Posts Tagged ‘japan’

My take away from AWP and a mini-Hollins reunion? Travel as a Need.

March 10, 2013

Yesterday, I listened to writers discuss their craft at the AWP convention. I jotted down snippets on a legal pad out of habit and in the middle of listening to a panel discussion on writing in translation (for a very cool and free literary journal check out wordswithoutborders.org). It really wasn’t about writing in translation but about bringing the writing to translation. I think. It’s not the fault of the presenters; they were muses at that point. I realized there was passion. Artists, in general, receive the stereotype of passionate. As some point, and with great apologies, I lost track of the discussion and realized what I was hearing was passion OF career, something that is and has been lacking in my world.

I’m done. Not in a suicidal rage done, merely done. At the point of exhaustion, I see what the causation. Living without passion is not living. It’s survivalism. I have a few things I have to get done (notably that pesky shoulder surgery in exactly 37 days not that I’m joyously counting down). And then I’m leaving. On a jet plane. Ok, there are some very real steps in between: sorting through a few decades worth of junk to what will fit into a small storage unit in the town my parents reside, figuring out the where I want to go, where I need to go and uh, how to translate “I’m deathly allergic to shellfish” in every language known on the planet. I plan on leaving in roughly a year after I’m done with my shoulder rehab.

I am a huge proponent of knowing needs versus wants. I need to travel. I don’t need Disney; I don’t need turn down service. I need my backpack, my passport and well, the aforementioned card that says please don’t serve me anything with shellfish. Travel, of me, is activism. It’s the part that allows me to say to the world “no, not all Americans are like that” and to hear “No, xxx really isn’t like that.” I need to see the world, to take in the sights, the smells and show, if even to myself, that the world is much better and far less hateful than media outlets make it out to be. Travel is my idealism. Travel is hard; there is nothing worse than being curled up in a hotel room, in a foreign country 14 time zones from home where you don’t know the language or anybody and are miserably sick (ok, there are a LOT of things that are worse) without a common alphabet in common to figure out what medicine you might be taking (Ah, Tokyo. I really want to visit you again!). There is nothing more wonderful than being surrounded by a gaggle for elementary school students in Hiroshima practicing their English in the shadow of the destruction your country created peppering you with questions because they’ve found a ‘real’ American from Boston (where apparently a Japanese player was playing for the Red Sox) to pepper with questions about baseball, Boston and lots of questions that were not on the list.

I know when I plan to leave. I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I know, for probably the first time, I will be following my passion. And (almost) everything else is irrelevant. Of course, all of this is completely dependent on my mother agreeing to cat sit world’s dumbest animal. Completely open to ideas on where to visit anywhere on the planet outside of Western Europe, good travel blogs and volunteer stops along the way.

The Women’s World Cup

July 19, 2011

An open letter to the US Women’s National Soccer Team (that probably only my mom will read),

You didn’t win the World Cup.  It bites.  Not meeting a goal always does, it’s why we set them.  Pundits, philosophers, teachers all say you learn more in losses than in victories. Meh.  I’m not convinced. Sure, as an athlete it gives you game tape to break down, improve your skills (a rarity for a career, I can’t look back at mistakes on my day job with a tangible copy to see how to improve. Luckily, I don’t do anything important!).

I heard a few of you say you want make your own chapter, loose some of the shadow of ’99.  Maybe it’s a good thing; maybe it’s something that as a non-athlete I don’t get.  What I do know, is that most of you were probably in the crowds cheering on that magical ’99 team.  There were a few lightening bolts for those women: at home, coming off the ’96 and ’98 Olympic games where the women’s teams dominated (soccer, basketball, softball and hockey).  The ‘99ers were the Title IX daughters.  The ones who had to fight to get on boy only teams as playing fields slowly opened to girls.  I know, they are my age and when I heard them speak about being the ‘only’ girl, or shortening the name of Patricia to Pat, I nodded.  My sister and I were the first two girls in our town’s t-ball team.  We were very bad players (ok, let’s face it, t-ball isn’t really a sport…it’s about learning teamwork!).  The boys didn’t want us on their team, we were clueless (my sister asked why they didn’t sell peanuts at t-ball games) and well, maybe managed a hit every other game and played the minimum.

