Category Archives: Scrawls

But Beautiful

Goodness, I have so much to do. I’m not doing those things.

The yellow dust from China has been settling on my skin quite disagreeably. There are angry rashes on my forearms, and I haven’t had a case of such epidermic irritation in years.

Music has been evading me lately. When I commute, I end up listening to podcasts or just take off my earphones in the middle of a song to enjoy the orchestration of happenings around me. The last new album I listened to was the new tUnE-yArDs album.

I never type out “tUnE-yArDs.” I always copy/paste it.

Books have also been evading me. I can’t concentrate at all. My thoughts are packed so tightly into my head — not unlike brown sugar when baking.

While Riding on a Train Goin’ West

Busyness has the ring of my alarm these past several mornings. I fall asleep in a state of nervousness, fretting that I will awake at a time inconvenient to my already full schedule.

For an unknown reason, I’d never watched No Direction Home until a few days prior. I’ve only finished Part One, and ever since, Bob Dylan has been ruling my earphones mercilessly. I’ve listened to all of The Witmark Demos, and listened to Freewheelin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Another Side twice, Highway 61, and random songs sprinkled everywhere. This is my caveat: Do not — and again I say, do not watch No Direction Home unless you are prepared for a continuous surge of the need to listen to that tweeting harmonica and that murmurin’, nasal voice.

I can now pull a shot from an espresso machine and steam milk. I believe this is a very consequential and serviceable skill.

My week is quite officially packed. I believe I have an appointment every single day of the week. Also, I’m hopping a train down to Busan to visit friends and play some music. All those things are simply tonic.

David Sedaris is a marvelous cleanser between heavy tomes.

Faces

I draw. Not well, but I draw because I enjoy myself.

Most my pieces — that word sounds so affected, let us call my drawings drawings — have people in them. Faces. I am often asked why I include a person or a depiction of a face in nearly all of my drawings. It’s not that I’m averse to nature. Heavens no! God knows I miss it like hell when I’m in the Seoul subway at rush hour. It’s…

It’s this.

Yes, as the saying goes, life is full of simple pleasures — potted plants, a pensive walk, new shoes, a good book, or a glass of ice cold orange juice at seven in the morning. But life is also full of the big and complex pleasures — a lover, the unabashed behavior between siblings, a knowing look between friends, the transcendent comfort of a mother’s breast. The difference between the simple and the complex pleasure is you. It’s me. It’s people. The heaviest and the most difficult part of our lives, but they are how we judge the value of our time here on this earth.

And so I draw faces. To remind me precisely how important it is to never live only for myself. We’re all the main stars of our lives, but we are supporting roles, minor characters, or even extras in the lives of others. We must put our effort into those roles as well.



Say, What’s in This Drink?

I don’t know if I’m irrationally being afraid, but these North Korea provocations have me a bit worried. The United States and South Korea are having drills on the Yellow Sea this week. I know North Korea can’t really do anything while a bit of Uncle Sam’s here, but it does not seem like it will bring entirely peaceful results.

I worry for my little student.

Christmas music has been playing a lot more than usual around my flat. It’s still November, but I have my reasons for wanting time to pass a little faster.

I believe this week marks the beginning of the steady decline in temperature. It finally dipped below freezing last night, and there will be plenty of precipitation this week. I’m not certain of my readiness, but I think I can handle it. Lots of tea, lots of layers, happy thoughts.

I’ve been watching quite a few movies lately and enjoying it. It’s been making me a bit lazy in my reading, writing, and generally more productive hobbies, but it’s been a delight. Film is an amalgamation of every corner of the arts. Spectacular.

Luck

I’ve been drawing so much more than I have been in the past few months. There is a group on Flickr that I joined, and in that group, artists draw portraits of each other in their respective styles. Just going through all the beautiful and unique portraits has been teaching me so much about rendering the features of the human face. I’ve been developing my own style of drawing faces and found myself using markers more than pens. I’d used my markers for about two years, only equipping them when accentuating small parts of my drawings. Then, when I got on board with the art group, I saw the need to replace my markers promptly.

