Friday, 30 March 2018

what i read in 2017, before we officially get too far into 2018 for it to even really matter anymore

At the beginning of last year I decided I was going to start recording my yearly books-read lists here; something about being able to look back at any given year and remembering what I was thinking about, who I was in that year, blah blah blah.

(I decide a lot of things at the beginning of a lot of years. It is, I am pretty sure, what makes me human.)

But. It is now nearly April. I looked at my calendar the other day and experienced a moment of mild anxiety when I realized this. The first cause of anxiety: Q1 client reports are due soon! The second: I still haven't posted my books-I-read-in-2017 list yet!

Sadly, I only read fourteen books last year. (Fifteen total, if you count my random impulse re-read of Ender's Game in April.) And with mixed results when it came to accomplishing the reading goals I'd set for myself at the beginning of 2017, which were: read more books by people of colour, by women, by people who have been dead for over a century.

On that note, I just Googled Thomas Hardy's death date to make sure I hit at least one in that last bucket and it turns out he only died in 1928! Which means he's only been dead for ninety years, which means, it turns out, I completely failed in that last goal. Catch me reading any more Hardy before 2028.

It's a very specific feeling of betrayal to discover that someone you thought had been dead for a hundred years has only in fact been dead for ninety.

Anyway. Ten years notwithstanding, 'Far From the Madding Crowd' is a gorgeous book—there are a lot of devastating sheep deaths, though, so sheep-lovers should avoid—and Bathsheba Everdene is a Victorian feminist icon. (She is where Katniss Everdeen gets her last name from!) Also, the movie adaptation with Carey Mulligan is pretty decent overall, and more than decent visually, and has the plus factor of introducing me to the ludicrously manly Matthias Schoenaerts, and consequently to 'Rust and Bone,' his movie with Marion Cotillard, which I adored a lot.

But by far my favourite read from 2017, lent to me by Edwin, was 'Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook,' by Queen of Slow Cooking and matron saint of Berkeley, Alice Waters (can I still call her a matron saint if she is still living? I'm doing it).

I'm lucky enough to say I've eaten at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse, twice. Once at the main restaurant, during my sophomore year at Berkeley, for no other reason than that a group of my friends were dying to go, and that I unhesitatingly wanted in on every fun-sounding outing with everyone in those first two years of college. I knew nothing of Alice Waters or slow food or California cuisine or the profound impact her cooking has had on American eating. We all wore our nicest clothes and ate an exquisite meal which none of us had any business spending our parents' money on, really—even though we had picked a Monday, because it was the least expensive day—and watched excitedly from our table as the chefs turned over whatever they were turning over in that big brick oven, which even from far away felt warm and comforting. Comforting is a key word. We were wearing dresses and nice shirts and the server came out with multiple courses and the lights were low and the tablecloths spotless and yet our surroundings never made us feel that they were too posh for us. We laughed a lot and enjoyed one another's conversation and ate a delicious meal which had been visibly prepared with care. I have no idea what we ate, but I remember that the bread in particular was so, so perfect—how can bread be this good? we wondered—none of us could get enough of that bread.

I learned more about Alice Waters and Chez Panisse in the following years and began to look back on that dining experience my sophomore year with an increasing, retrospective wonder, the way you look back at a show you once saw in which someone famous and highly talented had performed, only you hadn't known they were so famous and so talented at the time but gradually discovered it later, and gained an even deeper sense of awe and gratitude after the fact for having been able to see them perform, to have experienced the wonder of their talent up close.

This is an experience I've had multiple times now between LA and New York, in case you had not gathered from the specificity of the analogy. Darcy Carden? Michelle Wolf? I was in the presence of greatness and didn't even know it.

The second time I ate at Chez Panisse was last spring, when I was still living in Berkeley and Edwin came to visit from Michigan, and said, hey, let's have dinner at Chez Panisse Cafe, an early Valentine's Day date. That was five years after my first time at Chez Panisse, which meant it was after five years of absorbing more of Berkeley's culture and Berkeley's history, which meant this time around I had a slightly better appreciation for the food set before me, the individual ingredients, the journey they had taken to arrive on my plate, and the woman behind it all.

All this to say, if after two experiences of eating at Chez Panisse, I still lacked any awareness that Alice Waters Is The Shit, reading her book 'Coming to My Senses' last year made it very abundantly, inescapably clear that she is. And not because she tries to make herself out to be, in her book. She shares the details of her journey, from Jersey to Indiana to Santa Barbara to Berkeley to Paris! to Berkeley again, freely and without any pretense. Her reflections on Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, and on her discoveries of film and printmaking and and calligraphy through her filmmaker and printmaker and calligrapher friends are especially fascinating and thrilling and made me wonder if I had missed something in my own four years at Berkeley, had not squeezed every drop from my time there that I could have if I had known what to look for.

But the best thing about reading Alice Waters' book was being able to finally, slowly, come to understand the full extent of her impact, the reach of her cultural and aesthetic approach to cooking and eating, her influence when it comes to organic and locally sourced ingredients. Did you know we basically have Alice Waters to thank for bringing mesclun salad to this country? And fingerling potatoes? Are you kidding me? I effing love fingerling potatoes.

I was in the presence of greatness—twice!—and kind of knew it, but now I know for sure.

Full list of books I read in 2017:
  1. The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger
  2. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
  3. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
  4. Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
  5. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
  6. Native Speaker, by Chang-Rae Lee
  7. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
  8. Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
  9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  10. Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
  11. China Rich Girlfriend, by Kevin Kwan
  12. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  13. Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, by Alice Waters
  14. Rich People Problems, by Kevin Kwan

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

top ten movies of 2017 (plus the other forty-four)

Last year (or rather, two years ago, given that we're now in 2018), I decided to start keeping track of all the movies I watch -- since I watch a lot -- and then sharing the yearly lists here every year going forward. It seemed like the logical thing to do, especially given that I've been keeping up a list of all the books I've ever read since 2006, and I now watch way more movies in a year than I read books. Also, I love lists.

In 2016 I watched 32 movies, a number which jumped to 54 in 2017. I wasn't really planning on putting together a personal top ten because God knows the world needs another top ten movies of 2017 list like the U.S. needs another three years of Trump, but Irene posted on my Facebook asking me to share one and a full twenty-three people liked that post, so now I am faced with the choice of adding to the noise or mildly disappointing twenty-three of my friends. This is obviously a very easy choice for someone who has been a people-pleaser since elementary school, when I meekly allowed my mother to give away my favourite pair of pants to my friend because she happened to try them on and decided she liked them, so below is Yurie's Top Ten Movies of 2017 list, followed by the full list of movies I watched throughout the year.

(Note: there are still a good number of movies on my "to watch list" that I did not get to before the year-end, some of which I am sure would have made it on here otherwise, including: Good Time, Mudbound, The Disaster Artist, I, Tonya, The Shape of Water, The Post, Phantom Thread.)

We're doing this backwards, because suspense.

