Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lonely Hearts Club

Wednesday night is blues night, or at least it is live music night and I wanted live music. I wanted to be a part of something for a change, instead of holed up in my apartment. So I went out, walked down to the Lonely Hearts Club. The bar girl, Gun, was all smiles for me and hugs and polite kisses. She pours me a tequila and I sit with my book and my smokes to wait for the music. The music might start in an hour, maybe two. I will have to go home long before it gets intense. The smoky singers with their guitars and the reverberating base tones that stir my soul into my toes. I will have to leave long before that, but I come early anyway. I will have a few drinks, and chat up Gun, and read, and enjoy myself, I think. Quiet night in the bar, a little live music, and then to home.

But there are two new expats in the bar. I haven't seen them before. As Gun fetches my drink they ask incredulous who is drinking tequila, and I smile and try to sink into my book and disappear because I would prefer that to a drunk chat with two strange men. I do manage to successfully avoid their notice for a few more minutes, but I can make out from the whispered discussion that one is encouraging the other to come talk to me. The younger one, of course, encouraging the older one. I'm bored already, but I wait for it.

He finally comes over with a "Where are you from?"

I say "Chicago."

"What part of town, I'm from Boys Town."

I admit, this peeked my curiosity. This pulled me in and had my slightly interested in strange strung out man in the bar. His hair is greasy and he looks like Iggy Pop only with clothes on (why is it whenever I think of Iggy Pop I always imagine him half naked in leather pants. I just can't imagine him with a shirt on, and I've tried). Iggy starts to chat me up, "Smart bar/metro." He says and breaks into a conversation in Spanish, French, with a little Russian thrown in. I turn to Gun and ask her in Korean "Yognun, waygook namja, minchina?"

She smiles and says "It's his first time. Molageseyeyo." Well, there is that I think.

I turn back and smile. He asks me how I learned Korean.

"Listening, mostly. I just listen. I sit back and take it all in. Easiest way to learn anything."

"How long have you been here?"

"Six years in May." And I think, that's true. It's been almost six years since I moved to Korea and I'm still here. I never thought I would make it past two and now six years later I am sitting in a bar on a school night drinking tequila and talking to strangers while I smoke clove cigarettes and listen to the Veils. Six years.

"I'm not gay, you know." He says. I smile. I know exactly why he is saying it, but it amused me anyway. I never thought for a second that he was, even though he lived in Boys Town. I smile at him.

"You said Smart Bar Metro, not Crowbar," I figured you weren't.

"I'm a junkie," he says.

"Ah." I say.

"I was a junkie. I'm in Korea now. I figure I've got my life on track, I'm 45, everyone here likes me, I just finished a methadone program in Portland. Can you help me in Korea? What's your number?" Iggy continues to babble on at me. At some point I gave up trying to interject in the conversation and just listened. He wanted to spill, he wanted a confessional, an ear. I think he also wanted a girlfriend, but I wasn't paying that much attention. He buys me a drink, my phone rings and I leave in a hurry to talk to a friend.

"What are you doing?" asks my friend.

"Getting pissed," I say.



"What happened?"

"Just felt the need."

We talk for a few more minutes and make arrangements. I hope for a visit this weekend, some entertainment of the slightly less depressing variety.

I walk back and Iggy politely says goodbye. "I'm a southern gentleman, I'm from Arkansas, I'm not doing to badly for forty five, I've got it together. It was nice to meet you, can you advise me about sex in Korea?"

The guitarist kicks up a few notes on the red guitar and starts to play ending all conversation abruptly in the bar. I sit to enjoy my drink. Gun smiles at me. "Kinchaneyeo?" she asks me. "Ney, ney, munjay opseyo." I say.

The guitarist plays Hendrix, and Radiohead, and Nirvana, and all manner things. I listen, I smile, I loose myself in the music and the bass drumming of his voice. I request a song.

"I have to go in ten minutes," I say.

"So do I," he says.

Ah, the military musician who can't play for long. Mores the pity. I leave before his set is finished, tequila warming my ears and live music buzzing in my belly.

I walk home from the Lonely Hearts Club.

Six years.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Inside Shadowlands

There is a static and it does not move. Shadow land is a swirling mass around, but in the center I am static and unmoved. I want to be moved. What have I become afraid of then. Is it the solid fact that there is too much movement, too much feeling, too much fire, and passion, and joy, and hope, and desire, and loss, and love, and loneliness. Or something else that makes me feel much like a prisoner watching the shadow figures of life and being made to believe that there lies my reality.

The shadows dance. They whisper to one another, talking, telling secrets. They make themselves, the shadows, real and more powerful then real, more true then real. They become everything. I watch the shadows and am engulfed in the movement, the realization that I can never be as great, fascinating, interesting, true as the play in front of my eyes. I am static, I am unreal, I do not exist. There as they go flashing, living, loving, those shadows are the only thing that is true.

