04.29.14

the discovered

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:01 pm by Administrator

if i look back at these past twelve years of entries (which i have never done really), i think i would find that there are three different ways in which i try to describe the narrative arc of my life.

one arc tells the story of how i began as an individual and became part of a people. there is a strong religious element to this version of my tale; the “people of God” and the metaphor of a lion are recurring themes in this story.

another arc tells the story of how i have shifted from visionary to mouthpiece. it is related to the first arc but different, in that this is the story of how i have come to view myself consummately and simply as a vessel for other lives.

and the last arc is perhaps the most difficult to discern, but it is there, beneath the grieving and the groping for meanings. is the story of how i am trying to emerge from the mystery of what i was, so as to be manifestly understood. it is the psychological journey that i separate from my spiritual, ideological, and social journeys. it is the yen i revolve around, that yearning to be lost no longer, but rather discovered.

for years, i pleaded with my father to forgive me for the times that i fought back against his domination of me. i urged him to see our arguments, even the most vicious ones, as part of a necessary process for me. ultimately, i was unable to convince him to see things my way; he declared me a “bad son”, and a traitor as well. i think this is when i realized that i had, in a conflicted and sideways manner, stumbled into manhood.

in many ways, no one has known me better than my father. and while he has judged me to be gifted and even kind, he has branded me a spoiled and selfish child—a “greenhouse plant” no less. this perception of me has become a permanent point of reference for me. and thus, since i left my parents’ home, i have struggled to validate my sufferings in life, because, to my father, none of what i suffer is authentic or real.

when i look back at the mystery of what i was, i see myself in a multiplicity of awkward angles of reflection, and i struggle to put it together. but as i have grown, i have had to. there is a certain sadness in my life that i cannot shake; and sometimes that sadness is enough to invalidate most everything that i have done or become. in my private reflections, i constantly resist the idea of myself as an utter failure, a coward, a traitor, a faithless man. i did not emerge from early adulthood with wholeness. rather, i came into manhood with deep frustration and loneliness—the psychological inheritance left to me by my father, accrued over generations of familial despair. one might think that my education and my intellect could have afforded me a new beginning in a new world; but this is an illusion. as my father has always told me, children are forever the victims of their parents.

here and there, there have been flashes of clarity for me, amidst the tedious wandering. they have come in many forms. there was the Korean student i met in Scotland, when i was a med student on rotation at the University of Edinburgh. he hovered over me with his Koreanness; he sought to teach me the meaning of “Han”. “i feel ‘chung’ with you,” he said. “you should feel “Han” for your fatherland”. those were vivid and impressionable times, before 9/11. those conversations i had with my “countryman” have become a point of reference for me, as did the experiences i had in philadelphia and in new york after the terrorist attacks.

in any case, it was a moment in my life when someone other than my father believed that he knew something essential about me. the presumption was poignant to me, not because i resisted something true about it, but rather because it was false, for reasons that i did not understand for many years.

among brilliant moments, there was my lunch with Yemi and his friends at the Morgan Museum, when we sat in that place flooded with light, surrounded by beautiful art. we talked about paintings and writings and Italian wine; and somewhere near the bottom of my champagne glass, i began to talk about my medical career, and how much i had already come to regret it, and how much i missed the days when i lived and experienced life freely. i cried. i don’t remember their reactions. it was oddly one of the more beautiful moments in my life.

there are moments i have been given, so that i might understand something that nothing else quite explains. you see, it is not enough for me to call myself a romantic, or an artist. it is not enough for me to say that i could have been something other than a doctor; i could have been happy. it is not enough for me to talk about how much i love wandering through an art museum, or looking at a dancing woman, or hearing Henri Cole read those terribly beautiful words “to become oneself is so exhausting that i am as others have made me…”

no, these moments cannot be distilled into pithy lessons about what i was and still am. they do not lend themselves to easy meanings. rather, they are portals, through which i can pass any time i wish, as long as i hold to these memories. and passing through those portals, i find myself in a space where i am not as others have made me; i am in a space where i can, if i wish, discover what i am

04.23.14

the flywheel, and other things

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:02 pm by Administrator

all the self-help/business gurus eventually distill their ideas into some kind of pictorial. my company is getting Studerized, which means we’re all about the flywheel. passion–>principles–>pillar results, in a self-sustaining cycle.