Yurie's Top 10 Movies of 2017

10. 120 battements par minute / BPM (Beats Per Minute)

I saw this by myself on one of the nights of the New York Film Festival. It was a toss-up between BPM and a Hong Sang-Soo film but the Hong film was on standby, which is how I found myself at the Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center mid-week to see a movie about members of the Paris branch of AIDS activist group ACT UP and their advocacy work -- and their love lives -- in the 90s. I sat in the middle of the very back row and was electrified for two and a half hours. Visually striking (the strobes/beats in the club scenes! the exuberance of the earlier rallies!), beautifully acted (standout: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart!!), and underscored with a real, deep urgency that catches in your throat and stays there for the full 140 minutes until you are released into the world again, reeling.

9. Wonder Woman

Look, you can nitpick all you want about whatever small flaws this movie had (for the record, I firmly believe there are NONE, except maybe not enough Lucy Davis) but you can't tell me that seeing Wonder Woman climbing up the ladder and stepping out onto No Man's Land did not stir something in you and make you want to stand up on your seat and cheer and cry at the same time. I have a selfie with Edwin from right before we went into the theater where I look about as happy and excited as is standard going into a movie and then I have a selfie from right after we emerged, where I look completely disheveled by the sheer weight of my emotions, bordering on hysterical. It is a pretty accurate representation of the effect this movie had on me, of seeing Gal Gadot's Diana Prince kick ass and take names and also, maybe most stunningly, be driven by a genuine, pure desire to help others simply because she has the power to (and not because angst!). Bonus points to this movie for being yet another confirmation that Chris Pine is the best Chris.

I count Patty Jenkins among my great personal blessings of 2017.

8. Baby Driver

Baby Driver was probably the most pure fun I had by myself in a theater last year. I laughed out loud, I squeaked, I gasped in awe, I involuntarily exclaimed "ummayah" more than once, and I was hard-pressed to resist dancing along with Ansel Elgort's slick moves onscreen. The opening robbery/car chase sequence set beat for beat to "Bellbottoms" is still the coolest thing I saw in 2017 and some of the best editing, and if you did not see this movie on the big screen, I do not know what to tell you other than, ya did it wrong, boo.

7. Call Me By Your Name

It's safe to say Call Me By Your Name was the movie I -- along with all gay men, according to my coworker -- was anticipating the most for 2017. Last winter on my flight to Korea I stumbled upon a little indie movie called Miss Stevens (now on Netflix! and made by Julia Hart, who is married to La La Land producer Justin Horowitz! one of my goals for 2018 is to get adopted by this couple), which (1) I fell in love with instantly, and (2) introduced to me the gift that is Timothée Chalamet. So when Sundance reviews of CMBYN hit in January you best believe I was All. Over. It.

And then I had to wait a long, long eleven months before I could finally see it. But it was worth it. As beautiful and lush and idyllic as I was promised -- just what you would picture a summer "somewhere in Italy" to be -- and the gentlest and truest-feeling picture of summer romance burgeoning, flourishing, and then, heart-wrenchingly but inevitably, ending. Michael Stuhlbarg's monologue at the end as Elio's father was one of those things where you almost can't allow yourself to believe the beauty of the words you're hearing. And Timothée Chalamet's face as the end credits roll will continue to haunt my dreams.

6. Dunkirk

I am Korean so it's in my blood to love and adore Christophor Nolan (for the box office numbers to back this up, see here). Dunkirk didn't disappoint. I don't have a whole lot I can say about this movie as a whole -- it was just too impressive, too audacious, too well-crafted for me to really string together any coherent words about it.

Instead I will pick out one small moment from the film, which hit me in the gut more than anything else: right after Peter (the boy on the civilian boat) holds back his anger to tell a compassionate lie to a shell-shocked Cillian Murphy, he looks over to his father, Mr. Dawson, seeking affirmation that he did the right thing. Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), weariness written into the lines of his face, gives Peter a tiny nod, and then turns back to the evacuation efforts at hand.

The whole interaction is maybe three seconds long, but it's powerful. It's the perfect example of why I love Nolan's movies, because he's able to tell sweeping, epic-scale stories that are grounded in a strong emotional core, never sacrificing stakes for style.

5. Columbus

Haley Lu Richardson is a star. I repeat, Haley Lu Richardson is a star. We must, as a nation, treasure her. 

And finally, finally, John Cho gets his opportunity to shine as the lead (or rather co-lead, since HLR holds her own with him) and carry (co-carry?) a dramatic film. And not just any film but one that feels like poetry on a screen. Because Columbus, Indiana is (fun fact) a place of architectural wonder, and because there really isn't a whole lot of plot to be distracted with here, just two people, both stuck in some way in their lives, getting to know each other, wandering beautiful buildings together and finding comfort in each other's presence. It's a very quiet movie, but somehow it made me hold my breath through the whole thing. Every single shot and every line of dialogue felt so intentional and so essential, and the questions it poses about what we owe to our families and to ourselves, and how we choose to open ourselves up to the people around us -- all of it moved me.

I don't think I need to go too deep into what it meant for me, and likely for many others, to see a Korean-American/Asian-American in the lead role in a movie like this. It meant a lot. A long, long time coming.

4. Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 was a reminder that sequels can be great movies in their own right. Trying to sum up how I felt watching this movie is mostly beyond me, but I won't be forgetting the image of Ryan Gosling's K walking through the dusty orange Las Vegas desert in a hurry.

It's hard to talk about the moments in this film that really hit me without getting spoilery, so I will just say that the themes of humanity and what it means to be human that made the original Blade Runner so poignant -- and bleak -- carried the same weight for me in BR2049, cast in a fresh light, with new stakes. Above all else, I cared about K and his journey. His pain and his hope, and all the implications that hung on that hope, felt very real throughout, and I think that speaks to the intelligence and empathy with which the movie was made. My only major complaint: no movie needs to be 2 hours and 44 minutes long. I mean, honestly, no wonder Albert fell asleep during it (okay, he was severely jet lagged but still).

3. Lady Bird

I'm beginning to think that we don't deserve Saoirse Ronan. We have literally had years to learn how to spell and pronounce her name correctly and still we fail, and still she graces us with the gift of her perfect, transcendent acting. We are so lucky.

I caught Lady Bird at the NYFF this year, after waiting about an hour in the standby line outside Alice Tully Hall. It was so worth the wait. I loved everything about this movie. The perfect cast (did anyone have a better 2017 than Timothée Chalamet, probably not); the portrayal of all the love, anger, misplaced bitterness, and forgiveness that springs up between a mother and daughter; the longing to leave and experience life somewhere else, as captured in Lady Bird aka Christine; the very true-to-life dialogue; the Catholic school uniforms and snacking on the communion wafers; the music; all of it. And meanwhile, Sister Sarah Joan asking Lady Bird if she thinks maybe love and attention are the same thing remains one of the best things I received from the movies in 2017.

My own mum and I had a fight the day after Christmas, about a week ago. It sprang from something small, as is often the case, and we made up the next day, but I had the fleeting thought in the aftermath, I wish I could take Mum to see Lady Bird. In my mind it would be an additional way to say, I'm sorry, and also, I understand -- maybe not all of it, but a lot of it.

Unfortunately, Lady Bird is not yet out in Korea. We watched The Greatest Showman together instead. She loved it.

