Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sorry, ma'am, your blood is no good here!

Today after classes I wandered over to the blood drive in the multipurpose room in Hofstra's Student Center. What a great thing to do on Hallowe'en, eh? A good deed, but keeping with the theme of bloodsucking fiends and then getting sugared up on lots of free candy.

Well, I filled out my form and waited around with a bunch of undergrads and then it was my turn for the medical screening. She skimmed my list of questions for the boxes I'd checked "yes" that should be "no" or vice versa. My recent pneumonia was OK on the "any problems with heart or lungs?" question so that just left have I traveled outside of the U.S. and Canada in the last three years? "Where'd you go?" she asked me. Korea, with layovers in the airport in Japan. "Korea? Where?" I told her I lived in a big city, but traveled around to many places.

She had to get out The Book. The Book was a red binder with lots of laminated pages containing lists of countries and cross-references to various numbered questions and flow charts and further investigation to be done.

Now, this woman was nice and all, but very middle-aged-nurse Long-Island-accent-like. Just to try to set the scene. Anyway, it turned out she was not the sharpest tool in the geographical shed. She was noting places I'd spent the most time, and she asked me how to spell Daegu (sure) and Pusan (no problem) and then Seoul! OK, hi. Can't you at least take a stab at that one? No? Whatever. Anyway, we talked about how long I was there and when I'd come back and then she furrowed her brow and looked at The Book again and asked me, "How about, 'Korea, People's Democratic Republic of?'" Well, no I assured her. Couldn't go there. (That's what many like to call "North Korea," by the way.) Then she asked if I'd traveled to the Gangwon or Gyeonggi provinces. She was not happy pronouncing those names either, let me tell you. I told her no, that the province I lived in was (her pencil poised) Gyeong-sang-buk-do. Her face fell. I felt almost apologetic I didn't have an easier name for her. She sort of flailed for a minute, with her laminated pages, and said, "Did you go to the southern areas?" Now, wait a minute. We were doing really well with specifics, but southern areas? That's so vague. Daegu is in sort of south-central Korea, as I liked to call it, but of course I traveled in 'southern areas.' I galvanted about all the time.

It was time to call in the big guns. She ran off in pursuit of a supervisor-type and I looked sheepishly at the many undergrads waiting their turn, eager no doubt to bleed and get about the business of celebrating All Hallows' Eve. Well, the two women returned quickly and Supervisor-Type took The Book in her hands and examined my form.

"Is this a hepatitis thing?" I asked them. Lonely Planet and some others recommend that travelers to Asia including Korea be vaccinated for it, and I knew a lot of English teachers who'd had the shots before they came, although I personally did not. Turns out, no. Malaria. "Malaria?!" I said. "There's no malaria in Korea!" Ahhh, but it was in The Book. I continued to protest. The CDC...the State Department...Korea's not a malaria country...it's been eradicated...but it was in their list in The Book and that was all that mattered. Luckily, Supervisor-Type could read pretty well and she also placed The Book on the table where I could see it. Turns out the "southern areas" referred to the dangerous part of the North. Ms. Thang had just sort of blended those into one country, which is why it made no sense to me why we were talking about provinces in the north of "South Korea" and then suddenly had jumped to this "southern areas" nonsense. And then, Supervisor-Type, in all her big gun glory, hit on the pivotal question: had I traveled to the demilitarized zone?

And so, the jig was up. Also, it made sense now. It wasn't an urban/rural thing or even a north/south thing. It's that there is apparently deemed to be a malaria risk in that demilitarized wilderness and surrounding areas, both northward and southward. Which of course makes sense, too. As I learned from reading about it and when I visited, the Demilitarized Zone (or DMZ) (soon to be MZ, if Dubya has his way?) is sort of the land that progress forgot. Many travelers and thinkers have voiced concern that when the Koreas reunify (did you notice we said when, not if?) that they hope that 4-km wide swath of land can remain a protected national park or nature refuge because the wildlife that have flourished there in the last 50 years untouched by human civilization are astonishing in variety. Flora and fauna.

I really liked visiting the DMZ. I procrastinated (hello) about going on that tour until my last full weekend in Korea, but it was so amazing. Alas, even though it means I cannot give blood until 6-10-07, which will be the one-year anniversary of my return to the U.S., I would not trade that experience for anything. I'm sorry to the people of Long Island who might need my blood in the next seven or eight months. I hope everyone else who can give in the meantime gives! (That means all of you, everywhere, not just here of course.)

I also found it interesting because of course, another strange event that happened during my last month in Korea was when one of the English teachers in the expat scene had a terrible accident and they were desperately seeking a blood transfusion for him. I guess the hospital in Daegu was out of his blood type? I was at dinner with a couple English teacher friends and this girl we know was frantically texting us, did anyone have O-negative blood? I thought my blood was actually O positive, although now that I think about it, I might be O-negative; that's the universal donor, right? I feel like my mom once told me I was the universal donor. This is the same conversation I had with myself that night in the restaurant with Melissa and Rachel. I couldn't remember that day and I still haven't figured it out. I was hoping to find out today, man!

