Basic Japanese Explained the Slang-y Way

I have a blog!

I have remembered my blog.

Why have I remembered? Because I have a gift for you, gentle reader.

★ THE GIFT OF JAPANESE ★

So my college roommate is here from the States for a few months and rather than throw a bunch of phrases at her all at once, I figured it’d be easier to post it all organized here.

Disclaimers: 1) I’m not fluent, not even close. I started learning Japanese in my junior year of college, and although I’m very much not in my junior year of college anymore, I’ve still got a long way to go. As I just explained to a friend of mine, you start Japanese thinking, “Holy shit.” And then you master the basics and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” and then you hit intermediate level and go, “Holy shit,” again. 2) In no way is this an academic exploration of Japanese. But if you just want to learn some to get by, this’ll probably do the trick.

Note on Polite/Casual: If you’re using a language guide you’ll see a lot of masu and desu. If these are at the end of words, it makes those words more polite. It doesn’t change the meaning of what you’re saying, it just makes it sound well-mannered. So I can say a very polite, “Sono kumo wa watashi no tomodachi desu,” or a more casual, “Sono kumo wa tomodachi da,” and I’m still saying, “That cloud is my friend.” (Kumo can also be “spider,” though. Be clear when pointing.) Pronunciation wise, if you want to sound more natural you can skip the u and say it like “mass” and “dess.” Keep the “s” sound short and you’re golden.

★DAILY LIFE

Thank you – [a•ree•GA•to] ありがとう This’ll be the thing you use most probably. If you want to be super polite, you can tack on gozaimasu ございます for a thank you very much effect. There’s also [DO•mo] どうも from Mr. Roboto fame, if you just want a quick thanks vibe.

Excuse me – [SU•mee•ma•sen] すみません When you’re in Japan, this becomes the thing you use second most. Bumped that guy by accident? Sumimasen. Want the check? Sumimasen. Want the cashier’s attention? Sumimasen. Called someone’s baby scary-looking? Then you want:

I’m sorry – [GO•men] ごめん This is the next step up, and since this is Japan, if you find yourself in a situation needing to use I’m sorry then you’d best tack on [na•SAI] with it for the full gomen nasai ごめんなさい or I’m very sorry. Knocked that guy over? Gomen nasai. Accidentally burned the check you asked for? Gomen nasai. Punched the cashier? Gomen nasai. The difference between gomen and sumimasen can be vague sometimes depending on the situation (like if you almost knocked the guy over, but not quite), but Japan’s renowned for politeness, so if you use gomen when a simple sumimasen would have done fine, nice people will probably just think more kindly of you for going the extra mile. Mean people will think other things, but no one can do much to prevent that.

Hello – [o•HA•yo] おはよう [KON•ni•chi•wa] こんにちは [KON•ban•wa] こんばんわ Technically this is “good morning,” “good afternoon,” and “good evening” respectively. Japanese doesn’t really have an all-purpose “hello” for all times of day unless you count “Usss” which is primarily used by ruffians and dudes who are lazy with their vowels and consonants. You will get weird looks if you use usss while being obviously foreign.

Nice to meet you – [HA•ji•may•ma•shi•te] 初めまして Check it out, we’re in kanji land now. 😀 Not much explanation required for this. “Hajimemashite, watashi no namae wa Namae,” or, “Nice to meet you, my name is Name.”

Please look after me/a lot of other sentiments – [YO•ro•shi•ku o•ne•GAI•shi•mass] 宜しくお願いします Truth be told, there’s no comfortable way to translate this one into English. There’s no easy equivalent for yoroshiku onegaishimasu. It’s a kind of catch-all phrase for a bunch of different situations. More of a catch-many, actually. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, you say it. When you’re asking someone for a favor, you can use it. It’s smooth way to end a telephone conversation you don’t know how to end otherwise. You get a good sense of when to use this the more time you spend in Japan participating in conversations. It’s a necessity in business Japanese but if you’re a tourist, the only time you’re likely to use this is after you meet someone for the first time. Going off the example above: “Nice to meet you, my name is Name. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” In that context you’re basically saying, “Please be awesome to me.”

I understand – [wa•KA•ree•mas] 分かります Say you are in a state of not understanding where you are (otherwise known as “lost”). You go up to a nice lady and say, “Sumimasen,” and point to an address on your iPhone. The nice lady peers at your phone, ascertains after a few questions you don’t understand that you don’t understand Japanese, and then either speaks English or makes with the helpful gestures. When you understand or would like her to stop because neither of you are benefiting from this interaction anymore, you can say wakarimasu and an arigatou gozaimasu for good measure and be on your merry way. Speaking of being lost:

I’m lost – [MY•go nee na•ta] 迷子になった Okay, so this is the cutesy way of saying it, but it’s also the fun way. Maigo means “lost kid” and natta is the verb for “to become” so you’re literally saying, “I have become a lost child,” but it’s understood as, “I’m lost.” Grown-ups use it, too, even though it’s cute. It’s Japan, after all. Cute is King. Speaking of cute (I’m enjoying this transition thing, can you tell?):

Cute – [KA•wa•ee] 可愛い Most people on Earth know what this means. Cute shit is probably Japan’s largest cultural export right now, so most people have probably heard the word kawaii before. It’s used a lot. A loooot. You’ll hear everyone use it from kids to the elderly. Embrace the Cute or it will eat you alive. And just to add insult to injury, it’ll do it in an adorable way.

Scary – [KO•wai] 怖い There’s a familiar joke/experience among Japanese-learners: you’re standing in front of a parent and baby and, hoping to show off your awesome Japanese abilities, you proclaim what you think is, “How cute!” Instead of the awe and accolades you were expecting for your kind words, your audience looks insulted and the parent kicks you in the face (this will probably never happen unless it’s an ill-tempered mafia leader). You realize you have made the common mistake of mixing up “cute” with “scary” because your pronunciation was off. Think of it this way to make it easy on yourself: cute/kawaii has three syllables (ka•wa•ee). Listen to Avril Lavigne’s video; she says the word about thirty-seven times and enunciates the word very clearly. Scary/kowai has two syllables (ko•wai). Don’t call people’s babies scary. Unless the parents dressed their kid up as a demon or something, in which case go nuts.

Skilled – [JO•zu] 上手 As a visitor you’ll hear this one most often in the context of language ability. For example: Nihongo jouzu! or, “Your Japanese is great!” One of the super positive things to Japan for me is that you get a lot of praise to bolster your confidence as you’re learning the language. Most Japanese people won’t laugh at you for making mistakes in their language. When they do laugh at you, you know you’ve become close friends. Or they’re jerks. That also happens.

