Stories by Crazy

A little crazy never hurt anyone…

Category: Non-Fiction

Test of Faith, Pt. 2

If you’ve followed along, I’ve been trying to sort of reinvent/rediscover who I am. I feel that it’s due to my stagnancy as a man(-child) and as a Christian – but mostly due to the former. Also, I feel like I’m the only one going through this particular sort of dilemma, like sitting in a bureaucratic waiting room between diagnosis and surgery.

Part one was about why I’m kind of a huge dick, and how I realized that I am. As many self-help books or [insert number here]-step programs would point out, acknowledging the problem is only the first step. People say it’s the hardest, but I feel like it was easy. Maybe too easy, since self-deprecation is a simple second language. (It still boggles my mind when people don’t pick up on the sarcasm.) In any case, I tried – and still continue to attempt – to keep it real.

If you’re one of those people that think it’s better to be true than fake, then congratulations, and welcome to my camp of snobbery: the trench of all things pretentious and self-glorifying, and at the same time, not. It’s not to say that I act this way all the freaking time, but it’s what I’m thinking all the time. Depending on the audience, you get either a sample or the whole buffet, but not everybody wants to be obese on keeping it real. To top it all off, I have a resting bitch face in both visage and demeanor.

Am I Justified to Behave This Way?

Yes.

Objectively speaking, yes. Considering the depth of my hazing during my youth, I feel justified – from having kids calling me Chinese boy, to middle-schoolers spreading rumors of my supposed hit list, to college students and young adults not being able to be discrete about things. If I saw me on the street, I would probably think, “Yeah, there’s no other way he would’ve turned out.” If I had one wish, one freebee, one sinful request that wouldn’t go on the record; it would be to line up every single person that did me wrong, side by side, and with an ATV, I’d roll by and slap them all into oblivion. Oddly specific, but I guarantee that my soul would find some recompense and satisfaction.

Keeping on that note, I didn’t come from privilege. You compare me with any other Korean-American, and I think I’m on the lower-middle tier, the ones you don’t hear about in the news or have movies written about. The light-blue-collar workers who don’t really make waves. If you want something, you gotta work for it (as long as it’s being a doctor/lawyer/engineer for most second-gens). This wouldn’t be much of a problem – more of a fire in my belly – if the first-generation Asian-American mantra didn’t engrave the status of financial stability as the highest and often only achievement. (I feel like this is why many of the first-generation low-key subscribe to prosperity gospel.) I can’t remember if my parents ever drilled this into me because they’ve changed quite a bit (thank God) and I’ve long forgotten if they did; but their peers definitely didn’t let me forget it.

Most recently, one of my mom’s friends who sometimes provides food gave me some unsolicited advice to hurry up and get married, just to take some stress off my parents. Probably the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time, and on any given day, I would’ve pounced on the opportunity to serve up a slice of my mind. However, you don’t bite the hand that feeds, even if what they’re serving is a shit sandwich poop piroshky. Still, I can’t help but feel the imposition of the previous generation onto mine, like it was some cookie-cutter, round-hole-square-peg, forcible situation, and I have an itch to line this woman up with the rest for the double-tap with my backhand.

Note: I realize I harp on the previous generation a lot, and perhaps I am being a bit unfair to the group. But at the same time, I don’t (fully) discount my upbringing and emotional onslaught I had to endure.

Lastly, if you were to strip away the Christian-ese from my personality, you’d probably find someone who is slowly coming around to the idea that the world will never change. It’s easier to resign than to fight change, to call out blame from the sidelines than to get one’s hands dirty to fix the problem. A while ago, I would’ve easily picked up my sword in my crusade to civilize (props if you get the reference), but now, my arms are tired – figuratively and literally. Watch enough current event media, and not only do you get the sense of being the least crazy person in a room full of bonkers, but an insurmountable desperation that turns into extreme discontentment. Debby Downer cranked up to eleventy-eleven, but is also self-loathing. Somebody has to be the bad guy, right?

Hell no.

The Christian answer is no. The old school answer is also no. To be a functioning member of society, the answer is ultimately no. (“Do unto others” and “suck it up” come to mind.)

While I may easily stack up reasons for why I should be the bad guy, it’s another thing to believe it. If you keep telling yourself that you’re a bird, eventually you’ll come to believe it to the point of jumping off from a high place to try to fly to freedom. (Remember Peter with his “Peter, You Suck” song towards the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall?) Check any good story, and the bad guy never believes he’s the bad guy. Not only would that be too easy, but there’s always good, if not misplaced, intention.

