One New Exchange

Back in Australia now and kind of tired, so this probably won’t be overly lengthy.  Spent most of today flying, napping and taking Pan notes in Cairns Airport, then settling back into home.  Spent most of yesterday (Monday) wandering around, and sitting and reading in Aeon Mall near Kyoto Station.  A while was spent staring at Ruroni Kenshin movie posters in the cinema.  Perhaps I should have done more, but I’m rather an anxious traveller, and wasn’t feeling well at all with the thought that I’d soon be boarding a plane.  And I’d already gotten a great deal of sun before the weekend, and on Sunday – I went to the shrine at Inari, one I hadn’t been to before.  May blog about that separately at one point; was very interesting but grew strangely creepier as I grew more sweaty and out of breath walking up the mountain – this shrine shall henceforth be known as the Land of a Million Red Tori Gates.

So yes, wanted to stay quiet in the aircon.  More, I found some stuff I’d rather not talk about in my lunch yesterday … that didn’t improve my general health.

Nearer to the time the taxi would be taking me to the airport, I began to wander back towards the hotel, but sat at a point just across from the station in a shaded area on a low stone wall to read a little more.  I had passed that point many times walking to various locations, but had never stopped there before.

And there, after lowering my book and mindlessly contemplating my surroundings for a few moments – the very wide city street going past the station and the rumbling of trains into motion and stillness within, the sound of bleeping acquiescence and pedestrian crossings thick with … pedestrians … and  splashes of green gardens planted within the barriers of the low stone walls – I realised there was something I had to add to my novel.  Something important, something so obvious I wanted to smack myself over the head then and there that it hadn’t been included from the beginning.

Just a short exchange to add to the end of a far lengthier conversation.  It would make sense, I think, that a truly spiritual and kind woman would say “I’ll pray for you” to a sick boy before they part ways.  Whoever he is.  Even a sick boy whose people are known to worship no Gods.  Considering him and his situation, I’m guessing there will be a short pause before he manages to thank her, nothing else he can really say.  He’s hardly about to start a religious debate, and that anyone’s thoughts are with him – whether he believes or not – I know would come as a welcome comfort to him at that point.

Well, may leave it there.  Just wanted to share.  Despite feeling like a true idiot for that obvious bit of dialogue not already being written, realising that it had to be, pretty much hearing her say it as I sat there, was a good moment.  Perhaps I needed a nudge, and the revelation had something to do with the shady, soon-to-be-left location.  Or the timing, the new direction I was/am about to take.  Whichever or neither, it doesn’t really matter.  Shall be adding that to the manuscript very soon.

Behind Glass (section thirteen)

The others laughed only lightly, once or twice each, and Jarred hastily reigned in his chortles. Pan was the only one of them forced into the ranks. Rumours swooped and soared about every such boy as to why. And though the hushed stories remained plentiful after four years, hardly any detail was known of Pan’s crimes. He, of course, never said a word. But it had been serious. That was accepted as fact. A cruel joke gone horribly wrong. People had been hurt. If he’d been any older, he might have faced a harsh prison sentence.

But Pan did not have the appearance of a willful miscreant. He did not seem a joker, and he certainly didn’t give the impression of being cruel. This had confused many when he’d first arrived, unsure how to treat a young criminal who looked to be so sensitive.

No one had listened to him. All the other boys had said it was him. Blamed him. Pan’s pained anger at them had died once he’d found his place in the castle – what else could they have done? Blamed Claire?

Those memories were bad. But excitement again bubbled and frothed in his chest, the sweetest ice cream float ever scooped, as he remembered all that was good about Claire, too. There was so much of it. Merrick had to repeat his question for Pan to notice. ‘What is her talent?’

In response, Pan reached for the little pad of notepaper and stumpy pencil he kept in his pocket, but Darien snatched them away. Making an indignant sound, Pan made a grab for them, but Darien tossed them to Jarred, who sat on them, grinning.

No proper signs for it, Pan protested. Give that back!

‘You’re expressive enough to make do without,’ Darien teased, tousling his earthy hair.

‘And even if you regain command of it, your speech may never be as good as it once was,’ Mal pointed out compassionately. ‘You may still need to sign throughout your life.’

‘And these sessions are all about improving your communication,’ Darien said. ‘Make a new sign, go on.’

Scowling, Pan thought for a moment, wriggling his fingers. For now, miming would do. The others guessing rowdily as though it were a tournament with a grand prize, Pan first mimed playing chess, and then rolling a pair of dice.

