Tag: integration


I was afraid it might happen – that opening a blog about K-dramas would shift my viewing style into a more scrutinizing outlook – and that I would not want to write that way. I can’t tell yet, but to have delighted in Oh Hae Young Again and yet not have much to say about it, or about Beautiful Mind, which I found a great deal of value in, brings me to question, “What is going on?!” Perhaps I am just thin stretched, since work for me is also writing. It can be tricky to erect proper boundaries.

And speaking of proper boundaries, W – Two Worlds.


This is a fun drama full of existential questions and rather seamless effects, so it is easy to believe in these characters, and to enter their worlds as though traveling through possible layers of existence. Gazing into my screen, in which they gaze and fall in to their screens… W is a story of coming fully ALIVE.

I’m facilitating a book discussion about similar questions, specifically the unraveling of one’s usual world that can happen as natural course when a wider or more potent context appears, throwing the former world into question.  The book uses terms like ‘thawing of reality’ and doesn’t suggest overthrowing the illusion a la The Matrix, but rather including what one can as perhaps differently real.

If you think about it, we do this with our past selves all the time… look back with new knowledge and work to embrace the innocence, or redeem the ignorance, in order to move forward. It is the work of self cultivation. Sometimes we re-cast characters whose motives weren’t apparent before, or give them alternate story lines.

Elon Musk is among those who are sure our very world is indeed a kind of sophisticated simulation, and while I’m not sure, there is something in the idea that rings true.


Update (SPOILERS): Very sadly, but not quite Cheese in the Trap sadly, the show has spun its wheels in less interesting ways during the second half, leaving my mind to wander. I liked these characters and these worlds, but the story doesn’t stay with meaningful moments long enough to feel harmonious. As I write this there is one more episode, so maybe I’ll have to eat my words when they come up with some brilliant redemptive conclusion?

Updated at finish:
With so much promise, W – Two Worlds still managed to devolve at the end, rather than opening fully.  Along the way I lost what was already a frail attachment to the characters and the story line.


This is not about Dear My Friends

I tried not to watch Dear My Friends. I’ve been wondering lately, if Korean TV isn’t making me a little too thoughtful, a little too melancholy, but that might have been just the feeling of watching 3 episodes of this emotionally affecting drama, in a row.

dear my friends
(image: Dramabeans)

For most of my youth, I wasn’t interested in deep historical details, nor in characterizations of one nationality in contrast to another. My impression had been that those who greatly concerned themselves that way were less tolerant of others in the present, thus less likely to move forward. Which is not to say I was disinterested in the undercurrents underlying patterns in politics and world events along the way.

However, historical dramas sparked something new. Suddenly I needed to know details about the Korean turtle boat. I needed to better understand Soviet dynamics at the end of WW2. And I wanted to understand the feelings that linger between various countries, of justice denied, acknowledgements withheld… why some seem to have a greater emphasis on justice, or revenge.

Continue reading “This is not about Dear My Friends”

Kill Me Heal Me: K-Drama Ramble-not-Review

I’m not sure where to begin in giving an overview of my newly found TV appreciation / obsession. When I began watching Korean drama, I had favorites, but over time the shows have fallen into more complex categories.

The last show I loved, Kill Me Heal Me, was not on that first list of favorites, but is a good start to write about, since it is one I would recommend to a friend who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. It has the addictive and fun quality of Coffee Prince, which was my very first k-drama, and largely responsible for the rabbit hole I don’t wish to find my way out of just yet.

KMHM manages to be sweet and surprisingly poignant nearly all the way through, while introducing 7 distinct character dimensions under the umbrella personality of “Cha Do Hyun”. Each character becomes quite real and deeply loveable over time, which to me seemed a writing/acting collaboration miracle.

It couldn’t have worked without an equally strong counterpart who was able to react and respond quickly to all the lead’s antics, as well as creating her own. Everything is big: the impossible to pull off concept, the tight rope poignancy, the deeply cathartic revelations and emotions.

