Sunday, June 29, 2008


She was wedged between the wall and six buxom Hawaiian dudes who obviously brought along their appetites. Once again, the hostess pushed past us, looking off into the distance, even as we reached across to tap her elbow with our excuse me's. She had told us twenty minutes over forty minutes ago, and we could taste the hamachi nigiris and the nigori sake. A table off to the far left next to the sushi bar has been vacant and uncleaned for at least fifteen minutes, and I positioned myself to intercept the hostess for her next loop. Another couple who had walked in before us stood up and left the waiting area in a huff, and I quickly eyed the emptied chair and looked over to the pregnant woman, motioning, do you want to sit? She smiled and pushed past the Hawaiian shirts. Her husband trailed behind her.

- What a wait, she said, as she smoothed down her skirt. The concierge recommended this place so we drove right over. I'm starving.

- But aren't your selections pretty limited here? I asked.

- Yeah, but my husband can't live without sushi...

I looked over at him as he gave me a what the heck shrug, and I thought of how we had avoided our favorite sushi restaurant for months until Jeff finally broke down and I dragged him over for his fix. I wondered if her husband was up to the task.

- We were here the other day, and we noticed that they have teriyaki, noodles, and things like that. I hope you find something you can eat, I said, feeling protective of her as I would toward a sister, a daughter, a friend, myself.

Her husband shuffled off to get a drink, and she yelled out for him to get her something virgin.

- We just got in from LA, and what a long flight. But it's our last vacation before the little one shows up, so...

That is what this was supposed to be for us too, I wanted to say.

- How far along are you? I asked, as Jeff pulled me in protectively and grabbed my hand to keep me from picking at my fingers.

- I'm in my seventh month. Just two more to go.

- Oh, how excited you must be...

I wanted to reach over and touch the round front of this woman I didn't know, run my hand along the taut skin to see how it felt to be pregnant so far along, and tell her that I was pregnant too until three weeks ago. But I kept my hand firmly planted in Jeff's because I didn't want to feel like that penguin in The March of the Penguins that covets the baby of another. Still, I found myself crossing my fingers and saying a silent prayer for her safe passage and leaning in closer to stand in her penumbra, as if to say, I am one of you...

Friday, June 27, 2008


He always insists on wedging himself in the middle. Usually, he leads with his cold wet nose, brandishing it like a weapon to nudge an arm or a leg out of the way. After forcing an opening, he jabs with his front left paw, fumbling over the uncertain terrain of our bodies until he finds firm ground. The right paw follows and the rest of the body slithers in. He nestles in, head resting on his legs, body firmly pressed against ours, eyes glancing at Jeff and then at me. Soon, he breathes in contentment.

Jeff and I, with our cheeks still pressed together, envelope our bodies around him, forming a bulge around his 63 pounds of affection, and let our toes meet. Our entangled limbs rise and fall as we breathe in syncopation. We are infused with the smell of sweat, sleep, the outdoors, and uninhibited existence. And when the three of us lie cocooned on our bed in our awakening moments and the sun starts to streak in, I know that we are blessed. The world carries on in its unpredictable ways, but there we lie, bundled in our warmth, ripening as a family.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I collect them as I would rare books. Often, they are at the usual places, a few offices down the hall at work that you initially avoided because it's too close to the odious corner office partner, at a friend's dinner party that you contemplated skipping because who has the energy anyway, at the alumni event that could have been deathly boring had you not run into that girl from your humanities class.

You have to catch them at the right moments. Not when they are reviewing that 9th Circuit brief and scrutinizing for typos, not when they are caught in the 20 second span of an elevator ride when all they could muster is muzak conversation, not when you see them at the gym trying to squeeze in a 45 minute jog into 30 minutes before running off to catch the bus.

You have to find them at the right moments when the circumstances are just so, when feelings of threat, lethargy, and anxiety are far from the scene, and they can step out as their true selves, safe from the world that places too many demands on their appearances, know how, professionalism, womanhood.

