Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely and intimately personal process. I often surround myself with strangers at cafes, libraries, and public spaces to avoid this sense of isolation. During the embryonic stages of the first draft, I am plagued with questions like “What am I writing?” or “Why am I writing?” These questions can be useful in a dialogue of sorts but they tend to get lodged into the existential abyss of writer’s block. Once I am beyond the first draft, my body and mind eases itself into the solitary work of editing and revising. Later, I get stuck again after looking at the same essay for the 20th time and need a pair of eyes and ears that are not my own. That is when you hope to find a writer or a writing group that can give you insight, inspiration, and shred your work into lean articulate pieces. I know; it is a lot to expect.

I have found a wonderful surprise in my writing group. We share our writing and receive honest to goodness, sharp and useful feedback. Since we formed, we have been taking turns celebrating our successes and commiserating our rejections. Beyond the group as a whole, I have discovered many jewel like moments with each member of the group: conversations about long distance love while sitting in the sun, the sweetest cottage and greatest neighbor who gives me encouragement on long walks, a playwright who shares my passion for dance and mothering a son, and a colorful spirit who shares amazing writing advice and provides another perspective regarding the concept of living with one’s mother.

Our writing group just celebrated Rachel’s birthday at Bacaro Happy Hour, and we found some warm hugs within the very cold evening. Rebekah was there briefly before she had to attend another event, so she is not photographed yet. As we drank and nibbled and laughed, I thought this is the opposite of feeling lonely as a writer. Rachel with her beautiful rosy cheeks, maybe from the tequila shot, said that she loved how writing allows us to take our experiences especially the darker ones and transform them into writing material. It is true. No matter what we experience, grow or regress from, we find fodder for our art. I remember one time smashing commitment jade rings into a fine almost white powder on the sidewalk. It felt so final, so completely necessary to destroy what they stood for. I remember a side thought of being surprised that jade could turn into powder. Then adding a mental note: add this image to pool of ideas for a future story.

Right now, in this morning, with my shades drawn and having only stepped out once to walk my dog, I feel so grateful for the memories that I created with this group and to find the words to record and share them.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

First Snow

A few days ago, it was so bright out at 6 am that I thought I has slept through my alarm. It was snowing and had been snowing throughout the night. I love that feeling of excitement and surprise that I find with each first snowfall of the year. On our morning walk, Peanut started walking around with her mouth open like a snow plow, then it got stuck in her nose, which made her very angry.

That same night, I talked to my friend out in San Francisco. I told him that it was snowing. When he was growing up near Salt Lake City, he had a big window that looked out into the yard. Jeremy and his brother often peered out this window in anticipation of how much snow would fall that evening. I too had a window like this one. When I was growing up in Maryland, my cousin, Hae Jung, and I would gaze out the open window while standing on my bed. Our upper bodies would be dressed in winter gear complete with scarves, hats, and mittens over our pajamas. Tasting the new snow and trying to catch it with our tongue, we would laugh quietly so as not to get caught. Jeremy told me that the sense of anticipation is what fills you with wonder and hope.

Children make magic out of snow. Tristan made this snow frog last year. How many windows have caught the eyes of little children looking out beyond the glass to the snow? I am sure it is countless. Snow is a reminder that beauty can appear out of a familiar landscape. That the same roads and sidewalks we navigate on a daily basis with confidence and complete knowing are different and suddenly require caution and inspire appreciation.

I feel like right now with the holidays approaching and the weather getting colder, it is not an easy time to be alone or down. I know some people have lost loved ones around this time of year and many painful as well as joyful memories layer the holiday season. It makes me feel grateful for the family and friends that I have close by.

But to be honest, it has been hard to stay afloat above all the busyness and anxiety that comes around this time of year. Lately, I have noticed that I often forget to have fun and fill my days with carefully wrought plans as if by doing this, it will somehow guarantee my safe passage through life and inevitable change. Maybe that is why I started dedicating more time to my blogs again. I have been busy traveling and preparing my writing for publication and thought that the blog practice could slip into the background. But I have noticed that writing the blogs changes me. It keeps me aware of what happens throughout my day with an eye of curiosity and possibility. This awareness to witness my day without rigidity is what makes me happiest. In that way, writing about my life and the reflections that appear is like the snowfall. It brings attention to what is occurring in the moment and hope for what will come.

