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Archive for January, 2014

A Tremendously Successful and Endlessly Interesting Social Experiment – 31 January 2014

There’s a book written by a guy named Brian Tracy entitled The Psychology of Selling.  It’s one of those self-help dealies, the kind of thing where I’d spend seventy-five bucks, a week’s worth of waiting on pins and needles, and another week trudging through all the information only to find it’s chock-full of claptrap and common sense stuff an eight-year-old would recognize. I mean, listen to this section of blurb—

“Most people don’t like talking to salespeople. We’ve gotten a bad rap […] You probably feel like the odds are stacked against you—and you’re right. But I’m about to show you my proven system for turning the odds in your favor…”

Really? If you’re a salesman, this guy pretty much calls you a failure to your face, tells you people don’t like you, then tells you to shape up and buy his… whatever. His book/CD/DVD combo pack or something.  And if you were a failing salesman with an axe to grind you probably would, too.

The mark of a slimeball, but of an excellent rhetorician as well.

A bit closer to home, away from Capitol Hill and cult compounds,  people like Brian Tracy rhetoricize in front of us every day, and we never realize it—though to be clearer, we just don’t care. Think about it. The last item of clothing you bought, that snazzy case for your iPhone you just had to have, where you ate lunch today—did you really make all those decisions? Hell no! Sure you physically made them, but you can bet your ass you were influenced by something you saw or heard. We get bombarded with advertisements and television commercials and billboards and magazine pullouts every minute of every hour of every day, and we’ve become so desensitized most of it gets relegated to our subconscious until something sparks us and triggers a shopping spree or something. Is this a bad thing? If you think that making people more consumer-oriented is bad, then yeah, it probably is. But it also speaks volumes to the potential power packed in every word, and how those words ought to be applied in our everyday lives.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the maxim about how an excellent salesman could sell ice to an Eskimo (or an Inuit, to be culturally and politically correct). Have you ever thought about how a salesman would theoretically do this? It wouldn’t be an easy prospect, but I guarantee that he’d make the Eskimos (Inuit) feel somehow that the ice they’ve been living on isn’t as good as the ice he wants to sell them, even though it’s most likely the same damn ice. Now, most people think that the only way our salesman could sell ice to the Inuit is through fast-talking and underhanded trickeration but it’s because of his excellent grasp on the basics of rhetoric that he gets his ice sold.  And that’s exactly why you’re reading this article with a Subway sandwich in your left hand and a Hollister shirt on your back. Because we trust the autonomy huge faceless corporations pretend to afford us over the personal appeal of a single door-to-door salesperson we believe that salesmen are only trying to get one over on us, though both parties use the same rhetorical skills to convince us to buy.

The next time you go into Wal-Mart or someplace like it and you check the aisles, pay close attention to the wording they use to attract you. Things like “deal” or “savings” or “special” or “limited time”—that’s a good one. They do these things not to swindle you (at least, not only to swindle you) but to make you comfortable while you jam their fingers in your pockets and purses in a mad rush to give them all of your money. Huge corporations like Wal-Mart say they want your kids’ business, but that’s only after they’ve gotten all of yours. All they have to do is start selling cheap durable caskets and they’ll have an absolute corner on the American economy.  Do I think that this is necessarily a bad thing? (I mean big-box stores in general, not caskets in Wally World.) Not really, but perhaps that’s because I see the link between big-box stores and rhetorical theory as a tremendously successful and endlessly interesting social experiment, one where we don’t mind being the specimen because we get cool things that shine by way of positive reinforcement.

So, there is most definitely a difference between stellar rhetoric and smarmy hucksterism.  Admittedly the line is fine in places and gone in others but, nella schema grossa, the former is why the latter functions and what makes it frightening, all at once.

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Waxing Sentimental and “Fourteen Days” – 22 January 2014

Since I’m getting back into the swing of posting regularly again, I thought I’d share this with all of you. It’s a piece I had started a couple years ago and just found again before I came back to school. The interesting thing? I wrote this before I went to Japan and, as I read through it again today, astonished myself at how accurate it sounds—a lot of this stuff is strikingly similar to what I saw when I was there.

Guess I’m just waxing sentimental.

