Telepathy

Being here now, so far away from you, wherever you are, is one of the worst parts about my daily life. I wanted to be there for your birthday, to run in that race, to share a chai latte, to catch that art show, to take that trip; I had a question to ask you about that movie you saw, about how your job was going, about if you’d ever tried yoga, about what types of things you thought about during chemo treatment; there were so many times I needed to know if it was a good time to buy bitcoin, how to handle finding a new job, if you remember that time we did that one thing and looking back now would do it again. Being here now is a choice that I made, a compounding of every choice I’ve ever had before that, and I can’t deny the majority have been good choices. But every choice I’ve ever made to stay here away from you, has been the wrong one.

I wish we could talk right now. I’m envious of  those in the future who will experience teleportation devices or the singularity. Who only have to punch in a number to then arrive a foot away from the people they love. I sympathize with those not even before my own lifetime of twenty-five years, who couldn’t send letters instantly, or make free international calls, or see each others faces with the tap of a screen. I lament the future me who wishes he’d used that technology more frequently.

Being here now means time with you has stopped. When I see you again it’ll be like I saw you yesterday, won’t it? That overwhelming sense of joy I get when you smile, that unending warmth from your hug, that’s there every time we meet, isn’t it? But then I will notice the small wrinkles around your eyes, you’ll touch the thinness of my hair. We’ll look at each other as if we’d only parted yesterday, and secretly know the inevitable change between us. We might talk about it, the difference, the parts when we were away, but in the end, we already know, don’t we?

I wish I could tell you everything is OK, because it is. I wish I could here you talk about the things your normally do so I would know everything is OK, because it is. I wish I could apologize for not having a teleportation device that can see you everyday, but of course, that’s just silly isn’t it. I don’t need to tell you everything is OK, because you already know, don’t you?

You being there, so far away, is just the worst, but it’s OK. If you’re there then part of me if there with you. Just like you’re here with me now, too. And right now if you think of me, you’ll know I’m OK. And right now when I close my eyes, and squeeze my hands tight and think of you, I’ll know you’re OK. When we see each other again, we’ll already know because we’ve been there all along.

 

It’s almost the New Year, and it’s the worst cuz I’ll be alone, and it’s even more worse because I probably won’t hear your voice, or see your smile, or hold your hand for a while after that, but it’s OK cuz it’s just another day in the long list of days that separate us. And I’m still here, and you’re still there, so really you’re here, too, and don’t worry, cuz I’m there with you.

Tribulations

I’ve always been overly ambitious with my goals. In high school my cross country coach would always make us fill out these forms before our races. We would have to write down the day of our meet, our previous best time, and our goal time for the upcoming race. Under this main information we were forced, almost always in jotted down bullets, to write out exactly how we would achieve that goal. I hardly ever took them seriously — or maybe I never took myself seriously. While I was young I’d scribble thirty seconds off of whatever time I’d recently passed. As I got older those drops in time were still written down, but the reality was hardly differing.

When I was in tenth grade I made the first change in my life that was actually sustainable. On the waning hours of New Years Eve, December 31st, 2007, while shopping for snacks in the local Byerlys with friends, I happened to look down at a four bottle pack of Jones Root Beer soda (or pop to Minnesotans) and decided quite decidedly that I had no need for cola in my life. Maybe I had recently heard about the uses of Coca-Cola as a toilet drain cleaner, or at least used it to justify the decision afterward. I bought that four pack of the most delicious flavored pop I’ve sipped, and as the clock neared midnight, cracked open what would be my last pop of my life, donating the other three to the fridge. I’m not quite sure what majestic spark of foresight came over me at that night, but it really was a power that possessed me. It lasted well into the next day, as I was able to rally a number of too faithful friends to start what would become the most important tradition in my life: New Year’s Day Movie Hopping. This year will mark the 11th consecutive trip to the movie theater on New Years, and I don’t even know how I’ve made it so long. (The first time I went alone in 2013, hungover like a newborn baby, I cried gallons unrelenting with empathy through back to back tragedies in Life of Pi and Les Miserables. Now, I find going alone is like a day long meditation run, fleeing my own body for the tribulations of others.)

The soda pact lasted about two years. I still drink it less times in a year than fingers on my hands, but it’s especially hard to cut out once you get to college and have to hide your alcohol with something. The bigger impact was my first conscious step to acknowledging my own health. It led to me being vegetarian for five years — a lifestyle I still try to muster, at least in my own cooking. I’ve never been one to follow through with resolutions, and yet looking back I’ve had success with simple but major choices in my life before.

