A Return

So.

I had this idea, far back in the mists of ancient time, that when I wrote something on the internet it was for something. In my earliest LiveJournal days I thought I would meet like-minded angsty twenty-somethings or offer new perspectives on living in Japan. With the podcast, I thought I would attract my own salon of readers, and with each episode we would meet in the comments sections to talk about books and reading.

Even here, I wrote in the belief that somehow sharing my sliver of the human experience would somehow become significant. That it would add to the vast sea of shared knowledge and make the world richer in some way.

To the best of my knowledge, none of that has happened.

I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t disappointing – the whole gold rush of blogging in the early-to-mid 2000’s basically promised a new kind of fame if you could attract the right people and a big enough audience, and there was certainly a time when that was something like what I wanted. But, like Mick and the boys say, you can’t always get what you want.

With disappointment comes reflection, though. I had to reflect on what it was I was really doing when I wrote these blogs or recorded those podcasts or even when I sent a tweet out into the world. The fact is that the universe (or at least the part of it represented by the internet) is indifferent to what I want. If I try writing for fame or attention or even a minimal kind of validation from the outside world, I will be disappointed.

It is better, then, to remember why I should be writing. Because there are things that I need to say, and that will drive me mad if I don’t. If I haven’t been adding to this blog, it was probably because I felt that I didn’t have anything to say. The question I need to ask myself is whether I truly believed that, or if I was simply convinced that no one would read what I wrote. I hate to believe that the former is true, but it shames me to think that the latter would be.

Maybe both. I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’ve been shaken out of my stupor by the events of the last few days. In a world where Trump can be elected president, silence really isn’t an option. More on that in the next post.

Running to Stand Still

Today is Monday. Monday is a jogging day.

This morning, I got up, swung my feet out of bed, and sat there for a good long while before deciding, “Nope. I’m not doing this anymore.”

Katee Sackhoff looks like she's enjoying her jog through the ship. ACTING!

Katee Sackhoff enjoying her jog? ACTING!

In the interest of full disclosure, I think I knew I was going to do this before I even went to bed last night. I was having a lovely time, playing Skyrim in between watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica with The Boyfriend, when all of a sudden I realized: tomorrow is a jogging day. I stared into the middle distance for a while, and the first word out of my mouth was a long, drawn-out “Fuck,” and I’m pretty sure that was the point where I decided that this wasn’t going to happen.

I’ve tried to like it, I really have. I’ve tried to find that “I like jogging” switch in my brain. I’ve taken refuge in the oft-repeated factoid that if you do something for three weeks [1] then it becomes a habit that is part of your life now. I understand the health benefits. I know it helped me lose weight. I know that there are millions and millions of people around the world who wake up in the morning and think, “Thank god I get to go running today.”

I am not one of them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. And I really can’t abide lying to myself about this any longer.

Go online and find jogging forums and jogging websites, and they are full of success stories. People who’ve been jogging for years and people who just started Couch-to-5K alike, they all seem to have become enraptured by this activity of putting one foot in front of the other at a moderate pace. They talk about how good it makes them feel, how it starts off the day right and how they miss it when they can’t go out. They have found something worthwhile to do with their time that brings them a sense of accomplishment and well-being. Even those who find it difficult seem to take solace in the faith that it will pay off someday. [2]

Where do I get some of that? Not from jogging, that’s for damn sure.

In all fairness, it's not like I'm beating puppies to death with kittens or anything. I still feel bad, though.

In all fairness, it’s not like I’m beating puppies to death with kittens or anything. I still hate it, though.

When I come back home, my thoughts aren’t, “Thank god I went jogging.” They’re, “Thank god that’s over.” It makes me feel tired and uncomfortable physically, and it inevitably leaves me in a worse emotional place than where I would have been if I had just gotten an extra half hour of sleep. I honestly come home feeling bad about myself – bad for having gone out, and bad for making myself doing something I so clearly hate to do and then bad for feeling bad about something I should feel good about.

Of course, with this failure, my dear Scumbag Brain has decided to daisy-chain all of my other failures together in a horrible slide show of ignominy and defeat.

So the facts are as follows:

  • I’m no longer young enough to not care about what my body does in its free time.
  • Therefore, I have to do some kind of maintenance.
  • Jogging makes me hate myself.
  • So do all other forms of exercise.
  • So does failure.
  • My capacity for self-loathing has its limits.
  • Nevertheless, I like being able to fit into all my clothes.
  • Dammit.

That leaves us with the real Question of the Day: How do you force yourself to do something you detest?

Or the other question: When is the right time to quit?

Or this question. This question is good too.

Or this question. This question is good too.

