life mainichi

The one in which I fantasize about donuts

This morning, the mountains were covered in snow.
Yesterday, an enormous rainbow stretched across the entire range.

Today, I am at work again but I submitted another request to work at home so hopefully I can get the next three days off without taking official leave. It is better for the kids if I am there with them. The difference between an engaged parent and a distracted one, basically. If I get approval for that time off, it will roll into an almost three-day weekend, interrupted to come up here for a half day on Saturday (which is a bit silly but honestly, can I complain if it ends up that I only had to desk warm for 12 hours total instead of 44?).

Maybe I will make donuts tonight with the kids.

I wrote down the expenses for the boys’ school stuff last night and realized how extremely careful we will have to tread with our finances this next month. Had the coronavirus not decided to colonize the human race, then it would have been fine but as it is, we lost a paycheck due to lost work so now, well, we just have to see how tight we can pull our belts. I know that we are luckier than most but all the same, such bad timing. We will manage, we always do, usually by the skin of our teeth, but everything always works out in the end. I just was hoping that we could be a little less stressed about it this time. I suppose everyone was hoping for that.

There is a saying in Japanese: shoganai. It cannot be helped. It first came to my attention post-Fukushima and it infuriated me because it was applied to the nuclear meltdown, something that 100% could have been helped. This time around though, I find myself saying it over and over. My sister, a schoolteacher who had been about to take her class on a big field trip before everything was shuttered, did not appreciate it, “how very zen of you,” she snarked, but regardless, it is true. You cannot fix every problem (and should refrain from complaining about them as much as possible) but you can deal with them head-on. It is a concept born from a country that has had more problems than most, for much longer than most.

I do miss regular routines. Everyone is up in arms because our schedules are interrupted, our lives thrown into chaos. Of course, the truth is that normalcy is an empty construct and any regularity is a delusion based on that construct. It is actually somewhat reassuring that we are so fragile, that the system is not permanent. If it can be corrupted, then it can be changed.

Yes, donuts sound good.


Instead of smoking in the rain last night, I stayed up past my bedtime and watched The Awakening Of The Ants. I subscribed to Mubi a long time ago with the idea that I would watch a new movie every Sunday evening. I am failing this mission but will try again next week since this week proved to me what a good idea it actually was. The Awakening Of The Ants was a cinematic dream. The story is slow and subtle but it flows effortlessly.

Next week, maybe I will try this one

japan mainichi

The one in which I reflect on my daughter and our trip to a temple

On Saturday, we went out to the lovely Mitaki Temple, a complex built into the mountainside. We have been in Hiroshima for 2.5 years now but rarely visit attractions, mainly because we are just too busy trying to get through each week with our heads above water. When we do feel like getting out of the house, we usually head to Miyajima, because it is just eight stops away on the street car. In fact, the weekend before last, we headed to Miyajima. I took a lot of pictures, we all ate deep-fried momiji manju and the kids fought about the purchase of tiny outfits for their tiny bears at the Rilakkuma cafe.

Friday was payday though and I decided we needed to spread our wings a bit. Mitaki Temple is not actually that far from our neighborhood but it did involve three different trains to get there so it felt really far away. And somewhere along the way, my daughter decided that she did not like any of us and she definitely was not keen on the uphill walking we were doing to go to a, quote, dumb temple, unquote. It is hard to know what triggers her foul moods but when they come, we all know to stay clear. Her little brother suffers the most from them because he is usually exempt but if he comes too close, he too will be lashed with her sharp tongue, which startles him into tears. She’s brutal and knows all of our soft spots, aiming at them with a precision that would impress a sniper. The usual trigger for this is hunger but on Saturday, she was well-fed and carried a bag stocked with snacks, as I wish to avoid any of their sour tempers when we travel. All throughout the beautiful serene grounds, she complained about being there, every single step was agony for her, apparently. Jason and I decided to ignore her negativity and enjoy the place, which only angered her more as we went further up into the complex. It was only when we were finished and leaving that the storm began to dissipate. And it was only the next day when I learned of why she was so upset during our microadventure: she was afraid of inoshishi, wild boar. There were posters at the foot of the hill warning of boar and she was not reassured by my declaration that they are nocturnal. She definitely was not reassured by the evidence of their nightly tilling along the edges of the path. She did not mention her fear, of course, so all we knew was that she was sullen and bitter about something and it was best to stay the course and hope her mood improved with time.

