Osaka & Kyoto, Japan

Some photos from my solo trip to Osaka & Kyoto. I wandered the alleyways, observing the ways that nature intermingled with human & city here. Seoul is probably more like Tokyo in that way; skyscrapers blocking out the skies and constant rumbling of nighttime construction, tearing down history to build cookie-cutter studio apartments. I miss seeing bits of green throughout my day — and the reminder that something lies behind and beneath this concrete city.

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Island of Green, a patch of oxygen in a concrete city

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A quiet walk along the fall-stained trees, a mixture of flowery textiles and a deep red-orange

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In Kyoto. A small store donning a green, grassy roof
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A small lush garden surrounding an empty shrine. No one was here and I don’t know the name of the garden, but I still remember the feeling of the wind against my cheek.
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Never let go: The ivy that had intermingled itself with the metal frame of the hostel’s bicycle
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Sharp pointy edges of the man-made stepping stones / and the soft edges of the sun’s shadows
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smoothed out / straight edges / carefully edged characters & the wild yellow blossoms
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The end: When we are all gone, Nature will take back its earth
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break/

I come home some nights and find my grandmother in the living room. She has a copy of my house keys and invites herself in. Her feet are swollen from standing all day at the pharmacy, and as soon as I enter, she greets me with a problem. The inter-phone is buzzing, she says (I really don’t hear it). The door doesn’t lock right. Maybe it’s because my key is a copy. The light doesn’t turn on when I walk in. Someone keeps leaving the public bathroom door open downstairs. It’s too cold here, she repeats for the hundredth time. Something about those small comments, which greets me at the doorstep every single evening that I find her here, eats away at me like some termite crumbling the inner pillars I have worked so hard to built up. It makes me freeze. It makes me sigh. It makes me roll my eyes and retreat into my room, wanting to disconnect. I’m not sure at what point I started to get annoyed. Somewhere between her blank gaze when I asked her what she would like to do about it and her casually turning on the news as I told her that there are solutions. I remember that at one point, I had tried. Those first couple of months, where I would smile and utter encouraging words, offer options, ask her about her opinion, and let her talk. But ultimately, I hit a wall. Something about her habits of just continuously complaining feel too close to home — like generations of women in me are wailing as she speaks.

Sometimes I wonder if the receiver cannot actually reject things that are handed down. If I cannot withdraw my hands from the heavy sighs, helpless gaze, and the mindless nightly routines that she has offered me. That which grows out its limbs to suppress my breath down to a shallow yet steady gasp — until I can’t figure out if I’m breathing or suffocating, merely continuing. I wonder where she got hers from, where she has put it. And most of all, if she even realizes what she is doing to me through all these actions that she calls “love.”

My therapist told me the other day that as people get older, their brains become physically less malleable. It’s some scientifically proven shit, apparently. but I kind of don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe that my mother and my grandmothers are stuck and permanently unable to ever find a way out of their own cage. But perhaps it is less so about our brains, and more about the fears that grow within us. I wondered if they’ve just convinced themselves that the inside of their cages are far safer than whatever maybe outside. I wondered if they are actually trying to find a way out, or if they are just set on fortifying their walls for the rest of their lives. And if they are not able to break down those cages before they leave, I wondered who would take their place.

No, that’s a lie. That’s not what I thought. I just wondered if I would be able to hold up in the cages that they were preparing for me. or if I would simply: break.

November Thoughts

I rarely write anymore. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t need writing, or because I feel like writing doesn’t need me. What it does mean is that there are way more things — little sparks and beginning strands of long untangled thought yarnballs — that are rolling around in my mind. I usually dump them on instagram, but lately I’ve been feeling more withdrawn from social media and the people on the other side. Often times I question why I feel the need to share into a void, when there is no one to build ideas and share conversations with. But here I am again, sharing into a bigger, more scarier void.


