黄鶯睍睆

Kōō kenkan su
Bush warblers start singing in the mountains

About a decade ago, when my kids were fewer and much shorter, I realized that my best friends were strangers, writers I bonded with because of their command of prose, their wild imaginations, their unfettered energy. My actual friends, the ones who know me in return, they have mostly disappeared, one by one, either because their life is hectic and full of things that I know nothing about or because I am too much for them. I am a lot to handle. I have a persistent, often boring, brain that houses my rabid imagination, my ridiculous memory. And because there is just so much swirling around in there, I often contradict myself, usually within the same conversation. I am an unreliable narrator of my existence.

I wish, for others mainly, that I could be solid and consistent but being flexible and open-minded means that I can accept many different realities, without committing myself to a single, possibly wrong one (on its own). I live as a contradiction, a Westerner in the East, a married single mother. I am both. I am either/and/or.

I started thinking about contradictions when I wrote to my friend who originally pointed out my roller coaster nature. I felt so self-conscious from this insight he has that I read over the short email several times, just checking to make sure there were no hairpin turns or spiraling dips. And then I thought, you know what, fuck it. Maybe I am a roller coaster but you know, some people line up for hours to ride roller coasters, travel miles and miles and kilometers to do so. So yeah, I am a mess of contradictions, yes, I will say I am 100% doing one thing then turn around and 100% do something opposite. That is a-okay because I mean each declaration: I am sincere about every attempt to settle on one side of myself (if only to be dragged back to the other side, over and over again).

It is a three-day weekend and I am glad of it. I need the time to come to terms with my recent decision to basically say fuck it to formal Japanese study (besides for my weekly lesson) and just sink into the literary world. Good books, my literary magazine, and my own writing remind me that this is where I belong. I listened to a great interview with Marlon James and as with any writer that I have an affinity for, I felt the great burden of loneliness slip away as he spoke.

I have been isolated for long enough to be candid about this truth: I am a lonely person. I live in a situation that offers very little opportunity for making friends and even those who I could grow close to, either because they are also immigrants or because they lived abroad before or because their kids go to the same school, well, let’s just say, I have yet to meet one of my peers amongst those good people and I have come to accept that I probably never will. It is okay though as long as I have my notebook and pen.

I did write yesterday and am about put more ink to the page. It is strange to go back to the beginning and set down those memories into words. Strange and good. I also finished up a podcast for my literary magazine, that I am restarting from tomorrow. And tomorrow I will also begin the layout for the print issue, which is pretty exciting. I really missed working on the project and look forward to returning to that work.

I do want to study Japanese, one day. But first, I must write. Please remind me of this if I swing back to the other side tomorrow. Write then study. Sounds fair, I think. And I can always do the opposite, knowing that eventually, I will go back the other way.

東風解凍

Harukaze kōri o tokuEast wind melts the ice

So many sentences begun in my head but little motivation to finish them on paper.

Is it a lack of motivation, this foggy ambivalence? Or just an acceptance that because everything matters, then nothing in particular matters?

Before I arrived at this state of being, I had other plans. Not just to write, because writing is just something that has always been my way of interacting with my life. No, I had specific plans. I drew them on copy paper and cherished hopes long after they dimmed to nothingness. A farm, small scale but flourishing. Goats and chickens and bees, a few friendly dogs running amuck, kittens in the spring, maybe even a horse. A huge garden, a swimming hole with fish for catching. A path that leads to my writing cabin. A house big enough for everyone and a long wooden table in the yard for family, friends, and neighbors to come by for our big weekly dinner.

And a boat, a 40-foot blue water boat to sail around the world, slowly, writing and drifting and just being. Swimming and drawing.

Very specific dreams, easy to visualize. Even now as I pull them up in my mind, I feel almost nostalgic for a life that never occurred. And yet I don’t feel the attachment to that future any longer, or any future for that matter. I exist in this present and very near future and very near past. This region of time is where I am and where I must thrive. Is this simply a sign of aging, of accepting that the meter is running out of minutes? Perhaps but it is not as negative as assumed.

