Anime Reviews Done Quick

I wasn’t very good at recording my thoughts on TV shows or movies at all last year, probably because I didn’t really watch that much anyway. Starting from this year, I’m going to try to do a better job of rating and writing up my thoughts on my Trakt page, even if they’re just quick blurbs. Anyway, here are some shows that I watched in 2017 that I enjoyed:


Pokémon: Sun & Moon

pokemonLook, I know, okay? I haven’t watched Pokémon since Indigo League days, and even that should be an embarrassing indictment. Sun and Moon isn’t perfect, but it helps to watch completely in Japanese with no subtitles so that I can tune out all the parts that annoy me.

And there is a lot, a lot, that annoys me. I tuned out all of the Ultra Beast episodes and most of the ones that star Lillie for what I think are very obvious reasons. I don’t really mind any of the other characters, and even find it refreshing the way Satoshi/Ash is just friends with everyone instead of constantly picking annoying fights with them (cough Kasumi/Misty cough).

I dig the new art style. The new Alola region gives me a headache (should I love it for the Hawaiian representation? or should I hate it for being basically the worst of Waikīkī and none of the respect for actual Hawaiian culture?) and some of the storytelling is… bad, but it’s cute and mostly harmless. I should probably get into this with more thoughts later on, huh?


The Eccentric Family

I ADORE this show. I can’t even really put my finger on what this show does so well that has completely captured my heart.

A family of shape-shifting tanuki in western Japan try to deal with their place in society, living among other forest animals, humans in nearby Kyoto, and the supernatural tengu. It’s funny, but not an outright comedy; it’s touching, but not overbearing, and with a hint of “that’s just how things are.” I could just chill out in this world for a few hours, not really needing a story or plot to carry me along. And that’s kind of how the show is, not really too bothered to push story so much as just let you come and hang for a bit. It’s the best.

Both seasons are incredible, though I think I prefer the way the first season unfolds just a bit more. This is one of those rare shows that makes me feel incredibly lonely once it’s over. I’ve even picked up the novels they’re based on to try to get more out of this story. It’s honestly one of my favorite shows of all time. Need more!


Sakura Quest

I didn’t honestly expect to like this show. I’m sorry, but most anime that star an all-girl cast are usually harem or fanservice stories. But Sakura Quest is surprisingly free of that, and is an earnest story of how five girls are trying to revive the rural town of Manoyama.

All of the characters, not just the main girl team, are very well-rounded and down-to-earth. It does get a bit too syrupy-sweet at times, and while the show is free from explicit fanservice there are still some questionable elements that don’t really get challenged (notably, the insistence and pressing need for the young men and women of the town to get married as quickly as possible, and the typical old man pervert who almost single-handedly undoes all the goodwill built up over the show’s run). These aren’t deal-breakers since the whole rest of the show is solid who grow and change over the course of the series. Like Eccentric Family, I found myself feeling very lonely when the final credits rolled, because this too was a world I wanted to be a part of for just a little longer.

I sense I may have to go more in-depth with this show as well… But all that said, this really was one of my surprise hits of the year, and definitely recommend checking it out.


ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department

ACCA is a hard show for me to categorize, since I both love it intensely for its stylish music and animation (dat opening!!), am in love with the world and cast, and… am quite cool on the story, which is almost an afterthought.

For whatever reason, my brain puts this show in the same bucket as stuff like Cowboy Bebop, a similarly cool and stylish world with great characters and great flare, but with what I thought was a really disappointing overall story. In that respect, I found ACCA a far easier watch than Cowboy Bebop (I KNOW, I’M SORRY) if only because it’s just bland, where Cowboy Bebop’s mafia story was… really sort of cringey, when we get right down to it. I may have to rewatch both and put my thoughts together a little better.

In any case, the real reason to watch ACCA is not its political plot but the cakes. Just endless, delicious, amazing cakes. I give this show ten cakes out of ten.


I’ll probably be back later with more thoughts on shows I watched in 2017. I also need to put together a list of shows I’m looking forward to in 2018, eek… it’s going to be February before I’m finally done with all these post-year wrap-ups!

