Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rain

I'm awfully grateful for the soothing sound of rain pattering outside my window right now. It's my favorite sound in the whole wide world. I've heard it filtered through the din of the city for so long that I had nearly forgotten about my adoration for it. Soaking in the happy calm of this sound is the closest thing to peace I can manage right now. We are neither in the midst of WWII nor am I anywhere near England, but staying calm and carrying on is still the current order of business.

Soft, steady rain will carry me on.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tonight, This Feeling

10:21 was a fine time to be walking home tonight. I mean, it wasn't just fine. It was fiiiine, said with a long and pronounced Southern drawl or whatever you can muster up to fully appreciate the need for emphasis here. Golly, is it beautiful out there tonight.

I want to record this feeling that I'm experiencing right now and right here. I can't explain it, other than to say that there are thousands of poofy clouds scattered against the moon at this very moment, a moon whose light I'm convinced is keeping the neighborhood birds chatty at this hour. The sky and the moon and the birds aside, what is exceptionally beautiful, the thing that is doing me in right now, is the sweetly perfect air. It's that just-a-touch chilly night air that arrives before spring fully unpacks her luggage and stays a while. Do you know it? She's here tonight, and she caught me off guard with her scent because it colors every city differently and it had been so very long since I've experienced a spring other than New York's. The cool night air is impossible to describe, but I can say that it smells like... here. And it is wonderfully delicious. And calming.

On those days when I need to dig deep and find my strength, I'll come find this post, close my eyes, and bring myself back here, to tonight's walk home.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Today My Mother Asked Me If I'm Gay


She was serious. And squirming. I'm pretty sure that she was embarrassed to even be contemplating such a thing about her own daughter. In hindsight, it makes sense. She doesn't know anything about my personal life, so it's not an unreasonable thought. The whole string of back-to-back questions started in Korean but ended in English, a telltale sign that she was dangerously stepping out of her comfort zone. "So you're not ever going to get married?" which turned into "Even if you have a boyfriend, you're not going to get married?" which led to, "You don't have a boyfriend right now, right?" which then led to "Are you doing the lesbian gay thing?"

Wow. Really? Is this really happening?

It would have been so fun to pull her leg a little, but the woman sitting in front of me had had a rough winter; today was not the time for cruel jokes. She never gets jokes, anyway. After I burst her bubble and acknowledged that I am not, true to form, she still took it upon herself to ramble on about how God did not design humans to live alone, that I need a church-going Christian man and should get married and have children. It's amazing how she circles everything back to the paramount importance of getting hitched and popping out kids; that and how nice it would be if I would bring her on vacation to Europe. So I told her the truth: I would be the worst thing to ever happen to this unknowing Christian schmuck who got suckered into dating me and perhaps more significantly, I let my passport expire. Luckily, I don't need it for New York.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

This Man


I spent the day at a local cafe / gourmet market / coffee shop this week. Aloof hipsters with their bold smears of bright red lipstick and nose piercings and oversized glasses played barista and charcuterie sandwich makers behind the counter. The girl who took my order seemed annoyed, but only insomuch as her coolness would allow. I felt her pain, as I, too, was in it for the long haul, with a work deadline later that day. I set up shop at a table in the corner, plugging in my laptop and giving my coat its own chair without a second thought. There is a certain luxury of space availability here that I have greedily embraced. Is this what happens after living so long in the most densely populated city in America? Yes, indeed it is.

A man, one of only two patrons when I walked in, was seated at one of the tables. A large coffee in front of him, his legs were draped to the side, crossed comfortably as he clumsily tapped his fingers around a messy array of dirty coins. Three colorful plastic lighters sat atop a napkin, as though they deserved special consideration that his pocket change did not. You know the complimentary kind that gas stations used to provide with your pack of smokes? The kind you rarely see any more since smoking has become déclassé? Those. Despite the lid on his cup, coffee had somehow managed to spill. The crumpled napkins littering the space around his lighters were oddly still clean. It was hard to tell when the man had last bathed, but it was clear that his clothes were in bad need of a wash.

