Monday, December 31, 2012

The View

I had the day to myself (only five work emails!) and caught up with laundry, grocery shopping, and other chores.  I didn't go out for a long walk as I'd hoped because my sneakers were still drying out after last night's umbrella malfunction in the middle of a torrential downpour, but I was able to enjoy a little sunshine from the apartment.  This is what my view looks like:

To the Right
(Reminds me of LA!)
(Note the elevated expressway.)
To the Left
(Finally, some blue sky!)
Our views at the office are better (Mt. Fuji, Imperial Palace, etc.), but I don't enjoy them often because I have an interior office.  I need to remember to take a break every once and a while and walk by some of the exterior windows.

Happy New Year's Eve!

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Since arriving in Tokyo at the end of October, I've eliminated 10% of my remaining student loan debt.  Ironic, given that Tokyo is a famously expensive city, but a COLA and free housing make all the difference.  Glad I was aggressive enough to give up my apartment at home and nearly all of my reoccurring expenses.  (iPhone, I miss you!)  Every.  Dollar.  (Yen?)  Counts.

Since graduation, I have paid the minimum payment on my student loans and car loan, maxed out my 401(k) contributions, made a modest contribution to savings, and funneled all remaining cash at month-end to another financial obligation which, happily, was met in full just before I took off for Tokyo.  It is a great feeling to direct my month-end cash to student loan repayment instead.

The relief I feel when paying off a loan in full makes me realize how much my student loans weigh on me on a day-to-day basis.  This from someone who had modest scholarships from both her grad programs, worked part-time every semester, and got lucky with a high-end salary after graduation!  It could be so much worse... I have been incredibly fortunate, but still find my student loans influencing even the smallest decisions in my day-to-day life.

The extra payments I'll be able to make while I'm here will take years off of my loan repayment.  Years.  That's one of the things I think about when I'm feeling homesick.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas in the Office

Christmas may not be an official holiday in Japan, but folks around here do get into the spirit.  Check out the Christmas tree that was in the lobby of our office building:

Missing my iPhone. This was taken by a Blackberry.
I saw trees like this one at the swanky apartment building near the station.  The ANA Intercontinental had a "tree" made of poinsettias that was really cool.  Tokyo Midtown had a "tree" made of ornaments strung on transparent cord.  But I ended up with only one picture.  The American in me assumed that once the crazy push at the office subsided, I would have time to walk around and enjoy the decorations. Leave it to the Japanese to have all the trees taken down by the time I left the office on Christmas Day (11:30pm, for those keeping track)!

The good news is that the firm kept me so busy, I didn't have time to feel lonely or homesick on Christmas.  The bad news is that I worked through the night on my birthday (except that one hour nap... on the floor), did the same on Christmas Eve (which is a day off here--its the Emperor's birthday), and worked a full day on Christmas.

Second year in a row working past midnight on my birthday.
Second year in a row working on Christmas.

Not the end of the world given that I'm out here by myself, but I can't imagine what it feels like to find yourself doing the same with a spouse and kids at home.  And even for someone who doesn't have a spouse or child, I think working two Christmases in a row is enough.  Next year, it's my turn to have the day off.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Between my upcoming birthday and the end of the year, I've been thinking a lot about the past--reflecting on a few areas of my life that haven't been going well for a long time.  I noticed that I'd been humming Gravity by Sara Bareilles on and off all day and then connected the dots.  This is a favorite piece of choreography from SYTYCD and expresses what I've been thinking and feeling.

The choreographer intended the piece to tell a story about drug addiction, but I think it applies to any influence that pulls you in to a dark place when you let your guard down.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Little Brother Got Engaged

Heard about it via email from parent.  They've been dating a year and a couple months... have only met her once (thanks to living in Tokyo).  Happy for them!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Card

Took a break from work today to walk through some of the shops in our building and happened upon this cute pop-up card that made me smile:

Note the second Santa from the left who has had too many beers!
Christmas isn't a real holiday in Japan--we don't get the day off work--but the "holiday" is certainly acknowledged in the commercial sense.  I'm noticing Christmas music frequently in Roppongi Hills (admittedly, an expat area) and there are a number of beautifully decorated Christmas trees around town.  I'm going to try to carry my camera the next couple of weeks so that I can snap a few pictures to share.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When I Get Back...

Even though I've been in Tokyo just two months, I've been thinking a lot about what life will be like when I get back to the US.  There's nothing like being far, far away to bring your likes into sharp contrast with your dislikes.  It also seems easier to focus on what I want and feel less guilty about giving up on things or people who have been keeping me from making my life what I want it to be.