This is my reality: the juggling of psyches, most of them too heavy for me to keep in the air. I try all the same, of course, because that is what I do. Regardless though, I think I will visit Mitaki again, just maybe next time I will go on my own, with only my own unpredictable mood to grapple with.


The one in which I ramble on about expectations and resentments

It’s six thirty in the morning and I am sitting in the warmth of my neighborhood convenience store, a glowing box in the inky darkness of the lingering night. Once the sun comes up I am taking my second son to the seaside because he wants to do a trash pick-up. Right now, though, everyone is still asleep and since I forgot to buy coffee yesterday, here I am.

It is pretty definite at this point that I am traveling home over the summer to go swimming and engage in general mucking about with my dear friend. I have lined up a few couches already, one with one of my exes which just shows you how nonsensical it is to bear a grudge. You meet the people you need to know in this life and while things might not always be a perfect fit, everyone evolves so it is probable you will fit together at several points along your shared timeline, and unexpectedly so. Not to be overly cheesy but here in my forties I am very aware of the ship in relationship, in terms of being in a vessel fit for a long voyage.

I have not always been able to take the broader view of things. Until recently my scope was narrow, my focus limited. I used prescribed categories, transmitted and received mindlessly via society. Two things really disrupted my conventional thinking: living in Japan for a long time and being frustrated in love.

In America, and perhaps Western society at large, we sow expectations and harvest resentments. We believe we are entitled to decent treatment, that when people mistreat us that we must be indignant and self-righteous. This does nothing to factor in how multifaceted each individual is, how we are all just tumbling along trying to deal with the problems before us while simultaneously processing past traumas. In Japan, there is more focus on self-reliance, self-responsibility, self-sacrifice for the greater good of society. This means conformity and suppression, yes, but it also means that people don’t usually cling to the notion of what is deserved. When I was in the first stage of my divorce, well-meaning friends kept telling me that I deserved better. That I deserved to be loved and valued and respected. To say that you don’t deserve anything is perceived to be a declaration of humbleness or low self-esteem. And yet living in Japan, I no longer feel that I deserve anything. I work for things now, towards things. If I achieve any success from my efforts will not be because I deserved it but because I worked hard. I am not entitled to success or love or safety. Those things are the result of endeavor rather than being one’s due.

The man I fell in love with is much wiser than I am but he also has the advantage of being biologically older. I didn’t think at this stage in life that would make a difference but it does. I am now the age he was when I fell in love with him. I see now how wild and ridiculous I must have seemed then, how demanding. No wonder we reached a breaking point. When he did finally come around again, as a friend, he told me that I should stop having expectations of him. At the time, I hated him for saying that but because he said it and because I dissect everything anyone says to me, I have come to value his words.

I, like many people, thought having expectations was a natural way of navigating the world. Yet all it does is limits our experience. We use our pre-existing knowledge to define how life should be and everything that fails to fit within that definition is wrong. Eliminating expectations keeps you open, free to experience the world as it is, not as our feeble minds determine it should be. It is like drawing an apple from what you think an apple looks like instead of actually looking at an apple. You end up with a caricature of an apple instead of a portrait.

And so I became more aware of my expectations but still things were sour for me. And that is because the other side of expectation is resentment. Both must be eliminated. I was addicted to my resentments though so it took me a long time to relinquish them. All the injuries, the slights, the neglect: I feasted on them. But then, sometime last year, they became less satisfying. They used to fill me up but dropping my expectations meant my resentments had become brittle, hollow. Yes, people mistreated me, yes, people are inconsiderate and selfish but the truth is, that has little to do with me. The very concept of selfishness means that it has nothing to do with others so we shouldn’t take it so personally.

