Practicality

First off, results came in today and I didn’t get the full ride scholarship I had been desperately hoping I could somehow beat the odds to receive. I was overlooked for academics who will likely waste their useless degrees working retail, not becoming esteemed professors and authors of valuable books on Asian culture. Yes, that sounds petty. But I don’t get it. I want to do something practical and useful, I’ve done many things to distinguish myself and I’m active in my local Japanese community–the president of our Japan-America society even wrote one of my letters of recommendation–and I’m passed over for people dabbling in nothing at all of any good to society (for the most part). Aside from the Ivy League names dotting the list (which begs the question, why do these people need funding again?), a lot of the successful recipients sound more like indecisive dilettantes, picking up one degree and then another in a totally different field because they can’t figure out what to do with their lives. How, exactly, are all these master’s degrees and Ph.Ds and detailed research proposals in Japanese ceramics in the 1600s and so on going to be used in concrete careers? Is that really behavior and life choices that should be rewarded and funded? Well, whatever, enough bitterness. I had suspected I wouldn’t be chosen for those reasons and I was right. I am just sorry they couldn’t see what a great candidate I am and how much choosing me would have enriched their foundation. Maybe that sounds narcissistic and entitled but I truly believe that. So, back to square one, back to worry over whether I’ll be able to do this. I really need funding.

Moving on… a side effect of resolving to read more Japanese new articles has been increasing pessimism about Japan and, by extension, my desire of basing a future career around Japanese products/goods/language. Besides the fact that all eyes are on China these days to outstrip Japan as the major Asian superpower (so I should really be learning Mandarin instead, but I took two weeks of it and really wasn’t feeling it–I love Japanese instead!), Japan just seems headed downhill. Soooo many cultural problems that those in power are sluggish at best (disinterested, close-minded, stubborn, and inactive at worst) about fixing. For example, if something could be done about women in Japanese society, I feel like so many problems could clear up, including the declining birth rate (because it seems to me that many Japanese women want to stay independent and not virtually enslaved to a husband and family, so they are choosing not to marry and procreate. So if you want the birth rate to go up, take measures to make marriage and motherhood more appealing to those women). Maybe I’m just going to sound like a presumptuous foreigner here, but I’ve been reading up a lot on this lately and I haven’t come across anything to disprove this. If society’s perceptions could change to accommodate viewing women as capable of pursuing careers independent of marriage/children–and to accommodate views of men as doing “women’s work” like shopping at the grocery store, cooking for the family, caring for the children, and doing the housecleaning; just anything to shake up these staid prescribed roles–that would do so much good. My sister teaches English and reports that so many girls, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, don’t dream very big: “Preschool teacher” and so on. No one wants to be a scientist, an engineer. Girls don’t want to stand out in class, either, and let the boys take all the attention for getting answers right. At companies it’s the norm for women to do administrative work and for men to do all the real professional jobs. I wish that would change so much! It would benefit society immensely to show women that career and marriage/motherhood are not mutually exclusive, that you can have both, and that you can dream as big and be as smart as men. And I look at the Diet and I just can’t see that group of old-fashioned fuddy-duddies doing anything that would help that.

It just seems like Japan is stuck in a rut and things are going downhill and it’s going to start affecting its position in the world soon, and it keeps seeming like not the best idea to align myself with a country and a language whose star is not so much on the rise. Also, exchange rates are absolutely ridiculous at this point in time, making an already expensive venture even more so. It just seems like everything is telling me, “Don’t go, this isn’t wise.” And yet… I just can’t listen. It’s what I want to do with all my heart, and my current career is not enough to sustain me forever, and I’ve delayed it so long already that to wait any longer would probably drive me crazy as well as make everyone around me roll their eyes and lose faith in my ability to follow through on what I say I’ll do. I have to try and it needs to be now. But I wish I could feel better about it; I wish there were better news coming out of Japan. I would love to be wrong about this but I don’t think I am. I also look back on my 2006 self who first went to Japan and I just feel embarrassed; so much I didn’t know even though I thought I knew everything.

On the bright side I’m learning a lot, so that part of my resolution has been successful.

Japanese-wise I keep having it confirmed that all my frantic studying has paid off and I really did launch myself into the next stratosphere of the language. I can read better, for one, and maybe I can listen better too. It feels pretty good. I’ve been able to crack open previously illegible books and find that I can read them pretty easily now. As an example, when I first visited Japan I bought a random volume of BL manga at a bookstore, just because I could. I’d been a BL fan for a long time (still am! Holla). I chose it purely because the art on the cover was good; it was shrink-wrapped (as most Japanese books in stores are) so I couldn’t look inside. When I could open it, I discovered the art inside was nowhere near as good as that on the cover. Shocking! I mean, I know now that everyone knows not to trust the exterior art, but I didn’t know better then. Anyway, so the art inside was bad and my Japanese wasn’t good enough to read it and figure out what was going on; I only had three (easy) semesters under my belt when I bought it. The other night I was sorting through things in my room and I came across it; I opened it up and finally I could read it. So I read the first chapter. It’s crap. I don’t want to own this anymore. If I wanted to buy BL in Japan just to say I did, I should have done my research and actually gotten something good by a vetted author, not a random book off the shelf. I have a lot of Japanese manga I don’t need anymore (most sent to me by TOKYOPOP while I was rewriting them) and it looks like the best way to get rid of them is going to be to take them to Japan and resell them at a Book-Off or something, even if I get peanuts in return. Seems cumbersome but I doubt there is going to be a market for them here and it seems weird to just throw them away.