And so many wonderful lines, even in the music.
Kill Me Heal Me

I’ve been surprised to find that K-drama watchers are not necessarily women who like romance novels. The closest I myself get to reading a romance novel is Jane Austen, which is also more about intricate character details, subtle kindnesses and cruelties, and class distinctions. Even Outlander, which so many of my friends adore, I have not yet been able to finish. It just never took me sufficiently away from myself.

My hugest peeve is for a romance string to be tacked onto a project obviously after the fact, like I found to be the case with the film Interstellar. Others parsed apart the science, but I took no issue with that. It was the “moral of the story” that didn’t seem necessary nor appropriate.

So it is fair to say I’ve spent a good deal of time analyzing my interest in shows that can be cheesy, materialistic, and way outdated with regard to gender dynamics. Perhaps they get a pass for their unique-to-me cultural context, but it is more than that, because admitting these qualities, they still ring as more genuine than what I’ve come across in western media in a very long time.

I especially like the family dynamics in the less formal Korean drama households, seen in shows like Answer Me 1994/97. I like the small houses and taking good care of just a few things, because that is what I’ve aspired to more and more. I like the enthusiastic collective meals, where loved ones feed and tend to one another. I like that siblings take so much responsibility for each other, and that elders are expected to be cared for. I’m careful not to fetishize, or to forget that I am immersing in fictional universes, but I think we from the west have a lot we might learn.

While also examining things I have trouble with, such as:

  • The wrist grab, which in theory, I should hate, but often don’t.  It is a way of push and pull, the beginning of defining of boundaries. K-dramas almost never get physical quickly – it takes an average of 7 episodes before a kiss, if it happens at all, and even then it might be a kiss on the cheek or forehead. Holding hands can be erotic.
    Wrist grabs may come in episode one or two., and the main thing is how it unfolds between the couple – it matters that she allows it or not, that she or he lets someone reach into personal space for skinship. It is classic Pride and Prejudice, which a lot of the dramas have at core.
  • Sleep watching can be the sweetest or creepiest thing, depending on various factors. Most of the time it is used as a device to allow someone to share their heart without embarrassment, and the other may not actually be sleeping.

But here is an important one:

  • Class based bullying
    How I wish to have seen these shows before I was married quite young, and had to contend with what I previously thought of as antiquated class dynamics. Growing up casually, in a small family, it never seemed all-important to me, where one came from or how many generations of family had kept well to script. What I quickly learned is that the dynamics were just invisible.

    My own background was not exactly bohemian, and I would certainly never have been chosen as a good candidate for an arranged marriage. Still, even in the US I needed better preparation for large family politics and the unique weaponry, such as ridicule, that others were well-versed in. “Fake obliviousness” was not a good strategy.

    This is something I write with a smile, but to be honest I have far more understanding and appreciation for lineage now, thanks in part to K-dramas. Confucian and unapologetically hierarchical society was largely mysterious, so I’ve been ravenously hungry for every detail thrown my way.

  • I also find myself reading about military strategists and heroes, even down to equipment, with great fascination.Regarding societal expectations in k-drama, it isn’t uncommon for one character to remind another not to be too bold with their lately acquired American sensibilities. There is progression, but thoughtful regard for previous generations’ social architecture, placing high value on filial duties and marriage values.
    To do well in one’s place is as much an honor as to chart a new course, sometimes more so. “Remember that this is Korea” someone will say. The integration of times and classes isn’t easy for those experiencing it. When a wealthy family tries to buy off the poor-but-heart-of-gold love interest, as in Secret Garden, I rightly cringe and root for the underdog, but more and more, I also try to understand, because it isn’t easy to change beliefs once we are older, even when we can accept progress logically.
    We step forward, but maybe there remain contradictory or uncomfortable feelings, generation to generation.
  • Constraint
    This was something I experienced strongly when in Japan. Although we in the US can look with amazement upon so many people falling into strict order for schooling and career paths, and both admire/regard with horror the strictness of dress codes and personality homogeneity when it comes to assigned work roles, there is something grand about the dignity with which even simplest tasks are regarded.
    High creativity can emerge from strict constraints. Visitors may remark on the absence of litter in Japan, but it is far more than that. Ritual hasn’t been abandoned each time it has been questioned, so there remains a time stream to tap into … an unbroken transmission. No garbage, in a society aware of its surroundings in equal measure to self, is a given. I
    found it very restful.

