NY Times Reviews HERE I AM

NYT called my book “winsome.” And this will be the only time actress Julianne Moore will ever be likened to me. So, read on…


Published in: on October 13, 2013 at 8:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

HERE I AM (Book Trailer)

My children’s book, HERE I AM, is coming out this September. Sonia Sanchez, the illustrator, did an amazing job. Beautiful, whimsical, and moving. Kirkus gave it a starred review.

Look for it at http://www.capstoneyoungreaders.com/products/here-i-am-1/

To order signed copies, leave me a comment.

Published in: on August 10, 2013 at 4:05 pm  Comments (4)  

Rhythms of West Africa and Korea

I let my kids stay up late last night. I took them to the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland to experience a concert that fused the traditional rhythms of Africa and Korea. The performance started with the Youngnam Nongak, a staple piece in the Samulnori repertory. Then, Fe Fila and N’Goron were preformed on the African drums. Then the two ensembles came together. The experience was fun, strong, loud, hypnotic, beautiful and very moving. We were encouraged to grunt and shout during the performances. During one of my grunts, I got all choked up. I thought of drumming on pots and pans as a kid in Korea, my mom not being able to continue her dance and drum lessons as a girl, and the 1992 LA riots. What if, instead of weapons, we picked up drums, and together we beat out our woes, our pain, our fears, our joy, our hopes, grunts and all? Surely, we would find a rhythm all could breathe, move and dance to.

On the drive home, I was happy to hear Sophie say that she liked the African drumming better. My mission as a parent felt accomplished, even though we got home way past their bedtime. As I put them to sleep, I hoped the vibrations of different cultures fusing resounded in their dreams.

The UMD African Drum Ensemble and the UMD Korean Percussion ensemble at the Dekelboum Concert Hall.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Kim.
Find him at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jeremy-Kim-Photography/300738016604051

Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  


I wasn’t looking for anything serious.
Maybe a date or two a month.
Nice would do.
Then I got involved,
arranging and rearranging,
praying for rain,
handling matters of
beauty and truth,
life and death.

Our backyard in 2002 when we first moved in was mostly wisteria and poison ivy growing wild.

Spring 2011. Nine years later.

With gardening, improvement is inevitable.

Budding irises.

The surprising lush behind the garage.

Scotch Broom.


View from my bedroom window.

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 11:08 am  Comments (6)  

Autobiography of Consumption

Take a moment to remember where your most recent receipts came from. Mine are from Costco, Value Village, Home Depot, Giant, Candyland, and Trader Joe’s. What if we saved six months worth of receipts and stitched them together? How long would they be? What would our purchases say about our habits? What would they say about our culture at large? Would they define us? What is our autobiography of consumption?

Artist Nicole Salimbene saved all her receipts for six months, sewed them together, and assembled them into a set of five scrolls. Onto the receipts, she printed original digital photographic images of power structures, energy use, and nature. Each scroll is 30 feet long. Together, they are 50 yards long. That’s half a football field. The length is overwhelming. The receipts go on and on, asking us about what we consume. How much? Where? Why? Aren’t scrolls supposed to contain sacred texts? Has consumption become our national religion?

Autobiography of Consumption, a 3rd Ward finalist, is exhibited at the Tubman-Mahan Gallery at the Center for Green Urbanism in Washington DC.

For more of Salimbene’s work, check out http://www.nicolesalimbene.com.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Wide Eyes

In the summer of 1994, I returned to Korea for the first time since immigrating at the age of three. My aunt and uncle met my parents and me at the airport and drove us back to their apartment. During the ride, my aunt told me to get my eyes fixed while I was visiting. She knew the best doctor. It’s cheap here. Everyone does it. It’ll look so natural. I didn’t quite know how to take this urgent recommendation for plastic surgery from my kindhearted and enthusiastic aunt, who hadn’t seen me in over twenty years. Get my eyes fixed? For what? I had enough trouble breathing the air here, did she really think I would allow someone to slit the lids of my eyes? Get my eyes fixed? My vision was just fine, thank you, fine enough to see that the Pusan hillsides heavily accessorized with glow-in-the-night neon red crucifixes had little to do with heaven. The crosses reminded me of the signs back home that showed the way to the nearest emergency exits.

The decision to get your eyes “fixed” has everything to do with how you see, how you see yourself, how you see others seeing you.

When Ellie was 5 years old, she wanted to change her eyes, declaring that they were too wide, too round, too big. According to her, wide eyes were ugly. She would stand in front of the mirror, slant down her eyes, and say, “This looks better.” She believed this because her sister, mother, aunt and idol-of-a-cousin all had slanted eyes. Wishing to be like everyone else, she couldn’t see her own beauty.

In AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, Annie Dilliard distinguished the beauty earned with age as superior to the automatic beauty of youth. “Our beauty was a mere absence of decrepitude; their beauty, when they had it, was not passive but earned; it was grandeur; it was a party to power, and to artifice, even, and to knowledge. Our beauty was, in the long run, merely elfin. We could not, finally, discount the fact that in some sense they owned us, and they owned the world.”

