Sunday, August 30, 2009

Well, I haven't been very good about updating my blog lately.

The weekends are fun, but sometimes the week drags along. It is now August 31 and I have yet to submit any of my work to a journal. I need a better place to write. I miss the GSU library and the way you could get lost and find a quiet spot all to yourself. Our apartment just isn't conducive to creativity--Zack has a hard time making himself paint here, too. I have yet to find a coffee shop or other comfortable place to write in Miyada. I was going to a temple every day to write for a while, but I really prefer writing via computer; it lets you get more thoughts down faster. I'm going to look for a place that's good for writing near the school I'm sort of working for. Let's all hope that works out for me.

Andy and Michael stopped in for a visit last weekend during their 10-day trip to Japan. It was so nice to share a little of our experience living here with some old friends, with people who have known us for years. I want everyone I know to walk outside and see beautiful mountains in the distance. It was like sharing Christmas with a little kid; it's just more fun when people who are truly excited are around. It was a weekend filled with inside jokes, eating delicious traditional cuisine, and just having fun, like we used to do back in college. We missed them when they left for Tokyo.

We ordered books from Amazon Japan. Zack has already gotten two of the books he ordered, both of which I had already read. I'm getting a little antsy waiting for my books to arrive. The Internet is killing my creativity. I came across this quote the other day, a quote that I remember liking in my Creative Nonfiction class:

"But a writer is not an artist until he is unwilling to be published at all costs." --Philip Gerard

That's really how I feel about writing; it is an art form. The reason I haven't submitted is twofold: I have pieces that I generally like but they don't feel finished and I have pieces that don't really say what I want them to say and I'm not satisfied. As long as I'm working towards something, I'm doing okay. I really do want to get published and get my name out there, but I don't want my name on anything that I don't really love. I can't aim for perfection--perfection is the killer of art--but I can aim for my best. I hope I'm not just making excuses for myself.

And in job news, this weekend I'm going to finally start on the daunting task of getting a Japanese driver's license. Zero to One (the school that I'm sort of working for, also known as "School 1" in earlier posts) won't let me sign a contract until I have a license, and I can't apply for a work visa until I have a contract. I went to work for School 2 last week and the owner said he would call me to discuss things, but he never did. So I have less than a month left on my tourist visa. I've decided that my best course of action is to secure a contract during these next few weeks, then leave the country for a week or so and apply for a work visa before coming back into Japan. If I stay here, it might take two or more months to switch my visa status. It only took a week for Zack to get a work visa in the States.

As lonely as it is sometimes, I'm not ready to give up this amazing opportunity to live in a new place. It has its ups and downs, like every place, but I love being here. And the thought of not living with Zack...well, let's just say we're in this for the long haul. :) Zack and I are trying to figure out where I should go when my visa runs out. My return ticket is back to the States, so I'd like to go there, but a ticket back to Japan might be super expensive. We have a few friends in Korea, but I don't know how easy it would be to get a work visa there...immigration is so complicated. Of course I'll keep everyone posted on what I finally decide to do.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

the skinny

The skinny on Japan is that everyone is skinny. Everything is small here; donuts, dogs, food containers, thigh highs, right down to the people themselves and the tiny percentage of the population that is overweight. In some ways, the pressure to be skinny is even more overpowering here than it is in the States. To be overweight is not only unhealthy and considered unattractive; it's also a way to stick out of a crowd in a country with the old adage "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down."

Apparently I'm "Japanese size" except for my curves.

I was so excited about buying clothes here. I imagined this perfect pair of jeans, a pair that would be just the right length that I wouldn't have to get hemmed or wear certain shoes with. In the States, pants are generally made to fit fashion models, both frighteningly skinny and plus-sized. It's rare to find your size. I thought I had arrived in the land of people my own size--surely designers here are catering to people like me. I tried on the biggest size I could find (I think it said 67 centimeters), and I couldn't get the tiny pant leg over my thigh. I barely got it past my knee before it just stuck there, like a wrapper on a sausage.

We went to an onsen (Japanese bath house) this weekend. The purpose of an onsen is relaxation. You get naked in a changing room, then clean your body in a washing area complete with body wash, shampoo, foot scrubbers, and face wash. Once you're all clean, you go and soak in a big luxurious bath tub filled with almost-too-hot water. With other people. I had the bath house to myself for about 15 minutes before two older women came in. I tried not to stare but I couldn't help but notice their complete lack of cellulite and how little their erm...flesh was sagging. These women had to be in their 40s or 50s but they looked younger. When one women leaned over, I noticed the bony ridges of her spine protruding from her skin like the spikes of a stegosaurus. A part of me was a little embarrassed walking back to my changing area as more women arrived later--mostly because tattoos are much rarer in Japanese society--but seeing all of those skinny, barely curvaceous bodies actually made me feel a little better about my own. Each woman's body was unique in its own way, but they also seemed so...similar. Not that being waifish means being unfeminine--look at Audrey Hepburn--but I happen to like my shape.

