Meditations in a non-emergency.

I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. -- Frank O'Hara

B and I are scheming to get out of the city. Or at least, to gradually downsize our presence in the city until it is entirely voluntary. We’re talking over ten or so years. Especially in the spring and the summer, when I wake up on Saturday morning, I’m not sure what to do. I have this strange urge to build something, plant something, scrub something. I don’t want to get on the subway. That’s not how I grew up. 

For as long as I can remember, that’s what everyone in my family did, once the sun came up, and the weather was nice, on a weekend. Build a new fence. Build a new shed. Refinish a coffee table. Plant a vegetable garden. Work on the car. Work on the boat. But then I did go to the record store this Saturday. (And when the fuck did records get so expensive? Have we started to run out of the things?) In the shopping center under Hoehyeon is where all of the record stores in the city are gathered, actually, and it’s been a long time, but it was nice to remember how it feels. When you start pulling things off the shelf and setting them on the counter, and the store owner quietly watches and then cracks a smile because, by glancing over the pile you’re making, he’s actually cracked you a bit as well. Without saying a word, he pulls one of the records out of its sleeve and puts it on the turntable. He gives it to you for half off, just because you had the good sense to pick it. 

But we’ve started to fantasize out loud, when we cram ourselves onto the train in the mornings, or when that same little fucker with the brown leather jacket and his fucking newspaper appears at the bus stop just as the bus is pulling up every single time, and still always manages to be the first person on. When we sit down to eat dinner at 9 o’clock at night because I insisted on cooking at least once this week, if I wasn’t even going to be home for dinner every other night. When three different stupid young couples push obliviously past us on the way into the restaurant to get their reservations in first.  

What if we kept a small, bare-bones place here in the city for sleeping and showering and ordering food for dinner if we had to, while working, and the rest of the time we ran away to a place where people would need an actual fucking car to get anywhere near us? Where that woman glaring at us from across the train with her thumb and index finger shoved into her right and left nostril, respectively, doesn’t even exist? Where there are no dumbfucks locked in an embrace and gazing into each other’s eyes while also taking up what constitutes the entire width of the sidewalk? 

It’s just a thought. A few thoughts. Three or four times a day. 

But it will get better once we move. 

For now, I’m enjoying the hell out of my job. I wish I could discuss it in more detail, but this isn’t a little middle school buried in the backstreets of a lesser-known city. Anybody with half a brain, some decent googling skills and a desire to know has probably already pieced together where I’m working, and would be able to work backwards from there to figure out who anybody I may discuss here is. 

I will say that we brought on a new chef for our Korean food article this month. I will say that I am extremely happy about this. I will not get into the details of why. That kind of thing, you see? But we went to Gapyeong, which is actually one of my favorite places in Korea, and which also happens to produce 95% of the country’s farmed dureup, which I had never tried, but which is really good. The weird part is that they cut the branches off the trees on the mountain, and then grow the shoots, the part that is eaten, by placing the cut branches upright on moist soil in the greenhouses. No roots. No planting. No nothing. Pretty cool. 

This chef was Italian and very friendly and excited to talk about food and just about everything else, which was a real joy. He broke the ice right away by leaning over to pluck a stray hair off my sweater while I was introducing myself, explaining that he, as a chef, obviously suffered from paranoia about loose strands of hair floating around. I told him I had two cats, so he was in for a long day. 

Later in the day, after all of the quote-gathering and fact-recording and photo-shooting, we finally had a chance to just sit down and eat together and talk about the food. I said, if I could I would just travel the world fucking eating. He said, you could, if you become a food critic. I said, I don’t want to criticize food. I want to eat it. If I don’t like it, that’s fine. Someone else probably does. He said, ah, but you’re the scariest kind of customer to me. You’re the kind who won’t even give me a chance to fix what I’ve done wrong. You will just quietly go and never come back. 

I think that shows a shocking level of humility, not a common trait in most chefs of his caliber. 

Yesterday I practically shoved B out of the apartment so I could get to work on the article, but it didn’t do any good. I had had a good chuckle at a foreigner in a mask of stormtrooper proportions in Myeongdong on Saturday, but the fucking joke was on me. I’m not one of those people who steps outside and practically faints at the first whiff of yellow dust. Instead, I wander around clueless all day only to be laid out with the mother of all sinus infections for the next week, at least. De-cat-furring the apartment on Sunday morning (aka, “cleaning”) must have pushed me over the edge. 

