Monday, January 30, 2012

Still cold

Hey honeys,

I hope you've missed me :)

The reason for the disappearing act is that it's still cold. Like -16 Celcius (3.2 Farenheit). INSIDE. I'm now at the point where all but one of the running water outlets in the house are frozen. (Toilet bit the dust this morning.) I've given up on cooking since there's no water in the kitchen. I don't wash clothes since I've no intention of turning half the house into a skating rink again.

By the time this cold snap is over, it will have been 14 days in a below freezing house. I've only got to make it to Saturday when we get up to a fabulous 2 degrees Celcius! YAY!

I'm sorry, but when it's this cold, it's really hard to think about anything else. It's Monday, that's what's on my mind.

Monday, January 23, 2012


It amazes me how often people are ashamed of things over which they have no control. Like bodily function. I thought about it today in the bathroom at work. You know how, when you're in a public bathroom, you don't want anyone to hear a single noise. Here in Japan, they'll go as far as flushing the toilet while they use it, so you can't hear. Or in some cases, Japan's complicated toilets, there are buttons which make a flushing noise, or better yet, play music.

This particular toilet unfortunately doesn't sing. It just has the most complicated bidet system known to man.

This shame doesn't just stay in the restroom. It's all around.

When your legs stick to the plastic of your chair and make a funny noise when you get up
When a girl first gets her monthly visitor
Diarrhea (Gastroenteritis is interesting in that people will freely talk about food coming back up one end, but not about it running out the other)
The first time you let one rip (belch or fart) in front of a new friend or significant other
One time, a coworker was ashamed about how little urine he put in the urine container for the medical

These things are all natural and happen to everybody or a majority of people. But it's not even just in the physical. We're ashamed of many other things that we can't change.

People are often ashamed of they best they can be because it's less than what someone else can do. Some people are ashamed of getting a B grade, even when they try their hardest. Some people are ashamed when by the efforts they make at something creative or technical or academic. I was ashamed today at the gym, when a senior citizen "ran laps around me" on the treadmill.

I think the most common thing that people are ashamed of is failure. When your effort isn't good enough, or it doesn't measure up to someone else's. But it's just like it was with the physical, everybody goes through these things. Everybody has something they wish they were better at. Additionally, many of the people you compare yourself to, are good now, because they were once bad and pressed through it. They once failed in the most epic of ways, but knew that success lies on the sunny side of Mt. Failure.

There's no shame in being human. The only shame is in not trying to be a good one.

It's Monday, that's what's on my mind. (And yes, I did think through the bones of this post over a Japanese squatty potty.  Brings new meaning to "brain in the toilet.")

 I took this picture in a bathroom at the 8th station on Mt Fuji. (Seriously!) Apparently, Elvis drops his pink, frilly shorts to use a squatty potty and a cat cheers him on. The air is pretty rare on Fuji.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sumimasen - The Japanese art of apology

Spend 5 minutes in Japan and you'll hear it.


It's the most common form of apology. More polite than "gomen" used with friends and children. Less formal than the complex "moushi wake arimasen."

For a Westerner, it's shocking. Japanese people are always apologising. And when you live in this culture, you're expected to apologise in the same way as well. If you have an accident on your personal time in your personal car, you're expected to apologise to your boss. When you leave work, you apologise to the people you've left behind. Almost any time you walk up to a colleague, your conversation starts with a "sumimasen." 

Sometimes, this causes some cultural problems. People are resistant to apologise, especially when it's not their fault. Even more so, when they are not sure there's a fault to be had. Once, I had to apologise for getting to school at 7.32, for a 7.55 departure for a trip!

It's taken me almost 4 years to realise that sumimasen is not about blame. When I first started watching anime, 4 months into my stint in Japan, I only understood a little Japanese. But even with my little, I'd listen to the Japanese, and read the English subtitles, and laugh. That's not what he said! After a while, I remembered the intricacies of subtitling (around 72 spaces and 4-6 seconds per subtitle). I also spent time trying to explain words like "gaman" and "ganbatte" (posts for another time) to friends and family. As opposed to French and Spanish and Italian, where English speakers had the same experiences or often were familiar with them (ex siesta), Japan operated under a completely different set of rules. It is often impossible to translate in a strict "this Japanese word means this English word" sense.

Sumimasen sometimes means "Excuse me," calling someone's attention. But even when it's the apologetic sumimasen, it doesn't always mean you've done something wrong. It may mean that you've done something that puts yourself ahead of your colleagues (bad in Japan's harmonic society). It may mean that something you did inconvenienced someone else, whether or not it's your fault. It may even mean thank you, in the sense of, "oh, you shouldn't have." I later found out that the reason I had to apologise for being "late" for the trip was that there's an unwritten rule, that you get to these things 1/2 hour early, and when I wasn't there, it caused other teachers to worry. (Sadly, this kind of thing happens a lot, because I have no idea of the unwritten cultural rules.)

I hope that gives a little insight into Japanese language and society. If it doesn't, then there's only one thing left to say.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

We love what we're not

You're probably sick of me droning on and on about the fact that I'm watching Gilmore Girls :) I'll try and be better about it next next week. But today, I was thinking about why I'm so into it.

