Sunday, February 03, 2008

One More Year

There are a couple of times a year that I find myself reflecting upon my life and its direction more than at other times. It’s probably similar for most people, the beginning of the year and before my birthday. As my birthday is in the beginning of March I find myself looking inward a lot in the first two months of the year. This year is no exception.

For Wayne and I, we know we only have one more year left in Japan before we head back to Australia. It hadn’t always been planned that way, there were times we thought we’d stay here until we’d put children through kindergarten to give them a good bilingual start, others when we thought we’d be going back to Aussie shores this March to start a family. There have even been brief moments when the stress that living in another country can add to a marriage that I’ve feared we’d be returning to Australia at different times.

With time rushing by as it seems to do, I start to look at why we came here in the first place and what I want to achieve before I leave.

Coming to Japan was not a long thought out decision, but rather an impulse that felt so right. I had lived in Japan for three years and was back in Australia as an ex-gaijin trying to find my feet once again. I found that the gaijin part of me never went away. Japan had seated itself in my heart and was there to stay. It was in my fourth year back in Australia that as desperate to grow roots in the country as I was, the universe seemed to be telling me that wasn’t where I was supposed to be.

It was a bad year. Only months after moving in with a friend, a new man in her life wanted them to live together so I needed to find a new home. Wayne and I spent weeks going from one rental inspection to another until we found the perfect place. It was an early 1920s Queensland Colonial with polished wood floors, pressed ceilings and a huge second bedroom with perfect light for my studio. It is the type of place I have always wanted. Our request to sign a long lease was denied and instead, we signed the standard 6 month lease with assurances that we could renew it at the end of that time.

In the space of a handful of months, both before and after the move, bad luck seemed to visit our door. Between the two of us, we suffered through the deaths of four people close to us. My new job went sour and I and other staff found ourselves having to seek legal advice to be paid the wages we were due. In the next few months I found myself changing jobs a number of times, something I’d never done before. I came very close to buying a small art gallery with a coffee shop, but that deal also fell through.

I was then finally in a job that I loved, an English school with a real international selection of students. My boss was a true inspiration in her passion for teaching and life. My fellow teachers, all so intelligent, well traveled and funny, quickly became dear friends. My classes were great and often I had classes filled with people from all different cultures. Students changed and then I had a class with all Japanese women. I loved the class but a homesickness for Japan set in. I had the feeling I could be doing the same job in Japan.

The final blow came suddenly. Right after getting engaged, I had just lost two people very special to me and was still in the midst of grief. We got a letter to say that the owner of the house wanted to move family in there and so would not be renewing our contract in a month’s time.

Something snapped that night. I felt that every attempt I’d made that year to put down roots had failed. I felt that the universe was telling me that Australia was not the place I was supposed to be at that time. Wayne and I made the very difficult decision that I would come to Japan for a year. On my own. We would hold off wedding plans until I came back, I just needed to get away, to come back to Japan, to photograph, to finish the book I was writing.

The next morning I awoke at 4am. I had a large order for my sideline business to get out that day before I left for work. I touched Wayne’s shoulder and began to cry. I couldn’t imagine not waking up next to him every morning. In my studio I managed to work while tears ran down my face. Suddenly, a light bulb went off. He was looking for a change, looking for a break from his business. Why couldn’t he come with me? We didn’t have a mortgage yet, no children. What was tying us down? At five, as the sun was just beginning to give a golden glow to the bedroom, I touched his bare shoulder once more, this time to wake him.

“Why don’t we sell everything we own and just go, go to Japan together?” I asked.

As the sleep in his eyes wore off, I could almost see the thoughts turning over in his head. After fifteen minutes he agreed. “Yep, let’s do it!”

And that’s exactly what we did.

The decision to move back has been a much harder and drawn out one. For months last year we were on a rollercoaster of uncertainty. I’m sure I drove my workmate nuts, everyday telling them, “We’ve decided to stay” and the next, “We’ve decided to go.” While the resolve changed everyday, how I felt about it changed by the hour. It was a relief when we came to a final conclusion, regardless of what it was.

