Friday, July 24, 2015

So, America needs to wake up

I usually don't use strong, angry language. Nor, do I often tackle divisive issues. This isn't the place to talk about politics, religion, or when I am getting married. This is a place where I think thoughts, write them down, and sometimes spell them correctly. But, today, I can't. I can't do any of that. 

America needs to wake the fuck up.  We are the only country who has mass shootings so often that when it comes onto my newsfeed, my calloused heart has no more tears of sadness. Just rage. We are literally the only country who refuses to take a stand on gun control, racial profiling, anything else moderately difficult to swallow. The first time I wrote a poem about guns, I was angry and sad and hurting. I was shocked that a human could walk into an elementary school and kill children while our government hemmed and hawed and murmured, "What an awful tragedy this is. Let's try and change something about how people can procure weapons....Oh, no? No, we can't do that? Okay. Let's just wait until the next one. Maybe then it will be enough." (Obviously, I am paraphrasing. I realise that everyone was heartbroken. But, really, how many times can our hearts break before it stops beating?)

Then, after the shootings in South Carolina clearly, CLEARLY fueled by racism and could have been prevented if one person among many had stood up to this guy and said, "Hey, Dyl, maybe killing people isn't the best way to showcase your bigotry. It just seems a bit final, don't you think?" So, after that shooting, I wrote another poem a bit more caustic, tongue in cheek. Righteous anger didn't work, so maybe some levity to a too familiar topic might reach the people who need to hear it. But, since I am a small time soap box stander in Busan, South Korea, the probability of someone who can actually do something about it to hear and give a damn is very slim. 

I don't have the answers. Well, I do have an answer. Maybe, talk to Australia about their gun regulations. Or, dismantle the insane presence of the NRA. Yes, we have the right to bear arms. But, we also have the right to walk into school without going through a metal detector first, or sit in a house  of worship or a movie theatre without the fear that the guy next to me might think that this is the only way to achieve something. Basically, we need to find a way to make some real progress, NRA notithstanding. Because, this shit is not cutting it.  

So,  here are my poems. Like them, or don't like them. I don't really care. That's not true. I care a lot. But, hopefully they can reach someone who is in the position to do something about it.

When (Audio File Here)

When I was in university and
Thought of the kind of teacher I would
Be, I thought
Desk jumping Dead Poet’s Society
I thought
Akilah and the Bee
I thought
Life lessons from Feeny.

But, now I read newspapers with words like:
Shattered, Why? Agony, Why?, Massacre, Why? Senseless, Why? Unspeakable Why?
Why? Why? Why?

And, I think to myself, in the shadowed place where
private thoughts go to war,
would I
hide behind the door?
Would I
Pin him to the floor?
Would I
Plead with him for more

Mercy (1) for your childhood
Bullies and break ups riddle your motives
It doesn’t get better, but it does get easier.
A cold shoulder doesn’t deserve a shotgun.
Breathe, son. Start penning poems ‘cuz
Ink stains less than blood

Mercy (2) for your masculinity
Man up does not mean you can’t hurt.
Man hood does not mean dominance.
Be a man does not mean show anger instead of sadness
We’ve indoctrinated you with antiquated ideals and we’re
surprised when you achieve them.
It’s okay to be weak.
A cry for help sounds braver than a bullet.

Mercy (3) for the lives you take
These children are
Brothers and sons
Sisters and daughters
They’re not numbers on a tally sheet
--though the name list grows longer—
Crossing t’s and dotting i’s,
You sign their names in their own blood.
You conclude your addition with your own

Mercy (4) suicide
You kill yourself because there’s no other way to deal with your pain, your hatred, your guilt.

And, what does that shot taste like?
Hope that is all goes away?
Faith that it fades into nothing?
Fear that it doesn’t?
Does it look like revenge?
Does it echo of your own cries?
Does it smell like peace?
Does it feel finished?

When will it be enough, America?
When children play “lockdown” like hide and go seek?
When teachers wield guns as easily as chalk?
When sad little boys squeeze triggers like teddy bears thinking, “Tomorrow will be
better. Tomorrow will be better.”

Or, is it when tomorrow never comes?

Unspeakable (Audio file Here)

Loner. Check. Well-liked. Check. Isolated. Check.
Don’t mind me; I’m just playing “White Shooter Media Coverage” BINGO.
Tragedy, oh, there’s another one.
Unspeakable. Bingo.