I'm witty. Hang around for more than 10 seconds and you know that my brain makes all these crazy leaps, that make sense after you've seen them, but never before. (Like yesterday's post about Monsters Inc. and writing.) But what Lorelai and Rory are that I'm not, is subdued, controlled. They've always got a witty comeback, and they choice to use it, rather than the easier response of shrieking, talking too loudly, or saying, "WHAT?"

I'm a lot of things, but I'm not controlled. And I'm definitely not subdued. I'm a funny person - in person, if not online - but my humour is more like a less irreverant Katt Williams, than like Juno. Humour jumps (loudly) out of my mouth as fast as it jumps into my brain.

So one thing that I really love about Lorelai and Rory, is that dry humour. That ability to just drop a one-liner and leave it alone. That's so not me. And I love it for that.

I don't think this is some earth-shattering revelation or anything. But I hear, especially in the YA world, lots of talk about people needing books about people like them. It's not always the case. Sometimes we need stories about things we're afraid to be, or would never do in a million years. Sometimes we want to read about people who we could never be like in a million years. It's okay to wish we were different sometimes.

Sometimes we love what we're not.

(PS, Sorry if I'm too philosophical this week. I'm in a cloud and can't seem to find my way back to practical earth. :( )

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A writing lesson from Monsters Inc.

If you haven't watched Disney/Pixar's Monsters Inc. yet, you might want to go do that before you read this post. Go on, I'll wait.

In Monsters Inc., the scary beings that live in closets and under the bed really do exist. But they don't walk around scaring kids for the fun of it. The energy of screams is used to power their city. In recent times, children are becoming less and less frightened, and so everyone is worried about the future of energy. (Seriously how does Pixar do these films with deeper meanings like that?)

One day, a little girl accidentally slips into the monsters' city. Hilariously, they are more afraid of her than she of them, thinking that she's a contamination. Her being in the city brings about an incredible discovery. She laughs and everything shortcircuits. The monsters have never seen anything like it.

How's that for a writing lesson?

Remember that old school thought that people had to be Drunk, Drugged, or Depressed to write? We don't take it that far these days, but we do bend ourselves over backwards sometimes. At the end of the day,  if you're sadt, don't think it's your only option for generating a result.

In the same way that the power grid couldn't handle the little girl's laughter, there is tremendous energy in our happiness. If things are hard, take a break. Do something you really enjoy. Your writing won't suffer for you being happy. According to Sully, the main character in Monsters Inc., "Laughter is ten times more powerful than Scream."

Go ahead. Enjoy yourself. I dare you.

This post was inspired by a post by Elana Johnson. SURRENDER, the second book in her dystopian series, will be out soon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Like a girl, but not

Thanks for the "warm" comments yesterday. You might notice my neighbour also commented. It's not that it's terribly cold here; there are colder places. It's just that our houses have NO INSULATION WHATSOEVER. You can't really expect to live like that in  -10 Celcius. Anyhow today was a much better day in general.

I mentioned yesterday that my Complete Series of Gilmore Girls and Dawson's Creek arrived. I was so psyched that I also mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter. A friend from back home tweeted back:

Dawson's Creek & Gilmore Girls??....u r such a girl!!!
And I am. I live on girly shows like this. I love Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives, and back in the day I was all over 90210 (although when I saw a rerun the other day, I realise that it was incredibly bad.) 
And that's not the only girly stuff I do. I LOVE PINK. I mean like it's a part of my soul or something. My PC is pink. My cell  phone is pink. My camera is pink. One of the two pairs of heels I have in Japan is pink. Lorelai said something on the second episode of Gilmore Girls that really encapsulated me and the pink. Her cute, furry alarm clock didn't go off and she woke up late. She said, "I really need to stop buying things just because they're furry!" That's me and pink. So many completely impractical purchases happened because of the pink. 
I also love Disney. I love all the Princesses and Princes. I've seen Tangled in 5 languages.That pink cellphone I mentioned? It's a Disney phone. (Japan is uber-cool for even having such a thing.) My ring tone is Part Of Your World (Little Mermaid). My text tone is Aloha E Komo Mai (Stitch). My alarms are The Best Thing I Never Knew I Needed (Princess and the Frog) and He's a Pirate (Pirates of the Caribbean). 
So, there are a few things that I do more girly than the girliest. 
But in other ways, I'm totally a tomboy. 

I never wear make-up. My hair always looks like something built a nest in it. I avoid skirts like the plague (getting better about this). I'm not a fan of chocolate or cheesecake or ice cream. I hate shopping unless it's books or movies. I love guy anime. (You know the fight-y type.)

In short, I'm  really girly until I'm not. What my friend said on Twitter reminded me of a point that I keep coming back to again and again. You can never assign a whole stereotype to a person. There will always be some points of departure. It's a good lesson to remember for life and for writing. 

How about you? How are you a girly girl or a manly man? How are you not?

Monday, January 16, 2012

24 hours from Hell and Heaven

There aren't any words to describe the last 24 hours, so I'm going to just tell you what happened.

Last night, I turned half my house into an ice rink! I guess it was kharma's way of getting back at me for grumbling about the cold last Monday.