That little episode–and the larger act of sorting through my possessions for what to keep and what to sell–reminded me to double down going forward on selectiveness in what I acquire. What seems worth paying full price now may be a regretted purchase years down the road as I bring it to Half-Price to get literally pennies in return and have to face the fact that I threw money directly down the drain. I always think I have this in mind and that I’m only buying what I really want to keep for good and then come across all these things I somehow need gone. The worst is when the item is no longer functional in any way but you have a sentimental attachment to it that prevents you from putting it in the trash can.

On another note… my sister is really good about finding things I’d be interested in and sending me links. The other day she pointed me to the (Japan-based) Society of Writers, Editors & Translators and I’ve been going through some of the fascinating articles posted online from their newsletter. I’m enjoying the articles, although groups like this just make me feel intensely desperate and envious, remembering that I’m not a part of that world yet even though I am dying to be. Although I am already a writer and an editor, just not (currently) with anything related to Japan/Japanese.

Anyway, I enjoyed the review of Globish, since the notion of English as the world’s dominant language has interested me ever since my French host dad mentioned, while my mom was visiting Paris and we were having dinner with my host family–and speaking in English for her benefit, some of us less fluent than others–that many French people have/had grown up with the idea that the dominant language in the world is French. Because for centuries, that was true. And it’s very hard for them to adjust to the fact that it’s pretty much English now, hence why a lot of French people (somewhat stubbornly) don’t speak English and expect your French to be very good or they are impatient. Anyway, I took particular notice of this, which begins with an excerpt from the book:

For centuries Japanese was remote, mysterious and separate. But this special linguistic inheritance does seem to have made Japan proud of its culture, as it did in Britain. Paradoxically, a nation that is assertive in business and commerce is unconfident in language and culture…Ever since Commodore Perry’s appearance off the coast of Tokyo in 1853, and long before Hiroshima, there had occasionally been suggestions from leading Japanese that the country should adopt English, or even French, as the national language. Many older Japanese, Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, for example, are fluent in French, and well versed in French culture, a hangover from colonial days.

This is all either misleading or just plain wrong. As those of us who live here know, the Japanese are second only to the French in taking loving care of their language. Those on the masochistic margins who have denigrated it are arguably no less enamored of it than the linguistic nationalists who have extravagantly extolled it. The first part of McCrum’s last sentence here is incorrect, and the final phrase is baffling.

Ha! First of all, I completely agree, but moreover it made me think: It’s interesting to me that the two languages I’ve focused on the most are also ones highly prized by their native speakers–indeed, arguably some of the most highly prized languages in the world. I certainly don’t hold English in such high esteem or feel as much pride for it as Japanese and French people do about their mother tongues, and I’m not alone. Everyone looooves to repeat that joke about English beating up other languages in alleys and taking their syntax, grammar, vocabulary, etc. If English has to be the dominant language in the world–no matter how convenient it is for me as a native speaker of it–I wish it could be a better, more ideal language. It has so many flaws. And most of us are uneducated about it; I’m still amazed every time I come across someone who believes English is a Romance language (I guess because when learning SAT words, the Latin roots of many are emphasized, so maybe people think that Latin-based vocabulary = Latin-based grammar and syntax as well; it does not and English is Germanic).

I also came across two more articles that address the rise of machine translation and how it threatens translators today, which of course is a topic I am very much interested in. Fortunately, at least in the opinion of the author–someone who also happens to be a California-based J->E translator, AKA my dream, so I’m definitely jealous–the outlook is favorable, which is reassuring.

Still, I just feel like there are so many obstacles keeping me from what I want to do and feel I need to/should do, and sheer desperate passion/fervent hoping isn’t going to make them disappear… I wish I had money!

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2 thoughts on “Practicality

  1. Tulipfield says:

    Sorry to hear about the scholarship not working out. =( Who knows how scholarship committees make their selections… at any rate, you definitely have the persistence to accomplish your goals… you’ll make it one way or another.

    Incidentally, what are the flaws you think English has?

    • Séri says:

      Thanks, I hope you’re right… yeah, I would love to be a fly on the wall of those committee meetings! I wonder what would happen if I re-applied after getting accepted into grad school… but it won’t be an Ivy and I won’t be studying Japanese literature so that may still not help me!

      Hmmm I just feel like it’s very haphazard, and not particularly beautiful, from an objective, non-native-speaker perspective… I just wish a more ideally, logically, thoughtfully put together language was going to be the world’s lingua franca!

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