180 posts categorized "Thinking Out Loud"

November 09, 2016

Peace through Stories

StoriesI've shared facets of my story many times. About how I immigrated with my family to Bakersfield from Seoul in 1974. Of the few carry-on items I had with me during my flight to America ... I had my passport and my hymnal. A book with songs that I sang growing up within my musical family ... a family that taught me from an early age that sometimes, the most difficult things to express can be done so more beautifully through music and art. In 1978 at the age of 11, after studying for an exam about American history, I was officially naturalized to become a US citizen. The proctor giving me the test was a serious old white man who I think was quietly rooting for me ... a little Korean girl who had worked hard to get on the road to becoming a Korean American woman.

There are so many beautiful stories about growing up in Bakersfield. American friends with whom I played the way little kids do ... spending the night, playing dress-up, making crank calls, eating junk food, talking about our respective crushes, singing Beatles songs.

Dark moments also existed. A bully who repeatedly slapped me on the playground during recess ... Laughing neighbors who shoveled dog shit onto our driveway ... A belligerent drunk redneck who spit sunflower seeds onto my face.

This morning, as I was digesting the reality of President-Elect Trump, I was grateful to hear Secretary Clinton, who after winning the popular vote, conceded defeat per the electoral vote, with a request for  everyone to give Trump our open minds and a chance to lead. With grace and calm. Without anger, jabs, or accusations of anything being "rigged." I was grateful to hear President Obama say that he and his team would offer the kind of support to help Trump's team transition into office as he received from President Bush and his team. Peace. Calm. Up until all of that I had cried a little but I hadn't yet sobbed. And then I heard a report about some Wall Street brokers chanting and laughing "lock her up" on the trading floor after her speech. That's when I burst into tears. It made me remember all the feelings of being slapped, the dog shit, and the slimy spit-ridden sunflower seeds.

Part of my story this morning is being mother to two millennials who are hurting. I'm hurting too. After my morning cry, I had my coffee, then I had a great run and sweated it out. I've also been texting with friends with whom a gamut of emotions has been released. It feels good to have friends who understand. And had our candidate been victorious I'm sure there would be other families and friends feeling the hurt this morning.

The invitation I made to my children is for them to join me in telling our stories as much as possible, and to help the stories of other people be heard. Stories either through art or just plain one-on-one conversations.

Putting aside politicians and politics, I have experienced firsthand that by telling real stories about my everyday life, I (radical-feminist-heterosexual-married-immigrant-agnostic-with-Christian-upbringing-mother) can feel bonded and close to a person whose facets are different than mine. Not in a "let's become best friends and braid each others' hair close" but the kind of closeness that develops when we relate to the tiny universal truths of being human.

It's through sharing stories and conversations that I think our diverse citizenry will remain closer to peace, and farther from war.


October 31, 2016

Trick or Treat :: An American Love Story

HalloweenIn August 1974, my family and I landed on American soil. Bakersfield is where we would settle and I started public elementary school in Bakersfield. First Seibert, then Stine. And eventually onto Actis Jr. High then West High.

Those early months in America were a culture shock. I wasn't in Seoul, Korea anymore! Lots of challenges and tears ... and lots of goodness and love. In the month of October, just two months into American life, I was told that if I put on a costume and went door to door, I'd be given free candy. And that's exactly what I did with my two older brothers. Every door we went to, we were greeted by delightful people who gifted me with milky ways, snickers, tootsie rolls, suckers, smarties, jolly ranchers, and on and on.

Most of the night, we just followed a group of American kids and piggy backed on their utterances of "trick or treat" and just opened our bags. But at one point we got separated from that group and when my brothers and I went to a door and rang the doorbell, the adult who came to the door said "What do you say?" My brother Jinil and I were speechless. We hardly spoke English and we didn't know what to say. But my oldest brother Jim must have taken note, because somehow, he pulled those syllables out of thin air and said "tttt-rrrick ohhhrrrr ttt rrreee ttt." And the candy came, with smiles and wishes for a Happy Halloween.

