Category Archives: life

On Keeping It Inside

Bee

On Monday, I suddenly fell terribly ill. I got up early in the morning, worked out, then BOOM, my health just suddenly turned and I couldn’t go to work. My stomach turned upside down, my chest started hurting, I felt terribly nauseous, I got a fever, and my head felt like it was going to explode for the better part of the day.

I had an especially terrible weekend. I’ve been quietly dealing with depression and anxiety for weeks now, but it just came to a boil a couple of days ago. During my mother-in-law’s birthday, my wife ended up embarrassing me during dinner. She started complaining about me and my lack of Korean skills, and much to my surprise, my brother-in-law and my mother-in-law rose up to my defense. I really don’t mind people talking about me, especially since my Korean is indeed quite poor. But my wife talked about me as if I wasn’t even in the room. And by the time I wanted to talk, by the time I was about to do the one thing she wanted me to do (speak  Korean), she stopped me and said that the conversation has moved on to another topic. How terribly, terribly condescending. I felt like I was trapped in a Cat Stevens song. And really, is complaining about spouses just another interesting topic to talk about and later dismiss on a whim? What should we talk about next? BTS?

When I was young, my father picked on me a lot. He picked on all of his children a lot. I was particularly annoyed at the injustice of him picking on my intelligence when I couldn’t recall him achieving any great heights in life due to his mental brilliance. One particular instance I couldn’t forget was when I was having trouble memorizing the multiplication tables at a young age. As my sisters and I were sharing a snack, it was a can of shredded potatoes called Pik-Nik, he stopped me from eating and told me to go upstairs and memorize the multiplication tables. I don’t get to snack unless I memorize from 1 to 12. It was unnecessarily cruel. What bothered me most about the incident was how jarring it was. It was late in the afternoon, we were having a snack, then he comes home and suddenly tells me to go upstairs and that I don’t deserve anything until I learned my multiplication tables. It sounds quite minor, but as a child, I felt like the biggest idiot in the world. I started thinking that there might have been something wrong with me. And to this day, even though I have long been on good terms with my father, past incidents like that will always remind me that he was not the best person to grow up with. He might have been a good husband, a good friend, or a good leader, but he was never good with children.

That feeling of being inadequate, that feeling of maybe there is something wrong with me, I felt that during dinner with my mother-in-law. Worse, it was casually brought up by my wife who was supposed to be on my side. It made me love my in-laws more and love her less.  God bless those good people! But like a good Catholic, I kept my thoughts and feelings to myself. Why spoil the whole weekend for everyone when it was just me who was hurt?

We spent the night at my in-laws and I tried to be a good son-in-law. Thank goodness it snowed heavily. As lame as it may sound, the cold snow actually brightens my mood a bit. In any case, I kept everything bottled up inside. Then Monday comes, I get ill and the doctors couldn’t give a cause to my downturn other than stress. Stress. This is the first time keeping my depression bottled up inside has made me physically ill.

Worthington Industries, an American metals manufacturing and distribution company announced two years ago that all of its portable helium tanks will only contain 80% helium. If you’re going to get a helium tank, make sure you get 100% helium.

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#MeToo on Atwood

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I’ve been watching Margaret Atwood’s ‘Alias Grace.’ It’s a bit of a slow burn, but after some time, it’s turning out to be a compelling horror story. Horror. It’s a horror being a woman in the not-so-distant past, even in a country like Canada. The story is about a white, Irish immigrant accused of murder and the events that led to her supposed crime. A white woman… granted, she’s an Irish immigrant back in the day when the Irish were suffering from discrimination, but imagine how much more horror there would be should the story be about a woman of color, say an Aboriginal woman in Canada.

This reminds me of the Louis CK joke; that time travel is only suited for white males. Women and minorities do not have the luxury of going back through time and not being in danger of being persecuted. History is too often a horror story for us. It can be very risky if not suicidal to revisit the past.

That’s not to say things have changed much in some cases. Minorities still feel the bitter sting of racism, and women are still constantly victimized by powerful (and even not powerful) men. This #MeToo hashtag has prompted public confessions and accusations regarding sexual harassment. Almost every other day, I see another prominent person being accused of being inappropriate. And that’s just the ones making the headlines. There are of course confessions from ordinary people about what happened to them as well. It would seem that the world is still occasionally a horror story for them as well.

