#FACEVALUE

I think it’s really easy to trawl through social media and get jealous of how many of you friends seem to have great, amazing, fun lives. But you shouldn’t.

After all, that’s the point of social media, isn’t it? It’s a platform for self-promotion that gives you tools to make your life look amazing. You can crop things out of pictures, filter away blemishes, soften your edges and highlight what you want to show the world. I’m sure there’s even a damn lens flare option in there somewhere.

My point is, the myriad of images you see on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram are usually meticulously polished products designed to show the optimal amount of ‘FUN’.

Take, for example, seeing a selfie of two friends on the beach. ‘Gosh,’ I think to myself ‘They look like they’re having so much fun! I wish my life was as cool as theirs.’

What helps me is to think of what happens during and after the picture is taken. I know they most likely took more than one shot – the person on the left was probably blinking or making an ugly face that they were self-conscious about. Maybe it was blurry the next two takes. Maybe the person on the right wasn’t fully in the selfie. There are so many things that probably went wrong before they got this ‘perfect’ shot. Not to mention how silly taking a selfie in public looks.

And then after it’s taken, I’m sure each of my friends sat on their phones in silence – editing, filtering, cropping and lens-flaring the recently-snapped picture. So while they’re ‘having a great time at the beach #life #beachlife #bestie #happy’, they’re really just pausing whatever fun they were having together in order to update their social network on what they’re doing. It’s a bit misleading.

To be fair, sometimes I am guilty of this too. I think as a generation that’s grown up with this, we all are to some extent. But even though I do it too, I still find myself looking at other people’s social media posts and yearning for my life to be as cool as theirs. But I shouldn’t be basing how their life is on a single filtered, cropped, softened, lens-flared picture. And neither should you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Futon

Right there, on the wall of my bedroom, was a cockroach.

I stared, frozen in disgust as it sat calmly on my wall – slightly camoflauged by the wooden perimeter that ran around the small room. Its spindly antennae moved back and forth inquisitively and I knew that it sensed my terror.

 

 

 

ゴキブリが大嫌い!!!

 

“Oh god oh god oh god oh god,” I repeated manically as if I had just found a dead body.

I took several deep breaths and tried to calm myself down. My revulsion at this intruder had rendered me nearly useless. I was revolted and hysterical but for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off the six-legged offender.

Composing myself slightly, I slowly made my way to the door of my bedroom. My bare feet pressed into the slippery surface of my tatami as I made my way out of my room. I hurriedly clomped down the stairs, causing a symphony of creaks and groans to fill the downstairs of my apartment.

I yanked the thin string of my ceiling light and it blinked slowly to life. A terrifying image came to my mind of a dozen cockroaches scattering across my floor, trying to escape the light. My friend Hermán’s words echoed in my head – “You know, I hear that if you see one cockroach in your house, it means there are about fifty more living there as well.”  How innocently he had relayed his little factoid – as if it were a piece of trivia we would hear and then file away for years.

Now, however, that was all I could think about. As I quickly made my way to the kitchen, I pictured an enormous family of cockroaches living in my walls. Zigzagging erratically across my floor when I wasn’t home. Having little cockroach pool parties in my mountain of unwashed dishes. Enjoying the cold air as they explored the inside of my wall-mounted air conditioning unit.

I held back a gag as I yanked open the cabinet under the sink. I kept a various array of cleaning supplies in here, along with my poison spray. I stared into the dark space with more than a bit of trepidation. If any place in my apartment was perfect for a huge family of cockroaches, I thought, it was most definitely this dark, cool space underneath my sink.

I snatched the can of poison spray and shut the door as quickly as I could. The design on the can was formidable looking and showed a red upside-down cockroach with a large X through it. The nozzle was apparently designed for heavy spraying which meant I would not have to be close to the offending insect.

When I got back to my room, I saw with a mixture of relief and dread that the bastard was still chilling on my wall, antennae swiveling back and forth on its gross, crispy head. I crept to the other end of the room and tugged my futon out of the way. I didn’t want to sleep in poison spray residue, after all.

Gripping the can in my shaking hand, I took a few more deep breaths. Your fear of bugs should not be this crippling, I chastised myself. It’s like four hundred times smaller than you are. And plus, you have poison. POISON.

As I psyched myself up, I began to feel an odd sort of remorse for killing the little guy. He’s only being himself, my emotional side chimed in. He’s probably cold. Maybe hungry or thirsty. And he just wandered in because he was trying to survive. Is that so wrong?

I stared at the cockroach again for a brief moment. Its black teardrop of a body was fairly large by cockroach standards. Its legs were jagged and almost hairy-looking. All the while, its incredibly long antennae wouldn’t stop moving.

