the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Category Archives: Musings

Memories of TEFL Town

A few days ago, while looking through some old school records, I came across my TEFL Certificate, which brought back memories of the five weeks I spent in Boston nearly three years ago, four of which were the most intense yet rewarding of my life. So I hopped on to the Boston Academy of English website, and was pleasantly surprised to come across this new video on the home page:

It’s amazing how much the school has grown and how far it has come, considering that it was already very well established when I did my TEFL certification there in March 2008. I always tell people who ask that it’s better to train for something like this in a foreign place, because the staggeringly vast diversity of nationalities, languages and cultures that all come together make the teaching and learning experience so much more memorable.

Watching that video, looking at the familiar faces, and especially Cora, one of my trainers, I realize more than ever how much I’ve truly missed Boston and the amazing times I had there. And now that I’m finally attempting to put my certification to good use, I’m reminded more and more every day that given the chance, I would go through those four weeks all over again.


The Blindfold Effect

“Every theory is a self-fulfilling prophecy that orders experience into the framework it provides.” – Ruth Hubbard

We see what we want to see, we hear what we want to hear, we believe what we want to believe. How much of it is true, and how much of it is conjured out of our own minds? In psychology we learn about self-prophecy, where we perceive something as true because we’ve been told it’s true. And as old Ruthie put it, if we hear it from someone whom we know is speaking from experience, we’re all the more convinced that it’s true. But how do we know that’s what it really is? They may not be outright lying, but as our experiences influence the way we think and behave, it’s possible that the version of events they’re giving is merely the result of them warping the truth in their own minds.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years, it’s to always, always maintain perspective, and never be blindsided, even though my past experiences have jaded me and conditioned me to expect the worst out of people. We may think that the way we’re treated by some people shows exactly what we are to them, but we have to keep the reality that that’s just how they are very firmly fixed in our minds. We may think that the slightest inconsistency could mean a turning of the tide, but it doesn’t discount the big picture that we’ve come to know and rely on to help us make the right decisions.

But how do we know that our perspective is the right one? How do we know that we’re only thinking a certain way because of everything we’ve seen and been told, and that maybe there’s a significant piece that we’ve overlooked because it could go against the very core of our perspective and our principles? And if we’re unable to wrap our minds around, or even remotely consider, that alternative view, does that mean we could be walking down the wrong road, never allowing all the other options to show us what the road not taken could lead us to or save us from?

Over the past few weeks I’ve had my views on several issues skewed in one direction. I’ve forced myself not to look at them in any other way, which has led people to ask why I’m being such a pessimist and why I can’t just let my guard down and think that maybe at some point things could be better — or at least different. And all I can think is that given the circumstances, and seeing how history has repeated itself more than once, there doesn’t seem to be any alternate ending, no matter how much I want there to be an alternate ending.

So which perspective is it: the one we have or the one we risk losing?

After the storm

Well, so here we are again. Another full circle come, another year gone. As I sit here and think about everything that has transpired, I realize I actually do not remember very much about the year, and the memories have all blurred in on one another, this year more than the last, so much so that I don’t even know whether to call this year a good or a bad one. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been so busy shutting out as much noise and dissent as possible that everything else just got tuned out altogether, or because I haven’t spent as much time registering and absorbing everything as I usually do.

So maybe it was a numbing year.

Nevertheless, it is the last day of the year. When I think back (with a great deal of help from my blog archives) to all the highs, lows, the good times, the bad times, the awesome times, the awful times, the mistakes, the milestones, and the many, many lessons, it’s no wonder I’ve become muddled up with everything that has happened this year. With all the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, and the mistakes and choices I’ve made, it’s amazing I’m still standing, albeit with that many more chips on both my shoulders.

But the new year dawns tomorrow, and with that the hopes for an improved lot in life, for new (and old) dreams to be fulfilled, and for that step closer to what I’ve been hoping to achieve these last few years.

Happy New Year!

Reaching to settle

“As bad as either one is, I would rather be the settler. It would be mortifying to know that in striving to be the reacher, he would have as good as settled for me.” – Becca

It’s a question we always ask ourselves: what do we want in a partner? There are those who want a pair of alluring eyes to wake up to in the morning, or a voice like James Ingram’s to answer the phone to. There are those who want a trusting, loyal heart to rely on, a glass-blowing wit to banter with, or an unpredictable spontaneity to be excited about. And then there are those who are just content to take whatever comes their way and hope for the best.

