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“Anti Asian”

To preface, this post will mostly be about my relationship with my self, my Asian identity, and the community I grew up in. I’m not interested in blaming people, holding anything against anyone, nor in unleashing any bitterness towards anyone in particular in this space.

I’m very open to any further conversations regarding anything in this blog.


A friend of mine messaged me the other day after the tragic hate crime in Atlanta.

“Just thinking about how shitty it would be to die for being an Asian that doesn’t resonate with [their] culture whatsoever.”

“I just think about someone having to call my mom and dad to tell them I was killed in a hate crime. They wouldn’t be able to begin to process.”

“I’m still processing. Haven’t talked to anyone really. My friends see me as white. Which is fine. I see myself as white.”

“I have a pretty diverse friend group tbh. But we are all very white washed midwestern raised.”

“I just don’t know how to connect with what happened, yet I feel strong emotion towards it.”


I’m an awfully sensitive person, but I have consciously and unconsciously shut off the feelers regarding this for certain reasons: I have lived in Korea for the past year and it’s been difficult to be tangibly and emotionally connected to things that happen back in the United States. Most things aren’t a huge part of my life these days. And, partly for survival. I haven’t taken the time to feel what that’s made me feel because I haven’t had the time or energy to give to those emotions. It also touches a lot of deeper feelings for me that I really don’t have the energy to give space too. My counselor already has a lot on my platter already!

However, this is certainly connected to many things that have shaped my life. When I think about my above conversation with my friend, I get really sad. Really. Really. Sad. The feelings that come up are hard to separate and articulate, so I really relate to what I was told.

“Anti-Asian” rings some loud bells for me. In a sense, I relate to it a bit closer than other people in my circles would. “It’s racist, it’s hate, it’s horrible.”, “Who would ever think like that?”, “I would hope I never feel that way to a people group, ethnicity, race, creed, etc.” The mood surrounding discussions around race in today’s climate is heated and fragile. But PC-ness gives us something to focus on other than true lived one-ness with each other. We can identify with safe language. We can place personal and moral value on using the right words and going to the right businesses. While I understand the flow and process of white people becoming allies and opening their minds and lives to other cultures, I struggle to remain on the same level of emotional engagement and it doesn’t feel like enough to only listen and sympathize. Even to “show-up” so to speak, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. And no it’s not fair, but let me explain.

I have a part of me that really resents my Asianness. It’s been buried deep in there and I’ve had a hell of a 25 years getting that shit out of my system. I’m not sure if I ever will, it shows up in a lot of different ways.

Kids asked me why it looked like my face was smooshed up against glass and why my eyes were so different. Probably because they’ve only seen 3 real Asian people in person (actually my school district has gotten much more diverse, now at 2% Asians in the district from less than that in the early 2000s). Teenagers wondered if I ate dog. In highschool, a boy broke a pencil next to me and he blamed the Korean child-workers that probably made them. That time was really frustrating because he didn’t know I was behind him, and when he saw me he profusely apologized.

When I was 14 or 15, a boy was making fun of my after school because “Asians have small dicks, everyone knows that.” So I went to the school counselor about it and she didn’t know what to do about it. She literally told me that she didn’t know how to help. I don’t blame her, but I for sure feel frustrated and left out to dry a bit. I’m not sure what happened but I guess “they had talked to the boy” and that was that.

I was at a relative’s house watching a baseball game and there was a Korean player on our state’s team that year. Park Byung Ho signed a 4-year, $12mil contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2015. Eventually he dropped to the minor leagues and then back to the Korean Baseball League. But what my uncle said was “Yeah, I only remember him because his name sounds like Bung Hole.” Not because of anything else in his athletics career, strength as a baseball player, hell even his baseball swing. But because of being closely nomered to an anus nickname.

I’m not saying this to make my family feel bad, but I just want to get to the point that the microaggressions and subliminal shit I dealt with as a kid has had a long term impact on my self-image. Being different at school, church, in my family, and not knowing what to do with how that made me feel was hard. There were several times that I just didn’t want to be different anymore. I later articulated that as not wanting to be Asian, and sometimes I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I just didn’t want to look and be different. When everyone in my family described me as so special, but not different, it created a pretty ambiguous identity that I didn’t quite know how to fill.

I used to think I was a “bad asian” because I didn’t hold any traditional cultural pieces in being Asian in my life. White family and community, didn’t know Korean language, didn’t eat the food, I was pretty much white, but also not white at all. So I was also was excluded from my majority community as well because I didn’t fit in there, so I felt. This poem is about that.

My identity is very much about being Korean. But also so much more than just being Korean.

So when I’m prompted with “Anti-Asian” or “Asian Hate Crime”, I get overwhelmed with a lot of emotions. Because I also hold some sort of anti-Asian sentiment that I’ve worked very hard to reframe and overcome. It’s led to self-loathing and issues with self-image. It plays a role in my body image, in my creative process, in my relationships with other Asian people, my significant relationships, my family, and myself.

A few people that I don’t know super well have reached out to me to “see how I’m doing” amidst everything that has happened. And I don’t have the energy to give them the satisfaction for being a nice ally. As much as this is a racially-motivated event, there are so many more connections at hand that I wish those acquaintances would pay attention to. Gun-control, mostly gun control. But also isolation, being a passive-bystander, being in a racially and educationally homogenous community, how race is much more than a social and personal issue, it’s political and deeply systemic.

I urge people to engage with local and national politics, get involved with area nonprofits that specifically work with communities of color, and to educate themselves with books or documentaries.

But as much as I do that, I also urge people to really consider all the hearts involved in things like this. That race in so many deep and emotional ways. Educate and get involved and do all the things, but also there please stand on common ground of the emotional toll it takes on people. Let that guide you into action too. There is a lot of surface level ways to engage with People of Difference in our lives. But it takes time and trust to understand like we want others to. Interact and engage with our personhood, too.

Which, in part, is a radical upheaval in how we understand ourselves too. That’s where I’m at, atleast.


I’m grateful for my loving family and the life-shaping lessons I’ve learned from my church and community. I’m grateful that I have opportunities to challenge and reframe my default mentality about myself. I’m encouraged by a lot of people to love myself and make space for me to heal, be joyful, and love others.

Thanks for being on the journey with me. Thanks for reading, as always.

Much love,

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Korea Notes: 1 Year 3 Months

I checked into my second therapy session and my therapist smiled at me through her mask. Whenever I go to a talk therapy meeting I laugh to myself because there’s that small-talk hurdle I sort of tumble over before spilling how my last chunk of time has been since seeing my listener. This is funny because this is basically me typing my last chunk of time rather than talk therapy. Type therapy? Wrote therapy? In any case…

I’ve been going pretty fast the last month. My therapist said that having four jobs that span three different industries in one year is a lot. It’s striking how I find myself relearning the same lessons in different ways every time this happens. Go slow, make some turns, go fast, braking and crashing happen all at once, fix it up, and go slow again. My parents tell me a story that mirrors this when we first went skiing at Lutsen, a resort in Northern MN.

We went to the bunny hill because I’d never skied before. I had those short skiis without poles because they were supposed to be good for beginners. Jammers or shredders, or whatever they’re called. At the top of the bunny hill, my dad was explaining “straight for speed” and “snowplow for slow” to me. Some people go by french fries = fast and pizza = slow, describing the shape of one’s skiis, but I eat both fast so I figure now that that doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, my dad paused to talk to my mom and before they knew, I was gone, zipping down the hill. Straight for Speed, baby. My mom screamed, I’m sure, and my dad swore and followed me yelling “Fall down! Fall down!” I didn’t know how to stop, after all.

I should tell that story to my counselor, I bet she’d like it. Anyway, that’s how the last year has been in a sense. University language school for three months, kindergarten teaching for one year, a restaurant for a month, and now a high school kitchen. Not to mention moving in with my partner Lisanne and her cat Sparrow in a cool, hip loft in Gangnam. To top it off, I’ve even been skiing. Not Pyeongchang, unfortunately, but it was still fun.

Amidst these short stints and career/life changes, there’s a lot of transition phases that happen. Synonymously, adjustment, change, and growth phases always come with new energies and new mentalities. I’m learning new things, meeting new people, creating new brainwaves. Moreover, when I encounter these times of leaving-the-old and meeting-the-new, I require some time to figure out if things are working or not.

Metaphorically, I think there are two situations when I ski that illustrate this. The time of reflection is in between runs when I can reflect on the way up via chairlift. I take in the beautiful vista, see other skiiers S-ing their way down the slope, assess if the black diamonds are worth it or not, things like that. Without this transition between trials, it feels like one long ski slope, and every 30 seconds or so I’m face down in the snow.

