Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Fantasy Story In Progress

Hi.  I've been writing a story for a long time.  I add to it now and then.  I'm going to share a small bit of it with you.  I'd really like feedback, so please leave comments or write me a Facebook message or something.  Let me know what's good, what sucks, how it made you feel, and such.  

This excerpt is out of context, so here are just a few things that you need to know:     

Mae and Jenner discover an enchanted forest that has a mind of its own.
They have discovered that they can hear each other’s thoughts when they are in the forest.
Fina, Vestia and Cristianna are nice fairies that Jenner met the 1st time he entered the forest.

The Dark Fairy

     They walked on in silence, disjointed thoughts floating around in their heads.  They each mulled over the meaning and the how of the forest, which was governed by no laws of time or space that they were accustomed to.  Mae had seen enough of the forest now to know that she could not make sense of it.  Her thoughts were stilled by confusion.  Talking, for the moment, seemed futile.
     They didn't know the way, but Jenner and Mae knew they had to keep going.  They had to find the prisoner.  Jenner paused.  Mae looked back at him and saw his face.  She didn't have to ask him why he had stopped or what was wrong.  She felt it, too.  They stood there under the trees in the darkening day, and let tears run down their faces.  They averted their eyes and let the other think they hadn't seen.  Mae walked on, listening to Jenner's footsteps catch up not long after, and they fell back into step with each other, each feeling inexplicable heartbreak.  
     Mae's sudden grip on Jenner's shirt shocked him.  He thought the skin on his chest might be broken from the way she stopped him, her nails digging into him.  Within a second he took a sharp breath, looked at Mae, and then found her reason for doing it with his eyes.  They stood still and silent, watching a fairy supping at the carcass of some long dead creature. 
     Mae turned her chin and leaned to Jenner, but kept her eyes on the winged girl.  She spoke to him under a whisper, and Jenner had to formulate meaning from the few words he grasped.
     “Is this who you saw?  Is she the one who told you about me?  The fairy?”
     “No!”  When Jenner answered, the fairy paused.  Mae’s hand, still rigid on Jenner’s chest, pressed in on him a little more. 
     They couldn’t talk or move and Mae’s terror silenced Jenner, so he decided to try to use their discovery; he mustered all of his concentration, focused on Mae and thought, This one is not the same
     For a moment Mae looked like she might faint.  Tears filled her eyes from the fright she felt when she thought he had spoken.  Mae's raised shoulders grew more tense, but as she looked to the grim fairy, Mae saw that the fairy kept on tearing into the thing, and Mae understood that Jenner had not spoken. 
     Then Jenner, so focused on Mae, heard a few broken words, heard his thoughts… worked…
     Jenner refocused on her, Yeah, it worked!  Mae, try.
     She looked at the plain and innocent ground and took a controlled breath before she looked at Jenner with a fiery intensity and, Can you hear me?
     How is she different?
     She’s nothing like the fairies I met.  They were friendly looking and playful.  I saw them nibble leaves and pick berries. 
     Then what is she?
     I don’t know, but she’s terrible.
     Conversing through thoughts was so much like speaking that Mae forgot herself and said, “But she’s soooo beautiful.”
     The terrible little dark fairy’s head rose from the carnage, her long, ragged dark hair spilling down her pale back.  She turned her head now, which had been in profile, in a way that made her features visible, and Jenner could see her face, so like Fina, Vestia and Cristianna, but radiating torment.
     Mae covered her mouth with her hands.  The fairy, her chin awash with blood, rose slowly into the air like a strange, morbid little humming bird, still holding a chunk of flesh from the dead thing on the ground.  She slowly brought the flesh to her mouth and ripped it in half with her teeth, which Mae and Jenner saw barred for a moment.  She chewed slowly, all the while piercing them with her big, black eyes, and pouring sadness into the children.  She wiped her blood and gore covered hands on her lovely black satiny dress, and started toward them, slowly, but deliberately. 
     At first, Jenner and Mae just watched her.  She moved so slowly that they made no move to get away, but as she got closer, Mae could feel the pain and hopelessness emanating from the fairy's little body.  Mae felt her own feelings of the last few days, feelings of doubt and loss, and the claustrophobia of the ignorance that she felt in the forest, intensifying, welling up and consuming her, and she didn’t know how to escape from this terribly beautiful creature sneaking up on her in plain view.  In desperation, Mae released her embarrassment, reached out, and took Jenner’s hand. 
     The fairy stopped and looked from Mae’s eyes to her hand in Jenner’s.  Suddenly, the dark fairy looked empty, her power drained from her, like blood from a body.  Her blank, glassy eyes fixed on their hands for a few long moments, then they dropped slowly shut and she fell to the ground.  Jenner looked at Mae, and Mae tore her eyes away from the wretched fairy on the ground to look at him.  Mae asked him,
“Is she dead?”
     “No, look, she’s stirring.”
     “Let’s get past her, before she wakes up.”
     “Good idea.”
     They ran past her, running through their fear still hand in hand, unabashedly holding on to each other for life. 

