Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day 100

We’re an hour past the exact centenary of the end of World War I. The Armistice was scheduled for 11 AM GMT on 11/11/1918. All the soldiers who actively participated in that miserable multi year slog through mud, barbed wire, and mustard gas are dead. The remaining veterans of the resulting Second World War, just a generation later, are all passing quickly. Would that we could only humbly recall, and not grossly imitate. 

But, to my mind, the major powers of today have been setting a course for outright conflict for so long (given the pattern of scores and centuries, mass miseries, unsubtle pressures, and proxy wars) that the third such international war is to be expected in the next few years. It’ll be a mess, with no definite safe harbors—I hope I am only hereby making my first successful stab at science fiction!—but I’d much rather spend my middle and senior years in peace.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Insignificant Others, Mated Souls

A double swag of colorful pipe cleaner penises were hung above the sliding door, so low that you had to bend over to avoid hitting your head on them. I had thought about coming to the Eighties party, but the decorations turned me off. These peculiar festoons were the handiwork of Maxwell’s girlfriend, an art teacher at a local high school. Her tastes are...interesting. Her classically themed ink sketches are pretty good, but the paintings she’s long labored over are all slightly perverse, yet somehow sterile and unsexy. A stuffed animal in a gynecological position is just weird. Likewise sleek one dimensional women with spinning vinyl eyes. I am not a fan.

Maxwell finally got around to telling her—just two weeks ago!—that he was planning to shut up shop here in March and move away, at least to Jeju-si, and possibly overseas. They had a fight the next day, and she kicked him out of the house for two nights, so he had to sleep at a sauna. Whatever her tastes and personality, I consider her justified in her reaction—the “Oh, by the way, we’ve been living together for almost a year, but I am quitting my job and leaving town in a few months, just so you know” belated casual revelation is a bit much for most women to handle—and does she know he considers their mercurial relationship “not serious”?! To know someone personally, physically, to establish an emotional and social relationship of sufficient force that you are not merely sleeping together, but living together, how can that be brushed aside as “not serious”? I know many people do this often, but it’s got to generate character scars. Human beings aren’t supposed to be short term investments. Souls aren’t for sale.

How can you dismiss this intimacy as “casual”? The two terms are antithetical. Yes, it is certainly easier to bare your heart to strangers in some ways—you figure that even if they judge it badly, you are otherwise unknown to them, and can escape relatively unscathed. This is the idea behind some psychological treatment. It’s certainly the modus scribendi which enables my poetry submissions, the notion that these creative efforts will succeed or fail on their own merits, and that blind judging will spare my worst sins from the public and my name from private embarrassment. It’s an emotionally buffering business relationship. So maybe my spirit is for sale, just so long as my body and soul are divorced from it?

Come to think of it, perhaps this explains the sort of relationship a lot of people have with (in)significant others. They feel they need the physical interaction, and they find the other person sufficiently interesting that they can live (more or less) peaceably together. But their intent is to isolate their souls (whether they recognize the soul as an entity or not), and they don’t take the other person’s undying soul into account either. And so they can always be on the lookout for that elusive contemporary creature, the “soulmate.” And upon apparent recognition of this individual, they are emboldened to quit the circumstances that had previously satisfied them. This is the certainly the narrative that drives a lot of romantic fiction and justifies unfaithfulness in a modern developed world social context.

And this is a point on which the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches may well demonstrate more wisdom than most Protestant denominations, given the formers’ maintenance of marriage as a sacrament. They recognize that sexual intercourse is not just the types cataloged in Kinsey studies, but a spiritual experience. Whether or not it feels heavenly or hellish. “

“Who are you sleeping with?” may seem an impertinent question for a proper pastor, but one whom I greatly respect remarked (during a sermon, no less) frankly that in his experience, when once-observant Christians suddenly are full of vocal doubts about central theological issues, it’s often associated with their choice of an illicit sexual partner. He acknowledged that certainly, there were those people with genuine, independent questions, who really wanted to understand why we believe what we believe and who were beset at points with doubts, but he also had noted a general tendency of physical infidelity to parallel spiritual infidelity. I’ve seen the same.

