TOOK THE J. A. P. OUT OF ME
BY LISA FINEBERG COOK
Six days after an InStyle-worthy wedding in Los Angeles, Lisa Fineberg Cook left behind her little red Jetta, her manicurist of ten years, and her very best friend for the land of the rising sun. When her husband accepted a job teaching English in Nagoya, Japan, she imagined exotic weekend getaways, fine sushi dinners, and sake sojourns with glamorous expatriate friends. Instead, she's the only Jewish girl on public transportation, and everyone is staring. Lisa longs for regular mani/pedis, valet parking, and gimlets with her girlfriends, but for the next year, she learns to cook, clean, commute, and shop like the Japanese, all the while adjusting to another foreign concept -- marriage. Loneliness and frustration give way to new and unexpected friendships, the evolution of old ones, and a fresh understanding of what it means to feel different -- until finally a world she never thought she'd fit into begins to feel home-like, if not exactly like home.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa Fineberg Cook, a self-described Jewish American Princess from L.A., leaps at the chance for an exciting adventure when her brand-new husband’s brand-new job takes them to Japan a week after they’re wed.
- What have you just finished reading? Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Bone People
- What books would you say have made the biggest impression on you, especially starting out? The Old Man and The Sea which I think is perhaps the most perfect book ever written, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy which I think is the most lyrical book I’ve read and Sabbath’s Theater which I think is the most fascinatingly repulsive book I’ve read.
- What gets you started on a new book? A character or story idea or….? It can be either or. Sometimes its just the first paragraph that grabs me and I stay with it. Sometimes a book will sit on my shelf for years and then suddenly I’ll have a desire to pick it up and then I can’t believe I waited that long to read it, like with Angle of Repose or Crime and Punishment. I literally had those books for years before I read them and now they are some of my favorites.
- What is something about you that you would want people to know about you that we probably don’t know? Hmmm, I’m pretty open about myself and a lot of my quirks and idiosyncrasies are now in my book for all to read, but I guess I’d want people to know that I adore making up my own words for things and then using them as part of my regular vocabulary. My husband and I both do that and we’ve pretty much made up words for most of the mundane things that go on around the house.
- What is your best advice to anyone, including young people, who want to be writers? Okay, here is the absolute best advice I can give, its not sexy but its true – the best way to become a writer is to commit to writing every single day for 10-15 minutes. I came up with this for myself based on a blurb I read about housecleaning and how much you can actually get done in 15 minutes so I applied it to everything else like exercise, paying bills, answering phone calls, whatever I would tend to procrastinate about and the fact that all I had to commit to was 10-15 minutes meant that I could fit it in and not feel overwhelmed by it, so when it came to writing I just applied the same philosophy and it totally worked!
I think that the idea of being a writer can seem overwhelming and intimidating but when you break it down and think of it as an exercise that you commit to for a short period of time, it takes away the stigma and allows you to relax a bit; and by the way, I often ended up writing for an hour or two but to get me started each day, I knew I only had to sit there for 10 minutes and if nothing came, then so be it.
- What is something you would like to share with us about writing your favorite genre in general? I don’t think I have a favorite genre just yet, however, I do tend to lean in the direction of humor in whatever I am working on. I have recently started a novel and I find that humor plays a big part in it. I have such an appreciation for good humor and any creative endeavor that is able to skillfully find humor in life’s challenges that I aspire to be that kind of writer.
Humor is alive and well in JAPAN TOOK THE J.A.P OUT OF ME by Lisa Fineberg Cook as she describes her life after getting married. Lisa was a J.A. P. (which I found out some people didn't realize the kind, not hurtful, humor that is put on what those letters stand for-- Jewish American Princess--all in fun as when my Jewish girlfriends tell me they don't camp, can't garden because of their nails, and where is my maid to clean? you get the picture). So after living a life of comfort in Los Angeles where for her valet parking her little red Jetta is as common as meeting her friends for their weekly pedicures/manicures---"mani/pedis", Lisa was in for a real culture shock. Her thoughts after her lavish-could-be "Platinum Style" wedding, was that it would be such a lark to live in Japan with her new husband for a brief stint. Lisa's thought of yummy sushi dinners and weekend off skiing, would be a hoot! Her trading Neimans for Nagoya, Japan, would be a great adventure and she would be by the side of her love who accepted a temporary teaching position there making for an even more exciting start to this next phase of her life. The fact that neither spoke Japanese never entered her mind, as they boarded the plane leaving her high end hair stylist behind to board a flight, business class, oh well, how adventurous!....to land in a place where she would soon find herself using PUBLIC transportation, if you can imagine?!
However, the word culture shock was never more fitting than when Lisa realized they would be living in a walk-up, already furnished (by whom??) apartment in the huge city of Japan where she would be expected to do laundry? and clean? and shop? ...all at once?! Surprised to see this gal not on the next flight home, the reader will chuckle at her discomfort when she realizes nobody will be cooking for them like at home or doing their laundry. Slowly but surely, Lisa begins to learn out of necessity how to adjust to this foreign country AND things so foreign to her that she might as well have been from Mars. She experiences a great deal of frustration as well as loneliness until she starts to make some new friends....some new KIND of friends and begins to actually feel like this is her home. She learns to handle the commuting on public transportation although not without much trepidation and to cook and clean and make a real home for the two of them.
I liked the organized way that Lisa wrote about her life there with different sections for different things like cooking, shopping, cleaning, etc. and also how it doesn't hop around but rather is told in chronological order so you feel like you are living with the shocks and the changes as they came to her as well. Not a heavy or intense book but certainly a nice change of pace for me as a light and funny read. When a highlight for Lisa is getting a washing machine and I think when you read how excited that made her, you begin to see the change. She quit smoking and before long she doesn't feel so foreign in so many ways anymore. She enjoys taking a job teaching English as a second language to women and children but I think most of all is the change the reader sees in Lisa as something not so drastic as it was there all the time, but just not being utilized. I enjoyed the book and recommend it for a light, fun read..and it is true so that makes it even more interesting as Lisa tells us her memoir!