Coming home – Well, our most recent trip to the States is over. We got back last Friday evening, and I’ve spent the past week trying to catch up with life here. We had a lot of fun at both ends of the country (New York and L.A., roughly speaking), and it was nice to see friends and family again, but I must say it is a relief to be back. We were gone for almost a month and a half, and that’s a long time to be on vacation.
You would think I would have a lot to say after a month of silence, and indeed a lot did happen during that month. Before Christmas we spent a lot of time just hanging out at my parents’ house. After Christmas, though, the pace started to pick up and we had many places to go, people to see, and things to do. Many of these places, people and things will be featured in upcoming imagery galleries (as soon as I can get them developed—how I long for a digital camera!). As far as actual writing goes, though, I find myself at a loss for words. Maybe there’s just too much to write about in a single journal entry, or maybe I’m just feeling a bit rusty after a month of no entries—or maybe it’s a combination of the two.
That being the case, this entry is most likely going to be a hodge-podge of stuff that’s been floating around in my head, a chance to both unburden my brain and get the writing juices flowing again. I expect I will want to write about specific aspects of the trip later on, maybe when I put up certain photo sets.
Hmm... I hate when things grind to a halt like that. I like to keep things going smoothly, segueing from one paragraph to the next, one idea to its (seemingly) logical successor. At least, that’s how it is supposed to look in the final version. In reality it often means trashing entire paragraphs because the flow isn’t right or I got off track (like right now, for example). I like my journal entries to be smoothly crafted pieces of writing that read easily. If I can help it, I generally like to avoid jarring stops or changes of direction entirely. As you can see, that’s not happening at the moment, and I’m going to have to resort to some sort of connecting phrase to segue into my next idea (which was actually my original idea, but kind of got lost along the way).
(I just realized why I’m having a hard time stringing things along here—I was reading Douglas Adams in the States and on the plane back. If you know and love Douglas Adams like I do then there is no need for explanation. If you do not know who Douglas Adams is, however, no amount of explanation would suffice. Any attempt at explanation would merely result in frustration for me and confusion for you. Oh, and if you think parenthetical paragraphs are bad, go read (or reread) some Douglas Adams—he writes entire parenthetical chapters. And before I go, at the risk of digressing from a tangent, some words from Mark Twain on the use of parentheses: “...it is the sign of an unpractised writer or a cloudy intellect” (from The Awful German Language). At the moment I must plead the latter.)
I’m tempted at this point to go back and completely scrap the previous three paragraphs—in fact, looking back now, I’m tempted to scrap the entire thing and start over again. If you’re reading this now, though, I was obviously able to resist that temptation. No, I think I will plod on through this. Think of it as stretching my writing muscles, and let’s hope it doesn’t become a habit.
So, as I was saying, we arrived back in Korea last Friday evening, and I’ve been spending my time trying to get things back to normal after the long hiatus. It’s sometimes easy to wish that a trip could go on just a little longer, but the fact of the matter is that life while traveling is not normal, and thus you can only take so much of it before you run out of steam. At least that’s the way it is with me. No matter how much fun I may be having, there always comes a point where I realize that it’s time to go home and get back to normality.
I think, though, that it may be more than just wanting to get back to the daily routine—I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Just as you can only be in one place at one time physically, you can also only be in one place at one time mentally. Your physical and mental location don’t always have to be the same, but at any given moment there can only be one of each. Daydreaming is a good example of this: you can tell that although a daydreamer might be with you physically, he or she is not even close to being with you mentally.
So what does this have to do with traveling and normality? Well, in my own experience, whenever I travel for any extended period of time (more than a couple of weeks, let’s say), any other place than where I am at the moment seems like a dream to me. For example, before our visit to the States this Christmas, I could picture my friends and family, as well as places I used to go, but somehow it didn’t seem like real life. It seemed as if I had merely dreamt it all, because I could not reconcile that reality with my present reality.
While I am traveling, I think the same principle applies. I begin to lose touch with the reality of normality. That’s why I get weary of traveling—not because my body is tired, but because my mind is tired. The longer I am away from home the more tenuous my mental grip on that reality becomes, thus bringing on travel fatigue.
