750 words

I ruined my streak yesterday. I knew that this day was going to come. I technically cheated while I was in Taiwan. I didn’t write one day because of whatever travel bullshit. But I was protected because I scheduled time away. Alas, I ruined it anyway. There is nothing that I can do at this point. I cannot turn back time. I probably wouldn’t if I could because I knew it would happen eventually. I had 164 days. I grew confident writing 750 and pushed myself to write 1,000. I wrote 164,000+ words within the past five months.

Circumstances happen. Things fall out of your control. In my case, I slept in until 2PM and neurotically rehearsed my new joke in the mirror. I used my gorgeous Mitsubishi uni-ball AIR pen as a microphone. Made in Japan, of course. I feel sad. And my feet are cold. I do not feel disappointed though. My writing streak coincided with my sobriety. A relapse in either would suck, but drinking would suck more.

This isn’t the first time I ruined a long streak. It happened several months ago. I was laying down at 1AM when I remembered. It was too late. My world started spinning, probably from all the soju.

This is my thing. My streak keeps me regular. It’s also the inventory of my life. When I reread it, I go back in time and remember what I was thinking, feeling. The majority of it was complaining. Actually, 80% of it was pure garbage and I never read it. But it was my garbage.

750 words, but really a 1,000 words, was more than the $5 a month I had to pay. It was the reason I even created a paypal account. It gave me a sense of responsibility, like having a dog. It’s a good addiction. I came back right away. I’m starting a new streak. I can’t stay sober from writing for too long.

Mamma mia

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Men dressed in black clogged the boarding gate. There was one woman among them. She was wearing a hijab and sunglasses indoors. They all had matching backpacks with a patch of the Indonesian flag.

I like boarding the plane first. I can put my bag in the cabin directly above my head.  I keep reading glasses on my face and my boarding pass in the cleavage of my book. I sit and read, seatbelt unbuckled. Reading while other passengers are still boarding is different from reading after takeoff. Reading after takeoff is for entertainment. But this. This is a goddamn spectacle. Look at me. Losers waddle down the aisles in confusion. They smack my sprained shoulder with their over-packed bags. Ugh, I am so efficient, stoic. I reach a little closer to nirvana when I watch people struggle with their luggage. God, my minimalist lifestyle makes travel so easy.

“Excuse me.” He shoved his bags into the cabin. Duty-free shopping is an all-encompassing Korean experience. It was a man in black. I stood up to let him pass even though his body fat was probably less than 6%. He pulled out his book. It had the word “terrorism” in the title. Checkmate.

I prayed that he wouldn’t talk to me even though I decided that he was my boyfriend for the duration of the flight. The prayer didn’t work and I was glad. His eyeballs were like chocolate and I wanted to lick them. I asked why he dressed in black and he asked why I was traveling alone.

“You are a strong person. You go out into the world and you survive.”

I took this as a compliment. I always thought of international travel as a buffet, not as eliciting danger. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.


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It’s hard finding a normal picture of my sister.

It was nice seeing my sister and Carol. They’re the type of people where it feels like time hasn’t passed even though a lot has. Carol and I had three new tattoos between the two of us since we saw each other last. We discussed dinner options after a quick round of reunited hugs. Feeling adventurous, we agreed on Italian. The food may not have been Indonesian, but the price was. Three gorgeous meals cost a mere $22. Plus I could smoke inside the restaurant.

The sidewalk had holes in it. Every couple of meters or so we would either walk across a plank of wood balanced over the manhole or jump into the street with oncoming traffic. Literal chickens crossed the road. Carol said it reminded her of El Salvador.


We were on a boat —  a voluntary castaway.

The seams of this boat were ripping. The poles of the roof uprooted and bounced along with the sways of the boat. My sister pointed to the side, to call attention to a hole where choppy waves took out a clean chunk of wood. Its remnants became smeared confetti easily mistaken for poo. Laura and I laughed, defenselessly.  The condition of the sea that you are imagining now is incorrect. It was not an episode of Deadliest Catch. The ocean was not God’s hands slapping down on fisherman, killing them in the processes. No. It was kind of windy. At best, a baby storm. I have dealt with worse conditions during a sailing class in college, to give you an idea. I watched, in envy, as speedboats came and went. Our boat was equipt with a crooked rudder and a car engine. Not a fast car. Something like a Toyota Celica, or maybe a Prius.

