Pressing Pause

Hello, blogosphere! Long time no talk.
Where in the world is Dulcet Denouement, eh?

After a bittersweet departure from Taiwan, I curled into the natural shape an introverted recluse reclaims after an intense, public year of service — onto the luxury of my old full-size bed and the decrepit couch in our living room. Yes, so much so that the confines of each took a gentle mold to my huddled form…(I might be exaggerating, just a little.)

Anyway, after recuperating with vast hoards of chocolate, ice cream, and massive quantities of hummus, I felt ready to tackle the world. After a year of subsisting on plain oatmeal and leftover refreshments from the counseling center in Luodong, it was nice to actually eat like a real-life human. Most of my days, I spent at home either shuttling my brother to soccer camp, manic-studying for my U.S. History test, or devoting myself to my kindred spirit, Netflix.

To be honest, I felt quite lonely those few months back home in the confines of my parent’s attic room. Forgotten, if I’m quite truthful with myself. My friends had all, of course, moved on with life since I left a year ago, and they didn’t really contact me during the week. Partially, I did get a new phone number, but very few back home made an effort to seek out my company or they were pursuing their own travels. Luckily, I left Chicago making at least one brief appearance at Fizz and eating with a few friends at various places. When you do something amazing like teach abroad for a year and come back to your ordinary life, it makes you feel a little overwhelmed. I was supremely difficult with my family, mostly because I felt so isolated from the world which was once so familiar to me.

Of course, my parents being the genuine and amazing people they are, decided to send us all off to Michigan in the middle of my ridiculous angst session. The dazzling sun and coastal winds managed to remind me just enough of Taiwan’s coast that I could let things go for a while. It helped that there was chocolate fudge gelato and cute puppies everywhere. The intuitive people that they are, my parents figured a short stay would help us all get out of our heads a bit.

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Between the murky waves, rusting lighthouses and perpetually starving seagulls, I remembered a little bit of what it was like to be independent again, wrestling my stubbornness between sunburns and sunsets. The holiday was far too short, but it reminded me how stir-crazy I can get in between places.

After Michigan, I was lucky enough to spend a short weekend in San Antonio with the boy. I took very few if any pictures, but despite the hours waiting at airports, it was nice to see such a lovely face after a month of solitude. It’s so nice doing even absolutely nothing with someone you love.

Visited the bae in San Antonio. #Riverwalk #SanAntonio #Texas #view #riverside

A photo posted by @mintmiss on

Upon my trip back to Chicago, I met a few friends in our backyard–one a baby bunny and the other a stray kitten. The bunny I set free in our backyard, and the cat I nursed back to health with a few saucers of water and some Fancy Feast before she ran off one afternoon. Between those few encounters and some great hangouts with close friends, I moved away.

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I’ve relocated to Nashville to further my studies as a soon-to-be English teacher. Besides posting excessively on Instagram about food and Yelp events, I have been trying out the local swing dance scene and adjusting slowly to life on another campus. It’s been a long road to post-Taiwan recovery, but I’m beginning to feel like I can be somebody again.

Here’s to rich lives, in spirit but not necessarily in pocket.

~S.

Taiwan Fulbright Blues

I finished off Fulbright Taiwan with my hilarious fifth graders dumping frigid cold water on me during our last field trip together. While I will cherish this particular memory and the many more I shared with my students, the grant turned out not all that I expected it to be. Big surprise? Initial culture shock aside, not really. What happened on this journey that promised glory, honor, and honest-to-God cultural exchange?

image via Emily’s Quotes.

Most days, I spent in an empty classroom whiling away the minutes in humidity that a tropical fish could swim in. Even with the time spent lesson planning and coordinating classroom management, many hours I mostly felt dazed, having done all I could for the few classes in the grade I taught. Of course, I also battled the seeming un-achievable standards set before me. Not only did I have to be better than every single ETA before me, any creative idea automatically warranted someone else’s credit.