Chopsticks – [o•HA•shi] お箸 The o is there to make it fancy. Most Japanese call chopsticks ohashi rather than hashi. Same with sushi. You’ll hear osushi a lot. So if you’re in a restaurant and they have shockingly forgotten to give you chopsticks (or, more likely, you can’t find them because they’re in a fancy box you didn’t notice) you can say “ohashi wa?” What’s the “wa” for? GLAD YOU ASKED. 😀 (It’s in the question section below.)

Train – [DEN•sha] 電車 Trains are a huuuge part of life in Japan. The three most common words you’ll hear are that one, plus subway [CHEE•ka•teh•tsu] 地下鉄 and the one most people know already: bullet train [SHEEN•kan•sen] 新幹線.

Alcohol – [SAH•keh] 酒 95% of the Western world mispronounces this as sah-kee.

Karaoke – [KAH•ra•oh•keh] カラオケ Same with this word. Avoid saying [ka•REE•oh•key] and you’ll get a constellation named after you (maybe).

Phone – [su•MA•foe] スマフォ This is short for スマートフォン, which is “smartphone” with a Japanese accent.*

* A big part of the reason many Japanese people don’t understand native English speakers is because schools in Japan teach their kids English using Japanese syllables, which gives them a severely warped idea of how English words sound. So instead of learning the word “smartphone” they learn the way to comfortably say that word using only Japanese sounds, which ends up sounding like “su-ma-to–fone.” Then they shorten that word into a shorter word, ending up with sumafo.

If you want to make communication easier with a Japanese person who doesn’t speak English, pay attention to the Japanese accent and try to pronounce English words with that accent. It sounds insulting, but the Japanese actually use a lot of English loan words in their language – they just don’t pronounce them the way we do. So laptop became pasokon (personal+computer), ticket became chiketto, and elevator became erebeyta. I’ve been in situations where I couldn’t think of the Japanese noun for what I wanted to say, so I pronounced it with a Japanese accent and they figured out quickly what I meant.

(Also, every single Japanese person who has ever sat through an English class in this country has heard this phrase: “This is a pen.” It’s the one phrase 99% of Japanese people know. It’s the first thing they’re taught, and it’s the only thing many end up remembering. Carry around a pen for this to have significance. Or hold up nothing, just for fun.)

★QUESTIONS★

First the important words you’ll use to make the questions:

Who – [DA•rey] 誰

What – [NA•ni] 何

When – [EE•tsu] いつ

* Time for a break to talk about tsu vs. su. We don’t have the “tsu” sound in English, so a lot of English speakers end up pronouncing Japanese words with “tsu” like “su.” In most cases Japanese people will understand you anyway, but better safe than sorry. Here’s a bare bones, no flourishes example.

Where – [DO•ko] どこ

Why – [DOSH•te] どうして [NAN•de] なんで [NA•ze] なぜ Without going much into detail about the nuances here, you’ll use doshite most often. When in doubt, doushite it out. (Also, the do in DOSH•te is do as in doe.)

How – [DOH] どう Think Homer Simpson catchphrase without yelling.

Which – [DO•rey] どれ [DO•chee] どっち

Where is the wild boar? [EE•nu•she•she wa DO•ko DE•su KA] イノシシはどこですか? If you’re ever visiting the more mountainous parts of Kobe, you too can ask this question! They have boars there. I have run from them. Anyway, if you want to ask where anything is in Japanese, you just take the word for boar away and fill in whatever it is you’re looking for. And if you don’t want to bother with politeness, all you have to do is say NOUN + wa. Seriously, it’s that easy. Café: café wa? Bathroom: [TOY•reh] wa? Spider/cloud: [KU•mo] wa?

How much is this? [KO•rey WA EE•koo•ra DE•su KA] これはいくらですか? Simple one. Point at thing, say this. The trick is understanding the answer, but most Japanese staff can handle English numbers.

What is that? [NA•nee KO•rey] Okay, I can sense Japanese speakers cringing every time I write “rey” so let me clarify: think of “rey” as a soft sound. it’s not Ray like the name, more like reh with a dash of y at the end.

What time is it? [NAN•jee DE•su KA] Or you can just go with nan ji and drop desu ka.

★DIRECTIONS

Straight – [MA•su•gu] 真っ直ぐ

Right – [MI•gi] 右

Left – [HEE•da•ri] 左

Behind – [OO•shee•row] 後ろ

In front of – [MY] 前 This one’s pronunciation is difficult to explain. It’s not exactly like “my,” it’s more like ma+ey smushed together.

Up – [OO•eh] 上

Down – [SHEE•ta] 下

★FUN TIMES

Beer [BEE•ru] ビール I could be underinformed about this, but I don’t think the Japanese had beer before their first real contact with foreigners. Aaand Wikipedia reassures me that’s right. You’ll see this over and over in Japan, that the Japanese use loan words for things they have no Japanese word for. So beer is just “beer” with an extra “u” tacked on because the Japanese alphabet is made up of syllables instead of letters. Ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, ra, ri, ru, re, ro, etc. That’s why you hear so many Japanese people adding on vowels to the ends of words when they’re speaking English – they’re not used to a full consonant stop (except their only consonant: ん which is like “n” but in the back of your throat).

Idiot [BA•ka] バカ Goes without saying after all the stuff about being polite in Japan that you want to save this for a time when someone’s pissed you off and you’re 1) bigger, 2) faster, and/or 3) more sober. You can also call your friends this depending on your friends’ tolerance for friendly insults. In the Kansai region, we use “aho” アホ more than “baka.” Commonly heard phrase in Kansai is アホか? which literally means, “Are you a moron?” but depending on the situation it can sound more like a confident, “You’re a moron.”

Beautiful [KEY•ray] 綺麗な If someone calls you beautiful, hurrah!

Beautiful Woman [BEE•jeen] 美人 Literally “beautiful person,” but I mostly hear it used for women. The first time I heard this was from a ten-year-old boy riding past me on his bicycle in Osaka. I didn’t understand what he’d said, so I turned around and called out, “What?” He shouted it again over his shoulder. I looked it up in my dictionary, waved to him, and yelled, “Thanks!” and he waved back as he turned the corner.

Sexy Man [EE•kay•men] イケメン This term was coined several years back. Ah, interesting cultural difference: most men here hate to be called cute. Now that I think about it I’m not sure men back in the States like it much either, but in general whenever I’ve called a Japanese man cute in the past, he’s recoiled like I called him a fish. You only use cute for inanimate things, animals, girls, and women, apparently. I could be wrong, but Japanese people have told me men don’t appreciate cute. It’s kind of misogynist, true, but it’s a lesser form of it.