Three days on this water prison and now time was stretching as if we were traveling through a black hole. I prayed to Newton’s Second Law for a reduction of drag forces. I stared down at the stain on the cuff of my pants. It was poop — not mine. This is despair.

Though boat was crumbling around us, I knew we would not die. There was land all around us. But that didn’t mean that I will not have to swim. I put my passport into the zipper pocket of my rain jacket. I rehearsed in my mind what I will do when we capsize.  I thought of my well-connected airplane boyfriend.


His name was Captain Jai.

“Like Pirates of the Caribbean,” he said. No. Not like Pirates of the Caribbean at all.

He invited us onto his boat. He took out a rusted machete to chop up a soon-to-be-rotten-pineapple and served it on a plate alongside a heaping serving of male fragility.

“I can take you on a tour. My father died almost two months ago. I will cook for you. You can see the Komodo dragons. I don’t have a wife yet, but I can’t wait to have kids. You can snorkel with the manta rays. I don’t like [insert categorization] women. Then we can go to the karaoke bar after. No problem, no problem.”

In retrospect, he was a complete piece of shit from the getgo. But I liked that he had no wife or kids. That meant his life whole life was the sea, his wife the boat. That made me kind of trust him. Plus it was so, so cheap.

Against all three of our individual intuitions, we agreed. The next day we boarded the boat for our trip. I paid no mind to Jai’s nameless crewman. I needed coffee. Jai called him “my friend.” He had a stunning, muscular fisherman body and spoke zero English.

It was beautiful and awesome. Indonesia is the perfect backdrop for some tinder profile pictures. We swam in very blue water. Jai encouraged us to play ABBA on his speaker and to dance on the boat while I was busy reading the Diary of Anne Frank on the bow. Jai was under the very incorrect impression we were there to party. But Jai proved to be a good cook. He showed us the fruit bats that wake up at dusk to forage.

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We were exhausted by the end of the day from a combination of all the sunshine and goddamn emotional labor. A sense of relief came over us as we were made our way to the dock for the night.

“Can I have some beer?” asked Jai.

“Yeah, sure, of course. We have a bunch,” said my generous, beautiful sister.

“Yes, but I still think it’s important to always ask my guests. Once I start drinking I don’t want to stop. How about you turn on some music? I like to make the guests comfortable. I sit with the guest and talk with them.” Jai’s role as a captain began to blur. My Friend was doing all the work, enabling Jai to drink beer and ‘make his guests comfortable’ by holding one-way conversations.

I laid on the bow of the boat. You can’t really see the stars in Korea, let alone the Milky Way.

“Is it ok if I join you?” You can escape anything on a boat, except the people you are with. I told him about the starless sky. Jai didn’t give a shit. My three sentences surpassed his listening limit. He tensed and started flapping his arm, palpitating his flashlight.  The wood supporting my back vibrated as the bottom of the boat scratched to a halt. Jai hollered in Indonesian. My Friend cut the engine. The three of us were kept in the dark, literally and figuratively.  Jai jumped in the water to atone for the crash. We exchanged ghost stories as we waited.


When I opened my eyes the next morning I could see a monkey lurking on the beams of the dock. It hopped onto the boat next to us and stole some bananas before scampering away. I was charmed by this. I slept surprisingly well despite getting stuck in coral last night. Plus we made it to Rincon, one of two islands home to the Komodo dragon. This was why I came here. It was on my bucket list to see the dragons. Added bonus my sister was here. She winces at the sight of small reptiles. I could only anticipate her reaction to very, very large ones. It felt like Christmas morning.

