First off, in order to understand the title of this post, I highly recommend you listen to this conversation between the frontman of one of my very favorite bands and some other guy who’s in a band as well. You will then understand not only what it means to have your flower together, but also what sideburns can do for you and the importance of the fat man watching The Price Is Right. Well, maybe you will.
It’s taken me the better part of three months, but I finally feel like I’m getting my life together here. For one thing, I finally got my story going. This is a story that’s been kicking around inside my head since last spring when I took a biology class. I’ve been telling myself ever since then that I would get to writing it soon, very soon now. First, it was supposed to happen after I graduated, because then I would no longer have a college workload to contend with. But then I decided I had too many questions about the plot that I hadn’t thought of, and too many other interesting things to do before leaving the US, like going to Crowduck and Chicago and other cool stuff, and anyhow I shouldn’t expect myself to write a story in a household with so much stress permeating it. So I put it off until Korea. Then I reasoned that I was still settling in, and I should wait until I was comfortable to write. Once I was distinctly settled, I discovered that I just couldn’t write it without all my words coming out drivel. This led me to fear that I couldn’t write fiction, and my strengths would always lie in the unexciting realms of journaling and travelogging. I tried to write characters but they just ended up as words. Something was wrong.
Then the other night I was thinking about it and I made some kind of mental breakthrough. It wasn’t the most profound or philosophical of breakthroughs, but it did the job. I thought about how satisfied I was with my last Imaginary Week in my journal. That was fiction, wasn’t it? And I wrote it and it turned out okay, even though I was on a time crunch and didn’t know where I was going from one installment to the next. What was the difference? I figured it out: I didn’t expect anyone to read my Imaginary Week. I wrote it purely for the sake of writing it, and if someone enjoyed it afterward, well, so much the better. I guess I have a mental block when I think about people reading something I write, because I consider every possible kind of person who could come across it, and I think, “Will this make sense to that person?” And then I end up overexplaining and everything becomes wooden and stilted. But if I write just for myself, it flows out in torrents and the making sense ends up taking care of itself. So yesterday, with this in mind, I sat down and wrote about six solid pages in my notebook, and when I read them back, they didn’t sound like crap. Now, I’m only one day into this, so I can’t say for sure if I’ve found my lifelong solution to writer’s block. But I’m going at it again tonight, so we’ll find out, and hopefully it keeps on coming.
So that’s the writing aspect of my life possibly taken care of. Which is good, because one of the big things I was looking forward to in coming out here was the vast amounts of free time in which to write stories upon stories, and ideally at least one book. But that only accounts for one puzzle piece. Another one is the guitar. I’m picking one up next weekend from a guy in Seoul. Then I’m going to devote some time every day to learning it. For a long time I’ve wished I could play a real musical instrument. I can whistle pretty good, and I can snap my fingers real pretty, but I can’t play a lick on any real instrument. So that’s another goal I’ll be pursuing. And that way I won’t spend every single night only dealing with words.
Recently I’ve started coming very close to getting my latest font into a form that can actually be used. Once I’ve done that, it’ll be a tremendous load off. So there’s another piece.
I’m starting to get the hang of Korean cooking, enough that tonight I’m going to try to do some without a recipe on the screen next to me. On Friday I made some dakgalbi that everyone agreed was pretty good. Russell even went so far as to say it was the best he’d had, mainly because I used only chicken breast, and I didn’t leave any bone in like Koreans do when they serve it to you at a restaurant. When I get back I’ll definitely be proficient at several different dishes. I’m learning cooking not just to get an authentic feel for the culture or to be environmentally responsible by only buying local ingredients, though those are two pretty good upsides. I’m also doing it because I love Korean food so much and I want to be able to make it all from scratch when I get back to the States so I can keep on having it whenever I want. If I want to make dakgalbi back at home, the only three specialties I need to find are gochujang (pepper paste), gochutgaru (pepper powder), and rice wine. So, feeling accomplished in the kitchen, and having other people agree that it tastes pretty good, is another piece.
This one is only potential, but the other night we all went out to a bar, and a Korean guy latched onto us. He turned out to be a sergeant-major from the base nearby. He was very anxious to tell us little things like “Nice to meet you” and buy us soju (which left me the next morning with a lot of enthusiasm for taking things slowly). But he couldn’t Englishy, so he called up a guy in his command who lived in Canada for 15 years and came back to Korea to satisfy his military obligations. I talked with this guy and found out he’s living in our town, over in the barracks. I got his email address and told him it’d be interesting to hang out with him and get to know a little more about just what it is that the military does in this town. Because really, I have no idea. I just see lots of soldiers all the time, and occasionally I hear explosions or fighter jets. And I could practice Korean with him. Not to mention he may well be a fun person to hang around with. I haven’t heard back, but if I do, that may help me solve one of the big problems that I’ve had with Korea, which is that the only Korean I have regular and meaningful contact with is my co-teacher, and Amanda, who’s been here for a year before this year started up, says my co-teacher is pretty much the most disagreeable person she’s ever met here. So that’s given a certain unfair pall to my feelings about Koreans. Hanging out with a different person could be a pretty good antidote.
Speaking of my co-teacher, I may have solved that situation as well. The key, I think, is not to hope she’ll change, because she probably won’t. Instead I should just develop coping strategies for dealing with her moods. So far that’s worked out for me.
So that’s it for blathering about how my life is okay. Since I didn’t write last weekend, I suppose I could mention what I did. Amanda, Sean, Natalie, and I all went to Everland. It’s the biggest theme park in Korea, and perhaps the fakest place I’ve ever set foot in. What made up a great deal of the atmosphere was the fact that cheerful music was playing at all places and all times, except where it had been changed to spooky music for Halloween. But also, every building, and every ride, and every bit of pavement, was full of carefully measured whimsy, and no inch of the park escaped the transformation into an element of a fantasy world. There was no concrete such as you’d find everywhere else in Seoul, and the buildings were all brightly colored and festively decorated. I felt like I was betraying most of my core principles, but since I was there, I gave up and focused on having a good time.
And I did, especially when I was riding the T-Express, the park’s biggest roller coaster, featuring the world’s steepest drop on a wooden roller coaster. I hadn’t been on a roller coaster since grade school, so it was pretty fun. They had it engineered so that beams swept by just inches over your head all through the course of the ride, and all I could think of was my very tall friend Jordan. Later I found out he probably wouldn’t have been allowed to ride – I believe there’s some kind of height restriction. When I say it’s the park’s biggest coaster, I should really say it’s the park’s bigger coaster, because only two of its three were operational. It’s a shame: I was really looking forward to the Eagle’s Fortress coaster, located in the American Adventure. Instead I had to settle for the Rolling X-Train, which has some pretty awesome loop-de-loops.
As for the others, Amanda was highly satisfied with the Halloween Parade (which would make many people call their broker and tell him to buy lots of stock in Korean plastics companies), and Sean persuaded Natalie to go into the Haunted Mansion. She was the one dreading it the whole time, while Sean was really looking forward to seeing lots of disturbing things. It turned out that Sean was the one who screamed while Natalie laughed at it. Amanda and I were there too. I was in front, blazing the way for everyone and figuring out where people were going to jump out at us from, and Amanda was directly behind me, holding on to my shirt as one might hold on to a branch growing from a cliff wall a thousand feet up, and shrieking almost constantly, maybe not even inhaling. I grinned the whole time. It was a hilarious experience. Then the park closed and we all slept and went home. And that was that.