Friday, November 16, 2007

seniors, subways, unacceptable settling

Randomata: Did I mention that subways are the senior's sacred domain? Seniors basically own the subway train, in terms of their right to stare, glare or (in equal measure) smile at you. They also have right of way: no matter how far to the side of the aisle you stand, or how fast you board or disembark, they have shoving perogative at all times. If you are on your cell phone, beware a sneer, a "Dame!" ('it's forbidden!'), or even a tap on the arm from a sharp-eyed senior prowling the car. And you wouldn't even think of sitting in the Priority Seats, that distinct, blue section of bench that remains empty even on two-hour train rides out of the city, unless occupied by a rightful rump. I'm not complaining - far from it! I'm thankful that, together with the Politeness Police (transit officers who roam the transit system), seniors ensure the subways remain quiet, and free from the incessant chatter of unaccountably loud and always overly personal cell-phone conversations. I'm kinda like an old person myself, in that regard.

The quotidian without pretense of progress is painfully pointless.

I'll be honest, I've been a bit down. (This post is probably overly personal, but at least I'm not shouting it in your ear in transit somewhere.)

That's why I haven't written regularly over the past two weeks: I've been living with my eyes half-open. I've been low on energy and settling. Settling: it's no good.

What I mean by 'settling' is that, in my dampened mood, I've been accepting my life exactly as it is right now, without focussing on what I want to focus on more in the day to day, without focussing on the areas that I want to develop.

For example, I've felt somewhat aimless and hopeless about the whole learning Japanese thing. Let me run through a negative rationalization of ignorance in that regard.

1. I'm already surviving with whatever limited abilities I have.
2. I don't talk to that many Japanese people, and how many Japanese friends am I going to make anyway?
3. I'm here to teach English, and most people here are eager to practice their English.
4. What do I need Japanese for after I leave this place?

So, you see, there's no point in learning Japanese.

And it is easy for this viral negativity to affect my greater perception. Now I am accustomed to my neighbourhood. I know where to get my groceries. I can cook the same foods week after week, eating out to spice it up. I have that ready-made network of ALT's to turn to for social contact. I can get to and from work in a half-conscious state just like the rest of the commuters, just like I could back home. I can enter this routine and basically let the next 40 years of my life go by until it's time to retire.

AH!!!! What's the point in moving to a new place? If there's nothing to learn at home and I don't care to learn here... (and the thoughts spiral downward)... What's the point in living?

Ok, so I'm exaggerating my own negativity just to convey its nature. The point is - as demonstrated by the lack of things to say in blogpost, and the lack of things to photograph, and the lack of things to thrill my eyes and ears - I've been settling.

I think, and this is why all this might interest others if they ever read this post, that my mood and that settling is an unsurprising product of my circumstances. Now that the thrill/fear of moving to a new and uknown place has worn off, one must start 'settling' into regularity. I am no longer on the move somewhere new: I'm there, and it's getting un-new. People in my position might deal with this fact in different (hopefully positive) ways, but it's the reality of being human: we quickly learn enough to survive in a new situation. This leads to the crossroads of settling, accepting mediocrity and the mundane, or striving for something more.

What am I suggesting? That I have to move somewhere new every three months to keep life interesting? Not exactly - hopefully that's not necessary.

What's sad about dull acceptance is that there is still so much to see, to learn, to explore, to develop - in short to interest and excite - in the context that immediatly surrounds me. I don't have to run off just yet, there's more to do here. I have miles to go before I am a productive contributor in the school environment. To be honest, the fact that I am not essential at work quickly drains me of spirit. When I'm in a good mood, I know that the simple presence of a native English speaker has a huge effect in the school. In a bad mood, I know I could not show up on any given day and it would hardly affect the lessons any of the teachers give. And the only thing worse than doing a fairly straightforward 9-5 is feeling like you make no difference to the people around you in those hours. I should take this as a challenge, though, and not just let it bring me down. Even if I don't want to be a teacher for 40 years, there is so much I can gain from my experience here, and hopefully a lot I can bring to help the people around me while I am here. I don't feel like I'm as big a waste of space as my existence at work seems to indicate.

And then there's that whole language thing. Learning a new language is fascinating. I love it, and so I should, even if I can't pinpoint a more ultimate motivator for that learning. The proximate motivators and rewards are huge and clearly evident every time I try talking to someone in Japanese. Whether we end up laughing at my mistakes or they understand me and respond, it's a huge thrill. When I feel like I am actually getting to know someone, and (fate willing) start to make friends here, the thrill and personal reward is only greater.
Someday I'll know enough Japanese so that all that regular conversation is, well, regular, and then I'll have to choose my direction at the crossroads of bored acceptance and challenging myself with something new. But certainly I am far from that point. How could I even THINK of not trying to learn some Japanese while I'm here? Thoughts like that are a lame acceptance of mediocrity, a lame acceptance of mere survival.

I don't want to pin the point of my existence on future travels to Thailand, or Tokyo, or on skiiing in the winter, or on drinking at parties every weekend, or on life after JET. I want, however flimsy, the feeling like I'm doing something worthwhile and challenging this month, this week, this day. Today.

The quotidian is a necessary evil of life. Boredom is a necessary result of being human with the ability to learn. But if it seems like there's nothing interesting around me, only the quotidian and that lifeless wall of comfortable acceptance, then I've got to open my damned eyes before my time here is up.

(Caveat: this focusses entirely on my emotional state as a product of intellectual processes, and ignores other factors such as health, biochemistry, recent events and the barometer. After all, I've been fighting off a stupid cold for weeks now, I'm low on iron, I had nothing to do all week at school because the teachers were writing a test, and then the students were writing it, and there's no more sun to cheer me up as the winter clouds close in.)

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