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I'm back at work but you bet I'm not walking. I'm driving an hour each direction.

Someday I'd like to walk again.

Last week was just my first week, which of course meant a delicate struggle between wanting to be there less often because of the stress and wanting to be there more often to bring my hours closer to full time.

This job is really cool, but, just as I thought I would, I'm realizing that I left a job in Japan that was painfully easy, that was more than twice the pay, and that I was pretty damn good at. It's a little tragic.

Still, I consider it a victory in confidence and optimism if I was able to walk away from such a privileged life without panicking. I'll let you know
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Don't be Facebook friends with your dentist. It doesn't matter how young and/or attractive he is. You'll always be looking at his pictures and status updates thinking, "How much of your fancy trip to Tokyo was paid for by my last filling?"
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Sometimes I go use the half bath when someone is in the bathroom - not because I've gotta go, but because I can. God bless the traditional American house.
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Going through one of my old high school assignment notebooks I saw a "blog-this-later note" scribbled in the margin.

"Beauty of human movement! 'Whoa! I can do anything!'"

You're welcome, High School Me. I am finally writing about it.

Even when you're not on drugs, looking at your hand is pretty damn amazing when you think about all the things we're capable of doing with our bodies . It feels particularly powerful when you compare it to other living things that can't move or to people who have lost some or all of their mobility.

But I'm not writing about this because it was such a profound yet simple thought. I'm writing about it because just seeing the writing on this page reminded me of how excited I was about the idea at the time.

...also I think it's cute that I've been meticulously using day-planners and assignment notebooks as my lifeblood since middle school. Did I even foresee what kind of a raging to-do-lister I would become?
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In two years of running in Japan I was never once yelled at from a car and I never once encountered a dangerous dog. Or rarely ran past any dog now that I think about it, with the exception of the stray I had a stare down contest with one time by the bridge.

Here annoyances are a regular occurrence. I don't understand why high schoolers think it's funny to yell incoherent things or "Run, Forrest, Run!" as they drive by. Is it a disrespect toward healthiness or just general asshattery?

And the dogs. God, the dogs. There are days where I meet one every block and more often than not the owner either can't control the dog or isn't paying any kind of attention. Keep your dog on a leash. I don't care how well-behaved you think it is. Most dogs will chase a runner, biker, or other dog even if it's just to the end of the driveway. If you have an ankle biter, keep it on a short leash. If your dog is too strong for you, walk it with a friend or, god forbid, own a dog you're equipped to care for.

It's one thing when I'm running, I can go to the other side of the street even if it's a pain in the ass. When I'm biking though, most dogs I encounter get worked up about it. I don't want to get bit or knocked over. I certainly don't want to worry about whether you'll let your dog run out and get tangled up in my tires - consequently effing both of us up.

What gets me the most though is when I'm out with my dog. I don't want to worry about the safety of my own dog on the street because you're over-confident in your dog's "people skills." Deep down, most people know whether their dog is an asshole or not. They're just too lazy to do anything about it. My dog is not an asshole and has never come close to putting her mouth or paws on anyone or any other dog, but I keep her on a short leash anyhow because a long leash can still trip up a stranger and I know she gets excited and wants to say hello when others pass by.

I love animals, but I don't think everyone is worthy of being a pet owner. Whether it's malice or negligence - conscious or unconscious, a lot of people don't take proper care of their animals and often aren't respectful of the people around them even if they do all right by the dog. I like that a dog at a pet store will cost you 600-2,000 dollars in Japan. If you're willing to pay that much money for your animal, chances are you're going to give it the forethought and care it needs. It won't guarantee you as a good pet owner, but it will at least rule out some of the dumbshits.
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Being in my brother's newly finished house made me emo yesterday. I want to liberate my beautiful belongings from storage. I want an apartment. I want a life.
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On my locked-out jaunt the other day, I also came upon a couple standing with their bicycles on opposite sides of the sidewalk. She was clearly berating him for some failure on his share of parental responsibilities and by the things she was saying I assume there's some divorce lawyer backing it up. They looked like normal middle class people - just face to face, arguing on the sidewalk.

I thought about my options but there was no way I could get around them on either side. I had to go between them. I suppose they were asking to be interrupted, firstly by arguing in public, secondly by claiming opposite sides of the sidewalk. Had they been on the same side I could have just swung it wide and pretended not to hear. I said excuse me in a small voice, hunched a little, and rushed through. She paused. He made a point of saying hello to me like nothing was wrong.

