Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wait...didn't David Bowie have a song called "Changes"? Huh. Appropriate.

So today I threw my wedding album down the trash chute.

There was no moment of silence, there was no propelling rage, there was nothing…it was just another useless item sliding down the chute to the trash heap. I'm not putting it in storage or taking it to Japan, and  no one else wants it, so off it goes. I opened my hands, I let it go, I walked back to my apartment, and I kept sorting through boxes. That was it.

It's amazing how much can change in a year.

Most people fear change, avoid change, prefer routine. That's never really been my style (yeah, I got so tired of forwarding my mail and changing my address that now I just leave it to the post office to figure out where to find me). However, last year, my life took a radical turn that was completely against my will…and it's change that we have no control over that can be the hardest to deal with.

One day last February, I received a phone call from a woman identifying herself as my husband's girlfriend. But wait…here's the real kicker: his girlfriend of THREE YEARS. In a moment, everything changed. One of the foundational assumptions of my life (you know, forsaking all others and all that) had suddenly crumbled. And six weeks later, my entire life was different…new city, new home, new job, new friends, new church, new EVERYTHING. And five weeks after that, I was officially divorced. And this past March, his girlfriend gave birth to their daughter. To state it mildly, it's been a lot to wrap my head around. No joke.

Now let me be clear - I say none of this to vilify him in any way, only to share the facts of what I have dealt with in this season of extreme change. So driving by his house and throwing flaming bags of poop would be entirely uncalled for. I'M SERIOUS. No really. REALLY. You guys…REALLY. No matter how I say it, it doesn't sound like I'm serious. And now I'm just laughing about it. Whatever. Do what you want. But I told you not to.

I'd been with this man since I was 18 years old. The only model of adult life I had was a married life with him. So what do you do in the face of this kind of change, change that can't be avoided or ignored or denied, that hits you from all sides all at once?

EXCELLENT QUESTION. With any change, big or small, the good news is that you always get to decide how you're going to react. I mean, come on: Change is constant. You are a different person every night when you go to bed than you were when you woke up that morning. Change is the one thing you CAN count on. So the sooner you learn to look for the opportunities in change, the sooner you can get past the horrible, gut-wrenching, a-kick-in-the-face-would-have-been-easier-to-deal-with feelings. Even though getting divorced was the hardest thing I've ever gone through, the pain and tears were not wasted and have been used to create all this awesomeness you see before you now. Ha. And I do have to say this: the foundation your life is built on has a whole lot to do with how you're going to deal with change, so you best figure out what that is. As usual, CS Lewis has a way with words:

So now just when I've developed a new "normal," it's time to change everything again…maybe even more dramatically…new career, new country, all of it! This time, I don't even speak the language! And I think I'll have to wear a suit to work…the horrors!!! Sure, my head might explode from making sense of all the newness, but I'm so excited about WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

I share all of this not because I've suddenly become an awkward oversharer (although that may also be true), but because I want to encourage you to be open to the changes that are happening constantly in your lives and to look for the opportunities in them. Most days, I look at myself and my life, and I shake my head in wonder at all the amazing things that have come out of that mess. And I count myself blessed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I have a tendency to smash a lot of things into a very short time period. Like the time I took my licensing exam, wrapped up a post-doctoral fellowship, moved house from Gainesville to Tampa, and then left for a 2-week trip to Asia in a 48-hour time period. It happens. A lot.

This past week was a little like that. Besides working at my job where two more people died (despite my memo that this was NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE), applying for jobs in Tokyo, surviving bizarre overseas interview experiences, getting ready to move out of my apartment in a month, and my usual busy schedule of shenanigans (the latest events included moustaches and unicorns…have I said how much I love my life?), I hosted a baby shower tea party for my beloved sister-in-law…and if that wasn't enough, I turned my home into a one-woman sweatshop when less than a week before said tea party I decided this darling nephew of mine needed a handmade quilt from his auntie. I've said it before: I ONLY MAKE GOOD DECISIONS. And let me say this: IT WAS ALL WORTH IT.

My brother and his wife are beyond precious to me. And this nephew of mine is going to be so ridiculously loved by them and all the rest of us vying to be #1 in his heart, he isn't going to know what hit him. So it was a joy to shower them with the love and affection of friends and family. Oh, and diapers. Lots and lots of diapers. Because even though he is going to be the handsomest, smartest, darlingest baby to ever grace the earth, he is going to be an expert little bundle of pooping, screaming joy.