As a result, I finally hauled out the glass jar of organic lemongrass tea I bought at some stupid herbal tourist trap this winter and worked out that I essentially paid approximately $10 a cup to make myself tea. The fucking rosemary plant died as well, after a month. 

But today’s an easy one at work, and the article’s not due till Thursday. Hunners’ of pitches due in the middle of next week, and then the deadline period starts next Wednesday, but today and tomorrow are pretty much the best time this month to be a bit under the weather.

I got real worked up about the whole Ryan Boudinot brouhaha on Friday and was going to do a post, and maybe I still will. In fact, I definitely will because I’m already starting to simmer just sitting here thinking about whether or not I’ll write about it. But it may be a while. In the meantime, enjoy this sanitized post where all the really juicy bits about work or whatever have all been cut out because I like my job and want to keep it. 


잘 살자

I should be asleep. I have a lot of shit going on this weekend, but I find myself suffering from some kind of weekend rebellion since I returned to work. Being unemployed/out of school/traveling for five months had me used to being able to indulge myself in pretty much whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, which honestly took most of the fun out of it, after a while. But now, with my 야근-packed work schedule, I find myself gleefully rebelling on the weekends.

Today was a good day. We had, I surmised, a decent amount of 회식 left over in the previous year's budget which was to disappear, and our printer's deadline got pushed back by a day, so we all piled into a cab and the 편집장님's car and made our way to a froufrou 한식 place, and then dawdled over tea afterward. A three-hour lunch. One of the best results to arise from language school is that I no longer feel weird about speaking Korea even in front of a large group of native speakers. I don't know that I would even speak as much as I do now in Korean if it were in English, but I got used to pushing myself, and now it's become a habit which I think has somehow made into a more outgoing person in Korean than I am in English. The point is, I'm enjoying getting to know my coworkers better, and today was nice.

A big part of my new job is poring over news sites and culling information for pitches, which has got me starting large files of lists of things I want to see and do. There's so much going on in this city all the time, but I've become complacent in my little home life, and I've also been on a budget for so long, avoiding spending money on anything other than the necessary upkeep for personal relationships. But spring is here, and I have cash coming in again, as well as a constant stream of tempting events flashing before my eyes. One thing I will say for sure is that the National Library has done great things by putting on their current Indie Publishing Reading Room. I've been discovering these little indie bookshops that are popping up all over the place over the past year, but now there is an outpouring of articles about these places that is sorely needed. I'll be checking that out tomorrow, as well as the Buddhism Expo that's on down the way a bit.

Tonight was good. B's way to work coincides with most of mine, so we've been going in together and then trying to catch each other on the way home, as well, when possible. Tonight, we met at the subway station and then impulsively decided to head out for dinner, rather than doing our usual Friday night sofa/order-in/movie thing. We're struggling a bit at the moment with how to handle the household shit, with both of us getting home around 8 or later every evening -- we (I) usually cook at home, save once or twice a week -- but the upside has been actually getting out of the apartment more together, and finding new restaurants, breaking some well-worn routines.

We had a great dinner, tried some new craft beers, and when we got home, B gave me my birthday present a bit early -- a gorgeous stereo system with a turntable, something I've been blabbering on about for ages. My grandfather used to sit and listen to his records for hours on end, and I know it may sound odd, but having it sitting there across the room from me just now somehow makes me feel closer to him. God help our neighbors, and god help the movers if they do any damage to it when we move.

B and I have been having some squabbles lately, centered around the pressure of trying to reorganize our household now that we're both working. We just came out of two weeks of back-to-back intense overtime, him coming in past midnight one week, and me, the next, which was the worst case scenario in terms of both being able to spend time together, and also sleeping schedules. We've agreed to take the next two years to basically work our asses off and save as much money as possible, while also building up our resumes, so we can hopefully buy our own place and move into more steady and high-paying freelance work while also having the financial ability to pursue some other things in the future, but it's going to be stressful at times.

But sitting together on the couch tonight listening to the cheesy 50s musical LP that was sent along service with the stereo, I just got thinking about how lucky we really are. There aren't many people our age and from our backgrounds who have the opportunities we do. I expressed this to him, and told him, you know, we really don't need to be fussing at each other about anything. We have good jobs, good lives and each other. We travel, we eat great food, we have the ability to buy not only whatever we need but also a good deal of what we want. We don't need to be making trouble where there isn't any. It's going to be a little bit rough for a while, but we're going to adjust. We're also going to move in a few months, which means our 1-2 hour commute times will be cut way down, giving us an extra few hours in the day.