There is no hope to find some great lie that will build my city and make me more real. There is no thing that I can believe in so completely that I will take comfort in the knowledge of a lie as ultimate truth. Shadows don't need to lie. They exist, they interchange, they interplay and I am fascinated with them.

There is a gift here in watching the shadows. I learn, a truism. Observation is knowledge. This is a whole and functioning fact. With each observation more data is required, you need more, information. But false date clogs the works and produces false results. If the shadows can be believed then there is purity here, nothing can be a lie. If I believe it strong enough will that make it true. If that were to be true then I would not be chained to sit and watch and merely observe.

I am lost in myself and the shadows, frozen solid in my fear of action on them. It is a not in my belly that causes an inability to eat. It is stringy tension in my back that snaps my spine and controls my restlessness. It is the claw that plays at my soul and takes greatest surcease in ripping that into minute bits of indeterminate. Shadows continue to move and play about me and I continue to sit immobile and watch and wonder what is outside my cave. Light, life, or just more caves?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Harder Next Time

My back was killing me. Literally quite painfully crawling it's way out through my shoulders blades. At first I suspected it was merely the stress of a long weekend, and too much time spent on a bus, but it started around Thursday long before the weekend the bus and I couldn't really place why I was in so much pain.

I blame Wednesday. On Wednesday I went to the gym to do my usual set. I was not in the mood for it and I could feel it on the entire walk. I was in the mood for the sunshine and the nice day. I was in the mood for the chirping birds and spring. I was in the mood for the kids skateboarding at the bell park. I was in the mood for relaxing with a smoke and maybe some scrabble. I was in the mood for the art studio. I was not in the mood for the gym ( and all the while in the back of my mind I have Gurney Halleck yelling at me "Moods a thing for cattle and making love, not [working out]." ) I went to the gym anyway because I'm disciplined and I could not convince my feet to take the alternative route home. I went to the gym because it's on my way and I had no real good excuse.

I got to the place and was a bit bitch. I went to change and there was a mother toweling off her five year old. The five year old stared at me naked and kept saying, "There is a foreigner, look look, it's like an alien." Great I think, this is exactly what I need to hear while I get naked and change into my gym clothes. I realize that she's five and I realize that I am indeed like an alien, and I realize that Mom is also telling her that it is rude and to say hello instead, but I already did not want to be in the gym. I changed, I plugged in my MP3 player, I turned it up extra loud on something hateful and throbbing in my ears and went to do my sets.

It was about a fifty pounds into it that my right arm started to tingle on the inside. When I got to seventy five I was loosing feeling, and at one hundred I damn near dropped the weights. I was freaking out. Aside from my arm I felt fine, but I was still freaking out and I couldn't feel anything. I wanted to call over the gym owner and ask what was wrong with me, but I'd hit my Korean wall and wasn't sure how to explain what was going wrong. So I threw in the towel quite literally, by going back to the changing room and after barely ten minutes in the gym, getting redressed to go home. I was still twitchy and on the verge of tears when I got back to my place. I did the only thing I could think to do. Said fuck it to my other regularly scheduled workout and ate something after seven which I very rarely do.

At some point it dawned on my that I was probably being a bit dramatic so I consulted with a very good friend of mine who conqured my less lunatic diagnosis of pinched nerve and figured that I needed to just chill the fuck out for an evening. While I did work out at home on Thursday and Friday I did not go back to the gym. However my back was killing me on Thursday morning.

So with today being Monday I decided it was high time I high tailed it back to the workout world and went to the gym. I was feeling alright today, the rain had finally stopped, and aside from my back I was fine. I changed up in an empty room today, turned my music on to something slightly less vitrolic, and went to do my sets. As soon as I started the first set I started to feel something other then pain. It was like someone had taken a hold of all the knots in my back and was pulling them out of my body and into that freaking weight machine. It was like sex, and kissing pretty girls, and mountain climbing, and Chicago pizza, and Glenn Livet, a cigarette, and a good book rolled into a machine that was resisting what I was doing. Merry gods did it feel good, and I wanted more. I was like an addict who had her first fix in years and it was good.

I pulled, I twisted, I turned, I tumbled, and lifted excessive amounts of weights in various positions using various body parts. I impressed the hell out of the trainer and scared the shit of the high school boys and I felt fucking fantastic. I walked home feeling lighter then air and high on adrenaline and thinking "yes, yes, oh, sweet goddess, yes, more, more, yes." I went home and worked out even harder and I felt fine, fine, my friends, I felt fine.

