Tag: 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.

상실의 순간

Korean June 14, 2020

요즘 글 자체를 잘 안 쓰고 있기는 하다만 유독 한국어로 글 쓰는 것을 계속 미뤄뒀었다. 물론 과제 기간이라 바쁘고 시국이 시국인지라 마냥 산만해져 머리속에서 이리저리 떠다니는 글이 하나로 뭉쳐지지 않는 것도 있지만 그냥 쓸 수가 없었다. 요즘은 소설 쓰는 일이 버겁다는 것을 꽤나 절절하게 실감하게 됐다. 소재가 부족한 것은 아니다. <내 온 마음을 담아서> 출간 이후로 구상해낸 소재는 대여섯이 넘는다. 문제는 나다. 나는 전부터 만족할만한 소설 하나를 쓰면 그 이후로 슬럼프가 꽤 길게 오는 편인데, 중학교 때 쓴 <봄날의 로즈> 이후로도 퍽 마음에 들 만한 소설을 쓸 때까지 장장 1-2년이 걸렸다. 마치 한 사람당 쓸 수 있는 감정이 정해져 있기라도 한 것처럼, 한 번 글에 감정과 열정 같은 걸 쏟아내고 나면 나는 한동안은 비슷하게라도 글을 쓸 수 없게 된다.

글을 아예 못 쓰는 건 아니다. 나는 능력 (겸 영감)의 한계를 느끼는 순간 글을 쓰고자 하는 모든 의지가 상실된다. 굳이 쓰고자 하면 아마 쓸 수는 있을 것이다. 하지만 그런 상태에서 글을 쓰는 순간부터 내 글은 100% 전력을 다한 것이 아니기 때문에 마음에 들지 않을 것이다. 내 언어만의 가치를 내 해이해진 마음이 충분히 발휘하지 못하는 것이다. 글을 맞이하는 내 언어와 마음은 완벽해야 한다. 둘이 같은 곳에 존재해야 나는 글을 쓸 수 있다. 몇번의 시행착오를 겪고서야 나는 깨달았다. 물론 그렇다고 시도를 하지 않는 건 아니다. 그렇게 해서 쓰다만 소설이 넘쳐난다. <내 온 마음을 담아서> 이후에 끄적였던 원고들이 미완성인 채 내 컴퓨터 속 고스란히 담겨져 있다. 그래서 단계적으로 플롯을 짜고 이야기를 구성하고 그 계획에 충실할 수 있는 작가들이 부럽다고 늘 생각해왔다. 내가 소설을 쓸 수 있는 능력은 내 심리 상태에 너무 좌지우지 된다. 그래서 언제나 다른 무언가가 붙들어 주었으면 했었다.

생각해 보면 내 글에는 늘 어떤 기원이 있었다. 단어 하나, 문장 하나를 더듬어 뻗어가면 보이는, 다듬어지지 않고 날 것 그대로인 형상이. 나는 그것을 모호한 글로 포장하여 소설이라는 프레임 속에 가둔 것이다. 나만의 시선을 두른 그것을 사람들은 뮤즈라고 부른다. 소설가로서 나는 항상 뮤즈가 있었다.

피그말리온은 자신이 만든 조각상과 사랑에 빠져 그것이 살아나길 빌고 또 빌었다고 한다. 그 결과로 그의 절실함에 감동한 아프로디테는 조각에 숨을 불여넣고, 조각에 불과했던 그것은 갈라테이아가 되어 그와 사랑의 결실을 맺었다. 물론 나는 내가 사랑하는 것들을 내 창조물에 담는 것이고 피그말리온은 자신의 창조물과 사랑에 빠진 것이기에 행위로만 두고 보면 둘은 상반되지만, 비슷한 맥락으로 피그말리온은 본질적으로 자신의 예술에 미의 결정체를 형상화한 것 아닌가? 자신이 정의하는 미를 실체화시켰기에 매료가 가능했던 것이다. 머리속에만 뭉뚱그려 있던 어떤 것을 눈앞에 실존시키는 행위가 사랑이라고 표현되는 감정의 방향에 힘을 불여넣어 준 셈이다. 갈라테이아는 미의 결정체로서 그의 뮤즈지만, 그의 진정한 뮤즈는 미 자체였을지도 모른다. 결국 다른 어떤 것과도 비교할 수 없는, 유일무이한 미를 찾고자 하는 그의 바람이 물질적인 무언가가 되어 그가 소유할 수 있는 누군가가 되었으니.

