Saturday, February 27, 2010

My little secret

Hey Blogbuds,

I have to tell you I've been keeping something from you. I truly meant no harm, but I have this awful thing about saying things and jinxing them.

Hopefully I can't jinx it, since I'm already on location and it's going down in 7 hours. But anyhow, the secret...

I am performing in Tokyo!!!

It's not really a big deal. Just a small club. I'll be reading Maya Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman" and an original piece. Still, I'm PSYCHED!!! It sounds so cool to say I performed in Tokyo!!!

I'll post the piece and a report afterwards.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The World

"To the world, you may be just another girl,
But to me, Baby you are the world!"

- The World (Brad Paisley)

I was talking to my ex yesterday. Only he's just barely my ex. We "dated" back in school days when dating equaled holding hands and smiling and kissing. Oodles and oodles of kissing! :D

I was like 14 at the time.

Obviously I don't count him as the great love of my life or anything. But yesterday, while we were talking he said something to me that made it clear just how important I am to him. I can't remember it word for word, but the conversation went something like this.

Me: Why are you telling me these things?
Ex: I just feel close to you.
Me: But we hardly talk and I live on the other side of the world.
Ex: I know. It's hard to explain. I like you so much that I'd be your friend forever, but I love you so much I'd be your lover.

It was weirdly sweet.

Even more so because it had never occurred to me that I might mean something to him. It was so long ago. I thought I was just a girl he held hands with. And smiled at. And kissed. Lots and lots.

This isn't the first time this has happened. On both the romantic and platonic fronts, I've had people say to me, "I know we don't spend a lot of time together, but I [insert incredibly amazing thing] you."

It's something to hold onto in those days when all is not quite right with the world. The days when you feel like you might disappear from the planet and noone would notice. Or worse yet, the days that you feel like the most major thing your death would cause is an argument about who should pay for the funeral.

It's cliche. But as I always say, cliches exist for a reason. Cause they're mostly true.

To someone, somewhere, you mean more than you know. Sometimes they tell you. Sometimes you will never know.

To someone, you are the world.

Somewhere out there from American Tail (movie version)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Power of the Word! (Waw)

It's another Write Away Wednesday, folks. Today we're talking about the Word. The basic building block of the author's prowess.

Last week in Bible Study, my friends and I wondered why it is that we pray out loud. I mean, if God knows all the desires of your heart, he doesn't need for you to say them, does he?

The conclusion I reached? Humans need words!

When we are born, we have only thoughts.

"I'm hungry."
"If I bite this, it's hard."
"If I bite this, it's soft."

And then we learn to speak and our thoughts become more complex. It's a bit of a chicken and egg argument for me.

Would our thoughts be this complex if we didn't have words to express them?
Would we need words if we didn't have complex thoughts?

Whatever the arrangement, at the end of it all, we depend on words. Even when there's noone around, we solidify our thoughts with words, maybe out loud, maybe in our head. We often think in words. Only when a thought is completely sensory (the beauty of a painting, the nostalgia of the smell of homecooked tomato sauce) that we seem able to avoid words.

Isn't that ridiculous? We take the pure ideas of our thoughts and confine them into restrictive words within our own minds! And somehow this restriction makes us MORE expressive.

Words bring order to our thoughts.

And words can do other things for us.

They can help us reason. When we're trying to make important decisions, we make lists in our heads or on paper of pros and cons. The situation hasn't changed at the end of our list, but we can understand the best path more clearly.

They can comfort us. When something's wrong, it often helps to talk it out. At the end of the conversation, the sky is still falling, but we feel like we've got an umbrella now.

They can change us. When I started this blog, I started it to encompass everything I do and everything I'm interested in: Japan, music, fitness, foreign languages, travel, and writing. When I started out I was a girl who wrote. Thanks to the blog and the people I've met as a result, I am now a writer! (Thanks Marsha, Jon Paul, Natalie, Jen, Julia, Erin for inspiring me in so many ways!)

They can give us an immense amount of power.

"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me!"

Really? What delusional soul told you that?

Of course words can hurt! And they can heal. And they can convince people of an opinion, or make them doubt the ones they were raised with. They can create beautiful new worlds or expose the flaws in the current one. They can exalt or they can devastate.

You are the wordsmith. You have the power. Word?

