Very late PSA: I’m going to Seoul as an English teacher with EPIK next week…
…and sometimes I wonder how I’m going to make friends with my elementary Korean skills.
After all, so much of our personalities is conveyed through our words. As a writer and English teacher, the very foundation of my career is diction and syntax. It’s a skill that I’ve honed for my entire life and a tool that I use to convey the many shades of Kylie that I have to offer.
A HUGE part of my personality is my ability make jokes or dish out sass like free chicken samples at a food court Panda Express.
I can make people laugh in other languages, too.
Just… not always for the reasons I intended.
FLASHBACK: Kylie’s Last Korean Lesson (via Skype)
Kylie: So I tried to make Korean seaweed soup for my dad, but it came out really watery. I went to H-Mart and there were too many kinds of seaweed so I just picked one. (Shows teacher a picture of the seaweed aisle at H-Mart).
Teacher: (begins laughing hysterically)
Kylie: … What?
Teacher: (continues to laugh hysterically)
Kylie: WHAT, teacher, WHAT?
Teacher: THAT’S the seaweed you used?!
Kylie: It’s wrong?
Teacher: (slams forehead on desk, still laughing hysterically)
Kylie: YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHICH ONE I PICKED. HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL OF THESE ARE WRONG?
Teacher: (starts crying laughing)
Kylie: TEACHER PLZ
Teacher: Kylie-Ssi, those are seaweed sheets for kimbap and rice. (Pastes two pictures into our shared google doc)
What I used:
What I was supposed to use:
Kylie: …. no wonder it came out looking like sludge.
Teacher: (dies of laughter. RIP I need a new Korean teacher now)
… My point is, I am unable to express a vital part of my personality in Korean, at least for now.
So, up until I become fluent in Korean, will the only people in Korea who truly know me for who I am be English-speaking foreigners? Will everyone else only know a watered-down, baby-talking version of me?
At first, my answer was a resounding “YES” that motivated me to study Korean even harder.
But then, I thought about the interactions I’ve had with my students and foreign friends of different English-language abilities.
There’s Eugenia, in my beginner English class. I don’t know her nuanced thoughts on American politics and race relations, but I know that she’s punctual and dedicated despite being the lowest-level student in the class. I know that she’s got a funny side, because she saw me on the train after class and sat across from me, staring aggressively, until we finally made eye contact and laughed together when I jumped in surprise.
Then there’s Jonathan, another beginner student who can’t really pronounce the letters “s” or “z” but sits at his table 5 minutes before class and plays scales on a black violin.
Are my interactions with these people less meaningful because they’re limited by language? Are they less “real” than the interactions I have with native English speakers? Are the things we share with each other actually watered-down and inauthentic?
I think that perhaps, when we don’t speak each others’ languages as well as we might like to, what we see is not a lesser part of each other but a different part. Perhaps we see a facet of someone that we might have overlooked when distracted by all the vacuous words so often tossed in the air. There’s a sort of innocence, or maybe honesty, to paring down our words to the bare minimum. There’s nothing to hide behind.
A wild Kylie crawls out from a cave, even paler than before (which is really a feat, since she was already a bed sheet, so just imagine that her skin is literally translucent), hair untamed (not that hard to imagine), clothes tattered and squinting in the blinding sun, holding something triumphantly above her head, baby-Simba-the-opening-scene-of-the-Lion-King style. The object in her arms is blinding white, reflecting the sun. Upon closer inspection it appears to be… 320 typed pages?
“I FINISHED IT!” she screams, voice weak from a year of disuse. “I FINISHED MY THESIS!”
So that’s where I’ve been the past year.
One of the perks of being a creative writing major is that your thesis gets to be a creative project instead of a year-long analysis of Renaissance literature or a detailed report of your experiments poking C. elegans under a microscope. My thesis was a fantasy novel about a boy who takes a train to purgatory. I’m in the process of querying agents who will potentially try to help me publish it.
Here’s actual footage of agents rejecting me:
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t spend ALL of my free time writing. You can really only write for so many hours in a day before you forget how to speak English. The thing about creative writing is that, as fun as it can be, it’s mentally draining. I didn’t exactly curl up in bed after a long day of class and say “You know what I feel like doing? Winding down by cranking out 3,000 words of an emotionally-charged murder scene which I will have to research extensively.” So I made time for other things. You know, for inspiration.
I started the year by flying into Atlanta early for International Student Orientation, where I hung out with my amazing and brilliant freshmen mentees.
