April’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own.

The green waves rippled widely between frames of windblown hair. 1 hour in and she was already restless. Even this, the fastest train in the world, didn’t feel fast enough.

She wanted to be there now.

Looking out the window again, she longed to swim in the pool of green, lush rice fields that stretched for miles. She would do backstrokes, her face looking up at evening giving into night. Then she’d float down to the muddy bottom…

Only 3 more hours left.

You are as you see yourself

I’ve written here before about not feeling confident enough to call myself a writer. But what does it mean to be a writer, anyway? Rather, what do I think I should be doing to count as a writer?

Writers work on their manuscripts every day, and go to writing clubs and writing events to pontificate about the elements of writing and other writerly things.

Let’s dissect that.

In the post I linked, I wrote about the benefit of my local writing circle. However, we’re on break at the moment. Sure, I could seek out others but I don’t. It’s like with teaching. There’s plenty of conferences to go to, but I don’t go to all of them. Sometimes I don’t go to any for months at a time. I like to meet other teachers and share ideas, but conferences are a commitment of time and energy. I get overwhelmed when I do too much of anything. By being selective, I can enjoy the conferences I do go to because I genuinely want to be there. Even if I never went to any conferences, I would still consider myself as a teacher, as gaining experience, reaching out to colleagues, reading online research and resources, and taking courses are other ways to improve my craft.

There are people who do work on their manuscripts daily. I have manuscripts I want to work on but am not particular vibing with at the moment. But I do writing exercises with a book of prompts and I do journaling most times. That writing might not ever be published, but it’s still valuable and is still writing. I’m still working on my craft. I listen to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast to learn about the elements of writing; I am exposed to the writing of others as a writing teacher, reader, and consumer; I’ll point out some writing that struck me in a text I received. There’s no one way to be a teacher, writer, or whatever it is you want to do.

I certainly desire to do more. But considering that I went from years of hardly writing to doing what I mentioned above, I am making progress. The end result I seek will come if I continue to be consistent and patient with myself.

In his call for applications to join him on the first private trip to the moon on Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Yusaku Maezawa said, “If you see yourself as an artist, then you are an artist.” I see myself as a writer, therefore I am a writer. To be clear, I don’t believe seeing yourself a particular way is passive. Actions do need to be taken to back up that vision. So, what work are you doing to be what you seek? Don’t overlook the seemingly small things. Don’t focus on what you think you’re supposed to be doing. Just look at what it is you are doing now. List it out–it just might be more than you think.

February’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own.

I have become a morning person, shaking off the late slumber of my adolescence. 8 AM is my personal favorite: the sun gets itself in position. Everything is quiet. The motors of my brain can slowly churn. Even better on a weekday, when everyone’s going and I’m staying. Nothing punctuating the air, save for the occasional swoosh of passing wheels, soar of the day’s airplane, gallop of the passing train, light murmur of passersby, cooing of winged friends.

The breeze seeps in through the window opening to cradle my face, the sunlight that makes the window pane glitter like the sea wakes up my skin. Today can be what I want it to be. All these hours subject to my intentions.

It is not so if I awaken closer to noon. A sense of regret washes over for the loss of time, an urgency to make up for it yet also a resigned acceptance that the day is almost over. As a teen, I had a simple agenda: make up for lost sleep, relax with friends or alone, do any homework that was put off. I got by with this. But when I decided I wanted to thrive and not just get by, I learned that I needed more to function optimally. And that required more time. The afternoon is too late, demands for attention bubbling over.. Night owling no longer has the appeal it once did, exhaustion overruling all else, staying up past midnight a mental workout.

Truly, the morning is my time before the world pulls me in.

How my local writing circle reignited my writing life

Let me add my voice to the chorus of people rightfully praising Amanda Gorman for her powerful poem at President Biden’s inauguration. Many elements of her story struck me, from her tackling a speech impediment to the graceful hand movements that accompanied her words.

Writing, something I once felt was ordinary, relegated to the sidelines so singing and dancing could shine, got its moment that day and I am here for it. In interviews Ms. Gorman spoke about WriteGirl and how it nurtured her gift. It made me reflect on how impactful a writing community has been in my own life.

In 2019, a colleague at work started a writing circle. By that time I had sporadically gone to other writing meetups in the U.S. and Tokyo. Scheduling conflicts prevented me from attending the writing circle meetings for months but I was finally able to attend one. It was the first time that I shared original writing with people who were not close to me. It filled me with anxiety to present my ideas before “real writers” who spent time reading books, writing regularly, things I “should” be doing. They asked thought-provoking questions that helped me to dig beyond the surface details and embrace that I was, in fact, trying to build a world with this story–what did I want it to look like? I needed to know the intimate details of it. It was a vulnerable moment, but I left feeling inspired and encouraged by what my colleagues had to say.

