the renewed year (like a library book that you’ve checked out before, and it’s a little worn, but you didn’t really finish reading it the first time you borrowed it although you told people you did, but now you’re ready to try again for real, for yourself. that kind of renewed)

Hello all! Has it really only been four months? (This is a joke. I know it shouldn’t have taken me four months to come back.)

It’s not like I’ve stopped writing, though. I’ve been writing on my own, more than ever, reorganizing myself.  That’s a weird way to put it, isn’t it? But it does kind of feel like that, sometimes, when you reflect a lot — like you’re rearranging your insides into something less recognizable, possibly better (and maybe not, who can know?).  Maybe it’s the New Year spirit of it all, with my small list of resolutions I’m set on accomplishing. Or the perspective-changing NYC trip a few weeks ago with my family, people I thought could never understand me.  It turns out (surprising no one) that I’ve been pretty selfish for 20.5 years: self-absorbed, pretentious, and unduly arrogant about myself (strange things to be, when one is also sure that one simultaneously hates oneself). It’s occurred to me that everything I was so sure of was wrong; I already knew I wasn’t smart, but it’s another thing altogether to realize how much I thought I knew, even despite knowing I didn’t know much of anything at all; i.e. the, like, 3 things I based life on were faulty. Nice.

 

Anyway, my 2017 strategy is to write a lot. That way, I can look at an idea on a page and wonder: Is this right? Can I convince myself this is right, without betraying myself? And then, I can come back in another 20.5 years, and think: Boy, was I so, so wrong; but at least I know that was wrong. Then what is right, for me, 20.5 + 20.5 years older?

Mushy, yes. I know. I’m wearing a massive turtleneck and a huge black sweater over it that feels like a constant hug from a sheep. I’m a bit hot and my face feels like hot rice pudding, and overall pretty inordinately optimistic right now. So sue me, happiness police.

Here are my resolutions:

  1. Do all the semester readings. Read all my emails. I had 800+ unread emails last year, and it’s not going to happen again.
    1. Progress: Well, it’s only Day 3 of the semester, so if I weren’t on track I’m pretty sure I’d be worthless as a member of society in general, I think.
  2. Read a lot more. Stop lying to each page by skipping boring parts. Not counting schoolwork, at least one novel and one nonfiction book/essay compilation a month, particularly world literature. Decide which books in advance.
    1. Progress: I’ve started with Murakami for novels, and Kundera for essays –Every mass book consumer’s jump-off point, right? — and I’m trying to shorten a list of books to a manageable number. Half are by non-Western authors, and much are by women.
  3. Write more: Daily. This includes my novel, but also daily journalistic observations, notebook writing, and this blog.
    1. Progress: I finally like where TWISOM is going, I think. I’m also going to consume more similar media. Also, It’s only January 19, but I’ve already gone 3/4 through a composition notebook with daily thoughts!
  4. Learn 1000 kanji: Make a calendar.
    1. Progress: It’s definitely harder when they become more complex. But Memrise is a lot of fun. If only the kun/onyomi weren’t so varied!
  5. Learn cartooning: I love comics, and it’s unapologetic at this point. I’m twenty years old and I can like whatever the hell I want, Dad!
    1. Progress: It’s unbelievable how many free resources there are online. I also think the more you know about what decisions have been made in art (painting, film, cartooning, video-making, why a scene is set up like this, blah — it helps you think even more about the art, not less). I’ve filled up half a sketchbook since last year, and I’m starting with realism, learning from life.
  6. Write TWISOM.
    1. Progress: What can I say that I’m ready to say now? Nothing, I think. But it’s becoming clearer to me that my satisfaction with how the novel turns out is deeply contingent on 2 and 3.
  7. Put an effort into my appearance, daily. It’s kind of a show of respect to other people, to show you tried to at least look your best for the world. I think it was Baudelaire who said that (thanks, Mark O’Connor), though I’m paraphrasing.

