Friday, May 13, 2011

the heat

Maybe you're wondering what I've been up to. Maybe you haven't.  I debated shutting down this blog the other day.  I don't know if this thing makes my life any better or if it harms me.  The Internet knows too much about me.  I've been staying off of Facebook as much as possible lately. I feel calmer when I stop caring about my virtual presence and focus on the real world.

Back in Georgia, I'm feeling the heat.  Wondering what my future will bring. I just want to focus on getting into grad school.  Instead, I have to focus on getting a job and finding a place to live.  I have a part-time job secured for the summer, but I know that I'll need more.

 Zack hasn't had much luck either. The economy is bad. Every day gets a little hotter. The high today is 94. My skin is darker than it's been in almost two years.

Other than the uncertainty, I'm doing okay.  Basking in the glow of familiarity and the little bit of time we have before the heat becomes completely unbearable. When there are no mild spring breezes to cut the humidity, and it hits us full force.  I know that day is coming, faster than I want it to, but I've realized that the best I can do for now is enjoy today. Sit inside the air conditioning, sip cold water, and watch the little red finger on the thermometer bob up and down.  Pray there are no tornadoes headed our way.  And think, for now, of how lucky I am.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

feels like starting over

A little over a month ago, I was an English teacher in Japan.  Now, I'm just another American trying to build a life for myself in a bad economy.

I have a summer job secured and an interview for an even better job on Tuesday. I bought my first Good Car.  Zack and I are looking into getting an apartment. Forms are signed. Friends are visited.  Life happens.

Even as I go through the motions of starting over, I can't help but think of the life that I left behind.  
The principal and English teachers at my junior high school.

Some of my awesome graduating students. 

My last lesson with a third-grade class.
The view from the English office during winter.

The adorable children of our Miyada friends.
I wonder when I'll be homesick again.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

just peachy

Since I got back to Georgia:

  • Tornadoes ripped through neighboring counties, and I had to flee from my friend's trailer when tornadoes were spotted in our area.  (I think tornadoes are better than earthquakes; at least you can see a tornado coming.)
  • My brother-in-law shot at bees with a gun while drinking beer.
  • I have eaten hummus, Mexican food, pizza, wheat bread, Twizzlers, and Easter candy.
  • I applied for a few jobs and haven't heard back from any.
  • I wondered why 95% of the people I saw at Wal-Mart were overweight and my brother-in-law showed me a jar of Baconnaise.  
  • I finally submitted my latest short story for publication.
  • I wore sun dresses and skirts until the freakish cold front set in (and brought with it hail and tornadoes).
  • I drove on the left side of the road for a second.  I never drove in Japan, but I was still confused.
  • I realized how amazing public transportation in Japan is.  I also realized how lovely and wide American roads are.
  • I miss my students and coworkers.
  • I've avidly followed the news and am shocked at how differently the U.S. media and the Japanese media are covering the nuclear situation.  I'm glad that the nuclear plant is more stable now, and I will continue to do what I can to support Japan.
  • I noticed how many cherry blossom trees there are in Georgia.
  • We found out that we will get refunds for our original flights out of Japan, since Zack and I both opted to take earlier flights.
  • I don't regret leaving when I did, but I do regret leaving without properly saying goodbye.
It's like I never left, and it's also like I was never here before.  I really do love the U.S. in all its disjointed madness.  Georgia is one of the weirdest places on the planet, so I am glad to be from there.  I kind of like knowing that I could go to a Turpentine Festival or buy pickled pigs' feet from a gas station if I really wanted to.

I plan on exploring my home state more this year as I apply for grad school.  I want to visit Flannery O'Connor's grave, the Georgia Guidestones, Cumberland Island, and possibly Tiger Ridge (for the Christmas lights).

I have a few more posts about Japan coming, too.  Hope you're doing peachy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


No planes crashed.  No one tried to smuggle drugs in my checked luggage.  I wasn't quarantined because I had secretly been contaminated with radiation.

None of those things even came close to happening--but I thought about them all. More than once.  I thought about the plane crashing every time there was turbulence. It felt like an earthquake.

But here I am, safe and back in the place that I worked so hard to escape: southeast Georgia.  It has now become my refuge.