I will return to the US the week of my 10 year college reunion.  I will be two months shy of my 33rd birthday and just about done with my third year at the firm.  I will still have some student loans (but will be way ahead of where I once thought I would be).  My car will be paid off.  All of my belongings will still be in a storage unit.  I will be able to choose a new place to live in LA or an entirely new city to live in.  It's an opportunity to get started on the right foot.

First, I am going to give the dogs a big snuggle.  I miss them so very much already.

Second, I'm going to my reunion come hell or high water.  I missed my 5th year because I was worried about money and missing class and have regretted it since.  I want to see the familiar faces.  I want to walk aimlessly around campus.  I want to go to the football game and shake my head at how young the cheerleaders look.  I want to be inspired by the amazing things my friends have been up to in the last decade.

Third, I'm going to take at least three weeks off of work.  Based on the pace of work here, I suspect I will have more than met our annual requirement by the time I leave Tokyo; and, during the transition between offices, I am not likely to be assigned to any deals.  Given that I haven't taken a vacation since joining the firm and don't expect to be able to do so this year, it will be about time for some time off (not to mention that I'm about to reach our vacation cap and stop accruing time). I hope I can spend most of that time in Austin.

Fourth, I am going to live where I want to live.  Not where the firm wants me to live.  Not where a boyfriend (or a boyfriend's ex-wife) wants me to live.  Where I want to live.  In a place that feels safe.  In a neighborhood that's at least a little bit walkable.  In a location with access to a grocery store with a nice produce selection.  In an apartment/condo/whatever that gets some natural light.  Most of all, in a place where I can stay for more than a year.

Fifth, I am going to stop waiting to get married to live my life.  I promise to stop feeling like a second class citizen because no one has chosen me.  (It kinda feels like being the leftover kid who doesn't get picked for a team, except that it's not P.E., it's life!)  The vacation I've been "saving" for a honeymoon one day--I'm going to take it.  During the holidays, I'm going to get a little Christmas tree, decorate, and make some Christmas cookies even thought it's "just me."  I am going to live in a place I like instead of living in a place that makes me uncomfortable just to save money to impress Ben with how financially responsible I've been.

Sixth, I am going to decide if I want to be a mom badly enough to go it alone.  I have been thinking about this for a long time already, but have a lot of unresolved practical concerns.  Is it fair to the baby?  Can I build a strong enough network that a baby who would have no siblings and no dad would still feel like he/she had a "family" of some sort?  Who would take care of the baby if I die sooner than I'd like to think I should? I have spent a lot of time waiting for Ben to propose so that we can start a family together. He keeps telling me he wants to get married, but nothing happens and I don't understand why that is. This is why I think I need to face the possibility of moving on all on my own.

And, seventh, I'm going to try to take some more pride in who I am.  Today, as I stepped into the elevator at the office, I looked at my reflection (who thinks it's a good idea to mirror every surface of an elevator and then lights the space with harsh fluorescents?) and felt... deflated? sad? embarrassed?  From my hair, to my glasses, to my makeup, to the clothes I was wearing--I looked like a person who has given up.  And I think, in real life (when I'm not giving myself a blog-based pep talk), the way I talk about myself has changed and my assessment of my self-worth has changed too.

I've missed out on some opportunities and milestones, but it's far too early to give up.  I am more than my job.  Just because structural problems have made it hard for me to bill "enough" hours the last couple years, does not mean that I am failing as a person.  Just because I feel invisible in Tokyo, doesn't mean I'm ugly and completely unattractive.  I'm not married because I stayed committed to relationships that weren't working way longer than I should have, not because I have nothing to offer.  I want to stop making things harder than they need to be.

In 2012, the best thing I did for myself was return to the dance studio.  It gave me something to look forward to, a way to make some new friends, a reminder that there is at least one thing that comes relatively easy to me, and an excuse to dress up and feel pretty for a few hours.  I still sometimes feel guilty about the time and money I spent on dance this year, but on balance I think it was, hands down, the best thing that I did for my well-being in 2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Because of the holidays, because I'm an ocean away from my family and friends, because of my stark temporary apartment, because I'll be working on Christmas, because I'm not married and don't have any kids, because I'm lonely... all the holiday photos in my newsfeed are making me burst into tears.  Starting my own family and creating our own holiday traditions... it's something I've wanted for a long time, but, now, I can feel it slipping through my fingers in a way that's too real.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Pep Talk to Self

This morning, I woke up wearing the clothes I'd worn at work the day before.  I was sitting up, on the couch in my temporary apartment, with my laptop and notes in my lap, and a pen in my hand.  The timer on our billing software was still running.  I had a terrible headache and a stiff neck.

