Thursday, April 29, 2010

free at last

I've finally deactivated my Facebook account, which feels good. The only reason I had reactivated it, a couple years back, was that I had thought that Facebook might prove useful during my trans-American walk (it did, sort of). With the walk no longer happening, Facebook lost its relevance and utility for me. I lingered on Facebook as long as I did because other folks, several of whom are friends, seemed to use it as their primary means of contact. For myself, I find that blogging and emailing work just fine for me, while social networking has proven more annoying than fulfilling. I'm not a social networker by nature. You need to be gregarious to enjoy the experience.

Side note: Twitter seems redundant to me, since each "tweet" is essentially the same as a Facebook post. But humans have an amazing capacity to produce bursts of static, and I suppose both Facebook and Twitter cater nicely to the Short Attention Span crowd, who are attracted to sites that encourage a sound-bite mentality. I've never signed up for Twitter, and have no plans to: I'm enough of a twit as it is.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

toiling away on designs

More tee designs are up at my CafePress shop. Go have a peek. A larger zoom of the designs can be found in this previous post.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

one year ago

The Facebook letter I wrote to my brothers David and Sean on the morning of April 16, 2009:

David and Sean,

I don't know what's going on with Mom, but since yesterday, I've noticed that her behavior has radically changed, and to be honest, I'm extremely worried.

I noticed this first yesterday morning when I got home from my walk. Her behavior was extremely passive, and she seemed to be spacing out-- unable to find words, unable to follow a line of conversation, etc. She tended to stare as if she were trying to remember something, and talking with her was like talking to a four-year-old. Needless to say, this was alarming.

This morning, I woke to the smell of smoke. I went upstairs and asked Mom what got burned. She stared at me blankly for a while, then finally said, "I was trying to cook some... some... some chicken." There was no chicken in evidence; just a burned pot of oatmeal in the sink, with water covering the bottom layer. When I pointed this out to her-- "Mom, this is just oatmeal"-- she passively said, "Yeah." When I asked her why she thought she'd been cooking chicken, she said, "I don't know."

I talked to Dad, who said he'd been noticing small signs for a week-- little things, like Mom saying she wanted ice coffee, then drinking the coffee while it was still hot.

Dad and I, in conferring about this, ended up having the same thought: it's a possible mini-stroke.

We obviously don't know what it really is, so Dad is taking her to see Dr. Royfe in an hour. I'm going with them. Mom seems lost, but she's still capable of emotion, and I want to provide her whatever comfort I can just by being there.

Depending on what Dr. Royfe says, there's a good chance I might miss my flight tomorrow to stay home. If Mom is suffering from something serious, it would be in extremely poor taste for me to up and leave.

I just wanted to let you both know what's been going on. There's nothing much you can do at this point. We'll know more in a few hours, I guess.


Little did we know, at the time, that we were seeing the first true signs of Mom's brain cancer, which had advanced to a point where its size created pressure against the brain, resulting in edema (swelling), further resulting in the cognitive symptoms described above.

We tossed out the idea of seeing Dr. Royfe in favor of taking Mom to the ER. Mount Vernon Hospital's ER didn't have the best imaging facilities, but they were the first to determine that Mom's brain held a sizable mass. We moved Mom to Fairfax Hospital, where the mass was determined to be a tumor. Days later, the tentative diagnosis was glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common and most aggressive form of brain cancer, for which there is no cure.

On April 16, one year ago, our family's ordeal began.

UPDATE: My friend Rory, who found out only recently about our struggle and loss, had told me some days ago that he would compose some music for me, and he did. Here's his instrumental piece in honor of me, my family, and all that has happened. Click "play hi-fi" to hear the piece online.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

new tee shirt designs!

I've churned out a few CafePress tee shirt designs, in case you're interested. I'm still in the process of slapping the images onto the merchandise, but if you visit my tee shirt section now, you'll see the complete set below. I'll eventually have the designs on several different kinds and sizes of shirts for men and women, but for the moment, they're only on white tees for men (sorry, ladies!).

Design 1: The front and back images of a tee shirt showing an apparently nonsensical series of Chinese characters: two-ten-color-energy-self. But if a Korean were to read the sequence aloud, they'd hear themselves saying "Ee ship saek gi ah," which is very close to "You sonofabitch!" (i shipsaekgi-ah!)