Also, be that guy too long, and no one will want to work with you – unless if you have all the money in the world, in which case only snakes, leeches, and ticks will be your peers. And if you keep it real too long, you can’t earn a living, which is starting to become way too real for me. (Ever try to pay off a film school loan on a film school graduate’s wages?) You can’t be picky when you have crushing debt and bills to pay. Oh, and when you need to survive.

Lastly, but surely not least important, if I still believe in Christ crucified and my redemption only thru His work, then I can’t keep this up. If my resting bitch face is indication of Christ, then I’m failing hard. Christianity’s not a 24-hour picnic, but it’s also not the converse. Case in point: I recently read 1 Cor. 4 during my (forced) habit-building quiet time, and it was like a ton of hot coals on my head, or a few hundred liters of cola charged with Mentos aimed at my head. Basically, you can’t believe in Christ and still be a dick. I think it’s a whole “fruit of the Spirit” scenario, in which case… Well, I’m screwed.

Well, okay.

It feels like I’ve been playing table tennis against myself, but not in the Forrest Gump sense. Rock and a hard place sense. Essentially, I’m finding out that being alive is hard. Again. Like I didn’t get it the first twenty-nine years, so I have to be reminded once more, just for good measure. The problem is that every freaking time this happens, I become so self-absorbed by my self-criticism that everyone around me gets burned.

I close myself off, and my normal stonewall face becomes stonewall face with no soul. (Honestly, I feel like I have a pretty terrible smile as well, so I never smile – and it probably makes it worse.) I make no effort to engage in conversation unless I find some selfish reason to do so or if it’s just simply easy to talk to said person (still selfish). I just keep digging that hole, expecting to find sunshine at the bottom.

I feel like the question shouldn’t be if I’m justified, but more so why the hell is life so goddamn hard? I mean, it shouldn’t be rolling a ball down a hill, but it also shouldn’t be pushing a boulder up a mountain. Nothing easy, sure, but can I get a break? Or at least a notification as to when it’s time to tap out? Why is the feasibly unattainable so freaking attractive?

Because I’m that guy, the idealist. It runs through my veins and psyche (and MBTI and Enneagram tests), and it is driving me insane – to the point where I somewhat wish Eternal Sunshine/Memento on myself. (I wrote something else, but it was pushing it too far.) Giving up control to God sounds like it would help, if my grip wasn’t so iron-wrought.

Basically, I’m self-aware enough that I hate myself. And other people. But mostly myself. (I love my family, though.)

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Test of Faith, Pt. 1

If you have talked to me in person about the Oscars, you probably know that I hate the idea of award shows pitting one subjective work against another. At the same time, you know which one was better. That night, while working on some writing, I basically wanted to eat my laptop after finding out the resultant for Best Picture. Was The Shape of Water not deserving? No. Was it, the film basically about bestiality, more deserving than Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards? Eh… (C’mon!)

I had to text my friend, mostly because I felt (and continue to feel) that we share a bond for writing, movies, culture, and jokes that cross the line that put us on a different echelon than others, although we both have some deeply guilty pleasures (and I’m pretty sure this bond is one-sided). In an unprecedented event, this friend blogged about me (which although he claims that no one reads it, it is still an honor). To my humor, it was about overthinking things. Basically, due to film school, I analyze movie and TV details to exhaustion, probably to the point where I squeeze the joy out of watching anything. He’s not wrong, and I should mention that I also enjoy Dumb and Dumber.

It’s really hard for me to switch off with movies, and it’s more so with everything else – especially people. There’s something inherent in me that wants to poke holes and point out specks and planks. It’s justified at times, and then sometimes, I should probably take a chill pill. However, for me, it’s hard to find the happy medium — I’m usually one or the other. A slip-and-slide, or a wall. The world around me, though, doesn’t want one or the other. People usually want to be contently undisturbed. They may say that they appreciate my candor, but I can tell that behind their eyes, they wish I had just shut the hell up.

As I approach a landmark/chapter end, I’ve been taking more time to myself to think things over, since all I seem to do is complain to an open set of ears. In my contemplation, it boiled down to three questions:

  • Why am I like this?
  • Am I justified?
  • Should I change?

Since three is a holy number (I think), I’ll break this up into three posts. And for even greater measure, this first one will be broken up with three examples.

Who Am I? Or Why Am I Like This?

The Attention Seeker

There’s a kid I know from church (basically, he’s a kid) who really likes to talk. I mean, really likes to, and because I je m’appelle-d as a screenwriter, I’m a magnet for all things movies. It’s great that he likes movies and wants to do it all, but I’ve seen this before, and life usually teaches those who stretch themselves too thin to unwind and refocus (i.e. me). Also, I think he likes the idea of being in the spotlight (also me).