It’s titled “Fourteen Days,” and as of right now, it’s unfinished.

November 22. Thanksgiving Day.

The third Thanksgiving I’ve spent in Japan. Of course today is just another Thurday here—commuters pack the subway, traffic clogs the streets, and in lieu of stuffing and gravy the equalizing smell of karaage and ramen assault my nostrils. But I know it’s Thanksgiving; it hangs in the smoggy air of Tokyo and it vibrates in my bones. But it’s okay. It’s okay because… well, I’m not even sure of the answer to that one. Part of that answer is that I’m becoming more and more a part of this place with each day that passes, and with an incredible speed and efficiency. I’ll always be a gaijin, a foreigner, an American living in Japan, a black American living in Japan, but I think as the Japanese do and it aids greatly in assimilation. On the other side of that sword, some days I feel my Americanness dropping away piecemeal like rain from low-hanging clouds. On those days I feel like I’ve lost something. And that’s because, no matter where I live or what I end up doing, I’ll always read the calendar the way an American does. Memorial Day and the Fourth and Labor Day and Christmas hit me hard, especially Christmas. I’m seven thousand miles, an ocean and a continent away from presents and Douglas pines and stories I’ve heard a million-and-one times and… And I get homesick, painfully sweet twinges of back home racing across my skin. And trust me, no matter how many times I see the Colonel in a Santa suit it just won’t fill that void.

My phone rings and snaps me from my reverie. With a smirk I answer it.

Oi, Jenton-san!” The cheery voice pounds against my eardrum; that’s Tanegashima for you. “You’ll never guess the bombshell I’m about to drop on you, my man.”

“Please don’t make me guess, the suspense’ll kill me. Just spit it out.”

“Meiro’s gonna be playing the Tokyo Dome next Thursday and tickets go on sale in the morning.”

Indeed, this is a bombshell. My thoughts race as I try and fail to form coherent sentences in Japanese or English. I look out across the street from the eastern exit of Shinjuku Station toward the the giant Studio ALTA screen flashing the very same information to the heart of Tokyo. An idea flashes in front of me.

“Meet me at Hanazono in thirty minutes.”

“Late one buys the coffee and manga,” he confirms, then hangs up. I do the same, and take a deep breath. The biggest idoru—or idol—in Japan announces a surprise concert today? Surely something to be thankful for. I head off to meet Tanegashima, looking forward to a hot cup of free coffee.

As I watch the dark tunnel walls slip past I ruminate over what I’ve just heard. The idoru Meiro is the hottest thing in Japan, and I’m one who knows—after moving to Japan I became something of an idoru otaku—a fan, or geek—and that’s how I met Tanegashima and his girlfriend. Need proof?

Stage name: Wakame Iroko—family name first, of course. Age: Nineteen. Height: One hundred fifty-eight centimeters. Weight: 49.7 kilograms. Blood type: AB. Her nickname to her fans is Meiro—the maze. She really is an enigma, the exact opposite of other idoru who became successes with cheery dispositions and bright catchy pop songs. She always wears white—brilliant, blinding white—and has somewhat of a goth quality about her. God only knows how her agency managed to market her successfully but they did. The strange thing about her—or rather, the attractive thing—is the way she sings and the effect her music has on her listeners. You hear it, and… And—this sweet numbness overtakes you, the sense that feeling nothing is okay. It’s so hard to put the exact experience into words but sublime comes achingly close.

If you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m a total Japanophile. So is Tanegashima and his girlfriend Kazamoto, and that’s a rarity in these parts. Rarer still is the fact that they found each other, they date and get along and, other than their tendency toward otaku, are fairly normal. 

Fairly.

I ran into them, quite literally, at an outdoor concert a couple years ago. We were at another idoru‘s outdoor concert—the turnover rate for these girls is very, very high—and I almost knocked them to the ground. Seeing as I’m nearly twice Tanegashima’s size I hastily poured out the appropriate apologies and went on my way through the crowd. To this day he won’t admit it, but I know that Tanegashima dragged poor Kazamoto through that crowd and after me. In a crowd of… six thousand, maybe, we just happened to run into each other again. At first I thought he was just like most other people I had met since I had come to Japan—he was surprised I spoke some Japanese and was curious to see how deep the well went. Turns out he was interested in talking shop over anime, manga, idoru, the whole gamut. The three of us went to a coffee shop and the rest is history, as it were.

