Me, Myself, and Writing

I’ve always believed in the power of writing; whether it was to share my thoughts on some ‘serious’ so-called ‘intellectual’ issue, or to pour down personal feelings, which is apparently something I can’t do IRL. Seeing letters come to life on a blank space, letters and words that are far from being unique, but that for that space only, can and do become solely yours, is both rewarding and comforting.

Writing to me is a safe space, which ironically makes it personal and detached at the same time. It’s personal because unlike spoken words, I put a lot of thought and time into it, going back to my sentences and my choice of words, and the end product will depend a lot on my state of mind, not on the consideration of how my interlocutors will think or react. Not that I blurt out whatever passes through my head when I talk, but I don’t exactly spend more than seconds on my spoken words, whereas I could spend days on end on a single post. There are things I would never say out loud or share directly with friends, even close ones; not because they are fascinating and complex revelations about my personality, but… well, I guess because I’m not much of a great talker to start with.

Yet as personal as they can be, I know the number of people who will actually read what I write is limited, and words on a screen are still far from being my actual face, with my instant reactions and facial expressions . The medium of blogs and the computer screen I imagine people will stare at provide a shield I can safely hide behind, with no fear of judgment or ridicule, or even total disinterest.

For the past year however, I have had a hard time managing the delicate ‘personal’ and ‘detached’ equilibrium, mostly because I have come to realize another power that writing provides. Putting your innermost thoughts and feelings in writing is quite a compelling and vulnerable process, if you think about it. It’s admitting to the world, but first and foremost to yourself that you are feeling helpless. It’s not just about knowing that it’s wrong to feel certain things, but acknowledging it. Once the words are written, there’s no going back. Your doubts, feelings, and anxiety become truth. And there are certain things I don’t want to admit even to myself. No, especially to myself.

I don’t want to admit that I can’t do this on my own, that feelings of loneliness engulf me more times than I can count, that at least once a week I want to drop everything and disappear in the farthest, smallest corner of my existence, and not care about how others will feel.

I don’t want to admit that my heart rarely lets my head control my life, that I’m doing so many things against my belief and conscience, that I’m a more emotional being than a rational one.

I don’t want to admit that I need, that I want, help. I don’t want to admit that it would be nice to feel loved from time to time.

Because I’m a fucking 21st century strong woman, for god’s sake. Because I have so many things that should keep me strong – I’m not starving, I have pretty shoes, I have good friends and a supporting family, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Because there are so many other people who are struggling daily with so little. Because, theoretically, I should be happy.

But maybe happiness is not about being thankful for every single day. Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s a process, it’s a journey. There are ups and then there are downs. It’s about learning how to maintain your ups for a second longer than your downs. And maybe, some day… my ups will be there for a minute, an hour, a day, longer than my downs.

I am slowly learning that it’s okay to feel vulnerable – it sucks, but it’s okay.

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“Dear Life” – by Alice Munro (or Some Personal Reflections)

I’m cheating a little here because I haven’t really finished the book yet. And this is more of a reflection on my life for the past few months during which I haven’t been able to write, rather than a book review per se.

I haven’t written anything ‘voluntarily’ for almost over a year, and just like a foreign language, the skill, no, the sheer will of writing slowly disappears with its lack of usage. You lose its grammar, its vocabulary, its syntax, its flow.

I have spent every minute of my ‘free time’ this semester watching Netflix and Amazon Prime shows, YouTube videos, and browsing through meaningless Buzzfeed articles or shopping sites to fill in the gap in my life. Because none of these actually required me to take a minute to reflect on and acknowledge how shitty my life was. For the few minutes or hours my brain was wired to the moving images in front of me, I was allowed to forget I was still making mistakes in life well into my 30s (okay, not ‘well into‘ really, but you know). I didn’t have to face the fact that I had the tools to get out of the shithole I had dug for myself, but I just couldn’t push myself to use them. Or maybe I didn’t have the tools after all.

