Life Right Now: Mariah in Seoul

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I met Mariah several years ago at a check-in counter at LAX. We were boarding a plane bound for South Korea, where we would spend the next year teaching English. Her method for getting a good night's sleep just might set you free. 

Here's Mariah: 

On the interplay of acceptance and disturbance

What do I find unexpected about my life right now? Sometimes I'm surprised that I'm still sane. (laughs) No really, what's changed and what's still the same surprise me. I don't really look or feel much older than when I was in college, physically I mean
my feelings about myself, life, others, the world, and so on have changed a lot. Basically I feel a lot more peace, more acceptance for myself and others, and also in some ways much more deeply disturbed about things that aren't right in the world. Disturbed, but not anxious. It's not like the self-consciousness and criticism that used to grip me. It's just that life seems more important now. Although I recognized some things in life as very important when I was younger, life—the process of living—seems much more important to me than it used to. Sometimes I'm surprised to still be living the same life as the person—me—who used to write in a diary with a lock and key, or ride my bike around the neighborhood, or drive a car with the sunroof open, or ride a horse. All things I haven't done for years, not since coming to Korea. I also wonder if other people think about these things, how they couldn't, and if they do, how that manifests in society.

On planning, and not planning

I expected life to be mostly unplanned. My parents were big on responsibility, but not on planning. Planning implies having control, and maybe it's partly because of the weather in Kansas, where I was born and lived from 5th grade through high school, but I have never had a strong sense of control. Many of my plans fell through...some of them dreams I regret not acting upon, like writing a book on friendship when I was a teenager, and some of them were just clearly not meant to be, like when I applied to work as a designer for a trendsetting magazine in the south and got a letter of rejection. When things work out for me—my dad says he's always been amazed by how things work out in my life—it doesn't seem like a plan I made has unfolded. It's more like a desire I had being fulfilled, although of course there had to be some effort on my part. It's like the difference between pushing open a heavy door yourself versus having someone open it for you. I've still had to walk through the doors, but not bear the weight of them. The doors I've tried to push open usually don't budge, or if they do, slam closed before I can get through. Interestingly, the doors which have been opened for me are usually the bigger ones—staying on in Korea for a few culture shock cycles, learning Korean, getting a scholarship for grad school, and having some delightful people for friends.

On desiring joy

I'm not quite sure what gives me joy right now. I hope that's not a problem! I enjoy connecting with people—it's been very rewarding to hear back from some friends I visited last summer during my "operation summer bird" trip from Boston to Seattle by train. But joy is different from enjoyment. Honestly what I've been doing for the past few years—transitioning from being an English teacher (I never really wanted to be a teacher) to something else—an international person, aka me in Korea—feels like a marathon. I'm always thinking about things I can't do at present, like a runner who has to press on to the finish line while thinking about eating ice cream and sitting in a lounge chair on the beach. I would really like to recover a sense of joy. Maybe there's a mental block that’s telling me doing things that lead to joy will sabotage my current endeavors. I do hope there's joy at the end of this race.

On moments of divine happiness

It's hard for me to feel divinely happy on a daily basis. I do feel happy. I only feel divinely happy, though, when something that happens or something that someone says seems to have more meaning, more purpose than usual. There are these moments when it's like I step through the crust of perceived reality into something brighter and more liquid and engulfing than reality.

On divine brokenness

Honestly I often feel divinely broken. Thinking back over any particular series of events—things I did, choices I have made, places I put myself—a line of events suddenly highlighted going back into the past—it's like I suddenly become aware of how those don't quite line up, how they could have been straighter. I spend a lot of time navigating the city on food, by bus, and by subway, and usually try to take the most direct route. It really irritates me if I leave a bit late and just miss a bus, because I feel like it's a reflection of my life, a warning that if I don't do my work or contact someone or whatever in time, there might be great deviations from the impact my life could have had down the line. It's not a feeling or guilt or shame, it's just a sigh. A slight regret mixed with curiosity about what might have happened. Lately I've been thinking about "falling short of glory" as a paradigm and "going from glory to glory" as an unattainable vision.

On how to get a good night’s sleep

Things don't usually keep me awake at night. Typically my head hits the pillow and I'm asleep. Maybe that's because I think so much during the day. That and I'm physically exhausted. There are some routines which matter to me—reading in the morning and evening, praying, corporate worship—and I think doing them helps me sleep, stay healthy, even have good digestion! The only thing that does keep me awake is running through possibilities. If I graduate at this time, and if I meet a good man before or after that, how will that play out in my life, when will I get married and have kids, etc. It's not helpful in the end and I try to let it go. There must be a reason we don't get to know this stuff in advance, right?

On the sine curve of joy and anticipation

Maybe all this thinking is one of the reasons I'm not feeling much joy. If everything's already been walked through mentally and already forgotten, it doesn't feel fresh. It's like the sine curve of my joy and anticipation has a really low wave. On the other hand, maybe it's worth it—not to feel so anxious—knowing that even if the dots aren't always in the most efficient places, they're still going to get connected, that my life will still keep moving forward a few more hundred miles.

Thank you, Mariah! 

In case you missed it, here's the first interview in the Life Right Now series. 

Photo: Anderwood is situated on a spot on this earth where double rainbows appear after certain kinds of summer rainstorms.. This one appeared during Mariah's visit in summer 2014. 


  1. yet another inspiring and interesting read!
    i especially loved what Mariah shared about feeling divinely happy..

    i am looking forward to the next one already, Anna : )



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