More Than Serving Tea


Business cards, name tags & other ways to label one another

Next week at my son’s middle school I am going to be a writer.

It’s career day, and for years I’ve signed up my husband, a dentist, for career day presentation duties. I help out lost children in the halls.

But this year I’m trying on the “writer” label out for size. It’s not completely new. I fell in love with writing after getting my first attempt at a high school sports story returned to me decorated with red marker. My favorite color is red, and I must confess there is a competitive streak in me. I am my own biggest competition.

For years I was a bonafide newspaper reporter. My business card proved it. The bylines are saved on yellowing newsprint. A few digital copies still remain out in the inter webs. I was a newspaper reporter.

And then there was this “writing project” that I had the honor of participating in. At one point I had to come to grips with the fact that even if our ideas could become a manuscript it had “a snowball’s chance in hell” of making it to print. And then hell froze over, and someone started calling me and four other amazing women “authors”.

Even then it felt a little phony to call myself a “writer”, but it was the start of a journey back and forward to discover, identify, clarify, and claim that elusive thing many of us refer to as our “voice”. It’s the way we sound when we speak, write, laugh, argue, persuade, listen, dance and simply “are” – and it’s all the same. It’s a hint of the woman I know deep down inside God has created me and “my inmost being” and for those of you who know what I’m talking about know that it is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. It can point you to God’s faithfulness and goodness just as your false-self with all our insecurities and just plain ickiness.

It’s figuring out the gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses that you have to share, do and express because that is what God meant for you to share, do and express. And then you have to own that.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to “own” it, as silly as it seems since I am writing all of this down.

As a woman, wife, mother, writer/blogger, speaker, aspiring crafter, amateur baker/gardener, laundress, chauffeur, seamstress, cleaning lady, personal shopper, diversity officer at a non-profit, middle manager and an evangelical Christian, I have several ways of answering the question, “What do you do?”

How do you answer the question?

 

 

 


Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan: What the Frak is Kimchee-scented Kleenex Fiction?

Dear NPR & Maureen Corrigan,

What the frak is “kimchee-scented Kleenex fiction”? What does that phrase even mean?

Were you trying to be funny? (Fail.)

Were you trying to let listeners and readers know you “know” Koreans? (Fail.)

Were you trying to be clever and/or charm us with your use of alliteration? (Fail.)

And why, after a week of comments on the NPR website  where you take Kyung-sook Shin’s novel “Please Look After Mom” to task, has there not been a response from NPR or from you, Ms. Corrigan? Surely you would want to explain yourself and this misunderstanding. After all, you are just a critic who didn’t like the book, which you pointed out has sold 1 million copies in the author’s native South Korea and is set to hit the shelves in 22 other countries. Your opinion is just one of a million, and clearly no one at Knopf asked your opinion before claiming the U.S. rights to the translated version so I’m certain you would be sorry if you offended anyone even though that was not your intention. I’m sure of it.

So why not just come out and say it? You could probably cut and paste or adapt a version of the standard non-apology.

Or maybe you or NPR could come clean and and apologize because Ms. Corrigan your review did offend and continues to offend real people – not the fictional characters you clearly did not connect with in the novel. Some of us are actually American readers, by the way, who might even be able to bridge what appears to be a cultural gaping hole in your understanding of Korean/East Asian mother guilt, family values and shame even as you poo-poo the novel as “Korean soap opera decked out as serious literary fiction”.

You offend those of us “ladies” in book clubs all across America (I’m in two of those book clubs of American readers, btw) who read all sorts of books we like and dislike and suggest or read only because it was on the book club list which is our ticket to a fun night out, and not all of us would see the message of this novel as “alien”. (Couldn’t you have phrased that better? Maybe you tried “foreign” but perhaps that was too literal or obvious?) You offend me because throughout your review you allude to your POV as “an American reader” but I am an American reader and I “get” the message and nuances of this book by reading the excerpt. I am not an American woman (whose ethnic and racial heritage I do not know) who was “indoctrinated in resolute messages about ‘boundaries’ and ‘taking responsibility’.”

