Hello Blog,

Today is Thursday, “Thor’s Day”. Today I promised myself I will only write. I’ll forget about the dishes or the floors that need cleaning. I will ignore the refrigerator. I will focus only on the blank Word document and blinking curser. Today my desktop will not be some place poems go to die. My fingers will tap madly on the keyboard, each click a minor victory. Each return, a celebration. Yes, blog, today is that day. But first, a blog post and some tea. Then, respond to emails and finally a Skype chat with an old friend in another time zone. Today is Thursday. The fourth day of the week in a string of weeks woven into a rope of years. Well words, where are you now?

***

Hi there. Back again. Wrote a poem and now feel victorious. Actually, that’s a complete lie. I’m making soup. I wrote a poem though. That’s true enough. But now, where to go? Just read the website of an old acquaintance who said that real writers finish projects. Welcome to my project graveyard. I should make a book of all the outlines, sketches and false beginnings of all of my projects over the years and call it, “Bone Yard”.

In other news…

Maybe I should start my memoir. Again. This time, it will be brief. This time, I will eliminate New York.

The soup is boiling over. There are other things I should do.

Blue Monday

Not sure if its the drop in temperature that’s got me feeling blue, but right now I’m wrapped up in blue. Blue seems to be sweating from my pores. When I wake up in the morning, the first sounds I hear are blue calls from the birds or the blue steps of the upstairs neighbor getting ready for work. In the shower, the water streams blue; blue gets tangled up in my hair and sneaks into the pockets of my clothes. Later, it resurfaces in my coffee or tea. Even the air smells blue. At work, people speak in blue tongues, their heads turning blue while I make blue shapes with my blue hands until we are all swimming in blue. It’s hard to tell where I end and blue begins. Walking home, a crane lands in the river by our house, disrupting, momentarily, the blue stillness; the bare branches dissolving into blue.

Looking at the previous post’s title, “Unfinished Pieces”, and I think, this whole blog is just one big Unfinished Piece. In fact, that’s how I feel about most of my writing. Just one big unfinished piece. I’m adept at writing research papers for academic purposes, but when it comes to writing for fun, it’s a whole different story. In fact, I can’t truly remember the last time I wrote for pleasure. Probably when I wrote the pieces below which was practically a year ago and, even then, I suspect I wrote them out of an obligation to write (because that’s what I ‘do’) rather from any sincere pleasure or joy of writing. 

I don’t know when writing became this thing, this oppressive shadow, that I can’t seem to get out from under. Maybe after graduating from an MFA program? Maybe it was the MFA program. All I know is that I used to write pages of prose and poetry out of sheer desire and drive. Now I write out of a sense of obligation to my (perhaps former) self. 

Trying to recreate my sense of identity after being a somewhat reluctant poet has been hard. And, in my current MA in linguistics, I find myself enjoying the academic side of writing more than the creative side, but even that is a bit of a torture show. And, when the paper is turned in, I’m left with a void I promise myself I’ll fill with creative words for my own purposes, but instead I find myself catching up on Dexter, The Walking Dead or Justified, losing myself in other people’s stories instead of writing my own. 

Anyway, this is a winge and a half-hearted rant. So be it. This is also a blog that few (if any) people read. I hope they’ll be forgiving. 

Unfinished Pieces– “Min’s”

Today I’m making the hour and a half jaunt to Seoul for personal upkeep: hair, nails, etc. When we lived in Seoul, this was a bi-weekly ritual, more or less. Since moving out to the country, however, its more of a bi-yearly affair. So, in honor of this day, I thought I would post an unfinished piece about my old nail salon near Gayang Station in Seoul.

Happy Thursday.

“Min’s”

I don’t know her name, but I want to call her Min. She is a tall, well-built girl in her late twenties with a face that is not beautiful but alluring in its inability to hide the sense of resignation that lingers around the corners of her eyes and mouth. She is the head stylist in the nail salon on the first floor of our building, and although we do not share a common tongue, we recognize that we like each other and that, most likely, if we could communicate, we would be doing so over cocktails, telling each other our life stories, sharing our hopes, desires and the intimate details hidden in the corners of our lives. However, as it stands, we do not and, therefore, will not, and instead she has led me to a chair facing the wall of windows that looks out onto the busy intersection of Yangcheon and Hwagok-ro where the foot traffic competes with that of the cars. She turns on the machine to dry my nails and gently places my hands underneath the warm flow of air that streams out of the grey plastic dryer. Although we can’t share words, we share a brief moment of human contact that is enough to let me know we are never that alone, regardless of how many miles, how many seas and how many languages may be between us and the places we think of as home.

As my nails dry, I watch Min in the reflection of the window. There’s something lovely about her image superimposed on the motion of the street outside. She walks back to the counter with cat-like grace, checks her cell phone and smiles, then starts to tidy up the shop with the two girls in training in their matching red cardigans, white shirts and red bow ties, clumsily trailing behind her. However, the shop is small and there are no other clients and eventually there is nothing else to do but sit and stare out the window and chat as the other two girls settle around her like kittens. Their voices take on a more intimate tone, and I feel like I’m in their bedroom instead of a store with a wall made of windows. I would almost feel embarrassed, but my ignorance of their language dispels any threat of unwanted eavesdropping, and I quickly disappear, fade away and become as translucent as the glass that I don’t look out of but in, onto this moment—private, sweet and sincere.

