Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Children and Philosophy

I regularly read the Solon advice column, "Dear Cary". It's a good column, and it happens to usually post when I'm flipping through the news on my smart phone while waiting for the buses to arrive each morning.

Today, however, I was very frustrated with the response and I was motivated to write a response to the writer. Man, I know it's been a crazy long time since I posted. I'm hoping to get back into a weekly posting habit after I finish this job in November. But I was really happy with my response to this article (which can be viewed here) and wanted to share it, if only for the sake of documenting and preserving it.

Check out the link if you want to know the context of the response in detail. But I feel like my philosophy more or less stands on its own out of context as well.


"Dear Cary,

    I have never much been one for reading advice columns. However, over the past several months I have had a daily ritual of reading your column on my smart phone every morning while waiting for the buses full of students to arrive. I find your writing style, your views, and your particular brand of wisdom to be very appealing and insightful, and I am frequently impressed by the angle you take to the issues you are presented with.

    But this morning I was deeply disappointed by your response. I felt you missed the mark, severely. I'm certain that being in the position of writing an advice column is very difficult, people expecting you to have the answers to everything. And as no human is infallible, it's understandable that you may make a mistake from time to time. Out of my deep respect for you, and for the wisdom you so clearly posses, I feel motivated to formally write to you and express my thoughts as to why your response to this was so very wrong.

    Near the end of your letter, you suggest to the person that this is an opportunity for him/her to address some issues, to learn and grow, to overcome their strict and stifled upbringing. You essentially are suggesting that the issue they are having with the child is a matter of personal baggage. Ironically, I feel as if your response is a matter of your personal baggage. I wonder if you must have had an unfairly strict upbringing. I wonder if you felt stifled and overly controlled, and have regrets wishing you had had more freedom as a kid. It seems to me that you use this letter to get on a bit of a soap box, something I have never seen you do before, and preach about abstract issues with the world. I find this somewhat baffling.

    I teach English to children in Korea. Korea is very strict by American standards, something I have had difficulty adjusting to here. My kindergartners are forced to sit for hours, to write in text books, study English phonetics, study grammatical structures, sit nicely and quietly, and many of them are only 5 years old. I'm sure you are appalled by this, and I am too at times. They are being denied the childhood that I feel they deserve. I have quite a bit of perspective on what unfair expectations of children looks like. I try to find little ways to give them freedom, to let them play, to allow them to explore and express their energy. But I am employed by a system that has certain expectations of me, and I have little choice but to meet those expectations.

    I have done quite a bit of philosophizing over the past year of what it means to be a child, of the role of childhood, of the arc of a human life. I have done a lot of thinking of why some children act this way, and others this other way. I have contemplated nature vs. nurture to deeper levels then I ever imagined I would. So please allow me to share some of my thoughts with you.

    You speak of the anarchy of childhood. I have witnessed this a great deal. You speak of it as a good thing. I don't entirely disagree. It is a time of exploration, of testing boundaries, of experimentation. Anarchy, freedom, is certainly necessary for this. But the point of such experimentation, the purpose of testing boundaries, is to learn, to discover what is acceptable and what is not. It seems by your response that you are suggesting that this should be carried on without the supervision and guidance of adults. What, then, is our role? To just stand back and let them do as they will, discover only what they choose to without offering our own wisdom and experience? That seems like a bizarre perspective from someone in the business of giving advice.

    You see, anarchy has this little problem of encouraging self centered view points. In a micro-society without rules, social Darwinism is the only law that prevails. The strongest and most able children will succeed, will be the most popular, will take control of the group, while the "weaker" ones are marginalized, made fun of, and convinced that they are unworthy of happiness and love. I have witnessed this behavior, and it begins very early. It is part of our own long story of evolution. It is the animalistic side of humanity, the most primal aspect of our psyche, and is the default state that we all exist in. Without any structure, guidance, or discipline, it is the mentality that will prevail, because it is the mentality that is most easily and naturally discovered and expressed. Children who are permitted to exist within this mentality will grow into adults with this mentality. And it is this mentality, I think you will agree, that is causing many of the ills of this world, some of which you mentioned in your response, ills such as poverty.

    It is empathy, you see, which is the most fundamental and necessary quality for humans to possess in modern society. It is empathy alone that moves us away from this animalistic, self serving nature, towards a dynamic of sharing and caring. It is empathy that will allow us to conquer and and solve the worlds ills. It is empathy that must now become an intrinsically important aspect of our evolution, if we desire to ever leave this era of strife and suffering.

    And in many cases, empathy must be taught. I certainly have some students that show a more natural disposition towards empathy than others. But I have not encountered a single student incapable of learning it. When I first took over my current 5 year old class, Danny was a bit of a "brat". That is to say, he was self centered, unsympathetic, fixated on being the best, on receiving attention and praise, and in general on being the best. He would rub his success in the faces of the other students, and he would cry, loudly and obnoxiously, over his failures. It was not his fault. He was spoiled. His parents told him he was the most important person in the world. They bought him anything he wanted. He couldn't help but respond to this in the most natural human way. I made Danny my special project. I ignored his attention seeking behaviors. When he did something good because he was trying to be seen doing something good, I didn't praise him. When he did something good when he didn't think I was looking I would reward him. When he shouted and screamed for me to call on him I pretended I didn't see him. When he sat nicely and raised his hand, I gave him every opportunity for him to show how smart he was.

