Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Don't Know and Neither Do You

I don't know                            
more than I do know.

I don't know where we all came from
and neither do you.

I don't know if this whole thing started
with evolution or creation or a combination of both.
But, try as we might, neither do you.

I don't know if there's a God
and neither do you.

I don't know if Jesus was divine
and neither do you.

I don't know what happens after we die
but as you know--neither do you.

I just don't know.
None of us do.
And that doesn't worry me too much.

Because I do know
that I came from my Momma's tummy and however that happened
is pretty spectacular!

do know
that I really want there to be a God. Because that would just be great.
So, I'm going to humbly believe that there is.

I do know
that good role models can be found in the most unlikely of places and Jesus is surely on my list.

I do know
that life is short and what we do with it matters.
So no matter what happens, when all is said and done
I can be at peace with the life I've lived.

So, I'm not going to waste my one "wild and precious life" bickering over whose beliefs, whose religion, or whose doctrine is right. What is "right" anyway? Tell me a definition we can all agree on. We don't know. We are all searching for "right" in our own unique ways. And while I may have my own personal beliefs about what is "right" I know it's not my goal in life to make everyone else see the world as I do.

That's not my job.
My job is love.
My job is generosity.
My job is a listening ear.
An open heart.
My job is to pay attention.

The rest is just details.


The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sewol: One Year Later

A year ago today, a ferry carrying several hundred Korean high school students and teachers, capsized and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Three hundred and four people died that day. A week after the accident, I wrote a blog about how my co-workers were helping me understand the story.

Since then, the news stories surrounding the incident have been a mix of incredible grief, as well as overwhelming anger: grief that so many young lives were taken, anger that the incident may have been prevented with better safety regulations. Some are of the opinion that the government deliberately covered up some information and hasn't conducted a thorough and independent investigation.Some parents publicly shaved their heads in protest. And still others are demanding that the ferry boat be raised out of the water. A huge feat which would cost between $91-$137 million US dollars.

This will continue to be a sad day for Koreans for a long, long time.

As I observe the events around this tragedy taking place, I know that I don't have much room to talk. I'm not Korean. I'm no expert. I don't have an ounce of light to shed on the issue, but I can't help but think on an article I read recently, compliments of a Korean friend who passed it on to me, called, "South Korea's Real Culture of Shame."

I see the Sewol incident (and aftermath) to be tied closely to this article, because the Sewol is something Korea is not proud of. Something Korea is embarrassed about. The cultural response to this tragedy fits right in with the thesis of the article: Korea's high-concern for reputation overshadows some serious changes that need to happen. 

"If you are a friend of South Korea, you do not shame it. You do not only report news, but “good news” and “affection”. That attitude of the South Korean government is precisely the problem, because South Korea abounds in things that it should be ashamed of instead of masking from attention. You need only look outside the window to see it in millions of hapless old men and woman collecting rubbish, a highly pressurised education system that has victimised generations of young people,rampant violence and suicides in the militaryenslavement of disabled workers right under the country’s watch, and booming Christian cults that telegraph abject disenchantment with here and now. Or read the available statistics: ludicrous work hours, alarming degrees of economic and social inequality, depressing suicide figures.

The idea is that every South Korean must learn to be ashamed of things that she or he has no control over: problems of the state’s own making to the detriment of the people who are, ostensibly, with the state, for the state, of the state. South Korean Nationalism is built on this magic dust."

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Few Good Men

In one month, Jeremy and I will be celebrating our three year anniversary.

And ever since we've been together--for the past NINE years--I've known that I picked a winner. And I knew this mostly because he reminded me a lot of my Dad. Two men in my life, who have been such wonderful models of good, strong, loving men. I consider myself to be enormously blessed by both of them.

My Dad was never the guy who expected less from me because I was a girl or more of my brother because he was a boy. I had to mow the lawn. My brother had to do dishes. Fair is fair. Because I loved athletics, he came to every basketball game. But if I was into poetry, he'd have been in the front row there, too.

And Jeremy has never been the guy who plays on useless gender stereotypes in our relationship. He doesn't make jokes about his "crazy, hormonal wife" or have expectations for me just because I'm the woman and it's what I "should" do. We are both allowed to cry. We are both allowed to fart. We are both allowed to make mistakes. We are both allowed to have feelings. We can be who we want to be.

That, my friend, is liberation.

And on that note, I bring you this TED talk from Tony Porter.

In it, he says:
"We [men] are very much part of the solution as well as the problem. The Center for Disease Control says that men's violence against women is at epidemic proportions. It's the number one health concern for women in this country and abroad."