2. The Big Sick

If someone had told me before 2017 that the year would give us a romantic comedy starring a Pakistani-American comic as the male lead, and that it would not be the mindless fluff we've come to expect rom-coms to be but smart, life-affirming, side-splittingly funny, and also based on the real-life story of said Pakistani-American and his wife, I would have said, that's an oddly specific prediction to make for 2017. And then I would have said, I need to see this movie as soon as is earthly possible, if not sooner.

There was a stretch of a few weeks in summer 2017 when I had a number of people constantly messaging me either to tell me (A) that I needed to calm the f down about The Big Sick or (B) that they had just watched The Big Sick because I wouldn't shut up about it online. I've now seen it three times and I've loved it more with each viewing. Kumail Nanjiani's meltdown while trying to order a cheeseburger with four slices of cheese (NOT four cheeseburgers) at a drive-thru gets me every time, and everything that comes out of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter's mouths is perfection. All the awards for Holly Hunter.

But one of the best things about The Big Sick is how lovingly it casts Kumail's relationship with his immigrant parents, even amid their generational clashes in beliefs and values. His confession to them that he hasn't prayed in years and doesn't know if he believes in Allah, or any other god, is a moment of heartbreaking vulnerability that I think all second-gen-ers can relate to -- as is the moment toward the end when his mother, still too angry to speak to him, sends him off to New York with a Tupperware of homecooked food delivered by his father (who is expressly forbidden from hugging him). 

The Big Sick is available to stream on Amazon Prime now, by the way.

1. The Florida Project

We needed The Florida Project in 2017. I needed The Florida Project in 2017. I needed its empathy, its optimism, its joy, even its heartbreak.

Empathy is the one word I've seen come up constantly around this movie since it came out. The movie just emanates it, in dealing with its subjects -- those "living in the margins" in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Orlando Disney World -- and never for a minute steps out of that empathy into judgment or condemnation of the people it portrays and the choices they make. And seeing this experience of just getting by in the margins directly through the hopeful, imaginative, carefree eyes of a child only makes this feat of empathy and humanity and its impact the more powerfully felt -- especially when that child is six-year-old Brooklynn Prince, who is a massive force compressed into a tiny being.

And then you have Willem Dafoe, whose turn as the motel manager Bobby was one of the most quietly moving performances I saw last year. I have not thought too hard about what my top five specific scenes of the year are, but I know that one of them is the long, tense scene in The Florida Project in which Bobby maneuvers a child predator who has wandered onto the motel grounds away from Moonee and her friends and over to a vending machine, and forces him to buy and drink a soda he does not actually want. I can't put into words exactly why I love this scene so much -- some things you just love, and do not try to scrutinize.

That's how I feel about this whole movie, actually. I just love it. And knowing I won't succeed, I will here surrender attempts to come to any sort of eloquent conclusion about it, my favourite movie of 2017. It is beautiful and heartbreaking and filled with hope, and maybe that is enough to say about it.

And now -- here is the full list of movies I watched in 2017 (in order of viewing):
* = actively / highly recommend

  1. 사랑하기때문에 (2017)
  2. 밀정 (Age of Shadows) (2016)
  3. Moonlight (2016)*
  4. Lion (2016)*
  5. 뷰티 인사이드 (The Beauty Inside) (2015)*
  6. 20th Century Women (2016)*
  7. Snowden (2016)
  8. Hidden Figures (2016)*
  9. Ma vie de courgette (My Life as a Zucchini) (2016)*
  10. The Tiger Hunter (2017)
  11. Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987)
  12. Gook (2017)*
  13. Get Out (2017)*
  14. The Tenor (2014)
  15. Cardinal X (2017)
  16. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  17. 당신자신과 당신의것 (Yourself and Yours) (2017)
  18. Patti Cake$ (2017)*
  19. Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
  20. In loco parentis (2017)
  21. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017)
  22. Waitress (2007)
  23. Wonder Woman (2017)*
  24. De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone) (2012)*
  25. The Big Sick (2017)*
  26. Singin' in the Rain (1952)
  27. Baby Driver (2017)*
  28. Okja (2017)
  29. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  30. Dunkirk (2017)*
  31. The Incredible Jessica James (2017)
  32. The Breakfast Club (1985)
  33. Columbus (2017)*
  34. Before Sunrise (1995)*
  35. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
  36. A Ghost Story (2017)*
  37. Logan Lucky (2017)
  38. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
  39. Battle of the Sexes (2017)
  40. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)*
  41. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)*
  42. Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2017)
  43. 120 battements par minute (BPM: Beats Per Minute) (2017)*
  44. Lady Bird (2017)*
  45. The Florida Project (2017)*
  46. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)*
  47. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)*
  48. Coco (2017)*
  49. Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope) (2017)*
  50. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) (except for the last 15 minutes or so... it was a long day)
  51. Before Sunset (2004)*
  52. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
  53. Girls Trip (2017)* (solely for the pure fun of watching Tiffany Haddish)
  54. Call Me By Your Name (2017)*

Friday, 3 November 2017

please direct any and all complaints about me to the sullivans (or, a roundabout way of saying, "thank you")

A good place to lodge complaints about the way that I have turned out as a person, if you have them, and I am sure you do, would be with Ben and Norma Sullivan.

The obvious first choice is my parents, but they are far away in Korea and not very good at communicating via any means other than KakaoTalk, which I understand not everyone uses (unless you are Korean, in which case you definitely have the app downloaded at the very least, and depending on how Korean you are, possibly have purchased some cute animated in-app stickers as well. For the record, I have Dokkaebi and Ryan stickers and they have added a flair to my text messages that you cannot create with just plain old words).

So the Sullivans are the next best option for lodging any and all Yurie-related complaints. Since my middle school years they've filled an enormous number of roles in my life, including but not limited to teachers, volleyball coaches, guidance counselors, mentors, spiritual parents, and friends, and have had a large hand in shaping things like my "character" and "values" over time. I consequently view them, as, after my real parents, the two individuals who are the most to blame for how and why I have turned out the way that I am today.


I met and got to know Mrs. Sullivan first. She bounded energetically into my life and the lives of my classmates (about fourteen of us in all, in the whole grade) when she came on board as CCS's middle school math teacher at the start of eighth grade (my eighth grade year that is, not hers). On our first day of Algebra I, she spent such a long time at the start of class telling us about herself and asking us about ourselves that I wondered if we were going to while away the whole period just chatting until I realized, with a thrill, that that was precisely her intention. And so, over those next fifty minutes, Mrs. Sullivan proceeded to joke with us, wave her arms around a lot, and regale us with fun stories from her experiences teaching in Canada.

The one that has stuck in my mind ever since then was the one about a time when two of her male students showed up on her doorstep without any warning one evening and casually invited themselves in to hang out and chat. Tell jokes, shoot the breeze. Admittedly, when you look at it in writing like this it doesn't sound like a very interesting story, but at the time I remember listening to her tell it and thinking, this is the coolest teacher I have ever heard of.

In the year that followed, Mrs. Sullivan taught me that solving for x was not such an intimidating task, and that anything could be fun if you chose to make it so, even math. It was very much her fault that I came to firmly believe it was possible for a person to be both legitimately cool and also unrestrainedly excited about the smallest of things. Unfortunately, at twenty-four, I've only really nailed the latter and not the former, but that's a separate issue.

