What To Say?

A friend recently asked how I’m doing, and I thought I might post something here, since I so rarely update this site. However, this is one of those questions it’s hard to answer. 

Do I… 

  • … go with how I pulled a muscle in my back the other day, and it hurt to breathe for about 24 hours, but now it’s slowly getting better?
  • … talk about how I’m busily mashing together chunks of the Gumshoe ruleset and a hacked version of the Forged in the Dark system to run modern supernatural techno-/spy-thrillers?
  • … delve into how, despite the exhaustion it has entailed, having our son at home with us for the year with almost no help has kind of been wonderful for our relationships, and how lucky we feel everyday to have such a kind, giving, generous, and thoughtful kid?
  • … talk about work? It’s a pretty big can of worms, to be honest… and more than I could really cover in a single post, even if I wanted to and felt safe doing it. 
  • … talk about concerns regarding what the timeline will be like for vaccines vs. the push to return to the classroom, and how I’m a little alarmed by the (again, far-right) adopting of “foreigners” being a “drain” on the healthcare system here. (They don’t seem to differentiate between tourists and people who are taxpaying residents who actually, you know, help fund the system the same way Koreans do… by being taxpayers.) Yeah, I don’t have the energy.
  • … talk about why this blog has sat fallow for so long? That… no, I don’t have it in me to tell that story. I have a draft post all about that. I’ll post it sometime, but not today. 

Man, that’s a lot of stuff I don’t want to talk about. Or at least, that I don’t want to talk about much. So what should I say? 

I guess I’ll do what I’ve done in life generally, and refocus on what’s right in front of me. In terms of the pandemic, we’ve been lucky. If you look at the map below, from the other day:

See the city with the smallest number of cases? Sejong City, 189 (+2)? That’s where we are. It’s the least badly-affected “major city” in South Korea. Not that it’s a big city, mind you: the population overall is somewhere a little over 350,000 people. But since it’s a special governmental district of its own, it’s tracked as if it were a major city or a province. (There are regions that have a much smaller number of cases per capita, of course: Jeollanam-do and Jeollabuk-do have roughly a couple of million people each scattered among a few small cities and many towns and villages, for example.) Still, for city people, we’re in one of the better places to be. 

I was a bit worried, though, when last night, over the apartment complex PA system1 an announcement was made requesting all residents to “please stay indoors as much as possible due to increased spread of coronavirus in our city.”

It turns out the measure was recommended because of a cluster that was discovered as an allegedly highly negligent “missionary school” (i.e. brainwashing center) in Daejeon. Apparently (according to the Joongang Daily)the school was apparently quite grossly negligent in terms of infection controls, which… well, somehow the fact it’s a religious school makes this much less surprising: while I’ve had to caution students who called for the suspension of the human rights of church and cult members tied to clusters, on a personal level I’m beyond exhausted of fringe religious groups constantly engaging in selfish, infantile sabotage of the effort to save lives through minimizing the spread of this virus. 

The silver lining there, though, is this: we’re being asked to stay home, but the last few days, we’ve only had 2 new confirmed cases a day within the city limits. That’s how the pandemic’s going in our town. I’m pretty happy that it’s that much under control. 

Beyond that, it’s just a waiting game, trying to balance time with my family and self-care with trying to gather the energy to retool and transition to a new line of work. There’s not much in the way of good work for EFL instructors in Canada, Creative Writing instruction work was much harder to come by there (even before the pandemic wrecked everything), and I have a family to support, including a kid who is experiencing more and more social exclusion and mistreatment by other kids (not to mention their ignorant, stupid parents) with each passing year. Frankly, the vaccines—which, let’s hope, effectively cover the new strains of the virus—cannot come soon enough. 

