Things I’ve Noticed as I Turn 30

Allow me to guess. You’re here either because you’re about to turn 30 or are already in your 30s, yes? Great! I’m glad to have some company.

Grab a seat and get comfortable!

And so, it begins!

Before you know it, they’re happening. The incidents are small at first — little nuggets scratching at the surface of your awareness, wanting to make themselves known. Then, you’re stepping out of the shower and you’re pelted with a powerfully sudden derp. What am I talking about? Turning 30. Yup. For someone who doesn’t place too much stock on labels, I’ve unknowingly placed one on myself. Oh, the irony!

As it’s my birthday today, let’s talk about it!

In all honesty, I never imagined being at this point. Just as it freaked me out when I turned 16, 18, and 21, I’m unnerved by the fact that I’ve managed to live for 30 years. Even though my responsibilities have increased tenfold from when I was young and I’ve a changed view of the world, I still feel as if I’m a child. It’s certainly an odd sensation. There are some things I’ve started noticing about myself and my life, however.

Dust

It drives me absolutely bonkers. Insane! I’ve mentioned to my mom a couple of times, but I swear to God that the dust here in Japan is made up completely different stuff. My image is of fine, gray layers on top of mantlepieces and dressers — the kind of stuff that would stain a white glove. The dust I barely tolerate resembles lightweight fibers. They float at the barest breath of air.

And no matter how much I clean, how careful I am not to be more of a mess than I already am, I’ll still finding dust bunnies rolling around in the corners. Not to mention that it’ll all stick to the feet of fuzzy furniture if you let it.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Skin Care

This is a gray area. I care a lot more than I did when I was a teenager, but I’m certainly not at the level of some people. I thought my mom was nuts to not only care for her face while in the shower, but she’d spend so much time in the bathroom, layering on product after product. I didn’t understand at all. Heck, washing your face for washing’s sake was a foreign concept to me.

That is… until puberty struck and decided to turn me in an adult. I started washing my face in earnest and having beefs with the oil my T-zone produced on a daily basis. I was even sneaking off into restrooms to dab the excess with toilet seat covers, I was that desperate to keep my face from causing accidents.

Now, I’m washing my face twice a day, using a cheap SPF, hyaluronic conditioner, moisturizing cream, and attacking regularly with my popper tool. Go figure.

Grooming

For as much dedication I show my face (what little there is to start with), I kind of wish I showed the same amount to the rest of my body. It seems running wild is a habit I’ll never break.

I remember when I was around 10 years old when I noticed carpeting on my legs. Yikes. Because I wanted to fit in, I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me start shaving. That was a mistake, because now, I’m stuck in the stupid mindset that, if I want to look good, neat, and tidy, I have to shave.

Waxing armpits is for the birds, by the way, and I’m not even going to touch the phases I went through in regards to landscaping. Any dude that thinks they can exercise control over your body by telling you to groom according to their standards needs some serious re-education.

Overall, am I dissing shaving? No, it has its uses and many people do prefer to be slick, smooth, and shiny. Is it for me? I have my moments. The current obsession I have now is keeping my upper lip hair free.

Babies and Children

They make me happy. You couldn’t have gotten me to care for one when I was younger. Did I babysit? Sure. For money. Now? Pfft, give me all the babies! I spend my days now enjoying the energy my elementary school children have and watching my nieces and nephews grow up (by the way, did you know that’s what you call your cousin’s children? It’s the best!).

Children are indeed heartwarming. But there’s a flipside.

Being Single

After dating many times, I’ve developed poor post-break up coping habits and trust issues. It only took one more burn for me to swear it all off. In no time at all, all of the apps I had on my phone were wiped of their accounts and uninstalled. Dramatic much? I think not. When you’ve had the same conversations again and again, both in English AND Japanese, the whole idea of dating loses its luster.

I can only tolerate the same pub food for so long. And honestly? My wallet could use a break, too.

That still doesn’t change the fact that I feel lonely a lot. That empty area is glaringly obvious some days and I find myself contemplating reinstalling those stupid dating apps. The population of unmarried middle-aged Japanese men must sense it too, because the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m married, have a boyfriend, or are otherwise engaged in some way, has increased exponentially. Luckily, my close friends, family, and age remind me I have a backbone.

Supplements

Speaking of backbones, do you take care of yours? Yes, I know, there’s a heated debate on whether or not supplements are even needed, but my diet sucks 90% of the time. That’s only one reason I started intermittently choking a handful of pills down in the mornings. Raise your hand if you’ve swallowed a big ass tablet the wrong way!

The biggest reason was because I developed dandruff and was desperate for a cure. Why go to a doctor when I could just follow the advice the internet gave me?

In between changing my shampoo and changing my diet, I bought fish oil, biotin, vitamin D, and multi-vitamins all in an effort to banish the nasty dancing around on my head. Did it all work? I wouldn’t mind being a test subject for a hard yes or no. For now, it all seems to have calmed down. My hair is no longer lanky, my scalp is oiling up again, and whoever was sprinkling salt all over my bedsheets has stopped.

Work Culture

With age, our perceptions of things change. Long gone is the innocence of the world, the simple steps in life; wake up, go to work, make money, come home and sleep. I suppose the overcomplication of adult life could be simplified down to that bare minimum, but we refuse to see things so plainly.