As much as America forces us into a certain mold, I am grateful to come from a land of all different shapes and sizes, where you can find pants that fit you if you look hard enough.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

my goal

for this month is to submit to one or all of these publications:

not a lofty goal, but a giant step for me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


inside a cat cafe, where you pay per hour to play with cute kitties and drink coffee!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

back to reality

Zack and I got back from Tokyo on Saturday after three crazy days of adventuring. Our feet were actually swollen from walking so much.

I came back home to the news that my cousin Kelly was killed in a car accident. She was only 19. I wasn't close to her, and in some ways that makes it even worse. Now I'll never get to know her. As anyone remotely close to me knows, my family is far from "normal" in any sense of the word. Kelly was on my dad's side of the family--the part of our family that we have little contact with. I don't think any of us intended to shut out all of those relatives; I think we just wanted to get away. We had to. They live in Liberty County, the place that haunts my and my sisters' nightmares because of our childhoods there. The main reason we left was to get away from our father, who is an abusive alcoholic psychopath. In the process, we alienated ourselves from that entire side of the family. Our grandmother on that side also has issues with Melissa for various reasons (reasons that I consider stupid and not Melissa's fault at all), and Melissa is one of the most important people in my life, one of the most amazing people Ive ever met. So when it came time to "pick sides," naturally I picked Melissa's. And things just haven't been the same since then.

But tragedy has a way of bringing people together. I wasn't able to go to the funeral--obviously--but Erica and Melissa did. Erica said that they welcomed her and Melissa with open arms. That grandma wanted to put the past behind us all and try to be a family again. They also saw our father whom we haven't seen in seven years. Losing one cousin, one of these people that I grew up with, made me realize that I need to stop taking all of them for granted. Some people I don't think I can fully reconnect with--like my father--but I don't want to go the rest of my life being separate from half of my family. Because that's what they are--my family. My bloodline. I've seen what my life can be like without them, and now I want to know what it's like with them as a part of it.

I feel terrible for neglecting my family. But I've been scared of that place and scared of what my life would have been like if we had stayed there. Now I know that I'm going to be okay. I'm going to have the kind of life that I want and nothing is going to stop me--not the past, not poverty, not fear. I think it's time to face the past. I know that I am strong enough to handle it now.

I wish that I could have been there when everyone really needed me. That's the worst part of traveling: being away from the people you love. I just don't know how to win in life. I want to see the world but I don't want to cut myself off from those I care about.

I'll post some pictures from Tokyo later...

Rest in peace, Kelly. I'm so sorry that you didn't get more time on this Earth. I'm even sorrier that I didn't really know you. I remember playing with you out in the blackberry patch and in the den at Grandma's house. You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

new experiences

I woke up this morning to a tremor, a little shudder of an earthquake. I was reminded that we live on a moving planet, not a big solid rock. I felt a hotel sway like a ship. It was surreal to say the least. It certainly gave me another thing to add to my list of somewhat irrational fears. But on the bright side, at least I have some new creative material to work with.

I finally saw the latest Harry Potter movie last night! It was quite an ordeal to find a theater that had it in English with Japanese subtitles but we succeeded.

We'll be in Tokyo Wednesday-Friday (probably coming back on Saturday). That little tremor made me realize that I should keep people posted on where I'll be. We're staying at a hostel called Asakusa Smile. I can't wait!

More creative things coming soon! I'm submitting to the "New Writers" competition in Glimmer Train and I'll post what I submit. Please get on my ass to submit. Let me know how disappointed you will be in me if I don't submit. The deadline is the end of August. Thanks in advance!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Music plays in cities across Japan at 7:00 a.m., 6:00 p.m., and other seemingly random times. We think it's to improve morale.
The Japanese have the longest life span in the world but I'm beginning to wonder if those extra years are worth it.
The young people that I've met here--we're talking 13, 14 years old--stay up until 2:00 a.m. studying every single night. Then they wake up at 5 or 6, go to school, stay late doing extra curricular activities, come home, study, barely sleep, and do it all over again.
One of the questions that I ask to get people to practice their English is "How do you celebrate your birthday?" The answer I get every time is "I don't." I'm not a fan of American over-consumption and trash bags full of ripped up wrapping paper by any means, but really? Not even a cake or a present or a bottle of wine? Surely there is a happy medium.
There are celebrations here all the time. I've seen fireworks exploding in the sky above the towns around us every weekend since I got here. But I realized that these are group celebrations; they don't celebrate the individual here. If you compliment someone, they deny it. Everyone is constantly putting a facade because that's how they think a person should act. When someone dies, they cremate the body and only bury the bones. The ashes, the outer layers of a person, don't matter, so they throw them away.

