Right now I am feeling more run-down than I have for a long time. One of my students said to me today “you look dead”. There’s nothing worse than being told something like that but the truth is that I don’t feel well at all. It’s not that I’m sick per se – I don’t have any real symptoms apart from a constant headache, shaking hands, grinding teeth and a short temper. I think the reality is that I am stressed. I am having trouble sleeping, as my mind races every night with the list of things I have to do the next day. Each day then brings a new challenge or a new thing to worry about and I feel like this sometimes gets in the way of what I am supposed to be doing.
Then again, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing, apart from teaching – despite the fact that it’s only six hours per week, the teaching does take up a lot of time in preparation and so on; and once I have finished, I am exhausted. I was not really prepared for the mental energy required to front up to each class and sustain my enthusiasm and concentration for an hour. Okay, it might not sound that hard but I challenge anyone who hasn’t done any teaching before to give it a go some time. I’m not meaning to sound bitter or whiny either (two emotions I would rather avoid) but at this point in time I feel like I am not quite in the groove.
I guess in some ways just being in another country for an extended period of time is stressful enough. Let me be quite clear: this is not a holiday. I got over the novelty of being in a new place fairly quickly, with the result that perhaps I have got stuck in a rut here in Seoul. Every time I plan to leave the city and go to the country something comes up which prevents me from leaving. Tomorrow, I am planning to go to the zoo. I hope I make it. I feel like I need to be physically unwound. The pace of life here is quite frantic – a subway trip is enough to bowl me over. Seoul is obviously far more urban than Melbourne; I wonder how people here handle it.
So what am I stressed about (he asks, in that Doogie Howser-ish self-conscious way)? Well, the first thing that’s stressing me is my accommodation situation – I’ve been staying in the same hostel for the past month and while it has been good to hang out with other travellers I really think I need a break. The reception area (where the phone is located) can get quite noisy and so it is difficult to talk to friends and family. Finding a new place has proven to be hard work – especially because as I am staying for only a short while, the whole apartment sector is beyond my means. So this means another guesthouse, another tiny room and very little in the way of creature comforts. This in itself is not bad (I mean, I’m not expecting things to be like home) but it adds to the rootless feeling I’ve been experiencing since I arrived.
I’m stressed about my family and friends, and not seeing them for a long time. When Quinton passed away two weeks ago I felt this particularly. The death of a very close friend is bad enough but to be unable to attend the funeral or to see and touch friends at such a sad time has proven to be very difficult for me to handle. I think about him all the time and catch myself crying at the strangest moments (for example, just as I am about to walk into a class). I feel cold and absent for most of the day. Sometimes I don’t think about it at all and then it hits me again. How can I put a loss into words? All I could do was write a poem and put it on my website but even that felt hollow, like an empty gesture. I know my judgement is clouded by the shock of Quinton’s death but I have no way yet of resolving any of my feelings. Not that there’s an easy way to resolve anything in such a situation.
I miss Sarah a lot too. It is very difficult not being able to see one’s partner when one is trying to negotiate a foreign country. Maybe this is part of the reason why I can’t sleep at night. It is the kind of loneliness I haven’t felt since I was at boarding school. I should have expected this, but for some reason (male bravado, I’m sure) I kept insisting to myself that I would be able to handle being on my own – in fact, I looked forward to some solitude, believing that it was just what I needed. I now realise that this was just the introverted part of my brain trying to con me into becoming a hermit. While this hasn’t happened yet, I do fear becoming too isolated here. I have booked myself a ticket to London so that I can see Sarah during the mid-semester break. Maybe it’s crazy to pass up an opportunity to travel around Korea for a week but the way I am feeling right now, I believe it’s the best thing to do.
Far from spending my time writing poems about Korea or experiencing the local culture, my “to-do” list is full of unfinished business from my life in Melbourne – trying to get a funding application in for Cordite; trying to find the time and headspace to work on my PhD; attempting to write the hundreds of poems I promised myself I would write about bands, music and colonial poets; maintaining four different blogs for no apparent reason; and so on. I feel like I need to shed some of these burdens and start again. Hopefully when I return from London, I will have more clarity about these things. On a brighter note, I have been invited to attend an exhibition tomorrow night organised by the Australian embassy here in Seoul. It could be just what I need – the beginning of the end of this stress.