I’m very glad to see Trump gone, even if I think a “return to normalcy” isn’t going to be enough to keep the world from falling apart—normalcy is what gave us Trump, and set modern civilization to circling the drain. Is it in fact in a death spiral, or is that just the precarious feeling of the moment? Or… are we underestimating how much of a mess we’re actually in? It’s hard to say, but one thing I know is that Trump looks more like another symptom among many of whatever failure mode we entered who-knows-when. And as I contemplate my upcoming career change, part of me feels it would be better to throw in with some technical career that could at least will help slow the global crisis that’s about to come crashing down onto us—or, really, which has already started to come crashing down onto us. (Alas, I’m not sure I have it in me to pull off such a profound career shift… or what would really help, at this point.)

I haven’t said much online to register public support of BLM, but that’s mostly because I haven’t said much publicly at all. Of course, as a sane human being, I do support the movement, and am repulsed by backlash against it. But I’m also someone who’s living far away, and who has come to believe that what he says online matters little: we’re awash with opinions and hot takes, most of them miserable, and the sane ones don’t really seem to help. Increasingly, I am just happier staying off social media for the most part.

All that said, I have sometimes called out some onetime “friends” for defending racist lunatics like the McCloskeys, and shaken my head at others for praising Sweden’s “excellent handling” of the coronavirus pandemic. (Spoiler: it wasn’t actually all that great.) Honestly, I’m starting to think the main function of social media sites going forward will be as places we log into in order to check how many old college friends and high school pals have lost their marbles and converted to this or that cult or sociopathic political camp. That’s the main gift social media offers us now: destabilizing our societies while also giving us the chance to watch long-ago friends, affable classmates, and grade school playmates turn into a Karens and geriatric proudboys and elderly white supremacists and conspiracy nuts. (That is, assuming Facebook lets the dregs of humanity come back  and form groups crammed with horrific ideological garbage. I assume it will, since it was so damned good for business in the past.) 

There have been ramifications in the classroom, too, but I don’t want to get into all that except to say that (as the sole foreigner in many individuals’ daily lives) it’s not easy to live as the embodiment of other people’s chronic anomie—that is, as an emblem of whatever social and cultural change they hate and fear most, and feel is seeping into their culture from outside. It’s especially exhausting to have to smile and be polite and professional with people who are doing their best to troll you and pick a fight. I do my best to enforce the class boundaries (which amount to “no bigotry and recognize that all human beings are equal and have equal rights”) but mainly my efforts are directed toward finding discussion topics that your average alt-rightist can’t easily politicize—”How can we fix the stray cat problem on campus?”—and then trying to keep students focused on the selected discussion topic. Sometimes it works, but it’s a constant struggle: when someone wants to politicize a discussion badly enough, they’ll find a way. (Yes, even with the stray cat problem.)

Still, when I do manage to keep the train on the rails, my days tend to mainly consist of shepherding students into activities (and then coaxing them to actually participate), teaching and correcting grammar, and trying to help students understand the apparently unfamiliar structure of a paragraph. Meanwhile, my evenings involve hanging out with my family, and playing tabletop RPGs online. My thoughts are focused less on a future that has been temporarily stalled by, well, everything that’s happened since last February, and more on how to get through the next week. 

Which I must say, we’re doing a day at a time, or sometimes a week at a time.

We’ve been home for almost a year now, by which I mean we haven’t often left the house. I haven’t been to a large grocery store since November—and that was only my third or fourth trip to a big grocery store in 2020. (We make do with what we can order online, and what we can get during occasional trips to a small organic food shop near our home.) It’s less difficult for me than some, I think: though every writer has quipped that they’re used to it, since they’re writers, it was actually kind of true for me: I also have a kid, and teach ten and a half months out of the year, which is pretty draining. (Well, and there’s not many people I know in my immediate area who share hobbies or interests with me, so I don’t get a lot of socializing in town anyway.)

All of which is to day I was staying home most of the time for years before this. I still miss dropping by Costco, or swinging by Emart to pick up a couple of craft beers for a treat, but… all in all, it hasn’t changed my life that much. Teaching online has its problems, but I appreciate its many advantages, even when administrators have hobbled it through very questionable policy decisions.

