My Cup with Blessings Overflows

Attitude of gratitude is a very annoying and trite hinkety-pinkety and even so, I have started this post with it. Because it matters, though saying it aloud makes me want to cringe into nothingness.

My last couple posts haven’t been particularly uplifting. And that’s okay, it’s not my job to be uplifting. But it is tiresome to be always serious and sad. This post will be neither serious nor sad. To prove it, I will share this with you:

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Such cuties.

Anyway. Winter is well under way here in chilly Michigan. We received around six inches of snow early Sunday morning which would have had me prancing with glee had I not had to drive to Traverse City–the first one off campus, little Pádraig doing his best to get us through and over and around. He performed admirably, no major mishaps  though the roads, even where I wasn’t the first driver on them, were having a tough time.

Putting the couple touchy moments aside, the snow has been lovely. No falls for me thus far, no spills, no outtakes of any kind. I’ve got my equipment and I’m ready to take it all on.

And I’ve got to tell you that, while Michigan nature isn’t my usual, it can still really do it for me.

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Cozy inside, snowy outside, contented all around. Or at least doing alright.

Tonight is The Feast, which I expect will be nice. Everyone at school wears their fancy dress, we have a meal together, and then there’s an cooperative arts performance. Should be good fun, hopefully.

And then, get this: I have a week off! I just had a week off in October! And I’ll have more in December and January! So much vacation! I don’t want to rub it in anyone’s face but after Korea, it feels so nice to have actual, for real time off!

I think I might take a day trip to Cheboygan because a) it’s very fun to say b) it’s on Lake Huron which I haven’t seen yet and c) variety is the spice of life. If you are a Michigan person, feel free to advise me on other places to visit. At some point, I’ll go up the the Upper Peninsula again so I can see Lake Superior. Not sure where else in Michigan I’ll end up seeing.

All this to say, as appropriate for this time of year: things are nice and I’m feeling very blessed just in my general existence. Not sure exactly what Thanksgiving plans will be but there have been rumors of a few other house parents sticking around and we might do something all together. I’d be all about that. Making friends and stuff, I guess.

Also. I’ve found a super-simple recipe for pumpkin pie (yes, even more simple than usual) and I’m excited to give it a go. Frozen pie crusts because let’s not get carried away (and also I don’t have a counter to roll out dough) but the filling will be all me. There’s maple syrup in it, so that’s fun. Yay baking!

Whether or not it’s Thanksgiving time for you, whether or not you’re feeling happy and blessed, I’m wishing you all sorts of good things because things just seem to be pretty alright for me.

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Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

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Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

The Land of No Routines (Yet)

So here’s the thing. I’d forgotten it was Thursday again. Michigan has not been good for my normal routines yet. And I haven’t really had time to process much new-job-wise. But also, not much has happened. I’ll do my best to fill you in.

In my dorm, there are currently four freshmen and sophomore boys who arrived yesterday. It was a bit of a whirlwind of registration for them but for me I mostly just introduced myself and handed out keys when they were ready. This morning, they left for “Exploratory” so they’re out at an outdoor center and then camping for the next couple days. I’ll visit them this afternoon, but otherwise I’ll be here.

Saturday will be the real start for me, and then we’ll see. First impressions, things seem good, doable, reasonable. The timing of the shifts will be an adjustment, much more so than Korea, but I think it’ll be okay once I get into a routine.

Most things, I think, will be better once I get into a routine. I’m a very routine-based person. Not in the boring way but just in the sense of having a baseline of activity from which I can depart occasionally. Okay so maybe in a boring way. Whatever, I’m over it.

As a random aside, the dining hall has some flags hanging around and I want to tell you about them because it’s a random assortment. On one side are state flags: West Virginia, Indiana, Washington, Illinois, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, Colorado, California, Iowa. Which, oddly, excludes Michigan. The other side has national flags: Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Guatemala, Russia, Germany, Spain, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh.

So that’s a thing.

Chantel is sitting across from me at the lunch table and complaining that I asked her to tell me what else to say when she’s only had four hours of sleep. She told me to add that it’s a valid argument, which I agree. Time will tell but I’ll probably get there before too long. (She’s a house parent in the girl’s dorm).

