Obstacle #18: Fear

TGIF, am I right? Although hey, it’s Friday the 13th! As expected, it’s been quite a lucky day!

It’s barely been a week since the semester started again (not like I’m counting the weeks of classes remaining, let’s not mention the exams or grading) and like my students, I wish we’d had a longer break. I told them on Monday “you’re complaining now your break was a mere week, but in May you’ll be complaining your summer break is too long!”

They laughed, but they know I’m right. Who has nearly 5 months of vacation!? France, that’s who.

Anyhoo! (Clever, I know.) This will be my first Obstacle Series post in more than a year!? Woah…

But basically, I think I finally put my finger on that feeling that’s been nagging and nagging at me for months. You know the one:

“I wanna write!” *opens document*
*stares at page for hours, rereads everything*
“… Nope. Nothing to say, too much to work on, ‘kbye!”

That first part is a lie. I have a ton of things to say! Just the week before I’d added a paragraph full of ideas and things to tweak, added details to previous genius ideas and and and–!

So what’s stopping me? Scratch that, why am I so actively stopping myself??

Fear, pretty much. In all its variety.

I’m afraid of writing more and seeing my ideas collapse, or finding out that my world building isn’t profound enough. I definitely don’t want to hear that my characters aren’t developed enough, that my plot is cliché or that my writing is overall barely above acceptable.

So instead of adding length to what I managed to write, I agonize over what I do have. “The timeline’s wrong, this detail doesn’t match my revised idea, is this really appropriate where it is, there’s so much to fiiiix!” And basically discourage myself from writing because my perfectionist side can’t deal with imperfections.

But who writes a perfect draft on their first try?

Yet I suppose my fear doesn’t stop just at the current dilemma that is finishing my draft (although it’s the most intense for now). I have a habit of projecting into the future (or not living in the present moment, if you will), and I’m fairly certain a part of me is already stressing about polishing the manuscript to send with query letters. Way, way ahead of the tide.

So what am I supposed to do to battle this never ending fear, which so rudely captured me in the eternal abyss? Cower forever by glimpsing and exiting my word processor, or tie myself solidly and climb my way out of this fear-filled abyss?

I view this post as my first step out. I vanquished the blank post, despite the urge to go back and erase everything or just save this draft and leave it to mold in the unpublished folder. Maybe I can’t climb perfectly or quickly, will end up scraping myself and falling a bit, but it doesn’t mean I can’t gradually climb my way out, inch by inch, hold by hold, away from the fear.

Shout out to all daring adventurers, however far out of the abyss you’ve come, or if you’re still struggling with your holds, or if you slipped, skinned your knees and have to start from the bottom again. Let’s take our next step together, reassured that we’re not alone despite facing similar yet unique chasms and that the surrounding fear will be vanquished by the shining light of perseverance and tenacity (or perhaps, a sea of sweat from our efforts will eventually fill the abyss and take us to the top…).

So for all you conquerors and challengers of abysses, how do or did you deal with your fear(s)?


2 Year Anniversary

I can hardly believe my blog is turning 2! (Don’t worry, I’m not a doting parent…)

A lot has happened since I started this back in Japan and a lot more is about to change. I’m happy to report I got admitted to grad school, and will be starting my new adventure in Australia in a few short months!!

In the mean time, same old same old: things to do, people to see, places to go… procrastination…

I haven’t written as much as I’d hoped in this past year, but the brief reflection seems to have inspired me, so be on the lookout for a new post shortly!

A profound and resonating thank you to all my dear followers and readers, you seriously have no idea how giddy I can get when I see my stats page. (What? Someone in [insert country] read my blog!?! Eeee!)

This seemed appropriate as I’m still a teacher.


I hope to grow some more as a writer (thus also hopefully a better blogger) and will encourage you to check your seat belt at this time, just in case of extreme and unpredictable weather storming in and taking us all by surprise. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway, wild writing phases.

Happy Wednesday, and write you later!
Ali J.