   Recently we took a field trip out to a farm to pick chestnuts. It was great fun. The students had plastic bags and they got to run around the forest collecting chestnuts to bring home. Danny, being quick and agile, was able to collect a great many chestnuts. His bag was more full than any other student. Aiden is a bit clumsy, not so smart all the time, awkward, and insecure. He only had about 10 chestnuts. Danny didn't know I was watching, but I saw him go over to Aiden, reach in his bag, and give Aiden two big handfuls of chestnuts. That is not a behavior that he would have ever exhibited a year ago when I started. That is the kind of behavior I have worked hard, and used some degree of discipline, to encourage. That is empathy, true and genuine.

   The child in the story you responded to lacks empathy, completely and utterly. From the letter you received, I believe that that is because the child lacks discipline, completely and utterly. I absolutely agree with you, that children need freedom, they need to run, they need to play, they need to explore and express. But they also need to be given boundaries. They need to be told what isn't OK in the cases when the result of their behavior doesn't immediately provide them with the necessary demonstrations of how and why their behavior is inappropriate.

   The path from childhood to adulthood is a spectrum, not a point. We are slowly given more responsibilities, and with responsibility comes privilege. When we are young we do not have to be responsible for money, but we do not have the privilege of buying what we choose. One of the first responsibilities we need to learn is the responsibility of being respectful and kind to those around us. This responsibility presents us with the privilege of being liked, loved, and cared for. At 11 years old, this child is far past due to take on such a responsibility. One of the issues I take with your response is that you treat childhood like a state that is, itself, not evolving, as if at some point someone is considered to be a child who should be allowed to exist in complete anarchy, and at another point they become an adult. How does one get from one state to the other, and when? A 17 year old is legally not an adult. So a 17 year old can hit and scream and cry, and on their 18th birthday they now need to be an adult? How does one get from childhood to adulthood if inappropriate behavior is never shown to be inappropriate?

   My parents generation, the Baby-boomers, where in many cases brought up in unfairly strict environments. Perhaps you were such an individual, and it strongly flavored your response to this letter. Yet I believe that many of my parents generation reacted to their own overly strict upbringing by going to far in the other direction of lack of discipline with their own children. I believe that my generation, as a result, has been slightly more prone to self-centeredness overall. I imagine that my generation will respond by being a bit overly strict with their kids, who will respond by being slightly overly lax with theirs, etc. and over the course of a century or two we will oscillate back and forth, a little less extreme each time, until we finally discover and settle on that happy balanced point. That is my idealistic vision anyway.

    In any case, it was simply my desire to share my perspective with you. I hope that you can view it objectively.

         -Disappointed but Still Appreciative of Your Wisdom"

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Journey Back


 Pitsburg: Poetic Sadness

Our universe possesses within it the potential for tremendous warmth and light. But in between these places of happiness and safety lie vast stretches of cold, lonely, dark, empty space. In truth the amount of space that contains warmth and light, that allows for life such as us to exist, is relatively minuscule in comparison with the amount of space that is dark and unwelcoming. And yet we exist within warmth and light, and the cold and dark mostly never enters our thoughts.

But as it is said, the microcosm imitates the macrocosm, and our own world, as well as our own lives, are too a mix of light and dark. Some moments are filled with warmth, and safety, and a sense of belonging. But in between these moments of light there are often vast stretches of coldness and loneliness. These times of darkness must be endured, but even a brief time of warmth and belonging can make the months of cold worthwhile. That is the power of light.

Some fleeting sensations of light and warmth from my trip to Pennsic:
-Walking down the terminal after arriving, my name is called out, I turn to see an old friend waiting for me with a smile.
-Arriving at camp, my best friends younger sister, now a beautiful young woman, running and jumping into my arms to welcome me.
-My best friend sees me, and embraces me hard and strong, a rare expression of emotion from him.
-flickering fire light, drums, the spinning and weaving of dancers
-bare feet on dirt and mud and grass
-wandering around, scattered conversations, joking, laughing, drinking
-the taste of soft lips, sounds of pleasure, breathing close, fingers and toes, stroking, quivering
-sitting in camp, family, safety, companionship



It's a fascinating phenomena that the more distance you put between yourself and a place, the more distance you feel between yourself and your connections to that place. For my emotions regarding leaving Pennsic have not stabilized so much with the time since I left as much as with the distance that I have traveled.

Now in Toronto I have reached a point in which I still feel Pennsic, I still feel the fictional yet real place that I almost just got lost in, yet I no longer feel attached to it. I no longer feel in danger of losing myself.

Getting lost in pennsic....that's an interesting topic. It's how the rest of the world melts away to allow the existence of a truly separate reality. When you're there it feels like the whole world, and that, for me at least, is maybe the most appealing aspect of it. I could see myself beginning to get lost in it, and yet, mostly because I knew I was coming back so soon, I never completely fell in. And that almost but not quite falling in aspect, as apposed to previous years where I dove in as quickly as I could, gave me a new perspective on it. I saw the getting lost aspect of pennsic with new eyes, observed the building of energy, and understood the climax of it all in a way I never had before. And standing on the brink like that, looking in on this thing we do, but not completely committing myself to participating in it, was very bitter sweet. It gave me a new appreciation for this thing, but I had to refrain from completely embracing it. In the end, having to go back to what Korea is for me, that's probably a good thing. It makes it easier. I still got to see the most important people in my life, but I don't have to fully endure the wrenching pain that can accompany leaving a temporary yet completely accepted and embraced reality.

