On Finitude

I debated whether I should post this, to be honest. It seems like I’m letting more hang out than I really should, given the circumstances, but that’s the purpose of this blog. I may not update it as often as I should, but it’s the place to go when there’s an idea in my head that just won’t leave. And if I have to vent to someone, the ceaselessly hungry internet is as good a someone to vent to as any.

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Here’s the setup: the school I work at hires full-time teachers on a three year contract. Because it is a private school, run by a private university system, they are beholden to private sector labor laws, the effect of which is that they are allowed to let teachers go after three years with little more than a bunch of flowers and a sincere “Thank you.” The legal logistics of it are murky, of course, but the take-away is this: my time at Ritsumeikan Uji will end in April, and there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing I can do about it.

There is the matter of finding a new job and being able to remain in the country, but that’s not all that’s on my mind right now. With the sure and certain knowledge that I have a deadline, a thought popped into my head that seems vividly appropriate, but at the same time incredibly insulting: “This is how terminally ill people must feel.”

Oh, I should have been a chemistry teacher…

If you are terminally ill and you just read that and thought, “What an asshole,” I will grant that you’re probably right and I apologize. But the questions that flooded my mind seem to be the same that one might think when seeing the end of their life approaching.

Why didn’t I make better use of my time here? Don’t get me wrong – I did a lot and learned a lot and tried to stay involved with the school, but at the same time I know I could have done more. I could have gone against my nature and been more sociable. I could have spent more time with clubs. I could have taken more advantage of the school’s resources and connections to better myself as a teacher. I could have done more than I did. Why didn’t I? Because I was wrapped up in the day-to-day minutia of being a teacher. Because I valued my free time now over improvement for later. Because I was lazy and short-sighted, perhaps.

What do I do with the time I have left? If I really were an asshole, I’d just slack off. Take the attitude that since nothing I do matters anymore, then why do anything? But that is contrary to my nature – I can’t do that any more than I can stop eating for the next seven months. What I do may not amount to a hill of beans in the long term, but here and now it’s important, and it’s important that I continue to remain dedicated to it. And there is a part of me that wants to wax hyperbolic [1] and carry a bell around with me, ringing it through the halls while I cry out, “DEAD MAN WALKING!” But that would just be ridiculous.

Think of the CHILDREN!

What about the kids? I’ve taught a lot of good kids at this school, and they go beyond being good students to actually being interesting people. One of the biggest reasons I tried for the permanent position was that I wanted to have a chance to teach these kids again, and to see new interesting people emerge over the years. After three years, I was just starting to get the hang of this gig, and wanted the chance to really flex my creative muscles and find better ways to get the students both using English and interested in it.

On top of that, what do I tell them? At some point, they’re going to start asking about next year and whether I’ll be teaching their class. Do I hedge and dodge and make them wait until the end of the year, when the departing teachers are sent off to a farm upstate? Or do I tell them ahead of time? Or am I seriously overestimating their opinion of me that it would even matter to them?

What’s going to happen to all my stuff? This may sound kind of petty, and I suppose it is, but over the last few years, I’ve built up quite a body of work, lesson plans, and even full courses. I was the drama teacher, one of the few advanced reading teachers, and built the curriculum for the regular first year classes. I made an inordinate amount of lesson plans, many of which I’m quite proud of. What’s going to become of all that work? Who’s going to take over the drama class, and will they know what they’re doing? Who’s going to take over my reading classes, and will they be able to keep them interesting and fresh? Who will keep refining the first year curriculum so that the students get the tools they need to do better in their second and third years? Am I leaving all of what I built in the hands of people who will build upon it, or will it all be shoved into a cabinet somewhere to be forgotten?

Damn GPS. Every frackin’ time…

Where do I go from here? After this, what? The chattering monkey in my brain is convinced that nothing better can come along. This was a great place to work, with wonderful co-workers and facilities. And the pay was good, too. After this, what do I do? Do I go back to the eikaiwa purgatory from whence I came? Do I work part-time, teaching English to businessmen? Do I leave teaching and find something else? Will I stumble across something even better than this? Do I live with a bunch of cats in a van down by the river, eating government tofu and slowly going mad? I have no idea, and that kind of uncertainty doesn’t do me any good.

