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
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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.

Camaro2018-1-4

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

 

Alarm Clocks are for Zombies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take from that what you will.

Apostasy and Un-postasy

The heat, I think, has finally broken. It’s not cool by any means, but being outside no longer feels like death. It’s also still pretty humid, but definitely livable. I’m excited for it to actually be autumn so I can go around and do things again.

That was really the highlight this week–that and the fact that intensives are over, the last day was Tuesday. So that’s a major relief. There’s also only one more week in this term, which is crazy. It also marks my halfway point on my contract, so there’s that. But I’d like to take the bulk of this post to talk about other things, as feeble as my attempt to discuss them may be.

Once again, I find myself in the untenable position where I cannot say nothing but can’t say anything adequate. Others have written much more fully on issues like the Confederate cause (here), Confederate statues (here and here), reactions and likely reactions in government (here and here), and just generally race in the US (here). And loads of others besides. It seems like recent events are almost literally an armed rebellion. A rebellion against the religious and civic foundation of the country that, simultaneously, is perfectly in line with its religious and civic foundation. And that’s really the issue.

A writer for the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, put it succinctly when he said, “The biggest indictment of the way we teach American history is that people can look at Charlottesville and say ‘This is not who we are.'”

When we say, “This is not us,” we’re lying.

That’s why I said it’s an apostasy and not at all. Actions like that are so against the story we typically tell about ourselves, but there are perfectly in line with the reality that so many people have faced across time and geography. The great American civil religion is Freedom, Equality, and Justice and the rituals of that religion are and have been Slavery, Inequality, and Injustice. Hate is both an apostasy and an un-postasy.

It’s so awful. And it’s so exacerbated by the reality that nothing is changing, or not much. I exulted a little hearing that Baltimore, in one night, surprised the city by removing all Confederate monuments. But the President, his administration, and Republicans in Congress will do nothing. The general public will do nothing. The majority of individuals (myself included?) will do nothing.

I cannot express how fully I condemn and abhor the violence in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, there is so much more to it than one weekend, one moment of revulsion. There is a system of violence supported by literal millions through actions and words both passive and active. A system that benefits me because I’m a cis white male.

I feel powerless. Guilt doesn’t help anybody, and I’m not sure what I can do. Donate to organizations like the ACLU, attend marches, speak forcefully to my own detriment when people deny the existence or depravity of the pernicious construct of racism that saturates our country.

It feels sort of hollow to preach ‘love’ in a time like this, when so much of me wants to violently tear into something. For all my words, it’s hard to believe that love has, does, and will win. But it’s true nonetheless.

My number one class rule is English Only because that’s a company policy. My number two rule is Be Kind. I say it all the time. So much so that many of my students make fun of me for it, which only makes me say it more, and so on, no one wins. Except I win. Because if I accomplish nothing else, I will have asked, commanded, cajoled, and begged kindness from a few score Korean kids who, perhaps, will be kind when they don’t want to be. And perhaps the scale of the world will tilt one grain or two toward love.

My post from a year ago definitely says what I want much better than the preceding rambles. But I had to say it again because here we are again.

Love only seems weak to people who don’t have enough. And hoping in love is about all I feel empowered to do just now. Hope and love.

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.”

Childhood; Dreaming of the Ocean

This week held nothing much of note for me, other than a great deal of wonderful weather. I’ve done more walking around than I’ve been wont to do of late and it’s been much to my benefit. I found a beautiful Buddhist shrine and a temple not far down the trail I normally take, just the other direction. There’s also a nice little part of the city that extends into the park a bit. It’s very quiet and pleasant since it’s so cut off.

On Wednesday, I did another test prep class but this time with the slightly younger kids doing the next level lower. It mostly involved picture identification from sentences and included a disturbing question about a man touching the boy kneeling in front of him. So that was not a great moment in test reading for me.

Only one more month of my first term. It’s at once insane how quickly it’s come and how slowly. It seems to always be like that, slow as it happens and fast looking back. It’s been an incredible learning curve and there’s still a ton more, obviously. It’s going to be going full steam until next February. It’s taken so much to figure out things, and I’m just doing two courses and three levels. There are other courses and levels that I haven’t even begun to tackle. So. But let’s not think of that for now. One more month with this. Let’s just get through that.

Anyway.

A small childhood reminiscence: did any of you have that mail subscription to Top Secret? It was those little magazines with puzzles and information about different countries. It was actually a lot like Carmen San Diego (another childhood favorite). The criminals all had fabulous names, the kind my AP Calculus textbook was also fond of. Izzy Sinkin, Sharon Sharilike, Ella Vader (Darth’s daughter). That last one, I kid you not, appeared exactly like that in an AP Calc question.

You had to solve the puzzles and each one would help you figure out who the criminal was, what they stole (it was always theft), and where they hid it. Like Clue too, I guess. They were so much fun. And you visited loads of countries before the subscription ended and you became an official sleuth or whatever. They had a board game too, though I don’t remember it much.