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The tour guide had nothing but jokes. I think he exchanged his teeth for them. He shared information about the animals on the island sprinkled with wisecracks at tourists. In addition to his gifted sense of humor, he was also a decent photographer. We took turns gathering Instagram content a safe distance away from the dragons. Laura still refused to get her picture taken because it was too close. But my favorite part of our tour guide was that he was not Captain Jai. “I need a vacation from my vacation.” We dragged our feet back to the dock. My Friend was waiting at the entrance for us. We boarded the prison boat onto the next destination — Komodo Island.


We saw no Komodo dragons on Komodo Island but I met someone handsome. He told me how he had a girlfriend in California but they broke up. Well, they didn’t break up so much as he dropped his phone in the ocean five months ago and had no way to contact her. International relationships seem like such a whirlwind!

“I’m staying with Captain Jai.”

“I know. He came onto the island and bragged he had three American girls with him. He seemed drunk already. You can stay with me at the fishing village. It’s no problem.”

He told me he was 28 years old. He stopped drinking with Jai 10 years ago because he was “getting too old.” This island man was winning me over and confirming my suspicions that Jai was a pile of garbage and potentially dangerous.

We stayed on Komodo for as long as possible. Laura and Carol enjoyed a couple of citrus flavored beers. I enjoyed pooping on a western toilet that flushed without me having to pour water into it. I said goodbye to my Komodo lover.

“What’s that over there?”

“That is the fishing village.” Jai seemed irritated that we were talking.

“Can we go over there?”

“No.”


We were still asleep when we took off. He woke us at dawn to watch the sunrise. It was the last day and all of us were counting down the minutes to clock out.  We were on our way to swim with the manta rays. The atmosphere felt different. The winds have changed. Then that familiar scrape. I wasn’t surprised only because my emotions were depleted at this time. They dropped the anchor.

“You can swim here. You can see the turtles.” Laura promptly jumped in the water. She had the ‘fuck it, it’s vacation’ mentality that Carol and I ran out of a day ago. “Since you are in the water, can you go and see if the propeller is attached?” Mother fuck. A contorted rudder and now, a missing propeller?! Not only that, but he asked my sister, who just had a breakfast beer to check on the anatomy of his boat. I went snorkeling just so I could bite down on something. After twenty minutes, I was over it. The sea was rough. I was cold. We were stuck. Now, I am normally on team coral. But I was hoping for a massive bleaching event so we could get the hell out of there. We sat on the boat, silenced by oppressed anger.


My last day on the island. It was already a great day because I wasn’t on a boat. We kicked things up a notch. Had breakfast that involved fresh fruits and coffee that wasn’t instant. The dude at our hostel agreed to take us to a waterfall. His name was Andres. We met up after lunch and he invited his best friend, also named Andres. He had curly hair and rasta vibes. He was the epitome of an island lover. We told the Andres’  about the little cruise and reluctantly mentioned him.

“JAI?!” The Andres’ looked at each other and laughed. After wiping away their tears, one Andres turned around to ask if we were alright. He said he doesn’t work with Jai anymore. Not after the incident involving two American girls and Jai in jail. I got goosebumps. We laughed it off and watched the sunset. The golden light really working for Rasta Andres.

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Oreo

It happened again. Where I was vulnerable for 5 seconds and I got it. That feeling where I was going to shit myself of jealousy but I knew it was physically impossible because I hadn’t eaten in over eight hours. I had to grab my bag and barge through half the crowd in Ulsan’s new premiere nightclub with no cover charge. I’m still sober, thank fuck.

I’m in the safety net of my apartment now. There is no alcohol here. No people either. What do sober people do on Saturday night? I always regret my conscious decision of taking the last bus home. Am I going to miss out and a wonderful conversation? Meet the love of my life? Last weekend some guy showed me a picture of all the stitches on his foot. That was cool. In da club, I caught a guy who almost fell down. He was too embarrassed to say thank you even though I saved his life. His shirt was synthetic and sweat-wicking. In a sense, I did get intimate with someone last night.

I am pretty sure he doesn’t read these fucking things. But if he does, he wouldn’t message me about it. I’m tapping my leg just thinking about it.