Book Reviews Done Quick

I wanted to start this year off with writing long-form book reviews, and I have gotten one under my belt already (Slow Bullets). The problem is, I read a lot faster than I can write, and I’d rather keep knocking out my to-read list than have to stop and pore over a lengthy review before moving on to the next one. I promise that if I have time, I’ll give these guys the full treatment in the future, but for now, here are the snippets that I threw up on my Goodreads page:


The Emperor’s Soul

the emperor's soulA very quick and flowing read, and one filled with a deceptively rich world (no easy feat for a book that I polished off in one sitting!) and intricate laws of magic that capture the imagination. Shai is a delightfully unreliable narrator, and I feel as beguiled and enchanted by her as I’m sure Gaotona did. A solid work of fantasy fiction.

I do have to knock off one star for the Orientalist trappings of the world. While there isn’t anything outright disrespectful in the world, I feel like exotic Orientalism as shorthand for fantasy has been done to death. I don’t feel that The Emperor’s Soul was genuine commentary or presentation of actual Asian cultures. In the post-script Q&A, the author says that his research into Asian cultures was to visit a museum in Taiwan (hmm) and do missionary work in Korea (hmmmmm). Though I read the Q&A only after reading the book, I felt like this explained a lot of the exoticism of the piece.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars


Pirate Utopia

My favorite read of 2017, and my only regret is that I hadn’t read this sooner. Phenomenal world-building, good pulpy rewrites (or reimagining) of real historical events, and all the dieselpunk to last me years. Post-WWI Italy lends itself well to this sort of fantastic non-fantasy writing, and Pirate Utopia does not disappoint with its surging factions, its larger-than-life characters, and its complete disregard for what is real and what is merely possible.

If I were you, I’d skip the lengthy introduction and the character rundown at the start and just get straight to it. I’ve never read Bruce Sterling before but I stand before you now a fresh convert, completely devoted to reading every last one of his works.

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars


The Bear and the Nightingale

I enjoyed this beautiful fairy-tale-like story, and found the world both incredibly haunting and gorgeous. I loved the characters and never felt like any of them were over-the-top or cartoonish, though they were all incredibly distinct and had huge room-filling personalities. Vasya is a refreshing take on the tomboyish unladylike protagonist, and I loved reading about all of her hijinks.

My one gripe about the story is that the last third seems to collapse forward in one great rush; the first half to two-thirds was some excellent setting and world-building, but the stakes are only finally realized just before the great battle that ends the book. From the point when Vasya gets spirited away into the forest, the writing seems to be in a great hurry to just be done with it. (I suspect it’s because it culminates in an physical battle, which didn’t really jive with the non-physical “battling” Vasya had been doing until that point.)

Without getting too spoiler-y, the way the battle ends also felt unbelievably rushed, with characters even mentioning how it seemed to come out of nowhere. This is unfortunate because it was immediately preceded by one of the most emotional and heart-wrenching moments of the book, so for the climax to try and top itself with something out of left field was disappointing.

All that said though, I enjoyed the fantastic world and am looking forward to seeing where the sequels take these characters.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 stars


#iHunt: Mayhem in Movieland

An extremely quick read, I managed to get through it in a morning. This is both a strength of the writing (quick, snappy, modern, easy to parse) and also, unfortunately, a bit of a hindrance (events go by too quickly to carry the weight that similar events did in the previous iHunt book). The narrator also seems to commentate more on the not-Disneyland surroundings and trappings than on her life and the hardships she faces, which was what initially drew me into the previous book. Although I appreciate the commentary and found it insightful and amusing, I couldn’t help but feel that it was less personable than the previous book, and left me feeling like this should have been incorporated into a longer book. All that said, I enjoyed my time in San Jenero as I always have, and am looking forward to seeing what’s next in the series.

Goodreads Rating: 3/5 stars


And that’s a wrap, folks!

Hunger

CW: eating disorders, domestic violence

When I was very young, my parents and I lived at my maternal grandparents’ house. My father was in the Air Force and was often posted far away, on the mainland or in Yokosuka. I wouldn’t see him for months at a time. My mother worked as an accountant in downtown Honolulu and would come home very late, usually after I went to sleep. She was so exhausted from her work that on weekends, she would spend most of her time either sleeping or zoned out in front of our clunky MS-DOS computer, games like Lode Runner and Shanghai Mahjongg.

