from the Korean Army to being published

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

Posts Tagged ‘holden beck

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.


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.


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: 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.


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.


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.

Random #68: X-rays Are Fun

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I’m finally leaving CAU Hospital after five surgeries and 13 weeks. I’ll be heading to a small clinic five minutes away from my place in Bongcheon for perhaps the next four weeks. One of the things I need to deliver to the new hospital is a DVD of all my x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. After I managed to find a computer with a working DVD player, I scoured through the many files and chose the ones that paint a picture of my progress.

Initial damage from the accident, 20 December 2013

131220 ankle 1_edited

Ankle, front: My foot looks weird because the specialist is holding my bloodied and mangled foot still. You can see the fractures in both bones of my leg if you look closely at the bottom of each one (the round parts that stick out).

131220 ankle 3_edited

Ankle, side: My heel was also broken but it’s hard to tell. You can also see part of my tibia fracture at the top.

131220 tibia 1_edited

Tibia, front: The break, while complete, wasn’t very clean.

131220 tibia 4_edited

Tibia, side: I didn’t know about that third piece of bone that broke from the front of my leg until I saw this x-ray. You can also see a mass of what must have been the shredded muscle where the bone broke through the front of my leg.

First surgery, 20 December 2013

131220 ankle post 1_edited

Ankle, side: You can see the metal pins holding the broken ends of my ankles to the rest of the bone and the screw attaching the broken bone in my heel.

140114 tibia_edited

Tibia, front: The smallest piece of bone was screwed into the lower half of my tibia and an external rod was installed to keep my bones from moving around. There is a big gap between the two halves of the tibia that remained until the fourth surgery.

131220 tibia post 2_edited

Tibia, side: The halves of the tibia may not line up from the front, but at least they line up from the side.

Second surgery, 3 January 2014

The doctors removed a hematoma from my leg, opening up the wound and scraping out the coagulated blood from my leg. All flesh, no bone, no x-rays.

Third surgery, 16 January 2014

140116 ankle 1_edited

Ankle, front: Same photo from my earlier post. They removed a few pins and screwed a plate on one side, the outer ankle. They also removed the external rod. I don’t know why. You can see where the screws used to be, the bone is lighter.

Fourth surgery, 29 January 2014

140129 tibia 1_edited

Tibia, front: There is a gap between the two pieces of my bone because my bone was infected. At least they screwed both pieces to a plate even if they don’t line up well.

140129 tibia 2_edited

Tibia, side: The bones line up from the side. I wonder if the gap will end up making me taller if I stand on one leg.

Fifth surgery, 13 February 2014

140227 tibia 1_edited

Tibia, front: There is a cloud of dark gray in and around the gap in my leg. The cloud is bone from my hip.

140227 tibia 2_edited

Tibia, side: It always looks a lot better from the side as long as you can ignore how long those screws are. You can see the screw still there in my heel.

I have to return to CAU as an outpatient for x-rays and, hopefully, to get my cast off. My foot is really starting to reek.

Rejection #6: The Longest So Far

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When I woke this morning, I had a reply from an agent waiting in my inbox.

Dear Mr. Beck,

My name is [assistant name], and I’m [agent name]’s assistant at [agency name]. Thank you very much for your query and patience–we sincerely apologize for not responding sooner, but due to the sheer volume of queries we receive, we find it difficult to get to all of them in a timely manner.

We just reviewed your submission, and after conferring with senior members of the agency, I regret to inform you we are going to have to pass on The Accidental Citizen Soldier. We read your query with interest, but we’re afraid your project does not fit our current list, as [agent name] isn’t looking to acquire any memoir titles at the moment. Please do not despair–we are confident that with your talents and some perseverance, your book will find a home with the right agent.

Of course, our opinions are entirely subjective and other agencies may feel differently. I encourage you to query widely, as you never know who will feel that “spark” for your book as it currently stands. We appreciate the opportunity to consider your work and wish you the best of luck finding representation.


[assistant name]

[assistant name], Assistant

[agency name]

After I read the rejection in full, I wasn’t even upset. So what if the rejection is three months late? So what if the agent’s website said she was looking for memoir? It feels like there was a lot of effort taken in writing this e-mail, perhaps more effort than I put in my queries.

It’s possible that this is the assistant’s standard form rejection, and if it is, this guy (lady? The assistant’s name is gender-ambiguous) is a fucking genius. If this was a sincerely written reply by an earnest young assistant, I would tell him (her?) to go ahead and use it for a standard form rejection. All it would take is replace my name and title of my book with whomever the agent was rejecting at the moment.

Yes, I’d rather get a lengthy standard rejection like this that seems sincere than a short, seven-word rejection that is clearly sincere. Why? Because the agent-writer dynamic in the query process is severely skewed toward the agent. The agent doesn’t have to write a polite rejection. The agent doesn’t have to write a rejection at all. At least the former tells the writer the agent has manners. The latter tells the writer that this book that you’ve worked years on is only worth seven of my words.

[Hospital update] I’m still in the hospital. Week 12. I’ve started writing again, mostly out of sheer boredom. But I’ve also started smoking and having my daily coffee and sneaking shots of whisky at night, all of which help my creative process.