No Such Beauty

Before I get into anything else, a small observation that struck me for a sec this week. I wrote a sentence or two last week about appreciating the later evenings. As a sign of spring. I realized this week: I’m not used to it being dark. And not in the seasonal, latitudinal sense. Like, obviously I’ve been back for a while. And was in New Zealand before that. But Seoul was never dark. Ever. And I missed it. There are lots of advantages to city living and a lot of reasons that I miss that, too. But I think somewhere inside, living in a city kills me a little bit.

Anyway, on to something that brings me life. Cats. And also other things, probably.

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This past weekend I was tremendously privileged to be able to attend the Chamber Singers reunion at American University, my undergrad alma mater. I was a member of Chamber Singers my whole time at AU, including tours to Russia and the Balkans. I’ve only been absent from DC for three years (almost exactly) but a lot has happened in that time. This reunion was a deeply welcome change of pace and settling of heart.

I was in Choral Society at Trinity, but that was a) not a very in-depth choral experience, as enjoyable as it was and b) finished more that two years ago. And in the intervening time, I have not been a part of a musical group of any description. The only singing I’ve done has been to myself or at church. And that truly was and remains a hard thing for me.

So this past weekend was a bit of a remedy for that, however brief. Friday and Saturday were absolutely gorgeous, a particular blessing in light of the bizarre weather they’ve had this year (and spring weather in general). They were too hot, in my opinion, peaking in the mid-eighties. Sunday and Monday were grey, rainy, and mid-fifties. What can you do. I got to see cherry blossoms galore, daffodils galore (my second favorite flower), and a regional tree climbing competition because apparently that’s a thing.

Also, I visited the Wheaton station on the metro for the express purpose of riding on the longest escalator in the western hemisphere. Apparently I’ve already ridden on the longest in the world, a three way tie between stations on the St Petersburg metro.

There were plenty of alumni events during the weekend. It was quite a crowd, about 55 of us (from a group that’s usually around 30 at any given time) with graduations ranging from 2004 to this past winter. I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t do large social situations well and these were no exception. I’m uncomfortable and that’s that. But it was still a special kind of soothing to be around some old faces, old friends, and other people who I barely met for thirty seconds but who cared enough about singing to come out for it.

After the (smaller) concert on Sunday, I was also able to catch up in person with my best friend whom I hadn’t seen in three years (since graduation, pretty much). And that was really good. I wish that I had stayed longer–I didn’t have anything pressing back here. We’ll see how the job search goes, maybe I’ll be back for another visit sooner rather than later.

Our alumni group was actually integrated into the current Singers’ regular spring concert which had a very laid-back vibe focused on some favorite songs. One in particular, which we sang on tour in Russia after my freshman year, we sang as a joint ensemble some 85 strong. One line, in fact, in the midst of a text that feels definitely applicable to my current aimlessness.

There is no such beauty as where you belong.

I’m not sure where, exactly, in the world I belong. Where in life, where in all kinds of metaphysical senses. And, as I’ve said before, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with all the people I was singing with. But there’s a power in music and I can say with certainty that I belonged on that stage at that moment. I belong in music.

I feel like some people feel that way about sports or whatever else moves people, so I probably don’t really have to explain it any further. One way or another, this weekend was exactly what I needed it to be.

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Washington, My Home

Oddly, states have their own state song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Washington, My Home and I don’t think I’d really like to. But one way or another, Washington is my home. I’m trying to do some more exploring while I’m here in anticipation of leaving again (as vain as that hope may be). So yesterday I went on a lovely hike with a friend and it was very Washington, much home.

We decided on Lena Lake in the eastern Olympics, a relatively short drive and a relatively easy hike. It was the first forecast rainy day in a while, but the drive over was dry, as was the start of the hike. Cloudy, of course, but dry. As we continued, the rain picked up but it remained a tolerable rain not an absolute downpour. We had coats. We lived.

And my goodness was it gorgeous. Similar to New Zealand, actually, with ferns and moss and water and mist. Also fjords and rainforests. But in a distinctly different way. Sword ferns, for one, and cedars and pines for another. And it just felt good to wander through a solid Washington forest and marvel.