The next year, I moved up into high school and into the daunting new territory that was Mr. Sullivan's legendarily time-consuming group projects, whose collective reputation preceded them, and incited fear. To this day, I still cannot tell you what long-term good spending hours with three of my classmates creating a papier-mâché globe covered with painstakingly shaped clay continents and topographically notable landforms did me besides affording me the opportunity to memorize the lyrics to the classic MC Mong hit "I Love You, Oh Thank You" during the long evenings of mountain-sculpting and ocean-painting. (Still a guaranteed good time at karaoke! Oh, I'm fun.) Trust me, I have thought about this many times, and still have yet to come up with any sort of satisfying answer. But I can say this, at least: the memories of those late nights with friends and the satisfaction of creating something beautiful with our hands have long outlasted those of any other mundane homework assignment, quiz, or essay I turned in during my high school years. So that must be worth something.

Also, people always tell you when you're in high school that in the years to come, you won't remember or care about the grades you got then, but I definitely, vividly remember that we got a 98/100 on that globe, and yeah, that still makes me happy, so suck it, everyone who's ever tried to make me have some healthy perspective on what's important in life.

The Globe Project™ was for our ninth grade Geography class, in case you were wondering. I do not remember much else from that class besides the fact that the official state fruit of Georgia is the peach.

After ninth grade, the rest of my high school years blur together here and there. Which means I can't say when exactly it was that the Sullivans stopped being just teachers and started being the fifty-three other things they became for me.

Here is one very likely possibility: it was when the two of them first became the coaches for the boys' and girls' volleyball teams. The first time I ever laid eyes on a medicine ball and learned its purposes was when we had our first pre-season conditioning with Mr. Sullivan. I remember a lot of phrases like "this is good for you" and "oh, quit whining" being thrown around at the girls' team (and the boys too) that fall. I don't think we ever quit whining, but we did start building up muscles in the right places (hitherto believed to be impossible) and even some much-needed agility, and, over the next few years under the Sullivans' joint coaching, started coming together as a real team and, more importantly, winning more games than we lost. (Jokes! Obviously, building teamwork is more important winning games and crushing your opponents into despair and taking home plaques and reveling in the euphoria of victory for days. Obviously.) And in between games, after practices, in locker rooms, Mrs. S gradually became confidant as well as coach to all the girls, while Mr. S was always on hand to give advice and encouragement, and keep us from getting too rowdy on buses to our away games.

Another possibility: it was when Mrs. Sullivan single-handedly revived the school's National Honor Society and inducted a dozen or so of CCS's most straight-edge, goody-two-shoes kids (this includes myself, obviously) into it. With Mrs. S at the helm, the NHS undertook ambitious projects to serve the school and the community the likes of which Centennial Christian had never seen before. A good way to give you an idea of the sort of person Mrs. Sullivan is: she was then, and remains now, the kind of teacher who could get twelve high schoolers somehow on board with coming to school at the ungodly hour of 6am to cook and serve breakfast for the entire school faculty for Teacher Appreciation Week and supervise the whole operation enthusiastically, all while preventing everyone from realizing that she was, in fact, a teacher herself too, who deserved as much as anyone to be appreciated with slightly soggy French toast and inordinate amounts of scrambled eggs.


It may have been at these times that the Sullivans started to fill the hundred different roles that they filled in my life. But more likely it was in all the in-between times.

There was the night that Claire, Yejin, Jisoo and I were at school late working on a project (probably assigned by Mr. Sullivan), and, rather than making our parents worry about our getting home safely on the subway when it was so dark out, they invited us all to stay over at their apartment, which was right next to school. We invaded their living room and likely ate into their precious few sleeping hours with our boisterousness, but they just laughed at us and at our glee about getting to have a sleepover on a school night (about on par with getting away with murder, in high school). I think there is a picture somewhere of the four of us bundled up in our blankets and cheesing super hard that Mrs. Sullivan took on her Canon before we all went to bed. A very motherish thing to do.

Then there were the few months in my junior year when I found myself walking through a frighteningly dark valley in my spiritual life. Faith turned upside down, God disappeared, and fear set in all sides and shut me in with no visible way of escape. I shared my hopelessness with only my best friends, and the Sullivans.

I didn't tell my parents; neither of them believed in God back then. I couldn't say to them, "I'm scared that God isn't real after all." "Because he isn't," I feared they would say.

So for adult comfort and wisdom I looked to the Sullivans, as I clung to my last few, fragile strands of hope, which felt like they would break any second. They saw me at the most defeated and afraid I've ever been, and they held me up. Figuratively, but often literally too. Some days Mrs. Sullivan just wrapped me in a hug without saying anything, and fear went away for a moment.

And spring rolled around and after months of blackness, God showed himself to me and the world felt right side up again. The Sullivans shared in my joy.

At the end of that school year, Mr. Sullivan wrote in my yearbook, "Luke 22:32."

I went home on that last day of school and read the verse and cried.


Mr. Sullivan was the only other person I knew who watched Doctor Who, before Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat and BBC America carried the show into mainstream global consciousness a few years years later. He introduced me to Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which I thought was the most brilliant and inventive piece of art I'd ever seen. More importantly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog later became the primary factor that led to Emily and me becoming freshman year roommates at Berkeley: I saw that it was on her Facebook profile that it was one of her favourite shows (remember when that was thing?) and based on this information alone I sent her a friend request to ask her to be my roommate. One year after that, it served as the main point of bonding that Edwin and I connected over in the first conversation I ever had with him my sophomore year. It would not be a stretch to say that I owe two of my most important relationships thus, in large part, to Mr. Sullivan.

Mr. S also introduced me to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series books, and gave me a DVD with a couple of his favourite episodes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The West Wing on it. These last two were the only two of the many things he recommended to me that failed to stick. He overestimated my intelligence, probably, a classic parent mistake. Also, Battlestar Galactica. Unfortunately for him even my nerdiness had its limits.


The Sullivans love.

Love just emanates from them, wherever they go and whoever they're with. They are the kind of people who make it look like an effortless thing, a state of being. "It just comes naturally to some people," you'd think, looking at them.

But to think that is to not do them full justice. Loving is work, it's time, it's money, it's prayers prayed and tears shed in private, it's frustration held in against our immediate impulses. And often it's being repaid for all of this with an ungrateful remark or a bitter complaint and precious little else.

I should know; I had my share of times being on the giving end of ungrateful remarks and complaints directed at the Sullivans. And on those occasions they didn't tell me to stop being a bratty teenager and get over myself, which they would have been fully justified in doing. More often than not, they apologized, and asked me to forgive them. What on earth they had to apologize for, goodness knows, but they did and they meant it, and it still humbles me now to think of it, years later.

This is what the Sullivans' love looks like.

I have seen them, first up close and then from an ocean away, take in every single student that has ever passed through the too-narrow halls of CCS, and offer them this kind of love for the taking. Not just the students who were at the center of everything, but also, and especially, the ones who had not been loved elsewhere, the ones who were angry or hurt, the ones who mocked God, the ones who were alone. Their home, classrooms, and offices were a safe place for anyone to come and vent, or grieve, or seek advice -- or just pop in for a chat. Tell jokes, shoot the breeze.

