Category: Life

The Art of Writing a Letter about Thinking of You

Life September 28, 2018

I write a lot of letters. On sleepless nights like these, I like to listen to one of my oddly named Spotify playlists and scribble whatever comes up to my mind with my very messy, occasionally – actually most of the times – illegible penmanship. Maybe it’s because that I have this peculiar obsession over the analog era. Old rusty clocks with gold rims that don’t tick anymore or binoculars you use on your night escapades to watch constellations. Besides the point, I just like the idea of completely immersing yourself into the thought of someone while you’re writing about them. The whole moment is surrounded by that one idea of the person. The way you hold your pen, or write your ‘g’s, the words you choose – they are all dominated by the thought of it. It’s more genuine, because the recipient of the letter can actually read the heart and time in between the lines.

I feel like it’s a more effective way to deliver a thought to someone you care, more than a text or an email. But that’s just me. There are probably faster, more effective ways to tell someone you care. It also does not help that I am analog-obsessed. So as much as I love receiving a letter, I love writing them. When I have someone I just can’t get off my mind I start writing. I write about everything. About my day — the one good halloumi wrap I ate that morning, the homeless guy sleeping I saw on my way to the park, this old record shop selling a bunch of ABBA records that I probably should not get, or hours spent trying to tell apart the stars at night. And sometimes I write about writing about them. About how much I think of them. I write about thinking of writing about them. I rarely send them though, because sometimes they are so transparent and honest that I would feel too exposed and bare just by the thought of them being read. Most of my letters are disposed before they are sent.

That’s probably the reason I grew up to be a coward. The more letters I write, the more I hide when I actually have to say something. It wouldn’t matter to me because I would just say those in the letters. The letters I will never send. The letters that will never be read. The words he will never know. I have many regrets about things I hadn’t had the chance to say. I write them all down, well-knowing they will never get delivered, and try to send the thoughts away by disposing the letter in the morning. Will I have more regrets about unspoken thoughts and hearts? Probably. So I write this as an extension to my unresolved letters. Who knows, this might be a letter in disguise too.

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The Difference between a Fish and I

Life September 28, 2018

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Just when I was ten, I was afraid of swimming. I didn’t like the feeling of water brimming up to my throat when I immersed myself in water. I didn’t like the pressure of water pressing against my eyelids, or the slightest distance between my feet and the bottom of the water my toes could never reach. I hated the weight of my own body bringing myself to the brink of drowning. I didn’t like the feeling of losing control of my own body. The aversion reached to the point to which I felt like I was losing a grasp of myself whenever I sank beneath the waters. I am a month short of nineteen as I write this, and I am perfectly capable of swimming and manoeuvering my limbs underwater. And I also understand my deep aversion for swimming when I was little. I didn’t like it when things got out of my hands, so hopelessly that I can’t even attempt to handle them.

It is rather odd to realize this through the concept of water. Maybe this is why I have always possessed an element of awe towards marine creatures. Even the two goldfish that lived in the bleak corner of my house when I was eight held some kind of wonder to me. They are so free underwater – free of any sort of physical limitation in an environment I have always found so foreign. (Although using the adjective ‘free’ to describe the goldfish in this case would deem quite ironic because they have lived and died in the minute glass bowl in the corner of my small room in my tiny, tiny apartment.) But it still depresses me a little, just a tad bit whenever I see a giant roasted fish on the dinner table, with is once glossy eyes covered by a layer of dried cloudy mucus, its fins dried up and flesh ready for disassembling. It is a morbid, bleak feeling – a kind of dark promise that I will never be free of whatever that is restraining me either.

If you think about it, my awe towards fish and other marine creatures is completely invalid. It is normal to feel a little physically restrained when underwater, because the water is not our natural habitat. If you put a fish on the shore, I am sure it would feel incapable too. (Not implying that this should be tried out of pure curiosity) Any other land that isn’t home would feel foreign and unfamiliar. By the time I realized that I discovered that my fear of water was more psychological than I had thought.

