Category Archives: writing life

When Foreign Becomes Normal: Reflections on Living in Japan

Where to begin with such a title? As I am American, I guess that is where my story starts. Moving to Japan in 2000 was a life changer.

When you go from a place of long cold winters with brilliant summers and tree covered, well-everything, moving to a new land offers many jarring sights.

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Electric poles stick out into the streets. Not on people’s property-that would be taking up their land. Nope, right in the street where you have to weave and bob around them in traffic. I have become adept at this and now do not even notice when I do it.

Food is fresh. As in you buy the food you are going to eat that day, you eat it, and you go shopping for 15 minutes again the next day. No more buying food for 2 weeks. No more thoughts of, “Why don’t I just go to Burger King and eat a bacon cheese burger?” No, you don’t do that anymore. Well I don’t do that anymore. I eat more vegetables and fish than before. The rice we buy and eat was grown in the prefecture we live.

Every year I go to a health check that costs me the equivalent of $12USD. It includes: barium stomach cancer check, lung cancer x-ray, urinalysis, fecal coliform check, blood pressure, EKG, blood test (cholesterol HDL/LDL, hemoglobin, etc.), height/weight check and a check by a doctor.

I never had, save for kids checks at elementary school, a health check growing up. I am much more likely to go to a doctor here if I think something is wrong-a big difference from my homeland where I avoided doctors because essentially I am cheap and do not have deep pockets.

People marvel at how Japanese live so long. If you could have a doctor tell you what to do every year and just followed 25% of the advice it might add years to ones life. Not to mention the tie in with my second observation about food and its freshness.

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Oops, do you see what is happening here? I am starting to turn this post from an observation of what becomes normal into a comparison between two places and there is always something bad when you do that. Why? Because one side will always be demolished. It’s an unfair thing to compare one country or people against another-unconsciously I was stacking the deck in the Japanese favor. No, Japan is not better than America, just different. So after nearly 20 years what is normal that was not normal before?

I am. I don’t see myself as a foreigner here, even though my face clearly is. After such a long time and coming here relatively young I am a man betwixt nationalities. I relate to Japanese people, but I am not from here. I understand some of what Americans think, but have supplanted it with another set of mistranslated rules.

I have changed as I lived here to the point where I am now comfortable being a resident. Life feels normal in every way, even if I marvel at the different sort of life I am living from the rest of my family. Again not positives, just differences.

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I hope that where ever you may be, you are taking note of the people and things around you. If you are a writer this is an essential point. Observe people, learn and understand them if at all possible. Write it down and relive what you have observed. Pass it on to the next person to savor, to enjoy. Make the normal in your life the extraordinary for others lives. And above all-

Keep writing.

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I’m Getting Off Track

As I’ve mentioned multiple times here on my blog, if I am not posting-I’m usually busy writing. Now that I am posting, well my priority shifts to blogging instead of where I should be, getting the words out for my next novel. How will I balance doing both?

Solution: WordPress Post Scheduling

When I write multiple blog posts in a single day I can post them by using the scheduling tool. This way, if I actually plan out my posts and hammer them out before hand, I can post indefinitely AND keep up my writing as I don’t have to keep thinking,”What am I going to post today?”

The point is-we all need to plan ahead and do a bit of cramming in this life to get where we need to go. I for one am up writing blog posts now at 5:00 am. For the love of posting, for the love of my writing, for my future.

Keep writing.

Positive or Opposite?

The last week has seen me go from working on my current novel to doing nothing at all on the positive side. What is positive? PROGRESS. Which is to say I wrote, edited or out lined a portion of my novel to make it better. I did not. The desert of my creativity covered the metropolis of my mind with sand. Life took its corrosive toll.

Not one to get depressed, my mind is abstaining from writing today in order to jump in to it on the morrow. If you refuse yourself the writing-you often find you want to. My reverse psychology will be put to the test tomorrow morning as I plan to get up early and get to work. There are other little things in life which need to be done-most of them on the computer-and those will also need knocking out at the same time.

There are enough hours in the day. There is enough time in life to get your dream accomplished. Accumulated actions have far reaching impacts on our lives.

I stand resolute, ready to tackle my mystery novel fresh faced and twinkle eyed.

Keep writing, it’s what I’m doing too!

Using the Past in Your Writing: The Paradox of Personal Experience

Sticky Subject.

You have an idea, it involves you and actual people in the actual world. There is a compelling line of thought in it, but on the one hand you hesitate. Personal experience? Should I actually talk about what really happened?

The world we live in, this great swath of personal happenings, should not be ignored. I know there will be authors, people who think they know better, that will tell you to avoid using personal things in your writing. You can hurt others feelings, you can broach dangerous topics that could harm your reputation, you could anger family. NO, YOU MUST USE IMAGINATION TO CREATE A WORK THAT IS ORIGINAL. Sorry, that just isn’t what many authors have done in their own fiction.

I think leaving family out of it might be a good idea, after all angering those you love is not wise. On the other side of the coin is the fact life can be many shades you can use to highlight issues in family life without directly making it look like you are talking about them. In other words, use your personal experiences with the masking and manipulation of your fiction.

