What a Day….

The best way to describe my orientation day at my new job is that it was like a Polaroid picture. Completely opaque and confusing at the beginning, but a whole lot clearer by the end.

I left the house at 6:30 and got to the school at 8:30 – slightly later than I wanted, as I was selfish enough to use the toilet at the train station and thereby missed the bus – and met some of the other new teachers. From there we were herded into a faculty meeting where we got to introduce ourselves. I think I did okay, mumbling something in Japanese that sounded like what everyone else was saying [1]. From there was a long presentation on something, very little of which I understood since it was all in Japanese, but I did my damndest to turn pages when everyone else did and look thoughtfully up at the guy who happened to be talking at the time. That was about two hours, and I hardly understood any of it. Fortunately my department-section-division head boss-type-person summarized it in about five minutes.

From there, we went into the teacher’s room, which is – and I do not use this word lightly – ginormous. What thrilled me was that I get a desk – a desk! And a locker for the stuff that doesn’t fit in my desk! I know, you’re thinking, “But Chris, it’s a job – you’re supposed to have a desk.” Well, you’ve never worked at an English Conversation School, have you? I fight for every inch of space I can get there [2], and now they’re offering me a whole desk! All to myself!

Anyway, we had a couple more meetings after that and I got to try the cafeteria food. What it all comes down to are the following:

  • My fellow teachers [3] are very willing to help me hit the ground running. They’ve got a ton of material to draw from and ideas to use. That helps immeasurably.
  • They also have nothing but good to say about the students. That’s quite encouraging, because in my experience if there’s something to complain about, a teacher will complain about it.
  • I’m actually expected to think about what I want to do, set goals for myself and all that. My current gig doesn’t really require that – all we have to do is find a lesson that works for the group you have and take two minutes to plan. NOVA is fine if we just follow their pre-done lesson plans, but here I’ll actually have to put some thought into what I do with the students. That is both wonderful and, of course, horrifying.

Still and all, I’m looking forward to it. Our books for the first half of the year or so are Fahrenheit 451, Things Fall Apart and a selection of stories from Edgar Allen Poe. Once they’re done, I can decide what we read next. Yay!

Oh, and I’ll be working with the drama club.

Now. Off to bed…..

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[1] I think I set a land-speed record for learning a new word: kyouka, which is “subject” or “curriculum.” My exact thought process: “Oh shit, I don’t know how to say what I teach. Okay, listen for a repeated word…. Got it. kyoukakyoukakyoukakyouka…..

[2] That reminds me – I have to disarm the mines before I leave.

[3] One of whom, I might add, is a dead ringer for Zachary Quinto. When I met him I very nearly screamed and covered my brain.

I know we’re not supposed to keep score or anything, but….

We got James Randi!

James Randi, famous magician and skeptic, has publicly come out of the closet at the age of 81. You can listen to him talk about it on the For Good Reason podcast. Listening to him, I can really understand where he’s coming from. Being gay has just been part of who he is, not the defining quality of who he is. And of all those parts of him – magician, skeptic – being a gay man wasn’t the most important part of who he was. “I never adopted any protective coloration.” Nice turn of phrase….

Of course, now we have someone else to point to when gay youth feel like there’s no one out there who understands what they’re going through. Every celebrity, scientist, politician who embraces his or her sexuality in such a public manner is helping remove the stigma of being gay or lesbian from the public eye, and as Randi says, “In another two decades, I’m confident that young people will find themselves in a vastly improved atmosphere of acceptance.” And as for the gay adults who are still in hiding, let this be a lesson that it’s never too late.

So good for you, Randi! Time to go put those magic tricks to good use – picking up cute guys at bars.

You keep Jesus, I’ll take Hal Jordan

So. I got the job that I talked about in a recent post, the one working at Ritsumeikan High School in Uji. And I don’t mind telling you that I had myself tied up in some pretty entertaining knots over this. It got to the point where I’d flinch when new email came in because I was sure it was either an offer or a rejection, and I didn’t know which was scarier.

That’s no way to go through life, so I decided to do something about it. Enter the Green Lanterns.

In the DC Universe, the Green Lanterns are a kind of space police, armed with a power ring that is able to project a green energy field that responds to the user’s willpower and imagination. It’s a hell of a thing, very possibly the most powerful weapon in the universe, and I can honestly say it’s probably best for everyone that mine doesn’t actually work.

Not just anyone can be a Green Lantern, though. There’s a very special quality that is required of a potential Lantern.

In order to master the power ring, the Lantern has to master their fear. If they cannot do that, they will never be able to successfully wield the ring and take their place among the protectors of the cosmos. It used to be that a Green Lantern had to be without fear entirely, but later and more worldly writers realized that such a quality would be more of a detriment than a benefit. Fear is necessary to our lives – it keeps us honest and, often, alive. Without fear, we are less than animals, because even they know well enough what to be afraid of.

