Bringing Order To Chaos

“I read a quote somewhere by someone about how mankind’s greatest source of unhappiness is the ability to conceive of ideals that it cannot attain.” – Kim’s latest entry

“And it was here, I felt, that the two sides of Japan, the lyrical and the mechanical, the frenzy of the video revolution and what Kawabata called ‘the deep quiet of the Japanese spirit,’ came together. The mechanical smoothness that I saw all around me was, in its way, just the secular equivalent of the garden, a profane counterpart to that exact geometry of the spirit. The items laid out in the department-store racks were no less perfect in their man-made arrangement that the rocks in the raked gravel of the temples; the rides in Disneyland were no less precise than the empty spaces of Kyoto. Both worlds were governed by the same aesthetic clarity, the same delicacy of suggestion, the same will for harmony. Both, in fact, arose from the same perfectionist ideal: not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but unity, discipline and the pursuit of purity…The Japanese did not see why everything should not be made perfect…And the people had not only the vision to see what was wrong but the discipline to correct it…In Japan, I had little sense of wasted hope or rusted ambition: everything – including the future – could be programmed; everything – including humanity – could be perfected.” – Pico Iyer, Video Night in Kathmandu

I feel like Kim’s quote correctly defines the human condition and Iyer’s informs us that Japan has found a way to circumvent it – perfection. Ignoring the questions of whether or not fine-tuning humanity into an ideally functioning machine and the resulting homogeneous culture that it creates are actually desirable, let’s just accept that this is the way Japan is. And, despite the lack of any real Japanese influence in my life, I manage to feel the shame of being the peg that sticks out, the foreign part that isn’t quite compatible with the highly efficient Japanese car. I spend most of my time at the office feeling either confused or guilty – confused because I’m rarely told what’s going on (for example, nobody told me that sport’s day was rescheduled for Tuesday because of the typhoon today) and often find myself alone in the office; guilty when I learn that the reason I was alone in the office was because all the other teachers were at some school assembly. And more than either of those, I feel ashamed – for not being a part of the team, of my inability to even know which questions to ask to get the information I need to become a part of it.

I guess lately I’ve been feeling the pressures to be perfect. I’m highly sensitive to my unique situation and I know that I’m still in the early phases where first impressions are extremely important. I also know that I need to relax and be myself, but my problem is that, as Justin put it, “me” is an extremely fluid concept right now. Everything is so new and there is nothing in my experiences that would help me figure out how I would “normally” respond in the situations I have encountered. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit out of control and panicked lately and the smallness of this island has become oppressive. I worry that the mistakes I make will never be forgotten and taint my relationships with people forever. I worry that I will never belong here, a fear that is only compounded by hearing stories of how the other ALT was told by his Japanese friend that Japan would never be his home. In Japan, there is this concept of in-group and out-group (a concept so heavily ingrained that it has worked it’s way into their language). To some extent this concept exists everywhere, but here, the walls are higher, the hazing more intense. I know I need to be patient, that reacting irrationally will only make things worse, but it’s so hard, because, I tend to over-think and over-analayze, which are two things that should never be mixed with loneliness and anxiety.

I like reading Kim’s entries because they remind me that I would probably feel this way anywhere. More than once, I’ve thought about giving up and going home, thinking that this transition from college student to working adult would be easier there. In reality, I think I would feel these same pressures (to varying degrees) even in the familiarity of Portland or the Bay Area – I’d still be learning the ropes of an unfamiliar job, still be trying to figure out how to spend my afternoons in the absence of homework or studying, still trying to establish a new social life that doesn’t revolve around school.

I think the next two weeks will be good for me: I have most of next week off and I think it will give me some time off from the rigors and complexities of my new life, as well as give me the opportunity to take a much needed look at myself in my new environment. The week after I’m going to Kanoya to take some cultural and language classes with the other new ALT’s, which will get me off the island and will allow me to touch base with people who are going through what I’m going through. Until then, I think I need to endure and ride out the storm (literally as well as figuratively considering there’s a typhoon raging outside).

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