Even Though I’m Not Granted the Good Fortune of Making a Living out of Writing
Women in Their 20s Speak out about Work:: Making a Living from Tutoring English
Does work that is done just for a living really make one sick?
There’s a book I’m been enjoying these days. It’s a novel titled And Then, written by the Japanese novelist, Natsume Sōseki. The protagonist of this novel is the 30-year-old, unemployed Daisuke. He has received higher education, but he doesn’t work and receives living expenses from his rich father. Up to this point, he may seem like one of the ‘kangaroo generation,’ the common name for those who, in more vulgar terms, ‘live off their parents’ backs,’ an exemplary ‘good-for-nothing.’
But what is interesting is that the reason he is ‘lounging around’ is not exactly because he can’t find a job or because he’s lazier than others. He is a man who graduated from a good school and has ‘connections.’ Plus, his curiosity about the world and of human affairs far exceeds others’. But Daisuke chooses a life of not working out of his own logical reasons. Strictly speaking, he refuses to work in order to ‘make a living.’ Working to make a living cannot be work for work’s sake, and therefore sickens a human’s mind and body—this is reason he gives for not earning money.
“If living is the goal and working is its means, it should be natural to find a way to make a living easily. Then isn’t the conclusion that it doesn’t matter what one does or how, as long as you can obtain bread? … Oda Nobunaga [a military leader during the Warring States period of Japan] hired a famous cook, and they say he got very angry after trying the food the cook made for the first time since it was so bad. As for the cook, it was as if he were scolded for the best food he had made. So he made his second or third class dishes for his master after that, but they say that for those he was always praised. Think of that cook’s job. Although he diligently cooked for his living, cannot one say that he was an extremely delinquent and corrupted cook from the point of view of working for the skill of cooking itself?” (And Then [Korean translation], p.108)
In short, with working to make a living, you have no choice but to choose the latter at the critical moment. Daisuke’s argument was ‘therefore, I will not do such ‘impure’ labor.’ Since he is so shameless(?) about it, his family and friends, who worry about him and have also been uncomfortable with his state, ‘go crazy’ all the more. Instead of being ashamed about it, he dares to say it’s his philosophy to live off someone without ever having a job until the age of thirty!
Moreover, when this book was published, this was not the Japan of these days where the unemployed population has been skyrocketing due to unemployed young adults but Japan of 100 years ago - that is, Japan during the Meiji era when it was devoted to economic development, imitating the West. Wouldn’t Daisuke’s statement that he would be voluntarily unemployed, even if as part of a story in a novel, have been enough to arouse public indignation?
But apart from whether or not his attitude is right or wrong, I thought Daisuke’s story was quite interesting. More than anything, his situation made me ask what ‘working’ fundamentally was. ‘Why do I work? What does work mean to me? What work should I do, from what kind of attitude? Is it inevitable to become ‘depraved’ by work as long as I work in order to make a living, like Daisuke said?’ These questions didn’t leave my mind the entire time I was reading the book.
It was then when I received a phone call. It was a request from an Ilda reporter, about whether I could write an article about what I was doing. ‘Whoa, how did they know about my dilemma?’ I thought it was an uncanny instance of fate. As an acceptance of that fate, I said that I would. I wanted to use this opportunity to organize my thoughts about ‘work.’
After dozens of resumes were rejected
I graduated college 3 years ago. At the time I started college, I still was one of those rare (?) students these days that went to college because she really wanted to study. Since I had thought I would get to do what I wanted if I studied what I wanted to, I didn’t worry much about my future.
But as I went to school and graduated after that, I gradually realized that it wasn’t as easy as I had thought to live while doing something I liked. Becoming economically independent by doing what I wanted was simply impossible. Still, if I were to name the largest gain I made during my college life, it was the realization that I liked to read and write above anything else. I became certain that it was something I would do because I enjoyed it, even if no one made me, and that belief still holds.
So at first, I think I searched here and there for ways to make a living by writing. I translated journal articles, entered fiction into literary contests that were held by publishing houses, and entered lyricist contests… and when I was lucky, I would be given a rare opportunity to have my writing appear in monthly magazines.
But it wasn’t enough to pay my rent, let alone my living expenses. In addition, the pressure to move out and become independent loomed over me, as I faced graduation. I eventually put my writing aside and decided to look for work I could do. So I sent out dozens of resumes and letters of self-introduction, at first to companies relevant to my major, and later to all kinds of businesses and organizations that were completely irrelevant to it.
I don’t know whether or not this was fortunate, but there was not a single place that accepted me. After all, I hadn’t obtained any certificates or experience that would be helpful to get a job during the whole time I went to college, since I was studying what I wanted. What was worse, what I had studied because I liked it was humanities fields such as archeology, anthropology, and linguistics, all which were far from the majors that employers preferred.
Of course, even then I could have sent out dozens, hundreds of more resumes without giving up. Or I could have started to prepare to get skills certificates and take language exams. A number of my friends had done that, and consequently they were working at various companies or organizations, receiving a stable salary of one to two million won every month, albeit working in a low position.