If he spots me, without fail, he always wants to chat. “Have you seen this?” “What do you think of that?” “Shouldn’t Christopher Nolan win an Oscar?” (No, because if he does, so should Wes Anderson.) As a person who’s wired “to thine own self be true,” I can only take so much of so little substance. My God, it’s like he tries to pull talking points out of a shallow bag, and he hits the canvas lint at the bottom far too quickly.

As such, I try to get out of the conversation as quickly (possibly expediently) as possible. I answer in one- or two-syllable comments. I raise the tone of my voice to be more combative displeasing to continue. I once tried to walk away, but he kept following me. Short of physically keeping him at bay, I did everything possible within the limitations of civil interaction. I’m worried that one day, I may actually stiff-arm him into a shrub and run away.

Perhaps his attraction to me is that I exude something that he wants to eventually be, which is outrageous and actually nauseates me when I think about it. No one should want to be me. You should be you, confident that you’ve been uniquely moulded by the hands of your Creator. Why long to be someone that clearly doesn’t have everything together?

I used to be like that, and it was a horrible experience to realize that I was throwing darts into an abyss, chasing dandelion fuzz floating on the wind.

The (Wannabe?) Gangster

This one is a little bit older. He’s a “by association,” where he just happened to be in the same circle of friends. He’s seen some mileage and, from what I gather from his outspoken recollections, some shit. Definitely a bear that you shouldn’t prod or shoo when it decides to feast on your picnic.

Yet, I’ve seen more mileage, and I’ve grown to call people out on grandiose details to reductio their ego. Not always to be mean, but sometimes, it does come out that way. “You ate ten burgers?” “A fight outside a Korean BBQ with fisticuffs and full-blown WWE chair-smacks?” “Really? You have a .45?” (Okay, I would never call out that last one.)

Being the complete idiotic a-hole that I am, I called him out on one of his big moments. I can’t recall exactly what I said, or what the topic was, but his reaction was forever seared into my memory: the classic “I’m just joking, man!” (Exclamation point included on that occasion.) It looked like I had backed him into a corner, and he was about to resort to fighting his way out. (He is a big guy.) I took my cue to shut the hell up before things got worse, and since then, I’ve treaded softly.

Oh, it gets worse. Recently, he tried picking a fight at a local coffee shop, and when I mean picking a fight, I mean confronting a man who supposedly gave him a “weird look.” How you gonna start something in a public space with children around? I was so embarrassed that the rest of us had to basically calm him down in the corner. And like a light switch, he laughed it off and brushed off his acknowledged anger issue. (I wish I made this up…)

Again, I was like him. I wanted people to respect me and still find me genuinely funny. To a great extent, I still feel the same way, although I would argue that respect doesn’t matter so much anymore (even though it does). I feel for him because this was a tough period for me, and I feel like I’m still not out of that epoch. Not quite brave enough to be myself and not care what others think.

The One that Wants Friendship

I’ve worked with a lot of people, and I think it’s generally accepted that you don’t mix personal with professional. As such, I have people I hold close, people I associate with, and people I must tolerate. This particular person, though, has the aroma of, “Will you be my friend?”

For me, there are tiers to becoming friends, and it takes me a very long time to warm up to someone, unless we hit it off immediately. Even then, there’s a waiting period. Trust has to be the objective foundation to any friendship, and if it’s not completely there when you start building that bridge, you end up with an expensive piece of twisted metal and lawsuits. However, with this guy, it has nothing to do with that. It has more to do with compatibility and my fear.

Objectively, I don’t share many interests with this guy. Maybe movies, but that’s like saying we have breathing air in common nowadays. Music? Sure. Games? Maybe… Good standings? I’m basically scraping the bottom of the barrel. I’ll work with him, but I can’t see us chilling together outside a work event.

My fear is that this is my future, whether I like it or not. The friends I have now will eventually marry, have kids, and move away. Far away. I mean, it’s already happening as I type. It’s not like I’m losing them, but more so I’m losing myself. As such, I have to make new friends within my proximity to keep some sanity, and I’ve been told that it doesn’t get easier with age.

I don’t want to say this guy is a loser, but I don’t want to end up like him. A man full of dad jokes, but without the dad status.

I Am the Worst

Truly, I am the worst. I mean, if you haven’t gathered it from previous posts, this should cement it. I honestly disgust myself sometimes, if not all the time. Maybe it’s a pro because I’m always trying to get better by improving on my flaws, but let’s be honest: it’s obsessive anxiety, borderline megalomaniacal. I’m overjoyed that God sent His Only Son to die for my sins so that I may commune with Him in eternity, and I’ll hang onto that promise for dear life; but at the same time, I have trouble believing that. (Christian faith isn’t some merry-go-round of pleasure-ville.)

