Keep a Cool Head and How I Got Here

I’ve always felt like stuff tends to go my way. Sort of a glass half-full kind of guy. I don’t get too down about bad luck or things taking a turn for shit. It’s just not in my nature. I like to believe the ability to roll with the punches was one I inherited from my father — forever relaxed while murmuring much loved idioms like ‘that’s life’ and ‘gotta play the hand you’re dealt.’ I believe it’s a truly admirable quality. Call it apathy or optimism, it sure as hell comes in handy. I guess the occasional tendency towards laziness or procrastination might be its most prominent downside, which is a relatively small price to pay considering I’ve known so many who feel like offing themselves at the first sign of rotten luck. When shit really hits the fan I’ll catch myself saying it aloud too. Like the power to play it cool intensifies when spoken.

“Play it cool,” I murmur. The thought translates to sound and then becomes a kind of power.

When my girlfriend told me she was pregnant I did my best to picture the silver lining. Of course I love her, and I’m a big fan of babies but I had no immediate hopes of becoming a parent. My father says nobody thinks they’re ready to be a dad until you’re holding the kid. Makes sense, I guess. Must be programmed that way.

When it happened I was living in NYC, having just moved there from Tokyo. I left Japan because (like plenty before me) I was tired of teaching English. Best job in the world if you’re in your twenties and want to travel and drink your guts out, but after a while it goes cold. Too many days spent singing the ABCs for 7 hours straight crushed little pieces of my heart. Beautiful, insane children hanging on at the ankle. This is a dog. Repeat the D sound. D, D, D, Dog. It added up. I can’t complain too much. I was also editing a tiny art magazine with my dear friend as well as freelancing and covering the fights up and down Honshu as a Tokyo correspondent for Japanese combat sports. I see that I was lucky, that to have spent one’s twenties in Tokyo was truly extraordinary — a moveable feast, maybe. I probably still belong under a TYO sky but every story ends. It has to so that new, cool shit can happen. Roll with the punches.

Naturally, my thirty-first year struck like the hammer of Thor. I wanted to grow up, bite the nail and start grinding out a career. I spent long enough fighting the good fight, and I wished to achieve the status of a respected adult, so I made the jump across the pond to find something with substance that would last in New York: America’s city. Of course my lofty plan of becoming a respected “something to do with writing and books” in New York quickly revealed itself to be delusional, at the very least improbable. I’d been a writer in some form or fashion for years but suddenly things were uncomfortably real. After a series of shit interviews for laughable 9 to 5 jobs/internships I was bartending in South Brooklyn. This started as a temporary fix but quickly became an indefinite one. Slinging cocktails is actually one of the better gigs I’ve had when I line them all up in my mind. Its benefits included but were not limited to short hours, quick cash and plenty of free booze. Perfect for the struggling, writerly, aimless, wannabe creative type. Plus, good things were right around the corner. I could feel it in my guts, but I should have felt it in hers because she was already knocked up with my first born son. A cute, little bastard blessing in disguise. Fuck it, I thought. 31 years old is a fine age. Time to kick the habits and become the man-dad I experienced through my own pops, the golden pillar of American fatherhood. After a week of soulful/hellish deliberation we decided to go for broke, keep the baby and hightail it to the warm embrace of North Carolina. Sweeter than pie. Cornus florida. Endless rows of blooming dogwoods.

So just before Christmas we hit the end of the second trimester and made the final push out of NYC.  It had only been a year and it felt like my life in Brooklyn had just started. I wasn’t yet attached so it was easy for me to part ways. Of course my better half was a bit more reluctant to exit because she’d built a New York life over the the past 5 years. Brooklyn was her home and a possible future there had been unfolding before her big, blue eyes. I on the other hand was certain my ticker still belonged to Tokyo, and NYC was a like a rebound girl. We had some wild times but in the end she just wasn’t my type. Not that New York isn’t great, because it is. There’s a million reasons (nauseating and beautiful) why I love that city, but it was finished for me then. Maybe another day, when our boy is grown and ready to start his diet of dollar slices, the three of us will give her another shot.

“It’ll be there when we get back,” I said. Until then.

After a brief trip to Mexico for the ‘baby moon’ (a term we figured out halfway through the trip as a means to justify the pricey vacation to our respective families) we ended up finding a cozy apartment in the burgeoning city of Asheville, NC. The Blue Ridge Mountains contained endless connections to the past. Here was the same geography where we’d met ten years prior. There’s a misty cool about Western Carolina. Didn’t realize I missed it until now. The compact culture, flora and mountain air blend nicely to form a much needed split from the monstrous, steel cities of my twenties. Asheville is comfortable, slow-moving and has just enough “cool” to keep me from going nuts. Tokyo to New York to Asheville. Went from a gradual step down to a nose dive off a cliff (but landed in a bed of paw paws). Best decision I ever made. Took a while to realize that of course. It’s nice to drive a car again, run into old friends at the supermarket and be near my three brothers. Big Cities might have a long, epic history but this place holds a personal one.

