Posted on March 19, 2013
My mother, Ko Kil-Ja, discovered her talent and passion for Korean brush painting when she took up the art while recovering from breast cancer. Today, she is a prolific artist who has had her work showcased in several exhibitions. In honour of her 70th birthday, I decided to post some important life lessons that I learned from her.
1. The world owes us nothing.
The reality that is my mother’s life – war, immigration, illnesses – suggests that the world can be a battlefield of obstacles and challenges. Conflicts can come at all levels: societal to personal, and everything in between. Watching my mother navigate through hardships has taught me the importance of being independent and self-reliant, especially as a woman. This is one of the most crucial lessons that I feel all women must learn if they are to achieve true self- fulfillment.
2. We must give and give freely.
Whether it is through her charity work, her art or her teaching, my mother’s commitment to the world around her shows her belief that we should live life for a purpose greater than ourselves. Throughout history, all the great people have embraced this way of thinking and lived for a strong purpose. More than just a responsibility or obligation, this belief allows us to develop a sense of connectedness with others and opens our hearts and our minds.
3. Our passion can become our sunlight.
Finding her passion for meditation and painting, I believe, has changed my mother’s life. It has allowed her to embrace life fully and become the person she was meant to be. There is purpose and fulfillment in each day. There is beauty.
The wonderful thing about pursuing passions such as painting and writing is that they allow us to keep learning and growing as we move toward mastery. We can not only enjoy the sunshine but can bask in its warmth and glow.
Year of the Snake
Posted on February 10, 2013
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Happy Lunar New Year, and
welcome the Year of The Snake.
Just for fun:
- Year of the Snake: The Serpent Behind the Horoscope: Five Parallels Between the Zodiac Sign and the Real Deal (National Geographic article)
Happy, dark, or ironic – Short stories with a twist
Posted on January 31, 2013
Whether they are happy, dark, or ironic, I love twist endings. I stumbled onto “A Letter to God”, a short story by Gregorio Lopez Fuentes (translated by Donald A. Yates). It is about a poor farmer named Lencho who sadly loses his crops during a terrible hailstorm. Poor, but a man with strong faith, he writes to God and asks for money to help him get through the winter. The ending made me laugh out loud – it was so nutty. You can click on the story title to read it online.
Some of my other favourite short stories with a twist include “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.
It takes talent and good storytelling to create a twist ending that works. It can’t feel forced or heavy-handed to be effective.
Here are some links you might want to check out:
My first e-reader (sigh)
Posted on January 28, 2013
When I was asked if I wanted an e-reader for Christmas, my answer was a flat out, “no”. I love the texture of paper pages, the smell of new books and the worn-out feel of second-hand books. I also love walking into bookstores and being surrounded by books of all sizes, shapes, and colours.
But when the second book that I really wanted to read was only available in e-book format, I thought maybe it was time to at least be open to the possibility of an e-reader.
As soon as I walked into my local Chapters bookstore, I was greeted by a friendly Kobo salesperson who happily walked me through his display.
“This is the one I own,” he said, and passed me a Kobo Glo.
It didn’t feel so bad in my hands, especially when it was put into a case that looked like a book cover.
I wasn’t entirely sure if it was a good or bad thing that the reader could customize the font size, justification, margins, and even the line spacing. I knew editors who laboured and agonized over such decisions. The fact that any reader could now arbitrarily change everything seemed somehow wrong.
I love the built-in dictionary though. By pressing any word, I instantly get its meaning. As well, the ability to highlight passages and make notes about them is very cool.
The Kobo Glo also has a built-in light which I’m thinking will be great for reading in my car when I’m waiting for my daughter in the parking lot of her music school.
Still not sure where I stand in the e-book vs traditional book debate. Will find out soon though. I’ve downloaded a few books including The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy which was recommended to me by Donleavy’s grandnephew, and hard to find in print version in Toronto.
Memorable characters 2
Posted on January 21, 2013
I love books where I feel connected with the main character, or when the character is someone whom I admire and want to root for. I recently saw Les Miserables again. Jean Valjean is an example of a character I both admire and feel tremendous sympathy for – a character almost impossible for me to forget.
There are several books and online resources that offer great advice, tips, and suggestions on how to create complex and compelling characters. One book title I’d like to pass along is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. It’s definitely worth checking out. Schmidt looks at several archetypes, both heroic and villainous, to explore character traits and behaviours. Her examples of memorable characters from books, movies, and T.V. are especially helpful in shaping our understanding of classic archetypes.
Also worth checking out:
- How to Craft Compelling Characters – Writer’s Digest
Great article; a must read if only to review what you already knew
- Character Creation – Fiction Factor
Links to online articles about everything you need to know about creating characters in fiction
Posted on January 14, 2013
“It’s told from the point of view of a horse,” my daughter, Claire, told me when she started reading Black Beauty. “I don’t know if I want to read it.” She finished the book today, and concluded that it was a great read, and Black Beauty was a character she wouldn’t ever forget.
When Claire asked me to name some memorable characters from books I had read, the first few names that came to mind were:
Nomi Nickel, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Canadian)
Sixteen-year old Nomi, who lives in a Mennonite community, is abandoned by both her mother and sister. She asks a question that continues to haunt me: “Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life?”
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a kid, I had a crush on Atticus, and wondered how many fathers were like him in real life. He was so wise and had the right things to say about everything that mattered: “You never really know a man till you walk a mile in his shoes.”
Dunstan Ramsay, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (Canadian)
I read this book in grade 12 English class. Dunstan’s involvement with Mary Dempster, a woman he spends his life trying to make a “saint,” is a result of his deep rooted childhood guilt: “I feared to go to sleep and prayed till I sweated that God would forgive me for my mountainous crime… I was alone with my guilt, and it tortured me.”