Addendum: sitting at the gate for my next flight are two Koreans. I heard them speaking Korean and recognized it, so I asked them in Korean if they were Korean, and they said yes. We had a nice little conversation, much of it in Korean. I've only been out of Korea for 7 days, but it had a fresh feel to it. It was comforting in a strange way. It helped remind me that I do have connections there. I am established in Korea and have a life in progress there, and as much as I complain about it being lonely, a year into it it's really not so bad anymore. I don't have people there like I do back home, but I do have people, and they are good people. I feel comfortable with Koreans and have a good connection with them. Actually I have a much stronger connection with Koreans than with most of the expats living in Korea. The two Koreans at the gate reminded me of that. It helps a little bit with the sadness of going back.



And now I am at a truly wonderful place in my journey back. I had an 11 hour layover in Vancouver. Luckily, I have a friend who used to teach in Seoul who now lives in Vancouver, and he picked me up at the airport. He took me around the city, bought me dinner, and gave me a little tour. It was a good time.

And somewhere in the midst of all this, I gained a new appreciation for Korea and life there. While at Pennsic I didn't really experience normal American life, and so the differences that I'd forgotten about never really presented themselves. In Vancouver however, I was reminded about some of the things I like so much about korea that I'd stopped appreciating.

He took me to the night life area of the city, but by then it was 2 AM and the bars were closing and people were going home. And I'd sorta forgotten that that happened, you know, bars closing and people going home and stuff. Seoul never sleeps and I love it. Also, the parking situation in Vancouver is pretty terrible, and I realized that that's because they don't have an epically amazing subway system, because compared to Seoul almost no one does. Additionally, most people live in houses rather than apartments, so there's a lot of urban sprawl, and not a lot of population density. (Population density, btw, I've decided is a good thing in terms of it's ability to help build a city into an easily accessible and energy efficient living environment. I like density, not sprawl, but that's a rant for a different post.)

So I'm a little bit reenergized about going back to Korea and I'm looking forward to reestablishing my appreciation for some of the best aspects of the city. I also have found a few aspects about my social life that I appreciate out there. Perhaps because they spend so much of their lives studying and working, I think that in a lot of ways Korea has a very grown up culture compared to the states. Or perhaps that's just because I'm at a part of my life where I'm interacting more with people in their later 20's rather than their early 20's. Either way, my life out there is relatively grown up. I go on grown up kinds of dates, and have a very mature sort of day to day life. I like that. One thing that struck me about being back in the states was that I felt more grown up, more tempered, more aware of my actions and their consequences. I'm looking forward to going back because of that as well.

So at this point I feel pretty positive about things.

But I still have a strong tinge about missing everyone.


Seoul: The First Day

So now I'm back in Korea and I have survived my first day of work. I find myself happier to be here then ever. There's a lot of little interesting things going on.

I came back with a list of reasons I've been unhappy here and a list of things I can do to change that. That's a big thing. Of course one of the biggest things that makes me unhappy is my job. Teaching kids is great, but not for 11 hours a day with no breaks. So I'm going to find a new job ASAP, and not extend this one. This  means that I'm looking at getting out of this job 3 months earlier than I had planned, which is exciting. That makes me optimistic, and gives me something to look forward to. My next job will be a dream compared to this one, and I might even luck out and snatch one of the 4 hours a day (for more than I'm making now) positions. Thinking about that really helps me get excited about this next year.

Also, I need to stop hanging out with the expats that I only kind of like just because it's easy and they are there. I need to be willing to spend more time on my own investing in things I like to do and meeting more people with shared interests. Just gotta do it.

I also need to not be afraid to veg out and not do anything on a Saturday. As long as I'm working the hours I'm working, my health and physical rest are priorities. I'll have more time to be socially busy in a couple of months.

That, coupled with the realizations I had in Vancouver, put me in a positive and energetic mood today. I woke up refreshed, full of energy, and ready to tackle the day.

One more thing. For the first time since coming here, I have enough space between me and the early times here that I am beginning to remember them nostalgically. You know that feeling, when enough time has passed from something, that when you think about it you remember faint wisps of feelings, certain subtle sensations, long forgotten but never discarded. It's one of my favorite sensations, and intensely difficult to describe. I suppose it's similar to nostalgia, or perhaps more simply it is the underlying sensation that triggers the feeling of nostalgia. In any case, for the first time since coming to Korea, I'm having that sensation regarding times in Korea. Suddenly I'm remembering little sensations and feelings from when I first got here. Not as intensely as I felt them then of course, but just in that faint wispy sort of way. And I don't know if that's more a result of going to the states and coming back or more a product of the fact that I am back at the start of the annual cycle from when I came here. Probably a combination of the two. In any case, it's cool, and it makes me feel very positive.

Lastly, a very interesting thing about my life here and in the states. As soon as I got home it felt like I had never left. Like a movie had been unpaused from right where I left off. In fact, the strangest thing about being home was how not strange it was. And then I left, and while still close to it it was unbearably painful. But then, almost immediately upon landing in Seoul, it felt like I had never been home. All the memories of my vacation felt far away, like they had never really happened. I felt detached from them, they seemed like nothing more than a dream.