When she steps out from behind the Hillary mask, you find a kindred spirit, a woman who speaks to you, who shares your vulnerability and anxiety as well as the determination to figure it out, who is willing to engage in a dialogue about the way to go about it, what she has tried or has not. And you latch onto this person wherever you find her because you are building a community of women who get it, women who see eye to eye and will help you see this through.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Speck of Light

Like many other buildings in the city, it loomed over us during the day in its dark darth vader metal armor, blocking our access to the sky and sunlight. Only from within its walls were we able to access some rays if we happened to be on the right side of the building at the right time of the day, even though it felt like an inferno at times when the sun was too strong and the shades weren't drawn.

But at night, after the hot dog guy packed up his stand and dragged it away hitched to a dented blue Nissan truck and the deli down the street had stacked its green fruit stands behind the metal cage, when the fading neon sign flickered at the lone pizzeria down the street, and the city seemed empty of living creatures except for the few drivers snoozing and waiting to shepherd their clients back home, the looming tower seemed to slumber against the dark backdrop, blending into the quiet night. All you could see were the random specks of light on its facades, marking the spots where its remaining occupants breathed and existed hidden from view.

And that's how I remembered it when I left that one night, leaving Jake in his office. After I handed him the last batch of copies, he let me leave at midnight, teasing that a young lady shouldn't be out so late. Hunched over his desk, he scrutinized the document in front of him with the eyes of an old librarian and with such concentration that made me wonder when he would ever finish going through the six remaining boxes on the floor. And I remember my little girl crush, smitten by his boyish charm and the tinge of glamour that came with his Fulbright, and wondering where he got his determination, tenacity, drive to succeed. It just comes with the job, he said with a weary smile. Don't stay too late, I yelled as I pushed on the door to the elevator bank.

And when I stepped out into the streets, I remember looking up to the 54th floor and scanning for his office near the left corner. And there it was, six rows down from the top and two boxes to the left from the corner, a miniscule speck of light, neither a flame nor a blaze, but a stagnant and constant supply of man made energy, illuminating nothing but itself.

Five years later, I ran into him on the streets. The lean frame was now saddled with a bulging midriff and his hair was sprinkled with gray. The shine seemed to have left his once eager eyes, now beset with wrinkles. A committed bachelor and still at the same place, he announced. But just for a few more years, he assured me, probably more for his sake than mine.

And I imagined that during all those years, while the World Trade Center was getting bombed, Dolly cloned, OJ tried and acquitted, Garry Kasparov defeated by Deep Blue, and Aung San Suu Kyi freed from house arrest, that tiny light in that box of an office six rows down and two to the left stayed on night after night as he sat hunched behind the same desk, working on this or that deal, closing one merger after the next, reviewing the latest draft of some agreement that ended up in a binder filling his shelves in a neat array, tracking the progression of his years.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Prudence Anyone?

So I put myself out there. Prudence dictates that I keep my head down, wait for this incident to blow over, apply for a normal job, and pray that whoever interviews me (if I can still get an interview, that is) is oblivious enough not to have seen my email or has a bad enough memory not to recognize my name. I mean, there's a reason why fish camouflage, and isn't there something to be learned from that? Instead, I stick my neck out once again and wait for the guillotine to drop.

I read the comments on Above the Law, and I got that churning feeling in the pit of my stomach. Why did I give my facebook photo to the WSJ reporter, and why is it plastered all over the place? I am freakin tired of looking at it too. But such mean comments. Who are these people? And where do they work that they should have so much time on their hands? But maybe this is what I get for grabbing more virtual space than this is worth. Should I just delete this blog now? Go away quietly and resume my life as it was before this fiasco? I mean, why use this opportunity to try writing? It's gibberish, and why do I have to practice my writing in front of the world to see (and judge so harshly)? And who cares about some random chick who had a miscarriage and got fired? Shit happens all the time, and on the grand scale, this really is trivial.