I spent most of my long, happy childhood with the two people I loved most in the world, my grandparents. My grandmother in particular was just the loveliest woman you could imagine: kind, and earnest, and patient. She loved to cook for me and my sister, she’d help us with our homework, she’d tell us bedtime stories in her broken English. She hugged us when we cried.

I was seven when my grandfather passed away, and my grandmother followed when I turned nine. It was around this time that my father had retired from the Air Force, bought a house for our nuclear family, and moved us all out. My mother quit her job in Honolulu and got one in Kaneohe, closer to home. Both of them would still come home after sundown, but we were, for the first time, having regular meals together as a family.

Except, that wasn’t really true.

My father, whom I’ll probably talk about in other entries since he is quite the character, is an incredibly paranoid and temperamental man. He despised cooking because to him, it was far too dangerous; knives can cut through human flesh, you could burn yourself on the pans and fire, the microwave oven was sending out deadly rays that would give us all cancer. There are so many countless times when I’d try to do something as simple as heating a pot of water on the stove only for him to come screaming at me to stop being so reckless. Everything terrified him, and nothing more so than the kitchen.

Meanwhile, my mother’s exhaustion didn’t end even after she changed jobs to be closer to home. She’d come home too tired to eat, let alone make dinner for us, and would immediately retire upstairs to play Minesweeper for hours on end. On weekends it was the same: she’d only leave the computer long enough to use the bathroom or grab some water, maybe some granola bars if there were any, and then go right back to clicking.

Weekends were terrible. On weekdays, at least, we could go to school and eat hot cafeteria food. My friends would bring brown bag lunches and they insisted that cafeteria food was too gross, but for me, it was heaven. I could eat until I felt full.

On weekends, I was left to my own devices. My father spent most evenings and his weekends taking college classes. In any case, he certainly had no interest in “women’s work” of grocery shopping, and he insisted that I not learn how to cook since it was dangerous. My mother would be glassy-eyed and vacant, waving me off when I’d say I was hungry. The cupboards and closets were always bare, and my mother hid the granola bars and easy consumables in her room. If I ever went in to steal something, she’d become uncontrollably angry and tell my father, who would slam my head into the walls and floors.

My father did cook sometimes, but he was terrible at it, because he was terrified of it. We ate a lot of instant food, and he’d bellow at us all the dangers of using the microwave as he would tentatively heat up our food. He’d make awful sandwiches of wheat bread, peanut butter, and sliced baloney, and get angry at us if we complained about the weird combination. He’d make military-style camping rations of sliced hot dogs and frozen green beans, but because he was afraid of deadly microbes in meat, it would always be charred and nearly inedible. He made pancakes but was afraid of undercooked, raw batter hiding inside, so he’d slash the centers and then smash them down as hard as possible so it was like eating hard, burnt biscuits instead.

That was when my father bothered to cook. For the most part, I grew up very hungry.

It doesn’t make sense to most people. My family was definitely not poor, thank you very much, as my huffy father would tell you. In fact, my horrible aunt used to tell us, we were actually very spoiled children for having a father who looked after our safety so carefully. We had four cars, all bought new, even though our household only had two drivers. We lived in a newly-developed suburb and had a two-story house with a great big yard. We had dozens of computers because of my father’s work, in a time when most people didn’t have a single one in their homes.

And we starved.

I slept over at friends’ houses a lot, even though my father hated it and would scream at me for inconveniencing them. Sometimes he’d get violent with me when I’d tell him that my friends wanted me to stay over. At friends’ houses, I could eat–they always had meals spread out for their children in the evening, and the cupboards were full of snacks that we had easy access to. No hiding granola bars away, no bare cupboards and empty fridges, nobody screaming at us not to touch the microwave because we’d get cancer.