When 2020 started, I was determined to get more involved with the writing circle. Like almost everything else, the meetings went virtual. I was able to go to a majority of them, and I look forward to this year’s meetings. Here’s what I got out of the experience:

It made me a better writer. I had been struggling to get back into writing. Even writing one page was a struggle. In the first few writing circle meetings, my writing wasn’t particularly good but I shared anyway. Then there was a point when I hit my stride and really began to develop my brand of writing, the kind you can see in my Monthly Micros. The feedback I received also affirmed my growth, as my colleagues appreciated not only what was stated directly but also hinted at. Of course I didn’t always have a strong writing day: I remember one time I just drew a blank and didn’t share. But that time wasn’t a waste because I got to spend it listening to others, which brings me to my next point.

It exposed me to good writing. I got to enjoy what my colleagues came up with as well. Often we would choose the same prompts and I would observe how they handled them differently. Some readings had me bursting with laughter, while others left me in bewildered amazement. All interested me in different ways.

It became a space of refuge. In the background of these meetings was a rough year of teaching on Zoom during a pandemic. That 90 minutes a week became something we all very much looked forward to. We could forget about a looming deadline or an annoying thing a student did and just relax and write with our fellow writers. We could catch up and make jokes, and make connections between what we wrote and other things. And of course, we got to know each other better.

I felt we were all on the same level, that everyone’s contributions mattered. It wasn’t a test to see if I was a true writer or an imposter, but an opportunity to gather with others who valued writing as a form of creative expression.

This post is dedicated to my awesome writing circle colleagues, my writing community that nurtured me and helped me to own my identity as a writer. Thanks to them, I became excited about writing again and launched this blog to share my writing with all of you.

Living abroad: between gratitude and overwhelm

I’m coming up on 2 years since I moved to Japan (March 2019, to be exact). The vibrant photos and humorous anecdotes on your timeline make living abroad look exciting, and it certainly is. However, it’s not all adventure. It’s also monotony, frustration, and confusion. Living in Japan (or more broadly, living abroad) often finds me teetering between gratitude and overwhelm. Two areas in particular come to mind:

*Note*: Overwhelm is not to be confused with annoyance. If I were focusing on annoyances, this list would be longer. An annoyance (such as Japan’s overuse of plastic or unmotivated university students) is unpleasant but not to the point where I feel mentally exhausted. Of course, annoyance can lead to overwhelm but…semantics.

Japanese ability

Gratitude: Help is available to me, but I’ve been able to set up a good amount of my life here on my own with the Japanese I currently know. Immersion, in the sense of making an active effort to venture out of my English bubble and use (on occasion forcefully) Japanese, has given me ample opportunities to use and improve my Japanese. Becoming the de facto interpreter when I’m the most conversant in a group of people also helps this.

Overwhelm: The more Japanese I know, the more I realize I don’t know. Long letters or manuals, technical details for medical appointments, phone calls that go beyond basic details, words I already know that are spoken too quickly, and even some words written in katakana confound me. I avoid promotional calls from my electric company because I just don’t understand enough to be able to make an informed decision, and the person on the other line clearly doesn’t have the patience to wait for me to figure it out or attempt to look up what they’re saying.

Being a black person in Japan

Gratitude: Providing Japanese people I encounter with an opportunity to actually talk to a black person, who really is like any other person. Countering inaccurate media portrayals with authentic perspective for my students. Using experiences of feeling “othered” and turning that into lessons to expand the thinking of those willing to listen. I don’t speak for all black people, but understand that many people here think I do, so I’m mindful of the message I send when I show up. People who are genuinely interested in getting to know me, who have welcomed me, who have complimented me, who don’t see my obvious difference as a big deal.

Overwhelm: Being stared at daily, sometimes in overly obvious ways. On rare occasions, being feared (not just by kids, but adults too). Little comments on perfectly normal things I’m doing (example: in 2020, a masked Japanese person wonders aloud why I am wearing a mask). Stupid and/or borderline racist comments that attempt (and fail) to provoke me or interrupt my peace. The assumption that I must be African, as if there’s only one kind of American.

Nope, no need to justify

I thought about adding, “It’s not that I’m complaining but…” or “This is not a slight against Japan…”, but then I realized how self-defeating that would be. Of course I am grateful for the opportunity to not only live in Japan after wanting to for a long time, but also not doing so by settling. However, living abroad has its challenges and it’s okay to talk about them. Also, Japan, like any country is not perfect. You can be frustrated with the way certain things are in a country but still be fine with living there.

January’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less). Words are my own. Read and enjoy but don’t copy and pass off as your own.

Done. For good.

