Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thank God for the Promise of Spring!

Walking today on the way to Dongdaemun I saw something so surprising it took my breath away. Big waxy white petals were bursting out of buds on a magnolia tree. After such a long, cold, brutal Korean winter, my eyes were shocked to see such color! I've always loved spring in Korea and I'm happy that God's given me a second chance to fall in love with Korea again after I've said goodbye.

I know that spring is supposed to be the season of renewal and Easter but I've always wondered: Why is Christmas celebrated in the winter instead of the spring? Watching my pregnant co-worker get bigger and bigger over the past 5 months, it seems to me the faith it takes to carry a child all the way from conception to labor is somewhat similar to what a gardener must have waiting for tulip bulbs she has planted to sprout and bloom in April. Or what a farmer must have, literally betting his farm on the unseen crop.

It's this beautiful faith humans have in God's promise of spring that never fails to inspire me time after time. It's the irrational hope that better times are right around the corner. It's the untiring patience a parent/teacher has for the child whose "paint is not yet dry." It's the neverending search for the light of dawn in the very darkest depths of the night. It's the tremendous struggle to get up just one more time after we fall yet again. It's the painful longing for a Messiah over the centuries. It's the amazing belief that love really does conquer all.

Recently I sat/slept through BH Productions' Waiting for Godot peformed to celebrate the centenary Samuel Beckett's birth. The play hit a little too close to home for this playgoer. Here we have two adult men (acting like an old married couple) who are daily waiting for God or someone god-like to come through and make sense of their lives. Does any of this sound familiar? And to add even more misery to the depressing dish set before me, the only relief Beckett suggests comes from sleep or suicide!

Fortunately for my boyfriend and I, the agonizing wait is (somewhat) over. Our Spring has finally arrived in the form of word from Canada. I'm happy to announce that our application for permanent residency has been approved! They felt so strongly about our case that our interview requirement was waived. While we still have to pass medical and security clearances, the favorable forecast is that we will be allowed to live and work in Toronto sometime in the next 3-6 months. Even though this is a much longer wait than we had anticipated, we are still grateful to God, the Canadian officials, and the amazing support of our family and friends!

Thank God for the promise of Spring!

Monday, March 13, 2006

My Home On the Range

On earlier this month Gordon Parks died at the age of 93. Not only was he a great photographer but he was also a Kansan like me. I've always been a collector of fellow Kansans, famous, infamous and just regular folks. This interest has only grown since I moved overseas. In fact as I write this, I realize I'm wearing a T-shirt my cousin sent me that reads "Kansas State Fair-1982, GO HOG WILD!" Clearly I appreciated the gift. My favorite accessory is my "Don't Mess with Kansas Either" belt that I bought from the Paul Frank store in New York City. At any rate, methinks I've digressed. So without further ado, I submit my personal list of Kansans that ROCK, ROT and RULE.
*denotes honorary Kansan status- By definition, to be a "Jayhawker" one must be born in Kansas.

These Kansans are alive and still kickin' it! Rock on guys!
1. Melissa Ethridge-1961, Leavenworth, rock singer- hey I know first hand how hard it is to be gay and from Kansas! I have so much respect for her knowing where she's come from and the journey she's had this far. YOU GO GRRRRRL!
2. Dennis Hopper-1936, Dodge City, film actor and director- He has been in a TON of movies but I was impressed that he was both in Giant and Rebel Without a Cause and was a good friend of James Dean.
3. *Don Johnson-1949, moved to Wichita when he was 5 and also lived in Galena, television and film actor- I loved how what he changed men's fashion instantly by wearing a sport coat over a T-shirt in Miami Vice (now a movie).
4. Kirstie Alley-1951, Wichita, television and film actress. You know, Cheers?
5. Scott Heim-1966, Hutchinson, gay author of Mysterious Skin, now a movie
6. Jim Lehrer-1934, Wichita and Independence, television journalist, anchor on PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer- one of the most respected anchormen in America, known for being fair and moderating presidential debates.
7. Kansas (The band formed in 1970 by Kerry Livgren and Phil Ehart, both of Topeka)- Dust in the Wind, Carry On My Wayward Son
8. Martina McBride-1966, Sharon, country singer. I liked her Independence Day song. The roof is on fire!
9. Linda Brown (Thompson)-1943, Topeka. In 1954, this African-American 3rd grader had to walk a mile to get to elementary school despite the fact that there was one only seven blocks away. In Brown vs Topeka Board of Education the Supreme Court determined that this was illogical and unfair. This landmark decision lead to the desegregation of US public schools. It was my pleasure to meet her when I was in university.
10. Cassandra Peterson-1949, Manhattan, aka Elvira, actress- otherwise known as the Mistress of the Dark to all you goth-types out there!
11. James Reynolds- 1950, Oskaloosa, actor. Best known for Days of Our Lives, his part was the longest-running African-American character. Plus he guest-starred on Seinfeld, Dukes of Hazzard and Diff'rent Strokes.
12. Erin_Brockovich-1960, born in Lawrence, attended Kansas State University. This woman, despite her lack of a formal law school education, was instrumental in constructing a case against the $30 billion Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), of California in 1993. The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, the largest settlement ever paid in a direct action lawsuit in U.S. history. Loved the movie and Julia Roberts' portrayal of this flawed heroine!

