A little middle school humor

I gave my after-school class this comic template – it’s supposed to be based on the Disney animated short “Paperman,” which we had just watched. Two of my middle school boys decided to take the story into their own hands.

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Text:

Man 1: Who are you?!

Man 2: I’m a boss

Man 1: [casually smoking a cigarette] Ah… I’m sorry…

Man 2: Not smoking in company… [throws paper plane directly into Man 1’s mouth]

Man 1: [clearly distressed] Ahk!

Woman: Are you crazy? Don’t eat paper airplane!

Yeah, duh guys. Don’t eat paper airplane.


My last class of the day on Fridays is a squirrelly, goofy bunch of 14-year-olds, with whom class feels much more like a rodeo than an educational environment. As is the case with all classes at this point in the semester (1 week away from midterms), their behavior has been on the decline.

Every Friday, the bell rings and I go into the classroom, and one (or more) of them has drawn a goofy cartoon character on the board saying “집가고싶다…”

But today, the cartoon character’s weekly lament had been written in English: “I want to go home.” I would consider that progress. Of a sort.

The comforting things

1.  The sound of someone else vacuuming. This is no doubt due to the countless nights growing up when I was snuggled cozily in bed listening to Mom vacuuming downstairs before I drifted off. Thus I feel irrationally safe and cozy when one of my apartment neighbors starts vacuuming and the sound drifts through the thin walls. (Which also means it doesn’t work when I’m the one who’s vacuuming. Too bad, right?)

2.  The crackles and pops in the quiet moments of an old black-and-white film (1930s-1950s). I just love this sound, again because it brings me back to childhood and weekend evenings spent watching old movies (expertly selected by Dad from his vast mental library of old movies) on the sofa with my family.

You can kind of hear the crackling in the background of this clip – actually, it’s not really the best example of what I mean, but I mostly chose it because it’s funny and I love this movie.

“Something horrible has happened!”

3.  The gentle spread of burning warmth after eating food with just the right level of spiciness. I enjoy eating spicy foods, but unlike the other items on this list, this love developed very recently, only since I came to Korea.

4.  When pain finally starts to subside. When you can feel the headache, the cramps, whatever it is creeping out of your body, the resulting not-pain brings a soothing lightness.

Everyone has their own list. What’s yours?*

*That’s the part where I pretend my blog has an actual following and audience participation. LOL.

an interview with myself

(Double post today because the first is not directed at my general audience. This post IS directed at my general audience and particularly dedicated to my few very loyal friends & family who check this blog every day, and who every day have had their hopes dashed for quite some time. Sorry it’s been such a long wait!) (Oh, and this post is also very goofy because I just needed something to start me writing again.)

Q: Where have you been, Maddy? THIS BLOG HAS BEEN DEAD FOR 6 WEEKS. 6 WEEKS!!! What the heck?? What’s your deal?

A: Yes, well, I have been busy, uninspired to write, living my mundane life but the good kind of mundane. I’ve been very Zen this school year. Taking stresses and surprises in stride. Not letting my feathers be ruffled, my mellow be harshed, my buzz be killed, my vibe be ruined. So to speak.

Q: Uh… okay then. So how are your co-teachers this year?

A: The first I am convinced has no idea that there could possibly be anything but herself at the center of the Universe. As a former psych student I find her fascinating. As a coworker I find her a nightmare err… interesting.

The second is very sweet and motherly but much busier than last year because she got a promotion and has Bigger and Better Things on her mind.

The third is actually a year younger than me, which was a huge surprise because I’ve never worked with anyone even close to my age at a Korean middle school. Not sure if that’s just luck or if younger teachers tend to go for the elementary school positions. Regardless, we share an office and it’s really nice to have someone to relate to.

Side note: I’ve discovered, upon chatting extensively with said co-teacher #3, that being surrounded exclusively by well-meaning ajummas (35+ yrs) for my first 2 years in Korea has led me to have distinctly OLD PERSON TASTES in Korean food and culture. Which I find hilarious.

