Billie

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from vomiting.

–Billie Holiday

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What power says

Some things I have learned about how people who have power (and who wish to consolidate their current power, as well as accumulate more power) express themselves, and show their power.

 

Power says– I, the powerful, can feel and show anger, but you, the powerless, cannot.  If you feel it, you must hide it, and hide it well.

I the powerful can interrupt you but you can never interrupt me.

I can relax my body but you must remain alert with muscles constricted.

I can push you away but you cannot push me away.

I can exclude you but you cannot exclude me.

I define you but you can never ever define me.

My narrative must be the dominant narrative, my voice the dominant voice.

I can be in a bad mood but you cannot.

You will take whatever I give you, but whatever you give me are trinkets I dispose of with scorn or simple dismissal.

I can make mistakes but you cannot.

I can partake in sensual pleasures and debaucheries, it increases my power, but you cannot as I will say it is a sign of your weakness.

I can take up a lot of space but you cannot unless I give you permission, and even if I do it is only temporary so watch out.

I can move freely about but you must stay where I tell you to stay.

Everything I do is a sign of my power and increases my power, everything you do is a sign of your weakness and reveals your weakness.

I can feel joy, you cannot feel joy.

I can observe you but you cannot observe me.

I can think clearly, you will think confusedly.

I influence you, you do not influence me.

I can win but you cannot win, unless I need you to win for some reason in order to maintain my advantage.

I can comment freely on what goes on around me, you cannot comment on the same things.

I can have opinions, you cannot have opinions.

I can defeat you, you cannot defeat me.

I can tease you, you cannot tease me.

I can play, you cannot play.

I can learn anything I want, you can only learn what I tell you to learn.

I can inquire about you but you cannot inquire about me.

I can keep secrets from you but you cannot keep secrets from me.

You will help me but I will not help you.

I know your nightmares, you do not know anything about mine.

I feast on your soul, you cannibalize yourself because I starve you.

I see you, you can never see me.

I leave my mark on you but you can never touch me, you don’t even think about it.

I victimize you so well you will soon victimize yourself and I will say it was you victimizing yourself all along.

I behave spontaneously, you behave automatically.

I am life itself, treasured potential of the future, you are merely a vessel to bring forth things which I will take.

I will be remembered, you never really existed.

Everything grows from the earth for me, you grow from the earth for me.

I have the last word.

 

 

 

 

Books I loved + highly recommend

Continuing with the theme of reading, here is a list of books I have read.

Or, maybe more accurately, as sometimes is said– books I devoured.  Meaning that: I fought sleep to read them / wished I could stay home and continue reading them instead of going to work / felt a genuine sense of loss when they ended / fervently relished every single second of being enmeshed in their fictions.

They are in no particular order, and chronologically speaking this list spans my whole life (whereas my previous post about the books I didn’t finish covered 2012 to present day).

 


Native Son by Richard Wright– when I was growing up, reading was not my thing.  It was hard to find a book that kept my interest.  Very hard, in fact.  Especially compared with my older sister. The personification of a bookworm, she had read every Nancy Drew book, every mystery by Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, and P.D. James, along with countless others by the time she was– I’m not exactly sure, but a very young age.  Thirteen tops.  She had a subscription to The New Yorker magazine when she was 12 years old– back in the 80’s, when I’d say only about 1 in every 200 adults even knew what it was (nowadays it’s probably 1 in 10?), at least where we lived.  Anyway, I felt very dumb compared to her.  Then when I was 13 or so, in 9th grade, I was assigned Native Son in English class.  It riveted me like a harrowing dream.  I think I finished it in 2 days, which was a significant accomplishment for me.  Such vivid writing and an intensely dramatic plot, plus he was clearly a master of suspense.  I wonder if he ever wrote any mysteries or even horror, he definitely could have.  I remember being literally on the edge of my chair at some points.  It was awesome to be so carried away by a book.  I remember feeling proud of myself for having read it.  It was the first “adult book” I felt I had conquered.  But this aside, it also is a fine piece of literature in its own right and I still feel grateful to Mr. Wright for writing it.

Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey– Luckily I was on vacation when I started reading this, because it was very hard to put down.  Lot of stream of consciousness writing in it, which I guess people either love or hate.  I really liked the way he did it.  It felt contemporary and alive.  I’ve since read criticism by people who consider themselves knowledgeable/ultra passionate about LA (where the book is set) who apparently think…I don’t remember exactly what their criticisms were but the gist of it was that it wasn’t a true LA book or something.  There were some parts that someone might view as clichéd, I guess.  It definitely wasn’t high literature, but it was so entertaining and readable that it felt like one of those books that is simply a gift to the reader.  I loved it.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk– the first and only book that caused me to seriously consider calling in sick to work so that I could continue reading it.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel–  Duh.  Everyone loves this.  Though I almost put it down early on.  I remember thinking the first two chapters were not impressive…kind of sophomoric or trying too hard.  But wo, soon enough, it gets good.  Damn good.  This book deserves all of the praise it’s gotten.  The ending left me devastated to the point that I went around for a while asking everyone I knew if they had read it or not, because I really needed to discuss it with someone in order to process my thoughts & feelings about it….

Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston– This book blew my mind.  I had never read anything like it.  Several scenes and characters presented in it are still on my mind to this day, though I read it approximately twenty years ago.

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson– Brilliant.  A masterpiece, and it goes down easy.  Practically reads itself.

Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters– I did not expect to like this so much.  The world she creates in this book is utterly dream-like.  Surreal, frightening, hauntingly beautiful.  I can still see in my mind the images I created for myself as I read it, of the characters and of certain settings.  She is a very gifted writer and this book is devastatingly good.

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes– How can a book that is so big, so heavy, and so laden with complicated Jungian theory be so irresistably readable?  I don’t know.  It’s magic.  Wild woman magic.

White Oleander & Paint It Black by Janet Fitch– Two of my favorite books of all time.  The smarminess and pulp of young adult fiction with the intelligence and artfulness of high literature that is very, very adult.  These books were like literary crack to my brain.

The Beach by Alex Garland– I had been wanting to read this for a long time by the time I got my hands on it, and it did not disappoint.  Big influence on me as a writer.

Moo & A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley– Quite simply, the woman was born to write novels.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin– A mysterious little gem of a novel.  Has a haunting, timeless perfection to it.  Really can’t put it into words.  Reads like an illuminated text, but one that had been kept hidden for centuries.

Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil by John Berendt– This book is delicious.  It is scrumptious.  I challenge anyone to open it up and not dig into it like a plate of hot french toast smothered in butter and honey.  With a nice strong shot of brandy to wash it down ;))))

 

Berlin

And today upon waking– this was the song in my head:

 

no more words

Fellow children of the 80s might recognize this as a still from the video for “No More Words”, an awesome song by the new wave pop group called Berlin.  Used to love it and loved this video too.

At first I thought to myself, “Okay…this is just utterly random….”  Then I let the rest of the song play in my mind:

You’re tellin me you love me while you’re looking away…

At which point it clicked.  A brilliant little message from my unconscious:  mixed messages.  I had been processing something which happened the night before.  I had gone to a certain restaurant for dinner and didn’t have the greatest experience.  In retrospect, I realize they didn’t want to serve me.  They didn’t come out and say this though, it was all done indirectly.  Something just felt off.  I was like– Weird, why did they do that?  And then why did they do that?  What is this feeling I”m getting?  Sadly, I am slow on the uptake on things such as this.  So it took me a while to process it and allow myself to admit what was really going on.