I feel unstable. I should really start going to meetings. Jealousy is cyanide. I saw basically nothing, but it was something.  My skin felt like it was on fire from the inside. I want to drink I want to drink I want to drink. I forgot what this fragility felt like. Did I learn nothing after my experience coming home from Tokyo? I asked for my phone back. It was in his pocket. Then I left.

I feel ridiculous for feeling. And stupid because I don’t really care. It’s just this immense dissatisfaction from an unsolved mystery. Why doesn’t he fucking like me. I think I check off a couple of goddamn bullet points. I have blonde hair and blue eyes, which is a phenotypic needle in the haystack of this country. I have a job and a sense of humour. Dick is on my vision board. But emotional unavailability triumphs my natural highlights. I have the thousand mile stare and am bitter.

My brain is an asshole. I spent so much time and energy these past sober months to perfect this stupid routine. Cleaning, mealing prepping and ironing my gi. It was all a distraction. Now I feel and don’t know what to do about it. I have nightmares. Kanye West’s recent album is relatable. Now, that’s scary. I wrote a joke today at least. That’s something I haven’t done in a hot minute. I don’t know if it’s funny, but I produced something. Self-loathing fuels creativity, how original.

I feel like shit now but I would feel twenty times worse if I choose to drank last night. I’m proud of myself and I am writing this even though I hate it. My stats are always better for these emo posts though. Misery is both entertaining and relatable. This is going to worry my mother. Don’t worry Ma, I won’t be going back Oreo anytime soon. My friends living on the other side of the world will tell me they love me. I’ll enjoy the attention for half a day.

But it won’t stop me from being swallowed by loneliness.

 

161 days

A note on minimalism

I went to the dentist the other day. He asked me if I spoke any Korean. I said no. He carried on the rest of the appointment in Korean. He gave me a mirror to witness how swollen the back of my gum was. It was his way of telling me it’s not a cavity. He went away and the hygienist draped this heavy, felt fabric over my entire face, except for the hole around the mouth. I didn’t know if I was about to get a tooth pulled or decapitated. Turns out neither. They gave me a salad of pills and something to gargle. It tasted like ethanol infused with cinnamon.

I sat on the floor to fold laundry. I love sitting on the floor. And at this moment, I loved folding my laundry. I could say hi to all my clothes. I KonMaried my living space again so everything has a soul. Now, I wear a button up every day to reduce decision fatigue. Button ups are androgynous and professional. I own exactly fourteen. They each have different fabrics and functions. My weekend button ups are short sleeved and patterned. They show off my tattoos and have a fun personality. The love for my button ups transpired through me and I realized I was kinda high off the extra strength acetaminophen.


20180817_163441-1.jpgThis is so much better –– minimalism. I expected an almost empty apartment would be quite. It’s noisy. I empty the contents of my lady backpack onto my coffee table/desk. Oh shit, now I am minimalist. I pick everything back up. Put it in its place. Clutter is the enemy. Some things are homeless, like my notebook. I use it so often, it’s a nomad. I put it back on my coffee table/desk. I make a bottle of soda water.  Flat water sucks ever since I have been sober. I greet the yoga mat that I initially ignored. It lives on the floor. Every day it invites me to practice and almost every day I refuse. My home buzzes with potential. I sit down, drink my soda water. I want to complain about the heat, but I hold it in. Winter is far, far worse.

My brother was always a minimalist. Now I get it. Efficiency. I just packed for my trip to Okinawa. It took me twelve minutes. I have extra time to blog.

Letting go has never been the issue for me. Once a year I would cut off my hair and rid of garbage bags full of stuff. But just like my hair would grow back, my room would accumulate more crap. Enough to where I would have to purge all over again.

Consumerism and addiction are married. It seems kind of silly to spend money on a dress that I would donate in a few months time. I shopped as a sport. To pass time, make myself feel pretty, or for the “free” centralized air conditioning. I used it to deal with boredom, as an escape. I see it. That little parasite of addiction. My definition of it is changing. It’s not getting the shakes. It’s using something to dissociate from your feelings –– whether it’s something small like internet shopping when you’re bored or getting wasted after a stressful day. Dissatisfaction runs deep and they don’t sell the antidote at Target. I’m glad I’m breaking the cycle.

