Last week, when the temperature was over 30 C (about 90F) and the humidity was at 85%, New Guy decided to wear a long sleeve hockey jersey. Due to the humidity factor and that we can only set the thermostat at 26 C, even the office was hot at 8:30 am.
One by one, as we came in for work, New Guy drew attention to his clothing choice. I was not spared.
"I wanted to wear it for the Olympics class," he said to right after he'd said it to J, S, and A. "But maybe it was a bad idea."
"Well, I don't think the kids will understand," I replied.
There's this gap. We can and do communicate with the kids, but there has to be a link to their own lives. Baseball is very popular in Korea. So is soccer. If he'd worn a soccer jersey, the kids might get it. But ice hockey is so far removed from their experience that combined with the limits of the English they know, the purpose of sweating like a drowned rat in the August heat. This is the long truth. The short truth is, New Guy wasn't wearing the shirt for the kids. He was wearing it for attention and sympathy.
The principal showed up on that day. He poked his head into my class. I was playing a spelling game with kids who don't know the alphabet and can't read in English. I'd taught them five vowels (y is complicated) and they were trying to complete the spelling words with vowels. For example, b_ _ K. Most of the classes are not very active. Olympics is active because mostly the kids play sports.
Anyway, after viewing all the classes, the principal was most impressed by New Guy who had somehow conveyed why he was wearing that shirt and sweating like a drowned rate.. Like so many other things, observing something from the outside versus looking at it from the inside equals two different things.
On the inside we see that, having lived with his parents until a month ago, New Guy is thirty-four year old child. He often mumbles, speaks fast and makes long, passive sentences. After a gazillion " we can't communicate with him," from students A. said, "New Guy, the kids are having a hard time. Please speak slowly and enunciate."
"I am," he wailed.
"Well, the kids are having a hard time," A. said. "So try to speak clearly and make simple sentences."
"I am," he wailed.
This continued forever and when it was over, he was near tears again. This is the guy the principal praising to the parents at parent camp. Sigh.
"Next time he cries, we should send him to the principal," I said to A. later.
She smiled, "I just might do that."
Have you ever been on the inside and had someone on the outside misunderstand what they observed?
1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune: He felt anxiety about the possible loss of his job.
2. earnest but tense desire; eagerness: He had a keen anxiety to succeed in his work.
3. Psychiatry. a state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder.
Synonyms Douglas anxiety.
Micheal J. Douglas
Escalator anxiety I'm going to get you.
I suffered from this. (Hey, they're dangerous.)
Anxiety: See, I was right.
The also are infested with sharks.
Now I have empty wallet anxiety.
Yell at your anxiety Kicking anxiety in the ass.
Anxiety is a voice in your head. It sends us a message that things are not right. But if you're like me, it never shuts up.
Me: "Shut up!"
Roommate: "Who are you yelling at."
Me: "Myself. Why?"
Roommate: "I don't know.... Because it's weird that's why."
Me: "You wanna know what's weird?"
Roommate: "Please, no."
Me: "Yelling works."
Anxiety is sneaky Never say never
If you're like me, you spend an enormous amount of effort convincing the voice of impending doom that nothing is going to happen and then a guy walks up to you and says:
"Hi, I'm you're stalker."
And it was creepy enough when he did it outside your house. But, when you reaching into your closet and he hands you your favorite dress, anxiety takes over.
Is this really what I want to wear? What necklace should I wear with it? Also, what's my stalker doing in my closet?
ps. This never happened.
And that's anxiety
How about you? What's anxiety to you?
I've been thinking about flaws for a long time now and had hoped to tie it into my ABNA results.
The process of critique has me frustrated and not because I don't see value you in it. I see tons of value but I also see a lack of contextual thinking and an attitude toward flaws that goes like this: Only after all your flaws are removed from your story, will your work be good enough for public eyes.
