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Kasuga Taisha
Photo: Ema (Shinto prayer plaques) at Kasuga Shrine in Nara—or my future in-box.

I already know what my dad would say, so I’m not asking him. When you start a new job search, you just don’t take the first job you are offered. True, I haven’t been offered the job yet, but let’s be real, at the interview they were selling the job to me. I’m not sure I want the job. But there are considerations.

I’m a healthy adult and I have no kids to raise. It’s just me, unemployed and wishing we had a bit more disposable income. This job is not in book publishing, my normal gig; it’s something completely different, but in an industry that is somewhat recession, hell, depression proof. It will pay fairly well (compared to publishing) and I would be doing work that comes naturally to me, organizing, finding ways to be efficient, finding niches to fill. They want a “self-starter.” I’m a self-compulsive. It could work just fine.

I haven’t heard back from any of the other places to which I’ve applied. I don’t expect to hear for weeks because that’s just how it works. Send in résumé, hear nothing, try to bug them, hear nothing, then get one or two bites for interviews. I haven’t seen an ad for my dream job, but there are a few good leads.

I want to make books. I love making books. It was the classic What Color Is Your Parachute? quiz that told me I like to be around books and perhaps I should work as an editor. So I did. But we all know the old story, I thought I’d like to be a writer, so I became a production editor. Still, there have been moments of real achievement and happiness in some of the books I have shepherded along to publication: the first translation of a fifteenth-century recipe book from Mandu in Central India (with four-color illustrations, scans of the original handpainted miniatures); an encyclopedia of marine mammals; a science textbook and video about HIV. I have lists of every book I have worked on. Almost all academic books: many in university classrooms, cracked open, written in, cited in papers. I don’t know exactly how many books have arrived from the printer for my approval, for me to send to the author, but I remember the collective smell of the ink and the feel of the paper. It’s a good job, making books.

Book publishing has been having serious financial difficulties for longer than I’ve worked in the field (since 1994), but somehow I always scraped up a good job, found a way in. Why do I lack confidence this time? Why am I so eager to jump ship?

For one, it seems churlish and childish to hold out for a dream job this year of all years. My job would help pay the bills. Since we bought our first house three months ago, I’ve become aware of money in way I’ve never been before. Sure, for a few years in Japan I tried to make studying Japanese and teaching English seem like I was fully occupied, but come on, have you seen all those posts about sake on this blog? It was a decadent break after some good jobs in San Diego and London. My best dude churns out his work year after year, and keeps us flush with wine and cheese and laundry soap and toilet paper and trips to New York City. Time for me to pony up some cash. Frankly, it feels immoral to pass up employment when offered. My question: will anyone else offer some to me in the near future? I just don’t know.

A little ema offered for my fellow job seekers this year. Ganbatte kudasai!

ETA: I took the job.

ETA2: I quit six months later to return to book publishing.


Dear Friends in Russia:

Thanks for your repeated attempts over the past few weeks to comment on my post: Ichi no Tori (yakitori bar). I’m glad that you find that one and only post so very compelling. Perhaps it’s something about grilled meat and sake that piques your interest. Sadly, I have never learned the Cyrillic alphabet and so cannot approve what are, I’m sure, lovely compliments on my writing and photography. I thank you for your supposed kindness. Perhaps I might feel more comfortable approving your comments if the URLs you provided ever linked to a legitimate Web site. I’d hate to suspect you of being spammers.

Again, many thanks for your interest and commitment, but I simply cannot approve your comments.

Best of luck in your Internet endeavors.

Yours sincerely,



“You, madam, are no Ambrose Bierce” will be on hiatus until early August while the staff relocates from Japan to the Washington, D.C. area, with an interim stop in Maine for grandmother time, sea air, and lobster.

I apologize for the inconvenience. Please enjoy the blog archives.




WHEREAS, Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?) was an American journalist and writer, whose works include satirical exposés of public figures, Civil War stories, stories involving the supernatural, and a book intended to “teach precision in writing,” Write It Right: A Handbook of Literary Faults (1909); his most famous works being the short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890) and the Devil’s Dictionary (1906/1911), both of which are enduring classics of American literature; and

WHEREAS, Ambrose Bierce lived in Washington, D.C. from 1899 to 1913, therefore providing a tenuous yet exploitable link between Ambrose Bierce and this blog, the headquarters of which will be relocated to Washington, D.C. in August 2008; and

WHEREAS, Ambrose Bierce displayed in his writings an unsentimental view of humanity; his satirical and insightful writings on the evils of war and the hypocrisies of the powerful are as fresh today as they were at the turn of the twentieth century, to wit:

War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.


