My Life as a Machine: Disconnection

Japan feels like home to me. The first time I went to Japan in 2008, I felt like it was a homecoming, like every inch of those islands was celebrating my return to its nature. Coming back to America gave me a heavy weight, and after two years, I returned to Japan alone. The earth felt different but comforting, and I stared at everything, trying to realize what my connection was to the country.

Now, with my acceptance into the JET Program, I comprehended why I yearned Japan so much. It wasn’t just the warm feeling that bubbled up from Japan’s earth into my bones. I knew something people seemed to be oblivious to. Japanese people are rather distant. The superficial politeness was just a by-product of the society–a society so concerned with image, the soul is denied in most cases. Deep down, I want to be disconnected from humanity. I do things that don’t involve me with others.

But I think it’s because I’m scared. And I don’t care. Or maybe I don’t want to peel away the mechanical frame called my skin, because I’ll become as fragile as people.

Life as a Machine: The Pride Gear

Something I thought I could do so easily was throw away my pride. I have so much pride in everything that I do. Whether it’s thinking it or saying it, I have too much pride. Now, like a super hero trying to get stronger, I have to throw it away so I can grow and get better at everything that I do.

Pride is one of those things that can stick to the bottom of your skills and talents until it gums up the elevator lifting to improvement. It’s a gear inside my body that is slowly rusting, and the rusting is becoming contagious. I will lose this gear somehow so I can become a better machine. I may believe that the pride gear is something that can distinguish between people and machine, but in reality, it doesn’t work for anyone. The pride gear will trip anyone until land at the bottom.

Life as a Machine: Support Systems

I’ve done many things on my own. I learned how to read by myself. I taught myself how to operate a sewing machine. I got good grades in high school and I took all the tests I needed to take to get into college. But sometimes, I don’t give credit to the support systems surrounding me.

The JET Program interview I had last week put my independence in perspective. Without them, there would’ve been things I couldn’t do. I spent four weeks before my interview doing mock interviews with friends, colleagues, peers, and mentors. Although I did my part by being me and coming up with some type of answer, it was them who taught me how to break down questions and realize how to make my personality shine through some tough questions.

The night before the interview, I donned a semi-formal dress for a banquet and tried to forget about the next day. Still, I couldn’t help but bring it up. “I’m so nervous,” I professed to friends and mentors while my hands shivered with excitement. They were the people who told me wholeheartedly not to worry, that I would do fine, and no matter, just be myself. When my mother and my aunt drove up with me to LA, they adjusted my collar before hugging me and saying, “Good luck!” I went in, smiling.

It warms my heart to discover such a system–one that isn’t cold or heart-breaking–exists. You can trust that no matter what happens, what they said is a gift in itself because you can pull it out whenever I feel small. The difficulty I face has always been about trusting my decisions and stepping forward with an unwavering resolve. I’ve become better at handling it, but finding people who care for me unconditionally means the world to me.

I am thankful that whatever happens in the future, I am happy to know that my support systems are there for me. Even if they break down, I am strong enough to stand by myself.

Life as a Machine: Real Politiks

I wish I took more risks. Sometimes, I want to grab my jacket and run for the outdoors, but then my brain starts turning gears, and I’m left with so many questions. “What’re you going to do at the park? What if it gets hot? Do you have enough cash?” I can’t just leap into a decision unless it’s a safe one. The safe decision can mean saving money or keeping my gas tank at the same spot or simply going to a party. But no, I forgot how to have fun unless it’s from the comfort of my own home.

I took some risks a few years ago. I hurt some people in doing so, but I just didn’t care. I ran for student government at my college on a whim, and even though I was a starving student, I spent every cent on my name to beat out my opponent. I lost the rat race, but I didn’t regret it. It was a different type of opportunity I put out there, one that opened my eyes.

How laughable it is to believe in someone you don’t know and you don’t get a bad vibe from them, yet, they still know how to drive a blade into your back. The student government president was that person for me. During the whole campaign, he was civil but he really thought I was nobody. My opponent, his baby frat bro, was more important even though I dedicated a year of service to his presidency. I learned how shady fraternities and sororities could be once they had an ounce of power. I broke a few rules, but he broke the thread of trust I held for him or greek life.