    1. Progress: To be honest, I only have 7 good outfits, and I’m starting to run out.
  8. Lose weight: How much weight is my business, and why I’m doing it is also my business. Also, this is unrelated to 7.
    1. Progress: Pretty good, actually. You’d be surprised, because I’m surprised too. This means no more ramen or caramel macchiatos, but I find I don’t really miss them (yet).
  9. Be more open to people: share more. Not things I think people want to hear or even things I think they should hear, but share a genuine self, from which they can bounce off and reflect, and we can collaborate together to become realer people.
    1. Progress: I kind of want to figure out what I want to share, and what I should share with people in order to improve both my life and their life; not my depression, for example, unless I think they’re capable of doing something with that knowledge.

(Things I’ve left out of my resolutions include improving my social relationships and saving money. I’m not even ready to start being more mature. Hopefully I’ll get there, before I die. Lately, and I know this is horrible, people other than my mom and my roommate are so difficult.)

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a post about her:

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Hi all. I hope you’re doing all right. I’ve been better, but I’m also doing okay. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my mom.

A person I really respect, a Jesuit priest at BC, told me that presiding over funerals is the strangest for him, because it’s the time when people are most willing to listen. I’ve been feeling kind of off lately and I don’t think I was able to place exactly why until then.

To start: I’ve written a lot of things about how grateful I am to my mother. I could do another one, and actually probably thousands more, and they’d all be different, but instead I want to talk about it more openly, and honestly.

I know so little about my mother. I know she is the youngest of seven children, and she wasn’t quite spoiled (they were too poor) but she was deeply loved and treasured. The girls of Korea at that time almost never went to college, but since she was the Last Love of the family, her parents scrounged up the last of their money to send her to college, Kyung-hee, where she was famous for her pretty looks. That last story was relayed to us by one of her friends, at which my sister and I said, “You were popular and you married Dad?” Anyway, they got married in Korea shortly after college, and then moved to America in pursuit of my dad’s job and education. My mom, who wasn’t as good at English or as well-educated as my dad, spent her days finding work selling Tupperware, babysitting, and teaching children English before she had children of her own. All of these details have been told to me, and I never quite understood it until I was packing for Japan and my mom was helping me think of presents for my host family, one of which was a series of our favorite children’s books for Nao to read. These included Dr. Seuss books and the like, and my mom and I talked about our favorite kids’ books (mine was, The Giving Tree), when my mom whipped out this sucker, one that I know we’ve had in the house since we were little: Guess How Much I Love You.

I’ve read it a great number of times, but only now did I notice the longer words circled in pencil, the dashes through compound words, the synonyms scribbled in the margins. It turns out that this well-preserved copy, as old as I am, was the exact copy that my mom used to teach English. And then the floodworks opened. My gentle mother, who is so sweet and forgiving that it can be frustrating for those who know her, is someone who still gets Christmas cards from the kids she babysat twenty years ago.

My mother had a life of her own, the same way I have a life of my own. She walked down the streets, thinking idly about abstract thoughts, maybe wondered if we were alone in the universe or how many ants there were in the world. She dressed up and flirted with boys, gossiped with friends, crammed for tests. Well, that’s all. The letter:

I can’t stop thinking about my mom’s life lately.

Rather, I keep thinking about her death. I don’t think about death often, because I don’t think much of it; I’m not personally afraid of it, and the question of mortality has haunted enough big thinkers and philosophers for long enough that I won’t pretend I can solve it for myself, so I choose not to consider it at all. But with my mom, death seems so vivid and imminent and inevitable. I keep thinking about when she will die, and what I will do, and what I’ll have to live for when she’s gone. My mom is fifty-seven but I’m not disillusioned enough to believe she’ll live past seventy. She works every day in a Subway store that she’s owned for ten years, and whenever I go home she has new burn marks and scars on her wrists and ankles, popped veins in her arms from overworking the muscles in pulling and inserting pans of bread into the oven, new grey hairs from the stress of churlish and inconsiderate employees. She wakes up at six to open and comes home to cook dinner, she has constant health imbalances, and she laughs about it like it means nothing.

