Breathing again – It has taken me longer to get to this point—the point of writing my first online journal entry—than I expected, and now that I am actually here I don’t quite know where to begin. It’s not that I have nothing to say; there are plenty of things going on in the world and in my life that I could comment on, but for some reason I feel that my first entry should be timeless, something that visitors will be able to look at in the archives at some point in the future to gain a better understanding of why I’m here and what I’m doing.
I realize now, though, that I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing. I thought I knew, but a recent conversation about this site with my wife made me think again. The conversation went something like this:
Wife: You know, I like the writings and imagery parts of the site, but I really don’t approve of the journal. Why can’t you just do writings and imagery and leave the journal out?
Me: (crestfallen) What are you talking about?! The journal is the whole point of this site! That’s why I’m doing this. Why don’t you like the journal?
Wife: Well, I just don’t like the thought of you doing it... people who write blogs are losers!
Wife: Yeah. They write online because they have no one to talk to, and I always feel sorry for them. It makes me sad to think that you have to resort to writing an online journal.
Me: Is that why you think I’m doing this? Because I have no one to talk to?
Me: No, that’s not it at all. I have people to talk to if I want. It’s just that I feel the need to express myself. I may not be a great artist, but I am an artist nonetheless, and artists need to express themselves.
(To be fair to my wife, “loser” may be a harsh translation for what she said. The word she used in Korean was wangdda (update: the word is a shortening of “wang ddadollinda,” which means “to greatly ostracize”). My Korean dictionary defines it as a verb meaning “to collectively harass and ostracize a person.” Remember that kid in high school, the one with no friends, the one everyone made fun of? Well, he (or she) was wangdda. Now you tell me whether or not “loser” was too harsh. End of tangent.)
Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that my wife and I have fundamentally different views of online life—she may be right in her judgment, or she may not be, but at the very least she made me stop and take a hard look at what I was doing and why. After that brief conversation I realized two things: 1) I wasn’t really sure why I was writing an online journal, and 2) I can sound like an incredibly arrogant and elitist prick sometimes. I’ll just deal with the first one today and leave the second for therapy.
I do believe it has something to do with my need to express myself—I wasn’t just making that up as I went along. The question, though, is why do I feel this need to express myself? My wife, for example, has not the slightest inclination to bare her soul on the Internet to millions and millions of people (wishful thinking, I know). And I know plenty of other people who feel exactly the same way. So what is it about the few of us who do decide to put ourselves out there? Are we special, or are we just wangdda?
If I really thought I was wangdda, I wouldn’t be doing this. Instead, I would probably be imagining creative (and preferably painless) ways to kill myself. Granted, I’m sure there are people out there who do write blogs because they have no one else to talk to, but I’d like to think that they make up a very small minority, and that I don’t fall into that minority. But I’m not getting any closer to answering the question, am I.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. I started writing poetry when I was very young, and I think my mother still has my very first poem lying around somewhere, a poem about a deer that got lost (I had probably just watched Bambi, and, yes, I was a sensitive child). I don’t think there was any particular reason why I started writing, it just seemed to come naturally to me; it was a way for me to process the information I received from the world around me and try to make some sense of it all. As I grew older and learned more about the world and less about myself, it became a way for me to order my thoughts and feelings and, once again, try to make some sense of them. For me, writing was like breathing, and if I didn’t write I felt like I was suffocating.
Writing for me is a paradox. On the one hand, I write for myself and no one else, just as I breathe for myself and no one else. It is a need I have, just as real as my need for food and water, and fulfilling this need can be seen as a response to the basic, selfish human desire to survive. On the other hand, though, I also feel the need to share what I write with others, so I am ultimately writing for them and not for me. While I am writing something it is alive, but once it is written it needs to be passed on to stay alive. I don’t know if I have ever written something that I have not shown to at least one other person—I just cannot bear to hold it in. It is as if the writing itself is only part of the process of release, and that process is completed when I share what I write with others.
I came to Korea over seven years ago, and at first my need to write was met by weekly letters home to my family. Then there was e-mail, which took a lot less effort, and my letters grew shorter. Now there is instant messaging, and a nice, long e-mail has become a thing of the past. I’ve also become much busier, and just about all the writing I do is limited to translation or academic writing in Korean. I have not had a creative writing outlet for years now, and it has taken its toll. At first I felt impatient and stifled, as if I had to write now or I would explode. As time went by, though, that voice inside me grew fainter, and the struggling and kicking grew weaker. Before I knew it, I would only hear that voice on occasion, when something would stir up that old passion in me.
I started to fear that maybe I had stifled that voice for too long, and that it would be extinguished forever. I began to grow impatient again, and I looked for a way out. I built a website with essays and pictures from my life here in Korea, but I soon stopped updating it—it just didn’t have the immediacy I needed. Then blogs began to appear (they weren’t called “blogs” then, of course), and I realized that this was what I was looking for. I toyed with the idea for years, until one day I just couldn’t stand it any longer, and I sat down and began to work on a new site. So here I am, on the first day of my new site, and if you ask me now why I am doing this, I can tell you with conviction: I just want to breathe again.