This is Why Everyone Should Write Poetry
May 15, 2014
In my own Utopia, every man and woman would write a poem. They would write it with intent and care, re-write it several times, read it in a whisper, place it under the pillow before bed, and then tear it up.
For me, I became a grown-up with zero exposure to poetry. I felt love without having to write it down, or pain without trying to find a measure. Now, I write couplets to feel love, entire poems to remember pain. It’s all backwards ever since I have decided to let poetry into the center of my life.
The truth is I want to stop. Not only stop writing, but also, speaking. I want language to end for me because I’m sick of saying the same thing about my mother, about my grandmother, about my inconsiderate childhood—for years. When I’m sick of hearing myself, I turn to the craft of the poem, and even then, the rhythms sound like me. I become sick of me. No one is sick of me more than me.
Despite the lows between manuscripts, rejections, and joblessness, it’s an honor to be a poet. That’s my unpopular opinion — that a poet must remain humble, changing, and sincere. In exchange, I will opt for the shorter life, and potentially destructive, because few things in occupation depend on sincerity.
I recall this piece of information I had tucked away: There is an ancient Chinese belief that if a carp swims up a waterfall, the carp will turn into a dragon. To me, the waterfall is the life that I watched from a distance. When I read poetry, I am standing under that waterfall. I am experiencing the brunt of every droplet—of incident, memory, and dialogue. So what is it like to write poetry? There is a shift much like swimming upwards and reaching wisdom outside of my normal self.
Somehow, the image of a carp swimming up a waterfall sums up poetry for me. Standing under the water, you live more than your share of one life. Sometimes it’s hard because the things that are painful are amplified, but so are the things that are beautiful. Going up the water, you become more than you could in one life. And that is worth something to every man and woman—enough to write a poem, to re-write it, to read it, to sleep against it, and to shred it into pieces again and again.
Processes and Habits
March 16, 2012
My nutritionist friend jokes that I can’t take care of myself. But it’s not a joke because it’s true. The little that I do for health is usually on accident, like taking the stairs. But what I’ve learned is that there are absolutely no physical benefits to writing. If you’re a writer, you’re fat and your bent spine makes your pelvis sag (I may just be describing myself here). But I do have tricks. I have this medieval looking hook that’s probably a stolen artifact from the Chosun Dynasty, and I use it to pull out knots in my shoulders. Sometimes, I walk around with it and my tired, bloody nose to scare my roommate to pieces. And because I have a free desk that comes up to my chin, my wrists have become little T-Rex arms. The wrist support was also free.
This is the only scent I’ve been on for 7 years. Also, that sounds dumb because the candles clearly say STRESS RELIEF and it may be psychosomatic. But there’s something ritualistic about the heat, mint, and flickering. Not really, if you don’t like heat, mint, and flickering. Also, last week, I almost went to the ER because I scratched my cornea pretty badly. It was dry and I cut it in my sleep. So now, eye drops; eye drops everywhere.
This is embarrassing. One day, I drew up this not-even-straight thermometer and I colored it to mark the progress of my new manuscript. Like in elementary school. I marked the top at 60K words as an estimated end and jot numbers down the side. This is my progress inside 3 1/2 weeks which is many times over my usual pace. I think I owe it to this exercise. It’s been fun to see (with its wonderful lack of color coordination or appeal). Having the chart makes my work more physical and real to me which I need. I suppose this time around, I just want to have some fun with it.
February 21, 2012
Every morning, I wake up and sit here. My retainers are still in and I’m mostly starving, but I take a few moments to see where I am in my work. I began storyboarding my novel ideas a few weeks ago to focus on my narrative pacing and visuals. Of course, the standard, writerly outline is right on my laptop. I’m also a post-it note maniac. The post-it’s here have been gifted to me by friends who happily feed extras into my mailbox. One on the backboard says, “Don’t think about what you’re going to work on; think about what you’re working on now.”
At first I was a little embarrassed to show this, but I thought why not share my process. I maintain lists and graphs of all my submissions. I never have a finished piece/poem/excerpt that is not in circulation. These charts keep track of who’s reading what, what needs to be sent where, statuses, and numerous rejections. I started this system when I began thinking of how to narrow the gap between each publication. I wanted to be more prolific and maintain the quality of my work, but smartly. And, oh no, there’s a Hayao Miyazaki poster…
On my desktop, it’s not unusual for me to edit 3-5 poems at a time. From the very little text you see, you’ll notice my fascination with murder whether it’s physical, cultural, social, or psychological. I feel it might be a theme that will help thread my poems together for my thesis and poetry book. It’s an exciting time for me–to be able to say these things. In total, I try to average at about 3,000 words of quality prose a week, 2-4 working poems, and at least 1 finished, polished poem. I’ll usually take my Sunday to update social media counters: mainly Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Google+, Facebook. I would call all this writing and updating, “outside work.” They’re outside of the program’s curriculum and outside of a paying job or internship. It’s like an obsession that I treat very kindly. And sometimes, it reminds me I’m a poet, I’m a writer!
The Genius Factor
February 2, 2012
Though it seems more prevalent in East Asian cultures, there are signs of it everywhere. It’s no longer admirable to be an intelligent or talented individual. Instead, there’s a mass interest in the one-in-a-million prodigy. It’s something of a “genius factor.” It started out as a kind of intrigue (on TV or online videos) and turned into a demand. Now a skilled pianist doesn’t have the same allure as an equally masterful twelve-year-old. It’s made me think of my age more often than I’d like to admit.
I’m almost conditioned to be impatient. Instead of wanting to take the time to learn, I’m fastened on being good now. Every year, it gets worse. It’s the desperation. I didn’t just want to be champion writer; I wanted the genius factor that comes with being young at the same time. Looking outside of myself, at the viral speed of Internet interests, I thought that that was the only way someone else could care. And I wouldn’t blame them for it.