The movement started with women speaking out, but it would appear that it’s not so much as women being victims, but about men taking advantage of their power because there have been confessions and accusations regarding men sexually abusing other men. It would seem that people being in power, who are most often men, is the problem. It’s the power. I guess that’s why it’s often said that rape is not really about sex, it’s about exerting power over another person.

This brings me to what happened to me back when I was fifteen. I was working part-time in an office, taking phone calls. After working in an A&W restaurant, I was glad to work in an office environment, even though I was just taking calls for most of the day. Things were going smoothly, and I was starting to really get used to the routine after school when my supervisor, a woman who was roughly twenty years older than me, leaned close and asked if she could sit on my lap while I worked. I just smiled at the suggestion and acted as if it was all a joke. But I never did return to that place. I wouldn’t want to know where that would lead. I was a child, I was fifteen.

I taught fifteen-year-olds before. I taught sixteen, seventeen, eighteen-year-olds before. I would never make such a comment or say anything that would be confused as such.

So, I guess that’s my #MeToo. Nothing really serious happened, so it didn’t bother me much. I remember I was more in disbelief at what actually happened. In any case, I count myself lucky that that’s the “worst” that happened to me at my most vulnerable in the workplace. I’m guessing most women would have a worse story to tell. In some ways, some people still live in Margaret Atwood’s dark imagination.

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Swallow the Moon

SwallowtheMoon

Too busy for thoughts, but not for art. God bless us all.

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Inktober

Typhon

There is such a thing as too much vacation, too much spare time that your mind gets bored and frustrated that you start seeing all the negativity and unhappiness that you usually block from your mind with work. The things that you’ve drown out with bits and pieces of your soul start to resurface again. You start creating small dramas to entertain yourself. Maybe you set small fires here and there just to test the waters and see that you’re still alive. It’s not to be mean or anything, but the mind just needs a bit of stimulus for no other reason that it needs it. Unfortunately, you end up going too far and that small fire has burst into a barn fire, then to a raging conflagration. Then you’re no longer bored but exponentially more miserable and unhappy, and you still have a few vacation days left, a few more days to make things worse.

God bless work. God bless keeping busy.

And speaking of keeping busy, God bless Inktober. I recently saw an NHK video on Hayao Miyazaki struggling to make his last film, ‘Boro the Caterpillar.’ He was obsessing with animating a furry caterpillar using traditional hand-drawn techniques. Though people were constantly pushing to him new computerized ways of streamlining the process, even showing him an AI that would make its own animations, he insisted that CGI removes the human element, and many things that the artist and the audience sees in nature in terms of light, motion, and life itself, are lost in the computerized environment, and totally missing the signature look of what makes Ghibli films what they are. Things got so heated at one point, that he almost saw it as an insult to have AIs animate what amounted to monstrous figures.

In many ways, I agree with Miyazaki. There’s just something about hand-drawn work that makes it more compelling than ones generated with the aid of computers. The viewer can feel the hand of the artist, the effort. We can see with the artist’s eyes and there is evidence to where his attention lingered. Now these can also be true with CGI images, but they’re often crisp to the point that it feels cold and alien. It can easily be mistaken that I am seeing an interesting image made by a computer instead of me seeing an interesting image made in an interesting manner by an artist. An artist. The art in the process is more apparent with hand-drawn works.

This is why, despite me not being active with Inktober, I appreciate that it celebrates and encourages hand-drawn works. It is very tempting to do things via the computer, with drawing tablets getting cheaper and more ubiquitous, and web comics and digital paintings being more popular. But in my opinion, the computer filters out the human touch in creating images. Perhaps it’s the ease in the process of cleaning images up, but it could also be the process of making images on the PC itself.

Coincidentally, the 10th item on the Inktober prompt list is gigantic. This is my interpretation of the Greek giant Typhon.

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The Bechdel Test

Elephant

Take the Bechdel test and apply it to women in real life. You’ll find some women simply do not pass the Bechdel test despite being free from the skewed gender norms in fiction.

