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He was drowning in something cold and dark when the alarm clock rang at precisely 5:45 am.

He groaned as he got up, stumbling into the shower and flinching at the frost on the floor.

Naked, arms crossed and still half-asleep, he stood with his eyes closed in front of the curtains until the the shower became warm. He flinched once more when the jet of ice-cold water blasted at his chest.

He was in the middle of rinsing his hair when he heard his alarm go off again. He cursed to himself. The neighbor’s dog began barking through the thin walls, at which point he fought back the urge to curse louder and quickly washed out the rest of the soap. He reached for a towel and ran out to slam down on the poor clock. He muttered more profanities and sat down, wet drops dripping uncomfortably down his back. He sighed.

He stood back up and shook his hair like a wet dog, drying out any of the remaining moisture with the towel. He put on a pair of fresh briefs and socks, sitting back down on a drier part of the bed. He was about to turn off the clock alarm when he noticed something odd in the reflection on the small mirror in his room.

What he saw was definitely his own face and upper body, but there was a weird black object hovering above his right temple. He moved in closer, slowly.

He held his breath.

His reflection found a jet black Glock, hovering, pointed straight into his head, about an inch away.

He blinked rapidly, twice. He stared at it, then reached to grab it. It was real. The rubbered grip felt firm, his index finger at the trigger, ready.

He turned pale. He stood rather awkwardly, hand still on the gun, arm poised in an unnatural angle until the alarm clock went off again. He slammed at it again, missing once. 6:10. Quickly putting on the rest of his clothes, he scrambled out the apartment door.

He thought about last night as he turned on the car’s ignition and drove out of the driveway. The radio DJ went on about another bleary day ahead. Memories shot back and forth, searching for anything out of the norm. They halted abruptly and briefly when he saw it again in the rearview mirror. Cold sweat slid down the side of his face.

He got to his cubicle late. He found a granola bar from his desk drawer. He chewed uneasily at some sticky and soggy bit of the bar, and then rose to get some coffee, trying hard not to check his phone. He wasn’t ready yet to look at his reflection again on the glossy black iPhone screen.

His boss’s secretary came in as he was about to pour into the ceramic mug. She greeted him in a cheerful, high toned voice, “Good morning!” Her high heels clicked loudly in the otherwise silent office.

Without looking up, he called, “Ana?”

Her face turned to his. Big, rabbit eyes stared back. Innocent. “Hm? You look a little pale, what’s up?”

“No. I mean, nothing. Good morning.” She nodded, and turned away to find her desk. He did not notice the hot liquid spilling down the side of the mug, burning his fingers. There floated a large revolver, pointed an inch from her temple, swaying side to side alongside her wavy hair.


Work was barely a distraction. All around him shuffled about his coworkers, clicking and typing about, muffled small talk here and there. From the reflection of the tinted computer screen he noticed every person walk by his cubicle. He noticed every piece of firearm floating by. All were aimed just one inch away.

He started drawing them out onto a notepad during lunch. Every gun he saw was a handgun of some sort. He noticed a few others with the same Glock. A .50 caliber Smith & Wesson seemed to droop heavily in the air next to his manager’s glasses. He thought for a moment it could be social status, but then he saw an intern with one.

The sandwich bread was chewier than usual.

In the privacy of a stall in the men’s room, he tried to move the gun away from his head, but it didn’t budge. The only moving part seemed to be the trigger, which gave in slightly, almost eagerly, at his pull. He let go of his breath, a barely audible gasp echoing inside the tiled walls. A few people came in to relieve themselves. After waiting to hear the door close, he held the notepad tightly and walked back to his desk.


The afternoon was not any more productive than the morning. He tried to focus on conversations around him, somewhat hopeful. He had barely produced a couple lines when he felt the winter sun setting and streaming in through the building. It cast long shadows on the gray carpet. He saw there were no shadows from the gun.

He heard the office beginning to empty and Ana saying bye, wishing him a good weekend. The lights began flickering off, starting from the farther corners. In the dim space, his monitor screen blared off-white, as if tired and ready to retire for the upcoming night.

He paced next to the large glass window. Gray, concrete walls lined the bleary view outside. He could hear the whir of the heaters, pouting here and there as they readied to take a break.

