A Promise to Mom: A Short Essay About Why I Blog

There are many reasons why a person might decide to begin a blog.  For some people, blogging is an avenue though which they can promote their business venture or their creative work.  In addition, blogging can be therapeutic for individuals who wish to impart advice gleaned from their personal experiences or for individuals who may be seeking advice in an anonymous, non-threatening environment.

I started Sundry Folly (in its current incarnation) in June 2014, after hosting its far inferior predecessor through Tumblr for just under a year.   Admittedly, I do blog for some of the reasons listed above, however the primary impetus for blogging really began with a promise that I made to my mother in March of last year.

A year ago today, my mother passed away from complications of breast cancer.  She was only 63 years old.  Mom was an intelligent, funny, and talented woman.  Yet, like many of us, she carried regrets and ‘what ifs’ around inside of her.  Mom’s regrets and disappointments are her own and it is not for me to discuss them here.  However, who hasn’t looked back on his or her life and wondered, “What would my life have been like if I had only tried that?  What have my fears cost me?”  Mom wanted her children to live in a way that would bring them the least amount of regret.  She didn’t want us to be passive about life.  In fact, during a rather emotionally charged mother-daughter phone conversation that I had with her in 2013, she told me exactly that.

I am not disappointed in you, but I want you to be less passive.

At the time, I didn’t want to hear her maternal counsel.  I was 31 years old–old enough to figure life out for myself, right?  Now, when I reflect back on that conversation, I realize just how much I had needed to hear her advice.  Throughout my life, I have had a strong tendency to not take a stand when being treated unfairly.  I have let toxic friendships and relationships continue way past their expiration dates because I was afraid of being alone. From a very early age, I allowed others to devalue me.  Naturally, it pained my mother to see me being treated like a doormat.

My family tells me that I had a tremendous amount of pluck and self-confidence in my early childhood, but that those traits vanished when I reached the first grade–this was the time when I started being bullied by my fellow classmates.  The bullying was usually not physical in nature, although I can remember a few times when classmates pushed me and threw things at me.  The bullies in question primarily used verbal insults to beat me down.  I remember being called ugly and stupid more times than I can count and those were just the PG rated insults.  This kind of verbal harassment continued for the next seven years.  If I told teachers or staff about the bullying, the persecutor would make life even worse for me because I had gotten him or her in trouble.  I didn’t have any coping strategies.  I was an outmuscled, wispy kid.  I was also a pacifist.  I didn’t want to fight back.  I merely wanted the other kids to start being nicer.

By the time high school rolled around, my classmates had matured (somewhat) and no longer garnered much joy from taunting me, but it didn’t matter, because my confidence had already been destroyed.  I walked around in a shell that echoed with all of the jabs and jeers which had passed through my ears during those seven soul stealing years, but now the put-downs were being doled out in my own voice.  I had managed to internalize everything that my tormentors had laid upon me.

In high school I joined choir and the theatre club, but never had what it took to land a leading role.  My shy nature and lack of confidence in auditions relegated me to being in the background.  I began my undergraduate career as a vocal performance major but switched majors after only a year and a half in the program because of severe performance anxiety.  In the aforementioned cases, it was usually not a lack of skill or talent that barred me from achievement, it was the fear of being judged.  In my head, more often than not, I was still telling myself you can’t instead of you can.

But, let’s get real and stop the pity party.  The misery that was middle school happened over 15 years ago and I can’t use it as an excuse for non-action anymore.  Even though it is not always easy, I am slowly learning how to not listen to the mocking pre-pubescent voices of yesteryear.  There is power in learning how to let go and in creating boundaries that other people cannot cross.  That is what my mother so desperately wanted and perhaps needed for me to understand.  For far too many years, I let myself be silenced, at first by other people and then–more dangerously–by myself.  During the time that mom was in hospice, I promised her that I would be happy and that I would stop being passive.  When one of her children was going through a rough patch, mom would sometimes say, “A mother can only ever be as happy as her unhappiest child.”  It was important for me to let mom know that she didn’t need to worry about me anymore.

And so, this blog is a way for me to partially fulfill my promise to her.  Through blogging, I can share my voice with others.  Is everything that I write a gem?  Of course not!  Are the photographs that I post Pulitzer Prize worthy?  No, they are not.  But their presence inside of me and on Sundry Folly are helping me slowly crack the shell which I have been hiding under for so long.

The accompanying picture is of some of the many candles that I have lit for my mother over the last year.  I hope that I can shine in ways that would make her proud. She is greatly missed.

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토끼 이야기/Rabbit Talk

As a means of preparing for the 중급한국어능력시험 (Intermediate Korean Language Test), I am reading 생쥐와 인간, which is the Korean translation of John Steinbeck’s classic novella Of Mice and Men.  I find that reading a translation of a book that one has already read in one’s native language is an excellent way to build vocabulary and to solidify grammar concepts without having to analyze the characters or the plot on a deep level since presumably you already did that when you approached it in your mother tongue.  I think that the Korean translation is quite accessible for the intermediate Korean learner.   A lot of the vocabulary and grammar are what one would find on the 초급시험 (basic level test), yet there is a sufficient amount of unfamiliar vocabulary too, which makes it a great study tool!

생쥐와 인간

I have always been drawn to Of Mice and Men because of its universal themes of loneliness and friendship as well as Steinbeck’s clean yet masterful narrative.  Over the years it has often been my go to book when I have needed to spend time with an old literary friend, and I thought that there was nothing new that I could learn from reading it again.  Then I hit the top of p.13 in the Korean translation and found myself reading the following sentence over and over again.

노력하고  노력했어.  하지만 소용이 없었어.  그래도 토끼 이야기는 기억해조지.”

“Tried and tried”, said Lennie, “but it didn’t do no good.  I can remember about the rabbits, George.”

Simple minded Lennie can’t remember why he and George were run out of Weed or where they were headed when they stopped to rest at the river.  He can’t recall that George had both work cards from Murray and Ready’s or even that they received the work cards in the first place.  Lennie can’t remember that the “lady” who used to give him mice to play with was his own Aunt Clara.  But, there is one thing that Lennie can remember – the dream of raising rabbits on a small farm with George, a dream which the two men often wax sentimental about.    It appears as if Lennie only remembers that which makes him happy.

Now, I don’t believe that my life would be better if I had an inability to remember negative experiences which precluded me from making good choices, but as I re-read the text, I felt that I could learn something valuable from Lennie.  When I reflect on an unfavorable interaction or experience that did not pan out the way that I had hoped, it is tempting to dwell on only the bad aspects of them.  Or, when I consider my future, I tend to focus on forthcoming struggles and how burdensome they will be.  Wouldn’t it be better if I could take a step back and remember what makes me happy and then focus on the things which bring a smile to my face?  After all, worry and fear are only transitory states that we can certainly pass through if we allow ourselves to remove the albatrosses which weigh on us.  Sometimes, I think we could all benefit from being just a little bit of a Lennie, don’t you?