Why did you come back?

No one has said this to me in an accusatory tone…yet. It sounds similar to the other question, “Why did you leave Japan”. However, someone pointed out to me that it’s not the same at all. I could have gone anywhere in the world after Japan. I chose to go back to North Carolina. Why?

Before I came back I took a long trip across the country on the train. Partly because it was a little cheaper than a direct flight back and mostly because it seemed romantic. The truth is it was a little like riding in business class of an airplane for about 60 hours. It gave me time to decompress. I felt this would be a good idea since I had no idea what I would be doing with my life once I got back. Still don’t by the way.

I’m going to save a true description of my trip for another article, but it was a positive experience for sure. I got to experience four of my county’s most famous cities. L.A, New York, Washington DC, and Boston. I had only ever been to NYC before and that was back when I was a child. Well, Long Island doesn’t count, does it?

L.A was my favorite but that might be a little unfair since I spent the most time in that city. I don’t know if I would have the patience to settle down there. I wouldn’t get the hang of the “make a U-turn just where ever” driving culture. The weather was tops though. Chicago was nice if cold but the current President tells me it’s a war zone so I probably shouldn’t stay there. NYC is just the American Tokyo which was nice for nostalgic reasons. Boston has a nice small town feeling but I don’t like seafood enough to make the best of it.

Jokes aside, any one of those places I could have been comfortable, job permitting. That turns out to be easier said than done. A lot of people make this jump with an employment plan already lined up. That’s the sensible thing. Not me though. I was sure I’d find something so why worry?

It turned out to be harder than I expected.

Maybe I could have gone to Europe, blend in better. I might want to keep that option open depending on how things go over here.

But nope, North Carolina for me. Why though?

There’s something to the call of the familiar. I talked about feeling disconnected from the culture, in Japan. For all its faults, I like being from North Carolina. It makes up a big part of who I am. People who knew me over in Japan know well my fierce opinion that there is only one true kind of BBQ. Pulled pork with a vinegar based sauce. We can respectfully disagree over the style of meat, brisket and the like. If we’re talking pork though, there can be no compromise.

It’s those kind of baked in ideas, even if they’re over something as silly as a meat sandwich, that I missed. I preferred tonkotsu ramen as any right-thinking individual would. However, I could never feel for it on the level of someone from Fukuoka where it is a specialty.

The feeling goes beyond food of course. What it boils down to is a sense of place and reputation. We humans are quite good at wrapping up our self-worth in what other people might identify us by. I want people to like vinegar sauced pork BBQ because it is delicious. It also represents where I’m from and my own identity. I searched long and hard for a quality pork sandwich in Tokyo not only because I wanted to eat one. I wanted to show my friends something that speaks to who I am.

I’m sticking with the food metaphor because it is a clever way to frame the real reason I came home. I have been troubled with the way my state has been acting politically. Being part of the South means you could hardly call us “progressive” but we were once doing well compared to our neighbors. That changed in only the last few years. Now, however, one party is taking out their frustrations at having been in the minority for so long on the other.

I’ll let you guess who.

What gets me upset is that these folks are doing massive damage to our reputation without any real gain. They do it to spite people they hate for reasons that often seem to hinge on “you did it to us too.” The worst part the bending of the rules and rigging the system to stay in power. When these folks fall out of power they try to strip away what they can. It’s depressing that people can act this way in a place that’s supposed to be known for “hospitality”.

We’ve made some gains. It’s going to be a long hard fight from here on out. When I moved back I hadn’t planned on it being like this. But I’m glad I’m here if only to add my own weak voice to the swell of resistance. Finding a reason for being somewhere is never easy. At least here in my home I have roots to trace.

Imagine If: Dispatches from an Alternate Political Universe

January 22nd, 2017.1 –

President Clinton spent her first full day in office responding to controversy surrounding statements she made about the crowd at her inauguration. Several outlets have questioned an assertion she made during a visit to the CIA regarding the attendance of the ceremony.

During her speech, which was intended to show her support of the intelligence community after the firestorm surrounding both the alleged Russian hacking attempts and her own troubles regarding the handling of classified information, Mrs. Clinton stated that her inauguration was “one of the largest crowds in history.”