Somewhere along the way of these past few years, my sensitivity has begun to surface more readily. Where I once only cried at movies, now, whenever I sense people's need for kindness, a tear escapes. Sometimes, two or three before I realize what's happening. Watching this man stare at his muffin, the tears started up again. He just kept picking at the streusel on top, rolling the little mounds of brown between his fingers, the sugar flatly falling on the table. I occasionally glanced up from my screen to watch him play a solitary game of musical chairs without the music. Every fifteen minutes, he'd pull up a new chair from a different table, test it, and then settle for another ten or fifteen minutes before getting up to do it all over again. He repeated this act for four hours straight. Every few rounds, he would relocate himself to a new table, taking his various sundries along with him. When he landed at the table across from mine, I very deliberately forced myself to keep my butt firmly planted in my seat. It didn't feel right to pack up and leave. What right did I have to sit here that he did not? This much was clear: I had the option of going home or to another cafe, armed with money to pay for whatever time and space I wanted. This man did not. He probably didn't even have a place to sleep that night. Life is unfair, isn't it? And so I willed myself to stay, covering my nose and plucking away at my keyboard until it was time to go.

The girl from behind the counter eventually came over and told the man that he needed to leave if he was finished with his food. I think the dismissal stung me more than it did him.

Here I sit, days later, unable to shake the thought of this man. I want to know his story. I want to know why all of a sudden I feel incredibly privileged to be in my own shoes: my wits about me; my mental faculties intact; people in my life who lend their support; friends who pick up their phones when I call; and the choice to do or not do as I please. My life is good, but why am I sitting like a weirdo in a random cafe tearing up over a man I don't even know?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

My friend's five-year-old made a funny request. She repeatedly asked that I send a picture of myself to her mother's phone. I didn't ask why, as I generally oblige when children politely ask for things, regardless of how random the request may be. Like a good-for-nothing adult, I kept forgetting to send it, so after she brought it up for the third time, I pulled and texted this one, the last picture I took of myself from some time ago earlier this winter. I was trashed from little sleep, on FaceTime messing around with the phone, clearly reacting to something that made me uncomfortable.


I should ask that little girl what she plans to do with this. Kids know how to do all sorts of things on iPhones these days. Will she PhotoShop out my mole? Will she crop my head onto a Disney Princess? She's pretty fond of that Disney Frozen movie. We once watched the same four YouTube movie clips on repeat for an hour straight. That is an hour that I will never get back, but if we're going to talk about return on investment, watching her two-year-old brother belt out the movie's theme song at the most random of times is priceless.

It's been really nice to be around children again. That they are my friends' kids is a double perk. They never fail to energize my spirits. They are wonderful little things, busy being honest and real. As lovely as they are, I have been making a concerted effort to limit my time with them and their parents. They welcome me openly in their home, but I quietly straddle that fine line, wary of that one day when they will surely have had too much of me. As all my friends now have life partners and kids, I try to be sensitive to the family unit dynamic, recognizing that life is busy all the time, and that they only have so much time to spend exclusively together. So, I make appearances regularly enough, but make sure to build in breathing room, too. It's been a few days, which means that I'm due for a live musical rhapsody performed by a certain toddler. I can't wait. It's the sweetest thing in the whole wide world right now.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A New Window


I left Manhattan. I set a deadline for myself and when the time came, I walked away. Well, technically, I was driven away, huddled in a chilly heap at the edge of my mattress in the back of a van with the stupid knotted stomach I always have whenever I’m stuck in a car. Most of me was ready to leave, stoked, I'd even say, but a significant enough part of me was apparently not, as evidenced by the fact that I threw 80% of my belongings haphazardly into boxes in the last few days.

The world seemed like it could have been a touch more cooperative on the big day, what with wet snow falling steadily from the time we started loading the van to the time we pulled off the slushy highway more than two hours later. It was a safe journey, so maybe I have it all wrong and the world was actually quite kind to my needs that day. All I know for sure is that I annoyed the hell out of the people who stuck by me to pack at the eleventh hour. Not my proudest moment that was. Maybe we can laugh about it in say, another twenty years. Or, never. That’s a good possibility, too.

Right now, I’m trying to figure out what’s best for me. This thing called life isn’t supposed to be hard or unhappy, but that’s what it’s felt like, which is what prompted this move. They say that everything is a choice, from the way you feel, the way you manage your feelings, down to the very essence of who you are. I can see the truth in that. I just have one question: what happens when you aren’t sure which choice is meant for you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pumpkin Pie

There was a time when I would have a slice of pumpkin pie for lunch almost every day. I was sixteen, a senior in high school with rarely a spare moment for lunch. I'd fly through the cafeteria between meetings and classes and clubs and sports to grab a saran-wrapped plastic plate of pie. Sometimes I'd stop for a quick chat with Chris, the kind bald man who managed dining services, or Kathy, the chatty wide-smiled cashier lady, or Shirley who was new and shy.

