Friday, April 30, 2010

や た!

I finally, FINALLY submitted a story to a literary journal. My biggest hurdle in writing is finishing. Anything. So I decided to take one of my old "in progress" stories and do a final draft. I sent the story to Glimmer Train's Family Matters contest...I doubt I'll win, but I just like contests. I'm going to look over the story one more time and send it somewhere else. Then I'm going to tackle the essay I started last month and send it off. I just have to start trying to build up some kind of resume if I ever want to do anything with my writing. It's the one thing in my life that I've always felt like I could do, and do well, if I really worked at it. My dreams of being a singer or actress faded away with time and the realization that I'm not stellar at either of them. Plus, writing feeds me in a way that nothing else does.

So hopefully, in a few months, you'll be reading a post about how I finally got published and am finally going somewhere.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I got the rest of my books from Amazon Japan the other day: Airships by Barry Hannah and Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I also ordered Eric Nelson's new book, The Twins. He was my poetry professor in college and is an awesome poet. Here's where you can buy it, if you're interested:

In other news, I am submitting a short story to Glimmer Train's Family Matters contest. I am doing it. I'm not lying. I'm not pretending to be a writer. I've been working on this story on and off for a couple years, and I just need to finish it and send it away. I plan on putting the final touches on it tomorrow. Even if I don't win or get accepted, I still win. I just have to start doing things like that if I ever expect to make a career out of writing. Please ask to see the story! Or ask me how that submitting stuff went. If anyone cares at all about me, you will try and hold me a little accountable. Please, someone act like they care about whether or not I become a writer. I'm hoping that in the near future, I won't need this kind of babying, because that's not what writing and art are really about, but for the time being, some kind of friendly kick in the ass would be greatly appreciated.

I need to find that note that I wrote myself two years ago, right before PC died:

I've been writing every day, but damn if I can finish everything. That will change, though, starting tomorrow!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

the magic of sakura

a little sex ed

I haven’t been this aware of my breasts since I was in middle school and I had to run with my arms crossed over my chest in PE. I might as well be walking around in a soaked white t-shirt with the way some of these students smile at me. I might as well be Pam Anderson in this country. They’ve been called “mountains” and of course, “nice opai.” But I always insist, “These are small potatoes in America.”
I keep them covered, don’t get me wrong, but I haven’t started wearing those shapeless shirts so popular among Japanese women, the kind that meld all of your curves into one straight line. Maybe I should find one of those sports bras that make you look like you have a smushed loaf of bread under your shirt. A lot of people sympathize with small-chested ladies, patting them on the back and telling them that there’s so much more to being a woman than having big knockers. But us busty girls have to deal with a world that equates large breasts with promiscuity, a world that still accuses us of being temptresses for wearing clothes that flatter our figures.

I was late to a class Friday, so I started jogging through the hallway. It was like being back in the gym at BCMS all over again. The boys stopped pushing each other, stopped washing their hands, stopped whatever they were doing. I crossed my arms.
“Hello, Em-i-ri,” they say.
“Hello,” I say, waving and smiling. I pass by. Giggles.
That’s what I hear constantly behind my back. Giggles. It’s enough to make me have a flashback to 1997.
I’m not feeling particularly self-conscious, like I did in those horrific years known as middle school, but I am feeling very…aware. I am aware of what I’m doing at all times because I know that the kids are watching. Everywhere I go, there are Japanese kids. It’s not all bad. Most of them are really friendly. I try to talk to them in English, but they don’t understand. I try to talk to them in broken Japanese, and their response is always giggling, like I’m some toddler imitating an adult, walking around in oversized shoes babbling into a cell phone. But for the most part, I think they like me.

Then there’s the gay stuff. I am not a homophobic person. I have lots of gay friends. I’ve been in several shadow cast performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But there is something about the way some of these boys act that makes me very, very uncomfortable. I got to a class early the other day, and two boys were standing really close to each other. One boy was rubbing the other’s nipple with an intense look on his face.
“What are you doing?” I blurted out. “Nani?” They turned red and ran back to their seats. Later, in the same class, two other boys were sitting close to each other, a skinny one and a heavy one. The skinny kid was rubbing the fat kid’s stomach. Then the bigger one sat on his lap. The smaller boy put his arm around the big one’s shoulders, and they held hands. It looked like something Zack and I would do, cuddling together on a park bench. I had to look away. My uh-oh radar was going off.
I’ve seen this kind of stuff before in Japan, but never so extreme. I’ve seen teenage guys holding hands and playing with each other’s hair on the train. Girls routinely hold hands with each other in public. I just don’t know what to make of it. Most of these people aren’t actually homosexual…are they just more secure in their sexuality than most Americans? Or is everybody here just a little bit gay?
Zack already warned me about koncho, the “fun” game that boys play where they try to poke each other in the ass.
“It means that they like you,” Zack said. “But don’t let them do it to you,” he added in a firm voice.

