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.

Frustrations Alight

So it’s been almost two months since I first arrived in London. It’s been busy. And frustrating.

It’s strange being a foreigner in a land where things seem so similar to your own homeland. I thought it would be easier to move here. In Japan, it was understandable to encounter different ways of doing things. Everything was different there. That’s not to say I didn’t expect London to be different–I did. But I suppose that something about suddenly being able to read the signs and communicate with people messed with my impressions of the place. “How hard could it be?” I thought.

But I found there were things I took for granted in both the US and Japan that really annoyed me here in the UK. For example, pedestrians do not have the right of way and in some places, you have to pay anywhere from 50p to 3 quid to use a “public” toilet. I guess I was under the impression that going to the toilet was a basic human right, not a privilege. Using the underground on weekends is a nightmare due to the fact that London is trying to upgrade everything for the 2012 Olympics. But they do all their planned engineering on weekends? They should be doing it at night, like the Japanese do. But what do I know? I’m not a civil engineer. I’ll just have to put up with tube disruptions every weekend until 2012. And I’m not exaggerating.

Frustrations aside, I’ve had some good experiences here. I like that debit cards have a chip in them instead of a swipe bar. I like the variety of beer and Thai and Indian food you can get here. I really like the friends I’ve made, although most of them aren’t even British. I like the grocery stores and all the different ingredients I could buy should I ever want to make that crazy European recipe I couldn’t make in the US.

I’m trying really hard to get around my frustrations because I seem to be the only one around here who has them. And I’ve already offended a Brit by complaining. It wasn’t my intention to offend, but I needed to vent and getting it thrown right back at me was a bit of a wake-up call. Things aren’t so bad. Things could always get worse. I realise this. I need to toughen up again. I was a lot tougher back when I was living in New York. San Diego calmed me down, but I felt stuck. Then I got lost in San Francisco. Found myself in San Diego but got stuck again. Then really opened up in Japan. But I think I softened up a lot there. Everyone is so nice and passive. London is the opposite. People don’t care here. You’re on your own.

I’m not sure I can be as tough and cutthroat as I was in New York. I’m not quite as crazy as I used to be. But something will have to change. I wonder what London will turn me into….

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.

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.