Emily – Korea/U.S.

January 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of January and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today is… sucks. The grammar of that sentence pretty accurately reflects my mental capacity today and also my lack of motivation to fix my mistakes, or anything else. 

It’s my first real day in Seoul during this vacation and you know that Seoul puts me in a weird mood. Yesterday a 편의점 (convenience store) attendant was rude to me. Today I almost got denied entry to a university campus because I was a foreigner (no tourists allowed, probably because of coronavirus, but the signs have no indication of the reason). Then, I got to the spot on campus I had lugged my big film camera to (and was excited to practice shooting with it!) and the whole thing just jammed. So, i made my way back to the gate of the campus where the security guard was still exclusively harassing non-Asian-looking people. 

Currently I’m sitting in a coffee shop that I chose only because the one I really wanted to go to has inexplicably turned into a sketchy bar, waiting for my endlessly-supportive boyfriend to return from Daiso with a screwdriver to open up this camera and see if I can avoid returning it (and paying exorbitant international shipping prices). 

I promise, I’m normally not a negative person. Seoul just brings it out in me.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

(Based on my responses to tinder messages)

Today was not my day. I traveled kind of far to take pictures with my new camera and it broke immediately. So I’m eating my feelings, haha. But it’ll be fine, I’ll just go to sleep and wake up better in the morning. 

Question 3: What are some aspects of your routine now (daily/weekly) that you think should be changed (for health reasons, stress, etc.) and what are some things you do that you would recommend to someone else? What are a couple things you would want to add to your routine to enhance your lifestyle?

Good: yoga everyday, even when you don’t want to. Just having some kind of consistency in your life. 

Having a supportive partner or friend who knows when to indulge your bullshit and when to pull you out of it. 

Trying new things. New restaurants, new foods— go the whole mile and get a new hobby! Sometimes you can feel stuck when things are too consistent. You can’t count on anyone else to make things interesting in a way that’s right for you. 

Positivity. This one needs work sometimes, but overall I think I am a person who always tries to find the best in things. 

Bad: naps. They’ve gotta go, but they’ve become a staple in my life. 

Depressive cycles. One thing goes wrong and then the whole day is fucked. I need to learn to let things slide sometimes. 

ANXIETY gets out of control when I’m put in a position where I feel I’m responsible for other people’s happiness. Having my boyfriend here is GREAT but also I feel pressure to make things worthwhile for him. It’s hard to sleep at night when your brain won’t shut up about all the things you should be doing.

February 29, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of February and what caused you to feel that way?)

Yesterday, I decided that I’m going to leave Korea and return to the States. Our company allowed us the option to return early due to the threat of coronavirus here. It both was and was not an easy decision— one that took a lot of mental faculties to come to a conclusion about, but I feel 100% confident that I am making the right decision. Today, feeling completely comfortable with my decision and tentatively excited to return home, I went to a cafe to do some work on my future. 

In the future, I’m going to want to come back to Korea. The only issue is that John (my fiancé) didn’t necessarily understand why I would want to live here, he hadn’t experienced it. But, toward the end of our time here, as we waited for our coffee in my favorite cafe, he told me, “Maybe this is bad to say, but I think I’ve finally gotten used to living in Korea.” 

After that, we talked about what he meant, what he liked about Korea.

It’s easy to live here

It’s so convenient here, there’s everything everywhere. In America, you’d have to live in the city to have all these same conveniences. 

If you want to go to the city for some reason, you can go so easily and cheaply. 

I haven’t had to drive at all in two months

Seeing your students in your elementary school made me realize that it might be fun to teach kids

He says it’s a lot of pressure to ask him why he might want to come back. It’s a selfish reason for me— if we can write down the reasons that he wants to stay, maybe in two or three years when I’m debating coming back, it won’t be so hard to convince him to come with me. 

A big part of the reason I’m leaving Korea early is him. Not anything he’s done specifically, but having lived together here for the last two months, I don’t know if I’ll be able to live alone again. We’ve had such a great time together here. I love Korea but I know that without him, spending two months here would not have been nearly as fun or memorable. With him, it doesn’t really matter where we live because I know we will make the most of it and have fun there. 

Basically the key point of this story is that when there is nothing to be stressed about, I will find something to stress about. Not always a bad thing, as it makes me apply for jobs much earlier than I need to (though if I get replies from those jobs now, it would be perfect!) and also keeps me constantly moving forward. But to worry about something so far in the future that might not even happen? That’s something so simply ‘Emily’ that I’m not even upset.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

Not much has happened today. I decided I’m heading back to the States so now I’m looking for jobs there. Honestly, I’m excited to head back. It feels like I’ve spent the time I was supposed to spend in Korea, and this offer from our company came at quite literally the most opportune time, it would be almost stupid to ignore what a great opportunity they’re giving me.

Question 3: Two paths diverge in a yellow wood… which do you choose? One winds into a dark canopy headed towards a beautiful valley, and the other heads straight for the top of the mountain. Choose wisely 😉

True to myself, I think I would choose to go straight down the middle. Remember during our teaching orientation where they gave everyone superlatives and mine was “most likely to get arrested for trespassing”? My curiosity is one of the things I take the most pride in and I have a dumb need to be ‘unique’ even when it causes me more hassle than the potential payoffs. Exploration is my game, give me two paths and I’ll do everything I can to actively avoid both of them.

March 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of March and what caused you to feel that way?)