I deserve whatever punishment awaits, and at the same time, Jesus saves. It is a big ol’ “what the hell” for me because I am the way that I am. It’s hard for me to imagine myself differently – without the initial pass of judgment on another or selfish thinking of, “How the hell do I get out of this?” – and still consider myself being truthful. Call it age, stubbornness, or pride. (Probably pride.) It seems like I’m sort of stuck the way I am: wanting to change, but also wanting to keep it real.

Friendship… Friendship?

When I wrote about Christians doing it wrong, I briefly mentioned someone that was clearly not a true friend. Truthfully, I added that bit a while after I had drafted that post, because it really bothered me that this person considers themselves a Christian – yet does not exude conduct like a Christian. A CINO: Christian in Name Only. I could go on about how I hate these people down to the mofo-ing core of my being, but I digress to my topic. (I’ve been trying to swear less, so you’ll probably see a lot of acronyms or short-hands…)

For the longest time, I tried to be a people-pleaser and maintain a large network of “friends,” because I counted friends like Scrooge McDuck counts his gold. After a while, though, it was like trying to balance a load of spinning plates on sticks, and I think I had a quiet and personal meltdown. Yet, it was through this hardship that I found out who actually wanted to stick beside me even at the worst of times, who I should probably try to avoid – like the example previously mentioned – and how can I make those judgment calls.

Thus began my journey to find out who were my true friends, and how to protect myself against false ones or ones that would probably leave you hanging. I recalled a lot of ancient philosophy, but most of those had to do with eros – and was pretty much dealing with grown men wanting to get with boys. Modern philosophers were really depressing, since it showed the true face of human nature. So, with a bit of Gospel, I devised four levels of friendship to sort of guide me.

Tolerance

For me, the most basic level. If you can’t tolerate someone, you should just avoid them altogether – unless if you don’t really have a choice, in terms of greater social benefit. In that case, just bite the bullet and hang out with the group, but maybe try not to start a fight. (There are so may people in this microcosm – and they all deserve a slap in the face.)

For a while, I was very open with most people. I’d share everything and anything they asked me, but soon, I found some people just like parading that information around like a billboard ad. At that point, it becomes a question of, “Can I trust this person with this information?” It really does suck when someone you thought you could trust, ends up skewering that trust with their own selfishness.

Association

After a while of building up trust, you begin to hang out with these people regularly. Banter is witty, and you generally agree on a good amount of topics. Good vibes all around. (Side note: I hate that phrase, “good vibes only.” At some point, life is going to deal you some bad vibes – it’s not a damn merry-go-round of euphoria where nobody dies. People will die.)

I found that a lot of people fall in this category. The adage that you can’t be everyone’s friend rings pretty loud in this circle, and it’s true. You can be cordial to everyone, and maybe have an overall good time. But you are still respectful of each other’s company, with emphasis on the respect – cause boundaries are still there hidden in the mist, and when you find them… it’s just awkward.

Enjoyment

Conversations got a little deeper. You hang out more, grab drinks and wings (or carrot sticks for all of you non-meat eaters). You go on outings, trips, vacations. This is a good time, cranked up to ten, maybe eleven.

For me, though, this is where it starts to get grey because the enjoyment can easily become the ride, and replace the friendship. You take it too loose, and you look like a junkie without a care, or the guy that takes the joke too far. Take it too seriously, and you’re usually the guy that handles the receipts and the planning.

However, there’s always that last litmus test.

Ride or Die

It’s cheesy, I know. (I wish Vin Diesel would narrate my posts into video essays.)

Yet, when you think about it, this is the essential nature of a friend: one who will stick by you to the end, or who was never a friend in the first place and will leave you to fend on your own. And honestly, these are the people that can reduce me to tears, and can also bolster me into Voltron. For these people, it’s the birthdays that you don’t miss, or maybe you do but still make the effort to send a card and a present. It’s the weddings and the funerals. Hardships and triumphs, fights and resolutions. The secret handshakes, and the nicknames that only you can call them.

I’d take a bullet for these friends without hesitation. (Where I’d take the bullet, though…)

And in a sense, that was Jesus. Even after betrayals and torture, He still took that shank in the gut – and didn’t even look at you to ask, “Et tu, Brute?” (Obviously, this is a huge reduction of the Gospel, but it still sort of works analogously.)

“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
– W. Winchell

In retrospect, I guess you could call this a path for love (yuck) or how to better implement the Gospel, because before you can call someone your spouse or transform them, you have to be their friend – with no guarantee of the outcome. Then again, I’m just a guy with no clue what he’s doing, and this is really, at best, just a guideline of how to not get burned or taken. My hope is that you perhaps take a glimpse, and realize that though the world is bad and things might be going worse, friends definitely make things (a little bit) better.

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?

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.