Dit en dat (practice)

Ik ben al bijna twee jaar begonnen het Nederlands te studeren. Omdat ik al Duits konde spreken toen ik met mijn studie begon, was het makkelijker voor mij de Nederlandse taal op te nemen. Maar ik moet ook bekennen dat het niet makkelijk is “in het Nederlands te denken”. Wat ik daarmee wil zeggen is dat ik vaak in mijn hoofd een zin van Duits naar Nederlands vertaal, juist omdat de twee talen overeenkomstige zinstructuur, woordenschat enz. hebben. Bovendien is mijn hoofd toch al vol gevullt met talen en soms moet ik een woord meer dan een keer vertalen om op de juiste taal te komen, zoals Koreaans -> Engels -> Duits -> Nederlands.

De Nederlandse taal- en literatuurwetenschap is mijn bijvaak en dat betekent dat ik er niet zo veel cursussen voor heb. Dus – en dat weet ik ook – is het waarschijnlijk dat ik de taal snel zal vergeten als ik er niets tegen doe. Deze blogpost, zo kun je denken, is mijn poging me meer ermee bezig te houden. Deze semester heb ik alleen één literatuurwetenschapcursus waarvoor we vier Nederlandse gedichten en twee Nederlandse boeken lezen. Ik ben nu aan het lezen van een van de twee boeken, Oeroeg van Hella S. Haasse, en ik vind het een beetje moeilijk te lezen omdat het boek geen kapitteltjes en weinig (of helemaal geen) dialogen heeft. Maar het meest problematische aan deze verhaal (zo ver) zijn de stereotypen van Oeroeg en zijn familie, die Indonesiërs zijn (anders dan de verteller die een Nederlander is). Ik reageer een beetje (?!) geprikkeld als het over “othering” gaat en om eerlijk te zijn heb ik genoeg van de stereotypische beschrijving en karakterisering van niet witte personages, vooral in de literatuur over de voormalig gekolonialiseerde landen.

Wilted Yellow Rose (creative translation)

Note: Original in Korean

Hibiscus has bloomed *
Expectation, a silent, crunching step,
slides down my spine
As I shudder at its moist fingertips,
with a whisper it enters my mind

Flowers droop, whirling, squashed shadow
A crumpled piece of paper left behind in the ribcage
A hole in the Hanji ** by the wet tongue
bruise, slithering through, paralysing the whole body

Softly licking the frozen lumps of blood
and placing a kiss on the subsiding wound
I pour another cup of flower alcohol
and seek sleep in the eye of the vortex

 

Annotations:
* Hibiscus syriacus is the precise translation of the Korean national flower, 무궁화. “Hibiscus has bloomed” is the name of a game for children in which one person turns their back on the other players, and while covering the eyes, that person chants out loud “Hibiscus has bloomed”. During that time, the other players can advance from the starting line. Once the chanter finishes the sing-song sentence and turns their head, everyone must freeze. The goal is to get near to the chanter and to tap that person’s back while it is turned.

** Hanji is a traditional type of paper from Korea, which has been produced and used for close to 2000 years. Among other things, it also used to be applied to the frames of doors and windows, because Hanji offered a good protection against the wind. However, because it was made of paper, a bit of wetness could easily tear through it.

시든 노란 장미

무궁화 꽃이 피었습니다
어느새 사각사각 다가와
척추를 타고 흘러내리는 기대
차가운 손끝에 움찔하는 순간
속삭이듯 내 마음 안으로 들어온다

꽃이 지고 팔랑팔랑 짓밟힌 그림자
흉곽안에 남은 구겨진 종이 한 장
축축한 혀가 뚫고 간 한지 사이로
남겨진 멍자국이 온 몸을 마비시켜

얼어붙은 핏덩어리를 할짝할짝 삼켜서
사그라드는 흉터에 입을 맞추고
꽃술을 한 잔 더 따라
소용돌이의 눈 안에서 잠을 청하네

We are brittle, ashamed, and human

When you live in solitude long enough, there comes a time when you recognize who you truly are. “True”, in the sense “unobscured by others”.

I am not used to taking care of myself. I have more to do since I have to do everything. I am lonely.

In the beginning you could use the solitude as an excuse. But one day you will realize… this is who you are when you are on your own. When everyone has been hidden away from you. When you don’t have anyone to rely on to give you a role, a script, a mask. When you are left alone, vulnerable.

