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Having been raised in a pared down family structure and taking little interest in history growing up (possibly related), I never gave much thought to the processes around families joining together nor dreamed of wedding dresses and grand parties where I was the center of attention, although sometimes I did dream of gowns in general, and of Events. With parents that each married five times before I was 30, marriage was something I only considered important once having children seemed a true possibility for my life.

I think that faith, to me, was something based solely on the supernatural, rather than I think of it now, as cultivating conditions, moving in a general direction. Marriage too, was a mystical union that “happened.” Life, fate, chance, intervened from outside oneself, and until that happened one was basically in the dark, with beliefs dictating the direction to gaze in as one waited anxiously for that intervention.

In hindsight I can say that it had to do with a small scope of the world and people in it, thus my current ferociousness about considering as many sides of a thing as I can. I know that I was doing the best I could do at the time with the resources at hand, and at times I think I see my society as going through the same struggle, unable to yet visualize what it might mean to move beyond imposing “good and evil” upon everything, while still making decisions/making meaning.

Although I’m sure this is where we are headed generally, I’m concerned about how much time and suffering we will put ourselves and each other through to get there. To reject belief outright, to wage ideological warfare against the past, would only prolong the struggle… like fighting against a birth process and risking the mother rather than cherishing her and helping her to give way. It may seem efficient to cut through manners and motions to get the thing done, but that thinking is based on the same ignorance as that we’re trying to shed.

My main hypothesis and hope perhaps, is this: that ritual shells are precious and necessary, even though ultimately disregarded. In fact it is that they are ultimately disregarded, ultimately pass away, that makes them all the more to be appreciated and honored in their time, proliferated, shared in a million ways.

It is true that few if any great changes have occurred without violent opposition and bloodshed. There is thinking that deserves to be ridiculed, and there are times to show that nothing positive has come out of various unequal ideologies. What I feel is 90% of the effort should go into conditioning the environment in positive ways so that if and when the appropriate time for force comes, there is less damage to address afterward.

Power dynamics emerge as other and other must make decisions together, and resources must be shared. How, if not through shows of force and giving one side their way? Imagination. We are still a world where there are levels of worth and this is thought to be intrinsic to the human condition. I don’t suggest that bloodshed could have been absent entirely nor that competition is a terrible means to new ends. I have accepted that peace on the surface is not always possible.

The toughest work is not to abandon the places I most want to leave behind, but keep checking back with new eyes.

It isn’t easy to understand one another.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend, I heard about Gwynneth Paltrow experimenting with living off of food stamps for a week – an idea that was scoffed at and which I agree doesn’t touch the actual experience of being perpetually poor and viewed by society as “needy” or a “taker” among productive citizens. Putting aside the question of why someone may not fit or know the pleasure of connection within a society, why should someone who is making some small effort be taken to task so harshly? Journalists have done similar projects and been praised. What her deepest motives are is a territory not given to me, but maybe tiny efforts to relate shouldn’t be dismissed so easily out of hand.

Friends in the disability community tell me that someone blindfolding themselves for a day, something I remember doing as part of church youth group when a teen, is rather offensive, because it could be ground for arrogance of thinking that you ‘know’ what a blind person really experiences. And they’re right. After all, it is just a day, and most people who have tried it have to admit that they cheated several times along the way because the option was always there to them. The grand picture of their life was not defined by having born into a marginalized category. However, my feeling is that the person who at least tried to step into the other shoes for a day, has something more to work with, to expand on, than they would have had otherwise.

This is the main reason a metaphor works better than a lecture. Tasting each others’ worlds is life itself. We do this with beliefs, too. Does it seem too much to impart the whole experience of being raised in another country, way of thinking, cultural mythology? Of course it is, but there can be pleasure in trying. Rituals, like food, are practical ways of stepping into another cultural imagination for a time, even while knowing one will fall short of understanding entirely. If we shed personal permanent belief as a criteria for entry, leaving the door truly open on both sides, beliefs can be shells of a sort. Openings through which to hold one another’s hands.

I’m making it sound simpler than it is, because in actuality there needs to be a great deal of trust in one’s own mind and in knowledge grounded in impermanence (that nothing is fixed). Others might say trust in the universe or G-d. When you go down into a deep well, there is a cord and there are safeties, but it is hard to explore if you worry about those too much. There is an intentional forgetting, a suspension. Like an actor forgets her other selves when on stage as a chosen character.

Smoother transitions might occur when people are given tangible ways to hold their beliefs and traditions open-endedly, to share their beauty, show what they saw that caught their attention. Invite rather than demand. This would mean letting God/the Universe work out points of detail in others’ hearts and allowing the main struggle to take place within oneself, leaning hard on “let your light shine…”, “turn the light inward…”, and what I’m told is the meaning of jihad, which has to do with keeping one’s own heart pure first (work of a lifetime).

I’m advocating avenues of appreciation where we allow one another in more, to taste and see, as a way of being. To “keep going” beyond the usual points and really step in to experience the unique worlds of one another. That would allow us to know what the ideal vision and special dream is, that the other is protecting so intensely. To help one another bring these treasures forward into our collective wealth … a collective wealth that does include but is far more than outward monetary accomplishment and trophies.

Diversification and adaptation, given a little space from survival-of-the-fittest in our thinking, is quite a strong idea on its own. Even now, new species seem to be emerging or are newly discovered, some of which are adaptations of former creatures that might have thrived in very different sorts of worlds. They learn to live in darkness or they learn to camouflage in new ways. There are various ways of preservation and invention that don’t include becoming more and more aggressive, taking on bigger and bigger machinery. There should really no need to steal, in an abundant world such as this one, yet that is how we’ve often interpreted survival, in our actions (wall street) if not in our ideals (morals).

Zero-sum is merely an arrow that points us in new directions, so that we move to create new possibilities. We don’t need to take each other over.

I wish I could do more than scratch the surface in describing this aspiration.

making peace upon the altar of this moment


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It was painfully hard, when young, to see that qualities I wrestled in myself with were not weeds in the world’s garden to be plucked as soon as my hands got stronger, but contained their own beauty, their own reasons for being. Perhaps the hardest struggle was desperately wanting to understand and to be understood – which was, friends continually implored me, an impossible endeavor.

But I couldn’t let it go, because the feedback given for the experience I was trying to convey never seemed to apply. I could see myriad dimensions and angles, just couldn’t synthesize them all.

Life was demanding integration, which is still far from me, but now at least I see that there is nothing wrong with holding several viewpoints at once and looking for ways to make peace or beauty between them. That it can be an artistic endeavor rather than a problem. And within that freedom, it is easier to rearrange the pieces. Rather than giving up understanding, I just have to give up the notion of a particular timeline or framework in which understanding should happen.

“Let it be.”

