Saturday, September 17, 2011

Friends (Not the TV show)

Forcing myself out of my apartment is a good thing. After dinner with a friend on Friday night, my neighbor called to tell me she had just ordered a bunch of fast food and that I should come over. I joined a group of girls sitting around a table heaped with hamburgers, fries, cheese sticks and chicken tenders. A little dog and a cat ran around her apartment attacking each other. The dog would hump the cat and bite down on the cat’s head and the cat would retaliate with its claws or a surprise attack from above. A hideously violent film played in the background, but instead of turning it off we all just continued eating, going “Ewwwww!” every time someone was sawed in half.

My neighbor, who is Korean-American, studied literature at Harvard. When I heard that, I got so excited, but she said she refuses to even look at a book for another 6 months. Hmmmm. Maybe I don’t want to go to Harvard if I’m going to want to avoid books afterward. She said that even though she went to Harvard, her last employers would have gladly traded her for a blond, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, mediocre teacher. This isn’t just supposition. She actually heard her co-teachers say they wanted to replace her with a blond teacher.

In addition to severe cramps, I have a pain in my neck that won’t go away, which I think happened as a result of uncomfortable sleep, or me doing backward somersaults on my bed. Despite these ailments, I still managed to have a good time yesterday and today with my new friends, Jihoo, who is Korean, and Nomthi, who is Zulu South African.

Nomthi is very insightful. She has a deep stare that sees past surfaces. Chilling at her place last night, she said to me, “You’re a very loving person. I get the feeling that you love people a lot, and you are very sensitive.” Yes, this is true, but I don’t think she sensed my jealousy over her huge apartment with multiple rooms and a balcony until I told her how raving jealous I was.

She stared at me knowingly and said, “You’re different. Very gentle, especially in a relationship, you’re a very soft person.” Soft is an accurate descriptor, both physically and emotionally, although my body can be toned with some more nature hikes, like I did this morning, and saying no to fast food binges with my neighbor. Hmmmmm. This is going to require discipline.

Friday, September 16, 2011

In Praise of Dreams

In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not just with the living.

I drive a car
that does what I want it to.

I am gifted
and write mighty epics.

I hear voices
as clearly as any venerable saint.

My brilliance as a pianist
would stun you.

I fly the way we ought to,
i.e., on my own.

Falling from the roof,
I tumble gently to the grass.

I've got no problem
breathing under water.

I can't complain:
I've been able to locate Atlantis.

It's gratifying that I can always
wake up before dying.

As soon as war breaks out,
I roll over on my other side.

I'm a child of my age,
but I don't have to be.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the night before last a penguin,
clear as day.

From "Poems New and Collected" by Wislawa Szymborska

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Carriage ride

Yesterday, my friend Sylvia and I rented a carriage and rode it around a park in Gwangju. She told me in Korea whenever couples ride in carriages or double bikes it is the man's job to pedal and the woman can just sit and relax. On our carriage ride, we both did the pedaling. My steering wheel didn't work, but I kept turning it anyway. We only crashed once, but we were going down narrow paths, under low branches, making sharp turns. Sylvia kept saying, "This is so romantic. I have to bring my boyfriend here." We passed some other rental carriages, but she said ours was better because we had flowers laced around the top.

We turned onto a soccer field and rode around the track while a game was in session. Men sitting in the stands crossed their arms when they saw us, a gesture that means "no," and told us to get off the track because we might get hit by the soccer balls. Men in Korea are a lot more vocal about telling women what they can't do. I didn't see any "No Carriages" sign, so I think it was okay and besides, it was none of their business. We wanted to try going uphill, but  a row of parking cones blocked the road. We decided that it might be too difficult riding the carriage uphill anyway, and that we might accidentally roll backward.

We had delicious Vietnamese food, but while we were waiting for a parking space at the restaurant, an old man cut in front of us and stole the next available spot. "This is why I hate old men," Sylvia said, and I endorsed this sentiment. Overall, a wonderful day in Gwangju with a terrific friend.

