Greennesses

So graduation for Trinity was a couple weeks ago now. A shame I couldn’t be there in person but I saw pictures on Facebook and got the gist (Ireland is very far away from Korea and I don’t have the vacation time). And my mother just sent me a picture, my degree arrived today! I’m for real an official Master of Philosophy–magister philosophiae since the whole degree is in Latin– now, I feel like I’ve been a pretender since August. But I have incontrovertible proof now so ha.

Last weekend was a bit of a tough one for me. On Friday, I lost my voice for no apparent reason halfway through my first class. I whispered through my second, went home, and went to bed. I woke up with no improvement. Saturday is my grocery day anyway, go I went and got some honey for my tea and did my best to just generally assuage my throat without much success. That night, I got essentially no sleep. I had given up and been up and about at 5 but then did manage to get a couple more hours around 8 or 9.  That meant that I woke up too late to go to church. I was also not feeling great, the reason for losing my voice finally revealing itself in the form of coughing up lots of super gross boogers and an incredibly runny nose. But I still had things to do.

I went to pay my bills (which you do here typically at a convenience store). Two of the three I couldn’t pay by card (though I had in the past) but whatever, I paid cash no problem. The last one, I have no idea what happened. There was some kind of problem. The man at the counter was so kind and helpful, we called the number on the bill and tried a few different things and then I was just like, nah thanks so much but I give up. Embarrassing and frustrating but whatever. I’ll go into the bank to sort it out.

Then I went a little further into town to get some more pots and soil to plant some basil seeds that I had gotten. That cheered me a little because I like growing things (a bit like a hobbit in that way, I guess). Already, I have a couple of the tiniest sprouts, they’re so precious.

This week we administered level up tests in class (luckily, so there wasn’t much talking as my voice still hasn’t fully recovered). There are three holidays so, naturally, we get one day off and some of us, myself included, have to do a make up Saturday for the students who are on vacation (because why wouldn’t we still have class when there are three holidays and my classes were all at less than half). Testing isn’t the most thrilling thing, but it meant that I didn’t have to talk much and, compared to invigilating at Trinity, it was no problem.

I have seen the most incredible transformation on the hillside I watch from the roof. It has gone from tree graveyard full of skeletal branches to a pink waterfall of cherry blossoms to a verdant mound of leafy green. It is not a unique or special transformation at all but it remains incredibly remarkable. In that spirit, I have prepared a few remarks.

There is much of God in trees. I’m definitely a green person. I’ve said it before, but I’m just not into that whole autumn/winter tree vibe. And it’s not just the sun either, though that certainly is lovely. I like rainy days. And weeks, and months. Against that I have been tested and was not found wanting. What’s really important for me is the green.

I think color symbolism is so much fun because it’s basically whatever you want. Green often means [new] life, growth, fertility but it can also mean envy, money, poison, and sickness. Hilarious. Going green means you care about the planet, looking green means you’re ill, seeing green means you’re jealous, and getting green means you’re rich.

Growing up in the Evergreen State, green trees were rather something I took for granted. Having now lived a number of places with a decidedly deciduous bent, I often find myself yearning for more cedars and pines (ect ect ect).

If I could write an ode to do justice to the unceasing miracle of the uncountable greennesses of this world, I would. Unfortunately, it simply cannot be done. I will only quote Joyce Kilmer and hope his words suffice.

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Peak Bloom

So I mentioned last week that I didn’t post this because I felt I was being too impatient. Impatient I may be, but it is what it is. I remain impatient. And so.

My friends back in D.C. experienced ‘peak bloom’ recently, a term referring to the maximum beauty of the cherry blossoms that blanket the district each spring and provide an incredible backdrop to monument, festival, and school alike. Here in Seoul, as best as I can determine, we did not.

