Thoughts on a Year

Somehow I’ve finished my first year of grad school–just six more to go! Clearly I did not do any better keeping up my blog, but the demands of grad school on my time and energy didn’t leave me with much to devote to blogging. Now that I am somewhat recovered and doing better with summer vacation, I feel the need to continue this public documentation of my existence (or whatever this is).

This year lowkey kicked my ass, but I kind of liked it. Despite my best efforts, I feel that not wanting to return to NAU colored much of my year. It was hard to reconcile where I wanted to be after leaving Japan with where I ended up. I was unsure of myself, my goals, and my abilities. I spent a lot of this year feeling unmoored and meandering. That being said, I felt increasingly sure that studying literature was exactly what I wanted to be doing.


I just found this picture from when I was leaving Japan. Waiting for a bus, bags in tow. 

My confidence in my career choice has only solidified, but this year challenged my understanding of the other aspects that build a life. Moving to a new place, starting over (again), is exhausting. I felt more isolated in this one year in Flagstaff than I ever did in Japan. I worked at Jimmy Johns, I taught, I went to class and wrote papers, and yet I felt completely disconnected from the actual living going on around me. It’s hard being an adult-type creature and facing life alone. This year saw me spiraling to some of the lowest lows of my life with no where to turn. I had to question everything I thought I was and find new answers. I don’t think I’m better for it. I don’t think I’m stronger for it, either. I just think I’m changed. I don’t remember who I was when I arrived back in the U.S. last summer.


About to start the fall semester–my 25th birthday.

But I learned a lot. I learned about myself: about what I want and what I value, what I hope for and what I’m willing to do to achieve my goals. I learned so much about literature–more than I could have imagined I’d learn in a year. I learned that I’m kind of, maybe, sort of, pretty good at studying literature. At the start of the year I had absolutely no idea what was going on in my classes. I put my nose down, asked questions when I had them, researched independently, and eventually felt confident in my new role as a literature student. I had a paper accepted for publication and another accepted at a conference. I wrote paper after paper and read nearly everything assigned. I found new interests, reaffirmed old ones, and started to understand what it means when people say I’m “smart” (although I’m still not wholly certain what that word means to people).

Finding my niche has meant learning to see the ways in which I might be different from the other people in my life. I have a new understanding of who I am and what makes me different. It’s hard. It’s lonely. And yet still, I feel better being truthful to myself than living an easy life for someone else. I find myself growing more and more unapologetic in my values, beliefs, and identity. This is both challenging and liberating.


Bathroom selfie at my first conference as a presenter. 

I lost a lot of weight and gained it back again. Twice. I found new ways of honoring my mind and my body. I found new ways of understanding and controlling the passage of time in my life. I found joy in taking control of the parts of my existence I have power over.

I felt loss.

As I move forward into my adult life, I feel keenly the ways in which decisions can provide limitations and close doors. By committing to certain things I am limiting my opportunities, while, I can only hope, creating new ones. I feel parts of myself dying. Some parts I will miss, others I will not. I feel the loss of the person I was.


Annamarie after a year of grad school. Sitting alone at a bar on a Sunday. 

The first month of summer was hell. By the time I reached the end of the semester there was none of me left, and I crashed. I didn’t see value in the life I was living. I’m not sure I ever will. Though I can’t see where exactly I’m headed, I do take some solace in being able to see how I got here.

It’s hard to believe a year has nearly passed since I’ve moved back to Flagstaff, and yet so much has happened in the past 10.5 months that it’s equally hard to believe that just a year ago I was leaving Japan and trying to fit back into life in the States.

There have been no simple years in my life. Each year I grow, change, and am challenged significantly. I can’t begin to imagine what is to come, but I suppose I’ll find out.


Reintegration shock, Research, Remembering, and Reimagining this Blog

Somehow it has been three months since I returned to the US and I haven’t updated my blog once. I think it has taken me this long to be able to find the words to describe the varying emotions and experiences involved in packing up my life (AGAIN), returning to Arizona, and starting my masters program.