Even I was convinced—what do I have to say ten years later that I couldn’t somehow torture out of myself now? After all, what is the writer without her hard-won readers? But each year passes easily and without incident. I don’t think I’m a one-in-a-million or that I can glean the genius factor from my very ordinary soul. I suppose coming to such an understanding is in itself admirable, if not to anyone else but me.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign. We are crossing a zone of turbulence.
December 23, 2011
I’ve become used to terminals, security, and flying. The five hours from New York to San Jose wasn’t so bad compared to the fifteen from Seoul. Flying, particularly during holidays, meant clearing my head. Recently, I’ve been met with some resistance in my career. Though the business in writing may not be the same as other endeavors, in the end it is still a business. Despite ample planning and the MFA, my trajectory was a little off from what I had expected. It bothered me considerably on my flight back home.
Then the presumptuousness struck me. Maybe the tools I had acquired in my skill-box from working for a newspaper and building a portfolio got me to New York, but those same tools won’t get me from New York to my next goal. Now, I need to re-evaluate these tools and cultivate new ones. I have to adapt to my shifting environment, and the ability to reinvent myself is the answer. Like any good RPG game–new level, new rules.
So I’m experiencing some turbulence in my life. But that’s okay. Instead of fighting to stand, I’m going to return to my seat and fasten my belt—wait it out. Meanwhile, what I have in tools of fiction dialogue might shift into a mastery of exposition. My short-lined poetry might become long-lined prose (it has already). Even my interests in multicultural genres have been ambushed while outlining ideas of magical realism. I have to remind myself that I haven’t stopped, or even slowed. I am working on a foundation. I might labor and at times feel there’s nothing this instant to show for it. But the foundation that is never visible from the outside is what holds up an empire.
An Interview with Agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler
November 1, 2011
Jenni Ferrari-Adler specializes in representing novels, food narrative and cookbooks, and narrative nonfiction, as well as selling clients’ pieces to newspapers and magazines including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, Tin House, Glimmer Train, O The Oprah Magazine and more. A full service agent who loves working editorially and personally with her clients, Jenni holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan and a BA from Oberlin College. She taught creative writing at the University of Michigan and the Gotham Writers Workshop. She has worked as a reader for The Paris Review, and a bookseller at Housing Works. Her short fiction and food writing have been published in numerous magazines. She is the editor of ALONE IN THE KITCHEN WITH AN EGGPLANT. Blog http://www.aloneinthekitchen.com/ Site Brick House Literary Agents Twitter @jenferrariadler
Thank you for making time to answer a few questions. I will start off the interview and my readers will jump in. The first question: how do you perceive the current market for literary fiction? How about debut novels? What should first-time authors expect when their novels become published?
The current market for literary fiction is broad, I’m happy to report, from high-concept novels like THE NIGHT CIRCUS to more traditional fare like THE ART OF FIELDING and MAINE – readers still want quality of writing, depth of character, a story that engages us! The debut is a tough but exciting category as everyone loves to discover that important new voice. In terms of what to expect on publication, it varies, but the author should certainly expect to be very engaged in the promotional process – the sooner they can hook into social media and develop relationships with booksellers and other authors the better.
Can you talk about your selection process when passing or taking on manuscripts? What are you looking for exactly in the initial read-through of a manuscript?
I am looking for authority, intensity, a way with words, good eyeballs, a knack for storytelling, a sense of humor, and intelligence.
Your specialties include cookbooks and narrative nonfiction. What’s big right now in those genres? What draws you in and what would you like to read more of?
In cookbooks, there are celebrities, but also Gluten-Free is big, Brooklyn is big, places with great stories and real specialties and sterling reputations. People are looking for expertise and inspiration and good company in the kitchen – or at least that’s what I’m looking for.
@fullmoonsong asks: what are your thoughts on the rise of self-publishing & the disintermediation by the likes of Amazon publishing?
Oh, I’m a fan of editors and traditional houses but we’re all figuring it out. I have lunch with an Amazon editor later this week. I try to keep my head down and look for good stories and authors and ideas. Then, I stick my head up and take note of the sea changes in the industry and then I put my head back down and read and then back up.
@WriterMomm asks: how should an author choose an agent and how does the author know it’s the right fit?
It’s like many decisions – you do the research, you ask the questions, you talk about the work, and then you go with your gut.
@frankjedwards asks: what are you most looking for in a query letter?
Directness, just tell me who you are and what the book is and why you are writing me.
No Child in New York
October 13, 2011
When I get to my transfer at Union Square, I have to remind myself that I have aspirations. I didn’t know I did this. It’s like I have to summon up desire day-to-day. Even more strange–that my lifestyle convinces me otherwise.
After my hour commute from the literary agency, I waved ‘hello’ to the halal cart man who had become an unexpected friend. He gave me some free snack fries. He treated me like a kid. Then I jotted something down that I stared at all night:
I want to always be known as a child. My faults expected. Free to change my mind and make myself the fool.
I looked back at my past posts, terrible. I read the word, “woman,” more often than I was comfortable with. The times I argued I was an adult, I was a child. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the fervor nor the interest to make my point. God, I’m losing my interest
I’m not saying that New York has wrestled it from me. That the city’s trains hold the mourning and unfamiliarity has changed to dislike. But I have lost something. To make up for it, I throw post-its up on my ceiling, fridge, drawers. I remind myself, you’re still a person and even if you have nothing, you have your goals. The shocks of bright paper tell me I know who I am. Yet, on special days when I come up empty and my desires turn to smoke, the bit of child that does remain wonders what she’ll get for giving up– as if all must be fair.