I did lots of fun things with my friends, including but not limited to: attending Braves games, riding tandem bikes in the rain, eating too much Korean BBQ, playing tipsy twister, and hosting a Halloween party.
My fantastic roommates, Giang and Sarah, made our apartment (otherwise known as the Castle of Dreams) feel like home.
For spring break, my friends and I drove to Gatlinberg, TN, for some hiking and general tomfoolery. This was our destination mostly because I informed them that I am an actual vampire who hates the beach, so we opted out of the more “traditional” spring break cities because I have the best friends ever.
I can honestly say my senior year was my favorite year of college. This was mostly because I focused my energy on things that truly mattered to me and people who care about me. But now…
Except not really.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my travels, it’s that real love doesn’t fade across time zones. People who are truly meant to be in your life will always be there, no matter how far away you are, what sort of trauma you’re trudging through, or what forces are trying desperately to pull you apart.
It sucks not having hugs on demand, but I never lose sight of how lucky I am to have people who love me all around the world. My time at Emory isn’t “over” because I’ll carry every part of it with me every day. Graduation is not an endpoint for me, because I believe that nothing ever truly ends.
… Did you like that last bit?
(Yes, Kylie, that was lovely)
Well great! Because that’s actually a quote from a story of mine that is being published in a few short weeks!
(I’m really good at subtle transitions, as you can see)
One of my short stories is being published in the spring edition of The Puritan, an online literary magazine based in Toronto. This is exciting because it’s the first time anyone has PAID ME for my writing. I’ll send out another blog post when that gets published soon, but I wanted to get this out first rather than writing one SUPER MEGA BLOG POST ABOUT EVERYTHING.
Another thing I did this year is a lengthy analysis of Mulan (yes, the Disney film) for my English class. If you’re interested in what Mulan has to do with racism, feminism, orientalism, etc. then take a look!
Zoe Sugg, an English internet celebrity known for her makeup tutorials and funfetti cupcake recipes, published her debut novel, Girl Online, in 2014. The YA romance discussing cyber-bullying and mental health sold 78,109 copies in its first week on shelves, more than any debut novel since 1998. Sugg’s name appeared on both the New York Times and Amazon Best Seller Lists. The only problem?
Sugg didn’t write the book, and the whole world knows it.
Sugg hired a ghost writer named Siobhan Curham to write Girl Online, and hid this information until after publication.Her novel’s success was practically guaranteed by Sugg’s platform of 5,000,000 (now 9,000,000) subscribers to her Youtube channel.
Sugg is not the first and certainly not the only celebrity who knows their name will sell products and capitalizes on the loyalty of their fan base. But as a writer, I take issue with the practice of purchasing a spot on the Best Seller List, a goal that some people spend their lives trying to achieve.
And there lies the fatal flaw in the logic of every celebrity who needs some “help” writing their book: the ideas are mine, so it doesn’t matter if I have some help with the writing part.
On the left is a note on my phone of the many story ideas I have throughout the day. Some of these have panned out into great stories, some were fleeting ideas that I haven’t touched since.
I have 23 of these notes saved on my phone.
In short, I have a lot of ideas.
And I’m not afraid to post them on the internet because I know that these ideas by themselves are worthless. Coming up with ideas is the easy part. I’d even say it’s the fun part of writing. Seeing a story play out like a movie in your head, dreaming of who plays the main character in the film adaptation, fantasizing about the gray rain and flickering streetlights in the dramatic fight scene at the climax of the story…
None of those things make you a writer.
What makes you a writer is the painstaking process of translating those cinematic ideas onto paper in a way that makes your readers see the same look of despair in your main character’s eyes when his brother dies, and feel the wet pavement scrape his knees when he falls to the ground. It’s the task of describing the indescribable, trying to put words to things that you know transcend all words.
What makes you a writer is spending all summer on a draft, staying up until 2am and typing while your roommate sleeps, then burning the draft and starting from scratch the next day.
What makes you a writer is the influx of rejection letters from publishers and the will to keep sending out your stories to be spit on and tossed back to you in crumpled paper balls. It’s the waiting game that gnaws at your stomach until you can’t eat anymore because you’re always waiting for a letter in the mail, an email, constantly refreshing to see if your submission status has changed from “Received” to “In-Progress” to “Rejected.”
Whether Sugg’s ghostwriter wanted acknowledgment for her work or not is irrelevant. Curham’s distaste for fame doesn’t make Sugg any more deserving of the money she made or her spot on the Best Seller List. It only means that two people were complacent in an inherently deceptive money-making scheme.