Small Face [CHEE•sai ka•oh] 小さい顔 This is a compliment. I’ve had it explained to me numerous times, and I’m still not sure I understand it completely but I’ll give it a shot: this basically means your facial features are proportional with the rest of you. …Yeah, I don’t know. It’s a good thing. Basically someone’s saying you’re purdy. Smile and nod. If the person speaks good English, ask them to explain and then come back and tell me.

Bad [DA•may] ダメ Japanese people rarely use the word “no.” It’s considered too direct in many contexts, so people tend to go for “bad” or “different” [CHI-gao] 違う. If someone is trying to make plans with you tomorrow and you’re too busy, you can make a sad face and say, “Dame desu.” If someone is trying to steal your wallet, you can kick him in the head and yell, “DAME.” Sometimes, politeness is all in the context and tone of voice.

Nooooo [EE•ya•da] 嫌だ You’ll hear everyone use this a lot. The Japanese version of valley girls use this even more, often at a pitch and tone that will make plucking out your brain with a melon baller seem pleasant by comparison. Basically it’s a quick form of, “Eugh, no way,” or “this repulses me to an extreme degree,” or just, “I don’t want to.” For example:

“Do your homework!”
“Iya da.”

“Wake up.”
“Iyaaa daaaa.”

“Eat these live spiders.”
“IYA DA! AHO KA?”

I think that’s a good note to end on for now.

So again, this was written with my friend in mind, but I hope it’s helpful for others, too! I might write up some more in the future if any good subjects come to mind. Til then, enjoy!

P.S. No one will offer you live spiders in Japan. Monkeys might. They’re assholes.

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NOT THE BEES! said Not Nicolas Cage

Guess what I woke up to in my kitchen?

Giant ass bee.

 
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I heard suspicious, bug-sounding crinkling in the kitchen, so, fearing the grossest thing in the world, I opened my door and saw a massive flying, buzzing thing banging against the closed window. My brain put those two descriptors together and successfully concluded: giant ass bee.

I closed the door of my bedroom with a brave, “IIIYAH,” and had a brief strategy meeting.

1) Leave it in the kitchen, let it pay rent, share cleaning chores.
2) Spray it from a distance and run away.
3) Try to capture it and somehow get it outside.

I didn’t want to kill it, so I nixed that option. I like bees when they’re not accidental prisoners in my home. So I decided to capture it. I picked up a Tupperware container, and the sturdiest paper I could find under duress, took two steps toward the kitchen window it was futilely banging against, and hid in the bathroom.

Every so often, I’d open the shower door and watch him arc out into the kitchen with a pissed off flurry of buzzing, then careen back at the window and ping against the glass.

Quickly, I leaned out of the bathroom and tried a new approach: opening the second kitchen window. I opened the glass quickly and then ran back into the bathroom as I heard it taking a loop around the kitchen. It adhered itself to the screen, probably tasting freedom on the other side, and I slammed the glass shut.

My problem was over. But the poor little dude was still stuck. I’d have to open the glass slightly, then open the screen. I had a big fan from a concert I’d gone to, and I decided to use the handle to open the screen.

Taking a deep breath and hoping it wouldn’t sting the fuck out of my hand, I opened the glass a silver and eased the handle through. I found a catch in the screen frame and pushed down. But alas, the handle bent under the pressure and the screen stayed firmly shut.

No help for it, then. I’d have to use my poor hand. In hindsight, this is where my oven mitt might have been useful, but Arieseses don’t think well under pressure. We act with foolhardy confidence, damn it.

I snuck my hand through to the screen and pushed it up, then quickly shut the glass again. I congratulated myself on finding a deathless solution and picked up my iPhone to photograph the giant ass bee who managed to find a way into my apartment even though all the windows were shut.

This concludes today’s episode of Bugs Try to Be My Friends. Tune in next time, the 5th of Never at -0 PM.

 

 

Robin Williams

My uncle passed away during my first year living in Japan. My mom emailed me about it, and I sat down on the floor where I was standing and cried. I felt so alone in that moment, so far removed from my family, and nothing felt safe.

My uncle was always smiling, always joking. Whenever I was around him, everything was laughter and fondness. He gave me one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received. When I said I wanted to live in Ireland one day, he paused to think about that for a second, and I held my breath. My uncle was Irish, born and bred, and whatever he said next would be etched in stone for me. Finally, he flexed his hands on the steering wheel and nodded, oddly serious for once. “You’d do well there,” he said.

He had eons of jokes ready for any given situation, and endless stories from his childhood in Ireland. He’d chuckle and call me a gerbil because of how I eat, and he’d take me on trips to see The Tiger Man, one of his clients who works with endangered wild cats.

I wasn’t ready to lose him, and it hurt to find out that was the end of his presence in my life. However, ever since his death, I’ve pretended that he’s still alive and I just don’t ever have the chance to see him when I go home. Maybe it’s not healthy, but it makes it hurt less that he’s gone.

I think it’s an especially brutal kind of pain to lose someone who could make you laugh. Maybe that’s part of why Robin Williams’ death is resonating so deeply with so many. I’ve seen people all over saying Robin felt like their favorite uncle, and it’s amazing that he had that kind of influence. He was such an intrinsic part of my generation growing up, even when he wasn’t in the public eye, he was always part of our lives. He was the Genie, Peter Pan, the lost jungle boy, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, and endlessly more.

Even though I knew he was mortal, I never thought I’d live in a world without him.

This one is going to sink deep.

It was known he was struggling, and he addressed it in his comedy and elsewhere, but I hoped he would outlive the pain.

Still, if I could tell him one thing, I’d say just this: “It’s not your fault.”

He deserved better. ♡

Honestly, I don’t think I can say goodbye to Robin Williams yet. And in a way, I don’t think I have to.

“Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.”
-Mary Elizabeth Frye

Madame’s Performance

So I’ve been twenty-seven for a good three months now, and yesterday while I was on the train to Osaka for a lesson I realized that I’ve hit a pretty comfortable stride. I know what I want, I know how to get there, and I know how to handle the distractions that have been getting in the way of my goals.

I’d like to say it’s a superpower and I got it from a talking space cat (I may or may not be watching Sailor Moon for the first time), but it’s probably closer to the truth to say that I just had to take a lot of wrong turns and feel generally off-balance and miserable for a while before I figured it out. And I owe it even more to the people around me who’ve given me nothing but encouragement and support, which is all kinds of beautiful. ♡

A while back, through some lucky unfortunate circumstances, I quit a job that was easy and fun but leading nowhere. In the free time that followed, I created a new schedule that wasn’t as rigid, and I mapped out some writing projects. Over the next year, I made a little money off of it, and I thought, “Huh, so this is a thing I can do after all. BOOYAH!” I sent small pieces to friends and they asked for more, and I had little celebrations that involved bouncing and dancing (it takes very little to make me happy). Even though I wasn’t making large leaps of progress, I was taking more steps toward becoming a writer than I had been taking in the other line of work, and that was enough to encourage me.