Imagine that! (Fo!F)

Japanese people have no imagination!

Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. A little one. lol.

Japanese society focuses on the whole. The group is more important than the individual. Quite the opposite of Western society.

This might seem like a little difference, but the group mentality is the root of a slew of differences between Japan and the West. One of the big ones for me: the inability/decision not to use imagination.

I found this out the hard way when I first came to Japan. I was playing a game with the elementary school 6th graders, and I let them choose team names. 10 minutes before class ended we were finally able to start the game.

Because they don't use their imagination, they expect the obvious to be spelled out. When they tell jokes, they often explain the punch line after they say it!

For me, one of the interesting forms this difference in thinkingg takes is in the naming of movies. It's never anything close to the English title. For example "Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac" becomes "Somebody Kissed Me"

"It's complicated" turns into the "Love-making Bakery"

"The Proposal" turns into " You will become my groom"

And "Up" becomes "Grandpa Carl's Flying House in the Sky"

Well, well. Imagine That!

And here's the 4th instalment of Iwate Swan.

And in case you wonder, yes I can do that dance :D

Time Travel Tuesday!

First off, let me apologise for the break in transmission.

I would love to offer you a reason, but it doesn't exist. And I will not make empty excuses. Please forgive me!

Now then, on to the business of the day!

Time Travel Tuesday!

From now on, I'll be giving you a little blast from the past on Tuesdays. I can't say for sure right now everything that will be included, but I'm pretty sure there will always be music.

Today's blast from the past: 2 songs from TLC

Unpretty (just lyrics to view music video click here) from 1999

Waterfalls from 1994/5

TLC stands for T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili. Originally, it stood for Tionne, Lisa and Crystal, but Crystal was later replaced by Rozonda, nicknamed Chili, so they wouldn't have to change the name of the group.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book Reviews! Creative Writing MFA (WaW)

You already know my opinion on writing and reading. Writers have to be readers. As such, I've started reviewing books on

Click here to see my first review.

It's searchable, so if you're looking for something to read, venture on over and have a gander.

Also, I just bought a copy of The Creative Writing Handbook by Tom Kealey. I was very surprised it got to Japan so fast. Way to go Amazon!

I read it pretty much cover to cover last night.

I'll give you the downsides first: It barely skims over low-residency programs and there is little information for non-US students, or international programs. If those things are not an issue for you then it's a great read!

Despite the name, Kealey also offers information on MA programs, as well as a spattering of info about PhDs. He explains the difference between the MA and the MFA, and how you should go about deciding which one is for you. He breaks down the considerations you should make when choosing your school and when deciding which offer to accept.

Kealey also gives us a step-by-step walkthrough of the application process, including interviews with application committee members, who you should have as your reccommenders and what you should include in your personal statement.

The feature I found most useful was Kealey's analysis of the programs. He listed what he considered to the best programs in the USA, along with why he thought that, and the highs and lows of each of them. He also noted which ones made it to the top 5, top 10 and top 20, and on occasion referenced the US News and World Report's 1997 rankings, which are probably the most well-known rankings of CW programs but are now more than a decade old.

The combination of tools that Tom Kealey provides should be enough to guide an potential MFA student through the process from start (should I get an MFA?) to finish (I've arrived at my new school, now what?). If you're considering an MFA, especially if your undergraduate major wasn't English, you should get this book!

Give it up!

Just saw a friend's post on facebook about what she's giving up for Lent.

In Japan, they're not Christian, so Lent always sneaks up on me. And then I can't think of anything to give up.

The main reason for this:

There isn't anything that it would really cost me to give up.

Is it just me or is that kinda depressing?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Quitting: Not Just for Losers! (MoMM)

There's a language course run by the administrators of my program. It's generally recognised as a pain in the butt by the least averse to it. The most averse think its the worst way to learn Japanese in the history of - well, learning Japanese.

5 days a week for six months, you have to study a lesson. Each lesson contains a listening practice, a dialogue, 2 grammar points, new vocabulary and 2 exercises. It's not bad once in a while. But every day for six months...

Each book has a deadline date. If you have 5 of the 6 tests in by deadline, and you pass them with 70% then you pass the course. Or you can send in all 6 tests before the deadline for Book 6 and still pass.

Today was the deadline for Book 3. Judging by the title of this post , you can guess where the Book 3 test is.