Anyway, at that time in Korea I was so sick and rundown and haggard and had my eyeball creature lesion and ear infection and antibiotics and pneumonia and god knows I was in no shape to give blood, but it was all very scary and sad for that English teacher. I didn't know him but I knew a bunch of his friends. And in my last days there, a couple weeks later, the update was that he was basically dying in the hospital, his family had come over from America or wherever, he was in a coma and it was a matter of days, etc. I never heard what happened. Wow, this has become really kind of messed up to think about. Which is sort of what my point was. I'm wondering if the Korean hospital would have asked about visiting the DMZ? (If some of our thoroughly blase medical experiences over there are any indication, I'm guessing no.)

My point is: wow. Whether or not Dracula is a knockin' at our doors, we should give blood--and eat candy!--when we can.

Have a good Halloween, everyone.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

...to have the things that mean the most not to mean the things I miss

I think these were my top three favorite days in Korea:

1. When I went with Bryan, JJ, Charlie, and BK on the Pusan "work club" trip last December.

2. The life-altering 24-hour period from Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon (what, that's a day, isn't it? 24 hours?!) in Seoul wherein we brought our performance of Speak Truth to Power to the event of gathered politicians and peace activists and I had one of my most reflective and inspiring birthdays in some time or perhaps ever.

3. Another 24-hour period, this one spanning Saturday-Sunday the last weekend in May, when my time was almost up and when I Went To The Mountain and brought back truth. First, with Ding Ding Dang's pneumonia-inducing forced march. Second, behind the "Kumsol Billa" in Yeoungcheon where we had a glorious cast party and day after cast party and where I discovered many things.

I had a lot to say today, and I said it on this blog's "literary supplement," which you can get to by clicking the link over there on the left side of this page that says "My War and Peace Blog" or by clicking here.

Dear Korea, Wish I was there...

In light of my recent slew of nostalgia-or-something-like-it, some have apparently wondered just what it is I miss about Korea. This is an interesting thing to ponder. So, let's see...

*I miss my weekends of random independent galavanting. After the arduous work weeks of DingDingDang-ing it up from Mon-Fri, I was SO ready on the weekends to explore, breathe, be outside, travel, and so on. Especially during my first few months, as soon as the weekend rolled around I would head to one of Daegu's bus or train stations, my Lonely Planet Korea book tucked safely in my backpack, and go somewhere. Anywhere! The entire country beckoned. Sometimes I would literally decide where I was going while in the cab on the way to Dongdaegu Station, or even change my mind at the last minute at the counter, if there happened to be a bus leaving soon for a dsetination I hadn't considered. Which brings me to another thing that I miss...

*I miss the extremely cheap, extremely plentiful public transit, which was not limited to the cities. In fact, I daresay this explains why I don't just randomly independently galavant every weekend while here in the U.S. I mean, I do randomly independently galavant lots of weekends, but it costs a lot more here. And let's face it. This country was made for driving. Now, I always was a huge fan of road trips, and I've been all over the lower 48, but in the last few years I have become quite content living life without a car. This life is easily led in Boston and New York. And it is even more easily led in Korea. Because, as I said, they make it easy to get anywhere via bus. Here's an example: national parks. Let's say you want to visit a national park in the United States. You're probably going to do this in a car. Unless you're on an organized/chartered tour. Not so in Korea. I could hop a bus in Daegu that would drop me off at the base of a random mountain. I hiked all the time. I went everywhere. And might I add that these bus trips sometimes cost about five dollars.

*I miss the scene. I really do. I miss the expat English teachers. I like them a lot, just in general. These are people with a demonstrated interest in travel, escapism, or both...and they aren't afraid of things like grammar, syntax, and adverbs. What's not to love? I was in heaven. Sometimes I was sad while I was over there that I hadn't gone ahead and done this teach-English-in-Asia thing earlier. I was 30 (despite all Korean notions to the contrary). Some of these people were 23, 24, 25...I was super-jealous! If I had gone then, I could have embarked upon the life some of them led, of teaching for multiple years in various countries, and then still gone to law school by age 31. I don't regret that I got to have all the life experiences I did have here in the U.S. throughout my twenties, but it was interesting to ponder over a beer or two...in the commune...

*Commune. Sigh... That beloved foreigners' watering hole. Gathering place for English-speakers and Koreans who weren't afraid to hang out with English speakers. It wasn't the only gathering place we had, but it was the first one I went to, and it was where I met many of my friends over there. It was dark and quiet and at the bottom of the stairs. It was a place of refuge. The owner was one of my favorite people in the world. He was so good to us. We had SO MANY good times there. Weekly Wednesday open mic nights were just the beginning...

*The Daegu Renaissance. Three cheers to Greg and everyone who launched it and participated in it. Rather than just sitting around drinking all the time, a bunch of us foreigners made art. Greg launched that co-op artists' space, and my winter/spring were filled with poetry slams, music, fiestas, new creative friends, and of course the play. It was amazing. I will remain forever grateful that I was there to participate. May it live on and on!