August 12, 2011
My grandma was born in Korea, raised in Japan so her name: Kumiko. Though, only I knew that. I gave her English lessons, and she made me paper fans or microwaved eel over rice. I slept over her house all the way to the 11th grade. She was my only family in the states, or so worth calling.
Something that stayed with me, unfortunately, was an incident at her funeral. One “family” member, with the backing of many others, accused me of not mourning enough for Grandma. It was a public accusation. I was nineteen. And from it, utter humiliation and ridicule haunted me for years, though the guiltless accuser likely forgot the incident in a minute’s time.
Yesterday, I visited my grandma’s gravesite at Gate of Heaven in Los Gatos. I kneeled in the grass and thought she had the nicest picture on the block. I now have an answer to that accuser (and fellows). I mourned in private because I was afraid. If anyone—even those who knew Grandma—got a glimpse of my pain, they would see into my relationship with Kimiko. They would see our jargon, our stories, and the way we were. I wasn’t ready to share that. At nineteen, bereft and in pieces, I wanted to keep her mine and only mine for a little longer. Even then, you took from me whatever composure I could barely muster.
Extent to Which One May Reap
April 19, 2011
“It’s not enough,” was the first thing that came to mind. Half-year into 2011 and by luck, I’ve had the opportunity to work with: The Orange County Register, WongFu/afterschoolspecial, Gulf Stream/Entasis/TriQuarterly publications, over 10k twitter followers, first tattoo piece, Columbia MFA acceptance, Steppie/MaryLenore with Sylvia G Photography, comics site Critiques4Geeks, trek in Guatemala, and see the polished 7th chapter of my novel draft. I owed it to the goodness of my colleagues – for allowing me to dip into their projects, for assisting me with mine. Despite my gratitude (and to that of my body, harboring unknown energy for pursuit), I sat cross-legged on a patio chair in the garage and thought, all the things combined was not enough.
The works didn’t satisfy my conception of accomplishment. I understood that I had yet to cement my existence. In other words, in my absence, there would be no greater or lesser number of people affected by my acts or my person. I wasn’t a part of a fundamental ideal – I wasn’t doing enough. I had certainly enjoyed my last half-year, but I needed to yield more somehow. Hearing the humdrum of the garage-dryer and the last of my pillow cases tossing in the tin bin, I thought I sounded impatient. Impatient to be where I couldn’t be certain that I’ll go. Impatient to know the extent to which one can reap from this life. The last thought I had, peering into my brimming laundry basket, was that I could double, triple my output – and that I would have to.
In An Iron Mask
February 8, 2011
Résumé by Dorothy Parker
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp,
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
In bed with three awfully hard cushions propped behind me, I read this poem out loud (from Pinsky and Dietz’ Poems to Read). “Might as well” fit like a backscratcher between “You” and “live” and it got me laughing until I toppled from my spot. I had gone through 193 pages before finding this Dorothy Parker gem. Salty. Sharp. A kind of piece I’d never taken to before.
It reminded me of 2009 when my losing streak was at its prime. I was entrenched in fears. How to learn without talent? How to listen without anger? Living seemed only an option since there was no immediate nuisance (that death would bring). So I lived, or more accurately, just sat and watched things move around me for a little bit. It wasn’t exciting.
I think I’m trying to say that I’ve been lost and breathless, a ghost in clothes. And I will probably go through that again, but I feel now, that I can survive it. It wasn’t so bad. If I’m living, I might as well write, and if I’m writing I might as well grow and be changed to what I can’t imagine. After all, I don’t want to die in an iron mask. The only poetry I leave, being the thoughts I never got to say.
It’s not considered “exchanging” unless you break your heart for it
December 20, 2010
I don’t think I’ve asked for much in exchange for my shot at writing. Cold as it may sound, I’d give up a number of acquaintances and a carefree lifestyle. In return, I’d adopt decades of senseless, wage-less work and faltering support. In this quaint city, I thought I could give up about anything because nothing was held too dear in the first place.
My mother and father, both from Seoul will return to California this year, 2011. If you’ve glanced through my blog, it’s been seven years since I’ve been waiting to reunite with them. This distance between us has been the source of much of my writing. All of a sudden, it came to me while applying to graduate programs in the east coast: I’d be asked to willingly choose between my craft and my family. I’d have to decide between further researching poetry or being with my family after 7 years of separation. This was the very thing I’d feared the most. I don’t have to go, I tell myself frequently between post-office visits, or better yet, I won’t get accepted anywhere. I asked for very little in exchange for writing, but I’d forgotten something so important. It’s not considered exchanging unless you break your heart for it.
From my sketchbook
December 4, 2010
“I am but one woman”
October 9, 2010
The past few months have been aging me. Critical reading and theory takes more from me than I had suspected. In such time, I’ve also come into myself as a poet (maybe enough to
make a few assertions of my own).
Amongst wine and Parliaments in writerly circles, one often hears a nervous complaint. “What of us, who remain poor, overlooked and hanging on the fringes of society?”
It took quite some time (and courage) to say: poetry is a privilege. It is the one vocation that does not work under the pretense of money. There are few things in life so blessed and conscience-free. I speak for business and enterprise that seem to deaden the individual spirit, leaving one ever so passive. Poets have a moral responsibility. One strives for poetry because she chooses to follow a different measure of life. How could she ask for anything in return?
Having chosen such a vocation, there are pains I must embrace. First) I will let people down, particularly those closest to me from my adhering to isolation and financial dissolution. Second) I will not make a difference in this world. This is one of the revelations that I have resisted the most. I am but one woman. I contain no power to move those around me and never will try to. My very best involves finding change in myself and Beauty in its richest form—in nature and the human heart.
1807 Oleander Place
Appeared in New Forum and The Susquehanna Review
At night as Mom had, I rubbed
my wrists with ginkgo lotion.
They rested by my face
and I fell asleep smelling her.
