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.

One Post, Three Cliche Topics

The hardest part of anything is starting. The hardest part of yoga is making the trip to the studio. The hardest part of sleeping is going to bed. The hardest part of writing is sitting down in front of a computer and confronting the blank page.

It's much easier to fall out of habits than get back into them. Even the habits that are good for us. Maybe especially the habits that are good for us.

In case you don't know, I've been dating somebody since April. I try to not be too gross about it all over the social media but it's pretty serious and I'm pretty in love and I pretty have alllll the brain chemicals going on that make you need to spend every single second with somebody. Writing is solitary. New relationships are not.

My boyfriend has been out-of-town for two weeks now. Lara was here for the first week he was gone but I've had all this week to sit down and write. To write here, to go back to working on the writing I started offline while I was working on my short cookbook, to write to my boyfriend (who has written me every single day he's been gone), to maybe work on something for an essay contest and instead I've pretty much done anything but. I've drunk with coworkers, I've marathoned tv shows, I read a solid 15% of Infinite Jest yesterday which is A LOT of reading and thought about how I should write. Thought about what I should write. Thought about how nobody needs read yet another person writing about writing. Or falling in love. Or being a twenty something struggling to make it in New York. But I'm already writing about writing, so I might as well give you the rest.

***

If you're like me, then by the time you tell somebody you love them, you've probably already said it a hundred times in your head. Changed a hundred sentences to things that sound more reasonable but really mean "I love you so much my heart might burst if I go any longer without saying it but I'm a coward and I'd rather it burst than break".

But eventually "As you wishes'" have to turn into "I love you's" or your heart doesn't so much burst as wither and that place on your chest that feels like it's been rubbed raw with sand paper only chafes in a bad way instead of the way that makes you grin like a mad man. It's a reminder that you are without armor. It's a reminder that you are cracked open and terrified for all the right reasons.

There is nothing new to be said about falling in love under the sun. There is nothing reasonable to be said about love though the smart stupid logical part of me has lots of thoughts about hormones and neurotransmitters and how long things last. Look, these neurotransmitters don't just fire for anyone, baby. Men that won't get references to The Next Generation, Season 7 Episode 19, need not apply.

I wrote this a month ago, which was a month after I started thinking about writing it. I am head over heels in love, and I'm more comfortable telling you, internet, about when things go wrong, then things going right. Maybe I don't want to jinx it, maybe I think nobody wants to hear the disgustingly cute stuff I think all the time right now or maybe I'm still a little more comfortable managing chaos, than managing happiness.

***

I've lived in Bed Stuy for almost a year now. When we moved in here it was because it is a huge amount of space for about $600 less than what we had set as the maximum price we were willing to pay for rent. At the time, I gave pretty minimal thought to living in the hood because it was just an awesome deal. When we moved in here, rent+utilities+student loans+metrocard equaled about 1/3 of my income. Considering most New Yorkers pay over 1/3 of their income just for rent, that felt pretty comfortable. Fast forward one year later and with my reduced income rent+utilities+student loans+metrocard equals just over half my income. Even right now when I'm working a busy schedule and have had at least ten hours of event pay a week. At this point, I basically live in the hood out of necessity, which definitely doesn't feel comfortable. I'd like to say I've stopped going out with my friends as much because I spend a ridiculous amount of time with my boyfriend, but it's mostly that I'm incredibly embarrassed by how little I can afford and anxious all. the. damn. time.

You want to know the worst part of this, though? I make an above average hourly wage for a pastry cook in this city. I found this article hilarious because I just wanted to scream "Maybe if you want more cooks to stay in New York you should pay them a fucking living wage". I make the same amount of money right now I made 5 years ago in Berkeley. Be better, New York City.

I am having some serious thoughts about whether or not it's worth it to be a chef here. About how being a chef here compromises my values on quality of ingredients, where they come from, how they're grown, how it all affects the economic injustices of our food system. About the ways in which it compromises my values on how workers should be treated. Catering, in particular, creates more waste (both plastic and food) than I ever could've imagined and that breaks every piece of my liberal Bay Area heart.

My cooking class will start-up again with the school year, and I am happy for that. I have fantastic coworkers and open and honest communication with my boss and I am happy for that.

I want to teach more and I want to write more. I guess it's time I commit more time to doing that.

