Monday, July 26, 2010

Optimistic (but still angsty)

Though I have been sending a lot angsty emails and writing blogs about being miserable... I just want to say that I'm still very optimistic. I mean, yes, it is a rough year but I am very diligently counting my blessings, as well. Though I complain about how disastrous the dating scene here is for someone like me, it is also good to have so much head space to do with as I see fit. I'm getting to know myself better and though that isn't always a happy thing... it's a good thing. And though the job continues to drive me crazy, my impossibly small desk is between two fantastically talented and supportive teachers who I learn a lot from. I haven't quit yet.

I am constantly torn between all my yoga classes and their philosophy of finding contentment in life and Buckminster Fuller's “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Or in other words, what do you just accept and what do you work to improve, change and strengthen? What do you fight for and what do you find grace to accept just as it comes?

A year I was here:

Sideways lightning brings mixed blessings like freezing rain and generous friends. Dressed in anything anyone had that was at least a little dry, we used our half day to climb up and see practically all of Bolivia from the power towers.

Two years ago, I was here:

Commuting 50km a day along the river on my lovable steel bike, teaching preschoolers, fighting to keep a relationship afloat, preparing for my first solo bike journey, equally restless and content.

Three years ago I was here:

In a little country school, saying goodbye after 10 weeks to some of the best coworkers I have ever had and some of my favorite students. Loving the constant stream of new faces, friends and adventures but leaving in tears, never feeling like anywhere was home.

Four years ago I was here:

A tiny island off the northeastern coast of Hokkaido, hiking through alpine flowers in July, watching the sunset and missing SeaDog so intently. Making friends in broken Japanese as if my life depended on it. Feeling alone but free.

Five years ago I was here:

In the states, saying goodbye to my darling cat, the career I was so sure I'd always wanted, my family, my friends. Saying goodbye to my mom. Leaping into the unknown, excited, scared.

There's a momentum to it. There's so much beauty in this. So many new friends, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, poetry in learning the languages of these places, the comfort and pride of finding, building a little niche here and there. There is the intoxicating feeling of 'this is my briar patch,' I know this maze, this is home now. But there is also so much disappointment and sadness of the strings of goodbye parties and the rip-itwillneverbethesame-ness. The frustration of foreign bureaucracies kicking you when you are down, the never-quite-being-a-right-fit-ness.

I'm optimistic and I am so grateful. I'm also scared and not sure what is worth fighting for or worth walking away from.

The journeys continue, without and within.
The adventures as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One of my many first loves

When I left science and the states in 2005, I figured I'd go back to science as soon as I missed it.

Well, now that I'm teaching it and after 5 years away from the lab, I once again miss it. Well, I don't miss all of it, but I really miss some of it.

I've taught cell biology to 8th graders this first term including my true love of an organism responding to environmental signals through up (or down) regulation of genes and the absolutely amazing transcription/translation process. My students produced mostly accurate things like this on their final.

In sophomore chemistry, I'm deep into intermolecular interactions (hydrogen bonds, London dispersion forces) which is the heart of biochemical interactions, protein folding, the structure of DNA...

It's been fun teaching, but with no lab, no running water, no classroom of my own, no materials, no where to set up a project, only a very small desk in the teacher's room to organize all my classes from. I miss DOING science. It's hard to make the classes more hands-on than drawing cartoons of things like the photosynthesis/respiration cycles and watching youtube videos of other people throwing pure Sodium in water... I miss playing with stuff.

Nonetheless, I am immensely proud of my students and how hard they've worked for me. I wish I could give them more, but we do the best we can.

Next week we have summer courses, or as my boss explained to me, glorified babysitting...
So we are going to go the park, talk about plants and insects and try to have as relaxed and hands-on a learning experience possible.

A link to the school's website with a picture of me at the board explaining the difference between types of bonds and a sneaky peak at one of the pages from my Chemistry final, clutched in one of my poor student's hands, available by request. No official link between me and them will be made on the blog.

The adventures continue...

Monday, July 19, 2010


Something weird happened this weekend. Something that hadn't happened in a while.

I looked in the mirror and almost recognized myself.
I looked a little bit like I do in my mind's eye. It was kind of like, um hey, haven't seen you around lately. I missed you.

3 day weekend
30+ hours of sleep (more than the entire week before...)
300+ km of cycling (almost 200 miles)
mountains mountains mountains. a few summer thunderstorms. me and my bike up and away.

I'm reading a trashy book called "Eat, Pray, Love" and yes it is total feel good chick lit. It's also kind of good. In the middle of the weekend, I found myself thinking about a question that arises in the book. According to the story, every city and every person has a sort of central word to them. Rome apparently is 'sex' and New York is 'achieve.' So, to know yourself and how you relate to the city or town you live in, you must find your word.

As I climbed meter by meter up the passes and flew down, hugging the curves, valleys, rice fields floating away, it was a question I returned to. What is my word?

Of course we are all more complicated than a single word, as is every city, but when I started thinking about all the things that are important to me, the word I best came up with was 'motion.'

Not only am I happiest when I am physically moving, feeling like I'm moving in a direction for my 'career' or 'life' makes me happy. Though I think about leaving this job often, I can't bear the idea of doing something that doesn't teach me new skill, give me new experiences, keep me, well, in motion. I don't think the direction is so important, but the movement, the building towards something very much is.
(on top of a tiny little pass between Rt 121 and Rt249 in Tochigi on a road the internet claims does not exist)

I returned to work Tuesday morning, a bit worn out by the weekend but in a better mood than usual, well sorta. My brain has gone on 'summer break' mode as all the 'important' work is done and there are no more classes for the term. But teachers are still here. It's hard to focus on prepping for term 2 or about anything related to the job.

Within a few hours someone came to take little pictures of us for a brochure to advertise our special winter break optional classes. I'll be teaching on Christmas again and can't imagine it. I can't imagine being here in this school at all that long, I can't even imagine teaching second term, let along teaching on Christmas.

The picture they took of me looked nothing like me. I'm not sure who it was, but I didn't recognize her. I nearly burst into tears.

About a year ago, everything started to get really shaken up and the following identity crisis (though no need to be so dramatic about it all, right...) has lasted a whole year. The joy and fear and sweat of the jungle, followed by the privilege, the shallow tourism, the quiet age of Italy, the almost but not quite familiar feeling of the rain and family and friends in the Northwest, the fight in Tokyo to get the job, apartment, life I so wanted, and recently feeling down right betrayed by it all... a lot of things have kind of fallen apart a little in the last year. I feel betrayed by many of my choices --that is, except when I'm on my bike, in the mountains. Only then am I sure that this all was a good idea.

On the train home, exhausted but happy, I started to feel like I could begin to pick those pieces back up just a little. The feeling of mountain air at high speed, the smell of cedars (and sweat and sunscreen), the views that went on forever, growing confidence that I can climb and climb on my bike if I only put my mind to it and then sitting there alone on the train, with no shoulder to fall asleep on and no one to return home to, but also happy about that in my own way. Slowly breaking down those persistent fantasies that there is anyone that can save you other than yourself. Just lost in my own thoughts, quietly gathering and feeling the strength that I know hides inside somewhere.

I've spent a lot of time lost recently. But I'm also finding myself, little by little, in beautiful places.

(a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from on of my favorite country roads west of Tokyo)