A Return


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.

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.


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.


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.

Thanksgiving, Day 11: The Internet

“Oooh, they have the internet on computers now!”

Again, this is an easy one – I spent much of my day making some homebrew materials for studying Japanese, which was what I do when I don’t actually want to study.

Sometimes I think about what it must have been like for people only a few short decades ago who chose to live abroad. Keeping in touch with friends and family, knowing what’s going on at home and being able to keep up on the political and cultural comings and goings of the culture you grew up in. There’s plenty you can get from newspapers and TV and letters from home, but the immediacy of it all is lost. Home is truly very far away under those circumstances.

Now, of course, home is right on my desktop. I can talk to friends and family, share evens in real time and know what they know. Even though I do appreciate the distance at times, the fact is that the internet keeps me close to the place I grew up in. I can buy my comics through iTunes, follow the news on countless websites, keep up with the most up to the minute internet culture on Reddit, and watch the hottest television shows through means that are ENTIRELY LEGAL AND ETHICAL OF COURSE.

I can use Skype to talk to my family for nearly nothing. I can take a photo and share it with everyone I know on Facebook in mere moments. Any random thought, I can Tweet out and get a response to. I can do my podcast and reach the ears of tens, nay DOZENS of listeners. In short, though my physical body may be thousands of miles from where it was, my internet presence is far vaster. I literally cannot imagine what it would be like to live here without it.

But then again…

Perhaps the people who lived abroad in the days before the internet was so ubiquitous had benefits that I’m denying myself. Without a convenient link to their home culture, they would have had to immerse themselves in the new one. Without all those people at home to talk to, they would have to talk to people nearby. Without having their old friends available at a moment’s notice, they would have had to go out and make new ones. It is entire possible – hell, almost certain – that having the internet as my lifeline to the U.S. has kept me from truly immersing myself in Japan, no matter how many years I’ve lived here. Maybe if I somehow cut ties completely, I would gain the benefits of having to commit to the place in which I live. There certainly are benefits that would come with that…

Then there’s all the top-shelf images of men cavorting with other men that the internet has to offer. Saucy!

But still…

I suppose there is a certain sentimentalism in my heart, though. I have lots of things that I can’t bear to part with, even if I really should. I have a couple of boxes in a closet that I haven’t opened since the day I moved in – by all rights, I should be able to just tape them up and throw them away. But I can’t. Knowing that they’re there is pleasing to me. It’s a good feeling knowing that while I may not need them right at this moment, they’ll be there if I ever do. And I suppose it’s that sentimental desire to hold on to things that the internet enables in me.

I don’t want to let go of the people I left back in the States. I don’t want to let go of our music and culture, our news and stories and lives. I don’t want to let go of the people I love, because they are so much more important to me than things in a box. They are part of who I am, and at this place and this time I like who I am. I see no need to radically change who I am just to conform to where I am.

Without the internet, I would be a very different person. Maybe better, maybe worse, I don’t know. But that person isn’t someone I care to meet at this point in my life. Not when there’s so much out there for me to see.

Thanksgiving, Day 6: The Boys

I talked today with a friend of mine whose dog is ill. Ill to the point where the vet is marking time in months. It’s not impossible that the dog will pull through – they’re doing as much treatment as they can – but my friend and his wife are in the position of having to consider what sort of arrangements they will need to make when the all-but-inevitable happens. It’s a terrible thing to watch someone you love die, be they human or otherwise, and just in emailing back and forth I felt my chest tighten up to remember the pets I’ve lost. If it were within my power to make it not be so, I would do it.

Alas, omnipotence is still ever-so-slightly out of reach.

Of course, talking about this led me to thinking about my own pets, Milo and Cooper, and the fact that one day The Boyfriend and I are going to have to have to deal with the same thing. We have chosen to bring these two short-lived beings into our lives, and part of that responsibility is knowing that we will one day have to see them out. Milo is a pug, with all of the design flaws and general ridiculousness that goes with the breed and shortens its life. Cooper is a carrier of the feline coronavirus, the bug responsible for Feline infectious peritonitis, which is an incurably fatal disease that most recently robbed the internet of its beloved Nyancat.

Being a pet owner means accepting that you will likely outlive your pet. Knowing that, it is so very important to be thankful for the time you have with them.

Milo came first, before The Boyfriend and I moved in together, flown up from a breeder in Kyushu. He really was adorable, as all puppies are, even when he was chewing up every godsdamned thing that was within his reach. And as much as I was warned that pugs were “one-person dogs,” Milo really liked me and got all excited when I came over. We’d go out walking in the park, and the three of us would enjoy the time outside.

When I moved in, Milo was perfectly happy to split his attention between the two of us. I’m the Food Guy, and The Boyfriend is The Walking Guy. Milo loves us both with the wild enthusiasm that only a dog can have, and we’re lucky that he feels the same way about Cooper.

