A Weltanschauung of Joie de Vivre

My students the other day thought that there was a mistake on their vocab list, someone had forgotten to translate a French phrase into English, though the Korean was given–it was déjà vu. When I told them it was just a French phrase that we use in English, they weren’t particularly happy. Anyway, I couldn’t not have a title in English, French, and German when the French and German are also just used in English sometimes. If you need a translation, the title is A Worldview of Joy of Life.

So I had a lovely Christmas weekend. Saturday started with serving at a homeless kitchen-type ministry with some coworkers and finished back at the Kelsey’s for our work-friends Christmas party. We had a great time making pomander balls, playing games, making cookies, and doing Disney karaoke. They’re just really great ❤ On Sunday, I went to church and had a white elephant party with them afterwards, it was a lot of fun.

On Christmas day, I essentially did nothing, which was exactly what I wanted. I called my family and chatted with them for a while, and that’s really it. I mostly stayed in bed; I read, watched Netflix, and played Pokémon. Not exactly how I like to spend Christmas generally, but exactly how I wanted to spend it this year.

Going back to work on Tuesday was less than ideal, but I managed. This week is just another pretty much normal work week, and next week will be too, though we also have the incredible gift of having next Monday off too! Speaking of which, I have some meh-level New Year musings for you.

I think I’m slowly becoming aware of a shift in my worldview that’s taken place over the past few years. I’ve given up not just on changing the world (in any big, big ways) but also on just expecting the world to be a good place. The world is a pretty unpleasant place. Yes, of course there is loads of good in it as well, and many things are better than they were in the past (though we must never confuse ‘better’ with ‘good’). Let me be clear: I still hope for good in the world, I still hope for change. But I’m done thinking that things will improve, that people will learn from their mistakes, that knowledge and kindness and compassion will  increase and someday prevail. They might. Maybe.

All I have is me. I can expect things from myself; I can certainly expect failure, but also growth. I can educate myself–about current events, racism, ancient Egypt, different varieties of dogwoods, how to make pancakes from scratch. I can attempt, with perhaps childish naïveté and diligence, to suffuse my life with a Weltanschauung of joie de vivre that does not derive joy from the world because it is joyous, per se, but because the world exists at all and every moment of that existence is a literal miracle.

I can teach myself to be kinder; to rescind hurtful words with genuine apologies, to think critically while watching movies, to sincerely care when other people tell me things that give them pain.

I can involve myself with the world; I can serve, I can donate, I can educate, I can listen respectfully even when others are not being respectful, I can have compassion on those who have no compassion for me.

I can be myself; stay home as much as possible, read voraciously, watch good and bad Netflix with equanimity, thoroughly enjoy food even if it’s boring, be awkward and laugh about it, be gay and fabulous, wear bowties on Tuesdays ect. ect. ect.

There’s a certain joie de vivre (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in the exultation of releasing my expectations about the world. It’s like that old line about accepting things I cannot change. When I’m free from all the weight of the world, I can deliciously and leisurely enjoy the simple pleasures of each moment and find it in myself to compassionately and earnestly become involved in bettering the world.

The above may have ended up sounding super self-centered, which is counterproductive so please bear in mind, if it sounded like that, I didn’t mean it to. Anyway. You know that I’m not much one for resolutions because a. we should resolve any and every time not just New Year’s b. people don’t generally keep them anyway c. they’re pretty lame. So let me be clear.

I want to be better, and I will work hard to become so. I want the world to be better, and I will work hard to make it so. I have few illusions about the success I will meet with, so I’ll start small.

And as for all the rest, I’ll act in hope without expectation.

Advertisements

In Our Grasp

I almost wanted to start by saying that this week has been crazy, but it hasn’t actually been anything of the sort. It’s been a pretty normal week–and I mean that in the worst way. How could the week before Christmas be any kind of normal? But it has also been a nice week, and I’m grateful for the positive things that have happened. I’m also feeling a little contemplative now that my first Christmas in circumstances like this is finally here.

On Monday morning, it snowed quite a bit–our largest accumulation this year, I think, though it was probably only about an inch. The main thing is that it did not all melt immediately. Some of it did, but it’s been pretty cold even through the snow so a lot of it has stuck around all week. On Wednesday afternoon, we were graced with a further dusting of fairy-light snow which I was fortunate enough to be able to dance in for a few moments at work.