I suppose in the end all I can say was, I need that, oh very yes, my friends, I did.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Space Between

I've become unreal again. A shell of living, a fragment or a figment, or a piece.

A piece of what?

Music spins around me and I listen and I fall into it. I feel into it. I wonder about it. I wonder about the ever shifting fabric of my existence. I wonder at how to make it solid, how to make it real.

What do you need to be real? There is a question I cannot answer. I wonder about that. I read interesting stories from the news this weekend in relation to genius and the society that moves through the world and it fascinates me. I wonder at a violinist who is perhaps the one of the best the world has ever known who could play for an hour during rush hour and cease to exist.

I think as I ponder his own feeling about the lack of applause, the lack of approval and this captures my imagination in a new way. Here, this man, this genius, talented like no other, questions his own existence in the face of the abject denial of his being by the busy commuters who walk on their way to work.
He plays and wonders at the fact that no one stops, no one throw money his way, no crowd is drawn, no one swayed or entranced by his gift, by his love, by his passion. And when he is finished the thunderous silence of the continued absence to pay tribute to his genius. He says "When you play for ticket-holders...[I am] already validated. I have no sense that I need to be accepted. I'm already accepted."

Acceptance. Is that what one needs to be real, to exist and to have a purpose? I wonder at that.

What do I have? Where is my purpose? Where is my acceptance?

If I don't accept myself any longer then what have I become?

To much thinking today, too much of everything today. I need more sleep but nothing seems to satisfy me and I feel unchained lost, and without the box of reality that can close me and make me feel something other then lost.

Maybe it would be easier to give up trying to be real and just to sink into nothingness, and then, like the pagans who came before me, when my nothingness is completed I will reemerge and be real. I would need not the mourners to wax ashes upon their foreheads, or someone to weep or cry my name. If I can believe enough in myself maybe that is all I need to validate my existence.

Sometimes coming undone is the best way to begin recreation. Maybe that is where I am.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Spring lights up the air. Walk to work and birds are singing, the sun is bright, the air is crisp and clear, my body cool and not covered enough for the morning but by the afternoon it will be just right. The cool is wakeful. The cool is peaceful. The cool wakes the body, makes it feel fresh, light, a spring inside of me somewhere that is untapped. I feel here and not yet here.

There is the bell temple as I walk to work and Fal-un-gong guy. has returned to the park. He is practicing his morning ritual and I have come to cross his path at the high point of his prayer. I can see it there, as he practices, as his hands move and his body flexes. The essential spirit, the shin of the land that he calls and makes his. I can see it moving above his head, and as he thrusts his hands to his waist his hips convulse with it and his head is momentarily thrown back before he rights himself with hands overhead again. I watch the moment and I feel the spirit that he draws down and wish I had time to stop my walk. To go and stand with him in prayer, in reverence for nature and the sun that is just now rising, and the spirit that has woken up for the day. I leave him to his continued mediation and walk on.

The trees are crisp and green and parts of the land still bare and brown but it does not sadden me to see it. There is a tension here in the land now. A waiting. Winter has stayed over long in the land of the morning calm and spring which had a start a month ago has retreated and is now staled, waiting, patient, not sure if it is safe to completely break free. Spring is waiting in some places.

In other parts of the land spring is not afraid. Spring is ready, willing, and able to break free. I see it in front of the hospital across the street. The Mun-un-gwha flowers are blooming, a parade of red and pink and magenta colors that burst into the eye. The bloom fiercely and close knit. Safety in numbers, safety against any cold that might spike into them, safety against the cats and the dogs that run loose in the night and chomp at the stragglers that grow on the age.

I walk on, fast in the crisp air so I won't be late and I come to my school and wonder at it. I work in the original building of the school, built sixty years ago in Daegu. This building is a historical landmark, it cannot be constructed with special permission from several different government agents. It was the rearing room for presidents, senators, world travels, taxi drivers, waitresses and whores. It has a history as diverse as any school house. I like the old building. I enjoy it's intense draft in the winter and it's broiling interior in the summer. It's mine and I enjoy it. The walls of the building crawl with ivy and there is a park behind my classroom where I can watch the children play during my lunch time from my office perch. A simple pleasantness.

Thought and moments passing as I walk to work.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Baby Love

There is a reason why we don't brain people with our laptops even when we want to. In Korea it is the contradictory nature of everything that goes on here that keeps me from hitting people. I know that anything could change at a moments notice and there is nothing to be done about it. You just keep doing. I walk to work this morning and notice that it is finally spring, the air is finally a bit clearer and free of heavy yellow dust, my lungs are breathing without any major problems and it seems like life is good.