Several news organizations quickly released photos from President Obama’s first inauguration in 2008 side by side with those from yesterday. While after a cursory glance both crowds appear similar in size there do seem to be several large gaps towards the back of the viewing area during yesterday’s event. Ridership numbers provided by D.C Metro indicate Mrs. Clinton’s inauguration was indeed heavily attended but the numbers are less than those reported 8 years earlier.

President Clinton’s newly appointed Press Secretary, Samantha Spencer, was out earlier in the day to answer questions from an at times hostile press core. She repeated claims that Mrs. Clinton never said her inauguration was “the largest ever, period,” but in fact had used a more moderate framing as “one of the largest.”

This defense hasn’t won over many Republicans on the Hill, however. Jason Chaffetz, Chair of the House Oversight Committee, held a press conference moments after President Clinton had left the CIA. “I was there,” Congressman Chaffetz said of the inauguration, “It was certainly not one of the biggest inaugurations in history. The fact that the President would mislead the American people on day one of her administration is despicable.”

Chaffetz, who was one of the lead drivers of the Benghazi hearings that plagued President Clinton when she was Secretary of State, went on to announce his intention to continue a pattern of rigorous congressional oversight. “I find it troubling that we never got a satisfactory answer to the question about the President’s missing emails. Now that we have clear evidence of her desire to mislead the American public about something as simple as the size of a crowd, I believe it’s time to re-examine what happened with the infamous private server.”

Donald Drumpf, who following his narrow electoral college defeat has hounded the Clinton transition about supposed voter fraud, took to Twitter once again to rail against the new President. In a series of early morning tweets, he referred to Mrs. Clinton as both, “sad” and “a liar.” He went on to rail against the apparent “slack” that the mainstream media is giving President Clinton. His final tweet ended with “If I were President people would be going crazy over this. Unfair.”

Drumpf has been meeting with various leaders in conservative media, including former campaign advisors Roger Ailes of Fox News and Steve Bannon of Breitbart News. When he isn’t tweeting about the Democrats he has been dropping hints about his plans for a new media company, the scope of which remains to be seen.

Lost in the flurry of news surrounding the crowd size statement was President Clinton’s assertion that the intelligence community is a key component of the fight against terrorism. “This is a fight we can win without sacrificing any of our basic freedoms or personal safety,” Mrs. Clinton said to finish her rousing speech, “And that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

The White House has announced that one of President Clinton’s first executive orders will deal with strengthening the country’s borders and adding resources to the fight against terrorism. The President is expected to sign the order later this week.

  • This article is a complete work of fiction. If you needed to be told that then you haven’t been paying attention.

Republicans would be better off if they had lost

I’m standing on the porch at a friend’s house. It’s late November, maybe early December. I had spent Thanksgiving making a concerted effort to not bring up politics. It wasn’t easy since my mother is the only person I know for sure didn’t vote for Trump. Some of my cousins might have been on Team Democrat but I wouldn’t know it. We all kept our mouths shut.

Except to eat of course.

It’s taken me some time to recover from the shock of losing. Understandable given how much time I had put into the election. I don’t know how my co-workers who were at it for years managed. I suspect booze played a large role. Despite all of that, here I am on a cool Raleigh night, arguing about politics.

My opponent is a smart guy. I have to give him credit. He thinks NPR is a left wing ivory tower but he listens to it and comes with logical counter arguments. This might have something to do with being the only conservative in our mutual friend group. He’s used to being on the defensive so he keeps the walls manned and the pikes sharp.

As most discussions of this nature do, we get close to a shouting match. Tempers are easily enflamed when it comes to matters of Trump. At this point however, all we could really do was rehash the election. 45 hadn’t yet begun to pick from his Cabinet list entitled “The Absolute Worst Options Possible.”

So of course, we’re talking about emails.

My other friend who, until this point, has kept out of the argument suddenly pipes up.

“Well the one thing we can all agree on is that we hope Trump succeeds and is one of the best Presidents ever.” A bit overly optimistic perhaps. One of the best ever? At even this early point I was willing to settle for doesn’t destroy the economy.

Now before you throw my buddy under the bus, think about it. That’s not a bad sentiment to have. Yes, Trump is a horrible human being in most ways. But prior to the inauguration we didn’t know how he would govern. I mean, we all knew but we didn’t know. At that point, it was all hypothetical. It couldn’t possibly be as bad as we imagined, right?

