近海る (Kin Kairu)

JET, Japan, Journalism and other J words

Three Months

“I need you to prepare to transcribe Trump’s victory speech,” the news director told me at roughly 10 p.m. on election night. Check marks filled my personal electoral map, while I watched the New York Times election prediction percentage do a complete flip. During the down times between state projections, I refreshed Twitter constantly for new calls. My other job, as the news director told me, was to simply wait and watch.

I was in the basement of the Hilton Midtown in New York City where the Trump victory event was held. As the night went on, and more states called in his favor, the cheers from upstairs seemed to shake the building. As I walked outside for a breather, the voices of protesters echoed through the avenues.

It has been three months since I came back to America. In many ways, my time in Japan is already starting to feel like a comatose dream. Partial memories replay in my mind which I can speak of with only a few, or perhaps only myself, really understanding. Not that the others around me don’t want to listen, but there’s only so much that one can speak of before the conversation becomes dull. Everyone else has their own life they wish to speak of as well, of course. In many ways, taking that temperature is still a skill I am trying to master.

Media center for the VP debate

Media center for the VP debate

My move back to America was extremely swift, giving only a few weeks between re-acclimating and throwing myself headfirst into the election. However I knew full well what going into a journalism job in late-August entailed. I prepped myself as much as I could, devouring articles and podcasts, and trying to learn from those elders around me how to handle my first electoral rodeo.

I don’t think it’s out-of-line to say that I was shocked on that Tuesday. To say otherwise would simply be false on my end, and be the minority perception. But despite all of the polls, experts, and talks within our personal bubbles, we are now here in this reality. And there is nothing that can change that fact. As a friend very sincerely pointed out on election night, the rent’s still due.

I have been asked if I was disappointed that night, but I would not qualify that as my overall state. Sure, there were hints. However that is not because a favored candidate of mine lost. It was cocktail of feelings including failure to see the outcome clearer, uncertainty as to what may happen the next day, and anxiousness as to what will happen to my career. It’s hard not to have those feelings after being berated by thousands of people at a convention center simply being a part of the media. Nor it is when I have friends and family members of those minority groups so targeted during the campaign. Working 26 hours on election day didn’t help my mental state either.

But as I write this weeks after the election, we are still in a state of unknowing. Nothing we do can accurately state what will happen under a new administration, a new government largely ruled by one party. For as much predicting that was going on during the campaign, I’m tired of trying to consume or do anymore.

I wrote many drafts similar to this after everything unfolded, trying to nail down my feelings or find something to say. I am not the first, and many respected writers have already published their well-thought out prose. And yet I was encouraged by friends to give my own perspective given my experiences, which I am thankful for. But the words I wrote down in the previous iterations were not satisfactory. In some ways they came off as too vicious, like a worded back-handed slap at an industry I have poured so much energy into. In other ways it come out as too outsider, obscuring the fact that, at the end the day, I am still American.

Pinpointing my exact takeaways from my return to where I am today have been difficult, but in that I knew I only had one outlet to truly express it: writing it out on this blog where I’ve opened myself up so much.

In many ways, the America I continually presented to my students when I was on the JET Program was very different from the America that became so vocal during the election. Where I argued the values of openness and diversity, demands for borders and exclusion were being replayed on TV. For every question brought up regarding any form of violence and instability in America shown in any form of media, I reassured a feeling of safety and calm where I could.

It felt at times that the America I was defending was my younger brother: No one can talk smack about them except me. For all the gaffs and criticisms I have about Japan, perhaps my Japanese coworkers and friends have the same defensive measure about their own country.

One thing I do not think properly translated until I landed back on American soil was the pure exhaustion many people had at any mention of the race. For all the rallying and shouting that was being shown on my TV in Japan, what never really came across were the people that, while still engaged, could not help but sigh before speaking. And in many ways, I think that feeling still remains.

I bring this up because I saw this first hand when going home for the Thanksgiving weekend.

There was already the joke before the results of the articles explaining how to have civil discourse at the Thanksgiving table, but this year seemed to prompt even more of those pieces (and for good reason). I feared the upcoming small talk, specifically because I could not divorce my experience on the trail from the question of “how are you doing?”

But when I went home and that talk began, everything was…fine. It was totally fine! This does not mean I was expecting blood to cover the walls, but my family has a distinct trait of loud voices and equally loud opinions.

For all of the worrying I was doing, perhaps subcontiously I was prepping for the same amount of fervor I encountered so much at the rallies. I equiped myself with so much data and counter-arguments to prepare for the worst, but found that I was actually the only one on edge. In many ways I forgot the basic fundementals of my job. So I relaxed, shut up, and just listened.