Over these past few years, I have come to accept the path under my feet, even if it is rocky and steep. And in doing so, I relinquished the weight of rejection and dissatisfaction.

And yet, I must fight complacency. I must rally against slothfulness and lowered expectations; I must resist Netflix.

Today, dear reader, I am starting the big project. The book. I spent the morning at my youngest’s recital. I am going to do an hour’s worth of chores then I am heading to the FamilyMart’s cozy eat-in section where I will begin the chronicle of my life in Japan. And then we’ll see if that helps to melt the ice.

立春

Risshun- Beginning of Spring

The oni were driven out and now we have rounded the bend of winter.

I have been sick for two days straight and am finally at the point where I can sit up and think again. The weekend was short which is never good. I think my body grabbed onto whatever passing virus was about just to add some additional days to my weekend.

The good thing about being sick then not being sick is that your head is as clear as your guts. It is like waking up from a long dream. Why was I spending so much time on that, so much energy worrying about this?

Yesterday I went to the doctor’s, where the man sat on his stool like a child with his legs tucked underneath himself. The room was a bit dingy, with discarded equipment gathering dust in the corners, on the linoleum floor. He did an ultrasound on my intestines to show me how disgusting they were, inky and pulsing. And then he prescribed me medicine and I went across the street to the pharmacy that also pushes freshly squeezed citrus as medicine and yet in my condition, I was deemed undeserving and given a chart of all the foods to avoid until I recover: curry, hot sauce, peppers, tempura, and tonkatsu. In the end, I had paid about 14 USD for both the doctor and the pharmacy and went home to sleep some more.

Sick dreams are a special category of dreams, are they not? My dreams during the illness have been lush, crowded, cluttered. I went to my parents’ old house and there were piles of laundry everywhere (no guessing where this element arose from as upon waking there are piles of laundry everywhere in my tiny apartment, waiting for my recovery). I wanted to call an old friend and invite him to an art museum where they were having an exhibit of Gauguin but I could never find the room with the phone. My family kept following me around, scolding me for wearing only a long tee-shirt. The pear trees were covered in my dad’s work jeans and button-down plaid shirts, my mom’s elastic-waisted shorts. The trampoline was still there but also covered in laundry, ragged bath towels and faded bathings suits.

When I woke, I considered writing to my friend but then I remembered that we are no longer friends. This recollection always makes me sad but I accept now that there is no way to repair friendships single-handedly. Besides, he does not care for Gauguin or art museums for that matter. Too pretentious though he should appreciate that the artist was an asshole: “‘Gauguin seems to have fallen for the myth of Tahiti he created… He returned [to Tahiti] expecting the erotic idyll that was only ever a figment of his imagination. Of course, he didn’t find it and the disappointment was profound: he died a twisted and bitter man, having alienated everyone both at home and in Tahiti. It’s a sad story of a man who believed his own fiction.'”

コンビニ人間

I started reading Convenience Store Woman in Japanese at the beginning of the month. It is slow going but I can say this, now that I have devoured the copy of the English translation that I had been hiding from myself like a selkie’s coat, the Japanese version is better. Not that the translation is untrue or incorrect; I just think that English fails to capture the nature of life in Japan. It is too, I don’t know, just too everything.

Here is another thing about the book: I am the convenience store woman. I am the one who mimics in order to pass. That is the word I use in my head, I am passing. I am passing for normal, for human, for a woman, for a mother. I am passing, as if some test is constantly being administered and I have borrowed my classmates’ notes without understanding what to do with them.

“Now, too, I felt reassured by the expression on Mrs. Izumi and Sugawara’s faces: Good, I pulled off being a “person”.” (Murata, p. 29)

Just like Keiko, I am ambivalent about sex, about clothes, about everything. I study people so they will not be suspicious of me, worried about me. That is why I study Japanese, why I carry my brown leather purse like all the other ladies in my office have, the wool coat with the hood, everything obtained second-hand but that makes it better, somehow, since I know that it was deemed acceptable once before.

