twenty two

Today I learned what middle school Ashley would have never grasped.

On your birthday, truly, nothing is special. It is, but it also isn’t, in that too often we overlay the ordinary with some special meaning, that being to celebrate. I believed in the act and magic of this for years, relished that on my designated day, I could do whatever the heck I wanted, because I was the birthday girl, because for one day, I was the star.

Nowadays, I don’t believe in that anymore; I’ve been crushed by the so-called magic of expectations too many times, the worst being on my twentieth birthday when wounds were still fresh, then stepped on, and left to wither under a smile that only few can decipher as fake. After that meal, I cried and didn’t feel special and felt like a fool for expecting the world to acknowledge the day of my birth.

Today, I woke up late in a place I didn’t want to be at for my twenty-second birthday. I thought and I hoped that by now, I’d be on my own in some exciting city; instead, I’m in Peoria, Illinois, passing a month since I moved in with my parents. And yet, how God has been gracious in how this time has taught me to be less stubborn and more brutally honest with myself. It’s been a mix of some pretty dark lows but also some necessary reflections, discussions, and light.

I knew that today wouldn’t be special and I didn’t want any fake attempt for it to be. My mom unintentionally helped with this; when my phone went off with dings of notifications and birthday texts, she moved the phone to another room so I could sleep as late as I wanted. So I woke up at ten, washed up, and strolled downstairs. My brother Chris made me a cup of coffee (twice because I’m picky), Mom made a yummy brekkie sandwich, Dad was out mowing the lawn.

It was simple, and I loved it.

Our neighbour Brenda came over to share some Japanese noodles and Chris told her it was my birthday and she wished me a happy birthday and apologized that she couldn’t give me a hug because she was sweaty from gardening. My mom took five noodle bundles, three soba and two white noodles, and we went back inside and Brenda went back to her garden.

I didn’t want to get my phone, wanted to prolong getting it, but I had to see if the hot pot place an hour away (alas, not all places have hot pot as near as Iowa City does) was open for lunch and if my request to reschedule an interview went through. I walked upstairs, dreading opening my phone to see all the notifications. And sure enough, there they were.

As I came back down, scrolling through the birthday posts on Facebook, I marvelled at how years ago, I prided myself on how many people posted on my wall. Now, the spectacle of it was gone and more of a cultural expectation of sorts. And so I scrolled on, and on, and on.

Right as I came back to the dining room and took a seat, I paused.

A paragraph, and a picture.

And then I cried. And not too far after that, another paragraph with a picture I didn’t know was being taken.

I cried again.

I don’t take compliments well, or at all. They generally have no effect on me, and I’m not sure why, but when I do, I’ll write about it then. But these words, penned by two deeply caring precious friends, weren’t compliments, really.

They were more like gentle unraveling things, peeling back and shining light on something more real, less glamorous, harder to compliment.

Through their words, I felt seen. There was no part that felt fake or required; rather, it was as if they peeled back their minds and memories to show how they saw me all along, and it was rooted, and it was real. And it’s not like the paragraphs are Pulitzer prize winning things (though they are beautifully phrased); no, instead, those words were me. They captured in them some shimmering human quality and in so, became real, wonderful, and powerful.

The day is still ahead of me. It won’t be perfect. A squabble might happen, simply because when there’s four grown adults together, it’s likely.

But either way, I feel special.

Veni and Vici, you two are absolute gifts to me. Thank you for your words and, well, making me cry well after they were written, haha. You guys are blessings and lights in my life.

And everyone who posted or reached out, thank you. Regardless if Facebook told you or if you knew beforehand (lol hi Steph), you took time to pause and type out at minimum at eighteen word message. I’m guilty of not even doing that for some birthdays, but you, you did. Thank you.

Twenty two, I have no idea what you have in store. I have fairy floss images and mirages, of course, but what I’ll be doing even next week? No idea. But with the support from my family who makes eating out such a fun, loud experience (seriously why are we always so obnoxious when we go to a restaurant?-), my dear friends who have seen behind the light I cultivate and spoke life into the melancholy, and the acquaintances and social media friends who step in randomly and cheer me on regardless, I think, and maybe I know, that I’ll be okay.

[written at 1pm]

///

[written at 10pm]

Hello all. It’s been a long long time since I wrote on this blog, and I think that this might also be my last. Don’t worry, though, I’ll still be writing and sharing things but on a new blog/website, one that will function as a portfolio of sorts and a side blog.

But I felt like I had to end somehow and this felt right.

I started this blog the summer before my freshman year in college, so perhaps this is meant to be. Tomorrow, I have some job interviews (!!!!) and for the first time in eighteen years, I’m not a student. It’s a weird place to be in, but one that I know I can’t replicate again, so I’m trying to enjoy it, or at least soak it all in.

