Friday, April 27, 2012

What I actually do

Congrats to THE IMMORTAL RULES winner, Sana!

Last week, I talked about the parts of my job that my employers mandate. But I'm kind of hired for more than that. I'm on the JET programme. It's a Japanese government initiative which hires people into 3 job roles. Apart from your job role, the JET programme also asks participants to "promote grassroot internationalisation."


Eikawa is the place where internationalisation and teaching naturally meet. It's a Japanese word meaning "English conversation" and is generally used to mean any English class, outside of school, which focuses more on the spoken aspects. My town doesn't require me to teach eikawa, nonetheless, my neighbour started one up in my first year, and it's been going strong ever since.

As our eikawa is so informal, it really provides a chance to learn more than English. We - the town's 3 ALTs from 3 countries and the Japanese adult students -  get to exchange ideas. We present about our cultures, and show bits of it. Best of all, we get to know one another. For my first 2 years, most of my Japanese friends in town were from eikawa. Our interactions outside the classroom did a lot for my understanding of Japanese culture, and their understanding of mine.


There are a million and one formal ways to internationalise. The simplest and easiest is to present on your culture in the classes you're already teaching. At elementary school, I'm pretty free and flexible. So once I get ahead in the text book, I occasionally include a lesson with Bajan culture. I do Halloween and Christmas lessons. I tell the kids about the rest of the world.

And there are formal activities outside the classroom as well. The various international organisations in my prefecture put on various events. So far, I've done a general presentation on Barbadian culture, and a cooking class with Barbadian food. (I also did cooking classes with the eikawa.) And there's a big international fair every year. I've hosted a booth there, basically just telling people where Barbados was, and a few facts, and listening to Bajan music.


Why would something like internationalisation even be important enough to mention right next to your official job role? To understand, you have to think of the Japanese position. Japan is an archipelago off the coast of Asia. They spent hundreds of years at war with their neighbours. They purposely shut themselves off from the rest of the world at times. And they are the only country with Japanese as their first language.

All of those things combine to equal a simple fact. Japan sees only Japan. Unlike the rest of us, who see and understand the rest of world, Japanese people can (and often do) forget there is a rest of the world. And many of them have no idea what that rest of the world is like.

I am a fountain of information. People can find out that Coca Cola exists outside Japan (yes, I've been asked), that the word "bye-bye" did not originate in Japanese, that black people have different hair from Japanese people.

My mere existence here is a reminder of the world, of the Caribbean, of Black people, of English-speakers. I think I do most of my internationalisation when random people talk to me on the streets of my town, or on the bus, or the train, or even with the new teachers at school. Especially being from Barbados.

There are a couple THOUSAND Japanese people that only know that Barbados exists because of me. Last week, I was at a PTA drinking party (um, that sounds so horrible- Japanese culture does not translate simply), and the lady next to me was the Mom of a Junior High student I'd been teaching since she was 8. She told me her daughter loved English and that she'd come home and told her the English teacher was from Barbados and she actually looked it up!

My being here also translates into people trying with English. My students will often scream "Hello" at me from across parking lots. Some of my spunkier JHS students will think up random comments. "My name is legend. I am dangerous," and "You have Canada face" to a Canadian ALT. Sometimes I run into random students from other schools, towns, etc, and they'll try their hand at having a conversation. And random adults will as well. Sometimes they will say strange things. Very, very strange things. Like the urologist who said, "I penis doctor. Penis turn black, fall off? Call me." (Ah, sweet memories!) All these people try because they see me.

My VISA says "INSTRUCTOR" and my town technically pays me to teach. But there are days when I teach nothing at all. And even when I am teaching, it's not earth-shattering. I've already mentioned that elementary school and kindergarden English aren't really meant to "teach" so much as to make kids receptive to English/foreign languages. And so, I often feel like the more important job is the one that is less measurable, the one that doesn't have a start and end time. The one I do all day long merely by being.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Field: Gilmore Girls and Not Getting It

Don't forget today is the final day to enter THE IMMORTAL RULES giveaway.

Today, I'm starting up another new series, "In the Field." So far this year, I've watched all 6 seasons of DAWSON'S CREEK and all 7 of GILMORE GIRLS. Additionally, I've watched/rewatched a few anime series. And then there are all the books. And since I've been reading so many craft books, I keep picking up lessons from the stories I watch and read. So I thought I'd share these lessons I learn from stories out "In the Field."


One of the things Gilmore Girls is known for is their reference-dropping. Let's say Gilmore Girls drops 100 references an episode. The average person gets about 20 of them. People with a special interest in movies or tv or rock music get about 40. Pop culture-aholics get about 60. Pretty much nobody gets every reference. And Gilmore Girls was still a hit. It still had a 7 year-run. It was powerful enough that, almost a decade after the fact, I bought myself the series.

New writers are often tempted to explain everything. But even more experienced writers may shy away from references that people may not get. Gilmore Girls teaches us that they don't always need to.


Something I had to realise as a language learner, is that it's less important to understand every single word than it is to get the general gist. The same is true of stories.

A GG example:

Richard's mother, Trix, constantly puts down Emily, his wife, and Emily generally becomes a nervous wreck whenever she's around. Lorelai tells her that she has to find her own way to fight back. So one night, when they are having dinner at Lorelai's inn, Emily stages a coup. When Trix asks for the plates to be cleared, Emily declares that she's not done, and eats as slowly as possibly. Lorelai's response? "That'll do, Pig."