I can’t really take a final look around because she’s here. That’s alright, though–I’ve looked at this office enough for 4 years. I won’t be back, so nothing more to see here. Nothing more to take in. A last-minute request came in minutes before, a mad dash for my signature before I finally disappear.

I now understand how my predecessor felt on her last day. Exhaustion on her face as her due date drew near, yes, but also relief that she found her out. I now have my out, too. Not a baby but a baby of a dream I finally reconnected with.

The breeze feels all the more comforting as I step out this evening. My weekend starts with no sense of urgency as the Monday rush and grind won’t come. I have 2 weeks…how should I start? I walk down the block to the bodega with the awesome almond croissants. Bag with the last two in hand, I take the train downtown.

I am a black woman.

What came to mind when you read that title? Suspend whatever your natural inclination is for the remainder of this post. I promise you can pick it up when I am done.

I am a black woman. But you know that, even if you don’t know me. The color of my skin goes before me. When I walk into any space, you can clearly see. But where does that observation go? How does my presence make you feel? If I took a few more steps, would your heart beat faster or maintain its steady rhythm? If I don’t smile, do you think it is because I am always angry? Or do you think I am an otherwise friendly person who just happens to not be smiling in that moment? If I smiled, would that make me come across as more human, more inviting? Do you think it’s my job to make you feel at ease? Do you assume a role as gatekeeper of whatever public space we are in, your eyes focused on my every move? Do you think I will steal something or cause a scene? Or do you just mind your own business since you’re busy existing just like I am? Do you see me as a fellow comrade? Would you give a look or nod of solidarity if we were the “onlys” in this space? Or would you just dismiss me?

I am a black woman. When you hear my voice, does it surprise you? Does it not match up with what you think a black person should sound like? Would you think I am trying to be better than you, trying to sound like “them”? Do you simply think I speak well or I speak well for someone that looks like I do?

I am a black woman. I don’t wear my hair natural. Do you see that as a betrayal, a denial of myself? Do you think that means I hate my natural hair? Do braids make you think I must be African? Did you think I was African anyway? Does relaxed hair make you think I want to fit in with “them”? Does it make you view me as being “professional”? Or do you just see it as me doing what I want with my own hair? When you think of the word “beautiful”, does someone with my skin color come to mind as a possibility? Does it not? Do you think my shade should be embraced on the shelves and magazines? Or do you think I need to be a few shades lighter to be attractive? Are my features fine for you on someone else but not on me?

I am a black woman. Do you think that makes me cool? Do you “love [my] culture”? I do not like watermelons, hardly eat fried chicken, and listen to house music far more than I listen to hip hop. Is that not what you were expecting? Are you surprised that I have a passport with some stamps in it? That I live in Asia and speak an Asian language? That I like spelling bees and almond milk? Do you think I’ve achieved anything? That I am capable? That I have awards and honors? If I were not dressed for the office, would you question my character? What do you think my job is? Do you think I worked hard for it or was just the diversity hire?

I am a black woman. Do you think of me as tough? Do you think of me as soft and feminine? Do you think I dominate a conversation? Like to argue? That I’ll swirl my head and point my finger in your face? Do you think maybe I prefer to avoid conflict? That I aim for diplomacy? Do you think I can handle more work than others? That pain doesn’t strike me as hard? That I don’t show or have emotions? That I am “too quiet”? What if I said, word-for-word what a colleague who isn’t a black woman said? Would it somehow sound different? When you stare at me the way you do, do you think it’s harmless or like daggers piercing through my skin? When you feel the need to comment on a small thing I do, do you think it adds anything or attempts to take something from me?

I am a black woman. Does that provoke you? Does it sound unnecessary to say? Does it empower or move you? Does it not move you at all? Do you want to roll your eyes and think, “Of course she’s gonna talk about race”. Do you think race is something I want to think about or I am forced to think about? Do you think I have people around me who look different from me? Or do you think I blame them for what other people who look like them did, insisting I only be around similar-looking people?

I am a black woman. What about the tone of this post? Do you think it is an angry one? Do you feel attacked? Concerned? Emboldened? Pensive? What if I told you I was reclining as I wrote this, taking in the daylight and feeling calm? Was that explanation necessary for you? Was it not?

Words are not “just” words. Actions can intentionally or unintentionally be slights. Don’t reduce my essence into a flat “black woman character”. Find out my character for yourself and see all that I am all these things and also a black woman. Maybe you already did this and are part of the supportive presence in my life. Maybe you will start to do this.

As promised, you can pick up your natural inclination now. Or you can leave it.