Lena Lake Trail

As always, pictures hardly to it justice, but suffice to say it was definitely a worthwhile trip. There was still some snow on the ground, too, which was a little surprising and fun. It was all-around an enjoyable experience for the company and the scenery.

Other than that, my week has been pretty low-key. I’ve had a couple good catch-ups with people and those have been really nice. My list of friends still around the Harbor has grown shorter in the past few years, but it’s always good to see them.

My days consist of a great deal of nothing. Reading, playing Civilization, doing Duolingo. I did plant a couple plants, rosemary and lemon balm (or BAHM if you can’t read the letter l) and that’ll be nice. I’m continuing to apply to places, mostly in the US so far, but nothing has come of it yet. Who knows. It would be much easier to enjoy doing nothing if I had something to look forward to, but once again I’m confronted with an apparently endless abyss of nothingness so that’s not super fun. I’ll live.

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Also, here’s an update on the yin-yang kitties

So that’s my week. Mostly boring but an acceptable level of activity. Some good catching up and some intense Washington ambiance. See you next week.

Santa Fe

Surprise surprise, this week involved a great deal of doing nothing and so I’m already back to the super boring posts. Quite a letdown after Australia and New Zealand, but che sera sera.

I did, this week, finally finish a series that I’ve been reading. A nine book saga, it was a trashy gay FBI romance and I’d say each book was worse than the last but it’s simply not possible. They were absolutely overflowing with cliché and cheesy lines, scenes, and plot points. It was unreal. If you really want to know, message me and I’ll tell you but I wouldn’t otherwise recommend them so no title for you.

Obviously, I still read all nine and enjoyed them. Though they were not emotionally draining like a lot of books that I read, I did get caught up in them and had to put them down occasionally because my feelings were getting a little out of hand. Things were also easier to deal with because I had absolute certainty that there would be a happy ending (partially because I asked my sister and partially because no way would books like this not have a happy ending).

Nine books involved quite a bit of the two main characters’ lives, though it started relatively late age-wise. Plenty of FBI-related action and twists. Eventual marriage (which was precious). Even retiring and opening a little bookshop with their apartment above (the literal epitome of precious even though it was in Baltimore and not Croatia). Plus cats and the CIA. Something for everyone.

Escapism is such a great word. And a great concept. Even when you’re escaping your own problems to deal with other people’s and theirs are much worse. I mean, I get tremendously emotionally involved with my books, even the bad ones, but it feels so right to have these fictional lives to deal with instead of whatever mundane complexities I’ve got going. I love the heartbreak and trauma and all of it, though sometimes I need a nice ending wrapped up so completely and satisfyingly.

It just feels nice to read some books that are just nice, you know? Many other books I read have happy endings, of course, but it feels so good to have everything so unrealistically pat with a bow on top. I’m already feeling a little nuts being at home–anxious to get out and anxious about having so little willpower to do anything that will help me get out (mind you, I am applying to jobs, I just feel like I’m not doing enough and I’ll be here much longer than I want to).

Whenever the subject of me ‘getting out’ comes up, I feel a little guilty. There’s nothing (much) wrong with here. Many people I care about very much are here. I can’t really explain it, other than encountering other people who just know exactly what I’m talking about without explanation. I’ve just got to get out and the feeling’s stronger now than ever. But that means back to the horrible task of begging for rejection in the teensy hope that someone will eventually say yes. The same task that threw me to Korea.

So those books were a bit of a turn away from the doom and gloom in the more surface-level, essential role of entertainment as escapism. Because, bombs and serial killers and drug cartels notwithstanding, you end up with a great husband, a cozy bookstore, and maybe a few black market orchids. And cats, did I mention the cats?

Here’s hoping we all get a little bit of the escape we need this week, whatever its guise.

Ever On and On

This is my last post in Korea, in all likelihood forever, but I don’t have a lot of profound thoughts to share. Mostly just an attempt to convey my heartfelt gratitude for the people who have become my friends here.

Before we get too far into that, though, a quick gallery of Béégashii and Lucy, possibly the cutest animals that have ever existed, I love them so much.

