Sunday, May 27, 2007


today was hot like an iron.
hot like a burn.
the first summer blaze day, so i wasn't very productive. my winter skin isn't ready for the sweatfactory. i did manage to finish powdering down the perimeter of my house to prevent mukade from crossing the line of death into my territory. the bottle looks exactly like a big yellow mustard bottle with a red squeeze cap, only it spews poison, not mustard. i've perfected my poison-applying technique, so it looks less like i was having a seizure with powdered sugar. before, it was coming out in fragrant poofs, leaving piles of white stuff all over the side of my house. i was secretly afraid the neighbor's cat would find it interesting and deadly, but he seems ok so far. the neighbor lady overcame her habit of saying only a word to me in greeting and actually told me she had just killed a mukade right then and that they come up over our back wall. she had to act a lot of it out so i understood. she went on speaking japanese and i agreed in english, and somehow we understood each other. i asked if it was ok i was using that stuff, and she said yeah.
mukade are japan's only poisonous insect, and i've been dreading the moment when i would see a full-grown one for the first time. i've seen a few small ones in my house which freaked me out plenty, but the big ones are more poisonous and move faster. and they're just BIGGER. saturday morning: after a wonderful dinner party in tsu with a perfect group of friends, marina and i had retired to her apartment. we woke later than i can usually sleep (hallelujah!) and were puttering around thinking tea and raisin toast thoughts. i lifted up my backpack and screamed--beneath it was a big mukade mofo. i threw the pack back over it and turned to break the news to marina. i remember i actually said it in a "we're going into battle" kind of voice. "there's a mukade under my backpack. get the bug tongs." when she handed them my way i responded, "oh no--it's your house. you have to pick it up." she did, like a rock star, and then powdered it exhaustively like a chapped baby's bum. i knew poison would take too long for the likes of me, and as it ran (i imagine screaming) from us, i employed the flip flop of doom and killed it until it was dead. i did feel a little sorry for it. marina had basically been sitting on the couch next to it. maybe it was just trying to enjoy her company like the rest of us do. of course i had to take a picture of its pulverized body.

after several wonderful hours of breakfast and company, we stepped into the sun. i insisted on a picture, so marina, molly and chito made a place for me while i set up the camera.

later marina and i got lots of corny pictures.

finally after a full day of really relaxing for the first time in several weeks--i had to go home.
tonight i christened the start of summer by popping open the bottle of barbecue sauce i've been saving for months and months. thick slices of melting butter and tarty swathes of barbecue sauce on boiled potatoes + iced tea = happy happy me.

as the evening overcomes the day, the hawks swirl like thin metal shavings in the sky, spinning in slow motion down an enormous drain; they wheel around the same invisible point in the air soundlessly, a feather and beak tornado.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

am i a dork or what

there's a purikura arcade in my town--an entire room of machines to take fun photos of you and your friends. amazingly, it's always completely empty! i can scarcely resist the temptation every time i walk by, but it feels foolish doing it alone. however, feeling foolish rarely stops me for long, so i finally tried solo purikura. It was great! i did somewhat cover my face and duck out quickly, smirking to myself.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

scylla and charybdis, or: and ode to an O

he understands mac love
he does some mad purikura
he's always happy to see me
he puts the T in alt (seriously)
he always buys me my first drink
he taught me about catching trains
he holds an umbrella like a gentleman
he gave me my first stranger hug in japan
he always knows what to tell the taxi driver
he patented the seismic-activity ramen stack
he's pretty much the authority on saucy banter
he talks to waiters for me when i'm feeling japan-shy
he gets obscure literary references like "Stygian gloom"
he doesn't like cheese, so he'll give you all of his *やった!*
he talked up my pancakes so even fiona and sam wanted to try them
he ran the whole way home with me so i could check my ebay status
he let me clean his apartment and didn't get too~um~offended that i did it
he quotes dante and mary j. blige in the same sentence without missing a beat
he's the first person who reads my blogs and (almost) the only person who comments
he'll tell you that when a certain cute japanese guy buys you dinner it's "tantamount to a proposal" and then that certain guy will turn out to be married
he doesn't like spicy curry and is happy when you don't either 'cause it means you won't make fun of him for it (but will make fun of him mercilessly for other things like, um, eating flower garnishes in restaurants "didn't you guys eat yours!?")

and most importantly...

he's bringin' sexy back!