Then he stopped, mid step, realizing where his hand was. It was as though there was some sort of magnet in his finger. Chills ran down his neck as his fingers began to dance inside the loop of the trigger. He swallowed.

His nail tapped the underside the metallic shaft, and suddenly it was as though the world had been put on mute. He heard every inaudible squelch his sweaty palm made against the smooth rubber. He felt the heart beating rapidly. Under the rhythm began a miniature dance between the gun and he.

His phone vibrated in his pocket, ending the thrill of it all. He picked it up, recognizing the familiar number. He took a deep breath.

“Mom?”

His mother spoke as she always did, every day. She began nagging about how he needed to work harder, to try harder to get a girlfriend or maybe a wife. She began talking about her friend’s sons and daughters, about their glorious lives that he had heard her talking about for however many times before. She spoke of one day having grandchildren of her own. She was about to get to the part about the next promotion when he yelled at her to stop. Except, he didn’t stop at just that. He told her she was full of shit. He told her he was trying, that he deserved more respect. He told her he was tired.

Click. The phone screen told him the other side had hung up.

He threw his phone on the ground, then he threw his face into the clammy left hand. His face flushed red.

A few moments passed, and his fingers reached to find those gentle curves once again. They glided up and down, the stone cold barrel electrifying. They stopped, locking down into position. His face hardened. The monitor went into screensaver mode. Cars honked weakly in the city outside. Someone screamed about Friday.

The world silenced once again. His face contorted.

He pulled.

The phone buzzed. He opened his clenched eyes and stared. He reached down to grab it, his right index finger still pulling hard. He just barely lowered his hand and took the call. He heard a brief sigh, then —

a gun shot. It was deafening. A high pitched shriek rang between his ears.

He felt for his face. A tear slid down his right cheek when he found it, still in tact. He wiped it away, only to find it was growing into a steady stream.

His knees collapsed. He sobbed. The phone showed his mother’s photo, a hearty woman in front of the kitchen, taken right before the Thanksgiving feast. Hands shaking, he dialed. No answer. His sobs grew louder.

He looked up. The glossy window reflection showed no more gun. Instead, there sat a man whose face was half blown away, a single eye searching for the other. Screaming in bursts, he scrambled back to his feet, head clenched tightly. He pressed his face against the icy glass.

He saw people. People holding hands, people crossing streets, people laughing. He saw people sitting in the darker corners, people occupied by phones, people living in other worlds. People were talking, people were driving, people were eating and drinking. Alive — every single person he saw was alive.


On Monday, Ana walked in and screamed. The police report stated suicide, caused by a single bullet, straight in through the right temple. No gun was found on the site of death.

At the funeral, one elderly, plump lady cried her heart out. She gave a eulogy. Her voice choked at every other word, breathy and held back. She could make out just one sentence about how he had been there every day to pick up her call, how they had been the greatest of gifts and most precious of moments in her life.

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Lost in Translation

From Day 0, we are taught to translate from one language to another. No newborn understands what “ma” means until the brain develops the connection to link the sound to the figure that provides us love and care.

And since day 0, we continuously learn to translate. We are asked (perhaps forced) to translate “1, 2 and 3” to the quantities we observe. We are asked to translate “Mary had a little lamb” to a imagination of a figure who possesses another figure of some shape. We are asked to address more complex translations, or translations of translations. Society teaches us how to translate, or more so, what the correct translations are.

Correct. We are lauded for proposing the correct translations of things. 1+1 = 2. A reading comprehension problem on the SAT. The most recent news on why Trump just tweeted what he tweeted.

So then the big question arrives one day: what is correct?

After an awkward moment of silence, some propose a translation for correct: “it’s what’s right,” they may say. It quickly becomes apparent this answer is unproductive, and so is every answer that is an attempted translation for correct. Maybe we can translate such situation as “running in cycles.”

This is a difficult question because we don’t really have an answer. Our entire lives have been based upon translations of ideas, ideas rooted in societal contexts and human observations. Science, as objective as it is claimed to be, is nothing but a human translation of universal observations agreed upon by a good chunk of the population. Thus, science does not hold the key, either.

We can direct our question, then, to what is actually being translated. When we count the fingers on our hand, we are making a “logical” connection. Objectifying and separating each finger first, then connecting it to the translation we learned to associate it with. When we learn to speak full sentences, we identify the subject and the object and establish a relationship. The only “logical” relationship that, again, we as humans have established.