Tuesday night was our once-a-term staff dinner (on the company) and we did a little secret Santa exchange, which was precious. It’s nice that, as much as I don’t like working there, it does have its moments. And certainly it is better than it could be, so there’s that.

Monday night has become a routine movie night at the Kelsey abode (married coworkers of mine) for many of our teachers and though it’s normally too late for me to commit, we’ve been doing Christmas movies in December so I’ve been every week. This week was Scrooged and, no offense intended, but it wasn’t my thing. But I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent together. Also, I watched Arrival last weekend, quite a movie. I haven’t bumped it into my top-five-in-no-particular-order ( at least not yet), but it was good. My main, topical take-away from it was just listening. There should probably be more listening in the world.

Okay, as this is my last post before Christmas, I have some Christmas thoughts to share. This is, as I’ve said before, my first Christmas without any family or anything around and  it’s been an interesting time. I have friends here, but it’s different. I was working last year, but it’s different. It’s just a thing. And honestly, I have been swinging wildly between loads of Christmas spirit (especially when there’s snow and/or singing involved) and totally forgetting that Christmas is coming at all.

Let nothing that follows indicate that I have anything but the highest regard for the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie. Because it truly is a wonder. I have been singing the Who Christmas song on and off since I made my classes watch it during the snack party at the end of last term.

However.

“Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp.”

“Christmas Day will always be just so long as we have we.”

Such admirable and timely sentiments. Truly. And so heartwarming and seasonal and cozy and nice. When I was younger, I considered them some of the loveliest statements of Christmas feelings. But if I’ve learned anything this first Christmas apart, it’s that those sentiments are false.

There are no qualifications for Christmas. There are no conditions. Christmas Day is in our grasp. Christmas Day will always be. Christmas doesn’t come from a store–it does, in fact, mean a little bit more. But its meaning does not stem from loving each other, as good and right and lovely as that is. It comes from being loved.

If Christmas were about us–us loving, being joyful, coming together, lifting each other up–it would be a pleasant but ultimately weak holiday. Because we are, at best, imperfect lovers. The strength of Christmas is that, together or apart, we are all loved perfectly.

I hope you all have a merry and happy Christmas; cherishing time together, the weather, the food, the presents, the decorations, the all-around atmosphere. And if or when you feel the imperfection of it all becoming a little too much, remember that there is perfection in Christmas and we don’t have to do a thing to receive it.

God loves us.

Go to Sleep and Dream of Snow

This past Saturday, I went with some friends back to Bukhansan National Park. This time, we went around the back way to climb up one of the lesser peaks. The weather was surprisingly mild, though in this case that meant it was around 5 C/40 F. There was plenty of snow, but only in the shade. All in all, it was a lovely hike.

It started out relatively calm but, as per usual with Korean mountains, it quickly became quite steep. The last slog up icy rock faces with only a rickety railing was less than ideal, not least because I am just not athletic to begin with. But we got to the top and, though it was a hazy day, the views were still gorgeous. We hiked up Jaunbong Peak (740m) and had a wonderful, if strenuous, time doing so.

IMG_20171209_141325550_HDR.jpg

Baegundae Peak, my last trip to the park, in the distance

On Sunday morning, I awoke to a lovely blanket of snow. It was cold enough to stick even to the roads, for once, and I relished the chance to walk to church through snow. Of course, it was also raining and so I took the bus, but the walk to the bus stop was positively delightful. After church the rain had stopped and all but a scattered remnant of packed snow had gone the way of glaciers in the time of global warming. Nevertheless, I was well pleased with the weather all around.

After everything was sufficiently melted, the temperature, naturally, dropped significantly. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday had highs around -6 C and lows of -12 C (that’s ~24-10 F). Which is very cold. Much bundling was necessary even though I only live about an eight minute walk from work. The skies have been crystal clear and the wind has been pretty biting. I definitely complain about the cold but I would like to state once more, for the record, that I will ten times out of ten take too cold over too hot. You can always put on more clothes but there’s only so much you can take off.

There’s really not much else to report this week. I can say that I’m very excited to be nearing the end of my contract. I’m very excited about my upcoming trip upon the expiration of said contract. I’m very excited for Christmas. I’m very excited to finish the series I’ve been reading for the past while, though it will, of course, be sad when I actually do finish.