This is very interesting to me. It's like I have two completely separate lives, and while I play around in one, the other one waits for me, completely in stasis. Like parallel universes, but in this case parallel lives. They move in the same direction, but they never touch, and only one of them can actually seem real at a time. It's quite bizarre. But it's also comforting. It makes it easier to be here for one more year knowing that when I come back it will once again feel as if I never left.

Thanks so much to all of you whom I love so dearly. Turtle and Bri. Mamma Rowe and Hannah. My parents. Heather/Kyra, Dom, and too many other swampies to mention. Callie and Uaal, neither of whom I saw this time. Marc the piper, Kelee, Alchamar, and everyone at Bloodjack. You are all in my heart every day, and your love and support has helped give me the courage to find my own strength. I love you all so much. I look forward to the permanent reunion. And on the scale of things, that's really not so far away.

    - Mongoose

Monday, July 2, 2012

Help Make a Mongoose Pennsic

I'll try and keep this relatively short while still expressing the meaningfulness involved in all of this.

I moved to Korea literally two days after Pennsic 40. It was a decision based in a desire to see the world, to grow as a person, and to discover what I truly wanted out of life. After 5 years of going to Pennsic, and living with and around my friends from that group, it was also a bitter sweet decision. I was very sad to leave behind the people that I cared about so much, but I felt that it was necessary to expose myself to other social groups, to immerse myself in a culture that I was less familiar with.

One year later, I'm happy to report that my goals have been met. I have grown, a great deal. I have found myself in difficult situations with only myself for support, only my own wits and abilities available as tools for survival. I have seen a bit of the world, but more to this point I've realized that chasing the dream to "see the whole world" is an endless venture, one with its rewards of course, but the price is ending up rootless, and without deep connections. I have witnessed the affects of long term dedication to this dream in several people I have met. Lastly, I have indeed figured out what is most important to me in life, and that, it turns out, is you, the very group of people I was so eager to experience life without for a change.

I suppose the sum of the wisdom that I have accrued in the past year is that the secret of life is this: there is no big secret! My desires have simplified drastically over the past year. I've grown out of my ambitions of single handedly saving the world. I've grown less attached to a specific career path or significant life accomplishments. Not that I don't want a good career, and not that I don't desire to accomplish things. But those goals have become much less important to me. What has become much more important to me, what I have truly realized the value in, is truly close friends; chosen family.

Because, you see, for the past year I've really been completely on my own. Now I'm not trying to be dramatic, or emo, or self pitying or anything like that. In fact it's part of that independence that has fueled so much personal growth. While it has been the most difficult part of this experience, in many ways it has also been the most valuable. And it's not at all that I haven't had friends. I've had people to hang out with and such, and they are good people, and I have nothing bad to say about any of them. But on the scale of the friendship and comradery I have known, when compared to so many of you, many of whom I see for a mere two weeks out of the year, these people are but mere acquaintances. These are good people, these are fun people, but these are not people who understand me. And to be completely fair, these are not people who, for the most part, I really understand.

And perhaps that is the difference. Perhaps that is the thing that Pennsic has that draws so many of us to it, despite all the work, the occasional drama, and all the things that make us wonder on occasion, "why do I keep doing this?". The truth is that Pennsic is a place where you can meet a complete stranger, have a 2 minute conversation, and there is complete understanding between the two of you. I'd certainly taken that for granted before I came here. But over the past year, having never felt truly understood once the whole time, I now recognize how significant, important, rare, and beautiful that is.

So, I was determined not to come to Pennsic this year. I was certain that a year away would do me some good. I was sure that last years Pennsic was about saying goodbye, and that some time away from everyone would do me some good. Well it has, and I miss the fuck out of you, and I want so badly to come see all of you again. My week of summer vacation from my school, (yes only one week of summer vacation in Korea) lines up with the first week of Pennsic, and I'm just about determined at this point to fly half way across the world to see all of you. I feel it would be good for me. I feel that I would return to Korea afterwords with renewed enthusiasm, a renewed sense of connection, and meaning, and feeling. I think, despite the fact that I told myself I wouldn't, that it's a very important thing for me to do.

Besides, I think of it like this: most of the people here say they are going home for Christmas. But Christmas is meaningless to me. Granted I was raised jewish...whatever. But Pennsic IS my Christmas. And my new year. Pennsic is when I see my family, my chosen family yes, but no less meaningful. Pennsic is the start and end of my yearly cycle, the point in time by which I measure the passage of a larger scale of time, the moment that I think back on all that has occurred since the last time I was at this crazy place.

So I'm coming to Pennsic. But the thing is, I really can't afford it. And this is the awkward part because I feel a bit weird asking for donations. At one point (when I still wasn't thinking I'd actually come) I'd put up a joke post on facebook asking for donations. I didn't mean it, I was just venting my desire to come. But a few people actually took it seriously, and started encouraging me to actually make a link for donations. Their encouragement....err....encouraged me....or something....Anyway, enough people have said that they would be willing to donate a few bucks that I have decided to actually go ahead and do it. Full disclosure: I've already bought a ticket. I've prioritized this as vitally important to me right now, and am willing to take the financial plunge even if not a single person is willing to help me. But here's the deal: I had about $1000 budgeted for this vacation, and my roundtrip plain ticket was $2300. Sooo...debt is kind of bad. And ya know, I've had it before but...part of the point in coming here was to like...not have it anymore and shit. So, if you're willing to help out, even just $10, it would be great. Think about it: if 100 people donate $10 (and that's not completely unreasonable, it is Pennsic, and I know a lot of people) then I'm only ever so slightly over my budget. All I'm saying is, every little bit counts. And I'm coming to see you guys regardless, so there's certainly no pressure to help out, but if you can, if you feel motivated to, then you know how incredibly meaningful it will be to me.

I love you all so much, and I can't wait to see you.


Thank You

So, when I made the paypal link, I also wrote this post, and directed anyone who donated to be redirected here. So assuming you actually donated, and that you're not just aimlessly browsing my blog:


No really. Fucking thank you so goddamn much. There was really no need for you to do that, and I totally said that I was coming anyway and shit, and you know the economy is bad, and you've got your own shit to deal with, and it's totally not your responsibility that I want to have a nice vacation, right? I mean, those are all the things I thought of in my head as to why I shouldn't bother with this whole thing when some friends were saying "go for it". So I just wanted to say, I really.....REALLY...appreciate it. I love you so fucking  much, and I know you wouldn't have done it if you didn't you didn't love me, or else loved someone who loved me. Or maybe you spent a year abroad and totally just get it, in which case I still fucking love you, and still thank you so goddamn much. You've made my day. Really. Leave me a comment telling me who you are and what camp you're in, and I promise to come find you, and toast to you, and give you the best damn hug of the summer.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Philosophy and Blogging

There are two things I would like to investigate here, so this is a two part blog. First I will discuss a bit of philosophy. Second I will investigate the reason that I haven't been blogging recently.

PART I: Philosophy

I believe there is a great misunderstanding regarding the phrase "Live in the moment." The phrase essentially sums up the entire concept of Buddhist philosophy. I say philosophy and not religion because I am not religious. I am however philosophical, and my investigation of philosophy has included a study of the religions.

So, to reiterate, much of Buddhist philosophy can be boiled down to the phrase, "Live in the moment." Of course, this phrase has made it's way into the mainstream. I'm not going to take the time to investigate when or how, but it is a phrase uttered quite frequently by everyone from celebrities, to self help gurus, to your average stoner. And I've never really thought about that concept much before, the pervasiveness of the phrase, nor have I stopped to consider before the difference between the interpretation and reception of the phrase compared with the deeper philosophical meaning of the Buddhist concept. But during my evening cigarette tonight I had a bit of a revelation on the subject and I thought to share it.

When we hear the phrase "Live in the moment.", I believe that most of us think of it in terms of "Do what you want" or "Do whatever makes you happy right now." But I think that this not only misses the point of the philosophical meaning, but in fact undermines it completely. The Philosophical concept of living within the moment, I would assert, actually means that you should find happiness within the moment, regardless of what you are doing. It means that no matter if you are at a crazy and wild party, or simply taking out the trash on a boring Wednesday evening, you should be equally happy, equally fulfilled. Living in the moment means finding the joy in the simple act of existing. Every activity should be viewed as equally profound and equally meaningful, because the simple fact that you are here to exist, to be, is always both profound and meaningful no matter what you are doing. Joy can be taken in the mundane, and in fact the belief that anything you do is more significant than another is the road to frustration and misery. For such a belief is an endless cycle of desire, of trying to find meaning, trying to find fulfillment. It leads to dissatisfaction because nothing you ever do can quite live up to the ideal of fulfillment and happiness that you hold in your mind. But when you truly "Live in the moment.", fulfillment and happiness are ever present in every activity.

To simply "do what you want right now" only reinforces the view that such wants hold meaning. And I'm not at all saying that wants are bad, or wrong, or to be rejected. Trust me, I certainly have my hedonistic side. Wants are perfectly fine, and in fact completely natural. But they are not the endgame, they are not the key to fulfillment. I'm not an advocate of chastity in any respect or interpretation, but believing that doing what you want will lead you to deep meaning and understanding regarding your place in life is a fallacy.

Because the grand truth is that your "place" is one of insignificance. Even if you become a great person among our civilization, even if you become the president of the United fucking States of America and single handedly alter the course of our history; we are still a species of animal that arose on this planet relatively recently, a planet that circles a star that is one of one-hundred-billion in our galaxy, a galaxy that is one of one-hundred-billion within the range of our most powerful telescope. No matter who you are, you are pretty small in the scheme of things.

And while this is meant to make you feel small, it is not meant to make you feel irrelevant. Your relevance is in the fact that you ARE. You exist! And how fucking cool is that?! But don't think that what you accomplish is in and of itself fulfillment. Fulfillment is as simple as being fulfilled in whatever you accomplish, no matter what it is. That's the point, to simply enjoy it, whatever it is you do. whether you become president, or simple live a peaceful life taking out the garbage every Wednesday, neither should be considered better or worse, and both can bring the same amount of joy, if you let it.

In fact, I would argue that if you cultivate a mentality in which you are happy doing whatever it is you are doing, you will find yourself doing the things that will lead to healthier and more "productive" future moments. If you are as happy getting drunk on Tuesday as you are working on a novel, you are more likely to become a famous writer. Of course, I don't in any way claim to have mastered this mentality, but I think I've started to understand it recently. I have a long way to go. I'm not always happy, not always fulfilled, and I still make "bad" choices, like occasionally getting drunk on Tuesday instead of painting or writing or being productive, mostly because I believe on such a Tuesday that I will be happier by doing so. But I never am, and it never leads to anything. And for the record I was amazingly happy and fulfilled 30 minutes ago when I took out the garbage.

Of course, getting drunk on Tuesday is still ok. Just don't think that it is the key to happiness.

PART II: Blogging

A good friend of mine recently pointed out that it was time for another blog update. After all, it is more than halfway through March, and I haven't blogged since January. Of course, I was aware that I hadn't been blogging. I'd asked myself why and the answer was a simple "Eh, I don't feel like it." This response was never questioned until my friend brought it up, and then I was suddenly forced o ask myself, "Why don't you feel like it?"

The answer, of course, is not a simple one. There are many factors that I have come up with.

The primary factor seems to revolve around the purpose of this blog. When I came to Korea the purpose was clear. Document my experiences,  talk about Korea, let people know what's going on. The problem recently however is that pretty much nothing is going on. Not in relation to Korea anyway. I've run out of stuff to say about Korea. I've been here for 7 months. I'm used to it. Nothing is new, interesting, or impressive. This is just where I live, this is just what life is, and what is there really to say about it? Of course, I would be happy to take questions about Korea if there are any, but nothing comes to my mind to create any sort of discourse on.

That's not to say I have nothing to write about. Ideas that I would like to investigate, such as the philosophical discussion in Part 1 of this post, come to me frequently. Sometimes it is a matter of philosophy, sometimes it is a matter of psychology, sometimes it is a matter of politics and the structure of government. I am constantly thinking, and I frequently have an idea that I would like express, or else simply write about for the sake of my own investigation into the details of that subject.

But there are several problems with this as far as this blog is concerned. First, it seems to belay the nature of this blog and the reason that people read it. As far as I can tell, people read it to find out what's going on with me, not what I'm thinking about. Posts in which I discuss the fact that I feel depressed and out of sorts receive far more comments than posts discussing the nature of children and their sociological interactions. Of course, that could be interpreted to mean that people simply don't know what to say about the latter, but still, writing publicly can be a difficult thing without feedback. (That's not a guilt trip by the way)

But potentially more of an issue with simply blogging about my mental ramblings on Life, the Universe, and Everything is the fact that these thoughts are more difficult to retain long enough to blog about. It seems that quite frequently throughout almost every day I will have some sort of deep observation that I would like to investigate further through writing about it. For me writing is a meaningful activity because it allows me to organize and explore my thoughts in a way that results in more clarity than simply thinking about them. In this way it doesn't matter if anyone reads what I write, because I am writing to simply understand my own understandings.

The problem is that these thoughts disappear relatively quickly. I have maybe 24 hours to get them down before they become part of my internal understanding, but detached from my external expression. I simply don't have the time to blog as much as would be required to keep up with my mental musings. I love writing, but it's also a lot of work. I agonize over every word choice, attempting to phrase the exact connotation that exists within my mind. A post such as this one requires about two hours of writing, proof reading, and editing to produce. When you're already working 55 hours a week, and struggling to maintain/create a social life so that you don't feel like a complete hermit, that's a very significant amount of time. I lose the mental capacity to reverberate my thoughts more frequently than I have the time to actually express them, and that can be very frustrating.

On that note, here's one of the things I would have written about today if I didn't have a job, and if I had the time to just sit in front of a computer typing for 8 hours a day. There were a few others, but they are already lost to me. Given unlimited time, I would write an 8 page psychological and sociological investigation into just this subject. Also, this is less to make a point than it is to document an idea to see if that helps me come back to it later.

The nature of discipline. Why are some children such assholes? It seems to me that people are almost born either with the disposition to care about others, or else to think only for themselves.And with regards to the latter, how much can discipline be a factor in positive growth? In the micro sense, it seems like my efforts of reward and punishment are almost futile. Reward does seem to solidify the concept with the "good" kids that they are acting correctly, but by punishing the "bad" kids, it seems to further polarize their psychology, if anything, only serving to further push them in the direction of self interest. Additionally, while treating their behavior with tolerance and kindness doesn't further polarize them, it doesn't seem to serve any purpose in terms of encouraging them to act with any more empathy towards their peers. And I certainly can't reward bad behavior. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of being a teacher. Of course, I have no knowledge of the home life or parenting styles, so I am unable to extrapolate how this factors into the behavior of these children. Still, it makes me think a lot about nature vs. nurture and, in the case of nurture, what we can do about such behavior. Even assuming that discipline can eventually correct the negative behaviors, does it ever serve to correct the underlying mentality that, in such young children, produces those behaviors? I would like to hope so, but the scope of my observation is far to limited to say one way or the other.

And with that, I bid you goodnight.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cildren, Innosence, Humanity, and Teaching

I follow up last weeks post, which I dub the worst ever, with a post where I totally have my game back. Yea, get psyched. This is a post for the record books. It's gonna be awesome. It's philosophical, thought provoking, and yet easy to fallow. Share it on facebook if you like it, I'd really love a ton of people to read it.

