ExpatLIFE

I've been trying to write about what it's like to live in Seoul, what it's like to be an expat but the truth is, so far, mostly it's pretty boring. I spend a lot of time trying to find things like sponge mops and three-ring binders without page protectors. I still don't know where to get a bucket. My house is only partially furnished because IKEA hasn't opened yet and I sleep on a mattress on the floor and I don't like it. Ada and I go for a lot of walks and she put her head right into the strollers of Korean babies to mixed results of dismay and delight. Four days a week I go to Korean class with Dan before work and three days a week I go to Korean class with other spouses from ten to noon. Mondays I tell myself I'm going to write all day but instead I spend the day walking the dog, fucking around on the internet and mopping. I'm so tired of mopping. It's not that I dislike living here, or that I'm unhappy, I just haven't found my place yet. Haven't found my schedule, my people, my groove. So I struggle. I struggle through my to do lists that are somehow always more than I can get done in a day and never the things I want to do. I struggle with Korean because I've already spent the day doing things I'm indifferent about and have zero desire to study. I struggle because I feel like my priority should be keeping our house in order, not figuring out what I want to do here, not baking, not writing. I struggle because it's hard to explain to other spouses why I don't want a job, why I'm not looking for work here even though I love what I do. I struggle because it's embarrassing in a room full of professionals to explain how little a chef makes, how little it's worth it to me to work unless there's someplace fantastic. I struggle because after spending the last three years primarily with friends made on the internet, it's incredibly strange to be back in a position where I feel uncomfortable saying I'm going to spend the next two years writing. Lastly, maybe mostly, I struggle because it feels weird to be a feminist and be a housewife. It feels like some core part of my identity, of my self-sufficiency, has been taken away and I resent the new identity I've been given while wanting to be the god damned best at it because it's the only thing over which I have control and because I've never learned how to not be the best at something. Every day I feel like I haven't done enough and every day I feel physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Every day I wonder if today is the day I've found the magical formula that tells me what my place is here.

I've been hoping that if I just keep on keeping on, that I wouldn't have to decide. That the way would just become clear. I was hoping that I could just fill my day with mindless errands and that would be enough. But mostly all I've done is given myself anxiety to the point where I feel physically ill, so I think something probably has to change.

Today I decided to ignore most of my to do list and make Sichuan Pepper Peach Jam. It's bubbling away on the stove right now and it smells comforting and familiar though the taste is something totally new. I wrote this post, because the rumor is, the only way to get something written is to sit down write. I'm working on changing the physical appearance of this blog and also, a little bit, the subject, so if it seems a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

And if you talk to me and I seem a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

Rip it Off

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I have a million things to say to you, internet. I want to tell you about my studio I share with my boyfriend fiance and how we turned it from a glorified dorm room into a poster for micro living. I want to tell you about how I've pretty much been living here since September and we haven't killed each other yet. I want to tell you that it is the midst of winter and inside me there is definitely not an invincible Summer, no matter how much fake gummy sunshine I chew each night and if you also feel like getting the mountain of lead that is your body out of bed each day is the only resolution you can make then make that one with me. I want to tell you how weird engagement rings are. Not from the feminist perspective nor the perspective that the value of diamonds is all contrived nonsense but from the perspective that it's really bizarre to go pick up the laundry wearing the single most expensive thing you own. I want to tell you that I just spent a weekend in Cleveland and in a few weeks I'm going home to California for the first time in two years and my anxiety levels are approximately ten times higher than my excitement levels.

But before I can tell you about those things, I have to tell you something. Maybe I've seen you lately and seemed odd. Maybe I've paused when you've asked how life is or given vaguely generic answers. Maybe I've been distant. Maybe we don't know each other in real life at all but I still feel like I've been lying to you because I strive to be open and honest on social media and in this place.

So if you haven't guessed it from the picture above:

I'm moving to Seoul.

I know, the Eastern Europe book thrown in there is a bit confusing. Also maybe the elephant holding a SparkleRock. So let's be a bit more transparent:

I'm getting married next month at City Hall.

I will be honeymooning in Eastern Europe and Turkey for the month of July.

Starting in early August, Dan and I will be living in Seoul for TWO YEARS.

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Which, obviously, will be an entire post on its own.

PS My SparkleRock is not that big, I just have tiny child hands.

PPS There are two reasons this post is password protected: I don't want to get fired (yes, technically illegal but also it's really slow so my boss could just say he's laying me off) AND uh, I haven't told my family (also an entire post?) so I'd appreciate if you kept this all on the DL on social media but feel free to comment/email/text/etc.

