Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Proust Questionnaire

Where would you like to live?

Iceland, The Netherlands, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

A mixture of solitude and social engagements, going to the opera, walking on the beach.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

Atticus Finch, Hamlet.

Who are your favorite characters in history?

Ghengis Khan, Orson Welles, Gertrude Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Helen Thayer, Isabelle Allende, Prudence Mabhena, JK Rowling, women who refuse subjugation.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

Medea, Antigone, Lysistrata.

Your favorite painter?

Caravaggio, Chagall.

Your favorite musician?

Tom Waits, Rachmaninoff, Cassandra Wilson.

The quality you most admire in a man?

Intelligence, sense of humor, accountability.

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Intelligence, bravery, confidence.

Your favorite virtue?

The ability to debate without succumbing to emotion.

Your least favorite virtue, or nominee for the most overrated one?

Faith, and unconditional respect for elders.

Your proudest achievement?

My realization that I can draw well.

Your favorite occupation?

Working with children.

Who would you have liked to be?

Giulietta Masina or Shirley MacLaine, the right combo of funny, adorable and sexy.

Your most marked characteristic?


What do you most value in your friends?

Kindness, loyalty, honesty.

What is your principal defect?

Dwelling on past grudges.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

Going blind, suffering from an incurable mental illness, losing loved ones.

What would you like to be?

An astronaut and a filmmaker with the best film equipment and space traveling technology.

What is your favorite color?

Red, green, orange.

What is your favorite flower?

Roses, tulips.

What is your favorite bird?

The owl.

What word or expression do you most overuse?

Okay, like, really, very, weird, creepy, yeah.

Who are your favorite poets?

Wilfred Owen, Shakespeare.

What are your favorite names?

Daphne, Saffron, Winfield.

What is it you most dislike?

Greed, arrogance, stupidity.

Which historical figures do you most despise?

Ayatollah Khomeini, Pol Pot, Rasputin, Kim Il Sung.

Which contemporary figures do you most despise?

Kim Jong Il.

Which events in military history do you most admire?

The Libyan rebels taking their country back.

Which natural gift would you most like to possess?

A talent for learning languages.

How would you like to die?

Fully conscious, fully sane, fully satisfied.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Everything that attracts unwanted attention. I wish I had an invisibility cloak sometimes.

What is your motto?

Keep calm and carry on.

My brother looks like Proust.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Appointment with My Brother.

"An Appointment with My Brother" is another great novella by Yimun-Yol, author of "Our Twisted Hero." Again, Yimun-Yol blends political issues with personal stories to make a compelling read. In "An Appointment with My Brother," the author gives an account of an imagined meeting with his North Korean half brother. The author's father defected to North Korea in the early years of the regime, leaving his South Korean family for North Korean political ideology. As an adult, the narrator hires a "unification man" to bring his ailing father to China so he can see him one last time. The father dies before they can meet, so the author settles for a meeting with his younger half brother. The writing is saturated with sympathy and reverence for North Koreans. The conversation between the two brothers changes both of their ideas about the other's country. The North Korean brother admits to his South Korean brother toward the end that he had hated him most of his life. Because of the North Korean government's distrust of well-educated defectors, his family was cursed with a low status and lost opportunities.
Yimun-Yol's method of slowly revealing cautious characters is a clever component in his books. I really like this author.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Do I look like Marmaduke to you?

I am such a fan of sticker booths. Yesterday, my friend Milly and I made these stickers that look like magazine covers! It's pretty exciting, I know.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Humiliation is one of the hardest feelings to write about. It's different for men and women, children and adults. The essence of humiliation changes over time, with the shifting of values and with new inventions, such as the camera and social networking sites that make public humiliation so much easier to accomplish. Humiliation is a powerful and destructive force. Humiliation can turn people mean. A humiliated person might do something evil just to have the humiliation spotlight shine on someone else. Some exhibitionists might enjoy humiliation. Even today, some people approve of public humiliation being used as means of punishing criminals. Humiliation is inescapable. We even experience humiliation in our dreams.

Most people are passive-aggressive revelers in Schadenfreude. That is why so many people love to gossip and watch reality TV. If someone is betrayed, a natural response is to want to expose the betrayer. A more enlightened person will learn from humiliation. If a girl is dumped by her boyfriend in a bar in front of all his friends (this was one of my friends' facebook updates), she will learn to treat people with more respect.

But what about mortifying, life-destroying humiliation? For example, scoring a goal for the opposing team in World Cup Soccer, or being exposed in a sex scandal.

