Monday, December 19, 2005

cheating on the “End of Year Review” meme

for my non-cyber fluent relatives this is a meme that all my friends are doing. meme rhymes with dream and, according to wikipedia is "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” the meme that my friends all did reads like this:

Meme: Go to your Calendar and find the first entry for each month of 2005. Post the first line (or so) of it in your journal, and that's your "Year In Review".

Since I didn’t start my blog until August I’ve flipped through old letters and journal entries. I’ve cheated and chosen the most reflective or best writing, rather than the first of each month. Most are substantially longer than one line too. but life has been exciting. so enjoy. It’s been a crazy year. (also, I’m adding a retrospective entry at the beginning of each month on my blog. that way, if you are looking for something, or a picture, it might be easier to find. or if you want a quick way to catch up, it’ll also work for that. you may need to hit your refresh button to see it.)

while I’d give my current relationship an 85% chance of imploding miserably in the next month, I’m tired of breaking people’s hearts and am not going to get involved again soon.

I had every intention of giving the Univ of Chicago a chance but after wandering around the gothic architecture yesterday and waking up to rain on snow this morning, it's going to be that much harder.

(a letter to Rob after a long midnight talk)
I have no idea if you realize how much of a live saver you were Wed. night for me, but I wanted to say *thanks* in a big way. I called David and he says that he's driving up this weekend with his car. So he's prepared to get his stuff even if he vows that he hasn't given up yet. This will be rough but I think I'm finally ready for it.

… isn’t it a good time to have a mind boggling adventure? isn’t it a good time to postpone my graduate school career and all it entails? isn’t it time to run through the rain and laugh when I slip in the wet grass?

and I think to myself that this could be a huge mistake. this could be a miserable commitment. this could ruin many things.

(part my application to NOVA English school)
In short, I have set myself up for a promising career as an academic and scientist. Yet I do not feel compelled to take the next carefully planned and prescribed step. I am not remarkably excited to start graduate school in the Fall; I somehow feel that at this moment pursuing a Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology is not a challenging enough objective. It is not a challenge that inspires my imagination.

(A letter to two of my advisors and mentors, Janis Weeks and Pete von Hippel)
But, for now, I am not ready to start a 5-year PhD program. Instead, I have accepted a position teaching English in Asia. I feel that this is the best time for me to engage in such an adventure, while personal and professional obligations are still minimal. I feel that this international wanderlust is better satiated than denied.

I’m caught up on the idea of voyaging back to the source, as Tom Robbins says in his book, Another Roadside Attraction. I feel like that’s one reason I have to travel and, specifically, why I need to live in Japan again, even though I’m not convinced that there is any one source. So I’m looking to find something even though I don’t know what or where it is. I don’t know what it looks or feels or smell like. I’m not sure if it will feel like home or not. I’m not convinced that I’ll want to stay once I find it. But I do know, that at this point, I do want to go out looking.

And so I’m off to Tokyo, not remembering the language, not remembering the customs, doing something that I haven’t studied and don’t know well. I’m off to explore and be responsible for a job that I’m afraid will boggle me. I don’t know how to teach, especially something like my native tongue. I’m not sure what to make of the situation I’ve gotten myself invited into.

I know even less of how to say goodbye.

After 100 pages of workbooks and four days of training up in Vancouver BC, I'm now qualified to teach English Conversation at on of the most expensive schools in Japan!!! Wooo hooo!!!!

I arrive on the 18th of August. The adventure begins.

one of those stupid foriegners who says 'hi' to every white person they see.

it's funny to me that despite choosing to live abroad we all gravitate to each other. part of it is the language, of course, but also the cultural humor is very different. it's about everything being a little too small.

yes, it is the end of the month and I finally got payed. and before I open a bank account and turn my small fortune in to digital dots, I thought I'd play with all the pretty paper first.

here was my first (Septemeber) paycheck [picture], after rent and such was taken out. 923 yen or about a little more than eight american dollars.
(that's payment for one day minus rent for many days)

“Kori Sytle adventures”
1) put on my tennis shoes and grab my bag
2) start walking
3) keep walking and/or hopping trains and/or busses until I find something new and beautiful

and that's how I spend my free time. maybe a little too hard to explain when the students asks in broken Engrish, "what are your hobbies"

My cat looks at me and I think that she knows. I think she knows all kind of stuff like where my mom is and how she’s doing.

secret language of tomatoes

This is a poem by Nicole Blackman. I keep thinking of it and thought I’d share. It seems like a fitting tribute to the beautiful mother, sister, and woman my mother was.