‘So she plays games for her talent?’ Jarred said doubtfully. ‘That’s not much. Even tea-serving is more impressive.’

Pan shook his head emphatically, dropping the invisible deck of cards he’d just begun to deal out to imaginary players. Making a fist, he pumped it in the air, mouth open in a voiceless cry of victory.

‘Oh, she wins games for her talent,’ Merrick nodded, grinning. Games of wit, strategy, and presumed luck were perhaps the most popular pastime in the city, certainly in the castle. ‘I see. All the old gentlemen must just love being put in their place by a young girl. She’s good enough that its her talent? She never looses?’

‘Never,’ Pan croaked, beckoning for his paper and pencil. Seeing this was to be quite a long explanation, Jarred passed them over. They all grouped around him, Merrick, Mal, and Jarred leaning over the back of the couch and Darien at his side, and read as Pan’s speedy hand dashed off stories.

How the two of them had met, Pan letting out a gasp from where he stood beside his guardian at their neighbour’s front door, seeing a girl for the first time. The games, first chutes and ladders and dominos, then chess and backgammon, that they’d played together every day, Claire listening and interjecting with moans of unfair treatment as Pan described the life of a normal boy, a normal child.  He spoke to jealous ears of his school and friends, and their outings to the nearby seaside – Claire was already almost nine by the time they convinced her guardian to let her visit the sea. When they were older, their guardians had begun teaching them many fishing, shedding, and comparing card games on warm evenings by the open window, a slice of chiffon cake and cup of tea apiece.  This had fast led to Claire’s discovery of her talent, first destroying Pan and then putting their guardians to shame, game after game. Since the unearthing of her raw talent, she’d researched techniques and perfected her strategies, honed her presentation, and developed fall-back plans for every conceivable game a challenger could pull off their shelf.

Her guardian was so pleased, Pan wrote, a soft glimmer of happy memory in his eyes, pale sunshine peeking out from behind those two grey mornings.  Her poetry and badminton lessons weren’t going well at all.

Pan went on writing, starting to script in detail about one very special night that Claire and he had been allowed to attend an adult party at which Claire’s talent was to be publicly revealed for the first time. Her guardian had said nothing until after she so adorably challenged and then ruthlessly defeated the elderly ward Director in seven rounds of blackjack. As Pan shared these precious memories with them all, Darien shifted slightly to better see his friend’s face. Pan was smiling.

He’d never seen Pan smile for so long. Never so brightly, the glittering, beautiful ceiling lights fading to something drab and unsightly by comparison.

Behind Glass (section twelve)

‘Darien told us you’ve got Claire Baker three weeks from Thursday,’ Merrick soon said, bringing Pan smoothly into the conversation. ‘The new addition, and on her first time off the Shelf. That’s impressive. The Directors must be pleased with you, to be giving you such an important job. But Claire … I don’t really know anything about her, just that you’re friends.’

‘You and Claire are friends? You never told me that. That’s so rare,‘ Mal observed with interest. ‘How did you become friends with a girl?’

We were neighbours in the third ward. Our guardians were friends.

‘Still, I’m surprised her guardian let her see anyone aside from her foster brothers.’

We were the same age, and her brothers were so much older. She was lonely. My guardian heard of this, and took me to meet her.

‘So you were her only playmate growing up?’ Merrick asked, looking a little jealous. Most boys didn’t know any girls personally. Though they saw women constantly as escorts, it wasn’t the same thing. The women on the Shelves were not their friends.  For obvious reasons, such relationships were difficult to build, even with those they escorted most often. The women were their jobs.  And however fond they may grow of them, that was what they had to remain.

For a long time, yes. I was the only other person she knew. I introduced her to some of my friends when we were older, and her guardian slightly less protective. He’d started letting her leave the house a few more times a year, in any case.

‘And that’s when you started causing trouble, wasn’t it?’

Pan chuckled weakly while the others laughed. But Darien didn’t laugh long, crinkles of the cheery smile about his wide cornflower eyes fading, turning his youthful face far more grave.

‘I remember,’ he said seriously, ‘when you first arrived here.

How? Pan asked. We didn’t know each other yet. Why would you remember me?

You’re hard to miss.’

What do you mean? Pan asked curiously.

Darien didn’t elaborate. Pan would object, never believing that half of the boys in the castle had fallen in love with his face the day he’d arrived, white and trembling before the towering marble structure that was to be his new home and prison. It was no wonder really, given who his mother was. By first glance, every one of them had known the new boy was Lilian Mason’s son. Most whose hearts he’d unknowingly captured still regarded him with longing even as he transitioned from child to man, a phase so awkward for most that Pan handled with grace. But all were now far too afraid to even think of touching him.