What makes a Lantern, then, is the ability to overcome it. Later in the comic, Dr. Natu finds the corpse of another Lantern and repeats to herself, “I am not afraid.” But that’s clearly a lie – she is. What eventually cements her to the Green Lantern Corps is not that she is unafraid, but that she can overcome the fear that threatens to make her give up her new calling. She chooses not to let her fear rule her, and in doing so becomes something greater than herself.

Anxiety about starting a new job is hardly fear on the level that is traditionally depicted in Green Lantern comic books. That kind of danger is cosmic in scale and very often fatal. But it was pretty damn real to me. Every time I considered the possible future ahead of me, my gut would clench and that little whispery voice in the back of my head would start its litany of all the ways that I would probably fail. What was I, anyway? A NOVA teacher? Assuming that I could handle real academics? And teenagers no less? From day one I would be overwhelmed, beaten and humiliated, and all I would be able to do was crawl back to my eikaiwa job in ignominy.

To that, I would finger the ring I was wearing and say to myself, “You have the ability to overcome great fear.”

And I did.

So here’s to the future. I start my new job on April 14th, provided I get all the necessary paperwork done before I leave for Spain. It’ll be a challenge, and I’ll no doubt make mistakes. But when I was offered the job, I said “Yes” without hesitation, and I must always remember that.

It’s not re-igniting the sun or saving the universe or doing battle against a living planet with a mad desire to kill me. But I had fear and I overcame it.

Let’s go.

Don’t Panic! パニクるな! No entres en pánico! Keine Panik! Не паникуйте! Ná Scaoill! Neprepadajte panike!

There are times when I wish I had more control over my brain. I mean, I’m generally pretty good at it – keeping it from drifting off when someone in a lesson is telling a boring story, for example. Or, conversely, keeping it from becoming very, very focused when I visit a sento. [1] But there are times when, much like my cat, it defies all attempts at control and just runs around full tilt, freaking out over something only it can see.

I had a job interview this morning, my first in nearly a decade. It’s for a job at the Ritsumeikan Junior/Senior High school in Uji, a city slightly south of Kyoto, teaching ESL and English Literature. I got pointed to the job by a former colleague, who thought I’d be a good fit, and in a whirlwind week of scanning documents and arranging dates it all came together this morning. I got up at 6 AM, commuted out to Uji for a 10:00 interview and did, I think, pretty well.

They had me do a short demo lesson for them, using text from Fahrenheit 451 to cobble together a lesson, and then we went on to the standard interview, which I think I handled nicely. I had answers to all their questions and threw questions of my own at them. I pulled together my experience doing theater and my experience at NOVA, presenting the picture of someone who takes from all sources to build a better lesson. And when they noted that my degree was not in English or English Lit but rather in Poli-Sci, well… That’s when I dropped the Podcast on them. I may not have the sheepskin to prove it, but they’d be hard-pressed to find someone around here who likes books as much as I do. I rather hope they Google my name and “podcast” and see what comes up.

The job itself sounds great, too. Great campus and environment, a fine salary, and it would be teaching at a higher level than what I’m doing now. There’ll be a pretty damn steep learning curve, which I was careful to acknowledge in the interview, but I like to think I’m quick enough on my feet to handle it. With the exception of a 90-minute commute that would have to start at about 6 AM, there’s really nothing to say against it.

So I’m puzzled as to why my brain is freaking out and panicking at the mere thought that they might actually offer the job to me.

I hope this is something that normal people experience. Instead of joyful anticipation that my station in life may soon rise, I am experiencing the terror of potential failure. That I will be hired and then subsequently exposed as a sham. That I’ll crack under the pressure of a higher level of work and realize that my reach had indeed exceeded my grasp, and that being an English Conversation Instructor was really the best I could hope for.

In other words, my stupid, weak Hyuu-man Meat Brain ™ is being completely irrational, and as you may have noticed by now, I find irrationality annoying, especially when it’s my own. It’s stupid for several reasons:

1) This is the kind of job that many eikaiwa teachers aspire to. Aside from being less corporate and profit-focused, as well as better-paying, it’s more consistent in terms of class size and curriculum and carries a lot more social cachet, if that kind of thing is important to you. It’s qualitatively better than working at an English Conversation School. [2] If I told someone that I was too freaked out by the prospect of a job at Ritsumeikan that I turned it down just so I could stay with NOVA, I think they would be perfectly justified in beating me to death with my own sand-filled internal organs.

2) This kind of thing is right up my alley. I mean come on, teaching literature? And they intimated that the guy running the drama club might be happy to know that there was someone else qualified to take it over. Taking the point of view of an objective observer, there should be nothing in this gig that I cannot handle. Sure, it might be a little bumpy to begin with, but the ultimate payoff would be spectacular.