This is why I haven’t really written anything or even read anything (besides scholarly articles) to, however cliché it sounds, ‘feed my soul’, because writing or reading require you to face reality, your reality. And that’s absolutely scary when you’re still writing and re-writing your reality, and you have no idea how the ending will go. They demand that you pause your life for hours and face your joys and your demons. They cannot afford your brain to shut off, which is what you do when you laugh at Kimmy and Titus’ banter on “Unbreakable” or shudder at the thrill “Bosch” provides. They want you to understand the grammar rules, to finish the vocabulary, to review the syntax, and to analyze the flow of your day, your week, or that moment you decided beer would solve everything but didn’t.

“Dear Life” has, in this context, come at quite an opportune moment. I did learn earlier of the beauty of ‘that is not said’ that short stories provide; and today, as I read through Alice Munro’s words and sentences, they make a little more sense, and provide me with some sort of comfort. The comfort that just like her short stories, things can be left unsaid, yet still matter. The relief that I can still write my own future, with its good and its bad. It’s okay to make mistakes even at 31 years old. 31 years old is not too old to get heartbroken, procrastinate, or lie down in bed well past 9 am because you just can’t be bothered with life.

My life doesn’t have to be a 300-page novel with a clear start and ending. It can be a series of short stories; some find their happy ending, but most of the time, I am and will be left troubled with the missing details and at a loss as to how I should feel. But it’s okay. Each story matters.

Writing freely

Just something I wrote for my Qualitative Methodology class, based on the book by Kirin Nayaran “Alive in the Writing”.

“An argument that I particularly want to tell you about is one I had about a month ago with my mom. My mom, being the typical Korean mother – yes, sometimes clichés are based on truths – worries about everything and ‘meddles’ in every aspect of my life. Distance does not matter at all; in fact, coupled with the recent technology that allows instant messaging and video chatting almost anywhere in the world where there is internet, she devotes all her attention and time to particularly excel in both of these tasks (this, of course, is not what she thinks she’s doing). I have therefore learned from early on, and more specifically ever since I came to the United States, to keep her informed about what I do or feel on a minimal basis. One of those things I did not think she particularly needed to know was my brand new tattoos – three in total – that I got in the span of less than a year. I knew what her reaction would be if she found out – in her mind, getting a tattoo is the equivalent of an inevitable social and professional ‘shame’ and surely the next step someone with a tattoo will take would be to join a criminal gang or fall out from acceptable social norms into the depths of abomination. Unfortunately, another habit of hers is to text or call me on Friday nights here (which is Saturday morning in Korea and hence a good time for her to talk to me I guess), and unfortunately in this case, I do happen to enjoy some sort of social life on those days. Another unfortunate thing is that beer often makes me chatty and miss the people I left in Korea, which sometimes includes my parents. So all these unfortunate elements led to a Skype chat on a Friday night (midnight to be precise) when I happened to let my guards down and wore a T-shirt that showed the tattoo on my arm (the latest and the biggest one) when I decided to tie my hair. The two-hour ‘conversation/argument’ that followed suit was not a pretty one, to say the least. I had expected her to be angry, but I had definitely not expected her to actually be devastated and cry. I guess I did feel bad when I saw her cry (it wasn’t even that she was bawling, which I think I would have preferred, but silent tears that just seemed to fall down effortlessly and without her actually realizing), but my usual lack of empathy only gets worse when accompanied with beverages made of malted barley or wheat. I was therefore not in the mood to indulge her concerns about how tattoos lasted ‘forever’ (which is a fact I did and do know about tattoos) and her arguments about how society – especially the Korean one – was not ready to ‘accept’ me or my ‘quirks’ yet, and how this surely would prevent me from getting jobs or lead a ‘normal social life’ (I guess she meant ‘respectable’ by ‘normal’). I addressed these concerns by telling her that if people were willing to judge me based on what I had decided to do with my body, I wouldn’t particularly rejoice in working with or for them either. She then somehow linked this whole discussion with how I never told her anything – especially and specifically – about my love life, which I didn’t think was even near the point of this whole discussion, but that’s how mothers often work. My arguments about how as an individual and grown up, I did not have the ‘duty’ to report to her about everything that was going on in my life were useless. I was left disgruntled after the two-hour conversation because I had not prepared for this kind of talk at all and felt that I had not conveyed everything I wanted to say clearly due to my uneasiness in the Korean language and perhaps my inebriated state as well on some level. After two days of mulling over it, I resorted to writing her a five-page long letter, to which her answer was another source of frustration and exasperation, but perhaps I can talk about this one in another essay.”

