Just a few months ago, I was considering the possibility of staying on the JET Programme for the full 5 years. I now think it’s strange I could have ever felt like staying 5 years, but if I remember correctly, that seed was first planted during a night out with a few people, one of whom used to be a JET years ago and whose words of wisdom were basically: stay on JET for as long as you can, it’s wonderful, I have never been paid as well in the (xx) amount of years since leaving the program.
So I thought: maybe I should. Maybe I should stay here for the full 5 years, pay off as much of my student loan mountain as I can, etc. My student loan mountain is incredibly huge, and in all reality, not even half of it would be paid off by the time I left JET after 5 years, but at least close to half of it would be paid off. And that felt like the responsible thing to do, maybe the right thing to do.
I try not to think about my student loan mountain very often, but whenever I do, I don’t (reference to this). Not really – whenever I do, it does make me feel pretty stressed out. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to not have it always there, looming behind me, or what it would be like to not have to pay rent like some of the other JETs, and how it would allow me to send more money back home, but then I remember the very specific things and experiences for which I am grateful, and those stirring anxieties find a way to quiet back down.
Anyway, I thought that staying 5 years would be my responsibility in a way. And in the meantime, I would gain even more experience, I would do even more traveling – I would be able to go to the 2016 Setouchi Art Triennale, I would be able to go on that Southeast Asian motorbike tour, etc. All those things that I could not really do as easily if I were to leave Japan.
(All those things involved a motorbike, it seems.)
Then, at some point, I realized (as obvious as it is) that I don’t have to stay in Sendai, I don’t have to continue being a “Coordinator for International Relations.” In fact, there had been a growing desire in me to experience a different side of Japan than the one I know working at the office. (As a side note here, I will add that, for as much as some people’s souls have been destroyed by the bureaucratic setting in Japan, or just Japan in general, I have so far managed to avoid being crushed in a similar way. The kencho, or Prefectural Office, is actually a fascinating organism in a way – a sort of Wonderland in which everyone gets rotated every few years and thus learns many different lines of work. But I think I survive because I stay an outsider.) I started looking into other job opportunities – freelance translation, interpreting, eikaiwa, etc. I thought: should I eventually do something diplomatic? Should I work for an art-related organization? Many things I found were strictly full-time; if they weren’t, they wouldn’t make enough money to support me and quell the raging student loan mountain.
Shortly after all this, maybe the next month, I had a period of time in which my life flashed before me and I thought I could end up being “Forever Miyagi” – one of those among our JET community who join lives with a local Japanese specimen and choose to remain here. That time came when, at the beginning of March, I got a Japanese “boyfriend,” right after I decisively sank to the bottom about all things relationship-related in this country that commoditized human interaction and didn’t seem to approach relationships in the same way I was shaped to approach them. Acquiring a Japanese boyfriend was definitely not on the agenda or even the possibility list, but when it happened, I thought, “Hmmm this must be the guy that fortune teller in Shinjuku told me about at 5 a.m. the morning of the CIR Conference last year after I got off the night bus, better make it work,” and so I tried to make it work and marched on bravely into this new territory of my life.
It was great for a couple of weeks, and then it just wasn’t. At the same time I met this magical fellow who was like a rare unicorn to me among Japanese “men,” I also bought a blue guitar that I named Lulu. In fact, it was the act of deciding to buy that guitar that, through a series of linked events, led to that chance meeting. A few months later, Lulu has proved to be a much better companion and is still with me.
After being Forever Miyagi didn’t work out for me, I realized that the emotional stress of dealing with this person had re-oriented me to enter into overdrive within my own life, to straighten myself out – if he somehow couldn’t make more time for me than just once or twice a month because he was “busy with work,” well, I thought I should make myself super busy, too. And I also took some time to remember all those great things I can do with my life while I don’t have people (or pet) obligations to worry about.
However, despite those “great things” and despite my constant gratitude at leading a relatively safe and comfortable life, sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything is really worth doing. Sometimes, everything just seems really pointless. And in a way, if you detach yourself enough from everything, I really think it is.
I think that is why I sometimes just feel this incredible need to get away from society – whether in real life or on the Internet. It becomes too overwhelming, and too many things seem unnecessary. Something that occurred during the course of my failure to be Forever Miyagi is my further withdrawal from social networking. The magical Japanese unicorn did not have Facebook (or maybe just didn’t want to disclose it), and getting to know someone without a “profile” to refer to was a little bit scary, but also refreshing.
I used to post photos of concerts or art exhibitions I went to, but I’ve stopped. It feels like a bother, it feels like too much, and I would rather not have it be another thing on the to-do list that ends up tangling my mind. I used to kind of like editing photos that were meaningful to me and posting them in their square format glory on Instagram, which then linked to Facebook. But who am I really posting things for? On the one hand, I liked having a directory of images, something to document those meaningful moments and experiences. But when it became a chore, I stopped.
The only thing I still feel 100% alright with posting online is the art I occasionally do.
No, I am not happy with where I am with my art currently. No, I am not spending as much time on it as I should be. But I am incredibly thankful I have it. I am thankful that it is an instinct for me to create even when I feel very depressed. And no, I will not be a professional guitarist or singer, but it gives me great joy to look up the tabs to songs I like and try to figure them out without having any prior musical experience. Every day when I leave my apartment and when I come back, I give my scooter Birdie a kiss or a little pat (while looking around to make sure no one sees me doing so) and look forward to the next adventure we have – I say, “Don’t worry, Birdie, we’re going somewhere this weekend.” (I finally bought my scooter, a Suzuki Birdie 50cc, in April.)
With this attitude, being the person I am realizing I am, I am not sure where I will end up. I cannot write timely e-mails, I cannot be dishonest, I cannot pretend to like what I do not like, I cannot force myself to care about things I do not care about. I can see the value in and be fascinated by pretty much anything, but when it comes to what I would like to spend my life doing in terms of work, a job, a career – I know I have to move on from what I am currently doing. I am also really tired of the cliché of “being a bridge” between two countries. I cannot, and do not want to, “be a bridge” between countries.
I don’t want to think about the commercial application of art, about “my role” in the world or “the role of the artist” in general, about what has been done already and what I can do differently, about “the audience,” “the necessity” of whatever I do, etc. Those are all things that I like studying and exploring, but when it comes to applying them to myself, I want to throw it all away and just follow my intuition for a while.
In making art, I would like to associate with people who are equally as honest, people who are not jealous, people who do not manipulate for their own gain. I am not a competitive person, and I don’t think I am an ambitious person. I don’t like comparing myself to others (though sometimes it happens). I don’t care to climb up “to the top” of whatever perceivable climbable social thing there is. (I do enjoy mountain climbing, however.)
I have also decided to stop creating tentative plans for my future. They used to provide stability and reassurance and rationalization that whatever I am currently doing is okay, but after going through many potential scenarios for how I would like the next few years to play out, I am done. So for now, I still think it could be a cool experience to move to Osaka and find a tattooing apprenticeship there (as of several months ago, I actually could not even picture myself moving to Osaka), and I still think I would like to launch my own line of screen-printed tights – so I will work to make those things happen. As far as the other factors in my life are concerned – “whatever happens, happens” and I will do what feels right at the time.
Creating art is one of the most basic instincts I consciously have, the only thing that has genuinely stayed with me for years and years. I don’t want to coordinate, plan, manage, or promote. I just want to create.