Feel free to send me details and/or pictures of your Christmas preparations because. Bonus points will be awarded for Christmas trees and baked goods, but all submissions will be thoroughly appreciated.

O Hush the Noise

The weather of late has been decidedly wintry. The occasional snowfall (without sticking, of course) has served to gently punctuate the suitably seasonal cold. As Seoul receives the vast majority of its precipitation during the monsoon of late summer, winter is a relatively sunny time which calls to mind Dickinson’s slant of light, but also has provided ample days of crisp, stunning clarity (in stark contrast to the haze-draped thickness of spring air). All in all, I’ve been enjoying the sweater weather thoroughly.

I’ve somehow subconsiously decided to name all my posts between last week and Christmas after Christmas song lyrics and this week I learned something about a particular carol which I would like to share with you.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear is a lovely carol; it has an interesting tune (referring to the Carol, not Noel tune), softly poetic lyrics, and a slightly more up-beat Silent Night vibe which I wholeheartedly approve. Reading the Wikipedia page for the song this week, I learned a great deal about the poet and how he came to write such verse. I also had the pleasure of reading, for the first time, all five original stanzas and I would ask that you do so now as well.

As the article points out, it is a relatively unique carol in that it makes absolutely no mention of the Nativity itself. In fact, only the first stanza even references the fact of Christmas at all. You may think that this almost disqualifies it as a Christmas carol, since only one verse is even somewhat related to the birth of Jesus. I would contend, however, that its primary content is distinct from traditional carols but is relevant in very important ways to Christmas and in particular our current world.

The bulk of the poem is about the modern world, or as modern as the world of the poet in 1849. The main thrust is that the world is dark and dangerous and weary. And that speaks heavily to the world I encounter through the news and through my life every day. This song is not a song sung to Jesus, it is a song sung to us, “ye, beneath life’s crushing load.” The thing is, Jesus was Immanuel, the God With Us. He came to Bethlehem, yes, but God is still with us now too. Christmas is a special time in history, of course, but it’s also Christmas every day because of the nearness of the holy we are privileged to experience. I’ve had much cause this week to rest beside the weary road and strain my ears for that long-echoing angels’ song.

And now for something completely different: I’ve received some complaints about the lack of Béégashii recently so here’s an update on the traveling cat, currently back home in Arizona. Very handsome.

 

Ten points to you, reader, if you’ve ever read a book with some kind of mind control–or something along those lines–which must be combated by the characters through various exercises of mental discipline. Mantras, almost, that can give the thinker enough force to withstand the mind of others.

An additional ten points if you’ve ever read of a character taking a steadying breath. A moment to recover, plan, center oneself, summon up courage ect.

Tuesday of this week was a really hard day for me. Thankfully, it wasn’t related to my classes, which were both pretty great. But it was rough. Just… rough. And the anti-mind control device I used to stave off shaking myself apart from the inside out was God give me peace.

There are some truths that, in my heart, have become a little hackneyed. But that changes when I take a moment, especially when I’m really in dire straits, to drill them forcefully into all of my fibers.

I am loved.

God is good.

There is hope.

And that’s basically Christmas. I managed to survive this week and that’s the message I bring to you.

O hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

Strike the Harp

First, a little look at the cats because it’s always a good time to look at cat pictures.

Very cozy, I’m sure.

Second, on Wiktionary (the Wikipedia dictionary, extraordinarily useful and interesting for a person like me) there are three English etymologies for ‘troll’ and the third lists one meaning to indicate “to sing loudly, freely or in a carefree way.”

On Friday, I had a number of extended video chats with family members and it was lovely. I just like my family, they’re pretty neat. It’s always a bit dizzying to be passed around a room on a little screen but it’s worth it. I continue to be surprised by and grateful for the wonders of technology that allow such communication and contact. I’m also very excited to meet my new little niece when I get back to the US.

ALSO, I can’t believe I forgot, it snowed on Friday morning and it actually stuck for a few hours so that was absolutely lovely.

This week has been rather on the hectic side but I’m still alive and that’s really what matters. I guess.

The first week of my last term so let me give you a little rundown on what’s going on for me. My first class is the lowest level I’ve taught (aside from that bonus extra fun-time lovely joyous class from the summer term) and that’s less than ideal. My other class is a pretty high level and this is the third time I’ve taught it, second time this level and this course. So that one should be okay, even though most of my favorites leveled up.