This whole experience taught me that I have some issues to work out with myself.  I don't know a single person in Japan who was as terrified as I was.  I realized that my anxiety is really starting to interfere with my life in negative ways.  It used to just be a weird personality quirk that makes it impossible for me to enjoy roller coasters and driving, but this time, I felt physically ill.  No matter what the news was saying, I couldn't relax.  My heart raced for three days straight and I barely ate or slept. I was constantly wired on adrenaline.

Buying a whole new plane ticket to leave Japan a week early might seem rash to some people, but I know that it was the right choice for me.  Even if I wasn't in immediate danger, my mental health demanded that I leave.  

I am grateful that the nuclear situation in Japan is not as horrific as it seemed in my mind.  I am still trying to digest the magnitude of the destruction brought about the earthquake and tsunami.  I am going to help Japan in whatever ways I can, and I will help myself.  That's where change begins.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

shaken, part 3

I am in Seattle. I left Chino yesterday at 6:40 a.m.  The 6-hour bus ride to Osaka went well, except for the numerous signs warning of earthquakes and showing pictures of cars slamming into one another. My teeth chattered when the bus's windows rattled.

I made it to the airport fine, and the plane made it to Seattle safely.  I barely slept because of turbulence and because I wasn't able to check the news.  For a few hours, everything seemed like it always had--like I was just taking a normal flight home after a year away.

A security officer checked out all the passengers with a Geiger scanner.  None of us had detectable amounts of radiation, for which I am very thankful.

I have been praying at least once an hour that the situation in Japan will improve.  The terrible truth is that they don't know how bad a total meltdown could be.  It could mean only localized contamination. It could mean that the Pacific Ocean is contaminated. I don't know what it means, and I can only guess that the truth of the situation is somewhere between what the U.S. media says and what the Japanese government is saying.

Zack is still in Japan.  He leaves on Monday.  I haven't slept in three days.  I don't think that will change any time soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

shaken, part 2

The earthquake chime sounds like something that might come from a toy magic wand. 

Bliiiiing bliiiing called the speakers in the teachers' office.  I crawled under my desk and started crying.  That was yesterday. 

The Japan Meteorological Society says that there's a 70% chance of a big earthquake in Nagano Ken before Thursday.  Which is where I live.  The one yesterday was so small that we didn't even feel it.  I was at the end of my sanity, thus the crying under my desk. Every tiny tremor could be a harbinger for something much worse.  The other teachers were calm.  They are Japanese, which is synonymous with resilient and stubborn.  They don't let fear overtake them.

The vibe here is very post-September 11, without the fear.  So much tragedy that it's hard to believe. 

But, for now, we are still safe.  We are far from all of the malfunctioning nuclear power plants. 

I feel a lot better today. I turned off the news for a while last night and watched a funny movie.  (I've been watching the news live online; the network has earthquake alerts which give you about 30 seconds to prepare.)  It's hard to concentrate on anything except the mounting destruction. 

I have never been more ready to come home.  All I could think about yesterday was how much I wanted to hug the people I love.  When that chime dinged through the loudspeakers, I thought about their faces.  Catastrophe makes you realize how fragile we humans are, and how precious the people in our lives are.

I will try to post a map soon showing where we are in relation to the destruction.  Far enough away that we aren't living in an apocalyptic nightmare.  But there is a gas shortage here.  My main concern is getting to the airport on March 25, the day that we are scheduled to fly out of Japan.

We have stocked Zack's military backpack with emergency supplies.  I keep a few supplies in my purse at all times.  Maybe it's paranoia, but I feel better being a little prepared.  And I could use any peace of mind that I can find.

So tell your family that you love them, and please keep praying.  Some people think that praying doesn't work, but I know it does.   And please consider donating to the Red Cross or another relief organization of your choice.  I will do some research and post some links soon. 

I love you all.  Please stay safe.

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am trying not to freak out.  I am trying to tell myself that the earth is not moving. It is the still, solid rock that we have built our lives upon.  Steady.

But the truth is that it isn't a motionless rock.  The Earth is made of plates that move and slide and kill people.  Lots of people.

I was on the third floor of Eimei Junior High School yesterday when the wind started blowing really hard. It sounded like hail was tinkling across the roof.  Then the windows rattled like they would when we lived near Fort Stewart.  Then the building vibrated, like being inside a cell phone. That's when I realized.  It's an earthquake.