I'd go so far as to say most people in the U.S. wouldn't do this. The thing that got me, though, was that they were two very average looking people. They could have been your parents or mine and they really seemed not to think it was a big deal. I got to thinking about whether something like this would happen in Japan. It wouldn't, but not necessarily because people are above fighting about divorce or even fighting in public. Maybe they would be ashamed of strangers knowing their business, or maybe they would rather run than have any discussion at all in public or in private. It's really hard to say what drives any person, no matter the culture.
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The other day I had to take a little walk in the midst of a coffee shop excursion because I'm awesome and so good at remembering to lock the car (even if the purse and keys are also in there by accident). My brother was working less than a mile away so I decided to walk on by and see if I couldn't borrow his cell phone to call Mom.

It just happened to be 3:00 as I walked past the parochial junior high and it was kind of cool to see American kids all over. It was even cooler because it was one of those days I dressed to the 9's in order to make myself feel better about going to a coffee shop to apply for jobs on the internet. So here I was, walking down the street all 5'10" of me in my bigass sunglasses and short red dress. I could see girls trying to look cool with their friends as I passed and boys turning around to steal glances as they walked in front of me. The thing about kids, though, is that they lack the social awareness to tell them when they're being convincing and when their intentions are clear as day. It was fun to look at their faces and know they were thinking, "Who is that woman? She looks fancy." I walked taller and smiled more gracefully, trying not to disappoint.

Before you scold me for patting myself on the back too hard, let me say that anyone not wearing a hoodie in this town looks important.
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A week ago I started a blog entry that went something like this...

Being back where I grew up, in my parents' house bored and unemployed in a small town it's hard not to feel like I'm all the way back where I started. Same problems, same frustrations, same fears. It all feels the same? Am I the same?

What's so terrifying about being the same?

It's awful to feel like after years of hard work and emotional growth (and struggle), you're still back at square one like none of it ever happened.

Then again, even if I'm dealing with the same problems, I have different answers. Actually, the distinction is that I HAVE answers at all. I spent the summer months between university years doing nothing and feeling uninspired and inexplicably anxious. Later, in the months before I went to Japan I was pretty much in the same boat but this time I recognized the root of the problems - I just didn't know how to fix them.

But no, things aren't really the same. They're different now. My thinking is different now. I may be in the same place but I HAVE grown and I HAVE learned and I've brought those things back with me. I know how to solve the problems now. I can self-soothe. If I'm feeling angsty I get out of the house. If I have nowhere to go, I run or walk the dog. If I'm tired of housework I apply for jobs. If I'm tired of sitting and applying for jobs, I make something with my hands. I have solutions now.

...That was last week though. This week has been harder as my phone calls to friends go unanswered and I never seem to get job interviews in spite of the amazement that is my resume. I can't start my life until I get to a new city and I can't get to a new city until I have a job. I'm stuck. This feeling of being stuck is a lot like before - even if I've learned how to get out and am doing everything in my power to do so, I'm still stuck. Even if I know how to make changes in my life, the changes aren't drastic enough. I guess maybe I still have a lot to learn.

I think when they say "reverse culture shock" it's a little misleading. It definitely exists, but I'm not shocked by the people, the country, or the culture as I was when I first went to Japan. Now I already understand all of that, the kicker though is that I am shocked by how hard it is to find where I fit into it all.
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Wind chimes during the day are delightful and soothing.

Wind chimes at night are terrifying and eerie and I don't want to be the last person awake in my house with the windows open ever again.
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I love working. I was never meant to be unemployed. Being unemployed is hard for me. I need a purpose. Once I start I never stop. Once I stop I never start.

Prioritizing? It's always like WTF now. There's a million things to do but none of it is any more important than another.

I spent most of yesterday cooking and baking just for the hell of it and because I have fresh produce, and then because my grandpa was coming over for dinner. I ran a couple miles. I cut my dog's hair. I cleaned up the house a bit. Then the day was shot.

I'm desperate to get out of here, you'd think I'd have applied to 30 jobs by now. Seems today has to be job day again.

How is it 11:30 AM already?
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After almost a month I finally raised the energy to go downstairs and dig through all of my stuff stored away in the basement. At first, trying to reconcile the stuff from two years of life into an entirely different life I'd set on pause was a bit of a challenge. Not to mention, that life had pretty much given me my own household, and besides as a fresh college graduate I still hadn't dealt with the life I'd led before I grew into the person I am today. Combine that with my being exhausted with traveling so much in the Japan experience and feeling desperate to purge myself of excess baggage and you get...well...a clusterfuck.

But I'm feeling better. A little more capable every day. To be honest, once I got my hands on it and stopped feeling overwhelmed I began to OWN that basement. It's been shockingly easy to clear things out. Old junk I'd held on to out of nostalgia, fear, or insecurity flew right into the trash bin. I'm not that person anymore. I can get rid of mediocre things without worrying about whether or not I'll have the finances or methods to replace them with something better. My priorities are different. It's not so much that I'm throwing away my past or devaluing my old life, just that I only need to keep a couple My Little Pony toys instead of the whole damn 40 pony collection. I'll keep my best art and interior design projects for the memories...the rest of it I'll salute one last time and toss it.

It feels good. Owning your possessions instead of letting them own you makes a huge difference in one's sense of independence and self-satisfaction.
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The quest for closure. What's it mean to end one life and begin another? How much of that old life do you keep? How many of those people do you try to keep in your new life? I want all of them - per usual greedy Steph - but I'm finding they're going to take a lot more effort than any relationships I've tried to maintain before. I think it'll require a thought change as well.

As far as my personal life and government life goes, I can't shake the feeling like I've forgotten something. I was super organized, so it's pretty much impossible that I forgot something and still it just feels like with all that busy-ness there HAS to be something I've forgotten.

I'm getting a lot of comfort from my mementos and keepsakes, though. They help to remind me of how I felt and that Japan was real. Yesterday I picked up the books and winter clothes I'd sent back with Jackie and Antoine when they came to visit. It was nice because there was a memory board and some Japanese dishes I could get excited about in there as well. It was a little upsetting when I first got off the plane and stared at my two suitcases and said, "this is it??" I feel much better now that more and more of my stuff arrives at my door, but even so it's weird to think 4 suitcases and 2 cardboard boxes are my only tangible proof of two busy, busy years in Japan.

It's weirder yet to think that if I hopped on a plane right now, my apartment wouldn't be there as I remember it. I keep thinking, "Did I ever eat that cauliflower that was in the freezer? Did I remember to bring my DS charger?" I always quickly realize that I must have, considering the apartment was absolutely empty when I left. While I've been sad not to have a new ALT successor, there are perks like knowing I left nothing behind by accident in a successor's inheritance.

More importantly, though, not having a successor means I don't feel like I've been completely replaced. Sure, Stacy is working my job, but she's got her own life and so there's no creepy (and angst-generating) feeling like she's stolen mine. Though in a way I do feel like I was robbed of a little closure. I spent 2 years believing I'd end my time in Japan by handing my life over to someone new - teaching them the ropes and completing the full JET circle. I spent a lot of time imagining what that would be like, and then it never happened. I told Stacy some stuff, then I cleaned out the apartment and turned in my keys. The end?

The odd part of all this is that, while I feel like things ought to still be the same, I still feel so permanently disconnected from it all. It makes me feel like I should already be sending out emails or cards to people back in Hokkaido. But why? I'm not settled yet, nothing has changed, there's no news! It's only been two weeks. Still, I feel disconnected. Of course, this makes sense in a very natural way; It's just confusing, that's all.

And yet, to be honest I rarely think about it because home feels so much like home...though even so, if you put me on an airplane, Hokkaido would come rushing back to me and instantaneously push the US out of my head. For being such a future-and-past thinker, I'm such a here-and-now feeler.

As I always say, so much about international moving is just doing what you have to do. When I'd leave the US and return to Japan, I was never "leaving my home." In my mind it was always me "going to the airport." I wasn't "moving out" when I left my apartment, I was "packing a suitcase." The last two years was just me doing what I knew I was supposed to do next. That's all I could wrap my mind around.

Absence is always hard to fully understand (I think the length of this blog entry proves that). Life in Hokkaido is exactly the same for all my friends who stayed, minus me and a few others and plus a few more. That makes a huge difference and really no difference at all. For me, it's weird to think I won't go to another ALT gathering in Hokkaido. Sapporo Orientation, the Halloween costume contest, mid-year conference...all of it will happen without me and I won't be missed. Then the other day I saw a festival picture on Facebook and thought, "Hey, who's that girl? I know so many of the foreigners in Hokkaido JET circles, so who the hell is that!...and wait, who's that guy? And that other guy, too??" Then I remembered over 100 new ALTs have come to replace those who left. Oh, right. The yearly change ACTUALLY happened, even though I wasn't there to see it. But here I am living well in the US, so this mourning isn't usually something that REALLY plagues me.

Anyway, family in a new house, friends god-knows-where, and a new job, new apartment, new friends, and new life on the way.I had no idea what I was in for upon my return home and somehow this life I could have never imagined two weeks ago is actually happening.
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My last night in Japan I was too excited to sleep. Additionally, my first night here in the States, too, I kept waking up from excitement. In fact, though I've fallen asleep okay, most days in the last two weeks I've woken up early, itching to get started. There is so much life to be lived. So many new bridges to build. It's invigorating and scary to think my life is an open book.

Unfortunately I've been so sleep deprived that I try to continue sleeping instead of getting up to apply the energy productively. A note to those trying to get over jet lag - you really need a comatose sleep night or two right off the bat or you're effed. When I have done that in the past I could jump right into American life. This time though, I continued not getting sleep and so it took almost two weeks to adjust! And I still take naps during the day sometimes or pass out on the floor.

And my teeth hurt really badly today, too. I must be clenching them in my sleep again. Actually, I think I've managed to break off a tiny chip on the corner of one of my bottom front teeth. I had better get a mouth guard again, as much as I loathed using the one I had in Japan.

I'm pretty sure, given the exhaustion and pained teeth, that I've been sleeping poorly still. Though it's less agonizing in this environment than it was when I was alone in Japan and uncomfortable on my stinky old mattress, it's something I have got to figure out soon because it's gone on long enough. I kind of assumed it would change once I left Japan. It still may change when I finally get settled in a job and an apartment...Unless this is just my fate?

Oh well, at least I have the hope and energy when the morning comes. I didn't have that before.
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Two weeks into this life and I'm only just getting out of the habit of rehearsing conversations in my head before they happen.

For the first week or so I would translate what I needed to say into Japanese whenever I was about to do something I'd never done before or about to do something that I was nervous about doing - a remnant of "preparing" to get business done in Japan and being optimally prepared. By the second week I'd abandoned the Japanese and switched to preparing word-for-word what I was going to say in English.

Anxiety issues? Probably haha
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I've been here a week and I'm still surprised and pleased every time a stranger smiles and says hello to me.

Kind of makes me wonder how we can think Japanese culture is friendly when the people don't even smile. And yet, I won't judge until I've seen life from a Japanese person's perspective (I don't pretend foreignness didn't play into my experiences).

Anyway, the point isn't to rip on Japan, it's to give props to America for having something golden to be proud of.

Another underlying point is that when I look around here, I feel like I really belong. I see it as a world of possibility. Not just because I understand this place and know a lot of the tricks, but also because of the freedom in our culture. I've been waking up comfortable and ready to get down to business every day.
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Today I wore my favorite dress in its natural state (without a tank top undershirt) for the first time in two years. Purse free of the weight from my DS dictionary and camera, open-toed high heels without the worry of guaranteed rain, and cleavage roaring, I was a majestic beast.

America looks good on me.
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I have to keep reminding myself to smile at people and say hello. Whenever I run into a stranger on the street it goes like, Reaction 1: natural impulse to smile, Reaction 2: chiding gut reaction to fight impulse after two years of greeting rejections and people avoiding me as a foreigner, and finally Reaction 3: remembering I'm not in Japan anymore and forcing myself to go with the first instinct haha

Gotta fight some of that Japanese conditioning. It's really nice to be able to go with my guts again without second guessing.
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I'm home now. Chapter 4 of Steph is over and Chapter 5 is about to begin.

The day before I left Japan I was too excited to sleep. I slept about an hour, was woken up by an earthquake, and slept another hour. After 3 hours of lying sleeplessly in bed, around 5AM I just got up and started to clean again. I managed to finish most of the cleaning, but of course I had a lot on the agenda from 9AM (going to the bank, the post office, to school, etc etc PLUS dropping leftover stuff off at local ALT houses) which cut it pretty close considering I wanted to leave at 9:30. Fortunately my eikaiwa showed up along with Batman Dad and my upstairs neighbor and we task-forced the shit out of my entire life. I showed up to the airport with an hour to spare, after we divided and conquered Muroran. I've never been so grateful for help in my entire life haha

I'm sure I won't write as much about the transition as I feel like I should. It was a whirlwind weekend and most of my memories are just smudges of emotions and reflections rather than stories to be shared. Furthermore, it now feels ultimately finished.

One thing I certainly want to touch on, however, is my send-off. My eikaiwa coming to the airport with me really made a world of difference. Not just for the use of their cars and for their help on my to-do list, but for the love. Going to the airport by myself would have meant just me and my thoughts, putting whatever slant on the last 2 years my always-critical, rarely confident, brain wanted to put on it. Going with the people who always took such good care of me, however, meant my "Japanese family" saw me off until my American family could pick me up again. It made me feel loved, safe, and satisfied.

I feel like my biggest goal before going to Japan was for me to come back to America with some REAL relationships and memories I could hold on to. It was touch and go for a while, there have been many times in two years where I wasn't confident I was going to have that, but I can say with confidence that when I go back to Japan someday there will be people eager to see me. It took until my last day to really realize it, but I feel like I achieved that dream.
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The empty apartment and storage shed doesn't even feel lonely or sad, it feels great. I wish I had done it sooner!! Not only is it nice to purge the crap, but each bag of trash brings me one step closer to completion.

Still a lot of crap in this apartment for having less than 24 hours to go, which worries me. But I figure whatever I get done, I get done. Considering I've done it all alone and the apartment was a disaster when I received it...Whether people know it or not or judge me for the messiness or not, it won't be my problem and I know myself that I've done everything I can.
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