Now, if I were on schedule, I’d already be done with this writing experiment. My parents didn’t raise a quitter, but they did raise a procrastinator, and I’m not going to not wait around and not complete a goal I set for myself. Except maybe I am? I’m trying not to.
I’ve been trying to write – I boil the water, I set the tea, I light the candles, and then I start a playlist but ah – see – anyone who’s been on a road trip with me knows this is where all signs of productivity end because I can’t start working until I have the perfect playlist, and curating the perfect playlist takes a lot of work, ergo, here I will most likely still be sitting, four hours later, my twenty minute timer still not started, because I’m alphabetising songs by something obscure like “first name of guy I slow-danced to this song with” cross-referenced with “best for elliptical, not necessarily treadmill” songs.
The perfect playlist is a dream I’ve been chasing since those first days of illegal downloading with Limewire, Napster, P2P options. Unbeknownst to my parents, our stuffy kitchen at the back of the house in Pleasant Hill was a veritable hotbed of illegal music activity in those early internet years, under my AIM alias, buying stacks of burn CDs at Staples, writing all 17 song titles I could fit on the 180 megabytes allowed in Sharpie, excited beyond all measure to present my gift to my boyfriend of the month or best friend or Spanish teacher or as the warm-up soundtrack for our volleyball team.
What I try to do when writing this each day is get all ready with the music, press play, and then I ease into my chair, the mood rightly set, and glance over at my phone to set a twenty minute timer for these twenty stupid minutes, and realize well over an hour has passed, and then I think, “well, it’s nearly too late now, might as well not even try to get started.”
I think that’s been an overarching theme to a few things in my life lately – “it’s nearly too late now, might as well not even try to – – – “ you fill in the blank. Try oil painting and pottery. Learn Italian. Or some Cantonese since I freaking live in China. Pierce my nose. Get married. Have kids. Memorize “Stairway to Heaven.” Raise goats and maintain a bee farm.
Even though most days I forget about it entirely, or I think about it for a while but with shame because I haven’t been great at it, having this writing goal is a nice stepping stone. If I can just find the motivation to focus, fight to the surface under the waves of school shootings, an endless pandemic, the collapse of rights and democracy in my host country Hong Kong, the end of the school year, saying permanent goodbyes to dear friends nearly every week as thousands flee HK . . .
One of the playlists I listen to often is called “No Pain” because the songs put me in an instant good mood. Maybe I haven’t written anything amazing in this session tonight but I’ve ridden a wave of nostalgia for early internet days and pitched the whine of a 14.4 mbps modem dialing up in my parents’ kitchen in my mind’s ear and giggled at the thought of asking someone “A/S/L?” and answering with my own pretend stats.
The number one song on that playlist is “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, and the second most played is called “Wasting My Young Years” by London Grammar, so maybe here we all go.
I was wondering what to write about in coherent language, to pound out on these keys, sticky with sauvignon blanc and Cheetos dust, in these twenty stupid minutes a day and realized I actually have some pretty profound material for myself to work through. See – I got a curse and a blessing the other day. It’s that time of year that teachers dread – assignments for next year, room changes, work-wife swaps, finding out if your applications for advancement or rearranging have been granted or denied. Leadership holds us all in the palms of their hands for a few weeks as we sweat it out.
Doing the Lord’s work educating the future and working at predominantly Christian schools (in a somewhat vain effort to keep myself on the straight and narrow because let’s face it, I do like mischief), I always kind of expect God to like, show me some favor because I’m occasionally a really nice person.
Turns out this is not how His Holiness works, and instead, as the famous saying goes, HE likes me to make my own plans so He can completely disregard them, spin His own brand of mischief upon me, and laugh at my reaction. He’s gotta be enjoying the show now because I just found out, drumroll please, that I am teaching first grade next year!
When the news was delivered, I was thankful that we’re still masking it up in Hong Kong, because I feel pretty confident my N95 hid a lot of what I’m sure was a horrified expression on my face. I actually started sweating. From a leadership perspective, I understand the decision made. Personally, I am trying to not run for the hills.
I love little kids. I do! I did first grade a few years ago and survived it. I figured out how to teach kids how to read and write, tell time with a clock, and count change from a ten dollar bill (a laughable skill in Hong Kong). And then I survived. Survived kids that couldn’t keep their hands away from their magic spots, helicopter parents and absent ones, a million tears after recess, a dozen language barriers, and walking parents through understanding their child needed professional evaluation for some learning support needs. Survived a school leader who instead of ever thanking me or being supportive, said I was their “last resort” and called me “inexperienced” and “hysterical” in a staff meeting because I was stressed out over 8 of my students absent due to a lice outbreak. And on the last day of that year, I took a real hot shower and salt-scrubbed my body of all the tiny fingerprints that were embedded on me and said “never a – freaking – gain.”