I have finally found where Seoul has been hiding all the flowers, but they were not…exactly…there. Some were freshly tilled beds awaiting spring planting and others were bulbs that had just breached the surface of the ground. The cherry blossom area as designated on signs in the park totally eluded me. We’ve had decently warm weather and the Spring Equinox was last week so

Certainly, I will readily admit how very little of Seoul I have seen and so I will not say the city only has flowers in flower shops, but it’s not been great on the flower front thus far. At home, even if we have a late spring we’d have daffodils up early, with whichever other flowers following on their heels. I don’t know, I’m confident that I’m just looking in the wrong places (when I manage to actually get out and look). But still. I’m not used to having to look. Also, Seoul’s cherry blossom season is supposed to be next week or the week after, so things should be looking up. But there are flowers other than cherry blossoms.

I’ve alluded to this fact before, but Seoul is a city of over ten million. The greater Seoul metropolitan area is home to approximately 25 million people (yes, that’s half the country and the fourth largest metropolitan area in the world). There is some nature here, but it’s urban nature even beyond the likes of Phoenix Park or Rock Creek Park. And definitely not in the same league as Penrose Point or Sunset Beach. I’ve never harbored any doubts about not being a city person but if I had they would be put to permanent rest.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to like. And this is 100% not an invective against Korea generally, rather cities generally. Dublin and D.C. managed to be okay because they’re neither one very city-feeling. Seoul is extremely so, even in relatively sleepy Seodaemun. Like I said, there are some truly beautiful things around here. Very picturesque mountains and trees that very much put me in mind of those classic East Asian watercolors with ruggedly steep and rocky mountains draped in leggy evergreens and silky streams. I’d post some pictures, but the haze doesn’t allow my minimal photography skills to do them anything like justice.

Part of me is still just adjusting to the idea that I’m going to be living here for a year. As the times comes to put away my winter clothes, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not actually done with them here, just waiting until winter comes again. And it’s weird. I have not spent this much time consecutively in one place since I got on a plane to D.C. on 16 August, 2012.  (I’m like 92% certain it was the 16th. Maybe the 17th). When I was in Ireland it was close, I was there for pretty much exactly one calendar year, but I had almost an entire month home for Christmas which meant I had to pack things up and get settled then pack up and leave again. There will be no such break this year. I may spend a few weekends away, but that’s it.

As it is, I am adjusting. And that’s what counts. On Sunday, I spent some time reading in the sun up on the roof. Expectedly, it was not perfect, but it was good. I will return there often, I hope, and perhaps find a few other good reading spots for the heat of the coming summer. Ups and downs or, as we talk about in class often, pros and cons. Benefits and negative effects. Good things and bad things. As in life, so in Seoul.

In the meantime, take a look at the cats. Or cat and demon spawn, it’s hard to tell.

You may recall back when I first arrived in Ireland a phrase that I used to cheer myself up about a less-than-ideal circumstance. Things here aren’t so bad, but the little plants I bought this week will not fill my flower quota. So I will repeat it now as a mantra for new places which, even having been here for a month now, this still is.

Bloom where you’re planted.

Pathos, Bathos, and the Bones of a Goat that was Born on a Sunday

This week marked the first week post-classes. I still have one more assignment, a fairly brief paper due Monday, and then I’ll truly be full-time dissertationing. Or, at least, that’s the general idea. We’ll see how that goes. One way or another, the coming months are sure to feature many days spent marathoning Nightmares in Dissertation Writing, my new show on Netflix (except not actually, I would never wish that on Netflix). The first two episodes weren’t great, but I’ll power through the whole series somehow.

Also, as regards this week’s title, I basically just wanted to use the word bathos. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s essentially a abrupt change from high, pathetic (in the literary sense) language to mundane, vulgar language. It’s often used for comic effect, but sometimes is done accidentally by people genuinely thinking they’re writing some lofty sentiment. Anyway, there’s a Wikipedia article on it if you’d like to investigate further. As far as the goat thing goes, two hundred points to anyone who knows the reference.