I always made it a point to say hello to Shirley, sometimes with fork in hand and pie in mouth, but always a hello would spill out of my mouth. She had an air of that timid shyness about her. As a citizen of humanity, I guess I sensed then what I know now: some people are shy, but it doesn't mean that they want to be left alone. They just need a little more time getting used to the idea of someone new. And to be receptive to someone like me who wants to know your dog's name immediately, I should also tone it down a notch or two at the beginning. And whaddya know? They turn out to be sweet as candy and sometimes even have a wicked sense of humor.

Anyway, where was I? Pie, was it? Yes, pie. Right. So I'd take that pie and run to my next meeting. End of my story about pie. Sorry, that was kind of a whole lot of nothing that led to a whole lot of nothing. Let me try again.

That time, that time of pumpkin pie, was a different time. I had thrown myself into a busy web of high school shenanigans to take my mind off of things that I didn't know how to handle. I did it then and I do it now: I distract myself to avoid things that make me uncomfortable. I take whatever seems too much, bury it, and lock it away. Who wants to handle things that are too heavy to carry, too dark to lighten, or too tangled to straighten?

Since my little high school love affair with pumpkin pie, I rarely have any. It's still one of my favorites, but I just don't have the occasion. But every time I do find a pumpkin latte in my hand or a slice of pumpkin bread on the plate in front of me, it brings me right back to that time so long ago and how so little has changed since.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Hashtag Hercules

What started as a split second instagram shot {+} has morphed into a late-night ramble. I'm just gonna roll with it...


Instead of sleeping, I'm listening to the sounds of shovels scraping against sidewalks, salt trucks crunching by, the occasional yelp of a city worker earning his pay in the freezing cold streets outside my window. Interrupting are cheeky bouts of silent night so calm I could hear a bird chirp from a block away, if only ever there were a bird who would warble from a wintry city bough at this time of night. By the time the sun rises, the snow will have been tossed aside, much of it married with grit. They say grit is the best indicator of personal ambition and success. Funny, the two definitions of grit, no? Tonight is probably my last chance to beat the dawn and make my way to a snowy Central Park. I thought this would be important to me, to take my camera and spend some time in a snow laden sliver of the great big park at least once before the city has its way with her, but it seems that priorities and wishes change when the clock's approaching four and the wind chill is -10. My bedside lamp is still on. I'm in bed, but sleep is not coming. Typical. Happens every time. I'm facing a wall of framed images, looking and wondering what to do with them. The middle one is still maddeningly crooked, I notice. I'm realizing that these have been with me for nearly ten years. That's a whole decade. That's more than two presidential terms. That's two bachelor degrees. For some, that's a whole career. I wonder if I might not be doing right by me if I find them a new home. The indecisiveness is here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Let two-oh-fourteen bring in more light.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Go Ahead, Shake Your Head

A part of me still isn't 100% comfortable that I went through with this. Another part of me cringes that I'm willing to tell people about it, but the way I see it, this is still making me laugh days later, which must mean that it'll probably make someone else laugh, and hey, who doesn't need a good laugh?

To begin, do not flip out. I am not pregnant. If I were, I assure you that I'd be writing this in caps and that the entirety of the post would be nothing less than the most eloquent of prose, perhaps something along the lines of, "OH, SHIT."

But this is not my current predicament and so all is well. All I did was buy a shirt from a maternity line. For myself. Who is neither pregnant nor planning on being pregnant any time in the near future.

I didn't realize that I had picked up a maternity shirt until I was leaving the fitting room. When I slowly handed the shirt to the sweet girl managing the room, she asked if she could get me another size. I explained that it fit fine and actually, it was exactly what I was looking for, but I wasn't sure about it because the shirt was from the maternity line. She looked at my stomach. "Maybe you should come back when you start showing." Therein was my hesitation, because I, uh, wasn't pregnant and wasn't trying to get pregnant either, I explained. She laughed and I bit my lip, wondering if I could live with myself knowing that I was wearing a shirt designed to accommodate a belly the size of a large watermelon.

She held up the shirt and looked closely, asking why I thought it was maternity wear, because it didn't look like it. I showed her the label sewn into the back. Surprised, she giggled. It's exactly what I had gone through just moments earlier when I saw the label after trying on the shirt. She insisted that with the cut of the shirt, she couldn't tell, that this was a shirt she herself would wear. And so with that, I headed to the register. Gap, if this was all a ploy to make a sale, it worked.

So there you have it. I now own Gap maternity wear. Truth be told, after wearing said shirt, I wish I had gotten a second one. Or maybe that would have been pushing it a bit too far. Ha. I probably should keep this sort of thing to myself, but really, I hope you see this as an inside glimpse of the real me, of how I live boldly outside the box.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Please Bring Your Kid To A Museum

There is something that I hear young American parents often say:

"Children don't like art museums. They get bored."

