Love One Another

Spring is such a hopeful time. I don’t have any other observations about it at the moment but I just had to say. I spent a little time meandering in parks this week, and several times noticed how late the light was lingering in the evenings.

Once again, I have little to discuss this week. It has been a great deal of nothing, generally. I visited some friends up in Seattle which was great fun. I visited another church because I had never been to an affirming church and variety is the spice of life. I visited Tacoma to see a movie called The Death of Stalin which, of course, is a comedy. Thoroughly enjoyed it, can recommend.

Along with all that, of course, I’ve had plenty of time to read and I have been doing plenty of it. Nothing earthshatteringly good but lots of normal good. I do sincerely wish, sometimes, that I did not become so emotionally invested in books, though. I don’t know if reading fiction does actually make you more empathetic, but sometimes I wish reading didn’t have the power to totally change my mood for the rest of the day–provided I can actually put down the book. Of course, I wouldn’t trade my reading experiences for the world. But still, it’s draining. Even knowing what’s going to happen and that it’s not real, I spend anxious (or giddy or frustrated or sad) hours between reading sessions.

In the midst of my not-doing, and the generalized angst and feelings brought on by books, I’ve had plenty of time to just think (a dangerous pastime, I know). I’ve not had dark nights contemplating the deep, dreadful fates in store for a world as sordid as this. Nothing quite so dramatic, though I do that often enough, too. It’s just been me thinking soberly about things in the world and in my life and how my life is a part of the world. And, as per usual, I’ve found that a lot of my feelings have been voiced quite eloquently by someone else.

Some time ago, I encountered W. H. Auden’s poem September 1, 1939 and I’ve often thought about it since. It’s both anti-fascist and somehow anarchist. Historical and informed but also strikingly topical. It combines a dismal but accurate view of the poet’s world in 1939 (not a great time for anybody) with a persistent attitude that, in spite of or perhaps because of the poem’s general despondency, seems almost wildly hopeful.

I get that poetry is not for everyone and it is often difficult to understand. Not claiming to totally comprehend this particular one, there are still some salient points that seem pretty straightforward to me. If you find nothing else in these admittedly convoluted lines, look for these: fear, justice, love, hope.

I will not reproduce the whole poem here (though I would encourage you strongly to read it). Instead, I will quote only the final two stanzas.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 🕯️

Advertisements

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

Lucy2018-1-27

The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Then the Traveller in the Dark

I woke up early on Tuesday morning absolutely convinced that it was Saturday. The week continued downhill from there. Things haven’t been that bad, I’m managing just fine. It’s more the idea, the concept, of doing work that has become so dreadful. In the event, it doesn’t bother me as much, but the anticipation (and everything else around it) is draining.

It snowed (yay!) on Tuesday afternoon but while the forecast predicted one to two inches, it ended up being the faintest dusting. I was, however, braced for that disappointment because life is disappointing. I was hoping to have a somewhat lighter schedule on Wednesday but instead my three hour intensive was immediately followed by four hours of phone classes. Not the worst–and, importantly, it’s balanced by only having my intensive next Wednesday–but a bit disappointing all the same.

In other news, it’s also very cold. You may have heard about the super freezing weather in the US and we’re apparently getting some of that too. I woke up this morning and it was 6 F and the low tonight is forecast to be 3. Which is very cold. There are no blizzard force winds but it is a step or two above breezy which isn’t helping either. I enjoy the cold in terms of staying in and doing nothing but being warm. However, when I do have to go someplace, for example, work, it makes my fairly short walk pretty unpleasant.

We also got together to finish the second half of Two Towers on Wednesday night, having watched disk one last Saturday. Absolutely tremendous, as always. And some of us painted our nails, I was going for ‘something dark and wintry but that could not be mistaken for black’ and we ended up with this gorgeous color between forest green and mint that is exactly right. Of course, I did a terrible job actually painting them (this being my third time) but it still looks okay. Though it’s already chipping.

I was going to title this post something about being unfortunate, or disappointing, or just generally meh. But I went with a line from the lesser-known third verse of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (there are five). Because it doesn’t take much to keep hope alive and, though there are no stars in Seoul, sometimes a single snowflake on the tongue is all the sustenance that it requires.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

Celestial Songs

  1. The Spheres from the Sunrise Mass – Ola Gjeilo
  2. Young Galileo – Mark Gresham
  3. Astronaut Anthem – Meredith Monk
  4. Underneath the Stars – Kate Rusby, arr. Jim Clements
  5. Stars – Ēriks Ešenvalds
  6. A Breathing Peace – Daniel Elder
  7. Northern Lights – Ola Gjeilo
  8. Madrigals for the Space Age – Lalo Schifrin
  9. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – Daniel Elder
  10. Choose Something Like a Star – Randall Thompson

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.

