Saturday, April 18, 2015

New Name for Blog?

Pretty soon I won't be in Japan so it won't make any sense to call this blog "In Japan." In short, I'll have to start a new one! I wonder what I should call it...I want to be witty but all the witty names are already taken, or they sound silly.

If I try to come up with something really creative, it will just end up being pretentious. So maybe I'd better just call my blog "Stephanie's Random Thoughts" and go with the super literal title.

I don't know if anyone would be interested in reading "Stephanie's Random Thoughts," but at least I'll know that my readers are getting an accurate title. They won't be tricked into reading mediocre blog posts by hearing a title like "Incredibly Well-Thought-Out Insights by a Really Smart Person."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Clothes Donated!

I'm slowing getting closer to having all my stuff packed up. On Saturday I got rid of two bags of clothes! My closet is already emptier. The Pastor's family at my church has two teenage daughters, so they agreed to look through my old stuff and then they'll take whatever they don't like to a thrift store. They asked if I wanted anything back after they looked through my clothes, and I was like...nah. I don't want to deal with it.

So on Saturday I packed everything into my brown suitcase (luckily I didn't have to expand it) and rolled the suitcase over to church. It felt kind of dumb to have this big suitcase on the train when I wasn't even traveling, and even dumber on the way back when it was empty. At church I repackaged everything into plastic bags and the Murray family could take the stuff in their car.

However, depending on how packing goes I might have to get rid of more stuff in a few weeks! Bleh.

I was surprised that the suitcase felt so light on the way over. Because I stuffed it full, and there were some boots in there too in addition to clothes. I have to walk a few blocks to the station and then for about 10 minute to church after I get off the train in Asaminami. But it really wasn't too difficult. And I could stuff anything I didn't want to carry in my purse into the suitcase so for once I wasn't worried about bringing too much stuff. I win!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Temples Aren't Scary

Living in a foreign country for two years has changed me a lot. I think I've changed more over the last two years in Japan than I changed all four years of college. And college changed me a lot! There's too many things to list, but one thing that Japan changed about me is I'm no longer uncomfortable around temples, shrines, or religious works of art.

Sure, I've seen paintings of saints before. You can't throw a brick in most of Europe without hitting some centuries-old cathedral. And all art museums are pretty much divided into art depicting Greek mythology and paintings of the Virgin Mary.

But it's all Christian, of course. (And Greek pagan, but we don't count those as idols because ART. Also white people did them.)

"As it should be!" a lot of my friends could counteract. Yeah, I suppose. When I was a kid I felt really weird looking at any depictions of deities or religious figures that weren't Christian. Those were weird idols and maybe they were evil too.

I guess if anyone had asked me I would have said that 90% of the world religions were worshiping thin air. But it was always possible that demons might muck things up just because.

Coming to Japan was the first time I'd been in a country were all the cool cultural stuff was part of a non-Christian religion. Everything's either Shinto and Buddhist. Luckily, by this point was I was adult enough to appreciate temples and shrines for their aesthetic appeal and not be put off by the fact I didn't share that culture.

Still, at the beginning I felt a little awkward. I went to a shrine on new year's and wondered if it would be sacrilegious to throw a 5 yen coin into a little box because that was a pagan ceremony. I still did it but felt weird at the same time.

Then after about a year, I realized that I had stopped feeling weird. The atmosphere of the little shrines was simply a part of what I loved about Japan. Seeing them tucked away into the city, going there for festivals and getting a paper fortune. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. The only power was the power of tradition--which for real can be powerful and scary--and I could appreciate it without guilt.

Honestly, even though I felt uncomfortable around religious symbols in the past, that wasn't limited to non-Christian ones. I felt so awkward seeing a blue-eyed Jesus staring soulfully at me from someone's wall. And seeing an artfully draped near-nude emaciated corpse held up for veneration in a cathedral. Gives me the creeps.

So now my opinion on religious places is they have exactly as much power as people give them. If your faith is strong, I don't think appreciating a different religion will really affect you. (And if you're a skeptic to start with, you won't be jumping at shadows.)

