Cheers

I realise my last post made me seem rather depressed. I tried to include some good things in the post to dispel this impression, but that didn’t seem to work. So here’s the bright cheery side of things in its very own post: London ain’t so bad! It wasn’t London that was even bothering me to begin with but more so the rigid, rusty creakiness with which I was adjusting to my new environment. Two months seems to be my breaking point and I’ve since come to accept this city the way it is. I feel much more comfortable getting around and getting things done here. No more hand-holding for me!

Now Christmas is upon us and for the first time in my life, I’m not going home. Also for the first time, I haven’t written a Christmas list. Save for this, I think what I’d really like this year is to have my first ‘white Christmas’. And that’s the kind of present no one can promise you. If it really does snow on Christmas, then maybe that will be a sign of good things. I’m going to get myself a little tree, some ornaments, lights, and watch Christmas movies all day. I’ll have dinner at a friend’s home, so I certainly won’t be alone the entire time. But I am going to take advantage of this holiday season (alone and away from everyone I know) to make a special present that cannot be bought. (OOo I feel my creative senses tingling!) I’m not loaded with money, so the present will probably be all-inclusive. But money isn’t what Christmas is about anyway, right? It’s not about spending caps, or present leverage. I honestly don’t expect a present from anyone. All I care about is my own ability to give and the look on someone’s face when they open a present. That’s definitely the best part of Christmas. So I sincerely hope you all like my present. Of course, you’ll have to wait until Christmas for it.

Until then, I’d like to stop talking about myself for once and open this up to the rest of you. If you’d like to (and you should because there’s a surprise in it), I invite you to respond in the comments section with your answer (long or short) to the following question: What does Christmas mean to you? Be as imaginative as you like, but please answer by December 24th.

This one’s about love.

Xavier: What’s all this sh_t about love? How do we get so nuts? The time we waste! When you’re alone, you cry, “Will I find her?” When you’re not- “Does she love me as much as I love her?” “Can we love more than one person in a lifetime?” Why do we split up? All these f_cking questions! You can’t say we’re uninformed. We read love stories, fairy tales, novels. We watch movies. Love, love, love…!
Isabelle: You could just call her back.