So today, after postponing the purchase for weeks, I ventured out into the crisp, frosty air of the premature winter. Fully armed in three layers of blouse, sweater, coat, and an extra adjunct that was my scarf, I walked in step to the sound of my music: “Did I go at it wrong? Did I go intentionally to destroy me?” I took the shortcut in front of the local elementary school that led to a good acre of pubs and pig-intestine restaurants. The green tarmac concealed by the yellow gingko biloba leaves, I walked with my eyes on my feet, mesmerized by the vivid golden color.

I crossed the sidewalk, squinting as the wintry gusts blew my hair about my face. I sidestepped the people whose visions were impaired by their mobile phones, tablet computers, and mp3 players. The aesthetically pleasing buildings with services inside to make people more aesthetically pleasing towered around me, and my mind unprofitably filled with ruminations on the practice of going under the knife to enhance one’s visual appeal.

Then I stopped.

A sniffing, red-nosed man in only a mauve windbreaker sat on the sidewalk, an upturned cardboard box in front of him. A thin layer of blue felt covered the top, and scintillating shapes caught my eye. On the side of the box was a piece of A4 paper that blazoned in a lurid azure “Four-Leaf Clovers for Sale. 1000 Won for Your Luck.” The gleaming bits I had seen on the box were an array of four-leaf clovers, laminated and cut accordingly. The man looked up at me as I paused for a split-second in my stride. As a glare from his spectacles blinded me momentarily, I thought of all the things Luck could assist me in.

The instant I would purchase the fortune-bearing leaf, a multimillion lottery ticket would blow into my face. I would choke on a magical piece of lint blowing in the wind, and I would then be bestowed with a transcendental singing voice. A brilliant stuffing recipe for a Thanksgiving roast would simply fall into my head. An inventive plot for a spectacular novel would formulate as I would gaze upon the venation of the charmed clover. An esteemed film director would catch a glimpse of my plain face and think it was bizarre! idiosyncratic! and ask me to star in a new “dramedy.” My blog would suddenly get fifty million hits! My hand would suddenly be gifted with an unparalleled talent to paint rolling landscapes! The cure for cancer would come to my brain! Unite the two Koreas! Achieve world peace! Reverse global warming!

The man looked down and my senses returned as the hallucinogenic glare directed its power elsewhere. Spots appeared in my eyes. Glancing at the four-leaf clovers, the quixotic reveries flashed in all their glory and instantaneously evaporated. I turned. I looked ahead at the bookstore building that looked not unlike a compact disc rack and onward I went. Though with an amulet, successes could perchance be more frequent, I let the one thousand won bills rest in my wallet.

For who requires luck to simply purchase a pen?

What’s Wrong with Me?

I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. This truth may be due to the fact that I was born a sick baby to be stuck into an incubator the moment I took my breath, or the fact that I had a fibroadenoma removed last autumn, or just simply the fact that I try to find the answers to everything.

I will try not to divulge all sorts of intimate details, but sometimes, you — my dear reader — must indulge me.

I spent five years of my childhood in Northeast Texas in a little town (now a federally established city) called Van. I remember when the new grocery store opened adjacent to the cube that was Austin Bank. I remember when it snowed for the first time in ten years. I remember the elementary school that was built to emulate the Alamo. The architects fooling the children with their cunning chicanery, I remember entering that school building feeling valorous, the straps of my cerulean backpack slung across my shoulders, walking fearlessly into the Homeric battle that was math class.

My family worked with a charity organization, so we were always moving. We — to this day — have never owned a home. This was the cause of much of our chagrin but also much of our delight. Just in Van, we lived in four different houses. While many other half-pint gals were collecting Cabbage Patch Kids birth certificates, I was adding to my list of sundry street names. I would write the titles on Manila paper, makes designs with Elmer’s glue, and glitter that damn thing ’til kingdom come. The papers heavy from embellishment would boast in their prismatic glory: “West Virgina,” “Pecan,” “North Palm,” “Country Road”*. And it was on Country Road I began my hypochondriacal journey.