I’m not arguing that Sugg is a bad person. In fact, using her fame to teach young people about bullying and mental health is admirable. She deserves every single one of her near-9-million Youtube subscribers because her videos are fun, entertaining, and uplifting.Even I subscribe to her and watch her videos. I appreciate all that she’s done to break down the stigma surrounding panic attacks and anxiety, and how her bright disposition never fails to make me smile.
But I know that her fame doesn’t make her flawless, and even though I like her, I will not blindly defend her.
Being famous for one skill does not entitle you to fame in all other areas of life, and does not make it moral for you to bypass all the hard work that someone without your fame would have to put in to get the same results.
Then an anonymous twitter user outed Rowling, and The Cuckoo’s Calling shot to #1 on Amazon Kindle, the Apple Bookstore, Barnes and Noble, and Nook Best Seller Lists once people realized the Galbraith was actually Rowling.
My point is that once you’re famous, that fame is inescapable. Any product with Sugg’s name on it will sell. That doesn’t make it immoral for her to benefit from her fame by pursuing new projects, but it becomes immoral when she thinks that her fame is an excuse to skip the hard work that comes with writing a novel because she can afford to pay someone to do it for her.
Though her intentions may have been good, by taking credit for a novel which is not hers, Sugg teaches her young audience that if you’re not good at something, paying someone else to do it for you and pretending that you did it yourself is the next best thing. She teaches them that skills such as writing, which people spend lifetimes trying to master, can be outsourced without consequence, and that having good ideas is enough to succeed, never mind having the drive to actually execute them.
It’s a step in the right direction, though I can’t help but think of all the aspiring writers who don’t have the luxury of an in-house editor and guaranteed book deal. Any other writer would be forced to write their novel independently, and if a publisher didn’t like it, they’d receive a terse rejection email and that would be the end of it. No editor holding their hand, correcting their grammar, offering chapter-by-chapter critiques. The same process that every other writer in the world has to suffer through. Minus, of course, the built-in platform of devoted readers waiting for a sequel to a beloved book that their favorite “author” didn’t actually write.
Now Zoe Sugg’s younger brother and fellow Youtube celebrity Joe Sugg is releasing a graphic novel in September titled Username: Evie.
Unlike his sister, Sugg readily admits that he did not work independently on the novel, crediting a team of 4 other people who worked on writing, lettering, colors, and drawing. So what did Sugg himself do? The “story/characters,” he says.
“As you may have guessed,” Sugg continues on Twitter, “Graphic novels aren’t a one man job. If I did it all on my own it wouldn’t be out until 2070 and would be rubbish.”
If that’s the case, Joe, then why is your name the only one on the cover? And for the love of God, stop referring to it as “my book.”
Subscribing makes me smile! 🙂 Hit the green “follow” button on the right.
Yesterday I came back to work, ready to unpack, sweep, and possibly spray another round of bedbug spray over my suite before the students came back on the bus, only to find that my keys were locked in the office and no one could let me in. I sat by the front desk and started reading (I’m halfway through I Know This Much is True) when a coworker sat next to me and said, “Kylie, what is your dream?”
I think writers, by definition, are big dreamers. I spend more time inside my imagination than outside of it. I’m also a massive and unapologetic optimist, so I can only imagine the brightest future for myself and everyone around me.
But I also know that life never goes exactly how you expect it to. As much as I like to make lists and plan everything down to the last nanosecond, I also know that learning to accept surprises gracefully and without (too much) complaining is the only way to be happy. So my dream isn’t as specific as living in California with a K-Pop star husband and a permanent spot on the New York Times Best Seller List.
“My dream is to be happy,” I said, “and to solve more problems in the world than I create.”
The latter part of my dream is a quote from a Vlogbrothers video that I can’t seem to find, but I think this should be everyone’s goal in life.
I remember an episode of Arthur from when I was little where Binky Barnes wished that he’d never been born, so one fairy-godmother-like character showed him what the world would be like if he didn’t exist. She showed him all the trash in the park that was blowing around in the wind because he was always the one who picked it up. I’m sure there were much more profound differences in the non-Binky-Barnes world, but I can’t remember them. But the message stuck with me:
Above all else, I hope to live and impact the people around me in such a way that, had I never been born, the world would be a slightly darker place.
If I can find a way to do that, I’ll call my life a success.
Imagine that you’re 20 years old, starting your third year of college as a Creative Writing Major, and justifying your $30,000 loans to your parents with daydreams of making the New York Times Best Seller List.
