Monday, December 27, 2010

happy anniversary!

Well it's official.  I've been with Zack for five years today.

It hasn't always been easy.  It hasn't been perfect.  If it were easy and perfect, it wouldn't be real.  It would be a fairy tale.  And life is so much more interesting than any fairy tale I've read.

Here are some photos in honor of our love.  

I believe this was 2006.

2007 (Dragon*Con)


New Year's 2009

2009 (snow adventures in Nagano)


2010 (Bali)

We were supposed to leave for Hiroshima today, but we didn't.  We sat around and relaxed.  We watched Battlestar Galactica and ate grocery store sushi.  And I finally submitted another short story!

I can't wait to see where life takes us.  I reckon that 2011 will be the year that we get married.  The year that we become Zackily or Emachary or Zackem or some other strange hybrid creature.

I hope your Christmas was filled with lots of love and deliciousness.  And that you weren't as devastatingly hungover on the day after Christmas as I was.

Here's to a new year and new adventures.  And new blog posts.  I swear.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


I wish I was cooler.  It seems like everyone is either born with a coolness gene or without one.  I think I was just born with the awkwardness gene.  I hate you, genetics.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

you can`t take the sky from me

The world is truly unjust. 

I try not to watch TV too often--I`d rather read or at least watch a documentary or look up conspiracy theories online--so I usually find out about good shows long after they were popular.  And when I say "good shows," I mean good shows.  Not CSI or American Idol.  Shows that make you care about the characters. Shows that give you that feeling you get at the end of a really good book.  You`re glad you experienced it, but you`re sad that it`s over.

I discovered one of those shows a week or so ago.  And it`s already over.

Firefly aired on Fox in 2002 to mixed reviews and not-so-great ratings.  Only 11 episodes made it on air before the show was cancelled.  Fans got so upset that they rallied together to get another season.  Eventually, all 14 episodes of the show were released on DVD but the show wasn`t picked up by any networks.  The fans` efforts led to a movie being made, called Serenity

Serenity, created to try and conclude the short-lived series, bombed at the theaters.  The fate of Firefly was pretty much sealed when the movie didn`t do well.

I don`t even like science fiction, but I loved this show.  I think if it had a better time slot when it was first aired, it could have gone on to be the next Star Trek, except better because there are no aliens or pointy ears or any of that weird shit that makes most people hate sci fi.

I had to write this post because my heart is a little broken.  Zack and I have been engulfed in this show for the last week and a half or so.  I really wanted to know more about the characters and the world they existed in.  But there is no more. 

It would be like if J.R.R Tolkien wasn`t able to finish writing The Lord of the Rings or something.  Heartbreaking.  It`s probably unhealthy to feel this way about a TV show, but I know that it will eventually pass.  Or I`ll go insane and try to make the inside of my house look like a spaceship and pretend I`m going on smuggling missions.

It seems that all the shows I truly love face an untimely death--except for Friends, of course, and that maybe should have died a little sooner than it did.  My So-Called LifeFreaks and GeeksUndeclaredArrested Development.  They get cancelled for being different, snuffed out because they don`t give people the cheap, dumbed-down thrills that Law and Order and Jersey Shore give.

What a cruel world we live in.

I hate you, FOX.

Friday, December 10, 2010

we in the new york times, y`all

I just found an article that talks about what I just blogged about: We in the New York Times, y`all! 
Snow in Georgia just doesn`t seem right...y`all keep safe now.  Don`t go driving in the snow if you don`t know what the hell you`re doing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

winter wonderings

It is winter.  I know because I`ve woken up to a light dusting of snow on the ground the last two days. 

I also know because the path I have to take to work everyday is treacherous now. There is a place that goes downhill that will be perpetually covered in ice.  I slid down it on my ass the first snowy morning. Today I recognized that it was in fact ice and not just a puddle, so I dragged myself along the railing on the side of the road.    

It`s the time of year when it becomes obvious that I have never lived in a cold climate before now.  Not only do I slip comically (and dangeorusly) on ice patches, but I also don`t know how to dress properly.  My outfits are a hodge podge of whatever warm things my sisters decided to give me before I left the U.S.  Schoolgirls walk around with nothing more than a tiny plaid skirt and knee socks, and I`ve already busted out my white waterproof coat and gloves.  I also have several scarves that don`t match anything.  Sometimes I wear black and brown and stripes and plaid all at the same time.  It seems that a legitimately cold winter is all it takes for me to start putting function over fashion.  I`m worried that my fashion sense will be completely screwed up by the time I make it back to sunny Georgia.  (Although rumor has it that it`s actually snowing there too.  Wtf, climate change?)

I think I`m going to take up jumproping (or is it jumping rope?).  Since the ground is suddenly laced with  booby traps, I can`t go running at night.  I twisted my ankle the last time I tried to do that anyways.  And since the sun sets at about 4:30 in the afternoon, it`s dark by the time I get home.  But, according to the Internet, jumping rope for 15 minutes is the same as running for 30 minutes.  I`m going in search of a jumprope this weekend.  I`m not really good at jumping rope, because it requires coordination, but I hope to get good at it.  I refuse to lose my regular-exercise body.  I`m no Greek statue but I look a lot better than I did this time last year.

It`s weird to be done with the GRE.  I find myself feeling guilty for not drilling vocabulary in my free time.  I have to remind myself that it`s over, and that I never have to think about the Pythagorean theorem again.  It really wasn`t so bad.  I followed the advice of my friend Kiki and did a few practice tests and I think that helped.  My math score was pretty awful, but it was standard for a person in my field.  My verbal score was above average, which shocked the hell out of me.  I`m still waiting to hear about the crappy writing part (analyze an argument and present your perspective on an issue).  I`m definitely a better writer than I was when I took the Graduation Test in high school and the Regents` Test in college, but I think it takes me longer to develop an idea than it used to.  I could whip out an all-right essay in no time when I took the Regents` Test, but now, I really like to think things through and do it right.  So I`m not sure what my score on those sections will be.

I had a fantastic time in Tokyo during the dreaded GRE weekend.  I got there early on Saturday and wandered around Shinjuku and visited the Meiji shrine.  There was even a Japanese wedding going on in the shrine!  I slept in a nice hostel out in a weird area where there were no restaurants.  It was in a huge youth complex that was very easy to get lost in.  I had to eat dinner from a convenience store. The next morning, I had to sprint to catch the subway to get to the test on time.  But I made it.  And before I knew it, I was on a bus home, with snow-capped Mt. Fuji in the distance.  I felt more at peace than I had in a long time.

We`re planning a trip for our Christmas break.  Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji Castle, and maybe Osaka.  Nagoya for New Year`s.  And we get to do it all with our buddy Andy, who lives about 4 hours away. He was our good friend in college and it`s a shame we don`t get to see him more often. 

This will be the first Christmas that Zack and I have gotten to spend with each other.  I`m sad that I don`t get to see my family, but it`ll be nice to be with him for once.  I`m also hoping that it will be a white Christmas.  I`ve only had one white Christmas in my whole life so far.

I`ve been writing and plan on submitting a short story to some journals in the next couple of days (after I get a little more feedback from my online writers` workshop). 

It`s been strange and difficult at times, but I must say that this has been the best year of my life so far.  And it`s looking like next year can only get better.

Monday, December 6, 2010

the beast has been slain

It's finished. The two-headed GRE beast has been slain. It was a formidable foe, but I was prepared for its tricks. The snarling Verbal head went down without bloodshed. The Quantitative head was also defeated, but just barely.

To combat this beast, I had to journey to Tokyo and lodge there. The city was full of monsters and ancient wonders.

a monster in Shinjuku

a karaoke demon

Meiji Shrine

the wonders of nature in the middle of the metropolis

The journey was long and hard. I journeyed alone with nary a plan to guide me.  I traveled many miles, through mountains and strange lands, to get there. I had to forage for food and navigate underground tunnels. I had to figure out how to read maps. I followed the mysterious runes and colors to find that which I sought.

