Being American

**

I’m pretty liberal about most things but this is something that actually concerns me. Seriously, what’s wrong with us? No one seems to care anymore about being American anymore. I mean, after Bush, I think a lot of Americans became disheartened, understandably–and we do have a pretty bad reputation as tourists outside the country. But why shouldn’t we stand when the flag goes by? You know, despite all our failures, and all our flaws, we’re a pretty amazing country. The things we have accomplished at such a young age… the colorfulness of each state.. we’ve got all types of people, land, cultures, foods, and we co-exist so well despite our differences.

When I left the US over 2 years ago, I was dying to get out and see the world. I was tired of all the problems we had in the US and I was almost embarrassed to tell anyone I met that I was American. But I’ve found that every country has its problems, and no one is perfect, whether you’re Japanese, English, German, French, Spanish, or whatever. Some countries (like Germany) don’t really fly the national flag because to them, patriotism is a reminder of past wars. Okay, I get it. But truthfully, it’s in the past. Who we are today is where we come from, but it’s also where we’re going. (The key word being ‘we’). We define what it means to be American, so being proud of your nationality shouldn’t be likened to fascism, nor should it be dismissed as unimportant. It doesn’t matter which country we come from. It’s who we are and that’s that. It’s just like being born with the body you have. Sure, some people decide to change their bodies through plastic surgery. You can change your nationality too. But if you aren’t willing to go that far, then you ought to be grateful for what you do have. You’ve gotta work with what you’ve got and be proud of it. Mind you, proud doesn’t necessarily mean pompous.

The point is this: Whether you like it or not, or whether you agree or not with anything I’ve said so far, we’re American and we’re damn good at being American. So why shouldn’t we be proud? Why shouldn’t we stand for our dear little flag when it goes by? It stands for us… the least we can do is stand for it too.

**I know this is an old photo, probably taken in the 70s or 80s, but it doesn’t make it any less true. People today still don’t stand for the flag.

Over time…

The following is a draft I wrote in November of 2009. I never posted it because I was planning on writing more.. and then I just never got around to it. This is as far as I got:

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 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 be 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’ve been in London for 10 months now. My time here is almost up (I leave in September). I felt so proud of myself for living in Japan and going through everything that I did. I’m still proud of it, but I have to say I haven’t exactly been “strutting” through life since then. Coming to England gave me a different type of culture shock I wasn’t expecting. I’ve already written about this in an earlier entry. It’s been about 6 months since my last entry and I’ve only come to find that I am becoming more and more set in my ways. The good news is that I mostly realize it. Stress has been building up with my coursework and when I do catch a break, I let loose completely. But now I am trying to find that happy balance between working and playing. I’m beginning to take my time with things. London, as with all major metropoli, is a fast-paced city. I’ve experienced this before. I am, as I was hoping I would before, toughening up. But I don’t necessarily like what I’ve toughened up into. So I’m stopping. Just because you live in a fast-paced city doesn’t mean you have to live a fast-paced life.

I’m currently working on my dissertation and, after that’s finished, I’m moving back to the United States. It’s time I came home. So, this blog probably won’t see another entry from me for a while. But when it does, we’ll see how I’ve changed again.

Men Who Explain Things

“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another 40-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I’m not holding my breath.”

After reading that article, my good friend Jesse (likeaphoenixignition) wrote:

Really interesting article, but I take a little issue with where she takes it.

I think she’s probably right that this sort of authoritative talking-out-of-one’s-ass is a largely gendered behavior, which is to say that, broadly, it’s a Thing Men Do.

But she then leaps from there to the assumption that men only do this to women, which couldn’t be more wrong in my experience.

I certainly understand why she would interpret such behavior as paternalism. And there’s absolutely an assertion of power that’s inherent in this form of communication. But it’s not something that’s reserved for use towards women, not at all. At it’s basest, I suppose it’s how we guys vie for lead dog status amongst each other.

I guess the point is, we’re not trying to dominate women; we’re trying to dominate EVERYONE, indiscriminately.

If that’s better or worse, I’m not sure

…to which i have this to say:
I’m with you on this one, Jesse. She makes some good points and she definitely has her opinions which you can tell have been reinforced in her due to her life experiences… But you’re right about Men Explaining Things to not just women, but men too. It’s not so much about ‘keeping the woman down’ but more so just a man’s nature to feel he is an authority on some subject, regardless of who he is talking to. I don’t hold it against men (anymore) that they are this way.

At the same time, women in this day and age have a fierce tendency to self-righteously feel they are being subjugated or victimised, especially by men. And while sometimes we actually are being subjugated or victimised, it’s unfair to assume that all men treat us this way and only this way. Yeesh, I should write my own article on Women Who Disdain Men.