Someone I know describes it as a blind taste test. To question assumptions does not mean that you start completely over; context becomes entirely different when you move other things away from, or add to. And so do you. So you introduce palate cleansers, like pauses (resets), or blind folds, maybe try hearing a bit of advice as if it was coming from a different person, or as though it came at a different time. Suspend judgement. Play. To Feynman, this was “thinking like a martian.” To others it is “losing sight of the shore.”

I’ve written a little about the way abandoned ideas come back through new avenues and become rich ground for connection, and about profound frivolity, which is sort of the same thing. Both processes could fall under a heading of “integration” in the sense that it is only when stepping back or giving up that any pattern can comes together in a restful, open way.

Some days, like today actually, words fall entirely short as an approach. So I began a practice called The Altar of This Moment, named after a poem that I read aloud recently, voice shaking all the while, as part of a group event. There was a time that I wouldn’t have read it at all, wouldn’t have faced the humiliation. And it is named for a wordless response to and appreciation for, a friend who has experienced a devastating loss yet is somehow able to pour out great beauty and comfort to others. I’ve never seen anyone so able to love those around her, by bold acts of receiving.

The practice is an altar mostly emptied of religious connotations and filled with light symbols of particular care. The candle is imprinted with the Heart Sutra.

photo (8)

Spontaneous Mind


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So this is another k-drama post – another ramble that began to stir while I watched most of Jewel in the Palace, which is a fictional account of a woman believed-but-not-proven to be a true Chosun Dynasty historical figure, (maybe true or maybe made up of several smaller true stories – similar to the tale of Fa Mulan).

Jang Geum is thought to have been the first female to have been appointed as a physician to the king, her name appearing in several medical annals. The drama follows her fictionalized character from before birth, with an intrigue around the forced poisoning of a queen that devastates the paths of both her eventual parents separately, through their meeting one another and her birth, their arrest and killing, onto Jang Geum’s arrival to the palace kitchen as a child student who goes on to become a full court lady. Through dramatic ups and downs, eventually she loses her role at the palace, and encounters a female physician mentor, which sets her on the rest of her path.

[spoilers: always spoilers]

With 54 episodes one can imagine that my basic summary leaves out too much, but I want to get to the most interesting thing about her, which is not that she was studious and talented, nor that she struggled and overcame incredible obstacles. It is that she is shown to have a very spontaneous mind not limited to any one role she is placed in.

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
it is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.
Shape clay into a vessel;

it is the space within that makes it useful.
Carve fine doors and windows,

but the room is useful in it’s emptiness.
The usefulness of what is depends on what is not
-Lao Tzu

What I mean is that rather than Jang Geum being portrayed as a woman who was talented with food or merely good with details, her character is presented as a strongly curious-minded person whose compassion feeds a wellspring of timely practical creativity. Although the options for women were indeed very limited, and even more limited than shown, this character was allowed to find and play many roles, largely because her vision was wider than her personal circumstances.


That is not a new angle for story telling, obviously. There were many women who posed as men during desperate times, or who took care of their families and held their own in the marketplaces. There are still many female writers who alter their names to appear ambiguous at least, as a way not to throw up an automatic barrier for readers who may take them less seriously. Several dramas have that theme, and although the particular story angle doesn’t fit here, the devices are not too different. The writer is looking for a way to allow this female to come into the full dimensionality of her capacity during a time when that was a near impossibility for most people period.

Considering that the 2003 drama is said to be the start of the Hallyu wave due to its enormous ratings in South Korea and internationally, I can’t help but wonder why it seems more well-rounded in its impressions than lots of the more recent shows. There are a several entertaining female characters, just one or two that are over the top, and those provide a good counterbalance to the sometimes too realistic tone that can drag the story down as entertainment. That’s the main reason I admit to skipping through quite a few episodes mid-way through the drama. I almost set it aside. But then the female physician appeared and my interest perked again.

Why did I want to stop? I missed there not being much of a romantic plot until the middle, except that the reason became clearer and clearer. Her love sees her devotion to her work as intrinsic to her happiness, and works to protect that. The stories of her life are painted with her talents, which make up who she is” he tells the king, and the king listens.

Frivolous Grace


Worries were nipping at my heels as I walked to the car, the usual nagging about this or that. “Why haven’t I…”, “Why didn’t I….” “What am I doing, writing about, and does it have substance? Does it matter?”

Which continued, for quite a while. Until a great wave washed the preoccupation away.


The wave said, “Life itself hears you, no matter what you write about. It is never about, the about.”

It felt as though I was looking from the other side of experience, knowing at least for one moment (one I am stretching out now), that content isn’t what matters – that content is just a vehicle that eventually washes away and leaves only an impression. Then came very sorrowful news, from a friend that shot me back in time and brought me to consider our range of moments together at once. How could we have spent our time laughing over silly things and talking about So Ji Sub’s shower scenes?

How could life have ever been normal, if it was going to turn out this way?

And I realized what a miracle memory’s flaws are… that the future isn’t known, that the past is a mirage. The frivolities were the something we made contact through, exchanged unguarded smiles and tears through. Sharing those frivolities over time is the reason I can try to trust that she actually might feel some real sense of love through distance that is so strongly felt today. Maybe she can ask for what is needed… maybe even frivolous things.

Spoilers Darling


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This page is for me. Well, they are all for me, but this one uniquely caters to an experimental view that might not be as enjoyable for others as it will be for me writing it. Time will tell. I’ll probably revise a lot, over a long period of time. The trouble is always where to start. There is just so much! And like Inception, there is no real way to trace back to beginnings.

The first scene to float up is an image of Valid Love‘s Carpenter Kim, whose unusual, alien-like beauty makes him seem almost unreachable. When Il Rae catches sight and smell of Carpenter Kim she is immediately taken aback – we are too – and I believe that what appears to unfold later actually happens entirely in that moment. Another man had never entered Il Rae’s mind before, and this one appears with a beautiful, restful world, steeped in lineage – a place out of time and space.

The two are immediately nesting, and the sighting scene presents a whole reality that shows up at once, simultaneous to the one she is in, and still makes complete sense. Later at the police station, after Tae Hoo and Kim Joon have fought, and she is asked which man she will take responsibility for/who she is the guardian of, she answers “both.” Which strikes us as the truth.

I love sighting scenes, like Ko Dok-mi’s first sight of Enrique at the window, in The Flower Boy Next Door, or Dokko Jin’s surprise at finding Au Jung inside of his fortress-like house, holding his underwear (or rather, “panties!”), and discovering later that his foolproof pass code was easily guessed.

Enrique is an intrusion into Dok-Mi’s personal space, her dark apartment, even without entering. He is bright and unapologetic, and ignores only her false boundaries, even hearing thoughts she doesn’t share. And Au Jung stubbornly shrugs off Dokko Jin’s bravado, seeing the ordinary person along with his larger-than-life image. Yet she doesn’t choose between them, nor want him to.

