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.