a poem: snakes on the deck

Sometimes I’m tempted to get angry that I have to stand here and teach English. I want to rage and rail and list my complaints neatly in ordered, alphabetized lines.
But I don’t let myself ever get angry. Not really truly deeply angry. I chose this life. I think I have no right to get angry that I chose it.
Choose something else, is the obvious answer. And yet I don’t. So fear is there. And laziness. The status quo. Inertia. A body at one job remains at one job unless acted upon by unemployment or very great determination. Workers first law.
I rage in silence at myself in the end. Why are you standing there teaching English? Layabout.

(Part 2, sometime later)

I am angry now. I have pulled up a great column
Of anger in my chest and am heaving it out, coil by coil,
Like a great slippery snake
Like a heavy rope on a ship
To coil and coil without end.
The deck is full of the slips and strains of it.
I am angry.
Angry that I feel beholden to something
I should not.
This life is toxic. It is destroying my body.
Why have I not left.
Why do I feel this guilt.
Why has this place given me such guilt that I can’t even walk away when it no longer serves me nor helps me nor is even safe for me.
Were I at home I wouldn’t hesitate.
No, just here.
I am rotting.
A carcass for carrion birds to find and harvest.
I will leave the shell behind and journey home.
The soul bright and untainted.
The long, long journey back to it.

-a.e

Excerpts from my journal; May 2017

May 25

Fruit flies are the smoke of summer. Leave a bag of trash out for an hour, go to close it, squeeze the edges and poof! – out pop three of the suckers, whirling into the air like so much vapor.

Funny how the things you used to be scared of don’t bother you forever. I never wore contacts when I first needed glasses because I was scared of the idea of something in my eye. I could barely touch my eyes at all, and I was terrified a contact would roll back and be lost in my brain space. Finally I got sick of glasses and got over it and started wearing contacts, and got really comfortable touching my eyes and messing with them, as you do when you wear contacts. And then, today and once before, I’ve rubbed my eyes too hard and pushed my contacts up past my upper lid so they’re caught above my eye. Gross. A bit painful too but mostly just freaking annoying because you have to pull your eyelid out while you roll your head down and eyes up to get it to shift down again. Do that and dig with your other finger under your eyelid until you grab the thing. No worries. But I still won’t watch Minority Report.

My mornings are way better these days because I bought hazelnut coffee. My local small grocery store didn’t have it, so that meant that for months I just drank the other kind of coffee. But last weekend I went to the big store farther away, the one that takes me about twenty minutes to walk to, because I needed to get makeup. So I got makeup, and some on-sale shoes, and two bags of hazelnut coffee.

The shoes are cute, and the makeup is smoky because I had just read about beatniks, and the coffee is nutty and amazing and makes my mornings lookforwardtoable. You can get me up easy if you promise coffee.

May 27

What a day. It’s always strange to have a full Saturday when normally I just laze about at home and wile away the hours reading or watching TV.

It was Sports Day, and it went amazingly well. All the teams did something right. Even though my team had a sucky cheer, we came in second overall so it didn’t matter. And in the end, after the prizes are handed out the kids just want to leave anyway.

I got a sunburn, and my eyes hurt and my stomach hurts but I’m so happy it’s over. Sports Day is rough just because it’s outside in the heat and sun and extra chaotic. Other events like Wax Museum, being indoors, might take a lot of preparation but it’s easier on the teachers. I don’t just care about that but…yeah, I just care about that.

Today was also the day my brother and I finally pegged down our accommodations and tours for New Zealand. Sorry, Middle Earth. I should call it what it is. I think that was causing me a lot of stress too, not having those taken care of. I was worried we wouldn’t get the places we wanted or the tours would be sold out, yadda yadda. But we got them paid for and done, and we got our ETAs for Australia so we can enter, and we found all the amazing places to visit and eat around each city so…I think we’re good to go. Everything’s coming together, and it’s starting to feel like we’ll really be there. Oh man, oh man, oh man.

I even looked at souvenirs to buy, but honestly, I don’t want much. Maybe a poster or shirt or the one ring, but not a lot. Pictures and memories of good food and travel. Just seeing and being somewhere else. And seeing my brother have fun will be all I need.

May 30

I shake my shoulders and try to shake them into a place they fit. Music sends waves through me that jangle my soul up and shake the water, letting it settle more comfortably again.

Didion writes with no mercy. There is no soft justification in her. Just the facts, ma’am. Yes, sir. Cold and clear and hard. Got it. Meanwhile I spin a gossamer around every word. Pounding out word after word carefully, not to reveal too too much, not to hurt or imply anything uncomfortable.

May 31

“Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” – Didion

I like to read Joan Didion. Her pieces don’t excite me, don’t thrill me, but they do keep me fascinated, keep me reading. There is some peculiar power there. And I recognize in my writing, even before I read her, an echo of her voice. She writes like me. To read her, and to read me, when I’m being honest, you’d probably think we were unhappy. We write like unhappy people, looking at life ironically, cynically, bluntly. They say INFJs have a sad soul with a happy personality. I am certainly that way. I’m rarely sad for people to see. I write like I’m always sad. I’m always melancholic. But I wouldn’t say I am a sad person.

Excerpts from my journal; Fall 2015

August

It’s the end of day two of lessons. I’m so utterly exhausted I can barely type. I’ve been to immigration twice now; yesterday after classes ended and today before my last class. And I still have to go again tomorrow. I don’t know if they’re telling me the truth or not, but they keep saying there are too many people so I have to come back. Now they’ve told me tomorrow morning before 9. So I’m going at 8:30 and oh well if I can’t get done. My co-worker is taking over my classes for the time being. I feel terrible about it but what can I do? I have to go. And I have to go soon or my health check will expire.

