Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day 7: The invisible days

There’s always several days to choose from. Mommy & Me Days, work days, weekend days, busy days. But mostly there are the ordinary days. Even during vacation days we still have obligations and responsibilities. We check our e-mails and return phone calls on the road. Then there are days we dream of accomplishing. I wish I could buy that new car. I want to go out with the girls. I want to spend more time with my family. Why am I always stuck in front of the computer??

Usually, when our family prepares to travel abroad, it’s either to visit Norway where I grew up or India where my family-in-law lives. In Norway I spend most of the time with my family and even if I do feel the comfort of home and family, there is also a sense of obligation. Occasionally I get invitations to meet with friends, and usually I give a tentative answer only to decline most of them eventually. There is just never enough time. Of course, going to India is also about spending time with family. I watch my husband trying to adjust to local time while at the same time pretending he’s not tired so that he can spend as much time as possible with his mother and siblings (he has three sisters and two brothers, most of them living relatively close by). Eventually, when we reach home, all we can think about is a vacation.

In 2007, six years after we married, we decided to finally go on that vacation. A friend from Graduate school was getting married and we wanted to go for her wedding even if it meant we had to go all the way to Japan. We brought our laptop and even rented a Japanese cell phone, but felt sort of cut-off from the rest of the world. We were on an entirely different time schedule and had a whole week entirely to ourselves. Half of the time we did what we would have done back in the US; we ate breakfast, had lunch, spent time in the apartment watching TV or sleeping. We created our own schedule and habits and favorites. Looking back now, I don't remember each day and what we did and what made our visit special. But I remember just exploring this different, strange and beautiful country and making it part of our memories, and that counts for something!

Last year, in 2008, I was invited to participate in a literary seminar back in Norway. I decided to do something a little unusual (and perhaps selfish): I went to Norway on my own and spent three days alone with my parents. The last time I remember spending more than one entire day alone with them was the day I moved from Bergen, Norway about eight years ago. Fresh out of Graduate School from the University, I spent the entire week going through all my papers, notes, letters and books I had collected over the years. I threw away most of it, only keeping my diaries and my books. At the end of the week my parents arrived in their car. We spent two days cleaning my apartment and move the rest of my stuff back home. I had many times imagined how it would be to spend time with my parents in Bergen. For different reasons they had not come to visit me that often during those 9 years I lived there. I remember being grateful for their help. The next day I went to Oslo and jumped on a plane to United States. I did not know it back then, but those were probably the last days I spent in Norway with my parents for a long time.

This time around, in 2008, I arrived at the airport with only one small suitcase. My husband and daughter were going to arrive three days later with the rest of the luggage and I only brought my own belongings for the first time in years. It almost felt like that day I left Norway eight years ago. My parents picked me up and we drove for 4 hours through miles and miles of forest and passed Mjøsa (a lake in Norway) all the way to Lillehammer, the 1994 Winter Olympics host city. Now Lillehammer is hosting an annually literary seminar they call "Sigrid Undset festival" named after the Norwegian writer who once won the Nobel Price in literature. If you're a writer or journalist or both, you probably end up here sooner or later. Being there for the first time I was nervous and excited. But instead of spending time with writers and journalists and attending important discussions about literature, I spent these three days with my parents. In the big breakfast hall we were practically the only visitors there. Everyone else stayed in Lillehammer City. We went for long walks and ate dinner from the buffet at the super market. We watched TV (everyone in Norway watches news at 7.30 pm for half hour). In the evening my mother wasn’t feeling well so my father and I went to the opening ceremony hosted by Shabana Rehman (Norwegian standup comedian). The next day I gave a speech at one of the seminars and my parents were allowed to watch. Later that afternoon when the other participants went for dinner together, I left. Instead we had dinner at McDonalds because that's what my parents wanted. And again we drove through miles and miles of forest all the way home.

I haven’t thought about Japan in a long time. Neither have I mentioned or talked to my parents about our trip to Lillehammer lately. It’s funny how these moments can appear so different than you remembered them. Maybe because they are so easy to forget in our daily life? Perhaps these memories, these invisible days, just need a little bit more effort on our part, to come alive again. Hence my little exercise. Now it’s your turn …

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 5: Don't stop till you get enough

I made a decision to write for at least half an hour every day. Blogs, diary or sketches do not count. I have to be strict because there’s too much distraction. My biggest distraction is … myself. I always try to cut corners. Left over for dinner, easy. Dropping off my daughter outside the school instead of walking with her from the parking lot into the class room, easy. Pretending to be very busy when I actually have to do something out of the ordinary, easy. Not calling someone because they might ask me to spend time with them when I don’t really have any, easy.
Yeah. Life is very difficult and we are all very busy with our lives and we don’t have time. Really. We honk at the car in front of us because they waited for like, 1 second, before they moved their car through the traffic light. We sigh when we have to wait in line at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donut or wherever it is we buy our coffee, because someone is too slow or spend too much time counting coins. About six years ago, right after my daughter was born, I got a call from a friend whom I had not heard from in a long time. I was preoccupied at that time and promised to call him back later. Turned out, I never did. By the time I remembered that I was suppose to call him back, a certain time had already gone and I felt embarrassed. So I did what I do best sometimes: I pretended that I forgot all about it. And eventually I did forget about it, as time passed by. Five years to be exact. One day I hear the news through my husband whom, by the way never forgets a birthday or to return someone’s phone calls, that he had died. So yes, my biggest distraction to keeping promises is undoubtedly myself. Everyone knows that having a baby keeps your mind preoccupied. But it doesn’t give you an excuse for everything.