Here's the truth: flaws don't matter as much as you might think. They really don't. There is an unquantifiable aspect to what makes things popular. It's human nature to try to control the uncontrollable. A few seasons back America's Next Top Model tried to teach the contestants how to control their celebrity by branding themselves. Logic I found absurd.
Writing, like so many things in life, is a journey. Flawed people find love and jobs. Flawed songs hit the top of the charts. Flawed food is severed and eaten every single second of the day to happy customers. And flawed manuscripts find flawed publishers to produce them.
While personal growth often plays a role in success, it's not a requirement. What I'm saying is, and this applies to any pursuit, don't be afraid to put yourself out there now, flawed as you may be. Some people will like what you do. Some people won't. But be very cautious of people who say wait, wait, wait... not yet, no, wait.
Unless you actively resist change, each new attempt will be better. (Not everyone will agree on that, but you know in your heart when you've done something that stretched your boundaries.) The idea that a song that wasn't good or a book that wasn't good will end your career is archaic. We are in an era of experiment, thanks in large part to the internet. I find that as long as you put your authentic self out there, people are generous and forgiving of flaws.
You are free to make a gazillion mistakes doing whatever it is that makes you happy. And to learn from those mistakes. Or not. And either way, you have it in you to create a masterpiece. Or not. But until you put yourself out there, you'll never know.
I had some old bananas and because of my impending <strike>dislocation</strike> relocation, I decided to made banana nut bread. I'm trying to use stuff up. I don't have any walnuts on hand, but I do have some pecans. I tossed in a pack of banana pudding because hate banana pudding in and of itself. My friends sent it too me from home in case you're wondering.
Anyway, adding pudding to a cake mix will result in a moister cake so I thought I'd try it with the banana bread. I didn't quite have enough flour so I took the trash out and stopped off at the Family Mart on the first floor of my building. They don't have much of a baking section, but I remembered seeing some flour. The single small bag was still gathering dust next to several bags of sugar which were not not dusty. I whooped with joy and grabbed a diet coke from the cooler. I got a bemused look from the cashier at the register.
This was about 10:30. Before bedtime shoppers are usually after beer, ice cream, and chips. There were two Koreans loading up on this goodies as I made my purchase. They too, gave me a bemused look and about ten minutes ago some neighbors stopped to linger outside my door. The scent of fresh banana bread has apparently escaped into the hall.
This might seem counter intuitive to buy more flour when I'm trying to use things up, but I have some pie filling I've been sitting on. It's not easy to come by here and I can't remember exactly where I got it, but I do remember when my shelf had a can of pumpkin, a can cherry and two cans of blueberry pie filling. That was probably two years ago. Anyway, I've one can of blueberry left and now that I'm returning to the land of perpetual pie ( You didn't know that is a nick name for the United States? Well, it is now.) it seems kind of silly that I waited so long to use it.
I'll probably give the pie to my boss, though I'll grab a slice when everybody at work sits down to eat it. The next few weeks they're going to discover some delicious surprises. I wouldn't say I have a lot of special stuff waiting to be cooked, but with only three weeks left, I can probably prepare two special dishes each week. it also means the hall is going to be smelling pretty sweet in the days to come. None of this is import.
Except maybe one thing. The power of smells, particularly smells of fresh backed deserts. My neighbors have not grown up with these scents. They do not recall their grandmother pulling a fresh pie out of the oven on Thanksgiving. They do not have the memory knowledge to distinguish pumpkin pie from apple pie from banana bread. And yet it compelled them nonetheless to linger. It could just be coincidence but I don't think so. In the 18 months I've lived here, not once has any one lingered. To me, that is proof of the power of a smell.
If there was a theme song for your life, what would it be?
What a stupid question.
We go through phases. Our theme songs change. There isn't one for an entire life, or at least there shouldn't be. A month ago my theme song would have been a classic. Something stable. Now that I'm leaving South Korea and everything is in a state of upheaval, maybe half of it is a sad country song about leaving a place you love, but the other half is heavy metal, kiss my %$#@.
