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.