P.S: Today also marks a more somber anniversary, that of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I can’t believe it’s already been four years. If you’re so inclined, please take a minute to send them warm, encouraging and loving thoughts. (Yahoo! Japan is donating 10 yen (~$0.10) for each user who searches for 3.11 on March 11th Japan time.)



New poem!

Or rather, my first poem?

Well, it’s not actually my first poem, but the first one I’ll be sharing with you here. Poetry is quite a strange land for me, and feedback would be most welcome.

I wrote this quite a while back, nearly four years in fact. I won’t spoil the topic too much, but leave you with a quote instead.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Read on,
Ali J.

New short story!

Maybe it’s more of a flash fiction than short story, but technically, it’s still short, so… one and the same? Ish. Let’s go with ish.

I just found this again while browsing my writing folder, and lo and behold, it hadn’t made it to the blog yet!

I give you: Bite Me.

Possibly my first attempt at humor: expect the unexpected. (Or don’t, your loss.)

Happy February, may spring hurry up and get us warm and cozy.

Stay warm,
Ali J.

2015: Step up to yourself

A belated yet happy new year to you! May 2015 bring joy and happiness daily.

I hope you all had a wonderful time, enjoyed some tasty food, spent time with friends and family and hopefully, gave yourself some time off. I know I did, and it was wonderful.

2014 ended on a nostalgic yet grateful note as I returned to my “homeland,” if you will. My roots, the region where I grew up. I attended my first wedding ever (I’m not counting the one I believe I attended as a child but have no memory of), and it was bilingual! I met up with another friend for a brief two hours, and that was just the beginning.

Before I met up with my childhood best friend, whom I hadn’t seen or talked to in about 9 years, she sent me a message once she found out we’d meet in a few days (it was supposed to be a surprise). Her words of reassurance erased all the doubts I had accumulated, and replaced pretty negative thoughts into ones of love. You might be familiar with the practice of justifying other people’s (usually negative) behaviors as due to a fault of your own. I have that habit, and her message highlighted just how wrong I could be.

On so many levels, I feel relieved. It was a review of a lesson I thought I’d already learned: “Don’t assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.” My assumptions were negative not just for me (“It’s my fault, I probably should write more often…”) but towards her as well (“She probably found another best friend…”). Like I can possibly know what goes on in someone else’s life! Spoiler alert: I can’t, not by a long shot.

The result became gratitude for her heartfelt message, her undying love for me and the strength of our bond after all these years. We spent New Year’s together, and after the initial shock of seeing her grown up, and attempting to breathe in her crushing bear hug, we rediscovered each other. Funnily enough, we “evolved” in the same direction. “You want to write a book? I wanna write a book!” “Wait, you think this too? So do I!!” It was a meeting filled with surprises, including her biggest surprise: not her husband, but her daughter. Her daughter! I’m an aunt and didn’t even know?? Wowzah!

The evening progressed too quickly. All of us were so enthralled in catching up on our ‘lost’ decade we missed the countdown and hurriedly clinked glasses as 00:00 came over us.

Thus, 2015 found me renewed, if you will. If I can have such negative thoughts towards myself for things outside of my control, let’s take a look at how I feel about my own life, and my writing in particular.

So I don’t update my blog every week, so what? At least I’ve started working on my book a little bit every day, even just 10 minutes before I go to bed, and I feel much better already. Who knew my prologue would get longer! I tackle small problems every day (“what should I call this, is that even a word?”) and highlight the rest for another day. Every baby step counts.

You won’t find me taking New Year’s Resolution, because I don’t believe in taking a bunch of resolutions at once. Apparently it takes 4 weeks to anchor a new habit, so the logical solution for me would be to take a new “resolution” (baby step) once a month. It’s a slower pace, but hopefully it gives you time to steady yourself in between. After that, to each their own, and do whatever fits you best.

Only you can do what’s best for you, so let’s all step forward and be the best version of ourselves we can be today.

Step up,
Ali J.

New short story!

May has come, time still moves forward.

I bring you another short story, Unseen. I must have written it in August last year, but for some reason completely forgot of its existence until this week. Surprise!

I can’t say anymore for fear of spoiling you, so I’ll leave you with a quote by Flannery O’Connor instead:

I write to discover what I know.

