It has now been nine months since I moved to Japan, and essentially "rebooted" my life. One year ago at 6am, November 30th 2012 (okay, 11 months ago, but hey, close enough), I got a surprise call from the JET Program, offering me a position as an English teacher in Nagasaki. This was the end result of a long process. I'd applied for the position over a year prior, in October '11, as sort of a "Hail Mary" move (forgive the sports / religion metaphor). I was out of options and tired of repeating the same mistakes in my attempts to jump-start dead dreams. In February '12, I interviewed at the Japanese Consulate in Detroit. A couple months later I found out I was neither accepted or rejected: I got listed as an "alternate", meaning I was in a purgatory of sorts as to whether I was accepted or not. The new batch of ALTs comes to Japan every year in late July, and I watched that time come and go, assuming that I didn't make the final cut. By October, I'd given up on my chances, so I chalked things up, said "Hey, at least I tried", and moved back to California, making that same 40 hr slag that I'd made too many times in the previous four years. Just a little over one month after arriving in The City of Angels, quickly succumbing to another tidal wave of depressing job-hunting and desperation, I got the fateful call. Because of the time difference between the Midwest and the West Coast, the 6am call rocked me from a deep sleep. I didn't recognize the caller, and assumed it was another wrong number. (My San Francisco area code number apparently belonged to an old Chinese lady or guy since I would almost weekly get a call from a member of an enclave of elderly Chinese folks, but I digress..) I groggily greeted my unknown caller and was offered something quite special. It took about 2-3 weeks before everything was absolutely confirmed - had to get a physical and send in some special IRS forms - but once the word came through that YES, I was moving to Japan and would have a steady job, I feel as if I "reawakened". Nine months later, I can say with confidence that I made the right call in coming here. I'd thought about applying JET all the way back to 2000 when I first heard about it from my Japanese professor, Dr Hara. I was always tempted, but kept skipping applying in favor of my art career. After 2008, this rang hollow, as I started to feel more like "What
art career?" I had some apprehension about the job type as well. I'd not done much related to teaching and I was convinced that I hated kids. Turns out they're not so bad. Also, Japanese school kids from my experience so far seem to be better behaved than their American counterparts. At least I remember my junior high as populated by a bunch of little bastards, but these kids are alright, and the elementary kids are adorable. (Did I
seriously just say that? Am I getting paternal urges?)
Now that a decent chunk of time has elapsed since moving here, I feel as if I can reflect upon the life I led prior to it with a more lucid outlook. You know how the president will occasionally present a "State of the Union" on TV, talking about how the US is doing? (usually with a ton of euphemism and misdirection, no matter the political party) Well, I wanted to do something like that, but for me. This may come off as self-indulgent, and if it does, that's fine. It's mostly for me to use to organize my inner narrative, but I'm sure that it might also be of interest to those who have known me a long time, and saw me plunge into a deep pit this past few years. At the time, I was unable to make sense of a lot of things in my life, and I probably inadvertently pushed a lot of people away. Maybe this will make sense of some of that. Also, maybe it'll be of some interest to people I've met recently in this new period, who knows? It's not all doom & gloom. Remember, this story has a happy... not ending (I'm not dead yet)... but a happy NOW. How long this happy period will last, I don't know. Every wave has a trough, every trough a wave. I've emerged from a long deep trough, and am on my way to another crest. Hopefully that crest will ride high for a while. Anyway, I've decided to break down this whole thing into an easier to parse list-mode, divided into past, present, and future, further dividing them into sections based around some of important ingredients to making a happy life: creative outlets, financial security, health, love, friends, and state of mind. It's not a binary thing. There are things I miss about the US, and things I dislike about Japan, but generally my life is better these days than the preceding few years. A similar kind of happiness could have happened in the states, or some other country, had my luck been better, but for now, Japan's working pretty well for me. So let's dive DEEP into this stuff, shall we? I have to warn you, the first half of this epic post gets pretty dark, and might worry some people who know me, but I can talk about this stuff better now that I've been out of the woods for a while. I dealt with a deep depression for four years there, and I've crawled out. I'm not back to 100% yet, but I'm close enough now that I feel pretty dang good. I can finally see the road map again, on how to live a happier life. I'll get to that in the second half, but for now, let's start with the bad old days...