On the morning of my battle, I had to escape the labyrinthine National Olympics Memorial Youth Center complex which housed my lodgings. But I found the legendary resting place of the beast in time, and battle commenced.

I also discovered a magical clothing shop by the name of "GAP." In this store, they call pants for halflings "leggings," but I saw through their trickery, and equipped myself with the supposed "leggings," which I knew to be proper-fitting pants.

Truly I will miss the magical land of Tokyo when my travels take me to another far away land. 

I will not miss training for this battle.

But alas, my training is never really done.  For when one monster is defeated, another, more terrible one will come up in its place.  My next foe will be more cunning and elusive than any I have encountered thus far.  The beast is called the MFA Gremlin.

Tonight, I will rest in the knowledge that for now, one more monster has been slain.  The other is still far away.  His flames cannot touch me yet.  When he comes, I will be ready.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

another GRE rant

I hate math.  I hate it because it doesn't get easier as you learn more about it.  It gets harder.  Some things, like art and writing, get harder as you learn more about them, but it is more rewarding to create something than it is to solve a problem that has no real meaning.

Math gets so strange and abstract as you learn it that eventually, you aren't even dealing with real numbers any more.  You're dealing with imaginary numbers.  What the hell does an imaginary number have to do with my life?  Luckily, none of that is going to be on the GRE.  The GRE Math Section will involve arithmetic, algebra and geometry.  I've been plodding through the math review of my study book, starting with basic arithmetic.

I know that my score on the math section won't matter at all when I apply to MFA programs, but I really don't want to bomb it.  I actually enjoyed reviewing math at first.  Basic arithmetic, like percentages and ratios, is pretty useful to know.  It felt good to be learning math again.  I don't mind word problems or equations that make me use the logical part of my brain.

But then I got to geometry.  I hate geometry. It isn't so bad when dealing with rectangles and even pentagons, but I loathe triangles and circles and various quadrilaterals now. I remember that in my high school geometry classes, the teachers realized how ridiculous the formulas for area became, so they mercifully let us have a cheat sheet for the tests.  Not so with the GRE.

The makers of the GRE expect us to have all these crazy formulas memorized, like it's natural for people to just know how to find the area of an isosceles triangle and the sector of a circle.

I was only required to take one math class for my degree: college algebra.  Even that was a struggle for me. I don't even want to tell you what I had to do to pass that final exam.  But I did it, and I brought my grade up from a D to a B.  If there is one thing math classes have taught me through the years, it's that miracles are possible.

I'm not expecting miracles for the GRE Math Section, however.  In addition to not being allowed to have a cheat sheet, I will not even be given the luxury of a basic calculator.  Do you know how easy it is to make tiny mistakes when doing long division and multiplication?  I'm sure you do.  That's why you use a calculator.  My study book assures me that the GRE does not require me to do tedious arithmetic, but the only way to avoid that arithmetic is to memorize really crazy shortcuts that don't make sense to my poor, illogical brain.

I'm spending this overcast Sunday trying to work through the rest of the math section in my study book. Then I'll finish the practice questions on my PowerPrep software and see how much I still don't know.

I took a full practice test the other day, and my score has gotten significantly better than it was when I first took the diagnostic test over a month ago.  I have 7 days until I take the actual GRE.  I guess I should abandon this math stuff and just cram as much vocabulary as I possibly can, but that would be too logical.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I wrote a travel essay for YoMoYaMa Magazine, a free publication put out by the JET Program. You can read it here.  You have to flip through the virtual pages.  It`s on pages 8-10.

I wish I had revised it more.  Reading it now makes me cringe.  It has some good things, but I can tell that I should have spent more time on it.  At least it was a learning experience.  I`m disappointed with how the formatting came out.  It also lists my name as "Emily hayes," which makes no sense.  I probably won`t be submitting to YoMoYaMa again.  It`s not a bad publication, and the people who put it out are really busy and hardworking, but I really need to be compiling things for a portfolio and resume right now. I don`t have time for stuff like that. 

In other news, I`m almost done with a short story!  I got some good feedback from my online writers` workshop and am feeling motivated.  It`s a good day.

Monday, November 22, 2010


A couple of weeks ago, Zack and I were able to see a kabuki play in Ina, a city about an hour away from where we live.  We met up with some people that we met last year in that area and went to the tiny theater.  It wasn't considered "real" kabuki, according to the English-speaking Japanese people that we sat with, because it didn't have the insanely expensive costumes and elaborate sets that the top-end shows in Tokyo have.

I really didn't know what was going on, but I enjoyed myself.  Most Japanese people can't understand kabuki either.  It's sort of like their equivalent of a Shakespearean play: the language is so archaic that it's easy to get confused without some sort of plot synopsis in front of you (unless you're already familiar with the play).  The shows in Tokyo have headphones that tell you about the scenes in modern Japanese.

Kabuki traditionally features an all-male cast, but this troupe had a little girl on stage, too.
Apparently, the little girl and her mother were left outside in the snow near a little house.

There were gods and old people living in the house.

These gods appear to be upset about something...I have no idea what.

The whole cast.

I find traditional theater fascinating. We saw a Legong dance in Bali, and even though I didn't really understand it either, I could still appreciate it. It's one aspect of the artistic part of a culture. One thing that Japan does right is keep its ancient traditions alive, even in the face of modernization and westernization.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The baby upstairs has been especially upset this week.  Maybe he is crying for the people of Haiti.  Maybe he is angry and confused about the fact that Sarah Palin has a reality TV show. 

But I think he is probably plotting against me.  Just like the neighbor beside us, who turns on his car at least 30 minutes before he has to leave each morning.  The car is parked right outside of the glass door of our bedroom.  And the baby`s parents are in on it, too. They feel it is their duty to move furniture around at 11 each night. 

I slept better last night than I have lately, but it still isn`t that peaceful, restful sleep that I hear so much about.  Chamomile tea can only do so much to soothe me when my ultimate enemy is my brain.  I just can`t seem to turn it off.  It`s like a TV constantly playing that can never be unplugged. 

Maybe I should look into meditation.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

things that are good

I want to do a picture post soon. Autumn has been beautiful so far. The tallest mountains are already covered in snow. Zack and I are going hiking this weekend while there are still red and yellow leaves on the trees.

I have great news! One of my former classmates, Alicia, decided to start an online writers` workshop for us graduates who need a little help. I think it will really, really help my writing. Getting feedback and having some sort of deadline is exactly what I need to keep submitting. I like having someone else look over my work before I send it off to an editor. Otherwise, I lose confidence and convince myself that it sucks. I hope that that won`t be any issue any more.

I also started another blog the other day. It`s an extension of my sporadic posts about activism. I want to take this blog seriously. My goal is to try and post in it once a week.

And we were able to go running last night. I  don`t want to give it up just because the marathon is over.  I`m not completely sure when our wedding will be, but I want to be in shape for it.  And for myself. I feel so much better when I exercise.  The sun goes down at about 4:30 in the afternoon, so it`s already dark by the time that I get home.  Zack and I plan on wearing some of those stylish face masks people wear when they`re sick so that our lungs don`t freeze while we run.  We tried to run sans mask the other day, and my throat felt awful.

I`m so excited about it snowing!  One of the teachers said that it might snow by the end of the month.  It will be freezing cold and make the walk to/from work more challenging, but I don`t care.  I find snow infinitely beautiful. 

And...we`re eating sushi and drinking wine tonight.  It`s a good day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

lost in katakana

This was a weird box that I saw in Tokyo once. Not exactly katakana, but strange English nonetheless.

Part of my job as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) is to be a cultural ambassador. I help them learn more about the land of McDonald`s and Disney. I also help the Japanese English teacher with lessons and activities.

But I have to say that my most important job as an ALT is destroying katakana English whenever possible. I loathe katakana. Learning English is hard for any non-native speaker, but especially so for Japanese people. When they bring English words into their lexicon, they spell the words out phonetically with katakana characters.