Since everything is changing, it seemed like a good time to update the blog thing.
There is a time for everything. For example, the time to eat pie is always.
Not everything is like pie. Take coming and going. They are as unlike pie as mice are unlike elephants.
Living abroad, even with the occasional break, is like living in perpetual mental ward. Life can be very, very good-- there is something about being abroad in and of itself that is like happy gas-- but you still are in another universe where the dots do not quite connect. These are not always specific things. Sometimes it's just a longing for x to be like it is back home.
Scientists have developed a word to describe this complex relationship. It's called homesickness. Most people feel homesick within the first six months of leaving their country of origin. I did not. I did not feel it the first year or the second. At of this has to do with my lack of family relations in the states. But starting with my third year, homesickness slowly took up residence. I didn't even know it was there in the beginning.
There is a time to stay and a time to go. It's hard to know exactly when that time is, but if fear is your biggest obstacle, then the time is now. I am terrified of returning to the United States and the depressed job market that sent me abroad in the first place. But I am so very happy to be going home, a place where there are 500 kinds of cereal even though I only usually buy Raisin Brain and Oat Meal. Mostly, I just want to be confounded by choice.
My co-worker spent last night in intensive care. He is a kind man who has a smile for everyone and geeky sense of humor that I enjoy immensely.
I knew that he was in the hospital due to an auto accident, but as with so many things in Korea, the severity of the situation was lost in translation. He wasn't driving a car. he was walking to work when he lost out on South Korean driver's favorite pastime: whack-a-biped. Though to be clear, if you're on a bicycle you're still eligible to get run over.
If two Koreans travel to (insert the name of every other county but North Korea) the two Koreans will refer to the denizens of that country as weigoogan. This Korean word is equivalent to foreigner but it also means everybody who is not Korean. An extension of this led to my co-workers accident.
No, he was not beaten. He is a Korean man. So how did he become the victim of his own cultural identity? Well, the concept of weigoogan extends even futher. Koreans also have word ( I can't remember it right now, sorry) to describe a social tradition of treating strangers as foreign but also invisible. This worked pretty well for everybody until about thirty years ago when the first roads went up and the first <strike>cars.</strike> motorized missiles appeared.
Now that the country is riddled with concrete arteries and the arteries are clogged with traffic resulting int two national past times: whack-a-biped, as I have mentioned and "how long can you live with getting whacked?"
Crossing any road, regardless of a well marked crosswalk and a light, is dangerous. Koreans are lax about traffic laws and a lot of drivers run red lights. First, imagine the crosswalk as turned green. You look both ways like your mother taught you. There are cars coming but the light is red and they have plenty of time to stop. Plus, you have to cross eventually. Still, you know how it works in Korea so you look to see if there are in other pedestrians. When there are you let them go first.
Today it's only you. You step into the crosswalk glancing at the traffic. In your country of residence the vehicles would slow down or at least swerve. You can see the drivers looking right at you. They don't squint, they aren't texting, you are just invisible and you're in a country where a red light means "only stop if you don't think it will cause an accident." Your heart jumps into your throat as you calculate whether or not you can run fast enough to make it to the sidewalk.
Now, the police will call the accident an accident. The biker, if he was not severely injured as well will get a pat on the wrist, and my gentle kind co-worker is looking to months of recover followed by months of PT. And his future job prospects are charred. Korea is not a kind place to live for those who are not perfect.
If you think you have it hard state side, listen up. South Korea has more people than jobs which has resulted in a very competitive job market. Remember that C you got in middle school algebra? Now imagine if a C could cost you a job? Would that 13 year old you been able to put aside being a kid long enough care about what it would mean when you were 28, 30, 0r 50? When it comes to the good jobs, Koreans can lose out on employment because they go a 99 on test in middle school. Why? There's a deluge of qualified applicants who got 100 down the board.