To the bitter end, my co-workers continued to ask me if I actually spoke Chinese. That was, usually, their only question to me. I spent an entire 6th grade graduation luncheon in the middle of teachers laughing and talking, but clearly in their own clique. I’m not saying this is country-specific or even school-specific, but I am saying that I have never felt so isolated amongst so many. Lunches were a sad affair, whether sitting alone in the lounge or in the classroom. It was everything I could do not to weep at my desk during Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Fulbright isn’t for everybody, especially not for a college student used to being well-respected and liked in a classroom setting. I never realized how much I took my professor’s good faith in me for granted. Here I was with a competitive scholarship and my coworkers treated me like I was one of their students. As an Asian-American, many of the students and most of the teachers just saw me as an incompetent version of a local teacher…or a pseudo-American. I’m still not quite sure which version is worse, but when people do not even acknowledge you in the hallway or sit at a different table even after making eye contact with you…there’s something wrong with that. I thought I was a professional, but instead I ended up back in the hallowed halls of a suburban high school.

I am thankful to be among the lucky few to receive such a prestigious award, but I am certainly not going to sacrifice frankness for a politically correct generalization. Yes, I got to travel to amazing places, and I met students I continue to miss. An average day was hours of loneliness followed by the consoling arms of Netflix. Reality hurt like slamming your head into a wall repeatedly, which I felt like doing…repeatedly.

Of course, I learned quite a bit about myself and cultural exchange. I think that part of the deal was an honest promise. I was far too comfortable with certain “Americanisms,” and it was refreshing being pushed into the deep end for once. I realized I was a lot more ignorant than I thought, and my students had to work way harder than I did in elementary school. For once, nothing came naturally. Teaching kicked me into gear. Even with all the pain and the endless printing, it was amazing to see how excited kids got after a fun lesson. Was it worth the loneliness and the neglect? I don’t know.

I guess I’m just saying, if you’re preparing to go on Fulbright, know that many times, it’s going to be an unnerving, solo uphill battle. Many experiences will be offensive only to you as the minority. You might not know what to do or say at times. Maybe we need that in our lives though…the feeling of not being completely comfortable.

Maybe that’s the difference that changed me. For the better? I’m not sure, but I will tell you I will never make the mistake of not welcoming someone with a smile or a simple conversation. If it takes going halfway across the world to learn that, who am I to say it wasn’t worth it.

Big Kid in the Workplace

I have the tendency to act ridiculous when I am under pressure. Perhaps you find yourself in a likewise situation as a semi-spoiled twenty-something in the workplace. To save you from untold embarrassment and the onset of pre-mature burnout, I give your very own survival guide. Big kids need love too.

1. Conflict is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be hard. 

When I began working, I thought every crisis meant I had the right to make a fuss. Instead, this made me look all the more incompetent. Cursing, sulking, and throwing a tantrum just indicates someone who needs to mature as an individual. If I could talk to my intern self, I would encourage taking a break or  deep breath. Will the world end if your supervisor gives you another task on top of your already daunting list? Probably? While that may be true, it is also true that you can ask for more time. You can even ask for help. Yelling at you superior causes everyone to only be that much more grumpy.

2. Don’t lose your sense of humor.

Many problems begin in life when you forget to laugh at yourself and your situation once in a while. Remember, one day this seemingly dreary job will be a great story. Having purpose and drive requires an underbelly of lightheartedness. We have, at most, a hundred years to leave an imprint. Don’t let other people’s negativity or commitment to stagnant teaching stifle your creative spirit. Why not smile along the way? There are some days when we are in a funk. The creative find ways to make funk into funky. Sure, “funky” isn’t pleasant, but it does sound fun.

3. You’re not alone.

This one is important. In this cyber age where media convinces us someone else is doing our job better, it is so easy to feel worthless. Perhaps your boss has told you you are incompetent, lackluster, plain. This is simply not true. Don’t hide under your desk or a pile of empty junk food wrappers (however tempting that may be). While there are moments when people commit worthless acts, a person is full of soul. Yes, you are a soul in a big world full of so many others. You have something to contribute, no matter what other people think. Loneliness plagues us when someone else denies us the right to live out loud, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Someone out there is supporting you, whether it be a parent, pastor, friend or sibling. Even if you feel like the whole world is against you, I believe God is for you. Know that wherever you go, doors open for those with open hearts.

4. Mistakes don’t mean you’re dumb.

Working in a prestigious organization in an Asian country, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the pressure to perform. When I make a mistake, I try to remind myself that I recognize it as a misstep. Hey, I learned something new and different. That’s something to celebrate, not something to condemn. Some of the best lessons come from happy errors. It’s all how you interpret a challenge. Try to look past grading scales on your own life. Instead, aim for inspiration. How can I learn from this? What has this taught me?

