Category: Life

hi, i’m back.

Life December 6, 2021

I, again, like most of my recent posts feel the necessity to premise this one with an excuse that I haven’t been able to write as much as I would have liked to. When I think about giving the most convenient excuse of ‘not having much time to sit myself down and properly connect the arbitrary jumble of words in my head to a coherent string’, I get reminded of what my friend had earlier told me — you make time for writing. You don’t just have time for it. Hence the lingering sense of guilt that is always in the back of my thoughts like the background noise of your surroundings that you simply tune out. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Time again passes. This time in jet-speed chunks of weeks, that stretches to months and now here we are. I am now in a different city, a different school, and a different phase of life. Some say this would be like a new season if life was something of a Netflix show, in which ‘you are a character, introduced into a new plotline and new characters.

A little overdue update of my life for some who may or may not drop by my blog in the blank, unspeaking space of my writing — I have started my MSt Comparative Literature and Critical Translation course at University of Oxford. It’s actually been about two months since I’ve scrambled to find my place in this city, and now I feel comfortable enough to say I have located myself safely in a tangible configuration of friends and people whose name I’m not particularly sure of, but still remember to exchange hi and how are yous, a favorite spot in the college study room, a go-to drink at a bar I’ve grown particularly fond of, unrelenting amount of course readings and discussions, watered-down ice lattes at both, familiar and unfamiliar brands of cafés, and my study spot at my current accommodation (which is a whole conversation of its own, but I will save this for another time).

The adjustment has been surprisingly smooth, one like a perfectly edited film where one scene segues into the next. I haven’t had the time to mull back on the exact nature of the transition that I’ve made. It’s a big one at that. I’ve completely relocated the stem of my living, starting from a new bed, a new environment, a new set of friends, and an unfamiliar but not an unrecognizable version of self. I used to think that my life in London was a dead end and that Oxford was a second chance. But of what? I got a clean slate, an openly inviting window to scrap the part of myself and my life that I wasn’t too kind to. A chance to do-over. Of the sleepless nights and empty mornings. Of the unforgivables. Of the unthinkables, the unforgettables.

So I’ve essentially moved on.

But what does that even mean? Do you physically depart the place you’ve once inhabited in? Do you simply forget the entirety of its existence that was so neither short-lived nor shallow that if you rooted out the whole thing, it leaves you with a hole so jarring that it leaves you in shambles? Does the state of having “moved on” mean you desperately gathering pieces of yourself and stitching them back so that it remotely looks like what you’ve been prior to everything that has happened? When is complete? When is enough? I think I’ve fully accepted the fact that I have departed my cosy attic room in Bloomsbury (which I talk about way too much and probably annoys my friends) and will probably, most likely, never be able to reside that little space again. I no longer think about the time I’ve rejoiced, cried, been disappointed, passed out, etc etc in that flat. My friends/neighbors have scattered to different ends of London and are living on separate schedules and routines, and share no commonalities in our days anymore. I’m not too bothered by that now. Maybe I’ve moved on.

In The Reasons for Travelling 여행의 이유 by Kim Young-ha, he mentions that we feel the urge to depart our living quarters because they bear the sadness, the cruelty, the frustration of our everyday. We seek places that we’ve never been to distract ourselves from the pain. Is that what I’ve been doing? Have I fully pulled myself apart from the snapshots of myself and my everyday that I couldn’t bear to face again? Truth be told, I have absolutely no clue. And there’s just no way of knowing. I’ve hoped so desperately for a do-over at certain points of my life, but I find myself clutching onto the things and places I’ve deviated from. Because I’ve only realized now that those are the things that construct me to what I would define myself as — in addition to the new discovery I’ve made of myself in my new habitat.

here’s a litany of thoughts and moments I’ve brought with me from the previous years:

  1. sitting in the small Starbucks tucked behind a Mexican grill in Paddington station, trying to re-read my manuscript for the xth time, tearing each word apart for typos from the nicely constructed prose that I’ve written in the past year. it was mid-January and the venue was not heated well, so there was me, clutching onto my jacket, re-living the sentiments that I’ve poured into my writing.

2. the ‘wholesome drinking nights’ with my friends who’ve gone back to New York.