This is who you truly are.

Without any imput from the outside, you become both numb and overly sensitized. With the hard shell holding everything together stripped away, inside the crumbling mess you find pieces of yourself you had hidden away so that no one can see it. Weaknesses. Embarrassment. Shame. Disgust. Surrender and hopelessness.

Fall apart.
So easily… fallen apart.

No one can know. Because if they knew, and they rejected you, you couldn’t live with the pain. Because if they knew, and they embraced you, you will fall apart into pieces. Even now, you are waiting for someone to pick you up and tell you that they love you the way you are. Even now, when you have hidden yourself away from everyone.

Hide. Don’t hide.
Give up. Don’t give up.

Empty. A corpse is so empty and so cold. A lifeless thing. No pain, no pleasure. Give the knife in your pocket a reassuring pat and gather up. Go on living… because life is whatever you think it is. Find comfort in life, in death – wherever you can, however you can. According to your own compass that you build and take apart, build and take apart…

Alone… Together.

What it means to write poetry

*Translation below

시를 쓴다는 것은 자신의 머릿속에, 마음속에, 심장 박자 안에서 존제하는 그 느낌을, 혹은 그 이미지를, 그 기분을 자아낼 수 있는 그 하나의 단어를 찾아가는 것이다. 그 허우적거림 속에서는 수십개의 표현이 손가락 끝을 스치고 지나가는데, 그중 자신이 찾는 그 하나의 단어를 위해 끝없이 손을 뻗어나가는 그 동작이 마치 시인의 춤 같다.

Writing poetry is like searching for that one word that exists in that feeling, image or mood inside your head, mind or heart. This frantic movement towards that one expression that eludes you as dozens of words slip by your fingertips – this neverending stretch of arms is like the poet’s dance.

돌아왔습니다 (I’m home)

Spread, spread your wings
Dancing along the wind
Sailing through the currents

Close, close your eyes
Listen to your heart’s string vibrate
A clear mirror of lake of pulse beats 

Pour, pour your life’s blood
With fervor and ice-cold determination
Into the flash point – your passion lights the flame of soul – intersects with life – a moment of pure beauty

Yes I’m home
And I’ll leave
And I’ll return
This is the only way I know how
Through the hearts

帰りたい

How convenient
it would be
if I could name my emotions
if there was one logical explanation for my actions

How easy
it could be
if I only needed to learn more, learn the correct things
for my life to make sense

하고 싶었지만 다 못한 말을
솔직하게 정직하게 진심으로
말할 수 있다면
고함칠 수 있다면
속삭여도 좋으니까

帰りたい

I was built to endure
but so fragile
oh my heart
encased in glass
in the name of: Education. Flexibility. Better chances. Better human.
When you get lost
listen to music
My heart shuddered
and the glass cracked

Tränen
Heiße Quellen des Lebens
Eine Reihe leerer Flaschen
Kein einziger Tropfen bleibt
für mein Herz

Dead petals gathering dust
That’s my heart
A useless thing
yielding to Reason, to Logic, to Ideal
Do my captors realize
a dead heart is soaked in poison
oozing toxic blood
in the name of love?

부러진 날개
아무리 날갯짓을 해도
돌아갈수 없어

帰れない

When we carry our wounds
do we become stronger?

thoughts on queer visibility from intersectional point of view

Hi. I am an Asian-looking woman in her 20s who’s been living in Germany for the past 11 years. And I’m also queer.

I wasn’t born knowing I was gay. In fact, being anything other than heterosexual simply wasn’t a concept in the country I grew up in. I started questioning my (hetero)sexuality when I had already been living in Germany for six years, and it took me another five or six years to the point I am at today.

But by the time I first started noticing my attraction to girls, I was already familiar with racism and the feeling of being the “other”. It’s a disconcerting feeling, like a bucket of ice-cold water being thrown over your head every day when you least expect it. It’s also a constant companion, because you can never escape it as long as you are among white people. It’s the feeling of alienation and isolation and paranoia. It’s Du Bois’ double-consciousness and estrangement from yourself.

