Mysterious ways

Religion on the whole, doesn’t really blow my skirt up. Very little of it makes sense to me. The do good, be good bits do. But it’s not hard to work that stuff out on your own, is it?

It’s easy to write off folks with a faith because… well, there’s evolution for starters… but really, I think because there are so many freaking religious nut jobs out there. Ranging from those who live in pretty green countries who are warring with their neighbors, through to racist grandmothers who go to church every Sunday, and the pedophiliac priests who don’t think my gay friends have a right to be married.

Having said that – I have met some wonderfully smart, incredibly articulate, well travelled, open-minded and completely inspirational people who are religious.

I don’t think I had ever met a nun, before I was invited to have dinner with ACDC’s Aunty Ivy. She totally fits my definition of cool. She is interesting. And interested. She’s quietly spoken by nature, but you can see how rowdy she’d get at Rabbitoh’s game. She’s got a gentle spirit but I don’t think you’d be wise to be messin with anyone she loves. She struck me as someone who likes her creature comforts but she’d also happily sleep on a dirt floor in an African country to do volunteer work with kids in need. I just loved all the contradictions. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that you could be a nun and like a tinny or two.

A couple of years ago, I met this bloke at a party full of fitness freaks. Short and ruddy with an unruly beard and a gruff voice – his name was Graham Long and he was the larrikin pastor of a well-known chapel in Sydney’s red light district, a place called The Wayside. Their ethos is giving people a hand up not a handout. They provide a range of services to people who have fallen, well… by the wayside. Everything from showers, to referrals for health and home agencies, advocacy, and I love this: “a judgment free space for those just looking for a chat, a coffee or a quiet place to think.” God only knows, we all need that. I remember him (Graham, not God) saying to me that he came home “at the end of every day completely spent, but completely energized” by what he did for work. And that he didn’t really consider it a job. He’d do it even if they didn’t pay him.

A few weeks later, I was reading an article about a woman who was coordinating a singles / charity event. I really liked the idea of mixing the two. Fail to meet the right bloke? That’s okay. You still get to feel good about yourself, because you’re doing something for someone else. She said, “I don’t have a job. I have a life I love.”

Both of these things have been rattling around in my head for a long time.

I suppose you could say I’ve done some interesting stuff for work. I’ve been the voiceover in upscale department stores. I’ve sold everything from ice creams, to ‘sexy giftware’, to cars. I was the production manager on a low budget film shoot. I did a short stint in the medical imaging field. I once wore a bunny suit (man, those things Smell. Bad.) I was the graphic designer of an independent newspaper. I worked in the engineering industry for a while (loved those boys. They swore like sailors and introduced me to French champagne). I worked for a wee while at one of London’s top ad agencies as a proofreader. I waited tables (that only lasted 4 hours). I have hosted trivia nights and been the MC at weddings (although i did the latter for love). And most recently, I was one of the Marketing Managers for one of Australia’s most famous icons (the pointy white building on Sydney Harbour).

I’ve spent a bit of time over the past year thinking, what would make me feel like the pastor or the social entrepreneur? What do I want be when I grow up?

Things that kept popping up time and time again: writing, teaching and / or training, having my own consultancy…  I also harbored romantic notions of owning  an old-school pub and spending my days listening to old sea dogs swill stories around inside their schooners.

So, when I decided to take some time out this year to travel – I also decided I would work towards effecting change in this part of my life… To that end, I found myself signing up for a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification.

It has been a particularly intense month. I haven’t done any formal study (apart from a few professional development courses) for a decade, so it was a complete shock to the system. I don’t know what planet I was on – but I really did think I was just going to swan on in to our pretty lil Spanish colonial school for a few hours of class, maybe do a bit of homework in the gorgeous garden with its statues and water fountain…  and then breeze through a couple of prac lessons. I mean – there couldn’t be that much to teaching English. Surely.

On day one, our teacher told us to not make plans for the last two weekends before the course ended. And now i know why. We’ve basically squeezed a uni semester’s worth of work into 150 hours. We’ve had 6 hours of practical teaching which has necessitated hours of lesson planning, prior. We’ve had reading almost every night for anywhere between 1-2 hours. So I’ve seen the inside of the classroom, the computer lab, my text books, and my eyelids. And very little of Antigua.

We had to study grammar. And then we had to study how to teach grammar. And then we had to teach grammar.

In the 70s, grammar wasn’t on the Australian curriculum. So it was just as well, from a very early age – I had taken a personal if not rather peculiar interest in the way our language was constructed. I read a dictionary like a normal book. Like from front to back. I was editing the high school newspaper at age 13. I took a 2 day intensive course on grammar at Sydney University. Of my own free will. (nerd.)

A native speaker simply acquires knowledge of grammar through common usage. We don’t need to understand it. I intrinsically understand what goes where and when. I just suck at knowing what it’s called and knowing why we use it. And i wouldn’t be all that bothered, except you do kinda need to know this stuff if you’re going to teach English to others. And you need to be prepared that some of your students will know more about grammar than you do.

I still don’t remember what past perfect progressive is.

Anyway, I was absolutely fine with it all until I had started having The Meltdown, which began on Wednesday night. All the feedback I was hearing (& I should make the distinction between hearing and receiving) was so damn ‘constructive’ – I was wondering if I was in the wrong place. Maybe i wasn’t cut out to be a teacher after all.