Waiting Room by Meriwether Falk

A sharply dressed woman in her 30's looks around a waiting room at other people sitting in a circle. She approaches the receptionist’s desk.

Irene-My name is Irene Catherine Engelbright. I have an appointment with Ms. Falk.

Receptionist-Please be seated. Ms. Falk will see you when she’s ready.

Irene- When she’s ready? I’ve been waiting for over a month.

Receptionist-Ms. Falk is a very busy woman.

Irene-That’s bullshit. Ms. Falk has been listening to the same Billie Holiday song and watching episodes of the Daily Show online. I can hear her.

Receptionist-Now Irene, I've told you before if you don’t calm down I’m going to tell Ms. Falk to write more likable protagonists.

Irene-Is this the way you treat your characters in this crap hole? Like they’re insignificant? I know I’m more interesting than these people! (Irene gestures to the people sitting around the waiting room.) These ignoramuses don’t even know their names! Have you tried having a conversation with any of them?

Receptionist-Please, Irene. Ms. Falk will see you when she’s ready to give you the attention you deserve. She’s working on a book with scenes set in Auschwitz right now. She’s preoccupied with that. Don’t worry. She hasn't forgotten about you.

Irene sits back down.

Irene-Well, at least I have a name. First, middle and last.

An old woman wearing a lab coat, eating from a plate of meatballs, scrutinizes Irene from a corner.

Old Woman-I will have a name soon. Don’t know what. Something long and German sounding.

Irene-Good for you.

Old Woman-And I have a thick comical German accent. Ms. Falk thinks that because she has German ancestors, she’s allowed to make fun of German people.


An androgynous teenager sits cross-legged on one chair, head down, reading a book.

A teenage boy sits, looking uncomfortable.

Teenage Boy-I learned about sex from watching guinea pigs. I have a crush on a girl who’s into old Greek stuff. She’s really smart and beautiful and I’m awkward. Do you know what I can do to impress her?

Old Woman-How about you win the Nobel Prize for physics? That’s what I’m trying to do. I am the world’s authority on black holes, you know.

The song “The Very Thought of You,” sung by Billie Holiday, drifts from the next room.

Irene-Great. This song again!

Old Woman pulls an ABBA Greatest Hits album from her lab coat pocket. She walks up to the receptionist’s desk and sets the plate of meatballs down.

Old Woman-How about we listen to ABBA? I love ABBA.

Receptionist-I know you love ABBA, but Ms. Falk does not. She simply gave you an ABBA obsession to try to make you funnier.

Old Woman-But I’m not funny.

Old Woman pulls some pages from her lab coat pocket and shows the receptionist.

Old Woman-There are no jokes. Ms. Falk has just scribbled all over the manuscript, “Make funny.” I don’t think she knows what she’s doing.

Receptionist-You will be funny, Ms. Whatever your name is. Now please have a seat.

Old Woman returns to her seat with her plate of meatballs.

Irene picks up a book from the pile belonging to the androgynous teenager.

Irene-Hmmm. ‘Mr. Peanut’ by Adam Ross. Looks interesting. And it got good reviews. Maybe I’ll go see if this Adam Ross wants to write about me, seeing as how Ms. Falk is taking forever!

Receptionist-Actually, Ms. Falk owns you. If you go to another writer, she could take legal action.

The song “The Very Thought of You” ends. The characters all hold still. Then “The Very Thought of You” comes back on.

Receptionist-And try to be patient, Irene. You haven’t been waiting as long as this girl.

Receptionist gestures to the androgynous teenager.

Irene-At least we don’t age here. Who is she?

Receptionist-That’s Ms. Falk’s inner anguished teenager. She’s very important too. But I think she’s a painful subject.

Androgynous Teenager flips everyone off, but doesn't look up.

Irene-Do you know if we have happy endings?

Receptionist answers the phone.

Receptionist-Thank you. I’ll let her know. Irene, Ms. Falk will see you now.