-------------PAST: November 2008 to November 2012, the lost yearsART / CREATIVE ENDEAVORS
MOOD / STATE OF MIND
- All the time in the world, thanks to underemployment, but very little inspiration. Depression killed my creative output for a long while there.
- I doodled less. That was a bit of a canary-in-the-coalmine for my greater lack of motivation.
- Everytime I had to move back & forth between Michigan and California, I lost some of the opportunities and connections I'd been fostering, in both places. My friend Sean, a fellow photographer, told me that every time I moved back & forth that I was setting myself back by a year. These words shook me at the time, and in retrospect that's exactly what happened. That said, now I'm in Japan, but I'll get back to that...
- Due to my lack of artistic output, and probably also from my depression causing me to withdraw, I wasn't being asked to collaborate on projects with friends as much as previously. I think for a while there, other people, and worse - I - forgot that I was an artist.
- Started getting quite depressed, reaching my lowest points throughout 2011, and in late 2012.
- Life felt pointless. I felt like a ghost of a person, aimless, unnoticed, emotionally dull and devoid of passion. It was like the "old me" - a relatively optimistic guy who was always making art and cracking jokes - died in 2008. Even places and things that used to make me inspired and happy made me gloomy since they just reminded me of thing I could not longer afford, missed opportunities, and regrets.
- I won't go as far as to say I was full-on suicidal, but at my worst times, I didn't see the point of being alive, except to spare my loved ones the pain of their friend / relative killing himself. I guess that's the fine line that separates deep depression from lethal depression. I needed help, but I didn't have health insurance for seeing a shrink, or money to spend on that kind of thing in general. I turned to video games and food to escape.
- Occasional breakdowns, whether into tears, or rage (private rage, inwardly-directed).
- No consistent stability, ever. I kept up a holding pattern of: 1. moving out of California when I ran out of money. 2. Saving money gradually back in MI with freelance work. 3. Moving back to California. 4. Moving back to MI again after not being able to find a job and running out of money. All told, I moved to Cali four times. Things went fairly smoothly for a few years until 2008, then I just kept failing over & over, chasing after a dream that was no longer achievable. In 2010 & 2011 alone, I lived in seven different places, at times resorting to staying for free at friends places, longer than intended, and straining relationships in the process.
- No money for fun. When I did buy myself something other than absolute necessities, it was accompanied by buyer's remorse and stress.
- My checking account went below zero over ten times.
- I was a slave to rare bits of freelance work. Some of this work, like lettering for manga, was really enjoyable and fulfilling. Some was soulless shit that I had to do for MBA-having web 2.0 yuppies who would make me wait up to six months to finally pay me for services rendered (this happened with two clients at the same time and was insanely stressful) Unfortunately, I was in no position to turn down work that was offered to me, as I couldn't afford to say no. Some of my less scrupulous clients may have seen this and known to take advantage of the situation.
- I had to borrow money from my parents a lot more than I would like to admit for my age. The bigger problem here is that finances have been tough for them as well, and my dad's been out of work for two years. I was bleeding them dry in order to try to float my sinking ship. I feel terrible about it.
- My friends, most of which were making decent money, often paid for my meals or tickets to events. I greatly appreciate this as it allowed me to do things out in the world with them, but I also felt embarrassed at my inability to keep pace with their lives and better life decisions.
LOVE / ROMANCE
- I had no health insurance for five years. Went for almost a year without my thyroid medicine. Found out that in addition to the usual rapid weight gain and lethargy that come with withdrawal, that the exacerbation of depression was a new component to this plight.
