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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“The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain De Botton

Alain de Botton is a beloved and much respected author and philosopher in Korea. And like everything else that Korea likes, my first response to it is not to like it. I’m weird and twisted that way. I just think Korea’s obsession often has no limits, and Koreans will give their heart and soul out to anyone who publicly declares they like kimchi, or something in that line, so cliche it makes you roll your eyes.

I used to love Bernard Werber, reading ‘Les Fourmis’, and other books, I thought he was a genius. Then Korea went into a Werber frenzy and I didn’t even bother finish his latest trilogy. The same goes for Guillaume Musso, so many girls were crazy about his books, and I just read one or two, but wasn’t impressed. And now de Botton. I didn’t want to find myself caught in this unfair prejudice, so I decided to give him a chance, and read “Religion for Atheists”. Interesting, but not oh-my-god-mind-blowing. Now this. To be fair, though, this was not a good choice for my purpose of ‘evaluating’ him, since it’s more of a collection of the most renowned philosophers and their ideas, than his own ideas and words.

De Botton has managed to gather a few of the most renowned philosophers in history and expose their philosophies centering around some crucial issues, I’ll grant him that. The book brushes upon the ideas professed by Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche regarding happiness, fame, difficulty, friendship, in other words, life.

Socrates’ unabated belief that he was doing the right thing, helping young Athenians to question the obvious teaches us that popularity should not stop us from thinking on our own, that because everybody else believes so, we shouldn’t necessarily follow the same path.

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De Botton’s explanation of Epicurus’ philosophy made me realize that we often mistake the philosopher’s idea of happiness and pleasure with tendency to laziness and abundance, when, in fact, Epicurus was preaching that material abundance doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. On the contrary, having more than our essential needs may often lead to discontent. All we need is enough food to survive, and most of all, friends.

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According to Senenca, “We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful” and “Not everything which happens to us occurs with reference to something about us”, telling us that we need not be frustrated about so many things.

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Montaigne warns us not to be too trustworthy of what everyone considers ‘normal’ and ‘adequate’, while Nietzsche justified pain and torment as inevitable steps to reach greater joy. Nietzsche was also dead against alcohol and religion, insisting that “both Christianity and alcohol have the power to convince us that what we previously thought deficient in ourselves and the world does not require attention; both weaken our resolve to garden our problems; both deny us the chance of fulfillment”.

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Although I do not necessarily agree with Nietzsche’s take on religion and alcohol (I do think that both have their advantages, when taken in moderation, like everything else), and although this was not technically the best work to form my idea on Alain de Botton, this book has been helpful in changing the idea I had of philosophy.

Philosophy has always appeared, ever since it became a mandatory course in high school, as an excuse to evade from reality. Philosophers, satisfied and bored, were smarty pants busy creating their own little world, and then, impose their silly quotes to be incorporated in my philosophy exams to make me sound smart. I wouldn’t give one more thought to them once my exam ended.

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But reading this book made me realize, if we all took just a little time in our days to think of the simple questions these philosophers asked themselves and us, we might have a better chance at a shot at happiness and content, which, I guess, is what we are all looking for, one way or the other. We choose not to dwell on these existential questions because we are supposedly busy earning money and doing ‘useful’ things, with the objective of none other than… to be happy in life. So we focus on making enough money to buy the next big thing that everyone else has, or we spend precious minutes of our days thinking how to formulate our whining and complaints the best way we can on Facebook.

Yet if we just took a moment to press on the ‘pause’ button in our frenzy life and tried answering some of these questions, we might increase our chances at finding happiness and satisfaction in our lives, or at least, more meaning. I know, not everyone of us has the leisure to start wondering whether the job they have but hate is the appropriate one. But I’m not talking about giving up on your lifeline or whatever helps you get out of bed in the morning and have decent meals. I do think if we shifted our focus from, for instance, what others seem to be happy about, to what would really make me happy, we would have a whole different outlook in our life.

Of course, that’s what we strive for, everyday, that is why we’re trying to make a living, of course we all want to be ‘happy’, whatever that means; this has all been discussed before, there’s nothing new there. This might be the response of many. But that’s the thing. Do we really take even a minute in our days to think about why we live? Do we have our priorities straightened out?

Can we define what really makes our happiness?