You grew sunflowers and swept up magnolia leaves on the patio. Left me notes on how long to roast the chicken. Made me a Batgirl costume for Halloween. Introduced me to Eloise and Bob Fosse. Took me on the Orient Express. Paid me a $5 allowance for the Sunday manicures and never said the polish slipped off when you did the dishes later. Stood by me when I decided to sue the Girl Scouts. Didn’t get upset when I was suspended for drinking vodka on a school trip, and never told Dad. Said the other kids were shit when they made me cry.

Here’s to the secret language of tomatoes.

Here’s to your leather boots that I wore in the snow and nearly ruined.

Here’s to the clippings we send each other, the same articles crossing each other in the mail, marked Did you see this?

You got the first phone calls. Mom, they don’t want me…Mom, he doesn’t love me enough… Mom, I just don’t know what to do… I could hear your voice twist over the phone as mine gave out, shredding like paper, my throat burning. Oh, I wish I was there right now… and we listened to each other breathe for a while. I still listen for your breath.

Here’s to the last-Christmas-present tears that the rest of the family will never understand.

Here’s to stealing the bathrobes from that hotel in Paris.

Here’s to the keeper of stories.

On those brazen summer nights when my father stormed the house and shouted You’re just like your mother, I always smiled with a secret glow. I have you in me. I always will. When I dressed up for a party, he would softly say You look just like your mother, and I floated out the door in bliss, wearing your skin.

Here’s to the jellybean hunts when you carried me in your arms because I was too small to find them on my own.

Here’s to the notes you leave for us in the boxes of Christmas ornaments in case you aren’t there for the next one.

Here’s to the aprons, the recipes, the sugar.

I was too small to remember your mother’s passing. At your father’s funeral you wrapped a black lace scarf around your head and said quietly I’m an orphan now and I held you close. We slept with a knife under the pillow, afraid of the black cars that waited on the street outside, watching the house. We counted the shadows on the wall where the stolen photographs used to hang. We drove home with anything precious strapped to the roof and as you finally slept on my shoulder, the cord gave way and the wood box crashed behind us, spitting stamps like snow across the highway. We picked up your father’s life in tears until the state police told us we had to stop, and led us away.

Here’s to I love you, I love you too, I love you three…

Here’s to the warm hands that lay down the dying.

I don’t want to burden you, I just don’t have anyone else to talk to. Last night was really bad. The doctor says it’s between two weeks and a few months, but no longer than six. He cries a lot. I’m getting myself ready. I’m going through the photographs with him and writing everyone’s names on the back. I’m trying to be gentle but I’ve got to get everything ready. He says he doesn’t want a funeral, he says he wants a party. He told me to leave him alone. that he’s busy dying. I’m trying to be strong.

Here’s to a late delivery. At nine months I could not leave you and stayed inside for one more. I have never been far from you since.

You once told me you hoped you’d be the first to go, that you could not bear to lose me. I thought I should go first, that I could not bear to lose you. Now I understand it differently. If I die first, you will be without parents, husband, child. If I die first, I know how cold your days will be, how long the nights. I love you enough to let you go first. I love you enough to bear the cold. I love you enough to be the last one. I love you enough to turn out the light. I love you enough. I love you enough.

I send this poem to tell you of my love. I send it to you on paper. I send it to you on air. It’s all we have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


**Disclaimer** This entry contains reference to my freshman year of college, when I first heard Rent and was very depressed. Obviously, I've pulled though alright. If you didn't know me at that time and don't want to know more, skip this entry but see the movie. On the other hand, if you have seen the play or heard the music, this isn't really a spoiler. This is more of a personal reation.

I've wrapped this music around me in some of my darkest times for the last 6 years and I was worried about seeing the movie. How could a PG13 rating do this story justice? How could these characters that I've become to attached to be presented on the screen in someone else's vision?

There is a magic involved if a movie leaves you happy after bawling for an hour. and Rent has that magic. I went to the movie with Tamara and started crying somewhere around "One Song Glory" and I was a gonner for most of the movie. Luckily, Tamara seemed equally inspired.

It amazes me that I have listened to these lyrics for 6 years, have almost of them memorized both the words, melody and musical cues but seeing it all put together still brought back that same inspiration.