5. Speak the truth in love.

When I was young, I thought Miss Bossypants was the way to go. That bled a bit into my tottering first steps as a teacher. “Don’t do that, don’t do this, don’t, no, no, no.” The more I restricted, the more my students saw me as a negative person. With some great but hard to hear advice, I realized I had to let in the sunshine and let go. Some of the best teaching is trusting that your students are capable of the best. Like the story of the sun and the wind competing to get a man to take off his coat, warmth always wins against harsh elements. When I began encouraging my students and praising their different learning styles, life felt a bit brighter for us all. Being a drill sergeant is not teaching. Teaching means humbling yourself, stepping down from the lectern, and letting students speak up.

I went into this year thinking I could jump into teaching with no qualms. I thought I would be extraordinary. That, of course, is not true. I believe great teachers persevere through years and years, committing to innovation each day. Great teaching also means humility, to forget about any sense of entitlement. It makes students feel important and helps them know they are somebody.

I hope you never stop being the big kid at the workplace. Regardless of your position or what others think of you, I hope you exemplify big character. As souls who strive, we need to be more courageous and less obedient to our fear.

Best and Blessings,

S.

Contact or Colonization?

When I took American Literature 255 in college, the professor focused on the power struggle between those with it and without. By naming someone else’s homeland and even re-naming people, colonizers prevented the colonized from speaking up for themselves. All familiar places and things suddenly fall into strange syllables on the lips of strangers. Today, I suppose we refer to this phenomenon as “Columbusing.” One with power or privilege steals more from those without, a sort of inverted, perverse Robin Hood. He steals from the poor to give to the rich.

Typography via boredpanda.com

If we’re not careful, this is what ESL becomes sometimes. We sub in thoughtful names with meaning and heritage, parceling out lame, paper-thin “American” adaptations. Cheng-Yu becomes Alan, Wan-Ting becomes Sarah. Did we think about this a long time? Is there purpose to our decisions? Not really. What it is is appropriation. Alan and Sara are probably easier for native English teachers to say, but I’m not sure the change does that much for a student.

As my parents also gave me an assimilated English name, I don’t advise it. Growing up, I dreaded hearing roll call. Teachers could never pronounce my name correctly, heaving a sigh of relief when I provided the substitute “Sherry.” Maybe a chuckle followed. Once, a high school teacher even said, “Well, that makes a lot of sense,” while arching her eyebrow. I hated it. I remember crying about my given name, wondering how I could permanently erase it. Really, it was a way to hate myself and my ethnicity.

I hate that we’re doing this to kids. Despise it. Re-naming them, molding them into an ideal standard of our own making. “You don’t have an English name? Oh, let me give you one now before the world explodes.” Language learning caters to the speaker. Language is not static, but the way we prescribe it causes most to think language festers. Instead, words should grow, morph and turn into new things depending on where they’re planted.

Words can fuel a revolution or make us feel like gutter water depending on how we use them. Naming. Naming is an offshoot of that. Perhaps instead of naming children hastily, we can research what their names mean and give them a few options. A student needs to have the freedom to grow and understand language, especially their names.

I don’t understand the rigidity. I don’t understand the strict rules or the need to maintain order.

Perhaps I really am better suited to literature rather than language learning. Perhaps they really are different fields.

The Prison Inside

Image via the Telegraph, UK.

Hi. I’m moving to Tennessee for a few years.

I don’t really know what you think about that, and frankly, at this point, I have already made my decision. Frankly, what matters is that I am jumping into my own fear.

I am moving South of my own accord.

Why? The answer is a bit complicated.

When I was young, I lived in Arkansas. In those formative years, I grew up thinking I didn’t matter. When I did matter, it was for my test scores, or to boost someone else’s grade, or to win or to get better. I was depressed and lonely. I saved face by pickling my own Asian face and hoping that, one day, I would be accepted in someone else’s eyes. When I left, I thought I had escaped.

It’s a bit of a stereotype to think that bullying is the worst base on numbers or statehood. Bullying is the worst based on quality or lack of quality of life for every student impacted by it. Sadly, I didn’t just face bullying in Arkansas, but also as the new kid in school in Illinois. For years, people called me ugly names and I believed them.

