Same Year, Same Me?

I don’t think I’ve ever needed a vacation as much as I needed this one. It’s 설날 (Seollal). Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Happy year of the dog, everyone.

This week had a bit of a stressful start. I was trying to apply to a job that I’ve been procrastinating on since I’ve decided I really want it (the more important something is, the more I procrastinate, see: dissertation). I also had to go to the pension office to apply for my lump-sum refund. And you know how I feel about official things, especially involving money and bureaucracy.

In the event, however, it was incredibly easy. I thought that I would have to go all the way to Gangnam (an hour by subway) but there was another office in Seodaemun and that was a great discovery. Also, I walked into the building, went up to the ninth floor, and from the time I stepped out of the elevator until I stepped in again was under twenty minutes. A massive relief. So my pension refund will be a nice thing to get once I’m back in the US.

Other things that have been going on this week include packing. No one likes packing, I’m pretty sure. Packing for a fun trip can be fun, but packing your life is generally The Worst. I haven’t accumulated much here, and I’m going to leave a lot behind, so I’m trying to condense everything into two units instead of three. We’ll see how that goes. It’s frustrating because I need to wear clothes all the way until I leave–and even after that, too!–so I can’t pack all of my winter things. It’s not frigid here, but it’s still plenty cold.

On Wednesday, I had a fabulous day. It consisted of three stages. First, I played a computer game and packed intermittently which actually got me way further than I anticipated. So it was lazy and enjoyable but also super productive. Second, I reread a book (most of the book, I skipped around since I read it for the first time just a couple weeks ago). Third, I started a new Netflix series, Legion, and stayed up really late watching most of the season.

Today, I finished Legion which was excellent but I’m not sure if the forthcoming second season will be as great. I also met with some friends for lunch, noraebang (Korean karaoke-ish), and a VR café. It was a super relaxing and enjoyable day all around. I’m bound for bed early because there’s a special treat in store for tomorrow. Details and pictures to come next week.

Anyway, trying to think some thoughts for the close of my Korean year. I’m sitting here, with my partially packed suitcases on the floor, things in piles waiting to be packed or thrown away or recycled or given to friends. It’s one of my least favorite feelings–the empty room you’re still living in but only for a little longer. My room is far from empty, yet the almost-gone feeling is already seeping in around the edges.

When I sit down and try to think of what I’ve done and become this year, it seems underwhelming and, to be honest, disappointing. I had hoped to grow in faith, sociability, adulthood, who knows what else. And maybe I have in some ways, in some categories, in some situations.

I’ll tell you, before I started Legion I finished the Netflix series The Good Place about the afterlife and I’m trying to, I don’t know, just think about being a good person. I think I am, generally, so I’m not feeling down on myself or anything. But it’s that tension again between contentment and complacency. I want to be happy with who I am and still strive to become better. Not sure that this year has made me much better.

In one of my posts just before coming here, I contended that no experience is ever wasted. I still hold to that, and this year has definitely proved itself valuable. I came out to my whole family and people just generally which I mention casually but was a big deal for me. I learned a whole lot of skills on the job, dealing with children and adults. I succeeded in some small disciplines that have made small but noticeable changes in my life (ex. today was day 236 on my Russian Duolingo streak, having finished all the lessons a bit ago).

Mostly, I tried and failed a whole lot of things. And then I tried again. I imagine most of us have heard the “if at first you don’t succeed” spiel. I guess I’m starting to think that it’s not actually the succeeding that matters, but the trying. Willfully, and sometimes gleefully, making bad decisions is probably part of the human condition. (Sorry that I just used the phrase ‘human condition,’ I am what I am). But figuring out how you want to live and trying to get there, at least sometimes, I think that’s a great deal of what counts in the end.

So here’s to that. I have one week and two days remaining in this country. I keep returning to the C. S. Lewis poem that I memorized a few weeks ago: “to this moment’s choice/ Give unfair weight.”

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Daring, but Not Hardcore Daring

Author Eudora Welty once said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well, for all serious daring starts within.” May we all find the courage and strength to dare within.

Anyway, this week marked the conclusion of intensives. Yesterday, I taught my last one ever! And wow, is it a relief. I, in fact, don’t want to say anything more about them because I’m just glad to have them finished. Suffice to say that they weren’t great and I’ll be moving on with my life now, thank you very much.

This week has also marked the return of the incredibly cold weather, with the low for tonight forecast to be a solid -2 Fahrenheit. So that’s less than ideal, as much as I like cold weather. Gratefully, I don’t have to be out and about much and my walk to work is only like ten minutes. Definitely could be worse, and I suppose it’s at least somewhat justifiable as the Winter Olympics are coming soon and I want there to be plenty of cold and snow then (though please not this cold…).

