Sunday, June 30, 2013

Kitchens, Cars and Quiet.

Finding a quiet place to write in a small, shared, hotel room is a challenge. Thankfully this room is in the middle of Japan and not the heart of Texas because outside the early afternoon air is comforting and fresh with a tinge of humidity hinting at a warm late June day. Through the back doors of the hotel is an enclosed park with a small children's play area and several covered picnic tables. The trees surrounding the park rustle gently with the tufts of wind that play around the building and glide though the hills. Looking west I see the mountain foothills and the ridge lines layered though the summer haze of the rainy season. Sitting here, with my feet on the grass, where the ants don't bite, I have found a beautiful place to think.

We only have a few more days in this temporary lodging; a house that will bear our name is waiting for us. When the phone call came that there was a house available we immediately scheduled a walk-through to check it out. I took no photos and don't even remember seeing a refrigerator, but it is bigger than I expected and shares many features common of Michigan houses built after the Second World War. Since our housing options are incredibly limited I focused more on the intangible feel of the place rather than the fixed features outside our control. Later this week we will go through the move-in inspection where I will take some photos. Once we receive keys, drive our luggage over and set up internet access I will write more. I will actually have rooms with doors and nooks where I can claim space of my own.

I am practically counting the meals until we have a real kitchen again. A free continental breakfast is nice, but it does not make up for the almost impracticable small kitchenette in our room. With the absolute bare minimal in dishes, cookware and accessories “cooking” has only occurred when it's too rainy to walk anywhere. Fortunately we have many dining options close by but with short distance comes high price. Healthy options are difficult to find when you can't read kanji, don't speak Japanese and have point to photos on the picture menu with an open mind. (I've learned that sake and shochu labels look the same but are, in fact, two entirely different beasts.) Once I have a real kitchen at hand the adventure of finding and navigating the Japanese markets and grocery stores begins; then learning about local produce and cooking methods and how to incorporate them into our diet. I am hoping for lots of experimentation with an occasional success.

Did you notice I mentioned earlier that we will “drive” ourselves to our new house? Yesterday we bought a car, although we will not take possession of it for a couple days. There is a local used car business that caters to Americans and performs most of the required foot-work and paper-pushing involved in buying a car in Japan, a much needed and incredibly convenient service. We selected a car smaller than we would ever choose in the US but bigger than the the smallest cars here. Once we get it I'll take some photos.

Speaking in generalities, vehicles here are much different than in the US. Obviously they are smaller, Japan is only as big as California but with millions more people in less habitable space. More than that though, a striking difference is in the emotional personification of the vehicles. In the US, cars are designed to look aggressive, powerful and, frankly, mean. Looking into your rear-view mirror you are confronted with an aggravated “get-out-of-my-way” demeanor – not very comforting. Here, on the other hand, cars look upbeat, happy and friendly. When confronted with an oncoming driver on a typical narrow road you carefully squeeze to the (left) side and either let the other person pass with a friendly wave or they let you pass while you share a nod of appreciation. Pedestrians always have the right of way, whether or not a designated crosswalk exists, and vehicles almost always stop. Oh, and the friendly waves and nods occur then also. The cultural difference is blatantly obvious and very refreshing.

Our temporary kitchen.
[Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM]

Friday, June 21, 2013


“The girl does what she wants to do.
She knows what she wants to do.
And I know I'm fakin' it,
I'm not really makin' it.”
- Simon and Garfunkel, “Fakin' It”


Apparently I've moved to Mayberry.  There's no fakin' it in Mayberry.


I love the anonymity a city gives you, where you can sit down and disappear into the background, free to observe while remaining unseen. Invisibility is the comforting cloak of anxiety.

Twenty-five miles (40 km) outside Tokyo seems more outer urban to me than rural, but it is commonly seen as “country” to locals. Three train stations up is the last stop outside Tokyo. In this outlying city sits an even smaller area, a ward of sorts, to use a local term, home to a small American population. Those living here describe it akin to Mayberry, hence I shall refer to it as Mayberry-ku.

Within our first few days here I found myself recognizing people while out walking, which is unnerving for someone who wishes to remain anonymous. In my previous residences it usually took a couple years, if not more, to bump into someone I knew while running about town, a time frame which still made me a bit uncomfortable. Now, reaching our two-week mark here, I've already met more people than I ever did in Texas (excluding co-workers) and I'm standing on week social knees.

Socializing : Comfort :: Anxiety : Calm

“Socializing” and “comfort” are two very dissimilar words in my world that I must make peace with. The one thing unhappy people in Mayberry-ku have in common is that they don't go out, see places and meet people. My time in Japan has an expiration date and I will not sit in the fridge and rot. The written word is comfortable because it provides a safe barrier. In Mayberry-ku I cannot shelter myself with typewritten words. Well, I can, but I am attempting to chose not to.

