What do I really want to do? A way forward

An interesting development: M asked me two days ago now to ask myself what I really wanted to do, because, she said, if I wanted to, I could do it. This got me thinking about…what I would do if I were assured of the possibility of success. Not the secure finality of success if I sat around and did nothing, but just the idea: if I could do anything with my life that I wanted, and I knew that success was a certain possibility for me, granted that I applied myself and worked hard enough: what would I do?

This coincided with doing some name research…which I’m now fairly certain I got right the first time. We have been watching a lot of NHK World, for years, and I’ve gotten to the point where I find myself directly listening to what is being said in Japanese language, as versus reading the English subtitles. Subtitles are always a little off, but they usually give the gist of the meaning. What I’m doing is listening directly to the words, the breaks in the words, the particles used which denote sentence structure, verb conjugations, unfamiliar grammatical constructions; sometimes reading displayed kana (which denote sound and conjugation, in addition to serving as particles) and kanji (which denote meaning) when I can. I think I’ve reached the point where, if I knew the definitions of the words being used — I do sometimes, but not most of the time — I would be able to understand vastly more. That is, a lot of what is holding me back is mere vocabulary.

I was…also writing an entry in English Language in my Work Journal, which is now apparently my Work and Career Journal (as I’ve questioned what I’m doing, what return I’ll get from it, and why I’m doing it). I recalled that I majored in Writing because reading and writing were at one time my primary ways of interfacing with the world, and with other minds and other people. This is the same reason I wanted to work online (before I had a taste of Programming and Computer Science and the logic and math involved): it’s easier for me to interact with people through text, asynchronously, than face-to-face. People assume less when they can’t see me or hear me, and that lack of assumption is alluring. I also got into Librarianship because I was into books; not realizing that in the system I was in, my work — the difficult parts of it, at least — had more to do with people than with books. I think it’s a mistake a lot of Library Staff initially make.

And I remembered how much I originally loved my Japanese language classes in early University. If I had stayed at that University, I would likely have majored in Japanese Language and Literature. The rest of the environment was (culturally speaking) too hostile for me, however; and being at that University was a financial burden to my parents. When I returned home, I had the option of taking Japanese Language and Literature at my second University. I would have had to wake up at 5:30 AM at the latest: for some reason, at a commuter school, introductory Japanese language courses began at 7:30 AM. That wasn’t something at which I could see myself being successful. In addition, I would have had to test in; and I didn’t have an idea of how I could use the language in my area, other than working for a Japanese market, or being an interpreter. Given my social difficulties and history with Japanese-American family and peers…I didn’t see a good life, that way.

I didn’t, however, fully investigate the idea of book translation. I don’t remember exactly when it was, however, that I ran across Kogen Mizuno’s Essentials of Buddhism, which basically introduced me to translated texts in a field which too often (in English language) feels like an echo chamber. Mizuno was a breath of fresh air; here was someone willing to analyze Buddhism rather than merely repeat doctrine. When I was in Undergraduate training, I would go on my breaks — which could be an hour or two long (or more), between classes — and read about Eastern Philosophy, Buddhism, and the Occult in my University Library. So many of those books were so old, however: and in being old, they were naive. There is a specific history to transmission of Buddhist dharma into English, which I learned about later (after Undergrad, from a book that I found in the bookstore of an Asian cultural heritage museum). It tends to taint the vast majority of introductory books on Buddhism, especially those books produced in an early period which were subject to, “Orientalism,” or otherwise said: the exoticization of, “the East.”

The latter dynamic had also tainted my two quarters of Japanese language acquisition at my original University. Reading these books in my second University’s library left me with the question of why anyone would be Buddhist…but then, I have a Buddhist aunt. I knew she was not into self-extinguishment, or what seemed to be the drive to permanent cessation of suffering (which sounds to a novice as possible permanent cessation of life, as versus never-ending rebirth), as some of this narrative tends to characterize Buddhist thought. But then…there is the nondual nature of nirvana (bliss), which is said to be neither life nor death, rather an exit from the game of having to deal with karma (causality) and duhkha (unpleasantness; pain; suffering on a wide scale, from subtle and minimal to unbearable). Someone who has had no contact with these ideas before may not understand that, however.