From Japan,

Monday, June 27, 2011

Knox: My Bubby

I love my little bubby boo boo!!

Knox is 2, so of course he can have his moments, but he's such a good boy.  He has never liked to sleep, but I'm getting about 9+ hours at night from him and 2 to 3 hours at nap time.  Last Saturday he slept 4 hours at nap time.  He eats well and he says please and thank you a lot of the time...

On Saturday when he was winding down for his nap he started talking to his bear, Chester.  He said, "How are you?" "I'm great!" "Chester sleeping," "Chester crying," "Hi Chester"...  Knox put Chester down on his face and pretended that the bear was crying.  His fake cry is really funny and dramatic.  I had never seen him talk to his animals that way and it was really fun to see.

Last night he hit me in the stomach as hard as he could with a plastic baseball bat.  That hurt.  It really hurt a lot.  He knows not to hit and he usually doesn't, but he got carried away.  I totally didn't see it coming, so I don't even know if it was an accident or if he had a plan to take mommy down, but down I went, holding my gut and moaning in pain. 

Moms tend to get beat up, especially by little boys.  I'm a little surprised he hasn't broken my nose yet.  Whenever he accidentally or purposely booms me, he pets the hurt spot and says "Sorry Mommy."  Last night he said it over and over again.  I was down for the count, but he was so sweet and cute, and felt really bad that he had hurt me.  Then we took a bath, where Knox went "swimming in the ocean."

It seemed that when I was with him all day, he respected me more.  Now it seems that he will never do a thing I say unless I get very creative or threaten him with time-out.  Lately, Peter has been having talks with him about how he has to listen to mommy, which works well.  He just tends to push me a lot more than he pushes Peter, which I really don't think is a result of me acting like a push over.  I am no push over, and I've been a pretty firm disciplinarian, I think.  My only soft area might be when I can't decide whether to let him explore and be creative or to put the reins on.  It's very important to me that he not be educated and disciplined out of his creativity and intuition.  I also want him to be a well-adjusted and considerate individual with an awareness of boundaries.  I've seen what can happen when parents won't say "no."

When Peter puts him to bed, he goes to sleep.  When I put him to bed, he screams.  I've re-transitioned from the Sears sleep method to the Ferber sleep method and he is going to bed with a lot more ease now.  Usually I have to struggle with everything from getting each leg in the diaper to getting him to put his clothes on.  I have to assert my authority, chase him around... it's exhausting.  But last night he came over, got his diaper on, shorts, T-shirt.  It was so nice.  

Knox has these magnet books that he loves.  The magnets are noses, mouths, and eyes.  The pages have blank faces: Spy, Scarecrow, Monster, Fairy, Monkey, Fish, Rabbit, Bird, Crocodile.  He puts the faces on over and over again.  He asks to play with them every day.  He loves to play "soccer ball game" and "baseball bat" and "train tracks."  

Knox is doing really well.  He had a bad cold 2 weeks ago, and then kept getting fever spikes for a couple of days, which was strange, but he's fine now.  He loves school where he gets to play with lots of Japanese kids, learn games, read books, do flashcards, crafts, and go on field trips to pick strawberries and plant rice.  I was reading this article about how difficult toddlers can be and how they might scream "I hate you" or "Bad Mommy!"  I can't imagine Knox saying something like that!!  I guess kids learn that stuff from other kids, but luckily Knox's Japanese friends don't know those things.  He did learn a phrase "Yada" that basically means "hell no," but it's not so bad.  He also says "kashite" which means "give it to me" and a few other Japanese things.  He's getting good at "Itadakimasu" which is said before meals. 

