Monday, September 05, 2005

Reflections on Summer Break

Already my summer break is over and I find myself asking, “Wow! Where did that time go?”

Somewhat ironic I suppose because I spent a good deal of my summer break complaining about how bored I was. But I think we’ve all had this kind of experience: You start out the summer feeling like you have all the time in the world. You feel like you can waste whole days sitting in front off the TV and doing nothing, and still have all the time left to do everything you wanted to. And then you blink and all of a sudden summer is half over, and you realize you have to get busy and make the most of time. And then you blink again, and suddenly summer is over completely. And that’s pretty much what happened to me.

I started out my summer break by writing on this blog

Since I usually do most of my writing at work, you perhaps can expect a bit of a drop off in the blogging during the next few weeks. Either that, or you’ll know for sure that I’m hopeless addicted to the internet and there is no hope for me. One or the other should reveal itself. Stay tuned to this blog to find out which (if you can stand the suspense).

I guess that question has been answered. I think I probably blogged more during my summer break than I do during the usual year. I guess I truly am an internet junky.

Therefore anyone who has been following this blog already has a good idea of what I’ve been doing this summer, and there is no need to recap everything.

I do feel however that a blog, even one updated as frequently as this, is never an accurate reflection on real life because it is just a series of snapshots. When I would write about the exciting things I was doing this summer, I felt like I was leaving out the boring stuff and making my life sound more exciting than it was. And vice versa when I wrote about the boring things.

So…I’ve undertaken to write a little summary of my summer break: what I accomplished, what I didn’t accomplish, and what I perhaps could have done better. We’ll start with the negative to get it out of the way.

Things I Didn’t Do

I brought all my Japanese study materials with me to Shoko’s place, and had every intention of using some of my free time to really bone up on my Japanese language skills. I didn’t touch the study materials once.

I intended to get a lot of reading done and finally finish Emma Goldman’s autobiography. I barely touched that book as well.

I was planning on getting in shape this summer by doing a lot of push-ups, going jogging everyday, and really watching what I ate. The push-ups were somewhat off and on. The food thing was a disaster. And I only went jogging one day.

I was planning, in fact very much looking forward to, traveling to Hiroshima for the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing. I wanted to be a part of the historic commemoration, but time, money, and weather ended up not working in my favor. I do note however, that from what I saw on TV and read in the papers, it seems like there was nothing going on except the usual boring speeches in the hot sun. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t go. On the other hand, it would have been interesting to see what the feeling in the city would have been like on that historic day.

I didn’t spend as much time with old friends as I wanted. This was largely due to factors beyond my control, such as the distance between Shoko’s place in Hita where I was staying, and the Usa-Ajimu area where most of my friends were, and the fact that I was really the only one sitting on my ass all summer with nothing to do. Most of my friends either had to report into work, or were taking advantage of the summer holiday to travel themselves.

I did let some time escape from me. I could have spent more time with friends if I had perhaps been more aggressive about calling people up and making plans, but even then, I would probably still have left thinking it hadn’t been enough time. When is it ever enough? You never leave an area thinking that you had spent all the time you wanted with friends. I should probably just be thankful for the time I was able to spend with them, and we did have a lot of good moments.

Things I Did Accomplish
Although it is ironic that I came down to Oita expecting to get back in touch with old friends, and then ended up spending most of my time with the new arrivals, I do feel good about the time I spent helping the new JETs to get settled in. I remember Greg saying last year, as we were both helping our successors to get settled in, “It really is a great character building thing if you can take the life you built here in Japan over 3 years, and pass it on to another person so that they don’t have to start from the beginning all over again.”

Of course the danger is that you can become too overbearing, trying to re-make the new JET in your own image and trying to get them to do everything just like you did it, and intruding too much into their new life. I may have walked the line a bit, but I like to think in the end I was more helpful than I was intruding.

I did spend a lot of time with Shoko, which was my main reason for coming down to Oita in the first place. And, since I leave Japan in March and we need to decide where our relationship is headed, this was important time.