Let me back up. Japanese doesn`t use letters to write out words like in English. They use Chinese characters (kanji) to represent sounds or whole words. So "tree" is 木 (pronounced like "key") in Japanese. One symbol, one word (although words are sometimes written with multiple kanji). They also use hiragana to write out sounds that can be stringed together to form words for which there is no kanji; "ki" is きin hiragana.

When foreign words are introduced into Japanese is when things get bad. Really, really bad. Japanese uses 100 syllables to comprise all of their words. English uses hundreds. To borrow a word from another language, the Japanese convert the sounds of the loan word into their closest approximate Japanese sounds.

So some words, like "merry," sound pretty much the same when transitioned into Japanese. Other words, like "stew," become some horrible bastardization of their original selves. "Stew" becomes "shi-chu" (シチュ).

It`s this strange conversion that spurred that whole "Engrish" stereotype. Most Asian languages don`t have an "L" or "R" sound; they have a sound that is somewhere in between the two, so that "river" and "liver" sound identical to them. My name in Japanese is "Em-i-ri" (エミリ). My students constantly write "pray" when they mean "play."

I find myself staring at menus, trying to figure out what the katakana means. I know that the word is English, that I have heard it somewhere, but my brain has to figure out which parts of the word are missing, and which parts have been retained by its katakanization. And then, after 5 minutes, I`ll figure out that the word they meant was "olive oil" (o-ri-bu-o-i-ru).

Since Japanese people are used to having katakana at their disposal to Japanize foreign words, it is difficult for them to hear some of the differences between English words. For example, my students can`t hear the difference between travel and trouble, crab and club, and lady and ready. Today, we were reviewing days of the week with one class, and they couldn`t even hear the difference between Tuesday and Thursday.

Vowel sounds are especially hard for my students. The sounds in "ball" and "bull" are the same to them. I find myself just putting my head in my hands during class sometimes because no matter how many times I say a word, the students just can`t hear all the little sounds in it. "Earth" is "Ah-su" (アース). "Power" has no r at the end; it is "pa-wa" (パーワ)to them.

I think that katakana is a major hindrance to Japanese people wanting to learn other languages. It gives people the impression that pronouncing all words in a Japanese way is okay. But in reality, a native speaker of English--who wasn`t used to Japanese English--would have a really hard time understanding someone speaking katakana English. And, as a foreigner in a foreign land, I find myself getting a little sad at the way the subtleties, the Englishness, of my language just seem to disappear. The way that one thing that is familiar to me becomes unfamiliar. Lost in katakana.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grossest Ripoff Ever

I don't even want to tell you how long I spent making flash cards to study for the GRE. It seems that the bulk of my studying will be vocabulary. Since there is no way for me to learn all 3,500 words from the super vocabulary list in my study book in a month, I decided to just make flash cards for the 333 "GRE High-Frequency Words" list.

I know that the GRE is a scam because of the sample questions in my study book. Here is an example of one of these questions. You're supposed to choose the correct antonym to the word in capital letters.

(A) overturn
(B) be upright
(C) lie flat
(D) fall forward
(E) veer from side to side

Obviously, the answer is B. Because "list" has a secondary meaning. According to the book, "When it lists to starboard, a ship simply leans to one side or tilts."

Oh good. I guess that "Maritime Terminology" class I took will finally come in handy. How am I supposed to know this stuff? The GRE also has questions with words from all kinds of random sciences and special fields of study. What kind of undergraduate degree do these test makers think I got? A B.A. in Everything? A B.A. in Random Terminology? The list question might not seem that ridiculous to you, but there was also a sample question that made use of the secondary meaning of the word nice, which is just stupid.

I appreciate that the writers of the book are at least being honest with me. They don`t pretend that the test isn`t ridiculously hard.

If I hadn`t bothered to buy this book off the Internet, I would not do well on the GRE at all. I don`t think the majority of people who have an undergraduate degree would do well on it without the help of at least one study book. That is why this test is a scam. If it were really testing me on knowledge that I gained from college, then why would I have to cram for an entire month just to pass the verbal part? Why isn`t my college diploma enough for a graduate school to accept me?

I don`t think that I should be punished for not knowing the opposite of perfidy or what the hell philately is. I can write papers and do basic math. There will never be a situation in my life in which I can`t use a dictionary to help me figure out the meaning of a difficult word. They even allow dictionaries in prison. And I will probably never use the word loquacious in a sentence.

At least the SAT only cost $30. The GRE is almost $200, and if you screw up at all when you sign in for the test, they can turn you away and not refund your registration fee.

So I have decided not to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I am sad about it, but I know that it will only cause me more stress if I tried to do that and prepare for this test from hell. I know that my GRE score won`t matter nearly as much as my writing sample for getting into an MFA program, but I`m not paying $200 to do awful. I won`t give the testmakers that satisfaction.

Monday, October 25, 2010

the next goal

I think my goal for the month of November is to spend less than 30 minutes a day on the Internet. I could still write blog posts while offline and upload them later.

I sometimes wonder how much more productive my life would be if the Internet had never been invented. I know that some things, like researching, would take a lot longer than they do with the help of the worldwide web, but overall, I think the Internet uses up more of my time than it should.

I spend countless hours a month on the Internet--looking up weird articles, watching conspiracy theory documentaries, stalking people on social networking sites, and reading trivia on IMDB. And that`s not including time spent playing Textwist.

The Internet is the ultimate useful tool and timewaster. It allows us to access information at ridiculously fast speeds, but it also allows us unlimited access to that information--which means that we can go into a proverbial rabbit hole and not realize it until we`ve been staring at a screen for four hours straight.

I`m ashamed of the amount of time that I spend logged into Facebook. I think my homesickness makes me do it. There`s also that weird voyeuristic part of me that likes to watch other people`s lives unfold. I guess social networking sites are the closest that I`ve come to watching reality TV shows.

I can`t limit my time on a computer because I need it to write and edit. But I can spend more time in the real world, where the air is getting colder and the mountains are covered in misty clouds and where people don`t give a shit what my profile picture or status is.

Oh yeah, and I guess it will be good for me to study for that ridiculously evil test called the GRE that I have to take on December 5. That`s a good reason to exist in the real world instead of the virtual one--or is it a good reason to escape?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

suwako marathon

I just ran a half-marathon. Well, "ran" is a strong word. I guess I should say that I jogged and lightly ran a half-marathon. In 2 hours and 30 minutes. The time limit to finish before they shot off the closing fireworks was 2 hours and 40 minutes. I am so shocked. The most I had ever run before was 35 or 40 minutes all at once. I figured that I would be crawling by the end. BUT I DIDN'T WALK OR GIVE UP OR ANYTHING (well, I walked for maybe 5 minutes of it all, here and there, when I drank water).

Something about being surrounded by other people, all sweating and pumping their arms and throwing paper cups of water and Pokari Sweat all over themselves just made me want to keep on. It was sort of like being on stage for a performance. Even after all those dress rehearsals, nothing can prepare you for the buzz that you get from the audience on opening night. You feed off of each other's energy. I finally understood what made people want to sign up for a half-marathon rather than just running by themselves.

My feet are covered in blisters and my skin was caked in salt from sweating so much. But I did it. It was fun in the way that surviving a fight with a vicious monster would be fun. Satisfying. Exhausting. Perhaps you are injured. You wonder how you could be crazy enough to want to try it again, but you think that you probably will one day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

something to chew on

It seems that the worst thing a Japanese student can do isn`t sleeping in class or ignoring the teacher. It`s not disrupting a chorus concert by laughing and talking loudly. It`s not even rubbing each other`s crotches or pinning each other to the floor and slapping each other across the face.

No, it seems that the worst thing a student at my school could possibly do is chew gum or eat candy. For some reason, this rule is held higher than all others--more punishable than violence or sexual harrassment. Everyone is in the gym for the second assembly of the day about this. These assemblies come at really weird times and throw off the entire day`s schedule. We had one this morning, which cut into class time, and just to be sure that the students get it, they are having another one.