“The Great Gatsby” with fresh eyes

It wasn’t until our book club decided to throw a Gatsby themed picnic on a bright and hot Sunday morning, some time ago, that I realized what I had missed out when I read “The Great Gatsby” for the first time. As I was debating on which bracelet was the more extravagant one that would have perfectly fit the 1920s ‘Gatsby style’ parties, I was taken aback by the contemporary resonance Fitzgerald’s book held on today.

While I had initially discredited the book for just being a portrayal of the times back then, without seeing an adequate reason for being heralded as an all-time classic even now, I now realize why Fitzgerald’s work is considered as a great one.

Like Gatsby, we strive for goals that we believe cannot be attained in our current situation. We pursue love, fame, power, wealth, success, happiness, and so on, firmly convinced it will all be worth the sacrifices along the way. And in the process, we lose ourselves, trusting that what we thought were simple means to our end goal were the objective we wanted to attain from the beginning. Once we think we have reached the top, it takes a while for us to realize we’ve made it, and we forget how to actually grasp ‘it‘ in our hands, even though we’ve been dreaming about ‘it‘ for so long. We don’t realize that some things have changed, that reality has changed, while we were blindly pursuing ‘it‘, and we refuse to believe that it may not have been worth it.

Like Daisy, we fool ourselves with our beliefs and values, when we are mere puppets attached to the strings of our own little world, unable to compromise when it matters most. We will choose the options we are most comfortable with, the ones that do not require sacrifices or major changes, because, even though we said we were longing for diversity and novelty, we are so much… at ease where we are now.

The irony though, with the recent Gatsby frenzy brought by, mostly, the new movie starring Leonardo Dicaprio, is that we have fallen for the extravaganza, the sparkles, the shiny, and the superficiality Fitzgerald was subtly criticizing in his book.

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While we blame Daisy and her surroundings for being too materialistic, for living in an ephemeral world of partying and shimmering lights, we are nevertheless mesmerized by the grandiosity of it all, and we wouldn’t mind being part of such a world. We criticize Daisy’s world and pity Gatsby’s efforts and end, but don’t we all long, in one way or the other, to be part of Daisy’s world, even for just a moment? Don’t we sometimes, just sometimes, think that money could solve so many of our problems? Would we have chosen to share ‘eternal love’ with Gatsby, giving up our social status, wealth and comfort? Would we have attended Gatsby’s funeral?

People say that the world has gotten too materialistic, that people care so much about superfluous things, but it seems that this is not just a recent trend. People have been doing so since the 1920s, and even before, surely. Mistaking wealth for happiness, fame for satisfaction and success for peace of heart, this is an erroneous path we’ve all been walking down for a long time.

Grateful things, Happy thoughts

Have you heard the girls working in cosmetic shops, shrieking to whomever passes the great promotions their shops are offering? Since subway stations are now full of these cosmetic shops and I use the subway every time I go out, I get an earful almost everyday. Did you also notice that these girls all have similar voice tones that are very disturbing? I sometimes feel like a banshee would want to take a few lessons from them. Is it a specific requirement for people working in these shops? Because, frankly, I don’t think a normal human being should be talking in such a voice, and I’m pretty sure that if they were to carry on a casual conversation with their friends, they would actually not sound like that at all.

‘Oh, so this is another of your posts in which you complain about people around you. You love hating so much now you have to pick on these poor girls working their asses off for a meager salary…’ … You may think. And yes, you would not be totally wrong. The moment one of them shrieked into my ears about the ‘1+1 hand cream’ their shop was offering, I was tempted, right there, to pull of my phone and tweet something in the lines of ‘Is it a specific requirement for girls working in cosmetic shops to have the most annoying voice ever?’ (Okay, I might have thought of waiting until I get on the bus, what with the freezing cold, my fingers wouldn’t have been able to type all that).

‘People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be’ – Lincoln

But then I stopped and wondered, how come all my tweets, FB status and blog posts are about things and people I find annoying? The more I thought about it, the more it hit me how disturbing this was. Actually, this thought had been lingering in my mind ever since I skimmed through this blog posting I saw per chance one day, about how this girl loved pajama parties. I didn’t get to read it, because I saw ‘pajama parties’ and ‘love’ in the same sentence and thought to myself ‘Ach one of those people who love every little thing in life!’ and moved on. But seriously, I remember ‘back in the days’ how happy and grateful I  used to be too. I really used to be a much happier and more appreciative person. I even wrote a post on another, more private blog, how the flowers smelled nice in the spring and that made me all ‘spring-y’ inside. The point here being, NOT why I would have another ‘private’ blog, besides my WordPress blog, my Facebook and Twitter accounts (just be glad I’m not into Google Plus), but that I too could write about lovely and joyful things in life. And somehow in the space of a year, I lost that ability.