Each morning in my garage-home,
I boiled salt water with pepper sauce,
used the same chopstick to stir.
I drank it.
Since I had no phone, she shipped
kimchi packets that ripened on the trip.
She penned letters from Seoul;
I signed the postal slip on tip toe
and set them aside—her folded slip
with foreign squares, short crosses,
crowding the page, covering the creases.
Maybe You’re Working Too Hard
August 7, 2010
It’s August. I’m listening to Christmas songs again. Something about bells and piano bring me back to myself. As in, back to a person without any thoughts and feelings except for those of my own. When I get here, it makes it easier to be sincere. I do this because I want to discover more about my world before I jump back into the pits of work and pressure. Before I look for a reason to be proud of myself, I want to know why I need to be.
It’s not despair that brings much revelation or thought. Rather it’s in the quiet moments that follow. Today, I tried to notice things that I usually don’t. I found that I’m not much of a thankful person. Despite any handicaps I may adopt or boast of, there is a fact that levels them all. I have my health, and I have time. Everyday there are a few hours I’m free in which I could dedicate myself to good food, friends, and writing. Well, I live like a free man–that’s what I’m trying to say–that I am a free being in that I speak and act on my own behalf. With all the choices I get to make in this life, I’m always invited to make more each day I wake. Better ones.
Knowing all that I’ve been given, I can’t help but feel the weight of authority and expectation, of God (that Guy). How dare You make it so easy for me? What do You expect me to become, to accomplish? Behind these questions, I know my appreciation is lost and it returns to something bitter. What if I am not what You created me to be and this life You put so much magic into was just a waste of time? It’s not enough that You believe in me until I do.
June 17, 2010
Few years back, I’d write some stuff down, dream journal things, and I called it poetry. Somehow, I’d thought poetry was a mess of feelings on a page. Poets used the same look–just language. So writing a few lines given this medium seemed simple and redeemable.
I like the idea of control because it had stayed with me from my Dantist studies. Boethius says it better: “The joy of human happiness is shot through with bitterness; no matter how pleasant it seems when one has it, such happiness cannot be kept when it decides to leave” (1962 Macmillian Pub). He goes on to say, we find happiness not in excess, but in controlled reasoning. Reason allows us to be content with what we have, rather than seek more. Reason is the key to mediation and human joy.
As I became more acquainted with the craft, I found a similar philosophy behind poetry. Poetry is about taking that mess of feelings (the excess) and refining them. By doing so, something incredible happens. Other people can read it too. The audience gains access into the poet’s writing because it’s no longer a mess. And all the poet can hope for is that the reader doesn’t feel he has wasted his time.
It seems juvenile, but some of my edits are simple, one word. It took me a week to change the line, “she stepped” to “she ran.” Quickly, we notice the differences in tone, in agency, and sometimes these different words allow ourselves to realize how we think, or how we blame. It becomes a self-study. I frequently write about my mom, it comes naturally and it has served as a vehicle to write about myself. I find Boethius’ happiness in mediating my emotions towards her and am content in doing so. I must have the most selfish (and luckiest) job of all, being a poet.
This was my first poem. Frui is one of the two defined loves in Dantist study. It is to love someone, not for themselves, but for the source of their creation. (Frui previously appeared in Qarrtsiluni and received the Bret Baldwin HM)
Mom always loved the rain. She loved the sharp edges of the stones
washed with it. Because she liked things clean.
It cleans every alley, she said.
God must like things clean. She was sure of this
more than the broken zippers
and the washed take-out boxes she saved in the pantry.
She loved to bleed.
I hope she finally sensed God’s cleaning in it.
Postpone the Dislodge
April 9, 2010
It’s 70 degrees and dazzling. I must have settled in this city long enough to feel it as home—four years now. I call things my street, my restaurant. The neighborhoods I visit for coffee stops and pool breaks are familiar. And should I need help with writing, with editing, I’m only a few blocks away from my most trusted instructors.
Initially, it might have been guilt from feeling happier here than anywhere else. Even when visiting family, I look forward to returning to this city, home. It could be called independence, but I don’t see myself this way. I rely on every friend I come by. When people ask why I choose to stay here, I don’t mention that I deserve it, that I haven’t felt like this in the last two insufferable cities I’ve lived in, that I’ve just begun to reap the rewards of putting time and work into these places and people, that I don’t feel ready to rip the premature security from myself just yet, that I have someone I love here. I say, the weather is great.
If You Ask Questions Like These
March 6, 2010
I let one foot hover 300 ft above water. The other balanced on the ledge of a steel bridge, my hand gripped the cable behind me. The ones that look down don’t seem to jump. It’s the ones that look up that do. They look for answers first. My question was, what am I really living for. The question became important when I caught people avoiding it. In fact they go on to work, lunch, gym without thinking about it once. If I asked them, they were offended as if I said you have nothing to really live for. Even when I asked myself, my ego hurt.
I felt an extreme circumstance involving death might procure an intention in life—a mind frame that certain people have (opposed to the blank, empty faces at the office). The bridge was about putting one’s body in an environment where his priorities cannot matter, where a singular design becomes clear. Wealthy and praised almost made the cut for goals, but even these didn’t reflect real value.
I wasn’t on a bridge (the bridges here are above traffic, not water). I imagined it, as psychologically straining as it sounds. But I had found the beginning of an answer. Behind the education and career, there is a responsibility as a human being. With both arms and legs intact, strong back, and a brain that has immeasurable potential, for now I owe my life to use the materials given to me to their fullest extent. And though I don’t have any answers yet, I feel I am going towards its direction. If I had been walking in the dark, I’d found a flicker of a streetlamp in the distance.
