Sunday, May 04, 2008

Double Lives

The very last comment on this long unattended blog touches the issue of "self-esteem damage." Though the comments comes from a friend whom I haven't seen for years (literally), it hits the root of the problem which suddenly brings me to a moment of enlightenment.

That's is! "Self-esteem" - or better yet, a "deflated" self-esteem - perhaps that's where all the problems comes from.

It's funny how nobody ever tells you how much grad school education may do to a person, for better or for worse. But if there's ONE thing I'd ever tell somebody who's pondering about the prospect of entering a doctoral program, it'd be just this - to develop, find, take root of your self-esteem NOT from the pool of knowledge that you find yourself swimming (or most of time, drowning, simply) in or acquiring daily in classes BUT from something or somewhere else, whether being some moral values or lessons or religious beliefs learned from your folks, school, church, friends, big bullies in the previous work place, or even past relationships that turned out in vain ...

And the second piece of advice I might give may be - to hold on to some of the convictions that you once believe in and never be swayed or bogged down by the sea of postmodern, poststructuralist, postindustrial, postcolonial, post-whatever-you-name-it style of critiques and criticisms out there, for none of those things amount to anything valuable if one no longer remembers or embraces the essence of life, human beings, the values of love, trust, generosity, the act of good will, and the embodiment of good faith. Don't be intimidated by the rhetoric that call all genders and religious faiths and sexualities and cultures and races and ethnicities and nationalities "constructed," for as much as such theories are entitled to some degrees of truths, we continue to live in a world/society where genders, religious faiths, sexualities, cultures, races, ethnicities, and nationalities DO MATTER and continue to define who we are, what we do, and how we behave. As such, we might as well really just move on and deal realistically with the questions such as -- "alright, so gender may or may not be constructed, but regardless of which side you are on, the reality tells us that male-female ratio in mid-management-level or up, the chances for promotion, the concern for kids' daycare, and the struggle with how much maternity leave to take, continue to show major discrepancy across genders. So, leaving the debate of gender being constructed or not, why not focusing on the question -- "now, what do we do next?"

Recently I started signing myself up for a lot of part-time English teaching. The initial trigger was simple - I'm simply too tired of living in a 28-year-old life span but living in the quality of life that's much worse than that of the time when I was a college/high school student. I'm also too tired of commuting b/t school, dorm, school, dorm, library, and nowhere else. But once I started teaching, I realized that more than just being benefited with some extra income and *for once* not seeing single-digit dollars in my bank account when the end of the scholarship cycle hits, I am gaining tremendously by meeting people from a variety of industries who offer me great insights into the gazillion facets of Japanese society.

How else am I going to meet a psychiatric doctor who conducts clinical research and reveals to me the insider story on the FDA process in Japan? How else would I ever be able to empathize with a pharmacist in Japan whose duty also includes not only being a coordinator among doctors, patients, nurses, and pharmaceutical companies but also searching frantically for a dementia patient who disappeared after the lunch hours? Or meeting a lawyer who can tell me about the debates behind the reform of law education in Japan or the introduction of a criminal trial jury system? Or learning about the history of Japanese hospice system directly from one of the core founders of the system itself, who himself has the experience of battling with cancer at the age of 39 and whose wife now struggles with leukemia but continues to work passionately for the patients at their own hospice?

And then meeting groups of young 7/9/11-year-old's whose beaming smiles just take away all the worries and stresses of the day and reassure you the beauty of child-bearing and the importance of raising the next generation of movers and shakers in society?

The precious lives that I'm encountering and each, individual story that I'm hearing - even if it's through his or her painstaking effort to tell in very basic English - humbles and moves me. They bring me back to the center of what life sometimes is all about, what human dignity means or should mean, and eventually what we could all be doing -- even in the seemingly tiniest way at our individual job post -- to make this place that we're living a better and more hopeful one.