Imagine sunshine coming through the window where the plant grows. The sun is not saying, ‘Please open the window I need to talk to the flower. Maybe the flower does not want me to shine on it.’ The sun has none of these doubts, nor does the flower.”
-Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

There are flavors of ‘imaginary friend’ in these encounters, in the sense that the bonds are choiceless, bound to occur. K-drama writers seem to understand this as rich ground. In Its Okay That’s Love, Hyde Jekyll and Me, and Kill Me Heal Me, where second, third, even fourth fifth sixth and seventh selves can’t be leashed by the safest and most acceptable-to-the-world personae, life is determined to fully live, and is indeed what happens when we are busy making other plans. (Thanks, John Lennon)

We must lose composure. We must “always be drunk” as Geu Rae learns in Misaeng. Tae Hoo must be brought down by the “sea anemone-like punk” and Seo Bom’s inlaws must give away the trappings they value most to be raw enough to love (IHTTGV).

Geu-rae: Be drunk. You must always be drunk. Everything lies in that; it is the only problem. To avoid the detestable weight of time that makes your shoulders give and makes you fall to the ground, you must be incessantly drunk. Whether it be on alcohol, poetry, or virtue, be drunk. Wherever you are, wake up from the hindering loneliness. If you get lost, just ask — the wind, water, stars, birds, time, everything that passes, everything that feels sadness, everything that runs, everything that sings, everything that talks — what time it is. They will reply. Now, it’s time to be drunk.

And now I’m sleepy, and want to post this although I’ve not nearly finished nor polished. The closing image is Hee Soo, dancing in the hospital corridor even as she lays in bed unable to move or speak, beginning to desire again – to dance, to eat. Il Rae may be the only real witness to Hee Soo’s rich inner thought life, and certainly her closest friend, again naturally crossing “impenetrable” boundaries. And again it isn’t that she chose her – it is what life itself decided.

In a cafe scene days before this one, Il Rae knows the taste that Hee Soo prefers and touches the foam of it gently to her lips. She makes sure to show her the beauty of the presentation, and to place her at the best vista. She lives inside of her, with her. It is love, and who gives to whom? Hours of my Life and Ando Lloyd face a similar contemplation: what is the value to a life that is not useful? What is the place for those who cannot earn their keep?

Hee Soo is the epitome of grace, class, and composure. No one asks her if she is able to give that away. There is no relief for her, no pay off. If there is a consolation prize, it is imposed, because we can’t bear the idea that there might be no justification at all.

“Hope?” she asks, “Give that to the dogs.” Even so, she dances.

hee soo

changing hearts


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What I learned from compiling my list of k-dramas, is that a good rule of thumb is to watch a drama twice when I can, if I’m still curious about it. I noticed that in more than one instance I didn’t care for the couple that the writers chose, in the first viewing but by the second time around was fully on board. If I’m being overly logical about it, it might mean that I have a hard time forgiving, but do stay open to a “belief reversal” or, change of heart?

With that long post I’ve accomplished half of my intended mission, although along the way I found myself wanting to go deeper into some stories. That may happen naturally as I focus on scenes for the part two. I also wonder whether it might be interesting to contrast with American TV, not just in the obvious ways like pointing out the differences in restraint and virtue, but contrasts between specific shows, comparisons with specific actors.

I think people have written about the obvious Jane Austen-ness of Korean drama, and I’ve mentioned it once or twice, but where is this seen most clearly? The first image that pops up for me is from Emma Thompson’s film, Sense and Sensibility. Col. Brandon is at the door catching first sight of Marianne, playing piano. His hiding in the shadows is so clearly parallel to common k-drama second-lead moments of adoration.

In k-dramas however, this longing usually ends with something like #thanksnothanks, #sorrynotsorry. In Sense and Sensibility, When Marianne is later recovering from illness, Col. Brandon’s stance is the same, but her heart has changed. She has seen him with new, more fragile eyes, thus appreciates his gentle devotion.


This is something I’ve not seen fully realized in k-drama yet, and maybe I could search for “second lead gets the girl” but that isn’t quite the same as showing a genuine shift of affections. A k-drama is more likely to have a development of affections that grows from an arranged situation.

I’ll keep considering where I might remember these moments in American TV, where I might find similar comparisons. In the meantime I’ll write the scenes post.

K-Drama List: Basic Impressions


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Friendly Disclaimer: All of my television posts, and definitely k-drama posts, will have spoilers. For some, even a vivid impression may be a spoiler, and when I write here, I like to work with whatever comes up, and let it be fun for me. If I mention an actor or actress by name, it will be to praise rather than denigrate, but usually I’ll prefer to refer their role.

So here is my basic list of dramas, some of which I stayed up nights to finish in the course of days, some of which I skimmed and skipped through while making up the difference by reading recaps on others’ sites, some of which I watched week to week, clicking on Viki every hour watching in anticipation for subtitles. Some I dropped without apology. It is roughly in the order of viewing rather than a favorites list, and these are just snapshot impressions. I will highlight the shows I really loved though.


First Shop of Coffee Prince – This was my first k-drama, so that may influence what is my unabashed affection for it, but I don’t think so. I watched twice, and felt equally swept up in the story and relationships both times. Coffee Prince offers something that no other TV show I’ve seen has, whether American, Korean, etc., which is a sexy and sensitive portrayal of love beyond gender. It isn’t ‘daring’ necessarily, just a genuine romance, and that is more respectful than making some sort of statement. I said there would be spoilers and I’m saying it again so someone can stop reading now if they like. No? Okay, here is my take: Although other shows may show the attraction of a man for (who he thinks at first is) another man, this one takes us there. Although it is about gender, it isn’t about gender, but love.

Master’s Sun – Really liked this, even with many elements (memory loss ::::rolls eyes:::) that frustrate me. The middle episodes are particularly rich, and the metaphors work on a personal level.

Boys over Flowers – Too much, too young, but I still liked it, after the second watching. It hyperbolized angst and first happenings in ways that ‘felt like’ they truly would to a teen, or at least to a teen like I was… romance as life or death, writ large, strong elements of fantasy.

secret gardenSecret Garden – Beautiful aesthetically with great supporting characters. The first time I so wanted the female lead to end up with her mentor, and having seen just a few dramas by that time, didn’t realize how unlikely that was. The second, I went along for the ride and smiled a lot.
The music was lovely too.

Faith (Great Doctor) – Enjoyed a lot once I was able to get past a few supernatural powers elements that at first spoiled immersion. Lee Min Ho is soft and sensitive in this part, which is an interesting quality for a military captain, but what I kept in the strongest way, what I think back to, is the unique dynamic of the king and queen’s relationship that develops and the way he comes into his own. For me that was the core of the story. Friends are more passionate about this drama than I am, but also more attracted to Lee Min Ho, who to me, resembles my daughter’s best friend.

snail and gunnieFated to Love You (Korean version) – My second viewing was like watching an entirely different drama. In the first, I found it hard to get past certain misunderstandings or to forgive some characters; I rooted for Daniel, the second lead. Once the sting of first viewing was gone however, the OTP’s sweetness together took hold strongly – so pure in its context, conveying deep and difficult love. Eventually I understood and clung to Gunnie, and was affected by the ranges of both main actors.