The fourth is as old as the hills, and he spends every class we have together:

A) intermittently yelling “HEY! CUT IT OUT!” at the kids in Korean when the whim strikes him
B) asleep
C) staring into space with tortured eyes as if by staring hard enough he might Apparate himself out of the classroom

Occasionally he raises a hand from his chair in back and says “Maddy, wait” and lectures them for a good minute. As far as I can tell, “Maddy,” “wait,” and “OK” are the only English words he knows how to speak.

He seems to be a bit of a gruff old dear, though (I have no way of knowing for sure due to the language barrier). The kids who aren’t scared of him seem to like him – but come to think of it, not sure if it’s affection or just a desire to poke and prod the bear because it’s funny and they know he won’t do anything worse than growl a little.

Q: Wow, what entertaining descriptions. That’s fantastic. Bravo. Alrighty. Moving right along, how are the students this year?

A: They’re possibly the same as last year. Possibly better. I’m not sure. I’m too Zen to figure it out. (See answer to Q1) Sometimes they’re cute and hilarious and adorable and lovable, and sometimes I swear they flew straight from the depths of hell into my classroom just to torture me.

But I don’t carry it home with me. All the stresses or disappointments or failures in the classroom stay at school. This may not be something a “regular” teacher can do (i.e. not an expat ESL teacher), but it’s a benefit of this particular job that I’ve finally, in Year 3, learned to enjoy.

Nevertheless, the kids know me well, I know them well (except for the 1st years; we’re still kind of getting acquainted), I know my school, and I know the teaching ropes. So it’s been good, overall. Quite good.

Q: Great, great. You sound so enlightened and cool and stuff. You’re probably like the very first person to ever figure this teaching stuff out. Er… next question… I didn’t think this far ahead…

A: True. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to do this interview, after all.

Q: Well, um… hmm… what’s your favorite color?

A: Blue.

But actually, I just always say blue automatically because that was my favorite color when I was a kid and I never reexamined it as I grew up. Even though maybe I’ve changed my mind and I just never thought about it. That’s got to be a metaphor for something about life.

Q: Stop trying to be cool. What did you eat for breakfast?

A: Coffee.

Q: That’s not breakfast.

A: That’s not a question. And I never eat breakfast. Never have, never will.

Q: Okay interview over. It’s getting weird. People will think you have a split personality or a massive ego.

A: Agreed.


In all seriousness, I have edited and polished some old drafts and lined them up to auto-publish this week. Maybe it’ll boost me back into it, but if nothing else, at least I’ll have a few posts up after a long hiatus.

Jetlag

I wrote this post shortly after coming back from my 7-day visit to America – a 13-hour flight away, and 24 hour journey in total from one home to the other.


Sunday, February 26th.

Do you know why time travel is impossible? It’s not because we don’t have the technology yet or because physics and science say it can never be. It’s because our frail little bodies can barely take traveling across time zones, let alone the time-space continuum. Pretty sure we’d shrivel up and die on the spot if we ever did manage to land ourselves back in 1697 or 1919 or 2015 or whatever.

I spent the last 5 days since my plane landed feeling like I’d been hit by the Korean express train itself. It was the most severe jetlag I’ve ever experienced. In all my trips to and from Korea, I’d never really understood what people meant by this incapacitating jetlag thing until now.

To be honest, the last few days were a fever-like blur of sleep, sleepiness, and wakefulness at all the wrong hours. I recall unpacking everything immediately upon arriving home on Wednesday morning and then promptly sleeping for 6 hours, and from there is a memory montage of nap after nap (almost feeling the need to recover from one nap by taking another), crawling out of bed to eat something at inappropriate hours such as 2 a.m., waking up feeling fine at 9 a.m. but becoming overwhelmingly exhausted 2 hours later.

It really does describe an illness, but I suppose that’s what jetlag mimics at times. Upon googling, it seems there are a myriad of symptoms that can be caused merely by having crossed a few time zones while thousands of miles up in the air.

