Found two bobby pins by my sink. They weren’t mine.
My inspiration found me in the shape of a student I first met six months ago. She had just started taking English lessons, and though she was a beginner language learner, she took lots of notes, studied on her own, and was really fun to talk to. We had lessons regularly for a while, but then I didn’t see her for a month or two (at my company, it’s common for students to move between teachers). Recently, I had my first lesson with her since this short break, and I was amazed at how much her English had improved. Her grammar and understanding, even her listening ability, was on a level much higher than when she’d started.
Which made me focus on the truth about myself: I’ve been lazy. After a year and a half of living in Japan, my language is ability is quite lower than I’d intended. My excuses? Japanese is really difficult. It’s hard to find people to practice speaking with. I teach my own language all day and am too tired to learn another one in my off times.
And on and on. So now, here I am, with four months left of living in this beautiful country, and I’m just now getting serious with my studying. (To be fair, I’ve been studying the whole time. But it’s been pretty passive and sporadic.) I’m not one of those people who can sit down with a language workbook and pay attention for more than five minutes. But after teaching and talking to more than a hundred students over the past year, I’ve discovered a few secrets to more efficient language learning.
The main one? Immersion. Absolutely everything you can do/watch/listen to/say in another language should be done/watched/listened to/said. Netflix and chill? Put on the language dub (with or without subtitles). Listening to music? Choose some from the language you’re learning. Immerse yourself. Reading a book? Find one in *insert language* here. Even if it’s only a children’s book, you’ll see improvement.
Here’s how I’ve been studying (in addition to the above – practice what you preach, right?):
Memrise. It’s an app/website with hundreds of “courses” for every language. You learn through flashcards, memory tips, and lots of repetition. (Duolingo is also pretty good, but it doesn’t have a lot of material for Japanese yet.)
Audiobooks. I chose something I know very well: Harry Potter. It wasn’t particularly cheap (whatever 17 pounds is in yen) and I honestly only understand about 10% of it. But, through knowing the story and being able to pick out various words and phrases here and there, it’s helping me keep up with listening to Japanese at a natural speed (read: incredibly fast).
Kindle books. I’m actually able to read Japanese much easier than I can speak it. Weird, I know. But I’ve found a book of Japanese stories written in Japanese first, then English, and a whole load of vocab and grammar explanation. I got SO excited about running into kanji I didn’t know, being able to pick it up through context clues, and understanding most of what I read, and that’s the kind of feeling that keeps you motivated.
Tandem. A language exchange app similar to Hello Talk, where language learners can pair up with their opposite (for example, for me, someone who speaks Japanese and is learning English), and start conversations with each other. The apps have built-in editing and correcting tools, so you’re both the student and the teacher, for free. Where Hello Talk has a somewhat Facebook-like setup, Tandem is a bit more like Twitter, which I for some reason prefer. Both have messaging as the initial communication, but also have the ability to voice or video call if you want to practice in real-time.
My goal? To make it to N4 abilities before I leave. Wish me luck!
I haven’t had a lot of words lately. I’ve had plenty of experiences to talk about: a rollercoaster-like ferry ride to a tiny island in post-typhoon winds, a photo shoot for a friend’s birthday at all the famous places in the city, even the first in a card-deck full of before-you-leave-Japan challenges. I just don’t have the words to write them down adequately. I guess it’s kind of like writer’s block, but instead of not knowing what to write, it’s not knowing how. I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about it, actually. “Come on, Kita, you have to start writing again. What kind of writer are you, that you haven’t even touched your laptop in days?” But just recently, I realized that’s okay. It’s okay to not write sometimes. It’s okay to just live for a while. And then, when you’re ready, you can write it down.
They say girls give sex to get love,
and boys give love to get sex.
I always thought that was weird, though,
because most of the boys I know
just skip the love part.
They go right to the fuck part.
And then I wonder, what does that say about me,
that that is my experience with boys?
I just fell into what society teaches,
what a conservative preaches,
like blood-sucking leeches
taking the souls out of people like me.
Making me think I had anything to do with their actions,
that it was me who caused it,
that’s bullshit, so toss it.
But… wasn’t it?
I was the girl who said yes to a near stranger,
I’m the one who likes a little danger,
the one who said, “Hey, I’ll do you a favor
if you just do me one back and promise to call me later.”
That was me, right?