‘You were constantly on the verge of tears, and had a startle reflex so amplified it was like the world sought to hunt you down. And that was before you were assigned to Beron. If by ordering miscreants here the main purpose is for them to regret past actions, you should have been sent home after three days.

Pan sighed.

Sometimes I wish they had sent me home.

The others, save Darien, looked rather uncomfortable. ‘It hasn’t been all terrible, has it?’ Merrick asked hesitantly.

No, of course not, Pan reassured him. Sometimes I wish that, that’s all. On bad days. But if I wasn’t made an escort, I wouldn’t have met all of you. I wouldn’t know my mother and Georgiana, and I’d never have been able to see Claire again.

He wanted so much to see her again. Even though it was her fault. If she hadn’t been so free-spirited, he never would have been ordered to the castle. When he articulated this, Jarred gave a loud laugh. ‘I’ll give you due credit – you do stand by your story.’

I never did any of itPan replied staunchly. I was just nearby when it happened.

Random Acts of Adorability

My schedule indicates that I’m meant to be putting up Behind Glass (section twelve) today, but I’m afraid I will have to make some excuses.  It’s my last day as a renter of my own home.  I’ve been pretty busy so far, and will remain so until I snooze here for the last time tonight.  Argh, still so many lasts.  So, this morning I’ve already been out to the home ware shop, rode home with a large flattened cardboard box under my arm, packed up a final box to send home and posted said box, posted another letter, and fixed a new grease catcher to my kitchen fan.  Currently on a break for lunch, and afterwards I’ll be doing more re-packs, scouting for forgotten items, giving every surface a final wipe down, contacting a friend to help me move all my baggage to the hotel on Saturday, and contacting a taxi company to get me to the airport on Monday.  What makes matters worse is that this instant pasta sauce is only just holding at average.  Coke’s as good as ever, though.  At least I know this coke isn’t my last from the vending machine across the road.  But they are numbered.

I decided to leave Pan for the day as I haven’t quite finished the end of that section yet, and I don’t want to rush and force it when I have other things on my mind.  If I just had to edit it wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s being a bit stubborn.  I know what I want, just haven’t managed to get it out right, yet.  Shouldn’t really take too long, so tomorrow if I’m able to finish it, I’ll post section twelve then.

Instead, considering I’m about to leave my home, I thought I’d share with you a moment from a day or so before I moved in here which returned to me as I was packing up that box before.  No real connection between the box-packing and the moment, apart from both being at times of goings, comings, and changes.

When I arrived in Uji at the end of July 2010, my soon-to-be apartment was still being lived in, so my contracting organisation put me up in a hotel for a few days, a business hotel called Uji Daiichi (No. 1) Hotel.  A bit grungy to be honest, and it smelled strongly of cigarettes.  But I wasn’t really in a situation to complain.  It was only for a few days, and it was fully paid for.  This was my first time living away from home, my first time with a full-time job, and though I can’t recall exactly how I was feeling I was probably a bit jittery with nerves and anticipation.  Beneath that, I was probably a bit moody, thinking about home.  I remember I was looking forward to moving in.  And I remember that when I got back to the hotel after being out, probably organising things like my bank account and foreigner card and personal seal with my supervisor, and found that my sweet little lamb (bought by my parents at Brisbane Airport just before I left the country) and unicorn I’d left on the bed had been arranged like this …

… by the cleaners, it just made my day.  Japan is the land of cute, I wonder if it’s just instinct to arrange soft toys into friendly hugging poses, or whether the cleaner was a particularly perky person, or in a particularly good mood, or just thought it’d be sweet.  It made me happy, in any case.  I tried a few times to write a note in return, wanting to let them know how their random act of adorability had so positively affected me, but didn’t end up leaving anything – too embarrassed by my poor Japanese, and concerned my meaning wouldn’t get across.  And the cleaners would probably regularly change, I couldn’t be sure the message would get to the right person.  If I’d had access to a printer, maybe I would’ve printed this picture and written thank you on the back; it would have eventually gotten to the right person.

So, my instant pasta’s just about gone, that means this should probably be wound up.  Not particularly writing or creativity related today, though this act did inspire me to take the above picture.  A similar moment may be written at one point.  As I feel like it and I have a little washing up calling me to scrub, I’ll end with an easily composed, overblown, mediocre, and generic statement (think I’ve got enough adjectives?):  whether you’re going or coming, whatever point you’re at in your life, whatever you’re doing or whatever your current state of mind is, happiness can come from any little thing at any random moment.