In his book, "Humiliation," Wayne Koestenbaum writes about his own life as a humiliation magnet. According to the review in the New York Times, Koestenbaum is more interested in humiliation suffered by men. Perhaps because men in most scenarios possess the most power, they are believed to be more susceptible to humiliation. Still, I wouldn't underestimate or show less interest in the humiliation of anybody, regardless of age or gender. I don't think I will read the book, based on the review. Getting that review must have been humiliating! But I am interested in writing about humiliation, something that will make readers uncomfortable . . . in a good way.

Listen to Wayne Koestenbaum talk about his book on Talk of the Nation. It's pretty interesting.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Gone With The Typhoon

In Jeju this weekend, a typhoon kept me corralled indoors for most of my trip. Relaxing in a chic little restaurant one night, I drank wine and drew in my sketchbook and talked to the guy working there. He asked me where I was from and I said, "Oregon, next to California." I always put Oregon in a California context so people will nod knowingly. This guy said, "Portland, Oregon," and I said, "Yes." I guess there was no need for a condescending geography lesson. Then he totally blew me away when he said, "Jimmy Maks." We got to talking about jazz. He plays the upright bass and has been to Portland. I think he might know more about jazz than I do. He told me which jazz clubs to check out when I'm in Seoul: Evans Jazz Club and Palm Jazz Club. I am so thankful I met that man.

I explained to my travel companion, Asia, that I required alone time so I could draw. She asked me during our trip, "How can you live if you're inspired every five minutes?" I know I'm not the most entertaining person to travel with. During a cab ride, I mapped out a crime story. I remained silent for most of the trip, thinking about scenes to write and draw. Maybe I'm turning into Barton Fink.

To show my gratitude for granting me alone time, I brought Asia a milkshake when I returned to the bed and breakfast one night, only to have her remind me that she's lactose intolerant.

We stayed at the Tae Gong Gak. The owners, Sylvia and Peter, are the nicest people in the world. I didn't get to see much of Jeju because of the typhoon but I did get to walk along the beach and sit on some rocks and read during a sunny couple of hours. I'll definitely return to Jeju. It's very easy for me to get to. And next time, I'll climb Mount Hala, the tallest mountain in Korea. Now I really wish I had some challa bread, the other thing I miss just as much as jazz clubs.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Three Days in That Autumn

Not the best title, but "Three Days in That Autumn" is a fantastic and unforgettable novella. Park Wan-suh, one of Korea's most revered writers, takes us inside an abortion clinic in 1950s Seoul. The narrator is complicated and mysterious. After being raped and impregnated during the Korean War, she knows what it's like to carry an unwanted child, so she becomes a savior to other rape victims. She grows accustomed to taking bribes and seeing women shamed by their families. Sometimes she takes pride in her work and other times she's on the brink of madness and thinks she hears babies screaming in her garden. She's about ready to retire, but she has one wish: she wants to deliver a living baby before she retires. But how can she convince someone to let her deliver a baby when she's been ostracized by hypocrites and seen as a butcher?

In one memorable scene, Park Wan-suh describes women eating umbilical cords after having had abortions, in the belief that this practice will make them more beautiful. They wash the cords down with soju and become vulgar drunkards in the doctor's office. This book reveals the pathetic and pitiable side of humanity, where beauty and goodness are the runaways you don't wait up for anymore, but you still keep the porch light on, just in case.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oh, Cactus Skirt.

I did not feel the full extent of my love for you until you were almost taken from me. I got into a cab with some lovely ladies from Arizona and we listened to the driver talk about Steve Jobs and Buddhist temples and living in Tokyo. The driver kept saying, "My wife talk talk talk talk talk," while making the blabbing motion with his hand. I wondered if his wife was just his alter-ego, like the guy in the movie "Psycho," who dressed up in his mother's clothes. 

I had put my little suitcase in the trunk with you inside, but as soon as we got out, the driver sped away. Julie said, "I feel like this is all my fault!" She seemed more distraught than I was. "It's okay," I assured her. "Why would this be your fault?"

"What was the most valuable thing you had in there?" Ginny asked. "Make-up," I answered. On second thought, I said, "My cactus skirt." I let out a sigh. The make-up was replaceable. The suitcase I won in a raffle. My underwear had been discolored in the wash. The shoes were beginning to fall apart and the pair of jeans made my butt look big. I was happy to be rid of those other items.

But you, cactus skirt, I made you. I picked out the bright green fabric. I altered the pattern so you fit me perfectly. Every time I zipped you up, I thought, "Oh, cactus skirt, you know me so well." When we were together, we made people jealous, whether they were sartorially-challenged or fashion-savvy, male or female. They all wished they had cactus skirts too. When I washed you, I gave you extra fabric softener to show my appreciation.

