Look at Freddie, gettin' shit done!

It’s that time of year again. Winter is awful and not over yet. Last year around this time, I wrote a post offering my kind advice for how to get through the rut one may feel this time of year. Alas, I moved to South Korea, where the winter is harsher, but with less snow, and zero pudding cups.

In addition, I started thinking about why this part of winter is so bleak. I think that many of us may feel some cabin fever, or at least some stagnancy. I for one have been refusing to wash my dishes for an embarrassingly long time and have a stack of essays to grade so large that I think, honestly, if I tore out every page of every essay book and stapled them to the outside of my building, they would actually reach my 24th floor room. How’s that for stagnant? And sometimes, work like that is unappealing. Especially if you’re me. But the longer you go without doing work, it seems, the worse you feel about avoiding it and the more daunting it becomes.

So, I decided to compile a short, helpful list of things to do that will trick your brain into feeling like you’ve done something. Ladies and gentlemen, this list is pudding cup free. Enjoy!

  • Listen to a band’s entire discography. You’ll feel strangely accomplished. I myself recently decided to undertake Queen’s significant 14 studio album catalog, and I’m in awe of how many Queen songs I’d never heard before. Practically the whole album of Hot Space is brand new to me, and I feel like a douche. It’s amazing, though quite different from the rest of their work. As someone who grew up listening to my dad listen to News of the World, I can see why he never got into Hot Space and exposed me to it as early as the rest of Queen’s work. Also, if you pick an artist with a large enough collection, say Queen (14 studio) or The Beatles (12 studio) or the Stones (a dizzying 29 studio albums), you’ll feel a bit like you just read a novel. It’s a big, rich story that unfolds and you hear all the greatness, all the sour notes, all the sad songs, the disasters, the resurrections, and at the end you feel something large and inexpressible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t let music do that to me often enough.
  • Start sketching Halloween costume ideas. As inspired by my recent Queen revival, I really honestly think I’m going to go for Freddie Mercury in some form, most probably his British soap opera drag look from the 1984 “I Want to Break Free” video, seen below. Really, its an excuse to wear a mustache. And fishnets. But regardless, I feel one step ahead of everyone else when it comes to my costume planning. And even if not exactly spring or summer minded, at least fall is warmer than this witch’s titty bullshit.
  • Large scale Facebook Unfriending: Do. It. It’s an awesome feeling. I’m one of those horrible compulsive acceptors. I’m friends with way too many people, and they aren’t people that I go looking for. People that I didn’t talk in high school, people who didn’t talk to me, add me on facebook all the time and I can’t just not accept. There’s something wrong with me. I just imagine going home and walking through the grocery store and seeing one of them and being that bitch that didn’t accept their friend request and moved to Korea and thinks she’s better than everyone. I don’t think I’m better than you. I just don’t want to allow you to browse through pictures of me and know more about me than you ever did 10 years ago, when we spent everyday in the same building without speaking. So last week a bunch of Tazewell strangers, a dude or 2 that I wanted to stop being reminded of, and some people I was virtual friends with despite hating them were all successfully unfriended. About 100 total. But I still have 618 friends, so there’s still something wrong with me.
  • Write a To-Do List for all the shit you actually have to do. Cause, I mean, that’s gotta be step one anyway, right? Clearly this is the one thing on this list I have not actually done yet.
  • Post a new blog entry. It’s so simple: It feels like you did something really cool. You get to be creative. You reach out to your friends. You feel satisfied when it’s done. And the whole while, you actually accomplished absolutely nothing. Genius. This whole time, I could have been beginning to pack for home. I could have written a budget for next month. I could have been packing for my trip to Taiwan in 2 days. I could have been planning the lesson I have to teach at 7am TOMORROW. I could have been doing my damn dishes. But no, I blogged. Oh, and blogging boosts your ego when you check how many views you have. So, hopefully, maybe when you’re done, you can feel good enough about your sorry self to finally grade some essays, you lazy, dirty whore.

Good luck friends!

Posted in Uncategorized, writing exercise | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



For the past month and a half, I’ve had the grueling task of teaching poetry to my middle school students. “Why is this task grueling?” you may ask, and if so, I may reply, “Are you an idiot?” or “Please clean the shit out of your ears.” Obviously, teaching poetry to anyone is a difficult task. In fact, I think there’s is only one thing on Earth more difficult than teaching poetry. That, my friends, is learning it.

Then, factor in that these particular poetry learners are also English language learners ranging from 12 to 14 years old, and also that the class is comprised of 3 loud, ridiculous boys and 1 very shy and reserved girl, and you see that the difficulty of this shit just got real.

Thankfully, they are brilliant and I love poetry, so it takes the edge off. However, we still have about 4 classes left to get through and it’s getting tougher by the day to find poems that don’t suck to supplement the stock, elementary, bullshit in our book. I hate most of the poetry I’m forced to teach these kids, but I understand why this is a problem in English textbooks. In searching for good examples to show the kids from my personal poetry library, I’ve consistently struggled to find poems that are GOOD, but don’t reference gratuitous sex acts in every stanza or use profane words more often than line breaks.

