Well, it’s finally gotten to me. It took well over a year but as of today I am officially stressed out to the point where it’s interfering with my ability to be a useful and productive person. So I’m sorry if I’m blowing up your spot, but I’m going to talk about why I’m stressed now in hopes that sharing will aid in coping.
If I’m being honest, I think my current level of stress is mainly because I’ve stopped being really candid on my blog. Last year at this time I was able to write about problems and issues I had fairly openly because I had an extremely small and personal audience. Then the whole “Sex in Georgia” thing went down, and suddenly I had demands on me. Suddenly the Police Academy found reason to care what I had to say, and a few months later I found myself being asked to leave the Academy quietly, without being given any reason whatsoever related to my work performance. I was asked not to air specific details of what was said – not difficult, because what was said was a whole lot of verbose nothingness – and so I put on a smile, called it a “horizontal promotion,” and went my merry way. After all, the head of TLG stuck up for me, and more than that, I was being put in a flagship school, so what did I really have to complain about? After all, my manager at the Academy was a complete space cadet and the English language program was a neglected afterthought and I was constantly broke because I didn’t have a host family and had to pay for all my own utilities and food, and all of those problems went away when I transferred to School 51, which is an excellent school that is run quite well overall.
Except that not talking about what went down at the Academy did something to me, maybe. I was a little irritated at the time, but I probably could have talked about it in a way that was honest but also did not involve picking a fight with the whole of the Georgian police force. I mean, I honestly love the police in Georgia, and I really liked my students and my coteachers and almost everyone else I met, and the problems I had with the way the English program was run were very specific and mostly related to one particular individual who just happened to be well-meaning but an incredibly awful communicator. But instead I did the politic thing and, in a very small way, betrayed myself and my readers.
Now I’m faced with several situations that are causing me stress, and I’m basically afraid to talk about every last one of them. I departed from Buckswood a week early, but I never talked about why or what the circumstances were, and although the situation was resolved to my satisfaction, for the purposes of this blog it’s like it never happened. It’s actually an interesting story and it paints TLG in a very good light and the Director of Buckswood apologized for what happened – to be honest, of all the parties involved I probably come out looking the worst – but everyone involved thought it would be better if none of us said anything about the events, and so I haven’t, and I just let it pass and maybe that was for the best, or maybe it’s been weighing on me and maybe it’s helped to set a precedent where I never talk about anything negative on this blog anymore, and that’s not good because if I stop talking about the bad as well as the good I turn into a sanitized The Family Channel version of Georgia On My Mind, and then what good am I to anyone?
In this light even minor frustrations become magnified because I’m afraid that I can’t talk about them without offending someone who I have to depend on for something. I’ve been with my host family for three weeks – and they’re a great family, they’re really accommodating, and they make great Atchma – but in three weeks I still haven’t managed to get a constant and reliable internet connection yet. I’ve Skyped with my parents like three times in the last three months. I’ve fallen behind on getting new bloggers to sign on to the TLG Blog. I’ve fallen behind on regular updates to this blog. All of these things are frustrating, and the reason why I don’t have internet is quintessentially Georgian, or should I say is perfectly representative of the difficulties Westerners have in navigating the tricky process of accomplishing anything in Georgia: I still haven’t mastered the subtle art of communicating necessity and urgency to Georgians in a way that results in things not taking a month to happen. It’s not that I have trouble asking for what I want – it’s just that I think that the way to get things done quickly probably involves some degree of yelling or what I would consider rude or overly assertive behavior and I’m not willing to go that route. I think that the ways I approach these things and the ways Georgians approach them are very different, in an interesting way, and probably merit their own post. If only I had time, a constant internet connection in a space conducive to getting work done, and a guarantee that I wouldn’t inadvertantly offend my host family by honestly describing one of the challenges that I am facing in my new situation. I mean, they seem cool, they’d probably understand, but I’m now in the habit of being timid and cautious. So instead the stress just piles up.
I’ve been at my school for a week and I don’t have a final schedule. I got a new version today – actually, two new versions, because my head teacher gave me a schedule with classrooms that don’t match the classrooms my other coteacher told me we’d be in, which means that I’m going to have to go on yet another scavenger hunt to reconcile where I’m supposed to be at what time. I spent last week going from room to room looking for my coteachers but schedules and room assignments kept changing and people kept not notifying me and I ended up teaching exactly three lessons the whole week. I spoke to TLG about it last week and today it got back to me that my school administration is aware that I am “complaining” to TLG, and yet apparently nothing is fixed since I’m supposed to be in two different rooms at the same time tomorrow morning, which is exactly the set of outcomes that I least wanted, and now I’m worried that the people that I have to work with on a day to day basis think that I’m going behind their backs or over their heads and making them look bad. So not only can I not feel okay blogging about this stuff, but I even have to worry about talking to TLG about it. The thing is, I know that my school is extremely well-organized – or, at least, it was last year – it just apparently takes a few weeks for that organization to take. That’s not a big problem, so why should I be afraid to talk about it?