I am lucky. I have amazing parents and friends sent by God. However, that is not to belittle how awful and hostile a school can be. Not only did I have students (straight A ones too) make fun of me, but coaches, teachers, security guards and even counselors. The very people who were supposed to protect me in school, they tried to teach me that I was a disease, a mistake or a joke.

Who was the worst bully though? The worst bully, the one who said the most vicious things. She always stayed close, harboring ill thoughts and words that cut like razors. That bully was me. I said the meanest, crudest things to myself, to the point where several times I thought, “I don’t deserve to live.” So, the first thing you need to do, as Sean Stephenson says, is to escape “The Prison of Your Mind.”

Those days of bullying are long gone. Sometimes, my mind’s prison comes back. She revisits my story and tells me all the ways I can’t. Then, I let the bully go, because my mind can also be a garden. I now know that everyone is capable of cruelty, but also capable of profound love. I know I have voice all my own and I will fight with every fiber of my being to make sure that the underdog will always, always, always be heard. I want those kids with the worst bullies, the ones who live inside them, are going to be not just okay, but absolutely great. Stunning, unbelievable, accomplished, astute, role models. Phenoms. Geniuses. I believe God made every soul on this earth precious and perfect in His sight. For that, because of that, I want just one more student to know that someone out there cares. Not just me, but the Creator and a whole world of loving people we haven’t met…yet.
Yes, I am going to somewhere where this was reported. But you know what? I’m also going somewhere where this was reported.
It doesn’t matter that I’m going somewhere new, only that I’m going.
It doesn’t matter if other people don’t believe, only that God believes in me.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know, because I have faith that great change will happen.
It is inevitable.
Great things are going to happen. We just have to stop bullying ourselves, let go of assumptions or stereotypes or prejudices, and step into the light of honest, real thinking.
You’re going to change the world. Is it for better or for worse?
“He was despised and rejected[a] by men;
    a man of sorrows,[b] and acquainted with[c] grief;[d]
and as one from whom men hide their faces[e]
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
-Isaiah 53:3 ESV
Christ was bullied by all of mankind, and He was the Son of God. If that’s the case, then humanity truly needs work.
“Work hard. Be nice.”
S.

ForGive

I had this friend back in university. I suppose that’s a generous term. This person spent time making sure my self worth and the things I enjoyed were riddled with holes. When I came to them about quitting a certain team, they said, “Yeah, it was never really your thing. Better stick with what your actually good at.” When I wanted to move in with my close friends, lo and behold who decided to take my roommates? When I suggested reconciliation with another friend, this person completely turned the situation against me. I spent a whole lot of time thinking of ugly names and descriptors for who this person was. I spent ages counting the way they hurt me, the friends they had “stolen,” and the things they had said.

Look past it.

Look past it.

You know what though? As my dad likes to say, anger and stubborn hate only serve to imprison yourself. I let this person get so far under my skin, I treated potential friendships like poison with the labels ripped off — complete wariness and suspicion. What they did, what they said, how they treated me…I couldn’t let any of it go. My resentment and fear of getting hurt ate me up inside. My senior year in second semester, I mostly curled into bed, unwilling to even go to church if I had to see person A, B, C, etc.

It wasn’t fair. None of these people were nice. Christian people aren’t better people or good people, by any means. Real Christians are forgiven, but many of us have forgotten what that means. I knew I have and probably will again. However, I would like to make a commitment. Christianity is based on the idea of sacrificial love which embodies forgiveness. On the Cross, Christ is not recorded saying, “Father, smoke these idiots. They deserve it. Let them burn.” Rather (far more profoundly), Jesus said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:34 ESV). As those fools gambled away the last of Jesus’ earthly possessions, Christ pleaded with the Almighty for forgiveness on behalf of them. They were completely undeserving of mercy. With a jury of their peers present day, many of us would cry for justice against those who sell off possessions as a murder happens.

Forgiveness and love is what motivated Christ to not seek vengeance on this earth. Forgiveness means letting go of anger to choose to love. It’s not an easy choice, but I believe it can be so rewarding. Forgive. Forgive. You give away your anger and take back the ability to live life to the full. You give away guilt and resentment to receive a new life from God. As John Piper says in “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” “The greatest risk is that we may lose heaven. Because one way to lose heaven is to hold fast to an unforgiving spirit and so prove that we have never been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.” I am not God, but God lives in me. I know I must let go of the idea that anyone owes me anything. Love, forgiveness, and all ideas worth having are freely given. Sure, this person was cruel to me. They lied, they gossiped, and hey, maybe slandered my name. Haven’t I done the same and much worse to so many other people? We all need forgiveness to move on to a new day, a new morning in our lives.