On the night they announced the winners, I didn’t cry when I saw the numbers. I lost, not fair and square, but lost because I didn’t have a white sorority backing me. He came up to me as the numbers sunk in. When I looked him in the eye, there was nothing there. Whatever he said, it was just him saying something to fill in the gaps. Everything changed. I changed. And I cried at that moment. My frustration was greater than my control, and I walked away.

The biggest risk for me, being a machine and all, was returning to his office and finishing the rest of the semester under his cabinet. Not only that, but I came back for a second year under his cabinet and created a new position just for myself. Now that I think back on it, he was a moron. He may have played his precious greek privilege card, but his weakness was all too apparent to me that day. Without his fraternity, he wouldn’t be anything. He couldn’t say what he really wanted to say to me. He just let me play his character flaws like a harp. Anyone with a strong personality could easily get their way with him. I knew that the moment I met him after the campaign.

So I squeezed out every ounce of weaknesses I could from him. The problem with real politiks is that the machine is underestimated, especially when the machine is hidden within a sweet and sugary package. He may have handed the campaign to my opponent, but at the end of the day, he let the machines take over his space like a toilet.

It’s a big gamble once you enter the game, too. I knew that, but I still did it. I’m glad I did. I got my foot in the door, and now, the gap is strong than the door holding me back. There are even more risks I have to make. Right now, I’ll just settle for allowing other machines to put their feet into the door. Once I get the courage to unhinge the stupid door, I’ll be the risk taker I need to be.

My Life as a Machine: Facelift

I had the most frightening yet interesting dream last night. I dreamed that when I looked in the mirror one night, my face had these big blisters and boils on my skin. I freaked out like it was a pimple dilemma–“Maybe if I put something on it, tomorrow morning it’ll be gone”–and I proceeded to washing my face and going to bed. The next morning, the exact opposite happened. The blisters were huge! It felt like the blue blisters were alive. I poked one of the blisters on my forehead, and it suddenly burst open. Everything underneath the blister, including some white liquid, came out, and before I knew it, my face was sloughing off!

I panicked as everything began to slide off my face. I was so scared, my heart pounding in my ears, as I brought my hands to the skin of my face and tried to keep it from coming off. Fortunately, I managed to save my skin from completely disconnecting from my chin and I placed it back properly on my face. Even though the blisters were gone and my face looked somewhat normal, the feeling of worms and dirt underneath the skin didn’t dissipate.

But the most amazing part of the dream happened. In most dreams with frightening experiences, I freak out and cause myself to wake up. This time, I didn’t wake up. I remember coaxing my heart to slow and myself to think. “Ok, calm down. You just need to find your brother and he’ll take you to the doctor.” I found my older brother, collected the sloughed derma and liquid together, and made a plan to go to the hospital.

Somehow, during the dream state, I stood back from myself and realized where I was: my face was fine, my body was wrapped in warm blankets, and my room was still dirty. I congratulated myself as I tried to shake off the dream. Although I panicked, I calmed myself down, thought rationally, and followed a sound plan with the help of someone else. I did something that I don’t normally do in dreams, and sometimes, in waking life.

I slowed down.

My Life as a Machine: Real Friends

I always think I have friends, people who can stand with you through anything. But when school is over and the break comes up, I’m alone again. I’m not afraid of being alone right now. I’m only afraid of having no one to turn to at the end of the day.

Most of my life, I have been alone. I can lend my lonely childhood to the ignorance of other children. I knew I was different, I just didn’t know why. It didn’t matter what I did. There was no fitting in for me, and when I tried to force myself into the box, I was shaken out of it like a kitten being shooed from its former shelter. Nobody told me it was because I was a machine. Nobody said it was ok to be different. The only person who believed I was special was my father, but he turned out to be a different type of machine. He was a master to himself and himself only.

I remember reflecting on why I didn’t have friends. I thought that speaking like a machine was enough. It wasn’t. I thought it was this or that, and it wasn’t anything. The rest of the world–even the world of machines–didn’t accept me because I was too different. Now that I look back, they were scared of me. I mean, why strike when it wasn’t provoked? Out of fear.