I have been visiting Min’s shop for the last year since I moved in with James. Before then there had been “Pretty Nail,” and prior to that “Nail Story,” but I’ve been most faithful to Min and her store, not only because of its convenient location, but also because of the overwhelming sense of tranquility there that I have found difficult to find any place else. At times Min’s shop is better than church, which for me serves another purpose as not so much a place for prayer but a place to go and purge myself of the accumulated tears of exhaustion, frustration, stress and sometimes sadness that build up over the course of a week, a month or a lifetime.

So, while church provides bargain weekend therapy for the suggested donation price of 1,000 won, Min’s is more of a refuge, offering momentary respite from the storm of the city midweek. Seoul, like any metropolis, is a conduit for stress and anxiety which can only be expected when over 24.5 million souls share one setting as the backdrop to their disappointments, dreams and other earthly affairs. Looking out the window, the pulse of the city is hypnotizing, but the spell is quickly broken by the peel of laughter coming from Min and the girls at the back of the shop. I check their reflection in the window and see their three heads together looking at someone’s cell phone, clearly laughing at a text message mostly likely sent from an admirer of one of the girls. I smile and am grateful to have been momentarily forgotten and go back to watching the ceaseless tumult of traffic, people and lights on the other side of the glass, which, at this moment, like me, could just as easily be on the other side of the world.

Twelve minutes or so pass by before I look down at my hands to check on the progress of my nails. The dark red paint Min chose for me appears to have hardened and dried, reflecting the white lights of the shop so that each nail seems as though it’s decorated with a jewel or star. With the polish, my hands look almost feminine and pretty, the red paint providing some distraction from their otherwise small size and boyish shape. I had always hoped to have hands like my mother’s whose long, elegant fingers I admired as a girl. She was devoted to their maintenance, and I would observe her routine upkeep of them in wonder and awe. She still maintains her shaping and polishing ritual though her hands are now bent and crooked with arthritis. In the end, time twists everything—memories, rivers, branches, limbs—and I suppose to some extent my patronage of Min’s nail salon is my way of paying homage to my mother’s hands and keeping my recollection of them safe from time’s corrosive tendencies– at least for now.

I look up and can see Min’s reflection moving towards me in the window. I turn my head to face her as she approaches, her long black ponytail swaying back and forth like a pendulum with each step she takes, matching the swagger of her hips. She gently removes my hands from the dryer, which automatically turns off, and inspects each nail. Satisfied she smiles and looks at me. “Finish,” she says, still holding my hands. I smile back at her and use the little Korean I know to say thank you as she rubs some lotion into my palms.

The two girls in training come over from their perch on the pedicure chairs in the back of the shop to help me with my coat and bag. I go up to the counter and hand Min the 15,000 won I have ready in my coat pocket. “Kamsamnidah,” she says as she takes the green and pinkish bills and bows her head. “See you soon,” I reply and after one last smile of appreciation I head to the glass door where I briefly catch a glimpse of myself before pushing it open onto the street where I’m instantly met by a wall of pop music blaring from the cell phone shop next door. The traffic lights change from red to green and another wave of pedestrians and cars washes over Hwagok and Yangcheon-ro as I turn right and make my way home in the cool night air that, although only early March, already begins to hold the promise of spring.

Unfinished Pieces– “The Watermelon”

Here’s a short piece I wrote my first year in Korea when I was still inhabiting a liminal space. Since then, things have settled down and sorted themselves out. Your thirties will do that.

THE WATERMELON

Ji-young and I are outside eating watermelon watching the children play in the gravel schoolyard. She is twelve weeks pregnant and just beginning to show. The watermelon is the first thing she’s eaten in weeks that hasn’t made her feel nauseous. Its sweetness is refreshing in the oncoming summer heat. She flicks the black seeds onto the ground.

“I’ve been eating the seeds,” I say. “Do you think I’ll grow a watermelon in my belly?”

She laughs. “You can grow a watermelon, and I’ll grow a baby.”

“You think?” I smile.

“No.” She says in her matter-of-fact way that I’ve grown accustomed to now.  “The seeds will come out.  One way or another.”

She puts the now seedless slice of fruit into her mouth and chews. A bit of juice runs down her chin. I look up and watch the boys in their dusty game of soccer. The tall boy from the third year class has just scored another goal. The girls that have stayed after school to watch clap their hands. Their pale blue, plaid skirts are carefully tucked tightly under their thighs. The boy pretends to ignore them though you can tell he is pleased. His handsomeness is already beginning to show through his awkward, gangly limbs and spotted face.

“I should go home soon,” I say to Ji-young, as if I have something to do.

“Do you have plans for tonight?”

“I’m meeting some friends for dinner,” I lie. “I should go home and clean up.”

