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.

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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.”

More Stately Mansions

I will not apologize for the amount of poetry-related content on this blog. Just wanted to put that out there. But more on that later. I promised a glimpse into my life in Seoul so here are a few things.

  • Both my building and apartment use touch screen keypads and it’s so liberating not to have any keys (though it occasionally freaks me out)
  • I can get a decent variety of triangular kimbap (pictures forthcoming eventually…) at 7-11 right down the street for ₩800 or a little less than 80¢
  • The apartment has heat, so that’s an infinite step up from the house in Dublin
  • I live maybe a two minute walk from the school
  • Korean Netflix is more reasonable than I expected, it’s growing quickly since it’s relatively new here

So those are a few things that have helped make the transition easier. I regret (so very deeply) that the cracker situation is pretty hopeless. As great as Paris Baguette is, it simply cannot compare to those Tesco doughnuts and I don’t even want to talk about crackers. Alas, you can’t win ’em all. There are crackers here, but I think once you go Tesco Cream Crackers, you just can’t go back.

I’ve also now found out what I’ll be doing on Wednesdays. I will spend three hours calling students one-on-one to have ten minute conversations with them. They’re mostly not my students in class, we just talk. The headset is very uncomfortable, but otherwise it’s not bad. Occasionally I will also do intensive study sessions or review groups with small numbers of students. But mostly it’s the phone classes, at least for now.

In terms of Korean experiences for the week, I haven’t had many. Other than getting a bank account and having barbecue, I’ve pretty much stayed home. As you know, that is my default setting. And I won’t be rebuked for it. I know I said that I want more out of this year than just work experience, but that doesn’t mean that I have to spend all of my time eating Korean food, wandering around, seeing what can be seen. I have time, I have eaten food, and nothing’s wrong with me cooking for myself. I want to see what I can see, but I also want to be me and me is a person who stays home nine times out of ten. I came to Korea, that’s plenty for the moment.

Also, first post-departure contact with a certain very pretty kitty. The other was indisposed by illness, unfortunately. He’s on track to recover though.

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So about the poetry that I mentioned earlier. Here’s the thing: because I have so much of it in my head, much like music it can suddenly pop in and get stuck like a song, but just a couple lines of text. This one has come to me occasionally for years and I really like it.

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul!

This, of course, is from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ wonderful work The Chambered NautilusIn it, Holmes describes the way in which the nautilus is always moving onward and upward, building itself larger and more lovely shell space until at last it is freed from the mortal (and nacre) coil.

I don’t even have anything in particular I wanted to say, that poem has just really been sticking with me this week. It really is a lovely poem; it is a song of freedom and release. To close yourself with a dome more vast until you finally expand beyond all confines. Ugh, I don’t even know what I’m saying, but read the poem, I really like it. More stately mansions indeed.

Till thou at length art free.

Not Elves Exactly

So you guys know that I don’t like choosing favorites for most things. You also know that I’m a poetry kind of guy. I really like poetry and I like a lot of poets but I am comfortable naming, like movies, a top three-in-no-particular-order. They are Edna St Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. This week, I’d like to talk about one particular poem by Mr Frost which, I think, will take little explanation to show relevance.

Before I reproduce the poem for you (published in 1914) I’d like to say a few further words. The sermon at my church this past Sunday told a section of the story of Elijah (which was cool, I was singing along the whole reading). One verse served as a major focal point– 1 Kings 18:21 which says, “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.”

The people said nothing.

The poem is entitled simply Mending Wall. 

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

It’s not elves, exactly, but something there is. Do you feel it? Walls are powerful things. They can protect, shelter, defend, separate, grow, crumble. To be clear, there are internal and metaphorical walls aplenty. But the US border wall is a childish fantasy of ineffective and harmful policy created and supported by cruel, ignorant, and short-sighted people. In no universe is it okay. I need not remind you of how Jesus defined ‘neighbor.’

The question presents itself: how do we act in such a way as to focus on the things we love and support while defeating the things we don’t? What actions can be taken? I think I’ve done a few, made calls, written some letters, signed a couple petitions, had important conversations. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what is accessible to me and others in a similar position. Something there is that lights candles rather than cursing darkness and all that, but it seems an elusive something loathe to give us any guidance.

So I’m just sitting here, preparing to leave the country, wondering. Hoping. Dreaming. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, and it’s me.

But I’d rather you say it for yourselves.

A Discontented Sojourner: Now Free

This week I have encountered plenty in the national and international news cycles that put a cloud over my head. Perhaps most of us are often made aware of Syria ongoing, but how often are we reminded of Ukraine? Yemen? Myanmar? How many other things are simply overlooked? It sometimes feels overwhelming to care about all of these on top of threats and challenges in our own lives, much less our own country.

Rewatching The King’s Speech with some friends, I was reminded how precious it is to have a voice and to have that voice heard. Certainly many problems we have been collectively facing of late stem from voices being too strong, voices that speak loudly and falsely. But for others of us, not on the national or global stage, the problem is with speaking too quietly, if at all, and too timidly. We do each have a voice and, while I might not wish to hear several among us, their speaking is not the problem. See, the privilege of having a voice is accompanied by the privilege of having ears.

I was going to write this whole post about that movie and some good, topical take-aways I got from it. In the event, surprise, that is not how it has happened.

There’s not loads to report on my life this week, other than frustrating paperwork being worked on and the like. Going on a brief trip this holiday weekend to Ocean Shores so I had to stock up on warm and cozy cat snuggles.

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I did not watch all of the farewell speech this week, but I did read the entire transcript. It was well written and well taken, more than I anticipate from any speech that will be forthcoming from the Oval Office in the next several years. Anyway, I liked the speech overall and I wanted to discuss a bit one particular moment from it. Talking about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Obama said,

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

Self-executing indeed. I am always struggling with what these rights look like in my own soul; I cannot imagine working them out for an entire country millions strong. As much as I fervently believe that we can, together, build a more perfect union, I also believe that perfection is unquestioningly unattainable. My teleological worldview does imply an eventual end to history but it does not require an arch bending toward justice. I do not believe that we inherently march toward goodness. All I know is that one day, everything will be good and perfect, regardless of what has come before.

In the meantime, it’s difficult not to feel a deep-seated restlessness. This restlessness stems from a knowledge that we will never get it right but somehow we’re meant to. We had the blueprints for perfection but somewhere along the line each of us tore them up in favor of living in comfortable squalor instead.

I contemplated, briefly, having this post simply reproduce Wordsworth’s The Prelude because it’s over six hundred lines of magic. But I did not because it’s over six hundred lines. Then I contemplated including just the first stanza because it’s beautiful. But I did not because I could not decide where to cut it off, perhaps it needed more than just the first stanza, perhaps I could use just part of the first stanza. Alas.

In the end, a single line from the opening made its way into this entry. It is the title. This line haunts me with its eloquence and tenderness. And its truth aches and emboldens.

Every day, I feel myself a discontented sojourner in this world so often dismal. Every day, I must remind myself that I have been freed. It does not matter where my steps are directed, they are taking me home. I am yet a wayfaring stranger in this world of woe, but while I’m here I can embrace the freedom that comes from declining to care what this world thinks of me. I can use that freedom to love in ways that other people think are foolish at best or downright disgraceful at worst.

I would much rather be counted a fool for loving much than wise for loving little.

Tender Not-Resignation

So I think the phrase ‘tender your resignation’ is a weird one. I don’t generally think of resignation as a tender anything. I know of an example of tenderly not resigning, but more on that in a minute.

I struggled to find the origin of the phrase which I guess is just a residual set phrase left over from older times. It fits into a larger definition of the word tender as a verb, meaning to give or offer. Thus it is also used for money (‘legal tender’) and to tender for a job, meaning you offer to do it for a certain price (I’ve never heard this usage before). But how this coincides with the other meaning is elusive. The connection is deep in Proto-Indo-European coming from the root meaning stretch or something along those lines. In one sense, stretch came to be associated with thin and therefore delicate, weak, young. In another, it came to mean to stretch forth as in to offer. So there you have it, learn something new everyday.

Also, I’ve been neglecting my cat duties once again, so here are the precious ones.

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The world is such a place, guys. Like, yeah. What are we doing. We have so many problems. And there are loads of them that really have nothing to do with Trump, though that situation certainly isn’t helping. I oscillate between caring too much and not caring enough because the world is just such a big deal and I’m so small. I am small, but we are not, if only we set our minds on acting together. Anyway.

You may have thought I had forgotten to follow up with the whole ‘tenderly not resigning’ but I have not, behold. I have a little something for you and I wanted it to be at the end of the post because reasons so here you go.

This month is not a poem-a-week month, but this is a poem that I very much admire by one of my favorite poets. I share it both because it is beautiful and because it reminds us that just because it’s the way things are doesn’t mean it’s the way they should be. In the past week I’ve read the word ‘normalize’ in mainstream discourses (I am sort of used to it in academia) much more than I had hitherto thought possible. And with good reason: we are in danger, those of us who have not yet succumbed, of normalizing a broad set of extremely unacceptable behaviors. But no matter how commonplace something becomes, if it’s wrong it’s wrong.

There are three things this poem says that I think speak to our times: I know, I do not approve, and I am not resigned. We must know and then we must act. This is basically what I said last week but it bears repeating. Incessantly.

I will not approve and I refuse to be resigned.

Dirge Without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.