Now, I have a semi-regular schedule, I’m juggling multiple writing projects at once, and while I’m nowhere near my dream of swimming in a vault of books I’ve published, I’m closer to that than I’ve ever been. (I’m going to do that, mark my words.)

And tomorrow I’m joining a gym, because the two years I’ve gone without working out regularly have probably made me crankier than I ever was when I was working out regularly, and also there bound to be be sexy folk in the gym.

All in all, life is fantastic, and I love everything, but especially the peaches that are in season now and the air conditioned coolness all around me making the room splendidly chilly. The only thing I hate is summer and global warming because one summer is rather quite more than enough. (u__u)♡

SO! Change in topic!

On Sunday, I went with Madame (my classy neighbor) to her dance performance in Nara. She’s been studying traditional Japanese dance with a teacher in Ashiya over the past year, and she’s gotten quite good.

I woke up at 7:00 and met Madame outside the house where she was waiting in her car. We drove to Hankyu Ashiyagawa, the small train station nearby that services one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Kansai, and met up with the rest of Madame’s dancing peers and their teacher.

I’d met Madame’s teacher once before back in May when she invited me to her house to try on one of her nicest and most expensive kimono. She and Madame helped me dress in a lovely red and pink kimono, did my hair in an elegant style, and took a bunch of photos. Madame’s teacher has been a dancer since she was a teenager, and while Madame took her lesson in the living room, I sat in the dining room with a cup of tea and some cookies, watching the lesson and perusing a black and white photo book that covered much of her teacher’s history in dance. Photo after photo of kabuki and noh stages, of elaborate costumes and painstakingly flawless makeup. It’s easy to see that the elegance in her movements today were crafted decades ago through rigorous study and training.

Madame stopped her car in front of the station and soon afterward, we spotted her teacher’s car pulling up behind us. Her teacher took three students in her car, and Madame invited another to ride with us. At first, Madame and her friend eased into the drive by exchanging pleasantries, but as we pulled onto the highway, Madame brought me into the conversation as well.

She told her friend about my favorite music groups and her friend perked up. “Really?” she asked, delighted. “My daughter is friends with one of them.”

Conversation topic signed, sealed, and stamped, we talked about the entertainment industry until we arrived in Nara. The theatre, gorgeous and stately and made entirely of polished stone, had me staring in awe.

We pulled into the underground garage and unloaded the car, following her teacher to the elevator. Since Madame had two bags with her, I offered to carry the heavy cloth bundle that held her kimono. She smiled and handed it over, and that small action brought the rest of the students’ attention to me.

Madame is in her sixties, and it seems that both her teacher and her fellow students are all around the same age. They were all wearing kimono for the occasion, and I felt more than somewhat underdressed as they all smiled at me. Madame introduced me as her neighbor and friend, and I smiled and bowed my head. They were all extremely friendly and I felt a little like everyone’s daughter as we navigated the theater to the dressing rooms.

We toed off our shoes, stepped up onto the polished wood floor, and walked to our assigned tatami dressing room. Immediately the women went to work on their costumes. Madame was performing second in the program, so her costume went on first. She stripped out of her white kimono and I opened the cloth bundle holding her performance kimono.

In general, I tend to love colorful kimono best, unless it’s a kimono in black and gold, and this one was a riot of gorgeous color. It was purple and gold and pink and red and orange, and each accent and pattern wove together in a perfect balance. The other students called it the princess kimono, and I whistled low.

(As it turns out, I have an obi in my closet that looks just like it. I bought it at a fair in Kyoto a few years ago, and someday I’d like to find a kimono that matches it.)

Anyway! As everyone got ready, we checked out the stage.

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There were a number of dance schools represented at the performance that day, with students anywhere between the ages of three to eighty. There were 59 dance numbers in total, which ended up taking about six hours, which would seem horrifying, but audience members were allowed (and probably encouraged) to leave the theater every now and then and take a break from all the culture.

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The stage was absolutely gorgeous.

I recorded Madame’s performance, which is why I don’t have any photos of her. I loved seeing her in a completely different element than the one in which I usually see her. Every week we meet in her house and we talk about various things, and we had that one day with the kimono-fitting, and another time at a small house party at my landlady’s, but this was the first time I’d seen her as a performer. I was very proud of her – it’s clear she’s worked very hard over the past year.

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These two were, no question, the cutest thing I saw that day. They couldn’t have been any older than four, and they were very, very good! The girl in blue remembered everything perfectly and performed the entire dance with an almost serene expression. The girl in pink was a step or two behind her, glancing at her every now and then to see if she was doing something right. Sometimes the girl in blue would glance back with a fleeting, “Come on now,” look. It was brutally adorable.

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Lunch! …Literally no other reason to post this except to prove that Japan has made me into someone who photographs food all the time.

After lunch, I watched another hour or so of dancing and then Madame came and found me and asked me if I’d take a walk with her. We took a small stroll outside and then she went back in to join her fellow students backstage as they prepared for their upcoming numbers. When I went to follow her in, she waved me off.

“Enjoy the sun while it’s out,” she said.

I noticed a group of deer by the stream next to the theater and headed in their direction.

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A majestic deer of Nara.

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Gnawing on her foot.

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The heat had driven most of the deer into the river for some refreshment, and the moment I walked up they all looked at me accusingly. I guess if someone walked in on me standing in my drinking water, I’d be affronted too.

Nearby, there was a woman selling senbei crackers to feed the deer, so I bought a small package and passed out pieces one by one. I tried to, anyway. One kept biting me to get seconds, but I kept her under control by petting her head, which drove her nuts and repelled her for a grand total of four seconds at a time.

By the way, Louis CK is totally right. Deer do make a noise, and it is “HGUUUUGCHHH.” There was one deer standing away from the rest belching out this horrible noise nonstop for no apparent reason apart from wanting to hear her own demonic heartsong.

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This one was cute, though.

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As I was heading back inside the theater, the sky clouded over and thunder rolled in. The first raindrops poured down just as I took my last few running strides under the cover of the roof.

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This boy, I’m sad to say, was a performer that I didn’t get to see. I must have been out with Madame or feeding deer during his number. I know he was a performer because I saw him in formal hakama backstage and in the audience with his mom.

When I took cover from the rain, Madame found me again and she asked if I wanted to join her for some ice cream in the cafe. The place was just magnificent – white tile floor, mirrors on all the walls, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors all along the wall facing a gorgeous Japanese garden. The chef was Italian, and he made us a selection of small desserts of his choice.

The rain and the thunder continued, and Madame and I bonded over our love for thunderstorms. Every time a boom of thunder rattled the building, we grinned at each other in pure delight.

