The Bear Spray Incident

The day started. It was a mellow, sad morning with many tearful goodbyes to my Clarion West classmates. Okay, I have to go home. I’m going to do this thing. I arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport three hours before my Japan flight, paid 75 bucks for my overweight suitcase (still loads cheaper than had I sent the books by post), and I trekked off to clear security and find my gate.

That’s when things went south.

The line for security didn’t look that long — heck, I still had two and a half hours before boarding — but some TSA agent seemed to think otherwise.

“While this line looks short it’s not. It’s not moving at all. You all need to go to Check Point Three all the way on the other side of this building. The line over there looks really long, but it’s actually moving quickly and you’ll get through a lot faster and still be able to make it back to this side of the airport to get to your gates.”


When in doubt trust the guy with the walkie-talkie I always say. So me and about fifty other passengers take off in the direction he pointed. But the stampede bottlenecked and there were three ladies with signs that read: “End of Line” and they were milling about and several of our group were joining those lines and someone was yelling, “This is for a Southwest flight”, and it was just a mess.

I’m of single-minded intent here. I do NOT want to miss my flight to Japan and have to spend the night in a freaking airport, so I start grabbing people and asking where the heck is Check Point Three. Someone wearing something that resembles a uniform and what might be a walkie-talkie on his pocket tells me I want to go all the way down by the Starbucks. That way. Just keep walking. I start to hurry away when a tall, longhaired, bespectacled (and cute!) German guy grabs my shirt and asks am I flying Delta and do I know what’s going on. I say, yes, I am and no, I don’t, but follow me.

And he does.

We find our destination and line up. The line is nuts, longer than that first line and snaking back on itself over and over again. But whatever, right? The first dude-of-authority said this one was moving faster.

No sooner had I put my backpack on my wheeled carryon to rest than there was a weird commotion right in the line that was running next to us. People started coughing, like serious hacking and choking and shit. It was rippling up the line toward us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in Japan for 23 years it’s that you always carry a handkerchief with you. I pulled mine out, put it over my mouth and nose, and reached for my phone. The whole thing escalated quickly. More and more people were coughing. But it hadn’t completely sunk in something was really wrong. I took a photo.



It’s blurry but it’s heart breaking because I realize  when I looked at it later that I took it the moment right after I witnessed a dad grab a towel or handkerchief from his pocket press it to his daughter’s face and scream for her to hold it tight and not take it off. You can see her standing there while  her dad and mom try to get their bags on the conveyer belt for screening as fast as they can.

It’s here that I kind of say really loudly – because no one’s saying it – “What the hell’s going on?” Some lady runs by and tells me we’ve been pepper sprayed. Fuck. So I grab my German guy and tell him we’ve got to get out of here. He agrees.

In the short span of time that followed several things happened. People began to get really scared. The TSA and other security in the airport went from not knowing what was going on, to being mildly concerned, to screaming at us to get out of the building. My German guy (whom I’ll call E because I did learn his name and while there’s no way he’ll ever find this blog I don’t feel cool using it) and I are trying to get away while one TSA agent is screaming and pushing at us to go stand on the sidewalk outside. I look up at E and say if we go outside there’s no way we’ll make our flights. He agrees and we sneak by everyone trying to herd us in a different direction and meander our way back to our original check point.

The line there is easily three times as long but what choice do we have? We saddle up behind a cute elderly couple from Georgia and prepare to move very slowly. The three of them were troopers. They pushed my carryon along as I kept jumping out of line to try and figure out what was going on. I bought E some water and the four of us chatted about all sorts of stuff. A fun but also a harrowing two hours because I was sure I’d miss my flight. In the end we all stuck together and got through. It turned out our departing gates were all next to each other: S1, S2, S3. We shook hands said our goodbyes and I stifled the urge to ask them all to take a selfie with me. (I might be regretting this now.)

The 11-hour flight was fine but my lungs ached a bit and there were more than a few people with coughs. Also, a tiny bit of irony: Before I went to Clarion West, before we all met in real life there was a question going around our ListServ: What spirit animal are you? My answer was a bear.

Then six weeks later I was bear sprayed. Well played, Universe. Well played.

Three Expat Women. Three international love stories. One book giveaway.

Do you know what I love more than a good memoir?  More that two good memoirs?

Yep, THREE good memoirs!

And there’s even a giveaway. Click below for details.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ve already started reading Leza’s book and am enjoying it immensely. Years ago I heard Tracy read a bit from hers (it was still a work in progress), but I was intrigued even then. And while I haven’t started  Shannon’s yet, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a trifecta.

1) Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras

By Leza Lowitz
At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Leza and her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood.
Stonebridge Press, June 2015

2) The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, & Home on the Far Side of the World
By Tracy Slater
The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world–a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English–she must choose between the existence she’d meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected: messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.
Putnam/Penguin, June 30, 2015

3) Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman’s Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong
By Shannon Young
In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. She thinks their long distance romance is over, but a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong—alone. She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats, and discovers a family history of her own in Hong Kong. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, has called Year of Fire Dragons “a riveting coming of age story” and “a testament to the distance people will travel for love.”
Blacksmith Books, June 7, 2015


Japanese Picture Books

I was walking through the kid’s section of the bookstore the other day when this beauty caught my eye:

PB tengoku



How absolutely awesome, I thought. It’s a picture book about paradise, or Buddhist heaven.


Hey, wait. If they have a book about gokuraku“-極楽,  they surely must have a book about…


And they did!

PB jigoku



There it is. A picture book about Buddhist jigoku-地獄.

So cool. So cool.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. It wasn’t two days later when I was browsing the library that this lovely piece of work stopped me in my tracks.

PB oshiri


An entire picture book on animal butts. And if my guess is correct, will probably end with a nice pink human one!

(No, really. I need to go back and thumb through that one. Just for curiosity’s sake.)

Okay, okay, but really,  it doesn’t end there (or maybe it *does* end there).

Alas, no Japanese bookstore or library is complete without a book about…

PB Unko


Hold on. It’s better than that. It’s not a book about poop. It’s an entire set of (karuta) cards on the subject.

Unko Karuta.

Screenshot 2015-05-02 08.54.56


I’ll let that haunt your thoughts for awhile…


The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship

I am tickled pink to announce that I have won this year’s Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship.  I would like to give a world of thanks to The Horror Writers Association for providing female horror writers with such a wonderful opportunity to invest in and hone their craft.  And thanks and appreciation also to the HWA Scholarship Committee: Ellen Datlow, Vince Liaguno, and Marge Simon.

I plan to study hard and make them proud!

My Anti-New Year’s Noodles

On New Year’s Eve in Japan everyone (and I mean everyone) eats something called toshikoshi soba, year-crossing soba noodles. It’s a thing.  And it’s delicious.

If you ask around you’ll hear loads of reasons why you’re supposed to eat these specific noodles on New Year’s Eve. The main one, though, is that the soba represents the way you wish to live: hosoku nagaku. In other words,  you’re hoping to live a thin and long life. The thin translates as not too extravagant. You know,  living modest and within your means. Sounds reasonable.

We have participated in this tradition every December 31st since I’ve been married, usually buying soba from the store and fixing it ourselves or going out to eat in a noodle shop. But this past New Year’s Eve I decided to level up. I’d make my own.

First, I bought some soba-ko, soba flour.


Second, I watched about three dozen Youtube videos to get the technique down.

Next, the fun began. Actually, everything went rather smoothly. Although a true soba enthusiast might say my noodles were a little thick. But, hey, I always thought the living modestly to be a bit boring.

Cutting Soba

I got them all cut and nicely jostled.

Soba Noodles

And that’s when a problem arose. I made the noodles at noon, but I wasn’t planning on cooking them until supper, six-ish. I figured it would be okay to air dry the puppies. What could go wrong, I thought. But as the day progressed and I checked on them they began to get sticky. So I did the thing anyone would do. I sprinkled them with flour and re-jostled them. I did that like four or five times before dinner.

Come six o’clock I make a bunch of tempura and put the water on to boil. I drop the soba oh-so-carefully into the pot, making sure to time them precisely. I’m really getting excited now.

That’s when it happened. My timer beeps and I go to dump the noodles into the colander and ended up with this:

Too Short Soba

All the noodles broke into tiny pieces. Delicious, but we had to eat them with a spoon. And not only that but kinda a really sucky omen. Instead of living a thin and long life…how about a short and kinda chunky life. Oh dear.

I then announced to my sulky family that the thousands of tiny pieces of soba meant we’d have thousands of good lucks the coming year. They still looked a little glum but decided it best to agree with me.

A problem remained, however, what to do with the left over soba chunks? There was still quite a bit left after our meal.

It took me a day of pondering, but in the end I figured it out. I heated up some olive oil and tossed those little guys in there, fried them up nice and crispy, and then sprinkled them with salt.

Soba chips!

Fried Soba Chips

Now THEY were delicious!

The moral of the story: When you’re going to screw up a long-honored Japanese tradition, reinvent it, deep fry it, and eat it with salt.