Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Proverbial Nail

This is not about that nail that, but for want of the shoe was lost. This is about that nail that got pounded square on its head, driving down to grip all the boards and thus putting my thoughts completely in order.

Talk about mixing metaphors!

Starting with my experience at Guangzhou airport, transferring from international to a domestic flight – historically no problem but an exercise in aggravation this time around, I’ve not felt happy to be here at all. In fact, coupled with the thought of all those conveniences and comforts available Stateside and the sharp pang of loss at leaving everyone I love across the ocean, I’ve actually wondered what I’m doing here. 

That’s not good.

Since touchdown in Wuhan and after my initial joy at reuniting with my friend Sam, I’ve basically eschewed all human contact. I spent a great deal of time sleeping those first two days, and then running away the rest of the week. I’ve heaped onto myself tasks that I would normally stretch out over days. Things like shopping for food or other post-travel essentials: laundry, unpacking and allotting gifts. Not even the anticipation of gifting my friends and colleagues those few trinkets I had fun shopping for brought me pleasure. I’m not looking forward to the start of the school year.

REALLY not good!

What is wrong with me? Is my China honeymoon over? Am I ready to move on, discover new horizons, start anew? No, that doesn’t feel right. I still feel at home in my apartment and on this campus. What, then?

After fervent cogitation I came upon my problem. Well, not MY problem; THE problem. I can sum it up in 3 words that just happen to be names: Lancy, Lea and Long Ge.

Lancy calls me every single day, sometimes two or three times a day. Her constant refrain is: “I worry about you!” If I choose to not answer the phone, she will send panicked text messages. If I don’t respond to those she’s sending someone by my house to check up on me.

What is she so worried about? 

While living on campus Lancy lived her life and I lived mine and I treasured the times we could meet. The one time I did need her help she came at a gallop and, believe me: I am super grateful to her for it. Since she’s moved to Guangdong it seems I have turned into a nail biting burden to her, especially after my head wound. Not only does she send people to my home to check up on me if I don’t answer her but she spies on me by checking Gary’s Weibo – China’s Twitter equivalent. As long as Gary occasionally posts something about me, she knows I’m doing fine. She’s been known to call Gary too, asking him why I don’t answer her. She was dissatisfied with his explanation that she has crossed the line between actual caring, right into becoming a burden.  

My own children, while I’m sure they’re missing me just as deeply, do not harass me so. They seem to accept that I have chosen this life and that, if something dramatic happens I’ll be sure to contact them. If it is really dramatic, they know they’ll hear from Sam or Gary. Lancy does not seem to accept that I have things to do, a life to live and have no need to be compulsively watched over. Nor does she seem to have an inkling of how irritating it is to be constantly told “I worry about you! Please take care of yourself!” Does she think I am incapable of doing so without her every day admonition?

Interesting to note is that Lancy will contact me IF it is convenient for her, and by the method SHE chooses. She will not respond to emails I send her, nor will she answer the phone when I call her. Perversely, I call her when I KNOW she is at work or otherwise engaged. Am I not to be worried over on my timetable, only on hers? And what if my call were engendered by genuine need? Would I then go ignored?  

Moving on now…

Last semester I felt like I was living in a pressure cooker. I had taken on the task of teaching little children in a full immersion curriculum. Not finding any suitable materials here, I designed and created the entire curriculum from scratch. On top of my university lessons which also debut in my head and become reality in the classroom, my life consisted of nothing but teaching. If I wasn’t in the actual act of teaching, I was thinking up, designing or producing things for my students. School became my life.

During this past month I reflected on last semester. I enjoy teaching. I enjoy being creative. I do not enjoy being under the gun to come up with something novel, interesting, engaging and age/learning level appropriate to meet the demands of the parents whose little ones I teach during my time when I’m not obligated to the university.

This is the Lea/Long Ge portion of the story. They do not seem aware that teaching is great fun, but the act of creating and rehearsing curriculum takes up considerably more time. They are eager for me to get back in front of the class and resume the Saturday lessons, if possible spending even more time, effort and energy in the act of doing so.

A lot of my running away this past week has been running away from Lea and Long Ge. They are the nicest people and wonderful friends. As business partners they are vampires. They look at my calendar and see that I have some free time and immediately want to fill it up with a teaching obligation.

Prior to my leaving for the States I committed to them my Saturdays, and that is all I’m prepared to commit to. Lea would like for me to come over and spend 3 hours during the week with just her daughters, tutoring them. She fails to realize those 3 hours turn into twice that, what with getting there, getting home and psyching myself to perform. Long Ge suggested I turn my Saturday and/or Sunday mornings into teaching opportunities. Neither one of them seems to understand that I do not want, and will not commit to more than I’ve already promised.

I am overwhelmed, just at the thought of their gentle but persistent pushing. Thinking about how it is going to feel, being under the gun to produce, to create and to teach, I just want to shout: “Stop spending my time!!” I do not want this semester to be like last semester, where I was consumed by teaching. I’m a nervous wreck as I make my way, finally, to their coffee shop.

Sam says I work too hard. Gary accuses me of thinking too much. Could they both be onto something?

Why am I working so hard to create a curriculum for the Lil’uns school when approved programs are all over the place here? Why do I spend so much time at the computer, designing worksheets when they are free all over the internet, but for hassle of finding and printing? Why do I scour page after page of ESL references, looking for songs, ideas and art for my kids to work on?

Yesterday I met with Lea and Long Ge. After the initial joy at good friends well met we got down to business. I went over my university schedule with them – a schedule that allows for plenty of free time. I told them what I was prepared to give them. At every incursion beyond what I’m willing to commit to I resisted, gently but firmly.

Assertiveness, not cowering is the answer. I am in charge of this situation; it does not command me. If Lancy can’t seem to get it through her head that I do in fact have things to do and am not living in limbo, lonely and lost and bereft of company, that is her problem. If Lea and Long Ge insist on filling my every minute with teaching duties I will have to sever that relationship. Regrettable as losing a friend is, I have to ask: what is a friend who bleeds you dry?

Thought crosses my mind: Lancy. Lea and Long Ge. Limbo, lost, lonely, losing. That is an awful lot of “L” words. Maybe my problem is not time distribution but the overabundance of “L” in my life! Oh, drat! Another “L” word!           

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