Decisions, decisions

I don’t think I ever have much choices presented to me, besides froyo and pizza toppings (and even those are pretty limited in Korea). I am presented with an opportunity and either I take it or regret it forever. So, not many choices. Just the decision to say yes.

I didn’t have choices for which college I wanted to go to. I was waitlisted at many and accepted to one, so I went to the one that didn’t second guess me. Three languages were offered at my university: Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. I speak Spanish and I can barely pronounce “thank you” correctly in Chinese, so the only thing left was Japanese. I didn’t have a job in America and South Korea kindly offered me a teaching position. The only decisions to make were “yes” or “no.” There were no other choices in my eyes. I had things to do and places to go, so there was no choice in staying stagnant.

It’s funny to look back at all the things I did or achieved, because younger-me would have simply assumed those things had to happen while now-me is shocked I could have jumped headfirst into things I didn’t really think about. Now that I’m faced with returning home, I can’t help but run through all the possible terrible outcomes that could happen: no job, no home, no money, and loans to pay. Younger-me would have just said “Yes, it’s time to go home,” and that would have been that. Now-me is plagued by the inability to say “yes.” I can only think of reasons to say “no.”

Even though I’ve made the decision to return home, I hope that I can come to really love that decision before I leave in September. I want to be happy, I want to positive, I want to know that there was no other choice, because this was meant to be. I know a part of me feels that way, but I want every fiber of my being to be on board with that decision, regardless of the risks, regardless of what could go wrong.

It’s time to go home.

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Imperfections

After twenty-four years of living with a mole by my lower lip (and having it confused for dirt or chocolate for just as long) I finally decided to get it removed. It never actually bothered me. When someone made a comment, it was easy to answer “it’s just a little mole.” Actually, I’d never been bothered by any of the moles on my body, not even the two on my face. They were just things that happened to exist.

But something changed in the last few months. I wondered what it would be like to have a clear face, without the mole by my lip, or the other mole on my chin. Sure, they looked fine, but I would probably look just as fine without them. And no one would ask if there was leftover chocolate on my lip.

So I made the decision to get them removed. Ten bucks a pop at the plastic surgery clinic in the downtown area of the city I live in. No scars. For a week, I had to place a little bandaid on the areas to keep them from infection and harmful UV rays. When the bandaids came off a week later, I was surprised to find myself a little regretful. My face was clear, but it was not the one I was used to. I felt like I should have just left things well enough alone. My face was fine. The moles, as tiny and insignificant as they were, made my face my own. Now I couldn’t really go back.

I went through pictures to see how I felt about the mole on my lip. The more I looked, the more I realized that tiny blip actually bothered me. While I’ve had some people comment that my lips are just “too big,” I’ve always appreciated their perfect shape. But in the pictures, I started noticing a little dot that would mar my look, especially when I wore lipstick. It surprised me I never noticed it before. But in all these pictures, whether I was smiling or not, there was dark spot, tiny but there, like camera lint or an accidental miss when cleansing. It did annoy me.

After a few weeks, the mole by my lip revealed it hadn’t been totally lasered off into oblivion. I sat one night in front of my vanity, searching my reflection to mark off all the things I didn’t like, that I would change if I could. I was surprised to find myself making a long list, a list I hadn’t really sat down to think about since I’d been in high school. I was shocked that I felt so bad about the person reflecting back at me, after spending most of my college years trying to love her.

I made the decision to go back to the clinic to get the last bit of the lip-mole removed. They asked me if I wanted to remove the Dracula-bite-mark looking moles on my neck removed, too. Laying down on the plastic covered cot, I told them no thank you, just the one is fine. I’ll keep living with the other imperfections just fine.

turn, turn, turn

taken in daejeon, south korea
taken in daejeon, south korea

It was around this time four years ago that I was invited to my first hanami at a local park in Nagoya. I was twenty years old, on the study-abroad high, so excited to meet my new friends and enjoy the slow transition of winter into spring.

I’d had my first glimpse of sakura back home in New York three years before that, and I was ready to see them again in their home. My friends and I went to the local convenience store, bought some snacks and alcohol, then ventured over to where we would have our little picnic. We carefully laid our spoils over our blankets, and those of us who wore skirts arranged ourselves skillfully on the ground. The sakura trees loomed over us, a pale pink canopy of transient beauty, even if the day itself was a little cloudy. When the wind stirred, it would send petals floating down in a slow dance. As I sat there watching from my blanket on the dewy grass I suddenly felt as if I understood the fleetingness of life.

In The Tale of Genji, the theme of mono no aware is laced through the entirety of the 1000-page novel. The transience of things like beauty, youth, or the sakura is as unavoidable as the sadness that comes with witnessing their passing. As the petals danced around me and fell to join their crushed siblings on the ground, their life only a few short weeks, I knew I had to enjoy the few months I would have in Japan because that time was sure to end soon, and I would be left to remember that time with a wistfulness unrivaled by no one.

Four years later, and no spring season can go by without my thoughts returning to Japan. I remember my friends, the seemingly endless days spent going to school in the morning and having the afternoon to do as I please, the nights spent studying at a cafe or drinking with people from all over the world. I remember talks that ran for hours, the hazy summer afternoons I would spend biking, the first time I went to a hot spring and couldn’t look anyone in the eye, and the next few times where I couldn’t care less. I remember laughter and a joy that seemed to overflow from my heart. Those days I’ve lost to the past, those days that remain only in my memory. Those days.

