Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New things

I'm home again, for the month of November, and considering my options.

I had almost decided to start graduate school. I'd even aspired to a voice Master's from UNC Greensboro. It's supposed to be a very competitive school, but I thought that the competition might motivate me to try harder.

Then I had a voice lesson. My confidence deflated like a balloon. It's amazing how much you can forget in four years away from singing! The slump passed quickly, but it was too late: I'd already let the doubt in.

I love to sing, and I never want to stop, but I'm pretty sure now that voice is not the ideal career path for me. To succeed in the performing arts, you must be absolutely positive about what you are doing. There is no room for self-doubt, and you must be 100% committed. I've tried to take it that seriously, but in truth I've never been that resolved.

The problem is that my real ambition-- and I know, I've waffled a lot on this blog, but this is the real one-- was always to be an author. Not a writer. An author. If you'd asked me at age five or six what I wanted to be, that's what I would have told you. If you'd asked me at age seven, eight or nine, I would have said the same thing. It wasn't until I hit middle school, and started hearing about how hard it was to succeed as a writer, that my career ambitions started to waver.

I once heard that the job you dream of at age six is usually the best one for you. I'm sure that in most cases, that's not true-- "fairy-princess-ballerina" comes to mind. However, I have always wanted to write. I've littered my life with notebooks half-full of stories I never had the steam to finish-- and they're fascinating stories. I find them and want to keep reading, even though the ideas were eaten by moths a long time ago.

I've never given up on this. I've let my music slide-- I've let my languages slide-- I've let everything else slide, but I've always had a story going. I guess this should have been a sign to me.

I knew, though, that it was hard to make a living as a writer. Anyone you ask will tell you that. I've always tried to have some solid career trajectory in mind to keep my loved ones from worrying. "Oh... I'm going to be a teacher. I think I could be a pretty good teacher." "Maybe I'll be a nurse. Do you like being a nurse?" "Urban planning. It should be fun, and it's compatible with my talents..." My most recent scheme was to come home and become a wedding singer.

I still might do some of that, if life works out that way. I love to sing. I love weddings. I love to dress up and be fancy.

I just don't think I can make my life out of it.

Right now I'm thinking seriously about taking a CELTA course after my current contract is up, and using it to find a job somewhere new and interesting. I don't want the best job, or the most prestigious job, or the most glamorous job. I want a solid, reliable, low-stress job, where I can get all my work done and have plenty of time left over to write. ESL jobs are great in this respect-- and have the added advantage of taking you to exciting new places. I don't have to find A Perfect Thing; I just need to find A Thing That Works For Now.

I was talking to a friend about this yesterday, and she pretty much got it.

"All of this," I said, "is pretty much a way to bide my time until I start finishing and publishing books."

"But you no longer feel guilty about this."


And that seems to be the crux of the matter. I no longer feel guilty about devoting myself to the one kind of work I have always known I could do.

I've set up a writing blog to document my progress, and am using National Novel Writing Month as a way to kick-start a new project. It's not easy: I've finally, finally realized that serious writing is hard work.

But I'm up for it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Life updates

I've decided to stay in Korea for now-- and at the same hagwon I've been with for three years now. It wasn't an easy decision, and required a full pros-and-cons chart and everything, but in the end it came down mostly to not fixing what ain't broke.

I'd decided to move to Seoul, actually, so I could spend some time seeing more of the city, and had launched a full-scale job search after telling my current school I wasn't going to renew. I went on a number of interviews, met some nice people and saw some pretty nice places, but never did get an offer that was better than what I've got now. That, plus the hassle of moving-- and a month of personal vacation for signing on again here-- made leaving seem like a poorer and poorer choice.

I'm quite happy with my decision-- I was actually kind of elated when it was finalized. I'd thought I was looking forward to moving, but coming closer and closer to the day when I'd leave all my students and coworkers was apparently depressing me, because I bounced right back up when I got to tell them I was staying. Now that I know I've got the rest of the school year with my current crop of kinders, I've been getting much more involved with their development and am doing my job much better.

Since I've decided to stay here, at least for the time being, I've also decided to feather my nest a little bit. Since moving in three years ago I've treated my apartment as temporary housing, like a hotel, and haven't really done a lot to personalize it or make it nice (beyond the requisite Home Plus flower decals on the walls). Since I initially thought I'd only be here a year, I didn't really see the point of making it a "home" and loading myself down with stuff I'd just have to mail or get rid of at the end of the contract. The same reasoning carried me through years two and three, each of which I thought would be my last. The whole time I've been here, I never really bothered to make my apartment a "home."

It's understandable, in one way. Expats are in a weird position: you don't want to get yourself too involved in where you currently are, because the more entanglements you have the more difficult it is to pack up and go home again. Friends are one (good) entanglement, and romances are another. Putting lots of time and effort into a home or apartment is like admitting that you expect to be there for the long haul, and for some people I'm sure that's scary.

I don't plan to be here "for the long haul" (though, again, I've already surprised myself three times), but I've started to think that people need a home-space that they can fully occupy, even if it's only for a little while. Maybe that's how you become an adult-- take charge of what's around you, decide how you want things and take the steps to make them that way. It's more than I ever really did as a child, it's much more than I did in college or right afterward, and until now it's more than I've done with my apartment here. Having a few things I like also inclines me to take better care of them than I do of the ragbag bedding and plastic dishes left behind by former teachers. By viewing this place as temporary, I absolved myself of a lot of housekeeping responsibilities-- but I also missed out on a lot of the privileges of having my own place.