This is where my frustration with the workplace comes into play. Why is it, when we get older, we (unknowingly or not) become embroiled in the politics of it all? I’d gladly take the fun, carefree times at work during my early 20s over the seriousness I’ve seemed to have adopted now. Perhaps it’s my character, but I’ve noticed more and more people telling me I’m too uptight, too focused on doing a good job.

Now, it’s all “You’ve got to be more considerate of others, Ashley,” “You can’t let your mouth run off like that, Ashley,” “You’re gonna find yourself in trouble if you do that, Ashley,” or “What did I tell you? You’ve done it now, Ashley.” OH. MY. GOD. Just tell me what you want done and leave me alone. It’ll be on your desk by Monday morning.

Stress

With work comes stress. We all know it’s a killer. It slaps much differently than when I was bugged out of my mind a couple of years ago. I busted my ass working two jobs while pulling myself through school on so little sleep. Back then, I didn’t even bat an eye. It was my normal.

Now? I can pull an all-nighter and drag on for two weeks after that despite getting ample amounts of sleep. I won’t even mention the muscle aches. I don’t even think my neck and shoulders know what relaxation is. My hair, too, is showing signs of its loss of youth. I cheer whenever the hairbrush pulls a grey hair out.

The Passage of Time

Speaking of youth, did you ever notice how, when you were young, you’d want the day to hurry up and be over with or you’d think that you couldn’t wait to grow up — that growing up meant freedom?

Shyit, can I go back to those days?

While I still want the day to get on with itself, I feel like I never have enough time. I don’t have enough time to leisurely finish my tea in the mornings. I don’t have enough time to plan my lessons at school. I don’t have enough time to enjoy my hobbies (pfft, what are those, even?). I don’t have enough time to simply sit and stare a hole in the wall in an effort to get the world to stop turning for a damn minute.

It’s a weird psychological construct that we’ve developed and keep reconstructing since 4236 BC, Egypt. Are we cursed, as humans, to always be reminded that we aren’t eternal?

I suppose I’d take my human life over a fly’s. That’s way too much pressure.

Baskets

By the way, have you become more organized as you’ve gotten older? Even though my mom tried super hard to instill within my child mind the benefits of being clean and structured, I still turned out a cluttered wreck. It got to the point that my folks would close my bedroom door and only enter if they absolutely had to.

Organization didn’t have a point. I hated it, actually. It made me feel like my home wasn’t homey. This pattern continued all through college, too. When I moved to Japan, things changed… and so did the number of baskets in my apartment.

Baskets are so damn useful. Instead of disarrayed clutter, I can now have organized clutter! It’s brilliant. They come in all shapes and sizes, can be stacked or connected. The options are endless! It’s too bad this basket case can’t be handled in the same fashion.

Remember, if it doesn’t spark joy, dump it!

Decisions

They suck. I’m the sort of person who hates having only A or B. Why am I not allowed to have C or All of the Above? This is the sort of situation I seem to have found myself in as I live out this particular chapter of my life here in Japan. I can feel the blinders starting to dry up and peel off.

“Adult life” is waiting for me and, after having gone back and skimmed an old post on choosing between Japan or America, I suspect I’m having the same exact dilemma. I’ve fallen into the wash-rinse-repeat societal trope — at 30, it’s time to buckle down and say good-bye to youth. It’s time to take up the mantle of duty and be Best Girl. There’s also the ugly trend that says the older you get, the harder it is to find a job.

Can you tell I’m angry and bitter about the whole thing? What makes me feel worse is that I’ve gone and blabbed in the heat of things, thinking, “That’s it. I’m tired of dilly-dallying, the emotions hurt. I’mma just rip it off and move back home. Who cares if I’m ready or not?” My coworkers and family are doing their best to be understanding, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

Las Vegas is going to have a hell of a time recovering — should I sit tight and wait? One dear friend did point out that I’m safe, have a stable job, etc. here in Japan. Why would I want to throw that away too soon without checking to see if the back-up chute is still good?

The knot of fear in my stomach hurts.

Fortitude

Overall, turning 30 for me means I’m taking a moment to look back at my youth, give it the consideration it deserves, before turning my eyes towards the wide unknown.

It means looking in the mirror and realizing this new kind of human is me. I must dig in deep into myself and find the fortitude that is unique only to this Ashley. It’s just a bit cluttered right now.

I must also learn that I can’t control everything or have everything the way I want it. The sooner I accept that basic facet of life, the sooner I’ll be out of this frantic cycle of caring and not caring.

Back Home and My Fortune (New Year’s 2021)

So, I’m late on the new year’s wishes and felicitations. That’s OK, right?

I travelled back to my hometown of Gotemba for the occasion. Arriving at night, the town was as quiet as ever. But I could see that the old royal residence wasn’t immune to the tides of time.

The Subway I had eaten at many times was no longer there, much to my dismay. They’ve been disappearing slowly across the country, I feel. Would anyone be interested in investing in some sub stock? I could really use a good sandwich!

A few steps from Subway, there was a ramen shop I’d aim to partake of every Friday to celebrate the end of the week, but that too was either closed or gone. I still couldn’t tell after squinting in through the window from across the street.