It all started when I attempted to wash a load of laundry, forgetting that you only do laundry at midday in winter. I boiled water and defrosted the drain and the washing machine hose like a good girl. But apparently, I didn't defrost it well enough, and it overflowed into the shower room (toilet rooms are usually seperate here) and the kitchen.

Needless to say, I was pissed. I'm pretty sure it would be illegal to rent this house to anyone in most other winter countries. I mean, have you ever heard of someone defrosting their washing machine? And normally, I'm fine with the cold, but I'm tired of things breaking and freezing, that weren't meant to break or freeze.

I needed to vent. I tried calling a few friends back home, but they were all unavailable. I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back. I wasn't angry at them. But you can't guarantee anyone's availability but your own. I went into recluse mood. I switched off Facebook, all my IM programs, Skype, my cell. I decided I didn't need anybody at all.

As for the kitchen/ shower room, I had two choices, I could go trying to clean it up in the night and get frostbite, or let it freeze overnight, and defrost/mop in the morning. Y'all know which one I chose.

I woke up in a generally bad mood. I entered the shower room through the side door, bypassing the kitchen, and defrosted enough of it to be able to shower. Then I went to the mini mart for breakfast, because cooking while standing on a sheet of ice sounded like asking for trouble. Then I went to the office and talked my coworker's ear off.

I really, really, really didn't want to go to the municipal gym this evening. I only went because exercise helps bipolar disease, and last night's funk could easily slide into a depression. I walked into the training room and they were playing Madonna's "4 Minutes!"

Y'all don't even know how much of a change that is. The gym normally plays what I call 80's Dance Fab. My favourite track on the CD they're stuck on is Sinitta's "Cross My Broken Heart" (1987).

Seriously, she's wearing a unitard-dress. Oh 80's!
(Random fact: She dated Simon Cowell as a teen!)

Anyhow, someone must have bought the town a new CD, because I ended up working out to JT, Rihanna, Gnarls Barkley, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Pussycat Dolls and more. And, as I was the only one in the gym, I was totally belting them out between sets.

To top it off, one of the ladies from my English class, works there, and she gave me a ride home. (Normally have to take a taxi.) I'd only been home long enough to set up tomorrow's Hip Hop Dance class outfit to defrost (again, not kidding) when the postman knocked. (My doorbell is also broken. Sheesh, what isn't wrong with my house. lol.) He was bearing gifts. My birthday and Christmas presents to myself. The Complete Series of Dawson's Creek and Gilmore Girls!!! I'm such a 90's child.

I hope your day goes well! I'm off to hang with Rory and Lorelai.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Caribbean Context - Corporal Punishment

A Jamaican friend and I got to talking about corporal punishment, ie, spanking, lashing or, as we say in Barbados, licks. In the Caribbean, we're firm believers in "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

The Old School

There's an African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." In my parents' time, Barbados, Jamaica, and probably some of the other Caribbean islands also lived like this. You had to be careful that no adult that knew you, saw you do wrong. Say you were supposed to be walking home, and what you're actually doing is climbing the mahogany tree in the gully in your school uniform. Then Maisie from by the shop sees you. Licks.

It's moving away from that now. I never had it like that growing up, but there are parts of Barbados where it still happens.  I think there are 2 main reasons it's disappearing. First, there's the concept of "you can't do x-y-z to my child." I kind of hate this concept, because half the time it's just teaching the children to be rebellious (that parent who tells her child not to write the teachers' lines, etc.). The second reason is that "village life" is disappearing. Once upon a time, you'd know everyone within a 1/2 hour walking distance. Now, that happens less and less.


I speak under correction, since I left Barbados 4 years ago, and I'm going on my childhood, at least for the primary school system. In primary school, all teachers can administer corporal punishment. I'm not sure what the rule is, but all the regular teachers in my primary school only did lashes in the palm with a ruler. The headmistress had a strap (leather belt), but you had to do something pretty deviant for that to come out. I remember that when someone got the strap, it was an event. We'd all be gathered outside listening to count the lashes.

In secondary school, the rules are stricter. I think you have to be a senior teacher to administer corporal punishment. At my secondary school, only the head and deputy head ever did. At 2 of the 3 schools I taught at, I can think of cases where senior teachers did as well.

There is one instance where I don't support corporal punishment. There were, when I was growing up, teachers in primary school who would lash for academics. That was a great motivator for those who could do better. But for those who were academically challenged, it was just an eternal sentence. There was one teacher (at another school, where my best friend went to lessons) that was legendary for it, but I think it's pretty much died out now.


Most parents in Barbados and Jamaica still believe in lashes. This section is probably going to sound like some sort of human rights violation to those of you who grew up in non-physical-punishment countries. But here goes nothing.

A few parents will settle for a smack of the hand, but as a child grows older, that becomes less effective. There are 3 types of parents that continue on the corporal punishment route: any belt, any thing, special belt.

The any belt parent, I think, is self explanatory.

The anything parent is a special breed. This parent or grandparent, usually female, will use anything that comes to hand. They'll lash a child with a newspaper, a bedroom slipper, a curtain... If it's small, has a blunt edge and is found in a house, it's fair game.