Isolation is boring. 

That’s all I can say. I planned on spending time doing nothing when I got back from Korea, but being forced to do nothing makes it much less my choice and much more like a punishment. Today I woke up late (the usual, now), helped my mom set up a livestream for reading books to kids as a way to help out some parents that are having a hard time entertaining their kids during quarantine, and then pretty much did nothing. 

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I didn’t really do anything today. 

Question 3: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from social distancing?

I.e., Thoughts about how to feel connected during this time/How are you spending all this (presumably more than before) downtime?/How do you feel about the worldwide impact of COVID19?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it’s not impossible for me to live at home. I’ve never had what I would call a good relationship with my parents, but being away for three years has made me appreciate a lot more the things they’ve provided me in my life. By no means were they perfect, and I don’t think that I should ever forget the difficult times I’ve had, but having lived on my own now, I see how much work it must have been to raise three kids. I have a lot of respect for my mom and I’m no longer ashamed of being told that I look just like her or that I followed the same path as her by becoming a teacher. 

I see our differences more and more too, but that only makes it clearer to me that if I decide to have children, I won’t make the same mistakes she did. I can only hope to reach all the same accomplishments she did as a mom, though

Staying connected to the outside world is difficult during this time, but for me I think it’s even harder to stay connected to my internal thoughts. When I lived alone, I could take a mental health day, watch sad movies and cry, write about difficult subjects and let my emotions out in a space that was safe and private. But here, living with my parents, there are a lot of tough topics and memories coming up, and yet it feels like I have no space to call my own, no space where I can sit and listen to myself and really just tune out the outside world. I know that this is perhaps an uncomfortable reality and side effect of self-isolation for many others, but I thrive in private spaces and was hoping that I could use this time to go inward and process things I’d been putting off. Of course, I’d put off processing them even when I had a safe and private space, so perhaps it’s less about the circumstances surrounding me and more about me not being ready to think about those things. 

Being in Korea during the worst of COVID-19 and then again being in the States for the worst of it has made me see what a difference living in a ‘me society’ versus a ‘we society’ can have. Of course, all of this is compounded with reverse culture shock (made worse by the fact that I came home without much notice). However, the selfishness of people in the States sickens me. In Korea, people wore masks not just to protect themselves, but primarily to protect others. While it may have just been a placebo effect, everyone felt safer being out in public as long as everyone else was wearing masks. In America, even after the CDC recommended wearing hand-made masks, there are people mocking those who do, just because… Well, I don’t know. 

I don’t understand how a country so focused on ‘freedom’ can be so blind. Those who oppose shutting down feel their freedom is being infringed upon by those who wish to be safe. Those who wish to be safe feel their freedom (and health!) is being endangered by those who are ignoring the problem. Everyone feels like they are the victim of some attack by the other side, when in fact, we are all victims of this biological terror. Instead of coming together to fight something that is horrible for everyone, we place blame on others for their reactions to the disease. We fight each other and blame each other and ignore the real issue– the fact that everyone is suffering, no one wants the country to shut down, no one wants to die, no one wants to be quarantined until the summer. 

There’s a lot of talk about how COVID-19 could create, in a sense, a new world, one where the earth has time to heal, where humans come together against a common enemy and forget their own petty differences. Perhaps in a world, a society, less focused on ‘my freedom’ and ‘my rights,’ it could happen. But seeing what I’ve seen in the States, I have no doubt that things will return to exactly the way they were before all this happened. We’ll forget what we’ve been through, turn our fists and our shouts back toward each other, and fight about pointless ideological differences without regard for our fellow man.

April 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of April and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today was a pretty weird day for quarantine, all things considered. Doesn’t mean that I’ll remember it in the future, but it certainly broke a little of the monotony. On a whim, I texted my boyfriend’s friend from high school who I don’t particularly like, but who is going to be in our wedding. I figured it’d be good for me to reach out to him since he had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend. I messaged him a simple ‘hey let me know if you need anything or if you want to talk’ on Facebook, truthfully not expecting anything to come from it since we’d never been close, and behold, less than a minute later, he replied. “Actually, it’s been really rough. I really needed this message. Not to sound desperate, but are you free to talk now?”. The evidence of my ensuing panic can be seen in my texts to my boyfriend.

Me: we’ve literally never talked on the phone before

Bf: you don’t have to 

Me: I extended the offer, I kinda have to

Me: What if he cries?

Me: I never know what to do when people cry

Me: I normally end up laughing out of awkwardness 

Bf: I don’t think he’ll cry

Me: yeah, but what if he does

Cut to a few minutes later where, after barricading myself in my room and gathering pillows to make myself comfortable, I talked to my boyfriend’s high school friend for over an hour and a half. He cried, and I did laugh, but only at the end after he started to see some humor in it. This was something I used to do a lot— offer advice and a listening ear to strangers who needed it, but I hadn’t done it for quite some time, at least not in this capacity. It was exhausting and exhilarating. And it was just another part of my day.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I think all I did today was watch Tiger King with my mom. Did you know that they visited my college town’s mall with their baby tigers? Not while I was there, of course, but still. Kinda weird to see your local Midwest mall on a hugely successful documentary.

Question 3: If you could choose one musical artist that you believe everyone should listen to critically at least once, who would it be and why?

