Sunday, June 26, 2022

K-drama: Turning Points

Let's think of the storytelling form of K-drama as a labyrinth.  A labyrinth is not a maze. Rather, it is a path that winds in and around itself, never getting lost.  It is a single path, with no dead-ends. We would not have to train rats to run a labyrinth. That is why they are so good for meditation.  It is a sure path, taking you somewhere. You can depend on the path and let your monkey mind rest.  

A key to a labyrinth is that there are turns. Each of people is, we might say, walking their own labyrinth, and turns come up.  In this classic 7-cycle labyrinth, you can follow the paths and see that you have to turn.  What makes it possible to turn?  In Chocolate, a lovely story about two highly traumatized people who make their way to one another, Lee Kang, the hero, literally turns and grabs the arm of Moon Cha-young to confess his feelings for her.  But before he turns, we have seen the slow movement of his feelings, from icy cold to passionate.  It is the discovery that she is his first love that breaks the final barriers.  It is a moment of grace for him, as he asks a series of questions and learns that they'd met before as children. It permits him to breathe. 

A little later that evening, he silently acknowledges that he can't push her away, this person who is so important to him.  And he turns.  What is fascinating in scenes that follow the turn is that he starts to smile and laugh.  He reveals his passion.  While he had been a smoldering icon -- one woman described his as a perfectly proportioned statue, Michelangelo's David -- he becomes a living rock star (which the actor is). 

Moon Cha-young still have trauma to resolve, so she says she needs to go away. He says, "Don't get lost." She sends him a text expressing her love and says, "I have never gotten lost because you guide me."

Though rarely expressed so bluntly, this is the point of the labyrinth and, according to the show, the point of show. Lee Kang's voiceover at the end of the show, after they have reconnected, comments, "That is the end of our story.  We know there will be ups and downs, but we will pull through as long as we have hope."

One commentator complained that she wanted to see more of the couple when they have finally come together. While that would be fun, as they are a sexy and adorable couple, that's not the story that's being told. The story -- from their childhood encounter, through their traumas, to their healing and reconnection -- is one of hope, and it ended there, reminding us to eat lots of good food!  Wow, what a set of ending scenes! 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

K-drama: Escape

The K-drama One Spring Night, which I've written about before (here and here), concerns itself with what happens after two trapped people meet. Their unexpected encounter, and instant mutual recognition, perturb their networks. This show, which does not make a big deal about Wisdom teachings, lets mentors, friends and family speak the Truths that free the lovers to be together.  The ordinariness of these communications is depicted in the cell phones, which everyone has constantly in hand, reading texts and making calls: Wisdom as a text thread we might each be on.  

Yoo Ji-ho is locked in because he is a single father, while Lee Jeong-in is trapped in a dead-end relationship. Their situations are underscored by the cinematographer's choice of picturing them on the other side of bars, as in a prison, from which they must escape and the scriptwriter's use of characters who intone, "You can't..." 

While it is not the message that love conquers all, the show does want to show love as a force. Literally from their first meeting, they can't stop wanting to be together and finding ways to accomplish this. "I wanted to see you," the hero says at first.  Then as they become more intimate, "I missed you." The love is not something they can stop but this is not a story of love as obsession. Rather the story is of love as freedom and joy. The hero says, "I feel like she is the first person to see me as 'Yoo Ji-ho.'" 

In the K-drama My Only Love Song, the princess uses a spoon to dig her way to freedom. 

In One Spring Night, Ji-ho and Jeong-in need help. They must learn to depend on each other, which is challenging. Ji-ho is quite gentle, but from time to time sets limits with Jeong-in -- he says she is a fool, and this is not entirely unjustified. She rages against the machine and needs to have both a home for her passions and limits. 

Ji-ho, for his part, has been highly traumatized by the events that left him in the stigmatized position of single father. He holds himself so firmly in check that this has to fall apart. It is a fraught traumatic defense, not a healthy way to live.  

But they need more than themselves. They need a tribe, which gathers like people coming across the dessert for some weeks of wedding celebrations. Some members of the tribe carry its wisdom. Ji-ho's friend Park Yeong-jae and Jeong-in's sister Jae-in start dating. Separately and together, they are voices of the solution. Jeong-in needs people to mark the boundaries, and Jae-in does this for her, as do her mother, older sister and friends at work. Ji-ho leans heavily Yeong-jae, who just knows about people and is very kind.  Ji-ho is also helped by his mentor at work, Wang Hye-jung.

In the context of this support system, crucial shifts occur. Jeong-in, who describes herself as selfish, is helped by Jae-in to see that honoring her heart's desires is not selfish, but pouting is.  When Ji-ho falls apart, Hye-jung says to him, "Good for you. You look less dependable but more human." He is predictably flustered by this. These screenwriters do not think that shifts occur in the conversation, but rather in the processes that follow, those of reflection and trying on new ideas.  The conversations are not indulgent, even when the protagonists ask for that.  "No whining, no excuses," is the distinct subtext. 

The Wisdom of the tribe is not a lightning bolt of revelation but rather a process of interaction. This series of scenes at the end of Episode of 15 illustrates this. 