Design 2: an improved version of my old bul shim (Buddha Mind) design.

Design 3: the return of Dalma Daesa (Bodhidharma)! I kind of like how this image turned out. Some street artists I know in Seoul would disagree with making ol' Dalma look so angry, but in truth it's not anger: it's intensity. Like a dude pushing out a difficult turd.

Design 4: when it comes to the "dick proverb," I can never leave well enough alone. As you'll recall, it was my buddy Mike who, several years ago, challenged me to see whether I could render a certain Roman proverb into Chinese. According to Mike, the original proverb was, "When your luck runs out, it matters not how big your dick is." My 9-character rendering: bul un shi/dae nam geun/mu so yong: mis-fortune-time/big-man-root/no-use. "In a time of misfortune, a big penis is useless." While not an exact translation, I don't think it's a bad one, and it earned me some chuckles back when I was selling my calligraphy on the street in Seoul.

Design 5: sae ong ji ma. The following two images are for one tee shirt, front and back. The characters literally mean (as the tee shirt's back panel explains) "Poor (sae) old man (ong) 's (ji) horse (ma)." The phrase, in and of itself, isn't really a proverb or a saying, but it refers to a proverb-like idea. For Koreans, the idea is something like irony, but the story to which the proverb refers is more about how fortune is always changing, and how we need to be prepared for that fact.



NB: I wrote the characters in vertical columns to be read from right to left. The back of the tee notes this.

Design 6: a design I've been wanting to do for a while: an explanation of the character seon (Zen). The character is composed of two characters that, separately, mean "see(ing)" and "simple/single." Zen is all about seeing things in their suchness-- seeing simply, cutting to the root, not being distracted by one's own mental buzz. Concentration, focus, directness, and simplicity are all implied in the Zen attitude toward life.

The above design appears on its own, and also appears as a back-panel image, with Dalma Daesa on the front.

If you feel inclined to buy a tee, I certainly won't stop you.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Holden Beck joins the Koreablogosphere

My friend Joel Browning, who blogs at Inside the Deep Hole (or should that be "From Within the Deep Hole"? I saw just an "에," not an "에서"), pointed me to an interesting blog written by his friend Holden Beck: the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea. Holden is currently shopping his manuscript to agents in hopes of being published. His goal involves, as he puts it:

...having a heartfelt, eloquent conversation with Oprah on her show in front of a live, television audience of housewives, followed by an announcement that she has chosen to put my book on her book list, eventually making me millions. I’d like to also be on the New York Times bestseller list, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Then I’ll travel the world, posing as the bestselling author I am, pretending to write the novel I dream of writing, but never actually doing any writing. Just posing at some random roadside café in a scenic stone-cobbled village—any village will do, just so long as there is heavy tourist traffic—so that passersby can whisper to each other, “Was that Holden Beck, the famous writer?” What I’ll really be doing is nursing a fantastic hangover—I forgot to mention that I’ll be wearing sunglasses, something I have never been able to get away with—and hoping that another story will fall into my lap so that I can put off writing my novel again and make enough money to buy a small island in the Pacific where I can walk around half-naked and lie around all day. There’ll be a McDonald’s and a library. Some of the natives from the neighboring islands will be able to make good money working at my McDonald’s and library and my friends and family can join me if they are willing to live on a secluded island with only a McDonald’s and a library.

Holden's blog is still in its infancy; he's no stranger to blogging, but with this new blog, he's looking for feedback about his work. I assume that's what his blog is primarily about: his ms and his quest to get it to the right agent. For what it's worth,* I'd highly recommend Holden's blog, which already possesses much the same wit and interiority as the writings of my friend Dr. Steve. Pay him a visit. Keep him motivated and writing. He's got talent.

*UPDATE, 4/12/10, 1:21AM: That came out wrong. It sounds as if I'm saying "for what his blog is worth," but what I was trying-- and failing-- to say was, "for whatever my opinion is worth." I'm no guru or pundit; people in the blogosphere don't hang on to my every word. But if my opinion holds any weight with you, Dear Reader, then please go visit Holden's blog.


wheelchair ramp: gone

A few days ago, Mr. Jeong came by to tear down the wheelchair ramp that members of our church, along with some employees from the local hardware store, had kindly set up for Mom last summer. Mr. Jeong was the contractor whose team performed the amazing renovation of the parents' house; he'll be back in a few weeks to work on renovating our attic and our front porch. Once the attic is ready, we'll be able to store all the stuff that's been sitting downstairs in our basement/family room for over a year. None of it moved during the renovation, and once Mom became sick, that pile shot down to the bottom of our list of priorities.