There are two ways to interpret this question:

1. A musical artist everyone should try listening to once, regardless of their previous experience with them.

2. A popular musical artist who everyone should listen to and analyze in order to see that their music truly is terrible. Truthfully, it’s much easier to point out artists who aren’t talented than artists who are (ie, the second question was much easier for me to answer, but also way more inflammatory). 

As an answer to the first interpretation, I truly believe that everyone should listen to BTS’ songs “I Need U” and “Run”— in addition to the extended music videos for each. I’m suggesting a Kpop group because despite the relative prevalence of Kpop in Western society now, most of it is (rightfully) not taken seriously. I’m fairly ambivalent about BTS, but these two songs were the first time that I’d seen a (at that time) fairly unsuccessful rookie group release songs and music videos addressing mental health in a way that was so distressingly real.

A lot of times, music and music videos (and media in general) end up inadvertently glorifying things like depression, self-harm, and even suicide (prime example is the show “13 Reasons Why”). In Korea in particular, mental health is taboo, perhaps due to the severity of the mental health crisis in S. Korea (we often ignore and stigmatize the things in our culture that are most unsavory, but also, the most visible).

In any way, these songs and music videos are some of the few out of any music I’ve listened to that I go back to on a regular basis. Amazing cinematography, sympathetic yet realistic portrayal of mental health issues, and haunting music— you can’t ask for any more. 

May 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of May and what caused you to feel that way?)

A surprisingly busy and social day in the midst of Corona “disappearing” (taken with all the proper social distancing precautions). I’d been feeling pretty pent-up and anxious due to the amount of video interviews I’d been doing recently and really just needed to get out of the house and clear my mind.

John and I stopped by a local cafe (the local coffee shop had terrible coffee) and ordered two cups of brewed coffee—black. I was honestly kind of appalled at the fact that the order to wear masks had quite literally been lifted a few days prior and not a single person inside the café was wearing masks or maintain distance. We left as fast as we soon as we could.

Feeling even more anxious, I asked if we could go to a park near water so that I could finally write out some of my thoughts and concerns about how my future should proceed. John had been especially busy recently and I hadn’t had much time to talk to him about the crazy number of decisions floating around in my head. Ultimately we went to a park very nearby (no water) but I was able to make a really nicely visual representation of options I had and the order of priority (a flowchart!!!). 

After that, I was feeling great and wanted to go to another park just to relax and celebrate the dissolution of my anxiety in nature. That park, however, had a few too many people and didn’t really make me feel comfortable about celebrating, so we decided to head home. Along the way, we saw a garage sale and decided to try our luck, the first garage sale of the season is almost always a disappointment. However, we ended up picking up some cool glass photo frames and Blockus, which I was going to buy on Amazon anyway!

Then, just as we got home, John’s brother called and asked if we wanted to go kayaking with him and his girlfriend. “Kayaking?” I said, incredulous because I’d asked John to take me to a park with water and he said he didn’t know of any nearby. A mere five minute drive from his house, we arrived at a dammed-up lake and spent a while fishing and kayaking around. A busy day.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I had a really busy day! I went to a park and did some writing and figured some stuff out about what I want to do in my future, went garage sale-ing (while maintaining social distance!), and met up with my boyfriend’s brother to do some kayaking.

Question 3: What’s on your “quarantine ending/life returning to normal” bucket list and what are unique things on your overall life bucket list?

There are so many things on my quarantine bucket list:

  • Share food (any type of food) with friends and family. I love communal meals and they’re just not possible right now. 
  • Be able to talk to strangers comfortably. There’s been so many people whom I wish I could have interacted with, but again, that’s not just something we can do right now.

I feel like my regular bucket list is just as ordinary. 

  • Bungee-jump / skydive / many other ‘extreme sports’
  • Live in another country (again)
  • Spend a night in all 50 states
  • Open a café / coffee shop

June 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of June and what caused you to feel that way?)

This day was not at all what I was expecting– I believe it was day two of a family camping trip, the first time in probably 8 years all of the Malec kids had spent some quality time together (keep in mind my sister lived in Japan for 5 years and then I lived in Korea for 3 as soon as she came home). I’ll admit that I was nervous about the trip in general (my parents, brother, and sister, AND their significant others) and not-so-excited about the prospects of the day– wine tasting.

Wine gives me a nasty headache and I was already popping allergy pills like my life depended on it, any more histamines and my brain might actually just explode. After a shorter-then-normal scenic route and a short stop to see a lighthouse (both courtesy of my father), we ended up on Mission Peninsula in northern Michigan– a place famous for its wineries. Still in the throes of Covid, most places didn’t allow ‘tasting’ as they normally would and there wasn’t a sense that you should feel comfortable staying a long time. Maybe that accounted for why I had a better time than expected– my family normally spends way too much time at one place. 

Anyway, the wine was pretty good (cherry wine at the first place was good) and everything I tried in a flight of three wines at the second place was awesome (bubbly and light!). A stop at a brewery we’d heard a lot about was not as fun, I think I liked one out of the six beers I sampled. John picked a light beer that was supposed to taste like Lucky Charms and… it did. Make of that what you will. We had been having a great time talking with my brother and his wife but today, we got picked to pair up with my mom and dad and join them on a fun, super-not-stressful trip to the most crowded Meijer I’ve ever seen, as well to a million different mattress stores because the bed in their luxury RV was too hard. *shrugging emoji* 

As I look through pictures from that day, I also see that that was the day I got about 900 bites from biting flies that still (a month later) are a little red on my back.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I guess I like wine now? We went to a bunch of wineries and I liked all the stuff that didn’t taste like wine and just tasted like juice. So you can decide. 