A match made in heaven.

“It looks like you owe me a cup of coffee, Jenton-san,” Taneshima greets me as I enter the coffee shop. His long hair is carelessly brushed to the side and his hands rest behind his head as his long legs push out the chair across from him, an invitation for me to sit. As I do so the waitress leaves two steaming cups of coffee on the table, and departs with an abbreviated bow. “I’d been here for five minutes so I took the liberty, if you don’t mind.”

“It’s all good, Tanegashima,” I tell him. I pull the chopstick from behind my left ear with my right hand and begin twirling it in my fingers as I wait for the coffee to cool.

“Why do you always do that?” Tanegashima demands. “I could understand twirling the chopstick, but why do you carry it behind your left ear if you’re right-handed? It seems like a tremendous waste of energy.” He always asks me that.

I always answer him in the exact same way. “I do it that way because my soul wants it that way,” I tell him matter-of-factly. He shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee, letting my quirk go for the time being. “So. I take it you got some sort of plan worked out?”

“What plan?” A look of incredulity spreads itself across Tanegashima’s face. “The only thing we have to do is be in line when the box office opens. The thing is, they open at five-thirty, to beat the rush. This raises an important question: Do we stay in Shibuya all night to ensure we’re at the head of that line, or chance a race against the clock?”

“I can’t believe this is costing me a cup of coffee,” I tell him with genuine annoyance. “Are you serious?”

Tanegashima hesitates, then comes up with “So clubbing or sleep?”

I stare at him in disbelief, then take a deep breath. Just another hazard of Tanegashima’s friendship. “Let’s hit the bars, brother,” I tell him with a smile. “What about Kazamoto? Is she coming out too?”

“Actually, she’s the one who came up with the whole thing,” he says, brushing a forelock of hair out of his face. “I told her to come out with us, but she’s still gonna catch the last train back home.”

“You ‘told her’?” I say. “Taking more liberties, aren’t you?”

“Gimme a break, Jenton-san,” Tanegashima whines. “I knew all along that you’d want to—what do you say… crawl through pubs?”

Pubcrawl,” I say, using the English word. “I figured that she’d be too beat to go out for the long haul; at least I know how hard she works.” I slip the chopstick behind my left ear again and take a sip of my sufficiently-cooled coffee. “The life of an English teacher isn’t easy. Trust me.”

“Who’re you telling?” he says to me. He stands and strolls over to the racks of manga, and I follow. “Believe me, I know better than anyone how much her job drains her. Which is why I always badger her to come out with me more often. But… she’s never more relaxed than she is at home, so I don’t push too hard.” He tuns to face me with a stack of manga five or six high. “These’ll do me, I think,” he says with a smirk. I give a chuckle and head for the cashier toting the stack. This time Tanegashima follows.

“If you want to know what I think,” I tell him, “you two should have dinner together tonight, just the two of you. I’m sure a beer and some gyudon would do her a world of good, and you too, brother.” I check out the manga and head back to the table. “What do you say we take our plan-making outside?” I ask. Taneshima nods and he carries our cups of coffee outside.

Tanegashima and I both light cigarettes and sit there in the late November sunshine. He immediately falls to his comics, and I watch the rush hour foot traffic pick up along the Dogenzaka. To me, the people-watching is the best thing about living in Tokyo—in any huge city, really. Stand at any crossing in Shibuya or Shinjuku or the Ginza, and a hundred thousand people will walk by inside of an hour. There’s nothing like being part of a huge sea of humanity, or stepping aside to watch it flow past. I was born in a city of about a hundred thousand and never did anything there remotely similar to people-watching, certainly not on a scale approaching this. I never did anything there that I can’t do here, now that I think about it—and at three times the level, too. It’s surprisingly easy to disappear here. Maybe not as easy as it would be in New York or Toronto, or even London, but the anonymity of the people-watching makes living in Tokyo.

