Author: Sophie

I think I write

if you think you know so well about yourself, you’re probably wrong

Life November 14, 2019

I have always been really plagued about this whole existential notion of who I am. It is probably one of the most frequently asked questions, yet somehow it seems like we can only answer partially to that. Of course, other than the most simplistic answers like your name, age, profession, or whatnot. No one knows as much uncensored particulars about me as me. But every time I am asked to describe myself, that simple ‘so who really are you’ conundrum, I always get stuck. It scares me even. As the subject of my own depiction, ironically I find it difficult to talk about myself. I end up giving extremely superficial answers, and that is because I genuinely don’t know how to answer. Or if I even deserve to.

I was reading Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart today (God bless, it’s been such a long time since I read for fun) and there was an extremely intriguing line — “But when I talk about myself, all sorts of other factors — values, standards, my own limitations as an observer — make me, the narrator, select and eliminate things about me, the naratee.” This. This sentence was so striking because it couldn’t be any more accurate than this. After all, the portraits we have of ourselves are self-constructed. We retain the purest information of ourselves and regardless of the unrestricted access of the data we always tend to filter some out to our own subjectivity. Let’s put it this way, if we are writing a story about ourselves, we have full authority to decide what kind of detail we want in the narrative. We can omit, edit, and distort. Authors are rarely reliable to the fullest. And it really is unsettling to remind myself that I will never be able to establish an objective depiction of myself. So if you really think if you know about yourself, chances are, you’re wrong.

But I do admire people who can give a clear-cut sentence description about themselves. And not just because that is something I can’t do myself. I doubt that these are invariably accurate in essence, but it means that they are striving to live by what they say about themselves. It’s like a promise to yourself that you want to fit into that certain image you’ve created for yourself. You craft that image for yourself and by saying it out loud to others you impose a non-retractable boundary to that image. Sometimes they are just self-serving justification to get what they want in advance. You know, stuff like: I can be honest in whatever situation that comes along, and frankly, I think that’s just code for — I can be really brutally blunt and my opinion could probably, most likely make you upset, but hey, I told you beforehand so you knew what you were getting into. 

Other than these self-prescribing picture of ourselves, we discover ourselves — or rather, the closest we can get to that — by interacting with others. Because we can’t live in absolute solitude for the entirety of our lives, there most definitely are attributes that you can only discover by being with someone else. Just elementary stuff like, the face you make when you get frustrated. Or something more directly related to your inner sense — how you act boldly to everyone you meet, but that’s actually a fabricated response to hide how nervous you are. It’s just something you can’t realize on your own. Our objective reality of ourselves depends on other subjectivity of ourselves, regardless of how disturbing or unsatisfactory they may be. And by coming to term with those, you create a sweet balance of things you know about yourself as a participant and how others know you as an observer. I feel like that is the closest you will ever get to fully knowing yourself, from the rock bottom.

As for me, I have never had much trouble meeting and interacting with people, but I have been commonly told one thing: that I don’t talk about myself much. I have been told this by five different people who have absolutely no similarities in their upbringings, backgrounds, our even their relationships with me, so I guess it’s a unanimous judgment of myself. I didn’t realize it myself for so long either. If I think about it, I have a set boundary for every person I meet. A safety net. A do-not-cross sign. It’s a boundary for the set amount of personal data that I can share with someone. I don’t do it consciously but it just happens. I think this applies to everyone to an extent, but I am told that I have a much higher threshold than everyone else. Sometimes that demarcation can stretch further over time and I’m able to have what I call a DMC (which stands for deep meaningful conversations), but most of the times I end up having perfunctory, shallow exchange that doesn’t involve connection on a personal level.