During my first maternity leave I was very busy at being a new mom. I was very anxious and of course excited too, at being a parent to my baby girl. Still, I spent at least 2-3 hours every single day writing on a manuscript. I sat on a blanket in the back yard with my laptop on my lap and my baby next to me, playing. When I went for walk I thought about my next sentences and my next chapter and when she took a nap, I spent whatever time I had to pen down those sentences and chapters.

This was 2007. It’s now 2009. I had another baby, a son who is now 7 months old. This time around, I’ve gotten lazy. Instead of doing it [e.g. writing] I’m pretending to be doing something else all the time. Life, yes. Work, sure. After-school activities, definitely. Home work [e.g not mine] is occupying all my time. I am not giving my daughter any excuse to skip home work even if it’s 6:30 am in the morning. Now if I could be as strict regarding my own writing, I should have a novel done by end of the school year!

Don’t stop till you get enough. Life only fills you up this far. Your real passions, your goal in life, your dreams, whatever it is, will take you even further if you let them.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Day 4

“Death, thou shalt die”: About literature & film

2009: I write, therefore I read. Yes, I do like to read even though not as much as I would like to. Every year I have a list of books I want to read. Sadly to say but by the end of the year I’m still working on the first or second book. For instance, last year I bought a second hand copy of Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of loss (I love that title) after I’ve borrowed it at the library and failed to finish it by the time I had to return it. I am still working on it. Another book on my reading list is The Life of Pi, which I finished half way and after reading the end (which I often do anyway regardless if the book is good or not) kind of gave up on it. During my trips to India I also bought books by Indian authors. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie is one of them. The list goes on.

2001: In the movie Wit Emma Thompson portraits Professor Vivian Bearing, a patient suffering from stage 4 terminal ovarian cancer. Being a scholar and a professor, specializing in 17th English poetry and John Donne’s holy sonnets especially, she reacts to the news about her illness with a matter-of-fact. As her illness and treatment progress, she is trying to analyze the situation as well as she is looking back upon important situations in her past. One of these situations is a discussion, or rather a speech given by her mentor, Professor Evelyn “E.M” Ashford (Eileen Atkins) about the meaning of the Holy sonnet 10 of John Donne. Death, as John Donne intended it in the poem according to her mentor, is simply a pause, a comma. There’s a difference between a semicolon, an exclamation mark and a comma. The real meaning of these lines as John Donne intended it were simply: “And death shall be no more [comma] Death, thou shalt die.”

Literature inspires movies and movies inspire us to read literature. Literature inspires life. After all, isn’t poetry the stuff that dreams are made of? Or was it the opposite?

2000: I was working on my closing arguments in a thesis of comparative literature. I was analyzing Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a modernist novel about life, love and death. One morning I got a call from my mother. Our beloved grandmother had passed away. I had read nearly 1200 pages of Virginia Woolf who ended her life by suicide, and I was now discussing the last chapter in The Waves. I remember thinking how untimely the death of my grandmother somehow was linked to the last chapter of the book and the conclusion of the thesis. Life, death. As I was collecting my thoughts, I jumped on a plane to Oslo. The funeral was held the next day. It was short. It wasn’t until the end of the ceremony, as the casket was about to be carried out, that I finally started crying. “One short sleep past, we wake eternally”

2007: My first novel When The Tigers Smoked (Da tigrene røykte) is finally released in Norway after years in the making. I can finally say, I write, therefore I am. Debut novels are considered as literary events in Norway. They are actually read and reviewed. Most of the debutantes are interviewed as well. Why do you write? What inspires you? For me, writing is to fill an empty space. Being an adoptee from South-Korea, I had to start with being me. What does this mean? Yes, I was abandoned. Yes, I was in orphanage. I have lived with questions about my birth parents and my birth country my whole life. This does not mean that I necessarily want to write about. So I tried to write about something else for over 10 yeas until it finally dawned upon me: This is lying. This is not me. After realizing this, it was always more difficult to write. But at the same time it felt more important.

2009: I always find it interesting to watch movies that portray writers. The best ones are witty and ironic. The bad ones are self-conscious. The worst ones are faking it. Typically they will have a writer’s block, sitting for hours in front of the computer unable to type even a short sentence. (This painful state of mind is of course shortened down to minutes). And then, life begins. Or does it really?

In Wit, the only person caring for Vivian’s Bearings health is the head nurse Susie Monahan. Here is another example of life and literature:
Vivian Bearing: I trust this will have a soporific effect.
Susie Monahan: I don't know about that, but it sure makes you sleepy.
Vivian Bearing: [laughing] Soporific means 'makes you sleepy'.