Jen-ton-saaan,” says a sing-songy voice next to me. I turn to find Tanegashima peering out at me over his magazine. “You okay over there? You look kinda spaced-out.”

I sigh lightly, returning my gaze to the steadily-increasing stream of passers-by. “I’m all good,” I tell him. “Tell me again—what’s it like to be from Tokyo?”

Now Tanegashima sighs, then chuckles. “We all watched as Gundams and Evangelions tore the city to pieces, until Godzilla and Rodan called a temporary truce and broke them up.” He laughs again and takes another sip of his coffee. “Come on, Jenton-san, you ask me that same question at least once a month. I can’t explain it because it just is. I don’t know either why the sky is blue, or why it doesn’t rain lemonade, but at least I’d have a better chance at explaining them to you.”

I turn back to him. “Just an unavoidable hazard of people-watching, I guess.” I check my watch, then crush my cigarette out. “Come on. Let’s go show Kazamoto how you braved the subway at rush hour to catch her at work before she leaves.”

“Yeah, okay,” he answers. He waits outside while I settle the bill, a man of my word.

The subway station is about a ten-minute walk from Hanazono. We almost get the entire way there in silence, but unsurprisingly it’s Tanegashima who breaks it.

“You know what, Jenton-san? If it were at all humanly possible, I’d like to be an octopus.”

Just because I’m used to the things Tanegashima says doesn’t mean they won’t occasionally catch me off-guard. “Care to explain?” I ask.

“I mean, think about it man. Octopus are smart—smarter than me, at least. They can change color and squeeze into the smallest openings, so it’s a cinch for them to hide from everything, the world even. They have those cool suckers, and eight arms, too. I mean, I could have eight octopus girlfriends if I wanted, ya know? And then there’s—”

“You’ve put some thought into this, Tanegashima,” I interrupt. “But did you consider how gooood octopus tastes? You might get eaten.”

“So what?” he retorts. “It’d be worth it to be an octupus, even if it were for a day. Hell, I could get eaten if I went on safari and I’d just be my regular old self.”

I pull my chopstick in the usual fashion, chuckling at both Tanegashima’s face twisting in revolting reaction and his far-left-field revelation about himself. He’s cool because he’s so random in his actions and words; I’m never bored when I’m with him. There’s not a day that passes since I’ve known this guy where I don’t laugh to myself because of something Tanegashima’s said or done.

It’s funny, though—

Oi! What the hell’s so damn funny, huh? I tell you my deepest desire and you get a cheap laugh at my expense. Dirty, rotten…”

“Calm down, calm down. I’m actually thinking of finding some takoyaki later. How’s that sound?”

Tanegashima pretends to pout. “Eating some of my eight-armed brethren? Gimme a sec…” He clasps his hands in front of him in prayer and I chuckle some more. “Okay, I’m over it.”

We continue to walk, and the sights and sounds and smells of this living mass of steel and asphalt assail all five of my senses. We stroll past a noisy pachinko parlor, a hair salon with three customers in it, a small eatery closed on Thursdays, a Circle-K that’s an exact facsimile of one we passed three blocks away. Through all of this my mind only turns over Tanegashima’s decidedly strange desire and tries to make sense of it. An octopus? But—it’s the damndest thing—the idea slowly begins to grow on me. It might not be so bad actually being an octopus. They do have those eight arms, and—and just surviving is probably an everyday adrenaline rush. If only they didn’t taste so good… Out of nowhere I feel something grab my elbow.

Jen-ton-saaaan.” The familiar sing-songy voice brings me out of my thoughts and back to earth again. “Thinking about what it would be like to be an octopus, aren’t you?” Tanegashima smiles leeringly at me and raises his eyebrows like Groucho Marx.

“No,” I lie, turning away from him to conceal the smirk that betrays my falsehood. With a bit of a start I realize that we’re standing in front of Ebisu Station. How the hell did we get here? Was I on auto-pilot the whole way?

Damn Tanegashima and his contagious octopus fantasies.