I remember being so sad and messed up my freshman year. I remember sitting crosslegged on my tiny dorm bed, pulling a blanket close around me and listening to the soundtrack over and over hoping my roommate wouldn't come home. I remember how heavy the diagnosis of "bipolar" felt at the time and how I couldn't imagine a real lively life that could coincide with so much poorly working medication. I was so scared about the future and so furious over all sorts of things that i thought I could never do. and thoughts of the future were so weightly as thoughts of the sickness, the diagnosis and the treatment swarmed around me like thick fog. on the days that I thought I saw a light at the end of the tunnel I believed it must be a train bearing down on me. that's what depression does to you.

and Rent had this message of hope despite all the fucked up miserble shit in the world. it had protagonists that fell in love eventhough they were sick and dying. they chanted, "no day but today" as their mantra. they had a hope that I could believe in. they had the type of strength I could aspire to.

So I cry when I hear, "One Song Glory" because I'm so afraid that my life will be too short to make any difference

The voices swell together, "There's only us, there's only this, forget regret or life is yours to miss, No other road no other way, no day but today"
and it feels like a revival choir with a message of hope has just camped out in my head

themes of love and dying. themes of death and sickness. themes of heartbreak and junkies.

and yet, I hear this music and these voices seep in to my heart and uplift it. the hour spent crying is immensly cathartic.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


(Today's pictures are 100% stolen)

The truck looked like it had died painfully from a botched facelift. It stood against the gray sky on four deflated tires and didn’t look like it had moved in years. It made its stand proudly, as if it’s ultimate demise won the high school science fair for two kids ambitious to use lasers for destruction. At the same level as the top of the sides of the bed, the cab had been sheered clean off. It stood demurely without a window shield or wipers, as the rain poured down into it’s exposed interior. It looked used to the disrespect.

The metal siding on the barn was in disrepair and looked like it had been loosing the battle against rust and the elements for over a decade. “West End Auction Mart,” read a battered sign, painted in the same color as the rust, as if to disguise the fact that it too couldn’t win against the winter storms. The rain poured down and the loose tarps that hid signs advertising discounts in terms of % off, flapped like they were resigned to their white trash existence. A sign said, “Yes, we’re open.” The lettering, while standard issue for such things, seemed crassly cheery and made want to anthropomorphize it into a small child I was allowed to slap.

We considered turning back, but where do you go when its pouring rain and you’re driving a rented 14-foot truck cluttered with remnants of your late mother’s estate? The chairs, table, mirror, empty suitcases and mattress had no home. We were looking for an orphanage.

The metal doorknob was cold too the touch but man who greeted up inside wasn’t so easy to read. His cowboy hat was the size of a medium sized fish tank and, in my opinion, cleaner than a proper white cowboy hat ought to be. Perhaps he was dressing up and the dinner plate sized belt buckle was also for a special occasion. We looked around his storeroom. Since he was preparing for an antique auction, there was furniture and misc scattered about in various levels of presentableness. There were rows of chairs that were probably bought at some % off from a dilapidated movie theater on one side of his storeroom. The chairs were much cleaner and brighter than the rest of the warehouse and I imagined a crowd of other men, in equally large hats, chatting like housewives about how to get the furniture out to their trucks despite the rain. I imagined them wandering among the antiques, complimenting each other on their hats.

We deemed it an appropriate orphanage and unloaded the miscellany and furniture. Luckily, these are not symbols of my youth and sheltered family existence. These are not the monuments I grew up with. Those tattered couches, old wood stove and the orange shag rug are long gone and not of worth to anyone else. I’m glad they have been lost in time and I don’t have to say goodbye to them. The items we unload from the truck are implements of bourgeois ambition, pretty things that aren’t quiet antique but respectable. They don’t remind me of the scraped knees and dirty hands of my childhood and are therefore easier to pass on. They are hard to say goodbye to because I know my mother touched them, but they don’t represent the end of an era or the death of a loved one. They are just things. We stack these objects on the clean cement floor of the warehouse as the wife of the man with the clean oversized cowboy hat catalogs them and writes us a receipt. We shake hands with them both and drive off.

I look toward my brother to try and gage his reaction to the encounter. He drives through the oversized puddles and past the flapping tarps. He stops and looks both ways before pulling out onto the empty street. The moving truck slowly accelerates and he says, “They may have been sleazy, but I know they were human. They are just a husband and wife trying to make a living. They were human and I feel good about that.”

I nod. I look at my brother and feel that we could conquer anything together. We share a little bit of some perception that the rest of the world will never get. I’m glad it’s just the two of us together trying to figure out how to deal with all this stuff, these inanimate things, that used to fill our beloved mother’s life.

We drive the UHaul across town, get some coffee and talk about how limited we are to see only certain wavelengths of light. If our eyes were different we could process sound as sight, or visa versa. It makes me reconsider the phrase, “being on the same wavelength” as I look over my coffee at my brother.