February 15, 2010
If there was an alliance or a freebie card that God slipped into my hands before birth–it’d be an older brother. I didn’t recognize this until there was nothing left, only this card. I’m having some trouble here. You see, I scarcely talk about my brother. And for those who have one, who are one, would find this reasonable.
No matter how much we age, he’d lived more than me in the most similar circumstances (environmentally, biologically). To me, his word was final not because he was exceptionally loud, but because his word conveyed the world I’d face. He walked, broke his bones before I did. So there was always something to learn and be afraid of. Though he was particularly cruel with his bullying antics in my childhood, I think I was scared for other reasons. I believed he had a right to despise me. My parents reminded, “he’s had it worse” and even he must feel—he was a child faulted for being one and had thus grown to be an adult prematurely.
The whole way, I’d felt sorry for myself watching him (things I’d have to endure but never came). Like a worn broom he cleared my footpath. By the time it was my turn, I had little to bear. Evidently, I had had a childhood at all. When my parents blanked, lost me in a wonder park, it was my brother to find me huddled by the cobblestone street. I realized it’s not him that scares me. It’s what I imagine: a boy having to find his own way back to his lost parents. And most selfishly, what I would’ve done without that boy having suffered so.
What Eating Really Means
February 4, 2010
It’s still Wednesday night. I stare at the canned tuna and the Mayo bottle while the Het-Bahn rice cooks in the microwave. In a house of maggots and moths, I rarely find issue. All my food is preserved, tin-packed and I eat them Monday through Friday, the trash filling with cracked lids. It never occurred to me that this is why I vehemently insist on having “my choice” on the weekends.
Last Saturday, I looked for Fettuccine Alfredo, not the good kind. I wanted the bland, over-sauced one from Chili’s. It had to be just that–not Olive Garden, not Maggiano’s because I’d thought about it so carefully between Ramen packets and Poptarts. I imagined sitting-in like a customer on the red stool and polished bar. It meant I got to eat something because I’d earned it. Just a taste of a little more than what I have now meant I could see above this can-opener. Maybe if I keep that in sight, I’ll reach the weekdays I could have everything.
If Dad Could Speak
January 27, 2010
Two days ago, I finished my first novel. It took seven months to write, two years to draft. I’ll soon be launched into a bout of editors continuing the story of a mother-daughter relationship. But I remember the last page was the hardest. At the end, there was nothing I thought of more than my father. I missed thinking about him.
In one business meeting, he filled his notebook with Batman drawings. He inserted that Robin is for girls, not for men. When he dropped me off at the airport, he pointed towards the Incheon bridge, said it’s the top five longest in the world and if I could believe Koreans built that. I left him and every day that passes here, he gets older in his Pundang corner couch. His peaking temper lows into a subdued guilt. Now, he’d rather smile into the phone than yell. Like the story’s over. He’s already proud and has done what he’s supposed to, thinking he knows this life fits. I want to cover his gums and hide his teeth. There’s no proof that veins sparked with his blood could lift insignificance off his own timeline. I remember why I couldn’t think of him. Someone hasten his speech, open his eyes. Keep him frenzied, alive.
Knew This Would Happen
January 3, 2010
Just got back from visiting Mom and Dad in Korea. We drove to Busan where an octopus fell onto the snowy gravel in the fish market. Even stopped by Dae-jeon’s pig-blood restaurants with stew on sale for two. I was ready to come home. But my mom does this thing. On the flight back, I found napkins and breath mints in both of my jacket pockets. When I unpacked, there were vitamin bottles tucked between socks. I unwrapped my boots and they were stuffed with ginseng drinks. Like I need to be reminded of our distance as it grows.
In the empty apartment, everything I touch aches with me. The shivering cup or the cold counter. I wake when it’s dark outside–my clock still 15-hours fast from jet lag. It reminds me of the winter night in Seoul. Dad peeks in the snack cabinet and Mom closes it after him. Their life continues. But mine seems at a stand still (least for the next few days). I can’t seem to get going. I keep waking up when the day’s over. Keep waking up in Korea.
There Was No Mountain
December 19, 2009
I’m on the plane typing on a dying laptop. I made the font big and the screenlight the lowest it can go. It seems I write when I need writing. It’s mostly during troubled moments. Burke would say this isn’t a bad thing. Strong emotions (more associated with negativity) produce works of art. As a greedy student, it has put me in a perpetual state of grief. Because my art outweighs my contentment.
So I’m told I don’t occupy a real study and there’s nothing for me post-grad, but I push back the “loser” sign. I’ve been drafting my second working title since July. Since July, I’ve been walking stiff like I’m not working hard enough if I could afford a smile. The process actually forced me inside a confessional by myself. No hail mary’s to follow, only recitations I must vow with my own mind. I came up with “I’m sorry.” That I act like my life sucks right now. When I let that go, took art down from its Aristotelian pedestal, nothing changed. A lack of discontent never inhibited my creative output. Burke was wrong. And those guys greeting so brightly at the coffee shop—they were onto something.
Avoiding the Machine
December 3, 2009
If I had to be honest, I have frequent dreams of dying. Beyond the humorous morning angst-face while brushing my teeth, these curses have contributed to the work ethic I’ve gained over the year. The most vivid deaths have been in cars, others in not so conventional ways. I have to grow from such events. I’m convinced that I’ve been given more time to digest this (as an act of mercy). Maybe it’s enough to refine a sensitive soul into tranquility–to bring the mind the closest it can to nature (or the end).
But it hurts my time. I’m 2 minutes late or 30 minutes slow. My cell phone dies from checking the digital clock, not from calls. Last night I thought if I’d started 1 year ago, I might have a successful platform today. I almost lose the bigger dream. Though setting short term goals like walking the dog is more simple, it’s been difficult to want to do what I need the most. When dying seems so close I work harder, harder. And what forces my mind into wisdom, makes it slow. I made myself a commodity somewhere between submission and publication (death). Even I believe my only value comes from what I can produce quickly. Meanwhile, the hope to maintain quality has consumed me with burden. I’ve thrown my person into a one-man assembly line. My worth contained in the next completed piece, I wonder if it will float. If I’ll find my value is 0.
