Mockingbirds

EDIT EDIT: I did my first spoken word reading in Korea last night at a bar in KSU called Cafe Radio. It was so great to be back in front of a microphone reading my words again. When I was there, I was surprised by how much I had missed the concept of reading poetry in general. Of course, I miss Barley Rhymes and Hops on Birch, because they are populated and run by the best people in the world.

As it turns out, though, I also miss just sharing my work. I miss having a reason to put poetry together. I miss the bravery it takes to stand up in front of people (beer in hand, of course) and lay everything bare, to be open, to say here I am–well, part of me–take me or leave me.

WordZ Only gave me the opportunity to do that again. I’m looking forward to attending many more events in the future, and writing a lot more because of it.

Tell me what you think of my reading in the comments!

EDIT: Nick was actually featured reading this poem in Episode 3 of Barley Rhymes’s web series! Yay! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTd4lmi88_U#t=449

I don’t really fit here.

Korea is beautiful. The ocean, the mountains, the forests… I see amazing, beautiful things everyday. But I don’t fit. I think maybe there are places where you feel immediately at home, as if you always should have been there, and there are other places that you merely exist in, no matter how much they have to offer. For me, Busan is the latter. There is nothing wrong with this place, but it’s just so very far from the person I am.

I wrote a poem on this theme, my first in quite a while, and I wanted to share it here with you all. (My brother also read it at the best spoken word poetry EVER, Barley Rhymes! You should definitely check out their web series. Nick doesn’t appear, but tons of other great poets do!)

Enjoy.

Mockingbirds

There are birds here,
black and white,
that look like mockingbirds.


A thin, dark-haired woman,
smiles, wrinkling the corners of her narrow eyes.
Every morning she tells me
about something beautiful.
Today, she says
that when a Korean hears the song
of the black and white birds,
she will know
good luck is coming.


I step out of her car
and the bird we’ve been watching
picks insects
from between blades of grass–
silently.


In the hills behind my school building,
there are dozens of tiny farms.
One day, I stand on a road and watch.
A man squats over a row of cabbage
while the birds
fly in arcs from field to forest
above his head,
landing first on green house,
then rooftop,
then nesting in the nearby trees,
singing.


The sun sinks and their black bodies are silhouetted
against the grey and pale pink sky’s
dimming light.


Sixteen birds on a wire
turn their backs to my bus as it passes.
If they are singing, it is a sound
I don’t hear.


Are you mocking me,
bird in the grass
with your beak too full of bugs
to speak?


Or do you know
I’ve already had my share of luck,
enough to bring me here
to a country road
where you shower a man with your song,
to a setting so pastoral,
it seems pulled from a painting
in a history book,
removed from time
and set here
on this hill
just far enough from the highway
for the song birds to stay.


One evening, I walk through woods.
My path winds its way
around houses with crumbling concrete walls
that were once washed in brilliant white,
and then between fences
built to keep farms
and farmers in,
and then between clumps of bamboo shoots
and trees with fall reddened leaves.


Among the farm plots
sit small shacks, of plastic sheeting
placed against itself at right angles.
From one shelter,
across the ravine,
I hear saxophone notes.
They follow one another slowly,
then a few burst forth
all at once,
unable to endure the wait,
to sit back in a man’s breath
while the others
ring out clear,
in the cool air,
building a melody that settles
on foreign ears,
ears that are deaf to all language but this.


The notes rise and fall
and drag from her a sweet sadness.
She thinks of her home
and she smiles and cries all at once.
The notes penetrate her chest
and massage her heart
until its beats slow,
fill her lungs until her breath
comes deep
and low.
Her eyes close.


She stands there,
her non-conforming blonde hair,
her clothes that aren’t right,
her voice only capable of forming words
that don’t belong here,
and she listens.


The notes sweep up the hillside and break
against the edges of the ravine,
like water over the spillway of a dam.
The melody surrounds her
until she is no longer separate
from this country, from this world,
until she is no longer a woman
among the trees and
the breeze and
the sound.
She is sound.
She is breeze.


She opens her eyes
and a bird that’s not a mockingbird
flies silently by.


My luck has all been spent,
she thinks,
chest tightening,
eyes closing.


Alone in the forest,
slow saxophone tones
carry her home.

Being a sand mermaid…

There are a lot of fantastic things about living in Korea. The beach being SOOO close to my house is one of them (and the temperature of the water here in October is another–still super fun to swim in!).

But even better than those superficially good things is this: I can do anything I want in Korea.

Okay… not anything exactly. I still can’t fly (unless I just happen to fall and miss the ground one day like Arthur Dent, but since I don’t have any missing luggage to be distracted by, I find that somewhat unlikely), I can’t eat fire, I can’t really do anything that would make my school look bad, causing me to lose my job and get kicked out of the county, but that’s not exactly what I mean. At home I was a certain person, people expected me to act a certain way, to do certain things, to be the person they knew me to be. I liked that person–or more accurately, by the time I left, I had learned to like that person and was working on making some minor adjustments to the parts I liked a little less.

But the rules for the person I’m supposed to be were left somewhere back in the states–probably at the airport in California. Now being different, pursuing different things, having different priorities is not only acceptable, but a really easy thing to do, because I don’t have everyone I’ve known my entire life here expecting things of me. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t necessarily think those expectations are always bad. Having people in your life who care about you and what you’re doing with yourself is a definitively positive thing. (And since my readers are mainly those people, let me just say–thank you all so much for the support and caring and expectations you’ve so far had for me.) But having a template version of yourself as defined by everyone around you can make it extra difficult to make a change even when that change is going to be good for you, even when it’s something you may really need.