*The biggest thing of course is a very general thing: I do miss living abroad and the daily learning about yourself that comes with it. I consider myself to be the reflective, "finding myself," analytical sort at all times. But when you're living in a foreign country, especially one as jarring as Korea, you kind of are forced to reckon with yourself and your life and the world on a daily basis. An hourly basis, even. It's intense, it's grueling, and it's wonderful.

So that's just a few things off of the top of my head. I might also add that it wasn't bad having my rent paid for ("free" isn't really the term I'd use: sure, the school I taught at paid for my apartment, but I would definitely consider that a "cost" to my sanity if nothing else). And even apart from the English teacher scene, I met some phenomenal people. Like the aforementioned owner of the Commune. Like my "Dunkin' Donuts friend." Like Bryan and Robin, my Army and spouse-of-Army couple friends who are two of my favorite people on the planet. Like Eun Mi, who ran the Amnesty International foreigners' chapter I joined. Like Munjin Park and the others involved with the Korea Democracy Foundation who brought us to Seoul for Speak Truth to Power.

Yeah, I guess this is definitely something like nostalgia. I had a great experience there!

But, back to the present. Here I am in Hempstead, attending Hofstra law school and learning many things. Now that I'm not out of town to Boston or D.C. every other weekend, I have a new Sunday routine. It consists of waking up in the morning--that's the first step, and much preferable to sleeping in way late after being out carousing 'til all hours on Saturday nights. After the morning routine I stroll across the parking lot to the Hofstra Student Center where there is NO ONE around on Sunday mornings and I can snag a chance to play the piano in the lounge room that is almost always previously claimed by a television viewer. Next, I walk a few minnutes down Hempstead Turnpike (it's not really a freeway turnpike here, just a normal busy road that our campus is on, so don't be alarmed that I'm strolling it) to Starbucks, where I read my book and relax and enjoy a latte and some fruit. Afterward I walk through the quaint neighborhood between Starbucks and campus, enjoying the cute houses bedecked in Halloween decorations and the leaves scuttling along the sidewalks.

Finally, I end up at some cultural event or other offered on campus that I can attend free simply by showing my current Hofstra i.d. card. Today's offering was part of the months-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. I watched a chamber ensemble perform and it was fabulous. I sat in the auditorium of the Monroe Lecture Center that has already become the sight of many of my Hofstra moments: law school orientation events, a play, John McPhee's reading, and more. I listened to the most amazing clarinet-piano interplay and I reveled in the strings. It was good.

It's ALL good.

"May you live all the days of your life." -- often attributed to Jonathan Swift

Friday, October 20, 2006

War is Hell

(<---an oldie but a goodie from www.horkulated.com via this blog)

This is old (note: number of dead courtesy of Dubya has pretty much tripled since it was created) but I just thought I'd try to remind everyone there's still a war on. Apparently that won't stop us from starting another one, in the land of the morning calm. That's Korea, for those of you who maybe haven't had your Wheaties yet. Or don't quite have all the circuits firing. I feel a bit like that myself at the moment.

No nukes! No nukes! No nukes!

Really, though! Could we not? Could we just not?

I'm rather fond of Korea these days. Yeah, sure, you might say it's due in part to the fact that I can overlook its drawbacks now that I have unfettered access to Mexican food, movies in English, and the occasional bathtub. Assuming arguendo that those things are significant factors, I still cherish the experiences I had there and all that I learned. And you know what? I miss some of my students. Today, to keep myself awake in Civil Procedure, I was trying to list all of my Korean students class by class in the margin of my Civ Pro notes, mixed in with my doodles of pumpkins and ghosts and witches on broomsticks. (Note: Civil Procedure doesn't actually bore me, I just got precious little sleep last night and my brain cells were in rebellion.) I got totally stuck on my pre-school. Isn't that the craziest thing? I love my preschool! Everyone who has read this blog knows that! Remember the field trips? The holiday parties? The time Brian cracked my skull open? Ahhhh, sweet memories. But today I could come up with only 16 of the 17 pre-schoolers I taught. It's making me crazy. It also made the last 20 minutes of class pass pretty quickly. I cannot for the life of me figure out who I'm missing! I feel like Maria in The Sound of Music: "Oh, well, god bless what's-his-name."

And another thing, also familiar to those who've been reading this blog for the entire year of its existence -- oh no! I totally forgot to celebrate the first anniversary of my blog! I'm sorry, blog. I will have a belated birthday party for you this weekend -- is that there was one particular fly in the ointment that was me living in Korea. Fly, thy name is long-distance relationship. Now, as everyone knows (and good god if you haven't heard, sit up and take notice! and spread the word! I've heard shouting from rooftops is nice this time of year) the person with whom I was involved in said long-distance relationship is a total maniacal liar. So, while it turns out he was a colossal waste of my time and energy (not to mention money), he did in fact sometimes make me not want to be there because we wanted to be together. Or something like that. Granted, you learn something from everybody you encounter in this world even the ones who sell you out wholesale, but as I said then and reiterate now it would have been nice not to have had that issue preventing me from being 100% present 100% of the time because I really, really liked so much about being in Korea. Fly. Yes. He is a bit like a fly, now that I think about it.