(I'm just glad I got to come home and--against my will, apparently--got some sleep.)

This is the sort of thing that would be tough at home.  I'd be missing the dogs or fuming about canceling a dance class.  I'd be wanting Ben to come visit, but worried I couldn't invite him because work was too busy.  But I'm here to work, to catch up, to grow my deal sheet and cram in as much drafting as I can.

Here, there are no distractions.  I don't even have to wash my own dishes--the housekeeper, who comes two times a week as part of the serviced apartment contract, does that.  Seriously, you guys, it's a bizarre, one-dimensional existence.  I know (and hope!) it will never be like this again.

I gave up a year of my personal life to collect the bargaining chips I'll need to correct course and land in the right city and job to allow for a full, well-rounded life when I get home.  Odds are in my favor so far.  I'm getting exposure and experience and I'm learning.  It feels great to check agreement types off of my drafting to-do list (this week alone: shareholders agreement, share subscription agreement, general release, cause marketing vendor contract, and diligence memorandum).  I'm also getting "paid" more while I'm here (the firm provides the serviced apartment and a COLA), which is allowing me to prepare financially for settling down when I get back to the US.

With my birthday and Christmas coming up, I will need to read and re-read this post to keep myself from descending into that dark and ugly place of self-pity that seems to be just around the corner at any given time.  I'll be here for the holidays and my birthday.  I will be missing my family and friends and American holiday traditions.  It will be sad and lonely.  But I have got to keep it together and remember that every day I'm here, I'm gaining more control over my future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Shaking Things Up

We had a few earthquakes this week. At or before 6am, I noticed an earthquake too big to be just my imagination as I was running a redline and trying to get a document emailed out to another associate after working through the night. Later, at about 5:30pm, there was a 7.2M quake. The quake was long enough for me to log on to social media to post about it, instant message with a number of co-workers, think about getting under my desk, decide not to get under my desk, and start working again all before the quake ended. (This was much less scary than the March 2011 earthquake that I experienced from the same floor of the the same office building.) Our building kept moving for 17 minutes after the quake was over.

Also, this week, was my review. Given my own frustrations with how things have been going at work, the firm's evaluation of me was much more positive than I expected. I was evaluated as exceeding expectations in a number of categories, particularly business development (the whole bringing in a client as a 2nd year thing was a stroke of luck, really, but they appreciated it). Happily, I will move on to the next salary level in 2013--my first ever raise at a full-time job. (In fairness, this sort of salary bump is relatively automatic in a firm like ours, but since I did not receive a salary bump last year because the group didn't have enough work, I am particularly happy to progress to the next level.)

Speaking of work, I had a tough week trying to balance five different major projects plus three minor projects. I don't think I did a job of keep the senior folks on all the major projects aware of the competing deadlines and, as a result, didn't sleep a couple of nights in a row and felt like my work product wasn't up to standard. Coming from a much slower office, this is the first time I've experienced this--really need to do a better job managing my work.

One of the major challenges is working with people in too many time zones. I've worked on cross-border deals before, but those deals have included just one overseas jurisdiction and it was relatively easy to adjust my work and sleep schedule accordingly. For the last month and a half, I've been working simultaneously with counterparts across the US, Latin America, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe. Someone is always awake and emailing you. In order to keep the project moving forward, it's very tempting to stay up "just a few more hours" to make progress with local counsel in jurisdiction X. What a slippery slope!

Growing pains, really, that's what it is. Still, I want to do better!

There is nothing other than work going on. I'm okay with that because my goal for my year in Tokyo is to develop and get "catch up" experience, but this wouldn't be how I would want to live indefinitely. I miss my family and friends, and I miss having a well-rounded life (dancing!).

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Texas BBQ in Tokyo

On Saturday night, I went out to White Smoke for Texas BBQ in Azabu.  I was skeptical, but pleasantly surprised.  They have a smoker on their first floor and the meat was on par with County Line or Salt Lick (well-known Texas BBQ joints I frequented when I lived in Austin, Texas).  White Smoke has room for improvement when it comes to the sides--cornbread and biscuits could definitely be better (both were dry and the biscuits were downright hard).  But they have the pecan pie down!  I had a taste of a friend's slice and was surprised by the generous quantity and great taste of the toasted pecans.

I have been having some trouble with my appetite since I moved to Tokyo and just haven't been eating much.  Saturday night was the first time in a long time that I left a meal feeling completely satisfied!