* Greatest Love – Cha Seung Won at his most captivating, with a perfect pairing. Gong Hyo Jin playing ‘scandalous character’ Au Jung. Compassionate writing. So funny all the way through, even when over-the-top ridiculous and sad. Well chosen, playful music. Changed my view of potatoes, cows, and chickens forever.

The City Hall – Were I to recommend this to someone else who isn’t as enamored with Cha Seung Won (the reason I followed the above with this one) as I am, it would be with qualifiers that the lead actress’s voice will get easier to take. I really enjoyed hearing CSW make rapid fire speeches, and found the romance fairly believable.

its okay thats loveIt’s Okay That’s Love – Serious themes handled well. Wonderful side characters, and enviable dynamic in the shared house. Compassionate. Cathartic. Even so, not one I’ll watch very often, because the journey isn’t easy.
You Are All Surrounded – Yeah, okay, I watched it, twice, for Cha Seung Won. I never thought another actor could take over the space Ralph Fiennes occupied for decades, but that seems to have happened. :) Oh, but the show? Compelling not as a romance (darn), but more so as redemption tale.

My Name is Kim Sam Soon – Enjoyed parts of it quite a bit, but the weight string got to be a bit much for me (I mean, she wasn’t nearly obese yet sometimes not just she but those around her referred to her that way), as did her high pitched voice. This drama has a strong following, and I can see why, but for me it was just good. Sort of a foodie drama.

* My Love from the Star (You from Another Star) – So beautiful, visually, but beyond that, poetic. Danced a very fine line of humor and seriousness, while keeping the metaphor believable within its context. Okay, not believable but not a distraction.

Rooftop Prince – Liked some aspects but skimmed through. Probably just too young of a demographic target. I question myself because many people give it top reviews.

Big – Lots of cute aspects – was gripped tightly for the pairing and thought it might be a favorite, but then the ending was a dud.

King 2 Hearts – a lot that I enjoyed, but too many episodes so I did a fair bit of fast forwarding. I don’t like going on and on with blatantly evil characters. It was an interesting balance of elements though, with fierce females.

Blade Man Fireflies * Blade Man (have a post about) – Love. Maybe this would have been a top 3 or 5 for me, except that they cut it short and before that, let the plot get flat and frazzled. There are these amazing moments with the main actress, of her laughing whole-heartedly on a bus, that just left me stunned. And marvelous fantastical scenes. Lee Dong Wook is as compelling as Cha Seung Won in some moments, and those who say he was overacting miss the point of a show like this.
This was the first that I watched week to week, so it holds a special place in my heart even if it infuriated me with fainting spells and Tae Hee running away and staying.

Emergency Couple – Not riveting, but I liked the actors, especially the Chief doctor character, who I wanted to see get the girl. Sort of paid half attention, so maybe I’d like it more if I hadn’t watched that way.

Lie to Me – I liked the last few episodes a lot, but mostly it stuck to formula and left a lot of potential uncovered. Not disappointed that I watched it but not interested in watching again.

Scent of a Woman – A better capture of Lee Dong Wook (Blade Man), with the actress from Civil Hall and My Lovely Sam Soon. I love the scenes where she is enjoying life fully and he is persuaded to go along. He isn’t the typically cruel-first male lead. He smiles a lot. And the female lead doesn’t often use the high pitched whiney tone that has bothered me in some of her other dramas. Episode #8 tango scene… yummy.

Secret Love Affair – Quite a different tone from most others on this list, serious and carried along by classical piano. I was moved by the plot of a special circumstance – a rare encounter to meet someone who shares a great or particular talent, the notion of a couple who truly can experience something astounding together. So rare a meeting that it is easy to give permission for that to obscure other important things in life, like age, status, even other relationships. I understood it at this level.

I’m Sorry I Love You – Oh my goodness. Took a few episodes before I was completely captured, then… somewhere after the middle, it just became too cruel. I was fixated, but mad, talking to the script, not wanting to see any more of them, especially So Ji Sub’s character, upset. As the end of the series came closer and closer without time together and happy moments, it was just too much.

[By this point in my drama watching journey the “I’ll hurt them to love them” idea was really old and I thought I was beginning to feel the possible end of my obsession coming]

I Hear Your Voice – There was an amnesia episode or two, which is my peeve, but it was handled in an okay way as a vehicle of letting the plot develop a little further. It was interesting the way they traced back motives and tried to have a compassionate view.

You’re beautiful – Gender play and heavenly themes. Music. Characters are a little young for me to relate to, but sometimes entertaining. Annoying the way the characters talk out loud to themselves far more than communicating with others. Meh. I would have loved it were I a teenager. :)

s scandal* Sungkyunkwan Scandal – excellent! – This hit all the right notes. Entertaining, but not a comedy exactly, and I was hooked into the premise right away: a Rosalyn scenario. Sexier than expected. Third good experience with a Park Min Young drama, and I can’t wait to watch again.

Ghost – watched it for So Ji Sub originally. Not a romance but rather a cyber drama that goes pretty deeply into tech jargon in a way I really enjoy.

Pasta – I seem to like most foodie dramas, and this one especially. Gong Hyo Jin, and “Sweepers Dad” from Coffee Prince – so charming. Mature chemistry. One I re-watch from time to time.

A Gentleman’s Dignity – Very attractive older male lead,. A memory theme but not handled stereotypically. Some extremely cute and sexy scenes, and well-developed side plots, even if I personally wasn’t that interested in them.

Personal Taste – a little racy humor, fun, and simple. Immature acting, especially drinking scenes that were hard to watch, but worthwhile as light fare.

Discovery of Love – Modern and mature, complex in some ways, even though I almost didn’t watch it because of the youthful appearance of the characters in the picture. Well acted and created a genuine tug of loyalties and affections. One of my favorite lines: “I was also surprised, that this kind of heart came out of me.”

The Heirs – Tiring, with the same song is used over and over again – too strong a song for that. Made it through only by skipping through large portions. Disappointing.

Cunning Single Lady – I didn’t really like at first… slow paced and not terribly funny as a romance, but there were some nice twists and layers of feelings do come across with the flashbacks and back story. Enjoyed the Seventh Princess story. :) And, going through divorce, there were things that I related to.

Good Doctor – Got a few episodes in, and while the main character was wonderful, there was a lot missing. Dropped.

Let’s Eat – Thank goodness that after a few misses, I found this. Lots of food porn and very cute characters. Another where I think I would have liked to have seen the lead end up with the 2nd male lead rather than the first, because I’m a sucker for the “nerd makes good” story, yet ultimately the enjoyed the chemistry anyway.