So, from now on, things to do:

*Translate all the controls on the washer and thermostat, rather than using only the buttons the former tenant pointed out to me when I moved in.

*Hang posters on the wall.

*Get rid of all the crap I've accumulated since moving in here, keeping only the things I need, like and want.

*Etc. I'll post pictures if I ever manage to make the place sightly.

Yours, Kate

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We had a lot of surprise snow last week. We'd gotten so many false predictions that I stopped paying attention to the forecast. Then it snowed off and on for about three days. It was very pretty, but the air was too warm for much accumulation. Probably that was for the best.


I'm really torn about what I'm going to do when I go home this summer. I've considered a number of possible jobs-- tutor, TA, copy-editing assistant-- but none of them has really caught my interest. If I'm honest with myself, the idea of settling back into a regular job and niche at home is a little depressing. I also feel like it's a little silly to leave a proven, steady source of income and step back into the uncertainty of the US job market right now.

At the same time, the part of me that sounds like my mother says that I should get started making a "real career" for myself. I'm 26 now, which is a bit too old to be acting like an indecisive college student. Maybe I should be "making connections," meeting people, building a resume that American employers would be able to relate to.

But 26 is really young, too, and I want to travel more.

I miss my family and friends, and seeing them more often is a big reason to go home. How often would I see them, though? They have their own lives. I might not even be able to get a job close to home. Then what? I'm also terrified of ending up in another stifling cycle-- barely treading water, watching my free time slip by in an exhausted daze while I struggle to put gas in my car. The year before I came to Korea was, in some ways, my most miserable ever. It was certainly the most hopeless and frustrating. I never want to return to that, and I'd do a lot to avoid it.

I've been thinking a lot about Japan in the last week or so. I'm reading Speed Tribes right now, which has renewed my interest in returning to the places I saw there this summer. Tokyo, in particular, captured my interest, and I'd love to see more of it. I'm not sure about living in Japan, though-- it's hideously expensive, and I'd just be staying afloat (if not losing money. Still, it would be an adventure, and I'm not ready to give up on those.

I do want to spend some time as a person before I go back to being an alien, though. When I went home for Christmas this year, I couldn't get over the simple miracle of being able to speak in my own language to anyone I met without coming across rude. I want to eat familiar foods, use a dryer, have a social circle of more than a handful of people. I need to spend some time reconnecting with home before I start in on a new kind of "away." I'm just having a hard time visualizing how it's going to go.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Six months? Really?

I can't believe it's been so long since I updated this. I knew it had been a long time, but did not realize how fast the time would fly. Since July, I have:

  1. Won NaNoWriMo for the first time in five years of trying.
  2. Gone home for a three-week visit.
  3. Decided-- or realized-- that what I have always wanted to be, and all I will ever truly want to be, is a writer.
What happened to Urban Planning? It's gone the way of all concessionary dreams. I'm told it was a nice post I wrote about it, though.

Anyway. I know only one person is following this, but it means a lot to me that I'm picking it up again. I've had a post sitting in my notebook since September that seems to have been blocking the chute, as it were, so here it is in all its slightly-vintage glory:


I love K-pop music.

My aerobics instructor always has the latest hits on the workout routine, so I always want to dance and sing along when I hear them on the radio out in public. Do I look silly? Yes. Do I care? Not really.

I don't know what I'm going to do when I leave Korea. It's going to feel like tearing out a piece of my heart. When am I going to come back here? When am I going to stroll around in Gimpo on a lazy Sunday, go "eye-shopping" in Hongdae, have dinner out in Itaewon? I've come to recognize and welcome the changes in the seasons here. One of my favorite things is the fruit-- strawberries, apples, grapes, tangerines, most of them fresh from the field and sweeter than I've ever had. You can buy them by the bucket from street stands or the backs of pickup trucks.

Want to hear something truly sick? By the end of this summer, I'd come to enjoy the incessant noise of cicadas buzzing outside. (Korean word: maemi.)

My Korean language study has been going better, and I'm starting to enjoy the language more. When I first got here, it sounded mushy and dull to me-- endless strings of mumbled syllables, impossible even to separate into words. Now I can recognize a kind of music to it. It's got an underwater sound, in a way-- the words rise up like clusters of fat bubbles before dropping to a murmur again. The vowels and rhythm actually remind me of French, in a way-- so much so that when I try to speak French now, my meager Korean invades. Mais becomes hajiman. I want to keep studying and using Korean after I stop working here, and I wonder how I'm going to do that when I go home. I briefly considered going for my Master's in Korean, but realized it wasn't practical. Seems like a big loose end for me to drop, though.

The real problem is that I fall in love with any place I stay in for very long. When I see sunlight slanting off green mountains, I want to be back at Western-- doing what, I don't know. Even Cary has a big draw for me, though I spent most of my adolescence complaining about it. Granted, the draw is mostly familial, but in a big way it's still my home.

I don't think there will ever be a perfect solution for this problem. I'll always miss most of the places I've traveled. A short visit is never long enough, and a long visit just builds more ties: I've been to France and Japan twice (briefly) each, and the urge to go again is stronger than ever. Traveling is like making Horcruces, except less messy. You leave a piece of yourself buried in every place you go, and every place changes you irreversibly in one way or another.


End vintage post. Wow, tl;dr. Anyway, I've more or less decided to go home for a while as of now, but I'm still not sure what I'm going to do there. Now that this is out of the notebook and up in the ether, I'll try to keep you posted a bit more regularly. Thanks for reading.