In South Korea, there are certain paths that everyone follows, or is expected to follow. From dating to business, from family to friends, from fashion to haircuts. There is a Way to do things. A Way to speak. A Way to treat someone who is older, or younger, or superior in position, or inferior. There is Way to succeed.
Living in Seoul, I spent a lot of time resisting.
Identity became a reactionary principle, almost an automatic, visceral rejection to being defined. It didn’t matter if what people said was true or not — I rejected it. I refused all attempts from the outside to place me. The effort to be me — a woman, gender-neutral, single, professional dancer, global citizen, etc — was half the day’s energy.
In Seoul, I became serious. My edges hardened.
Truthfully, I don’t regret it, because what it did was give me focus. I buckled down and I worked on my craft. I learned how to say no. I drew boundaries. I found my center and I held it for dear life. This is me. I am not that. I am this. There was no room for uncertainty or doubt.
But it was a big change. Family and friends remarked on it. They wondered if I was okay. I wondered if I was okay sometimes. And when it came time to leave, one of my biggest questions was this: who will I be when I leave Korea?
Quite frankly, there are a lot of things about this year that I don’t feel comfortable about. The lack of clarity, the inability to plan. Even for the next few months I’m stable in Lahore, Pakistan, but not even — projects come and go like quicksilver, and I have to be light on my toes. I’m being hosted, which is great for my bank account but it means I have to move often, another new bed, a room that’s not mine, no place on the walls to hang my art.
I came into it willingly. I knew it would be uncomfortable and I welcomed the opportunity. And it has been uncomfortable.
Just a few weeks in, I’m starting to see the lingering effects of the metaphor I chose for myself in Korea, and its limitations.
Many people respond to my anxieties by telling me to “live in the moment.” While I appreciate the sentiment, it’s probably one of the most pointless pieces of advice to give. I’m not sure I even know what that means, and often I’ve found that when people tell you to live in the moment, they really mean to live in their moment.
But as much as I hate that particular piece of advice, it has resonated in some ways. I realized that my tendency to resist classification also limits my ability to grow. My walls are high, and I naturally push back against anyone who I even remotely suspect wants something from me.
I don’t mean to start agreeing with every label people put on me, or follow every suggestion given to me. I liked how strong Korea made me, and how focused. However, the metaphor of resistance may not serve me as well anymore. Perhaps — as uncomfortable as it makes me, as much as I feel the same resistance against the idea — it’s time to be a little softer.
It’s not an easy balance to strike, and I’m not even sure where and how to begin. What I became in two and a half years will not be undone in two weeks, and certainly never will fully — and nor do I want it to.
It comes down to a simple observation. I realized that I was resisting something because it’s what I do, closing myself off as an instinct, and I just wondered, do I need to do this anymore?
It’s not just about the particular situation that prompted the reflection, but just as a general approach to life. Am I cutting off opportunities to grow because I’ve defined myself so harshly? It’s ridiculous to have decided I have it all figured at twenty-seven years of age, most especially what I want and who I am.
Letting go does not feel safe. A million questions accompany me — should I let go completely, even if I regret it later? Would I? Should I try to keep the lessons of Korea, or let them all go and see what comes back? When it comes to the self, is it better to just stay in the center, and do I actually know what that is?
Perhaps I will find answers over the course of this uncomfortable year. Most likely I’ll live into them, but probably only if I let the discomfort teach me whatever it is it has to teach me.
The question of 2018 remains stronger than ever: who will I be after I leave Korea?
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