I realized after I graduated and began living in America just how rare and special that is, how lucky I was, to have had that.


In a lot of ways it's almost easier for me to see how I resemble the Sullivans than it is to see how I resemble my actual parents. The tendency toward high levels of excitement: without question a trait inherited from Mrs. S. All the geeky sides of me, and an appreciation for well-written dialogue: cultivated, obviously, by Mr. S. My love of hosting people: picked up from both of them as a natural side effect of years of spending time in an apartment that was pretty much a constantly revolving door for guests. And a multitude of other things. 

Something I think about from time to time is how we're all, as individuals, just different combinations of the people around us. If we are, then I am probably 33% my parents, 33% my close friends, 33% the Sullivans, and 1% Mindy Kaling (she doesn't know I exist, but I somehow feel like I've spent a lot of time with her, you know? One of the many wonderful things about social media). On the whole, I think I am pretty happy with this combination, and the current result, at the twenty-four year marker. But like I said, if you're not, please send your complaints to the Sullivans. They have done too much in my life for me not to hold them partly responsible for what that life looks like today. 

I will always be very grateful.

Monday, 18 September 2017

terrace house, how jesus is transforming my life, and other september things

In January of this year I declared that I was going to write more about the mundane, everyday things in my life here, so I could look back and remember the little things I wouldn't otherwise remember when I am old and shriveled. Like most pleasing notions that are conceived in January, however, this one faded quietly into the abyss of all things forgotten over the span of several weeks, until I blinked and found myself in September with only a vague clue as to how I got here and an even vaguer clue as to all the great mundane things that happened in my life between January and September, which I have sadly now forgotten on account of the fact that I forgot about my plan to record more of my everyday life happenings so as not to forget them.

So it is September now, and the days, like my memory, are unfortunately getting shorter, and we are officially approaching fall. I know this because I have had multiple people in the past two weeks happily exclaim to me, "Your first fall in New York!", which isn't even a complete sentence, but whatever. People are excited for me to experience fall here, which I guess is nice because I am mostly just depressed about summer ending, so, you know, it balances out.

Anyway, September. The most important thing to have happened in my life in September is that I discovered Terrace House on Netflix, and became instantly obsessed. Terrace House is a Japanese reality TV show which, like many American reality TV shows, features a group of strangers living in a giant house together, but which, unlike many American reality TV shows, features said group living together mostly peacefully and politely, with minimal drama, while still going about their ordinary, day-to-day lives. It is simultaneously the most mundane thing I have seen on television and also the most addictive.

There are many great articles out there that address this bewildering correlation between the show's mundaneness and its addictiveness and why it is so fascinating and enjoyable a watch, so if you are interested in further reading on this, I will point you to a couple here and here.

The main point I want to make here is that starting from when I was about five minutes into the first episode of Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City, I have not been able to shut up about this show.

Since September 8th (a day that I will remember as the day my already pretty good life improved even further) I have talked nonstop about Terrace House to pretty much everyone I know, in all existing social circles in my life, and across multiple mediums of communication. I have brought it up during weekly Bible study, on the phone with Edwin, in my company's workplace chat, over late night chicken wings, in texts with friends I haven't seen in months, and on Facebook. In the past nine days I have gotten four different friends to watch the show, one of whom blew through something like thirty episodes in two days (I will not name names, but she is a good friend of mine who also lives in New York).

And in all of these conversations, talking about Terrace House has come very naturally and easily to me. I love talking about this show because I love it, and I want other people to experience the joy that is watching it. A lot of people have laughed at me (I mean, I would laugh at me too, if I were unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the barrage of words that inevitably pours out of my mouth every time I bring up Terrace House), seeing me get so excited about a Japanese reality TV show, but I have not minded the teasing because my love for the show is so great that I do not have any mindspace leftover to even worry about how patently ridiculous I sound in talking about it. As long as I can let people know that this excellent TV show exists, and that it has brought me great joy recently, and encourage others to watch it too, I'm happy, and can go on and on about it, ad infinitum.

Why am I not this excited to talk about the Gospel every day?

This very unwelcome question presented itself to me a couple of days ago, as I was making my way from Lincoln Center to my friend Jaimie's apartment (where, after she made me a very yummy dinner, I repaid her by sitting down and watching an episode of Terrace House with her, thereby creating my third convert). On my way there I was texting with Judy and talking about Terrace House (of course), when the thought hit me. I did not dwell on the question at the time; I "loled" about it briefly over text with Judy (okay, it's Judy, Judy is the one who watched thirty episodes in two days, but Judy also just took a difficult exam the previous week and deserved a break from studying, so Judy is not to be judged), but then put it to the back of my brain, for it to hang out quietly until such time when it deemed it necessary to emerge again and force me to confront it (ideally, never).

That such time ended up being today, when I met up with Haekyung and Christine for CORE group (which sounds like an intense, abs-focused fitness and exercise group but is in fact a mini church community meetup) at the Culture Espresso on 38th and 6th. Christine had to leave a little early but Haekyung and I stayed at Culture for another hour or so talking, and I brought up this question to her.

It would be cool for narrative purposes if I could say that I looked intently, even imploringly, at Haekyung from over my latte and asked her, Haekyung, how come I don't talk about Jesus the way I talk about Terrace House, and that she looked just as intently back at me from over her latte and dropped a profound wisdom bomb on me using only five words which I then went home and wrote in my journal and designed a calligraphic tattoo for so I could remember them forever, but really how the conversation went was that I just ended up answering my own question while thinking out loud, because that is how I process things, and usually I just need to verbalize something in order to get to the bottom of it.

Anyway, the explanation I arrived at via this narratively uninteresting process was this:

I don't talk about Jesus and the Gospel the way I do about Terrace House because unlike with Terrace House, I don't feel, lately, that Jesus has changed my life.

In my mind, I know that he has. In my mind, I know that I have been brought from death to life by Jesus's own death and resurrection. But in my mind I also know that broccoli is good for me, and yet I just can't feel it to be actually, practically true in my life.

This is maybe not one of my better analogies. I really just hate broccoli.

But Jesus! Jesus is so good. And he has done so many amazing, beautiful things in my life. It is just that all the cool "big" spiritual things happened a while back, and life has felt mostly pretty stable the past year or so, and as a person I've felt pretty stable, and there hasn't been anything I would describe as super momentous in my spiritual life recently that I can point to and say Wow God really, really truly SHOWED UP and did something big, transformed me, transformed my life, did something so good that I really must share it with everyone so they can experience the goodness too. That would be nice. But, instead. Not much there to talk about. I'm a Christian, God is good, life is mostly routine and lovely, and I am blessed. Have I told you about this Japanese reality TV show that has literally changed my life?

This is the realization I came to today, sitting at the corner table of Culture Espresso with Haekyung. Two relevant things happened after I came to this realization.