We need to teach our sons:

"That it's okay to not be dominating.
That it's okay to have feelings and emotions.
That it's okay to promote equality.
That it's okay to have women who are just friends and that's it.
That it's okay to be whole.
That my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman."

Thank God for good men.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Scotland and Grace All Day Long

Today I was teaching English class to my sixth graders. I pointed to a picture of a boy with red hair, wearing a kilt. I asked the class, "What country is he from?" Their answers ranged from, "America!" to "Africa!" to "England!" And while we could teach an entire lesson straightening-out their confusion about the differences between countries and continents, this wasn't the time, so I just said, "He's from Scotland."

At this point, my co-teacher jumped in and said, "No, he's from the U.K."

I just smiled, shook my head, and moved on with the class. But afterwards, I Googled the information just to be sure and told her, "I just checked, to be sure, and Scotland is indeed a country. Not everyone in the U.K. wears kilts. That's something unique to the country of Scotland."

She just said, "No."

I could go on and on about all the reasons that I think my new co-teacher is a difficult person to work with. But that wouldn't be kind or necessary, because the real moral of the story is what my reaction to her says about meAt my worst, I want to gripe about how SHE is the problem and to be honest, I spend a lot of time here. But at my best, I know that she's not inherently difficult, it's my reaction to her. This is really about me. Damnit.

And that's a terribly uncomfortable thought: that our biggest frustrations and complaints in life can't always be blamed on someone else. Usually we are the ones who need to do the changing.

So, here's what I learned about myself today:

-I feel like I am SO different from my co-teacher

-And yet, we are quite similar in many ways

-We are both confident and outspoken people

-We both like to be in control

-I feel upset being corrected in front of my students

-I have a hard time swallowing my pride

-There's a childish part of me that needs her to know I AM RIGHT!

-I struggle to let things go and move on

Sounds like I've got a lot of work to do.

Deep breaths.
And Grace.

Grace all day long.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Writing

It's taken me a long time to say: I am a writer.

Because that feels other-worldly. Out-of-reach. Much more serious than the things I do. Yes, even after publishing a book. But it's not a big publisher. It's not even in Barnes and Noble, so....

As you can see, I/we come up with all kinds of excuses to make a smaller deal out of who we are. Is it because there's too much pressure? We feel we need to produce something mind-blowing to be considered "true" artists?

If you write, you are a writer.
If you draw/doodle/paint/collage, you are an artist.

We all have creativity, just some of us use it more than others.

More from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

"Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you're conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth is what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of...Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done. If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act--truth is always subversive." (pg. 225-6)

"You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sandcastles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people; the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash the away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be." (pg. 231)

"Even if the only people in your writing group read your memories or stories or novel, even if you only wrote your story so that one day your children would know what life was like when you were a child and you knew the name of every dog in town--still, to have written your version is an honorable thing to have done. Against all odds, you have put it down on paper, so that it won't be lost. And who knows? Maybe what you've written will help others, will be a small part of the solution. You don't even have to know how or in what way, but if you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can do understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse. Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining." (pg. 235-6)

" 'So why does our writing matter, again?' they ask. Because of the spirit. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life; they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship." (pg. 237)

We're all together on this ship.

We need what you were born to create.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Only Song

What does it mean when you listen to the same song time and time again?
In the same day.
On repeat.
Like fifteen times.
No, seriously.

What does it mean?
Is there something in the words,
that connects to your experience?
Is there something in the melody,
that resonates with the beat of your heart?

What is this stuckness?
This thirst for more?
This desire to listen
and again
and again.

Even though I can't tell you
the lyrics
or the meaning of the song.
I haven't actually listened
that well.

There's just something
in this song
that embraces
my DNA
and won't let go.

I can't explain.

So, I'll just keep listening.
Until, I've been taught
what I needed to know.

On Dying

Anne Lamott writes in Bird By Bird:

"I remind myself nearly every day of something that a doctor told me six months 
before my friend Pammy died. This was a doctor who always gave me straight 
answers. When I called on this one particular night, I was hoping she could put a 
positive slant on some distressing developments. She couldn't, but she said 
something that changed my life, 'Watch her carefully right now, ' she said, 
'because she's teaching you how to live.'