So for now, we have one more year, and a bit, left in Japan. It’s hard not to get lost in the teaching and with making extra money to put towards a house and a family. It’s hard not to get caught up on the fact that I should be, at this later stage in life, concentrating on being in my best shape to have a child. Somedays, it’s hard not to get frustrated with cold teacher’s rooms and crappy school lunches that I now know I’ll have to put up with for another year. But for the next year, I’m going to try my hardest to do what I came here for in the first place. To write, to photograph, to soak up and to journal the creative inspirations this place has to offer.

Just one more year.


Fuji Mama said...

A nice reminder to stop focusing on the difficult things about living here, and appreciate all the wonderful things while we can!

Contamination said...

Make the most of it! As for me, I figure I've got at least another 40-50 years here, depending on medical advances and my ability to stay away from fried chicken.

Well, your decision to move was not as planned as mine, but from what I read it seems like a good one none the less.

Shari said...

I'm curious what was at the root of your decision. Is it simply your dissatisfaction with your job or is it a feeling that it's time to go home and start getting a life together there?

If it's just the job you have now, you could always seek out better opportunities.

It's very easy to get caught up in life here and just not go. I know because my original plan was 5 years and now it's going on 18!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Very open and honest. Thanks for sharing.

Honestly, you've handled the adversity in your life so far much better than I ever would have.

I'm not a good one for giving advice, but I do believe that life is too short to choose to do things (talking major life decisions here) because you feel you have to. I say, be selfish and decide to do something because you really want to do it.

sarah said...

Difficult times, but each day has its reason. Thanks for sharing with us.

BTW, are you in Nagoya? If so, (or even if not!) drop me a quick line :)


Melanie Gray Augustin said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I sometimes get a bit nervous about writing something really personal on my blog...

Fuji Mama, you're right, and believe me at the moment it's a reminder I really need. I'm going through a bit of a bump in the Japan road at the moment, but I think that may be because of the cold weather.

Contamination, yeh, this time around, many of my gaijin friends are lifers or close to it. I always love to hear how people came to be here.... feel like sharing?

Hi Shari, the decision to move back was actually because of babies... We planned to have a child/children here but that all changed when a gaijin friend of mine had hers here. While the pre-natal and birthing care was a bit different from home, it was more the initial few months as a new mum that changed my mind. It was watching some of the difficulties she had, and watching her struggle through it even though she's fluent in Japanese, has a Japanese husband to help with the written language, the forms and cultural issues, her mother came from Australia to help for the first month and she relies a bit on her mother-in-law for help (she even takes the baby one day a week). While of course my friends would help as much as they could, I still wouldn't have that support and that freaked me out. I'm in complete awe of Fuji Mama for having a child over here without family to help.

Hey southofreality, yeah, as I said I get a bit nervous about writing really personal stuff, not that I want to share, but sometimes I worry that I'm sharing too much.

Hey Sara, I just read your blog - amazing work. I've only read a little bit so far, but in the next week I'll sit down with a good cup of tea and enjoy it further. I'm not in Nagoya, but close by. Would love to hear from you.

sarah said...

Greetings! I'm curious... did you have a piece in the Foreign Artist's display in Nagoya? It was a kimono made entirely of tea bags, and it was the piece I remember the most.

If you are interested in prose, poetry, script-writing, etc... come on out and join us at Nagoya Writes. We meet the 4th Sunday of every month at a pub called Misfits. It's very informal (but not so informal that the pub is open to all - for three hours it's only for people interested in reading a piece or listening.) Quite a few people come out just for a listen, and it's a good chance to meet some interesting folks. If you're interested, drop me a line. Misfits has a website They also have foreign artist exhibitions every few months where an artist can hang his or her photos or paintings on the walls (and hopefully sell some for the time they're hanging).
That's all for now. Keep up the great blog! :)

スサナ said...

just wanted to say "omedetou" for your blog
keep on writing please!