Childhood; Dreaming of the Ocean

This week held nothing much of note for me, other than a great deal of wonderful weather. I’ve done more walking around than I’ve been wont to do of late and it’s been much to my benefit. I found a beautiful Buddhist shrine and a temple not far down the trail I normally take, just the other direction. There’s also a nice little part of the city that extends into the park a bit. It’s very quiet and pleasant since it’s so cut off.

On Wednesday, I did another test prep class but this time with the slightly younger kids doing the next level lower. It mostly involved picture identification from sentences and included a disturbing question about a man touching the boy kneeling in front of him. So that was not a great moment in test reading for me.

Only one more month of my first term. It’s at once insane how quickly it’s come and how slowly. It seems to always be like that, slow as it happens and fast looking back. It’s been an incredible learning curve and there’s still a ton more, obviously. It’s going to be going full steam until next February. It’s taken so much to figure out things, and I’m just doing two courses and three levels. There are other courses and levels that I haven’t even begun to tackle. So. But let’s not think of that for now. One more month with this. Let’s just get through that.

Anyway.

A small childhood reminiscence: did any of you have that mail subscription to Top Secret? It was those little magazines with puzzles and information about different countries. It was actually a lot like Carmen San Diego (another childhood favorite). The criminals all had fabulous names, the kind my AP Calculus textbook was also fond of. Izzy Sinkin, Sharon Sharilike, Ella Vader (Darth’s daughter). That last one, I kid you not, appeared exactly like that in an AP Calc question.

You had to solve the puzzles and each one would help you figure out who the criminal was, what they stole (it was always theft), and where they hid it. Like Clue too, I guess. They were so much fun. And you visited loads of countries before the subscription ended and you became an official sleuth or whatever. They had a board game too, though I don’t remember it much.

I was thinking yesterday about this, for no apparent reason, and thinking about what my younger self would think of me now. It’s a common question but not one I’ve actually thought much about. Small child me had a lot of interests. At one time or another, I wanted to own a nursery (the plant kind), be a history teacher, be an author, or be an Egyptologist (like Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities whose name I knew from a very young age).

Sometimes I think I’ve wound up doing just sort of random things instead, from high school until now. But that’s not really the case. I think in many ways I’m very much the same person. I wanted to travel the world and learn as much about it as I could. I’ve certainly seen a good chunk of it with hopefully more to come. And I’m teaching (though that one I honestly did not expect). I’ve studied languages–without achieving fluency…yet. I’ve seen a lot of history and, though I’m no archaeologist, I’ve gotten some rad opportunities to be hands on.

[Little story time on that last note: In Turkey, I visited the ruins of Ephesus and got to actually like touch everything. In England, one of my classes had a field trip to the cathedral library where we actually got to touch thousand year old manuscripts.]

It’s somehow comforting to realize that I haven’t come so far after all. Knowing that my childhood passions are, in fact, still alive and well makes me feel like maybe what I’m doing isn’t so unreasonable. Little Keegan would not, I think, be so disappointed as I sometimes fear. At my core of cores, from then to now, is a desire to know as much as I can about this pale blue dot. Sometimes that means Wikipedia browsing and other times actually traveling. I’m working on it.

Unrelated to everything above, but I was reading this morning and encountered a wonderful sentence that I have to share. Oh, how I ache sometimes!

To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it.

Divine

Because there is no reason not to start a post with cats. Isn’t she very regal-looking here? And Bubba’s face is visible, so that’s a plus. Photographing black cats is hard.

This week has been decent. The weather has continued to be mostly fine and I’ve gotten in plenty of roof reading. I’ve also encountered a growing amount of lilac which is a major plus as it’s my favorite flower by scent.

There were a few less sunny moments. It did rain quite heavily on Tuesday and, in the midst of the weather, my trusty jacket finally gave up the ghost. The zipper got stuck and then there was…mangling. Poor jacket, I got you in 2010. It had been with me to more than a dozen countries on four continents. May your memory live long. I hardly knew ye.