I know she’s not happy with her life, and I’m not happy with her life either. She was meant for more than an existence telling high school kids what to do or making sandwiches with mass-produced ingredients for rude and ungrateful customers. She’s too smart to be happy with that, to pretend she’s a “sandwich artist” when she knows she’s a knob in a capitalist machine; she was meant to converse with people and teach children and make art and read novels with mugs of coffee in pretty ceramic cups. She told me that she tells people that she’s a business owner but in the end it’s just a title; she has to work just as senselessly and endlessly as the high school dropouts. And one day, and if it goes on like it is now, one day soon, she will die.

You said last night that funerals are strange because it is the time when people are most willing to listen, to open themselves up for answers to likely unanswerable questions. Well, I feel like I’m living my mom’s funeral every day, and I listen to her and hold onto her every word as if they are her last, or like she is stating her own eulogy in real time, because I am so terrified that it is. It’s like I’m living two timelines at once, one where she is dead and one where she isn’t. I call her every day and we talk about nothing; we joke and laugh and gossip, but everything feels so transient, like a pause. I’m scared that she’s fading from life. I’m scared that she’s already faded and she’s trying so hard to be as colorful as she was meant to be, but how can she when she’s suffocating? I don’t ever want to hear my mom cry again. My mom is fifty-seven but she’s awfully childish; she was the youngest of seven kids, her name means “Last Love,” and she was spoiled for thirty years until she became a mother. She holds her feelings inside herself no matter how you prod, and then suddenly erupts with everything at once. She sent me to college and told me never to feel inferior to others because if I do, I will let people step on me and I will have the same life that she does.

Those are words I never wanted to hear. She told me that three years ago in October, in a dark car, and I couldn’t see her face but I could hear her vowels catching in her throat. I thought it was awful and selfish of her to tell me that, to tell me about how unhappy she was. I knew I’d never be able to stop thinking about that. To know that she was miserable for the rest of my life. And she is going to die one day.

Maybe I can get a nice career and a nice husband with a nice temper, a nice house with a fireplace, and she’ll be happy that her daughter doesn’t live the same way she does. But when will that be? I’m not smart like Walker or charismatic like Rachel or interesting like Ameet. I’ve depended on luck and my personality and a simple fear of failure to drive me forward. I might make my mom proud one day, but it won’t be before she dies.

My mom is fifty-seven and I only noticed when went home from college for the first time, when I saw her face after not seeing it for six months. I love her to ends, love her, and for the first time I felt guilty for loving her. I wish I hadn’t been born, and I wish I didn’t exist. I wish my endless fuckups wouldn’t exist because someone better existed instead. I wish my mom had a daughter who was confident she could make her proud, because she was capable and proper and in touch with reality like a healthy person would be. (I don’t really wish to die, but I do wish to not exist. Does that make sense? I’m saying you don’t have to worry about me, in case you were.) It’s not nihilism and I know that death is part of the just natural processes of old age, of the natural relationship between parent and child, but I don’t want to think theoretically like that. I’m not interested in those comforts. My mom means more to me than everything else combined. I know I’m going to lose her one day, just like everyone loses everyone at some point, but it’s less about me than about the fact that she’s here right now and I can’t erase her discontent. I experienced my first and only death in high school, when I was fourteen, a family friend, and I went to her funeral and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Her body is right there, lying still in a casket; we are speaking about her, to her, with her, but she can’t respond, not concretely, not anymore. We had our chances, and now it’s too late. What is the point of regrets? Why can’t we just act in ways that we won’t regret?

My mom is the only person I really care about, even if that sounds awful. She’s the only person I live for. If she’s gone, I don’t know how or why I’d continue. All I can do now and all she wants me to do is study, and to do my best, and sometimes I can’t even do that.

