Category Archives: Abstract Thoughts

random wish:

Dear Powers That Be:

I’d like an additional 8th day of the week for me to enjoy/utilize. And–I’d like only for me, and a select few friends/family (of my choosing, of course), to exist on that 8th day. (The rest of the world can be paused perhaps, while we enjoy that extra day).

Thank you,
Jade Park

p.s. Also, I would not like that extra time to age us. Please withholding aging from the extra day of the week.

p.p.s. I am beginning to be scared that perhaps this wish might come true. But at the same time, I am also very excited at the prospect as well. Please do not confuse my fear for hesitation.

p.p.p.s.s.s.p.s. Thank you.

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C is for Corpse

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I’d never seen a corpse before. But there he/it/the body was, in a small studio apartment the size of a basic motel room, on the bed, on his/its/the body’s back, the face frozen in suffering, spelling out every single effort of last breath and pain. Not a peaceful death even if perhaps it occurred in sleep, the eyes closed.

If I had not known this was my friend’s deceased father, I might have initially guessed he was asleep, until the stillness of his body would make it clear that he had passed.

She had called me an hour earlier. “My father died last night.” He had been fighting, and losing, his battle with prostate cancer. “I don’t know what to do, he was Jewish, I don’t know what to do.” She was not a practicing Jew–she had grown up in Russia behind the Iron Curtain, with little knowledge of Jewish practices. She wanted me to help.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be over.” I didn’t know much, either, just what I’d learned in my studies during Orthodox conversion. Just what was in books. Asking me to help was an act of desperation. I spotted my copy of Maurice Lamm’s The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning and slipped it into my purse before driving over the bridge to the City.

And now there I was, feeling inadequate in the room with her father’s body, a corpse, armed with…a book.

“Hi.” What else could I say?

“Hi,” she said, and I could see she was very far away, by the way she moved. She was a nurse, and she worked with a familiarity with the dead, businesslike and well-practiced in the art of caring for bodies. The only evidence that this was not a normal patient was the way she periodically sighed as she idly straightened his blanket.

Together we opened the book and figured out what to do. We should get a candle. It was the Mission, a candle was fetched. It was an altar candle. Was this okay? I shrugged, it should work. It was lit. We should say a prayer. We should not leave him alone. We should try to bury him today. We should try to find a burial plot. There was a Jewish cemetery nearby. Buy the plainest wooden casket.

We whispered, we moved around the room as if he was asleep. But he was not asleep. He was dead.

I am ashamed to say that I felt a great fear of his body, the corpse, sitting in the room. When the mortuary people came to take his body away, I watched with great awe and relief as they, with great grace, carried him away.

***

Joining Charlotte’s Web in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. It’s called Alphabet: A History.

Previous letters:

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struggling

snow

I have been irritated. Irritated by allergies–little itches that seem to originate on the inside of my eyelids, my throat, and my nose. Even inside my ears. Or maybe not my allergies, maybe…swine flu. :P Because in addition to allergies, it seems I have come down with flu, despite the flu shot that has served me well all season long a bad cold. So now sore throat, runny nose, depleted energy…all irritations. But mostly I’m irritated somewhere inside my psyche, in a place that I currently find inaccessible and even mysterious.

Easily angered, easily hurt, moody, insecure, uncertain…irritation.

I was not aware of this irritation until I read Eve’s post in which she detailed a therapist’s irritation at her patient and her ensuing investigation into that irritation and its possible source. Irritation looks as if its source is external (such as my irritation by my surroundings, including people and my environment) but it is really internal. OMG: I have been…IRRITATED!

As my therapist once told me, “Someone pushes your button…but it’s YOUR button.”

My buttons are being pushed. I am irritated. And even though every ounce of me wants to strike blame on others, I know that I must look inward.

Looking inward is like going through an unkempt, unsavory jungle–looking through all the muck and discards, stuff that I’ve ignored, decided to deal with at a later time, hurt feelings fermented. Some of the stuff is old, and it never goes away: for example, I have settled all things with my father and forgiven him for all the ways in which he hurt my feelings but the scars remain, and so do my reactions to those behaviors. So when someone behaves towards me as my father did, I settle into an old and unhealthy behavior pattern. I become…irritated.