I don’t know whether I was fortunate or unfortunate that I had those 5 days to recover before returning to work, since maybe having the rigor of a schedule and an obligation would’ve helped. Or maybe not. Yeah, probably not.

Regardless, 5 days later I seem to have pulled through. I no longer feel like a toxic fog is eating my insides from the brain down. Whew.

My recollection of the visit itself feels similarly blurry as I scan through the memories that stand out – singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with my sister as she strums her ukulele… sitting in the kitchen with a bunch of former coworkers who took time after a long day to eat and laugh together on a weeknight… watching my friend walk down the aisle looking like a princess… being surrounded by my extended family for a lunch gathering during which we packed Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and every other missed occasion into an intensely uproarious, laughter-filled, warm, bright, happy few hours… and hugging my best friends and family as I said goodbye again.

 

On the embracing of music and the acceptance of irrationality

*Edit: So it’s bugging me that I mixed the use of the verb “embracing” and the noun “acceptance” in the title, but I’m not going to change it. I just wanted to note it. In case it’s bugging anyone else.

So here we are in the midst of another week of deskwarming. (Well, here I am. I don’t know where you are.)

Each morning I half-jog through the breathtaking cold to school. I have enough walking time to listen to about 1.3 songs, so I have to choose carefully. These days I’ve been going through Bastille’s “Wild World” album, song by song.

There’s something to be said for learning an entire album by heart and deliberately embracing each of the songs on it, even if you don’t initially like some of them. Not to force yourself to be a “true fan” of a particular group – I dislike that attitude, personally – but to watch and feel how certain songs grow on you. After X number of listens, the lyrics or an inflection in the singer’s voice make you feel something. (You obviously have to start out with an artist you like, though.)

Plus, through repeated and dedicated listening, you get the added benefit of creating a powerful memory capsule embedded in that album, and even if those memories aren’t purely happy ones…

I attempted to write my next sentence several times before realizing that I’m only trying to paraphrase Joe Henry (“God Only Knows”), and he says it better, so:

The worst of life looks beautiful as it slips away in full retreat.

Yesterday I decided to publish my old Yeongju trip post, and I might publish one or two other lingering drafts as I finish up the first round of deskwarming this vacation season.

Next week I have vacation, which I managed to join with the Seollal (Lunar New Year) long weekend to get an even longer vacation.

After that it’s back to school for one of the more absurd aspects of the Korean academic year: the random February week.

The length and purpose of this week varies by school, but for my middle school we will have three random days of class (Thursday, Friday, and Monday in the first week of February) – and not even normal class, but classes that are 10 minutes shorter than the usual time – followed by a graduation ceremony for the 3rd years on Tuesday.

And that’s it. Then we’re back to vacation – “spring vacation” instead of “winter vacation” – until March 2nd.

Why?

WHY, KOREA??

I really can’t fathom the reason for this, as it needlessly breaks up the much-needed vacation time and accomplishes little to nothing in the way of education for the kids, since A) in 3 days with 35 minutes per class, there’s barely time to delve into any topic and B) they literally will not care since these classes have no bearing on their grades and all they’re thinking about is vacation.

I guess I have it easy, since I believe some elementary schools go for a full week or so. And it’s really not the end of the world to teach a few random classes, I suppose.

But I really dislike irrationality, especially when it’s so deeply and stubbornly ingrained in a system.

(If there is a plausible reason for this week being plopped in the middle of vacation, I will stand corrected.)

uncollected thoughts

 

The number of barely-attempted posts in my drafts folder grows.

My lack of inspiration wrestles against both my desire to write something real instead of a list of life updates and my itch to do something productive while deskwarming (having already planned future lessons as much as my still-recovering-from-last-year brain will let me).

But not everything in life has to be structured and “just so” and exactly according to the plan in my head.

Various people have tried to tell me this since I was about 2 years old. I think it was only after my prefrontal cortex became fully developed that I started making a conscious effort to relax my own standards for perfection, organization, rigidity, structure, schedules.