“When we live in a state of knowing, rather than unknowing, we’re living in a fixed state of being where we can’t experience the endless unfolding of life, one thing after another. Things happen anyway – nothing ever remains the same – but our notions of what should happen block us from seeing what actually does happen.” Bernie Glassman

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Halloween Stomach Flu

On Halloween morning, I woke up to my 11-year-old moaning, “Uma, uma” (Korean for mother). Because of jet lag, I wanted to see if he was just talking in his sleep. Both my son and I are major league sleep talkers. While fast asleep, I used to scream whole strings of arguments in Korean to the dismay of my non-Korean lovers. Just last week, Tristan cried out in his sleep, “I know sex is disgusting but…” and then his body nestled back into his plum colored duvet and started snoring lightly. But this morning, it was a cry from the bathroom, the toilet to be exact, where he was pouring out his digested dinner from his mouth.

After he threw up, instead of feeling better, his stomach knotted up in pain. Then for the first time in 3 years, he asked me to rub his belly. This really woke me up. I truly believe that this gesture of having your belly rubbed is an act of faith and trust. The trust comes from a childlike belief in magic; the type of magic that allows you to equate the touch of a loving hand with instant healing. Then there is faith that having your mother that close to your ailing body will create a sacred vigil of sorts and bring relief.

When I was four, I had a severe case of chicken pox. I could not stop my compulsive scratching, so my mother slid her special silk gloves onto my hands to keep them still or to dull my sharp nails. I remember begging her to sit next to me and pray (maybe to Buddha and Jesus?) for my itching to go away. As she whispered her requests to her God, it felt as if a cool mist covered my itching and made them tolerable for a moment. My mom still talks about this request. As a mother, I realize that it must have given her the same wave of bliss that I felt when I rubbed Tristan’s belly.

So I rubbed his belly with some castor oil and citrus lotion and sang him the song that my mother sang to me and her mother before her. It goes like this and mind you it is a translation. Literally it says, “Go down go down (the pain) and go away, your pain is just a fluke and mother’s hand is medicine.” It repeats in sing songy fashion that matches the rhythm of the circles on the belly.

When I was a child, I was happily wrapped up in the warm gesture of a belly rub from my mother’s soft hand. Now I see that it is also a gift it is to the mother who is rubbing her child’s belly.

Below are pictures from last Halloween. Tristan was Reno from Final Fantasy 7. I was Chin-Lee from Street Fighter.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Discipline and Joy

There are two things that I strive to do almost everyday: write and exercise. The inclusion or exclusion of these two activities completely affects my mood and mindset for that day.

The writing spectrum is broad. Anything from writing in my journal, collaging images and words, starting a first draft, or snipping an older piece into a finished draft is considered to be a valid attempt at working with words for that day. My newest journal is a large book-bound sketchbook that holds both journal entries and collages. I absolutely love it because the pages are made of thick acid free paper, and I no longer have to cross reference collage work with my journal entries. Yes, I used to do this to clarify some meaning in case it was not understood in one medium without the other.

Writing is such a lonely thing. Writers know this, and we can choose to embrace it or stop writing. But there are ways to gather forces in this loneliness in between the solitude required for this practice. Recently, my writer’s group extended our lovely fingers and imagination into meeting once a week for sit down writing sessions. We meet at random cafes, talk for about 5-10 minutes then we shut up and write. Sometimes the sound of the pen scratching out plays, and keyboards clicking away at new stories and essays makes me feel like I am going to jump up and start whooping. It is the sound of creation, of honoring what we promised to give ourselves in that moment.