I have surprised myself by doing mostly alright, I think, with the very small people. I have one class of that low level with fifth and sixth graders but the other class is a couple years younger. That bonus extra class from the summer had some younger ones but that was one hour twice a week and three hours on Wednesday, this class is three hours twice a week which is a lot. But like I said, we’re all still alive. All in all, I’ve actually had some really nice classes with my students already and I think it bodes well for a mostly positive final term.

There have been a number of things recently that have been really less than ideal at work, though, and they’ve really soured things (more so than in the past). Some of them have been mis non-communications and general huge problems from corporate. They have made teaching pretty unpleasant even though my students have all been mostly good. Other things have been specific to our boss who just keeps making unpleasant choices. Which. Whatever. I think that’s about all I can say about it without exploding.

On a much better note, we got a new teacher. He’s from Australia, hired to replace our Welsh teacher who left which keeps our non-American population the same. He’s a nice guy, should fit in just fine 🙂

It’s also after Thanksgiving now so people can’t stop me from being super Christmasy. I mean, they couldn’t stop me before, but now they can’t even try.

I know Christmas time isn’t a happy time for everybody and that makes me sad. There are totally valid reasons for it, of course, but I wish everyone could feel like I do around Christmas because it’s honestly the best. Of course, as Muppet Christmas Carol instructs, I try to make the feeling last all year. But it’s so much easier during Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going to burst it makes me so happy. Which is cliché, but clichés are cliché because they’re true.

Even in my sad times when I remember that I’m not going to Christmas very much this year, it still such a cozy, warm, happy sadness. Christmas, obviously, is important for many other, much more important reasons but the one that I’m grateful for today, in this moment, is the simple, commercial–even secular–Christmas spirit.

I just want to strike the harp! My coworkers can attest: I often troll yuletide carols. And you should too.

Join the chorus. Fa la la la la la la la la.

Thank You for Saving the World

So I know today is Thanksgiving, and I’d like to address that. But I’d like to start with something else because I finally watched Wonder Woman with some friends last weekend and the more time that elapses the more I appreciate what a film it is.

In particular, I’d like to collectively ponder a quote from the end of the film. It doesn’t give away any plot, though I guess it does reveal the psychology of the ending so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and do so before continuing.

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.

First, I think it’s so mature and accurate to real life for a superhero movie to just say straight up that heroes can never save the world because people suck. In the end, we just choose. And choose every day, every moment, how to comport ourselves, how to speak to other people, how to act and think when no one else is looking. And, all too often, we will choose poorly.

Second, only love can save the world. I have no commentary for this.

It’s Thanksgiving and I would just like us to take a moment and pause to make a deliberate and heartfelt choice. To choose light and love. To enter into the greatest love of the God who came near and share it with another. And know, for that small moment, that we are living a part of saving the world. We will fall short of goodness again and again but, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “to this moment’s choice, give unfair weight.”

That is what I have for that. But this week has been pretty full so you’ll forgive me if I include a little more before getting to Thanksgiving, even if this post becomes cumbersomely lengthy.

On Saturday, I had some friends from church over and we played Settlers of Catan. I really love the game (a board game of… settlement and building if you’re not familiar) but haven’t played in ages. We had a lot of fun. I finished in the middle of the pack, but would have been a strong contender for first if we had rolled like Any sixes the whole game. I’m not bitter though, don’t worry.

It snowed on Monday, not for long and it certainly didn’t stick, but the flakes were large and wet and delicious. Yes, I caught a few on my tongue, heinous air quality notwithstanding. My friend caught me on video enjoying a bit of a frolic. She wanted me to upload the video but I’m too technologically un-savvy to figure it out, I’ll put it on Facebook and that’s the best I can do. Sorry Blair.

We also received our schedules for next term (*MY LAST TERM*) and it’s not terrible but it’s not great. I’ll tell you more about it next week when I’ve actually taught my classes. There was also a small breakthrough regarding Christmas but, again, more on that later.

Anyway, Wednesday was a half day as per usual. After work, we gathered at one of our apartments and had a small Thanksgiving-ish sort of time. And it was wonderful. (I refuse to the term Friendsgiving because a. we are not giving friends b. we are giving thanks c. one of the things we are giving thanks for is friends d. friends are a normal part of Thanksgiving e. it’s dumb).