——

[1] Or nine weeks, or three months, or whatever duration is, by odd coincidence, longer than the time you’ve actually been doing it.
[2] I wonder if there’s a correlation between religious faith and engagement in fitness activities. In both cases, you’re performing arduous work now in the hopes of a payoff later – a payoff that isn’t guaranteed to ever happen.

Who Has Two Thumbs and a Permanent Resident Visa?

Photo taken by The Boyfriend, who is just bossy enough as a photographer to go pro...

Photo taken by The Boyfriend, who is just bossy enough as a photographer to go pro…

This guy!

Yes, after a very long process, a goodly amount of money and no small amount of stress and needless fretting, I am officially a Permanent Resident of Japan.

What this means for me is that my residence here is more secure. I don’t have to renew the visa every three years as before, and I don’t have to worry about the unfortunate confluence of an expired visa and an expired job contract again. If I do find myself out of work, I’ll be able to take time getting a new one without wondering how I’ll pack up my whole life and return to the United States in ignominy. [1] In addition, there are more types of work available to me. Previously, my visa status had me as a teacher or a professor, and that was what I was legally allowed to do. Now I could do anything, provided someone wants to hire me for it. If I were so inclined, this would make it easier to start a business, as well as buy property and gods know what else.

All told, this buys me some amount of security, which makes me very happy. One less thing to worry about.

That's me, baby.

That’s me, baby.

If you’ve come to this page to find out about getting a PR visa, here’s what I did: I got a lawyer. More expensive, yes, but this process is complicated and long and drawn-out, and I wanted to minimize the chances of screwing everything up, especially considering I had a time limit in front of me. My guy was Kawazoe Satoshi, who took care of everything and was very patient when I started to get twitchy and nag him for details. [2]

Also, I need to thank The Boyfriend, who stood as guarantor for me despite really not being comfortable doing so. This was partly because he didn’t like the idea of handing over personal information to some lawyer he didn’t know, but also because he was worried that the whole process might fail because he wasn’t financially or professionally stable enough for the Department of Justice. Fortunately, he was acceptable to the Powers That Be. He stepped up for me and helped make this possible. Good man.

Speaking of jobs, there’s an update there as well – Ritsumeikan Uji hasn’t gotten rid of me yet. While my regular contract does expire in April, I was taken on board by the International Baccalaureate program at our school, where I will be teaching Literature and Theory of Knowledge for at least another two years. For those of you not familiar with the IB Diploma program, it’s an internationally administered course that puts high school students through two years of rigorous academic work in various fields of study. It’s not for the faint of heart, and that applies to teachers as well as students, but the kids who come out of it are more likely to propel themselves to greater success in the years after high school.

So I’ll be teaching literature, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Theory Of Knowledge, which I’m learning about at the moment. Basically it’s a “How do we know what we know?” kind of course, which has the potential of making me absolutely insufferable on Facebook for a while. My apologies in advance.

All of this means that my 2012 Existential Crisis has come to a close, and has done so in a good and satisfying way. No doubt I’ll come up with something else to worry about at some point, but right now I’m just going to revel in my stability.

Pictured: My idea of stability

Pictured: My idea of stability

—–
[1] Which is still an option, mind you. Just not quite as likely as before.
[2] Of which there were, usually, none. Immigration is kind of a black hole – all the documents get submitted and then you wait until they’re done. You have no idea how they’re progressing, and no matter how you nag your lawyer, he won’t be able to tell you anything more than, “Just be patient.”

Thanksgiving, Day 22: Friends and Family

I was going to do this as two separate entries, but I found that I was saying the same things both times. Rather than double up like that, I figured I’d put all y’all into one entry and let that be the one to close off this little project.

NO.

A few months ago, when I was taking the Proust Questionnaire, I noted that I feel like I have lost the ability to make friends. At least, I’m not nearly as good at it as I once was. To quote:

I have come to suspect that I’m not actually a friendly person. I think I’m polite, kind, supportive, even funny. I can be nice, helpful, I can teach without being condescending, and I can listen to what people have to say.

Lost somewhere in all that, though, is the kind of openness and willingness to make a genuine connection with others that would best be described as “friendly.” I hold myself back. I keep a certain measured distance between me and other people, and I’m really not sure why.

I figure I must have been able to do this at some point – after all, I do have friends. And I’m talking real-people friends, not just names on a Facebook list. Barring catastrophic betrayal or the triumph of apathy, we’ll probably be friends for quite some time. But whatever talent it was that I had back in the day seems to have dimmed.

It is because of this difficulty that I am so thankful for the friends I do have. Some of them go back to high school, some to college, and all of them are part of who I am. Our shared history, the funny, strange, sad, weird things we did together, are what made me the person that I am today, and without all of those people [1] I wouldn’t be the person I am today. When I was going through all the sturm und drang of youth, my friends were there. When I came out to them as gay, not a single one turned their back on me. When I moved to Japan, I knew they would still be over on the other side of the world, and that the wonder that is the internet would mean that we had no reason not to stay in each others’ lives. Even if we do not talk quite as often as we should.