On the whole, classes are going as well as can be expected. We’ve had the schedule change twice now. Yesterday that meant that I had to suddenly teach a couple of classes with no preparation, but I muscled through them, and it’s not like the students can tell.

I have to keep reminding myself that they don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, so if I go off lesson plan it’s okay. I will get used to things and be better. Because just the act of teaching is so new, I don’t have room to think of creative things to do with the material. I just lecture and make them do work mostly.

It’s very hard not having internet at home. I could do a lot more if I could work on it here. And hopefully tomorrow I can be done with immigration and have time after classes end.

I found the garbage area. I’m sure I did it wrong, but no one was around to yell at me so I did I anyway. I’ll figure it out or just keep doing it wrong.

August

Yesterday I had my first accosting. I was in the grocery store line and an elderly lady said hello and welcome to Korea and wasn’t I pretty? All in Korean, of course, so I just smiled and nodded and ignored her. That’s been it so far.

September

I feel like I’m getting to know the ahjussis who work at the CU downstairs. There’s the older guy who works in the morning most days who speaks very good English and always says “Good morning!” to me. He’s my favorite. He makes counting music when he counts my coins. Like a little song. But he doesn’t smile, so it’s even funnier. Then there are the two slightly younger older guys, maybe late thirties or early forties, who seem either scared of me or just so angry about working there that they border on being rude. Finally, the older guy who may be the owner who asked me if I just got paid when I gave him a fifty. No, sir, I just only have many fifties in my house.

The Truth About Living Abroad

photo-1445968660880-120e2f7b8c33

Aspiration – a stock photo (I imagine the photographer telling this girl to pose like she’s about to toss a large rock as hard as she can. Or maybe she’s yelling therapeutically about ex-boyfriends).

Everyday

Reality (actual picture of what I do most of the time – compute, read, plan, have dangly cords messing up my bed, and wear not so galactic leggings).

Alright friends, let me sit you down and share with you some truths about living abroad. That term, “living abroad,” conjures up ALL kinds of fantasies and images of beaches and train cars and minimalist backpacks and inspirational quotes with people holding their arms up in the background. Personally, I have never felt the need to hold my arms up to show I’m inspired, but that’s beside the point.

Growing up, I too held these lofty and longing-filled ideals of what a traveling life was. I dreamed about moving to England or Japan or France and being hip, and somehow always being out walking around neat streets or sitting in cafes, and never actually living. I dreamed of baskets on bikes or tote bags on arms full of fresh produce with, somehow, that baguette positioned so perfectly right, just peeking out the top, like a shout to the world that I TOO AM MODERN AND ADVENTUROUS.

Baguettes. Why is bread a symbol of adventure? I don’t know.

What I do know, intimately well, is that traveling around and living abroad are two different creatures. I know the every day of living an adventure. Actually, among my friends, “living the adventure” is kind of a euphemism for all the strange and irritating crap we deal with as permanent foreigners. Like the fact that I can only buy what I can carry home from the grocery store or have to deal with getting taxis since I can’t figure out the home delivery service and am too independent to ask a Korean to do it for me. And I hate taxis, but that’s another story.

That is one truth. The truth that living the adventure often means the really annoying, mundane stuff we deal with every day. Sure, it might be fun and exciting and thrilling the first time your heart hammers at the checkout line, but after the two-hundredth time, it loses its charm.

JUST LEARN THE LANGUAGE, you shout at me, smiling indulgently at this whining white girl who is so lucky she gets to live in a foreign country. But when? I should take night classes, except I get off work at 5 and get up at 6, so I do need to sleep at some point, and work is so tiring my brain probably couldn’t even retain what I hear, and all those projects I need to do, like writing and art and oh yeah, cooking and working out and stuff, would need to be put on hold, and never mind about relaxing because you can sleep when you’re DEAD, but in reality I get stressed out without sleep and then get sick and….alright, a series of unfortunate excuses. That’s my tagline. But it’s true. It’s all very well to say it, but quite another to do it. Yes, another excuse. The series continues…

Here’s the next truth; I will always be a foreigner here. Always. Even if I learned the language so well I could write Korean poetry. So I will always get stared at, always be spoken to in English or avoided because they don’t speak English and I’m SO SCARY, and always be the subject of amazed amusement when I divulge that yes, I do like watching Running Man.

Another truth; even the most exotic thing is normal to someone. So that means that after a while, it will be normal to you too. After a while, when you go back to the US, you will also bow and use both hands with cashiers, and it will be REALLY HARD not to. After a while, you will have a harder time telling the difference between two blondes you meet than two Koreans. I swear this is true. Everyone at the American airport looked the same to me.

Here’s another truth; if you’re an introvert like me, you will still spend all your time at home, and it will be even harder to get out. Living somewhere else does not turn an introvert magically into an extrovert just because there might be interesting things out there. There are way more interesting things in my own head, thanks.

Whew, you think, sitting back and doing that half-frown people do when they think, this girl is so NEGATIVE.

Well, here’s the last truth; it’s all hard. And it’s all AMAZING. Despite all these hard truths, I love living here. People ask me all the time why I moved overseas. It’s a hard question to answer, but the truest answer I can give is that I wanted to grow as a person, and by gosh, living alone in a foreign country helps. Living here has pushed me to mature in so many ways. I’ve learned about myself, about others, about relationships and work ethics, about everything. It’s incredible, and it wouldn’t have happened so easily at home.

Is living abroad easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes.

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