Oh yeah, he's been scared of monsters lately.  When we were at the JET talent show, these men came in wearing demon costumes and playing drums.  Knox got really scared and he's been talking about the monsters ever since.  I had Knox watch one of my friends go give one of the monsters a hug, but it was a little bit of a problem for a few days.  I've been really on top of it.  We talk about it and do monster destroying training.  We go look out the window and make sure there are no monsters anywhere, and I show Knox how good mommy is at scaring monsters away.   

He snuggles with me every day, sometimes at night, sometimes in the morning, sometimes after school.  He kisses me and says, "I love you, Mommy."  I miss him.  I'd like to be home with him.  I think that I won't make the choice to work away from him again in the future if I don't have to. 

From Japan,

PSA About Unemployment Benefits

Hey people.  I mentioned a few things yesterday about Sam's Club in Florida cutting people's hours.  Someone wanted to try to help and asked me to post this information about unemployment.  I really don't know the details, but I think it goes something like this: 

If your boss cuts your hours by 10 per week, you can collect limited unemployment benefits.

A lot of people don't know that you can get help from unemployment in a couple of situations, not just if you lose your job.

Hope that helps!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sam's Club and Pyrrhonism

I'll start by saying that I don't know anything, a suspicion of mine that has grown with time, and which sometimes prompts seemingly detached behavior, since (as I have mentioned before) I tend to counter a negative atmosphere with nonchalance.  What I'm saying is, when people get up in arms about things, I revert to a state of chill, if I can.  My mom has criticised me relentlessly as I've grown up, calling me cold at times.  My philosophy and subsequent bluff behavior belie my soft underbelly.  In fact, I think the ideas and methods I've grown close to in order to navigate this savage and precious life arose out of my sensitivity.  I'm hurt too easily, so I grasp onto a philosophy of detachment so I can... I don't know - watch the news without going crazy.

Sometimes I'm not so good at my own coping techniques:  In Florida, when I was at UF, a teenage girl was taken as she walked through a gas station parking lot.  I think it took a couple of days to find her, in a dumpster, having been raped.  I happened to have seen the story on the news at the gym when it happened, and I remember the footage they showed from the gas station, of the man grabbing her arm and dragging her off.  I got pretty engaged in the story and kept tabs on the updates.  It really affected me.  At that time, I thought I was having asthma.  I went to the UF infirmary because I couldn't breathe.  The doctor asked me if I felt better sitting up or laying down.  I was better laying down.  I've had asthma my whole life and I should've known... asthma is better sitting up.  The woman spared no words.  She asked me what I was upset about.  I hadn't made the connection until that moment, but I was having trouble dealing with my thoughts and feelings about what happened to the girl... all of our experiences teach us something about ourselves and give us an opportunity to get smarter and stronger.  I think this taught me something.

I learned today that my leanings have a name and a history.  It's called Pyrrhonism.  It's an ancient Greek skeptical philosophy that basically says there is no one "right" way or answer, that we should all just go with the flow, and that an attitude of non involvement should be adhered to in order to maintain calm. 

If you know me, you know I like to debate and talk smack like all day about anything, which seems in direct contrast to what I just said... but it's not!  The two are quite harmonious, as I place my like of talk into the "go with the flow" category of the philosophy.  In Pyrrhonism, one doesn't want to ultimately judge one state as being preferable to another, but this kind of thought could lead a person to a lasting "couch potato" status.  To counteract inaction, one should "go with the flow," which basically means to go along with the customs of your surroundings.  People talk, so I talk.  When in Rome...

When all is said and done for the sake of living, I will at the end of the day assert that none of it really matters because no one can ever be systematically "right."  I will passionately espouse my opinions as irrefutable, and then 5 minutes later admit that I'm completely full of... you know.

