Day 13: A Good Day

Today was a good day. I had planned a much longer post for today, but today was a good day and I drank some wine and now I’m ready to go to sleep. And you know what? Today was a good day so I’m just going to go ahead and go to sleep because I deserve it.

This morning I woke up to find that finally after 13 months of ~life style changes~ I made my weight loss goal of losing 50 lbs. I’ve been within 1 or 2 pounds of my goal for quite some time, and so today when the scale finally said I was below it I was a little bit confused by what the numbers even meant. I’m sure that I’ll be back up above my goal tomorrow, but you can expect some longer thoughts on losing 50 lbs soon because I have… a lot.

After that I thought my day might be terrible because they changed my account on the school network and I lost all of my lesson plans, but surprise! They found them. Still a good day.

Then this afternoon I stood up for myself and the value I see in my classes at the scheduling meeting and not only were the classes they were going to cut not cut, but I have three additional classes added to my schedule this term.

So it was a good day. I should have something more profound to say about it, but it is still a Wednesday, so before Wednesday can do something to mess it up (as Wednesday always does) I’m going to go to sleep.

Day 12: A Confession

I have a confession: I love cheap romance novels.

This is a secret obsession I have inherited from my mom and that I have to keep secret and separate from my study of more serious literature, but I have decided to share this with you all today.

There is just so much to like about cheap romance novels. I think of them as low-engagement fanfictions because you get all the fun of reading fanfiction without the involvement in the fandom and any disagreements with the author’s characterization (see: me yelling at my computer “Draco would never say that!”). You can get all the same tropes as fanfic–friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, magical tattoos (probably)–but they don’t carry the same overused feeling as, say, a Merlin coffee shop AU.

(Let’s be real I’ll still read all the Merlin coffee shop AUs.)

In a cheap romance novel you can enjoy the ridiculous set-up and often ridiculous conflict with the comfortable knowledge that in the end everyone will be loved and happy. There is some comfort in that. I also secretly take a lot of comfort in the idea that no matter what your glaring character flaws might be, there is someone who will love you.

I am very cynical about my own love life, but my cynical exterior is covering a milk chocolately center that will quickly melt for any sappy love story. Cheap romance novels allow me to soften my gooey center without anyone knowing that my gooey center exists.

I know that most of the time the cheap romance novels are not well-written. Hell, most of the time they aren’t even good stories, but at the end of the day I think romance novels are there to remind us that even in a world full of terrible things, there is 1) always someone more dramatic than you, and 2) always someone who will love you.

 

(Whether or not #2 is true is a subject for another blog post where you will be able to see my cycnical hard candy coating.)

Day 11: Rest

Today is the end of my four day spring vacation. It’s sad having to go back to desk warming, even if things should hopefully be getting more involved soon with planning for the new year. Even so I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to just be my own person for a weekend.

I don’t know what made me so tired last week. I was feeling like maybe my medications were out of whack or maybe it was just the stress of having no work finally getting to me, but either way by Friday I was barely staying awake through the day (and in fact fell asleep and made my friend wait for me for 15 minutes until her calls finally woke me up).  By the time Saturday rolled around I wanted nothing more than to rest.

So that’s what I did. I spent the entire day at home in bed watching shows I’ve been meaning to watch. This weekend I finished Iron Fist, watched the second season of Outlander, and the second season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It was exactly what I needed to do with my time.

In addition to the excessive Netflix binge I washed dishes, did two loads of laundry, aired out my futon, cleaned the shower and the toilet, went grocery shopping, and pre-made lunches for this week. It wasn’t an entirely lazy weekend, but I definitely needed all 3 days of downtime to get everything done.

The change in weather is going to give me a constant headache for the next…who knows, but I’m now feeling much more human and much better prepared to begin my last term of teaching here in Japan. Sometimes, especially when living in another country, all you need is some time to rest.

Day Ten: Music is International

It finally happened: I missed two days of my blogging challenge. It was inevitable, but I was hoping to get a little bit further into the challenge. I just became overwhelmingly tired and was very busy on Friday and very lazy on Saturday as a result and now it’s Sunday night and here I am.

On Friday I went with my friend Kozue and members of our gospel choir to a local day service to share music with the elderly patients who spend their days in the care of the facility. Kozue and I have played at two day services before now, but this was our first time including so many other people.

Kozue studied piano in college and is quite talented. I have played trombone casually since I was 11, and though I’m very out of practice I do still really enjoy playing. Playing music with people who speak a different language is very interesting. We may not have the same words for everything, but we can look at the notes on the page and produce the same results. When we can then take those results and create music that brings joy to elderly people spending their days in a home it’s a wonderful feeling.