I am blending in, unrecognizable in a crowd because I am short and have dark hair and the same fashion and mannerisms as everyone else. I am proud of this: it means my studying has paid off.

I do have an aim to my conformity though: I want to be seen as a natural fit for a potential promotion at my work. I also want the immigration officials to deem me acceptable when I request permanent residency. I am reading Japanese history books and studying the language, the culture as well. Trying to understand all levels of this place I call home so that I can go beyond mimicking, beyond passing.

It is harder to be in love with a place than a person. With a person, you have expectations of being loved in return, of being valued. With a place, there are no such expectations. You just want to be permitted to remain. My devotion means that I can sacrifice the trappings of my self, the details that previously defined me. It is my form of incantation, a love spell.

静か

The kettle steaming its way to a boil.
A delivery truck shifting gears.
The hamster obsessed with beating its own record on the wheel.
There is never complete silence here. Even at four in the morning.

My own father used to rise at this time every day and paint. I see how precious that time must have been for him, out in his ramshackle studio slash laundry room slash exercise room slash tool storage. Just to focus on his work, without any demands from others.

A father of four, a mother of four. Working more hours every week than we are scheduled. Both of us responsible for maintaining a balance at home, a calmness that the children rely on. Who among my children will inherit the early morning silence?


鶏始乳

Niwatori hajimete toya ni tsuku- Hens begin laying eggs.

I did not study Japanese well in January. Well being defined as with a book and for more than ten minutes at a time.

I did go to the dentist every week in January. Most likely I will do the same in February. And March. After over a decade of not going to the dentist, I get to make up for lost time. Because, turns out, if you do not go the dentist regularly, you lose more than time.

I also did stop listening to music with lyrics. This has had a profound impact on my thinking habits and, in turn, daily mindfulness. Lyrics, while interesting, are manipulative and limiting. I can feel Beethoven reaching far corners of my brain whereas with singer/songwriter music, it just touches a little pocket. The emotions I feel with Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 are deep and wide, going far beyond the romantic sentimentalism of, say, Bjork. And those of you who know me know that I love Bjork. I just don’t want to listen to her anymore.

Let’s see, what else happened in January?
I had my big observation at work and now it is over. All that stress and preparation and now it is over. Something to remember, kids, that no matter what you are stressed over, eventually you will be on the other side of it.

As I am on the other side of January.

So February, what do we want to do with your twenty-eight days?
I realized in January that studying and writing in the evening was impossible. So a new schedule is needed. In this short month, my goal is to exercise then go to bed earlyish so I can wake up at 4:30 every day. Write for thirty minutes then study for an hour before making breakfast. If I can make this into a habit, then when I am on the other side of February, I will have a system that will make me feel less remorseful. For every day that I fail to study, I seem to obtain a pebble of guilt. And while a few pebbles are manageable, a month’s worth is quite heavy.

Setsubun is this weekend as well, so it is a good time to let go of the negativity (be it guilt and slothfulness in my case or whatever you might be suffering from) and open the door to positivity.

Oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi.
Out with the demons, in with good fortune.

Another Year Begins/もう一年が始まる

The melancholy of the last day of vacation.
休暇の最後の日の憂鬱。

A walk with my family along the seaside.
家族は海辺を散歩。

A stack of picture books to be translated.
翻訳される絵本の山。

A painting I must finish.
終了するの水彩画。

First, spaghetti.
まず、スパゲッティ。

New Year’s/ お正月

良いお年を

The day before the new year.
お正月の前日。

Major house cleaning finished.
お掃除を終えました。

2018 was a year of realizations.
2018年、実現の年。

2019 will be a year of dedication.
2019年、献身の年。


明けましておめでとう。

We stood in line to ring the temple bell.
お鐘を鳴らすために並んでいた。

Fingers and toes frozen.
凍った指とつま先。

Mochi and red bean soup by the bonfire.
たき火による餅とお汁粉。

May you all have joy and peace in the new year.
あなたに喜びと平和を願って。