Leaving Japan was hard. Even though I knew (and still know) that it was the right choice for me, it was hard to say goodbye to the life I had built and all the connections I had made with the people in my community there. I feel like I have been constantly on the move between communities for most of my life. I’m starting to wonder if it might be nice to settle for a while and make some real long-term connections with people, but I don’t see that as a possibility for a few years at least. I’m worn out from having to make new friends and find a new community of people every few years.

Part of what was so exhausting about this move is knowing that this, too, is a temporary stop. After my two years in Japan, I only plan to stay in Flagstaff for two more years until I finish my MA. I will be in one physical location for a longer period of time once I start my PhD program (wherever that will be), but even that will be temporary. I suppose I’m just not sure how much in life ISN’T temporary. Is it even possible to set down roots and have a permanent connection to people or a place?

It was also difficult leaving Japan to come back to Arizona, which was never my plan. I am glad to have the opportunity to study here, and to be back near my family for a time, but I still sometimes have a hard time with having turned down Edinburgh and Trinity. This program will allow me to fill in the some of the gaps in my education and help me develop skills necessary for a PhD program, and I think in the long-run this will be the best choice for me, but it’s still hard when I get to thinking about where I could be, especially when the move was so challenging in the first place.

Reverse culture shock is real, and it’s been a challenge adjusting to life back in the US, especially in a place where I used to have connections but am now starting over in. It is incredibly isolating to have to learn how to negotiate my own culture again. It’s a long process, but it’s happening.

Every month that passes leaves me feeling more adjusted to my new life, and also lets me see how not adjusted I was the month before. When I left Japan I was having a hard time with connecting to people, and certainly some of that has carried over into my time here. Even though it’s been a challenge I do really enjoy the literature program and the research I’ve been doing. After taking so long to make a choice about a career path, it’s been incredibly validating to find so much enjoyment in the study of literature. I love my literature courses, my research projects, and the potential I see for myself in this field. Even if I feel like I’m making a fool of myself 90% of the time, I’m having a good time doing it. It’s stressful, terrifying, and overwhelming, but it’s just so damn interesting.

I have so many memories in Flagstaff, and sometimes it can be hard reconciling my memories with the life I am living here now. As an undergrad I had many different groups of people in my life and was active in many different departments on campus. As a grad student I am fully committed to the English department, and as the weird kid who lived in Japan it can be a little difficult to feel connected. I’ve been questioning reality and existence a lot, but that’s not anything new. I’m 25 now and making my life work on my own. I’ve had groups of people to rely on in all of my past endeavors, and it feels like now for the first time I am completely on my own. That being said, I am grateful for my officemates and the people in my cohort who have taken time to talk to me and help me out when I’m struggling.

My life is heading off in a very different direction than it was when I started this blog, but I think I would like to keep blogging. Obviously while I am still “Annamarie” I am no longer “Abroad,” and so I have been toying with the idea of changing this blog a bit so it is still relevant instead of making a new blog altogether. I have so little time to devote to blogging between teaching, grad school, and my part-time job at Jimmy Johns, but blogging has been a help to me in the past and I don’t want to give it up.

I’m not sure what form my grad school blog will take, but now that I’ve gotten the “I’m back in the States” post out of the way I have the freedom to figure it out. This life is new, but I’m still me, still weird, still unstable, and still only tenuously connected to reality most of the time. I’m sure I’ll have something to say.

If you were following this blog only for travel posts and updates and don’t want updates from my life in grad school, now would be the ideal time to unfollow. Thank you for sharing in my adventures in Japan. Those two years were an incredible experience, and I’m glad to have some sort of record of my time there in this blog. I’m also so grateful for all the people who supported me and followed my time abroad with attentive ears. Thanks for being cool.

Loss of Self / Can’t Find the Words

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything, having stopped blogging just days away from finishing my 30 day challenge, but now with a month left until I leave Japan I feel it’s time to start writing about and processing the process of leaving.