But I digress. Frequently.

Korea is my new back-up plan for life!

I no longer have to fret and wring my hands and weep and wail and gnash my teeth over what to do with my life because when the going gets tough, I can always just go to Korea for a while to teach and make some money and figure it all out. Except, hello, in or near Seoul this time, so as to provide continued unfettered access to Mexican restaurants. Either that, or an apartment with an oven so I can make my own enchiladas. They exist, those ovens. Nary an English teacher I knew had one, but the American army vet and her husband I hung out with, they had an oven in the apartment Uncle Sam rustled up for them. And speaking of the Army, right, that's my whole point. NO WAR! Because in order for Korea to be the fail-safe, no worries, even-if-you-drop-out-of-law-school-there's-nothing-to-fear option in life, the country still has to BE there and not be blown to smithereens. Are you listening, world leaders? And world leaders pretend?

Oh, and the people who live there might also appreciate not having a nuclear war. Just a thought.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Star Swingin': The Next Generation

Addendum! I love it! In my last post I rambled about among other things Kathryn & Bing Crosby, my grandparents, and how very much I would like to go swing on a star. This morning I opened my e-mail to find a comment from my mother. (The characters you need to know are narrator=my mom, my sister Lesley, and my nephew Ethan who TURNS 3 TODAY YIKES!!!)

About six months ago Lesley called me and asked me about "Swingin' on a Star". She was singing it to Ethan and couldn't remember all the verse about the mule. So I told her. Now sometimes when I'm with Ethan I'll sing it -- and he says the words, too. He chooses which verse to begin with. I'll say, "Who shall we sing about first?" He'll say, "Fish!" -- and off we go. We haven't done this for a while. Thanks to your blog I will start it up again.

This has made me still more delighted, so I continue being high on the stars and the music. And, might I add, smart kid -- he likes the fish verse, too!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

And be better off than you are...

Today I attended a performance by Kathryn Crosby entitled "My Life With Bing." Through stories, images, and song she remembered her husband. It was quite a lovely afternoon, right here on the Hofstra campus. This university really does provide a lot of great events.

Apart from the cultural eventness of it all, it was kind of nostalgic for me. While it's true that Bing Crosby died when I was just a wee little tyke, I grew up knowing his music because my family exposed me to his music. His, and many others'. My family was all about the music. One way in which they did this was by subjecting me to viewings of The Lawrence Welk Show. I loathed watching The Lawrence Welk Show. Still do, in fact, loathe the mere thought of it. I think it was sappy, incredibly dull, and not even very well produced. I used to feel the boredom welling up in my gut until it was like a little ball that would then ricochet around my chest and head until I was screaming inside, "Please, for the love of god, let me do something else! anything else! besides watch this show."

But the music. Ahhhh, the music.

My Grandma Curtis was just about the most phenomenally talented piano player you ever did meet. I recall so fondly the Christmas Eves where she would play anything you requested and then some and we'd all hang out singing. It was even more exciting than Santa's impending arrivial. Sadly, oh so sadly, those Christmas Eve musical improv sessions came to an end while I was young, as her debilitating arthritis left her able to do less and less with her hands.

She and my grandpa sang beautifully. (My grandfather still does. He also plays the organ, as he says, for his "own amazement." But we are all amazed, too.) My mother, who is their daughter, carried on the musical talent and love of music into our home. My sister, a very good singer and piano player herself, has married a talented music man, who is among other things a choir teacher. I feel confident that if I should ever "settle down" one day, I, too, will have a musical mate. I don't think I've ever (seriously) dated anyone who's not musical.

One thing I vividly recall Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa singing to me is "Would You Like to Swing On a Star?"

...carry moonbeams home in a jar,
and be better off than you are,
or would you rather be a mule?
A mule is an animal with long funny ears
who kicks up at everything he hears.
His back is brawny but his brain is weak,
he's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak,
and by the way if you hate to go to school,
you may grow up to be a mule...

And so on. I remember I really liked the fish verse. But what I also remember is my grandfather singing it to me. Teasing me, perhaps, about I'd better go to school or would I rather be a mule? Not that they needed to be worried about me the super-nerd going to school. Hello. Still goin'!

And I remember the joy of discovering that song in one of my mother's songbooks as I taught myself to play the piano in my adolescent years. I'd kicked and flailed and screamed in piano lessons at age 5 or whatever until I was mercifully withdrawn, being absolutely petrified to go alone to a "stranger's" house, and that saddens me now. But I joined band in third grade, learned to read music, became a decent clarinet player -- well, you know, for a kid -- and then a little bit later sat down at the piano and was like, OK, I've got the treble clef down, how hard can this bass clef be? I started at C and worked my way down, and looked for easy songs in my mom's books. (Hymns=good.) And when I'd come across something like "Swing On A Star?" which I'd been singing for years I'd get a little thrill, Oh, I know this one! It made it much easier to learn to play it.