But the other side of me says, well, you've been wanting to try your hand at writing for the past fifteen years, and now that you've been spit out by PH, what's the harm in trying it out? The worst that can happen is that no one reads it, or people read it and tell you it's crap, and you will at least know that you gave it a try. And you never saw the point of writing if no one reads what you write, so isn't this a great way to try your hand at it? And one way or the other, sooner or later, you'll know more concretely whether it's worth pursuing. Right?

And is spending another ten years in a law firm really the answer? Haven't I had my fill of discovery, case law, and settlement conferences? I mean, what do I have to show for the past ten years of my life? Yeah, I can write a mean ass nastygram, but is that really something to tout? And am I going to look back 10 years from now and regret I didn't at least give it a try? I'll forever wonder how the ilks of Jhumpa Laharis hit the best seller list and I couldn't even give it a try.

But that damn job pays so well. Well, maybe I keep doing my contract gig for a bit, which at the end of the day is enough to live on, and try my hand at this writing thing for a few months. We'll see how this goes...

And in the meantime, if only I could grow a thicker skin...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Career Choice

I was in my fourth year, about to be forced out into the real world, and I had my arms and legs splayed against the door, toes curled against the edge, head pushed against the threshold, fighting to stay in. What, a student of liberal arts armed with Nietzsche and Kakfa who's not ready to be tossed out into the world?

For fortitude (or for some marker that I really belonged), I turned to cigarettes. On an evening 30 below with wind-chill, I wrapped myself in my long sleeved shirt, two layers of cashmere sweaters, a wool jacket, a down coat, two layers of gloves, and a twelve feet long scarf wrapped around my bulbous head to track two blocks down to Walgreens. There, I scanned the rack. The Marboro Guy and I didn't mix. Not slim enough for Virginia Slims. And Camels don't belong in the middle of the South Side of Chicago. No on Lucky Strike because luck just wasn't enough. I settled on Dunhill because it seemed pretentious enough to compensate for my lack of pretenses. With enough baby fat for confit and my stylish bowl haircut, I'm sure Dunhill would have paid me not to be seen with their packet.

I locked myself in the once Elvis frequented hotel now turned dingy dormroom overlooking Lake Shore Drive with the window cracked open wide enough to offset the smoke alarm, and I took my first couple of puffs, wondering how the hell people blow rings. Before I'd barely had a chance to choke through the first stick, a first year knocked on my door to talk about his roommate dilemma. He learned that his roommate is gay, and should he stay in his room or somehow escape the obviously pernicious threats of homosexuality. And I was the Resident Assistant, the ordained King Solomon of these dilemmas.

As he sat down to talk, he sniffed. With his jaw dropped and his eyes popping out, he accused,

- Are YOU smoking? Not, you, my dear Shinyung. Oh, my goodness, when did this start?? Don't you know this causes cancer?

Sheepish, feeling unworthy of my position and having lost my sense of 22 year old authority to an 18 year old, I vowed never to do it again, and my encounter with tobacco leaves ended as a fling.

But how to brace for the upcoming year and the looming question of what to do for the rest of my life? Why could I not stay in college forever and just learn? Do I really need to pick a career, and only one? So what was the point of studying all those different thinkers, writers, theories and methods - to be pigeon-holed into one little corner of life?

In the computer room, I drafted a short letter to the editors of each of the magazines I loved. Please hire me, I begged. I need a job.

A typical response came from the Atlantic Monthly.

- Dear Ms. Oh,

We would be delighted to have you intern with the Atlantic Monthly. Please give us a call when you are in Boston. After a few months of internship, we can discuss whether we could hire you for a paid position.

In a fury, I wrote back, words after words of how I could not take just an internship, I needed a paid position, I could not live off of my parents who toiled in a dry cleaners 12 hours a day and how ashamed I would be if I had to ask them for money, how I work really, really hard, what an asset I would be, etc., etc., etc.

The Atlantic Monthly sent a one line response.

- Ms. Oh,

Then we suggest you look elsewhere.