하나.
Are You On Middle Class Time? http://porvida.org/?p=224

I still think back on my time in college and wonder how I fit everything into my life back then. Too many clubs, too many classes, too many 15-min meetings with friends while walking and having a meeting at the same time. When I left college, I tried to fill my time up again with a gazillion things. Work felt slow and monotonous, there were so many things could change and improve, and people were so hesitant and unwilling to shift their spots. Even though I could push myself to move at an unhealthy speed, I soon realized that most people didn’t and never wanted to. So I pushed myself even harder to fill that gap. There are still random moments of college and post-grad life that pop up and drown me in nostalgia — a longing for that feeling of invincibility, of flying through life, and sheer the intensity of it all, but I never miss the pain and fatigue that went along with it.

While reading this article, I thought about all the ways that me getting into my university was simply because I was a good capitalist child. I was good at being a passive learner, unquestioning authority, and ignoring personal boundaries of disengagement, boredom, or fatigue. Especially the last one. I only recently started to unlearn these patterns, and I now realize how long a single task actually takes me. I still schedule too much into a day, and I still greatly underestimate how much time it will take me to stop by the coffee shop or even just walk to the subway. I leave an hour before something, and I always get there just in time. It baffles me how time works.

Sometimes I think that habits I had in college of being late and flaky were because I ran my body like a machine. I always thought I could do more than I actually could. I always thought the buses would come exactly when I got to the bus station or that I could fly down Thayer to the other side of campus. I think back on those moments when I think of my younger brother who gets scolded for forgetting important things, or my friend who regularly texts me a list of the things that they did that day. I wonder if it’s because they are pushing themselves too hard. Because some things like capitalism are so ingrained in our lives, I wonder if we don’t recognize it as being an outside force shaping and shifting our bodies/minds. I think about capitalism a lot these days. How it stifles my relationship with myself and others, and how much it hurts so many people I love.


. Last month, I went to Dongdaemun Market to get new glasses. I went by myself to a store I had found online and got a new frame with lenses. When I came back home, I realized that the prescription was off and called the store, but they refused to address the problem. Ultimately, my father recommended me a place that he goes to and set things up so that I could exchange my lens there at a lower cost. It also turned out that he had paid for the lens costs beforehand. I just kind of crumbled that day. I splayed out on the cold living room floor when I came home and stared up at the ceiling for awhile. I told my father that felt like an incompetent adult. “I can’t even buy new glasses without getting half-scammed. Why can’t I seem to do anything on my own?” My dad asked why I had to do things on my own. why I thought he hadn’t made mistakes like that before. and why I thought he wouldn’t have made the same mistakes I did, as if being a “competent” adult is some achievable state of being. It brought a lot of things into question: my false (perhaps capitalist) sense of what independence should look like, my obsession with control and doing things on my own, the “all-knowing male provider” box I had placed my father into that didn’t give him room to make mistakes (past, present, or future), the assumption I had made that older people are not capable of change.


셋.
Saw an old tweet about white privilege while prepping for class. I was thinking about doing a class on white privilege. Seeing the photos made me realize how I still carry so many racist norms.

 
넷. 오늘은 여기까지. Music for  you.

The Shop

from June 15, 2017.

There is this cafe I sometimes stop by on my way to the subway — called The Shop. It’s a cute coffee shop, cozy but also modern, that serves good lattes but also old-school 미숫가루 drinks. Every time I’m there, I see a different group of people from the neighborhood. Young students on their way to 학원 / hakwon, middle aged women talking about their children’s latest accomplishments. Today, there was a young guy on his bike who was about the cross the street, but then turned back to grab a cup of coffee.

***

I remember the one time  I went to the big coffee shop across the street, the one that’s a huge franchise and found on every other street corner in the city. I was sitting there in a nearly empty cafe, when an elderly woman came in. I didn’t really think twice about it, until the manager came to make her leave. 계속 이러시면 안돼요. 그냥 앉아있는 곳이 아니에요. She nodded and smiled, saying that she was sorry. She said that she had come into get away from the summer heat. Her face was flushed from the piercing sun and humid Seoul air. The manager didn’t budge and kicked her out of an empty store. There was no one sitting at any of the other 10 tables. I was sitting in the corner and just watching this happen, unsure what I should do. I watched the woman walk away into the blistering summer heat, and with that layer of glass between us, everything felt so far away and distant. I felt so grossly hygenic, sitting in that air-conditioned glass tank. I told the manager why I was leaving and walked out into the sticky summer air, filled with loud burst of laughter and sounds of fierce haggling from the street market. I have kept my promise and never stepped back into that cafe.