Fun story of tonight. I got home and there was a bucket catching drips right outside the door to my building. Then the lights in the hallway, which are normally motion triggered, weren’t working. Then on the second floor, people were sweeping up slush because obviously someone’s pipe burst. And then I got home, my lights were working and my water’s fine (I left it dripping) but my internet is down. So I had a little panic for a while, thinking it may somehow be related to that burst pipe, or perhaps one I couldn’t find in my apartment. But after several resets of the router, here we are. Thank goodness, I 10/10 could not handle a pipe explosion right now. Or ever.

On a much better note, we also finished Return of the King and, as I could probably write ten thousand inane blog posts gushing about it, I’ll refrain here and spare you. But that film. So much.

There’s really not much more to say this week. It’s honestly been fairly quiet and I’m grateful for it. The end of my time here is creeping up quickly and I’m partially panicking and partially doing a happy dance every waking moment. And there are certainly some things (read: people, mostly) that I’ll miss. It’s a strange feeling. Someone important once said something along the lines of being lucky to have places that are hard to leave. Not quite there on Korea but you get the gist.

I don’t want to do a whole year in review post yet, it’s definitely still premature, but I encountered the opening quote this week and couldn’t help myself from sharing it before I get to that point. But a sneak preview of some of the things I’m likely to say: this has been a year of daring within. Or, at least, trying to. Take from that what you will.

To conclude our month’s choral selections, I have put together a list of lullabies and other songs that put me in mind of evening. I hope you can give one or two a listen and find a bit of rest.

Sleepytime

  1. Seal Lullaby – Eric Whitacre
  2. Good Night, Dear Heart – Dan Forrest
  3. Lullaby – Daniel Elder
  4. Only in Sleep – Ēriks Ešenvalds
  5. My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land – Edward Elgar
  6. Sing Me to Heaven – Daniel Gawthrop
  7. i carry your heart – Connor Koppin
  8. Sleep – Eric Whitacre
  9. Grace Before Sleep – Susan LaBarr
  10. The Road Home – Stephen Paulus

Food of Love

Yesterday was my first nine hour teaching day of 2018. So I made it two days. We may or may not be given some half days here and there this month, but otherwise I’m slated for nine more such fun-filled days. It actually wasn’t bad, my intensive class is actually pretty decent and I packed plenty of food for our fifteen minute break. But it is still less than ideal. I’ll live, or at least I assume I will, just like I did last time.

In other news, it’s 2018 which means less than two months until I’m finished. I’m really looking forward to that time. I’m definitely ready to leave Korea. It’s been a good experience but it’s just not my place, you know? Not in the way that Exeter, for example, felt like my place. Obviously, I’m looking forward to my vacation plans as well, come the end of February.

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Me, after one day of intensives

I’ve been thinking recently, though, that it’s important how things end. As much as I want to just let everything go and cruise to the finish, I don’t think that’s what I should do. It would be easy to let things slide and give as little effort as possible, especially in the midst of intensives. But that is not how I want to finish my time here, as little as I honestly care about these next few weeks. It’s easy to work hard when you care, it’s more challenging–and perhaps more important–to work hard when you don’t.

On a different note, it’s been a while since I’ve given you music to listen to (or ignore, as you wish), so I thought I’d do choral edition for songs I listen to. Obviously, I’m really into choral music and I’ve put a great deal of thought and time into making these lists. The songs are from a variety of times, styles, and genres. Most, but not all, are a capella. My original purpose in posting songs was to prove that I don’t only listen to ‘opera’ [sic] but I want to expand your repertoire and challenge you to give some choral music a try.

I’ve broken it into different categories because who doesn’t like themes? Many, many wonderful works have been left out, I’ve just chosen a few songs that I enjoyed and fit (I tried and failed not to have too many repeat composers). I’ve also deliberately left out large scale choral-orchestral works. Some of these I have sung and some I have only listened to.

Just a note: as much as I enjoy sharing the gift of song, I make these lists mostly for myself to look back on in the future to say, “Oh yeah, that song! I should listen to that again, it’s great.” I encourage you to give these a go but the lists really are for me. Maybe choose one with an interesting title and give it a try, you can find a decent recording of most of these on the You Tubes.

The categories are, loosely, 1) poetry and prose 2) celestial songs 3) Latin sacred texts and 4) sleepytime. Hope you will enjoy this as much as I.

Poetry and Prose  (and that one song with random words)

  1. Brothers, Sing On! – after Edvard Grieg
  2. Willow-wood – Daniel Elder
  3. I Love My Love – Gustav Holst
  4. Jing-ga-lye-ya – Bruce Sled
  5. Let My Love Be Heard – Jake Runestad
  6. Anthem (The Dove Descending Breaks the Air) – Igor Stravinsky
  7. Too Much I Once Lamented – Thomas Tomkins
  8. I Am Not Yours – Z. Randall Stroope
  9. Even When He Is Silent – Kim André Arnesen
  10. Valiant-for-truth – Ralph Vaughan Williams

 

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.

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.

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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.