The special malaise of a humid late September

I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to go to work, I don’t want to see people, I don’t want to read or write or apply for grad school. I just want to listen to podcasts and sleep in my de-humidified apartment. I don’t want to grade papers that no one looks at or plan lessons that will just end up being canceled or wait for my clothes to dry in the never ending rain. I just want to stop.

I am tired. I am tired and irritated and bored. I feel uneasy, but don’t have the energy to do anything about it.

We have been locked in solid clouds and rain for a few weeks now, and while the temperature has slowly been dropping, it is still often too hot and too humid. My head hurts all of the time. Today the sun is out for the first time in many days but the humidity makes it a bittersweet reunion.  

I’m just not sure how other people get things done. How are people productive when the weather is endlessly awful and life is seemingly meaningless? How do people find purpose in the purposelessness of existence?

When you fall into the malaise of a humid September it doesn’t take long for people to become annoyed with you. Soon they stop replying to your messages, stop inviting you on outings, and adopt that special expression of politely posturing interest that anyone who was fallen into this particular malaise will recognize as possibly the first sign of their own September decline.

I hope that when the clouds eventually part in October and the humidity slowly works its way out of my laundry the anxiety and apathy of this month will go with them. I hope this, but maybe it’s time to abandon that hope. Maybe it’s time to complete my transformation into an adult and accept that the malaise of this humid September is really just the malaise of life. What is an adult if not an ever-morphing lump of apathy and unease?

 

What Not To Say To Your Single Friends

You’ve probably heard it. You’ve maybe even said it. It’s one of our favorite things to tell single people, especially people in their mid-twenties who have never been in a romantic relationship or have been single for an extended period of time.

Here it is, one of the worst possible things you can tell your single friends:

No one can love you until you can learn to love yourself.

So your friend is single. Maybe they are sad. Maybe they are trying to express how hard it is to be single for years and years while other people are in longterm relationships and slowly have less and less time and energy for their lonely, single friend.You’re looking for something to say to cheer them up so you fall back on your go-to, “No one can love you until–”

Hold on. Did you just tell your single friend no one can love them? Let’s unpack this for a moment. At the very beginning of what is said to try to encourage and motivate a single person are the words “no one can love you.” That is certainly a warm and friendly thing to tell someone. It’s like taking all of things you say to yourself when you are sad-drunk at 1am and condensing it down into five simple words. No one can love you. The way you are is entirely unlovable. Of course you’re single. No one can love you.

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Joining the Connect Magazine Team

I am pleased to announce that I am one of the new co-editors of AJET’s Connect Magazine culture section for 2016-2017. I applied for this position as a way to get more involved in the ALT community and develop some news skills, and I’m excited to see where it takes me.

Connect Magazine is an online publication for English speaking people living in Japan and covers everything from upcoming AJET events to food, fashion, and travel.

You can read current and past issues of Connect here.

I’m looking forward to doing something new and being a part of this year’s team. If you have anything you want to submit that you feel falls under the umbrella of “culture” please send it our way!

11 Month Update + Summer Plans

Summer is rapidly taking over Shizuoka once again as we are powering through the “rainy season.” (This is a joke because it’s basically always raining.) I finally, after almost an entire year, had an air conditioner/heater unit installed in my living room this weekend. I’m firmly in the AC honeymoon period where I am using it all the time with no regard for my electric bill. Life in my apartment (well, my living room) has never been this comfortable and I’m loving it, even though I didn’t love the $1000 it cost to obtain in the first place.

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Body Love

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I’ll never stop wearing horizontal stripes, though. 

Recently I’ve been struggling a lot with body image, which is something that is hard for me to admit as I strive to always be a good fat positive activist. It started slowly, and then the hatred I felt for myself quickly grew and grew until one day I almost couldn’t make it home because I’d barely eaten for days, and even though I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy, I was congratulating myself on having lost 7 lbs that week.

The pressures I feel about my body and my life in general have changed drastically since graduating and starting my life in Japan. I left a wonderful, supportive doctor, and am instead seeing one who felt losing 2 lbs in 2 weeks wasn’t a good enough start and doesn’t believe that I walk 5 miles a day because it must be impossible for someone to be fit and fat. It was difficult for me to find clothes in the US, and while I knew it would be nearly impossible for me to find clothes here, it’s still frustrating, and all of the clothes I do have are quickly wearing out from my subjecting them to all kinds of weather conditions and activities. And really the biggest struggle I’ve faced has just been the everyday people in my life. While before I was surrounded by extremely supportive and positive people who appreciated me and my efforts as a body activist, I have had to deal with many people here, usually other foreigners, who openly and indirectly criticize my body.

Compounding all of that is an insane pressure to be in a relationship. Apparently I am wearing a sign that says “Please ask me why I don’t have a significant other” because everyone, from my students to taxi drivers, seems to want to know why I’m single. And that itself is something that I internalize and blame on my body. It’s so easy to say “I’m single because I’m fat and unattractive” instead of owning up to more complicated reasons like I’m too self-centered to maintain meaningful long-term relationships with other people, I don’t trust anyone, and maybe I just want to focus on other things.