Japanese people are extremely polite and nonconfrontational. I was shocked when, one morning, a teacher was screaming at two boys in the break room. It is terrifying to see an angry Japanese person since they are generally so mild mannered. When I realized that two hours had passed and he was still yelling at the boys, I asked an English teacher what they had done.

"Oh, they were chewing gum in front of some teachers from another school during the festival."

Previously this year, a boy kicked a girl so hard between the legs that she bled. I barely heard anything about his punishment; at most I think they called his parents. But these other boys, these terrible gum chewers, have surely disgraced all of Eimei Junior High. They have probably shamed their entire families and the city of Chino. Possibly even everyone in Japan is ashamed of their behavior.

Discipline is totally different here. Students are given 10 or 15 minutes between every class in which they can do anything they want, including molesting each other and wrestling. I don`t really know how their grading system works, but most assignments that are returned don`t appear to have "grades" as we know them. I think the students are only graded on how well they perform on exams. Exams for all classes are usually held on the same day. To get into a good high school, they must do well on an entrance exam.

I guess the Japanese believe that discipline should come from within, and that is why I see students routinely get away with behavior that would have them suspended in America. Maybe the lack of grades is the reason that so many kids don`t even pay attention in English class.

Another disturbing trend I`ve noticed is that parents in Japan typically don`t make their children wear seatbelts. The kids just run amok in the backseat, wrestling each other and crawling around the car. Sometimes, the kids even sit on their parents` laps, which is totally against the law in the U.S. ( at least where seatbelt laws are enforced). I guess the parents figure that if the kids don`t like wearing them, they shouldn`t have to, even if it`s for their own good.

Zack sent me an interesting link that might help explain how the Japanese view discipline:

It would be ethnocentric of me to say that the punishment at my school is crazy. Some of the punishment in America doesn`t make sense, either. I doubt that Japanese prisons are overflowing like American prisons are. People here may have a strange way of disciplining children, but the crime rate is low and I can walk to my house safely at night. People feel a sense of duty and honor here that you rarely see in a place like the U.S. Something to think about.


Woo! I got a new follower. I feel special.

I also feel special because tomorrow is my birthday and I`m going to wear my princess skirt and look at pretty leaves in Ina and eat cake and drink fancy coffee and do my hair nice. I was going to get a new tattoo in honor of turning 25, but I realized that I might as well wait until I`m in the land of the decently priced tattoo again (it`s like $300 and up for a small tattoo in Japan). Zack has agreed to go shopping with me in Matsumoto one day so that I can get new pants and face stuff from the Body Shop.

I`ve barely blogged this month, and I wonder if next month will be any better. I take the GRE on December 5th so I`ll be cramming for pretty much the duration of November. November is also National Novel Writing Month, so I`ll have to decide if I want to participate this year or not.

A few students have written me "Happy Birthday" notes and I can`t tell you how happy that makes me. It`s the little things.

I promise to do an internet activism post soon! There are lots of good causes out there that need our help! Have a good day!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

obla-di, obla-da

I promise that I haven`t abandoned my blog. I`ve actually been really busy at work lately. There are weeks when I barely teach 10 or 15 classes, and then there are weeks when I teach 5 classes a day.

I`ve also been forcing myself to read my thick and intimidating GRE study book. According to the diagnostic test at the beginning of the book, I am mildly retarded. I really don`t have an impressive vocabulary and I don`t remember anything about math. So I`m determined to keep studying.

My writing has been going all right. I submitted a flash fiction story to some journals but I doubt that it will get published. I`m okay with that. I have something else that I`m working on. Obla-di, obla-da.

In addition to writing, studying for the GRE, and semi-training for the half-marathon which is now less than a week away, I have also had to plan activities for my classes. I started out the school year all perky and determined to be a super ALT, so now all the teachers expect me to have activities for almost every new Lesson that we start in the book.

So I`ve been busy. I managed to finally beat Level 20 of Dr. Mario this weekend however, so I`ve at least accomplished something. I`ve been too busy to even care that I will be 25 this Saturday. I don`t even care that I can`t drink on my birthday because it is the day before the half-marathon. (Well, I care a little. There is a punk show on my birthday that I probably can`t attend because the temptation to drink beer and get rowdy would be too great).

Chamomile tea has been helping me sleep at night. I`m still not a dead-person sleeper like Zack, but I`m doing much better. And that`s enough for now. On Saturday, I will eat so much cake that my cheeks puff out, and then I will run it all off in the marathon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I started writing 2 blog posts this week but I am incredibly sleep deprived. I haven`t had a full night`s sleep in at least a week. It takes hours for me to fall asleep, even when I`m exhausted, and I wake up at least 3 or 4 times every night. I wake up at like 4 a.m. and just lay in the dark with my eyes closed, not asleep, but too tired to get out of bed.

I`m going to look for some sort of herbal remedy tonight. I am so tired that I can`t see straight. Ugh. Caffeine doesn`t even work any more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I signed up for a half-marathon a few months ago (okay, maybe it was May). Being a true American, meters and kilometers didn`t sound very intimidating to me. I don`t even really know how far a kilometer is. I somehow decided that a half-marathon is 13 kilometers, which is only 8 miles.

It turns out that a half-marathon is about 13 miles, not kilometers. A very subtle but important difference. That`s about 21 kilometers. That I have to run. In less than 3 weeks.

I signed up in May. I started training in August when we got back from Bali. I can now run over 30 minutes at a time. I have no idea how far that is. All I know is that it will take more than 2 hours to run 13 miles. A lot more than 2 hours.

I`ve always wanted to be the kind of person who exercises. After years of P.E.-induced trauma, I viewed physical activity as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Who really enjoys getting sweaty and sore? According to the people in my P.E. classes growing up, I am mildly retarded and have no coordination. Why would I run when I am clearly the most awkward person on the planet? I walked laps around the gym while the other kids were running or playing basketball. In college, I couldn`t make myself use the exercise machines at the gym because I didn`t want people to watch me.

Signing up for the Suwako Marathon was one attempt at conquering my fear of exercise. I`m glad I did. I`ve reached a point where it is actually enjoyable to go running (sometimes). No one laughs. No one really even notices. My clothes are mysteriously looser and my skin is clearer. My brain doesn`t feel so clouded with stress and anxiety most days.

Some fellow gaijin and I are going to run around Lake Suwa this weekend. That`s 16 kilometers. I don`t even try to think in miles any more. I think about the way my feet are hitting the ground. About the sound my breath makes. About pushing myself to make it to that next lamppost. I think about how good it feels to look behind me and see how far I`ve come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

fall is in the air

Well, it`s really, officially fall. It is going to be so. Cold. This. Winter. It was cold last year, when we lived in Miyada, but Miyada is in a valley. Chino is sort of in the mountains (or at least a higher elevation than Miyada). At night time, it gets so chilly that Zack has started wearing his Halloween costume from last year around the house.

We haven`t plugged in the kotatsu and heaters yet, but it probably won`t be long. We went ahead and bought another thick, fuzzy blanket, which we`ve already added to our futon.

Another reason that I know it`s fall is because my junior high school recently had their fall festival, which is their biggest event of the year. The students prepared art work and skits for weeks. Parents came and toured the school. There were concerts and mini "field trips" for the kids. Students got to choose a special course to take for a few hours one day. There was ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) a mechanic course, a cake-making class, and a bunch of other classes ranging from fishing to learning to play the shamisen. Later that day, we had a jump rope tournament in the gym, which made me think of the mini games in Mario Party.


On the second day, the students had a variety show, and some of the teachers dressed up and joined in the fun.

Now, the students are switching to their cold-weather uniforms and soon the mountains will be covered in bursts of orange, red, and yellow. Fall has always been my favorite season, but especially in Japan. I love the chill in the air that isn`t as harsh as winter`s chill. I love the anticipation of Halloween and my birthday. I love eating pumpkin and chestnuts (which are very popular in Japan in autumn). I`ll miss mellowcreme pumpkins, though.

