My grandmother on my father’s side passed away last night. Due to COVID-19, I won’t be able to make it to the funeral. 2020 really knows how to make an impression.
I never met any of my grandfathers. Both of them passed away before I was born, Less than two years ago, my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away in Hawaii. I officially don’t have any grandparents anymore. And my father, he is technically an orphan. As I’m writing this, he’s trying to catch a flight to the funeral, but with COVID-19, quarantines and all, who knows if he’ll even make it. But yeah, as a son, at the very least, he has to try.
It’s been many years since I last saw my grandmother. At the time, she was proudly showing off the dress she planned to be buried in. Even back then, she had a very comfortable relationship with death, and she planned and paid for everything. It was morbid, pragmatic, and in many ways hopeful. Perhaps death isn’t that scary. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned, I haven’t been the best grandson to her; I barely kept in touch. And though I love her, I was mostly absent from her life.
She was an educator, teaching elementary school students. I have some memories of her teaching me some math when I was younger. I remember starting out being notoriously bad at math, although later, it became one of the more easier subjects for me. Maybe it was thanks to her, or maybe it was thanks to a cosmic triangle I wore on my head to make myself smarter.
My grandmother raised my eldest sister when she was young. She was like a second mother to her. When I and the rest of my siblings were born, we had nannies take care of us, but that doesn’t mean my grandmother wasn’t a part of our lives. I still remember her homemade remedies for minor ills which she administered to us when we were young. I always thought of them as superstitious gypsy magic.
Growing up, she hated me playing video games. She said that it would ruin my eyes. Admittedly, back then, my eyes were a bit dry and itchy, and I did blink quite a bit. But right now, I’m the only one in the family not wearing glasses. So maybe it was the opposite. Maybe it made eyes better. Also back when I was ten years old, she taught me and my sisters how to play mahjong. God bless her.
There are more odd stories about my grandmother, including hypnotists, dancing statues, and dead Japanese soldiers, but I’ll just leave that for another time. For now, I would like to remember her as a selfless woman who cared for everyone, made our lives more colorful, and mourned for my mother as if she was her own daughter.
Long weekends are horrible nightmares. They are catalysts for depression. I had half a mind to just jump off a building and kill myself already, but then I figured, I should at least finish the book I’m making before I totally commit. I realize I won’t be missed at all. I’m an incredibly shitty human being. But I like to think that my work would be missed or at least appreciated after I’m gone. At least there’s that. So maybe leave off failed nighttime parkour accidents for a while until I’ve printed a copy of the book I’m working on.
Speaking of works. This latest one was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and the covers of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys novels. I know, the references are ancient and outdated, but I don’t care. In this piece, I tried to draw things which intimidate me to draw, specifically, wheelchairs or anything with spokes, the mirror on mirror effect, pool reflections, and directly referencing another famous work of art. This one references Juan Luna’s ‘Spoliarium.’ Juan Luna, just like me, is also a shitty human being. He shot his Spanish wife and his mother-in-law. I can’t stand him, and I can’t stand how his boring works are venerated. What a piece of shit! But really, almost all good artists are pieces of shit. Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Paul Gaugin… the list is long. Of course, I’m not saying I’m a great artist like the people I listed. I’m pretty certain I will be easily forgotten when I’m gone. But I believe I’m equally a piece of shit like the rest of them.
I’ve been helping a friend’s daughter who is now taking classes in Canada via an online portal. She’s preparing to move there come January. I’ve been helping her with her English and Biology. Recently, I insisted that we start looking at classic books and analyzing them the way high school students do in North America. I didn’t want her to go to Canada and not know books like Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, etc. I also wanted her to familiarize herself with the analytical tradition of studying as well. I notice that most Korean students are trained to memorize and regurgitate facts instead of analyzing them and generating new truths. It was a fortunate if not serendipitous move on my part then that we learned that she’ll be studying Of Mice and Men in a few weeks, a book that we already started discussing.
One of Steinbeck’s themes in the book is the death of a dream and how one becomes part of meaningless cycle of toil and hopelessness. The book was written in 1937, at the height of the Great Depression. In the beginning of the book, it describes itinerant workers toiling during the week and spending all of their money on liquor and women at the local brothels, the cycle continuously repeating, and the men being trapped in the hopeless lifestyle. In contrast, the protagonist of the book, George and Lenny, dream of someday saving up enough money to buy their own farm and raising animals, and most especially, rabbits. By the end of the book, the dream is dashed, and George, not having a dream, presumably becomes just like the other men in the farm, trapped in a cycle of endless labor.