It interested me to learn recently that with patients suffering from some kinds of epileptic seizures who have elected to have their hemispheres decoupled, there can be an entirely different response to the question, “Do you believe in God?” The left hemisphere might answer a sure “NO” while the right gives an equally enthusiastic “YES.”

WHICH brings my rambles back once again, to Kill Me Heal Me. The central character is suffering from Dissociated Identity Disorder, but is healthier than some who live in smaller compartments of themselves, trapped into prejudices that may be the natural effect of intellectual and psychological inflexibility.

Many of us break down to break free, and benefit from meeting persons who share like capacity. In KMHM there are several free-range characters, healthy, multi-dimensional, and kind.

Loving Me

So this is that kind of story.

Valid Love

This is the third time. Just when I was sure that that my curiosity was satisfied, a drama writer has taken realities that seem like cliches when I try to pin them down, and cracked them open into art. [small spoilers ahead for The English Patient, End of the Affair, and The Great Gatsby also]

hot hands

I have a special affection for the subject matter and question of how many one is allowed to love at a time, and know how hard it is not to compromise to please an audience when telling such a story… how hard it is not to confine complex choices under one or two headings to make them easily digestible / pay the obligatory taxes to confirm societal norms / seek acceptance. It is too hard, therefore worth mentioning when it happens.

Chances for greater completeness come to all of us – not always in the form of another person who evokes the previously unknown, but in the guise of a job opportunity, a health issue, a profound book or film. Even a TV drama. Thus one power of art is to come face to face with shadows. But when the shadows are too shadowy, it is too easy to set them apart from oneself as passing phases rather than pointers toward richness.

Every character in Valid Love is entirely sympathetic, unlike in The English Patient, or even Graham Greene’s brilliant End of the Affair, which both deal with similar themes and uncover a similar dilemma: one that there seems no completely cathartic out of unless someone dies to resolve the tension. It is also not like The Great Gatsby, where the second (first?) love is mere fantasy for one. And in that one too, well, you know.

So I tried not to be preoccupied with this question as I watched, but couldn’t help myself. I was so afraid that the ending would leave me in despair, but the writers had earned my trust already, through beautifully handled scenes such as one in which Carpenter Kim mirrors Il-Ri’s secret struggles back to her and thus forces her (and consequently the whole family, and we along with she and they) to see her self and her world in a way she could never un-see. Reality becomes so obvious that we ask how she never woke to it before, but the answer is, that’s what suppression means. Something is known, but ignored: ignorance.

Nearly every line of this drama is enriched with subtext that one can linger a very long time in.

valid love waking

It isn’t just Il Ri’s struggle that Valid Love gives us; we come to feel several characters’ reasons for the lines they’ve drawn around what they will know and not know. At times we want to close their eyes again. It can be a hard watch.

Strangely, what also comes to mind as I write, is an article Zizek wrote about terrorism in Paris… about the missed opportunities for the Radical Left being the same opportunities that Extremist Fundamentalists have seized upon. I wonder why. Maybe the old lessons of radical empathy as not luxury but demand.

Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.  – Dogen

Updated when the series finished [more spoilers ahead]:

My overall impression now, is a soft and reflective: “Yes, I can live with that.” There is only a tiny tinge of foot-stomping, a reaction having to do with my choosing to see a certain character at the center. The writers are more mature than I am.

I’m still digesting and questioning. Am I glad they didn’t give me what I thought I wanted? What about me – why did I want what I wanted? I longed to see the writers give her a completely new life and world, and show how that could be okay, morally — would have loved for the commenters (and that part of me) who couldn’t get past their right/wrong mindsets, to have had to applaud such an end.