I felt an earthquake tremor the year I first came to Japan--2009--and it rattled me.  We were on the eighth floor of an earthquake-resistant hotel.  The hotel swayed like a hula dancer.  It started out the same as this one: a sound like things crackling in the wind, thunderous window rattling, and then shaking.  The ground feels like it is made of water.  It sways and rocks.  I was freaked out by the tremor, but it only lasted a few seconds.  Zack didn't even get out of bed.  The epicenter of the quake was Tokyo--far enough away to barely affect us.  It was maybe a magnitude 5.  Just a minor inconvenience to the Japanese, who are used to the way tectonic plates creak and groan.

Once I realized it was an earthquake yesterday, I ran downstairs.  It was perhaps not the smartest thing to do.  But I remembered the way the tremor progressed, how there were a few seconds of calm shaking before the harsh movement began.  I knew I had a little bit of time and that the first floor is safer than the third floor.  I sprinted down the staircase, barely feeling the movement beneath me because I was going so fast.  I ran to the teacher's room and prepared to crawl under my desk, clutching my water bottle.

The lights, suspended from the ceiling for some reason, were swinging back and forth.  The quake stopped shortly after I made it to the office.   It was longer than the tremor I felt so long ago.  The principal turned on the news.  The teachers slowly trickled in and stared at the TV.  We saw buildings cracking and ceilings collapsing.  A shattered glass bus stop.  Then they showed the coast of Sendai, the prefecture on the northeast edge of Honshu, Japan's main island.  The tsunami crashed onto the beach and flowed through towns.  It was black.  The flood carried cars and houses that were broken like matchsticks.  We saw cars trying to drive away from it. The teachers kept saying Sugoi, which can mean anything from "great" to "large."  I took it to be the same as Wow.

There were a couple aftershocks, but nothing as bad as the first wave.  No one was injured in Nagano Ken as far as I know.  I  woke up to a few aftershocks in the night.  I had to convince myself that they were real.

I'm trying to be calm, but I must admit that I'm a little shaken.  We're making an emergency kit just in case.  I don't think that we are in serious danger, but please send a prayer or two our way.  And let's all pray for the people along the coast.  They need it much more than I do.

Monday, March 7, 2011

paper-thin walls

I have decided to postpone my Facebook Lent. In case you didn`t realize, we are moving from Japan to the USA in a little over two weeks.  TWO WEEKS.  I need Facebook for coordinating events and such, and moving internationally is the worst time to abstain from it.  I still plan on having a Facebook-free month though, maybe in April or May, when my life is a little more settled and I don`t need it to get in contact with people.

In other news, I slept for multiple hours last night. This is a huge accomplishment for my overactive-overly-anxious brain.  I feel calm about moving back and have even applied for a job, but maybe my brain knows something that I don`t.  It wasn`t so bad at the beginning of the week, just waking up a few times throughout the night, but by the end, rest was nonexistent. I couldn`t make myself fall asleep, no matter how tired I was.  It was like the opposite of a Freddy Kruger movie.  I feared being awake.

Last night, I blessedly slept enough to have a dream. An actual dream that had a plot!  A dream means that I experienced REM, which is what people need to feel well-rested.  I am learning to calm my mind enough so that I forget to be anxious and trick myself into going to sleep like a normal person.

All was going well until our upstairs neighbor decided that their tatami mats needed to be swept at 6:00 in the morning.  I try not to hate anyone, but sometimes I want to throw a rock through their window.  It isn`t their fault for having children and for having to keep their home clean.  It isn`t their fault that Japanese apartment buildings are flimsy and sound carries like the walls are made of paper--because some of them are literally made of paper. 

I try to be fair, but sometimes I beat the ceiling with a broom handle.  I wish I knew morse code so I could beat out "Please make your children stop jumping" or "Please stop bowling with your children" or "Please stop scraping the floor over and over again and slamming doors for the love of all that is peaceful in the world."  But a few good taps will usually do the trick.

The whole world has paper-thin walls when you are as light a sleeper as I am. 

This is the kind of thing that occupies your waking hours when you feel old: resting and eating and trying not to comtemplate your own mortality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I just had to say goodbye to one of my classes.  Not just "Goodbye, see you next time," either.  Like "Goodbye, I`ll probably never see you again after March 25.  Ever."  Last English class of the year.  Last English class that I`ll ever teach to Class 3-3.  And I have to say it 13 more times.