I have been thinking lately about how easily we take care of our bodies, but how we lack true understanding about mind and soul hygiene. From our childhood, we understand how to floss or exercise daily, but even today we might forget to check our soul and mental welfare. Is what you’re doing today right? In whose eyes? These last few days, I dragged myself places. I crawled to work, I limped to the market, and I sifted ideas through the mud. Everything felt…soiled and selfish. You see, I set my own needs before others. Through my unsubstantiated opinions and self-entitlement, I deemed my own voice more worth hearing than others. How depraved is that?

This is my commitment. I will listen. I will not judge. I will let go of my past hurts and anger. People are going to talk, they always will. So, I will choose my friends more wisely. I will give feedback only when asked, in the most gentle of ways. I promise to embrace my perfect imperfections in my pursuit of God. I will not fear the intrepid waves of doubt from myself, the unkindness of others, or the undulating happenstance of life.

Nothing is known to us today, at least not all of it. What we can give, we should before the day is done and the lights go out. In forgiveness, maybe I can bring a little light to not just others, not just myself, but to God too. A blessing all around.

A little sadder, a little wiser, a little more hopeful.

Blessings,

S.

Take It Slow

You know I will always be real. No lies or silkscreens here. At least, as few as I can manage, I promise you that.

Image via Pacifiqa.

Sometimes, I have trouble accepting how students who may be less motivated are treated in the classroom here. Rather than take the extra time to help students figure out questions in their own way, I feel like the classroom culture instead pushes people who are even a little bit different against a wall. Students who don’t finish corrections in time are instead asked to copy a classmate’s. At least, that’s what a substitute decided to do in her classroom today. Instead of engaging with a problem, the teacher told me since this is what students did in junior high, she figured it would be completely acceptable in an elementary school setting.

Maybe when I first started teaching, I would write this off as collectivism. Students all have the same amount of time to complete something, so the ones who don’t need to “catch up” to the rest. After thinking seriously about the issue, I am not sure that is the case. I still believe human kindness is valued across cultures, and refusing to teach someone falls under negligent cruelty. I gave up teaching a dance class today to make sure two students received feedback and corrections before their midterms. (The teacher didn’t actually pick up the phone, so I assume they were out of the class anyways. Even if not, I would choose to help out kids who might not understand a concept).

Don’t get me wrong. These two individuals were far from happy that they had to give up their break alongside me. If they could decide, they would have just copied the problem and run out of the classroom. I received glares and huffs of frustration. Nonetheless, there we were working together to understand those strange combinations that make up English words. It was difficult to see students struggle, but at the same time I believe it’s needed. After all, sometimes what someone wants and what they need are completely different, often contradictory things.

Am I saying that all teachers need to give up their lunch breaks to help out students? No, but I’m saying that a little bit of selflessness never hurt anyone. (You can also eat and teach/learn at the same time…but that’s a different story.) Growing up in a consumerist society, I believed that everything was about me. Even if I was in pain, the whole world had to know my suffering. However, that’s simply not the case. As a teaching assistant, you might be needed when you least expect it. The students are worth it. They deserve your attention. It certainly doesn’t mean you get to give up.

Image via Edutopia.

It is my firm belief that every student has the right to a quality education. As a teaching assistant, I want to help them study and become the best version of themselves. Maybe these two students won’t remember me in a year. Maybe they could care less about my attention to their English competency. However, I know that if I hadn’t stopped them from copying and gave them at least the chance to learn, then I was robbing someone else’s future.

I hope that even decades down the road, I value learning more so than I do now. If it were about the destination, I would have let those students copy their classmates’ workbooks word for word. Yet true learning, and life (I would venture to say), takes place in the in-between places, the getting-there’s, the journey itself.

Sappy though it is, it’s true still.

Happy Children’s Day.

S.

The Fallacy of Binaries

There has been an age-old fascination with binaries. Certain people can become prone to believe in simple heuristics and generalizations. Not just literary symbols, but ones which can alter the way you see people and the outside world. What do you think of when I say black v. white? The matter no longer follows symbolism, but how we portray people and how we perceive them.