Question 3: Describe something that you believe in, but there’s no concrete proof of that thing/idea existing (you don’t have to justify the belief).

What makes you continue to believe in it? The feeling? The principle behind it?  Someone else instilled the belief in you? Elaborate in your own way. 🙂

This is a hard one. I think a lot of the things I believe in do have actual proof in scientific articles somewhere, should I choose to do actual research on them. But mostly I just go with my gut and trust the things that I see or feel.

For example, I believe that yoga and exercise in general are great for calming the mind, getting more in touch with your emotions and body, and for lessening the symptoms of depression. But like, that’s a scientific fact. I also believe that all humans are equal and that there are many things the government views as “quality of life” ideas that are actually just basic human rights (universal access to free / cheap healthcare and education, reliable access to housing and food, gov’t funded support for mental health and addiction, equality / equity / equal access changes that must be made to give everyone a fighting chance at a good life). I have firm convictions like that that no one will ever be able to change my mind on, but I suppose most of those have scientific evidence behind them to suggest that they are fact and not just my beliefs. 

Here, I’ll give you one that’s really out there but that I firmly believe, despite being a woman of science– there is a gremlin that follows me wherever I live and steals non-essential items like socks and the cases for video games. Alternatively, it could just be my boyfriend. 

July 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of July and what caused you to feel that way?)

Not to brag, but today was ~kind of~ a big day. John and I spent the night at our new apartment (sans everything) and headed up early in the morning to his dad’s place to finish the desk we were building for me. We decided to make a cafe-style table (also apparently called a sofa table), which is just a really long, fairly thin table that would fit nicely in front of our big central window. This project had actually been a lot of fun– we found an old ratty piece of wood on the side of the road and stripped it, refinished it, and today, we finally put the legs on and built a hanging shelf underneath the tabletop where I could store books, writing utensils, etc. This was one of our last things to bring to the new apartment. The truly last thing was our cat, Finn, who (understandably) doesn’t like car rides. 

We honestly thought everything would be pretty much okay. He’d survived a 9 hour trip from Illinois to Pennsylvania, always did okay compared to the other cats on the way to the vet (cat #1 peed herself in terror on the way home from the vet and cat #2 didn’t even make it– though she left her mark on John in the form of several long gashes). ‘Everything will be fine,’ we thought. ‘It’s only a forty minute trip.’ Cue sitcom laugh track. 15 minutes into the ride, he got strangely still. ‘Maybe he’s finally calmed down,’ I guessed. A split second later, my nostrils shriveled up into themselves. ‘Oh lord.’ I looked down into the cat carrier. ‘He’s gone and pooped himself.’ Laughing and gagging, I told John and Finn continued to meow, perhaps even more desperately now. I felt bad for laughing at him, but it was just so pitiful. He had turned around to face his poop and was trying to poke his head through the hole of the cat carrier but I thought he had sniffed his poop and I kept gently nudging it back in.

Less than a minute later, the smell became too much and we pulled over on the side of the road (luckily we’d decided to take backroads instead of the highway) and John ran around to the passenger side window. I handed him out a big bunch of napkins that we’d collected from various fast food outings, and he bravely reached his hand into the carrier and removed the poop. ‘It’s not soft-serve, at least,’ he said as he hurled napkins full of (apparently quite healthy) poop into the forest. 

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

My cat shit himself 15 minutes into a forty minute car ride and we literally chucked it into the woods.

(As told by my instagram stories: [Finn] pooped himself so we had to stop and clean him up. It’s been a rough one.

He pooped and has stopped meowing. Seems like that helped. Also he pooped 15 minutes into a 40 minute car ride, thank god we’re not going far.)

I’m convinced that he was trying to warn us that the siege was coming and that’s why he meowed so much.

Question 3: When do you feel most social and comfortable around others? Covid has taken away a lot of opportunities to be around the people we love, but what are some qualities about another person (that you know or don’t know) or situations that make you feel like you can be yourself?

Recently, it’s hard to feel like being social at all. Covid has made me so cautious around other people and I feel like I owe it to myself and to others to maintain that level of caution until things are truly better. It’s not that I don’t want to be social, it’s that being socially responsible means more to me than my own desire to have some human contact. And honestly, I don’t want to think about what this question would be like outside of the constraints of Covid. So many people act like things are going to go back to the way they were, that we’ll be able to interact with others in the same way that we always did, but it’s just not true. I’m trying to learn how to live in this new society that we’ve created through irresponsibility and wishful-thinking and answering the question from a pre-Covid perspective just doesn’t seem to do me much good.

In a post-Covid perspective, it’s actually nice to get to be able to decide when I want to be social. There were many situations in the past where I felt a need to be social and ended up regretting pushing myself into a situation that wasn’t right for me. Now, I really get to be picky about easing back into being social, and more importantly for me, easing back into American culture. After I came back from Korea, I was literally quarantined from March until June. I think I went grocery shopping two times. Not much room to readjust to American culture, but also kind of a nice, slow transition. My life was put on hold during that time (as I’m sure many other people’s were), but it also meant that I had an excuse to take my time getting used to being back here).

I guess I have a succinct answer that works in both pre- and post-Covid life: I feel most comfortable in social situations where I have the power to decide if I want to engage or disengage. Somewhere that gives me the opportunity to be myself (whether that means staying, or going).

