Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dear 할아버지 (Grandpa)...

I don't how to react to death. Specifically, my grandfather’s.

Since I received the news 13 days ago, there’s been that expected tidal wave of emotion that I’m still trying to wade through. This is my outlet. I'm trying to process this. 

The timing and circumstances around my grandfather’s death have shaken me, no doubt. I believe in everything happening for a reason, especially occasions of this magnitude.  Just one week before my 30th birthday, and in the middle of an emotionally charged reevaluation of my life & some of my closest relationships, this was certainly the last thing I'd expected to occur. 

I had taken that night off. I’d needed to step away from the LA hustle & just breathe for a moment before an onslaught of meetings, events, flights, gigs, & emails awaited to take their toll on me for the next 7 weeks straight. It was in this retreat & the first moments of unencumbered bliss that I received the heartbreaking call from my mother that her father had suddenly died in a car accident.

I immediately went numb. 

Everyone says there’s no right way to deal with death. Some people laugh. Some people get violent. Some people start talking about other things like the weather. Some just get downright confused. There’s really no right way. I know & support this, but emotionally I honestly felt like an asshole for not being more immediately devastated. 

The truth? A million thoughts immediately raced through my head like my upcoming stressful travel schedule & all the 2304923048 things I was attempting to escape from for that one night as my mother cried to me and asked me to come up to the Bay asap to help my dad with our family’s store while she goes to Korea.

There was no question about it. Of course I would go. My parents were both grateful that I had the flexibility to come up to work physically at the store & work remotely on Kollaboration via phone & web. That helped curb my guilt, but hardly at all. I did not mention any of the things I was stressing over or the things I’d have to cancel/delay (some of which was very costly), because I empirically knew that everything going through my stupid brain was so petty and selfish and small in comparison to what my mother was going through & the ripple effect it’d have on all of us.  

It still upsets me to say that it took awhile for my emotions to catch up with my rational thinking.  I knew what I “ought” to feel, but it wasn’t there yet. Before the sadness ever sank in, I felt waves of shame and guilt for what my initial reaction was. Maybe it’s a Korean thing, but I’ll never know since this is what I am & what I know. I felt a ton of guilt that I was stressed over my impending schedule being disrupted. I felt guilt that I was even remotely thinking of my cancelled 30th birthday festivities, which I’d been anticipating as a shining & joyful milestone in the midst of a lot of recent turmoil. I felt regret that I hadn’t gone out to Korea for the last 10 years to see my grandfather like I kept saying I would once I had time/money. I knew he had faced & beaten prostate cancer, I knew he now had early signs of Alzheimers, I knew he adored my mom & adored me as a granddaughter. And yet I never quite had the time or the money. “Never.”

Another thing. For a really long time, I prided myself in my ability to empathize. It wasn’t something I was particularly good at in the past, but the last 15 years or so really changed as I went through my own struggles & dove more into my creative side. So why now, when my mother was suffering so deeply, and my family heartbroken in our loss, could I not get my shit together to grieve with them? How heartless was I? 

The answer is, I don’t know. Maybe I never will. I don’t know if the reason was pure selfishness. I don’t know if it was a survival mechanism to delay my emotions because I felt the need to be strong & on point for my parents. I don’t know if it was disconnected indifference since it had been so long since I’d seen my grandfather & felt his strong hug or heard his beautifully hearty laugh. I hadn’t seen him in a decade, and I had made such weak attempts to keep in contact. That was the life that I led in light of the ocean that separated us. I sit here thinking of the million ways it’s so easy to connect these days, how often I’m on my wretched phone 24/7/365, how I could have so easily used Facebook video chat, Google hangout, Skype, Kakao, etc. etc. etc. right at the tips of my fingers to have said hello just one more time. How much I know he and I would have loved it.

It all came to a head after I had made a few calls & the information sank in that my grandfather had been hit by a car as he took a morning walk.  I tried to digest it & I magined the scenario in my head & it all started to overwhelm me. I’d gone a ways out of LA to actually enjoy the quiet & the stars, & a couple hours after that phone call, I finally went outside to look up to take it all in. It was in that first intense moment, I literally felt like I couldn’t catch my breath & I finally broke down to cry. In looking up at the gorgeously clear night sky, I realized two things – one, how long it had been (several years) since I’d seen a sky so crystal clear & full of stars, and two, how my grandfather was now one of them, resting peacefully in that perfect sky.