That is to say, logic is entirely subjective. We may say that the particular logic that dominates the current era or even just the environment around us is the logic that determines how we make our translations. It is almost surprising how adherent we are to which logical ideal we entertain. I need say no more to describe the sorts of issues that arise with conflicting ideologies.

Disregarding what I claimed about science for a moment, let us suppose that our current biological viewpoint on the idea that the greatest necessity for most living organisms including humans is survival. Back to day 0, we need our motherly figure for survival. It was necessary to the very core that we learned how to say “ma” to survive. This is where I’d like to believe we have a commonality shared by all — no translation needed.

It is difficult to even hope that we can all agree on anything. At some point, the translations become absolutely meaningless and repetitive. Since we are creatures based on survival, if we feel as though others’ ideas are threatening to ours, instinct tells us to flee or fight; either way, create separation.

Therefore I leave this subject here, merely hoping that one day we can learn to understand why others think differently. Things lost tend not to be found.

Lost in Translation

dear Sleep,


my relationship with you is complicated. i need you, and you need me, but our time spent together is not very long, nor always pleasant.

Sleep, you tease me in various ways. it wasn’t fair when you tempted me in the middle of an important lecture out of nowhere. i have priorities too, and you need to respect that.

it wasn’t funny when you decided i couldn’t have you when i needed you so much. you led me so kindly into bed but then left me under the cold sheets. three times, this past week, i waited for you because you promised me you’ll be back. i waited until the clock ticked six o’ clock and then until the sun rose. you didn’t come back.

nor was it funny when you brought back bad memories or messed with my dreams. you know i don’t want to see or hear about Latte dying for the 237th time. you know i pray every night in hope that you’ll gift me with delightful and happy scenes. you know on those kinds of nights i wake up bittersweet that you left me so soon. you know it disappoints me when the movies just never decide to start.

okay, i guess i need to apologize, too. when you needed me, i neglected you for the other stuff in my life. i pushed you away for days without knowing i had pushed you away. i’m sorry about that one time i binged on anime, that wasn’t nice.

but Sleep, i can’t give up on you and you can’t give up on me, either. i find myself so depressed and lonely when you’re not there. i love you, you know that, and on our good days we have such a great time together.

dear Sleep, i write because i miss you. i wish we could go back to the times when our relationship felt so natural and true. i’m no one without you.

dear Sleep, be back soon.

love,

jenny

dear Sleep,

cat

Have you ever held a dead cat in your hands before?

It doesn’t feel like the cold hands of your partner in the January chills. It’s not dripping wet, nor is it very hard, like a wooden flooring or a marble kitchen top. Rather, your finger sinks ever so slightly into the skin and the fur until you feel the resistance. Feel the little fleshy bit of skin right next to your elbow bone. Now feel a cold leathery couch. Put the two together. Dead cat.

The feeling is so surreal and so unique that it will haunt you in your dreams. Cat, cat, cat.. dead cat. You will at various times wake up in tears, frantically searching for the warmth and the soft, supple flesh.

At random points on random days of the year, you will remember that blood-draining moment; the dampness you felt as you tried to lift an empty soul into your arms, only to rapidly let go of your grip in its unfamiliar stiffness. There are things that don’t ever seem to wash away on your hands and on the floor where it last lay.

Death is an odd thing. It’s an eraser that leaves a lot of blemishes on the white paper. The words you wrote are supposedly removed, but there are outlines, smears and black shavings all over the place. It’s dirty and ugly. You feel helpless, then frustrated, then resigned, then frustrated again, as you fail to find a different, better eraser.

I try to find dreams where the cat lives, cat. I try not to worry, cat. I try to think about how lovely it is to meet another cat, cat. I hate it when I see you again, dead cat. I wish you wouldn’t appear again, dead cat. Cat, cat, cat. Just cat.

cat

If my father hadn’t immigrated:

My brother wrote his college application essay on the immigration story of our father and his family. A non-English speaking 17 year old who climbed his way up from rags to riches through the American Dream. A story a lot of us second-generation kids were told since young.

The dinner table monologue always started the same way — “When I was your age…” or “If I hadn’t moved to America…” and back then it was a drag, a lecture that I didn’t have to hear for the 129th time. “I know, Dad, I know.” But I don’t think I really knew what he meant.

