Towards the end of my term as an assistant English teacher I would reflect by pausing in the hallway and leaning in towards the open window while walking between the toilet and the teachers room during a free period and think: this is the greatest job I’ll ever have. That is actually the thought I started to realize during the start of my second year. Truly, of course, it couldn’t be the pinnacle of my work life, and I began to acknowledge that. By the beginning of summer, as I was already well into figuring the terms of my new job, I determined that working at the school wouldn’t be the best job in my entire life — only the best job I’d have for a while.
That, I know to be true. I mean, how could it not be? Every morning I’d wake up and make the fifteen minute bike to school. It didn’t matter what I wore, because I’d change from the locker into my slacks and button down and occasional tie. Because we had started choosing our own schedules, I hardly ever had a class during the first period. This allowed the perfect to time ease into my day. I’d check my favorite new sites, and catch up on the SRS kanji reviews I had from the day before. I already had a year’s worth of worksheets, so every lesson was less starting from scratch and more ironing out the harder details. Each class I was supported (and supporting) another teacher, it took the pressure off our jobs, gave us brief moments to catch a breath. In the back of class I’d goof off with anyone not paying attention, or subtly wake the dozing student. Between classes were the best. I was a near celebrity. From the beginning it was never hard for the students to become curious about my height or complexion. But after two years I’d become a role model, a mascot, a friend. And none the less humble for it.
If I could stay young forever I would have never left. But that’s the funnier part about schools. Every year you’re teaching another generation, the material hardly advances, but you have to figure out how to improve. Except at the end of the year one group leaves, and so quickly they’re replaced. When I lived in New York, right before I left, way before I knew what teaching was like, I was talking with a roommate who was an associate poetry professor in the upper east side.
“You’ll go on to do great things, man, don’t worry about it,” he told me. This is a guy who only six months before had picked up a guitar and six months later had performed at bars in Williamsburg.
“How do you do it?” I asked. “Every year, teaching a new class, and then forgetting them by the next summer.”
He scratched his head, but answered honestly and unabashed, “You just get used to it. I mean, some students will come back and stick out to you, but you can’t be best friends with them all.”
Even if it’s true, I can’t agree with him. Already I’m forgetting a lot of students names, their faces stick out, but I can’t remember if they graduated last year, or are still studying for the entrance exams. They, like so many people in my life who I’ve been trying not to forget, are moving forward. You don’t get used to it. You just have to accept it.
At least in my new job I don’t have to worry about those things as much. I’ve only been working for three months, and it feels like that only should be an already. On a team of four we’ve completed an anniversary video for the prefecture university, I made ten videos of contestants for (not just beauty) pageant for a magazine, we had a photo-shoot for an eyeglasses commercial, and I’ve had the amazing opportunity to help host a promotional food and culture event in Singapore and Hong Kong (and during the former I literally mean host as an MC). It is the type of job I would look for anywhere, and I got so lucky to find it so quickly and close to the place I’ve already lived an worked.
There are somethings awful to be said about the Japanese workplace, however, they are things I never felt or recognized during my time at school. I’m trying my best not to conform, while at the same time showing my co-workers that I’m contributing. But almost every night when 6:30 comes by it seems like I’m the only one to notice. I’ve already wrapped up my work, started packing, but then feel obliged to stick it out for a little while. Once I leave I still have to make the forty minute drive in increasingly wet weather home. I usually take this time to listen to podcasts, but only that will get me so far. This of course, leaves little time to explore my own hobbies or even rest properly at night before I have to get up and do it again in the morning. Of course, I like waking up later, but the morning commute doesn’t make it much of a difference, and leaves no practical time to run, exercise, or even properly shave like I used to (although the beard is starting to grow on me).
I am really thankful to find this kind of work, but everyday is a different task, and in the end I’m still not quite sure what type of work I’m doing. Am I a producer, a video editor, designer, a photographer, a writer, an illustrator… all are things that I would appeal to do, but I’m worried about developing an expertise. I’ve had the time to get educated, and even to get the base of my experience settled. Now it feels critical to figure out what I want to do, focus on it, and make that into a career.
Recently, I’ve got that opportunity. I’ve been working on illustrations, and replicating this specific type of style, but in that case it’s the most frustrating thing I’ve had to do in months. In school there were times once or twice a year where we’d have to stay late in order to grade standardized tests. Except there was nothing standardized about the way we graded. In some ways is was a reflection of our own teaching ability. The first time it happened I actually cried after an tense debate(/argument) over one of the smartest answers, too clever it was hard to meet the right criteria (I wrote about that once, but a bit too embarrassed to link to it here). Now it feel like that every day, except the debate is with myself over what I’m going to do and if it’s even within my bounds to accomplish what I want.
One of the wisest men I’ve met once told me near my college graduation that when it comes to your job, whenever you’re asked if you can do something respond: yes. This is a true philosophy in my life, as there’s almost nothing I’ve had to do that I haven’t been able to learn or problem solve my way out of.
These trials have slowly building up since I left school. I forgot what it was like to be without a job, to be out of money, to start new and be away from friends. I thought it would be good to stay where I’m familiar, instead of jumping completely into a new life. Now everyday I’m away from Tokyo seems like a waste of time. Luckily I have someone there who can also say wise things from time to time: it’s all about perspective, the opportunity that I have now is better than most.
He’s right, and if I really focus, if I don’t doubt myself, then I can do it. Even after 25 years my mom still tells me I can do anything. She’s wrong, but if she can believe, then maybe I can too for a little while. When my frustration came to a head while drawing, while trying to figure out how to paint in this particular style, how to make the shadows overlap and blend so perfectly that the transition between colors is stark but seamless, I took a break, I came back to my standing desk, plugged in Hucci as loud as I could, and figured out the problem.
There are a couple of idioms that keep running through my head lately: make your bed… spilled milk… if wishes were horses. With all the work and a bit of stress through the last month I didn’t really have a time to stop and pay attention to myself. Now that it’s the end of the year, it feel like the natural thing to do. I’m not only asking the questions like where do I want to go, what do I want to be, but I’m finding answers to them. They’re answers that mean tough choices, and risky results, but I’m solid in all of them. I may be stuck now, but it won’t always be that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way. I just have to tell myself I can do it, be thankful for where I am, and blast some dubstep as loud as I can.