Soulmate – Some cute elements, lots of jumping around that doesn’t really work well for me. Another that I skipped ahead to a lot to get to the couple I was actually interested in. Nice soundtrack.

All About Eve – Sought this out for Jang Dong Gun, after his captivating sexiness in A Gentleman’s Dignity. It has a very different feel from most of the dramas I’ve watched so far, and after a few episodes I liked that. Around episode 10 I began to feel tortured waiting for the leads to seal their bond, and then that was too quick before the torture began again. I’m not sure why reviews and wiki make sure to say it has nothing to do with the Bette Davis film, when the basic idea of woman trying to step into the roles of another is the same.

My Girlfriend is a Gumiho – Cute and I love the symbolism of the “bead”. For a younger audience. A Hong Sisters drama. A little too silly to become invested in. “From now on I’m going to show my tails and live confidently!”

moon embracing sunMoon Embracing the Sun – Enjoyed very much. Sageuk, following the story from childhood, with women’s witness at the center. Visually beautiful and often heartbreaking. Easy to immerse in and well layered in terms of diversity of relationships.

Queen In Hyuns Man – I think this was the last of the recommended dramas from my original list. I began it once early on, and then didn’t get beyond the first 30 minutes or so, but when I went back to it I really liked the steady sweetness from the beginning. The only annoying thing really, was the car string, but her great curry skill made up for that.

Chuno (Slave Hunter) – A drama with the care and attention of a feature film, interesting and intertwining plots and fighting sequences that didn’t swallow the rest. Strong characters easy to be empathetic toward. Changed pace several times. Appreciated this very much.

King of Dramas – Smiled a lot watching this. Nice balances. An unreal-person-seeming (I know that doesn’t make sense to read, hah) lead actor who was great in the role. Uses of the old tropes but with inventive efforts. Lead actress has wonderful expressions. It could have been brighter, crisper, with more romantic passion, especially at the end.

Nine: Nine Time Travels – Well done as a time travel. Turns many expectations of a k-drama upside down, with strong and passionate bond in the beginning and the rest of the time trying to get back to that. For me, it would have been better to end earlier, at least at 18 episodes. I did like the way they reverse revealed the relation strings toward the end, but the actual ending… not sure.

Prosecutor Princess – Entertaining enough comedy, kind of a Legally Blonde. Good actress. By about the 5th episode I had appreciation for the pace and writing and its steady move toward showing a dramatic character arc both previous and future. Music annoyed me. Could have been much steamier. :)

The Last Scandal – Refreshing to have older leads, but not what I expected. I am very divided on stories that humiliate the female lead a lot before turning her into a princess; my tolerance for humiliation is very low. In these stories usually it is about money, which he has and she doesn’t, with the female then helping the male to be good to other people/let go of arrogance. That said, this story pulled away from that formula more and more and over time I grew to really like the subtle turns.

Thank You – Jang Hyuk, Gong Hyo Jin. A real surprise of a drama. Serious, poignant, warm. Natural. There were times it felt as though there was a concerted effort to say the word AIDS as many times as possible, but I admire the intention. I missed Gong Hyo Jin as funny in this. She spent all her time stressed and crying.

chajummaAthena Goddess of War – Sleek, with good balances of male/female energies. Cha Seung Won. Yes, again. Don’t judge me. :) 20 episodes was a bit too many, even so.

I tried to find an image that would capture what makes CSW so magnetic, and there are very few where his presence as an actor can really be snapped – just a couple of ads. It is more sum of expressions and feeling of history/life lived: wisdom. This image came close to conveying… something.

Mr. Baek – Overacted, absurd. Did dance the charm lines well. There was no chance to be invested because it was ridiculous as a plot, but good chemistry between innocent-feeling leads. Nice father and son dynamic.

Surplus Princess – Cute and quirky. Young but also more sexually mature than most other dramas. Its own flavor. I wanted to skip through quickly at first, but found it too clever to do so. Only 10 episodes. Silly ending, but made sense when I read that it was cut down drastically.

Story of a Man – started, stalled.

The Princess’s Man – Historical setting with a modern feeling, in the vein of Moon Embracing the Sun. Well done with beautiful male lead (Park Si-Hoo) and sympathetic surrounding characters. Too long at 24 episodes, and overly dramatic music, but I was drawn in. Bit repetitive. The second time I watched, I found myself scoffing at various parts, rolling my eyes, but still liked it.

Flower Boy Ramen Shop – Young and quirky, sometimes annoying. The lead actor is like a Korean James Spader, similar in character to Spader’s Pretty in Pink character. The older male lead is balanced and sweet. Liked this more than I expected to.

49 Days – Satisfying. Again too long, with a few too many extra twists. But the central characters were wonderful and I related to the between worlds/multiple lives plot.

Que Sera Sera – Started, stalled, but then returned to finish it over a holiday. Very good, with a serious plot line and characters, but I didn’t feel dragged down by the seriousness. A nice surprise.

Pinocchio – Well done blend of childhood/teen/adult emotions and situations. Wish the 2nd main reporter from the past would have a more prominent part. It was pleasant all the way through but I didn’t feel wowed by the end somehow, and when I think back to it not much ‘sticks’.

Birth of a Beauty – Offensive as an idea, but I liked the lead male so I endured for a few episodes, after which I really could go no further with it. <yawn> Dropped.

Love Cells – Ten minute episodes, cute, quirky, small bites.

Misaeng (Incomplete Life) – Misaeng is a category of its own. I was not interested at first, due to the terrible promo photos I had encountered, but a friend let me know it had a GO/Baduk string, and although Baduk turned out to be just a light frame, I was immediately and obsessively hooked into the values that came across, eventually becoming a kind of evangelist by emailing everyone I knew about it and posting on my twitter:
“That so many like Misaeng gives me hope for the world.”
The writing relentlessly unearths appreciation for the intricacy of ordinary life. Ethics enacted without preachy tones or making the right thing seem to have magical fix-everything qualities, hidden character traits revealed at slight turns.
Hard to find any aspect that might have been better. Exceeded all expectations every episode.
So the one downside may be that my measurements where other dramas are concerned were irrevocably changed. Not since West Wing have I loved a show this much.

Queen of Office – Every episode felt the same… no movement of characters, nor strong attachments. I ended up hop-skipping through the last several episodes, just to follow through. I continually hoped for it to take flight in some new way. So half dropped.

Love Frequency 37.2 – just a few love stories told each episode, with the backdrop of a radio show. Dropped pretty fast.

Gu Family Book – Some might be put off by the fantastical aspects, but I could go along, since the actors do, and because there was just the right amount. It was by no means completely believable, but the young lead certainly carried the weight well. I liked the female lead also, though I would not call her a good actress, objectively.

Biscuit Teacher and Star Candy – Gong Hyo Jin and Gong Yoo. I liked the premise of a bad student returning as a teacher to the school she was expelled from due to a crush on a teacher. Silly effects and ridiculous musical interludes, along with a tedious gang string, but Buddhist wisdom throughout, which elevated the script.