I would love to be able to say that is the first time I quit something, but it isn't.

But I don't feel bad about it. Cuz I usually have a lot on plate anyhow. Outside of the course, I study Japanese on my own. And I try to write every day. And (theoretically) I work out an hour or so, 3 days a week. I spend an hour a day researching MFA programs. I try to watch something in Japanese every day. And in the midst of all that, I have to find time to work, eat and sleep (in order of priority).

All that preamble to say this. There are times when quitting is the best thing to do.

If it's something that's preventing you from doing something more important: QUIT!

If it's going to be detrimental in the long run: QUIT!

If it's completely pointless, AND difficult to do: QUIT!

If it's taking more time than it's ultimately worth: QUIT!

Sometimes ya just gotta quit to get ahead!

It's Monday, and that's what's on My Mind!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Here we go again!

Me--------------- (JUMP) ---------------> Fitness Bandwagon

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yuki Matsuri (FoF)

I am writing today from Sapporo, the site of the World's Best Snow Festival! Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, which is the northernmost of Japan's 4 main islands. The snow festival is in its 61st year and is held every year in the week ending February 11 (National Foundation Day).

I'm just going to let the pictures do the talking today.

Here I am with the Tower and Marimo, the mascot of Hokkaido.

The smoking area was an ice sculpture!

Most of the stages were ice or snow sculptures.

People were snowboarding on a slope made on scaffolding!

JAL's "Northern Zooland"

"Where Dreams Come True"

"Michael Forever"

Korean Royal Palace


Thomas, the tank engine

Chibi Maruko

NZ's entry for the International Competition "Taniwha"

Hong Kong's entry was the God of Art and Literature, but I don't know why the guy on all fours has something sticking in his butt...

As far as Japan is concerned, Hawaii is a country!

Thailand won!

I love Stitch!



This was my favourite sculpture. As a writer, I love the concept!

Once in a while, Japan is the coolest place on Earth! Today has been a Far out Friday!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Getting RAWW! (Waw)

Today, I'm going to be black.

Having grown up on an island where 95% of people are black, I have always been just me. I wasn't defined as a black female (women are also in the majority), but by other factors. So it's not often that I come on strong in race, minority, discrimination discussions.

Did you notice the brand new sticker on the right of my page? RAWW- Readers against Whitewashing. What's whitewashing? It's where a person of a different ethnicity is portrayed as white. It happened a few times with novel covers, where the cover portrayed a white person, even though the character had been described as dark or black. The two covers at the top of this post were both for the book Liar. The one of the right was only removed after protests by the author and the public.

Now the phenomenon is becoming more prevalent in the movies. Remember Goku in Dragonball Evolution? Or long before that, Tom Cruise, the Last (white) Samurai!

I watched Tropic Thunder over the weekend, and they jokingly had Robert Dinero play a black man. It was funny. It was supposed to be. It was a spoof. But what I didn't think about is that spoofs are always based on something. While it's not often that a black character is played by a white person outside of comedy (I can only think of Worf from Star Trek) this happens to East Asians, Southeast Asians and Native Americans all the time.

The latest culprit: Avatar. Coming to the big screen as The Last Airbender, Chinese/Taiwanese/Tibetan/Bhuddist Aang and Inuit/Eskimo/Native American Katara and Sokka have been whitewashed. (Sokka is played by Twilight's Jasper- Jackson Rathborne.) In a random twist, Japanese Zuko is played by Dev Patel (from Slumdog Millionaire) of East Indian descent. "Hmmm, let's at least throw a minority in there, it should make everybody happy!" Or not!

What's really going on here? Non-whites are good enough for the pages of books, but not for the covers?? They're good enough for animated series, but not live action features??

Is that really what the Entertainment industry is saying? Black people should stick to rap and R and B, East Asians should stick to animation and restaurants, and East Indians should go to Bollywood or drive cabs?? (Forgive me Native Americans, I haven't forgotten you. I just can't think of a nice stereotypical thing the media moguls might want you to do.)

Whether or not that's what they mean to say, that's the message that's coming across. And what can we do about it? It's not so easy to just boycott. Is it the actor's or author's fault when the bigwigs pull these stunts? But they will suffer alongside them from a boycott.

