Losing a Pet

 

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Her name was Hanil (하늘). In Korean, it means “sky.” She was a Shih Tzu, which in Chinese, I imagine means “Sits on You.” She loved to sit on me. If I was on the couch, she was on the couch; if I was in bed, she was on my foot mat. Before she got sick, she would try with grunty zeal to jump up on the couch or bed. She followed me around the house and barked if I closed the bathroom door. She followed only me on dog walks. She needed no leash, because she never strayed from my feet. When we drove, she would jump across the dead man’s zone of used cups and chocolate wrappers in the elbow console just to get to my warm lap. She was brown and white with big black cataract eyes. She used to roll and rub all over my scattered clothes trying to absorb the smell. She loved me and I loved her back. Continue reading

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Hockey Memories of Mine

“I went to a fight the other night, and hockey game broke out.” –Rodney Dangerfield

In the late spring, as cherry blossoms fall, piling into fragrant fluffs of street detritus, and the Celsius rises, thoughts wander into the casual, carefree realm of summer loving, beach time and sticky nights with sweating mugs of cold beer. Some of us are preparing holidays among tranquil, azure blue waters and overpriced fusion food. College kids are looking for pointless summer jobs, teachers are counting the days until finals, and baby ducks follow mama in that amazingly cute waddle toward the pond. That pond, only six months ago, was frozen in a sheet of glass from previous nights of sub-zero temperatures. And in those brief moments, those fleeting moments of winter daylight, those short-lived days before the snow covers the ice, young children of the north live out hockey fantasies. Continue reading

Remembering New Jersey in Korea

It’s no surprise that many of my blogs of reminiscing begin with: “When I was a kid at the Jersey Shore.” It was and remains a magical place for our family. There is a wide, off-white sandy beach, a small downtown with ice cream shops, miniature golf, a small arcade, a movie theater, and even a boardwalk for romantic post-pizza strolls. That’s not even to mention the Sabia/Sedlacek compound. We have the “dock on the bay” complete with boats and jet-skis, railings and pilings for karate kid bay jumps—a semi-private haven for all our tomfoolery. It made for great vacations. Continue reading

Love and the Jersey Shore

Love is all around us on Valentine’s Day; and not the love that most of us experience. Not the absolute love from family; not the productive love of a partner; not even the dependable love of a pet. We are exposed to the Hallmark version of love. The version of love that can be quantified through expensive jewelry, fancy chocolates, and effusive gift cards. It’s another great idea destroyed by commercialism. Continue reading

Mothers

Mike Myers did a strange and hilarious movie in 1993 called, So I Married an Axe Murderer. He played a lovelorn version of himself as well as his updated former SNL character: a Scottish soccer hooligan father. One of the best lines in that movie is a small rant before dinner. “Well, it’s a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as ‘The Meadows.’” He goes on to say that among those five people is Col. Sanders of KFC fame. He hates him because of the addictive chemical present in KFC chicken that “makes you crave it fortnightly.” (Although KFC can be tasty, I think Mr. Mackenzie just never tried Chick-Fil-A, which, as I mentioned in a previous post, is the new undisputed king of fast fried chicken.)

The reason I mention this cult movie favorite of mine is because of the opening line of “It’s a well-known fact, Sonny Jim.” “It’s a well-known fact” can be skewed into opening any random opinion disguising as fact. “It’s a well-known fact that Hitler killed himself and Eva Braun only after learning that she had slept with Goebbels and Himmler in the first (and only) Nazi 3-way earlier in 1945…or…that pigs vocal cords are removed at birth to prevent them from talking to each other creating insurrection Animal Farm style.” However, for today’s purposes we will focus on the less diabolical yet still well-known fact that everybody I know is getting married and having babies. (If you are younger than 24, and don’t live in the Midwest, you have no idea what I’m talking about, but you will one day.) Let’s say I have twenty close friends and family members in their 30’s. At least 15 of them are married and many of that ¾ have a baby or are expecting one now.

It’s an exciting time for those people. Their lives are taking new shapes, shapes of spongy flesh and powdery, bald heads. Their married lives look different than their single lives too, with Bed, Bath and Beyond décor in the living room and bathroom, the classic French poster in the kitchen, matching dishtowels and a large comfy sofa. The fact of growing older is that downtime is limited and therefore it needs to be really comfortable when you get it. All I know of married life is what I can see from the outside, and the exterior good parts seem to be gaining a life-long friend with whom you are attracted to sexually and increased loungewear. (There are lots of sweatpants and hoodies going on in married homes.) The bad parts, I imagine, include enlarged and intensified responsibility, and loss of privacy. Bathroom time becomes shared, family time/holidays are doubled in length, and then babies take away the spontaneity of adult life to be replaced by the impromptu moments of baby life. There are pros and cons of single and married life. Whichever one you are currently in, you see pros of the alternative and the cons of the current very clearly.

