My former boss, Min Jin Lee (from the time when I was a legal secretary and she was a lawyer) has written a book that is being widely appreciated, Pachinko. It is an excellent read from cover to cover. The characters come alive, the plot is sturdy and subtle, and the writing is incisive. It is about Koreans in Japan. If you are Korean or Japanese, you probably know a few scraps of this story, but aside from the occasional newspaper article or television report about “comfort women,” for example, I knew little of the enmity of the two countries. How odd that we lump them together in our minds when they are such deeply sworn enemies! Pachinko did not leave me chastising myself for ignorance though, it left me grateful for the insight. Since I was neither Korean nor Japanese, I read this as a cautionary tale. I am American, and inside America, we have the African population and the Native American population who have been treated as cruelly and hypocritically as the Koreans in Japan, not to mention the Italians, the Jews, the Irish, and our most recent targets, Muslims and Hispanics. The comparison is not always apt – there are a lot of differences between America and Korea/Japan, and it behooves us to take the time to note them. In the end, human beings have an irrational need to feel better than others, and that has caused us no end of suffering for no good reason. When you have been callously mistreated, you have several choices – jump lemming-like off a cliff, outwit your rivals at their own game, or stay so far below the radar that nobody notices you. I doubt that Min Jin Lee began her book as a didactic exercise in tolerating prejudice and cruelty – there is way too much humanity in it for that, but we can use it to examine our own reactions to injustice. Her knowledge of both cultures is deep, and whenever a person gets to know another person deeply, enemy or friend, it is impossible to view them without at least a grain of compassion. Her story has bountiful detail, perception, understanding, and conscience, besides allowing us to know several people deeply. They are fictional, but does that matter? I haven’t written much about the writing style because its transparency, skill, management of time and language, including the insertion of Korean terms which become familiar as the story progresses, is masterful. Don’t worry. You won’t put it down. Lee is also a wonderful reader of her own work, and if you have a chance to hear her at a venue near you, don’t pass it up. She is a person of massive intelligence and humor.
If my friends and acquaintances are any measure, women commonly seek out dates only in a safe venue. They don’t feel safe on the Internet, so they follow the advice of best practices articles and listicles, “Get out of the house. Go to a place where other people are doing what you enjoy doing.” So they troop to the local library, the adult school, volleyball night at the YMCA, a conference on a promising subject, or the local church of choice. They complain that the people they meet there are other women who have read the same articles. So where are the men? They are in bars, but if you go to bars you meet men who like to go to bars and if you don’t share that pleasure, the odds are high for a mismatch. At a reading at my local library one man gave an answer. “They are everywhere. In the supermarket, on the street, on the bus. You just have to smile and talk to people.” He said that he objected to making dating a project; he just wanted it to happen naturally and claimed that making natural connections in his daily life was commonplace. The “men are everywhere” answer was reassuring. The “just smile!” elicited grimaces of discomfort from the women; but maybe we should consider being more generous with our smiles and comments about the weather. It depends what streets you are walking, at what time of day, and for what purpose, but what he says makes sense to me. One of the women in this discussion had just met a man after her nose started bleeding while she was in front of his house. He came out to help her and they struck up a conversation – he gave her a kiss on the cheek after the bleeding stopped. That would be a story to tell their grandchildren!
I had not ever considered having a portrait made of myself until my husband and I visited an artist friend, Mia Wolff, who had recently created a series of interesting portraits. Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, if we commissioned portraits of us! It would help Mia support her artistic career, and it would provide us with a very special art piece. The cost was $1,000 – a fair price.
A recent portrait of Kate Middleton drew these savage critiques, “She looks like the head bouncer in a security firm,” “It looks as if the painter asked the subject to ‘say cheese!’” and “It is perfectly adequate for the boardroom of a supermarket…” (quoted in The New York Times). I am wondering how refined my judgment is of artistic ability, and whether Mia likes me. She used to date my husband, and what if some unconscious resentment erupts in her representation of my nose or my wrinkles? I don’t think so, but what if? Will she ask me to smile, to sit/stand/lie down? Will I be looking straight on or rakishly from the side? What quirks in my facial contours will Mia reveal? Will she catch my spirit as my great great grandfather's portraitist caught his bonhomie?
If I want my great-great-granddaughter to be able to take a little inspiration from my life, this might be a risk worth taking. Writing runs in the family, and she might be a writer, too.
Best to go for it. I’ll post it when it’s finished. It is satisfying to think I might be looking down upon my own great great granddaughter.
I was born in the Year of the Horse. A little wild. Tameable only by a tough, experienced cowboy. Curious, roaming. I like the wind in my hair. Horses are dumb, and I won't claim that, but I'll claim all the rest. I'm a horse with a human brain. When I started dating again, I knew it would be painful. I was starting, after two divorces, at square one. It was painful -- the emotional equivalent of physical rehabilitation. I told myself what I had always told my kids, when they refused the medicine, "It hurts to get well." The deeper I went, the more painful it got. An M.I.T. scientist who had been married 60 years said in a tv interview that his secret was that every day he thought about what would make his wife happy that day. Not flowers. Not a walk on the beach. Maybe a phone call, a Big Mac, a fire in the fireplace, a chat. He has remained mutating, sensitive to her. That sounded like heaven, and I dreamt of finding such a man. Such a man has come into my life, and still I yearn for the open plains. I cannot shake my desire to snort and paw, to run with the pack, to turn my head on a winter's day and size up the stallions roaming the edges of my territory. Am I self-destructive, self-defeating, deluded, insane, or am I a true mustang? Horses, too, can have patience. The answer will come.