It's the night when I proclaimed: "I love America."

I love America still. I love the magnificently diverse stories that make up this land. And I think that in spite of the differences we have, it's through telling my story with honesty and transparency that I continue to develop bridges of friendship with people. And it's when I actively listen (rather than dismiss) the stories that others are willing to tell (no matter how different they are to mine), that those bridges become strong pillars of peace and understanding.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween. If you want to.
Jenny (aka skeleton cat girl)

October 07, 2016

Really Feeling What I Really Feel

FeelingsI've just started reading The World According to Garp by John Irving. This little passage occurs in the first chapter of the book, as we learn about the character, Jenny Fields, the strong and independent mother of protagonist, T.S. Garp.

As much as I'd like to say that I've been strong and independent like Jenny Fields all my life, I've frequently been hesitant and uncertain, like the character trying to figure out if it was ok for her to come out of mourning. For most of my life, the question of how I feel was never one that I even thought was important to ask.

Some years ago when I entered therapy for the first time and explained about a specific problem to my therapist, I was asked: "So Jenny, how do you feel about that?" I was stumped. I responded back, "How do I feel??!! Why would anyone want to know about how I feel, least of all me?!"

When my problem became acutely painful, I asked my therapist with tears rolling down my face, "How do I get over my sorrow?" And he said "You do exactly what you're doing ... which is allowing yourself to really feel what you really feel."

Part of me thought "What will others think?" Another part of me thought "Aren't I wasting time, indulging in my worst self, by allowing myself to wallow like this?"

What I learned in therapy and what I keep learning outside of therapy is that really feeling what I really feel is another way of being really honest, without being preoccupied with what others think about how I feel.

And incredibly, the more honestly I feel, the more honestly I move forward to whatever next feeling is ready to land in my psyche. That is, when I let myself honestly feel sad, I find I let content come in when it's truly ready to replace sad. Honest timing. No phony wallowing. No dishonest exaggerations of exuberance. No badgering the feelings of others. Just really feeling what I really feel. 

October 04, 2016

Conversations. Cliff notes. Clichés.

ConversationsRight when our conversation was getting really deep, really good, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a smiling face of a person who handed me a slip of paper and then walked away. I opened the slip to read a cliché ... something about dreaming big, choosing happy, shining bright. It was an art retreat that we were all at ... and I ended up putting that strip of paper down somewhere, collected my train of thought, and got back to continuing my original conversation ...  

In college, I took an upper division writing class where we read many works by Fredrick Nietzsche. It was challenging not only to read the original works but also to write something meaningful every week and present the writings to the entire class. There was one session when a student presented his essay that basically boiled down the reading to this: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" To which, our professor called foul. He said that he would not permit our papers to present clichés (or highlights from cliff notes) as our arguments. He said we had to work harder, think critically, and open ourselves to being challenged by one another as we presented our original analyses. We were expected to astonish one another.

In this day and age, especially during this political season, clichés abound. Conversations are rare ... conversations that reference rigorously researched data, history, thoughtful analysis, and most of all, imagination.

I'm almost 50 years old. I've already been raised. I've already been brought up. I have developed my point of view. We all have. And no amount of clichés will change that. I keep thinking about what journalist Bob Woodward recently said in an interview ... which is that ... even if no one reads it, it is the journalist's responsibility to keep writing, keep thinking, keep analyzing, and making available to the world, the most rigorously researched thought pieces.

Because when I (with my unique upbringing) find myself in a good conversation with a person (and his/her unique upbringing), it will be our ability to reference such quality thought pieces and to honestly share our unique points of view that help us understand and accept each other better. Astonishing.


September 29, 2016

A Prayer for Owen Meany

OwenmeanyThis is one of the my favorite passages from the book, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

It's a book that delves into the topic of The Vietnam war, but also topics related to friendship, baseball, love, and faith. It does this as deeply as an author might feel allowed to do, when the particular literary pond for the story is 543 pages-deep. Certainly a deeper pond than those that I wade in in this modern day ... where I wake up in bodies of water so shallow that the liquid feels evaporated before the sun fully rises. Simple sentences everywhere that boil down complexities within 4x4 inch graphics that bottom line it for everyone. No need for critical thinking or in-depth journalism or robust discussion about the ironies, the wit, and the true conundrums of life.

