Saturday, November 27, 2021

Omnicron (imagine spooky music) and gratitude

The World Health Organization has declared another variant of the Covid virus that is "of interest" and it has been given the name Omnicron. Stocks tumbled, markets shook, countries began to block borders in anticipation of another round of death and upheaval. As Rob Wallace pointed out, he told us so. It is impossible to leave the world unvaccinated and then to be SHOCKED (cue the handkerchief) when variants show up.  

But what does anticipation of Omnicron have to do with gratitude? Some people say, "I'm for [something terrible] because [something good]," which leads to the logical question, maybe we just misjudged the first event or leapt to a conclusion or something like that. In fact, why make judgements? I have judged exercise as a bad thing and how did that work out? Not well -- now I have to exercise AND improve my terrible attitude. My doctors are giving me that "very-sorry-to-say-prognosis-not-good-because-you're-a-jerk" look. If you can't judge exercise, what's the point of judging anything? 

But even if we don't JUDGE Omnicron, that doesn't get us to gratitude. No it doesn't, except that Reverend James Forbes reminded me today of the man who'd been sick for so long and to whom he said, "Pick up your bed and follow me." And the sick man got out of bed and followed Jesus.  Now, as they say, if that don't beat the Dutch. 

Last night, which was Friday night, my family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a day late because one of us had a Covid exposure and we had to wait for the right time to do the tests. Everyone was flexible, something we learned in Covid. The cooks were relaxed and had a day of rest before the cooking marathon started. We didn't sweat the small stuff, like running out of cinnamon or not having a lemon -- a relaxation of rigidity we learned in Covid.  Then point is -- it's all mixed together -- the tragedies of Covid and the plethora of useful experiences are a package -- a LIFE package, we might say. The yin in the yang and yang in the yin, to note a fundamental truth about how it works, big picture. 

I'm quite sure Omnicron arrived because we didn't listen to Rob, but we can also be grateful that Rob is reading the tea leaves as fast as he can and telling us the future -- we could listen and vaccinate the world. Learning is slow: maybe we needed this epic failure to learn to listen to Rob?

In the meantime, poet Michael Lally loves to quote his mentor who said, "Michael, if you get a check, say 'thank you, God.' And if you get a bill say 'thank you, God.'" Don't waste time judging: you might miss the big picture. 


Saturday, November 20, 2021

K-drama: Cream Rises

In my twenties I was obsessed with The Whole Earth Catalog. I studied its pages and imagined doing all the crafts and activities laid out on the pages. I really enjoyed the inset boxes labeled "Cream Rises." These underscored items that were special in one way or another. As milk that had not been homogenized was something we had from time to time, cream rising was a vivid image for me. 

I recently re-watched Romance is a Bonus Book, a K-drama that tackles discrimination against mothers in the workplace. It is built around the transformation of Cha Eun-ho and Kang Dan-i's lifelong friendship into romance. There is one scene that rises in my memory, like cream rises from milk, to borrow from Stewart Brand: Cha Eun-ho's celebration scene.   

Dan-i, struggling to get back into the force after raising a child, hides her qualifications to get a job at the publishing house co-founded by Eun-ho. When her omission is discovered, she is forced out against Eun-ho's strenuous opposition, and after she anonymously enters a contest for new publishing ideas. On the day that the contest winner is to be revealed, Eun-ho sits at the computer to link the winning entry to the entrant's name. He reads it, abruptly stands up, says, "I'm going to get some coffee," and walks out of the room, leaving his colleagues to learn the news for themselves.  

Eun-ho goes to the office kitchen, puts a pod of coffee in the coffee maker, and begins to take in the delightful news that "oori Dan-i" has triumphed in this way. He shakes his head in disbelief, he grins, he does her favorite power pose, and finally just lays his head down on his arms in delight at the magical affirmation that has been offered -- balm to the suffering of the woman he loves. 

I think Eun-ho's savoring of Dan-i's triumph is key to the whole situation story.  It is, indeed, a story of "cream rising," as Dan-i over and over again shows her skills and commitment. Yet the social opposition because she is re-entering the workforce nearly kills her. The story, in giving her an opening, asks the Korean futurist question, "What if we give people a chance?" The answer is clearly magical. It reminds me of a review in the Times of a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which asks the Afrofuturist question, "What if we hadn't destroyed Seneca Village, the black community leveled to make Central Park?" 

If we don't destroy people -- if we love them and give them a chance -- we will blossom and have joy unimaginable, just as Cha Eun-ho has in Dan-i's affirmation. 


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

K-Drama: Word Play

This article made me wish I were a journalist, covering the Hallyu beat. Wow, to get to ask directors, writers and producers what they were thinking -- that would be a dream come true. I would want to do more than scratch the surface on such tantalizing tidbits as this:

“When we made ‘Mr. Sunshine,’ ‘Crash Landing on You’ and ‘Sweet Home,’ we didn’t have a global reaction in mind,” said Mr. Jang, who worked as co-producer or co-director on all three hit Korean Netflix shows. “We just tried to make them as interesting and meaningful as possible..." (emphasis added)

What did Mr. Jang mean by "meaningful"? That is what I would have asked. In the meantime, I'm enchanted by meanings that are wrapped up in these shows and eager to understand them. Left to my own devices -- and the subtitles -- I'm sometimes at a loss, as with a strange scene in Hometown Cha Cha Cha. The heroine's father said something to the hero, Hong Du-sik, which caused him to back away and walk off in shock. The subtitles said, "It's not funny to me, you bastard." But the father is smiling and his wife says to him, "You like him, don't you?" 

Happily, Professor Kyla Park, who is my Korean teacher, explained that what the father said was a word that could be translated "you punk" or "my little baby," something that is said to children. 

Reconstructed, the whole exchange is: 

Father (to Hong Du-sik): Why do you speak to me informally?

Hong Du-sik: It's my philosophy, I think it's friendly.

Father: Not to me, "my little baby." 

Thus, the father, who had been shocked by Hong Du-sik's informality since first encountering him, trumps Hong Du-sik's friendliness, and at the same time, makes it clear that Hong Du-sik may date his daughter. Hence, the dad can drive off with a big grin on his face and his wife's observation, "You like him, don't you?"

I could be wrong about how the scene plays. I do think it introduces a small piece of meaning that shows up over and over in K-Drama: the joy of turning the tables. Ri Jeong-hyeok turns the tables on Yoon Se-ri (more than once in Crash Landing on You), Yu Ji-ho turns the tables on Lee Jeong-in (One Spring Night), etc. I love these small moments. I find myself chuckling over them, and appreciating the balance they offer to the world.