Quick Introduction and Statement of Purpose
Greetings, fellow ordinaries. Many of you know me as a frequent guest poster and relatively neutral member of the commentariat. Here is my back story: I was born in 1984, grew up outside Boston, attended Boston College High School, then Duke University, where I studied economics and English and obtained a certificate in film/video/digital studies. Sometime during my senior year I decided I wanted to be an academic economist, so I applied for a Fulbright fellowship (and nothing else): in my junior year I had completed a long paper on space tourism which had been well received, and I wanted to extend and expand my methodology and analysis from this paper to the similar market of East African adventure tourism. When I was rejected, I took some time to reconsider what I wanted to do. Looking (back) at the social froth of college, I decided I should spend some time alone: skiing, mountain climbing, reading, writing, and drinking large quantities of decent coffee in cafes where my language was not spoken. I was still interested in adventure tourism, so I adventured and toured, eventually winding up as an English teacher in Japan in October 20061.
I had intended to stay in Japan briefly before continuing on to the wild wild east of greater China and the Central Asian steppes, the temples of Angkor and Indonesia, the jungles of New Guinea and Kakadu, the Australian Outback and the islands of Micronesia; but three years later I found myself in the Japanese countryside at the base of a smoking volcano with a charming wife, two well-behaved kids, and a moderately successful proprietorship teaching, translating, and writing. On good days I could call this business a “highly specialized vehicle for information design”. On bad days it was more like pernicious clownery – or if kids were involved, glorified babysitting2. This business gradually evolved into an entity for servicing a wide range of Japanese professionals or institutions who wanted something presented in English, and it turned out to be an excellent way to gain experience in a wide variety of industries, discover my own limitations, and develop broad sets of skills and a deep knowledge base.
On a typical day, I’d wake up around eight or nine, play with my kids at the house or go somewhere with my family, ride my bicycle into the city after lunch, engage with a variety of professionals and institutions on a wide range of projects, patronize shops trafficking in delicious local produce, go home and eat dinner and maybe watch a movie with my wife, work on my computer at night until one or two (often punctuating periods of intense productivity with participation in League threads). I’d hike or ski or visit notable cultural or historical sites on a rare day off or particularly free morning. (Throughout my travels, I cataloged a vast library of digital photographs which I’m planning on publishing someday.) While this lifestyle was both comfortable and interesting, there was little of what could be called “challenge” or “advancement” 3. Occasional thoughts of me doing the same thing at age sixty struck a chord of primal dread and had me searching frantically for an exit strategy.
One day I had an epiphany: I would return to the United States, where I would complete a postbac premed course, attend medical school, become a neurologist, and study the brain as a complex puzzle to forever consume my professional energies. My wife supported this impulsive decision, and I found everyone else around me inexplicably did too: immediate family members, friends, relatives, students, and clients – everyone seemed to think it was a super idea that I suddenly give up on my success in Japan to invest ten years and massive amounts of money I didn’t have in something which I am still completely unqualified to do and therefore cannot know whether or not I will find satisfaction doing it4. We decided to give ourselves a year to reconsider before making plans to come to the United States.
The paperwork required was overwhelming, itself a complex and life-consuming puzzle: after a year and a half consulting various attorneys, fighting our way through the gauntlets of third-party extortion and fraud that necessarily accompany any overly-complicated and drawn-out legal process, and dropping metaphorical bread crumbs through the Teutoburg Forest of real post 9-11 immigration law (during which year and a half we actually had another child, further complicating our legal situation and effectively resetting the whole process), a funny thing happened5: the local nuclear power plant exploded and began emitting radioactive particles in all directions (which emission continues to this day). We were ordered by the U.S. State Department to evacuate6, and my wife and stepson were granted special refugee status in the United States7. More pressing is that getting out of Japan on such short notice, forfeiting income due (and future income obviously) plus a massive tax rebate due in March, paying various legal fees, and supporting my wife and three children since March eleventh8 has finally emptied my bank account9. Luckily, my parents have been financially supporting my family of five for the past few months while I10 continue to lurch about chest deep in the stagnant quagmires of the American job market. This (i.e. the stagnant quagmires of the American job market) is what I plan on writing about in this space in the weeks ahead.
When I pitched this series to (League of Ordinary Gentlemen Editor-in-Chief) Erik, I wrote, “(It) would not concern my personal journey so much (although that would be the main narrative superstructure) as it would concern the general shape of the labor market … (As a work of creative non-fiction, this series) would run more like a Dickens serial than any typical political blog.” To this I would add that ensuing columns will run like Dickens serials minus the melodrama plus no small degree of sexed-up dullness11. It is my aim to show that we are at the event horizon of a paradigm shift in how the American labor market fundamentally operates. Given conflicting trends in how jobs, jobbers, and jobbees12 coordinate, what emerges from that frenetic black hole13 could take any of several forms and carry with it the very fate of our anointed nation and even the League itself.