3) I know people who are looking for work, and have been for quite some time. Turning down a really good job like this would be, in my opinion, a slap in their faces.

4) Even if I don’t get the job, which is possible [3], I still have my current job. So it’s not like I’m out on a limb here. In fact, if they do turn me down, I’m scheduled to start working at a new branch in April, one that’s just over the river from where I am now. My usual 80-minute commute gets cut down to 30. So it’s a win-win, really.

They should get back to me sometime this week. From now until then, it’ll just be me against my own brain – trying not to get too excited, as a hedge against possible disappointment; trying not to get too freaked out lest I do something massively idiotic like tell them no; trying not to over-analyze everything [4] so as to keep a lid on the excitement and terror.

In other words, try to approach this like a rational adult, and not get too annoyed with myself about how hard that appears to be.


[1] Public bath. It was there that I learned that most people don’t look good naked. There are those that do, however, and that’s when having rigid firm turgid absolute control over one’s thoughts becomes very useful.

[2] It’s also quantitatively better, but the math involved to prove it is far too difficult to post here. Just trust me.

[3] The school year starts in the first week in April, which is when I’ll be in Spain for my brother Paul’s wedding. I let them know, full disclosure and everything, that I’d be away until about the middle of the month, and got, “Hmmm. That might be a problem.” Now this was one of the foreign teachers speaking, but depending on how native she’s gone, that could mean “HELL no.” We shall see.

[4] So much for that.

Maybe he’s in the Gay CIA….

You know, working behind enemy lines or something?

This story has been passed around a lot this morning, and it got me thinking. Mostly about self-respect, principles and compassion.

Long story short: California Senator Roy Ashburn has long been an opponent of gay rights, especially same-sex marriage. He has be vociferous in his opposition, which made his DUI arrest a couple of weeks ago all the more interesting. He was with another gentleman, and they were both coming home from a well-known Sacramento gay bar. Finally he has come out and admitted that he was gay.

My first thought was, “Serves you right, you lying Republican scum,” but that’s sort of my default response. I’d think the same thing if Orrin Hatch got a paper cut. But there is a certain amount of satisfaction to be taken when someone who has been so openly and vocally against homosexuality turns out to have been a Double-Secret Gay the whole time. The fact that he has a wife and kids just makes it all the worse – not only has he been lying to his constituents, but to the people who should be most important to him.

I marvel at it, too. How much self-loathing does it take to maintain a lie of this caliber for so long? I mean, it’s bad enough if you’re just trying to keep your gayness a secret – millions of men have had to do that throughout history, but they at least had the excuse that revealing themselves could have resulted in ostracism, injury or death. Ashburn doesn’t have that excuse, seeing as how he lives in California. But still, if you want to keep it a secret because you think it’s something that is dangerous to you, okay. Just try not to hurt anyone else in the process.

Well, Ashburn has failed at that. He has a wife and kids who have been lied to. He has supporters and staff who have been lied to. He has lovers who have been lied to. And the worst part is that his lie, in this day and age, is pretty much unnecessary. He doesn’t need to lie about who he is, and I’m pretty sure he knows it.

That being said, I feel bad for him.

In a radio interview, he said “I’m gay. Those are the words that have been so difficult for me for so long.” You see, I was lucky. I was extraordinarily lucky that I had friends and family who were loving and accepting of who I was. I was never insulted or cursed by anyone I came out to, never rejected or ostracized. I never felt that I was at risk of losing someone I loved by coming out. In short, my circumstances were about as good as they can possibly get for someone who is coming out gay. Even so, actually saying the words to these wonderful people and telling them what, in many cases, they had already figured out for themselves, was amazingly difficult. It often required alcohol.

So if it was that hard for me, and I was basically in the best possible position to come out, how hard must it be for someone like Ashburn? Not just because he risks losing his career and his marriage and kids, or that he’s now facing nationwide public scorn and will have to pay a pretty hard penance to get back into the good graces of the people he loves and respects. By saying those words, he is confessing to years of lies and initiating the destruction of an identity that he has built over an entire lifetime. My coming out, as difficult as it was for me, was nothing compared to this.

And so I feel compassion for the poor bastard. If he does it right, he will be able to build a new life, one in which he can be honest to himself and those he loves. He may even be able to continue in politics, if he plays his cards right. I understand he says he’ll keep voting on an anti-gay platform because that’s what his constituents would want, but I think that’s just the cognitive dissonance talking. If he follows through on this, he’ll soon be forced to reconcile his vote with his sexuality, and will realize that “it’s what my constituents want” is just another lie to be done away with.

All of my compassion for him, of course, is predicated on his continuing to be honest with himself and behaving in a manner consistent with his newfound honesty. If he strays from that path, well, may his suffering be endless.