In Wit, Vivian Bearing dies alone, reciting John Donne one more time. “And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.” Poetry does inspire life or something like it. At least I was able to read a poem today. And so I can make another list.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 3

Just wanted to post some happy news today. I am an adoptee from South-Korea and I was pleased to hear the news that Grey’s Anatomy star Katherine Heigl and her husband Josh Kelley had adopted their first daughter, 10 month old Nancy Leigh, nicknamed Naleigh, from South-Korea. She is named after Heigl’s mother Nancy and her sister Leigh who is also adopted from South-Korea. The adoption process, which requires a couple to be married for more than 3 years (Heigl and her husband married in 2007) was allegedly pushed forward because their daughter has special needs. The couple has posted pictures of their daughter on their animal rescue website

Heigl and her husband are joining other celebrities, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as the most famous ones, who adopt overseas. As far as I know, they are the first celebrity couple to adopt from South-Korea AND also adopt a special needs baby. I think they are setting a good example and the baby looks very cute!

Here are other less known overseas, mixed race adoptions amongst celebrities: Hugh Jackman: Adopted son of African-American origin, Steven Spielberg and actress Cate Capshaw: Adopted son of African-American origin (they also have 1 daughter who is adopted), Mary Louise Parker: Adopted daughter from Africa, country unknown, Meg Ryan: Adopted daughter Daisy, 1 year old from China in 2006.

Check out more famous adoptees and adoptive parents at
- the list is quite impressive!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 2

Day 2: Is writing secret or are there secrets you cannot write about?

When you read someone's diary and the writer suddenly skips one day, do you assume that the writer did not have anything to say that particular day or that he or she skipped it on purpose? It could be either. I once thought that writing about myself and my own experiences was the most selfish, boring thing you could do. I believed that the writer should distance herself or himself from anything personal or private and write about something entirely different. Well, then. What is that something exactly?

Maybe some writers are only able to write about certain events and situations in past tense. "Yesterday was my birthday." Or "Yesterday I met an old friend." They need a certain distance. It does not mean that they don't want to write about it right away. If they had, the story could've been different, maybe more honest. "I am mad at her for not writing to me all these years" instead of "We had not seen each other for so long."

From early age, when I first started writing in my early teen years, I have consulted my diary entries on many occasions. My first novel, "When the tigers smoked" (Da tigrene røykte, Damm 2007) is loosely based on my own experience as an adoptee traveling back to my birth country South-Korea even though the narrative self in the novel, Katinka, was very different from my own, personal voice. Maybe my novel would've been different had it not been for the fact that my diaries from the year I traveled to South-Korea, 1991 and 1992 respectively, are missing. Was there a secret hiding in those diary entries? I will never know.

My theory is this: If you're a writer or want to be a writer and you want to write something, then start with yourself. It can be simple, it can be complicated, but at least, it will be honest. After all, one of the most famous books of all times was a diary, Anne Frank's Diary. Not only was it never suppose to be published (aka secret), but after her death it was even banned (considered too honest about being Jewish) in many countries for a while. Franz Kafka, another famous writer, also wrote diary. He always wrote strictly about literature and writing, never about his private life. He kept that part a secret. Virginia Woolf's diaries is being read as part of her authorship. The common thing I find between these writers, are that they never intended these diaries to be published.

Maybe there are secrets you cannot write about. But think about it. If there were no secrets left to tell, we wouldn't have some much fun writing about them.

Maybe this blog would've been different if I wrote it last night. After all, I was suppose to post it yesterday.

Day 1

Day 1: About the difficulty of writing and the beauty of writing.

The Chilean writer Isabelle Allende once said: "The first lie of fiction is that the author brings some order to the chaos of life." Perhaps writing is suppose to be a mystery. There's certainly many writers that encourage that myth. Yes, writing is difficult. Virginia Woolf only wrote for 1 or 2 hours in the mornings. Then she spent the rest of her day reading and writing essays. In the afternoon, she revised what she wrote in the morning. Other writers prefer night-time or isolation in order to concentrate. Yes, it is sometimes best to isolate yourself from the world in order to create your own, fictious world. Some would even say that writing is impossible. A writer has to be his or her own reader, marketing manager, strategic consultant, problem-solver, not to mention, his or her own, crisis coordinator. But most of all, a writer has to develop his or her own narrative. His or her own language that defines them as a writer. The writer Jim Grace says: "Narrative is not just for novelists. Writers simply formalize between covers what is an essential life skill for human beings. To have no spoken narrative skill is a form of autism." Maybe I don't agree with Grace that everyone should know how to narrate his or her course of day the way a novelist do. After all, human beings has different life skills. But I do agree with him that a narrative skill is a writer's magic spell. I would except that a writer would surprise and impress me and even challenge me with his or her narrative skills. I except nothing less for my own writing. Which is why it is difficult. Back to point 1.

Writing is the stuff that dreams are made of. Or was that poetry? The Japanese writer Yukio Mishima writes in "Thirst for Love" from 1969:

"Life - this limitless, complex sea, filled with assorted flotsam, brimming with capricious, violent and yet eternally transparent blues and green."

Yes. It is possible to except the impossible and yet, it is also the beauty of it.