Friday, April 28, 2006


Things are weird. My emails are piling up and I'm sorry for not responding quickly to them, but my days feel strange right now. I'm up and down emotionally and physically too. In my good moments I notice the white butterflies flitting over the green fields with sprays of tiny yellow flowers, the name of which I've forgotten, and feel at home. In my bad moments I can't recall what's appropriate to say to the man who wants to know how much gas I want in my tank or the store clerk who tells me to "Have a good one," as I walk out. In my worst moments I have this little voice in my head with a running commentary, criticizing people like Tina, the woman who showed me around the gym I just joined, because she was too assuming and trying to assume a friendship between us for some reason while it was obvious to me we had only met ten minutes earlier when I walked in for a tour of the facilities and I held no illusions that what I was doing there was nothing more than finding a gym and purchasing a package for the next few months. Poor Tina. Well it's not as if I said any of the critical things I thought of to her. But still, it's in this sort of situation that I feel worst. Feeling bad about someone or something and having a negative reaction to it and then feeling guilty that I'm not one hundred percent happy to be home again. It's not as if I'm not trying to settle in. I'm doing really well at that, but maybe I'm pushing myself too hard to do that too. I've nearly got my room how I like it and my laptop is being fixed and I joined the gym mentioned above where poor Tina got a mindful without knowing it, and I should have a cell phone tonight or tomorrow. Only a few boxes left to unpack and sort through, but otherwise I'm almost all physically settled again. I've begun driving and have only had about three near heart attacks. Not too bad. I've seen an old friend and had lunch. Signed my contracts for One For Sorrow with Bantam today. Tomorrow I'll be seeing a couple of old friends from my grad school days and catching up. So yeah, maybe I'm pushing myself too hard, but there's that guilt when I find myself staring at my shelves with all of my mementos of Japan on it and realize I've been daydreaming about the memories they hold for me, trying to remember the colors and smells and sounds of Japan instead of living in the world around me. I suppose it's a transitional thing, but it's still bothersome. I'm impatient with myself too, and don't know how to give myself time and wondering what is too much time, etc. In any case, if you don't hear from me via email and you've sent me something, please be patient with me. I'm trying to get back into my stride. Hopefully by mid next week, things will feel a bit more natural again.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Home Again

After eighteen hours of flying and sitting in airports, canceled flights from New York to Pittsburgh, hastily rearranged flights to Cleveland, and more waiting as the rearranged flight continued to be delayed and delayed and delayed, I made it back to Ohio much much later than I expected, but made it nonetheless. Jetlag is pretty much destroying me at the moment, so even when I think I've got good sleep and rest I crash at odd hours of the day, but hopefully that won't last too long. Maybe it's me trying to operate on my Japan internal time clock. Anyway, I am home, and delighting in the friendliness of American strangers who, when they find out I've returned after a couple of years, welcome me home, but am aghast at the chaos of our groceries stores. The tofu selection is disgustingly poor, the cereal and snack selection is beyond excessive, and everything is apparently flavored like something other than what it actually is. Have almost had several heart attacks thinking my mother was making gigantic driving errors that would get us killed--driving on the wrong side of the road, taking a right turn on a red light--because I'm still operating with the driving rules in Japan. Wondering why everything appears so small and low to the ground and spread out. Everywhere I go, someone knows my mother. The post office, the bank, the grocery store, the bookstore. Yes, I had my mom stop at a bookstore and I wandered around with an iced coffee trying to take it all in. Failed. Information overload due to understanding absolutely everything that was printed on covers. Eventually left in a harried, hurried manner, my mother asking why I didn't want anything, though couldn't quite explain to her how it felt too overwhelming at the moment. Lots of hugging with my nephews and nieces and family members. That is good. Today, lots of laundry and arranging of my room and hopefully locating a gym and an Asian food market so I can eat a bit more healthier and happily.

I'm here. Somehow. Though it feels a little bit like America and I have become strangers to each other.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Last Goodbye

Am staying at my friends' Kevin and Beth's place back in Ami until I leave on Monday. Last night we had a big going home karaoke blowout with my friends here, today we had a smaller less blownout karaoke party with the older Japanese ladies I and my friend Katie used to have Japanese and English exchange with over dinner on Wednesday nights. They made me sing Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" for the last song, which they heard me sing some months ago and insisted that when I sing it, I should look at each of them longingly. I will miss those flirts something fierce.