Can’t say I blame them, necessarily.  I was underdressed, and– tho we didn’t know this til we got there– it is definitely a place where people go to be seen.  I entered the place sporting flip flops, unpedicured toes, a sweaty face from walking so long to get there on a very humid Seoul night, and frustratingly unruly hair held down under an old lady turban– like the kind Joan Crawford used to wear driving around Hollywood in her Cadillac, after her famously glossy locks started thinning & turning white.  Mind you, I don’t have the remarkable facial structure nor a fraction of the striking beauty Ms. Crawford did, so I’m not exactly pulling this look off with flying colors.  But in my defense, I have been going about like this for most of the summer, without  any major issues as far as I could tell….

Anyway, it was clearly a miscalculation on this particular night, at this particular place.  And the way the hostess and then the waitress conveyed this to me was a fascinating study in body language, mixed messages, and general indirect communication of strong feeling.  Can you say “welcome” with your words while conveying a leery, unwelcoming feeling?  That’s what they did. Can you say, “please have a seat” to someone while conveying the wish that he or she would leave?  Yeah, that’s what happened.

Like I said, I don’t blame them.  And the truth is, I wasn’t following my intuition, which had been whispering pretty loudly to me that I shouldn’t go there.   But I was determined for some reason.  For a few reasons.  At this point I am reviewing it as an exercise in understanding.  Because their mixed messages were actually pretty clever, and it’s interesting to contemplate why they chose the particular push/pull behaviors that they did.

I’ll write more about it & break it down tomorrow.  Time to step away from the computer right now…..

 

Flower Gin in Gyeongnidan – A Flower Shop and a Gin Bar…. Need I Say More?

Derek blazed the trail by visiting & reviewing Flower Gin and now I will write about my experience there. About which I have good news & bad news. People usually want the bad news first so here goes: gin is not my drink. Nor is it my sweetheart’s based on how he felt after we had cocktails at this place. It might have just been Friday night exhaustion after a hard week at work, though. So maybe we will give it one more try. It was also pouring rain that evening, which at one time in my life would have been seen as adding a romantic element, but which now just makes me stressed: by the time we reached the bar we were kind of drenched from head to toe, in spite of having an umbrella & traveling by taxi for most of the evening.

Anyhoo, so that’s the bad news. All the rest is good, so good. First of all, we walk in and are greeted by a wonderfully cute little pup. Never found out her name (yes, it was a her. I love all dogs but I especially am enchanted by girl dogs. Maybe because growing up our family always had female dogs– a gray Standard Poodle, a black Lhasa Apso, and a brown Doberman Pincher, in that order. I also think it has something to do with the mix of universal elements, as dogs are such a yang animal, and when mixed with the qualities of a feminine body, the result is a fascinatingly open-hearted, gentle, and strong creature.) but I spent a lot of time petting her. It was so relaxing. She rolled over and let me hold her and licked my face and responded happily to my cuddles and stroking. Great vibe right away, you see!

Eventually we took seats at the bar. Ordered and got our drinks right away. The gin & tonics were pretty to behold and they certainly went down easy. The bartender was just perfect– responsive, mellow. We felt comfortable drinking at the pace that suited us (in my case, unwisely fast, no doubt; for my sweetheart– slowly, leisurely, normally. We balance each other out, lol) and had time to take in the full experience of being there.

One thing I was struck by was the color of the walls. In theory, having black walls should not work in such a small space. But somehow it does, it totally does. The light emanating through the clear glass doors of the cooler where the flowers are kept lit the room with a clean white glow. And the flowers– oh yes, there are flowers!!! Fragrant natural beauty in abundance there behind those doors. It was kind of like drinking in a flower garden, but even a bit more adventurous feeling….

We checked out the cocktail recipe book that was on the shelf and vowed to start drinking more cocktails at home. The little dog came out again and we played some more. Finally we finished our drinks and said good night to everyone (the dog and the bartender, that is).

My sweetheart got a headache on the taxi ride home, and was feeling so fatigued as well that it kind of put a damper on his memory of the night. I don’t think he has a burning desire to go back. But I want to try it one more time, maybe on a cool Sunday evening in the fall.