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Yang Liu, East Meets West.

This divider has been bothering me for quite some time–circular versus linear thinking. Educators and researchers alike seem content on focusing the theory that linear and circular thinking can, generally, encapsulate entire cultures. While I acknowledge these theories, I believe they look over certain aspects of our continually globalized universe. Why do we consistently enjoy putting up dividers onto lives that, in this contemporary time, begin to fuse together?

At a recent event, a speaker talked about teaching his or her students, a more “western” way of writing which allowed them to properly write essays. I questioned what exactly this person meant by his or her statement. In response, they wanted to acknowledge circular v. linear thought patterns. However, this did not end up answering my immediate question at all. I wanted to know how, as an English teacher, he/she expressed wanting a more Western-style of writing. Was it narratively more straightforward with less examples? In the expository piece, did he/she expect more explanation rather than detail? How, exactly, was it more Western and, implicitly, correct?

The answer, in my opinion, was a cop-out and ill-thought about. “Yes, linear thinking.” What is even meant by linear thinking? Yes, THE West, I get that bit. Did we, as English teachers, students and speakers, ever consider that a Western style of expository writing might just be one way to convey an argument? I remember an elementary school teacher telling me how to properly write an essay. “Build it like a hamburger. The introduction and conclusion are the buns, the meat are the reasons, and the details are like the lettuce, cheese, all that.” (This is quite a limited metaphor, first of all. Many meals in many cultures, American included, do not incorporate the ever-famous hamburger.) Cultures, neo-cultures, sub-cultures and non-mainstream alike, all have their own way of conveying narrative. It’s not fair to condemn a student who does not adhere to the general or traditional standards. Yet…we do so much in the literazzi. From IOWA tests to SATs and ACTs to the ever fabulous GRE, people continue to refurbish the idea that standardization amounts to something beyond access to test books and capable teachers. That all you are is a score. That a university can deny you on the basis of a few letters and numbers. What are we as educators accepting and we as students learning? Standardization has its place, but it cannot be the benchmark of status quos or hierarchies.

There are those of us on the fringes and borders. There are Chinese-Americans, South-African Ethiopians, Cambodian-Laoese, Siberian, Nigerian, and many others. Many of us are naturalized New Americans or non-native speakers of English. Perhaps I tell a story differently. In one of my most memorable panel interviews, I was told I have a “very non-linear, kinda spiral-y” speaking style. My advisor told me something I will never forget. I asked if I should change it. “Oh, no don’t do that. That’s your charm. That’s so you.” In the midst of teaching rules, regulations and boundaries, you know what we should be teaching? Voice. How to find your voice. How to grapple with it but let it ring free at the same time.

There is no such thing as the traditional linear narrative. It is as defunct as saying the world is flat. Perhaps, one might argue, it is even more ridiculous. A line covers the distance between two points. It doesn’t have to be straight. A circle offers limitless possibilities, but some might see it (punny as it seems) as “pointless.” However, there is more geometry to language and storytelling than this fallacious binary will allow. There are pentagons, tri-decahedrons, hexagons and some non-shapes as well. Spirals, anomalies and parabolas. The exciting thing is, as a person, you can learn to speak each shape, symbol, line, or dot. You are not limited by where you come from, what your skin color is, or who your parents were. You are not limited by what other people think of you (no matter their PhD or MBA or WHATEVER), you are not limited by the cruelties of childhood or the ghastly things they call standardized exams. You are not any of those, but you are going somewhere. You are. You are somebody, and you don’t have to be or be like anyone else. Oh, and before anyone goes and points out this is a somewhat “individualistic” argument, we are all capable of opening our minds up and encouraging others to do the same.

To be honest, I hesitated to write this because of wanting to respect the academic voices represented in this piece. It was also due to fear. However, that silly fear is not bigger than my fear of old ideas. Gone are the days of binaries. It’s time to realize the overwhelming possibility of telling more than one story.

Yours in spirals and curves and zig-zags,

S.

What Teaching Has Taught Me

Hey, it’s been awhile. Travels aside, I wanted to give something back. It’s so very simple to slack off on being thankful for all the numerous blessings that grace our lives each day. So…here’s just a handful so far.