Flower Boy Next Door – Super cute, and I related a lot to the lead character (obviously), who is a reclusive copy editor ridden with anxiety who writes rather than speaks her thoughts. Hm. Lead male is over the top but in an irresistible kind of way. The writers frustrated me with a tired trope toward the end, although the reason behind the use of it I related to.

Baker King, Kim Tak Gu – Excellent beginning. A rich and subtle drama in many places, although the unaccepting/evil step-mother string is always hard to bear, as well as the usual battle for the corporation. The father figure is such a perfect combination of gentle and strong, and the child actors are amazing. The episodes do have heart. I eventually felt worn down by so much crying / so little humor. I also disliked the way they left the female side characters so flat most of the time.

Successful Story of a Bright Girl – Jang Hyuk, Jang Na-Ra. An older romantic comedy that feels really dated but still sweet. I can understand why the two actors were recast together in Fated to Love You. I liked how he tries to do things for her without hurting his pride, but it keeps going awry. So many men in Korean dramas behave like children sticking the girl’s pigtails in ink, and I wrestle with myself for finding that so endearing, in the same way that the grab is appealing, going against my sensibilities.

Iris – Better than expected. Prequel to Athena Goddess of War.

Iris 2 – Basically a replay of Iris but with a few twists/“bad guy revealed as hero in another light.” Jang Hyuk, but also another fantastic actor as opposing lead.

A Witch’s Romance – More kisses in the first two episodes than in most of the other dramas until the 8th, or at all. I found myself instantly attached to this couple. It dragged a lot, and lost the personalities of the characters for a few too many episodes, but I liked that chemistry.

Solid drama with fantastic older characters and surprising lines of dialog, beginning right away. My favorite ahjumma in a cool hacker role. Incredibly vivid back story and the sweetest romantic chemistry. Very little second arrow suffering. Nice music. Will watch again eventually and likely recommend as a first or second drama to friends just taking interest.

beckon love* Valid Love – (wrote a post about this one) Strange, unexpectedly reaching into deep places and undoing my defenses. Too close to home. Cried all the way through the 3rd/4th episodes and found myself having thoughts I’d never had before, writing words I’d never written before. Beautiful visually
, and every line rich with subtext. Amazing. Like Misaeng, in a category of its own. As is Lee Soo Hyuk. Not a show I would recommend to just anyone.

Deep Rooted Tree – Poetic, tragic. Very good actors, including the child actors. The actress who was the mom in FTLY, Jang Hyuk, Lee Soo Hyuk, Shin Se-Kyung. I like the puzzles aspect especially. “Vivid Bliss” was one delectable phrase used that stuck. Amazing twists of dialog and reason. I didn’t really believe in the romance, because there wasn’t enough of it to be real for me, but that itself was genuine to the story… she caring more for the king and the writing. I may have seen too many Jang Hyuk dramas at this point because every time Jang Hyuk got into a dramatic scene all I could hear was him crying for “Snail… snail…”
(FTLY reference)

Loving MeKill Me Heal Me – (wrote a post about this one too) More cohesive and way more funny than the plot originally sounded.
The lead actor, Ji Sung, is able to go from very gentle to quite scary in a matter of moments. A few too many recaps in the beginning, but such whimsy and wonderful turns. Out loud giggles and very good job of tying up the strings.
Cathartic. Skillful. Yes!

Liar Game – Fun puzzles and anticipations, but lacking in some way I couldn’t identify until the last episodes, when it became more nuanced and optimistic. Maybe it was the gangsters angle, which >>yawn<<, kept me at a distance for a while. Also, the lead was too dependent on the genius professor for most of the game.

Shan Shan Comes to Eat (Chinese) – too many episodes but a nice change of pace. Lots that I really enjoyed about it, although not as much of a fun ‘ride’ as most Korean dramas.

Reply 1994 – So funny, and more of a family show than romance. I laughed so hard at so many points. Really loved this cast. There were about 4 episodes that lagged, so I became impatient, but it might be because I marathon-ed it and was so sleepy/curious to get to the end. I kept hoping against hope that this would be the first drama I’d seen to let the 2nd lead win.

Reply 1997 – This came before 1994 in production, but since I’d watched 1994 first, it wasn’t that easy to get into it at the start. I was preoccupied with the husband and wife because they were the same actors but in a different family and setting. Still, it was really sweet and inventive, like the character who can’t speak to RL girls because he has watched too much porn. So I liked it but didn’t love it, didn’t laugh aloud as many times as in Reply 1994, or feel as attached to the characters.

honey leeShine or Go Crazy – Charming Jang Hyuk Goryeo era dramedy. The energy is great even when I’m not particularly surprised by the devices. The female leads are AMAZING and match Jang Hyuk’s chemistry – even some of the villains are full of noble aspirations. For most of the series I was captivated by “Gaebong”, the head of trading company that is the center stage, but there came a scene where the princess, played by Honey Lee, stepped forward very powerfully, even reminding me of Game of Thrones. Since the main structure has not ventured far from formula but rather played freely within those constraints, I don’t expect too bittersweet of an ending, and I wouldn’t have believed I could say this until this point in the drama (two more episodes before the end), but I hope for one.

Jekyll, Hyde and Me – Yet another divided identity story; wholeness discovered through fragmentation. As the show progressed, it flattened and went over the same ground again and again, wearing away almost all personality from the female lead. The circus aspect disappeared as well. What I did like, were the philosophical questions around finding out that one ‘doesn’t exist’ and that one’s memories are false… when a character goes to their home looking for the tangible proof of their life, and finds none. that sense similar to a ghost story. Would not recommend this to anyone though.

King of High School – Many charming elements, but I skipped through almost all of the high school scenes. Watched it for Lee Soo Hyuk. :)

The Virtuous Queen of Han (Chinese) -Chinese dramas seem far more subtle, very toned down, when compared with Korean shows, but there is unique beauty and charm. It is amazing how I could be almost blind to the gorgeousness of such an aesthetic for so long. This was too long of a commitment but there was a particular sweetness that came through the relationships and the ideas of virtue.

Sweden Laundry – Simple, clever, happy. Unfinished so far. Only watching when daughter wants to.

City Hunter – Good storyline and realistic feeling, intense back story. I feel there are lots of similarities to Healer, not just the lead actress, but friends disagree.

Punch – Dense, riveting. Edge of my seat and immediate investment in characters – certainly not one-dimensional. Intense appropriate dislike at many times. Reluctant like. Evoking complex and unexpected reactions. Good material for ethics junkies. More like a sageuk even though a legal drama, until the ending, which I found too mello for the overall mood, but OK.

Heard it Through the Grapevine – ongoing – A fascinatingly slow tone, but wow. Interestingly written and grows on you slowly but powerfully, teaching you how to watch it.