Take the test and change men to the person’s significant other, or perhaps their children. Now you have a nice little game waiting for the other person to say, “my wife” or “my kid.”

Keep nodding your head to show you’re paying attention.

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Could be Tomorrow

Lungs

I’m off to Vietnam this week. I don’t know much about the country and its beautiful people, so I’ll talk about The Handmaid’s Tale instead. What a wonderful, wonderful adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s work (a Canadian treasure)! Good job, Hulu! What’s really interesting about the book and the show itself is that if there’s ever a more apt book to adapt for the times, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Being a work of “speculative fiction,” much like books like The Road or Blindness, it doesn’t need much fantasy in order for something to become our reality. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and military dictatorship just needs to marry together, something which humanity has experimented with several times before.

And it’s not like we’re that far off from Ms. Atwood’s fiction. The world is becoming more and more militaristic. Many countries’ police officers are starting to look more like military forces. There’s a loud growing movement of conservatism with their adherence to religious dogma and a distrust of science and news media. And more and more, dictatorial rule seems to be coming back into fashion with many people blindly supporting strong men. Even my father pines for the days of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law and praises the likes of Duterte. The show did a great job of incorporating current trends and technology and making it part of the narrative. It almost screams at the viewers, “this could be you! You’d better do something about it” It’s not enough that we trust our collective goodness as a society. Our hubris, our confidence that several others will do good despite of our inaction, will lead to our eventual downfall. I’d like to believe more Americans are sensible, and yet Donald Trump and his ilk run the country. I was impressed at how friendly, welcoming, and seemingly sensible everyone was the last time I visited the Philippines, but they’re the same people who would deny their neighbors are being killed for their vices, even if it happens almost every day. My workplace is surrounded by people who yearn for the days of dictatorial rule in Korea.

It is scary. It really wouldn’t take much.

 

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Not Talking About Suicide

carnival

I used to occasionally go to suicide forums and talk to people… because why not? Like many people who suffer from depression, the thought of suicide has come to my head, but I’m much of a coward to really give it too much serious thought. It was more like, “if I’m going to kill myself, I’d do it this way” or “if this happens, that would be the thing that would make me go ahead and kill myself.” It was a thought experiment more than anything else. But as for the forums, occasionally I would read people’s posts. They were mostly young people, complaining about their lives, or people frustrated by their significant others. It’s rare, but sometimes, I would respond back. Instead of being a community of people seeking help before they do what they shouldn’t, I think it’s really more a community of people just trying to get their voices heard. It’s a place where a person can say their troubles instead of being deconstructed or given solutions to their problems. There was no judgment. It was a place that tells people that they are not insane, nor are they alone. That there’s nothing new under the sun and that they’ll get through whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. I suppose I might be accused of being a tourist for being there, but for a time, it really helped me with my depression. It felt good telling a complete stranger that things we’re going to be alright.

I live in a place where suicide is quite common place. People often regard Japan as one of the suicide capitals of the world, but really, South Korea has it beat. Even the former president committed suicide and in some ways normalized the whole thing. But as horrible as South Korea is when it comes to its suicide statistics and the reasons for why so many people are committing suicide (societal pressures, money troubles, elderly depression, stigma against seeing psychiatric help…) it surprised me to learn that Canada isn’t doing too well when it comes to suicide either.

Canada’s in the thirties when ranked with other countries. But when you look at that ranking, it disguises the fact that some communities are more susceptible to suicide than others. Aboriginal males are six times more likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal males. In 2000, out of 100,000 Aboriginal males, 126 committed suicide. For non-Aboriginals, it was 24. If you consider the size disparity between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities, the suicide rates affecting small areas in the country is staggering. It’s gigantic compared to the suicide rate in South Korea (27 out of 100,000).