I meant to talk about the shenanigans going on at Sam's Club, where my mom has worked for over 10 years.  The following is just me musing about a story that echoes the current economical situation in many places in the world.  Things don't seem fair, but that's OK.  Life isn't fair.  I don't have any answers, and most other people don't either.  The Japanese teachers I partner with ask me about politics in the US, and the economy, and so forth, and I always preface my opinions with my belief that things are so complicated, and anyone who speaks with certainty better have a degree on the subject or some serious life experience.  The general custom of Americans to speak determinedly about things they know next to nothing of, as though they are armchair experts with an attitude, qualified because they watch the news, contributes to the political climate of bitterness.  Hatin' on the haters.  That's right.

My mom told me a story last night.  It was about Sam's Club.  They cut all of the part time workers from 35 hrs to 20 hours.  When they hit 20 hrs, they were sent home and told not to return until the next week.  Some left angry, many left in tears.  At the same time, they are now paying the full time employees, like my mom, more money per hour to come in for extra time to compensate for the lost labor. 

Stories have been circulating from these workers.  They can't make it on 20 hours.  One guy used to live on the beach and have Harleys and stuff, but his stocks dived.  He and his wife, who has her own career, are living check to check, and they can't cover their expenses if he can only work 20 hours.  He's trying to find additional work, but things is tough right now.

I don't know why the store made this move.  I don't understand what benefit could come from it.  I know the store has already made one hundred thousand more dollars than it made last year, but maybe that doesn't mean much after rising costs.  I also know that the managers there make bonuses that exceed their yearly salaries.  I mention that because of my experience in Japan;

It seems like things are so fundamentally different here... I can't imagine a Japanese manager accepting a 6 figure bonus while watching his fellow citizen crumble over losing 15 hours a week.  I recently posted an article that had been circulating amongst my JET comrades about pensioners going back to work at Fukushima to save the young people from the toxins of the power plant.  I know ESID (every situation is different), but from far away, the US honestly looks like an every-man-for-himself community.

I say this as I simultaneously write an article for my friend about hundreds of books that were recently gifted to children living in a shelter, made possible by her charity, a church, and the director of the shelter.  See, there are no blanket truths outside of science, and even those change with some regularity.

Oh, well.  All I know is that what is happening at Sam's doesn't seem right or necessary, from where I am sitting.  Sorry my post is so wandering!!

From Japan,

Update 6/29:  Someone wanted to try to help and asked me to post this information about unemployment.  I really don't know the details, but I think it goes something like this:

If your boss cuts your hours by 10 per week, you can collect limited unemployment benefits.

A lot of people don't know that you can get help from unemployment in a couple of situations, not just if you lose your job.

Hope that helps!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Bleeping Hot

Our autocratic school administration decides who gets air, when, and some cold-blooded fool decides how not cold to set it.

You might think, Ahhh, it can't be that bad.  If you are thinking that, you either live in a 3rd world country and are accustomed to these temperatures, which is admirable, or you are a refrigerated American.

Like many other core differences between the US and Japan, I never would have believed the truth had I not seen it and lived it.  I am not joking or exaggerating:  Japanese people wear sweaters all summer.  The Japanese are quite careful about sun exposure.  The women wear bicep length gloves during the summer.  When it got hot, these long gloves started showing up on the racks.  People wear scarves around their necks, giant hats, and pants during what seem to me like odd circumstances.  For instance, at the school festival sports day.  This is a casual, all day event, held out in the sun in September.  Despite the 90s F heat we were in last year on sports day, people wore long track pants and scarves.  Yesterday it was in the mid 80s F, and I watched a student getting ready for track practice in a Puma tracksuit, long sleeves and long pants.  The air was turned on in the teacher's room today, and the classrooms each have an AC, but the halls and bathrooms are not air conditioned.   

