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I've never daylogged before. Maybe I never will again. But it's been a rough week or so, and I feel the need to write something about it, and set it all down in some semblance of order where someone will see it. On the other hand, I don't know how much I expect anyone else to care about this, but here it is (where it hopefully won't do any harm).

A very good friend died last week. Her name was Amy, and I've never met a stronger or more unique person in my whole life... I've never experienced anything like this up to now. Sure, people I've known in passing, or worked with, or been related to have died. Even people in our little "community" make some kind of impact when they go, but nothing like this - at least not for me. I don't know where to begin, so I guess the beginning will do.

Amy had been diagnosed about a month ago with multiple sclerosis. It was a complicated diagnosis, because she had already been having a lot of difficulty with what she (and her doctor) thought was the recurrence of a ten-year-old back injury she suffered in a car accident. It was enough to keep her from working full-time, and by the time the neurologist sent her in for an MRI she was already on disability.

She was hardly an invalid, however. She had some pain and a few other symptoms - and occasional bouts of partial paralysis from the waist down, which was probably what set off the light bulb over her neurologist's head. But when I saw her a few days prior, she was still walking around and being her normal, vibrant self.

Saturday night - June 22, 2002 I think - Amy called me at home. We talked for a while about this and that, and finally she asked me if I wanted to drive her to Circuit City to look for a big-screen TV. (She could have driven, but she wanted me along for company, and just in case she started to have trouble.) I had friends coming over in a couple of hours, but because I wanted to help however I could (and because I never could say no to Amy in any case) I agreed.

This was a big mistake, but one I'm very, very glad I made.

Suffice it to say that TV shopping took a little too long, and in the meantime my idiot friends showed up at my place before I was expecting them, and called me irritably on the cellphone. I, being my usual keyed-up self, got all pissed off at myself for trying to do too much in too little time, and I know I inadvertently took some of it out on Amy. But she bought her TV and I took her home, and I told her I was sorry for getting so stressed out. She told me she didn't take it personally, and that was that.

I talked to her again a day or two later, and I was glad to hear that she didn't seem to be angry at me from before. It was just another rambling phone conversation, like friends often have, but it was the last time I talked to her.

The rest of the week went on normally enough, until Thursday evening when I happened to be at my parents' house watching the local news, and I saw a story about a 33-year-old woman being reported as Maryland's first heat-related death of the season. Had I been a bit less paranoid I might have thought no more of it, but when I got home I checked a few online news sources, hoping to be reassured so that I could quiet the tiny nagging voice that was worrying me a little. As it turned out, the Web told me that it was a 33-year-old white woman from Aspen Hill, Maryland, who also suffered from multiple sclerosis. Five for five.

At this point I started to get seriously scared. It was almost midnight, far too late to call anyone. Since I had to run a few errands anyway, I went to the grocery store and in the meantime took a quick swing past Amy's house, figuring that at least if I saw it covered in police line do not cross tape I'd know for sure. It wasn't, of course, but her beloved Mercedes SLK was gone, replaced with another car I'd never seen before, and all the lights were out except for some electric candles in the windows. Which proved nothing, by itself, but it sure as hell didn't make me feel any better.

So, with the aid of some judicious self-medication, I finally got to bed, intending to find out first thing on Friday what was up, but grimly suspecting that my friend was probably really gone... unbelievable. The next morning I left a rather shaky message on her voicemail, and sent her an email link to the news story, hoping to have a good laugh about it with her over the weekend. But when I got to work, there was a forwarded email waiting for me from a mutual friend, informing me that Amy had passed away in the early hours on Tuesday. Tuesday! There was never any real elaboration on exactly how she died, but I didn't and don't want to think about that too much.

That evening I handled the situation as any red-blooded human being would: I drank myself into a motherfucking coma. Who wouldn't? I guess at that point my brain hadn't really assimilated the information, so some drunken carousing was all I really wanted.