To the sink!

Behind Glass (section eleven)

‘What’s wrong with him?’ Jarred wondered aloud as Pan gulped his water, Merrick refilling his glass with the pitcher from the table. It was set with tiny, glinting pieces of coloured glass that together formed exploding fire blossoms against a black sky. ‘Beron didn’t actually do anything, did he? Ravage his throat, or cut his tongue? He would’ve gotten in so much strife.’

‘Jarred, use your head,’ Darien said. ‘Master Beron never touched him.’

‘This is hardly untouched, Darien,’ Mal couldn’t help but murmur, taking Pan’s hand protectively. ‘And we can’t keep pretending Beron is the only one responsible.’

Pan’s face, which had faded from blotchy purple to a tone a few shades paler than his usual dessert cream, immediately exploded with blood, turning him not frock pink but ruby-red with shame. Why was this always being brought up?

Not now, Mal,’ Merrick said softly as Pan fought not to squirm in his seat. He longed to vanish, to melt into liquid and dissolve without a trace into Fen’s nice lounge. ‘We’re not pretending anything, but you can’t just spring that on him like this.’

Let’s keep to the matter at hand,’ said Darien firmly, ‘which is his voice.’

‘These issues are all connected,’ Mal began to protest, but Merrick hushed him, seeing as Pan began to sweat.

Darien faced Jarred, who was waiting even more curiously for an answer. Though he was Pan’s age and a willing escort, Jarred was not yet in master training – he had only come to the castle the year before. As such, he knew of Beron’s reputation, but nothing else. To Pan’s relief, Darien kept his explanation absolutely minimal, barely enlightening a somewhat disgruntled Jarred at all. 

‘He has no physical ailment keeping him from speaking. It’s all in his mind. It’s all in your mind,’ Darien turned his attention to Pan. ‘Beron’s no longer your master, and everything that happened with Gain is long past. Making believe it never happened then dwelling on it endlessly when it comes up won’t help – you must move on, do you understand?’

How am I supposed to do that when he …

‘Master Fen, your physician,’ Darien continued, cutting off Pan’s flying hands. ‘All of us.  We all want you to speak again, that’s why we’re spending so much time on you. The Directors too, Master Grange tells me they show keen interest in your progress. You are working hard, we know. But you’ll achieve nothing while you continue to stand in your own way. You have to stop being so afraid. Whatever you’ve been through, there is nothing keeping you from speaking. No one, save you.

I know that! Pan signed furiously, hands whipping through the air so fast it was a wonder they didn’t slice it. But I can’t! I can’t make myself do it! Every time I choke! My voice is gone!

‘It’s not gone! You were speaking just before!’

Anger fading but so horribly embarrassed, disheartened by his failure and now feeling quite ill – the mention of Gain always had the effect of a mild stomach flu – he couldn’t bear to hear to their words of encouragement, particularly Darien’s. The number of times Pan had failed were too many to count, and he had witnessed them all. How could any of them be so sure he’d recover command of speech? What were the Directors thinking, making him stay there? He was going to be a mockery as a master!

‘You were speaking in front of us, all four of us! You’ve never managed that before, you’re doing very well. Those last ones were just a challenge. You need to work up to them, that’s all.’

He’d been working up to them for months now, and still fell short. I don’t want to talk about it, Pan let them know shortly, hunching and signing very harshly. Leave me alone. Get out of here.

But, as Jarred pointed out, they weren’t in Pan’s rooms. And Fen had granted all of them free use for the evening. He was quite stubborn about it, so while Merrick and Mal were hesitant they decided to stay, and soon began chatting about their upcoming women. Thinking he needed some alone time, they didn’t bother Pan when he slouched off to his room to sulk. Darien and Mal both kept a close eye on him until his door clicked shut.

Out of sight, Pan collapsed on his bed, losing to tears. He never cried in front of anyone; that was another souvenir from his time with Beron. But he could still weep alone, and he spent a few minutes wrestling with his pillow as he cried. He won easily.

It didn’t take long for him to feel very childish for his rudeness and venting. After another minute he wiped his streaming eyes, gave a long sniff, and pushed his door back open. Sitting next to Darien with a heavy sigh, Pan flicked out an apology with his fingers. Darien immediately put a reassuring arm around him. Pan rested his head on his shoulder.