See? It’s a lot of digging, looking into my past hurts and insecurities and then turning the magnifying glass onto myself, highlighting all the scars, mars, hurts that albeit hidden, still exist.

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Fiction Expectations

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I am really not sure why one day is a good writing day and another, just horrible. Some days I’ll write over two thousand words, most of them good, and even get another short story idea. Most other days, I just stumble through the dark, not knowing where I’m going.

On those horrible days, I might switch over to reading 2666 (I’m still reading that epic novel, and loving it. I’ve just begun reading book 4…or book 3, depending on how you look at it) or take out my handy moleskine notebook and start jotting down notes and sketching out the storyline there. I’ve decided not to make writing more torturous than it can be.

Eventually, I make it through the woods. One of my writing mentors told me, “Sometimes you have to write the shit to get to the good stuff.” But sometimes there is a LOT of shit. (Let’s pause for effect). A LOT.

Reading and writing go hand in hand. You can’t write without reading. You can’t. You gotta read a lot. Some books inspire me as a person, and some books inspire me further in my writing. Murakami inspires me as a writer, Bolaño’s 2666 is doing amazing things for me as a writer, as does Yasunari Kawabata’s work. They are masters of craft, and I am learning from them as I read. Their use of language is amazing. Kawabata is on one end of the spectrum, and Bolaño the other end (dude wrote a 4 page sentence!).

As a human, I love all of the above books, but also adore Yoko Ogawa’s writing, and John Irving’s books (though his recent books don’t have the sparkle of his earlier work) and of course, there’s my favorite novel of all time, The Great Gatsby. I think these works resonate with me on a thematic level. The beautiful writing and characters also seduce me.

One of my readers, Anonwupfan, asked me as a writing prompt, “What do you expect from the fiction you read? What would you like your fiction to do for your readers?

I’m a reader who is also a writer and who is also a fiction editor. Sometimes I yearn for the days where I would read as an act of wonderment, before I started writing fiction, like how the general population marvels at the sunset or a dew drop or how television seems so magical.

Scientists know why the sunset is pinker that evening, and why the dew drop takes on that shape, and how the image appears on the television–I know, because I’m married to an engineer who knows all these scientific details and I find myself hollering, “Stop taking the wonder out of it!” I don’t want to know, really, why the sunset is so beautiful one particular evening; I just want to appreciate its mysterious beauty.

Being a fiction writer myself, some of the wonder is taken out of the reading experience. I am aware of the technical feats, the craft elements needed to execute a scene or build a character and storyline. I find myself examining work for those elements, much like an engineer examines a machine or software’s elegant execution or how a biologist knows why and how the trees turn color in Autumn. And yet…

I look for the feeling of wonder as a reader. It is harder to experience these days, but I search and yearn for that feeling of wonder as I read work. Junot Diaz’s voice in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I’m entranced by that narrative voice, and by the story, and the sadness and the humor and its combined brilliance.

Or the character of Aphias in Alex Chee’s Edinburgh. The story of Philippe Grimbert’s Memory. And Bolaño’s 4 page sentence in 2666 and the epic story in front of me, the one written with such confidence that even though I’m lost at times, I’m following, I’m following, I’m trusting that narrator. And the brilliance of Fitzgerald’s photo capture of the 1920s in The Great Gatsby and most of all, the character of Jay Gatsby, told in “as if told” first person narrative. The feeling of “Whoa, how do they do that?” And feeling emotionally touched, unearthing a part of me that had been hidden under the soil until that point. Like remarkable sunsets. And vistas. Falling in love. The thing that defies explanation. A little miracle.

As a fiction editor–I read for that sense of wonder, too. And if that wonder isn’t there, I examine the craft of the piece–has the writer hit one of the big elements (voice, character, idea, language, story/plot) out of the ball park? I think a piece can hang on an element if it’s done with brilliance–and that brilliance can bring on wonder from a reader.

And I’d like my fiction to bring that sense of wonder to my readers, too. Some feeling of enlightenment and awe. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m typing, writing, thinking, struggling, reading, imagining, dreaming towards that light.

