Saturday, January 4, 2014

January 4, 2014

It’s January Fourth again. Why is it January fourth again?
I hate January fourth. I will never like January fourth, and I’m not sorry.
Likewise, I make no apologies for the written quality or lack of storytelling in this post. I am marking time, but it needs to be done. This is pretty raw for me.

I got out of bed today, by a respectable 9 am. Respectable for a Saturday.
I put clothes on. Like, presentable to leave the apartment clothes.
I bought groceries. I made sure to collect the proper tax receipts. I picked up a purse I dropped off to have the lining redone – one of my favorite bags, of course I refused to get rid of it. Also unsurprisingly it was made of recycled fabric to begin with. Now the inside is completely redone, two new zippers show the promise of actual function. Holes large enough to let wallets and passports and things slide from one compartment to another have been rectified. One more thing on my long, long to-do list that is now taken care of for the time being. One more thing that has been fixed.
I ate at a fast food ramen joint I refused to frequent in Bangkok, for there were many better options (in my opinion), that I’ve decided is not so bad. And at least it gets me out of my apartment.

I have a brief respite from gospel music, from the hammering in the apartment upstairs, from the motorbike theft alarms that go off simply when someone bumps the stupid things. We have a new water heater (this is a small miracle). We have another new circuit breaker, not melted yet, and we can avoid tripping it if we do not run the heater in the living room. I have decent health insurance. No, really let me say that again: I have pretty good health insurance.

I have a very different life from anything I might have pictured a year ago, let alone six years ago. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes, more challenging and other times I just think to myself “only my friends are going to believe this, everyone else will just think I’m crazy. Maybe I’m crazy.”

I’m not crazy. Much. And I don’t give myself nearly enough credit. In the past year I moved to my second foreign country. I began a new job, my second opportunity teaching art in a classroom – a milestone I was so eager to reach that yet again, I fail to credit myself enough for it. I made what I consider great progress during my time in the United States, and I had a lot of people on my side – helping me and showing me hospitality. Something I’m often hesitant to accept in the face of my stubborn concepts of independence and self-reliance. I am my father’s daughter.

Really I haven’t felt like publicly reflecting much lately. And I’ll say it again, it’s not about Chinese censorship. It’s my own personal feelings, my sentiments of what is professionalism in my career, courtesy to others. It is one thing to make fun of yourself, and another to drag others in with you. Do so carefully.

But why do I hate January 4th? It’s not because I’ll be turning 28 years old on January 9th. I hate January 4 because it’s the anniversary of Dad’s death. It’s been six years. And sorry, I’m not sorry, I’m not over it.

So, let’s review. To the father that once said to me, “I’m so open minded, I’d be ok with it if you went to IU (Indiana University) and majored in business.” *big goofy grin on his face* And to which I thought quietly, ‘oh dear, you have no idea who your daughter is,’ I’d like to think by this point in my overseas journey you would be on board with what I’m doing. I’d like to think the day you told me you were already proud of me, before you started crying that you wouldn’t be at any of your daughters weddings – that one statement can just hold over for every time it might have been said if you were still alive. But it’s hard. So Dad, here’s a review of what your daughter has done the last six years. And she’s still not giving herself enough credit. Also as I write this, screw first/third person and tense consistency. I simply don’t care right now. Well I do. But I’m going to pretend I don’t.