When it comes to relationships, is it better to settle for what we have and do our best to make it work, or to search tirelessly and reach for the closest that we can get to our completely unrealistic perception of the ‘perfect person’? As it is there is no such thing as the perfect person — the search for which I likened to the extermination of cockroaches — so when we try our vainest to locate this elusive commodity, we are indirectly setting ourselves up for failure because no matter how perfect they seem, there will always be something that isn’t quite the way we want it. They may have the exterior of Adonis and the bottomless pockets of King Solomon, but lack the ambition of even the most common paperboy.

But when we convince ourselves to be content with the person we already have and just work our damnedest to make the best of it, how do we remain happy with them in the long term? We are so exhausted from extricating ourselves from one failed relationship after another that in the end, we are just grateful to have someone who, even after several years, still seems to be the only one willing to volunteer for the job. And yet, in the end, when we can no longer ignore the flaws and have to accept that they will always be there, how can we bring ourselves to up and abandon the only kind of normal relationship we have ever known?

When I was younger (i.e. stupider and more idealistic), I was prepared to search and wait for what I thought would be the right, if not perfect, person for me. And so I waited, I hoped, and I brought myself so far below the point of humility and dignity that I began to fear that even if it worked out the way I wanted, I would always wonder if he was secretly second-guessing his decision to be with me. That was when I realized that if I were reaching so far beyond my means and actually succeeded, he would merely be settling for me because I was the only one willing to claw the air for him.

And now, having hit the age of 26 five days ago and still being nowhere near where I hoped I would be at 26, I realize that life is too short to be wimmeling around in the haystack, and that in the end, it’s always better to be grateful for what has been given to us, because it’s what we make of it that matters the most. It may be a form of settling, but it still requires a great deal of reaching.

Time and punishment

Time is the unkindest cut of all. It sweeps by, impenitent and without a care for whether or not we are willing to go along with it. It hovers about, watching us make mistakes, but never allows us to do penance for them even if we have learned our lessons. It lets — and occasionally even helps — us make decisions and then only shows us the consequences of those decisions when it has become too late to undo them. It turns us against our principles and into people we’ve striven for most of our lives not to be. Worst of all, it will never wait for us.

So when I think of the past two years, it astounds me that I have let all this time pass and allowed myself to be engulfed in the calamities of my job, which in turn are making me do something I swore I would never do in this lifetime: conform. But I tried to fight the system, attempting to block out the seemingly crazed mob mentality that rules the corporate bullpen right down to what color everyone should wear for a particular event, staving off the psychotic stalkers I seem to have for colleagues, and trying to concentrate on what I am paid to do. And throughout all of that, Time sailed right by, reminding me numerous times that all I had to do was summon the courage to reach out for what I truly wanted to do, warning me that the longer I waited, the harder I fought, the faster and further away the opportunities would evade me.

And now, when I think of God and try to dredge up the faith I no longer even have, I tell myself He must either have had a damned good reason for throwing me where I am and forcing me to stay there, or He is punishing me for losing the very faith, that I have replaced with indifference, that has kept me alive all this while. Whatever the reason, I hope I know what it is soon, before I begin to decide that it is not even worth my own life.

Year half full

Amidst a haze of camera flashes, seawater, barracudas, fighting and making up, the first half of the year has ended. It breaks my heart because the second half won’t go by any more slowly, and I’m not getting any younger or closer to the goals I’ve set for myself. And now, with the decisions I’ve recently (and consciously) made, I do and don’t want to see what the rest of the year will bring.

Come home again

Come home again, come home
Wherever you may be
Come home again, you sailor man, sailor man
Home again, to the sea

I hear a dream all day
A dream that calls to me
“Come home again, you sailor man, sailor man
Home again, to the sea.”

– I Hear A Dream, Gulliver’s Travels –

Gulliver’s Travels was one of my favorite animated films growing up. I sang along to the soundtrack as best as my four-year-old mind would allow me to, laughed at the blubbering little Lilliputians, and cried at the end when Gulliver left Lilliput to the strains of I Hear A Dream, a song which has remained to this day one of my favorites from any soundtrack.