The rest of the weekend I helped Amy's friends prepare for her funeral, which was the following Monday. I knew it would be difficult, but I wasn't prepared for just how hard reality hit me that day. Here I was at a slightly ghoulish spectacle which up until now I had associated with octogenarian grandparents and people I hadn't ever really known, but there at the entrance was a picture of this beautiful blonde woman, whom I had half-expected to attend my funeral someday. This was not a fragile person... I mean, all human beings are fragile, but never have I met someone with such sheer fortitude. I'm proud to say that I was able to draw on some of her strength: I helped carry her casket in and out of the church, and I even got up to say a few words about her (ordinarily an unthinkable task for someone as shy as me). But when I got home I was crying like a little girl.

There was a time when I had a severe crush on this woman, as big as any I'd had in high school. But fortunately, in the course of our being coworkers and even afterward, our relationship had evolved past that, to the point where I was proud and happy to consider her my friend, and nothing more. Even so, the towering uniqueness of her personality was such that I really and truly loved her. I never told her in so many words, perhaps because of all the baggage that went with it, but I think she understood. In fact, the last time I talked to her, I said that the only reason I had gotten myself into going shopping with her that Saturday night, even though I didn't really have time, was because I cared about her. I like to think she cared back.

As hard as all of this is and will continue to be, the thing that galls me the most is that I know there was a lot of mileage left on our friendship. She was a little bit older and a lot more mature than I am, and in what turned out to be the tiny sliver of time we had together, she taught me all sorts of valuable lessons about life and about myself, and I hope I'll never forget those things, or the beautiful human being who taught me. Here it is, four days after "closure" and it still hurts like a bitch.

I'm rambling like a moron. I apologize to anyone still reading this. I just needed to assure myself that none of this will ever be lost forever, or something like that. I don't know.

I miss you, damn you for being so damn amazing.

It's a mystery to me
the game commences
for the usual fee
plus expenses
confidential information
it's in a diary
this is my investigation
it's not a public inquiry

--Dire Straits
Private Investigations

Progress commences after setting aside blocks of time to re-think, re-plot and re-write the novel I have been working on for five years. In essence, the story is already written, across over more than two thousand pages of aborted drafts and notes. To write is to experience beautiful, gorgeous pain throughout the process that brings you from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other. Finishing one difficult paragraph of a lengthy novel can produce elation when you finally figure out the problem with the wording that gnawed at you all night and made you toss and turn in your sleep. Writing fifty pages and then reading those fifty pages and knowing it just doesn't work makes you reach for the bottle and grip it tightly. You feel the time slipping away and feel you might never complete what you set out to accomplish. Yet you must be like the mountain climber and continue attacking the beast that is the mountain so that you may conquer it rather than admitting it conquered you.

This novel began as a diary, but it was never a normal diary. It was a notebook of dreams, a chronicle of life as seen through one man's eyes. It was about his painful depression, how it was brought on by being unable to meet his own expectations. It was about the experience of death, the details of lucid dreams brought on by that experience. It had to do with a friendship that eroded over time and a love that was never fully realized. It was about failure and success and how the two are only the distance of perception apart. It had to be melted down and allowed to gel into a story that meant something, not just to himself but to those who might read it.

There have been so many rewrites it is difficult to count how many, as three were written from beginning to end and the others were fragments in the river. To tell the story of one's own life in the form of a novel is not an easy task, as I once commented to someone here on E2, "with other stories I can change the details, plot and characters when I feel the need. With this I have no such luxury." In the end I gave in and changed some details, which has been a difficult prospect when trying to stay true to a complex tale which is based on a very true story. The answers I sought came in the form of condensing the story and condensing the characters so I could cover twenty years in one novel rather than focusing on one event. What to focus on and what to leave on the cutting room floor? The narcissistic nature of the project makes it a tight rope to walk, as I must constantly hit myself in the head with a brick and ask what is relevant to the story and what is just a memory I enjoy having.

The novel is meant to be a commentary on the human condition and how we can find ourselves dependent upon others to define us within their contexts. It is meant to be about the liberation one can find when one is secure enough in oneself to be able to move forward because of a belief in the self that no longer requires others to rubber stamp their approval. It is about life and death and the thin line between the two. It is about patterns that develop in our lives and how difficult it can be to break those patterns. Sometimes those patterns are important and mean something we have yet to realize and other times those patterns are self-destructive and need to be broken. It is about finding inspiration for the future in the past and how the present can stay one step behind us or one step ahead.