Here are a few snaps of the day:

Soon-to-be grandma, mommy, and auntie
How I love a tea party!
The quilt. And seriously, isn't she the most beautiful preggo ever? My brother is one lucky dude.

I am in love with how the quilt came out. I found this great tutorial that allows you to make a chevron quilt without all the annoying triangles (oh you know you hate the triangles too). And tea party food is some of my favorite...for some reason tiny food just seems to taste better. My mom made her awesome Oatmeal Lace Cookies, and was kind enough to share the recipe (That's right, people. I'm full service. I even provide QUILTING TUTORIALS and RECIPES. Boom.):

Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

3 dl (1 1/3 cup) oatmeal
100g (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 dl (almost 2/3 cup) sugar  
1 egg
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

  1.  Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Melt the butter. Pour it on the oatmeal and let stand for a while (10 minutes).
  3. Whisk the egg and sugar together, then add to the oatmeal.
  4. Mix flour and baking powder together, then add to the oatmeal.
  5. Spoon dollops of batter onto a cookie sheet, about one good teaspoon each. Give them plenty of space…they spread out!
  6. Bake 8 - 10 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Store in an airtight container.

So many people have asked me how I will be able to stand to leave my nephew behind when I leave for Japan. And right now, I can't really bear to even think about it. I know I am going to soak up every possible minute of that awesome baby smell and his precious chubby cheeks (which I can only assume he'll have if he looks anything like his dad):

I have loved this guy since the minute he was born. Every last roll.

And I will thank God for technology that will allow us to see each other whenever we want. In the meantime I will happily keep cramming too many events and moments and experiences into too little time. It does also help tremendously to know that I feel that this overseas move is something that God is specifically leading me to do at this point in my life, and that gives me a great sense of peace. Besides, when my nephew is older, I want to be able to tell him about the radical things God asked me to do, and the crazy blessings that came from stepping out in faith, making sacrifices, and letting Him mold what my life looked like, and that that is always the right and best decision. It's always been true in the past, and there is no way that won't be true now. Or...I'll resort to kidnapping. Either way.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I hope this was the last one

This morning I'm still shaking my head over last night's interview...which was the 2nd and last interview in this particular set.  

Nighttime interviews are BRUTAL. You have ALL DAY to sit and think about it. And the idea of doing role plays over the phone with a stranger half a world away was really stressing me out. So much so that I did the only reasonable thing: I took a 2 hour nap just before the interview. Then those final minutes waiting for the phone to ring and the interview to begin…TIME HAS NEVER MOVED SO SLOWLY! I must have run to pee 5 times…including about 30 seconds before the designated time, taking the phone with me and chanting "don'tringdon'tringdon'tring." It didn't. Thank you, Jesus.

I had been told to prepare to role play the written interview task, and when I looked it over, of the 6 sections, it seemed there were 3 suitable for role playing so I focused on those. But her first question out of the gate: "I'm just curious, but tell me about your thought process behind the creative writing task." I could hear her trying not to laugh. I don't know if that was good or bad. The idea of coming up with a cogent response just made me burst out laughing. When I realized she really wanted an answer, I may have said something truly brilliant like, "I don't know…I just wrote about what I like…you know…art….and….monkeys?" Though seriously, have you ever stared down a hostile baboon? That junk is terrifying. Which is to say, YES, I have. Come on…hasn't everyone? How do you make it this far in life and that DOESN'T come up? More than once?? But I refrained from sharing these stories from her. Smart move, I'm thinkin'.