Regardless, I’ve found a lot to work with and they seem to take well to my examples of “poetry that isn’t awful.” My new favorite strategy, now that they can mostly identify a wide range of poetic devices, is to have them read each poem out loud, and then let them debate whether they think I like the poem or not. I’m very honest with them about my unnatural hatred for Robert Frost and my total apathy for traditional Native American poetry, so they do a pretty good job of guessing.

Not A Bad Guy.

Today’s selection was Arithmetic by Carl Sandburg, a catalog poem that is by far one of the best choices made in our entire literature book. At first, they guessed that I probably hated the poem because they know how much I hate math. However, upon further examination, they eventually uncovered why I like it: The metaphors are surprising and interesting. The poem builds and develops well. It ends by revealing something that is cold and abstract to most people as being instead warm, familial, and necessary.

It’s amazing to me that these kids get that. It’s incomprehensible to me that I opened the door for them.

The best part of the discussion was when I asked about the last stanza, “Why does the mother give ‘you’ 2 eggs instead of 1?” hoping for the response, “Because she loves you.”

Only in Korea would a student answer (and mean it), “Because she wants you to be better at arithmetic?” Priceless.

So, because I love writing exercises, I whipped up a new one for making a collaborative catalog poem. I took a good old fashioned dictionary (one made out of paper, not made out of cell phone) and let them select a word at random. Ours was “madwoman.” Each student took turns writing a stanza. Then, at the beginning of each student’s turn, I selected a word at random that they had to include in their stanza. Here’s our finished result. I debated letting you know which words were the selected ones, but I didn’t want to detract from the poem’s brilliance. Enjoy!


A madwoman walks a street like a drunk man.

A madwoman, in fact, is mad.

A madwoman is a roasted human sauced with evil sauces.

A madwoman goes inside her house. We can find lots of junk things such as Daniel’s coat, Franklin’s handcuffs, etc.

A madwoman mangles mangoes, meat, milk delivery men.

A madwoman is riding a Ferris wheel and is spitting swear words to the people at the amusement park.

Posted in Korea, poetry, teaching, writing exercise | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Best Paragraph of the Day

From Sunny, grade 4, Senior 3.2 student:

Sing is a children’s song. 6 grade song a singers song. 1,2,3,4, grade song a children’s song. They are song is very good.
And 6 grade song is very good and exciting. I want to sing too. good and exciting. I want sing too. And I want be a teacher and friend proud me.
Posted in konglish, Korea, teaching | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Closer?

Not Getting Closer

by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven, Knopf 2005


Walking in the dark streets of Seoul
under the almost full moon.
Lost for the last two hours.
Finishing a loaf of bread
and worried about the curfew.
I have not spoken for three days
and I am thinking, “Why not just
settle for love? Why not just
settle for love instead?”


I’m teaching poetry to my middle school units today, so in searching for poems that don’t suck to supplement the ones in our book that do suck (as poetry in middle school and high school text books so frequently do), I stumbled across this one. I know I must have read it before, because it’s by Jack Gilbert  from the collection Refusing Heaven and I remember reading the title and comparing it against the poem 3 pages away titled “Getting Closer.” And yet, somehow, I read it today sitting in my little classroom on the southeastern coast of Korea, with a view of Jangsan Mountain and Dalmagi Hill, and knew that I had no idea what it meant until now.

I love this feeling– understanding a Jack Gilbert poem for the first time, despite laboriously reading him for years. Every time this happens, I feel stupidly proud of myself. Like I’ve grown up a tiny, tiny bit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Martian Kor-onicles.

Living in Korea is like living in a Ray Bradbury story. The technology is weird, the people are either extremely strange and different from me, or undergoing the same changes I see in my life except they don’t seem to be bothered by it.

Daily, I try to hold on to remnants of my former world, but slowly see the things around me change to a color of what they once were. Meanwhile, the world I hold sacred at home is falling apart.

This is my first Thanksgiving away from home. Ever. It’s also the first Thanksgiving of my life that the lion’s share of my siblings won’t be eating with my parents. In fact, none of my siblings will be with my parents this year. I guess I never fathomed that this day would come, that one day we’d all be grown ups and my parents would be in Oklahoma for a funeral and the world, somehow would not end. But for now, while I’m in Korea, I was being comforted by the fact that on Thanksgiving, they’d all be huddled around a delicious juicy turkey, talking about how much they love America and how much they miss me. No dice.

So to make due, I’m hosting a potluck at my apartment. I wanted to make some down-home, stick-to-your-ribs cooking for my friends in Korea, so naturally, because I miss them so much, I started musing about fired green tomatoes and how satisfied I would feel if I could cook them for my friends. But Korea has no green tomatoes and, alas, it doesn’t have cornmeal either. As I stood in the Kim’s Club “milling” aisle with my phone dictionary in hand, a lovely little ajooma that worked there came over and offered me help. I smiled graciously and handed her my phone. She studied it for a minute and gave a worried look to the aisle before us. She then began speaking to me in Korean as if I was fluent. What I gathered from my broken minimal understanding of Hangul was, “No. We don’t have dry smashed corn. Korean people don’t eat that.” I bought some tempura frying mix. Problem solved.