What’s shameful is that with countries like South Korea and Japan are actively doing things to help stop their suicide epidemics in the face of the horrible statistics. The police are patrolling suicide-prone areas, and there are groups which monitor vulnerable people. People are talking about the problem and how to deal with it. And while Canada has been helping some communities deal with depression, addiction, and mental health issues, I’m not sure if we’re doing enough to help prevent the high rates of suicide. I think it’s such a non-issue with the average Canadian that I wouldn’t even be aware of the problem if I didn’t have an interest in it myself. Clearly, present-day efforts are not enough for Aboriginal communities. There are initiatives that help them deal with problems once they are already dealing with them, but I’m not sure if Canada is doing enough to help prevent depression and mental health issues from developing in the first place. Now I’m not saying that South Korea and Japan are doing a lot more than Canada to help their citizens have more fulfilling lives to help prevent suicidal thoughts (I don’t think they are, they’re just doing more to keep people from committing the act), but I think Aboriginal communities are much more susceptible to this problem that it’s something the country should address. After all, much of the First Nations’ woes have been the result of its history with the Canadian government.

 

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On Kids

Rat King

It’s hard enough trying to make one person happy. Try making two people happy. Or how about three? If you are good at making people happy, then by all means, go ahead, have kids. If you’re having enough trouble trying to make one person happy, then don’t do it. Kids won’t strengthen your relationship with your significant other. If anything, a child would add more responsibility and could potentially make you feel more trapped in an already claustrophobic relationship.

Take a friend of mine for example. I’ve known him since high school. I’ve never heard anyone ever speak an ill word about him. He’s always been very friendly, knows almost everyone, and is always ready with a joke or two, trying to make people smile. He was good that way. It was easy to be friends with him, and he’s one of the few people from my childhood I still occasionally keep in touch with. Anyway, it is no surprise to me to learn that he now has a second child… a second child with a woman who has a child of her own as well, making it three children under his care.

My first thought was that the whole situation is quite the undertaking, especially in this economy. Who can afford to raise three children? Not only that. People these days are now more focused on themselves after years of doctors, experts, and the media extolling the benefits of introspection and self-love. I believe we are not as selfless as out parents and our grandparents’ generations. Who has time to care for children? When can a person fit child-rearing between work, hobbies, exercise, social life, Netflix, social media, self-improvement, self-fulfillment, etc.? I focused more about his time, his own personal needs. I forgot to think about his partner’s needs, his children’s needs. And maybe all the other things I focus more on when thinking about his situation is truly secondary to everything else. It makes me feel small to think that way, like I’m a proper selfish dirt bag.

This is why I admire that friend, and all of my sisters for that matter. They have more of themselves to give that just making their spouse happy just wouldn’t be enough. Not only are they better with managing time and money that I could ever be. They are much more generous and better in dealing with other people and making them happy than I am. As I said, it’s very difficult for me to keep one person happy. I’m not that smart, or perhaps I’m just built with so many failings and weaknesses. I can’t imagine being good enough, responsible enough, to bring a child into this world, much less two or three. I’m just not that big of a person.

 

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Marriage Advice

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Today is my wedding anniversary. Today is also my parents’ wedding anniversary. As content as I am with my marriage, I can’t really recommend marriage for everyone.

I’m not saying that my marriage is better than most. I can’t even say that I’m particularly good or content at being a husband. I’m just more realistic about it. It’s challenging, and the good days are coupled with the bad. The problem is, instead of being objective at viewing the bad days, you either blame your spouse and drive a wedge between the two of you, or blame yourself which drives you to depression. And as hard as it is not to do either, sometimes the thoughts just linger there at the back of my head, like a tiny cancerous cell.

So why the negative? Well, as content as I am with my marriage. It is the marriage I think that I deserve. It is the relationship that a person like me, with all of my talents and failings, am worthy of, or perhaps even extremely lucky to have (depending on how much of a scumbag low life I think I am at the moment). I think people come in to marriage with visions of roses and a path paved with rainbows. And that’s when it starts falling apart. Nothing in life is that sweet. No prince charming will sweep you off your feet and take care of everything and make you happy. You can’t marry a sex doll who will also appreciate your personality, feed your intellect, and help support you financially. You get married if you finally find someone who can put up with you, someone that’ll make you happy now and then, someone that will put up with your inadequacies, a roommate that you won’t totally hate. That sounds like a low standard for marriage, but it’s actually quite a tall order if you look at it realistically. Just looking at the roommate standard, I’ve had roommates before, and many of them I liked, but there’s a tipping point to some of the things I won’t put up with and vice versa.

