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.

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.

Side by Side

This week has been pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of intensives, it doesn’t give a lot of room for variation. As I noted last week, I did get off at 4 on Wednesday and I absolutely loved getting home before sunset and just doing nothing at home (as per usual). That evening also featured disk one of The Return of the King so the week couldn’t have been all that bad.

As a follow-up to my description of last week’s weather, here’s a glimpse of the ‘urban nature park’ on my way to the grocery store last Saturday. The waterfall has been frozen for a while, but it snowed that morning and it looked incredible. The stream was partially frozen as well.

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In addition to watching The Lord of the Rings over the past few weeks with friends (“…side by side with a friend…”), I’ve watched all the Harry Potter movies again. Four movies two weekends ago and the other four this past weekend. I just quickly wanted to say a moment–the only moment–that made me tear up for a sec.

Unpopular opinions: I don’t care that much for Dobby or Hedwig or George, not really bothered by the deaths of Remus or Tonks or Dumbledore, don’t think Snape is a good person and am not moved by his story. Harry Potter is of course fabulous and I love it, so don’t take those as criticisms. However, there was one part that got me, if just for a moment, this time around.

At the end of the end, when Harry is about to go to Voldemort in the forest, he just sort of vaguely hints that he’s a horcrux (spoiler) and only Hermione understands. Then she says, “I’ll go with you.” And that is one of the most beautiful of the many statements that the series makes about death. A friend who will fight beside you, even to death.

So there’s that.

Anyway, here’s our choral music selection. Latin music holds a very special place in both historical and contemporary Western choral musical traditions so I thought it an appropriate category. Some of these songs are quite old, some medium old, and some are much more recent but all of them come from a musical and theological tradition spanning thousands of years. It’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve given the English for the titles but if you’re really curious it just takes a quick Google or Wikipedia search to get the full text translated.

Latin Sacred Texts

  1. O Mangum Mysterium – Francis Poulenc (O Great Mystery)
  2. Ave Maria – Javier Busto (Hail Mary)
  3. Ubi Caritas et Amor – Ivo Antognini (Where Charity and Love)
  4. Absalon, Fili Mi – Josquin des Prez (Absalom, My Son)
  5. Angus Dei from Mass in C minor op. 147 – Robert Schumann (Lamb of God)
  6. Si Iniquitates Observaveris – Samuel Wesley (If You Mark Our Iniquities)
  7. Magnificat – László Halmos ([My Soul] Magnifies [the Lord])
  8. O Sacrum Convivium – Olivier Messiaen (O Sacred Banquet)
  9. Adoramus Te, Christe – Claudio Monteverdi (We Adore You, Christ)
  10. Amen – Henryk Górecki (not really Latin but I’m over it)

A Weltanschauung of Joie de Vivre

My students the other day thought that there was a mistake on their vocab list, someone had forgotten to translate a French phrase into English, though the Korean was given–it was déjà vu. When I told them it was just a French phrase that we use in English, they weren’t particularly happy. Anyway, I couldn’t not have a title in English, French, and German when the French and German are also just used in English sometimes. If you need a translation, the title is A Worldview of Joy of Life.

So I had a lovely Christmas weekend. Saturday started with serving at a homeless kitchen-type ministry with some coworkers and finished back at the Kelsey’s for our work-friends Christmas party. We had a great time making pomander balls, playing games, making cookies, and doing Disney karaoke. They’re just really great ❤ On Sunday, I went to church and had a white elephant party with them afterwards, it was a lot of fun.

On Christmas day, I essentially did nothing, which was exactly what I wanted. I called my family and chatted with them for a while, and that’s really it. I mostly stayed in bed; I read, watched Netflix, and played Pokémon. Not exactly how I like to spend Christmas generally, but exactly how I wanted to spend it this year.

Going back to work on Tuesday was less than ideal, but I managed. This week is just another pretty much normal work week, and next week will be too, though we also have the incredible gift of having next Monday off too! Speaking of which, I have some meh-level New Year musings for you.

I think I’m slowly becoming aware of a shift in my worldview that’s taken place over the past few years. I’ve given up not just on changing the world (in any big, big ways) but also on just expecting the world to be a good place. The world is a pretty unpleasant place. Yes, of course there is loads of good in it as well, and many things are better than they were in the past (though we must never confuse ‘better’ with ‘good’). Let me be clear: I still hope for good in the world, I still hope for change. But I’m done thinking that things will improve, that people will learn from their mistakes, that knowledge and kindness and compassion will  increase and someday prevail. They might. Maybe.