I felt a wave of momentary relief that I was crying. In that moment, I was broken & regretful & grateful all at the same time. Broken for my mother, who hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to her appah who loved & raised her. Broken for my grandmother, who’d suddenly lost her husband & companion of almost 70 years. Broken for my relatives, my aunts, uncles, cousins, who were blessed & so lovingly tight with my grandparents out in Seoul. Regretful for not having had made the right choices or prioritized communication with my relatives, who are so dear to my heart despite the distance & infrequent visits. The last time I'd seen most of them I was 19 years old & going through an extremely painful time in my own life. They cared for me so lovingly when I'd needed it most.  Grateful that I could feel such love for another. Grateful that I could cry & feel the anguish that comes from losing someone you love. Grateful that I was alive to feel it all & appreciate it.

The details around his death were made clear to me this past Sunday when my mom returned from Korea after one short week with her mom & siblings.  

My grandfather went for a walk in the pouring rain at 5am on Sunday morning to his usual bathhouse near the apartment he lived in with my grandma & that my mother grew up since she was a young child.  He must have walked that route a million times in the last 87 years. He left his wallet at home & took a little cash on his way out.

A young Korean American man in his 40’s was just leaving an outing with his colleagues, not long living in Seoul and unfamiliar with its streets, especially in the rain. He had recently moved to Korea to start a new business & had been out drinking with his colleagues to alleviate some recent stress over work.  In the confusion of his poor navigation, perhaps some influence of alcohol, & the chaos from the pouring rain, he didn’t see my grandfather & that was it.  We don’t know if my grandfather died instantly, but he was taken to the hospital by the man who hit him & the doctors attempted resuscitation unsuccessfully for several hours afterward. With no identification on him, my family searched for my grandfather, with no sign of him for hours. 

A mix of emotions still churn inside while I still digest this.  I can’t comprehend how my family is dealing with everything.  Before my mom left, she said she met the man who hit her father as they began legal proceedings to determine prosecution. She spoke of it simply with tears in her eyes, and said that he looked like he was a good person. I was driving her over the San Mateo Bridge at this moment & I kind of blanked for a moment before I could regain myself. I was baffled (but also not really) by her calmness & most of all, by her compassionate viewpoint. My relatives are understandably devastated and infuriated at this man, at his careless actions that took away their family member. But my mom lost her dad, her appah, to this man & she reiterated more than once that she was grateful that he actually stayed & took him to the hospital. Are you f-ing kidding me? It was emphasized to me more than once that if it had been a person from Korea & not America, they would have fled the scene immediately.  That fact made me sad & furious at the same time.

I was sickened with my lifelong hatred for Korea’s alcoholism, it’s culture of getting wasted & this almost sheepish or obnoxiously jubilant pride that they got hammered as fuck on the regular. FUCK YOUR DRINKING. YOUR DRINKING KILLED MY GRANDFATHER. And how many other fathers, mothers, babies who didn’t deserve it? Still want another shot? And now my family has to rewatch every security camera’s footage of this horrific event to determine fault in all this. I felt rage for this Korean obsession with working insane hours & trying to reach unobtainable measures of success that drove this guy & drives our society to depression, suicide or just plain dangerous behaviors that endanger others.

I felt & feel sorry for this guy. It was pouring rain. It was 5am. They were unfamiliar roads. I doubt he ever thought an elderly person would be out walking at that hour in those weather conditions. And now the rest of his still young life is in the balance. He didn’t flee. He called his friend to find out what he should do. He made sure my grandfather got to the hospital, a move that apparently most others wouldn’t have considered in their distress & panic.  Is it right that he go to jail for years on end, become a hardened & emotionally traumatized person? I don’t know. My heart goes out to him too.

What’s done is done & we can’t go back. Only thing is, what now? Where do we go from here? HOW?

Being back at home unexpectedly was a huge blessing for me. I was forced shut up & just be there for my family, especially my mom & dad. Anyone who really knows me knows that a week alone with my dad is anxiety inducing for both me & those who love us. We love each other deeply, but we are definitely two of a kind who can & do create a pretty combustive situation very quickly, & pretty predictably. For the record, we lasted 2.5 days til our one & only fight that almost had me dropping everything & driving straight back to LA. By the will of God, Allah, Buddha, the Universe, I stayed put & we talked it out. Well, one more fight that same day before we made up with sad & exhausted hearts. I’m glad to say the rest of the week went swimmingly.