내 뮤즈는 이처럼 사람인 적도 있었고, 추상적인 어떤 것도 있었다. 그리고 그것은 때마다 달랐다. 중학교 때 처음 들었던 현악 오케스트라가 인상적이어서 클래식에 관한 이야기를 쓰고 싶었다. 처음으로 연주했던 곡이, 다른 현이 합을 맞추어 한치의 오차 없는 화음을 자아내는 게 두고두고 생각나서 그것을 글로 형상을 만들고 싶었다. 결과적으로 나는 <봄날의 로즈>를 통해서 오케스트라와 여가수에 대한 이야기를 썼다. <내 온 마음을 담아서>에도 뮤즈가 있었다. 나는 그 당시 상실에 대해서 더 잘 알게 되었다. 그것을 마주하고 받아들이는 과정을 겪고 있는 내 자신이 뮤즈가 된 것이다. 나도 성경과 환처럼 아슬아슬한 외줄타기를 하듯 관계가 위태로웠던 친구가 있었고 내 ‘문학적’ 고뇌는 어떻게 보면 그 친구에서 비롯된 것이다. 그렇게 해서 쓴 글은 누군가를 그리워하고, 미워하는 동시에 사랑할 수밖에 없는 마음을 가지고 있는 사람들에 대한 이야기였다. 쓸 수밖에 없던 이유가 있었다. 나는 그 시절을, 그 사람들을 너무 사랑했고 글은 피그말리온의 조각처럼 내 감정을 형상화하는 방식이었다. 글을 쓰면 응어리졌던 감정이 해소된 느낌이고, 굳이 내가 짊어지지 않아도 다른 곳에 고이 저장해두는 느낌이다. 내 소설은 환의 ‘대답 받을 수 없는 편지’고, 성경과 환이 주고받는 어떤 것은 내 일방향의 글을 해소하고자 하는 내 노력이었다.

그러니까 난, 글을 쓸 수밖에 없는 확고한 동기나 계기가 있던 게 아니었다. 집필에 대한 활활 타오르는 열정도 아니었고 글로 세상을 바꿔야겠다는 사념감도 아니었다. 소설은 오롯이 나를 위한 것이다. 모든 게 빠르게 바뀌어 가고 변하는 세상에서 영원에 가까울 수 있는 유일한 수단이고 내가 사랑하는 것들을 사라지지 않게 할 방법이다. 시간이 지나면 무의미해질 모든 만물에서 내가 끝까지 아낄 수 있게 되는 것들이다. 나는 글을 사랑하지만 내가 글을 쓰게 하는 것들은 이렇게 개인적이고 작다. 나는 이런 사소한 것들에 붙들린다. 멀리서 보면 의미가 있는지도 잘 모를 것 같은, 개인의 것. 있다가도 없어지고, 없다가도 갑자기 생기는 것들이다. 내 뮤즈가 그렇다.

내 사랑의 기원은 너무나도 잘 사그라들고 아스라져서 내 글의 존재도 예측 불허가 된 것이다. 지금은 기억하고 싶은 게 없어서 그런 걸까? 이제 내 뮤즈는 실존하지 않고 내 글에는 방향이 없다.

나는 그래서 만나게 되는 작가들에게 늘 묻는다. 어쩌면 그들에게는 변하지 않는 무언가가 있을지도 모르니까. 글을 왜 쓰세요? 이건 정말 간단하고, 어떻게 보면 너무 기본적이어서 대답하기 어려운 질문이다. 글을 쓸 때 정확한 메커니즘이 있는 게 아니기에 돌아오는 대답은 단순하기 그지없다. 써야되니까, 쓸 수밖에 없으니까. 이유가 어딨어요, 쓰게 되니까 쓰는 거지. 하고 싶은 이야기가 있으니까. 글로 적어 사념으로만 존재했던 것에 생명을 불여넣고 싶으니까. 피그말리온처럼.