September 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of September and what caused you to feel that way?)

It’s been such a weird time. I know everyone says that, but I don’t think I really understood what it felt like until just now. It’s October 2nd, and I should be writing this reflection about September 30th, just two days ago. So why can’t I remember anything I did that day? 

I started my AmeriCorps position on Sept. 9th, and have been serving at my site since Sept. 13th. All’s new and well, but the days already blend together. My days are crazy, honestly.

Some days I wish I would’ve taken a position at Starbucks so that I wouldn’t have to bring my work home (what a funny thing to say in a world where most of us are practically living at work). I’ve been envying people who get some time away from home in their jobs– a complete 180 from where I was at the beginning of the pandemic. Maybe that mindset is what is causing people to put themselves at risk by going to parties, etc. The thought of staying at home is so much worse a thought than the risk of getting COVID. If I’m envying a job that would have terrified me (and still should) just six months ago, maybe I’m not so different from those people. 

As you can see, lots of vapid anxieties floating around. I can’t even think to begin to let myself ponder politics right now because I would risk losing myself in the insanity.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I worked hard today, just like I’ve been doing everyday. I don’t know where all my time goes during the day, but when I look at how many hours I’ve clocked, I’m always depressed. I think I work best when I’m trusted to do a good job and engage in my work as an adult who made the choice to take a year of service rather than a traditional salaried position.

Question 3: When you close your eyes and pause your heavy thoughts for 30 seconds, what do you see?  Where does your mind take you when you finally get a chance to slow down and breathe?  Where do you want to go and what might be holding you back from reaching that place?

I just see nature. All types of nature. A farm field filled with knee-high corn in the summer. An oceanside cliff with a precarious scaffolded structure disrupting the clear line from left to right. A wide-open sky overtop a park nestled near the edge of a forest, one of those merry-go-rounds that you barely see at playgrounds anymore (and for good reason). The weather is always beautiful, but different. Crisp near the ocean, fall chill creeping in with the waves. An early spring day at the playground, ground unfrozen and buds doing their best to burst from the ground and the trees– but yet invisible to human eyes. Everyone senses that it’s the end of winter, but there’s nothing they can really say to convince each other. If you were there, you would know, too. 

October 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of October and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today’s the day I would’ve gotten married, if COVID wasn’t a thing. The worst part? I completely forgot about it until my friend from high school, who actually had the same wedding date as me, texted me, “Happy would-be wedding day!”. She’d had to move her date too.

In fact, talking about our decision to move our wedding dates was kind of the reason we reconnected in the first place. I hadn’t talked to her in a while– at least not in any format longer than Snapchat allows– until she texted me that she wouldn’t be able to make my wedding because she was getting married on the same day, in Birmingham. After that, we’d talked more and more about wedding stuff as the day got closer and our anxiety about having to move the date or try to cut people from the list, as well as decide if we wanted to get married this year in a courthouse or wait until the actual ceremony. And today, she reminded me what my life would’ve been like this year if things hadn’t gone to shit with COVID.

I don’t regret that I wasn’t able to get married this year. John and I have been dating for six years at this point, engaged for, well, three years now. We can wait another year. I think our family members and friends were more bummed about it than we were– telling us how sorry they felt that we had to move our wedding date. But for John and me, there really wasn’t any other alternative. We didn’t want to cut anyone from the list. We didn’t want to have a separate, small ceremony, spend more money just to get married this year– especially since his mom was in Japan and probably couldn’t even make it over to the ceremony. We especially didn’t want anyone to get sick. So there truly was no other option for us. I think that made us feel better about the whole thing, enough so that I completely forgot we were even supposed to get married today. 

On more of a positive note, I got an unexpected call from some people I haven’t seen in quite a while– people I love a whole lot and wish I could see more. Nathan was there, he can tell you about it. It completely changed the course of my day. After I got that text from my friend, I was going to spend the whole day moping, just because I could. But waking up (relatively) early on a Saturday to a drunken video call from friends in Korea celebrating a day off from the military, going out to a bar like nothing was wrong (and in Korea, that was possible), it energized me and gave me a little more hope for the day.

So what did I end up doing? Not gonna lie, I got really high (medical marijuana card!!) and spent most of the day fucking around watching music videos and looking at this image of different land features. John and I literally spent around 3 hours looking at this crappy-quality image and just learning about geography. Later, John’s sense of spacial awareness took a deep dive and he thought he could fit into tiny boxes that no human could fit into. So there are quite a few videos of him firmly believing that he is entirely inside a box when in reality, more than half of him is above the surface. Much like an iceberg, one of the geographical features we researched.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I was supposed to get married today. No, it’s okay. Really, it’s fine.

Question 3: Describe a person that you vividly remember seeing on the street or in passing, but never met.  What do you remember the most about them and write a little story about their life – what do they do, what are they like and what makes them uniquely them?

Maybe this is kind of cheating, but this is literally what I write about all the time. In particular, I think about this poem I wrote during one of my first solo excursion in Korea.