Also, totally unrelated to everything else in this post but important to me as a human being, I have a brief public service announcement. I often see things on Facebook that I disagree with, like politically. I like this, because it challenges me to really think about what I believe. Sometimes, though, there are gross factual errors. Normally, I don’t do anything about them. But I ought. Anyway: the gender wage gap. It has to do with the difference between men and women’s wages for the same job, not just average salaries of men and women or whatever. Women do tend to work fewer (paid) hours in jobs with lower salaries (which is both related to choice of career and the social construction of problematic gender roles), but that’s not really the core of the wage gap issue. There’s a helpful, brief video by John Green that tries to explain it, I think it’s a pretty well-thought and researched video. It’s obviously a super complicated topic, but it’s super important to think about complicated topics. Because informed citizens and things. Also, just being a good person. So there’s that. Sorrynotsorry for that little interlude.

So I went with a couple friends from church to Carlingford this past Saturday (while doing everything in my power to not do work). The forecast called for rain all day, but we were blessed with gorgeous weather. We went to hike up this…thing. I want to call it a mountain (because we climbed it and it was really crazy steep) but I can’t because it was actually just a hill. Ireland, you may be aware, has nothing that I would qualify as a mountain though, in its defense, it is far from flat.

Anyway, we got lost literally like two minutes into the walk. Luckily, we happened upon someone who knew his way around. He very kindly guided us around to the right path, which we promptly lost again, briefly, before finally getting onto the hill/mountain/big rocky thing springing out of the sea. The issue with going up meant that, while it continued to be mostly sunny, it ceased to be warm due to a wind insistent that I not get too pleased with the view. When nearly to the top, we (for reasons utterly unknown) decided to go as fast as we could to the end. This was problematic primarily for two reasons: it was incredibly slippery (rivulets and puddles all the way up, no idea where the water was coming from) and it was incredibly steep. In the interest of honesty, I should say that we didn’t actually go all the way to the top because of aforementioned sweatiness and general leg wobbliness, but we did get to the highest point overlooking the town. To go higher, we would have had to go backwards and lose sight of it. And on the way down I only slipped and fell once, which is remarkable if you only knew how very slippery and steep it was. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve said this already, but this big rocky thing was very slippery and very steep.

After the climb, we just walked around town for a bit, enjoying the castle, the marina, and a delightful little café. All in all, it was a wonderful visit to a wonderful town, definitely would recommend. It’s up in County Louth, right near the border, and it’s just a lovely area. The stereotypical Irish countryside with rolling green fields and loads of sheep. It was the perfect time, too, not only because of the weather but because of the lambs. So many lambs. Precious. And, of course, driving back into Dublin it hailed, then rained, then was sunny again. Because spring.

And on that note, the poem for this week. Again, this is one of my own compositions, meant to correspond directly with Autumn Rhapsody, a poem I posted in November as a part of a celebration of autumnal poetry. While this month is not exclusively spring-inspired, I thought I would write a sort of counterpart. It’s rather a paean to this season, a time neither of remembering nor forgetting but looking ahead. I hope you enjoy it.

Awakening Persephone
I leave the ill-lit pages of my dusty book to rise
and open the curtains—now is not a time for sitting
but venturing into the blossom of the morning as it ripens
like sun-kissed fruit hanging delectably on the vine. The honey-light
streams into the kitchen and I depart the constructed world
to breathe clearer breath beneath better skies untouched
by feeble hands. Under the sun’s strengthening rays,
branches only yesterday dead seem to tremble with life scarcely
concealed. The perfume of good, green things invites a hope
which cannot be dashed, even by sudden onslaughts of unexpected
rain. Quagmires of last year’s leaves and winter’s detritus and
time spent in still solemnity give way to the inevitable
shoots of tender saplings, somehow regal in their ineffable infancies.
The fierceness of black skies fails to dampen enthusiasm for brightness,
a brightness enlivened by continuous revelations of zoetic jewels which vanish
as quickly as they appear but leave fiery imprints in the minds of all
who saw them. Surrounded by the hesitant mist of slowly emerging green,
one cannot look back but only forward—now is the season of the future;
not, as some think, in rebirth, but in accepting the verve of verdant,
voluptuous life entering a body wearied by darker days now past.
This, this is the expectant age which seems to stretch onward into
the hazy distance forever and forever until the delicately colored hills
become oceans of undreamt dreams awaiting discovery. And my pace is
no longer a stroll nor even a stately march but a run, undignified and unrestrained,
in pursuit of memories as yet unmade.