Almost two years ago (two years, what the hell) I reprimanded any known attempts to make resolutions because of course, yes, they usually end in failure. I added that there was no sense in trying to drastically change an already content life. Two years is a long time in your twenties. I hadn’t even been in Japan for six months when I was thinking that. I was certainly content, but also becoming complacent. I wasn’t thinking about the future, I wasn’t planning for the things I would want to be doing. My current life was just starting, so I couldn’t even imagine how it would wind up. In that respect, I’ve had to revise my way of thinking. I’m again at a point in my life where major changes have been happening: I’ve got a new job, I’ve fallen in love, I’m still planning to move out of the countryside as soon as possible. I’ve always thought it was silly to start something just because it was a New Year, but I’m starting to realize the benefit in that. Just like quitting soda, or starting a new tradition, the new year is so easily quantifiable.

Last year, I went for a run with the indomitable Stefan Lemke. It was icy, and a Minnesota coldness I hadn’t experienced in twenty months. “I have a plan,” he started, with that terrifyingly gleeful look he gets whenever he’s been brewing on an impossible scheme, “Let’s run every day next year. Come one, we could do it, every day, no rest.” I instantly denied it. I had literally run every day of the previous October and knew it would be absurd to attempt it 12 times over. This year, however, I’m thinking again.

I think the reasons I thought resolutions as folly were always internal. Like my goal times in high school I was overestimating. I didn’t have a serious dream for myself, but only a joke. There’s the failure. I am not always going to be determined for the things that I want to do. I can make goals, but then I can decided when to give up. I especially don’t have to follow through when I don’t tell anyone about those goals.

(As an additional, I once watched a TED Talk about how you shouldn’t tell anyone about the goals you’re setting out to achieve. The idea was, that once you tell people you’re starting this goal, that mere act of sharing already feels like a reward of following through. Paradoxically you feel good in thinking, I’ve told people I’m going to do this, so I don’t actually have to do it. This is not my case.)

Instead of that, I’m going to share these ambitiously unachievable goals here where they can be as permanent and viewable as the internet allows. I’m going to find partners as willing as I am to set out for these plans, so we can hold each other accountable. And I’m definitely not going to make a notice about it whenever I fail (in my words, it’ll simply be a decision to devote time to other things).

So, here are not the resolutions, but my overestimated non-serious, but god-help me if I don’t try my best to do these everyday goals:

  • Run every day (with Stefan)
  • Write every day (@katie_barnes3 , if you’re down I’m down)
  • Study language every day (I’ve got someone to bother about this, too)

and in the long term:

  • read a good portion of The Book List  (at least some of the thinner volumes)
  • get out of credit card debt (so I can start focusing on student loans)
  • finish an art project (vague, I know, but there’s actually a plan)

of course, there are a few less stringent personal successes I have in mind, but those are better off kept to myself.

As for any of the above, feel free to bother me about them at any time. After the past months of changing jobs, travelling, and doing so much new in my life, I realized I need a little bit more consistency in my everyday. To that end, New Years is a no more important day than any other to start.

But it’s a hell of a lot easier to quantify.

 

PS // I wrote this next part in the middle of the blog, but it didn’t quite fit. I thought it was nice enough not to delete, though, so I’ll just put it here:

Last year, as the ball dropped, I was back in Minnesota. In the morning I woke up and had breakfast with my mom, I bought what is still my nicest dress shirt with my dad at Mall of America, I changed at my grandparents and went to a wedding with the people that could easily be considered as my second family, before the night was over I was able to stop by party of all my college friends, another family long lost, and then even flew into Tokyo for a few days before making the ride back home — the home of my present. I didn’t plan to have a resolution, but somehow it became one. Keep going but don’t forget where I am, because I’ll always have family. There’s a line from the Minneapolis rapper Slug that I hold in my core: “Roam if you must, but come home when you’ve seen enough.” Last year I was convinced to think about staying in Japan until the Olympics. This year I’m convinced that you never know where you’ll go.

Trials

Towards the end of my term as an assistant English teacher I would reflect by pausing in the hallway and leaning in towards the open window while walking between the toilet and the teachers room during a free period and think: this is the greatest job I’ll ever have. That is actually the thought I started to realize during the start of my second year. Truly, of course, it couldn’t be the pinnacle of my work life, and I began to acknowledge that. By the beginning of summer, as I was already well into figuring the terms of my new job, I determined that working at the school wouldn’t be the best job in my entire life — only the best job I’d have for a while.

That, I know to be true. I mean, how could it not be? Every morning I’d wake up and make the fifteen minute bike to school. It didn’t matter what I wore, because I’d change from the locker into my slacks and button down and occasional tie. Because we had started choosing our own schedules, I hardly ever had a class during the first period. This allowed the perfect to time ease into my day. I’d check my favorite new sites, and catch up on the SRS kanji reviews I had from the day before. I already had a year’s worth of worksheets, so every lesson was less starting from scratch and more ironing out the harder details.  Each class I was supported (and supporting) another teacher, it took the pressure off our jobs, gave us brief moments to catch a breath. In the back of class I’d goof off with anyone not paying attention, or subtly wake the dozing student. Between classes were the best. I was a near celebrity. From the beginning it was never hard for the students to become curious about my height or complexion. But after two years I’d become a role model, a mascot, a friend. And none the less humble for it.