Here are some more highlights from my trip:

When I lived in Gotemba, there was a Tourist Information shop underneath a hotel across from the station on the north side. Imagine my surprise seeing this new, fancy building on the south side. Not only was this there, the city had refurbished its shuttle area, too. It’s certainly more organized now!
Sun Sun Plaza was a shopping center I’d often go to. It had a drug store, a supermarket, a Daiso, a small arcade, and a few clothing shops. No longer will it be standing there in the future, as it’s gated off to be demolished. I still have the sweatshirts from that place!
Mt. Fuji in the background. My camera phone simply cannot catch the closeness in which the mountain is. Truly, I feel such kinship with this icon of Japan.
The Gotemba Premium Outlets are a hotspot for shopping and deals on expensive items. The lines for Nike and Adidas were out the door with scheduled time slots for the Pokémon Store. I managed to score some new sweatshirts that are… hand wash only. UGH!
The hotel I stayed at had some osechi for breakfast! The konbu roll hit me a bit hard. They must’ve used something that tasted like peppermint. I didn’t enjoy it.

Lastly, I took some time out on Sunday to hit up my local shrine for my yearly fortune. Before you skip ahead, you can read what last year’s fortune had in store for me!

The quote about the plum blossom blooming after a hard winter fulfilled its prophecy as we all stumbled into a year with Uncle Covid. Seriously, who invited him? Not only did I have familial brushes with possible infection, I also lost my Aunt Judy. She had a brain aneurysm that ripped her rather violently from us and I’m still sad knowing I won’t ever see her again.

Let’s have a moment of silence. That 2020 fortune had “a sad event” pinned down to a T.

I panicked too after hearing that my only grandma had fallen and broken her leg. What a heart stopper that was! I thought I would have to drop everything and move back home. Mixed in there was a several month-long mental breakdown that had me questioning if I even belonged on this earth.

At Kenroku-en, a former royal garden! It was “super green” if y’know the reference.

Through it all, I managed to regain a sense of myself by concentrating on my painting, floral wreaths, and my relationships with my friends. Yay!

Another something that came true was the advice not to travel. I don’t think any of us saw a worldwide shutdown in the cards, but it happened! I ignored the warnings and was extra careful taking some time for myself as I worked my way around Kanazawa.

This year in 2021, my fortune is extremely lucky! I had some help from an acquaintance translating it. Thank you, Mika! The words of wisdom, too, are very auspicious.

渦を巻く (うずをまく – As the whirlpools spiral)

谷の小川の丸木橋渡る (たにの おがわの まるきばし わたる – Cross the log bridge over the valley river)

夕べの心地するかな (ゆうべの ここちするかな – You’ll arrive at your heart’s hearth tonight)

My interpretation is affected by others’ interpretations on Japanese ask sites in that there are difficulties ahead, but I have the faculty to overpower them and reach the other side. Life is a powerful current that pulls and pushes us where it may, just as the water in the river ebbs and flows.

Below is my complete fortune for the areas of life:

  1. 願望 (ねがいごと, negaigoto, hopeful wishes) – You’ll remember how to get over your misgivings.
  2. 待人 (まちびと, machibito, awaiting person) – They won’t come.
  3. 失物 (うせもの, usemono, lost item) – It’ll be difficult to find. It might be low to the ground.
  4. 旅行 (たびだち, tabidachi, travel) – Travel on a lucky day.**
  5. 商売 (あきない, akinai, business) – Buy stocks that have a low risk of loss.
  6. 学問 (がくもん, gakumon, school) – Be relaxed. It’s a good time to study.
  7. 相場 (そうば, souba, stock market) – Sell; you’ll have a large profit.
  8. 争事 (あらそい, arasoi, quarrels) – You’ll come out the winner if you wait.
  9. 恋愛 (れんあい, rennai, love) – You’ll have happiness.
  10. 転居 (やうつり, yautsuri, moving) – Now is not a good time.
  11. 出産 (おさん, osan, pregnancy) – If you are careful, you’ll have a safe delivery.
  12. 病気 (びょうき, byouki, sickness) – If you believe in the gods, you’ll be cured.
  13. 縁談 (えんだん, endan, marriage) – You will be tempted by others’ words.

**Have you ever noticed that there are markings on each day of the month on a Japanese calendar? These are called 六曜 (ろくよう, rokuyou) or the “days of fortune” and follow the Buddhist practice of auspiciousness. Nippon.com offers a succinct chart.

Screencaptured from Nippon.com

How was your New Year’s celebrations? Did you do anything exciting or did you just chillax and hang out?
Let me know!
Until next time.

Hey! What’ve you been up to?!

The dishes from Christmas dinner need to be put away.

I keep staring out of the curtained window, like I’m waiting for something to happen.

What is it artists use to record their videos?

Do I even want to push my art into the world and jump on that bandwagon?

A composition I threw together from some scribbles that were already on the page. Who knows if it’ll ever make it onto a canvas. (Dec. 2020)

Groan. I still have those Christmas wreaths to get started and finished.

Ah, and I need to start working on something for the company newsletter, too…

Can’t you tell that I’m super distracted? I’ve told my counselor a couple of times that being at home, unfocused, is a dangerous thing. It’s easy for me to slip into that dark corner and think little of myself. Last week was so busy and now I’ve got another two days to slog through. Where’s that teenager at? I need a right proper scoff and eyeroll!

Let’s get to back-pedaling.

No joke, I thought I was in trouble there for the last couple of months. I wanted to disappear, angry with everyone around me for not noticing how much of a mess I was becoming. Work was becoming increasingly busier, I felt incompetent, I held grudges against colleagues… I needed my screen to flash GAME OVER. Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why am I not as good as everyone else? Why am I not more liked? If I were just a bit more like everyone else, I’d have more attention.

