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Of Mice and Men and Dreams

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.

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On Drawing and Joylessly Drawing

Monster

I started drawing at a very young age. Drawing was probably the only thing I was good at when I was young. I wasn’t particularly smart or athletic. I remember my father speculating that drawing is probably the reason why my handwriting was so poor. That was something I would keep on hearing many more years later. Growing up with three sister and not many boys my age around my neighborhood, I tended to entertain myself by playing G.I. Joes, video games, or drawing. I loved drawing. I would draw anything. I even remember copying illustrations from encyclopedias as practice. Later on, in elementary through high school, I got heavily interested in comic books. If you look at the back of my notebooks, they would all be filled with super hero illustrations. I thought I could be a comic book illustrator someday. Whenever the opportunity came, I participated in art contests. They were good experiences even when I didn’t win. They taught me at a young age how to work on specific themes and that art, at least art that pays, is often creating what others want you to make, and not what you want to do.

I didn’t attend art classes until I was grade nine. By that time, not to brag, I was already more skilled than the kids in my class. I was not sure if I learned any skills in high school art classes except for how to mat and frame works. The thing that I value most is learning about art history. My teacher tried to wean us from drawing cartoons and teach us about composition and learn about the masters in art history. It worked. I stopped trying to become a comic book illustrator and no longer drew heroes for my friends to hang on their walls. I was more interested in high art. I remember learning about Chiaroscuro and selling my first piece on canvas to one of my English teachers. It was a poor imitation to Chiaroscuro’s style depicting the piercing of Christ’s side. I think I sold it for $80 Canadian.

It was during high school when I first started developing my small drawing style. Oddly enough, my first piece done this way was made for an English project. I remember it was made mostly of lines and scenes from Hamlet, culminating in the death of Ophelia, the prince’s most innocent victim. I continued drawing with the same drawing style throughout university. There were times when I tried to move away from small drawings, venturing into sculpture and even making gigantic drawings, some measuring around 15 or 20 meters wide. But I kept coming back to the small drawings. I was encouraged mostly by my thesis professor, who despite me saying I was growing desperately bored of being hunched over drawing and writing small words, he told me that it was quite unique to hear of an artist being bored and yet unable to stop drawing. I have to continue making small drawings until my eyes fail me.

That was many years ago. I still haven’t stopped. Vision is still 20/20.

These days, I draw for the sake of drawing. I draw because I have to. I draw to whisper secrets onto the paper and in doing so momentarily free my mind from their burdens. I regret that I didn’t follow through on being a comic book illustrator. I regret that I didn’t explore how to become an illustrator for encyclopedias. Now and then, I regret missing out on learning how to tattoo and developing my own style of body art. I regret not working on being a commercial artist. But then again, maybe that would further discourage me from making art. Work sometimes takes the joy out of something you would do for free.

I don’t draw to make money. If some of my works sell, then it’s a blessing, but I don’t draw to sell my works. My images are not putting food on my table. I draw to show my works if the opportunity arises, but creating shows or making works to sell at shows are not my motivation. If it were, then maybe I’d be selling more works. I draw because I have to; it is a need. I do appreciate the little audience I have and am grateful to those who enjoy and have purchased my works. Even if people don’t buy them. Even if people just stop and stare for a second at a piece hanging on a wall. I am truly grateful for their time. I have no illusion that I will be a famous artist someday. That is why I appreciate the people who stop and enjoy my art when I know there are far better artists that they could (and should) be looking at.

So what is the point of all of this? The point is, drawing and making art doesn’t have to have a distinct purpose. You don’t need to make art to sell or to show people or to do whatever. You could just be making art just because you want to or need to. That is not particularly insightful and I know I’m not the first person to say that, but I think it is particularly true in my case. There are times when I am totally sick and bored of making art. I am left uninspired. But this need, this itch, this monkey on my back keeps me making more images. It pushes me to make something even when it is ugly as sin.

Sometimes people make art for no reason. They just enjoy it.

Sometimes people make art for no reason, even when they don’t enjoy it. They just have to.

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The Fragile Nazi Ego

Joseph_Reyes (9)

If you have never been seen as an outsider, assumed to not belong in your own country, second-guessed for your intelligence, looked at as a criminal for no reason, given less opportunities because of your color, or suffered through other indignities that minorities and women suffer through, then you don’t get to complain about oppression. I miss Canada. I love Canada. But it is not immune to the racial animus that is plaguing the United States. Occasionally, I will be reminded of what exactly I am and how little some people think of me. It sucks. It hurts.