And now that I think about it, a part of me wished I took a hold of their fear and ran it down their throats. I have a vindictive nature, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me the satisfaction. In those times, I felt like I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But if it weren’t for the sheep’s clothing, people and machines wouldn’t have felt the need to walk over me. When I accepted the wolf in me, people didn’t dare put a careless limb in front of my path.

But maybe it’s that wolf side of me that hasn’t made friends. I can still feel the divide–like I’m too different again–between me and my “friends”. I’m not really a wolf, though. I only take on the qualities so people can’t step on me again. It’s not that I’ve built my entire personality or persona on being this incontrovertible machine. I have a soul.

It’s just that I wonder who my real friends are.

Jade’s Top Manga Reads for 2009

Uzumaki (Junji Ito) One of the best manga I’ve read in a while. It’s suspenseful without being over-the-top. For a horror, it has the right amount of illusion to make the story believable. Junjo Ito’s detailed drawing style helps make gore believable.

Tegami Bachi (Hiroyuki Asada) It’s appeal is atypical, which is why I love Tegami Bachi so much! Translated as Letter Bee for English speakers, Tegami Bachi follows Lag Seeing as he and a Letter Bee named Gauche, journeys across Amberground to deliver Lag to his aunt. After being delivered, Lag decides to re-unite with Gauche by becoming a Letter Bee.

Tail of the Moon (Rinko Ueda) This manga is so engaging because it’s funny and historical. The best part? It has ninjas! I know, I know, ninjas aren’t always great in a story–my apologies to Ninja Girls fans–but in Tail of the Moon, I fell in love with the characters, Usagi and Hanzo. Usagi is sent to Hanzo’s village to marry him and become a successful shinobi (female ninja), but he doesn’t want to marry anyone. Upon learning of Usagi’s lack of ninja skills, Hanzo decides to train her for qualifying as a ninja. Unfortunately, many side plots and characters deter Usagi from meeting her original assignment. Every manga in this series leaves a cliffhanger, and you can’t help but laugh at the comedy produced by a somewhat gifted yet klutzy non-ninja girl.

Beast Master (Kyousuke Motomi) It’s just as it sounds: someone becomes a master of beasts…sort of. Yuiko loves animals, but they hate her smothering love. Leo resembles an animal with wild eyes. When Yuiko and Leo meet, they form an unlikely (platonic) bond that saves Leo from reverting to his primal instincts of violence. It’s such a hilarious manga–imagine Ouran High School Host Club hilarity meets Wild Animal Planet–and the characters are downright loveable, even the yakuza characters.

High School Debut (Kazune Kawahara) This manga is in the same category as Tail of the Moon. Funny, smart, and a bit crazy, High School Debut reminds me of the days I wish I had a Find-Me-A-Boyfriend coach when I was always just one of the guys. It’s probably the reason why I like it so much. Tomboy Haruna enters high school in hopes of finding a boyfriend, but her lack of fashion and her boyish ways don’t work for guys, so she enlists the help of Yoh, a cold yet popular pretty boy with a seemingly deep grudge towards girls. Somehow, Haruna’s naive yet strong resolve breaks down Yoh’s walls. Once again, Host Club antics, strong girls, and questionable yet humorous premises make me a sucker for stories like High School Debut.

My Life as a Machine: Criminal Minds

Am I a criminal mind? Every time I watch TV shows–Law & Order, CSI, Criminal Minds, Castle–I always know who the villain is. Is there something wrong with that picture? At one point, I wanted to be a private eye…not a detective or investigator, but a private eye. It was because I could see through cases and put the puzzle together. Who did it? I knew.

My question is: who’s side am I on?

I never tortured animals when I was growing up. I loved them. I wanted to help them, to heal them. Even when my cats scratched up the crap out of my hands, I numbed my body to bites and scratches from animals. Nor did I mistreat people or machines. Some were as dumb as animals, but I didn’t lash out at them because they were stupid. I always regretted doing any harm to anyone. I guess that’s what makes the difference: I have remorse. So I know I’m no psychopath.

But I can feel the tip of darkness inside of me. When I see something haunting, I blockade any feelings from penetrating my brain. Instead, my brain goes into a logical mode, refusing to acknowledge how horrendous crimes really are. I don’t feel sympathy for anyone, no matter who they are, so I can sleep at night.