HURK BLARGH. How petty are those thoughts?! Seriously, I feel disgusted with myself. Combine those insecurities with the fact that my family seemed to be suffering blow after blow, I hit the end of my rope faster than I would’ve liked. I couldn’t, wouldn’t accept that all roads were starting to point me in other directions.

Change is scary. Acceptance is every scarier. I’m learning, though.

I’m learning to accept that I won’t ever be as popular as other artists, that my skills will stay where they’re at until I hunker down and practice. I’m learning to appreciate what I’m capable of doing already and now. I’m learning to love my determination and single-mindedness regarding my work as an ALT.* I’m learning to stop thinking “I’m always alone” and ask for help. I’m learning to be grateful for what Japanese I know.

Be kind and love yourself. Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I’m worthy.

I’m valuable.

I’m not insignificant.

My work and my accomplishments in life will speak for themselves.

Just this month, in fact, I was notified by my branch that I was awarded Top Motivational Instructor. It’s the highest honor an ALT can receive in my company for superb work ethic. I’m still trying to process it! I certainly wasn’t expecting it — I even went to one of my bosses and urged him to remove my name from any kind of running. I felt I didn’t do anything this year to deserve recognition in… well… anything.

I hadn’t done any work with my English boards.

I completely scrapped my English newspaper.

I did absolutely nothing for my schools this year, but somehow… my supervisors and bosses recognized and acknowledged something I don’t see within myself.

Some time during this winter vacation I’ve got to make a small speech for the occasion. Who would I even thank?

I’ve thought about dedicating this win to my late Aunt Judy. She was taken from us rather suddenly this year and not from COVID. I feel I’d be more at peace with the whole thing if it had been that — I mean, it’s kinda become the taste in everyone’s mouths. Other than that, I have no clue on what to say. Have you ever written a speech before?

I’ve also seen some success in the wreaths that I make in my spare time. The praise I receive from one of my schools certainly helps keep the motivation going. They’re not hard to make if you’ve got some wire cutters, scissors and a lot of hot glue sticks. Perhaps it’s a good thing that Japan doesn’t have Hobby Lobbies. I’ve included a video from my Facebook page for your viewing pleasure!

2020’s Halloween wreath as featured on my Facebook page, Artleycoul.

Other ways I’ve been attempting to handle my stress and keep my mental health healthy is through baking; specifically brownies. My friend Carla, over at The Geordie Gaijin, seems to really enjoy them. I’m happy my sweets can reach her “cold, bitter English heart” as she more or less puts it.

I’m in a love-hate relationship with breads, too. It’s so incredibly easy to kill the yeast! I never seem to know when to knead the dough enough, so I’ve just kinda given up reading the instructions. I work it all until it comes to a consistency I’m comfortable with and give it all shove into my tiny oven. Which do you enjoy baking, quick breads or yeasty breads? I think my specialty will always be an improved version of my grandma’s banana bread recipe.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A third method has been to write an extended letter to my dad. I made it to 11 pages (they’re small — maybe like B5 size) and stopped writing after December 2nd. I suppose it can be considered to be a really long conversation.

The lovely thing about the whole deal is that it got him in the mood to write me a letter, too. It arrived with my Christmas package! It’s always a pleasure to receive something as special as that from loved ones.

***

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable with airing out my thoughts. I’d like to invite you to join my artful progress by following my Instagram and Facebook page. Both hold a spot on my homepage. Let me know what you think and if there’s anything you’d like to see me try!

Impact

wk-171-impactSmack. Crunch. Shatter. All of them end in silence. And from that, the impact resonates within us; spurring us to produce sound and action.

Laughter. Cries. Applause. A determined light blossoms in the vast void of Us, ultimately taking shape as thoughts and half-baked, heartfelt nothings.

Like the air around us, all impacts are mystical happenstances. They leave us in awe of the overwhelming infinite-ness of possibility.

* * * * * * *

Lately, I’ve been wanting to improve. I look at the world around me and I feel like what I’m doing in life isn’t enough. It’s driving me quite insane.

But with the support of my friends and family, I have a very safe environment in which to panic, cry, and get better. I suppose my first foray into writing prompts proves that.

* * * * * * *

This prompt is brought to you by Sammi Cox and her Weekend Writing Prompts. Each week, a new prompt is announced with the only requirements being you use the target word, word count, and comment with the link to your post on her side.

If you know of any other writing challenges or prompt blogs, let me know! I’d like to continue challenging myself. And as this is something I’m relatively new at, please tell me know how I did in the comments.

ripple
Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects. – Dalai Lama

What is a hug?

There is a scene from Dreamworks’ The Croods, where Nicolas Cage’s character, Grug, and Emma Stone’s character, Eep, a dysfunctional father-daughter duo, tearfully clasp one another to themselves as the movie’s climax unfolds. They’re not holding each other like an adult would a baby. They’re not carrying the other as one would a tool or vessel. What purpose could gripping another body in such an obviously upset manner serve?

Eep and Grug stand there in that moment, the movie’s music score swelling, on a cliff that’s crumbling around them as the world they know falls to bits. Earth’s crust is cracking, breaking. They’ve got to move! Already, their family is on the other side of the ravine, eagerly awaiting them with worry and terror plainly etched on their faces. It’s a real nail biter!