Happy New Year! (and thank you)

Happy New Year! 2021 is finally here and I think I can speak for everyone by saying I hope it will come with the good news we collectively need. I took some time off after my previous post to recover from a transformative but exhausting year of teaching online. I started this blog as a birthday gift/challenge to myself back in September of last year. With it all its heartbreaks, 2020 for me represented a year to wake up. To stop thinking about doing and finally take action. Starting a blog was one of those things. I’m proud of seeing it through as well as posting monthly. I also want to take a moment to thank all of you have commented, liked, and signed up for the email list or follow me on WordPress. I hope to continue to put out content that you will enjoy.

I will be getting back to posting and exploring how I want to express the identity of this blog. I will cover a variety of topics, but it is first and foremost a writing-focused blog: proof to myself that I am a writer and that I can call myself one. 2020 saw me dive deeper into being a writer and seeking out opportunities to unflinchingly place my writing in front of more people. I look forward to expanding on this in 2021. For one, I’ve got some big (and long overdue) projects I hope to share with you later this year.

Thank you again and see you in the next post!

December’s monthly micro

Once a month I post a micro story (a story that is 1,000 words or less).

I’m standing at the edge. The waves are crashing around the weakening barrier around me. The edge is the line in the sand where my sanity resides. The waves: this assignment notification, that frantic email, pings, pongs, dings, dongs. Stop calling me. Stop texting me. I just want to sleep. I just want to be.

But I invited the waves to my beach, seeking them out, hustling for them, praying for them, longing for them. I was so sure I could stay on top of them, rather than wipe out repeatedly under their sheer force. I just want them to recede a little, so I can remember what being still actually feels like: to soak rather than sink, to submerge rather than drown.

NaNoWriMo 2020 self-report

Fellow writers–did you participate in NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a creative writing challenge that happens every November, with the goal to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. Considering how many writers (myself included) that struggle to see a writing project through to the end, it can serve as a great kick in the pants to finally get it done. There’s a variety of resources to guide you through it, such as the official blog, but my focus was just on getting something written. This year, I was inspired by a group of 8th graders that participated in the project for their English class. With the launch of my blog 3 months ago and my desire to get at least one of my writing projects done (don’t ask me how long I’ve been at it), I decided to go for it. Here’s a week-by-week report of how it went:

Week 1 (Nov. 1-7). I decided on a whim to participate on November 1st and was ready to start on the 2nd. However, I spent the entire week drowning in a sea of assignments to grade. Besides some journaling, I didn’t get any writing done for the blog or my writing projects.

Week 2 (Nov. 8-14). Much lighter load is terms of grading and scheduling. Some journaling here and there but struggled to come up with a good idea for a blog post. I had my biweekly writing club with some colleagues on Thursday and that helped push me out of the rut. The next day, I put out a blog post. I drafted this blog post to publish at the end of the month and wrote up and scheduled November’s monthly micro. I typed a few extra words for 2 writing projects.

Week 3 (15-21). Grading picked up again. Outside of journaling, didn’t get any writing down.

Week 4 (22-28). Didn’t feel well for a couple days. Also, grading dominated.

Week 5 (29-30). More grading! I was aware of the month ending and was disappointed that I didn’t write more.

I struggle with consistency as writer, and had hoped NaNoWriMo would have produced great results. Perhaps not 50,000 words, but something substantial. Instead, it was a huge fail. But of course as an educator I know everything is a teachable moment, so here is what I’ve learned from this:

1. November’s a crazy time at my day job. My co-worker and facilitator of the Writing Circle said she would not be doing NaNoWriMo, with good reason: major assignments, meetings, paperwork galore. Certainly it was possible to still find the time to write, and (amazing) people do. But I found myself mentally tapped out after taking care of my major obligations. Part of that was due to not thinking deeply enough about coordinating assignment deadlines for my different classes so I wouldn’t have a huge backlog to go through. Maybe doing NaNoWriMo in November is not a good idea and I should do it during a lighter month. Maybe, just like a marathon, I need to train more before taking it on. At the very least, I have some ideas on how to manage one aspect of my job better.

2. Building consistency happens slowly. Going from writing occasionally to frequently or daily is a huge jump I couldn’t realistically expect to happen in one month. By writing I am specifically referring to writing projects. I journal several times a week and I usually post here once a week. So I am writing, but there’s more that I want to get out, that I could get out. To do that, I should designate a time to write and build frequency from there.

3. I can’t wait until I “feel inspired”. Whether it’s going to be a side hustle or my next career, waiting for inspiration to write is not sustainable. When I teach, some days I am feeling more creative than others, but still have to teach anyway. Likewise, I just need to get some words on the page, even if they’re not good. I can always edit them later.

As classes are drawing to an end (anyone else beyond Zoom-fatigued?), I am beyond hopeful to get more writing done. I’ve had this burning desire to do so that refuses to go away.