You don't need to know what movie "That'll do, Pig," originally comes from. Nor do you need to know where the updated, "That'll do, Donkey," can be found. All you need to know is that Lorelai is applauding Emily's defiance. And you get that.

Me, Personally

People not getting what I'm saying is a big worry for me. I lived in the US for 2 of my 30 years, but I've spent the majority of my life outside of "mainstream Western countries." My books are set in Barbados or Japan. They all feature Barbadian characters. I've always feared that there would be way too much that other people wouldn't understand.

Not to mention, I have lived in other countries, and even before I did, I lived a relatively multicultural life. So there are references I make that Barbadians and other Caribbean people might miss. Now, I realise that my readers are smart enough to get it from context. And if it can't be deduced from context, then it's probably superfluous - me showing off my "multicultural darlings."

In the book I'm working on now (which went on pause when I got gastro last week, and is now in a sad state of flux), some girls are talking about suicide. And the MC says something about carving the Broken Trident into your wrists. Now you don't have to know that the Broken Trident is the name of the Barbados flag, and the black shape in the middle. You get that it's about slashing wrists.

(Photo: Barbados Flag and I on top of Mount Fuji.)


One Piece

ONE PIECE is one of the anime series I follow. I really love that there are these things that I get, that I don't think most of the viewing public does. Like watching a Gilmore Girls episode and catching a reference to Casablanca or another old movie, it instills a weird sense of pride. I love the One Piece references because they're drawn from so many cultures, which is perfect for me. 

The ship's navigator/weather girl is called Nami. Nami means "(sea) wave"  in Japanese. Perfect name for a ship's navigator? Yups. Of course, all Japanese people can get that reference if they think about it for a second.  The ship's swordsman is Zoro, a clear reference to the Latino sword hero, and a reference I think all Westerners get. There's a cyborg called Frankie, as well. Reference: Frankenstein. And Usopp uses both Japanese and Western references. When his character was first introduced he was known for his wild stories."Uso" is Japanese for lie. Back that up with his ridiculously long nose, a clear reference to Pinocchio. Then there are the references which are outside English and Japanese, like Nami's adoptive mother, "Belle-mere", whose name is French for Mother-in-law. 

You don't have to get a single one of these references to watch the show, but I love them, and it makes the show exist on a different level for me. It's like when you watch Shrek as a kid and it's so cute. And then you watch it as an adult, and see all the perverted bits. 

Me, Personally

In one scene of my new WIP, the MC steps into the hallway, and everybody stops talking and just stares at her, like she was "covered in a vat of pig's blood." 

If you don't get the reference, then the meaning is still clear. But if you've watched or read Stephen King's CARRIE, then it calls up another level for you. It's the ultimate in high-school ostracism. And it might even signal to you that this chick is about to lose her shiz.


At the end of the day, I'd like to say a big thank you to Gilmore Girls for teaching me this lesson. It's an extremely relevant one for me. Since my references are so different, I was either going to have to bend myself to an American norm, tone down my voice, limit myself to Caribbean audiences or stop writing. And none of those choices felt right. Now I know I can make references, and it's fine if my readers can't see every level of the picture I'm painting, so long as they hear what I've said.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What they think I do

Has anyone seen that meme? You know the one: What society thinks I do, What my mom thinks I do, What my friends think I do, etc? Well, I allude to my job pretty often on here, but  it occurs to me, that I don't really talk about what I do. So here goes. This is the first of two parts: today, I'll be talking about the teaching.


I came to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme -JET. JET is a government-organised programme. It recruits foreigners through Japanese embassies around the world to come here as ALTs, CIRs and SEAs. CIRs are Coordinators for International Relations. They work in International departments of city offices. SEAs are Sports Exchange Advisors. They're accomplished in a Sport and come to Japan as coaches.

My job title is Assistant Language Teacher (ALT).There are a lot of reasons for the word "Assistant" in the title. In Japan, the word "teacher" is a funny thing. "Sensei" is used as a term of respect, and the kanji technically say "ahead of student," but the term has a connotation of having sat an exam. In my country (backbush) area, the word Sensei gets thrown around like it's a ventriloquist's voice. But in some places people get nitpicky. Technically, if you haven't sat the Japanese exam, you're not a "sensei," your a "kyoushi" (instructor). Additionally, I've heard you're technically not allowed to be left alone with a class if you haven't passed your teacher's exam.


The word Assistant also reflects the format that the job most often takes: team teaching. In my particular junior high school (JHS), team teaching isn't restricted to foreign languages. Maths and Japanese and Science will often be team taught. Outside of foreign languages, team-teaching is basically one teacher standing at the front teaching, and the other teacher acting as support, helping students who need a little extra time, etc. In the case of foreign languages, it generally means that the Japanese Teacher of English/Language (JTE/L) teaches grammar and the ALT is generally responsible for pronunciation, and the occasional game.

In my first 3 years, I worked with two JTEs, one of whom had me do warm up games almost every game, and for the rest of class, I did support, or pronunciation, depending on what the lesson was concentrating on. I usually went to every class he had. The other JTE didn't take me to class as much. She had a really good grasp of English and pronunciation, and she did most of it herself.

They transfer teachers here every year, and last April I was shaken when they switched both of my JTEs at the same time. I almost cried. Seriously. But it turned out to be a blessing. As they were both new to me, and the school, there was no "precedence" for anything, so we wrote a whole new script. This past year, instead of going to all the classes with my main JTE, I go to about half of them. But instead of a 5 minute warm up game, I often have a 20 minute game or the whole session to myself. It's probably a little less time withthe kids, but I'm probably causing a bigger affect with English learning.