 

 

When I left for Korea, my step-mom sent me with a note and I’d like to share a part of it with you. She’s had a number of interesting journeys herself and I think her perspective on it all is important.

The saying that it is more about the journey is true, but sometimes I wonder as I look back on my life if we ever reach our ‘destination’ this side of heaven? I wonder if the destination is actually the present–being fully in the moment, right where we are planted–to live fully, contented, wide-eyed, learning, yearning, giving, loving–to whomever is right in front of us?

The destination that is both where we are and just out of reach. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and who knows where else I’ll end up. Clearly, I’m all about the journey but  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, bloom where you’re planted. That’s been difficult here but I think the blossoms have been all the more beautiful for it. As they say in Mulan, the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

My time in Korea has really been… something. I’ve been trying to figure out positive and succinct ways to describe it, preparing for the inevitable deluge of questions when I get home, and it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve managed for the job, though, so I’ll start with that.

This job consisted of three parts: the students, the coworkers, and the workplace. The students were decent, the coworkers were incredible, and the workplace was awful. I’m truly and deeply grateful for the great teachers that I got to work with who (very slowly because I suck at it) became close friends. A heartfelt shoutout to all of you, thank you for bearing with me and welcoming me into your cool kids club. I’m glad that most of my students were interesting, smart, and hard workers–it made teaching them much easier and much more enjoyable. And I’m happy to say that I will not have to work at that branch or a Korean English academy again.

I am also extremely grateful for the community I found at church. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Korea on that front, but the place I ended up was definitely the place I was meant to find. I learned, I grew (I hope), and I made connections–again, slowly but definitely surely. Knowing you guys, studying with you, serving with you–all have been wonderful experiences.

I also want to make sure to mention the one Korean person I actually knew coming here, and say a big thank you to her and her family for meeting with me and making me feel welcome. So thanks, Yoona and your family. We had some fun adventures together.

As is usually the case, the people make the place. Thankfully, the internet will continue to keep us together, as much as it is capable. I will not be deleting my Kakao, so feel free to send me your favorite Muzi emojis. I will also request, for those of you in Korea, please send me any and all Paris Baguette pictures and updates because I will never not want those.

For those of you at home, or those who just know people who travel, I have a request. Please do not ask me how Korea was. It’s a country, it is many things. And do not ask me extremes (favorites, hardest, ect.) because I’m bad at those. There are many things that I appreciated and things I very much did not. If you really want to know, think of specific questions. What kind of food do typical Koreans eat? Did Seoul feel like a big city? Do people still wear hanbok? How do you read Korean?

In the meantime, I’m in a mad rush to pack up my entire life (yet again), teach all my classes, get all my paperwork and plans in order, and say goodbye. I’m on a plane out of the country on Saturday night, twenty-four hours after I finish teaching my last class.

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A summer sunset over the Hangang

 

So I’m leaving Korea and going on. I have some ideas but I have no intention of keeping my feet and every intention of being swept off. Sometimes, I’m learning, the important journeys are the ones you didn’t mean to make.

In Which Little Is Done

I’ve been trying my darndest to come up with a topic for this week and I have failed. Normally, that wouldn’t stop me since all I put on here anyway is random nonsense. But, like, I really have nothing. Very little happened this week and I haven’t even been thinking any thoughts of note. While I try to figure something out, enjoy this two-for-one cat picture.

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I hope you enjoyed that little interlude. They’re so nice.

The main event this week was movie night which, not to sell it short, is now a typical feature in my week. This week, it was Moulin Rouge with a friend who hadn’t seen it before and now understands the magic. Such a fantastic movie, so many emotions. And honestly, the songs in it are pretty much all better than the originals. Even if I really like the originals. Just so good.

All I can think to talk about is how soon my time in Korea will be over. I’m overwhelmed, really, and so I’m not preparing nearly as much as I need to be. I have two weeks and a couple days. That’s it. While I’m definitely ready to be finished, I’m not currently ready to be telling you about my year in review, so I’ll save that I guess. Next week is a holiday and I only work Monday and Tuesday (though I’ll also be working this Saturday) so I should be able to concoct some good musings by then. Or not. We’ll see.

