Category Archives: Dragon Whisperer

Notes on progress in the new land

I Didn’t Know Enough to Be Afraid

When I was 23, fresh out of college, and didn’t know that there was anything I couldn’t do, I  moved to Japan. By myself.

I only knew one person, one of the administrators at the college where I would eventually work, through my sister-in-law who had coordinated the US side of an established summer student exchange program. When I was in college, Takashi invited me over to work and teach.

I was single, didn’t know the language, and I wanted to travel without having to raise money as a missionary. This was a perfect chance to live overseas, have a home base to travel from, and not have to raise money. Weeks before I went over there, I bought a pocket book that featured some basic vocabulary and a rudimentary explanation of the syllabic nature of Japanese.

Within a couple of weeks, I could phonetically read hiragana and katakana, the most accessible of the three alphabet groups that make up the Japanese language. I was addicted to vending machines once I could locate miruku te (milk tea). I’m a firm believer that there are a few things you should be able to say in any language. For example:

Oteire wa doko ni arimasuka = Where is the toilet?

Besides knowing that there would be some other English speaking teachers, I didnt know anything else. I didn’t know where I was going to live, for example, or how I was going to furnish my apartment. I had no idea what to expect or whom I would meet.

Big. Black. Hole. Of. Unknown.

The concept of preparation didn’t figure into my plans. With fewer than three months to get ready to move overseas, there was not time for anxiety to creep in. I just had to execute: get a passport and a travel visa, pack some clothes, visit friends before I left.


I signed up for two years and ended up staying 4.5 years. I took risks I would have my children institutionalized for taking. I learned a few things that I am still using in my Soul Journey.

Lesson 1 People help you

The first Christmas there, I took a multi-country a trip to visit a university friend living in Bangkok. I landed in Singapore, took a train to Malacca, Malaysia, and then took a taxi to the interior to visit an Orang Asli tribe. I found a couple who was traveling to accompany me and we were welcomed by the medicine man of the tribe. I lost count of days. Returning from the interior, I was back at the guest house, getting ready for the last day of my time in Malaysia. As I was journaling about the trip, I realized I had missed my bus back to Singapore that day. At 8 PM, the hostess summoned up the same taxi driver who had taken me into the jungle to drive me another two hours into the interior of the country so that I could catch the last train back to Singapore in time for my flight the next morning.

I stood the entire ride back. I don’t know what those people wrote on the papers they told me to hand to the people at the train window, but I think they got me on when there weren’t actually any seats left. I didn’t know the language. I was scarcely familiar with the coinage. I didn’t even know there was a train in the interior and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to get to it or negotiate that last minute ticket and I’m talking like seven minutes of time to spare before the train showed up at the station.

School kids practiced their English on me and old women carrying chickens in cages alternately clucked their heads or smiled. Id missed the bus by a day. But there I was in the middle of a foreign jungle with ABSOLUTELY NO LANGUAGE skills or connections, and an entire car of train riders looked out for me. I made my flight to Bangkok.

Lesson 2 Invest in the people who stick

After the first wave of expatriates I had made friends with left the country, undermining the delicate social web Id constructed, I began to accept invitations from some of my students and co-workers. Maki and KaleyThey warmly embraced me, and let me into their worlds. I got to visit their family homes in the country, attend weddings and community celebrations in my yukata. I planted rice barefoot in a rice paddy, ate chicken voice box and rattlesnake, and rode my first sailboard directly into the side of a boat. I learned first hand, that too much seaweed salad and that much Ouzo do not friendly bedfolks make. I made friends with the older gentlemen who manned the subway stations and practiced my emergent Japanese on them. I chatted with school kids on the subway. I walked around shrines by myself and paid my respects.

I bought a used bicycle and extended my travel time. Met groups of friends on the beach where they would snorkel for octopus and we would make takoyaki (octopus dumplings) on the beach. The marine sports department students took me in and I got to go on sailing trips and diving trips with them and their families. The daughter of the department coordinator took me under her wing and taught me more Japanese. She told me I learned very well. She was five or six then. I think she has her own kids now.