- A general lack of self-worth led me to be lazy and eat terrible food because I just didn't care if I was healthy or not. I felt like I didn't deserve to be.
- My eating habits were also shaped by my lack of money. In the states, where healthy food is usually much more expensive than unhealthy, it's easy to wind up subsisting off of a lot of garbage fast food. Whenever I would make things at home, I would have to go with cheaper, less healthy ingredients, and ration things in insane ways. In retrospect, had my mood been better, I could have eaten less, and just eaten a bit healthier, but in reality my appetite only increased as the depression did, and I attempted to use cheap unhealthy food to patch up the hole in my heart.
- I got sick a lot during this time. Wound up having a cold every month & a half or two. Also had a lot of stomach aches and digestive issues.
- Had things happen that I neglected to have treated due to lack of health insurance / money. A big chunk broke off of one of my molars while eating tandoori chicken and I never had it looked at. Still haven't, since it doesn't actively hurt, but I should now. Also had a bit of a scary lump show up on my body for a while there which I spent a couple months worrying about before finally having it looked at. Turns out it's harmless, but it would have been nice to have it removed. Another thing for the Japan checklist.
- Had to prematurely end two relationships due to running out of money and having to move out of California. Sorry Melinda and Ashley... In the case of the former, I wound up returning to California only a few months later (albeit to LA), but I had no feelings of hope for being able to do that when I moved out of San Francisco.
- Due to not wanting to hurt anyone else, and feeling like my life was a never-ending series of missteps, I shut my heart off and just stopped trying to get into any relationships. Had a few flings here and there, and while they were with nice girls (except for one maybe), it wasn't what I really wanted in life. Call me a serial monogamist, I guess...
- When I did have romance, I felt apathetic and removed from the situation, just expecting something would mess it all up anyway. I also still had my guard up too high, thanks to...
- I guess I could trace some of of this back to 2006, with the painful end of a very important relationship. I thought Cerise was "the one" (err, still haven't quite found that high of a level of romantic happiness since, so maybe she was), but I could always count on art and friends to keep me happy. After the recession hit, it damaged all the other areas of my life that brought me happiness. I guess in retrospect, one of the few good things to come out of moving across the country several times was that it physically distanced me from old ghosts like her, and others, and allowed me to let go. Well, that and the hardening of my heart.
- On the topic of exes (none of whom live in Texas), during this period of angst, I started to feel overly negative against ex-girlfriends, and the friends I had who are associated with them, as well as places we went, and memories forged together. A couple of said exes actually did treat me fairly badly and weren't worth thinking about, but most were really nice people that I grew to despise after our relationships fell apart. In retrospect I was blaming my own mistakes on others. I used to be in the habit of being friends with my exes, but at one point in 2011 I adopted a "scorched earth" policy, and unfriended and blocked most of them on all social networks, blocked/filtered incoming emails, and deleted a lot of photos. I'm still not 100% sure if that was bad idea, as it helped me to heal, but a couple of said exes are people that I really would like to be friends with, had I not burned my bridges so thoroughly.
- During this time of depression and strife, I became alienated from many of my friends for a variety of reasons: 1. My mood caused me to withdraw from social situations and blow people off enough times that they stopped calling. 2. My mood actively caused some people to tire of me. 3. I kept moving away, across the country, weakening the bonds of friendship each time. 4. I had no money to attend many social events, gatherings, and trips with friends, and eventually stopped being invited I'd imagine because people assumed I couldn't afford it or that I'd be depressing to be around. As mentioned earlier, I'm grateful for those who helped me out during this tough time.
- I began to feel jealousy about loved ones because things seemed to be working out for them and not for me. I should have been feeling unselfish support for them. On the inside I was burning with regrets over things I should have done and things I did wrong, and felt like a failure, and this made it easy to feel anger at others' achievements. I never used to be that way before the recession. I always felt like I was running at the same steady pace as my creative friends and that one day I would accomplish my dreams as well. During the recession, I felt like I broke my leg and lost the race. Now, I've opted out of the race, or better yet, realized that there never was a race in the first place.