The first was that Haekyung, sometime later in the conversation and not as a direct response to this particular topic, asked me about my testimony, and I ended up sharing with her my story of how I came to encounter and know the Holy Spirit during college after a decade or so of being Christian without really knowing who he was. The freedom, joy, and explosive growth that came from stepping into a life filled with the Spirit. Going from black and white to technicolour. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, making sense to me for the first time.

Sharing that with her made me relive it all, relive that period of my life when I felt God working a very tangible transformation in me, when every day I was excited to see what he would do next, when I talked a mile a minute at anyone who would listen about how cool God was and how nothing was too big for him and how faithful he was. Sharing helped me remember that the point of a testimony is literally to talk about the things that God has already done in your life and how he has changed it, regardless of how long ago or how recent.

The second thing that happened was at church in the evening. I found a seat right in the middle and sat down as the worship set kicked off; I think I was praying something along the lines of God please help me to be as excited to talk about you to people as I am to talk about Terrace House even when you're not doing anything super momentous in my life, like right now. And I felt God responding immediately and saying I am doing something momentous in your life every single day. And then I broke down and cried and could not pray anything coherent for a while because it was so true, every day I wake up and live a life that has been transformed by the Gospel which is that God gave his son Jesus to die for my sins, and every day God is still changing me, at work in me, and if the Creator of the universe making himself known to me every day is not a momentous thing then what is?

Unrelated, but Jon's sermon today was on Nehemiah and holy ambition. Haekyung and I had been talking about ambition at Culture today too. Some days it is almost comical how blatantly God is like HEY PAY ATTENTION I AM TALKING TO YOU NOW.

The takeaways from all this for me today were pretty much: one, God is constantly doing big things in your life and transforming you daily, dummy, so recognize that and be excited to share it with people, and two, ask other Christians more often to share their testimonies with you because the act of sharing how God has redeemed is mutually life-giving for sharer and sharee, and most importantly gives God glory. And three, Terrace House, on top of being hugely entertaining and fascinating, can also lead to profound and timely spiritual revelations, so everyone should totally watch it.


Some other September things, while we're here.

I spent the Labor Day weekend visiting Jin and Sam in New Haven, and Sam showed us around the Yale undergraduate campus. It was so beautiful, I decided on the spot that all my children will go to Yale.

Jin came back with me to New York that Sunday, and the morning of Labor Day itself we went to Chinatown for dim sum with some of my friends from church. Afterwards she said to me You've found the sweetest, kindest group of people in New York, and I felt so at ease with them all. That made me so happy.

Also, spending three full days with Jin and feeling that she is so very close by was so lovely.


I told Edwin about my experience volunteering recently with The Father's Heart Ministries in the Lower East Side with Claire, for their Saturday morning breakfast program for low/fixed-income and homeless folks, and how I want to serve there regularly. He suggested we go together the next weekend he visits and I said that sounded good.

Some time after we made this plan I was at Claire's place and asked her if she and Dan would be down to hang out with Edwin and me the Saturday he's here. "We're actually going on a day trip somewhere upstate that Saturday; do you want to join?" she asked me. I heard the words "upstate New York" and said CAN WE GO TO STORM KING and Claire said "Yeah maybe sure!" and I got excited and immediately texted Edwin.

"Would you be down to go to Storm King on a double date day trip with Claire and Dan on Saturday when you're here"
"Oh wait ahh we were gonna volunteer"
"Lol what should we do"

"Can't we go after we voljnteer?"

"No too late haha"
[This "hmm" was like "hmm is it that bad if we just don't go volunteering like we said we would and go another time instead because Storm King looks really beautiful"]

"Lets volunteer"

Edwin is a better person than I am.


I mentioned this above, but the other day I went over to Jaimie's place and she made me dinner. I had worked from home that whole day with a cold, but gone up to Lincoln Center in the evening for volunteer orientation for the New York Film Festival. The orientation ended up being much shorter than I'd expected, so I was wondering what to do with myself as I didn't want to go back home so soon having been cooped up inside all day. I texted my church community group group text to see if anyone was in the area and wanted to grab dinner, whereat Jaimie instantly responded and invited me over saying she'd cook for me.

Jaimie is actually an angel. Not only does she make generous and hospitable offers to take in and feed lost souls aimlessly wandering Lincoln Square, she also occasionally fosters wizened old cats with kidney problems. She told me she doesn't like the name the cat she is currently fostering was actually given, so she calls it Nekochan ("cat" + term of endearment, in Japanese -- for the record, Jaimie is not Japanese), which I find hilarious and adorable and reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, only gentler, and Asian.


September has been a lovely month.

All my months in New York have been lovely so far.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

packing up and moving on

Today is June 14, 2017. As of today, I have been a resident of New York City for twenty-five days. Twenty-five!

I think twenty-five days is sufficient time. Sufficient time, I mean, to have let elapse before sitting down in front of a screen and trying to cobble together some words that might help me, at a later date, remember the experience of packing up almost-seven years of cold, windy summers and bunk beds shared with best friends and delicious, impossibly moist, tomato-sauce-less, meat-less pizza such as you'll never find anywhere outside of the Bay Area (because who in their right and sober frame of mind would think that pizza without tomato sauce and meat could be a good idea?) and love, so much unfathomable, bottomless love, and stuffing it into suitcases and boxes and moving all of it, the winds and the blankets and the pizza and the love, as indelible memories, across the country and into a new city.

Moving itself isn't new. I've moved before, and not just a few blocks down the street. Across a couple of continents, across an ocean. South Woodford to Seoul, Seoul to Berkeley. In 2002, my dad finished his PhD at the University of London; we went back to Korea ("Back? What do you mean, 'back,' Mum? I never lived there!" "Don't cry, you can just come back to England for college."). In 2010, I finished high school; my parents shipped me across the Pacific ("Yoojung-ah, don't go to college in England. You already lived there. England is boring. America is so much bigger. Just go to Princeton.").

So I've left homes before, made new ones in new places. But leaving California was the first time I left a place not because someone with the last name Kwon had finished a degree, but because... I chose to.

I felt like it. I felt like a change.

While this is true, it also makes it sound like I moved entirely on a whim, which is a bit misleading. For some people, "I feel like it" simply does mean "I feel like it, so I'm doing it." I am in awe of and slightly terrified by these people. (Also I'm convinced they don't exist.) For me, "I feel like it" means "I feel like it, but I can't really decide if I actually should or if this is just a quarter-life crisis creeping up on me, and I've been thinking about it but, agh, I just can't decide, and I've been praying, but God is being all mysterious about it and won't just tell me what to do--so annoying--and I really don't want to leave my church, and no YOU need to stop freaking out, and no, no, I do want to go but I can't so maybe I will just live in Americana Apartments forever and be buried in the Bay, and what do you mean I need to calm down I'm totally calm I still have my chill look it's right here, it's good, everything's good, I'm fine, we're fine."

I mean that's...that really about sums it up. The whole thing at the beginning about packing up seven years of sun and pizza and frigid summers--when it came to it, the packing was easy. (Emily and I started early, like responsible adults. It's the most adult-like behaviour we've ever displayed.) The deciding to pack was what was so enormously hard.