Then there's the special belt parent. This special belt may have a name, and it's own special place in the house. Special belt parents seem to take joy in sending the child to get the belt. It's the worst psychological dilemma. You already know the lashes are coming, and now you have to be the instrument of your own un-doing.

Another thing that I'm not sure happens outside the Caribbean/Black families is per-word lashing. As a parent quarrels about whatever you've done, they punctuate each word with a lash. You-lash-think-lash-you's-lash-a-lash-big-lash-woman? Lash-coming-lash-home-lash-all-lash-hours?

As for "abuse". There's a line. It's just a lot further than where a lot of other developed nations think it is. Rest assured though, if your mother is routinely disciplining you, you don't even want to make the joke about calling police. That will not end well.

I realise that all of this sounds terrifying, like Caribbean women are all running around with chair legs, ready to knock their child unconscious, but that's not the case. I don't know how to explain it better except to say that our systems are just different. Honestly, I prefered the lashes to the "deprivation" tactics that I got later on - grounding, allowance restictions and the like.

Where did your parents and your society stand on corporal punishment? (I suspect the West Indies may be the last stronghold in the West.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

It's too cold to blog when...

You know it's too cold to blog when...

Your dirty dishes freeze together.

You forget an apple in a bag for a month and it doesn't go bad. 

You keep water in the kettle to boil in case you need to defrost the faucet. 

You have to defrost the washing machine drain before every use.

The fridge is warmer than the inside of the house.

You forget to put your gloves back on after your shower and your hands go numb before you even get out of the house.

You have to defrost your towel and the clothes you intend to put on before you shower.

You have to shoulder-ram the shower door open. 

Your suitcase freezes to the floor of the entranceway and you have to chisel it off to get out of your house.

You keep your toothpaste and deoderant in the fridge to avoid freezing.

Sorry about yesterday's lack of blog. I'll be up and running for sure next week, when I go back to school and have internet in a room with a temperature above 0 Celcius.

PS. These have all happened, but a few are from last year. So far this winter, I haven't had to defrost the washing machine, or put the deoderant in the fridge. Random fact: It's colder in my house on mornings than it is outside!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shop and Sing - TTT

Time Travel Tuesday, and today I'm taking you back in time with videos shot in supermarkets.

Everyday America, Sugarland, 2007.

Jizz in My Pants (NSFW, language), Lonely Planet, 2008 . It's only about 1/3 of the vid in the supermarket, but I couldn't leave them off the list! :)

Haven't Met You Yet, Michael Bublé, 2009 (My fave supermarket video!)

Gonna Get Over You, Sara Bareilles, 2011.Who doesn't want big hair and a leather jacket after that?

Any more supermarket vids that rock?

PS, If you hear about a black chick incarcerated for having a dance party in a Japanese supermarket, please call my mother. Thanks!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Talent Don't Cut It

I recently read over at Natalie Whipple's about when you're bad at something, and I wanted to deal with the flip of that situation: when you've got a natural talent.

I have a talent for foreign languages.

In my early years of secondary school (11-14), I was not a big fan of foreign languages. It was just another thing that the oppressive school system made teenagers struggle through. In fact, I was so opposed to languages that I dropped Spanish at the first opportunity.

Then I went to Martinique, a French Caribbean island. Suddenly French was not just conjugations. It was Montagne Pelee, and beaches at St. Anne. It was poutine and chi chi. It was reggae by Ruffneg and pop by Vanessa Paradis. It was hilarious tales of discovering that last night's dinner -lambi- was actually conch. It was my friends Glawdys, Ingrid, Cecil, Cindy, Thierry and Stefan. It was a living breathing thing. What I couldn't make heads or tails of before, suddenly turned into something so elemental that I soaked it up just by walking through it, like perfume sprayed into the air.

I ended up studying French for 11 years, all the way up to the end of university. I also picked Spanish back up. Then I did Italian for lack of a Japanese course. And then of course, I moved to Japan, and it became fairly neccessary to speak some sort of Japanese. Every time I start out with a new language, a certain basic bit of it just flows into me. That's talent.

But talent isn't the only thing.

Think of the story of the hare and the tortoise. The hare has a natural talent for moving quickly. The tortoise, sadly, does not. On talent alone, the hare wins the race, any way you slice it. But hard work, practice, and determination can overcome a lack of talent.

And just because you're talented doesn't mean you can breeze through. I recently watched a clip where Beyonce joked that she's a workaholic who doesn't know how to take a day off. Now when we think Beyonce, we probably don't think workaholic. We might think, "Dang, if I had vocal cords like that!" But it just goes to show, talent isn't everything.

Back to my languages, I don't really work at them. (Except Japanese- an absolute demon to learn as a native English-speaker.)  I can walk into France or Spain or Italy, and get by just fine. I can buy food, and find the places I want to go to, and even make friends with whom to discuss lofty topics like the last Harry Potter movie. But I know that I don't quite speak at the right level of politeness (especially in Japanese), that I make the occasional grammatical mistake and sometimes my vocabulary is missing a word that I need. I'm not "interpreter-level." I could get there, with some work. I just choose not to.