All I have is me. I can expect things from myself; I can certainly expect failure, but also growth. I can educate myself–about current events, racism, ancient Egypt, different varieties of dogwoods, how to make pancakes from scratch. I can attempt, with perhaps childish naïveté and diligence, to suffuse my life with a Weltanschauung of joie de vivre that does not derive joy from the world because it is joyous, per se, but because the world exists at all and every moment of that existence is a literal miracle.

I can teach myself to be kinder; to rescind hurtful words with genuine apologies, to think critically while watching movies, to sincerely care when other people tell me things that give them pain.

I can involve myself with the world; I can serve, I can donate, I can educate, I can listen respectfully even when others are not being respectful, I can have compassion on those who have no compassion for me.

I can be myself; stay home as much as possible, read voraciously, watch good and bad Netflix with equanimity, thoroughly enjoy food even if it’s boring, be awkward and laugh about it, be gay and fabulous, wear bowties on Tuesdays ect. ect. ect.

There’s a certain joie de vivre (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in the exultation of releasing my expectations about the world. It’s like that old line about accepting things I cannot change. When I’m free from all the weight of the world, I can deliciously and leisurely enjoy the simple pleasures of each moment and find it in myself to compassionately and earnestly become involved in bettering the world.

The above may have ended up sounding super self-centered, which is counterproductive so please bear in mind, if it sounded like that, I didn’t mean it to. Anyway. You know that I’m not much one for resolutions because a. we should resolve any and every time not just New Year’s b. people don’t generally keep them anyway c. they’re pretty lame. So let me be clear.

I want to be better, and I will work hard to become so. I want the world to be better, and I will work hard to make it so. I have few illusions about the success I will meet with, so I’ll start small.

And as for all the rest, I’ll act in hope without expectation.

In Our Grasp

I almost wanted to start by saying that this week has been crazy, but it hasn’t actually been anything of the sort. It’s been a pretty normal week–and I mean that in the worst way. How could the week before Christmas be any kind of normal? But it has also been a nice week, and I’m grateful for the positive things that have happened. I’m also feeling a little contemplative now that my first Christmas in circumstances like this is finally here.

On Monday morning, it snowed quite a bit–our largest accumulation this year, I think, though it was probably only about an inch. The main thing is that it did not all melt immediately. Some of it did, but it’s been pretty cold even through the snow so a lot of it has stuck around all week. On Wednesday afternoon, we were graced with a further dusting of fairy-light snow which I was fortunate enough to be able to dance in for a few moments at work.

Tuesday night was our once-a-term staff dinner (on the company) and we did a little secret Santa exchange, which was precious. It’s nice that, as much as I don’t like working there, it does have its moments. And certainly it is better than it could be, so there’s that.

Monday night has become a routine movie night at the Kelsey abode (married coworkers of mine) for many of our teachers and though it’s normally too late for me to commit, we’ve been doing Christmas movies in December so I’ve been every week. This week was Scrooged and, no offense intended, but it wasn’t my thing. But I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent together. Also, I watched Arrival last weekend, quite a movie. I haven’t bumped it into my top-five-in-no-particular-order ( at least not yet), but it was good. My main, topical take-away from it was just listening. There should probably be more listening in the world.

Okay, as this is my last post before Christmas, I have some Christmas thoughts to share. This is, as I’ve said before, my first Christmas without any family or anything around and  it’s been an interesting time. I have friends here, but it’s different. I was working last year, but it’s different. It’s just a thing. And honestly, I have been swinging wildly between loads of Christmas spirit (especially when there’s snow and/or singing involved) and totally forgetting that Christmas is coming at all.

Let nothing that follows indicate that I have anything but the highest regard for the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas movie. Because it truly is a wonder. I have been singing the Who Christmas song on and off since I made my classes watch it during the snack party at the end of last term.

However.

“Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp.”

“Christmas Day will always be just so long as we have we.”

Such admirable and timely sentiments. Truly. And so heartwarming and seasonal and cozy and nice. When I was younger, I considered them some of the loveliest statements of Christmas feelings. But if I’ve learned anything this first Christmas apart, it’s that those sentiments are false.

