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.)
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
chain her to the mast,
splayed her, restrained her
in a way that rendered her
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.
My vagina warrior turned to me,
not with rage
because I’d kowtowed to
rules and opinions and
changed my self to fit into
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
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.
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 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.