Tag Archives: Writing

Leaving When Possible

Time has passed so quickly even though I don’t do much. It’s been a year since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written about what’s happening in my life.

I’m definitely leaving Japan. I’m just not sure how or when. I have a vague idea of what I want to do now. I want to make things with people. Specifically I want to work on movies or plays. I want to know others who enjoy creating and aren’t afraid to try things. I just need to figure out what my first step should be.

Last I wrote about my life, I had just started a new round of Japanese lessons. I did that for three months, took the JLPT N2 for the third time, and failed by one measly point. Around the same time, I stopped teaching English and started working in the kitchen of a yakiniku restaurant, which was one of the most stressful and demanding jobs I’ve ever had but also fairly rewarding. Every time I went into work, I had to use Japanese. Only Japanese. And I did it and kicked ass, toward the end of it at least. I did it for a year before quitting last month because I wasn’t making as much money as I needed to. I’ve gone back to teaching English, and as much as I don’t like it, I’m feeling better about it now because I’m sure it’s temporary.

I’m leaving Japan.

Also since I last wrote, my husband and I visited my hometown of Los Angeles for a week last August. It had been the first time in over two years that I’d been out of Japan. The whole week I was overwhelmed with how easy it was to live in a first language. I’d forgotten how easy it was. Or maybe I didn’t know it before because I always took it for granted. Even when I spent a year in Nagoya as an international student, I was still able to rely on my first language. My classes were in English, my classmates spoke English, my advisers spoke English. It wasn’t until I moved to Tochigi three years ago that I really felt how frustrating and completely isolating it is to live in a second language.

I realized that my goals and dreams are hard enough of my native language. So why would I waste effort and energy trying to do them in a second language? Especially in a country that doesn’t want me, that I have no reason to be in.

I thought about what has led me here, how I could be so unhappy in the choices I made. I thought about what teenage me had wanted for her future. I thought about the praise my high school teachers and writing instructors gave me. What would they think if they knew I was sat here, unhappy and doing nothing with the talent and ambition they had seen?

I’ve decided this has just been one long detour. It’s time to start carving out a way back to the path I wanted to take originally.

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Quitting Writing

My husband thinks I should quit writing for a while.

He said he thinks it makes me unhappy. He told me tonight while I was in the middle of a mini nervous breakdown that had me crying on the floor of our bedroom for a couple of hours.

I love writing. The only time writing doesn’t make me happy is when the crippling self-doubt kicks in, when everything I write sucks and I’m not getting better fast enough. I know it takes time to get good, but I don’t have time when everyone else is already good and I need to make money to pay bills.

I hate my job. I can’t get a better job because my stupid Japanese still isn’t good enough despite years of studying. And while I’m barely pulling in any money, my husband is basically supporting us both, and I feel guilty. He’s smart and very capable and works so hard, and he deserves someone stronger and more mentally stable than me, someone who can share financial burdens equally.

Since we got married, he’s used every bi-annual bonus to help pay off my student loans, and the guilt kills me.

If writing makes me unhappy, it’s only because it feels selfish.

He thinks I should quit writing and take Japanese lessons so I don’t waste my time here. But I already created a deadline for the story I’m working on. I’ve already made a goal to write every day of the year. And enrolling in Japanese classes would mean I’d have to work longer hours to pay for it.

But taking classes might be the push I need to reach a level of Japanese that will let me get a job I like, one where I can earn more. And then maybe the guilt will go away. I just hope I don’t forget about writing along the way.

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Goals, Jobs, and the JLPT

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language P...

New Offical Website of The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Photo credit: Rainbowhill LL)

If you’re interested in Japan, you’ve probably already heard of the JLPT. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short,  is what it sounds like–a test that measures the Japanese ability of non-Japanese, and about 600,000 people take it every year. The test is divided into five levels, going from N5 (the easiest) to N1 (the hardest).

Typically companies in Japan require foreign workers to hold a certificate at the N1 or N2 level, which is why passing the JLPT N2 has been a goal of mine since I started studying Japanese. But it’s always felt like a far-away goal, something that, even now, would still take a year or two of studying to pass.

This July, I sat for the N2 at a local university. I didn’t expect to pass, but at least I would know how close I was to reaching my goal. Last week, the results were posted. I didn’t pass, as expected, but my score was higher than I thought it’d be. Much higher. My listening score, in particular, kicked some ass. I was floored. For a year I’d been beating myself up about how low my Japanese skills are despite studying for five years, but here I am almost reaching my goal. It was a huge boost of confidence.