- I had no desire for a while there to meet new people, as I felt antisocial.
Now don't get me wrong... not all was bad in this era. I certainly had good times. Here are some of the memories I cherish from those four years:+
The love and support of my family and friends. This really means a lot to me, as if I weren't me, I probably wouldn't have wanted to be around me during a lot of that time period. I have a lot of people who deserve thanks, but a few that especially come to mind: My parents, for always believing in me, living me unconditionally, and giving me security when I needed it. My brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, for always making me feel welcome and appreciated. My cousin Heath, for late night Long Beach burger or burrito runs and good quality family bonding. Ryan S, for being my brother-from-another-mother since time immemorial, and for always giving me the best advice. Dawon K, for putting up with me during dark days, and still allowing me to be her roommate, and for being my muse. Tom G, for always making me laugh, and even on the bad days, inspiring me want to make him laugh. Bob W, for often inspiring my art and music, and being a good guy in general. Oliver R, for always putting me in a good mood and laking me laugh, and for trading music with. David M, for putting me up for free for a few months as I got back on my feet, and for being a really amusing guy. Marie C, for always being a solid, no-B.S. person to talk to, and a great person to go thrift-shopping with. Melissa V, for being the little sister I never had. Beau L, for always being a cheerful and creative person to spend time with. Raphye A, my friend since high school who got me all my recent gigs in LA and gave me much moral support. Nate S, for being such a great balance between fun and brains. Jane C, for reminding me that since Ryan can find someone who's so perfectly matched for him and such a great, kind person, that maybe there's hope for me too, someday. Also, extra mention of Tom, Bob, and Melania, for finally convincing me to apply to JET. I'm not mentioning everyone here, I realize, but I appreciate everyone. I may not have always been the best at showing that appreciation, but it was there. (This sounds like an Academy Awards speech!)+
projects I was able to work on during that time.. things like "Tokyo Zombie
" and "The Strange Tale of Panorama Island
" for Last Gasp, and "Barbara
" for Digital Manga. The latter two dream projects thanks to the Maruo & Edogawa Rampo connection on Panorama, and the fact that Barbara was a book by Osamu Tezuka, my biggest artistic hero. Also, working on "Electric Ant" with Ryan
(as well as the Last Gasp books), and helping David / Seibei
with his catalog photography was very special to me. During this time I also assisted several talented photographer friends, such as Raphye Alexius
(See above!), Sean Murphy
(An inspiring and fun guy that I got to shoot some really cool campaigns with), and Markku Lahdesmaki
(who I only got to know over the course of one project, but whom I had a great time bumming around looking at classic car museums with after shooting).+
Frenzied karaoke nights with Ryan and friends in San Francisco, at Yamasho, Do Re Mi, and Encore.+ Midnites for Maniacs
. God, I miss it.+
Aquiring two great new pets during that time, my wonderful kitty Magnus
, and my dearly-departed husky Nero
. My time with Nero was all-too-brief, but very fun. Magnus keeps on being his fuzzy, sassy self, and I miss him terribly, but I know he's happy at my home back in Michigan. (I can't have pets in my Japanese apartment and the Japanese regulations on bringing pets in from abroad are quite draconian) Cleo
is still with us, and quite healthy, thank you very much.+
I got a good deal on a project car that I had a lot of fun painting and fixing up - a 1975 Fiat Spider
! Since I'm in Japan and it's in my parents' garage, it's probably feeling quite neglected, but I looking forward to driving it again someday. On stressful days and happy days alike, nothing quite beat going out for a drive
in my little Italian baby.+
Despite my aimlessness that I had at times living back in Michigan - jobless, but not having much of a fire under my ass to get one - I had some really nice days living there. In all honesty, after big stints of stress, it was nice to go back and be an "overgrown teenager" for a bit... playing marathon Skyrim sessions, watching back to back '70s & '80s cult movies with Magnus curled up by my side, going on night drives and listening to loud music, going around with dad to look at cars and get coffee, going shopping with mom, walking my dog, thrift shopping at Michigan's thrift stores that haven't been as thoroughly picked-over as California's, and listening to podcasts while organizing my room. Though I have more financial security now and feel like I'm "making something of myself" again, it's hard to beat the comfort of home.
