IAmIanAmI?

When I was younger, I hated my name.

 As a kid, I never understood why people always got it wrong. It was only three letters, after all: I-A-N. Time after time though, person after person would drop it off their tongue incorrectly.

 “Eye-an?” the nurse would call into the waiting room.

 “Eye-uhn?” my teachers would invariably say on the first day of elementary (and middle) school.

 “Lan?”

“Eye-uhm?”

 “Ion?”

 The list of incorrect pronunciations was longer than anything I could ever imagine.

 “…Ian.” I would correct them every time.

Not only was my name impossible to say correctly, nobody seemed to be able to spell it either.

Valentines Day at school was the worst – I would receive a myriad of variations of my name scribbled across two-fold pink and red cards.

Usually the standard:

To: Ean

To: Ien 

Then the more complex:

To: Iyenn 

To: Ieain

And finally the just plain confusing:

To: E.N.

In classes that were dominated by Michaels, Stephanies, Jessicas and Christophers, my name seemed to float atop a sea of common names like a tugboat from a strange, unpronounceable country.

 

 

As I got older, I continued to run into minor struggles with my name.

“Can I get your name, please?” a chipper barista at Starbucks once asked me in college.

“Ian.” I said with a smile.

“Ee…yen?” The confusion flashed across her eyes like a distress signal. “Is that…?” her marker remained poised next to the cup in hesitation.

“I-A-N,” I spelled for her. I saw recognition click in her eyes and her marker zipped across the clear cup in loopy, messy letters.

“I’ve never heard that before.” she said in wonder.

I began to think that maybe I had a speech impediment. Maybe I was just really bad at saying my own name?

One time I called into a local radio station to request a song (Blink 182, if you must know). The DJ asked me for my name.

“Huh? What is it?”

“Ian.” I repeated.

“Whaaat?” he exclaimed, sound effect gasps and surprised ‘oooohs’ echoed down the phone line, amplifying his surprise.

“Wow, your parents must have been sharing some super drugs or something!” he added as canned audience laughter filled my ear.

I’ve never come across someone who blamed my name on my parents indulging in psychedelic drugs. How would he even come up with something like that, anyway? It’s not like my name is Agnoid SpaceFleck. I’m not named after a constellation or a natural wonder. It isn’t really that far-out of a name, I decided. He was just an asshole.

Looking back though, I suppose ‘Ian’ was just not a very common name where I was.

When I lived in Europe, however, I was one of five Ians in my school. Five! I was far too young to appreciate it then, but my mother recalled being pleasantly surprised that everyone not only knew the name ‘Ian’, but also knew how to pronounce it.

It seemed like it was mostly Americans who weren’t able to wrap their minds around my short, vowel-heavy name. They just weren’t familiar with it, perhaps. After all, it is a decidedly more European/British name than anything.

I’ve recounted my troubles growing up with my name to British friends. They were always surprised to hear that my name was a such a source of headache for me.

“People get your name wrong?” they asked incredulously. “How in the hell do they mispronounce it?”

I would tell them and their responses were always the same: “That’s schuupid.” they would scoff. “Crazy Americans.”

While it’s true that many Americans don’t really know how to pronounce it, this kind of confusion seemed to happen in other countries as well. During my travels, I noticed that ‘Ian’ seemed to morph into different versions of itself.

When I lived in Spain, my host mom was incredibly confused by me.

“¿Còmo te llamas?” she asked me on the night of my arrival to her house.

“Ian.” I responded.

“Eh?” she stared at me, mouth agape and hair afrizz.

“I-Ian?” I repeated, less confident of myself. It seemed that in Spanish, I was unsure of everything – even my own name.

“¿Een?” she said.

“Er…no. Ian.”

“¿Iván?”

“Ian.”

“¿Yan?”

“Ian.”

“Yan.” she ended with a tone of finality. The discussion was over.

For the rest of my time in Spain, I was known to my host mother as ‘Yan’ – a name that implied I hailed from Bulgaria and not the United States.

In Japan, my name took on a slightly more irritating incarnation. Whereas in English, ‘Ian’ sounds more like ‘ee-ehn’ or ‘eeyen’ it sounds very different when transliterated into katakana. 

Vowels in Japan have only one sound. This meant that since my name had an ‘a’ in it, it was to be said like the Japanese ‘a’.

So ‘Ian’ effectively became ‘Ee-AHn’ in Japanese.

At first, my students had difficulty saying my name. ‘Ee-AHn Sensei?’ they would say back to me with confused looks on their face.

“Ian.” I would repeat to them, trying desperately to get them to say it right. “Ian!”

It never worked.

There’s a joke among Japanese elementary school children where they say ‘Iyaaaaaaa’ whenever they’re grossed out by something. I learned this pretty quickly as my students would yell ‘Iyaaaaaaan Sensei!’ and wiggle their bodies in exaggerated, comical disgust.

It annoyed me but I learned to ignore it – I had to. There were certain days when I felt less-than-stellar about my life in Japan due to culture shock et al. To get angry with a handful of elementary kids who mispronounced my name, I had to learn, was just not worth my time.

Plus, it’s not like I wasn’t used to people mucking up the pronunciation of it or anything.

Sir Ian McKellan – Certified BAMF

 As I get older, it seems that my name has become more and more common. I’ve met several other Ians and I feel that we instantly bond over our name.

