Connect

This year I wrote about 40 New Year’s cards with Japanese addresses (and roughly 20 to go overseas). It’s a tradition in Japan called nengajo, but like all analog traditions it seems outdated. Whenever I asked friends my age for their address they looked back confused. One Japanese friend told me only old people do that, while another sent me his email address.

For the past year I’ve been working as a digital illustrator. I’ve drawn over 200 images on a pen and tablet, but nothing I can touch and can hang on a wall and almost less that gets seen for more than a day. I keep telling myself I’ll make more art, but in the wrong environment I’m not even sure what that means.

So this year I looked forward to making cards again. Knowing that I had all year to do it you wouldn’t think I’d wait til the last half of December to work on it. But November came with just an image floating around in my head. I finally put it down, finished it off, and printed at three in the morning a week before the deadline. You see, especially in Japan the post tries to get all these nengajo with all their drawings of pigs (according to the Eastern zodiac) delivered exactly on the first day of the year. In order to make their lives easier, you’re asked to drop off your cards by the 27th.

I submitted my order at 3 in the morning December 21st. Immediately after pressing confirm I decided to compare with my card from last year. Frantically I went back to the order page and scanned through the Japanese for the word “cancel.” I had drawn by pig, written my note, and even put 2019, but forgotten the most important part which of course was to write “Happy New Year.” I went back into Photoshop, added the forgotten text, and pressed order, only to feel once again unsatisfied and immediately cancel. I decided these types of decisions were not best to be made at three in the morning.

I received the cards in time, and wrote out all the addresses one by one. Nowadays you can even submit a spreadsheet with all the addresses to be printed on the back, but I don’t see the point. If you’re already gonna be old fashioned enough to send out New Year’s cards, then why not add the personal touch of writing out the names yourself.

I’ve been getting cards for as long as I remember. Birthdays, Thanksgiving, Easter were all made possible by Hallmark. When I was in 4th grade I had a pen pal named Peter Li from Australia. He sent me a picture of him in a school uniform (which of course to me only signified he was Catholic) and his handwriting despite only being 10 years old was written in a beautiful cursive script I’d only seen in British films about the 1800s. (I switched our conversations to email out of shame.) By the time I reached Junior High I started writing letters to a grandfather who until that point I hadn’t even imagined ever existing. Of course I had a Grandma Davis, but I’d never supposed if there even was a Grandpa Davis. Looking back I’d seen pictures of Gramps, my dad’s Grandpa, holding me as a baby and must’ve assumed with scraggly white hair and gold teeth that he’d fit the role of Grandfather well enough. My real Grandpa Davis was in prison. Even back then through all our correspondence, I never thought to ask how he wound up there. I’ll only say there’s nothing like getting a letter from someone who can only escape the place they’re in through words.

How did they do it? We ask ourselves of the previous generation, not realizing that those methods are still available. Even now, for the three plus years I’ve been in Japan I’ve only spoken with one of my best friends from high school through the regular postcard in the mail, and that seems to be enough.

When I graduated college I had this idea of hand printing postcards every month to stay in contact with those I left by going to New York. I made it to August before the dedication faded. As a poor wannabe artist living in the most expensive in America, spending money on materials, postage, and time is a hard squeeze in a budget of food and rent. I think these New Year’s cards are the residual passions of that initial project.

It’s now January 3rd in Japan and only one person has told me they’ve gotten their nengajo. How did they do it? I ask myself, looking at a message on my phone that has been read but getting no reply. How did you send something off to a family member, a lover, a pen pal, trusting that the address was up to date, the postage price correct, and not to be intercepted by a meddling family member or jealous friend. And then of course, you have to rely on them being diligent enough to go through the same proccess in return. I have the Supremes singing through my head, “Wai-aa-aai-ait Mr. Postman.”

If you get a card from me, don’t feel obliged to message me right away. Maybe you weren’t even expecting it. Just know that unlike an email, that card took time. I held it in my hands, shuffled it in my bag, biked it to the post office. You might one day find it in a shoebox and throw it out, barely remebering who I am. But at least for now, it’s a physical connection between you and me.

Stories

It’s been a while since I’ve written. That’s not because I’ve got nothing to write about. Quite the contrary, I find that whenever I’m doing the most in my life is when I’m writing the least. Because of that, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do with this site. When it started I tried to keep it chronological. I moved to Japan with the idea that I’d only be staying for two years. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, I don’t quite remember but if you’d like to find out you can probably go back and read my first post.

Now it’s three and a half years later and I’m still not positive with what I’m doing. 2018, despite having some really great highlights, was without a doubt the worst year of my life. From sickness, to car crashes, losing apartments, cutting off fingers, and even more sickness, I knew before it was halfway over that I was just ready to move on. But that left me with the direction, but no destination.

Usually at the end of the year I make a few resolutions. Typically they’re concrete goals, something clearly defined and achievable. Last year they were ambitious, but I made it a decent way until 150 cm (60 in) of snow and norovirus knocked me off my feet. This year I don’t have anything so clear. I thought about returning to a vegetarian diet, getting out of debt, journaling everyday. But this year I don’t think I’ll pay any mind to things I should do. This past October I tried to draw everyday and that wound up being a stressful and penultimately incomplete endeavor. If I want to start fresh, I’m going to do it without restrictions, and discover my motivation organically.

With that in mind, I do want to be present this year. I felt like last year I just took what came at me, and went with the flow. Hopefully this year I’ll be proactive, and stay connected with you. Thus, I get to the point of this post. I’m changing the purpose of this site (not that there was much purpose left). I’m not going to use it to keep you updated with what I’m doing, but instead keep you updated with what I’ve done. Sometimes I might write about Japan, but others times I expect I’ll use it to put a record to what’s on my mind. I thought about starting fresh, and changing the whole domain, but then again, that’s just too much of a hassle.