This feeling of otherness has accompanied me every single day for the past 11 years. One of the reasons why it’s inescapable and such a huge part of my identity is because of my appearance. A race visibility, if you will. I recently learned that an adult needs only 120 milliseconds to register another person’s skin color. Only after that you notice the gender, age, etc. I can’t change the way I look, even though during my teenage years, I would have scraped my skin off if that meant that I’d turn into a white-looking girl. I don’t know how to explain the crushing – and this feels literal – sense of alienation, of isolation. The desire to jump out of my skin, only literally.

So when it comes to being an Asian, a foreigner, I was thrust into the battlefield way before I was ready, and it’s a battle I take up every day. Because being a person of color is a visible thing, sometimes painfully so. But how about being queer?

Admittedly, the majority of the years I spent in confusion about my sexuality (which will come and go, I am sure), I did so in my head. It was an internal battle, and even when I did first come out as bisexual (because that’s how I identified myself as for that period of my life), it was only to a handful of closest friends, plus my mom and my sister. Most of them were like, oh okay, and the topic never came up again. Because how do you portray your sexuality?

In our heteronormative culture, most of us are assumed as being straight unless told or shown otherwise. I am dead sure that I pass as straight for 99% of the time, benefiting from straight privileges. This experience of passing – it’s so different from my experience as being an Asian that I am flabbergasted. On the one hand, it’s so nice not to have to spend the time and energy on trying to diffuse the feelings of otherness. On the other hand, though, the otherness doesn’t disappear just because they are not visible. What’s more, this invisibility might even have a further consequence, and that’s questioning the legitimacy of my identity.

Being queer is something I had to establish first. Because it isn’t tangible, I tried to ignore it, run away from it, trivialize it. And most of the time I did so by keeping quiet about it. Even now, heteronormativity is so pervasive that I catch myself thinking that I am not really gay, of course I am straight, I’m doing all this just to get attention! (And then I imagine myself in a heterosexual relationship and hit myself on the head. Of course I love women. Duh.) You know what helps against this constant questioning of yourself? Talking about it. Talking with others about your experiences, their experiences, your feelings, their feelings. Connecting with other people and sharing stories help me realize that confusion is normal. Feeling conflicted is normal. Best of all, all forms of loving is normal: same-sex, different-sex, non-binary, pansexual, asexual…

In order to have these conversations, though, you have to find other queer people, and “out” yourself in the process. (The only way I can think of is to go about wrapped up in a giant rainbow flag, so if you have any ideas about how to display queerness, please let me know in the comments.) I realize that being out is not something that every queer person can safely choose. We all have to decide for ourselves when and how to come out. To be very honest, I myself am not sure whether I am prepared to be confronted with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) homophobia every day.

But here’s the thing: I won’t have to confront homophobia every day, because, compared to being a person of color, being gay is less visible, especially if you are not in a relationship. At the end of the day, I am torn between wanting to be visible – to own that part of my identity – and my desire for a less exhausting life. Because it does drain you of energy, this constant awareness of being the “other”. There’s no easy solution for this, only personal choices.

Stay safe. Be brave.

October 2016 – Part II

Tuesday, October 18th
… I feel like I’m figuring out myself all over again, but with the comfort and a little more ease of the past experiences. It’s funny how I thought just a week ago that I Was trapped and my whole life already mapped out, and today I can see the vast, unwritten future in front of me. …

Thursday, October 20th
There is such a discontent in me that it spoils every pleasure.
There is such a hunger in me that cannot be abated, no matter how much food is put in my stomach.
There is such a weariness in me that no amount of sleep can get rid of.
Pain. There will always be pain. The fear of pain has made me resist the cracking of the soul. The breaking of self.
But to not break! How can I prevent it when I have already been marked? How much longer can I hold myself together before turning into a living corpse?
A surrender, if you will. A step forward with eyes closed, not knowing whether I am standing on a cliff. To stop questioning everything.
Solitude is a hard thing. Loneliness is even more excruciating.
Ideas are dangerous things. Even when we know we should be critical of each and every one of them, once they are planted, they just take roots and worm their way into the deepest parts of our mind. Especially when certain ideas resonate with you, or they explain your flaws in such convenient ways. When it’s such a relief to accept them. We can lament the fact that all we can do is to construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct our personal truths over and over again in our lifetime. It will probably drive us mad.
A descent – or ascent? – to madness. Why should I stop myself?
You know when the relative truths clash and burn and explode? Politics. Society. Because we don’t live alone.