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I paved my way with tears and a smile

Tears for every moment I had longed for the happy moments past,

And a last smile to my true and only friend for the past months,

Loneliness.

‘Close your eyes,’ It said,

‘For you have already witnessed the ugliness,

Enough to make you miss the beauty you have known.

Goodbye. You can let me go now.’

And so I did.

There was no abyss to think of, no fear to indulge.

The icy cold water of winter

That had been lingering beneath all along,

Calling me and pleading with me at times,

Pushing me away and warning me at some others,

Finally welcomed me in its warm embrace.

Peace was nowhere to be seen.

But there were no more tears to hide, no more smile to plaster.

My last selfish act

That would lead me to the perpetual state of selflessness.

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Let’s talk about ‘it’

I rarely talk about relationships, ‘the‘ relationship, the S(ignificant) O(ther) kind. About my relationships, or simply the concept of it.

Many reasons lie behind this conscientious choice of a lifestyle. Experience has taught me that those at the other end of ‘relationship talk’ – me, the good listener at your service – have a hard time enjoying it as much as the one that does the talk. Or maybe it’s just me and my incapability to sympathize. The very few times that I have indulged in this national pastime, actual reality has been very harsh to me. Talking about the potential future of a ‘this-might-lead-to-something’ has revealed to be a jinx, and I got the message. So no more, I decided. Relationship-talk often morphs into the worst kind of ‘girl-talk’, where ‘girlfriends’ incite you to build castles in the sky and interpret the slightest hand motion and word in a text into something that is clearly not. Let me be very clear on this : clearly not. Most of all, I don’t want ‘it’ to define who I am and want to have other fun, interesting things to talk about: me as my own person.

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This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that I don’t spend a significant amount of my time thinking about ‘it’. At this point, wondering about ‘the love of my life’ or ‘my soulmate’ is just a waste of time, energy and brain activity. I need those for my studies, which, frankly, are more important than ‘it’. For now, anyways. I am more concerned about ‘my survival’, shall I say. Indeed, as it becomes harder and harder to have your close friends guarantee long-term companionship, whether it is because they, unlike myself, have found the beauty that is love, or because we don’t live in the same places anymore, I can’t help but getting more and more concerned about what could very well be a state of utter solitude and loneliness in the future. And, yes, as much as I do hate people in general, I realize that I, too, mere mortal, can’t survive solely on my own (although most of the time, I sure can) and this worries me.

This could totally be me some day. Not even kidding.

This could totally be me some day. Not even kidding.

The idea of having that one person who will always be on your side no matter what (or so it goes, theoretically, if we want to ignore the actual number of break-ups and divorces) has become even more alluring as I realize that there is absolutely no constant in my life (unless you count my undying devotion to FRIENDS). I have no idea what I will do when I finish my degree, where I will go, or sometimes, if I will, indeed finish my degree – in my most frustrating days. And I realize that at my age (I’ll be fucking 40 in just ten years), I should really have had these answers down.

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When I was younger, I was set on not getting married because I wanted to have the possibility to knock on every door – I didn’t want ‘my man’ to tie me down as I was sent as ambassador to country A or went on a UN mission to country B. (Yes, I had big dreams, once.)

And it’s ironic how now, I wish I had someone to ‘tie me down’, set some limits as to where I can be and what I can do.

So, so ironic.

And so as I’m sitting, by myself, at the school library, bored and exhausted from reading about democratization failures in Africa, I let my imagination drift, that a single, straight, dashingly good-looking, PhD male student, between the age of 30 and 35, not yet balding, not socially awkward, with the cute kind of nerdiness, will strike up a conversation that will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Or maybe just a non-weirdo. That will do too.

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(OK I could go on but I’m gonna stop now.)

What Women Want

This video enrages me. Among all the crap I’ve read and heard related to the Hollaback! video, I think this one makes the top of my list. Let’s for a moment set aside the fact that white men have been omitted from the original video and that the issue of race/color is one that has been made nonexistent, when it shouldn’t.

There’s a point in the video where the man interviewee says something in the lines of “Women love being complimented”. And you know what, that is absolutely true. Women love to be complimented, we enjoy when we are told that we are beautiful, that we have a nice smile, that we have a cute outfit that fits us perfectly.

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Yes, we love to be complimented, as opposed to men who obviously do not care the least bit whether they are complimented or not. They absolutely do not understand the concept of being told nice things; telling them their new jacket looks perfect on them, or that you love their new glasses will just be lost on them. Men are simply immune to those words, they are special that way. And yet, they go to great lengths to please us, us the ungrateful women, even when they do not really understand how compliments work. So really, I mean, we should nod and smile and say thank you like the nice polite girls that we are, I mean, that we should be, because, ladies, men have once again surpassed our utmost imagination and expectations to do things just to make us happy. We should be ashamed. Indeed.

All right, kidding aside, who the fuck doesn’t want to be complimented? I love it when my friends notice my new earrings or jewelry, I love it when my students tell me they love my jacket or my dress. And yes, I even rejoice, I have to admit, when my relatives/acquaintances tell me I’ve lost weight (although I do know it’s none of their business). But that is NOT the point.

What this nice gentleman does NOT get, and what all those men who say that these guys were just being nice do not get, is that once again, women are not given any choice in the matter. I mean, you would think we would be used to it by now, when choices have been made for us for centuries and when we’ve rarely been given chances to raise our own voices. But hey, that’s what we are, the women, we are crazy and hormonal, so we always want change. Geez.

When friends compliment us, there is an understanding, between people who know each other, that a safe space has been created between us. By being friends, we have, in a way, allowed each other to say a number of things that we would not allow to total strangers. That’s how compliments work. When the person saying them means them, AND when the person that is being said to takes them that way.

What men don’t get is that one guy may say, and believe with all his heart, “Sexy mama”, and walk away, but women will meet more than that one guy throughout her day and throughout her life. What men don’t get is that women have to live in constant fear when they are out in the streets. I don’t mean to say that fear overwhelms me the moment I step foot out of my door. I’m not saying that I walk out in broad daylight giving glances to everyone every step of the way, suspecting them to be potential attackers. But rarely does a day pass by, whether it is when I go home late at night, or when I jog through areas where there are not many people, or when I’m in a crowded bus/subway, when the scary thought of ‘What if…’ doesn’t cross my mind. And unfortunately, men will never get that.

I’m not saying that men never get attacked or harassed. They do, absolutely, and unfortunately. But not only the argument ‘Well, men get attacked too, so women really shouldn’t make a big deal out of this’ is a very bad one, but also and mostly, this is not the point here.

The point women want to make is, as it has always been, Why do men always have to determine and tell us what is good for us and tell us how we should feel and behave? Why does it matter that men meant it ‘in a good way’ when we are telling them we can’t possibly take them in a good way? Why do women have to listen to men tell us that we should feel flattered and not be an uptight ass about it? Why are men still allowed to be so entitled to say anything they feel like to women, regardless of how they feel?

I’m not saying that we should all stare right ahead when we walk in the streets and not share any hellos, goodbyes or thank yous. It is nice when a stranger, man or woman, smiles at you and you still feel perfectly safe, when you know that a smile back will not be construed as an okay for ‘Hey, now that you’ve smiled at me, you can grab my ass, please.’

What a beautiful world it would be, if we could all say hi or smile without fear, and share compliments that are meant as such and that can be taken as such. And the first step in making such a world is to develop an environment where women will have no reason to fear hellos and smiles. In that world, men won’t tell women to smile for them, won’t say demeaning things such as ‘Sexy mama’ or what not, won’t stare at their cleavages or behinds, and won’t follow them for 5 minutes. And to develop such an environment, maybe it would be helpful to listen to those most affected by this.

