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The Dream

What a weird dream I just had.

I dreamed I went to a strange place far from everyone and everything I’ve ever known. Everyone was speaking a strange language I couldn’t understand. I know it was a dream because every time I tried to read something it was absolute gibberish, and nobody could say my name, much less spell it. 

I had a job, I think - I remember standing in front of lots of kids, talking and chanting and singing, and everyone looking at me like an alien. Maybe I was a teacher... or maybe I led a cult.

Even now, three weeks after I woke up, I can’t tell if it was a good or bad dream.

There was an old man who made lewd comments at me and my friends one night on the street, and another who handed me a microphone and asked me with a smile to sing "Hey Jude". There were children who whispered hateful things about me when they saw me coming, and children whose eyes lit up with joy. There were billowing smokestacks and water-stained buildings, and there were shrines and mou…
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The Beach, the Breakdown, and the Last Thirty Days

In one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, I had a breakdown.

Miyazaki is beautiful this time of year. The tropical prefecture is stunning no matter where you go, but I can’t imagine a beach more beautiful than the one I went to. It’s on a private resort in a cove, walled in on all sides by tall mountains covered in banana plants and palm trees. Schools of long silver fish swim around in the emerald-green waters and roll along in the gentle waves. 

Standing in the surf and taking it all in, I started to feel the first inklings of the darkness to come.

To be fair, I don’t know what actually constitutes a “breakdown” - a lot of googling led me to WebMD articles and armchair psychiatrists who gave me mixed examples of the symptoms to look out for. All I know is, something inside of me snapped once the sun went down, and I ended up in bed for the rest of the night.

I went there to have fun. Instead I ended up sobbing into a futon until I fell asleep.

In the midst of my crying a …

The Tender Heart and Tinder in Japan

A week ago, I downloaded Tinder. A week later, I'm ready to delete it.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, the last time I was single, Tinder didn’t exist yet. When I first broke up with my partner of five years, I was so concerned with getting my own life on track that dating took a backseat to everything else.

I downloaded Tinder for about a week back home, too, but even then I knew it was too soon for me to look for something new, when that half-decade-deep wound was still fresh. I deleted it pretty much immediately. Then, as I prepared to leave Texas and eventually arrived in Japan, it took everything I had just to keep myself afloat. Between keeping myself out of trouble with the police, to just getting my students to talk to me, I wasn’t ready to open myself up like that.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I like about dating. I like leaning my head against someone’s shoulder, and feeling someone lean their head against mine. I like holding hands, an arm a…

The Big Decision and the Long Road "Home"

I’ll never forget the first thing I did when I got to my tiny inaka apartment.

When I woke up in Tokyo on the first day of orientation, I felt a scratchy feeling at the back of my throat, and for the next four days it didn’t go away. The rest of the week was a progressively-worse haze as I faded in and out of lucidity during long lectures and sucked down vitamin C drinks in vain. When I finally got to my placement, I buzzed around town finishing up some minor things, before finally being shown to my apartment. As the doors thudded closed, the silence settled in.

It was the first time I’d been truly alone in almost a week. The apartment was still a bit dirty. The power had been switched off, and consequently I couldn’t turn on the air conditioner or fans in the sweltering August heat. I tried opening the windows, but there was no air and no relief, just a symphony of cicadas in the bamboo thickets surrounding me. My throat was still burning, and I was covered in sweat.

I collapsed onto…

Drawing Pictures and the Foreigner Dusted with Chalk

Not to toot my own horn, but I was the best artist in my first grade class.

For every student’s birthday, our teacher, Mrs. Wurstefer, would have the other students draw pictures in their honor, and collect them in a personalized book. But some kids didn’t want to draw, or couldn’t - they wanted to skip right ahead to coloring.

That’s where I would come in.

Any time our teacher asked us to draw something for class, kids would line up at my desk, and ask me to draw things for them.

“Can you draw a rabbit?” “Can you draw a dog with a birthday cake?” “Can you draw me riding a horse?“

So I’d draw their picture, and the kid would scamper back to their desk to color it. It happened without fail every time, to the point that I’d sometimes spend most of the class drawing for other people and wouldn’t have time to work on my own contribution until the very end, if at all. There’s definitely a few compilations of birthday drawings from Mrs. Wurstefer’s first grade class that simultaneously are f…

Chicken McNuggets and Valentine's Day Traditions

I had an established Valentine’s Day tradition with my ex.

First, a stop at The Steeping Room, our favorite tea and scones place in Austin, for a light dinner. Then, to the Alamo Drafthouse to see the collection of the previous year’s Academy Award nominated animated shorts. It was a humble tradition, but we loved it.

I remember Valentine’s Day 2018. Days after our breakup, unemployed, back in my childhood home. I sat in my room all day, mentally time-stamping all of the things I would be doing if we were still keeping to our annual tradition (the time when I would get home from work and start getting ready to go out, the time we’d arrive at our reservation a few minutes late as we always did, the time we’d get to the theater with enough time to order food and watch the pre-show, etc.). I felt hollow, like a Matryoshka doll, pieces of me taken away, the rest left to rattle around in my skull and remind me of what I was missing.

In 2019, I wanted to have a better experience. But I didn…

Saying Hello and the Fear of Failure

I’ve seen how the students address Japanese teachers in the halls. They stop, straighten up and stand with arms locked to their sides, bow to a near-perfect 30-degree angle, give a quick “ohaiyougozaimasu” or “konnichiwa” and keep walking. It’s strange and a little militaristic, but Japan is all about the formalities.

With other teachers, they know exactly what to do. But with me, it’s a test.

I can see it in the kids’ eyes as I pass them in the hall. The deer-in-the-headlights expressions on their round little faces used to be amusing. That novelty wore off a long time ago.


It’s just one word, two syllables. But usually it’s enough to make their little shoulders seize up in terror at the thought of having to speak English outside of the classroom.

 I’m not a teacher, at least not on paper. My official title is “ALT.” It’s an acronym that stands for Assistant Language Teacher - the word’s right there, in my job title, but most teachers don’t know what the acronym stands for.…