I'm really at a loss as how to proceed, but I can only hope the recent outcries will make the industry pro's sit up and take notice. And next time the geishas, shamans, medicine men won't be the wrong colour.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh freaking monkey bladders!!!

I decided to attend a writers' conference to bring my writing up to par, before I attempt to gain entry into an MFA program. So I emailed an excerpt from my latest work, Fire Bearer, to a conference director. Here are some juicy tidbits from her reply.

"especially the gripping excerpt from Fire Bearer, with tremendous interest"
"I'm very curious about the scope of the novel project, and would love to see a synopsis of it if you have that available"
"I guess you can see that I'm just interested in you and your work, which is largely where these additional questions are coming from."


How I feel:

Even a bit:

How I hope to feel when I calm down:

Anyhow, I'm gonna leave you fine folk now and head off to my silent shrieking (at work).

Btw, I got in for the conference, just in case you wondered. :)


Monday, February 8, 2010

Superbowl Media (Momm)

I'm not a big football fan, but I'll say this just for my friend, Jabari.


Now that's out of the way...

One of my favourite thing about the SuperBowl, and most major televised events, is the crazy ads that companies air. Here are a few of my faves from this year.

Betty White of the Golden Girls

Real real casual Fridays

Nice ditty for Dove

For Spineless Men! (Change outta that skirt!)

Oh, the sacrifices you'll make!

Watching the last three makes me kinda happy I'm a gal! lol!

And this? Sheer brilliance!

Advertising ROCKS!!!

And that's what's on my mind this Monday!

Friday, February 5, 2010

10 Rules of Iwate Winter OR WHAT? You don't have central heating or insulation in -12C? (fof!)

1. Put your toothpaste and deoderant in the fridge to avoid them freezing.

2. Defrost the washing machine drain before washing to avoid turning the wash room into a frozen lake.

3. Give up on washing your hair. Your conditioner will freeze and the shampoo will be so cold you won't want to touch it.

4. Dry off faucet after use, to minimise icicles forming inside them.

5. Do not stand directly in front of the shower head to avoid being shot by said icicles when you turn on the water.

6. Turn on the water in the shower before getting in to melt the ice stalagmites.

7. Don't leave water in containers in the sink. Everything freezes together.

8. Do leave water in the kettle. If the faucets freeze, you'll need to run boiling water over them.

9. Get used to wearing cold clothes. Your clothes will never again be warm. NEVER!!!

10. Love your toes. Every second you still have ten of them, is a good second.

And now instalment 3 of Iwate Swan:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who died and made you King of all things English?


Excuse me a minute, I'm about to go OFF!

I can't understand US universities that require TOEFL from ALL International students.

(In case you don't know, TOEFL is Test of English as a Foreign Language)

I understand requiring a TOEFL from natives of countries where English is not the first language

Or where a person's first degree isn't from an instution where the language of instruction is English

I can even excuse the institutions who will exempt International students from the TOEFL requirement for having a US undergraduate degree.

BUT to require a Language proficiency exam of ALL International students??? What an insult!

You (America) comes along to find a language already in existence, you take that language and mutate it, and then you make the people who created the language (and those who study in their system) take exams???


Understand where I am coming from. My native language is English. The Queen's English. I've spoken it all my life. I've done O' Levels (the exams Harry Potter takes in his 5th year, except in regular subjects instead of magic) in English Literature and Language, I've done SAT's, I've been accepted into and studied in the hardest college to get into (back in 2000) in the US, I've done an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university and I am currently A FRIKKING ENGLISH TEACHER!!!!

And you want me to go sit in a room with MY FRIKKING STUDENTS and DO THE SAME DAMN TEST?

Surely, you jest!

If it weren't so utterly ridiculous, it might be funny. The monolinguistic Gods of all things anglophone want to question me. ME- NATIVE speaker of English and speaker of FOUR OTHER LANGUAGES! Yeah, it might just be funny some day.

The weird thing is, I have considered taking the test. My most advanced students are only 16, and I doubt they'd be taking the TOEFL just yet. But as a teacher of English as Foreign Language, I would like to see what the students are up against. So I might take a TOEFL one day. But not as a way of proving that I speak MY OWN LANGUAGE!