I took a deep breath. It had to die. I wasn’t about to scoop it up nicely in a cup or with a piece of paper and kindly escort it out of my apartment. And I surely wasn’t going to let it roam free in the crevices of my place with the rest of its disgusting family. No, I decided firmly, this son of a bitch was going to have to be dealt with.

Readying myself, I tightened my grip on the can. My finger grazed the trigger and I steadied my aim. The cockroach’s antennae waved back and forth, paused for a bit and then continued to move alternately. I’m sure it sensed something was about to happen.

photo 1

Actual handrawn depiction of the events that transpired that evening

“Sorry, little dude,” I said, trying to sound simultaneously brave and apologetic. “You came into my house. I don’t wanna do this but you gave me no choice…”

I squeezed the trigger and a forceful spray shot out of the can. In the exact same instant, the cockroach leapt off the wall and flew toward my face. FLEW TOWARD MY FACE. Its wings made a sickening thump thump thump sound as they beat frantically against the air.

I let out a horrific shriek as I dove out of the way – something that must have sounded akin to a baby goat being attacked by a pterodactyl.

photo 4

Yes, my mouth really is that enormous

The newly-revealed flying cockroach made a sharp turn and crashed into the far wall of my bedroom. It fell on the wood perimeter of the room, safely off the tatami. Its spiky legs twitched, its body spasmed and, its (now obvious) wings flapped uselessly.

“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” I was now yelling. My finger was tight on the trigger, emptying far more of it onto the poor thing than was likely necessary.

It didn’t matter that it was now past midnight on a Tuesday. Or that the walls of my apartment allowed for every footstep, sneeze and snore of my elderly neighbors to be heard. Nor did it matter that said elderly neighbors and I had a fairly good relationship.

The only thing that mattered now was exacting revenge on this evolutionary freak of an insect that had taken me by surprise not once, but twice in the span of an hour.

After a few more seconds of adrenaline-fueled spraying and hysterical curse words, I released the trigger. The cockroach now lay glistening in a small lake of poison. Noxious fumes filled the area and I moved to crack open my window before I passed out.

Dramatically, I collapsed onto my tatami and covered my mouth and nose with my blanket. Nobody had told me cockroaches in Japan flew. I thought flying cockroaches were only a weird Floridian thing. What in the ever-loving christ was going on?

Before too long, I had a wad of far too many paper towels in my hand and I was standing over the insect again. Its angular legs kicked slowly against the air and my stomach turned in response.

Eventually, my heart rate slowed and my bedroom no longer reeked of insecticide. I had taken the cockroach in its massive tomb of paper towels and thrown it in the bag of perishable trash I kept in my freezer. I warily gave my apartment a final once-over before climbing the stairs to my bedroom again.

I don’t know what I would have done had I found another cockroach. Probably spend the night at a friend’s.

I verified that the walls, tatami and wooden perimeter of my bedroom were all bug-free before repositioning my futon. Shaking out the blankets diligently, I settled cautiously in to my futon, turned off the lights and tried not to think about where the cockroach had been before I found it.

 

*This is part of a larger story on my encounters with bugs in Japan. I hope to post more here sometime. Feedback is appreciated, as always! :-D Do you hate bugs like I do? What’s your least favorite insect? Ugh.*

Super Moon in the Bus Graveyard

 

Powerlines

I had been sitting inside all day and was tired of it. I took the phone I had been spinning lazily in my hand and texted my friend Juan.

‘Hey, what are you up to?’

I had suddenly had a a crazy idea.

‘Wanna go watch the Super Moon tonight in a field with me?’

Juan’s response came quickly – he was down. He too had not been up to much this afternoon.

‘What kind of field are we talking about…?’

‘Hahaha. Don’t worry,’ I typed back, sensing that the ellipses were meant to convey a slight hesitance. ‘I’m not going to murder you, I promise.’

Soon we were off in my tiny car – two lawn chairs thrown in the back. The bottles of beer clinked softly in their small red vinyl lunchbox as my car bumped down the road.

We arrived not long after. Parking at a nearby business, we collected the beer and folding chairs and made our way across the busy road.

“So yeah, I don’t know if we’re technically allowed to go in here but…” I trailed off innocently.

“Yeah, it definitely seems like we’re NOT supposed to.” Juan laughed, gesturing to the locked metal gate.

“Technicalities,” I shrugged and handed him my folding chair.

I bent down and swung my body through the space between the wood of the fence.

“Plus, you’re a law student,” I said, bringing my other leg to the ground. “If we get into trouble, I know you’ve got our backs.”