Although, with one ending we are still left with the imagination of another. Thus the work feels whole, masterful, with both the small strokes and big conveyance coming through. And I did get to experience personally, the playing out of a question at the center of my own marriage’s end, because he comes to really *see* his wife, not just as, his wife. He comes to care for her happiness more than his ownership of that. I got to feel what that might have been like, which seemed like pulling off an impossible caper.

both sides now

Elizabeth Gilbert recently offered a flake of wisdom I liked, about soulmates. It is a term I try never to use, because I try never to use the word soul. She said (paraphrased) that it can be a mistake to try to make a soulmate into a life partner, describing her own life partner as supportive and comforting, in contrast to the soulmates of her life who have usually been disrupting, upsetting, intensely challenging.

Once I imagined introducing someone to my mom for the first time… how I might say, “He is me.” One doesn’t let a person like that into their heart, but rather finds them there. Like Elizabeth’s story, that person revealed a hidden side of me vividly, instigating a kind of hyper growth of character, although appearing for just a blip in time. I felt as though I had been poisoned and shattered by the experience afterward … heavy price for that intensity. I am not sure I would do it again.

I’m also not sure I had a choice in the first place.

My instinct is that a well-suited relationship can be chosen and cultivated intentionally with a person of like capacities — but I haven’t experienced that, yet. For now there are mirror fragments and deep wormhole-like fractals of such… along with an intuition of wholeness.

Blade Man and the Bodhisattva


It has been unlike me to enjoy anything as blatantly materialistic and formulaic as Korean dramas can be, yet I’ve become deeply captivated by their open-heartedness and simplicity of values, the new music of an unfamiliar language, and their slow consummations of love. I’ve encountered characters that couldn’t have been written out of a Western cultural context, such as with a peculiar heroine portrayed closely to what I imagine a bodhisattva to truly be… spontaneously responsive, sensitive without sentimentality, ordinary, missable.

One scene captures the impression best: With the circumstances of her life unfolding around care-taking that arises within hardships, she is dragged along to the home of strangers, one of whom is the mother of a daughter who has been killed – a mother suffering fragmentation and memory loss. The mother is drawn to the character as though she is her own daughter, and suddenly, when one expects clarification of the delusion, instead the character breaks down in the mother’s arms. She tells her that she’s been away playing, and that she’s sorry not to have visited sooner. She cries with her without restraint.

As the episodes go on, she lets the mother feed and tend to her, love her as her own. And, though the situation is a lie, the love that enters, is real. “Every mother is my mother” she says later. Truly one the most moving moments I’ve ever witnessed on screen. I’m amazed it was actually written.

Centrally important to the story is that she isn’t seeking out benevolence: she is just responsive. She just doesn’t have a lot in the way.

blade man 3

Before the scene above, we see her on a bus ride, laughing wholeheartedly, noticing others and being fine when others notice her. She seems to become whatever is needed, warranted, appropriate and authentic. Its not that she is operating from some high philosophy, just what she lets happen, as in the famous Buddhist story of the monk who is wrongfully accused of having impregnated a daughter in the village, and doesn’t affirm nor deny, but steps into the role needed moment by moment.

blade man

Post show ending:

I can’t say that the entire work lived up to its beautiful moments of potential, in fact the writing went wildly awry when it brought in a character missing in the first half, and the drama ended a few episodes early. Still, I am grateful to have had these encounters – am still awestruck.


Tradition and Approach

When in a very friendly mind, I see that consciously chosen traditions tap something beyond beyond personal identity and agendas, which is how it felt to me over the last few days while attending a Buddhist seminar. Within all teachings there are generalities, and examples given that one takes personal exception to, so I consciously chose a way of approach – to rest the scrutinizing intellect appropriately engaged when in other contexts – to hear in a different manner.

There is support for that quieting in such a setting, and I was reminded of a scene from a book about a famous (in the west) Tibetan master, where he asked to clear the room because it was full of gossip. No person had heard a thing said aloud at all, but nonetheless the environment was full of chatter.

That’s how it is: one can drop deeper to a level of intention and something else may be going on.

