Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chelsea Reads Better Than the Second-Grade Students

Twenty years after her graduation from kindergarten, there she is, plastered everywhere: Chelsea, 정채빈. Only her name's something else now, something I wouldn't recognize. She's still taking English, mostly so she can appear on late-night American TV shows while on her world tour. When I ask her how she likes it all, she says, "You know I hate English."

"No—well, that's too bad. But I meant, 'How do you like being famous?'"

And she looks hard at the floor, not even close to my eyes at all, and says, "What's not to love?"

I know nothing of American celebrities, much less about Korean ones. Chels says it's not hard to be one. "At least in America. In your country, you have to be different until they recognize you. Then you can go back to being just like everybody else."

"Well, maybe," I say, "but how do you know this? You're just a six-year—"


"OK. Eight. In Korean years, eight. You're just an eight-year-old girl in my kindergarten class, and all of this is made up, is being made up."

"Maybe you mean extrapolated. All of this is extrapolated."

"But that's the rub, Chels. I don't know much about you."

"You know me in a certain context. I think that's all we get."

"You mean there's no one version of a person?"

"Something like that. What makes you think the version of me I present to my parents has any more validity than the Elmo version of me?"


"And do you think I'm really 정채빈 more than I am Chelsea?"

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Elmo's Last Day

Goodbye, you wonderful people.

Unfortunately, Vincent and Wendy were absent today.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Heart Cooks Brain

Ovens are not standard. LCI doesn't have a stove on which the single cook can prepare lunch for the ninetyish morning students. There's just the two-burner stove (not stovetop—top of what?). I haven't had any Korean dish that requires a stove. Alex and I have a little portable one we keep unplugged on top of the fridge most the time. This tiny stove won't work if it's plugged into an extension cord, yet its cord doesn't reach from any space that's convenient, so using it requires moving stuff around a little. There are also three different kinds of outlets, and the rooms are arranged somewhat to fit the plugs, with a converter converting the voltage between the Korean alarm clock and the North American–style outlet by the bed. Why there's a North American–style outlet, I have no idea.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

You're the Good Things

Bought these guys today. They still don't have names.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Doin' the Cockroach

"Tylenol* 주세요."

Confused look.

Grabbing head.



"One thousand." Laughing. "One thousand eight hundred."

Need to stop thinking nobody speaks English.

Meanwhile, at the apartment, Alex sets up for a surprise party to send coworkers Terry and Patrick off, back to St. John's, Newfoundland, after their upcoming two-month trip through Southeast Asia and Canada. The cockroaches I thought were gone have been especially busy fucking up the already-or-so-we-thought-clean dishes. Rewash. Rehearsals all this past week and next for the kindergarten performance Wednesday, with original—that is, adapted/pirated/ripped off—scripts by the foreigners. Switch of scenery as teachers go and teachers come. New classes. My glasses are still in no shape of being fixed or replaced. This place. This place with—

"Are you finished?"

* 타이레놀.

Friday, February 20, 2009

This Devil's Workday

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I'm finished with work by 6. On Tuesday and Thursday, I'm at work till 7:30, but I have a two-hour break between kindergarten and first grade. Of my three classes, the second-graders have the best English. Actually, I don't know what I mean by that. They have an English that corresponds more closely to the one with which I am familiar, though they usually, in class anyway, don't listen to me when I have suggestions for how their English can correspond more closely to mine. The other two classes actively try, at least in class, to talk the way I do. My schedule may change after next week, when the classes are rearranged. Elmo will be gone for certain because those students are graduating.

I usually have no idea what's going on.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Head South

Six months out today.

I live in Dobong-gu, a community in northern Seoul. You can google that shit. I mean the shit on where everything is. Where I am—I am not here, despite what any Web address may say. Nobody's said anything, mind you. How can a location say anything anyway? Have I written anything about South Korea?

Alex has a student, Chris, who got my name right for the first time today without first being told. He usually just calls me Alex Teacher. Meanwhile, the kid parrots bathroom but will almost cry because he can't tell Alex that he has to go. I myself learned the Korean word for bathroom only a week or so ago. I can count to four. Course, Alex's kid is only four.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jesus Christ Was an Only Child (biimshin)

"Teacher, you old, you die?"