Secured in her pa’s arms, Eep cuddles up close. “This works good,” she says through her sniffles. “What do you call it?”

In famous dadderly fashion, Grug confesses, “I was thinking about calling it a hug” before throwing in a Dad JokeTM. “Because it rhymes with Grug,” he says as he shrugs sheepishly. “But you can change it if you want.” Eep manages a chuckle and throws her arms around her big, strong Daddo, telling him she loves the idea.

The Croods, a heartwarming film about family and preservation. I recommend it for anyone who’s into a slice of life, family road trip kind of movie.

Man, someone get me some tissues because that scene gets me in the emotions EVERY. TIME! There is a handful of reasons I could think of as to why something that particular wrenches, from the depths of my tender soul, such a deluge of tears and snot.

The Definition of a Hug

Can you imagine a time when hugging, a gesture we are so accustomed to, didn’t have a name… or even happen outside of coupling? A hug in itself, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a tight clasp with the arms; embrace.” How very straightforward and succinct. They suspect its first appearance in the English language was around the 1560s from the Old Norse word hugga, meaning to soothe, console.

Mmkay, so that’s starting to match what we know a hug to be. That’s certainly a lot more informative in regards to the movie I mentioned just a moment ago.

But what is a Hug?

We are beings with a consciousness. We are a veritable mass of muscles mooshed around a boney frame with this knobby, wrinkly blob encased within our skulls. It contains these vague, misty images we know to be memories. It releases hormones that allow us to move, breathe, digest, and rid ourselves of waste. It collects information from our five senses and somehow molds it all into reactions and moods.

These bits and pieces are what gives us an image… an interpretation of what a hug is. Crazy!

I set out and asked my friends and family via Facebook what they thought a hug is. Only a few responded, but I was intrigued anyway.

A Hug Is

Reassurance, comfort, love.

C. D., a friend, 30s

It’s anything and everything you need right now. It’s warm. It’s peaceful. It’s home.

K.M., a friend and coworker, 30s

A hug is the love inside you coming out through your arms to the one you’re hugging. It’s the friendliest way to say you care without being sexist, racist, religiously critical or too overwhelming. It gives back to you a feeling of well-being.

P.B., a family member, 80s

Closeness among friends.

G. T., a friend, 60s

…like a tip: it’s a sign of gratitude in a (usually) platonic way in the form of something vague and useful.

C. G., a friend and waiter, 20s

Holding someone you care for close to you with the purpose of feeling better or making them feel better.

S. C., a family member, 60s

A sign of affection. Happiness. Sadness.

M.C., a family member, 60s

[…is place where] there are no secrets.

D.C., a friend, 30s
From Google’s Reuse section

In amazing human fashion, there are as many different takes on what a hug is as there are people on this planet. If one were to take the time to make a word cloud of all the keywords from a free response survey, I’m sure real qualitative data could be gathered! Perhaps some of the top docs in the field have already done so.

Throughout the day, as comments continued to trickle in, one friend showed me an interesting perspective. She said something akin to “You must relax and remember to breathe in a hug. They’re not to be taken advantage of.” While I know her to have experienced many unfortunate and inconvenient upheavals in her life, I suspect this view was coming from experience.

What a Hug is Not

Other definitions of a hug are to cling together and to keep close to. Analyzed with a jaundiced and bitter eye, a hug can bring forth ugliness. It can make us remember times where we were oh-so vulnerable and an individual we thought we trusted took that openness in hand with a mean intent.

Touching a touchy subject, pedophilia and pedophiles have been in the news recently thanks to Jeff Epstein (seriously, what was up with that guy?) and the huge push for pedophilia to be recognized as a sexual orientation. Even now, in France, there is a public outcry to revolutionize old and out-dated views on what the best age for consent is because one victim decided to write a book about her encounter with a celebrated pedophile.

Not only that, but both men and women with a record of manipulation, aggression, and emotional abuse of their peers (among other things) use hugs to gain our trust and rip our finances, family, and peace of mind from right under our noses. What is their end game? Is it an internal drive they can’t rid themselves of? Perhaps they’re receiving some kind of divine vision from Up High. Do they feel this urge sometimes or has it been there since birth? I can continue to wonder in suppositions.

However, I’m certain we can agree on what a hug is not. It is not permission to do as we please with another human, their surroundings, or loved ones. It is not a green light to strip someone of their self-worth; for who are we to play an Ultimate Being?

A True Gesture

In my humble opinion, a hug is a place in which all is communicated and all is felt on the deepest of levels. It is a delicate dance that brings balance to us — a weakened state garnering strength from a sturdy source, a wail in the dark being soothed back to sleep, a celebration after much toil.

A hug is the hallmark of a strong community, a gesture shared among strangers and loved ones alike. It’s used to bring others into the fold, warm and secure.

Simply put, a hug is an aspect of true human experience.

***

For my next post, I’d like to discuss “silence.” But first, a poll!

What have you been doing lately? (Part 2)

Aaa~nd we’re back! I’m wholly determined to get back into this blog. At least… I’m determined for as long as the fancy to write is instilled within me. I’m the kind of person who will drop things for years at a time before picking them back up again. A prime example: A quilt I started back around 2012. I still have it. In a Ziploc bag. Ready to be stitched together. I even brought it to Japan with me thinking I’d have all the free time in the world to finish it!

Mmhm.

…sure.

I focus when it interests me. How self-centered is that?