I`ll be 25 this fall. I thought that I would feel old and a little closer to insanity with this birthday, but in light of recent events, I just feel grateful to be where I am and grateful to be healthy. Some people don`t even get 25 years on this Earth, and even more people don`t ever get to travel with someone that they love.

And I decided to dress as Lady Gaga for Halloween. I don`t know what I`m doing for Halloween yet, but my favorite part of the holiday has always been coming up with costumes. I will wear my ridiculous costume somewhere, and I will have fun.

I need this new season. I need the leaves to die and blow away. I need for the air to feel different and for my hair to grow out. Maybe it`s cliche, but I feel like only good things are coming.

Friday, September 24, 2010


I have been trying to be positive these last few days. To admire the way the mountains look on my walk to work. To enjoy the way the air felt yesterday on the first day of fall. To laugh at all the absurd things that happen every day because I don't speak Japanese.

But the truth is that I am haunted lately.

The fact is that my ex-boyfriend, whose death I just found out about, took his own life. He is the first person I have ever known to commit suicide, and I don't know how to come to terms with it.

Even if someone isn't a part of your life any more, and even if you don't particularly care for that person, you never, ever expect something like this to happen.
There was a part of me that always just assumed that I might run into him again one day, and maybe we would be friends or something. At least I would know that he was okay.

An unplanned death is tragic. A planned death is tragic and confusing. It is very confusing. It is hard to understand why a 24-year-old man would want to take his own life. When I knew him, I could see that he was troubled. I had troubles of my own, so I think it is good that we parted ways when we did.

And now I am haunted by a person who I once knew, who decided to stop living at the age that I am right now. I am haunted by a world that produces people like this. I am haunted by my own inability to do anything about this. By the messy circumstances that parted us. By all the things that make this harder to process.

There is no clear sadness, no reason to miss anyone. But I feel this sadness that I don't think I would feel if his death had been an untimely accident. But it wasn't an accident.

I don't want to get too personal, but if you knew him and want to talk about it, you can message/email me.

There is no one to blame in a time like this. When people are sick and feel pain, they will look for relief. But if you ever think about doing this or know someone who does, please look at this website:

And please always, always tell someone if you need help. Asking for help is the best skill that I have acquired in life. You will be amazed by the kindness and love in people's hearts, even in the hearts of people who don't know you.

Take care of yourselves.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Yesterday was officially the first day of autumn. It was rainy and chilly the entire day, and last night, I had to wear long sleeves and pants to bed for the first time in months.

I realized that pretty soon, it will be time to plug in the toilet again.

Most toilets in Japan (or at least in Nagano-ken) are actually Warmlets, a toilet with a built-in seat warmer. You plug it in, adjust the heat level, and enjoy.

At first, I thought that a toilet seat warmer sounded like some superfluous luxury, like something a lazy king would have in his palace. But then I lived through a winter in the Japanese Alps. There is nothing quite as unpleasant as sitting on an icy toilet seat when it`s so cold in your house that you can see your breath.

Most places in Japan don`t have air conditioning or central heating. In the winter, you dash from the warm-ish area of your house, usually heated by a kerosene heater, to the bathroom, where your only relief is the warm toilet seat.

The Warmlet is a way that they try to compensate for the fact that the rest of your house is freezing. At least your ass can be warm for a moment, even if the rest of you is shivering. It`s just another example of how the Japanese perfect inventions that you didn`t even know you wanted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

this is not a post about death

I`m going to try to run for 30 minutes straight today!!! (I`ve only run for 22 minutes with a break so far.)

Tomorrow is the first day of fall and I don`t have to go to work! We`re going thrifting and I`m going to compile a ridiculous Halloween costume. I was thinking of dressing as Lady Gaga (in a mocking, funny sort of way), but I`m afraid that it would feel like impersonating the devil to do that. And that none of my friends in Japan would let me live it down.

I might have to stay up all night finishing my essay for YoMo YaMa because I have not had a deadline in a very, very long time and it is strange.

I am looking forward to the weather changing. I love living in a place with four distinct seasons. Life is good.

If you tell me what it`s like to die, then I can tell you what it`s like to be alive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

another goodbye

My life continues to be touched by death. I just found out that the first guy I dated in college passed away a few days ago. It`s a very strange feeling.

When you see how easily life can be taken away, you start noticing how amazing and not terrible it really is. You see how unfair it is, yes, but also how beautiful it can be.

He wasn`t a part of my life any more (which I know is for the better), but I learned a lot from him about people and relationships and the darkness inside all of us. He was far from perfect (he could be pretty awful, actually), but he was intelligent and young. It`s really sad that he died before he could figure himself out.

I hope you find rest and whatever contentment you can, John. All is forgiven.

And please take care of yourselves, everyone. I don`t know if I can handle losing anyone else forever. I love you all.


I read The Omnivore's Dilemma a couple of weeks ago and am currently in the thick of another Michael Pollan book called In Defense of Food. I want to give him a high five. He takes something as complicated and absurd as the food industry in America and turns it into a journalistic reading adventure. He also helps the average person make better choices about what he/she consumes.

Reading about the problems in our food system got me thinking about some problems that I have in writing. I have been working on a short story for at least a month or two now, and it is still not finished. I realized the other day that what I had done was strip away all the good stuff from the original draft, and--like refining all of the nutrients out of flour and adding back artificial ones--I was trying to replace it with fake stuff that just wasn't as good.

I've heard it said that all the best writing is rewriting, but I don't think that's always true. I think it's important to keep some things in their original form; we have to be careful about what we consider "improvement." There is a point when we are just doing more damage.

The reader can tell when a story is fake or forced or when it was created organically.

So I put my story away for a while.

In the meantime, I've been working on a travel essay for YoMo YaMa, a local magazine put out by the JET Program in Nagano Prefecture. I'll be sure to link to it when it's up. I also randomly wrote a flash fiction story the other day that's almost finished. I love writing. I find it easier and easier to sit down and do it, and that's the hardest part.

I'll come back to my story in a couple of weeks and try to make it more fulfilling, more full of the good stuff that makes reading a pleasure (I hope that someone will take something away from the things that I write). The stories and books that I enjoy reading the most are the ones that leave me satisfied and nourished. I don't want to give people junk. People get enough of that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Harry Crews Reader

But I remained convinced in my belief that all anybody needed to develop as a writer was access to a good library and the willingness to play fast and loose with his life, because make no mistake about it, by the time a person even moderately masters any art form, it is almost too late to do anything else.
--Harry Crews--

A huge part of being a writer is being a reader. On my quest to become a better writer, I`ve tried to immerse myself only in good writing. One of the ways I do this is by tracking down books by authors that my mentor, Peter Christopher (aka PC), liked reading.

I also try to find books by southern writers because--for some crazy reason--my voice is really southern when I write. I don`t hear a twang in the language of my thoughts, but it always comes out on paper.

I transcribed a lecture by PC for a job I had in the Writing Department at GSU a couple of years ago. In the lecture, he mentioned some of the writers that he worked with at a certain writing workshop. Harry Crews was one of them. I did a little research and discovered that Crews is from Georgia!

I bought Classic Crews: A Harry Crews Reader, which contains the novels Car and The Gypsy`s Curse, his memoir A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, and a handful of essays.

Even his introduction to the collection was inspirational. He said that he was just a regular man who wanted to write, so he did it. He grew up in the woods of Bacon County, Georgia, back when the world was a lot more vicious and self-governing, and he wrote to try and face his demons. He wrote to understand his childhood. His memoir was honest and intelligent.

His fiction was absurd and hilarious in the way that only unplanned, free writing can be. No forced plot lines, no fear in where the story will lead. It goes where it wants to go, and you just sit back and enjoy it.

His philosophy on writing paralleled that of PC. PC taught that "Writing does not require intelligence, looks, friends, money, education. It requires what the least of us possesses: a human heart willing to speak, a heart speaking its truths."