But hey, let's talk about life these days...
-------------PRESENT: RejuvenatedART / CREATIVE ENDEAVORS
MOOD / STATE OF MIND
- I've made a pretty decent amount of art since getting to Japan. Traditionally, when I'm happy I make a ton of art, which serves to make me more happy. I'm not one of those tortured creative types who can take pain and refocus into good art. Nope, when I'm sad, I just don't make art. It's nice to be happy again.
- I've found new, unexpected, outlets for my creativity. I've been able to use my art skills a lot in my teaching job. I've made flashcards, games, and teaching aids (including a 52 pg picture dictionary!) I've entertained kids with drawing on the board to supplement my teaching. I've become the official cameraman for all the special events at my main school. I've been able to bond with a artistically-inclined Jr student girl who is a bit of a "hikkikomori" (shut-in), and suffers from depression, and only occasionally comes to school when I work. We have drawing time together. No pressure to learn English or anything else. It feels really good to be able to get her to come to school at least sometimes. That kind of stuff makes my job feel really meaningful.
- While I haven't had as much time to do art projects outside of work as I'd like, I am feeling super inspired, and have several projects in various stages of progress - a couple of comics, a couple of albums, and various illustrations and photo shoots I intend to do.
- I doodle all the damn time again now!
- This is semi-secret (haha, I'm putting on a blog, whoops), but I've continued work on freelance lettering / touch-up / design for a manga series I agreed to do before getting picked for JET. At times it makes my life unbearably busy, but it's fun, keeps my skills up and keeps me "on the radar", and the money really helps. Plus, my editor is a straight-shooter and a great guy to work for.
- One downside to Nagasaki life, art-wise, is that my network for finding models / MUA / and stylists for photoshoots is pretty nonexistent here. I know a ton of people back in SF, LA, and MI for that, most of whom I met via ModelMayhem, but hardly anyone in Kyushu uses that site. I've had to go back to the old-fashioned way of asking people who may have no experience modelling. Sort of tricky. That said, I've done a couple shoots since getting here for my friend's dress & accessory shop catalog. Also, despite having to leave my strobe gear back in MI, due to size and cost of shipping, I've bought some new gear here and have a nice little portable wireless strobe setup. I'm still taking a ton of photos all the time (about 8-15 GB / week just in snapshots!) and am planning to shift my "proper" photography a bit to accommodate my lower amount of fashion / beauty work.
- I felt optimism upon being accepted to JET. Cautious optimism. Honestly I still have a little of what I like to refer to as "Recession P.T.S.D.", manifesting itself in ways such as thinking this could all fall apart at any moment, and that I could be poor and miserable again, but those thoughts are quieting down the longer I'm here and the more I know the job.
- My mood has improved vastly in general after moving to Japan. I feel like I awoke from a long, bad dream. Maybe you could say I snapped out of a trance... I feel vibrant and vivacious again. I can't lie, the honeymoon period is mostly over and I have the occasional annoying times, but those times rarely overshadow a whole day, and my baseline mood is much, much happier than it used to be.