This is one of the things I’ve talked with my therapist about in recent meetings. It’s so important for me to have that reflection time on a regular basis, particularly in the throes of transition and life changes. That time sitting at a coffee shop like I am now, going for a walk, anything with simply quiet where I can listen to myself for once allows me to observe and reflect on what I’ve been up to.

In the last month, I cycled out of my teaching contract, said goodbye to a group of amazing kids, operated a small restaurant, bottomed out of my mental health, crashed in the snow, started a new job in a school kitchen, and am now riding up the chairlift again. The kicker is that I haven’t allowed myself time like this for quite a long time. In a previous post, I wrote about some excitement that I had regarding the restaurant, and unfortunately I was unable to sustain it for long. Without discussing too many specifics, I wasn’t listening to myself, nor was I giving myself the time that I needed.

Because of the lack of presence with myself, I felt out of control, overwhelmed, undeserving, scared, insufficient, and overall a wreck. It got to the point where two very close people had to pull me aside to advise me to get some help. Which I keenly heeded. I’ll probably divulge a bit in a later post, but for now I’ll just leave it at that.

Currently, I’m employed by a catering company here with a contract at Seoul Foreign School, a private international school here in Seoul. I wake up at 5:20am, get to work at 6:50am, and leave around 3:30pm. It’s about an hour commute. I make somewhere between 25 and 30 fried chicken orders and grill some 40-50 double smash burgers everyday (that’s 80ish patties daily). The other day these kids got Cuban sandwiches made with Sous Vide pork shoulder, can you believe it? They’re so lucky.

I’m so lucky too, to be doing what I’m doing. There’s a lot for me to be grateful for, including things about myself that I need to explicitly state more often. If you’re reading this, I’m grateful for you too.

Much love,

Karl

Not giving a damn leads to self love: Lessons from a recovering perfectionist

Creators, producers, believers, makers, and do-ers are all at risk of being cutthroat perfectionists. Which means pretty much everyone. There’s varying degrees of perfectionism, as well. From the “remake 70 drafts because the detail in the corner is off even though you’re the only one that’ll see it” type to the “now I’m gonna go scream at myself in the backroom for 5 minutes because I dropped and broke something” type, we can all claim some part of this narrative. Unless you’re one of those holy saints that don’t fall somewhere on that two-point spectrum, then well, I guess you just don’t give as much a damn.

Because that has been one of my traits since I was a kid. For once in my life, I wish I could give LESS fucks that I actually do. Now, I’ve gotten better at giving myself grace and embrace self-love a bit more. Understanding that my products don’t coincide with my value helps. Understanding that I actually won’t die after making a mistake helps a lot too.

One time, I was making sourdough bread and set it in a nice towel’d bowl that I rigged up for proofing. I forgot to thoroughly floor the towel and the top of the dough so it ended up being a sticky, shaggy mess-amalgamation of dough and cloth, so I threw the whole thing on the floor and started crying next to it saying “I’m a shit baker and I hate bread.” The next day I scheduled a therapy session with my counselor and he affirmed that “making sourdough is really hard, man. It’s okay.” And later that week I felt a lot better and made the loaf successfully. (obviously more to it, but we’ll get into it later).

The worst part is, I’m way more prone to criticizing myself for a mistake than anyone else is. The really messed up part is that I take my own critique as deserving and justified, where if someone else sees something in me that’s less-than-satisfactory, then I am a no good piece of shit.

THAT being said, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to recognize my self worth, to reject lies fed to me from my abandonment issues, and to have confidence that my decisions are good. Period.

There’s a blessing and a curse in giving a fuck. For example, I’m passionate, intentional, focused, and vision-driven. I’m hellbent on progress and I always make sure something is seen through in the right way. My projects, my jobs, my relationships – I’ve always been this way. A lot of things are IMPORTANT to me. That quality in itself is important to me. How’s that for meta?

But, that comes with its second edge.

A lot of times, I fall pretty high on the list of “Who’s Responsible?” when things go wrong. I have an impetus to be a pivot point of change and progress. Which means, mixed with control issues, that my passion is an Achilles heel too. I’ve pointed a lotta daggers at myself for things that weren’t anywhere near my responsibility or in my control. But there’s some success that comes from this in the end.

For example, my top three lessons that perfectionism has taught me are:

You’re a selfish dingus and not everything is centered around you.
This is true in 11/10 cases of me feeling like I shouldn’t step foot into performing or producing something. Sometimes it takes another person to tell me that things don’t matter as much as I think they do. Sometimes I want to fight that person, but in the end they’re 100% true. It’s actually so freeing to remember that I can step back and let go of a mistake because I can’t get it back no matter how hard I hate myself for it.

Life keeps moving. And you will too.
Messing up feels more momentous than it ever is in reality. The bigger picture is that – life goes on. Whether things are good or bad, you have to go forward either way. Like watching clouds, they just keep coming and going. I wrote this poem about clouds last year and it helps me remember that the only reason why clouds are so beautiful is that we can watch them from afar, and that they’re only here for a short while.

Float on by,
my cloudy sky.

Float on by, 
rain on these shoulders,
sun undercover,
sky blue sighs. 

Float on by, 
spring delight, summer smile.
My cloudy sky cannot stay – 
when this day and this time will just
float on by.

You are loved. You are worthy. You are valuable. You are enough.
The big one. For me, perfectionism is linked to my abandonment issues of being an adoptee. Like, if I just try hard enough, if I just prove myself enough, then I’ll be worthy of acceptance. This sneaks up on me every once and a while. Our brains/hearts tell us a lot of things, and it’s absurd that we believe some of that shit. The beauty is that, if you mess up or if things are a little ugly, you’re still loved, worthy, beautiful, courageous, and you, which is pretty damn cool.

And that’s the thing too. In the bread story I was so convinced I hate bread, but how could I even believe that? I love bread crumb-pletely and I’m so sorry for the pun. It takes work and oftentimes other voices to remind us that “it’s okay, man.”

This is why I say I’m a recovering perfectionist. Because my relationship with perfectionism is connected to many different things, and the big P has done a number on my confidence and self-esteem at times. You have your own shit to deal with that’s more or less deep than mine, so this is by no means a definitive thing. Further, to be honest, I just needed to write myself out of a little hole. And this ending isn’t at all conclusive or a nice little bow. But I’m not gonna beat myself up for it because I’m exactly what I’m claiming myself to be. On the way recovering.

love love,

Karl.

Korea Notes: Year 2 – updates!

I vowed to not work a single Saturday as an English teacher this year. It’s pretty common for English hagwons here to have grueling hours that squeeze their teachers for all their worth. I’m pretty serious about leaving work at work and not letting it haunt me when I clock out. So leaving my Saturdays and Sundays as sacred for relaxing and nothing is something I try hard to protect. But, I’ve broken that two weekends in a row.

I’m used to working hard, though. I remember when I was a kid, friends asked me to bike around the neighborhood and get some teas from the little store. Unfortunately for me, Saturdays were often yardwork days. I had to stick around to trim our hedges, mow the lawn, pick up apples, or clear out the garage with my dad.

My mom was/is probably a borderline workaholic (I remember calling her that). I wouldn’t say in a bad way, she’s worked in human services and in the nonprofit sector all her career (besides at a butcher shop in small town Minnesota). She loves what she gets to do. While visiting her office during a 60-hour work week for her, she would tell me “There are the best- and worst- people in human services.” The beauty of what my mom has been able to do is in the amazing communities she’s been a part of, and that holds much more value than income for her. From people “in her corner”, she has gotten love, growth, comfort, and belonging.

I’m happy to put extra work in, to contribute and to get off my ass and do something, and to participate and be a part of something. This year has taught me a lot about work and working and has involved a lot of new things in career and community. Moreover, the extra weekends I’ve been working have certainly been new investments in career and community for me.

I haven’t been teaching, but have been waiting tables, bussing, and making kick-ass plates at a restaurant called “The Local” in the western part of Seoul.

I met the owner, Greg, last summer around my birthday, in July. I asked him if I could have a little birthday dinner at his restaurant before it was a restaurant. At that time, there wasn’t any paint, were no nice table, and we had minimal kitchen equipment. It was a good way that I could show my interest in food and for us to cook together a little bit. Fast forward, the Local opened in August of 2020, was closed for half the month in October and November due to Covid, and soon to be my place of employment.

Some of you know that I was interested in some culinary endeavors back home in MN. In 2018 I operated a Korean lunchbox kitchen from my apartment. In Spring of 2019, I hosted an event at Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to build awareness for rising changemakers in central Minnesota with local artists and an amazing course menu, Heart and Soul Food. Then before I left, I was plotting with some people who were also interested in expanding St. Cloud’s understanding of cuisine and culture in a restaurant/shared kitchen capacity.

Last weekend I made Beef Tartares, Eggs in Hell, and Sausage Fennel Pasta, AND sold $50 bottles of wine (Trust me, never had that growing up). Like everything, there’s a learning curve, and I know that I have a long way to go. I’m shit at pouring wine, nearly ate floor tile not wearing non-slip shoes, and nearly drizzled white wine on an open range. But I have a great mentor for now and am pretty hellbent on making this work.

So, for now it’s weekends, but in March I’ll be there fulltime. I’m sure somedays I’ll kill to be back working with kids. I’ll miss the scraping of classroom chairs and not dining chairs. I’ll miss lesson prepping for the week and not food prepping for service. But in the end I’ll still be welcoming people into a shared space together.

I miss home a lot. I miss my friends and small town St. Cloud. I miss my soccer team and all the boys. But what helps is that I have something and some people to focus on that are damn worthwhile to be with.

Love love,

Karl

Korea Notes: Arrival (airplane) Day

Airplane Day is the day my flight from South Korea landed in America from 25 years ago. Some people call it an Arrival Day or a “Gotcha” Day. Quite plainly, it’s the day that your family “gotcha.” Either way, it’s seemed a little comical to me over the years. I always believed that I had a special relationship with airplanes and pilots, and maybe I do. But there was always a stark difference between how I felt about being adopted versus being celebrated on Airplane Day.

The actual day was always a meal, party, or ritual about me being special. And, I appreciated it being important and recognized in my family. One year, I remember my cousins and I having a paper airplane contest that ended in me receiving a slab of foam board signed and commented with grateful comments and celebratory remarks. As I got older, it was nice dinners. Sometimes, just a lot of crying and no remarkable anythings – my choice.

And I’m not sure how to own that anymore – my choice regarding my adoption. I’ve found in the intertwined relationships of a single adoption, there’s not a lot of overlap of ownership regarding who (me) is where (US/Korea) and under what circumstance (adoptee/orphan). My adoptive parents couldn’t have children. My birth parents’ circumstance was likely a mess. I am just here, I guess.

Don’t read that as apathy or ingratitude. But, as hesitancy to renaming and reclaiming an ownership over something I never did. In recent years, adoptees have been vocalizing their points of views for themselves, as opposed to the adoptive-parent-driven-perspective that has mainly held the space. Further, I feel that there is an observatory characteristic in a lot of adoptee’s stories that deserves to be highlighted.

As a child, my label as different was internalized as kids mocked and jeered at someone with a different face and different skin. As a teenager, the pieces fell into place regarding my parents’ infertility, mental health, and the search for a place in this life. In young adulthood, the understanding of my place in between two couples who couldn’t fulfil their dreams of family-rearing fleshed out as I neared a mirrored life stage. But really, I feel that a lot of who I was was earmarked by an “other” narrative. Sandwiched somewhere between infertility and bastardom, it was my own little plane – if you will. But I wasn’t the one piloting it.

And now, as I am knee-deep in figuring the piloting thing out for myself… I feel a lot of emotions.

My conversations with my mother have been emotional and intense. And, they should be considering Covid and the completion of my first year teaching abroad. We both are facing tremendous grief from loss of several things. From a changing mother-son relationship to being the furthest from each other that we’ve ever been, it’s thick with nuance and most of all, love.

As of this year, I had some correspondence with my birth mother that left me feeling more angry, disappointed, and abandoned as ever.

Meanwhile, I’ve met amazing, kind, brilliant, energetic people here and have certainly had the coattails of feeling “Belonging” (whatever that means). I feel like I’ve taught kindergarteners for 15 years rather than one (educator friends, what’s up). I’ve chased love. I’ve jumped headfirst into an adoptee community of healing, bitterness, and connection. I’ve lived my fucking life and have felt it at the end of everyday.

But this is what I’m doing. And I don’t feel at all like I’m just here for a ride. It feels like I’m here for myself. I’m going in the direction I fully choose. Right through the fog. Right across the Rubicon. And in this airplane there’s a lot of hurt, pain, anger, joy, love, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, confusion, lament, longing, hope, discomfort, and a bunch of other things that I can’t and don’t need to aritculate.

Happy Holidays,

Cheers to being here,

Karl.

I don’t want to be like Jesus anymore

Jesus is a rad guy, no doubt. He made the blind see. He mended the broken. He healed the sick. He beckoned to the forgotten and unwanted. He is embodied forgiveness and atonement. Most of all, he was self-sacrificial. He’s a messiah for a reason, and the reason for the season (Merry Holidays to all ye celebrators and grievers). Understandably, throughout my Christian upbringing the idea of following and pursuing this was certainly the Way to Belong.

But, I don’t want to be like Jesus in the way that he is the most Jesus that ever Jesus-ed. That is, I’ve had enough of believing that I could be remotely close likeness of this guy, or what I’ve been taught of this guy. I will never, in my nature, have the self-sacrifice and holy generosity that Jesus claims. I like living my life. I want to pursue myself, not give that up. I’ve lived my life for other people, and have had a fair share of co-dependency and inferiority issues to say otherwise. Plain as it is, I can’t, I don’t want to give up who I see and who I want to be in that way. I’m just not that selfless.

Moreover, I can’t begin to understand what kind of identity shit that Jesus had to go through. Can you imagine? “Being 100% human and 100% divine”? I can’t even wrap my head around being Asian hyphen American hyphen Adoptee in an nearly all-white town. When someone called me a chink in my high school parking lot, it fucked me up. When Jesus was called a “human being”, was it a trip for him too?

Being 100% + 100% of something sounds like too much. And possibly, not what Jesus should have been, which is probably the point. I think, anyway, that’s more than he could have been, more than he should have been. Plus, we don’t even fully understand what that meant. Were you alive to see it? I wasn’t. Plus plus, any kind of postulizing and identifying that we do down here only gets us into more trouble.

I want love, compassion, and healing to be very near to my core identity, of course. But being “like Jesus”? I’ll pass on that. And I’ll be done pretending that I can or could ever be so. I just want to be me. Which, I’m still figuring out anyway. Leave Jesus to the scholars and religious.

Poetry: Bah Bah Yellow Sheep

Happy National Adoption Month. Where adoptees everywhere are working on, have stopped trying in, or are flat-out ignoring the shift in adoption narratives. In particular, international and transracial adoption has proven to be problematic for a few reasons. White Savior Complex, Dysfunctional Family Dynamics, and a host of Attachment Disorders and Abandonment Issues are all too common.


Cynicism aside, this poem has been brewing in my head for several years, the phrase “Bah Bah Yellow Sheep” nearly haunting me.

As a kid, into my teenage years, and even my young adulthood, I resented and grieved some of the things I did or did not carry in my hyphenated identity. The school district I attended is 98% white. I am one of two People of Color in my extended family of around 200 members. Asian race, Korea, and being different were ambiguous and triggered some anxiety, self-hate, and confusion.

The repeated phrase in this poem represents a lack of identity and ritual. It sounds like dissonance. It eggs on the imposter syndrome I carry with me. The beauty of my identity is elusive, a work in progress, and has not always shined like it does – mainly because I sometimes I can’t see it.

Enjoy.


Bah Bah Yellow Sheep
have you any wool.
In this story, what’s the difference
between the sheep and the wolf.

I grip that yellow label like
drawing with yellow colored pencil.
A foreign utensil on surface of my reflection in the mirror.
Trying my best to emulate almond eyes and latte flavored skin.
The tint of my iris
a depth of identity
I never even asked for
but stuck to adjust and discover that
I’d never asked for other.
It’s a sick twisted fact
like a lemon full of lime juice
peculiar and unique but still unwanted and
wrong.
My mom-
I’m her everything yet
I am loss upon loss like

Bah Bah Yellow Sheep
The wool is a wash.
They peeled my skin
and put some excuse for yellow
on top.

Yet I feel
everyone asking
“Bah bah yellowsheep,
have you any wool?”
I have none to offer you.
My wool
my skin
my asian-eyed grin.
My food and cuisine
or idol-clad magazine.
Fashion and models, music and bottles.
There’s an imperative to be Korean
to be something I am not.

Bah Bah Yellow Sheep
Have you any wool.

An appropriating response
because yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
Bah Bah Yellow Sheep
I didn’t to begin.
Scrape the language from my tongue
and take a mother from her son.

What I have is more than gold or trade or weight.
It’s real wealth.
A real wealth of issues
like having parents that don’t want me
like asking if I’m even meant to be here not like here-here but
existing.
like belonging somewhere but not ever knowing where that is
like wanting answers that I don’t need like any other adult in their 20s
like being dramatic and feel-y and I just need to
take a deep breath.
What I have is more than gold or trade or weight.
And I know it.
And even I ask myself still
Bah Bah Yellow Sheep
have you any wool?


as always, thanks for reading

karl

Korea Notes: out of control, into growth

I don’t have control issues.
do I have control issues? No, no.
I mean, I don’t think I have control issues.
Do I?

The inevitable truth is that, yes my relationship with control in my life causes problems. On my artist palette, there’s some blend between control, anxiety, and isolation that manages to splatter onto my daily canvas of life. Every time I have the same inner-monologue trying to think about how I feel, being out of control.

Over the last two months or so, the thoughts of being away, not-having, and lacking have drained my spirit. Missing home, changing relationships, losing my last grandparent, two close cousins with fresh cancer diagnoses, and being with six-year olds everyday all weigh very heavy every day. In the background of all this: not connecting with birth family, being in country where I feel profoundly out of place, bitterness, disappointment, and frustration knocking at my processing doors, it all is a disorienting miasma.

I have been so stuck in that. And that’s ok.

As an adoptee, I have a specific relationship with loss and longing. Particularly in the context of ambiguity, I am dually skilled at, yet prone to not knowing and always seeking.

I can always come up with things I lost, do not have, will not have, or can only wonder about. Those are strangely concrete to me. And have easily become foundations for my identity and life. Being given up. Being unwanted. Being a yellow sheep. Unbelonging. And that’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s a battle for my personhood to be around what feels like concrete truths in the ambiguity of life. To be stuck in this narrative is to embrace and accept that my life is one of deficit and to be definitively missing.

And for f—‘s sake, to be UNSTUCK from that is a breath of fresh air.

It takes a grand stepping-away-from for me to come out of the miasma and into gratitude. To move to another country, study, find a job, move living spaces, find community, clean my apartment, not drink too much, and look into the future takes tremendous courage. To love children everyday (in a flawed, problematic English Ed. system, yet) is a beautiful thing. I write and perform at a monthly open mic. I have opportunities to work with some of my current kids next year. I still have my empathy. I still have my love. I still have my creativity.

So, we have this dichotomy of growing or not. Sucking or not. Suffering or survival. But I don’t think “Growing” is actually camping in a growth mindset all the time. As a former soccer coach, I truly believe in growth mentality, but I don’t think it’s possible to always have that.

I do think that growing happens in the process between the two, however. It happens in the moment of occupying the space between not-having and I-will-have. That’s a place where we are forced to be vulnerable, to step aside and to remain in “being”, to notice what is true reality for us at that moment.

Growth is hard. Growth takes courage.

For example as a tree grows, it’s inherent that it must push up into the unknown.

Those of you feeling isolated, discouraged, and/or helpless. I see you.

It will be okay. You are amazing. You have so much around and in you worth jumping for joy about. I pray for peace, stillness, and temptation to move within you.

As always, thanks for reading.

karl

Korea notes: home

The concept of “Home” eludes us.

When I think about belonging somewhere, I immediately think about the question “Where is Home for me?”

Where is home for me?

For a lot of people, “Home is where the heart is” rings true. If that’s the case, then I have a LOT of homes. It’s like home for me is a grand listing of people, places, and times.

For me, this sentiment wrestles in the thought of “Well… where is my heart?” I answer that question easily, but the answer itself is pretty hard. I put my heart into so many things. I love people; I love laughing; I love french fries. I am passionate about progress, about injustice, about peace and reflection. My heart goes out to creatives, people hurting, those trying to just make it by everyday. In that case, I bring all of it with me, wherever I go.

So again, where is home?

In my recent vacation to Jeju Island, I got to do some much needed reflection time about my experience in Korea.

Writing this (Sept. 2, 2020), it’s my nine month mark of being here. On paper, that reads like plenty of time. But in living, it’s gone by so fast. I’ve launched in to this time of my life where I feel so uncomfortable. I’m very much away from what I would call my home. I lived in Central Minnesota for 24 years, and I came to a place where I felt I left some “home” behind. The physical location is different. My schedule is different. Whom I spend my time with is different. I miss my MN friends and family SO much. The love I share with those people are the closest thing I can definitively package as “home”.

My learning and growing here is very intentional. I came to be uncomfortable. I came to be somewhere unknown. That was the whole point of it. I think being somewhere completely new has given me opportunity to revisit myself and think about “my home” in a different sense.

That “revisiting” only causes to acknowledge the space there is. Empty spaces we thought we filled, or we once had something that is no longer there. What’s more, I think there is a lot to be said for restoration. Any time we reconcile with ourselves or other people; it means we get to reconnect with home, in a sense. Or perhaps we get to rediscover how we create home for others within ourselves. We rediscover how we create home for ourselves within ourselves.