Whatever. #mood

Friends of a Feather

When I came to Japan, the very first piece of advice everyone around me told me was to make friends as soon as possible. “Find at least ONE PERSON who shares something in common with you. You’ll feel a lot more at ease here.” Sports groups, knitting circles, art get-togethers, park walkers… anything. Many of you will agree, yes?

BUT!

True to my character, I refused. I shunned the idea and thought, “Pfft, why do I need to go find people? They should come to me!” I mean, that’s what my family was always going on about whenever I’d have a falling out with love. Shouldn’t it work the same way with friends? God, what a pompous noodle butt I was… am?

Mr. Yearly the Groundskeeper

At one of my elementary schools, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the groundskeeper. Let’s call him Mr. Yearly. An easy-going man, he was a comfort to me in my new environment when I was first put into that school. We became friendly and I was surprised when he asked me if I had any plans for the New Year.

“Well… no. Not exactly,” I told him. “Why?”

“Oh, I thought maybe you’d like to come over for dinner with me and my wife. By the way, what Japanese food do you like?”

“Um… I guess traditional foods? I really like nikku jyaga.” Truly, I was at a loss for ideas. I don’t do well when people come to me all of a sudden with questions that have too many possible answers.

Fast-forward a few months and I was back again at his house to enjoy some okonomiyaki. It’s a popular enough dish, even outside of Japan, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, all you need to know is that it’s to die for. Side note: I had the opportunity to try true Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki one year for Christmas. I might just have to go back!

His wife was graciously eager to help me out with some unit origami that I was attempting in order to settle my anxiety. But at that moment, I was about ready to scrap the whole project and throw it out the window. Who knew working with something so delicate could be so frustrating!

Oh. Speaking of delicate somethings.

Mrs. Yearly is an exceptionally skilled egg carver. Until now, I had only seen a single documentary about it. That’s where I learned that the dust from an eggshell is toxic. In truth, despite the risks that arts present to their makers, they are a look into the human experience. In the end, Mrs. Yearly was kind enough to remove some of her creations from their cabinet so I could take some photos.

Can you believe that she did all of these herself?!

The rest of that afternoon was spent watching a segment on TV about a teenage correctional program out of Oklahoma, of all things.

I’m starting to see more and more as I take ginger steps out of my uptight bubble that time with friends and loved ones is so incredibly important.

Blueberries for Days

Another outing I’ve had recently involved some down time at a local blueberry farm. Now, if this ain’t a first world problem, I don’t know what is. I was under the impression that blueberries came from bushes. Squat, dense, leafy things! Not these 6-foot-plus trees crowded into a hot greenhouse. No, certainly not.

My image of what a blueberry bu- no — tree — has effectively been shattered.

Anyway, I went with a coworker and her two children. It was funny because the youngest was so in love with them while the oldest didn’t want to have anything to do with them. She pulled a couple of sly ones on me — a few of the blueberries she gave me in an attempt to share were bitter!

We concluded our day with homemade blueberry ice cream (made by yours truly — I’ll share the recipe, along with some others, another time), a simple beef broth soup, and sandwiches. I’m embarrassed to say that the excitement of it all had me passed out on the floor, snoozing.

What have you been doing lately? (Part 1)

I must be honest with you, my sparse audience. I attempted to write an entry for you a couple of days ago, but for some unknown reason, it wasn’t saved. Out of frustration and disinterest, I gave up. I said, “ENOUGH!” As it’s now a brand new day and I’m feeling quite relaxed, I suppose I can give it another shot.

What have you been doing lately?

As I understand it, the world is a bit of a mess right now (when is it not?), and that’s keeping people inside; or at the very least, our activities have been severely limited or altered. Here in Hamamatsu (probably due to the 4-day weekend a week back), COVID cases have gone up significantly. As of yesterday, there are 129 total with 27 discharged/cleared of symptoms.

My reaction to dumb people.

It’s becoming more and more evident that, despite living out in the countryside, the virus will spread as long as people keep moving around, unaware they’re contaminated. And would you believe I STILL see people not wearing a mask?

ANYWAY.

As I look out the window now, I see the sky is brilliantly sunny and the air soupy and hot. This oppressively heavy heat signals the end of the rainy season here. And boy! was it a long one.

Are you the kind of person who enjoys the rain? While I appreciate the petrichor, being a captive in my own apartment for days on end is no fun. I’m a baby that way — I absolutely hate the process I have to go through in order to run my errands. But with the rain comes the beautiful hydrangea and that’s exactly what I had the chance to savor with the group from my part-time job.

Hydrangea Temple

Truly, I love the delicate variety you can experience with a flower only available when the angels weep. Naturally, it was hu-mug-ity and uncomfortable, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the atmosphere of our very own Hydrangea Temple. 

There are many “hydrangea temples” around Japan. This particular one is Mitaniyama Gokuraji Temple and it’s been in service since around 712 AD. We don’t have anything remotely this old back in the United States. So, anything that can give me a peek into an ancient past is exciting. It certainly juices up my imagination picturing what the people may have looked like as they ambled along similar paths I was walking. (You can read more about the region I live in here and here.)

Afterwards, we all partook of a late lunch of cold soba noodles. It was my first time eating at this kind of restaurant and, I must admit, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

Soba noodles, seasonal tempura, tempura dipping soup, toppings for the noodle soup, pickles, and a fried chicken cutlet bowl. Can you believe me if I told you that I had ice cream after all this, too?