When I decided to obtain my diver’s license last year, it was purely for the chance to go where a snorkel could never take me, to witness all the things I’d heard about and seen on TV in real life, and to satiate my own thirst for adventure. Granted, it wouldn’t induce the same kind of adrenalin that I got from bungee jumping and snowboarding, but the risk of danger and potential death made it just as appealing.

Now, after a year of diving and having experienced one of the best dive destinations on this side of the planet, I realize that it has given me a renewed love for the sea, and a feeling I haven’t had in a long time: peace. Peace in knowing that all the things, big and small, that I’ve been so unsettled about in the past months can be overcome if I just allow myself to believe that they were mostly in my head. Peace in knowing that even if I can’t overcome them in the short term, at some point I will know when and how to move on. Peace in knowing that one day, none of it will matter anymore, either because I’ve gotten past them, or because I’ve simply learned to let go.

Watching that scene now — showing Gulliver looking out at the waves and expressing his longing to return to the sea, to the voyage he had just begun, and to his own world — gives me a vague understanding of why this profound love for the sea exists. It brings about an extraordinary tranquility that allows you, for a few precious moments, to leave the world and everything in your life behind and just revel in its calmness. And for the ones who love it for more than just the whales, Mandarin fish and nudibranchs that dwell beneath its surface, it also makes them feel like they’re being called Home.

It just so happened

I’ve never been one for video games; my capabilities have only ever extended as far as Super Mario World and Mario Kart. So when I heard that a film called Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was slated for release in May, the only thing that sparked my interest in it was Jake Gyllenhaal. My expectations sank even more when I learned that it was based on a video game. Nevertheless, I went ahead and watched it anyway, thinking that if nothing else, Jake Gyllenhaal is still a good actor, and if Jerry Bruckheimer could turn the Pirates of the Caribbean ride into a successful full-length film, then maybe Prince of Persia would have the same luck.

I will say no more about the film except the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal was hot beyond belief, and Gemma Arterton made me want to claw her eyes out.

I didn’t give any more thought to the film until earlier this afternoon, when Eza mentioned that the film made her think about how far, given the chance, she would turn back time in order to change certain aspects of her life. That, in turn, got me thinking about how far back in time I would go to make my life better — or at least different — from what it is today, culminating in an alarming number of options:

1. Going back to my high school years, when I allowed myself to be put into Sri Inai, which resulted in a disastrous first relationship and pretending now that I don’t remember anyone from there. Had I the chance — and the sense — I would have insisted that my parents follow their initial plan to put me in the International School of Kuala Lumpur so that I could graduate and immediately return to the U.S. to begin college as a freshman, instead of having to spend a year and a half in INTI College and landing myself in yet another  relationship I’ve regretted every day for the past 6 years.

2. Going back to 2006, when I was in my final year at the University at Buffalo and trying to decide what to do with myself once I graduated. I would somehow find a way to get a job that would get me the H1 visa, or maybe even make use of my LSAT score to get into law school, so that I could stay on there and not be left with no choice but to come back here.

3. Going back to 2008, when I was in one of the deepest emotional ruts of my life and desperately trying to find a way out. When I was so blindly and mindlessly in love with someone who cared nothing for anyone but himself that I allowed my life to revolve around him. When I sat at D’Haven and bawled my eyes out over glass after glass of gin and tonic, wondering how I had let everything get so far out of control and why I couldn’t just let it all go.

4. Going back to last September, when I had the chance to eliminate all possibilities of ever seeing, knowing or hearing what I didn’t want to. When all I needed to do was to flip through The Star newspaper silently and not invite any said possibility, which has since led my imagination, my fears, and all my old insecurities to spiral so far out of control that I am now seeking professional help to stamp them out of my system.

Thinking about all these missed opportunities, missed chances, I also realize that if none of these things had ever happened, I would not be where I am now, in circumstances that I can’t complain about (too often). And as much as we wish for things to be different, I suppose they must all have happened for a reason, whether or not it is a reason worth suffering for, and turning back time would have only gone against everything that was supposed to happen to lead us to wherever it is we are now.