Monday, April 18, 2016

Life lessons: March babies

March 21, 2015: two kitties adopted
March 21, 2016: a puppy adopted
My son detected this pattern and shared it with me.

This prompted me to write a letter to my future self:

Dear Yoon Soo,
Come next March, you might start looking at chickens, or ducks that lay eggs at five in the morning and dream of having a whole mess of them in your backyard as they follow you around looking at the peach tree, persimmon trees and blueberry bushes. You will fantasize about building your own DIY chicken coop and how you will have two coops: one cute outdoor coop for the ducks or chickens to use during the day and one night time coop that will be inside of the garage which will be sound proofed so that the clucking will not disturb the neighbors.

Or come next March, you might start fantasizing about taking in pregnant cats who need homes. You might fantasize about the birthing, and the tiny, tiny, tiny kittens, and their sweet mothers. You might imagine how silly their limbs look at first and how soon they will grow into fluff balls.

I am here to tell you and remind you of the dog we now have. I am here to tell you the truth about the dog. I am sorry to tell you that, YOU, Yoon Soo, wanted to BE THE PUPPY--so cute and lovable that all people would love you and take care of you. What happened instead was that this puppy is reminding you, every single moment, that you are a responsible adult who now has to take care of yet another creatures' poop, food intake, water intake, bite inhibition, stranger fear, other dog aggression, and food aggression. You are now prying out half eaten cat poop from your puppies mouth that he has found in our yard. This is the reality of having a puppy. Chunks of decomposing cat poop. Prying it out of your puppy's mouth. With your bare hands.

If I may be so bold, I have an opinion about what is happening. ALL OF THIS HERE that is happening, might be your ovaries talking through you. And I am here to tell you Yoon Soo, that your ovaries are drying up. They are shriveling up and they are calling to the world I WILL NOT DIE YOU MOTHER FUCKER! And this is their final hurrah. You might confuse them with your true self voice because it is so strong and self-righteous. But previous life experiences has taught us that self-righteousness is quite often a cover for vulnerability. And fear.

So, Yoon Soo, your ovaries are drying up. And you are slowing drying up. And you will eventually die. But you are not going to die just now. A very small part of you is. And that is okay. Because we still have so much to celebrate.

Love, Yoon Soo

- - - - -

I will look at the dog, and remember: my freaked out, death fearing ovaries brought to me my lovely puppy. And he will soothe the angst of death with never ending kisses and snuggles. And I will continue to pry out decomposing cat poop from my puppies mouth. With my bare hands. And then I will let him lick my face.

I am officially a puppy mom.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I Lay Before You My Sword: an Educators Manifesto. Version 2016

As an educator, I pledge to uphold Sister Corita Kent's rule: "find a PLACE to trust and try trusting it for a while."

That PLACE will be:
The heart of students.
The mind of students.
The spirit of students.

I will not practice and promote the pedagogical damage that has been placed upon us.

I will not tempt nor woo students with intellectual or psychological insight.

I will not hold the students' growth as hostage while trying to build up my own sense of self worth. (That shit I will take care of on my own time, on my own dime.)

And when I do make these errors—for I have and know that I will again—I will name it, claim it and apologize for it.

I will practice listening to my students. And not confuse listening to their voice with my need to be heard.

I will practice balancing my overly critical brain (who knows competition, who thinks she is right and who is incredibly judgmental), with my overly emotional heart (who needs to be liked and who needs approval desperately and persistently.)

In between the heart and the brain is the spirit, where my whole self as a human being resides.

I will practice speaking from this place—this place of wholeness. And it is from this place that I pledge to practice meeting my students.

Judgment and Beauty. An essay by Yoon Soo Lee for a special issue of "Luminalities" edited by Myron Beasley

Liminalities: On Contemplation

Judgment and Beauty (pdf download here)

Friday, April 1, 2016



What a cat needs: food, water and a kitty litter box. A scratching post and occasional snuggling depending on the temperament of the kitty. A sunny or warm spot to sit still and to be left alone.

What a dog needs: food, water, potty training which may or may not lead to crate training, then you need a crate, treats to tempt them into the crate and affirmation that they are doing a good job. Most of all they need a schedule. Especially if you are crate training. Wake up at 6:30, go pee and poo, come inside for food and water, play some with owner, then crate time. Mid-morning pee break, some play with owner, then crate time. Lunch with water and pee/poo. Play with owner and crate time. Mid-afternoon pee and play time, then crate time. Dinner at 5:00 with pee and/or poo. Play time with family and final pee and bedtime. One or two night pee breaks between 2 and 4 am. Then back to the crate. One week of consistent training is a good starting point. 

You also need chew toys of various textures as the puppy is teething and will chew on anything with a bit of give: like your shoes, rug, glasses, and corners of boxes, chairs and sofas. They need a collar and a leash and definitely socializing. Which means our Bubbles has already started preschool.