On a trip with them to Okinawa, I dove with black and white striped snakes and found out later they were really freaking poisonous. I learned that during a night dive, you hold the underwater lamp to your side so that baracudas don’t head straight for your heart. I was mesmerized by the iridescent orange, blue, and green fish that in daylight looked kind of grayish, but at night glowed with stunning iridescent tracings.

Lesson 3 Be your own witness and look at hard stuff

In Okinawa, I saw how the American military treated the locals from a Japanese perspective and it made me feel sad because I saw my own ethnocentrism from the outside, and it wasnt pretty.

I felt gut wrenching loneliness and a core of self-belief well up congruently. I journaled my heart out. I swam and took baths. I painted my toe nails and learned how to cook with ingredients that were new. I read. I visited. I drank wine or tea on my deck overlooking the bay and wondered what it would be like to be able to share the freedom and experience of that chapter with someone. I realized I was okay with that.

I watched myself grow up and navigate hard things, and I am the only one who knows how hard they are and the challenges that I  overcame. This idea of self-witnessing is a growing theme for me

Lesson 4 Its okay to be sad and alone

I miss that chapter and still dream about my ramen shop, the narrow and steep alleyways that I maneuvered on my obatarian bicycle on the way to the market, the yakiniku restaurant where the tables are shin high and I shared plates of food with my friends. The pool where they crazy gaijin woman swam 2 K every lunchtime. Being laughed at for eating curry rice with chop sticks because everyone knows that dish requires a spoon.

I miss sitting around the table at the pub after kayaking the river listening to about 30% of an intelligible conversation and just enjoying being safe with people I didn’t really know who took me in and made me feel included even if I couldn’t contribute a single thing to the conversation.

Twenty-five years later, I say I lived in Japan. I lived through the Kobe earthquake. I lived through my first two affairs. It was a world and a lifetime away, and again, I am my only witness. Friends live there still and I am loosely in touch, but in terms of having stories to share remember the time? its just me and my revisionist take.

There is a gentleness (yasashii) that was introduced into my soul as a result of my time in Japan and my interaction with the culture that took me in. Its like a light version of being bi-racial, bi-cultural. Anyone who holds two contradictory identities knows what this means. I had Japanese friends tell me that I didn’t seem like an American. I realized this was a compliment. It made me both warmed and sad. I have had people who have only known me through social media and then they meet me in person. They say they weren’t expecting how I showed up. I know it is my yasashii heart they sense. It isn’t weakness and timidity. It is an honor bound recognition of others belongingness. Its the humility that comes from being an outsider. Its from seeing a completely different way of living in community that doesn’t work here but works there very well.

There has been a sadness to this a formational chapter in life that sounds like a refrain from a Bruce Springsteen song when I talk about it now to people who weren’t there with me. I became an adult there. I learned to take care of myself there. I learned a language, made friends and negotiated a very foreign experience largely alone there. I lived in a very cool apartment overlooking a major metropolitan city with a view of the bay, and I felt awesome there. Its where my a lot of my identity roots live roots buried in foreign soil

Lesson 5 Embrace the Unknown

I didn’t know enough to be scared of what was coming next when I decided to take that bold trip. I had a little bit to go on and a lot of faith that things would work out. They did. Right now as I am realizing the full scope of the personal transformation I have signed up for, I return to this chapter in my life to be reminded that I have done this before: created a life from a kernel of mostly unknown. Even now, as I do a gratitude review of the last couple years, I see new friends. New knowingnesses. A new language spoken. This language is of the Soul, and I try to communicate its largely foreign concepts articulately in English: emotion, desire, and memory.

One of my learnings from my time overseas is that I wish I would have explored more on my own not worried about being alone. I wish I would have learned more about history, traveled to more places to see more things, and engaged with more people. The taiko drummers at Himeji Castle, for example. More of Kyoto in the fall. And spring. The experience of walking across the threshold of a 2000+ year old temple when ones resident country was fewer than 300 years old is not an inconsequential thing.