At the end of the school year, they pried my arms and legs off of the dorm door and gave me one good kick in the rear. I landed in my parents' home, where I did an admirable job of warming the couch. Finally, with a friend's mail merge program, I applied to law firms for a paralegal job. After a few months at the firm, I began to suspect that not all lawyers are ogres.

More than fifteen years later, I find myself in the same place, without a direction for my career, having received another kick in the rear, fretting about what to do with my life, and once again wondering if lawyers are ogres after all. So what do I have to show for the past fifteen years of my life? I have no job, no baby, and ten pounds of left over fat that hang like pieces of a dead chicken. I own a house with a mortgage that exceeds the cost of several houses in the mid west. Oh, right, at least I can put "Esq." behind my name.

I've been spending the past month baby sitting our five year old yellow lab, and every time he sighs at me, I wonder if I've fallen in his estimation somehow.

What would have happened had I not opted for security above that big life dream that I harbored back then. Why did I not go for it? Who's to say I couldn't have become the next Michael Pollen?

So I'm sitting here, raising one finger after another, conjuring up all that I could muster of my dormant and perhaps now defunct imagination, reaching deep inside cobwebbed crevices for sparks of creativity, and praying to some non-existent god for inspiration and luck. Because I'm not dead yet and because you never know...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Seaweed Soup

It's worse to wait. I pressed the key and heard my dad in his everyday voice.

- Yes, Dad, it's me. Yeah, everything's fine. But, Dad...the baby died. Yes, the baby died, that's what I said. The baby is dead...

(How the hell would I know the word for miscarriage in Korean?)

- No, we don't know what happened. Yes, Jeff's right here. We're just leaving the hospital. No, no, I'm not going into work today. We're going home now. Yes, we'll be ok. I'm just going to rest. Ok...

- Hi, Mom, I don't know. I don't know what happened. I know it'll be ok. We're fine. Yes, Jeff's staying home with me today.

- The doctor said we can try again in about a month, after I have my period. It's very common. I know... There isn't much to do to recover. The doctor said I just need to rest. No, she didn't say anything about a special diet.

- No, no, you don't need to come out. I'm just going to lie in bed, that's all. No, no, don't cancel your trip. You've been waiting for so long. There isn't enough time for you to come out. We'll be fine. Really. We can cook for ourselves.

- Seaweed soup? Yes, I know it's good for you. You don't have to make it for me. It's ok. Ok, I'll have some. I'm sure they have it at Korean restaurants... No, I don't know how to make it. Oh, ok, seaweed... really, you pan fry the seaweed? Yes, I have sesame oil. Ok, I'll add some clams. No, we don't have any. Yes, Jeff can get some at the store.

- Yes, I promise, I'll have some. I have to eat it every day? For a week? Ok, ok, I promise.

That night, after I deleted my calendar entries tracking my pregnancy and after I threw all the baby books into a Macy's bag and pushed it into a closet in the other bedroom, I shoved seaweed soup into my mouth, sobbing and cursing at the seaweed, cursing at my body.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Was it career suicide?

You'd think I spoke out against Stalin or the Genovese family. All I did was speak up against a group of men and women who run a business. They sit around and think of ways to protect and increase the million plus profits they each take home at the end of the year, and firing some underling and sabotaging her reputation in the process is par for the course in their world. What does it say about our times and our profession that calling them out should be considered so unusual? Shouldn't we all be protecting ourselves against bullies like them?

By the reaction, you wonder if McCarthyism hadn't ended in the 50s. Do I have to worry about being blacklisted because I didn't subscribe to their prescribed view? Is my career on the fritz because I didn't take their hush money and disappear quietly? Are we still living in a time when I have no choice but to betray myself and what I know to be true in exchange for job security? No, this isn't about something as grand as political rights, but social/economic pressures don't exist in a vacuum.