I see where Steinbeck is coming from, but I believe despite his very dour description of life in the 1930s, what he paints is a very idealistic, almost Norman Rockwellian view of how life in America should be, a view that basically hasn’t changed throughout all time. In order to have a successful life, you have to own a home, an idealized home, whatever that means. In George and Lenny’s case, it’s one with animals.
The thing about homes and the dream of homes is that it gives a sense of permanence, literally a shelter that will be there for you and one that will presumably be able to be passed to your children and grandchildren, a legacy that will outlast your very short existence. But how is that dream, or any dream for that matter, any different from the existence of the men in the farm? You work for most of your life, you pay off your mortgage, you spend a few years enjoying retirement, you die. The house and all of your legacy will eventually be whittled away by your descendants until you are but a faded memory. And these descendants will continue on with their own dreams. Maybe all of the work you did made their life a bit better; at least, the house you bought gave them shelter, but you still ended up working everyday and spending most of your life doing something you would rather not do.
Maybe the dream is working in a farm all of your life? Maybe the dream is going to brothels every weekend? That’s not what we have been trained to want all of our lives, but I suspect the dream that Steinbeck envisioned in the book is simply the traditional long-term delayed gratification we’ve all been educated and conditioned to want, as opposed to the short term gratification cycle that the men in the farm enjoy. It’s quite religious almost. Endure the toils and suffering on earth for now; later, you will be rewarded in heaven. Looking back, and since I myself an a recipient of a lifetime of programming and biases, I don’t think I’m qualified to tell which one is better.
I’ve touched up on the topic of death many times before. I remember one time talking about the all too common and simple way of dying by colliding with a planet (basically jumping to your death) and another time talking about how easy it is to harvest cherry seed pits. Recently, I’ve been thinking that all death comes down to three categories: death by evolution, death by biology, and death by physics. Death by evolution is basically all death that involves being eaten by another animal, basically taking part in the food pyramid. It’s probably the most exotic of all deaths since not many people die from getting eaten by animals compared to other forms of death. Where am I supposed to get eaten by wolves in Seoul?
Death by biology is death caused by the failings of our own physical bodies, be it aging, cancer, or any sort of disease. Looking at statistics, it’s what most deaths are: cancer, heart disease, and in 2020, coronavirus. Death by biology is the slowest of deaths and probably the most natural, but it is far from being kind. The atheist argument to the non-existence of a benevolent God is the fact that he allows the existence of childhood cancer and all sorts of natural and unavoidable maladies to fall onto children.
The last category is death by physics. This is death caused by our bodies’ inability to survive the powers of physics, be it the kinetic force of a bullet, or the marriage of mass and gravity when we fall to our doom. I suppose most homicides, at least violent ones, are death by physics. Most people dream of a slow death by biology. Death by physics are often the most jarring of deaths.
Lenny from Of Mice and Men died from physics. George will probably suffer a long death by biology.
So a neighbor committed suicide on Monday evening. She jumped from the 13th floor of the building and landed on someone’s car. This was after a series of fights she and her husband had been having, at least according to the security personnel in the apartment. Apparently, she didn’t pass away immediately, instead, they lost her on the way to the hospital. I only hope she immediately lost consciousness and was brain dead by the time she hit the ground. What keeps most people from committing suicide is the dread of immeasurable physical pain on the way to dying. The thought of suffering through minutes, seconds of dying horrifies me.
Compounding the tragedy, she leaves behind two children, both no older than 10 years old.
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced suicide around me. I still remember a few years ago seeing someone’s leg twitching after falling a mere four floors. What’s always constant through these experiences, and I guess with death in general, is the surreal feeling, the numbness. It takes a while for things to register. For one, it takes me a while to realize that the building will now be haunted, and elevator rides (with the window peeking into every floor hallway) will now be a tad creepier.
Korea is consistently high on the suicide rate list, surpassing its neighbor, Japan. It’s not unusual to hear about high-profile suicides happening. Just recently, I wrote about the mayor of Seoul committing suicide after sexual harassment allegations. I believe these high-profile deaths only fuels more suicides in the country. And as someone who suffers from waves of depression and anxiety, I must admit I occasionally toy with the idea of dying in my lowest state, often approaching dying much like an engineering problem: how does one do it quickly and with the least pain? And I always end up distracting myself or my cowardice overcoming my despair (a win?).