You know the statistics. You know that most books never sell more than 200 copies. Still, you imagine the day when your book sales explode and suddenly CNN wants to interview you, Steven Spielberg wants to option the movie rights, and the royalties not only save you from a lifetime of debt but let you buy your own bigger-than-a-closet apartment in New York and a house on Cape Cod for your parents. Even when the guy who took you to the symphony last week won’t answer his phone, even when you take your Chinese final with a 102 degree fever, you exude hope from this beautiful, foolish aspiration.
After all, you’re still young. You have at least 50 years of good mental capacity left, and odds are you can crank out some half-decent prose by then. You’ve published a story or two in some magazines with a decent circulation. You have a pretty face that can probably sell books. Teachers praise your work. Rejection letters hardly phase you because you know still have so much time.
But in the back of your mind, there’s still a massive storm cloud hovering at the fringes: what if you don’t make it? What if one day you wake up and you’re 40, only a handful of people have ever read your work, suddenly you’re no longer young and time seems a lot less infinite than it did before?
You look at disgruntled semi-famous writers in their late 30’s and feel sorry for them but keep your distance because their bitter attitudes clash with your shiny optimism. But deep down you know that in 20 years you might be just like them, and statistically, you probably will be. Dreams of becoming famous both drive you and haunt you. The foundation of your happiness is an irrational hope, and you wonder what will happen when it’s gone.
But you’re determined. You write stories every night and hate them by morning, then re-write them, re-name all the characters, change the setting from rural Japan to a New York train car and find that you still hate it. A few stories survive, and you send them to every magazine you can find, using all your ink to print manuscripts, all your saliva to seal envelopes. You drop them in the mailbox and begin the game of waiting six months for someone in a tiny office across the country to mail you back a quick and impersonal rejection slip on a half a sheet of paper.
But you’re still determined not to fail, so you research how books become best-sellers. Every website tells you that a platform is paramount, so you start a blog. The blatant self-promotion makes you cringe because like most writers, you’re a bookworm, and like most bookworms, you prefer to stay in the shadows. You wanted to sell your writing, not yourself, but you now understand that the publishing world is a business, and you are a brand.
You’ve maxed out on federal student loans, so you apply for private ones. By the time you graduate, you’ll owe well over $50,000. You consider teaching English abroad, even though you hate teaching, but it’s all you’re qualified for. You research part-time jobs to see what will pay the most and give you the most time to write. Any job is just a way to kill time until your debut novel comes out and pays off all your loans.
Your parents support you, but you can tell from the way they look at you that they’re worried. They don’t want you to be like them, arguing over which bills to pay late while their daughter sits at the top of the stairs and listens. They don’t want you to have a child who worries if she can afford to go back to college for her senior year. They say they just want you to be happy, but you know it’s hard to be happy when you might lose your house at any moment.
You stay up until 3:00am writing your novel because it’s the only consistent source of happiness in your life, but every day it seems more pointless. You’re better off selling short stories or making Youtube videos to build your platform. No one will read your first novel because no one knows you, and no one cares who you are.
You decide to become a translator. You even get the “Declaration of Major” form from the Chinese department and check the blasphemous box saying “Cancel My Previous Major.” You’ll switch legal documents from Spanish to English to Chinese and back again, making enough to pay off your loans in 5 years instead of 15. You think of your post-graduation apartment, this time not the size of a large port-o-potty but a small bedroom with hot water and free parking. You imagine buying your first car and taking vacations to Thailand, drinking Mango juice on the beach.
You also imagine your characters, like insects trapped in amber, frozen in their journeys on the day you closed the word document and never opened it again. You see yourself at age 30, looking away as you pass every book store, hating the author’s names printed on the dust jackets. Even though you stop writing, your novel plays out like a movie in your dreams. Storm clouds still rumble in your brain, but this time the question is different. They no longer ask, “What if you don’t make it?” but “What if you do?”
You throw the “Declaration of Major” form in the recycling bin.
You realize that if a 2055 version of you got in a time machine and appeared in your bedroom to say, “No one but your Mom will buy your books. Critics will say your first novel is better as toilet paper than reading material,” you would still write. While you would love for the world to read your stories, you don’t write for other people. You write because you simply cannot imagine a life in which you are not a writer.
This realization is liberating. The daunting question of “Will I ever make it?” becomes irrelevant when you realize that fame is a byproduct, not a cause, of happiness.
It’s 1:00am. You sit back down at your computer and vow to never abandon your characters again. You have another cup of coffee and continue writing, delirious with hope.
This blog post/story/article is hypothetical. Details do not necessarily reflect my own experiences.