We started to talk about Japanese dance, and Japanese culture on a wider scale. I wondered if traditional Japanese dance could be adapted slightly for a more modern audience, and Madame smiled. “It would be nice if our culture could evolve and live on,” she said. We agreed that culture survives through evolving and absorbing new aspects and features over time, and I started to think about how I could incorporate that into a story.

As the thunder pounded closer, I stood up to take photos of the garden and the lashing rain and I saw the boy performer standing just out its reach with the same happy smile I’d seen on Madame’s face.

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We were now several hours into the show, and this man was the first male performer I’d seen. Adorably, the boy in the photo above hurried into the theater just before he started to dance. I watched the performer, impressed by his precise movements and constant expression, but I was more moved by the boy.

The theater only had about forty people in it at the time, and the boy and his mother were the only ones in the second row. Throughout the man’s performance, the boy hung on to the back of the empty chair in front of him and watched it all with complete fascination.

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The next performer was this man. He must have been a professional and not a student, because his skill level was insane. When he first walked onto the stage, I thought he would be one of the slower performers, but in a heartbeat his steps quickened and he moved so gracefully into a faster pace that I didn’t notice the change happening at all.

He was the only performer of the day that I saw actually change his expression to match his actions. He made the audience laugh, something I hadn’t heard all day, purely by his reactions and his actions. He absolutely captivated me.

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The second-to-last dancer was Madame’s teacher, and I loved watching her dance. I’d never seen her dance before, only seen movements captured in photos (which, ironically, is what I’m perpetuating here by not having a video). She was understandably confident, and the song she chose was faster-tempo than many of the other numbers, and actually sounded a bit French rather than traditionally Japanese. I loved the whole number, and I felt very privileged to see such an experienced dancer displaying her craft like that.

After the show, Madame drove us back to Kobe. I climbed up my stairs to my apartment around six o’clock and sprawled out on my bed with a deep yawn. From 7:30 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening, I’d spoken almost entirely in Japanese, and taken in so much culture and skill and beauty, it felt like the day had gone on for hours longer than it had.

At numerous points in the day, I had marveled over the atmosphere created through the combination of the elegance from the dancers and the quiet respect from the audience. I decided to write a story using elements of what I’d seen and experienced that day, and I opened my computer to start researching.

life in the women only car

Every week I meet with a private student in his sixties. He’s very nice, and very well-educated, and his English level is high enough that our conversation topics range from Japanese history to Japanese literature and, recently, gender equality.

I went into the subject a little spoiled from conversations with another one of my students who’s a lawyer, also in his sixties. With him, I’ve had some fascinating insights into why the gender gap is so wide in Japan. As a lawyer, he’s seen the legal side of things, like a law that says daycares must have a lawn for the children to play in, which makes it very difficult to have daycares in space-lacking cities for mothers to leave their children in while they go to work.

Today, though, I saw my student’s expression shut down a little while we talked about gender equality.

We had been discussing a famous Japanese play, and then we segued into Japanese language, and then to society. At one point he said, “We never expected a problem with low birth rate. I don’t know the reason it’s so low, but…women just don’t seem to want families.” He shook his head, and I could almost see his focus shifting to another topic as he pursed his lips.

I said, “I’ve thought about it a lot. I think the problem isn’t that they don’t want families. I think many women see becoming a mother in Japan as the end of their lives as individuals, especially in the workforce. Maybe once Japan starts treating men and women more equally, more women will want to have families. Once having that family doesn’t ruin a woman’s job aspirations, for example.”

As I talked, I felt the urge to add “but I’m not Japanese, so what do I know?” Even though I’ve lived here for four years and I’ve had a good number of conversations about gender equality here, I’m not as well-versed in it as I will be with a few more years of experience and studying on the subject. But I couldn’t let the blame fall on young women.

The moment I finished talking, my student averted his eyes and folded his hands in front of his mouth, chuckling. It seemed he disagreed, but I made myself wait. I have a constant impulse to talk when I’m making a point, and it’s only in the last few years I’ve started to grow a sense of when to let the point speak for itself. If you’ve made the point, you won’t have to do it again.

We talked a bit more, and through hearing his side of things I realized he had a perspective I’d never heard before from someone in Japan.

“You say feminism is equality between men and women,” he said. “But feminism…for example, women have it better in Japan than men. Less stress, not as much expectation on them from their parents than boys have. They have freedom.”

I opened my mouth, thought better of what I wanted to say, and decided instead to say, “So, the trains in Japan have a ‘women only’ car, right?”

He laughed sheepishly. “Ahh, yes, that.”

“Why?”

“Because they get assaulted.” He looked out the window with an embarrassed smile. “Have you heard in Osaka, the announcements?”

I smiled a bit. “The ‘don’t touch women, please’ bit?”

He nodded, still chuckling. “It’s a very embarrassing thing.”

“So even if what you’re saying about women is true, and they have freedom from expectation, they don’t have safety. They don’t have the freedom to stand on a train car and not get sexually assaulted. They don’t have freedom from objectification.”

He took that in with a considering nod, then added, “Women also have a longer life expectancy than men.”

I nodded, puzzled. “Well, why do you think that is?”

“Lower stress,” he said. “I think they’re happier than men.”

I didn’t have enough education on that to agree or disagree, so I said, “If that’s true, that’s not fair.”

He blinked. “Fair?”

“I mean, if women have less stress from staying home while men work for most of the day and sometimes into the night, that’s not equal treatment on the men’s side of things.”

He frowned. “But housework is very important. When I worked, my wife and I split the housework.”

“Then why don’t more men act as house husbands in Japan?”

“They are, things are changing recently,” he said.

Again, I had no real information on that, so I nodded.

“Women have more influence than men,” he continued, and I frowned.

“Really?” I asked, trying to keep the skepticism out of my voice and almost certainly failing.

He nodded. “Yes. The woman doesn’t only do housework. She also educates her children, and her children grow up to be the leaders of the future. A woman has far, far more influence than a man.”

I thought about that for a moment and said, “But why can’t she have a voice of her own, when her husband can speak for himself? Why does she mainly get to speak through her children? And why doesn’t the father have more of a role in educating his children? Why is it only the woman? And if that’s true, and women educate their children equally, why do mainly men go into politics in Japan? I rarely hear of women politicians in Japan, and the most recent one I heard of was in the news for being heckled by her fellow, all-male municipal assembly.”

He gave a smiling grimace and sighed. “Ahh, that was…very shameful for Japan.”

“It was!” I agreed. “And they should be ashamed. An assemblyman in Aichi recently joked or seriously suggested selling punctured condoms to up the birth rate. Either way, whether he was joking or being serious, that’s a politician who thinks so little of women that he would joke about rape and unwanted pregnancies. Too many men in this country only think of women as incubators, and they need to change that.”