On the days when I couldn’t stay at a friend’s place, I had to make do. We’d find Kraft sliced cheese singles, put them one slice at a time on a plate, and microwave it when my father wasn’t around. Then we’d scrape the little flakes off bit by bit and hungrily eat them. If you eat it that way, it’ll last longer and trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you really are. We’d find cans of Spam and eat it, raw, straight out of the can, since we weren’t allowed to cook it. We ate my father’s old MREs that he brought home as souvenirs from his Air Force days. We’d sneak into my mother’s closet and steal the granola bars and chocolates that she’d hidden, then pay the price later, and it’d be worth it.

My mother would cook exactly twice a year: once on Thanksgiving, for the stereotypical American turkey dinner, and once on New Year’s, which deserved an enormous spread because, as my father used to like to bellow at us, WE ARE JAPANESE! On both occasions, she’d make huge feasts, because actually she was really damn good at cooking. She cooked because those were the two days of the year when company would come over, and it wouldn’t do to serve our guests water and microwaved cheese singles.

I think about her a lot and quietly close up inside.

I’m a 31-year-old adult now. I haven’t lived with my family in over nine years now. I still can’t cook very well, though I’ve been trying more recently. I still don’t really have a good relationship with food. If I have a lot of time off, as I do now, I tend to skip breakfast and lunch altogether because my body doesn’t have that internal clock telling me it’s important to eat. I move very slowly, carefully, deliberately, because I don’t want to waste any energy. I eat myself to bursting when there’s food in front of me because I don’t have that mechanism telling me to stop.

I don’t know if what I have is actually classified as an eating disorder, and I don’t really care. I know how to handle myself, and I don’t have body image issues. It is going to take a lot of work to get myself in a place where I have a more stable relationship with food and keeping myself fed. I don’t even really know if what I want is possible; maybe everyone’s got their food hangups, and this is mine.

I’d just like to pick up my entire past and throw it away into the sea.

Review: Slow Bullets

Slow Bullets was my first book by Alastair Reynolds and one of only a handful of scifi books I’ve ever read, and is a good beginner-level introduction to the genre. Slow Bullets is a quick 192-page read that I finished in one sitting. If you’re looking for something that you can speed-read through to make your Goodreads annual quota (heh), this is a fine choice; however, the characters and plot are largely unmemorable and leave little impact on the reader. Though it is a fast read, your time may be better spent on something with a bit more heft to it.

From the publisher’s webpage:

A vast conflict, one that has encompassed hundreds of worlds and solar systems, appears to be finally at an end. A conscripted soldier is beginning to consider her life after the war and the family she has left behind. But for Scur—and for humanity—peace is not to be.

On the brink of the ceasefire, Scur is captured by a renegade war criminal, and left for dead in the ruins of a bunker. She revives aboard a prisoner transport vessel. Something has gone terribly wrong with the ship.

Passengers—combatants from both sides of the war—are waking up from hibernation far too soon. Their memories, embedded in bullets, are the only links to a world which is no longer recognizable. And Scur will be reacquainted with her old enemy, but with much higher stakes than just her own life.

Slow Bullets is written with deliberately sparse details, in keeping with the central theme of forgetting: humans (war criminals from opposing factions) trying to erase their past crimes and their animosity towards each other; mechanical forgetting in the form of the ship literally overwriting parts of its own long-term memory to keep vital functions; and galactic forgetting in the form of The Sickening wiping out nearly all technologies in entire solar systems and reverting humanity to the Stone Ages. Anything that isn’t strictly related to pushing this theme is itself omitted. There are no sprawling descriptions or expansive lore and background in this; the writing is sparse, and what isn’t included is assumed to be a detail from a story told by an unreliable narrator who, herself, can no longer quite remember.

Unfortunately, this means that the reader is left to try to connect with sparsely fleshed-out tropes and not real characters. Orvin the antagonist is played up to be uniquely, almost absurdly evil against a backdrop of other war criminals. Prad is your basic nerd archetype, a ship crew member who can single-handedly wake, run, maintain, and repair the ship and all of its myriad functions. Scur, the protagonist and narrator, is largely absent of personality and reacts mechanically to situations. The other named characters don’t exist outside of dispassionate dialogue, and the unnamed characters are like a vague fog in the background.