Before moving here I emailed a local blogger a short (but heavily proof-read), “I'm reading your blog, thank you for sharing, I might be moving there,” sort of message. She wrote back and establishing this small written connection was strangely comforting. A few days ago we met in person, a very high-ranking event on my anxiety-o-meter. She was friendly and talkative, which put me at ease enough to hold up my end of the conversation, although it takes more time to really soften my guard this was a positive step forward.

She introduced me to the train and helped me get my Pasmo card – my plastic ticket to Tokyo and beyond. We went a few stations up, to a city on metro Tokyo's edge, had noodles for lunch and walked around the shops, all the while learning tidbits of knowledge she's gathered during her adventures here. When we returned I felt as if I'd traveled light-years to an exotic land in only the span of a few hours. Like a child's short first step, the distance wasn't far but the experience was huge. I am very thankful.

Most experiences in this country are new to me and will be uncomfortable, not only the cultural ones outside the gate but the social ones inside. I will feel awkward, I will perform the wrong movement, I will choose the wrong words and I will say them incorrectly.  The perfectionist in me who tries polishing away my flaws, almost stripping away the authentic layers, must stand down and allow these mistakes to happen. That feeling of fakin' it? I'll just have to shake it and be the girl who does what she wants to do.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Journey to Japan.

The journey to Japan began months ago, late autumn of last year. While renewing his contract my husband had some input for his assignment location. The Netherlands was on the radar. “Right between Belgium and Germany, think of the beer!” was part of his supporting argument. The job opening's timing was too soon however and next on the list was mainland Japan, outside Tokyo.

I began researching fervently and as much as I was trying to contain my excitement (unrealistic expectations) I was really looking forward to living in the Tokyo metro area. Unfortunately there was no official paperwork to cement the relocation so I couldn't publicly talk about this incredible opportunity. A few people very close to me knew, of course, but I always spoke without certainty because in my husband's employment “everything is written in jello”.

Sometime around January we received a change in plans – Okinawa, Japan. I was disappointed and kicked myself for thinking so much of mainland Japan (unrealistic expectations). The research began anew, first at Google Maps. I thought the island of Okinawa was fairly close off the southern coast of Japan and was confused and personally embarrassed not to find it immediately. Once I did I began to zoom out on the map to find the island's location from the mainland. I zoomed and zoomed some more but only saw water. A few more zoom-outs later I finally saw land. Wow. Okinawa is a tiny island the middle of the ocean, in middle of nowhere it seemed.

The thought of living on a subtropical island was really growing on me but I tried not get my hopes up knowing the ever present uncertainty. I couldn't talk to anyone about it save for a few people because there still was no official word. I lived in this limbo for a few months.

Then, one May day my husband came home with official documentation that contained neither Okinawa or myself. What? He said the paperwork would be changed and that he and I were going to Okinawa in one month. I accepted that and began making announcements to family, friends and my employer. Life was changing quickly, plans were being made and I gave my two-week notice at work.

The stress of planning and executing an overseas move in one month is almost unbearable. I probably should have been writing about the experience at the time but plans were still changing so quickly and frequently that I could barely follow it. Our calendar was a scribbled mess. I was calling family and friends everyday just to keep my head together.

I focused on one day at time, sometimes only one task at a time because if I thought any larger I began to panic. The big picture included sorting all our belonging into need now, need later, need eventually and storage; gathering numerous legal documents and updating them; opening and updating financial accounts; selling my beloved car and planning storage for his; preparing the rental house inside and out for final inspection; and the most difficult, planning our kitty's future.

Moving a domestic animal overseas is a confusing and exasperating event, so much so that I cannot even explain it here. All we were able to accomplish were his shots, blood test and flying him solo to Seattle to stay with his god-kitty-momma (who loves him as much as we do) until we figure the rest out. We miss him terribly, it's still difficult to think about with out tears so I'll save the story for another time.
While all this was happening I still was not on documents to accompany my husband overseas. I was sorting and packing with a departure ten days away and had no idea where I was going or how long I would be there – Michigan to stay with family? Seattle? No way was I staying in Texas. I was an irritable mess until finally we had an addendum that included my name, spelled correctly, thank goodness. Then I filled my two biggest suitcases with enough clothes and supplies to last up to three months. Surprisingly, I narrowed my shoe selection to ten pair (eight when appropriately excluding flip flops).