Then, despite my many carefully honed and crafted stalling ploys, we get to the dreaded role plays. She directs me to a section and says, "I see you opted to write a sample for part B. Well, we're going to role play part A." Awesome. Now we're winging it. HOW WAS I GOING TO KEEP MONKEYS FROM ENTERING THIS SCENARIO? Because clearly that's where I go. But I was explaining the difference between "famous" and "popular" to a middle manager in his 50s, so I did my best to push monkeys out of my mind. NOT EASY. She gave me a moment to prepare, and then we started. I'm sorry, but when she busted out a thick Japanese accent and pretended to not speak English, I almost lost it. Time stopped, I stepped outside my body and observed the scene, and the surrealism of it all just about knocked me over: It is 10pm, I'm sitting on my bedroom floor in my PJs, talking to a woman in Japan who speaks English perfectly but is pretending to be a man who doesn't, and now I have to make up a lesson on the spot to help her understand how Hitler is famous but not popular, all so I can get a job in TOKYO as an ENGLISH TEACHER. Well, kids, I set that aside and I muddled through. I MUDDLED THROUGH. Plus two more role plays after that. SO. BIZARRE.

Overall, I have no idea how it really went. I just know I survived, albeit thoroughly drenched in a cold sweat...AGAIN.  I don't know how many people they take through this process, and how my practically nonexistent ESL credentials and spastic on-the-spot teaching compare to other applicants. Teaching jobs in Tokyo seem to be pretty competitive, but if this is where God wants me to go, then that's where I'll go. He's going to have to slam the door shut pretty tightly before I'll give up. Or seriously consider that unsolicited job offer I got from Taiwan (true story). But for now, I wait.

Here's a picture of monkeys while you wait with me:

This book is in English from the front

And Japanese from the back...but that's an elephant and a pig, right? And a desert? 
I'm thinking it's a different story. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oh, Shenanigans

A lot of people, including every interviewer I have talked to, have asked me "Why Japan?" I even had to write two essays about why I wanted to live and work in Japan (no, I'm not going to post them, one posted essay is enough, thank you very much). 

There are so many reasons, the biggest being BECAUSE I CAN, closely followed by BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME. I have been there twice, and despite sticking out like a tall red-headed thumb, I feel as if I belong there. I am a very serious person (though this blog, my facebook profile, general choice of home d├ęcor, and ummmm….well, just about everything about me, may defy that characterization), but I am always up for anything fun (duh). That is also what I love about Japan. It is a very conservative, very serious culture, but when they let loose, they go all out. I respect that. I resonate with that. I want to hang out with that and make it a grilled cheese sandwich.

One of the aspects of Japanese culture that I am excited about experiencing is called "cosplay," which is short for "costume play." Grown folk get all dressed up and take on characters and go out in public. Sometimes they act things out, and sometimes they just hang out in Harajuku looking awesome and having their picture taken. How wonderfully weird and pointless! I can't wait to try it!

And without realizing it, I've been in some pretty intense training over the last year. Somehow I've become known for my propensity for instigating costume parties (or adding costumes to events that didn't really require it…come on…who DOESN'T dress up for Martin Luther King, Jr Day??). While some call these "shenanigans," I'm going to reframe that like the good psychologist I am and call it "training." I'm going to go ahead and say I'm well prepared.

I present the evidence (and this isn't even all of it):

Lady Gaga ready with her Poker Face
Barbee & Belinda, ready to rock, 80s style

Babe-raham Lincoln
Abe's 203rd Birthday Party & Poker Tourney
Office girl a la Mad Men
Celebrating the Season 5 premiere
Rowdy Roddy Piper & Brutus the Barber Beefcake.....

Wrestlemania XXVIII!!!

Oompa Loompa, Deep Roy-style
Happy Birthday to me!!

How awesome/hilarious/terrifying would it be if my patients ever found this page? Let's all marinate on THAT, shall we?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why do I do it?

Call it a job hazard, but I'm not so good with the line between creative and crazy anymore.

For example, over the course of ONE conversation I had today, a delusional patient told me:

  1. He's the son of Jehovah. In this family scheme, Aretha Franklin is his 9th cousin and sister to the "Grand Virgin Mary," as in the Virgin Mary's mother.
  2. George W. Bush and Roger Clinton (yes, Roger, that would be the brother of Bill Clinton. I HAVE NO IDEA.) were present when the patient was born, and the whole event was televised...though if you do the math, Georgie and Roger were merely toddlers themselves.
  3. Right now he is possessed by a dinosaur.

So how do I deal with this? Well, there's certainly no point in trying to convince him these things aren't true. It doesn't work. So, I take everything he says at face value and we address the emotions stirred up by these thoughts. Because seriously, wouldn't YOU be terrified if you believed you were possessed by a dinosaur? By the way, if the answer isn't yes, then we need to talk. Anyway, you can see where I'd start to have trouble drawing the line.