Dirt on my shoulder

“It’s fake. You can tell because the shape of the aquarium is a rectangle. Real jellyfish would tear their bodies on the corners. So, real ones have to be kept in circular tanks.”

“That’s right, you studied biology.” I cut myself off and noted that I sound like a post from r/iamverysmart.

Everyone who made their way in was limping. It was my first time at the orthopaedic office despite my fair share of doctor visits the past couple of years. It was poppin’. My co-teacher and I compared divorce rates in our countries to pass the time.

“Caitulin E”

I sat there while my co talked to the doctor. I understood “jiu-jitsu” and “left.” Omg, I know Korean.

He came around behind me and put his hands on each of my shoulders. It’s true that doctors don’t have borders. They all poke you really hard where you’re swollen the most.

“Yogi?”

“Ne! Ne! Ne!!!!!” If you say the same word in a foreign language three times fast, people think you’re fluent.

The xray lived next door. I handed my co my three most favorite things: my Samsung Galaxy S9 plus, raybans, and sharktooth necklace. I felt taken care of.

The doctor allocated the appropriate joint from a collection of models on his desk. Now he was speaking my language.

I looked down at my Rx. To my surprise, I have been spelling my name in Korean wrong this whole time. Do I change my Kakoa account or am I too proud? I willed myself to believe I would get a buzz from the pain meds. Alas, the placebo failed.

I talked this guy after class the night I got injured. His English name is Turtle. I hadn’t seen him in a while, I thought he quit. He was out for over a month because he cracked a couple of ribs. Maybe. He stopped speaking in English to me after that one time I didn’t understand him. I think it tramatized him.

My BJJ community on the internet say that injuries are not a matter of if but when. Unfortunatly, it happened a couple of days before I was supposed to go scuba diving.

I am lucky that it’s not serious though. And I’m lucky that I have found something else to be addicted to. I mean… I’ve gotten sprains from drinking too much and falling down.

I didn’t even realize shoulder sprains existed until I got one. That’s the amazing thing about sobriety. I am achieving things that I didn’t know were possible.

118 days.

A man called Alice

“I’m bored.”

For a second, I wasn’t present. I used to admire pictures of Gwangan when I was applying for EPIK. The illuminated bridge was not just the background of my laptop but a metaphor. Bridging my life to something more interesting, adventurous. Now I was there, chainsmoking, trying to forget the set I just bombed. I let the sea kiss my toes and take me to California. No matter where I am I’m dreaming of another place.

I saw him sit down during the tail end of the show. Was he bored by my hosting? I did my best. He didn’t think I was funny? I liked his cartilage piercing. Maybe he’s woke. His shirt had a lot of holes in it. It looked like an old towel my dad would use to protect an instruction manual from the seventies, but I knew its fashion.

“Should I stay here or should I go?”

A white guy started yodeling The Strokes but I didn’t care. Everything faded into the background. I focused with laser precision on the man with the holey shirt. Should I stay or should I go? He was asking me. He balled up his destiny and put it in my hand like an unwanted receipt. It made me feel beautiful.

I gave him my phone with a magic 8 ball loaded. He spoke to it with the same urgency as if he was asking Siri how to operate and AED.

‘Reply hazy, try again later.’

I reloaded the page. “Han bon doe.” It didn’t even phase him that I said ‘one more time’ in Korean.


“OH YEAH BABY! I like the sound of that V8!!” He wasn’t talking about vegetable juice. He was moaning at the sound of foreign cars.

I should have known from the way his nipple peaked out of his shirt — this boy was ready to reveal things. He was the ripe age of 21 and the black sheep of his family. He lived in Busan but swore his life would be better abroad. We pinky promised to dance together.

“I am a unique Korean.” He was vivacious enough and didn’t need to put it into words. He told the taxi driver where to go. It was my first time hearing him speak in his mother tongue. The tone of his voice was much quieter and deeper. I could feel that he was a different person. His Korean was intuitive but is his English let him be whoever he wanted. I was jealous. I wanted to feel like a different person too.