- I made a promise to myself upon moving here that I would stop saying "no" so much to life. I'd stop thinking of excuses to be lame and stay inside and miss out on new / fun experiences. I vowed to stop being such a depressed hermit and get out there and do cool stuff with cool people! Thus far I've been pretty good about that :-)
- I don't feel the undercurrent of impatience and anger that once accompanied the depression. In the states sometimes I would feel so utterly powerless in my daily life that it would frustrate and enrage me. I didn't do much with that rage, mind you, except for the occasional cathartic scream while driving, but it's nice to not have the water coming to a boil these days.
- I make enough from JET to pay for what I need, and thanks to the aforementioned graphic design gig, I make about an extra 50% on top of that. This combined with having monthly bills that are about $700 less than I was paying in San Francisco has led to me finally being able save some money for a "rainy day".
- No more moving all over the place and the stress and expense that entails. I'm settled here for the foreseeable future. Not forever, most likely. The longest I can contract with my current job would be until July 2017, but that's far enough ahead that I have plenty of time to see what life brings me in the meantime, and to decide if I want to be here that long. Part of me just wants to ride the money train as long as I can, and keep the stability. America feels like a sinking ship right now. Japan as well, if you're Japanese. Lucky for me being a foreigner, I have a niche I can take advantage of - that of the English teacher.
- I can occasionally buy myself presents without crippling guilt. I've gotten a DJ controller, an extra Speedlite & wireless transmitter, a combo record player / radio / cassette / USB / CD player, and a sweet folding bike, for starters, none of which sent me into a spiral of poverty. Life can't be only about baseline survival. Sometimes you gotta treat yo self!
- I have a slush fund of sorts for when I have to pay what I call "the idiot tax". For example, losing ¥20,000 ($200) out of my wallet while shopping, missing the bus to work and paying for a $30 cab ride, or paying about that much for an event that turned out to be boring. These things happen, and it's nice to be able to manage life's little financial gouges without it being the end of the world.
- As much as I desperately miss driving my cars, it's nice to not have to pay car-related expenses... no gas, no parking, no insurance, no registration. I was at a point two years ago with a short-lived job at tech company where I was too broke to live anywhere near San Francisco, but was living an hour away, working in the Marina. Between driving from Vallejo to the BART station, and then BARTing it from Richmond to Civic Center and back, plus paying for parking, I was spending $20 per day just on getting to work. It's nice to not have a situation like that in my life.
- Speaking of going places, I've been able to travel a little bit. Not a ton yet, just Osaka three times, Fukuoka a few times, and Hofu once, but in the future I have my sights set on South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, as well as revisiting Kyoto, Tokyo, and other places in Japan, and maybe checking out parts of Japan I've never been to, such as Hokkaido and Okinawa.
- More importantly than all this self-indulgent stuff, I'm saving up to send my parents on a nice big trip for their 50th anniversary next year. It'll be nice to finally be able to give something back.
LOVE / ROMANCE
- I have health insurance for the first time in five years. Having already benefited from the national healthcare in Japan, and barely spending any money in the process, it just makes me more and more upset with America's refusal to get with the rest of the developed world on this issue.
- I'm still overweight (gained it all back and then some during the dark days), but I lost about 33 lbs / 15 kg in the first few months I lived here and have been very slowly losing more since. If I can just make myself quit chocolate and convenience store chicken, and get a gym membership, the weight will start falling off rapidly once again.
- Thanks to the health insurance, I'm back on my thyroid medicine on a regular basis, and am planning to get my tooth fixed and the little lump burned off soon...
- I've been walking a ton since getting here. When not taking the bus to work, or going on bike rides, walking has become my main mode of transportation. If I'm out partying late at night up in Sumiyoshi, past the trams and buses, I'll often forgo the $20 cab ride home in favor of the hour-long walk. Walking has had some negative side-effects... Since I'm still overweight and don't have very supportive shoes here, I've been having some major foot and knee pain at times, but when I got back to the states for X-mas, I intend to buy a bunch of new size 13 / 31 centimeter (rare in Japan) shoes that will provide better support. Also, when I get a gym membership, I'll do more low-impact exercise.