 True, there are more motivations than just base lust for unchastity. A manipulative person who preys on the vulnerable. Loneliness, sadness. Heck, dealing with horrific insomnia has led me to do a whole raft of stupid things, just in hope that they might kick me over into unconsciousness (sleeping around hasn’t been one of them, but my condition has given me much more sympathy for people who find themselves in tough circumstances). It’s so tempting to buy in the adult fairytale that a fling will either energize your marriage or your individual life. Horse puckey. You end up literally and metaphorically screwed.

At any rate, in even our social relationships, but absolutely in the most intimate ones, the condition of our soul with regard to God ought to be paramount, and so ought we to care for the condition of others. I was reading Genesis the other day, and the whole Edenic “naked and unashamed” ideal, that of being truly known in all ways and accepted, is a universal rational desire. But it’s impossible without Jesus, and will not be fully realized, even among his followers, until his return. Nonetheless, Christians, in their marriages, are supposed to represent the mystery of The union between Christ and his Church. The institution is so important (and to me, more than a little terrifying in all its theological gravity) because the man and woman are to be mated souls. This union can be broken and reconstituted only under certain circumstances and with enormous caution.

One of the great tragedies of modern life, religious and secular, is the failure to recognize the ramifications of having de facto become someone’s soulmate. Ultimately, though, the mystery of atonement is that Jesus is the one soulmate we need, whether we’ve lived sexually profligate lives or celibate ones.

Print Silence

I am operating under the pleasant assumption that no news is good news. No word from the contracted Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands publisher, none from the 42 magazines to which I currently have outstanding poetry submissions, and none from Priya (whom I know to be swamped, but who hopefully has gotten some time to sketch here and there over the last few weeks) about the various versions (English, Russian, and Korean) of the children’s story I'm hoping she'll be able to illustrate.

I guess it's a breather, given the steady stream of negatives that have come my way of late.

Of course, not all changes in plans are unwelcome! A delightful lady from my adult class asked me to go to a classical music concert and then to the island’s annual citrus festival with her today. We went to the concert, which was free at the local arts center—the musicians almost outnumbered the audience members (weekday morning concerts are not likely to be well attended, given the work culture here, but I was grateful to hear some good live music)—and then tried to find the festival. We got misdirected to the Citrus Museum, but they had a nice outdoor seating area where we ate a delicious picnic lunch, and then we went inside for a hot water citrus and essential oil foot soak ($2.50 per person). So wonderfully relaxing! Then she took me home and I was able to get a deep nap for almost two hours before work. It was a lovely end to a loooong workweek.

Tomorrow, I was supposed to hike Hallasan with Reese, but she’s contracted a cold, so who knows what adventures await. If the weather is as nice as today, it’ll be perfect for doing something outdoors.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Thorny Roses

Cyndi is about to drive me round the bend. Every single positive thing has to be couched in a grim context. What could be said in two words must take at least twenty. The students shouldn’t be referred to as boys and girls because this reinforces gender stereotypes—yes, words have power, but neutering isn’t the answer! I can’t remark that a phrasing in an email is inappropriate without (unwillingly) intimating that the recipient doesn’t understand ordinary mortals and having to explain this, while she repeats “well, I wouldn’t know” over and over. It’s like everything must be twisted to negativity. Everything. From food to travel to lesson plans to “how are you today?” even the most innocuous statements are salted with poop. And my attitude is souring in response. I want to be cheerful, and I generally am in class, but in conversation with my colleagues I find my perspective getting more and more unpleasant.

I see so much of myself in Cyndi. We’re quite similar in many respects. I remember doing things and saying things like she does and I wonder if it drove my associates as crazy then as it does me now. I long for sunshine, unqualified joy, a sense of job well done all around, not a constant litany of the shortcomings of the students, not the death’s head popping up at my elbow at odd moments, quothing dispiritedly and incompletely like Poe’s raven. Nothing is satisfactory. Everything has its issues. One cannot merely accept, one must remark, ad nauseum, like a fly buzz or a constant dripping.