Regardless of how you imagine your future, one thing is clear: babies are cute as hell. Babies are fun to watch, children are fun to talk to, and kids are fun to play with. The shape of life only provides a few years with which procreation is possible. It’s only natural that in my early 30’s I see the world of our carefree 20’s melt into the mortgaged, responsible and parental nature of the next decade. Those cute babies and the ego attraction of seeing something burst forth into the world created and comprised of you is quite an intriguing offer. The Facebook posts I see from new moms/dads are usually of three domains: cute, disgusting or illogical. Those small humans can find many ways to fall asleep or dress adorably, use bodily functions in funny ways and of course, say the darndest things!

Kids are not good for germophobes though. Kids touch, lick, chew, fondle and caress anything they find of interest. Those same hands and mouths will be all over you later, and you don’t want to create children with fear of intimacy because their mommy never kissed their “dirty little face.” I don’t have children, but I do teach children. Korean kids like to share food due to the cultural method of eating being many plates on the table shared by all. So, naturally, they want to share with the respected figure of teacher. Kids approach me with little potato sticks stuck in the webs of their fingers, half-melted Choco balls, bread ripped from a communal loaf and pre-peeled fruits. Some of the more germy aware teachers politely take the treats and put them to the side before depositing that nice gesture into the trash receptacle. I eat all they give me immediately. I need their germ resistance. It’s like eating your flu shot! Plus, all their snacks are delicious. It is something that must go away the minute you have kids: the need for clean/non-sticky hands, or at least to carry wet wipes everywhere. Kids are rewarding but demanding. The many teachers I’ve met over my 7 years in education have been a varied bunch, but a theme that is oft repeated is: “I love these kids, but I’m glad I can give them back at the end of the day.” My responsibility ends when the school day ends. It’s hard to imagine 24 hours of care and anxiety. Parents deserve the credit the kids give via hand-traced turkeys, macaroni necklaces and disproportionate family drawings.

Yesterday, after teaching a lesson, we played a game of charades. I gave Cathy, a smart girl with a Harry Potter obsession, the word ‘mother’ to act out. She did a quick gesture of a person shaking her finger and demanding something, no response. She did a quick gesture of a person stirring food in a pot, no response. She repeated the process in more outlandish fashion and got nothing from the other 6 students. Finally, I asked the crowd, “Who cooks food and yells at you?” Simultaneously and vociferously, they all leapt up, pushing tables forward and chairs hurtling backwards to the floor: “MOTHER!” They knew at once, who is that person who can both make you feel full and satisfied and then empty and disappointed.

A mother’s job is not easy, she needs to be, at different times, both adoring and chastising. Mothers keep therapists in business and artists creative. Mothers are the universal symbol of love. We’ve all seen the mama cat carrying her cubs delicately by the scruff, the mama gorilla carrying a youngling on her back, the mama whale pushing her calf to the surface for its first breath, the mama panda in her den cleaning the little ones, or the mama penguin walking 60km to puke up some fish for her fluffy little newborn. Moms are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva rolled into one. They can be the creators, the maintainers and the destroyers of a child’s world. Moms are like the coaches of the world; they get too much credit for a loss and not enough credit for a win. Moms are constantly being formed in the cycle with which they help produce. It’s a beautiful thing. I love you Mom.

 

A Return Home to Return Home

Living in a foreign country can have many feelings. There can be, in any conceivable array, a multitudinous collision of emotions: such as, boredom, freedom, homesickness, love, lust, excitement, desire, longing, scorn, derision, insight, resonance, horror, humor, confusion, or wonder. Some days, as anywhere or for anyone, are better than others. Some days are really transcendent.

Today I had a transcendent day.

Earlier in the week, I returned for a 2nd year at my small hagwon after a wonderfully relaxing and renewing month of reconnection with friends and family. I gave presents to all my coworkers and delighted in their excitement and joy to receive silly little gifts to show my appreciation for their helpfulness towards me in the previous year. 2011 was the hardest year of my life so far. Anyone who knows me knows why and it bears no repeating. But, it was also one of the most empowering years of my life too. Here it is, 2013, a new year, starting fresh with good friends and great students. Friday came and went and I was back in my groove making kids laugh and having fun myself in the process. In one 3rd grade class we discussed if parents should always trust their children and if children should always take their parents advice. They said that parents don’t know anything, a typical adolescent response. I asked, “What if they said to look both ways before crossing the street?” They responded, “No, not good advice!” I then mimed what would happen if they didn’t look before crossing and a few of them literally fell out of their seats laughing. It felt great because these guys are a smart yet hard class to teach. We all had a fun hour together.

