A Bowl of Memory

Yukgaejang, please.” I placed my order and listened to my family place their own selections. It was one of those Sundays at a local Korean restaurant. Yukgaejang (spicy beef soup) was one of the dishes that I would order aside from Jjajjang myeon (black bean noodles). The savory flavor was something that I grew to enjoy and crave on days when I just needed to clear my mind of the many things that bothered me. 

 Today, as I waited for my bowl of spicy beef soup, I thought about how different I was from when I first sat in this restaurant with friends. Years ago, all I knew to order was bulgogi and bibimbap, mostly because they were familiar rice dishes with meat. Today, I was guiding my parents with what they might prefer on the menu. I could even figure out which ones were the sweet dishes and which ones were the spicy ones. 

Food has a way of bringing back memories, and usually good ones. In this case, I was remembering good memories against the backdrop of a different reality. Same restaurant, different association. I suppose that’s how it usually is; you don’t expect things to change so suddenly. Or, at least, with a good meal, you don’t expect to ever leave the people who are sharing it with you at the time. 

When the dark times of my relationship had arrived, I could not accept it. This very same Korean restaurant was my respite. I would order yukgaejang, welcome its spicy flavor as a way of waking me out of my stupor. Sometimes I could not finish it, because I just could not taste it. It was within these walls that I had begun my slow unraveling, my changing, my decision to become a different person. For some reason, the food never changed, but this was a good thing. I needed something constant.

As I recalled those times, I could clearly see my friends who turned out to be nothing more than acquaintances. I still remembered their orders, the food that they disliked, the ones that they always got. 

We don’t talk anymore, and I don’t want to either. But for some reason, their orders are stuck in my memory, as one of those useless pieces of information that resurfaces unexpectedly.

The waitress sets a hot bowl of Yukgaejang before me, and breaks my train of thought. I welcome the meal with fresher senses, with a deeper appreciation for life. This same dish, I now enjoy in a vibrant reality. My family, does not enjoy spicy dishes at all… but try to understand why I like this bowl of soup by tasting it anyway. 

Just like that, I have new memories with this bowl of soup. 


New Semester

The break for the semester has been more than welcome.

As every semester has its own difficulties, this semester has proven to be one of the more challenging ones that I’ve had to take on. Mostly, new responsibilities coupled with transitions have been part of this reason. New ways of doing my work, with people whom I’ve known in different circumstances is a little disorienting. Seeing people from different parts of my life merging into other areas of life that I never expected, or at least, that I thought would be manageable, is a whole kind of challenge for me.

This semester has also been pretty difficult for me in terms of my teaching load. For one, I have two new preps and three different subjects. These different subjects are offered to different year levels and from varied courses.

What have I done? Why did I agree to this? Sometimes I wish I could go back to the “me” who actually agreed to this and ask if she’s crazy.

I think I am becoming crazy though… seriously, with all the things I’m worrying about, and second-guessing if it is even worth worrying about.

So much has changed in the number of years that I have been teaching that I really don’t know how to keep up. I want to go back to my old ways, of being not so friendly and more strict. At the same time, my current self cannot go back to that mode anymore, knowing the things that I do now, and due to the fact that my sibling is now a student there.

Forgiving but not Forgetting

“Forgive and forget,” this was a common phrase I would hear growing up. That, in order to truly know that you have forgiven another person, you need to have forgotten the anger and the crime committed against you. Most importantly, it was the thing good people did. I wanted to be a good person.

Eventually, I realized that sometimes you just have to forgive even if you can’t totally forget. Or, better yet, that forgetting is a gift and a grace from God. There were days when I prayed so hard, I thought my heart would stop from all my longing, “Lord, please let me forget. Please wipe away my memory. Please let me move on with life without this memory.”

The brain is such a curious thing. As I was with friends yesterday, they mentioned one time we went on a trip. I happily recalled the trip, and yet had a feeling that I was forgetting something, an inconsistency in the memory. One friend pointed out that so-and-so was also on that trip– someone whom I had cut out of my life.

I was more amazed by the fact that the memory seemed intact. I still remembered the food, the smells, the seating arrangement. But with this person completely cut out of the memory. All that was left was this strange feeling that there was someone else in that day trip.

The brain really has funny ways of helping us cope.

In any case, when this was brought up, I could laugh it off. In the past, I would feel so bad for days about remembering anything related to that person. I remain perplexed with how my memory had re-written itself yesterday. There are so many ways that our selves try to cope with the difficulties of life and of traumatic situations that maybe it will take a whole person’s lifetime just to have a glimpse of what the human mind is truly like. Perhaps, my prayer was answered in a slow, incremental process of retaining the essential happy memories.