"Yes. Everybody dies when they're older."

The students with the best English comprehension—they're the ones who looked the least concerned.

Then again, I could be misremembering. It could have been the complete opposite.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Out of Gas

Alex just said: "Just write: 'I don't want to write tonight. I want to go to bed and watch a movie with Alex.'"

I don't know what I'm doing in this place anyway.* Was listening to Stephen Fry's latestest podcast (December 22, 2008), on language, and he quoted somebody with something like "'How can I know what I'm going to say until I've heard what I'm saying?'"

"Did I say, 'Watch a movie with Alex'?"

I am correct if right now I type, "I am writing," even if you're reading this. It's also a false statement but not yet. Well, yes, now, as you read, but as I write, it's not. When are we? Where were we before we discovered our kissing heads? As I write, I can write I'm writing. You are not yet reading. You will read, yet you're also reading.

* It doesn't matter whether, by "this place," I intend Seoul or online.

Monday, February 16, 2009


"I am persuaded, never thought of—Love, you see, is not so much a SENTIMENT as a SITUATION, into which a man enters, as my brother Toby would do, into a corps—no matter whether he loves the service or no—being once in it—he acts as if he did; and takes every step to shew himself a man of prowesse."
—Walter Shandy

Walter Shandy's two kinds of love: rational and natural. Does he mean legal and recreational? Not sure I believe in rational or natural. For one, whose rationality, etc., etc.? Natural? The first world, at least, is neither, in this paradigm anyway, natural nor artificial—that is, the distinctions have collapsed, or, if not, they're no longer (that?) important. For much is working definition. Vide Benjamin. Anyway, the distinction, and the fretting over it, isn't pragmatic, at least as far as I define pragmatism—that is, who gives a shit whether something is authentic, because what we have now is something we have to work with. Am I repeating myself? Is it a real image? Well, it is an image. All doctors are photoed. Can we count on anything being authentic anymore? I no longer what to ask that question—that is, I want to ask, "What is it doing?"

"What are you writing about?" Alex asks.


But to go back to Walter—Shandy, not Benjamin—to get back to love as, etc.: I like his idea about love as a situation (obviously, or I wouldn't have written it down), but I think he means thereby to condemn love to the legal realm (and thus classify it to rational?), in which I partly join him. But only so far as to condemn love as a ceremonial imperative, one that dictates, "You must find love, or you'll be miserable." Thereafter, I leave with Yorick. Though Yorick doesn't say so, I know he thinks the older of the Shandy brothers argues too often from first principles.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

비임신 (!/?)

Do we qualify as places? Certainly, we take up space, are inhabited by us. Still, I avoid the spots in my apartment for which I've planned furniture. Pragmatics: somebody's been in this space before me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On the Wrapping Paper of a Valentine from Elmo Wendy

Dear. Tim Teacher today
is valenpday
in march 2, 2009
8 I am will go in go to school
and I love you but I
don't for get you
and have a good day?!
and I don 't want
to miss you I wish
I want to see you
on I am going, when I to school

From Wendy
After another two weeks, Elmo Class will graduate and go on to elementary school. They're a bunch of great kids, and I'm going to miss them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The conservative arguments are always carried out in terms of what poetry essentially is and what practices would violate that essence."
—Cary Nelson

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Today one of my first-grade students fell on his belly and knocked the wind out of himself. Watching him panic was horrible. I didn't have the language to tell him he'd be OK, to tell him to trust me and keep trying to breathe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Let's not kid ourselves: anybody who writes is a writer. Next thing you know, somebody'll tell you writing is limited to that activity involving a keyboard or paper and a pen.

* Shi, the Korean word for "poem." Incidentally, the letter on the Korean keyboard is where t would be, and is where l would be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I don't speak a lot of the language.

