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East and West: Bitch of a Month

May 29, 2014

By Angela Jeffs

In her book WRITING FROM THE HEART, Nancy Slonim Aronie has some interesting things to say about transition. And right now, I need some help. Why? Because I am being vile to my partner.

My sense of frustration is huge, and I’ve no idea where it comes from. Everything he says and does irritates, as in rubs me up the wrong way. I hear myself reacting – hear the things I am saying – and am appalled. I feel like a nag. A harridan. A bully. A bitch.

It isn’t his fault after all. He is doing and saying nothing different. If he has not changed, does this mean I have? If so, it’s certainly for the worse, because right now I’m neither a nice or easy person to live with.

Quoting a psychologist friend, Nancy writes that “transitions are the hardest times for people”. She says transitions are difficult because “they make you face the unknown”.

Right now I am facing the unknown of deteriorating health, and that is without doubt adding to my frustration (and possibly, though I find it hard to admit, anxiety).

There is a lot to look after here – the cottage, the land – and I find myself increasingly limited in what I can do physically. This means relying more and more on my be-loved, and he is not used to a rural life: he does not see what I feel needs to be done, which means I am constantly pushing and demanding. My tone of voice right now is not pleasant. And being the kind sweet passive man he is, he takes it on the chin rather than calming me down, putting me in my place. This annoys me too. Because I hate asking for help in the first place. Always have.

Nancy believes that culturally westerners have a much harder time with change because “they are raised to think everything should stay hunky-dory, and when it doesn’t, they are convinced they’re just the one unlucky slob that the fickle finger of dumpage has found.” She credits all those childrens’ stories that end with the line, ‘and so they lived happily ever after.’

Is this why my Japanese partner is finding life so relatively easy, and I continue to struggle? Did I really think we would move here and live happily ever after? I think not. More that I expected difficulty and he did not. We get what we manifest, maybe.

The reality is that nothing remains permanent. Everything changes. All the time.

We are born. We live, getting older, weaker… We die.

Transition, Nancy continues, is the shedding of the  snakeskin. “You don’t hear the snake saying, ‘I can’t let go of the whole thing. I just need to keep a little clump – just in case. Nature has the thing designed to perfection. Transitions are less painful if you remember they are a leap, not a schlep.” (Schlep meaning heavy and awkward to carry, or a tedious, difficult journey…)

Well I am a snake (born 1941), and a snake approaching yet another birthday: time to shed another skin, slither clean, shining and awake into another timeline.

But I am neither clean nor shining nor awake right now. I am sticky (as in stuck). Dark (as in brooding, bowed under a burden). And conscious only of my unconsciousness. Back in my head, running an old programme of churning confusion.

Nancy considers transition to be a death of sorts, and this is surely true. But only if we allow the past to die, be relegated to history, rather than held up as a mirror of how life ought to be now. What am I not still allowing to die? And why am I holding it against my partner who in his own acceptance and embrace of this new life does nothing but try to help us both move forward.

Do I still have one foot in the old life and “one foot poised  - not quite set down – in the new life?”

Am I resentful that he is finding life so easy? I’m the one experiencing culture shock, not him.

I’m certainly cross that he seems not know what to do… or how to do it. But that is nor his fault. He has learned how to chop wood, clean the stove and lay a fire, work the strimmer and mower. And he being who he is, he does them according to the book (as in manual), taking far longer than I regard as necessary. Another irritation.

Mainly, I realise, we are going through that period of so-called ‘retirement’. Not that either of us have stopped working, and indeed, never will. How can a writer, or a translator for that matter, ‘retire’?

But moving here has thrown us together 24 hours a day, and personally I am used to having – and needing –  my own space.

All those years as a freelance in London, my bedroom was my office.

In Japan, my partner was out before I woke up and back just as I was readying for bed. So initially I had the space to myself all day long, and later we both acquired studies of our own.

Now we work side by side just a few metres from one another. And I hate it.  I write what needs to be written but no more. I have not touched my next book (edited and ready to go) since arrival, 18 months ago.

So, irritation, frustration, anger, resentment. All churning around in a toxic pigswill of emotion.

I need to deal with it. Get a handle on it. Move on.

In the meantime, meet the bitch of the month.

Also by Angela:

- East and West: Stepping Stones

- East and West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 3)

- East and West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 2)

- East and West: Putting Japan to Rest (part 1)

- East and West: Walking the Wood

- East and West: Clearing the burn


About the author: After training in theatre and Laban dance, Angela Jeffs ( stepped sideways into London publishing. She worked freelance as an editor from 1973, then reinvented herself in Japan as a journalist and writer from 1986. She was a weekly columnist for The Japan Times for 22 years, and Japan Correspondent for Asia Magazine in Hong Kong from 1989-1996. Her book Insider's Tokyo, commissioned from Singapore, was published in 2001. Since 2005 she has been developing and facilitating a programme of therapeutic creative writing under the title Drawing on The Writer Within. Her latest book, Chasing Shooting Stars: A South American Paper Trail into the Past, can be ordered via
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