It was sadder than I thought it would be.  I cried a little and wrote my email address on the board. 

The saddest part of the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima was the tattered school uniforms on display.  I thought of my students, in their goofy blue-and-white track suits, and I bawled.  Those kids mean something to me.

I wasn`t as involved with them as I could have been.  I wasn`t the super, above-and-beyond ALT that I thought I could be.  But I did get to know them a little. I taught them some things, and they taught me a lot.

I`ll miss you, Eimei Junior High School.  Most of all, I will miss those silly middle school students, laughing and chasing me in the hallways like I was a Beatle.  Making fun of how I pronounce their names.  The way they bust out with phrases like "Come on baby, cheese-u" and "I like women and money" out of nowhere. 

A life of traveling is a life of saying goodbye.  I always think of this song from The Muppets Take Manhattan when I say goodbye.  I feel that the Muppets can say it better than I ever could.

Monday, February 28, 2011

spring cleaning

It felt like spring this weekend.  I thought I should do some spring cleaning of my thoughts.

*I went for a run this weekend for the first time in months.  It felt amazing. I thought I`d be fine because of my winter jump rope regimen.  But the next day I did not feel amazing. 

*I started the quest for employment in Georgia yesterday.  I realized, while updating my resume, that I haven`t worked in food service in four years.  And I now have a whole year of grown-up work to put at the top of my "Work Experience" list.  It felt pretty good.  And then I realized that I was updating my resume to apply for a job at a water park in rural Georgia, and I didn`t feel pretty good any more.

*Lent starts soon.  I`m excited about abstaining from Facebook for 40 days.  I`ve started thinking about all the things I will do with those minutes that I spend checking people`s profile pictures. I hope that I can stop thinking about my life in terms of status updates and photo opportunities. 

*We have less than a month to go in Japan. I am at peace.  We are doing pretty good at this whole moving out thing.  We have not totally procrastinated this time.  Perhaps I will get my Grown-up Card in the mail soon.

*I`ve been reading more, but not necessarily good books.  One of my coworkers lent me a book by Jeffrey Deaver called The Bone Collector a while ago.  She lent me another Deaver book yesterday.  It`s rude to turn down something like that in Japan, so I took it home.  The books are basically like reading a TV show instead of watching it.  I just hope my latest short story doesn`t sound like an episode of CSI because of it.

*I am pounding away at another short story.  I now finish about 1 in every 2-3 stories that I start. It isn`t a great statistic, but it`s better than when I used to finish 0 stories.  My goal is to complete the story by the end of this week.  And I rediscovered a story I wrote in college that I`m also revising and hope to submit soon. 

*Thanks to everyone who prayed for my grandma. Her surgery went great, and she didn`t feel any pain.  Her diagnosis is so good that she doesn`t have to get chemo, just some radiation (which is still not fun, but not as awful as chemo). The doctors don`t think that the cancer has spread.  Hurray for answered prayers!

*I am also addicted to the website  It is hilarious.  Especially their series about the Internet Apocalypse.   

So that`s life lately.  I`m so happy that I`ll get to see you soon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

can`t stop the signal

Image from:

I wrote a post a while ago proclaiming my love for the show Firefly.  Like most wonderful things, it died an untimely death, and was cancelled after only one season.  Because Fox hates good TV.

It took a few weeks, but I was finally able to move on with my life.  I accepted the fact that Firefly was over, and there wasn`t any hope for more.

And, suddenly, like an actual firefly popping up in the gray night sky, I saw an article about Firefly on the Google news home page.  That one-and-only season is being shown again on cable TV.  My heart skipped a beat.  Surely, this was good news.  This was a sign that all interest in the show hadn`t been lost. 

A new fan movement has popped up after the show`s star, Nathan Fillion, made an offhand comment in an interview.  He said that if he ever won the California lottery, he would buy the rights to Firefly and produce it himself.  Thus, the "Help Nathan Fillion Buy Firefly" campaign began.  Fans are being asked to pledge money to fund the show in the future.  (No one would donate any actual money until there was confirmation that the show would be made.)