Friday, October 21st
I realized that I don’t know how to love people who are 8000 km away. I tried to pretend that the distance wasn’t there, masking it with modern technology, but it’s an empty substitute, because the distance is there.
Jeanette Winterson – as she tells it in the book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – hadn’t given up. She had always pursued life – love of life, love of self, however clumsily.
Nowadays “giving up” is associated with a task, a goal. But “giving up” really means stopping whatever you are doing. When you give up on life, you stop living, literally or metaphorically (I haven’t experienced the former, so I can’t really compare, but the latter is bad. It feels horrible, because you can’t feel anything.).
I thought I wanted security. Stability, guarantees. But what I want now is “just” to live – I want to love life, and everything in it. I am and have been lonely, no matter how hard I try to distract myself from it. Yes, there have been sunny days, days of warmth – but they passed. They will come, and they will pass again. But it’s a comfort to know that you can be lonely and still be in love with life.

Sunday, October 23rd
… So what was I coming home to? No one was waiting for me; I didn’t feel connected to anyone at the party. It was a difficult emotion to feel – that loneliness, unwantedness, fear and hopelessness. But then I thought of the heating mat that would warm me up; when I walked in and saw my familiar things, I began to settle down and felt centered enough. They gave me the strength to stay on hits path of unsteady present and unknown future.

Tuesday, October 25th
… Reality clashed with longing and bore a fruit that is unrecognizable, tart and sweet at the same time. …
For life has no meaning, and no reason. It consists of a series of present moments, and you can delude yourself into thinking you can prepare yourself for them, but you can’t.
Time is a gift and a curse. If you treat each moment with precious care and concentration, time does not exist and you are floating in the universe, and you are constantly creating your life. Even when you pause, you are creating pauses in your life. Your creation is not built to last, because if you hang on to the past because you do not want to let it go, then you stop creating. You stop being in the moment. The same thing when you worry about the future and the tasks that you have to do. So your creation lasts only for the moment it has been created in, then it fades away and gives way to your next creation.
We invented the clock, so that we can be at a certain place at a certain moment. We surrendered ourselves to be the clock’s slaves.
… I have never been an orphan. I have a beginning to trace back to, a family that is not hidden. A mother who loves me without reason, just with her whole heart. … I have not created myself from nothing, so I have a path to trace back to, a life story in which I encountered many creatures of the day and night.
A head wants confidence; it wants guarantees, it wants to understand so that it can plan.
A heart only knows what’s right right now. It accepts and it lives in the quiet, knowing way, without having to think about it.
A head wants to assess and evaluate and theorize and – improve. It strives for the best, without knowing what is good or better or best.
A heart is the true survivor. It accepts and it is immersed in the reality of now.
… It’s no wonder I don’t want to be an academic. Pursuit of knowledge isn’t my highest goal. It always comes back to humans. I want to reach out to people through my writing. It would be wonderful to reach that goal, but I think – I hope – that the process itself will be worth while.

Wednesday, October 26th
… I am alone and lonely and I have zero interest in opening up, because I know that my insides are empty. … I am not comfortable with not having an identity, because that’s how we establish relations with strangers – either social position (daughter, friend, employer, etc.), current profession/passion, or at least a weird, distinguishing quirk to set us apart. When has it become our job to entertain others with our identities?

Monday, October 31st
… I wish I could do the “practical” thing and enjoy it. But I can’t. I feel this pressure and misery when I ignore my inner voice. It doesn’t give me any specific direction or a grandiose goal to pin my hopes on. I only know that I’ve gotta take these next steps, even if they end up making me smack against a wall. Hard experiences are parts of what I need to experience. As for the rest, I suppose I am an anxious optimist.
In a strange way, my happiness seems to lie in getting lost. I don’t know if I will ever find myself or if anyone will ever find me. I used to read these books with stable, happy endings and anxiously imagine my future like that.
But fear and anxiety are two different things. I have learned that whatever makes me anxious in that pit-in-the-stomach, dreading kind of way, I should avoid at all costs. What I dread now, I might not dread in a few decades, but that’ll be because I’ll have changed by then. And the only way I can change into that person who does not dread X anymore is by avoiding X while I still do dread it.
Logical. My anxiety came mostly from the fact that I wanted my life to be logical and orderly. In a way, I think it takes a greater logic to accept that there are some things beyond the logic. It took me a long, long, looooong time to fully embrace this instinct, this heart, this being. Of course I will falter at some points. But even as I waver, I think back to the moment I found my heart, and I will steady myself. … Feeling right is not the same as feeling good. Feeling good is a temporary high. Feeling right encircles hardships, heartbreaks, tears, sweat, depression, as well as laughter and joy and contentment. …