In the meantime… nope. Still got nothing. I’m sure I’ll meander around until I get a decent word count because, as you all know, I can ramble until I confuse even myself.

I’ve been reading again this week, finished three books. One stand alone (or I guess there’s a sequel but it ended nicely and I don’t want to read it) and the first two in a series. None of them were incredible, but all were decent. The first was just a straight-up gay romance and I was all about it (I honestly didn’t realize I just said ‘straight-up gay’ until several hours later). Pleasant characters and some surprisingly realistic moments in the midst of straight-best-friend-turns-out-to-be-bi fantasy land. The other is a fantasy series, intrigue and theft, and such like. The characters are pretty thin and nothing I want happens with them, but the plot is super interesting so I’ll continue to book three for that reason.

Man, I miss reading in the sun. In the warm.

Next week, I’ll definitely have some things to say. Hopefully, I’ll have done some packing, had a nice start to the holiday, and tell you about my big adventure coming next Friday. And then it’ll be my last week and then I’ll be on another adventure. So here’s to that.

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

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The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Food of Love

Yesterday was my first nine hour teaching day of 2018. So I made it two days. We may or may not be given some half days here and there this month, but otherwise I’m slated for nine more such fun-filled days. It actually wasn’t bad, my intensive class is actually pretty decent and I packed plenty of food for our fifteen minute break. But it is still less than ideal. I’ll live, or at least I assume I will, just like I did last time.

In other news, it’s 2018 which means less than two months until I’m finished. I’m really looking forward to that time. I’m definitely ready to leave Korea. It’s been a good experience but it’s just not my place, you know? Not in the way that Exeter, for example, felt like my place. Obviously, I’m looking forward to my vacation plans as well, come the end of February.

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Me, after one day of intensives

I’ve been thinking recently, though, that it’s important how things end. As much as I want to just let everything go and cruise to the finish, I don’t think that’s what I should do. It would be easy to let things slide and give as little effort as possible, especially in the midst of intensives. But that is not how I want to finish my time here, as little as I honestly care about these next few weeks. It’s easy to work hard when you care, it’s more challenging–and perhaps more important–to work hard when you don’t.

On a different note, it’s been a while since I’ve given you music to listen to (or ignore, as you wish), so I thought I’d do choral edition for songs I listen to. Obviously, I’m really into choral music and I’ve put a great deal of thought and time into making these lists. The songs are from a variety of times, styles, and genres. Most, but not all, are a capella. My original purpose in posting songs was to prove that I don’t only listen to ‘opera’ [sic] but I want to expand your repertoire and challenge you to give some choral music a try.

I’ve broken it into different categories because who doesn’t like themes? Many, many wonderful works have been left out, I’ve just chosen a few songs that I enjoyed and fit (I tried and failed not to have too many repeat composers). I’ve also deliberately left out large scale choral-orchestral works. Some of these I have sung and some I have only listened to.

Just a note: as much as I enjoy sharing the gift of song, I make these lists mostly for myself to look back on in the future to say, “Oh yeah, that song! I should listen to that again, it’s great.” I encourage you to give these a go but the lists really are for me. Maybe choose one with an interesting title and give it a try, you can find a decent recording of most of these on the You Tubes.

The categories are, loosely, 1) poetry and prose 2) celestial songs 3) Latin sacred texts and 4) sleepytime. Hope you will enjoy this as much as I.

Poetry and Prose  (and that one song with random words)

  1. Brothers, Sing On! – after Edvard Grieg
  2. Willow-wood – Daniel Elder
  3. I Love My Love – Gustav Holst
  4. Jing-ga-lye-ya – Bruce Sled
  5. Let My Love Be Heard – Jake Runestad
  6. Anthem (The Dove Descending Breaks the Air) – Igor Stravinsky
  7. Too Much I Once Lamented – Thomas Tomkins
  8. I Am Not Yours – Z. Randall Stroope
  9. Even When He Is Silent – Kim André Arnesen
  10. Valiant-for-truth – Ralph Vaughan Williams