And last night it was kind of important that I do. I was up until 3am agonizing over this written teaching task I have to complete before I'll be granted another interview. The very first question was a creative writing exercise: finish the story (300 words max), "I was standing in a long line when..." Of course the wise choice was to save this most ambiguous, and therefore most difficult, task until  last. Even as it got later and later, and I kept getting distracted by videos of drunk people making toast, and half a can of mixed nuts was sitting in my stomach like a salty brick. 

So I wrote it. And was so tired it was all I could do to say a prayer and hit "send." Then I woke up this morning in a cold panic. WHAT DID I WRITE?? Well, lucky you…it's Friday night and I've decided that sitting here and writing this post is the best use of my valuable social capital. CLEARLY I ONLY MAKE GOOD DECISIONS. And I'm in the mood to share. So here it is: 

I was waiting in a long line when...
...I first heard the barking. Or what I thought was barking. I looked up expecting to see a couple of dogs tearing through the courtyard, but instead saw four terrified baboons coming straight towards where we were all queued to get into the museum. If I’d had the time in the moment I might have asked how baboons got here, and whether “barking” was the best term for the sound they were making, and I may have even foolishly worried about giving up my place in line, since I had, after all been standing here for over an hour. But no, I only had time for pure panic and maybe a tiny bit of chagrin that I had not one shred of information in my brain that would help me deal with rogue baboons. So, I did what anyone does in these situations: I started running and screaming. Everyone from the line was headed for the main doors of the museum, since that was closest to us. By some miracle, we all made it inside, and we counted zero baboons among us. The museum workers were stunned at this turn of events, and everyone had their cell phones out trying to make calls and get information about where these crazed primates could have possible come from. Call me single-minded, but once I knew I was safe and nothing else was going to be happening that required my attention, I used this moment of chaos and confusion to slip into the museum to see what I’d come for, because frankly not even wild monkeys could stop me. And that’s the story of how a pack of runaway baboons got me ten beautiful minutes alone with Botticelli's "Birth of Venus.” For free.

My mind is a magical place. I swear I had no idea where I was going with this at all. And I love being able to see exactly where I stopped caring, and where I realized that I'd run out of words and needed to just wrap it up so I could go to bed already.

Wild monkeys couldn't force them to give me this job. Ha. But, Japan is the country that gave us this:

 So I think I'll be okay.

Hey, if anyone else wants to take the 300 word challenge, submit it in the comments. YOU don't have a job on the line! DO IT!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Note: Names are changed to protect…well…everyone.

File this under "Things I can't be completely honest with an interviewer about." When they ask "why do you want to change careers?" I find other things to say besides BECAUSE IF ONE MORE PERSON DROPS DEAD I AM GOING TO LOSE IT.

I work in nursing homes. My patients are old, sick, and sad. Sometimes not in that order. They die a lot. A LOT. And you kind of get used to it, and that in and of itself is a soul crushing thing, you know? I visit my patients twice a week and I am all up in their business…well, emotionally. I do NOT do diapers, thank the sweet baby Jesus for that. For most of them, they will be my patients until they die. I know, this is not the happiest thing you've ever read, but this is real life, people. I know most of them better than anyone else in their lives. We get into all the heavy stuff: regrets, grief, fears, their love of Dr Phil and The Price is Right. I hold their hands when they're in pain, I know which ear is their "good" ear, who will get mad if I come to see them during "Gunsmoke," who will get offended if you offer to push their wheelchair and who will kiss your hand for it, I know that Kristin has a crush on Bobby, and that Muriel is going to murder her roommate if she doesn't stop farting in her sleep. I listen to them kvetch and complain, I encourage, I challenge, I make requests on their behalf for extra dessert. I love them. I just can't help it.

So even if I get somewhat used to the dying process, I'm not ever going to call it easy. The goal is to make it a "good" death, and yes there really is such a thing. Two of my absolute favorite patients, two of the spunkiest ladies to ever walk this earth, faced death with such grace and peace and their trademark sass and grit, it was an honor to walk with them to the end. I've saved their last words to me like precious stones that I will take out and polish again and again. With my dear Ruth, we had said our goodbyes and I told her what she'd meant to me, and as I hugged her that last time, she held me by the shoulders and said, "Is that bullshit?" with her usual sparkle. And with my sweet Mae, she made one last request before I left her on our final visit: "Stop being a horse's ass and give me my dentures." I laughed, handed her the dentures, and walked out. And today I learned she died the next day. These lovely women stayed true to themselves to the very end, and I will miss them sorely.

