Confessions Of A Human Pinball

It feels good to be back.

In the fall I was underemployed, and it seemed all I did was sit around reading books.  That was okay.  At least I learned something.  Of course, by now I’ve forgotten it all, so I guess I didn’t learn anything after all.  Reading can be inefficient that way, at least when it comes to nonfiction.  The only way you can retain information is if you go back and review, take notes, and memorize passages, and who has time to do that?  Or else you can share what you’ve read with others while the material is still fresh in your mind.

These days I have little time to read and hardly any energy to write.  I teach English in Korea for a living, and since I’m a freelancer my schedule fluctuates from month to month.  To avoid another dry spell like the one I had last fall, I try to be vigilant about picking up new jobs whenever old gigs expire (also to humor my wife Jina, whose arm must be getting tired from holding a gun up to my head for all these years).

Anyway, I lost a good gig a few weeks ago.  Although I wasn’t exactly fired, I’d been expecting it to continue for a whole year, but the students only let me teach them for three months.  I’ll tell you why I think so in a second.

It was a sweet deal, considering it wasn’t that far from where I live–only one bus ride and two subway rides away–and I got paid fifty bucks an hour, the going rate for teaching classes of adults in a Korean company.  Because the students are so busy, they’d often only wanted to study for the first of the two hours they’d signed up for, but I still got paid for both hours.

My kind of job.

As with this blog, I have a tendency to sometimes put my foot in my mouth when I teach and bite my toenails.  It’s a little awkward, especially when I don’t take off my shoe, but the yoga classes keep me from getting a Charley horse.  In this case the boo-boo I made was saying something that wouldn’t have elicited any gasps or sanctimonious horrified shudders back in New England, but in modern Korea proved a premature announcement.

We were talking about differences between men and women, and somehow the subject of gays came up.  I said that as far as I knew, people were born gay and could not change their sexual orientation.  I added that it was wrong for others to try to change them, regardless of what the Bible (or the Koran, a book I didn’t mention at the time) says.

I noticed a few of my students exchanging looks, and the next day I received a phone call from my recruiter, who said the students wanted to bail on me after my initial three-month period was up two weeks from then.  I ventured to tell her why I thought they wanted a different teacher, and she sounded sympathetic–to me, not them.

The remaining two weeks of the class went all right, even though one especially religious student stopped coming, reinforcing my assumption about what had happened.

Of course, when you work as a foreigner in Korea, you can second-guess until your ass flies off your body and goes into orbit around Jupiter and still never figure out why something went down.  After awhile, you just get used to not knowing and shrug it off.

Obtuseness is bliss.

I have a new job in the same time slot–well, that’s not quite right.  I picked up a job for five hours a day that pays approximately half as much per hour as the previous gig, teaching kids.  It takes about an hour to get there.  It’s in the boonies.

That job is from one pm to six pm, twice a week.  What sucks is that on the same days I have to get up and teach a one-hour class in another part of town at 7:40, then go back home, grab a shower and a ten-minute nap if I can squeeze one in before taking a taxi to the train station.

Those days I spend about four hours shlepping back and forth, using a complicated network of buses, subways, and taxis.  Waiting is always involved, whether for one of the above conveyances or for a streetlight to change.  Patience is not always my strong point.

On alternating days I teach a class from 7 am to 8 am in yet another part of town.  That one’s not too far away, although it entails a short cab ride to the station.  (I could take two different buses instead, though that would entail getting up even earlier in the morning.)

After class I walk past the restless river of cars and wait for one of the local bookstores to open, usually stopping for a bite to eat in the meantime.

Then I go home and take a long nap while my wife goes off to teach kids all afternoon.  All the constant movement (which miraculously leads to an incredible absence of weight loss, probably because I stuff my face with too many carbs throughout the day to keep my energy level up) means more showers and changes of clothes, which means having to do the laundry every other day, usually as a way to punctuate the epic naps.

In the evening I take a bus to the subway station, go down to the far end of the platform to reduce the distance I’ll have to walk when I make the transfer at the station where I pick up the connecting train, take that one to my destination, and walk to the building where I teach four times a week (including Saturdays).

The commute home from there is twenty minutes shorter.  Since rush hour’s over by the time the class ends, I can take the bus most of the way home, then transfer to another bus, then another, or else skip those last two transfers and walk.  I’m happy to do that on those nights when the air has the decency to be breathable.

Mind you, the work itself is satisfying, but all the commuting is for the birds–or would be if they didn’t have wings to fly.

It’s an absurd way to live, but at least it makes the absurdity of death that much more comprehensible.

And that’s something.

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Yoga Driving Tips

Remember, a relaxed driver is a safe driver.  And the best way to relax is to take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Put on some New Age music if you have any, preferably Ravi Shankar on the sitar or George Winston if that’s more your bag, something you can easily drift off to.

In order to fill your lungs to their maximum capacity, push your abdomen out as far as you can while inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose.  Make sure to undo your seat belt so your diaphragm muscle can descend and your chest cavity takes in as much air is it can hold.

Your feet are crying out to be liberated.  Can you hear them?  That’s good.  That means you’re attuned to the music of the spheres.  Now your toes can finally feel the gas and brake pedals underfoot.

It’s time to stretch your arms and legs as far as they can go.  Feel the blood tingling all the way up and down the length of your body?

Let go of everything that’s been burdening you for the past few days, weeks–even your whole life.  Let go of your fears about the future and the steering wheel.

Try not to get attached to the squeal of tires against the pavement or the screech of other drivers’ worn-out brake pads.  Don’t feel you have to judge other motorists swearing their heads off at you.  Let them work out their own unresolved issues themselves.

Soon you will feel oneness with them.

Just live for the moment, knowing it can’t last long.

Who knows?  You may never get another chance to be present again.

War The Omnivore

You eat time, men, women, children;

suck science, gobble God,

gnaw on nature, vomit technology.

Is there anything that you won’t eat?

Blown-up buildings, bombed-out trees,

murdered mountains, oil-choked seas.

Grassy graveyards that ricochet with green

grenades, art museums, libraries

made mausoleums; ants and horses,

elephants, deafened dolphins, hanging

plants.

Although you never stop

devouring everyone in your path–

village, forest, clinic, market,

bloodbath’s aftermath–

you never gain an ounce in weight

(and yet you’re plenty big enough).

You’ll always be in tip-top shape

as you lay waste to all we’re worth,

our bloated, turgid, morbid scourge,

creation of the human race.

Shedding

Although I’m still a bit

too young to fill my days

with funerals, I’m learning

how to fail, decay, and fall

apart for starters.

I move less quickly than I did

when I was a young lad.

The time goes faster all the same–

you lose your mind to age’s axe

instead of going mad, the way you did

back when you knew how

to make yourself youthful.

I’ve grown too tired to make new friends,

too comfortable with loneliness

to stop talking to myself,

having no fear I’ll be overheard

or understood, a foreigner surrounded

by pedestrians dressed in earphones

and faces that reveal nothing

in eloquent silence.

My hair falls with the autumn leaves,

swimming semen soaring like salmon

before performing a splattering pratfall

on the table.  Desire continues

despite rejecting fatherhood,

reproduction thwarted and aborted

in favor of futile fantasies,

the fiasco of the future.

Besides, I’m too childish

to raise those who’d continue

antagonizing Earth

in the nickname of progress

and too aware how near the end

now feels as I am gently crushed

by the sundial’s shadow,

my grief ground down to sand

fine enough to fill a grave

yawning with either boredom

or fatigue–it’s hard to tell

from here, now that my eyes

are broken, dissolving as they shine.