‘It’ll happen,’ Darien told him. ‘You just need more time.’

Behind Glass (section ten)

After a month working with Fen, Pan joined Darien as one of the top escorts in the castle thanks to his young master’s growing reputation and the doors he opened to showcase Pan’s talents. Pan really was a very good escort, but could never have hoped to gain recognition for himself under Beron. The Directors were finally seeing more of him. They at last saw the very high quality of his work and how the women liked him, Pan obliging and dependable, treating them with utmost courtesy and never sparing them a moment of the attention they deserved. Subsequently, the Directors kept him busy—three days couldn’t go by without him having another woman on his arm. And what with their studies, chores, and Shelf duties in addition to their work, Pan’s incredulous questioning of the existence of free time in master training was well founded. Still, one or two nights a week after study with their respective masters or in the classroom, Darien found time to set aside for Pan’s speech rehabilitation.

One evening a few weeks before they were scheduled to escort Claire and GeorgianaPan was growing increasingly excited, memories of his friend and sister soaring beautifully through his mind as he applied eyeliner, poured drinks, and twirled girls around dance floors until more important men intruded Pan and Darien, along with Merrick, Mal, and Jarred, congregated for such a speech session. Before Pan’s reassignment they had scouted out empty chambers to meet in, as the sun would set in the east before Master Beron offered his hospitality to a gaggle of escorts and Pan wasn’t comfortable using the common rooms. But on Pan obediently revealing his evening plans in three disjointed words as he served his master’s dinner, Fen had offered his sitting room for their use. It would be so much more comfortable in Fen’s mint-scented rooms than a mildew-scented, damp storage cubicle or a tiny, dust-choked study alcove off the main library. The escorts had gladly taken him up on his offer.

Pan sat on one of the navy lounges, eyes fixed on the sparkling ceiling lights and hands clasped tightly as the others took turns asking him simple questions. How are you? When’s your birthday? How was the weather today? Who was your last woman? What’s your favourite type of cake?

Even though they were  friends, with three others present besides Darien it took Pan half an hour to pronounce a single word. Once he’d gotten his throat working though, he was able to answer most of their questions with one or two-word replies. Darien then steered them towards more complicated inquiries, trying to lure Pan into saying a complete sentence. But Pan’s throat and tongue and teeth just would not cooperate. As he grew more and more frustrated trying to push sound past his lips, Pan slipped further and further down the lounge until he was horizontal, head in Mal’s lap. Mal patted his head kindly, but couldn’t help laughing along with the others at the intense annoyance all over Pan’s face, brought even more to life by lurid, cursing signs, hands held in the air above his head.

‘Tell us about yourself,’ Darien said for the fourth time. Pan groaned loudly and took Mal’s arm, pulling it close to block out the room. Staring at the ceiling hadn’t made shaping sentences any easier, and neither had closing his eyes. Perhaps an external physical shield would help. ‘Start with your name, and go on from there.’

‘My name…’ Pan began falteringly in his hoarse whisper, but choked before he could continue. ‘My name is…’ he tried again when the spasm had passed, but again his throat constricted. Making an odd gurgling sound and coughing furiously to clear his windpipe, he swung out of Mal’s lap and banged his forehead against the spongy back of the lounge, bouncing back with the forceYou’re all really enjoying this, aren’t you? he signed, hugely irritated, but still able to laugh weakly along with his friends. But after another hour he was no longer laughing, and neither were they.

‘Come on, Pan,’ Merrick said, leaving his perch on the opposite lounge‘s arm and sitting close beside him, taking his hands to keep him from exploding with dismay. ‘What did you do today? Just one thing. Give us seven words in a row and we’ll stop for the evening.’

Seven? He had to be joking. But every eye was on him. Thinking he had to achieve that impossible goal to be allowed to rest and desperate not to fail his friends, Pan began to panic. He mouthed uselessly, emitting only incomprehensible clicks and wet gurgles. ‘I…’ he managed with great difficulty, but then gasped, gagging. Ripping free of Merrick, Pan’s hands flew to his throat. He pawed at it, kneading, trying to encourage the muscles to relax as a physician once showed him. But they remained tight, squeezing, closing off his airways.  He started to wheeze. Eyes going very wide, Pan began to turn pale violet.  

