Stories by Crazy

A little crazy never hurt anyone…

Home

“Welcome home.”

That’s what a brother from my church in Seattle said when I visited. Though simple and possibly innocuous, those words mean exponentially more than others would give credit. For having been a youth that moved around every few years and never being able to build deep and lasting relationships, things like money and fame hardly even compare to friendship and community. Some say that you can’t put a price on peace of mind, but I think you can never put it on peace of heart.

However.

Being back in Seattle seemed even more foreign to me. I still remembered the cross streets, the bus lines, neighborhoods that I spent way too much time stomping. Yet, the changes made around the city have been so great that sometimes, I found myself a little lost in the wilderness.

Not only that, but the people had changed. Some for the better, some for maybe not as much. Some still searching, some having found. Even the church I called home for nine years had transformed into something I didn’t recognize. Though the some of the faces were the same, lives had been transformed.

People asked me if I was going to come back now that school was done. I gave them the same honest answer: the job market is better in Southern California, and for now, I should stay there to build my career. God-willing, if the right opportunity pops up in Seattle, I would jump on the next flight back.

Looking back, I think I lied. I lied because I had changed.

Imagine if you and your friend were on the road to your destination, but your friend chose the valley road, while you chose the mountain road. You two would still end up at the same place, but with two very different stories and experiences. And with the decisions I’ve made with the direction God has given me, I feel as if the changes between Seattle, its people, and me, are insanely divisionary with a very thin bridge of connection.

My heart isn’t the same. I would say for the better, but it still kind of hurts, like that old ACL injury aching in the wintery cold. (Every time I think of ankle-related injuries, my balls just shrivel a little more into my body.) There’s a part of me that wants to come back to Seattle, but there’s an even larger part that says it’ll probably never happen, and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. Of course, friends will still be friends no matter the distances – as long as you are intentional of keeping those relationships alive – but to return back to friends of old, to a life previous, seems like something unfulfilling.

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life?
How do you go on, when in your heart,
you begin to understand, there is no going back?”
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

It is sad. Really sad. In fact, I’m not feeling too well just writing about it. (I took a ten-minute break to look at people walking by just to calm myself.) I’m missing out on life events and experiences of loved ones, and the hits just keep on coming. Objectively speaking, life sucks when you move. Then again, life sucks when you don’t move too.

Either way, I think you have to keep moving. Stagnation is the enemy of life, but so is death. You can either wait for death, or you could meet it head on and crash through the other side. The hard part is to not let the crashing turn into routine, an endless loop of doing life instead of living life.

I don’t know where I was going with this, but I guess the questions for me is the same question I asked myself throughout film school, and even now: am I doing this right?

Advertisements

Oh Captain, My Captain

Last week was my final week of tutoring at a hak-won (학원), which literally means “academy” on Google Translate – but it might as well mean “hell on earth.” If people have seen my posts about funny moments with the children I tutor, you would have noticed that around three months ago, the posts tapered quite a bit. One could chalk it up to dull moments, but I’m the type to always try to turn a dull one into a fun one. No, there was something distinct with this particular decline, and for me, it starts with the first-generation Korean-Americans.

This first generation was born during Cold War Korea, which quickly turned into Korean War Korea. This is a conversation (of finger-pointing) that can be pinned for another time, but what we were left with were twin brothers, forcibly separated and raised in different households. One of those brothers had to rebuild his house in the South, but not without some problems and a massacre in Gwangju. Basically, the worst place on earth for my parents’ generation, a generation of the hardest hardships. Naturally, they saw America as the land of opportunity, where their children wouldn’t have to live in fear, could grow up to work real jobs (not blue-collar ones), and never have to worry about food on the table or a roof caving in due to tank shells or nukes.

Then came my generation. I imagine it was quite tough to be an immigrant in a foreign country, but raising children that have been immersed in that foreign country’s culture – something completely, confusingly nuanced to them – was a new level of difficult. I just wanted stuff, like every other kid. That CD, that pair of shoes, the new Gameboy game. I grew up without a damn clue about what my parents had to endure, and it was a struggle to understand why I couldn’t do things that my friends did, or why I had to do things that my friends didn’t do.

