“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.


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.


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.


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.)

Oh Hope thou art treacherous

I didn’t want to write this because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but today is graduation day at SNU, and having graduated from the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), as a proud holder of an MA, just a year ago, I can’t help but assess how much I have changed (or, sadly enough, unchanged) since then.

Having had yet another (!) rejection this morning, it is truly a miracle, I find, that I can get up from my bed  at all, come to work and type away my miseries. Geez, re-reading this makes me want to kill myself…

Having had yet another (!) rejection from a grad school this morning (I’ve lost count now), I think it is fair and about time to assume that a Ph. D degree and going to the States won’t be part of my near future. Yet while most of my brain tells me that, there is this tiny and thin thread of hope that I desperately cling on to, a hope that will linger on as long as the remaining five schools don’t deliver the fatal (or redeeming?) verdict. And so, yes, I cannot yet make myself  look for a ‘real job’ thoroughly enough right now, for, what if I found the perfect job, applied for it, got it (because doh? Of course my resume is brilliant and I will ace the interview), and then, suddenly, Oh Behold, Harvard offers me a fully-funded Ph. D position? Well now, I would have to let down the people who made the wise decision of hiring the awesome person that I am. Oh the disappointment they will have! I’ve had enough disappointment in my life, I don’t want to be the one to bestow it on others. 

Yes, call me crazy and delusional, but that is roughly what has been going through my head for the past couple of weeks. I will probably regret not having made extra effort to find a job a few weeks from now, but that’s the thing with hope, isn’t it? You can’t just make it go away, no matter how much you try to reason with yourself. It lingers there, it hops here and about, taunts you, hands you water to your thirsty and starched soul, only to take it away when you finally gather up the courage to accept what you know is poison for your mind.

Oh Hope thou art treacherous

It’s like when I was a kid, I knew in my head that I had screwed up an exam, I checked, with my very own eyes that what I had written in my paper was not the correct answer to the question. Yet I hoped with all my heart, for the following few days, that somehow, history had changed and suddenly, yes, the First World War had indeed started in 1916, or that a guardian angel had corrected the + sign in my Math paper to the correct – sign. But the day finally came when the teacher would hand out back our exam, and hope scurried along to haunt another kid while sticking its tongue out for a last chance of mockery, and I had to face the red pen marks of my teacher and the bad grade it ensued.

This tormenting relationship continues to this day, and to this day, I cannot, will not, learn my lesson. Because just when I’m about to give up, it suddenly offers its generous hand and rejoices at my relieved shout ‘Yes! There IS hope!’, only to snort at my naivety once more. Hope is sometimes overly exaggerated. Sure, it’s what makes us go on day after day, year after year, but at what cost? At the cost of seeing your imaginary world, which you carefully built day after day, shatter into a thousand pieces with a simple rejection letter, a phone call, a click at your keyboard, a message, and so on.

Oh Hope, you are mean and misguiding…


today again, I hope.

I hope that one school will open its doors for me.

I hope that I will get a great job.

I hope that I will finally move out from my parents’ house.

I hope that I will make enough money to take a trip once a year.

I hope that I will meet my Chandler and live happily ever after.

Yes! We’re bound to achieve our dream, whatever that may be, sooner or later!