Now that I’m thinking about it…I don’t believe she has ever talked about her practice to myself, in particular. But then, I believe that she has never been forthcoming about most of her life. At least, not to me.

In any case…well, I do believe I’ve written about this before, but I can’t recall where: I had to go around the long way to realize that I was, in fact, Asian-American. I was reading in some of these books about the history of my own culture (or one of them), through the eyes of outsiders to my culture. It wouldn’t really strike me until my Master’s program, when I again felt the familiar alienation of University. Usually, as I did for years in my employment, I find myself able to ignore the fact that I’m part of a cultural and racial minority. It’s not that I stop being a minority; it’s that I stop being constantly reminded that others are different and see me as different. When we’re actually talking about inner realities, however, and what I am actually interested in; what is important to me in my making of myself, or my enlightening myself as to why I am the way I am — and why others are not like me, then that can drive some introspection. Especially if you have to deal with it day after day for two or three years.

To get to my point: I know that I want to learn Japanese language. I also know that I want to do this in order to broaden my horizons as to what is possible in humanity. I don’t want to stay trapped in an English-language-only bubble, where what gets passed down to me is filtered through an English-language-only context. I also want to be able to translate texts out of Japanese into English, in order to help those who don’t speak Japanese to have context and insight as to what people are thinking outside of our American cultural sphere. (As a possible bonus, I might inspire some of them to learn an additional language.)

I have been thinking about this language-barrier context for a while, although it’s only really come to a peak, recently. It’s very easy to stereotype and misread people when you don’t understand their speech or their culture. I’m actually thinking of doing some creative writing around it. It’s very rare to see this issue addressed in mass media, but the issue is prevalent even among groups in our own society who can’t communicate with each other because there is no common language to do so (and at some times, a stubborn refusal to adopt language which would facilitate evenhanded, nonjudgmental communication).

So my first goal is to learn Japanese language. Beyond that, I want to eventually become a book translator from Japanese to English. I believe I will have to get back into reading (including Fiction) if I want to be a good translator and writer. I want to get back into Creative Writing (in English), which I predict will be greatly facilitated by reading more, if history holds any clue. Once I can read more in Japanese, I’ll also have a knowledge base that most authors don’t. If I know Japanese language and have facility in it, I can work as a Librarian in an East Asian Library. From what I’ve seen, most East Asian Libraries are located on College and University campuses. If there is enough of a draw to have a Library, there may also be enough of a draw to have a local East Asian community, which would be comforting — to say the least.

There’s also the sheer beauty of Japanese language: it is actually engaging to me to learn to write correctly. Often, when I try to draw or paint, my marks gradually shift to writing in either English or Japanese language (though Japanese language is more conducive to writing with a brush). Calligraphy is a longstanding art in Japan, so I’d be in good company.

As regards the beadwork: I will still be doing this, but it will be a hobby or for side income, not for primary income. I feel a lot better about this, than I did a month ago. My target market simply may not have enough access to finances to be able to afford what I’d need to charge, in order for me to make a living off of my beadwork (that can sustain me into my old age). The good thing is that, if this is a side business or an adjunct to my main form of income, I can lower my prices. This will avoid pricing out my main market segment, and likely ease my heart a bit. They are a big part of the reason I’m in this — to the depth that I am, at least.

It also doesn’t hurt that, from some cursory searches, it does appear that I can make a living as a translator (even if book translation pays less than live translation). I also do have some facility in Spanish, but Japanese holds much more immediate use for me, personally (and likely will remain of more use, over the long term). I also would have chosen Japanese over Spanish, had it been given to me as a youth; but I only got a choice between Spanish and French.

Japanese language is much more work to learn, but if I can learn it (and I believe I can), why not? The next step is to figure out a study schedule, and what books to read and work with, first…

Published by Haruna

Haruna is a Librarian by training, currently pivoting from Public Services into Technical Services. Their undergraduate major was English -- Creative Writing, and they hold an additional small degree in Art (i.e. Visual Arts). They are now pondering whether a career in Academia is viable or desirable, given the current situation.

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