Monday, November 2, 2015

Telling Our Stories

I've been blogging off and on for a number of years. I started my blog after I lost my job after suffering a miscarriage. I suddenly had a lot of time and a lot of emotions. I started writing in a way that made sense to me - in a deeply personal way about deeply personal issues. One of my writing teachers had once told me to write about things that matter to me. I took his advice.

In the earlier years, I wrote regularly. I wrote about my miscarriages, my feelings of loss and pain. I wrote about my family, our immigrant experience, and the complexities that came with that. After I had children, my time became constrained in a way I had never previously experienced. I neglected my blog to pump, to puree my children's squash and sweet potatoes, to give them baths, to teach them the alphabet. I also entered a hiatus after my mom found out that I was blogging and rebuked me for telling our family's stories.

My blog, though, is one of the places that I always intend to return to. Even when I hadn't written for almost a year, I was shocked to discover that a few people were still reading. Over the years, a number of people have reached out to me by email to tell me that they read my posts, to tell me stories of their own. I have always been so grateful for those snippets of connection. They feel magical, because all I did was write, and from somewhere out in the world, someone understood my thoughts and experiences and found it meaningful enough to reach out.

Every once in a while, though, I am reminded that I am writing publicly about very personal issues. Just on Saturday, I received a comment to a post I wrote about my estrangement from my sister. Someone wrote:
Uh, it's hard to understand what you're going through without understanding the reason that your sister "estranged" you. What did you do that made her cut you out of her life? fyi, it's usually not just one thing, but a series of things over time...and then the final breaking point Without explaining what happened, you seem to be hiding the truth, as if you know that what you did was wrong, and you don't want people judging you, agreeing that your sister is right to have "estranged" you. Maybe it's that guilt that's eating away at you now.
In the grand scheme of things, it's not an unduly harsh comment. But it's clear from the comment that the reader hadn't read too many of my posts. And she/he didn't know that my sister estranged me without explaining much. The comment stopped me -- and intense emotions spiked to the surface. I found myself getting terse with my children and Jeff and withdrawing from the party we were attending.

Later, I went back and re-read my post, wondering if I wrote it hastily or insensitively. Maybe I did, and I am not very good at deciphering the effect of my own writing. But I had tried to convey my feelings of loss, sadness, and desperation. Despite that, I felt as if all the reader could do was judge me, both as a person and as a writer. And it stumped me that someone would read about someone else's painful experience and think first to judge rather than to try to sympathize.

I immediately wondered if I should stop blogging. I do it so infrequently these days that maybe it doesn't really matter. And I could write for myself or just for my friends. But I soon realized that I was being impulsive. I often read personal essays in the New York Times, and I peruse the comments section. And I am shocked by the horribly mean comments, callous, judgmental -- all these adjectives that we would never want ascribed to ourselves. And the web is a terrible place for people to show their vulnerability.

I wonder about this lack of sensitivity that I see around me. People failing to understand each other. Turning to judgement rather than to understanding. Assuming that what is on the surface is all that exists. Failing to grasp each other's pain.

I know that growing up as a Korean-American child of immigrants, I often felt that people couldn't understand what I was experiencing. That other people didn't know what my family was suffering and could never see the world as we saw it. I think part of the reason I write is to try to explain our lives, to try to make sense of it. To understand the pressures of geographical and cultural displacement juxtaposed on the web of biases and assumptions my parents had as products of their own upbringing. To try to decipher the complexities of family dynamics in the context of our immigrant experience. Writing about my experiences is for me a work of analysis, a form of therapy.

I also write to affirm to myself that our lives don't have to be a dark secret. Not everything worked out as it should have, but we are still living out our lives and we don't have to be invisible. I also hope that someone could benefit from reading about my experience. Maybe it'll help someone understand something about his/her own life. Or at least not feel so alone. Or maybe they'll learn what not to do.

I once read somewhere that others being unaware about your suffering is a form of suffering in and of itself. Applying that concept to other emotional experiences makes sense to me.

So I'll keep writing for now, however sporadically. And I'll look for others who tell their stories. Oh, I'll also work on growing a thicker skin.


  1. I enjoy your writing, however infrequently.

  2. You already know that I'm a fan of your writing and I'm glad you decided to continue. While the internet has it's advantages and has brought people from all over together, there is that dark side - quick judgements and harsh words without any thought given to the receiving party (and almost always stated anonymously). As long as your writing is helping you on your journey keep doing what your doing. You've got a community who supports you!

  3. I don't mean to be nosy, but I've always wondered: What was the last meeting/s with your sister like? What is she like? Have you tried to reach out? If so, how, and what has been the response? Sorry for all the questions - obviously you are not obliged to answer. I hope you will be able to mend things with your sister someday, and am glad that you continue to write and share your experiences. I've enjoyed reading your blog for years. Soon after I started reading your blog, I saw you on TV about the Paul Hastings thing!