Saturday, November 15, 2008

Angel, Chelsea, Hanna, Jude, and June's Birthday Party

On Wednesday, we celebrated the November birthdays.













Fifteen Hours ahead of Normal*

It's easy for things to become habitual. Even the constant language around you that you don't understand becomes—what? You can leave Ssangmun Hanyang Apartments, take the bus to Ssangmun Station, and from there take the subway out, all without getting lost, all in English (usually). It helps to practice the Korean alphabet on the subway because you can hear the pronunciation instead of guessing it from what friends have told you. Korean, English, Chinese.

I was writing in my notebook while waiting for the train at Ssangmun Station this morning, on my way to—hell, I don't know—when an older woman sitting next to me started to speak Korean. I looked over to discover that she was looking at my notebook and was talking to me. I looked at her a moment, until she paused, maybe to give me a chance to respond, before I went back into my notebook, but she poked me and again started talking. Unfortunately, the only word I understood was the name of my own country, 미국. "{I don't know}," I told her. As I walked away, she tsk-tsked—whether because I was the subject of the chastising she might have been giving me or because I didn't understand (or, shit, both), I don't know. I couldn't catch her tone.

For multiple reasons, I haven't been able to sleep well for the past two weeks. Maybe that's putting it wrong, since I've had plenty of opportunities to sleep just fine, but I've ignored them, wanting to stay up late instead. Sometimes I'm so tired, though, that I can't figure out, for example, whether my friends are speaking Korean or English, whether I'm teaching kindergarten or sleeping in my bed. On the edge of sleep, I'm telling Bert to sit down or telling Eileen how good a student she is.

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* Because of DST, which Korea doesn't have.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rejected Play

Every year at graduation, each of the older classes at LCI performs a play written by its foreign teacher. Here's the one I wrote for Elmo Class. It was eventually rejected.
Tristram Shandy

Characters:
Elizabeth (Chelsea)
Jenny (Wendy)
Mae (Barbie)
The Parson (June)
Dr. Slop (Bert)
Susannah (Hanna)
Toby (Andrew)
Trim (Eileen)
Tristram (Vincent)
Wadman (Angel)
Walter (Alex)
Yorick (Jude)

Tristram: Jasmine Teacher once said, "The trouble with being in a play about yourself is, you can't fool around." Why not? People fool around with themselves all the time. Hi, I'm Tristram Shandy. This is a play about how I got my name.

Mae: Shh. That's not a good way to start the play.

Tristram: What? Not a good way to start the play about me?

Mae: Yes. You're playing too much with your own play.

Tristram: What? Too much play in the play?

Mae: Shh. You're about to be named.

Elizabeth: Susannah! Susannah!

Susannah: Yes, my mistress?

Elizabeth: My baby has just been born.

Tristram: She's talking about me.

Mae: Shh. The audience can't hear over your talking. [Bows to the audience.]

Elizabeth: Go find my husband and see what name he wants to give our new baby boy.

Susannah: Yes, my lady.

Dr. Slop: And bring me a Popsicle! I'm tired and hungry after delivering that baby.

Susannah [finding Jenny, Toby, Trim, Wadman, Walter, and Yorick]: My mistress would like to know what the baby should be called.

Jenny: Ooh! Baby names! What about Santa Claus?

Trim: Santa Claus? What kind of name is that?

Yorick [shrugging]: I knew a man by that name. Something about a chimney. Or was that a dream?

Jenny: Well, what about Kimchee?

Trim: What? Kimchee Shandy?

Jenny: What's wrong with that?

Trim [looking around]: Um, nothing. Maybe we should just think about it some more.

Toby: You should name him Tristram.

Jenny: Then again, I've always liked the name Easter Bunny.

Toby: Nobody's saying it's a bad name, Jenny. Um, we just need to think more.

Wadman: What about Tim?

Yorick: Just Tim? That's pretty horrible too. So far I like Kimchee and Tristram best.

Trim: Yes, Tristram is good.

Walter: Are you crazy? Tristram is the worst name. You may as well call him Dog Breath.

Mae: Wait. Why is your name Tristram if your father didn't like it?

Tristram: Shh. You're about to find out.

Walter: He should be named Trismegistus.

Jenny: Trismegistus? That's even worse.

Yorick: Tris-what? Tricks me, just us?

Wadman: Teach me what is?

Toby: Tryst between exes?

Wadman: No, I think he said he wants Trix for breakfast.