The field I had promised was actually more of a dirt lot. It was a huge open area that sat between a housing development and a stretch of wild brush growth. Every so often, the lot would be filled with hundreds of cars for the area’s local gun show.

Now, however, it was occupied by a huge row of yellow school buses. There must have been at least eighty, lined up side by side. As we walked by them, we saw handwritten paper signs in the windows: NISD, CCISD, AUSTIN ISD, SAISD. In less than two weeks, they would be no doubt be driven out of here and dispersed across South Texas to transport returning students to school.

Although it was still light out, walking along the monolithic row of buses was still a bit eerie.

BusGraveyard

 

A small brown hare jumped out in front of us and dashed off into the brush to our left. Our eyes followed it and we saw that beyond the once-green vegetation, partially hidden, sat a creepy-looking ranch of sorts.

“What if someone is watching this place and shoots us?” Juan said with a nervous laugh.

“Oh man, that would be the most boring job ever!” I replied. “Can you imagine watching a dirt field like this all day? In the heat?”

Mild concerns slightly assuaged, we continued walking along. I stopped every so oten to snap pictures while Juan told me about the recent goings-on of his life.

Eventually, we found a spot right next to two gigantic electricity power towers.

We unpacked our chairs, cracked open our beer and sat there talking about our lives.

Behind us, a row of school buses bound for Corpus Christi sat watching in silence. Twenty or so feet in front of us was a long fence that protected a row of backyards. At one point, I caught a glimpse of a pair of sunglasses peering over one of the fences at us.  Apparently they didn’t think that we were much of a threat.

Our beer eventually ran out and we went to examine the buses behind us. To our surprise, they were open! We cracked open the sliding door and slowly made our way inside. We climbed the steps and instantly the smell of New Car hit us. These buses were brand new! We quickly exited, not wanting to disturb a brand new vehicle.

Powerlines

By this point, it was almost time for the Super Moon. We sat and watched the sky change as the sun made its journey on to the other side of the world. Wispy clouds burned in the sky and the massive power lines above us hummed with energy.

Soon, the Super Moon emerged on the horizon. It was massive and orange and we watched it ascend into the dark sky. It illuminated everything – I was able to see Juan clearly in the pale light it exuded. I took more than a dozen pictures on my phone, hoping foolishly that one of them would result in something other than a fuzzy ball of light. None of them did.

As we were sat watching the moon, mosquitos feasted on our legs and arms. When a large moth flew into my hair, prompting a flurry of shrill curse words, I knew it was time to head out. We packed up our chairs and began our trek back to my car. The moonlight gave the row of school buses an even creepier feel and we might have walked faster past them than we had on our way in. The brown hare bolted across our path again, bouncing effortlessly across the dirt.

We had most definitely trespassed but we did it responsibly. We took our trash with us, leaving nothing but our footprints in the dirt. I’ve always liked the traveler’s adage: “Take nothing  but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, waste nothing but time.”

And that’s just what we did.

 

Fat Zumba Instructor

zumba_logo_2_high

 

Tonight I had the fat Zumba Instructor.

Normally, I go to Zumba on Mondays and Saturdays with the same instructor: a short, fit little thing who kicks all of our asses with intense hip-hop aerobic choreography. After every class, I’m left with sore calves, an elevated heart rate and a shirt that’s literally drenched in sweat.

“Good class!” I’ll pant to a few other women in my class, curls hanging in my eyes like wet, salty corkscrews.

“Good class!” they’ll respond back cheerfully.

Tonight, however, my regular Zumba instructor was not there.

“Hi, are y’all here for Zumba?” a short, heavyset woman said as she made her way into the dance studio. “I’m Beth. I’m gonna be substituting for Carolina tonight. She’s not here.”

Instantly, I felt the mood around me change. I don’t know how to describe it, but you know when you can just feel the energy in a room change? That’s exactly what happened. Almost like a Spidey Sense, I could tell that the other women were not at all happy with this turn of events.

 

Beth made her way over to the sound system to plug in her music. I’m sure she could tell that she was not who everyone wanted to see. I saw a few women bolt from the room like junior high kids on the last day of school.

“Have you ever done Beth’s class?” I asked a girl with whom I was talking before class started.

“Yeahhhh I haaaave,” she said, elongating all her vowels. She then leaned in and whispered the rest to me. “I kind of like Carolina better.”

“Ah, yeah,” I said quietly with a nod. “Me too. But, whatever!” I added.

I would make the most of this, I thought.

Beth taught one class a week at my gym. I have never attended it but I assume she has a following of people who like her. My only experience with her came from a two-hour Zumbathon that I attended in October. During the Zumbathon, six instructors would each switch out and do a song or two while a huge group of people danced along. This went on for two hours and by the end of it, I was destroyed.

