Monday, December 13, 2010

looking glass girl

after almost half a decade in japan, it feels shocking to wear shoes inside, and i had to call my mom to ask if you really throw light bulbs away in the regular trash. happily i found japanese rice at the store and have had a pot of miso soup in my fridge constantly since i returned.
three weeks! so much has happened. i started a part time job at photo shop, bought a car, moved into my housesitting house, and immediately started having car trouble. i already feel like i’ve been gone for months, which makes me sad. some nights it comes back strong, though…just the simple memory of riding the train home or going to the grocery store…the familiar places that are 6000 miles away.
in many ways i’ve been blessed: the car is fixed enough for now; the house where i’m living gives me the space and financial freedom i need during this transition; the job has been a surprising delight; and i’m still healthy and not totally broke (yet). in spite of all that, it’s hard not to feel aimless and fearful about the future. where am i going? my immediate practical needs have demanded most of my energy and thought, but when i have a little time, a big question mark curls through my head like a black snake.
this morning, a bit too tired, i unexpectedly connected with the feeling of loss that lingers around me like smoke and burst into tears. with virtually all of my possessions still on a ship somewhere, my days have felt robbed of memories; the present is so present. it felt good to cry about it, to miss my friends and the place i carved out there.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

fugue state

i sat down to write this first blog from the other side and the song iTunes chose started, “I'm coming apart at the seams.” that's pretty close to how i feel. what’s wrong with me? the song continues, “Doc, there's a hole where something was. Doc, there’s a hole where something was.” i feel i’ve been stripped of something, a very identity, that’s been part of me for four and a half years, every fiber still raw and painful from having it torn away.

moving back from japan is way hard, guys.

the first day was great. woke up late, hung out with mom, went out with some friends who were in town for thanksgiving, dressed up, had fun. the second day mom and i had a very small conflict which precipitated an hour-long cry as i faced the “what the hell am i doing here/will i ever be happy in america” monster. extreme, i know. but it feels extreme.
going to a country where i was conspicuously different was weird enough, but i expected it to be unfamiliar. no one else expected me to know what was going on either. over time i acclimated and forgot what i was used to before. coming back, everything is familiar but no less strange. i feel the need to preserve a distance from strangers, store clerks, waitresses. people act too familiar and i don’t understand why; i don’t know them. i really feel like an alien who has been on another planet, and while people recognize my face, it feels like there’s a very different person in there.

i thought my hometown would feel safe, not too stressful--a good place to figure out the next step. it still may be, but while i’m overwhelmed by my emotions, i feel totally under-stimulated. this place is beautiful, but it doesn’t have what i need. i need real japanese food, a cheap mobile phone with email, and fit grannies laughing raucously outside the window. i need people speaking in languages i can’t understand, clean subway trains, and conbinis with onigiri. i need unsweetened bottled green tea, karaoke, and onsens.

i do have an awesome housesitting situation, but it’s freezing cold and i don’t have a car. so what do i do? ride my mom’s bicycle until my face falls off? buy a car? that’s kind of a big deal. i don’t know what i really expected, but it’s my practical problem of the moment: how to become independent again ASAP.

it’s not all bad. i did some laundry and used the dryer. things are so soft, unwrinkled, and you know, dry. i had some mexican food and two martinis. the house is warm and so is the water in all the public bathrooms. those things take the edge off.
i’m trying not to lose sight of the things i wanted to do when i came back. i’m trying to hold on to the girl i was there, so i can be her here too and not this mess, but it’ll take a little time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

new life ahead

everything is finally done, and i'm waiting in the airport for my flight to be called. i was sent off by six wonderful friends and made it through security in a flash and then stumbled down the carpeted ramp to the gates with my eyes blurred by tears. i don't know what's ahead, and i'm definitely feeling kinda unsure about it, but i've had an incredible life here in japan for four years and four months. i'll miss it more than i can fathom right now, i know. thank you to everyone who made my time here so incredible and special: students, friends, church members, and polite service people! :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

goodbye kumano

listening to the waves from matsumoto toge one last time.

the sayonara post

my move from japan is coming loud and fast like an express train, leaving me little time to process my departure from this home of four years. i leave in a week! however, i knew i had to see kumano again, so in the midst of my frantic hurricane of getting rid of things and saying goodbyes, i drove down today. kumano is almost like a person to me, someone i need to see and smell and touch before we part for what i can only imagine will be quite a few years. i spent the end of my 20s here, learned how to teach, watched the seasons ripen and fade. it's a place that didn't look like much to me when i arrived but held treasures that sound cliche to list but are no less amazing: the people, the golden evening light, the smell of the air, the dramatic mountains. i'm trying to soak it all up and take it with me, this second home.
thanks for coming on the journey! big spiders, little victories; it's all been exciting. i will certainly continue to write, though i may not get another chance before i'm back on colorado soil, so keep the light on for me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