The point of this epic is this: don't rest on your laurels. You can get pretty far on talent alone. Heck, if you're talented enough, you might even be able to play with the big kids. But you won't ever live up to your real potential without putting in the work. Decide what's worth it, which things you really want to go for, and GO for them.

'Cuz talent alone? Just don't cut it!

S'Monday. That's what's on my mind.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Be a better bipolar

I'm bipolar. We've established this. I say it a lot on here. Y'all are probably sick of hearing me say it. (Sorry!)

Last year was a weird year. I spent the latter half of 2012 mildly depressed, i.e., not actually sad, but miles from happy and with no particular drive to do anything. I'm still trying to work my way out of that funk. The problem with being mildly depressed is that you don't have energy for anything above bare minimum. I go to work, do as little as possible, come home, eat, blog (sometimes) and hop in my bed. Extra-curricular stuff like writing, and studying doesn't happen. Too much effort.

This year, I want to start moving forward again. That means I need to get out of the depression and try for smooth sailing.


No offence to anyone in the psychiatric profession. I just really love this term. I want to shrink heads too! Erm, right. Step 1 of the plan was to go back to the doctor. For about 8 years, I've been off meds and off shrinks, dealing with my bipolar on my own. There are two reasons for that. I have this weird thing about being dependent - which in a weird twist is why I've never done any drugs (outside alcohol and one cigarette). Secondly, the doctors never got my meds right. I was always more manic, and I was beginning to feel like the meds were going to get me killed.

Going back to the doctor is easier said then done. I'm in Japan. Native language: Japanese. I could either go to a "nearby" psychiatrist, and have my sessions in Japanese, but who wants to try and think in their 5th language when they're supposed to be relaxing? Or, I could go to Sendai, 300 km away and either $100 US on the bullet train, or a 4-hour ride on the local (one way). I chose Sendai and made a vacation of it.

Being the most indecisive person in the world, I went to both English-speaking shrinks I could find. Now I have to cut one off, and I feel strangely like I'm dating two guys. The shrink visit(s) went well. And I now have meds again. And have to go back to Sendai, every 2 weeks (for now, because there's no way I can sustain that long term).

It's too early to tell if the meds are doing their job, but I think I'm finally on the right track.


I was reading up on ADD the other day - yes, I read psych books for fun - and the author talked about a case where a guy wanted to join the military, but they wouldn't let him while he was on the meds. So the doctor taught him how to try and manage his ADD with a combination of diet, exercise and therapy. That started me researching. Could there be a bipolar diet too?

Turns out there are foods that seem to be better for keeping bipolars level.

Omega 3 fats - supplements, mackarel, salmon, anchovy, herring, tuna (not more than 3 times a month for tuna because of high mercury). This is perfect for right now, in the land where they'll eat anything out of the sea. Seriously, I expect to hear that it's coral for school lunch, any give day.

Spikes - Avoid caffeine, sugars, refined carbs, and alcohol. Basically anything that's going to be absorbed into your system fast and burned off even faster. These instabilities can spike your moods too. I'm most worried in this category. I can not escape rice in this country. I'll just have to try and make it up by avoiding rice when I'm at home, and eating more of the fish stuff. Also, I'm torn about the alcohol bit. I'm not a big fan of drinking and I've already told you guys I don't get drunk, but I hate feeling like everybody's doing something and I'm not allowed to. Anyhow, I haven't had a drop for the year. (We're what, 6 days in?) I'm also a little worried about green tea which is free at school, and which I normally drink all day to keep warm. It's a mild stimulant, so hopefully that will be okay. I'll try to stick to fruit and veggie juice mixes when I'm home. We have these amazing mixes out here, 16 veggies and 5 fruits- they taste awesome and are super-healthy. Wish the rest of the world would get on that.

Magnesium - Dark green leafy veggies, salmon (again - yay!), legumes, whole grains (difficult to find here) and supplements.


Exercise is a natural anti-depressant. As much as you may hate going to exercise, after you're finished you feel happy and somehow refreshed. (Even when you're soggy and stinky!)

Exercise reduces the stress hormone cortisol, helps establish good sleeping and eating patterns, raises energy levels, releases endorphins, raises serotonin levels, increases brain cells in the hippocampus AND improves self esteem. How can you go wrong?

I just got a 3 month membership at the municipal gym. (50 bucks, Baby! Perks of living in the middle of nowhere.) My mission this year is to try and get in 3 workouts a week.


One way to combat bipolar disease is to try to keep things level and even. We saw that with the sugars, and now with daily routine. It's best for bipolar if you get 7 or 8 hours a night. I'm a terminal insomniac, but my new meds make me sleepy as hell, and since I've been taking them I get 10 hours, whether I like it or not.


Like I said, y'all have heard a million times that I'm bipolar. But as open as I am here, I'm really secretive about it in my real life. Power of the "anonymity" of the internet. I'm really uncomfortable talking about my bipolar live and in living colour. And most of my close friends don't get it anyway.

BUT it's a part of my life. There is no cure. This is me forever. If they're going to be here, they have to deal with it. And if I'm going to survive it, I have to deal with it.