I don't think Japan is a "dark" country or a "spiritually oppressed" country. It is a strongly secular country. Which means that most people value religion as part of their culture and not as something that tells them exactly how to live their life. Which honestly I like. No one's raised an eyebrow when I say I go to church. (They usually just ask me "Are you protestant or catholic?" which is hard to answer....There's a lot more than just two, guys!) The important thing is getting along with your friends and coworkers.

There's lots of different folks in the world, but that's what makes it interesting. Honestly I feel much more out of place when talking to people who hail from the Bible Belt portion of America. "You believe....What?" But this is a culture too. It's not my culture, but that's why I have to learn about it respectfully and not go in with a perspective of fear.

So this is how my view of religion changed in Japan. I'm really glad I got this chance to live in a foreign country!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Adulting Skill Unlocked: Eyedrops!

It seems like every year I learn to do something random that most people seem to do easily but I've always hated. Last year I learned how to have pierced ears and not be afraid of sticking in earrings. This week I learned how to use eye drops.

Generally, I HATE HATE HATE putting stuff in my eyes. Or near my eyes. My one experience with false lashes was painful and tedious. And I wasn't even the person putting them on. I can tolerate mascara. But you'll never see me putting eyeliner above my lower lashes--ewwwwww. That looks like a recipe for PAIN. Luckily, my eyesight is pretty good so I can get by without wearing contacts. That's how I've managed to live 26 years without getting good at sticking things in my eyeballs.

The only time I've ever had eye drops was at the eye doctor, and it was the best I could do to not jerk out of the way when someone else was putting them in. Using eye drops voluntarily was a whole bunch of NOPE.

The only reason I'm using them now is because my eyes have been really hurting lately, and it seems like some of my coworkers use some kind of eye drops. (And in one case rub their fists all over their eyes in a really weird way, but you won't catch me doing that in public.) I didn't even know what kind to get, really, so I just ended up browsing through the pharmacy and buying the brand that was the cheapest and had some English in the title.

At first the eye drop just ran down my cheek because I kept missing. But guess what? After two or three times, I got the hang of it. I can now do eye drops.  It was surprisingly easy.

I didn't know how they were supposed to work, so the first time I used the eye drops the pupil of my eye dilated to three times its usual size. I was thinking, "Hmmm that looks pretty weird. It will go away, though, right?" The next morning, my eyes were still really dilated! I went into work thinking, "Nope, I didn't do any drugs this morning....Definitely not stoned, people. Just don't look too close, okay?" But luckily no one noticed.

My Japanese teacher told me that contracted pupils are a sign of tiredness that the eye drops were supposed to help with.

After a few days I noticed, "Hey, that skin around my eyes that I thought was supposed to be red, actually it's pale pink! Who knew?" I'm hoping my eyes look less tired now in the evenings after work. But I might switch to a different brand now that I know eye drops work for me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Recovering from a cold...

Tonight my cold feels slightly better. Today and yesterday I had bouts of violent sneezing and tears and snot running down my face. Bleh. I think the office is dusty, which is aggravating my symptoms.

I just bought eye drops, but they made my pupils dilate a ton! Are they supposed to do that? I'm not sure I can use them at work because you shouldn't be on the computer when your eyes are dilated. Bleh. My coworker's always using eyedrops or rubbing his hands all over his face. Which makes me go Argh. I'd rub my face too cuz my eyes hurt, but FOUNDATION. Seriously. Ladies learn that we can't touch our faces unless it's in the early morning before we get made up or in the evening after we've washed our faces.

Meh. I don't think it's good to always be touching your face anyway.

In other news, I am also ready to be moving on to the next step in my career path. Whatever it is.

Good news for this week is I saw American Sniper on Sunday! I'm not sure how I feel about the movie. I was more interested in the sniper part than the America part. It certainly did feel rather whitewashed. The Chris Kyle character for the movie was strictly a self-sacrificing hero. However, the person I was with enjoyed the movie and thought it was the most badass story ever, so I also had a good time.

There was a scene in a bar, and I couldn't help thinking about Fifty Shades of Grey. In American Sniper the hero holds a girls hair back while she throws up and then cheerfully accepts her rejection. He does not carry her unconscious body back to a hotel and creepily watch her sleep. A movie that mostly takes place in a war zone is still 100 times more romantic than 50 Shades of Grey!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Chocolate and so on...