I’m sorry for this post being late again. I know that most of you truly don’t care but it feels weird to be. Going back to the routine thing, I’ve usually had a good blog routine and I don’t have one right now. I don’t like that. But I’m working on it.

Chantel was also so kind as to provide a fitting conclusion to this post: to anyone reading this, send good vibes. Welcome to the start of the school year.

The Start of My Modeling Career

Last May, I lost my longest Duolingo (Russian) streak after 74 consecutive days of practice. I was sad, and got over it quite quickly. But after I got over it, I continued to practice Russian on Duolingo. And today was my 432nd straight day.

I have very little personal discipline. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time, and I’ve tried a number of things to try to work on that. In this moment, at least, I am very proud of my Duolingo streak.

My sister gets angry when I don’t post updates on the Arizona kitties, plus they are absolutely Very Very Cute. So here’s a picture of them being their cuddly,  yin-yang selves.

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Anyway, I promised to tell you about Michigan and what is happening (spoiler: I don’t know).

The school I’m living at is right on Lake Michigan, which is nice. It’s a quick walk from my door to the beach. And it is a very nice beach, very sandy and, well, beachy.

There’s also a large protected area right around the little town: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And by dunes, I learned, they really mean Dunes. Because they are very tall, very steep, and very deep. I hiked a couple miles through it (and hiking up and down steep sandy slopes is, like, Very Hard) and it took about an hour to get from the parking lot–viewing Glen Lake–to Lake Michigan. A lot of sand.

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Away from the dunes, I’m just here, getting through training to be a house parent to some freshman and sophomore boys. It’s a thing. The job mostly entails making sure disasters don’t happen and dealing with the small ones as they inevitably occur. The main thing is staying up very late.

It’s hard for me to give you more details than that at this juncture because I don’t really know. I know more than I did last week, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t say much then. But the students don’t arrive until next Wednesday and school doesn’t start until the following Monday so it’ll be a sec before I really get a picture of what my life is going to look like for the rest of the year.

One major victory that I’ve already won is ensuring that I’ll have Sundays off, which will enable me to go to church. I visited one in Traverse City last week and it seems like a pretty cool place. It would be the first affirming church that I’ve attended and that has every possibility of being a game changer. I haven’t really thought of it as a huge issue for me, since none of the churches I’ve been to have been very overtly homophobic, but at the same time I think it’s going to be tremendously liberating.

Most of the ‘training’ this week has been kind of vision casting from our new Head of School, just talking about the point of the school and how we do things. A word that comes up in every sentence, it seems, is ‘model.’ If we want students to know this or have this value or understand this, how do we model it for them? And that’s something that I want to be really deliberate about. In particular, about sexuality insofar as I am able because it’s something that I have worked through myself and wish other people could have an easier time of it.

How do I model acceptance, not just of others but of self? How do I model self-care? How do I model environmental stewardship? How do I model empathy and compassion and kindness?

There are so many things to model. And I’ve thought about it before. But now it’s literally my job. So here’s hoping on that.

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

 

Reading. Again.

Once more, this week has been chock full of intrigues, adventures, double-crosses, and unexpected (and all-too-expected) love. Except not at all. Except actually. My life, of course, is incredibly boring. But I’ve been reading distinctly more than my dose of adventure.

A small highlight from the week: for my upper class on Wednesday and Thursday (which is whatever, I’m also working Saturday but it’s a whole thing and I don’t want to go into it at this juncture) we learn a literary device each week and so we covered anadiplosis. Not a term I was familiar with but a technique that is relatively common. The thing where the end of the sentence is the beginning of the next.

This enabled us to watch a couple fun clips in class. First we had the emblematic “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Iconic. Yoda. I didn’t even try to explain the literary device of his speech patterns (which is called anastrophe). But it was fun. Even better was when we watched part of Galadriel’s intro to Fellowship of the Ring (“History became legend. Legend became myth.”) and the students wanted to watch more. That was a major plus.

Really not much else going on in my life. Next week is a holiday week for Chuseok, which is why this week’s schedule is strange and annoying. I will talk about Chuseok next week, though you’re welcome to look it up yourself too. We get pretty much no holidays off at my branch so having like three days is really something.