Like hak-won. Well, not me personally, but my generation. (I did “hak-won at home…”)

In theory, a hak-won is like any other tutoring center, where it’s supposed to help your child with any subject that might be giving them difficulty so that they have a better chance to get into any secondary education institution. However, the Korean-ized version means that my child needs to be able to get into any Ivy League institution, that my child needs to be better than any other one in the hak-won, and my child can only end up as a doctor, lawyer or engineer. And if your child checked all the boxes, you paraded them to other parents, so they would eventually do the same to their children – and send their child to that particular hak-won. A big ol’ vicious cycle, imparted by the culture that somehow continues to bleed into proceeding generations.

I can see the heart behind the parents – that they wanted the absolute best for their children, and that they would never have to know the struggles they had to endure. My parents wanted and still want the same for me and my sister, albeit they have grown in Christ and made some revelations that at least their children are God-fearing and God-loving people – which is enough for them (I think). Also, there are good things that my parents’ generation imparted, especially the idea of hard work and (ironically) disregarding what others say or think.

However, these parents focused on making sure their kids end up with degrees, because for some reason, degrees equaled jobs to Koreans back then – and still do today. And yet, the game has changed significantly, but the first-generation Koreans are still playing on Atari. Grades are (somewhat) important, but straight A’s don’t mean anything in the real world. It just means you were good at school, and maybe even a bit anal-retentive (a nice skill to have nowadays). And it’s a definite rude awakening when you get your first test back from the weed-out biology class, and realize that you suck at science. (It was the second-quarter chemistry class for me…)

And then, you realize that life isn’t just silver platter homework problems, or hak-won packets full of math drills. It’s getting your hands dirty, struggling for something personal. It’s finding your calling, and striving to be excellent in it.

That’s what I’ve been trying to instill in these damn kids. That’s why I hated working in that hak-won. Aside from the overall dilapidated environment, I hated my first-generation boss’s antiquated methods, constant comparing of students, and overall disorganized management. I hated the parents that just dumped their kids off at an after-school place just so that they don’t have to deal with helping their kids with homework, only to glean the best of them. Fuck those parents. Seriously, you’re supposed to love all of your kid, not just the non-homework time. (Is algebra so displeasurable that you’re not willing to relearn it with your child?) I admit that there are some parents that work extra long hours and have no choice – cause the better hak-won with the smaller classes and better teaching environment was triple the price. Major props and respect to them.

But I would tell them to get their kid the hell out of there. And maybe put them in an actual day-care or after-school program.

I met some students that need one-to-one tutoring, but are getting bundled into their age/grade and are expected to comply and understand. I met so many students with behavioral problems that need someone to constantly guide and work with them, to set a merciful example. The worst part was when the students would get cabin fever, and it turned into freaking Animal Farm in a classroom, a bunch of Lord of the Flies without discipline.

I couldn’t fully pinpoint if it was because of generation gaps, or old-school Korean thinking, or maybe just because I was getting agitated about not being in my desired line of work. It’s a sinking ship, and I felt terrible abandoning some students with whom I had just started to make some progress. Some that could fly if they just didn’t have all this weight of bullshit tutoring homework (which is so disorganized structurally, most weeks I had to improv the teaching). In my last days there, I tried to impart as much wisdom as I could to these young children. That most of their tutoring homework was negligible (it really was – it’s just busy work until their parents come pick them up). That it’s actually your talents, what you’re good at, that you should ultimately focus on – so that maybe your passion can become your job. That you should treat each other with kindness, because you never know who you’ll run into later in life that knows a mutual acquaintance. Work smarter, think critically, and brush off the haters.