A successful school day behind me and so I went for a walkabout in my neighborhood as it was only a few degrees below freezing tonight as opposed to the frostbite inducing temps it had been the previous few days. I had a delicious dinner, found the Korean outlet adapters I needed, got a well-deserved hour massage, bought a new Wi-Fi router, some candles and of course a big bag of tangerines. But there was something in the air tonight. Everyone seemed so happy. I saw a young vendor helping a tiny old lady in a fur vest and Hello Kitty pajama pants in a respectful manner, a middle aged lady chopping random meat and smiling, calling out friendly greetings to passersby, beautiful Korean girls wrapped up in each others arms, cradled in their oversized scarves who gave me sidelong glances before darting their eyes away and giggling together. I saw steaming dishes of dumplings, fresh fruit piled to eye level, men carrying ruby red, palm sized strawberries in Styrofoam crates and breaking each other’s balls. I bought two perfectly seasoned egg stuffed corn breads for 1$. I walked and saw the same market I had been in so many times before in a new light. I heard the same sounds and the same shoe clicks and the same bubbling pots and the same sad squid swimming listlessly in their aquariums of death. I saw the same bundled, wind-burned faces, the same discount shampoos scattered along the sidewalk in cardboard boxes, the same heated floor blankets, the same ubiquitous neon lights, but there was a distinct aura of joy mixed with contentment both inside and outside of me today. It left me wondering if what is inside of you will only naturally be manifested into the world around you wherever you are. Maybe on those sour days when things are crummy, that’s the day you forget your change at the register or trip on the curb or see the world in the ugly light with which you are projecting. It seems that I meet more people nowadays that advocate this form of living positive and accentuating the good parts of your life. Sometimes it bothers me how they can purposefully ignore the rough spots, for true reality includes all kinds of emotions.

I am a self-confessed “hater,” which means I can hate on most any thing or any person I see. It’s not that I actually despise things or people; I just don’t like idiocy, hypocrisy or insipidness. However, upon self-reflection, and finding such things within your own sphere, (albeit in small doses) it’s time to try to clean that orb from the inside. This year I will attempt to acknowledge the good things in life, recognize and eliminate the negatives, and try to follow through in the only goal of life—to feel happy (thereby spreading happiness around, the trickle down theory of glee.) I know it’s impossible to feel blissful every moment of your life, but maybe it’s better to appear that way, focusing on the affirmative and perhaps existence will fool you into a good day.

Facebook Famous

It seems with the rise to mainstream prominence of Facebook and Twitter; we see much more hyperbole in the day-to-day life of normal citizens. We often read about, “best weekend ever”, “best friends forever”, “greatest night in the history of Fort Lauderdale”, “most hilarious thing ever”, “this is amazing” et al. I believe this is not always even believed by the people who write it, but perhaps to make others believe that the author was involved in something so great, so stupendous, that not only must others hear of it, in turn feel jealous of it, but know, that since it was “the best girlfriends in the world partying in Miami for the weekend” that no one can ever top that wonderful moment. The hyperbolic nature of Facebook is to create envy, but not in negative ways. We post our vacations, our favorite relaxing moments, our family in funny situations, our life lessons, our life triumphs and ask others to revel in our glory. We ask it collectively. That is why other people’s pictures, opinions and moments appear on your page. Nobody wants anyone to miss anything they’re doing. Rarely would anyone take the time to actually click on your link to check you out, so we put it out there publically for all the friends to see simply by logging on. I don’t think it is unnatural. In fact, in the 21st century it is more natural to be laid bare and completely open in your yearning for approval and recognition than it would be to hide your feelings. We are gregarious, we are desirous of living an examined life for Plato said that anything less than that is not worth living. We use introspection balanced with external comments to search our emotional responses to the world. To be honest with yourself in the age of reality shows and celeb-worship is to know that you would probably take, if not relish for some time, the constant scrutiny and phony devotion of being the one in the camera’s flash instead of the one pushing the button. The world is changing again, as it always will. The exaggeration of daily life, and the magnification of minutiae is thrust into our faces like mall perfume samples. I wonder if the rise in depression is due to people feeling unworthy of living because they aren’t being photographed or pulled aside for interviews. Do we feel unimportant because only our family and friends care about us, as opposed to strangers worshipping us through the magazine pages or the Hollywood blockbusters? Even as I write this, I do wonder who will read it, who will appreciate it. We want to feel alive and needed, we want to leave our mark upon this world. You can now hire a company to follow you around for a night taking pictures of you paparazzi style. Strangers stop, stare and ask, “Who is that?” The search for self is a perpetual study. For some it may be answered from within, for others it is found in external acknowledgment of their existence. Business will follow demand. We demand to be noticed.