Unquestionably, we should hope for success rather than root for failure.

Well things are different now. They’re real. Far, far, far too real. On the day I write this, they’ve just appointed a special prosecutor to look into Trump’s ties with Russia. By the time that I post it anything could have happened. The consequences of the President’s actions will be sweeping and devastating for the Republican party.

What have they gained in the bargain?

A Supreme Court pick that forced them to throw away decades of tradition, a universally hated health care bill, and one of the worst political scandals in modern memory. Plus, the embarrassment of having to vouch for an unhinged amateur autocrat. This is Comcast internet levels of bad deal.

What would they have if Trump lost?

Chances are they’d still have the margin they have in the House and Senate. They lost seats with Trump at the helm but still managed to hold on. They would be able to rail and complain about the ACA for another few years without having to actually do anything about it. Complaining without doing anything is their favorite pastime.

They would have gotten Merrick Garland and wouldn’t have had to cheat on the rules. The Republicans certainly would have wanted that 60-vote threshold around for Clinton’s presidency. They would have a newly ascendant Fox News style media powerhouse in after Trump played Voltron with his MAGA brand and Breitbart.

Does anyone still think he wanted to be President at this point?

Trump is never going to be popular. He could cure cancer tomorrow and people would still be like fuck that guy. I’ll be one of them. Even if the investigation turns up nothing the Democrats are riled up. Apathy is the liberal’s greatest enemy and I think it’s safe to say that the coming midterms are going to be a barnstormer.

There’s also the bigger issue that the Republicans have quite likely lost an entire generation of voters. The Snapchat armada is not buying what they’re selling. The ones that do are more likely in it for the shits and giggles. Memes and centipedes or whatever. It’s not something you can build a governing coalition on.

I could be wrong of course. If this year has taught me anything it’s to never make assumptions.

But I feel good about this one.

Do you miss Japan?

My first instinct is to hate you.

Again, this is one of those questions that seems like a good idea. It is easy to come up with and most folks think it’s simple to answer. Do you miss your dead cat? Or whatever might be the proper emotional equivalent, say playing football in high school or attending college in a trendy city. Why do we ask people all the time this sort of thing?

Oh, you really enjoyed something? Do you regret not having it anymore? Come on.

That’s my first instinct because I enjoy lashing out at strawmen of my own creation. The reality is this is a hard question to answer. People want to hear it I think, because it represents something all humans must experience.

Loss. Even if we’re not consciously thinking about it we want to know how other people handle this painful fact of life. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, I have had to cope with relatively little loss on the grand scale. Won’t stop me from trying.

Of course, I miss things about Japan. For example, not having to drive anywhere. At least once a month I’m caught behind a massive accident on the idiotically planned road that gets me from town to my home. People drive like idiots. I’m frankly shocked at just how blasé people can be about these multi-ton death machines they’ve been given control over.

Shocking little oversite as well. All I had to do to renew my license after years of being away was a road sign identification test. Google cars can’t come fast enough for me to be honest.

I could go on forever about how much I hate driving. It would be easier to just point out when I enjoy it. During a sunny day on an empty straight road with good music playing. That’s it. Trains are their own type of drag but at least you can take a quick nap on your way somewhere. Try that while driving and see how well it works out for you.

The other day I watched a video of a train leaving the station just for the memories. Nothing interesting or special about it. Only the most basic arrival and departure imaginable.

I miss it. I miss the friends I made. The friendships I had and the ones I missed out on because they entered my life too near to my departure. I made friends in literal classes on how to be funny. Some of my best I met while seated in parks underneath a rain of flower petals. I also made friends in bars who invited me to their weddings after a few (hundred) drinks. Then I got to know their kids as they grew from a thought experiment into actual tiny humans.

Those people are 5000 miles away from me now.

I suppose this is a part of growing older. Life is fluid especially when it comes to human relationships. Even if you stay in one place for all of your life chances are a number of folks you grow close to will leave. Maybe they’ll be gone only a few years, maybe you’ll never see them again. Chances are good you’ll miss them.

Or maybe not. Maybe they were objectively terrible.