Remember when you were in high school you skipped class? Imagine if that followed you forever. In Korea high school students stay at school from 7 am to 9 or 10 pm. Classes stop around 4 but the students are expected to stay and study. Skipping school in Korea can be defined as leaving after classes but before study time is over. Sick days also go on your permanent record and you could lose a job because you took one and your classmates didn't. This is why Korean parents push their kids so hard.
But even with grades equivalent to a 4.5 their children might not get a job because of the way they look. Minor plastic surgery, specially a procedure to the eyes (Honest to God, I can't tell the difference after the surgery.) and mole and freckle removal, are commonly done to give job hunters a leg up.
So we are back to my co-worker.. My boss is kind and will keep his position for him. But if he wants to change jobs and he's the only one who limps into the interview....
There are lots of things I love about Korea, but this has never been one of them. Well to be clear, I mean both the perfection standard and whack-a-biped. With such a tough job market, the perfection standard isn't going to change, but motorbikes on sidewalks. That could be outlawed and it should be. And I'm not just saying that because it's a different way. I've been to Vietnam where motor bikes swarm like locusts.I've stepped into that swarm, albeit the first few times time my heart climbed up my esophagus, and was never in as much danger as I've been in Korea.
South Korea needs to get the bikes off the sidewalks because pedestrians are invisible. Reserve whack-a-biped for the crosswalks.
Warning: I'm feeling reflective!
In life, we are always in transit, phasing from who we were to who we are. Just a minute ago you were someone different and in a minute you'll be different still.
Sometimes there is a thing we want to return to-- perhaps because we promised ourselves we wold-- only to discover you cannot go back.
For me this has been the cello. Middle school was hell and my home life was a fast sinking ship that ended in foster care. I found refuge in the school orchestra. I was lucky because the school kept donated instruments for poor kids could borrow. This meant anyone could play. This meant I could play.
Despite having loner instruments, I was a rare bird from a different class of people. The loners were most often used by the kids who had forgotten their violin, viola, bass or cello at home. Many of the kids had been playing since they were four or five. None had picked up an instrument for the first time in middle school.
The music teacher was clear that I was at a deficit with no experience and no money for private instruction. She wasn't not trying to dissuade me, but rather prepare for the reality. I could not expect to up with my peers. I had not met an adult who met the issues head on, did not deny them. These are the facts girl. You need to give up your lunch everyday and practice on the weekends. And even if you practice until your fingers bleed. You can't keep up with the kids and their private instructors.
I was not raised high class, but I came to roost there with books, art, writing, equestrian pursuits and music nonetheless. As with art, music was just something I could do. I was not by any means a savant. I gave up my lunches. I took the cello home on the bus every weekend-- endured the jeers this brought.
Picture a chubby girl with a wondering eye who always wore sweat pants and ugly second hand snake skin glasses because her mother had decided to fight the status quo with bad taste. Picture her on any bus with any group of middle school age children.
I might have well hung a sign around my neck that read: Please tease the shit out of me.
Perhaps it was watching me try so hard, always coming up a little short, but I worked my way into my music teacher's heart. Soon, she too was giving up her lunches to give me the private instruction I could not afford. When at 14, I transitioned from living with my mother to living in the home of strangers, I had the cello. And I would have kept the cello. But high school came there were no instruments to borrow. And then I was at a different high school with no orchestra. (To my foster mother's relief. She knew had to deal with drugs and criminal behavior, but not an okay cellist/aspire equestrian/avid reader/artist. I've never been one to follow the crowd, what can I say.) So, I joined choir.
In orchestra, when one of the kids, but particular this one boy, set about making fun, I pick up my bow and play until my heart danced with music. Because I made my heart dance, the music wasn't bad. But again, no savant. Yet this boy and the others were silenced by not bad because it was so unexpected.
I could not achieve not bad in choir because I was just plain old bad. The old adage, practice makes perfect, isn't always true. Practice only made me a bad singer who had practiced.