He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t breathe …

‘That’s enough,’ Darien said at last. Coming to Pan’s aid, he motioned Merrick aside and took over. Reclining Pan against the lounge cushions, he gently massaged his throat until he’d calmed down, larynx at last brought under control. Pan’s renewed breath tremorous, Darien rubbed his shoulders comfortingly and helped him drink the glass of water Merrick  fetched, holding the vessel while Pan’s hands shook.

Leaving Home, Going Home, and Last Meals

Leaving a place, going away, is a context most people would relate to quite well – either they’ve left home, or they’ve had someone they love leave, for whatever all our individuals reasons might be.  Job.  Love.  Independence.  Escape.  Seeking a better future.

Somewhere else.

This is probably part of why moving vans and packing boxes make an appearance in so many movies.  Somebody once told me (or I read it somewhere, not sure which) that most stories – even if they’re not about moving and settling in a new place – begin with (or involve at some point) either the protagonist leaving somewhere, or someone arriving in a new location.  Harry leaves Privet Drive for Hogwarts; Frodo sets out for Bree, then Rivendell and Mount Doom; Charlie Campion flees the government compound where he works in hope of escaping deadly Captain Trips; the Baker Family moves to Chicago unhappily for their father’s job in Cheaper by the Dozen; Cady (that’s Lindsay Lohan’s name in Mean Girls, isn’t it?) arrives in America from Africa and attends school for the first time; Mulan leave for war to save her father’s life; the list continues indefinitely.  There are probably some better examples, but these are just off the top of my head.

So, I will be leaving Uji, Japan, the town I’ve been living for the last two years, in a little under two weeks.  And I’ll be going home.

Leaving somewhere and going home is done quite often in literature as well, I believe.  The reasons for going home, however, all seem to be rather negative compared with reasons for seeking a new life in an entirely new location.  People go home to sort out troubled pasts.  To get themselves together after failures in their lives and endeavors away from home.  To seek comfort when times are hard.  But my reasons for going home aren’t so negative, I don’t think.  Things aren’t perfect with my job, but what job can claim to be absolutely perfect?  And I miss my family and friends in Australia, but if everyone started surrendering to homesickness they would all barricade themselves safely in their places of birth, and as a result much of the world’s business would come to a resounding halt.  I’m throwing out and giving away many of my belongings, but this is out of necessity.  I can only check 40kg of baggage, and taking items such as my beautiful electric piano and my takoyaki maker just isn’t sensible.  I’m not casting off memories of a tragic former life, I just don’t have a big enough bag.

My life isn’t bad here.  The reason I’m leaving – and this is hideously overused, sorry – is that it’s time to leave.  And in doing so, I think I’m mixing it up a little.  It seems in general people head to new places to begin new things.  I’m going home to Australia to begin something not exactly “new” so to speak, but to begin the life I’ve always wanted for myself.

But to make matters slightly more complicated, I’m not leaving just anywhere.  This town.  The route I take riding to work and walking to the community centre for choir practice.  My shoe box-sized apartment and futon.  The bakeries, one near my apartment and one near school.  The friends I’ve made – choir members, teachers, volunteers at Speak Salon Japanese classes.  Uji isn’t just a place I’m living, soon to become a place I once lived.  It’s home, too.  It feels like home, the way home feels to me.  Not exactly the same – that’s hard without my family here – but it has the same vibe.  I don’t feel like someone living in a town strange and foreign, or a town in which they are strange and foreign, even though I honestly know that’s still the case – the latter, that is.

Leaving home and going home at the same time feels strange.  Unbalanced, maybe, I’m not entirely sure.  It just doesn’t seem to match up with what I know of these situations, though I’m sure many others have made second homes around the world, and have been through the same thing.  I plan to come back, many times, hopefully.  If I become successful Uji may even begin to be flooded with international tourists as well as Japanese ones – some major events in my novel take place here.  I will come back, but I worry a little that it won’t feel like home anymore when I do return.

So, with only two weeks to go, I’ve been experiencing many “last” moments.  The last walk to choir practice – I tried to take a picture of the community centre on my phone, but it was too dark.  My last class at junior high school – probably the least lively of the morning, as it was horribly hot and already third period.  My last day at elementary school – two grade six girls thanked me for teaching them in front of all of grades five and six, and the staff gave me some beautiful gifts.  My last day at kindergarten – that was today, and after all the kids went home I was asked to make some signs teaching the pronounciation and meaning of several simple English terms.  Among them, of course, was “goodbye.”

And this evening, I cooked what will probably be the last meal I cook in this apartment.  Not the last one I eat, or throw together – actually, really cook.  The last, unless I get the urge amid the mayhem of packing and cleaning next week, which isn’t likely.  It’ll be all pizzas and bentos from hereon in.  This was the  last time to use the stove.  To slice with that knife.  And I just finished the accompanying last big washing up session.

