a poem: here and elsewhere

When I read or write, I am there and elsewhere.
I am there, sitting or lying, reading or writing.
There in my body, I am.
But I am also elsewhere, and sometimes I don’t recognize myself at all.
I don’t see my hands as part of me. They are ghosts, making words.
The words themselves are more real than the sounds or black shapes that make them.
The flow of energy that words create is the only real force.
The flashes of feelings and images half-formed in my head as I read are more real than the texture of the pages or the tapping of my finger against the screen.
It’s a strange sensation, to be here and elsewhere. To be not entirely in myself.

-a.e

a poem: soul functions of writers

soul functions, like bodily functions,
cannot and should not be controlled
repressed or held back.
i try to explain what it’s like to be a writer
to imaginary people who ask, since one day
i imagine i will be a writer and people will ask.
i tell this imaginary person that i write because
there are things inside of me that must come out.
like when you have to puke or sneeze.
if you try to stop that, your body will revolt.
and it will happen anyway.
not writing what’s inside of you is like that, but
a bit more delayed. maybe.
if you don’t write what’s there, it will stay inside.
and instead of going out nicely onto a page,
cleanly
it will come out in other ways.
you will puke your guts up onto a person,
a relationship, a job, yourself, breathing in
terrible vice, alcohol, junk food, dating,
bad tv,
because you can’t breathe in anything else.
words going out are your oxygen, so
breathe in deep friends, bring it out.
bring out the cancer inside and put it
nicely onto this page, where it becomes
something clean.
a true metamorphosis.
the alchemy of our time.

-a.e

a poem: open waters

open waters.
in high school, in college, in my first year of teaching and living overseas, i knew exactly where i wanted to be. i wanted to be in Korea. i was in a boat rowing hard down a single lane track with all my might,
Korea at the end, the prize, the destination. nothing could have gotten me off that track. i might have hit the sides a few times and come upon some rocks but i only had one way to go, forward to Korea.
forward, straight, with no veering and no uncertainty. it was comforting, and infuriating, to see that one track
and all that one track left to row.
until i went to Korea.

but then Korea came, the flag passed overhead, i threw my arms up in victory, waiting for applause.
my hands came down, slowly, as i looked around in the silence.
behind me the track, closing down, fading as i gazed,
ahead and around of me, open water.
no lanes, no destination, nothing but some rocks
and gulls overhead, looking for the dead.
the dead who are in open water and don’t row.
i began to row.
i’m in open water.
i miss the single lane. i miss the safety of knowing,
i miss a signpost to steer to.
i miss the stars overhead pointing a big arrow.
these stars are just pictures.
where am i supposed to go?
what am i supposed to do?
who am i supposed to be?
with open water comes freedom, and paralysis.
with open water comes me.

Excerpts from my journal; Early June 2017

June 1

I have no clocks because I don’t like to be reminded of the passage of time. I don’t remember what the book was called, but something I read once talked about how we took power away from God when we made clocks and set them up as our new idols, forever worshipping the efficient use of time. Killing time, spending time, allocating time; all new ideas that turned time into currency, to be bought and sold, and, most condemning of all, wasted. The notion that we could waste the seconds, that they somehow should be wrung out for all they are worth, is not ingrained in the human psyche. Rather, it was invented along with clocks. The ticks, so arbitrary in reality, march our lives along to a beat, and woe to the one who steps out of line to admire the view. He will be crushed beneath the march of the future.

So I don’t keep clocks. The ticking drove me mad. I can’t sleep when I hear ticking, thinking of all the time I’m not sleeping, not using well, but lying awake as the hours tick by. You could drive me insane quite easily if you stuck me in a room with a clock. So I don’t keep them.

Going along the highway and being able to absorb the ads and billboards is like having your finger on the pulse of the culture. When I’m in a bus riding down the Korean highway system, I don’t have my finger there. I can’t feel it. Usually. Today I was able to (probably) correctly translate a phone company billboard. It said something like “Customers are family too.” It’s the kind of inane, cliche thing billboards usually say. It was weird, because in that moment something shifted in my perspective. All the mystery and attractiveness of foreign life flickered, shuttered, began to fall. The mystery is being shaken slowly down, until life in Korea becomes as commonplace and media-saturated as America was.

June 4

As soon as I sat down all my words dried up. The words that had percolated with the coffee while I was washing the dishes, that swirled and seemed ready to drip down my fingers, slid back up with gale force speed as soon as my digits headed for the keyboard. Is it because I forgot to close the cupboard doors?

Getting lost is not something to romanticize. Getting lost is scary and dangerous. What if you ask the wrong type of person? What if no one knows? What if no one will try to speak your language and you end up staying out all night? Getting lost is scary.

Who stopped by during the night to gurgle and wake me up, and drop me off a feeling of desolation? This is why I shouldn’t read about deserts first thing in the morning. I get all dried up.

And there is a bubbling sensation in my left shin. Like something has been blocked. Maybe I just need to exercise, or maybe I walked too much. It’s hard to say.

My body is only a vehicle for my head, after all.