It's a little late but I finally put some pictures of the chocolate I made on Facebook. I melded down the chocolate as usual and used the heart, star, and butterfly molds.

This year I also did something a little different and used these squares of white chocolate. I melted the tops a bit by holding them in hot water and then put this sticker thing on top that looks like a check pattern. Finally, I stuck a heart decoration on top with a bit of icing as glue. The stickers didn't all come out cleanly, but they look pretty cute!

Also, my chocolate stayed unmelted pretty well this year and didn't lose its shape once it got to room temperature. I think my melting technique is getting better. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Exposition! It will kill your fantasy stories.

I hate exposition. dialog. I know it's unavoidable, but it just sucks the reality out of any story.

For example, I like the setting of Girl Genius, a popular webcomic. It's this weird steampunk world (which is hard to pull off) set in something that bears a vague resemblance to western Europe.

However, I find the pacing grating and its made worse by the fact that almost every single page is full of characters narrating and explaining what's going on. I.E. instead of interacting with each other or creating the illusion of fully fleshed out characters just going about their lives, they EXPLAIN EVERYTHING.

Every panel is "What's this thing do?" "It stops the effects of that thing!" "I thought that thing was unstoppable!" "No, because of this other thing!"

Or, "Why is that character doing X? I thought he always did Y!" "Yes, but he's probably doing X now to accomplish Z, which will keep the plot stalled for another fifty pages." "Should we worry about him?" "Maybe!"

I just want to scream SHOW DON'T TELL! a zillion times. And then cut out half the dialog on every page. Because comics = visual medium.

Now, people will tell me "The world is so complex and the characters are so multifaceted that we'll never know what's going on if they don't explain it to us at every turn!" I say Nope. Needing to explain in great detail why characters are doing what they are doing is a sign that the characters aren't detailed enough. We should just be able to see them react and make choices and think, "Of course she would do that. That's so her."

Imagine if in Star Wars the duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi were narrated by the other characters.

"Why's he staying behind?"
"To buy us time, I guess."
"Who is that? Wait, how do they know each other?"
"Darth Vader was once his apprentice, who went to the dark side of the Force. He apparently wants revenge."
"This doesn't look good. He can't win!"

Imagine how this would totally kill the tension. Just because it's information doesn't mean you have to put it in the scene.

Take this page from Girl Genius

Essentially, all we're getting is exposition dialog from a sentient monster train. Every villain in the series is like this because every conflict consists of an over-the-top villain explaining everything in detail, the heroes arguing back, and plans and counter plans being put into motion while the cast explains everything in detail. The train doesn't monologue because of its character; the style of the comic doesn't allow for any other types of characters.

How much cooler would the first panel be if instead of explaining how it gets more powerful, the train actually ate some metal and then got bigger? Or if we could see the net breaking? The next two panels do absolutely nothing. The train literally says that its not going to say anything to the monks. Um, so why show it?

The bottom panels are all more exposition from the train, and an invitation to get some exposition in return from Agatha. At least we get to see Agatha's reaction a bit. I think the only line that sounds like a genuine character moment is Krosp the cat's request "Drop him again." It's just a thowaway joke, but at least it sounds like a real person reacting in the moment and not someone narrating or explaining what just happened.

Fantasy writers: Exposition does not make your world more real. It make it less real. In the real world, I don't understand squat about how things work. How often do my friends and I sit around debating how a microwave makes food hot?

NEVER. We just roll with it.

By all means work out the minor details of your world and how all your character arcs fit together, but there is absolutely no reason to tell us all or even most of the background details. When you shift the focus off of what the characters are doing and feeling onto how the world works or what exactly the plan is, all you're doing is reminding us that this stuff doesn't really make sense or that its weird for the characters to be acting the way they are.

As the Nostalgia Critic said, all stories have some plot holes. But a good story will work so well on an emotional level that we just don't focus on the minor details. We're totally absorbed in the what the characters are going through.

For this reason, I by far prefer fantasies that just throw you into the deep end with their world and expect you to learn to swim. Even if half the time they make no sense. When that's done well, it really pays off and makes the world and the characters feel so much more real. Like you're only seeing one part of a much larger whole, and you want to take in all you can.

Hmm, now I want to work some more on my own projects...