I was in the middle of recording a podcast when The Boyfriend called to tell me he’d met an adorable little black kitten while walking the dog. I came out and met him and the cat, who was sitting very calmly and comfortably nearby. The Boyfriend and I looked at each other and thought, “You know what we need? A cat.” I picked up the kitten, and he let me carry him all the way back home.

As you might expect from a stray cat, there were a whole host of exciting medical bills waiting for us. He had a persistent cold, sneezing constantly and watery-eyed. He was underweight, so we had to wait a while to get him neutered… And then there were the tapeworms.

Once we got all of those dealt with, though, Cooper became the lord of the house (as all cats do), and has grown into an affectionate, social, and fearless cat. He loves to “play” with Milo, which Milo might not always be aware of, and he knows the household schedule like clockwork.

Together, these two make the place just that much better. Sure, Milo makes funny noises and smells weird, and Cooper believes that 4:00 in the morning is a perfectly reasonable time for everyone to get up, but I truly cannot imagine what our home would be like without the two of them.

But I know that that time will come. Eventually we’ll have to see The Boys off, and those will be terribly sad days indeed.

When those days come, and I’m an absolute wreck – and I will be – I will take at least some solace in knowing that all of our lives, human and otherwise, were enriched by being with each other. Together, we had better lives than we would have had apart. They will join Weedle and Poe as companions who will live in my heart for the rest of my life, for whose time on this earth I will always be thankful.

Of course, there’s no reason thankfulness has to wait until then.

Thanksgiving, Day 1: Japan

Even though Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Japan, and I haven’t had a proper Thanksgiving since 1999, it’s still my favorite holiday. I describe it to people here as a day to think about the things that are going well in your life, instead of what we all usually do, which is to focus with laserlike intensity on the things that are going wrong. Of course, there are other upsides to Thanksgiving as well – it’s a time to get together with your family, to eat egregious amounts of really good food, and to enjoy a four-day weekend. What’s more, it’s a day that isn’t dedicated to any one religion or ethnic group or anything. It’s for anyone and everyone.

Last year, John Scalzi got the idea to do what he called a Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, in which he would make a daily post on his blog to detail those things for which he was thankful. I figure if I’m going to steal an idea, I may as well steal a good one. So without further ado, here is my own version. Keep in mind that there is no actual order of Thankfulness involved here – they come up as I think of them.

First up: Japan

Taken the day after I got here, at Higashi Honganji temple in Kyoto. Those pigeons were a force to be reckoned with…

I moved here in September of 2000, thinking I would stay for a little while, teach English, and then – after making some indeterminate improvements in myself – come back to the United States a changed man, ready to tackle the responsibilities of being a proper adult. One year became two, which became three, which then went on until it was twelve. Now that I am thirty-eight years old, I realize that I have lived nearly a third of my life here – indeed, this is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place since I was growing up in Connecticut.

There’s something about being here that just… works. It’s certainly not the language, as my ability to speak Japanese is woefully deficient, considering how long I’ve been here. Maybe it’s the history, the landscape, or the lack of that special kind of aggression that comes with living in the United States. [1] Maybe it’s the weirdness and highly contrastive nature of the country, where you can have centuries-old temples that stand amidst dense forests, smelling of incense and earth – and a five minute walk will being you to some of the trendiest and modern shopping and dining you’ll find anywhere. It’s a complex and deep country with a fascinating culture and history that is wildly different from the one I grew up in.

While Japan hasn’t exactly welcomed me with open arms – I still am, and always will be, an outsider here – it has been welcoming, patient, and kind. I’ve met some of the most interesting and generous people I knew while living in this country.

There’s always this as a fallback, but the commute is awful…

Hell, maybe it’s just because I can get a job. Whenever I think about moving back to the States, the first thing I think is, “Yes, but what would you do there?” I don’t know that I have the skills or training for anything outside of ESL, and as I approach the more venerable age of forty, I realize that my employment opportunities in general are dwindling. Thoughts of moving home are usually followed by thoughts of having to work in retail again, and that just can’t happen. Switching careers is a hard enough thing for anyone to do, but to do it while switching countries at the same time? I’m not sure I’m up for that yet.

But here I have a skill. A valuable skill, at that. It is true that, at its most basic levels, you don’t need any special training to teach English here, but my experience and my time make me more valuable (I hope) than some yahoo who’s trying to extend his tourist visa. In Japan, I am employable. Elsewhere, I’m not so sure.

Japan has been good to me, in ways I never thought it would be. There’s still a lot for me to learn and to do, but I know that I’ll never be bored here. For that alone, I am thankful.

[1] The first time I came home for Christmas, I was shocked by how aggressive and angry people sounded when they said, “Excuse me.” Not to get my attention or anything, but just as they were moving past me in the store or something like that. It had this very distinct undertone of, “Why the fuck are you in my way?”