Today, at the Kathryn Crosby show, she invited audience participation on that one. We all began singing. I also started crying. I totally felt my family, my grandparents, there with me. Just weeping, and singing. It was grand.

We sang along to the film of Bing singing "Don't Fence Me In" as well. And then, for the finale, "White Christmas." I also remember when my mother taught me that one. We were at the grandparents' Curtis house again, in Sun City. I remember being very matter-of-fact. This is a totally famous Christmas song, I've never learned it, Mom teach me how it goes. And so she did. Today, as the film played of Bing, Kathryn, and their three children singing it (bedecked in red sweaters and the kids shifty and looking as if they might like to be somewhere else), Kathryn and one of her sons stood on the stage in front of the screen singing and we all sang in the audience too. It was joyous. I cried again. Of course.

There was a question-and-answer period after. A lot of people in the audience were in their "golden years." But I wasn't the only "young" one. One twentysomething woman got up to ask if Kathryn had any advice for someone her age embarking on a career in movies and music. I must say that Kathryn was all over the place in her answers, but it was kind of cool, too, when she was done with her script and just babbled on. There was a whole portion of the show recounting how she and Bing finally ended up getting married, and contemplating true love, and other women, and how and when we find people...contemplating also friendships and connections and life.

You know, I just think all the time that I aspire to be worthy of all the goodness my family has bestowed upon me. I guess a lot of us are rather ungrateful when we are young. Usually, there's time to grow out of it. Usually.

You know, my Grandmother Napikoski, on the other side of the family, is sick right now. Not doing so spectacular. We never saw them as often during our childhood because we were in Arizona and my dad came from New England. Grandma Napikoski still lives in the very house in western Mass. in which my dad and his siblings grew up. Since I moved to Boston a few years ago I have been blessed to spend a lot more time with her. Right now, she is making me a quilt out of all my old t-shirts. Careful readers of this blog will recall that I went on a tear this summer trying to get rid of all my earthly possessions. I was hung up on the t-shirts. I never, ever wear them but they weren't just random clothes I could give to Good Will without a second thought. They were from concerts, volunteer events, plays I did, the college radio station, etc. So my grandmother is making them into a quilt. I get to hang on to the nostalgia and have them turned into something useful. I am so grateful to her!

You see? Just, so much goodness. So why do we waste so much of our time with the wrong, wrong people in this world?

"And all the monkeys aren't in a zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see it's all up to you
You can be better than you are
You could be swingin' on a star."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

I love Fridays the 13th. Love them, love them, love them. It just so happens that I like the number 13 in general, and that my birthday is a 13th so every few years I get to have it on Friday the 13th and I love that. I was spectacularly lucky and got to turn 13 on Friday the 13th, which was awesome. I love black cats, too.

When I was in Korea I taught the kidlets about Friday the 13th when one came around. In Korea, the unlucky number is four. (Weirdly, I also have a small obsession with the number 44. This scared them. Hi Marcia! Hi Joe!) Like, there was no theater #4 at the cinema I went to, and so on. I told them how we often don't have 13th floors in buildings. "But, why, teacher?" they'd ask. I''d say, "Exactly. See?" With the slightly more advanced classes we'd get into vocabulary like "bad luck," "good luck," and "superstitious." I like to think I was opening little minds to rational thought, but god knows they probably ran home and told their parents there was nothing wrong with the number four and then I had unwittingly committed some grievous cultural offense.

I also love Indigo Girls. Love, love, love, love them. My all-time favorite musical group.

And today, right here in New York, at Radio City Music Hall in fact, I will be seeing my Indigo Girls in concert on Friday the 13th. Top that!

Actually, I will top that. Perhaps. I just have this littlest tiny inkling that they might play "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" tonight. I don't know why I think this. I've seen them 25 times before and they've never played it for me. I've seen them three times in New York before and they've not played it. But they have played it live...they used to cover it years ago (it's an Elton John song, oh ye who are unaware)...they resurrected it in the last couple years...it was on their recently released Rarities album...this tour they're playing mostly things off their new studio album, with a band, and not lots of old songs of their own, so maybe, just maybe...? Because, you know what? It's second only to "Nashville" in my personal rankings of Songs I Desperately Want to Hear Indigo Girls Play Live. And for some reason, I woke up this morning with a good feeling that I might at long last get to experience it live. I'll let you know. Watch this space.

That's all. No rant. Nothing else to see here, folks. Just, a lucky day, indeed!

Monday, October 09, 2006

"In a flash of pure destruction, no one wins..."