Toby: It's nearly 2 in the afternoon, though.

Yorick: Or maybe he wants us to send him a box of Trix using FedEx. I'll get you some next time I'm in America.

Walter: No, no, no. Trismegistus. It's a great name. All the best people in the world have the best names. That's what makes them so great.

Trim: But Trismegistus? That's such a mouthful! Why not call him Toby after your brother?

Jenny: What an excellent idea!

Wadman [putting her arm around Toby]: Yes, your brother. He's so strong and brave.

Yorick: Yes, after Toby, a great soldier!

Toby [covering his cheeks]: Oh, that's too kind, calling him after me.

Walter: Which is exactly why he will be called Trismegistus. Can you remember that, Susannah?

Susannah: Yes. [She starts running back to Elizabeth, the Parson, and Dr. Slop.] Trismegistus. Trismegistus. Tris… Oh no! I've forgotten.

Elizabeth: What's the baby to be called?

Susannah: Tris-something.

The Parson: Tristram?

Susannah: No, it had some Gistus to it.

The Parson: Tristram-gistus?

Susannah: That's it: Tristram-gistus.

The Parson: There's no Gistus to it, noodle.

Dr. Slop [just waking up from a nap in a nearby chair]: Did I hear you're going to name your child Trick or Treat?

Tristram [to Mae]: Trick or Treat. That's a good bit. Imagine if I'd been named Trick or Treat.

The Parson: No, the name is Tristram. It's a good name. I baptize you, Tristram Shandy.

Dr. Slop: Where's my Popsicle, Susannah? You bring back Trick or Treat's name but not my food? Who's the doctor here? Who's done all the hard work?

Elizabeth [very irritated]: Excuse me?

Dr. Slop [ignoring Elizabeth]: I mean, what kind of world is it when a doctor can't even get a Popsicle after a hard day's honest work?

The Parson: Yeah, I'd like a Popsicle now too. Baptizing babies is hard work.

Walter [coming in]: Susannah hasn't forgotten the name, has she?

Elizabeth: No, and it's such a great name. My little Tristram Shandy!

Walter: Nooo!

Dr. Slop: I think I'd like raspberry.

Tristram [to audience]: And that's how I got my name. Thanks. You've been great.

Dr. Slop: Excuse me. Popsicle! Hello?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Names

I meant to write about Issue 1 on October 17, when I first ran across it, and Ron Silliman wrote about it as long ago as October 5, so I'm a little behind (not to mention that I sort of hinted in my last post that I'd write about Korea this time). To make matters worse, the link to Issue 1 seems to be broken now.

Issue 1 is—or maybe was—a 3,785-page e-document available as a free download. It claims to have work from 3,164 writers, many of whom are quite innovative (check the link to Silliman's discussion above for the complete list). Here's the thing, though: none of the contributors actually submitted their work to this journal; they didn't even write the texts found therein. Imagine finding your name next to something you didn't write in a journal with a few thousand other writers who didn't write their texts either. And the texts aren't very good either.

The comment section of Issue 1's Web site was filled with writers complaining that they "didn't write this fucking garbage!" Silliman has tracked down the person behind Issue 1 and talks about legal action. "Play with other people’s reps at your own risk," he writes.

Frankly, I'm disappointed in the reaction to this project. It seems as though every time something like Issue 1 is made, it's dismissed as a stunt or threatened, whether with legal action or censorship (maybe both of those are the same thing). When it comes to the oh-so-precious author, the arguments get ridiculous and start to rely on romantic notions of who a writer is or can be, what truth is, all that shit. One comment on Issue 1's site said something like "This project was probably done by college kids who'd been listening to some douche bag theorist." How anti-intellectual, another example of writers' saying theory has nothing to do with writing.

Writing is theory.

Now here.

Nowhere.

Now hear.

Hear this now: Frankly, I think it's hilarious, this involving others in documents they didn't create. There's too much pride in authorship. So many writers have responded to Issue 1 as though their whole careers were at stake. I don't understand writing as career. I mean, it's hard and important work, but it's not permanent. None of these silly names will last. Not mine, not yours, not even Shakespeare's.

What's a name? A working title.

My Korean coworkers, students, and friends don't use their Korean names. It's fascinating that my five- and six-year-old students have gotten used to being called one name in one language and another name in another language. Imagine that in the States or Canada: having a Korean name in case you're friends with a Korean.

And so what's the big deal with someone's using your name? How obligated are you to it?