He smiled at the table, and I realized I’d probably done the “making your point too much” bit. I’m still working on it. But I’ve also learned not to apologize for arguing for something I believe in. I see so much good in Japan, and I see so much kindness and patience in the people – I love this country ridiculously, and I also embrace its flaws. But I believe in constantly seeking improvement in all things, and I think Japan could definitely benefit from lessening their canyon between the genders.

In the end, he looked up at me and his smile changed to something a little kinder. “I think we need fresh blood,” he said. “New opinions like yours. Maybe we’ve thought the same way too long.”

I smiled, and we ended our conversation on a different subject that we saw eye-to-eye on.

As I walked to the grocery store afterward, I played the conversation through my head over and over. The lesson had ended peacefully, and even though I don’t think his opinions have changed very much, I think it’s important that conversations like that end on a peaceful note. Neither of us got angry, although I had moments where I had too much information I wanted to add to my points and had to reel myself in, and I think that lack of anger made a huge difference in the outcome.

As long as you have respect for the person you’re talking to, I think you can discuss anything. Once before on this blog, I brought up my friend who’s Christian. I grew up Catholic, but I don’t follow any religion now, so when we brought up religion, we were at opposite ends of the table, conversationally speaking.

And yet, I still count my very first conversation with her about religion to be one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. I didn’t leave the conversation Christian and she didn’t leave non-religious, but we understood each other’s side because we’d handled the entire conversation calmly and let each other give her side of things. That conversation happened way back in 2011, and she’s been one of my closest and dearest friends ever since.

It might even be because of her that I want to try harder to communicate with people with whom I don’t share opinions or beliefs. Sometimes, one can learn a lot from the other side of a coin.

And I think the more my student and I talk about this, the more I can learn from him, and the more he can understand from me.

The Chance Encounter

Today, as I was walking down my mountain (and it is, indeed, my mountain), I heard a car slowing to a stop beside me.

I had your average “Do I know you or are you going to steamroll over me gradually like in Austin Powers?” moment as I turned my head to identify the car. A man with white hair and a very sweet smile said, “Can I give you a ride?”

About twelve instincts said, “No,” and not the least because I was carrying two small shopping bags full of garbage and an empty pizza box because garbage pickup in my neighborhood only happens twice and it only happens in the mornings when it hurts to be awake, but I hesitated. My neighborhood is also in a very safe part of town with a great deal of very sweet older people living here, and the man had to be over seventy.

I said, “Is it really all right?” and he nodded, laughing, “It’s fine.”

I thanked him and hobbled into the passenger’s seat, trying to keep the shopping bags close to the open window. He chuckled, “Garbage?” in English and in Japanese I said sheepishly, “Yes, sorry. Summer, you know. Bug precaution.”

As he drove down the road, I thanked him again in Japanese and he waved it off politely. After some small talk, I decided that his English level seemed to exceed my Japanese level, so we continued talking in English. I commented on his skill and he demurred, “It used to be, but it’s gotten worse over time.”

“Did you live abroad at some point?”

“Yes. In Boston.”

“Ahh, Boston is beautiful.”

He smiled broadly. “It is. I went to university there.”

“At Boston University?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

I nodded, making a quiet noise to show I was impressed.

“I also went to Columbia in New York for graduate school. They were great – New York and Boston. I lived in the States for six years.”

He did have a bit of an accent, but I admired his fluency and natural pace.

“What did you do for work?” I asked.

“I was in media.”

“And now?”

“The same. In Washington, I worked in the White House.” He smiled out the windshield.

“My sister works there,” I said, grinning.

His eyes widened and he looked at me for the first time since he chuckled at my apparent garbage hoarding. “Really?”

I nodded proudly. “She’s got a very cool job. What did you do there?”

He said, “I was a journalist.”

“Very cool. Did you ever talk to any presidents?”

He smiled. “I did. Two. Eisenhower and Kennedy. I covered Kennedy’s inauguration.”

I gaped. I managed a polite word or two in a tone that implied, “Holy shit,” more than the, “Wow,” that came out.

He pulled the car to the side of the road and I thanked him again. Just to have a twist ending to the ride, I introduced myself and he chuckled and introduced himself in return. I thanked him again a few times and we parted ways, me to my private lesson and he to the bank, where I expect he was meeting a secret agent because there’s no way his life didn’t get twelve times more interesting than the prologue I got to hear in the car.

 

NOTE: Never get into cars with strangers, kids. Wait until you’re twenty-seven years old and don’t want to lug garbage on foot for fifteen minutes until you get to the train station. Then it’s fine.

SOLE and BEES

Today, I inundated myself with research, a good number of TED videos, and many other affiliated talks regarding education in order to create a brand new form of education system for my book.

My favorite new speaker on behalf of education is Sugata Mitra, a professor at Newcastle University in England who’s done some groundbreaking projects on and research into what he calls self-organized learning environments (SOLE). I first saw him featured in this short documentary about the future of education. It’s ten seconds short of thirteen minutes, and it’s truly hopeful and amazing for your happy feelings, if you’ve got thirteen minutes minus ten seconds to spare.

His closing remarks got me to make with the tears in a big way:

“If a child knows how to read, if a child knows how to search for information, how do we teach them how to believe? In our adult heads, each one of us has a little mechanism. It comes from different places. You and I have different mechanisms of how to believe. Sometimes we say, ‘This is obvious,’ sometimes we say, ‘Because so and so told me,’ sometimes we say, ‘This is rubbish.’ What’s that machine inside? How early in a child’s life can we put it there? If we can do it really, really early, then we would have armed that child against doctrine.

“And I don’t mean only religious doctrine. I mean doctrine in all its forms. I think our job as educators, the biggest job in today’s information-saturated world, is to give the child an armor against doctrine, just as in another generation we used to teach that child how to fight with a sword and to ride a horse.”

You can see it happening on Tumblr. Someone will post something like, “THIS MAN HAS BEGUN A CULT AND THEY ARE EATING ALL THE BEES IN THE WORLD. SIGN THIS PETITION!!” with a link to a petition against this angry bee-devouring man.

Except they doesn’t exist.

The Great Devourers of the Honey-Providing Municipality was an urban legend. Or they were someone’s cartoon villain that went viral without a link to the cartoon. Or they were some other fictional entity – a rumor, a lie, a misunderstanding of some kind.

Overnight, that post has multiplied. People have reblogged and shared that post over and over. New comments have been added in the notes: “THIS IS SO IMPORTANT,” the notes scream, “WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE WITHOUT THE BEES” (and from what I’ve come to understand about bees, this is a true thing – we’re all boned without our buzzy friends). Someone else writes: “Why doesn’t this have more notes? We need to save the bees!”

