Other words have been haunting me too. When I was 15, I attended my first writers conference outside of the Jack London writers camp for kids that I went to a few times. It's an intimidating thing to be 15 at a community college writers conference. One of my first sessions was with a man who talked about how creative writing out of all the arts is one that can never have child prodigies (which was such a relief after being surrounded by 12 year olds who wrote rather mature short stories that had been published already and often made me feel I actually didn't have it in me to write after all). I remember him saying "You need experience to be a writer. You need to know what it's like when someone dies, to spend time saying to yourself 'If only I'd spoken to them, if only I'd made love to them, if only I'd done things differently'". Being young myself, I laughed because some of it seemed absurd. "Ah, see. You don't believe me. That's the point." The writers conference is gone, that man passed away a few years ago, and now I do know about the crazy things you will think after someone dies and all the things that you could have done differently and the multiple universes you tell yourself about where it doesn't happen that way. I have not been the active writer I should be, I ask myself if I still wish to write, what for, and how. I find myself asking questions about experience, about the weird moment I live in where teaching English isn't only a job but a valued enough skill for people to sign up as volunteers to teach overseas. What will they say of this in the future, will they write about the time when lots of young people went abroad to teach and include some quote in a textbook? One of the weirdest things I ever read about travel writing was to stay away from the cliche of teaching in China for a year unless you had something new to bring to the table. I had to wonder when exactly it became a cliche, what drew so many to teaching in China for a year, and what could be made of that trend. The social scientist in me never really dies I guess.
Is China part of my personal ikigai? I don't know, I was certainly drawn to it because there was much that was ideal about coming here and exercising the skills I learned. I would read about it off and on in what seemed to be a side hobby for someone largely familiar with Western classics and romance languages but I wasn't sure I'd ever go as something other than a tourist. I think I should leave because it sounds like the responsible thing to do, but then I can't articulate what I'd do if I did. Perhaps it's because I'm in this place right now too that I can't help noticing how many books about China have been written by young adults. Peter Hessler was 27 when he went to work in Sichuan with the Peace Corps. Jen Lin-Liu had just been married and was trying to figure out what the future held when she planned her trip to look into the history of noodles. Michael Meyer not only used Manchuria to think about changes in China, he was thinking about his own state of limbo with family and career while he spent time in the Northeast. I know better than to romanticize or make too much of China in transition attracting young people who are themselves in transition, but I have no doubt someone could make a paper out of China memoirs related to that pattern. It is a good place for me I guess, because having spent so much time in school being on the other side of the classroom is a new experience but not so new that I feel completely out of my depth. I just fear that I'll find I've become a teacher less from thoughtful and engaged process and more out of complacency. I get enough free time to just chill out with my Crunchyroll account catching up on anime on a lot of days instead of looking at other work or grad schools like I probably should. There's a part of me that says this is a job and if I'm not unhappy, I should just keep going. And there's another part of me that says it really isn't a job and I can't fool myself about financial independence on 3000RMB/500 USD a month (though I never spend all my month's earnings anyway since I'm not a big shopper, food and travel tends to take it).
When I think about how I feel at this moment, I can't help thinking of Hunan's own writer, Shen Congwen during a particular passage of "Border Town" when he writes, "He may never come back or he may come back tomorrow!" I'm sure he knew his fair share of change, but it is a little scary how such a simple sentence could apply to me so well right now.