I feel like I must apologize to some people in how I upped and left. It did feel shameful to move back into my parents’ place but now I see that it is not and that either way, I shouldn’t be so bothered with other people’s perception. I’m still working on it. But that fear and heaviness stemming from it is why I didn’t give some people updates on my life. I knew that people had high expectations for me because I did all these cool things in undergrad and I felt that telling them that I moved back to Peoria was disappointing them and extremely underwhelming. And perhaps it is. But that’s only the first layer; I have learned so much on a personal level this past month, stuff that doesn’t’ translate onto a resume or a simple relationship. So I resolved that, eh, people who think that way of me probably aren’t invested enough into my life to probe deeper and will just dismiss me. In which case, why worry about them?

But still, the awareness of the stigma associated with living with parents weighs heavy on me and has distorted even the good friendships. It’s made me respond later and delay talking to friends and giving updates because I felt like a fraud, a scam. All that during undergrad and now look at her. What a waste.

And yet.

And yet, people speak life into this melancholy. And yet my parents deal with my extremely stubborn self. And yet God is good. And yet my friends respect me, cheer me on in all my creative projects, check in on me, send me encouragement, remind me that it’ll be okay and that my time will come.

Post-grad is weird, guys. It’s simultaneously a whirlwind and a desert. I don’t get it. But I’ve been writing and living my way through it and I know that this weird period will end. And I know that I do have things to be proud of, things that happened and that can’t be taken away.

I have my own chapbook live, in physical form, in audio book form. I curated my own exhibition along two brilliant creative minds. I somehow got to work with writers and the Chiara string quartet. I made my own little EP.

I did all that, and none of it can be taken away from me.

So, yes, I’ll be fine. I just need to keep repeating that to myself and letting my family and friends into the heaviness and melancholy and marching onward.

Dear blog of mine, thank you for holding all the memories and thoughts.

Dear upcoming twenty-second year of life, let’s see all that you’ve got.

And dear reader, as always, thank you for coming by. I created this blog to write but also to connect because maybe somehow in the thoughts on my mind translated onto scribbles on a screen, someone will feel comforted, entertained, or less alone.

Thank you, and from some part in Chicagoland, good night, friend.

~ajc

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Translating Butterflies: The Korean Version of dodie’s “Would You Be So Kind”

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One night, when I was still feeling the effects of my late afternoon coffee, I had dodie’s song “Would You Be So Kind” stuck in my head and as I was humming it, I flipped some parts into Korean to see how they felt. I’m not fluent in Korean, but the words in dodie’s song were simple enough for me to translate with some degree of confidence. And because they felt nice in Korean, I kept on doing it and by the time it was midnight, I translated the entire song into Korean.

I stared down at the scribbles, a bit in disbelief that it was real. I always thought that translating a song would be so much harder, but with a mix of determination and the residual effects of coffee, I was able to push my way through the whole song without too much of a headache.

The next step was to record it and share it. But just the thought of it stressed me out, because I hadn’t tried to record and arrange something in a while because of technical difficulties (involving a silicone bead, broken headphones, and overthinking). But I told myself that 2018 would be different, that I would push myself and just try, at least, to put myself out there, step by step each month. I already did so with my poetry by submitting to the Iowa Chapbook prize and the Kundiman fellowship, so why hold back from my music (even though I felt like it wasn’t fully up to par)? Continue reading “Translating Butterflies: The Korean Version of dodie’s “Would You Be So Kind””

epiphanies and creativity

My dad always told me that there are just some things in life that I just have to do if I want to get anywhere. He said this when I wanted to drop thermodynamics (and did) and he said it as I studied for the GRE (which I then stopped because I wanted to get a job instead). And for a while now, he hasn’t said it. But now, as I get ever closer to what I want to do, I hear his voice say it with almost a look of resignation like ‘when will this girl get it, why does it take her this much to understand.’

Because seeing others that are doing so well at my age, at an age younger than me, achieving this that and the other, I realize now what my weakness is:

I’m not disciplined enough.  Continue reading “epiphanies and creativity”

room to breathe

Ever since I think middle school, I liked being busy. I distinctly remember rushing to do something during lunch time, I think, and I was running from the science classroom to somewhere else and my science teacher told me very sternly, “Ashley, you don’t have to run around.” Or, something along the lines like that, something like ‘it’s okay to not be in a rush’.

And I think that being busy, running from point A to point B made me feel good, like I was important because look, I had all these things to do. I still even remember one day in sixth grade when I went to two birthday parties back to back. I shouldn’t have because it was exhausting, but I remember feeling proud that I pulled it off.

But now it’s different. It’s the end of my first week of classes as a senior and it was the busiest I’ve ever been in my life and I felt it drain me mentally. Today I woke up late and already felt drained. I didn’t want to get up, didn’t want to do anything although there were things to be done. And then I went to a meeting and did some homework, which was good and pulled me out of my thoughts, but quickly the sense of feeling drained came back and with that, soon, my thoughts felt heavier and my appetite disappeared and then, cue the existential crisis etc etc  Continue reading “room to breathe”

Here I Am; Reflections

It’s truly incredible how a single email can affect a person.

Last summer, I was suggested to try signing up for a translation class. It was a grad class, but maybe it would work out for me. I got to meet with the professor of a class who is highly esteemed and during the meeting, essentially I was told that I was highly under qualified, which, fair because I don’t have much experience in the class.