I find it ironic, as I look over these, that being a good biploar is mostly being a healthy human being. Eat well - avoid alcohol and caffeine and refined sugar. Exercise regularly. Sleep well. That's how I'm trynna be a better bipolar in 2012. Hopefully I can keep it up all this year and beyond. Thank you guys for being so supportive all this time.

(PS, I have conjunctivitis. Sometimes I feel like the world's sickest healthy person.)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Read Less

Surely that's a typographical error? What writer wants to read LESS?


The pressure.
Last year, I signed up for the 2011 Reader Challenge on Goodreads. 100 books I declared. The year started off badly. I was home in Barbados for Christmas. And who has time for books when you have to see all your friends, and your entire family, and eat all your favourite foods, and go to all your favourite places, and you've only got 3 weeks to do it? Then I didn't start right when I got back, because it was really hard coming back, and I was homesick something fierce.

I spent most of the year playing catch up. Even when I'd caught up, I was playing "get ahead" because I knew that October is always bad at work, and November is nano, so there aren't any guarantees.

I finished the year with 116 books. Honest truth is that I appreciated all of them. Even the "bad" ones. What I didn't enjoy, I learned from. And I also learned from the ones I loved. But I never want to feel like someone's forcing books down my throat again.

Quality over quantity
This is not about the quality of the books. There are more great books published in a single year than I could read in a lifetime. It's about the quality of my reading experience. People experience books in different ways. Lots of people talk about "seeing" the characters and events. Me? I'm not a visual person. If you don't show me the character in a movie or on a book cover, I will never see them. How I experience books is difficult to explain. It's like I live them. Like I'm there.

[Warning: there's a Twilight: Eclipse/New Moon spoiler in this paragraph.]
It's like the things I read about skip all the basic forms of sense, and go straight to the destination. For example, when you feel pain, something usually happens outside your body, and the nerves convey that to your brain/nervous system, and your brain/nervous system tells you to feel pain. (Forgive me if the science is wrong here, just follow the concept.) Remember Jane from Twilight? How she can make people feel pain without a stimulus? That's how reading is for me. There's no external, everything happens inside my brain.

Because the story is so deep in my brain, it's difficult for me to come out of a book. I lose track of everything. I don't hear things, see things, and people always walk up and shake me and scare the frizzles out of me to get me attention. "Wait, wha-, who, where am I?" At the end of a book, as I've been so "intimate" with these characters, they stay with me for a while. In my brain, the plot continues. The story plays out in different ways. I was so deep in Elana Johnson's POSSESSION that I was literally incapable of following any other story's threads.

When I've got this arbitrary quota working with, I have to force myself out of one world and into another. I think I lose out on enjoying the previous story as much as I could, and I don't immerse myself in the new story like I should.

The habit
The more I read, the more I read, the more I read. 5 books in January, 10 in March, 12 in May. It's addictive. When I train myself to pick up another book promptly, then I can't NOT pick one up - unless it's a completely inappropriate time, like 4 am.

On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but everything else gets sacrificed. I could wash the dishes. Or I could read. I could plan my vacation. Or I could read. I could write that email I've been meaning to send. Orrrr I could read.

Sadly, even writing gets sacrificed. Reading counts as developing craft. It's easy to tell yourself that there are worse things. At least this is industry-related. But getting stuck in any one stage of the craft, no matter how useful that stage, is a hindrance in the end. Like me having  a million first drafts and no completed novels. A writer should read, but a writer should also write.

Secondly, writers are connected to their creations. It's hard to form those connections when your head is full of other people's worlds and other people's characters. It's like trying to sing a lullaby while standing in front of the speakers at a rock concert. This year, it was really hard for me to get into nano. I blamed all sorts of things, but maybe it had something to do with the fact that I read 3 books in the first week of November.

I want to take my writing up a level this year. Reading is going on the back burner. If you're wondering what that means, I've set myself a goal of 52 books this year. What are you reading this year? Any goals?

PS, If you're on Goodreads, look out for me. I'm Claire Dawn.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Write More

It's the Year of the Sparkle Dragon. I don't know why, but I can feel it's a year for big things. All this week, I'll be going over goals I've set myself for the year.

Goal #3: Write More

Last year was the Year of Living Write, and a lot of incredible things happened. I presented 2 succesful workshops at the Japan Writers Conference. I was included in a non-fiction anthology which raised funds for earthquake relief. I also had a short story-in-verse selected for inclusion in Tomo, a YA anthology to be released March 10, 2012.

I didn't however, make the progress I'd like in the novel-writing sphere.

Existing novels
Last year, I made it my goal to take a novel through the full pre-query process. Write, re-write, edit, critique, rise, repeat.I didn't get it done, so that mission carries over to this year. Actually, I have two first drafts I want to polish. My last nano MS stars a bipolar MC, and I think that premise has the best hook of all my first drafts, so I want to polish it.

Then there's MS2, my only speculative fiction. You may remember me ranting about how bad it is. Turned out, I'd never actually re-read it. And I did while resting the last nano. The delivery still kind of sucks, but it's got a great premise, and there's like half a plot- about 49.9% more than any of my other stories.

So my mission for the year is to run them both through a couple of drafts.