We get so much done that each time we walk away in a daze of wonder and confusion. I ask myself, “How did this happen?” I have a wicked case of ADD and often have a hard time working on one thing for more than half an hour. I think the magic comes from the synergy of being able to sit in the same space to do what we know will sustain us for that day. The sit down sessions are a container, a witness for this type of creative action. It is pure joy.

Starting this blog has helped me not only honor my writing and share it, but it has made me pay attention to my experience and interactions. I listen carefully and see where threads of images, ideas, or sparks will take me.

Erich Fromm wrote in the book, The Art of Loving:

“First of all, the practice of an art requires discipline. I shall never be good at anything if I do not do it in a disciplined way; anything I do only if ‘I am in the mood’ may be nice or an amusing hobby, but I shall never becomes a master in that art… one’s whole life must be devoted to it, or at least related to it.”

“It is essential, however, that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one’s will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it.”

I am trying to do this: to find joy in the practice and discipline instead of getting in my own way or obsessing about the finished product. With this said, I also want to be a master of writing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What a weird world

I was stressed out all morning because I dropped my cell into my dog's water bowl. I had signed up for phone insurance and found out after calling the claims department that Verizon had forgotten to bill me for the insurance. This meant no replacement phone and no access to all my beloved numbers. At least I received a beautiful text message before my phone died from my friend, Jeremy, out in San Francisco. It went something like this "sunshine, biking, friendship, laughter ...everything I did today reminded me of you." This message reminded me that when we feel connected to someone, it is not a one way street. The night before, I was talking about my friend Jeremy and recounting my lovely adventure with him.

After being on the phone with Verizon for one hour, my jaw hurt from all the tension I was holding. But taking my son and his best friend, Ronnie, to Tandoori Grill's lunch buffet made me it all better. They make up songs all the time and love to repeat them loudly. But their newest song involved using the melody to the song, "What a Wonderful World," and creating a song based on what they saw in three stanzas and finishing with the line "what a weird world." So my son was looking at a pedestrian sign and he sang, " I see a sign with people ahead. I don't know what that means. Does it mean hit the people ahead. And I think to myself, what a weird world." This had me laughing and slapping the steering wheel while I drove them to lunch and back home.

My son shows me that every moment is changeable. You can take in the scenery around you and find wonder and laughter in every situation. Tristan and Ronnie play it up in this picture during their graduation ceremony.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Triggering points

I am not sure how I would have survived without my journals. I started journaling to save my life, my sanity at the age of 7. In my assortment of Hello Kitty, Barbie, and Holly Hobby notebooks, I scribbled endless details about my imaginary love life with stars such as Olivia Newton John, Matt Dillon, and Peter Chris ( drummer for Kiss). These same pages held all the vehement words that I was not allowed to speak to my older brother, parents, and teachers. To keep my thoughts private, I would bind my notebooks with five different colored rubber bands and arrange them just so. If the color arrangement was not as I left it after my last entry, it was clear that someone had violated my privacy and heart. This seemed safer than using a stupid little lock that anyone could pry open.

So this blog is named rubberband free because I will be sharing snippets of my reflections and private life with a small but important audience.

This morning I realized the importance of photographs and recorded memories. This seems to be the weekend of loss... my close friend took off to Africa for an indefinite amount of time, my friend Shelly is slowly losing her beautiful dog to old age, and another friend discovered some painful truths that ended a relationship with finality. My parents are obsessed with taking photographs of every moment as if they will be forgotten if not recorded. This would annoy me because I felt that it took away from experiencing the moment itself. But as Shelly shared pictures of her dog throught her 13 some years with her, I realized that these pictures were triggers of many memories that might have been lost without them.

As I biked pass my old hang out spots with my friend Brittany, I started fully accepting how much I will miss her. I have so many wonderful memories with her, but it is the little aspects that will be missed the most like having tea with her at Bookends Cafe, her notes to me at work, after dinner drinks at the Upstairs Kitchen. I am so excited for her journey and know that I will continue to be a part of her life. But I wish I had more pictures to record all those times with her that I had taken for granted as something that would always be there.