By the time we were in high school, the t-ball teams were full of little girls.  No longer were girls relegated to swimming, diving, track and other individual sports.  Slowly, “powerhouse” universities started to emerge in team sports for women: UNC for soccer, LaTech, Tennessee and later UConn for basketball, UCLA and later Arizona for Softball, Stanford and now Penn State for volleyball.  Look at your roster now: you don’t have to go to UNC to become a national team member (Ok, Julie Foudy would yell Go Cardinal!).

Your legacy can’t be the same as the ‘99ers.  They fulfilled Title IX.  Your team, your generation has done so much more.  You are risk takers: you went to different schools and created traditions.  You’ve tried so hard to get a women’s league going, again.  You’ve won an Olympic Gold Medal (and let’s face it: I know the World Cup is your sport’s pinnacle, but in so many ways, the Olympic title is much easier understood).  You represent with class, and dignity.  You don’t make excuses.  And you left your all on the field.

You are the next generation.  Your expectations are greater, they should be.  But the world is catching up and that is better for all women.  You captivated a nation during a long summer of divide.  My nephews watched with their sister.  Their sisters pointed out the men didn’t medal, and “the girls won the silver.”  I know I have to attend a few soccer matches in the fall for a pair of 6 year olds who at last check were trying to hit beach balls with their heads.

In a few years, when you ask a 12, 13 or 14 year old what they remember about the 2011 World Cup.  The probably won’t say “You lost to Japan.”  You’ll probably hear about teamwork, not giving up, some crazy headers and how it looked like fun.  And you might hear a story about a kid who picked up the game from watching.

You might not have won a trophy: but you made an impact.  Once again, you reminded young women and little girls that we can do anything.  And you picked up the respect of a few boys for how you played the game, and that is never easy.  And you reminded us all, that sometimes, the struggle is the victory.

Bake Sale for Japan

April 4, 2011

I am the first person to admit that I’m not the best baker in the world. I strive for edible (a complex main dish I can handle . . . brownies from a box? Head:desk!).  I heard about the Bake Sale for Japan via the normal social media outlets (which if you scroll back through this blog you’ll see a post where I was hammered over something on Facebook when I tried to make the point you never know about the outreach impact of social media).

In short, on Saturday, across the country, various communities held bake sales to support Peace Winds Japan which works to help those in earthquake/tsunami prone areas in preparation and recovery. Now, obviously, they are working in Japan to assist those in the heavily impacted prefectures.  I offered to help set up and work a few hours. First, a shout out to the fantastic Ula Cafe in JP which hosted the Boston effort.  Not only did they provide the space but free coffee/tea to the volunteers who battled shade AND a stiff wind!  Brrr….it didn’t feel like April!

For me, the most amazing aspect of this effort was the community outreach.  At one point a group of volunteers started talking amongst ourselves: we realized we had no common link to the organizer except we had seen it on twitter, Facebook or via a friend of a friend.  Every time we’d start to get a bit low on “staples” somebody would show up with a new flavor of vegan or gluten-free cupcakes, ‘regular’ chocolate chip cookies or a new type of bread.  This was the first time Boston had participated in this event (a similar one was done for Haiti last year).  Not only was it fun – it took only a few hours out of my weekend, connected me back to the world outside and was a way to payback for of the kindness that I experienced in Japan.

It took 4 hours from my life: maybe somebody will have a bit less of a burden.  Chances are we all have an extra 2-4 hours a week.  The choice is ours . . . spend it watching mindless TV or doing something, no matter how small, to help another.  The choice is ours.  Go out and be the difference you want to see. And who knows? You might find a passion.