I have a long way to go, but at least for the past two years, I’ve learned so much about what forgiveness is like and how we can easily enclose and choke ourselves when we choose not to forgive. I had to move on because of the realization that life will pass me by, and that wonderful opportunities will go unnoticed simply because I am too caught up in the thought of retribution.

I can’t say that I’ve completely forgiven– to the point that I can befriend that person again. I’m not sure if that’s part of the equation even… I don’t want it to be.

For now, it’s enough that I don’t want to harm those who have hurt me. Eventually, I might actually get around to actually hoping for their authentic happiness.

So if you ask me– forgiving is possible without forgetting. I think that’s part of the point, otherwise we fall into the same trap again.



Processing through Distancing

Everyone goes through some kind of trouble or emotional tragedy in the course of their lives. Some might even be carrying the burden of having to deal with emotional scars all through their life, uncertain with how to process the trauma or, alternatively distract themselves from confronting the actual issue.

On my end, I’ve found that it’s easier to see the problem by creating distance, and perhaps finding other people who have the same problem. Rather than going into analyzing my own actions and creating standards for myself, comparing the experience of other people helps a lot because it levels expectations on myself as well.

Sometimes, it turns out that what I perceived to be a problem is actually not a problem at all. An MBTI reading said that my type (INFJ) tends to isolate themselves, and feel isolated, because the perceived issues are not easily understandable to other people, even though I might feel very deeply about it.

I realized that not taking myself seriously was one way to ease the burden of feeling isolated. It also helped at lot to simply ask others what was on my mind when I wasn’t sure, rather than being afraid to upset them with my question. Other times, that exercise also made me wonder if I ever really took myself seriously anymore.

Lately, I’ve been wondering how much of these anxieties are imagined. I felt like being busy and a workaholic was one way to keep the feelings at bay; I’ve slowly been unraveling all these insecurities which I never quite processed… and things are making sense, thankfully. At the end of all that processing though, I still need a goal or a possible direction. I think that’s what I need to work on now; the feeling that my wants and needs are just as significant as other people’s.

How do you make work purposeful, without making it the entire purpose of your life?

De-cluttering Time

June is summer break at University. Faculty members usually make the most of this time to develop their skills through workshops and conferences, while others take some time out to finally write their research work or take care of other things they’ve been putting off for the past months.  Other teachers take some much-needed R&R after handling a lot of paperwork for the semester.

My routine has lightened up compared to the past month. May went by so quickly, that even my planner / organizer had only one or two entries in it for each week;  my schedules were haphazardly listed into my cellphone. To review the month, I had to combine my photos, text messages, and google events to piece things together– I really could not remember what happened on some days.

I realize that every June is usually a month of recuperation and re-learning for me. After two months of cramming and chasing after deadlines, the weeks after inputting grades can either the be most restful or the most disorienting. In my case, it felt like withdrawal symptoms from the hectic semester– I was looking for something to do and to be stressed about it.

In addition, I DID have something to be busy about because I agreed to teach a summer class. However, I think it’s the last time that I’d be willing to teach for the summer term simply because my momentum is off… and so are the students’.

Since last year, I’ve been having mid-year classes. Last year was more of a last-minute request, but this year was scheduled long before the break began. It’s a little disorienting, especially in the weeks after the second semester ended in May. Students were on break and very few faculty members would come in. The school grounds were very quiet, and I often found myself cleaning my desk or walking around school rather than writing or staying at my desk to read.

The week after grades were due, we had our “spring cleaning” day. Our institution makes sure that we recycle papers, and that papers which are dated from five years ago or older than that should be discarded. I began to discard memos and letters from 2013. Since I work with the Humanities, it’s obvious that I need to be a bit more careful with how I apply that rule, or I end up throwing out everything. Needless to say, the past weeks have been dedicated to cleaning up my work and freeing some head space.

Since I’ve been trying to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, especially with the KonMari techniques, I decided to try to apply the same approach to my work space and my digital files. In the process of just sifting through my emails, I also found how much information I think I can fit into my head… subscribing to at least three different mailing groups about literature and teaching, only to find that I have no time to actually read them all every week though I thought that this was one way to improve myself.

In the process of cleaning up, I realized that my largest clutter is my digital clutter. I dedicated a whole morning just to organize and clean out my Google Drive and Dropbox account. I found redundant files, broken links, and a number of word files filled with potential research ideas or plot bunnies that remain unfinished. I completely forgot about them until I opened them again. When I was halfway through that, I decided to go through my email and unsubscribe to mailing lists which don’t benefit me anymore.