*I just realized how John Denver these sound.

Red Bud Ranch, Country Road. It truly was a beautiful house. Antiquated and creaking though it was, the house emanated an alluring charm with its cobblestone path up to the house, its six sexy cats, its ivy everywhere, its round gravel driveway, and its breathless sophistication. It was at this house that the snow fell and boy, was it enchanting. The lofty trees that encompassed the house caved in to create the effect of being in a giant green igloo. That’s not all. To the right of the house was an extensive field with two horses, Skeeter and Shorty. Horses. Did my little eight-year-old heart burst? Nearly.

I spent hours and hours on the slate-blue deck that encircled the whole house, sighing with pleasure, gazing at the beautiful beasts prancing about on the beige dirt. My mum would bring out a basket — yes a basket lined with plaid fabric — of carrots and apple cores, celery and lumps of sugar. On this particular sunny day, I forgot — as I always would — the warmheartedness of my mother in my elation and took handfuls of the horse-treats with superhuman speed. My greedy, peewee fingers barely containing the carrots and celery, I warily crept to the wooden fence where the great beasts were grazing. At the approach of my gaudy red coat with the Tweety Bird embroidery, they gracefully raised their heads, wordlessly investigating the churlish intruder. Attentive not to make any sudden movements, I reached out my hand. Shorty, whose name was more than accurate, chomped thanklessly on the carrot I’d bestowed upon him. I was tinkled as pink as a baby’s bottom. I produced even more divine nibbles for them to wolf down. Saccharine sugar! Sweet celery! Crunchy carrots! Oh how they chewed and chomped! I ran back for the last few carrots, mad with the euphoria of catering. Skeeter burrowed into my palm, my hands too slow to pull back from his assemblage of rectangular, yellow teeth.

Then I was on the ground. Spots were in my eyes. I could only see the looming silhouette of the varmint that was once cherubic. I looked down at my hand. While the rest of my hand was pale from the winter wind, there was a fine line of deep red and violet across my palm. That ass had bitten me all right, but the skin was not broken. My heartbeat started to accelerate. I couldn’t even bear to look down at my poor, poor hand again. I had rabies. I was sure of it.

The next day I went to school, knowing that in a few weeks, I would be dead. I asked my teachers about squirrels and dogs and their relative death-dealing diseases. I smiled hopelessly at my friends who wanted to play four-square. I thanked my teacher for their altruism. I went to the library and skimmed my hands over the books I loved so much. Quentin Blake’s illustrations from the Dahl covers grinned at me, unaware of my woebegone fate. My father picked me up from school and inquired after my wretchéd visage: “Hey babe, why the long face?” The “long face” would call to mind the bloodthirsty villains who had bestowed the premature demise upon my pitiable soul, and I would be again plunged into ineffable desolation.

But I didn’t die. In a fortnight or so, the ominous, mortal line had vanished and with it went the anguish of losing my life. Oh the glee that overtook me! I would survive the terrible brute’s sting of death! I vowed to never feed horses again — what would possess me to put my mind through such havoc another time? I would be careful. No more cracks that broke mothers’ backs. No more red M&Ms. No more standing next to microwaves. I would wash my hands at least ten times a day.

——————————-

I once forgot how to spell the word “hypochondriac.” I was writing a short story about a couple named Greg and Lucy, the latter being a woman who constantly feared for her health. I paused to put my fingers to my temples, rubbing in small circles to push out the Writer’s Block. My thought was: “Goodness, I don’t remember how to spell the word ‘hypochondriac.’ What’s wrong with me?” I stopped and reiterated my thought.

Then I laughed. I laughed; I guffawed; I bellowed; I cackled. I remembered Skeeter and his terrorizing demeanor. I remember when we found mice in one of our transient homes and looking up “Black Death” in the World Book encyclopedia. I remember my infected knee scrape in fifth grade that made me fear amputation. I remember losing quite a bit of cheek-fat while growing taller and consequently researching the Banded Bolivian Tapeworm.