Mostly what it came down to was that I felt life had become stagnant for me, in the Bay. I was very happy--I generally am, most days, as long as I haven't run out of milk for my tea or stubbed my toe on the dresser--but it felt too comfortable, too still. There were a lot of days I walked down Shattuck Avenue and found myself thinking, if I have to walk this exact path down Shattuck one more time I'm going to lose my mind. (Dramatic, am I? How dare you!)

I think someone wiser, more mature, and more grounded than I would have been able to stay put and still find new challenges and ways to grow in an already-familiar environment. I, however, am not that wise, probably still less mature, and about as restless as a five-year-old suffering through a long, dull church sermon.

Eventually, like any good five-year-old, I tugged on my mother's sleeve and whispered loudly that I was bored and wanted to go outside, or in other words, after several months of sitting on the proverbial fence, I walked into my boss's office and asked her if I could transfer to our New York office. And then, much sooner than I had expected, she said yes, and to let her know when I wanted to go, and I promptly clambered back onto my fence, and sat there some more, until I finally just fell off and landed on the side that said "New York."

And suddenly, faster than I could say "wait can I maybe get back on that fence for a little longer," I had to say goodbye! To friends, to my first home in America, to a very full and happy life in California with unlimited access to good tacos and boba. Saying bye sucks. So much. Livingwater was the hardest, of course. I cried so hard on my last Sunday that I was surprised to wake up the next morning and find that I could still see.

How do you leave behind a community that has nurtured you and loved you so well, so genuinely, for the better part of six years, that has played a crucial role in helping you to understand, with a startling clarity, your identity as a daughter of a loving God, that has shown you time and again the very great joy to be found in walking with Christ, with others?

If I sound like I'm obsessed with Livingwater, it's because I am. And I miss it, and all the people in it. But you can't hold on to perfect, or near-perfect, or not-anywhere-near-perfect-but-I-still-love-you things forever. You treasure them while you have them, say a sucky, weepy, snot-filled goodbye when it's time, and move on. Livingwater, my Berkeley friends, my coworkers, In-N-Out, Elmwood Cafe and Moe's Books, the deep bond I'd formed with another physical place I'd taught myself to call "home"--all of these were things I had to reckon with as I sat on my fence and let myself fall.

Falling was painful, but I'm glad I did it. Leaving a place behind is one sucky, sad thing, no matter how ready you are to leave; arriving in a new one is another, tremendously exciting and life-giving, thing entirely. I feel newly energized here in my new surroundings (although who knows how long that will last, with a very hot and humid summer fast approaching--place your bets now!), and happy to be living in a crowded city again.

Contrary to most expectations and all well-meant warnings from other people, New York and its residents have been kind to me so far.

I will not jinx it by elaborating too much, but I will just say that the lady at my local Dunkin Donuts gave me two free Munchkins with my coffee the other day when I asked if I could just buy a single Munchkin instead of the minimum four, so.

If free Munchkins are not a herald of a bright new chapter in New York, I don't know what is.

I wrote most of this sitting at a little table in Bryant Park after work today, enjoying the warm summer evening outdoors and eating a quinoa-chicken-salad bowl with avocado. Avocados, in my mind, will always be associated with California. Californians love few things more than they love avocados. They might as well be the state mascot.

It is funny what little things can make you feel connected to another place, a previous home. If ever I get homesick for the west coast, maybe I will just run to the nearest bodega and buy an avocado and the Bay will suddenly feel not so far away.

Until then--I think free Dunkin Donuts are about enough to help me get adjusted to New York. Change is good. So are free donuts.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

advice extorted from my friends for a newly 24-year-old (me)

I turned twenty-four yesterday, April 23, 2017.

Can we dwell for a minute on the fact that April 23 is also 1) Shakespeare's (observed) birthday and (actual) date of death, and 2) World Book Day? (A fact that I will probably never tire of beating people over the head with?)

I mean, what the hell. I never stood a chance. I basically emerged from the womb declaring my undergrad English major. My first wails were probably the expression of a primal instinct that sensed all the budget cuts to hit English departments in institutions of higher learning across America in the years to come. Or the rise of Amazon and the slow death of independent bookstores, exacerbated by the pain of knowing that I, too, would one day contribute to this, in my early twenties, just because "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" would turn out to be cheaper on Amazon than at Moe's Books.

If Moe's ever goes out of business I know this decision will haunt me. Please Lord, that I may live guilt-free, let Moe's flourish long and happily and continue to bless generations of students and bookworms with their complimentary candystriped bookmarks for decades to come.

What was I talking about?

Oh: I turned twenty-four yesterday.

Turning twenty-four is a solemn affair. Twenty-four, in my eyes, is just over the brink of "real"' adulthood. Past denying liability and getting away with it, the way you might be able to at twenty-three. No one takes twenty-three very seriously. Probably because it's a prime number. Being a prime number age is the worst. That is a Fact. I know it's a Fact, because I say it's a Fact, and we now live in an age when anyone can declare something to be a Fact, and that automatically makes it so. That is another thing that has changed from twenty-three to twenty-four.

Because twenty-four is thus from the outset presenting itself as a year of many challenges, not the least of which include trying to act like a real adult and also moving across the country, I gathered some of my older, wiser friends in one place yesterday (with a couple of exceptions for the two friends who are still a prime number and therefore not to be taken seriously), ostensibly to stuff ourselves with Korean BBQ and drinks and "celebrate," but actually just to squeeze them for advice on how to be good at being twenty-four. (This is one of the many benefits of being the youngest/near-youngest in your friend group.)

As you can imagine, I received a range of responses. Some thoughtful, some funny, some spectacularly unhelpful, but all most very appreciated. I'm recording them here, so I can look back and remember, when twenty-four gets hard.

1. Brace yourself. Alternatively, embrace yourself.*

2. Get married.

3. Don't do drugs. Well, maybe just once, just to see. But not the stuff that gets you addicted on your first try, like cocaine. Maybe a brownie?

4. It's okay to be confused.

5. Keep reading and writing.

6. the year before you turn twenty-five. THE YEAR BEFORE YOU TURN TWENTY-FIVE.**

7. Make friends with more people who are very different from you.

8. Travel solo.

9. When you move to New York and your cost of living suddenly increases, don't let that hinder you from being generous with your finances. Continue to find ways to give, and bless others, with your money.

10. When you make new friends in New York, and you will, and it will be great, don't forget you will always have friends here, and don't be afraid to reach out whenever you need.***

11. Keep loving the Lord and other people, with joy.

12. Eat healthy. Take care of yourself physically, because as you get older, your body will start healing more slowly.****

*This is a reference to a Livingwater Church-wide joke, but the advice still stands, I think.
**This one is blatantly not a piece of advice, but a statement of a fact. I included it because it was presented with great urgency and significant emphasis on and repetition of the last six words (italicized/capitalized to reflect this emphasis).
***I will admit this one made me a little bit teary on the inside.
****This one also made me a bit teary on the inside, but for multiple different reasons.

Writing this all up and looking it over again, I can see clearly that this list contains (for the most part) some genuinely good advice; it is practical and wholesome and fun and I aim to follow it the best I can in the year ahead. But I also see that this list is more than the sum of its parts, more than just discrete tips; this list is love and laughter and encouragement; it is "we love you" and "we will make you laugh" and "we want to help you be the best version of yourself" and "we are here for you."