Trade Offs

I'm not really an "everything happens for a reason" or "the universe doesn't hand us anything we can't handle" person. When I got laid off at Stellina, I was miserable and it seemed like a relief. When I got laid off at Je & Jo it seemed like it was probably time I get out of my rut and start working on something that actually challenged me anyways. When I got hired at my current job it seemed like a perfect fit but now I am severely underemployed and obviously I want there to be a reason. I want something better to come out of it. I want to know it's because the universe knows I can handle it. I don't believe that's how the world actually works, but I still want it to be true. Probably the best thing that has come out of this is that I've been able to focus on writing.

Probably the worst thing that has come out of this is stress vomiting, panic attacks and missing out on big things I really want to do like my friend Elise's Vegas bachelorette party and then BiSC.

The worst part about missing BiSC is that only ended up working one day of all the days it happened so it seems like I should've gone anyways. And reading everyone's tweets late at night and almost crying while waiting for the G train.

The best part about missing BiSC is texts like the last one I got from Dominique that said "We've just poured a (figurative) stream of melted butter on the ground at bouchon for the chefs that couldn't join us (you)".

The other best part was that I had a weekend that reminded me I really like my life, which is a thing I've definitely needed some reminding of lately.

Wednesday was a 14 hour work day for supper club and then going out for "one drink" with my coworkers and obviously not doing that.

Thursday was a hangover and an afternoon date where I like to think I was being charmingly honest about the state of my head. Dinosaur bones and almost falling asleep in the Hall of Minerals. Gorgeous day in Central Park. Shake Shack fries for my hangover and a walk to Columbus Circle because my hangover also demanded a rainbow sprinkle cone from Mister Softee. People watching. Sunset watching. Beer. Making plans for a fourth date. You might not do dates well often New York, but when you do... Damn.

Friday was errands and then brunch at Egg with Morgen. Cafe Grumpy cold brew. Walking the Highline. Sample sales I had no business being at. Discovering that there's a Vanessa's in South Williamsburg. Realizing how ludicrously cheap Vanessa's is. Then a trip to our new favorite honky tonk for a giant whiskey sweet tea and live music. Bed.

Saturday was my commute somehow taking 1.5 hours instead of thirty minutes. Work. A text suggesting we meet up that evening instead of Sunday for date four. Drinks with my coworkers. Showing up tipsy (choosing to believe this is also charming) to my date. Many plates of fancy bar food. A visit to a bar with a TARDIS. Moving on to a bar with delicious beer. Definitely being the people in a bar other people might hate a little (or find adorable? Let's go with adorable). Late Saturday night snuggles (both a euphemism and not) leading to Sunday morning ones.

Sunday was laziness and brunching and tv and snuggles and naps. Hiding from the rain and being read to. Ridiculous dance party for two (these arms of mine...). Home made pot roast for dinner. Returning to a very excited kitten at 10pm after having been gone for 38 hours.

I wasn't able to go to BiSC and that kind of really sucked but I'm keeping my fingers crossed there was a reason.

Becoming Real

I think a lot about all the ways I feel like I'm not real. I've written before that I don't feel like a real creative because I'm not interested in and don't have a relaxed go with the flow lifestyle, because I don't want to write a novel or because I get paid to do what I love and it doesn't require having a day job. I sometimes don't feel like a real chef because I don't like restaurant work, "I'm just a baker," I'll say. I don't think of my job as a real job because it doesn't fit into a neat nine to five, salaried, paid vacation box. I'm definitely not a real writer. Real writers have outlines and drafts and edit their work instead of just vomiting their feelings on a page to be consumed by the internet. I know that writing is important for my well being. I know that if somebody else told me that they had a place on the internet with 4.5 years of writing, that they spend time thinking about the way words flow together, that when they haven't written for a while, it feels like their brain might explode, and then said "I'm not a real writer" I'd call shenanigans. So I started working on a writing project outside of this blog. Offline. It's definitely in its very first draft, I'm not sure what the final product is going to look like and I'm not really ready to talk about it yet. It turns out "real writing" is hard. It means I have to choose writing over other things. It means spending a lot more time deleting. Like being a chef, I guess I knew it would be hard, but I didn't know how hard.

To give myself a little motivation, I decided to put aside the first writing project I started for a bit and write a quick and fun cookbook.