어떻게 보면 답은 이것보다 명쾌할 수가 없다.

요컨대 글은 그냥 내 일부인 것이다. 뮤즈가 있던 없던 글이 없는 삶은 결단코 상상해 본 적이 없다. 나는 해답을 찾기 위해 쓰고, 기억을 하고 싶거나 잊고 싶어, 또는 상실을 마주하기 위해 글을 쓰기도 한다. 나는 지금 오랫동안 아꼈던 뮤즈를 잃어 허덕이고 있는 중이다. 그래서 그 상실을 이해하기 위해 이 글을 쓰고 있다. 하지만 이건 알고 있다. 뮤즈는 글을 쓰게 해주는 동기고 뮤즈가 없을 때 의욕을 완전히 잃어버리기도 하지만 내게 다시금 찾아오리라는 것을 나는 알고 있다. 그때가 오면 쓰면 되는 것이다. 쓸 수밖에 없을 것이다.

작가로서의 내 어떤 정체성은 내가 생각하는 것보다도 내 일상 깊숙히 스며들어 있다. 이를테면 나는 불안하거나 초조할 때, 아니면 손에 잡히는 게 없을 때 손가락 살을 뜯는 버릇이 있는데, 누군가 내 손을 내려다 보며 자신은 비슷한 버릇을 고치려고 칼로 한번 손을 그은 적이 있다는 얘기를 해주었다. 그 이후로 손을 건들려고 하면 그때의 통증이 계속 생각나 결국에는 버릇을 고쳤다는 이야기다. 그 이야기를 들으면서도 처음 들었던 생각은 정말 좋은 소재라는 것이었다. 인물의 특성이 꽤나 강하게 드러나는 행동이라고 생각했다. 언젠가는 이것을 소설에 넣고 싶다는 생각도 일순 스쳤다. 그러니 충분히 쓰고, 기록하며 기억하고 싶은 이야기가 생긴다면 나는 주저없이 또 글을 쓰게 되지 않을까? 그때를 위한 추진력을 얻고 있다고 생각하면 마음이 편하다.

나는 꽤 오랫동안 글을 써 왔고, 앞으로도 쓸 것이다. 아직 병아리…지만 작가다. 무언가에 정신없이 꽂혀 몇년간 그것에 관해서만 쓸 수도 있고, 아예 글을 쓰지 않게 되는 날이 올 수도 있다. 하지만 그래도 나는 늘 작가일 것이다.



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.

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.

내 사진의 초점

Korean February 6, 2019

문득 작가 프로필 사진을 고르기 위해서 갤러리를 훑는 도중 느낀 게 있다면, 어떤 사진은 내 모습이 잘 나와도 그닥 마음에 들지 않는 것들이 있고, 잘 나오지 않았는데 퍽 마음에 드는 것들이 있다. 사실 이것을 오늘 처음 와닿은 건 아닌 게 11학년 때 당시 절친이 찍어준 사진을 지우지 못하고 사진첩에 남겨둘 때부터 어렴풋이 느끼고 있었던 것 같다. 그날은 학교 바자회 같은 행사였어서 하루종일 동아리 부스에서 아이스크림을 팔았는데, 몇 시간이 지나고 보니 몰골이 그렇게 엉망진창일 수가 없었다. 머리는 산발이고 화장은 거의 지워지고… 여하튼 최상의 상태는 아니었다. 그런 엉망인 상태로 학교 육상부 트랙에서 노을을 등지고 찍은 사진이었는데, 사진첩을 정리할 때 그 사진을 계속 지울 수가 없었다. 몇 번이고 돌아가 봐도, 그 사진은 남겨두었다. 꽤나 못 나온 사진인데도 난 잊을만하면 계속 그 사진으로 돌아가 그때의 시간을 계속 곱씹곤 했다. 몇 번이고, 또 몇 번이고.