It`s kind of sad that so much money could be promised just to revive a television show when there are so many problems in the world. Earthquakes and disease and famine.  But the adamant Firefly fans, called Browncoats after the rebels in the show, have done plenty for charity, and I have a feeling that more charity work will done by them in the future.  (And I would totally help.)

So, will Firefly ever really return?  It`s a long shot.  In the meantime, we can watch this real-life drama unfold, the tale of the Browncoats who will never let their voices go unheard, who will never let the Alliance--I mean, 20th Century Fox--keep them down.

Monday, February 21, 2011

there and back again

The weather is warming up, and I`m already thinking about Georgia.  In a little over a month, I`ll be back.

I`ve tried not to think about it.  One of my goals in life has always been to be away from Georgia as much as possible.  And now that I`ve been away for a full year, I know that I can go back and not let it bring me down.

Something about the air in Georgia makes me feel suffocated and hopeless.  I will not let that happen to me this time.  I refuse to let another year of my life feel wasted or like I`m just waiting--Georgia has always been my purgatory.  At its worst, it was my hell.  But I won`t let it be that way any more.

Separating myself from my home state has been one of the best decisions of my life.  I can see it from an outsider`s perspective, and I realize that there is culture there.  The same way that Americans don`t realize they have an accent, I never really thought of my home state as having "culture."  At least not  in an exotic, interesting sense.  Being a white American, I feel neutral and generic.  I am a template on which other cultures can stamp themselves and shape me.  But now I realize that I have already been shaped.  Georgia has made me who I am today, the reason that I can speak with a twang so easily. The reason that I love sunshine and warmth and people who say cuss words in every sentence.

It is boiled peanuts and watermelon and Cool Whip.  It is Tybee Island and cookouts and smuggling fireworks from South Carolina.  It is moonshine and Baptists and cotton fields.  It isn`t always pretty, but it is my culture.

I will spend the next year of my life in Georgia, sort of in transit.  I know that it is a temporary thing.  I will work on getting into grad school, but that will not be all that I do.  I have decided to make this next year as productive and joyous as it can be.  I will run a half-marathon.  I will volunteer.  I will hopefully work a job that doesn`t suck (but I`m more than willing to work a shitty job).  I will write and conduct interviews and research for my memoir.  I will see cousins and aunts that I haven`t seen in years.  I will write and write and write and submit my stories for publication. 

I will be in Georgia, and I will live. I`m done with waiting.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

sentences of the day

These sentences were written by some of my second graders, who are learning passive voice. 

"Moneys are caught by me."

"Vagitable is eaten by me every day."

"World is made by plants."

Passive voice sucks.  I wish that we didn`t have to teach them that at all.  I try to explain that we only use it when we are talking about general things or when we want to take the heat off ourselves, as in the President saying, "Mistakes were made" instead of "I made mistakes."  But the students have a limited vocabulary, which means that we have to use passive voice to make ridiculous sentences like the ones seen above.  I screwed up and told one of the English teachers that "in the world" is okay to say instead of "around the world" so the students are also learning to say things like "Japanese sushi is eaten in the world."  I think it`s correct, but damn, it`s awkward.

I`ve realized that English is an incredibly weird language.  I have new respect for people trying to learn it in all its strange melted-togetherness.  It may as well not have rules, since the rules of grammar and spelling are constantly broken. It is an anarchistic language, especially in the age of Internet speech.  I almost didn`t correct the sentence "Moneys are caught by me."

I hope that no one thinks I`m an awful person for laughing at some of the things my students write. I`m not making fun of them or the Japanese.  I just have to laugh at how silly some of it sounds (come on, "vagitable" is gold).  It is especially difficult for Japanese people to learn English, I think, because they are bombarded by katakana

I will miss this job in some ways, but I can tell that it`s time to move on.  I`m ready to be back in a place where I can read every sign that I encounter and talk to the majority of people I see.  Not that all of the sentences I hear will make much more sense than "Vagitable is eaten by me every day."

Monday, February 14, 2011

lent in the time of Facebook

I`ve decided to try an experiment.  I`m going to give up Facebook for Lent this year.  I`ve never done Lent, but it always seemed like a good idea, even for non-religious people.  Forty days of abstaining from something that isn`t good for you, or something that you have a dependency on.  I like having goals to accomplish and deadlines to guide me.  So I`m really going to do it. 

