“My Words Like Silent Raindrops Fell”

Hello Friends,

The last few days have been dark– gray and rainy. We’ve entered the rainy season; my second in Tokyo, and though rainy days aren’t ideal, they’re more welcome than what will come next. Scorching days accompanied by an all-encompassing humidity. I appreciate these wet days, because the inability to roam forces me to be still. Golden, sunny days, energizing as they are, seem to be filled with much “just because” activity– mindlessness.

In an email exchange the other day, my brother joked that I was losing my words. He was kidding, but it’s true. It’s been almost two years here, and eighty percent of my interaction is with students with very limited English ability. My conversations in English don’t have great depth and require the most basic words. At times, my colleagues and I find ourselves grasping for words, idioms or very common expressions. My degrees are in English, yet you should hear some of the sentences that stream from my mouth. The answer is to read more, watch more programs, reach out more, but there never seems to be enough time to do all that is needed. These past few months, work has been consuming.

Yet, at times, there’s an abundance of silence. As a woman who lives alone, I find myself speaking out loud from time to time. When I catch myself doing it, I laugh; it doesn’t bother me, because I amuse myself, but I wonder, “How will I know when I’ve really cracked?” I should embrace the silence, not look for ways to fill it as I usually do. I shouldn’t fill it with the sound of my own voice, or music blasting from the speakers, or a stream of conversations on Facebook, or Skype conversations. The silence should be embraced and reveled in.

Living in Tokyo is like living in a Rorschach test. It’s blurry, distracting and incomprehensible, until “reality” is created. That’s the problem isn’t it?– Every perception, sound and thought is one’s own creation of reality. This is where “right thinking” comes in. The “vision planted in one’s brain,” must be one that uplifts, supports, rewards, satisfies, enhances, encourages. I speak of this, because I wasn’t just losing words in Japan, but losing myself in small ways. The Valerie I am now isn’t the Valerie I was two short years ago in many ways– good and bad. It seems there has been a progression as much as a regression, and though this is the initiation of a conversation, the answer to “What now?” will only emerge from silence.

Photo courtesy of J. Carlyle
Photo courtesy of J. Carlyle

Take care,


I Am Not An Island (Though I Imagined Myself To Be)

Dear Friends,

The last few posts have been about island life, and this post is anti-island life. Let me explain. For years, I’ve been a woman unto myself. Don’t get me wrong, the best people have made their way into my life and given me the gift of friendship, but I’ve also always had it simmering in my consciousness that at any time I may lose one of them. It was always necessary for me to be self-reliant and never get too attached to anyone. It was my habit to disconnect or detach myself from anyone who started to get too close… it couldn’t be helped.

When I was nine years old, my parents left Jamaica and moved to New York state to set up a house and a new life for us in Long Island (yet another island in the list of islands that have been home). My story is like that of millions of other immigrants across the globe, and it’s prevalent in Caribbean society. (I don’t pretend to be unique). One or both parents will leave children behind while moving to the “Land of Plenty” to build a new life for their family; they’ll work fourteen-hour days, buy a house in a “nice suburb” or a nice enough neighborhood and then send for their children to join them. I lived with my best friend and her family for a year (it’s called “Boarding”). Her family, naturally, became mine. My best friend’s mother, Aunt S, was a second mother to me and treated me like her very own. She introduced me to everyone as her daughter; however, I knew, as much as we loved each other, I wasn’t her very own and I was essentially alone. My parents were gone; it was my first disconnect. When my friends at school would ask me where my parents were, for the longest time I never told them.

In the year that my parents were setting up life in New York, they visited Kingston often. They would bring gifts, things that were unavailable or extremely expensive in Jamaica at that time: Reeboks, American apples, chocolates, clothes. God, I was so happy to see them… I remember when my father would come how I’d run and jump on him and hang on, and when my mother would visit I’d marvel at her clothes, high boots and thick red sweaters. (How often would we see women in boots in Jamaica? Never, unless they were visiting from “farin”). The moments of joy replaced all the sadness I felt at their absence.

My life was happy in school; like any other child, I’d run at recess, until I was sweaty;  jump hopscotch, play Dandy Shandy and eat Chippies banana chips and suck on Kisko pops and red-syrup suck sucks and drink Kola Champagnes and Tings and laugh with my friends, but at night, I was alone. I shared a room with Tan and we’d talk half the night about dancehall songs we loved and shows and the boys that liked her and the one I secretly liked. Even then I was a night owl, and I’d stay up hours after she slept. I remember being afraid to go to sleep, because I feared going blind in the night. Sometimes, education is a bad thing (it was shortly after learning Beethoven went blind that I began to fear losing my sight). I’d face the wall, trying my hardest not to sleep, listening to the dogs outside howl at each other, the moon, the tamarind tree.

