The Cover Arrives!

So excited that the book cover has arrived–and so thankful to the wonderful design team at Putnam and to my editor for making it so great.

When I first saw it, I had a moment of pause, thinking: Oh, the disheveled hair! The drooping waistline!

Now, after two+ weeks of the mini not sleeping, not eating, and not sitting still for a moment, I realize: Swap the kimono for some frayed yoga clothes, and it’s the spitting image of me–on a good day.

But seriously, I’m thrilled with how seamlessly Putnam has captured both the Japan theme and the fish-out-of-water sensibility of the book.

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World

Thank you Putnam; Sara, my editor; and Rachel, my agent, for all your help and guidance during the design process! Feeling proud to have my name on such a lovely cover.

The Older New Parent’s 3 Main Food Groups: Caffeine, Ibuprofen, & Wine

I know we got insanely lucky with the mini, lucky I was able to conceive naturally after my 45th birthday, lucky she was born totally healthy and amazing. So god knows I’m not complaining here. But let me complain for a second.

It seems she’s hitting her terrible two’s a year early. I suppose I could be grateful for her advanced development, like some parents are when their kids walk early. (“She’s only one! And she’s already in her terrible two’s!”) Instead, I feel like my head has been blown off and I’m walking around with shards on top of my neck.

Two weeks past her 1st birthday, and she’s terrorizing us. In Japan, they use the term “house-[something]” for a family phenomenon, like “the house-dog” (“uchi no enu”) where we would say “the family dog,” and it’s clear that the mini has suddenly become…the house terrorist.

She was sick last week, and while thankfully she is no longer ill, she has held fast to a little peccadillo she developed when she had a fever: insisting on being rocked to sleep between the hours of 2-5am. And then being rocked while she’s asleep, too. So she wakes up and cries around 2, and then after I rock her and her breathing slows and that peaceful half-smile of slumber has stolen across her face, I start to bend over the crib to put her down. And she immediately tenses her entire little body, limbs stretched in rigid protest even though she is seemingly still asleep, and the minute she touches down on the soft mattress of the crib, she is up and wailing the saddest–and loudest–song of woe. So that’s how we spend our nights now. Like a Mobius strip of rocking and refusal.

This has gone on for a week, and this morning we were out walking to do errands and I looked down at my torso and I realized I had become one of those mothers I always swore I’d never be: the kind who walks around with some kind of unidentified–but clearly bio-hazardous–substance strewn across her shirt. What bothered me even more is that I couldn’t muster the energy even to care. I just shifted the lining of my coat to cover it for a second and then left it there all day.

It’s now late afternoon and the mini has finally gone down for one of the naps she has also been refusing to take all week. I’m coughing and sneezing and exhausted and so tired I couldn’t eat today, once again fueled mainly by my new three food groups: caffeine; ibuprofen; and, once dinner-time hits, wine. I’m craving sleep and a nap, and my knees and back and my right hip are killing me from the baby carrier. But I’m also 47 and my baby is just past 1, and I want to be around for her when she gets older. I want to be on the other end of the phone line for her when she is in her 40s and she has a child who has momentarily derailed her. So instead of sleeping, I’ll wipe the bio-hazard off my shirt, roll out my yoga mat, and try to keep my aging body as young as possible. All while keeping my eye on the monitor, of course, and praying with all I have that the house terrorist doesn’t wake up from her nap.

A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Pick

THE GOOD SHUFU has just been chosen for a Summer 2015 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection! (The 2015 Summer selections haven’t been posted yet on their site, but there is info there about the Spring 2015 selections and the Discover Great Writers Selection program in general.)

So very thankful to Barnes & Noble, and so very, very honored! Stay tuned to see the book featured in their bookstores, online, in their Nook store in June.

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self & Home on the Far Side of the World

Later-Life Parenting, TV, & the World’s Youngest Democrat

The mini, 11 months old now, has a new favorite activity: clapping. She spends a lot of time each day clapping along to her musical toy cell phone. (Yes, we bought her a toy cell phone. Actually, two, but that’s another story.)

The other day in our living room in Japan, CNN on was on satellite TV, playing in the background while the mini and I went about our morning routine. I like to leave CNN on sometimes during the day so I can hear English–it makes me miss home a little less. I know some experts say children shouldn’t even look at any screens until they are at least two years old. But I think the extra exposure to English for her and my need to stay sane and rooted in my own culture as an expat in Japan, both outweigh any argument against her seeing a screen. As older parents, we tend to sweat the small stuff a little less, I think. (Thus, the two toy cell phones, one could argue…)

In any case, that day CNN was showing live coverage of the State of the Union address in the US. When Obama was introduced, Congress burst into applause. The mini enthusiastically clapped right along.

So proud that she already identifies as a Democrat.

Does Being in a Mixed Partnership Make You More Open-Minded?

For those in mixed-marriages/partnerships: Do you think being in a multicultural union makes you more open-minded about race/ethnicity?

It seems from how the media covers mixed partnerships, the assumption is that those of us who are in one are somehow less influenced by racial stereotypes, but I’m interested in the ways this both is and isn’t true. For instance, of course I love the shogun and see him first and foremost as a man and not a Japanese person, but I still hold certain beliefs about him based on his ethnicity and know he does the same about me (don’t get me started on his theories about ear wax, sweat glands, and westerners…), and my guess is that anyone growing up in this world is never fully outside of cultural beliefs about race and/or ethnicity.

Would love to know your thoughts and experiences!

Catcalls & the Japanese Construction Worker

In the U.S., women walking past construction sites pretty frequently attract whistles and comments. In Japan, where decorum and manners are paramount, especially among strangers, I’d never once seen that happen in 10 whole years of living here–until recently.