I went to The Shop today. That’s just what the place is called. “The Shop, A Coffee House,” where the barista remembers my order; I’m not an adventurous coffee drinker. Just a regular latte is all I order. Today, she pointed at the space underneath her counter and showed me a soft fuzzy golden striped kitten, sleeping with its head buried in a small pink blanket. “Are you raising a cat?” I asked her, and she told me that she had heard the crying outside for days, in the alleyway behind the cafe. “There’s a lot of cars there. I didn’t want the cat to get hurt.” She had taken the cat to the hospital. They said it was 2 months old. “What are you going to do?” I asked. She didn’t know. But I could already see from the small makeshift bed that she had made her that it would be only time before she named the cat. It just made me think about the cafe across the street, that wouldn’t even offer a sitting place for its neighbors, and this woman, who had taken in a stray cat and shared the news so excitedly with her customers. It felt different, walking out of that cafe, knowing that it was a home to someone — that small kitten — and that it was a place that took care of its people.

Salvaging the Sewol

I digressed.

The English lesson I drafted on that day — with my bowl of overripe strawberries — was about the Sewol ferry incident. The Sewol passenger ferry sank off the coast of Jindo Island back in 2014, and along with it, 295 passengers who never made it out of the ocean. 9 are still missing. Many of those who died were high school students who were on a school trip. When the ship began sinking, the captain told passengers to remain in their own rooms for their own safety, while he and other crew members save their own life. By the time folks realized how serious the situation was, the water had filled the inside of the ship, and it was too late to exit. It was a mass killing. To this day, no one really knows why the ship sank or why it made such a steep turn. No one knows what the ex-President and her team were doing for a chunk of 7 hours that day, instead of responding to the crisis. No one knows the clear reason why the rescue team did not immediately enter to save the passengers, and instead idled outside the ship as passengers took their last breaths.

The incident threw the nation into a state of mourning and confusion. Families gathered at the port and the Jindo sports stadium, near the site of the sinking to wait for the passengers to be rescued. Hours passed, and one by one, the names of victims were called as bodies were carted in to be identified by their families. “It was sad. Terrible. Horrible,” said one of the students I teach. We had just learned about emotion words, and he pulled out all the words he could remember. He had actually been there on the first few days of the incident, as a volunteer to provide technical support to families of the victims and the press. He works at a telecommunications company and had just moved down south for work, leaving his own family behind in Seoul. The Sewol ferry crashed within his first year there. “It made me think of my own children. It is terrible to see your own child pass away.”

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In another class, two students told me that they worked for a shipping company and had heard about the news when they were at work. “At first, the news told us that all of the people had been saved.” “It was false news,” the other added. “The news had lied. Almost all of them died.” When I asked them about why they thought the ship sank, they talked about the ship itself. “We work with cargo ships. They are much bigger than the Sewol. The Sewol is a passenger ferry, very little, and it had too much cargo. Material for the U.S. navy base in Jeju. I heard it was not fixed correctly, and no one checked the gross weight.” They said that regulations were too lax. That rules exist, but were never enforced properly.

It took 1072 days for the ship to be pulled out of the ocean for investigation. The actual salvaging of this ship took a mere day, and they are now in the process of pulling the ship to the Mokpo port. The families of victims have been calling for a proper investigation since its sinking back on April 16, 2014. “Why do you think the salvaging was continuously delayed?” I asked. “Because she was still the President,” replied a student, not missing a beat. The ship was decided to be pulled out two weeks after ex-President Park was impeached.

The day of the salvaging, one of the top searches on the Korean portal sites was “cost of salvaging the Sewol.” “I saw that,” a student piped in. She is usually quiet and hesitant to speak in class, but she spoke clearly with a lot of intention. I remember leaning over to listen. “That is why we pay taxes. For the government to do things like this. We have to salvage the ship to find the truth. And to restore trust in our nation. We have to know that the country takes care of our own people.”