So here’s to a New Year, no resolutions, no destination, but surely better than the last.

 

 

Ps. Tomorrow (technically today) will be the 11th year anniversary of my movie hopping tradition. I plan on going to the theater, so anyone who wants to join me is welcome, even if you’re still an ocean away.

Car

I’ve mentioned before about an ongoing argument with my mom when I was young. She wanted me to get my driver’s license. In a strange role reversal for this typical scenario, I, the foolhearty, stubborn, and naive fourteen year old, rejected this idea.

“Dillon, you need a license,” she’d say.

“No, I don’t.”

“How are you gonna get around?”

“Wherever I need to go, I’ll go with my friends.”

She looked at my best friends, Alex and Kelson, sitting in the backseat of the car after cross country practice, “I’m sure they’re gonna love driving you around.”

A part of it came from my aunt. Both my parents have younger sisters, and in both sides of my family I’ve been declared the wrong child. I don’t come from my parents, but instead my aunts. A lot of that is true.  My mom’s sister didn’t have a license at the time of the conversation, and she’d been living just fine. My mom never had a good way of explaining the choices she made for me — even if they were the right ones. As an adult now I realize how hard it would’ve been to get one on my own, and even how difficult it can be to afford one. In Japan the legal driving age is 18, and even then, most people don’t get a license until they turn 20. The cost of going through training, and paying all the fees is at least $2,000 so it’s not something to take lightly either. So eventually I lost that argument. I got free drivers training as part of my public education, and was out with my permit when I was 15.

Ok, fine. I got the license, but no way am I going to get a car.

My first accident was a week after I got my license. It was in September because as a typical suburban teenager  I spent the summer volunteering in Mexico, doing a choir tour in Germany, and going to running camp in Oregon after my birthday in July. I was pulling out of a Caribou Coffee after helping time a girls swim meet in my mom’s Lexus ES. Just so you know, the initials ES stand for Executive Sedan. This was a decent car to start out driving. It had a huge hood and was powerful on the gas. It did not, however, have good views of clearance. What I thought was enough space between me and the Lexus RX (the SUV line of luxury vehicles), was really just enough space to collapse my front bumper on their back bumper. It was a crunching sound that brought me to depths of fear I hadn’t visited since I halfheartedly helped my mom move a couch and she broke a nail. Luckily, with a little spit the white paint on the back bumper of the SUV came right off. I didn’t stick around to see if anyone else would’ve noticed. And I won’t go into much detail of my mother’s wrath, but only say that I’m so thankful she works for Lexus where they actually have all the tools to fix such a problem.

I never had want for a car in high school. I could only go out after school anyway, which meant someone would be home with a car for me to borrow (take). I never had the kind of money to think about getting a car either. In college finally my roommate, Ostrich, bought a VW wagon one summer, and it was the first time I realized I could even afford to do something like that. Except, in reality I couldn’t afford to do something like that. Anything I attempted to save was quickly spent on climbing equipment, or computer parts, or underwear. Instead I wore it as a badge of my ability. I thought about times when I’d be in my late twenties, drunkenly circled with friends playing five fingers, and I’d declare, “Never have I ever owned a car.”

Of course in New York there’s no need for cars. After graduation I never thought about it, taking the train or riding a bike to work. In winter I switched my slim bike tires for ones equally as narrow but with ridges that would keep me upright in piling snow. Then when I first came to Japan with no savings and an insurmountable view of my college loans having a car was still unobtainable. I even specifically checked a box in a preference sheet that it’d be best if I could walk to my school.

I’ve had a driver’s license for ten years and have essentially driven consistently that entire time. I think the longest stretch I’ve been workout driving was six months when I first got here and didn’t have a permit to drive. Then I only took the wheel as a designated driver since Japan has a zero tolerance drinking and driving policy. I finally got my Japanese license a year after I first arrived. For an American it’s quite simple –and if you’re from Maryland it’s a piece of cake–just a written test (about ten questions almost completely pictorial). I was actually kinda surprised at the lack of skill proving. When I was sixteen fresh out of driving school I had to show off all sorts of techniques: parallel parking, hill parking, T-parking. The first time I failed because I crossed into a different lane while turning into a two lane one-way street. This time I just had to hit speed limits, look out for stop signs, and remember to drive on the right (meaning left) side of the road. Even then when I passed I’d been fantasizing about the types of cars you see in the Fast & Furious movies. But it was still just a dream with no real money to put behind it. At that time I’d already had a sense that I wouldn’t recontract with my school, and at that time the probability of me staying in Japan was quite low. A car would just be a money sink I’d enjoy for two months in the spring and then worry about selling.

I was also pretty peculiar about what my first car would be. The smartest thing would buy a tiny economy kei car for $1,000 or even a Honda fit for twice that much and call it good. Except I grew up going to car shows and watching The Fast & The Furious. Even now there’s usually a weekend every year where I’ll watch them all in order, adding the newest edition for last. Cars were (/are?) something special for me. When I was a kid I played Need for Speed games for hours imagining it was the real thing. I think it had a connection to why I enjoyed running, why I read The Flash comic books, why I like Dub Step music. There’s something about speed that runs deep through my soul.

I searched through thousands of listings for cars on auction websites. In the end, with the start of summer vacation and my new job drawing nearer, I realized I had to go with what I could get. Leave it to Yukie, who’d become my constant savior and practical caretaker in Japan, to muster through all her contacts to find me a car. Leave it to my luck for it to have been the model I was considering: Subaru Legacy B4 sedan, silver, twin turbo, all wheel drive, less than 100,000 miles, and beautiful. It was a gas guzzling beast that could barely fit on some of the countryside roads, but it was fast and cool and more than enough for me. The first month of having it I went through $200 of gas in two weeks just driving it along the coast and through mountain roads day and night. There was an entire freedom I hadn’t realized I could get with the power to go anywhere at my fingertips.