November 2016 – Part II

Friday, November 18th
… Everything is falling apart. The great deconstruction has begun, and I don’t even know why I am doing anything anymore. To forget that, I’ve been medicating myself with The L Word, and now I have to be back in the real world, and I don’t know how to act. Everything feels unreal, and all I can think about is me, me, me. So self-centered…

Sunday, November 20th
… I hate the dark. I can’t believe I forgot how much I hate the dark. … Maybe it’s my winter blues again, but I’m fed up with obsessing about sex & relationship. … I look around & no one in my circle of acquaintances has a functioning relationship. The majority of the people I know lose themselves in the relationship or stay with people who makes them feel insecure & anxious. So far I can see that relationships are not only pain in the ass but also a huge energy-sucking distraction. …

Monday, November 21st
… Along with the will to push forward with my plan despite all the uncertainty is the desire to hide & run away for another degree. The desperation shouting, I’ll stay in Germany! The instinct for immediate security warring against the intuition for risks. Risks I can even consider taking because of my privileges.
I realized that I don’t know humans. I don’t understand them, what is going through their minds, what makes them do certain things.
All these years, I’ve looked at them through the lens of all the narratives I’d gobbled down. But the people in the books are simpler. Less conflicted. They change, or adapt to change, easily. They have two or three big traits that define them – bold, funny, soft-hearted, nice, aloof, insecure, etc. – and none of them has a dusty collection of tiny characteristics that are clumped & dumped together like abandoned toys. They are single-minded in their pursuit, so sure of who they are. They get over traumas easily without having a relapse. They never have socially awkward conversations (unless being awkward is one of their traits) with strangers/acquaintances/friends. Other people trust & like them so easily that I am green with envy. They are rarely lazy. Sometimes there are genuinely nice characters whose niceness doesn’t vanish no matter what is done to them.
They are not humans. They are created by humans as some sort of idols, similar enough to humans but ultimately too good to be real. None of them are messy, disgusting, abhorrent, conflicted about the smallest and the biggest thing.
It’s not easy to be loyal and vulnerable. It’s difficult as fuck to stay true to yourself or even to find yourself. It’s hard to escape the feeling of being an outsider, warranted or not. It’s probably normal to hate the world & everyone in it, because they all sicken you without any reason. We think about, like, and do certain disgusting things. We run away or medicate our pains a lot. We blame other people, we victimize ourselves (although watching Jenny Schecter has shown me how fucking selfish & revolting that be), we become irrational on regular basis.
Goddess, what fucking messes we all are.

Tuesday, November 22nd
The people in my head are translucent paper-people, and I don’t know how to turn them into solid, flesh-and-blood people.
… I tend to be pretty unforgiving towards people – esp. those whom I want to like. Once they are inside my heart, I don’t care as much, but until then…

Thursday, November 24th
My head is a cluttered place; a bleeding wound. I vomit other people’s words out of my ears.
… Being vulnerable – being authentic – is hard. Being self-compassionate is uncomfortable. Engaging with my fears feels like I’m going mad.
… I crave certainty like a drug addict, and yet at the same time, I harbor a disdain for the society’s rules. I want chaos. I already am chaos, but then I lose my head, certain that I will never find my way back to reality.
… I look at the reading log for this year, and 80% of the books I’ve read this year were escapist reads. And I spent a lot of time in front of my laptop, watching movies and TV series. I have been emotionally numbing myself the whole year.
And maybe I haven’t been honest with myself, either. I am happy alone, but at the same time I feel like no one is going to love me. I do want to write, but I am terrified I suck at it. I do like reading, but I am constantly ashamed of my choice of reading materials. I do practise the mindset of enough, but scarcity creeps up on me again and again. I still measure my proud moments against what other people would be impressed by. I am still loathe to disappoint my teachers and professors.
… It’s difficult to see myself as I am, because there are a slew of things I want to become, but can’t do until I accept my current self. Humans are messy and ugly and always, always struggling. I want to create art that captures that struggle. I want to be honest. I want to stop playing a saint and just be my selfish, quirky, lazy, intent, struggling self.