Greed, Need, and the Participation Trophy: What it Means to be Generation Y – 19 January 2014

What’s the one thing that you hear most often from your grandparents, or great-grandparents, or other people you know who are around their age? If they’re talking to you about you, then hopefully something positive and loving. If their words are aimed at a party not present, like a celebrity you’re familiar with or a famous sports star, then it may likely be something like:

“He’s so soft!” Or:

“In my day, we didn’t have so much handed to us for so little…” Or even:

“Just look at this panty-waist. Somebody should super-glue a gun to his hands, drop him in a jungle, and pin a note to the front of his fatigues that says ‘Sack Up!’”

You get the idea. Some older people hate that we get participation trophies. They hate that we get certificates for perfect attendance even when we’re the dunce from hell. They hate that they were forced to sit back and watch as our parents raised us to be soufflés—drug-taking, smartphone-using, greedy, needy, soft soufflés.

But the question I’d like to pose is this: Just how right are our grandparents?  When it comes right down to it, do we really have everything far too easy? And if so, what can we do to change this or, at the very least, keep from becoming our grandparents to our children, and grandchildren?

Consider—

In 1991 William Strauss and Neil Howe, two intriguing authors-cum-demographers-cum-historians, wrote a mind-blowing book called Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (a mouthful!), based on their theory of generational cycling. In a nutshell there are four types of generation, each occurring consecutively once in a cycle. Every twenty to twenty-five years or so a generation of cohorts comes of age, and that generation shares characteristics of the relative generation in the previous cycle, based on general connections and background conditions that set the stage for that generation’s coming-of-age. Those background conditions (also called Turnings) have these awesome-sounding names:

A High is the First Turning, a period where the establishment holds sway and most of the people dance to its tune—conformity’s the name of the game here. The most recent High produced the Baby Boomer Generation, and lasted from 1946 to about 1963 or ’64. Think of Leave It to Beaver, and you’ll get the gist.

An Awakening is the Second Turning, a period of unrest when the establishment is questioned and individualism comes to the fore—spiritually, mentally, creatively.  Square living becomes a social relic during an Awakening. The most recent spread from 1964 (campus unrest, civil rights protests) to 1981 (the start of Reagan’s first term in office) and kids born during this time are popularly termed Generation X.  Are we seeing a pattern yet?

An Unraveling is the Third Turning, the exact opposite of the High that came before—the individual consciousness is society’s driving force and it’s the establishment that bows. Society literally unbinds itself from the pole of conformity and prefers individual accomplishment over groupthink. This is also an era when the personal (!) computer and the Internet begin to take off. During the last Unraveling (between 1982 and 2004) today’s Generation Y was born, and are currently running rampant on the college campus of today. Clemson is no exception.

The Fourth Turning, aptly named a Crisis, is the generation that is currently coming into being. According to Strauss and Howe those born in a Crisis go through the opposite of what generational cohorts did during the last Awakening—society sort of coalesces in on itself, and the upkeep of the hive is of greater value than that of a single drone.

Are you still with me? I suppose the important thing to take from the list above is the fact that generational cohorts come of age as the next generation is being born, so… that means that you, me, your girlfriend, and her brooding older brother—all of us are coming of age during the current Crisis. Civil disobedience plays itself out as we speak, on this forum or in that chatroom. Kids today take an interest in the direction America is heading and work to influence the nation’s path, rather than sit back and watch. Then they find others that have similar viewpoints and before you know it there are demos and Occupy movements springing up hither and yon.

While there are lots of kids that believe in what they do, for so many others it’s just a fad. Take for instance the wily hipster, running across the city in his flannel shirt and lens-less eyeglasses, using his trusty iPhone 5S to order ahead for his boss’ coffee—a half-caf espresso with just a dollop of foam and a generous dusting of nutmeg, perhaps. But keep in mind he’s doing this all so he can help overcome the greenhousing of our blue marble by interning at a magazine that only uses paper that’s at least sixty-percent brown grocery bag, and he tries ever so hard to leave a carbon footprint behind that’s no bigger than a camel’s.

And it’s probably because of this disconnect between ideal and what’s real that your grandpa calls you soft.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against hipsters. It’s just in the humorous example I posit above Gen Y’ers as a rule bite off more than they can chew. Sure, technological advancements like the smartphone and the one-cup personal (there’s that word again!) coffee maker make multitasking easier and more fulfilling when it’s done correctly, but it’s because of this increased ability to handle more at once that Generation Y cohorts feel… entitled to have so much more. And more is what we want, too.