“I’m unique too.” I tried to convey some sort of conviction.

“Prove it.”

“Well, I wear a shark tooth necklace.” If nonconformity was a race, a shark tooth necklace would be the finish line. He ran his thumb around the serrations to test its legitimacy.

“Alright, that is pretty cool.”

“If a shark were a car, what kind of car would it be?”

“Hmm… well, a whale would definitely, definitely be a muscle car because of the size.” I kind of liked that he changed the question. “But I’m not sure about a shark.” I paid for the cab.

He went behind the bar to change the music. I felt like I was in that scene from Goodfellas when the protagonist takes his unknowing wife on a date. They skip the line and go through the kitchen of the restaurant. A not so subtle privilege. He pays off the staff as they welcome him with smiles. Similarly, everyone knew Mr. Holey Shirt. But his mobsters were drunk expats in heels. I made the conscious decision not to be insecure.

“What do you want?” He gave me his card to buy drinks while he made his rounds.

“A coke.” Was he in recovery too? Nah, alcoholics order club soda with lime.

We danced. I sipped my Seagrams. I waited around for a good time as if it was just around the corner. It never came. A black hole germinated in my stomach. I wanted to scratch to get out of my own skin.

I stepped outside to smoke. Smoking is the saving grace of my sobriety. I have an unhealthy relationship with them, beyond the fact that they are poison. Awkward silence? Cigarette. Punched in the face by a vagina during jiujitsu? Cigarette.  Trading discomfort for dependency and sitting back to watch it happen. Part of me doesn’t care. I was handed a bucket of emotions around day 20. Now I’m desperate to dump it out before it overflows. Cigarettes are the easiest and most opportune way. But my favorite is on stage. Performing is a release on its own. But adrenaline and nicotine make one handsome couple. After doing a set, I feel fucking cool power walking through a crowd with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth — no matter how good, bad, or ok it just went. But really, cigarettes gives me something to do at a bar that I shouldn’t be in.

What am I doing here?

I couldn’t answer. So, I left.

96 days sober today.

 

Pink clouds

Like the humidity in Korea, my optimism is rising about 5% each day.

I’ve had a great week. I taught my students the word for butt chin and I ate a pizza with avocado on it. It feels like I could stay in Korealand forever.

My life is starting to come together like paper mache. I’m putting in the work to make myself happy. It’s a lot of work. I’m perfecting my routine consisting of writing, studying, and learning jiujitsu. The class is completely in Korean and my body is covered in bruises. I love it.

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Welcoming the 외국인

It’s not being sober that feels good, it’s overcoming something every day. It’s the delayed gratification of changing my habits and rewiring my brain. This is the euphoric stage of sobriety. Everything is lofty and I’m floating through my sober life on a pink cloud. I am holding onto it with my newfound jiujitsu grip before it melts away like cotton candy.

I’m on guard for a hiccup. Last night I had a dream that I broke my sobriety.  Exercise and staying busy distracts my urge to drink but doesn’t take it away. There is still a shark in the water.

There is this saying, “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” But resistance offers nothing except tension and misery. To me, alcoholism is an impulse. This impulse is a huge part of my identity —  it’s not just an impulse to drink. It’s that unfiltered thing I say on stage doing stand-up comedy. Or booking that plane ticket to Okinawa (Japan, I am coming back for you!! xoxo). The yin and yang of spontaneity is regret and reward.

If you see a shark while scuba diving, you’re supposed to back up against a reef to reduce angles of attack. Always keep your eye on the shark and remain calm. It’s scary and seems like a threatening situation, but the shark isn’t an aggressor. It’s just a shark doing its job in its ecosystem. The diver should respect the shark by giving it space. In the same way, I am trying to respect my addiction. Coming from a place of observation instead of trying to harpoon it in the face.

Maybe this is just a hippy-dippy metaphor. I could be happy because of the rotation of men pinning me down almost every day. But if didn’t stop drinking, nothing would have changed. I wouldn’t be pushing myself to refine my sense of character.  I’m feeling more confident in myself and in my decision to be sober, but I’m keeping an eye on my shark.

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