I came to E2 over a year ago by accident. I was looking for something else. I was looking for inspiration. I was looking for kindred souls. I ended up finding a lot of that here. Much of what I have posted on E2 are fragments and tangents from the novel. There is a super-condensed version somewhere hereabouts and countless other pieces that are either redefined parts of prior drafts or ideas that sprung up and needed to be coughed up so I could concentrate on the task at hand. Writers have a hard time admitting that sometimes they need to cough up a furball. This is what makes E2 a delicious alternative. We can cough up a furball, but it needs to be polished first and that keeps us sharper. Scribbling ideas in a journal or notebook we may never read again pales by comparison. Here one knows when they have hacked up something awful or when their idea or their writing has strong appeal. Writers have to write constantly or they go mad, but when the only person who sees what you write is yourself and maybe a handful of half-interested friends and family it is too much like radio silence. Writing in a vacuum is like pissing into the wind.

Life goes on. The words are coming out and there is an adrenaline rush accompanying them. One day it will no longer be a private investigation but a matter of public inquiry. My fit of daylogging madness is the result of too many furballs that I cannot justify calling anything other than a musing of the day. Thanks for listening as I cough up these furballs. Sometimes when the curtains are drawn and no one is there... the voice in the wilderness sounds so much clearer...

By the way, I do believe in daylogs...
I do, I do, I do...
I believe in taking away their shame.
There are times when we have something to say...
Something that isn't necessarily worthy of "a node of its own."
If E2 is in fact a community...
Then daylogs are part of that.
Sometimes we want to communicate something that is more than a few lines of /msg
Or even more than an AIM or IRC kinda thing.
Let's face it, the community communicates primarily electronically.
And so be it.
I declare a moratorium on daylog shame.

Mainly on the Plane

The condition:

You see, I have this condition. It's kind of weird, and I don't like to talk about it.

I cry.

I know what you're saying, "Everybody Hurts, everybody cries."

Not like this. I cry constantly. I simply can't stop. I have to drink three gallons of water every day so I don't dehydrate.

I keep a hankie to dab my eye with. I don't remember exactly how it started. It just did. Can't stop it. I look, people say, like I'm weeping constantly. As if I never finished mourning the deaths of my parents.

People ask me about it mostly when I ride next to them when we fly together. Sometimes I tell them that my tear drainage duct, which runs from your eye into your sinus cavity, is clogged. So that when my eyes make tears, which we all do to lubricate our eyes in the sockets and keep them moist. That's only the physiological answer. They can fix it with a simple probe, minor surgery. But that didn't work with me. Probes can't penetrate the wall. The Dr. says it's got something to do with the bones being irregularly shaped in my face.

The people who know me closest still can't tell when I'm really crying. This has its bonuses. I can go to the movies, and because I'm a wuss, I can cry at the end of the film, as in being sad, and my friends think it's my condition.

I can't help it. Whenver someone says "I love you," and seems to mean it, something lets go inside. Whenever someone loses another person, I go gooey. Emotional heartstrings are tugged easily in any direction.

This is my condition.


Yesterday | Today | Tomorrow

Right now, I am smoking a cigarette. Camel Turkish Gold, actually. It feels good. I enjoy smoking. But I know these impulses will kill me. After this one, there are two left in my pack. I am going to smoke those, then...well, that's it. I'm quitting. I remember joking with a friend saying, "I can quit any time I want, I've already done it a dozen times." Well, this is it. The real deal. If I don't make it now, I don't know how much hope there is for me. This is it. God, I hope I can do this.

Even though I have been here for only a week or so, it already feels like home. I have never met a more amazing group of individuals in my life. My promise to myself, however, is this: if I ever smoke a cigarette, E2 will no longer be my browser's home page, and I will exile myself for a month. No Everything whatsoever. If that doesn't motivate me, then, well...I'm pretty much fucked. Wish me luck.

I spent my Independence Day doing the unusual, as per custom in my life: I unpacked some boxes in my freshly moved-in apartment, grew lazy, dragged my work-a-holic spouse down with sapping indolance, and proceeded to lounge about on our new leopard-patterned chaise, engrossed in a David Lynch mini-marathon (Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet). How's that for odd yet typical? Odder yet, I vaguely heard America celebrate its 226th birthday with a snap-pop-boom! somewhere in the distance and the perpherial distraction of firework colors reflecting in my window pane - just as Denis Hoppper screamed "Daddy’s coming home!" at Isabella Rossellini’s vagina.