Books like these make me feel honored to be a part of the writer`s world, and make me determined to live the writer`s life. I have a lot of free time at work this week, so I have no excuses. I have to let my heart speak, even if it speaks in a southern accent.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a case of the mondays

Things to do before I leave Japan:
1. Gather accessories for the most badass Dragon*Con outfit of all time.

2. See a kabuki play.

3. Meet a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Or at least a girl dressed as a cat. Or Splinter.

4. Wear something ridiculous to Harajuku.

5. Go to Hiroshima.

6. Sing karaoke as much as possible.

7. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. And take the GRE.

8. Slay a dragon.

I`ve sort of started training for the half-marathon. My efforts have been sabotaged more than once by my twisted right ankle. But yesterday Zack and I ran for 18 minutes, which doesn`t sound that great, but when you consider than we started out running for less than 10 minutes, it`s not so bad. We`re using an interval-training plan, where you work your way up each week until you can run for 30 minutes straight (which is where you want to be to train for a marathon or half-marathon.) You start out by running 1 minute and walking 4 minutes for a week, then 2 minutes, then 3, and so on. If my ankle hadn`t gotten hurt again, we`d probably be running for about 25 minutes by now. But next time, we`ll run an even 20.

I am overly excited that I found an all-natural taco kit at a store called Don Quixote the other day. And it was reasonably priced too! I am so making tofu tacos this week.

I am kind of homesick lately. Well, more homesick than I usually am. All of my friends are dealing with Cabbot`s death back home, and my family is always dealing with something, and I`ve run out of books to read. I yearn for an American library. Some friends are going to do a book swap with us soon, so that`s exciting. It really impacts my writing when I can`t read.

I`ve been thinking about some big questions and trying to figure out what I want out of life. It`s a lot harder to decide than I thought it would be. Each choice you make eliminates an alternate possiblity for your life. You can`t be everything you ever wanted to be because you only get a limited amount of time on this Earth. I`m finally coming to terms with that fact, and I`m learning to embrace what I can have in my life. The future is this big scary monster in the distance that I will have to face. And the distance between me and him is getting smaller and smaller.

Today, I`m just going to be thankful for right now. And be genki as hell.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I found out yesterday that one of my pals from Statesboro passed away. Cabbot Beasley. We weren`t extremely close, but I considered him a friend and drinking buddy. I started hanging out with him more right before I left for Japan earlier this year.

He was a cool guy. Friendly to everyone, hilarious sense of humor, and put on the best trivia night that I`ve ever been to.

If you were broke, he would share his beer with you. If you were at a party with creepy frat guys, he would protect you without being asked to. He was a good friend.

He wasn`t even 30 years old yet. I wish that I was home with everybody right now. Many of my friends were close to Cabbot. I won`t even recognize home when I get back.

Rest in peace, Cabbot. You will be missed.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

quarter-life contemplations

In a little more than a month, I will be 25. I was thinking about that yesterday, and how it didn`t really scare me as much as I thought it would. I`ve always been the sentimental type, mourning the loss of another year of my youth each birthday, but this year I`m not going to do that. Because turning 25 means that I have made it for two and a half decades on this crazy, destructive planet. And I`m in one piece.

Another reason that I`m not going to be upset about turning the big 2-5 is that I still have some of my youth left. 25 isn`t as old as it used to be. And if I`m sad at the prospect of turning 25, then the rest of my life is just going to be depressing.

Many people set up these little deadlines for their lives--what age they`d like to be married by, when they want kids, etc. I guess 25 isn`t that scary because I`ve been so free with when things can happen for me. I`ve always pegged 30 as my `married by` age, and I`m doing all right working towards that goal. (Although, you should never use an age as a deadline for something as important as marriage. It`s just working out for me that way.)
I guess my only goal at this point in life was to be out of college and working towards something.

It`s surreal to think about being a grown-up already. There are no When I grow up... moments any more. It`s all In the next ten years or so... Life is so strange. You don`t even realize that it`s going by until you`re a quarter of a century old.

As for my quarter-life crisis, I realize that my only option for dealing with it is to do whatever makes me happy. I don`t need to let anyone else`s expectations or my own fears keep me from doing what I want to do. I`ve learned that more important than any deadline or social pressure is your own happiness.

Sometimes, I feel wise for being a 24-year-old, and then I do something really stupid again. My goal for 25 is to stop beating myself up for those moments, and let myself celebrate when I actually get it right. That`s all we can do as we get older. Just celebrate the good. Just celebrate when we can.

Monday, August 30, 2010

rebel with a lot of causes: factory farms

I haven`t been a very good Internet activist as of late. I think I`m in the midst of a quarter-life crisis. My mother is in the hospital back home and I am having severe anxiety about my plans for the future. (Please send a prayer my way if you believe in all that.)

But I feel that I should take advantage of the latest food recalls to bring attention to factory farms. The egg recall, along with the
recent beef recall, highlights how unhealthy our farming practices in the U.S. really are.

Our cheap food system is largely based on factory farming, a practice that is cruel for animals and unsafe for humans. Factory farms represent some of the worst treatment of living things that I have ever heard of. Animals live in filthy conditions with very little space to move; many are unable to move at all.

Chickens in factory farms typically cannot open their wings. They are starved in order to induce molting, which causes them to lay more eggs. The close confinement of these operations, and the fact that the chickens live covered in their own waste, makes them susceptible to infections and diseases. The feed that they are given also makes their eggs less nutritious for humans.

To reduce your exposure to excessive antibiotics and possible food poisoning, please consider taking this pledge.
I never buy factory-farmed eggs when I am in the U.S., and really, it isn`t that difficult to live without them (try baking with bananas instead of eggs).

If nothing else, please check out the Humane society`s pages about factory farming, and sign a petition or two. Right now, the government is finally feeling the pressure to make these industries safer. Let`s use this bad situation to make our food better, and help animals at the same time!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

matters of faith

I watched an excellent documentary this weekend that really got me thinking. And crying.

The documentary, called For the Bible Tells Me So, is about homosexuality and religion. It attempts to answer the questions, Does God really hate homosexuals? and Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality as an abomination?

Note: I can`t find Part 1 of the documentary any where online. Starting at Part 2 is still good though.

The film really highlights some of the major conflicts in Christianity, and many other religions, in today`s world. There are fundamentalists who interpret everything in their holy book literally (when it suits their needs), and there are other people who try to place the writings in context and apply the truths to their lives, though perhaps not in a literal way (since most people don`t view eating shellfish as an abomination, although it was during Biblical times).

It shows that not all Christians are the overly conservative, judgmental people that we see so often on television. There are also people who want to be tolerant and teach that God loves everybody; gay, straight, and ignorant alike.

I`ve only recently allowed myself to accept the fact that I believe in God. I`ve been afraid to admit my beliefs on more than one occasion because of how Christianity is perceived by many people today. It isn`t completely unlike the growing view of Islam today--fear of extremists, and thus, fear and hatred of the entire religion. There are Christian terrorists, who blow up abortion clinics and attack Muslims, and then there are people like Anne Lamott, whom I look up to as an inspiration.

The reason I believe in God is because it makes sense to me. To some people, the idea of God makes no sense.

The God that I follow is pure and total love. I don`t want to be judged by anyone, and I don`t want to judge. That`s not my job.

I love all of my friends, gay or straight, and so does God. That`s all I need to know.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a little help

Some people just never seem to worry. They flit through life, cheerful, not afraid of roller coasters and skin cancer. They go on exciting adventures and theme park rides and eat foods with weird textures. I have always wanted to be one of those people.

Sometimes, I feel like a fairly healthy and adventurous person, but then something will come along, like a steep staircase with no handrail, and I`ll remember who I really am: a product of a somewhat crazy, fear-infused household. A person who is only capable of doing some things like a normal human being.