I don't know if its true, but I have been told by several different sources that Japanese bodies have a cooler base than western bodies.  It sounds a little preposterous for humans from different countries to have different core temps, but most people are familiar with the fact that people of different races have different predispositions to certain diseases.  Stranger things have happened

The difference between hearing about the heat and experiencing it is akin to how all Japanese people know that we heathen Americans wear our shoes in the house.  Japanese people have heard this over and over again and seem to think it's not a big deal... until they experience it.  My Japanese friends who have actually been in an American house felt the discomfort of walking around a home with their shoes on.  One time I was drawing a blue print of my American town home and my teaching partner started asking in which parts of the house we actually wear our shoes.  She was flabbergasted that we wear our shoes in the bathroom, the same place where we are barefoot to bathe.  Then she started asking about the areas between the bathroom and the closet, and the kitchen, and it hit her that it's a lot more different than she had first percieved.

So, anyway, it's hot.  Something must be done.  I have resolved that I will buy more cooling devices for my apartment, as I was dripping sweat this morning at 7am in nothing more than my skivvies.  I needed a fan pointed at me just so I had the will to get dressed.  I must say though, I think it's better than winter.

From Japan,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

TMI Maybe? Oh, Well.

Today has been a remarkably good day. 

I'm becoming famous for my TMI.  I don't really give a dag on care.  Here's some more.  I've spent at least part of each of the past 60 days or so crying in bed.  Why?  What ails me is collaborative:  Culture shock, a lengthy period of sickness, continued repercussions of illness, hormonal fluctuations due to weaning a toddler (we are totally done now), a lack of proximity to most of my friends and loved ones, a job satisfaction deficit (not because I don't enjoy my job, but because I am a pet foreigner and quite underused.  Basically, I have too much time on my hands), and a couple of other things that even I know well enough to keep to myself.

But today, for some reason, has been a remarkably good day.  I decided to wear a dress today because I couldn't handle the prospect of trying to match.  In Japan, even professional adult women wear thigh highs, and I've been meaning to join in to that fun trend, so I got my new ones out and put them on.  A girl always feels better when she looks cute.  (My friend Amanda knows two of my feel-better staples; get a haircut or buy new shoes.  I've done both lately.)  At school this morning, I had a great talk with my friend and supervisor, and then we taught the best class that I have experienced since I arrived in Japan.

After class, I prepared for the rest of the day, and got copies of some of my writing ready to share at a writer's circle.  I laughed out loud at a Facebox response that one of my friends left me, and had fun translating a Kanye West song into Shakespearean sounding English.  Then I had a nice walk to 7/11.

My daily walks to 7/11 have kept me alive these past couple of months.  It helps so much to get out, move my body, and get some air.  Today I said "Konnichiwa" to a little old lady passing by me in the other direction.  I smiled at her sweet and cute little old lady voice.  A few seconds later I heard her say something, so I turned around.  She was turned to me and smiling, and she said, "Arigatou!"  That means "thank you."  We smiled at each other and waved.  I don't know why my greeting made her so happy, but it was a magical moment between us.  I don't know why it was so special, but it was.  I made someone's day better.

Once I got back to school and finished my lunch, I went into the women's "take a rest" room to practice my tap dance for the talent show.  (That room is not the bathroom; it's just a small room with a couple of couches for resting, crying, phone calls, applying make up, talking, etc.)  The JET talent show is tomorrow night, Saturday, and as of Tuesday, I was pretty sure I didn't have the gusto to get ready for it.  A friend helped me pick my chin up, and as of my practice today, I am ready.  I was stressing about what I would wear, but since I've just decided to wear the dress that I am wearing to the dinner, I'm golden.  And since my 12 year old tap kids did this dance at my last dance recital in Florida, it's more of a personality piece for me, but I hope it will be entertaining.  I'm really looking forward to it, actually.    

I am at my desk, not in tears, and I'm feeling optimistic.  All of a sudden, I kinda feel like I could do anything.  Be it lasting or fleeting, I'm grateful to feel the sun... the sun...

From Japan,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

My First Mukade

I set my first Mukade on fire this morning.

It came running out of the laundry that had just been brought in and Knox came running and said, "Mommy, it's a snake!"  He was really excited.

A Mukade is a very poisonous Japanese centipede.  If you just touch it, you get a rash.  If it bites you, it's very painful, but you'll be ok unless you have a bee-type allergic reaction.  They are very scary looking and very fast.  Unfortunately, they are kinda all over the place during the summer.  My friend found one curled up in her bath loofah.  My neighbor woke up with one crawling on her face.  Ugh.