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there is no such thing as utter immunity

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The flu shot served me well this season, protecting me from the flu for almost the entire duration of the flu season. I’m the kind of person who gets sick with a fever every month or two throughout the winter–but I have been gloriously sick-free.

Until this weekend. Bleah, I am sick. In bed. With fever.

Every time I try to get inspired to write, I feel a weight and cloud settle over my body–a fog so thick that the Muse can’t find her way to me.

But at least–being physically sick distracts me from my black internal mood.

Just for fun…I thought I would look back into my archives and see what happened on this date in years previous?

2 years ago, on March 1, 2007: I felt an earthquake.

2 years ago, on March 2, 2007: I celebrated the 2 month mark of my stroke recovery, and pondered the role of friendships in the process of healing. I’d also returned from a trip to Miami.

Last year, on March 2, 2007: I wondered if the MFA was worth it.

I am now struck by how much I traveled while recovering from my stroke–to be “sick and in recovery” and yet be physically ambling about! I was on blood thinners and my short term memory and other mental abilities were still impaired but I made the decision to not cut my life short and see as much of the world as possible.

It also dovetailed into the fact that I could not be left alone by myself (when you have severe memory issues, you forget to EAT) and by the fact that my husband was traveling a whole bunch for business reasons–so we decided to make the best of it. I remember telling myself that I might not remember the trips later but that somehow the experiences would make it into my psyche and I would somehow be enriched and the better for it.

And even though it seemed weird to others and weird to me now, I don’t regret having done all that traveling while sick, having to be led through the airport and getting so exhausted so easily that I slept the bulk of the time while traveling. It didn’t matter. I was engaged with life, and I was putting myself out there.

My doctors were a bit surprised but also pleased–they encouraged me to push myself. The more I pushed myself they said, the better off I’d be.

Now. Why don’t I have that spirit in me today, when all healed? Sick now, sick then. But way different.

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inevitable

Man. I just reread my last two posts…the one just an hour ago, detailing my restless hermitage in the snowy mountains…and then the one previous to it, remarking on wacky weather patterns and burying myself in knitting. I have some serious underground psychic spelunking to do. Eventually the evasion must stop.

And clearly, I do not feel safe enough to do so for now.

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here’s to a lifetime of healing

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The Washington Post has an article on a North Korean prisoner escapee. He is the only known person to have survived an escape from a North Korean political prison (for nothing he did, for nothing his father did–but as punishment for the defections of his uncles to South Korea).

He’s missing part of a finger, he’s burned on his arms and body–evidence of past torture. His brother was beaten to death, his mother was hanged. Hearing him describe his anger towards his mother for making plans to escape, plans that led to his torture…makes me realize how deep those scars are, on his body, and in his psyche.

I am wishing him a lifetime of healing ahead of him.

He may very well need an entire lifetime to recover.

This I know from my own parents, whose childhoods and young adult lives were so heavily impacted (“impacted” being a huuuge euphemism for death (brothers, sisters, fathers) and suffering (lack of food, the stress of basic survival, the loss of material goods, giving up all niceties…the way my father lost his hearing in one ear, the way my mother still loves potatoes to this day) and poverty and…

They have spent the rest of their lives building as boring a life as possible, a lifestyle I did not understood as a child and a lifestyle I rebelled against, hissing “I’m borrrred” through gritted teeth. Their early lives were too filled with drama, and now they are making up for it, eliminating as much drama as possible.

It can take a lifetime.

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The food flashback

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I’m doing a lot more cooking lately for health reasons. By doing so, I expected to expand my cooking repertoire, to improve my self discipline when it comes to eating and preparation, I expected to get healthier, I expected to save money, I expected to have some fun…

I did not expect all the memories and thoughts that spring up in my mind while cooking. The textures, the smells, the sounds–they really do transport me. Cooking is a largely right brained activity for me, like driving…especially when I’m grooving in the middle of a very familiar, oft-cooked recipe.

And it just so happens that those are the dishes linked to some old memory.