Anyway, that’s me right now. I know it’s a lot. And I know that it must sound awfully ungrateful, to mourn a living person when there are billions mourning the deceased. Maybe you think it’s stupid to even think about. Maybe I’ll be able to think less about it now that it’s written down and not bouncing around in my head. I’m sorry it’s so long but I really do feel better (worse, actually, but it’s also better that I feel worse, I think) after writing this.

To everyone who has a person they love and are afraid to lose to death, I hope you have an outlet for yourself just as you are for me.

rain: interlude

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I’m sitting in my favorite café today (Fuel), in my favorite seat (right next to the window). I woke up early (7AM) and I’ve eaten an overpriced caprese sandwich and a honey latte, my favorite drink and my favorite cuisine, and I was doing homework for my favorite class (environmental sociology), taking notes with a fully-charged laptop and a fully-charged brain, when it started to drizzle, the raindrops literally inches away, separate from me only by the exact thickness of a spotless, open-faced glass window. There are little puddles forming in the potholes in the asphalt road and the cast-iron trash can in the sidewalk; couples are running across the street, holding hands and newspapers over their heads; a bicyclist with a decidedly not-waterproof backpack is peddling furiously uphill, leaning forward with both hands on the handlebars, open-mouthed laughter in exasperation.

There is nothing like being in a café you love with good music, your stomach full, when it starts to rain. I am fully alone but surrounded by people I don’t know – a safe, calm, but delectable kind of happiness, more than contentment but without the draining or exhausting quality of ecstasy or excitement; a heart that feels full but light, like it is filled with tiny flower-vase pebbles that knock together to the radio sound. Sometimes, I think this kind of weather is the clearest of all, more than a blue cloudless sky or a sunrise.

My mom called today. She was at Macy’s and she wanted to know my dorm address because she wanted to send me a thick quilt after I complained to her that my bed was too hard. She is sweet, and she is predictable; I got an email from Macy’s about a one-day sale, and I knew that she’d go because sales excite her. It’s always days like this, bright but light showers, that make me think of my mom – the sky gray, but not dreary, just a clean sheet over the sky like it’s hiding something secret from view, just for a moment, like you can do whatever you want while this rain is falling, even if you have to return to reality when it stops. Almost like a celestial game of musical chairs. It’s the kind of short-lived freedom I associate with my mom, who could fly up and explore the world with her lovely laugh if life would let her.

The rain is ending now and it’s time to return to my work.

packing liszt

playlist: korngold violin concerto (perf. jascha heifetz); ichiko aoba (album 0); grizzly bear (assorted); sun kil moon (assorted); papercut project (album 1892014); kim kwang seok (album dashi-bureugi ii); sufjan stevens (album carrie & lowell); primary (album lucky you); fleet foxes (album fleet foxes); beenzino (album 12); the black keys (album brothers); studio ghibli (music box album); dan carlin’s “hardcore history” podcast on the mongols

books: a monster calls (patrick ness), montaigne’s selected essays (montaigne, tr. james atkinson), the armchair economist (steven landsburg), the secret history (donna tartt), the family fang (kevin wilson)

study: japanese-korean textbook, 2500 kanji characters, introductory econometrics (woolridge), sustainable cities: a japanese perspective (ed. hidenori tamagawa)

to watch on plane: beautiful gong shim, leonard bernstein’s six-part lecture series @ harvard, six feet under season 1

notebooks: college-ruled five-subject for japanese; bristol pad for ink doodles; iphone notepad for thoughts on the go

snacks: chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, a banana, 1 bag of pretzels, $$$$ for kinder bars as soon as i arrive at the airport

worries: placed in fourth pocket of checked baggage, to be forgotten

& so it begins,

I’ve been the youngest child in my family since I murdered my younger sib–excuse me, since always. (Oh man, nineteen words in and I’m already making shitty jokes.) As a result, my deepest, darkest, most realistic fears from the ages of five to eleven were (1) worms and (2) scraping my knee on the asphalt cul-de-sac of my devastatingly suburban neighborhood; from twelve to sixteen, (1) worms and (2) missing the bus to school because of my chronic oversleeping problem; and from seventeen to eighteen, (1) worms and (2) AP Physics (which I still don’t know why I took). I blame that, and the fact that everyone else always took care of my problems for me, for my winningly endearing lack of common sense and problem-solving capability.