Something about this lesson felt different than others I had taught. I was able to see the ways that their thoughts and experiences came together, in ways that usual English lessons do not allow. To see the ways that all these different students, from completely separate parts of the city and leading their own lives came together to weave a common narrative — it was powerful to me. The stories they shared built upon each other, collide with others’ ideas, and opened up space for more emotional stories. And it made me realize that whatever I do in the future, I need to keep teaching and learning.

ESL lesson plan: Salvaging of the Sewol
Intermediate / Advanced

Strawberry Season

After another one of my long days, I sat at my dining table with a bowl of overripe strawberries to draft out a new lesson for this week’s classes. Strawberries seem to be in season right now, the ones grown in greenhouses down south. All the street vendors have stacks of them piled up, with a cardboard picket behind it that say “a pack for 2,000 won” or “golden strawberries for 4,000.” It’s getting a bit warmer now, so the strawberries are probably going to be replaced with something else real soon.

The weather is always mild here, compared to Minnesota. The sky is always gray from the smog, and people have pruned the trees on the streets down so much that I think some of them died. Sometimes I can only tell what season it is based on the fruit that vendors are selling on the streets.

For awhile when I first got here, it was all persimmons. No one had anything else but persimmons. Hard ones and soft ones, round and oval, the ones that were pointed at the ends and kind of melt when you hold them in your hands too long. Then one day, everyone switched over to strawberries, and now it’s the season of greenhouse-grown strawberries. There are of course large groceries stores that sell a variety of fruit all year round, mostly imported from the U.S. or Latin America, but I prefer to buy fruit from local vendors. It’s a different feeling than grabbing overpriced prepackaged fruit from a neatly arranged shelf. These fruits come straight from farms down south, where vendors go to pick them up at the peak of dawn. It reminds me of stories that my mother told me about how she would wake up at 4am to hold my grandmother’s place in line so she could receive the day’s worth of vegetables from the farm middleman. And sometimes the women crouched on the streets with their floral pants remind me of my grandmother, how hard and calloused her hands are and how at home she feels in the local markets in her neighborhood.

At first, it was also a way of integrating myself into the community here — letting folks know that I live along this road, that I prefer soft persimmons over the crunchy ones, getting long sermon-like advice on how to eat whatever I bought that day. I once asked for a single persimmon, and the vendor told me that she only sells it in batches of 6. They weren’t prepackaged, just piled on top of one another in a red plastic bowl. But she still wouldn’t sell one to me. Instead, she told me to go give it to my neighbors or family. That persimmons are not supposed to me eaten like that. It’s things like this that make me think.

Walking down that road each morning makes me more aware of the seasons, the passage of time, and the ebbs and flows of nature — even in a city like this, with its concrete grounds and depthless skies.

The Hurt & the Hurting

cw: mention of physical violence

A lot of numbers and dates are overlapping these days, and today I wrote that it was October 2015. It’s not. Thank god it’s not.

I was also here around the time last year. Probably sleeping on my aunt’s old bed at my grandmother’s house, with the lock bolted shut at night and a wooden chair leaned up against the door for good measure, even when the heat kept building up in that tiny room  — because my grandmother was afraid of him bursting through the door and choking her at night. She didn’t feel safe without hearing that sharp click of the door each night. When we got up, I spent my mornings trekking out to the local library, mostly to get out of that stifling house. Sometimes, I would browse on Facebook, and Always, I would find bits of a person from my past jutting into my life, even though I had finally made it thousands of miles away from her. A new photo with a mutual friend, people replying with heart emojis at her latest angry activist post, a message from a friend asking me if I knew how she’s doing. It seemed like I could never really get away from her — her updates, her thoughts, her profound realizations, her trademark glaring look that would come shake me awake in the middle of the night. There was never a physical barrier I could put up to prevent her from intruding in my life. But I suppose that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I would’ve always known what lay on the other side of that door and that wouldn’t have given me any peace of mind. It never did for my grandma, anyways.

I suppose things have changed a bit since then. My grandmother sleeps with her door open now, and the chair that used to guard her door has found its way back to its original place at the dining table. I know all the privacy settings possible on every social media app, and I don’t see a lot of her news anymore. Things still find their way to me, and she still acts as if nothing is wrong, but I don’t feel her presence hovering over me anymore. I guess this is somewhere close to the end?