On top of that is a plot that drifts, much like the ship itself. At the beginning, Scur is heavily injured and tortured (perfect revenge setup!) but when we next see her, she wakes up fully whole. There are goals that drive the plot forward (finding Orvin, dealing with the ship’s malfunctions, figuring out what happened and how to contact civilization) but they seem scattered. The story is cohesive and well-structured, but the objectives within don’t seem to matter that much. Why was it important to single out Orvin, other than simple revenge? And for that matter, if Scur is whole again and has so many other problems on her plate, why even bother with revenge?

Partway through the story we learn that one of the driving forces of the galactic war had been religion. Both sides interpreted and worshiped in slightly different ways, and they manifested in the form of two separate holy texts (the Books). Although it has some pretty obvious parallels to our real world, it doesn’t really get comment on or offer insight into the religious and cultural conflicts we see. It’s flavor text for a book that is already too light on details. Instead of being an interesting take on holy wars, it is instead just another cliché being abused for the sake of it.

It’s hard not to be cynical because, as I said, the book has been so pared of detail to be focused entirely on only what drives it forward. It was a decent enough introduction to scifi, though I doubt it will be worth remembering. I am looking forward to reading Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, as I have heard good things about it. Slow Bullets, however, will, like its cast drifting through space on the Caprice, fade from memory.

Goodreads Rating: 2/5 stars

Aside

Minimal pairs branching game

These days I don’t make a lot of original material for my classes since I teach almost exclusively through a vendor who publishes their own textbooks, but on occasion I do find myself reaching into my archives and pulling out stuff I made long ago. My favorite activities are minimal pair games which I often use as brief warm-ups or finishers, and the one my students loved and loathed the most was the branching game. (It’s a terrible name, I know, but I’m still thinking of a better name!)

Download links

How to use

Pair off students and give them all sheets to look at. One partner secretly chooses a numbered word from the right side (e.g. 11) and reads off the words from left to right leading up to it (e.g. BAT – BUTTER – CAP – CUT – MATCH). The other partner follows the path on the sheet and guesses the secret word. If they are correct, congratulations! Have them switch parts.

You can also use this template for any two phonemes that give students trouble, and make up some minimal pairs utilizing those phonemes for the tree.

Aside

The Grizzled: Japanese Hard Knocks

DK and I enjoy playing board games together, and we usually play using English language rules. For most games this is fine, but with others, such as the co-op game The Grizzled, we need to first translate everything to Japanese first and have a printout handy while playing. Here is our rough translation for the Hard Knocks cards.

Download link

Aside

The New Year Circuit

It’s 2018! Or at least it will be when you read this, maybe, depending on time zones. I’m actually writing this back in the distant past of December 31, 2017 and will schedule this post to go up at 8am on the first.

DK has a few days off to celebrate the New Year and so I don’t know if I’ll have much time to blog or tweet in the meantime, which is a shame since I only just started blogging again and would hate to break my streak. So instead, I’ll be loading up on some old stuff from my archives which people have totally forgotten about so it will be “new” all over again. How convenient!

Hope you’re having a good New Year and I’ll see you all again in a few days. Enjoy the reruns in the meantime.

Kōhaku Uta Gassen 2017

Every year, NHK has this huge elaborate television production called Kōhaku Utagassen (Red-White Music Battle). It is a huge celebration of celebrities, musicians, and of course singers. It starts from the evening on the last day of the year and continues right up until the countdown for midnight, at which point the hottest boy bands in Japan tromp out on stage to do a big New Year number.

I hate it.

Most years since coming here, I’ve tried to have the TV off at midnight. This is fine when we’re at our home in Fujisawa, but on the rare occasion when we make it up to my in-laws’ in Akita, the TV on non-stop and it is awful. There isn’t much to do other than huddle around the heater in the living room close to the TV. Unlike in Hawai’i, there aren’t any fireworks or huge events unless you venture to the city hubs, so it’s hard to find reasons to distract myself.

This year I’m staying home, so no mandatory 24/7 TV required. I’m free! No garish pachinko-like sets, no abrasive and obnoxious hosts, no endless streams of idiots shouting and screaming and hitting each other. Freedom!

But I’m going to end up watching Kōhaku anyway this year, because I’ve been bitten by the enka bug.

