Living With Disability

Disability (n): 1. a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities; 2. the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way : the condition of being disabled.

-Merriam Webster, 2016

It’s about time that we as a society re-evaluate how we think about disability. No able-bodied person expects to be judged on the same level as an Olympic athlete. Or to constantly prove just how able-bodied they are to the world around them. So why in the world should we thrust those same expectation in reverse upon the disabled?

And yet for those living with disability (invisible and otherwise), the social scrutiny is very real and almost unparalleled. “If you’re so disabled, why are you tagging along on your friends’ holiday?” or “If you’re so disabled, why are you at the supermarket? I thought you couldn’t move the other day.”

This happens because people generally think that their eyesight is the only qualification necessary to determine signs of able-bodiedness. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to have caught on to what magicians discovered a couple thousand years ago and that is that the human mind is surprisingly easy to trick for all it’s reasoning capabilities. That and a disability is not just an injury that results in complete inability to walk, it includes illness. There are also a number of apparatuses that can be hidden by clothes alone (i.e.: waist supporters). Relying heavily on visuals alone renders an incomplete portraiture of the disabled community.

And I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I’ve lived on three sides of the issue: as a fully functional individual who lived a good 24 years without disability, as a wheelchair-walker-cane wielding invalid, and as the kind of person who can pass as looking functional… until the nerves in my spine start acting up again.

When I was fully functional, it did not personally behoove me to think about the struggles of the disabled in any great depth. As in, until I was personally affected, I wasn’t particularly keen on counting the number of handicap spaces at the local grocery or if the hand rails were up to code. During the time I had to use the wheelchair and eventually a walker/cane to get around, most people could lump an apparatus to a body and not ask twice about the wherefores of my activities. There were no angry “Did you just see her push that automatic door button? Lazy-ass millennial!” following me around. More often than not they were religiously and awkwardly inclined to offer unhelpful advice about my condition. Also known as: If I hear another “God bless you, child, the Lord has plans for you” speech in my life I will scream. And finally, as someone who schleps about with back/nerve pain (plus a torn plantar fascia muscle), but who doesn’t “look” disabled, it still amazes me how people  who don’t know anything about my life and hold zero doctoral or medical degrees can still say things like, “You’re not actually hurt. Go see a therapist.” Seriously.

It seems as if every week that passes there’s some new story on the internet about some busy body writing out a letter shaming a seemingly non-disabled person for parking in a handicap spot. While I’m sure there are numerous politic or scientifically appropriate words available to describe the psychology behind the people who do this kind of thing, my personal view is that it’s rather telling of individuals lacking in critical thinking skills.

And if that sounds harsh, keep in mind that until you’ve had to live with an invisible disability (or ANY disability at all), you don’t know how awful or how good people can be… unless you’ve witnessed someone receiving this kind of treatment first hand. It’s that strange dichotomy you may have heard of before and it’s called “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

So, we do try (because we’ll be damned anyways). Trying leads to finding new ways to accomplish old tasks. Life doesn’t get easier, we just get better at it. As if that weren’t enough, we get to find out first hand who our real friends are, who was only there for the good times, and who wants to put us down simply for not fitting into a narrow box of stereotypes about the disabled. Living life to the fullest takes on a new urgency and meaning, especially in terms of trying to find joy and distraction from the pain/challenges. Simple day to day things for a disabled person can range anywhere from mildly daunting to feeling like an event straight out of the able-bodied Olympics. Gravity, we learn, is not just a force of physics but also a heartless bitch (to paraphrase one Sheldon Cooper).

Oh, and that humanity comes in two flavors: awesome forces of good and awesome forces of awful.

The simple fact of the matter is: If you don’t know whether that person is actually disabled or not, don’t assume. It’s one thing if you hear them boasting about how they use their grandmother’s car to defraud the public, it’s something completely different if you have an unsubstantiated opinion.

You don’t know what medication this person has had to swallow just to get out of bed. You don’t know the sacrifices they’ve made to get to the point where they can finally venture out from solely living between the doctor’s office and their own four walls. You don’t know how much energy it takes to smile even though the last thing they want to do is pretend to be happy. But we do it for our friends and family, more importantly we do it for ourselves because you gotta fake it till you make it.

When you tell someone that they can’t possibly in too much pain because they’re doing something painful but that makes them happy, what you’re essentially saying is that people living with disability have no right to find a reason to live. That they must shut themselves away in a world of depression, that it’s better for them not to try, and that their only worth to society is as a stereotypical confirmation of everything you think is true about disability.

I can’t imagine what kind of misery these people are living that they feel they must leave notes on stranger’s cars or to be enraged by the fact that someone doesn’t want to be alone and trapped in a house for three days when instead they could spend it with friends one last time.