I dreamed of a sunburn and blistered skin last night. I looked it up today to see what it meant. Dreammoods.com said “To dream that you have a sunburn indicates that there is an emotional situation or problem that you can no longer avoid. Some urgent matter is literally burning through to your soul and demanding your immediate attention.” Well that’s true. I have an external and an internal problem. Externally I am worried I might be deported. There is talk, and lots of teachers at some Canadian schools have been. So there’s that. Mostly I am afraid of dealing with a lot of stuff. Not the actual event itself. I would live, and it would be amazing writing material.

Then there is the matter of if I were, what to do with my life. That is always an internal situation, but this threat makes it seem more real, more immediate, thrust the question into the forefront of my brain. That frontal cortex so famous for making us rational beings. Anyway it was a burning question yesterday, so my brain turned it into a weird sunburn on my back and pus-filled blisters on my chest. I tried to go deeper into meaning but blisters didn’t turn up anything useful.

I listened to a sermon about Joseph and dreams today. I wondered if any of my dreams are like his, showing me my future. Or are they just my brain turning problems into pretty metaphors and the result of too much pork?

June 6

I just ordered pizza online. This is a huge moment in my expat life. I have never EVER ordered food by myself to be delivered. I have had friends call for me, and have gone to pick up food oodles of times, but this is my first time doing it all alone. I am stupidly nervous and proud. What if they ask me something in Korean? It will be okay. I am telling myself it will be okay.

They said they will deliver around 3:24. Seems oddly precise.

Travel writing. What is it? The definition I just found on Google says it is writing in which the author describes places they have visited and their experiences while traveling. Or something. Am I a travel writer? No. I don’t really travel. I just happen to live in a foreign country. But I do not travel around and have experiences on purpose. They happen more or less by accident. Just as interesting.

Take, for instance, that fear that many people have that when they are out and about everyone is watching them. If you’re a foreigner in Korea, that’s not just idle paranoia, but a fact of life. You either perpetually hate it or end up resigned to it.

June 8

This morning on my way to work I dropped my trash off. I hate taking out my trash. For one thing, I’m always scared my landlord will come and yell at me that I’m doing it wrong. For another, I have to walk by the convenience store and other shops there, and it’s weird to do something as personal and gross as taking out the trash so publicly. Like anyone sitting outside the convenience store has to watch stanky trash go by. Way to ruin the ice cream and chatting, yo.

At one point, I hated taking the trash out so much I had about six bags on my balcony, and had to take them out all at once on a weekend. I decided never again, and have since just taken them out like a danged adult in the mornings. Paying the bills is another danged adult thing I dread. It’s easy, really. We pay at that same convenience store, and there’s a nice young kid who does it in the morning. But I have to do it before work, and usually I’m just not up for anyone saying anything to me at all. I wish he didn’t speak English, because then the exchange could be in silence. Much like going to the cafe down the road.

June 9

Amazing how quickly a mood can go from great to terrible in the space of five minutes. Just give me three thousand questions from five kids and that’ll do it.

Today is Friday. Thank God It’s Friday. On the one hand, it’s really nice having a consistent daily schedule. On the other hand, it sucks feeling like you only get to live on the weekends and for about 3 minutes every night.

I bought a new ergonomic bag for my trip to New Zealand. It’s just as silly as it sounds. It has a billion pockets and zips in such a way that doesn’t let hooligans MUG ME. Come at me, bro! My zippers are body side and protected. It’s really only for the one trip, and maybe camping if I ever go. B said I should wear it in Seoul. That’s a laugh and a half. You don’t dare be unfashionable in that city.

June 11

I am writing in the early morning, around 10am, and it feels good. It feels flowing and natural. 6am might be too early, but 9 or 10 feels just right. Coffee in me, juice at hand, food in my belly.

Keep it locked up tight, the worries. Don’t borrow from tomorrow.

This is being a writer. This is being a real  writer. Forging ahead. Figuring it out. Working with zero budget and borrowed minutes from an already-busy life. Not knowing if you’ll get that dream agent, or if your book will ever be a bestseller, but sitting down in front of the page anyway  to make the sentence in front of you the most beautiful sentence that it can be.” – Lauren Sapala

This amazing quote will help me forever. Thanks, Lauren!

June 12

Today is going pretty well. I have a lot of extra time since we’re doing nothing but testing this week in LA. I should have lots of time to write and read. I could also be working on Summer Camp stuff. Oh yeah.

Well anyway.

Let’s see how creativity goes at school. I might read a book. I might write a new story. I might do none of those things. But whatever I do, I want to do it nicely and gratefully and not worry or stress out too much.

This week does feel a bit like a copout week. Like even the classes without a test feel like they should be lax, easy, not real, where I can sit and just relax. 

I just sent off my reports cards. It felt pretty anticlimactic. There wasn’t the feeling of intense pressure to get it done. That’s down to my incredible planning skills. I had as much of it done as I could do a couple weeks ago, and added in what I got when I got it. No hurry, no worry. Of course some of the teachers were late getting their grades to us, but we expect it by now, so we can plan in their lack of planning.

