Here in Seoul it’s gone from shorts and sandals-wearing weather to long pants, jacket, and cap-wearing weather overnight, and by “cap” I mean one of those watch caps worn by Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, called a toque in Canada. Unfortunately, I don’t know where in the wardrobe my wife Jina stuffed mine, and I certainly don’t want to wake her up. So all my head can do is freeze its ass off. If I take deep enough breaths and push my belly out far enough to resemble that o a pregnant elephant, the onslaught of oxygen might be enough to warm up the icy lump of chewed gum lodged deep in my noggin.
“I need some space.”
It’s funny how intense relationships, especially those that lead to co-habitation–or even worse, the sin of marriage–so often result in one member either saying or feeling these words, or else their non-New Agey equivalent. (New Aged?) In fact, it might more than anything be the quest for space that leads so many people here nowadays to shut themselves off from one another in public by burying their heads in artificial sounds and squinting at tiny print on wee screens while trolling the endless waters of the Internet on the bus or in the subway–or even in their cars–what the heck? Why not? You only live once and might as well go out in a blaze of glorious solipsism.
It’s why so many doofuses (doofi?) waste their Sunday mornings in church praying to an indifferent God (it’s hard not to be indifferent when you don’t exist–take my word for it) instead of sleeping in the way they’re supposed to so the birds can have a chance to belt out their tunes in search of mates or jackhammer the cracks between the paving stones in the sidewalk (kudos to the Who for that phrase, which may be a tad out of date) for worms with their beaks. Poor worms don’t get no respect, and no sleep neither.
I’ve griped to you many times before about my late Sunday morning church detail. My brother who lives in Japan says I should just tell Jina I refuse to go, but if I do it’s like asking for World War III to commence, and who has the energy for that? (Not to mention the time.) I used to work on anagrams in churchy-poo to pass the time, not having the leg room to operate a yo-yo, which might also prove hazardous if I tried to pull off a round-the-world trick–wouldn’t want to give any surrounding believers a concussion or send anyone to heaven ahead of schedule.
Last Sunday I scribbled a parody of television’s Breaking Bad, somehow inspired by the minister’s impenetrable and long-winded sermon, which was, as always, in Korean. For some reason the guy was bemoaning the success of the Korean pop song and video-gone-viral, “Gangnam Style,” by Psy, probably because it features an array of breathtaking beauties that would make any self-respecting teenage boy want to retire to the nearest men’s room with his smartphone for further study.
Like so many other things touted by popular culture–the latest Batman movie, Barack Obama’s presidency, Tom Cruise, Pixar movies (which have the heartwarming effect of putting hundreds of hand-drawn animators out of work–thanks, Steve!)–the song is grossly overrated (not that I’m advocating a vote for Mitt Romney; there are less embarrassing ways to blow your brains out). The tune is noxious and cloying; my Korean teacher, who believes Psy’s “horse dance” is an “awesome” performance, also thinks the man is “greasy,” which seems a less flattering appraisal than poor old overused and debilitated “awesome.”
Anyway, I couldn’t care less about all this crap, except that it’s a way to pass the time while waiting for the Grim Reaper to lop my head off with his trusty rusty scythe. I tried doing the horse dance with my first graders yesterday and now, thanks to the plummeting mercury in the thermometer and rheumatoid arthritis induced by chronic Lyme disease, my knees are quietly exploding.
The space I was alluding to afforded by church’s shenanigans before I was so rudely interrupted by that obnoxious inner voice that never shuts up for long is something believers hoard and Lord over the rest of us like royal pedigrees or–worse–try to share with us by trying to elbow our own convictions out of our heads with the utmost compassion and well-intentioned condescension.
For some reason at the end of every weekly church gig, unless I can hightail it out of there right away, since Jina and I usually sit in the back row since we’re always late (thank God), I’m always bombarded by well-meaning handshakes administered by middle-aged male members of the congregation, who feel it’s their solemn and sacred duty to welcome me to their inclusive club (the only price you have to pay is your self-respect).
It used to really irk the shit out of me, and it still does give me the willies, I have to admit, but there’s no use fighting fanatical friendliness, so instead of announcing my atheism and telling them I’m a proud member of the kingdom of the damned, I just smile, make eye contact, and reciprocate to get it over with. I feel like a human oxymoron–imagine Dick Cheney on Ecstasy–and usually take the time to wash my hands afterwards like Hitler after patting his dog so I don’t get infected by their faith.
I prefer having space in my head to imagine alternative outcomes, instead of having hired sanctimonious thugs do all the work for me. I’m also inclined to agree with Buddha that spiritual matters ought to focus on the here and now instead of bogging people down with questions we can’t answer with absolute certainty, like what happens to us after we die. Anti-Buddhists claim that the Buddhist concept of reincarnation is as yawning a crock of shit as any idea of heaven or hell, and I agree if you take it literally, although I imagine the Buddha was sane enough to mean it only as a metaphor.
“Each day just goes so fast./I turn around, it’s past./You don’t get time/to hang a sign on me./Love me while you can/before I’m a dead old man.”
Thus spake George Harrison in the Beatles’ song “Love You To” on the album Revolver. According to an article I read in Rolling Stone, George’s widow said the guy used to meditate for hours, then snort a bunch of lines of coke. Maybe that was part of his meditation.
Talking about meditation is always a fraught business, since it operates on a nonverbal level–or maybe you could even say trans-verbal. The thing I like about it is it asks you to reject nothing: allow the onslaught of bullshit that blows through your mind like a blizzard of garbage to fly right through. Wait long enough and it will pass. It allows and promotes the intersection of time and space.
Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I just sit there and wonder if twenty minutes are up yet. It can be a pain in the ass; it can be boring. But it’s important for people to be able to chill somehow in these feverish times. I need to add an exercise component to get rid of the butt that my stomach is turning into. Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It is the eye-catching title of a fine book of travel essays by Geoff Dyer.
I meant to write about how the claustrophobia of marriage compels you to long for space, as does the crowding and noise of city life, but I got sidetracked. Please forgive me. I hope you can find it in your spacious heart to do so, a place to park your worries and get out of the car to breathe in the fresh late summer breeze while it lasts, the same air inhaled by our fellow animals and exhaled by trees who wait for second lives as toilet paper, tax forms, or restaurant bills.
May you have the space necessary in your life to find peace.