Blue Stain

If anyone is interested, I recently published a short story called Blue Stain on Kindle. Check it out if you have time. It’s a short read and only $0.99!

Click here to buy it!

Stay tuned for more posts soon as I work through an unreliable internet connection.

Have a great day!

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Thursday Thought

“What’s it going to be then, eh?” – Alex in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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How was Japan?

How was Japan?

That is the question. Each time I meet an old friend for the first time again.

How was Japan?

It’s a loaded question, fraught with twenty-seven months of life experience whittled down to a three word question.

I feel inadequate to the task of answering the question. I knew it would be asked. It is the easiest, most accessible question.

Not so easy to answer.

Perhaps it’s my fault that I haven’t been able to formulate a concise answer to the question. I’ve been taught to carve the gist of a story to one sentence, a business pitch to one sentence, a thesis to one sentence.

I should be able to do it. I’ll try.

How was Japan?

Oh, well… you know…. It was an experience.

Nope.

How was Japan?

It was the most incredible thing that ever happened to me! Blah, blah, blah.

Nope.

How was Japan?

It sucked beyond measure anything I’ve ever known. The worst decision ever made.

Nope.

What is in an experience that makes it so life-changing?

I guess that it changes your life.

Well if that isn’t a cheap shot. I’m not very good at this.

Ahem…

How was Japan?

Japan was

incredible
boring
exciting
transformative
bland
colorful
humdrum
normal
exotic

Japan was

home
travel
short
tall
wide
skinny
fat

Japan was and is so much to me I could exhaust all the adjectives in the English dictionary and some outside of it before I could explain it all.

I wish I could. I really do.

As the postmodernists put it: Ask a better question. Get a better answer.

So think about when you meet that long lost friend again after an extended absence. Think about question. How was ___________? is a great start but it is only the tip of the carving, the raw block of wood before it becomes something.

So ask How was _________?. But be prepared to have a nebulous answer. And please, ask some follow-up questions.

You never know where it could lead.

Posted in Culture Shock, Japan, Reflection, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Just a couple here for fun!

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Thursday Thought

“This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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That Won’t Work… Because

That won’t work because

That’s what people say. It won’t work here because ___________.

Before I left Japan, I had to get everything turned off. It was an unpleasant experience to say the least, mostly because there appeared to be disconnect fees involved. Big disconnect fees. Fees that shattered our budget.

I couldn’t and still can’t figure out why everything cost so much to disconnect. It doesn’t really matter anymore because there’s nothing that can be done about it. I’m chalking it up to an expensive, yet valuable learning experience.

But of particular note was the three hours we had to wait to cancel our phones. Three hours. I obviously don’t understand why. Was I supposed to give up at some point and keep it on? We were leaving the country and the phones would be useless to us.

Yet another lesson in patience. They took our time and our money and gave nothing else in return. Not a fair exchange in my book.

But such as it is. I’m not trying to be rude or mean. This is what happened and I’m trying to make sense of it.

As I’ve dawdled around with what happened I can only come up with one idea. One concept that begins to approach what happened.

Just because you’ve always done something one way doesn’t mean it is the best way.

I believe this concept crosses all cultural and national boundaries.

One of my quirks is that I tend to find the most efficient way to do things. It’s like a challenge to me. Whether it is cutting the grass, delving into a database, or running. Finding the most efficient and effective path fills me with satisfaction.

But at the same time I don’t believe there is one “right” way to do things. Each of us has our process. What works for me may not work for you. And just because one can do it quicker doesn’t necessarily make it better. Quality is at stake. Safety to consider.

I still feel the amount of time should be reasonably similar.

This is where things become a little more complicated because employees have to follow the rules and regulations set by their corporation.

Maybe this is it!

Japan is good at keeping unemployment extremely low, I believe below 2% this past year. Japan can do this because the business system is organized to require a great number of people to do things. It isn’t efficient in my experience. It could be. It isn’t. But, a great number of people can make great things happen but too many cooks spoil the stew.

In America, employees have more and more responsibilities thrust upon them the longer they stay in a position. It’s in every job description that extras can be tacked on according to business needs. It adds an extreme amount of stress to the employee and spreads their skills thin.

Which is correct?

Who’s to say? Neither?

Each system has advantages and disadvantages.

Each system could also stand to learn a great deal from the other.

Saying that something just won’t work is being negative. It is shortchanging the new idea as well as the old idea, hinting that both are incapable of adaptation. Sure, the new idea may not be the best solution but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Change can be good.
Change can be bad.

But Rome fell because of stagnancy.

The lesson I’ve learned from this is to keep an open mind. Immediately dismissing something because it is out of your norm shortchanges your experience and the experience of others.

What works there could work here.
What works here could work there.

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Thursday Thought

“Follow your bliss.” – Joseph CampbellDSCF2735

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Reverse Culture Shock: The Epic Journey

IMG_8674Taking the bus out of Hita for the last time filled me with a mixture of emotions that I didn’t expect. Well, I expected them but I couldn’t handle them. We loaded our bags under the bus and jumped on. An unexpected group of people saw us off. It really was cool. Those people got up earlier just to see us board a bus that wasn’t coming back. It was confusing. It was wonderful. It was an ending.