I watched how hard my dad works. He'd wake up at the crack of dawn to head to the store while I got a couple more hours of sleep before addressing Kollaboration emails & then heading to the store to help him for a few hours each day. I remembered, like riding a bike, how to sort/tag/detag/bag/load clothes like from my high school days, using my still young & strong limbs. I thought of my aging mother doing this day in & day out, with my dad running back & forth between machines, pressing & ironing, & checking on the sweltering hot boiler room. And in between all this, how they'd jaunt out with a smile to interact with all their customers to give them their orders & take more in. I was ashamed & amazed at how ridiculously exhausted I was from just a few days of this, how weak I'd gotten & how 10000% determined I now am to let my parents get out of that physically exhausting line of work they've been doing for 11 years, with little to no vacation ever. 

I ran around my neighborhood that week, I discovered new parks & roads I hadn’t known of in the 17 years my family living there. I played tennis with my dad whenever he asked, even though I'm terrible at it, & laughed extra hard because I really was happy to be there with him. I laughed with a tightness around my heart with yet another reminder that these moments were precious & limited.  I ended up at UC Berkeley for lunch, getting spoiled by my second cousin at his new restaurant & conversing serendipitously with strangers going through similar heartaches as me. I walked the campus that I’d been a wide-eyed child/pretend adult for 5 amazing & ridiculous years. I ran along my favorite beach in San Francisco on a foggy & blustery day, breathing in the air that always invigorated me & reminded me I was put on earth for a reason & meant to do great things if I could power through moments I wanted to quit.

I spent time with some of my favorite women in my life – the ones who had been there for me through thick & thin since we were children & were now going through their own intense transformations in life. My best friend since 4th grade invited me to her brand new home & lovingly planned a last minute birthday celebration, with some truly wonderful souls I’m blessed to call friends who came out & celebrated this very meaningful milestone with me in a city that I love. I danced my heart out to music that made me scream out "that's my jam!!" & hugged more people than I can count. And when I drove up to the airport on my 2nd day of my 30 year old life, I welcomed my mother home with a stronger, more grateful heart & a still childlike hug & kiss to remind us she’s always my uhmma & I’m always her baby. Only now I could & would take better care of her.

In the days since, I’ve been in multiple states & back on my usual, insane grind. My life, as many of my friends & social media connections can regularly see, is a completely chaotic & beautiful mess. I love it so much. I think that part of my grandfather’s passing was meant to remind me just that. Everything has heightened meaning & much more value when I didn't think that it was possible. 

I am still processing my grandfather’s death. In the days since that call, I’ve laughed, cried, contemplated life & death, been monumentally distracted, been joyous, been guilty, been devastated, been determined to make him, my parents, my brothers & myself proud.

So much happens in our day to days, so much speeds along, & I rarely ever slow down, but now it’s imperative that I must. Ironically, or perhaps even poetically, my lack of sleep & intense work life has left me sick for the 6th time this year. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’m sitting here wiping my runny nose every 3 minutes while waiting to head to the airport at 4:15am so I can get back to Los Angeles, sleep for a few precious hours, and then host an event for a community organization run by my incredible friends.

In losing my grandfather & in closing the tumultuous chapter that was my 20’s, I now have this profound appreciation for life that I would trade for nothing. Call me dramatic, call me cliché, I really could care less. And I mean it. That’s the absolute best part. My brain is learning how to shut up & shut out the incessant worrying, the now needless insecurity, all the pondering & fruitless over analysis. Opportunities are everywhere, love is abundant, energy is limited, time is scarce & I now feel marginally wiser in using it. And I will use it for as long as I'm here, for better or for worse, with purpose & with unending gratitude for every single second of it.

Thank you & rest in peace,할아버지. 사랑해요. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Night At The Theater

Living in LA, I’m surrounded by an abundance of art and creativity that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere save New York, London & Paris. It’s a privilege to be able to walk out my front door and down a block or two to the heart of North Hollywood Arts District and literally take my pick of movie, concert, open mic night, play, improv performance, or standup comedy set within a half mile radius. 15 minutes south (who am I kidding, 30 minutes at least in LA traffic, but theoretically) and I’m right in heart of Hollywood.

Judge Hollywood all you want folks, but it’s the world's creative mecca for a reason. You can be, say, think, feel, do anything you want here. Nothing is too bizarre or too political or too emotional or too anything to be right there for you to dive into. Whether people will pay to watch it and keep it alive for more than a night is another thing. 

You’d think that with the sheer volume of options in my immediate proximity, and high quality for a good amount of the time, I’d actually take advantage of it all in some regular fashion. 

You’d think so, right?