Throwing Hobbies Away
November 22, 2009
I’ve been isolated for a few weeks now, apart from social distraction (lucky to do it for writing as I don’t have a job). Only briefly, I get to explain my absence to passing acquaintances. There seems to be little credit for my craft as requiring much effort. So I shorten my explanations accordingly. Because in social conversation driven by complaint, I have no right to offer anything. Still, my rank pride wonders if my writing is regarded as “playing,” that my days pass without adversity.But I remember when I used to jot down poems in private. Embarrassment kept them hidden behind folders in desks. It was agonizing that I found a hobby I enjoyed at the price of sparse talent. Since then, I’ve tried to make up for it through absolute labor. Yet I could show someone and it’d still be the most uninteresting thing. Because it’s still a creative job. I can’t decide whether it’s my selfish need for encouragement or a lack of support from my peers, but sometimes it’s enough to trash my work altogether as I’ve seen it happen for those who pick up designing, sketching, composing. They can’t see their growth since no one else tries to. They throw their hobbies away–what could’ve been an occupation, even small moments of sanctuary and peace.
A Dream from this Morning
November 1, 2009
It was my birthday. Falling asleep at the day’s end, I felt the bed bend on the other side. My grandma, long since dead, seemed completely intact. Her cheeks pinched from a smile. “Eunji, look.” With chalk, she drew a large box across my plaster wall. She made lines in and out the square. The edges of the box sunk into the wall like a window. The lines thickened into bright green panels. I swear I even saw sunlight shine through the blinds with the wind nudging them gently apart.
Grandma said this was when she was the most happy. It was her classroom window in Ueno. The students and teachers hung emerald lines of birthday wishes along the frame. Though it was an arranged tradition for each student, it was still surprising. And comforting. The way they swayed back and forth during a time she felt alone…She pointed to the top of the window, something like calligraphy. I couldn’t tell if it was kanji or hanja. She sounded it out so slowly, I could repeat it now. Eunji, Happy Birthday.I woke up devastated all the same.
Sincere Fear in Exchange for God
October 26, 2009
It’s been almost 4 years. Even now, I have no retrospect. When my lamp light makes black drapes on the walls, am I back on that street again? I only remember sweating my sheets. How my lids closed heavy over anxious, wide-dilated pupils. How my slackened faith must have created a cellar of demons that knew my Godless isolation. Everything was a ghost: the corner, the door handle, the vent, just ghosts and ghouls–I wasn’t safe. And each dead-leaf morning, I prayed “one more day.”
Because love could be so difficult to refine, I used fear instead. It was the only way I could communicate a sincerity for God. When everything was terrifying beyond their temporal rationale, there was no family or drink I begged for more than Him. And the darker the corner, the vents, the greater my gravity towards Him. Beyond wanting to feel love, I wanted to stay alive though I couldn’t merit it from the unnatural fear I fed Him. I’d stare at my plaster walls, looking for a flicker, making bets in my head. If You’re here, show me a streak of shine. If You think I’ll get through the day, make a clang from the sill. Show me I still have life beyond this.
Whether it be better in sorrow than comfort
September 19, 2009
I’m afraid to admit that I’m settling into a kind of uninterrupted contentment. It might affect my creative craft. It’s too difficult to sit down and write when everything smells and tastes so good. But that’s how it is right now. I wake and stare into the bent panels of my window, the morning shine seeping into the room. My nose rubs against the cool linen and my hands stay still at my sides, admiring. The air looks so alive.
But it’s dissatisfying. I find myself looking for some modern day flagellation. Maybe calling my mother to make her cry. Or memorizing my 23 e-mails of rejection. Because with every arriving good will and fortune, I wince a bit inside. Almost like I’m waiting to be hit with a bamboo spine or the window shutter stick. Since nothing’s free. Even now, I flip through my life and see all that I owe, grief I must look forward to. If this is the outcome of my time line, at least it proves life is just. At least it puts a judicious soul at ease. Though I frequently count my blessings in front of the microwave, I want them to stop. I’d rather pay my impending distress now when I feel stronger than I’m used to. I don’t know if I could handle it with grace should it come any later.
August 5, 2009
It’s an eight hour drive to Mokpo, the southern coast of Korea. The forest starts right at the yellow line at the edge of the paved road. The canopies make mountains that slope up and down–like giant, mossed elephants lying next to the freeway. It feels like I can run down their green trunks, jumping atop one head to the next. The crisp air pierced my pores and I could breathe again. But I didn’t know that I’d been suffocating. And these psycho-social images: money, career, family, time, an inability to provide. Unnatural fear and concern left me, carving off the inhibiting excess that held me back from being human. Not human to err, but to be surpassing with inexhaustible room for growth. And human capacity–innate consciousness over rocks, body over plants, mind and reason over animals.
I wanted the lush sight to sink into my bones, the feeling that I could bound over the mountain edge into the black space. I must have been in a snow globe when the top cracked open, a whole set of capabilities and vigor widening my mind. Like I hit “empty bin” to the trash I didn’t know that held me back physically, mentally, psychologically, socially from fitting dreams/goals into a worth life. Sometimes, there are grave mounds on the mountainside, the old generations that sleep with one eye open. I smiled out of ego. The past and their spirits, the precursor staring wearily at the future generation that drives by on bald tires. The feared world they must have left. I wanted to make them proud.