Back in November, I wanted to limit my Internet time to 30 minutes a day.  I failed miserably. I think a large part of my failure is due to the fact that I live far away from my homeland.  Once I`m back in the U.S., where I can call my family easily and read labels at the grocery store by myself, I`m hoping that I won`t need to be online as much. 

Most people give up things like chocolate or booze for Lent; something that they physically consume. But I have to tell you, sometimes I feel like Facebook is consuming me.  I`ve found myself obsessing over things that really don`t matter whatsoever--like how I look in pictures or how much more popular the pretty girls from high school still are compared to me.  Facebook makes life weirder and sometimes harder.   It gives us the ability to shape how other people view our lives.

I`ve spent the last couple of years trying to convince myself that life is not a competition, and having Facebook--which is basically just millions of people vying for each other`s attention and approval--is setting me way back.  It`s hard not to feel a sense of competition when people are posting professional engagement/maternity/wedding/travel pictures every other day.  It`s hard to be bombarded by statuses about how amazing life is for some people, how happy and content they always are. 

When life is good, Facebook is even better.  When life isn`t so good, or even just boring, Facebook reflects that. 

No matter how good my life is, with Facebook, it seems that someone else`s life is always better. 
I`m not ready to give it up forever just yet--and I definitely can`t give up the Internet--but I think taking 40 days off Facebook would do me some good.  Lent starts March 9.  I think I can survive living in the real world for that long (as long as I have email).

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I've been trying to experience as much of Japan as I can before we take off in March. Last weekend, some friends invited us to go to Kiso Valley, a famous spot in Nagano Ken that's only about an hour away.  Here are some photos that I got from Subari.  Our camera didn't have a memory card in it that day (doh!).

Subari says that these are old samurai hotels.

This was supposed to be a cool picture of us with an ice sculpture.  Instead, it is a testament to how  unphotogenic we really are.

We walked along Naraijuku, a street famous for its Edo-period buildings.
We ate in this nice restaurant, which was built over 150 years ago.

It was a really lovely day.  We ate oyaki, went into shops selling famous Kiso wood crafts, and soaked up the Japanese-ness of it all.

A little over a month left in Japan.  I will miss it so very much.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

the poetry of Eimei Junior High

Here are some acrostic Valentine poems by some of my third-year students (equivalent to 9th graders in the U.S.).

Believe in your kiss
Because I love you.
You thanks last night.

Atomic Bomb Dome

For you.
Like flowers.
Octopus like branch.
Everyone likes for you.
Rainbow like you.
Super girl is you.

Centigrade of me is
Heat if I see you.
Over there, there is baby oil.
Can you go to love hotel with me?
October 24
Life of us was keeped in the future.
Anything is wa

I didn`t make any of those up.  I will miss this job.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nozawa Onsen

A couple weeks ago, Zack talked me into going to Nozawa Onsen. Nozawa is a ski resort. I still haven't conquered my fear of the tops of mountains and activities that can potentially lead to paralysis, so I was hesitant. Zack promised that he wouldn't snowboard and would instead play in the snow with me.

It was the most snow I've ever seen in my life. We borrowed sleds from the ski resort office and sledded around the village.

Showing off the cool snow pants Zack gave me for Christmas.

This was burned at the Fire Festival later.
We were supposed to stay for the famous Fire Festival, but we (and our ride) were exhausted by night fall.  We took a dip in a free onsen (hot spring), got a bite to eat with friends, and headed home.  It snowed hard on the highway, so it was probably good that we left early.

It was my first time at a ski resort.  It was the first time I've ever sledded.  I felt the way little kids who live up north must feel every winter.  Scared.  Exhilarated.  Like the world was my playground.  

Meanwhile, back in Chino, it only snows enough to make life slightly more annoying.  Ice in my shower.  Frozen olive oil.  Ice in the school swimming pool.  There are patches of ice on the road that refuse to melt and bits of snow that never go away.  It isn't very beautiful.  But that's what places like Nozawa are for.

Monday, January 24, 2011


The hot topic at the morning meetings this week has been インフルエンザ, a.k.a. "infuruenza," a.k.a. the flu.  The school nurse took me aside last week and told me to be careful because one student had the flu.  That number has risen to at least 2 or 3, and everyone is on alert.