It’s been a difficult six months. A person I knew from high school passed away in January which lead me to face some of my own fears of my mortality, my grandmother passed away in February the day before what was my deceased father’s birthday, and another family member passed away about a month ago. I was accepted to my top two choice grad programs, one of which would have been a literal dream to attend, and then had to reject both offers because of money. This forced me to confront many of the feelings I haven’t had to deal with in Japan about capitalism, and how being poor makes it so much more challenging to have dreams in the first place. I’ve also picked up a pack of roaming bullies who seemingly have nothing better to do with their free time than watch my social media accounts, which I mean I guess I should be flattered to be receiving so much of their time and energy.

So all of this has been happening along with the stresses of the big life change of getting ready to move across the ocean and start fresh in grad school, leaving behind all of the friends and routines I’ve had for the last two years. All of this has given me much to think about, but not left me able to write much of anything at all. In many senses I have just been too exhausted to put myself out there in any public fashion apart from the appearances I am required to make at work or other obligations.

I feel generally exhausted these days by the multiple faces we are expected to show people. While this has been something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past, leading me to be more open about the negative things in my life on social media than most people find acceptable, this has been especially challenging in Japan. I find the role I have to play here as an ALT and token foreigner tiring. I find it easier to navigate my life here by largely keeping myself to myself, but since that is not who I am as a person it leaves me feeling bottled up. I like to share parts of myself with others, yet it feels like my role here is much more to be a person on display than to be an actual person. This leads to things like people thinking it’s acceptable to use their free time to come to my place of work and ask to observe my lessons or people generally disregarding my feelings and needs.

Being different around different people is normal, and probably even healthy. No one is the same around their parents, coworkers, and close friends. We all show varying faces and aspects of ourselves to different people and in different situations. This is taken to an extreme level with our social media personas. Much of our social media use is this sort of artificial posturing that we all expect each other to participate in. I’m not writing this as some sort of new idea that I’ve had—this is nothing new—but to give more of a context for why I have been unable to write and have generally fallen off from all social activities in the last few months. The combination of much of my day to day life feeling artificial, along with the somehow necessary artificiality of social media interactions, left me feeling almost entirely disconnected from any real understanding of what was my true self. I felt exhausted, wrung out, and yet simultaneously hurt and angry at the people and systems that I felt were not allowing me to be or discover myself as an authentic and complicated human being. The only way I found to combat all of this was to spend time at home, where I felt I could be the person I am without judgement.

A positive thing to have come out of all of this is I have learned to appreciate even more the benefit of having few core friends who truly see me as a person they accept, as opposed to many friends who all expect or even demand that I always be only one aspect of myself. I am so grateful for the few people in my life who don’t expect me to be anything other than who I am in a world where it seems like most people just want to take something from me. I think one of the biggest personal lessons I’ll have learned from my time in Japan is not to give myself to everyone, but to seek the people who want to give as much as they take in return and at the same time expect nothing.

I’m making it work, and that’s the important thing. I had to step back from many things in order to do it, but I’ve been making it work. It’s difficult when your life becomes completely uprooted. I don’t have many roots to begin with, and so I think I feel it more acutely than most people do. Without roots it can be so easy to forget who you are and what you want. Maybe that is why I find it so exhausting to be putting up so many faces; I’ve got nothing holding me to the ground.




This Just In: I’m Lost

I’ve been having such a hard time writing anything to post here recently because it feels like everything about my life is changing from day-to-day, or even hour to hour.

I was accepted to my first choice university for grad school, then I found out that I couldn’t go to grad school at all because it was too expensive. Then I received a funding offer from a school, but it’s from my last choice school and I’m not sure I want to go. So now I’m facing the terrifying prospect of trying to find something new to do with my life.

Grad school has always been my plan. Even when I didn’t know what I would be studying, I knew I would be studying something. I haven’t considered any other options for my life in a long time. Now I’m having to face the reality that I might have to find something new to do when I leave Japan in July, and it’s…not great.

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The New Years Post

I wrote this and forgot about it but here it is. It does exist.

So…2016 happened. Time isn’t real, but I guess I have to agree to our shared delusion of like months and years and stuff. (Sidebar: Want to feel like time isn’t real? Try explaining daylight savings time to a Japanese high school student.) We have now decided that it is 2017, and that means it is time for more reflection and goals for the new year.

