November 2016 – Part I

Wednesday, November 2nd
… It’s strange, but I sense some learning curves (or growth spurts, or whatever-) some of my friends are going through. Things that you don’t realize you are in the middle of even though you are up to your neck in it. Freeing yourself from parental expectations struggling to stay vulnerable; recognizing that there will always be certain space between humans that can’t be bridged; learning to live with uncertainty instead of seeking certainty. …

Thursday, November 3rd
… I go to the trees when my head feels too big and time is slithering through my fingers like water. Gazing up at the ancient lives who have witnessed events from the far past and who will live to see the far future. My head shrinks back and I am enveloped by the life bigger and vaster than I could ever be. Smelling in the damp earth, my inner animal stops growling and settles back, content for now. …

Friday, November 4th
I decided to follow my heart and be a writer, but I haven’t been writing.
I knew the road wasn’t going to be suddenly smooth, and I have to make the decision again and again, every day. It’s hard to find the heart, and a lot harder to keep it, because it’s helluva easy to lose it.
The human interaction between fictional characters (movies, books, etc.) – Erich Fromm was spot-on. They are imitations of the real thing, and we turn to them because it’s easier, more accesible, and less risky. But they also don’t linger. These quick bursts of warmth and humor are fleeting and they leave you feeling emptier than before, thus starting and enabling a vicious cycle. …

Saturday, November 5th
… I feel lost. Lost and scared, even though I know what I want to do. The decision to trust my heart was just the first step, perhaps the highest point for a long time to come. I did say I was descending (or ascending, or maybe it’s just straight ahead) towards madness.

Sunday, November 6th
Connection/Disconnection. Lately, that’s all I’ve been thinking about. That precious moment of shared human-ness, striking that space in us that is full of longing for belonging and of the need for connection. …
But also the disconnection – the dissonance in the melody of relationship, the surface of ego demanding spotlight. It’s time to step back, take care of our inner child, and ready ourselves for another meeting on the level of the spirits. …

Monday, November 7th
I am scared. I am scared shitless about the future. … I am afraid of turning out to be a mediocre writer, although I don’t see what’s wrong with that – perhaps it’s the social pressure of finding the dream job right away, the idea of our jobs representing who we are. … I realized that I don’t have many – any? – concrete, tangible fears. I am afraid of abstract things such as the future/uncertainty, and also of not being understood/accepted/loved by other people, but I can’t think of scary experiences in my life – for me, it’s a perpetual, long-term fear, not a moment of fear bursting into a flame and extinguishing itself just as quickly. I don’t want to play the victim card again (but I probably am), but when you have already experienced being an outsider, when you have already gone through several identity crises, perhaps your fear of spiders or operations cease to have such a huge influence on you.
In my melodramatic moments, I fancy myself an orphan – which is a slap in the faces of all the people who really do not have family, or parents who are so bad that being an orphan would be the better option. What I had refused to see, however, was how many people were trying to be my temporary family in small ways. But I never really let them, priding myself over my emotional independence, telling myself that while they were nice, I didn’t need them. Then, being a hypocrite that I am, I bemoan the fact that I am alone with my actual family far away.
Why do we isolate ourselves? Why do we push people away? Why do we punish ourselves?

Tuesday, November 8th
… I was feeling discouraged, and I did what might not have been such a good idea: I called Mom. My security blanket had been ripped off me, I felt hypersensitive and raw all over – like everyone was staring at me & judging me -, so I wanted to slip back to the role of a child and seek the comfort of my mother’s lap. Only she could not provide it anymore. So I start keeping things from her, and from my family. …

Friday, November 11th
… I don’t know how to love people whom I can’t see, touch or hear. I am constantly seeing only parts of their lives, and call me a perfectionist/purist/extremist, but I can’t love like that. I want the physicality of love or nor love at all.
… Is family a structure in which the members need each other or want each other? Is it both? Or neither? Or does it depend on the individual family?
… Maybe I don’t feel confident enough yet to face my family’s opinions. Maybe, one day, I will be able to comfortably share all of myself without worry or fear or anxiety. Until then, I’ll keep my life to myself.