That’s just one of the things I’ve been told. I have also been told that I frown a lot when I write, that I am a bad liar (this I have known for a while, I just can’t improvise), and that I am pretty transparent when it comes to emotions because they all just show up on my face. I think that’s great — not that the information I have gotten about myself is pleasant in nature — but that I am getting to know more about myself through the eyes of others. Because I thought I knew myself — the quirks, memories, and preferences — but it’s hard to know who I really am with just that. It is going to take years to meet different people and find new, previously unknown details about ourselves. I don’t want to be all corny, but maybe this whole senseless, arbitrary course of life is just a stretched-out process of knowing about ourselves. Maybe we’ll only know who we truly are minutes before we die. Will we have an objective, close-to-truth answer by then? We’ll never know. 

Despite this whole train of thought, the next time someone asks me, so Sophie, who are you? I’ll probably say I don’t know.


a small difference between fiction and real-life

Life November 7, 2019

Maybe it is just me, but I feel like a novel — specifically way someone writes and phrases things reflect so much about who they are as a person. It could be the way a writer uses a particular word over and over again. Or the way that he simply limits a visual description to a sentence-long summary. A writer’s way of writing means more than just stylistic means of delivering an idea. It is a peek into his thoughts and preferences. He could insist on overusing the same word in his works because he thinks that the word carries a symbolic meaning and wants to deliver a cause. Or maybe because he just likes that word. He could also reduce his descriptions to a minimum because sometimes the lack of language forces you to imagine beyond the spectrums of the sentence. It sometimes is true, though personally I like it otherwise.

As for myself, I like crafting the protagonist’s thought process very intricately. Like stream-of-consciousness kind of intricacy. Because very often I derive my ideas from my very surroundings and develop my characters based on the details I observe around me. For example, one of the characters of my recent novel enjoys watching volleyball games. I added that detail because my dad used to be in a volleyball team. From what I’ve heard he was very, very good at it. (And it made me happy that he noticed it while reading my novel) I give my characters attributes I happen to notice from reality and sometimes what I write feels so real that it feels as if I live in it. I end up projecting myself onto the character’s self, and speaking through the narrative persona.

You could say that sometimes it is hard to keep a neutral distance from fiction and reality. Especially so if you see and feel things through the things you craft within your writing. I’ve had a very uncanny experience when I was having a meeting with my editor and a poet from the same publisher — she told me that I reminded her of one of the main characters in my novel, and the poet agreed. They said that I had similar vibes. I’ve built my narrative world so closely to my own experiences and thoughts that it turned out to be inseparable to my real self. So maybe it’s true that what you write is like a mirror that exposes who you are as a person.

The only demarcation between a fiction and reality then is just my persona that has the ability to decide which is which. I could probably frame a real anecdote into my so-called novel and call that a fiction. It could be fiction in the end — whoever reads that would think that the anecdote exists to suit the characters’ needs or to drive the narrative forward. It’s ultimately reduced to a narrative tool then. There is an element of omnipotence as a writer that you can wield any sort of information into a story. A story. A fiction. An un-reality. No matter what happens in that novel and how people read and think about it, only I’ll know that wasn’t actually just a story. It lives and breathes. But it wouldn’t matter, would it?

Because sometimes reality is just as fictional, in that it is unimaginable and unrealistic — in whatever sense that may be. Reality can be just as cruel. Even more so because in real life, unlike our novels, don’t often have very satisfactory endings. Or let alone have one to begin with. There is no rising action, conflict, resolution type of conveniency. Sometimes a story just ends there. And it is the character’s responsibility to deal with the unresolved thoughts and feelings that results from the incomplete story. There is no one at fault — the story just can’t continue. It just sucks that way. I think writing is a coping mechanism. The writer’s authority comes in favorable here. We can give unended, dead ends a nice clean closure, even that may not be absolutely true. But if everyone believes it, I guess it can come true.