Streets of Seoul at night 

A sign for a 24 hour shop flickers and goes out 

A man drunkenly cries and sways against the side of a bar 

His cries sound like the bark of a dog 

They echo in the empty streets but no one else hears them 

Men carry other men and chefs carry women out of their restaurants

Their uniforms stained with something that could be doenjang or vomit 

Taxis avoid drunken women and drunken men yell at the unfairness 

But mostly because they don’t want to wait for the next car 

Convenience store workers take smoke breaks with clients 

Or sleep behind the counter 

A customer leaves change for his drink and doesn’t look back

No one speaks the same language and no one looks each other in the eye

You’re not as much of an outsider as you think in a city where everyone is alone 

No one looks up when a mother cat and two babies eat trash in front of them

Two women run away from a small stray that is more afraid of them than they are of it 

Massive leaves fall from tiny trees and seem to shrivel the instant they touch the ground 

Women in heels try to walk down steep hills and tremble but never fall 

They’re just on their way home 

Every city sleeps 

Every city has roads less traveled

And even the roads more traveled carry stories that you miss if you’re looking too much at your shoes

November 30, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of November and what caused you to feel that way?)

Today was kind of a special day, for no special reason. A Monday, I didn’t have any classes to teach, although I did help out for the first time in an upper-intermediate course with one of the teachers I don’t get to see very often. My timesheet, of course stamped to the exact minute, shows that I worked for about 10 hours today on various prep and admin chores. Not the most exciting of things to work on, but certainly a good way to get my hours in. There were two things that were exciting about today: the realization that our new cat was going to fit in just fine, and a surprise message from someone I’ve missed a whole lot in the time since I moved away from Korea. 

My photos from the day show what a mixed-bag it must’ve been. The pajama pants that I got as a bridesmaid gift from my sister-in-law over three years ago finally became too threadbare to wear– a huge hole ripped clear through the thigh of them made it impossible to continue wearing them with any sense of decency. Maybe I should’ve had a little ceremony to send them off, they’d been a permanent fixture in my life for a while now and I knew I’d miss them the moment I threw them away, but I did it without care. Tossed them in the bag my boyfriend had used to scoop the cat litter and asked him to take it out of the house immediately so I wouldn’t change my mind. It seems a little cruel, throwing away something so important to me in the worst of ways– literally in a plastic grocery bag filled with cat poop– but I knew it was the only way to release me from the sentimentality that normally takes hold over me. I’m sure working a long day didn’t help with my decision-making, and this just seemed like the shit icing on a cat shit cake (too much poop talk, yikes).

The turning point though, came in the form of a reply to a message I’d sent a few days prior– a photo of the Thanksgiving food we’d made for this year’s (small!) celebration– to my homestay mother in Korea. She replied today with a message that somehow made the day so much brighter. “Can you believe it? My son wanted a picture of our Thanksgiving meal three days ago for his homework. Showing other countries’ food. So we talked about the meal you made for us three years ago.” That message, followed by a picture of a wonderful-looking thanksgiving meal (I originally thought that they had recreated my Thanksgiving dinner for them and complimented how great everything looked, only to realize later that it was just a picture of the meal I’d made them back then!!), completely made my day. Not only that, but I’d sent a video of us making kimchi a few days ago, asking for her recipe and hints on how to make sure it didn’t get watery. In reply, she sent photos of the kimchi she’d made just two days ago– albeit on a much bigger scale (50 heads of cabbage, to be exact).

Even with the funny misunderstanding where I thought they had recreated our meal together, it meant so much to me that the kids still remember me and that my family still talks about me. I think about them all the time. Without their love and support, my time in Korea would’ve been nothing, I probably would’ve stayed a single year and stayed the same person I was at the start (not a terrible thing, but I’m certainly more pleased with the person I’ve become over the years I spent in Korea). A reminder that two years is not so short a time. Something I’ve needed reminding about a lot recently, as I feel like I talk too much about Korea. I don’t think I ever can– two years spent living with my homestay family, eight months on my own. That was a huge portion of my life and there’s no logical reason that I should feel bad about talking about it, reflecting on it, reliving it– although, I must come to terms with the fact that if I move back, I will not be able to recreate the amazing experience that I had. 

Side note– I also finished my novel for National Novel Writing Month two days early. The entire thing was memories of my time in Korea. I wrote nearly 50,000 words just about my first three months in the country.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I got a wonderful surprise message from my homestay mom today, just letting me know that they were still thinking of me and still remembered me. She told me, “two years is not short. Still my kids miss you. Hyun and I, too”. Sometimes I think I don’t give myself enough credit or realize the importance of the relationships that I’ve formed. I should make more of an effort to reach out and be a good friend to all the people I’ve cared about throughout the years.

Question 3: If you had all the resources possible (time, money, motivation, etc), what are some things you would do or learn to do? Make a list.

Oh, what WOULDN’T I do? 

  1. Become a trained sushi chef
  2. Become a dive master
  3. Become a trained sky diving instructor
  4. Learn all the languages I could absorb and live in all those countries for at least a year
  5. Donate more to charity, partake more in social activism
  6. Learn how to code
  7. Study art and practice the styles I studied
  8. Do a lot more arts and crafts
  9. Make my own clothes
  10. Make my own everything
  11. Write and publish my novels
  12. Edit my novels….
  13. Play all the video games that I have in my list of “games to play”
  14. Read all the books in my list of “books to read”
  15. Watch all the movies in my list of “movies to watch”
  16. Start my own cafe / animal shelter
  17. Learn a trade, like woodworking or welding
  18. Learn to work with metal for jewelry and other stuff
  19. Fix every broken thing in my apartment (computer, bathtub, couch)
  20. Try out a silly new hobby every month (crochet, wine tasting, salsa dancing)
  21. Go to therapy as often as possible 
  22. Get all my medical problems taken care of 
  23. Visit all my friends and family, or invite all of them to come stay for a few weeks at a time at some luxurious resort where we could really just relax and get to know each other 
  24. Set up a fund so that the people I care about would be taken care of, no matter what happens
  25. Take more pictures and videos than I’ve ever taken before, even of the moments that don’t seem important 
  26. Go back to university and get master’s degrees in every single subject that interests me
  27. Offer free English classes to immigrants and refugees 
  28. Get trained as an emergency responder for medical and mental health emergencies 
  29. Spend more time with my partner 
  30. Write more

December 31, 2020

Question 1: How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of 2020 and what caused you to feel that way?)