The ironic thing is, I work in entertainment both front and back end. I attend functions and shows for Kollaboration and to support my fellow artist friends, but there's also a huge buffet of art that I know I'm not consuming, particularly in film & theater. Like so many other Angelenos, I’ve succumbed to the world of being just entiiirely too busy juggling two careers and staring at a computer screen for a good 18 hours a day or trying to cook myself a decent meal with some recognizable fiber in it. How on earth could I spare the time and money to go to the theater?

Lucky for me, I had an unofficial homework assignment to pull me out of my cave to discover and enjoy the bounty right here in my own backyard. My acting teacher, Allen Barton, and my incredibly talented classmates from the Beverly Hills Playhouse put on a production of Allen’s original play “Disconnection." 

In an effort to be a supportive student and classmate, I ventured out one Saturday evening with a fellow BHP friend to watch this highly anticipated production. I did my best to remove any preconceived notions I had about the play. Sure, I knew two of the actors’ bodies of work well from class and knew them both to be ridiculously talented. Sure, I knew Allen had written multiple plays before, one of which I’d auditioned for in San Francisco, and had quite literally experienced for myself the sharp intelligence of his words and the bold nature of his storytelling that I enjoyed so much. Who knew what this one would be like? 

For the next two hours I was taken on an unexpected journey through a story of loss, manipulation, self-destruction, redemption, and the sad reality of the human choices we make every day. The story is told through a real life experience with Scientology, a religion I had absolutely no knowledge about beforehand. To be quite honest, I don’t know that much about Scientology after the play. There isn’t a tremendous amount of educational pandering to give a lot of context on a very complex & involved belief system. 

What the play did focus on, and very well, is the story of how organized religion can play a dangerous role in providing believers a sense of morality, belonging, purpose, and security while also putting up very real blinders to very real political & emotional power plays that are involved. How much isolation and disconnection can come as a result of barriers put up in a very "us vs. them" mentality that is an all too common byproduct.  How much objectivity, reason, and clear judgment can be altered for the sake of one’s faith.

I’m not here to bash or discredit all organized religion, but I am a person who most definitely questions it. I’ve grown up heavily religious for the majority of my life and have spent a significant time questioning both the structures & politics at play, especially as I see it unfold and interplay in the world around me every single day. 

This play was an eye-opener for me both in story and in the art that relayed it. The writing stuck to the point of the story, giving you enough information and realism to become absorbed in it. The actors, from principal to supporting, filled the words with a striking emotional life that made me feel everything from sympathy, fear, fury, and love down to my core. I definitely shed some tears that night, not only for the characters whose own struggles became my own for those two hours (and then some afterwards), but for the number of my own relationships that I was reminded of in the process.

This is what great art does for me. It opens my eyes to worlds I never knew about, it makes me understand things I thought I knew on a deeper level, it drives curiosity to learn more about the world and the people in it, it challenges my heart to be more compassionate to the complexities of the human condition.

This play isn’t for people who are looking for cheap, superficial entertainment.  This play is thoughtful, controversial, and bravely unapologetic about deeply emotional ideologies and relationships. It’s a complete rollercoaster ride, and one that will provoke you and enlighten you if you're up for it. I for one am happy to have spent an evening getting lost in it. 

I’ll definitely be making it a priority to step out & watch more plays.

If you're watching this before March 29th, catch the play "DISCONNECTION" at the Beverly Hills Playhouse! Bravo to Luke Cook, Dennis Nollette, the entire cast, & of course, Allen Barton on a phenomenal production!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tweeting is not enough, guys. CREATE!!

After a night of absorbing the Oscars 2015 via Twitter & Facebook, my brain was ready to explode. A few of my thoughts...
In regards to the ongoing discussion around race & diversity in Hollywood, the Academy, etc... the struggle is real. And it's damn frustrating. Thank you to those who have the courage & eloquence to voice the issues & bring light to such an important subject. For those who are vocalizing your distaste & disapproval, I hope your frustration leads you to more action than angry tweets & blogs. I hope you're out there attending film festivals, buying music from independent artists you want to support. I hope you're celebrating & elevating art that needs your recognition & genuine ENCOURAGEMENT to evolve, be refined in its quality & reflect the world we live in & be shared with the masses. I hope you're out there MAKING ART that will change our world.
I'm learning just how much the entertainment industry is a bizarre playground with rules that are made & ignored every single day. There's no one way to break the "system" or alter decades of ignorance or structural racism. Not everyone is an enemy. Not all projects are crap. Partner with people who support & INSPIRE you. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will require a day in & day out dedication of time, creativity, persistence, a no bullshit attitude and GROWING BODIES OF WORK that will hopefully speak for themselves. Write, produce, direct, sing, act, CAST, finance, master, all the things. Create & create & create some more!
All my love to my fellow creatives out there who put their blood, sweat & tears into this crazy business. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Podcast Land - Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore...