A short thought.

Are we really unique?

Well as Oscar Wilde once said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” Just to reinforce the point, the best I can give you is a quote from someone else. Even with looks and physical appearance factored in (hello doppelgängers), it’s true… each individual one of us isn’t really all that unique. But as depressing as that may sound to an American brought up on believing that everyone is supposed to be a special little snowflake, individualism isn’t the only or necessarily best way.

If, when you sit people-watching, you say you just think of all the countless people who you’ll never know, that’s okay. Maybe we’re not so unique on purpose. There’s no way to meet everyone in the world, so maybe we’re all a bit alike for that very reason.. the more you learn about people, the more you know people.

When it all comes down to it, though, what does it really matter how unique we are or aren’t? As long as we try to be good people and are happy with ourselves…

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.

Speak Globish?

Is the English language getting stronger or falling apart?

I just read an interesting Newsweek article that one of my students brought to class for me. It’s about English becoming the lingua franca of the world and how it no longer belongs to England or America, but to the world at large. This new form of English is thus appropriately coined Globish.

See the article here: All the World Speaks Globish

I must admit–I have mixed feelings about this. I do think it’s wonderful that the world is finding a common means of communication. It’s part of why I’m teaching English in Japan. It’s not that I think everyone should speak English–not at all–but I do believe in the potential and opportunity to be gained by the world being able to communicate in one language. The fact that it’s English is convenient for me but I’m also apprehensive that mother tongues will be lost–especially the mother tongue that is English.

This article acknowledges that, “native speakers still cling fiercely to their mother tongues, as they should.” But, what of the English language? Already, English seems to be butchered and neglected by its own native speakers. It seems to me that unless one majors in some form of communication in college, be it Literature, Journalism, or so on, one will only have a meager grasp of grammar and a limited vocabulary. Having taught English as a second language for one year, I’ve realised how little I truly know about the language. The scary thing is that my studies and career revolve around knowing the English language through and through. Most Americans I know who never spent a lot of time studying the English language constantly make mistakes that I can only cringe at as though they were nails on a chalkboard. If I correct these persons, they look at me like I’m crazy and ask me why it even matters. The fact that anyone has to ask why grammar matters is just deplorable, if you ask me.

At the same time, I can say that having a serious lack of grammar is admissible if you’re still successfully communicating. There’s a point in my lesson everyday where my students have to practice a dialogue. First, they read it out loud, and then I have them do it again while standing and leaving the books on their desks. I want them to practice making eye contact and using intonation. Most of my students think this means they have to memorise the conversation before class but this is all wrong. I have to remind them that I don’t want them to remember every single word; I just want them to understand the situation and act it out. If that means they end up changing some words or using a different sentence altogether, so be it. The point is for them to communicate with each other in a natural way, using body language and intonation. They can use whatever words they know as long as they are communicating the right ideas and understanding each other.

It doesn’t take more than a semester of linguistics to know that language is a living thing and constantly changes. New words and phrases are invented all the time. Definitions get switched around from word to word as though they were pieces of furniture at a feng shui convention. I suppose I feel this is a necessary evil if we want to keep up with the changing world. Or perhaps it is just result of a changing world. But I still think it’s important that we hold on to the language whence our modern words came. There are histories and knowledge to be had from our predecessors’ parlance. We shouldn’t underestimate that.

The bottom line? Speaking Globish is a fine skill to have as long as we remember our mother tongue, English. Otherwise, I’m afraid we may lose one of the world’s most dynamic and wonderfully colourful languages.

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…)

Peas and Violence

I know most of us, at some point in our lives, have seen the play on words involving peace and those little round green veggies we call peas. Kind of funny, isn’t it? Well, sure it is. But why?

Well, in the simplest terms, we’re human and violent behavior is an innate characteristic for us. It just happens but we try our best to moderate it. I had actually written a few paragraphs about violence and anger but none of it was coming out right and I couldn’t even figure out what I was trying to say. It probably would have been seen by some random reader as extremely politically incorrect anyway. (Remind me to write an entry about political correctness for next time.) So rather than fuss over this touchy issue with my ramblings and opinions of anger and violence, I’m simply going to introduce the subject.

And why would I do such a thing, you ask? Because it’s a taboo. And I believe that every taboo should be talked about. If there’s something that people don’t like talking about, it’s because it makes people uncomfortable. But if we’re ever going to make any progress, don’t you think we should face the things we’re uncomfortable with? It’s just food for thought. And everybody could use a little food for thought every now and again.

So, for now, I’ll leave you with this interesting video I came across on YouTube. Take a looksie.. and then think about the things that good ol’ John said.