Some, while concerned about immigration, did not seem it necessary to go the lengths proposed.

Some spoke with me about the issue of fake news they see everyday.

The one who asked if I was disappointed told me afterwards it was probably about time to go abroad for a while.

Another told me they did not agree with the “Not My President” protests because they felt the need to respect the office for the sake of democracy, even with their utter lack of favoritism towards the president-elect.

I know these are anecdotal, and merely just opinions, but at no time did I hear the fierce rally cries that I heard so much previous. Everything was a lot more nuanced, such as it is in many circumstances. In the end, there was something that everyone could really agree on: 2016 sucks.

Subway Therapy Post-it Note Wall

Subway Therapy Post-it Note Wall

It all reminded me of a story I pursued a couple of days after the election. I was told to go find a particular tunnel in New York City plastered with post-it notes. After a hunt through the subway, what I and two other coworkers came across was something I can only describe as an expression of pure humanity: a wall covered with notes ranging from anger, sadness, positivity, and melancholy, none of them authored. I spoke with Levee, a tall, genial man, with brown curly hair and thick rimmed glasses, about his Subway Therapy and post-it note project.

Subway Therapy Post-it Note

Subway Therapy Post-it Note

Before November 8, he said he knew people needed an outlet to talk. Especially those without the funds or the resources to do so. After the election, he knew people needed something even more. So he just brought a table, post-it notes, and pens to a subway tunnel, and asked people to express themselves.

As we talked to him, he kept reassuring me and the other reporter that what people were writing was not just about the candidates nor the election. It was not about political parties nor the feelings of winning or losing. It was the feelings of being a human, and a citizen, now being of the utmost of concern: feeling safe, feeling welcome, feeling wanted. He didn’t know which candidate the people who wrote on the wall supported, and he frankly didn’t care.

—-

One of the push backs to come out of the election are the “bubbles,” specifically those of a left leaning stance who left their small hometowns to “make it” in the big city. I am certainly not outside of this and have confronted it frequently. Especially with tale of being told at a young age, “Unless you want to become a farmer or a mechanic, get out of here.”

Even as I live on the east coast, I hold onto my Midwestern upbringing, sometimes as an anthropologist and other times as a sociologist, courting the differences between my hometown of 1,000 people and my new estate of over 600,000. I very much did the same when I was in Japan, using those locales as a label depending on who I was speaking with. Perhaps this is a defense mechanism for when one is outside of their comfort zone, or in this case, bubble. Perhaps we strive to point out the differences so that we reaffirm and hold onto our senses of roots and identity, regardless if we are 8 or 800 miles away.

I don’t know how this self-identification will change once the new president will come to power, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it most likely will. Some still in Japan have told me that new English teachers may not introduce themselves as “American,” but rather by their actual birthplace. There may not be a collection of Americans coming into Tokyo every August anymore, but rather groups of Californians, New Yorkers, or [insert your hometown]ers. People may claim their origin by their hometown pizza preparation style as opposed to the same issued passports. (OK, granted, we may do this anyway, but big picture here, people.)

I bring this up because in many ways, it’s not just finding my place within the realms of America, but also on the larger scale. Even with being back in America my heart sometimes disconnects both in grasping at the threads of my time in Japan, and not recognizing the America I championed abroad and was taught to stand for. Sometimes it’s a feeling of a purgatory, trying to find something to hold onto. Othertimes it is like a fence, my legs hanging on both sides, but my head swaying to each side like a pendulum, each side being labeled something differently in a daily basis.

There is plenty to work on as far as “personal bubbles,” both in the big city, college educated one I am living in now, as well as my upbringing small-town root dichotomy. I believe everyone needs to pierce through at some point, but that in itself can bring its own complexities. I still haven’t claimed any tribal alliance to say the least.

These thoughts and many more have plagued my mind since returning, being in New York hotel basement, and the many mornings after November 8. I cannot help but worry about them; These abstract thoughts whisper in my ear to remind me they linger.

Especially when I’m waiting, my mind flows this direction. I have been traveling a lot for work, which means waiting and sitting for long periods at airports. That task in itself has plenty of problems. As I write this I am put on an unexpected five-hour delay.

These things happen and, much like how those worries spring from the void, are certainly out of my control.

As I begin to take off on one flight, the pilot informs the cabin and crew to prepare for turbulence. Dark clouds loom ahead as we brace ourselves to pierce through the shadows. Once we pass and rise above, I look outside: the bright blue sky overwhelming me with its color. The sun still shines where I could not see before. I know we must land eventually at another location with unexpected disturbances, more turbulence. But being so high reminds me: above the clouds the sky is always blue and the sun always shines. For the time being, I close my eyes and bask in the light.

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