Coming to Korea was simultaneously a cause and effect of that relaxation, I suppose.

Okay, so I still have a to do list and I still plan things about a week in advance, but compared to 5 or 10 years ago when I would be consumed with anxiety if I didn’t have everything perfectly ready 2+ weeks ahead of time, I’m doing much better.

in other news

It’s cold. The cold snap hit this week finally. It had been downright balmy here the last few weeks.

The carpenter who lived and worked (emphasis on the worked, and by worked I mean attempted to break the sound barrier with his power tools on a daily basis) next to my apartment has moved out. A shoe cleaner has moved in.

Goodbye whining and grinding at all hours of the day and night. Goodbye sawdust and wood shavings floating in through my windows. Goodbye weekends spent gritting my teeth to stop from screaming out the window “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, STOP IT!” Happy New Year to me!

Speaking of which, I don’t intend to post about my goals for this year because the act of publicly declaring a goal can have the unintended psychological side effect of making your brain pat itself on the back (er, pat itself on the cerebellum?) and say “Well done, well done, mission accomplished.”

Essentially it releases similar endorphins to those you would get from actually completing a goal, and so, feeling satisfied and happy with yourself, you immediately lose all motivation to pursue those aims.

Nevertheless, I have high hopes for you, 2017.

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Handmade card from one of my sweetest 3rd grade girls, who is starting high school in March.
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I’ll miss her!

Lists of 3

Reasons I haven’t blogged:

  1. I was having a rough week… repeatedly
  2. Everything I think of saying feels redundant
  3. Did I mention rough weeks?

Things I’ve learned (been reminded of?) in the last few weeks:

  1. Focus on that one student or class that remains sweet and attentive till the (bitter) end of the semester, and don’t stress about the ones that don’t
  2. You should probably just do that thing you don’t wanna do
  3. There IS light at the end of the tunnel

Abandoned titles in my Drafts folder:

  1. thankful
  2. Today was a good day.
  3. noobish mistakes in Korea

Reasons I’m blogging today:

  1. Yesterday was a good day. So was today.
  2. I haven’t posted in a month.
  3. Lists feel easier than posts.

Things that have happened since my last post:

  1. We got our cafeteria and old school lunch back (the difference between freshly cooked food and food that tastes like preservatives and is of questionable age and origin is tremendous, and does wonders for everyone’s mood)
  2. We had our first snow in Daegu, which lasted approximately 2.37 minutes; it has not returned
  3. I signed a renewal contract. My Korea saga isn’t finished yet!

Christmas-themed acrostic poems composed by my 14-yr-olds of varying English abilities today:

1. HOLIDAY

Happy
Only one
Life
I eat
Delicious food. However,
Amazingly not delicious food
Y? Because my mother makes it.

2. SANTA

Santa
And Rudolph make
Noodles
Together
A… very delicious meal

3. SNOWMAN

Snowy day
Not comes easy*
Outside
Wet if you touch it
Melt when sun come out
white person**
Nature

*This line is a reference to the fact that in Daegu, it barely ever snows.
**Please note the poem’s title so as not to misunderstand.

Things that have made me smile this week (so far):

  1. Chatting and playing strategic thinking games like Rummikub and Da Vinci Code with some of the 16-year-old girls for 2 hours on our last day of English Club.
  2. Surprise cancellations of some of my less-than-lovely classes
  3. Upon the sudden cancellation of an actually lovely class (perhaps my favorite… shhh), two boys vehemently protesting the cancellation: “No! Teacher, I want you English class! I want study English!”, and the rest making hearts over their heads with their arms and crying “Teacher, I love you!” as they rushed out of the classroom to their new destination (this is why you’re my favorites)

Things I’m looking forward to:

  1. The end of the school year! (Christmas is on Sunday, so there’s no Christmas break for us, but we finish school on the 28th)
  2. The start of my real vacation (after winter camp and winter ‘after-school’ class)
  3. Going home for a quick visit before Korea Year 3 begins

Classroom woes

Yesterday, I drafted a whiny woe-is-me post.

