my graduate degree in Media Design. However, I’ve come to admit to myself that my expensive degree just isn’t going to lead me down the yellow brick road of success and happiness. It’s not what I want. I cringe at my student loans, but have come to accept that not everything is meant to go in a straight line. Life would be boring if everything was so unbending.
I’ve been really assessing what brings me the most joy lately, and as much as I don’t mind working on a computer, I know I have more of an affinity for things that are much more hands-on. Some of my graphic design projects make me want to rip out my hair with my teeth, but whenever I think about things I can really get into like cooking, painting, sewing and building, I get really enlivened. What more, I feel purposeful.

While I was in Japan for the past month, I met a handful of artisans, skilled in things like puppetry, gardening, bamboo flutes, organic rice techniques, Japanese stitching and calligraphy. I was so impressed to be surrounded by such people, but also encouraged to pursue a similar path in doing something that feels closer to me.

I look out the window at this big world of ours and see how we’re all trying to do something important. Either we want to feel important or contribute to something that we think is important.

Importance is relative to each person and each situation. I think what is important to me right now is being able to follow that which is rooted in me. I want to pursue an artistic career, one where I can actively integrate food and creativity. More specifically, I want to have a studio and living quarter where I can manage a small multipurpose studio, gallery space and cozy eatery. I want this space to be a place where I can create my own artwork. It has been a dream of mine for quite a while now to orchestrate a space filled with music, art, food and learning. I’ve been thinking about this since I was a teenager. This space, this currently invisible space, has been on my mind for ages. Unfortunately, I’ve only talked about it as a far-off idea, doubting its birth. I know it’s nothing special or outrageously inventive, but this is where I want to be as soon as possible.

I’ve been in denial about this dream for a while now, thinking that I’d perhaps be better off trying to get myself a position at a normal full-time job. It would be easier wouldn’t it? It would be easier to just work set hours and have a set title at a company who cuts me a regular direct-deposit check. Wouldn’t it? Of course it would be easier, but it’s not the point of why I’m living and I’m not waiting to do this until I retire.

Before I left for my month-long trip to Japan, I told myself that I would travel with the intention to clear my head and make promises to myself upon my return back to the States. Well, now I’m here, back in Brooklyn, fighting jetlag and staring down my goals. I’ve finished off most of my contracted graphic design jobs for the year and have a cleared schedule in front of me. I have no clue what will happen next, except that I need to start drafting a solid business plan and buying some lottery tickets, but other than that, I have to trust my gut and be persistent with my ambitions. It’s scary to be freelancing and hustling to make it as an independent artist. There are so many risks, enough to intimidate me back towards a life filled with more security. I have to try though, don’t I? I’ve been thinking about this even before I could drive a car or legally work. I have to see if I can do it.  I can always find an office job later on in life if this thing, this thing that is still so fresh and fragile, doesn’t work out. The time is now, and I have to grab the dream when it’s hot.
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Mari Nakano can be reached by e-mail. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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