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24 Dec

Focal point – It’s been about four weeks since my last entry, and then another whole month since the entry before that, so things have been pretty sparse around here lately. I do have a theme that I want to write about, but given the amount of time that I haven’t written and all the things bustling around inside my head, it’s probably going to take me a while to get there. Just think of this as a warm-up.

“If there is one thing I regret, it’s that it took us until now to do this.”

Liminality got put on the back burner in November when I retired to the Workshop to write this year’s novel for NaNoWriMo (just a reminder: the novel will be up until the end of the year, at which point it will come down, most likely forever). I raced to finish the novel early because of all the work that was piling up—I was doing my usual work during the day until about five or six in the evening and then working on the novel at night, but that still wasn’t enough time. Once the novel was done, though, I spent most of my waking hours working.

The culprit behind the long hours was the history of Korean literature I am translating, a project I have mentioned here on Liminality from time to time. I could go on and on about the project, I suppose, but you really don’t want to read that. And, to be perfectly honest, even if for some twisted reason you really do want to read an entire entry of me whining about translation, I really don’t feel like getting into it now. Suffice it to say that this afternoon I put the finishing touches on the extras (tables of contents, translation notes, etc.) and sent the 1,100+ page file to my professor, who will take one final look at it before sending it to the people who will hopefully be giving us money.

The project is nowhere near done, of course. This is just an initial translation that still needs a lot of work. But it’s done for now, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t think it has quite sunk in yet, because I don’t really feel much different. I’ve been working on this thing for the past two years, and I’ve reached a major milestone, and I don’t feel any different. I take that back—I feel like I’ve been drugged, taken into a small room, and beaten repeatedly with a frozen salmon.

Now it’s time to move on, snap out of the haze, and try to remember what life was like when I actually did something other than translate. There are a lot of good movies my wife and I are looking forward to seeing. I want to see King Kong and the Chronicles of Narnia for starters. I’m also pretty psyched to see a Korean movie called The King’s Man (site in Korean), which is about the first folk performers in the royal palace. This is probably the closest I will ever get to seeing a movie about my major (Korean oral literature), so I’m really excited about it. I’ve seen trailers, and it looks pretty good. I will definitely be writing up a report for Liminality after I see it, even if no one cares but me.

In other news, it’s Christmas Eve. It doesn’t seem like it, but that probably goes back to the frozen salmon bit. Anyway, this Christmas is special for my wife and me. This will be our ninth Christmas together, but it is the first time we have ever had a Christmas tree. No, it’s not real, and it only comes up to about my knee, but for the first time we finally have something to put our Christmas presents under (well, around). Without further ado, I present to you the Christmas tree, bought at Namdaemun Market for 15,000 won.

The Christmas Tree

Pretty nifty, huh? As you can see, we don’t have too many decorations. The pine cones came with the tree, so the only ornaments on there are a small heart-shaped ornament (which you can’t really see in this picture) and the heavy, white picture frame ornament that I was sure was going to tip the tree over all by itself (it didn’t, obviously). I don’t know where my wife got the Christmas-style ribbon, but that ended up getting wrapped around the tree as well. Of course, no Christmas tree is complete without a star, so I made a star by cutting a star-shaped piece out of a milk carton, wrapping it in tin foil, and taping a twist tie on the back. My first grade arts and crafts teacher would be proud.

Interestingly enough, my wife is far more into the Christmas thing than I am—and by Christmas thing I mean decorations, etc. Christmas carols, jingle bells, tinsel on trees... there’s nothing wrong with these things, of course, but they really don’t say Christmas to me. When I think of Christmas, the first image that pops into my head is sitting in the living room of my parents’ house, candles providing the only light, and listening to Christmas hymns. I think the problem is that Christmas is fixed in both time and space for me, meaning that I can never really experience Christmas again the way it exists in my mind. It’s like looking through a photo album and remember what things were like and knowing that they will never be like that again.

Surprisingly enough, though, I’m feeling a bit of the Christmas spirit this year. It seems silly that a tiny artificial tree would be enough to evoke everything that is Christmas, but I guess it acts as a focal point. As I mentioned above, it does give us a place to gather our presents, so it acts as a physical focal point. We have always exchanged gifts on Christmas, but it’s always been rather haphazard, and we have very rarely waited until Christmas to do the actual exchanging. I guess that’s mainly because we developed the habit of buying stuff and using the “this is a Christmas present” excuse to justify the purchases. The question of whether or not that’s healthy consumer behavior aside, there definitely is a difference between buying yourself something and opening up a surprise present on Christmas.

As you can see in the photo above, the presents are piled around the tree, waiting for tomorrow morning. What you can’t see in the photo (obviously) is how my wife has been picking up the presents at least once a day, shaking them, tapping them, trying to guess what’s inside. I deliberately wrapped the presents I got her in wads of newspaper so she would not be able to figure out what they are. She keeps asking me if she can open the presents early, and I keep telling her she has to wait until Christmas morning. It’s pretty funny, actually, because she becomes a little kid whenever she’s around the tree or the presents.

In a way, it’s understandable. My wife never had the Christmas experience when she was young. For one, Christmas is not a traditional Korean holiday, and even today it’s either a solely religious holiday or an overblown commercial campaign (or maybe that’s just my cynicism talking). She says she did get presents on Christmas, but they were never focused on Christmas—that is, she never had to wait until Christmas morning to open them. I guess she’s catching up on all the Christmas stuff that I went through so long ago.

So, even though we’ve spent eight Christmases together already, somehow this one feels special. All it took was a focal point. At first I was uncomfortable at the idea that Christmas could be reduced to an artificial tree and a pile of presents, but I realized that’s not what was happening. Christmas isn’t being reduced to anything, it’s being symbolized by something. If you asked me to describe what Christmas meant to me and I could only use one word to do it, that word would be “family.” My blood family is on the other side of the world right now, but my wife is here with me, and seeing her excitedly pick up each of her presents in turn makes me smile all over.

The Christmas tree has not only acted as a focal point for the presents, it has acted as a focal point for that amorphous thing they call “Christmas spirit,” and for bringing us together as a family. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to Christmas morning. Not because I’m looking forward to opening my presents, but because I’m looking forward to my wife opening her presents. I think I understand now why my parents bought my brothers and me so many presents. If there is one thing I regret, it’s that it took us until now to do this.

Well, I think that’s about it for today. It feels good to be writing here again. Now that the literary history book is finished (for now), I hope to be doing more around here. I still have work to do over the break (like finishing my novel translation), but I should have a lot more free time. I’ve got a ton of photos to catch up on, and that alone should take me a while. I’d also like to get back to writing in the Workshop come the new year. Aside from content, I’m considering moving Liminality over to a database, which would allow me to do lots of neat things with the content. With luck I’ll get that done by Liminality’s birthday, the ides of March (but don’t hold your breath—you know how timely I am when it comes to getting stuff done around here).

Before I go, I want to make one note: last year I wrote an entry titled “On the inside look out,” in which I asked for help from native French speakers to figure out the origin of the term “journal extime.” I recently received an email on the subject and updated the entry, so if you’re curious about it go take a look (it’s in the fourth paragraph).

And I think I’m finally done here. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a happy holiday season, and I hope that you get to spend time with your family.

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