I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done; to live as if I am 
dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus. To live as if we are dying 
gives us a chance to experience some real presence. Time is so full for people who 
are dying in a conscious way, full in the way that life is for children. They spend big, 
round hours. So instead of staring miserably at the computer screen trying to will 
my way into having a breakthrough, I say to myself, 'Okay, hmmm, let's see. 
Dying tomorrow. What should I do today?' Then I can decide to read Wallace Stevens 
for the rest of the morning or go to the beach or just really participate in 
ordinary life. Any of these will begin the process of filling me back up 
with observations, flavors, ideas, visions, memories. I might want to write on my 
last day on earth, but I'd also be aware of other options that would feel at least as pressing. 
I would want to keep whatever I did simple, I think. 
And I would want to be present."

Sometimes I have these moments--usually upon reading---when I read something completely obvious to me and realize that everyone else on planet Earth might not feel the same way.

And most recently, I thought: Either I live with a beautiful awareness of my own mortality or I'm a complete whack-o, because frankly, I think about dying ALL THE TIME.

I think about my last days almost every day.
I think about this fragile life on a regular basis.
I think about how I want to spend my days in relation to a continually flowing hourglass.
All the time.

Maybe it's too much "Grey's Anatomy."
Maybe it's attending too many funerals.
Maybe it's the melodramatic writer in me.

At times, it's wee-bit heavy.
But mostly, it makes me conscious.
In a good way.
Which I'm pretty sure is the only kind of conscious there is.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cheongju Funk

This is my Ultimate Frisbee team.

We are the Cheongju Chewbaccas. 

We are pretty great.

With the spring league coming soon, we made this music video for a little pre-season pump-up.

For your information:

-No animals were harmed in the making of this movie

-In case you missed it, those are R2D2 and C3PO costumes on the girls

-The Wookie call is demonstrated by Kyle, our assistant captain

-Princess Leia is Phil and the towel on his head works perfectly for the character's hair, but is also a funny thing here in Korea. Sometimes at the jimjilbangs (Korean bath houses) people will wear their towels on their heads like this, but I can't tell you why.

-Before I showed this video to my co-workers, there was some pretty heavy prefacing that "I do not condone the twerking in this video!" only because Koreans don't really dance and they certainly don't twerk..."Oh, foreigners..." they said.

-At 1:45 the "liquor" became "soju" because....soju is the stuff in Korea.

It was fun to make, as we've got some pretty animated characters on our team. But the process of creating it was almost equally fun. In the last year, I've been playing around with Garage Band and iMovie, so it was fun to practice both of these skills in addition to wrangling people, costumes, props, and scouting locations.

I found Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" without the lead vocals. imported it into Garage Band and then sang the adapted lyrics (written by a particularly witty friend). From there, I watched and re-watched the original music video and took notes on what was happening at each moment: girl walking in heels, high fives, stomp step while getting shoes shined, etc. Then, everyone showed up and I just bossed them around!

I think I'd make a pretty decent movie producer.

I mean, you just can't un-see it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When He Says I'm Beautiful

He says, "You're beautiful" and I smile.

He says, "You're beautiful" and I look the other way.

He says, "You're beautiful" and I laugh.

He says, "You're beautiful" and I say, "Okay."

Or "Why?"

Or "Mm-hmm."

Or "Yeah, yeah."

And this isn't some creeper on the street that I'm avoiding in the most polite way possible.

This is my husband.

The man I married.
The man who knows me inside and out. 
The man who chooses to love me every day.
Because I promise you he doesn't feel like loving me every day.

He regularly tells me I'm beautiful.
And I regularly flounder around for a response.

Because, "Thank you" sounds stiff.
And "Of course!" sounds forced.

So, I just don't know what to say.

And in moments like these, 
I wonder how different 
a world it would be
If I just believed him.

The Morning Street Sweeper

Every morning, Jeremy and I stumble out of bed and sit on the couch. We stare out the window--mostly in silence--just watching the day begin. It's better than staying in bed, where we inevitably fall back asleep. 

The window faces a road. 
And on this road there's a street sweeper.

He lives next door. And many mornings he can be found sweeping. 
The road. 
That cars drive on. 
As if it were his kitchen floor.

That guy.

I don't know his story, but if I could choose one, I'd choose this one:

His name is Dave.                                                
(Yes, I understand he is Korean and his name is definitely not Dave, but I really want it to be Dave and this is MY story)
He's an early bird.
Gave up sleeping twenty-five years ago when he had kids.
And heart burn.
And back pain.
And now it's 5am.
Every morning.
And what's a guy to do at 5am, but get busy?
Busy cleaning.
Busy fixing.
Busy sweeping.

I think he started sweeping because his wife told him to get out of her way.
And he did so.

And it's a small thing.
But he likes to think it makes the working-girls in high-heels a little happier to know that their shiny, red shoes will still be shiny when they get to the office.
So it's worth it.