a note from the sub

the things i forgot to tell you today, because i was too busy botching all of your quiz scores.

Month: September, 2014

lost in translation

Dear Korean Kids,

Thank you, for treating me like the Pied Piper of Korean kids. For following me around, once you figured out I was Korean too, or at least half Korean, even if I don’t really look like it, which in turn makes me sort of a secret Korean which in and of itself is kind of a novelty, I guess. For asking me all sorts of questions, like everything I did and said was both marvelous and infinitely fascinating. For teaching me Korean words you were appalled I didn’t know. For showing concern that I was older than your other teacher from last year, Miss-Whatever-Her-Name-Is, and not yet married. Basically, for giving a shit and, hilariously, giving a shit because I’m Korean… something no one has either given a shit about, or really even known, for many, many years.

When my father died, in a way, I ceased to be Korean. I lost my connection to that half of me. We never met most of our Korean family; they all live in Korea and don’t speak English and they are now lost to us. His Korean friends and colleagues were nothing more to my family than my father’s friends and colleagues, and while some of them occasionally called or visited, after the fact, to tearfully bring us boxes of asian pears and the occasional weird cake from the Korean bakery, after about a year we were forgotten entirely. No one recognized us anymore; we were strangers in Korean restaurants, at the market. Without our dad with us, my brothers and I were something other to them; we were no longer welcomed with open arms like prodigal children, Grandmaster Park’s adorable half-Korean kids, everyone pinching our cheeks and telling us how handsome/pretty and smart we were. We permanently lost our pass to the Korean community. And the thing is, I never have culturally identified myself as Korean; it doesn’t matter to me at all. I understand that I don’t look Korean, mostly people just speak Spanish to me and I have to cringe and shake my head and say, no (the only thing I learned in four years of high school spanish) but I think sometimes I just miss my dad so much, and I see him in the faces of the old Korean man walking down the street, and the nice Korean lady who runs my favorite dry cleaners (what?  She does, what can I say?) And I just so desperately want them to look at me and see him, I want so badly to be recognized, for them to hold my face between their hands like they did when I was little, and to tell me that I’m such a pretty girl, and such a good girl, and my father would be so proud.

He was a giant of a man, my dad, shrewd and charismatic, a gifted athlete and a brilliant mind. His reputation was larger-than-life and occasionally skewed towards the bizarre; stories we were told about him as kids often ended up sounding like Chuck Norris one-liners and he gladly confirmed every last one of them, true or not. It was largely due to this uncontainable reputation that so many of his friends and colleagues refused to believe he had died; I actually had to listen to my mother repeatedly say on the phone to stunned people …yes, really. People were obsessed with him; they traveled from across the globe, slept on the mat of his studio just to get a chance to train with him.  Someone once made a bunch of tshirts with his picture on it, one of which I wore in a photo in college, as I drunkenly broke a board at my friend’s request (I later showed him the picture; he was sufficiently mortified.) But mostly, he was just my dad. For such a handsome, imposing man, at home with us he was so weird, just such a giant weirdo, always making up songs about poop and dancing crazy dances, driving to Home Depot in his bucket hat and the bottoms of his Otomix American flag pants tucked into his white athletic socks and sandals. He was quirky to the point of infinite quotability, a never-ending source of quips and non-sequiturs in broken English. He was generous and kind, and loved and accepted me for the neurotic, sensitive artist I was, even if he would have greatly preferred if I had shown a propensity for numbers, or medical/legal jargon.

I don’t know how it would be different, if we might feel the hole he left in our lives any less if there were anyone around from when he was still alive, as I imagine some people who lose a parent might have, who could sit down and bring my father back to life through their stories. Those people disappeared or can’t speak English, don’t know what to say or can’t find us to say it. So, instead, I sat down during snack and I told a bunch of Korean kids about my Korean dad, my extraordinary dad. I guess I just wanted to thank you, for temporarily giving me back a little of something I lost a long time ago. It was nice, for a brief moment, to be welcomed back into my lost tribe. To be fondly reminded of the years I spent in Korean restaurants and supermarkets and video stores. To hold your darling little faces in my hands as I tell you, that you are so smart and so lovely and so kind, and I bet your parents are so proud of you.


Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?



walk it off

Dear girl,

I’m sorry those other girls said whatever thing that they said to you to make you so upset. I think they said you lied about something, but honestly I can’t remember and I’m sorry for that, too. I was using half of my brain to listen to you, and the other half trying to decide between two horrendously bad ideas for how to spend my afternoon, because I was in a self-destructive mood (that happens occasionally when you’re a grownup.) However, you got my full attention, and the attention of a passing teacher, when you suddenly burst into tears and, shout-crying, explained to me that, two years ago, they had a joint birthday party and invited every single person in your grade except you and it was so embarrassing and hurt your feelings so much. Ah. And there it really was, wasn’t it? The other teacher was not having any of this and told you that was something you needed to get over, but that she would help you resolve your more immediate complaint with your frenemies (apparently she deemed me absolutely incapable of handing it… which means my master plan to appear absolutely incapable of handling peer mediation continues to work… masterfully.)

I’m not sure I agreed with her though, muffin. I get that perhaps using this minor incident as a springboard to address your previous and very long-held grudge did not necessarily play well with my fellow teacher, who was using her lunch break to address this, but I understand that getting over something isn’t exactly as easy as, well, getting over it. Especially if something is embarrassing and horrible; these things have a tendency to stick with us. I have my own little flashcard set of humiliating moments tucked away inside, and every now and then, my subconscious will just flip one over and show it to me, often completely without warning or cause, and stop me cold. For example, when I was stuck at the copier today, and thumbing through Facebook (this is why we should all quit Facebook) just seeing a face from my past flipped one of my cards over. The memory rushed back at me of sixth grade, when some awful girl told literally everyone about the major crush I had harbored on a boy in our grade since elementary school. When what became the longest, most humiliating day of my entire life ended, and I was getting off the bus, this boy, who I had been friends with and secretly loved for years, reached out to give me a sheepish high-five, which I returned quickly, and just in time to exit the bus and dissolve into tears. I’m not going to tell you how long ago it was that I was in sixth grade, mostly because if I do the math I might try and throw myself out of my second-story window, suffice to say it was a long fucking time ago. But, when I remember that high five, it is real, and it is so bright and fresh and so, so very painful.

When that other teacher did her thing and left the three of you to hug it out, the other two girls skulked off in the opposite direction and you looked to me, like, “What the fuck?”  I shrugged my shoulders and told you that, sometimes, the only thing left to do is try to walk it off. You looked to me, again, like, “What the fuck,” so I’m sorry that was apparently really awful and vague advice. But what else the fuck is there to do? Maybe, sometimes, that’s all there is. You walk. It just sucks. But it is an immutable fact that, every time you step, you do get one step farther away from whatever it is that you’re walking away from. That’s math.  And I know, lovie, I know there are some things that seem so big, and so loud that there is literally nowhere you could ever go where it won’t be able to hurt you anymore. And sometimes you will think you’re a million miles away, and you’ll take one wrong turn and end up face-to-face with it again, in all its hugeness and ugliness and realness. Best we can hope for is that the roads continue to be infinite, and that, just maybe, we have overestimated our ability to hold onto things, and underestimated the amount of distance we can cover when we just keep our eyes facing the horizon, and walk.

I can’t tell you how far we need to go to silence the voices and maybe even keep that masochistic little deck of flashcards of mine in check. All I can do is welcome you the fuck to life, and remind you that we’re all walking together.

Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?




rebellion pt. III

Okay kids,

There was a word stuck in my head the other day. Just a word that I didn’t know, that I clearly either read somewhere or heard somewhere at some point, that floated back up to the top of my brain when I was digging around for some other piece of information like, where my keys are, and if they’re locked inside my car again (they were.) The word was pyrrhic.  I googled it.

Pyrrhic (adj): (of a victory) won at too high a cost to have been worthwhile for the victor.