I’ve been studying Japanese every day since the results, and I plan to sit for the test again in December, this time with a goal of passing. But… if and when I do pass, it will leave me with a decision to make.

Should I keep teaching English and being miserable but being paid well? Or, do I want enter a different job where I have the chance of actually enjoying what I do? If the latter, I’d have to work twice as long for the same about of pay I’m getting now, which would mean less time to write, which is what I actually want to be doing. I just need a job for the money until I get good enough at writing to hopefully make it a career.

Whatever I decide to do, I hope I’ve learned to have more confidence in myself and my abilities, and that goals might be closer than they seem and are reachable as long as you do the work.

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The Dull Clawing

There’s a dull clawing deep inside you. Something familiar but undefinable. An emotion, an idea, a thought that both describes you and terrifies you.

It’s something heavy and deep-rooted. It feels like the very secret of existence, and you want to understand it.

But if you follow it, try to put it down on paper and make it definable, you may fall into the hole. And you fear you won’t be able to climb out.

You fear how that state of mind will affect your relationships, your well-being, your breath.

So you don’t follow it. You go to work on something quieter, something safer, instead.

 

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March 29, 2013 · 8:48 pm

“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started…”

“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started. The way you figure yourself out is by making things.” -Austin Kleon (Source)

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March 12, 2013 · 5:19 pm

How Teaching English Makes a Better Writer

Even though I depend on it for my income, sometimes teaching English seems like a waste of time. But I realized recently that teaching has its advantages for a writer.

On the bad days, teaching English feels like being an academic version of a cabaret hostess. (“You’re a young, pretty American, so they will probably be inspired,” is what an employer once told me minutes before I taught a class of older men. I’ve been uncomfortable ever since.) On the better days, being an English teacher is like being a performer. You speak to an audience, you role-play conversations, and you must have energy even while going over the same material over and over, much like an actor will recite the same lines every night on a stage.

Teaching at the Globe

(Teaching children, by the way, is like being a very specific type of performer: “Laugh at the foreigner, kids! I’m a clown! Please like English!”)

Many have already written about this, but stepping into an actor’s shoes helps make your writing better. In acting, you get to try the material on. You can find out what it sounds like, what it feels like. You can better see what works and what doesn’t. If you have experience being a performer, you know how to better write for the performers who will embody your characters.

There’s another way that teaching English helps. When you teach someone in their non-native language, there will always be a language gap. In order to make the student understand without confusing him, you need to be able to explain things well. You have to be concise—too many words will make your sentences hard to follow and will leave the student with more questions than answers—and you constantly need to search for different words to use, which can help you as a writer understand how words relate to one another, as well as possibly strengthen your vocabulary.

So, until I get paid for  my writing, teaching English isn’t the worst I could be doing.

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Writing Advice: E.B. White

LA Screenwriter

There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.

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Young Voices

I’ve been stressing about being an early success since I was a teenager. Maybe even before then. I wanted to be good, and I wanted it as soon as possible. The thought of not having my success until I was middle-aged was depressing and discouraging, and seeing people my age who were already talented only made it worse.

Then I saw the director of Beasts of the Southern Wild interviewed on TV. This director is 26, and his film is nominated for four Oscars this year. Again, the envy and discouragement took hold of me… but then I saw something new. Watching him do this interview, the way he sat, the way he talked — he was just too young. I couldn’t take him seriously, no matter how important what he was saying was. And I realized that’s how the world would see me if I were to have any kind of success at this age.

I still have a lot of time — and a long way to go. I’ve heard this advice countless times, but I finally understand it now. I should just keep my head down, work, and improve. I’ll get there one day. It doesn’t need to happen now, and perhaps it’s better if it doesn’t.

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Lately I’ve been having a lot of dreams where people cut me off before I’m finished telling them something.

Not coincidentally, I’ve been struggling with my writing.  I’m having all the standard angst of a writer working—I’m no good, my writing sucks, my stories aren’t worth telling—but it seems way too early in the project I’m working on for this to be normal.

Recently I’ve become influenced by Ned Vizzini and his books. When he was a teenager, his amusing anecdotes about his life were published regularly in the New York Press, and then he moved onto bigger projects, including novels and now writing for a TV show. I’ve heard the advice to start out small and write short autobiographical stories, but I never really took the advice. I think now is the time to do it.

So that’s what I’ll be doing with this blog.

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