I recently entered the exciting, bizarre, enlightening world of podcasting.

The joys/horrors of being executive director of Kollaboration.

I generally love sharing my opinion. I will always hate hearing myself talk.

Constructive feedback is welcomed! Please be kind!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My FOB Parents

I had a conversation with my mom that blew my mind during this past weekend up at home. During one of her regularly programmed "pep talks" regarding career, marriage, imminent parenthood (and drying up of my eggs), she made some profound references to her own journey as a woman/wife/mother. She referred to a lot of things I had completely forgotten. Her struggle watching my brother getting in fights with racist punks at school, my dad refusing to encourage or say a kind word to any of us about much at all but working 20 hour days. 

This convo went on for awhile and into much deeper territory than I had anticipated, but thoroughly appreciated.  But another, laughably appalling realization from this convo was that I had never told my parents to watch #FreshOffTheBoat. They didn't know the show existed. Ridiculous. As small as this may sound to you, I'm seriously ashamed to say it. For all the ranting & raving I've been doing about this show, for all the posts and podcasts I've been a part of, I never mentioned it to them. I was so wrapped up in this milestone meaning something huge for the Asian American community, for Kollaboration and for myself as Eddie's female counterpart, I actually forgot how much this could/would mean something to my own parents. Cue facepalms of all facepalms. 

Maybe it's because Constance Wu just doesn't remind me of my mom, who has always been affectionate & bubbly, showering all 3 of her kids with tons of warmth and love. Maybe it's because Randall's beautiful laughing face reminds me nothing of my dad's terrifyingly stern demeanor  and who'd whup your ass and make you drop and do 20 whether you were his kid or not.  Oh appah. 

But by divine intervention or serendipitous timing, I got enough sense in me to tell them to watch it tonight. I really don't know what their reactions are gonna be. Maybe they'll think it's dumb. Maybe they'll think it's inaccurate. Or maybe, maybe they feel a twinge of validation for the 35 years they spent raising us crazy kids & navigating a strange new world they had to figure out from ground zero - the language, the customs, the economy, & the huge cultural gap that inevitably formed between them and their kids.  I'm not saying that they need network tv to pat em on the back, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that it certainly makes me happy to give a little acknowledgement to generations of a very real and ongoing struggle.

This show has given many catharsis coupled with anxiety (or #RepSweats) for how "we" would be represented in mainstream media. And while all of that is valid, everyone knows it's just one step of many. My mom got screamed at to go back to China (we're Korean) by a 16 year old white kid in my hometown. I sat next to her as she got pulled over and treated like an illiterate idiot by a local cop when she didn't make a full stop. Will those stories ever be on screen? Does it matter? To a degree, yes, absolutely. I say fck yeah let's revel in this, it's awesome!! Let this be the beginning of important stories being told, uninhibited and honestly. Let's outcreate a past that we are no longer slaves to. What really matters is where we choose to go from here.

Recollecting anecdotes from my childhood as a grown woman hit me in a much deeper way than before. Maybe because I've internalized it all these last few years, maybe because I have a smidge of life experience under my belt, maybe because I now know how hard it is to earn a dollar and build a life. Its become glaringly apparent how important it is to remember and to understand my yesteryear. How necessary it is and always will be to take a step back & gather how far I've come to educate where I'll go from here.

I don't know where yall will be tonight, but I'll be sitting in Cafe Bleu at Kollaboration's Fresh Off the Mic screening, watching episodes 3 & 4 while texting with my mom and dad. :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Need some gas for your trip down memory lane? Yes, please!

It's 2:24am & my goal bedtime was 11:30pm... This is what happens when you unexpectedly discover old blog posts from 5+ years ago. Upon which you go on a frenzy trying to dig up old Xanga blog posts that have all but vanished into thin air, and your anguished heart is cleft in twain.

But thennnn your wonderfully tech savvy roommate helps you download and convert these consarn but lovely XML files into something legible and you spend an hour and a half eating strawberry ice cream whilst reveling in yesteryear. Yeah. That can eat up a good chunk of your well-planned shuteye time.

I care not! Twas a noble & worthy pursuit!

Long story short, I can't believe how much I've changed and how exactly the same I am. Blogging is amazing & I'm going to do my very best to get back into it.

Good night, world. I love thee. For the most part.

She's baaaack!