October has always been an important month for me, which I guess would make most people assume it’s my birth month, but it’s not. It became a strange life marker ten years and two weeks ago, when I got on a plane at DFW airport bound for San Francisco, where I met up with my friend Mags to wait for our flight to Incheon International Airport. It was an empty flight, and as always with flights, it had that weird air of in-between — existing temporarily between places and times. The feeling was exaggerated by the out-of-body experience that is leaving your home country to live and work in a foreign place that you’ve never been to before, where you don’t speak the language and know little about the culture. Moving into an unknown new apartment, starting a new job.
Five years after that to the day, I quit my job and started the great adventure of making a for-real life here in Korea. Not that the five previous years had been unreal, but I knew that I needed to start moving toward something more enduring if I wanted my life here to withstand the next five years. Since then, I’ve been through a revolving door of experiences — language school, a stint as a magazine editor, a year as a struggling freelancer followed by a flood of work that threatened to take me under, but which was rewarding and thrilling in its own way. I’ve translated two books and countless articles, written dozens more myself and written for and coordinated a daily talk radio show. I piled up as much money as I could in the bank and spent my evenings and weekends alternating between translating and poring over DIY interior design tutorials while sifting through endless websites in Korean looking for just the right items. I taught myself how to scrape wallpaper and plaster. I ruined half a dozen t-shirts and sweatpants. I woke up countless mornings with cramping hands and stiff shoulders only to head back to the radio station for my day job (?), which was also still new and teaching me so much and where I wanted to be. I made what must have been at least 100 trips to Ikea.
Seven or eight years ago, on the old blog, I made a post about wanting to own a café someday. It was the oddest thing, because nothing like that had ever occurred to me before, and at the time, baking was a stress-relieving hobby, but little more than that. But somehow a seed was planted about having a space that was mine, being in charge of my own schedule and curating my own community. Over the years, my path through life meandered in a way that feels truly random when viewed face-on, but when I pan out and take in the bird’s-eye, I can see something different — a core theme running through the chaos — the language classes that gave me the confidence to barter and negotiate with vendors and contractors, the food column at the magazine that gave me the opportunity to see food for the powerful and magical marker of community and culture that it truly is, the downtime where baking became a “productive” way to mark the days between gigs, and the avalanche of work that gave me the funds to finance this next adventure.
That having been said, I have a twist in my personality, possibly created by past trauma, that makes it difficult for me to step on the gas as soon as the road is clear. I function best when facing obstacles, and my biggest challenge in life has been trying to teach myself not to create them for myself, and not to freeze up as soon as I’ve passed them all. Writing has always been a good decluttering tool for me, allowing me to pan out, as I said, and focus on the bigger picture, while also holding myself accountable.
I set out to do something more ambitious with this blog, but it caused me to drift away from the kind of blogging that I truly used to love, which was just sharing my experiences and any lessons I could sift out from among them. I’ve waffled back and forth about reformatting this website to go back to a simple blog style, and I might still yet, but for now, what I really need is to just jump in. I’ve officially finished all my other jobs and am now rested and ready to focus entirely on the studio and getting back to my own writing, even if that means a few posts here every now and then. It feels much more reckless, at 33, to write about my personal life on the internet than it did at 23, but hopefully I can find a happy medium. At the very least, I have a whole new adventure to share about what it’s like to start and run a little shop here in a small neighborhood in Seoul as a foreigner, and believe me, it’s already been quite an experience.
But I think we’ll start with something simple, like how to turn those little green pumpkins into a purée that you can use to make all kinds of Thanksgiving treats without having to seek out the canned stuff from the US. That’ll be coming later this week, along with a list of the books, TV shows and podcasts that have been getting me in the spirit for Halloween.
In the meantime, leave a comment and let me know if there’s any obstacle you’re struggling to overcome at the moment, or if you’re working toward a goal for the future. I’d also like to hear how you guys get past a mental block and where you find the motivation to move ahead.