Some days, I hate my job. It’s hard for me to figure out specifically what it is about it that I dislike. I just know sometimes I’m sitting in the office or in my classroom and I feel this overwhelming claustrophobia that makes me want to grab my things and run out the door. Keep running until me lungs quit or my legs collapse, whichever happens first.
Trying to tease out the specific agitators in a host of complex interactions is exhausting. So I’ve mostly just resolved to hate certain days until June 30th, 2016, go back to the United States, move in with my sister in Iowa, and go from there. In spring, I’ll look for / apply to jobs in something creative, audio/visual, blah blah blah, and see if anything shakes out. But worst case scenario – Iowa – still seems immeasurably better than how I feel now.
This was my plan until Thursday. On Thursday, the Universe shit in my face. Or opened a door. Depends on if you’re a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty type of person.
Imagine you went fishing and caught nothing, and then, three months later, as you’re walking down the street, a fish flies out of nowhere to hit you in the face.
On Thursday, I got an email from the science department chair at the TAS (Taipei American School’s) high school asking if I was interested in a position teaching chemistry. This is probably the biggest surprise that’s happened in my life since I got my current job. I had met with some teachers and administrators in August just to sort of get a feel for the place and see if I’d be interested in applying to teach there. It was a nice visit. But in the weeks and months post, as my dislike for my current situation grew, I became turned off to the idea of staying in Taiwan. I didn’t even check the TAS job postings in October or November, and even if I had, I don’t think I would’ve wanted to spend the time / energy applying.
And then this email, bringing my mind back to the possibility. Dragging it, rather. I’m unable to NOT consider it. When I first got it, I thought: No… no… I’m going back to the States. I’m going to Iowa. I’m going to sell hotdogs out of a food truck. But after thinking about it for several hours, I replied: “Yes, I’m still interested.” And we set up a time the following week for a meeting / interview.
That night, I went out to dinner with my Taiwanese friend – also a teacher – and told her my predicament. She said – as she often does – that I am so lucky for having all these opportunities. I know I should be grateful, but choices make life so hard. I obsess over making “the right choice” (if such a thing even exists) and am often racked with thoughts of “what if?”
(Sometimes I wish I had less choice. No. This is incorrect. I love having choices. I love being able to choose a career. And choose to get married. And choose to have children. I would not like to have lived during an era where I would not have been granted autonomy over my life. I guess I would just like to know what makes me the happiest.)
To answer the question “what should I do with my future?“, I did what many humans do. I went to a house of god. My friend and I ate dinner next to a temple, so when we finished, my friend took me into the temple and showed me how to ask Mazu a question and get an answer. (It involves first asking if you can even ask your question. Then, upon receiving a “yes” [“yes” and “no” communicated through the position of 2 half-moon-shaped wooden blocks you throw] you pull a stick from a barrel, then ask god if the message corresponding to this stick holds the answer to your question [you must get three “yeses” in a row or else you have to draw a new stick]).
So what did Mazu say?
I would have success in the TAS job. I could have success pursuing more creative things in the U.S., but it would be difficult and there’s a possibility it would not work out. Basically everything I already knew. Thanks Universe.
It feels like this happens a lot. My life is a series of rooms, doors, and passageways. Because of my parents various monetary and experiential investments in me, I have had many amazing opportunities. These are the doors, that lead to hallways of experience and self-progression, and rooms, with more doors, more choices.
Choices have always been difficult for me. But in school decisions were made easier by very clear objectives. In high school, I made decisions that would help me get into the best college. The degrees of freedom in decision-making expanded in college as my goals for post-graduation melted away into a pool of abstract possibilities. Any choice that ensured I would graduate with an acceptable GPA was now okay. I began to value experiences and took more classes just because I was generally curious, just because they sounded cool. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it means more doors.
When I graduated, I had no job. No ideas of what to do next. I applied to seasonal outdoor education jobs. I ended up in Taiwan because my boss was the first person to hire me.
If I hadn’t come to Taiwan, I’d probably have tried to head West – Pacific Northwest in particular – because I have this sort of (wo)manifest destiny about that region. I don’t know what would’ve happened there. Probably my car would’ve broken down. I would’ve been stranded. I would’ve gotten caught up in some weird Twin Peaks shit.
Timing meant I came to Taiwan. I have a feeling timing means I may stay in Taiwan. Depends on how this TAS thing shakes out. Pick your metaphor: Can’t bleed out from the aneurysm until it ruptures, or; can’t count your chickens before they hatch. (Are you glass-half-full or glass-half-empty?)
It’s an amazing opportunity – teaching at a prestigious private school. Since it’s only December, and I won’t plan on being back in the U.S. until July or August, I haven’t started looking into concrete possibilities for when I get back to the States. It’s like I’m in my room of opportunities. Every door a different future. And I’ve been struggling with this one door for, it feels like years, trying to pursue more creative ventures. And finally I’ve really started doing stuff, and I want to keep pushing it further. I want to break down this door and go down this path, that I don’t even know what’s behind it, but I have this abstract feeling about. And I’ve been struggling to get myself to curse convention and go for the abstract. But then this other door opens and I’m like: WHAT THE FUCK UNIVERSE?!?
So what do I do? Do I pursue the TAS job even if I think teaching may not be my passion? Or do I close this door and throw myself fully into the unknown?
I’ve talked with several people. I’ve come up with a possible solution that posits these two choices – teaching and creating “art” – are not mutually exclusive. Taiwan has been great for me creatively. I’ve done more of the types of things I’d always wanted to do – writing, storytelling, audio production, linking up with creative people – so why stop and restart that somewhere else? The biggest barriers to my continuing creativity has been my distance from Taipei. Workshops, shows, etc. all take place in Taipei. Living and working in Taipei would facilitate more creation. So I should pursue the TAS job.
I have reservations about this:
1) What if I don’t actually like teaching? There are a lot of factors for why I don’t like my current position. And many frustrations with my current job (bilingual elementary school = young kids who don’t actually know that much English; local school with very little administrative support for what we’re trying to do) would not be present at the TAS high school. But what if I realize I don’t actually like teaching and then grow to resent my job because I’d rather be doing other things. Will I become an ineffective teacher?
2) Is it dishonest to take a job partly because it will possibly allow me to work more on my side projects?
3) What if I end up staying in Taiwan “forever” (i.e. a long time / forever), getting into a rut-of-least-resistance, which I believe is a killer of creativity?
I’m probably overthinking all of this. I overthink everything. There’s a real chance I will not even get this job and the decision will be made for me. (THANKS UNIVERSE).
It’s funny, when I first got here – legit the first thing I did after getting picked up by my boss at the airport – we went out to lunch. I didn’t know any of the dishes we were eating, but they were all delicious. One crunchy vegetable in particular. I asked my boss what it was. He said: “Lotus root.” Immediately, I wondered if I’d ever leave this island.