Believe me, I wanted to leave with more than that. A big old F-U to my boss in the form of all the students standing at attention, fist of rebellion in the air. Or better yet, they all flip the bird every time my boss walks in a classroom. Thankfully, a friend told me that I should bow out graciously, end my term well – ultimately set the example for the students. So on my last day, I handed out candy.

However, I left my favorite student with a writing prompt journal. I did that because I found out that while she excelled in and enjoyed every subject at school, writing intimidated her – which is sad panda for me, because writing is a way of life. It’s my therapy and my breathing. What really broke my heart one day was when my boss decided to be a dick and tell me in front of all the other students that she doesn’t know how to write an essay. Of course she’s not going to know if you’re going to drag her around as a dunce, goddamn it. Jesus Christ. I get heated just thinking about that day. (And my boss purported to be Christian… in the Korean sense, I guess.)

If I was going to bolster any one student for success, I wanted it to be her – because the potential I saw in her will one day serve as a guiding light for my daughter, a role model to admire. Someone who crawled out of the trenches, head held high, grasping a flag of defiance in the face of animosity.

My only wish and hope is that one day, I’ll be able to see that student stand in her definition of success – and I will know that change has come, and hope is rising.

 

 

Someone Like You

I was having dinner with a friend a while back. We were discussing how film school was pretty much killing us, but then again, that’s the price you pay for an interesting life (as I once overheard). However, as the conversation continued, we moved towards talking deeper about life. And then, my friend said something to put a wedge in the entire meal:

“I’ve never met a Christian like you.”

When I heard that statement, it surprised me. While I brushed it off and carried on the conversation, I kept coming back to their assessment of me long after we had parted ways and retired to our respective homes. As I ruminated on it, I finally realized the deeper meaning behind what my friend had said.

Christians suck.

If I have offended you, then okay. I offended myself at first, but think about that for a second. Something must have happened in the past to induce a statement like that from my friend, something to do with Christians behaving in a certain way that polarizes me to a different side of the spectrum – or to a different solar system entirely.

I am a bit more blunt with my words, but I like to think that my honesty is posed for another’s benefit. That even though I criticize or speak harshly, my intentions are to help you with your decision, and to ultimately listen and invest in you. (If I can work the Gospel into the conversation, that’d be nice as well.) I don’t want to lie and lead you astray – that’s just being a bad friend. Sure, there’s probably a lot to be said for my tact or manners, but if I see that you’re about to go skydiving without a parachute, I’m going to say something.

However, going back to my hypothesis, this is probably not the case for the Christians that my friend encountered. Either ulterior motives or a lack of earnestness, something probably came off as incredibly fake or unappealing. This doesn’t speak for all Christians, as I know plenty that are the kindest people inside and out no matter what, but it is concerning to pontificate and uncover supporting evidence. While there are a multitude of reasons you could split hairs and count into eternity, I find it’s two things:

1. Too concerned with evangelism.

To boil down the Gospel and Christianity is kind of blasphemous, but the gist is that humanity has fallen short of anything considered good, and we needed God to come down in human form through Jesus to make right our wrongs (because God is just as much as He is loving, which is a discussion and debate for a later time for Calvinists versus the hippies). As a result, the mission of Christians is to love God, love your neighbor, and spread the Gospel.

In my opinion, it should be a balanced effort on all three prongs, not in the sense that they should be half-assed, but given equal perseverance. However, people get too focused on the Gospel-spreading that it comes up thin and unsavory, like chaff floating in the wind. If you’re going to spread the Gospel, it should be under the pretense that you genuinely want this person to come to Christ. By that line of reasoning, you should be their friend, that through highs or lows, you as the Body will support one another.

A side note on friendship: I know someone who I considered a friend, but for some reason hated hearing about my problems. In fact, they thought that it was a damper on the mood, and that I should not project my insecurities toward their direction. Don’t be that person. That’s not friendship. That’s a one-dimensional relationship based only on good vibes.