Even before it’s peaked at about 20,219 notes (divided roughly between sharing and bookmarking), many people will be adding comments like, “…Guys, this is an anime character,” or, “Didn’t anyone stop to look this up first?” But the post will continue gaining notice and people

It’s become a joke on Tumblr now, that people will blindly share an article without doing a bit of research first to make sure it’s real. The thing is – people are noticing faster and faster when things are overstated, factually incomplete, or misinterpreted. It’s developed an automatic question among many Tumblr users now: “Is this true?” And then they go off and they check and if it’s wrong, then they provide links to the correct information.

It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of people online in groups educating each other. And that’s Mitra’s belief: that we’re very good at this type of learning. Children in particular working together in groups can learn anything.

I love this method of thinking, and I’ve been entranced with his proposed methods of practical education all day. Back in 1999, he brought a computer to a slum neighborhood in India and left the computer in a hole in a wall three feet off the ground. Some kids approached him and said, “What’s that?” They’d never seen a computer before, didn’t know the English that the system operated on.

He said, “It’s a computer.”

They said, “How do we use it?”

He said, “I don’t know. And now I’m leaving.” And he left.

A few months later, he returned and found that not only had the kids taught themselves how to use the computer perfectly, they’d also started teaching themselves English.

He did various experiments like this – giving kids technology and walking away – and found that a child on his or her own will play a game for hours. But children in groups won’t let one kid have all the fun – they’ll even out the time.

Mitra said in the beginning when he’d thought of this approach, people questioned whether or not it was a good idea. “They’ll break the computer,” they said. “Or they’ll sell it.”

Mitra wasn’t as convinced. And sure enough, he has footage from cameras he set up all over the world in various locations where he’d left these computers-in-the-wall, and in all the footage, the computers and the kids were fine. In one, a little boy sat on his older sister’s shoulders and instructed her on how to use the mouse. In another, a little girl explains to boys on either side of her how neurons communicate (having learned this from the computer in English on her own).

One of my favorite stories he told was this: he took a computer way out into a rural village and set up the computer. Again, some kids asked what it was, and he explained, and when they asked how to use it, he said, “I have no idea,” and left with what I’m assuming was a cheerful smile and a wave. (He projects a very friendly, positive aura. Dude’s just extremely likable.)

When he returned some months later, they said to him, “We want a faster processor and a better mouse.”

This was all back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but his research has continued since then. His ideas resonate with Sir Ken Robinson’s: children who are interested will learn. But Mitra goes one step further. He believes that rather than teachers doing the job on their own, children can teach each other. During one of his talks, he quoted another educator who said, “If computers can replace teachers, they should be replaced.” 

He made an excellent point about the testing system. That in the real world, we’re often working with computers and in groups, yet our examinations are individual and only from memory.

The current education system is completely separate from the world we live in. The system is hundreds of years old, designed for a much different society of people, and it’s severely damaging to children in its worst cases. It crushes our natural hunger for knowledge and, as Mitra brought up at one point, the testing system instills fear in us. When fear takes hold, our brain shuts down because of primitive self-defense purposes, and that’s not exactly a welcome environment for learning.

The magic of these talks is that if we can change education, if we can give children admiration and encouragement and support rather than fear and reprimands and societal submission, they’ll flourish. All people deserve the chance to learn and, in particular, find the passions and talents that make life blissful.

 

 

students and learners

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on education for a book I’m writing. As part of my research, I’ve been watching a number of speeches by Sir Ken Robinson. His insights on learning have given me a lot to think about, and a lot of inspiration behind the world building of my book.

I’m still at the beginning stages of research, so this is just the dough of what will hopefully one day be fully-formed and edible thought, but let’s watch me ramble for a bit about some realizations I’ve had.

In America, but also in school systems all around the world, the focus is on the “hard knowledge” classes like math and science. When the time comes to find cuts in the budget, the arts are almost always the first to go. And you rarely see dance integrated into the curriculum.

The arts are largely seen as leisure activities. Someone I admire has told me repeatedly that my interest in the arts is less valuable than if I had chosen something more marketable. That’s the outdated belief that school systems are laboring under: that creativity is less valuable than conformity. If you score high on standardized tests, you’re viewed as smarter and more valuable than someone who scored lower than you did. But as (does one always use Sir to refer to a knighted person? Is he Sir Ken? I know I always call Sir Ian McKellen “Sir Ian,” so) Sir Ken pointed out, companies want people who are creative, who can help them adapt to the world as it changes by thinking outside the box.

But our education system teaches us conformity, not diversity.

[THIS IS WHERE I START TALKING ABOUT ME]

I enjoyed some stages of school. I loved elementary school, I liked middle school, I really liked junior high, I disliked high school, and I loved university.

I think what I loved most about elementary school and what I took most for granted was the freedom of being wrong. When I think back to elementary school, I think of bright hallways and smiling teachers and vivid colors and laughing and running and games. I think of recess and concerts and time to play. I don’t remember any red marks on my papers or feeling so nervous about going to school that I’d look up ways to induce vomiting so I could fake sick and stay home.

That didn’t happen until junior high, and as I said, I really liked junior high. But after I left elementary school, I didn’t love school again until I got to university.

What’s maybe the most ironic moment of my academic life was in third grade when I heard we would be marked with more specific grades than the ones we’d been getting before. I was excited. I liked learning, and I liked being praised, and I assumed grading would be encouragement. When I’d gotten an answer wrong before, the teacher had said, “You’ve almost got it, try again.” When I got to third grade, I entered the world of grading and testing.

At this stage, if I got something wrong, I couldn’t be taught how to correct it and earn that point back. If I got a question wrong, I was stuck being wrong. Even if I’d only written the wrong answer by mistake, the mark at the top of the paper told me, “You were wrong, and now you have to carry the weight of being wrong.” Suddenly, I was fixated on my grades, far more than learning anything.

By fourth grade, school made me nervous. I didn’t want to do dry, boring pages of homework, and after a year or two of getting bad grades, I was used to it and found little motivation in the threat of getting a bad grade. All good grades meant to me was a lack of people angry with me, and that wasn’t motivation enough either. Instead, I found ways to avoid both homework and making people angry by cultivating a stronger sense of humor. It’s become a life skill, a defense mechanism, and a recreational hobby that’s probably been my single most powerful tool. Not just making people laugh, but learning to laugh things off.

Fifth and sixth grade were worse academically. I got used to seeing Cs on my report card, and I stopped caring entirely about math and science. I’d once quite liked science, and when I was very young I’d liked playing math games. By sixth grade, math terrified me and science just seemed insurmountably dull. On top of that, I heard people everywhere talking about “creative vs. logical” and all the right/left brain clichés and I started to think my disillusionment with math and science just meant I wasn’t smart enough for “hard knowledge” and just the “soft knowledge” of the arts and humanities I excelled in. I thought, “I’m just wired differently, and I never would have been good at those subjects anyway.”

But I don’t think that’s true. I think had someone showed me things exploding (from a safe distance) or let me mix chemicals or something visual, I would have caught on. If someone had started off explaining science to me in creative terms, if they’d told me stories about scientists and how they’d discovered their incredible work, I would have loved it. I’ve always loved the stars, and I love listening to explanations by scientists, and I love finding out how machines function and how gravity differs from planet to planet. I love theories about parallel universes and I love doing research and finding out things I don’t know. I want to know as much as I possibly can, and when I’ve learned all that, I want there to be more that I still don’t know, because the potential of the unknown is just as exciting as learning something new.

I would have loved science. I know I would have.

Instead, my clearest memory of fourth grade science is the C I got on my report card because of one project. The teacher told us to write a paper on a scientist of our choice and gave us a list of names to choose from. The only person left when the list got to me was a female scientist who, at the time, only merited a paragraph in one of our library’s encyclopedias and two sentences in the whole of the internet. I couldn’t find more information, and, when I asked my teacher about it, she frowned at me and told me to look harder in the library. The librarian and I couldn’t find more, and I handed in a paper half the size as the one she wanted. I got an F, and my A plummeted to a C.

What’s worse is that I liked the teacher. She had always been patient with me, and when my classmates called her scary, I felt a rush of pride and gratitude that she was nice to me. I wanted to impress her, I wanted to do well, and I liked when I got good grades, but I don’t remember being excited to learn anything. After that project, the project that singlehandedly sunk my grade beyond resurrecting, I felt even less excitement to try. Because why bother now? My A was gone, and the best I could hope for now was a C+ or a B-.

University was incredible. For the first time in my educational existence, I had choices. I didn’t have to study Math/Science/English/Religion/Art/History. I could, but I didn’t have to, once I’d filled my required credits. At the very earliest possible opportunity, I enrolled in courses that covered ancient cultures and writing and anthropology and philosophy. And then I found theatre, and my world became infused with the light of happiness and knowledge and culture and NEW YORK.

…I went to college in New York. I think I missed that detail. Ah, well. Anyway, university. It was awesome. I got to pursue my passion, and I got to make writing the main focus of my education. That was game-changing for me.

[THIS IS WHERE I STOP TALKING ABOUT ME]

I want to start doing more research on what they call “alternative” methods of education, because I think there’s a lot of merit to be gained by changing the current system of education.

People are naturally curious. We’re naturally community-driven. The fact that so many people see their desire to learn snuffed out is a disappointing fact of life, but it’s one that can be changed. By changing the approach to education, students can become learners.

Dad

When I was about five years old, my dad would take me to the general store and, if I’d saved my allowance enough, we’d choose a model car to build out of tiny wooden pieces.

The model cars sat up on the highest shelf of the toy room, and they disappeared one by one into my possession. We’d drive down to the general store, my dad would let me choose a box, and then we’d drive back up the mountain to our house where the construction process began.

A few years later, when I was around eight or so, I asked my dad for help on a science project. We had to build something using pulleys and levers and lifts, so he helped me design a mining cart with a working elevator shaft. By pulling the string, it’d drag the cart up a ramp and into the mine shaft, then gently down to the ground.

It was ambitious for a fourth grader, and we drew the design up together while adhering to the guidelines my teacher had written out. We worked for hours, even through dinner, and even though my dad had to be at work early the next day, we stayed up late into the night. Around some small hour I’d never been awake until before, my dad caught sight of the time and told me to go to sleep. I hesitated. We’d hit a snag on the project, and we’d made the elevator door too high for the ramp to connect with, and we were brainstorming ways to fix it without starting from scratch. What had seemed perfect on paper wasn’t translating as well into a tangible thing.

I went to sleep worried about the project, convinced I’d failed and my teacher would only give me half credit. When I woke up, my dad had fixed the problem and made the whole thing perfectly functional. I remember giving him a hug and thanking him, pretty close to grateful tears.

Another time, when I had to do a report for school on the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, my dad and I thought up a creative approach. We decided to do a fake news cast report. Again, we wanted it to be perfect, so we redid it again and again until late. I was convinced it was terrible. We’d shot it in our dining room, and my mom had given me one of her blazers to wear, but I was too small for it and I was convinced that the whole thing looked way too serious and everyone would laugh at me.

When our teacher asked for volunteers, I was one of the first to put my hand up just because I wanted it over as soon as possible. Then I retreated to my desk, put my face in my arms, and cringed at the sound of my own voice repeating words I could have said in my sleep by then. At the end of the video, I cautiously lifted my head and, to my astonishment, my classmates deemed it cool. I’d never felt relief that profound until that moment, judging by how clearly I remember it. And I knew if it had been up to me I would have recorded something that *was* ridiculous and I’d have stopped at one take just to get it over with, but my dad had pushed for something better, and now I understood the value of giving a project everything you have.

My dad ran his own company and worked relentlessly throughout my childhood (and even now), but I still have a plethora of memories of him always prepared to help and support however he can. He played games with me, he put time aside to help me with school (even when I really, really didn’t want it – scowling at you, math), and he tried his best to give me the best life he could.

My dad’s awesome. ❤

the rainbow near the sea

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Today, my friend sent me a picture of a rainbow.

We live in the same general area, so when she called me a moment later, I asked her immediately, “What direction are you facing?”

I slipped on my sandals and hurried down the stairs to the backyard, then through a sea of freshly-dug soil to the front porch where I immediately spotted the enormous band of color you see above you.

As a teenager, I genuinely believed in a future where I would reach adult enlightenment and feel at peace all the time. I still think I’ll get there, but I also think that when I do, I’ll spontaneously burst into spirit glitter. Balance of the universe and all that.

Looking at the rainbow, I felt that sense of peace. I almost missed it, because once I’d taken my photographs and looked at it for a while, my attention span was saying, “Hey, let’s go back and Not Write some more.” But I hesitated by the railing and made myself think back to the last time I just looked at something for the pure vacant enjoyment of looking. Not to gain knowledge or appreciation or enjoyment–

Just to look.

And I found that the longer I looked, the more I relaxed. I leaned on the railing and looked up at the sky and thought back to when I was a kid and I saw rainbows and believed in pots of gold or hidden realms at either end. I looked at the the bridge where the rainbow began, and I indulged the part of me that’s seven years old and wondered if maybe that bridge weren’t magical after all.

And now, some fried chicken:

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This is fried chicken, but it is fried chicken I made. It is homemade, therefore it is healthy. Thus said the me.

Good night, citizens of home cooking!