There it is, the word on everyone’s tongue.
How can this happen?  They say. It’s unthinkable.

Let’s just play a quick English vocab game: always, usually, sometimes, never.
White shooters are always troubled.
White shooters usually procure their weapons legally.
White shooters sometimes target their victims.
White shooters rarely apologise.

If that boy was any browner than wonderbread,
    or the victims a little more WASPish--
this would be terrorism, and the nation would be readying their
tar and their feathers.

Speak the fuck up, America.
There is a tiny window of time between
mourning the deceased and not dwelling on the past.
It’s just enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute.”
Then, it’s gone.

Now is the time for prayer.
Now is the time for speech.
Now is the time for action.
Now is the time for all of that, because

Now is the fucking time.

Monday, July 20, 2015

So, I have a tossed salad of thoughts today

Feel free to join me for this more or less disjointed smattering of observation. I haven’t really had time to sort through each of these things individually. Ergo, I haven’t been able to write a lengthier post.
I mean, after all. This is a blog, for goodness sake, Botsford. You get, like, three paragraphs max before people decide they could while away their time elsewhere.
Here we go:
The things you miss the longer you’re away from home get odder and more obscure the longer you’re gone. For example, last night on my flight from Fukuoka, Japan back to Busan, I grabbed a New York Times. And, it isn’t like I can’t find the New York Times online. But, the feel of the newspaper in my hands, the little remnants of ink on my fingertips, the smell of it even, just tossed me down that vast, stark hole of nostalgia. It knocked me back to a smallish apartment in Waukesha, WI where I spent so much time perusing the morning paper while eating cereal and drinking my coffee getting ready to don my teacher pants in hopes of sharing life with my high school students…and maybe some literature. It knocked me back to a place where I barely knew myself. And, this newspaper smell, just for a second, erased everything in the past five years. Then the giggles of the students in the next room brought me back to the here and the now, the woman I am, dreams of the woman I want to be. It is always a shock when the mundane becomes profound—a welcomed consequence.*
*Phrase taken from the novel The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth.

I have been trying to write this next post for ages, but I just haven’t done it or gotten around to it, which is an excuse. I know.
Men are great. Like, seriously, men have been some of the most influential humans in my life. I have an amazing father. He would schedule his work trips and schedule around my sister and my various activities to make sure that he always made my games or her plays. And, even as I’ve grown, he and I have had some rough patches, but we have grown much closer because of it. But, really, the men whom I’ve encountered whilst living in Korea have been just absolutely stellar. Boot and I have formed a relationship in which I’ve always felt at home. Ben is a very weird mix of older brother advice giver to younger brother silliness. Tom was with me at my most vulnerable while in Cambodia. And, there are so many more. If I didn’t name you by name, it doesn’t mean I don’t think about you all the time. These are just three who happen to be on my mind today. Tomorrow, it may be a completely different set of people. It is imperative that we, as humans, work together to create safe and equal spaces to share with one another. If you haven’t seen Emma Watson’s address to the United Nations, crawl out from under that rock under which you’ve been living and watch it here. Like right now. I will wait. I just want to shout out to the men in my life that have helped me grow and support me as I continue to change and grow.

The last one is something with which I often find myself struggling. 

I don’t do a very good job letting the people in my life know how important they are to me. I am not very vocal with my affirmations, I just assume that people know that I think highly of them. I think that this is something that we have sort of lost with the introduction of immediacy of text messages and facebook. If I want to talk to my best friend in D.C., I can send her an email, kakao message, facebook message, and skype message within a matter of seconds. And, she will probably message me back within 12 hours. This era of instant gratification has made me become lax in taking specific time to let people know I care about them. I would spend hours in University writing little pick me-ups for my residents. Or, I would spend work time in high school writing notes to friends in which I would always add something along the lines of “Hey, I am glad you’re my friend.” Because our communication wings have been so proverbially clipped, we’ve forgotten how to interact with the humans around us. So, I plan to work on noticing things. I want to affirm the humans in my life. If we’re friends, chances are I think really highly of you and care very deeply about you. I don’t really know how to be an acquaintance just a really, really good friend.