나는 한여름의 엄마를 기억한다

Korean October 27, 2019

나의 A, 엄마는 이렇게 말했다. 엄마의 얼굴이 몇 년은 앳되어서 바로 꿈인 것을 알아챘다. 엄마는 몇 번이고 내 이름을 부르며 머릿결을 쓸어넘겨 주었다. 나는 그런 엄마의 목소리가 좋아서 엄마의 무릎에 누워 눈을 감았다. 지붕 위를 훌쩍 뚫고 자란 나무로부터 햇빛이 저 멀리서 일렁이는 게 느껴졌다. 저 멀리서 매미 소리가 따갑게 들려왔다. 여름이었다. 엄마의 옆에는 먹다남은 수박이 접시에 덩그러니 담겨 있었고 오래된 선풍기는 이따금 괴상한 철음을 내며 돌아갔다. 매미의 노랫가락과 선풍기의 괴음이 연주하는 불협화음이 나는 퍽 마음에 들었다. 엄마는 가끔 내 팔에 붙은 모기를 쫓아내주며 마당 밖을 내다 보았다. 엄마의 시선이 어딜 향했는지는 알 수 없었다. 그것이 마당에 무성하게 핀 강아지풀에 머물렀는지, 저멀리 뜨겁게 달궈진 땅을 일구는 최씨 할머니에 멈췄는지. 나는 옛날에도 그랬듯 물어보지 못했다. 이렇듯 엄마의 시선은 가끔 알 수 없는 곳을 향했는데도 엄마는 언제나 고운 입술로 내 이름을 불렀다. A야, A야 하며. 너는 곧 모든 것의 진리고, 너는 내 세상의 진리라면서.

나는 눈을 뜨면 이 모든 것이 신기루처럼 바스라질 것을 알고 있다. 이 모든 것이 꿈이라는 사실에, 까무룩 잠이 들었던 모든 순간마저 아쉬워할 것을, 깨어 있는 그 시간에는 그 잔향에 허덕일 것을 알고 있다. 내가 돌아가야 할 곳이 있다는 걸 나도 안다. 나는 그럼에도 그 꿈에 남는 것이 간절했다.


옷장 속 비올라

Korean October 3, 2019

다시는 오지 않을 순간들이 있다. 지나칠 때는 잘 모르지만, 시간이 유수처럼 흘러 뒤돌아보면 다시는 비슷한 상황이 오지 못할 것이라는 게 문득 아득해지는, 그런 순간들. 그것들은 작은 디테일이 하나하나 기억 날 정도로 뚜렷하지도 않고 삶을 한순간 바꿔버릴 정도로 절절한 이벤트도 아니다. 그냥 삶 속 조그맣고 사소한 순간에 가끔 잠길 때가 있다.

난 지나간 순간들이 안타깝다. 행복했던 기억이 많아 아직도 나른한 날 옛 순간들이 떠오르면 정신이 아찔해지곤 한다. 그렇다고 만약 실제로 타임머신이 있어 되돌아 가겠냐고 묻는다면 망설임 없이 아니라고 할 것이다. 그 사이의 시간을 다 없던 일로 해버릴 만큼 아쉬움이 크지도 않거니와 지금의 삶이 퍽 불만족스러운 것도 아니다. 오히려 지금의 난 어제의 나보다도 많은 것을 알고, 조금이나마 많은 것을 느끼고, 어쩌면 조금 더 나은 사람일지도 모른다고 생각한다. 하지만 지나간 시간들에는 어떠한 애틋함 같은 것이 있다. 어쩌면 다시는 돌아가지 못한다는 사실 자체로도 더욱 그립고 사무치게 하는 것일지도 모른다. 단지 갈 수 없고, 다시는 되돌릴 수 없다는 그런 것 때문에. 하지 말라고 하는 것에는 더욱 하고 싶어지는 (가령 어떤 버튼 위에 누르지 말라는 표지판이 있다면 더더욱 누르고 싶어지는) 반항 심리 같은 마음일까도 몇 번 생각해봤다.