For the record, this is what I was reading when I inexplicably burst out laughing during that rather dry Nat Geo documentary on photography. If you haven’t made the connection already, this word is very relevant in school. Perhaps I thought of it the other day when I told one of you that snack was over, and you would have to save your delicious-looking chocolate muffin for lunchtime, and you looked me right in the eye and smushed that entire giant fucking muffin into your mouth, dribbling half of it down your shirt, and choking on the rest (apparently it was also rather dry) as I stared at you in wonder and said, “I hope that was worth it.”

Rebellion is a funny thing, because when you’re a kid, it truly is, quite often, a series of pyrrhic victories fought against grownups telling you to do something that is, at the heart of it, in your own best interest. And it doesn’t matter, I know, you’re right, it truly doesn’t matter one tiny bit if it’s best for you or not… sometimes it feels like we are not in control of who we have to become, and it’s just too much to be told what to do by someone else. I get it, we all get it, because it doesn’t change when you grow up. And, when you’re a grownup, no one’s really telling you what to do anymore, so it’s extra ridiculous. When someone tells you what to do as a grownup, it is usually a suggestion of a way in which to improve upon your life; it is a kindness, it’s advice. And occasionally, when you receive this friendly advice, for whatever reason you will feel your underutilized rebellious spirit rise up in you big and angry, and you will find yourself wanting to say, “GUESS WHAT I think of your advice to SWITCH TO VERIZON?!  I think it’s WHY DON’T YOU JUST LAY THE FUCK OFF ME, HUH?

The other day, I received a compliment, something I had improved upon in my work, and my utterly insane inner reaction was, “Oh yeah?  I wish I HADN’T done better so that I could make it clear that I DON’T CARE ABOUT IMPRESSING YOU.” Recently, it was suggested to me, in the mildest and kindest way possible, that I consider trying meditation as a way of helping my troubled sleep. And, my inner rebel once again reared up in totally misguided umbrage, “DON’T TELL ME TO MEDITATE!  YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! I think you should take your meditation and WHY DON’T YOU JUST LAY THE FUCK OFF ME, HUH?

When I was in high school, I was always dragging myself outside to run, in an attempt to stay in peak physical form so that I could wear my cute little field hockey uniform and sit on the bench cheering on my faster and more coordinated teammates. My father, having been a professional athlete his entire life, decided that this was an area in which he could finally truly mentor me, and insisted on accompanying me on his bicycle, so that he may proceed to run me off the road if I ran too slow for his liking. I’m not sure how tied into rebelling against my father running became for me… but I fucking HATED TO RUN. There was not a single thing I enjoyed about running. It was tiring and long and boring as shit; I was bad at it, and my dad wanted me to be good at it, so that was reason enough to have no desire to do it. Our little joint runs became so torturous to me that my mother began forbidding him to leave the house while I was on one. But my father was exceedingly clever, and one day as I was walking leisurely in my neighborhood, jamming to my minidisk player, his big, black suburban with the tinted windows slowly turned the corner and drove up level with me. The window rolled down and my father’s incredulous face appeared, as he yelled in his broken English, “WHY YOU WALK?!!”

I run all the time now. I run every day. And, somewhere between high school and now, I came not only to love it, but to need it, my own time, carved out just for me and my music and the simple joy of moving in a powerful and instinctive way. It has become, I realized, as my friend was endeavoring to sell me on meditation, my own personal kind of meditation. I run to clear my thoughts, I run to organize my thoughts, I run to celebrate, I run to grieve. I run when I’m unduly furious over being told what to do, and when I’m afraid I’m not becoming who I want to be. I think, though, I run mostly because, when I am running, I feel closest to my dad.

I have to say that having blue hair hasn’t been the transformative experience I thought it might be.  I wanted to be like the kind of person who would dye her hair blue, but I did it, so I guess I was that kind of person all along. And maybe rebelling isn’t always so much fighting what you don’t want to become as it is running, as fast as our little, misguided legs can carry us, to who we’ve always been.


Miss What’s-Your-Name-Again?