If my father hadn’t immigrated into LA at the age of 17:

  • I would have gone through the regular, disgusting public school system in Korea.
  • I would not speak English, or Spanish, to this level of fluency.
  • I would not have traveled and visited more than 15 countries before the age of 15.
  • I would have a brother who would have had to serve in the military for two mandatory years.
  • I would not have a younger sister. Likely, I would not have been born either.
  • I would be busy caring about my physical appearances.
  • I would be struggling to find a job under a dysfunctional government and a declining economy.
  • I would not be able to receive grants and scholarships.
  • I would have been working far more part time jobs and studying far less.
  • I would probably have been part of the OECD statistics on teenage suicide rates.
  • I would not be here today, writing this.

The “American Dream” we like to put in quotes is not so glorious, and I’m not trying to say that Korea is horrible in every aspect. But it’s true that the America that raised me despite my immigrant father and my skin color was a kind one. The sheer number of opportunities that were available for me shines light on how lucky I was encouraged to live to look further and to think beyond limits.

It saddens me that I have to constantly think twice about whether I should be using present or past tense. It saddens me even more that I’m having a harder time writing in future tense.

America was great. America is great. America will be —

fuck you, Donald. America will be great without you.

If my father hadn’t immigrated:

The Sound of Farewell

Being an auditory listener isn’t really that fancy as it sounds. Most people have it.

Turn to page 476.

How easily can you read that in Professor Snape’s voice? It’s really not that hard. But what if that happened to you every time you read anything? typed anything?

That would be me. I read every text message in the voice of the sender, even if that may be just a “k” or a “lol.” I read every narrative in every story with a neutral, standard narrator voice, but it’s not my voice. I read every dialogue in the voice I think the character deserves. This is still nothing too uncommon.

Here’s what’s a little weird, then: I hear them. I hear the words that the lecturer says. Well, okay, duh. But for me, those words never take the graphical, syntactical form in my head. They are just, sounds, like musical notes. I need to put in effort to think of the word “medium” —to form each letter in the alphabet that make up this word — in my brain, or at least until it echoes in my auditory canals for a good two to four times.

Naturally, I associate common words and phrases to a lot of people. I often remember a person’s voice and vocal idiosyncrasies before their face. My brain seems to pick up the way a person’s footsteps sound better than the visual picture of how they pace.

And this is how I heard the sound of anger — from my mother, whose steps were almost inaudible and soft on the wooden floor of our house stairs, oh how they would turn ever so slightly louder, as if it held the tint of her rage for whatever I did wrong.

This is how I heard the sound of joy — on the playground in the rainy weather, a consistent pat-pat-pat as my peers would run across the cement floor, excited for a rare instance of precipitation in southern California.

This is how I heard the sound of dedication—from my former boss, whose pace was quick but steady, never missing a beat as he walked through the halls, no matter the time of day.

And thus, this is how I heard the sound of farewell — the unavoidable silence that befalls upon both sides of a conversation that once had ripened with fruits of avid curiosity and interest; the hum from the receiver on a phone that dragged on for a second too long; the sigh that meant everything from disappointment to relief to retirement.

The sound of farewell tears the tear ducts to pieces and pierces the heart with sharp pain.

The sound of farewell rings and rings, something that haunts you till the break of dawn.

The sound of farewell is confounding.

It is a good-bye perhaps expected, perhaps unexpected. “Farewell” literally means you hope the other will do good and be good. “Good bye” literally means you hope the other has a good “by,” the hope that one’s journey may be good. The bittersweetness of these words highlights an irony, overlooked.

The sound of farewell is blinding.

It is as though you become an athlete, so focused on the game that everything else disappears from sight. The world around you fades into the dark void that needs no attention. What others say to you start making no sense. The departure of love is a void that needs constant feeding.

The sound of farewell fades.

Yes, it hurt. Once. Twice. Likely for long time, continuously.

But like any sound, it fades, and it must fade.

Then it becomes much like the distant memories that you try to conjure up from kindergarten. A fog sets in, and remains. The tolls subside. Amp off.

Unplug those ears. It’s time to seek the sound of hello.

The Sound of Farewell

Be Right, Be Good.