Derek Versus Lonely Planet

Spring has been here for awhile and this means that day drinking season has officially begun. I first read about Flower Gin on the blog A Fat Girls Guide to Eating in Korea, and since it was a beautiful spring day, and I had some writing to do, I decided after lunch a nice gin and tonic would fit the bill. One of the best decisions I have ever made.

Image

How to get there: The easiest way to get to Flower Gin is to take the subway to Noksapyeong Station (Line 6) and depart from Exit 2. You will walk down the hill with the army base on your left and in the distance you should see a bridge that will allow you to cross to the other side of the street. You need to cross that bridge unless you have a Marla Singer philosophy in life. Once you’ve…

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Alberta Hunter

Sometimes I wake up with a song in my head.  It’s like in my dreams I’m flipping through the catalog of all the songs I’ve ever heard, and get stuck on one randomly when it comes time to open my eyes.

Yesterday the song was “Darktown Strutters’ Ball.”  I used to have this album (cassette!) by Alberta Hunter called Amtrak Blues.  I listened to it repeatedly in my teenage years.  I know all the songs on it intimately.

Alberta Hunter

Here are the lyrics to Darktown Strutters’ Ball.

I’ll be down to get you in a taxi honey
Please be ready bout half past 8
Aww…honey don’t be late
I wanna be there
When that band starts playing

Remember when we get there honey
Two steps I’m gonna have ’em all
Gonna dance out both a my shoes
When they play The Jelly Roll Blues
Tomorrow night
At the Darktown Strutters’ Ball!

Apparently it was written in the nineteen-teens, by a Canadian songwriter named Shelton Brooks.  It has been performed by many artists over the years, like a lot of jazz standards.  But I will always be partial to Alberta Hunter’s version.  She was born in the south before the turn of the century in 1895, had a successful career as a blues & jazz singer & songwriter, then retired from the music field and became a nurse sometime in the 1950’s.  Thankfully, she had a  comeback at 83– how fantastic is that?  That’s when Amtrak Blues was recorded.  It’s one of my favorite albums of all time.

 

 

 

Books I didn’t finish

A list of books that I started & didn’t finish, along with reasons why.


Griftopia by Matt Taibbi — Too upsetting.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang– I was living in China at the time and the story hit too close to home, in that it described aspects of Chinese culture, behavior, and thinking that I was witnessing and experiencing, and which I found extremely challenging to tolerate & navigate in/around/through.  I was reading this around the same time that I had symptoms of cardiac arrest one day at work (in a Chinese elementary school) due to the climate of intense fear that I felt was created & deliberately perpetuated in our teacher’s office.  I left there after one semester, even though I adored the students, and the person in charge of hiring told me I was the best female teacher they had had in the 10 years of their English program.  It was very nice to get that feedback.  I tried hard to make it work, but clearly it was not the right environment for me.

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt — Boring.  Though very well-written, and an authentic sense of time & place was quite impressively established, plot was tragically non-existent.  Unlike other books where I tried to push myself to plug along a bit more, I put this one down with relative speed, having the thought, “No, just no.  There are far too many good books out there waiting to be read to waste time reading something so boring!!!”

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy– Terrifying.  It disturbed me to the core.  Astonishingly gorgeous use of language at times, however.  Have never read such gorgeous sentences in my life as many of those in this book.  I might finish it someday.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy– Boring.  Might have had a bad translation, though.  I will go back to it at some point.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman– Repetitive.  I will definitely finish it eventually, but needed to take a break.  This is the only one I feel a sense of guilt about not finishing.  Perhaps because it gave me so much.  I did not expect to be so swept away by it.  His courage, his nakedness, his troubadouric passion.  Many turns of phrases that made me gasp with surprise and awe.  When I was reading it, I remember thinking– “Why isn’t there someone standing in the town square every day reading these poems to the people??!!  These poems are as necessary nourishment as bread and water, oxygen and sunshine!!!!”

