Friday, January 18, 2013

I can't write

I haven't written since the SCBWI Tokyo Writers' Intensive Retreat in June, I think. As I dip my toes back into the writing world (on this blog, and eventually on Twitter), I find myself thinking about why that is...


Right this moment, there is something more important to me than writing. Something that takes up the time and the brain-power that I normally would happily let writing have. That something is the fight to stay in Japan. I mentioned in my last post that my contract will end soon, and that I have to find something else to move onto. I also mentioned that I'm doing everything in my power to be prepared for any opportunity that may pass my way.

That everything includes learning Japanese. Not that I wasn't learning Japanese before... But my spoken Japanese, while understandable, is not Business-level Japanese, rendering it utterly useless in my job search. That means I have 7 months to get fluent. On top of which, Japanese uses the Chinese characters called kanji, of which there are literally THOUSANDS. The joyo kanji (Daily Use Kanji) is a list of 2136 characters. I'm currently working on learning them so that I can be on par with my the competition. So between grammar and kanji, every ounce of spare time I have goes into Japanese study.

But Claire, surely you could afford to sacrifice a few minutes a day to pursue something you love and want to make a life of.

No. Not really. Yes, I want to be a writer. But I also want to be in Japan. Being a writer doesn't have an expiry date on it - which is probably why so many potential novelists talk about 'one day.'  Being in Japan does. Unless I find a job. Which, in my mind, revolves around being prepared. Which, in turn, equates to spending ever spare moment studying. 


I make the choice to spend every spare moment studying. But, here's a little secret. When you study hard-core for 6 to 7 hours most days (in between work and maintaining a house and a pretty active social life), your brain has zero desire to be engaged in non-study hours. I can't create when I'm working this hard.

At the end of a day's study, I curl up with my DVD player, pop in the Japanese remake of Ikemen Desu Ne, and watch a few episodes. Even that is study, but at least it's passive, and way more enjoyable Sometimes I read Harry Potter. In Japanese. Or hang out with friends. Mostly Japanese, of course. But. nothing that involves my brain.

It might be different if the activity I was putting my all into was purely physical. But it's not, and when I close the textbook, my brain does that automatic log-off thing like your bank's website when you leave it open too long.

In fact, pushing myself to study so hard, means that Japanese has taken over many of the places where creativity would normally be. No more hilarious situations or quirky characters. I dream about kanji!

I don't mind it that much though. I know it's not forever. I'll be back to the creative world come August. After I secure this one goal, I'll get back to working on that other one that's taking a back seat for now.

Until then, I can't write.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How Happens

I've mentioned my job before, but I'll just give you a quick recap. I'm an Assistant Language Teacher on the JET programme. The biggest issue with this job, from my current point of view, is the time limit. The point of the programme is exchange. The Japanese government means for you to go back home and take your Japan experience with you. So the programme is capped at 5 years.

It's my 5th year.

Since the latter half of my 4th year, I've been thinking about what happens after August, 2013. I live in a small-town, so there's no opportunity for me to work here outside my current job.  In an hour's driving radius, there are only 11 other posts for ALTs. And getting one of those would require someone else leaving. In August, when my contract is up. And not in April, when the Japanese school year and most other contracts start.

Lately I've been thinking KISS. Korea - Italy - Sendai - Sapporo. (Sendai and Sapporo are both big cities in the North of Japan.) The problem I may have in Korea is the distinct preference for hiring Americans. But I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA how to go about living in Italy. When that occurred to me, I thought for a second that I should cross it off my list. And then I shrugged and thought: How Happens.

I started the JET programme, not because I'd researched it and thought it was a good fit. Not because I dreamed of going to Japan. Not because I wanted to teach English. (I actually find teaching my native language rather un-challenging. Warped brain of a linguist. Go figure.) I came on this programme because How Happened. I was working as a French and Spanish teacher, when I passed by my university to drop off some paperwork. I stopped by Student Services, since I'd been a Guild of Students' representative and had worked with the staff.

One lady, Louisa, asked me 'What are you up to these days?'
'Teaching,' I responded, 'But I wish someone would pay me to go overseas.'
'Well, we have this thing here from Japan.'

10 seconds that changed my life.

I knew nothing about Japan. No more than the average Westerner. Sushi, sumo, sayonara and Suzuki. But I was in a position to apply. I met the minimum requirements of having a degree and being under 35. I had experience in teaching foreign languages to children. I had learned foreign languages myself. I had lived away from home. I'd been in non-English-speaking countries before. I'd never heard of the JET programme and certainly wasn't preparing myself for it. Yet, I'd put myself in a position to be considered a good candidate.

And I got in.

That's how I'm looking at August. I don't have a clue what will happen. If I'll be able to stay in my area, Japan, Asia, the international scene... or if I'll have to return to Barbados. But right now I'm just concentrating on putting myself in the best position. I'm polishing my Japanese up to the highest level I can. I'm taking an Italian exam. Hopefully I'll get some writing done in between all that as well. I don't really have that much say over how things go. I can only control what I do and who I am. So I'm determined to be the best me I can be.

When How is ready, it'll happen.

(PS, Happy New Year everyone! 2013 for dreams coming true!)