New novels
I still haven't managed to write a first draft outside of nanowrimo yet. Hopefully, I'll get to that this year. This is a sub-goal, though. I know I'm capable of turning out a first draft, so I'm giving priority to things I haven't been able to do yet.

Speaking of things I can't do...

In 2010, I lined up a conference in the US. Then I lost my passport, and couldn't go. I swear the minute I cancelled it, I found the passport.

In 2011, I lined up a conference in the UK. I was supposed to leave on March 20th. The great North East Japan earthquake happened March 11. Guess where I live. That's right, North East Japan! When the 20th rolled around, there were still no trains, and we had a gasoline shortage as well. I cancelled my trip and figured I'd leave the seats for people who really needed to get out. Plus I was afraid of not being able to get back.

2012? Third time's a charm?

I'm 90% sure I'm going with a UK conference. The vibe I'm getting is that the US will ask me to fit into their world, and that the UK will love me for being Barbadian. That's an oversimplification, and hopefully I'll get to explain in detail some day.

This conference is also a good reason to have a polished MS ready. In fact, the conference isn't really worth it without a polished MS. I mean, I'm sure I'll get a whole lot of fantastically informative lectures, but I can poke about the internet and find most of that for free. And I can go to the Japan Writers Conference, for under $500 including travel and accomodation. If I go to a conference, it's for the opportunity to make connections, and to get feedback on my work. (The UK conference lets you submit the opening of your novel for critique, and you get a one on one session with 2 agents/book doctors of your choice.)

By the end of the year, I want to look at submitting a novel-length manuscript. I haven't submitted so far because my work hasn't been ready. But I'm beginning to wonder if my work stays "not ready" so I always have an excuse not to submit it. If I manage to acheive the other points in this post, then I should be able to bring myself up to submission stage. I've been stagnating at the same point of the writing game for way too long.

That's all she wrote! Any writing goals for you guys in the Year of the Sparkle Dragon?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Study More

It's the year of the Water Dragon in Chinese philosophy, and I've declared it the Year of the Sparkle Dragon: our year to shine! This whole week, I'm going over my goals for 2012. I've thrown the word resolution out the window, in favour of the more active "goals."

Goal #2: Study More. 

Studying was not on my list of goals for 2011. 2011 was The Year of Living Write, so it was focused on writing. This year my focus is more all-encompassing, because I'm taking over the world - er, that's not right - because I'm drawing to the end of my tenure in Japan.

Y'all know I'm a language-aholic. Japanese is the 5th language that I can get by in. I'm sure I don't have to tell you, that it's a doozy of a language. It's got a Subject-object-verb structure ( English is Subjevet-verb-object). It's got particles, which follow words to tell their purpose in a sentence. It's got counters. The way you say "2 chickens" is different from the way you say "2 trees" is different from the way you say "2 cars." There are 3 writing systems. Hurts my head just to think about.

When I first came, I jumped into Japanese with my usual gusto, but I burned out some time last year or late 2k10. Japanese is the language that made ME not want to learn any more languages. (That may change after I get Japanese out of my system. lol)

This year, one of my new neighbours has decided to take the kanji kentei (kanken). Kanji is the Chinese writing system that the Japanese have adopted. You know, the one where one character represents one concept or one word. 木 is tree, 気 is spirit, 黄 is yellow, and 危 is danger. Because I'm crazy, I signed up too. In kanken, I have to know the readings (pronunciation), the meanings and the stroke order (order in which you write the lines of a kanji). That may not sound hard, but all 4 kanji I've used as examples can be pronounced as "ki", and they all have other readings as well. 

We're doing Level 8 (for 3rd graders, 8-9 year olds), but since I'm crazy, I'm tempted to keep going until I've covered all the Joyo kanji (1945 characters). The highest level of kanken tests 6000 characters. 

By the first week in February, I have to decide if I'm sticking with this job until next year August, or if I'm done this year. I'm 95% sure I'm staying. That means I'll have 5 years experience in teaching English as a Foreign Language. There's a decent chance that I'll want to come back to this field. After all, it provides opportunities to live in non-English speaking countries. Heaven? Yuppity-yups!

This program accepts a wide range of quals, but many other posts worldwide ask for TEFL qualifications. An opportunity came up to do a course at a discount rate, and I took it.

The 4 other languages
Japanese is killing my other languages. I have not come up with a plan yet, but language is use it or lose it. One of my best friends here was Bolivian (he's since returned to Bolivia) and sometimes I'd be having a convo in Spanish, and a Japanese word would just jump in. Ditto my French conversations. And since I barely knew Italian to start with, I have to dig that from the recesses of my brain. 

It's becoming more and more obvious that I need to make a conscious effort to keep my languages from dying. I haven't come up with a plan as yet, other than the possibility of foreign language blogs, but I will make one this year. 

You may notice that I've only mentioned 3 other languages. The fourth? English! When I was in school, I was a grammar guru. Two years in a US college almost killed me, but I got really good at American grammar as well. Now, I can't remember where commas go, my spelling sucks, and I regularly forget words. This is the year I give in and buy myself a Junior English (the grammar guide practically all primary schools use in the Caribbean) or some other grammar guide.

