Monday, October 26, 2009



A word on confidentiality: being a writer and keeping good confidences are goals that are not entirely incompatible, but which are very difficult to reconcile. Take, for example, my final days in Germany, which happen to coincide with the beginning signs of neglect of this blog. I was working at a start-up restaurant in Munich, and watching it gradually fail. There was no shortage of stories during that period, but I didn't write them. On a different front, I now work for an English hagwon, and while it is far from failing, there is no shortage of stories to tell...but I don't. I don't because it's important not to betray confidences, but, as a writer, good story-telling involves not shrinking away from the truth, and this may have some little to do with why I don't just churn out work the way I used to. I have to think, sometimes deeply, about what I'm going to say, and I often find that central parts of the story must be left out for reasons of confidentiality. Similar thing this last weekend: I actually flew back to the US for a total of two days to interview for Teach For America, and while the trip and the interview process were fascinating, there's a lot I need to keep out of the story. Suffice to say, as with the CELTA earlier this year, regardless of the outcome, the process was enlightening. I feel I did my best, and made a lot of decisions that should make me an attractive candidate, but I've read too many blogs in which people talked about the process, felt certain they did well, then later updated the blog to report that they'd not been selected. Fact is, I've been thinking a lot about my responses during the interview, and I can think of fifteen reasons why I think I did well, and another fifteen reasons why they'll eventually say no. Most of those reasons, on both sides, probably have to do with styles of leadership. At the end of the process, I simply do not know enough about TFA's preferred style of leadership to even begin to guess as to how they'll ultimately decide. I'll know on November 10th, though, and that's not terribly long to wait.

As to the trip: if the travel arrangements themselves were used as a measure of how well I did in the interview, I should come out great--things couldn't have gone more to plan than they did: all flights on time, all luggage accounted for, all connections made, everything. Plus some extras: on the way to LA, was seated beside an elderly couple who struck up conversation largely because they needed a hand now and again, and I was courteous in giving them one. Turns out, the man is 84 years old, holds a PhD in mechanical engineering, and was born in Shanghai. Think about that. He was born in Shanghai in 1925. Actually moved to Taiwan shortly after WWII, then America seven years later. Landed in Stillwater, OK for college, and then moved to Chicago (this is in '57). At one point, after we'd discovered we'd both spent some time in Oklahoma, the man says, "I'm sorry if this offends you, but a lot of people in Oklahoma weren't very friendly to outsiders back then. Sometimes when I greeted them they'd pretend they hadn't heard anything. The fellow who lived in the dormitory next to mine was like that...when I said "hi" he'd just walk on by. Then there was this one night when I heard a knock on my dormitory door. So I answer it, and he's standing there with a book in his hand, and he says "Excuse me, you wouldn't happen to know anything about calculus, would you?" So I looked at the problem, and of course, it was very simple for me, so I showed him the answer, and after that, he was so nice..."

Beijing--as much as I would have liked to explore--I only got to see the inside of the airport, but already got the sense that China'd be a hard place to adjust to. Often guidebooks will tell you how conservative South Korea is, but I think if a Chinese woman is standing side-to-side with a South Korean woman, the difference is very clear, very quickly. South Korea seems a bastion of liberal thought in comparison. Mind you, I only saw airport workers and a few airplane passengers, but...well, for example, there was an H1N1 PSA on heavy rotation in the Beijing airport that I felt caught a lot of the spirit of the place (I especially appreciated the line "Social morality!"), and might fairly be offered up, in comparison, to a parody of a recently popular South Korean song, also addressing H1N1, as one touchstone of the differences between the two societies. I'm certainly not anti-collectivist, and often think we could benefit, as a species, from a little less adherence to individualist dogma, but I can also see how even someone with an open mind about the matter might find it hard to make the adjustment from one to the other.

In LA...well, first you should probably know that I have a mortal terror of LA. I think it's because when I first get to know a place, I prefer to learn about it by walking around in it, and LA makes that very hard to do. I really wasn't there to check out the sites. For the most part, I did the interview and did some shopping for the girls. Other than that, it was TV, eating, and trying to regulate my sleep schedule so I wasn't too whipped when I got back to Gangneung (well's about 40 minutes from my usual bedtime now, and I'm fading...). Spent more time at the airport than most probably would have, just because I really didn't want to go see the Getty museum or Universal Studios or really anything. While waiting to check in, I ended up nursing a beer at one of the airport bars and watching college football (USC v. Oregon State, I think...) with one eye, and watching a very flirty woman fall in love with the young bartender with the other. The woman was older, maybe late thirties to mid forties, and the bartender mid to late 20's. The bartender was making friendly chat, but the woman...well, it was clear that the woman would have been very happy to have taken the bartender home. As often happens, it became clearer as time went on. The bartender's co-workers were, of course, mildly ribbing him about the situation, but at some point, the whole process came to a head--for whatever legitimate or trumped up reason, the bartender ended up excusing himself from bar duties and going into the kitchen, and the woman, becoming aware of his absence, suddenly stood up from the bar with this terrible lost look on her face. The staff, at her insistence, guided her to where the bartender was, and she issued apologies and kisses and whatnot before taking off. The look on her face was absolutely heartwrenching, and seeing that moment of realization actually triggered in me a real need to record the incident--to write--which I resisted as best I could (you'll note this description has not veered toward the violet end of the spectrum, nor has it toyed with the idea of looking at the situation from either the barkeep or the woman's p.o.v...), and was made the more so for the fact that the woman could not have been gone from the scene for more than thirty seconds, tops, before all the guys central to the drama: the barkeep, the customers at the bar, the two waiters, and the manager, were having some pretty pointed laughs about the whole situation. Not that there wasn't humor in the situation--there certainly was--but I couldn't help thinking that the woman was probably still close enough to hear that laughter, and maybe close enough to see them laughing, and that she was already in bad emotional shape prior to this moment.

Other notes as well. Being away for the weekend, got to slip into that anonymous skin and just watch for a while...once I was done with the interview. Which, to get back to the point I made about confidentiality at the beginning of this post, I cannot talk about. I can, however, say that I did my level best on the work they presented me with, and that this passage Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, will likely be a factor in the decision that's ultimately made.

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master--to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now," said he, "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty--to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

How so? Can't say. But regardless of the outcome, I'm grateful for the application process' having reminded me of this passage, which, I found quite recently, I've held quite close for many years now. Wish me luck...and until next time--tchitch

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?