It was a bit of an eclectic mix. Korean fried chicken, pizza dip, Kraft macaroni and cheese, dumplings, fig jam, and Costco pumpkin pie. In other words, exactly as Thanksgiving should be. In a pretty tame game of most likely, I was voted most likely to know how to dispose of a body and become a brutal dictator, and tied for most likely to start my own fashion line. All of which I took as the compliments they were.

I truly am grateful for my coworkers. For a place where I don’t I like working very much, I value my time at school substantially more because of them. They really have made a world of difference for my time here. I’m grateful for my church home here in Seoul, for opportunities to serve, for Paris Baguette, for just so many things.

I’ll be video calling my family tomorrow because it will be Thanksgiving in the US on Friday here. So that will be nice. Now that I have a few non-family Thanksgivings under my belt, it’s not such a strange feeling. Christmas, I’m sure, will be an entirely different matter, but I’m feeling pretty good for this Thanksgiving. I know people around me love me, and I hope they know I love them. I’m grateful, I’m grateful, I’m grateful.

That’s all it is, really. I’m so thankful to have people in my life, present with me physically and virtually, who choose love. Maybe not every time, but as much as possible. Maybe not perfectly, but as best they can. According to Wonder Woman, you’re saving the world. So thanks for that.

Alarm Clocks are for Zombies

Next week is the last week of term and I expect I’ll have something to say about how close I am to the end of my time in Korea. But in the meantime, I still have another week. This week was less than ideal at work insofar as I had two combined classes, taught a class of third graders in a level I’ve never taught before, and had another class mostly as normal except in a random different classroom and which suddenly combined to double its size for the last half hour.

All in all, not huge burdens or anything but frustrating. A general theme I’ve noticed at my workplace (and which seems to be a common mindset in Korea) is to approach problems as if they only had one dimension. You choose what thing is the most important and you make that look the way you want without considering anything else. Which is frustrating because it means there are easier and simpler solutions that are overlooked. I get that this is for-profit education so money comes first. I hate it, but I understand. Sometimes, though, it’s just straightforward efficiency and time management issues.

Anyway, it’s my first full-time job and I’ve obviously joined the ranks of workers who think they know better than their bosses. Though I’m pretty sure I do, whatever.

On the plus side, though, I had a surprise day off on Wednesday which is always nice. I didn’t do much, surprise. I had a nice, brisk walk (it’s gotten pretty cold here) but nothing too arduous, just around town. I picked up some fancy groceries just because I could–pasta, cream sauce, and fig jam. Highly recommend. Mostly, I just lazed around and slowly went about a few household chores that I had been putting off. It was the right balance, enough to make me feel productive but little enough to let me feel rested.

Our topic today in my debate class was world government but I didn’t really like the lesson so, after doing obligatory lesson things, we had a debate on the proposition ‘War is always wrong.’ And my students (there were only four today) actually had some really good ideas. I helped provide them with some historical examples for both sides but they did quite a bit of work on their own, I was impressed with their maturity. These are mostly sixth graders. Though I did have to stiffle a laugh when, in their speech, a student talking about the US Civil War described slavery as “doing a lot of hard works, listening to bad words, and not being treated as human.”

Kind of funny but also I’m glad that they know enough about the world to say, without my prompting in any way, that slavery treated people as less than human.

You may recall that a few months ago I wrote about the mysterious alarm clock in my neighbor’s apartment that was on for like a day straight. Well, it was back again this week. Starting on Tuesday morning at 9:30 and ending sometime while I was at work, which means at least four and a half hours of beep-beep-beep. But at least it wasn’t overnight like last time.

My explanations then were murder and zombies, a brief recurrence later in the week seeming to suggest the latter. This week’s episode confirms the theory and, I think, zombies must just be heavy sleepers. Because there is no other possible explanation. Zombies.

Though honestly it doesn’t sit well with me that zombies have enough going on in their lives (unlives?) that they need to set alarms. No rest for the wicked, I guess. But are zombies really wicked, if it’s an infection that you can’t choose to get and then suddenly you have a need for brains?

I don’t know. These are the questions that occupy my time. At least I can say I’m together enough as a person, and have leisurely enough mornings, that I don’t use an alarm. In fact, the only alarm I hear in this building is the zombie’s alarm.

Take from that what you will.