Plenty of people have written and will undoubtedly continue to write about all the things they miss about Japan. The food, how everything is designed to be cute, the earthquakes, trains. Just kidding, nobody likes that constant cuteness design aesthetic.

It’s easy to miss the things you can experience on a vacation. Like beer vending machines. The harder things are the ones that took years to build. Things you can’t see on a JR Rail Pass or experience thanks to a guidebook. And this isn’t just limited to Japan. However, the answer to your question is quite different depending on who you ask.

The vacationer can use it as an excuse to describe the wonders of their trip. For the lapsed expat, it just reminds them of everything they gave up for hope of a better life. The only consolation is it gets easier with time. You focus on your life and goals. Days, weeks, and years pass. You hold tight to the good memories. New people enter your orbit and the friendships can be just as strong.

Or maybe not. Such is life. Don’t worry about it.

Apathy Lost the 2016 Election

“Hello?” Her voice is suspicious already. Might be because I have a weird area code.

“Hi! Is this Sharon?” I’m trained to sound super upbeat. My co-workers tell me I’m pretty good.

“Who’s calling?” She’s gone from suspicious to angry. My guess is she just got off work and doesn’t want to be bothered. I get it. Yet, I press on.

“My name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party. How are you tonight?” The introduction flows smooth as silk. I’ve long since lost count how many times I’ve said it. It’s a lot though.

Beep boop.

Cell phones don’t click, did you notice that? There’s no dial tone anymore either. I’m well aware about what just happened. She hung up on me. I mark her “Not Home” because she didn’t tell me her name. I can’t say for certain that she was Sharon. Her number will come up again in a day or two. Chances are she won’t pick up next time.

Ninety percent of the time people don’t answer the phone. Or the number is disconnected. Lots of times it’ll just ring and then drop. You get to know some of the names that pop up. Those are the ones that ring once and go straight to voicemail. I think this is what it’s like to get blocked.

Still mark them “Not Home” though.

“I’m doing well, how about you?” Finally, someone wants to talk.

“I’m doing great. I’m calling tonight because we need your help to make sure Trump stays out of the White House.” I say this because it usually gets a laugh. Those were innocent times.

“I already donated to the campaign.” That’s how I got your number, by the way. I don’t tell them this. Unless they go “HOW’D YOU GET THIS NUMBER?”

That’s always a fun conversation.

“I’m not after your money, just your time. We need volunteers to help us register voters.”

“I don’t have time for that.”

Beep boop.

Mark that one “Maybe later.”

Fifteen or twenty more no answers go by. I step outside for some fresh air. It’s hot for October.

“I work two jobs so I don’t got time. But you got my vote!” Put her down as “Maybe later.”

“If you don’t stop calling me I swear to God I’ll vote for Trump!” He counts as a “Declined.” I’ll try him a few more times though just in case he’s kidding.

“Sure thing, what do you need?” It’s been so long since I’ve gotten this far I’m caught a little off guard. I snap out of it and give her the dates and times of the events I have set up. Once we find a time that works I put her into the system and thank her for her time. I’m super charming.

There’s at least a 50% chance she won’t show up but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For right now I’m smiling because I don’t feel like a total failure. I got a shift.

“Good evening, my name’s John and I’m calling from the North Carolina Democratic Party…”

Beep boop.

“Not Home.”

Don’t lose sight of Healthcare

It’s important not to forget some of the bullshit going on despite the palace intrigue currently engulfing the White House. Millions of people will lose their health care if the AHCA continues on in its current form. But we knew that. Most of these people will lose Medicaid after the bill cuts over $800 billion from the program. In the ACA, that money came from high income people through special taxes. Those taxes will be removed.

This is nothing new. Republicans in congress do not believe rich people should be forced to pay for poor people. Its un-American apparently. All right, let’s assume however, they still want poor people to have health insurance. Which is something they continue to claim in public.

It costs a lot of money to provide health insurance to people. One way to make it “cheaper” is to not require companies to provide certain “brands” of medical service. The idea being you can buy a basic plan for basic care and pay more for advanced care.

Sounds good on paper except it doesn’t. Because healthcare isn’t cable TV. Actually, it’s a lot like cable now that I think about it. But people don’t die if they don’t get HBO no matter how much they claim to love Game of Thrones.