This last meal was tomato cream pasta with meatballs.  The recipes for both sauce and meatballs I looked up and began making regularly here – never once have I made them in Australia.  Though I’ve altered it slightly to serve fewer people, the site I got the pasta sauce recipe is here, and the tasty fried meatballs – though I’m not sure it’s the same website, the recipe seems the same – are here.  I was thinking about jotting the methods down here, but with the links that’d be rather pointless.  And I’ve already written a fair amount.  Suffice to say, both the sauce and meatballs are very simple and straightforward to make, and the taste is – as advertised – creamy and tomato – y, a very warm and homey taste.

So, tomorrow is my last day at junior high, last full afternoon at city hall, and last Friday with a regularly paid job.  Only a few more lasts left, then I’ll be gone.  Though I will miss many aspects of Japan terribly, I’m very much looking forward to starting my new life back in Australia.  Back home.

It’s Hot … Yes …

Too hot to think straight.  Too humid.  Got my aircon set to 19, and my inside thermometer – the doll thermometer – still says 29.7.  Outside it is apparently 31 about now, but it’s 7.30pm as I’m writing this.  Would have been a lot hotter a few hours ago, when I was out in it.  Feeling a bit giddy.  Moved two of my emergency earthquake water bottles to the freezer to chug when appropriately cooled.  Used to worse, but today feels pretty bad.  The strange blah that accompanies the coming of the end is making it worse, perhaps.  Thinking of popping through the novel and adding a few lazy lines here and there about pearl circlets and loving someone you can’t touch.  Don’t think I’m capable of much more than that right now.  Just look at this blog.  Rubbish.  I tried to write a sonnet, but that failed.  Into the unpublished blogs bin!

Despite the heat and the weight of my bags, I was smacked in the face by a short story today.  As I was crossing the Sanjo bridge, I think, approaching the train station.  After buying some final bags to fill along with several self-indulgent items, including a black sheep mouse pad and a cat-shaped iPhone stand.  And before anyone who knows about it can ask, I did not attend Gion-matsuri – one of Kyoto’s biggest festivals, very famous.  I didn’t attend last year, either.  Such heat within such an enormous crowd is bound to rapidly intensify, and I don’t do crowds well in the best temperature-related situations.  I’m sure it would be wonderfully interesting to see, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind after getting my shopping done to wander up to the Gion end of the arcade mall.  I just wanted a drink.  And to sit down.  And to be honest, I’ve never felt a huge urge to see such festivals.  Going just to say you’ve gone feels rather hollow to me, and that’s all I’d be doing.  Standing there in the horrible heat, pressed in on all sides by thousands of people, thinking about my sore feet, dry throat, and fast-developing headache, and at the first glimpse of a float-like lantern-bedecked structure over the ocean of heads saying to myself, “right, checking Gion-matsuri off the list.”

Doesn’t seem right.  It’d be like I was cheating the occasion out of something, the awe it deserves – someone who could truly appreciate its splendour might have been standing on that patch of road instead, had I gone.  Or not gone.  Had I not gone if I’d gone.  Whichever is correct, can’t tell right now.  I know the counter-argument for “why go if you won’t enjoy it” is “you might surprise yourself and have a wonderful time.”  But it was just … too … hot.  Why are all of Kyoto’s best festivals in summer?

Moved the water bottles into the fridge before they froze over.  So, short story.  Nice and simple, inspired by the many folks that stand in front of businesses and hand out fliers and discount vouchers to those passing by.  Working title is Paper Races, though it’ll probably change.  I’ll write out a few notes for it later.  Once my doll thermometer drops below 25.

Not a Real Post and a Shout Out to Smashwords

Instead of writing a real post today, I’m going to make/have made (as I’m only going to post this after I’ve done it) a page for what I’ve written of Behind Glass so far.  Hopefully this page will make the easier to read for anyone who is interested.

Also for anyone who is interested, I’m sorry I haven’t actually written any more of Pan yet.  There’s still a scene written that I’ve yet to post, but it needs a bit more work which I’ve yet to get around to.  I have (as I’ve said several times) been resurrecting my terrible micrographic notes and writing a few more, but I’m afraid I won’t get around to adding more of Pan for awhile.