There are things going on back home which I am powerless to do anything about. This happened last year, too, a few months after I first got to Japan. I know that it is just life happening, and that everyone has been away from their families at important moments, but my coping skills are not like everyone else`s.

I realized this weekend, when I went hiking with Zack and Andy, that my worrying might be more of a debilitating problem than a harmless quirk. I couldn`t make it to the top of the mountain. I was fine for a long time, when there were some trees and the incline wasn`t too steep, but when I got close to the peak, where there were only rocks and the sky stretching out around me, I started having a panic attack. Zack was trying to reassure me and get me to press on, but I could not convince myself that I wasn`t going to plummet to my death if I kept climbing.

If you`ve never had a panic attack, it`s basically a minute or so of your life in which you feel certain that you are about to die. I think I got my first one when I was 8 years old, but I didn`t really start getting them on a regular basis until I graduated college.

Most of my closest friends share my strange sense of anxiety and dread so I didn`t always think much of it. But now that I`m traveling, which is something I really want to keep doing, I know that I have to change. Normal people do not freak out during a spiritual walk in a temple (you walk through a pitch-black, silent tunnel in which you can`t see the exit as a form of meditation). A girl that couldn`t have been older than 8 or 9 climbed to the top of the mountain Sunday while I sat under a pine tree by myself trying to calm down. Most people don`t get vertigo so bad that they have to crawl down stairs like a crab sometimes. And most people can ride a bicycle without thinking that it will end in their legs being permanently paralyzed.

Anyways, I found a great website today called that I wanted to share. Just in case anyone else reading this has ever cried in terror after getting off a water slide or been convinced that all of their friends hate them because you said one stupid thing at a party the previous night. Everything on this page describes what goes on in my brain on a regular basis.

I`m going to try some of their anti-worry techniques. And if you don`t decide that I`m the worst writer ever and that my blog is the worst blog on the Internet, I`ll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

the most dangerous game

I`ve been strangely obsessed with Dr. Mario lately. I`ve always viewed video games in the way that some people view recreational drugs*; good for a laugh sometimes, but don`t get yourself addicted. But then I moved in with Zack, who is a seasoned video game addict, and I found myself trying them more and more. I find myself saying things like, Just one more try, that`s it, I swear...

Dr. Mario is a game that teaches children that candy-colored pills will destroy the cute virus monsters living in your stomach. The whole point of the game is to stack pills on viruses of the same color. Get four half pills/viruses of the same color in a row and the virus goes away. It`s actually kind of boring, but like house work, it is a strangely fulfilling task. Every time one more nasty virus goes away, you feel a little accomplished.

I`ve gotten up to Level 19 but I just can`t get past it. Level 20 is the final stage. You start with 2 or 3 viruses in Level 1 and by Level 19, there are almost 80 viruses to destroy. It`s pretty intense. I`m tempted to just give up, but I really want to win.

When not playing Dr. Mario, I`ve started the quest for an MFA. Really all I`ve done is figured out when and where I can take the GRE (December in Tokyo). I`ve gleaned a lot of information from a nice writer that I know, Brandi Wells. She is now working on her MFA at the University of Alabama.

I thought that I was figuring this stuff out all right when I had a talk with another ALT this weekend. She knew a surprising amount about Creative Writing MFA programs even though she had never done one. Apparently, getting into a fully-funded Creative Writing program is harder than getting into med school. Awesome.

Maybe the worst part of this MFA business is that my GPA and GRE score won`t count for much. It comes down to your writing sample and a few other factors to get into a fully-funded program. As a person obsessed with grades (I`m pretty proud of my undergrad GPA), I`m a bit disheartened by this news.

One of the things that these insane programs are looking for is how much you are published. As you all know, I`ve only been published once. I`ve been agonizing over my latest short story, worried that it isn`t as good as I want it to be, but I need to just finish it and hand it over.

I don`t know how long it will take for me to get into one of these elusive programs, but I really can`t afford grad school without most or all of it being paid for. (I`ll be paying for my first degree well into my 50s or 60s at the rate I`m going.)

So accomplishing my goal of getting a free MFA is going to be the hardest competition of my life so far. But I`ve always believed in all those cheesy sayings about how you can do anything if you put your mind to it, etc. I will finish my short story, and then I`ll write another, and another, and before you know it, I`ll be complaining about pulling all nighters and bitching about professors like the good old days.

*I don`t do drugs and neither should you!

Bali holiday, part 2

I was reading my friends` blog, who also took a trip to Bali this summer, and I realized that I should do another post about this strange little island.

My last post was pretty negative. I think that was the culture shock talking more than anything. Culture shock is a strange thing. You don’t always get it, and when you do, it can make you caught up in all the negatives of traveling and none of the positives. But then you go home and breathe and see how not bad the whole thing was. How amazing, actually.

I had never been anywhere like Bali before this summer. From the way it was described on the Internet and my eternally-useful Lonely Planet guide, I figured that we were going to the Indian Ocean equivalent of the Bahamas or something.

Anyways, I had no real idea what to expect. I wasn’t expecting the roads to be clogged with motorcycles bought on credit or offerings to various gods to be mixed with trash on the sidewalks. I wasn’t expecting to feel like a rich traveler, either. We were millionaires in the local currency, the Rupiah. Many locals seemed to view us as big wallets with legs, but that’s probably because tourism makes up 80% of the Balinese economy.

We saw extravagant beach resorts right next to trashed beaches and slums.

I hope that things like poverty and pollution never cease to shock and sadden me, no matter how well-traveled I become.

The people were generally nice, although I just had to accept that some behavior that seemed normal to them was just plain shady to me. A lot of things were shady in Bali.

But I’m glad that I went.

One of the most interesting aspects of Balinese culture is the Hindu religion. It is the only island in Indonesia that isn’t predominantly Muslim. I saw many temples, one of which was on a stunning cliff beside the Indian Ocean. Hindu temples are elaborate and ancient looking.

Pura Ulu Watu

Pura Batukaru

I climbed my first mountain, which was actually a volcano. (I didn’t make it to the tippy top, but I made it pretty far. This is an accomplishment for me and my irrationally-afraid-of-heights brain.)

Gunung Batur

I got addicted to some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and I felt good knowing that every cup was locally grown. We even visited a coffee and spice plantation and saw how it was produced.

A few beaches were depressing (Lovina) because of pollution problems, but it felt amazing to walk on sand and breathe in ocean air again. I’ve been going to the beach at least once a summer for as long as I can remember. This is the first time in nearly two years that I’ve gone to a nice beach. (I don’t count the beach in Toyohashi, Japan that I visited earlier this year because it was a total dump and I couldn’t even walk with my toes in the sand.)

I got a slight tan (my first in almost two years), saw some stunning scenery, learned about another people’s culture, and learned to appreciate the privileges that I have in life.

I realized that it was really more a traveling trip than a vacation.* A vacation denotes things like mints on pillows and air conditioning and having drinks served to you while you get a tan. I saw a lot of people doing just that. But we were traveling, which is more like staying in places that may or may not have running water and eating nasi goreng more times than you can count. It’s more risky and a little less comfortable, but it’s also more of an adventure. And that’s the whole point of going places, isn’t it?

*I think I got that idea from a conversation I had one time with Josie. Thanks, Josie!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a plea to the anonymous commenter

(Sorry to everyone who isn`t the anonymous commenter. This has been driving me crazy.)

To the anonymous commenter on my now-deleted post--

Please tell me who you are. I`m assuming that I know you because I doubt that anyone I don`t know personally would be reading this blog. I`d like to talk with you more, or at least find out if you hate me or not. So please send me a message on here or Facebook if you would also like to talk. I hate feeling like you hate me even though I don`t know who you are. I appreciated your jarring comment on my previous post about someone that I mistook for a potential terrorist. I posted that entry because it was a very odd thing to happen to me, and I wanted to get other people`s opinions on the topic. I`m very sorry if I offended you; the whole incident shocked me in real life. I`ve been wondering if what I did was flat-out wrong or right or maybe somewhere in the middle. I knew that I didn`t deserve some medal of honor or anything, but I didn`t feel that my decision was completely wrong.