here’s my flywheel:

religious belief–>relational experience–>psychological impact

i like my flywheel. i think it’s honest.

a lot of religious people i’ve met would design a different flywheel, that would look like this:

scripture–>religious belief–>life experience

in other words, scripture takes a prominent place (as an independent authority or influence), and psychology has little or no role in informing belief. i’m going to come out and call that dishonest. one’s feelings and ever-shifting perspectives always inform basic religious belief. and life experiences don’t directly illuminate the truth of scripture, outside of reorienting one’s psychology or perspective. i know i’m being prescriptive, but there it is.

i’m at a point in my life where i would define the main fruits of my relationship with God as psychological. and that isn’t to diminish the importance of whatever impact i may have had on other people or on my environment. but i’ll say that it is easier for me to define the psychological changes i’ve experienced than it is for me to define the impact i’ve had on others—primarily because i’m not convinced that any particular person has changed for the better solely on the basis of my influence. even when it comes to religious “conversion”, i can’t think of a situation in which i could call another person’s salvation the very fruit of my own life.

but i can attest very much to the changes in my way of thinking, and i think that God wants me to delight in these changes. they were hard won. many of them were earned through suffering. these changes that increased my ability to sacrifice, to understand, and to love were not simply “imputed” to me; they were lessons i had to reflect on, learn, and own for myself. it’s because of this process that i really do align myself theologically with the new perspectives on Paul. beyond basic covenantal identification, i can’t really separate justification from sanctification. in fact, i own my justification far more now than i ever could have twenty years ago as a younger believer. i express my justification through intercessory power with a greater measure of authority and confidence than i ever did as a twelve year old who was no less passionate about Christ.

here are some of the ways in which my psychology and perspective have changed, due to the grace of God:

1. i value the people of God, where once i esteemed only personal mysticism.
2. i believe i can intercede in prayer, where once i believed myself merely a passive participant in God’s preordained plan.
3. i have learned to be wrong about everything except the singularity and lordship of Christ; and in this even, i have learned to be cautious in humility.
4. i believe that my feelings are both important and necessary, even when it is not proper to act on them.
5. i believe that moral perfection is nothing to be gained, apart from what is required by God for His work.
6. i listen with my pain and my brokenness, where once i listened with my knowledge about things.
7. i have learned to accept that i love many things, including myself; but i have learned that devotion to God consists not in despising these things but rather loving Christ above and beyond all else.

04.21.14

leisure time

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:21 pm by Administrator

it’s strange for me to consider that once upon a time i couldn’t wait to have an evening away from my kids. nowadays, i struggle to find reasons to get out of the house on evenings or weekends.

this has something to do with the fact that i have a lot less energy than i used to. watching a late night movie can be physically punishing for me, for days. i’ve written about this previously. i have to get my 8 hours of sleep and my morning run. i can’t sustain my daily pace at work otherwise.

it also has something to do with how my attitude toward my kids is changing. my son is more fun to hang around with than he was at the age of 3. my daughter is more fun to watch than my son was at her age. of course, this has nothing to do with how intrinsically interesting they are. i’ve changed. i’ve been “broken in”, so to speak. i’m more attuned now to the thoughts and feelings of the little people, and even when i’m not actively playing with them, i like being around the noise and the conversations that they participate in. it’s the extrovert in me; i feel good when they are around.

and all of this also has to do with how hard it is becoming for me to be genuinely entertained when i’m out and about. it used to be easy. watching any old movie, dropping in on a newfangled bar or restaurant, or just walking in an unfamiliar part of town—that used to be an interesting if not important kind of diversion for me. now, i find myself constantly weighing the risk of boredom. it is much harder for me to be diverted than i once was. and i find this true even in my moments of private reflection. i used to get carried away in ruminations or imaginations, but nowadays, particularly in those moments before sleep, i often find myself stranded at the precipice of thought.

have i lost interest in things? or were they never really very interesting to begin with? it’s the question i ask nowadays.