I made a Korean radish soup tonight. (Using watermelon radish from the farmer’s market! They’re very similar to daikon radish except…they’re MAGENTA inside! Almost flourescent pink, really. So I am made this very PINK Korean radish soup).

Usually, when I make Korean food, my head is full of thoughts about my mother, all comfort and love. I compare how my food tastes against hers, and try to match, match, match. But it never really does match exactly. Sometimes I make Korean food when I miss her, especially North Korean dishes handed down through our family.

I also remember summers spent in Korea, traipsing through the streets of Seoul, through the markets, riding the crowded buses, so unlike the Greyhounds and AC transit buses here in the States. Snacks on the street bought on the way home to my grandmother’s house. The air so humid I’m not surprised that even when I stand still, my skin’s glistening from both perspiration and…just the WET AIR.

I wonder about the culinary traditions of Korea, and how so much is wild mountain greens, how so much of it can be dried and then rehydrated in cooking. There are rich and fatty foods of course, but I imagine wartime and picking greens in the hillside, foraging for dinner. I wonder if they’re doing that in North Korea.

I usually think about things Korean. But today, as I looked at the radish soup, thinking that the brilliant pink of the watermelon radish made this dish somehow…no longer LOOK Korean…I thought of my mother-in-law, who died last year.

Whenever I think of her, I feel a stab of pain in my heart. I’m not sure if it’s heartbreak or regret or what. Even when I/we laugh at something she’d find funny (and believe there are many things she found funny), the pain is there. It’s so prevalent in my thoughts of her that the thought of my parents dying is unbearable–how insufferable will the pain be, then?

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What is the question you ask yourself

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A writing mentor once asked, “What is the question you struggle with in life?”

I hesitated, puttered and stalled. I am not used to probing questions–in my hours everyday in my HR career, my focus is to smooth things over, continuously, creating a perfect frosting on cake. Keep everyone happy.  Energized.  Synchronized towards a singular goal.   Ask questions of others, not myself. Keep things moving, keep things pleasant. I am good at that job, both to my benefit and detriment. It also makes me a good Korean girl (the real reason I’m good at the HR job), good under crisis…not so good to myself, not great for my relationships.

When I got sick almost two years ago, I quickly learned that many of my friends did not know how to care for me, because they did not know who I was/am. I could rack it up to them not giving enough of a shit about me to try to get to know me (for a few cases this was clearly very true)…but part of reality is that I don’t make it easy for people to get to know me, either.

What IS it that I ask myself?

It took me a little while to switch my mind to the dark place, where my daylight distractions do not enter, to the place deep inside myself. To where I have hidden the parts of myself that I feel aren’t safe or don’t belong in the world, at least in my everyday.

After the stroke and then my mother-in-law’s untimely death…I have often asked and wondered how I will die.

Death is not a new topic for me–I have spent a number of years wishing for death, and have more than once done more than wish for an early exit from life. I have wondered what if I had died on all those occasions. I have turned my back on death more than once, and finally embraced life.

My parents, having survived war, made it abundantly clear to us as children that life was not permanent, that death always hovered nearby and could make a surprise appearance (this still did not prepare me for my mother-in-law’s death, something that broke my heart and will leave it broken forever). We grew up knowing that mom and dad could die anyday, and to brace ourselves for–death. It was nearby. Don’t be surprised.

But I do wonder now, as to HOW I will die. With dignity? With great fear? With peace? With panic? With anger? Will it be quick? Will it be slow? Painful? Will I have time to prepare? Will I have time to hug my husband goodbye? Who will I leave behind? Will I be alone? Or surrounded by those who love me? Will I disappear? Will it be bloody? Be full of sleep and tenderness? Will I fight? Or will I resign? Will it be a heart attack? Another stroke? Cancer? A car accident? A plane crash?

For death is a certainty.

Will I be the first one to go, abandoning my husband? Or will I be last? If I never have children, who will bury me? Who will hold my hand? Who will claim my body? Who will pray for me?

I have many more questions over which I obsess. But that is the newest addition. And when I provided “I wonder how I will die,” as an answer. My mentor said, “That explains a lot about your writing.”

What are the questions that can inform an entire novel, an entire life?