Now I strive just do the work I am here to do, to be kind, to look at the world as closely as I can, to try and understand this strange existence through my art. I am free to do this now because I am no longer burdened by indignation and righteousness. I am stronger now, less likely to be injured by others’ misdeeds because I no longer see them as attacks. It is a good place to be, for a writer, an artist, a mortal being.

The sun is now rising and the mountains are glowing pink. Outside the window, a woman smokes and glances my way. I offer a slight smile and nod and she does the same. Another day awaits the both of us and while our paths diverge from here, we have just now acknowledged that we each exist together, even if just for a moment.

mainichi writing

The one in which I talk about running, swimming, and wildness

At night I run along the seawall, past the line of parked cars with their lights off but their motors running. I cross two foot bridges on my route and pause on each to look over the side for stingrays. The rivers here in Hiroshima are full of stingrays. On the island where I used to live, there were stingrays too but also jellyfish, tiny translucent ones with stars near their crowns, larger yellow ones that were leopard-spotted green, and even larger ones that were a deep burgundy, making them look more imposing and solid. There were also squid and octopus and schools of bright blue fish, darting across the current. The island was a special place, a place where the wilderness reigned supreme and the human colonizers huddled together in clumps to resist being overrun by their environment. In suburban Hiroshima, everything is covered in concrete and convenience stores. Spotting stingrays in the river is my way of remembering that the human world is not the only world, that there are things out of our control, wild creatures rolling along the sandy riverbeds.

I run every night but I would not call myself a runner. I see lots of runners on the seawall, going at paces that make me awestruck. Perhaps one day I will be able to manage to go at full speed for miles but for now, I have a simple 4 kilometer route that I alternatively run and walk along. I have the tendency to sprint so I have been working on slowing down, learning the art of jogging. I started running as a soccer player, which explains the walking/running style. I never liked doing laps around the field. As a player, I was quick and brutal, having more yellow cards bestowed on me than any other girl in our regional division. It was a point of pride for me. Now, of course, there is no longer any battle to be won except for the battle against lethargy.

I prefer swimming to running but at the pool, the lifeguards worry when I slip into the 50 meter lanes, thinking that I will be too slow for the other swimmers. They think this because I am not skinny. I am not fat either but in Japan, not being skinny means you are fat. So I am essentially running to get in better shape so that I don’t worry the lifeguards at the neighborhood sports center and I can swim in the fast lane. I don’t swim for my health though; I swim because I love swimming. The logic is admittedly a bit crumpled but regardless of the motivation, I am moving and getting healthier even if that is not my aim. I like going to the sports center because it is full of old people and I love old people. I love how unconcerned they are with most things that concern me. I love their confidence, their chumminess. In the locker rooms, younger women wrap themselves in towels but older ladies are shameless about their bodies. They stand there in the nude gossiping about neighbors and complaining about their husbands, making plans to go on excursions to patisseries. It is fantastic. I have to change in the shower because of my tattoo but even if I could change in the open, I doubt I would be so bold and yet, if I am lucky, I hope one day I will be like them, entitled to brazenness.

In the meantime, I will keep racing myself in the darkness, pausing along the way to take videos of dancing light and lean over the bridge railing, looking for wildness.


The one in which I think about life and death and regrets

Found on a storage box at the 100 yen shop.

We were supposed to go to Miyajima today, intended to get out the door early, let’s go, let’s go, but then there were too many things missing that needed to be found and now it is 4:30 in the afternoon. It is fine, I suppose, since it is chilly and grey today and only half of the children wanted to brave the holiday weekend crowds. Yesterday was kagami bikari and at my school, they broke open the mochi the third graders had made and roasted the bits on small charcoal grills. Today was tondo matsuri, the day when all the New Year’s decorations are brought to be burned in a bonfire, the smoke and ash spreading good luck on the wind.

Right now the house is quiet and I am supposed to be cleaning but instead I ordered a few short story collections and am checking airline fares.