happy birthday

Sunday, May 13, 2007

watermelon smells like nothingness

in spite of the record amount of blogging i've done (where are you o'neil?), i've actually felt like crap all day. no doubt due to the brain tumor. i've been ridiculously dizzy--standing, sitting, turning, doing the macarena...all make me want to hurl. lightheaded, woozy, spacy, cotton-headed. yes. this is complicated by the "tread lightly or i might bite back" state of my stomach. i eat something wrong (it seems to vary) and my stomach cramps up for two hours. so i want to eat to stave off the lightheadedness (is it really helping?), but i'm afraid to eat in case i anger the Stomach which may also end in me hurling. nevertheless, i've been eating constantly all day and the beast that is my appetite will not be appeased--right after i eat, i feel hungry. what is wrong with me?
after taking it easy for the entire day, i was still dizzy and running out of food. i decided i should try to walk to the store to replenish. it was a lovely, warm evening after all. i took it slow. if i couldn't make it to the bottom of the hill without keeling over, i was going to turn right around and crawl back up. i made it ok. actually walking outside in one direction felt nice and the dizziness wasn't so bad. this is what i saw and smelled:
that scent of pine forests again, stronger this time;
a rainbow-colored bird sitting on a wire above the canal holding a flapping fish in its beak;
deserted streets, full of smoke from the piles of weeds they're always burning;
the emerging clean smell of linden soap. it reminded me of a soap i gave mom once, and it reminded me again that it's mother's day. today i read a blog about a girl who is experiencing her first mother's day without a mom, and it made me even more thankful for mine.
after an entire day alone with my dizziness, i was strangely comforted by the grocery store. i shuffled along in my flip flops, noticing for the first time how uneven the floor is. i kept thinking, "is this just my brain fuzz, or is the floor warped?"
thank goodness, the only nice checker was working, so i left feeling encouraged by her cheer. i stepped back outside after being in the air conditioned store and was reminded, hey! it's spring. it smelled like warm evening flowers and barbecue smoke. i saw someone without shoes swinging their feet on a bench: carefree swinging, like a child. as i got closer, i was surprised to find it was an old woman. i'm gonna be that kind of old woman. i walked on, alternating the heavier bag back and forth between hands. i smelled watermelon, which has always smelled like emptiness to me. as i started up the hill to my house, i thought, "wow, i actually feel almost normal." the last scent before i went inside--my very own flowers permeating the night.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

take that! and that! and that!

stuff i did yesterday:

chuckled at my students' worksheets some more:

aired all my bedding and switched my flannel sheets with some new cooler ones:

went to allison's barbecue:
(whoa! tone it down melissa. kara looking non-chalant)

made some seriously good cooking coals:

ate a mother's day themed steak:

these walls are paper thin

just after 7am on sunday, mother's day. (hi mom!! i didn't forget!) i was woken by the little boy next door yelling to his grandma right outside my window. it sounded like the whole family was outside my window...building something. it's 7am!! but they've only disturbed me about three times in almost a year, so i didn't have the heart to go out and grouch at them. in japan the walls truly are paper thin--they're made of paper, so i've been incredibly lucky to have quiet neighbors.

usually i ride my bike to the store, but last week i decided to walk so i could listen to my ipod; i get really into my music. i was mulling over how safe i feel walking around japan, heedless of the people around me. i don't worry about lurkers waiting to rob me like i did in american cities. just then, an old woman emerged suddenly from a narrow passage between two houses and scared the crap out of me!! when i recovered, i laughed heartily imagining the look of terror that crossed my face because of a gentle old lady half my height!
speaking of ipods--i have the one on which you can watch movies or TV. if i'm going on a long train ride, i usually download something new to watch during the trip. last month i caught the cheaper local "stops at every station" train up to tsu, which is a 3 and a half hour ride. it was full to bursting with high schoolers riding home, but it quickly thinned out to the few students who live in farther away towns. i was in the midst of watching the latest episode of America's Next Top Model when i felt someone watching me. i met the eyes of a curious kid sitting on my left. he was inching closer and closer, craning his neck to see what i was looking at. without a word spoken, he reached my side and i tipped the screen so he could see it too. we sat in amicable silence watching the final few minutes of the show, after which he stood up and went back to his group of friends.

the weather is getting really gorgeous, so when i have the energy, i try to get out and walk in the remaining daylight after school. some evenings i hike partways up the little trail close to my house (where i first went with mr. M). the view is really incredible, and it doesn't take long to get up to a good vantage point. the smells along the way are also an interesting treat, since i pass people's houses on the way up. the first time i went, i smelled wax and bug spray, azaleas and cut grass. i paused to enjoy one of the last blooming cherry trees and shared a pleasant silence with another old woman watching the sun go down. she told me to watch my step as i continued up the trail alone. the first really good view is from a grove of plum trees, so i turned off the trail there. it was so wonderfully empty of other people and so quiet. even in a small town like kumano, it's difficult to feel truly away from people sometimes. everything is so close together.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