* Transliteration of the word I wanted to write but can't, because there's no Korean keyboard on the device I'm using to write.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Teacher, me this everything doing?" one of the second-graders asked me this afternoon. I knew he was trying to ask me whether he had to do every part of a very long problem in his (college-level) grammar book, and as I corrected both his word order and word choice, I laughed to myself, as I always do. I don't let any of my classes speak Korean, not even the first-graders, who know less English than my kindergarten kids. I try to teach them that learning a second language involves knowing which language to use when. I say "try" because I'm not sure they fully understand the language I use to tell them when to use the language I use. The language they use is fascinating. It's certainly English, but it's not a language I fully understand all the time. I have nothing to do but laugh when all the other students in the room understand a student who's speaking her second language, one I'm supposed to know but can't decipher. I'm getting better. Each class has its own English, it's own pattern that sometimes includes so-called standard oral or written English (whatever that is). Today one of the second-graders even said "gonna" and laughed when he looked up and saw me smiling. What I wonder is, what does my (I use that possesive pronoun lightly) English sound like to them?

As the title of this post implies, I actually meant to write about poetry tonight. Oh, wait—looks like I did.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Not that I think poetry has no rules. On the contrary. But they are rules you manipulate/make/remix as you go. To quote Ronald Sukenick*: "I personally am enamored of the traditional Canon but not interested in repeating it."

* While I agree with many of the aphorisms in the linked document, there are some I find problematic. I almost dig "I like to set my mind on autopilot. I find it takes me in interesting directions, probably reflecting the structure of my mind." But then I suspect that some folks may take this as a validation of random writing.** Others, like "Writing begins as drawing and ends as music," strike me as sensationalizing of writing.

** I'm not sure how much I buy into so-called random behavior, at least on an individual level. From what I've seen, the motivations are there. I could be wrong, of course.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Included in last week's curriculum, which I have no hand in creating, was a lesson on writing poetry. "Teacher," Barbie said as soon as she saw the word in her Language Arts book, "what's a poem?" I read over the book's definition, some lame-dick emptiness about "painting a picture" with "words that usually rhyme." Then I told the kids not to follow the directions therein.

Friday, February 6, 2009


My second-graders have a hard time with the difference between will and would. They always answer questions about unreal situations with sentences about the future.

"No, no, not will. Would. It's subjunctive."

"Teacher, what's [trying to say 'subjunctive']?"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Don't Do What Jonny Don't Do Does

In English, you answer a negative question—say "You don't want any more of this?"—with the negative, "No," as in "No, I don't want any more of that." In Korean, however, you answer with a positive, "Yes," as in "Yes, you're correct: I don't want any more of that." When I ask my students such questions, I can never tell whether they're following Korean rules or applying the English rules they've learned. Invariably, I have to change the way I ask the question. So much for the short answer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

As Though Any of This Were Owned

A——'s mom came into the school today. We tried speaking to each other, but neither knew enough of the other's language. Finally somebody came by who could speak both, and A——'s mom said something not in my language. "You sound like an alien" was how it was put into mine.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Teacher

This morning my student Alex handed me a note that read, "There is a monster in your mind."

Then Jude told me, "Tim Teacher, don't lose your mind."

Monday, February 2, 2009

쌍문 한양 아파트*

Liked this post, regarding the big-book business, by Blake Butler yesterday/today.

Liked this article, regarding the sentence, by Gary Lutz in last month's Believer.

Cleaned out the shower drain this evening/whatever day it is for you because the cockroaches had multiplied and one tends to believe that the cockroaches dig the hair I've lost since whenever I last cleaned the drain. Never. And, well, somebody else lives here now, and you can't just go around with the having of cockroaches and hair, not to mention the two inches of water that stands, stands, stands after any shower, reminding you of the pipe that burst in your Normal apartment and, to the surprise of Wrist, didn't ruin anything except the two towels some careless worker used to clean up the water. Seoul is not Normal. Not to imply that it is somehow nonnormal, just non-Normal. So no standing water, especially because I can help it. Though the gas doesn't work and hasn't since I moved in despite repeated appeals to the school to get somebody on that. But for the first time in your life, you can afford to go out often, except when you send money home to the States. The exchange rate at this second is 0.7181 US dollars (do you use an s for something that's not even 1?) for every 1,000 won.

Got an e-mail from alice blue on January 16: more excerpts from "Exeunt Omnes," aka the passenger-pigeon poems, will be published in the next issue.

Broke my glasses by dancing too hard with them in my pocket this weekend.

* Learn Korean.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Zieht um

Alex moved into my apartment today.