And then there was the observation today. We had some representatives from a recruiting company come observe one of my lessons today. When I found out on Friday that I was going to be observed on Monday, I sort of panicked because as of Friday I still had no schedule, no textbooks, and had only met three classes. TLG called my school director and he said they’d schedule me for a class. I got a call from my coteacher telling me that she was concerned that we had no lesson plan. I was concerned too. We met this morning and went over her lesson plan and agreed that I’d do a few particular exercises with the kids and then she’d start them on the new textbooks, which I saw for the first time at 9:15 am this morning. When we got to the class I started doing the exercise that we talked about but apparently my coteacher had something else in mind because she cut me off midway through the exercise and made us move on to the next one – one which she also cut off before I was done. I guess we should have talked more specifically about time allotment for each exercise, and in the end I ended up standing around for more than half the class and one of the observers told my coteacher that I needed to be more active in the lesson.
Ultimately that’s not a big deal – those kinds of things like classroom time management and lesson planning take time to iron out, which is why getting observed right in the beginning of the year is so nervewracking, especially when it’s with a class you’ve never met before at a level you’ve never worked with before using books that you haven’t gotten yet. I understood immediately on Friday that this was going to be a, shall we say, less than ideal time to have a lesson observed, and resigned myself to just giving the best lesson I could with what I had on hand. I also know that for many TLG volunteers, it’s a lot worse in terms of materials, planning, and coteacher cooperation. We gave the observers a fairly accurate – possibly even flattering – image of what a typical lesson would be like. We didn’t do so badly, especially for all the stress I’d initially had about having this sprung on me when I had no schedule or books or preparation. I was calm and complacent on the outside and I think my coteacher is angry with me for being somewhat resigned about the whole thing, but really, the situation was basically a shit sandwich and we did our best and there’s no point getting worked up about it.
By the way, I couldn’t sleep last night. Serious insomnia. No idea why. If it happens again tonight I’ll take a pill – I have some Valerian root from one of my coteachers, it really helps.
And then there’s my new relationship. If you’ve paid attention to my facebook, you might have noticed that I’m in a relationship. I am actually in what I would term a serious relationship – it’s one that I think, and hope, has a long future – with a Georgian woman. It impacts my daily life significantly. At this point – actually, for at least the past month – there’s no way that I can honestly describe my experience in Georgia without talking about my girlfriend and how she fits into that experience. And yet she is concerned – or maybe I should say terrified – about the reaction that her friends and family and work contacts will have to knowing that she is in a relationship with a foreigner. She is concerned that anything that I say on my blog – even if it’s not about her in particular – will impact her reputation. This is because, as everybody knows, Georgian society is almost completely dysfunctional when it comes to interpersonal relationships. There is so much lying and hypocrisy and shaming and silencing that it makes my fucking head spin.
I’ve been sitting on a post – actually, a third Sex in Georgia post – for a little while now. I’m not posting it right now because my girlfriend thinks that if I post it people will draw conclusions about me or about her her or about our relationship that she does not want them to draw. I do not share this concern because I know that the post is not about her, but is instead the culmination of over a year’s worth of observations and experiences in Georgia and 28 years worth of observations and experiences in America, and because (as is my wont) I speak in generalities about Americans in general and Georgians in general, and because most of what I say is public knowledge anyway, for people who have the wherewithal to go and find that knowledge (in other words, not most Georgians, but most everyone else). Also I say that if people wish to speculate and draw conclusions, they’ll do it no matter what I write here. The way I see it, to the kind of people who my girlfriend is worried about, I’m an amoral foreigner regardless of the extent to which I admit it on the internet. Also it’s not like I’ve told you her name or anything about her, so if you don’t already know us you have no way of knowing who she is. And yet I have not published the post yet. And I am feeling increasingly anxious about it.
(Edit: I want to be sure to say that I don’t blame her for having these concerns. I blame Georgian society for instilling in her the need for concern and in others the need to shame people for behaving like normal human beings. And I will say what needs to be said, as soon as we’re both comfortable with and on the same page about the implications. I hate that the first thing I’ve said about her on here isn’t about how amazing and awesome she is – but she is amazing and awesome – but I’ll have to work out what I can say on here, and when, and how.)
The problem with this – with all of this, and probably more that I’m forgetting – is that for me to allow myself to be silenced runs directly counter to the person I want to be, to how I want to see myself. I stand for communication and openness and honesty and transparency. If I don’t stand for those things when it is difficult – I, who can take my American passport and go nearly anywhere in the world with it, I, who have education and experience and eloquence on my side, I, a person with myriad options and not a whole lot to lose – if I don’t stand for these things, then how can I ask others to do the same? How can I ask people who are stuck here to speak out for what they believe in if I won’t do it and I can leave whenever I want?
But there’s something more simple, more fundamental, more visceral. I can’t not be who I am. Not posting all these things is taking a toll on me. I couldn’t sleep last night. The stress is starting to detract from my daily life. Blogging isn’t just a hobby for me – I’ve been blogging or journaling for over half my life. Writing – and sharing that writing with the world – is how I solve problems, how I express myself, how I learn about myself and others and the world. It’s how I think. I’m capable of compromise – in the short term – but ultimately if people can’t take me for who I am, I just have to move on. Fish gotta swim.
Video: Tom Lehrer, Pollution