While I was preparing to write this article I came across one written by Amy Langfield of CNBC, expounding on a study out of San Diego State University that says teenagers today are more likely to be materialistic and less likely to drive themselves to get what they want. Jean Twenge and Tim Kasser—two professors of psychology at SDSU and the authors of the study—have been collating and analyzing data that the University of Michigan has collected in a survey called “Monitoring the Future.”

Yeah, I hadn’t ever heard of this either.

Apparently, these surveys have been given to American high-school seniors every year since 1976 and they answer simple questions about where they think their post-high school lives will take them—questions concerning career choice, optimal amount of money made, those kinds of things. One of the questions asked on the survey is (presumably) “How hard do you think you should work?” At the time of the first survey about a quarter of high-school seniors said they didn’t want to work hard at all, and by 2007 the response had risen to almost forty percent, and had gotten more popular with every survey given between those years.

This article also brings up an interesting parallel with Gen Y’ers and the movie Wall Street, a film released in 1987 and one which introduced rising Gen X’ers to the Gekko-ism “greed is good.” As this movie was released just as some of the earliest Gen Y’ers were born it didn’t have a direct effect on their apparent lazing and spending habits, but their Baby Boomer and Gen X’er parents took it to heart, and (un)consciously foisted an Eighties sort of a materialistic sense of entitlement onto their kids.

Even so, there are several other reasons why this sense of needy greed pervades our generation. Many Gen Y’ers came of age or graduated college around the time of the global recession/crisis of 2008. For some time since many of us have been un- or underemployed, are still living at home, and are loathe to get married and start families because, as we see it, ‘If you’re not making six figures, you’re not making enough.’ Some people (i.e., grandfolks) see us as a Peter Pan figure, simply unwilling to grow the hell up. It makes sense, I suppose; sixty years ago most people our age would have been married, had a kid or five, and driven into work from their Leavittowns in their wide-body Packards every morning. Today, forget marriage—dating is a roulette wheel. We abhor children, and we wish we could whip Dodge Challengers through the streets of San Francisco.

So, how right are our grandparents? Do we have everything easier than they did? Hell yeah, we do. Do we have everything handed to us? Well, maybe not everything. Can we keep from becoming our grandparents one day? Probably not. I suppose in this case it’s far easier to agree to disagree.

But there is new ground that we, as Gen Y’ers, are breaking. We’ve made it okay and legal to marry a same-sex spouse, in some places. We’ve decriminalized non-life-threatening drugs, in some places. And once the old guard on Capitol Hill have run their course and are dead (the only way they can be barred from running the country again—God willing) we will have control of our nation’s destiny. Maybe we’ll soar higher than ever. Maybe we’ll run it into the ground, I don’t know. I’m not a psychic. But I do know that, slowly but surely, America will belong to Generation Y, and sooner rather than later.

So raise your head and that participation trophy you got for one day of pee-wee soccer as high as possible, ‘cause the world is yours, kid.


The Poor Bastard, or The One Souvenir – 15 January 2014

It’s been six months since I last posted to this blog. Many things have happened that led to my not being able to blog, but I’ve never neglected ifoundthewub. Now that I’m back at Clemson, in a place where blogging could actually lead to something else, maybe this blog can now become something more than I ever thought it could be, even back when I started it all those months ago.

Perhaps I should begin with the post before this one.

Several things didn’t come to pass in that post, most glaringly the fact that I wasn’t able to return to school the way I had planned. At the time, the main thing on my mind was the mind-reeling reverse culture shock that accompanied me back to the States. I was still in severe Japan mode and, for the first six weeks, everything was moving as I had hoped it would–I missed the friends I had made overseas and was happy to see my family after being away for so long–but soon after, things rapidly and quite soundly fell to pieces.

Through whatever fault, I had to sit out a semester at school cause I couldn’t afford it. Because of a jealous and possibly psychotic family member, my parents were forced to give up their home, a place they had been comfortable living for more than two years. I couldn’t land a job in Charleston, so I fell into a deep depression in addition to being away from Clemson. Of course this placed stress onto my sister and her fiancee, with whom I had been living at the time, and we got into it more than once while I was there.

