Tuesday, September 13, 2011

And now I'm back!

Hello there,

This blog went on hiatus while I went to South Korea for a year. It seems like this time just flew by. So much has changed -- but in the meantime, this web address has stayed on the business cards I've been handing out throughout my travels.

So, for those of you who are showing up here and scratching your heads about who this strange Ryan Rose Weaver person is (and where she is, for that matter), some clarification seems necessary.

First, I'd like to first direct you to this post on my Speaking Konglish blog, which describes what I did in Korea from July 2010-July 2011.

Next, an update: I've since made the big leap back to the United States, no easy feat for an ex-pat abroad. (It may come as a surprise to some that it is much easier to find a way to go away than it is to find a way to return.) For now, I am traveling around the United States, visiting family members, taking on freelance, and doing research for various future projects. After completing an itinerary that will take me through the Catskills, Salt Lake City, Idaho's Salmon River (where the above photo was taken), Denver, NYC and Boston, I'll be moving to Buffalo, NY for the fall to be closer to family and to begin some of said projects. I can't divulge the details yet, but these will undoubtedly involve food, travel, language and education.

After that (because some of you are already asking!) -- well, 2012 is looking to be a big year already, and it's still months away.

If I've already met you, I thank you for the role you've played in this amazing journey and in my in yeon (a Korean idea that translates roughly to destiny, but means much more).

If I haven't met you yet -- I'm looking forward to it!

Chal kayo (go well),

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I've moved!

To a new city in a new country: Seoul, South Korea.

And to two new blogs where I am cataloging my experience here:

1) Speaking Konglish, a site where I am writing about teaching, politics, culture, language and the like as I explore South Korea and attempt to explain my new life here to the folks back home.

2) Seoul Food, a food journal where I keep notes on what I'm eating and learning about food.

Why two sites instead of just one?

Because sometimes I feel the need to be silly, and sometimes I feel the need to be serious.

Sometimes, I hear from people that they'd love to know more about what I'm eating; at other times, people ask me what I'm thinking.  And sometimes these answers go together, while sometimes they do not. 

Sometimes I feel the need to focus in on one image, like the face of my elderly neighbor as she offers me a plate of Korean grapes or the sight of red peppers drying on the streets of Incheon. And sometimes I feel the need to take all of the disparate themes and ideas I'm exploring and tie them together in an essay about spirituality, adventure or ambiguity.

Sometimes I find America's super-seriousness around food to run directly counter to the greater aims of advocating simplicity, pragmatism, environmentalism and humanitarianism which drew me into the profession (that, and the free cheese). From where I sit in this tiny out-of-the-way country, where cabbage shortages cause panics and it's difficult to find cilantro, much less artisanal coffee liqueur or the like, it all seems monumentally wasteful and silly. The impetus behind America's food revolution was, I thought, to reduce consumerism, not fuel it, with 50 new and expensive ways to make your coffee and "authentic" food flown in from around the world at great cost to our environment.

At these times of frustration, I find myself writing about things that have implications beyond the table, such as education or politics.

But at other times, I use food as an alternate dialogue, a second language like Spanish or a discipline like painting, in which I can express things through metaphors or images when I can't transmit the truth about a thing in plain English. As one of my heroines, MFK Fisher, once wrote:
"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, about love, the way others do?. . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry.  But there is more than that.  It seems to me that our three basic needs for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it. . . There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk."  
I still love to eat, for better or worse. And sometimes, I think I'd like to spend the rest of my life writing about food, cooking food and talking to makers of food as part of my profession. But sometimes I think I'd like to leave that life behind for something different and as-yet-undetermined. Less tainted with guilt and gluttony, artifice and oil. More ... transcendent.

The search for this unknown thing is one of the forces pushing me across the planet, even as I slurp down kimchi and experiment with persimmons along the way.

So, this blogging situation arose organically from the state that I am in, and though I maintain the two sites separately, they often overlap -- as they did when I wrote about my visit to the Mungyeong Apple Festival in the Korean countryside.

Such is my privilege in a time when blogs outnumber books, and the Internet still offers free software and infinite space to anyone with a story to tell.

So, if you're still reading mine, thank you, and please drop me a line if there's something you'd like to see or ask about what's going on over here. I get the sense that the Western media is becoming increasingly interested in South Korea, but that there are not enough reporters taking the time to truly understand it. And while I can't promise that my perspective is any more enlightened, I do think that spending more than 36 hours in a place, having a stake in its fate and forming friendships with everyday people, rather than interviewing only top-level sources from afar, makes for better, truer stories. Especially when your stories are also informed by the uncensored opinions of its children, expressed in a language their parents often cannot understand.

