from the Korean Army to being published

the blog of an "ex-patriot" writer in Korea

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Random #74: News for the New Year

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It’s a new year, and while I don’t like attaching special meaning to the passing of time, I do have some news. Not good news. Just news, plain and simple. The first item is that I’ve decided to abandon the agent search and to self-publish. I realize that I still haven’t reached a level in the quality of my writing that I’m satisfied with and don’t think that I’ll be able to get there by being stubborn and completely re-writing the manuscript for the third time. I’m tired of working on it. In three weeks, it will be the ninth anniversary of my discharge and eleventh anniversary of my induction and almost ten years since I started typing up the earliest notes for this book, and I think that’s enough. The book is what it will be, and I’m fine with that. I really want to focus on my novels, and hopefully focusing on something I actually want to write will help me to grow as a writer.

The second item is related to the first. I will be quitting this blog sometime this year. I won’t shut it down, but once the book is e-published, I will only update it if there are any developments with the publishing, something I’m not really expecting. This blog was started for generating interest in this book, and I feel like it has recently strayed from its original purpose.

My name is not Holden Beck. I chose this ridiculous pseudonym to hint to the readers that I was “holding back” certain things in the book (at least I intended to at the beginning). Not that I was trying to hide any embarrassing stories or to stifle my emotions. Holding back one’s emotions is not conducive to writing and any lack of emotion in the book is only due to a flaw in my own character. I originally meant to withhold information related to my estranged father, primarily because he asked me not to publish this book so as not to damage his reputation. Even using my real name would cause him to lose face because there are people around him who know that his second son was forced into the Korean Army. I do leave out some of the things that happened between me and my father during that period but only because it has no bearing on the story being told. A lot of my experiences have been cut from the latest draft for the sake of readability. There are still times I worry how interesting a read it is because those two years were supremely boring years.

Anyway, the publishing is still a way off. I just finished another round of edits and hope to finish it in the next coming months. I still have to design a cover and figure out exactly how to self-publish. Hopefully, the announcement of the publishing of the book online won’t be too far off, but I’ve broken too many self-imposed deadlines to make any declarations. I will update again once I make some progress.

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Written by Young

January 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Random #73: Easily Distracted

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I’m not much of a closer. The deck on my balcony needs to be re-stained and the screws need to be replaced. A couple of the bolts on my bike need to be drilled out and replaced and parts of the frame need to be treated for rust. Several art projects are still just ideas swimming around in my head but never put down on paper. Numerous blog entries are half-written on my computer. I have the numbers of a couple of girls who I can’t be bothered to contact despite finding them more than mildly attractive.

I have a tendency to be somewhat of a perfectionist, obsessing over the smallest detail and spending hours and days and weeks on a single project, but I have an equal tendency to suddenly abandon the same project and never to revisit it. There’s a word in Korean that’s absent in English that can properly describe how I am most of the time, daechungjueui, which means that I’m guided by the principle of doing things just adequately enough, as in, “Eh. That’s good enough.”

Much of it is due to sloth. My room is a pigsty. I throw garbage in the general vicinity of the trashcan, even if I happen to be standing next to it. I can’t figure out why I can’t take the extra five seconds to hang up a jacket instead of tossing it on the ground right next to my dresser. My room would never be clean if there weren’t occasions where I thought there was a remote possibility of bringing a girl back to my place. More than a few flings have felt the need to clean my room and even my bathroom while I was deep in post-coital slumber.

The rest of it is due to distraction. I’m absentminded and forgetful, debilitatingly so. I can think of something that I need to do all day long, but an errant thought can block out the thought completely. I can set an alarm on my phone and write notes on my hand and still not remember until it’s too late. I can focus really well but only on one thing at a time, and the moment something new pops into my head, all of my attention moves over to that new thing.

I think that this forgetfulness is a defense mechanism. If I had a better memory, I’d probably be completely incapacitated, mired in depression and regret over a lifetime of waste and horridly stupid mistakes. The fact that I’ve been working on this book for so many years can be attributed to this fault of mine but is also a testament to how bad I want this. Remembering events that happened now ten years ago in detail is painstaking and time-consuming, and I’m constantly struggling for the right words. I know they exist but they haven’t been on the tip of my tongue for years.

That being said, I’ve finally finished the revisions on my first six chapters that I’ve been struggling with since the accident. Now I just need to push myself a little longer to start and get through the agent search once again.