I don’t want to be like this. I want to be content in all circumstances, not looking for an opportunity to bemoan the unfairness of my lot. And the more I see this person, the more dissatisfied I become. I think I am going to stay in my classroom, away from the endless complaints and querulous voiced suggestions, where I can think quietly. My morale is being sapped by our daily interactions. And I feel like I am being squeezed between her nonstop lived misery and the distant and unrealizable expectations of at least one of my superiors. It’s distinctly unpleasant.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Voting Day

And BTS won by a landslide.

Oh, and there’s the midterm election on the other side of the planet. In which I was unable to participate—I think this is the first time I have ever missed out—because I discovered late last week that my “electronic” ballot, to which I was only sent the link two weeks ago, wasn’t really electronic! Instead, it was an electronically delivered paper ballot, which had to be postmarked (having been nestled inside a succession of envelopes, along with my sworn statement) on or before today, and received by Friday. The postal system doesn’t work that fast. I was not happy. I read through the ballot anyway and realized I had no idea who was on it or what they actually stood for, so there it was. I’m glad tons of people are voting today or did so already—I think everyone I follow on FB posted the obligatory stickered selfie, except for one who said he didn’t care for stickers, but he had voted.

In other news, BTS did a couple of collaborations at tonight’s 2018 MBC Plus X Genie Music Awards with Charlie Puth, who’s one of my favorite balladeers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

My Fourteenth Blog Anniversary

It’s only been 14 years. I’m a month late noting it, but that’s a considerable amount of writing. Hundreds of thousands of words, most relatively coherent.

Wearing a large polyvinyl white chicken on your shoulder doesn’t give the same vibe as carrying a multicolored live parrot, but we do what we can to achieve certain chosen Halloween looks. This one, however, implies more “demented farmer” than “ye olde pirate.” I didn’t actually do this—it was a costume suggestion that sent me off into a fit of giggles.

Instead, I went kind of 1970s show hostess for my role as an MC for three consecutive spelling bees at school this afternoon, part of the annual Fall Festival. Long fuchsia floral dress, exaggerated makeup. I’m exhausted—I went in to help set up at noon, and didn’t get home until 10 pm. No editing tonight, but I have to be back at full strength tomorrow.

Another set of poems has been turned down. I’m devoid of creative vigor the last couple of days—people are just wantonly and deliberately cruel to one another!—and I would like my next work to be more upbeat. Ideally, I’ll have at least four more new pieces ready by Friday so I can mix and match them with revised versions of the rejected set and submit them to different outlets—I’ll be moving into the “C” set soon. Thus far only one “A” and one “B” publication have responded affirmatively.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I’m Like, Cold

I was just told on Thursday that the past two years I’ve been mispronouncing “I like” as “It’s cold” in Korean. This is the equivalent of someone visiting the US and saying he or she wants “lice” to eat at a restaurant. It’s generally understood what you really are trying to say, but it marks you as a non-native. In Korean, “I like” (조아요) is “JO-ah-yo” and “It’s cold” (추워요) is CHU-wah-yo. I’m glad I learned this before I went on a 10 mile hike yesterday up and down Seongpanak trail, since there were lots of hikers and many of them were remarking on how cold it was, and I would have been puzzled at all the love in the air.

The hike was gorgeous, but ferocious, a virtually uninterrupted climb mostly over boulders for four miles to the top of an oreum just below Hallasan peak. There’s a grave there, near the highest observation platform, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for the family members who have to make their way up the equivalent of more than 130 flights of stairs (by my IPhone’s calculation) to pay their respects multiple times a year. And they have to haul up ceremonial brass dishes, foods, and drinks, too! Reese, with whom I was hiking, pointed out that until the trail was put in not too long ago, they’d had to slog through the woods.

The tree leaves have passed their peak on the mountaintop, but there was still enough color to be beautiful, and dark and white clouds were racing across the blue sky, which constantly changed the view. The wind roared in the branches. At the trailhead, a flock of ravens was called out “Seongpanak, Seongpanak” and circled above the treetops.

I love autumn.

We did not see any boars, but there were several warnings about them.

Panoramic view from the top.

Everyone but me (in my khaki cargo pants) was dressed in bright hiking gear--I told Reese I felt like I'd been dropped into a fashion catalog.