Anyway, there’s been a couple of interesting artsy developments that happened this week (a couple of commissions, being included in a magazine), but a stranger dying close by just kinda overwhelms everything at the moment. 2020 continues to be a shit show.
Back in 2017, a man in BC was eating cherries and he happened upon a couple of cracked seeds. He ended up eating the pits inside He later experienced stomach and chest pains, dizziness, trouble breathing, and disorientation. He was hospitalized and was later found to have symptoms of cyanide poisoning. The two cherry pits, chewed and reacting with digestive juices, essentially produced cyanide in his stomach.
I’ve always heard rumors about apple seeds, almonds, and cherry pits having a bit of cyanide. Later, I learned that so many fruit pits do contain toxins. I guess it wasn’t just me because watching Ozark (Spoilers!), one of the main characters dies after being poisoned with two ground up cherry pits in his coffee. Looking it up online, many people have been curious about cherry pits’ toxicity and “experts” have either been warning that only two pits could kills a person or that one would need to chew around 30 pits in order to get a toxic effect. Fortunately, cherry seeds have a very hard shell and it’s very difficult to crack one inside your mouth. Most people who swallow cherry seeds probably pass them with the toxic pit inside unmolested.
Last Thursday, I bought a pack of cherries. Planting so many cherry seeds, I have experience cracking cherry seeds open. With a vice grip, I got the skill down pat. Looking around online, it seems that 30-40 pits chewed would be toxic to humans. I’ve seen a video of a person eating one cherry pit, so I’m thinking if the body can neutralize one or two pits’ worth of naturally-formed cyanide, 30 to 40 or so would probably overwhelm a person’s liver. Now after an hour of enjoying a bag of cherries, it took me less than thirty minutes to have over forty cherry pits extracted. It’s simply not that difficult. And looking at my harvested pits, they are so small, they look like a handful of pine nuts. I could probably mix them with regular nuts, eat them while mindlessly watching a dumb Youtube video, and I’d be on my merry way.
As written by Hammerstein and Kerr, and famously sang by Paul Robeson, “I’m tired of living, but scared of dying.” The scariest thought is not so much as the quick deterioration from poisoning but the idea of surviving it. Nerve damage, losing organ functions, brain damage, etc. I already wrote a will long time ago, which despite not being the intent, the document reads like a really passive-aggressive suicide note. It would be super awkward to have tried suicide, suffer damages, torture people around, and have them really know what you thought about them. As if life wasn’t unbearable enough.
To a determined person, cracking 30-40 seeds isn’t so much a deterrent. It’s not a hurdle. Chewing the pits might even be pleasant. They might taste good. However, it’s the cowardice. The cowardice is the deterrent.
Here’s a moment. My wife and I were looking around Netflix, trying to decide what to watch over dinner. Koreans are well known for being very reticent and not being direct in their statements. They wouldn’t say “no” or deliver negative news directly, thinking it rude. Instead they would often do the courtesy of finding a workaround to finesse the situation. My wife no longer has patience with me. She is rather blunt in her statements, which can be a tad hurtful at times, but if you think about it, saves me a lot of time.
And honestly, when she says, “I’m not interested in that,” it is actually a microcosm of the many things that we are. Take Netflix for example. Most of the things I watch on that channel, she will never watch. She is not interested in my documentaries, crime series, or “not-so-popular” movies. Likewise, I’m not interested in her Korean reality shows and foreigners reacting to Korean food.
So when she curtly says, “I’m not interested,” to watching Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani’s film, ‘The Lovebirds,’ it really is fine. I’ll just have to turn off my brain and deal with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler in ‘Murder Mystery’ instead. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for other people having a bad time due to my movie choice. Back in 98, I remember being harassed for an hour after watching ‘Rushmore’ with friends who didn’t quite appreciate the charm of Wes Anderson films.
Fast forward to this morning on the subway, already forgotten about Adam Sandler’s vacation disguised as a movie, I decided to check out ‘The Lovebirds’ on my phone. A few minutes in, the two main characters start having a couple’s argument/break up that is all too real. It’s like the writers poked a hole into my psyche and saw the sad husk of a relationship I’ve been living for the past couple of years and encapsulated it in an argument during a car ride.