I just watched a film called Les poupées russes and while it didn’t really teach me anything in particular, it did have some great views of London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. That was the main reason I rented it. I liked the internationalism of it and the cinematic effects made it fun and modern. As for the main story line, the main character was a jerk, in my opinion. But then again, I’ve done a lot of the same things he has in a restless search for love and comfort, whether it be momentary or eternal. I, too, can be a jerk. It’s only because I want to find happiness as much as the next person.
I guess I’ve always felt that pure happiness could be found through true love. My two favorite movies when I was little were Pretty Woman and Father of the Bride. The idea of being rescued by the perfect guy (no matter who you were) and then having the perfect wedding always fascinated me. I want that to happen to me. I’m very well aware of the fact that these ideas have been ground into my subconscious and they’re not going away anytime soon. To be honest, that bothers me. I see other people in the world whose obsessions have nothing to do with l’amour but with their art, their livelihood, their religion or something else. Sometimes I wish one of these things were my pursuit in life. Maybe I’d feel a lot less like one of the proverbial lemmings. But since I was 4 years old, I’ve always known two things about myself to be completely and utterly true: I want to be a mom and I want to be a wife.
As of late, I’ve been reading a lot of books and spending more time at home. I’ve had no major interest in dating for a while and I haven’t felt like I’ve had a real connection to anyone in quite a long time. Years, it seems. I know it hasn’t been years, but sometimes I wonder if even my last two serious relationships, both involving many a serious discussion on marriage and even an engagement, were truly full connections. I understood these partners inside and out. I understood what they wanted and needed. I thought I could give them that. I cared enough about and loved each one enough that I thought the kind of dreamy relationships we had could stay like that forever. That I could fill those roles of everything they wanted forever. Something was missing for me though, and as much as I wanted to say “No! I love this person and I can make it work!” I knew I wouldn’t stay happy forever. Only about a minute ago did I realize that the first of these relationships was far too wild. It pushed all the boundaries I knew. The second of the two was much too comfortable. It was well within the boundaries I had known. I had a pleasant spark with both of these individuals when I first met them and it grew into love very quickly. But I was never 120% sure. 98% sure, yes. Which is fine for a school exam. But not when it comes to love. The reason why 98% sure isn’t good enough for me is that a couple times while I was growing up, I asked my mom how she knew my dad was the one. She told me she “just knew.” I couldn’t believe her at first. Of course that’s not the answer you want to hear as a kid. I don’t really know what else I was hoping she’d say, but what else could she say? “Well, kid, I just walked down to the perfect husband store and picked him in aisle 5. Right height, right price, nice eyes. When you’re 18, I’ll take you down there and we’ll see what we can find for you.” I guess that could have been easier to accept. But we all know, that’s not how it works and there’s no perfect partner store.
You see, when referring to my future partner, I hesitate to use the word husband. It seems likely, but given my past and my philosophies and especially my wonderings about love, I feel as though I would be ruling out a possibility if I just stuck to a husband. Who knows if I’ll find a husband, or just a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or just a good friend who I hang around with a lot? I know some people find their soul mate in a best friend, and they never marry. Who says we have to marry anyway? Maybe I will find a partner, but we won’t marry. Maybe we can’t marry. Remember, my obsession with marriage (thanks, Steve Martin and Kimberly Williams). That and my parents have a perfect marriage—seems like it anyway. It’s been the model in my life. So, yeah, I want one too. And I want it to last forever. It’s an instinct for me: I want to find my one and only.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m scared that once I meet the “one” I won’t appreciate it. Or I won’t be happy forever and things will go awry. Worse yet, what if I already met the one and I threw it all away? So many times I’ve had that feeling I thought was the same as my mom’s when she met my dad and “just knew.” I thought I “knew” this was it several times. But I don’t trust myself to “know” anymore. I don’t know if I can love a spouse for the rest of my life. Or even for 50 years. I do know that when I have children, I will always love them, no matter what. I know that down to the blood and marrow in my bones. I’m far more sure about having kids than I am about getting married.
So what am I getting at here? I suppose I’m just expressing my confusion and bewilderment about love. I think most of us have, at one point or another, been frustrated by love. I want to know why it’s so necessary. Why am I obsessed with finding (or being found by) my one and only? I mean, at least lately, I haven’t felt as much of a rush to find love, but I still find this sentiment inside so annoying that I feel the need to rebel against it, kicking and screaming, saying “I don’t need you!” I feel the need to write a long, ridiculous post like this one. That’s how I feel about love. How do you feel?

Our Life Track. (Part II)

(…continued from before)

Well I was going to continue my previous post with what consoling and self-inspiring thoughts I had come up with before publishing, but it seems that the friends who read Part I took care of that for me with their comments. So thank you all for the kind words.

I was, in fact, already thinking I was doing okay. More than okay, actually. As it turned out, the very day after I wrote Part I, I received an unconditional offer of placement at the school I applied to–I’m going to England!!! I’m still a bit stressed out with having a cough, having to file US taxes while abroad, and now having to apply for a visa to study in the UK as well as figure out how I’m going to pay for grad school. But that’s okay. I can make this work. If I could leave a fiancé and two low-pay, no-future part-time jobs to come to Japan where I would effectively become illiterate and find my career only to apply to graduate school in the UK and get in, then I can do anything. Right? I know that was a terribly written sentence–I run out of breath just reading it–but that’s what the last year has felt like for me.

My cinzano-drinking friend knows we’re doing well. “We’re ahead of the game,” she said to me. I agreed with the sincere, if a tad clichéd, statement. Then I thought about it and retracted my agreement. We’re ahead, for sure, but there is no game. We shouldn’t think of it in terms of a game that everyone is playing, because then we would only compare ourselves to all the other players, would we not? We’re ahead for ourselves. I am doing alright for myself.

If I had stayed in California and gotten married, my life would have stopped there. I am certain of it. It would have taken a total overhaul 20 years down the pike to get myself happy and inspired again. Don’t get me wrong. He was a good guy, but that’s not the life I was meant to live and I gradually knew that. Now, I am where I’m supposed to be: going somewhere. I got here by listening to my gut. It was my gut that told me to go to Japan, even though I was engaged. It was my gut that told me I’d found my profession. It was my gut that told me to go to school in the UK. Like I said, I only applied to one school: the one I wanted more than any other school. And I got it. So for now, all I can do is keep listening and keep going. When my gut tells me I’ve found the right job or the right person or the right location, I’ll know I can rely on that. It hasn’t failed me yet.

