My 2015 started under a foot of snow with me drunk off my ass at a party with friends and coworkers from my job at the movie theatre, and ended sitting quietly by myself reading a book with a glass of champagne. This, I think, is the best summation of the path I have traveled this year. 2015 saw the birth of this blog and the start of my new life in Japan. I’d like to take a reflective look back at everything that happened, and an optimistic look at what is to come.
For the first 5 months of 2015 I was focused on finishing school. I was working as a Japanese tutor, an Academic Success Coach for international students, and at the movie theatre. I was passive aggressively fighting with a roommate who didn’t care about me, and learning new ways to balance work and social life. I took a capstone class on writing Creative Nonfiction, and was finally accepting my love of writing words to share with other people. It was an interesting time of feeling close to the people and places around me, but knowing that soon it was coming to an end.
In April I performed my Theatre capstone piece “FAT—and That’s Okay” at NAU’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. It was my second and final performance of an incredibly personal and challenging performance art piece. Looking back, this performance was a big moment for me. I shared my words and my pain in front of strangers. I invited people who knew nothing about me to share in my story. It was very different from performing in front of other theatre students who knew me and the kind of work I liked to do. The coolest part of this performance was that I attracted an audience of junior high school students. At first they were simply interested in seeing what the girl was doing sitting on the ground with the pie, but as I began to speak I could see that they were truly interested in what I was saying. After the performance a few of them came up to me and told me that they had been truly affected by my words, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Months later I challenged myself even more by posting the recording of my symposium performance on YouTube. Sharing this piece, something I am both proud and ashamed of, with the world was equally freeing and terrifying. Those thoughts and feelings I tried to express are now no longer mine to control and sculpt. Instead they are simply there for people to consume and judge behind the comfortable anonymity of the internet. You can watch the recording of my piece here.
At the very end of January last year I had my interview for the JET Program. I put on my then new suit and drove with my mom down to Phoenix. The whole day I was a nervous wreck. I had the last interview slot, and they were naturally running slightly behind schedule. As I sat there waiting, I thought about how I had never wanted anything more in my life. For me the thought of getting this job in Japan was what I held on to in order to survive my fifth year of undergrad. When I was overwhelmed and considering giving up, the idea of starting my life after college with such a grand adventure was what kept me going.
When I finally found out I had been accepted as a short list candidate for the JET Program, I was checking my email on my phone before assisting in teaching a class of mostly male international students, and I, of course, immediately started crying. It was not my proudest moment, but I cannot describe the feeling of relief I felt when I read that email. Suddenly I had a plan. Suddenly my life after graduation went from “I don’t know” to “I’m going on a fucking adventure in goddamn Japan” and I felt a sense of salvation in the idea of having a future.
Summer was colored with the taste of endings. Everywhere I went and every person I spoke to had the potential of being the final time. Many people I had graduated with had already left to go to new jobs, new cities, and new lives. I was sad to be saying goodbye, but anxious to leave.
My goal for 2015 was to learn to be okay with being on my own. As college was drawing to a close and more and more friends were looking at creating lives with significant others in new cities and states and I still wasn’t sure where I was going to end up I realized that I had to learn to be comfortable without the constant presence of other people. It was difficult at first. It hurts sometimes being by yourself, but that’s okay. In the summer I was finding out that being by myself could bring me the calm sense of security I was looking for. After moving to Japan, I can say that I truly achieved this goal. Being on my own is now often more comfortable for me than being around other people. Being alone is safe, calm, and full of whatever I want it to be.
Leaving for Japan was thrilling. I packed up everything I own (see How to Pack Your Life into Three Suitcases or Less) and said goodbye to all the people and places I had known. Even though I knew on some level that it was an ending, that by leaving I could never truly return to what I had, I was filled with a sort of manic excitement that pushed out any fear, doubt, or worry. Looking back I see this period as a complete recognition by myself that what I was doing was absolutely correct. I did not acknowledge any worry or doubt because leaving was not just important, it was necessary to me.
The days of moving out of my apartment and traveling to my new home in Shimada are an exhausted blur in my memory. I spent so many hours in varying states of limbo and met so many new people that I was barely able to process what time it was, let alone my thoughts or feelings. Looking back at my journal and blog posts from this time, there are parts of myself I no longer recognize. Perhaps, though, that is part of the reason I am trying to document this period in my life. I don’t know who I’m becoming, but I will know how I got there.