I am an American reader who learned that taking responsibility meant a deep connectedness between my happiness and my mother’s, but I don’t want to wallow in the cross-cultural self-pity you describe. I am hoping you will understand that I just don’t get what you don’t get. This is a novel that you read in English but was written in Korean by a Korean woman who grew up in rural Korea and then moved to Seoul (!). The words were translated, but I’m not sure you want to do the work to understand the characters and their culture and their point of view or even get a deeper sense of the author’s voice, which is so obviously different than yours. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like “The Tender Bar” that much now that I think about it.

I can gather from your critique you are missing the things that make novels connect with its reader and thus earns its place on a bookshelf or top 100 list. Surely much in the plot and prose has been lost in translation because the words “mom” and “mother” don’t carry the same weight and meaning as the Korean words “uhm-mah”, “uh-muhn-nee” and “uh-muhn-neem”. Three words to describe the relationship between a mother and her child. Three. But you don’t get that because you, Ms. Corrigan, are an American reader as am I, but we read with different eyes, hearts and connections, and I’m trying to understand you.

So, let me ask my question in a different way.

Do you really think Korea’s Kleenex smells like kimchee? Because if you do you’re just silly.

Translation: Jung-mahl mee-chus-suh.


The Growing Pains of Mother’s Day

I am a mother of three, but it wasn’t always this way.

1993: my first Mother’s Day as both a daughter and daughter-in-law. Two corsages, two cards, two gifts, two sets of expectations. Let’s just leave it at that.

1996: my first Mother’s Day remains a bit of a fog. I was five months post-partum, which meant five months into a low-level funk that was occasionally accompanied by a wave of intense and overwhelming crazy like I’d never experienced love for the little baby girl the doctor and nurses let me leave the hospital with after simply checking a couple of plastic bracelets. There I was celebrating Mother’s Day still scared silly that I would wake up and find out it was all a strange, cruel, sweet dream.

I’ve since come to realize it is all a wonderful, sometimes slightly horrifying and embarrassing reality, and I hope I never fall asleep.

1998: the suckiest most bittersweet Mother’s Day ever. I was emotionally raw, again, but this time from just having had a D & C. Our second baby had stopped developing in my womb at 6 weeks, but the body I had so trusted, the body I thought I knew, the body I thought I could control and “time” with pills and calendars tricked me in the most awful way. I miscarried. Another seven weeks would pass before we realized that we weren’t going to have a baby in the fall. Mother’s Day that year was horrible because I felt like such a selfish byatch. Why couldn’t I be happy with the one child God had already given me when there were thousands and thousands of women desperate to be a mother of one, let alone a mother of two? What was wrong with me for worrying about losing a fetus when I was so young and could easily get pregnant again? What the hell was wrong with me? Well, I was grieving the death of my child and the death of all the dreams I had for that child.

I realized how tightly I held onto hopes and dreams for this baby that had yet to see the light of day, and then I realized that slowly letting go was what I would have to continue learning for the rest of my life as a mom.

My one memory of that day is sitting with my daughter who reached up with her cute little hands to wipe away the tears I could not stop and said in her wisest two-and-a-half-year-old voice, “Mommy, you’re so sad.” I wanted to stop crying and smile, but all I could manage was to do both.

And I have since known that it is OK and absolutely necessary to be sad and deeply joyful and to let my children know when their hands and voices ease the sadness and are part of the reason I experience such joy.

Since then I have celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of two and then of three. Each year I remind myself it wasn’t always this way. I remind myself that for me it is less about celebrating and being celebrated as it is remembering to be fully present. Remembering this is not a dress rehearsal or a dream I cannot fully remember. Remembering it’s a wonderful, broken, imperfect life. Remembering to love and let go at the same time. Remembering to feel the depth of pain and sadness and unbearable loss while knowing there is space at that same moment for joy and peace and love and even laughter.

Thank you, God, for Peter. I needed some help to become a mother, and every day he helps me become a better mother by being such a great father. I’m kind of competitive in a completely healthy, appropriate way.

Thank you, God, for Bethany, Corban and Elias (and even “baby Andrew” who pushed me to learn about letting go). They are the reason I get to pick the restaurant for lunch today and the reason I am more self-aware (i.e. I know how selfish I really am and how much sleep and/or coffee makes me a nicer person), and wiser, gentler, younger at heart and goofier.



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