The first thing I noticed getting off the plane in Chicago was how beautiful the people looked. Not that Japanese people aren`t beautiful, but they all look pretty similar. Americans have such a rainbow of complexion, hair, and eye color, the differing clothing and hats and bags and languages, sizes and everything! America is beautiful because it`s so diverse! And finally landing in Tulsa and hearing my native Oklahoma drawl, I actually fell back into it a bit while I was there. It just sounds so…homey! And all those free open spaces, green fields and flowers and that huge Oklahoma sky as far as you can see. Everything is bigger, wider, taller, cheaper. Of course, the people are all supersized too but that`s not so bad. Gives you something to hug besides skin and bone.
I was planning to meet my mom at baggage claim, but as soon as I stepped out of security I saw her running toward me, arms outstretched. She grabbed me and hugged me tight, tears trickling into my hair; she couldn`t even speak for a moment. The first intelligible words out of her mouth were “You`ve lost weight. Let`s get dinner!” Who could have asked for a better welcome home?
Unfortunately, she had to go with the Owasso high school choir to play the piano for them for a contest in Chicago, the place I had just left! She would be gone until Monday night. But that worked out all right, because I had a writers` conference I had to leave for the next morning in Oklahoma City. So I dropped Mom off at the high school and it was good to see it again, how much it has grown and changed. Not to mention prove to myself that I really can still drive, on backwards American roads no less!
But I wasn`t so confident to think I could drive myself all the way to Oklahoma City at 5:00 in the morning suffering from severe jet lag. Dad was thankful for that, because that gave him some time with me on the way there, and he had to go to OKC anyway to help my brother Tony move from Edmund to Tulsa. Did I tell you he finally got a job at an architecture firm? Thanks for praying!
The conference itself was phenomenal; I learned so much! My favorite sessions were about how to set up a virtual book tour (posting successively on other author`s blogs and literature websites) and “Bleeding, Scabbed, and Scared” a motivational presentation on how to use personal experiences from your life to enliven your writing. The latter was taught by a woman pilot, quite a character and really fun to listen to, but what a life! Some of the things that have happened to her that she`s fictionalized and turned into best-selling stories are simply unbelievable! Here`s a picture of the enthusiastic Southern Bell Christian motivationalist. You would never know she was “Bleeding, Scabbed and Scared.”
But far better than all the wonderful presentations on polishing and marketing were the contacts I made! They had said there was only enough room for me to have an appointment with one publisher, but I sat outside the appointment room for an hour on Friday and an hour on Saturday, and whenever someone didn`t show up or there was a free spot, I took it! That`s how I had one agent ask me for the first fifty pages of my middle grade novel Dargon, another agent ask for a proposal for Treasure Traitor, and a publisher from Simon and Shuster ask to see the full manuscripts of BOTH! I really liked her; she seemed like a really fun person dedicated to developing her authors` careers. I also talked to a travel publisher who asked me for a proposal for a non-fiction travel-essay book on Japan (basically I`d be publishing something like these blogs!) And best of all, a Christian magazine publisher accepted one of my stories on the spot! I had it along with me, gave it to her and she loved it! She also asked me to send more of my stuff! I`m soooooo happyyyyyy! So it was a very good, productive conference. Maybe nothing will come out of any of it, even the acceptance. She still has to get it past the head editor of the magazine. But even if none of these avenues work out, I will not give up, I will just keep writing, just keep fighting, just keep believing! I am a writer and what do writers do? We write, write, write!
Saturday at lunch break I had the wonderful opportunity to have lunch at Panera bread with my brother Tony and his wife Emily. Best of all I got to see my nephew Hayden for the first time! Here`s the little angle laughing:
He is the cutest baby in the entire world. I am willing to fight anyone who wants to contest this fact.
Saturday night was the awards banquet. As I said before, I was disqualified from the contest this year, but I`m through being angry about it. It was nobody`s fault. Next year I will just be sure to email them way before the deadline to make sure they got the entry fee. And a little bird told me I would have won first place in one of the categories, so when I submit it again next year, I`ll have more things to look forward to, that is, unless the Simon and Shuster publisher decides to buy the rights first, in which case, all the better!
So since I knew I wouldn`t be winning any awards this year, I left early with my friend Jason, who came up from Broken Arrow to accompany me and drive me home. On the way back we stopped by the lab where he works and I had a really interesting time seeing all the latest science gadgets used in medical testing these days. It wasn`t at all like I pictured! There were more computers than petri dishes, and it looked more like a regular office, even the school office I work in, than the high school science labs with the shiny counters, pipettes, beakers, Bunsen burners and square lab stations I remember.
Sunday I got up early to have breakfast and go to church at Christ Presbyterian with my friend Lu. We ate a Village Inn, and boy was that a lot of greasy, sugary food. I only ate half of it, but it made me so sick I had to lay down in one of the pews outside the sanctuary. I didn`t realize how heavy American food is and how much trouble my body would have readjusting to it! Fortunately one of the church ladies made me some peppermint tea to settle my stomach and we were able to join the service at the start of the sermon. Afterward I skipped lunch and went to a coffee house with some of my old college friends, but I was a little disappointed at the small turnout. Only three of my friends showed up, and they all left within an hour. Well, I guess everyone is busy with finals and graduation. And Lu stayed with me through the afternoon. He took me around the University of Tulsa campus, showing me the changes, and we studied some Bible together.