1 This meta-narrative is of course assembled from later reflection and oversimplified as all overarching narratives are.
2 It’s really hard to explain what I actually did in Japan to people who haven’t also done it. (There were a handful of us in my city, including Kevin Kato, contributor at the online magazine I edit and talented novelist and translator.) When I started working in Japan, it was with an “English teacher farm” notorious for high levels of both employee turnover and general misconduct. Before my one-year contract was even up, this company went bankrupt in spectacularly scandalous fashion (i.e.: the CEO had a sex dungeon hidden in the walls on the top floor of a Tokyo skyscraper where he would abuse underage girls of Southeast Asian and Filipino descent; the CFO escaped to Vanuatu and was found six months later living off coconuts and spider crabs; the COO had himself cloned and tried to force his clone to stand trial in his place but of course this doppelganger thought he himself was actually the COO and turned the original party over to the police in a singularity of irony which created all sorts of interesting philosophical, ethical, and legal Gordian Knots that persist in affecting the hearts and minds of both professional and amateur members of the human race from all walks of life to this day; etc.). After this first company collapsed I hated my boss at another company for a year and a half (which itself is a ridiculously long and complex story) before deciding to just take on contracts as a freelancer for any and all comers: to say no to no one and to do my best at whatever task came my way and to see what emerged.
3 This isn’t actually true. The market for services in English is booming in Japan, but I had reached a point where in order to make more money I would have to advertise beyond word of mouth and compete with friends and acquaintances in cutthroat fashion, backstabbing some of the people who’d helped me find clients in the first place and more or less “selling out” in the sense of being forced to cultivate an image that can best be described as the white foreigner in Japan’s equivalent of an “Uncle Tom”: this would mean expending vast amounts of energy pretending to be stupid and non-threatening, and I was unwilling to do this (part of the reason my boss at job #2 hated me).
4 I’ve examined this epiphany many times after the fact and continue to fail to understand it logically. I’m looking forward to the medical school interview where I cannot rationally explain the root cause of my very presence there.
5 not actually funny.
6 An evacuation wasn’t actually ordered, technically; but it was “strongly suggested” for non-Japanese citizens on a country by country basis (the French panicked; Americans sent their own spies in to make an independent assessment and then panicked; the British waited until the last possible moment to calmly panic; etc.), plus our group of eight was already outside of the city at the time the evacuation was announced and couldn’t get back in even if we had wanted to because of closed roads and limited gas supplies. A friend of mine (also an American citizen) asked a State Department representative over the phone what we were supposed to do once we were outside the city since there like wasn’t any transportation and stuff to which the State Department representative basically replied “figure it out yourself, but don’t go back in for any reason at all”.
7 What happened to us appears to verify what I might describe as a uniquely American motif if only because I don’t know any better, which is that in Ordinary Time, accomplishing even the simplest of legal tasks faces a shitstorm of opposition, red tape, and bureaucratic impasse; but when things get truly out of control, rule of law defers to sensible compassion: only after the relevant parties are safe are convoluted legal justifications attempted. I might someday get down to the business of fleshing out a causal chain stretching all the way from this aforementioned idea to the perpetual “crisis mode” that America seems to be in. As I’ve mentioned (perhaps cryptically) in threads before, there is lots to be said about this whole process that is of widespread civic importance; but the information I must sort through and systematize ranges from hirsute to bum fluff. Therefore, how to effectively normalize and present my satori is a project I’m still working on: expect a 500-page, uninteresting tome written for an audience of six people sometime in the near or far distant future.
8 i.e. the day of the big earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown (which nuclear meltdown is still deeply mysterious due to a fugue of obfuscation and avoided responsibility). Like “September eleventh” in the United States, “March eleventh” in Japan has come to denote not only the eleventh day of the third month in a given calendar year but also the terrible events which occurred on that particular eleventh day of the third month in the year 2011.
9 Most of the people I know are alive even if they lost their homes, but there are a lot of people I cannot get in touch with. Most of the disappearance of my source of income can be traced to the fact that no one professional or institution cares about presenting materials in English right now, and, if they did, I’d be compelled to service them pro bono, since I got out and they didn’t, and no one has any money in Fukushima City, and all sorts of crazy or not so crazy rumors that the whole city may be evacuated fly about, so people are more concerned with that right now than having some J-pop song translated into English or promoting tourism to English-speaking travelers or making sure foreigners know the proper procedure for procuring an alien registration card at the City Hall.
10 a twenty-seven year old with no experience working in the U.S who is unable to describe basically what he did for the last five years to anyone who does not already know.
11 This footnote is subdivided: (a) The series will also be minus the character Fagin depending on how far out there we’re willing to project symbolism; (b) “sexed-up dullness” may be an appropriate model to present my information on what happened in Fukushima; (c) here the fastidious reader may object that “melodrama” and “sexed-up dullness” are the same thing. This is not so.
12 Apparently this word is British English for “turd”.
13 Pun intended (see note 12); although it’s difficult to pick up with so much metaphor floating around.