Then I moved onto the tomato situation. I was not worried. I had even alerted my friends already, “Don’t worry– I’ve made fried red tomatoes before. It won’t be a disaster.”


I bought a shit load of tomatoes. Like maybe 10 or 12. And then I got them home, cut one open to make a test batch, and discovered to my absolute horror:




I have never felt so foolish, so wronged. They’re disgusting. They taste like a drunk melon got a yellow tomato pregnant and then threw her down the stairs. FAILURE.

Thank God I found a zucchini at the store and threw that in the cart too. We’ll be having lemon pepper tempura fried zucchini  instead. And maybe I’ll go to a K-pop concert and throw these rotten persimmons on stage. I’m going to have to get rid of them somehow.

So, to all of you, happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful I have friends to cook for and a family that loves me, even if they’ll be loving me from scattered locales throughout the upper and lower southern states. I’m thankful for a good job in Korea and a beautiful day. I’m thankful that later, my home will be full of new friends and I’ll be wrapping Christmas presents to send home while we watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, drunk on bourbon with a view of the city lights twinkling on the East Sea.

Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

America’s Dairyland, A Korean Child’s Wild Frontier.

I have a favorite class. I call them the “Boy Class.” It’s made of 7 students, all boys, all 4th grade, all so hyperactive they could easily star in their own cereal commercials, and all brilliant and hilarious. I sincerely wish that every teacher in Korea or anywhere around the world could have the amazing good fortune of teaching a class as well suited to their personality as my Boy Class is to mine. They ghost me in the hallways on break. They’re obsessed with Kim Jong-il’s waterslide and cite that as the prime flaw of communism. Every day, my grammar lessons feature the words murder, puke, dork, nerd, and imbecile.

They make my heart smile.

Recently, I had to teach them a whole unit about the Midwest. One student, Andrew, is a repeat offender of drawing in his text book. One day, he’s sitting front row and I see him giggling to himself and sketching quietly on a picture of a Chicago Cubs player sliding into home with the catcher squatting out of focus in the background. As I approach Andrew and let the word “STOP–” escape my mouth, I see that he is merely drawing arrows as if to magically guide the still-framed runner’s foot naturally along a simple path into the catcher’s nuts. Before “DRAWING IN YOUR BOOK,” could follow my exclamation, I too was giggling and was no longer in a position to reprimand my student.

Perhaps this was the day that everything I said about the Midwest was lost on my student named Harry, but I will never know for sure. All I do know is that Harry, one of those husky-voiced kids who looks like a tiny version of a full-grown, chubby middle aged man, didn’t hear a god damned thing I said about the Mall of America or water skiiing on Lake Michigan or industrialized farming or meat processing or the fact that Detroit is the heart of the automotive industry. Somewhere in the middle of all that lecturing and checking for comprehension, I must have glossed over Harry altogether. I know this, because I assigned the essay topic “Would you rather live in the Great Lakes States of the Great Plains States?” And this, my dear friends, was Harry’s response in its full, unedited glory:


Would you rather live in the Great Lakes or the Great Plains?

by Harry, Grade 4

When I lives in the great lakes of great plains, I will build a house with a special method and get a food from hunt animals. Because there is a forest so there are many trees and muds, I will make a house with stone, mud, and tree. First, I will build structure with the tree and lay stones half and a half of the structure. And paste a mud in and on the house. And hund animal with a knife that grind stone.

I will write a Diary, Daily to make it to a book. If I make a book, I will be a celebrity, so I will become very rich. Because people will read my diary, they will want to experience like me to traveling alone.

I will make a plan to survive in the great lakes.

Day 1. Find where to build house. If found, build and get a trash. It’ll be useful.

Day 2. Go to the sea and get the seafood and see whether there is a boat daily.

Day 3. Grind stone to make a knife. After grind, hunt, and watch whether there’s boat.

Day 4 ~ Day ? Need to behave regularly like Day 3 until someone rescue me.


Maybe I failed Harry on that chapter, but honestly, I’m so glad I did. Hell, the way Harry wrote it, he actually makes the Midwest sound worth visiting. Why go to the Mall of America when you can grind stone to make a knife and build your own house from a mud and a tree?

Posted in Korea, writing exercise | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reasons to Love Korea

#39: Because in America, the following would result in termination and a lawsuit:

Student: [Making incessant noise during a quiz]

Me: William, if you make one more sound, I will strangle you to death.

Student: What??

Me: I will put my hands around your throat and cut off your breathing until you are dead.

Student: Ok. [Ten minutes of uninterrupted silence]

Posted in Korea | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment