27 April 2012

On Being a Writer

A couple of weeks ago, shortly after we moved into our apartment, Amos and I began our Japanese lessons in earnest. We have a tutor, Kiyomi-san, who comes to our house twice a week. I have to admit that I ruin all her carefully planned lessons with incessant questions and phrases I just need to know.

“Kiyomi-san,” I’ll say, “How do you say ‘Coffee for here, please?’ and what about ‘No bag, thanks’ and how do you make a reservation at a restaurant? 

Sumimasen, Kiyomi-sensei," I'll say, not five minutes later, "How do you say ‘May I have a glass of red wine’ and what’s the kanji for pork and beef and chicken, and what IS bean milk? Oh, and where can I get baking soda ... and whole bean coffee?” 

Needless to say, we’re really lucky to have her; Japan is much more navigable with her help. She’d qualify for sainthood based on her patience alone. 

In our first lesson we were talking about professional titles. I learned the words for banker, office worker, student. I learned how to say ‘My husband is an engineer.’ Then, ever so casually, as if she was unaware of the personal crisis she was about to unleash, she casually said “Sarah-san, you’re a housewife, so you would say Watashi wa shufu desu.” 

If you had looked at my chest at that exact moment, ever so closely, you could have seen the outline of my heart as it tried to escape from my body. 

I am a housewife.

Housewives in Japan are much more common, accepted, (and, I’d argue, respected) then they are back in the States. I won’t go into the cultural differences right now, though – rest assured – I have pages and pages in my journal sorting out my feelings. 

Watashi wa shufu desu.

Here I was, smugly thinking that I left all my angst back in my early 20s, only to find it took two seconds and a pithy four words to bring it rushing back. I had never imaged myself a housewife. I always thought there would be a little person or two running around, needing constant care, before Amos and I decided that one of us should stay at home (and we never assumed it would automatically be me). I never thought I’d be ushered into the housewife status at all, let alone as a 27-year-old newlywed. This is 2012, not 1952. What’s more, I really like my career. Like, really like it. Like, I can't wait to be back in the swing of it again.

My husband, as we were doing the dishes one night and I was processing shufu and what I thought my life would look like and what it does look like, he gently and quietly disagreed with me. “You write, Sarah,” he said. “You write every day. Haven’t you always said it would be a dream of yours to have a set time in your life when you could just focus on writing?” 

Shit. I guess I did. (He was listening to that?). 

The thing is, I feel so uncomfortable saying that I’m a writer. Who is reading my work? Who is paying me to write? I’m not freelancing; I’m not published; I have a small blog, a drip in the ocean of a million Bloggers and Wordpresses. I am not a big fish. I’m not even a little fish. I’m a fucking tadpole. 

As much as I hate the word shufu, it seems almost easier to attach that label then to call myself writer. (Ug, did I really just say that? Honesty blows). To call myself a writer is to publicly acknowledge what I want, what’s important to me, what I care about, and what I might not be great at. Shufu is a silly, funny, gut-wrenching title that can be easily chalked up to our expat status and the fact that I don't have much desire to teach English and freelancing in a different timezone is near impossible.

But I’m a writer. I write every damn day. I write short stories; I write long stories; I write here; I write in my journal; I write thoughts down on scraps of paper. I know it sounds silly, especially considering the quality of my posts earlier this week, but I’m getting better at writing. My writing has made leaps and bounds since studying Literary Fiction at UW when I was an unfulfilled CPA. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and it’s only in my adulthood that I’ve let that dream be pushed aside by its failure to meet outside definitions, like ‘readership’ and ‘payment.’ I mean, of course, I’d love those two things -- I’m too self-centered practical not to -- but those do not make a writer. Putting pen to paper makes a writer. 

I’m not thrilled with everything I put up – a blog, by definition, is too close to a shitty first draft for me to feel entirely comfortable – but it holds me accountable to be diligent about my process. In a life that lacks structure, Jackson Riley functions as an account-a-bil-a-buddy to my writing, keeping me honest and out of bed and off the sauce (Hyperbole! Look at me, being a writer!). 

Perhaps, one day in the not distant future, I won’t need to post so frequently, and I can just publish what I really like. I can expose less and edit more. Here in Nagoya, sitting alone at my breakfast bar, I just can’t. I have to push and put those posts up because it keeps me going, keeps me pushing through to find my voice, holding my feet to the fire in a way that my journal and my short stories cannot. This space forces me to speak into the megaphone and put my voice out there, into the great beyond and acknowledge that today, I am a writer. 

Watashi wa sakka desu. 

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