So I tried to do that over the last few days, appreciating the Rinpoche’s smile lines and hearty laugh, his earnest aspirations coming forward as he pleaded for everyone to take the work of better establishing the dharma center seriously. There was a strong sense of presence in the room as he told stories, and I couldn’t help but see many others coming through his expressions, a long lineage of devoted teachers peering through his eyes at times. I may have heard the forms of these stories before, may reason that such are not very applicable in today’s world, but I chose to focus on sincerity.

What he was saying was ‘true’ in a heart-of-the-matter way… a way that blooms forth in one’s own understanding rather than being grasped at. There is merit… one of the biggest aspects of Buddhism that secular friends take issue with, and I think rightfully so.

At times it feels the work of spreading the dharma is busy and about external accomplishment – a second arrow that the dharma itself encourages us to reevaluate our loyalties to.

I can’t even explain to myself entirely, why I find such pleasure in what others I respect see as cumbersome religious trappings, and I too wrestle with hierarchies. Simultaneously, I think that although there is a rightful reaction against rigid class structures and privilege, there is such a thing as what I’ve heard called “supportive hierarchies” that can be cultivated. It benefits a child to know there is a teacher to turn to, for instance, and we are usually smart to submit to one with more expertise, be they doctor, pilot, or Compassion.

Will I attend the temple on a regular basis, take it on as my personal work? I’m not sure yet. I can’t in good conscience entirely check my scrutiny at the door… there are things I’m not comfortable with and may not want to become comfortable with, having bought in to ideologies for the sake of community earlier on.

Buddhism is highly appealing for its intellectual astuteness, yet in our time we seem too seldom to put down one thing to taste another. We want it all, all at once.

Both sides of the coin (tradition/no tradition) have value.

Practitioners can understand from their own experience that practice is helping them. No other proof is necessary


When out of flow, there is something left unacknowledged… neglected… something to give away. At times it is a phone call, or promise not yet followed through with (to myself or others). Maybe I’ve not gotten quiet enough for the still small voice of intuition to float up to conscious experience. I begin to ask, “Did I follow the last instruction? What WAS the last instruction?”

Elizabeth Gilbert described a similar sensation recently:

“I am writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world.

Because having a creative mind is something like a owning Border Terrier; It needs a job. And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something.”    Elizabeth Gilbert

So, here, is my shot in the dark, for what is waiting to be seen…


Three years later, I understood the dream mandala. It had been a gathering of distinct scenes, some illuminated. A circle of singing angels was among the bright spots, as were various work places, passageway kitchens. A grand and wide-spreading tree dug into the heart, under which refugees gathered. Yet that area was dark, awaiting resources. I leaned my face nose to nose with a small, unknown child, and felt responsible for her.

On the outskirts of the mandala was a fence, separating the scenes from a parking lot where visitors arrived – people who in some cases were intimate friends, yet couldn’t or wouldn’t, intermingle with the rest. I remember feeling that those inside of the fence would be benefited by their incorporation, but that it wasn’t the only way. A usually tired friend arrived, with long healthy hair, seeming much younger (A few months later she received a large inheritance which unburdened her deepest concerns).

I was looking for my son (a recurring happening from the time he was very young) and could get through some areas very easily but, like a labyrinth, other areas were less welcoming. I tried to climb up a set of small stone stairs and when hindered, another passage appeared, sloping down. There he was. I sat on a bench and simply watched him playing for a while.

I have wondered whether this is a story not to tell but to paint, but I don’t paint anymore. I gave up painting because I was mediocre and not as compelled as I have been to write. This afternoon, a cousin from a part of my family I love but am not entwined with, said that she and her parents cherish the painting I gave them… that it remains in their main living room. I couldn’t remember, although it must be a copy of the first painting, the one I lost myself in entirely as though under anesthetic, emerging with it finished and projecting a certain portal energy. The experience of that painting, more than the finished product, felt to be a taste of an entire lifetime… each stroke a particular journey, arising from previous strokes yet also from nowhere, coming together in a restful Flow.

 “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
-Vincent Van Gogh