After all of this though, finally, on a warm, Texas summer evening, we drove into Dallas for our last night before boarding a plane to Japan. We toasted numerous times over dinner, mostly congratulating ourselves on getting through it together. Our tempers only exploded once and later we were able to forgive, understanding that stress factored in a great deal. Mostly we smiled and laughed and toasted to each other and whatever lies ahead because we will be there together.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rain in Japan.

The rainy season has begun here. I was warned but shrugged it off thinking six years in the Seattle area had prepared me for whatever rain fell in Japan. Apparently my rain tolerance skills deteriorated in the Texas heat just as my trusted umbrella apparently has; One walk this afternoon proved it.

Don't misunderstand, I like rain just fine and I absolutely love a good thunderstorm but the timing is all wrong. Moving to the Tokyo metro area is beyond an incredible opportunity and the next three years hold so much possibility for learning and adventure. We quickly got phones, mostly for data use and navigational assistance, then received our SOFA driver's licenses. Now all we need is transportation.

Tokyo has the most extensive rail system in the world which thrills the heck out me, but until I take the class next week I will not brave it alone. We do not have a car yet and should really begin a serious search for one. I don't like the idea of being vehicle-dependent but surprisingly I don't think there is public transportation from our future housing area to my husband's work location.

At this moment, however, a car would be nice to escape this small hotel room. A couple hours ago, spurred by stir-craziness, I grabbed my umbrella for a walk. After initially stepping outside the 72 degree air felt refreshing and the rain was soft, similar to Seattle. Not so bad. But past the corner of building the wind found me and snapped my umbrella closed. Damn. Holding it open I continued on, fighting the directionless wind gusts while the misty rain seeped into my cotton clothes. This was not going to work. I cut my walk short and just stopped at the store to pick up the box of hot cocoa mix I was craving and returned, defeated, to the lodge.

Now I'm sitting in one of those strange reclining armchairs mid-level hotels often have, the kind that kicks up with one clunk and reclines with another, looking out the window watching the rain. One glance and it practically floats as a mist, then look again and it's falling in sheets, sideways. The television is on for him, but muted for me, as he uses the one ethernet connection. I have a book of word puzzles, shelves of books on my Kindle, a new iPhone to play with and my old laptop to keep me company and absorb my thoughts as it so reliably does. My shoulder is throbbing, a lingering effect of the long flight here. I see some ibuprofen and a hot cocoa in my future. And rain. Lots of rain.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Unrealistic Expectations.

No matter how free I feel, I will look up and remember that I am still swinging from the limb of depression and my hands will always smell like thick metal links.


It's no secret that I've lived with depression most of my life although it's not a topic I converse of freely.  Just like many other disorders and diseases it may be controlled through prescription medications combined with other forms of therapy.  Sometimes the condition flares up and the regimen must be altered.  As time progresses such episodes can decrease and you learn again about new triggers and coping skills to combat them.

My most recent episode occurred during my Texas stint, obvious if you read my ramblings regularly or answer your phone when I call.  After receiving our (disappointing) marching orders I tried to look on the bright side and stay optimistic -- that is what we're supposed to do, right?  I researched online, studied maps and began to picture what a happy, satisfying life in Texas would be like.  I imagined a fulfilling job, an active Family Readiness Group, a stimulating photography club, exciting weekend getaways and happy hours with friends.  It all seemed possible because I had every single one of those things while living in the Pacific Northwest, every single one.

So we made the big move, found a great rental house in a safe, quiet area and settled in.  I began working, searching for groups, writing emails, meeting people for coffee but none of it was going anywhere.  So I worked better, tried harder, made stronger efforts but nothing was getting better.  Around this time my husband was shipped across the world and I needed to meet my goals to make it through this time mentally intact.  But I was crumbling and falling apart and alone.

I know when to ask for help, but man is it tough.  The most difficult task is dialing the phone, making an appointment then answering the question, "And what do you need to be seen for?"  I breakdown, the tears come and I struggle to find the words to ask for help.  Somehow I do.  The appointment is scheduled; I am going to be okay.

Back on my trusted antidepressant I begin ten sessions of talk therapy.  Everyone should go though that, the insight you gain is invaluable.  Talking with a trained professional should not be stigmatized as it in our society and it irritates me endlessly that it is.  This time I learned that I place unrealistic expectations on myself and in my life.  (I do not like to lay blame on others for problems of my own, but this is an exception)  I blame this condition on all those people who told me in the past, when I was still struggling to understand what was wrong with me, what depression was and how in the world was I ever going to cope with it, to "cheer up", "look on the bright side", "think positive", "stay optimistic", you get the picture.  For years I repeated these mantras out loud, in my head and in writing.  I believed them and placed hope in them.