My father always taught me that not knowing (ignorance) was often the cure. Then I remember my fibroadenoma I thought was nothing that culminated into surgery that required a full-body anesthetic. I don’t know if I’ll die of a disease. I don’t know if I’ll die a natural death. I don’t know if I’ll get hit by a car and bleed to death. I don’t know how I’ll die. And as morbid as thinking of death may seem, it’s really just another musing among my thousands. I’ll die. We’ll all die. But what’s the use in shaking in our boots about that process of death?

I want to be happy. I want to stay happy.

And so, I will continue feeding Skeeter. I will continue feeding Shorty. Perhaps I’ll get a few more bites, and some of those bites might open up and bleed. Some of those bites might cut my whole hand or even my whole arm off.

But I’ll be left with the sweet memory of feeding those daggone horses. And that’s enough for me.

[On: Fleet Foxes by Fleet Foxes]

It Was Only a Stone in My Shoe

I can smell winter.

The scent fades with the ray of sunlight, bringing with it the hope of another spring.

I take a sip from the lid of my thermos. I turn the page. I listen for the next song. I kick off my shoes. I chew on my snack.

This is all I need right now — a book, some tea, music, and a bar of chocolate — on the roof of my building, making my own kind of silence.

I look up. The buildings red like rust, the television antennas like fishbones, the roof vent like a royal crowns.

Then I realize, for the first time in two and a half years, I’m happy.

Because I love.

And am loved.

Someone to Bless Me Whenever I Sneeze

I love steamed sweet potatoes. Good thing I’m in Korea.

There are times when words really do not suffice. Those moments either bless or curse.

Today, a Buddhist couple approached me and asked whether I went to the temple or not. The man asked for my zodiac, then left, thinking I did not speak Korean from my not-so-loud voice.

I often find writing by hand helps me think more effectively than typing. The unhurried process of pen and paper gives time for the mind to formulate its thoughts thoroughly before inscribing them. More fresh, pristine pages. No more palimpsests! Time is key!

I walked to the bookstore today and read a bit of David Sedaris. It was on the self-help table next to the “Guinness World Records” books.

Creative Writing Assignments

I have successfully moved to Seoul! I have lived here in the past, but there is something about this move that has a finality to it. All my belongings are here in my new flat, and I’m enjoying going through boxes and notebooks I haven’t seen in at least half a year. With this new city comes looking for a new job, and I’m hesitating pushing that green call button when the name of my connection is highlighted on my cellphone contact list (that was a very long-winded sentence, but my excuse is that I am tired. I haven’t had a good night’s rest in quite a bit due to a ridiculous cough and moving). I’m finding delight in little moments of peace: dipping my Korean “Ace” crackers into cheap coffee; knitting scarves, mp3 cases, and other things that conspicuously indicate my “beginner” level; getting the long overdue job of sorting out my music done; re-reading In Cold Blood; and going through my Busan students’ creative writing assignments.

I taught at one of many Hagwons, which are prestigious after school academies Korean students attend — this is where most of their studies transpire. The Hagwon I taught at was, of course, an English Hagwon. It was run by a couple I’d met at the church, and I taught children whose school year ranged from Year 1 to Year 6. I do miss them already. I miss their huffy sighs they would breathe when I corrected their pronunciation of “the” from their version, “duh.” I miss dear little Min-Gyu’s antics to try to hide the freckle below his right ear that distinguished him from his identical twin brother, Min-Gi. I miss Sang-Hoon’s smart remarks when I’d ask him to make a sentence from a word the class had just learned. Exempli gratia, when I had just taught the class the word “interesting,” I put a firm hand on his cranium and said “Sang-Hoon, give me a sentence.” He cocked his head to the side, glaring up at me with mock enmity. Grinning, he said “My English teacher is ve-e-ry interesting.”