Elementary school is a grab bag. At my main school, "the big school," I have never team-taught. Not  even when I first came and only knew enough Japanese to ask where the toilet was. (You'd be surprised how well you can communicate without the use of actual language. Mime is a brilliant invention!) The teachers are always in the classroom with me, but I guess they got spoiled by the ALT before me. He did all his classes by himself, too. Even when they started using a "textbook" (there really isn't much text in it), and the guidebook was ENTIRELY in Japanese, I still had to do it on my own. That guidebook is half the reason I'm semi-literate. lol. At tiny school (less than 30 kids, yes, the whole school), the 5/6 joint class teacher sometimes takes the lead, and sometimes she asks me to.

The actual class content, is mostly vocab based around a topic, and games. The objective is not grammatical correctness, but concept and to open the kids' minds to the foreign world and learning English (and/or other foreign languages) in the future. At elementary school I spend a surprising amount of time cutting up paper and card, drawing anime characters, making Bingo sheets... Just today, I wrote(/drew) "Hello" in 9 languages, including 5 which don't use Roman script. Don't ask me when I'll need to write I'll ever need to write Hello in Cyrillic, or Devanagari or Hangul, but having written each about 10 times, I now know how to! ( Need to find a reason to put this is my resume.)

Actually, now that I'm mainly responsible for innovative ways of getting the kids to use English in JHS as well, I spend an inordinate amount of time there drawing scenes for the kids to hide rabbits in, and compiling reports about Valentine's Day around the world.


"Teaching" kindergarden is some of the most fun I have at work. Essentially, we (all 3 town ALTs together) teach the kids a vocab set, like colours or animals, invent a game for us to play, and essentially just spend the entire time running around. It's FAB! Oh, and in Japan, there's a Hello Song. I don't know where it came from, but it seems to be coast to coast, and all English learners seem to know it. We got bored and remixed that Sound of Music song into The Goodbye Song, actions and all. The kiddles and teachers all think it's like a legit song, not something we half-stole from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Sound of Music - So Long...  Farewell

That's all the stuff that I'm scheduled for by the Board of Education of my town - my employers. Come back next week to find out what I actually do. (Of course I do all this stuff, as well. Obvsie Bovsie.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Immortal Rules - Review and Giveaway

I was lucky enough to receive access to a galley of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa. Remarkably, I hadn't read anything else by her, even though the whole bloggosphere has been raving about the Iron Fey series forever. The series just didn't strike me as something I'd like, but I'm definitely going to try them out now.

From Goodreads:
Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them. The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked—and given the ultimate choice. Die… or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend—a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what—and who—is worth dying for.

Vampires? Really? I mean they've been done to death, and brought back to life. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) The approach, however, is completely different. These vamps are not fuzzy-wuzzy sparkle puffs. Despite the fact that there is an organised system for obtaining blood, these vampires still kill on occasion. And when Allie joins the ranks, she has a real struggle with who she is and not hurting those around her.

Another refreshing thing about this book is that it combines vampires with a few other speculative fiction arenas. It's a postapocalyptic world. A virus has killed off much off the human race. The rules of living have been redefined. Allie lives in a Vampire City. The walls protect the humans from rabids and in return most of the humans are Registered to donate their blood to keep the vampires fed. It seems like a semi-equal exchange. But in the very first scene, some Unregistereds are brought to justice for stealing, even though there is no food provided for Unregistereds. The opression adds dystopian elements to the plot.  And of course, there are the rabids. The rabids are essentially zombies. Like all zombies, they seem to have one overwhelming impulse: eat.

Let's not forget that the kick-butt heroine, Allie, is Asian. Honestly, I can only think of one other spec-fic YA book with an Asian heroine.

I think it's the combination of all these things: vampires, post-apocalypse, dystopia, rabid/zombies - that make the book a winner.

But there are 2 more elements I feel like I should mention. Zeke and Kanin. Zeke is a possible love interest. He's been raised to despise vampires and Allie knows this. Since leaving the city, she's been surviving by pretending to be human, but how long can she really keep that up, right? Then there's Kanin, the vampire that changed Allie. Kanin is all "Oh, humans are just your food," yet he doesn't kill them, and is as humane as someone can be to their prey. And Kanin is obviously troubled. I fell right into him. Totally wanted to hug him and make it all better, and then go beat up the people that made him feel bad. lol.

To win a copy of THE IMMORTAL RULES, just tell me what's your fave type of vampire?
This contest is open internationally until Wednesday April 25 at 11.59 pm EST.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Out to All

I believe "out to all" might be a Bajan term, so I'll define it for you. It means "fast as possible." For example:

"Wuh of course he get in a accident, he had the car out to all."

or, in Standard English.

"I'm not surprised he had an accident, driving that fast."

As, I mentioned last week, I've decided to write a book in a week (approx.). My 4 day total is 17,000 words-ish, way below where it should be, and my brain is fried today, so I've taken it off. But whatever else happens the week (approx.) I've realised a couple of things.


I've mentioned time and again that I have two speeds: off and whoosh! And yet, I spend so much of my time trying to fit into a world somewhere in between there.

Nanowrimo is a 30 day challenge in November to write a 50,000 novel. Lots of writers think that's too insane a pace. Some go as far as to put it down. "What can you write in 30 days that was even worth writing?" I've done it 4 years, and "won" every time. In the in-between times, I've tried my hand at novelling pursuits. I think this is the first time I've passed 10K outside Nano.