So then and there, I decided I would look for and maybe write, if it’s worth it, at least three things I should be thankful for every…no, not day, week (I may have realized my bitterness, but I didn’t turn delusional). And right when I set up my mind to it and looked around, I found it, right there and then, three little things of the week I was grateful for.

1. Looking around in the bitter winter cold while standing in line to get on the bus going home from Kwanghwamun, I realized how little and insignificant it may seem, yet inspiring it was to see all these people, waiting to go home, stand in a perfect line to get on the bus. I don’t think anybody told them to do so, there’s no sign telling them, ‘Please stand in line’. And it’s not like this is a common thing to all bus stations in Seoul. The main reason I choose to take 15-30 minutes more than my usual route to get to the Kwanghwamun station is exactly because people here stand in line and I can be sure to be sitting all the way to home and sleep comfortably (minus the few, very embarrassing bangs on the bus window when I’m really tired). Sure, there are, from time to time, some old people who will cut in line, mumbling some lame excuse ‘Ooops there’s a line, I didn’t know’ and still get on the bus, as if all the rest of us enjoyed waiting in the cold. But all good things have a few exceptions. So, yes, knowing fully well how Koreans can be rude (‘Sorry’ indeed seems to be the hardest word for Koreans, especially when they knowingly bump into you and push you), I was grateful for this organized waiting.

2. I’ve had a load of translation jobs lately (that is why it took me a few days to complete this posting) and yes, I do not necessarily enjoy translating work, but I’ve decided to give it another perspective. I’ve been doing this ever since I could read and write it seems, and it’s not fun to be sitting in front of your computer all day and translate. It is also true that some of my translation works are less than ethical, I’m ashamed to admit, but since it comes to my survival and livelihood, I’m going to apply the well-known ‘demand and supply’ principle, which seems to apply to any sort of situation anyways. So yes, although it is not my ideal part-time job, how many ‘idea’ part-time jobs are there anyways? At least the ‘demand’ doesn’t stop coming in and it helps me get a fair amount of money to survive on. At least I can control my own hours and stay within the comforts of my room, an office, or anywhere with internet and a lap-top. So yes, thank you, all of you people who need something to be translated.

3. As I was waiting for the bus (yes, all my three thankful things came within the short span of time I was waiting for the bus. When I get my mind to something, there’s no stopping me!), I heard this girl talking on the phone. She was telling her friend that she didn’t really want to go to this gathering because although she was very hungry, she didn’t really want to meet the people who were there and talk to them. It seemed it was some kind of gathering where you basically know everyone who’s present, but whom you’re not necessarily friends with. She was saying what seemed nonsense to me ‘I wanted to go there, but didn’t really want to, you know what I mean?’ (Erm, no…how does that work?) and so on. And I was thankful I didn’t have such gatherings I felt obliged to. Throughout the years I have learned that life is short, the world is big, so you really shouldn’t be wasting your time with people whose company you find it hard to appreciate. I only meet with people I like (yes, they may exhibit some annoying traits from time to time, but well, who doesn’t?) and I don’t waste my time explaining to a friend there was this gathering I wanted to go but didn’t really want to go, not really. I just don’t think about such gatherings. If I get word or an invite on such event, I make up my mind in the split of a minute and then it’s out of my head. So I was thankful I didn’t have to go through this dilemma anymore, which, if you think about it, is really not worth your time thinking about it. You just need a few good friends.

As soon as I was done with my three happy and grateful things of the week, I had this sudden rush of so many things I was actually grateful and happy about, to which I firmly said, ‘Stop invading me, you madness!’. I have to save some for the weeks to come by, don’t I?

Yes I am!

And please don’t mistake me, I do know how to have a good laugh on a daily basis, and I too can smile in the middle of the day, walking by myself alone, just like that, because some crazy or happy or heart-fluttering thought crossed my mind. I just don’t think they’re as much fun to read as my miseries, so I keep those to myself, well, except for that day at Kwanghwamun (which is another thing I’m grateful for, it’s my favorite place in Seoul), there was too much happiness I couldn’t handle it by myself.

And…of course, I’m always thankful and EXCITED about…

 

NIKITA!!! (and MIKITA)

 

Mikita!

Mikita!