Ando Lloyd (Japan) – Quite different from a K-drama. AI and fascinating effects. Light tension all the way through. Satisfying as a first J-drama. Great physical actor.

The Hours of My Life (Japan) – Devastatingly sweet. Obviously sad (ALS as main subject matter) but quietly paced and not trite. Such an incredible main actor (as with Ando Lloyd, gifted physicality). Achingly lovely female lead. All the important things come to the surface over the course of the episodes.

Unkind Women – ongoing – Very unusual, but gripping in an indefinable way. Musical soundtrack unique. Love so far.

School 2013 – Not thrilling but some great qualities. It is an empathy instruction drama, giving perspectives that although sometimes coarsely drawn, nonetheless touch the truth of situations that students are often in, especially when they have no support systems.

Date (Japanese) – FUN so far. Ongoing – lagging behind on.

Looking forward to Splendid Politics. Okay, yes, Cha Seung Won is in that too.

Natural Openings

I sincerely do not want to write a drama blog, nor begin something that I’ll feel obligated to keep up with, however, a few typical k-drama blog posts are insisting to be written just so that I can have someone to talk with who really gets it. ;-)

One is a list of the dramas I’ve watched and my snapshot impressions of them, although, these change from time to time. If someone thoughtful has a different impression, I’ll re-watch if I can, with a fresh mind. I’m open to “belief reversals” and in fact can’t help them.

The other post begging to be written is more focused on favorite scenes. It is something I didn’t realize until I heard myself answer a friend, that my mind seems to process in mosaics, so that instead of coming away from a film or book or TV series with a whole impression, or even seeing the whole filled with scenes and moments, I come away with unhinged scenes a lot of the time that then contrast themselves with loose scenes from other places. I forget large portions and magnify particular aspects.

This seems to affect others as peculiar, or maybe they feel obligated to respond but don’t truly relate, so there is a gap. Aside from conversations with my son, who generally pre-forgives my quirks, there is a lot of editing that goes on.

And therefore I have this space, which I do not share or publicize, just leave open.

There is a truly lovely circle of friends in a Facebook group I’m part of – very smart ladies from various backgrounds who banter and share, ask and answer questions along the way. A few are even treasure hunters, following roots and branches when inspired, and polishing details. Unlike a few other groups I tested out, the conversation is less about (but not entirely without) actor/actress gossip, and more about appreciation. Diving in.

I knew this about some of the women, since more than fifteen years or so ago we crossed and blended paths in another curious arena – that of Unschooling. Sometime I may write about that, but only when it seems natural to do so. Let it suffice for now, to say that my family didn’t stay in that world, but that what we learned from that time irreversibly infused the way we approached parenting life. It was an amazing shift of perspective, to step away from the school system for a while.

We didn’t stay unschoolers, but we didn’t exactly leave unschooling as a view, and continued to foster a deep appreciation for and intense trust in the natural learning that those brave women helped me step into. It is actually the same sort of instinct I follow now, when I allow myself times of obsessive interest and immersion in worlds that arise and open. Like: the playful contemplative community I’ve written small bits about before. And like K-dramas.

So, yeah, let me begin that first post.

Kill Me Heal Me: K-Drama Ramble-not-Review


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I’m not sure where to begin in giving an overview of my newly found TV appreciation/obsession. When I began watching K-dramas, I had favorites, but over time the shows have fallen into more complex categories. What to do.

The last show I loved, Kill Me Heal Me, was not on that list but is a good start, since it is one that I would recommend to any friend who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, as a fairly safe-bet. It has the addictive and fun quality of Coffee Prince, which was my very first and largely responsible for the rabbit hole I don’t wish to find my way out of yet, but is simultaneously more serious and more cartoon.

KMHM manages to be funny, sweet, and beautifully poignant nearly all the way through, while introducing 7 distinct character dimensions under the umbrella of “Cha Do Hyun”. Each character becomes quite real and deeply loveable over time, which to me seems a writing/acting collaboration miracle. It also couldn’t have worked without an equally strong actress who was able to react and respond quickly to all the antics, as well as creating her own. Nor without the eccentric family her character was given.

Everything is big: the idea, impossible to pull off well yet managed; the tight rope poignancy that never loses its quirkiness nor irresistible sexiness; the deeply cathartic revelations and emotions. Wow.

And so many wonderful lines, even in the music.
Kill Me Heal Me

I’ve been surprised to find that K-drama watchers are not necessarily women who like romance novels. The closest I myself get to reading a romance novel is Jane Austen, which is equally about intricate character details, subtle kindnesses and cruelties, and class distinctions. Even Outlander, which so many of my friends adore, I haven’t been able to finish; it just never took me sufficiently away from myself.

My hugest peeve is for a romance string to be tacked onto a project obviously after the fact, which I found to be the case with the film Interstellar. While others may have parsed apart the science, I took no issue with that. It was the “moral of the story” that didn’t seem necessary nor even appropriate.

So it is fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of time analyzing my own interest in shows that can be cheesy, materialistic, and outdated with regard to gender dynamics and accepted child raising or work practices. Perhaps they get a pass for their unique-to-me cultural context, but it is more than that. Amidst all these qualities, they still somehow ring as more genuine than anything else I’ve come across in media, in a very long time. I especially like the family dynamics in the less formal Korean drama households, seen in shows like Answer Me 1994/97. I like the small houses and taking good care of just a few things. I like the enthusiastic collective meals as portrayed as well, where loved ones are feeding and tending to one another. I like that siblings take so much responsibility for one another. I’m careful not to fetishize, or to forget that I am immersing in fictional universes, but I think we from the west have a lot we might learn. So I’m doing that. While also examining things I have trouble with, such as:

The wrist grab:
In theory, I hate these. In dramas, they hit some nice growly places. Why? It isn’t that the male is trying to excite female by grabbing and dragging her around, at least I don’t think so. Wrist grabbing in a drama is as common as a partner in the US walking out of a setting with a clear expectation that they be followed. Clear but no words. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my visceral reactions. : ) Sometimes it is just primal, territorial.

K-dramas almost never get physical quickly, but wrist grabs are an exception. It takes an average of 7-8 episodes before a kiss, if it happens then. And it might be a kiss on the forehead. Or cheek. Even holding hands can be erotic. A wrist-grab however, may come in one episode or two. The main thing is how that unfolds between the parties themselves. It is about boundaries – it matters that she allows it or not, that she or he lets someone reach into personal space for skinship. This is classic Pride and Prejudice, which a lot of the dramas have at core.

Sleep watching is another thing, but I don’t need to elaborate much. It can be the sweetest or creepiest thing, depending on various factors. Most of the time it is used as a device to allow someone to share their heart without embarrassment, and the other may not actually be sleeping.