Why not claim the grandeur of owning the world, rather than wishing to be elves again?

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  


My dad loves to tell this story about his older brother:

Our family had apple orchard. We have to work, but he hate working. What a slow worker. All he want to do is study and read books. He almost burn down the house because he read under a blanket with candle burning. He got in big trouble. He is very slow, but he is very intelligent. He graduate #1 from his high school. We got no money to go to college, so he apply to Korean Naval Academy and got in. Do you know how hard that is? He was the only one in Kyung-san district to get in. The whole town was so proud of him. And then, after first semester, he get kicked out for coming back to academy late after summer vacation. He miss curfew by couple hours. See, I told you he is so slow. Oh yeah, so much shame. But he can’t give up. He wants to study so much. That’s all he wants to do. He has no choice because no scholarships back then, and we got no money. So, he has to look for free schools. So, he apply to Korean Military Academy. He didn’t say anything to them about getting kicked out of Naval Academy. No one check his name. And he got in. Can you believe that? So, he study there for free for three years. One more year, and he can graduate. Then, he go to annual rugby competition where all academies, military, naval, and air force, come together. And his old friend from Naval Academy sees him and says, “Hey, what are you doing here?” And that friend snitch on him, and my brother gets kicked out again. He had one more year before graduation. Oh man. Then he went to teacher’s college and became a teacher. He teach math and physics to middle and high school kids. He retire as vice principal. That’s pretty good. I look back and think it’s very good he got kicked out because if he graduate, they send him to Vietnam. And he’s so slow, he get shot in Vietnam. Military, army, navy… all that stuff is not my brother’s style. My brother style is like a scholar. He just want to study for free, that’s all. So lucky, he got kicked out.

My big uncle, my little uncle, my dad (doesn’t he resemble Mr. Sulu?)

My big uncle in the Korean Naval Academy.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:13 pm  Comments (5)  

Made by John

We were at Plato’s Diner having breakfast on a Sunday, when I sketched a dresser on a napkin. Something simple with clean lines, strong, well made, nothing fancy. A couple of months later, that dresser was in my bedroom.

My sketch didn’t give the dresser an overhang, but John insisted on it so that the entire top could simply lift off like a lid. If we ever had to move it, the weight could be lightened and the pieces would easily fit through doorways. He likes overhangs in general because they give houses and pieces of furniture expression, like eyebrows on a human face. It also functions as protection.

The planks across the front of the drawers were three long pieces, which he cut and placed so the grains lined up. The grooves on which the drawers move are also made of wood and waxed with Ivory soap. Because the dresser is unusually long and its center could cave in over the years, John installed a metal beam that runs diagonally across the bottom, as well as a fifth leg. It’s made of solid maple, chosen for its natural color and its hard surface which takes on a nice polish with wear and age.

My husband is not much of a poet, but when he makes something like this for me, my love for language can take the backseat.

The dresser.

The face.

Maple grains.

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 4:47 pm  Comments (18)  

The Serpent

I grew up Christian, so the serpent was considered the devil’s pet of choice, if not the devil himself.

That notion started to unravel when I learned in what esteem other cultures and religions held the snake. The ancient Aztecs of Central America worshiped it as a life force. The Australian Aborigines associated it with the creation of life. In India, important people were believed to come back as cobras. Greek mythology has given us our medical symbol of two snakes wrapped around a staff. The serpent symbolized feminine wisdom, healing, initiation, and renewal.

It had a pretty good reputation before Genesis.

The subversive nature of Christianity strongly appeals to me. The last will be first; the first will be last. The meek will inherit the earth. God in human form. Love your enemies. Its way of undermining the powers that be. The religion managed to take a despised symbol like the crucifix and transform it into something held dear and sacred. Consider how dramatically subversive it would be to turn the image of a noose or the electric chair into an icon worthy of worship.

I just wish it didn’t do the same inversion on the symbol of the serpent. The writers and editors of Genesis must have been aware of what it signified. Is it possible that they re-cast the serpent as the bad guy to smear the competition?

The Ouroboros ring designed and made by Tina Tang. I love this ring. I asked Tina, why the snake? She said that it was known as the protector of sacred spaces.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm  Comments (2)  

Star-Crossed Lovers

My friend, Tina Tang, is a big fan of opera. She took me to the MET to see Lucia di Lammermoor. The plot was simple and familiar enough: Boy and girl meet. They fall in love. Girl’s brother forces her to marry another. Girl kills groom. Girl goes mad and dies. Boy kills himself. The end. Lucia and Edgardo are what Shakespeare would call “a paire of starre-crost louers.”

As high an art as opera is, the experience was surprisingly visceral for me. The singing was not unlike human wailing, albeit beautified and controlled. It reminded me of the kind of lament that occasions chest-beating and clothe-rending and guttural wailing. Mere words did not suffice; music stepped in to lift us into the realm of heaven where star crossed lovers can meet.

Me in front of the Metropolitan Opera House.

Before act one.

Before act three.

Celebrity sighting: the man in the pink shirt and dark jacket is Mario Cantone. He played Charlotte’s wedding coordinator in Sex in the City.

Published in: on March 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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