Today, I’m glad I didn’t hit publish. [nonetheless i will now proceed with summarizing said woe-is-me post, only a bit less negatively]

Every teacher goes through work stress, from misbehaving students to lesson planning to coworker clashes to administration frustrations to fighting the counterproductive stupidities that have been embedded into the “system.” I think I can safely say literally every teacher. As an ESL teacher in Korea specifically, there is another set of frustrations related to lack of communication / language barrier and lack of power (as our role is technically a ‘guest/assistant’ teacher).

Anyway, yesterday was just one of those days.

My classroom TV/computer connection had a freak-out moment and stopped working mid-class, and my co-teachers and I were running around the school looking for an empty classroom every period until the very awesome technology teacher set up a temporary fix by plugging his laptop directly into the TV via HDMI cable.

(I am seriously so thankful for our new technology teacher; since he started working at my school just about a month ago, he’s helped me with SO many annoying technical problems in my classroom, and he’s always super prompt and cheerful, AND he can speak English! If I were the boss of something, I would hire him as my personal assistant. hahaha)

(Also, insert argument about not relying on technology in the classroom here. It’s true, but in my case and the case of many foreign teachers in Korea, using PPT makes it soooo much easier to explain vocabulary or activity/game instructions without bringing in tons of realia or pictures or relying on the Korean teacher for assistance/demonstration/translation.)

Besides the technical inconveniences, I was drained of all my energy by unmotivated students. My after-school class with the 16-yr-olds made me want to drown in a pool of my own tears afterwards. Or maybe to just yell “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, WHAT DO YOU WANT?“, as I have now tried a wide variety of formats including non-PPT-based speaking games and activities, a pop song guessing game, Hot Seat (basically Taboo), watching a short animation and making a comic, and – yesterday’s failure of epic proportions – writing a simple “poem” using the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, why). I have let them sit where they want and also made a seating chart to separate the chatty ones.

NOTHING. IS. WORKING.

Now that I’ve recovered from that critical hit to my pride, I’ve decided to simplify the remaining lessons as much as possible and just do what every other teacher is probably doing and hurry up and get through it.

As for today, most of it was an echo of yesterday, but at the very end, just before my final class of the day, my buddy the technology teacher saved the day yet again by bringing in a guy to fix the original computer/TV connection.

And not only was I able to use my normal classroom computer for that class, but it was one of my favorite classes, a very cheerful and polite bunch of kids. The lesson was on “I can’t believe it!”, so I showed them some weird facts (did you know the average person’s forearm is the same length as their foot?) and optical illusions. They had a very enjoyable time with those.

Just one class like that is all I need to feel that the rest of it is worth it. So this Thursday is ending happily. Even better, tomorrow is Friday AND it’s Sports Day, which means no classes and the kids will be running around outside all day, doing relay races and jump rope contests and tug-of-war.

i’m alive and stuff.

thinking about explaining why i haven’t blogged makes me want to close my browser, so let’s just strike while the iron is hot (at 11:58pm on a monday… okay…) and ignore the fact that it’s been MORE THAN A MONTH. I SKIPPED SEPTEMBER.

that’s fine with me. september wasn’t so great.

On a different note (which deserves proper capitalization and punctuation), when I reentered the blogging arena tonight I discovered I was nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by the very lovely Adina (check out her blog, unfiltered freckles!). I’m honored and grateful (and also feel bad because it’s been several weeks since she posted the nomination, and those were the weeks that I didn’t have the motivation to even check my WordPress feed).

The rules are to nominate 10-15 other lovely blogs – which I will try to remember to do at some point (but this is just my ‘I’m still here’ post, and honestly I haven’t been reading many blogs lately) – and to list 7 facts about myself.