Alma Mater

Let’s be honest: I might think of myself as an old fart (I mean, I’m in bed by 10pm almost every night) but it has been less than eight years since I was in your shoes, just about to graduate high school. I was staring up at this woman talking about her struggles as a female engineering student, how hard it was for her to be taken seriously, how hard she had to work, all the while wondering what that had to do with me. Now that I’m older, I can understand where she was coming from with trying to help us realize that the path we had our eyes set on may throw the occasional bump or two (or three hundred) in our way. Still, even today l don’t understand what her life story had to do with me. What I wanted to hear was advice. What I wanted to know was what to expect. What I needed was the reassurance that even when things were tough, I–not her–would be able to make it through.

You are woefully unprepared for college. Not because your education is inadequate–although yeah, it totally is–but because you and I have been fed all the possible lies in the known universe about what college is like. Sure, professors might not really care if you turn in homework or not, but they will keep track. I mean, why else would they give it, even if it is busy work? Attendance is important. I automatically failed a class if I missed more than three days. You don’t have to take notes, but you’ll fail without them. You can go to your dream school, even if it costs an arm and a leg, but do you really want to, knowing that you’ll spend the next twenty years afterwards trying to pay off the ridiculous debt you’ve accumulated? There are parties, but partying and drinking and doing drugs is an absolutely sure-fire way of failing out of college. Everything in moderation, including the endless amount of cookies available for consumption at your future cafeteria.

You don’t have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. If you have some vague idea, that’s awesome. Good for you. Go with it. Chances are you might change your mind or grow to hate it. If you haven’t the slightest idea, that’s cool too. College is there to help you figure it out by giving you a bunch of chances to learn different things. Explore the possibilities. Take a pottery class. Learn about the way the world works. Read all the ancient literature there is available. Become one with the stars. You might find out that you like something you hadn’t ever tried before. Maybe that will inspire you to be more than you ever thought possible. If the answer still doesn’t come to you, that’s okay. Just go with what you enjoy, otherwise you might burn out.

And if you do burn out, it’s okay. You can take breaks. You can sit and cry and wonder about your life choices. You can call your parents and ask about a year off. You can be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do–and you should. Yet you should also know when you need help. Visit the school’s counselor. Talk to your professors and air your concerns about an assignment or the class or your grade. Talk to your friends and be there for them when they may be struggling, just as they should be there for when you’re having a difficult time. Pause, contemplate, take care of yourself. Mental and physical health is important now and forever. That takes precedence over almost anything. You won’t be able to accomplish your goals if you’re sick in any way, so concentrate on always being at your optimal best.

Finally, high school and the people in it really aren’t that important in the great scheme of things. You don’t have to stay friends with everyone. You will grow up and you will change. You will realize that the things you thought funny will no longer bring a smile to your face. Your friends may remain stagnant and unable to grow out of their high school shells. They might not want to hang out with you anymore. This is all okay because you will meet new people, in college and beyond, and they will all have a place in your life. Some people will enter a chapter and last til the end of the book. Someone might only be mentioned in brief passing. Life is a story and not all characters are relevant, not all will make it to the end of the book, and everyone must change and evolve. The chapter that is high school is now over. A new chapter means the story is moving forward.

Nothing will ever be truly easy. You will face many challenges in all shapes and forms, with classes and people and relationships and bills and loans. Mistakes will happen. But you live and you learn, and that’s what will keep you going forward. Your reward will be having lived as best as you could, treading softly, impacting lives positively, loving and caring and doing good as much as possible. We are here today because our ancestors strove to do better, to correct wrongs, to forgive past mistakes. We have to do the same so our future can live even better. Start by being good to yourself and doing the best you can.

Your future is only what you make of it. Your destiny is yours to determine. Don’t let anyone decide for you. Only you truly know what’s best for you.

Third from the top

murakami

I don’t have many books here with me in Korea. Most of my books I just read on my Kindle, for the sake of space (or lack-there-of, as is the case in my small apartment). But of the few books I do own here, the third book I read was Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Murakami is one of my favorite writers. After discovering him in college (thanks to all of my Japanese friends who insisted I read his work), I fell in love with his expert hand at magical realism. My first experience with his writing was with the short story Super Frog Saves Tokyo, which really blew my mind. With all fiction, you must suspend some bit of disbelief. But Murakami doesn’t care if you do or you don’t; he goes right into it, telling you as-a-matter-of-fact that there is indeed a giant frog in this man’s home, they must indeed save the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo, and they must indeed do this underground while fighting a large, roiling worm. Murakami gives you his magic as if it were just the way the real world works, which is why suspending disbelief for his work comes so easy. Either you do or you don’t, but Murakami sure isn’t going to convince you to do anything you don’t want to.

My senior thesis involved a discussion about literary and genre fiction, and as a writer that primarily deals with the latter, I’ve always struggled with how I want to present my fantastical ideas. I always imagined myself as a fantasy writer, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve started to stray and dip my toes into the world of magical realism; a world like our own but ruled by different natural (and magical) laws even my protagonists might not know about. Discovering Murakami opened me up to that world.

But Colorless Tsukuru strays so far from Murakami’s usual work. In some ways, it reads more like literary fiction, which is not something Murakami seems to work with. I found myself struggling to understand where he was going with this world, waiting for the moments of fantastical events to occur only to realize they were never going to happen, at least not in the way I really expected them too. Maybe that’s why Murakami wrote this book the way he did. He was trying something new. Shame on me for thinking he would perform the same trick. As an amazing writer, he probably wanted to try something new.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to grow as a writer myself, which is why I’ve started this blog. In an attempt to get myself back into writing everyday, just like I used to in high school and my early college years, I’ll be writing here using prompts WordPress published in 2013 (I’m sure there’s a 2015 version…). Maybe I’ll be able to come up with some original work, but mostly I’ll just be blogging… if only to get some words down on something. Here’s to more writing!