이런 얘기를 하는 이유는 최근에 지금은 졸업한 고등학교 후배의 음악 플레이리스트를 우연찮게 발견했기 때문이다. 거기에는 옛날 학교 오케스트라를 아직 할 시절 연주했던 곡이 몇 있었는데 가만 듣자하니 다시는 그때의 오케스트라에서 연주하지 못할 것이라는 게 너무 와닿았다. 나는 바이올린을 3년, 비올라를 7년, 악기 연주를 도합 10년을 했다. 실은 그리 오래 한 것치고는 특별히 잘하지도, 악기 자체에 애착도 없었다. 잘하고 싶었던 적은 있었어도 음악적 재능이 없다는 것은 일찌감치 깨달았기에 크게 애절하지도 않았던 것이다. 그런데 오케스트라 자체에는 기억하고 싶은 순간들이 있다. 아마 중학교 때 제일 처음으로 연주했던 오케스트라 곡이 하울의 움직이는 성이었을 텐데, 그게 기억에 아주 무겁게 남았다. 옆에서 생생히 들리는 현을 누르는 소리와 악보와 지휘자를 번갈아 보던 그 흐트러지지 않던 눈빛들이. 대회 연주에 참가하기 위해 오디션을 봐야 했는데 그걸 준비하려고 손목이 나가고 손가락에 물집이 잡히도록 연습했던 기억이 있다. 그렇게 열심히 연주했던 것은 그때가 마지막이었으리라. (애석하게도…)

고등학교 올라와서는 재능의 한계를 더욱 실감했었다. 당시의 난 우물을 벗어난 개구리였고 어쩌면 우물 바닥이 살기엔 더 좋았다며 흘러가기를 포기하고 있었는지도 몰랐다. 물론 연주하는 것이 싫었다는 게 아니다. 비올라를 연주할 수 있어 좋았던 순간도 분명 있었다. 그리고 그런 순간들이 있었다. 연습 전에 활에 송진을 바르며 오케스트라 탈주하고 싶다던가 리허설 영원히 불참하고 싶다던가 그런 소소한 불평을 너스레 떨던 순간이나 선생님이 늦은 틈을 타 옆 중학교 카페테리아에서 친구들과 간식을 사먹으러 가던 길이 생생하다. 대화를 하고 있음에도 영화 속 음향 조절을 하듯 어느새 목소리는 한여름 바람소리, 나뭇잎 흔들리는 소리, 달궈진 돌바닥을 타박타박 걷는 발소리 등에 묻히고 꿈을 걷고 있는 것마냥 붕 뜬 기분이 든다. 어쩌면 오랜 시간이 흐르면, 나는 이 순간을 내내 그리워하겠구나 — 하는 확신이 들 때가 있다. 그리고 그 확신은 결코 빗겨가지 않는다. 시간이 한참 지난 지금, 나는 그렇더라고 과거의 나에게 말하고 있는 것이다.

오늘 옛날에 살던 집에 와서 옷장 속 고이 잠들어 있는 비올라 케이스를 발견했다. 언제 그 속에서 나올지는 나도 모른다.

그 순간은 내게 분명 소중하고 애틋하다. 하지만 지나간 순간이기에 그러지 않을까 생각이 들기도 한다. 왜냐면 그때의 난 지금과는 다른, 나름의 고민과 고뇌를 안고 있었고 마냥 존재하기에는 마음이 편하지만은 않던 나이였다. 그러니 내가 더 순수했던 시절의 내가 그립다거나 하는 그런 이유는 아니라고 확신할 수 있다. 그때나 지금이나 고뇌의 무게만 다를 뿐 고된 건 같으니까. 그저 다시 갈 수 없다는 사실이 마음 아픈 것뿐이다. 그저 지금이 아니라는 사실 하나로도 그리 반짝인다. 지금이라는 시간으로부터 눈 돌릴 곳이 필요해서, 떠나보내고 흘러보낸 시간이 조금 아쉬워서. 내일이면 매일 오는 행복에 잠식되어 잊혀질지도 모르지만 있다 없어진 것에는 빈 자리가 큰 법이다. 그것이 설령 시간이고 기억 속 한 단편뿐일지라도.