What in the AHCA prevents these advanced care plans from becoming outrageously expensive? Are there any limitations on how much extra an insurance company can charge for maternity care? Unless costs come down they will have to provide the same amount of care with fewer people paying for it. Basic economics says the costs will go much higher to compensate.

How about pre-existing conditions? The same problem exists, people who cost more will have to pay more because the price of care won’t decrease. The Republican answer to this is almost always “high risk pools.”

Let’s set aside that this idea has never worked in America before and the AHCA doesn’t provide nearly enough money for this to cover everyone it will need to cover.

What I don’t get is why Republicans in Congress are fine with a state waiver system. If they truly believe the ACA is a disaster and will ruin the country, why wouldn’t they fight harder for a nationwide repeal?

Red states are going to get waivers. We have no idea what they will need to do other than “set up a system” to provide for pre-existing conditions. The Republicans have to know that this will break down on party lines. Blue states will keep the rules and most Red states won’t.

Is it because they think once the system goes into effect then the Blue states will collapse? Which will force them to come around? If so that’s a rather callous way to look at things. That doesn’t explain why Republicans from heavily blue states (14 of California’s Representatives are Republican for example) also voted for this bill.

Do they honestly think high risk pools are a good idea? California tried one and it failed miserably. So why would California Republicans think this is a good idea?

If it’s about personal responsibility and choice then why provide any money at all? Let the free market decide. The problem with that is if I fall and break my arm I don’t want to spend a few hours on the web choosing an emergency room. Prices are kept secret by most hospitals so I can’t bargain shop. An MRI in Wilmington will likely have a different cost than one in Raleigh. Not like I could drive the two hours to get from one to the other with a broken arm.

Healthcare is not a product that is affected by standard market forces. Even if you throw out the moral argument, you cannot expect healthcare to work in a for profit manner without damaging people’s health. The system only works if everyone is paying into it. The Republicans want to argue that states know how to do things better. Republicans in my state just took school money from Democratic districts purely out of spite. I get the feeling they won’t suddenly turn friendly because of healthcare.

This is why old people are so protective of Medicare. Everyone pays into it so it works pretty well. Perfectly? No because nothing is ever perfect. Ever.

By Republican’s logic though, why should I pay Medicare taxes?

I’m not using it. Probably never will at this rate.

If Republicans in Congress truly believe this is a better way then why does it have so many flaws? If they truly want people covered, then why do they want to kick so many off Medicaid. People who by the very fact they are on the program are too poor to afford normal health insurance?

It seems to me that they don’t care about providing health insurance to people at prices they can afford. I know a lot of them honestly believe that giving poor people stuff is “coddling” them. I also highly doubt many of them have ever had to choose between health insurance and rent. I’m also confident that none of them, certainly none in Congress, have ever had that decision come back to bite them in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. Bankruptcy doesn’t lend itself well to political campaigns. Unless you’re Trump.

This whole bill reeks of being crafted by someone that’s always had quality, employer provided insurance and who’s never had a serious medical issue in their lives.

I’ve heard actual Republicans saying that this will never pass the Senate as if it somehow excuses this kind of behavior. I wouldn’t be so sure. What the Republicans in Congress want most are the tax cuts. I know this because they never bring the cuts up in their defense of the bill. They don’t want people to focus on that aspect at all.

This could pass the Senate and Trump will sign it the second the paper hits his desk. Red states will fall all over themselves to make it so insurance companies can charge whatever they want to the people who need care the most. The wealthy will get back in taxes more than most of the folks on Medicaid make in a year.

But it’s O.K, right? Because they deserve it. All of them.

Do you regret leaving?

Yes.

And no.

It’s complicated.

It’s too early to tell if I should regret leaving or not. Do I regret going to Japan in the first place? Not at all. I look back at all the good things in my life and they’re a result of my time in Japan. Even the things I gained here back at home are products of the person Japan molded me into.

This might come off as too simplistic but it’s impossible to know what my life would be like right now if I had stayed in Japan. The same goes for having stayed in North Carolina instead. What would my life be like if I had moved to California after college?