My good friend told me about crate training the first day I got the puppy. I presumed I knew what crate training was: put a puppy in the crate at bedtime. What I didn't know was what to do with the puppy during the day. So for the first two days, I followed my puppy around, every waking moment, looking for signs of pee and poo. At the end of two days, I felt like a sixteen year old girl who had accidentally had a baby. I was confused, worn out and deeply troubled about my new relationship with this being.

Almost ten days has gone by since Bubbles came into my life. And with that I am learning about puppies and dogs.

It turns out I am a cat person. Feed me, water me and leave me alone, I'm fine. I dislike being scheduled, I dislike authority, I dislike chitchat, I don't like groups, I never pick up my phone, and I love my solitude.

My puppy needs a schedule, he needs me to be an authority figure, he needs numerous affirmations and communication, he loves social mixers, I need to be "plugged into" our relationship, and he doesn't like being alone.

I have been looking for various methods for coping with life and its hardships. I have been on the lookout for distractions. Some took on the form of sabbatical smocks, some took on the form of necklace and bracket making/buying, some took on the form of cleaning out the garage and basement, and some took on the form of obsessing over baking and kombucha making.

But they all seemed to come with an expiration date. The spark fizzles, the attention wanes and I am in search of a new kind of high. So I started to focus on chickens. Maybe ducks. Critters that lay eggs and follow you around in the yard perhaps chasing away the cat that poops in my yard. (This part is just a fantasy.) Chickens are also tick eaters and compost makers. I wanted some chickens for my yard. I did research on the best kind of coops, breeds to choose depending on noise level, egg color and docile nature. Balancing my budget and looking into zoning regulations, my heart started ballooning at the potential of this new relationship and distraction.

When I was visiting two of my best friends, I was telling them about the chickens. These friends have two amazing dogs. And this is where it gets fuzzy. Because somewhere between talking about chickens, we started talking about dogs. And before I knew what was happening, a day later, I came home with a new puppy.

My husband tells me that I made puppy faces at him. He tells me that I promised to take care of the puppy. That I would be in charge of the potty training and that he wouldn't have to help with anything if he didn't want to. He told me that I promised to take full responsibility of the dog and all the nitty gritty details. All this is very fuzzy to me. I feel like I have amnesia around this part. What I do remember is that he was so much happier with the idea of a puppy than that of chickens.

The ultimate distraction: I now have a puppy. This feels like a full time job. Mostly because there is the poop and pee fear factor. But I am learning. I am learning to be in the moment. To look into this creature’s eyes and try to see what they see. I am learning to be in the moment. To remember that pee and poo and be washed away, but neglect cannot. I am learning with him the importance of structure, consistency, and using appropriate amounts of authority in order to negotiate love, joy and the order of the universe. I am learning the way of the dog.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

ptsd and the art of fermentation

I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) last fall. The story behind why is for another time. The process of healing has been tedious and frustrating. However, I am a good student of life, so I saw all the doctors and professionals to help me in this journey. I did my best to regulated all the lies that my brain was sending down. In spite of all the negative data from the brain—“you are worthless,” in its  simplest from— I got up most days to eat, drive, work, buy groceries, cook, do laundry, scoop kitty litter, be a mother, be a wife, be a daughter, try to sleep, wake up at four am, and start the day all over again.

At the core of the healing process was to balance the mind, body and spirit. I am good at honoring the mind. Or at least the brain. I am good enough at honoring my spirit. I am not good at honoring the body. Actually, I have complained about the limits of this body for most of my life. My brain is the abusive landlord that sends nasty messages from high above to the slum of a body.

So what happens to a women who mostly relies on her brain to get the job done, when that brain of hers starts to go haywire? Because my brain started sending out massive amounts of wrong, negative, fear based data. I was lost at sea. 

There is some good news. I needed a distraction. Something that would sooth me. Netflix thought I would enjoy this show called The Great British Baking Show. 
What the fuck does Netflix know about me anyway. I am not a baker. I am not interested in anything remotely connected to baking. Fuck you, Netflix. 
I had watched and re-watched Sherlock in its entirety for over twenty times. I needed a new show. Abandoning most of the shows within the first ten minutes, I finally succumbed to Netflix with the huff and gruff of an angst ridden teenager. “Fine. I’ll try it. But I know I’ll hate it.”

And, of course, I am in love. Not only with the show, but with baking. Or more specifically, fermentation. The analogy of rising from mere dusty flakes into nourishment. That all the elements of life, in the form of yeast, is living in the air. It has been all this time. We breath it in everyday. It is invisible. But it has been there, all along. Like your puppy waiting for you to come home. Or a mother that loves you without any judgment. They are just there for us. This stirs me. To my core. And gives me hope. 

I am now a baker. I baked my first loaf of bread last week. I could not stop making bread. There were too many. So I brought a loaf to my students. They loved it. It was oh so very cool. And filled my heart. With joy. And love.