Loneliness is a private thing. I understand this now. The truth is, of course, I will go home and eat crackers with cheese and the rest of the cherry tomatoes.  Then, at around 6:30 p.m., when the sun is less severe, I’ll go for a walk by the man made stream that separates Ssangmun from Suyu. I will walk for an hour or so, come home, eat an apple and drink water. Afterwards, I’ll shower then read a book in bed until it’s a decent time to shut out the lights and sleep–an hour that will make me feel less alone or help convince me that I am indeed living a life, rather than an imitation of one, out here in Korea.

“I should really go home,” I say one more time. Though this time instead of my apartment, I see the green corn fields of Iowa and the grey-blue herons that fish in the shallows of the Mississippi River where cattails and other tall grasses hide the minnows and crawdads. I see the vanishing bees and the small goldfinches that, when perched in the bushes, look like roses. I feel the breeze come off the river and watch it gently caress the wildflowers — yellow, purple, orange, blue– that grow in droves alongside the bike path I used to walk along daily, like a religious rite, anytime I was at home.

I think of these things and the hurt that holds my heart tightens its grip and I feel like I could suffocate or drown. Either way I’m gasping for air, for something.

“All right. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say to Ji-young as she flicks more black seeds onto the beige gravel.

“See you tomorrow,” she says with a smile and eats another piece of watermelon.

“Good bye, Gabi Teacher!” a few of the children shout to me.

“Goodbye. Goodbye. See you tomorrow!” I shout back and wave as I walk across the yard and through the metal gates of the school.

The Seoul air is warm and dry with remnants, still, of the yellow dust that blows in from China in the spring.  Goodbye, goodbye, I sing to myself as I wonder what exactly it is I am looking for so far away from home. I turn left onto the small street where an old man sells fish from the back of his blue pick up truck and walk up the road to my apartment where I know there is nobody waiting. Only silence. Only space. Only me.

Communication Breakdown

Communication Breakdown

I’ve yet to fully discuss this, but I’m afraid of technology. Or rather, I don’t fear the technology itself, but I fear what we will do with it and and what we’ll stop doing because of it– if that makes any sense. I am probably one of the last people in a developed country to not own a smart phone. I, like the dinosaur I find myself becoming though only 33, like my phones to have a lower IQ than myself. I prefer to own the phone and not the other way around.

I have a collection of articles regarding this topic, mostly from the folks at NPR who seem to share a sense of apprehension when it comes to the science fiction that is quickly becoming non-fiction.  Anyhow, this morning I found this article from NPR looking at how technology has, to some degree, led to a failure to communicate (see link above).

The irony of this is that I’m posting this to a blog.

Happy Friday.

Unfinished Pieces — “The Doctor”

I’ve been toying around recently with what exactly it is I want to do with this blog or personal Internet space I’ve made for myself. Initially, I created it as a motivational tool to get me to write more frequently. However, as the dates below can attest to, my postings have been sporadic, few and far between. In other words, it didn’t work. This isn’t necessarily because I haven’t been writing but rather because I haven’t finished anything that I’ve started. I used to be a poet who wrote short poems. I’m accostomed to finishing what I start and for that process to not take very long. What can I say? I’m a product of the times and I like my gratification (generally speaking) the way I like my ramyeon noodles: instant or done in five minutes.  With fiction or non-fiction though its more like basting a turkey. It takes ages, patience and an attention span I fear I may lack, but that may be another post for another time. For now, I’ve decided to not let those unfinished bits go to waste. They’re written, and that’s something after all. And, where better for them to have some sort of a shelf life than a blog that no one reads. Why not?

So, here marks the first installment of Unfinished Pieces, a sort of no-kill shelter for my unwanted work where these stories, snippets and other miscellaneous pieces can live out their days in peaceful, blissful obscurity.

THE DOCTOR

In the beginning it was difficult to say just what exactly had killed Dr. Klein. His neighbor had found his half naked body, wearing nothing but underpants and a red, unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, lying frozen, face down in the snow between the garage door and the old white Mercedes convertible, the car which for over 23 years had stood out like a sleek white shark against the dull sea of red and brown pick up trucks that revved through the streets and fields of Fairly.

It had been a particularly frigid January morning in Iowa when the red lights of the ambulance made their way to Dr. Klein’s driveway and the rumor was that it had taken three days for the body to fully thaw out before an autopsy could be performed. In the end, it was determined that the doctor, who had left no survivors, being still a bachelor at 65, had died of a heart attack in the early morning hours of January 6th.

This had been enough of an explanation for the citizens of Fairly though questions still did remain. In the aisles of the grocery store among the heads of lettuce and the 99 cent two liters of cola, neighbors would ask one another, “But what was he doing outside in his underpants?” as they would inspect the fruit for bruises or check the expiration date on the milk.

The truth was that not even Dr. Klein himself really knew what he was doing at the final moments of his life. He had felt a tightening in his chest, a shortness of breath and his whole body was in its way telling the aging man, this is it: you are dying. And in response the good doctor did what all the living do and had tried for one last time to outrun death. He had made it as far as the driveway.