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You can tell this photo was fake by how I’m holding the trombone.

We play many folk songs as well as a few other fun songs thrown in. We play a jazz version of 上を向いて歩こう (known as Sukiyaki in English because it was easier to say) as an encore that has improv sections for both of us and is a really fun way to end a show.

I enjoy being able to bring music to rooms of strangers in Japan. Part of my job here as I see it is promoting the internationalization of the community, and by sharing music together I feel that I am removing some of the barriers that exist between us. When we sing together, or share in the creation of the same piece of music, we are sharing something that cannot be replicated and cannot be created in any other way. I love sharing music with my students as a way to learn English, but I love creating music together even more because it teaches more than just language–it shows our shared connection through the very human experience of music.

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This action shot from an actual flip phone. 

Finding ways to create music with friends has made my second year in Japan a much more meaningful experience than my first. Joining the choir and volunteering with Kozue will surely be some of my greatest memories from my time here. Music will always be a part of my life. That was a commitment I made early in life and solidified by my commitment as a sister of Tau Beta Sigma. I hope that wherever I end up and whatever I end up doing there will always be a place with people for me to create music with because there is nothing else that can compare to the experience.

Day Nine: Goodbyes

It’s the time for goodbyes in Japanese schools. Today we said farewell to the 13 teachers and office staff who are being transferred to other schools or retiring this year. This included our principal, vice-principal, and the two most senior office workers, so next year is going to be an interesting time.

I also said goodbye to two of the English teachers who have been most influential on my time in Japan. Of all teachers, these two always took a concern in my well-being and overall adjustment to living in Japan, and were always there to stick up for me and the importance of my lessons.

One teacher in particular has been my friend and mentor over the last year. I learned so much from our conversations together, just as I hope he did. We talked about everything from movies and TV shows to the effects of poverty, what it’s like growing up without a dad, religion, race, and sexuality. Everything was up for discussion, and those discussions will be some of my favorite memories of my time here.

In his goodbye speech tonight this teacher took the time to tell everyone that he thought I was intelligent and a good teacher. This meant so much to me, not only because receiving public recognition from a mentor is a good feeling, but it felt especially meaningful in light of the recent cutting of my schedule for next year.

I think it will be more challenging to make it through my remaining months at work without my friend and fellow gossip, but I will always have the memory of his compliment and know that he believes in my ability to be a good educator, and that’s no small thing.

-Annamarie

P.S. If for some reason I didn’t understand a subject change in his speech and he didn’t actually compliment me please don’t tell me.

Day Eight: Cycles

Life is full of cycles. People who menstruate are probably most aware of how cycles affect our lives, even if like me the cycle is medically induced. Our hormones cycle, the seasons, the beginning and end of sports season after sports season–some cycles are more apparent than others.

Facebook memories have allowed me to see more clearly some of the cycles in my own life. Apparently, around this time every year I get laryngitis and lose my voice. Just two days ago I noticed my voice was getting a little rough again. What is it about the coming of spring that takes my voice away, no matter what country I’m in?

The laryngitis cycle began, as far as I can tell, with the Great Laryngitis of 2012. At that time, what started as a simple case of laryngitis became an entire month of no speaking and nearly two months for my voice to return to full function, which put my grades in danger and permanently altered my voice. The permanent alteration to my voice brought me to an ENT, who in turn brought me to my first STD test when I got a letter from the ENT’s office saying that improper cleaning of his scopes may have exposed me to Hep. B, Hep. C, and HIV.

The Great Laryngitis of 2012 was an experience I will never forget.

Since The Great Laryngitis I’ve had a small bout of voice-loss every year at almost exactly the same time. In my Facebook memories this week I saw both the start of last years laryngitis and TGL of 2012.

I wonder what other cycles in my life I’m not so aware of. I know that, for example, I never want to cook dinner on Wednesday nights. Is that some sort of cycle or do I just hate Wednesdays?  What strange cycles in my life have I not noticed just because I don’t have the scope to see them or haven’t kept a record? I guess I’ll never know.

-Annamarie

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This post is day 8 of a 30 day blogging challenge.

Day Seven: Clinic

In Japan it is nearly impossible to get prescriptions for medications for longer than one month at a time. This is to make sure you are only getting medicine you need and that people aren’t abusing their prescriptions, but for someone who has been taking the same hormone and thyroid medications for six years it can feel like quite the unnecessary hassle.

Today was my monthly visit to the local English-speaking clinic. I am incredibly lucky to live two minutes from an English-speaking doctor, especially an English-speaking doctor who spends half his week teaching at Kyoto University. For the most part I can trust the advice he gives me, even if we sometimes have a little back and forth about my weight.

