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How it all began

I began this blog because its’ a tribute of sorts to my wonderful, amazing life partner, who has taught me to view life through a lens of humour and creativity.

Respectively, we’re called by these nicknames:

Him: Monkey

Monkey profile180

Me: Rat

Rat profile181

We’re polar opposites. He’s logical and organized, I’m impulsive and chaotic. He gets distressed to see random pieces of paper laying around on a desk. For me, I use those papers as notepads, plates (ew), cleaning material, bookmarks. Years ago, when we met, he swore he would find a way to indoctrinate me in the ways of cleaning and organizing. As of now, he’s still trying, though progress is being made at “glacier speed”.

This blog is mostly about our domestic life together, our challenges, and the small stories and imaginary scenarios that make this modest life such a treasure and gift.

HOW WE MET: 

1. Rat Chronicles -crop-one2. Rat Chronicles -two3. Rat Chronicles -three date

Then it progressed. He found out more or less what I was…

4. Rat Chron-wallrat2015. Rat Chron-bed spider6. Rat Chron-what now216

So…he tried. That was some years ago.

Rat chron-clean245

 

 

Of course, nobody believes their romantic partner is ever going to be perfect. There are dealbreakers, such as heavy addiction to drugs, forced religious conversion, domestic violence, and unrepentant cheating. There’s a grey zone in between partner “pros” and “cons” that might as well be categorized as “weird shit.”

It’s the stuff that is neither evil nor good, but which just makes no sense whatsoever.

Rat Chronicles-Deze Nutz

 

Rat Chron-kimocute235

He also has…some ideas about what I’m like. Here’s how he sees me..

Rat chron-clean245

**His sketch of how I show up in his imagination and dreams**

hip thrust

**

Overcoming low self-esteem and inferiority complex (time x therapy)

A text-heavy entry this time. I was thinking about how lately, when people talk about the negative, critical voice in their heads, it feels like something that I once used to be core to my identity, which is now foreign or alien to me. Kind of like a childhood frenemy who you now have no feelings for, who you haven’t seen in 20 years and who would evoke no emotions, good or bad, if you actually did see them again.

For as long as I remember, I’ve had horrendous self-esteem. It’s bizarre to me, considering how much my parents love me and treated me kindly while growing up. During a trek with my father up a grassy mountain in the neighbourhood, he told me something I’d never forget — 「〇〇は自分を過小評価する癖がある。それを直そうとした方がいいよ。」Literally translated, “You have a tendency to undervalue yourself and your achievements. Try to fix that.”

I remember listening to those words, and feeling both filled with sadness and almost bursting into tears because I knew he was absolutely right; I had a highly distorted, low view of myself for as long as I could remember, but it was so badly distorted I had no way of what healthy and appropriate self-esteem really looked like.

I’ve kept a diary since I was 12 or 13, and the entries always fluctuated between two topics: one, I was so in awe of this beautiful world, I loved my family, I was so grateful for my life and home and family where I was. Two, I was the worst. I was stupid, ugly, fat (I weighed 105 lbs, always fluctuating between 96 and 110 lbs), destined to be hated, cursed to be the bullied at any moment in class, so flawed and pitiful I deserved to die a violent self-inflicted death.

If “being uncomfortable in one’s own skin” had a face, it would be mine. For most of my life through ages 6 – 32, I was always on the verge of tears at how inferior I was to everyone else in the world, even when that was objectively, manifestly untrue. My grades were good, so I wasn’t stupid. I’d won French speech making competitions, published stories, and held some kind of job at various workplaces (museums, hotels, restaurants) every year since I was 13. And yet because I was socially anxious, I thought I was doomed to isolation.

Where did this pathologically low self-esteem even come from, as someone with a fairly privileged and never subjected to parental abuse? How did that problem, which appeared to arise out of nowhere, keep me entangled in its branches like some parasitic tree, well throughout the early years after meeting my husband?

There was only one possible cause for the problem, and it was bullying throughout primary, secondary and high school. Unlike my family situation, which was as blissful and stable as anyone could hope, my school life was pure, relentless hell. It was almost comical how devoid of good memories my entire education has been. As the lone Asian kid in my class for most of those years, all it took was one kid in grade one to start asking uncomfortable questions:

“Why is your hair like that?”
“Where are you from?”
“Why are your eyes so weird?”

Soon, that one kid turned into everyone piling on:

“Ew! What’s that food in your lunchbox?”
“Why are you so short? You’re a shrimp.”

Those uncomfortable questions soon translated into kids forbidding me from sitting at the same table as them, kids refusing to be partnered with me for gym class, boys acting aggrieved and insulted if I was assigned to dance with them.


In retrospect, I played an active role in my own trauma. The smart thing to do when being bullied was to fight back. To build my self-esteem by mustering up courage and talking to other students. But I was far too proud and sensitive, and decided to reject my classmates with the same disdain they showed me.