During Beth’s turn, though, I felt a sort of reprieve from the more difficult routines of the other instructors. Compared to their jumps and squats and turns and kicks, her moves were cake. I was able to regain my breath a bit, and for that I was thankful.

One of the things that I find fascinating about Zumba is that there are so many different styles of it. Each instructor has their own niche and you can usually find one or two that suit you. Beth’s niche, though, does not really jive with the kind of dancing I like to do. Whereas I am more of a hip hop/high-energy dancer, she does a lot of salsa and merengue and bachata.

Reggaeton music began to play from the speakers in the studio and I found myself moving my hips to the beat as I waited for class to start. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, I thought as I watched other women filter in to the room via the reflection of the mirror in front of me.

Soon, the reggaeton quickly faded away and was replaced by an upbeat salsa song. “Okay, let’s get warmed up!” Beth yelled and started waving her arms from side to side.

Soon we were off, arms flailing back and forth rhythmically and torsos turning in beat to match them.

“Right!” Beth shouted as we shimmied right – arms still waving.

“Left!” she shouted. Again, we shimmied the opposite way – arms still waving.

“Stop!” she shouted. We stood in place and salsa-d for what felt like an eternity. My arms looked like the large styrofoam noodles children use to whack each other with in swimming pools.

I kinda felt like this guy, to be honest.

I kinda felt like this guy, to be honest.

Soon we were on to cumbia-ing. With balled-up fists at my sides, I stepped to my right side. Then left. Then right. Then left. Then right again. Then left again. Jesus, I thought, how long is this song?

Usually during Zumba class, I am focused entirely on getting my moves right and just jamming to the music. I don’t have time to think about much else. Beth’s routines, however, were not captivating. I found my mind wandering to all sorts of things that I had no business thinking about during Zumba.

I should do laundry, I thought as I spun to the left and then to the right and then the left again.

 I stuck my right foot in and out a few dozen times as if I were doing a Mexican hokey pokey. Then, with disappointing predictability, we were off across the floor in the other direction.

When animals fart, does it make the same sound as humans? Do they even fart? What about bugs?

It was here when I caught the eye of another regular who I talk to in class sometimes. She works at the gym and usually comes to Carolina’s class for a bit before her shifts. She is the type of Zumba-goer who will tell others – “save my spot!”.

Her short frame was cumbia-ing behind me and she appeared bored out of her skull.

Finally, the song stopped and everyone in class ran to get a drink of water before another hour-long song began.

“I miss Carolina,” the short gym employee behind me said, her voice dripping in judgement.

“Yeah, well…” I said taking a swig from my water bottle. “This is new, right? It’s a change!”

My attempts at being positive had no effect on her and she rolled her eyes. “I’ll probably leave soon anyway.”

The next couple of songs were much of the same: cumbia, salsa and merengue. At one point, a salsa song was jarringly spliced with a slow reggaeton song that came out of nowhere. One minute, we were spinning right and left with a flick of our wrists and the next, we were squatted down low throwing our hands out to the sides and then over our heads.

Eventually a lull in songs came again and I retreated to my water bottle again. The girl I had just spoken to looked at me and, once again, rolled her eyes dramatically. She made no effort to hide her displeasure and shook her head as if to emphasize just how much she ‘couldn’t even’. It was as if she wanted me to partake in her judgment. I was having none of it.

Soon, the next song started and within the first minute, the pint-sized bundle of snark had gone, taking her negativity with her.

As we continued to noodle-arm and turn back and forth, I felt my mind wander again.

Why doesn’t the word ‘umlaut’ HAVE an umlaut? 

 How did the Tasmanian Devil do it? I’m spinning at like, a fraction of the speed and I’m already dizzy. 

As we were now facing the doors, I saw people walking by outside. Two women who usually took Carolina’s class walked by and kind of stopped when they saw me. I gave them a smile and they raised their eyes and smiled back as if to say ‘Glad we’re not doing what you’re doing’.

Paying them no heed, I continued to cumbia back and forth. Why were people so negative?

At one point, Beth had us galloping in place. She let out a series of shrill whoops to try to hype the class up. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and I think she might have scared a few of us. She walked back and forth in the front, waving her stubby arms and goading us to whoop as well. A few women let out forced whoops that seemed to pacify her.

Okay, I though to myself, I get why some of these women were less-than enthused about Beth substituting.

When class was over, it seemed like Beth was just as relieved as everyone else.

“Thanks for comin’ y’all,” she called sweetly as everyone gathered their things. “Thanks for staying.”