Why should it matter? The fact that I'm able to crank out 13,000 words in a day (that only happened once) should be a good thing. Why is it that I slow myself down to a "normal pace?" It got me to thinking about life in general. I'm likely to just jump into "huge" things.

Like, India. I was listening to an online radio thingy and this one gospel song made me feel like I should be helping the human race somehow. A message box popped up: you've got mail. It was a program to go to India and build houses for Dalit people. In a split second I knew I was going. Technically I didn't have the money, and I literally ate ramen all month, but I got there, and it's a trip I will never forget. But many people would have weighed options and stuff. And some of my friends did criticise me for making a split second decision that affected my eating habits.

The song that led me to India. Give Me Your Eyes, by Brandon Heath.

But this is my natural speed. I've been apologetic for it, and I probably will be again. Right now, however, I realise that I can only be who I am. And this is who I am. This is how I operate.

I remember one episode of Alladin, the animated series, where Alladin was fleeing, and asked genie to turn into something with legs. Genie turned into a table. Alladin (exasperated) asked for "legs that move," and the table started to gallop. Alladin's assessment? "Whatever works!"

If a process, or a lifestyle works for you, it works for you. I don't believe that I get the right to critique anyone else's choices. I shouldn't worry so much about making mine conform.


Chris Baty, the founder of Nanowrimo (man, I sound like a commercial), wrote a book called NO PLOT, NO PROBLEM. In that book, he reccommends NOT taking time off to write. When he took a sabbatical from life to have writing time, he found himself doing everything but. "Ooo, look at this thing that's been broken for like 5 years, and I haven't needed it all that time, wouldn't now be a great time to fix it?"

I've found, in the last 4 days, that the (sort-of) inverse is also true. Fitting in 5,000 words a day has somehow pushed all the other parts of my life to the extreme. (Except house-cleaning. House-cleaning for me is like that one seed in your class science project that just didn't germinate. lol) So, I write 5,000 words, and I teach all my classes, and I read blogs, and I update Facebook, and read Twitter, and watch a movie, and catch up my anime, and read novels. Seriously, I have watched a movie EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. since I started my writing project.

It's counter-intuitive, but it seems to me that the relationship between time and time usage is inversely-proportional. The more time you use, the more time you seem to have. Actually, what probably happens is this: being super-productive in one area, pushes you to be more effective in others. Even on the internet, the world's most notorious time-suck, I'm not spending my time faffing around. I'm doing the things I'm supposed to be doing.

I guess the lesson here is that it is hard to make time to write. But it's possible that making that time, can make you more efficient in the hours your not at the desk.

It's Monday, that's the contents of my mind.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why's 7 lucky anyhow?

Guess which one of your crazy bloggy friends is writing a novel this week? Yeps, that would be me. What's so crazy about writing a novel? Not a thing. Except I'm attempting to do it in about a week or so.

Why a week? Because...

1 - I have other stuff that needs doing
2 - I have two speeds, OFF and What the heck just blew threw here?
3 - At the end of every nano (30 days, 50,000 words challenge in November) I overcome more and more ridiculous deficits to win at the buzzer. I think my most has been a 13,000 word day.

Anyhow, I started today, and I've got 5700 words down. I'm a little behind, but meh.

On to bizz...

The Most Marvelous Marsha tagged me in the Lucky 7 Meme. Check Marsha out if you haven't. She's like my twin, but American, white, and miles funnier.

Here be the rules:
1. Go to page 77 of your current MS
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next seven lines as they are written - no cheating!
4. Tag 7 other writers and let them know

(Now, let me just say that I had a lot of trouble with my last nano. After 2 false starts, I ended up switching to this novel, which I wrote both by hand AND on the computer. This came from page 77 of what is on the comp, so it's technically not really page 77, but there's no way to know where page 77 really is, and I like this clip, so there.  Let me know what you think. See if you can guess what's going on. )

I’m sorry. I will keep saying it until you accept it. I was glad that at the airport you let me hug you. You let me speak to you. I hope you forgive me soon.

He writes in English. He’s never spoken English to me. His little brothers and even Marc, the littlest Eduoard-Rose at only 5, would try a phrase or two. But he insisted that his English was “incorrigible”. I wonder how long it took him to write and translate this.
 For my 7 writer-friends:

A.T Post at The Sententious Vaunter
Clarissa at Clarissa Draper
E.J. Wesley at The Open Vein
ElbieNy25 at The Journey
JP at Where Sky Meets Ground
Lydia at The Sharp Angle
Sophia at My Fleet-Footed Self

As always, if you don't have as much time for faffing around as I do, or if you've already done this meme, feel free to ignore. :)

Well, there you have it. Back to my novelling. :) 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Screen vs. Print

I'm in a screenplay mood. A lot of things have combined to get me here. Firstly, when I went off books earlier in the year, I read a couple of screenplays that I had sitting around the house. (Here in Japan, they sell screenplays and their accompanying CDs as a tool for learning natural English. I bought them as a tool for teaching natural English, but have never used them.)

Then there's my attempt to read up on writing humour. Unfortunately, very few books have been written on writing humour for novels. There are a few on injecting humour into articles and speeches, but the grand majority are about performance comedy: stand-up, sketch and sitcom. Plus, I read the eternally raved-about SAVE THE CAT, (I'm not a big fan, but that's a story for another day) and that's technically a screen-writing book.

Top all of that off with the fact that I'm one of the few who spends as many hours in front of a screen as staring at words in print. I'm just as comfortable watching 60 episodes of an anime in a single weekend, as I am reading 4 novels. (And yes, both have happened.)

