Friday, April 20, 2012

The Test

Do you ever get the feeling that the universe is testing you?

I'm trying to sit down and actually work out what's wrong, but can't connect the dots. On a bad day I come home covered in a fine powder of chalk- smudges on black pants, dust on my lips. I've probably lost my temper in class, usually in snide little ways, comments that thankfully go over heads. Six continuous hours of teaching can be like six straight hours of being on stage, six hours of smiling, singing and dancing, signing autographs with a smile or just as many hours of dodging rotting tomatoes. No, no, it's not like that at all. Maybe it's better put this way: six hours of supervising construction work. Sure, other people can do it but you'd still better keep an eye on them. I watch life going by outside the windows. People, places, warm spring air, green leaves getting bigger every day. I used to enjoy this job! Rainstorms, snowfall, construction, arguments. Things change in the school: new floors, torn wallpaper, fresh cracks in the blackboard, remodeled window frames, yet every day it's the same routine. I feel like life has been an exercise in futility the past month. The past couple of entries may look shiny, but they actually document a search. The past month?- there was no purpose in being in Ukraine. If life is to just consist of work, home, work, home, weekend, why do it in a city near the Russian border? For minimum wage? Why not venture on to Phoenix? Or Sacramento? Why not back to Honolulu?

The idea was to try to get away from working so much. This morning, crammed among commuters on the metro, other passengers having just rescued my bag from an imminent crushing death between the car doors, it all hit home. Why have I been commuting across town in the early AM for the past eight months? Or working until 10 PM the night before? I guess to create opportunities for the future. Isn't that why we do things? Especially unpleasant things? To give us more options later? But... perhaps some opportunities can only be had right now. If we put them off, trying to save them for later, they'll have vanished, evaporated into the past.

Spring is like a breath of fresh air- I know I write incessantly about it, but this is the first time in years I've actually felt it and noticed it. And it feels like such a fragile season. If the spring isn't enjoyed RIGHT NOW it will be gone, and we'll never get it back. Sure, there will be other springs, but none like this one. Every day that I postpone it feels criminal. Every day that I ignore spring is a black mark on the record of my soul.

Seriously, if I were a bird I would be frantically migrating to the where I should be. Except, I don't think I need to travel anywhere. I think I just need to change some of the details of my life. Since 2012 dawned I've tried to get away from the factory line of work and reclaim time for personal development (learning Russian, exercise, cooking, making friends, etc). This week has been an acceleration of the struggle to do this. For example, let's imagine I'm granted a reduced work load. But then someone that I'm a fan of asks for private tutoring. Then a teacher quits and some extra hours are added to the regular work schedule. Then the school asks for extra help on exam day. Then a woman from across town opens negotiations for something that is intriguing yet suspiciously resembles another full-time schedule. Just as I can barely drag myself to the one I've already got. No, I lie. It's not quite full-time, it's less than last fall's schedule but it's still too much for me. I feel both stronger and more fragile than the other teachers, able to do less but able to do it with depth and once, once with passion.

That's the scary part of all this. D keeps warning me to not push it, that if you burn out badly enough the passion might not come back. He reminds me of how alive I was before, planning a citizenship class for elderly Russian immigrants, working with a Mexican priest on pronunciation, researching for an advanced grammar class, tutoring a librarian from Kamchatka, teaching for a year at the refugee resettlement program, coaching a mother from Japan for the year and a half prior to that. And there's more. How could I do all that for so many years and then be consumed and spit out by teaching four nights a week? And if D starts bringing something up, it usually means I've crossed the line. And as he put it: the teacher that quit, do you think he's taking multiple sleeping pills to get to sleep? Do you think he cries? Do you think he worries how the school is going to get by? Do you think he misses the moment?

So my original plan wasn't good enough. Trying to politely cut down on commitments isn't working. Instead the universe sends more and more temptations and job offers. I hate the thought of having to renegotiate an agreement or the idea of pulling a runner, but those things have to be considered. If I have the guts I'll say to my boss, I'm available half the hours you've got me down for. (There's still several weeks before the new semester.) It seems like this would be an easy task, but the school always seems to deny the requests of others to work more and slips out of assigning me less. And if I have the guts I'll postpone things with the new woman until later in the summer. It's just too easy to say "yes" to things; a "no" always takes more courage.
If these things all seem like silly complaints, what can I say? You're probably stronger than me. But I know this- if you don't take care of yourself, it's impossible to do any good for anyone else.

This is like a giant test from the universe.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? What did you do?

"Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.”
- Lemony Snicket


  1. I've definitely found myself in the same situation... I think I mentioned in my last email, about starting my graduate work and intending to go straight onto a PhD (and to teach, to write relevant papers in my field, etc, everything that comes with graduate work). After a year of my MA program, that plan totally derailed. Not only was it a struggle to keep pace with the demands of the program through that first year, but my body literally started rebelling from the stress. With an autoimmune disorder like Crohn's Disease, I can't really stress out too much or I WILL get sick.

    Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that I've re-evaluated what I want in life, and it's not a crazy schedule and lot of stress. It's no good, and it's not healthy either. Work/life balance, all that. So I get where you're coming from! I think it's worth it to take it easy and enjoy life, rather than running yourself ragged. I really hope you can find a manageable balance, and enjoy the spring weather while it's here. Good luck, and never feel guilty for saying that it's too much!

    PS: I appreciate the Lemony Snicket quote!

    1. That sounds like it was a very stressful time for you. How did you feel when you told people (advisor, those in the MA program with expectations of you) that you needed a change? Was it relief and feeling justified, or did you feel guilty? I always feel guilty when I say it's too much, it's a trait I want to do away with.

    2. I did feel a bit guilty about "letting people down", but in the end I suppose it is hard to argue against prioritizing health concerns. In that way I kind of had a trump card. Certainly not the way I'd want it to be, but that's where I'm at. But yes, prior to explaining my health issues to my supervisor, he was very pushy about me getting things done quickly and put a lot of pressure on me. It was sometimes difficult to deflect his insistence on me doing it all his way (which would have involved me enrolling in a PhD program as soon as possible, and taking on extra work). Regardless of my own particular situation, I don't think stress is healthy for anyone- do take it easy, and don't let anyone put pressure on you to do more than you can and still be happy and healthy.

  2. It's high time to start:
    1. say "yes" to yourself
    2. rely on your close people completely
    3. say "no" to others
    And, of course, mind about allowing your close people to rely on you when you'll have strength for this.

    1. Thank you, Roman. That's very good advice. And I wish all students were as hard-working and thoughtful as you!

  3. These are not silly complaints!!! Since I started working, almost 20 years ago, I get up and go to sleep with thoughts like these. And there is no solution whatsoever! When you are young you have to work, when you don't work, which means that you are already dead or disabled, there is no point to live! Life is somewhere in between... And the bad news - it's short! Still feel depressed? Never mind! It's spring! And we are still alive!!!

    1. Timur, у тебя душа русского поэта. "В этой жизни умирать не ново, но и жить, конечно, не новей."

  4. I am finally catching up with your blog. I've been out of town for almost two weeks, supposedly on vacation that was more work than going to work is. Anyways....remember few years ago when my world seemed to be colapsing, and I was working full time, and my kids were even littler, and I was uncertain what exactly was going on with my son medically, as well as I was uncertain what was going on with my marriage..........well yes, the universe was testing me. It does that every now and then, and when the test is over, boy you feel like on top of the mountain admiring yourself how you were able to do it. And then you go on to conquer the next mountain. Just keep on going, you are doing fine. Hugs!