That was followed by Wednesday, when I was rather suddenly thrust into a new kind of review class (suddenly meaning that I was given 24 hours to prepare). I was to help prepare students for the TOEFL Jr. using as basis a great deal of the material for a class I’ve never taught or even seen the curriculum for. So there was that. I scrambled, fudged, and managed like a champion, if I do say so myself. Which I do. I guess I’ll just be a teensy bit ahead of the curve when I teach that course next term. It was, I imagine, incredibly boring for the students and apparently their practice test scores were pretty low. But I didn’t mind doing it. I’m a test taker, it’s always come easily to me, and the question typology they gave me appealed to my routine-love. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m actually teaching that course.

Anyway. Other things that happened this week: major religious holiday.

Remembering back to last Easter, and all the weighty history relating thereto, it is a curious thing for me this year. In South Korea, roughly a quarter of the population identifies as Christian (about four fifths of which are Protestant, the rest Catholic). There are churches everywhere, but they represent a relatively small portion of the country. The advanced commercialization of holidays is lessened here as well, so for Easter there is essentially no change to mark it outside of a church service.

Coming from the parades, historical commemorations, and general shenanigans of Dublin 2016, it certainly sets up a contrast. I went to a church like normal, and that was that. There was no lamb, nor eggs, nor rabbits. Probably for the best, actually, since Easter is actually just about the church thing anyway.

In one of my lessons, we were talking about human enhancement and the possibility of human perfectibility. Students, while vocal in support of plastic surgery (this is the plastic surgery capital of the world), were in general agreement that perfection is out of the question. And I tend to agree.

Alexander Pope said it well in 1711: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” I’m a mess. Not in any particular sense, so don’t worry (parents). But just generally. I get by, I do fine, but nothing special, really. I lack commitment to anything particularly admirable or world-changing. I do intend to do more and then I mostly don’t because I’m lazy. Every effort of mine at self-improvement (how much more for improvement of something beyond myself) ends up collapsing after a fairly brief span. I’d like to think that on the whole I’m on an upward slope but who’s to say.

I fail, and will continue to do so. But the important thing is keeping the focus on the other part of Pope’s point. To err is what marks us as these weak mortals. It is forgiveness–and the faith that forgiveness will come–that changes everything. And that is the great transgression of Easter: it completes the bridge between the human and the divine. While we were still sinners (still are, still will be), Christ died for us. In his rising, forgiveness is made complete and perfect forever.

Let’s remember that. And let’s strive to mirror that divine act of forgiving.

 

Things, More or Less

A thing that I said to a close friend during a conversation about general life ills: “I’m not really complaining, I’m just complaining. If you feel me.” Luckily, she did. And I’d just like to say a quick word about that.

I complain a lot. And I recognize how harmful this can sometimes be. But I don’t think of myself as a negative person. I think it’s because I find pleasant emotions simple to work through. Unpleasant ones are less so. Bemoaning petty things does truly make me feel better most of the time. It is a privilege of not truly suffering. And complaining gives me an outlet for more deeply felt emotions that isn’t really that negative.

So I will strive to complain less. But at the same time, I recognize complaining about little things as a way to process bigger things constructively. Maybe. I don’t know, but there it is.

A recent message from a different friend contained several precious pictures of Captain Kirk, featured on this blog once before. So here’s a little update for you, looking very cute in the early morning light.

So this week. On Sunday, I was happy to briefly host a friend who had an extended layover at Incheon. He was pretty wiped from the preceding week so we pretty much just hung out (which was 100% in line with things I like doing). It was great to catch up with him and just chat with a good friend for a while. I’m not what one might call a fast friend maker, so it was sort of a relief to be with someone who just already knows all sorts of things about you without you having to explain.

On Wednesday, I had a surprise day off and so went in search of flowers and, hurray, found them. I heard tell of a nice place to see cherry blossoms on the other side of town and set off. I wasn’t actually certain where I was going, but I assumed the green blotch on Google Maps was the place, and indeed it was. It was, in fact, a theme park sort of thing next to a ginormous mall (I cannot describe to you how ginormous) circling around a small lake. It was lovely and the weather was nice and it was just all sorts of good. I took a book and read a bit in between walking around and admiring.

It was truly a pleasant day. Not perfect, of course. Plenty of little things to complain about. But the little complaints enabled me to enjoy what there was to be enjoyed. I could take it all in, soak up the little things that made me smile mixed with the little things that made me frown. I didn’t get lost in the maze of deeply troubling things going on in the world about which I can do nothing.