Yesterday, I heard a podcast about research that points to how contrary to the popular notion that  stating our intentions out loud and publicly might help make that intent come true, there is research that points to the opposite. That is, when a person states that "In one month I am going to become healthier" that the brain sometimes tricks that person into thinking that just by having expressed that intention out loud, they actually think they ate healthily and took brisk walks around the block. And because of this phenomenon, the research shows that the person who declares a plan out loud has a less likelihood of doing anything to make that plan come true, compared to the person who just does the plan and declares nothing beforehand.

This particular passage by Irving presents so many non-simple facets with that war ... including those who protested it. Which makes me think of modern times ... and how our brains trick us into thinking that by declaring that "I am against" or "I am for" X, Y, or Z, that not only do we not do anything in support or against it, but that just that lofty utterance can add fuel the fire for the opposite thing to happen. 

I also heard an interview with journalist Bob Woodward who points out how shallow our ponds of discourse are really getting. And that as a journalist, even if he spends any time feeding the simple sentence platforms, it is the responsibility of journalists and writers and thinkers to continue doing in-depth work and presenting deeper ponds of thought ... regardless of whether a single person steps foot in it.


September 20, 2016

Anna Karenina x 3

AnnaI have not yet read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It's been on my list of things to read ... but it just hasn't made it up to the top yet. In a short story by Haruki Murakami, there is a protagonist who actually ends up reading Anna Karenina 3 times. She does this in an effort to combat her insomnia and with each reading, she picks up totally different nuances that she didn't pick up in her earlier readings.

This situation ... where we humans consume content but are unable to fully notice or fully remember what we've consumed ... has really bothered me. Like there's SO much content. Can I ever come close to conquering it all?! 

My book-loving friend Lorrie was recently telling me that she's been re-reading some of her favorites from the past ... Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, etc., just to see how she would react to them now in this different season in her life. When she told me this, I thought ... "Wow ... imagine that ... going back and re-reading and re-experiencing loved books from the past rather than trying to race against the clock to conquer the never-ending amount of content ... from classics to contemporary.

So maybe I won't ever get to Anna Karenina. Maybe I'll allow myself to remember that I'm a human, not a robot ... and enjoy the process of just interacting with content rather than conquering it. And if I do ever get to it, maybe I won't notice some things until I re-read it. And maybe I'll be able to focus on the best parts of the book-reading experience for me ... the feel, the smell, and the wonder of life-affecting words on real paper. Used hardcover edition whenever possible, please. Tell me, is there anything more wonderful to hold than that?

September 07, 2016

To Live

To liveI've always been intrigued about the fact that at least one of the characters in novels written by John Irving loses a body part. A hand ... leg ... penis ... It never fails. Well, I just started reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving and sure enough it happens. This time, the character that loses a body part is a beloved stuffed armadillo toy ... This paragraph I think explains Irving's reason for it all ... to show that we all go through loss. And the loss is painful. And regardless of the pain, regardless of how utterly unacceptable it all is, we still have to find a way to live with that loss. Don't we?

August 19, 2016


HallelujahThis is a fallen tree that rests in my park where I run. When I see such awesome scenes from nature, I sometimes startle myself as I utter things that usually don't come out of my mouth. Like "hallelujah."

We probably have all uttered that word, especially when singing along with the song, Hallelujah, written by Leonard Cohen, and covered by countless musicians. I am currently reading a book about this very song titled The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light, after listening to Malcolm Gladwell's outstanding Revisionist History podcast about the song.

Says Cohen: "I wanted to push Hallelujah deep into the secular world, into the ordinary world ... I wanted to indicate that Hallelujah can come out of things that have nothing to do with religion."