I even get that occasionally even living overseas. Being brown, I’m the less-desirable foreigner. I sometimes even blend in the background and ignored in a country that is homogeneous. Forget the brown guy; there are other people that need attention. Being white is still the gold standard for some people even when overseas. If you’re white, people assume you’re educated, you have money, you speak good English, you’re worldly, and you’ll make cute little children. Doors open just by the virtue of skin color. How do I know? Look at job ads overseas. Look at the foreigners they choose to have on television. Look at the faces of the people as they sometimes struggle with the concept that a brown person is a Canadian.

So it really amazes me that despite all of the advantages given to them by virtue of their birth, some white men in the United States are crying victimhood. They say they’re being oppressed, replaced, wiped out by ethnic and religious minorities. These people have never faced true oppression in their lives. Never. And yet they cry foul at immigrants taking jobs that they have no interest in taking. They protest against people of different races and religions being welcomed in their neighborhoods. They cringe at colored faces on television populating their media and politics. This is their oppression. This is the crime that they are standing up for: being in the presence of someone different, being not sole voice that matters, sharing the rights that they’ve had for so long with others. This is the cringe-worthy delicate ego of these neo-Nazis. The ones that label themselves “alpha male” and yet can’t stand the threat of other people getting the same opportunities they have.

There’s nothing alpha about not being able to compete against more competent workers. There’s nothing alpha about lying to twist facts in order to suit you narrative. I would imagine an alpha would face the truth, change, then come out on top. There’s nothing alpha about following a lying leader. It’s called being a sucker. There’s nothing alpha about complaining about other races and religions mixing with others. It’s called minding your own business. Go find a white woman who will love you. There’s nothing alpha about bitching that your culture is being wiped out when it isn’t. Go watch a Hollywood film. There’s nothing alpha about complaining that white men are losing influence. Go look at the US Senate and the Congress. There’s nothing alpha about listening to conspiracy theorists, thinking about all of these forces coming to get you, and worrying about Armageddon or whatever. Be a person. Don’t be a paranoid squirrel looking at every corner and seeing danger everywhere before foraging for food. There are more real problems in the world.

This is why I love the current effort to expose the people who participated in the Nazi rally in Charlottesville. Not so much for the consequences they suffer after being exposed as the racists that they are, but for the realization that these people never really faced a day of true oppression in their life. Peter Cvjetanovic never faced true oppression. Neither did one of their alt-right heroes, White House staffer Stephen Miller, who famously complained about having to pick up his own garbage. Oh the horrible suffering of the fragile alpha male ego!

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Monkey See

monkey

So what’s on television?

Korean television is 40 percent people eating/cooking, 30 percent dramas, and 30 percent celebrities talking or singing, or being in any format where they’d end up just chatting or singing. That breakdown is a tad unscientific, but it’s basically all that I see whenever my wife channel surfs. Lately, there have been a couple of trends: having foreigners who speak Korean on television, and having celebrities’ children go about their everyday life. All in all, there’s nothing too compelling.

Some people say that Japanese television is also the same, just people eating or watching celebrities react to different topics. But I don’t really watch too much Japanese television.

There are foreign channels here but they are simply awful. There’s Discovery Channel, National Geo, and TLC. So if you want to learn about panning for gold, ghost hunting, or baking cupcakes, you got your channels. Local stations would show different CSIs, NCIS, and other network dramas, but not so much of the amazing Renaissance television has been experiencing on cable.

For years, all of my viewing entertainment has been on the Internet. I’ve become one of those people that would just watch whole seasons of shows within a week. Thank you, Internet. I’ve gotten access to long dead shows and movies that people don’t really hear too much about. These shows probably wouldn’t have been broadcast in Korean television. But then again, they probably wouldn’t have been broadcast in Canadian television either. Do they still show reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm? Last time I was in Canada, I wasn’t too impressed with what my sister had on television. She was watching OWN.

Speaking of sister, she was watching a lot of Filipino television as well. The shows seem to be very celebrity driven as opposed to being about good writing. There’s a lot of melodrama and schlock. Like everything, it could be good in small doses, but I’m not sure about a steady diet.

I also stayed with my best friend while in Canada and she’s content with just having Netflix. I guess much like me, she prefers to watch seasons of shows or have a movie playing. She’s not much for keeping up with what’s on on television either. I guess it’s not just me being here in South Korea that’s driven my viewing to the Internet. I guess it’s the future of the media.

In any case, if you’re in Korea, the Internet is vital. Otherwise, you’d either be watching a lot of Koreans eating things or you’ll simply be getting a lot more reading done.

I recently saw the latest Planet of the Apes film. I really like where they’re going with this franchise.

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