The worst part was feeling like there wasn’t anyone I could talk to about what kept pounding against my skull every day I was home. I know that my family only wants the best for me and mine but, perhaps as some sort of perverted coping mechanism, I withdrew deep, deep into myself, the poor bastard lost in the woods. And as some of you may know, that’s not the best place to be when you feel as though the world is crashing down around your shoulders.

Withdrawal is something I’ve relied on far too much in the past, and it’s something that not even the closest of friends I have made since coming out to Clemson have ever seen me do. It’s… it’s the lowest point I’ve ever reached, something so crippling and utterly destructive not even common sense can shake it loose. When you get to the point that you sit on a couch in boxers and a ratty T-shirt for three days before your sister finally forces you to move your ass and do something, I think it’s fair to say that’s close to rock bottom.

The worst part of it all is the rifts I’ve made with my family, for a variety of reasons, and I’m sure they know what they are. I love my family; they made me me, and nothing can or will ever change that, and I’m eternally grateful. During the last six months its come to the point (a few times) that they are the only reason I’m still breathing. But even so, there’s a kind of weirdness that I can’t shake when I’m around them, and at first I was afraid that it was some sort of elitist mentality that was creeping into me. As anyone could tell you, the last thing I am is better than anyone else. What it was was guilt, guilt that I had seen and done things that they may never see or do, had been given the opportunities that they weren’t, and basically it was all due to the fact that it’s just me, alone. No kids, no baby mama, nothing. That’s a heavy thing to deal with, you know? The fact that, because you aren’t tied to anything and so many people around you are, you have so many more freedoms and chances to go where the wind blows.

Summer became autumn, and the fall phased into winter, and the entire time my head struggled mightily to right itself on my shoulders.

I didn’t read anything, didn’t polish my Japanese. I hardly wrote. Time just kinda ticked itself past me, and I was too confused and scared and scatterbrained to do anything but watch it march by. An enterprising person would have found a thousand things to occupy the unexpected time I had been given, and the only thing I did was max out a video game I had brought back from Japan with me.

Yeah, it was all in Japanese, but I can’t really justify that as self-study.

I did say I hardly wrote, right? I managed to write a bit, just to distract myself from all that was happening around me. And I wrote as a shield, not out of some positive urge to write but because I could build walls that would separate me from people five feet away. I’d put in earbuds (half the time without anything coming out of them) and I would write. I did come up with a few things, a ridiculously awesome long story about a cabbie and a short piece about a couple on a picnic. Maybe I’ll put the shorter one up, not because the longer one is no good (as of today it stands at fifteen thousand words, but I happen to think it’s pretty damn entertaining) but to give you some idea of how my mind works when it’s gone off the tracks. On a most definite crazy train.

Oh yeah, wintertime.

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. As the time to return to school approached I began to wake up a little and, distracted by football and basketball, I began to regain what remained of my senses. To be honest, I was surprised when New Year’s finally rolled around. It seemed so far off in August, I was beginning to think it wouldn’t come at all. Then it did.

And now?

Now. Now I have to get my ass into gear and make something of myself. I’ve done some interesting things and met some fascinating people, but truth be told I’ve coasted since I came to school at Clemson. I don’t get bad grades, but I don’t really try and that’s commensurately tantamount to failure.

That will change.

One more thing. I’ve been back at Clemson for about ten days and, for the last three weeks preceding, I’ve agonized over what I would put in this post. Since I’ve started ifoundthewub I’ve been pretty decent about staying on top of it and posting about twice a month, but that’s when this blog meant something different than it does to me now. Now it’s something more tangible, if that makes any sense. While I was in Japan my life was on a sort of pause… and in reality, it was a functional ten-month vacation while I was there. When I came back home though, things got real again, as solid as sharp steel is to the inside of a wrist. It’s that chill, that sharp, heavy, defenseless nothing I felt when I was at home that I need to hold onto, the one souvenir of this hiatus that I have to keep close, ’cause if I let it slip away, well… You know what they say about the past and the poor bastards who forget it.

Talk about finding wubs. Word.