I did my first session of phone counseling for a couple of months today; I don't know what's been holding me back. Laziness, to start, then essays, then inertia and perhaps fear - I thought other people were something I could handle, that counseling was something my cockiness and general steadiness would lend itself well to without being overrun by the perils of distant feelings, the other. But the sociopath got to me; the suicidal waif got to me; the poor woman in the grip of schizophrenia, these voices broke through. I was nervous waiting for the first call, scared and unsettled - thank god it was a simple referral, and thank god for the light entertainment afforded by the man who rang next, asking to be sent out a technician to fix his phone.
Snatch of conversation:
"Ah, are you aware that (name) is a phone counseling service, sir?"
"Yes, yes. So can you send one out?"
"Can you send one out?"
"Ah. A phone counseling service generally doesn't deal with your phone issues. Unless you need to be counseled about your issues with your phone, I suggest the Yellow Pages" (I didn't actually say the second part of that sentence, but would have liked to)
"Yes, yes. Can you find me one anyway?
What could I say in the face of such tenacious optimism. Perhaps we were in fact a carefully concealed phone technician service. So I googled Telstra's phone number for him and sent him on his way. Strange.
Then the real stuff started: the aftermath of a violent husband and the eternal issue of child-sharing - a nasty tug-of-war in full swing. A lonely caller, who had just found love from a chatline; a couple of weeks in, and marriage apparently ahead. An anxious man, worried about his sanity. Then, my final call, the waif, breaking my heart again. Whoever she is, wherever she is, I hope she's ok. Such terrible naivete, such hatred of life in a young heart, such hopelessness. I had to sell her life, had to sell it like it was a product - here are the benefits, miss. Here are the negatives of not buying the pitch. Have you ever tried to do it? A difficult thing, a very difficult thing. It made me wonder why, exactly, I am still alive, and how it is that I answer every day the sole philosophical question Bertrand Russell (I think) considered truly relevant: why do we not commit suicide right now? Talking to her, building a little rapport, a little trust, a first fragile laugh, I wished I could appear where she was and hold her and tell her life gets better and shake her till she agreed. But in reality, I extracted a promise of continued life and left her, somehow, somehow hanging up the phone and walking away to my life and the sun outside and the trees and the hum of traffic.
One of my housemates says that he reaffirms that he wants to be with his girlfriend every day, he makes that decision over again and this I think is wonderful - it avoids a relationship becoming humdrum and stale, stops it receding into background noise and the safety of the assumed. My waif made me think this applies equally to life. Life as background noise is not a life at all.
My travel plans are encountering significant hurdles. Strangely, Japanese English teaching schools don't seem to want to employ me based on my ability to speak my native language. They want things like a degree (one subject short, goddammit) and experience; Nova, apparently the McDonalds of English teaching schools (staff turnover high, standards low) rejected my brother citing a glut and will no doubt reject me. This presents a problem. One website recommends without recommending, in a careful balancing act, that non-degree holders possibly consider possibly directing their web browsers to instant online degree websites, which we did. I hadn't realised I could be a professor of an Accredited Institution in a mere 7 days for 300 bucks US. Nice. The degree website refers to the respect bestowed on those with letters in front of their name in Europe (restaurant bookings become available! Flight upgrades appear! Sex! Money! Love! Respect! Jobs!) and entice the dissatisfied with testimonials and a promise to give you the degree based on your current life/work experience. This is a serious possibility - the well-known traditional Japanese xenophobia manifests itself clearly in the visa system, making damn sure you have a degree before you slink into Japan and take all the low paying jobs. Despite the fact Japan's population is aging rapidly and they're gonna have to confront mass immigration of foreigners (aliens, I believe they call them still) sooner or later. But not soon enough for us. Another possibility is a working holiday visa, easier to get and no degree required (but you must leave within six months). That could work alright. The third possibility is to deny Japan the pleasure of our company and the vast array of skills we have and instead hit Indonesia, a much more welcoming country, albeit with less desire for English (the children of rich Jakartans?) before - and this is tentative, still waiting to see if it could intersect with reality - Southeast Asia, China, Russia, hopping on the Transiberian railway to Europe, if possible, England and then home. But I'd still rather live in Japan. So: if you know any devious, underhand methods of earning money in Japan, or a good place to get a job on a working visa, please tell me.