Moby Dick by Herman Melville– Ummmm… I probably don’t need to explain why I stopped reading this.  I recall hearing that it’s one of the most commonly unfinished books, due to how challenging it is to get through.

 

 

“Use your words” PART I

This is a phrase I have heard parents say to children. Presumably to encourage them, in times of frustration or anger, to release it/express themselves non-physically, non-violently. To engage the intellect.  Engage the faculties of language.  The ‘higher’ faculties of the mind, as opposed to the lower, brutish, chaotic energy of bodily urges.  It’s a way of pushing children to the next level of development.  It’s both simple and very hard to do, in my opinion, at any stage in life.

It wasn’t an approach utilized by those who raised me, so maybe that’s why I sometimes/often feel quite challenged when I have to process intense emotions.  If it’s a really intense emotion, an overall shutdown takes place, head to toe, inside and out.  I will lie down and cover myself with something, usually a blanket.  Other intense emotions make me shake and tremble, stop breathing, put my head in my hands, etc.  One gets the idea.  I once heard or read this phrase: Trauma impairs cognition.  It was I think in a newspaper article about veterans returning home, and the challenges they face returning to civilian life.  That sentence stuck with me for a pretty long time.  Enough for me to mull it over and come to actually disagree with it.  While I think it is extremely insightful & illuminating, I have come to the conclusion that it’s an understatement.  More accurate in my opinion: Stress impairs cognition; trauma obliterates it.

Relationship-wise it is very difficult for me to articulate the nature of what I am experiencing in such a moment, a moment of impaired cognition, a moment when a given negative emotion, such as anger, hits me with subsuming, instant, senseless power.  Like an inner tsunami.  Not “like” — it is an inner tsunami.  Need a new word for it so that I don’t have to rely on metaphor….

So I can see why, perhaps, a person might feel compelled– and beyond simply feeling compelled, but then actually make a decision to act on the compulsion– to refer to me as “crazy” due to how I present in a moment of unarticulated feeling.  Which is what the person who was most recently in the position of being my immediate supervisor did, on more than one occasion.

Being referred to, in public, in the workplace no less, in front of my colleagues and my students, as “crazy”, was upsetting.  Quite…upsetting.  I did not process it.  I froze.  I didn’t have a comeback at all.  These days, no longer being there, no longer having to see him day in and day out, not having to deal with his games, his greed, his sexism, his verbal cruelties, threats and brags, his solipsistic and profound pompousness– I am processing it.

And that’s why I’m awake at this hour writing.  Writing to myself.  Use your words, kistee.  Okay?  Use your words.  

Sang Hee Song

Browsing through DerekversusLonelyPlanet.com last night, I found an entry about a modern art museum in Seoul.  Truth be told, it was the headline about there being a good Italian restaurant on site that made me click on it, LOL, but I’m so glad I did because it was the artwork he highlighted that ended up impressing me, and moving me deeply.

Apparently a work entitled “Gesture to be a good daughter” was (is? trying to determine this) on display at the Buk Seoul Museum of Art.  I just found out this is a branch of SeMA, which makes sense– all of the exhibitions I’ve seen there in the past have been…I’m at a loss for words actually.  It was a spiritual experience for me, nothing less.  Contemporary art in South Korea has consistently blown me away and enriched my life.  This country is doing an excellent job of supporting its artists, it seems to me.

So I googled the artist credited with the aforementioned “good daughter” piece.  Her name is Song Sang Hee.  Or Sang Hee Song, to be more U.S.-ish about it.  Found this website, which seems to be a catalog of her work:

www.dalgrian.com

I browsed through it with great interest.  And I will continue to do so.  There is a lot to experience there.  In particular I was impressed by this:

vimeo.com/26801361

 

Everything I did for the rest of the evening was effected by it.  Fascinating.  What a visionary. Why can’t I embed it though? 😦   There must be a way….