Says Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon: "We're broken human beings, all of us, so stop pretending, and we can all use the word hallelujah because what it comes from is being open and transparent before God and the world and saying, 'This is how it is, mate.'"

Transparent before God. Is there a God?

So shifting gears, I am also reading a book titled From Eternity to Here by theoretical physicist Sean Carroll (after listening to another outstanding TED Radio podcast episode titled Shifting Time). One of the most mind-blowing concepts that Carroll explains is how through entropy (disorder), our universe continues to expand. We have more disorder today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow. That's how the universe has been and will continue to be as it continues to expand ... as trees continue to fall, eggs crack, rooms messied up, lives lived. In other words, fallen tress cannot become unfallen. Cracked eggs cannot become uncracked. Tears shed cannot be unshed.

So then this truth about entropy leads us to ponder that a long long long time ago, there was less entropy and more order. Physicists agrees with that. And that begs the question ... what is the origin of such order?

Isn't order evidence of God? To that question, Carroll says "I don't know." Nobody knows. Maybe we will know some day. But today, when I ponder all of that ... all that I know and don't know yet ... what I find myself saying and frequently singing and dancing and painting and expressing is the singular word that has become my anthem, my battle cry.



July 28, 2016


RelevanceAfter attending my 30th high school reunion recently, so many memories and emotions have been swished around for me, as I contemplate them all ... about how to measure and determine time, reality, illusion, and existence.

In Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli says this about such matters:

"We say that only the things of the present exist: the past no longer exists and the future doesn't exist yet. But in physics there is nothing that corresponds to the notion of "now." Compare "now" with "here." "Here" designates the place where a speaker is: for two different people "here" points to two different places. Consequently "here" is a word the meaning of which depends on where it is spoken ... "Now" also points to the instant in which the word is uttered ... but no one would dream of saying that things "here" exist, whereas things that are not "here" do not exist. So then why do we say that things that are "now" exist and that everything else doesn't?"

Here's another great passage:

"There is no longer space that "contains" the world, and there is no longer time "in which" events occur. There are only elementary processes wherein quanta of space and matter continually interact with one another."

I know. In one moment I feel the clarity of such concepts and then in another moment they turn muddy and tangled.

Like most of my days, I will paint today. With each stroke, I'll try my hardest to be here, in the now. But I know that the here and now that I aim to be in is MY here and now. I know yours is different. And if we are lucky, our differences will continue to interact in ways that we can't fully understand ... but which is fundamental to the evidence that we exist and therefore we have relevance. We all do.




July 12, 2016

Matters of Importance

MattersWhen I was a new immigrant to this country, I was the only girl of Korean descent in the elementary school that I attended in Bakersfield, California. There was a bully named Andrea who used to slap my face regularly. I told my family about this and before I knew it, Marilyn, from our sponsoring American family, started coaching me with my limited English skills. She told me that the next time it happened, I should look at Andrea in the face and say "Stop it!" And so I did. But it didn't work.

So the next thing I knew, Marilyn accompanied me to school and asked me "Where's Andrea?" I pointed her out and witnessed Marilyn going over to talk to Andrea and telling her in no uncertain terms that she was to stop slapping me.

It worked. Andrea heard Marilyn loud and clear. Even though I was different, I mattered. 

If someone had said to Marilyn "But what about Andrea? Doesn't she matter too?" Marilyn probably would have said "Of course she matters. But I'm here not because someone is slapping Andrea. I'm here because Jenny is being slapped. And I'm not going to not do or say anything about that."

I think that when a nation has a long-standing track record of killing unarmed Black people, it it not illogical for someone witnessing that to speak up. And when the witness stands to speak, they may say something like "Stop it!" Or a collective community of witnesses may say it another way, like "Black lives matter."

To me, those three words don't mean that other lives don't matter. Because of course Jenny matters and Andrea matters too. This great nation protects the right for Marilyn to speak up and get involved and it protects a collective group of like-minded and concerned witnesses to stand together ... to state the case and shine light on matters of importance.

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