Face masks have been popping up across the classrooms like dandelions in a field.  Bottles of ethanol have been placed around the school for people to clean their hands with, American hand-sanitizer style.

The Japanese have been wearing masks long before the swine flu craze of last year.  When you have a cold or allergies or any sickness that might mean coughing and sneezing, it`s common courtesy to wear a face mask in Japan. 

The masks are so ubiquitous that they are also a fashion statement.  This article has great pictures of the many different kinds of face masks that are available in Japan.

I feel a little tickle in my throat today, but I`m hoping to avoid donning a mask as long as possible.  Masks make everything feel like I`m in some doctor`s office or the final scenes of E.T. when the government takes over their house.  Not to mention the fact that it`s hard to breathe with one on, let alone talk clearly.

Last year, entire grades in Zack`s school were shut down because of the flu.  This was even after face masks were made mandatory for everyone, sick or otherwise.  So, do the masks really work at preventing the flu?  It`s up for debate.  Even if they do work, everyone takes them off for lunch, which seems to defeat the purpose.  But, like many things in Japan, it doesn`t matter if it makes total sense. 

The masks are more than just a potential preventer of disease; they are a statement.  They are a sign of politeness, the one thing that Japanese people value more than anything.  They are the least confrontational way of saying "I`m sick."  Like the seemingly useless head scarves we wear for fire drills and cleaning time, they are just part of the culture.  And that isn`t changing any time soon.

Monday, January 17, 2011

power in a time of helplessness

I don`t want to go into my religious views right now (it`s complicated), but I will say that I absolutely believe in the power of prayer.  My prayers are almost always answered, and the few times they aren`t, there is a really good reason.

If you also believe in this power, please pray for my grandma.

My grandma was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is a wonderful, sweet woman and a good person. I don`t get to see her very often because she lives in Ohio.  They are doing surgery tomorrow to see how advanced it is.  So please just pray that the surgery goes well and that the prognosis is good.  I`d really appreciate it.  Her name is Alberta.

And if you ever need a prayer sent your way, just let me know.  We can always help each other, even when we feel helpless.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

it begins

I got my scores from the GRE in the mail yesterday.  I had viewed them online, but seeing them on paper made it real.  I have to apply to grad school this year. 

When you take the GRE, they let you pick out 4 schools to send your scores to for free.  I was prepared for most of the test except this part.  I hadn`t thought at all about what schools to apply to.  I was putting that off until after the test.  I also wasn`t prepared to hear that it costs $23 to send a score to a school after the test is over. 

I just picked four schools at random.  Either schools that I heard amazing things about or schools that I knew had good financial aid programs.  One of those schools was the University of Iowa.  I am obsessed with the University of Iowa.  So many writers that I respect have attended the Iowa Writers` Workshop.  It would be the dream of all my dreams to go to school there. 

I finally looked at the website for the Iowa Writers` Workshop today.  And now I am scared.  I literally shook a little as I read the admission requirements and browsed the bios of the faculty.  What the hell chance do I have to get into this program? 

I`m going to try anyways.  The application deadline for Fall 2012 is January 3, 2012. The application fee is only $60, which I`ve come to learn is pretty decent for a graduate school.  I have almost a year to get my writing together. I think I can do it.  Even if I don`t get in, I am determined to show those highly-accomplished professors my best work to date. 

I don`t know if I can handle looking at more admissions pages today.  I am so much more afraid of this than anything else.  Ever.  Except maybe caterpillars and the very tip top of mountains.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


It`s the time of year when I make a list of goals that I hope to accomplish in the year.  Here is my list for 2010. I`ll cross off the things I actually did.
1. Finish the novel that I started in Nanowrimo
2. Get a full time job in Japan
3. Never drink as much as I did on Halloween.
4. Be a better environmentalist/vegetarian.

5. Get pretty skin.
6. Start figuring out grad school and long term goals.
7. Plan a wedding.

I certainly didn`t accomplish number 1 but I am happy with where I am in terms of writing and planning for the future.  I also didn`t drink as much as I did last Halloween, which is pretty good, but I`m far from conquering my demons with alcohol.

