A friend recently told me that the reason I might feel dramatic or even melodramatic when I relate my sequence of emotional reactions to something is that I’m an introvert and it’s not normal for me to explain or even share aloud my feelings, despite having them strongly all the time. I guess I agree with her; while I react strongly to almost everything that happens, I wouldn’t ever tell anyone about 95% of those reactions.
However, as this blog can attest to, I write about those feelings. I write about them and feed off that “drama;” I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of feeling the energy behind the words as you write them, but when I’m agitated or in the throes of an emotional reaction to something–as it were–my writing has a liveliness that I covet at times when I can’t match it.
When I was younger, I used to have the thought frequently that I would give up my own experience if it meant that I could write well. I would trade my life, I used to think, for the perfect story. I would trade my life, I would think, for the perfect poem. I was young then, maybe nineteen, and writing was the only thing in my life worth anything to me; I knowingly sacrificed relationships to maintain my writing, to train myself, and to focus. Others close to me saw this as escapism, selfishness, or aloofness–I saw it as a matter of survival. It was the only way I knew.
I hadn’t had much experience at that time, and half of me is tempted now to say that I didn’t understand something vital: that experience is food for fodder, that it’s not possible to lay the groundwork for stories or poems without the experience that I was so willing to trade. And half of me looks back at my old writing, the writing I wrote when I was reading voraciously, insatiably, and feeling for little reason at all, and understands–and thinks that maybe I was somewhere closer to perfect at that time than I am now. So I have to remind myself: I wasn’t healthy at that time. Emotions weren’t full for me at that time, for all their sharpness, and I hadn’t ever experienced half the spectrum of feeling at all.
But there was nuance; relentless attention to the smallest movement of feeling; there was a doggedness to writing, a long unfurling style that gathered energy like a locomotive as it advanced. And I want that again. There are things I wish I could go back to; things I had before; I wonder if when they fixed me they removed some parts, if there wasn’t something wild and wonderful about getting close to edges. I look at my horoscopes these days and keep thinking: but that’s already happened.
The students took their midterms over two days: Friday, the 21st, and Monday the 24th. On the Tuesday following exams I had a second period class that consistently gives me pains; while half of the class participates actively and pays attention, half of the class talks at a low monotone in Korean while I’m speaking of while others are participating and even while I’m reprimanding them as lightly as I can they continue, like a machine continually emitting meaningless output. Finally, I erased all of the points they’d gathered in the first half of the semester from their class rank, crossing it out silently and drawing a “0” in its place. I felt slightly lightheaded; later I realized this was anger. And later after that I felt bad; but I knew it had worked because upon sighting the zero, they grew quiet, and when I asked my coteacher to tell them why I’d taken their points away, and she did it, I could tell they understood.
Anger is new to me. I have always felt annoyance, and discomfort, and a sense of injustice; but anger, rising up like air in the chest and almost ebullient, I have only recently felt it for the first time. Before when people upset me or acted selfishly towards me, I would feel hurt, and wronged, but never angry. When my first two boyfriends broke up with me and gave me stupid reasons and were mean to me in the process, I just felt sad, but I recognised that other people would feel anger in my situation. However many times I repeated to myself that I should be angry, that I should just curse them and move on, I could never feel it. It was the same for other situations.
For some reason my life is this way, that well into my adulthood I am experiencing things for the first time; while during my adolescence I was so careful with my words, and my reactions, and most things never made it out of me, recently I said some words in anger that potentially damaged a relationship. I feel especially childish because that friend was younger than me. Even after I’d apologized I felt sick with guilt and it still comes back to me at moments and takes my breath away. That’s something children do, I tell myself, and sit in agony for a while until it wears off.
Last night I met a friend in Wangsimni to buy running shoes. Not that I plan on doing any real running, but I happened to express an interest in joining a gym, which turned out to be a bad idea so he offered to help me exercise outside. I realized I don’t have anything to wear for that activity, and while it’s easy enough to find clothes, I didn’t know anything about choosing appropriate shoes, since the last time I made any serious effort to work out it was in a gym using machines and not in the open on real land.
While going home by subway, I entered the car at the same time as a mother and her elementary aged son, and the seat I’d been aiming for was the only one left by the time the boy and I reached it. Naturally I offered it to him, but made the mistake of speaking English as I gestured to it: “sit.” He looked surprised and took the seat; I found one opposite him and his mom and saw her smiling at me. Every once in a while he glanced shyly over, and the rest of the time sat there with a slightly dazed, but pleased, expression on his face. A stop later he and his mom got up to detrain, and paused for a moment–I looked up and he bowed to me, and said “thank you” with a shy smile. I bowed my head in response, and as they went up the escalator the mother looked back and met my gaze and saw me smiling.
I wasn’t sure why, but this whole thing affected me. I kept thinking about it after I got home even in the midst of other concerns and disappointments. I’ve thought and thought about it, I’ve considered my recent relationships and breakups and goodbyes, and the worry I voiced to my friend and then worried was too dramatic to share–that I care more about others than they care about me, that others have an effect on me but I have no effect on them, that I’m meaningless to others despite wanting to be more. And the thought came to me today: I had an effect. And I saw it. And it meant something to someone.
Last weekend when I was in distress and I reached out to my friend and I expressed dissatisfaction about how both my friend and I had acted in the situation we’d gotten ourselves into–why are guys always like this to me, why are people dishonest, why are people not entirely truthful or why do they change the story whenever it suits them, why do I care so much that my heart can’t settle down enough to let me sleep at night, why is my life just rejection after rejection, why don’t I matter to anybody, why are people so okay with the loss of my friendship, and more than that, more than anything, why do I keep making mistakes, why did I say the things I said, why was I so stupid, why do I want the things I want–I said all this and refused his words of comfort until finally he said it’s youth, Lily.
I know that.
Sometimes I look at my students as they’re doing group work or chatting in class, and I have an impression of being outside of myself, not quite there, an impression that I’m missing some vital information about how I fit into this picture; other times I’m just gripped with intense envy, that they still have their lives to live, that they still have all their mistakes ahead of them, that they’re more uninhibited and joyful than I was at their age and that they still have everything to hope for. That they don’t know some things that I know and that they’ll still have a first time for some things. Their concerns from this point of view seem simple: their grades on their exams, their succession through the school ladder. And even though I know that’s too simple a way to express the framework of their lives–I envy that simplicity and clarity.
But most of the time I feel the same as them. Most of our concerns are in actuality the same: what to do with our future, who to build relationships with, and what to do in the here and now in order to secure the things that we want. So I feel like them, maybe the same. Older, yes. But also new, clumsy… and expecting.