Friday, September 27, 2013

Ippo fumidaseba - A single step

I moved down the hill. Literally.

I took this picture from the front of my apartment. That green fence is where I used to live. It's so close that I moved a good chunk of my things down the hill by loading into my backpack or suitcase and walking.

By the way, walking down the street with a used microwave always makes you feel like a thief. Always. Just in case you wondered.

So anyhow, my old place and my new place are so close that you wouldn't think much would change.

Surprisingly everything's different.

My new place is on the road that's the shortcut from the train station to the high school. This means though I hardly used to see these kids before, I now trip over my students the minute I set foot outside of my door. The restaurant down the hill is now the restaurant right next door, which means that if I'm outside, I can hear who's in there. This leads to me 'accidentally' running into people all the time.

Up the hill is just a little gap with like 7 houses, so I hardly saw anyone before. Where I live now, the houses behind me are really dense, so I've lots of neighbours. Many of them are the guys from my festival team. I'm hoping that this leads to more hanging out. The old apartment was kind of at an intersection of routes, you had several choices of which to take. Where I live now, you don't really. This means you walk the same route more frequently. Yet again, more running into people.

イメージ 1

One of my favourite Japanese TV shows is Atashinchi no Danshi (Literally: My boys). In trying to get the 'hikkikomori' (shut-in) son to come out of his room, Chisato (the star) says ' If you take one step forward, the whole world changes. ' (Ippo fumidaseba sekai ga kawaru. 一歩踏み出せば世界が変わる。)

That's what it feels like. I've just moved down the hill, but somehow, I'm miles closer to everything and everyone.

And there's a writing application to today's post too.

Point of view. At first POV doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's like my moving down the hill. A different POV means running into different people, seeing different scenes. Some things changing and some things don't happen at all.

So how do you pick a POV? You could weigh all the pros and cons of what story you end up with depending on where your narrator stands or who he or she is or how he or she talks.

Or you could just move down the hill and see what the world looks like.

Do you have any experiences with the world changing with a single step?

Monday, September 23, 2013

On need

I don't think it's a  secret. The modern world has convinced us that we need much more than we do.

Like refrigerators.

I don't have one. I am not starved. Or malnourished. In fact, I eat healthier now than when there was a fridge in the house. Think about it. How much of the stuff in the refrigerator is stuff you actually need? How much of it is good for you? How much of it would rot in less than 5 days if it wasn't refrigerated?

Maybe not needing a fridge is a little far-fetched for some people. So how about a car? Whether you need a car depends on where you live. How's the public transportation? How far from work/school do you live? Can you get there without a car? If you need something that must be done with a car, is there someone close to you who will do it?

Now that I've got a Japanese license, friends keep asking when I'm getting a car. Truth is I don't think I need one.

I've lived in this town for 5 years. When I came, I didn't have an International license because of the joy that is the Barbados Licensing Authority. I could have gone to get a Japanese license. But two of my schools and town hall were within walking distance. The third school was an easy bus ride for US$2.50. I could walk to the supermarket. Taxis were expensive but not so much so that I couldn't call one if I had a heavy package from the home store. Now, I work at one school I can walk to and my other school is right next to the train station, one stop away. Even after the recent typhoon, when the trains weren't running there was still a bus.

The trains are an hour apart and the buses are inconvenient. It's hell with a cherry on top to get to any town the train doesn't run to, and sometimes it can be complicated for the ones with trains that aren't a straight shot. But, I do have access to cars. My Japanese Dad's car has taken to parking itself at my apartment, and just last night, the mechanic was like, 'Claire,  you can use my carS any time.' I don't really need a car and if do, they are several available.

My friends who keep asking are all drivers themselves or foreigners. I guess they see cars as infinitely more convenient than the alternatives. But since my alternatives are easy, a car looks like a colossal pain in the in-grown toenail. Buying them, insuring them, filling them up, all cost money. They inform people of your every move. If you run into a parked car with just your body, who cares? Run into it with a car and you're liable. I don't need a car.

The third thing I often think of as 'you really don't need this anywhere near as much as you think you do' is a smart phone. To start with, the necessity of a cell phone is questionable. It's linked to your line of work, your neighbourhood, how many people really need to be able to contact you right now. But even if we assume a cell phone is necessary, does your phone really need to be able to plot the entire solar system?

I've only recently crossed over to smart-dom. The only reason I need  a smart phone now is because I've decided not to get internet at home (to avoid ridiculous broken contract fees if I have to move again) and my family on the other side of the world likes to know that they can find me without having to get on a rice boat. I don't even like it. It makes me feel way to over connected. So it spends half the time at home or turned off, making it actually LESS useful than the idiot-phone I had before.

The other funny thing about these ''needs'' is that they all have drawbacks. Guns don't shoot people. People shoot people. But without a gun, people - try as they might - can't shoot people. Similarly fridges make people fatter and unhealthier. Cars cause more pollution than they need to because people get used to having them and drive when they could reasonably walk or use other transportation. I also suspect that having smart phones do all our thinking is going to start to atrophy our brains at some point.

It's a lot to chew on, but I wonder how often people take the necessities for granted. All people really need is air, water and food. After that it's a hierarchy of how much easier life becomes with the inclusion of a particular thing.

You think you need it, but do you really? And is it actually doing you more harm than good?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is to is, must is

Back in January, I posted 'How Happens' about the fact that everything would be up in the air after August, when my contract at the time expired.

I don't remember if I said it here, but the Japanese school year runs April to March, and the JET year (the programme I was on) runs August to July. This meant that I would need to break contract to be eligible for most of the teaching jobs.

But breaking contract isn't in my vocabulary. The way I see it, keeping promises is one of my few virtues. I try very, very hard never to give it up. So I let April pass. With it, a chance at a similar job on the other end of the prefecture for comparable pay. But worse,  I gave up the job at the high school in town. The ONLY other job that I can legally work in my town. By keeping my word, I basically gave up all hope of being where I finally feel I belong.

I started looking feverishly for work. I got through with one job in April only to find that they needed me to start immediately. So I waited until June for my next batch of applications. Finally, I bit the bullet and made the exactly 600-km trip down to Tokyo for interviews. There are no words to describe how much I despise Tokyo. But a 3-hour shinkansen ride is a lot closer to my town than the opposing hemisphere of the Earth.

I was just waiting to hear back from the jobs in Tokyo, when suddenly the job in my town opened up!

It feels like a personal miracle. It is very literally the ONLY way I could stay here, and it was not supposed to be available. I gave it up in April with the finality of signing my own death warrant, and yet here it was knocking on my door again.

So, I'm still here. In the town I love. It's nowhere near as cushy as before - but then nothing is as cushy as government -  but I'm here. It was not supposed to be possible but it is.

And I got here without having to compromise my character.

What is to is, must is.

PS, "What is to is, must is," is from the Samuel Selvon novel, A Brighter Sun. It may just be my favourite quote of all time.