When I first got to Japan I had a Mukade phobia.  I had heard about them on our pre-JET message board, and when I got here, to this strange and dirty apartment that was completely furnished with someone else's things, I looked for them everywhere.  I only started to go to the bathroom at night without the light within the past month or two.  I was always wary of the dreaded Mukade, and whatever else might be lurking in this faraway land.

Well, I didn't have a personal Mukade experience until this morning.  I'm glad I didn't see one while I was still holding on to irrational fears... but I do have a baby here; that's why I was on such high alert.  Now I'm more familiar with the ways of the Mukade.

I kept telling Knox that it was very dangerous and to always run away if he saw anything like that.  Knox was pointing at it saying, "Abunai!"  That means something akin to that's dangerous, watch out!  Parents are constantly saying it to their kids, and it's probably the first Japanese I learned in Japan.  He was happy to stay with me at first while Peter was taming the beast, but then he started crying and was very upset.  I asked him if he wanted to go and see the Mukade, and he said, "Uh huh."  So, we went to see it.  Then he was happy, calling it both a snake and a Mukade.   

I heard that you have to set them on fire to kill them.  I don't know if this is a myth - it sounds like a myth - but after bludgeoning it with a shoe and spraying it with special-super-toxic Mukade spray, it was still squirming a lot, so we went ahead and set it on fire. 

It was an exciting morning, and now I know to be more afraid of the laundry than the toilet.

From Japan,

I love 1-4

I know I shouldn't go into how I've been doing the past few weeks, ever since the Tsunami, in fact.  I can succeed at that.  I can't succeed, obviously, from not mentioning it at all.  I had reservations about starting this blog in the first place because I knew how much I would have to keep to myself, that I would have to edit myself, and that it could be dangerous because I'm not that good at keeping things to myself.  That's a mix of a little lack of self restraint and a bit more of not giving a f#$%.  Let's just say I've been down.  I've been more than second guessing my decision to stay in Japan another year, wondering how in hell I'm going to make it. 

Why?  Well, I think it mostly has to do with whatever is attacking my health.  I think I've always been a pretty healthy person, but Japan has overwhelmed me.  I've mentioned my health enough in the course of this blog so I'm not giving it any more attention.  A lot of the time, right now, I'm not sure I have what it takes to complete my 2nd contract.  JETs who did not recontract are preparing to leave right now.  As I write this, I think about how I recontracted and that this is how it's happening, and I tend to believe that whatever happens to be happening is the right thing.  That's my whole "The Universe is unfolding as it should be" thing.  I think it's a good thing.  But sometimes I think I should be among the leaving JETs, and how when I recontracted in January I was optimistic that my health would be reinstated in a short time.  Instead, I'm laying on the ground getting crushed by a steam roller of different ailments.  It rolls over me, and just as I'm about to get up and brush myself off, it backs up again.  Sometimes I'm not, but mostly I'm making it.  I hope I keep making it.   

This brings me to 1-4.  The 1 is for class one, or the first year high school students.  The 4 is for section four, or the students who accomplished the 4th best scores on the high school entrance exam.  My class with 1-4 today was a happy mess.  I forgot to execute the whole first part of my lesson, which I really couldn't go back to once I had gone on with the English game of Battleship that we were playing.  It was a mess, but everyone had so much fun, and I felt better than I have in weeks.  I have to relish in those moments, since they are few and far between right now.  But I did.  I stopped and enjoyed the chaos of students hurriedly trying to speak English sentences to find their partner's Xs on the page, all in pursuit of the candy I shower on them.  I went up to the front of the class and I yelled, "I love you!"  They all giggled and screamed and yelled it back.  Then I gave a whoop for "1-4" and I got nothing.  I explained to them that ichi no yon means 1-4, and that they are 1-4.  Then they were really excited and liked my shout out.  We had a grand time playing Battleship 3 or 4 times instead of spending half the time reviewing the vocabulary.  I also like stealing moments while the students are occupied to stand at the classroom's 4th floor windows and enjoy the nice views of the city and the mountains.

Just a little update.

From Japan,