Lately, I’ve been walking past a construction site on my daily trips to the market with the mini in the carriage. Every time I pass, one of the guards calls out, Kawaii bay-bee! Kawaii mama! (“Cute baby! Cute mama!”) The first few times he said it, I thought he was saying something about the weather or rain coming (rain in Japanese is am-e, which sounds a little bit like “mama”). Then I realized what he was really saying, and I was surprised.

Granted, he’s about 4’10” and looks to be pushing 70, with about as many teeth as my 11-month old. But then again, I’m 47, sleep-deprived, not nearly back to my pre-pregnancy body, and perpetually dressed in either old yoga clothes or what could pass for pajamas.

So I’ll take it.

“Eat, Pray, Love, Rewritten by Woody Allen”

Feeling crazy-grateful to Joanna Rakoff, whose memoir My Salinger Year I voted Best Book of 2014 on Goodreads–which makes me quite starstruck too–as I learn that she has provided a new blurb for The Good Shufu:

“Tracy Slater’s charming The Good Shufu reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love — rewritten by Woody Allen! With equal parts humor and heart, Slater narrates her tale of falling in love with a Japanese man and, then, Japan itself. Slater’s real triumph is her ability to probe both inward and outward, to chronicle both the ways in which Japan transformed her—emotionally, politically, even physically—and her evolving take on Japan itself. Brave, unabashed, and also just plain old fun.”—Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year

Rakoff has a way of putting these simple, beautiful images on the page that summon so much truth in one quiet but lovely moment. That’s what made me vote her book (a literary coming-of-age about working for JD Salinger’s agent in NYC in the 1980s, which was funny and moving and total lit-geek porn) as my favorite memoir of 2014. Then I found out she blurbed my book, so I’m sort of over the moon about that. I also love how she summed up the book on Twitter: (…”Among lessons learned: Don’t go commando to a family wedding.”)

The Good Wife’s Guide

From Housekeeping Monthly Magazine, 1955

A friend sent me this recently, and I thought it was very appropriate given the forthcoming Good Shufu (housewife). My favorite line: “Remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.” Although I have to admit, “Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him” is pretty hilarious, too.

GoodWife

My mother tries to find the book on Amazon

My mother: What’s happening with your book?

Me: Actually, they put it up on Amazon a little while ago and it’s even gotten some nice pre-release reviews.

(The next night) My mother: Well, I looked everywhere on Amazon and couldn’t find the book. Not a single thing about The Good Snafu.

What Expats Like Best about Japan

Recently, someone asked the members of a group I belong to, KA International Mothers in Japan, about their favorite aspects of this country. Here’s what these expats said:

The hand signals train drivers do as they reach the station, and how the dudes on the platform hold lanterns in the evening

Knowing exactly where the train door is going to be on the platform, and which side the doors will open when getting off

Getting whiffs of incense while walking around town

A Jizo statue

A Jizo statue: Photo from KA International Mothers in Japan

Hats on jizo statues (little statues meant to commemorate children who have died or were miscarried; the hats are meant to keep them warm)

The music from street vendors. I only kind of love the fact that they have fire in the back of their trucks. It just seems so wrong that it’s kind of right.

The baggy pants worn by construction workers

Shoes with split toes

The elevator ladies at department stores

Hazard lights saying thank you to drivers behind

When I must pull over for a service vehicle, such as an ambulance, then receive a thank you over their loudspeaker. So civilized!

The way bus, streetcar and taxi drivers wave at each other when the pass each other on the road/tracks, as if they are sharing a joke

The “smalltalk” on the street with the older people I meet

The obasan tachi (elderly women) and when they stop me on the street just to tell my half-baby is cute!

The ability to say nothing and still be understood as saying “no” without upsetting anyone

How if you leave something behind someone will drape it from a fence, hang it on a pole, or leave it on a ledge and nobody touches it, knowing it’s a lost thing waiting for someone to reclaim it. I once, drunkenly, lost a pair of earnings and found them hung on an evergreen tree by my house. It looked like Christmas, and I felt bad taking them off.

Umbrella condoms (those umbrella-shaped plastic bags available at stores to put over your umbrella when it’s wet, so you don’t get water on other people or the store’s goods)

Warm toilet seats!

When you shop and the staff put the item in a bag and tape the bag and fold over the edge of the tape so it will be easier to open

Clean bathrooms at most stores, especially department stores and the big shopping plazas

The nursing rooms/baby rooms in stores and malls

Onsen (natural hotsprings)

Napping on tatami (straw mats)

Vending machines with warm drinks

The cans and containers used to hold snacks and sweets. They are great to use for a nice storage place afterwards, too!

The elaborate gift wrapping at many stores. Sometimes I tell them it’s a present when it’s really for me.

The sound of wind-chimes in summer

Japanese lunch sets and all the freebie add-ons like salads, coffee, desert, etc.

The total attention to detail. Everything is just-so and beautifully presented.

Trains and buses that are always on time

The hundreds of soda flavors and seasonal foods

Amazon delivering next day and sometimes the same day

Beautifully designed cakes, even from cheap shops

The little strings inside the bed covers to hold the futon in place

Baths that fill up automatically at the perfect temperature just by pressing a button

Affordable child care

Affordable health care

The general safety and cleanliness

Karaoke! And plastic food samples

The takkyubin package service. So easy to mail a package anytime, from almost anywhere, and reasonable cost. Logistics heaven!

The actual convenience of convenience stores (paying bills, picking up food for dinner, and buying tickets for a show all in one stop)

Construction road barriers shaped like cartoon characters

No guns

Thanks, KA International Mothers in Japan, for reminding us why, even on our hardest days, Japan will never fail to intrigue and even delight us.