To those lost, confused, or uninspired, I say listen to your gut. Even if it’s not saying anything now, it will at some point. Just keep going and your gut will help you figure things out.

Our Life Track. (Part I)

A little over a month ago, I submitted an application to a graduate program in England to get my Masters in education. I only applied to one school because this is really the only program I want to go to. And I suppose it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get into grad school right. this. second. It did feel that way the first time I applied to college, what with my parents not giving me much of a choice and all. But this time around, it’s my choice to go to grad school if I want and when I want. Anyway, since I applied to just the one school, I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure and anxiety about whether I’ll get in or not. And I know I’m doing this to myself. No one else seems to be as concerned about this as I am. Not even my parents.

I know I’m not alone in my struggle to better my future, though, because a good friend and coworker of mine here in Japan is feeling the same urge I feel to get a move on. We’re both in our mid-twenties, we’re both pretty smart kids, and we have open minds and a taste for adventure. We’ve also both discussed how we feel envious of our friends back in the States who are already working jobs with great pay, or they’re married with kids, or they’re living in New York like she and I both want to someday…. Did I miss something? Did I get off track? How come they already get to be where I want to be right now? Why am I not there?

Is this what they call the quarter life crisis?

I’m nearing 25, I have no money, I work at a company with hardly any in-house mobility, and I get easily frustrated and many times feel like an idiot because I live in a country where I can barely speak the language and most definitely can’t read anything. I also know I won’t meet my future life partner while I’m here. My parents had already been married for 4 years and were supporting each other by the time they were my age. My brothers were supporting themselves too by 25. What’s my problem?

Is it really fair to compare myself to them? Or to anyone?

I told my friend, a few evenings ago while drinking cinzanos and sharing her balcony, that even though it seems like those other people we know are so much further ahead than us, it’s not really the case. I tried to justify it by the fact that we are in Japan. Not many of them would be willing to come here and live like this. Because let me tell you: it ain’t easy. I mean, yes, we can afford to go out and have fun and experience a million new things, but gaining experience like this takes its toll on you. Frustration, illiteracy, confusion, translation, isolation, cabin fever, body size. Heaven forbid you get sick in Japan. Which is what I am right now. Again. I’ve never learned so much about home remedies on the internet in my life. I digress.

(to be continued…)

Settled In.

I am soon coming up on my six month mark of being in Japan. I’ve done a lot of things since I’ve been here: traveled across half the country, been in a major earthquake, been in a major typhoon, moved apartments, had a bike/car accident, ended my engagement, met someone else, broke up with them, got harassed by them, went to Tokyo Disneyland, went to a hot spring, rode the bullet train, stayed in a capsule hotel, ate raw chicken (as sashimi), got my first gray hair… it’s been a whirlwind experience. Sometimes I get lost on trains and can’t get back on track–no pun intended–for at least another 2 hours. That can be extremely frustrating when you can’t read or speak the language. Sometimes I buy a pastry at the bakery thinking it would make a nice dessert and it turns out to be savory. Sometimes I buy a shirt that’s a size L and it turns out to fit like a size S. These instances usually make me smirk a little because that’s the experience of a gaijin living in Japan. These are the things that will make me strut though life not letting the petty stuff bother me.

I just got my ticket yesterday to go back home to California and I’m looking forward to going home. I don’t necessarily feel homesick, per se, but I do welcome the opportunity to see my family (and what a great family it is), and maybe eat some real Mexican food. I also welcome the break from all things unfamiliar. Like driving on the other side of the road, or sleeping on an actual mattress as opposed to a futon. Baking something in an oven will be amazing because, quite frankly, who doesn’t like to bake cookies around the holidays? Most homes (apartments) in Japan don’t even have an oven. It will also be nice to fall into a pile of warm clothes that have just come out of the dryer. I don’t think anyone in Japan has a dryer. (I’m sure someone does, but that’s not the point). The thing is, home is home. It will always be that. I feel lucky as hell that I have a home too… I know some don’t. So I like to keep myself feeling lucky and grateful. I know a lot of people who love the town they grew up in and they’d never want to leave. Those people might say I’m ungrateful for wanting to leave my hometown. But I say leaving my hometown makes me even more grateful.