My good friend Andrea prompted me to recall how it felt to start any new job. I don’t know about you, but I always end those first few weeks in a new job, thinking maybe I’d rather just work in a record store.

The Meltdown bubbled and boiled for two days. Apparently The Meltdown is not uncommon among TEFLers. One of our classmates dropped out. Another got quite ill. My stress just manifested through my leaky eyeballs.

Then at the end of my last prac lesson on Friday – my students made an announcement (in English) saying they wanted to host a party for me to say thank you. Then they laid out a little spread of home-made Guatemalan food in the garden. And sung me happy birthday. (My birthday’s not until November.) And well, that just sent me right over the edge. There were tears. Of gratitude. And i admit, of relief. But mostly of gratitude. These people have so little and yet were being so generous towards me. I was just lost for words.

For the last few days, I had been of the mindset that I wouldn’t actually pursue any teaching jobs. Because I felt like I sucked at it. And because grammar could go fuck itself.

But then last night we had a wee graduation party at our school. And of course, as fate would have it – a lady who had taken the course with our teacher in Feb and who was now teaching in Costa Rica had come up to Guatemala for her border run. She had walked past the school earlier that day, swung in to say hi and ended up at our party.

We talked, and she told me she had gone through EXACTLY the same thing. She said it was entirely different, once you were out in the field. She said it was far more relaxed than she ever imagined. And all the students wanted was to practice their English and to have a laugh. And then she said this: She didn’t feel like it was really work, she had so much fun everyday.

And I was reminded of the social entrepreneur and the pastor. Maybe God does work in mysterious ways.


5 responses to “Mysterious ways

  1. Too funny. So much of the stuff I wrestle with. No rhyme or reason to my ‘career’ choices either. Except it feels right at the time. And you know when you are there that you need to leave because something ‘comes up’ that feels more right. I like the stories, the access, the ‘moments’ with people more than any of the jobs. Once I’m not learning, or learning from telling someone about what I do and watching their reaction, I am bored/unhappy with it.

    “I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that you could be a nun and like a tinny or two.” I hold out a hole for religion for the same reason. Those folk who can’t be asked why they believe what they do without bristling give religion a bum wrap.

    I once met a Christian who had a perfectly good explanation for how she came to believe, and didn’t like churches much either. She even tried Hillsong, and they didn’t want her as part of their club. Funny thing was, I could see she was a Christian because she had belief in a place I don’t, so why was she so threatening to them?

    I guess some religions are the ones attractive to those who need rules to stop them from drinking tinnies. The ones you and I are fascinated about will answer any question you have without getting defensive, once they know we’re not trying to ridicule them. After all, their faith is unshakable (they hope). Maybe all the others stay in the religion so long that we meet them after their ‘crisis of faith’ so they have to defend a concept they don’t believe in but once did, so they think not drinking tinnies with you and I is safer. Probably is. I reckon you’re a hypocrite if you argue for positions you don’t believe in. Best they have those rules, and don’t let us get under their skin. However only the nuns like her will ever have any hope of changing how I feel about religion.

    My advice re school – set a time to keep on this path that proves to yourself you’re not just quitting because language is a hard thing to grasp. Give it a chance to ‘click’ by sitting with not feeling happy. If the time limit comes and you’re still unhappy, give yourself a get-out-of-gaol-free card and go where whimsy takes you. That’s what I’m doing right now with SWOP. My one year anniversary rapidly approaching, so happy or bust I say… move me, or move out of my way.

  2. Cheers Jackie… I am actually very pious-curious. BECAUSE it doesn’t make sense to me. i love talking with (intelligent) people who have a faith and learning a bit more about how they reconcile that with their reason.
    And i know you’re right about giving the teaching a bit of space to breathe. i’ve decided i’ll travel for the next few months and look at getting a short contract in SA, at the beginning of next year. love you girl

  3. Hey Chelle,
    Gorgeous post, as ever. Loving your insight, honey – love it! I get everything you say and appreciate how you say it 🙂
    Re the teaching side of things, I completely get that as well. Much like parenting, teaching can suck the marrow out of you and leave you wondering if a garbo run wouldn’t be a smarter way of making a crust. And then there are those sublime, unpredictable moments when you realise you’ve made a difference and the payoff is so affirming and ‘soul happy’. And sometimes the difference you made had nothing to do with what you taught and everything to do with how you taught it and the human being that you are.
    I’m glad you’re on this journey – quest – and love hearing what you’re getting out of it. For what it’s worth, i noticed that writing was first up on your list… and you’re doing it!
    Hugs and love xxx

  4. God i love receiveing your blog. You’re a great writer. It is great to get your news. I am glad your having such a great time and getting through the challenges as well. You asked about deja vous (wrong spelling) and fate etc in one of your previous posts. I don’t know Chelle, I feel it sometimes. Or atleast sometimes I believe in things that seem like they must be impossible, but then something happens…just like that. I think at times i feel foolish believing in the ‘magic’ of the world, but it certainly makes reality a nicer experience anyway. I think there is alot out there that is the invisible, silent and magic; the things we don’t understand. If you have any more insights about sixth sense, intuition etc, let me know. Love you lots. keep writing. Mez

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