It has been said by so many people all the world over who have all believed it to be true for themselves and themselves alone, but:

I have the best friends.

Everyone else who has said this sentence before me was obviously deluded, because mine are, Objectively Speaking, the best.

Mine make twenty-four seem a little less daunting and a whole lot more exciting, and for that and for everything else that they do and that they are I am very grateful.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

what i watched in 2016

So I've come to a point where I've realized that if I procrastinate any longer on writing this post I'll find myself in 2018 and by then this will be neither timely nor relevant. Also, it's too late at night now to start the next episode of 시그널 (Signal) without effectively committing myself to nightmares about serial murderers tonight, so here we goto follow on from my "what I read in 2016" list, here is my "what I watched in 2016" list, and accompanying reflections. And to clarify, "what I watched" here refers to movies only, because if I included TV shows the total number of hours I spent looking at medium-to-big screens last year would skyrocket to frightening heights. The partial truth is much more bearable.

The first thing to note is that I watched an unprecedented number of movies in 2016. That is, unprecedented for me, in my own life, not unprecedented in the history of the world, obviously, because, movie critics. It was a good year for personal entertainment, escapism, and empathy, and a bad year for my wallet, which now has burn marks from the hole that Hollywood put in it.

So why so many movies? What's with the obsession? When did it start?

I'm not sure when exactly it started, but the why it started is easy. There's a quote from a piece by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker from a couple of years ago called "The History of Loving to Read," which I really liked—mostly because of how much it talked about Jane Austen—that about sums it up. "The rise of TV and movie fandom—with its generous affection turning, when it’s betrayed, into lavish scorn—seems to be an extension of our love affair with books. It’s a way of loving a canon in the present tense." In short, I came to love movies because I've always loved books. I've always loved books because I've always loved stories. It was a natural, inevitable progression from an obsession with one medium of storytelling to another.

As for why so many movies in 2016, well, the easy explanation is that 2016 was such a spectacularly crap-on-a-cracker year that the movie theatre and all that it offered in terms of escape became more appealing than ever. And that's partly true, but also I think it was, very simply, that I realized last year that I have a good amount of free time outside of work and ministry, and that there are few ways of spending this free time that I enjoy more than watching movies, whether with friends or by myself.

Where my "what I watched" list differs from my "what I read" list is in the fact that it doesn't reflect who I was and what I was thinking in 2016 so much as it reflects who society was and what society was thinking in 2016. The former list is dictated (mostly) by whatever comes out in theatres in a given year, the latter by my more deliberate choices of which books, from a span of centuries, I am curious to read. So while my annual books-read lists will maybe paint a picture of who I was in a given year, it will be interesting to see how my yearly movies-watched lists will maybe paint a picture of the backdrop against which I found myself in that year (Zootopia and Moonlight, together, might just sum up 2016 for America).

So. Favourites from 2016. Zootopia, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Captain Fantastic, Sing Street from the spring/summer. Miss Stevens, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land from the fall/winter. And Moonlight, Lion, 20th Century Women, and Hidden Figures—though since I actually watched all of these in 2017, I haven't included them on the bulleted list below.

Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, La La Land, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures all had plenty of noise around them during awards season (and rightly so). I loved them all, but everyone on the planet has already said every good thing that can be said of them, and then some. So here are some thoughts on a few of the others that I loved from last year.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: So damn funny. It probably elicited the most laughs out of all the movies on this list. But it was also heartfelt and sincere. I loved it because I loved its hero: Ricky Baker, an overweight juvenile delinquent who writes haikus as a way of dealing with his anger issues. (My favourite haiku: "Kingi you wanker / You arsehole, I hate you heaps / Please die soon, in pain.") I loved him and I believed in him and in his relationship with his crusty foster "uncle" Hec (Sam Neill), and I somehow also believed in their shared run from the police through the New Zealand bush, absurd as it all was. Wilderpeople was smart, hilarious, warm and unassuming, and thinking about it eight months later still makes me smile. (Side note: the director, Taika Waititi, is next going to helm Marvel's Thor: Raganarok, which is a jump that makes me think of Colin Trevorrow's leap from Safety Not Guaranteed—one of my favourite movies of 2012—to Jurassic World. Are we going to keep losing all the good indie people to impersonal franchises?! Don't answer that.)

Captain Fantastic: I'm still upset that Viggo Mortensen didn't win the Oscar for his role in this movie (and angry that Casey Affleck won instead, but that's a whole separate issue), even though I knew it was probably the least likely outcome and that I should celebrate the fact that he was even recognized with a nomination at all. But Viggo Mortensen was really, truly fantastic in this movie, playing a progressive, countercultural father raising his six kids completely off the grid in the Pacific Northwest and also raising questions about parenting. Watching him and his interactions with his kids and with other characters made me feel as if I were watching a real person, with very real emotions and flaws, not just a tidily crafted character. And I appreciated that while the film's sympathies were obviously for Viggo's character, it also highlighted the many questionable aspects of his parenting. Other good things: the kids (all of them!), the humour, the emphasis on thinking for yourself and talking about your ideas, the costumes, the colours, the lack of fear of being sentimental, the story itself—all wonderful. But really this movie is all about Viggo. Viggo, I love you. Please be my adoptive father.

Sing Street: Here's the thing. La La Land was amazing. But my one gripe with it will forever be that its splendor completely drowned out the other great movie musical of 2016, which was Sing Street. To describe Sing Street is basically to create a word bank of all the words that describe the type of movies I like best: sincere, feel-good, triumphant coming-of-age. With great music (tributes to 1980s pop/rock). And lovely accents (Irish). And so much sympathy for its young protagonists and their dreams that you feel heartened by their every small victory and plunged into the depths of heartbreak with their every pitfall. Everything about this movie was so lovely. I'm going to go and listen my way through the soundtrack again and soak in the "happy-sad"-ness of it all. And then be amazed all over again that none of the songs were nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. But oh well. I am just happy this movie exists (and now on Netflix!).

I think I'm done now. Here's the full list of movies I watched in 2016, and again, most memorable in bold:
  1. Hail, Caesar (2016)
  2. Zootopia (2016)
  3. Love and Friendship (2016)
  4. The History Boys (2006)
  5. The Jungle Book (2016)
  6. The Departed (2006)
  7. The Lobster (2016)
  8. Finding Dory (2016)
  9. The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
  10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
  11. Captain Fantastic (2016)
  12. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
  13. Seoul Searching (2016)
  14. Indignation (2016)
  15. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  16. Whiplash (2014)
  17. Sing Street (2016)
  18. Eye in the Sky (2016)
  19. 13th (2016)
  20. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
  21. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
  22. Breach (2007)
  23. Arrival (2016)
  24. Moana (2016)
  25. Manchester by the Sea (2016)
  26. La La Land (2016)
  27. Don't Think Twice (2016)
  28. Nerve (2016)
  29. Miss Stevens (2016)
  30. Howards End (1992)
  31. Cafe Society (2016)
  32. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)