I think it’s important to ponder these questions. Dwelling too long on them is not likely to be healthy, however. In some ways, my time in Japan is more real than my life before leaving America. Is that strange to say? It’s hard to remember what I was like back then. I remember thinking I was too fat even though I weigh perhaps, thirty pounds more than when I was in college. I still think I’m too fat but at the same rate as before my time in Japan.

Drinking was a big part of college but it doesn’t come close to what I did in Japan. It’s been so long since I’ve had any alcohol it’s hard to remember what that was like. Not what it was like to be drunk mind you. I can still pull off a pretty decent imitation. Rather what it was like to be a drunk. Noun version instead of the adjective. I suppose the difference is just one of duration.

Often, I would look up at the skyline of Tokyo during sunset and pause. I would think “I’m in Japan” as if that was the greatest thing in the world and the culmination of all my ambitions. The problem was, that is exactly what it was. When I left, I had no other idea or plan except “Live in Japan” full stop. I think it’s similar for many foreigners who end up there. The expats who stay the longest can look up at that sky and think “I’m in Japan and…”

Finishing that thought is the hardest part of living there. I saw many of my friends pull it off. Many others couldn’t. Do I regret leaving? Still hard to say. I was missing that piece. I didn’t have anything solid I could point to as a life victory. Is failure simply the absence of success?

I hope not. I don’t like to think of myself as a failure. That played a big role in my hesitation. The idea of failing this great life experiment of mine called living in Japan. I confessed as much to my closest friend when I was first thinking about leaving.

He told me to flip the script. It’s not running from failure but towards opportunity. Just because it hasn’t shown itself doesn’t mean it isn’t just over the horizon. The best thing to do is to keep running. Trouble is metaphorical running is the hardest kind.

And I’m still so fat and out of shape.

Metaphorically speaking.

Shit…

Why Did You Leave?

People ask me this question and likely think they’re doing me a favor. Maybe I’m being too harsh. I suspect most people believe that the easiest question for them to come up with is also the easiest question for me to answer. The transitive power of inquiry or something like that.

The real question they’re asking is “Why did you decide to upend your life and start over from scratch?”

Much more difficult to answer.

To be fair, I’ve asked a similar question of the many people I’ve known who’ve also left Japan. “Why are you leaving?” It’s a common experience when you’re living abroad. People enter your life and the bond is strong due to the fact you’re both outsiders. Eventually, people leave. Not all, but many. I remember how impressed I was whenever I met someone who’d lived there for more than five years. The general consensus at the time was five years was the point of no return. A signpost signaling your last chance to escape. A lot of people heeded the warning and left before then. Many waited until much later or not at all.

For me it took nine years.

That’s not to say I gave myself any kind of ultimatum. Nine is just the number of years it took. When I left the US in 2007 I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Still don’t. I had a degree in English that I had barely scraped together from the remnants of a failed Chemistry career. The Great Recession happened right after I left and Japan seemed like a good place to wait it out. Nine years later I woke up and realized nothing much had changed. It’s not a fun thought.

Tokyo is an amazing city. Safe, fantastic food, best public transit in the world, top notch art and nightlife. Living there is truly a joy. For a time. Nothing comes without drawbacks and living in Tokyo is expensive. I’ve recently discovered that many cities in the US are even more expensive, which comes as a shock. Still, if I had been better off financially I probably would have never left. Admitting that makes me sound so mercenary, going wherever the coin is best.

There’s a difference between greed and wanting stability.

I wasn’t able to care about anything other than “am I going to have enough money to make it this month”. That’s draining. Had I stuck it out another year I might have been able to get to that point of financial comfort. Things seemed to be heading in a positive direction. Not quite fast enough but it didn’t seem impossible.

So why did I give up only a little bit from the finish line? That’s trickier to explain. The metaphor I’ve come up with for the foreigner experience Japan is this.

Imagine a snow globe.

Inside it’s quite pretty and interesting when you shake things up. If you’re inside the globe though, there’s an invisible wall surrounding you. There’s only so far that you can go in any direction. Some people build themselves a bigger globe or a prettier village on the inside but there will always be this hidden limitation on everything you do. If I’m being honest that was what wore on me the most. Another friend of mine who left years ahead of me said something along the lines of he was tired of “being treated like an unwelcome guest.”

The dark secret of living in Japan is, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “house guests are like fish, after three days they begin to smell.” It’s hard to shake a similar feeling from Japan in general if you are a foreigner. It’s just the Japanese are too polite to grab you off the street and kick your ass out the door.