Regrets are a difficult thing to handle. They are wily and cumbersome, prone to becoming anchors if given too much attention. Their only value is in adjusting how we handle what is to come, not in judging what has come and gone. I sometimes wish I had gone to therapy so I could have had help unlocking all that I had suppressed as a child. The neglect, the mental and sexual abuse, all of that was sealed in a black box that I buried as deep as my childish mind could manage. Eventually, the contents became too toxic to be contained and leaked out, contaminating my perspective, my perception. Had I been brave enough to dig that box up at a younger age, I might had avoided a lot of actions and reactions that were the result of past injuries. As it was, I was forced to do a massive cleanup with little help and no supplies, like using a roll of paper towels to deal with an oil tanker spill. I have been wiping down my seagulls one by one and they are still not ready to fly.

I wish that I had been wise enough in my youth to realize that other people’s rejections and cruelty have little to do with me. That everyone has a black box.

The minutes I wish I could reclaim would be the ones used worrying about things that had little to do with me, things I could not control.

Had I been more confident, or more consistently confident, I would not have spent my thirties being so indecisive. My twenties were all about leaps of faith. I became timid in my thirties, fearful that one misstep could cause my vessel to capsize, taking my children down with me. Now that I have made it over the threshold of my forties, I feel that it is fruitless to be so cautious. Yes, a certain amount of steadiness is required but whatever you do is going to turn out differently than you expect so, basically, fuck it. Do what you want to do. Nobody else is going to do it for you and if someone sees you standing still, looking lost, they are probably going to offer up directions to a place that they want to go.

I have been trying to decide between Japan and America for over a decade now. The reality is that Japan will always be a temporary situation, even if it an extensive one. It is good for me and my family now, especially since we have figured out how to stay afloat by dumping a lot of the baggage overboard. I cannot worry about the details anymore. Yes, my job is limited, yes, this means uncertainty but all jobs are limited, all futures uncertain. Right now there is a roof over my head and insurance cards in my wallet. I do not want to waste my precious minutes fretting. There is just too much to do. Like reading and writing stories, or going to Miyajima with my children, or flying back to Florida during the summer to swim with my best friend.


The one in which I talk about my rabbit, climate change, and complain about work

It is 6:03 am on a Saturday morning and I am listening to the sound of eggs boiling in their pan. The rabbit is running around under the table, delighted to be freed from its cage. It is mainly black with just a streak of white on its nose and one of its forelegs so I often lose track of where it is in the morning hours since I leave the lights off when I get up. The youngest two sleep in the living room on the sofa bed since the apartment is only so big. This means my early morning routine is very dark and quiet. Right now, of course, the rabbit is hopping and leaping on top of the kids.

In about an hour, I must cycle up to my work where I will teach my kids how to sing three silly songs without being silly. We are preparing for a mini-concert as part of the big school festival next month and my first graders are less of a class human students and more of a menagerie of wild beasts during our practice sessions. I know that they will be fine in the end but this next month will involve a lot of soul-crushing work, for them and me.

Monday is Coming-of-Age Day, a national holiday where 20 year-olds return to their hometowns to walk around in the cold, taking selfies in kimonos. Though, of course, it is not so cold this year. This year, I doubt I will see the fur wraps around the young women’s shoulders. This year, it is probably quite nice to walk around in a kimono as it feels more like cherry blossom season than mid-January. I used to dream of my childhood winters in Florida when I first moved to Japan and experienced a true cold season. And yet now I prefer the freezing wet wind under dark grey skies to this pleasant warm breeze under bright blue skies. It just feels wrong and it is, terribly wrong.

I am jealous of my children’s prolonged slumber but I must put their breakfast on the table now, toss the rabbit back in its cage, and put on my light jacket so I can get to work on time. As I pedal down the empty streets, I will try not to think about the injustice of a six-day work week. I will remind myself of the fires in Australia, the 176 passengers on a plane that was possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will think of 50 people lying on the ground, crushed by a wave of mourners. I will feel lucky that while the world is falling apart my main complaint is having to go to work on a weekend to sing silly songs with a bunch of silly students.