- I've been sick a lot less often. Maybe as much as your average person now. (that said, I got sick a ton at first, being exposed to hundreds of school kids' worth of new germs in a short period of time!)
- This is the only other weak link in my new life. Haven't had much luck with the ladies since getting here, other than a couple small flings. I'm not terribly convinced I'll find "the one" here (I use that term semi-sarcastically), but who knows? I'd like to be proven wrong. The Japanese women I've been into so far haven't been into me, and the foreign / US / UK / Canadian / Korean / etc ladies I've had interest in thus far all seem to either have boyfriends or are more interested in dating a Japanese dude. I sort of dated this foreign exchange student from Vietnam for a month or so there, but I could see that going nowhere good / compatible and broke it off as I didn't want to lead her on. Anyway, Nagasaki is also pretty conservative, compared to, say, Osaka or Tokyo, so the deck is stacked against a weirdo like me, but I'll keep trying!
- Despite the lack of luck so far, I've been putting myself out there again. It feels nice to at least try. I've always heard that old chestnut about "Don't seek them out, let them find you", but what fun is that?
- I'm able to buy a girl a drink or go on dates without it breaking the bank for the rest of the week. I went on a fair amount of dates now and then in SF and LA, but would always have to go into extreme conservation mode after. It's nice to be an old-fashioned gentleman sometimes without worry, and without feeling like a broke loser.
- Despite my pretty much eternal body image problems, I'm able to once again at least try to put up a veneer of confidence. I channel it from other strengths of mine - creativity, sense of humor, and intelligence - to make up for the fact that I'm not an Adonis-type.
- I think if I get into another relationship anytime soon I can be a great boyfriend. I used to take pride on being a considerate and loving guy, but I was not able to be that man for the last two or three relationships. Hopefully life will give me the opportunity to prove myself to someone new. I hate to sound like I'm too hung up on finding a relationship, but I really do miss that aspect of life. There are a lot of fun and romantic things to do in Nagasaki, and it would be nice to have someone to share those experiences with.
- I feel a refreshed urge to meet new people and make new friends and collaborators.
- I really miss my friends back home. That said, at least now I know the reason I'm not in good contact with them is due to hectic work schedules, and not due to hermitage and social anxiety.
- That said, I'm a little worried about permanently losing touch with some of my friends, the longer I'm here. Especially since I can't come home for major events such as weddings. I've already missed three or four of those this year, and next year at least three of my friends are set to be wed. I can only afford to come home for maybe one. I hope people will be understanding...
- I'm not consumed by self-loathing-induced jealousy for others. I feel happy for others' achievements once again.
- I feel like I can be a better friend once again to others.
Since I tried to balance out the first section with good stuff at the end, here's a few things that annoy me about living in Japan, and things that I miss about the USA. That said, these thoughts only account for about 5% of my brain's workings.+
Here's a list of things I miss about The States that I haven't yet found in Nagasaki: Middle-Eastern food. Mexican food. Size 13 shoes. Leg room on the bus. Chairs that sit up higher to accommodate longer legs (part of the reason I've been having foot and leg pain is from sitting with more stress being put upon my feet). More flexibility with the rules in certain situations. Driving my cars (for fun, not transportation). My cats. My family. My friends. My spacious living area. My backyard for messy projects. The melting pot of different cultures, especially in San Francisco, and being able to feel like I can travel the world just by going neighborhood to neighborhood. Having cultural touchstones that I can share with similarly aged Western folks, as in talking about '80s & '90s nostalgia, in-jokes, and certain unspoken things that we both "get".+
Things that have gotten on my nerves, living here (a short list!): Communication problems - My Japanese spoken language has come back a ton after living here (previously, I'd studied for ten years, up until... ten years ago), but when talking to Japanese friends, I feel like we can mostly only have superficial conversations since I can't reach that deeper level of speech ability very often (being drunk helps!). Bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy, and frustratingly inflexible protocol. Feeling like a "celebrity" being a rare foreigner has its occasional drawbacks... Sometimes I just want to disappear and not be looked at all the time.+
See? pretty short list! I'm having the time of my life in Japan, and I believe I'll look back at these days as the pivot point where I "righted the ship" of my life.