And then once, I was going to visit a patient, and when I walked into his room, I jumped when I found him lying on his bed covered head to toe in a white sheet. Maybe warn me beforehand or put a sign on the door or SOMETHING…"Do not enter: Dead person in here." The next week, I saw his physician and asked how the man had died. 

"He's dead???" 

Clearly if his physician didn't know, then something was up. 

"He's not??? I found him last week in bed covered in a sheet." 

She said, "Oh, he likes to nap like that sometimes. He's fine." 

I'm sorry but WHAT?!? YOU'D THINK THAT'S THE KIND OF THING YOU WARN PEOPLE ABOUT. "Oh yeah, he likes to nap like a corpse, but don't worry about it. He's probably fine."

So between the real dying and the fake dying, well, I am just WORN OUT. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

There's a fine line between anxiety and an impending bout of diarrhea, am I right?

That's how I felt at about 9:45 last night. Lest you worry, it was just a touch of nerves. No, I did not spend my interview trying to disguise the fact that I was chained to the toilet.

I sat on my bedroom floor, cross-legged, wearing sweat pants and this t-shirt:

I figured if anyone could get me through this, Pikachu was the man (or electric mouse pokemon) for the job. I got to the end of the interview with cold sweaty armpits and a feeling that the Spanish Inquisition might have been a little bit like that. I'm sure they talk to a lot of people that haven't thought this through and get people who flake after a month and run back home. So they want to avoid that.  Naturally. I always get a lot of questions about why a psychologist would want to become an English teacher. I have so far resisted the urge to yell "YOU DON'T KNOW ME! YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE!" and instead give reasonable and measured answers about my desire to live in Japan, my prior experiences teaching English, blah blah blah.

One thing I have found to be different is that the questions tend to be a lot more personal. Even the resume format has more personal information. And they always ask for your picture. My picture is actually right at the top of my resume. Because let's get real: LOOKS MATTER. It also has my date of birth, marital status, and that I have no dependents. They even asked if I have pets. HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE YOU? ARE YOU A HASSLE? WHAT ARE WE REALLY DEALING WITH? Here's the other unusual thing: every company has asked me to list my education going back to ELEMENTARY SCHOOL on my resume. Quick: What years were you in middle school? Don't know? I didn't either. Apparently it is very important that you are truly a native speaker…don't try to fake it, kids! They will catch you out and then deport you. Probably.

So it went well. Did I say that? The interview went well. I'm on to the next step, which is to complete a written teaching task, which if they like my answers then I will get to roleplay it on the phone in the next interview. Whee! The best advice I got for interviewing with Japanese companies is to  "not be weird." All I can say is: I'm doing my best. I am DOING MY BEST.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I know you’re supposed to start at the beginning, but forget the beginning for now. Here’s the middle: I’m moving to Tokyo. That’s right: JAPAN…as in ASIA. I mean, I still need to find a job and a place to live and buy a plane ticket and all that. DETAILS. But in my mind, I have decided this is what I’m doing, and if you know me at all then you know: It’s enough. So get this: I have a job interview at 10pm tonight. It will be 11am Tuesday morning for the people interviewing me. They’ll be in their business suits in Tokyo, and I’ll be in my pajamas in Florida. It’s already my favorite job interview ever. Ohhhh…or wait…I could do the interview from the bathtub! Okay, the follow up thought to that was “What? Are you self-sabotaging now?” and to my relief the answer was “No.” So jammies it is.

Are you wondering what I’m even talking about? Well, short version: I’ve decided to take a break from my glamorous life as a nursing home psychologist in the great state of Florida and go teach English for at least a year in Tokyo. The teaching part will just be how I fund my participation in all manner of Japanese shenanigans. Like cosplay. And maid cafes. And karaoke. And manga cubicles. TOKYO IS WHERE I BELONG.

I’ll get to the whole story eventually. Tune in next time…


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