So maybe it’s my fault that he didn’t hear “no,”
maybe it’s my fault that he didn’t let me go,
maybe it’s my fault…
Shit. I don’t know.
I’m not the one who held me down,
I’m not the one who took me out,
who spiked my drink,
who promised to help when I lost control of myself.
If what he did was help, I’m better off on my own.
You are the one who made me feel worthless.
You are the one who did it on purpose.
You are the one…
I ran to when I needed help.
When I was going through hell,
when I just wanted to be held.
And I am the one…
Who said, “Yes, we can fuck.”
Who thought that would be enough.
Except for that one time when I didn’t.
That one time when I said, “Don’t.”
That one time when I trusted you
And you hurt me.
You broke me.
You made me fell like I’d never be worthy
of someone who loved me.
Because everything I was,
everything I thought I was,
Or was that me?
See, because I’m so confused.
It’s not like what you see on the news.
He’s just an ordinary guy.
And I was just an ordinary girl,
before I became another kind of ordinary.
Because “1 in 4” means my story isn’t extraordinary,
I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s horrible.
It wasn’t my fault, but I’m not sure it was his. Entirely.
Because when I say “he,” I mean “they,”
more than one, plural.
with certain complications,
rolled into a compilation in my mind.
I wasn’t asking for it.
I said “no,”
And there was fear on my face.
It wasn’t a misunderstanding.
It was a loss of consciousness on his side.
Because he started as Jekyll
And ended up Mr. Hyde.
But “no” still means no. Right?
And that starts with parents meaning it
when you say “no” to your sons.
You can’t let them talk you out of it, because
if your “no” doesn’t really mean no,
how is he supposed to know that mine does?
“No” still means no.
“Don’t” is not an invitation,
“Stop” does not mean I like it.
Sex should not be something that is feared.
His hands on my body should not bring me to tears.
So I’m asking you, right here:
Is it my fault?
Is it his?
Sex should be an agreement, at least for one night,
not a competition to see who is stronger.
It shouldn’t be a fight for dominance.
I didn’t mean for this to be a rant,
but that’s what happens
when you hold it inside,
thinking you can’t tell anyone.
When you realize it shouldn’t be a secret.
The discussion of sex should not be taboo.
It’s been my secret,
but I don’t want to keep it,
and that’s why I’m telling you.
We should not have to stay silent.
And this is what happens when we finally get a chance to speak.
It’s not a simple issue.
But it shouldn’t be that complicated.
My “no” sure as hell wasn’t.
I have a big family. As the last of four siblings, I’m the “baby,” though it’s been a long time since I actually felt like the youngest. We have lots of aunts, u cles, and cousins, a big circle that seems to grow bigger every year. We always get together for Christmas, Labor Day weekend, and – my favorite – Thanksgiving. There’s always too much food and at least one or two card games going. If there’s football on, we’ll watch it, but it’s usually overcome by chatter, jokes, and friendly arguments. I love that atmosphere. And I love my family.
Which is why it took me completely by surprise when I realized I don’t miss them. I knew that things would be different when I left my home country. But I didn’t think I’d go six months without hearing my mom’s voice. I didn’t think I’d find out from Facebook that my brother got engaged. I didn’t think that when my oldest sister came to visit she’d treat me like the owner of a B&B. I didn’t think my friends would feel more like my family than my family does. But they do.
My body is confined within itself. I can hear the music, feel the beat, but my hands stay clasped together, my hips only sway in easy, tiny movements. I’m standing on the dance floor but all I can do is tap my foot, and smile when someone moves to grab my hand and spin me around. I can feel it for a moment in that spin, the freedom waiting on just the other side of the mountain that is my newfound reserve. I want to move. But I can’t.
We know better. There will be no black streaks down our cheeks like the scars on our hearts that are sliced and carefully healed, just to be reopened.
And that is why I do not cry today. Because I’ve already put my makeup on. I spread foundation on my skin like armor, a layer of protection that temporarily makes me more than myself. I dab on eyeshadow, a glittery pink beacon announcing that no one, not even you, can dull my radiance. My lips I ring in deep red, drawing attention to my mouth and the words that it emits, words that should be considered, cared about, held in your mind as carefully as your hands hold your Stratocaster, but they never were. You were too focused on my legs to meet my eyes, too enthralled by my waist to learn my story, too stuck on my lips to hear my soul as it reached out to you.
That is why I do not cry today.
Because anyone who makes a woman cry in mascara is not worth the time it takes to reapply it.