Anyway. I know I probably spend almost as much time thinking of bad metaphors for reading as actual time spent reading but whatever, I’m over it. My latest is this: some books twist the harp of my heartstrings into a cat’s cradle so taut it doesn’t even need to be plucked to sing.

So my heart has been singing of late.

I sometimes like to think of myself as a bit of a cold customer, not really icy but someone mysterious and aloof and imposing. Serene and self-sufficient and devil-may-care. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always sort of been enamored with that general vibe. People who know me know, obviously, that I rarely (except actually never) pull that off. I have all the emotions. So many emotions, sometimes, that I want to vomit to expel them all. Literal emotion vomit. The strange thing is, though, that I’m at my most vomity when I’m reading. Like, books are way more likely than people to threaten to pull my stomach out of my mouth. I’m not sure why books do this so often when life does it so rarely, but I guess I’ll take what I’m given and be grateful.

That may have gotten more strangely graphic than I intended but what can you do. Somehow we went from a beautiful metaphor about singing (you’ve gotta admit it’s a pretty good one) to vomiting emotions. Which is less beautiful.

Anyway. Books.

I know I talk about them all the time but what can I say. If the vomit metaphor doesn’t convey how they make me feel, then I don’t know what to tell you. Stories. Just, stories.

Gah. I’m descending into inane babbling because I simply cannot, like, ugh. Books, okay? Wow.

There’s something inexorable about it; it’s totally out of my control but I don’t think I would stop it if I could. Were it in my power to do so, I think I would refrain. As much as emotion-vomit makes for tightly wound living, I would not exchange it for vomit-free living. This, more than anything else, makes me grateful for my own literacy. What a gift it is that collections of small lines and curves can make me weep.

I haven’t even been reading anything particularly powerful recently, though I’ve been reading plenty. This is just a series of thoughts that have occurred to me over the past several weeks in which books have been playing pretty seriously with my emotions.

Best of luck to you all this week. Some weeks need more luck than others and maybe this is one of them for you. You can do it.

In Which My Love Affair with Books Continues Unabated

Can I just start this post by mentioning that time, a number of years ago now, that I learned adults can get zits too. Like, you’ll never truly be rid of them unless you’re very lucky. I don’t have acne or anything, but even occasional zits are just beyond the pale.

The first week of autumn term is nearly finished. I’m back to teaching the same courses as my first term, but I’m teaching higher levels and one of them is substantially different. However, I’m only teaching two levels! A major improvement over last term, and I’m still very grateful for it. I like my classes, generally. I’ve taught nearly half of them before which means I guess I’m practically an old hand (at least in terms of foreign teachers here). They made me move classrooms, which is a shame as I’d been in 102 for the entire six months. But now I’m in 207, the last room at the end of the poorly-lit hall upstairs. It has its perks but I’m still getting used to it.

Not much else to report. I had Wednesday off, the first in a long time, and I made good use of it. I went to brunch with some friends and then wandered around. We visited a new cat café since the one we normally go to has been closed recently (hopefully not forever). There were no games to be had, but there were many more cats and of many varieties. It wasn’t long before we had given many of them names: Foxy Grey and Foxy Tan, Bedraggle, Cloud Baby and Cloud Baby 2, Big Face, Friend, and Tuxy. We passed a very enjoyable hour or two among the cats before heading briefly to an arcade and then home.

It felt like a long day but I got home at 6:30 and it was amazing. Plenty of time to read.

I know I talk kind of a lot about books. But it’s kind of how I live my life and I’m not sorry about it. I’ve been into several in the past couple weeks; not the same fervor from a while ago, but I’ve made my way through a number of them. One, that I started on Sunday night and finished less than twelve hours later, got me all sorts of feeling.

Some books are like that. They reach into you and start dancing around in your skin, singing songs you didn’t think you knew and stretching muscles you could’ve sworn you didn’t have. It doesn’t much matter whether the book is any good, or if you’re interested in the plot, or if you like the characters. Sometimes all it takes is a couple pages and wham bam it’s all over you have the book sickness.

I had that, a little, this week, and I’m grateful for it.