Fast forward some fifteen years, and I finally bought myself a cello. It was a rocky start but, to the surprise of my Korean instructor, I was not bad. Over the course of six months I progressed from Suzuki book one to book four and that's where things stalled.
Whenever I listen to classical music I get an itch to play,but this and passion are two different things. I have had my cello for nearly three years and aside from those first few months, I rarely play it. Twice in the last year in fact. So I put it up for sale because it is a cumbersome object for one with no roots and In six months, I'm going to spread my wings.
I'm not coordinated enough to fly so lets say I'll plummet into the next phase of my life. With an international job, and perhaps after some stateside time, more international work, such a large object as a cello presents nothing but obstacles and unnecessary relocating expenses.
For numerous and logical reasons, parting with the large musical instrument I don't play is the right thing to do. Yet our present is inevitably tied to our past by strings. For me the strings are pretty literal. Mostly though, it's breaking the promise I made to the little girl I once was. I promised her that one day I would buy a cello and play until I stopped being little short, that I would play until the bill was paid in full.
Well, I did get a cello, but I don't play and I'm still a little short. I think I just summed up some inexplicable part of life. It's not what I expected, but it's not so bad either.
So far this month I've had three short stories held for further consideration, one of which was rejected yesterday, and six form letters.
Agent wise I've received five: Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS Literary Agency,Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates, Jennifer Azantian of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary, Inc. I mention them by name because I wanted to thank them without clogging their in-boxes. These are great agents that any author would be lucky to have.
So agents thank you for rejecting me. I mean this with all sincerity.
Since I started querying in August I've sent out forty or so queries and gotten about 15 rejections. I've made no secrete how I feel about agents whose response is silence. (I don't like it=(
Rejections suck until you experience the alternative: silence= no. Not "maybe," not she/he's seriously considering the story, just "no." Silence was once a place were writers found hope, delusional as it may have been, that their work was a contender.
Now, I treasure each form letter. I appreciate them so much that, if they weren't electronic, I might even be caught petting the paper "No" is written upon. In the meantime, I've settle for stroking the computer screen and saying "This isn't what you think," to the coffee shop staff as I'm escorted out of the cafe`. "I got a form rejection from an agent today and I just wanted to give it some love."
"How does that improve this situation?" the Korean man said in perfect English.
From kindergarten to High School I was mediocre student except for two subjects: art and lunch.
Lunch was my favorite subject despite the social hierarchy of the cafeteria. In all my morning classes I looked forward to lunch and after lunch, I immediately started looking forward to dinner.
Once the cafeteria served this meat and rice balls. They looked disgusting but I thought they were delicious and though I could never say this out loud-- the entire student body called them maggot burgers -- I harbored a secrete hope that they would be served at least twice a week. But the lunch lady must have gotten wind of the meal's nickname because the debuted but twice.
To be fair, my mother could not cook. Dinner at our house made cafeteria food look like cuisine. If you love food and I always have-- my very first words were "Pass the mashed potatoes please"-- you learn to cook.
Cooking in Korea sucks. I have but one burner and a cubby hole called a kitchen. But despite the size of the kitchen and the fact that I am leaving Korea in May of 2013 if not earlier, I bought some new pots to replace the old scarred ones. Having grown up cooking on cast iron, I'm hard on Teflon. What can I say?
Anyway, I could not find a photo of these amazing pots. It is the handle I most wanted to show you. See the handle is removable and this is not a new thing, I think combined with other features, the Go Cook brand is amazing. Proof to the point. Today I browned my chicken on the stove, and then after un-clipping the handle, I tossed the chicken pot and all in the toaster oven to bake while I put the potatoes on to boil.
I thought the way the pots stacked was the best part. And then I thought it was well food cooks in them. And then I thought it was how easy they are to wash without the handle. But I was wrong. Everything is the best part. So if you see a brand called Go Cook-- I believe it hails from Europe-- don't hesitate. Purchase a set.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).