1. Sometimes, you’re going to get it wrong, but it can still be a teachable moment.

Growing up, I always thought teachers were these superhuman (or sometimes strange) entities made to make learning either a fantastic journey or a tightrope act to getting an A. While sometimes my spidy senses do tingle, it’s usually because I forgot something in my scooter, and I must rush back into the trenches of the parking lot to retrieve it. Teaching is a TON of work and non-stop action. The best moments can be when you do something wrong. Instead of laughing it off, note it. In ESL, you can use it as an example about pronunciation, phonics, or responsibility. You can learn so much from a mistake, as can your students. However, to all those first year teachers out there, keep lesson planning and figuring out new ways to do things. The train wrecks will be real, but so will the learning. Big risks don’t ensure safe results, but who wants safe anyways?

2. Reflect

It’s really not just an English major thing, I promise. Reflection is key to getting better at what you do, whatever you’re doing. Once you make the leap into troubled waters and come back out alive, you might want to make a few notes about how you got there, don’t you think? I also really like to pray. I think I need to, actually. There are some days when even putting a pen to paper can seem too much.

3. Ask more questions and complain less.

I often find myself stuck in this rut of lamenting my circumstances, instead of choosing to ask, “How can I be better in this situation?” How can I react better? How can I plan better? Why did the classroom situation play out they way it did? Complaining can be therapeutic, but in cycles it can wreck your perspective on teaching. Hopelessness and cynicism might be comforting, but that doesn’t mean they’re productive bed fellows.

4. Forgive.

I can’t stress this one enough. I can be such a firecracker sometimes. I turn on the dramatics, complete with fuming at the ears and flared nostrils. I stomp around, huffing and whining. Again though, this does nothing to change the situation. My dad often says that anger and hate only traps your own soul. You become your own prisoner, enslaved to your feelings of betrayal and hate. Forgiveness is as much for the other person as it is for yourself. Perhaps it’s a student who cheated or a colleague who miscommunicated. Be the first to thoroughly think over the situation and forgive that person. No, not because they deserve it or because you owe it to them. I believe we forgive because God intended us to, because His Son first forgave us. Also, living as we do, I just do not think many of us want to live cynically or bottled up with a bevvy of mixed emotions. For myself, forgiveness is a gift that is free and promises freedom.

5. Get out of the classroom.

This applies both metaphorically and literally. In your head space, don’t forget to connect your lessons to the outside world. Your students are not just reading for grades (hopefully), but they can read for pleasure. They can read for empathy, a writer far from them yet near in heart. They can read to slip away from the harsh realities of life or dive into them. Encourage that and remember it in your lesson plans. Don’t let them fall flat and one-sided.

Once you do that, or if you fail to, take a moment to go outside. Is it raining? Snowing? Is the sun out? Let the sky do as it pleases. Let it wash away your grievances or bring to light something you were blind to. Never turn down a walk around the track or block, or even just a 5 minute break sitting outside. Living in Yilan with open hallways, the windows opening onto cyan mountains and tremulous rainstorms always remind us of how small we really are.

I’m just starting. I think this year has been the most stressed out I have ever been in my entire life, but it has also given me some of the greatest joy. I don’t know if I will be a great teacher, but I want to be. I want to know what sacrifice means, what it means to not live comfortably, but to live fully. I want to know what it means to not be lukewarm in anything, but ablaze with a passion for life.

Now is not the time to sit still and settle for compromises. Now is the time to rethink, relearn, and begin again.

Wishing you the very best.

S.

Power & Control

During university, I had a hilarious and smart friend named Muneeb who thought the lyrics to Kanye West’s hit song “Power” included a verse that purportedly said, “Power…and controoool.” Of course, it was misheard (and fantastic) but it still rings true for me. When you are a person in power, you need to know how to control it before the rapacity for it consumes you, as in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Or…can you control it? Will power just consume you ultimately?

Recently, a person in power told me, verbatim, “You cannot change the world.” This person followed this comment by telling me that I could change the world only a little, and only by changing others one at a time. (Oh, and that since I could also be a mother, this could probably contribute to my worth.) Basically, whenever I asked a question or attempted to explain my situation, I was responded to thusly:

This commentary and its flowery delivery astounded me to no end. Despite this person and their insistence that change can only happen based on groupthink, I completely and utterly disagree. Change can happen in anyone, at anytime. When one person changes, the whole world changes because of that person’s perspective. Change happens every single day because of individuals and because of groups. Change relies not on a single group or a single person, but on the singularity of purpose divulged. Basically, change goes as high as you can dream it. Is it idealistic? Yes. Is it stupid? No, I don’t think so. Is it realistic? If you can dream it, there is a way. You might fail and blunder and fall, but there is more than one way even. This world was built by dreamers and foolish thinkers who triumphed over ridiculous, some say impossible odds.

Remember when people used to think the world was square? How about when many, even scholars, believed the universe revolved around earth? Yes, the Italian Renaissance heralded in many great thinkers, one of which was Mr. Galileo Galilei who, through observation and theory, that heliocentrism existed. What was his just reward during his lifetime? Inquisition then house arrest. Under the guise of religion, groupthink extinguished someone who dared to think differently. Let’s let Galileo speak for himself, shall we? “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual” (Galileo,Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men 1859). Galileo also reasoned that a God who blessed him with intellect would probably want him to use it. I agree. I believe God gave us discernment and the ability to think for ourselves for a reason, not just to follow the crowd. The more we herd and bully each other into sharing the same old, antiquated ideas, the farther we drive ourselves into the pit of ignorance.

I’m currently reading a beautiful compilation called Small Acts of Resistance by Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson. Through the many true narratives of people using their lives to change the world, I have realized how wrong that certain person of power is. Individuals, whether in a small dedicated group or as simple small numbers, have strength far beyond their frail human forms. Individuals are amazing. Sure, I’m preaching in direct contrast to the stolid, numbing disinterest in Fight Club that Tyler Durden so aptly put, “Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake.” I would beg to differ, beyond this millennial drift into apocalyptic dread. Perhaps we all can’t be a Galileo or a Nelson Mandela, but you can be you. No one in the history of mankind, present, past or future can ever have a perspective as unique or as genuine or as brave as your own. Of course, there must be measure in madness. Uniqueness does not guarantee safety or kindness. We need more of that. We need to teach more of that. We need more peace through attentive care of our neighbors–proximal, global or otherwise. I’d hope that our own dreams are a bit less selfish. Perhaps less about money and objects, and more about bigger things. People, education, faith. Government, society. Respect, love, honor. More of the good stuff, less of the ignorance.

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

I hate to differ, Mr. Durden, but I think people are pretty unique. (Image via manvsdebt.com)

Once upon a time, a smart woman stood up to a counsel of many men and changed the world. It is not a fairy tale or just a story. It is the life of Malalai Joya, who at the ripe old age of twenty-odd years faced the loya jirga constitutional assembly to defy a regime. She was one person who stood up to warlords who have been known to kill and torture. She, one person, stood up and changed the world. In Small Acts of Resistance, she is quoted as saying, “They will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower–but you cannot stop the coming of spring.” This was a response after a total of five assassination attempts at the time. She stood up in the face of everything.

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

The incomparable Malalai Joya. (Photograph via malalaijoya.com)

History, of course, is never gentle to those who “dissent” or who think differently. Nelson Mandela spent decades in a prison. In the Old Testament, Joseph was a dreamer who was left for dead by his own brothers. Malala Yousafzai was shot three times by a gunman while on a school bus. Desmond Tutu fled South Africa. So the story goes, but the dreamer doesn’t stop dreaming or acting. Because every dreamer has the potential to be an activist.

I recently had the pleasure and blessing to sit in on a sermon given by Jamie Taylor, the descendant of the well-known and revered Hudson Taylor of the missionary variety. His sermon, given at Island ECC on 1 Samuel, was called “Give Me a Person.” It concluded the annual Go Conference at my Hong Kong home church, and it was wonderful. Mr. Taylor prompted action, citing the story of David and Goliath. He reminded me that missions is an invitation to “stand in the gap of God’s glory.” They are front row seats, and they are free.

So, I’m talking to you Person of Power. No more conference talks, no more snarky comments, no more commentary. I only have a few words for you and people like you.

God is living. He is working. I am going. I am, I will.

You might be Goliath, but we are David.

If you stand in my way, you have no way to block the tidal wave of change coming your way.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m going to do it with a smile on my face. Change the world that is.

-S.

33 And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. 36 Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 And David said,“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” -1 Samuel 17 ESV

“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.”
Nelson Mandela