If you start with the intent of spreading the Gospel first, then it’s going to come off as judgment – like many “holy yellers,” who are the most unappealing people in the world, even if they are scripturally correct. It’s not supposed to be a race; it’s supposed to be a relationship (you heartless idiots). In this extreme case, it should be better to just live and let live, which brings me to my second point:

2. Not concerned enough with evangelism.

Yup, this is going to be about balance.

As a Christian, if you’re just looking for a good time, you’re doing it wrong. Really wrong. You’re inadvertently saying, “I’m the most important, and if your interests align with mine, then we’re good.” A load of pretentious, selfish bullshit. If you’ve gotten anything from Christianity, it should be this: it’s not about you.

I’m not saying that you’re insignificant, cause that would render all of Christianity as moot (and then we’d be on a real existential tangent), but if you’re going to evangelize, you’ve got to realize that you’re not the point of focus, and neither is the other person – who is hopefully your friend. You can introduce the Gospel, but it’s really the Holy Spirit that works to change your friend.

But if you’re going to do nothing – since you’re thinking about taking that next vacation to Antelope Canyon for that perfect Instagram picture to tell your friends, “I’m #livingfolk” – then you might as well strap on a reverse bear trap mask on you and your friend and start the timer. Sure, you should have excitement and fun (and you will eventually have to do work for really shit pay, millennials), but if that’s the whole of your existence and you still call yourself a Christian, then you should just refrain from calling yourself a Christian for the remainder of your life.

I am being judgmental because it’s just so frustrating to see people on both sides of the extremes, and still identify as Christian. It gives public perception of either radical ideologists, or basically a badge that you can take on or off whenever you please. (It is most definitely not a badge, cause there are people dying for their Christian faith.) While it shouldn’t matter to me since God is still sovereign in the end, it matters because now I’ve been shoved into one camp or the other. And I’m not one camp or the other. I’m both camps, and no camp. (I hate being campy.)

I am a Christian, and I’m also a huge-ass failure. I suck at life, and I’d like to apologize if my sucking at life has made your life suck as well. And if you can forgive me, I will try my best to be a friend and walk with you through life, offer care and advice when you call. I might not agree with your lifestyle, your opinions, or your faith; but as a human, I will fight for you, and as a Christian, I will do my best to love you as I was called to do (even if it’s the most painful thing to love your sarcastic mouth, pretentious ideas, and overall stupid personality, millennials) – because if Jesus died for a stupid asshole like me, the least I can do is try to be your friend.

Forty Days

So, for the last forty-ish days, I volunteered my services to this thing called GLDI, where young men and women are put through rigorous training to become better Christian global leaders and influencers. Being an alumnus from seven years prior, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of serving a class, but I thought it’d be pretty fun punishing students with morning exercises and filling in occasionally for the staff when needed, to ultimately help guide these students into leadership. A walk in the park as auxiliary staff, I thought.

It wasn’t. Jesus Christ, it was not.

Firstly, it’s hard enough to curate morning exercises to keep them interesting, but having this being the first time doing this sort of thing and to cater for many individuals, I bumbled through it. Then you have to wake up at 5:30 in the morning, psych yourself up to be the Soul Cycle instructor that nobody wants to hear at that hour, and push students to doing things that most of them wouldn’t enjoy on a normal day. Basically, how I treat myself at the gym.

While some staff had a problem with students not moving immediately to direction, I had more of a problem with grumbling and bad attitudes. Like I know this is bad, but honestly, you signed up for this. At one point, I did want to tell them that they could just go home and be whiny bitches there, instead of bringing the entire class morale down. You could just go home, subject yourself to your own forty-day training, and moan all you want to yourself – and possibly get the same resultant – without affecting others. For me, select bad apples were making the entire barrel rotten, and I couldn’t just look past it cause the staff was busting so hard to make this work.

Let me go back to the whiny bitches part. Obviously, I couldn’t say that in the open because it’d be unprofessional. (Duh.) And un-Christian, I guess. Would I want to hear it? Of course I would, because I’m some demented human being that enjoys vulgar, slightly de-motivational speech. However, not everyone is like me, and being in a position of leadership, you should lead by example in action and words, and lack thereof. I’m not perfect, and I would definitely say that I didn’t do a good job (cause my personality is so strong that it just bled over into everything I did), but I did try my best to carry out my responsibilities and serve the students.