Saturday, November 26th
… [I was at a poetry evening with a friend.] It was held in a studio place with a bit of run-down, starving-artist minimalist look. The people who came – there were many, and we were one of the early ones, so we had an ample time to observe them all – were very diverse in background & looks, but they all knew each other & we didn’t know these people, plus the music was too loud anyway, so we just sat there and looked around a lot. After an hour or so of socializing, some people read aloud their poems, and I liked having this read-and-share movement (also because it gave us a legitimate reason to sit around & not talk), but the poems… and the poets… they didn’t resonate with me at all. It’s definitely a matter of taste, but I couldn’t understand even the vaguest outline of their poems and it sounded like a string of words that conjured up all sorts of weird jumble of images – sexual, guttural, human waste. The theme or the form themselves weren’t disturbing, but what bothered & shook me the most was that I couldn’t feel the writer’s authenticity in their writings (except for one piece). The words felt empty, the whole presentation a cliché, and the art dishonest.
It is true that I am not into this twentysometing’s retro, hip & broke(n), artsy scene. The kind where the past seems to have been appropriated and the past authenticity turned into a grotesque cliché. Scenes where the said twentysomethings smoke pot, talk about having beautiful souls, and sprout Hemingway-esque poems (in the sense that they are vaguely misogynist and so male). … A year ago or less, I would have been intimidated into believing that an artist has to be like that way to be a “true” writer/poet. Maybe I’m being too hasty in my judgment/condemnation, but that’s the impression I had when we left the party. …

Tuesday, November 29th
… Does no one feel like this? Does no adult remember the emptiness? Does no on-the-cusp-of-adult experience this hollow space we call “self”?
… I am very rigid in my ideas of what I want when it comes to work. … Am I being too picky, so drenched in the privilege that I have my sight trained on too high? Or am I so afraid of working that I reject everything, thus deluding myself that I am “looking”, but at the same time still leaving the status quo untouched? …
I act and act and act out whatever I can get my hands on, because if I were to let myself be authentic, I’d probably sprout off some incoherent sentences at random, grin toothily, and scurry away.
… I just hate, hate, hate, HATE dealing with my emotions – there’s a reason why I’ve been numbing them for so long. I am not good at anything; this knowledge hits me like a brick on the back of my head, because my fragile ego had constructed this reassurance precisely to keep myself from this black-out. … And worst of all, I am disinterested in so many things that I can almost hear my neuron pathways dying off. It’s not that I find everything uninspiring or boring; I just don’t have any subject that I would dig into its depth to the center of the earth. …

Wednesday, November 30th
… Winter is the time of the year which I recoil from in the beginning and whose darkness I embrace eventually. Instead of brightening the room as much as possible, I am content with a flickering candlelight limiting my view to only what is right in front of me. Instead of feeling grateful for the technological advancement that allows us comfort (hello – radiators??!), I am annoyed that the city never truly sleeps, that it never lets its occupants recuperate.
I think that always being in search of my identity might be my identity. Perhaps because I had to learn the lesson about the instability of identity earlier than usual, and with more force than usual. Playing the various personas that are probably a part of me, all the while frantically searching for the core of my self, even though I know in the back if my mind that there is no such thing. But the emptiness – or the fragmentation – how to bear if without going mad?
… When we talked about “identity” in my Cultural Studies lecture, I encountered ideas/theories that opposed the Enlightenment notion of a core self. Certainly, how we perceive ourselves change a lot over the years, and I daresay it is influenced by external circumstances… but maybe it is a choice, you know? The characteristics that you choose to let go, and the ones you choose to hold on to. There are of course going to be parts of yourself that you are unaware of.
I feel so conflicted. … I do want to change, because I think change can lead to growth… but a part of me mourns the pieces I will inevitably have to leave behind, pieces that I have to let go in order to embrace new ones. Perhaps a human’s capacity for contradictions is limited. Another part of me, though, is terrified of both letting go and letting in. That part just wants to bury myself in the ground and talk myself into being content where I am right now.