finding my own goodbye

many people asked me about how i felt following the death of my student, and i wanted to return to that briefly so you can have some closure on that chapter. the days following the news, tears leaked from my eyes with zero provocation. i just couldn't believe it. for once in my life, i was perfectly connected to my sadness. sometimes i can't seem to make contact with how i really feel. i felt it was important for me to go to kaori's wake, in spite of how startling my presence might be for the community. i needed to show my support and grief to the people who loved and knew her best. i had never been to any sort of funeral ceremony in japan, so i felt trepidation about what to do, but naoko was there to guide me.
i wore black, but i don't have any black shoes (how do i not have black shoes!?) so i had to wear some bright white tennis shoes. we drove in mostly silence; it was pretty far away, at least an hour and a half. it was the height of cherry blossom time, a widely celebrated part of spring in japan. i remember thinking that without this event, i would never have seen the wild cherry trees blooming stunningly among the pines on the mountainsides around kumano. i also wondered if spring would be tainted for kaori's family from now on. finally we arrived and walked under a low sky to the temple. blooming cherries lined the path, but in front of that were enormous matching boquets from the community. it was a hall of flowers. we paid our respects to the family inside the temple, and i got to see one final picture of her before i was blinded my my own tears. naoko led me as i stumbled back outside. for the next hour, we stood in the cold and mosquitoes as people arrived and left. i saw classmates and family, but no one seemed to weep as hard as me. i wondered why. were they just more private with their feelings? after an hour, though, my tears came more slowly and i watched the sunset as the skies cleared. it was an incredible evening, solemn but more and more beautiful. my spirits lifted, and then we drove home.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


it's open season on spider real estate, resulting in a hundred fresh new high-rise web condos erected overnight which line my short walk down the hill to school. bug season has officially begun. happy birthday to the billion mosquitoes born last week too. i saw something yesterday that resembled a very young mukade, and i watched it crawling with its many legs across the cement, trying to decide if i should kill it now or let it get bigger, find it again, and then kill it. i wasn't certain certain it was a mukade. desicions, desicions. the shy little grandson of the woman next door spoke to me for the first time as i scrutinized this bug, and i imagine he asked "what are you looking at?" so i just answered "a bug." i hope that's what he said! he might have asked, "where do you come from?" and i gave him a pretty confounding answer.
i just got back from a one-week vacation to tokyo and kyoto for the japan-wide celebration of "golden week," a week where several holidays fall together. the weather was gorgeous but for one rainy day. i had the novel job of "senior japanese speaker" and ordered several of our meals in restaurants. usually i'm the person who knows the least, so it was really a thrill. to their credit, marina's andrea and alix (first time in japan) seemed to do just fine on their own too.
some highlights from the trip were:
meeting a life-size Doraemon!

visiting my old pal the Scary Rabbit of Love:

and getting two free hugs as part of the Free Hug Campaign
oh yeah and seeing mt. fuji in person wasn't bad either.

being from colorado, and having lived only there and washington state hasn't really afforded me the chance to spend much time riding subway trains. i have always had a pure, unadulturated love for them, though. the idea that you can get across a big city in minutes for two dollars and have the chance to stare at people and sit in an industrially-maufactured plastic seat in a variety of colors is pure joy in so many ways! this week, i had the chance to ride the metro alone for the very first time. and it was fine (considering that no matter how you look at it, travelling alone by subway in another language is, well, a little lonely). i figured it out on my own, purchased my ticket, and then had the dismay to get the old "turnstile in the knees" treatment, indicating i had made a mistake of some kind like not paying enough. actually, i guess they were having problems with the tickets that day, because they just let me go through. sigh. the turnstiles don't hurt. it's more like a soft pat to the knees telling you gently but firmly, "now let's think about this. did you ride farther than you planned? do you have the right ticket? let's try it again." at least, that's what it says to me.
i keep meaning to talk about public sleeping, which is incredibly acceptable and relatively safe in japan. when i returned from visiting home last christmas, i had many grueling hours of travel which terminated in a ferry ride from nagoya airport to tsu. settling down in my chair, sleep was determined to overtake me. feeling safe and completely comfortable with being unconscious on a boat full of strangers, i gave in and had a delicious nap. that being said, i love studying the beautiful strangers of japan when they slumber near me. ordinarily i don't photograph them, but by way of example:

i planted some flowers about a month ago because i've moved so many times in the last, oh, nine years, that it hasn't really been worth it to invest the time. before that i had many gardens: flowers, herbs, vegetables. i've really been longing for the sweetness that growing things brings my heart. i never cease to be awed by the miracle of growing things, the smell of good old dirt, and the little space of peace it creates in my mind. last night i went outside to see how my plants were doing, smelled each different bloom (pinks, nasturtiums, petunias, daisies, sweet alyssum, and marigolds), and listened to the evening...pretty quiet. it's the week before mid-terms, so the students aren't allowed to stay late at school practicing sports or instruments. it's one of the only quiet weeks the whole year long. the blue evening was warm and i suddenly sniffed the elusive pine forest scent that i keep thinking i've imagined. it reminds me strongly of a childhood vacation in taos and lazy mornings in colorado's dry summer.