Certainly, I still think about those things. But I don’t obsess like I know I could. These are troubling times, especially here, but I’ve done what I can to be prepared. I follow the news, but I don’t want to rehash the same conversation a million times. I’d rather complain about the breeze being too chill.

I am not sure how coherent this post sounds. I wanted to tell you about my lovely time at the lake but also include everything else. It is what it is, I guess. I’d like to leave you with this lovely tune because I like it and I think the world could use more alleluias and fewer of the other things. More gratitude and fewer complaints. More peace, less war.

Good luck with that.

Quiet

Surprise, I have not been up to much of anything this week. We had our first solid rain yesterday and I was pleased. It felt good, even if it didn’t really seem to influence the city-ness of the air. And my walk to work is only like five minutes, so I wasn’t even that wet. Back in Dublin, it was tough when it started raining part way through my forty minute walk and there were no buses on their way. Anyway.

On Wednesday, I had a small addition to my routine. Normally, I go into work to putz around, plan, and grade or whatever miscellaneous work needs to be done before phone sessions. This week, I was in charge of a review session for the first part of the day. Basically, we looked at answers the kids all had already, chatted about topics they only vaguely remembered, and played games. But it wasn’t so bad.

I don’t really have anything else to report. Sometimes I appall myself with how truly and utterly I fill my time with nothing. I don’t even watch that much Netflix. I have no idea what happens to the time, though I know even if I had more I lack the willpower to do anything much with it. I have a few theories about this particular iteration of nothingness here in Seoul, maybe I’ll share them at a later date.

For now, I’d like to give you a bit of insight at how my BA in international studies continues to actually mean something in my life, even if it’s not directly related to my job.

I recently subscribed to the blog Political Violence at a Glance, which issues both a weekly compilation of important news articles and longer topic pieces on relevant issues. This is the latest of three similar updates I follow to keep track of international events. I claim this neither as many nor few, but I encourage everyone to take some time regularly to look at what’s going on from sources that don’t only care about things in other countries when our country is involved or there’s a horrendous disaster.

This week’s discussion was on the fighting, both militarily and socially, the violent extremist groups in the Sahel and Maghreb (if you’re interested, you can read it here). Importantly, as the piece notes, counterinsurgency is not just about wresting control of territory from violent groups, it is also about the classic winning of hearts and minds. This has long been the dilemma of people involved in counterinsurgency efforts. The author drew a comparison between contemporary states’ attempts in the region and colonial French policies and I think it’s an important one.

The writer talks about the ways in which groups are defined by the state as constitutively violent change depending on who’s in power (because generally religion doesn’t advocate a whole lot of violence). The problem they describe, therefore, is not one of message but of identity. The solution, it follows, is then not about amending your ways but of amending yourself. It’s “be a member of this sect” instead of simply “don’t preach violence.” This isn’t entirely unhelpful but it will not bring a durable peace.

In my studies, I have encountered a wide variety of ways to talk about peace but this brief article provided a new one for me, and one which I immediately took to heart in times like these. Defining the problem in the terms outlined above does not actually distinguish between violent and peaceful groups. They certainly are violent but the response to them comes from a redefinition by the group in power. The line drawn is between revisionist and politically quietist.

I may have run across the term “politically quietist” before but it didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Here though, and now, I find it resonating deeply. And the term is easily transferable. Protesters: Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Women’s March ect. Viewpoints: political correctness, legal discrimination, minimum wage ect.

Is it peace or is it status quo? Do you want what’s right or what’s easy? What’s true or what’s convenient? Political quietism is just a fancy way of saying the people with the power want to protect and (pre)serve power. Keeping things the same is a heavy and powerful idea.

And do we see people as essentialized, petrified bastions of oversimplified beliefs or human beings who can make mistakes and learn from them? Who are deserving of mercy and grace? Who can be forgiven even if they do not seek forgiveness?

Using another term, I want to seek positive peace–not the absence of war but the presence of justice. I want unity in diversity. If that makes me a troublemaker, so be it.

I reject quiet. I pursue peace.