Back To Life

Something happened last Friday morning, something that has been about 21 months in the making. My (now) ex-wife and I finally signed our divorce settlement, slapped down our red inky thumbprints upon our names, and received our divorce papers from the Chinese government. So I guess this might be the end of K-Sqared’s Ghost Bloggy Blog as my life can now officially begin again.

 

Happiness > Winning

I’m always a little reluctant to talk about my observations and experiences here in China because I know just how trollish certain organizations of people can be when determined to undermine bad news or information that runs counter to their own narrative. I’ve just gotten used to saving it for my journal or internalizing it all together. Such is life here in China.

But I suppose I want to talk about my experience coaching high school basketball and how difficult it can be teaching Chinese high school kids to play together as a team. When I look at how most of these kids were raised, as an only child, often coddled by their grandparents, often without a strong father-figure or male role model, it’s no surprise when I see them get upset about missing a shot, making bad pass, or just turning the ball over because they lack some of the fundamental skills to execute basketball moves they’ve seen NBA players perform. Each of these boys wants to be the scorer, the playmaker, the hero on offense but doesn’t want or know how to work as part of a team. To a man and poor spelling aside, I think each of them believes there is an “I” in “team”.

Most of them struggle with the idea that they are not meant to be the superstar. They resist the idea that the play the coach wants them to run is a more effective, more consistent way to score than their own ideal of 1-on-5. Their preferred way invariably results in one of them launching a contested 19-foot prayer toward the hoop while their teammates stand around watching, frustrated that they aren’t the one with the chance at stardom.

A few of my players understand they need to work hard to improve their skills, and they stay after practice to work on something. But the majority of my team seem to believe they will only improve their game through the frustratingly inane 1-on-5 play I laugh at, then shout at them for. One of the best parts of coaching for me has been taking individual kids aside off the court and explaining to them their importance lies not in scoring points but in some other aspect of the game that they excel at.

This one boy who calls himself “Batman” looked a little depressed last Thursday night during our open-gym time because his team wasn’t getting him the ball so he could shoot more. He was so distraught that he didn’t want to play anymore that night. The next morning before first-period, I went to his classroom and had a short conversation with him in the hallway. I reminded him of the compliments I always give about his defense. He has become a hyperactive monster at the small forward position, disrupting opponents’ passing lanes, harassing and frustrating ball-handlers, grabbing rebounds, even blocking shots as he’s helping out. I told him any points he scores for our team are a bonus and that he should focus on his defensive play because that’s what the team needs most and what he does better than anyone else on the team.

I suppose our team won’t win any games against other schools this fall, but I really couldn’t care less about that. My philosophy about basketball has evolved a lot since I began playing here in China. No longer do I keep score when I’m playing, and I don’t argue calls. Instead, I focus my mind on one thing while I’m playing, and that’s whether or not I’m happy. If I’m not happy, I remind myself how lucky I am to be fit enough to play basketball nearly every weekday, how lucky I am that I work at a school where I have access to a gymnasium to play in year-round. When I consider how lucky I am and how good having basketball in my life feels, I can’t help but be happy. For me, basketball has become all about shared experiences and relationships I have with those I play with and coach. Winning is also nice, but I won’t allow not winning to affect my happiness.

 

I’ll Start This Post After Lunch

I have some ideas for a blog post, some thoughts I’d like to write about the process of hiring a new foreign teacher, that I’d like to put down into words in here. But I only have 2 minutes until it’s time for lunch so this blog post will have to wait. If there’s one thing I’m religious about, it’s lunchtime on weekdays here at school. That low rumbling sound you hear rolling across the room, rattling the windows, is the growling, gnashing sound of my stomach eating itself.

A While Later
Lunch was pretty good. It consisted of duck served in a dark, sweet sauce, shrimp with diced carrots in a mild sauce, fried cabbage, and a delicious soy pork dish that I liked. The lady serving up the food didn’t give me any rice. She never gives me rice. Her prior interactions with me and the Chinese teachers who have occassionally accompanied me have made it crystal clear that I don’t like rice, so it would be wasteful for her to put it on my tray. It feels good to be recognized and remembered by the sweet older lady who serves up the dishes in the cafeteria. She even remembers I like the duck, “Yahdzeh” she reminds me. Rarely does she offer me the fish. I hardly ever ask for it (because of the small bones).

Today, I sat at a small, otherwise empty table with four chairs. I generally prefer to eat lunch alone with my earphones deeply implanted so as to absorb a podcast or some music while blocking out the buzzing chatter of Chinese teachers conversing unintelligibly. Lunch is a brief escape. I eat quickly and return to my dorm room for about an hour to either read some tech news or play some video games on my PS4. Today I played MLB The Show 18, very relaxing.

It appears I’ve run out of space to write about my experience hiring foreign teachers here in Shanghai. That will have to wait until another day.

 

No Favorites

As a teacher, you’re not supposed to have favorite students, or at least you’re not supposed to acknowledge that you do. I’m quite good at following this rule. That is until I heard the news this week that one of my favorite students, a tall, skinny, socially awkward boy who goes by “Mike” wouldn’t be returning to our school this semester.

I don’t mind stating that I find intelligent, self-aware students far more interesting than those uncurious students who struggle to speak their minds, or perhaps don’t even know their own minds. Mike is one of those kids. He was always asking my favorite question, “Why?”