2016 was rough. I spent a lot of it in a really bad place. Not so long ago (Or maybe it was? Time is still hard) someone asked why I no longer post recipes and the answer is of course depression my man. I’ve just successfully started cooking food with vegetables for myself again this week, which is exciting but a pretty good reflection of how the last few months of 2016 were for me compared to how I’m feeling 2017 will be.

Looking back at my blog posts from the year, nearly all of them mention the hard time I was having. That’s fine. That happened. I also did a lot of cool things.

Chronologically, here are the coolest things I did in 2016:

  1. Modeled for an English guidebook for the area
  2. Went to the Numazu Sweets Run
  3. Saw and got to talk to Mary Lambert in Tokyo
  4. Danced in the Kanaya Tea Festival
  5. Saw a lot of cherry blossoms
  6. Went to Seoul at some point?
  7. Started the Shizuoka Writing Circle
  8. Helped host the Atami Beach Olympics
  9. Passed the JLPT N3
  10. Became one of the section editors for Connect Magazine
  11. Watched the sunrise from the top of Mt. Fuji
  12. Finished one year in Japan
  13. Went to Disneyland with my family
  14. Visited my best friend in Seattle
  15. Started a fiction blog
  16. Stopped a fiction blog
  17. Went back to Kyoto
  18. Went back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—I mean Osaka
  19. Contributed to Tofugu for their article on Thanksgiving in Japan
  20. Won NaNoWriMo!
  21. Went to Tokyo Disney and DisneySea
  22. Saw SPYAIR in Nagoya
  23. Finished the year clubbing in Tokyo
  24. Turned 24 (wow double 24! Double cool!)
  25. Also I lost like 45 lbs (not quite my goal of 50 but have you ever had Pringles?)

These were just the biggest events of 2016, but there were so many other wonderful things that happened this year. Just spending time with my friends and meeting amazing people volunteering in Shimada has been a treat. A lot of the best parts of 2016 didn’t make it to the blog because I didn’t have time or too many things happened at once and I couldn’t choose. I’d like to say I wrote about them in my written journal so the memories are there somewhere, but that is also not the case. As long as we have Instagram there will be some sort of record, at least.

My resolutions for 2016 were basically be nice to myself and do cool things, and I feel like I accomplished that. Go me!

So coming up in 2017:

  1. I finished my grad school applications! Now we wait for results. Before too long I should have an idea of where I’ll be heading this fall, which is exciting and terrifying.
  2. Sapporo! In less than a month we will be going to the snow festival in Hokkaido. Follow my Instagram if you want to keep up to date on those adventures.
  3. In May: Thailand! I’m finally getting the big one off of my list and I can’t wait!
  4. July: I finish my second and final year in Japan and move on to whatever comes next.

Last year was my first and only full calendar year living in Japan. It was a great and challenging experience for me and I am such a different person than the one I was at the beginning of it. I’m feeling really good about 2017. I think this year will be huge for me. I’ll be turning 25, starting grad school, and moving countries once again. I don’t know what all will happen, but I look forward to sharing the adventure with all of you!

A Welcome Back Interview With Myself

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, so I say down for an interview with myself to catch up. Here is what we talked about.


Q: So Annamarie, it’s good to see you today. Thanks for making time for me.

A: We spend all of our time together so it really isn’t a problem.


Q: It’s been two months since you’ve posted on your blog. That is a long time, even for you. What happened there?

A: Well Annamarie, the answer is both simple and complicated. I guess the most honest answer is I’ve been unavailable in every sense of the word. Emotionally, intellectually, literally unavailable because of my schedule—I’ve just generally been not here.


Q: Is this your way of saying you’ve been too depressed to write?

A: That’s part of it, sure. I have been pretty impressively depressed, but it’s been deeper than that. I was not sleeping enough and would regularly just check out from reality. I was working on NaNoWriMo (which I won!) and also working on getting everything together for grad school applications this month. I’ve been pretty preoccupied with trying to find meaning in an existence that is inherently meaningless and all of those things haven’t left me with much time for anything else.