There’s a lot more I can talk about, but for now, I hope you find this small bit interesting. See you next time!

Self-doubt and Anxiety: I feel heavy.

Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

I sit here, greatly perturbed.

A weight is resting heavily on me.

My throat is parched.

Water.

The dreary, chunky clouds are a reflection.

I feel so alone.

Ah. There. Some tears.

Nausea.

Loss.

Fear.

Worry.

Photo by Alycia Fung on Pexels.com

An undeniable urge to do something remains a stone in my chest. Why can’t I remove the chains that are dragging me down… from enjoying life? Do I even want them gone? They are all I know and just today, I realized that that is truly what I’m afraid of the most: floating up into the unknown.

We all have these thoughts at some point — it’s just that others are better at breaking them down and handling them in a kind manner.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve had such serious doubts about myself and the future. The sense of doom hits rather suddenly — like a bug to the eye when you’re riding your bike.

Stop.

Breathe.

The answers are inside of us. It’s just a matter of “picking up the pieces” and finding ourselves again.

I want you, but I don’t need you: Personal thoughts on self-validation.

Social distancing has got me in the throes of passion. Passionate reflection, that is. Today’s topic is self-validation. I might have touched on it here, but it’s bothering me, so I’m going to yammer on about it again.

The Backstory

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I’ve had a MySpace, a DeviantArt, a Gaia Online (is that even a thing anymore? – come to think of it, that’s where I started getting my first art commissions for a fake currency, met my first boyfriend, and met a bunch of cool people!), a Twitter, several Instagrams, and a Facebook that I’ve deleted at least once and deactivated a bunch of times. To this day, I can’t recall why I even bothered making the rounds.

One day I’ll be all, “Yes! Let me wow my friends and family with my art! BOOM. How did you like those awesome flower photos?! SNAP. Look at this video that I found interesting and have strong opinions about!”

And then there are the days where I’m like, “No one cares. I could disappear and no one would even lift a finger to figure out why. Seriously, the world is an ocean. What’s one more drop of rain that no one will notice?” Perhaps it was a case of “seemed like a good idea at the time,” as my dear ol’ pa likes to say.

The Current Irritation

About a day ago, JST (Japan Standard Time), I posted a piece of art I worked hard on and was rather proud of. Looking back now, I should have waited for the right time of day because back home, it was something like 1AM. WHO’S AWAKE AT THAT TIME BESIDES WEIRDOS AND INSOMNIACS?! Well, needless to say, that photo currently has 8 likes.

I’m left sitting here wondering why. Is it my art style? Probably. Is it my personality? Yeah, I could use some refining. Is it the algorithm? I bet that plays a huge portion of it.

What blows my mind is that I see these young people (granted, I just turned 29, so by “young” I mean 15-23 years old) who are absolutely leveling the field. They bust onto the scene with their mad skills, using iPad Procreate and whatever else they’re using these days, to make their path to stardom squeaky clean.

Yes. I’m bitter. I’m petty. I want the same kind of attention, damnit. Am I feeling entitled just because “I’ve been doing it longer?” Why am I seeking validation from them? Why do I so badly want to be included rather than take stock and appreciate the input that matters?

The Challenge

Instead of being productive in a way that would be beneficial to my livelihood, I’m here researching how to STOP LOOKING FOR VALIDATION.

Psychology Today says:

The problem arises when self-validation is not possible or is not valued. In other words, if an individual puts the opinion, approval, or recognition of someone else over their own feelings, they will need that external, other person’s validation on an ongoing basis.

If that ain’t me in a nutshell. Seriously, when did this Notice-me-senpai BS start? Is it my Only Child Syndrome?*

In the U.S., almost 70 percent of the adult population uses Facebook, with 90.4 percent of Millennials reporting themselves to be active users. By clicking the thumbs up, posting a comment, or sharing a post, people are validating each other at an increasing rate.

This, as well as the need for in-person validation, can create anxietydepression, and low self-esteem, and make it addictive to hear praise, acceptance, and acknowledgment in all aspects of life.

I can’t say that social media is the root cause of my general depression and anxiety, but it certainly aggravates the feelings that continue to churn beneath the surface. Might I also add that, because of social media, I’ve rarely formed a genuine, off-the-grid romance with someone? Ah, but that’s a another tangent for another day.

The main point here is that, without the attention, I start feeling like I’m not good enough. (One long-winded example is here.) Like my art isn’t good enough. Like my opinions aren’t good enough. Like my advice isn’t good enough. Like my character isn’t good enough. Like… my humanity isn’t good enough.

Man, when did the world become so mean and superficial?

The Eureka Moment

Another article that I was looking at comes from Medium. The author talks about their experience and thoughts on the issue between social media and self-validation:

When we’re so focused on how others are viewing our work or daily routines, we lose sight of who we are as people and what we really care about. Instead, we view every activity or daily routine as simply another opportunity to be seen.

This brings to my mind this cycle of thinking I have. One friend will tell me that they’d like to see a certain something about Japan. The most immediate thought is, “There are tons of other YouTube stars and high profile bloggers out there that have already talked about it. Why ask me?” That absolutely tanks whatever self-confidence I had in that moment.

I’m small and insignificant.

Wait.

WAIT A GOSH DARN MINUTE THERE, COWBOY.

I kid you not, as that statement left my brain and was pooped out by my fingers, I realized how stupid that just sounded.

