Friday, January 14, 2011

Check Your Head

Seasons change. Snow piles, its weight monstrous. Hangs from tree branches like a Samoan in a child’s hammock. An avalanche from every roof. Roads paved with ice slicks, the little cars, little uncoordinated children. Spears of collected freeze suspended from the tips and edges of everything - pray they stay rooted.

That the mountains are layers of paint glued to a canvas brings me great peace.

It’s been a while. How are you?

I’m fine, thank you, and you? (Like a doll with an automatic response button.)

The school buses have started up again. I’m tied to them, whether I run alongside or not. Dragging—it’s not the first time. Those issues I have so often brought to attention here have revived themselves with a greater will, demand for attention and action. The recent increase in exposure to things-that-interest-me, though welcome, has left me feeling somewhat desperate upon returning to Iiyama-and-the-things-it-carries. For one, the infliction of a very rapidly activated estrangement brought on by the two-week long visit and subsequent disappearance (from me, not from the world) of someone dear, with spikes and dips provoked by somewhat predictable situations, paths of thought. Second, the flash of an ATM screen reminding me I fell below the limit I sought to maintain this month, all for fun—a recoverable fail, but still disheartening; those who have heard me talk my way into optimism have heard something of the money perk, without which—what? Third, with the snow, I have been quarantined in my house, and further into my living room which is the one space I have chosen to heat, and further still into a slender gap between two chair arms and a strip of floor tented by a kotatsu. And after a month and a half of running every day (save for those carried away by rain, which were few, and for those I was out of town, which were still few), such a curbed periphery can make a girl crazy, not to mention the wasted endorphins. And the fourth issue brings me back to the first: who am I? really, and what do I really want to do; this issue, likely to continue forever, is aggravated by most things, as my current purpose for being in Japan so rarely aligns with the things-that-interest-me.

In the widest scope of things, the positives have remained (the same) positives, but have been (irreversibly?) severed from the base that is my goals and pursuit-worthy pleasures. (1) I like the kids, and I like how they flatter and occasionally nudge something in me called purpose; but is this purpose fulfilling? (2) I have ample time and freedom to laze and/or ply my writing/drawing hand and/or do-what-I-want; but is freedom to evade work really a positive aspect of work? And besides, there must be venues more favorable, as this room is dizzying. (3) I am offered the stability of a well-paying job, my own parking spot, and a title of sorts; but I will always spend 80% of whatever I make, and surely, there are many parking lots in many cities and countries, and wouldn't the ideal situation be weather temperate enough/a transport system developed enough for other modes of transport? And is a title that offers near zero responsibility and power something I desire? (4) My house is sweet; it’s never forever. (5) I’m in Japan!; with some effort, I should be able to swing an extension in Japan involving something more family-oriented (living with my parents), socially/intellectually stimulating, and atmospherically warmer. (6) But it’s only two years! And I’m so young! What’s there to lose!: All time matters.

Snow. Every day, snow. I thought my lil’ 4wd Suzuki could handle anything, but stops are not its strong suit. Bumped a bumper. All parties fine, me very apologetic. Wondered first if it would change their view of foreigners forever. They can’t drive! They can’t speak Japanese! They’re always in a rush! Probably not. Maybe just, Hey that’s the new ALT. Poor girl, doesn’t understand the ice.

But not all is bad. Or not all is complaint, rather. You knew this whole time that even in the gravest darkness, not everything is bad—how could it be. She just has a way of spattering everything with gloom.

Winter break. Winter break was divine. Two weeks submerged in comfort with little care for anything internal—just food, people, and pretty things.

A summation of activities and peoples enjoyed from December 24th to January 10th:

The Christmas Eve Party, Evening of my last day of school pre-break

December 24th

Iiyama ALTs (minus) Kim (plus) upstairs neighbor/fellow Jonan teacher (equals) Christmas party at my house. Champagne (for two), green bean casserole, spinach salad, tomato soup, homemade bread, cookie bars, m&m cookies, Christmas cake, Christmas music and bingo.

The Morning-after Skype Party, Day of first real Iiyama snow

December 25th

In attendance: Mom and Dad and brother (+) Bobby and Luanne and Drew and Devin and Morgan and Courtney (+) Kristin and Nicole and Barb (=) my most beloved relatives, all enjoying each other (minus) me in Ohio.