Q: I see. Thank you for your candor. I know it’s hard having a tenuous grasp on reality. How has your search for meaning been going?

A: Not well, if I’m being honest. It just seems like there is no point to living. But there is also no point in dying. There is just no meaning in existence.


Q: That’s pretty heavy. You probably shouldn’t just casually makes comments like that for everyone to see. But at least you’ve got lots of great relationships with people, right?

A: Annamarie I’m going to be upfront with you it certainly does put a strain on your relationships when you haven’t slept in two days and are preoccupied with the meaninglessness of existence. There is also the whole long-standing superstition that we are incapable of maintaining friendships for longer than 12 months and the fact that we are generally not a likeable or interesting person and there you are. It’s no wonder no one wants to talk to us.


Q: I noticed we switched to using the collective first person in the middle of that paragraph.

A: It’s easier to talk about sad things if we’re not using the first person.


Q: True, lol.

A: lol.


Q: So if people don’t like when you talk about sad things, why don’t you just talk about happy things?

A: It isn’t that easy. The longer I go without talking about the sad things the more sad I feel until it feels like I’m going to explode with all the sad things inside of me that need to be let out but have nowhere to go because no one wants to listen to them.


Q: That sounds hard.

A: Yeah.


Q: So tell the people about some of the fun things you’ve been doing in the last two months.

A: Wow, well I’ve definitely been busy. At the end of October I went to Osaka to return to Universal Studios Japan for their Harry Potter Halloween event. It was a blast. I bought too many Harry Potter things but it was worth it. The next week I went back down that way for a quick trip around Kyoto. It was beautiful with all the fall colors. In November we had out Skills Development Conference which wasn’t all that fun but happened anyway. I was also interviewed by Tofugu on how to celebrate Thanksgiving in Japan. At the beginning of December I went to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea which was fun! We got to see all of their fun Christmas stuffs and eat too much sugar.


Q: Dude that is a lot of travelling.

A: Yeah bro I am so tired I keep falling asleep on my desk.


Q: Rough

A: Ye


Q: So I have to ask… grad school?

A: Ughhhhh


Q: I know I know but the people want to hear that you’re doing something productive with your life.

A: I’m applying to four literature programs: two in Arizona and two abroad. I’m not sure if any of them will accept me, but I’m doing what I can to send out the best applications possible. I had originally intended to have all my applications finished in November but that was a stupid dream when I was working on NaNo. Now my goal is to have everything done by the start of January, which I think I am on track for. I’m working on overhauling my writing sample and trying to write personal statements that don’t make me cringe.


Q: What a happens if none of them accept you?

A: That’s a rude question to ask I’m pretty sure I’m qualified for at least one of them.


Q: What about creative writing?

A: Right. I still want to write. I still need to write. I need to write and will hopefully be able to think about sending stuff out someday, but right now I just don’t have the confidence in anything that I do to be able to commit to writing on any deeper level. I have to admit I’m just not very good at writing.


Q: But you’re not very good at remembering things like literary movements and historical events either so what makes you think studying literature will go any better?

A: I’m just not going to think about that, thanks. Besides, I’m great at making things up as I go along.


Q: You know you’re pretty shit at expressing your emotions.

A: Wow that was pretty critical of you out of no where.


Q: It’s just that people think you don’t enjoy things because you enjoy them quietly and people also think you don’t take things seriously because you joke about the things you care about.

A: This is a blog post not a therapy session. Let’s reel it in there, Annamarie.


Q: What do you feel like saying right now?

A: Send help I’m not qualified for anything and will never be successful and will die alone and with no friends.


Q: That seems reasonable.

A: I thought so.


Q: Well now you’re panicking about applications and the meaninglessness of existence again, aren’t you?

A: Yup.


Q: Alright so let’s bring it back down a bit. Why did you decided on this format for your return to the blog?

A: Well I’ve been trying to find a way to write this post for about a week now, but just writing it out straight never went well. Then I tried just writing about something else entirely but I always ended up back at existence and meaninglessness. Then this morning I thought, hey, it would be a fun and quirky way to talk about these things if I formatted it like an interview with myself.


Q: It also makes you feel like you’re talking about this with someone else, right?