But a part of me feels like it’s a little weird to call it that, because nothing about why it happened has been resolved. I don’t know if she actually ever worked on things around queerness, if she ever worked through her trauma and triggers so she doesn’t lash out at people like she did with me, or if the Movement culture shifted at all to hold people accountable — even those that hurt others from a place of hurt /and/ people with cool queer aesthetics and other forms of social capital. I wonder if her friends ever talk about things like this with her. Or if everyone with social capital in the Movement is exempt from hard conversations like that. I wish I could break down that binary between people who hurt others /and/ people who are hurt. Why we always think that we are one but never the other.

I know the places inside of me that have been hurt, and I know that I must simultaneously work to get to know the parts of me that have cut / lashed out / hurt others. And I feel responsible for holding those parts of myself, too. I have laughed at people who have shown me sincerity. I have ignored people when they told me that they were hurting because of me. I have acted from a place of insecurity and pushed others down. I don’t think I should ever brush those things aside or ignore them to move forward. It would be such a dishonor to the people whose pains led me to so much growth and change. I want to bring all of my experiences into each conversation / the good, the bad, and the hurting / and that’s really all I want from her, I suppose, as accountability. But it seems like the world that she exists in (and the world that the Movement envisions) asks us to leave the abuser in us behind — as if it didn’t happen, as if it didn’t exist, as if it could never happen in the future by people like us. And I think that’s a dangerous place to strive towards. A state of denial and silence.

P.S. A friend of mine posted about their experience of hurting others — and asked some thought-provoking questions. I have some responses rolling around beneath my tongue, and perhaps I will share them some time, but for now here are the questions. I had never seen anyone pose questions like this before. I hope it gets people thinking as much as it did for me.

From my friend C (posted with their permission):

I can analyze all I want or offer whatever amends exist, at the end of the day, I lost people because of the painful impact I had on them. It’s only fair, and their decision for themselves is not a signifier for lack of love on their parts. In fact I think it’s a testament to their care for themselves and that I will always applaud.

Shoutout to all the people who have caused harm: where do you summon the energy to exist when you are spiraling? Are there any practices that have been helpful for you, so that you can build different dynamics in the future? (Other than just “don’t do what you did again,” maybe?) How have you communicated your experience of enacting abuse with the people already in your life and those who are new to it? Do you feel shame? Do you want to hug? How do you trust yourself when you are forming new connections? Let’s talk…

What’s your relationship like with the idea/act of “forgiving yourself”? Is it possible? Is it meaningful? Do you let yourself ask for compassion? What does hope feel like for you? What are the things you’ve learned from enacting harm that you’ve never told anyone else/that no one asks about? How has your relationship with music and art changed since it all started? What do you fill your time with when you are desperate for growth?



“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from my past year trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing (nonprofit and volunteer-based) and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.

We are not machines

This post was published on Rest for Resistance.

I went to a pottery class last week, and we spent most of the time learning how to softly shape the outer edges of the teapot body while supporting the insides with our other hand. My hands felt too big and clumsy, and the teapot kept sinking down because the bottom could not support the weight that I had piled on top. Then when I was done, the instructor handed us an already flattened clump of clay, set it in the deepest groove of our hands and told us to cut it to fit the opening of our teapot. “That will become the lid,” she said and gave no further direction. I sat there frozen, holding onto my pottery knife and this round piece of clay. I had made the teapot without even thinking about how big the top had to be. I wondered how the hell I was supposed to cut out a perfect circle to fit the size of the teapot opening. I wondered if there was a stencil. I wondered if I was supposed to hold it over the teapot then try to trace it the best I could. I wondered if I was supposed to get a compass and make a circle.

Then I happened to look over at the instructor. And I saw her carve a circle into her piece of clay. No tools, just a free-hand drawing of a circle-like shape. She didn’t look up from her clay, but in between slicing off certain edges, holding it over the teapot to measure the size, then taking it back to adjust it again, she said, “우리는 기계가 아니에요. 인간이에요. 완벽하지 않아도 괜찮아요. 우리는 기계가 아니니까요.” We’re not machines. We’re human. It’s okay if it’s not perfect. Because we’re not machines. It felt like she was talking to me. I silently grabbed my knife and started carving.