Saturday, November 12th
Behind being torn about the future lies a fountain of feeling inadequate and the lack of my belief in myself. The fear of not knowing myself. Not trusting myself to be strong enough to survive the world outside of the academic bubble.
… I am afraid to trust my words, as if they are an entity to themselves, as if I could mangle them if I touch them. Maybe that’s because they seem to just pour out of me when I enter this zone of beauty – no, of life – and thus seem sacred. It must sound very pretentious to say that my writing seems sacred, but it’s not the really the words themselves; it’s the experience. …

Monday, November 14th
… I think it’s our human need to be understood & accepted that leads us to tell the people in our lives all sorts of things. We want to unload our most selfish, self-indulgent, and shameful thoughts on them, in hopes that they will absolve us from our burden, so that we can be light-hearted again, just like children after having confessed that it was us who has broken that glass jar.
But humans aren’t gods. We aren’t all-accepting, all-forgiving. We are often impatient and pre-occupied with our own lives. Other people unburdening on us feels intrusive –
I know all this and yet – and yet I find myself wanting to revert to being a kid and dump all of my problems on someone else’s shoes. The first person I think of is my mother, of course, perhaps also b/c I’m reading To the Lighthouse for my class and I am fascinated & daunted by Mrs Ramsay. …

December 2016 – Part II

Sunday, December 18th
I can already feel it happening. The slipping. The slide into conformity. The strange metamorphosis that takes place inside me at this strange place called airport. …

Tuesday, December 20th
…An oppressive force that kills my creativity and causes me to be (or at least try to be) the Angel of the House. It’s no wonder my sister can’t create anymore. Her time and energy are demanded and allocated already. The scary thing is that this culture? system? makes you want to be the Angel, so you give up your time & energy voluntarily.
… I don’t want to hide who I am, but I am camouflaging already, on auto-pilot. As my grandma went on about finding a husband & etc., I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I have met a person who is making me feel all these tender feelings, and that she’s a girl. …

Wednesday, December 21st (Yule)
… Family is all-consuming – you are a part of the bigger puzzle; each of us has a role to play and burden to share (we all lay out our burdens and divvy up). Opinions to ask for, advices to be sought after, even if you have no intention of heeding them. Even when you are far away, physically, your place is reserved for you. Once you come back, you are expected to slide into your role seamlessly. The only alternative, so I feel, is to alienate yourself from the web so much that you are finally cut off, and the gap you leave behind is filled quickly enough.
There are things that I have to necessarily hide, but these deceptions/half-truths don’t torment me as much anymore. Perhaps because I’ve finally accepted that demanding from my family to accept me unconditionally will create too much of a weight on this fragile web. …

Thursday, December 22nd
… I was thinking about whether ‘angel of the house’ is an appropriate term cross-culture, then I realized that there already is a Korean term for this phenomenon: 착한 여자, or ‘good woman’.’Good woman’ has, in the Western societies, a sexual connotation, but in Korea, ‘착한 여자’ is a woman who neglects herself, denies herself rest and pleasure, and spends all her time and energy on taking care of others’ needs. Critical voices have already commented on the toxicness and impossibility of such an ideal, but the truth (as I see it) is, our [Korean] cultural expectations breed such women. It’s couched in terms such as kindness, discipline, filial obedience, but the result is the same ‘착한 여자’. …

Friday, December 23rd
This is the place where I stopped growing. Each time I come back, no matter how much maturity I have gained in the mean time, I revert back to an 11-yr-old, all irrational irritations & too easily bent under the family pressure (while exerting the same pressure on sb else and so keeping the family “together”).
You are to take up a free-time activity that can be put down at a moment’s notice. Nothing that requires your concentration, for that’s needed somewhere else. Grandma never had the leisure to write any of her thoughts down, so she resorts to speaking. Whenever she lies down to rest, when any of her children/grandchildren are over for a visit, she tells us stories – but more often grievances. There are so many unvoiced stories inside her. …
Sorrow. There is so much sorrow here. Sorrow and guilt. …