One of the biggest things I wanted for this New Year was to be more positive. I’ve been cultivating mindfulness and gratitude throughout the pandemic as a way to cope with undesired outcomes that we have no control over. And yet, with all that is unpredictable and oftentimes disappointing or upsetting, things are okay for me, and okay for my family. This was proven to me yet again on December 31st, as I was riding the holiday highs and anticipating a fun evening with John’s brother and his girlfriend (two of the only people we ever see now, John’s dad being the third and final). 

We invited them over on a whim, not wanting them to fall asleep at 8pm as was their original plan. We got all dressed up (after a bit of a kerfuffle about whether or not it was worth it, and to be sure, the girls were more into it than the guys) and bought champagne, prepared party poppers to pop at midnight, even had little hors d’oeuvres trays (like, I’m talkin’ pizza bites, I’m talkin’ whimsically holiday-themed candy we bought for super cheap, I’m talkin’ an industrial-size bag of tortilla chips for a single container of hummus).

Everything was set to go great until, just at the wrong time, John and I realized that we had misplaced, maybe lost, my brother and sister-in-law’s Christmas gift to us. Inside had been replacement Victoria Secret pajama pants (remember the ones I threw away in the cat poop bag because they were ripped and then instantly regretted how permanent of a decision it had been? Yep, she sent me a new pair along with a great comfy top), a big bottle of fancy whiskey, and a gift we’d bought for John’s mom but had accidentally sent to their house. Overall, monetarily, the box was worth at least $100, but more importantly, it had gifts in it that we could not replace. 

Both of us were very upset, but we realized it was missing quite literally as John’s brother and his girlfriend were walking in the door. We ran through a couple of scenarios (did we leave it at your dad’s house after Christmas? No, we definitely had it at home. Did we put it somewhere weird? A preliminary search came up bunk. Did we throw it away accidentally a few days earlier when we had gone through a purge of the Christmas boxes in the house? If we had, the trash had been taken out yesterday– John checked the dumpster and everything was gone).

We had a few options. We could spend our whole night ignoring our guests and clinging to this gift that was evocative of a year past, clinging onto something with minor sentimental value and refusing to harken the new year with a clean slate, or we could accept that it was gone and there was nothing we could do about it, at least for the time being. Ultimately, this was easier said than done, and there was certainly a tenseness about the night that I did my best as host to cover up with humor and levity, but it was obvious that it was weighing heavily on John and my hearts. After our guests left (they still didn’t make it to midnight– though I wonder if the night hadn’t gotten off to such a weird start, if they would’ve), we sat down and had a little talk about it, took some time to mourn.

I’m pretty matter-of-fact about things. I think it’s one of the things I’ve learned to appreciate about myself, and something that has come with age and experience. If something is not in my control, I try not to waste any time feeling bad about it. Or at least, I try not to let my time feeling bad about it bleed into other aspects of my life. So we sat down, and we talked about it. Talked about how shitty it was that we threw it away, how could that have happened, what did we learn from this? 

Something that served us both well was knowing that we would never forget this event. Strange, how the guilt over losing something important transforms into a positive memory– a reminder to be more aware, more present in our everyday lives, to take stock of the things around us and appreciate what we have and the place we’re in now. There have been two other times in my life that I’ve lost things and felt this same sense of serenity, an embrace of the inevitable and unchangeable, coupled with the sense of guilt that (I hope) prevents me from making the same mistake in the future.

The first time was my senior year of high school. My family was preparing to move, and we were purging from our house all things that need not be. Amongst the bustle and the desire to get rid of things as quickly as possible, before the sentimentality kicked in, I lost my class ring. It was the first expensive thing my parents had ever bought specifically for me. Around $500. And I loved that ring, I wore it every day. I still have no idea what happened to it, where it could’ve gone, how I could’ve possibly misplaced it. We literally tore the room apart (putting in new flooring), and it was gone. All I can hope is that someone, whilst opening a bag or perhaps examining a knick knack they’d purchased from Goodwill (where all my family’s old things go to gain new life), found my ring and used it for good, somehow. I hope they sold it and got some good money out of it, or maybe they kept it because they’d lost theirs, too. 

The second time was in this same apartment– an ode to the forgetfulness and trance-like state the pandemic has created in many of us. We had just found a Chemex pour-over coffee thing (it looks like a big hourglass except that the top part is open)– a vintage one at a garage sale! It was the perfect timing. I’d just started to get into coffee in Korea and was hoping to pick up brewing as a hobby. We used it for a month, maybe two. We’d never found a good place to set it out to dry. It was always ending up in weird, precarious places, only to be found by one of us and moved to a ‘better’, often similarly precarious position. This time, it was perched on our toaster oven next to our electric kettle.