Random #72: Back on the Bike

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I’ve started riding again. The first time I took the bike out after the accident was actually a couple of months ago, but I haven’t ridden much since then. The problem is that I have nerve damage in my left leg and I couldn’t raise my foot to change gears. I took the bike out to my mechanic and I was in first gear the entire time.

In the months since, I’ve regained very little strength but it’s enough now that I can change gears by tightening my ankle and lifting with my leg. It’s not ideal, but it’s manageable. I don’t know if I’ll ever regain enough function to change gears normally but I’m learning to deal with it. (The doctor who administered my nerve exam told me that the nerves might recover some day but he was very noncommittal.)

This bike isn’t the bike I was riding when I got into the accident. That bike was totaled, which saddens me because it was a beautiful bike. My current bike is the same make and model but it’s like buying the same breed of dog after your previous dog has died. It’s just not the same.

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The bike I was riding when I got in the accident/the aftermath (I don’t know where the red paint on the fender came from but all that damage on the gas tank and covers is where my leg was)

I bought this bike while I was still hospitalized. I still had a cast on my leg and had to use my crutches to make it to Suwon to take a look at it. It wasn’t smart—I normally would never buy a bike unless I could take it out on a test ride—but this strong desire to get back on a bike clouded my judgment. After the cast came off, I was going to jump on the bike and ride off into the sunset. Of course, that didn’t happen.

Some of my friends think I’m crazy to be riding again. They don’t understand because they don’t ride. There’s just something about being on a motorcycle. There is a freedom of movement, the visceral experience of the speed, the leaning into turns. Traffic is not an issue. You don’t have to worry about the asshole in the next lane letting you in. The road is yours for the taking and the cars are only obstacles to make the course more interesting.

If anything, the accident has made me even more determined to ride and to follow through with my plan to complete the cross-country trip I wasn’t able to finish in 2006. This bike was previously owned by a college kid with awful taste and a lack of concern for maintenance so I’ve been working on it over the past couple weeks, taking it apart, repairing or replacing worn or rusty parts, re-doing the wiring, and getting it painted. If I hadn’t been the same kid with awful taste and a lack of concern for maintenance back then, maybe I would’ve been able to make it all the way to Seattle.

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Before and after pictures of my new bike (It doesn’t look like I did much but he welded a lot of the stuff on and fucked with the wiring so he could put on these tacky LEDs)

Not that I’m completely unaffected by my accident, but I’ve never been one to let a bad experience control my life. If I did, I’d be a very bored and boring person. I have sensed that I tighten up slightly when I ride through the intersection where the accident happened, that intersection—it’s an intersection I pass through daily—but it only serves to make me more cautious of the ever-present assholes who run red lights with abandon.

Today, instead of taking the bike to Nakseongdae, where I usually write, I took it all the way to Gangnam. I’m now sitting in a coffee shop, on the second floor, next to the window with a full view of my bike. It’s sitting there pretty on the street, beckoning me to take her out again.

I’m at the coffee shop trying to get back on the bike again with my writing. It’s September, the summer has come and gone, and I’m still working on these first six chapters, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to turn that around soon.

Random #71: Feeling Useless

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I’m not writing right now. Of course, by “right now,” I mean that I haven’t been writing lately. The fact is that I have written a few things but they’re all garbage. This garbage differs from my normal garbage in that I know that it’s garbage right away. With most of my other garbage, I at least believe it’s brilliant for a moment or two.

This is my longest slump so far since seriously sitting down to write. One thing I’ve realized that’s not happening is that I’m not thinking about writing these days. Normally, I’m constantly thinking about writing and the things that I do or see sometimes give me inspiration. But right now, I’m teaching four times the class load I normally have and I find that I’m constantly thinking about my classes.

It’s frustrating because of what use is a writer who doesn’t write? I enjoy teaching but I only consider it a decent way to pay the bills until I can start selling books. When I was in the hospital, I was worried that I’d get fired but now I’m considering the possibility of quitting or at least taking a break so I can focus again. A decent settlement from the insurance company would help.

I’m still aiming for starting my agent search again at the end of the summer although it’s going to be difficult with my workload. I guess I’ll just have to make the most of my weekends.