I left the office determined to prove myself to the person somehow and also majorly intimidated by this person who exuded, in my eyes, confidence and intelligence and authority.

Fast forward and through networking that I can’t take any credit for I got to be an intern at the International Writing Program, in a legendary organization that is this year celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of bringing established writers from all around the world to Iowa. Over the summer I did research for a podcast on this year’s Residents and got to interview the Ida Beam Visiting Professor (who is really incredible and I still can’t believe that they let me interview her cause wow she’s really cool). It’s only day two of senior year and I’ve been able to finally see the writers that I’ve been reading about in person (and tonight I even got to show the Indonesian writer a bit of downtown Iowa City) and I also just got mentioned in the Honors Newsletter as an undergrad research participant.  Continue reading “Here I Am; Reflections”

A Stranger’s Belief

I felt underqualified to be there. People walked around in nice clothes while I wore a nice shirt and jean shorts. Over there, an established businessman talking to a professor. And over there, business cards being exchanged and collected into an impressive stack. I didn’t really have much to offer; I’m an undergraduate rising senior not in business, engineering, or medical school, but in International Studies and on top of that, hoping to be in a creative field, writing, to boot. So when I’d get swept into a conversation, they’d turn and ask who I was, then usually turn back to the conversation they left briefly to see if I was of any interest. Usually, not. Which didn’t really bother me as I knew, going in as an undergraduate with a creative bend, would be the result.

Still, to be among so many brilliant people was exhilarating. Just hearing a Mandela Washington Fellow explain their business or what brought them to Iowa City for the six week long program gave me new ideas to explore and a burst of energy and inspiration. I got to meet a radio host from Zimbabwe, a chef from Liberia, farmers from Benin, someone in the medical field from Angola. My world simply grew larger as I listened to them speak about their country and their profession. In short, I was in awe.

But then one time, after I brought out my French to some Francophone Africans, when someone asked me what I did and I responded (in short) that I liked to write about culture and identity, he asked me to send him some short stories.

I froze, not sure if I heard him correctly. I awkwardly chuckled, saying that I did more poetry than short stories and without missing a beat, he told me to send some poetry then, instead.

I have never been asked before to send my writing to anyone. I usually send my writing to friends or to apply for something. Never had a stranger been curious in the fact that I write things.  Continue reading “A Stranger’s Belief”

To Be a Mother

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This is a picture of the four generations of women in my family: me, my great-grandmother who just turned one hundred, my grandmother who still does research for nursing and flies back and forth from South Korea to the US, and my mother who, quite frankly, watches over us all.

For the longest time, I felt like I was missing out on the whole mother-daughter thing. People and friends around me went on and on about how they were like best friends with their mom and I didn’t really feel like that. My mom and I had, in fact, not the smoothest relationship for a while. But then, God stepped in and how my mother has changed has been an incredible testimony for me that God exists and is real. But more than that, I realized that the women in my family are actually very strong and extremely resilient.  Continue reading “To Be a Mother”

All Things for Good

I’ve been meeting with professors within the past week and it’s been an incredible time to just pause and realize how much I’ve grown since freshman year and how things have unfolded so beautifully to now. All I can really say is that God is faithful cause I could have never organized these things on my own.

Last Thursday I met up with my chemistry professor from freshman year. Yes, you read that correctly. Yes, I’m still not the biggest fan of chemistry, but I’m a big fan of this professor. In fact, I wrote a letter to him that I actually got to give to him in person during the Honors Society induction ceremony (he was the key note speaker; not even surprised). He was so touched by the letter that he treated me to coffee and he told me about his journey to become a chemistry professor and let me just say, passion is unbound. His excitement was contagious and his voice was incredulous as he described how happy coincidences lined up to lead him to where he is now.

Continue reading “All Things for Good”

And so here I am

And so here I am,

where I wanted to be / while I longed to know that

a. I would get over the past

b. I would find a morsel of something that resonated in me

c. my hopes were not in vain and would be rewarded and fruitful

Now everything seems sharper, clearer, even if the horizon is still slightly blurred

but it’s beautiful now, the mix of colours shifting, dipping into each other, mesmerizing, tantalizing, shimmering in hope, drenched in promise

Continue reading “And so here I am”

A Full Heart

My heart is so full.

 

I didn’t understand this phrase when I first heard it, but I get it now; my heart is so full and it’s a beautiful, wonderful, marvelous thing.

 

My heart is full with names, faces, smiles, laughter, memories, the taste of strawberry ice cream, the sweat from an intense game of ping pong, laughter as I learn the Arabic alphabet, the satisfaction of properly picking an apple, the sweetness of a long overdue cupcake run, the warmth from a smile from a stranger, the slight crinkle in eyes that hint to a fond memory.

 

I didn’t know that I could pour out into so many different lives and absorb this much. I’m amazed that my heart has this much capacity, and it doesn’t feel like I’m going to dry up any time soon; it rather feels like I’ve only scratched the surface. There are so many wonderful people in the world, people that God wants me to meet, people with fascinating stories and beautiful smiles.

Continue reading “A Full Heart”