I guess it’s another one of those cultural differences I’ll have to adjust to, like using chopsticks and bowing. In the meantime, I’m watching my back. And my front.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

operating instructions

One of the most beautiful and amazing parts of living in a foreign country is having the realization that no matter how different the language, how alien the sounds and intonations, we all talk about pretty much the same things, the same ideas. Some of the sentiments are different, of course, and maybe different things are valued in a conversation, but we all make jokes, all laugh at ourselves, and all hate Mondays. I wish that I could have a deeper conversation with most of my co-workers. I want to know if they have kids, if being a teacher was their lifelong dream. It just occurred to me today, after finishing Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott, that life is a beautifully wrapped present that we should never take for granted, and the people in it are the contents of the gift, the things that make the box worth unwrapping and looking into.

I love reading good books almost more than life itself. Anne Lamott is such an inspiring writer. She is one of the main reasons that I ever wanted to really call myself a writer. Freshman year, my Composition 1101 class was assigned to read Bird by Bird, Lamott’s memoir about writing and life. That book changed my life; it’s the first time I read a book and felt the connection to my own hands and brain, the little pulse that says: I could do that. Not write a book exactly like hers—probably not even as good as hers—but a book that could, nonetheless, inspire someone and make them want to push themselves a little harder. That could make someone smile and look into the sky and see some kind of purpose instead of just chaotic clouds.

I can’t wait for the rest of my shipment from Amazon Japan. Getting books in the mail is like Christmas except that I know what I’m getting and know that I’ll love it. I feel rejuvenated after I finish a good book.

The cherry blossom trees are so beautiful that I can’t believe they really exist sometimes. I feel like I’m walking through a Candy Land game board. The wind started blowing some of their petals around today and I was sad at the thought of their short lifespan.

Since Operating Instructions is a book about real life, it only makes sense that death would play a role in the story. You can’t have life without death. But the person who died ended up being very young; only 37. I get so scared when I hear things like that. That’s how old Marilyn Monroe was when she died. And Kurt Cobain and Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Of course, their deaths, while perhaps not intentional, were unquestionably sped up by drug use and the kind of lifestyle that Lamott alludes to throughout her nonfiction books. The kind of life that someone lives when they either don’t fear death at all or fear it so much that they can’t exist in the real world because in the real world, you have to face death at some point. They went up in smoke and flames. I used to think about that nonchalantly, about dying young as being sort of glamorous, in the same way that I thought being wasted at parties was somehow glamorous, but now I think differently. I want to live my life as long as God will let me, and I want it to produce things that make the world better, if only for a single person.

I wrote for well over an hour today. I feel amazing!

But I have a photograph on my wall of this ancient crucifix at a church over in Corte Madera, a tall splintering wooden Christ with his arms blown off in some war, under which someone long ago wrote, “Jesus has no arms but ours to do his work and to show his love,” and every time I read that, I always end up thinking that these are the only operating instructions I will ever need.

--from Operating Instructions

Sunday, April 18, 2010

in memory of her face

Some days, I look in the mirror and get angry. I'm angry at the weird light purple scars, at the faint lines that have started to form across my forehead, and the new red bumps that appear mysteriously overnight. I get angry and wonder why it's happening to me, why I can't have the beautiful, smooth skin of so many that I know.

Then I see something like this. (sorry you'll have to copy and paste the link, but it's worth your time)

Not just to have skin that it isn't riddled with deep acid scars, but also because I had the chance to grow up in a place where something this horrible wouldn't ordinarily be ignored. Where it might not even have happened in the first place.

I take the liberties I have been given as a woman for granted sometimes. Seeing this article and thinking about these women and their stories has made me remember why I should be grateful today and everyday. There is a monologue in The Vagina Monologues called "In Memory of Her Face"; seeing real examples of these terrible monstrosities is so much more real than reading about it. These are real women who grew up in a real world--our world--and this is the reality that they have to live through every day.

I will pray for them and I will think about all the ways that I can be thankful in my own life for what I do have. I might not live a smooth, airbrushed life, but I am so lucky. I can't ever forget that.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I finally started going into classrooms this week and introducing myself to students.

So apparently I have been a celebrity all my life and didn't know it. Working with these kids is going to be so much fun--they are so excited to meet a foreigner, and nothing boosts your confidence quite like hearing "Kawaii!" squealed behind your back every time you walk past a group of students.