04.19.14

the hole

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:16 am by Administrator

there is someone in my life who is going through a terribly difficult phase right now. i won’t get into specifics, but it’s an unusual kind of struggle. there’s a part of me that wants to create distance—physical separation for sure, but also emotional distance. and it is easy to create emotional distance, because i can impose logic on the situation. logic is about identifying the mistake; it’s about proposing the best solution; it’s about achieving an outcome that resolves the struggle. empathy is a harder way to go, because empathy raises the possibility that i will not only lose the objectivity of distance but also any clear idea of how i can help.

but here’s the thing i understand. in some situations, i cannot help unless i first empathize. and in this situation, i cannot empathize unless i access that place where i once was, where there was no one who could help me, and where there was nothing to live for. i call it the hole. at one time in my life, God dug that hole in me. it is there, forever.

it was almost four years ago when i fell into that hole. i did not get out of it by clawing my way out. i got out of it by releasing my hold on the things i once believed in. i let go and i fell all the way in—and strangely, i fell all the way out. it was in fact a bottomless hole, and on the other side of it was a different kind of life. i never would have known it if i had not let go.

for men like me, submitting to failure is the beginning. embracing that failure at first signifies an utter futility; but later, one realizes that futility is a borrowed idea. none of us were born to fail; we simply inherited an arbitrary idea of success. thus, to admit failure or success is more or less the same thing. it is the way we navigate life. our story, in the end, is written by someone else.

in those days, i named God the One “who takes the death out of my life”. in that time, He made it clear to me that He will not share me with anything else in this world—not a job, not a woman, not a nation, not an ideal. He’ll have me completely, or no one will have me at all. this is the price of His love. i accepted that price, and i got the better end. even now, as i stand at the edge of that hole that ate me from within, i look into my life and see a great emptiness in all of it. it is all empty, except for the things that God has placed there

04.10.14

the bubble

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:56 pm by Administrator

out from the bottle of suds,
he spooled a bubble, that he blew out over the grass.
there was no wind, so it fell upon a blade,
and the blade would not hold it.

my children laughed, and i measured their delight
against the stretch of afternoon,
against the field beyond
and all things that remained to be done.

he dipped again, and blew out a big one
so large and tenuous and almost dripping
with color. i thought it would break apart in the air
and yet it wafted, and did not move.

my son encircled it with his fingers.
and then i was next to him,
looking into this perfect thing,
just a beautiful, fleeting thing.

he looked at me, and i saw
he wanted to give it to me.
it could have easily been me,
but it was him

and all i could tell him
was that it was his, and only his.
so we waited
until a shimmer in the wind took it away.

04.09.14

and… even more last thoughts on breaking bad

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:02 pm by Administrator

aside from everything else that i’ve had to say about breaking bad over the past week, there is something more. and it strikes me as important, so i have to explore it.

seasons 1 and 2 of Breaking Bad were awkward, at times funnily bizarre, and certainly not as visually sophisticated as seasons 3 through 5. so i am certainly going against the grain when i contend that season 2, despite its flaws, was the best season of “Breaking Bad”.

most any critic would heartily disagree. season 5 in particular was a riveting, suspenseful, action-packed affair. seasons 3 and 4 were filled with dark energy, probing moments, and character tension. but in retrospect, seasons 3, 4, and 5, as entertaining as they were, placed the show in a very specific and well-worn genre: the crime thriller genre. the most obvious parallel for Breaking Bad in its mid-late series form is the show “24″. they are both plot-driven, fantastical, and linearly written shows with a clear and climactic endpoint.

seasons 1 and 2 suggested a different trajectory for “Breaking Bad”—and one which i think would have been far more interesting to follow. it was a dark comedy trajectory: the quintessential American middle-class tale turned on its head and driven to irony of bloody proportions. the whole premise—that Walt the stodgy schoolteacher could actually entertain a real life of crime—was the central and most delicious part of this oddly piercing narrative. it was Walt’s struggle to balance two lives that made “Breaking Bad” very unique.

but in season 3, he basically abandons all pretense of a conventional life, giving himself over to the “Heisenberg” alter-ego, and what ensues is a fairly conventional crime thriller production, replete with intrigue, serious criminals, shocking violence, and probing psychodrama. “Breaking Bad” gives itself over to excess, even as it abandons any linkage to the plain humanity of Walter—once foundational to this narrative.

here’s what it comes down to for me: Walter White was better as a schoolteacher. Walter White as the full-time meth cook is just another criminal mastermind, and we have enough of those in contemporary television culture. when Walter White was suspended from his high school job, his tenuous linkage to the average viewer suffered an irreparable injury, and as a result “Breaking Bad” transformed—into something unfortunately very recognizable.