I was thinking yesterday about this, for no apparent reason, and thinking about what my younger self would think of me now. It’s a common question but not one I’ve actually thought much about. Small child me had a lot of interests. At one time or another, I wanted to own a nursery (the plant kind), be a history teacher, be an author, or be an Egyptologist (like Zahi Hawass, a former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities whose name I knew from a very young age).

Sometimes I think I’ve wound up doing just sort of random things instead, from high school until now. But that’s not really the case. I think in many ways I’m very much the same person. I wanted to travel the world and learn as much about it as I could. I’ve certainly seen a good chunk of it with hopefully more to come. And I’m teaching (though that one I honestly did not expect). I’ve studied languages–without achieving fluency…yet. I’ve seen a lot of history and, though I’m no archaeologist, I’ve gotten some rad opportunities to be hands on.

[Little story time on that last note: In Turkey, I visited the ruins of Ephesus and got to actually like touch everything. In England, one of my classes had a field trip to the cathedral library where we actually got to touch thousand year old manuscripts.]

It’s somehow comforting to realize that I haven’t come so far after all. Knowing that my childhood passions are, in fact, still alive and well makes me feel like maybe what I’m doing isn’t so unreasonable. Little Keegan would not, I think, be so disappointed as I sometimes fear. At my core of cores, from then to now, is a desire to know as much as I can about this pale blue dot. Sometimes that means Wikipedia browsing and other times actually traveling. I’m working on it.

Unrelated to everything above, but I was reading this morning and encountered a wonderful sentence that I have to share. Oh, how I ache sometimes!

To see the ocean once is to learn how to miss it.

Divine

Because there is no reason not to start a post with cats. Isn’t she very regal-looking here? And Bubba’s face is visible, so that’s a plus. Photographing black cats is hard.

This week has been decent. The weather has continued to be mostly fine and I’ve gotten in plenty of roof reading. I’ve also encountered a growing amount of lilac which is a major plus as it’s my favorite flower by scent.

There were a few less sunny moments. It did rain quite heavily on Tuesday and, in the midst of the weather, my trusty jacket finally gave up the ghost. The zipper got stuck and then there was…mangling. Poor jacket, I got you in 2010. It had been with me to more than a dozen countries on four continents. May your memory live long. I hardly knew ye.

That was followed by Wednesday, when I was rather suddenly thrust into a new kind of review class (suddenly meaning that I was given 24 hours to prepare). I was to help prepare students for the TOEFL Jr. using as basis a great deal of the material for a class I’ve never taught or even seen the curriculum for. So there was that. I scrambled, fudged, and managed like a champion, if I do say so myself. Which I do. I guess I’ll just be a teensy bit ahead of the curve when I teach that course next term. It was, I imagine, incredibly boring for the students and apparently their practice test scores were pretty low. But I didn’t mind doing it. I’m a test taker, it’s always come easily to me, and the question typology they gave me appealed to my routine-love. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m actually teaching that course.

Anyway. Other things that happened this week: major religious holiday.

Remembering back to last Easter, and all the weighty history relating thereto, it is a curious thing for me this year. In South Korea, roughly a quarter of the population identifies as Christian (about four fifths of which are Protestant, the rest Catholic). There are churches everywhere, but they represent a relatively small portion of the country. The advanced commercialization of holidays is lessened here as well, so for Easter there is essentially no change to mark it outside of a church service.

Coming from the parades, historical commemorations, and general shenanigans of Dublin 2016, it certainly sets up a contrast. I went to a church like normal, and that was that. There was no lamb, nor eggs, nor rabbits. Probably for the best, actually, since Easter is actually just about the church thing anyway.

In one of my lessons, we were talking about human enhancement and the possibility of human perfectibility. Students, while vocal in support of plastic surgery (this is the plastic surgery capital of the world), were in general agreement that perfection is out of the question. And I tend to agree.

Alexander Pope said it well in 1711: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” I’m a mess. Not in any particular sense, so don’t worry (parents). But just generally. I get by, I do fine, but nothing special, really. I lack commitment to anything particularly admirable or world-changing. I do intend to do more and then I mostly don’t because I’m lazy. Every effort of mine at self-improvement (how much more for improvement of something beyond myself) ends up collapsing after a fairly brief span. I’d like to think that on the whole I’m on an upward slope but who’s to say.

I fail, and will continue to do so. But the important thing is keeping the focus on the other part of Pope’s point. To err is what marks us as these weak mortals. It is forgiveness–and the faith that forgiveness will come–that changes everything. And that is the great transgression of Easter: it completes the bridge between the human and the divine. While we were still sinners (still are, still will be), Christ died for us. In his rising, forgiveness is made complete and perfect forever.

Let’s remember that. And let’s strive to mirror that divine act of forgiving.