-------------FUTURE: unclear, but I feel positive
Who ever really knows what the future brings? I thought I did. As a child, I dreamed of becoming a famous car designer. As an adolescent & teenager, that dream changed to being a famous comic book artist. In college this shifted to being a famous photographer, and this dream persisted until last fall. When people have asked me why I left ten years of working in photography and graphic design (okay, maybe a total of six years if you subtract all the shitty unemployed times) in favor of teaching English in Japan, I usually go into a spiel about the recession and just being tired after four years of it and needing something stable for a change. Though it's easier and a hair less depressing to tell that story, I think the cards were on the table before I even applied to JET. Making a career in photography was a different prospect in the early '00s, when I started to get serious about it. Nowadays it's very different, and much, much harder. That's not to say that I've given up on pursuing photography as a career. I still have a burning passion for it, and feel most alive when I'm in the middle of a photo shoot. That said, the exhausted, depressed, shell of a man that I became was not the right guy to take on the challenges entailed in trying to make it in photography as a career. These days things are so competitive and the jobs are rare enough and underpaying often enough that once has to be a bit of an apex predator to make it to the top of the food chain. I once had a stronger level of self-confidence, but by spring 2011, I was so tapped-out that I was running on fumes. For the next couple years I just went through the motions. I kept moving to California because I thought that's what one was supposed to do, and I thought I could make things the same as they once were, but things never stay the same, and I wasn't ready to change with the times. I'm not a fierce enough personality to claw my way to the top. I'm hoping by the time that I return to the US (unless I get a longer-term still-satisfying job here and/or get married to a Japanese lady and stay longer in Japan) that a few things will have changed... I'm hoping that the US economy won't be so thoroughly screwed and that there will be more art jobs again. I'm hoping that I'll come out of my Japan era a lean, mean, fighting machine (figuratively), and will be ready to once again tackle my dreams. It's a gamble that I came here. Surely by the time I return, 90%ish of my job connections and leads will have dried up by the time I get back. I'll be obsolete in some skills, in need of retraining. Perhaps I'll decide I don't even want to be a pro photographer anymore? (I hope not, unless whatever takes its place is AWESOME).
If you're still reading this, thank you for hanging in there. It is perhaps the longest blog post I've ever made. It's four & three-quarters year's worth of thought garbage finally being laid to rest upon the ashen piles of days gone by and reconciled. I was haunted by the ghost I became in those tough years, and now it's time to exorcize that evil spirit and let the real, ALIVE
Evan come back! I felt the need to post all of this, some things uncomfortably-personal, just to look back and crystallize those days in a way that would allow me to move on once and for all. Also to let others who know me know the full-extent of what I was feeling, to hopefully atone for my moments of being a bad friend. Also, I've posted mainly lighthearted happy stuff on my Facebook since getting here, but I wanted to get real for sec. I know it's annoying sometimes to see people posting nothing but "look at how awesome my life is!" posts, so I wanted to put my new-found happiness in perspective. (Also, side note, if you're thinking of applying to JET, just do
it!) Maybe there are some who would be amused to know that I fell so far for so long - we all know how tempting schadenfreude can be - and to them I would flip a virtual "bird". To those who stuck with me, and gave me the benefit of the doubt, I will always remember that. It's just a shame that it took me moving roughly 7000 miles away in order to return to something more approximating the old Evan that you once knew and loved. I'm not done yet. I'm maybe about 70% on the way to become the Evan I want to be, but that's a lot better than the bad old days :-)
- Location:Nagasaki, Japan
- Music:Carpenters - "Close to You" (among a million other songs since it took forever to write this)