These are Kansans, either alive or dead that I'd rather be associated with some other state...
1. *Fred Phelps-born in Mississippi! -A SOUTHERN Baptist minister who has made a career out of hate. Seriously, he hates pretty much everyone at this point.
2. Robert "Bob" Dole- 1923, Russell, U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, vice presidential candidate in 1976, sought Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988, and 1996 GOP presidential nominee. With the exception of the Freedom for Americans with Disabilities Act, the rest of his career was pretty much about keeping WASPs in power.
3. Sam Brownback -1956, Parker, US senator and the Christian right's next choice for president. Here's why you should be scared. A member of Opus Dei and the secret, exclusive Fellowship, he co-sponsored Constitution Restoration Act. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power.
4. *Carrie Nation-1846-1911, Medicine Lodge, militant crusader against illegal saloons with her hatchet. She came to my hometown to smash some bars and then had a rally at my childhood church.
5. *"Ike" Eisenhower-1890 - 1969, Abilene, five-star U.S. Army General, Supreme Allied Commander of European theater, and President of the United States. As the only general to serve as president in the 20th century, Americans started dying in Vietnam and the US began a nuclear arms race with the USSR. He overthrew the elected prime-ministers of Iran and Congo in favor of pro-American dictators (the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Col. Mobutu). He only supported the civil rights movement when he had to and sent troops into Lebanon. In my opinion, his only positive accomplishments were creating the US Interstate Highways and working behind the scenes to bring McCarthy and his communist witch-hunt to an end.
6. Marlin Fitzwater-1942, Abilene, the only press secretary to serve under two presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush). His career was spent spinning the Iran-contra affair, the Persian Gulf War and presidential vomit in Japan.

Although they are no longer among us, the legacies of these Kansans still live on!

Writers and Poets
James Langston Hughes- 1902 - 1967, Topeka and Lawrence, poet and author. I was interested to learn that, not only did he have many gay friends, that some think he was also in the closet. Damon Runyon-1884 - 1946, Manhattan, short story writer and journalist. I loved reading his stories, especially "Guys and Dolls" which later became a musical.
* Gwendolyn Brooks-1917 - 2000, Topeka, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. I first discovered her in elementary school in one of my reading books. I was so impressed that she was both African-American poet and from Kansas! Plus I really enjoyed her poetry!
Charles M. Sheldon-1857 - 1946, Topeka, minister and best-selling author. As the leader of the Social Gospel movement, he emphasized practically applying the Bible to our moral lives, instead of focusing so much on doctrine of personal redemption. What would Jesus Do? His support of women and the feminist movement set him apart from the rest.
*James Barr Fugate-1922-1995, Holyrood, writer, playwright, journalist. He was one of the first gay authors to portray gay men as well-adjusted, not self-destructive and immoral. The gay book club I belonged to in Kansas was named the Fugate Society in his honor.

Artists and Musicians
Gordon Parks-1912 - 2006, Fort Scott, photographer, writer, and motion picture director
*Charlie "Yardbird" Parker-1920 - 1955, Kansas City,MO, jazz saxophonist
John Steuart Curry-1897 - 1946, Jefferson County, artist. I love his mural of John Brown as Moses in the Kansas State Capitol.
*Frederic Remington-1861 - 1909. In 1883 he bought and worked a sheep ranch in Peabody, Kansas. Western painter
Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton-1909 - 1993, Wellsville, artist - I used to see one of her paintings in the Myers Library at Ottawa University when I went to work there every day. It was by taking an art class there that she discovered her talent as well as overcame her debilitating depression that 13 shock treatments could not cure.