All of these thoughts and pieces of conversation kept floating through my head until suddenly I realized I didn’t like myself anymore and I wasn’t sure what to do about it because, as a fat person, wasn’t not liking myself the right thing to do? Is that not what it means to be a woman with a body?

I realized that all of this was coming from a place of fear. I’m afraid of never being happy and I’m afraid of never fully being able to love myself, but I need to stop living my life in a place of fear. Sometimes I think everything I’ve done in my life has been because I’m afraid, that all of my successes have been because I’m afraid of failure, not because I want to achieve. I don’t want to feel that way anymore.

Learning to love yourself isn’t a class that you can pass and forget after the final exam, it’s a commitment to your self-worth that you have to make every single day because you believe you deserve to be loved. There are good days and bad days, but I’d like to believe it makes you better in the end.

I posted that on Facebook a few weeks ago when I realized I was falling into a negative body image spiral and wanted to get out. It’s true that learning to love yourself is an every day commitment, and I’d like to add that it’s the kind of commitment that is made deeper by failing and deciding to try again.

Earlier this week I was able to meet an inspiration of mine, Mary Lambert, at her first ever show in Japan.

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Me and Mary Lambert at the Cotton Club in Tokyo. 

I think what I got the most from listening to her perform and talking to her briefly afterwards was the importance of being kind. Not just to others, but to ourselves. I must learn to treat myself gently because no one else has an obligation to do so.

So I don’t have any answers for you today. I’m not sure how to learn to completely love yourself. I’m not sure how to lose weight from a place of happiness instead of a place of disgust. I’m not sure how to love my body while still trying to change it.

Also, though, I’m not sure what I’m going to eat for lunch tomorrow so maybe the only answer for now is to do it the way we do everything else: one step at a time.

The Inescapable Election: Trump in Japan

 

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This headline from Yahoo News says “After a landslide victory on Super Tuesday for Trump, Japan is tormented by nightmares if he becomes President.”

 

Being an American in Japan during a Presidential election year is certainly turning out to be an interesting experience. The primaries have been covered fairly regularly in Japan, and as the token American (literally my job) I have been asked many questions about the candidates, the election, and US citizens in general in relation to the search for our next leader.

Naturally the election does not stir up the same anxious tension that it does in the US, but it is something that many Japanese people follow with varying degrees of interest. As I imagine in much of the world, the worrying rise in popularity of Donald Trump is certainly a topic in conversation and the news.

Most people I have spoken to in Japan would like to see Hillary Clinton win the presidency. When asked why, the most common responses I have heard are that she is the only candidate that they know, and that she is the most like President Obama, who is generally liked and respected in Japan.

The conversation usually begins the same way. First, I am tentatively asked if I support Trump. When I answer in the negative (looking mildly offended with a waving hand gesture, closing my eyes while sighing deeply, or dramatic pantomimes of death throes are usually my go-to Trump denial methods), I am asked who I do support (first Sanders and then Clinton), and then a comment is made usually along the lines of “What are Americans thinking?”

I never know how to answer that question. One of the challenges I face in trying to be a good ALT is not only representing my own feelings and experiences as a foreigner, but also to bring attention to the experiences and beliefs of other Americans as well. I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote a certain way or say that I am right and other people are wrong. Even so, in Japan it’s hard not to think Trump’s entire candidacy is one drawn out joke. As the primaries move on, though, it is a joke that is starting to get more and more terrifying.

If Trump wins the nomination, or even the election, I feel like representing my country will become increasingly uncomfortable.

For the time being, I expect to have many more conversations like the one I had the other day:

“Do you like him?” a teacher asked, pointing at a picture of Trump in the newspaper.

“No,” I said. “I think he’s scary. What do you think?”

The teacher paused for a minute before he replied. “Me too. Me too.”

And that’s just it. Trump is scary. The US is scary. And the idea of Trump running it is terrifying for, well, just about everyone.

But what do I know?

Setsubun, and a Budding Modeling Career?

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The plum blossoms are blooming. Winter is leaving!

The sleepy struggle of January has finally ended and February has begun in Shimada with warmer temperatures, more sunlight, and a new burst of energy from yours truly. Already in the first week of the month I have had many great experiences and done many new things.

 

February 3rd was the Japanese holiday Setsubun. This holiday marks the official beginning of spring, or really the end of winter, in Japan, and is a time for removing the demons from your life and home and welcoming in good luck for the new year. This holiday is one of the most interesting I’ve seen so far in Japan. Most people celebrate by throwing beans outside of their homes (or for children at adults dressed as demons) and saying “Oni wa soto. Fuku wa uchi,” meaning demons are outside, good luck is inside. The process of throwing the beans is supposed to keep the demons outside of your home so that good luck can be brought in.

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Facebook featured a cute demon and people throwing beans to mark the holiday.