So I have figured as I waddle towards the end of my teenagehood, that it wasn’t the matter of whether I am capable of swimming or not. It wasn’t simply the question of whether I can successfully maintain my floating stance on the water surface, or move my arms against the waves such that I can propel myself forward. Because I am adept at all of those now, to the extent that if I were involved in a plane crash and I had to escape the wreck and swim to the nearest island, I would probably be able to do that. I can proudly say that my swimming isn’t necessarily terrible, per se. The real issue is that I am still deeply terrified of situations in which I cannot do anything about. I still hate the feeling of helplessness. Throughout my life, there had been various occasions where I was subjected to this; when I say this though, I don’t just mean the triviality, like being unable to open the jam bottle no matter how hard I try (because in most of the cases, it is very likely I can’t).

These occasions hold such an integral position in my life – especially in building who I am as a person. Perhaps that is the reason I am so deeply terrified of this feeling, because it constitutes such a big portion of my identity. Or maybe I dislike changes. Or both. Who knows? The important thing is, I am still learning. I have found out that my fear doesn’t actually lie in swimming. I have discovered the specific cause of the ‘phobia’. I’ve narrowed it down to a point where this feeling usually occurs during human-to-human interactions, in cases where people I love are at their lowest point and are slipping through my fingers. I am continuously finding more things about myself – but I also know now that just because something is so integral to the construction of your identity, it doesn’t mean that it has to dominate yourself as a person.

A fish can swim. So can I. I was afraid of swimming, and I bet you a fish will not be the most delighted to venture on land. At least now, I’ve disintegrated the fear further enough that I understand myself more than I did before. Maybe one day I won’t even remember that I’ve had this fear of swimming.

 

Hindsight Bias

Life June 18, 2018

 

I used to have this habit of thinking what it would be like in the future, then recounting back to the moment I was thinking about the moment, imagining what it would be like. It could be something simple like, how liberating it would feel after my math class. And after my math class, I would recount back, thinking something like, “oh hey, remember the time I was waiting for my class to be over?” It feels like a little accomplishment, a trace of my endurance over time. I do this all the time to give myself assurance that I am somewhat, doing well in whatever I was doing at that point in my life. And I remember, eleven years back in Korea, sitting on the sandy swing thinking what it would be like when I come back to Korea as an adult. That seemingly hopeless gap of eleven years. Now everything in between seems like a blur, like a whoozy little time leap. Like someone pulled me out of my eight-year-old body and squeezed it into a nineteen-year-old’s. Somehow everything didn’t seem as bad as I thought it was when I was in the moment.

Wikipedia defines hindsight bias as the inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite there having been little or no objective basis for predicting it. As we humans are slaves to the unseen and unknown forces, I don’t think I can say it’s any different for myself. I actually read about this in one of my SAT practices years back (God, all those standardized tests), and I thought this was an interesting logic. Why do people justify past things with less negativity?

Personally, I can’t answer that question. I would be lying if I said my past memories consist of only fond ones. Because I distinctly remember falling off the swing and injuring my back so badly that I had trouble sitting down and up for a while. Or the time when I ate lunch alone in high school for a few months, or the time I cried over something or someone. I am a person with a great memory capacity — I would not call this “petty” as my friend referred to (Thank you very much, Lisa) — and I think I can recount the times I was severely upset. I just prefer to remember the better times. If the past serves as a kind of solace that I would hold onto when I am having troubles in the distant future, I would want to hold onto something comforting. I would reside in the warmth and light of the past and use that to pull myself back to the present.