This bothers me. Kids will engage with anything they're presented with. At least that's been my experience.

Parents often seem to think that the only suitable museum for a child is a zoo, a children's museum, or a natural history museum, anything with big stuffed animals and dinosaur bones and designated play areas. There, they can explore with their hands, jump up and down, and engage in imaginary play. Adults seem to insist that kids respond best when engaging in creative play, in surroundings that are tailored to prime color schemes and mass-marketed cartoon characters. They dismiss every possible notion that flat paintings and bronze sculptures not meant for touching will hold little interest to a small child.

Ahem. I ask of you, then, why and how is it that European children happily walk around galleries with their parents, absorbing and processing the contents of great museums? Delightful three-year-old French children glance up at portraits and exclaim things like, "A lady in a red hat like mama's!" or "That dog looks like Fido!" or "This is Grandpa!" There might even be a tiny little pointed finger at a pastel-y Renoir and a "Pretty!" soon to follow.


Take, for example, this kid who was with his mom and brother. I was trying to get him out of my frame, but when I couldn't, I just gave in. He was focused on completing a worksheet that a MoMA docent had made available to children. His mother engaged both brothers in an animated discussion of the art hung around the walls of this particular gallery. After a few minutes, one brother skipped over to the leather ottoman in the center of the room and got to work on his worksheet. His little brother soon followed. And guess what? The kids were not a bit bored. They answered their mother enthusiastically, pointing this way and that, sometimes getting up to show the other brother what they were talking about. I left the gallery after close to fifteen minutes and would later catch glimpses of the trio as I made my way between the other galleries. The boy pictured here was probably 6, maybe 7. His brother was closer to 4.

It's called observing, processing, connecting objects and memories, extracting and exchanging data based on visual cues, identifying and articulating a human emotion or experience. It's not play-doh, a ride down a slippery slide, or a toy car with wheels that go vroom vroom. But you know what? For a half hour, maybe an hour, when a child is well-rested and fed, a casual walk around a museum gallery or two can be an enriching, invigorating, and stimulating experience. I'm not saying that it can replace the playground or a swimming pool or a skiing lesson - I'm saying that exposure to and the chance to absorb what's offered inside museum walls is well within the reach of a child's capacity for engagement.

Of course I can say this because I'm not a parent. And maybe parents are less willing to risk a possible meltdown in the middle of an echo-y chamber than I am. But honestly, I've yet to see a single meltdown in any of the museums I frequent. European children are not only well-behaved, but actually seem to enjoy their visits. I'm curious as to why American parents so readily scoff or balk at the idea.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let's Take Autumn, Fold It Up, And Tuck It Away In My Pocket

You know, to keep me zen and centered when, come January, in the bitter chill of winter, I'll be forlorn and depressed staring at my ashy, ghost white legs, wondering if I'm using the wrong moisturizer because one's legs surely shouldn't ever be this dry, no matter how cold temps drop outside?

Providence, Rhode Island
Sunday. 3 November. 2013.

It wasn't until my twenties that I began to notice the pretty of autumn. Up until then, fall held little value other than signaling the first term of school and field hockey practice. The physical metamorphosis happening outside was more of an annoyance, what with all the lawn work that came with the season. Do you know how annoying it is to locate a field hockey ball that rolls into a patch of leaves caught on the fence lining the sideline? High school problems: they are serious.

My mother's parents, my maternal grandparents, came to visit the States exactly once. My mother grew up on a farm a couple hours outside of Seoul. Knowing this, I did not, for the life of me, understand why my grandfather flew such a long distance and, as a man of few words, when asked what he wanted to do, said that he wanted to go for a walk.

A walk.

A walk?

I had absolutely no interest in strolling outside to admire the scenery. I mean, the trees? Aren't there trees in Korea? Branches and leaves? Grass? Yawn, dude. Yawn.

Oh, the simple minds of ignorant pre-adolescent know-it-alls.

Now, every year around this time, I look up at the vibrant firetops of the trees, how they perfectly blot themselves in front of the city skyline and think, oh, I bet weh-halabuhji (Korean for maternal grandfather) would have loved this. He would have adored a November walk on the East coast. There's nothing quite like it.

My grandparents' visit was a long one, overlapping a chilly March when there was a freak snow and ice storm that closed Philadelphia schools for a full week. That was the second and last time that I would spend time with my grandfather. I've visited his grave once, more than a decade ago. He's buried at the highest point of a mountain, one that is so steep that the only way to descend is to side step with your feet perpendicular to the slope of the mountain. I bet at this time of year, he enjoys a sweet, breathtaking view.