When that one friend says they’d like to enjoy something from me despite the world being at their fingertips and instantly accessible, they’re wanting my spin on things. They want my personality. They want my IDGAF attitude, my weird facial expressions.

It’s the same with my art! The few people that take the time to look at and like my stuff are 90% of the time people close to me. They’ve known me for years! And they know firsthand what I’m capable of… they know my talents and good points… even if I can’t see them myself.

The real meaning of life comes only from living our own truth and creating our own happiness.

[…]

Instead of relying on others to give us the confidence we need, it’s important to remember that the expectations we set for ourselves are what ultimately matter.

[…]

…when we’re so focused on what our followers think of us, we’re no longer connected to our true purpose. Instead, we’re more concerned with finding the “best” moments and capturing them as a highlight in our social media stories.

I could go on, but I want to remember what one of my uncles told me.

Emotions are a natural part of you. YOUR emotions… your feelings… your attitude about your life and everything around you is absolutely unique to you and your experiences. […] But one thing you must understand… you… are… incredible. Just the way you are. For all your weirdness, silliness, sadness, happiness, and those moments of wild abandon… and for all those moments you will feel every one of those things and more in that very instant…. you… are… wonderful. You are loved just for who and what you are.

I may want validation, but I don’t need it from social media. I can find it within myself.

You snooze, you lose, Slow News.

Inspired by one of the fellows I follow here on WordPress, I thought I would type out a quick update on my life.

Slow, indeed! My days seem to pass as thickly as molasses. There is no pressure to complete work and projects. I didn’t mention in my last post, but school is to be closed until May 6th. Classes are to resume May 7th; however, the Hamamatsu mayor said that, should PM Abe extend the duration of his state of emergency, the city will do the same.

So, what have I been doing besides being a lazy blob? Well, I’ll show you.

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I thought I would give cinnamon rolls a shot on… the 19th? Something like that. They didn’t turn out well at all. The yeast seemed to be the culprit, as it had expired a long time ago. Having gone out and replenished my stash, I tried again.

And look at how nice they turned out!

I honestly was so surprised and ecstatic. It had been so long since I had had a good cinnamon roll. Obviously, these were no Cinnabon, but there was something so pleasing about enjoying these.

I disobeyed the whole social distancing thing, hopped on a bus, and went downtown to share these with my friends. Bless their hearts. Carla said,

“Thank you so much Ashley!! They were amazing. … My friend Marie didn’t realise you’d baked them – she thought they were from a bakery!” (she has her own site, too! You should give it a go)

and Mr. M (his ID done been snatched) said,

“They certainly were the genuine article. I’d pay money for those, true fact.”

I gave the tray in the picture to my neighbor down the street to enjoy with her children. She commented too that they were very good. Couple with my various other hobbies, I’m on the sure path to filling, at least part-way, my grandmother’s shoes. That woman is amazing, I love her so much!

Anyway. Yeah.

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Then I tried my hand at chocolate donuts since donut shops are not a dime a dozen around here.

If you want it done, best to do it yourself, right? Isn’t that way it goes…?

At first, I tried frying them, but after I made the oil way too hotI thought it would be best to hang on to the remainder of the dough and try again some other time (it got baked).

It was a rather sticky and expensive experience. One cup of cocoa powder cost me about $4 USD at my local supermarket. As hindsight is 20/20, I’ll have to see what Amazon Pantry has baking ingredients going for.

Leaving the bit about adding chicken-fried oil to the fresh oil aside, I found my donuts tasted better the day after. I suppose the sugar glaze had ample time to soak in and make it taste that much more delicious!

Have you ever tried making cinnamon rolls or donuts? If yes, how did it go? If not, what are your reasons for not trying?

Next up is, after seeing one of my friends enjoy her home-grown garden, I wanted to do the same. I’m no stranger to growing vegetables, as I’ve been successful with cucumbers back home in hot AF Las Vegas. It’s hard to believe that, once upon a time, Las Vegas was a flourishing tropical oasis. NOT NO MORE.

Anyway. After digging up… ha.. see what I did there?… No? That’s OK. After digging up some garden starter ideas on the internet, I decided to make a trip to the hardware/gardening center a ways away. They didn’t have much in the way of herbs, so I ended up going with these guys:

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Photo was taken April 27, 2020

I planted radishes, basil, Japanese basil (shiso), and two kinds of lettuces. A long time ago, my breakfast diet was typically eggs and toast and/or hash browns drowned in ketchup. Nutritious, I know. Now, I enjoy a green salad with my eggs (sometimes I’ll throw in yogurt, natto, toast, soup, or some kind of meat too!). This free lettuce buffet will help me cut down on the grocery bill just a smidge.

Have you tried growing a garden before? Let me hear about it!

Lastly, did I mention before that I’ve started uploading videos to my YouTube channel? I can guarantee 100% that it’s the most boring material you’ll ever watch and listen to. But as a challenge to myself, I’ve been reading Harry Potter.

Unfortunately, the videos’ve come to a standstill as I’ve run into a snag with receiving strong enough internet. Thanks but no thanks, corona, you’ve gone and closed McDonald’s. It was my closest provider of speeds capable of uploading a video file. I won’t lose heart though. Some real internet will be in the works once I’m able to secure an installation date, but… who knows how long that’s going to take? UGH.

At least I’ve got some dinky pocket WiFi to tide me over. I’m not a big user, you see.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying sane and healthy!