I found this the case in my latest book Gas Station. I wrote the first draft pretty much as a non-fiction book. After redrafting it a second time I found if I shift character names, make events more interesting than they actually were in life, continue to add detail to the atmosphere while referencing the time frame in which the book was happening, the book became more exciting and readable.

What does this mean? It means that real life is often a lot more mundane, or boring, than we like to admit. Fiction shouldn’t be either so it is up to the author to impact the reading through the tricks and tweaks that make a story take off running though the fields of other peoples imaginations. I couldn’t have written a book about my experiences at a gas station in Maine at the end of the 90’s if I couldn’t have added things that made the book better. I don’t have a memory like that, though a fair bit of the book is, at its heart, truth.

Why put the book up on Amazon as fiction? Aren’t you fibbing when you embellish, alter things in such a story? Hey, it’s MY story. If you think everyone writes the truth (or should right the truth all the time) then literature would be a lot more boring than it now is. It is essentially why I put the book up as fiction, though there is much reality with it. If I say it is fiction it is. Opens up a new world for you maybe to think that way, but there you have it. You are in command of what you write, you are the one who decides to use what is within you. All we as readers ask is that you write it in the most entertaining, exciting, funny, white knuckle joy ride that you possibly can.

I want you, and me too, to keep writing as much as we can. Personal experience is a good way to show the world little pieces of who you are. The world needs you. You’re special stories are waiting to be read.

Keep writing, even if it is about yourself.

The Cheap Fountain Pen with the Expensive Look: Jinhao 159

Followers of this blog will know that I like, and use, fountain pens for my writing. They are economical on the ink, friction-less and beautiful writing tools. They are also temperamental, get ink on your hands and cost a lot depending on what you buy.

Instead of talking about my most expensive pen, a TWSBI Diamond 580, I am going to talk about my cheapest pen, because it is one that I use daily and is a joy to write with.

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Chinese pen manufacturer Jinhao has been making many interesting and affordable pens that you can find on sights like eBay. Some are outlandish, others classic. The pen that I heard about was the Jinhao 159.

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This pen is big! It’s also heavy and made of metal-every bit of it except the pistol ink compartment which is better left to plastics anyhow. If you are a person who likes FAT grip pens then this is one you might like. The best thing about this pen? It only cost $2, which included shipping!

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I’m not sure what they are going for now, but that is what I ordered mine for on eBay about 4 years ago. The nib is nice and has the Jinhao chariot engraved on it, but for myself I wanted a thinner line and swapped it out for a Velvetouch nib from the 40’s. It takes the standard big #6 size nibs which are fairly common so swapping out and experimenting means you can find the combination that works for you. The grip, feed, nib and ink pistol all come apart effortlessly so you can clean or change something yourself.

Since it is a copy of the well known Mont Blanc signature pen used when presidents and prime ministers are signing treaties, it can fool people into believing you have a much more expensive writing tool.

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For $2 how can you lose!

Keep writing, no matter what you write with, just keep writing.

Selfish

I know I am selfish. No real question about that part of my personality. My intention of this post is not a pity party, windge-fest, look-at-bad-me. It’s intention is merely self reflective, introspective and trying to find the honest truth-then move forward.

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Married life is one of the best places to see your own faults. It intensifies and ferments what is under the surface until it can explode. That is why many married couples have such blow ups. My own personality and that of my wife are similar and that leads me to see how selfish and dumb I can be.

So what do I mean by selfish? Basically I don’t think about others with the compassion and care they deserve. This is especially true the closer a person is in relation to me.

I should be fulfilling my wife’s dreams. Being the best father for my daughter. But so often I am thinking about my next book or my next big stress in my job. The longer I’m married the less we do as a couple. I put this down to my own insensitivity and lack of seeking to make my family the center.

I once said I would make my wife’s life exciting and different than she expected, well maybe that is a promise I have not kept yet. She married a foreigner, but that is not enough. We have fallen into the work-a-day mid-life slump where my own focus has shifted. What to do?

Think of others needs.

Untangle what is important from what is trivial and useless.

Make life better for others, help their dreams to flower even if means I lose out.

Be happy when other people are happy.

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Selfishness is a self-affirming cycle and I am thankful I have prayer in my life. What? Yeah, well I believe prayer has helped me realize my own weakness, because when I talk with God and listen to myself I see how foolish and petty I am. Coupled with the Bible I can see what priorities really do matter and in praying for others needs it subtracts “me” from the center. I am thankful that God listens. Answered prayer has shown me God works, selfishness blocks our ability to appreciate this point.

Writing is in its own way selfish if it doesn’t lead us in the right direction. I write partly because I have to, but that excuse aside I write to better my family and friends. And all of you out there in the blog reading and writing world. I hope this Sunday (the day of the week this was posted) you will look at the needs of others and find how to put them first. Write a love letter to your spouse, take your child for a walk, write something to encourage a friend. You have one life, live it with others in mind.

Keep writing.

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