Certain celebrities like Sir Ian McKellan, Ian Thorpe and Ian Somerhalder have helped to boost public knowledge of how to say our name. Although if I ever meet Ian (“Eye-ahn” as he so says it) Ziering, I’ll have to restrain myself from punching him in the face. I feel like he is a huge reason why so many people mispronounce my name.

 Now, whenever someone does pronounce my name right, I feel the need to mention it.

“Oh wow, you said my name right!” I’ll comment excitedly to the cashier or nurse or whoever. “Thank you.”

Most of the time, they seem a bit confused. Of course I said it right, I’m sure they think, How many other ways are there to say ‘Ian’? 

Trust me. Quite a few.

 

**While I don’t think ‘Ian’ is super uncommon, do you have a unique name that people always mispronounce? Have you experienced the same frustrations? I’d love to hear about it!**

(Starbucks images taken from this hilarious Imgur post )

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Things I didn’t “get” in 2014 – a look back

Hey! Guess what? It’s almost 2015! Holy shit!

If 2014 were a series that you were bingewatching on Netflix, you would be on the penultimate episode! If it were a book, you would be on page 364 of 365! Isn’t that CRAZY?

When I talk about this past year, it’s with a lot of confusion. Like…a lot of shit happened. But at the same time…not much seemed to happen at all. I don’t know, maybe it’s me? 2014 wasn’t entirely unremarkable…but I think I’m just so ready for it to be over. I’ve kind of already emptied my brain. I’ve deleted the caches of memories from the year in preparation for 2015.

I decided, though, to make one final post before 2015 begins. Everyone loves lists, right? Especially END OF YEAR lists!

Here are some of the things that happened this year that I just didn’t “get”. I’m hoping these are all from 2014 but, like I said, my memory of this past year has been a bit hazy. Also, please please please don’t assume I’m some kind of cultural guru or connoisseur of all things pop culture; I’m not. I’m simply a bored twenty-something who wants to write about stuff in his blog.

  •  Flappy Bird – Like…what was this game, even? I never downloaded it. It looked like a huge ripoff of Super Mario. People were going craaaazy over it! People seemed more than eager to torture themselves with something that seemed impossible to win.

 “Yeah yeah, I’ll donate or whatever. But first….let me take a #SELFIE” 
  •  The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – I had a couple of friends tag me in this and I promptly ignored them. ALS is definitely a terrible disease, there’s no doubting that trying to raise money for its research is a great idea.

    Butttttt I think the message got a bit lost somewhere in the millions of repetitive videos. I mean, everyone from Malloree P. from Delaware to the President of Turkmenistan seemed to be dumping water on their heads for attention. It was nice to see the Ice Bucket Challenge give so much exposure to ALS and the need for research. At the same time, though, something about the whole thing was just really off-putting to me.

  •  Snapchat – I tried it. I really, really tried it. Maybe I’m just too old for this app, though? I would get group snaps and think that the sender was talking to me personally, so I would respond back and not make any sense. I just never understood the point of it. I don’t know, call me old-fashioned but I guess I just prefer to send a picture via text message to someone.

No thank you, creepy Pringles dude. Please leave me alone.

  • Mustaches – Were mustaches a thing this year or am I just imagining it? It seemed like every white trendy hipster boy was trying to rock a sad little caterpillar ‘stache twisted up on the ends like a wannabe Dali.

Yo Iggy, drop a sick freestyle!

  • Igloo Australia
  • Igthorn Amoeba 
  • Igby Aragorn 
  • Iggy Azaelia – I just…can’t stand her, really. I don’t know if it’s the way she raps – she sounds like a toddler trying to read their first book. Or maybe it’s her irritatingly catchy ‘Fancy’ song. Or maybe it’s how she capitalizes on Hip Hop/Black culture while not seeming to actually give a fuck about doing so. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I just really don’t get why everyone was so obsessed with her this year.

  • American Horror Story: Carnival – A lot of people seemed to wet themselves over the new season of AHS. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the first season. I watched the first episode of Carnival and though “Hm. Okay.” and then I couldn’t ever remember to watch it again. I don’t think I missed much, though.

  • The fascination with Nick Jonas – Okay, I get it: Nick Jonas is hot. He really is. And he’s cool with gay fans too? That’s awesome. He was spotted in a NYC gay club and flashed abs? Wow, awesome! Oh? He…flashed his abs again on the cover of a gay magazine? Oh-okay.

It seemed like so many people went apeshit over ~*~*~*~Whether or not he’s gay~*~*~*~*~ . It seemed like he was bombarded by all things queer just because he expressed that he was an ally. I saw one unfortunate interview where he was made to awkwardly “guess the bulge”. Like, c’mon now. Whether or not he is or isn’t LGBT is none of our business. Although I do have a bit of trepidation about how far he’s willing to ride this rainbow wave of publicity. *shrug*

  • Gluten-free shit – I don’t know…I just never really understood the whole craze.

 So that’s it! My list! Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know! I think that it’s a very strange, oddly specific list so I would be interested to know what others thought of 2014 haha. 

 ALSO! I just want to give a huge THANK YOU to all the people who follow my little blog and all the ramblings it contains. I seriously appreciate it and I look forward to 2015! ❤  

#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.

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.

 

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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? 

 

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.

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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.