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Reflections on 2003

I’ve been thinking about lessons learned in the last year, as I begin the new year. I’ve noted some of the lessons, as well as a list of low points and high points, in the extended entry. I can say simply that it was a good year and I learned a lot.

As for the fine details, you’ll have to consult the extended entry by reading on…

My thoughts on 2003 could, in part, be summed up in this very vapid little song by the Apples in Stereo, titled Go. The first verse goes like this:

When you go into the place were you work you have no face,
you know you wanna go (go baby!)… the moment that you get there! (go baby!)
When you get the evil eye from people you despise
don’tcha you know you wanna go (go baby!)… the moment that you get there!(go baby!)
You’re such a pretty pretty pretty little girl,
Let’s blow this ugly ugly ugly little world! (Go!)

and the lyrics for this other Apples in Stereo song, What Happened Then:

The day has come on, and we’ll go on, and shine again tomorrow
time to undress our emptiness, seamstress of our sorrow.
Take it easy, do what you wanna do.
Let’s make it easy: what happened then won’t happen now to you…

One or the other of these songs is available in what I’ve got under Listen To in the sidebar, but anyway, you should just try find the album The Dicovery of a World Inside the Moone.

2002 of course was a very important year for me, the year when I first came to Korea, but it was in 2003 that I managed to achieve some of the consolidation of the lessons I learned that year.

Number 1: I learned once more, in a biiiiig way, that it’s always a risk to trust people, and that sometimes it’s not really worth it… but that sometimes it actually is really worth it to risk things anyway. I learned these lessons from many different people, in many different ways.

My friend Myoung Jae has a way of putting his foot in his mouth sometimes, in that his saying something, especially as a joke, somehow sets me feeling wrong; there aren’t many people who have this ability, and I think part of it is tied in with admiration, in that it makes me hope for as much respect from him as a friend, and because so much of his humor is the teasing kind, I sometimes used to take what he said the wrong way, unsure of his intention. But a few times he and I have actually talked things over, and knowing what he meant, I knew he wasn’t disparaging me at all. It was a great lesson. I became friends with Shawn only after I let down a barrier of distrust and gave him a chance to prove my expectations wrong. After all, he is an ex-footballer who declares such lovely expressions as, “I think anyone can become a brain surgeon!” and “Sometimes I say really dumb shit!”

But there were also the big, big lessons. I began the year learning (from a woman, of course) that trust is sometimes misplaced. And then, I ended the year realizing (because of another woman) that, Oh my God! Trust is sometimes a risk that it’s worth taking… as long you yourself are ready to be honest and communicative.

But it’s not just love. It’s also just the fact that there are some amazingly wonderful people out there. As I write this post in Ritu’s house, I marvel that I couple up and come to India and meet some people I knew from the Internet, and be welcomed into their home, put up with after my stupid self-injury, and be shown a wonderful time on what has got to go down as the best holiday I’ve ever gone on. And before Ritu and John met me at the airport, they only knew me from email and this website.

I suppose that’s why that line about,

You’re such a pretty pretty pretty little girl,
Let’s blow this ugly ugly ugly little world! (Go!)

makes so much of a resonance for me: not that I’m a pretty pretty pretty little girl (really, I’m not!) but because of what it means to blow this ugly ugly ugly little world. It means getting the hell out of the ugliness in the world, getting “into” the things that make you feel good. For some people, it’s a rock concert, for others a toke, and for others it’s just sitting in the sun, or holding the right hand. The most important thing is, one needs to find the way to this place that makes you embrace the world and life. It’s the only way to get through the hard bits, to have those good memories to feast on when you’re starving.

Number 2: I learned that life has excruciating surprises strung all the way along. Some of them, like food poisoning or choosing the wrong job, one cannot anticipate or prepare for. Others, we can see coming, vaguely, anyway. Some of the surprises are awful, some are nice, and some aren’t so bad if only we can resist the urge to dramatize them and use them to buy ourselves a chance to whine.

Oh, and that everything feels like a much bigger deal at the time than it turns out to be after you’ve adjusted to not getting your own way. But don’t expect me to remember that right away next time something disappointing happens.

Number 3: I learned that anyone can look cool in a leather jacket of the right size and cut, but that (a) the wrong size or cut can make you look like a clown, and (b) that the real test is how cool you look when your leather jacket is nowhere in sight.

Number 4: I realized that I really, really do belong in or near Seoul. (Near enough to get into town for music purposes, and because the only women who I ever meet who suit me these days live in Seoul. Okay, I’ll confess, especially that girl there… (I’m subtly pointing in her direction).) Also, it seems everyone I know is moving there. Okay, not everyone, but a lot of Iksan friends.

Number 5: I learned how to choose my battles. When I came to Iksan as an outsider, I challenged a (somewhat mentally ill, I think) fellow teacher, Nicole on a number of things, mostly loudly her assertion that Koreans are less fully evolved than Westerners. Now, having wrestled with the demon of depression in my own life, I don’t mean to note her mental illness as a derogatory remark… but as a description. Anyone who is constantly unhappy, who derives glee from manufacturing “problems” out of nowhere to vilify one individual after another, who delights in gossiping about people and refuses to hang out with almost all people who don’t confirm her worst suspicions about people, anyone like this is plain and simple mentally ill.