Then, something happened that just threw professionalism out the window for me, and I lost my damn mind.

If there’s one thing in the world that pisses me off the most to actually not see gender or race but just target of blame, it’s gossip. I’ve had so many instances of gossip burning up bridges and causing so much unnecessary drama (usually to myself), I could fill up an entire Telemundo lineup for years. Seriously, how hard is it that you have nothing going on in your life, that you have to start some shit to make life interesting? And how many kinds of stupid do you have to be to think certain pieces of information are okay to let loose without permission or consent?

I digress. It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t nice. I blew up (which is an overstatement, because this is a Christian setting… whatever that means). I bluntly called people out, specifically on indiscretion since what got out was only supposed to be known behind closed doors. (And if you don’t know if what you know is supposed to be need-to-know information, just default to keeping your mouth shut about it.) There was repentance (maybe) and apologies (maybe), but at the time, there was no healing cause I sure as hell let the students feel my wrath.

Now, if I had not blown up and addressed this issue with the right attitude, this probably wouldn’t have happened as bad as it did. I could’ve shown a little more care and consideration – a little more grace – and things could’ve gone more smoothly. Yet, as I’ve been hinted to or told outright by numerous people at church (mainly women), I have the most abrasive personality known to them, and for me personally, I don’t care. I want to extract the poison or deal with the problem immediately in full force, and if people are too vanilla to want to see the truth, then I’d rather be the greater fool sandpapering their candy asses.

With all the focus on leadership at GLDI, I never thought that I would be the one needing some instruction. But God is funny, ironic, and always knows how to humble. (He’s the original Kendrick Lamar, with better rhymes and flow.)

My big lesson: people are people, but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a little grace. This is particularly relevant, since one of the students asserted that I didn’t like humanity. I agreed with them because I felt that humanity, despite all of its achievements, was still a group of wretched, conniving, selfish, and self-serving beings that shouldn’t deserve an ounce of mercy. The part I needed to add, though, was that despite all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things that marked humanity, God still showed grace upon us through His Son.

For me, it sucks that I am equally deserving of His grace as the person aforementioned that I pretty much would like to put my fist through their face or 깡패 kick through a window. Yet, sin is still sin, is still sin, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the big stuff or small granules because God finds sin repugnant. (Like, it doesn’t matter if you have a fly in your soup or an entire colony of ants crawling on your buffet tray. You ain’t gonna eat that.) And yet, God extended grace by sacrificing Jesus to take all sin, large and little, and reclaim our sorry, pitiful souls. (This is a basic understanding, by the way, and in no ways a showcase of theological prowess. I’m pretty stupid, as my well-versed pastor friends would gladly point out.)

What does this mean for me? Well, I think it means that some people are good at some things, while others are good at other things. And sometimes, unqualified people are put into positions – and qualified people in objectively demeaning positions – so that they can be taught something, even if the lesson isn’t learned until way after their tenure. Also, sometimes, you can’t shove medicine down people’s throats, but rather leave it out like cookies for Santa (terrible analogy). You can’t change the world, and moreover, you can’t change the hearts and minds of people, but you can still be a beacon pointing the way to hope even when people would rather have you shut the hell up or sit your ass down.

If by chance you are a GLDI alumni reading this, I hope my comments don’t dishearten you, especially if you’re a recent alumnus. (I do have a tendency to be a bit harsh, as mentioned. And vulgar, if you haven’t noticed.) As much as I expressed my disappointment to the most recent class, I was very much proud of their work performed and effort exhibited, just as much as the staff’s. And though I don’t mention it in public, anytime someone asks me if it was worth it, I admit that it was with an analogy. Participating in GLDI, whether as a student or volunteer, is like exercising: sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but it’s ultimately for your benefit, whether or not you can see the results. (I guess now it’s public knowledge.)