We went to Ina to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yesterday. We were handing over the money for the tickets when we realized that the movie was completely dubbed in Japanese. A friend told us that English movies were usually left in English with Japanese subtitles. Thankfully we hadn't bought the tickets before this realization. The tickets prices are ridiculous and we would have been PISSED. A fat Japanese man took our picture in front of the theater.
A little disheartened, we wandered around looking for a bar we saw once that we knew would have import beer. We realized that the fat man was following us and snapping pictures. It was really creepy. He left when Zack made it clear that we what he was up to. We found the elusive pub and talked to a really nice Japanese guy who had lived in America for four years.

Every day is an adventure here. We discovered a little karaoke bar in Miyada the other night. It was so fun-women dressed in kimonos served us beer and the only other person there for a long time was a very inebriated old man with a good singing voice who kept dancing with maracas. It was the one night I actually forgot to bring a camera along. We had a great time, they had a great English song selection, everything was going good--and then we got the bill. We paid a huge fee for just sitting in the bar and singing karaoke. The fee was more than double the cost of our drinks. Japanese bars are tricky. Some charge a sitting fee and karaoke bars sometimes charge you by the hour. Maybe that's why we don't see people out enjoying the nightlife very often...

I am rewarding myself for all my hard work lately by going to Apita and finally buying some clothes!!! I am so excited! I have to ensure that I don't look like a frumpy tourist in Tokyo since we will be surrounded by the fashion elite.

Michael and Andy are coming at the end of next week to visit. I'm excited but I wish they had given us a little more notice. It will nice to have some familiar faces around.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

one month in

I've been working a lot since my last post. I've been commuting to Matsumoto on Tuesdays and Fridays (well, just two Tuesdays and last Friday) to help out at with the preschool class and see if I like it/if they want to hire me. I have pretty much made up my mind though--I think I'm going with School 1 for a job. I'm already starting the work visa application process. I've gotten more and more used to how the company runs and how the classes work. When I thought of not taking the job, I realized that I'd miss some of the students I've been teaching, etc. And I don't know about you, but waking up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a train and then work with 2 year olds for hours and then riding a train for hours to get back home is not my idea of an easy job.

I'm going to just try and do my best with School 1 (maybe I'll post their name when the job is finalized). In March, there will be a whole new hiring period for Assistant Language Teachers and by that time, I'll have some experience. So I should be able to get a better job if I can't stand working at night any more.

I came home at about 9:30 from working (and exhausted--I had been running around since 5:00 a.m.) on Friday night to find a barbecue in the parking lot of our little apartment complex. This was the first time I had seen any of our neighbors since I got here over a month ago. The Japanese work ethic makes American "workaholics" look like total slackers. They go into work a couple hours early and don't leave until 9 or 10 at night usually. Thus why I never see our mysterious neighbors. There were also a few other people from neighboring cities hanging out. I didn't realize how much I missed hanging out with people my own age until I was surrounded by "adults" in their early 20s. We've been hanging with people in their 30s and 40s. They are all good people, but sometimes you want to relate to someone your own age. I had a blast talking about how Japan and the U.S. are different. We let them taste a Reese's cup and tried to explain what peanut butter is. They didn't really get it.

On Saturday, Zack and I joined School 2 at the Matsumoto Bon Bon Festival, an event started 30 years to boost sales in Matsumoto once a year. Even if it isn't an ancient tradition, Bon Bon is AWESOME. Groups from different companies, schools, and even just groups of friends dance their way through the streets of the city as the official Bon Bon song plays over and over. It was pretty exhausting but so much fun! We sported England gear because the owner of School 2 is from England. Sorry, America. Didn't mean to disrespect. After the dancing, and drinking a beer every 20 minutes during the dancing breaks, we met up with Jerid and Yuki, our Matsumoto pals, and went bar hopping. We ended up at the same underground club that we went to the last time we were in the city, except instead of techno/house music, there were live Japanese rappers performing. It was fun for a while but it was soon apparent that Zack and I had had too much to drink and so we headed to bed.

Next week is my vacation from both schools that I've been training/semi-working at. We booked a hostel for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in Tokyo. I can't wait! We're planning out which parts of the city we absolutely have to visit. We want to see robots, weird vending machines, and insane fashion.

I've accidentally eaten meat more times than I want to admit in the last couple weeks but I've learned to just move on and not beat myself up about it. The Japanese don't consider some things "meat" like we do in the States.

So that's my life update lately. I don't really miss the States so much as I miss people and familiarity. I'm making new friends all the time but I don't want to lose touch with my pals back home. If we do stay for another year, I promise I will be home to visit at some point! I could never be away for that long.