June 13

Last night was strange. My dreams were intense, but I can only remember part of one. At one point I woke up slick with sweat. Actually dripping. I don’t know if it was from the heat or some brief illness. Either way, I had to strip, and so then woke up cold around five. Interesting night. I feel okay now though. I did my meditation as soon as I could and listened to part of a TED talk from Ann Lamott. I’m really getting into TED. They’re bursts of inspiration for life.

I also found out I’m a multipotentialite, which is a word I love. Emilie Wapnick is my new hero. I’m excited to delve into that topic and explore more. I keep finding out that I’m not as weird or crazy or flightly or spastic or lost as I thought, but just very very different.

I kind of don’t like that though. I’m getting tired of finding out I’m super different than the world. I’m going to have a list after my name of all the reasons why I don’t fit in and am NOT LIKE YOU. INFJ. HSP. MP. When will it end? And I hate that this is a concern but I feel like I’m trying really hard to justify myself, and no one is going to take it seriously. Oh my gosh, they will say, you have so many things special about you. You must be the most unique snowflake to ever sputter and fall from the sky.

 

Excerpts from my journal; May 2017

May 25

Fruit flies are the smoke of summer. Leave a bag of trash out for an hour, go to close it, squeeze the edges and poof! – out pop three of the suckers, whirling into the air like so much vapor.

Funny how the things you used to be scared of don’t bother you forever. I never wore contacts when I first needed glasses because I was scared of the idea of something in my eye. I could barely touch my eyes at all, and I was terrified a contact would roll back and be lost in my brain space. Finally I got sick of glasses and got over it and started wearing contacts, and got really comfortable touching my eyes and messing with them, as you do when you wear contacts. And then, today and once before, I’ve rubbed my eyes too hard and pushed my contacts up past my upper lid so they’re caught above my eye. Gross. A bit painful too but mostly just freaking annoying because you have to pull your eyelid out while you roll your head down and eyes up to get it to shift down again. Do that and dig with your other finger under your eyelid until you grab the thing. No worries. But I still won’t watch Minority Report.

My mornings are way better these days because I bought hazelnut coffee. My local small grocery store didn’t have it, so that meant that for months I just drank the other kind of coffee. But last weekend I went to the big store farther away, the one that takes me about twenty minutes to walk to, because I needed to get makeup. So I got makeup, and some on-sale shoes, and two bags of hazelnut coffee.

The shoes are cute, and the makeup is smoky because I had just read about beatniks, and the coffee is nutty and amazing and makes my mornings lookforwardtoable. You can get me up easy if you promise coffee.

May 27

What a day. It’s always strange to have a full Saturday when normally I just laze about at home and wile away the hours reading or watching TV.

It was Sports Day, and it went amazingly well. All the teams did something right. Even though my team had a sucky cheer, we came in second overall so it didn’t matter. And in the end, after the prizes are handed out the kids just want to leave anyway.

I got a sunburn, and my eyes hurt and my stomach hurts but I’m so happy it’s over. Sports Day is rough just because it’s outside in the heat and sun and extra chaotic. Other events like Wax Museum, being indoors, might take a lot of preparation but it’s easier on the teachers. I don’t just care about that but…yeah, I just care about that.

Today was also the day my brother and I finally pegged down our accommodations and tours for New Zealand. Sorry, Middle Earth. I should call it what it is. I think that was causing me a lot of stress too, not having those taken care of. I was worried we wouldn’t get the places we wanted or the tours would be sold out, yadda yadda. But we got them paid for and done, and we got our ETAs for Australia so we can enter, and we found all the amazing places to visit and eat around each city so…I think we’re good to go. Everything’s coming together, and it’s starting to feel like we’ll really be there. Oh man, oh man, oh man.

I even looked at souvenirs to buy, but honestly, I don’t want much. Maybe a poster or shirt or the one ring, but not a lot. Pictures and memories of good food and travel. Just seeing and being somewhere else. And seeing my brother have fun will be all I need.

May 30

I shake my shoulders and try to shake them into a place they fit. Music sends waves through me that jangle my soul up and shake the water, letting it settle more comfortably again.

Didion writes with no mercy. There is no soft justification in her. Just the facts, ma’am. Yes, sir. Cold and clear and hard. Got it. Meanwhile I spin a gossamer around every word. Pounding out word after word carefully, not to reveal too too much, not to hurt or imply anything uncomfortable.

May 31

“Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” – Didion

I like to read Joan Didion. Her pieces don’t excite me, don’t thrill me, but they do keep me fascinated, keep me reading. There is some peculiar power there. And I recognize in my writing, even before I read her, an echo of her voice. She writes like me. To read her, and to read me, when I’m being honest, you’d probably think we were unhappy. We write like unhappy people, looking at life ironically, cynically, bluntly. They say INFJs have a sad soul with a happy personality. I am certainly that way. I’m rarely sad for people to see. I write like I’m always sad. I’m always melancholic. But I wouldn’t say I am a sad person.