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The poet's curse

Today’s post isn't a story but a reflection. Don't try too hard to make sense of my words if they don't seemed clear. Your experience certainly doesn't have to be the same as mine, so I'm not seeking agreement. This daily exercise is meant to be the catharsis by which I release my emotion or polish my creativity. Sometimes the words are mangled or I fall asleep before I have a chance to edit. That's OK for me because the purpose has been fulfilled. And if this text seems to take a dark tone, don't worry. I have a wonderful life and I am very lucky. From time to time though, I have to assess my position and worth. I suppose it's the poets curse to constantly question life and search for meaning.

Living in Japan as a non-Japanese person comes with a very wide spectrum of experiences and emotions. When you've been here as long as I have there's plenty of time to consider your position within greater society and how your realization of that position impacts your life and state of mind. I thought about that today when I saw this photograph I had taken a few years back of two fingers playing a game of scissor paper stone. In the image, they are stuck forever in a stalemate with neither side moving forward.

People often wonder what it's like to live in Japan. The truth is it starts out as a fantasyland where everything is sparkly and strange. Because there's very little crime here, you are free to focus on living and enjoying the wonders around you. In the United states, for example, there's always an apprehension. Whenever you're in a new situation you have to check the environment carefully and watch your back to make sure someone isn't there to harm you. I should say in the big cities of America that's true. Life is a bit different in small towns. Of course, that depends on which town it is and who you are. I think that’s true in Japan as well.

It seems as if things are always hanging in the balance and if progress happens, it happens in millimeters. Trying to change society seems futile and yet the long tradition that I come from suggests otherwise. I have been living in this country for quite a long time. Although I am aware of the social etiquette of keeping one's head as low as possible and not standing out, there comes a point when we need to have a voice that is recognized. Living in Japan has been amazing but it has also felt like decades of being used and cast aside. People want to use me for my charisma, creativity, insight, and ideas but they seldom want to give proper praise or recognition for them. It is always the same, you're part of the group and what you produce belongs to the group. In truth you're part of a group and what you produce belongs to whoever is in charge of the group. As a young person fresh off the plane, trying to adapt was an acceptable compromise. Now, when faced with the possibility of never having the freedom to speak out with confidence and authority, I feel a kind of heaviness weighing on my psyche. Shall I remain invisible forever? Shall I continuously be subservient and silent when I know that I have so much more to contribute? Shall I pretend that nothing is wrong when I see so much needs to be improved upon?

Japanese society is very tough if you try to live in it as a Japanese. Foreigners are tolerated as long as they don't get too uppity. In all the time that I have been here I have educated generations and helped them to understand how to become better. I have contributed greatly to the culture. Even now, I am guiding young medical doctors towards a brighter future. I am helping them to expand their minds enough to think beyond the surface.

At times it seems like a thankless job. It is not arrogance alone that craves recognition, though the ego certainly needs to be filled. I have earned my right to be disgruntled or to question the status quo. By all measures of Japanese society, I have risen to a higher position through much pain and toil. I should be able to raise my head enough so that my chin no longer touches my chest. Growth and accomplishment are basic needs. As a foreigner living in Japan it is difficult to achieve higher levels of either. I'm speaking in generalizations. There are a few examples of people who have risen above. I know some people see me as one of those but I assure you I am not.

From time to time, I get caught in the quicksand of my own restless ego. Maybe that’s a good thing. Malcontent means I avoid stagnation.


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