On the bus I leaned my head against the window and watched the city roll by for one last time. Not the final time, I hope, but the last for a long while. I shed no tears until the plane took off; they welled up in the corners of my eyes. It happened when I took that plane from my hometown twenty-seven months earlier. There’s something about leaving a place you’ve called home for so long.

My feet wouldn’t touch that soil
My eyes wouldn’t see those streets
My ears wouldn’t hear those sounds
My body wouldn’t feel the heat

IMG_8745That period of my life is over. Time to move on. Time to figure out what it did to me.

There were planes and airports. Walking, baggage carrying, security screening, sitting. Lots of sitting. And then my feet landed in the Southern Hemisphere.

New Zealand

The first thing I noticed exiting the airport was the smell. It reminded me of home. And by home I mean my hometown, the beautiful Copper Country of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There was that same loamy thickness in the air. A smell far different from what I have come to associate with Japan. Perhaps I’ll never really know that smell until I return. Right now Japan smells of nothing to me. I know it’s there, I’ve described it before. I just don’t know what it is and that is scary.

IMG_8755So there I was. Feet firmly on the ground and taking in the sights of New Zealand. Twenty-seven months I was in Japan. Suddenly I was in an English speaking country again and I didn’t know how to respond.

In Japan, I spoke English everyday with my wife. I spoke English while I taught, with both students and staff. But hearing it all around me took me off guard.

We went to a restaurant.

I didn’t know how to order. Confusion spewed out of my mouth. Should I say no or yes? Should I say anything? I was a deer in headlights.

We went to a store.

I can read everything! Everything! It all makes sense! Must read everything.

We went for a walk.

The clothes people wore were different. The cars were different. Blond hair, red hair, black hair, brown hair! Diverse people everywhere. I couldn’t help but be rude and stare. It’s not that Japanese are not diverse, they are, but here were different races with different body shapes and different accents I could understand and… and….

My brain shut down.
Information overload.

I couldn’t process all the information being hurled at me from all directions.

My head hurt.
I wanted to hide under a rock.

I think I like hiding under rocks. Or trees.

IMG_8766There’s more. I would respond in Japanese to shopkeepers. I would say douzo when I held the door for people. I would bow. And perhaps the worst of all, I was pulling my language. What I mean by that is that I was simplifying my sentences and omitting unnecessary words. It became a practice in Japan as a byproduct of teaching. I don’t know if it was good or bad but I did it.

But I did know that pulling language around native speakers couldn’t be a good thing. Not at all. First of all, it is offensive. Second, it most likely makes me out to be rude and uncouth.

It took a few weeks to adjust back to life in America. I think it will take a lot longer to feel comfortable again. What felt real when I first arrived is beginning to feel fake. I think it’s part of the Reverse Culture Shock process. It’s a cycle that repeats itself.

I have these two experiences creating cognitive dissonance. Both have good points and bad points. Now, I think the best thing to do is evaluate and adopt the best from both worlds and make that work.

My Japan experience is a part of me I don’t want to let go. Nor should I. It’s been a huge part of my life that has changed and continues to change my life.

I cannot deny that thing.

What experiences have stuck with you over the years?

Posted in Culture Shock, Japan, Narrative, Photography, Poetry, Reflection, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

Here is my attempt at photographing the moon. Not so good. But…

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Here is the sky at dusk. A little better?

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Travel is…

IMG_0341I’m a very fortunate person. I’ve traveled and lived in Japan for two years. I’ve done the tourist thing in New Zealand while visiting friends. I’ve visited over half the states in the U.S. Now my great travels are over since I’ve returned. And now life is bland and normal again.

Or is it?

This depressive feeling about place is an aspect of culture shock that I didn’t expect. It’s not so easy to slide back in. Things look the same but so much is different. I’m awkward in my native culture. Well, I think I was always awkward. I’m just a little more aware of it now.

Little things that I took for granted before now need to be thought about extensively. I keep messing up the change at the register, I keep stumbling over people while they talk, I bow to them.

I’ve experienced this grand travel. But what does it mean? Does it mean I’ll always be a foreigner wherever I go? Does it mean that I have to do even greater travel to find that same feeling again, like a drug? I don’t know.

What is travel anyways?

Travel is impermanence
Travel is evolution
Travel is momentum
Travel is excitement
Travel is movement
Travel is activity
Travel is engagement

All are travel.

DSCN0902So even though I’ve returned to my origin, it isn’t a step back. It is a step into a familiar place that has experienced change. There are plenty of places and people to see out there and right here. The back yard is a place of constant amazement. One day is different from the next.

Travel is travel no matter the distance. Try to take in the wonder that is near you. For me, traveling far has given me a new appreciation for what was once near. My hometown is exotic again. Awkward, but cool as I learn my way around again.

Things feel bland and normal but it’s a lie. It’s my body and mind adjusting to something that was once familiar but now changed.

So get out there and travel. Go across the road. Take that road you always wondered about. Look in a corner of your house you haven’t in a long while. Cultivate the wonder that travel can give you. It’s wonderful and it doesn’t have to be as far away as we tell ourselves.

What new thing did you discover today?

Posted in Culture Shock, Poetry, Reflection, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments