Now that the trees are putting out leaves again, and it’s possible to go outside to become warmer rather than colder, most aspects of my life seem to be improving. Though it’s not just the weather that’s to thank. There’s also the fact that I’m getting really close to finishing my font. Have I mentioned how much of a drain this project has been on my brain? Actually I know for I’ve complained vocally about it to my friends here on several occasions, but I haven’t mentioned it much here. Well, it’s getting to me.
First off, I’m nearing the two-year mark of how long this font has been in development. I started way back in summer 2010, when I was in New York—I still remember getting Dad to send me scans of my original drawings from home there. For that long, I’ve found myself almost unable to take up any other creative pursuit, because whenever I do, I think, “You know, though, there’s that font that I’m still not done with. I should finish that.” All the many times I’ve started writing that frog story, I’ve been unable to remove the font from the back of my mind. Same goes for learning the guitar. I picked up a guitar in Seoul last fall, and I’ve probably played it not quite a couple dozen times since I got it. I meant to be turning into a virtuoso, or at least someone who could play a few songs around a campfire (or barrel fire) if there was a spare guitar around. I could put the font out of mind a lot easier at college, because I was doing something else that was immediate and required focus, and also because I knew I would have a computer and free time to work on the font for a lot of the future. But now that I’ve come here, it’s become a more pressing presence in my consciousness, because after I leave Korea there’ll likely be more than a year in which I don’t use my computer practically at all. And I also know that if I don’t finish it before I leave Korea, I’ll feel like more or less a total failure, because here I am secluded away from any distractions with nothing but free time in my evenings, and yet I’ll have accomplished nothing aside from inconclusive progress on my font (and some abortive starts to a story).
To some extent, I think fontwork comes packaged with its own cross-purpose: it must be done on the computer. Not only that, but it’s usually necessary to use the internet too, to look up obscure characters and such. This means, at least for me, that I spend a pretty big proportion of any stretch of fontwork uselessly distracted on the internet, mindlessly clicking links that I’ve visited already several times, hoping that something new will appear even though it never will. It also demoralizes me, especially now that the weather is getting nicer, because it traps me inside where the dim screenlight is visible and there are power outlets, and that makes me work even slower.
I’ve been thinking about this computer thing recently. (The following paragraphs were, if not inspired, then at least sort of catalyzed by this short blog post by a guy from my college who I never really met while I was there because he graduated too soon, but who was my dumpster-diving forerunner, as I found out several months into doing it.) For a long time it’s been a source of some mental tension for me. After all, I’m the guy who wants to go back to living more or less how they did tens of thousands of years ago. And yet I spend far more time staring at computer screens than I do outside learning new plants or the habits of animals or how to build a fire with no matches. (I collected a bunch of tinder and some willow sticks for this last purpose at the beginning of winter, intending to perfect my technique over the season. I haven’t touched them since, except to clean them up when they fall off their shelf onto the floor.) For a long time, this has been out of necessity. All through college I had to use computers a lot, since that’s how scholarship is done now. And here in Korea, too, I spend eight hours a day at a job where I’m actually ordered to turn on my computer if I close it, so I can receive messages on the school’s instant message intranet. Plus the fontwork afterward, which I’m far too deep in to give up on. But I’m fast approaching a point where computers will become much less necessary for me, and I’m thinking I should take this chance when it comes.
Once I finish my font, there’ll be only a few reasons for me to ever turn on my computer while I’m at home. To chat with people from home is the big, obvious one, since I can’t Skype at school. I also look up the occasional recipe, though that could easily be shunted over into the downtime I have at school. Blogging is harder for me to concentrate on there, so I might keep doing that at home. But what it boils down to is that I could basically go computer-free most of the days of the week, and maybe turn on the computer once or twice during the weekends. I think I’m going to do it. It sounds like deliberate self-deprivation when I think about it from one angle. But here’s the angle I intend to focus on: When I’m on the computer, aside from fontwork, it’s seldom that I ever do anything useful. I spend a long time reading humor websites. I also read pointless articles that have no effect on my life, and often, like I mentioned before, I just sit there and idly visit sites that I already know have nothing new to show me. Whereas when I’m outside, or even bouncing around my apartment with the computer off, things magically happen.
Such has been the case recently, probably due in no small part to the intoxicating spring warmth. Saturday I had a tremendous day. I had nothing to do, so, half impulsively, I decided to climb up Chang’an-San again. (I want to explore other mountains, but for a quick climb Chang’an is just too close to resist.) And because my feet have been cooped up for far too long, I went about it barefoot. So I really felt the Earth for the first time in months. The path was padded with a cushiony, thick layer of brown pine needles. Rocks here and there reminded me that I need to build up my calluses again, but did it gently. I’d been sedentary all winter, so I knew I’d find myself gasping for breath sooner or later, but it was still a little disappointing when I did. But I managed to get to a bench on a gazebo where I could just look out into the forest below. Of course it’s been alive all winter under the surface, but now all its green is starting to show, and it felt like a real forest again. I decided to relax instead of pushing on immediately. I allowed myself to go pensive. Two little blue birds appeared and hopped up tree trunks near me. They made inquisitive clicking chirps. Then they flew away.
I kept climbing, and after a while I couldn’t climb anymore because I’d reached the top. So I had a seat on a bench with a roof over it and looked out some more, this time into the vastness of the view of the neighboring village. Glancing around, I noticed a big carpenter ant on the post holding up the roof. It wasn’t running around like mad, which I thought was a bit strange, since that’s really ants’ main thing in life. I took a closer look. It was nibbling on something unidentifiable, and it seemed like a strange way for an ant to nibble: spinning the morsel around and around and seeming to suck on it. After a moment it struck me: it had spider fangs. I had read something recently about spiders that mimic ants, and now I realized I was looking at the real thing. I found a genuine ant (running around like mad) and evaluated the spider’s disguise. It was basically perfect. The spider’s front body segment was pinched to look like it was two. Its front two legs had evolved into fake antennae. It even got the subtle coloring details right—glossy black on the head and thorax, matte black on the abdomen. The only giveaway was its mouth, and presumably if an ant got close enough to realize that, it was already within striking range. I wonder if it even has matching pheromones.
I sat on a tall rock and went pensive again and kept looking out. A birch tree was growing at the foot of the rock. I reached out to feel its budding leaves and noticed with a little surprise that they were sticky. I felt like I was getting to know the forest. The way you might get to know a person. It takes quite a while to actually get to know someone, and you can only do it through just interacting with them over and over again. I doubt anyone can really tell you what they’re like, at least not in a way that you would find yourself agreeing with completely after spending a few months with the person. Today I looked back at my post where I described the people here, and thought about how I was just way off on Sean. I basically just said that he likes to swear and tell dirty jokes, which missed the point of Sean completely; actually, I don’t even remember him telling any dirty jokes. Amanda, too, is far more subtle than I portrayed her, and really so is everyone I wrote about, although I haven’t plumbed the depths of some of their personalities well enough to know where I was wrong. (Deanna remains elusive. Russell said once that I got him dead-on, but I’m sure I missed something.) It must be that way with forests, too, though I have to admit that I don’t know this from experience, because I haven’t spent enough time in one. If you go out and enjoy the view in a forest, you’re doing about what you do if you make a judgement of someone based on what they’re wearing. To really get to know a forest I assume you have to be spend a lot of time there; basically, live in it. And it probably takes years, maybe a lifetime, since a forest is so much more complex than a human. And of course that’s just forests; there are also deserts, prairies, high peaks, tundra, steppe, and more other kinds of landscape and fine divisions (different personalities) than we can ever describe even with all the well-meaning words in all our languages. Which is one of the huger reasons I need to get off the computer. Getting to know at least some part of the outdoors, even if only barely, is one of my main goals for the Year of Adventure plan. I’ve been thinking recently that I want to spend as much time as possible in that year being outdoors. I’ve certainly got plenty of indoor time to make up for.
I came down from the rock. The spider had finished its morsel and was sitting there waiting for something; if I knew it, I could tell you what. Then I climbed back down the mountain. This time with my shoes on, because my feet were still too tender.
A bit high from being on the mountain, I came home and tried to concentrate on my font until dinnertime or so, but the sounds of merriment and karaoke drifted in my window from the direction of the town’s high school, well down the road but pumping out plenty enough sound to make up for the distance. Several people were really bad at singing, and everyone in town with an open window now knew. The entertainment value of this seemed far too good to pass up, so I hopped on Ben’s bike (I’m the only one who uses it) and rode toward the sound. It was in fact at the high school, in a little parking lot they have, and I only then realized that I’d never actually been to the high school before. I parked the bike and as soon as I passed the threshold into the festival, six or seven middle-aged men around a low round table waved me over and told me with big smiles and expansive gestures to sit down and have some sausage and take a shot of soju. With no reason or ability to refuse, I took a seat and started talking with them, haltingly. I didn’t really catch the reason for the festival, but later I learned that it was a reunion. There were several long plastic tables with people sitting all down their lengths drinking beer and soju and makkeolli. At the front was a table with gifts marked bronze, silver, and gold, and a little tent with a karaoke machine and sound system, and in front of it a shifting team of announcers and people dancing drunkenly.
One of the men at the table handed me a gift-wrapped box and assured me I should keep it and open it. Inside were two pairs of nice socks. Another man poured me a second or maybe a third shot of soju. Another man—or maybe the same one; by this point I was definitely losing track—handed me another gift-wrapped box, which contained a small white towel with the name of today’s event screen-printed onto it. And then one of them grabbed me by the hand and pulled me to the front of the party. He danced for all he was worth and told me to do the same. So I did. It was not much to behold, I’m sure, and probably more reminiscent of an overturned beetle than John Travolta, but it did the job. After just a few seconds he dragged me over to some woman at one of the tables, who could have been random for all I knew, and said, “My sister!” Then he pointed to another woman—or maybe the same one; by this point he was definitely losing track—and said, “Tonight—free girl!” Then he dragged me back to the little round table and I was given more soju and sausages.
I watched quite a few more drunken dancers, a few of which must have been people who the men at my table knew, because they found their dancing endlessly amusing and worthy of lots and lots of applause. I also listened to a raffle being called, but, though I’d been given a number (250) by one of the guys, it never got called, and I didn’t get to take home a wide-screen TV or a big bag of rice. Around then the party broke up, and biked home with more steadiness than I really had a right to. (Though a night of cards and heavy drinking later on with Russell, Ben, and Deanna put me back on a level.)
There’s one more thing that’s starting in my life now that it’s spring: I’m going to try taking up jogging. Sean used to jog every day but got out of the habit when he got here; I never have, but I’ve very often thought I ought to. On Monday we took our inaugural jog (our injogural naug, our inojular gaug) down to the swing hanging underneath the bridge on the Jichon Stream, and back. It was idyllic evening weather and the scenery was in full form; we talked about what we’d been doing lately and really there were no problems or worries unless you count the pack of dogs that chased us when we took a shortcut through their territory. We plan to jog every other day. Jogging together will keep us honest, and setting a schedule will keep us from just doing it whenever we feel like, which would end up being maybe once a month. So far I’m pleased to report that my legs don’t hurt nearly as much as I thought they would.
And when you get down to it, asking for more out of spring than all that would just be greedy.