02 February 2006

There are systems that seem beyond words

Call me ignorant or whatever, but I didn't realize that the US government doesn't recognize the state of Palestine. Fascinating. Am I the only one who hadn't realized this? Why hadn't I been told? This happens a lot to me — the people on the news start talking about an issue that I sort of missed out on the explanation of and I feel stupid asking about it. I gotta do me some learning before my ignorance takes me over. The moon is not cheese? Elton John is gay?

So today I should find out if I get the sweet classroom I've been desiring for my attempt to start my own business and begin  teaching independently. I was teaching another class on Tuesday night and I thought, you know, when I came to Japan, I was a shitty teacher. No training, no nothing. But now? Now I would put myself in the 60th percentile of English teachers in Japan. The high 60's. Call it arrogant, call it whatever. But I'm getting the hang of it.

Sociolinguistics has taken me hostage this week. Nothing is really being said except, one study says X, and one study says Y. The L study (considered the definitive study by many, but not all linguists) says Q. I, the author of this text, disagree with all of them because my research says G.
I've been talking about translations and society with Japanese people this week. One of the Japanese teachers at the school was telling me that a translation of a Japanese Haiku into English is impossible because the form cannot be retained and the ideas cannot be retained. The form, I understand, but she was talking about the English translation of the Japanese word for *winter.* The Japanese understanding of *winter* and the Western understanding of *winter* are so completely different that a phrase like, *the winter snow falls* in Japanese will evoke all sorts of cultural cues that a Western reader is unable to decode. Fascinating, I thought.

I thought of this also last night as I spoke with Yoko in my increasingly proficient yet increasingly inadequate Japanese. I thought about how she perceives me as I try to code my thoughts in this system. I thought about how awkward it has been that I keep referring to *my opinion* and how direct and arrogant my use of that word must sound. So I'm listening all the time, trying to hear not words, but systems. Why did the teacher use that sentence structure? Why would I have said it differently?

But then? There are systems that seem beyond words. How she put her hand on my leg while I was driving. How our gaze is so engaged. One of us always breaks the silence with, *What?* But maybe there is no what. Maybe there are no words.