Monday I went back to Oklahoma City with Jason to see the zoo. It wasn`t that great; I prefer the Tulsa zoo, “America`s Favorite Zoo.” But there were some cute animals out. Here`s some:
A red panda lounging:
A giraffe doing the splits:
A crazy laughing chimp:
And a beautiful peacock:
The coolest thing was the cuddle fish, which kept changing colors and bumping up against the glass as if it wanted to get at us. But I didn`t get a good picture of him.
For dinner we went to cheesecake factory. Did you know American cheesecake is soooo much heavier than the Japanese version? But I went easy on it this time; I didn`t feel sick afterwards. The best part of the day was going to Jason’s house to see his pet fennec fox! His name is Cody and he makes the cutest chirping sounds! Here`s Jason holding him:
Check out those huge ears! Here`s Cody climbing on my shoulders. I had a flower in my hair and he pulled it right out and ate it!
Here`s a video of Cody doing a trick! He really likes green beans. He`ll flip for them!
Flippin` fox, Batman, it`s a flipping fox!
After that we watched the movie District 9 on Jason`s awesome home entertainment system. Pretty good, though I really feel it would have been better as a TV miniseries, just because there were so many questions left unanswered, so much unexplored!
Tuesday I was so exhausted from all the excitement of the past few days (plus extreme jet let; we`re talking fourteen hour times difference here, people). So after my eye appointment, I slept until 3:00, then went to see How to Train Your Dragon in 3D with Mom. It was a great movie, with a plot almost exactly opposite to my story Dargon the Human Slayer. This could be good or bad for me. For the next few months, dragons will be very popular, but soon they will be passé. According to my marketing friends, I have to sell Dargon in the next six months or the window of opportunity will be shut for a very long time. Gambate! (Do your best!)
Wednesday Mom and I went to the Tulsa zoo and my friend Lu joined us. Everything`s closer together and just laid out better than the Oklahoma City zoo. (Besides, we have penguins. What can beat that?) Then I went to John Knox church, the place where I grew up, and I played handbells and sang in the choir for the first time in many months! It was great to know I could still do well in music, especially since I want to train as a church music director when I get back to the States for good. For dinner I enjoyed a gigantic steak and ribs dinner at Lone Star Steakhouse. Nothing like good ol` American food!
Thursday I had another doctor`s appointment in the morning, then Grandma and Grandpa Joling (my mom`s parents) arrived all the way from Michigan after lunch. We spent the whole rest of the day talking and catching up. We concluded with Mom`s famous spaghetti dinner and my brother Benjamin and his wife Raina showed up at the end to chat. What a great day!
Friday the whole family came together, my parents and grandparents and brothers and their wives and Hayden and my best friend Heather! Here`s everyone together over an amazing Mom dinner of lasagna, chocolate moose pie and peanut butter pie. My wonderful family!
We played uno and my brothers showed off their latest architecture and computer projects. I wish I had more energy but I was still so out of it I had to take a nap in the middle of the day. Then everyone had to leave early! That was more than a little disappointing. I really only got to see my family for one day! Well, I`ll get to go back for Christmas. Seven days was just way too short, especially with the conference and Mom being away in Chicago for half of it.
At least that made me realize this: America is my home. I know I said the world is my home, but going back made me realize just how much more at home I feel in the place where I was raised. Eventually I want to settle back there, in Tulsa Oklahoma or thereabouts, and marry and have a family close to my parents and brothers. That`s where I belong. I love gallivanting around the globe now, but really, truly, there`s no place like home.
But alas, Saturday morning I left at 4:30am for Japan. The journey back was a lot smoother, and I arrived at my apartment at 7:00pm Sunday night. Only on the train, I realized I`d lost my apartment key! I had to call my friend Li who had my spare and wait for him to come all the way from Kyoto. Then I lost my cell phone on the train! I was so exhausted from the travel and super long day that I just lay down on the steps leading up to my apartment. 8:00 came and Li still hadn`t arrived so I very pathetically and stereotypically started to cry. I just couldn`t help it. I must have looked like a complete idiot to the Japanese walking past me up to their rooms! Luckily, Li came soon after that and I was able to get into my apartment. But can you believe it? The next day I found my key and cell phone in my backpack! They had been there all along, even though I turned out all my bags several times and overturned the entire contents in the train! I even dumped out my suitcase in desperation and riffled through my underwear in front of all those strangers! Isn`t that how it always is?
Well, at least I`m safe and sound back in my second home (not quite the same as my American home, but it`ll do). Now it`s time to get busy on the final edits of Treasure Traitor and Dargon. I want to make sure they`re perfect before I send them to the publisher!
Prayer Requests for this week: That I actually grow a brain and stop making these stupid mistakes! Ok, seriously, I need prayer for wisdom and guidance. Also, Pastor Toshi just put an advertisement in the paper for my Thursday night English and Evangelism class, so tonight I should be getting new members! Pray that many people come, that the Holy Spirit gives me the right words to say, and that those old members in the class who have just professed Christ will not get bored with reviewing the basics of the faith. It is my hope that their faith will grow stronger and they can help guide the new folks. And of course, please pray for my writing! I know that someday, in God`s way, I will succeed!
Until next time, keep reading and keep praying,
Laura Jane Popp (L. J. Popp)