Mike’s most endearing quality was his physique. He was tall, 6’4″, and built like a corn stalk. To call him thin would be a gross misuse of the word. But despite looking as though a stiff breeze could uproot and bounce him down the sidewalk, Mike often made the attempt to play basketball. He was actually beginning to make significant progress at overcoming his extreme awkwardness. So it’s super unfortunate that he’s not returning to our school this semester. He’ll definitely be missed by all of his teachers.

Remaining Ghost

After careful consideration, and after having read reports that all new Twitter sign-ups require registration of a phone number, decided to bite the bullet and hand over my Google Voice phone number to Twitter for the sole purpose of using that social network to promote this blog. There’s nothing social about it, I assure you. But because I have so few followers on Twitter these days, I don’t think it will make a difference one way or the other.

As for the other big American social networking behemoth, I’m referring of course to Facebook, not LinkedIn, I’m currently weighing the pros and cons of cross-posting links to my WordPress posts there. However, to my mind, the negatives of linking this very personal blog with my real name and very impersonal Facebook “friends” far outweigh the positives and probably isn’t the best idea for someone who prefers to remain a ghost, unknown, so nobody can touch me now. I prefer to remain a ghost or a shadow on Facebook at least. I don’t want random former school chums or co-workers creeping into the comments or worse yet, secretly stalking me in the attempt to discover how I take my coffee (cream and 2 sugars) or where I shop (Uniqlo). So, a ghost I remain.

My Life Is Great

I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve been unable to find the right words to accurately express my thoughts and feelings. Why is that? I’m sure that my new role as a literature teacher, has a great deal of influence on me. I spend a good deal of time explaining to my students that they must consider several things when writing, including their audience, the organization, and structure of their writing. When I take my own medicine, I find I hold back, censoring myself here instead of just letting the words fly.

My students know that each of their writings should have a thesis supported by paragraphs with their own main ideas and supporting information. I find when I blog, that I don’t like to follow this rule myself. I’d rather ramble on and on, following my stream of conscious awareness of my mind’s contents at that moment without forcing myself to hover over the keys while I consider the proper organization of the paragraphs. And I’ve certainly never been known to structure the information contained in my blog posts in any order of importance; no upside down pyramids here.

Which brings us to the main idea of this blog post. At the risk of oversimplification, I’d just like to point out that my life is really good. Actually, my life is great! I’ve landed on my feet with a new job in a great new city. With a lot of help, I’ve finally recovered emotionally from the train-wreck that was my marriage. I’ve been shown just how happy I can be if I let myself choose it and stop clinging to the anger and destructive regrets that had been dragging me down. Life is good because I’m ready to move on, advance, embrace happiness.

I know I’m burying the lead, but that’s just the way I roll. Life is good because I’m ready to move forward with a new mindset, a new outlook, and a very different perspective than I had before. There’s a whole world out there to explore and experience, and although I was prepared to fly solo, I now realize I don’t have to.

Why Am I Here?

Mankind’s Search for Meaning
As someone who often contemplates the purposes and reasons behind everything from culture to fingernails, it’s not uncommon for me to wrestle with the meaning my own life might have, not just to me, but to the world as a whole. (I don’t shive a git about the multiverse because they don’t shive a git about me.) My conclusions range from the very selfish–ownership and enjoyment of things, to the interpersonal–making and maintaining connections with people I care about. Unfortunately, both types of meaning were first eroded and then systematically eliminated by someone who claimed to care about me back in China. So, now it’s time to slow down my mind, take a breath, and re-evaluate my life’s meaning and determine the best way forward with an emphasis on that meaning.

 

No One Now

As recently as April 28th, I was kind of a big deal; a big fish in a small pond. I was the only remaining foreign teacher at a high school whose main objective is preparing Chinese kids to study in western universities overseas. Every single student at that school knew my name, and about 90% of them would say “Hi!” as they passed me in the hallway. No matter how rubbish my day was, their greetings would always make me feel good. That’s long gone.

Now that I’m in exile, I’m no one, working nowhere, and I feel I’ve become practically invisible. Invisible is growing on me. I think I could get used to this. When I go back, I’ll be the littlest fish in the biggest of ponds, and I think that’s exactly what I need.

Looking Forward

At some point, I’m going to start looking forward; not yet but soon. To help me with this task, I’ve started watching Louie, the dark-ish comedy series by Louie C.K. that sarcastically deals with life after his divorce. I’m finding it very voyeuristic therapeutic watching someone go through some things I’ll soon be dealing with.

Sympathy for Mr. Voldemort

When you zoom in too far on any digital image, you invariably encounter the jaggies, those ugly little squared-off corners and edges that no longer appear clear when viewed up close. The same phenomenon happens when you look closely at a person’s life.

I like to open the messier parts of my life in Photoshop and begin lopping off all the ugly corners I see until I begin to feel like Voldemort must have felt as he carved off chunk after chunk of his miserable soul to make his horcruxes. That’s what I’m doing too. I’m sweeping together and collecting all the dusty excised shards of my life that caused me pain, all the barbed memories of people, razor-wire moments, and experiences that hurt me, compacting and compartmentalizing, rounding off the biting sharpness, the poky, angular, jabby bits which would otherwise open old wounds. And I’m stashing my little horcruxes away where no one will ever find them.

Some day, for all of my polishing and re-shaping, I might find happiness again.