I walk into the office this morning and spot crazy teacher lady who wanted to take me out to lunch a few weeks ago. While we had fought, while she had driven me into my classroom to be alone, I had mostly gotten over it. You have to come to a point where you accept that fact that in Korea people are going to stare at you. I'm not Korean and that in and of itself is an endless oddity. I also don't fault her for her comments on how I'm not thin. Fact of the matter is that happens to everyone here. Culturally it is one of the things that everyone will tell everyone else about.

I had a Korean friend visiting from New York last year. She was hanging out with a Korean friend in the bar and the friend is telling her about how fat she is and how she will never find a man until she lost weight. This provided us with endless amusement since she was staying with me most of the time she was here. She's a lovely girl. She's also an American size one. So, as you might conclude, when it comes to Korean philosophy on body types, everyone is too fat. And my size one Korean friend? She had trouble finding clothes here to fit her. It's just the way Korea is, you learn to accept it.

As it were I was walking around the office this morning doing my daily rounds and compulsory bows to the various teacher, head teachers, and people in charge, and since I made eye contact unexpectedly with crazy teacher lady I bowed politely to her as well. I went to the back office, drank my water, took my vitamins, made my coffee and prepared for the rush upstairs. As I walked out of the main building and headed out to my little corner of the universe, MP3 player blaring in my ear, I hear behind me "Sun-sang-nim, Sara Sun-sang-nim." I turn and it is crazy teacher lady, wielding a red box with a red bow.

"For you," she says in perfect English. I smile and thank her and look at this long red box with a bow and wonder what in the hell I've gotten today. The box says "Baby Love". I look at the box and shake the box and wonder what the hell as I walk up the stairs to my class. I mean, you do have to wonder what is in a red box with a bow that says "Baby Love".

I get up to my room and get a chance to sit down and contemplate the box further. When I finally open it what do I find inside? Chocolate.

Welcome to Korea.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Wall

There is a wall where my inspiration is. It's built up tall and thick and strong. It is standing between me and my words, me and my art, me and my designs. I don't know what to do about the wall. I want to hit the wall, I want to fight the wall and have it fight back. I know the wall will not respond, it will merely absorb my anger into it and build up further to rob me of my expression, my outlets, my vents. Since I cannot get through this wall, I shall embrace it. Perhaps by forcing it here, into words, into descriptions, I can tear it down or if not that build a door into it through which I can pass.

The wall is made of my anxieties. I've half a dozen if I have one. Anxieties are what one will make of them. Some of it is stress. Stress from work, stress from the kids, stress from life. I've overextended myself with professional commitments this year. I'm a popular lecturer on the teaching circuit and this year I have already four presentations scheduled in Korea, plus one in Kuala Lumpur, and several dozen others that I won't get confirmation about for at least another two weeks. All the traveling makes me a bit antsy. I like doing this little talks, these discussions were people come and listen to me and take what I say seriously, but it wears on one. Last year I did almost one a month, and in some months two. I decided that was to much and this year I would cut back, but already I've broken my word to myself. So it goes.

Maybe it's just time that is built into this wall. I've been in Korea a long time. I'm a month away from the sixth year anniversary of my arrival in Korea. This makes Korea the single longest place I've ever been settled. Maybe I have itchy feet and I want to shake up my safe and solid existence and go somewhere else. Maybe I am too comfortable. And what is wrong with all that comfort. Comfort can be good, it can be happy, and it can be inspiring.

I look at the wall in my mind and it stand solid and firm and I've not hit on this thing yet that it is constructed of. I see memories in it, I see pains, I see fears, I see all those things that make up who I am and I see none of them that I want to pull on, to tug at, to expose. I see my family, the family that no longer exists for me. I miss that family, from once upon a time. A child's hope for something simple that will never be simple. For something uncomplicated that has been complicated by my own actions, my own selfishness and my own deceit. I have said goodbye to that family that I was borne to and instead made one that is more comforting, more accepting, more understanding of who I am. And yet the loss of that biological tie haunts me still. I see the faces in the wall and they stare down and me and they are angry, mocking, hard. I see them and I want to turn away from the wall and just disappear.

I see my wall and it is built up nice and solid and strong. I know what things will tear it down and these are the things I will go out and seek today to find my inspiration. To find a way to get back to who I am without this feeling of insipidity that I am full of now. I need spring, and warmth, sunlight, sex, talk, adventure, birds, a dog, love, happiness, freedom, randomness, Korea, America, friends, myself, breakfast. They don't know what breakfast is in Korea. For breakfast here people eat things I would label soundly as lunch or even dinner meals, strong soups with enough pepper to scorch the tongue, rice, ham, fish, peppers, seaweed. All of these things will cover the breakfast table, but my western stomach balks at it so early in the morning. Maybe breakfast will be the lever I can wield against my wall to tear it down.

I will make pancakes.