Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two Roads

Deep personal revelations- or rather, confusion- after the jump.

I’m at a little bit of a loss. By December, assuming that I don’t punk out and fail all of my classes (which, considering my levels of procrastination lately, isn’t all that much of a stretch), I will be graduated with a B.A. in Linguistics. I will have spent four years (plus one pesky extra semester) in college, will have spent God knows how much of my parents’ money, and . . . may have nothing to show for it.

Don’t get me wrong; I love linguistics. Language has always captivated me. I know that I like it because I can go on and on about how English doesn’t have any voiced stops, not really- can you believe it?- and other people try to politely change the subject. Despite my hatred of most sciences (I loved the math behind chemistry and the cool explanations of biology but detested the requisite experimentation in each), I found an academic branch that adheres to the scientific method but doesn’t require peering through microscopes. I even managed to allay my parents’ fears and find the sub-branch that would give me a steady job (i.e. teaching). I’ve gotten just a little bit (not enough) over my intense nervousness when speaking in front of large groups, and heck, I think I could manage to teach and grow pretty good at it. I have lots of ideas, and, in honor of delusions of grandeur, I still fantasize about publishing some field-altering research on second language acquisition, becoming an acknowledged expert who can teach the bigwigs in Washington about what sort of education would best suit the bilingual children of our nation, or even going so far as to open and run my own language school, implementing my highly individualized and principled methodology to great renown.

I should be happy.

And yet, there’s something tugging at me. I’ve struggled this semester to keep up with my schoolwork, not because of my general laziness and procrastination (well, okay, that, too), but because I’m busier writing blogs, consuming and producing erotic content of various types, and generally keeping up on the online world of sex, sexuality, porn, the queer movement, and so on and so on. If I had to list my passions, so-called ‘sexology’ would come out leaps and bounds ahead of linguistics. I obviously give it priority in my life; it excites me intellectually and brings out a fiery passion you just can’t get when debating whether we really do have Chomsky’s language acquisition devices in our brains. I’ve always wanted to change the world, to make an impact, to have some weight and sway. I still long to publish a book, to see it on library shelves and know that people are reading it and my ever-opinionated thoughts are being disseminated for discussion and contemplation. I want a sexy advice column. I want to review sex toys. I want to write professional erotica. I want to help make queer porn, the kind of porn I want to see. I want to open sexuality centers. I want to lobby and protest and march for gay rights. I want to subvert the system. I want to influence public policy about sex education. I want to help make sex work safe. I want to do so much. I just don’t know if doing it on the side would be satisfying enough. Aren’t there some sort of unspoken rules about teachers not doing such controversial things? (Not that I want to shy away from controversy, but I do tend to like keeping a job).

It’s interesting . . . my best friend and I are both graduating, and our struggles in regards to the future eerily mirror one another’s. We went to school together, and she now has a completed B.A. in deaf education, something she has decided she doesn’t want to do (much to her mother’s horror). Much in the same way that I quietly went from a naïve little freshman who barely knew she was queer (much less about the big world of porn and sex radicalism) to the person I am today, she was undergoing her own transformation, from a naïve little freshman whose church work was mainly self-contained to a sophisticated, globally-thinking urban minister and missionary, fighting on the fronts of social/racial justice, poverty, and environmentalism. Her dedication, her passion, and her zeal continue to amaze me- and inspire me. I used to feel less important in my own passions, as if what I was doing/feeling couldn’t be as important as hers. I’ve since gained a lot more confidence and, no doubt due to our fascinating discussions and the help of the very provocative book “That’s Revolting!”, learned the intersections where the two meet (even if we would take different paths to try to better the life of a prostitute- me fighting for rights and decriminalization, she for proselytizing them out of the trade). But where she and I differ is in her utter devotion. She wants to throw herself into the work, regardless of condemnation from her friends and family or any care to money. Maybe I’m greedy, and maybe I care too much what others think (although I’ll argue it’s a lot harder selling “sex work advocacy” than “urban ministry” to your family), but I want some steadiness in my life, some financial guarantees. And what with any sex/porn-advocacy job at the very least usually freelance and, in today’s economy, perhaps nonexistent, I just don’t know that I could throw myself full-heartedly into it, confident I could wring a salary and a life from it.

I take a little solace in knowing that I have time. There’s still either a Masters or a teaching credential waiting before I can legally assume the title of ‘professor’. I’m trying for the JET Program for next year- a program that, if I get accepted, will send me back to that crazy beautiful land of Japan to do some hands-on teaching. I’ve justified it as a good way to save up money for grad school, to expand my resume (look, I taught abroad!), to make sure this is what I want to do. But I know my own real reason: I’m running away. I’m buying myself time. It’s what I’ve done over and over again. I’ve had people express surprise that such a quiet, introverted little thing like myself would go abroad. It used to surprise even me, but I’ve thought about it, and I think I like it so because my choices are made for me. I know who I am in Japan- I am the gaijin, the foreigner, absolved of any responsibility as I play out the cultural script set out for me and fulfill the expectations. My family and old friends are far away, and I can craft a new identity for myself. When I think about perhaps settling there, I feel an almost sense of relief, regardless of what I’d be doing. When I imagine the rest of my life in America, my anxieties increase tenfold. My best friend also wants to go somewhere else- maybe to Oklahoma with her estranged father, or Chicago, for the amazing urban ministry work they’re doing there. I’m not saying that Fresno/the Central Valley is at all alluring for us to stay, but I feel the same desperation, that same “If I move myself from here bodily, maybe it will take me where I want to be emotionally.” I can’t tell if it’s a good strategy or one of avoidance.

What a long, strange, meandering blog. Again, as always, I just don’t have the answers. Four years ago, it would have been inconceivable to imagine me trying to choose between teaching English or educating sexuality. It still feels impossible. But I know where my heart wants to go. Can I follow it?

Comments- at least the encouraging kind- are welcome.

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