That line ‘Thanks for staying’, really hit me. She knew that she was not who these women wanted to see. She knew that her style was completely different than what Carolina’s was. She knew that she had started out with almost thirty people in class and ended with less than twenty. As an instructor, that has to be pretty demoralizing.

What was worse, though, is that I’m sure she felt the judgment from other people in class. She knew the rest of the women in the class were going to talk about her afterwards. They would gossip about her and demean her and lament how they missed Carolina.

Yet she still showed up and did class.

I mean, sure, she may not have the most interesting routines. And maybe the music she plays might sound like something your tia would dance to in her living room. And some people might not think the rolls of fat bulging out of her tight clothing is the most motivational thing to see at the head of a cardio class.

But conventions be damned, she does it anyway. And I think that’s incredibly admirable. Even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as I usually do, I was glad I stayed because it was a different experience. Most importantly, I left class with a new respect for Beth.

So go ahead and leave, catty women. Deny yourself a workout and take your negativity with you. You were not missed.

A year later: Bleeding Through

photo 1

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my life.

The Short Version: from 2010 to 2013, I lived in rural Japan. I taught English in local elementary and junior high schools. It was easily the most challenging, amazing, rewarding, frustrating and life-changing thing that has happened to me yet.

For this reason, I find myself still thinking about Japan quite often. I will talk about it to whoever will listen. I’m on the board of my city’s Japan-America Society. I try to practice my Japanese whenever I can. And I still keep up with and listen to a lot of Japanese music.

Whenever I find myself talking about Japan though, I can occasionally see something in my friends’ eyes for a split-second. An eye roll or a lift of the eyebrows that seems to say ‘oh jeez here he goes again’. As if I’m a veteran grandpa recounting his time in ‘Nam or something.

It just seems that I can’t let Japan go.

But…do I have to?

レリゴーレリゴー

レリゴーレリゴー

For me, living in Japan for three years was a serious life-changing event for many reasons: It was my first time living away from home, I was in a different country doing something that I had dreamed about doing for years. I was able to travel to several different countries as well as domestically in Japan. I also formed amazing relationships with my students, coworkers and other foreigners from all over the world. I was even featured on a radio program, a TV show and on the front page of a Kyushu-wide magazine!

These are extraordinary things to do in one’s early twenties and I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to have the experience I had.

But now that I’m back, and as I look forward to the future, I find myself still wanting to hold on to my connection to Japan. It would be great to work someplace where I can use Japanese. I would love to go back and visit sometime – specifically Kumamoto. And I still want to practice the language as much as I can because, hey, I spent a lot of time learning it. I don’t want to forget it.

It’s difficult, however. I want to embrace and cherish the special relationship I have with this island country that’s seven thousand miles away. But at the same time, I don’t want to dwell on it so much that it turns in to this sort of conceived paradise that it never was – causing me to deem what I plan to do in the future as ‘not as cool as Japan’.

Even though I’ve been back in the US for almost a year. Things like dealing with reverse culture shock (which is a very real thing), shifting dynamics in friendships old and new, and the crumbling of a long-distance relationship have all been more challenging than I anticipated they would be.

These things caused me to reflect more fondly on the good times I had when I was living in Japan. Almost like an escape back in to the Good Old Days. I was even quite resentful for a short period after coming back to the states, feeling that I had plateaued in my life. I even began looking up ways to get back to Japan.

But this wouldn’t have solved anything.

A metaphor popped into my head the other day, though, that I feel aptly describes my feelings.

Imagine you have a blank journal. You write in said journal for a good number of years with pens of varying quality. Some of the pens may be blue or black or red. Some may have been running out of ink when you used them. Maybe you even wrote in pencil on a few occasions.

Then one day you obtain a new writing utensil: a marker. You continue to write with this marker for a good long while before you eventually lose it.

The next time you go to write in the journal again, you see that the words you’ve written on the previous pages have bled through to the next dozen pages or so. You can write over the splotchy words and exclamation marks that have bled through, but you’re still able to see them clearly.

 

photo 1

Japan was, for me, the time in my life that I wrote with the boldest, darkest marker I could. I painted the shit out of my journal with it. I doodled in all the margins, I took up every line on every page. I wrote so boldly that the ink bled through for pages and pages and pages.

Now, when I write more things in the journal of my life, it’s with the constant reminder of what I have done in the recent past. Instead of blank pages to start from, I’m forced to write over the inky shadows of exciting times that seemed like just yesterday.

It feels like the new words that I write are not eye-catching or impressive – especially when compared to the huge, fun strokes of what’s left over from before. It’s like they’re having to fight for space and attention on the page. Sometimes it almost feels too fresh to even attempt to write over.