결국 사진의 퀄리티와 선호도는 비례하지 않는다는 것이다. 어떻게 보면은 너무나 당연한 사실을 어렵사리 깨달았다. 그렇게 느낀 사진은 단 둘이다. 나머지 하나는 고등학교 때 서울에서 류이치 사카모토의 전시회를 보러갔을 때 전시장 앞에서 엄마가 찍어준 사진이다. 그날이 왜 그렇게 기억에 남았는지는 지금도 잘 생각이 나질 않는다. 다만 그때 그 동네 특유의 풀냄새가 좋아서, 7월 중순의 햇볕이 좋아서였는지도 몰랐다. 숨이 타들어가는 와중에 보이는 풀꽃이 좋아서, 그늘 아래 한 숨 돌리는 게 좋아서. 전시장에는 유독 기억에 남는 작품이 있었는데, 그건 천장의 수조 아래 누워서 물의 무늬를 그대로 관찰하는 것이었다. 눈을 감고 소리를 듣는 사람도 있었고 그대로 물을 바라보는 사람도 있었다. 난 어쩐지 손을 뻗어서 물을 만져보고 싶었다. 이대로 가라앉아 눈을 감아도 마냥 좋을 것 같았기 때문이었다. 그날 하루는 그렇게 기억에 무겁게 남았다. 이후에 모르는 동네의 언덕을 걷고 생소한 책방을 발견하게 되는 그 하루가 일상에 물결을 일었던 것이다. 기억이 찾아드는 날은 예기치 않게 찾아온다고 그때 생각했다.

어떨 때는 기억에 남기고 싶어도 당최 남겨지질 않았다. 사진이란 당시의 순간을 시각적으로 기록하는 것인데, 사진을 몇 장이고 찍어도 그날의 기억은 그리 인상적이지 않은 것이다. 내가 그날을 기억하고 싶어도 단순히 사진을 찍은 그 순간만 기억하고 그날의 전체적인 인상과 느낌은 잘 생각나지 않는다. 기억을 하고 싶어서 기록을 남긴 것이 오히려 그 순간만 잔뜩 부각시켜버린 것이다. 어쩌면 중요했을지도 다른 모르는 요소들은 잠식시킨 채. 난 사진을 많이 찍는 편이고 또 찍는 것을 좋아하기 때문에 내 사진첩에는 언제나 사진이 많다. 기억하는 순간들은 많은데, 마음에 남는 순간은 손에 꼽힌다. 요컨대, 기억하고 싶은 것과 기억에 남는 건 많이 다르다는 것이다. 난 어릴 적 엄마가 만든 케이크가 어떻게 생겼는지, 맛은 어땠는지 기억하고 싶어하지만 문득 생각나는 건 케이크를 만드는 엄마의 모습이었으니까.

사진 한 장 없어도 계속 기억에 남는 것들도 있다. 나는 유독 기억에 대한 이야기를 많이 쓴다. 봄날의 로즈에서도 로즈와 쥬드는 기억을 가지고 내기를 했고 내 온 마음을 담아서에서는 기억을 잊고 싶은 남자와 기억하고 싶어하는 여자의 정서적 교류에 대한 것이니까. 나는 그렇게 계속 머무는 기억에 대해 쓰고 싶었다. 사진 하나 없어도 기억에 영화마냥 재생될 그런 빛바래지 않는 기억 말이다. 나한테는 어떠한 기억이 중요했고 그 기억을 지키려면 어떤 것도 할 수 있었으니까, 가 내 얼마 전까지의 신념이었다. 하지만 며칠 전에는 눈이 많이 왔다. 눈이 그렇게 많이 오는 건 정말 오랜만이라서, 사진에 담고 싶었는데 생각하는 것처럼 잘 나오지 않았다. 그래서 그냥 그만두었다. 어차피 머물 기억이라면 굳이 사진으로 남기지 않아도 남을 것이다. 그리고 이제는 굳이 못 잊을 것도 없을 것 같았다. 시간이 너무 오래 지나서, 그 기억에게 묻고 싶은 것도, 궁금한 것도 없었다. 그래서 난 그날 사진을 남겨두지 않아서 내심 안도했다. 기록의 부재에 기꺼이, 몇 번이고 마음을 놓았다.