I keep thinking back to that moment. The assumptions I made about how creation should happen, how mistakes still strike fear in me, and how her words can apply to so many of the situations that I find myself in these days.

***

The more I grow, both physically and emotionally, I realize how important the process is and how important creation is. And how our society minimizes these acts because they do not fit into the capitalist goal of maximum production. But we are not machines. Our productivity does not have a steady rate that can be calculated, and we don’t produce more just by spending more hours at a certain task. We’re more complicated than a simple input (x) —> output (y) kind of linear function. We require physical rest, emotional connections, daydreaming, food, laughter, purpose. And all of these things prevent us from fitting neatly into a machine model. I don’t think I really understood how this idea of “productivity” led to my habits of overworking myself, pushing myself too far, not scheduling in breaks — because that’s what always worked and got me to places that others deemed to be “successful.” Now I realize that it was because I had run myself down as if I was not human, as if I was a machine — and that was what they valued.

I read articles about how machines are going to eventually replace us at work. Mostly in production of goods. And I kind of wonder if that is a necessarily bad thing, and if it comes from the idea that people always need jobs, or that work defines us. What would happen if you didn’t have to work? What would happen to the profits that come from the machines working to produce goods? Where would that surplus go? I wonder if there could be a science fiction novel about machines taking over the world — and teaching us how to live in a different way. I know that it would essentially require a restructuring of the current capitalist economy, but it would be interesting to think about working in a way that produces things for our community, working based on need, not valuing ourselves by the hourly labor that we can offer corporations. If machines replaced us at some of the machine-like work that we are doing, what would we be left to do? Do we have aspects of our current lives that separate us from machines?

I think that’s why I’m looking for more opportunities engage in work that creates something more than a thesis paper — like gardening, writing, pottery, music. I am slowly learning how the input of my time, energy, and thoughts never directly lead to a final, marketable product. And I also am able to see how the process of creation is so different each time. The same amount of time, energy, and thoughts might create a completely different “product” on a certain day, for a certain person, in a certain time — or perhaps no complete “product” at all. And it brings into question how to quantify or commercialize something like that. How to put a monetary price tag on food / pottery / art / music / time that don’t have a set quantifiable labor input. It’s fundamentally non-quantifiable, and I think that’s something so amazing about processes of creation (and artists!). I wonder what the world would look like if we didn’t quantify our labor in “per hour” units. How it would shift our understanding of cost, value, and worth — especially of ourselves.

Redevelopment

On my way home from my grandmother’s place, I noticed that the entire 4 blocks next to her place had been marked for clearing. My grandmother said an apartment complex is coming in. I stood there for awhile in front of those hollowed out stores and tried to remember it as it was. I had walked by those stores and houses every day last year on my way to the library — a small friend chicken place where an elderly couple were always bustling about, a pizza place that I never got to visit, an auto shop run by a handful of middle aged men, and our old 만화방 / comic book renting store on the hill. During the summer months, my mother would borrow an entire armful of Korean comic books from the 만화방 아저씨 and all three of us — my mother, sister, and I — would be splayed out on my aunt’s old bed binge reading them. My sister and I would be lying down in a neat assembly line next to my mother, waiting for her to finish the first book. But more often than not, we would become too impatient and start reading the second book, then when my mother finished she would hand me the book, and I would be reading everything out of order. The book traveled down the row from my mother to me then my sister, and by the end of the day, there would be a stack of an entire comic book series next to my sister, completed. The bookstore sat quietly, only reflecting back my own image under the street lamp. When I got closer, I could see that the place was now closed and completely gutted out, just like the rest of the area. All the building in the area were completely empty, and the outside of the buildings were slashed with blood red spray paint marking them for destruction: 철거 대상 / Target for Clearing. 이주 완료 / Move Completed. The words splashed so carelessly across their shop doors and signs that at first I couldn’t make out the words. In between the shops, there were old brick houses with 마당 gates that had been left open and piles of trash with accompanying rodents loitering outside their doorsteps. I had never known that there had been so many houses in that part of town. The entire thing made me feel hollow, like a chunk of myself had been taken from me. I didn’t realize that I had had a relationship with the people, the chatter, and the buildings of this part of town.