The whole thing would have probably made a great Lynchian scene itself: creepy, surreal, and flirting with a snap-mad symbolism alluding to...

Dear moviegoing Hot Damn 2 attendees: please accept my heartfelt apologies for leading you astray yesterday. It was not my intention. I hope the pair of you whose names I didn't catch and who opted not to ride in the back of my station wagon made it back to Zot's okay.

I was dizzy from the heat. I thought I was prepared. I had cleared out the back of my station wagon and put pillows in to make the cramped space (hopefully) more comfy. I had written down the movie times. I knew how to get to the theater, but forgot to go over the precise streets before I went back to the party to collect people. I didn't expect to be the only one who knew where we were going.

My sense of city navigation is sketchy at best, and I don't live near campus or Victorian Village and don't drive that area on a regular basis. I memorize routes in mosaic chunks stitched together by landmark recognition. So when people riding in other cars started asking me, "Where is the movie theater? How do we get there?" my response was good up to a point. The main problem was my brain was envisioning the end route of King Avenue when I was telling everyone Lane Avenue, a parallel street several miles to the north. And so I was telling people to turn right onto Olentangy from Lane when what they needed to do was to turn left.


Luckily, the bulk of the moviegoers were in a van that prudently followed me instead of relying on my directions, and we got to the AMC Lennox just fine. And soon after, someone with a cell phone made contact with one carful of the Misled, who then contacted another carful. As far as I know, they were able to get to the theater in time.

Our group saw The Powerpuff Girls Movie; it was much more entertaining than Men In Black II, which I saw on opening day. I laughed consistently throughout the Powerpuff Girls, as did the dozen or so other noders at the showing. MIB II was fun, but I left feeling the movie had gone flat toward the end and lacked sufficient plot development (the romance angle just wasn't believable and really needed work -- I never bought that he wouldn't deneuralize the girl). And it didn't have any new ideas. The Powerpuff Girls, on the other hand, had a plot that was more than just a padded-out TV episode, and the writing was sharp and clever.

Later, a bunch of us went to the The 'Dube for eats and drinks. I got to chat with Atesh and a few other noders I'd not met before.

But even after spending most of the afternoon and evening in cool, air-conditioned comfort ... I was just wiped out by midnight last night. My blood has gotten really thick from living up here in the Midwest so long, and I have no tolerance for this uber-hot weather anymore.

*deep breath*

This afternoon, I was at the kitchen table, finishing lunch. My mother was sitting beside me, and my father was leaning into the open fridge, reaching for a bottle of Diet Coke. They were engaging in an idle conversation, but I don't remember what they were talking about. All I felt was my own rushing heartbeat and the adrenaline pumping through my system as I considered the remote possibility that today, I would stop hiding. I would tell them the truth.

I reached to grab a few remaining goldfish crackers on my plate, but stopped mid-movement when I realized my hand was shaking uncontrollably. I snatched it back quickly and burried both my hands in my lap, staring down at the table. I was so scared. We'd talked about this before, a remote subject to be pondered from afar. How would they react when they found out it had landed right on their doorstep? They'd assured me many times before, we will always love you, no matter who you are. Were they telling the truth? Because if they rejected me, I knew without a doubt I would end my life. My parents are everything to me. I couldn't stand to know that I had disappointed them. I love them far too much for that.

My father dropped a few ice cubes in his glass and poured out the foaming soda. He asked me something, but I didn't hear him. He shrugged, picked up his glass, and turned his body towards the door.

I had to do it now. I couldn't wait anymore.

Mom? Dad? Can I talk to you about something.. important?

My father turned back and took a seat. My mother, who had been chuckling at some comment my father had made as he was leaving the room, cut off her laughter and asked with a voice of concern,

Sure sweety, what is it?

And everything slowed down. Two words. That's all I needed to say. Two small words, and it would be over. Smile. Relax. Attack.

I'm gay.

I'd known since I was twelve years old. I'd sulked through seventh and eighth grade year; punishing myself for being such a freak, a loser, a fag. I waltzed through Freshmen and Sophomore year; hoping that if I stopped paying attention, this part of me would just go away. It worked for a little while.