What I’ve had to learn to do is to accept that these reminders of my time in Japan will always be there in my journal. They’re going to have bled through to a good number of pages. But as time goes on, the dark smudges and blotches will begin to lighten and fade as new pages are turned.

Part of me fears that I will never be able to recapture the gusto and passion from the time in my life that I wrote with that bold marker. But another part of me sees that as a challenge. Why wouldn’t I be able to have another experience like that? It’s up to me to make it happen.

Sometimes it’s definitely easier said than done, but I’m finding a nice balance now between my life that was and where I am currently. The wonderful thing about having a journal like this (or, life, as I call it) is that at any time, I can go back and relive all of these adventures. I can flip back a few years and lose myself in rumination about how great (or not so great) certain aspects were.

These moments are nostalgic and fun to look back on – especially with friends who were there too. But the truth is, there’s no hope of recreating them. And that is a painfully bittersweet thing to realize.

(noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

Hiraeth: (noun) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

 

I’ve seen discussions and articles from former JETs on ‘Breaking up with Japan’. I think this is a good way to put it, but it seems a bit…final. I guess for me, ’Archiving Japan’, is a better description of what I’m doing — writing about it, experiencing it again and storing it away in my memory.

And I know that every time I take it out and revisit it, I’ll see those bold-ass marker strokes and smile at what a great experience it was.

 

 For those ‘ex-expats’ who have left Japan (or anywhere) and have readjusted to their home countries, have you found you’ve gone through the same kind of challenge? Have you managed to strike a balance that’s put you at peace? Do you have any advice for others who are struggling? 

 

…But I’m a 90s Bitch

About a month ago, I was at the gym shaking my butt, shimmying and body rolling in my Zumba class (as I do). Between songs, I was having a breathless conversation with another Zumba friend who I hadn’t seen at class in a while.

“How was your birthday?” she asked as we gulped down water.

“It was great,” I said, dabbing my sweaty neck and forehead. It was an exercise in futility – I was just going to continue sweating until my shirt darkened to a different shade of blue.

“How old did you turn?”

“Twenty seven,” I responded. “I’m an old man now,” I added jokingly.

“WHAT? You’re TWENTY SEVEN??” she exclaimed. “You look really good!”

Before I had time to say anything, the next song started again and I willed my old bones to fall in to rhythm and dance.

It wasn’t until later that I thought about what she had said. I look good for twenty seven? I mean, thanks? But, but, my brain screamed at her as I replayed our interaction again in my mind, twenty seven isn’t old!

I know that she was just being nice. She’s only twenty herself, after all. The chasm of difference between how I was when I was twenty and who I am now is staggering. But this encounter brought to light a fact that a lot of people don’t like to really think about: I’m getting old(er).

It’s not that big of a deal, really. Not the kind of life-altering epiphany that will cause me to run out and buy a motorcycle or a sports car or a boat. Lately, though, I’ve been noticing things that really emphasize the fact that myself and my peers are becoming those people. 

The other day, I was in the supermarket with my mother and ‘Better Off Alone’ by Alice Deejay came on over the loudspeakers.

“Oh mannn!” I exclaimed as I began dancing behind the cart I was pushing. “This is a CHOON!”

My mom laughed and said, “Someone told me once: ‘You know you’re getting old when you think the supermarket plays good music’.”

I waved her off and continued playing the iconic synth progression on the handle of the cart – daa daa daa daa daadaa daa DAA DAA daa daa.

But it isn’t just the supermarkets that are playing good songs, it seems. As I continue to go out to bars and other places where people (roughly) my age gather, I notice this trend of playing 90s jams. Last night at bar trivia, we were serenaded by one-hit wonders and other awesome tunes from the 90s. Songs that evoke fond memories.

Speaking of music that speaks to fond memories I have, I’ve recently fallen in love with the very talented Canadian singer-songwriter Kiesza – specifically her song Giant in my Heart. The song has SO MUCH GOODNESS in it and transports me through a nostalgic tunnel of love. I think that, although her 90s-esque sound can be seen as a gimmick, it’s well-done enough to where it works: evoking a warm, tingly feeling in my heart.

What doesn’t leave a tingly feeling in my heart, though, are the tactics that advertisers seem to be using these days. They are clearly catering to my age group by using the powers of nostalgia. This can be seen in the entertainment industry, especially.

In the following years, we are going to see reboots of SO MANY 90s classics: a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, a live-action JEM and the Holograms movie, a new Jurassic Park movie and maybe even a Captain Planet movie.

They might even reboot…Reboot!