The discovery of my unrealistic expectation issue came as a shock.  I didn't want to believe it, didn't want to throw away what I thought was the foundation of turning depression upside down.  How could thinking positive be bad?  In small doses, it's not.  But when you put all your hope and might into it you push the idea into the realms of dreaming, and we all know that dreams don't come true.  Sure, that sounds mighty depressing, but I'm talking about fantasy dreams, not a dream that you make into a goal to work towards and succeed.  And this is when is gets fuzzy.

What difference is there between realistic and unrealistic goals?  How far do you push positive thinking into reality until it reaches fantasy?  Where is the line?  We are raised to believe we can "reach the stars" when in scientific reality we cannot.

When my therapy sessions ended I was confused, but in a different way than when I began.  I started with my head in a very jumbled place, with pieces of thoughts scattered everywhere in unfocused, illegible writing that I couldn't make sense of.  At the end I could read the thoughts and was understanding better how they fit together.  See, a therapist doesn't directly solve your problems, they help clarify your thoughts and teach you skills to work on improving them yourself.


My train of thought was broken.  I am already missing my private space I left behind; a one-room lodging space is not conducive for uninterrupted thought.

In summation, the purpose of sharing this story is to place a foundation for my experiences here in this new environment.  For you to understand my excitement, my trepidation and my anxiety you must know where it stems from.  All I want is to live here fully and purely.  To walk out each day with an open mind and an understanding that I will not be in my comfort zone, that I am a foreigner in a vastly different country and that I may be treated as such.  I will be uncomfortable.  I will feel awkward.  I will be misunderstood and misinterpreted.  All I hope is that I will walk one foot in front of the other and face each challenge on its own merit.  Whether I have a smile on my face is unknown; I must keep my expectations realistic.

[While re-reading this I begin to see that it is a condensed version of events.  I hope that eliminating the minutiae does not detract from the essence of my point.  I moved to Texas with ideas of what could be, unknowing that those ideas may have been unrealistic.  I have now moved to Japan and am unsure how to make plans and build excitement without crossing the line into dreaming.  I am confused.  How do I make the most out of this once in a lifetime opportunity without setting myself up for failure again?  I don't know what to expect, I don't know what I will find yet I still want to explore every sight, every smell and every footstep of discovery possible.  I still just don't know...]

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Lost Years.

After graduating from college in 1999 I spent two years in Phoenix, Arizona where I learned, truly, what a downward spiral is.  No matter how good your circumstances are in the beginning, and how much control you think you have, that one slip into the spiral takes everything under.

I call those the lost years.


Me:  "Anywhere but Texas.  If it's Texas I'm staying here."

Him:  "It's Texas."

Me:  (pause)  "Well, at least it's not El Paso."

Due to my unhealthy trait of bearing unrealistic expectations (which I promise to explain eventually) I really thought it was possible for central Texas to be not completely horrible, even livable.  I was still employed, though not full-time anymore; The sun always shone and the skies were beautiful, though accompanied by unrelenting heat; Scattered, desolate small towns beckoned to be photographed, though peering and leering eyes of locals kept me away; I put myself out there socially and attended functions, though I still felt pushed towards the wall.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein. 

I gave up.  I am not strong enough to handle such repeat failuresOnce the stress of trying to connect was removed I accepted my situation and lived day-to-day the best I could.  I knew that time would be filed under "Years, lost."  The two Texas years were nothing like my two Phoenix years, which I don't even talk about.  But when thinking back on my time in Texas there were definitely more bad days than good.

[I blame Texas because it's easy.  The real issue is small towns set far from urban areas.  I call myself a city girl even though I've never lived in a downtown setting.  I want transportation options besides a personal vehicle, like walking or public transit.  On that note, I want to walk somewhere with actual sidewalks, where you're not stared at by people driving because you're the only person they've seen walking outside all week and probably assume you're doing so because your car broke down.  So Texas is my scapegoat because it contains the small town I lived in that meets my criteria for "where I don't want to live".]

Most people learn from experience and alter their actions appropriately so as not to repeat them.  What concerns me now is how my Texas experience has changed me; it has, I just don't know how.  This brings my anxiety issues to the surface again with worries of finances, personal growth and social inclusion.  I would like to think that I've learned to let go of worries and take each day as it comes, but to avoid the trap of unrealistic expectations I think I'll just take it a day at a time.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I'm Not Here Right Now.

Wherever you go, there you are.

We are moving again, far, far away.  The process has been long and complicated, very difficult for the anxiety-inclined such as I.  The end result will be worth it; the adventure shall be grand. 

Until we meet again...