Revisiting Old Wounds
July 14, 2009
In the Seoul morning, when I look out the balcony, I see the clouds getting caught in the dense mountainside. If you blink, it almost looks like smoke escaping the treetops. Like the whole city’s on fire. About two years ago, I fell asleep in my parents’ living room in Korea, on the hard floor with a pink quilt over my face. I had been visiting my distanced parents over the winter. When I awoke, the quilt looked so much like the one in my apartment. For agonizing minutes, I thought I was alone on my spring-less, flat bed in California. To the lone child still selfishly waiting, it felt worse than sitting backstage, watching parents hand their kids plastic roses and head home to real dinners. Worse than when I told a brown coffin why I couldn’t take my grandma to Ueno anymore. I felt the things I’d carefully buried.
I was so accustomed to this ‘alone’ that I became good at it. When I’m surrounded by nothing but four plaster walls, everything’s the way it’s supposed to be and my life is continuing in a way I’d imagined. This was comfortable and all I knew how to handle. So when I wake to an Apple-Vinegar-Onion sandwich (the way I like) with mom’s real hand laying down a cup of warm milk next to me, I can’t breathe. Would I wake up in a meager room back in California. Could I then crawl into the garage as I did when I was too young, thinking about letters that should have read, “Eunji, we’re coming back to get you.” I don’t want to blink. I owe it to myself to try and enjoy being by my family’s side for the summer, however uncomfortable and nerve-wracking it makes me (however instinctively, I want to drive them away from me). Would I survive if I were to see my clouds turn into fire one more time.
A Bittersweet End
July 5, 2009
I motion to the flight attendant: I’d like some more Hess, please. As I look towards her kind nod, the slumbering salesman beside me, I think about the year I’m leaving behind me. Like an orphan, I’ve been searching for someone that could see me and know who I am in a way I can’t; some perspective from the outside to reach in and reveal the things worth smiling for, cheering for. And I came across something unexpected and invaluable; real through the experience of feeling (and intangible like faith). But more like finding good friends.
It’s never been easy to watch the friends I’ve built memories with have to leave. Despite the direction they may go and the ways in which I may change, I owe much to their warm presence and lingering voices. For helping to shape the woman I will become. Even by the loud hum inside the plane, I could hear the things we used to raise our glasses to. Could we have known we raised them for the simple sake that we met and that we got to share our lives with one another? Maybe I’ll have to write two research papers wasted again or I’ll find others that turn Ariel’s song into a vulgar rant of sexual frustration. But there is only one of each person in the world and I’m speechless that I found the one of each of them. With all this useless searching, it makes me feel awfully sentimental to say that I’ve found not what I was looking for, but what I needed.
Does It Pay To Be Strong
June 11, 2009
I see hope as a rare plane of sheen that wears over time from mistrust and abandonment. Maybe each layer becomes roughed up with pride and strength to withstand socioemotional distractions. It’s a disenchanting process to withdraw yourself from reach this way. I think it makes you readied to sever a bond, a laugh in the backseat of a car, a pinky-promise behind a dumpster wall when necessary. This kind of strong becomes a new solution to resist the possibility of failure (insert your fears here). And failure is always a good enough reason to make the people and experiences around you dispensable.
It’s true, the resilient and brutal scarcely have the strength to hope. It’s brought me to a secure and busy place in my life at the price of bitter detachment. Should my expectations rise so that no person could fill them, not even myself, I would become distant and elusive from everything. Maybe even ephemeral and disconnected to this world and I would find some peace in it. It was two years ago in some run-down bar, three hours south of Seoul. The old man said, It’s just too difficult to love a strong woman, and even more difficult to see if it’s worth it. And if you could see his eyes wringing with loss and his age creasing dark brackets around his mouth. You would believe him too.
She Doesn’t Need to Know
May 30, 2009
It’s strange that distance can make such a difference. When I miss my mom, I kind of close myself off. If I had to say, it feels like heavy leeches hanging off the back of my neck. They hinder the blood flow, making my cognizance go blank—a trickle here and there to strictly allow body movement. I guess it’s a great way to shut off for a little bit without actually slowing down. I like to think that even if she lived in the same country as me, I would still see her as infrequently as I do now.
It’s wrong. I know because she has a life, not here. I could physically nudge and poke the space of separation, it’s felt and endured (as I’m sure it is for any long-distance relationship). The stretch of distance carries islands, the ocean, the zones that keep us apart, and mostly the lost time we can’t make up for. It almost feels like she’s in another dimension. She’s living, but I have no proof except for my memories–of the way she picks out linens and takes her coffee. When I sit down to eat my dinner, she’s not somewhere else doing the same. She’s too far to feel that it’s night and too far to know that she should be hungry now. She’s not where she’s supposed to be, and I’ve been no less selfish thinking this way since I was fifteen. If she was at least in the same state, I wouldn’t have to think of when to call her for Mother’s Day, imagine the cake that I would’ve made for her, the color flowers she might have smelled, and the embrace I know she deserves.
May 4, 2009
A crowd in a cafe stood still around a man who decapitated a fellow student with a kitchen knife. The officers came, and he stood there with her head in his hand. Eighty-seven years ago, Eliot examined Seriality, alongside a few of his colleagues Dos Passos, Sinclair. It appears in urbanization, where more people are compressed in a smaller space. Everyone looks at everyone on how to act and appear. Everyone trying to be like everyone is the same as everyone being no one. To the point where humans act typically in public settings, where security cameras have programs to analyze humans walking by. Technology can predict whether people are doing anything out of the ordinary–a sensor goes off to alert nearby guards.
It applies to something as trivial as standing inside a bus, watching people shifting legs and arms. The longer you stay inside, the more everyone looks the same. Or to the decapitation of a student in Virgina Tech’s cafe, where the crowd did what everyone else did, nothing. Analytics show that if in danger, you’re more likely to be helped if there is one person around versus a crowd. So, if there was one person at the bar while she was getting her head hacked off, she might have had a chance.
