Saturday, December 22, 2007

Grappling with the Future

I just finished reading David Mura's Turning Japanese last night, a book I blogged about early on in my reading. As Sisyphus expected, I was struck by Mura's discussion of his relationship with his wife and other women, and by his relationships with his parents. The afterward was interesting to me because I'd expected Susan (his wife) to have left him, but apparently not; but during the main part of the text, he represents their conflicts, and her calling him on his sexism and racism. In the afterward, he talks about heightening some aspects of the main text for effect, including some of their conflicts, and so on, and I found that a helpful reminder about how writers choose to represent relationships. What's written isn't transparent, ever, even if the writer's trying very hard. And mostly, writers aren't trying to be transparent about relationships and such.

And most of us take a long time (if ever) to really get a very deep grasp of other people and relationships we're involved with. Maybe that's just me? Maybe I'm the only person who takes forever to realize things.

But Mura's relationship with his parents was interesting because he's sort of unwilling to recognize that we probably all tell ourselves daily lies just to get through.

One of the things that fascinated me about his book was his sense of basically looking Japanese but not speaking the language, and not actually having all the body language of someone more culturally vested in Japanese life. That comes out well when he talks about his parents in Japan, and how his parents' language skills quickly surpassed his, as they drew upon childhood memories.

I'm getting more and more set to go out to my own adventure, and I'm excited and nervous. At times, the nerves dominate, but that will settle once I get there, I think. I hope.

Some of my colleagues across campus have been giving me advice. One of my colleagues was warning me about culture shock and how different it's going to be to not look like the dominant race. I don't think my colleague's ever been to a place where s/he doesn't speak the dominant language, but s/he has always lived where s/he was easily identifiable as not being the dominant race. And I think that must be hard in a way I won't ever quite grasp fully. In the Peace Corps, I could always hold in the back of my mind that I would go home, that my country wasn't the country I was in, and that it was okay to feel like an alien. Can you really do that with your birth country?

I don't know quite how to react to some of the warnings. I expect culture shock, indeed. But that doesn't mean I know how it will be for me now, at this time of my life. I know how it was when I was in the Peace Corps; I know how it feels to look very different, to be the one pulled off the bus to fill out forms and get checked over. But what I did there was so very different that I don't quite know what to expect of myself. For one thing, I'll be in a university atmosphere, teaching, so there will be a degree of familiarity, and a degree of estrangement where things depart from my expectations.

I don't have a lot of knowledge or fascination with Asian culture; one of the reasons I applied for this opportunity was my unfamiliarity.

But I do know that living in a different culture, a different country, and dealing with a new language prompted a tremendous level of growth for me when I was in the Peace Corps, and I know that challenging myself now will be good for me. And yet I'm also a bit hesitant now, nervous about taking each of the next few steps.


  1. Hey look, I've been referenced, yay. I must admit I read Mura as if he didn't catch what he was doing, as if he wasn't really thinking about the layers and effects he was producing, which is kinda naive (or ungenerous --- he can't be doing that *on purpose* like a great artist, could he?). I'll have to think about that more.

    So you're reading this in a preface to going somewhere, interesting. --- That must produce a very different effect when reading. It should be fun --- nerve-wracking, but fun! Keep us posted on what you learn.

  2. Sisyphus, Yep, I'm teaching abroad next semester. You can guess where :) I don't usually think much about the artfulness of non-fiction writers, but I realized I really should when I read the afterword.

  3. I guess the warnings are meant to help you, but do they? As if you are not apprehensive about living in an entirely different culture. You know that culture shock will happen, but you are right, even in knowing so, you still cannot prepare for it. We always wish to prepare ourselves for everything. So what do you do when you go to work abroad? Be always on the lookout? Retreat in an inner shell because you are so apprehensive about what could happen? Maybe it is better to let life happen and just live. And when culture shock sets in, it is not the end of the world, rather acknowledge it and move on. Be sad, be grumpy, and sooner or later be happy again. And I bet that this is exactly what will happen. You sound like you enjoy new experiences and adventures. Unfamiliarity can be tiresome, but it also lets you make new experiences and learn about yourself. It makes you live life, and what is better than that.

  4. It's going to be amazing...and I can't wait to read about it!

  5. Where in Japan are you headed (if you don't mind answering!)? I was in Fukuoka last year on a teaching Fulbright and loved it....

    Have you read Cathy Davidson's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji? Interesting counterpoint to Mura, as is Kyoko Mori's Polite Lies. Definitely recommend them.