Now the cab driver was going to wear you and pretend to be his wife when he got off work. His hairy man legs would compete with the prickly needles on the pattern. Ugh. The thought of you with someone else bleached my outlook on life.

I told my friends I needed to run some errands, and I'd meet them at the arched entrance of Rose Street for dinner at 7. I did my errands and tried to comfort myself. I had huge bags of fabric at home. I still had the altered pattern, the tissue paper folded in the envelope somewhere. I could make new skirts that fit me perfectly. I reminded myself of the blue velvet I bought years ago. I imagined a blue velvet skirt with two silk pleats in a different shade of blue. I still had that black and gold cashmere. But cashmere wasn't cacti. Not even close.

I sat on a bench at the archway of Rose Street and fell backward in a bush. The cactus-shaped void in my life had thrown me off balance. I pulled myself up and assumed my normal posture, like, "Yeah, I meant to fall in the bush, so what?" I read my boring book and waited for my friends to show up. I looked up from some drab paragraph just as Julie was getting out of the cab, and she was holding my suitcase! She bounded up to me. It was like the final scene of a romantic movie. Out of all the cab drivers in Mokpo, she happened to get the same driver twice.
In the most barren landscapes, life prospers. Prickly situations can end smoothly. Cactus skirt, you came back to me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brief Encounter: Keanu Reeves' elbow and my boob

This is why I will never be an extra in a movie ever again.

The summer I turned 21, my marathon training group was asked to be in a film with Keanu Reeves called "Thumbsucker." We were told to dress for October weather. When we arrived on the set at 7 am, we stretched and waited for instructions. I wore Lolita heart-shaped sunglasses, thinking I might be a little more conspicuous in the film. Keanu Reeves emerged from his trailer, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. The people in my group burst into applause and I imitated them, but with less enthusiasm. I liked Keanu Reeves in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," but I fell asleep during "The Matrix," and I usually need a reason to applaud.

"I hope you're all having a thumb-sucking good time," Keanu Reeves said.

We all laughed, as if he had said something funny, but maybe we were just surprised to hear his actual voice. I took in Keanu Reeves' bedraggled appearance. His shoulder-length hair looked greasy, his skin looked sickly, and his face and physique looked haggard. I wasn't expecting him to be wearing a tuxedo, but I expected him to look presentable. This is why I would hate to be famous. People expect celebrities to look good all the time.

Keanu Reeves said, "I don't know how to run," and a couple guys in the group showed him the proper form. I watched him pump his arms, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. As he lumbered along, wheezing with every step, it was hard to believe he was ever in a movie called "Speed."

For the scene, we all had to run uphill across a finish line and let Keanu Reeves beat us. Spectators cheered from the sidelines. After hours of running in the heat, the people in my group were growing bitter and a rumor circulated about how those extras were getting paid. Hmph! We grumbled about how we weren't getting anything for our trouble, and we were doing real work.

Getting defeated by Keanu Reeves repeatedly started to wear on me. He ran so slowly and was so unconvincing as an athlete, I was skeptical as to whether this scene would even be used in the movie. The sunlight was shifting and I thought, unless some camera tricks were applied, this day would not pass for a day in October.

I blamed Keanu for the length of time it took to film the scene. Every time I saw him getting sprayed with fake sweat, my anger swelled. After crossing the finish line, we would have to run back to the starting point while Keanu Reeves was driven back in a car. After a few hours I snapped. I ran as fast as I could, trying to catch up with Keanu Reeves. I passed everyone I was supposed to stay behind. I was gaining on him, but he still passed the finish line before me. He knelt down and did a victorious elbow jab, hitting me right in the boob. I rubbed my boob and looked at him aghast, and he just stared blankly at me. I ran back to the starting point and did the scene again. Nobody said anything to me about running too fast. I think everyone had stopped caring and just wanted to go home.

During dinner with friends last night, the conversation somehow transitioned from tornadoes to celebrities. One girl said, "I haven't met any famous people."

"I've met a few famous people," I said. "I met Guillermo del Toro, and Christopher Hitchens and Julia Sweeney, the woman who played Pat on Saturday Night Live." Then I suddenly remembered, "Oh yeah, and Keanu Reeves elbowed me in the boob once."

Writing Power Up Until Writing Power Maximum

A kid said something interesting that stuck with me. He was walking up the hill with all the English teachers and somebody commented on how great it is that he is always speaking English with the native speakers. He said, "English power up until English power maximum." I knew he played guitar and I asked him if his guitar power was maximum, and he said "Yes, guitar power already maximum." I told him I didn't think I was maximum at anything. Modesty power is maximum, but that's about it.