Resolutions for the New Year

Though a bit late, I thought I would share some of my New Year’s resolutions with you:

1. Allow myself to make mistakes.  Too often, in jobs and elsewhere, people are penalized for making mistakes, but mistakes are how we learn.  When we fear to make mistakes, we stop improving.  Therefore, I hope to make many mistakes this year.

2. Allow myself to fail, so long as the failure isn’t permanent.  Life isn’t going to always be successful, and — like making mistakes — failure means that you’re trying new things.  So, this year, I hope to fail in at least a few things, because I know that only by failing will I come closer to success.

3. Do what scares me.  What lies beyond the fear is worth a small moment of panic.

4. Spend more time learning foreign languages.  If I had spent these five years away from Japan in studying Japanese at the level that I studied it when in Tokyo, I would be fluent or very close to fluent in that language by now.

5. Slow down and take more pleasure in the moment.  Too often I’m running around like a maniac, and I don’t enjoy life’s simple pleasures.  I eat without tasting, hear without listening, and read without contemplating.  That needs to stop.

6. Explore more of the neighborhood when I have the opportunity, and spend less time in my room.  Now that I have a laptop, I can’t even use the Internet or my novel as an excuse not to go outside all day.

7. Read more books and watch less movies.  This one will be one of the toughest ones to keep, especially since so many good films are still in theaters, but necessary if I want to read more books.

8.  Write more.  This includes diary entries, blog entries, poems, short stories, and my novel.  I should be able to work on more than one project at a time, and since my novel is in its revision stage, I need to continue to create new works while I’m tweaking the old, in order to keep my creative juices running strong.

9. Look at people’s faces more.  Whether I’m walking down the street or talking to people, looking at faces will remind me that I am connected to the people here, whereas stealing a glance at their form as they pass only severs any connection I have to the community which surrounds me.

10. Be true to myself.  None of us can be completely true to ourselves and function in this world, but the compromises should be ones of degree, not of kind.  In my case, this is a particular issue when being true to myself exposes me to danger, and to the wrath of society.

But in order to do that, I must also carry out the following resolution….

11.  Spend more time reflecting on what kind of person I was, what kind of person I am, and what kind of person I want to be.  I must ask for the best in myself while forgiving the worst in others.  And, while I’m at it, I might as well forgive the worst in me, too.

Happy 2013, everyone!

A Single Man’s Perspective of Valentine’s Day

Facts sometimes make me sad.  Especially when they concern my personal life.

My first kiss and last kiss are separated by little more than a year. I was fifteen when I had my first girlfriend and almost twenty-eight when I had my last one.  And while each of my relationships has lasted longer than the one before it, none of them have lasted beyond that magical three month marker, where relationships (supposedly) start to get serious.

Which brings us to Valentine’s Day. I hate that fucking holiday, especially as it’s celebrated here. I much prefer Japan’s way of celebrating the holiday, with women giving chocolate to men (giri choco to friends and coworkers, and honmei choco to lovers and guys they want to be their lovers).  And for those women who wonder why the men are getting all the chocolate, I’d like to point out that Valentine’s Day is followed, a month later, by White Day, when men reciprocate the favor (apparently with more expensive gifts, though no one complained about the chocolate that I gave them).

This brings up another sad fact: I have been single on every Valentine’s Day.  Every single one.  Sometimes I’ve spent it with friends who were also single; other times, I’ve spent it alone.  But that was my choice.  Being defiant is all one can be on that holiday when one is single.  I  had a few friends who would send me cards on February 14th, but all of them are married now, and buy cards for their husbands, instead.

Yes, relationships are hard.  So is writing novels for a living.  In both cases, the joys are worth the hardships, at least if it’s a good relationship, or a good novel.  For those of you who wish you were single again, maybe your single lives were more exciting than mine has been, but it’s not that great.  Really.  Because you can never fully share your experiences with people who aren’t there with you.  And shared experiences is how you learn about each other, and about yourself.

While in Japan, one of my friends loaned me a lovely book  called Snow in the Summer, a collection of passages from letters written by a Buddhist monk to his Western students.  In Chapter 7, he writes about friendships and relationships.  Here, he is giving advice to a female student:

Love is not enough for two people to live together; deep understanding of each other is necessary.  Love is not enough in a relationship; deep understanding and appreciation is [sic] also necessary.  See if you can accept all the bad things about him without wanting to change him and see if you can also respect him as he is now.  Dependent relationships don’t work well. (p. 89)

And then, a few pages later, comes one of the truest passages in the book:

Don’t be in a hurry to get married.  Get to know her better.  She’s a human being; like all of us she has her share of faults.  Try to understand the whole person and love her for that, not just parts of her, or your own projection of her. (p. 93)

He goes on to write that one must understand what one wants out of life, out of relationships, before we jump into them.  “Know thyself,” as Socrates would say.

