I am one of those rare creatures always desiring adventure: Fireworks and ribbons, a new project, something to get adrenaline pumping and my mind whirling through galaxies. Growing up, I hunted for treasure in books. Later I relied on school and the occasional amusement park for a fix; taken out of my comfort zone or given new information to digest, I quickly learned and thrived. Yes, I was that girl in the front seat of the roller coaster, hands in the air, waiting for the fall. I soaked in every moment.
A few months ago, I decided it was time to shake up my world. I had reached an impossible plateau both professionally and personally, and my writing idea pool had stagnated under general stress and frustration. I wasn’t satisfied with the direction I was heading in any area of my life. I needed drastic change, something to keep me moving forward.
I am now writing to you from South Korea.
In March I accepted a job teaching English at an all-girls’ high school in Yeosu, a beautiful city on the southern coast, known by many for the 2012 World Expo. I officially settled in to my town and school about a month ago. Friends, I love it here. ๐
Whisked away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known, I’ve already noticed a big difference in my writing: I’m more focused, more willing to wander in my thoughts without inner critics shutting down metaphors or suggestions. My words are reinvigorated with heart and passion and everything I worried I’d misplaced in the past couple years.
Julie Delpy’s character in Before Sunset (one of the most gorgeous romantic dramas ever filmed, for the record, and one of my all-time personal favorites) explains this feeling well: When describing her time abroad in Warsaw, she says, “After a while, my brain seemed clearer. I was writing a lot more in my journal, ideas I never thought of before. … I had spent the last two weeks away from most of my habits. TV was in a language I didn’t understand, so, all I [was] doing was… walk[ing] around, thinking right. My brain felt like it was at rest, free from the consuming frenzy.”
…Hello, Korea. ๐
Moving halfway around the world to jump start your creative juices or climb out of your rut is not, of course, for everyone. Admittedly, I’m a wee bit crazy. ๐ But I’ve learned thatย giving myself a shock, moving outside my daily routine, can dramatically impact my creative voice.
Prior to departure, a good friend asked me how I thought my work would change in Korea; I hemmed and hawed and scrambled for an answer.
Then, during my first week here, I looked at a poem I started back in late 2006/early 2007. After slaving over every word and sound for months and months, I had set it aside, saved it on my computer as a work in progress; though I returned to it occasionally over the years, I was never in a place to hear its true ending. Within days of arriving in Yeosu, I discovered what was real and missing from the lines. That poem is now saved under “Finished.”
I find inspiration in the unknown and the strange. The land changing beyond my bus window as we turn corners, drive around mountains and ragged coastline; dodging scraps of burning paper on Gwangalli Beach, watching teenagers shoot firecrackers over the Korea Strait in Busan; navigating different menus and street foods as I walk through market districts around Jeollanamdo Province: all of these things give me a thrill. And that thrill translates into more words on the page and a fresh dedication to discovering my language and ideas.
Don’t settle for what is. Try something new. Rejuvenate your creative life. Trust me, the adrenaline is very addicting. ๐
4 responses to “Fireworks Across the Ocean”
Couldn’t agree more! ๐
Hi Jen, I have loved following your life in S. Korea!! I am soooo glad that it has worked out for you, and it was a good plan for you. Every time I talk to your Mom, I ask about you and have her catch me up on your life. Keep us all up to date!!! Love, Grandma
Aww, thanks, Grandma! Love you! โค