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L.L. Montgomery (Canadian)
I remember wondering if I should add an “e” to the end of my name after reading Anne say, “A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.”
Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
I’m wowed by his evil brilliance as much as I fear it. I still get chills reading, “I am not who I am.”
That time of year
Posted on December 31, 2012
One of the things I wanted to do during this holiday break was catch up on my reading. I have far more books than I could possibly get through in one calendar year. I keep buying them, intending to read them later. I also get a lot of books as gifts.
Of the books I did get to this year, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negros, was my favourite. It was published in 2007, and I wish I had gotten to it sooner! Hill’s protagonist, Aminata Diallo, who was abducted as a child from her village in West Africa and sold into slavery, continues to haunt me. The story had such an effect on me that I couldn’t pick up another book for two weeks.
I also thought Ins Choi’s play, Kim’s Convenience, was brilliant. The story hit close to home. Both Ins and I, although we have never met, immigrated to Canada in1975, and had families that worked in variety stores in downtown Toronto. I wrote about this play in an earlier blog.
Now that it is 2013, there are several lists of ‘the best books of 2012’ published everywhere. Here are a few to check out.
Writers who passed away in 2012
Posted on December 29, 2012
“Don’t talk about it; write.” – Bradbury, 1976
I recently read a list of writers who passed away in 2012. Donald J. Sobol, writer of the Encyclopedia Brown series, passed away in July. Leroy, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is a boy detective who used his intelligence to solve neighbourhood mysteries. Some of my fondest childhood memories in Canada include going to the public library where I could escape into books – lots of them. Encyclopedia Brown was a favourite because solving whatever mystery that was thrown at both Encyclopedia and the reader, left me feeling both satisfied and smart.
Another children’s favourite, Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, passed away in May.
I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury’s work in high school. Fahrenheit 451 continues to be on many English class reading lists. His short stories also remain popular. Surprisingly, I only found out recently that there’s a prequel or rather a companion to Fahrenheit entitled, A Pleasure to Burn. Bradbury passed away in June.
For a list of writers who passed away this past year, click here.
For more Ray Bradbury quotes, click here.
Overcoming stage fright
Posted on December 28, 2012
Years ago, as a way to gain greater confidence speaking in front of an audience, I signed up for a series of singing workshops. I recently found the notes I took during the workshops. The following was written after my first class.
The lights were too bright, and right away my body tensed up sensing the reality of the situation. I was on stage!
I had prepared for this. I tried to take a deep breath but my throat closed up. I was shaking. I was so busy trying to conceal my nervousness that I didn’t notice that the music had begun. I opened my mouth and looked in front of me, and just as quickly, dropped my eyes. I started singing.
I desperately wanted to look up but knew no words would come out if I did. So I did the only thing I could: I sang to the floor. It felt safe as long as I pretended that I was not on stage with strangers’ eyes resting on me. I hid behind my hair, kept purposely long for that reason. I could hear my own voice echoing softly in the air and to my surprise, liked the sound. It allowed me to get through to the end.
The reaction of my classmates was encouraging. Suddenly, the room felt cozy.
The first exercise that Art, the instructor, assigned me was to make eye contact with each person in the room. Easier said than done. I reminded myself that I had already sung the song once and no one had asked me to leave. I drew strength from the energy I picked up in the room.
It was a challenge made easier by the warmth and support of my classmates who, with their smiles and silent encouragement helped me get through the song again. It felt great! What I learned most from this exercise was that it was actually EASIER to perform in front of a crowd if I made eye contact because I got a response from the people in front of me; an acknowledgement that they were listening. Suddenly performing was made an exchange between me as the performer and them, as the audience. It wasn’t about me on stage doing everything.
The last exercise was called Copycat. Not only did I have to make eye contact with my classmates, I had to mirror whatever movements they made. This was tricky at first because singing suddenly entailed focusing on the audience and not the song. I found myself doing everything from running my fingers through my hair to sticking out my tongue in the middle of the song! By the end, I realized I was so busy following the audience’s movement that I forgot to be nervous on stage! It was amazing. And this was only my first class.
To read more, click here.
Growing up Buddhist at Christmas time
Posted on December 18, 2012
My first memory of Christmas is back in South Korea. I must have been five or six when I found a green-beaded necklace under my pillow. I remember that the first thing I did was look at it under the blanket to see if it glowed. It didn’t. Still, it was the most precious gift I had ever received. When I asked my mother where it had come from, she told that Santa-harabahji (Grandpa Santa) had left it for me.
Although we dutifully gave presents to all of our elementary school teachers for Christmas once we immigrated to Toronto, we didn’t have a tree. My mother made all the gifts we took to school – knitted hats and scarves.
By 1991, I was working part-time and had money for the first time. I decided that year I would give my family our first ever Christmas tree. I spent over a thousand dollars, spread over three different credit cards, on a tree and gold music-themed decorations. My parents didn’t object and even seemed to admire the seven-foot evergreen that I plopped in the living room by the TV. My brothers referred to it as the “Buddha Tree.” I didn’t tell any of them how much I had spent.
The beauty of growing up in a Canadian Buddhist household was that we were open to celebrating and acknowledging other faiths. As children, we decorated and looked for Easter eggs, learned the rules to play the dreidel game during Hanukkah, and ate rice-cake and dumpling soup on lunar New Year’s Day. Being in Canada, surrounded by people of so many different ethnicities and cultures, it wasn’t about religion. It was about having a reason to celebrate and have fun; a reason to be together and be happy.