And yet few people today (myself included) give enough time to introspection, to understanding ourselves, to what we want from the world, and the people, around us.  I knew what I wanted in Japan; back in the U.S., I’m not so certain.  Certainly I know myself more now than I did, but how much is still hidden from me?

To accept my flaws.  That, I think, is the key.  In order to forgive the flaws in others, one must first forgive the flaws in oneself.  I certainly am more at peace with myself than I was as a teenager, and even as I was before I went to Japan (Japan, by the way, is a great country for introspection).

That, for me, is the problem with Valentine’s Day.  It transforms love into flowers, and understanding into chocolate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with giving both to someone you love.  But love’s foundation is built on more than flowers, and relationships are built on more than love.  We praise love, but we do not understand it.  Sometimes we confuse it with sex, sometimes with gifts, sometimes with fairy tale endings, or happiness.  Sometimes we confuse it with relationships.  Relationships are built on understanding and respect.  Love grows out of those two aspects, not the other way around.

People mistake love, or heart palpitations, as the foundation for relationships.  It is not.  It is what is added to already strong relationships to make them stronger.  Relationships founded on love alone will fail, because the love has nothing to support itself with and, when tested, will crumble.  That’s not to say that an attraction can’t lead to a strong relationship, but only if the couple focuses on understanding and respecting each other, rather than ogling each other’s beauty, or worshiping certain features of each other’s character, or rating how good the other one is in bed.  Those aspects merely add to the whole, and it is the whole person that we must have the relationship with, not the parts.

And two whole people, who respect, understand, and choose each other, is what should be celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

Christmas and New Year’s Memories

1.) The new scanners at Seattle Airport were not being used.  Once I got through security, I saw Santa Claus arrive on a motorized cart and say hi to a child who had just gone through security.  Then, two elves came up in another cart.

While waiting for my flight, a group of carolers–two men, two women–dressed in Victorian garb, sang Christmas carols in harmony.  Gotta love Seattle.

2.) Saw a Christmas concert with choirs from numerous churches perform.  Went with my sister.  She had wanted to go every year, but hadn’t been able to.  Concert was free, though (of course) they accepted donations.

3.) Saw my nieces in their Christmas pageant.  One was an angel, the other was a lamb.  So cute!  Gave me big smiles as they walked past, and sometimes big smiles from the front.  After they got out of their costumes, dove right for me to give me hugs.  Also got to see all their stuff at their house, and numerous surprise hugs throughout the day.  They can both read simple words now, and read me several of their books from school.

That night, my brother and his girlfriend came home–two nights early–as a surprise.

4.)  My dad always talked about fixing up the cellar when my siblings and I were children.  Now, approaching retirement, he has.  He told me the lesson is to never give up on your dreams.

5.) Met Zhu Zhu Pet babies “Buttercheeks” and “Snicklefritz.”  My mom and I laughing so hard we were crying, when one of my nieces explained that you can’t shorten “Snicklefritz” to “Snickle,” since his full name is Snicklefritz.

6.) One of my friends cooked one of my best friends and me dinner.  Unfortunately, her husband had to pull us out of their steep icy driveway using rope.  Steep driveway+ice=fun times 😉

7.) Loved seeing my nieces’ faces as they opened their presents, especially when they both opened gifts that they really REALLY wanted.  Never seen them so excited before.

8.) Got to eat at a Japanese restaurant with my mom, see The King’s Speech with a friend, and hang out with my sister and her family.

9.) Saw a UConn women’s basketball game with my dad, the first game since the streak was broken.  Villanova didn’t stand a chance.

For the first time, going home for me felt like a visit, rather than a return.  And every time I go home, my parents look older.  If life were represented by a day, they are preparing for sunset, my siblings and I are living under the afternoon sun, and my nieces are enjoying the sunrise.  My parents will soon exit the stage, to enjoy life from the wings.  While my brother and sister perform onstage, I’m still trying on costumes in the dressing room, and my nieces are watching from the audience, waiting for their chance to perform.

But soon, soon, I will find a costume that fits, and then the stage shall be mine.