It’s been said that keeping busy is the best way to forget your worries, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at how contentedly I whiled away the evening portion of Thursday, my second 12+ hour day, working feverishly to make the signs, illustrations, and displays I’d need for Friday.
Why does such a simple thing as keeping busy help to drive out anxiety? Because of a law - one of the most fundamental laws ever revealed by psychology. And that law is: that it is utterly impossible for any human mind, no matter how brilliant, to think of more than one thing at any given time. You don't quite believe it? Very well, then, let's try an experiment.
Suppose you lean right back now, close your eyes, and try, at the same instant, to think of the Statue of Liberty and of what you plan to do tomorrow morning. (Go ahead, try it.)
You found out, didn't you, that you could focus on either thought in turn, but never on both simultaneously? Well, the same thing is true in the field of emotions. We cannot be pepped up and enthusiastic about doing something exciting and feel dragged down by worry at the very same time. One kind of emotion drives out the other. And it was that simple discovery that enabled Army psychiatrists to perform such miracles during the war.
When men came out of battle so shaken by the experience that they were called “psychoneurotic”, Army doctors prescribed “Keep 'em busy” as a cure.
Every waking minute of these nerve-shocked men was filled with activity - usually outdoor activity, such as fishing, hunting, playing ball, golf, taking pictures, making gardens, and dancing. They were given no time for brooding over their terrible experiences.
- Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
When I emerged from the compound at 9pm, after what I knew was a job well done, I felt… great! I took a quick bike ride up to the convenience store and back. I almost shouted with joy as I rode back – I could have died happily, then.
I didn’t have time to write about it – and worse, I would have had to write up the terrible experiences first – but I was happy just knowing that I faced up to so many lengthy, complex tasks successfully. I finally felt that people would stick up for me if push came to shove.
And at that moment I also found the perfect, clever, trite, euphemistic, and honest way to describe my experience in Japan: “A bumpy ride.” Isn’t it great? ‘Ride’ evokes fun – the sort that you might have on a rollercoaster or a roadtrip. But it’s ‘bumpy’ – a word that neatly, humouredly sits between ‘horrible experience’ and ‘a good time.’ What’s more, it’s also a polite and tactful way to describe my experience to the Japanese people in Canada who will inevitably ask. Japanese people apparently take it personally when people criticize their country – I mean really personally. And here I am in my silly blog implicitly criticizing them for not taking criticism well! (Then again, it’s not like taking a constructive attitude to criticism is one of my cardinal virtues, either.)
Nah, it’ll never make the charts. But anyway…
On Friday night H-sensei showed her appreciation for us by buying us snacks. Holy crap, I can’t count the number of times I’ve said to myself, “Thank God we have her.” She always seems to know just what to do. She’s terrific – most often unilaterally so, although sometimes people in the administration, too, go out of their way to be kind. In any case, the important thing is that it worked – I felt appreciated.
Also on Friday night we discovered that one of the lights in the classroom was flickering, so we had to change it. Unfortunately, it was one of those dual-fixture fluorescent lights, and both bulbs were flickering, but we had only one replacement bulb! We ended up swapping with a bulb in another, unused room – M-sensei and I laughed as I got up on the ladder and made the changes.
Open Lesson! (dun-dun-dun!)
Since the public was visiting, they finally turned the air conditioning system on. (And it was about time, too! =)
I was able to stay positive through most of the morning. I think the big problem with this was mostly in misunderstandings and miscommunications (and I think <ahem> certain people not really wanting to truly listen), and the misunderstandings were so great that they felt that I didn’t even want to follow their directions. It was a recipe for disaster, but somehow we’d salvaged a complex, working lesson out of it. My typed third revision of my notes filled up a B4 sheet.
The open lesson itself went pretty well! The students clammed up at a few of the early questions or jumped way ahead, and for a few uncertain moments I felt, “Uh-oh, this is it, they’re going to say ‘Gee, I’d put my kid here, but that teacher’s got to go…’ just like Mk. said,” but instead of panicking, I took a breath and guided us to the next steps. And before long the students were warmed up, and as the experiment itself was going they had a lot to say – that especially I’m happy about, as the lessons shouldn’t just be me talking for forty minutes with occasional punctuations of inquiry where both the questions and answers are predetermined.
Apparently O-sensei was there taking pictures, but I didn’t notice him except for the bright flashes from his camera. There were probably about fifteen prospective parents lining the room at the peak of things, but I consciously avoided noticing them – I just pretended that this was a normal science class.
After the lesson was over, we cleaned up a bit, and then I went over to a classroom in the West building where the children of the visiting parents were being minded by E-senesi, F., and M2. I wasn’t officially assigned to anything post-lesson – I probably could have just had lunch with my kids – but I figured it would be best to stay with them, and so I brought down some spelling tests to correct and settled in. Of course with kids around wanting attention you don’t get a lot done, but if I was just there to look after kids, it would have seemed like a waste of time.
Funny thing, we foreign teachers were booked for things like this: “ – 12:00.” That’s because we’re supposed to finish at noon. But the presentations going on in the gymnasium, it turns out, were going to go to 12:30. We couldn’t just leave the kids, of course. Another teacher commented on the kind of scheduling chicanery it represented, and I agreed.
To their credit, we got a lunch, because the Year 5s and 6s weren’t there that morning. So I more or less happily munched my way towards 1:00. We talked a lot about the phenomenon of unpaid overtime – one teacher can’t use his compensatory time at all, because he doesn’t have any mornings or afternoons free of classes.
It’s like there’s something in the culture – why hire two people when you can just have one person doing the work of two? And they’ll do it too, because everyone knows that the person who (gasp!) actually leaves at 5pm will be the first one to go. If you lose your job in this country, you’re screwed, especially if you’re older, because most companies are simply reluctant to hire older people because there’s a cultural thing about training someone who’s older than you.
Augh. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Japan was only opened up to the outside world 150 years ago. (See: Sakoku) Until just a few generations ago, there was only one way – the Japanese way. Now there’s a mixing and mashing going on, and the values and rules that surface aren’t necessarily the most harmonious.
At least my lesson must have been OK, because W-sensei’s last words to me as I left work were, “Good lesson!” I even coaxed a smile out of her.
And now that I’ve lived through all this and discussed it, I’m finally free.