The descent was something of a controlled fall--and, occasionally, an uncontrolled fall, as my ankles turned under me tottering down the rock trail, but I managed to land on some nice soft mud and not hurt myself--this photo makes it look much less treacherous (more smooth and less steep) than it was!

The air was fresh and clean and cool, the woods pretty, thin and fluttery.

The leaves looked like stained glass windows in a cathedral with the light shining through them.

I was so glad I’d been faithfully getting to the gym—altogether we walked more than ten miles, and climbing down was as hard as climbing up. My muscles are fine, but my knees are killing me.

We ate hot noodle soup at a Japanese restaurant afterwards, and you’d think that after having been awake for 32 straight hours, plus all that exercise, I’d have slept. But no. I dozed off for three hours and then was wide awake again. Finally, I broke down and took a sleeping pill. I finally had a good night’s sleep, but I missed church. I do not like missing church.

Just got word on Wednesday that Comcast/Xfinity was raising my rates on Internet service by more than a factor of five. For about two years I had been quite happy with the service and with its price, and now they had to go and muck around with it. I called to cancel my service, and they had the gall to (very politely and intractably) explain that the “best rate” now that they could find for me was triple what I had been paying. So I followed through on my threat to cancel. And then they went ahead and charged my credit card for the new rate. I called to see about this, and they assured me that the balance will be refunded once the account is finally closed in several days. Of course, this leaves my sweet cat sitter without web access, which is a necessity these days, and she cannot afford to get it on her own, as she is still paying off serious debt. So, basically Comcast screws over the poor. I could keep paying on her behalf until this change, but they’ve made this impossible. In prior confrontations with this monopoly, their sales department has always called me afterwards to offer better rates, but this time, this hasn’t happened. I guess they don’t need the business from a private individual who always pays on time.

I got a couple more poetry rejection letters this week, and another acceptance (which was of two pieces). I hope the latest webzine isn’t just simply desperate for any and all material, but I am not going to complain.

Reese and I plan to go back up Seongpanak, all the way to the Hallasan peak, in two weeks. We will have to leave really early in the morning, since visitors are required to start their descent by 2:30–they don’t want people on the mountain in the dark. It’s going to be a serious hike. I hope my knees survive.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


I am so behind the times, that referring to a neighbor’s party, I asked if he had been queuing up at a playlist for the event, forgetting that it is now possible not merely to eschew physical records and tapes, but to avoid the effort of creating any sequence at all, given that one can merely select from an infinite number of preestablished or computer randomized groups of songs already tailored to your tastes.

Also, I don’t listen to music much. I prefer silence. I don’t want a soundtrack or background noise to most of my alone time. Sometimes I work with earplugs in for blissful quiet hours, with all neighboring thumps, the blurr and trickle of my dehumidifier on the left and the purr of the air purifier on my right smoothed to nothing by bullets of absorbent foam. Thus, there is no fierce jazz in my poems, no sacred rhythms in my attempts to capture moving spirits.

An editorially minded friend rightly pointed out that I do not need to describe everything in terms of another. I embroider when plain stitching would serve. It’s a bad habit derived from an early reading of too much Victorian literature: including uncomfortable frills and furbelows on rhetorical furniture that make relaxing difficult.

I greatly fear that I am either being terribly sloppy with or (contrarywise) overediting my prose as well as my verse. At some point I just have to say, “Hell with and heaven bless it” and punch the send/post button, or I would never, ever finish anything. And given my relatively wide reading in literary criticism over the last several years, I find myself creating verse material that I think will sell, incorporating images that I don’t particularly like, just because I know they will evoke the canned approbation which reflexively greets such nonsense these days. On the other hand, iambic tetrameter isn’t burning up the woods in popularity, and grimly cataloging the world’s woes thereby isn’t going to win readers at all. I haven’t sent out much of which I am fundamentally ashamed, but there have been several pieces at whose rejection I have been vastly relieved. I got my twentieth and twenty first form rejection letters just now. I haven’t checked yet to see which items didn’t make it—it’s the middle of the night and I don’t want to turn on my computer.

I have been getting a huge amount of robocalls and email spam lately. I expect my approaching large numbers of publications online has more than a little to do with it. I have flagged more phone numbers and email addresses in the past week for abuse than I have in the past two years.