I’m so glad my wife opted not to watch that film. It would’ve been super awkward watching a reflection of my current stagnant existence. Whew! Elephant in the room avoided! This way, I could continue being quietly depressed.
Alexis Ann Willsborough Poirier is one of my oldest friends. We met back in high school and she is one of the few people in high school I’m still interested in keeping in touch with. I like to think she is one of my best friends.
We went to several hiking and camping trips together. I remember despite her being quite fond of being outdoors and camping, she had trouble starting a fire. I sometimes suspected that my only purpose on those camping trips was to start a fire. But even if that was the case, I didn’t mind. Those early camping trips made me see how beautiful the province was. It also showed me that if worse comes to worse, I could live my life in the great outdoors. I learned that moose without their antlers look like weird aliens from behind. And that bears wouldn’t really bother your camp unless you have a bag of marshmallows sitting outside.
She was the first person to get me into working out regularly. I remember meeting up with her early in the morning and working out in the gym before going to school. She and her sister, Alicia, were quite big with sports and working out, and I just tried to keep up with it. Those gym sessions were also a good way of keeping in touch since at that time I was starting in university and she was still in high school. It was a great excuse to meet, workout, and eat a heavy breakfast which would make all of the workout pointless.
We went to grad/prom twice. This was not for any romantic reason at all. I believe it was more for us and our friends spending key moments of our lives together. One thing I appreciated about Alexis is how much she valued her friends. And she tried to keep our core group together especially for key holidays. Even after I started spending my Christmas holidays overseas while I was in university, we always made it a point to celebrate Christmas dinner together at a later date. Outside of childhood Christmases, those were the best Christmas celebrations I’ve had.
The first time I left Canada for South Korea, she was there with my family to say goodbye to me at the airport. None of my other friends were there. She was. And the times I would come back home, she would try to be there to pick me up. After a while, this became impossible since she moved to another province, but she always made an attempt to see me whenever I’m in the country. And when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, she drove hundreds of miles to see me, even accidentally running over a poor cow in the process.
One of my biggest regrets was not really being there for her when her father passed away. Though it was not sudden and she had some time to slowly process it, I wish I was more present at the time. I remember her and I talking whenever there’s some serious problems in her life, but with her father passing, I really didn’t know where to place myself. What was the right thing to do? Do I simply fly back home? Fly back home to what? To where? Am I intruding? All I could do was just be there on the phone.
Although she wasn’t there for my wedding, she visited Korea once, and we even traveled for a short time in Japan. In Seoul, we went hiking with her fiance, just like old times. The man she would eventually marry is a great guy. I really enjoyed meeting him when they visited. I remember when we were younger, she would say that if her close friends thought that if there was something wrong about the person she was dating, she would end it with him. I’m not sure if I totally believed this, but try as I might, I couldn’t find any disqualifying traits with her future husband. They seem perfect for each other.
She had a small ceremony in her house last year.
She visited Japan again this year and just got back to Canada today. I was invited to come and see them while they were in Japan, but I felt that since it was their honeymoon as well as a trip to introduce the couple to their Japanese relatives, I felt that it was too much of a family affair. I would be intruding. This was the biggest reason I couldn’t see them aside from a myriad other reasons why visiting Japan was not best at the moment. I tried to message her as much as I can, especially since we were on the same time zone, but a part of me wished that I could’ve spent a day or two with my old friend. And now that she’s in Canada again, I could feel that distance again. I’m sure we’ll still bond over hockey long distance, but yeah, the distance is palpable and the Winnipeg Jets last season was not very inspiring.
So why am I writing all of this? For no particular reason. I just miss my buddy.
A friend of mine died recently. A few years ago, he came out with his HIV diagnosis… then a few days later, he confessed his love for me. I’m a cis gender male. He knew this. But it was something he just needed to simply get off his chest. He wasn’t asking for anything, nor was I expected to do anything about it but listen. In the spirit of confessing his health crisis at the time, I suppose it was time for him to come out with his feelings as well.
That was a healthy thing to do.
If you love someone, regardless of what the circumstances are, tell them. It doesn’t have to be reciprocated. We’re all grown-ups, and love doesn’t work that way. In any case, just tell them. Best case scenario, such feelings might eventually be reciprocated. At the very least, it tells that person that whatever they’re doing, they must be doing something right since someone loves or admires them.
