My birthday falls three days after the New Year. This is convenient packaging for that quiet moment of reflection that takes us all by the balls each January 1st, even those of us without balls. Where am I? Where am I going? Am I a fabulous success or a horrible, miserable worthless excuse for a productive member of the human species? Quiet, simple, healthy reflection.

Rather than dwell in the should’s or could’s or would have’s, in the past few years I’ve taken to writing a list of things I am grateful happened to me in the previous year. The unexpected things, the things that make me so happy I could spit. For me, 2007 happened to be splitting at its seams as far as rich, tasty, new experiences go, so this year’s list was so easy there were surely more than ten. But let’s review ten.

1. Korea

Oh Korea

Without question, the most amazing thing that happened to me in 2007 was moving to Seoul, South Korea. I knew this in my bones and blood as early as March. Still, it took several months to find that feeling every single day, in every single encounter; to find a community of people to make it feel like home; to realize the profound shift in my heart and mind because of this place and its vibrance and its soul. No pun intended.

2. Photography
As a child, I spent entire Saturday afternoons perched on a high countertop next to the enlarger in my dad’s basement darkroom. He let me push the exposure button and move the prints from developer to the fixer and finally my favorite part: standing on the tall stool to hang the photos from clothespins to dry. He gave me free reign with his Olympus 35RC and rolls of B&W, even though I insisted he be my subject and pose on the front porch with my doll. In high school, he tirelessly helped me print color 8×10′s for my film school portfolio, bought me my first Pentax 35mm SLR and took me to Hunt Drug for gear. After college, he handed me his exquisite Nikon FE2 and said “Why don’t we say it’s on permanent loan?”

me by youngdoo

All of this and it took 35 years and a year overseas for me to “get” that I Like Photography. In one year, photography has brought me real friends, virtual friends, and an entire network of immediate friends from all over the world. I have been published and I have been featured. I have made projects and learned new skills. Photography has given me a focus and my learning curve this year has been tremendous. I actually don’t tune out anymore when people talk about f-stops around me. Well, not as much at least.

3. The German
In March, I met this girl. Well, I virtually met her. She emailed me about a photo I’d taken and the words I’d written with it, words that inextricably linked us in ways we’d not imagined. But as the emails grew longer, we realized that we had far more in common than that one thing that first stuck us to one another like glue. By May we were talking on the phone and by June she was on her way to Seoul for a 3-week visit that deepened not only our friendship, but my entire experience in Korea.

Ann-Kathrin

I’m not going to blahblahblaaahhhh about the internet community and its ability to bring people together, because I’ve done that enough. But I am going to say that Ann-Kathrin was one of the best and most unexpected things to come into my life in 2007. It is something I will be grateful for much longer than three sweaty, humid weeks in a tiny one room Korean apartment.

4. Money

money

We have not always been friends, Money and me. We are friends now.

5. Writing
In the seventh grade I moved the family typewriter into my bedroom to begin work on my screenplay. It was a very moving romantic comedy intended to feature a monkey, Simon LeBon of Duran Duran and the well-known actress Bess Armstrong whom I’d seen in my favorite movie of the 6th grade, High Road to China. I was a very serious middle schooler who held tightly to my Trapper Keeper, stuffed with poetry about snow, short stories about the holocaust and of course, my screenplay. Visions of New York City salons and smoking cigarettes over my beat-up typewriter danced through my head. I was going to be… A Writer!

writing

Filmmaking became my focus and later design, but I never stopped writing. This year, through a number of means, I’ve had the opportunity to flex this muscle and it has been deeply satisfying in ways I could never have anticipated. I am sorry there are no monkeys. I’ll work on that for 2008.

6. Make New Friends But Keep The Old
The problem with gypsy living is simple. You collect so many amazing people into the inner circle of your secret society, it is hard to keep track of them all.

flickr posse.jpg
fwends.jpg

Oh wait. That is actually not a problem at all.

7. My Students
My biggest hesitation about coming to Korea was putting the design work aside and being a teacher for a year. Kids, they’re pretty cool I guess. But what if I wanted to scoop my eyeballs out with spoons within a month? It’s one thing to try out something to see if you like it. ‘Tis another to fly half way across the world to a strange land to try it.

students

And I didn’t really like it at first. Or consistently. There are still days when I want to tear my hair out or better yet, throw one of them out the window. The curriculum is often maddening and there have been long stretches where it is excruciatingly boring, exhausting or repetitive. But it surprised me how much I do like it. The one constant has been the kids, the vast majority of whom make me laugh every single day I see them. Some are so tiny and smart and adorable that it hurts. And when I think about not having the opportunity for those moments every day, that hurts a little, too.

kid's textbook

8. Brass Tacks

simple life

Two suitcases + One small apartment=Life is a lot less complicated

9. Fashion
…has never been my forté. I come from a small tribe of New England hippies who like to set aside their best peasant dress for special occasions and have two pairs of shoes: their hiking boots and their dress-up hiking boots. As a result, I developed neither skill nor interest in this subject.

Korea, you had me at your $10 shoes and $13 haircuts.

fashion

I still, nine times out of ten, want to be in jeans, t-shirts and Converse like every other teenage boy my age. But now I have an arsenal of alternatives, accessories to match, a well-maintained haircut and appropriate footwear. I don’t know if this actually qualifies as “fashion”, but it is a wardrobe and that is a miracle.

10. Not Understanding a Cocking Thing
This, of course, has its obvious drawbacks, for instance not understanding a cocking thing. This occasionally presents problems when wanting one’s money back or getting lost. But overall, living in a country where I can retrieve little more than hello, thank you, yes, no, however, therefore, really and numbers from another person’s conversation, has been like turning the volume way, way down.

not understanding

The constant buzz of chatter is reduced to background noise when you are never able to engage or invest yourself, even for a moment, in the conversation next to you. When the alphabet is so vastly different that it takes me ten minutes to read one word, I am not bombarded by everything I see, everywhere I go. It is just a series of pretty pictures that are not trying to sell me anything or tell me anything. There is more space for the important things in my head when less of it is occupied by things I didn’t even want there.

Ironically, just like meditation, when you turn the external volume down, the internal volume goes straight up to 11. But that is what this year was intended to be about and that is exactly what I got.