Random #71: Stiff

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It’s been a while since my last post, and it’s symptom of a larger problem—I haven’t been writing. I’d like to blame it on the hospitalization but I was discharged from Yonsei Bon about two weeks ago, and I’d like to blame it on work but I realized last night that I’m only teaching ten hours a week. Physical therapy only consumes about 30 minutes a day and going to the gym only slightly more than that. It could be the drinking but I think it’s really because I’m out of practice.

Of what use is a writer that doesn’t write? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s a kick in the testes. My manuscript is gathering electronic dust on my hard drive, largely untouched since the accident last December. My second book is still a jumble of random scenes.

My leg has regained a lot of strength and I’m almost at a point where I can walk without a cane, but strength isn’t the problem. The problem I’m facing right now is a lack of mobility. While I was lying in the hospital for five months, I couldn’t use my left leg at all and my doctor keeps telling me it has “hardened,” which I assume he means it has stiffened from disuse. I’m trying to regain mobility and there is a high degree of pain in doing so.

My fingers have stiffened. My writing has stiffened. Even now, typing this, I find myself struggling to express myself and to make it to the next sentence.

There are only two things I can think of that should be stiff. Both begin with a d and end with a k. and neither of them gets that way through disuse.

Before I knew the details of my injury, I thought I’d be out of the hospital in a couple days. After my first couple surgeries, I thought I’d be walking as soon as I got my cast taken off. Almost two months since having it taken off (and posting my last blog entry), my left ankle is still twice the size of my right and the pain is fairly constant. I’m not healing as fast as I thought I would (delusionally so), but the fact is, I am getting better. It’s slow going but I’m getting there.

Hopefully it will be the same with the writing.

Written by Young

June 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Random #70: David Dunn and Mr. Glass

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“Don’t worry about me,” I said to my brother Jason and Mark from the gurney, bleeding from multiple gaping wounds, heading into my first of five surgeries. “I’ll be out of here in a couple days. You’ll see.”

Sixteen weeks later, I’ve just had my cast taken off and am walking to a taxi with my brother after a feast at Dos Tacos.

“Don’t ride anymore,” he urges, something he rarely does because he knows I’m just going to do whatever the hell I want.

“It’s okay. I’m invincible.”

“Whatever, Mr. Glass.”

My brother Jason momentarily confuses my statement as an allusion to a movie I often reference with regard to myself, Unbreakable (2000)*. I believed that if quasi-superheroes walked among us, I was one of them. I’ve survived countless collisions and scrapes and a few-near death experiences and survived with a lot of stitches and bruising but no breaks beyond a boxer’s fracture in my right fist from punching what I thought was a wooden door but turned out to be something like those petrified redwoods in California. I broke through the windshield of my first car in a head-on collision and walked away with about thirty stitches, a lot of bruises, and an ER bill that made me contemplate suicide, but I was fully functioning after only a couple days. This is one of the reasons why I believed I would die at 35 or live forever**.

This misplaced belief in my invincibility has not faded much, although I admit that I can no longer compare myself to David Dunn unless my superhero weakness is not water (which, coincidentally, I am deathly afraid of) but a sedan crushing my leg into my motorcycle at 50 km per hour. Aside from the first couple weeks of my hospital stay in which I was constantly asking for painkillers, the sixteen weeks of my hospitalization thus far has been relatively pain-free. Even after each step in my slew of surgeries, the post-operative pain lasted only as long as I was in the recovery room. This shit is a breeze, I thought.

That’s what I thought until I had my cast taken off on Thursday and tried to put a small portion of my weight on my newly unencumbered leg. The unbearable, shooting pains in my foot that brought tears to the corners of my eyes told me clearly—This is only the beginning of the pain, motherfucker.

The pains were right and feel the need to remind me every time I put a reasonable amount of weight on my leg. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. I was supposed to be walking, without crutches, within a couple weeks and be back on a motorcycle within the same time frame. I can’t even flex my ankle—every time I try, I can only manage to raise and lower my big toe—and I know that the pain I feel is only a harbinger of the pain to come.

“You’ll be on crutches for at least the next two, three months,” the owner of the coffee shop downstairs said, his wife nodding knowingly beside him. (My doctors don’t talk to me so I get most of my medical advice from my barista.) “It probably won’t be for another six months that you’ll be able to walk normally.”

Had he said this before I had my cast taken off, I wouldn’t have believed him. I would’ve done what I normally do when an older Korean feels the need to dispense his nonsense on me, nod and smile and pray that one of us will fortuitously get an important phone call. Having physically experienced the obstacles I will have to overcome in the coming months and the limitations of my healing ability, my nod was one of acknowledgement.