Here is what I wrote about it on my tumblr:

"Pretty much my favorite thing I do every week is teaching basic cooking skills and healthy(ish) eating habits to tweens in East Harlem and the Bronx. My budget for the projects is not large (read:miniscule) but the task of teaching kids to love vegetables and get excited about cooking each week is. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to do just that both for the kids I cook with and the adult volunteers that help me. (The kids ask if we can make kale chips almost every week and one of my repeat volunteers told me she’s all about Brussels sprouts now). I absolutely love it, but it’s taken a considerable amount of my time and a not small amount of my personal resources to do it.

I wrote a pretty short, but (I think) amusing cookbook of some of the recipes I use in class that teach basic cooking techniques like roasting vegetables and how to make a roux. My goal is to provide these kids with the skills to feed themselves without resorting to processed foods and to teach them that cooking isn’t always about exact measurements and fancy tools, but about creativity, curiosity and venturing outside your comfort zone. Learning healthy eating habits and how to take care of yourself shouldn’t be a privilege.

(and because I really do believe that, if $2.99 on Amazon isn’t in your budget, you can pay what you want to download the book in pretty much any ebook format here)

(Or if you just want to give me more than $2.99 you can pay what you want at that link, I’m fine with that option too)"

Some people have downloaded the book for free, some have paid the recommended price and some generous person paid $10.00! Sure, I've still only sold 20 copies but that's 20 more copies of something I've written than I've ever sold before. My expectation was that I would sell approximately zero and I felt really anxious about asking people to pay money for my writing even though it was for a good cause and tapped into my knowledge of the thing I definitely get paid to do. But there it is. I wrote a book and figured out how to publish it in ebook form (with big thanks to Ashley's "how to" post) and you can buy it. I guess I'm a real writer now.

And, because obviously I want you to buy my book, here's a sample recipe for motivation:

Stove Top Mac and Cheese Round 2

Easy

½ lbs Elbow Macaroni

½ Stick Butter

4 T Flour

2 c Milk

1 lbs Shredded Cheddar

Salt and Pepper to Taste

 

Cook that macaroni in boiling water with a splash of olive oil in it. Drain it and set aside. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan; whisk in your flour until a paste forms (this paste is called a roux). This should take about 2 to 3 minutes because you actually want to cook the flour slightly so that it doesn’t make the sauce taste weird. Pour milk into the pot and continue whisking until the sauce thickens (at this point the sauce is a béchamel). You’ll probably have to do some heavy whisking to get your flour paste (roux) dissolved. Stir in cheese and whisk just until melted. Be careful not to overcook or your sauce might break. Congratulations, you just made a Mornay sauce! You just learned three really important cooking things in one super simple recipe. Feel free to write home.

Right. Pour that Mornay over the pasta you set aside. Eat.

 

Want to pretend it’s healthy? Use whole wheat pasta.

DGAF? Add bacon bits. Put a fried egg on top.

Writing About Writing

I've never wanted to be a Writer. I feel strange saying that. So many people have that novel on the back burner or those short stories they want to some day publish and I often feel like I'm supposed to want that too because I like writing. It's not because I don't think I'm good enough or, at least, won't at some point be good enough or that I don't think I have stories worth telling. I don't know what it is. Mostly, I think it's that I have myself convinced that I'm only a good writer because I've read a lot. It has nothing to do with me or my stories, just my innate ability to synthesize and reproduce the voices of other writers. I have never had a knack for fiction. I just can tell you about my own life through other people's voices and that seems like cheating. I've had a few people tell me my writing seems melancholy lately and I suppose that is true. I don't know how much has to do with me being melancholy and how much it has to do with reading memoirs and journals of melancholy authors. I don't know where my voice ends and Sylvia Plath's begins. I don't know if all truly great writers have a unique voice that came from nothing or from the way they've absorbed and blended Hemingway and Bukowski. I don't know if it really matters.

Lately though, because I've been reading all these books that make it seem lovely to be poor and spending days in front of a typewriter, I've been thinking about whether or not I'm wrong. I've been thinking about writing more. I've been thinking about writing with discipline. Not here, necessarily. And I don't know what, for sure, I want to focus on. I probably still won't write fiction. But I think somewhere in these years of digital pages, there might be things to be expanded and other things to cut loose and maybe something could come of it, even if all it is is becoming a better writer.