And then I had a dream. The most beautiful three hours of my life. It felt so right. I wasn't ashamed in that world, I wasn't afraid. As dreams go, it was a terribly mundane one. Even if I could remember it all, it really doesn't matter to anyone but myself.

When I woke from that dream, I woke to reality as well. I am who I am. I can be no other person. Denial will not change that. It was only feeding my self-loathing to keep trying.

Still, I wasn't ready to tell anyone. I'm thin skinned. I need others' approval. If someone dislikes me, I'll do everything I can to remedy the situation, and worry over it constantly if I can't. Admitting my secret would put me in the best possible position to be hated and loathed by as many people at one time as one could hope for. The thought terrified me.

Why I told them, I don't know. Nothing's changed in our relationship. My mother works in theater, and my father's best friend is married to another man. There really wasn't even anything for me to worry about. I mean, the conversation pretty much went like this:

Oh, ok. Have you dated anyone yet? Do you want us to change the way we do anything? Will you be careful? Alright, thank you for telling us, don't forget to do your Calculus homework!

My body went into fight-or-flight mode for nothing at all. And the relief is indescribable.

It's going to be difficult. I'll have some doors closed to me, and others opened. There are some people who will always hate me. That's a truism in any case; you can't please everyone. Now there are just a few more unappeasables. Not so bad. I can handle that.

Without this weight, I feel so light. I feel so free. E2 was a part of that process of letting go. Thank you very much.

All of you.

A friend with weed is a friend indeed.
Insomnia struck again last night, and I had a job interview this morning. I got the job, but it's only part time. You have to take what you can get though. I'll barely make enough to live off of, so thank $DEITY for the black market.
Weed gets you through times of no money better than money gets you through times of no weed.
I wish I could remember who it was who said that.

perpetually in the process
    of falling asleep
perceptually programmed to
    be a slave to the
rhythmically changing daily
    cycles consistent
within the mind perpetually

9+5+9+5+9+5+9 = 51 That's prime right? Significant? No, I think I just need sleep.

So although I turn 35 on Saturday, Angela works then; so celebration day is Friday. Which according to the date atop this node is today, in daylog world, though I'm writing this on Saturday and AM INDEED 35. But pretend it's still yesterday, okay?

I have a hard time figuring out what I want to do on birthdays and so I almost always feel dissatisfied afterward. This time I worked out a list of Stuff that I enjoy doing and which is within our budget (um...mostly) and made a schedule that would allow for maximum fun-stuff-doing and minimal frustrating aimlessness:

  1. Go to the bank and get money.
  2. Go to Vons and get cake mix.
  3. Drive to Tower Video in Point Loma (along the way playing CDs by Weezer and the Who at high volume), which we haven't been to in over a year but which has the best anime selection in town. Rent much anime.
  4. Drive to Round Table Pizza in Rancho Bernardo. Eat pizza and play the jukebox.
  5. Drive back to Mira Mesa and catch a post-lunch showing of Men In Black II.
  6. Make a side trip to Aaron Brothers for framing materials.
  7. Go home. Angela will bake cake and make dinner, and then we will watch our haul of anime.

Steps 1 and 2 were handily condensed when we woke up enough to realize that Vons would give us cash back when we made our purchase there. Angela woke up in a bad mood because of a combination of some things that happened earlier in the week and being awakened way too early by a persistent cat, but through a heroic effort suppressed it because she didn't want to spoil our day together. I was deeply touched by this.

So we headed out to Tower Video, a nice drive down the 805 freeway and a jog westward on the 8. When we got to where the 8 meets the 5 and we were to dive off it onto Rosecrans Blvd., cars were backed up to get on the 5 north toward the beaches. People were driving like nutcases in order to jockey for position. I had to be very nimble several times during the day.

We pulled up to the intersection where, traditionally, Tower Records sits opposite Tower Video. What ho! There IS no Tower Video building anymore! As the Tower Records sign still said "Tower Video" on it, however, we figured they'd combined the two.

Well. After much fruitless searching for the rental section, a polite and helpful young employee who looked exactly like Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame regretfully told us that Tower had gotten out of the rental business altogether. He said that most of the stock had been bought up by Kensington Video (which is a fantastic video store in our old neighborhood) and we might try there. As it was near eleven o'clock and we were starting to get hungry, I decided to abandon anime for the moment and move on to lunch.