04.08.14

The 10 Things That Bother Me About Breaking Bad’s Finale

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:01 pm by Administrator

i implied that my last entry would be my last reflections on Breaking Bad. obviously, i lied.

i’ve had the whole gamut of reactions to series finales, from overcome with emotion (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), to wistfully reflective (Battlestar Galactica), to angry (The Sopranos), to utterly resigned (The Wire). in comparison to these reactions, my feelings about Breaking Bad’s finale were peculiarly muted. that has something to do with the longer-term limitations of the show and of its main character in particular, as i’ve previously articulated. but it also has something to do with the fact that Breaking Bad’s finale was a logical denouement to a straightforward tale—when it could have been a sharp, illuminating capstone for a show that was already veering toward black comedy of the wittier variety.

more than anything, i guess i found “Felina” to be very “meh”. it was a missed opportunity.

in any case, here are the 10 things that bothered me most about BB’s finale:

1. The M60 machine gun: Breaking Bad had its ludicrous moments (i.e. Walter exploding Tuco Salamanca’s office with magic dust, and then walking out unscathed and with a business deal to boot) but the M60 was one of its more ridiculous gimmicks. the M60 machine gun which singlehandedly wiped out the entire neo-Nazi gang conveniently worked because 1) the car’s trunk wasn’t searched by the gang (even though they had every reason to be wary of Walt), 2) the car was perfectly parked such that the entire clubhouse was precisely within the arc of the machine gun’s spread, 3) the entire gang happened to be in the clubhouse when the gun was activated, and 4) kick-back from the gun did not alter its perfect alignment, such that it fired at precisely the height needed to kill everyone seated and standing within the room.

2. Walt doesn’t do right by Marie: as affected as Walt presumably is by Hank’s death (obviously he’s affected enough to meticulously design a mass murder revenge), he absolutely makes no effort to communicate to Marie the details of Hank’s death. Hank died a hero’s death; it’s a death that firmly establishes Hank as the moral centerpoint and hero of the show. yet Walt is content merely to pass off the GPS coordinates of Hank’s body, as if this is sufficient to relieve his debt of conscience to Hank. it’s illogical, and it doesn’t even make sense in the context of Walt’s warped psyche.

3. Walt doesn’t do right by Hank: as affected as Walt is by Hank’s death, Walt makes no effort to consider Hank’s sense of justice when he scripts the conclusion of his story. on many many levels, it would have made much more sense for Walt to turn himself in to the police at the very end. it would have enabled Walt to clear Hank’s name and establish Hank’s heroism, and it would have fulfilled Hank’s dying wishes.

4. Walt doesn’t do right by himself: by not turning himself in, Walt denies himself the chance to tell his story. every megalomaniac wants to tell his story. every man who believes himself a thwarted king cherishes the opportunity to tell the world how great he once was. Walt, as narcissistic and consumed with greatness as he is, doesn’t leave behind his version of his tale; he doesn’t even jot down a suicide note. that’s not just illogical for Walt; it’s totally a tragic miss by the show’s creators.

5. Skyler just cries: every female character on this show suffered from a distinct lack of imagination on the part of the writers, and Skyler’s final scene with Walt simply stifles any hint of her personality. is it sufficient for Walt to end their relationship with his own dramatic confession of motives? was there no room whatsoever for Skyler to give Walt a true piece of her inner mind? in the end, is Skyler too insignificant to actually influence Walt or change his mind about anything? Walt and Skyler’s final moments together simply confirm what i suspected all along: that Skyler was just a prop.

6. Walt’s sentimental moment by the meth machines: i just don’t buy it. Walt would have affection for the meth machines? if Walt absolutely had to die in the lab, then there were a dozen other ways to do it; but a gentle bloodstained touch of a metal vat is not a valid dying gesture.