It’s funny, but when my parents, my brother and I reunited, we never once spoke of our year’s separation. (This is how my family works anyway, we pretend things never happened). Somehow, I think my parent’s migration to the States made me a stronger person. Stronger, but infinitely more pathetic. It became second nature to cut people out of my life, even people I loved. I refused to form strong attachments. I wouldn’t ask anyone for help. Once when moving, instead of asking for assistance, I moved a couch from the sixteenth floor to the ground floor by myself. I lifted it on one side, shoved it into the hallway, into an elevator and into the garbage room of my building. I thought I was strong, but I see now, that I was pathetic. Why not ask for help? My parents leaving then, meant that I could leave at anytime. It was never hard for me to be thousands of miles away or on any continent, because I knew what it was to face a wall in the dark.

I’m writing this post at 4am, because I see that as much as I tried to deny it, I need people. Last night, I thought I’d had the last straw with my roommate: the noises, the sniffling, the loudness, the temperature controls. I decided that it was time to move out and even sent my rental agency a move-out notice for March. Enough was enough I thought; despite the cheap rent, it was time to get out of a shared space. When I came home tonight, I told my housemates of my plan to leave in a month, and the genuine care, support and suggestions made me see that with a little help from them, I’d be able to continue for a while longer. We’ve been here for just a short time, but there’s an inexplicable feeling of camaraderie in Borderless House Oshiage. Plus, my rent’s crazy cheap, so I’ll continue to take each day as it comes, and when it gets to be too much, there are rooms I’ll sneak into and sleep in. As much as I love and adore Simon and Garfunkel’s “I Am a Rock,” and thought for years that it pertained to me, I’m so grateful to realize that it doesn’t.

* T sharing natto with me, because he wanted to “share his favorite.”

I appreciate that this isn’t me…but love it all the same:



New Day, New Thoughts

Hi Friends,

The American sitcom Modern Family has to be one of the funniest things on television (besides The Office, Parks and Recreation, and any scene in Glee featuring Sue Sylvester). For those of you in the U.S, if you’re not watching, get on it; for those of you outside of the U.S, watch it on cable or stream it on Hulu. Trust me, it’ll make you laugh; if you don’t like it, you have an undiagnosed missing funny bone. No judgement.

When I visited London in September, my close friend’s fiance, DB, cemented himself in my heart by installing the Hotspot Shield on my laptop, which now enables me to stream American shows. DB‘s act of kindness ranks in the top seventeen nicest things ever done for me (#1’s constantly changing). On Modern Family there’s a very chubby, gay character named Cam who is the biggest comedic talent since…since…. I can’t think of a comedian to reference who doesn’t make me sound old, so I’ll just say that he’s funny. He stands out amongst an outstanding cast, which is no easy feat (it’s like “We Are The World”– too many talents).

I recently hulued the Halloween episode of Modern Family, and Cam’s dislike, yet compulsion to talk about Halloween reminds me of my birthday issue. Cam hates Halloween, I hate my birthday looming; Cam can’t stop talking about Halloween and its trauma, and (judging by this post and a previous one) I can’t stop talking about my birthday. Both Cam’s Halloween story and my birthday involve trauma, black witches, tons of candy, and a teeny bit of crying.

The thing about birthdays is that they force you to assess where you are in every aspect of your life. Perhaps, the confusion regarding my age with those around me is not how I look (I was feeling flattered thinking that I look young), but where I am in life and how I behave (or misbehave). However, whichever’s true, I’ve decided that it’s time to stop worrying about what time is doing to me physically, and start worrying about what I’m doing with my time.

I recently reconnected with an old friend (not in age, but someone I hung out with when I was 20), and we were discussing the question, “What next?” That has been been the constant refrain in my mind for the last few days… as in What now?/ What more?/ What next? It’s the question I’ve been tossing around with MG and M (my former housemate), because I know that as much as I enjoy English teaching and all the free time it allows me, there has to be more to do. Ideas that came up were another degree, a photography course, possibly pilates certification, maybe jewelry design. As much as some of those things interest me, and others definitely not, I realize I’m too lazy and generally uninterested to seriously pursue any of those options.

Then it happened. At work today, I spoke with my coworker who writes science fiction novels, and who just met his deadline with yet another book. He, like my mother, Ian of the Beef Stew (http://lettersfromval.com/2011/05/11/ian/), and TD, asked me what was going on with my non-blog writing. His words hit me… all this time, I was searching for the next step, when the logical next step is free and in my head. Duh– I have all this free time for a reason. He made me commit to two thousand words a day (1500 minimum), which in two months should give me enough to work with, revise, and clean up; he also promised to check in in a few weeks to make sure I’m on track (so Mother, now you can stop asking me everytime we speak!).

Now, I’m not afraid of time… As was often said to me growing up, “Stop worrying so much about what’s on your head, and more about what’s in it.”

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me, while I looked around for my possibilities, I was so hard to please.– Simon and Garfunkel (Hazy Shade of Winter)