Finally, there’s the writing… but I haven’t gotten much done lately. It’s been tough, what with working from home, having the kid at home all the time, and the general level of stress I’m feeling. To be honest, I’ve barely been able to read any fiction; I’ve kind of gravitated towards nonfiction and RPG rulebooks, because I can process them better in this state of distraction I’m in. Some friends have started Tweeting out their Books Read 2021 list, and I’m thinking of doing it too, if nothing else then to spur myself to read more instead of slumping down and immersing myself in Netflix when I have some free time. 

Huh, yeah, maybe I’ll go do that tonight.

  1. Yes, “apartment PA system,” just like the PA system in a typical North American high school. Most South Koreans take it for granted that having a PA system in your house that you cannot turn off, and for which you have no volume control, is normal. You can clip the wires, of course, but… this is illegal (a heavily fineable offense) and also risky, since the complex’s fire-alarm system is run off the same PA system. You get used to a thunderous wall of announcements (or, if you can’t follow the Korean fast enough, a wall of jabber) being blasted into your living room at random times, I guess. If I make it sound dystopian, well… it’s not something I’ll miss when we leave.

3 thoughts on “What To Say?

  1. I hope you’re feeling better. I pop into this site from time to time mainly for the RPG updates (it’s my favorite hobby), and also to see what is happening in South Korea (having spent a significant amount of time there myself).

    Regarding your opinion of how Sweden handled (or rather, is handling the pandemic), I can tell you that here in Sweden the very idea (never mind the actual laws surrounding it) of the government forcing people to not leave their homes and not travel freely in their own country just won’t wash, we’re somewhat opposed to such fascist policies despite (generally) trusting our authorities. There is a lot of context behind the decision(s) anyhow that needs to be taken into account. But I am not looking to argue about anything, just thought it worth mentioning.

    1. I am feeling better, thanks.

      As for Sweden’s handling of the pandemic: I mean, I just don’t think that lockdowns are “fascist” when they’re a temporary measure necessary to get the spread of an illness under control. Fascist governments have historically been quite happy to see the weak and old and vulnerable burnt upon the pyre if it served their ideology… and most of the arguments I’ve seen against temporary, short-term lockdowns were focused not on “freedom” so much as on capitlalist interests being served.

      But even so, it’s worth noting that South Korea hasn’t actually had a single lockdown yet, and still achieved incredibly low rates of spread. Part of that is widespread compliance with mask policies, and with (not unproblematic) mask rationing policies, but also a lot of voluntary cooperation with common sense policy (which has unfortunately eroded) and very aggressive track and trace measures. (Which a lot of people elsewhere want to pretend would be impossible to implement in their countries, but in reality is already implemented on a smaller scale.) I’m not saying the track & trace was without problems, or could be just as easily implemented elsewhere, just that Korea was able to keep numbers incredibly low without a single lockdown. (And the argument about whether to lock down or not sort of reflects the failure of the rest of the (Western) world to even look at how Korea handled it and see if any useful elements could be implemented elsewhere.)

      I’m just saying, I think it’s kind of telling that Western periodicals were praising Sweden’s handling of the outbreak at a time when Korea was very obviously keeping numbers much lower for much longer. And I think that definitely has everything to do with the people who were doing the praising, and the specific interests they sought to serve. But yeah, I don’t feel like arguing, either.

      Thanks for the comment!

    2. Oh, one more thing: if you click on the RPG link in the menu on my site, you’ll notice I’ve actually been posting semi-weekly for a while now, session logs for the game of Electric Bastionland that I’m running. I don’t have them appear on the front of the site mainly because I occasionally mention things my players shouldn’t know, so I’m sort of stealth publishing these posts, but I may start just publicly publishing the logs, since they’re kind of the only stuff I’m posting here most of the time now!

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