7. The whole mass murder conclusion: the neo-nazi thugs were bad guys, and certainly Vince Gilligan tried to pack enough evil in their last few scenes to arrange them as worthy villains. but their deaths serve no real purpose, and Walt’s motivations for killing them all are just not compelling enough. “Ozymandias” makes it clear enough that the Nazis did what they had to for themselves (and for Walt, for that matter). Walt’s vengeful rampage misses the mark, largely because it is not necessary enough.

8. Lydia’s death by Stevia: this is another improbable and ludicrous detail that was a major distraction for me. Walt is away from the game for almost a year, and yet on the final day of his life, he bets that he’ll know exactly where to find Lydia based on their prior business arrangements. never mind that Lydia is paranoid enough that she ought to have switched up her meets, especially after losing a prior business associate of the unpredictable and sociopathic variety. nevertheless, she happens to be at the same coffee shop at the same time as always, sitting at the same table that she always sits at, taking the one Stevia that Walter knew she would pick up, so that she could conveniently die for no clear reason by ricin poisoning.

9. Walt essentially kills himself: some people might find this poetic and fitting. but Walt’s death by his own machine gun’s bullet is terribly self-involved. i don’t have much more to say about that.

10. Walt never ever samples his own product: i had no good reason to expect Walt to get high off his own meth, but in the interests of revealing itself to be the black comedy that it actually was, Breaking Bad should have given us Walt in an ultimate picture of irony: out of control and high on his own terribly destructive product. in my opinion, this was an obvious place where Walt should have gone. but he never goes there. so blue meth remains just eye candy; it never really becomes a visceral part of Walt, despite how much it came to define his whole life.

04.07.14

Breaking Bad in Review

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:32 pm by Administrator

well, i finished all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad in a little under two months, culminating in the finale which i watched late last night with my wife. i think our “before” and “after” sentiments were pretty telling. before the episode, my wife said “this is so depressing… i almost don’t want to watch the finale”, to which i essentially said “well, we have no choice… so here we go.” after the episode, we just turned off the TV and went to sleep. there was nothing to say.

“Breaking Bad” is a show about the innumerable, inevitable, and often petty loose ends that ultimately derailed the criminal plans of a genius criminal. Walter White spent five seasons of our lives trying to fix one problem only to unwittingly create another more troublesome problem. eventually, there were too many problems to fix, and Walter had to submit that he had lost control. i’m sure all viewers would agree: in the end, Walter’s life was too chaotic to be tidied up yet again, and it was time for the whole thing to unravel, this time definitively.

seasons 1 and 2 had their outright laughably silly moments, as Walter’s attempts at covering his tracks were at times quixotic and at other times unapologetically improbable. but season 3 is where Vince Gilligan seemed to “find his voice”, so to speak. more than simply darkening in tone, the episodes took on a consistent aesthetic of menace and doom. the lighting, the camera work, and the music all reflected the relentless obsession of Walter’s devolving psyche, propelling the show and its viewers down an endless dark tunnel. “Ozymandias” was clearly the show’s very highest point, mostly because it succeeded in taking us to Walter’s very lowest point as a man. in that episode, i connected with Walter, albeit briefly and strangely, and i pitied him.

a few entries ago, i criticized the show for revolving entirely around a single character who ultimately fails to be a credible human being. even after seeing the show’s conclusion, my view of Walter White remains the same; he functions as a foil rather than a credible point of view. i was distinctly aware in the final episodes that i would not complete any kind of emotional “arc” with the show; no matter what happened, i would regard the concluding events of Walter’s story at arm length. but i can say that the show was satisfying to me nevertheless, mainly because it went as far as it could go, and because it did not attempt to do more. in the finale, we were left with a remorseless, unfathomable man in his completely decimated universe. it was not the conclusion to a profound story. rather, it was the signal that the whirling dervish of Walter White had at last run its course, and that we could finally abandon any last suspense regarding his outcome.

i don’t want to compare Breaking Bad directly to any of its peer productions, because it is a different kind of show from most anything i’ve previously viewed. it felt sort of like watching “The Bad Lieutenant”, except over a much longer and more drawn-out timetable. perhaps that’s not a flattering way to describe the show, but i admire Gilligan for not extending the show or trying to radically redirect Walter White’s inevitable trajectory. i liked it for what it was. it was not a waste of my time. but i’m very happy now that i can move on to other things.