Old TV shows are also being rebooted like nobody’s business: Netflix is bringing back The Magic Schoolbus. LeVar Burton succesfully completed a record-setting kickstarter to bring Reading Rainbow back. The Powerpuff Girls will be back on Cartoon Network in 2016. And the Disney Channel recently premiered Girl Meets World – a spin-off that takes place fourteen years after Boy Meets World ended.

All of these things seem to happening around the same time and I don’t think it’s coincidental. Call me crazy…but it’s almost as if companies have figured out that nostalgia is a quick way to cash in on something without actually making an effort to produce a quality product!

I get it, my generation is growing up. We’re still at that age where we’re young enough to remember how great certain things from our childhood were and get excited about them. But it seems like the collective excitement and novelty of something from our heyday takes precedent over whether or not a shiny new reboot is actually any good.

My good friend wrote a fantastic piece on the Sailor Moon reboot and nostalgia that I highly recommend! In it, she discusses how nostalgia can cloud our vision and hinder our critical perception of something. “Because nostalgia inflates the inherent value of something within our mind, it also inflates its importance to us.” she writes. “Our loving of something like Sailor Moon, something that we discovered in the heady and idealized days of our youth, ties it intrinsically to our very selves.”

It seems that Girl Meets World isn’t living up to the expectations of fans of the original series. As Kevin Fallon writes in his post Boy Meets World Fans Will Hate Girl Meets World. “…the series Disney Channel made isn’t for [us]. Instead, and logically, it’s for the Disney Channel audience, a group as young as we were when we first watched Boy Meets World and who may not even have any idea what Boy Meets World is.”

So what are we to do? This trend of catering to a new generation of adults is most likely only going to continue. It’s just like the generation before us being marketed things that were flashbacks from the 1980s.

By not giving in to the obvious ploy of appealing to us in that way, we can better critically receive new shows, TV etc. If ad agencies and studios see that endlessly remaking things that appeal to our nostalgic sides isn’t working, maybe they’ll focus on creating quality original content.

I think we can all agree that it’s something we need more of.

What do you think? Is this something you’ve noticed as well? Do you think this kind of thing just happens naturally as different generations grow up? Is it smart marketing or just lazy? Are you excited about any of the planned reboots? Upset about any?

Rain and Rainbows, 雨と虹

 

ビショビショだね〜

ビショビショだね〜

 

As a child, June always began with a rush of excitement. School was on the brink of letting out for the summer, my birthday was right around the corner and the air seemed to buzz with the promise of adventures waiting to be had.

In Japan, however, I learned to my dismay that school was still in session during my birthday month. Schools in Kumamoto did not get out for summer vacation until mid-July or so. And even then, their summer break was only a couple of weeks long.

I remember the chorus of shocked “EHHHHHHH”s and resentful “IIIII NAAAAA”s when I told my sixth graders that Americans get three months off for summer vacation. The homeroom teacher threw me a scared look and then cast a wary glance at their class; I’m sure she feared an uprising of Japanese children who demanded a longer break from school.

“WHAT DO YOU DO FOR THREE MONTHS?!” they screamed incredulously.

“…forget EVERYTHING we learned.” I said, only half-joking.

The month of June, it seemed, was incredibly different in Japan. There, the air grew heavy with moisture and dark clouds covered the entire country. At night, the rice field directly behind my apartment came to life with hundreds of frogs croaking loudly from within.

Days later, as if responding to the amphibian rain orgy, the skies would open and torrential rain would begin to fall in sheets for days at a time. It was so unrelenting that the rice field would routinely flood and I would often find myself opening the curtain to lakefront property.

IMG_2835

Without fail, the calming pitter patter on my window would put me back to sleep so I always had to set at least four different alarms to make sure I got up. When I eventually rose, whatever motivation I had had for the day would sink down through my chest and disappear somewhere into my body.

I would make my way downstairs slowly and see my living room and kitchen bathed in gloomy gray light instead of brilliant sunshine. The intense humidity gave my walls a sheen of moisture, causing the posters to crinkle sadly. Sometimes they would simply give up and detach themselves from the rubber cement that held them in place.

I had to learn to consistently check for and clean up everyone’s least favorite guest during rainy season: mold. It sprouted everywhere, looking as if a tree sprite had run gaily through my apartment. During my first miserable rainy season, I was horrified to find it all over my floor. It stretched from my bathroom to the front door in a massive carpet. I hadn’t known that it was mold. I hadn’t even noticed that my floor had darkened.

Or maybe I had noticed and just didn’t care. Contrary to the feelings of excitement and opportunity that June gave me in the US, Rainy Season brought with it an overwhelming sense of melancholy and listlessness. I wanted to do things, but the onslaught of never-ending rain dampened any kind of desire I had.