Pioneers and Visionaries
*George Washington Carver-1864-1943, Minneapolis, African-American agricultural chemist who made it possible for poor share-croppers to make a living on their cotton-depleted farms. He was so brilliant! His genius is only surpassed by his desire to help his fellow man.
Amelia Earhart -1897 - 1937?, Atchison, the first woman granted a pilot's license by the National Aeronautics Association and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Her mysterious disappearance still captures our imaginations.
Karl Menninger-1893 - 1990, Topeka, psychiatrist and co-founder of the Menninger Clinic and Foundation
Jack St. Clair Kilby-1923, Great Bend, 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work as inventor of the integrated circuit and co-inventor of the pocket calculator
Walter P Chrysler-1875 - 1940, Wamego and Ellis, established the Chrysler Corporation

Film Industry
Buster Keaton-1895 - 1966, Piqua, silent film comedian. He received an Oscar for his lifelong work in comedy.
Louise Brooks- 1906-1985, Cherryville, silent film star. She was beautiful and a trendsetter.
*Jean Harlow- born in KC, MO. Somehow connected to Seneca, Kansas, this film actress, was originally named Harlean Carpentier. She was one of Marilyn Monroe's idols growing up.
Hattie McDaniel-1895 - 1952, Wichita, film actress, first African-American Academy Award winner for Gone With the Wind. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for her radio and movie careers.
*Oscar Micheaux-1884-1951, Great Bend. He was the first African-American to produce a feature-length film and the first African-American to produce a “talkie” motion picture. Director Spike Lee credits Oscar Micheaux as a film pioneer in nearly every interview he gives.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I Feel Pretty...Good!

This weekend my boyfriend and I went to see the musical West Side Story. It was the first time for him and the second time for me (I saw the movie as well). This English language production all the way from Germany was oddly all the way up in Ilsan, a suburb (of no consequence in my never to be humble opinion!) northwest of Seoul. First we rode the subway up there and then got out and walked to the performance theatre. This weekend it suddenly got cold instead of the beautiful spring weather we've been having, so that factor plus not knowing where I was going, made the walk seem very VERY long. Where we got out there seemed to be no buildings, just a park on one side of the road and a Korean cemetary on the other. Then we got to a row of apartments but still nothing was looking promising. I have to admit this Nancy was getting "ancy" because a) showtime was quickly coming upon us and b) the cold tends to constrict certain things resulting in the dire need to visit the restroom! We turned the corner after what seemed like an eternity and there saw flights of stairs leading up to the theatre!
When we got in, AnTaek got tickets while I got coffee (Americano for him, green tea latte for myself- I like to pretend I'm healthy.) and then we took turns using the bathroom. Our seats were in the second row. Get this: They were actually cheaper because they were so close. Yeah that was new to me!
The show begins and I am reminded that this piece is much more modern in style all around than the musical Grease that we saw the previous weekend. Reading the program, I was surprised to learn that West Side Story came to be at the request of the closeted movie star Montgomery Clift (sidebar-YUM!). He asked his director friend Jerome Robbins (also gay) for help in interpreting Romeo from Romeo and Juliet in a new and fresh way. With other "family" members Stephen Sondheim writing the lyrics and Leonard Bernstein composing the music, it's rainbows all around. I mean, gangsters who break out into dance before the switchblade rumble? C'mon!
But then it happens. Maria and Tony start singing "Somewhere (There's a Place for Us)" and I start tearing up. (I hate being cliche'!) The song states that just by holding each other's hand, half the journey to that utopia is completed. And it made me think of this past week and all our frustrations about not being in the place where we want to be and waiting for the news of that. And just like the song says, "there's a time for us."
It brings to mind this passage in the Bible rumoured to have been written by the wisest man in the world, King Solomon. Turned into a song written by Pete Seeger, it poetically states: There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven."
So the show ends, and I wipe my tears and we walk out into the crisp March air and the real world. As we walk, we dissect the musical, our likes and dislikes. (AnTaek liked the plot more than Grease but thought the music wasn't as fun.) Approaching the subway station to take us home, I remark with surprise that the return walk didn't seem to take as long as it did when we were going there. AnTaek turns to me and says "Sometimes the way seems longer when you don't know where you're going or how long it will take."
And buried within that statement lies the gem of perspective I was searching for all along.
All in all it was a pretty great afternoon. :)

