notes in search of something else (june 2010)
in 72 hours, i drove from san diego to the city of angels, & from the city of angels to the bay area. & tomorrow, i‘ll be boarding UA 893 for a twelve hour flight back to the mothership on the other side of the pacific rim, my first return since my first visit two years ago. “you go wherever the wind takes you,” is how a friend of mine described my restlessness this weekend, my internal machinery that demands that i always be in motion, in a circuitous & cyclical search for a methodology for life. it reminds me of the story of the bird without feet in days of being wild, the one who never lands & sleeps on the breeze when it’s tired. that’s me. never one place or another, neither here nor there, on the break or making one. i was born to be elsewhere. but breathing. always, always breathing.
& so i sit here in the kitchen of a house my omma & appa worked their entire lives to buy. a house that stands in its quiet pocket of suburbia & serves as testament to the illusive weight of their trans-pacific han for be/longing in america. & i think—they moved here after my freshman year of ucsd in 2002, & two years after that, my omma was twisted in the throes of a devastating illness that threw her sense of self asunder. “a sea bird on the freeway that stretches its neck for a water that may no longer exist,” is how i put it so many springs ago. this house is estrangement to me, newer than our old one in san leandro, its air always heavy, full of ashes & strain, like the red earthen clay of cesaria evora’s voice entreating me with “sodade, sodade…” & yet, it’s the house i find my way back to now—sober & drunk, in laughter & tears, with love & grief, from southern california, from korea, & from michigan. maybe what i’m experiencing now is a term that my brother, pahole, dropped on me a few weeks ago, an “emotional transnationalism,” a post+memory, a pained nostalgia, a mixtape that serenades me with its hopes, dreams, ghosts, & memories that i live with on a daily basis but can only acknowledge when i let myself slumber—and not just the seam between wakefulness & sleep, but rather, when i’m floating in the music that never ceases & finally listening to the cadences folded into the unwieldiness of my thoughts.
& so, inspired by pahole & josen, i’m finally writing my love letter, except it’s not a love letter in the traditional sense, more so a loosely held kite that dances away into the clouds with felicitous choreography. you see, when we were at AAAS, drinking courvoisier & cheap champagne poolside at our hotel in austin, pahole told us about how everything he writes is a love letter. to his mother & father. to his community. to his ancestors. & to thai/america. & as i sat there, uncomfortably pale from the silent traumas of winter & sheathed behind the ubiquity of my stunner shades, his words circled & criss-crossed like a vagabond into the han that lives in the heart i keep so guarded. my eyes started welling up with a water that comes so easily to me now, flowing from the subterrains of memory my halmoni entrusted into my uncertain hands, even as a small boy—a water like persephone’s faint memory of spring even in the cold, cruel hollow of hades. in-between this surge of oceanic pressure & paralleled dreams, i couldn’t help but think about how that morning, my omma, who had just learned how to text message, wrote “hi son, how are you? hope you are learning a lot in texas. mommy loves you.” how the souvenir ship on sixth street where we bought ourselves, & lisa lowe, a “don’t mess with texas” shirt, was owned by two women who spoke with the unmistakable lilt of kyungsang-do rolling off their tongues. how my appa, holding court on his corner of 98th and golf links, would always clip articles about “asian american studies” & slip them into overstuffed envelopes when i was in college. & of course, how my halmoni tended to me with the same strong, spotted hands that would drown in steel basins of pickled cabbage & whose passing i still mourn on a daily basis even two years after the fact.
although my return to san diego was bumpy, i have been surrounded by so many folks who remind me of what’s at stake. almost like free form poetry, the beauty & tension of the pause from one word to the next, a stream of revolutionary improvisations in the making. i can only think of what i have learned from everyone this year, those secret spills of other things heard, other things seen. here are some glimpses. from pahole: to be brilliant. heijin-noona: to be passionate. deepa: to be purposeful. judy: to trust the process. debbie: to be made. alice: to be free. jackie: to be silly. joje: to “suck it up & do it.” jimi: to nourish. josen: to re-member. amanda: to imagine (otherwise). theresa: to question. morelia: to be present. patty: to be rooted. ash: to have balance. thea: to cut knowledge. steph: to build bridges. sarah: to be fearless. sam: to be. teresa: to breathe. kyung hee: to listen & to sing. john: to confront & to dance. wayne: to risk & to love. you are my community. i am because of all of you. thanks be.
& so, in seoul, i begin another adventure, in search of fellow travelers, lovers, fighters, thinkers, drinkers, movers, shakers, old school souls, & other kindred spirits, in the wax & wane of freedom dreams & insurgencies still emergent. i’ll let all of you know how this goes. i promise you, i’ll be back. till then, peace out.