Instead of Japan, I am now on my solo adventure to Soul Land, and today as I walk in the healing and noticing of that, this former and not-quite-so existential trip into the unknown wants to be remembered.

Conversation Between BIG and small

“spin, spin, spin,” says smallness.



“blah, blah, blah,” complains smallness.



“excuse, excuse, excuse,” moans smallness.



“blame, blame, blame,” points smallness.



“Goddammit, BIG, shut up!” yells small, stamping its foot.

“I am here when you are ready,” laughs BIG to BIG behind smallness.

In which she trips on hands…

I may have strayed too far into the Vortex today as I am tripping on hands.

I’ve moved. Packed and unpacked, scraped, cleaned, wiped down walls and floors, carried stuff. I spend six months writing in an ergonomically unfriendly way, and my hands are achy and tingly. So I was sitting in front of my heater spacing out as I was waking up this morning and I focused on my hands. Hands as object lesson.

Weird looking creatures. Attached to a wrist. Palm is a base from which finger appendages launch. There are five of them per hand, bringing a total of ten, the Hebrew number of accountability, to most people’s equation. Each finger is a symbol of a path to take and each has its own strength. When they work together, clasped together, pulling together in the same direction, there is tremendous power. Fingers don’t become other fingers when they cozy up to get something done. They pull together, get the job done, and still maintain their own space. Like we should with other people. Hands as how to interact with others in health.

In Hebrew the concept of clapping, the music our hands can make without further instrumentation, is associated with praise. Yadah. When we see something beautiful that resonates deeply, we spontaneously applaud. We do this in groups without worrying what other people will think of us, it’s so powerful. Yadah transcends ego.

Hands are a primary translator between the Spirit and the physical. What the human feels, the hands do. If we feel aroused, our hands begin the dance. If we feel warm, our embraces bring the closeness; if we feel angry, our hands can strike out. When we need to protect, our hands are the first line of defense. We want to feel secure, our hands build homes. We want to feel loved, our hands support others. We want to feel safe and surrounded by beauty; our hands create beautiful things that they install in our spaces to express our hearts. We receive deep feelings and messages from what our eyes cannot see, and it is our hands that do the capturing in poems and making music and art.

Our hands begin clumsy and then become organized, tactile. As they accompany us through life, bringing the actions of our feelings and desires to pass, they are beautiful with smooth skin or tough and strong with leathery skin. They get beat up, like we do as we make peace between provision and self-expression — the physical and the Spirit. Eventually they get splotchy and wrinkly just like all of us do when our path has been long and well-lived.

So I look at these hands with a few spots and more wrinkles than I wish I had — the ones that are starting to look like Mom’s — with their night-time tingles and sometime aches and I think of all of the people I love and have loved. All of the anger I have had, all of the hopes that I’ve worked toward manifesting, the boldness to be creative, the frustration with working in places that didn’t serve me, the condolences I’ve given to friends, and received from friends, the words I’ve crafted, the dreams I created as I rubbed lotion over my swollen belly with these very hands. I marvel at these hands — the quiet servants and manifest-ors of the life that is in me — and realize that the signs of their wear are the signs of my life being lived well.

The Warring Room

I stand inside this warring room within my soul.
My head pounds from the bickering. The arguments.
From this platform, the room comes into focus.
They need me to speak. They won’t shut up until I speak
With my wolf hearing, each chorus becomes independent
The voices that say, ‘Don’t walk away, don’t give up, it is real
The voices that say, ‘Enough already, this is not for you’
Shall I draw the curtain between them? Step to one side or the other?
Mom and Dad are on vacation
The elders are on vacation
The guardians are on vacation
I am alone with this noise in this chamber of war
And all I can think about is the bone-crushing nausea that floods my soul each time I say yes and it turns to vapors.
And all I can think about is the feeling of emptiness that engulfs me when I think of saying no.
Where are you, my love? I am here alone.
© Kaley Perkins, 11/07/12

To the planting of culm…

This morning I aspired to greatness, so, smile clad, I hopped out of bed immediately, made a list, executed everything on it, and by 11 AM, I was making $400 / hour having a dramatic impact in people’s lives. By 4 PM I had that all automated, and by staying in the game until about 6 PM, I was able to complete some compelling content that will motivate generations to come.

Should be out in eBook by Thursday.

Said no one, ever.

Not because it can’t be done, but because it can’t be done in a day. Or by Thursday. And isn’t that just the rub? Greatness takes time. Also, I’m thinking maybe greatness is only achieved when the task is truly great.

(There are some things that would feel great but are in reality just really cool. Like me having a walk in closet will feel great but it’s mostly a personal benefit that won’t add substantially to the quality of my life–particularly when a rebuilt vintage Airstream with WiFi and a Sleep Number bed with virtually no closet would be equally cool.)

water the bamboo“When giant bamboo grows, it will rocket up an astonishing 90 feet in only 60 days… Typically, bamboo farmers will tend the plant for at least three years before they see any signs of growth. Do you have that kind of vision, faith, patience, persistence, and focus to achieve what you want?” — Greg Bell (from “Water the Bamboo”)

Greatness lasts beyond us. Greatness involves other people. Greatness is bigger than we are and it is outside of ourselves. Greatness requires massive tending before fruit manifests. There aren’t short cuts. Rain and sun and fertile ground aren’t optional, and you gotta plant a culm for the sucker to grow 90 feet.

To the planting of culm and the passing of one nurturing day after another.



Exploring the Palace One Room at a Time or Maybe Not Needing a Palace at All…

“The adjacent possible is as much about limits as it is about openings. At every moment in the timeline of an expanding biosphere, there are doors that cannot be unlocked yet. In human culture, we like to think of breakthrough ideas as sudden accelerations on the timeline, where a genius jumps ahead fifty years and invents something that normal minds, trapped in the present moment, couldn’t possibly have come up with. But the truth is that technological (and scientific) advances rarely break out of the adjacent possible. The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.” Steven Johnson in Where Good Ideas Come From p. 36.

Learning to live with the tension of the unknown and making friends with it is now equal parts peaceful and catalytic.

I am on the other side of the door, in DWL (Dragon Whisperer Land). I got a little side-tracked from building the house; when I first stepped into this land, I thought the house was important (at first the house was important–I was traumatized and I needed shelter). Building a house seemed like a great place to start, but something has changed in me. It isn’t the house itself I need. It is the refuge of rest which it represents. The quiet place to consider. The wall to lean up against when the load is too big for me.

Now that I am past the trauma, I find that the physical structure is not all that is required for this intentional land; thriving here requires a quiet mind, a seeking of expansive thoughts, and surely at least a rudimentary shelter. As my constitution gets stronger and I have more faith in myself, I have less dependence on the conventions that held me hostage with handcuffs of known quantity and routine in that other place. I don’t need a monster fortress. I need ideas and time and only a modest space. And meaningful people that get this about me.

This new-found fluidity is something that has been such a part of me that I didn’t recognize it as a distinguishable quality. Like: before the awareness of distinct gases and advanced scales able to measure oxidation, the nuances of oxygen remained undiscoverable. Now that I am unencumbered by structure, debt load, daily tasklistery, and expectation, I have pieces in place that allow me to investigate further this creative fluidity that has not known how to manifest plainly. I don’t know if it can be measured, but it’s effect upon the system is suddenly able to be observed. Such exploration is a definitive piece of who the real me has always been.

I don’t know what shape this will take, this design of life of which I am architect, but I am beginning to lay the tools upon my workbench and here is what I have found. I have a high freedom need and accompanying room for the important people in my life to roam–a respect for that and an expectation that that is how we do things over here in Dragon Whisperer Land. A come-along-sidedness as technique on the climb. The ability to metacognate my way through the messy, undefined path–words to translate it. A broad array of skills in search of some expertise to wrap around. And a newer realization that this lack of expertise might just be the real gift here. I say those words like they mean something from far down the path which I am just beginning to traverse. Like some wiser part of me already knows this and is waiting for the rest of me to catch up to make sense out of it. I feel the weight of the truth behind this utterance, though I am certainly too early in this process to recognize or commit to an outcome. I am left then with a realization that I can begin to tinker.