3. reading an email from my old teacher about the talk I gave on my book during my launch party. i talked about Aristophanes’ story of the origin of love he gave at Plato’s Symposium, how the ancient humans had two sets of heads, two sets of limbs, and genitals. When they got too powerful, Zeus, threatened by their might, split them into two beings — each of one head, one set of legs and arms, becoming the humans as we are. The beings, now ruptured in halves comb the land in search for their other half, longing to be reunited and once again, become whole. like phantom pain. like love. I’d first read this in my Greek Mythology class in my first year of university. I don’t quite remember in which context I’ve recounted this tale, but after my talk, he had emailed me, that he thought maybe the real curse Zeus plagued us, humans, with was making us think that we are fragmented and that we needed another being to become whole when we are just as whole on our own. i think about that a lot.

4. the train ride back from Pompei to Naples, the frozen lemonade that was way too sour, the sunset we saw

5. the snow fight on our way down from Primrose Hill

6. hourlong bus rides from the Incheon airport to my Seoul home, listening to Young Mister on my janky (fake) AirPods, my leg resting on the big suitcases that often rocked from side to side

7. phone calls with friends — in Singapore, in London, in Korea, in the United States, in Switzerland — over summer

8. letters from mom

9. iced lattes from The Observatory, and more specifically, my last visit. I’d gone there to get breakfast (avocado toast with smoked salmon) and my two friends also living in the area came to visit me. it was only then i felt the chapter of my life in Bloomsbury has finally concluded itself.

10. lying in my bed in irrationally debilitating loneliness at dusk after submitting my dissertation

11. ever-expanding list of: haruki murakami, kim young-ha, kafka, han kang, cigarettes after sex, liszt, ennio morricone, jannabi, hozier, phoebe bridgers, boy pablo

12. different people’s love language. mine is writing letters & offering food

13. our ‘selves’ as languages. how do we read & write ourselves? how do they translate?

14. thinking about the people i’ve met in oxford, and telling about them to my friends in london & singapore and beyond, how wonderfully brilliant their minds are and how terribly lucky I am to have met them. to be here. to share their time. to be (vaguely) a part of their scene.

15. also thinking about the people i’ve lost along the way. the ones i try in vain to forget. the ones who don’t live by the aligning trajectory of my life anymore, but lurk every now and then in the hollow of my mind. sometimes i think about our last shared moments, the one they would remember me by. i wonder if they will think of me forever as an image that I’ve outgrown, and I, of them, in another irrelevant, outdated portrait. sometimes I feel the need to protest that stagnancy. sometimes I feel a sense of relief.

i’ve become more appreciative in this sense.

*

At Oxford I recently re-read a letter from a penpal while digging through my boxes of belongings. He wrote: i always have moments of silences where i will remember to read your website. you have written such beautiful words. i envy the characters and people you write about. my first thought, aside from the infinite gratitude for the generous commentary (thank you, Edward!), was the distinct demarcation between the characters and people that he had mentioned. People and characters? I wondered if I write about the people I know with the specific separation in mind. Are the people I write about characters? Are my characters people? During my English literature class this term (which oddly fits perfectly into this theme), I learned that it is considered immoral to think of real-life people as characters because their existence is not measured to fall into a certain temporal structure. They live beyond the narrative. To think of them as characters is to deny the existence that sprouts vigorously and splendidly into multitudes of directions — one that is too volatile and dimensional to be called a narrative. But I think of the people I write, the real interactions and conversations that retell themselves into the perfect narrative. The way I edit and splice them into a digestible, unharming story. Because the reality is often insufferable. Fiction is more easily understood.

Do I have moral obligations to the people I write about? As a person, yes. As yet another character, a narrative device with yet another set of semantic responsibilities to perform, no. But who’s to tell which is which? I am living in an ambiguous middle ground between a story and life, dream and reality, a written word and a performed gesture. In the long run, the functionality of each person/character in the stretched narrativity that I call my life would be too fleeting and insignificant to define. Would it even matter then? Isabel Archer (from The Portrait of the Lady — a book that is absolutely boggling my mind as I attempt to squeeze a 6000 word essay out of it)’s life started going downhill as soon as she made the fallacy of regarding people around her as mere art objects and not individuals. She revers and admires — but never fully knows. But how are we meant to acknowledge the multidimensionality of someone’s mind when we are not that person? Our own minds are the only ones that we can intimately experience. Sometimes when I write about people I know I think about the possible injustice I am doing to their existence. Sometimes I think about how that injustice will change the ways that I see them in reality. How the authorial vision is sometimes so cruel yet majestic.