From left: Se-Hyun, Min-Gi, Jae-Hyoung

Today, however, the dedication of this blog goes out to my two advanced English class girls, Sarah and Esther.

Esther (left) had lived in New Zealand for two years, so her English was at a good level to do reading and writing assignments. Sarah (right) had lived in Australia for a year, and her English was just as adequate. I would give them creative writing assignments with haphazard subjects chosen by Your Humble Narrator, and they would give me only the finest. I will type out a couple of my personal favourites. They have amused me and made me grin and often laugh aloud. I hope you will find as much delight in them as I have.

Disclaimer: Everything is exactly as was written by these two girls, grammar, spelling and all.

Esther, age 11. Prompt: Pick an animal in the sea and imagine you are just that. Tell me why you chose that animal and what you would do.

“If I am a sea creature I would be a seahorse because mum told me that I look like a seahorse when I swim. If there’s a restaurant in the sea I will go there and order plankton, crill and seaweed rolls. I will get red because I think foods will have to much salt because every where I go will be sault water. I think I will live at a small cave with other sea horses and turtles. I will be going to a sea horse primary school and have plankton sandwich for lunch and play on the sponge bed with other friends. I will have a small plankton for a pet and if it die I will eat it.”

Sarah, age 11. Prompt: If you could meet anyone, anywhere, anytime, who would it be and why?

“If I could meet anyone in the world, I want to meet Tomas Edison. I want to see him how smart he is because he made so many helpful things like lights. I also want to steal Edison’s ideas because I could be famous and rich. I would make many stuffs before Edison makes it. I would tell Edison that I am more smart then him so I would be more famous and everyone would know my name. So Edison will be poor and he will be my servent to earn money. He will give me many ideas and I will make things and put my name in it. I think it will be fun.”

Esther. Prompt: What is your least favourite food? Make that into a monster.
Title: The food monsters

“It was a dark and stormy night. There were nobody outside. Everyone was having dinner but not one girl it was Frenny. k. stein mad scientist. She brought her dinner to her room. She didn’t like kimchi, broccoli and mushroom so she put them on the desk then she made a potion.

Monster potion
1. 12 spider legs
2. 6 eye balls.
3. 3 frog mouth
4. Jelly beans (more than your age)
5. 1 cup of fart
6. 3 Pig nose

She mixed it. She droped one drop of the potion on each food. she put one finer up high and shouted It’s alive! She put the monsters in a cage. That night the monsters broke the cage and ran away! They went to the town and went to the grocery stores and ate all of the vegetable. The first they I loved it. After 1 week everyone got sick. I thought that killing the monsters are the right thing to do. All of the children came outside because only the children was not sick because of there pure body. We started finding the monsters. We found the monster! said the 4 graders Gimmy and his twin Jimmy. We started shooting out tomato sause gun. The fatest kids started eating! Now there were no monsters! From that day we started eating vegetables but not Granny. She said she lurned that we need to give vegetables to out pets if you don’t like it.”

Sarah. Prompt: same as above.
Title: Onionkiller

“Onionkiller was born in s small village. He was sold from a small market. He was very unhappy. Oneday, Sarah’s mom bought a onion called Onionkiller from market. She bought 3 onions. Onionkiller, Onioly, Onionhappy. Onioly and Onion happy was happy. Sarah’s mom didn’t know they are alive so she cut Onioly and Onionhappy into 10 pieces, but Onionkiller didn’t want to die so he rolled his body to garbage box. There was smelly foods so Sarah’s mom couldn’t take it. She cooked with two onions, Onioly and Onionhappy. While mom is cooking, Sarah took garbage box out of home and take out all the arbages and throw it to the big box filled with garbages. Onionkiller didn’t like there but he had to go inside because Sarah closed the top.