So for right now, I'm just striking every school that requires the TOEFL of ALL students from my list. To be sure, a few really good schools will bite the dust. But. as far as I'm concerned, a graduate school is a place that's supposed to foster new contributions to academic thought. If a graduate school isn't internationally-minded enough to realise that America is not the be-all and end-all of anything, ESPECIALLY NOT English language, then they can't foster anything but disdain in me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Road to MFA: The Shortlist (waw)

In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm in the market for an MFA in Creative Writing.

I've been researching low-residency programs, because I don't think I can afford to just wander off work financially. My undergraduate degree is in foreign languages so I don't see anyone giving me an internship to teach Writing or English, and if I get a loan now, it may prevent me from getting one for my Doctorate.

Low residency programs generally require you to go to a 10 day residency once or twice a year, and the rest is done online.

Here are my top choices. so far, along with the reason I chose them.

1. UBC- University of British Columbia, British Columbia
one optional residency per year, translation as a genre, 7 genres to choose from
3.0 Undergraduate GPA is required (I have a 2.7)

2. University of New Orleans
one residency a year in MEXICO!!!, literature courses
The residency lasts a whole month and Mexico would a pain to get to from Japan. Plus they ask for GRE (ARGH!)

3. Rainier at Pacific Lutheran University (Washington).
One residency a year, $8700 USD/yr including residency accommodation, Washington is easy to get to from Japan.
Takes 3 years and getting to Washington, after my return to Barbados, would be pretty difficult.

4. Spalding (Kentucky)
Summer semesters are all over the world, Possibility of funding
Residencies are at odd times (late May, November, early March) and I'm a teacher. Plus, the summer semester plan takes 4 years. Spring and Fall residencies in Kentucky (from outside the US, Kentucky is a pain to get to.)

5. Vermont College of Fine Arts
Possibility of dual concentration with translation, fantastic program
To get to Montpelier, VT I'd have to fly to NYC or BOS and take a bus, or fly through one of them to Burlington, and still take a bus.

So that's my top 5. I'm not applying until August at the earliest and I won't start until next summer, but I get carried away pretty easily! :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Feed Your Passions!

"Take your passion, make it happen!" Irene Cara, What a Feeling from FlashDance.

I got this idea from one fo the fantastic blogger friends I've made. She related a story about a tv show, where the host claimed food tasted better if cooked with passion. And then she correlated it to her weightloss efforts. Maybe she'd lose more, if she did it with passion.

I think there couldn't have beena better time for me to hear this. After all, it is February, the month of Valentine's, a day loved and dreaded worldwide. It's the month of love, and what is love if not passion? And I don't just mean romatic love. If one of your "platonic love" friends or family get themselves in some sort of trouble, you'd find out how passionate other types of love can be in a hurry.

We often forget, when Valentine's Day rolls around (and every other day of the year) about certain types of love. There's a love hierarchy when it comes to the spotlight. The one we see most highlighted is Romantic Love, then the type of love you feel for your friends and the type you feel your family are duking it out for second. But we forget one type of love.

This year, for the month of February, love yourself! Things that you want to do, but don't have time for or things you think are frivolous pursuits or things you've always dreamt of doing, do them this month!

For me, that means working on my writing, and on getting in to a writing MFA. And also working on my foreign language and translation skills in French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. I'm feeding my passions this month, and I challenge you to do the same!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Just Can't Do without it! (MoMM)

Today, the internet went down at work for half the day. We spent the entire morning arguing about who should go and ask the Supervisor what was up. (Our Supervisor is- um- "interesting", so, short of the world imploding, we avaoid having to go ask him anything. )

Anyhow, by the end of the morning, my male colleague, C was going stir-crazy, and I'm sure that my female colleague Ss and myself weren't too far behind.

I know you're going to wonder about internet use at work. Well, here's our situation. We (and many others on the JET program) have a non-teaching day. On that day, we go sit in the Board of Education. We aren't required to do anything, just give them 8 hours of our lives. We've all had times we wished we could get paid to do nothing, but let me tell you it gets old fast.

So today, we were stuck in our office, with no internet.

And it occurred to me, how important the internet had become. And it also occured to me that 15 years ago, most people probably spent less than hour online, just checking their mail. Heck, many people didn't even have email!

How much the world can change in a relatively short time!

Human nature I guess. After all, you go through your whole life on your own, and then sob your heart out for days, weeks or months when you break up with your significant other. Cuz when we get used to something, we just can't do without it!