Like we do now in America.

Don’t get me wrong, just like everywhere in the world, the Japanese on a person to person basis are fantastic. I made many lifelong friends while over there that would’ve done anything to help me out. I would do the same in return. It’s just the pervasive feeling of not belonging that wore me down. I thought I might have better opportunities back in America, a completely non-unique thought.

Little did I know that I might be worthless to just about any employer since I haven’t participated in the economy for nearly a decade. Yes, I swear those companies on my resume exist. Yes, that’s a real phone number. No, I don’t have two years of office experience, I was a teacher. How hard can it be though?

5 Ways Secret Relationships Can Go Horribly Wrong

I’ve been with about five women that I can call a relationship, by which I mean a certain level of romantic intimacy. You know what I’m talking about. Out of those, three were kept secret from many of the people around me for one reason or another.

Before I get started on the list I need to point out I’m not talking about cheating or having an affair. Consent is the most important part of any sexual interaction. If the person being cheated on doesn’t have any say in the matter that causes serious problems in this area.

If everyone knows what’s going on and is fine about it go wild. It brings in new complications but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I can’t even hold down a relationship with one person let along multiple at the same time.

Besides, you shouldn’t need me to tell you that adultery is generally a bad thing.

I also am coming at this from a straight male perspective. My relationships were never threatened with violence or social prejudice as a reason for being kept secret. I can’t speak to that and won’t try. I can only address the Rom-Com style illusion that hiding your feelings for someone from everyone but that person is fun and exciting.

1. You get found out

This one should be so obvious. Someone once told me they were super good at hiding a relationship. It could be I’m just horrible at this kind of thing. I can accept that. However, it’s pretty hard to hide when you’re happy. If you’re the same level of happy when you’re single and when you’re in a new relationship? What’s it like being a space alien?

Good luck if you have to spend time with each other in the company of other people. Most other humans are excellent at picking up social cues. At least, when it comes to other people.

Even if they can’t guess what’s going on they’ll know something weird is up. Especially if you do something stupid, like use a pet name for the other person and they react like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Like I did once. Major red flag.

To misrepresent a Benjamin Franklin quote, no one can keep a secret unless they’re dead.

2. You piss people off.

Dating is kind of a big deal in human society. I can kind of understand not wanting to broadcast things when they’re in the early stages. I’ve got nothing about keeping things vague or uncommitted. But let’s say you failed at the first point, however, and people know something is up. If you lied to their faces about something that shouldn’t be a big deal then it’s going to cause some anger.

Especially if you miss something important and then lie about where you were. Again, something I did. Maybe it is just me.

3. It takes too much work.

You know how hard it is to arrange a surprise party? Imagine similar gymnastics every time you want to see your significant other. If either of you have any sort of a life you’re going to have to make excuses. The flimsier the better.

Secrecy pretty much eliminates doing anything in public as well. You might think you won’t run into people you know but I lived in Tokyo, one of the largest and busiest cities in the world. I still bumped into someone I knew at random at least once a month.

Karma is inversely proportional to what you want to happen. Don’t test it.

4. It doesn’t last.

My first secret relationship lasted about a month and a half. The second about two weeks. My third and final one about a month maybe two. This is actually about standard for me to be honest.

So again, maybe I’m just bad at these things.

5. It makes you feel like shit.

There’s something I might have forgotten to mention. In all of my experiences with secret relationships, it was never my idea to make them that way.

Not really.

The first time was due to circumstances outside my control. Rules.

The second time was with someone who’d just broken up with their boyfriend. Our friend circles overlapped as they tend to do and she didn’t want it causing more of a mess since her ex was part of both.

The third and last time…I don’t know. There weren’t any good reasons beyond what she wanted. She made some excuses about planning to leave the country soon. But then she never did.

What she did do was withdraw from me completely. Like it never happened. A few months later she was dating someone else and posting pictures of the two of them far and wide across Facebook. Gross, saccharine expressions of love included. She never left the country.

That happened years ago and I haven’t been with anyone since. Not because I pine for her or anything so cliché.

To be honest it’s because it felt like she was ashamed of me.