I’d already planned the modifications for my new car, so although I was reckless, I wasn’t careless. That whole time I’d only had one accident: that minor fender bender the week after I got my license. Except when I started writing this post back in November I’d experienced two more in two months. Since then I’ve had another two.

Perhaps tellingly three of the four happened when I was driving rental cars. The first wasn’t too bad, just an understeer of a plastic box into a guard rail — an annoying bite into my pocketbook. The second was worse, an actual crash. I was on three hours of sleep heading toward Osaka with four of my coworkers (I was on the most amount of sleep, and arguably the most experienced with long distance drives). It was only until we got into the city after a highway of torrential rain that I was on tilt. We’d left an hour later than planned to catch our flight to Singapore. Really we were reaching the end of our drive, so my fatigue was probably part of the reason. I’d considered after two hours to pull into a rest stop and switch drivers, but with only an hour left I figured I thought I’d persevere.

City highways were a bit more challenging. It’s funny because it finally felt familiar. In Minneapolis so much is connected through the highways, so I didn’t think I’d be so rusty. Working out Japanese signs while driving too fast in kilometers proved to be too much, and I was finally taken in when the construction moved my third lane into the second. Luckily I was driving what was essentially a luxury space ship on wheels. The front bumper and door jammed into the back end of a passing truck with a that wasn’t as startling as it was awakening — at least for me. We were stranded for an hour sorting everything out and barely made the plane. No one was hurt, but I still called my mom crying out of shame.

Before then I’d always been a bit confident in my driving skills, and I still think I’m reliable, but it was a tough way to learn to put safety first.

The next two were within a week of each other last January which I’ve now deemed the worst month of my life (which too be fair isn’t saying much, but it’s still a sample size of 300). The first was, as I’d learn the saying in Japanese, “100% not bad” or in American English, “totally not my fault.” I was completely stopped at a red light when I heard the screech from behind, the crunch, felt the jolt, rocked in my car, and still for a couple seconds wasn’t sure what happened. Did they hit my car? Was that an accident? Really? Right now? Two weeks away from moving? Literally already finished the deal to sell my car and now… I took a breath and let out a couple expletives. Looking at the back the car was even more painful. The roof is connected to the side panel in one seamless piece and I always knew a crash would be irreversible. The entire trunk which last fall filled three people’s $1,500 worth of Costco groceries, was smudged like a folded futon. Trust me, it’s worse than it looks.

 

 

It was replaced with a two wheel drive Toyota just in time for 140 centimeters (55 inches) to fall. I got stuck and dug out more than three times in one day, finally cracking the front bumper as the puny front wheels careened into a pile of fresh snow. I was supremely upset that’s I couldn’t enjoy cruising in my Subaru one last time as I hauled all my belongings on the freeway to Tokyo, but I never actually appreciated it’s capabilities until I had to use a different incredibly inferior piece of plastic.

Originally the title of this post was going to be Drive. It’s a hobby that a lot of Japanese (men) claim. “I like to drive,” they say or, “I drive in my free time.” I’ll still have plenty of time for that. In Tokyo you can rent almost any type of car for the right price and I already forsee myself heading to the beach in a convertible once summer comes. What I won’t have, at least for another couple years, perhaps even a decade, is another car. It was a short fun six months of ownership, but it was a draining one too. Driving to work through traffic is even more humiliating in a car that can reach 100km/h in six seconds. The environmental impact wore on my conscience as well.

I’ll always enjoy pushing the pedal, a good soundtrack in the stereo, open windows, and straightaways. For now, I’ll just have to enjoy pedaling wheels, gripping drop-down handlebars, and more than a little extra money from reducing climate change. Besides, when you’re a runner you know: fast is all about perspective.

Commute

I’m on a train back to Fukui, barely a month after I left, finally finding myself with time to edit my life. I thought a life in Tokyo would mean constant trains, and yet, most of the time I’m walking places. This post is actually one I started months ago when I was still fantasizing about my life in the city. I’ve got a backlog of posts similar I have to go through and reorganize, but plan to push out here soon. I guess this is a start.

When I lived in New York I read so many books. The first two months on the subway I went through two books of Game of Thrones just riding on those metal carriages. Back then there wasn’t WiFi to be found. An hour completely underground can pass by unnoticed while flipping the final pages of a 400 page novel.

Coming to Japan my reading has been staggered. I started the book list with the goal of finishing in two years. That put me at roughly one book every two weeks — a type of math I didn’t bother figuring out. As my astute comrade in Spanish poetry and renowned literature Nico Sanhueza pointed out: reading merely 20 pages a day from Infinite Jest (the last book on my list) would take me almost two months. I tried and succeeded in the very beginning. After travelling, and having over a month to get settled to my new small life in Japan, I found the amazing Tokyo-based English bookstore Infinity Books to spend enough of my new salary. Without a car and the onset of winter, I burrowed in my one room apartment (not studio, mind you, this was much smaller than a studio) and flew through the first couple books without a problem. Then I met Virginia Wolf with some of the best and most dense story telling I’ve ever encountered (there are two short stories weaved into the otherwise tough novel To the Lighthouse which is among the best writing fathomable). I actually skipped over her for a while, and then spring came, and I was outside, and lazy, and enjoying nothing. After struggling with the enormous paragraphs of Michael Chabon soon after,  I decided to quit literature all together.  After all, the original goal was to finish the list before I left Japan. At the time I thought that’d only be two years, but… things change.

