Graduation Day

Graduation season has always been a tough time for me. Since I left high school under the cloud of a deep familial loss, it’s often gone hand-in-hand with more tragedy.

On March 11, 2011, I’d just watched my first class of junior high school students in Japan finish their graduation ceremony and go home to their families. That afternoon, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Tohoku and triggered a tsunami that claimed the lives of almost 16,000 people. My prefecture was land-locked. We were at no risk from the waves, but the images we watched on the news as the waters rose will always be etched in my memory.

In Japan, on certain occasions of celebration, a tea is served from the pickled blossoms of cherry trees. The tea is clear and has a salty taste, very unlike the more well-known green tea. The cherry blossom tea, or sakurayu,  represents new beginnings.


Sakura yu” by Suguri F投稿者自身による作品. Licensed under CC 表示-継承 3.0 via ウィキメディア・コモンズ.

We didn’t have sakurayu that day, but on graduation day the next year I found a cup on my desk with a single pink blossom. As I drank tea made from the previous year’s flowers, reminded of what had been happening while they bloomed, and watched the current year’s new flowers swaying on the trees outside, I remember thinking that the salt of the tea tasted something like tears.

It was a complicated feeling, one that I’ll probably have better luck unpacking in a story rather than in a blog post, but by the time I’d finished my tea I’d arrived at a decision.

I’d dreamed since I was young of writing the kind of books I grew up loving. I’d studied, practiced and planned, and yet I hadn’t summoned the courage to make that dream a reality. Reflection is easy, and action is scary. But cherry blossoms don’t only represent spring and new beginnings, they remind us that our time here is too short not to bring our dreams out into the sun.

Two years later, I sent out my first query letters on the cusp of another graduation day. After the duds I’d had in the past, a few manuscript rejections didn’t seem that dire. And if I was lucky, maybe I’d have some good memories of graduation day for a change.

By the end of the week, I spoke with my new agent on the phone for the first time. This year, I sent a signed contract to my publisher for my first novel. And by next spring, that book will be out in the world, with many more to follow.

It’s scary to take chances, especially if you’ve been burned before. Whether you find success or failure, remember that you had the courage to try. And every time you do, celebrate your own graduation day.


Three Libraries, Three Days

I live in Japan, where we were recently graced with a three-day weekend. (Thank you, Respect for the Aged Day!) As the three-day weekend is the unpublished author’s holy grail of productivity, I was determined to make the best use of mine.

The Master Plan: Three libraries. Three days. No mercy.

Perfect! In theory, at least. In practice? Well…

Day 1: Kiryu City Public Library, Main Branch

After biking down and having lunch at a cafe in town, I parked in a lot that was pleasant, spacious and accented with the natural beauty of greenery. Unfortunately, the parking lot was the prettiest thing about this building. It was a whitewashed rectangle with no distinctive qualities. Being in Japan, the “whitewashed” exterior was actually many gross shades of tarnished brown, because pressure washers aren’t really a thing here. Oh well.

Kiryu Public Library Building

Isn’t it lovely?

I had to pass through a shadowy cavern created by the veranda above to get to the library doors. The interior had a vaulted ceiling and unflattering yellow florescent lights, like a warehouse straight out of 1953. The bathrooms seemed about as old, with nary a western toilet to be found. Even in their (relative) cleanliness, they had absorbed the pee-smell of the ages and even walking down the hallway made we want to pinch my nose.

As for the amenities, computers were not allowed in the study room, so I found a seat at the end of one of the stacks and set up with my laptop. Once my document was booted up, one of the library employees came up and told me I couldn’t actually use a computer there. She directed me up to some sketchy table near a rack of CDs from the 80s and so I tried to work there instead. I actually ended up getting a good chunk of work done, but as I was to find out, readily available plugs are not really a thing encouraged in Japanese public libraries, so I had to pack up and go when my battery called it quits.

I ended up finishing my goal for the day in a small cafe where I knew I could plug in, and enjoyed a delicious mango parfait while I wrote. The music got annoying after a while, especially when the songs started repeating, but at least they had electricity!

Verdict – 2/5

Kiryu Library Interior

Fun Fact: Used as a background in the anime Aku no Hana.

Kiryu Library in Aku no Hana

Which makes it at least 200% creepier…

Day 2: Midori City Public Library, Omama Branch

This library was the closest to my house and I’d been here before in a book-borrowing capacity, though I’d never brought my computer and sat down to work. It was a Sunday and relatively crowded on the bottom floor where the stacks were, so I retreated upstairs. The study room, like the previous one, didn’t allow computers, but I settled in a nice lounge area that had (gasp!) open plugs. There weren’t any proper desks or tables, but the couches were comfortable enough and what is a laptop for if not to put in one’s lap?

Midori City Public Library, Omama Branch

Pretty flowers!

My peace lasted about five minutes before two high school girls came upstairs, parked on one of the other couches and proceeded to blab to one another for the next couple of hours. This was partially my fault, as it was one of the areas marked okay for talking. It also happened to be the defacto lunch/snacking area. The worst part were the kids who came upstairs about an hour into my session and not only talked in voices far too loud for a library, but decided to play keep-away with their friends wallets until a library employee came by to shush them.

Verdict – 3.5/5

Day 3: Takasaki City Public Library, Chuo Branch

Biked to the station in the middle of a typhoon to catch the train. Soaked through my coat and “waterproof” pants before I got there. Had to buy a new raincoat and a new pair of pants. Got yelled at for trying to use a computer in a non-designated area. Again. No plugs to recharge my battery. Friend I was supposed to meet for lunch cancelled via Facebook (psa: not everyone has a smartphone) after I’d already left on the train instead of texting my phone or actually calling me. Restaurant was closed anyway. Had to walk back to the station in gale force winds and soggy everything.

Face down in the rain. Yup.

Verdict – 0/5

Things I Learned: Home might be distracting, but at least the only people talking are the ones in my head, there is always electricity and the pants are optional.