Despite everything I’ve done in the years since to become a better person I can’t help feeling like a pile of shit because I’ve never had a relationship worth a damn.

I never wanted to feel that way again. No one deserves that, do they?

The other two I mentioned that weren’t secret? Both ended after less than two months. One of them cheated on me and the other gave me a venereal disease. Thankfully the kind that can get cleared up with powerful antibiotics, but still.

I don’t want to disparage anyone I’ve ever been with. I’m not perfect. Perhaps I blame myself too much. I thought things were going well. You know, despite the hiding. It’s crushing to think she didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Anyway, I don’t recommend secret relationships. Simplistic advice, yes.

Sorry, but I guess needed to work some stuff out. Trust.

Leaving Home

It’s been over a year since I left Japan to return to my home state of North Carolina. I haven’t taken much time to write about it yet, however. Not in a significant way at least. I’ve been avoiding it for sure. How do you sum up nearly a decade of life experience? How do you describe what it’s like to cut off that period of time and start over? It’s not easy and I doubt I’ll be able to succeed.

One good thing is every new person I meet is at least a little interested in my journey. Japan is still a weirdly exotic place for Americans. Probably due to the fact it can cost thousands of dollars and dozens of hours just to get there. New Zealand is the same in that regard, but Japan has that “mystery of the Orient” factor. People’s interest usually wanes once you reveal the big secret that Japan is a pretty normal place.

This fascination wears off rather quick. Interest seems to have an inverse relationship to how much I talk about Japan. Therefore, I try to keep my stories short and mysterious.

Everyone asks if I miss it. I do, of course. The other day I watched video of the Yamanote line leaving the station just because I was feeling homesick. All of my friends are over there. What friends I had here when I left went from college drinking buddies to responsible adults with houses and kids. It’s similar to idea about faster than light travel. Relativity or something. For my old friends the transition was a gradual one with all the normal milestones. For me it seemed to happen in a blink.

Of course, I probably seem different to them in the same way but I’m the one hot dropping back into their lives not the other way around.

While I was gone, they met and became friends with a whole new group of people. Now they have known these strangers for years. It’s hard not to feel like some sort of alien beaming down in the middle of all of that.

I should have expected this of course, human relationships are fluid and highly influenced by proximity. What depresses me the most right here in the moment, is knowing the same thing will happen to the friends I left behind.

The problem with travel is knowing that someday you’ll have to leave.

It’s not all bad though, because making new friends is fantastic. As long as they’re cool people and open to welcoming you in. Another difference that is hard to adjust to.

In Japan, being a foreigner is an ultimate icebreaker. Everyone is at least willing to give you a chance just to see what you bring to the table. Not to say Americans are cold, but I think there certainly is less willingness to add people into their circle of friendship. The flip side is of course it is harder in Japan to feel like a “part” of society if you are foreign. Everyone who comes to America (despite recent unpleasantness) has the capability of becoming one of “us”.

I’m just lucky I got in on the ground floor.

I’ve had trouble finding work. I have applied to about 40 jobs in the last month alone and easily the same number again since the start of the year. I’ve gotten exactly one call back and they never got back to me after the first interview. I’m not even over reaching to be honest. I suspect a lot of it has to do with all my work experience existing 14 time zones away. What little I’ve been able to do here in America only adds up to a few months.

Or maybe it’s because I’m too old. 34 is on the long end of the millennial wave and it’s hard to compete with someone 10 years younger than you that can do the same job. Career history is another thing I had to throw away along with 75% of my possessions when I left.

I guess that’s why I’m trying to write more. Plenty of people on the internet will tell you writing all the time is the magic elixir. Perhaps. It’s worth a shot at least.

It’s certainly easy.

I didn’t even mention how expensive it was to leave in the first place. I suppose the question I should ask is, do I regret it? Unfortunately, I don’t think I can answer that right now. I wasn’t happy in Japan. Would that have worked itself out if I had stuck around another year? Again, perhaps. Perhaps not.

Is there more success in my future here in America? Who can say? This is a topic I’m sure I’ll return to a lot over the course of my journey. One thing I can say is I don’t regret spending those years in Japan. They shaped me more than I could possibly say in a few hundred words. I guess that’s what life is, you steer the ship the best way you know how and enjoy the view.