And we are shouting, loud and clear, that we do not want your so-called compliments.

'You're beautiful when you're docile and compliant.'

Epitome of nerdiness

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I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, one of my favorite ‘games’ as a kid was to ‘play classroom’ where I would be the teacher bestowing knowledge and wisdom to my 6-7 year old peers in the playground. Going through my journals from early on, I seem to have believed becoming an English teacher/professor was my calling. There were also all these English tutoring/camps I thoroughly enjoyed, amidst occasional tears of frustration because these lovely kids couldn’t get the simple performance of the Beatles’ ‘Hello and Goodbye’ right. Above all, people I have come to admire and look up to in real life have mostly been teachers and professors, ranging from my favorite teacher Tom at the English Centre in middle-high school, the Peace Corps Volunteers who gladly indulged our teenage presence on a weekly basis, to professors in English Literature and at GSIS at university. (Although, considering the number of years I have spent studying/being at school, this should not be too unexpected).

Yet I can’t help but being pleasantly surprised at my eagerness and enthusiasm this semester. Truth be told, I was indeed very nervous to teach undergraduate students (*gasp* not kids anymore!!!) and I could definitely feel and hear my voice shake that first Friday at 9 am in my first class. I forgot half of the things I wanted to say in my second class at 10 am and was still a bit careful in my third and final class of the day at 12 pm.

But as I read articles and papers and textbooks by authors I have read over and over for almost 10 years now (!), it’s like I’m reading them for the first time under a new light, because I get to be the one explaining them and sharing my own interpretation of things based on everything I have learned so far. While most of my students (yes, MY students!) have just begun to carefully and hesitantly tread the vast and tumultuous waters of IR, just getting to know the existence of theories like Realism, Liberalism and Constructivism, I cannot help but feel like I have a responsibility and duty to tell them what took me years to learn. I know I’m going to impose a huge bias on my part, but how can you not want to share all these exciting things? Things like Constructivism is cool, Feminist IR theories even cooler, IR is not just about politicians making a difference but also about individuals like Brandon from HONY (Humans of New York) who help you change your perspective on the very misunderstood and misjudged continent that is Africa.

I read Alexander Wendt and marvel at the numerous possibilities students nowadays could have to deconstruct their own world. I skim Samuel Huntington and imagine the different ways to criticize and point out the (very) few relevant points he still has. I devour J.Ann Tickner and admire the vast spectrum of IR she has to offer us. IR is cool, man. There, I’ve said it.

I go over my emails three, four times before sending them out, put words in bold and italic and colors to make them more fun and say things like “Next week’s reading looks very exciting, Tickner and Wendt are personal favorites of mine ;)”. Personal favorites? I never knew the day would come that I would use those words to describe IR-related scholarly articles. Could I be any nerdier?

I go over the short bio/introduction they had as their first assignment and the constant cynicism I seem to have nowadays simply melts away as I inhale their excitement, their hopes and dreams, their promise of changing the world, and their goal to make the world a better place.

Yes, I was like that too, once, when I was a freshman at university.

But what I remember most about my experience with IR as a freshman and throughout undergrad is, disappointment. Disappointment that all we got to learn was theories that in no way seemed to explain what was going on in the ‘real world’, like the war in Iraq, or boring details of agreements and wars before, during, and after WWI. Although I do know now that these are the necessary steps one needs to take to understand and study IR (and these kids will certainly have to face the same music as well), I want my classes to give them something I didn’t have when I was their age.

I want them to know that IR is not just about theories and history. I want them to see that theories are impressive and intriguing tools they can use and manipulate to understand the ‘real world out there’ and find their own solutions to the problems. I want them to feel, always feel, that yes, they can, and should, make the world a better place.

I’m just fooling myself, aren’t I?

Made by moi! This is what I do with my 'free' time...

Made by moi!
This is what I do with my ‘free’ time…