Silence is a learned behavior, explicitly taught. A lot of classroom time is spent striving towards complete silence. Do not speak, do not tap your feet, do not close your pencil case too loudly. I understand, we are living in close quarters here and respecting each other’s space means cultivating silence. At the same time, sometimes I want to disturb that peace. I want to whistle in the hallway or tap dance in the classroom or fart really loudly in the teacher’s room. Nothing too horrible, just enough to startle people out of this odd belief that we can control everything if we just hold our breath long enough. Of course, it would do no good since I am a foreigner and people would just chalk my behavior up to my ignorant barbarian ways.

Sometimes I confront issues at work like this: I make a small phonics reader occasionally for my students to take home and read to their parents. It is just a short, three-page little book just meant to increase their enjoyment and confidence reading English. It is not durable enough to be carried back and forth so I ask them to leave it at home once they get it. This leads to a lot of confusion from the parents. They call the homeroom teacher to ask what they are supposed to do with the books. Put them in a folder? Perhaps store them in a file box? My answer is not satisfying. I tell them to do what they like with them. I just want the students to do their homework and after that it is their book. This baffles them. But where do we put the book? I say, that is your choice. To which they say, I am not sure what you mean.

This fear of making mistakes, of trusting their own judgments, this is a real thing. Creativity and independence of mind are smothered under the desire for precise collective cohesion. Obviously there are exceptions to this but in general, this is something that makes me worry about the longevity of the society here since the ability to think on your feet and to take the initiative are two skills that are going to be much needed as we stumble into the future.

I understand the desire to control what you can. We live on a volatile archipelago where disasters happen frequently. We cannot control the elements or the earth’s movements but we can control paper sizes and twitching in the classroom.

Control what you can instead of worrying about what you cannot.

I cannot control the decay of cells, or the world economy, or what my husband does in his spare time. I can control what I eat, what I read, what I listen to. I want to expand my field of control to include my writing, not to control what I write but to control what I am not writing. I feel so constricted by my circumstances sometimes that I want to give up this whole scheme and just go to work every day like a normal mother of four. It is too hard, this struggle, and writing what I want to write, writing honestly and fearlessly, does not come easy to me.

On the other hand, recent events have made me want to be more assertive. To take control of my words, of my work, of how my time is spent here. You will understand more, I think, when I really get going on my new (and long-delayed) project.

So while I cannot control the risks, the possibilities that arise as I work on such a project, I can control my courage, my nerve. Which is good because I am going to need a lot of both in order to muscle my way past my fears, which are substantial and ever-evolving.
On the other hand, what else am I doing? I could back down, I could take the easier, safer path where I knowingly suppress myself but don’t have to worry about consequences.
Yet what sort of life is that?
So I choose to dive deep, to wrestle sea monsters and swim to the very bottom of the abyss, hoping as it gets darker and colder that it is indeed bottomless, that I will never have to stop.