Instead of putting myself out there and socializing to combat their prejudices, I assiduously avoided them; the fact that I was running from my fears made me ashamed, and more anxious of social situations, and corroded all the self-esteem that my parents had tried so hard to instil in me. To the six-year-old me, it was a waste of time to try to be accepted by them—my only salvation was to get away to a bigger city in university, and that turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I didn’t feel I could breathe in class until my first day on campus.

There are health impacts tied to poor self-image. By eighth grade, my sense of self was so distorted that just because one of my parents’ friends declared I was “obese” for my height (45kilos/100lbs, 5’1) and that I should really aim to be 40kilos/88lbs to look normal, I became determined to whittle my body fat down through relentless exercise and dieting. For whose approval? I still don’t know.

I’m not sure how eating disorders work for other families, but growing up with home-cooked meals where food was a big part of expressing love (we weren’t huggers), refusing to eat was never an option. That’s why despite recognizing that what I was doing was wrong, I became a full-blown bulimic in my early teens. I harboured an irrational, fanatical hatred for my “chubby” body which was in fact, if anything, slightly underweight (I’ve been fully recovered since the end of university after realizing there were better things to do than wrapping measuring tapes around body parts).

Today, I recognize that body-hatred for what it truly was: an inverted narcissism, beating myself up over body fat that literally nobody else cared about, probably not even the “family friend” who told me I was fat. As someone with anxiety and non-existent confidence, however, I clung on to every piece of criticism in my inbox, and made efforts to reach whatever standard was deemed necessary to escape further scrutiny. My heart aches when I hear about young girls being made to sit on a washing machine by their toxic boyfriends, who would order them to lose the fat in every part of their body that jiggled while the machine was on. Even though they appear completely idiotic, in an earlier time, that probably, definitely would have been me.

I slowly started to change my self perception after meeting my now-husband. He never said anything specific that really helped boost my self-image, but did things like seek out my opinion and check in with how I was feeling. In the early years of our relationship, I was completely unable to even register my opinions/wants, being wholly obsessed with figuring out what he wanted, so we could just do exactly what he wanted and avoid all disagreement.

Only after realizing that he actually valued hearing my thoughts, and that disagreement didn’t mean the end of our relationship, I became more articulate about voicing them. When my views clashed with his, I no longer reflexively amended my opinion to match his, and learned to enjoy our different points of view.

Finding a therapist who actually connected with me also had a huge plus. To be fair, he was about the 8th therapist in total who I’d spoken to, but all the others made no tangible difference in my negative pattern of thinking. I had actually enlisted my new therapist for my husband, but he helped me work on my anxiety for a whole year, until he observed that there was simply no more issues to be worked on anymore. He helped me confront my past and helped me reframe it so that I was no longer a helpless victim, but more of a survivor who still ended up becoming a functional adult despite a hellish stretch of school years.

Lastly, I got over myself by meeting people who had far bigger problems than I ever did. So what if I was bullied? Try being homeless. Low self-esteem? Surely it wasn’t as bad as spending your entire childhood in a religious fundamentalist cult. Something my mother always said saved me from going down dark paths: “You’re the protagonist. Act like the protagonist of your story.” A small remark from my father halted my descent into eating disorders before I went much lighter than 90 lbs — “Your body is meant to function. It’s no good to just look skinny if your body can’t function properly (at this point I hadn’t had a period in several years; I was shaking from hunger at various points of the day).

These days, when I hear those old self-critical, negatives voices within my head (a rarity these days), I don’t take them to heart and react to them the way I used to. It’s a bit like “new phone who dis”saying — those awful messages of self-doubt feel like they’re not even intended for me. The harsh, self-critical words don’t hurt my feelings when they come up because I know they’re unwarranted, exaggerated, not rooted in reality.

I just take those words and hit “spam/block number” in my heart, putting it back into the void where it belongs.

Happy birthday card

It’s a small discovery and this is definitely not the best example of my work but I learned while making Christmas cards for loved ones in December that this is the activity that relaxes me the most. Illustrating and creating small cards for people I appreciate in my life.
My mother お母さん gave me one of the most precious memories in my entire existence by saying how marvellous she found my drawings, (I drew one a lot more detailed than this one for her, putting into illustrations all the small objects that defined me and my brothers’ childhoods) and how they transported her to a dream-like world 夢の国みたい。For me that’s really the most precious gift I could have. To know that my art isn’t meaningless, that it does do something for someone.

And now, after 4 hours of sleep , I’m going to find a good gift for her birthday.

A quick story about finding yourself

I was about to throw the box out, when it suddenly opened for me.

The wooden box, which was locked, stuck for the last four years, was an eyesore on my desk that I would have gotten rid of long ago, were it not for the fact that I didn’t know what was in it.

When I picked it up and shook it, it jangled. Something was in there, but it wasn’t clear what. And this year, during my New Year cleaning, after wiping all the floors, I got tired of looking at old things that took up space. I was tired of looking at the locked box, and picked it up to chuck in the garbage bag. But just before I did, almost out of accident, I flicked the box latch.