America, Fuck Yeah! Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love a Major Party Candidate

Kerry/Bush was the first presidential election during which I was old enough to vote. The California gubernatorial recall had happened a few months before my 18th birthday in late 2007 and not being able to participate in the election that resulted in the governator (no, I would not have voted for him) was a sad moment for me, but knowing that I would turn 18 in a presidential election year made up for it. I registered green and knowing my home state's massive number of electoral votes were all going democrat, and honestly believing the democratic party to be too conservative to reflect my values, I happily (absentee) voted for Ralph Nader. It's a lovely luxury to have only lived in states where I know I can honestly vote for whomever I want instead of having to vote strategically.

I spent my fall semester in India that year. I read the transcript of the first presidential debate in a small internet cafe in McLeod Ganj, home of the Tibetan government in exile. I did the same for the following debates. On election night, my group and I were isolated working improving the Summer home for an orphanage with which we had been volunteering. We had a tiny radio and we tried our damnedest to find a station in English reporting on the election with no luck. Somebody came back from town and told us the next day. I didn't want to believe. I'm not sure I really did until I got back to an internet cafe and could read the news myself.

The idea that had been offered at the Democratic National Convention earlier that year that "There is not a liberal america and a conservative america, there is the United States of America" seemed nice but awfully hard to believe.

And on my 19th birthday, George W. Bush started his second presidential term.

2003 rolled around and boy was it exciting. In the same year, we had both an African American man and a woman in the primary as serious contenders. I had spent years thinking that I was an anachronism, that I was made for when the times they were a changin. That the way my family had raised me to believe in the power of protests, writing your representatives and passionately participating in democracy was pointless because so much of my generation was too cool to care. But then there was this man, this great Progressive hope that other people my age were getting excited about and I felt like maybe things were going to change.

I still wasn't a registered Democrat, I was registered independent. In California, independents can vote in the primary of their choosing. I still believed the democratic party to be overall too conservative for me but I was excited to vote for Barack Obama.

Election night, Lara and I listened to the coverage on NPR. A bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge waiting to be opened to celebrate the election and hopefully the defeat of prop 8. The presidential election was called early in the evening but we waited hours for the news on prop 8, eventually going to bed because it was too close to call that night.

In 24 hours we had elected our first African American president and California had amended its constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Sometimes in the world of you win some, you lose some, you really win and you really really lose.

I wrote my first real personal post on this blog January 19th, 2009, the day before my 23rd birthday and Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. I briefly mentioned the jubilation in Berkeley in a post a few days later.

It's strange to think how much my life has changed in the course of a presidency. Or that I've been writing that long.

At times Obama has gone from being the great Progressive hope to being the great Progressive disappointment. I'm not going to pretend to that my politics have mellowed enough to believe any differently. But I've kept faith that if he had a second term his more liberal ideals would come out. That maybe we could get real single payer health care. That we could legalize gay marriage nationally.

I'm a registered Democrat these days, mostly because when I reregistered I knew nothing about New York's parties or primary laws. I don't know how long it will last. I know that the inclusion of gay marriage in the Democratic platform makes me feel better about it. I also know that I voted for both Obama and Gillibrand as the "Working Families" candidate (see, I'm finally letting go of California's politics and learning about New York).

As much as 2008 felt like things were shifting, its got nothing on 2012. More states chose to legalize gay marriage. More states legalized marijuana (which is honestly something I care very little about but I still think points to a more progressive future). Thank goodness, Ted Kennedy's seat is once again held by a democrat and Massachusetts's first female senator. New Hampshire is ALL ABOUT the ladies. We can now all breath a giant sigh of relief that Akin and his disgusting views on rape were defeated.

I know we have a long way to go towards justice and equality in this country but when I look at the things that have changed in the last four years, when I look at the things that have changed in my lifetime already, that I used to think wouldn't have actually happened by now, I do genuinely feel hope again for the next four.

Don't let me down, Mr. President.

I don't even try

I don't know what I'm passionate about right now. I feel hollow all the time. I'm never hungry but also never full. In February I decided to stop fighting everything all the time but I guess in my case that just makes me apathetic. Or numb. I can't even tell which.

I've been trying to learn to sit with my feelings more. Or rather, just to actually feel them. To be able to say to myself things like "I am sad that this boy doesn't like me even though it's not logical to be this sad about it" or "even though I completely understand and agree with the reason I'm losing my job it's reasonable to be sad and scared and anxious". Maybe this is the way you feel feelings all the time. This is not the way I feel feelings. Look, there's a reason Spock has always been my favorite. However, you'll be shocked to know I am not a Vulcan, even though I sometimes often act like one. The problem is that by the time I actually let myself feel things I'm feeling this huge reservoir of feeling and I can't identify where each one is coming from.