 

A more recent tradition involves eating a special kind of sushi roll called eho maki. This roll has specific eating instructions. You must eat the entire roll without speaking and while facing in the lucky direction for the year (this year I believe it was south south-east).

I spent Setsubun with a Japanese family I am close with. After work we drove to Shizuoka City where we attended the Setsubun service at a Buddhist temple. Attending this service for me was just like going to a (good) new church in the US for the first time. Everyone I met was full of smiles and words of welcome. I was taken on a brief tour of the (fairly impressive) building and saw their golden reclining Buddha statue. This modern temple also was able to provide books of the sutras to be chanted in romaji (Japanese sounds written in English lettering) and in English translation. They even had people available to translate the service to English via a wireless headset.

The service itself was a very nice reminder to focus on the good in our lives and to not let our demons control us. It was a great way for me to mark the beginning of the year of the monkey and to focus on bringing more positivity into my life. I look forward to hopefully being able to visit that temple again and speak more with the wonderfully welcoming people there. Especially since I recently bought a book of the teachings of Buddha as my self-improvement book for my 2016 reading challenge (be on the lookout for a post about the reading challenge soon).

I’m now excited for the rest of this year. The year of the monkey is, after all, my year. As I’m just over 6 months out from turning 24, and just under 6 months from completing my first year in Japan, I’ve been trying to really take inventory of my life and focus on the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I think this year really will be my year. I expect many great things to happen.

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I also expect many interesting new things to eat and drink, including this warm rice beverage which is a byproduct of the sake brewing process.

 

On a slightly related note, yesterday I visited a local shrine and bought a love fortune (a Japanese tradition where you can buy different kinds of fortunes on slips of paper that give advice or warnings and ranks your luck from worst to best) and I got the best luck, so I’m looking at you, attractive people who are either 1 or 2 years older or younger than me and have type A blood. Or, you know, something like that. I don’t think the fortune has to be followed to the letter.

My visit to the local Oi Shrine yesterday was part of a very exciting experience I had as Shimada’s newest local supermodel.

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I now call myself Supermodelmarie.

 

Ok, maybe I’m playing it up JUST A LITTLE, but I was introduced as “Model-san” so I’m going to be riding that ego train for at least two weeks and you can’t stop me.

The real story is that the city of Shimada is trying to promote foreign tourism in the area and contracted the company Marubeni to make an English eBook about sights in the area and how to do things like take the bus and properly dispose of your trash (something that is taken very seriously here). Apparently as the conversation of having foreign models for the book went on my name came up and I was asked if I was willing to participate in a day long photoshoot around Shimada, Kanaya, and Kawane. Of course I said yes.

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This train dresses up as Thomas the Train in summer. It’s a big deal.

 

The photoshoot itself was very fun. We got to visit Shimada’s museum, the steam train in Kanaya, and an onsen (hot spring) in Kawane. It was easily the most beautiful day of the year so far, with blue skies and little wind, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.

I’m also glad to be slowly becoming more of a part of the community here. With every event I attend, person I meet, and tea festival dance practice I go to, I feel like I am becoming less of a stranger and more of a person who lives here. It’s an exciting feeling, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year has in store.

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Me at dance practice if you didn’t think I was being serious.

You Say Water and I Say Coffee, or Something

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The other day I was filling my water bottle to bring back to my desk and another teacher asked me if I ever drink coffee. At first it seemed like a ridiculous question because I am convinced that the fluids in my body are at least 40% coffee (and 25% alcohol) and I have coffee breath like 90% of the time. Then the teacher went on to say that they always see me drinking water, and I realized that from their perspective I AM always drinking water because I cart my coffee in and out with me (I can’t handle leaving its side, its a very codependent relationship) so when I get up to get a drink it is always water. I know that I am drinking coffee frequently, but to the rest of the staffroom I am a healthy water drinker who isn’t reliant on caffeine to function like most other teachers.

It made me think about how many things that I see as the clear truth are actually more complicated. Maybe the way I see my life when I’m sitting in my cave-like apartment worrying that I don’t have a future is only the part of the story that I get to see for now.

Recently I feel my awareness of self shifting away from “I’ve had a long and difficult 23 years on this Earth” to “I am so young that I have no experience and no idea what I’m doing.” Because I am young. And because I am young I have no way of conceptualizing a future for myself. I don’t see a future for myself because all I’ve done up to this point is live.

I don’t have any answers. I’ve been in Japan for 6 months now and if anything I know less than when I arrived.

But maybe that’s just the part of the story that I see right now. Maybe soon life will tell me that it also gets caffeine withdrawal headaches if it doesn’t get coffee in the morning. What do I know?

I’m here. I go to work. Time passes.

It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted. I haven’t had anything nice to say so I haven’t said anything at all.

People tell me that my blog is full of positivity, that I see challenges and rise to the occasion. The truth is often much less graceful. The truth is I don’t remember the last time I washed my dishes or cooked something more complicated than frozen mini pizzas or cup noodles, although I know the last time I cooked it was spaghetti because there is still an unwashed sauce pan in my sink.

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