But I couldn’t help but stop when my scores of resumes were rejected. More than anything, it was difficult to bear the process of making efforts to look appealing in order to be chosen by companies and sugarcoating the fact that I wanted to work because I needed money to become independent, by saying it was something I was doing out of great vision and passion. Moreover, the agonizing process wasn’t even for writing, the work I liked to do.
However, I don’t want to say now that I gave up seeking a job because I had some kind of unique belief at that time. It was merely luck. At that time, an acquaintance introduced me to an English tutoring job, and as that led me to a few more tutoring positions, I was able to earn the minimum amount to become independent. If that hadn’t happened then, I might have started to send out more resumes regardless of whether I wanted to or not. And I might not have been able to even imagine a life of earning only as much as I needed, and spending the rest of my time doing what I wanted to, as I am doing now.
Currently, I teach English to children three times a week, two hours per session. And during the rest of the time, I do what I like—that is, I read, copy down good passages, write my thoughts, and meet up with friends.
I don’t know how long I will continue this life, but I’m content with my everyday life. What I like most about it is that I can be as sincere as I can manage towards myself and the people I meet, instead of trying to appear better and more capable than I am to others. I’m certain that this is, at least to me, a better life than when I agonized over writing resumes.
Money is merely a ‘matchmaker’ between people
Here, I would like to return to the first question. Does working in order to make a living really make people sick, as Daisuke says in And Then? Looking back at my experiences while tutoring English for the past 3 years, my answer to that question is yes and no. More accurately, the problem of whether working for a living sickens one is actually not important to me.
My real dilemma is how not be become afflicted even while doing work in order to make a living, and how to do my best, as I do when I’m working to make a living, in other work besides earning a living. In other words, I don’t want to be a tutor that only wants to earn money, but I also don’t want to be a person who doesn’t do her best when writing and reading because she doesn’t receive money from doing that.
Of course, I started to tutor in English 3 years ago because I needed enough money to move out and become independent. But though I started that way, I don’t think a person can continue doing a certain job just by looking at the money. That is, you have to be motivated anew continuously in order to steadily work at a certain job.
Even if you really work only to earn money, unless you have a specific plan of where and for what to use the money which continues to motivate you, it isn’t easy to simply earn money for money’s sake. If I were to earn money like that, that money will no doubt make me sick, since my labor would then be a slavish means of money, that which gets consumed for money.
The reason I’m able not to be afflicted while tutoring currently is because I enjoy how the students I teach learn English. This is a very fortunate for me. If even one among the three students I teach were learning English because their parents forced them too, or merely because they need to be admitted to a prestigious school, it would have been unbearable for me. There’s nothing more painful than to blabber along in front of children who have no passion for learning.
Anyone who studies even for a short time with the children that study English with me will see how the children enjoy the act of learning English itself and that they are very curious about that language. Just as how you can usually see whether the person you’re talking with is interested in you or not by exchanging a word with them. I also studied English because of that pleasure, and I still live my life reading and writing because of those same reasons.
And as long as those children enjoy it, I can’t help but get there on time to tutor and teach passionately, without dozing off. The only thing I can do for them is to help them continue enjoying studying by doing this.
Of course, since tutoring work begins without a contract, occasionally unfortunate things can happen. Once, I received a text from the mother of a student I was teaching requesting that I no longer teach starting from the next week. It was a sixth-grader whom I had taught for almost 2 years, and I remember regretting not being able to properly say goodbye to the student before parting.
Of course, I receive my lesson fees beforehand in case such situations occur so it didn’t create a financial problem, but it also made me realize that the relationship between the student and I was not simply made by money.
That’s right. Money is always only the ‘matchmaker’ of the relationship it creates. I started to tutor because I needed money, but once I form a relationship with the student and the parents, it flows into a different dimension that cannot be reduced to money. And from then on, money becomes not the objective of labor, but a mediator given like a bonus in the relationship between me and the student.
Making a living is not the only thing living is about
I once asked myself this question. If money is really something like a bonus given for relationships formed by work, then would I still continue the relationship if the student suddenly is unable to pay or pays less than now?
Of course, this is simply one hypothesis, so even if such an event really occurs, I will have no choice but to decide based on the situation. But whatever choice that is, I hope that the future “I” also makes a choice that is not poisoned by the issue of having to make a living.
Although Daisuke in And Then refuses to earn money for the reason that one cannot focus on the work itself if one works to make a living, for me, earning enough to support myself is a very important issue in my life. This is because I think financial independence is more important than anything else in order not to be bound to someone and live the life I want. And it’s clear that supporting myself with my own hands gives the right amount of tension and energy to my life.
But as I wrote above, I don’t want to live a live where making a living itself is the only goal. I don’t want to discontinue doing what I like because I succeed in becoming financially independent, or indefinitely delay the life I want because I have to make a living. So I like my life as it is right now. I can earn as much as I need in order to make a living, and I can read and write without becoming lazy.
Except—I think I’ll have a stronger sense of achievement if I become able to earn enough money to make a living by just writing. Although there’s nothing I can really do about it even if such luck doesn’t come along!
Published: November 30, 2014
Translated by Rose
*Original Article: http://ildaro.com/6906
◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).
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