no comments on my last two posts, i must be getting really boring. i admit i've had something like writer's block since i really started to face moving home. it's like my creative sap has moved inward to protect my heart, like your blood does when exposed to extreme cold. i'm still experiencing everything, i just haven't been able to express much.
tonight smells like snow, but it's only smoky and cool. it feels close and safe like snowy nights, too. in any city, some nights feel dangerous, and you hurry home with the key ready, but when everything is covered in a heavy white shadow, the peace feels inviolable.
i meander to the monthly recycling spot, listening to the crickets gurgling the air. i leave a big bag of clothes i've decided to part with. that's always a hard decision for me because clothes are so personal, they have so much history, but it's time to let go. i hold onto things too diligently, which is a burden when you move as much as i do. i've moved 27 times that i know about. hopefully i can find a place to stay one of these days.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


as my saturday evening classes wound down tonight, i found myself craving katsudon. it was a rabid craving, unwilling to be placated by anything else. i asked my students where i might be able to find katsudon, and they didn't really know, so i headed home with no clue. most restaurants in japan are pretty specialized, and i mentally clicked through the places i already knew: italian...eel...udon...buffet...ramen...chinese...omurice...sushi, nowhere that might carry katsudon. after a peek on the internet, i was happy to find a listing for a katsudon restaurant just blocks from my apartment. i had no idea when i chose this apartment, but it's in a sweet spot with prolific restaurant options. searching for places alone in my car makes me nervous because i have to pay attention to traffic and stoplights and look for the the place, but searching for somewhere on my bike doesn't stress me out at all. if i stop in the middle of the sidewalk suddenly or need to turn around, no harm done. street view maps make it even easier because you can see what the storefront looks like before you even leave your house. so as a blue dusk fell, i headed off on my bike with a mental map and arrived at the katsudon place in like two minutes!
stage two: going into an unfamiliar place alone. this can be intimidating enough in your own country, but in a foreign country it can be even more nerve wracking. from outside the place looked pretty busy for so early in the evening. that's a good sign; the food is probably good, but i wondered how full it was. in japan: you just never know. there are places that look like closets that have hidden upstairs seating, just as there are places that look huge but only seat a few. so i took a deep breath and went inside. there was plenty of room at the counter, and since i already knew what i wanted, i ordered right away. the katsudon was around $9.50, and it came with salad, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and tea. take into account there's no tipping or tax, and that's a good, hearty meal for the price. even better: it was exactly what i wanted. i ate as much as i possibly could and rolled home satisfied.

i'm still stuffed!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

a day with wings

i think sometimes i believe i'm perfectly happy until a dazzling fall day like today, warm and breezy with dotted white clouds, blows the clutter and stuffiness from my mind. the summer haze, the summer heaviness has finally lifted, and i feel light and full of energy. i head to the gym on my bike, taking my time and letting the wind swirl my hair around. i stop to snap yet another picture of the rice field by my house. i don't know why i have such an obsession with this particular field; i'm sure the proximity has something to do with it. the neighbors must think i'm crazy with how much i ogle it. right now the rice heads are growing heavy and beginning to bend as the leaves turn from brilliant green to yellow.

i'm disappointed to realize the sycamores lining the street have been trimmed back to nubs before they could drop their leaves. they still smell faintly like the sweet "honeydew" that coats their leaves, a smell that takes me back to childhood visits to tlaquepaque in arizona, where huge, smooth-barked trees grow slowly through the adobe walls of the courtyard. i'm gawked at by some oldsters on incredibly squeaky one-speeds. it's no wonder they can't hear me coming over their own bicycles. after four years in japan i'm still conspicuous, and i still don't mind. i have to try a lot harder to stand out in the US, but with the lolita dresses i'm bringing back with me, i shouldn't have aaaany problems there. *grin*
as i ride through the shadowy, aging shōtengai (shopping arcade), i smell one of the particular mixes of scents that has come to mean old japan in my mind: mothballs and cigarette smoke. i emerge back into the light in front of masumida shrine and go around the corner past the burning incense to the gym. as i park my bike, i think about skipping the gym. it just seems too nice to go inside, but i need the exercise, so i do. i greet the front desk ladies with, "great weather, huh?" and they say in unison, kimochii! which means, "it feels good!"
the gym has a couple old guys and me, but as i'm stretching, a girl with a long, beautiful ponytail shows up. i smile to myself; i recognize her. i've nicknamed her "Thumper" because she runs like she's trying to wake the whole block with her pounding footfalls. it amuses me to see the old men start to stare as she thumps heedlessly on. after a good run alongside Thumper, i meander down the street and decide to stop for a japanese sweet or two. i've been to this shop a few times, and the owner's son, who's probably in his late 30s, acts like he's about to fall over from excitement when i'm there. he hovers nervously, eager to explain what anything is. i decide to get a black sugar (molasses-ish) sweet and a chestnut one.

finally i ride down the dilapidated alley past rumour burger--a restaurant name i find fascinating but mildly disturbing--and fly home.