Almost ninety years today, it’s frightening that this theory has come full circle and complete. Wherein individuality is still dependent on societal norm; and the unique people are just as predictable as everyone else (like Emerson and his shack in the hills, not original Emerson, not at all). Eliot gives us an image, a pile of dead bodies. In the compact space around us, cinema is booming because without entertainment, without the Lakers, blogging, without this notion of the “hamster wheel” in the cage, we would all go insane.
If You’re On The Same Page
April 1, 2009
Something very common I assume. My expectations were simply not met. Growing up, and seeing what the big world could be for me (and the other way around) is not much. I think, I thought I was special, and maybe I would have a unique ability to save the world and die for love and leave great children behind. That there was always a ‘good guy’ or a ‘direct and pure, shining goal’ to work towards. And in this, I am very helpless. I console myself by going back to when I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I was ‘kind of good’ at everything. Before I felt life was an RPG game, and the winner just needed to spike their abilities to the extremes (like Vegeta). Use the set institutions and resources around me as tools to further myself. But now I stare into the screen with such a resolute and predictable future and income, I’ve become a small screw in the clockwork (take it as you will). Had I not been in control this whole time.
How unnatural of this world to take the human expectation (to evolve in love in mind through faith, hope, and charity, instilled into the soul before even birth), and have this expectation driven into the deep recesses, to be cast off like child’s play, calling it immaturity, and reificating the experience into “growing up.”
I look at my life lines and think, is it okay to be such a jealous, overzealous, analytical, critical person. And how long does one live, thinking this way (too long)? But I won’t stop, see I can’t because I still am helplessly that child looking for a goal but. There is no stop or rest or breathe or sleep or walk or lean. Because there are promises I made to the people I love, and at least to them, I could be a woman of my word, if not much else.
An Hour A Day
January 10, 2009
Despite being hesitant and blatantly lonely, I can’t put this off any longer. A list of achievements scribbled on receipts, scraps are strewn about my desk and before I attend to these, I bring myself back to my side.
My mind works against me, doesn’t let me sleep. When I do, I can dream up to 64 hours of information before I get ready for my 8 hour day. It restrains me from people, from exploration, and has an insidious filter when it comes to everything. It nourishes my vengeance and grudges, feeds my fears. What a power. How much greater could it be should I direct it towards the good of its owner.
By bringing myself back to my side, it means a double powered new person. On point decision making, increased creativity, pain and stress relief, abates arthritis, insomnia, body form and control, breathing and blood flow, even considerably lowering chances of heart disease. These are all results of meditation, yo.
I never thought much of it before, I see monks, I see orange, I see fighting, and then I see Dragonball.
No, it’s just me taking an initiative to work on me. All these benefits rest on top of a high mountain, and it takes one’s recognition of the present with a clear mind to climb it.
To a happy and successful (single) life.
Bereft of this Life
November 5, 2008
How unbearable the dull pain is in comparison to one that is sharp and known. Somehow the lateral world does not appease a soul connected to the vertical order. I do not think much of death. Death has been waved in front of me as a source of solution for as long as I remember, albeit selfish. From taking life for honor(seppuku), or retribution–it’s more acceptable if your eyes slant and your skin is yellow. If you can’t hurt them, you can hurt yourself. This has also been a convenient resolution. Punching walls, speeding cars, the violent to thyself. The irony weighs down my heart; we are not meant to succeed in this material world.
I’ve been teaching an 11th grade class at Valley High School in Santa Ana for a few weeks now. I love it very much and I feel a few drops fill my cup. Hopefully, they will be inspired to continue to college after high school. Few of them have an artistic niche; they can sketch things so vividly. I pray they nurture such talents to turn them into fulfilling occupations. Just a couple drops. And to understand that that is enough.
Of No Importance
October 10, 2008
I am still heartbroken heart broken hear t.b.r. oke roken
“Critical Condition/Emergency” It was crossed out.
I don’t want to read these anymore meditation exercises routines THEY DON’T HELP! “Hallucinations, Low Serotonin, Somatic Depression, Recurrent Episodes, Insomnia…” I don’t want GABA nor calcium injections, I’m fine.
“Why did you quit DC?”
I dream every single night, I remember being in hell when I was five I remember dreams before I began to talk how could I articulation is it possible Chiampi said to me, just because God knows the future does not mean he’s made the choice for you. It’s like if he’s watching the replay of a football game, he knows what’s going to happen, but He had no role in the freedom of choice the person made. Otherwise, there would be no justice in punishment! in hell! Jeff, looking for me, found me drunk, confused, sitting alone.
“I am holding Grandma’s hand”
She and I talked about Ueno where she would walk by her large, grand flowers blooming in season. It’s next to the mini zoo. The scuba diving instructor walked me there and as he thought we might have been on a sweet date, I would smile to myself as I knew I was with Grandma instead. They really were the size of six-year-olds. I would return to let her know, and call out Kumiko-san! She said it made her feel like she was young in Japan again, and I promised I would return with her, to Ueno.
“Tell me about last night”
I was in my bed with my Grandmother’s rotting corpse next to me.
“Why was she there?”
She was waiting for me to say bye.
“What did she say?”
The most beautiful things my ears could have heard from the goodness of God Himself.
October 6, 2008
As often as I dream of demons and things of dark emotions and shapes, I dream of angels.
Robert Jastrow (agnostic): “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Frank Tipler (Professor of Mathematical Physics): “When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics.”
Wernher von Braun (Pioneer rocket engineer) “I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science.
February 12, 2008
Je vais me promener avec Aeson, le meilleur chien–parce-qu’il est actif, comme moi, et adorable comme un grand ours. Le 9 Septembre 2005
Je vous attends tous les jours
Simple mais sincère (avec quelques erreurs)