Monday, December 26th
… It is funny – almost scary, even – how one becomes attuned to the moods of the others in the same microcosmic community. There was something off about Dad tonight, he didn’t plop himself in front of the TV as usual. Whether he knew it or not, he craved human connection, so he sought it from us – his gezin. And perceiving this, it was impossible to leave this island of community to attend to my own things. …

Tuesday, December 27th
Saints are boring. They certainly aren’t humans. To sacrifice oneself – the body, the mind, the soul, the time – for others is very ego-less, but it also lets one off the hook about developing oneself. …

Friday, December 30th
… It’s a curious culture, ours. Or theirs. Or anyone’s. I think there is a certain advantage to living with their primary family, i.e. the family they are born with, until they found a family of their own. There’s less loneliness, for one. A certain psychological stability. But certainly, there are also disadvantages – not using all the years (20s, 30s, 40s even!) to develop their own identity, to experiment, to find out who they are, to grow used to solitariness (even if they never get married & live with their primary family forever, some day their parents are going to die).
… It still feels like my heart’s being torn, that moment of saying goodbye, the instant of physical separation. The moment when the reconstruction begins, the self dissolves, and my head enters the schizophrenic zone again. …

A conversation with my inner voice

Hey.
Hey.
It’s hard getting up sometimes.
I know.
Climbing out of the bed and staying out of it requires all my energy and I can’t do anything else all day.
I understand, sweetie.
But it’s a good thing I’m still alive. I like being alive. I think.
That’s a good thing, then, isn’t it? I think it’s a good thing.
Yeah, I guess so. But I look around and feel so useless. How come I can’t do what everyone else can do? Getting up, taking a shower, eating, working, paying bills, shopping for groceries, squeezing in some time for hobbies or meeting people.
It might feel like everyone is doing what you just described without breaking into sweat, but I assure you, there are quite a number of people out there who are struggling as well.
But I used to be – normal. Efficient. People said that I was smart, that I had potential.
And now?