Have a happy day everybody. High fives all around.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

So, I said some words in Seoul

A few months back, my friend L had asked some folks to perform at an event for Korean adoptees and Korean adoption awareness. HERE is where you can find out more information on that. I really struggled with this task because I am, you know, neither Korean nor adopted. My only visible minority is being a woman. And, I suppose, people can make educated guesses about my hair cut. But, I was lucky enough to have two very engaged parents who loved me even when I was always dirty and/or falling out of trees. When I asked for guidance on what to write, L reassured me that everything was gonna be okay, and that I should focus on identity, what makes me me.

“Oh, okay. I can do that. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.”


I spend so much time inside my own head that I forget that other people live inside of their own heads and not mine. I spend so much time analysing how I connect with this person or how does my relationship with that person contribute to my definition of self. So, several months ago I sat down to parse out what makes me me. And, I realised that I am just a sack of cliches and metaphors. But, I think that is okay.

I think that on this three and a half year intense journey of self-discovery, I just have been living the changes, tweaking my sense of self until it fits into the readily prepared box of identity to which I so desperately cling. I have sat down and figured out motivations for specific change, but I haven’t really looked back at everything and measured my growth.

So, in preparation for my pieces, I took up the arduous task of pinpointing when, where, and why I changed. Break-ups, usually, were the most influential motivators of change. Basically, I tried to figure out a way to never feel that way ever again (either breaker-upper or breaker-uppee: neither are a particularly fun experience). In these turbulent moments, I could only measure progress by observing the constants in my life. So, my pieces focused on those things: family, self-awareness, and recognition of self-worth. That last one took a while to sort out, but once I realised that I deserved happiness, I have focused on relationships that celebrate that.

I decided to write from three perspectives of self: woman, child, adult. For my piece on woman identity, I reprised the poem sea glass. For my child self, I thought about what I wish I had been told when I was younger to make things easier for my genuinely awkward self (Dear Me: A letter to my ten-year-old self). And, as an adult, I unpacked what it means to be an adult and not have my shit together in the way my 16-year-old self romanticised, (0 Safety in Numbers 0).

So, I had all of these bad boys written by June 28th. I had exactly one job between Sunday and Saturday. Memorise. Give me a Shakespearian script, I will have my lines with proper intonation and iambic pentameter in like five days. Give me monologues, done. But, when it comes to my own poetry there is a block there. I can’t seem to get the words out in the right way (my guess is the logical part in my brain is always analysing, thinking about performance, delivery, understanding, whereas the emotional part is screaming, “Just open your damn mouth, Botsford.”) So, needless to say, when K walked into the hotel room on the Saturday night of the show, I was underprepared and now self-conscious of practising in front of a friend. Only option was to go get a snack and beer and hope for the best.

As the show came around, I was the third performer and the second poet. The first two acts were great, so I was a walking bundle of nerves as I stepped onto the stage. I will always be my own harshest critic. I performed some poems better than others and some poems worse. But, overall, I was really happy with what happened on stage. Then, there were some amazing performers after me. There was a band, beatboxer, storyteller, poetry, and so much more.

At intermission, I had met a human who was great. Immediately, he and I had a baseline of trust (helped along by citron soju). And, that is what I think is so important about some of the relationships I have made here in Korea. There is less bull shit,less trying to impress others. And, in this very special event, there was a microcosm of shared experience (international adoption) into which I was graciously welcomed despite my non-adopted, non-Korean status.

As I was walking back into the venue, I had overheard some people talking about my poetry. And, one of the people said something like, “Oh, man, I just love her voice.” Someone else spoke up and said, “I know. But, do you think they identify as she? Imma ask them.” And, in that moment, I realised how phenomenal of a community this was. Although I identify as a woman, I definitely like to play with gender and try to achieve androgyny. I turned around and said, “Yes, I do use feminine pronouns, but I am bursting with excitement that you gave a damn.” Ze responded, “Well, gender is a spectrum, and I respect you and your work enough to make sure I get it right.”

That interaction reminded me that family is all around. Family, not in the sense of mom, dad, two kids and a puppy, but family as a group of humans who love and respect each other enough to just give a damn. Family can be lifelong or it can be for a second. What matters is the safety net, the feeling of trust, and knowledge that when you fall, someone will always catch you.