Then tonight me and Beth and Kevin and Jody went to see V for Vendetta, which Alan and Kristin have reported seeing as well, and like them we freaking loved it. Go see it. Hopefully take something important to remember away after watching it.

I won't be writing in this journal again until I am back home in the states, so this is my last entry from my time in Japan. It's been the absolute best time in my life, living here. I feel like I found so many important parts of myself while I lived in Japan and that I probably wouldn't have if I'd never left America and everything I knew there behind for a good, long time. I'm a pretty luck guy, I think. Whenever my students at the junior high asked if I was rooting for American teams and athletes during the Olympics, I would tell them I was rooting for both Americans and Japanese. They'd invariably be surprised and ask why, and I'd always tell them "Because I'm from both of those countries now." And that's something that will never change, I think. Part of me will always belong to Japan, even when I'm not living here anymore.

Now on to New York and Pittsburgh airports, and back to Kinsman, Ohio and my family. It'll be good to see my family and friends back home soon. The people a part of me always belonged to while I wasn't home.

Sayonara Japan, Hello America

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

One for Sorrow

I've been hinting about this in several recent entries to this journal and was just waiting a bit to make sure everything was pretty much finalized. So the big news I've been wanting to share for about the past two and a half months is that my first novel, One for Sorrow, has been bought by Juliet Ulman at Bantam Books. I'm not sure of a publication date yet, but as soon as I know, I'll post it here.

So that's it, the exciting news I've been withholding (unless you were one of the several hundred people I emailed about it in private of course. Ahem.)

And for fun, here's a mock design of the book my friend Amber van Dyk did of One for Sorrow when I read from it for the first time at Wiscon a while back.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

There Are Really Not Enough Words For This

I've been staying with my friend Jody out in the wilds of Yachiyo machi (machi just means town) for the past couple of weeks. It was her house I was moving my things to when I had the accident. That first week here, she was without a car too, as her company was sort of changing hands and the one who had given her a car last year took it back and she had to wait a week and a half for her regular company to give her a new one. Very complicated business, actually, the English teacher gig in Japan. Unfortunately it's not run directly through the schools, but through companies that headhunt and hire people to bring over and teach English, so a foreign English teacher here actually has two bosses, so to speak, their company that hired them and the school they work at. When I first got here I worked directly for my school, because I was replacing someone who left halfway through her contract with the school. After that contract ran out, the company that hired me for the school took over my contract, and I can honestly say things were much better working directly for the school for a number of reasons. Better pay scale raise, more days off, more sick leave, huge bonuses if they weren't given to the company that brought me here to pay them off for headhunting, more freedom to act as an agent in my own doings in the classroom. As soon as my company took over, though, my coordinator was always trying to tell me what I should and shouldn't do at school, even though it was almost always the complete opposite of what my school wanted from me as a teacher. I ended up doing as my school wanted in the end, and mostly ignored my company because they in fact didn't really know much of what the school would like from their foreign teacher. Their advice was almost always in opposition to that. Anyway, those days are over. I'm no longer a foreign English teacher. Except in the way that trees accrue rings for every year of life, so in that sense I'll always be a foreign teacher, it's a part of me, my experience, but the days of doing it every day are done. Jody and my other friends here are already back to work, and I spend my days while she's at work making last minute preparations, reading, cooking, working on a still unannounced project which I will someday soon be making public, and biting my fingernails a lot, wondering what's going to happen to me once I get on that plane and fly ten thousand miles back to Ohio.

There are a lot of things I think I'm imagining correctly that will be as I think, but even those I can't be completely sure of. I've been gone a couple of years, people have kept on living without me, some of those people I haven't spoken to in the entire time I've been here, and then suddenly I'll be there again, in their lives, they in mine, and I just don't know what to expect. I'll be staying with my family when I get home initially, for a couple of reasons. I don't know where I want to go next, what I want to do, who I want to be after this yet. I'll need time to just settle back into things in the United States for a while. Driving on the other side of the road again, driving on the other side of the car actually, deliberating over the cereal aisle with its double digits of choices in breakfast flakes where here I had a choice of maybe eight different kinds of cereal at most. Seeing old friends, wondering if I'll even know how to talk to all these people who were an intimate part of my life before I came here, and who I've kept up relationships with while I've been gone, but differently. It's not the same to get an email, a phone call even, from a friend who's living in another country, and immediately understand the things they're saying to you. It can't be. It's the same as the way I thought I knew what getting into an accident and slamming your head into a windshield would be like, and then having one, and now knowing the difference. Or it's the difference between my classroom French and the Japanese I use and hear everyday. There's a gap, and I hate gaps, but I've been trying to teach myself to be okay with that anyway, because I can't expect anyone to get inside my skin and know who I am now, how I've changed, or why, or to what degree, or for them to know how even though I may have the same sense of humor or pull the same stupid stunts to make people laugh, or make the same idle social banter, who I am underneath all that is really different from the who I was underneath when I left.