After a year in Japan I started to notice a few slips in my vocabulary. You see, at a junior high school level of teaching English, the scope of your corrections are pretty redundant. Things are very interesting. Students try hard. Tokyo Disneyland is a great place. Because its fun. Surrounded by a bunch of other expats who are involved in the same thing, your language starts to clip the longer words. The grammar also evolves, to match those non-native speaking minions you interact with everyday. The result is a strange abandon of usual language, for something more direct and less verbose.

Learning another language, also, doesn’t support the retention of the former.

Moments (which are now too familiar) started happening in the middle of conversation. I’d be telling a memory, or a story, or just asking for a favor.

“Did you stay at a capsule hotel in Osaka?” “Oh, I wanted to, but there we no… open beds? Free spaces?”   “You mean, vacancies?”

“The new bakery sells huge cinnamon rolls, but they’re not very… great? enjoyable? delectable? … Satisfying!”

“In Minnesota you always hear about accidents with drunk people driving on… winter… jet… skis, but you know, like jet skis for the snow.” (I actually can’t remember what they’re called right now, and have too much pride to Google: winter jet skis.)

It happens at least once a week. I can see the word flash in the front of my mind whenever I think about it. A shining, well outlined … piece? shape? … thing that disappears as soon as I think of it. “Come back!” I cry, as its rolls off the tip of my tongue cackling into oblivion. Instead I’m left defenseless, degrading my language to amend the situation, pondering what could have been.

I looked at the stack of books holding shape against my wall. Each a sword against this latency in language. There are the ones I definitely can’t handle right now: Catch-22One Hundred Years of SolitudeThe Dharma Bums. Then there are the slimmer volumes, the ones written for the common people, sometimes inventive (Slaughterhouse Five) but more often objective (Casino Royale). Even a poignant story like Fahrenheit 541 has a chase scene in it. Those were my jam, those I can do. Even the unwinding accents in As I Lay Dying are comprehensible through the short three page chapters. They become manageable escapes from mundane lifestyle.

The problem with reading, though, is the actual process. I recently wondered what I was like without a cellphone, or even without a smart phone. Many times I recall keeping my Gameboy stuffed in my pocket, but equally as often I would carry a book with me, a finger poised between two pages ready to continue the story at any moment. So smartphones are the culprit right, or internet at large, offering more distractions than necessary. Consuming our time with nonsense.

This can’t only be the case, for even on weekends when the news is on a break, the apartment is clean, the outside is raining, I can’t be helped to pick up a book. It’s the sense of time prioritization. When I was a kid and didn’t have to worry about what would happen to me, I had the time to bury my nose into a story. As an adult I’m constantly thinking of what to cook, what to clean, what to buy. My value of books is suppressed by the sense that my time would be better spent somewhere else. Not to mention the rate that I read a single page is snailish.  I try to absorb every detail, and in such focus often have to reread from missing the bigger picture.

In Fukui, I drove to work every day, forty minutes there and forty minutes home. The onset of winter dragged that even longer: one hour, one and a half. Someone would say I should invest in things like Audible (I do keep waiting for a sale), but there’s something to miss in listening versus reading. Sure, I swear by the Jim Dale versions of Harry Potter over any printed form, but not every author has the time, dedication, or voice as great as local author Ben Percy. I’ve found quality narration reserved for just the bestsellers of the latest season, and my list knows no bounds.

Instead I turned to Podcasts. I’ve been listening to them for almost three years now. I first got into Serial right before I came to Japan, and broaden my spectrum since my former neighbor and professional backpacker, Mac, introduced me to Stuff You Should Know. It still strikes me that their popularity hasn’t truly reached the mainstream. I consume them while doing everything else in my life. They probably run at least four hours of my speakers everyday. Even today I’ve already listened to NPR’s Up First, APM’s In the Dark case about Jacob Wetterling, Vox’s The Weeds, and Dan Pashman’s The Sporkful interview with Michael Pollan. I guess it’s a result of not having internet access. I just download podcasts all at once somewhere and run them through the day or week. Still, it’s not enough. Unlike a book, if I miss something in a podcast, I just let it run until the story catches my attention again.

Originally, when I first thought about this post, here is where I’d talk about my solution to start reading again. How living in Tokyo would mean that I’d once again be stuck in a train without WiFi and all the opportunities granted by faded paper. It’s almost still something I long for. Except in Tokyo, the commutes are cramped and drudging. Where in New York I could buy a monthly unlimited pass for around $120, in Tokyo each time you ride a subway costs at least $1.50. I decided this was not the way I wanted to start my mornings and waste my evenings. I actively sought out places within walking, or biking distances from my work. I exceeded my original expectations with where I live now, but there is a part of me that thinks about the books.

Overall, I’m more than relieved to cut the two hours of sedentary transit from my daily life. I was hoping to have one final hurrah with my car, but that’s a subject for another post. I still ride a train every week to get to my Japanese lessons, and occasionally on weekends if I need to go out across the city — or on my way to Fukui. Recently I’ve downloaded the Kindle app to my phone and found digital books can be read just as effectively for some genre. Except in those cases, stopped on the train, there always seems to be so much more worth planning. Multiple trips to be sorted. Photoshoots to arrange. Then of course, keeping in touch with you in the simplest way possible. After all, why read when you can write?

January

I would be fine never seeing snow again.

Ideally, this will be the last snowy winter I experience until I’m at grad school in Norway or Madison. If I have my way I’ll be hopping from a couple cities in the southern hemisphere before I make it back home. Unfortunately, I was born a Minnesotan — winter is in my blood. There’s a sort of nostalgia I get every time I see snow. Growing up October became a reminder to enjoy the small things. Red and yellow leaves would be examined with wonder. November was truly the time to be thankful for the summer that came before. From December you endure. There is no sun, no protection. You feel the chill throughout your body at all times. It reminds you that at anytime you can be broken. It reminds you to hold out hope.