A: Definitely, although having a long conversation with myself is maybe not the healthiest thing? I don’t know I’m not a scientist.


Q: What are your plans for winter vacation?

A: My number one plan is to spend time alone in my apartment. I’ve been going 6-7 days a week for months now and I really just want to spend some time not having to see people. I also desperately need to clean and finish my applications. Please let me rest during winter vacation. I really just want to sleep.


Q: Can we expect more blog posts from you now?

A: Probably. Overall I’m moving in the right direction, so I’ll try to post more again.


Q: I think that’s all we have time for. Any parting words?

A: My life has basically been a perpetual garbage fire for the last few months and I’m doing the best that I can. Any time you want to send me motivational things please do. Life is scary. I’m so tired. There is never enough cake.

There you have it, folks. Annamarie is back to blogging after a two month haitus. Let’s wish her luck over the next month as she tries to apply for grad school and hopefully gets to take a nap.


Thoughts on Turning 24 and 13 Months in Japan

In the last month where I have not posted on this blog my 24th birthday and my Japanniversary came and went, bringing me now to 13 months living in Japan.

My birthday itself was fairly uneventful, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I read some of my favorite books, watched some good movies, drank a lot, and ate so much junk food (beginning with chocolate and caramel pudding for breakfast and ending with fuji apple flavored potato chips after dinner). The next day I was able to go and see X-Men: Apocalypse at the movie theatre in Fujieda with a friend, and on Tuesday my friend Kozue and her daughter Ayane threw me a birthday party with homemade pizza and cake with honeydew melon grown by their family in Nagano. All in all it was a nice, quiet birthday.

Turning 24 feels like a small milestone. It is the beginning of my “mid-twenties,” and is also just a pleasing number. I have also reached the decision that unless something drastically changes between now and December, I will not be renewing my contract to stay in Japan for a third year.

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Thoughts from the Summit of Mt. Fuji

Last week I met up with three ALTs from Fukui prefecture and we embarked on the ultimate Japan challenge: watch the sunrise from the summit of Mount Fuji. While I love being outside climbing a mountain was something I was apprehensive to try, but I am so glad I took the chance.

The climb took us 9 hours from the 5th station to the summit on the Fujinomiya trail. When we set off at 6:30 Friday night the sky was quickly growing dark and the mist was thick. We kept climbing up and up in the darkness and the clouds through the night.


Climbing up to the bright light of station 8.

The sky was already beginning to show the first hint of dawn as we reached the summit at 3:30 in the morning. We had risen above the clouds after station 9 and it was promising to be a spectacular sunrise.

It was spectacular, transformative, and moving to say the least.

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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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Balance, a Myth?

This is not a happy post, but it is an honest one, and there is no use in me pretending to be someone I am not.

I just wrote a lengthy draft whining about how impossible it is to balance all of the responsibilities that are placed on me and I place on myself, but I threw it away because it felt too juvenile and emotionally dishonest. The truth is it is easier to yell about having too much to do than admit that I feel so incredibly inadequate because I can’t get everything done. I can’t do it, and I hate myself for not being able to. I can’t balance losing weight (something which takes all of my time and energy and yet my doctor still condescendingly asked me if I’m “really trying”), being good at my job, being helpful to other people at my job, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, filing my taxes (it’s June and I haven’t done anything yet please don’t arrest me), studying Japanese, looking for grad programs, writing, reading, volunteering, having a social life, and taking time for myself. I just can’t do it, and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

I look around me and I see so many people with clean apartments, happy bosses, and taxes filed on time, and I just wonder how do they do it? How are people so much more productive than I am? Is it truly possible to balance all the areas of your life that need your attention?

Do people actually enjoy their lives, or do we just pretend to enjoy living because the only other option is dying?

I have no answers. I’m struggling, and I feel like by admitting that I’ve already lost. I just want to drink and color in my adult coloring book, but alcohol has too many calories and if I don’t have time to sleep I shouldn’t waste time coloring.

I’m sorry I don’t have a motivational ending for you on this post, but you can just add it to the list of things I haven’t done properly.