That’s Sayuri Ishikawa, one of Japan’s most famous enka singers and the longest-running contestant on Kōhaku, singing Noto Hantō (Noto Peninsula). A few weeks ago, I just happened to stumble on some YouTube vids of her and fell for her hard. I don’t remember the last time I fell so deeply and completely in love with a singer.

I have very little experience with enka, despite being Japanese-American and having lived here in Japan for nearly a decade. My maternal grandparents, first-generation transplants from Hiroshima, sometimes listened to it on KIKU-TV when I was younger, but of course I couldn’t appreciate it as an upstart kid. I had Green Day, I had THE BACKSTREET BOYS. Who had time to listen to old fuddy-duddy music, especially when you didn’t even know the words to sing along? Never mind that, when you didn’t even understand the language being sung!

How foolish I was, how ungrateful!

After my grandparents passed, I’d also hear enka at other relatives’ houses, and it was always the worst. Slow, wavering, nasal, overbearingl and overemotional, and very Asian. It was something that clung to the inside of my ears the same way cloying incense stuck inside my nostrils. It wasn’t the cool kind of Asian that I could use as social currency, like JPop knowledge or video games or anime/manga. It was old people stuff, and who wanted to get into that?

How stupid! How arrogant!

I moved to Japan and found that most people here, thankfully, did not listen to enka, nor expect me to know anything about it. Enka peeked around the corners of my life, but it was simple to change the channel, tune it out, not listen, not look, not care. I was exposed to enka, but I was not aware of enka.

Then I found Sayuri Ishikawa, fell madly in love, and now feel nothing but white-hot shame at myself. This is the video that destroyed everything I thought I knew about enka:

She’s singing Amagi Goe (Over Mt. Amagi). Look at the way her hand lingers, listen to that deep gutteral way she digs for those notes when she says she hates you, the way she stares directly into the audience and inquisitively tilts her head as she asks you Is it all right to kill you? It’s one of the most haunting things I’ve ever heard, and combined with her downright creepy performance, this is one of the most nerve-wracking and just cool things I’ve ever seen.

I had to have more of this. From Ishikawa, I was introduced to other artists, both through YouTube recommendations and tip-offs from friends and students. It helped not just to have a better understanding of Japanese than I did when I was a little kid, but also to have been to some of the locations being sung about. (Like American country music, enka often name-checks places and locations, and a lot of songs are about longing to return to those places.) I’ve also gotten over a lot of my weird internal prejudices about old Asian music, especially as it compares with Western music.

In any case, I’m still a baby fan. I have one artist that I’ve latched onto and fixate over, and haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the genre. Music is a thing that I held very near to my heart as a high school and university concert clarinetist, but my adult life has been relatively quiet and frozen in time. I’m often too busy or too stressed out to listen to old familiars, let alone try new stuff. I spend more time in silence than I did as a youth. Enka suddenly flared up into my life and seized me the way jazz did when I was in intermediate school, the way symphony moved me in high school, the way blues singers captured my heart in university. I feel like for the first time in a while motivated to have music in my life, where once I was satisfied to waste away long, quiet days.

Enka remains to me a total enigma. I still don’t know what’s the difference between, say, modern enka and classic enka, folk songs or true enka, and I can still only rattle off a handful of singers and song titles off the top of my head. I want to make 2018 a year filled with music.

For this year’s Kōhaku, she’ll be singing Tsugaru-Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki (The winter landscape of Tsugaru Strait). I have only a little time left before she goes on, and I have to memorize all the lyrics before she takes the stage. This is it, my moment of redemption. Time to make up for a lifetime of dismissing enka.

My 2017 in books

Goodreads has this cute and also horrifying feature where it will showcase all of the books you read in a given year, plus some other stats (longest/shortest, most/least popular, etc). The main problem is that for 2017, my goal was to read 12 books, and I only barely limped across that pathetically low barrier.

(Incidentally, I had to cheat a bit. Partway through the year, I was convinced that 12 was shooting for the stars and so changed it to 10 to be more practical. Then midway through December I realized even that would mean failure, so I revised it to 9. Only after I started digging hard into novellas was I able to jump back up to 12, my original goal.)

So, 2017 was not great for reading. But hey, I guess it was better than how I did for 2016 and 2015 with five books each… yyyeah.