It's strange seeing our deck without that makeshift wooden ramp there. The removal of the ramp feels like a partial erasure of the past, almost as if poor Mom never existed. I don't like that feeling of dislocation that the absence of the ramp produces, and I'll be happy when I'm finally used to its not being there. For his part, Mr. Jeong came over on the worst day possible, pollen-wise, but he's a tough hombre, and he dismantled the entire ramp himself, despite his runny nose and watery eyes. I offered him some allergy meds, but he said, "Isseoyo. Soyong eopseoyo." ("I have some. But it's no use.") A job that would have taken me three days took him about three-and-a-half hours. Pretty incredible.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

why I love linguistic ambiguity

In the movie "The Running Man," there's a scene in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is riding a crowded bus with his unwilling partner in crime, Maria Conchita Alonso. Because Maria might bolt at any moment (at about this point in the movie, she's already threatened to vomit all over Arnold's Hawaiian shirt), Arnold growls a threat to make her stay put and keep silent: "I'll break your neck like a chicken!"

What Arnold means, of course, is that he's strong enough to snap Maria's neck as if she were merely a chicken. But because of the line's ambiguous phrasing, a second reading is possible: "I'll break your neck the way a chicken would break it." This second reading conjures up an interesting image: that of a chicken, accomplished in the martial arts, who can snap a human neck.

Driving through the countryside becomes a very different experience when you start wondering whether all those farm animals are secretly proficient in karate, jujitsu, hapkido, muay thai, pankration, etc. What would it be like to have your head caved in by a horse throwing a jumping, spinning, reverse turning kick? Or to receive paralyzing nerve strikes from a duck? Or to experience a sternum-shattering one-inch punch from a cow? You might find yourself showing a bit more humility before nature, I think.

And if Arnold could break poor Maria's neck the way a chicken would, what would the death blow look like?


Thursday, April 08, 2010

doin' the Luna

We went to Faccia Luna, a pizzeria in Old Town Alexandria, to help Dad celebrate what would have been his and Mom's 43rd anniversary. It ended up being more of a guy's night out than anything; my brother Sean couldn't make it to dinner because of a rehearsal he was unable to cancel.

Appetizers were a plate of piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, and a plate of eggplant bruschetta with marinara. My brother David ordered a plate of chicken pasta with cream sauce; Dad had a barbecue chicken sandwich, and I ordered a large meatball pizza-- their largest size: I knew that neither Dad nor David would have enough food, so I anticipated sharing some slices.

Everything was great. Faccia Luna has been consistently good to us. Exactly one year before last night, on April 6, all five of us were at Faccia Luna-- we four guys and Mom, helping Mom and Dad celebrate their 42nd anniversary. Ten days later, Mom presented with cognitive symptoms, thus beginning our family's losing struggle with her brain cancer. Amazing how one's world can come crashing down in a single year. But despite the underlying sadness in the aftermath of Mom's death, we made it through yesterday evening with laughter, stories, and Food Network-style commentary. No self-pity, no tears.

Finding the balance between honoring someone's memory and looking forward to a happier future isn't easy. We're still working that out as a family. Step by step.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"That's what editors and proofreaders are for!"

There are two schools of thought in writing. School A says, "If the argument or essay I'm reading is typo-ridden, I have to wonder how well-constructed the argument or essay is. After all, a person who fails to police the details can't be trusted to convey the big picture."

School B says, "Ideas and arguments are more important than mere details. Let the small-minded worry about misplaced commas, repeated misspellings, and dangling modifiers. If I've written clearly enough to convey the gist of my ideas, then that's all that matters. And if I've made a grammatical and orthographic mess along the way, well... that's what editors and proofreaders are for!"

School B's way of thinking isn't unreasonable. After all, many members of School A do often seem to be too picayune, too prone to missing the forest for the trees. But my problem with School B, and the reason why I can never abandon School A, is that School B employs the same sort of reasoning used by the litterer in a service economy: "So what if I dropped that wrapper on the floor? That's what janitors are for!"