I wonder if this is what “development” and “progress” is supposed to feel like. People being ripped out of their homes and their absence left rolling around in the dark alleyways. And leaving the rest of us staring at dark windows and an eerie hollowness of the town, wondering when they are next. “시골같이 살 수 있는데가 없어,” my grandmother told me. I felt so helpless hearing that a large part of her life — the section of town that had sustained her relationships and daily routine away from my abusive grandfather — had all been cleared out. I wonder if companies think about stuff like that. The grandmothers who will now have to sit home alone instead of chatting with their friends at their favorite salon. The people who will forever look at the shiny new buildings and remember the ghosts of their childhood. Middle aged men who have lost yet another smoking-friendly gathering space to redevelopment. How many will miss their absent neighbors, how they will have to forge new connections with one another in an ever shrinking space, and how long we will remember the people of that neighborhood who once greeted us and welcomed us home.

To myself

[one time during therapy, I started thinking about all the things that I wished my mother would tell me, then said fuck it and wrote it to myself.]

I just wanted to let you know that you are a genuinely kind person. You are thoughtful and constantly striving to grow. You are brave and courageous, always taking the jump to figure out things and stepping into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations. You are open to new things, accepting people as they are. The way that you don’t judge things when you hear about them. How you give people the benefit of the doubt and hear people out. I think that’s one of the things that I admire the most about you.

I know that there have been mistakes in your past about how you have treated others, how you have held back and been afraid to open up, how you have been in codependent relationships, but I think it’s really telling that you are where you are now. That you have a much clearer sense of where you end and another person begins. How you have been able to build the kind of relationships that you have with your friends. And they aren’t the ones doing all the relationship work like you think. You are also being a good friend to them.

I know sometimes things get hard and all of these things get forgotten. There are so many things that feel like they are shifting underneath your feet. It’s so hard to see the pain ingrained on your mother’s face when you tell her that you aren’t going to live the way she wants, even in the face of her listing off all of the sacrifices that she made for you. I know what it feels like to have that constant buzz of internal dialogue inside of you, with all these people who still constantly haunt you. It feels like they have power over you and that you will be hurt, left, and unloved if you don’t do what they say, but know this: you are valuable regardless of what they say. Yes, truly. Even if you are not loved by your mother, even if C gets upset at you for not directly communicating with her, even if you don’t have the right queer aesthetics, even if you don’t know all the right things to say to support your friends, even if other people think acupuncture is bullshit, even if your father will be disappointed in you, even if S never told you why they pulled away the way they did, even if you don’t attend protests, even if you don’t do the most radical things all the time, even if you make mistakes, even if you are working from a place of trauma, even if you are not a good daughter, even if you don’t really know what you’re doing, even if you’re not fun or drinking or sleeping with people, even if you don’t dance bachata the way that M wants you to, even if you don’t want to sleep with anyone ever, even if you aren’t ever planning to come out to your relatives, even if you are living off of the support of your family, even if you are not the best at all things. you are still worth it.

Isn’t that the radical love that people preach? The idea that you don’t have to “do” or “be” anything to be loved. The idea that you can be loved, always. That you could be loved regardless, because, and even though. I wish you could be loved like that more.

you know that your resilience is something that I also admire? you have been in so many situations where you were rendered powerless and unable to speak up, but you still found the power to move away from them. I don’t care how long it took you, I don’t care how you did it. I don’t care that you didn’t write all the most radical analysis about it, or that it took a long time to recover afterwards. you ultimately did that. you left situations that were hurtful and sought out something better for yourself out there, even when you didn’t know that something like that could exist or when you didn’t know that you were allowed to have nice things. you always believed yourself out. If you look at that and don’t think it’s resilience, I don’t know what resilience would be.

Try to hold onto the memory of that resilience. Recall the place where your power comes from when things get hard. and remember: Do not hand over your power. Do not hand over your safety. Do not hand over your freedom, your worth, or your being. You are worth the fight. I want you to remember that.



“From the Other Side” is a series of posts dealing with burn-out, healing, trauma, and a critique of current movement practices. It stems from trying to heal/cope from my experiences in organizing and an emotionally abusive relationship with a close friend.