Today I start taking Japanese classes for the first time in about three years. I’m really nervous about it. Let’s go to the list.
Why I’m Nervous about Japanese Classes
- Meeting new people
- Starting something new/unfamiliar
- Losing half my days to class
- Might not understand the teacher
- Might not understand my classmates, who are at my level but speak Japanese with very thick accents
- Might not be able to keep up with the work
- Level might be too hard
- Level might be too easy
- Might turn out to be a waste of money
You can see how my brain works, focusing on a lot of “mights.” I know things will work out in the end, but I still worry.
The classes will be four hours every weekday for the next three months with only two days off for Golden Week in May. And as much as I don’t enjoy teaching, I’ve just asked my company to send more hours my way. Things are getting busy.
I was investing a lot of time into the possibility of a new job, something that I might actually enjoy, but I’ve decided to give up on it or at least put it away for now. I have a nice job available to me already, which is why I asked for more hours. I don’t like it, but I should be an adult about it, just stuck it up and earn a paycheck. I really need the paycheck.
I’ve also decided to put away writing for the next three months. Until the class is over, I want to cut out everything besides Japanese, working, reading, and hopefully uploading the occasional YouTube video. I need to pass the JLPT in July, and I need to save up money for a trip to Los Angeles in August. Reading and YouTube are just to keep me sane.
I’m going to keep my head down and work. There will be time to rest later.
My husband thinks I should quit writing for a while.
He said he thinks it makes me unhappy. He told me tonight while I was in the middle of a mini nervous breakdown that had me crying on the floor of our bedroom for a couple of hours.
I love writing. The only time writing doesn’t make me happy is when the crippling self-doubt kicks in, when everything I write sucks and I’m not getting better fast enough. I know it takes time to get good, but I don’t have time when everyone else is already good and I need to make money to pay bills.
I hate my job. I can’t get a better job because my stupid Japanese still isn’t good enough despite years of studying. And while I’m barely pulling in any money, my husband is basically supporting us both, and I feel guilty. He’s smart and very capable and works so hard, and he deserves someone stronger and more mentally stable than me, someone who can share financial burdens equally.
Since we got married, he’s used every bi-annual bonus to help pay off my student loans, and the guilt kills me.
If writing makes me unhappy, it’s only because it feels selfish.
He thinks I should quit writing and take Japanese lessons so I don’t waste my time here. But I already created a deadline for the story I’m working on. I’ve already made a goal to write every day of the year. And enrolling in Japanese classes would mean I’d have to work longer hours to pay for it.
But taking classes might be the push I need to reach a level of Japanese that will let me get a job I like, one where I can earn more. And then maybe the guilt will go away. I just hope I don’t forget about writing along the way.
There’s a dull clawing deep inside you. Something familiar but undefinable. An emotion, an idea, a thought that both describes you and terrifies you.
It’s something heavy and deep-rooted. It feels like the very secret of existence, and you want to understand it.
But if you follow it, try to put it down on paper and make it definable, you may fall into the hole. And you fear you won’t be able to climb out.
You fear how that state of mind will affect your relationships, your well-being, your breath.
So you don’t follow it. You go to work on something quieter, something safer, instead.
Even though I depend on it for my income, sometimes teaching English seems like a waste of time. But I realized recently that teaching has its advantages for a writer.
On the bad days, teaching English feels like being an academic version of a cabaret hostess. (“You’re a young, pretty American, so they will probably be inspired,” is what an employer once told me minutes before I taught a class of older men. I’ve been uncomfortable ever since.) On the better days, being an English teacher is like being a performer. You speak to an audience, you role-play conversations, and you must have energy even while going over the same material over and over, much like an actor will recite the same lines every night on a stage.
(Teaching children, by the way, is like being a very specific type of performer: “Laugh at the foreigner, kids! I’m a clown! Please like English!”)
Many have already written about this, but stepping into an actor’s shoes helps make your writing better. In acting, you get to try the material on. You can find out what it sounds like, what it feels like. You can better see what works and what doesn’t. If you have experience being a performer, you know how to better write for the performers who will embody your characters.
There’s another way that teaching English helps. When you teach someone in their non-native language, there will always be a language gap. In order to make the student understand without confusing him, you need to be able to explain things well. You have to be concise—too many words will make your sentences hard to follow and will leave the student with more questions than answers—and you constantly need to search for different words to use, which can help you as a writer understand how words relate to one another, as well as possibly strengthen your vocabulary.
So, until I get paid for my writing, teaching English isn’t the worst I could be doing.
I’ve been stressing about being an early success since I was a teenager. Maybe even before then. I wanted to be good, and I wanted it as soon as possible. The thought of not having my success until I was middle-aged was depressing and discouraging, and seeing people my age who were already talented only made it worse.
Then I saw the director of Beasts of the Southern Wild interviewed on TV. This director is 26, and his film is nominated for four Oscars this year. Again, the envy and discouragement took hold of me… but then I saw something new. Watching him do this interview, the way he sat, the way he talked — he was just too young. I couldn’t take him seriously, no matter how important what he was saying was. And I realized that’s how the world would see me if I were to have any kind of success at this age.
I still have a lot of time — and a long way to go. I’ve heard this advice countless times, but I finally understand it now. I should just keep my head down, work, and improve. I’ll get there one day. It doesn’t need to happen now, and perhaps it’s better if it doesn’t.
Lately I’ve been having a lot of dreams where people cut me off before I’m finished telling them something.
Not coincidentally, I’ve been struggling with my writing. I’m having all the standard angst of a writer working—I’m no good, my writing sucks, my stories aren’t worth telling—but it seems way too early in the project I’m working on for this to be normal.
Recently I’ve become influenced by Ned Vizzini and his books. When he was a teenager, his amusing anecdotes about his life were published regularly in the New York Press, and then he moved onto bigger projects, including novels and now writing for a TV show. I’ve heard the advice to start out small and write short autobiographical stories, but I never really took the advice. I think now is the time to do it.
So that’s what I’ll be doing with this blog.