Click.

Like magic, the box sprung open. I gasped when I saw the contents.

Inside, were the opal-and-gold earrings and necklace I’d received from my Dad 20 years ago, which had accompanied me to 5 different countries I’d lived in, that were so deeply treasured and had suddenly disappeared on me some years ago. They had weighed heavily on my conscience these past several years, as it forced me to question how I could lose something I valued so much, and wasn’t that a metaphor for the way I treated my gifts?

Inside was the beautiful white brooch that was a gift from my fellow writer friend, the ceramic brooch smooth to the touch.

There inside the box were my long brass earrings, gifted to me by my then-boyfriend, now beloved husband, which he chose for me specifically to help my short neck appear longer.

And finally, inside was my oldest piece of jewelry of all — a string necklace with a beautiful clear glass vial, containing sand shaped like stars and a single grain of rice with my name written on it.

I was thunderstruck. I felt like I was made whole. For all this time, I’d been searching and searching for this jewelry. I’d come to believe I would never find it again, that somehow I’d lost it because I’d gotten too wrapped up in the ordeals of daily life, and forgotten the core essence of who I was.

I’d searched high and low for these lost treasures of mine. I gave up on them. I forgot them, or tried to forget them, even though every few weeks my mind would drift back to the opals, the brooch, the earrings, the star necklace, wondering where they were.

“That’s where you were,” I said aloud, looking in tearful disbelief at the box, which I was just about to throw in the trash. “All this time. That’s where you were.”

Over the last four years, as an attempt to get past the storm that was my life. Just surviving, just getting through, just staying small and trying to stay out of the line of attack. My shoulders ache from all the times I attempted to shrink and disappear, not to be seen, because to stand out or speak out was the one thing I was not allowed to do.

And here, just as I had written and scheduled my resignation from the job that was the source of both my pride and heartbreak, the box — the locked box — opened up like magic.

Every once in awhile, there are moments when I feel that there is a gentle force watching over me. I was so surprised and moved. I feel like 2021 is going to be a more joyful year than ever, when I’m more in touch with my authentic self and I the two halves of me are put together and whole again.

The Hell Courtesan

I’ve ordered a new book – Kyosai Kawanabe’s prints. They’re gorgeous, gory, and utterly fascinating. I showed my partner and within the third page or so there’s a graphic of a guy having full on anal intercourse with another guy, then a beheading, then a giant cat with two tails. It’s a fun and terrifying visual journey and good inspiration for my story.

Rat bruxing when spoken to

Of my two female rats (sisters), Lucy is the perennially shy one that still acts like it’s an alien abduction when I try to pick her up. She treats me — her Rat Mom — mostly like a creepy older male co-worker and runs away when I try to pet her, but lately I’ve found something that helps her enjoy my company a bit more.

Talking.

She really, really enjoys being talked to. I noticed that when I sit about a foot away on the floor, at eye level or lower, and just whisper sweet nothings to her, her whole body relaxes and she starts bruxing and boggling in happiness.

So lately, I’ve been reading stories to her, chatting about daily goings-on, and paying her compliments like “You’re so pretty” and “Such a good cute rat!”
But those topics got old, fast, so I update her a lot about political news.

Needless to say, it looks very weird to outsiders.

Jigoku Dayuu (Hell Courtesan) 地獄太夫

Jigoku Tayuu (地獄太夫), the “Hell Courtesan,” is a character who has been fascinating for me since I first read about her in high school or university.
Known as the daughter of a Samurai (therefore of noble blood) of the Muromachi Period in Japan (1336 to 1573) Jigoku Dayuu was apparently abducted while young and forced to work as a high-class tayuu (太夫), or high-class courtesans.

She lamented her fate, and didn’t dress in the gorgeous kimonos that were the standard of courtesans — she wore a kimono depicting hellish images, fire, skeletons, blood. It was dark imagery, but she was legendary for her beauty regardless, and was once visited by the famous Buddhist Monk Ikkyu, who was impressed by her wisdom and strong character.

It was said that they exchanged some witty one-liner observations about their respective social positions, and became friends afterward.

Jigoku Tayuu died young (of course!) and famously left behind instructions not to cremate her or bury her, but to “simply leave her body in the fields to feed the bellies of starving dogs.” A compassionate, wonderful thought. But, it’s said that she was buried anyway with respect and not left for the dogs to eat, which she actually would not have considered an insult.
She might be too dark for a YA book. But I’m strongly considering her as a key character in my yokai fantasy.

Rat’s vet visit

This isn’t related to my yokai comic, Rika and the Hundred Demon March (first few pages of that coming soon) but my mini-comic on recent adventures in rat ownership and vet care.

I’ve been sleep-deprived for about 2 weeks, fearful and paranoid and unsure how to go forward. So much has been out of my control. But with time being so precious for rats, the only thing to do is to move forward.