This job is going to be kind of like being in elementary and middle school all over again in that I get to make PowerPoint presentations, posters, and do cultural reports. The funniest part of my introduction so far was when I showed one class my hip-hop slide. Atlanta is home to a ton of hip-hop artists, so I featured pictures of Ludacris, Usher, Andre 3000, and TLC. Here's what happened:
Me: Who's this? [pointing to Usher]
Student 1: Michael Jackson!
Me: [laughing] What? Michael Jackson janai!
Student 2: Michael Jordan!
Me: other guesses?
Apparently those are the only two black people that Japanese kids can identify, based on my very scientific observations.

I'm so excited for this opportunity. I never saw myself as a teacher, but I think I'm really going to love this job. It's so enlightening to examine yourself from the perspective of an outsider, and as cliche as it sounds, I really like knowing that I've made a positive impact on a young person's life.

In extracurricular activities, sakura season is in full bloom and everything is magical. We went to Takato, one of the top 3 places in Japan to view sakura, last Friday. It was like walking in a dream, like that scene in Pleasantville when they were driving down Lover's Lane and all the flowers turned from black and white to color. I can't wait to see more cherry blossoms! The trees look so foreboding the entire year, and then for just a couple of weeks, they look ethereal. I'll post some pictures soon!

And the best news of all--I GOT A WORK VISA! I went to Nagano City by myself on Tuesday with a hand-drawn map and actually found the immigration office without getting lost. If you know me at all, you know that this is a miracle. I was a little nervous--as I always am with immigration matters--but I went up to the third floor, turned in my paperwork, and got the visa no problem. Now all I have to do is register as an alien in Chino and I'm totally, 100% legal, and ineligible to star in an episode of Locked Up Abroad.

I'll try to blog more often; I finally understand how tiring a full-time job is. But it's a good kind of tiring. The kind that means you're doing something worth doing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

up and up

I haven’t been blogging lately because we didn’t have Internet for the first few days after we moved to Chino. Then, we did get Internet, and I started working. This is my first full-time, grown-up job. Ever. Unless you count the summer I worked at Six Flags. I worked 75 hours per week for those hellish three weeks.
In some ways, there’s something more grownup about working behind the scenes at a theme park, a place that is supposed to be a fantasy, than working behind the scenes at a middle school. The only things about this job that makes me feel in any way grownup are my sleep schedule, the desk, and the amount of freedom that I get. I don’t actually start teaching until next week. So I’ve spent my first few days of work wandering the hallways aimlessly, studying Japanese, and trying to get an Internet connection to my laptop. So far, no luck on the Internet. And writing. The only real perk to having nothing to do and no Internet access.

So far, I really like Chino. It’s at a higher elevation than Miyada, which means that it’s colder, but the mountains look even closer. I have to walk to and from work because my school is completely out of the way for Zack to drive me. It’s only a 20-minute walk, so I don’t really mind. I got lost the first three times I tried to walk there though. That’s the biggest problem with a city for me: a greater chance of getting lost.

The other major problem with Chino is the road system. Whoever designed the Japanese road system and driving style should have been locked in a padded room. They were clearly out to hurt themselves and others. The roads are rickety and narrow—barely a car and a half wide—so cars literally have to drive on the sidewalk sometimes to avoid hitting oncoming traffic. The traffic lights are also really confusing: a red light directly in front of you might mean that you can still go straight, but not turn. A green light without a straight arrow below it means that you can turn but maybe not go straight… Of course, that’s in addition to the whole driving on the other side of the road thing. I’ve almost had a heart attack several times while riding in the passenger seat with Zack driving. Close calls are just a daily part of getting around here.
Driving in Japan is not for me. I’m nervous enough when I drive in a country whose rules I grew up observing, let alone a place where most of the road signs are written in symbols I can’t read. Maybe I’m just a huge wuss and I should face my fears, but I also want to live to see middle age. I’ll stick with pedestrianism for now.

The novelty has started to wear off. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just means that I am more comfortable than I was nine months ago when I first came here. I can sort of communicate with Japanese people now. Grocery stores make more sense. I can order for myself at a restaurant for the most part.

Another great part of our new life is the potential for new friends. There are a lot more gaijin here than there were in Miyada. We live below a really nice vegetarian from Sweden named Erika. We also live a train stop away from a lot of our fellow A to Z ALTs. Andy came to visit us this weekend for Onbashira, and it was really fun. He's teaching in Ogaki, a city in our neighbor prefecture, Gifu. We got to hang out with our new A to Z friends and spend time catching up with him.

I'll post some pictures of our new apartment soon. I really like it but it's usually pretty messy during the week because of our hectic schedules. And to end on a happy note: A to Z finally received my Certificate of Eligibility in the mail! That means that all I have to do is go to the Immigration in Nagano and apply for my work visa. FINALLY. I am having a party when I finally get it.

Have fun in the Georgia heat SUCKAS.