Having a good couple of days. While I feel like hell at some moments - weirdly "light," using the bathroom more than seems necessary, totally able to to forget to eat, and with pain in my tongue, throat, and sometimes left ear - I have to admit that I've been enjoying some things. I got called in to substitute teach a class yesterday - a sweet, small, earnest group of Koreans, Japanese, and Mexicans studying pre-Intermediate grammar. The lesson was, in part, on prepositions - in, on, and at. I love prepositions. If I'd have lived up to my potential a bit more, I'd be writing Stephen Pinker-esque tomes on the metaphoric dimensions of prepositions and other "pictures" underlying common English phrases.
For instance, here's a favourite of mine: we say "in a car," "in a truck," "in a taxi," "in a van," "in a jeep," "in a limo," etc. But we say "on a bus," "on a plane," "on a train," and so forth. It makes sense that we say "on a boat," since it's a floatation device and we're on the surface of the water - but buses are very similar to vans, or limos, or trucks. So why do they merit a different preposition? What is the spatial metaphor underlying this?
I let them discuss it for awhile - usually promising chocolate to the group that comes up with the best theory. Sometimes make reference to a joke I think is from a George Carlin routine - "you want me to get ON the plane? Screw you, I'm getting IN the plane!" Occasionally I provide guidance - setting up the activity, for example, by discussing the nature of IN (inside an area or boundary, whether two or three dimensional) and ON as occuring either on a point on a line, or on a surface. The students always have interesting ideas; for instance, all the "in" things are things that you have to sit in, whereas you can stand in a bus or plane. True enough - except how does that explain the different prepositions?
I hope you're all taking time to come up with a theory.
Often, as we get close to the end of the discussion, I will make mention of a specific scenario from my time in Japan that I think provides the key to understanding the difference between IN and ON, and what the underlying metaphors involve. I was on the bus from Narita airport to Tokyo, my first night in the country, with a bunch of other Canadians.We were definitely ON the bus. Then suddenly, a gigantic bee flew in the window and started buzzing about, as startled Canadians ducked, swerved and yelped.
I turn to the Mexican students. "How big are bees in Mexico?" They use their fingers to illustrate - the same size as Canadian bees. Well, in Japan, it turns out they're the size of small Canadian birds. (I'm exagerrating a little but this bee was ALMOST in hummingbird territory, so big it was; the students, able to follow my story, are giggling, enjoying my theatricality). It was the biggest bee I had seen in my life - the biggest insect I had seen that wasn't in a zoo or pet store, buzzing around the bus. And the bee was IN THE BUS.
Get it? We were ON the bus, but the bee was IN the bus. Why?
Eventually - rewarding close guesses, which there were a couple of yesterday - I come to my theory (unconfirmed elsewhere that I know of): that being on a bus or a train or a plane involve more than being inside a vehicle; they all generally involve travelling on a fixed route, a line that goes from A to B. Being "on the Skytrain" involves being at a point on that line. All the means of transportation that this entails use "on," just as we say "on the way," "on the street," "on the road," "on course," "on schedule," etc. Taxis, cars, and such, meanwhile, all go wherever you ask/ tell them to go.
I make sure students understand the point, and that they need to think creatively, about the pictures described in our language, to understand how to really use prepositions well. It never fails to entertain, and I generally find the students enjoy my presentation - some of them guessing, with my help, exactly what (my idea of) the right answer is.
I had a hell of a lot of fun teaching that class. It hurt my tongue and throat a little, but it felt so good to be back in front of a classroom, being good at my job. I like feeling good at my job - and I think I am; my students have generally given me very positive feedback - but I tend to forget how fun and satisfying it is when I'm away from it.
I had to take a private minute or two to swallow emotion, because it occurred to me at points that it might be my last time in front of a class.
Anyhow, today was pretty good too - a couple of local music guys, Eric and Ed, came over and poked about through a few boxes of records. I gave the one who was buying a super good deal - but better than I would get from a record store, I think - and the one who was just looking a free DVD of the Fabulous Stains movie, then we had lunch and bullshitted a bit. It was a bit stressful and weird, for me - having people over to look at my stuff, to sell it, is kind of a new experience, and I don't blame the cat for having stayed hidden. But it was also enjoyable being social and saying hi to people I rather like (who I presume I will see again, actually; it's more likely than my being in front of a classroom again, once I have tongue surgery).
Blogging the previous two posts has been meaningful, too. I get to revisit my writing, which I used to attach a bit of a sense of purpose to; I haven't done as much of it this past year, so I can forget that satisfaction too.
Part of me wonders if that's where the cancer came from, you know? ...from a faltering sense of purpose, having more or less lost my job, lost some sense of my import as a writer, and having lost the main thing in my life that made it IMPERATIVE I stay alive: being there to take care of my mother. I've wandered a bit lost since then, taking comfort in enjoying life and in being with my beautiful, loving wife to be, but feeling a bit unclear why I'm alive. Maybe the self-doubt has poisoned me, decided that I need a challenge to rise above? Maybe this is some Saw-like endurance test: prove you deserve to be alive by fighting for it?
I'm having a hard time convincing Erika we should watch Saw, but that's another matter.
Anyhow, tomorrow I get examined again, hopefully thoroughly; I have no idea how urgent the response will be, if I will be rushed into surgery, or sent home for another three or four weeks to await some future date, while the cancer metastasizes inside me. It's a bit cruel, the level of uncertainty I've been living in this week: not knowing if I'm going to
a) lose bits but be restored to full functionality, having survived an ordeal and proved my worthiness
b) lose bits and be permanently affected in terms of speaking and swallowing - which terrifies me
c) lose bits, be permanently affected, and permanently disfigured (I'm vain for a slob, hate the idea of seeing myself in the mirror and finding myself repugnant).
d) lose bits, be disfigured, and then die.
e) be told that there is no point, that I'm going to die soon anyhow.
It's such a wide range of possible outcomes!
Guess I have to take it one day at a time and make the most of each of them. I want to write more, that's for sure. Where it's really hardest the last few days is when I wake up in the middle of the night, can't get back to sleep, feel the discomfort inside me and start to contemplate, helplessly, lying there in bed, all the latter scenarios - how they might feel, how they will affect Erika, how my life could possibly change.
Anyhow, off I go tomorrow, to see a surgical oncologist. In the event y'all don't hear from me again, I'd sure appreciate it if Tom Charity or Adrian Mack would salvage my Ryszard Bugaski interview - on cassettes on the floor to the left of me where I sit - and complete transcription/ editing of it. Since I don't have a will, let me just add that Erika Blythe Lax can serve as my representative while I am incapacitated, or my executor if I don't make it.
Probably being over-dramatic here, but it's hard to know the appropriate level of freaking out to bring to bear.