In any case, it’s not our job to prove just how awful a disability is by shutting ourselves in. We shouldn’t be shamed into constantly looking as ill as we feel or to become depressed to prove that we are in fact struggling with everyday life. And it’s time we shed light on this, because even though the able-bodied may outnumber the disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the able-bodied will remain so for the rest of their lives.


Le Updates Part 01: Murphy’s Law

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. -Murphy’s Law

Two months later, after packing up my life and moving back home to good old Chino, and here is what I’ve got to show for it:

The Good:
-Another year of life (semi-)successfully completed. Check. Quarter-life crisis. Check. YAY LIFE! Many thanks and lots of love to all the friends and family who were able to make it for cake and milk.
– I’m working again, this time as a tutor; the hours are perfect for my current physical capabilities and severely cut back from when I was on JET, which means I have time to continue my physical rehabilitation. No more inflammation or scar tissue and the nerve pain has finally become manageable (without needing to rely on pain killers).

The So-So:
-Mastering the Art of Hobbling because of a new injury.
-8 hour training sessions for work killed all my energy and free time but now that I’m only rolling in to the office when the kids are there to be tutored, the time is ripe to redirect to the hobbies that keep me sane. Mostly writing (when the ideas flow).
-Needing to drink a ton of coffee and vitamins to get energized for the day ahead.
-Feeling knocked out by mid-day (an upgrade from feeling knocked out by mid-morning but still).
-Hot as hell in this town.

The Bad:
-High school band mate died recently. Not even while on the job as a fire fighter but simply doing what he loved: riding his motorcycle. It’s an understatement to say that his death was a shock to our small community. When someone so full of life dies before hitting 30,  nothing makes sense or feels real anymore. And all of these memories come rushing back: competitions, training for competitions, that weird nickname the horn section gave him that has nothing to do with his real name but it stuck anyway until we all forgot his real name in a conversation once, schlepping from class to class, travelling… and he’s no longer here to share new memories anymore. He will be missed by all of us.

-Less painful than the loss of a friend and former band mate but more physically debilitating: ripped plantar fascia from toe to heel. And today is the first day I’ve been able to plant my left sole firmly to the ground, apply moderate weight, and not feel it tearing up inside. This happened because I am an idiot. My physical therapist had told me I wasn’t ready to travel and I went to Japan anyway to tie up my affairs. I guess it serves me right but at the same time it wasn’t really an option. I didn’t feel comfortable having my work place ship things to me and they weren’t comfortable letting my friends have a run at the place, plus there was a ton of paperwork. The cane did nothing to alleviate all the walking, packing, and last-minute adventuring. Which meant further injury. Which meant everything got pushed back. Until, well, now.


Updates To Come

The past four months have been chock full of doctors’ appointments, physical therapy, a malicious (thankfully, now ‘former’) coworker hacking into my blog and changing no less than 5 posts, and even more recently a two week sojourn to Aomori to settle my affairs and move out for good.

This means there will be many updates to come.

First, there will be the matter of continuing with my rehabilitation, which was put on hold for two weeks. Once I can get through that, I’ll have time for everything else.

Second will be rewriting the posts that were altered. And, because this blog exists to document my experiences abroad and now at home, an accompanying story for how this happened and a previously un-published post about what it is like to grow up between cultures in America is like will also follow.

Third, a whole new series on travel within California, points of interest, and other fun things to do on a budget in the Golden State will soon follow.



The Final Goodbye 

Got medical leave to temporarily return to Japan for two weeks to finish settling my affairs and say one last personal goodbye to everyone.

I arrived home last night. Tired and sore but happy to have seen so many wonderful and important people to me in Aomori.

On a map, it’s this strangely misshapen prefecture. It doesn’t look like much to people who place undo emphasis on the convenience of modern city life. But to those who have had the sublime privilege and pleasure of residing in its evergreen forests, Aomori is a magical place of warm inaka life and ancient wilderness. It is and always will be a second home to me. I’ve had so many wonderful and beautiful first time experiences there. So many fun and extraordinary people made the experience UNFORGETTABLE.

And that’s a feeling and an experience that no one will ever be able to take away from me.

Thank you, Aomori for all the good times. And see you soon!

The Story of How I Met One of My Best Friends

It’s not every day that you stumble upon proof of the exact moment in which you meet someone who will forever change your life.

And as I was cleaning out two years’ of accumulation from apartment and vehicle, I stumbled upon an old parking ticket that had somehow managed to wedge itself into the car’s plastic interior. 

Excitement beyond anything, is the only proper way to describe this chance find. And I’ve found some pretty great geocache finds with friends, but this topped everything. 