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do not eat dim sum if you want to write

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I thought I might get some writing done today, in between a dim sum lunch (we debated between chaat at Vik’s and dim sum–dim sum won) and a Margaret Cho show (tonight! finally!).

Nope. The dim sum, while delicious, has put me in a stupor, akin to a dose of benadryl. The deepest thought I’ve had all day today is pondering the word “shampoo.”

Shampoo. Shampoo. Shampoooo. Sham.poo.poo.sham. Shampoo. SHAMpoo. ShamPOO. Shampoo. Cute word, isn’t it? It sounds nonsensical after awhile. What a neat word for hair soap. Cute. Neat Cute. Neat. Neat. Neat. Neat.Neat.Neat. Cute. Shampoooo. Shampoo. SHAHM-poo. Shaaaampoo.

Well. At least it’s a beautiful day outside. I can stare out the window and make the most of this dim sum haze.

p.s. got two rejections in the mail today. One of them apologized (in handwriting) for the delay.

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Environment, proximity, and effect

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Environment
There’s a gopher, or mole, in my vegetable garden, rooting up the soil, and in one case, killing a dill plant. I have no idea what to do–only that I don’t want to kill the animal, despite commentary pushing death as the better option. I’ve looked up alternative ways to repel the animals–castor oil granules and this ultrasonic sound-emitting stake (the “gopher-it” or “mole mover”) being mentioned most. When I let my dogs out into the garden, one runs straight back into the house after taking a look at all the dirt (he doesnt like getting dirty) and the other one runs straight to the hole…and then…starts eating the gopher/mole dirt.

I have this odd feeling that the gopher/mole will prevail, and that my vegetables will…not. But so goes the circle of life.

It is strangely exhilarating to feel that there is life under my feet in that garden. Roots like carrots, beets, and radishes…and an animal also living its subterranean life. So regardless of the outcome of this battle, I will have succeeded in celebrating life with this garden.

Effect
Not feeling well this morning. Queasy, headache, reminiscent of a hangover. But I did not drink. What was the cause? Ugh. Am I sick?

Proximity
Nova wrote a post about her new job in publishing–it was so energizing to read! To experience that passion for the written word while at work!

I work in an industry far away from writing (unless we are to categorize “writing code” as writing which, despite the debate about its potential for creativity, has little to do with story writing). There have been times in my life where I have yearned to work in publishing or anywhere closer to the written word. It’s stifling to work somewhere so far from my writing–what does this work have to do with my stories? How can I be inspired? I can understand why so many writers choose careers close to the word, whether it be teaching composition or writing or editing.

But I do love the industry in which I work–the culture in high tech has a whimsy that thumbs its nose at the traditional “corporate” model…and I really feel like I belong in that space. I love the people, and I feel passionate about the products. Hell, I’ve worked in this space for well over a decade!

Ultimately, that I work far away from the written word has helped my writing, for good and for bad.

Still, I do wonder what it would be like, to work in a job that has me surrounded by writing all day. I stood in the office of a friend who works at a publishing company once–it was incredible to know I was surrounded by books in progress, and that I was somewhere near that process. I took a deep breath just to breathe it in.

It made me feel small, it made me feel honored. All in the span of a few seconds.

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spanning space

Woo! I have satellite internet at our mountain retreat! (We were previously unwired here–a bane and a boon). I imagine a big tractor beam from the stars to my house–that is how I am connected to the universe! That is how this post is coming to you, bouncing off a star somewhere in the southern sky.

I am spanning space, these words are EVERYWHERE. Maybe they met a martian somewhere on the way to wordpress and to you.

Of course, an engineer would explain it all away–take the wonder out of it by detailing the scientific processes. I’m ignoring that for now, I prefer the mystery of it all, it feels much more beautiful this way than the reality of metal and wires (though to an engineer that is perhaps an ultimate beauty).

It is truly Autumn in these mountains: Aspen trees fluttering with leaves so yellow and bright they look like glass and hillsides dotted with orange and flaming red in the evergreen backdrop.  The air smells like leaves.

A biologist would explain it all away–the trees are changing chemistry, reacting to light and day length.  I prefer the vision of spanning space.

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