*

Two nights ago we had a casual open mic event at one of our coursemates’ flat. I didn’t have anything to share — as you might assume I haven’t written anything intelligent in a while. But we talked about so many stuff: first dates, translations, bad dating app opening lines, translanguaging, literary jokes about Freud, compulsive urges to snack, where and what to do when travelling in the States, homes, languages, childhood memories, prayers. I wrapped my arms around my legs, pulling them closer to my legs and leaned forward, as if that would help me hear better. Retain the words — of poems, prelude to the book they are writing, translations, short stories, essays — longer. When I stepped out of the flat and the cold wind hit my face I realized how at ease I felt in their presences. How, when you bring up the fact that you’ve written a book, the conversation doesn’t simply end at: wow, that’s so cool! And leads to other questions and discussions. How your lives can diverge so much but rest at a common point so finely, especially when you share similar creative and academic drives.

On my way back home I recounted each of their writings in my head, like chanting a prayer that won’t go away, fully aware that in due time I would only vaguely remember what they are about. I’d forgotten what writing did for me, why I had felt the need to document my thoughts and at times, disguise my reality into fiction, how I interpret and lay out jumbles of creative images in my head. Frankly a part of me has been lazy as I always am, but another part of me has also been scared of it being seen as a lot of them come from a very personal place. (Which is perhaps the biggest irony of all — wanting to create something to be read yet fearing its visibility — it will forever be my dilemma as a writer.) But I’ve seen what happens when the product of your private vault of thoughts and memories is taken out and shown to others. It connects. It consoles. Only then you’re understood to your core. And that it’s not at all scary to be seen after all. I lied on my bed with an oddly comforting frustration — finally decoding the mixed feelings that I’ve carried back home: I regretted I didn’t share mine.

*

I admit the transition hasn’t been all that easy; I remember blankly staring into my open lugagge in Korea, wondering taking this leap is the correct decision (though I can never really define what I mean when I say “correct”). I look into the books I collected from Kyobo bookstore over summer, naively thinking I would read them when I get to Oxford, the snacks and food I’ve packed which turned out to be necessities as the nearest Asian supermarket is half an hour away. I think about my dad, with whom I’ve only achieved to properly bond over summer after number of years of being apart — being the aloof and unsharing daughter that I am, who only meekly calls occasionally to let him know I am healthy and making (mediocre) progress with my academic research. I remember looking back on London as my ideal habitat, while refusing to remember the vicious sadness that came and went at times. I think about what it is like to leave a place where you have a reliable tessellation of people and places to hold you when you are crashing. I remember thinking if I will create that in a completely new city, despite having felt refractory urges to leave.

But the days don’t feel too foreign here. I appreciate that. When they do, sometimes the foreignness even feels comforting.

So these days I am trying to catch my breath. Like someone who thrusts their way up from underwater, their arms pushing down the ocean surface and catapulting their body weight into the air. I am still doing the things I enjoy, spending my time with the people I love. Reading ardently, writing sparsely. Taking pictures of my friends & my space. Watching classic films for the first time, making Spotify playlists that I will never touch again. Harboring slivers of people who will also retain only slivers of me. Thinking about the possibly outdated, or possibly never-to-be-completed mental portraits I draw of people, sometimes with an effervescent certitude, sometimes with flickering indecision. Writing love letters I don’t send. Writing ones I do end up sending. Not being too sad about it.

It really is a relief to know that I haven’t lost myself along the way. I’ve become maybe a little fearless, more oblivious.

So dear reader, I will again apologize for my on-and-off presence in this unenergetic place. And possibly for its indefinite continuation. But I promise I will be back soon enough, maybe with yet another haphazard update of my trivial everydays.