For now that must be enough to comfort me. I have a pile of raw materials and have begun to define the tools I can use to morph them. Becoming ever more comfortable with my lessening need for the trappings might just be one of the first Dragons I am on my way to taming.



Liking this chapter that I’m in: enjoying very much reading about archetypes and the stories of our humanity. Bought Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces last night to accompany ‘the Writer’s Journey’. LOVING it. His language is complicated and rich. It is a thick book with many pages, small print, and large words. The story is fascinating me: how the various roles develop and overlap and intersect. With this chapter being about me restructuring myself, it resonates deeply, and I anticipate that it will be impactful as I move forward. This season, this new year—I have decided—is going to be about studying story-craft so that I can write powerfully and with resonance. Vocabulary, themes, filling gaps left by collegiate dependence on Cliff Notes, symbolic thought. The return to me. Yeah!!

Then, what are the themes in which I am steeping? Identity, service to greater good v personal desire, lonely internal journey v need to connect, fidelity to core beliefs, role of core beliefs, exploration of sexuality and emotional need, emotional landscape, transitions, role of society’s rules on decision making, thresholds of comfort and willingness to explore extreme edges of my own boundaries, living with the tension of all of this. Commitment to the journey. I feel at the place where the hero recognizes the need to go dragon-hunting as the dragon is pissing off the villagers and something needs to be done. For such a time as this…

Commitment to journey: a friend asked me if there was a chance of me reconciling. My cursory response was that if it happened it would be far down the road, that I’m not keen on putting the kids through those roller coaster feelings. It is more complex than that. It would be so much easier. But easy isn’t the criterion that motivates me to make decisions: maybe even the opposite in some twisted martyr sensibility. Not crisis-oriented exactly, but certainly complexity-oriented. Difficult to explain this internal drive to investigate ‘this’ (place I need to go) and translate it…

Am I giving up on men, he asked? For a season—also need to keep space between my future adult life and the kids. But the other side of that is that I have been walking up and down this hallway, visiting its open rooms and dallying with their baubles, distractions, and busy-nesses. Marriage, breeding, businesses, moving, apocalyptic preparation, hardcore dogma—using these distractions to keep me from feeling the uncomfortable place of just raw me. Until now, I have used those things to keep me from the closed door just to the left of the hallway as I first enter. I peaked in that door, and it was desolate and rocky. The sky was yellow and the sun hung low. There was no sign of real life. It scared me and I slammed the door shut. The vision of it haunted me, though, and I couldn’t keep it out of my mind. I began to think that that desolate landscape is the very terrain on which I will build me. Those rocks are the resources that I will use to make shelter. The hard work it will take to make that place welcoming is the work that will transform me into a strong and able Hero. One unafraid of dragons. Maybe even a Dragon Whisperer.

So do I think that I will find signs of life in that place that I am getting ready to enter? I think it is irrelevant right now. I have to go here alone. I have THIS time and THIS place to do THIS thing. I have had a vision of what this might turn into, and it doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen before. It is intentional and creative and very, very challenging. I will probably cry a lot and get blisters. I will need to sleep on the ground until I can figure out how to make something comfortable from rocks. I will probably take a stack of books and reams of paper for when I am alone and my thoughts get away from me. Maybe one morning I will wake up and find that the yellow sky was seasonal and has all sorts of other colorful manifestations.

In my vision, there will be a time when I have a house built. It will have a porch on which I will sit in a chair which I have made and ponder things that people tired from hard work ponder. I will know the lay of the land because I will have done recon. I will have found neighbors and made negotiated peace with them—or boundaries. I will let in visitors from this place I am now. Some will like it but many might not be comfortable there. Maybe I will find someone who likes my porch and this transformed landscape. Maybe we will sit on this porch and tell each other our dragon stories. Maybe that will lead to other things…