Whenever I did venture outside my apartment, it was only to go to and from work. Wrapped in a poncho and rain pants that did little to keep me dry, I would hop on my wet bike seat, and ride to school – ignoring the rain that stung my eyes and blurred my vision.

This was my face most mornings.

This was my face most mornings.

When I finally arrived at school, I threw my soaked shoes in my cubby and padded barefoot through the hallway to the staffroom, leaving a wet trail behind me like a slug.

“Ohayou gozaimaaasu”, I would say as I entered. I always tried to be as cheerful as I could, but some days were harder than others. Especially during rainy season.

“Ohhh Ian Sensei,” a teacher would call out to me. “今日、自転車?” they would make an exaggerated bicycling motion and rock back and forth as they looked at me.

“Yes,” I would answer them in Japanese. “Today, bicycle. Every day, bicycle.”

After the fourth or fifth time of explaining to all of my teachers that my bicycle was indeed my only means of transportation, it got harder and harder to be patient with them.

“Ohhh,” they would say some mornings. “ビショビショだね〜”. You’re soaked, aren’t you?

“ちょっとだけ!” I would respond, my hair hanging in front of my face in wet spirals. Only a little! My sarcasm never translated well and they would always giggle innocently as I resisted the urge to wring my hair out over their desks.

ビショビショだね〜

ビショビショだね〜

Aside from the weather, another huge difference between June in Japan and June in the USA is the celebration of Pride.

Before I went to Japan, I never really saw Pride as something worth my time. I figured that it was just a bunch of drunk white people dancing around and sporting garish, risqué clothing while riding giant inflatable penises down the street.

I went to a Pride once when I was 17 or 18 in Las Vegas. I remember being underwhelmed and not really ‘getting’ it. Since then, I’ve never really had much of a desire to participate in or go to another one. Even though San Antonio Pride is a big deal, and even supported by the mayor, I’ve still never made the trek downtown for it.

This year will be different, though.

In Japan, the topic of being gay rarely came up – if ever. I would constantly be asked questions like ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ and ‘What’s your type?’ and ‘Do you like Japanese girls?’.

I would answer these questions vaguely – not giving any more information than I needed to. No, I definitely did not have a girlfriend. My type? Nice people (never stating a gender). Yes, I liked Japanese girls, they were very nice. I had several girl friends who were Japanese.

The longer this went on, the more frustrated I became. Coming from a country where I was out to everyone from my family to my coworkers and classmates, it was torture to dance around these issues and be so vague. I wanted nothing more than to answer honestly: that I didn’t have a girlfriend, but rather a boyfriend who was Japanese. I wanted to tell them how we’d been dating for two years and how he was great and how being gay is nothing like the ridiculous caricatures that are paraded across Japanese television.

But I didn’t. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, rolled my eyes and bit my tongue harder and harder as I answered the same questions again and again.

It was tough for me because as much as I wanted to be the cool openly gay American ALT in my city, I knew I wasn’t prepared to take on the responsibility of such an announcement. There were too many uncertainties – how would the students react? How would the teachers? My board of education? If a problem were to arise, CLAIR (the organization behind the JET Program) would surely have my back…but was that really something I wanted to dive in to?

The questions and constant assumptions of my heterosexuality were annoying and difficult to deal with some days, but it was the price of choosing what I did. I’ve known openly gay ALTs (GAyLTs, as I lovingly say) who have had great experiences and were completely accepted by everyone. For me, the risk of outing myself and possibly changing my entire experience in Japan was just not worth it.

Now that I’m back in the US, though, I’m reminded this June about what it means to be LGBT. With marriage bans being struck down left and right, the president officially declaring June as LGBT Pride Month and emerging conversations and education about trans* issues, it’s an exciting time to be in the United States.

 

Things that I had taken for granted before living in Japan are once again readily available to me: Being able to go to gay bars without having to go to a different city. Being around other openly LGBT people. The ability to bring up and discuss things like LGBT rights in public without feeling like I’m committing an enormous faux pas.

And, of course, the fact that it’s SUNNY.

As Pride events pop up throughout the city and I meet other people who share a common thread with me, I find myself feeling very different about Pride than I have in years past. I feel an appreciation for my local community, proud of how far the LGBT rights movement has come and optimism for its future. This must be what Pride feels like. And I’ve missed it.

While I miss Japan and the life that I had there every day, I am grateful to be back in the USA (for the time being) to experience this. This is my first June since coming back and I’m so happy to be experiencing more Rainbow than Rain.