With unusual speed and efficiency I managed to piece together something which resembled a life. For the most part, Asheville is home to three industries: hospitality, medical and the university. I’m not certified to teach in this country so (through the kindness of a dear friend) I was given a job as a bartender at two of the best watering holes in town. No problems there. Old reliable. I could breathe easy because at least the essentials were taken care of. Play the cards and things will take care of themselves. That’s not to discredit the importance of baring down and working your ass off. That’s part of it, but I gotta keep a cool head. I have to know I’m gonna be fine and say the words aloud because speaking words and hearing them spoken lend that necessary (occasionally undeserved) confidence. Pump it full of blood. Convince yourself and others it’s true so that it is.

So again I was working my ass off mixing drinks. Whatever people liked to order.

“Shot of Jameson and a Pinner.”

“You know how to make a good Aviation?”

“Why don’t you sell Fireball?”

Let them come, I thought. Let them ask their fucking asinine questions. I still felt like good shit was just beyond the trees. I was writing most mornings for an hour or two when I could to keep sane, but bartending had once again become my main source of income. Every time you think you get away from the service industry it sucks you back in. I wasn’t depressed, or yearning for change or any of that crap but I still wanted to spend my days working, in some form or fashion, with books or writing or with writers or something that made me feel like a tiny thread in the massive, confusing fabric of the literary world. Maybe it sounds like dumb, entitled bullshit. I had my girl and my first born son and they were and are fucking amazing but I needed some goddamned cake so I could eat it too.

Six months into our life in Asheville I joined a screen acting class for the purpose of needing a different kind of creative workout. I’d been spending all my time slinging booze and taking care of the baby boy (mostly enjoying the hell out of it) but wanted to do something which would remove me from that headspace. I’d done some acting as a child and bit in Tokyo and written a few scripts in the past, so I figured I’d adapt quickly. I could not have been more unprepared for that challenge, and I am still constantly defeated by the particulars. Someone once told me ‘it’s simple but it ain’t easy.’ I would edit that statement to something like ‘it’s very complicated and it ain’t easy.’ Eventually I was asked by the acting teacher if I could give a ride to a nice Jewish guy by the name of Ben Matchar. It was no sweat off my back considering I’d just recently purchased a Ford Fiesta, so I snagged him at his home in Montford on the way to Black Mountain.

“What do you do here?” I asked. The usual question. How the hell do you make money in this town? There aren’t many options. Three to be exact. Turns out Mr. Matchar, spectacled and bearded, ran an experimental audiobook publishing house of sorts. Hell, I thought. What the are the chances? I’d researched small book publishing houses in Western, NC when I was still in New York and came up with jack shit. Before long I was yapping away. ‘Books are my thing,’ I told him. I had a thing and that was it. In a matter of minutes the car ride to our Black Mountain acting class turned into a pitch and then an interview. ‘This is why you should hire me to change the face of audiobook publishing in Asheville, the Southeast and the world abroad.’ The pitch flew and in Ben’s infinite wisdom I started running their twitter. Then I started writing copy and now I’m working as an editor, doing literary acquisitions and writing pieces for their blog — The Talking Book, which is what you’re reading. 

Started out teaching English and covering the fights in Tokyo. Co-Founded a digital art/lit magazine (short lived). 6 years and 25000 yen saved. Moved to NYC and served drinks. Curated content for eBay. Learned transcendental meditation. Reconnected with old college friend who then became my one true love and quickly put a child in her. Apartment jumped around Brooklyn and the city until heading to Texas and then Mexico for one last trip as a childless human. Rented an apartment in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. Mixed more drinks, wrote short stories and then nabbed a job as an editor for the independent audiobook publishing house of tomorrow and forever. Exhale. All good things. I used it. Used all of it and now I’m here.

Really I’m typing out this story to figure out how i got here and to say I care about stories. Mine, yours and everything on the peripheral. I write and want to keep writing and help other people produce strange and new works of literature. Literature in audio format. In every format. I went through a decade of random travel and work and now I’m a part of something I truly give a shit about. It’s been a wild, random assortment of change and adaptation and I’m certain there’s plenty more ahead. Everyone’s story seems fantastic in their own mind. For now I’m going to enjoy the cooling autumn air, my family and work my ass off to make this little spot the best there ever was. Just need to stick with the program:  keep a cool head. Say it aloud, Kris. Say it to give it power and you’ll be good.

“Keep cool. It’s working. Everything is working,” I say to the screen.


Kris is the senior editor of Spoken Word Inc. He was once the co-founder and editor of the Tokyo art & literary community in TYOMAG. You can see his writing mumbo jumbo here.