The way the clinic here works is a little bit different from the doctors offices I’m familiar with in the US, so I decided to write about that today.

Walking into the clinic, the first thing you have to do is sign in on the sheet and give them your card for the clinic if you already have one. The card is what they clip to your file and use to keep everything organized. They also can use it to give reminders back to you. For example, when I got my card back today it had a note stuck on it saying “You must see the doctor again next time” so that I don’t “forget” and try to convince them just to give me the prescriptions without talking to the doctor.

Not that I’ve ever done that.

After signing in you take your blood pressure yourself with a little machine and take the printed receipt back to the nurse. Eventually they call your name and you go up to the front of the waiting room and talk to the nurse about any symptoms you’re having. This is also the time they check your insurance information.

One thing that is very different from the US is all of this preliminary stuff is done in the waiting room with everyone else. It can be a little awkward, and a little cramped and germy during flu season, but it allows the building to be much smaller than US clinics and it keeps the process moving at a certain pace.

Around this time they usually call me back and take my weight. This is not done for everyone, but my doctor is ~concerned~ and checks my weight every month to see if there are any changes.

Eventually they have you move into a second waiting room outside the exam room. This room is, in my local clinic, just a hallway.

Soon enough you are in to see the doctor. Today we looked at my blood test results from last month. He told me he was concerned I gained 1kg (2lbs). I told him it’s perfectly normal for me to change 1kg up or down from day-to-day, let alone from month to month. I told him I feel like my hair is thinning. He told me that happens to most people when they come to Japan.

After meeting with the doctor it’s back out into the waiting room until you’re called up to pay and get your prescription. They also return your patient card to you at this time. The paper prescriptions can then be brought to any pharmacy, ideally along with your pharmacy booklet which shows the pharmacist what medications you have received from which pharmacies and when. (Although if you forget your pharmacy booklet they will still give you the medication after giving you a little bit of a hard time… not that I’ve even done that, either.)

While I am very lucky to have a pharmacy and an English-speaking doctor 200 yards from my house, I can’t say I will miss the need for monthly visits. Sometimes, especially during flu season, it can take up to 3 hours to get my prescription as there are no appointments, only walk-ins. On one hand it’s nice to have a monthly reassurance that I’m healthy, but really I’d rather same the time and money and get back in on that 3 month+ prescription action in the US.

Day Six: Grandmas are Universal

It is very late on a Monday night but I want to share this story with you so I don’t break my blogging streak.

On Monday nights I visit a family here in town and practice English with their daughters. In return for a few hours of English study, they feed me dinner, talk to me, and let me watch TV. All in all it’s a good system. I have long believed in the merits of working for food, and having this weekly appointment means at least once a week I have to be a person and that there is someone who would notice if I disappeared. These are important things to think about.

Tonight after dinner and ice cream the mom and the grandma drove me home, but first they asked if it was alright to go to the grocery store. Of course I said yes, assuming they needed to pick up some food for themselves.

When we got to the store, the grandma told me “Pick whatever you want.”

“I just went to the supermarket yesterday,” I explained. “I only have a mini fridge, so I have to be careful of what I buy.”

”遠慮しないで。遠慮しないでよ!Don’t hold back. Don’t hold back!” she told me.

From then on it was a test of wills that I largely lost. She insisted that I buy some cup noodles. I chose one, she added another, demanded I choose two more, and then said I had to take a fifth because four was an unlucky number. I held my ground on milk and bread because I already have bread and don’t drink milk. They handed me a frozen pizza, and even when I explained it wouldn’t fit in my freezer I was told to just cut it and wrap it in pieces. I did actually need some oatmeal so I voluntarily put a bag of that in the basket. “Do you want two?” she asked. “It’s just me,” I countered.

The biggest defeat was the ice cream. She asked if I wanted ice cream. I said I was fine.

“You don’t like ice cream?” she asked, knowing she’d seen me eating ice cream on multiple occasions.

“I like ice cream but…” I said in the lovely way Japanese has of saying no without giving a reason or actually saying no.

“But… here, this is delicious. You like melon, right?”

I now have five different ice creams in my fridge and a bag of chocolates.

At the end of the day I am thankful for the universality of grandmas. It is bittersweet, remembering my grandma who passed away one month ago today and all of the food she sent me off with over the years, but it is also a precious feeling to be worried over by a grandma. She knows that I am single, 24, and living on my own, and she is (probably rightfully) concerned that I don’t take proper care of myself, and so she insists that I always have food when I leave her presence. It is nice to be cared for. It’s nice to know that there are people here who would help me if I really needed it.

And hell I’ll be honest it’s nice to have ice cream in my freezer, too.