I started my teaching career in junior high and really think that is my sweet spot. The last three years in fourth grade has been a combination of “still cute and have a sort of celebrity worship for me as their teacher” while growing into little humans with opinions and passions that are slowly differentiating from their parents. I was happy to stay there. I felt like I finally had some stability and something to rely on in an increasingly unreliable situation worldwide, and particularly in Hong Kong.
But I do like to make God laugh. So.
A new year group, teaching partner, classroom, learning goals, awaits discovery upon my return to Hong Kong in August. I can do it, and I’m sure there will be lots of fun moments. They’ll probably appreciate my attempts at puppetry more than my ten year olds do so. Time to take some of my own advice and chin up, buttercup.
Welp. Chin is not up. Chin is down. Chin has a bit of brownie batter on it, because in a fit of feeling sorry for myself, I pulled one of my favourite fat kid tricks and added water to some brownie mix and just ate it straight, hoping a sugar coating in my tummy will help sugar coat my bummers about next year.
I know it will be fine . . . I’ll have a small class, a full time assistant, work with a great friend, so many restrictions are lifting so school will feel more normal. I think I’m feeling the end of the year blues and crankiness, and already dreading the first time someone throws up on me. None of us are really “body-fluid enthusiasts” but I literally go weak in the knees if someone talks about a loose tooth for too long and I respond to the vomit of others with my own so. Excited for the wee ones.
Hong Kong herself, as if sensing my “why didn’t I apply for that job notice in Portugal?!” has been a bit flirty lately. I know the rest of the world has completely moved on from the pandemic but we still have daily press releases here and quite a few restrictions, that feel like gifts as they’ve been slowly easing, allowing us to go out to bars, karaoke halls, get a massage, not wear a mask while exercising outdoors, and play in parks again.
The weather’s kicked up into real summer and even just a short walk to work in the morning has me in a fine sheen of sticky sweat most days. The sudden bursts of rain break the heat for a few moments most days, with some crazy storms every once in a while (RIP my peonies). We’re back to always carrying an umbrella and a jumper, to transfer from the heat and rain outdoors into the frigid AC you find everywhere.
The return of social activities has led to a delightfully full calendar – brunches, hikes, boat and beach days, birthdays and bachelorette parties, but I’ve also noticed I have less energy for too many things in a week now. I’m not sure if it’s the effect of three years of Covid policies or just getting older, but I’ve taken to ensuring I have one day a week without a class, a workout, a dinner, a happy hour, or an event. Just me, a book, pottering around with my plants, and scrolling instagram. It’s nice to have finally learned how to recharge from my own company.
I usually walk by the water or hike and look at the big sky, the big city, the tugboats, to get centered back on why I love living in Hong Kong. Or have a great night with my friends. But one of the subtle ways Hong Kong has been showing off lately is reminding me how wildly safe I feel here – to the point where I’m a bit worried I’m getting lulled into a false sense of security that will land me in trouble when/if I muster the strength to leave this bubble.
A few examples:
- I woke up the other morning and realized my porch door was open. Without a ladder, the only possible intruders would be the neighborhood cats and mosquitos and birds but, still. I just said “oh” and shut it.
- Much worse – I woke up the other morning and realized my keys were still in the lock in my front door (not the first time this has happened, since I take my shoes off outside and often am carrying things and get distracted. Normally the night watchman knocks on my door on his rounds to tell me).
- I walk everywhere with my phone in my hand and headphones in on blast.
- I went out for a bachelorette party in the club district and when they closed at 2am, I couldn’t find a cab home, so I walked about 25 minutes on the streets, hobbling barefoot and blistered and singing ABBA for no reason, completely confident in my safety. Probably stepped on a roach or dog pee but hey, I made it.
- I went camping alone. My friends couldn’t come until the morning, but I had a bee in my bonnet about wanting to wake up on a beach, so I just packed my bags and went. I was one of three tents that evening. I made my own fire, set up my own tent, walked up and down the water, took selfies, got so bitten by sand fleas it looked like I had a flesh-eating disease, and played my “90s brooding music” and just enjoyed it. My biggest fear was someone seeing me pee in the middle of the night. It was glorious, and something I’ve always wanted to be brave enough to do.
I had never lived alone until two years ago, when my flatmate moved back to the States at the start of Covid, and then the various measures since then plus two quarantines have given me a lot of space to be alone and learn how to do it well, and I’m grateful, even more so to feel so safe here. Thanks, HK. I’ll go back to being mad at you later, but today, you got my love.