It topped everything because I spent two hours locked in a parking lot with the lovely young lady who would be one of my two best friends in Aomori. I’d never met her before that night and I had invited anyone and everyone I could find in the prefecture who had been described as a writer to me.

She needed a drive from the station. I had a car. My navigation refused to take me to the side ofHachinohe  Eki with that allowed private car pick ups, so I parked and thought that I had stashed the ticket in my coat pocket or something.

Ten minutes later I have E’s bags in the boot, my engine is revving, and…

The ticket isn’t in my coat pocket. Fine, it’s probably in my wallet. Okay, then, maybe not the wallet?

Thus sparked an intense search for the parking ticket that would magically let us out of the lot so that we could go back to the writing party at my place. 

I think we talked about a little bit of everything that night. New York Jews, bagels, curse of the meiwaku, what it’s like to live with multiple characters in your head, Oakland, California beaches, infernal Japanese kanji…

She is one of the brightest, shiniest people to come into my life, vibrant and adventurous, with a force of will that can only be surpassed by her dearest Rem. Maybe. It’s a really close call there.

Two hours later, the security guard we had called for was finally here. We paid our share and  GTFO’d faster than you could say “word count”.

And that’s where the mystery of the missing ticket would’ve ended if not for moving out and things.

That ticket is going straight into my scrapbook, all proper like with its own frills and stickers, because it’s a physical manifestation of fine of my favoritest memories of my time in Aomori. 

Which would include onigokko matches with my kids everyday after lunch and the road trip of doom around Japan.

I’m not sure what the future holds for us, but it’s safe to assume that it’s going to include many more international adventures and road trips to come.


The Craziest Thing

Angry Oni and Silly Oni

Waiting at Haneda International for the flight that’s going to take me home, when this lovely young woman just settles down across from me and…

“Oh. My. God. JENNY?!”

“Is it really you, VIVIAN?!”

We may have given security a bit of a heart attack with all the cuddling and screaming. But when you haven’t seen a friend in over two years and suddenly they’re on the same flight as you, in the same row, and right in front of you… It was the craziest, best thing to happen to me at an airport.

I’m so grateful to all of my friends. No matter where we are in the world, we always somehow manage to cross paths again and again.

Back When I Thought I Could Art, Part One

That moment when you manage to salvage your failing external drive and come across an embarrassing file you’d thought long lost to the oblivion of multiple drive transfers and the wibbly wobbly nature of time… Well. Not everyone can be so fortunate and I was not one of them.

Apparently there was a point in my life when I thought I could art and I find these so laughably awful, I thought I might as well share them before deleting for good ❤







Above Us Only Sky

rainbow-flagThe thing is, deep down inside, once we get past all the possible variations of melanin tones and delve through the murky waters that are the mellow beige or spectacular spectra hues that represent our orientations, we are all of us essentially nothing more than human. Nothing more than a temporary collection of star-dust and cells. Nothing more than electrical impulses. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. And that should be more than enough to form a basis of understanding with our nothing-more-than fellow human beings. At the very least, it should be enough to live and let live.

The latest LGBTQ attack in Florida – certainly not the first or the last – comes with extra complications given that the attacker was an American citizen who adhered to radical Islam. This is further compounded now that talks of introducing limitations to the second amendment are underway again. Who is at fault? Religion? Politics? Society?

Effectually, WE’RE all at fault. We who stay silent while these atrocities occur. We who quote the ancient texts (that are rife with suspect translations) to point out that anyone could deserve this. We who do not vote out those of intolerant dispositions from office. We who allow the truth to be distorted and endure a society that remains at a perpetual standstill, all while neither encouraging others nor committing ourselves to creating a better world order for the generations that will replace us. In keeping silent, we signal to would be attackers that nobody cares enough for the marginalized to consider serious preventative measures.

And I understand that my beliefs in the sacrosanct nature of humanity will not translate well to those of certain faiths… but after a while, one must ask oneself: Is it truly a just, divine, and merciful God who advocates for us to become murderers? Is this really what God/god/the gods would want?

Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad. The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…


“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous 😉

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though 😀

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Foreign Film Fridays 04: El Secreto De Sus Ojos

Over the holiday season, some people watch ‘The Grinch’. Others opt for a classier feel, such as ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. And then there’s my family, where the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without a murder mystery marathon on Christmas Day…


Original Title: El Secreto De Sus Ojos
AKA: The Secret In Their Eyes
Year: 2009
Country: Argentina & Spain
Language: Spanish
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 58min
Availability: Amazon FireStick

What would you do if your wife’s rapist and murderer walked free? Ultimately, this is the question the audience will be forced to answer by the time the credits roll.

