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I recently found out my mom had dreams to become a writer. I knew she loved books and majored in German literature, but I never knew she wanted to be a writer.
Growing up, my mom would always have K-Radio 1660 AM on at home while doing chores and cooking. There weren’t many Korean TV channels back then, and this was one of the few Korean radio stations in NYC.
There was a program (loosely translated) called “Immigrant Diaries” that she loved. Listeners would submit stories about their experiences as immigrants, and some of them would be chosen to be read on air. Mom told me she’d sometimes cry listening to the show, hearing her own experiences reflected back in these stories. She felt seen and heard, connected to other Korean New Yorkers living parallel lives.
My mom didn’t tell us she had written an essay and submitted it, until she found out it was chosen to be read. I was around 13 years old and the scene I remember is my mom rushing over to the radio as she heard the host introduce her essay. She pressed record on the tape deck and had a big blushing smile on her face as we heard the host’s familiar voice read my mom’s words.
That day, listening to the reading and seeing my mom’s reaction impressed on me for the first time the gravity and power of written words.
She told me she wrote that essay after a phone call with her professor years after she moved to the States. He encouraged her to keep writing, to express herself. I don’t remember her writing anything else after that though. She had put her dreams aside, giving all her energy and focus to raising my brother and I.
I told my mom the other day, I think I got my love for music from dad and my love for words from her. Almost twenty five years later, I’ve seemed to have taken up her dream and made it my own.
What have I learned after three years of blogging? Well, I’ve learned how to have an idea and see it through from from start to finish. I’ve gained the stamina to trudge through a shitty first draft. I’ve learned that great writing is in the editing. I’ve learned I’m able to express myself with words, more than I ever could with images.
And yet the greatest, most frightening lesson I’ve learned is that I want to be a really good writer. I want to be a wordsmith, sharpening each piece of writing until it can pierce through the noise.
These days writing, especially online writing, is treated like an asset, judged on metrics of growth and sales. It’s what I thought all writing should be, but after going through these last 100 days, I want to pursue writing as a craft not as a product.
So after a 100 days, I’m done with daily blogging. I’ll still write everyday but not to publish for quantity, but edit for quality.
Today also marks the anniversary of Becky and my pandemic year. This time last year we decided to stay home, stopping our routine of freely taking the subway, eating out, and seeing friends. New York would shut down a week later.
I feared whether this quieter life would drain an extrovert like me, but it’s been the opposite. I’ve love the routine and the stillness. “Everyday life” has taken on a new meaning, one that feels full of possibility.
“If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
The sunken feelings of my enormous past are being raised up these days, demanding to be captured with words. I find myself trying to describe every thought or moment with language. I’m starting to hear the rhythms of syllables, the timbre of each word, and how all of that can subliminally carrying the reader along my prose.
These are the lessons I’m carrying with me going forward. It’s been a year of tragedy, rebuilding, and emerging. For anyone needing encouragement to do something courageous, please reply back to this email and let me know what’s keeping you stuck.
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And feel a little less alone on your quest to your most courageous work.