January has always been a terrible month for me. I think I used to enjoy the snow. Used to put on boots and sled. Used to ski with a fervor like a puffin taking off. My sophomore year of high school my two best friends started dating each other. I of course had the regrettable feeling loving them both, but being in love with one of them. Then in January one of them moved away. All the way to St. Louis. Looking at it now it’s a ridiculous distance, the same as Fukui to Tokyo. But back then, at sixteen, it was impassible.

In college, my friend knew January as my dark days. There were points I’d stop running, paint my nails black, hole up in an art room and listen to System of a Down. One winter I started back on World of Warcraft. Another I spent baking chocolate chip cookies. My junior year I decided to face the cold. I’d go for 90 minute runs at a time. I got injured and wound up even worse than before.

I absolutely hate the winter.

This past January felt particularly long. Soon I’ll be moving to Tokyo. I feel like until then I’ve just been living in limbo. I’ve been denied apartments for no reason (discrimination), I got a norovirus from raw oysters I didn’t want to eat, and my car was rear-ended to the extent that it’s essentially scrap. I try to listen to Gloria Gaynor to cheer me up, but it doesn’t seem to work.  I hope you’re not taking this too seriously. Everyone keeps telling me it’ll be OK. I always know that. Even if I had to, I don’t think I’d know how to worry about myself. My problems are not the hardest to deal with, and I’m lucky enough that these are the extent of tough things I have to deal with.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that winter is the worst. That I’m a fool for staying anywhere that gets below 10°C (50°F) on a good day in January. That snow is never quite as beautiful after the first night, when you’re living alone and have to drive an hour to work everyday.

In Minnesota Winter can last until May. January went on for forever, but already it’s the fifth of February. In Tokyo I don’t think it can last so long. Soon I’ll be running in shorts, I’ll be in the ocean, I’ll hike the Nippon Alps with my good friend Mac.

Until then I’ll endure. I’m a long distance runner after all. I’ll clean the rest of my empty apartment. I’ll say goodbye to anyone around. I’ll keep working out, and studying, and writing, like I said I would. If you happen to live in a terribly winter place like me, then you know what I mean. And if you’re in a particularly sunny place like California, then stay there. Stay there and never go anywhere else.

I do miss the little things, though.

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.

 

Racing

This comes off of the previous post (Run) but I got so into it that it kind of took on a force of its own. At first I was trying to just briefly describe the difficulty of running to a pace. Maybe it’s an old school way to think, just because I haven’t done anything else in so long, but I think everyone when racing needs to go in with a goal pace. Not only that, but it should probably be something realistic. It should be something that can be attained, but improved upon during the actual event. As such it gets to be really hard to find the spots of a race to stick to the pace, or the times when you have to push a little bit harder. Of course, an even pace would be ideal, but a race is anything but balanced.

I think I’ve figured out the trick, though, to the pace. In college, while running an 8k race, you would instead split it into five miles: relax, run, race, fight, finish. As long as you hit the second step, I always found it a good way to run. For the amateur world of adult road racing, the same system can be used with just a little more organization.

First, you need to run. In a college competition the majority of people are on a similar level. You can go out towards the middle of the pack and know it won’t take long to reach the front. You don’t need to think the moment a gun goes off because you’re only running in a reflective crowd of you on your best and worst days. In the real world, the moment you relax you get sucked up behind all the hobby joggers. If you start out at an easy pace, not near the front, you’ll instantly lose half a minute. On the same line, you have to be careful. There are also a bunch of idiots who think the pace they start will be the pace they finish. If you go out too fast to avoid the regulars, these pace pushers will stick right behind you throwing off your rhythm until you’re both dropping off too soon. No, the beginning of a road race takes you at your most normal level, running like any other tempo workout, ignoring what you’re doing for the first kilo of two.

By the third kilo I think you need to race. It’s necessary to be hitting your goal splits by this point. If you’re falling behind you’ve gotta push it more, if you’re far ahead you’ve gotta start rationing your energy. This is less a physical change than a mental one. If you’re not already in the mood to win, or do your best, then you’ll be screwed. If you’re strategy isn’t already in order you’ve only got another two minutes to figure it out. By this point every behind you has fallen off, and everyone around you is sticking to their pace. You’ve got to figure out a way to pick of the leaders.

This brings us to the most exciting point in a 10k, the relief, the turnaround, the halfway point. Here you fight. It may seem early, but if you can look at the glass half full — the race half over — you can crush your opponents. Any surge or position change will absolutely devastate anyone who can’t keep up. For your own mentality, you’ll be pushed into a new gear. It will be painful, and seem crazy, but your body will maintain it.

So despite your mind screaming, “You know four kilometers is actually a lot farther than you think. That’s a whole thirteen minutes!” your body won’t have the capacity to slow down. Any hint of moving slower means admitting defeat, and  your legs will avoid that at all cost. By this point, six and a half kilometers, you just need to relax. You need to suck in the breath of fresh outdoor air and do the math again. Pretty soon it’ll be ten minutes, and that’s just eight times around a track for most high school students. You can be better than most high school students. Suck in that air, ignore the paranoid sounds of steps approaching behind you, and relax.

But only for like, twenty seconds.

Now you need to focus on the end. It’s finish that comes here because like race you still need a strategy. The end is still to far away to just will yourself into winning. With the remaining kilometers you need to pay attention to your body, the course, and those paranoid steps that might just actually be approaching. Not preparing for an open valley with wind pushing you back five seconds could wipe away the potential energy needed for a final kick. How many water stations are left and will you need to stop at any of them? I always like to use those as moments to gauge the distance between me and the person behind me. More than America, Japanese spectators make sure to cheer for every participant at every moment. So the moment of silence from when you pass by to their next cheers let’s you know how close the next runner is on your tail.