There have been some friends who have drifted away, for reasons all their own. I hope to see them again someday, to catch up and see where their lives have taken them.

Close enough.

My family, too, is a group of people who have made me the person I am today, and they are people that I will always treasure. I hear stories sometimes – often around holidays – about people who don’t get along with their family, or who don’t even like them. Stories of resentment and jealousy and betrayal abound, and people who come from these unhappy families will tell you at length about how unhappy they are.

The storyteller in me perks up when I hear this. After all, it was Tolstoy who said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In terms of drama potential, an unhappy family is always better. But in terms of real life, I think I’ll stick with the one I have.

As with my friends, my family has always been supportive and loving. Again, when I came out, I was assured over and over again that my being gay changed nothing. And it didn’t. When I wanted to move to Japan, they all supported my grand adventure. [2] We all want the best for each other, and I think that’s what really makes the family as strong as it is.

What’s more, they’re all interesting people. I can tell – and often have told – countless stories about my brothers and my sister and the lives they live. I tell about my parents and the things they taught us when we were children. I talk about my extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles, of stepbrothers and sisters, relatives related not by blood but by the choice to be part of this strange amalgam of souls.

I have long thought that none of us is truly an individual. We did not come into this world with our personalities wholly formed and ready to go. The person I experience as “I” is a collection of influences and experiences, all of which are inextricably tied up with the people who have come into my life since the first moment it began. And they, in turn, have been shaped by me and my decisions. I have made them who they are just as they have made me who I am. Our personalities and our identities are what emerge from this constant trading of influences.

It is this lesson that my friends and family have taught me over the years: we are all responsible to each other, to make each other better. The world has a million different ways of making us miserable. My friends and family have taught me not to add to that number.

…sigh…

And so with that I thank you all. This has been a good bit of blogging, I think, fundamental to what the whole idea of Thanksgiving is all about – thinking about the things in your life that give it meaning and purpose. I have a great many things to be thankful for, and that in itself is something to be thankful for.

Now. Go eat.

—–
[1] And I’m not even going to start making a list – as soon as you start including people, then you run the risk of excluding by accident. I don’t want to see that happen. You all know who you are.
[2] Though I suspect my mother may be having second thoughts about that, twelve years later…

Thanksgiving, Day 19: Being Debt-Free

I wish I knew who drew this, because it’s perfect…

I still remember the day I was damned.

It was in college, in the morning – which, in college, could have been any time before, say, 3 PM. A telemarketer called from Capital One and offered me a deal. A credit card, with low, low rates that would be all mine to do with as I wished. The credit limit wouldn’t be huge, but as long as I paid it off, it was my ticket to freedom. I was sleepy and not thinking terribly straight, so I said *Okay,* and set in motion a series of events that would have a profound impact on my life.

Another time, AT&T did something which I still believe was profoundly stupid on their part. I’d had an AT&T calling card for a while – just a simple card that I could use for long-distance, in case I had to call home or anything. One day, while I was living in Rhode Island, I got a letter from these idiots that told me they were replacing all their calling cards with credit cards. And mine had a limit of $3,000 on it.

I mean, come on. Who just gives a guy like me a $3,000 credit card? Seriously?

Suffice it to say, I was not the kind of person you wanted to be handing these things over to. I never really learned about money when I was younger, though my parents did take a shot at teaching me. Mostly it was with pleas to save money that I got from my paper route or from relatives, with the promise that I would b grateful for it later. But when has that ever worked on a kid? I mean ever? I don’t know if this is a New England thing, but we never talked about money in serious terms in my house. I don’t remember my mother sitting down with us and telling us what a food budget was and how she went about making it. I don’t remember my dad showing me his paycheck and explaining how he had to budget for utilities and insurance and the mortgage. Money was just a thing in my household, from my point of view. It just happened. My parents’ credit cards were sorcery, as far as I knew, and so when the time came to get one (or two) of my own, I really had no concept of what it meant to be responsible for it.

I may as well have done this, for all the good it did…

Needless to say, I hit my limit pretty quickly. I was working retail at the time, so the best I could pay each month was usually the minimum required amount (also known as the “You will never, ever pay off your card” amount, though they don’t tell you that), and the debt I owed never really went anywhere. Eventually I had two cards that I couldn’t use, but still had to pay for. And couldn’t.

Then I went to Japan. I figured the job I had here would be better than the one at home, and I could send money back or something like that. But it was too late – the collections letters started coming, and people started calling my mother’s house, not very convinced when she told them that I had moved to the other side of the planet. Eventually, through some long, protracted letter-writing, sending over all the money I had saved, and giving up the money left to my when my grandfather died, I paid them off.