Oh yes, my lovingly and comfortably lived childhood, j’accuse!

It’s a blessed problem to have, like most of my problems are. Sheltered by a brilliantly knowledgeable (read: know-it-all) dad, an endlessly caring mother, and a sister four years older in age but twenty years older in maturity, I was babied to near suffocation. So I spent my time wrapped up in tiny fictional worlds instead–in books, in video games, in movies and Korean dramas, drawing comics, playing violin and conjuring universes in melodies. It means that I, a nineteen-year-old legal adult (LOL) with Responsibilities, can’t cook a meal that doesn’t involve fried eggs, iron a shirt without Googling instructions, book a hotel room, do my taxes, or even drive a car, etc. ad infinitum. It’s garnered a healthy amount of self-deprecation, certainly (like that totally hilarious time I went to the airport to Nicaragua with an expired passport because I didn’t know putting holes in it meant it was expired–fun times, right y’all?), but it’s only when I jumped headfirst into college that I realized how fun taking care of things is. How much I love having a tiny world to save, and to feel, and learn from, and have to myself.

Since I was little, I did this on my own. I still do (and it’s my hope to post, alongside my travel experiences, bits and pieces of the art I so enjoy–poems that I like, ink doodles, excerpts of writing). I’ve always been the youngest child, but I’ve always been private and introverted, too. I suppose that’s why I like being alone so much, so I can spend the time to sculpt my own universe. But now, I want to extend this universe, my universe, to the vast and deeply full earth around me. Because if I don’t, I’m not sure I’ll be able to cope with the wasted opportunity of my short while in existence.

Ooh, sappy! I promise not to be didactic on this blog. Let’s veer away from the sap and look at the facts. In two days, at a little bit after 4AM on June 5, 2016, I’ll be heading halfway across the globe, completely on my own. I’ll take a three-hour long bus from suburbanville, New York (i.e. Guilderland) to JFK Airport, and from there, take an almost twenty-hour flight to Tokyo, Japan to study the language, the culture, and environmental policy with a Japanese NGO for six weeks. Afterward, I have the privilege to fly to Suncheon, South Korea to study the efforts of Suncheon Preservation Park for three weeks–and after that, the opportunity to meet my roommate, best friend, and platonic soulmate Fuyu in Yantai, China, a tiny and lovely coastal city that I think will provide a truly unique window to China.

The help I’ve received already is unfathomable–once again, I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the people around me. Ha Yohan, a Korean preacher living in Saitama, has extended such concern and love to me without ever having met me; Company President Kasuya Atsushi and wife Kiyomi, six-year-old Nao, and their (f&*$#@g adorable) Shiba Inu Taro are housing me in their home out of the goodness of their hearts. The list goes on and on.

The privileges and blessings are truly, truly miraculous–there’s nothing in the world that can explicate why I would deserve this over someone much smarter, much quicker,  much more selfless than I am. But the fact that I have these privileges at all suggests that I have an obligation to be better, and to do better, for the world. I can do the necessary little things that I can–recycle, throw away litter I find, donate my beloved books, cut back on red meat (sniff)–but little things don’t matter in the long stretch of time. What the world needs is global change, and a common understanding of our mutual responsibility to save our common home: divest, invest in clean energy, and make a conscious effort to make sustainable and green decisions. I still don’t get it; I still don’t understand so much. There is always more to do, but now I will extend to bigger things; and it is my dearest hope that perspectives and people in Japan, Korea, and China will help me understand those bigger things.