After Jody got home from work today, I borrowed her car to go to the 100 yen store to pick up some packing tape. I have one last box I hadn't planned for that I want to send before I go. It seems I'm trying to bring all of Japan that I've accumlated back home with me, whereas when I left America, I left almost everything behind and just took the essentials with me, most of which wasn't essential I later discovered. I tend to have conversations in my head as I drive, just with myself mostly, though I occasionally imagine a conversation partner, a friend or a family member, what they would say about what I'm thinking, etc. But today it was just me, myself and I. And I was thinking how I'm a better person than the one who came to Japan, and how so many people, if I said that in conversation, would say, Oh no, it's not that you're a better person now than you were, you're just a different person now than you were then. But I think I'm both a different person now and also a better one. I wouldn't ever want to be who I was when I came here again. Not that that guy was someone bad or anything. I just like who I am now better than I liked myself then. I was unhappy mostly, to tell the truth. I was unhappy with my life, with where I was living, with the path I'd been walking that seemed to end without any other direction to go in, with my relationship with my family (still not too happy with that one), with my country (another one I'm still not happy about), my culture (yet another), just about everything. And when I came to Japan, I suddenly over a period of mere months started to be happy again. Some of it was a mystery, I didn't know why I was feeling this way, so happy some days that I would be driving home from school and find my eyes filling up with tears because of what? Someone was nice to me at the grocery store? A parent told me thank you for teaching their child? A teacher gave me a souvenire from a trip they had been on? I was going to karaoke with friends later that night? What? What? I had no clue, but I found myself so happy sometimes that at times it overcame me, and yeah, occasionally I'd cry tears of joy. Another truth: I never knew what those were before I came here. I'd never cried them. I didn't really believe they existed except in my mother's sentimental descriptions of emotional events in her life and also in bad romance novels, or maybe just in bad novels in general. Tears of joy. Who knew they were really real? I didn't.

And it wasn't just here and there, it was consistent, for a long time. And even now, my general level of happiness is pretty remarkable. I've had some major low points here, I've had my heart broken, that tore me up for a while pretty bad, but even then I had a general level of goodness in my life, I still kept my chin up and walked forward and enjoyed my job most days and my friends and whatever came my way, I enjoyed my solitude too. I've lived alone before I came here, but I always had a sort of sad feeling when living alone before, like I wanted someone around to share the space with, to make memories with. But here I even enjoyed the times I was completely alone as well.

So it's with some nervousness and worry and anxiety and all of those other words that fall into that sort of emotional classification that I write now, thinking about that happiness, and thinking about the world I'm returning to, and wondering if what I've gained here will be compromised by going home. Can I be happy in America? Can I live the sort of life I want to live? Will I be disgusted with the general state of the culture and run screaming to the nearest airport within days after arriving? Will I be happy there too? Because really, you know, this happiness thing, it's not easy to do. In fact, in some ways, I don't feel it was anything that had to do with me, I can't name anything that I did here specifically that made myself happier than I did back home. I was a teacher back home too. I taught college freshmen, most of whom didn't even know why they were in college and didn't appreciate the fact that they could go to college, and didn't understand the power of an education or the beauty of learning for the sake of learning, of growing and becoming a bigger person, hopefully, with the more knowledge you acquire. Here I was thanked almost every day for doing what in America was a thankless job. Education is serious here. I don't know how many times I was told thank you for taking care of my child, or thank you, Chris sensei, for studying with me, etc. It took me months to get used to this. I wanted to tell anyone who thanked me, it's just my job, no no, you don't have to thank me, it's nothing. And I tried to say that, but they kept on thanking. And then one day it hit me, how wonderful it was to go to work and why I loved my job so much, at least part of it was the fact that I was actually appreciated, that I wasn't some drone, that the community I worked for really did appreciate me doing what I did. It made me happy. And I never felt that kind of feeling about any job I held in America. I felt useful here, and a part of things. There were of course many times when I felt very apart, just being a foreigner, but all in all, there was an underlying sense of community I had here that I hadn't experienced back home in the everyday world. I had my community of writing world friends, but I saw them all of several times a year. In my everyday world, though, well it pales in comparison to what I experienced here.