OK, here's how I imagine the whole thing in the conversations/thought processes of George, Dick, Rummy, Condi et. al. (or what passes for thought processes, in the case of W)

--Hmmm, wonder where we could scrounge up a few more soldiers to aid in the quest for domination of the Middle East? Ah, I know, what about those 30,000+ who are "defending" South Korea? Well then what will happen if the North invades? The North isn't going to invade anything. They can't even put dinner on the table. Well, I know that and you know that, but if there were no fear of the North invading we couldn't use South Korea as our stomping ground and launching point for various Asia wars and spying. True, true. But we really need those troops for Iraq right now -- things are bad over there! Well, maybe we could just blow Pyongyang into smithereens and then just put an end to the whole ruse that we're there protecting the South and then we can take those troops somewhere they're really needed and just leave a few over in Korea? But how can we just blow North Korea into smithereens when they're just up there starving and not bothering anybody? Might be time to play the Weapons of Mass Destruction Card. But let's not call it that. That phrase didn't go over so well. Let's go nucular. It's nuclear, you idiot. But is North Korea really stupid enough to start firing off nuclear weapons? Maybe. Doesn't really matter, does it? Who's really going to independently investigate the situation? They'll believe what we tell them. And no one will think it's fishy that they test the nuclear weapon right where our planes and such patrol; we'll use that to our advantage. Yeah, we'll just say our spy planes have been watching this area for a while and that's how we knew this was going to happen. People don't know anything about Korea! They'll be scared if we tell them to be scared and we'll get back some clout in the war department. No offense, man, but people want you fired. Not as badly as they want that representative from Florida fired! Right, but this will take their minds off of that scandal for a while! And we really need to keep the folks in Florida happy because that state is key when we invade Cuba next and use that war to put my brother in office so as to further our quest for world domination; you're all still in, right? All right, a nuclear weapons test it is. --

"All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance..."

-- Lennon

So, today is John Lennon's birthday. People are gathered in the Strawberry Fields part of Central Park to pay tribute, of course. I was considering going but I am going to hear John McPhee speak here on campus. I'm also these days reading his book Annals of the Former World and blogging about it on my blog's literary supplement (aka "my War and Peace blog").

A chance. That's all we're saying.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


A year ago today I arrived in Korea.

What a difference a year makes!

SO MUCH has happened in the past year. So, so very much. I can scarcely think of a thing about my life that is the same as it was a year ago. Everything I thought was happening a year ago has turned out differently than I predicted, and it's all so much for the better. A year ago today I was experiencing trepidation about living in Asia and I had never slept in a Buddhist temple and I didn't know how much I loathed kimchi and I hadn't read War and Peace and I could have counted on one hand the number of Canadians I knew and I didn't know the Commune existed and Speak Truth to Power? Hello?! Did I have any clue I'd be able to direct that over there??! I also had no idea if I would in fact enroll in law school in the fall of 2006, or put if off until 2007, or...? There were so many unknowns but they were exciting and I remember that that first week in Korea I felt pure, unadulterated joy as I at long last set out to teach English in Asia. I had reached my escape velocity from Borders, and I trusted the people in my life...I felt such unmitigated happiness that week. I was alive. It was astonishing.

Still more interesting to me is that there are people, a slew of people, who are an active presence in my days now, and a year ago I either didn't know them, or if I did know them I hadn't heard hide nor hair of them for years. This latest revolution around the sun has been revolutionary in my own personal world. Old friendships have been re-established, budding friendships have blossomed into amazing connections, new friends have been found. I have come to see the true nature of so many people in my life and the vast majority of these revelations have been wondrous. I know a lot of fabulous, nurturing people. New friends, yes, but also keeping the old. After all, one is silver... (everyone sings that, from Girl Scouts to Indigo Girls)

Today, in just the latest example of the magic of it all, I am heading into The City to have lunch with Lillian, my roommate from USC. Those of you from the "gold" category may remember her and that she was from Brooklyn. And now, Brooklyn is down the street. Ahhh, ten years ago. Lillian and I would rant together about crazy Los Angeles. We both loathed it, for different reasons, although I completely converted whereas she never let go of her belief that her hometown of New York is the superior city. I recall the announcement that year that the Grammy Awards ceremony was moving from L.A. to New York, and there was this jokingly competitive pride about it. I remember Giuliani (before he was a world leader) saying, "It's the difference between a city that's for real and a city that's on tape!" Oh, Lillian and I ate up that quote. It was phenomenal.

So today is Homecoming, here at Hofstra. We are playing Villanova. I am basically uninterested in campus homecoming festivities such as parade, football game, showing my "spirit" -- yeah, been there done that. But I am decidedly interested in the concept of Homecoming, and especially the timing of it. I like fall. I am fond of October. Usher in the harvest time, a season of change, a chance to reap what we've sown.