The Christmas Celebration, Posterior to Skype X-mas and five hours of travel

December 25th

Italian feast featuring myself, Uncle Toshio, Aunt Michiko, Cousin Akiko, Cousin’s son Kentaro, and Cousin’s son Kotaro. Consumed: Margherita pizza, Dainty Salmon dish, Creamy Mushroom pasta, Spaghetti, Yellowtail pizza, Paté au Pan, Ginger Ales all around, and an after-thought Four Cheese pizza. Back at the homestead, Christmas cake, of the most delicious fruit tart variety. Following, the return of Kaori and gift opening; gifts of note = HD International DVD player (my mom -> Toshio+Michiko), movies, many (my mom -> all members – me), sweets, 1 box chocolate, 1 bag Japanese snacks [(Toshio+Michiko)+Kaori -> me], Nano Lego Kaminarimon (Kaori -> me), Kamen Rider medal belts, extra loud (Michiko -> Kentaro+Kotaro).

The Great Airport Tryst, The second traveling afternoon

December 26th

1hr train -> Tokyo (Ikebukuro) + 20min train -> Tokyo (Nippori) + 45min train -> Narita airport + 10min search for Austin + 10min embrace + 1.5hr train -> Tokyo (Nippori) + 20min train -> Tokyo (Ikebukuro) + 10min walk -> hotel = very tired two, and hungry.

Cultural Edibles, The hungry days of Tokyo

December 26th – December 29th

≥ or ≤ hunting, excursions planned around the insatiable appetite of two American travelers, one long deprived of her most favored fare, the other on the trail for Oriental treats; together they compromised, and these were the results: Day 1, Dinner 1 = spicy ramen; After-Dinner 1 = sweetened condensed milk strawberry bites. Day 2, Breakfast 1 = free American style breakfasts, to be avoided in the following days; Lunch 1 = Avocado Negi-Toro Bowl and Mixed Vegetable Oyaki, freshly spun Japanese cuisine at a hip, above ground Harajuku café; Lunch 2 = Soup du Japan du France + bread rolls as a back-to-life meal post-Mori Art Museum’s vivid and taxidermal Phantom Limb exhibit; Dinner 1 = East Asian style Mexican tacos, enchiladas, avocado cheese n’ chips, in place of a much-anticipated home-cooked Nepalese meal sacrificed at the demand of Austin’s sour belly; Interspersed = dried mangoes, coffee, Vitamin Water. Day 3, Breakfast 1 = Cereal + yogurt, compliments of Hotel Strix for early birds; Breakfast 2 = A sandwich of meat and cheese resembling an American melt, for late wakers; Lunch 1 = Freshness Burger fries and burgers, one classic, the other meatless and full of beans; Dinner 1 = An Uncle Toshio-hosted Washoku Feast, featuring cold, wet peanuts, cabbage + spicy miso dip, various fishes, tofu + eggs, pickled things, ochadzuke, and of course, a motley of beers and sakes; Interspersed = dried mangoes, coffee, chocolate, pretzels, Vitamin Water. Day 4, Breakfast 1+2 = Repeat of Day 3; Lunch 1 = a convenience store boiled egg and onigiri; Lunch 2 = After a long gambol through Kamakura, and through the Great Buddha, curry; Dinner 1 = Upon return to Iiyama, some five-minute-boiled ramen; Interspersed = coffee, vegetable juice, chocolate.

Afloat, A week spent in airily elapsing Nonbiri

December 30th – January 6th

Snow + snow + snow = world freezing over = indoor entertainment = time sludges on. 4/8 days = puzzle ± movie ± heater ± kotatsu ± cake ± ice cream ± chocolate ± soup ± sleep. 1/8 day, 1/1 = New Years excursion to Nagano City for observation of Zenkoji temple happenings and izakaya splurge. 1/8 day, 1/3 = ½ hr drive à Jigokutani + ½ hr hike à onsen + ½ hr play date w/snow monkeys, wrapped up by a Naan based meal at our most beloved Nakano Nepalese restaurant, Langtang Lilung. 1/8, 1/4 = Nagano City’s Shinano Art Museum for an ‘Eros’ exhibit, free art book upon entry, first experience being the only party (+1 docent/room) in an entire art museum. 1/8, 1/5 = à Nagano for Tokyu Food Show oyaki + 2 hr karaoke + Thai food.

