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From the Editor: When the tough years can be the greatest

January 1, 2010


In Japanese, the way to wish someone “Happy New Year” is to congratulate them.  Some years, it really can be a victory to see the dawning of a new year; when I look back on 2009, I can honestly see that those kinds of (seemingly hollow) victories have set me up for present and future victories.  Brace yourselves: this month’s Letter from the Editor is going to be a bit personal.

Every year is filled with challenges, hardships and, more often than any of us would like, tragedies.  In 2009 I dealt with a bad breakup, unemployment, frequent sickness in the winter months and a pretty major health scare during the summer.  I was a writer struggling to get some kind of recognition from editors and having zero luck with job ads in any field.  And it was a good year.

No, really!  While I’ve definitely had ridiculously hard years in the past, I don’t mean that this year was good by some low standard I’ve crafted due to precedent.  It’s because I can now see that those difficult years have really changed my life and have brought me to where I am now, not because of some cliché someone told me but because I really do see for myself that things have worked out that way.  When the aftermath of those challenges, hardships and tragedies faded, I was left with a turning point, though I couldn’t see it at the time.  A lot of those things I faced were out of my control, but through perseverance (and support from friends and family) I won the opportunity to fill in the blanks of my own life from there.

To illustrate this point, let me share with you a brief summary of my most terrible years:

In 2004 I lost two major figures in my life, my grandmother and my father, within four months of each other.  As a result, 2004 and 2005 really sucked, to say the least.  But in that second year, I met this really wonderful woman who would later act as my host mom the first time I went to Japan, where, for the first time since my losses, I felt happy, and I had incredible experiences that were made better by some of the warmest people I have met in my whole life.  (Shout-out to Hachinohe!)  My mind was made up, and that Fall I applied to study abroad in Japan.  The months of pouring myself into my studies actually paid off, because I landed a lovely scholarship that would make my journey possible.  I felt excited, and a little bit validated!  I had changed my future for the better.

During the Spring semester of 2006, still dealing with my losses and preparing to go to school in Tokyo in the Fall, I solidified friendships with a group of people who became like a second family to me.  Some of them would stick with me after I left the country (fantastic), and some of them would go their own way (not so fantastic) as they themselves moved to other cities or started at other schools.  I had some odd experiences with a summer job and some of my relationships, all of which felt like a dress rehearsal for what I was planning to do next, so it didn’t bother me for long.  I was a young woman with a plan.

Flash slightly forward to September of 2006 and my first weekend in Tokyo, a city which completely floored me and with which I instantly fell in love.  My grandfather, who I’d grown very close to since my grandmother died, passed away.  I got to say goodbye to him before I went, and he, calling study abroad my “big adventure,” made it clear he did not want me to stay and miss out on anything.  I still felt guilty and missed him and was heartbroken.  Even now, in 2010, I still miss both of them more than I can say.  And school wasn’t at all what I thought it would be, and then there was that whole language barrier thing added into the mix.

But I was far, far from home then, and desperately needed to make connections with those around me for support, which was a hard situation but, I realize now, a good thing: life had to go on.  I made new friends, climbed a mountain and went to Disney Sea.  I traveled during breaks from school.  Life went on like this in 2007, except add in a bunch of cockroaches, a few minor earthquakes, friends leaving for their home countries and eventually leaving for home myself, which meant having to say goodbye again to some more of the coolest, warmest people I’d ever met.  Then came the start of my long streak of unemployment, during which I began writing a lot more and submitting to journals (though without any positive response).  If you’d asked me then, I would have said 2007 was, at best, a wash.  2008 would only be more of the same, as would the start of 2009.

Then what was so good about 2009, you may ask?  Getting over ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08, of course!  This month, I’ll have my second creative writing publication.  I have a job.  I still keep in touch with those great people I met during the tough years and occasionally get to see them.  I foundered in the area of romance, but it made me wiser and, best of all, it eventually made me closer to a friend who went through the same thing.  My health scare was just a scare, and it brought other issues to my attention that helped me get and feel much healthier by the end of the year.  My relationships with family and friends are much deeper.  And sturdier.

I know I’ll miss those that I lost in 2004 and 2006 for the rest of my life, but I now value the time I had with them in new ways.  As I get older and have more experiences, those times with them take on new meanings and become more valuable to me; even though my loved ones are not literally “with me” anymore, my relationship with them and the meaning of their lives continue to grow and evolve for me, just like my relationships with those still living will do.  A large part of me was scared, in those years, that these people I cared about were really gone forever.  It’s a comfort in more ways than one to know that they are not: if you mean something to even one person, it’ll be the same when you go.  I know they’ll always be important in my life, even in small ways, and if I have any children, they’ll know it, too, just like I know how important my great-grandfather was to his children.

So, maybe I’m sadder than I was before ’04.  But like that other cliché, I’m wiser.  I’m more loved.  And I try to be more loving.  Things that seemed senseless when they happened have taken on a meaning I never would have expected because of what came after.  I can laugh about things that would just have made my heart ache before.

I’ll finish with an example: today, spending New Year’s Day with my family, my mom opened the newspaper and found an enormous crossword puzzle commemorating 2009.  She remarked that my grandpa, an avid crossword puzzler, would have been in his glory.

To this day, I can’t do a crossword puzzle to save my life, and my grandpa did them every day.  I’m the kind of person who thinks she can do them in pen, and then ends up with nonsense words or words that fit the clue but don’t at all fit the puzzle, and then has to give up because it’s such a mess.  But my grandpa was so confident with crossword puzzles, and he could finish every one he started.  I used to think when I was a kid, “Wow, my grandpa’s so smart!  He must know a lot of words!”

Back to January 2010, and I had forgotten about the one day I picked up a crossword puzzle he’d been working on.

“Remember how he used to make up words to fit in the spaces,” my sister said, “or just put in words that could maybe have been the answer but didn’t really fit?”

My grandpa was so much cooler than I thought.

This editorial is dedicated with gratitude to my friends and family who were with me through it all.

Happy New Year,
keito, The Editor
January 1, 2010

One Comment
  1. Julienne permalink
    January 4, 2010 3:03 pm

    Caitlin: This is brilliant and beautiful. Happy New Year to you and the whole TT family.

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