"그래." He ruffled my hair. "우리 잘 살자."

Part of living well is chugging a sneaky coffee at midnight if you feel like it, and blogging at 2am about nothing if the fancy strikes, but another part, I guess, is getting yourself to sleep early enough to not waste part of that precious thing known as Saturday.


Not dead. Not even slightly.

What do I have to say for myself? Not much and a lot all at the same time. It's been about a year, hasn't it? I'm not even really sure where I left off...

It's been a long year, a very challenging year in a lot of ways -- one of the most challenging of my life, if I had to choose, but also rewarding. It definitely felt like a good time to get off the internet and focus on life. Which is not to say you can't do both at the same time, but for some reason, the desire to write here just continuously dwindled until it was gone entirely. I think a big part of it was that it's hard for me to write when I'm going through a lot of big life changes. When I'm not sure of where I am with things, of what I'm feeling, I certainly don't know how to explain it to others. I also found that the more I turned toward immersing myself in Korean, the less I had energy left to deal with English. In fact, once I hit the higher levels at language school, I didn't have much energy left to focus on anything else at all.

So what's happened this past year? I graduated language school, for one, which was not as easy as I had though it would be. We lost about half of our ranks along the way. I failed to get the grad school scholarship, which was a blessing in disguise. By the time I had finished applying, I had been talking with a lot of professors and friends who had been through or worked with the program I had been considering, and I was already starting to have my doubts. I chose my undergrad program specifically because it was about as far from traditional as you can get, and what I was seeing of lit programs here was that the main focus would be on learning the canonical explanation for what a work means, and how to regurgitate that knowledge properly.

In a lot of ways, looking back on it now, I think I was operating on the assumption that I didn't have any other choice. I didn't know of any other way to try to get to where I wanted to go, and I also wasn't even sure of what I wanted. When the scholarship results first came out, I panicked. But then I got a grip and slowly began to realize that I had been handed a second chance -- a chance to think more outside the box, to not settle for what I thought I had to do.

So, what else happened this year? I went to Vietnam and got a horrific case of food poisoning, which I didn't even regret, because the street food was worth it. I went to Japan twice, once alone and once with Busan and his brother. I took Busan back to the US, where we had an incredible road trip that included my favorite southern beaches and New Orleans for Halloween. I spent a shitton of time with my family, which I really needed. I got married. I started writing a book. I got a few poems published. I became obsessed with cooking, and taught myself how to do things I never thought I could. I read dozens and dozens of books. I did a lot of translation. I had my first job interviews in Korean. I wrote articles. I got really familiar with Korea's indie publishing scene.

I also lost a lot of sleep, cried a countless number of times, doubted myself, threatened to leave the country for good, missed the birth of a new nephew and faced my first few struggles with being a wife and daughter-in-law.

And I got a job which, if I'm honest, I don't think I really deserve. But somehow the powers of the universe came together and everything fell into place. That is, after a nerve-racking five week interview period. I'm now working as an editor at a travel and culture magazine, a job which involves a bit of translation, a lot of editing (obviously) and fantastic little trips around the country to write about food. It's a great magazine and my new coworkers have been amazing so far. It's a bit of a mindfuck working in an all-Korean-speaking environment and doing research in Korean, while also concentrating so hard on English all day, but I'm learning a ton and I genuinely enjoy the work, and the pay is much higher than someone with no quantifiable experience in the field really deserves.

The last six months especially have been a blur, and I wasn't really sure where things were heading for a while, but I feel like things are settling down now. I don't know how often, if at all, I'll be dropping in here, but this is the update for now.

As a side note, let me just say... a couple of months back, for some reason I can't recall, I was searching through my inbox and I came across a number of emails from people who have read this blog. I've never been the best about responding to comments and emails, but rereading them from a distance, it hit me just how many people who have no fucking reason to care about me or my life reached out to me again and again to say the most genuinely kind things, to offer help and support, to cheer me on or make me laugh or even just to relate. I don't know how many of you will still be checking in, but if you are reading this, whoever you are, I hope you are well and that life is treating you kindly. Thank  you for being around.