My year living in Korea felt a lot like living in a with my head in a bubble. Like a bubblehead charm of English. Like a helmet to reassure my brain that it was still functioning, despite not comprehending any of the information flooding it.
There were people– many people– around me that spoke English. But they were usually grouped together at destination points, like the glowing beacons of understanding at the end of a long trudge through… wait what am I saying? I was thinking of a video game character that had a glowing light around them because you could talk to them, unlike the other NPCs or something, I don’t know, we’ll unpack that later.
What I mean is at times I felt completely alone. (Don’t awww.) It was refreshing in a way I didn’t realize I was craving. I could stand on the roof of my apartment building at 3 in the morning and know that nobody on Earth could say with 100% certainty where I was at that moment, save myself.
Of course, capital ‘L’ Loneliness is inevitable eventually, wherever you are. But honestly, after the first two weeks of satiny panic (culture shock), the loneliness morphed into something insulating, even comforting. Like a… Thundershirt? What I’m saying is… I was a puppy and it was storming outside, and the fact that I didn’t really have to talk to that many people while coping with the rising panic was my Thundershirt.
Yes. That’s good. That’s quality writing. People come to this blog for a reason.
Anyway, regular life is an absolute barrage of information, usually information that you take in unconsciously. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea with zero knowledge of the language that it really struck me how much of that constant information flow is language-based. Do you want to do an experiment?
Look up from your computer for a second. No, I mean after you read the rest of these instructions, come on. Are there books around you?Can you read the titles at a glance? Do you have any
Or maybe you’re outside. Are there street signs around? What about shopfronts? Where would be the closest place to get food? Do you know because someone told you and pointed it out, or because you read the sign? Was it almost like your brain read it before you even told it to? Do any of the words or book titles or signs or roads mean anything to you? Maybe you live on a street with the name of a famous city, and you know the city because you learned about it at school, and you’ve watched Anthony Bourdain tour around eating its most photogenic food, and once you wrote a paper on the mayor who helped found a famous hat shop. When you read that word, you are slightly more in touch with the outside world than you were the moment before, because of these layers of familiarity.
However, when you are walking down the street or sitting in a coffee shop or combing through racks of clothing in a place with an unfamiliar language, none of these layers of familiarity exist. I want to say “your brain reaches out for any source of familiarity, trying to add context to the information it is drowning in,” but I don’t know anything about what your brain does, so samesies, but mine.
Getting on a bus or a subway or walking down the street having crowds of voices around me without the, allowed my thoughts a lot of time to parade around in my head uninterrupted, and allowing me a lot of time to sit quietly and listen to them.
I started working on a tiny film I want to make about a girl named Annie or possibly Winnie or possibly something else being sent to work the solitary, mind-numbing, and minimum-wage job of tending to a one-man satellite in the upper middle regions of Earth’s orbit. The story quickly became more complicated than that, but I’m sure I’ll get to that later.
There was something about the feeling of being so far away, combined with being able to go for entire days without speaking to someone, without being able to speak to another person, that leant itself (rather bluntly) to writing a character that spends the story in a state of isolation. Plus, you know, space is dope. It started me thinking about this idea of having a familiar concept, being presented in an unfamiliar (at least to me) way. My character, Annie (or Winnie or WhateveR), does some fairly outrageous things, but my idea for the visuals of the film is to go overly-cliche, insipid even, in the way the scenes are shot. In the coloring, in the scene layouts, in the <insert other professional-sounding film things here>, I want to highlight the major differences between the real world and Annie’s perception bubble.
Does this sound like Underwater Matrix to anyone else? Ok, new plan. Scrap everything I just said, I’m going to start writing Underwater Matrix 2. (Because obviously as soon as I publish this someone’s going to steal the Underwater Matrix idea, and being a slow writer I will be finishing just in time to cash in on that sweet sequel cash.)
Oh right, right. This is a blog post not just a thought dump. Hmmm. Right. Oh! The Commander Thinks Aloud by The Long Winters. AKA the reason I started writing this blog post. I first heard this song on one of my long, long subway rides, autoplaying podcasts and staring at the crazy amount of people packed into the streets of Seoul.
In the podcast interview which you should definitely listen to, the songwriter John Roderick, of the Long Winters, explains that he wrote The Commander Thinks Aloud about the moment on February 1st, 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart upon reentering the atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. The way Roderick tries to think through this horrific tragedy from the mind of the Commander of a doomed crew, that moment when you know for a fact that all is lost and yet you are still alive for a little while longer… It hurts. When you listen to him, and when you listen to the song again. It makes it personal.
This is a big part of the feeling I want to explore with Annie.
Ok, this has gone on long enough, see you next time.