Not thinking, I opened the cabinet directly above the toaster and while it just barely missed the top of the kettle, a fact I assumed would apply to the similarly-sized Chemex, it hit the Chemex straight on the head and knocked it off the countertop, shattering it into, quite literally, a million pieces on the floor. I haven’t been so upset in a long time. I told my fiancé to leave the room, or I would start blaming him for something that was truly the fault of my carelessness, with perhaps 15% culpability of my fiancé for putting it in a bad position. He barricaded himself in the bedroom, thankful for an excuse not to get involved. I literally cried as I swept up the wreckage of my newfound hobby, playing angsty music as my tears mingled with the glass. Later, we would do yoga and I would badly cut my foot on a piece of glass that had embedded itself in my yoga mat. There are still blood stains stretched across the cork material of my mat, a constant reminder to BE PRESENT when I’m doing yoga, but during other times, as well.

Question 2: How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?

I think that leads to a pretty natural segue into the third prompt for this month, so I’m going to skip telling my story to a stranger. I don’t think I would tell them any of this, anyway.

Question 3: This year has been the most consequential year of our lifetimes. What have you learned? What have you learned about yourself? About society? What do you hope to bring with you to 2021?

Change, even when it seems 99% negative, can always be welcomed into our lives. It makes for a much easier transition. Resistance is futile. The world is going to continue turning with or without us, whether we support the speed or direction of its trajectory. It’s better to accept reality and learn to adapt than to get left behind in the “good ole days”– just a phrase for times when life went exactly as we’d planned for it to go. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never had to deal with that much hardship. I’ve created a lot of hardship for myself, for sure, but the world has never really thrown anything at me that I couldn’t make the best of. My boyfriend says it’s a perspective thing, that because I’m an optimist (I’d say optimistic realist), I’m more easily able to accept what I’m given with a positive mindset. I think that accounts for maybe 25% of all the situations I’ve dealt with. The truth is, I’ve been very fortunate. Things in my life just tend to work out in one way or another, even if it’s different than the result I originally had in mind. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to let loose of some of the control I once craved. Became even more absurd, if I had to choose a philosophy. Once you realize that your life, in the grand scheme of things, is inconsequential, you start understanding how freeing it is to be able to make decisions without blowing them out of proportion. Or, as is the case with this year, you learn to accept the decisions that have been made for you, the ones you have no control over. Why waste time agonizing over what could’ve been when what is and what will be are far more nebulous and exciting? For the first time in my life, I’ve started to focus more on NOW.

In my youth, I was obsessed with the future. What will I do, what difference will I make, how and when will I ever be happy? In my early adulthood, I was preoccupied with the events that brought me here. How did my upbringing feed into my neuroses? My trauma into the decisions that brought me here? How different would I be if I had never endured the things I endured? Sure, exploring the past and the future helped me learn a little more about myself, but it was a self that WAS, and a self that PROBABLY WOULD NEVER BE. Instead, the pandemic and its absolute unpredictability has forced me to look at myself in this moment. Am I going to be grateful for today, or am I going to __________________. It’s strange. Just a year ago, I would have filled that blank line with thousands of anxieties about times so far removed from our own. Now, I can’t even think of an alternative. I’m going to be grateful for today. I have no choice. And that’s okay. 

My perspective on society is infinitely more bleak (sorry, not sorry). Empathy is something I talk a lot about in my daily life. Empathy, mindfulness, and gratitude are the three main features that lead my life. Many of them have been gifted to me by my students– immigrants and refugees who came to America seeking a better life. I don’t know all of what my students have been through, but I know if I ask them if they’re having a good day, they always say ‘yes’. Even if they continue to talk about their day and they tell me that they and their whole family has COVID, that their cousin just died, and that they found out that the rest of their family will not be able to come to the US because of the strict immigration laws passed by the former President. I tell them “I’m sorry.” They say, “it’s okay. Everything will be okay.” And they believe it with such a resilience and vigor that I come out of every class feeling empowered to deal with my own problems, insignificant and completely in my control. I come out of every class feeling GRATEFUL. 

But also feeling jaded and cynical. How has our world gotten this way? How is it that we have so many needy people in the world, and so few people who believe we have any obligation to help them? This year has shown me what a great lack of EMPATHY there is in our world– although I admit, I see it mostly in the great country I legally, with gratitude mingled with guilt, call home. I see it in family, who talk about others with words I’ve never heard before, riddled with historical hatred and ignorance. I see it in strangers, who shout about not wanting to wear a fucking mask even though you see, the issue isn’t that you don’t care about getting sick, it’s that others around you are concerned. I see it on the news, where stations villanize each other and the people that consume the content, regardless of the fact that both sides spit fire from their forked tongues and call it justice. I see it in the rhetoric we use to talk about each other, in the way we don’t look others in the eye now, in the way that I cringe when someone gets too close to me at the post office. Our country, our world, is divided right now. Divided by politicians who have too much to gain and by us, followers of whatever ideology we believe is JUST, who have too much to lose. The goal was never for anyone to win. It was just for everyone to fight. 

I don’t know what 2021 will bring. My gut tells me more unrest, more fighting, more stalemates. My heart tells me I’m not ready to deal with that. At this point, all I can do is be grateful, be present, and be fair to the citizens of the world.