WHEREAS, contemporary satirist Stephen Colbert would not have found his neologism “truthiness” in Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, yet Bierce’s definition of “truth” anticipates Colbert’s, including the concept of truth as what one desires to be true (note how Bierce’s definition does not mention objectivity or facts); one suspects that Colbert’s writing staff has a copy of the Devil’s Dictionary in the office:

An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time.


WHEREAS, Kurt Vonnegut, one of the blog writer’s favorite authors, had this to say about Ambrose Bierce:

And I consider anybody a Twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like “Sophisticated Lady” by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.


WHEREAS, there is a link between Ambrose Bierce’s disappearance and death in Mexico and the disappearance of the blog writer’s mother and stepfather in Mexico, although it is true that said family members are currently living in a custom-built house with a koi pond, and the blog writer’s mother is president of the Audubon Society of San Miguel de Allende; the salient point being that innocent family members went down to Mexico for an adventure and they never returned to the United States; and

WHEREAS, the blog, “You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon,” is privately run with no public funding; as such the blog writer may call it whatever she damn well pleases; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that from today the blog “You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon” shall be called “You, madam, are no Ambrose Bierce,” the name change not really affecting anyone but the blog writer and any blog lists that care to include the blog; the URL remaining unchanged as; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the blog shall officially thank and recognize Janet from “The Chronicles of Tewkesbury” for sending a link to Kim Roberts and Dan Vera’s Web page, “DC Authors’ Houses,” in which the blog writer discovered that Ambrose Bierce once lived in Washington, D.C., thus ending the search for a new blog name; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that, as when the blog’s title referenced Sei Shonagon, the blog writer will not attempt to compose in the style of the chosen author, but does reserve the right to include random quotes and inside jokes relating to his works; instead the blog writer will simply bask in the reflected glory of the famous/dead author’s name while actually writing dilettantish posts about her encounters with bourbon, sake, and other food products; and be it further

RESOLVED, that this resolution be forwarded to The Internet @ The Universe, to the Internet-free members of society, if possible, and to others as appropriate.

Adopted by the Editorial Committee of the Blog
Yokosuka, Japan
July 13, 2008


Madam Chairperson

ETA: In December 2009, I changed the title back to “You, madam, are no Sei Shonagon.”

Photo: U.S. Navy sailors parading a mikoshi in Yokosuka.

Happy Independence Day!

In about three weeks I shall no longer be an expatriate. Oh, to nestle in the supersized bosom of my native land. Scares the shit out of me, if you want to know the truth. After almost five years as an ex-pat in London and Yokosuka, will I kill someone by driving down the left side of the street? How will I catch up on the hip lingo? Can I buy good sake there? Will I die of happiness when waitresses serve me giant glasses of ice water without my asking? Who will give me a job?

Hauling Ass

Moving day is approaching.

I’m preparing for the move to D.C., sorting through our stuff, drinking down the bourbon on the sideboard. I need a new name for my blog: You, madam, are no [insert American diarist here]. Any ideas?

I’m hoping to find an appropriate American diarist, male or female, from any era, preferably with a Washington, D.C. connection. The diary should be either still in print or easily obtainable at the library/though the Internet. One interesting contender so far is Mary Boykin Miller Chestnut (1823-1886), but she’s a little obscure and her four names would make for a tedious blog title. On the other hand, her name does scan nicely in two-syllable sing-song. Yes, I went through my Anaïs Nin period when I was in college and read every volume of her diaries, but I don’t think she’s exactly what I’m looking for. Robert Shields and Arthur Crew Inman are tempting in a Amy/David Sedaris satisfyingly creepy way. This is fun!

The person who suggests the diarist I select will receive a permanent credit on this blog, a link to his/her blog (if applicable), and perhaps a free drink/meal, depending on how conveniently we can meet. Family members with Master’s Degrees in English Literature (Saul) are strongly encouraged to submit entries.

Enjoy the Fourth of July!

ETA: The search is over. Please see the resolution on renaming the blog.


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