So, between reading screenplays and screenwriting books, and watching movies and Dawson's Creek and Gilmore Girls and anime, I got to thinking. There are some things that work so much better in one medium than another.

Gilmore Girls revolves around dialogue. It revolves around that dialogue being said insanely fast. That's something that just wouldn't come over well on the page. Also, think of superheros. Superheros always come in visual form. Before they were on tv, Batman, Spiderman and Superman were comincs - technically print, but also using pictures. I'm not sure how well any of them would do as a novel. The same thing for musicals. I read the novelization of DREAMGIRLS. I can't even think of a comment for it.

And there are certain stories that work better as books. Stories where there's a lot of introspection are difficult to put on screen. Either you have constant voiceovers (which I am not a fan of, and which kind of feel like cheating) or you lose half the depth of the story. Also stories where there's not a lot of action are hard on screen. The brother of the husband of the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Tokyo (whew!) is in the film industry.  He says there's nothing worst than filming a writer writing.

Having consumed 100+ books in 2012, and watched 6 seasons of Dawson's Creek and 7 seasons of Gilmore Girls in the past 2 months, the screen vs print considerations are very fresh in my mind, and I think this is something I'll be coming back to.

What about you, what are the important differences between screen and print? Do you prefer certain stories via certain media?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The zombie virus known as stupid

 Thanks for the love on yesterday's post. I should clear up that I am not working out on account of my horrific body image. I'm working out firstly as a counter-balance to Bipolar Disease; secondly to be in shape for a race in May (and next May) and my eventual return to amateur sport; and thirdly for the fact that pretty much every chronic hereditary disease known to man runs through my family.

Hopefully, my body image gets back to normal pretty soon. But it may not, seeing as I, like Gaston, am "roughly the size of a barge!"

Today, though, I want to talk about stupidity. I know that's crueler than my normal tone, but it's been a bad day. 

 In my evil moments, Michel GĂ©rard is my hero.


You know in class, when the teacher says there are no stupid questions? Lies! All lies! Maybe in that particular environment, it's fine to ask whatever wanders across the slippery swamp you like to think of as your mind. But in real life, please, a moment of reflection. 

Case in point: some time ago, a friend asked me to talk to someone who was interested in coming to to Japan on my programme. I love this programme. I love the opportunity it gave me. I love my dinkville town. So I'm always glad to take the time to help out those who are interested. And I'm generally pretty good about keeping an open mind. But this one person drives me up a wall asking me nonsense - 90% of the time it's irrelevant or out of my realm of expertise. 


"Hey Claire. You're still in Japan? I was wondering what you need to teach English in Dubai?" 

Errrrr??? Wait, is Dubai in Japan? Is Japan a colony of Dubai? Do I spend my vacations in Dubai? Did I almost go to Dubai to teach English?

Maybe the reason your teacher tells you there are no stupid questions is because they've never gotten one. Probably because I get their share. 


Ever have a conversation with someone who just could not understand what you were talking about? I'm not talking rocket science. I'm not  even talking specialist vocab. I mean, I don't expect the most brilliant of my friends to understand when I talk about ARCs, pre-empts, MSs, MCs, or Dark Nights of the Soul (absolute favourite literary term :) And I don't expect you guys to understand my job or Japan related terms. When I mention JET, ALTs, tenkin, sakuramochi, etc, I explain. 

No, I'm talking about a normal conversation. A conversation where you ask "when?" And receive a verb as an answer. Oh, or better yet, when the answer has absolutely no relation to the question. And then you have to keep breaking down your original question until it's Gerber's Peas and Carrots. 

Thanks, but no thanks. You are the weakest link. Goodbye. 

(for Americans who might not know, "full stop" is what we British system types call the dot at the end of a sentence.)

There is nothing like having to communicate mostly by IM to really understand the difference between levels of intelligence/education. I've got one friend who I honestly believe has not used a punctuation mark in all 4 years I've been here. Hismessagesarriveasoneindecipherablechunk. It's not quite that bad, but that's what it feels like. 

I appreciate that people make typos and that there is a reduced need for punctuating online. Still, the end objective is communication. If I have to read each "sentence" 5 times and a few minutes of conversation give me a headache, you're doing something wrong. 


In Barbados, we enter secondary school according to our results in an island-wide exam. (British system peeps may have - or have had - the Common Entrance Exam.) I went the top school, meaning, obviously, I was smart. I always prided myself on being the type of person that didn't let that go to my head. To make sure of that, I never differentiated against anyone on the basis of intelligence or intellectual ability. In fact, I don't really discriminate for anything. If you want to be my friend, I'm like koolio!

Clearly that strategy has failed, as I am now up to my neck in stupid questions and indecipherable conversations. It's beginning to feel like an epidemic. Like more people are getting stupider. And I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I do need to set up some lower limits. I mean I never have these issues with certain people, and I always have them with others. 

What do you think? Should I start "discriminating?" Hide from the people who give me headaches? Tell them straight-up they're not making sense? Do you "discriminate" when making friends? Do any of these things make you crazy?  Is the virus spreading?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bus in Reverse

Time for another edition of Monday on my Mind. This Monday?

I hate my body.

Maybe that shouldn't be surprising considering I've been overweight/obese for 90% of my life. But, no matter what sort of shape I was in, I've never hated my body. Saturday night that changed. We were watching a DVD of the anniversary event at the Reggae Bar I go to. I was "wining" on the wall, and I couldn't believe how absolutely huge I was.

Even though I've been the same size since my Australia trip of 2009 (gained 7 kilos on that trip, somehow), this feeling has come over me fairly suddenly. But I suppose it's not entirely without warning.