  • When Ji-ho falls apart, he asks Jeong-in if she's really committed. 
  • This makes her question herself. 
  • She then wants to take a break from the relationship, which freaks Ji-ho out.
  • Jae-in and Yeong-jae discuss this, and he says, "It's not a break-up, just a break. I can see both sides."
  • Jae-in tells Yeong-jae they have to take a break because she has to stand by her sister.
  • Jae-in scolds Jeong-in that she should be taking care of Ji-ho, who's having a hard time. 
  • Jeong-in takes this to heart and goes to the pharmacy where he works. 
  • Hye-jung recognizes the moment of reconciliation and hides her in the backroom of the store. 
  • When Ji-ho comes back, Hye-jung pretends to scold him and tells him to lock up. 
  • He goes in the back to do this and finds Jeong-in there, which leads to their making up (and making out) and the joys of Episode 16. 

K-drama is ambivalent about happy endings: it prefers to acknowledge the ongoing reality of life. But sometimes, when the tribe shares its Wisdom and the protagonists listen, things shift enough to lift some of the weight on life. This is a show about that: it ends with waltzing.  

Sunday, June 5, 2022

A Conversation about Music City

Brandon Duong of Shelterforce interviewed Margaux Simmons and Doug Farrand, leaders of the University of Orange Music City Project about their work.  It's full of analysis and anecdotes about the organizing that goes on to produce the spring Music City Festival and the fall Remembering Rosa concert.  It is a wonderful interview that is full of insights into asset-based community development and creative placemaking!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Much faster than you would have thought

Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prize winning economist who writes a column for The New York Times, wrote about the accelerating crisis of global warming.  He pointed out that we shouldn't generalize from what this moment looks like to what the future will look like.  He wrote:

... there’s a well-known proposition in my original academic home field of international economics known as Dornbusch’s Law, named after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist (and my mentor) Rudiger Dornbusch: “The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.” 

At the University of Orange, a free people's urbanism school in Orange, NJ, we have been observing this process.  We have been warning about the threat of gentrification for over a decade.  Now, seemingly overnight, market-rate apartment buildings are springing up all around the city and it is obvious that the crisis of gentrification is upon us -- as Dornbusch put it, "much faster than you would have thought."

It is worth knowing that this is, in fact, a law -- meaning that it is a phenomenon which has been observed repeatedly and can be translated into a series of mathematical equations.  In this case the mathematical equation would produce a graph with a line that rises slowly from the baseline for a long time but then turns sharply upward, rising very quickly in a short amount of time.  

What we see today does not tell us what we will see tomorrow, especially in periods when many variables are moving quickly.  We have to take threat seriously.  We can't delay.

Monday, May 16, 2022

One Million and Ten

I get home delivery of The New York Times. Sunday, May 15th, the "front page" was two pages, front and back, with a map of the US, showing where the 1,000,000 people who had died of COVID in US had lived. In the same paper were the first reports of the massacre in Buffalo, in which 13 people were shot and 10 killed by a white supremacist teenager. The subtext of the news was that the mass abandonment of the marginalized, poor and people of color is escalating in our country.

Sunday afternoon I joined friends and neighbors at the Music City Festival. The Festival partners with restaurants in Orange, NJ, so Sunday's event took place at a park in my neighborhood opposite Hat City Kitchen. The crowd of young black and brown artists sparkled with genius, like the sun glinting off diamonds. It is a true thing that specific places can nurture specific geniuses, and Orange is such a place for musicians. 

I suddenly felt the dissonance between the implications of the news and the evidence of my own eyes. It made me dizzy. I asked one of the organizers if we might pause to memorialize our losses.  As the echoes of the steel drum faded, I asked people to stand for a moment of silence. One young woman looked at me quizzically for a second. When she understood what I was saying, she shifted gears swiftly, from the languor of the listening to music on a sunny afternoon in the park to the intense energy of youth dedicated to the cause of our survival. She stood tall.  We all stood. 

There was no music in that moment, yet there was lots of music standing there with us. We Shall Overcome was there, and so was We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder, War (what is it good for), and Give Us Bread and Give Us Roses. And every song that the artists performing there that day had shared with us. We stood in the music, embodying the sure knowledge: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

We Are All Colored Girls (who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf)

I haven't posted in awhile -- too busy trying to keep up with daily life to have enough time to think about. But yesterday, which was April 9th, I saw the new Broadway production of "for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf." The rainbow of actors instantly won me to their cause and I couldn't stand fast enuf at the end to join the standing ovation!  

It was one of the rare moments in this time when my heart felt better -- that a deep truth had been revealed for me: that the rainbow is present in our suffering. Like a revelation, but only when we are broken enuf for the light to get in, thank you, Leonard Cohen.

And then I thought of the whole world, aching over nuclear bombs, Covid variant BA2, fracturing ice shelves, gas prices -- whatever. Around the world depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and actions have increased to remarkable heights. The ache in the world is palpable. I took the train to New York and a group of young Yankee fans got on, on their way to opening day. They were defiantly NOT wearing masks as required by the train. And they were drinking, also a No-No. But they were drinking as fast as they could, drinking to get drunk, drinking to be removed from whatever is on their hearts -- they, too, were longing for the rainbow but didn't know where it was. 

And that is the trick with rainbows. A rain shower was ending as I drove into my driveway on my way home from the play. I looked up to see if a rainbow had come out. No, but my dog Toby greeted me at the door with hugs and kisses. 


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 Jesus said, "Pick up your bed and follow me." And the sick man got out of bed and followed Him.  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.