Driving up the 15 freeway toward Rancho Bernardo, we hit Poway Road. I remembered that there was also a Round Table in Poway so I hurled us off the freeway and onto the exit, dodging uncooperative motorists. After a pleasant drive through Poway, which at times felt like an entirely different part of California, we found the (eerily quiet) restaurant and had lunch. Mmmmmm. Round Table pizza GOOD. I popped three quarters in the jukebox and played:

"Are all of these your selections?" Angela asked.

"Yes," I said. "I have really good taste in music," I added by way of explanation.

We returned to Mira Mesa with plenty of time to spare in order to catch the 12:45 showing of MIB II. While waiting in line we chatted briefly with a goofball former co-worker of Angela's who'd recently left Barnes & Noble for the Best Buy across the street. He complained angrily about the minimum wage going up again, declaring that since it was never meant to support a family with 1.5 children, it should not be raised to make that possible. Whatever, man.

Fortunately, they opened the theater doors at that point and we hurried inside. There were a couple of intriguing previews (like I Spy starring Owen Wilson and Eddie Murphy), then a mediocre cartoon, and then the main feature. MIB 2 is mostly incoherent. The action meanders, plot elements come out of nowhere and then fizzle out, the "mystery" is lame and way too much like the first movie's (a search for a powerful artifact brought here by alien royalty, no one knows what exactly it is, a hard-to-kill bad guy who's taken the guise of a human is after it). But Will Smith is funny. And you get to see Lara Flynn Boyle in lingerie a lot. My advice is to wait for the video.

We walked over to Aaron Borthers, who didn't have the frame sizes Angela needed. At this point the day could be considered to have been a bust, full of denied fun and dashed expectations, but we were both having a good time. But now what? The day was still young and full of unfulfilled promise.

We decided to try and find some anime in the neighborhood. A trip to Hollywood Video turned up a dubbed version of Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis on tape -- since the store normally had the DVD, we decided to wait until that came back in and we could see it in Japanese. Feh on dubs! Then we went to Wherehouse which also seems to be getting out of the video rental business as there was almost nothing there. JUST OUT OF CURIOSITY, we wandered over to the section where anime DVDs were on sale.

Dude! Look at all the cool stuff! We hadn't seen any anime in ages because of the poor rental situation, and there were all these titles we'd heard about but never encountered. Since Angela hadn't gotten me a gift yet, we decided that at this point the gift of an anime DVD was entirely appropriate. After a great deal of thought we headed home with a brand-new copy of Dual!.

By this time Angela was pretty tuckered out and didn't much feel like baking a cake AND making dinner, so we decided to get Chinese food. I put in a call to Szechuan House and got a recorded message saying they were closed until Saturday. DENIED AGAIN! So while Angela baked, I ran up to Rice King for gyoza and and order of mushroom chicken, which we ate while watching the first two episodes of Dual!. While the food was merely okay, the anime rocked, being sort of a combination of El-Hazard and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Hooray for Dual!

Then we had ice cream (saving the cake for today...er, tomorrow), I left the dishes for another time, and we read in bed for a while and fell asleep. It was a good day.

Here's yet another weekly dump of entries from my diary, which I'm writing as I'm going through national service in the Swedish Army. For more background see my wu in this node. This write-up covers days 15-21, also known as July 1 through 7. Enjoy the read. We did some fun things this week, such as combat excercises that involved shooting my fellow soldiers with so-called practice rounds. Now I know what Counter-Strike is like in real life...

2nd of July, 2002 - 09:37
Life's been busy lately. We spent the better part of Monday marching four kilometers in full combat gear (including a very heavy backpack) - this was not quite as hard as it sounds but suffice to say all of us were pretty tired afterwards. The rest of the day was spent on basic combat excercises, as well as more medical care stuff. Nothing too exciting.

Later, we put our tents up, dug latrine pits and all that stuff. The night passed without anything really out of the ordinary. Today we've been doing more combat training, and after lunch we'll do some shooting exercises with so-called "loose" ammo. Right now, it's time for more theory. One minute left, better go ...