I can gauge another person’s reactions and thoughts, and I change myself to respond to others. I think that’s more of being a minority than being a crazed killer, but it still irks me. Why can I tell what kind of person someone is? I did this at work. I did this in friendships. I knew if the person was someone not to trust. If I got a bad feeling, I dodged them. One thing I know about the criminal mind is predicting how people are. That’s why psychopaths are so charming. They know not to look like killers. But I don’t seek absolute control nor lashing out at anyone. Another difference.

Still, sometimes knowing the criminal mind makes me wonder if I’m not one myself.

 

My Life as a Machine: Love

I’m a machine and I know what love is, but it’s always escaping my grip. I want it so badly sometimes, and I know that simply desiring it can get me what I want, but I really need it. Take off my strength, my guards, and I’m like anyone else. I need love.

I haven’t found it. I can’t make myself fall for someone. I just do. It’s been almost three years since I was truly in love with someone. Now, I’m wondering if I ever moved on. Ever since we broke up, I haven’t been in a serious relationship. Once someone confessed their true feelings for me, I sent them away. Now, I’m not getting any younger, and I’m craving the one thing that only another machine can give me.

My mentor told me that when I’m ready to be in love, I’ll send out a signal to the universe and people will become attracted to me. I don’t know if that’s true. But you know what’s crazy? People are more likely to want someone if they’re attached. If they’re attached, they’ve got the chops to be attractive. But what of the people who aren’t attached? Am I less attractive because I’m single?

My Life as a Machine: Finding MY Voice

Fernando said that I don’t have a voice in my writing. I find that laughable in the sense that writing was the only hobby I’ve held on to since I was in fourth grade. Once I realized how true his words rang, the laughter died away and I was left with only one question in my mind: Why?

Technically, I write well. No grammatical errors and the transitional sentences are in the right places. However, I write like a robot. When I step back and suddenly face my own writing, I feel the urge to erase everything. “What’s wrong with me?” I think, and I can’t complete what I set out to do–to write a great article. But then, it gets stamped on.

As an artist and a poet/songwriter, writing should be easy. Maybe I’m psyching my mind out for making it harder than it really should be. Maybe I’m analyzing it too much. The problem must lie with who I am as a person. My friends think I’m a robot. When I admitted how scared I was of fire, combustible things, and balloons, they were surprised.

“It humanizes you, I guess,” my friend said one time. “You’re like a robot.” It was no different for other people. There’s this perfect image that people see in me, and I personally hate it. But I can’t change who I am. I am well-rounded. I am approachable. I am intelligent, confident, and ambitious. So how does all of that translate to being inhuman? I guess it’s because I’m good at too many things.

Honestly, I used to feel like I wasn’t human, like I couldn’t communicate with people because we weren’t speaking the same language for some reason. In eighth grade, I spent a year not talking to anyone. It was like being mute made me disappear and I was happy. I had no expectations on my shoulders. I was simply me, invisible old me. I was tormented in one aspect of my life during that time period, but I was happy when I wasn’t being judged. Writing felt natural then. I guess it was the only way I could speak to the outside world without having any real contact with others. I didn’t want to hear other people’s voices because they scared me. I already had so many thoughts, so many voices in my head, and I didn’t want anymore of them haunting my mind.

Maybe I really didn’t get over hiding away from the rest of the world. I mean, without other people, no one can judge me and no one can yell at me for saying something wrong.

Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I am holding back something, and I’m afraid to let it go because of the consequences. If that’s the case, I haven’t changed as much as I thought I have. Reality is, I am afraid of myself sometimes. I don’t readily tell people this. I’m scared of myself. I’ve purged a great deal of negative thinking from my self and I have controlled any anger problems I used to have. But no matter what I do, there’s this nagging side of me that’s dark. I’m scared of that person because I’ve seen this side of me come out, and I always hurt others when that happens. That side is the inhuman side of me–like the Sylar personality from Heroes minus the murderer–and she can definitely do some damage.

I’m wondering if that side is where my true voice lies. Maybe I haven’t fully found myself. After all, a voice is a significant part of you. If I have no voice, I can’t give anyone a straightforward answer, let alone, a dead-on editorial.

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