One of the partners, the same one who made the comment that my prior year's review may have been "over-inflated", had the audacity to tell one of the clients that "[I] had left the firm because [my] husband is a successful entrepreneur and [I] no longer need to work." You'd think someone who chooses to make a callous decision would at least have the balls to own up to it. Who can explain what happened to these people in the process of becoming the kind of people they are now?

So what are the fallouts? Are there fallouts? Since my email somehow became public, I have received hundreds of emails offering support and sympathy. Several in-house counsel also contacted me to express outrage at the firm's handling of the situation and stated their intention never to hire them. One GC emailed me to let me know that she has fired them. She became my hero. Maybe the world really isn't so bad after all.

I'm not a cynic. I believe in notions of justice. And I like to think that I played a part in reminding others to play fair.


In the morning, we dressed for the final set of photos. It was an occasion of sorts. We didn't bother to dress up, even though it was a funeral of sorts as well. In our fleece and baggy pants, we looked like just a regular couple coming in for a regular check up. We got in the car, drove, and parked like any other day.

Smacking on her gum and swiveling back and forth in her chair, the receptionist click clacked on her keyboard with her palm tree painted finger nails after making me spell out my name twice.

- Oh? How do you spell that again? O-H, you said? I don't see no O-H in here. When'd you make your appointment?

- Just last night. I called in because I was bleeding, and the nurse on the phone told me to come in this morning at 9:45.

- Well, I don't see no O-H here. Have a seat.

We sat and we sat and we sat. After forty minutes of doctors and technicians passing back and forth in the hallway, with not even a glance in our direction, looking officious and preoccupied, a young asian woman in green garbs called my name. As she walked us to the ultrasound room, she smiled and introduced herself. And I turned to her, as if to make a confession, and burst out, I lost my baby, and my eyes exploded into tears. I presented the photo of the ultrasound we had taken just two weeks earlier, of the little creature that had a heartbeat, as if to plead my case.

She probed, and we saw the image of the empty uterus and of the void where "the gestation had taken place." Having been told what we already knew, it now became a reality because someone else now knew it to be true and told us so.

After I dressed, we slowly walked to the elevator, and with a start, I realized that we had left the photo behind. Jeff, after asking if I really wanted to keep it, ran back to get it.

While waiting for the D&C, we walked to AG Ferrari down the street for lunch but really to kill time. I ordered a prosciutto sandwich, and I bit through the focaccia, mozzarella, capers, organic greens until I reached the prosciutto and slowly clamped my teeth through the thinly sliced pieces of ham. As I chewed, I felt the prosciutto
fill the crevices between my teeth and dig into my gums, and I savored each bite, seeking compensation. I wanted to load my body with all that I had foregone, as if to say, there, I am getting something out of this.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


The blood gushed out as if from a popped water balloon as soon as I sat on the toilet. Looking between my legs, I saw the pool of thin blood, whirling in a daze at the sudden exodus. Then I felt clumps of mass travel through my body canal and expel out of me, one... two... three, dollops of flesh, like lotto balls riding down the tube to claim someone's destiny.

After three plops, they stopped, and I looked down again, like a voyeur, repulsed yet drawn to see what it was that my body had created and destroyed. Unable to see through the murky red, I returned with a pair of wooden chopsticks left over from some take-out and crouched over the toilet. Dredging through the bowl, I fished out some tissues. I dredged and dredged again, looking for something that could resemble the fetus that no longer was, but all I saw were layers of bloody film like torn wet paper stuck to each other.

I read somewhere that it is advisable to bring in a sample of the expelled tissue for tests. With my chopsticks, I picked up a piece of the tissue, as I would a piece of sashimi, and imagined slipping it into a Ziploc sandwich bag, carefully trying not to drip on the lip and having to wipe it, sealing it tight, and carrying it in my purse to Dr. C's office. And pictured the bag puncturing, leaking out onto my wallet, keys, book, scraps of notes, and tissue, staining all I have. I let it drop back into the bowl and threw the chopsticks away. I put my hand on the lever -- and flushed, and watched it spiral out of reach.