I’ll try to list things that I haven’t previously brought up (or beaten to death) about myself in other posts. Like, ‘yeah, we know Maddy, you’re all introverted and hypochondriatic and stuff. cool story.’

  1. i have a playlist of certain music videos that i watch when i’m in the mood to cry (among them are “Set Fire to the Third Bar” by Snow Patrol & Martha Wainwright, the acoustic “Thinking of You” by Katy Perry,  and “Elastic Heart” by Sia). please tell me i’m not the only one? (i mean, not necessarily with those songs, but just having a crying playlist. it’s healthy to cry for no reason once in a while.)
  2. i once lightly tossed my hairbrush towards my bed because i was apparently, in that moment, too lazy to put it down somewhere like a normal person, and my Herculean strength overthrew that thing straight into the window and cracked it. actually, that was a few months ago and my window still has a spiderweb crack in it. ooooops. welp, that’ll be coming out of my housing deposit.
  3. living in a perceived mess, or things appearing dirty or unkempt around me, causes me a great amount of stress.
  4. when i was young, i was a voracious consumer of books, i thought i loved dogs, and i thought fruit snacks were disgusting. now i am 26, i can’t remember the last time i picked up a physical book, i know that i’m not fond of dogs, and i quite enjoy fruit snacks. weird how life does that to you. (and yes, i am an adult and i eat fruit snacks. don’t judge. they’re made with real fruit juice.)
  5. when i’m nervous or stressed, i pick the skin around my nails. that poor skin will probably never know wholeness.
  6. a couple weeks ago, i went to see Sully with my 3rd year girls’ English reading club (it was after the midterm test, so all the clubs had some kind of special activity in the afternoon, and we were the lucky ones who got to see a movie). It was amazing and I highly, highly recommend it. i cried (speaking of crying).
  7. Good Mythical Morning (Rhett & Link) is my favorite thing on the internet, and almost my favorite thing anywhere.

it is now 12:41 am and i should definitely be sleeping.

so, yeah. anyway.

i’m alive, and stuff.

Reverse SAD

Ever since the weekend, we’ve had the most glorious cool, breezy, overcast weather here in Korea, a sudden and unexpected and very very welcome relief from the relentless sun.

Always, when the first whisper of fall comes, I experience this strange feeling as though I’ve had my head underwater for ages and suddenly I’ve come up gasping and I can finally breathe again. But I didn’t even know my head had been underwater all that time. Like the frog boiling in the pot analogy, summer s l o w l y tries to drown me, so slowly that I don’t even realize it until it’s over.

In the last few years, as I repeat this experience at the start of every fall, I’ve wondered if I have a mild form of reverse SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

Normal SAD means that a person has a tendency to become depressed in winter because they are heavily affected by the cold, the shorter days, and especially the lack of sunlight. Biologically, this happens because of sudden, prolonged changes in melatonin, serotonin, and sleep cycles, but I think it has a deep emotional component as well.

The lesser-known and less common reverse SAD is just what it sounds like (the complete opposite of SAD) – a tendency to become depressed in summer due to heat, longer days, and too much exposure to sunlight.

Again, that’s the biological explanation. Emotionally, for me, it just feels so oppressive and that makes me feel sluggish and exhausted. (I also frequently get heat/sun-related headaches, so that doesn’t help.)

Let’s just say “Summertime Sadness” is my jam from June-August. (Not the poppy, upbeat Cedric Gervais radio edit – but the original, which actually sounds like its title. Sad.)

I wouldn’t characterize what I experience in summer as depression per se, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a deficiency of endorphins in the hot months. To frame it positively, I’d say I just have a proficiency of them once it gets cool and cloudy. My optimism, motivation, and energy levels skyrocket. Gray days, rainy days, and cold days get my blood pumping.

Anyway, that’s enough for now about (reverse) SAD. Maybe someone can recognize this phenomenon in themselves. The most comforting part about it is that you know your season of choice is coming if you just hang in there a little bit longer.

p.s. there may or may not be more blog posts coming this week. i make no promises.