Day Five: Free time

I find free time to be incredibly stressful. Free time feels like a competition–like there is somehow a way to win free time. Some people use their free time to do amazing things like write novels, pay bills, or meal plan for the entire week. Some people manage to keep clean apartments and take out their recycling.

I am not one of those people. I lose at free time. I would much rather spend my free time sitting on the computer doing nothing and taking a nap than scrubbing my toilet. At the same time I know that doing all of the things I don’t want to do–pre-making lunch, laundry, cleaning the shower drain–makes my life during the week much easier and lower stress.

It’s hard for me to find a balance because I am always focused on being good at things and having a productive life. Even so, I need time to sit on the computer doing nothing. I’ve been able to keep a decent balance the last few months by allowing myself to have enough time to just be myself sitting in my apartment. It can be hard when people want to spend time with you, or even try to guilt you into hanging out, but by knowing when I need a day to be alone in my apartment and respecting that need I’ve been able to ward off any meltdowns for a while.

It can still be hard to not feel guilty for taking time to do nothing when there is so much to be done. I wish I was the kind of person that could feel better after just doing all the things on my mile-long weekend to-do list, but the truth is that if I were to do all of things I need to do around the apartment I would just be too exhausted to get through the rest of the week. It’s difficult to recognize and honor the fact that what works for other people does not necessarily work for me.

Yesterday I did nothing, and it was great. Today I knew I needed to do some things, so I went to western union to send money back to the US for my student loans and credit card bills, went grocery shopping, did laundry, gathered garbage, washed dishes, and made lunches for Monday-Wednesday. Even after being productive I find it hard to be kind to myself and not fixate on all the things I didn’t do today. It’s hard enough to take care of yourself, but then feeling bad for doing the things I need to do to take care of myself? Ridiculous.

Free time is not meant to be this stressful, right? Am I the only one feeling like they lose at the free time competition?

-Annamarie

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This post is day 5 of a 30 day blogging challenge.

Day Four: Superheroes

I’m feeling the pressure of this 30 day blogging challenge already today. It’s Saturday, and I’ve spent my entire day resting with Netlix at home trying to recharge from two weeks of a lot of tension at work (tension re: having no work). I nearly forgot about my blogging challenge until 8:00pm. As the blogging challenge continues, I think you can fairly expect to see a wide variety of posts. There will be days, like today, where I just write about something I did or thought during the day.

Today I finished watching Daredevil and began watching Luke Cage. I’m interested in why the Marvel/Netflix shows are so much more engaging for me than the Marvel movies. Perhaps it’s just the format of a show vs. a feature film. The movie is two hours of action and then it’s over, whereas the show can take time to develop the emotional lives of multiple characters, and even when it’s over there is plenty of story to carry over into another season.

I think what is particularly interesting about the Marvel shows, and what we like so much about this new generation of superheroes, is that even with their powers and ability to survive the worst, for the most part they have really shitty lives. They are constantly beaten to a pulp, losing their loved ones, and trying to claw their way up from rock bottom. I think we are drawn the idea of the people we are supposed to admire having even worse lives than we do. We think, well, Luke Cage has had a pretty tough life but he is still trying to make the most of it, so maybe I can too. Or we think, Matt Murdoch can repeatedly lie to and disappoint his friends, but they don’t leave him so maybe my friends won’t abandon me either.

It feels like we are probably soon going to reach a saturation point with superheroes soon. Already it feels like we are losing interest, but still the movies and the Marvel shows are keeping an audience. I wonder what it is that draws us so much to these new kinds of heroes. I want to know what it is that interests us in these new hero stories. It seems to be more than just an American interest in the bootstraps narrative–people who have hard lives working hard to overcome challenges and make the world a better place. In many cases these hero stories do not have happy endings, or at least not the happy endings we come to recognize as the Hollywood happy ending. There is no married with two kids and living in the suburbs ending for these heroes. Their endings are much more complicated, much more nuanced. I think this shows a general cultural interest in the ways that good and evil can be blurred. We see tragedies, scandals, and politics on the news every day, and I think the average person today is no longer capable of seeing the old Captain America sides of black and white right and wrong. We like seeing our heroes struggle a little bit with knowing what is the right thing to do, just as we do in our daily lives.

Even so, though, our heroes generally choose the “right” thing by the end of the story. We want to see our heroes struggle with these questions, but still come out with the best possible solution in the end.

I’m just feeling very interested in what seems like a simultaneously love and distaste for superheroes in our popular culture. I guess I’ll add this to my list of possible things to research in grad school if I have the time.

What are your thoughts?

-Annamarie

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This post is day 4 of a 30 day blogging challenge.