My brain still lies to me. Everyday. Throughout the day. It is worst in the mornings. In the evenings I am too tired to function properly. My body hurts. My neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips. My migraine have been worse this year. But I am healing. I am coping. And now I am baking. Baking with joy. Baking with hope.

My first bread loaf:
I am in the mist of making a sourdough starter, another example of the magic of fermentation. I am also in the mist of making my first batch of kombucha scoby, otherwise known as THE MOTHER:

Ironically, I’ve been writing about the scoby as THE MOTHER in all caps. I wondered if I was referring to myself, or to my mother. 

My brother asked me what kombucha was. I started to give him my definition, but then chickened out, because I decided my definition wasn’t good enough. I researched the internet for the definition of kombucha and its scoby and found out that the internet is torn between its ideas around the benefits of kombucha. And furthermore that brewing your own kombucha CAN LEAD TO DEATH. I panicked and almost threw out my first attempt. I will continue to breed/feed this first batch of scoby (aka THE MOTHER), who has the potential to kill me. (OMG.) And decide later what I want to do with her. It’s a science experiment for now.

Friday, October 16, 2015

sabbatical epilogue

Sabbatical is over. There was no grand opening. There was no grand revelation. There was no grand book to be shared. I did walk away with one big thing. I met my two greatest critics.

After I got over all the methodical preparation (procrastination) for making the book, I started to make things. And what happens when you start making things? For me, I start judging it.
Sister Corita Kent said that not to critique something while you are making it. But some things are easier said than done. So as I was making, I was having a full on critique session at the same time. There were two critics in the room with me. (Imaginary critics that is.) 

The first critic is the design critic. She looks at my preliminary sketches and says quietly, 
“Oh, is that all? Really? I guess we can’t all be special. At least your trying. But you do know that this is so trite. And juvenile. It’s a bit of a cliche, no?” 
This critic takes no prisoners. I try different strategies. I take risks and try something new.

Then the second critic come in. She is the fierce mother critic. She asks me, 
“Oh, so this is about you, not about the kids you are trying to reach. Of course it’s about you. That’s what self-centered people do, no?” 
I have no place to hide. I find myself trusting the truth of both of these critics. And yet I cannot seem to make anything that pleases either of them. The pain continues.

Then one day I finally realize something. I have to trust myself. Even though the critics are right, they are not helping me by looking over my shoulders. I have to ask them to leave me. Leave me alone for a while. I have to believe that I have good intentions. I have to believe that the process will lead the way. I have to trust my body as it makes marks and chooses colors. I have to trust the book baby as I trust my own son: that they will grow into who they need to in spite of my good intentions, in spite of who I want them to become. Because they are not me and I am not them. I am over the hump. And I run out of time.

So what now. I am still making. I am still writing. In between the slices of time of here and there. Day by day. Little by little. Bit by bit. There is a Korean saying: 티끌 모아 태산. It translate to gather dust to make a mountain. I have a small handful of dust. I am on my way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

my mother almost died in my arms this summer

We took her to the ER and they gave her an hour to live. They said to send for all relatives. We braced ourselves for the worst. Then, she did not die. It took her one month in the ICU and an extra two more months in the hospital, but she decided not to die. And it turns out, I was disappointed.

I love my mother. We have a great relationship. I know her, I get her, and even though I can disagree with her on many things, I love her whole-heartedly.

But I was ready for her to die this summer.

I had recently buried two cats that lived with me. One was 18 when she died and the other 19. Both of them died in my arms and at that turning point when the body started to shut down, they both gave off a specific scent I will never forget.

This summer, as my mother was in my arms, I started to smell that scent coming off of her.

To give context, Seoul this summer was on massive lock down due to the MERS epidemic. Schools were closed, hospitals were shutting down, and emergency rooms were chaos. My mother's health started declining on Friday. By Saturday and Sunday she was in a bad place. But all the advice from doctors in the family was to keep her comfortable at home and bring her to the hospital on Monday. It was Sunday evening when I noticed the smell. I asked our family members if we could get a nurse to come to the house to take a look at her. Everyone got up, started making phone calls and within thirty minutes we were in an ambulance riding to the nearest ER. And that is where the doctor told us she had a hour to live.

So we waited. And she lived the night. Then another. Then another. She got pneumonia. She recovered. She was on dialysis. She got off it. She was on the ventilator. For three-four weeks. Then she successfully got off that. There was no brain damage like we had feared. Her first word after she was taken off the ventilator was "cola." Damn.

Now she is back home and we are back to our weekly routine of Saturday morning phone calls. But first, I had to get over being disappointed that she did not die. Because I had already prepared for this departure, I had a hard time re-adjusting to this new paradigm. In the beginning I felt like I was talking to a ghost. And I did not want to talk to ghosts. But slowly as the days and weeks went by, my mother, once again waited for me to mature into my own body and we are now looking at her life, my life, our lives, and doing what we do best. Practice love.