birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Japanese Rules

I imagine the rule as a clogged artery, an impediment to the flow, and push myself through it, the stent, winding my own way to the heart. And now in place of "rule" I think of flow, laminar flow, fluid moving in parallel layers, sliding like playing cards against each others' surfaces, or the women in the cubicles around me at an early magazine job. Everyone used the phone then for breakdowns, breakups and angst, a river of emotion eddying into our corrals, but I did not know the American rule was different from the Japanese, that Americans hear the sobbing and rush to ask what's wrong, while intimacy takes an invitation in Japan, or at least in our house, where it was always the year of the elephant in the room. Even today I don't know what's Japanese and what was us, but I do know that Joyce, one cubicle over, took offense when I didn't even mention her operatic breakup with Kevin. If she wanted me to know, wouldn't she have said? But there was no way to explain, and I was glad when the new computer system had a message system and the phone calls turned to a hail of clicking keys, and semi-private tears. There was no such easy out for the other Japanese rule, the one about saying no three times before we could say yes. You don't realize how engrained that is until the cake has gone to someone else before you even got to the second yes, but you were still counting, thinking the other guy was counting too. In the beautiful safety of the Aunties, though, we all knew the game, and a couple of longing no's would get you a secret 7-Up, passed with a smile and a wink. The rule is: everyone's supposed to know. The rule is: that's not how it works.

Minding My Own Business