I don’t have what some call “a head for figures.” School math did not come easily to me; I did OK by virtue of my ingrained fear of failure. My sons, aged 8 and 6, already display that automatic way with numbers that will never be mine, because I was not made that way. Lost in bewilderment and panic, my friend Nichole and I endured many a high school physics lab, all other heads around us nodding in complete understanding of Mr. Calamia’s explanation. In college I took the bare minimum of required credit hours in math, which did me no favors when I was preparing years later for the GRE. I somehow managed to avoid any in-depth study of statistics in my graduate program, much to the chagrin of some hard-core professor-types in the department.
I always went to words for refuge. Although my nature craves logic, clean lines, and organization when it comes to, say, interior design or board games, the many shades and ambiguities, nuances, truths and un-truths of language never cease to fascinate me. And I find the older I get, the more accepting I am of all the gray areas that defy definition. Literature is a great love of mine, but I am not above reading In Style magazine and Jodi Picoult. If you love language for language’s sake, there are thrills to be had most anywhere.
Which leads to this keyboard, my husband’s laptop, which features all the ABC’s plus two full Japanese syllabaries, which in turn mask a Pandora’s box of Chinese kanji characters that number in the thousands. A linguist’s playground, if you will. I came to Japan on one linguistic mission that has evolved into quite another. I arrived on these shores as an ambassador of the English language, ready to touch down briefly, teach, and move on. Treading lightly on foreign soil would require little of me in the way of language learning, and I could be forgiven the occasional cultural faux pas to boot. Sixteen years on, and I have committed not only countless hours to the study of Japanese, but also my life–I married a native and bore him two sons. And so I have bought myself some insurance–words, and their context in the larger scheme of my life, will and must figure into the picture.
And there is an irony. I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, USA, with its inches and miles per hour and ounces and degrees Fahrenheit. To measure, to drive, to cook, to check for fever–I am constantly called upon to do math in my head. Although if I were to be honest, I would have to admit that I don’t do the conversions as much as know instinctively that I can drive up to 80 on the highway here and should definitely do so if my child has a temperature of 40.
For I live in a planet ahead–thirteen or fourteen hours ahead of Eastern Standand Time, depending on the time of year. The addition and subtraction of hours, not to mention changing of dates, for phone calls to family, businesses, and the like, had to become second nature. But I still mess it up sometimes. I recently retired the dual time zone watch my husband purchased for me in 1998 (before we were married), and I have to say I miss using it to cheat.