So I can tell you right now that I am sad and bitter and disillusioned; that I just suspended my OkC account for the eleventybillionth time though in truth I've been on an online dating hiatus for a month now already anyways; that none of the job listings I've read make me want to send in my resume; that I made out with a boy I had no intention of ever making out with again and I honestly don't know how I feel about it, I want to say I feel nothing about it but I don't think you can actually make out and cuddle with somebody that you like and not have feelings about it and I think it's actually that the feelings are too complicated and too many things and so I'm not sitting with those ones yet* and that I'm well aware there is some major grammatical craziness going on in this post but I just don't give a fuck.

But I can also tell you I've had moments of peace and serenity lately. That walking around in Central Park with the sun on your skin and new friend is happiness. That nighttime rambles with a flask size bottle of whiskey and friend you haven't seen in a while are kind of great even if they unexpectedly kiss you later. That I do have one single job interview lined up and it looks perfect for me. That I spent yesterday at my pastry cook's friend's home out in Fresh Meadows and got to hang out with her siblings and large friend group and remember what it feels like to be part of something stable and solid. That I have a week packed full of social activities with other BiSC goers who are fast becoming my close friends.

I can tell you that I've recently realized that I'm angry at myself for letting go of and being less vocal about things I care about to make myself more palatable or to fit into groups better. That I've taken my philosophy of "pick and choose your battles" a little too far. Hi, I'm Alana and I am a feminist and I probably don't think any of your sexist/homophobic/racist jokes are funny and yeah, I'm generally ludicrously PC and I'm ok with that. JUST SO WE'RE CLEAR.

So maybe it's not that there isn't anything going on. Maybe it's that there's too much going on. Too much swirling around in my head for me to sort through it and feel any of it. Today I decided I was just going to fake it until I make it. I cleaned my room, I did some yoga, I ate an entire pineapple and also quinoa, poached chicken, black beans and avocados. Fine... also an entire bag of cadbury mini eggs.

Baby steps back to caring people, baby steps.

*This is how I feel: I feel sad and a little angry because it was nice and it was comfortable and making out and a cuddle buddy were exactly what I needed this week and it wasn't expected so it was a nice ego boost but it wasn't with somebody with whom I am actually ok with casually making out and cuddling. So, I'm sad that it's not something I get to do in a non-casual way and a little angry with both of us for doing it. And maybe a little angry at myself for not being over him even though I said earlier it was ok to be sad. God I hate feelings. THEY DON'T EVEN MAKE SENSE A LITTLE BIT, CAN I PLEASE BE A VULCAN NOW?

Work Hard, Play Hard

It's a weird thing when the image of what younger you thought your life would be and your life actually line up. Teenage me though adult me would be a confident, single, career oriented woman, hopefully living in New York. Adult me went through several incarnations and ideas of what life was going to be, none of which fit quite right before finally, becoming that woman teenage me always hoped I'd be.

Of course teenage me also hoped we'd be stage acting or somehow working in something related to international relations and that Corina and Lara would be nearby always, but though the specifics change, the essence remains the same.

Sometimes I spend so much time focusing on the things I still want to improve, I forget how much I've accomplished. The ways in which I've changed to become that person that is somewhere between the person I think I am on my worst days and that person I'd ideally be. That person, that is the most realistic version of myself.

I was a strange combination of a bookish and athletic child. Soccer, gymnastics, volleyball, tap dance... and at recess I'd walk to the cafeteria while unable to put my book down. I grew into teenagerhood an odd combination of somebody that was comfortable speaking in front of large organized groups but a little lost socializing at parties or when meeting new people. Shy, but opinionated, which mostly just makes people think you're a bitch, it turns out. My young adulthood wasn't much different. I used to wish I could be the kind of person that didn't care about everything, the kind of person that could be ridiculous and lose control. The kind of person that just met people and presented themselves in a way that said "hi, here I am, take it or leave it, but either way, I'm probably going to get drunk and have a dance party and I think it'd be pretty fun if you'd join in".

At some point in the last few years, I became that person and it especially solidified in the last year of being in a new city and meeting new people. I am not always a silly drunken party girl that will dance at the drop of a hat (sometimes I'm a completely sober party girl that will dance at the drop of a hat, ask Sara) but at some point I stopped being the person that hid quietly in the corner kind of wishing they had a book. I've had a life, and I have things to say and I want to meet other people that do too and that live on the crossroads of taking life far too seriously and "wooooo!" which it seems, is almost everyone in New York, so at least I'm in the right place.

I've been told I'm on the better side of my 20s now, where everything stops being so crisis-y and starts to solidify and fall in place. Where you stop giving a fuck about the person you're supposed to be and just start being the person you want to be. I think I'm starting to believe it. I think I'm starting to get it, whatever it is. I think stability was a good word choice for this year. And I think I like this person I've become, weird dichotomy of super responsible/super serious and party girl and all.