Then, when it comes to the friends that I've met at the most random occasions or casually introduced to --

- An Bulgarian-Australian who grew up in Japan partly and speak English and Bulgarian like a native and can start speaking Japanese like those crazy high school girls on TV if you ask her to
- A "self-claimed" whose upbringing spread across Japan, Singapore, and the U.S. and mix 3 languages in every other sentences if not every 5 secs
- Another "self-claimed" Taiwanese who really comes across much more like a native Japanese yet shares similar U.S.-college experiences as mine and utters his occasional Mandarin in an accent of someone from southern Taiwan
- A Russian whose English sounds like an U.S.-born but who speaks literally more Taiwanese than I do (!!!) and has followed the cause of improving the lives of the refugees previously in Thailand and Cambodia and now in Japan
- Another Russian lady who who lives off comfortably as a model in town, got a U.S. college degree "in Japan" and speaks Russian, English, and Japanese across the same table from me
- A Japanese-American who is continuously mistaken for a Chinese take-out delivery boy in the U.S., a yakuza assistance selling extacy on the streets of Roppongi, or a high school drop/convenient store employee and who eventually puts all such experiences together into a 14-min short film that wins him invitations to short film festivals across 5 continents
- A Japanese who does not think of herself as a regular Japanese like most others out there b/c of her Okinawa identity and passionate interest in guarding her hometown ID, culture, and the history oftentimes brutalized by history textbooks
- A Japanese who's never been abroad yet is such a "language mania" that he speaks English with perfect "r" sounds, catches Chinese slang phrases from 超級星期天, and is on his way to adopting French as his 4th language

Then the lady at church whom I met today -- a 残留孤児 (left-behind orphans) post-WWII and raised in northeastern part of China by the Chinese before she finally came back to Japan to claim her Japanese citizenship?

Man, these people for sure humble me.

With them, for once in my life I no longer find self-introduction intimidating or frustrating b/c sometimes theirs are much more messy, confusing and incoherent than mine. With them, introductions actually sometimes become unnecessary b/c with or without those long, tortuous narratives, we seem to be able to strike some decent understanding right from the beginning.

So, instead of feeling like I'm drown in a sea of infinite knowledge like how I used to feel since day 1 in grad school, feeling as if I'm never going to measure up to the erudite forerunners before me, these days, I feel like I've fallen into a sea of infinitely diverse mix of people and life stories -- yet swimming within very happily. For their each and every unique personality and experience challenges me yet in the meantime encourages me to think positively about my own unique make-up and life story. They don't point to me what I do lack or how much I have not worked enough towards (or whatever or not my brain capacity has reached its tiny limit); rather, they show me how each of their own experiences, despite some inevitable woes or pains alongside many joys and cheers, could serve as an encouragement for someone to go on and not give up exploring how a particular chapter in life may unfold or result in until the very end.

I am running double lives, one that contains all my regular struggles with, doubts about, and cynicism towards academia while trying to still fulfill my duty within as best as I can, and the other that eagerly embraces the world outside academia that is less book-filled and more human-centered.

It's not easy; it really is not. Sometimes *standing* in a 40+ min train ride back from teaching in late evening and then scrambling to get a report done for the next day, I just wonder whether the whole idea of running double lives is just all wrong. But without it, I'm not sure if I could even go on running a life at all. Both lives bring in different perspectives that sharpen and clarify the other, it seems like. And sooner or later - hopefully - one may emerge to grapple the root of my heart much more tighter than the other that saying goodbye to latter and taking the courage to run the former full-heartedly with no more doubts and hesitation would not seem too scary of an act to take on.

We shall see.

At least for now, I do have a little "repaired" self-esteem, if I may quote from my friend who left the previous comment.

梅ちゃん at 9:12:00 PM



at 5/5/08, 9:40 PM Anonymous amy said...

glad to know you've found some kind of 'balance' that is helping you feel better. may we all find ways to follow our hearts...


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