More and more as I looked in the mirror, I wasn't liking what I was seeing. And then factor in where I live as opposed to where I used to live... As I've mentioned before, Barbados is an overwhelmingly Black country. Black people seem to carry weight better than other races. In addition to which black men generally prefer more curves than white guys, or Asian guys. So as a teen, my ample hips were a good thing, garnering me attention even from "big men." Now, living in Japan, a country where the women's shoes tend to run up to about an 8 (US) and anyone above a size 12 (US) in clothes has trouble finding clothes.

At first, it's a bit depressing, but then you get used to it. You tell yourself their make-up is different, and you could not be that small even if you te only 15 rice grains a day. Still it got to me eventually. In most Western countries, I'd be considered fat/obese, but I would not be alone, and there'd be loads of people bigger than I am. At home, there would even be some people who'd consider me attractive as is. Here in Japan, I can only recall seeing 2 people bigger than me. In all 4 years. Sometimes, I'm tempted to ask where they buy their clothes, but I feel like that would be super-inappropriate since fat stands out so much more here. (One of them is a friend though, so I'll ask eventually.)

My problem is twofold really. Firstly, I'm fat. Secondly, I suddenly have a horrible self image.

I'm doing all the right things to change my body. I resolved to work out this year, originally to keep my bipolar in order. Since then, I've resolved to do Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred in all the 30 day months (four times a year).

Somehow, despite the fact that I'm doing all I'm supposed to be doing workout-wise, I'm not getting any results. I've managed to increase my body fat percentage. That's not going to discourage me from workouts, since weight-loss/size is not my prime goal, but still it would be nice to look like I work out, dang it!

Can I tell you a secret? I'm not sure if I want to fix it. I feel like going through the positive self-talk to get me to a place where I love my body would actually be detrimental to my fitness goals. I mean, if I love being fat and unfit, why workout?

On the other hand, I'm a bit afraid not to fix it. I don't diet. That's partly because I'm too lazy to make the effort it requires and partly because I'm a naturally healthy eater. But another part of it is that I'm an extremist. I'm afraid I'd end up only eating once a day for 30 seconds, or something similarly stupid. Now that I hate my body, I'm tempted to workout twice a day, 7 days a week, since nothing else seems to be working. That would possibly do more harm than it's worth. But a part of me just doesn't care.

Who knows? Maybe it will fix itself. Maybe when I look in the mirror I won't see a long-haul bus in reverse. Maybe I'll just see a woman.

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

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The perks of not fitting in

This is kind of a flip of Tuesday's post, "The perks of fitting in." Great comments on that post. Thanks. In particular, Asia's comment about a writer's fame reminded me of something.

"The best fame is a writer's fame. It's enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough to get you interrupted when you eat." - Fran Leibowitz
Everybody wants to be famous. But why would you when you have to deal with constant scrutiny and paparrazzi and time suck and...I'll tell you why. The perks!


Quick, think of the creepiest guy in your final year of secondary school. Now tell me who sat 4 seats to the leftor right of you in your Maths class. One of the perks of standing out, is that people remember you, whether you stand out for a good reason or a bad one.


When you're popular or famous, everybody wants to be your friend. Or at least, claim a connection to you. I tell lots of people that my brother went to school with Rihanna.  Even though I've never so much as seen her in person.

This can be a double-edged sword. You can be left wondering if people just talk to you because you're a writer, a foreigner, a black person, a submarine co-pilot, or if they actually like you for you.

 Rihanna in primary school. My brother went to secondary school with her, but I couldn't find a secondary school pic.


On Tuesday, I mentioned the haters, but there are also people that want you to win. You want your favourite author's next book to be great. You want your fave celebs to step out looking hot. When you're on top, people you've never met and never thought of are cheering for you. Don't believe me? Go on twitter and search a singer/actor/writer's name.


Here's the thing: you don't fit in, and you're not going to. Why try? Why not be as extreme as you feel like. As far as I know, there are only 2 black girls in a 100 km radius. And one is moving on Saturday. As I've lived here 4 years now, I hardly get stared at anymore. But I still don't fit in, and I never will. At first, I worried about that, worried that my area would judge all black females/people against me. They probably will.

But it's also liberating. They have noone to judge me against, so I can be as crazy as I want. Sometimes the mood hits me and I start to sing while I walk to work. What? Noone is going to understand me, and it's not like I can get  any stranger, anyhow. Also I wear a ridiculous amount of pink and purple clothing. I'm like a fat Nicki Minaj. I'm not letting this chance pass me by :)

Want an example from the famous types? Consider how many celebrity children are named things like Apple and Banjo and Blanket.

 Helena Bonham Carter has a blast not fitting in.


And the best thing about standing out? You don't have to restrict who you are. I mean, you can choose to -- lots of celebrities try to stay off worst-dressed lists. But take a look at Helena Bonham Carter, a self-declared anti-fashionista. She dresses how she feels and it works for her.

How do you feel abotu these perks? Can you think of any others? Would you rather fit in or not? 

* Nat King Cole
** Rihanna
*** Katy Perry
**** Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How a 5 hour trip turned into 24

So my shrinksie-poo is in Sendai. That's the capital of Miyagi prefecture, the prefecture south of mine (Iwate) and pretty much the capital of the entire Northeast. It's about 300 km from here, but I make the trek because while I'm decent in Japanese and will be happy to do most things in my 5th language, I'd rather commune with my psychiatrist in English.