I don't want to say everything here was better. There are of course lots of things that I have decided over time I prefer the way something is done back home, or whatnot. I like hugging for example, which isn't done here very often at all. I got most of my hugs from my elementary school children because it was "okay" for them to still hug because they were kids. When the sixth graders I taught my first year became junior high students the second year, they would hug me in the hallways and the teachers all thought it was cute, but the kids never tried to hug any of the Japanese teachers, and eventually after a few months of being junior high kids they came to realize they had better lay off the hugging Chris sensei all the time now that they were badass seventh graders.

I miss them already and I've only not been teaching for the past couple of weeks.

It's that sort of feeling that makes me wonder how much I'll miss everything here when I'm home again. Because, even though it may sound bad, maybe even offensive to some people, I didn't miss home much the entire time I was here. I miss individual people, I missed certain kinds of food, I missed certain places, of course, but not everything, not the big wide world of America and everything that goes along with that. I didn't miss my life there.

But I'm afraid I'm going to miss my life here.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Kyoto and Nara (Edited)

Pictures from Kyoto and Nara, two places everyone should visit at least once.

Ginkakuji, Temple of the Silver Palace

Kinkakuji, Temple of the Golden Palace

A view from Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu means Pure Water)

Geisha outside Kiyomizu

There's another one of these rocks at the Jishu Shrine, where you can appease the gods of love. If you can walk from one rock to the other, with your eyes closed, you will find true love easily.

Me at Kiyomizu Temple

Me and a deer of Nara

Todaiji Temple in Nara, where the Great Buddha lives

Our Japanese high school friends we took a picture with after helping each other take group pictures. I think they look like rock stars.

Me and Jody's sister Paula lighting incense at Todaiji with the Japanese boys

A small child crawling through the hole of enlightenment in one of Todaiji's pillars. How will I ever get through?

It's easy. Just detach a shoulder.

I guess all that ninja training I did while I was here came in handy after all.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In Which I Have an Accident

This is short, and just to let people know since I've been out of contact with most of you for the past couple weeks, last week I had an accident on the day I moved out of my apartment and moved up to my friend Jody's house an hour and a half away from where I was living. I pretty much totaled my car, my head went into the windshield, but luckily there was no concussion, and the man I rear-ended was fine too though his car needs replaced apparently. I have insurance. That should cover it, though my company seems to not know if it will cover everything to replace his car, although they said it would if I ever hit someone. Hopefully they knew what they were talking about then and the new guy who works there who told me it might not cover everything doesn't know what he's talking about. I had to go to the man's house and do a formal apology, which basically meant I bought him a thirty dollar gift box of cakes and treats and put and envelope on top with a hundred dollars in it and had to slide it across the tatami mat floor to him saying, I'm terribly sorry, by my own carelessness I've caused and accident, and this gift is to show you my feelings about the situation. Then he made us tea and we chatted. He's a farmer out here in Yachiyo, which is extremely country. But he's nice. The evening of the accident, he got in my car to wait for his tow truck and we chatted then too, so I wasn't too freaked out about having to go and do this totally humbling formal apology thing that's done here. In any case, the accident was because I came around a blind curve and he was waiting there right on the curve to turn onto a tiny dirt road and I tried to stop but even so slid partially into his back passenger side of the car. My head had a huge bump on it from going into the windshield for days but it's back to normal now. I was worried because my company kept saying if he sues I wouldn't be able to leave Japan as planned, but I'm not sure why they kept scaring me with that because I had insurance and all of my Japanese friends were telling me if you have insurance there's no reason the man would have to sue you. Maybe my company was just angry they had to deal with this and were trying to make me feel worse. Who knows? But like my friends said, the man's not suing, so now I have to hope my insurance covers everything for his car like it's supposed to do. I guess I can't come home saying I didn't do just about everything I could have in Japan, because between this accident and the mumps and a gazillion other unforeseen things, both good and bad, I feel like I've lived here longer than the couple of years it's been.

Anyway, I don't have a regular internet connection at this point, so please be patient. Some of you might not hear from me until I'm back in the states. Sorry.