Becoming mermaid

Becoming mermaid

Here I find myself just doing things–not harmful things, not dangerous things, just things that I otherwise probably would have hesitated over. So, yesterday I was a sand mermaid. I rode on the back of some Korean guy’s jet ski. I ate Indian food. A few weeks ago, I went to a club. A month ago, I bought and started learning to play guitar. Many of the spontaneous things I’ve been doing are not specific to Korea–I could buy and learn to play a guitar anywhere, eat Indian food anywhere, ride on a jet ski anywhere with a beach. But I’m here, and I’m alone, and I don’t feel like I’m being monitored in the same way I was in the small town I grew up in (although I am… Korea has cameras EVERYWHERE). This lack of watchful eyes gives me the chance to do things–things that I might not follow through with, things that I might screw up, things that I might turn out to hate–and to try them all without worrying what people will think of me for trying…or what they will think of me for failing.

My world opened up a lot when I started living it for myself and with my happiness as the priority. Here in a new place it has opened even further. I miss things about home–especially the people there, but I like the person I am able to be here–the person it is easy for me to be here. I hope to take some of her with me when I go back to my country.

Update: One Month in Busan (or the first time I’ve manage to make time to work on this blog since living in Korea)

I’ve been at my school for one month now, and it’s time to do some blogging. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this thing updated—I know a lot of you back home have been waiting to hear from me, but it’s taken quite a bit of adjustment to get to this point. In any case, I’m here now, and I’m going to try to post regularly from here on out. You can also expect to see some posts that fall out of chronological order, because while I wasn’t posting, I was actually writing, and I still want to get some of that stuff up, so you can get a sense of what it was like for me on—say—my first day in my neighborhood.

The view from my bus stop. My apartment building is just to the left of this picture.

The view from my bus stop. My apartment building is just to the left of this picture.

So, one month in, here’s where I stand:

People

  • Friends made: about 400,000
  • Friends who live within an hour of my place: 0
  • Times I’ve seen Ryan (my boyfriend, and the only person here who I knew before I left): 3
  • Hours of travel to see Ryan or vice versa: 5 and a half

Life

Pretty waterfall in Ulsan near Gajisan--some advice: DO NOT walk up the road to get to it; take a cab.

Pretty waterfall in Ulsan near Gajisan–some advice: DO NOT walk up the road to get to it; take a cab.

  • New hobbies acquired: 1 (bought a guitar!)
  • Hours of guitar practice: 15-20 (songs learned: no complete ones; songs written: one mostly done—because I will not let lack of skill get in the way of creativity!)
  • Korean words/phrases learned: about 20 on a good day (language is a process!)
  • Korean words/phrases actually used in conversation with Koreans: maaaaybe 10
  • Good beers consumed: zero, but I read about some good bars that I’ll be trying soon!
  • Bad beers consumed: too many to count
  • Hangovers: really, only one…a bit surprising, actually
  • Hikes: one not too pleasant 3 hour walk down a road in direct sun; pretty waterfall at the end, though
  • Nights out in Busan: 1 bar/club hangout (see hangovers above)
  • Days at the beach: 3! I love the beach!

School

  • Co-teachers: 2
  • Teachers at my school who seem to like me and talking to me: most of them (there are 8 full-time, but I think a few more when you count after school)
  • Students: about 100
  • Students whose names I remember: 1 for sure—there are a handful of others who if the teachers are talking about them, I know to whom they are referring, but whom I can’t remember off the top of my head yet
  • Grades taught: 6 (Kindergarten, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th), plus one for the teachers
  • Classes per week: 22
  • Lesson plans per week: about 13-15 depending on the week

So, that’s the overview. How do I feel about it? Most days really good. It’s so great to be away from the trap of a predictable and unchanging life back home. So great to be experiencing bigger things than myself and the small little cavern of the world I had carved out for myself. So enlightening to see and hear how other people live and experience the world around them…

But, on tired days, like today, I miss the stable and predictable life I had back home. I miss my friends, my family. I miss the sense that I was building something or working toward something with my life. Things here are so transient for me and everyone around me (every foreigner anyway), that I can’t help but feel like I am passing through this year and this country like a ship through water or a plane through air. I can never stop; if I do I will drift, or worse, crash. When I’m gone, everything behind me will be EXACTLY as it was before—I am barely even making a ripple now.

It’s not so bad really, but the life I’m used to is one of scaffolding. Everything I did—every job I worked, every social interaction I had, every decision I made—all of it contributed not only to the life I was living, but to the life I would live, the life I could live. (I guess that’s what having small town roots and a small town life is.)

I left because I was tired of that sort of building. It was too much pressure. And when I realized that the thing I’d built and tried to call life, was broken, was something I barely fit into and didn’t want, I couldn’t stay. I needed to be somewhere and do something where nothing would stick for a while.

I got my wish, and I’m so happy that I’m here, that I’m doing what I always wanted to, that I am lucky enough and privileged enough and smart enough and driven enough to get this opportunity, to experience this part of life that I could never get any other way. Not from television, not from books, not from stories other people told, not from travelling as a tourist.

But today, I’m tired. Today, I really miss the easy, predictable, stable life where I could stop for a moment with both my feet on solid ground. Today, I don’t want to think about everything, I want to stop, to rest, to breathe.

More and cheerier posts to come soon, I promise!