Desertion, Like losing your shoes in the snow

December 7th – December 9th

Austin and I depart for Tokyo December 7th, afternoon, destination Toyoko Inn. Dreams planted by television—a cooking show, no less—fulfilled en route to Nagano city by Iiyama-made okonomiyaki. Shinkansen to Ueno station leads us to our Toyoko Inn two stops away on the Hibiya line. Luggage put away, depart again for a night viewing of Ginza, dressed in hot, sweet shabu-shabu broth, consumable/consumed Mitsukoshi department store basement delicacies, and the glitter of a quiet, busy street enclosed by skyscrapers. Following, the only intriguing movie in mostly English playing in the hotel, The Last Samurai, a bag of chips, and sleep. Next day, loafing around Akihabara, a big name conveniently on our line, and one last bowl of ramen, extra salty, delivered by salty people. Then airport bound, an inelastic hour on a train, and I am waving goodbye from the non-flyer side of security. Alone, I am, with Mexican food on the mind. I return to the Yamanote center of Tokyo and meet some Iiyama ladies, and I get my Mexican food: a delicious, but foreseeably inadequate consolation prize. More distractions come at a Roppongi bar called Heartland wallpapered by tweaked Sims scenarios video installations, and then it is to the hostel for much needed sleep. Last moments in Tokyo were spent rummaging through a heavily discounted Shibuya H&M store. Three and a half hours of travel later, I was happy enough to get my car from Iiyama station to home without a shovel.

The Return to Space, One last hermitic vacation day

January 10th

A Monday, but a holiday. Meant to clean. Cut off my hair as I waited for the kerosene heater to unfreeze my bath pipes. Stunned by the success of this experiment. Abandoned hermitage temporarily to rear-end-bump a couple turning into the sushi carnival parking lot and eat salad and ice cream with the two Iiyama girls not in Tokyo. Endeavored, while snug in my kotatsu chair, to dissolve my agitation, align my many schemes—much aided by a talk with Mama and Papa Akaha—but still, frazzled. Turned to Mad Men, where Don Draper’s life is comparatively more calamitous.

Today is January 13th. I have been reminded that the good things are still good, after having forgotten there were good things at all; I don’t feel like I’m waking up in Doomsday every day. I will endure, and happily, even, given I heed some basic objectives I set for myself. [This is, I think, my most realistic year yet for Resolutions—last year’s was draw at least one picture every day, following the exemplar Picasso one-painting-a-day, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d suck myself dry that way.]

(1) Write ~one story per month, equaling at least six by year’s end; all months that do not see the genesis and consummation of a story will be spent (a) finalizing stories previously begun, if they’re worth it –no regards to length; (b) reading, doggedly; (c) exercising my Japanese-English translation brain in any way possible, though ideally in a literature pool; (d) creating a visual masterwork, should my word-brain be cut off by pictures. With the way I work, I think it best to give priority to words, which demand more practice and direct attention than does transferring an image from head to hand to screen.

(2) Master Adobe products and establish comfortable relationship with my sleek new drawing tablet.

(3) Update blog at least once every two months. The happenings of sixty something days rarely exceed five pages, and anything shorter will come out as sloppy snippets. On the pro-writing side, blog writing unstuffs my head.

(4) Work out at least four times a week. By this, I don’t mean much besides some sit ups before I go to bed, so long as I don’t go directly from snack desk (work) to eat-whatever-I-can-reach kotatsu (post-work hours, anywhere between 2 and 5) and let myself forget it feels good to feel my heart beat; contrarily, if I’m feeling a marathon one day, well, won’t fight that.

(5) SAVE MONEY: Limit myself to necessary purchases, plus dinner out twice a week (maximum, lest it’s impossible, be I out of town, required to attend a birthday party, or other such things; I can’t let myself go crazy/shouldn’t reward absolute reclusion), and two hundred dollars (relatively nothing) of spending for the sake of my happiness and entertainment (clothes, movies, the like).

(6) Research ideal jobs.

(7) And finally, something work-related: Integrate my interests into lessons where possible, and turn more kids onto English/America. Maintain a happy face and allow myself to be surprised and delighted by how good things can be.

I give myself a long leash, I feel, and I think I need that. Emerging from that kotatsu at all is a feat in itself, what in these negative temperatures. They make me feel very negative.

There’s no sun anymore. Not even a moon. Just reflective coils strung from the sky, twisting twisting, the snow into our eyes.

Now to see if Draper makes it out of this season alive.