While my physical desk is so much cleaner now without all the papers, my online folders have a long way to go with organizing. I have yet to figure out a system for all these files, especially for books and digital readings that which have their occasional usefulness for classes. While I want to live a minimalist lifestyle, I realize that being in the academe seems like a paradox to that ideal way of life.

How do you organize your online files and clutter? I’m all ears.

A Balanced Day

The second semester is done, and I’m relieved that the five months are finally over. A lot of this semester’s challenges were more on classroom management and my own time management. There was a lot to learn about time management this time around.

In the past year, I promised myself that I would make time for the things that matter and not to make work the most important aspect of my life. However, in the midst of all the deadlines, demanding students, and following-up bosses, this easily becomes a forgotten goal. Before I knew it, my weekends were also filled with things to do for work. I also began to do something which I promised I would stop making a habit of, which is  checking and responding to email while out with friends or family.

I listened to a podcast which also gave me a clarity about the work-life balance that I want, and why other co-workers seem to be able to live both at the same time. While some people can live both work and personal life as one, unified entity in their life, there are others who need to compartmentalize these aspects and create a clear separation between the two. I realized that I was the latter… which is why I get so stressed out when students message me at odd hours in the evening, or on non-working holidays.

One of the productivity ideas I thought I’d put into practice at the start of the semester was to use Sunday as preparation day for the coming week. While that worked and usually gave me a better sense of control for Monday, I also realized that the momentum of work in my workplace was very different– they usually began assigning and following-up on tasks for Monday and this would often change my plans. More often than not also, there would be a lot of disruptions through chats and emails on Monday. At some point, I would begin finding another work area so that I could focus on my writing and reading tasks.

So far, the method that’s worked for me is to dedicate the morning to writing and reading about the week. I make sure to do this away from my work desk– the library, a coffee shop or another room where I can work uninterrupted.

By lunch time, I actually drop by at my desk and begin to receive updates, which gets me out of my “too much thinking” mode from the morning. After consistently applying this, I realize that there is NOTHING related to writing and reading that I get done during those times I am actually at my work desk. Not only because of the disruptions, but because my cubicle is situated in such a way that I easily get distracted by people passing by.

It’s a welcome thought that people enjoy talking to me and keeping me updated about things I’d otherwise not be aware about. However, for the remaining months of the semester I think it’s about time that I create some boundaries and make these working conditions work to my advantage.

This is still better than working from home. I’m not sure how people get anything done when they work from home. All I want to do is watch TV and sleep when I tried working from home.

Reading Out Loud

When asked if I was willing to take on a teaching assignment, I thought that it was the best offer I had been given in a while. I said YES immediately, looking forward to this class, because it was a topic close to my heart (Literature) and with a group of students that I had taught before. They were insightful, curious, but most of all, not readily resistant to new ideas. It was a perfect semester ahead of me– full of ideas and curious questions and great reads.

It was not until the later meetings that a colleague suggested that I should change my approach. Though I was surprised at first by the suggestion, it greatly changed the quality of insights that students would share with the class.

Her advice was to read with the class, and to read passages out loud.

By this, it also meant that it had to be ME who read these passages, rather than what I’d gotten used to, which is to ask students to read the passage.

One thing that I realized was that students will definitely read the text and that it usually wakes them up… but that I can always expect some awkwardness and hesitance with some words. This time around, I had to take on that awkward situation and read the material in the way that I thought it should be read.

At first, while I was hesitant, I eventually grew to appreciate this approach to literature. The quality of insights changed, and became more introspective. I’d like to think that it was not only because other insights would be shared, but perhaps because putting sound and feeling into the words on paper also changed its meaning. It could have also been because there was time to think since there was less nervousness about being asked to read out loud (or maybe that’s just the introvert in me making this excuse).

Teaching Literature this past semester has taught me that there is so much more to teaching in this discipline than I expected. Initially, a good storyline and well-developed characters would be the sure way that I would keep reading a book. In recent years, I realized that another element to literature is terseness, or the exactness of words to convey an idea or experience. That’s where I find the excellent writers set apart– in the amount of editing to find the exact words for extremely complex human thoughts and experiences (or perhaps even for extremely simple ones).

Great literature has a way of creating connections between otherwise unrelated concepts, emphasizing one word or phrase so that the subtext becomes even louder. All together, these communicate a distinctly human trait– that human beings can  and will want more than what the animal self can be complacent with.

Since the second semester, I had also been telling students to read their paper out loud when they’re in the process of editing it. I find myself needing to follow the same advice, even if at times my arrogance can sometimes get ahead of me and say that I have learned to write much better (of course not, no one is exempt from proof-reading).

Reading out loud is such a simple advice to follow, but how it’s changed the way I see and think about things!