The last week was a bit mad. I finally had a day off today, and it feels nothing like one.
Last Thursday I started going back to work. I’m trying to cram 30 hours into 3 days and give myself a four-day weekend so I can actually keep up with all my other work, so I’ve been starting around 7:00 in the morning so I can theoretically head home around 6:00 p.m., though it often ends up being later. It’s been a little stressful, and I haven’t found the balance yet.
I’m trying to be 100% corporate on my “on” days and 100% private when I’m off. I’ve figured out that I essentially have four jobs—AAR, Metamorphosis, FGL, and my actual paying job, between all of which I’m trying to wedge in work on Fragile Order and keeping my website alive. So you could potentially put the total as high as six.
Why am I back at work? Partly because nothing else really seemed to be materializing in my month off—though I’ll admit I hadn’t really started to look, either—and partly because I felt badly watching people struggle on my account. I’d discovered that total freedom meant that I was as likely to waste a day as use it productively, and I was hoping that having proper work three days a week would encourage me to use the remaining time more wisely. I was also (pleasantly) forced to extend my “tied to Japan” timeline by two months when I was offered the part of Bob Cratchit in TIP’s December production of A Kabuki Christmas Carol, which meant I had to think about long-term cash levels a little more seriously.
Many of the issues that led to my departure have not really changed, and while the initial round of euphoria at seeing old friends was pleasant, we’ve quickly sunk back into business as usual. I'm also dealing with some of the consequences of slinking off without telling most of my coworkers I was leaving (oops). There is a prospect for change, however.
No Gaijin for You
On Sunday I went out to help a friend look for an apartment in Shibuya. I quite like apartment hunting, and as I set up my own apartment when I moved to Saitama three years ago, I knew most of the ropes. But on Sunday, we never got out of the real estate agent’s office. Why? Because when the agent started calling the property managers, nine of the first ten said flatly that they wouldn’t lease to foreigners. After that I stopped counting, but barring a small handful of successes, the story was consistently the same—no foreigners.
The real estate agent started getting frustrated himself, and he upped my friend’s Japanese-ness with every phone call until he became a hyper-fluent Super Gaijin, more Japanese at heart than the Japanese people around him. Still no dice.
Between calls, we speculated on whether this had something to do with all the foreigners who left after the quake. If this was the case, it was entirely incongruent—a foreigner who had stuck around during the quake, as my friend had, should conversely be more trusted because he’d held his ground through thick and thin (I, on the other hand, had taken all my lease documents with me to Hiroshima just in case I needed to detonate all my bridges remotely).
Nothing had been resolved by the time I had to take off for an FGL strategy session three and a half hours later. After that it was off to our first Metamorphosis read-thru, where I fiddled around with my new lens and got some more decent shots of human subjects (the first few are just quickie body shots):
Thoughts Generated by a Cyclone
On Monday I came home to another few AAR editing jobs, which I had to sit on for a day just so I could get some sleep. One of the articles was about the conclusion of AAR’s relief efforts in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis in 2008. The event was largely underpublicized, as it was overshadowed ten days later by China’s Sichuan earthquake.
138,000 people died. And then the government just stopped counting. In the last 30 years, only the Sumatra and Haiti quakes caused more loss of life. By comparison, there were 88,000 dead and missing after the Sichuan quake, and there are 25,800 dead or missing in the wake of Japan’s quake in March.
After the cyclone, the paranoid generals running the country refused to allow foreign aid in for weeks. The first wave of aid ships actually had to withdraw because they were refused permission to land. As so often happens when I read these articles and do the necessary background research, I was once again staggered by the sheer display of human pettiness.
Giving it some more thought, I considered that this was not unique to the people running Myanmar. It isn’t even unique to isolated dictators who hold onto power through repression. People in power everywhere will perpetuate suffering rather than admit a threat to their positions. It’s a common human action. Only the scale of effect differs.
Doesn’t it happen in companies, where ideas that could make everyone’s lives easier are crushed because they didn’t come from the right person, or because they conflict with some long-standing ideology? In the American political arena it's almost too easy to draw the comparison: don’t the Republicans and Democrats hold all of America hostage as they fight endless battles hinged around a tenuous two- or four-year hiccup of supremacy?
It was around midnight, and I found myself sitting alone in my apartment swinging a fist at nothing at all, feeling completely right as I exclaimed, “The world is shit!”
Then I sat back down and went back to editing.
Ah, short-lived certitude and rage.
Ishinomaki At Last
Tomorrow I am going to Ishinomaki with the Peace Boat, a four-day effort organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan. It's not a full week, but after my last failed attempt, I’m just hoping that this one works out.
Things certainly have changed. In early April the main concern was freezing at night; now it’s all about avoiding heatstroke. Back then, we received a single yellow sheet signing our lives away, a few guesses as to what to expect, and a hearty “good luck!” Now there are half a dozen twenty-page documents to read through. Not only do we no longer need to bring water, but food is also provided, along with working gear like masks, gloves, boots and goggles. It’s amazing how quickly an effort like this gets standardized and smoothed out.
My biggest concern is whether or not I’ll be able to sleep in the heat. That, and whether my tetanus shot will kick in soon enough after I get it renewed tomorrow.
I’m planning on bringing my print copy of #quakebook with me for the trip. It seems appropriate.