Keep in mind, though, this is just the way my Scumbag Brain works. If you’ve been following along, you may recall the freakout it had when I got this job – wondering whether I’d actually be good enough to do it, if I’d shame myself out of a career, all that. And that worked out just fine. Better than fine, really. It became a job that I deeply, deeply wish I could keep.

So perhaps this, too, will all work out for the best in the end, no matter how many doomsday scenarios I can spin out. Perhaps in a few years I can look back at this entry and marvel at how anxious I was about something that, ultimately, wasn’t that big a deal.

Let’s hope so.

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[1] As is evidenced by the fact that I’m sitting here comparing the loss of my job to dying.

Dear Benghazi Mob…

Why don’t you have a seat over there? Thanks.

Look.

Back in aught-one, the US was attacked. Planes, towers, Pentagon, “Let’s roll” – you know the story. Hell, there are probably hill tribes in Borneo who know the story. The point is, we were attacked in a way we never expected to be. It hurt us. It scared us. And on that day, our reaction was to freak the hell out.

We really lost our shit over this, passing laws that five years prior would have sounded like something out of a tinfoil hat conspiracy newsletter. We launched two wars, one of which was completely unreasonable, and the other of which has been the longest in our history. We allowed our anger and terror to get the better of us, and by doing so we handed victory to the forces that had attacked us. It’s unfortunate, but it’s an all-too-human reaction. Quick, reflexive decision-making may have been what saved our ancient ancestors in Africa all those millennia ago, who knows?

Pictured: One of those bad decisions.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea now. Very little good has come from the decisions made in the aftermath of 9/11, and if we had it all to do over again (not that I’m offering, mind you), I should hope that we’d handle the situation with more care and greater forethought.

Why do I bring this up? Well, because you have fallen into the same trap that we did. You were insulted and outraged by this inane video, produced by a puffed-up religious bigot who thinks it’s funny to incite international incidents. And you reacted without thinking, lashing out not at the people who actually made the video, but at a target only barely related to them at all. Like I said – we get that. We’re the United States. That’s kind of our thing.

Osama bin Laden told the world that we were reactionary, violent warmongers, and we fulfilled that image. Terry Jones told the world that Muslims were an irrational, murderous mob, and you have fulfilled that image as well. You have, as we did, accepted your antagonist’s vision of who you are.

If it were just confined to you, maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, your actions tarnish the reputations of a whole lot of people who aren’t you. Just as there were many Americans who opposed post-9/11 policy-making, there are many Muslims who think what you did was an abomination. And just as the Bush administration tainted the image of The United States, you have tainted the image of Muslims which, at least in the U.S., really doesn’t need to take any more abuse.

You know what they call people who make other people apologize for them? Assholes, that’s what they call them.

The real takeaway from it is this: attacking a U.S. embassy and killing an ambassador isn’t going to do a damned thing except ensure the prompt delivery of a group of very angry Marines. Terry Jones won’t change his ways – hell, you’ve basically confirmed all his prejudices against you – and you’ve managed to make life a lot harder for that vast population of Muslims and Arabs who aren’t screaming maniacs.

Anger is understandable – some jackass openly mocked your sacred traditions. I get that. But there are limits to the acceptable expression of anger, and killing people who had nothing to do with what made you angry, well, that’s out of bounds. And now a whole lot of people who were perfectly willing to get along are going to have to play damage control just because you have problems expressing your rage appropriately.

You have to be better than the people who have attacked you. It’s a lesson the U.S. has had a hard time learning – hell, it’s a lesson that can vex any human being. But it’s vital if we’re ever going to see an end to people like Terry Jones. He needed your rage and you gave him a feast. From now on, don’t feed the trolls.

There.

Problem solved.