Although admittedly not all of it was quality time. I was a bit crabby sometimes because I thought I was cooped up in her apartment with nothing to do, and I did snap at her at times.

This doesn’t speak particularly well of me, but the patience she showed with me when I was at my crabbiest speaks very well of her. I think I’d be hard pressed to find another girl this patient.

The time I did spend with old friends, although not as much as I would have liked, was quality. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the send off we gave Holmsey in his last night in Oita city (don’t worry Holmes, my lips are sealed). It was good to see a lot of the people from my old office again as well. And I got to spend a lot of time swimming in waterfalls, which is my idea of a perfect summer vacation.

Things I Could Have Done Better

I had some active days, but then I had some boring days as well. And it’s those boring days that eat at you. I mean, what could be worst than being in your youth, having a long summer break, and wasting a lot of it by being bored? That’s time I’ll never get back.

There’s a part of me that thinks that being bored some days is just part of a 5 week vacation. It would have been close to impossible to fill every single day brimming over with excitement. I know that if I had gone home for those 5 weeks, I would probably have spent just as much time being bored, because all my friends would have been at their day jobs. Even if I had done something like backpacked around Europe for 5 weeks (which I wouldn’t have been able to afford anyway) some days would probably have gotten a bit slow.

Also a lot of factors were beyond my control. As mentioned above, many of my friends were working or gone during the summer, and the distance from Hita was a factor. I did do a couple days sight seeing by myself, but then decided that sight-seeing by myself is the most boring thing imaginable, and I’d rather be in front of the TV than do that.

However I am reminded of my high school teacher who said, “Bored people are usually boring people.” In other words I probably bear responsibility for not being active. Even though it seemed like nothing was going on, if I was someone else, I would have made something happen. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if it was someone else in my position, things would have been a bit more excited. For instance if I was Eion, I’m sure I would have organized a huge party, or a cycling trip, or formed a band and started playing music, or probably all 3. And yet for the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything to do to make my summer break any more exciting.

Of course the TV was my arch-nemesis. I don’t know if the absence of TV would have made my break any more exciting, but I’m certain it would have made it more productive. All the things I listed above that I wanted to do but didn’t (study Japanese, exercise regularly, read more), were a result of the TV.

On the other hand, most of the movies I saw, I’m glad I took the time to see, so it’s a bit hard to draw a clear line. If good movies, like good literature, have something edifying in them, and I believe a lot of them do, then we can become a more rich and developed person by watching some of them.

And in a way, even some of the bad movies I saw this summer, like “Highlander” or Liz Taylor’s “Cleopatra”, I’m sort of glad I saw if for no other reason than now I can appreciate a lot of the pop culture references to them.

And if we take Bertram Russell’s maxim that: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time,” then perhaps much of it was time well spent in deed.
After all, there is nothing more pleasant then having the girl come home from work, spending some quality time and getting some good loving, and then, after she falls asleep, sneaking out to the convenience store for some cookies and potato chips and settling in for a couple late night videos, with the full knowledge of not having to wake up the next morning. That, to me, is the essence of summer break.
(Perhaps Russell might have thought differently if he was living in the age of TV, but I'll leave that alone for now.)

I think the key to all this, as to all things in life, is moderation. And, alas, moderation has never been my strong point. I tend to have to make rules for myself, or otherwise things just fall apart. I can never say, “I’ll just watch TV when I feel like it, and try not to overdue it,” because I’ll inevitably overdue it.

This is why I got rid of my TV in Ajimu, and why I have not gotten a TV in Gifu. And, if nothing else, I have that as my consolation. I may have wasted a lot of time in front of the TV during the month of August, but the next 11 months are going to be TV free.

Link of the Day
The focus is slightly different, but I think Brett touches some similar themes about the importance of not wasting your life away on this post.

While I'm linking to Brett's blog, I really enjoyed this post he did about his cat getting into the oil. It's a funny story, but on top of that he tells it very well. I can't help but compare it to my own writing. I like to think I have a lot of funny stories here in Japan, but often I tend to kill the joke by over-emphasizing it. Compare that to the light-hearted touch Brett uses in his writing.

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