2nd of July, 2002 - 20:02
Starting to get more used to being in the field (as opposed to the relatively comfortable environment back at the base). After lunch we did a combat excercise where we ran around in the forest shooting at each other. It was exciting firing a real steel automatic rifle for the first time, and the feeling of taking aim for an enemy, who has not yet spotted you, in the middle of the forest, is wonderful. Good thing we weren't using live ammo. I'm starting to learn more and more how it feels to be a soldier, both the good and the bad bits of it. Tonight we're going to have a proper camp fire, complete with hot dogs for everyone.

4th of July, 2002 - 23:42
Another busy week is approaching its end. Yesterday (Wednesday) we packed our things and left our former home in the forest, one day earlier than originally planned. Apart from going "home", not too much else happened that day, apart from the usual boring excercises, which nonetheless took up enough of my time to keep me from writing. Today, however, we've done some much more interesting things: Before lunch, we learned how to properly assume good firing positions, and how to command other people to do so.

(Note: FYI, A "firing position", means a place where you can stand, sit or lie down somewhat comfortably, waiting for the enemy to walk into your field of vision so you can whack him with whatever weapon you happen to be carrying.)

The afternoon was spent practicing setting up perimeter alarm mines, little things with tripwires that give off a lot of light and sound whenever someone trips them. Very useful. We also used the shooting range for the first time, which also included firing with live ammo for the first time. Fortunately, there were no accidents, though my aim clearly needs a little improvement.

5th of July, 2002 - 21:40
Home again, and it feels good. Today was spent cleaning our weapons (fun) as well as our barracks (boring). We also got proper nametags, replacing the hand-written ones we'd worn before. Soon we'll get to hand in requests for what kind of jobs we'll get once basic training is over with. The coming weeks will be spent on guard training and similar stuff. Personall, I hope we'll get to spend more time on the shooting range...

<-- day 8-14 | day 22-28 -->

third day's a charm

weill in japan: day 03

As I plan to get my third night's rest in Japan tonight, I also look back on a very eventful day at ICU.

early to bed, earlier to rise

Getting used to the time difference here has been somewhat of an ordeal. Last night I went to bed extremely early, at about 8:30 PM, and woke up at 3:20 AM initially. The upside was that I could easily take a morning shower and get dressed in time to leave the house at 7:30 AM; of course, such a sleep schedule isn't exactly productive. I called my family at 7:15 AM local time, or 8:15 PM last night New York time, to check in. All is well here.

Even though most Japanese families do not take morning showers, my family seems to be okay with my shower schedule. In a twist on my New York home life, I get up and get ready to go long before the rest of my family does. We'll see how long that lasts. This morning, my host mother shadowed me on her motorbike as I walked to and from the train station. It's a long but manageable walk.

welcome to ICU. please bend over.

The Summer Courses in Japanese program starts with a placement test to determine each student's proficiency in Japanese. The test takes about 2 1/2 hours and has three parts: aural (listening exercises), RWV (reading, writing, and vocabular), and comprehensive (grammar and reading comprehension). The first part, where we listen to spoken sentences and passages, was incredibly hard, and I think I did terribly on it. Most other students agreed that it was very intense. The second part, with 90 Kanji and vocabulary questions to be answered in 30 minutes, was okay but I made a few stupid mistakes. The last part's grammar questions were manageable, but like most students I didn't get to the mammoth reading comprehension portion until very close to the end of the section time.

I signed up for the Advanced level course, since I had most recently taken Advanced Japanese II at Carnegie Mellon. It looks like "Advanced" at ICU means "Why are you studying?" The results will be posted on Monday.

strength in numbers

The highlight of the day was getting to meet and speak with many other ICU students, including people at both the Global House dormitory and in homestays. Both the dorm and the homestay program have their advantages and disadvantages. The dorm features a little more personal freedom, but ICU imposes a strict curfew and no cooking, alcohol consumption, or private visitors are permitted. Also, the dorm is on campus, making commuting much easier. Since there are so many students concentrated in the dorm, planning fun activities is much easier. I expect to see my classmates only on campus, but those in the dorms see each other constantly. Dorm living has social advantages.

