in the car pool with peter, on our way back from choir rehearsal, i try to read and not look only at him. the other boys in the car cluck and shove at each other, ask loud questions about things that have just happened at school. the mother driving us regards the traffic ahead. on the pages in front of me, the words dissolve a bit, the letters thinning until i can see, on the other side of them, like spying through a wire fence, the pictures of peter i have collected inside me: peter laughing as he falls on the ice at lake sebago, peter walking through his dark house, his dog fluttering at his leg, peter asleep in my basement, trying to escape it. occasionally i look up, and the real peter flares beside me. i try to place the smell of him. he smells of carnations and, very faintly, cigarette smoke. like a corsage someone left in a bar. i am in love with you, i think then. that’s what this is. (8-9)
mi-yeok-guk is seaweed soup is birthday soup. it’s the soup that’s given to women right after they give birth because seaweed contains a lot of iron and is considered to be good for new mothers, and it is, thus, the soup that you’re supposed to eat on your birthday. my mum wonders out loud why it’s the children who eat seaweed soup on their birthdays; shouldn’t it be the mothers?
my mum makes me my seaweed soup a few days early because i’m sick and seaweed soup is also my go-to sick-day soup. when i’m living out in new york and get sick, i go eat pho and i make seaweed soup because it’s an absurdly easy soup to make, and who’s so inclined to do any intensive cooking when ill? it’s an interesting soup, too — different regions in korea make theirs differently. like, my mum makes hers with beef. her mum, who was from busan, made hers with clams. others make it with anchovy broth. i make mine with beef because my mum makes hers with beef.
the funny thing about korean food? which i know isn't unique to korean food? we all believe we (or our mums) make it best. i fully believe i make the best kimchi fried rice, the best kimchi jjigae, the best ka-rae. my mum marinates the best kalbi and makes the best kalbi-tang and samgye-tang and name a soup, she makes it best. she also makes the best bin-dae-ddeok and kong-na-mul and jahp-chae. how ever you eat it at home, that style korean food is the best.
love should be about making you want to live. (156)
i read alexander chee’s edinburgh for the first time last year, and it’s haunted me since. the prose is sparse and beautiful, the story melancholy and thoughtful, the characters ones you want to wrap in your arms and never let go. i read the ibooks copy of it last years, and it was one littered with copy errors, and i mentioned that in an instagram caption, and chee commented, saying he’d pass that along to his team.
(i love that about getting a book out into the world — the fact that it’s a team effort.) (i want a team of my own some day. soon. please.) (my book is still out for agent consideration.)
when i was in portland last month, i went to powell’s and bought one book — a hard copy of edinburgh. i’m not sure why that was the book i picked up, maybe simply that i saw it and it was a book i’d earmarked to buy since i’d read it, and it’s one of those books i wish everyone would read.
(i also had a lovely interaction with chee at a reading once. he was at the UES barnes and noble for an event with jung yun, and i got shelter, yun’s debut, signed and decided i wanted to get the queen of the night, chee’s second novel, signed as well, so i bought a copy and asked him to sign it. i’d seen him a few weeks prior at AAWW for a reading and panel about queen as well. he asked if i was a writer. i said, yes. he wrote an encouraging inscription. i always appreciate those, especially when they come from writers of color. for me, at least, they usually tend to come from writers of color.)
edinburgh is a good cold-weather book. it’s something you can curl up with because it’s a book that compels you to sit with it even while the story is not the lightest — the novel follows fee, a korean-american boy who’s a soprano in his boys’ choir and learns exactly what the choir director does to his section leaders. the boy he loves, peter, is also a section leader in the choir and a victim, and peter takes his own life, leaving fee to carry his grief and the self-hatred and guilt for his silence until he has to confront it all later in his life.
(i’m sorry; i’m really bad at writing summaries.)
even with such heavy subject matter, edinburgh isn’t weighed down. it’s not a book that wraps itself around your throat like a chain with trauma; chee tells fee’s story gently, with generosity; and i find that “generosity” is a word i use often to describe work i love. i don’t know how quite to explain what i mean when i say that an author “writes with generosity,” and it has nothing to do with prose or language or narrative and everything to do with a certain kind of heart upon which the book is written. it has everything to do with how i feel an author is approaching the work, the intent with which she/he/they is trying to tell the story at hand, and it’s everything to do with warmth and kindness and love, not only for the characters in the book but also for the reader who might be coming into the work with trauma and pain of her/his/their own. a writer who tells a story with generosity is one who wishes first to comfort, to recognize, to meet the reader wherever she/he/they may be because that writer know that they are equals, both the one who gives the story and the one who receives.
we find each other because we need each other. (215)
have i previously stated that i love eggs? i also love foam.
there is a saying in korea that you know who your god is when you think you are about to die. hello, god. i pray to be able to carry peter, to carry him off to where he belongs, way above this earth. well above what could ever touch him. but wherever that is, i instead set him down at the entrance to the dining hall, where we go inside and sneak a soda from the fountain. (17)
i think of my grandparents, the listening quality they always seemed to have whenever i saw them. what were they listening for? when they had decided to leave korea, they did so and then left quickly. it was difficult but not impossible, and they never seemed to express remorse. their whole difficult lives seemed not to weigh on them at all. taken as mornings and meals, suppers and evenings, all of the world could be carried, both the sad and the delicious, their lives seemed to say. (202)
why did lady tammamo take her life instead of living forever? love ruins monsters. she didn’t need the spell of a thousand livers to become human. she just had to love one man. feel the change come over her: the fur recedes across her brow, the fangs flatten to a smile. the paws turn to feet and say good-bye to flight. the danger of her hides itself in shame. (227-8)
i totally botched this potato brioche because of lazy technique. i don’t own a kitchenaid, and i don’t plan to change that any time soon, and it’s been a while since i’ve made bread that required kneading and, thus, forgot exactly how much you need to knead bread. it tasted fine, but the texture was completely off. this is what i get for being lazy.
this is also what i get for deciding to bake bread when i’m still feverish and low energy.
oh well. i’ll bake it again in the next few weeks when i’m feeling better. i still have almost a whole bag of potato flour to use, anyway.
do you remember what it was like, to be young? you do. was there any innocence there? no. things were exactly what they looked like. if anyone tries for innocence, it’s the adult, moving forward, forgetting. if innocence is ignorance of the capacity for evil, then it’s what adults have, when they forget what it’s like to be a child. when they look at a child and think of innocence they are thinking of how they can’t remember what that feels like. (193)