Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Thin Divide

First, I think it is so funny now that in the top left hand corner of my blog it says "cutest blog" or something like that. I just got tired of the layout design that I had here on blogger and wanted something different. So, if you are reading because you expect "cute" go ahead and click right out. Feeling very philosophical this a.m. . . .perhaps it is a weird reaction to my children's incessant bickering from the moment they awoke this a.m. Retreat into the inner mind in a desperate attempt to escape the reality of "I told you to stop pinching your sister. If I have to tell you once more I am going to pinch YOU hard!" When they make me say crazy things like that. . . So. On to broodings that I have retreated into:

You hear about Japanese men who have taken off their company armor. Left the tie on the desk, spurned their prestigious meishi, and walked away into the country side to grow organic produce, or into the mountains to open a guest inn. Maybe they have even dared to leave Japan and live outside the embryonic yolk of Japanese society. Dared to allow themselves, their dreams, their aspirations, their desires for and of life to hatch on foreign shores.

The men who act on their dreams are amazing, unique and rare. Men who dream the same or similar dreams are not though. It seems to be part and parcel of life in the hamster maze of Japanese life style and workplace. Hard working hamsters enjoy the pathos of dreaming about what kind of life they could have or would like to have--it acts as a kind of catharsis to overcome the reality of the life that they do have. Catharsis is a good thing when it purges the feelings that cause distress.

When it becomes an enabler to a life that violates the individual it is hard to continue rushing to the theater, you can only take so many tragedies in stride before even comedies cease to ease the soul.

My husband has never had any "live-a-more-natural,-relaxed-life-in-the-country-side" kind of dreams. Although for a while, he did talk about returning to his hometown in the South of Japan, opening his own cram school, and living a more relaxed paced life. (I just nodded and listened, thinking, "running your own business, and a cram school at that--would be anything BUT a slower paced life style.") At the time, I think he just really wanted to exit the world in which he was working--with people always above him that he had to answer to and obey. You know, he just basically wanted to be his own boss.

Now, because of Masa's illness, we don't talk about retirement dreams, or dreams of what life without kids underfoot will mean for us as a couple. I wish we could get the future back, but at present, we just deal with the present and maybe the future 3-5 years from now.

The dreams that Masa talks about now are how he will change his work schedule--get home earlier in time to help the girls with their homework. He talks about getting up early and being able to drive the girls to school in bad weather and get to work on time (8:30 a.m.)

Last semester, he would get to work at about 8:50 a.m. so I could just make my 9 a.m. class and mornings were always hurried and chaotic.

In order to actually change his schedule, he would have to endure at least a month of jet lag like fatigue (which coupled with his RA symptoms would make life nearly unbearable.) He would somehow have to accept that during that adjustment period some things at work just would not get done, or at least, not done on time. He would have to be able to look ahead into the future, where a more regular sleep schedule and lifestyle would give him the energy to catch up, to keep up with the hectic pace of work. But when you are in the grips of jet lag--think SEVERE case of jet lag, where if you stop talking, even if your eyes are open you quickly fall into a deep sleep, being able to think ahead seems to become nearly impossible for him.

And of course, during that first month, he would have to bear up under incredible censure at work from those above him, even from those below him, who still working till 1 or 2 a.m. at night would resent him leaving work any earlier than them.

The rewards that Japanese workplaces shower upon those workers who are willing to sacrifice everything for the company are hard to wean yourself of: indulgence, respect, status.

Actual change is discouraged, despite what ever legislature is passed. Laws passed to eliminate the inhuman hours of overtime employees were putting in simply resulted in employees putting in insane overtime without pay. Paper trails of overwork are actively discouraged.

But dreaming about change, about living life to enjoy and experience it rather than to withstand it seem to be encouraged in Japanese culture. There is something about dreaming that seems endemic to Japanese workers. The work life and schedule is so demanding and unforgiving and combine that with a drive to achieve and a workaholic personality--men like Masa really struggle. I really admire those individuals in Japan that do actually work towards realizing their dreams of a life where they work to live, not live to work. Whether that means that they get out of the rat race entirely (opening an inn in the country side, working out of the home, farming, etc.) or whether it means that they are able to set boundaries between their work life and their home/private life and succeed in prioritizing the later.

I spent years thinking that Masa would wake up and realize that he was pouring his life away. Then I decided that while I couldn't change his approach to work/life, I could change mine. And there is a fine line there for a couple. I crossed the line and separated my life and the girls' lives entirely from his.

When I first decided to live for myself and stop waiting up nights for him, stop suffering from disappointment when he would invariable choose work or sleep over us on the weekends and holidays, I thought I could model the example of a friend of mine at the time. She lived life energetically and enthusiastically. She and her children would go to the zoo, camping, swimming, take trips to Okinawa, and back to her home country. She enrolled them in all kinds of lessons and programs and ran her house perfectly while working full-time as a translator out of her home. Her husband was basically not present most of the time, but when he could he joined them and they had some good family times (honestly, maybe only a hand full of weekends out of the year). He saw her working hard for their family, both domestically and in the work place and I think appreciate it and therefore, her. So when he did join them, she was honestly happy and he genuinely enjoyed his time with his family.

While I succeeded in taking charge of the kids and my own life--we had our schedules, our outings, our rituals--I did not succeed in living life energetically or enthusiastically. My husband was not invited into our lives in anyway.

That line is so thin that it is hard to even perceive at first. It is a fragile thin line of communication, of caring, and showing appreciation for each other and finally of feeling appreciation for each other that once crossed surprises you. On the other side, you see that while it was a thin divide, it is very deep, stretching down into areas that you can barely make out, decipher, see. And so I feel on my knees, on my side of the divide and pitied myself, pitied my children and cursed my husband. In my eyes, it was his culture, his country, his lack of effort or caring that unleashed the earthquake in our relationship that ended in this fault line, in this open crevice to the sight of a part of my soul that I had never wanted to confront. At the bottom of that crevice, if I strained hard enough to see, was me: a bitter woman who saw herself as wronged. A woman who was outraged at the life she found herself forced to live. A woman who resented her husband, his job, even the money that he brought home from work. A woman who lacked the capacity to feel even an ounce of empathy for her husband. There was only one figure in the drama of her life--which had of course turned into a monologue--starring her.

How I managed to rewrite the script to include a cast--that requires more brooding than I have time to invest this morning. And this is all kind of navel gazing stuff anyway. Anyone other than my very own navel probably isn't all that keen on following the story to its conclusion. So for now, I shall scuttle away and take my navel off to the kitchen. Where I will try to appease the restless (and feisty) offspring with calming F-O-O-D. Or what a normal mother would call "lunch".