When you fail to police the most basic elements of expression, you risk failing to convey your intended meaning. To belong to School B is to abdicate responsibility for how you express yourself.


Monday, April 05, 2010

another early start

Monday morning, I'm taking my dad to the hospital so he can receive his twice-yearly cortisone shot. This is administered very close to his spine to alleviate some serious back pain. Depending on the doctor, the procedure can run the gamut from painless to excruciating. Dad says that, although he's been told he can have the shot as often as every two months, he doesn't want to become dependent on chemical palliatives. Can't say I blame him: I was downing some major painkillers after I'd hurt my right knee during my abortive trans-American walk, and was in near or full-on agony for over half of the 600 miles I covered. But as soon as I reached a stopping point in Walla Walla, Washington, I went cold turkey. Luckily, neither ibuprofen nor naproxen sodium (I had used both, though never at the same time) turned out to be addictive, so going cold turkey didn't require any willpower. In fact, the side effects-- namely, bleeding from orifices that shouldn't normally bleed-- were scary enough to make me want to halt the medication.

Dad's been in a great deal of pain lately, and for the past two weeks, he's been verbally counting down the days until his shot. Today-- Easter Sunday, one day before treatment-- was particularly painful for him, as he was unable either to stand or to sit comfortably. It probably didn't help that my Easter meal didn't go quite as well as I had hoped: although the salmon turned out better than expected, I deemed the green beans inedible (and therefore didn't serve them), and wasn't too impressed with the chicken dish I'd made for my brother David, who tends to avoid fish, shellfish, and other denizens of the hydrosphere. David assured me that the chicken was good, but I didn't believe him. I probably didn't help matters by apologizing repeatedly.

On the bright side, the matzoh appetizers were well received: the hummus worked out nicely, as did the apricot-on-brie spread and the home-made charoset. As I mentioned above, the salmon worked out well (recipe stolen from here); my amped-up caprese with pesto and balsamic vinegar was also chomped on without complaint (I say "amped-up" because the center of the salad included sliced cucumbers, tuna, and boiled egg). In all, it was a hit-or-miss day for yours truly.

Dad saved the day with his rum cake and French vanilla ice cream; I also taught him how to make the strawberry sauce that I'd used with previous incarnations of this dessert. He proved to be a quick study, despite the extreme pain he experienced while leaning over the counter to de-stem, wash, and slice his strawberries.

David and his friend C [name redacted for privacy's sake] were our dinner guests; he and C left around 9PM to go see a movie. Credit goes to David (who arrived earlier than C) for prepping the salmon after I had concocted the marinade. Dad and I were pooped after David and C had left, and because we knew we had an early morning ahead of us, we elected to retire early.

So! Awake at 7, on the road to the medical center by 8. Dad's very much looking forward to a few months' relief. Here's hoping the doc performs the procedure correctly. And in case you were wondering: because the shot can numb the legs, I'm Dad's chauffeur for the day.


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Joyeuses Pâques

At long last, I've written the epilogue to my other blog, Kevin's Walk.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Good Friday meditation

I saw this bit of biblical verse at Elisson's blog:

The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Obviously resonant for Jews and Christians alike: the verse is quoted in Acts 4:11 with a Christian supersessionist spin:

This Jesus is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”

The notion of the lowly being exalted-- or otherwise special in some way-- is prevalent in many religions. If we stretch our associative faculties a bit, we can see uselessness as a type or subset of lowliness. After all, generally speaking, to be called useless isn't to receive praise, or to be thought of highly. This from the Chuang Tzu:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, "I have a big tree named ailanthus [sometimes translated "stink-tree"]. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road and no carpenter would look at it twice. Your words, too, are big and useless, and so everyone alike spurns them!"

Chuang Tzu said, "Maybe you've never seen a wildcat or a weasel. It crouches down and hides, watching for something to come along. It leaps and races east and west, not hesitating to go high or low-until it falls into the trap and dies in the net. Then again there's the yak, big as a cloud covering the sky. It certainly knows how to be big, though it doesn't know how to catch rats. Now you have this big tree and you're distressed because it's useless. Why don't you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village, or the field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it? Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there's no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?"


Thursday, April 01, 2010

a pic of the chick

Sorry if the photo seems too dark, but lighting conditions were poor and despite years of taking pictures, I'm no expert at photography. The recipe for this chicken is here.