Meet Benjamin Esposito, a tired-of-life, former judicial investigator, who opens the first scene with a futile attempt at writing a novel. He doesn’t know why he’s so haunted but he’s trying to put to rest a case that refuses to die by writing about it. It’s not his wife who was brutally raped then murdered, but we come to that in due time. No, Benjamin is simply one of the many people whose life became irrevocably caught up in the sordid affair. On the fateful day when a formerly unknown housewife died, Benjamin’s life would also change and it would take him decades to sort through the mess. It’s through his eyes that we see this gritty yet bittersweet story about the human condition play out on the international screen.

Thus by slow degrees the audience is acquainted with the horrific details of Liliana Coloto’s death and the final disappearing act of the main suspect through flashbacks as a more mature Benjamin approaches with fresh eyes. The modern investigations in the present, lead him to a renewed acquaintance with his former boss (who happens to be the unrequited love of his life), Irene Menendez Hastings. Together the crime fighting duo pick up where they left off a lifetime ago, though Irene is at first reluctant to involve herself yet again in the case that nearly broke them.

Through flashbacks we see a much younger Benjamin and his alcoholic (certainly, under-achieving) field partner, Pablo Sandoval, embark on a cross country journey to catch a killer. We watch the characters grow alongside the building horror of the improbable likelihood that they will ever catch their man, because after all, they have no substantial leads. Eventually, with time, Liliana’s case is shelved in the cold case files and duly forgotten. Then just when they’ve properly moved on emotionally and psychologically… they find their first real break. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

Sadly, for the more Criminal Minds expository-loving variety of murder mystery fans, the complexities surrounding the murderer’s motivations are only very briefly explored. They are not defined in so many words, partly because in defining them we lose the key method of this film’s story telling: through the careful observation of characters’ expressions and the conclusions we make from the safety of our sofas. The film is by first impressions more emotional than cerebral, but only because it does not condescend or patronize the viewer. Your are part of the team, you’re as much in the dark as they are, and you will most certainly be able to solve both mysteries using your own little grey cells. If you dare.

However, what is important, and thoroughly discussed, is that no system of justice is perfect… the inevitable consequences of which leave an entire investigation team and a widowed husband reeling in the wake of an executive decision to let the killer walk free. The question posited to viewers then becomes, not how to best fix the system, but how far would (or should) a citizen be willing to go to see justice meted out correctly? In other terms, how selfless (or obsessed) of a human being are you willing to be? Or as JFK once put it so brilliantly: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

In case many of you are cursing the computer screen for this “spoiler”, it’s not so much a spoiler (since it comes early in the film) as it is merely the foundation for what comes next in the story. And that, my lovelies, I will leave to you to watch.

That being said, I add only this: the ending. Oh, the ending. I did not expect the ending. I saw all the clues and I entertained the idea for a millisecond of a millisecond before shaking it off as absolutely crazy, because honestly: No one would ever, ever do that, I thought to myself, innocently drinking my coconut juice on the couch. It’s just crazy.

Because it was crazy, the kind of crazy the belongs either to the truly morally righteous or the truly twisted and sadistic of this world… or as this film shows: to someone who embodies the best and the worst of both. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – have done it. I certainly don’t have the mental strength to do it, much less the conviction… And when I came to that final truth, it dawned on me that everything I thought I believed in (my convictions in regards to morality and ethics) were only true in the face of theory at a safe distance. Once this film asked me to practice them… I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Because I am that selfish and I would have done the opposite, anything really, to keep from wasting what was left of my life on ‘justice’. Let’s just say that this film’s ending turned out to be quite the humbling experience. It empowers yet disenfranchises your right to self and humanity at the same time.

This much more I can say about “The Secret In Their Eyes”: that it is a strong film with a low budget but you won’t even care because the script is that good. The seventies are back, baby, and they’re better than how you remembered them… or imagined them (depending on your age). It’s a tale of life gone by too fast, of regrets, and of the tragedies of a broken system. It will speak to a certain generation. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Spanish accented differently than how I was taught (contrary to popular belief: no, not all Spanish speaking countries have the same culture; yes, Spanish is the same language around the world with the pillars of grammar, its rules, etc., that are easily recognizable to all native Spanish speakers worldwide; no, the accents aren’t all the same (Americans don’t sound like UK citizens either so…); and no, the slang is not all the same because slang is a cultural phenomena).

There is (was? Will be?) an American remake of this film from what I’ve heard, which I haven’t yet seen but hope to get my hands on sometime soon. I’m not sure how much more or what else an American director can add to this already twisted story, but it’s going to take a lot (in my opinion) to impress because “The Secret In Their Eyes” is to film what “Gone Girl” did for literature.