The last leg starts the moment you see that 1k remaining sign. It’s like that scene from the Two Towers when Gandalf shows up on the hillside. Sure, you’ve still got a battle, but at least it seems winnable. This is how you go for the last three minutes, pushing whatever energy is let through your heart into your veins and down your legs. I’ve found the distance that you can kick increases equally with the distance of your race. For a 1500 (where you’re always kicking) it’s the last two hundred. In a two mile, it’s the final lap. For a cross country 5k there’d always seem to be the same guy standing on the side of the path exactly eight hundred meters out yelling at me to go. For a road race its this final sign, the signal to go with all your might and wipe out the distance between you and your goal.

Run. Race. Fight. Relax. Finish. Fight (part II).

Run

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. In fact the first 700 words are from a draft I started back in October. Those of you reading from the beginning will remember the time I drove eight hours just to see my track team run 12 miles in December. I thought about trying to tackle the subject then. That was an inspirational peak to the dedication I put towards the often least fun and uninteresting (especially in this country) hobby I have: running.

From the spring of 2015 I really got back in the mood for running. Post graduation had left me confused, and I really only used running while living in New York to keep a routine in my otherwise work filled life. As usually is the case, come winter I was back to a sporadic schedule of fitting in the time to run. I had to figure out how to get to where I was going — because after work was always dark it was only safe to run inside — or force myself to wake up and shiver my bones as I paced a slow jog through the neighborhood. When the snow finally melted and I was surrounded by my former college teammates starting their track season, I knew I had to get back into the condition I once had. My closest friends from college had decided to meet up from across the country and run a race in the beginning of April, and I certainly wasn’t ready to be shown up by them.

From there I only improved, even beating the times I’d barely been motivated to reach previously. There are plenty of things I loved about my college town, but the thing that comes to mind most when talking about running are the endless dirt roads. You could run undeterred; you would seldom worry about impact; you had no need for direction because counting miles was as easy as counting cornfields. Of course, there was the occasional rabid dog, but everyone needs a little pick up now and then. I was in a great environment. Only one day during April, in a foolish attempt to drop time off my steeplechase, my foot caught while jumping the barrier, and I staggered, and twisted, and tumbled. I hopped right back up at the same pace, but there was an immediate difference. I made it a fifty meters before I decided it wasn’t my vision, but indeed my body which wobbled unnaturally.

I’d always been cynically unfair about running injuries until then. Actually, to a point I still am. I totally blame my mental lack of focus for slipping up on that barrier. I definitely think I could have prevented it with a smarter race strategy. Regardless of the preparation, though, the outcome was the same. I rested, iced, stretched, and didn’t do what I wanted for two weeks before I slowly got back on my feet. Of course, I had a race to run. My mom had already signed me up for the TC One-Mile on a corporate team with her work, and heck, why not, it was just one mile, I’d been jogging pretty well until that point. The race was set in drizzling race down Hennepin Ave. I got out well, in the at the front of my heat, and pushed my way through the finish line to second (something like 17th overall). The race was a relief. I sprang where I needed to, burned through what hurt. It was when I finished that I started limping again.

So I was out for most of the summer. I had my first MRI to show that all I needed was some more rest, and as I prepared to head to Japan it really was better for me to focus some of that time elsewhere. I ran in San Francisco, Fargo, Seattle, working my way up from a couple minutes to half an hour. Of course, then I landed in Japan. A humid and rambling Tokyo. I had no time, let alone energy to run. It wasn’t until the lull that I actually made it out early on a grey and foggy morning  for an ethereal run along the river. I was back. I was fine: free of injury and ready to become the fastest man in Japan.

Of course, that was before I met Carmelo and was convinced to join him at beach for a foam party in Kanazawa. The next morning of seven stitches on the bottom of my foot put me out for another two weeks, just in time to start the school year with a new job and no clue what I was doing.

I joined up with the junior high’s track team in October, as soon as the speech contest ended. It felt great running with a team again, even if they were teenagers running kilos a minute slower than my normal pace. I truly admire the person who can run on their own at will with complete determination. Most times I’m with them. I love the feeling of fatique, the aching highs, and  glorious views from the middle of nowhere. They can easily get me out of the door on spring days. It’s the summer mornings, the winter winds, the storms in fall that need motivation. Seeing these kids (although compulsory) get out and run everyday including weekends was more than enough proof that I could do it too.

So, I ran in the warm winter which left Christmas Day with a high of 50°, and then the school’s season slowed down, and the snow came in. No one believes me when I say I put on weight. They always think it’s a good thing. It’s never a good thing. For me at least, the only reason I know I’m putting on weight is because I can see I’m putting on weight. My legs start to even out, my stomach loses definition. My butt certainly looks better, but sacrifices must be made to stay fit. One of the biggest things I’m afraid of is getting old. It’s not quite a fear of death, but it’s the fear of not being able to do what I want to do (and partial vanity). Sure, there’ll be a point where I won’t be able to break records while running, where I won’t have the energy to travel to new countries, and one night at an izakaya will put me out for a week, but that time is not yet. It’s bad enough my hair is falling out, but I can’t do anything about that. My strength, my fitness, and health, however, I can maintain. It’s a necessity for me now. I would be uncomfortable otherwise.