So what’s my advice regarding marriage? Don’t do it to make yourself happy. This applies especially to Korean women my age. Marriage won’t make you happy. You get married, because deep in your soul, for whatever reason, you have to wake up with that person next to you every day, until one of you dies and leaves the other person broken hearted until they pass away as well. It has nothing to do with happiness. It’s about filling a place in your life that is both joyous and miserable. You do it, because you have to do it. I guess that’s my roundabout way of describing a soulmate. A soulmate fills a void in your life; they don’t necessarily make you happy. Find happiness somewhere else. Then let marriage complement or complicate that happiness. Don’t confuse marriage and happiness for the same thing. Otherwise, the minute you start being unhappy, you start blaming your spouse. Going back to the roommate analogy, I never blamed my roommate for my unhappiness. My unhappiness was all because of me.

Of course this is just me talking about marriage without taking children into consideration. I don’t have kids, so I wouldn’t know how that factors in. I love children, but I couldn’t imagine having them myself. I think I’d make a good uncle but a terrible parent. Perhaps having children would make marriage more fulfilling, but I’ve seen marriages not survive despite couple having several children. Perhaps children help marriages, perhaps they don’t. But I wouldn’t want to risk having children in an unhappy household. And if the statistics are accurate, despite what your Facebook feed might tell you, more than fifty percent of marriages end up in divorce. Out of the other half that survives, how many of that are unhappy? How many of that has children. The stakes are just too damned high.

And before there’s any confusion regarding my own happiness with my marriage, let me answer that question. Today, I am happy with my marriage.

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We’re all John B McLemore Sometimes.

1 Goat

S-Town, from the makers of Serial and This American Life, is a glorious podcast. What started out as a crime mystery in a rural town quickly becomes an examination of tortured existence. It was good podcast to listen to after finishing Missing Richard Simmons. Both podcasts deal with examining people who have grown uncomfortable with the lives they lead. Though Richard Simmons claim he’s living well and is comfortable with how his life is, the podcast certainly explored the idea that he’s currently living a life of torture, either as someone who’s held captive, or someone who has grown tired pushing himself to creating a persona that has gone out of control. In any case, it didn’t get as dark as S-Town got. Both podcasts remind me of the Hammerstein line from ‘Ol’ Man River’ – “I’m tired of living, and scared of dying.” We all get tired of living. I can honestly say that I’ve been having more and more days where I am just tired of it all. Not enough to end everything, of course. I’m too much of a coward for that. But at one point on June 22, 2015, John B. McLemore got so tired of life’s slow, mundane misery, that he was no longer scared of dying.

Now, the podcast explored many reasons for John’s depression: his family life, his sexuality, his grief over his dog, his frustrations with his town, his obsessions with global ills, mercury poisoning, etc. It was evident that John was actually surrounded by people who are his friends, not just in his hometown, but throughout the world via the Internet. He is, after all, one of the world’s foremost experts in restoring antique timepieces. But despite not being alone, he believed he was lonely, to which host Brian Reed asks, “Is there really a difference?”

Despite being in a rather ideal situation, having money, a stable relationship, etc., can a person will themselves to depression and keep their joys to a minimum? It would seem this is exactly what John has done. He hated his town, and yet he stayed. He could’ve been more open with his sexuality, and yet he chose circumstances which kept him in the closet. He lashed at people who were genuinely his friends. He became addicted to information on the Internet that was upsetting him. He was constantly giving himself reasons to feel bad, like writing daily notes of self-denial instead of self-affirmation.

I wonder if that’s how things really are. That it can all be boiled down to simple mental exercise. Keep telling yourself that there is a God, and every little event in life would be God’s little miracle in your eyes. Keep telling yourself that you don’t deserve any happiness, and every little event would be proof that you don’t deserve any earthly joy. You are a fuck up, and the world will prove that you are. Why should you be happy when the world is a miserable place and you are miserable yourself. Keep telling yourself you’re lonely despite having good days. For as Brian Reed said, “Is there really a difference?” Perhaps at some point, you’ll get so tired of living, that you will no longer be scared.

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