"You walk across the baseball green, the grass has turned to straw
A flock of birds tries to fly away from where you are
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye old friend, I can't make you stay
I can't spend another ten years wishing you would anyway
Now the sky turns to fire
Against the telephone wire
And even I'm getting tired
Of useless desires...
Walk down to the railroad track and ride a rusty train
With a million other faces I shoot through the city veins
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye old friend, you wanted to be free
And somewhere beyond the bitter end is where I want to be..."
---patty griffin, 'useless desires'

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Thou shalt have justice more than thou desir'st

A brief addendum to my rant yesterday about Contracts: I just left that class and I must say it was the most delightful Contracts session yet. The other week we discussed a business lease case in which a landlord was trying to evict a tenant but the tenant's lawyer responded that the landlord had not properly demanded the rent. The lawyer called upon an "archaic" provision of the law stating that the landlord must go to the highest spot on the land the date the rent is due and call out for the exact amount...it was great. Everyone dismissed it as a frivolous technicality argument and I might add I was the lone voice defending the lawyer. I applaud his originality if nothing else.

At any rate, today we revisited that case on appeal. My professor noted that "most" of the class had dismissed the argument as ridiculous when we previously went over it. Yet, the appeal court reversed the decision. I love it! Was the judge really swayed, the professor asked, by the lawyer's argument? Did the landlord really need to proceed to the highest hill on the rented land, etc.? Or are we simply fighting technicality with technicality: if the landlord was going to play hardball with the tenant and enforce a technicality, he should get a taste of his own medicine.

We turned to Shakespeare. Yes, you read that right. The Merchant of Venice. Antonio could not pay back what he borrowed, so Shylock sued for his pound of flesh. Talk about your doctrine of "unconscionability." But hasn't he got a point? "If you deny me, fie upon your law!" In comes "judge" Portia, who, says well, it's true, the quality of mercy is not 'strained and all. Is she serious? She won't bend the law just a little? But! Here comes the technicality. You get a pound of flesh, but it doesn't say anything in here about blood. Take any more or less than a pound of flesh and you die.

It was brilliant. It was easily the best ten minutes I've spent in Contracts class. My professor had students volunteer to read aloud the speeches of Shylock and Portia and everything!

Oh yes, he said, the law can become very technical.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Day of Atonement

I have returned from my holiday weekend, which was spent in the D.C. area in relaxation and rejuvenation. For those who missed the news of my big Hofstra perk, we had Yom Kippur off. I hear it's a day for forgiveness and attending to one's mortal soul. Well, I certainly did give my mortal soul some thought this weekend. However, I spent more time reveling in Buddhist things as it turned out.

This trip was decidedly low-key, which on one hand was good, as I've been needing to Just. Sit. Still. for some time now, no offense to Marian Wright Edelman. (don't worry, fewer than a dozen people I know could reasonably be expected to get that allusion, you weren't the only one) On the other hand, I was far enough away from the city and did not do my usual D.C. friend-hopping so I missed seeing some people. But the real purpose of the trip was just to get out of Long Island for the three-day weekend (am I the only one who feels morally obligated to not stay home on a three-day weekend?)

On Saturday and Sunday I stayed with my friends in a place I like to call "The Bucolic Suburbs Past Manassas," or "Pleasantville" for short. We had fun and among the highlights was the fact
that we actually drove on a street called Frying Pan Road. That made me smile. It redeemed Virginia a little bit in my book, which Virginia needed because it has been on a slippery slope with me lately. On Monday morning after all the folk who don't go to Hofstra went back to business as usual, I went into D.C. and made a beeline for the Smithsonian. I was craving art, and art I got. The Freer and Sackler galleries were just bursting with Asian art, and I wandered from Buddha to Buddha in a nostalgic, wistful reverie. It is the first time since returning from Korea that I've been in a museum full of centuries-old Buddha and Bodhisattva sculpture. I think I kind of miss being in Asia. I spent so many weekends galavanting about Korea and saw museum after museum, temple after temple, Buddha after Buddha. Some of the expat English teachers adopted the "you've seen one Buddhist temple, you've seen them all" approach, but I never felt that way. It was fascinating seeing the places in their secluded mountain locales and just soaking up the history, beauty, spiritual presence. I actually rather enjoy religious architecture and art of many denominations in many places, but there's something particularly appealing to me about the mindfulness practice of the Dharma, as I've mentioned before. I was really happy with my Smithsonian choices on Monday.

The other exhibit I saw was Simryn Gill. Holy cow, this woman from Singapore who now lives in Australia has made amazing art out of the pages of books. There is a series of necklaces called "Pearls" -- the "beads" are pages from books rolled up tiny and strung. It's a bizarrely satisfying questioning of form and content and the distinction if any between them. Then there was a series of prints called "Forest" in which she put pages of books into nature, either placing them to mimic the leaves of trees or wrapping them around a tree trunk...it's hard to explain. Hmmm. Look here.

The point is, what a highly satisfying excursion to D.C./Virginia it was!

Now I'm back at school. After all, one can't spend all one's time reading The Washington Post on one's friends' deck and thinking about life, art, love, theatre, writing, books, old friends, and travel. (Or can one?) Today was Torts day. I think that Torts is fast becoming my favorite class. And not just because it exposes all the foibles of Wal-Mart. It is interesting and I find myself looking forward to it, looking forward to doing the reading for it, looking forward to hearing what the professor will say, and even looking forward to being called on. The exact opposite is true with Contracts.