If I could stay young forever I would have never left. But that’s the funnier part about schools. Every year you’re teaching another generation, the material hardly advances, but you have to figure out how to improve. Except at the end of the year one group leaves, and so quickly they’re replaced. When I lived in New York, right before I left, way before I knew what teaching was like, I was talking with a roommate who was an associate poetry professor in the upper east side.

“You’ll go on to do great things, man, don’t worry about it,” he told me. This is a guy who only six months before had picked up a guitar and six months later had performed at bars in Williamsburg.

“How do you do it?” I asked. “Every year, teaching a new class, and then forgetting them by the next summer.”

He scratched his head, but answered honestly and unabashed, “You just get used to it. I mean, some students will come back and stick out to you, but you can’t be best friends with them all.”

Even if it’s true, I can’t agree with him. Already I’m forgetting a lot of students names, their faces stick out, but I can’t remember if they graduated last year, or are still studying for the entrance exams. They, like so many people in my life who I’ve been trying not to forget, are moving forward. You don’t get used to it. You just have to accept it.

At least in my new job I don’t have to worry about those things as much. I’ve only been working for three months, and it feels like that only should be an already. On a team of four we’ve completed an anniversary video for the prefecture university, I made ten videos of contestants for (not just beauty) pageant for a magazine, we had a photo-shoot for an eyeglasses commercial, and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help host a promotional food and culture event in Singapore and Hong Kong (and during the former I literally mean host as an MC). It is the type of job I would look for anywhere, and I got so lucky to find it so quickly and close to the place I’ve already lived an worked.

There are somethings awful to be said about the Japanese workplace, however, they are things I never felt or recognized during my time at school. I’m trying my best not to conform, while at the same time showing my co-workers that I’m contributing. But almost every night when 6:30 comes by it seems like I’m the only one to notice. I’ve already wrapped up my work, started packing, but then feel obliged to stick it out for a little while. Once I leave I still have to make the forty minute drive in increasingly wet weather home. I usually take this time to listen to podcasts, but only that will get me so far. This of course, leaves little time to explore my own hobbies or even rest properly at night before I have to get up and do it again in the morning. Of course, I like waking up later, but the morning commute doesn’t make it much of a difference, and leaves no practical time to run, exercise, or even properly shave like I used to (although the beard is starting to grow on me).

I am really thankful to find this kind of work, but everyday is a different task, and in the end I’m still not quite sure what type of work I’m doing. Am I a producer, a video editor, designer, a photographer, a writer, an illustrator… all are things that I would appeal to do, but I’m worried about developing an expertise. I’ve had the time to get educated, and even to get the base of my experience settled. Now it feels critical to figure out what I want to do, focus on it, and make that into a career.

Recently, I’ve got that opportunity.  I’ve been working on illustrations, and replicating this specific type of style, but in that case it’s the most frustrating thing I’ve had to do in months. In school there were times once or twice a year where we’d have to stay late in order to grade standardized tests. Except there was nothing standardized about the way we graded. In some ways is was a reflection of our own teaching ability. The first time it happened I actually cried after an tense debate(/argument) over one of the smartest answers, too clever it was hard to meet the right criteria (I wrote about that once, but a bit too embarrassed to link to it here). Now it feel like that every day, except the debate is with myself over what I’m going to do and if it’s even within my bounds to accomplish what I want.

One of the wisest men I’ve met once told me near my college graduation that when it comes to your job, whenever you’re asked if you can do something respond: yes.  This is a true philosophy in my life, as there’s almost nothing I’ve had to do that I haven’t been able to learn or problem solve my way out of.

These trials have slowly building up since I left school. I forgot what it was like to be without a job, to be out of money, to start new and be away from friends. I thought it would be good to stay where I’m familiar, instead of jumping completely into a new life. Now everyday I’m away from Tokyo seems like a waste of time. Luckily I have someone there who can also say wise things from time to time: it’s all about perspective, the opportunity that I have now is better than most.

He’s right, and if I really focus, if I don’t doubt myself, then I can do it. Even after 25 years my mom still tells me I can do anything. She’s wrong, but if she can believe, then maybe I can too for a little while. When my frustration came to a head while drawing, while trying to figure out how to paint in this particular style, how to make the shadows overlap and blend so perfectly that the transition between colors is stark but seamless, I took a break, I came back to my standing desk, plugged in Hucci as loud as I could, and figured out the problem.

There are a couple of idioms that keep running through my head lately: make your bed… spilled milk… if wishes were horses. With all the work and a bit of stress through the last month I didn’t really have a time to stop and pay attention to myself. Now that it’s the end of the year, it feel like the natural thing to do. I’m not only asking the questions like where do I want to go, what do I want to be, but I’m finding answers to them. They’re answers that mean tough choices, and risky results, but I’m solid in all of them. I may be stuck now, but it won’t always be that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I just have to tell myself I can do it, be thankful for where I am, and blast some dubstep as loud as I can.