In the Spring of 2008, Jenny finished the semester and her senior fine arts show. Her senior thesis focused on brain tumors, loss of vision and grief. She had the support of a lot of friends to get through.
Fall 2008 was hard, but she got through that too. A favorite memory is riding her bicycle to meet her student teaching placement supervisor – which gave the impression of being adventurous and apparently signaled to this mentor that Jenny was going to do great things.
Spring 2009 was student teaching, and we lost Grandma Hart. Jenny played her trumpet in her own commencement ceremony. Following at least one commencement speech that discussed loss due to cancer, she cried while the band was playing – but she kept playing despite that. She hopes this was not a moment she showed up on the ‘Jumbotron’ for all the folks in the auditorium to see.
Summer 2009 was pretty low. The job market was rough. Though there were four interviews for teaching positions; a teaching job was not obtained. Jenny moved home and signed up to sell Cutco cutlery. She also began temporary work at the Indianapolis Children’s museum and ended up trying to sell Mary Kay. Things looked up when she obtained employment as an Assistant English as a Second Language teacher. Jenny was able to move back out. Working as an ESL assistant was personally fulfilling work, but there were other things to take into account. Fear of budget cuts and need of healthcare among them.
The summer of 2010, Jenny had her first job teaching art part time. She learned a lot through that experience, especially the need to address her own anxiety and grief.
In 2010, the opportunity to teach in Bangkok, Thailand presented itself. It’s a funny story, we should go through the whole thing sometime. A lot of people were pretty surprised, but I was pretty sure of myself. I landed just before Halloween.
I taught in a Thai government school English program for three semesters, and was in Bangkok during the great 2011 flood. The more I look back on this time, the more I realize I learned in that short time. I also completed 6 graduate credit hours via distance learning at IUPUI in order to obtain a five-year teaching license from the state of Indiana (as opposed to the 2-year license). I was doing a bad job coping with a lot of stress and built up grief and anxiety at this time. I wasn’t always gracious to those helping me, or around me. But I started to work through more of it.
I found a position teaching art in Bangkok, and began my first post as a full time classroom art teacher in a school in April of 2012. When I began this post – it felt like the culmination of what I’d been searching for since graduation – to teach art, to teach my discipline. However by January of 2013 I made the decision to leave that post, even if it meant leaving my newly adopted Bangkok home. I knew, or hoped I wouldn’t be leaving my progress behind, but building on it. By March 2013, I had an offer of employment, not only to teach art, but to build a digital art program, lined up in Shanghai, China. I visited home again in July and August of 2013, took care of a lot of business, and moved to China. During a brief visit to Bangkok in October, a good friend said it well: “We knew it was time for you to go.”

I am doing better financially than I have been since graduation, since ever, for what I am earning on my own. I have to remind myself of that. I stare at my three paper envelopes of savings – new computer, US plane ticket, and graduate school, that have recently started getting attention again since “pay for torn tendon in right foot you need to be able to walk” has ended, and healed fairly well.
I have to remind myself of how far I have come, of how much I have learned, of what I am saving for and of how much grief I have sorted through, of how much physical and mental clutter I have let go of, despite what remains.

I have to remind myself how I now realize what privilege I still hold despite the painful cards I’ve been dealt, and how, not to feel such entrenched guilt for it, but not to wave it around all about the place either in such situations where that can be avoided.
I remind myself how thankful I am for the financial lessons I was able to learn from Dad and Grandma Hart before their passing – and hope that I’ve inherited some of their financial aptitude, too; that in time and with harder negotiation, and better planning, I can increase my income and savings – I can eventually pay for graduate school, I can eventually help look after my brother. All these things take time, clearly more time than myself 6 years ago was forgiving enough to grant. I’d like to think I’ve eased up a little, just a little. I’ve made progress in negotiation, in navigating the work place – even multiple-cross-culturally. I have grown as a person, even if not every aspect of my life – my creative expression, etc., have grown at the pace I want or expect for myself. I’ve grown in ways I didn’t expect, or realize were directions to go. And the fact that I can grow and thrive at all is itself a privilege – one I should remember to treat with a high level of gratitude, even when the circuit breaker is melting.

Dad, you won’t be there at my wedding. Maybe I won’t even get married. Uncle Steve I can’t promise I’ll let you walk me down the aisle because I’ll probably just elope. Don’t worry that won’t happen any time soon. I’ll call. Maybe.

I had a great suggestion the other day. If I’m so worried about writing memoirs that perhaps, I should write them not with the intent to publish them. Perhaps work up that courage later, or just keep them for family. But still write them. I’m going to go easy on myself here, not for want of making excuses, but because the general populace is unaware of how hard on myself I already am. But I will say, I realize more and more how important stories are to me. And that somehow they will play a greater part in my life moving forward.

So Dad, that’s what I did last year. I moved to China, from Thailand. Still working on that marathon – but lately, walking has been a pretty big accomplishment too.

I have an email you sent me. It’s one of my favorites. As I ponder the path my next ten years might take, and how much of it is in my control, or how different it will look, even year to year from what I think, I’m left with this thought as you were grappling with having an artsy daughter, and I smile a little bit:

  Dear Jenny,

    Have you ever considered photo-journalism as a possible career?
    I'm always thinking of things, but it needs to be your call

                              Love,  Dad

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