Well, my arrival in Iksan was soon followed by being placed in her bad books, by calling her on her bullshit. (This complicated life in Iksan for me almost as much as the particular fortune I had in my particular roommate. But that’s stuff I’m saving for the novel.) And boy, let me say, that really helped me learn an important lesson: that sometimes, other people will say ridiculous things around you, but that workmates are not necessarily, as my friend Charlie would say, the same things as “mates”. My entry at Jeonju University was far less messy, far more calm and comfortable. Shawn complains that I am quiet around the office, which I guess I am, compared to how I am out with friends or at the Deep In, or wherever. But I don’t think I’m that much quieter. It’s just, I’m careful to decide who and what is worth disagreeing with.

It reminds me of when someone claimed I had told him to do something I would never, ever tell him to do. He was doing this to get out of a scolding from another person. This guy was a couple of years older than me, and it happened last year. When people pull crap like that,
I used to feel it necessary to call them on it. This time, I just kind of wrote off trusting him and moved on.

Number 6: I realized that there is more to the world than Korea. Really, honestly, if I were “hitched” to someone living here, or otherwise ended up with a compelling reason not to leave Korea, I could get by in life, probably fine, probably for a long time. Maybe even very happily. But on the other hand, I don’t need to stay in Korea. Well, I won’t need to once I have put aside enough money to pay off my student loans. So that’s going to be a huge goal of mine, to try to spare enough money to pay off that debt in a year or two. I realized how inflexible having that debt makes me, and that I need to rid myself of that burden as soon as possible. So I have a plan, it’s all underway. Yeah. Which is not to say I won’t stay, but which is to say I’d be free to choose where I live.

Number 7: I learned that nothing haunts us more than a missed chance. If you’re in doubt, it’s better to just try than to sit back and hope that good things will come to you; but if you try, and fail, you should not always blame yourself. You can never control other peoples’ reactions and feedback. The number one thing is that courage in honesty is absolutely necessary or your whole life will pass you by and leave you emptyhanded. I also learned that the worst kind of dishonesty is when you are dishonest with yourself. You will do the most incredibly stupid things if you are dishonest with yourself: get caught in the middle of things you don’t want, confuse other
people and yourself, and make a mess of things just in time complicate the things that really matter. It’s really best to have some idea of what you want in life. Or, more importantly, it’s important to decide what you want, for yourself, while still walking around open to unplanned, wonderful things.

Number 8: I learned why rock and roll music is not all trash. I mean, I learned in 2002, really got it, that rock music could be good, but I didn’t really understand why. Then I delved into all kinds of things, at the instruction of people like Charlie, John Wendel, Thai, Myoung Jae, Seong Hwan, and Min Gyu. Having learned from so many things these people told me about, or loaned me, I began to learn to find what I liked and why I liked it. This impacted on my ideas of music, art, aesthetics, and even forced me to rethink (somewhat, not completely) my ideas on my own writing, on how I think of art and class, and my feelings about playing the kind of music we do in Dabang Band.

Number 9: I learned that life is much shorter if you hurry. Everything takes longer if you push it, if you champ at the bit. It’s better just to plod along, figure out what’s going on frame by frame, page by page. But damn me it’s hard. Especially because it involves sometimes (or even often) not getting things exactly your own way. I learned that sometimes things take time, and the best thing to do is accept life on its own terms. As much as I may stray from this temporarily (I even have momentarily done this since January 1st, and am writing this on the evening of January 12th), it really is true. It’s better to not try forcing life to happen one way, because it just won’t go that way sometimes. And eventually, it might even turn out that what you thought was a setback, actually was a propulsion forward, out of an unstable orbit and towards a better one. Patience and faith are a way of having goodwill to oneself, as well as having goodwill towards other people. You only grow one day at a time, and you can only write a book one page at a time. Everything in life is like this.

Number 10: I figured out that I love traveling. I gotta see the world. I learn so much everytime I spent time in another country, I get this sense that what I could learn, experience, and gain in traveling is something that cannot be gained as deeply or as fully without traveling. This is not a manifesto for experience trumping “book-learning” or anything like that, but I do know now that being in another place is something people have sought time and time again, and something without which learning is as incomplete as would be a life only of experience, without study or reading or reflection and meditation.

I think, all in all, that 2003 was a year that, while at times exceedingly difficult, was littered with useful and important lessons. Important lessons cannot be learned, I suspect, without a little pain or loss.

All in all, here’s 2003 for me:

Low points: losing all my money in Thailand; The Iraq War; the first and second bouts of extreme food poisoning; one rather difficult breakup; missing my plane to India (dumbass!); my ear infection in March; the day I realized that I was chasing the wrong girl; the Night of Too Many Tequilas (thanks, Min); Matrix 3; missing The Return of the King in Bangkok only to find it’s not yet playing in Delhi!

High points: playing with Plastic People at Bbang Club in Seoul; seeing Bangkok for the first time; learning to swim; my birthday dinner last March; starting work on Dabang’s next album; learning the basics of writing rock songs; writing my first (awful) poem in Korean, and my first good poem about Korea; losing a good chunk of weight (one pant size); moving to Jeonju (and making some unique friends there); being lucky enough to meet Sun Hwa; and most recently; coming to India and meeting Ritu, John, and Koko; seeing the Bollywood film Kaal Ho Na Ho.

As for resolutions for 2004, I have a few, but nothing sketched out too clearly in my head. I’ll leave that topic be for now…

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