This one's for my family 'cause I guess I know exactly who I am

Lessons from my family.

Put your money where your mouth is

Donate that money. Do those volunteer hours. Shop local if you can. Support businesses/products you believe in. Sign that petition. Pick up a sign and march your heart out. Vote. If you are unhappy, do something. Change the world in whatever way you can.

From each their ability to each their need

Yes, that's kind of parapharsed and it's Marx. Get over it. I give my spare change to homeless people. I will use my unlimited fare card to swipe other people into the subway if I'm on my way out. I don't make much but I still donate to charitable organizations because there are people that need the money more than me and as my father once said when he was living in an apartment in the tenderloin "there is nothing that can happen to me that is worse then what I see when I walk out that door every day". I truly believe that society is responsible for keeping people from falling through the cracks. I am fond of my tax return but I'd rather the government keep it and give us all healthcare. I think it's stupid to imprison drug addicts instead of providing them with actual help. Actually, I think in general it's stupid that our prison system focuses on punishment instead of rehabilitation, especially the juvenile justice system.

My heart, it just bled all over your computer.

Feminism is not a dirty word

I come from a long line of feminists (one of my grandmothers has a "Votes for Women" pin that's been passed down and the other can be seen yelling about childcare in the movie Berkeley in the Sixties*) and I'm not afraid to use that word to describe myself. As I wrote before: "being a modern liberal woman isn't about fitting into a neat man hating, power bitch box, it's about choices. It's about living your life in the way that you find most empowering. It's about being able to stick to your guns without having to apologize and it's about facepunching double standards".

Never cross a picket line

My daddy was a longshoreman. His daddy was a longshoreman. When I turned 18, I took all the tests to inherit my father's book even though I didn't go that route. My grandfather, his brother and all of his sons are contractors. My grandma is a nurse. We do believe in unions, and we don't cross picket lines.

It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed

I probably mostly choose to believe this piece of wisdom from my grandmother because I like wearing pretty clothes. But also, I would rather present myself to the world as somebody who puts in the extra effort.

Home is where they always have to take you in

This is one of my father's sayings. He valued family immensely, even if he wasn't on the best terms with somebody. I think part of what I learned from him is that your family isn't just your blood relatives. Your family is the people you trust, the people you would give the shirt off your back and who would do the same for you. The people that support you and the people that take you in when you have nowhere else to go. I think I have a lot of homes by this standard. I am blessed.

I am a product of my upbringing and I am 100% happy with it. Thank you, to my entire family for making me the kind of person that cares, I don't want to be any other kind.

*This movie is oddly on Netflix instant watch, I think my great grandfather, great grandmother and at least one of my great uncles also have appearances.

I am not a pretty girl, that is not what I do

I have about five different half finished posts in my head, so this might be one of those nights where a bunch of completely unrelated things all go up.

I've been meaning to write a post about my relationship with my hair for a while, but then I read this over at Off Our Chests and I didn't want to be a copycat. My feeling are so different though, I'm going to go with it anyways.

IMG_0916 This is what my hair looks like right now. To me it's a giant unmanageable mess. (sidenote: IRL, I like my smile, in pictures I only do half the time, I don't know what the deal is, but that's why I never seem to be smiling). It's soft and pretty and feminine. It's even red right now instead of its usual black, so it makes me look even softer. I had a hard time placing exactly what it was I disliked about myself with long hair so much until Ms. Mae was visiting the other week and pointed out that it made me look soft, not like me. Yeah, I like shoes and pretty dresses, I wear make up and spend my entire life in the kitchen but I swear like a fucking trucker, I put the "dead" in deadpan, drink whiskey and I state my opinions like a man, as in, with any sort of confidence at all.

I am often very gender typed and, underneath my brusque exterior, I like to think I'm a pretty sweet, caring person, so why does it make me so uncomfortable to actually look that way?

In my head I have a short, black pixiecut, sometimes an A-line with blunt bangs. Haircuts I associate with women with confidence, that mean business. Women, that, as my coworker described me, have an edge to them. I work in a man's world, and fuck, we all live in a man's world and growing up I was always a smart girl, a nerdy girl. I think I'm afraid that if I look femme I won't be taken as seriously, even if I still don't often act that way. To a certain extent I think it's true, when I think about the way I've been treated, it seems men find me more approachable and act in a less threatened way when there's a mass of curls around my face. Probably a lot of women unconsciously pick up on that (and obviously other societal cues) and stick with it. I'm not one of those women. I'm not comfortable in a place of non-threatening softness. In my head softness leads to looking like an easy target or somebody to victimize. I'm a take the offensive and show you right up front who I am sort of gal with a fair number of control issues and while this may be totally weird of me, short hair gives me confidence like a pair of killer heels.

So tomorrow, it's going to be gone.