I try to forget many things, even when I am living in the present. Memory is such a fickle, volatile thing — so even when you want to forget things, you somehow end up recalling them more. I do think though, sometimes it is better to forgo some of the things you have. You can’t always hold everything in your hands. I refer to Sherlock Holmes’ words to explain this (I just recalled; I also read this in another of my SAT passages — goes arond, comes around) :

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

I mean, memory is not so similar to information as it refers, but I suppose it uses the same logic here. So in my “brain-attic” I prefer to store things like the endless spectrum of sunlight that carpets every exposed patch of land, or the rusty metal bench that has been across the playground for nearly twenty years. The ivy that grows on it, creeping up its wall slightly as the years go by. Things like the thin folded lips across the wineglass, and the sound of waves crashing on the dock. Not the tear-stained pillow after I toss and turn myself to sleep at dawn, or the silence at the end of the phone when I run out of things to say. The painstaking moment to desperately think of what to say to fill up the abyss between. Things like that.

It is rather difficult to voluntarily control things you can remember. I try nevertheless, even if it wears me out and leaves me lightheaded and heartbroken in the end, because I want my past days to be as comforting as possible. I change the pieces to my puzzle, and match them in a way I would want them to be. Going back to hindsight bias, I do think my past has been sweet, just because I left many stuff out of my story and thought “that wasn’t bad after all.” I guess that is the magic of hindsight bias.

 

 

How To Say “I Love You” without saying “I Love You”

Life June 10, 2018

 

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How do you say “I love you”? What do you do when you feel like you have to express your love for someone? Of course, spoken words have the most direct influence — they are explicit and conveniently delivered to the other’s ears. Like an instant message. Swift and easy. It’s so quickly brought upon your senses that it leaves you with no second thoughts. It doesn’t linger. The sound dissipates faster than you think. Only your memories would catch that so distantly and vaguely. So when you reminisce the moment, you would only remember your lover’s lips enunciating “I love you.” It’s easy — it would be like microwaving a cold slice of leftover pizza from the previous night. It’s because you can speak of love even when your feelings are void. It can be done like a swift reflex, like an old nasty habit you’ve had since seven. It’s just like that. It’s hard to tell.

I was thinking about love the other night. Because love isn’t like a swipe on profiles you may or may not like, or number counts on a Facebook account or disappearing ten seconds of a snap. I am not trying to be derogatory towards anyone, or their ways of being loved or loving someone. I suppose love has separate definitions for different people. To me, accounting love as a number or involuntary, simple gesture has less meaning than what I regard love as. Love is such a soft and mellow feeling. A warm, fuzzy feeling. It deserves more than definitions like that. At least to me.

When I think of love, I think of bursting lavenders and pinks of a sunset. Or the brilliant shades of yellow and orange of dawn. The dog-eared pages of someone’s favorite book, the yellow, musty paper of it. Maybe the resounding G-chord of the guitar that resides in your room as a soft echo. Or the delicate fingertips plucking it. Rose petals dried between an encyclopedia and the petal-shaped stain that smells of its traces. The taste of chocolate under your tongue, old quilts that feel like embraces, the faded bronze coin you’ve kept from your last trip. Something like that. Something that stays.

Yet love isn’t always so special. It can be like cliché, mundane romance films that you doze off in midst, or old jazz you listen to on pouring nights. Something you knew about but still lingers in the corner of your heart for days and nights. Sleepless nights and the recollection that keeps you awake just for more stories told by your memory. The letters you receive. Each word and phrase is tailor-made just for you. Every sentence is joined with the thought of you. The way someone writes each word, the way he writes his ‘y’ or ‘g’. The little flicker in its tail. The way you take photographs, in an angle that focuses oddly into someone’s washed denim jacket. Not everything has to be analogue though, it can be on the other end of hushed late night calls, the muffled exchanges of your day, the missed call you only notice when you wake up next morning. The littlest things that have always been with you, but still leaves you with visceral hours of afterthoughts.

The way someone says “I love you,” the pair of eyes locked into each other, the backlit feeling of warmth spreading throughout your body, the power with which each word is spoken, pressed and calm. Not just the word love. That is my paradigm of love.