There are no qualifications for Christmas. There are no conditions. Christmas Day is in our grasp. Christmas Day will always be. Christmas doesn’t come from a store–it does, in fact, mean a little bit more. But its meaning does not stem from loving each other, as good and right and lovely as that is. It comes from being loved.

If Christmas were about us–us loving, being joyful, coming together, lifting each other up–it would be a pleasant but ultimately weak holiday. Because we are, at best, imperfect lovers. The strength of Christmas is that, together or apart, we are all loved perfectly.

I hope you all have a merry and happy Christmas; cherishing time together, the weather, the food, the presents, the decorations, the all-around atmosphere. And if or when you feel the imperfection of it all becoming a little too much, remember that there is perfection in Christmas and we don’t have to do a thing to receive it.

God loves us.

Thank You for Saving the World

So I know today is Thanksgiving, and I’d like to address that. But I’d like to start with something else because I finally watched Wonder Woman with some friends last weekend and the more time that elapses the more I appreciate what a film it is.

In particular, I’d like to collectively ponder a quote from the end of the film. It doesn’t give away any plot, though I guess it does reveal the psychology of the ending so if you haven’t seen it yet, go and do so before continuing.

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. And I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be.

First, I think it’s so mature and accurate to real life for a superhero movie to just say straight up that heroes can never save the world because people suck. In the end, we just choose. And choose every day, every moment, how to comport ourselves, how to speak to other people, how to act and think when no one else is looking. And, all too often, we will choose poorly.

Second, only love can save the world. I have no commentary for this.

It’s Thanksgiving and I would just like us to take a moment and pause to make a deliberate and heartfelt choice. To choose light and love. To enter into the greatest love of the God who came near and share it with another. And know, for that small moment, that we are living a part of saving the world. We will fall short of goodness again and again but, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “to this moment’s choice, give unfair weight.”

That is what I have for that. But this week has been pretty full so you’ll forgive me if I include a little more before getting to Thanksgiving, even if this post becomes cumbersomely lengthy.

On Saturday, I had some friends from church over and we played Settlers of Catan. I really love the game (a board game of… settlement and building if you’re not familiar) but haven’t played in ages. We had a lot of fun. I finished in the middle of the pack, but would have been a strong contender for first if we had rolled like Any sixes the whole game. I’m not bitter though, don’t worry.

It snowed on Monday, not for long and it certainly didn’t stick, but the flakes were large and wet and delicious. Yes, I caught a few on my tongue, heinous air quality notwithstanding. My friend caught me on video enjoying a bit of a frolic. She wanted me to upload the video but I’m too technologically un-savvy to figure it out, I’ll put it on Facebook and that’s the best I can do. Sorry Blair.

We also received our schedules for next term (*MY LAST TERM*) and it’s not terrible but it’s not great. I’ll tell you more about it next week when I’ve actually taught my classes. There was also a small breakthrough regarding Christmas but, again, more on that later.

Anyway, Wednesday was a half day as per usual. After work, we gathered at one of our apartments and had a small Thanksgiving-ish sort of time. And it was wonderful. (I refuse to the term Friendsgiving because a. we are not giving friends b. we are giving thanks c. one of the things we are giving thanks for is friends d. friends are a normal part of Thanksgiving e. it’s dumb).

It was a bit of an eclectic mix. Korean fried chicken, pizza dip, Kraft macaroni and cheese, dumplings, fig jam, and Costco pumpkin pie. In other words, exactly as Thanksgiving should be. In a pretty tame game of most likely, I was voted most likely to know how to dispose of a body and become a brutal dictator, and tied for most likely to start my own fashion line. All of which I took as the compliments they were.

I truly am grateful for my coworkers. For a place where I don’t I like working very much, I value my time at school substantially more because of them. They really have made a world of difference for my time here. I’m grateful for my church home here in Seoul, for opportunities to serve, for Paris Baguette, for just so many things.

I’ll be video calling my family tomorrow because it will be Thanksgiving in the US on Friday here. So that will be nice. Now that I have a few non-family Thanksgivings under my belt, it’s not such a strange feeling. Christmas, I’m sure, will be an entirely different matter, but I’m feeling pretty good for this Thanksgiving. I know people around me love me, and I hope they know I love them. I’m grateful, I’m grateful, I’m grateful.

That’s all it is, really. I’m so thankful to have people in my life, present with me physically and virtually, who choose love. Maybe not every time, but as much as possible. Maybe not perfectly, but as best they can. According to Wonder Woman, you’re saving the world. So thanks for that.