I’ve been thinking as well of putting Tom aside for a little while – he was already kind of put aside as I didn’t really do any work on him while Mum was here – and focus on a series of short stories I’ve been working on sporadically.  It’s like a short story cycle, I suppose, a collection of related stories featuring the same characters.  A too short, not-good-enough version of the first one is written; the second one I’m actually fairly happy with.  Been talking to a friend about cover art and thinking of hiring an editor to look through them, as I want to publish them online.  I’m a bit hesitant to publish my novel there, but I really want to try putting these short stories on Smashwords.  I’ve been reading a lot about it and the publishing process, and it looks fantastic.  I have to finish the first story … first … but if I can get two stories up in fairly quick succession that’d be good, and I reckon if I actually focus on them instead of picking at them on the side many more could be finished in good time.  They’re not long – I don’t want any more than 15 000 words – and I have plans for at least eight or so.  In case you’re interested, these short stories are the ones I keep in my paler pink book.

So, yes.  Putting up a page for Pan, and hoping to publish with Smashwords in the near future.  After I’ve been through formatting the stories according to their guidelines back on Microsoft Word.  Not computer-literate enough to translate the instructions for Microsoft Word into OpenOffice, though it’s probably mind-numbingly simple.  I’ll just wait.  Need to finish the first one first, anyway.

Ellipses and Apostrophes

After a year or so of complaining to myself (and a few other unfortunates) that many of the grammatical marks in my documents look funny, I finally figured out how to change them to what I want without manually scanning and spotting them all myself.  I’d already tried that for the apostrophes and quotation marks – apparently, I didn’t do a great job.

When my new laptop was bought just prior to my departure for Japan in 2010, I didn’t install Microsoft Office.  Rather, I downloaded OpenOffice, a free software that does most of the things Microsoft Office does.  Only for free …

I was, all in all, rather pleased with my download.  It worked perfectly well.  I could do all my typing as well as I could in Microsoft Office, and the program’s compatible with many file types, so I could access everything I’d written on my desktop in Word.  But when I started getting nearer and nearer to completing my book – or perhaps far sooner than that, and it just didn’t seem overly important at the time – I began to notice that the single quotation marks and apostrophes (of course, given they’re the closing single quotation mark as well … ) that I typed in OpenOffice didn’t match those I’d written in Word.  At first it didn’t bother me too much.  I don’t remember exactly, but perhaps I thought it didn’t look too bad, or that an editor would be able to handle it, or that it wouldn’t be much of a problem to fix when I eventually got around to it.  But then I started thinking, wondering how I’d feel if I were an editor with a manuscript full of differing punctuation marks dumped before me.  Then I thought, it’s punctuation.  There’s a lot of it.  Particularly in an 800 + page novel.  It was probably around that time that I grew to hate the sight of OpenOffice apostrophes.

Truly, I have nothing against OpenOffice.  It’s served me very well.  But I wanted the Word apostrophes – the majority of the book was written on Word, so they were the dominant style.  Just.  So I began trying to change those that didn’t match, only to find that though I entered them into the search window, they could not be searched.  I tried this several times during the last year, each time failing resoundingly.  It was during my last major edit that I decided to face the (then seemingly) inevitable task of changing the punctuation, copying and pasting the Word versions throughout the entire book.

After that edit, I kept on finding marks I’d missed everywhere, and they were really irritating me – had no clue how I’d catch them all.  More, that was when I noticed that the ellipses between the two programs were different, too.  At least, the way I’d typed them  … which was wrong.  But this afternoon, I finally figured out how to have them searched – I just had to un-check the box that says whole words only … yeah, I can be pretty dense.  But for dense little me, it was a great puzzle solved, a Gordian knot slashed through, a fine achievement.

Didn’t feel that way so much after spending the entire afternoon (after my furniture check, lovely boss Haruka from city hall checking out my very tidy and almost empty apartment), evening, and most of the night mindlessly hitting search and changing every rouge quotation mark and apostrophe, and then doing the same for ellipses.  I really hope there aren’t any other differences in punctuation marks that I haven’t noticed yet … I feel so numb right now.  Didn’t have much to keep me going either, only pausing to read a few of my favourite parts – if I’d gotten to into it I wouldn’t have finished the search and change effort, and it had to be done.  I did listen to some good music though, including this Skrillex Symphony, one of several, I believe.  But this is the one I heard first.  And I like it best, probably more than the original dubstep, too.  It’s welcome in small doses, but I’m really not much of a dubstep girl.

So, hopefully all the punctuation marks are now in good order.  Now I need a half-decent spelling and grammar checker.