I won't mention any writing-related studies here. You'll see them tomorrow in the Write More post. How about you guys? Any studyin goald for 2012?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Year of the Sparkle Dragon: Save More

Hello, hello, hello. Since the last time I've been here (yesterday), I've decided it's the year of the Sparkle Dragon. I made a comment about it being the year we sparkle on facebook. And in Chinese astrology, it's the year of the Water Dragon. (Technically, Chinese New Year doesn't start for a while, but Japan does this weird thing of observing Western New Year AND embracing Chinese astrology.) So anyhow, it's the year of the Sparkle Dragon.

The first thing on my list of goals is:

Save More

My financial situation
I make 300,000 yen a month. I can afford to be this open about what I make because everybody on the JET program makes the same money. And if anyone in the world wanted to find out how much that is, all they would need to do is find a Japanese embassy or government website, phone number, official.

How much is 300,000 yen worth? When I first came to Japan, 3 1/2 years ago, 105 yen was a US dollar. Now, the yen is holding fairly firm while everyone else's money drops through the floor (except Australia, it seems). We're up to 79 yen a dollar. (GBP 179 -> 123, CND 90 -> 77, EUR 139 -> 102.) With everything in such a state of flux, it's hard to say what it's "worth". That said, my monthly salary used to be just shy of $3000 US, now it's around $3750. I make almost $1000 more in exchange rate alone.

There is one final consideration to be made when it comes to my salary. The US value may have gone up, but I don't live in the US. I live in Japan. I make my money in yen, and I spend my money in yen. The prices here have remained mostly constant. So if I struggled to have left over money before, I will still struggle to have left over money now. But of course, if I can find something to save, it's worth more. What used to be $100 US, is now $125.

(I keep talking in US because the Barbados dollar is tied to the US, ie, we have a constant exchange rate.)

You can only save what you don't spend.  Really every discussion on saving is about spending. Amazingly, lots of people (*waves from the audience*) don't really analyse their spending habits when they try to save. Fail waiting to happen? That's what she said! ;)

I'm pretty bad about impulse buys. But I live in the back-bush of Japan, 600 km out of Tokyo, 300 km away from a really major city. My last in-town shopping spree was at the stationary store! There's not much else to spend random money on. (Let's ignore my $30 "One Piece" pencil sharpener.)

Where I fail (massively) is online. I spend a lot of time online - on the blogosphere, on twitter, in my emails - and it's way easy, with credit card info saved in my brain, to just buy stuff. My biggest issue is books. All of you awesome people write/reccomend awesome books. And it is virtually impossible for me to buy 1 book. Book shipping prices used to deter me, but now that I have a Kindle, and Book Depository for free shipping of non-Kindle titles, I've got nothing to lose but my paycheck.

Late in 2011, I devised a new system: Shopping Cart Fridays. If I find out about a book that I ABSOLUTELY HAAAAAAAAVE TOOOOO REEEEEADDDDD, then I slip it into the Shopping Cart. On Friday, I swoop by the shopping cart (and my Goodreads TBR), decide how many books I can afford and buy them. Why Friday? Because it's my busiest day, so I don't have time to faff around on Amazon, which means I'm less likely to buy random stuff which hasn't been through they Shopping Cart trial.

In 2009, I was in 9 countries. Even I can't afford that. There was a month where I ate ramen for dinner every day. So not kidding. In 2010, I decided I wasn't going anywhere, for the sake of saving, but still managed to eat through the same amount of money. I guess I switched from bein frugal in Japan, and travelling externally to just traipsing up and down Japan. I'm beginning to get this under control by finally getting over (mostly) the need to be at everything. And by having a semi-budget.

I can crunch numbers, but I'm not one for living off a sheet of paper. So what I've done, again in the last few months of 2k11, is to think out how much I need, and withdraw that money at the beginning of the month. Then I divvy it up into 4 or 5 weeks. Each Friday, I open up a stack. It's not written in stone, that if I'm out of money early, I can't access more. But the perk of this system is that I can see down to weekly spending if I'm doing well or poorly, and it's easier to adjust than on a monthly system.

End result
I plan to go to a conference this year, which will eat a couple thou. And I plan to go home, for another couple G's. Other than that, I hope to save lots of money. I'll say $125 US, for starters, every month, but I'm really hoping it's more than that. Especially, since this is my last full year at this guaranteed salary.

Sure I'll succeed though. It IS the year of the Sparkle Dragon!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals

California has finally dragged it's lagging butt into 2012, so Happy New Year to all my Westerners!

Last year, I was really hoping to make a difference in my life, so for the first time in maybe ever, I made resolutions. This year I'm dumping the word resolution in favour of "goal". Why? Resolution is "a firm decision". If you make your mind up to do something, that's a resolution. No wonder New Year's resolutions don't make it all through the year. A resolution is a thought, not an action.

Goal on the other hand, is about the end point. By thinking in goals, I automatically change how I go about what I'm doing. And a goal, unlike a resolution, tends to be intrisically measurable.

So, here are my goals for 2012, Year of the Dragon. I'll be back later in the week to get into the details of each of them.

1.  Save more
2.  Study more
3.  Write more
4.  Read less
5.  Be a better bipolar

What about you? What would you like to acheive in 2012.