It's finally here: Wednesday. I've been looking longingly at this day on the calendar since sometime last week when I realized what was happening on that pattern of numbered squares. It's a desk day, a nothing but do as you will you little ALT you day (oh, and o-souji), after weeks and weeks of classes and lesson planning and elementary and children being horrible brats and snide comments and terrorizing each other and I need a vacation for the love of God...
As usual, there's a lot going on. A lot of fun things, a lot of exciting things, a lot of tiring, tedious things, a lot of normal things, daily grind things, online course-taking things (did I mention that my TEFL course has been both more interesting and helpful, and also more demanding of me than I predicted it would be?).
I just checked to make sure my flights are all in order (that is, that I actually do have tickets for all the different flights I thought I had tickets for). Now I'm putting all the info on to one handy page, registering with the travel website of the US, and trying to generate a packing list.
But when I say there's a lot going on, it isn't all just out there in the physical world.. I also mean inside my head. It's been a bit of a mess in there lately. I don't mean to complain, but I do mean to be honest. I've been riding right up on the edge of a nice toasty meltdown.
A lot of it has to do with my ever more precarious position, timewise. As the weeks go by, things shift more and more. Everything becomes a game of now or never. I look outside and I resent having to leave this place. I look down and can't wait to get out. I say, it's my third year, so that means I have to go. "They've changed the contract," my fellow ALTs tell me, "look, you can stay up to five years, now."
Five years, three years: neither one is really permanent. The more I learn and the better I get at my job, the more frustrating become the confines of the system within which I am wrapped. They don't know what I mean when I say, it's my third year, so I have to go.
It feels connected to an inner need to own something, or build something, rather than just subsist comfortably between the lines of what the teachers expect and the students enjoy.
You can always tell a Dutchman, but you can't tell him much. When I arrived, I was daunted because the shoes were bigger than my feet, but the more I learn about language, about teaching, the more I wish I could run the city's English program (does it officially have one?), design its curriculum, lay out its calendar, and direct its activities. I want to do things my way, but not just my things. I want to be in charge of the entire affair, albeit in small scale. I would say, let me open a language school, but there are already plenty of those. Besides, I want it to be available publicly, to everyone; I want the English classes already happening four times a week to really accomplish something. I want to go at it in a systematic and real way, I want someone to see what a multi-layered approach to foreign language education starting in elementary school and pursued in earnest can really do. I mean, you'd have kids, like, fuckin'... speaking English and shit!
My dreams and desires are too big for my pigeonhole. So even though I like my salary, and I love my school (I seriously think my particular position is one worthy of envy) for its wonderful students and excellent fellow staff members and sweet new building, and I like my apartment, and I like my ALT friends, and my travel opportunities, and my Japanese townies and their gifts and their pets, and my Japan seasons and small town life, I don't like my job anymore, and I honestly think that for that reason, someone else will do a better job than me next year. Because they'll be excited to teach Halloween or whatever cultural holiday, and I skipped it entirely this year. Because I'm tired of fighting fourth graders, and enduring exuberant shouts of "gaikokujin!" (though it is pretty friggin cute that a four-year-old is able to include the "koku" part of that word... it's much more polite that way) I'm tired of "harro" and "ohashi jouzu," and all the stares and trepidation I encounter when I try to deal with people that don't know me.
And I'm tired too of missing holidays, family gatherings, weddings, funerals, parties, and babies. I'm tired of telling kids about holiday traditions in which I don't get to participate this year, and furthermore, knowing that they don't quite get it, because you don't know what it's like unless you're there, and moreover, there again and again every year. What is Halloween really like? How can I simulate or explain the experience of trick-or-treating, costumes, and also how your Halloween evolves from age 5 to 15? What is the true meaning of Christmas, especially to a roomful of Shinto-Buddhists?
I'm not part of Japan, not really, and in many ways never can be. In other ways, it could be a matter of time. Language barriers shift, weaken, and in some sectors come down, but in others they remain annoyingly in the way. But I'm not part of the lives of the people back home either; how much does anyone really know or understand about how my life goes on a normal basis, about what annoys, delights, gratifies, or frightens me? About what I enjoy, what I'm grateful for, what I need, and what I want? And what do I know about what it's like to be over there now? That feeling of disconnect has been approaching fever pitch.
I've complained before about people who say they want to start on their "real lives," how I think being here is just as real and just as part of life as going back home to a non-existent job and a bigger picture. But I do have to admit that there are a lot of things that are on hold while being here. This is another case of totaling up the little things -- each on-hold item is not a big deal by itself, but enough of them, and for long enough, starts to tip the balance over. Professionally and personally speaking, I can see the way the scales have slid, and I know it's time to go (relatively).
But I still hate to have to.