It was over. I was out of debt.

I was fortunate not to have student loans, which meant that as soon as my credit cards were paid off, I was free and clear. Since then, I haven’t owed anyone a damn thing.

The whole thing has certainly taught me a lot about money and how it works, and I have become much, much better at being aware of where my money goes and why. I know what my bills are and when they need to be paid, and I make sure to take a chunk of money out of the bank on each payday – about 25% – and just put it away somewhere until it’s needed. This came in especially handy during the Great NOVA Collapse of ’07 – during the month we were all out of work, some people were trading English lessons for food, and I was having a nice, quiet vacation at home, with internet and perishables and everything.

I’ll pay in cash, thank you very much.

It’s a liberating experience, really, not having this hanging over my head all the time. I don’t have to worry about collectors or holding a little bit back every month, or trying to calculate what percentage of my debt I could possibly pay this time… It is true that, should I ever return to the States and want to buy, say, a car or a house, I’ll be in trouble. Either my old credit history will still be floating around, or they’ll notice that I haven’t had any kind of credit history for nearly a decade and decide that I cannot be trusted.

I wouldn’t change a thing, though. Not being in debt? TOTALLY worth it.

Thanksgiving, Day 17: My Job

Home away from home…

As with the post about The Boys, I think it is important to be thankful for those things that are fundamentally temporary. [1] If you’ve been reading for a while, then you know that my current employment situation is, how shall we say – in flux, and that this state of uncertainty is not something which sits well with me. Mind you, there are avenues of exploration open that will, if successful, bring this period of uncertainty to a close, but I’m not going to say anything about them until they’re more of a sure thing.

Until then, let me be thankful for my job.

Of all the jobs I’ve had, it is certainly tops in every respect. It’s challenging and interesting, I work with a lot of good people who not only know what they’re doing, but who are willing to go out of their way to help out if necessary. The students are, by and large, hardworking, polite, and conscientious (with the occasional exceptions, of course, but far fewer than might be expected elsewhere). The facilities are modern and nice, the pay is good, and the teachers are given a lot of freedom and leeway to teach as they think best. The only thing I can really complain about is the commute, and that’s just because they’re not willing, for some reason, to move the whole operation down to Osaka.

When I compare it to the other jobs I’ve done and places I’ve worked, I can’t think that I would give this up to go back to any of those.

—–
[1] Which, technically, would include everything, but I only have a few days left on this project.

Thanksgiving, Day 14: My Mustache

Mustache! Get! Out! Of my! MIIIIND!!

Hey, you think of twenty-two things to blog about being thankful for and see if you don’t have to stretch a bit.

This month is “Movember,” as I’m sure you all are aware. If you’re not, then let me clue you in – whereas October is the month dedicated to women’s health, with a focus on breast cancer awareness, November is the month dedicated to men’s health, with a focus on prostate cancer. Seeing as how breasts are, on the whole, a lot more photogenic and pleasant to look at than the prostate [1], it was decided that the best way to raise awareness was for men to spend the month growing out their mustaches. That way, when people say, “Why are you growing a mustache?” the man can say, “Why it’s to raise awareness of prostate cancer! And now you are aware! You’re welcome!”

Although I suspect that for most men, it’s just an excuse to grow a mustache.

Which is interesting, in its own way. People invariably have asked me why I’m growing a mustache, which implies that there must be a purpose for it, a reason behind not shaving a few square centimeters of my face. And rather than just say, “Because I want to,” we have to come up with some high-falutin’ greater-cause reason for the whole thing. It’s a fairly drastic change in appearance that not every man can pull off [2].

I still have so very far to go…

I suppose the same would hold for any other drastic change, though. If I shaved my head or started wearing three-piece suits all the time or got a tattoo [3], people would want to know why. “Because” just isn’t an answer that is acceptable to grownups, and for most things, I think that’s okay. After all, our appearance is the self we present to the world, and most of us expect that self to be stable and, within tolerable limits, unchanging. A drastic change in the outer self should, we believe, mirror a change in the inner self, and change makes people curious, if not downright uneasy. So we ask and probe and dig when someone makes a drastic change, at least until we come up with an answer that satisfies us. And if we don’t get one? Well, then, we’ll make one up.

So if I have to paste a reason onto my facial hair, then fine – so be it. Prostate cancer is certainly a noble cause to support. But I think I – and every man who decides to grow out their face around this time of year – know the real reason why we do it: because it’s my face, dammit, and I’ll do what I like with it.

All that said, though, I’ll be shaving it off when December comes around. Why?

See above.

—-
[1] Or, more to the point, the way you go to find the prostate.
[2] Indeed, several of the guys in my office have given up on their mustachiations, on the grounds that they think they look silly. I have no idea what they’re talking about.
[3] Or all three, which would be very entertaining.