Kids. Chillun. Young-uns. Little ones. Munchkins, as my mother calls them. Ah, what a massively interesting and important concept to my life at this moment in time. I mean, I am a kindergarten teacher after all. But not only in my life is this an important concept. Really, the concept of what children are, and what they mean for us as people, the question of what we are supposed to do with them, and the curiosity of what it means to be a child, is perhaps, alongside the concept of death, the most universal and common enigma beheld by every member of the human race at one point or another. Sure, there are other philosophical musings that are universal. But at some point, almost everyone looks at a child and wonders, "What is that exactly?"

After all, all of us were one of those at one point or another. A child, that is. Because one can not become an adult without first having been a child. And yet, once one achieves adulthood, childhood is lost to a degree. We may remember this experience, or that feeling. But it's impossible to really remember why we thought the things we thought, and why we did the things we did. I myself was sure, when I was a child, that I would never lose my understanding of childhood. And perhaps I have retained my understanding to a greater degree than many adults. But it is not a perfect understanding. There is still wonder, amusement, curiosity, and confusion when I watch children.

Children act in way that is simultaneously more authentic and yet more delusional than the way an adult acts. A child exhibits the most distilled aspects of humanity, yet simultaneously completely fails to comprehend the most essential components of what makes human life what it is. A child is utterly absorbed in it's own experience, incapable of imagining life as another person, and yet still somehow manages to more naturally demonstrate things such as caring and sharing than most adults. From an adults perspective, childhood is an existence composed entirely of paradoxes. But to the child, as with the dreamer, everything makes sense, and no alternative is ever fathomed.

We call children innocent, but they are not exactly. At least not in the way we usually think of the word. They are not innocent in the sense that they are not guilty of wrongdoings. In fact, they are probably more guilty of wrongdoings, in the form of immaturities, selfishness, disrespect, etc., than are adults. But the difference is that they are not aware of their actions as wrong. They have to be taught what is wrong and what is right. When they do something we consider wrong, they have no feeling of guilt, because they are unaware that they have not acted completely appropriately. Guilt must be learned, and wrong vs. right are constructions of society. This is innocence.  To be innocent does not mean to have not done something wrong. To be innocent means to not realize that one has done something wrong. Yet innocence goes beyond whether an action is itself considered right or wrong, but continues to be about a lack of understanding. We say that children are innocent because they lack experience, and lack the understandings that such experiences provide. Everything is new to a child, and this is what makes children and childhood beautiful. They experience joy from things that adults consider simple and meaningless.

But isn't joy itself meaningful? Why don't adults ever sit in a circle and play a rousing game of "duck duck goose"? I can't imagine that even now I wouldn't find pleasure in the simple joy of chasing each other around in a circle. So why don't we ever do it? I suppose the simple answer is that we have other things to occupy ourselves with. We like to drink, and dance, and play more complex games, such as pool, or tennis, or I don't know, Dungeons and Dragons. We have the independence and mobility to go out and do things, such as attend concerts, and festivals, and go to museums. But because we have more independence, mobility, and options, we are less able to be completely spontaneous, and activities have to be planned and organized. I suppose it's difficult to imagine a group of adults making the effort to plan a game of duck duck goose.

What, then, can we learn about ourselves from children? I have learned many things about humanity. I have learned, for example, just how hive-mind like we are. I have seen the way that ideas and habits transfer from one child to another like a disease. This often happens completely empathicaly, without any form of verbal communication or explanation on the subject. Jokes and silly little games or tricks are perfect examples. I'm often amazed at the things kids find funny and amusing. One kid will find something amusing, and suddenly it is the silly little thing of the day in the entire school. But I think that what causes such things to spread is the desire by the other children to share in the amusement. The details or substance of the thing are irrelevant compared to the mental construct of "I want in! What's so funny? I want to laugh at something too!". The joke, then, becomes the simple fact that there is a joke, and not at all what the joke actually is. This is why I find it so easy to entertain my kids. I just have to do something in a way that tells them that it is funny, never mind what.

As adults we care somewhat more for the details and substances of the things that amuse us. But this I think is only because we can be more discerning. We have found our social groups with which we identify, and the groups to which we belong are differentiated from other social groups to which others belong. And in fact, we determine what these groups are based on the emotional decisions that we make, what we find funny for example. There is less pressure to find something funny just because someone else does, because if we don't find it funny, we will simply find someone else who does not. Yet we all still respond to the expectations of those around us, even when those expectations are unspoken. And it doesn't even always come in the form of expectations. Sometimes it's just a matter of common feelings, and reacting to a stimuli in a common way. But we want to react in a common way. It lets us know that we aren't alone. And that is the greatest fear to the human psyche, the fear of being alone. We function best with others. This is why we form families, and social groups, and organizations, and governments. We want to identify with others, because we don't know how to completely identify as individuals, even though we all are individuals. We learn to identify as individuals somewhat more as we grow. But as children, the psychological need is very much on acceptance and incorporation.

For example, I have one student who is very good about listening to me whenever I scold him for something. If he does something wrong, and I tell him, he will say "Yes, Teacher.", and stop immediately. But then when he perceives another student doing a similar thing, he will take it upon himself to scold that student for it. Of course, then I have to scold him for that, and remind him that I am the teacher and not him. He says yes to that as well, but he doesn't quite seem to get it, because he does this quite frequently. I have been pondering why this is exactly. And I think it must stem from this same need of acceptance and belonging. He wants my acceptance of course, and so he doesn't want to do something he knows I consider wrong, and he also wants to demonstrate to me that he understands my desires by attempting to enforce them. Simultaneously, he wants to feel like he belongs with his peers, that he is a member of the group, and so if there is an action he will not do out of desire for my acceptance, he does not want the other students to do it either, because if they do then he will be disconnected from them in some small way. Do I have any psychologists out there reading this? These are all very intuitive understandings, I would love a professionals take on them if possible.