Sun

It’s weird to be writing this post while complaining that my apartment is way too hot for 10:30 at night, but it is what it is.

I love the sun. As with anything, there are consequences to overindulgence (and privation). But what a marvelous, extravagant gift. I understand why ancient peoples worshiped it, and I praise the God who graciously offers it to us afresh each morning. Every day offers fresh tableaux of sun, sky, and land, even when clouds or haze dilute the vibrancy of the light.

That was just my major thought for the week. Well, I guess major is a bit much, but it was a thought that I had. I complain about being too hot fairly often, I have a low sun threshold. I love it anyway and I don’t want to take it for granted.

In terms of school, this week has not been nearly so crazy as I anticipated. The first time teaching any class–and the first time meeting new students–is definitely scary, but I’m already feeling pretty good about the term. There are some challenges, obviously, but I’m moving forward with a lot more confidence than I had at this point last term. I may even be getting my expectations too high. Only time will tell.

This term, one of the books I am teaching is Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Every time I remember it, I remember how much I love it–flashback to Mrs. Tweten’s eighth grade primetime class. Every time I read it (including last Saturday) I am reminded of how sad it makes me. I wonder what opportunities I’ve squandered by thinking more about who I wish I could be than who I am. Chances that, once missed, can never be taken again. I wonder if I’ve ever met a star person, and been to afraid to allow myself to see them. I wonder if I’ve ever heard a moa, and if I’d notice if I had.

And then I think, maybe it’s all beside the point. In the dedication, Spinelli writes, “And to Loren Eiseley who taught us that even as we are. we are becoming.” I remind myself how firmly I believe in justice and black bean burritos for all. I pray a quick prayer of thanks that the sun shines on the good and the bad. And I feel stronger for it.

I can’t tell everyone to enjoy the sun (though I can and do, actually) since who knows what the weather’s like when and where you’re reading this. But I guess just revel in small things. The old line about taking nothing for granted. Savor the newspaper-filler minutiae of your life (and the lives of others). Celebrate the little things, the big things, and all the things in between.

There is a Ray Bradbury poem, and you’ll forgive me if I misquote it, having been unable to find it on the interwebs. I don’t even remember exactly what he’s talking about, the sun, stars, maybe just life in general. Regardless, he says that there is a light in the universe that is “saying Yes and Yes and again Yes to the great, dark, silent No.”

May our lives be a Yes in the face of that utter No.

Be Careful

This week has been a bit of a thing. In addition to a terrible, utterly stupid mistake that, thankfully didn’t have any real consequences, I’ve just had to be scrambling a bit to learn and get ready and all that you know kegssiugougtaoqeign stuff (for those who can’t read keyboard smash, that roughly translates to me holding up my hands clenched tightly into claws and shaking them).

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of covering for someone’s one-on-one class. A single student, three hours, at the very lowest level. We read an extraordinarily simplified Dick Whittington (whose story I was not familiar with) and played hangman. For three hours.

But also, this is the last week of term. I have only tomorrow left. And my what a term. It’s crazy to think that I’m a quarter of the way through this year.  Today and tomorrow involves work and a snack party for each class, so that’s nice. Today, the staff also had pizza and chicken before the students arrives, which was a lovely surprise. Most of the teachers at our branch are leaving, so it was nice to have a little send-off sort of feeling going around.

Next week is setting itself up to be super scary. Teaching two totally new classes–scratch that, three. And three new levels, two much higher than I’ve done and one much lower. Most of the staff will be new but trained in these courses (whereas I was trained on the ones for this term). I’m super nervous. But I’ve learned that being boring, a little uncertain, and generally a mess is just how you do new things. It will get better. Anway, I’d like to avoid talking about it, so I have prepared a couple random thoughts, as I am often wont to do, because variety is the spice of life.