(see Leaving, Traveling, and Arriving: Three States of Being, my post about leaving for Japan)
My first month in Shimada was hot, sweaty, and mostly uneventful. I arrived in Shimada and started going to work at the beginning of August (see Welcome to Shimada), but it wasn’t until September that I had my first lessons to teach. I spent my time quietly acclimating to my surroundings and giving constant thanks for the air conditioner in the staff room (since I didn’t have one in my apartment). Soon things began to feel normal and I settled into the beginnings of a routine. (see One Step at a Time)
I still feel like time is passing impossibly quickly. Some days I feel like my life is passing so quickly I can’t hold on to it tightly enough. At other times looking at the next year and a half I will spend in Japan feels so overwhelmingly stagnant that I panic. I haven’t stayed in one place that long since high school. Even though I went to school at NAU for five years, I moved where I was living once or twice every year, and each semester was different as I constantly changed majors, minors, certificates, and jobs. Working in this one place for two years will be the most sedentary I have ever been, and it’s starting to challenge my perception of time.
On the whole, 2015 was a year I am happy to have lived. I have grown in ways that I cannot articulate yet. I have developed a new sense of self that I look forward to exploring this year.
There are many things I want from 2016. I hope that this year I will discover the person I want to be, and feel more sure about my life and its direction. I hope to see many new things and meet many new people, and most importantly to spend more time happy than sad.
Last year laid the foundation for so many great things in my life. I moved to a new place, and grew as a person. I think that this year is a chance for me to build on that foundation and create wonderful new things in my life.
As a sort of resolution, here is a list of things I want to do in 2016:
Drink more water.
Because that’s always a good goal, and I’ve gotten bad about it since I have yet to actually see a Japanese person drink water and I feel like they all think I am trying to drown myself when really my body is just trying to survive.
Last year my goal was 50 books and I ended up reading 56. This year my goal is set at 65 and I’m already off to a great start! (Look out for a post about my 2016 reading challenge soon.)
Create in many senses. I want to create more things that I have written. I want to create more happiness. I want to create more meaningful relationships with people and create a life that I love.
This is one of my biggest goals, I think. I want to not only love myself more, but learn to love others more as well. As self-absorbed as I am (this post is already 1600 words of me talking about myself), I think it’s time to absorb myself and those around me in more love.
Be more social.
This is a goal I never thought I would have to make and still feel sort of hesitant about it. I think it is important for me to leave my apartment more often and interact with more people, but this needs to be done with care. If I am careless about socializing, I will end up spending my time with people who annoy me, infuriate me, or otherwise make me feel less than who I am. In 2016 I will not tolerate those people, but instead focus on having meaningful and enjoyable interactions with new people.
Be outside more.
I love being outside, and this year I plan to do even more of it.
Have more new experiences.
Last year I had plenty, but that is no reason to stop. This year I want to see as many things as I can and really take advantage of my time here in Japan. That being said, I don’t want to be so focused on new experiences that I neglect the time I need to spend taking care of my mental and physical health.
Keep taking care of myself.
Not all goals have to be new things. Last year I did a good job practicing self –care and knowing when I needed to take time to tend to my spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being. This year I want to keep doing a great job taking care of myself and making sure that I am able to keep going and keep meeting all of my other, more energy-consuming goals.
A part of me is afraid of 2016. I have much less of a clear idea of what is going to happen. At the beginning of 2015 I knew I was going to finish my degrees, graduate, and find a full-time job, even if it wasn’t going to Japan. Now that I have my full-time job in Japan I am looking at the year ahead of me where I’m just supposed to…what? Live? It scares me not having defined milestones to hit this year, but instead of letting that fear consume me and force me to wallow in uncertainty, I am going to use this opportunity to create milestones for me to pass that I don’t even know exist. The idea of having this year to just live my life as I choose is uncomfortable, but my hope for 2016 is that by the end of the year it will feel wonderful.
As always, I don’t know what’s to come. But I think that if I work at it, 2016 can be an amazing and transformative year. I’m looking forward to what’s to come with only mild trepidation, and I look forward to sharing it with you all. Whoever you may be, if you have made it through these 2000 words I am looking forward to sharing this year and this blossoming blog with you.
Your turn. What are the things you plan to do this year? What milestones are you planning to hit? Let me know in a comment!