And now… I feel like a failure. Like a total waste of resources. I consume and consume and consume without giving anything back.
What is it that you think you should be giving back? Giving whom?
The community at large. The world, the universe. My family, maybe. I want my family to be proud of me, but when I am being honest, making them proud has nothing to do with me.
So why do you do it?
I try to do it.
So why do you try to do it?
Because I can’t bear to disappoint them, or to have them worry about me, or be sad because of me.
But isn’t that what a family does? Worry about you and care about you?
Is it? Sometimes I feel like – I’m afraid – they will see me just as an additional burden. Like, they have so many things going on in their lives already, they shouldn’t worry about me as well.
The same could be said about you. You have so much on your plate right now, why add the potential worries of your family to it?
…I don’t know.
I think that life isn’t a mathematical formula of give-and-take. It’s not like the market where you have a precise value for every single thing. If you can afford to be generous, you give more. If you are barely keeping your neck above the water, you accept more.
But I used to be – different. Better than now. Like, I could deal with life better.
I understand what you mean – but… is that really true? Or were you just better at faking it? As you got older, the list of your burdens got longer, not shorter. That’s what really sucks at being an adult.
But if I can’t cope with now, how will I ever earn money? How will I achieve true independence?
Does money scare you?
Yes. I’m afraid of the final black-and-white value put on my head. I’m afraid no one will think me worth their money. I feel so inadequate.
So you are not afraid of the work itself?
No – yes – I don’t know? I am afraid I won’t be able to do the work properly. But I understand the importance of working.
So your fear lies in…
…my inaptitude. Basically, I’m afraid I’m good for nothing. That no matter what kind of work I do, I won’t be good at it.
So if you are not good at something, you better not start at all? Is that it?
In a nutshell.
Have you thought about just doing your best, and let that be enough? Even if it was just okay-ish, and not brilliant?
But… no one is going to hire me for being okay-ish.
You won’t know until you try, will you? Tell me, do you really want to become a professor?
I… don’t think I’ll mind it much? Like, if I were ever good enough for such a position?
Why the question marks?
It’s what my father wants. It’s what my grandparents want. The job title sounds grand, and depending on which country you work in, the salary is good enough to guarantee a comfortable life.
Well, that’s great. Is that the kind of life you want?
I want to be a writer.
Ahhhh. Okay. Good.
I want to write, and I want to live simply. I don’t have to live in a big city. I don’t need much stuff, I don’t need the latest technology. When I get too lonely, I will get a dog and love him or her. I will grow herbs and vegetables and ride around on a bike.
That sounds lovely.
But you can’t make a living out of being a writer. Even the simplest life has to be financed somehow, so I will need a second job – something not too demanding, something that will leave me time and energy for writing. Something that will still pay the bills.
That’s practical, too. Unfortunately, most authors can’t survive on their writings alone, that’s the bleak reality of the industry. So what will you do?
That’s the thing – I don’t know! I also don’t know whether I will have enough guts to tell my family that I don’t want to be some bigshot – all prestigious and whatnot. I mean, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a financially successful and socially prestigious business person, right? So there should be nothing wrong with wanting to become a frugal, dreamy writer, either.
You know what – you really want this, go for it. Develope a plan. Leave room for errors and miscalculations. Start saving now. You’ve already started writing. Keep writing, even if you can’t earn a penny with it.
But there are all these Tentacles – I can’t focus.
Tentacles?
You know, like in Ned Vizzini’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story? That’s how Craig describes it. There are so many things to be done and so many interesting things that I want to be able to say I have done – just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
What things? What are your Tentacles?
Like, look at my university degree. Could you get more schizophrenic? I am studying English literature and linguistics, American history and culture and literature, and even Dutch! And I want to take Italian this semester! And there are so many wonderful books I want to read! And I want to spend more time on becoming a more spiritual person! So many people to meet, so many experiences to undergo! Who has time for all that?!
It’s funny that your Tentacles are actually the things that you enjoy… the things you are curious about. How about cleaning or cooking? Going to the driving school? Dealing with bureaucracy?
Well, those things are not really important important. Besides, they don’t require much of my mental energy.
So why are you interested in all those things?
I like knowledge, I guess? And being knowledgable makes me look smarter?
So it’s to show off? To tell the world that you are a great person? That you are a genius?
Isn’t that what everyone wants?
We are not talking about everybody. We are talking about you. Is that what you want? To be admired for your accomplishments?
No, actually… no. I don’t really care about all that because all that does not make me happy.
What does make you happy?
That depends on my moods… sometimes I want to connect with other human beings. Other times I just want to live inside my head.
Can you focus on that? Spend the most of your brainpower on doing that? Instead of scattering your focus in all sorts of directions?
But no one pays me to dream all day long. Plus, I would become a very dull person without the inputs from the outside.
Okay. So how about an attitude change? Sweetheart, I am sorry to inform you that you are just an average human, and your brain’s capacity for absorbing information and dealing with them is limited. What’s worse, all your constant worrying and anxiety are occupying quite a large part of your brain, making you less efficient.
So what should I do?
You don’t want to cut off your Tentacles, don’t cut them off. Instead, let them Tentacle their merry way. Don’t let them squeeze your heart and invade your brain. That means not letting them be relevant to the core of you. What is it that is relevant to your core?
Ah… being happy. Being helpful, when I can. Love. Loving. Writing. Reading.
So all those languages and histories and theories do not make the cut, yes?
I guess not. No. No, they don’t.
Well then, learn about the theories and write papers on linguistics and learn how to say How do you do in seventeen different languages, but don’t let them identify you. Hobbies are supposed to make you happy, not make you feel stressed out. You are supposed to have fun with them! Because they are not a part of your core, making gross mistakes and being bad at them shouldn’t matter.
Huh. So… none of that matters.
None of that matters to you. And that’s okay.

family

They heal you.
They infuriate you, they make you grin like a fool, they let you swim in your love for them.
Some of them use you to satisfy their own needs, but some just love you the way you are.
They think of you, worry about you and cheer you up.
They quietly accept that they can’t change you, nor your circumstances. They know they can’t fight for you, but they will lend you their strength if you ask them.
They make silly faces and tell lame jokes and allow themselves to be sappy around you.
They love you.