One of my 3L(third-year) friends suggests that there are Contracts People and Civil Procedure People. I can see that. It's kind of like the Geometry People and the Algebra People. Even though I did fine in all my math classes, I am absolutely 100% an Algebra Person. I also like dogs, especially other people's, but at the end of the day reluctantly check the "cat person" box. I say "reluctantly" because I hate labels and false dichotomies and this entire "two kinds of people" conversation is meant facetiously so if you're taking it too seriously, I suggest you stop now. (Besides, everyone knows there are two kinds of people, those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not...)

I think lots of "non-math" people like Geometry better. Here at law school, I am apparently a Civ Pro Person. I haven't yet determined if all of us Algebra People are also Civil Procedure People and the Geometry People correspond to the Contracts people. Contracts is a lot like the study of economics. I perceive it as -- well, besides a giant waste of time -- a place where the theorists are creating problems that aren't there, just to make solutions and make themselves feel smart. (Kind of like the Bush Administration does with war.) Instead of deducing what's happening, like in Criminal Law where we begin with a theory of punishment and apply it with, say, prisons vs. creative sentencing, in Contracts we are going from the practical to the quasi-philosophical. It doesn't feel right.

It's like, Joe sold Fred five million knives. Fred agreed to pay five dollars per knife but if they were defective Joe would owe Fred a million dollars in damages. Now, was that fair? Can we enforce this contract if it wasn't fair? If half the knives were defective should Joe actually owe Fred more than one million dollars? How do we restore Fred to where he was? Arrrrgh! It makes my head spin! Every single page we read in there has a simple answer: do what you say you're going to do, and don't say you're going to do something if you're not going to do it. And if, by the way, you change your mind, then just PAY THE PENALTY AND MOVE ON! Come on, people! ("Oh, but a penalty is not enforceable under the laws of contract it is an illegal forfeiture because only the stipulated damages blah blah blah blah...") I get outraged in that class. Seriously. Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, there I am. Outraged.

I look at it like this: I mean, I went to Korea to teach English. I had a year contract with Ding Ding Dang. If I stayed for a year, I would receive a severance bonus and airfare and whatnot. If I left before then, I would not. That's the long and short of the English teacher contract, or the part of the four pages that mattered to most of us anyway. So. When I got offered a full tuition scholarship, it suddenly became worth it to me to break the contract. Full tuition to law school is a lot more than a month's teaching salary plus airfare, I'll tell you that right now. So, I gave notice (as was noted in the contract I may do) and returned to the U.S. and came to law school. End of story. (Well, the end for current purposes.) Do we really need to debate for hours about expectancy? and reliance damages? and what was intended by the parties? and whether it was unconscionable? No. I have eight hundred and fifty thousand complaints about Dingity Dingity Dang, but frankly my contract is not one of them.

I have less and less sympathy every day for people who don't read their contract/lease/agreement and then come crying when they are later dissatisfied by what they themselves have wrought. Simple choices. In black and white. But people with too much time on their hands want to go making it theoretical. I say, render unto theory that which is theory's!

There was one interesting thing I learned in Contracts this week. But it also made me feel old. Did you know what the C & the H stand for in in C & H Sugar? California and Hawaii! I did not know this! And I marvelled at in class, and my friends sitting around me were like, what? Why is that so fascinating? And I said, well, you know, because who didn't see that commercial a million times...? And I promptly began singing the jingle: "C & H/pure cane sugar/from Hawaii/sweetened by the sun/C & H/pure cane sugar/that's the one!" This was greeted with blank looks. "So they say 'from Hawaii,'" I pointed out, "but they don't mention California. Who knew?" More blank looks. "Oh, come on, you know, with the little kids picking their way through the sugar cane? I must have seen that thing EVERY DAY somewhere between Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch." Nothing. Sheesh. I was like, how young are you people?

It has since been posited that this C & H commercial was not a nationwide commercial because while Amy and I sang the jingle together this weekend her equally aged husband James who grew up in the eastern U.S. said he'd never heard it and maybe it was a west coast thing.

And if you're wondering, the lawsuit involved the shipper who failed to meet its contractual obligation to deliver the raw sugar from Hawaii to the processing plant in California in a timely fashion during the sugar harvest. But I'm sure the shipping company somehow got out of just admitting its wrongdoing and compensating C& H for what they lost. There's always a loophole.

I read that part of Yom Kippur is asking God (I mean G-d) to annul all of the vows you'll make in the next year, like if you say, "Lord, get me out of this one and I swear I'll quit drinking!" or whatever. Well, according to Judaism 101 this was used to "show" that Jews were not trustworthy, so in Reform Judaism they took it out of the liturgy for a little while. But it's really because vows are taken so seriously that even if they're made under duress, they should still be upheld unless God cancels them. Huh. Take that, Contracts class! (I'm still not sure where that leaves Dubya and the Warmongers.)