I had a peculiarly lucid bout of insomnia on Sunday night and am still recovering. It was vast and timeless and really rather strange, as if I'd somehow skipped into an alternate personality in which the world was a plaything and I was cruel, and keenly aware of my cruelty. My new housemate suggests that the timing of these bouts (roughly monthly) is the male equivalent of a period, a mental flushing out. I don't buy her story though.
I'm going to lose Ryan soon, and I will be sad. I've become quite attached to my tanned Californian housemate (along with many of Melbourne's girls) and he's become a good friend, despite the large supply of envy I've accumulated. Still, it's been wonderful getting to know him and to have had my anti-Americanism challenged daily. I don't quite know what to write, except that I'll miss him, and so will the rest of our little house. We made a board game for him with 200 questions about his time here and played it ceremoniously. 'Remember the time you ate an entire durian for $7 bucks and nearly died?' 'What about that time you assumed J's identity in order to masquerade as an Australian for a youth camp?' Me, I'll remember a bike trip down the Great Ocean Road I otherwise would never have done, a road trip to Sydney, cheap wine, large and dangerous noogie sessions in the lounge room during essay cabin fever. He's taught me how to cook, the benefits of adding peanut butter to any meal, the difference between a burrito and tortilla, and the joy of immersing yourself in a new place - while many American students cluster together in colleges or their own sharehouses, Ryan threw himself into an authentic Melbournian sharehouse, critical mass, reclaim the streets, various environmentally things (yes, he was a bit of a hippy) and about ten other things I've always thought about doing but never have. Impressive. So, Ry, here's to you. Thanks for an awesome year.
God, I'm sick of being a complete wuss. Here's the scene: a warehouse party down some nameless Brunswick street in which I know no-one, having vaguely wangled myself an invite (or at least an address, which is all you really need), the music is wild and joyous, the bass suitably large, the beer and entry cheap and I get lightly tiddled and beg extra friends to quit bed and come join the party at 2am and they do. Then, next to me appears a vision - a girl full of life, dancing freely and openly and I am immediately intoxicated with her dancing. Flirting begins; a couple of arch glances tossed backwards, a couple of heartening rebuffs of those who try to dance in close, another glance aimed and caught, and it's not my imagination, it can't be and a slow circling emerges and then, crisis, inertia strikes home and I realise I will have to Make The First Move and my wuss-hood leaps to the fore and I struggle with myself (what if I've misjudged it? what if I'm an idiot?) and collapsing, retreat to the toilet to assert some self-mastery and gather strength. Returning, she's left with her friends. Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot.
Anyway, I've got to go and write an article now on a young lawyer who combines interesting corporate work with pro bono refugee work. In my hoped-for profession, I imagine I'll be doing a lot of this - interviewing successes, chronicling with admiration the way their shoulders brush the air aside, the way they make things happen for them, mould life around them. Media sociologist Henry Mayer once noted that "people who would blush if they told history in terms of kings are apparently unaware of what they do when they talk of media institutions and empires ... the image is one of constant thrust, of deliberate and conscious action. Nothing, so to speak, happens to those people - they make things happen" I'm guilty of the same characterizations of people who I think of as successes - it seems so effortless, so logical, so, well, beyond me. I hope I don't end up as a sycophant to the stars. Maybe I'll end up embittered, like one of my journalism lecturers who very clearly did not like what life had dealt him or what he had made of it, and seemed to take some pleasure in criticizing the productions of the successful. It's very easy to take pleasure in a success story's downfall.