But here is an important one: overt class-based bullying:
How I wish to have seen these shows before I was married quite young, and had to contend with what I thought were antiquated class dynamics. They’d been invisible to me before, or at least it never seemed all important where one came from or how many generations of family had kept well to script, if one was striving to be a decent person. My own background was not exactly bohemian, because bohemian lifestyles had more intention behind them than my family had, and I would certainly never have been chosen as a good candidate for an arranged marriage. Still, even in the US I needed better preparation for large family politics and the unique weaponry, such as ridicule, that others were well-versed in. It turns out that “fake obliviousness” was not a good strategy.

I write this with a smile, but to be honest I have far more understanding and appreciation for preserving lineage now. It never quite sank in before, what the Zen Buddhist texts I’ve studied grew out of, in terms of what Confucian society meant and still means, and I’ve been ravenously hungry for every detail thrown my way. I find myself reading about military strategists and heroes, even down to equipment, with great fascination. Out of character for me, to say the least.

Regarding lineage, it isn’t uncommon for a character in a K-drama to remind another character not to be too bold with their lately acquired American sensibilities – which is not necessarily an insult. There is progression, but thoughtful, regarding and appreciating previous generations’ social architecture and placing a high value on filial duties and values. To find and do well in one’s place in society is an honor. “Remember that this is Korea” someone will say.

This was something I experienced in Japan. Although we in the US can look with amazement upon so many people falling into strict order for schooling and career paths, and both admire/regard with horror, the strictness of dress codes and projected personality homogeneity when it comes to assigned roles, there is something grand about the dignity with which even simplest tasks are regarded. High creativity can emerge from strict constraints. Visitors may remark on the absence of garbage, but it is far more than that. Ritual hasn’t been abandoned each time it has been questioned, so there remains a time stream to tap into … an unbroken transmission. No garbage, in a society aware of surroundings in equal measure to self, is a given. I find it very restful.

The integration of times and classes isn’t easy for those experiencing it. When a wealthy family tries to buy off the poor-but-heart-of-gold love interest, as in Secret Garden, I rightly cringe and root for the underdog, but more and more I root for her only if she tries to understand… if her capacity for empathy is awaking, because it isn’t easy to change beliefs once we are older, even when we accept progress logically. We step forward, but maybe there remain contradictory or uncomfortable feelings, generation to generation.

It interested me to learn recently that with patients suffering from some kinds of epileptic seizures who have elected to have their hemispheres decoupled, there can be an entirely different response to the question, “Do you believe in God?” The left hemisphere might answer a sure “NO” while the right gives an equally enthusiastic “YES.”

And THIS brings my rambles back once again, to Kill Me Heal Me. The central character is suffering from Dissociated Identity Disorder, but he is close to being healthier than some who live in smaller compartments of themselves, trapped into prejudices that may be the natural effect of intellectual and psychological inflexibility.

Many of us break down to break free, and benefit from meeting persons who share like capacity. Only someone who understands can impart true validation, and in KMHM there are several free-range characters, healthy, multi-dimensional, and kind.

Loving Me

So this is that kind of story.

accepting the sting


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I’ve caused the most damage when trying hardest not to – when avoiding some hard sentence in the moment and therefore stringing out a difficulty over time, even multiplying it. It is usually about something that Trungpa Rinpoche termed “idiot compassion” and a term I’ve learned more recently, “noble idiocy.”

We can see noble idiocy easily when played out by another: when a character in a film decides to endure their cancer diagnoses alone so that others won’t be bothered or hurt, or to cut off a loved one because they can’t be what they’ve decided that person needs (usually without consulting them), or to not stop the rabid in-law from biting because of the potential familial discomfort … that sort of thing. Sometimes there are good but misguided intentions behind it, but sometimes it is simply pride, withholding “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” while thinking that one is preserving dignity needed in the long run.

These are forms of second-arrow suffering.

The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way. The first arrow, the pain, is the actual bad event. The second arrow, the suffering, is our reaction to the bad event, the way we chose to respond emotionally. The first arrow often is unavoidable. The second arrow often is self-inflicted. -Nathan S. Collier

Although I have been one of the biggest advocates of big-picture thinking that I know (a quality that came from an aversion to the narcissistic willingness of a few key figures, to spoil whole environments just to get their surface opinions across, or to upend the lives of those around them unnecessarily easily), I’m learning this new trick of facing things head on. Which is a fine balance, because “apologize later rather than ask for permission” can be appropriate, but I still think, not so often. It might be too easy to ride the pendulum to the other side entirely.

One main issue is that we aren’t islands to ourselves; resources come from somewhere, yet not exactly in a zero-sum, fixed in a linear sense, kind of way. Rather, it is about capacity. To quote a film I saw recently: manners maketh man. Or the more familiar: to whom much is given, much is required. Together you get something like: merit maketh man. :)

A friend send along a short NYT article that struck my heart, describing the economics of attention and the way that although it may seem that if one “earns” a level of difference and privilege in society there is no harm done, actually resources aren’t that simple. Even freedom from noise, is a kind of harvest, and may not be freely given. It isn’t true that dignity and manners should be supplanted by those with the energy to push, or that money should buy something like silence or rest away from another human being in the world. We have to leave refuges. Better if we proliferate them.

For the last few days I’ve been involved in conversations that have become easily confused – in which great patience and time has been necessary. But it hasn’t been an easy sell that slowing down might equal no more time than creating and cleaning up misunderstandings. Which is a mirror of what I see of the urban environment I live in, as well as of my own mind. Why won’t I believe and fully buy into what I already know? Why won’t I trust? I’ve had so many opportunities; do I really need more practice?!


Perhaps I can just buy out of the usual patterns more often. I can be unapologetically truthful, as in, “I am unwilling to do that” instead of “I’m unable to do that.” I’d have to accept the first sting, but the idea that the world will collapse if I let my part of things unfold differently, is mostly an empty threat.

And if it does collapse, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

I’ve been supremely fortunate…
So fortunate that writing that sentence just now caused me to pause and shed tears… so fortunate that were I able to let someone stand in my shoes for a few moments and experience the range of life’s experiences, I have all idea it might be too much for them to bear. It wouldn’t be about experiences themselves, but more about the range and distance, filled with surprising moments of wonder and awe. Sometimes I’m tempted to say that I’ve been fortunate in direct proportion to misfortune experienced early on and the love that rushed in to overcome the devastation, as Frank McCourt made light of when he wrote, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while.”

I’ll close out today’s practice by referencing one other news item from the week: Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk and recent entrance to Twitter/re-entrance to public life.

I’m happy to have lived to see this day. It would be hard to convince me that anyone would knowingly choose a fate such as hers, where personal humiliations are writ large in the public consciousness and one’s name becomes, seemingly irrevocably, a vulgar joke. Although many, like me, will cheer her on from the sidelines and know that “there but for Grace go I…”, most will not be willing to stop and consider her human rather than object of ridicule.

That would also take slowing down.

Many ‘things’ and ‘dynamics’ in the world deserve to be ridiculed. Monica, as a person, is not one of them.


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