So, here are my goals for 2011:
1. Get into grad school, preferably a fully-funded program.  (Did I mention that I rocked the GRE?  I got my scores online and I am quite happy with how I did on that analytical writing part and the verbal section. Now comes the hard part: creating an amazing writing sample.)
2.  Get at least 10 stories published.  It`s astounding that I actually finished some stories last year--3 total--but I only got one of them published.  I`m waiting to hear back about one of them, and the other was a flash fiction that I now regret submitting because it`s pretty bad.  But I am determined to get the hang of this completing-a-story-and-submitting-it-for-publication thing this year.
3. Figure out what I want out of life.  I have to do some soul searching this year.  I know I can`t possibly figure out every little thing that I want for myself, but I have to figure out a few things. This is the hardest part of being a grownup.
4. Run another half-marathon...or even a full marathon.  I still can`t believe how much I enjoyed running a half-marathon.  I really long for that sense of accomplishment again.  I want to run at least one more race, preferably for charity, this year.
5. Get in shape and get pretty skin.  I`m already working on this one!
6. Give to charity whenever possible. I didn`t donate to charity last year, and it makes me feel like crap.  This year, I plan on helping the world whenever possible.
7. Read.  A lot.  My first mission when I return to the US, after giving a million hugs, will be a trip to the library.  I haven`t been buying books because we`re heading home soon, and I am going crazy. 

I have another goal for myself that I`m keeping a secret for now, but I`ll tell you about it when I`ve accomplished it.  I am really happy about this goal. 

Oh yeah, and we finally reserved some plane tickets.  We will be Atlanta-bound on March 25.  I love Japan, but I cannot wait to be home.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Peace Memorial Park

I've been to a few truly Tragic places in my life.  One of them was the Imperial War Museum in London, where an entire floor is dedicated to the Holocaust.  The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam still haunts me.  I tear up every time I think about the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, where guests can actually look out on the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

These places are sad and important.  They show us what can happen when humanity lets  greed and irrational fear take over.  They show us how precious human life is, and how easily it can be taken away.

So on December 28, Zack, Andy, and I took the shinkansen out farther than I've ever traveled in Japan.  We went past Kyoto and Osaka, down to the port city that became a center of military activity in the early 20th century.  A place where 180,000 people died over the course of a week in 1945.

The most famous monument in Hiroshima is the Atomic Bomb Dome.  It looms over the Peace Memorial Park.  The bomb exploded almost exactly above the building, leaving the walls and dome in tact.

This building was originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Hall.  It was left as a reminder  of the terrible power of atomic bombs.
The Peace Park was scattered with monuments to the different groups of people who died as a result of the bombing.  One of the monuments honored the junior high school students who were mobilized during WWII to help ready Japan for potential attacks.  These students worked on building demolition and the creation of firebreaks.
The goddess of peace stands for the students who lost their lives.
One of the saddest stories I heard was that of Sadako, a girl who was only 2 when the bomb was dropped.  She developed leukemia ten years later from radiation exposure.  She made a thousand paper cranes in an attempt to get well.  She didn't get better and died at the age of 12.  Today, people around the world make paper cranes and send them to Hiroshima to show their support of world peace and in memory of all the children who died because of the A-bomb.
A statue of Sadako holding a crane.

Paper cranes from around the world.

My favorite part of the park was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  The museum only cost 50 yen to enter--less than 50 cents--and was full of historical documents, heart-wrenching stories, and a disturbing look into the Nuclear Age.
Wax figures representing what some of the victims looked like.  The heat was so intense that people's skin hung in tatters.

This tricycle belonged to a 3-year-old boy who was burned to death.  His father didn't want him to be buried alone, so he buried the little boy with his tricycle.
A model showing Hiroshima before the bombing.

A model of Hiroshima immediately after the bombing.

I learned a lot about WWII history and Japan's military history in the museum.  The first atomic bomb was dropped mostly as an experiment to test the weapon's effects.  Hiroshima was carefully chosen as the site of the bombing because it didn't have any prisoner-of-war camps and it was just the right size.  The museum did not place all the blame for WWII's destruction on one country, though; all countries were held responsible for their own actions in this terrible war.

The goal of Hiroshima is to eliminate nuclear bombs from the Earth and create world peace.  As long as nuclear bombs and war exist, we are all at risk.

I am so grateful that I got to visit the City of Peace at least once in my life.