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Comparison of my legs, the day the cast came off

* He wasn’t referring to Invincible (2006), the story of Vince Papale. Although I love fantasizing about walking-on and playing in the NFL, I was already far too small and out of shape for that to happen before the accident. Now, I don’t even know if I’ll ever be able to run again, which would make it impossible for me to be the next Devin Hester.

** I really don’t want to live forever. I’d much rather go in a horrible motorcycle accident than in my sleep. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time left to make the first deadline in my prediction. Perhaps this accident was supposed to be it—it happened a few days after I turned 35—and the universe is telling me that I have no choice but to live forever. Not that I’m not going to try to struggle against the powers that be with alcohol and cigarettes.

Random #69: The Sun outside Yonsei Bon

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An hour before lunch, I hobbled down on my crutches to the coffee shop on the first floor with my trusty Daiso* thermos for my morning coffee. The couple who run the coffee shop are real nice—it seems like I’m their only customer—and they dress too nicely for this neighborhood. Sitting outside with my coffee and occasionally puffing on a cigarette, I spent a good while soaking up some sun. No looking at my phone or talking to anyone or looking at anything in particular. Just enjoying the weather. Cats and dogs know the secret of life. There’s not much better than lying in the sun with not a thought or care in the world.

I’m still in hospital clothes, blue pinstripes which hide the kimchi and coffee stains a little better than the patterned white at CAU. The new “hospital” is a dump. I passed by the building practically every day before the accident and I always thought the building was abandoned and waiting to be torn down. There is very little regard for sanitary conditions, and when I get my daily morning shot in the ass, the hand that slaps my ass to distract me from the pain has freshly slapped the ass of the 70-year-old in the bed across from mine without a good slathering of hand sanitizer.

Food’s slightly better here, though, and the nurses’ disregard for our welfare allows me almost free rein to come and go as I please. My apartment building is even closer than I believed it to be, practically next door, and I slip out twice a day to use the bathroom and wash up. The bathroom in the “hospital” smells like stale urine and causes me to gag if I try to brush my teeth here. The other day, I went home and took my first shower in almost four months, sitting on a plastic stool with my cast resting on the toilet.

The back door of this place is open 24 hours for smoking and all I have to do is brave three flights of stairs on my crutches to slip out and drink at the bar I was helping with construction the night of the accident. I’d sneak out and sleep at home but I’d never be able to wake up early enough to make it back to this room in time for breakfast.

The patients here are very different from the ones at the university hospital. “Nylon,” people refer to them, meaning perfectly unhurt people scamming for insurance money.** It feels like a dorm for taxi drivers—probably 90 percent of the “patients” here—and every night the 70-year-old tries to get me to drink soju with the rest of them. Right now, they’re on the one unoccupied bed, talking shop and drinking soju and snacking on blood sausage, oden, and cow intestine.

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The 70-year-old sleeping off a hangover

I still haven’t been able to write. I was finally starting to settle into a groove at CAU when they told me to leave. I should skip out on afternoon physical therapy—for my back, which is fine aside from the acute scoliosis I’ve had since I was a kid—and set up camp at the coffee shop downstairs. Even if it takes time to find a groove, at least I’ll be able to enjoy the sun.

* Forgive me for flaunting my status; I’ve been in Korea too long. For those of you who haven’t spent time in Korea or Japan, Daiso is the Japanese dollar store that seems to be more prevalent in Korea than in Japan from what I’ve seen. Maybe when I collect the insurance money in a year or two, I’ll be take a step up the social ladder. Probably not.
[correction 4/2/14]: According to one of the worst Wikipedia pages I’ve read (in terms of conflicting facts), there are far more Daiso in Japan. Apparently, there are also Daiso all over the world, including the US (all/mostly West Coast). This is what I get for trying to be a snob. The first American location is Korean-heavy Lynnwood, Washington, just north of Seattle. I have been in Korea too long. It opened in 2005.

** I asked a couple of people why they call them “nylon.” Nobody knew. Naver says that it comes from before the 1970s when nylon came to Korea and people thought it was great because it was a new fabric but then they realized it was artificial and weak. Over time, it got bastardized to the point it became an adjective meaning fake. It’s thrown around very often in places like this. Nairong.