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Waiting For a Star

It seems to me that lately my life has been all about WAITING. Thursday morning I had to meet the Academic Director to go to some silly computer training for my school. She said 10:15. I busted my butt to get there on time. She texted to say she would be a little late and apologized. Then I called her at 10:30, she said she was stuck in traffic in a taxi and would be 5 more minutes. I texted her at 10:45 to ask if I had time to grab a coffee because I was so cold. She called back to say she was almost there. At 11:00 she finally showed the wrong subway exit than she had told me. The only upside of this was that she bought my lunch at Ganga's, a great Indian restaurant.

In August 2004, after much discussion, AnTaek and I finally started working on immigrating to Canada. We knew better than to try to do it alone so we got help from people in the business. It was a ton of paperwork and documentation collection. Our application was all done in February 2005. We were told that it would be better to apply to the Canadian consulate in Buffalo, New York because there was a processing time of 1 year as opposed to the Seoul Canadian consulate, where the wait is 2-2 1/2 years.

This summer we prematurely tried to move to Toronto so we could do other things while waiting for this application approval. That included lots of waiting for AnTaek's student visa applications to be processed. When we were unsuccessful, I got a job in Seoul and flew to Sydney to wait for my work visa from the Korean consulate there. Then I moved in with AnTaek and started working at a private English language school.

As you know, February has come and gone. It's now been a year of waiting and still there is no word on our application. Every day this past month I've woken up wondering if maybe today I'd get the email that said "Yes! Yes! We want you!" Every night I come back to check my email for the same message. Every candle I've blown out, wishbone I've broken, falling star I've seen, coin I've thrown and prayer I've said has had the same message: end this waiting and let us move to Toronto and start our lives.

While we've been waiting, there has been some pressure. AnTaek's family keeps asking him when he is moving and his sister has given us two more months in this apartment. Meanwhile the real estate guy keeps coming by to show the place to prospective tenants. I've been wondering where I'll be in April, when my cousin gets married in Texas or in May when my best friend at SFS gets married. My brother wants to schedule time to help me move our things from storage into our apartment in Toronto. And then my family is making plans to get together at Thanksgiving and I really want to be there for the first time in 5 years.

I've really been wondering what the cosmic lesson to all this waiting is. I reflect on the early Israelites who were told to wait in the wilderness for 40 years before they could settle in the Promised Land. During that time of waiting in limbo, they learned how to fully rely on God. He took care of all their needs. Am I supposed to learn reliance on God?

Sometimes I think God answers our prayers not with a yes or no but with "not at this time," in otherwords, wait. I got an email from a friend who has been waiting to adopt a child she and her husband love very dearly. Clearly it's God's will that this child be with her, but it does seem cruel to put them through all the heartache and waiting. Is this supposed to make them appreciate the adoption more? Develop more patience they already have demonstrated?

But things could always be worse. I recently received another email another couple also immigrating to Canada. They have just found out they have to wait five years to apply for immigration because one of them had a conviction of driving under the influence five years ago. That kind of news would really crush my spirit.

So during this waiting God has been sending me messages to keep up my spirits. I want to share them as it might help someone else out there who finds themselves WAITING. First there is this song that my dad often used to sing which I believe is derived from Psalms 37:7-9. It's been playing in my head on repeat! I think it's from the Messiah but I'm not sure.
Oh wait on the Lord, Wait patiently for him, And he will give thee Thy heart's desires.

Another little ditty that's been an earworm comes from a childhood movie, Pinoccchio, surprisingly written by Louis Armstrong.
If your heart is in your dream, No request is too extreme,When you wish upon a star, As dreamers do.

Next there is this scripture I read in my daily devotional on a particularly hard day. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8)

And finally a quote from Confucius that a departing friend gave me:

Do not be desirous of having things done quickly. Do not look at small advantages. Desire to have things done quickly prevents their being done thoroughly. Looking at small advantages prevents great affairs from being accomplished.