Anyhow, this results in me either taking a "cheap" train ride - a serious of 3 or 4 trains - that will last about 5 hours, or the expensive ride on the shinkanesen (bullet train), an hour and a half and about $40 US more expensive. And that's only one way. As I make the trip once a month, I choose to save money over saving time.Yesterday, the joke was on me.

Heading back yesterday, I take a 4.02pm train to Kogota, and promptly fall asleep. I mean, what else is there to do on 5 hours of train? I wake to find the train going slowly. Miyagi is one of rare places in Japan that isn't really that mountainous, so the winds just whip across it in Spring and Fall. We crawl into Matsushima station, and there, they break the news: we weren't going anywhere until the wind stopped.

I pull out my Kindle, and Matthew Quick's BOY21. (AMAZING, btw, how does he do this thing with mixing characters from extremely different backgrounds so well?) I read the entire book. And then I remember that last time I was stranded on a train in the middle of the night, I started The Hunger Games. And I begin to wonder if reading books in stranded trains makes them brilliant. And then I realise we've been sitting there for 4 hours! At that I get a little worried. I don't want to get stuck in Matsushima, an area that was almost flattened by the tsunami. What if there's a quake? (There are still quakes almost daily, mostly weak though.) Finally, the wind (and rain, which had also started up) chill out enough for us to crawl to Kogota. I realise that I'm not making it home. It's almost 10. This was only the first of my 4 train rides and my last train on the Dinkville Express is at 9.44, and 3 hours away in good conditions. I decided to hope to make it to my capital, Morioka.  

I start KNOCKED OUT BY MY NUNGA-NUNGAS by Louise Rennison (who I keep promising not to read in public, because I look crazy when I start shaking with laughter) in the waiting room. The Japan Rail (JR) guys say the train for Ichinoseki (my next stop) has not yet left Sendai (where I started). I figure if it took us 6 hours and some to get to Kogota, there's no way in ice cream heaven we were seeing a train that night. No worries. See, I'm the world's worst traveller. Crazy shizbipple always happens to me, and I can't do anything about it. I stopped worrying a long time ago. 

Eventually the JR guys gave up and put us all on a bus, with a driver who apparently has never driven to train stations before, because the people in the bus had to give him directions. I consider it my scenic tour of North Miyagi. I have one friend who lives in one of the towns, but I've only seen that one town. That's when I discover that there's nothing to see in North Miyagi.

We're only two stops out from Ichinoseki when I decide I should put all the crazy stuff that happend to me in a non-fiction book, because I could never write it as fiction. Who would believe it? Like that time they found a human toe on the train track and it got declared a crime scene and the train couldn't run. (Yeps, that happened.)  I'm sketching out the book in my mind, when the bus crosses an intersection. I think we were supposed to turn left, but what do I know? I've never been on these roads before. Then the road ends suddenly and we are, literally, in an empty rice field. It takes all my willpower not to laugh out loud.  It's 9 HOURS into a 95 MINUTE TRAIN ride, and I'm in a BUS in a RICE FIELD. A little too ridiculous to contemplate.

The driver backs out and we make it to Ichinoseki (nicknamed The Sexy) a little after one. I'm glad to finally be back in Iwate, if not in my own town. I figure it doesn't make sense checking into a hotel for 4 hours, so I wander around the station area, looking for a restaurant. They're all closing at 3, but that will give me 2 hours of shelter. The first restaurant is "Thousand Year Place" which makes me think all the food will spoiled. Nopes. The second is Ichinoseki Hormone. Hormone is guts. The national Saturday pasttime of Barbados is eating pudding and souse. Pudding is potato dipped in pig blood and stuffed in pig intestine. I have NEVER eaten it. I figure if I left Barbados not eating guts, why come to Japan and eat it? Nopes.
The next restaurant is called Ton-chan, "Little Pig." I wonder in, and buy some strips of the second most expensive beef in Japan, which happens to come from a few stops from The Sexy, in a town named Maesawa. Then I have me some horse strips. And an aloe drink. And a Dragon Fruit Sherbet, which is sooooo good that I think, as I swallow my first mouthful, it was worth 9 hours for this.
 Dragon Fruit Sherbet, also known as Ecstasy in Purple.

I read my Kindle and eat slowly. I don't want this meal to finish a second before 3 o' clock. Because at 3, it's out in the wind - the cold is not so bad, my house is probably colder.

The little old lady working in the restaurant asks me if I'm sight-seeing. I'm tempted to tell her, yes, I'm sight-seeing in The nothing-to-see Sexy at 2 am, but sarcasm gets totally lost in Japanese. So I tell her I'm stranded, thanks to wind-cancellations. At 3, when I pay, she stops me and declares that I am SLEEPING AT HERS! I try arguing, but it's no use arguing with a Japanese person whose trying to do you a favour. So, we walk to her place, and she's like, you go on, and sleep, I'll watch tv and wake you at 5. I try to insist that she sleep, because there's no way someone who worked from 5 pm to 3 am isn't ready to sleep, but she refuses, and shuts me in the bedroom. I amuse myself thinking how if this were any other country, she'd be an axe-murderer. I don't think I'll fall asleep, but then it's 5, and she's tapping me. She tells me I can sleep longer if I want to, the tv says it's still high winds. But I've put her out too much already, so I say no, get up, use the loo (yay for reading British books!) and head out. She insists on walking me out to show me the way, even though it's a straight shot, and I can see the tracks from her apartment. I thank her profusely, and she insists I come back and say hi sometime. I've never been to The Sexy before, but I'm defs going to try to go now!