This was a good lesson that he demonstrated. He also showed that a good life is possible despite a dire reality. The looming shadow of a grim health diagnosis can be very difficult to get over, but as he later moved on to a simpler life, he appeared happy… I’d say even much happier at times compared to when I used to hang out with him. Maybe it’s because he was more honest with things. Maybe it’s because he was closer to his family at the time. Who knows? But I noticed that after his diagnosis, he seemed more upbeat, or at least more fulfilled with what I would’ve foolishly judged as a simpler, slower existence at the time.
Rest well, buddy. It was good knowing you. I wish I was a much better friend, however. I guess now you’ll know the ultimate truth about your online “prison skanks.”
I’m trying my hardest not to write anything about depression at the moment. Unfortunately, listening to Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse, and old episodes of Dopey, there’s really not much that comes to mind.
One thing that keeps coming back to my head however are suicide scenes they sometimes broadcast here on television. In Korea, it’s common for people to just lock themselves in a car and burn something in order to die from asphyxiation. Afterwards in the news, you might see cigarette butts and bottles of liquor unblurred as the camera explores the car. I’ve been wondering why you don’t often see food in these scenes. Of course it might seem pointless to be eating food as you try to end your life, but I figure eating is probably one of the most distracting and pleasurable thing to do as you await your death in a sealed room or vehicle. With me, they’d probably find my sad body with bucket of KFC chicken nearby. It’s very difficult to think of anything, much less smell faint, toxic fumes, as I soothe my depression with greasy bites of chicken. So yeah, if you see me checking in a hotel alone with big bucket of chicken, call 911. You just might save my life.
If I was to give some advice though, other than seek help if you’re depressed or thinking about suicide, is that people should never look up suicide scenes online. I looked up suicide scenes online checking for food (we live in a frivolous era) and stumbled on the darkest, most depressing scenes of the human condition. Alan Black’s ‘Faces of Death’ didn’t prepare me for this. Most of the scenes, usually from what appear to be educational presentations, and they look like they are from developing or Eastern European countries, and without much context, I began to build stories explaining the scenes. It’s a rather grim exercise. Save yourself the misery and watch highlights of Pawn Stars instead.
There seems to be an awful lot of death around me lately. Last November, my grandmother passed away. I had to fly to the States for a bit of a memorial gathering. I haven’t seen my grandmother for many years prior to her passing, and in at least a couple of scares, our family had to mentally prepare ourselves for her passing. And when she finally passed away, it was more like seeing the long inevitable, acting in a scene long rehearsed.
Not long after, my godfather passed away. I don’t have much of a relationship with him, but he was close with my father and I do love my cousins. His health has been in a decline for many years now. And while it was a surprise for me that he passed away, I had a feeling that it was to be expected. He wasn’t getting any healthier. A few weeks after his passing, another uncle passed away. Like my godfather, his health was in a decline as well. It’s a bit of a coincidence that he was really close with my godfather and that they both died within weeks of each other’s passing. It’s almost like what they say about old couples dying.
Just now, my landlord just passed away. He’s not a relative, but being my landlord, he’s physically the one closest to me. His death hasn’t hit me as much as my grandmother’s death did, but the fact that I just saw him smiling with his family gathered all around him on a Sunday afternoon a few days ago makes me feel really uneasy. He was a good guy who was kind and generous enough to let me stay at his place for so many years even though he wasn’t particularly fond of the way I decorated and furnished my apartment. I just hope he makes a straight beeline to heaven and not linger around to make his complaints about my living space known.
Oddly enough, we are planning to move to a different place sometime this year. Having my good landlord finally pass away seems to make that decision even more pertinent. Here’s hoping we find a reasonable place in this currently ridiculous Seoul real estate market.
I don’t know if there’s really a point to my writing this week. There have been a lot of people dying lately. It feels quite uneasy. I really would like to shake it off.
Be kind to people while they are still around. One of my biggest regret in life is not being there with my mother in her last years. I could’ve found another job. I could’ve made arrangements around my life to make it possible for me to be there with her, but I didn’t. I was lazy, unimaginative, selfish, and unkind. I kinda shut it all out. I pretended everything was going to be fine, and in the process, I missed out on so much from a woman who was nothing but a saint to everyone in the family. Be kind to people while they around, because when they’re gone, you might end up writing blog entries about it repeatedly and getting reminded of your mistakes every time another person dies.