Last year, in a post I never got around to publishing, Ole track star and former teammate Joe Coffey came and visited me before gallivanting off to China. We went for an hour long run in the middle of July noon, and I was pretty happy I could keep up with his jet-lagged pace. It’s hard to think that I’ve maintained any bit of fitness, but coming off a National Championship team my senior year of high school probably helps. Running is as much about the spirit as the actual training. It’s never about how far or long you run, but the quality of those miles and minutes. Even between long hiatuses there’s no laziness to getting back into it. Even when I run alone, I’m always running for the team. That was early July, and it refreshed my running routine.

By the end of the month I ran my first race since my failed steeplechase a year before. It was a 10k, my first, in the early morning of a sunny day. Carmelo and I had stayed the night before at the house of one of his student’s. They’d fed us plenty of food, but I think we were prepared enough for the task. However, it would be my first time running over 5k since the end of my cross country season back in 2014 (which now seems scarily too far away). Due to last minute bathroom breaks and a false crowd at the starting line (there was literally a queued line for the next race one hundred meters back from the actual start line) we were running to the race before the gun went off. I made it to the front and took the lead by 2k clipping along at a 3:15 pace. After all, this type of running isn’t really a sport in Japan (I thought) so winning it shouldn’t be too far out. The actual winner to the lead by the third kilometer, and I dropped to fourth right after the halfway turnaround. Fourth wasn’t too bad for beginning the season, at least until the last kilometer when I got passed again to take fifth. I still got a medal and nice certificate proclaiming my place. I took it as many lessons learned, determined to improve.

The next month I went to Tsuruga, a beach town an hour south. This time I had no expectations, and no one knew I was there, so I decided to just run how I wanted. Not many people consider a 10k race as a leisure activity. Maybe I should’ve taken it a bit more seriously. From the gun it took twelve seconds for me to even cross the line, and after that getting into any position to move took plenty of dodging between older raisins chucking along in tube socks and nylon jerseys. By the end of 2k I was running alone with just a few others stretched out in front and back of me. I tortured myself through the seventh kilometer, just waiting for the point when we’d start to circle back towards the finish line. It wasn’t until another three minutes that I found the next gear on a narrow path under the shade of trees. I wound up 11th, which isn’t too bad considering I ran it alone and had no one to impress. (A side note, after the race I ran into another ALT who’d just arrived from England and wound up eating lunch at the beach. It was pretty cool not to rely on the regular events or social media and meet someone the old fashion way. As a foreigner, I think it’s hit or miss in this area to strike up a random conversation with someone friendly. Usually they only think I’m asking for directions.)

After that race in September I had my final 10k of the season in late October. The weather here is much nicer that what I was used to in final season championships back in Minnesota, so it wasn’t too bad. The race was sandwiched perfectly between two bouts of rain. I wound up second to the guy who beat me in the first race. Could that all really have happened over eight months ago?

I lost my fitness again, a bit, over the winter. From the beginning of the year I signed up for four races all within five weeks to keep me motivated. As far as I know races in Japan don’t let you sign up the day of, and the deadline for even local races can be months before the actual event. I came in prepared and spent over $100 on entrance fees by the end of February. The snow this winter was pretty mild, too, so it didn’t inhibit my will to run. I made a task out of running everyday by April. Thanks to tests at school, club practices were cancelled, so I had to run at my own pace with no excuse to slow down.

The first race was local, just in the neighboring city. I got there by train in the early morning, and after wondering around to check in and find a place to put my stuff I ran into another English teacher.

“Hey are you running! I hurt my leg, but a couple other ALTs are here doing it to. Do you want me to watch your stuff?”

It’s always better to have someone at a race. Even if the chills and anxiety are fleeting, a familiar face does a lot to cheer up an over serious mood. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about where I’d put my stuff. (Being this is a small town in Japan, I wouldn’t worry anyway, but just saying.)

The race was quite like jumping into a pool for the first time in the summer. While you’ve leapt into the air you get the sudden sense that you’re body isn’t quite ready for this because although it’s hot out, that water is freezing cold. Then the plunge excited you and sure your body reacts badly, but once you stretch out and bob you realize the feeling is kind of nice. I started in the middle of the pack again behind guys twice my age. This was like waiting in line for the diving board. The start was actually on half a track so I wove between the legs, as the real leaders took off. I had a pace in mind and came through the first kilo in 3:30. Was this too fast or too slow? I tried to do the math. Ten kilometers, 3:30 a clip, would put me at 33 minutes, right? That’s not too bad. I ran through the second k thinking this way. Wait, that’s wrong, though, that’s not how minutes work. I readjusted and figured I was going ten seconds too slow in the start which would put me right on time for this split. I think.

Running is a sport to focus on the ahead. It’s a sport to ignore all thoughts in your brain. It is not a sport to be thinking about math outside of a base ten system.

By the halfway point I thought I was right on time, and I’d been holding back to make sure I had enough energy for the finish. I picked up the pace, taking a couple of guys drafting with me. By the time we were less than a mile I was running alone with death sucking the air from my lungs. I couldn’t pull out any more energy like that, but managed to stave off any chasers. I wound up third. Alright, but admittedly unprepared.

I rented a car for the next race. It was in Ono, a mountainous town over an hour away. I was in much better shape two weeks after the first race, and even came with energy gels for before the race and muffins for after. I wrote the pace on my arm this time: 3:18, 6:36, 9:54… I’m genuinely surprised at how many people come out for these events. They fill all kinds of races from family 2ks to high school 5s. The biggest contrast being, I never see a lot of people running around. Like, does anyone practice to race, or do they just live healthy enough lifestyles to wing it. In the US I think it’s the opposite. Everyone is keen on getting out and showing off their bodies by the lake or bike path, but when it comes to actually competing the races are left to more serious runners. I guess there are pluses and minuses to each.

ono marathon field of participations

I tried to restrain myself from the start as the leaders didn’t go out too far ahead of me, but still seemed a bit over my pace. I didn’t want to run alone, but we also caught up to the previous half marathon that went off five minutes before, so it wasn’t like I didn’t get a gust of enthusiasm every time I passed someone. There was a point during the third kilo when we finally broke into flat land, surrounded by green rice fields and the encircling mountains. It was about that time my brain was complaining to my body for working too hard. I took the moment to look around and soak in everything. It was beautiful, the best sort of distraction, and refreshed every part of the race. I was behind my pace, and behind the leaders, but I had the mindset to keep driving.