On the other hand, a homestay includes home-cooked meals and a fully immersive language environment. I haven't found the situation at my house too constricting lately, as my initial anxiety has waned. Although my family includes two twenty-something sons, I see very little of them due to their late-skewing schedules. The inclusion of meals is the single biggest advantage to homestay life, according to the dorm students, since those in the dorms must use the on-campus dining hall or seek food in the area every day. Of course, no two homestays are alike. There are dream homestays and there are nightmare homestays.

There are 117 students studying at ICU this summer, representing 20 countries. They are of many different ages, experience levels, and personal backgrounds. There is a fairly even balance between males and females. All are very nice: after the orientation meeting, I spoke with several students about my homestay so far and about anything else that came to mind.

The on-campus minister, Paul Johnson, has a great sense of humor. He's also very aggressive about students immersing themselves in Japanese culture. Here's a quote from him earlier today.

Yesterday, while at Musashi-sakai station, I saw a few of you. Two of you were sitting at a Starbucks drinking coffee. That's a yellow card. (pulls out a soccer-style yellow card) However, I saw another two of you sitting near the station eating some Kentucky Fried Chicken. That... is a red card. (pulls out a red card) I have a lot of these, so be careful.

Maybe you had to be there.

Speaking of the on-campus minister, a brief prayer was said before we started our social hour. It was non-denominational, and didn't bother the non-Christian students (myself included) at all. ICU was founded on Christian principles and has bilingual services every Sunday, but is not aggressive in its religious affiliation. I don't foresee any problems there.

independent amusement

After returning to Ogikubo station but before calling my host mother, I took it upon myself to explore the expansive shopping area that I wrote about yesterday. It's incredible how much there is for sale there, but I was disappointed not to see more electronic goods. A pilgrimage to Akihabara, the "Electric Town," tomorrow will be much better. Fortunately, there are several video arcades near the station. They feature prize-winning games, with prizes that include giant bags of ramen noodles and giant plush toys. Also, I played pachinko, the addictive pinball-like game that Japan is (in)famous for, but didn't really enjoy it all that much. Arcades that allow children have pachinko and slot machines set up to award "medals" instead of coins, similar to the tickets awarded in American arcades. A lot of high school students were there playing games to blow off steam. To encourage repeat business, several games accept a card that costs ¥500 ($4.17) to save personal data. Each game costs ¥100 ($0.83) but is often set to longer play settings. For example, the fighting games I played were set to best-of-five matches instead of the usual best-of-three.

Near the station is an authentic pachinko-ya, a place which deals exclusively in pachinko machines which pay out real money. After spending just a few seconds inside, I had to get out. First of all, I didn't really want to play. Secondly, the noise from thousands of balls clanking around is absolutely deafening. Much like casino slot machine addicts, pachinko players will chain-smoke as they gamble away coin after coin in depressing succession. There are other ways to gamble, including slot machines, video poker, and virtual horse racing. I swear that I'm not making this up. People sit around a tiny race track and gamble on little plastic horses that vibrate around the track like Electric Football players. Fascinating stuff, but I decided not to blow any money on it.

food overload

I hope that my host mother is getting the message that I don't eat very much at all, particularly within three hours of eating previously. When at home, I dread waiting to be called down for dinner since I know that I won't eat everything on my plate. I talked with some other students on campus about this problem, and they confirmed that it is not even confined to Japan: in many European countries, mothers insist that their families eat everything that they're served. There are physical limits to how much I can eat, and they tend to be lower in the summer.

tv fun

Not too long after I arrived, I noted that Japanese TV isn't as unintentionally hilarious as it was when I watched segments in class. I think that was because I was watching in a group when it was funny, and alone when it wasn't. Over dinner, my host parents and I watched a Japanese baseball game, and I found some of the commercials to be just silly. A Pepsi commercial featured lots of American good-looking people in swimsuits, and some footage of Japanese-born baseball sensation Ichiro Suzuki. PlayStation commercials end with the same "pureesuteeshon" tag-line as they do in the U.S. Most commercials are 15 seconds or less, so the editing makes everything go in ultra-fast motion. It has to be seen to be believed.

my first weekend

I still have a couple of tasks to do this weekend, but exploring the city of Tokyo is definitely one of them. I'm taking lots of pictures, but uploading them will probably be done after I get back to America and its wonderful cable modem Internet access.

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