Vegan "Oreo" CookiesBake Sale for Japan - Boston

Reflections on Japan

March 11, 2011

Like many Americans, I awoke to the news of the 8.9 earthquake that struck Japan at 1:00 am EST today.  I was stunned.  I had spent 3 weeks backpacking/training through Japan.  I know maybe 5 words in Japanese am deathly allergic to shellfish and spent the last 5 days curled up in a Tokyo hotel room with the swine flu.  Still, I’d go back in a second.

There is a tranquil chaos of Japan that amazes me: across the street from the Louis Vinton store is a 13th century temple.  Neither seem out-of-place; neither seem in place. It just is.  As I travelled up and down the island on my JR pass (and oh, my motion sickness didn’t like the trains), I noticed I was somewhat of a curiosity. My hunch is that there are not many Americans roaming around Japan.  When I wound up on an express train in the Tokyo subway system, an elderly Japanese woman helped me figure out where to get off and led me to my exit before turning around into a packed rush hour station presumably to continue her destination. What is uncommon about this is that it was so common.  I’d be walking through a park, or reading in a tea shop and people would come up to me and try to make sure I wasn’t lost, lead me to hidden treasures. 

My introduction to Japan started off as a disaster: a typhoon in Tokyo, tornadoes in Atlanta, flight crew being over time alloted all led to arriving 10 hours late: after all transportation ended. There I was stuck in the Tokyo Airport dreading sleeping there after a trans-Pacific flight: and yes, even the taxi stands had shut down!  The police came through and my instant thought was great, I’m going to sleep outside.  Instead, they distributed sleeping bags, pillows, 2L of water and a roll of ritz-like crackers: for free.  Then the police stood guard over us so we could sleep.  My instant thought was “somebody needs to pass this idea on. . . . “.

I wandered to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I felt drawn to see those cities as, well, my country blew those towns up.  There is an egocentric idea of here to save the world that is easy to undertake as an American. For good or bad, right or wrong, we skip over some of our more painful actions.  Yes Japan had vowed to fight to the death, and yes we caused mass destruction.  Here I was a 30 something American walking through Hiroshima’s memorial park.  The main peace monument is oddly in the shape of a covered wagon.  The symbolism from a western perspective wasn’t lost on me: forward, onward, keep exploring.  As I wandered through the park and the memorials while working up the courage to enter the museum, I was surrounded by a gaggle of 5th graders on an English class assignment.  Word quickly spread that I was an American (well that and my Red Sox hat) and I soon found myself answering questions to about 30 10 year olds on my favorite color, did I like Japan.  There teacher was profoundly apologetic: I smiled and said my sister was a teacher.

After touring the museum (somewhat balanced), I met up again with the students as we both picked the same spot for lunch. They giggled at my un-artistic lunch of carrots, yoghurt, water and ginger ale.  Compared to their stunning presentation of food, I could see the point.

Every place I went, I was warmly received. It wasn’t for my stunning ability to speak Japanese but my mangled attempts to communicate, to explore, to take risk.  Japan has a reputation of being a closed society.  I found it to be one of the most welcoming places I’ve ever been.  I spent a day in the town where the tsunami took aim: blue waters, friendly people and suggestions on other towns to see in the area.

Dumpling lessonWandering

Today, when I heard the news, my thoughts went back 2 years.  It was a trip on a whim based on the fact it was cheaper to fly to Tokyo than to Oklahoma.  I discovered a nation that even in the heavily tourist spots of Kyoto and Tokyo found the time to help a lost American.

Today and for the coming days, my thoughts are with the people of Japan. I can’t comprehend the physical destruction, let alone the emotional one facing Japan today.  I learned so much from my 3.5 weeks there some historical, some personal.  And I would do anything to return, if only to payback the people of Japan for their enduring kindness.

Peace ParkA favorite treat: lemon slushies