There’s a Belonging feeling to home in regards to stepping back from being us everyday.

In other words. I don’t fully understand what it feels like to have that “home-y” feeling about myself. I don’t call Karl Johnson home, like others would or like I call my people home as mentioned above. And I think that my journey into Belonging is understanding that.


I wrote a little bit about home here:

As always, thanks for reading/listening and much love,

karl

Jobs I can put my Heart in // I must be Teaching Kindergarten

What do you get when you cross screaming children, rainbow colored everything, stressed out adults, with dinosaurs, pretending to be cats, and snack time?

If you said “Kindergarten!” you’re right! If you said “A nightmare.” You’re probably a kindergarten teacher.

Just kidding, it’s been a blast working at Maple Bear so far. English kindergarten here in Korea is… intriguing. Korean private education institutions, or Hagwons, face a lot of scrutiny for their abysmal hours, dodgy business practices, and aggressively steep learning expectations. All that being said, I love my kids.

The best I can do is acknowledge all the layers to working here. I get to love on some outrageously cute kids, and what more could I ask for? (A vacation?) My team is burnt out by Wednesday, but we’re making it through together. And all of this is happening in a vastly different education system that I’m yet to get a grasp of. It’s hard to take the time and energy to process and observe what I’m taking in from the world around me, but the exhaustion is all part of it.

In my sixth month here, I’m in a routine. I have local hotspots. I ride the Seoul Metro as my main mode of transportation (if you’re from a small town, you’d understand). At the same time, I’m dodging Covid19 like it’s fifth grade dodgeball. I miss my family. I miss my dogs. I miss the Mississippi. I miss a lot.

It’s wild times, but here are some things I learn everyday as a kindergarten teacher – brought to you by the letter “P”.

Curiosity is underrated, under-taught, and underutilized.
What would happen if our tests were scored by what kinds of questions we asked instead of the kind of answers we wrote?

Rather than starting with something vague or blurry and narrowing into an exact, specific pinpoint, we’d ask questions, discover, and find out that by gaining a wider perspective, that blurry indefinite view is something beautiful and bigger than what we first started with.

The ability to learn and display proficiency is inherent in children. Not determined or decided by adults.
I have so much power as an educator to determine what is and what isn’t for these kids. As my students learn, I remember that they already have what they need to learn. That special stuff called curiosity and joy light up everyday and I need to create an environment that doesn’t snuff them out.

If I used my perspective to say “Joe is bad/Joe is good at English.” then I fail to open any doors for Joe. Instead, I’m only observing Joe through a window without prompting his curiosity or joy to unlock what English is to him.

I love giving hugs.
‘Nuff said.

Having a consistent schedule and structure is tiring, but important.
Millennials, would you please stand up.

Children smiling can melt even the hardest of hearts.
Please refer to pictures to have your heart turn into goo.

My inner child is starved of creativity, comfort, and sheer goofball-ness.
This has been the most significant aspect that I’ve been digging into for myself.

I am a feeler and a thinker. My emotions have always called louder than logic has. Expression and reflection have always benefited me more than execution and getting things done. In times of stress and hair-pulling, the first thing I need is a big bear hug (my cousin Calvin gives the best, no cap)… and THEN I can get to solving the problem.

Kids are the same! Kids liiiive for hugs and positive touch. Physical safety is Maslow’s first layer for a reason. Being in and creating such a childlike, soft, and guiding environment helps me align with the simple and ever-important task that – children (everyone) have a huge need to be comforted. It’s not until after that’s attained, that we can get to building, expanding, learning, and growing.

And let me tell you… when kids go, kids go. So many days, I plop into my chair post-school day and think “I cannot keep up with my kids!” My ten children produce as many drawings, crafts, worksheets, and projects as Leonardo’s Workshop. I love it. Today, we mixed essential oils with paints and painted some scented pictures. I got to sit down and paint some beautiful flowers on a card for my co-teacher and felt so satisfied afterwards. Then, I remembered that I’m the teacher.

But creativity, colors, and energy runs in me just as much as it does them! I absolutely love getting to create, learn, think, and act like a kid sometimes. It’s probably the only job besides a clown where I can be a loud goofball and get paid for it. Any counter-productive idea and non-adult thing I could be only helps me in creating an environment of joy, curiosity, and fun for my kids.

Thanks for reading, as always. Ginormous shoutout to all my teacher friends for all the amazing, and mostly unrecognized work you do.

Much Love and Peace,

-Karl