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just a few steps back

at least twice this week I’ve felt a semi-out-of-body-experience while following other teachers around. I’d ask how to do something, and we’d start walking somewhere and I’d just completely zone out. It felt like I was just slightly behind myself, watching the scene play out. They would be talking to me but all I could think is how strange they seemed. For a brief moment I would forget where I was, what I was doing, even who I was. Everything was familiar but foreign, like seeing an image of the Eiffel Tower or the Great Pyramids – I know what it is but it isn’t a part of my story. It’s easy to feel like you’re drifting along in life, but it’s a shock to feel like you’re separated from yourself.

自 my 宅 home

The sticky-hooks I hung behind my kitchen stove-top are falling one-by-one in a large ruckus. 

Everyone has their little nook of controlled space in their life – a place where they’re at the advantage over others and can feel a sense of freedom with this. It may be a sports court, an office, the road, the woods; anything.

The kitchen is one of mine, and each of these falling utensils may as well have been a WWII-style shelling into my sense of control.
The wall is barren again, the hooks disposed of.
I’ll take this place back soon enough.

Vocab

Every time I try out a new word I think I’ve learned with a native speaker I judge my success based on the look I receive.

There’s a gray maybe-you-messed-up that takes the inner 90% of the range of looks I could get but there’s a sweet 5% to either side which says either “Oh nice, you’ve been studying!” or “What’d you just call me?”

I’m fine, thank you. And you?

I’ve been treated like anything from a burden to a joke to a celebrity in the two months since I’ve set foot in Japan.

It’s no surprise; English is cool. And it’s abundant.
For a country that’s 99% (.999?) native citizens, they’ve adopted English like the back of an American hipster adopts Chinese. Just look at the lines – cool, right? But don’t worry about understanding it.

Language is complex. There are rules, sure, but bending and breaking rules tends to give us as much poetry as it gives us nonsense. Language can be beautiful. Chances are, some of your favorite memories involve language.

  • Chanting the chorus in sync with a band in concert
  • Turning over the last page of a book, just to flip it back to the first and remember how it all began again
  • A late-night conversation that turned into an early-morning conversation

It’s not hard to imagine. They’re wonderful and priceless. Words become art.

Until it’s a on your test, of course. And if you’re going to a Japanese university, English will definitely be on the entrance exam. Actually, beginning this year, more class hours are spent teaching English to students than any other subject. And that’s what it is, a test subject. It’s important, and should be perfected. 

Image

So enter the Assistant Language Teacher (henceforth known as ALT). We’re brought here for many jobs. I’ve been asked to recite sentences, to help plan lessons, to become involved in the club… I’ve also been told that just living here is part of my job of showcasing internationalization. Just existing in my town is enough to send a group of schoolgirls giggling down the hallway or cause a Japanese teacher to clench up like they’re back in junior high and it’s English time

I’ll probably not ever admit to knowing more about English grammar than any of my partner Japanese teachers. Their pronunciation is definitely enough to get by as well, especially since the tests are all reading and writing.

And yet, here I am. A little bit of art to break up the grey scale texts.
And here’s the line that’s been dancing around in my head while writing, summed up neatly in a Peanuts comic as many of life’s details are:
Page 40, Lesson 12.
Schroeder says to Lucy: “Studying poetry spoils the poem.”