Dear Cousin

Dear Cousin,

almost five years ago we last met, but how strange that it doesn’t feel like that long ago at all. There is this familiarity, this instant joy – it must be one of the perks of being a part of a family.

I knew, of course, that you must have changed, given the circumstances, just as I have changed. I guess I didn’t know how much you have changed, though, because I have met quite a number of people for whom being in a foreign country had almost no effect at all. Or so it seemed to me at that time. Maybe I just didn’t dig deep enough.

That’s the thing, though. How deep do you want to go? How deep do I want to go? It’s so difficult, being cousins. My mom and sister have seen me at my worst, so I don’t feel the need to hide anything from them – not even by omission. On the other hand, I am surrounded by casual acquaintances who wants me to say everything is fine, fine, fine; to talk a little about my life, funny anecdotes, etc. Some demand more, so I say that things suck when they suck, and that life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
But I am more than just pleasant smiles and ready nods. I am more than just a body for other people to comment on. I have opinions, fears, desires, bad habits, passions, plans and dreams. I am more than I appear to be, just as you are more than just a tall guy with a friendly smile and funny stories. You are more than your respect for our grandparents, more than your conflicting ideas about how to live a life, more than your desire for solitude in the nature to write and think.
We maintain façades for family gatherings but I have moments of deep despair and jubilant happiness, and I am sure you do, too.

The fact is, I am wildly curious about you, and what kind of person you are. Maybe it’s because of our shared childhood in the country, or maybe because we – alongside with our siblings – share the trait of being cultural-hybrids. Ha, and I tend to be nosy. I won’t pressure anyone to share things they don’t want to share, but I am all-or-nothing kind of person. I can be… a bit overwhelming, which is why I avoid opening up to people.

Of course, it must sound ironic since I have opened up a LOT on my blog, and to a group of strangers, too! But it is easier to tell anonymous people about the darkest parts of my life because we are all just faceless entities to each other. They are not obligated to meet me; they can just move on from my story to another’s. They have the choice to remain anonymous. You, on the other hand, do not have such choice. We are family, so you are bound to see me whenever we are both in Korea. Am I afraid of what you will think of me once you know pretty much everything? Yes, because I’m only a human. No, because I have the feeling you won’t be judgmental. I also have the feeling that you are less awkward with people than I am, so that will help our conversation, too.

Because in the end, that’s what I wish for: a two-sided, equally footed conversation. An exchange of ideas and opinions and stories of the past and hopes for the future.

I’m too tired to think straight anymore – good night, and take care!

Affectionately yours,
Your cousin

The tree and the forest

Suddenly I was homesick. I longed to see my mother’s face… to hold my sister’s hand… to hear my father’s voice. I was empty because I felt like I was ripped away from a tight group and left alone.
I was engulfed by a darkness that had no beginning nor an ending… and as I was zoomed away to a tiny dot, I realized what a minuscule part of the universe I really was… it was a time when the faraway seems near and the near seems far away.
So there I stood, with my wretched choice in my limp hand. Oh, how I ached to let go of it, to let myself become a victim of the faith. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t holding on to it because I was afraid of what other people might say about me, this spoiled girl with her first-world-problem…
It didn’t feel like I had much to add to the world anyway, so I wanted to quietly fade away. But I continued to breathe… because it seemed I didn’t even have the energy to stop breathing. 
Why am I holding on to this life? Part of it is pride. I don’t want to be seen as a “failure”, a little girl who couldn’t hold out “adulthood”. Part of it is uncertainty… because I’m not at all sure my prospects will become better if I packed and left now. Sometimes I detest the circumstances that brought me here. All I wanted was a simple, quiet and ordinary life. Or so I thought when I was ten years old. Ten years later I am alone, even my immediate future uncertain, and I am growing afraid of the sound of the rain that I used to love so much – that used to be my favorite sound in the world.

The homesickness I feel is my mourning for something that used to be my home. I don’t have anything to anchor me anymore, except for the people I love – my homesickness is for them. I long to see my family. I want to feel their comforting arms around me even if they are thinking all the while how foolish I am being.

It’s really so hard being a human… to feel all the feels and somehow not to crumple and exhale the last breath…