garden song

Life, prose December 9, 2020

a little note: we did in fact have a rooftop garden and chicks and a vegetable patch. my grandma grew her own food and i remember thinking that is the most amazing thing ever, especially since I lived in the most drab, uninteresting apartment block that had narrow, one-way hallways next to the elevators. I always thought that there was a ghost at the end of it, so the moment the elevator door opened, i ran towards my unit without looking back once and pounded the passcode in such a frenzy. the room on the other side of the rooftop garden was a storage space, my grandma kept all my mom’s old stuff, her computer which was way too big and the countless photo albums. we only took it out during our visits and it always smelled way too much of dust and disintegrating paper

in response to joe hisaishi songs

aesthetics of desolation

Life May 17, 2020

I haven’t been active on this blog lately except for the time when I posted a bunch of overdue edits that I took over the year before the pandemic. (Please check them out! I am quite proud of them.) Truth be told, I haven’t been writing much at all. I am not going to make up a lame excuse that I have been busy or piled with work, because time is what everyone has left at this time. Lately I have been spending increasingly concerning amount of time on Netflix, been paranoid about every slightest, briefest interaction I make on the streets, however insignificant that may be. I worry a lot — which surely can be an absolute time-killer — about a lot of things: my flat back in London for which I am still paying rent, my short-lived writing career that ended in a blink of a season, or what I am going to be like just in a year (because it is indeed a strange time, and there’s no way of telling what lies ahead. But that is a whole other rant.)

I have been productive in the most superficial sense — I have written one essay, did some translation work, found some passing moments to actually sit myself down and read, and cooked. I haven’t exactly done nothing, but it definitely does not feel like something. Time is fleeting away, and the conscious effort of lifting myself up from my bed every afternoon is a constant, flinching reminder how ungrateful I am of the ephemerality of time. If you look up the definition of time, you will get this: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole. Time is not just a set of numbers you see on your clock. It is a measurement of your existence — in its totality and necessity. Time is indefinite, but our time isn’t. So to think that I am letting some of my pivotal hours of existing slip by isn’t the most calming topic to mull over.

This term I took a class that explores how narrative frames cities (or how cities frame narratives) in East Asian Literature. One of the works we studied was Zhang Ailing’s novella Love in a Fallen City, and it is about Liusu, who comes from a very traditional family meets a Westernized womanizer Liuyuan and falls in love. They exhibit feelings toward each other throughout the narrative and yet because Liusu’s goal is to get Liuyuan to marry her (for the benefit of her family and her social reputation) and Liuyuan’s isn’t, they have a constant discord in their emotions. Only when there is a bombing is Hong Kong, they realize nothing else truly matters other than each other’s presence. This is the moment where the commercialization and frivolity of emotions are rendered meaningless.

Zhang calls this the ‘aesthetics of desolation’. She defines the word desolation as the sense of destruction and emptiness that comes from destruction. The perception of annihilation that is caused by external, and often physical forces, which ultimately leads to the feeling of lamentation and sorrow over what is being lost. But why is it aesthetic? Where does the beauty come from? How is the scene of your world crumbling down before your eyes be in any way tasteful? In the grounds of ruin and ineluctable doom, what could you possibly witness?

Only at this strange and surreal time I thought of this phrase. The aesthetics of desolation. The aesthetic is that it provides revelation. The significance of ‘what really matters’. The destruction of our physical walls also mean that stripping the worldly concerns away. Our reality is vulgar, and people are desolate and solitary. So right now I am thinking about what really matters. I think about the people I left behind, things that I didn’t have a chance to say because I was scared. I think about the ‘thank you’s and ‘I love you’s that I have been too petty to use. The time I didn’t call my parents, the time I bailed on my friends because I didn’t feel like walking the distance, or the time I avoided a goodbye which little did I know then, would’ve been the last. I would have said plenty if I could to go back. But we can’t, can we? We live with these losses.

We all have a list of things that we think that matter, but are you going to think about those in your deathbed? When the world comes crashing around you or everything you have believed and known dissipates, are those still the things you are going to hold onto? We live in a streak of actions and choices, and in a certain trajectory that we think is proper and standard because apparently, there is a point to all these. There better be a fucking point, because I hope to God that I am not thinking about apartment-searching in Bloomsbury or the futility of Tinder in my deathbed. Because I am pretty sure they are not what really matters. And I certainly hope not. 

I am trying to untangle some thoughts as I write so bear with me. I guess what I am trying to say is, I am trying to grapple with what matters the most to me. There is a constant motif of loss in my life, but the resurgence of this age-old notion is especially palpable right now. But I am trying to put it to good use. It is a time of desolation. And in times of desolation there is always an unease about the unstable and turbulent everyday. I just hope we can use this unease to really look into the unprocessed, undiluted thoughts of ourselves. To find out what really matters.

So wherever you are, I hope you are safe. And I hope you find what you are looking for.

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.

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.

the difference between me and a fish

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.