The idea of “home,” of course, is quite tricky in and of itself. Right now, “home” for me is where I am sitting at this very moment. Home is no longer back in the States, so when my Korean friends ask me how my visit home went I try to explain to them that I am home. For them, “hometown” and “home” are synonymous. For me, the place I consider my “hometown” may never change, but the place I call “home” has changed a number of times (and most likely will again).
One thing I particular enjoyed doing during our visit to the States was seeing Return of the King in the theater (three times, as a matter of fact). Toward the end of the movie, Frodo says, “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on when, in your heart, you begin to understand there is no going back?” Of course, he is referring to his adventures, and in particular the wound he sustained from the Witch King on Weathertop. Every time I heard that line, though, I felt a wave of emotion sweep over me. Those words touched me deeply.
Frodo’s story may be fantasy, but the words he speaks ring true to me. There is no going back for me. Oh, someday I will likely go back to the States and make a new home there, but there is no going back to what life used to be. I have been changed by my own adventures, just as we all are, and the past is gone. This is the case with anyone, of course, but being removed in space as well as time makes it that much more severe, I think. I know that there are people who read this journal who will understand exactly what I’m talking about, and I find that quite comforting right now.
So that’s my babble for today. I hope it came out in a way that makes sense to people besides myself. There was just a lot going on in my head and my heart, and I needed to get some of it out.
In other news, during our visit to the States I discovered that liminality.org was the inspiration for a friend of mine. He had allegedly been nearing completion of his original web site design when he dropped by here. As far as I can make out, liminality.org induced some sort of epileptic seizure and/or temporary insanity, during which period he spent many frenzied nights revamping his design and ultimately churned out a very elegant site. Now, of course, the upstart has the nerve to post something just about every other day, making me look like a slacker. Not that I’m not a slacker, of course—I am. It’s just that before this I was always able to maintain a comfortable illusion of diligence. For the record, I’m sticking to my motto of quality over quantity. Yeah, that’s it.
While we’re on the subject of inspiration, though, this friend of mine (we'll call him David to protect the innocent) inspired me with his sudden fervor for writing. The last time I saw him he was an up-and-coming corporate lawyer in Houston on the fast track to success (or some such cliché). Now he’s... well, he’s still an up-and-coming corporate lawyer in Houston, but he seems to have reconnected with his creative roots, and done so with a fury. Our conversation in New York this time around was far more stimulating creativity-wise than our conversation in Houston two and a half years ago. In other words, he’s making me feel like a slacker again.
Like I said, I was inspired (or maybe I was shamed—I’m not sure if there’s really that much of a difference between the two sometimes) by his fervor and decided to start writing again. Writing fiction, that is—I write all the time of course, but very little of what I do could be termed “creative writing” in the traditional sense. I decided to begin my foray back into the world of fiction by rewriting a short story I wrote while at university. I know that may seem like something of a cop out, but I don’t think the story was finished when I wrote it back then. I’ve grown a lot since then, and I hope that now I have the maturity and experience to write it properly. Anyway, it’s in progress at the moment. Hopefully I’ll have it online before too long.
I suppose that’s about it for now. Life is starting to pick up again, and it looks like I’m going to be very busy this year. I’m finishing up my translation project with the Korea Literature Translation Institute, and on Wednesday I met with my professor and received the first few chapters of the fourth edition of his History of Korean Literature. It is a five-volume work, and we will be abridging and translating it into one volume. I’ve never done anything as monumental as this before, and it will likely be one of my greatest academic achievements. So I’m pretty psyched about it, not to mention slightly terrified at the prospect of abridging and translating 2500+ pages.
Things are going to be so busy this year, in fact, that I think I’m going to take this semester off from school. I’ll most likely learn more by doing this project anyway, and I’m in no real hurry to finish my Ph.D. coursework yet. All in due time, as they say.
Well, enough blabbering. I’ll try to resume my pace of writing (roughly) about once a week—I’m not even going to try to keep up with David.