Sometimes I’m confused by the controversy that surrounds certain topics. For example, best Disney prince. Obviously it’s Phillip. He has a name, he slays a dragon, he waltzes in people’s dreams. What’s not to love. Other categories, I understand some debate, I get that. Best Disney villain, for example. I’d say Maleficent but Ursula, Hades, Frollo have strong contentions, maybe a couple others too. This just to say: it seems we value opinions and tolerate facts (if that). But we should value facts and tolerate opinions.

Also this week, I learned why Google maps can only do public transportation directions here. South Korea has a thriving internet censorship program and this includes, thanks to the fact that they’re still technically at war with the north, all maps of the country. It’s illegal to take them out of the country and that now includes mapping data. So Google can’t process the maps on its servers and we’re left with using Kakao Metro for directions on the metro and Google maps-ing the rest of it ourselves.

In other news, this week I lost my longest Duolingo streak, 74 days. I just forgot to do it before work and then went to dinner after and then forgot again. So that was a big bummer. Alas.

I don’t really have anything else to report. I expect next week’s post will be hectic but there it is. I’m just going to take a second to, you know, take a second. In the mean time, having been pretty moved by this short and sincere poem, I’m trying to be careful of other humans, and to be kind.

Greennesses

So graduation for Trinity was a couple weeks ago now. A shame I couldn’t be there in person but I saw pictures on Facebook and got the gist (Ireland is very far away from Korea and I don’t have the vacation time). And my mother just sent me a picture, my degree arrived today! I’m for real an official Master of Philosophy–magister philosophiae since the whole degree is in Latin– now, I feel like I’ve been a pretender since August. But I have incontrovertible proof now so ha.

Last weekend was a bit of a tough one for me. On Friday, I lost my voice for no apparent reason halfway through my first class. I whispered through my second, went home, and went to bed. I woke up with no improvement. Saturday is my grocery day anyway, go I went and got some honey for my tea and did my best to just generally assuage my throat without much success. That night, I got essentially no sleep. I had given up and been up and about at 5 but then did manage to get a couple more hours around 8 or 9.  That meant that I woke up too late to go to church. I was also not feeling great, the reason for losing my voice finally revealing itself in the form of coughing up lots of super gross boogers and an incredibly runny nose. But I still had things to do.

I went to pay my bills (which you do here typically at a convenience store). Two of the three I couldn’t pay by card (though I had in the past) but whatever, I paid cash no problem. The last one, I have no idea what happened. There was some kind of problem. The man at the counter was so kind and helpful, we called the number on the bill and tried a few different things and then I was just like, nah thanks so much but I give up. Embarrassing and frustrating but whatever. I’ll go into the bank to sort it out.

Then I went a little further into town to get some more pots and soil to plant some basil seeds that I had gotten. That cheered me a little because I like growing things (a bit like a hobbit in that way, I guess). Already, I have a couple of the tiniest sprouts, they’re so precious.

This week we administered level up tests in class (luckily, so there wasn’t much talking as my voice still hasn’t fully recovered). There are three holidays so, naturally, we get one day off and some of us, myself included, have to do a make up Saturday for the students who are on vacation (because why wouldn’t we still have class when there are three holidays and my classes were all at less than half). Testing isn’t the most thrilling thing, but it meant that I didn’t have to talk much and, compared to invigilating at Trinity, it was no problem.

I have seen the most incredible transformation on the hillside I watch from the roof. It has gone from tree graveyard full of skeletal branches to a pink waterfall of cherry blossoms to a verdant mound of leafy green. It is not a unique or special transformation at all but it remains incredibly remarkable. In that spirit, I have prepared a few remarks.

There is much of God in trees. I’m definitely a green person. I’ve said it before, but I’m just not into that whole autumn/winter tree vibe. And it’s not just the sun either, though that certainly is lovely. I like rainy days. And weeks, and months. Against that I have been tested and was not found wanting. What’s really important for me is the green.

I think color symbolism is so much fun because it’s basically whatever you want. Green often means [new] life, growth, fertility but it can also mean envy, money, poison, and sickness. Hilarious. Going green means you care about the planet, looking green means you’re ill, seeing green means you’re jealous, and getting green means you’re rich.

Growing up in the Evergreen State, green trees were rather something I took for granted. Having now lived a number of places with a decidedly deciduous bent, I often find myself yearning for more cedars and pines (ect ect ect).

If I could write an ode to do justice to the unceasing miracle of the uncountable greennesses of this world, I would. Unfortunately, it simply cannot be done. I will only quote Joyce Kilmer and hope his words suffice.

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”