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.

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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 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. …

First Year Is Over

I haven’t been blogging in the past six months or so. Every now and then, the desire to keep my life private creeps up on me and makes me hate the sight of my blog, which has been up and running for more than three years now (a fact that always manages to dumbfound me).

What happened in those six months is largely irrelevant now. I visited family, met old friends and made new ones. Learned a skill or two, forgot a thing or three or fifteen. I wrote diligently in my diary, re-read a lot of old favorites, watched TV series and movies whenever I could.

A semester has passed. Instead of feeling smarter, I am filled with a mixture of dread and indignation at the realization that I am very ignorant and there are so many things I don’t know about, and there won’t be enough time to learn about them all. (Also, my brain wouldn’t support me in this endeavor anyway.)

I think in the first semester I was filled with motivation and the self-conscious need to prove that I made the right choice. So I purposefully overbooked my schedule, struggled to keep up the course reading (at least 100 pages a week, which, admittedly, isn’t a lot), ended up skipping quite a few classes, and my attention was always trying to be everywhere when really, everyone knows I suck at multi-tasking.

I decided to try a different approach in the second semester. I cut my class load in half, made sure I had enough time to prepare classes and go to library and plan large assignments weeks ahead. This approach left me more relaxed and allowed me to go in-depth with the subjects. At least, it did in the first few weeks. Then life happened, my time and effort were needed elsewhere, too, and I ended up falling behind on the preparations, and the deadlines for the big assignments had already snuck up on me. So, re-prioritization happened, then exams happened, then the semester was over.

Mentally speaking, I had my annual winter blues in the first semester, but on the whole I was so happy to be alive and to be studying what I wanted.
How fast humans get used to being comfortable, and seek for more “comfort”! I am still happy to be alive and doing what interests me. But I am also filled with self-doubt even though external evidence suggests otherwise, and I have to think about what happens after my B.A. degree, and whether I want to have an exchange semester. This feeling of inadequacy is probably a universal human feature.

Of course, by writing only about my academic life, I am not telling the full story. Or at least a fuller story, for no one – not even me! – can tell everything about my life. I started growing my own herbs. I’ve been good at taking care of myself, and I am learning to be more accepting with self-care and self-love.
When it comes to other human beings, my growth undergoes more rollercoaster-like changes. I often find myself in loneliness. It is not a loneliness that seeks a specific role to be fulfilled. I am not aching for a concrete person, either. It is a more general loneliness, the kind we can rarely escape from. Even when we are connected with other people, there are parts of us that feel disconnected, estranged, neglected. This is of course totally normal since we are individuals and all differ from each other. This spot of loneliness becomes a danger zone when it begins to spread and take over our perception of everyone and us. Its toxins are uncertainties and crippling doubts. Is the person really with me because s_he wants to be? Are they tolerating my presence just because they are bound by social norms? Would they meet me on their own volition if all social duties were stripped away from them?
The “dangerous” part of deciding to be authentic is that you always run the risk of people glancing at the vulnerable, real you and carelessly moving on, because they decided you don’t look interesting. This isn’t really anyone’s fault. No one can force anyone to like or be interested in anyone. But especially when you are not sure who you are yet, when you find that you don’t have strong opinions about many things because you realized that you know so little and you want to be open-minded, having your plainness confirmed can be devastating. Even though you resolve not to let anyone’s opinion determine your self-worth, your wound still bleeds.

Maybe we all of us are lonely beings, and our imaginations of a tightly knit community of people who understand us perfectly and love us tenderly are just that – imaginations. Even if you were lucky lucky lucky enough to be part of such a group, sometimes time and distance place even the strongest bonds under strain. Maybe this is why we are so much more vocal on social media about our relationships with others. The photos, the updates, the comments, the tags – they all hint at such fun, heaps of intimacy, best friends foreva.
Have I become a cynic who doesn’t believe in any relationship anymore? Actually, if possible, I’d like to think I am developing a more positive attitude towards human relationships. Maybe the reason we focus so much on our relationships with others is to escape from the fact that we are lonely beings at core. As much as we might like someone, we cannot understand everything about them, or maybe even accept all of their faults. We’d like to believe our own pretty words when we tell someone that they will always be special to us. We take better care of others in hopes that they will in turn take care of us. At the end of a day, we simply might not have the energy to take care of anyone.

Does your heart grow with exertion or is a heart’s capacity more or less limited?