3 days later, 2 man came to the box and take out all the garbages into a car filled with other garbages. Onionkiller didn’t know where they are going. It was very smelly so he rolled his body to the window. But the window was opened Onionkiller tried to go out. Finally, Onionkiller was free. But he can’t see anything because he was very short. He just roll his body and stoped at the corner. there was a small basket. He saw other onions in the baskets. Onionkiller said “Onions! We have to run away!” The boss onion named ‘Iambossonion’ agreed. All of the onions came out of the basket. They swam ‘The Chocolate River’ and hiked over “The Jelly Mountain”. Finally, they saw a house. It was Sarah’s house, But they didn’t know so they just entered the house. Sarah’s mom saw them and said “It’s onion army!” and made a onion soup with Onionkiller and other onion. Onionkiller died and Sarah ate him. It was sweet because the onions swam the chocolate river.”

Esther. Prompt: What is your dream vacation? Tell me where, why, and what you would do.

“I want to have a sleepover with my friends. I will go to the moon and have a sleepover. I will go to pluto and get some milkshake and cheese burgler and potato chips. I will catch some fur bunnies and bring them back to earth. They eat living creature exept thing bigger then them (20cm). They are very fury and has 2 long ears. The fur bunnies like bright places and can stay at places more than 2000°C. Anyway we will play all day.”

Sarah. Prompt: It is the future! How would you spend your weekend?

“If I were in the future, I want to travel to the Mars. I would meet alien and make them my servant. They would have stranger power so I would be safe. I would take their spaceship and travel to the other planets too. I would take aines to Earth and I would live in a big house that aliens would make. I would give them little money and make them to work in my factory. the would always listen to my order so I would take their spaceship again and go to other planets to get other aliens and again take them to Earth so I would make them work like my other aliens. I would be rich and I would be happy.”

There it is, friends! I hope you enjoyed. They are such bright children, and I was blessed to have been their teacher.

[On: Veckatimest & Yellow House by Grizzly Bear, Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen]

People Watching

This is from last Thursday, waiting for a friend. It’s very mediocre and was done out of a need to pass the time. It’s Chuseok in Korea. The weather has finally gotten quite cold. I hope it stays.

The swish of slippers as they slide across the dull, lime linoleum. The cackles of the elderly. Syllables punctuated with ardent emotion, politics clouding the etiquette of conversation. The benches vibrate as the silver bullet trains approach. Women clack by in gaggles, their stilettos clicking against the hard floor with emphasis. Shirts of all colours and shades make a patchwork of people, all with their own passions and lives. The mechanical whoosh of the elevator. The bell announcing the approaching train, attempting so earnestly to sound genial. A man pauses before me, his ink black shoes gleaming like onyx, with holes not unlike those of a waffle. So many voices, so many scents. The buzz of the celebrity voices gleefully advertising some brand of tooth/gum medicine penetrates through my headphones, into my ears. Joni Mitchell croons her finest lines of poetry. They travel into my ears, into my head, making their way to my heart, where they will apply their catharsis.

The floor vibrates once more as another train approaches. Where are these people going? Are they repeating the tired old waltz of having something to do? The looks I receive amuse. Ladies clutching their expensive purses with a grip similar to a child’s hands on the monkey bars. The safety doors reflect the rivers of fatigues bodies. Walking, walking, walking. Autumn is approaching, and attire has slightly shifted from the general chorus of shorts, T-shirt, and sandals. I myself am in jeans not too thin, and I wear a cardigan over my shirt. The elderly flock by the elevator, hoping, almost desperately, to secure their spot in the metal box, perhaps to rest their toes for even six seconds.

An old lady with wrinkles deeply set and sun-darkened skin is setting up an ephemeral shop of vegetables. Today’s headlines line the floor on which the bowls lay. Pearlescent onions with their pungent air sit unhappily in a red plastic bowl. Their roots and sprouts have been amputated and with them their glory. Limp scallions tied together with a plastic string lay on the newspaper, quietly committing to the fate assigned to them. Men, with the faces of boys, donned in camouflage, share a dirty joke and laugh to themselves.

I look to my left as a sea of transferring passengers descend in orderly fashion from the escalator. I look for blond hair, a flash of green eyes.

I wait for my friend.

[When They Really Get to Know You They Will Run by Pedro the Lion]