With no further adieu, here are the poems I read this weekend: (If enough people comment/message, I will attach either video or audio of me reading these poems. I just don’t have the technology on my school computer.)

sea glass
My vagina warrior lived inside of me
pressed down and sodden
like the dregs of yesterday’s coffee grounds.
On a ship in a glass bottle,
I admired her—
         A piece of decoration.
The beliefs of not good
not beautiful
chain her to the mast,
splayed her, restrained her
in a way that rendered her
         defenseless    and
to the onslaught of
wave after wave of perfection—
She will never be
She will never be
She will never be
My vagina warrior fought these
She rallied the
         force of her arms,
         power of her legs
and the cuffs opened
not with a
but with the
sound of the oppressed.
The sonic sound shattered the glass.
She refused my

She defied definition.
She created discomfort
to make me fucking feel.
         something      anything
My vagina warrior turned to me,
not with rage
but with
because I’d kowtowed to
rules and    opinions and
         external pressures
changed my self to fit into
glass bottle—broken
though it may be—
with its missing pieces
and jagged edges
meant to cut me
and keep me from feeling
My vagina warrior stepped inside of
kissed my edges smooth,
and together became sea glass.
We entered life
refusing to be a
         piece of it—
but instead living wholly and beautifully as

Dear Me
A letter to my 10-year-old self
Number one: Drink milk
It is not gross.
And, really, do not listen to your sister.     
Chocolate milk does not make you sick.
She just wants it for herself.

Number two: Don't be anything less than
Kids say things to you.
Don’t listen, Roo.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
When you change yourself to be less than, you lose the greater you.                          

Number three: Be graceful
Be graceful with your words.
Be graceful in breaking hearts.
Be graceful in giving yours away.
Be graceful in letting things go.

Number four: Be kind
You only meet people once.
You have exactly one shot.
Be respectful.
Spend time asking instead of answering..

Number five: Give, but don’t be afraid to take
Your heart is so big.
You want to share and help and teach.
But, know that taking is okay, too.
Let people help you.
Let people in.
It doesn’t make you weak.
It makes you learn the value of being human.

Number Six: Walk from time to time
You’re always moving from place to place
You spend so much time running from both problems and solutions
Slow down, baby girl.

Number seven: It’s okay to be afraid
Just, find fears that are worth it.
Know that fear is just a moment.
Feel it. Live it. Be it.
It will pass and
Your feelings are valid.

Number eight: Believe in luck
Sometimes, that’s all you have.

Number nine: Trust
Sometimes, you will fail and sometimes others fail you. .
But, I know that your heart is brave enough and your mind is big enough.
I guarantee that trust it worth it.  

Number ten: Focus on what you love
You are going to love so much in this world.
Chase it, kid. It’s the most important thing we’ll ever do.

0 Safety in Numbers 0

I only know two numbers.

One--a social security blanket tucked
neath my chin reminding me of
where I’ve been.

Two, a pass portal to all the places I’ve yet to go.

They both feel like home.

Neither feels like home.

The only home I feel is
a space halfway across the Arctic circle--
the exact middle between here and there.
And if I stretch just far enough, I can live half lives
in hopes of making me whole.
The only home I feel is
in a metal bird chasing the clouds
because I’m neither here nor there..
I am the journey of the travelled,
a wish on a shooting star,
a wave of child who just happened to look up.

I am Ms. Botsford.

I am 캐서린Teacher.

I am.

I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a teacher.
I am present.

I am a wanderer, a poet, a lover, a teacher
I am movement.

I’ve moved through many Katies and Kates.
I am my mother’s daughter. My father’s dove. My sister’s
They’ve known me longer than I’ve known myself.
They’ve seen me change.
They’ve helped me don identities, and take them off again when they didn’t work.
They’ve taught me right isn’t winning.
They’ve given me family.

I’ve moved through many countries.
I am Cambodia’s gazer. Japan’s climber. Korea’s
They’ve known me briefly but deeply.
They’ve seen me stare in awe at their complexities.
They’ve helped me contemplate how small I really am.
They’ve taught me love is greater than hate.
They’ve given me family.

My blanket stretches, trying to cover all of me.
To keep me secure. To keep me from falling.
To keep me from cold. To keep me home.

My portal opens wide. I pass
into adventure. Into exploration.
Into questions. Into answers.
Into nothing. Into everything.
Boldly and without reservations.

I pass.