Life without Words

I think anyone with a creative hobby can relate to this one.

When I finally made my years-long dream come true and moved to Japan, I was still living in the memory of what it had been like to study there. As a student, I’d had the perfect schedule: classes until early afternoon, with the rest of the day, weekends, and holidays free to go wherever I wanted. I had time to explore, time to practice yosakoi, and time to travel anywhere in the country. I’d heard that Japan was not such a great place to work as to be a student, but I thought I’d found a job with enough flexibility to get around that.

Let me first say that I loved my job. Many of my regular clients became my friends. I met all kinds of people and was able to grow a lot as both a teacher and a person. I could literally choose any schedule I wanted, submitting 200 lessons a month or zero lessons a month, closing any that didn’t book any time I wanted. On a day-to-day basis, it was perfect for me.

There was just one caveat: in order to meet the Japanese government’s requirements for visa renewal (as well as to earn enough money for food, rent, and student loan payments), I had to teach about 160 lessons a month. Not submit — teach. That meant that on slow days, I’d have to open extra lessons and hang around until the last minute to see if they’d book. Eventually this resulted in a schedule like this:

5:00-6:30 = wake up, catch the train, get to work
7:00-2:00 = teach (with a 45 minute break at 10, and sometimes I’d go home early)
3:00-5:00 = get home, eat lunner, do anything else that needed to be done that day, then head back to work
5:30-8:30 = teach again
9:00-9:30 = get home, pass out

I felt like I was always in work mode, even at home, because I couldn’t even take my suit off and be comfortable. So I was basically in a state of permanent (albeit low-level) stress. Which translated to “Novel writing? Okay, with effort… Blogging? Ugh, I’ll do it next week.” And social life? That’s funny.

I feel as though I came to understand quite intimately why so many of my working clients listed “hobbies” like listening to music, window shopping, and riding trains. I myself had to drop archery and karate, things I’d been wanting to try since high school, just months after picking them up. But nothing hurt more than losing my words.

One day I got home feeling exhausted and absolutely soulless, and realized I hadn’t written a word in weeks. Every project I’d been working on, every promise I’d made for this blog, had words just hanging in some void where, even if I could find them, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to write them down. I felt like a loser, and worse I felt lost. For me, setting the words in a physical form is only part of the process. Before I can even get to that point, I need the words in my head, and before the words are even formed, I need the images, the emotions, the raw experience that those words become an intermediary for. And I didn’t even have the time or peace of mind to indulge that.

Okay, I’m probably a bit too wordy at the moment, so here’s the point: it’s too easy to get caught up in Important Things and forget why you’re alive. Because yeah, money and rent and not starving are all necessities that should and (for most of us) probably do take priority over simple passions. But I could never see the point of a life consisting entirely of a “work eat sleep” pattern repeating into eternity.

We should work to live, not the other way around.

And it’s easy to say “I’ll do this” and never really act on it. However solemn your vow to yourself, it’s not good enough, and it never will be. That’s why today, I decided to skip over the “I will” and jump straight into the “I am.”

I am now wrapping up this horribly written blog post. 🙂


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