I’ve lived in three different cities around the world since leaving my hometown and now that I’m in a foreign country, I feel more at home than ever. I’m certainly not Japanese and in no way do I fit in around here. I was never really a Japan-o-phile but I always had an interest in the exotic and the world outside America, and Japan falls into those categories. It’s been a struggle to adjust to life here and there are a lot of things I wouldn’t be able to do without relying on someone who can speak Japanese and English. Strangely, though, I feel more independent and at home–with myself– than ever before. I do not feel that I have reached the pinnacle of self-discovery or self-realization by any means, but I do feel like I’m heading in the right direction. My future plans include living in one or two more foreign countries, possibly for an extended period of time. Depends on the country.

There is so much you can learn about yourself, your hometown, your home country just by learning about other people and their towns and their countries. My passion for communication and bridging the gaps between people and cultures has only been cemented by my experience living and working in Japan. As a teacher, I get to have some of the most amazing 50-minute conversations with my students. These stimulating talks are the mere tip of the cultural exchange iceberg. It’s times like these that make me want to stay in Japan another year. But I also feel the pull toward other countries. Like I said, I’m no Japan-o-phile. I find value in all kinds of cultures. The more experiences I can have, the better. There is so much I want to do, you have no idea. The best part about it all, though, is that I feel like there’s no rush. I certainly don’t feel as though I’m wasting any time, either. I’m going at exactly the pace I should be going.

I can only hope that others get to experience or have experienced what I’m experiencing now. I’m not talking about living and working in another country, specifically, but more the metaphysical and transcendental experience of realizing one’s own and the world’s potential. For me, it’s an overall satisfying experience. I wish I could share it with you, but this blog just won’t do it justice. I’ll still give it a shot, though.

Real and Unreal

A spider just ran across my bed. Scared the living daylights out of me, considering it was about eight inches away from my face and it was (a) not a daddy-long-legs and (b) nothing I recognized. I managed to smush it with a flip-flop before it crawled into my messy bedspread. (Apologies to all who dare not kill another living creature, but I have no problem killing certain bugs. Especially spiders that may or may not be poisonous. I’m not going to take that risk.) Anyway, I keep feeling an invisible spider running across my foot or up my arm now.

I had a dream a few nights ago about a small black spider (nothing like the one I killed tonight) that bit my hand right between my knuckles. Not only did it bite me, but it got stuck in my skin. I didn’t dare pull it out lest I pull off a couple legs and leave the body to become embedded in my hand. A day or two later, it finally came out but it left a nice little red bulge in my hand that was sore. I flexed and squeezed my hand so as to force out whatever was in this bulge and out started popping these small white eggs that looked and felt like tapioca. I know, you’ll never be able to eat tapioca again–sorry. So when I finally woke up, I checked my hand to make sure I hadn’t actually been bitten and I was safe. But it did feel funny right at the spot where the spider had bitten me in my dream.

Now, I’ll admit that I fancy the art of dream interpretation. According to an online dream dictionary, the spider is a symbol of female authority and to dream of a spider biting you is representative of some large issue that you must make a tough decision about. It does not, however, say anything about a spider laying eggs. Do spiders even actually do that? I mean, in your skin? I’m not even sure I want to know the answer to that.

The point is, I had a disconcerting dream about a spider and a similarly disconcerting spider actually come right at me, not a week later. I do have pressing issues I need to make some tough decisions about. So, have I just been reading too much Murakami lately? Or is there a real …or unreal… issue going on here?

It is events such as these that make me question the difference between reality and what I only think is not real. I believe it was Zhuang Zi () who once had a dream he was a butterfly and when he awoke, he didn’t know if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Truly, how do you really know the difference? I do believe the life I’m living here where the spider ran across my bed tonight is actually the real thing. But it’s fun to speculate. I guess it gives us all something to do when we’re tired of the harshness and (dare I say it?) reality of life. Then again, you could say that’s why I’m writing right now as well.