The thing that ended up saving me by a hair was a Humble Bundle book deal that I got on a whim a couple of months ago, and got a bunch of Tachyon eBooks for a few dollars. I’ve already cleared a couple of them (Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds and The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson, which I’ve reviewed on Goodreads). I’m also currently on Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling, which I should have knocked out sometime either today or tomorrow.

I’m thinking of rewriting my previous two reviews to be longer and, well, better, and then reposting them here. Ideally I’d like to do long-form reviews that are more than just “this book was good mmkay” but then again I also don’t want to put up additional hurdles for myself when really my goal is just to read more. HMM.

End of 2017

Being depressed means I spend a lot more time than most people working up the nerve to start my day. I don’t mean housework, though that’s a big part of it as well, but even to do the routine work to get through my morning: brush my teeth, eat breakfast, change my clothes, and so on. If I don’t have to go to work that day, I often find myself still in my pajamas in the late afternoon, starving from not having eaten anything all day. The more I think about how I’ve gotten nothing done, the more I panic, and the less likely I’ll start actually taking care of myself. It’s actual black dread to look at the clock and see that it’s already 2pm and realize I still haven’t eaten breakfast or lunch… only to glance back at the clock to see it is now 3:30, and I still haven’t even moved.

The really annoying thing is trying to get yourself out of depression. See, sometimes I’ll be in a really high, good mood, and so I’ll make a whole list of things that I’d like to get accomplished. I’ll make daily, then weekly schedules, all in the name of getting myself focused, on track, using my days off “productively,” even if by that I just mean playing a video game or reading a book. What almost always happens though is that I go overboard with my lists and schedules and planning, get exhausted just thinking about all the work I’m gonna have to do, and then collapse before I even start. This high is almost always followed by a very long period of being down, not just because of the natural cycle of depression but also because it is heartbreaking to realize that I’m never getting out of this.

Productivity apps? I’ve tried them, I’ve tried tons of them. I was a fairly regular user of Habitica until recently. But again, I’d load up on Tasks and Habits that I just couldn’t get started on, let alone finish. I was constantly getting penalized, but instead of motivating me to work harder, that just made me give up even more, resulting in a steeper climb back up just to get back to where I was. It was a mess. I’ve tried bullet journaling. I’ve tried setting weekly and daily reminders in Google Calendar. When I am down, I’m down; and after being down for a week, I lose all motivation to pick up from where I was before, no matter how great my streak had been before losing steam.

So, where does that leave me at the end of 2017?

I’m currently one week into my three-week winter holiday (which itself is a headache into itself, but I’ll get to that another day) and have been surprisingly productive. I don’t know if it’s that I’m on a high or if I’ve just been doing better recently, but it’s been nice riding this streak. For the past week, I’ve been:

  • cooking dinner every night, and practicing simple dishes that I can make regularly
  • reading a bunch of scifi and fantasy novels that I picked up in a recent Humble Bundle
  • been writing short book reviews on Goodreads to get back into the practice of writing, even if they’re just a couple of paragraphs each
  • resubscribed to JALT and been reading through the recent TLT issue
  • getting at least some of my chores done every day, and letting go when I don’t finish instead of fixating on how little I’ve got done and panicking
  • going out at least once a day, usually to go grocery shopping, a task that I don’t normally do
  • riding my stationary bike for at least a few minutes a day, with no distance meters or timers or calorie counters to put any more pressure on me
  • reactivated my Instagram account so I can keep up with old friends with silly phone pictures

It’s not been perfect, I still find myself losing entire hours without even realizing it, but overall I feel that over the past week I’ve been more aware, more present within my own body. I also still have the rather terrible habit of opening Twitter constantly, even when Twitter is already open and in front of me. I don’t want to go cold turkey on my account because it is therapeutic to write out my thoughts there, but I also don’t want it to be where my entire life gets sucked straight out of me.

I don’t really have any goals for 2018 except to try and keep this streak going for as long as possible, and to find more and better ways of handling my myriad issues. I also would like to, as I keep saying, blog more! I have a whole document full of blog ideas, but by far the hardest thing to do is to just get started. Let’s make it happen.