Mother-Lover

Private Ryan: Tell me about your wife and those rosebushes?
Captain Miller: No… no, that one I save just for me.
– Saving Private Ryan

I probably should’ve picked a different title for this post, but not only do I thoroughly enjoy the same song from The Lonely Island, I think this whole rumination was brought on by thoughts of my own mother.

And if you’re thinking naughty thoughts because of the song, please stop them for a moment.

I love my mother. Absolutely, and without a doubt. Do I say it enough? Probably not. Did I always feel that way? No, because I was a pretty selfish, terrible kid/teenager/college student/young adult. Fortunately, more sovereign forces intervened to help me mature, to think less of myself and more on others.

Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day (and even Parents’ Day, for all you pure Korean readers out there), are really difficult for me for two reasons: my parents live pretty far away, and I never know how to truly express my thanks to them. Flowers and “World’s Best Dad” mugs don’t cut it, but some would say that something is better than nothing, right?

Wrong. That’s like bringing a wild gopher to a dog show. Although, I should admit that I did send my mother flowers last year.

This year, I was very much tempted to repeat the same, but as it turns out, when you’re in film school or in a master’s program (or both), you forget to check your peripherals. Or, if you’re like me, you struggle to remember what your mother’s favorite flowers are. So, I sent a family group message to wish my mother a Happy Mother’s Day.

Even now, I’m shaking my head at myself. What kind of turd of a son just relegates to sending a text message on Mother’s Day?

This past Sunday, I got to catch up with my sister, who asked if I had sent a card to my mother. Probably should’ve done that. She also asked if I was going to send one in Korean. For me, as a writer, if I can’t curate my thoughts in a persuasive manner in my language of choice, it’s really embarrassing. Like right now, if I didn’t have enough vocabulary to let you know that I’m cultured but also a complete idiot, I’d rail my head into the wall.

And then, my sister said that I should still write my mother a card – even with my apprehension about my 7th 4th 1st grade reading-writing comprehension of the Korean language (and even if it’s late, cause apparently she’s expecting one) – because she’d appreciate the hilarity of my struggle and thoughtfulness.

That led me to this. Every year (or everyday, for that matter), I see posts of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Sibling Day, Woman Crush Man Day, all over social media. It’s gotten to the point where it’s just mind-numbing, but it makes me wonder… Who cares? I mean, if your parents or sibling or your significant other miniature toy poodle is on social media, then great. I guess they really appreciate public displays of affection.

I don’t, which comes off as really ironic since I was such a huge romantic back in the day. (And by back in the day, I mean a few weeks prior.) For me, my relationship with my family is sacred, second only to my relationship with God. Of course, I’ll occasionally post a photo, but largely, I want those moments for myself, and myself only.

With each day that passes, I realize that not only do I not have a lot of time left, but neither do my parents. Not that we’re overcome with disease, but it’s the reality that someday, I will lose them. Each and every moment is fleeting, and holding onto them is like grasping a breeze. For me to share them with the public, I feel as if it dilutes the essence and risks the sanctity of my memories. (I apologize if you have lost a parent and are still grieving, for it is not my intention to prod or satirize your own experience.)

I’m not saying to stop posting photos and memories of your parents and loved ones (maybe if your loved one is a dog, in which you should tone it down), or that I wish people would stop harping on me for not being more public about things like my birthday. In fact, this post is completely unprovoked, which does beg the question why I even wrote it in the first place. My point is that though I don’t show it, I do think dearly about my parents and my loved ones, so much so that if you cracked me open, memories would come flooding out like the Chestbursters from the Alien franchise.

(For the sake of the children and those with sensitive constitutions, I will not post a photo of said Chestburster.)

Even with such zeal and amour, I always remind myself that these moments and memories are for me, and as such are so precious that I will defend them from everyone. Which is why, even as I try to write my mother a card in Korean with four-year-old vocabulary, the most you’ll ever hear me say is this: I love my mom.