The well-known story of the dilemma of the train conductor goes something like this:

You are a conductor on a train, but all of a sudden the brakes on the train stop working. Ahead of you is a fork in the tracks. An evil villain has tied down five elderly men onto one track and one child onto the other. Which way do you go? Do you choose to sacrifice five to save one child’s life, or do you choose to sacrifice the child for five total saved lives?

A less well-known story of a privileged college student goes something like this:

I voted for the first time in the 45th presidential election. My decision there was not so much a dilemma than an obvious answer, but my distaste for politics will stop me right here to discuss further about this subject. The outcome of the election brought on drama all throughout the media and across platforms online, and with it came a surge of information of policies, laws and social problems that I had not even imagined the possible existence of. I felt as though I were a horse whose side blinders had been removed. I felt as though my quiet self consumed in academics and personal interest had been swept away by my own ignorance.

One of these insights that came to me only recently involved what it meant to work for a “big company.” My knowledge in economics or politics is severely limited. A couple Wikipedia articles of past presidents and histories of their economic policies are enough to give me a taste of the long and complicated fight that pervade through pretty much all levels of wealth. Then the “big bad company” is quite easily understood as an enemy to some and a tool for others. Involvement with federal affairs that cause consequences in economic, environmental, ethical and social ways, monopolization of certain markets that caused the discomfort and unfortunate futures of millions and an ugly gap between the rich and poor that seem to only widen.. the moral problems are quite certainly there.

But in the bubble that I contained myself in while working as an intern at Facebook and attending a higher-end private college, I found that such things were not discussed enough. Some people just didn’t care. Others saw it as a stepping stone, like it was a sort of tool to get to the next level with more ease. It didn’t seem to me that anyone was deliberately ignorant, either. Rather, the focus of company or school news mainly looked into what good they were doing for the world. The bad was never looked into. Bringing up a topic like so brought shrugs from most. It seemed, anyway, like those who did care had never existed here or had already left.

This isn’t a rant on Facebook, nor do I intend to make it sound like one. The train conductor has to make a decision at some point, and with either decision they will be struck with guilt. The thought of leaving a company like Facebook and declaring you will work for what’s purely good for the world is ideal at best. On the other hand, I’m not denying that there are indeed great people at Facebook who do amazing things for the world with good intentions, despite the more negative consequences that may be commented on as “side-effects.” Admitting to guilt is hard. No one likes to say they were wrong.

So what are we to do? Struggle endlessly, in constant suffering resulting from this guilt that we are powerless beings with little control over the future? Shake our heads and repeat to ourselves that we didn’t do it, that we aren’t the bad ones, while pointing shaky fingers at others? These are rhetorical questions, but equally legitimate ones that drive many of us into an existential crisis that we all try to hide away in a hole somewhere in our hearts. I don’t want to debate about whether all humans are at birth born good, nor do I want to argue what is “good.” But for the sake of this post, I wish to think about how beautiful it is to hear an infant giggle in pure joy. Fact: all humans are infants at some point in their lives.

Suppose this true, then our focus needs to be on what we think is good, despite what others may say. One popular argument that is given in favor of sacrificing the five elderly men in the conductor’s dilemma is that a child holds a future ahead of them. What if they are the next Gandhi? Bill Gates? Hitler? The sub-twenty year old self that I am likes this argument, not just because I would survive this train tragedy but also because I am reminded that my future is yet undetermined. Whatever decision the conductor makes, the intention he had is what matters, and nobody can really blame him for making a decision that he thought was right at the moment. In the same way that I am tied down on the train tracks, I hold the track switch for a different set of five men and one child. My decision in the long term can affect others in perhaps vastly different ways as seen by others, but my intentions would have been for the better — and no one but I can blame myself for the outcome.

Sometimes I feel as though the human race has come great measures in making technological advancements yet has in comparison developed far less in societal aspects. Why and how is it that the fictional stories of robots and artificial intelligence has become a reality in such a short period of time, yet no utopian society has emerged, ever? In a point in our history where engineers and badass tech companies are taking over the world with their knowledge (aka, power), it’s time we directed our attention into utilizing science for society as well. It doesn’t take much: just ask, “am I giving good to the world with what I do?” Maybe the answer isn’t so clear at this moment. Just don’t feel guilty that the wrong side of the tracks were chosen because you did what someone else told you to do.

Be Right, Be Good.