And so, to finish this all off, I'd just like to comment on how much I am enjoying teaching, and how much I love being a teacher. I'm really starting to identify with it, and I think the particular job I have here is as much responsible for my growth as a person, if not more so, than the whole traveling and living in another country thing. Not that I was every particularly irresponsible, but this is a new kind of responsibility, the responsibility of being responsible for the development of another. I constantly have to be aware of my actions and how they will be perceived (and often imitated) by my children. And that's another thing. Not the children but my children. Because as any parent, I desire and take joy in their success, I relish in their laughter, I wonder about their future. I don't just teach them English, I teach them life lessons. I'm not just a teacher, but a role model. I'm also a disciplinarian. And that has actually proven to be the most difficult part of my job, because I've never been one to enforce my perspective or my morality on another. In that respect I have always been a very mellow and laid back kind of person. But you can't be with young children. They require a degree of discipline, and it has often been a challenge figuring out where to draw the lines, and determining and following through with appropriate punishments when those lines are crossed. But that too has made me a stronger and more mature person.

I never used to think I was good with children. When I first started applying to schools out here I specifically avoided all descriptions involving kindergartners. And yet, it turns out that I couldn't imagine a more fulfilling or rewarding job. I think I never appreciated before just how important kindergarten teachers are, just how important to development that age is. There's a lot that goes into it. It doesn't really require a lot of specific knowledge, or even necessarily a ton of training. I've certainly been able to pick up the skills pretty much as I go. It requires patience, kindness, love, compassion, empathy, firmness. It requires a lot of heart. It provides you with perspective and wisdom.

I've joked with some friends before about how many terrible parents there are in the world, and how to combat that, as well as to cut down on overpopulation, we should require people to acquire a license of some sort before reproducing. I think a requirement to getting such a license should be to teach kindergarten for a year.


Sunday, January 29, 2012


I'm in a funk.

Not a major funk. Not a major depression by any means. But definitely some kind of funk. And a persistent one.

I suppose it's just the winter thing. I'm usually in some kind of funk starting around February. But I don't know. The funk blocks clear thinking on the matter.

There's really nothing wrong. I like my job a lot, though it is exhausting. I like living here a lot, though it can be somewhat lonely at times.

Often I don't know what to do or how to spend my time. I come home from work and I cook dinner, and then I just have this "now what?" feeling. I need a hobby. But I have a bunch of hobbies. But I always seem to have to force myself to do them. Like drawing. I have a set of oil pastels. I like to draw. But lately I haven't wanted to. Why? And chainmaille. I have at least 2 chainmaille projects I'm supposed to be working on. I downloaded a few seasons of Star Treck: The Next Generation thinking I could get some chain work done while watching. I'm almost done with season 2, but I haven't started any chainmaille yet. And writing. I like writing. But it seems that I never want to sit down and write. I didn't even want to write a blog post today. I'm forcing myself to. I feel like I don't know what to say, or how to say it. I feel like this is the worst blog post ever. Stupid post. All disjointed and even more rambly than usual.


So yea, I'm in a funk.

I don't know what I want anymore. I don't know if I want to stay here for a second year or come home. Or go somewhere else. I don't know where else I want to travel to, what other places I want to see. I don't know what I want to accomplish in life. I don't know what kind of person I want to be. When I do come back to the states, I don't know where I want to live or what I want to do. I don't really know anything. Nor do I really want to think about it all that much. When I first got here my mind was buzzing with thinking about my dreams, and my next steps, and blah blah blah. But I don't really have any dreams at the moment. Nothing specific anyway. When I think about my future, all that comes to my mind is a big, endless, gray field. No, seriously. I used to see different possible futures, like me as a researcher, or living in an earthship, or this or that. Now I think about it, I just see the color gray stretching out infinitely. And I guess I'm scared that if I don't fill that void with something, some kind of dream, than I'll never do anything. Which is silly. I suppose life happens regardless of intent.

And I want a girlfriend. I think. I assume. Or am I just in the habit of wanting a girlfriend? No, I'm pretty sure I actually do. But that's complicated. The temporary nature of my being here. The plans I used to have for the future that have been replaced by the gray void. How do I explain polyamoury to a Korean girl? As fringe as it is in the states, it would sound completely ridiculous here. Of course, I could do monogamy for a while. In fact it might even be nice for a change. But can I permanently part with such a fundamental aspect of my philosophy? And if not, than any relationship I get into based on monogamy must be temporary. But is that fair to someone? Is it right to get into a relationship with someone based on terms you know will force an end to the relationship at somepoint down the road?

Besides, the truth is I don't just want a girlfriend, I want a domestic partner. I guess I'm starting to feel those adult hormones or something. I don't just want a person to go out with, and hold hands with, and have sex with. I want a person to come home to, to cook dinner with, to be silently in the company of. Of course, I realize that that doesn't just happen. You need to start out with one and it builds to the next. But, in this life here, I fear that any sort of domestic partner situation is really quite impossible. And of course it all goes back to the complications of my non-permanence here as well as my less than typical views on love and relationships.


This sure is a funky funk....