Read on,
Ali J.

A Survivor’s Voice – Part 1

Recently I recalled moments of my time in Japan as a student and looked everywhere for pieces of my journal I couldn’t find. But I found them at last, so I’m able to share a part of my experience with you.

However, today’s content is quite potent, so tread carefully.

When I studied abroad in Japan in 2009, our first field trip stop was Hiroshima. We’d had readings and discussions on the atomic bombs themselves and whether dropping  them ended the war, but I hadn’t given much thought as to what the city would look like, so I was pretty surprised to find it so beautiful and peaceful.

Besides the obligatory visit to the Peace Memorial Museum – which if you ever get a chance to, I highly encourage you to go, but brace yourself – we had the wonderful opportunity to hear two accounts from survivors themselves, via an interpreter.

Part 1 is the account of Hiroto Kuboura, at the time a 74 year-old man.

Sitting in the conference room is a nearly bald old man wearing glasses and a white patch over his left eye. On his right sits his interpreter; on his left, a map. He proceeds to tell us, group of about 35 foreign and Japanese students, where he was when the bomb hit.

Hiroto was an electrical engineer and was working at the train station 2.1 km away (that’s about 1.3 miles) from the epicenter. It doesn’t sound close, but on the map with the blast radius, he was definitely in the red zone.

He was sitting on the second floor of a building when the explosion occurred. He was blasted out of the room and under a desk, with tons of debris falling on him. He had 30 to 38 injured spots on his left side, and lost his eye – although he didn’t notice until his friend and colleague told him later while helping him. He managed to make it down the stairs, but as he saw the flames getting closer, he thought he was going to die. He fainted there, at the bottom of the stairs, but his colleague helped him and they both made it out of the building, bloody.

People were trapped inside under the debris and were crying for help. Hiroto and his colleague couldn’t help them, they had no strength left and could do nothing but sit there. Thankfully, the flames didn’t burn the building, and the people were saved later.

They slowly made their way to a hospital by the nearest train station, north-west of their position. They didn’t know it was an atomic bomb and that nothing was left of the city. They argued with some people who told them nothing was there. They headed north-east instead, but the fire had spread through that area and by the time they reached the hospital, no one was there.

They kept heading north, over the mountains, until they found a clinic of some kind and Hiroto was put on a stretcher. The doctor said he couldn’t do anything about his numerous wounds because if he took the clothes off he would bleed again, so they did nothing. Unfortunately the train couldn’t move until 12:30a.m. because the locomotive was going the wrong way. He was eventually evacuated north and sent to a very good, famous eye doctor who told him he had to do something about his eye if he wanted to keep his right one.

Hiroto underwent surgery 13 times, and was better around four years later. He was 19 when this happened. That was about my age when I heard him speak, and still to this day I cannot fathom what he went through or with what strength he carried on.

He is one of the leading speakers of the hibakusha (被爆者), surviving victims of the atomic bombs. He strongly advocates for the elimination of nuclear weapons so that this tragedy and thousands of deaths may not be repeated. He saw many horrible things; things I don’t even want to describe because just thinking about them makes me want to cry. Throughout his speech, I was on the verge of tears.

Someone asked him what he thought our job was, as the next generation to his story to the generations to come. He said he wanted us to think about peace. “How do you create peace?” Is it with power? Or is it by talking heart to heart to each other?

Hiroto went to see a Buddhist priest because he was suffering and thought about taking his own life. He saw no point in living; he couldn’t get a promotion at his job since he was no longer qualified to work his dream job. The priest told him that his suffering was his own, and that suffering makes us better people. Everyone has experienced suffering, and it changes people, but it’s your job to change yourself for the better and grow from that suffering.

He mentioned he started talking about his experience in 1982 because if no one talked, no one would know the facts. He thought it was his responsibility to let other people know of the atrocities of nuclear weapons so that they can never be used again.

Atomic bomb survivor, inspiring tale.
Atomic bomb survivor, inspiring tale.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Because I’m retelling a story already retold through an interpreter, I’d love any comments on how to improve.

Ali J.