Anyways, if you would like to talk more, or at least tell me who you are, I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

--Anxious blogger

P.S. For everyone who has no idea what I`m talking about:
I wrote a blog post the other day about my flight to Bali. On the first of 2 flights, a man was acting strangely (in my opinion). He was in the seat across the aisle from us. Before the plane took off, he was pacing the aisle and saying what sounded like `Jihad, jihad, jihad` over and over. I`m already a nervous flyer, so hearing something like that terrified me even more. I notified a flight attendant. Basically, the man was under observation the entire flight. The flight attendants even offered to handcuff the man, which I (thankfully) declined. I couldn`t help but watch him out of my peripheral vision though. He acted a little odd throughout the flight, but it was probably because we had pointed him out.

At the same moment that I noticed the man was saying `Jihad,` I also noticed that he looked Middle Eastern. I`m ashamed to admit that it made me more afraid, I think because of the culture of fear we live in in America. (I mentioned this detail in the original blog post.) It`s an extremely touchy thing to say, but I added this detail because I thought it was important. It shows how much I`ve let stereotypes affect my thinking.

It took until right before we landed (3 or 4 hours) for us to realize that the man`s brother, who was sitting further back in our section, was named something that sounded like `Jihad.` Jiyad or something. (We had to assume that this was his brother`s name, because they weren`t speaking a language that I recognized.)
I was shaken and embarrassed, so I got off the plane as quickly as possible without apologizing to the man. He also apparently didn`t understand English, so maybe it wouldn`t have mattered anyways.

Anyways, I wrote this long post about it all and got a very negative comment from someone who wouldn`t put their name with their comment. It`s been driving me crazy for the last couple days. I deleted the post in a panic because I didn`t want people to read it and think that I`m some crazy racist. I even remember telling the flight attendant something like, `I dont`t want to be racist, but it sounded like he was saying jihad.`

As usual, I`ve probably made this all into something a lot more severe and dramatic in my head than it actually is. Let`s all hope that this is the case.

This will be my last post on the subject. We will soon return to my normal randomness.

the itch

I think some bugs burrowed under my skin in the Bali National Park. I have these weird red bumps on my legs that won't go away. They aren't like mosquito bites, either. I bought some mystery cream from a Japanese pharmacy and they feel a little better now.

I hope I don't wake up with little insects coming out of my legs.

In other news, I'm going to start researching grad schools. I've got the itch. I need to be in school again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

a response

I felt the need to do another post about my last post (which was about a perceived threat of terrorism I had on my flight to Bali; I deleted it). The only comment was by some anonymous person (I don`t know why he/she wouldn`t reveal his/her identity). This was their comment:

`I think if all it took was one scared white girl to have me watched for an entire flight, i would start looking suspicious too. Might change my mind about being a peaceful middle eastern dude as well. Treat everyone like criminals and guess what they start acting like?`

I see the person`s point. I said that I felt bad for the guy in the end. But I think the point that I was trying to make is that you can`t be too safe on a flight. I thought I might be preventing something horrible from happening.

I admitted that the fact that he was Middle Eastern made me more scared because it`s true. Our media has made us afraid of certain groups of people, and I never thought that I would let myself be one of them. I wish I could have explained all of this to the guy, but I didn`t know what to do. It was a really terrifying moment for me. I couldn`t believe that the flight attendant wanted to put the man in handcuffs so quickly .

The man probably had nothing to do with terrorism at all. He was just a man on a flight with his brother whose name sounds a lot like a word that I associate with terrorism because of what I`ve been taught. I can`t imagine what it was like to be him. But what are you supposed to do when you hear something like that? I guess I could have waited to see what might happen before I freaked out and told the flight attendant, but what if there was something to what I heard? I figured the flight attendants would question him to see what he had to say about the whole `jihad` thing, but they didn`t say a word to him, and I was too shaken to talk to him.

I feel bad for the man, but I still think that what I did wasn`t totally in the wrong. I really do believe that I would have reported anyone acting suspicious on a flight, regardless of who they were. (Now whether or not you construe someone pacing up and down the aisle saying a word that sounds like `jihad` as suspicious is another thing.)

And I hope that I didn`t make a peaceful man into something else because of my actions. I hope that maybe he can forgive me for being afraid. Our cultures are so different that I have no idea if he knows the kind of distorted news and fear mongering we are fed in the U.S.

I will be more careful in the future to not jump to conclusions about people I don't know.

Thanks for your comment, anonymous person. What would you have done in that situation?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

bali holiday, part 1

I feel bad that my last blog post before leaving for Bali was about cellulite. I've thought a little about cellulite since we landed last Thursday, but not too much.

I've thought about dogs and monkeys and waterfalls and temples and Bintang. I've thought about my privileges as an American the most. See, in some places, things like drinking water and hot showers are a luxury. Places like Bali.

My only preparation for this trip was the Lonely Planet guide that I bought online--the first travel book I've ever purchased.

I'm sitting at a crappy laptop at a hotel near the Bali National Park. Today, we went snorkeling. I swam above living coral reef.

It's amazing moments like today that almost make me forget about the other amazing experiences we've had; the experiences that make you grateful that you are only a visitor and not a permanent resident.

On Thursday, we went on a tour of the Balinese countryside. We saw terraced rice fields, a temple on a lake, a huge waterfall, and a coffee plantation. We ended the tour with a dip in a hot spring that was big enough to swim in. As we were walking through the winding market that led to the parking lot, we saw a baby monkey. A woman was standing beside the monkey.

It took us a minute to realize that the monkey was chained and tied with rope around its back legs. It took us another minute to realize that the woman was not untying the monkey to set it free. She proceeded to drag the monkey away, its little baby hands clawing the ground as she pulled the rope and chain.

I was exhausted and in shock. I didn't say anything. Zack went up to the lady.
"That's wrong!" He yelled. "You should set that monkey free. You can't keep a monkey tied up like that."
The woman looked confused.
"The monkey go in the box," she said. I didn't hear the whole conversation, but she apparently told Zack that the monkey was too small to be released into the wild, and that she would release it when it was a year old.
"You better set it free," he said. "That's wrong!"
She kept dragging the little monkey to the back. It didn't cry or scream; the baby just clawed at the ground in silence.

It was almost a perfect day. We didn't say much on the ride back to our hotel. The Balinese guy driving us around tried to comfort us. He said that maybe another tourist would buy the monkey and set it free. Which didn't comfort us at all. Was this woman going to exploit this tiny animal for money? Was this the first time she had done something like this?

This is the first poor country I have ever visited, and I had no idea what to expect. Travel guides make it sound like paradise, but I don't see much paradise in piles of trash by the side of the road and behind a dilapidated elementary school. I don't see paradise in the mound of plastic and Styrofoam being burned right by people's houses. I don't see paradise in the mangy dogs that wander the sidewalks and the two dead puppies I saw laying like so much garbage in the street and on the beach.

Zack got "Bali belly" last week. For three days, he was in pain from his stomach cramping in an attempt to rid his body of the bacteria. We went to a doctor in a village. The office was filthy and scary. The doctor sold us 2 baggies of pills for about 50 cents. We finally got to see a more professional doctor, whose office was cleaner but still shady, who told us that the medicine we got was no good. What do the people in the village do when they are sick?

I don't regret coming here. I'm learning so much, and I've seen amazing things that I would never see in America or even Japan. The most important thing I've learned from this trip is that we should always be thankful for what we have. Especially in America, where drinking water is considered a right, not a privilege. The people here live in what so many call "paradise," but even paradise isn't perfect. It looks that way in a brochure or Facebook album, but up close, it's just another place with its own problems. Problems that many people can't even fathom, and that the guests of the resorts beside Balinese shanty towns choose to ignore. I don't want to ignore them. I want to take them in just as much as I take pictures of the beautiful cliffs and mountains. I want these scars to be souvenirs, too.