 AJR train next to the Dinkville Express, properly known as IGR - Iwate Galaxy Railroad.

When I get to the station, it turns out the tv was right. No trains all morning. I explore the 4 shops in the station. I find a new type of bread from my town's bread company, and a folder with the 5 Iwate mascots - all bowls with different kinds of food in them. And I buy myself breakfast, and then lunch, and then Cherry Blossom Rice Cake gelato (soooo yum). And then take a nap. When I ask, the station attendant tells me it's not just the high-winds now, there's apparently a power cut between The Sexy and Morioka. I just go back to my nap. At 12.20, they finally get a train running.

Of course, when I finally pull into Morioka, it's during the Dinkville siesta - my private train line has almost 2 hours in the middle of the day where they just don't run any trains. I wander off to the bookstore, and buy a copy of Gregory Maguire's WICKED. I get tempted to watch a movie, but I don't want to push my luck. I return to the station in time for the next train. I get home at 4.23 pm. 
My 5 hour train trip, turned into 24 hours and 21 minutes, involved a bus in a rice field, dragon fruit sherbet, cherry blossom rice cake ice cream, Maesawa beef, 2 books in English , 1 in French (Les Miserables), and 1 in Spanish (Como Agua Para Chocolate), and crashing at an old lady I'd never seen before in my life. What can I say? When you're the self-affirmed world's worst traveller, there's never a dull moment.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Perks of Fitting In

Most people have, at some point, wanted to be above average in some way or other. In school days, we want to popular. We want to excel at sports that we play. Or we want to acheive academic distinction. For the writers among us, we dream of best-sellerdom. (Btw, best-seller in Japanese is "long-seller," in Japanese-English pronunciation.)

Truth is, all that glitters isn't gold and there are some perks to being part of the pack.


When you're a leader, academically, politically, literaturally?/literally? (lol), etc, everybody watches your every move.You always have to be on your game. This post came to me as yet another, "what were they thinking?" article popped up, talking about celebrity outfits. I couldn't help thinking that the press would have a field day with me if I were ever that famous.

Top tier people always have to be well put together. And it's not just clothes. You're not allowed to get angry in public. You can't just say something stupid. You can't have a bad day.

But we can.


Success raises the bar. Average people have moderate success levels. I remember once I tried to study for my CXC's with a neighbour. He didn't put that much effort in, and I got frustrated and asked him why he wouldn't work. And he gave me a weird and warped bit of wisdom.

"Noone has any expectations for me, whatever I do will be fantastic."

To trespass into rap mogul territory, there are a lot more haters when you're on top. There are always people ready to point out your shortcomings. Sometimes there are even some who will actively aim for your destruction.


These are some reasons I think it's great being "average." How about you guys? Do you think these are perks? Can you think of any other perks?

Monday, April 2, 2012

The trouble with secrets

Keeping secrets takes a lot of energy. Like I used to hide the fact that I work out. I'm not entirely sure why, but I have a theory. Working out meant admitting publicly that I was viciously obese. Now, in my head I know that's not neccessarily true. Lots of people work out who aren't obese. But knowing that in my head, didn't stop what I felt.

Somewhere along the line, I made a conscious decision not to keep my exercise regimen a secret and it really makes life so much easier. Here are a few things I learned keeping this and other secrets.

Sinitta dancing to her '80's hit Cross My Broken Heart (Told Me a Secret). Click pic to watch on Youtube. 


No offense. Even the most unselfish person in the world thinks of themselves as the centre of the universe (if only on occasion). We make a big deal out of things and think other people will make as big a deal. And maybe, once in a while, we're right. But even then, they go home and get engulfed in their own problems and forget about you and yours.


If you are keeping a secret about something that is a regular part of your life, what's your reason? Many creative people struggle with their creativity and keep it a secret. Creativity is not at all "practical."  And according to MBTI researchers, over 70% of the American population falls into the practical set. People are ashamed of their creative desires. Many people only reveal them when there's no way to hide any more, or when they've found some kind of success to validate them.

If you're doing something, be it writing, working out, watching Gossip Girl, or whatever, and it is something that you want to do, then that's all it needs to be valid. You don't have to justify yourself to anyone. And what they might possibly think is not a valid reason to keep a secret.


Tying into the last point, a major reason for keeping these types of secrets is shame. I'm bipolar. I'm really open about it on here --  I feel like a broken record -- but in real life it's really hard to say. Even though there's nothing I can do. Even though scientists now accept it as a brain disorder/dysfunction. It's still hard not to be ashamed. It's still hard not to keep it a secret.

Secret-keeping means always having to pretend. It means that whenever that certain thing comes up, you have to change the topic, or avoid the question. It means you can't do what you should/want to be doing.

Back when my workouts were Classified Information, it affected how I did them. I couldn't go to the gym, because one of my adult English class students works there. And I might run into someone I knew, or worse, one of my junior high students! I could only use my workout DVDs when the neighbours weren't home. And if they came home mid-workout, I would try to exercise as quietly as possible.

When you're keeping a secret, everything gets in the way.


A beautiful side effect of being open about my "secrets" is that it keeps me accountable. Every Monday, we work at the Board of Education. After work, I go to the gym. I don't think that my colleagues would say anything if I didn't go to the gym, but just knowing that they know has made me go on days I didn't want to. My writing is the same way. Now that I'm open about it, one of my girlfriends will ask me what I've written lately.


I'm not saying it's easy to throw caution to the wind, and be open about the cards you play close to your heart. But consider that it can have positive side effects. Do you have any secrets that needn't really be hidden? Have you ever?