Reaching the halfway point, I started to panic. Picking up the pace wasn’t pulling me any closer to the leading two runners, and as much as running is physical it’s also mental. I knew I had to act. I had to get at least right behind them before we turned around. If they saw how far behind I was they’d only get a boost to keep it that way. I myself would also suffer a perspective of futility. I pushed toward them, glancing at my watch, calculating the possibility of making it. And then they reached the cone, and turned around, and still fifteen meters behind in a crowd of upbeat half-marathoners, I turned around after them. And then I did something stupid. I surged.

It was a ridiculous and bold move that I’ve certainly never tried before. It wasn’t a surge, but a full on sprint, like watching the final kick of a two mile, but just halfway through the race. I didn’t actually mean to go so fast. I whipped past the guy in second already dropping behind, and then met the guy in first and kept going. With a couple of strides more I thought I was done for. The pace was unsustainable and I just waited for the moment that my legs stopped moving. I did slow down, but my watch was not far off from the pace I wanted. More importantly, I’m pretty sure I passed that crushing mentality I was trying to avoid onto the runner I’d passed. With no one ahead of me this time, I had nothing but the bike ahead of me to try and catch up to. It was a fun notion, like track dogs chasing a rabbit, an irrational motivation that I somehow believed was attainable. If only I could get closer to him, and draft away from this horrible wind, for just a little while.

ono meisui marathon award ceremony

I ended up winning that race. The first win for me in Japan, actually. It felt good, and when I crossed the finish line I became revitalized. Out of all the races I’ve done, this certainly was the one to win, too. When we lined up for the award ceremony I bowed and received my certificate. Then I got an even bigger certificate, and a trophy. They put a medal around my neck and handed me a keychain. To top it all off, my full hands were given a final paper bag with a container of locally made miso.

The next week I traveled south, to go to a race that some of my former students were participating it. They’re a few that went to this high school specifically for running, so I was excited to see if they improved. The course was entirely on a highway, without so much of the good views as the previous. I knew before I ran I had to be careful because there was a long straightaway and the wind was absolutely brutal. My first kilometer was 3:05 versus my last which was about 3:33. I got a bit swept into excitement at having some people there who’d be watching my race, but I also paid attention to something I hadn’t before: the record. Now that I’d won a race it wouldn’t be much of a goal to just keep winning. I needed to go for the next step: be the most winningest of them all. Some of these race records have held up over decades, so they wouldn’t fall easily. But they also weren’t to far off my current time, or my best. Unfortunately, without preparation and the right mindset, I fell short of getting this one by half a minute. The wind on the final stretch slaughtered any hopes. Even if I thought to push forward a bit, it walloped me back tenfold. I still won, with minutes between me and second place, and got a few rewards for the effort (although, they were pickled vegetables which I don’t quite have a taste for). I stuck around to enjoy the weather and talk to my students, two who’d just started school in April and one who’d graduated last year, and was very thankful they’re English hasn’t degenerated to just “I have a pen” quite yet.

dillon with mikata high school runners and awards

The last of my races until end of July was on June 11. It was at the Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama. I drove up with my neighbor, Yukie, because she’s from the nearby area. We met her family, an aunt who’s 87, and went to the race a bit early. I’d just come off of a rotten week where I had full on flu and even took a sick day for the first time in my life. Put that together with a runner from out of state who held the current 10k record from the previous year’s race and I was maybe doomed from the start. On my warm up I ran into the guy who’d gotten third place from the race I ran in Ono. I suppose I’m easy to recognize, but I noticed him because his hair is relatively curly and  height above average for Japan.  He told me he was also a teacher in the nearby area, where he grew up, and mostly he ran races to stay fit for skiing in the winter.

“Do you know cross country skiing?” He asked in Japanese.

“You can do that here?!”

For all my time in Japan — especially living near a nationally renowned ski resort — I’ve had to explain to people that I in fact do ski, but it’s not the downhill kind, and thus the kind that they maybe even didn’t know existed. He told me about the areas that were OK for nordic skiing, and that his older brother was a world competitor on the Japan team. Being that I’ve never gone downhill skiing here, I doubt I’ll ever have the means to go cross country, but since he’s almost the same size as me, it’s nice to know there’s an option.

From the beginning I took the race a bit fast in the lead. Most of the first half was entirely downhill, though, so with my long legs I tried to use that as an advantage. Almost immediately I could feel the effects of the flu dragging on my muscles. The entire thing was a drag, and I when we finally left the wooded area in the sun, I was passed. It wasn’t until halfway that I found the spirit to actually try and catch up. For a while I was, too, but the leader also had the energy to split the distance between us. The final 2k seemed an impossibly long distance to cover in seven minutes, and it actually took me a bit longer. I had no clue who was behind me, but when I crossed the finish line it wasn’t too long before my warm-up partner finished in third. Well, I guess I get to focus on winning again.

dillon in front of dinosaur head at katsuyama marathon katsuyama marathon 10k winners

Five weeks of four races isn’t really the smartest thing to do, but with the heat of the summer rolling in, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunities. I’m taking a week off (with plans to go to Tokyo), and then will have another month until my next race. That one is local so I’ll have to try even harder to guarantee I win.