I am also conscious of the potential opportunities opening up for women writers during a century in which women have unprecedented freedom, and the ability and permission to redefine political and economic landscapes around the world. Being a woman has always been central to my writing experience, and it continues to allow me to go places that men cannot go and see things they will never see. (It also allows me to get into trouble in ways that men would never get into trouble, because the rules are still different for us, but that, too, is part of the everyday experience that I feel it's important to capture.)

So, as I explore these opportunities (and eat a lot of kimchi along the way), please wish me luck, write me letters, and 안녕히 계세요 (be peaceful!)
Photo above courtesy of Dawn Kang.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Sowing new seeds for 2010 with TEFL

It feels like a beautiful coincidence that the sunniest weekend of 2010 is falling on my first free weekend since January.

Some folks may be aware that I've dropped off the radar to take a 100-hour TEFL certification course, which had me sitting inside for nine hours a day every Saturday for the last 12 weeks. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.

Many people, including me, get this certificate so that they can teach English abroad. (More on this later.) But I had other goals, too. I wanted to build on the teaching experiences I've had as an editor and volunteer, and to truly learn how to do this thing right. I wanted to have a meaningful, intellectual experience. And I wanted to meet other people who also wanted these things.

So, I sought out a TEFL course that would not just leave me with a slip of paper but with a new lease on life. And as luck would have it, I found it around the corner from my house.

The Boston Language Institute (BLI), located on the third floor of a nondescript building in Kenmore Square, is a groovy little institution. It was founded by a Sikh devotee named Siri Karm Singh Khalsa. It employs a rotating roster of well-traveled teachers who teach an alphabet soup of languages, from Afghani to Zulu, to a similarly diverse crowd of students. When I first entered this warm, bustling space at BLI's open house last November, it felt like home. And when Siri Karm assured me that their TEFL program could turn me into a "mean green teaching machine," as I put it, I took him at his word.

I am so glad I did. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this TEFL program has changed my life.

In the company of a dozen amazing women, I spent my Saturday mornings teaching real English classes, provided for free to the Boston community, and spent the afternoons learning how to teach difficult grammar (I can now define and explain an auxilary modal verb) and business English (so many sports idioms!).

There were definitely some rough days (which we got through together with raucous lunches at Eastern Standard and many, many coffee breaks). But overall, I learned so much from my students and fellow teachers, and fell in love with the English language all over again. I have a feeling that what I experienced in this class will be paying dividends for the rest of my life.

Graduation lunch with my ladies -- compliments of India Quality, yum.

I also find that when you are learning a new skill you must unlearn other things, and this has been interesting as well. It turns out that many of the behaviors I have cultivated in order to be successful as a journalist worked against me as a teacher.

For example, when interviewing someone, I find that I am softspoken, and I rarely interrupt people. My interview subject is the one onstage, so to speak. But in a classroom, you are the focus, and you must fight to stay that way. You have a carefully-planned lesson containing crucial information, and you have a limited time to impart it. You must interrupt the fascinating Russian physicist mid-story so you can move on to the silly exercise you have planned about cookies. You are always barking words, shuffling papers and playing ridiculous tapes, like some bizarre vaudeville actor. And you are always watching the clock.

If it all sounds overwhelming, that is because it is. I have so much newfound respect for teachers who can do this with grace. (Mr. Reeves, Mr. Lillywhite, Mr. Ginsburg, and especially Señora Curazon, wherever you are--thank you.)

Doris Day, schooling journalist Clark Gable about the wild world of teaching in Teacher's Pet

However, if you have a big heart, teaching is the ultimate high--and one by one, I watched us all get hooked.

Here is how it happens.

One moment, you have a class led by a shy new teacher, who feels as naked as a new-hatched chick in front of all these strange faces, and she knows that her hair isn't quite right and her shoes are uncomfortable and she's got a bit of a cold. She's struggling to get her students to guess a complex word, and receiving only blank looks from the entire group, including her fellow teachers at the back, who are writing down every mistake she makes.

And then suddenly, something shifts.

Someone cracks a joke, an exercise strikes a chord, and now the English words are flowing, the Argentinian housewife and the Latvian music teacher are clicking, and everyone is laughing and writing things down and saying things like, "Ahh! Now I understand."


There is nothing better than this feeling. It is like watching the sun come out from the clouds, or watching the first shoots of crocus poking up from the ground in the spring, or falling in love. It's magic.

And so it is fitting that during this season of rebirth, a dozen new teachers are now taking their acts on the road, ready to plant new seeds of language in places as distant as Senegal, Norway, Siberia. It's so exciting.

First daffodils of spring!

So now that the class is over, I'm going to go outside and enjoy the sunshine, for the first time in a long time. 'Cause it turns out, teachers are real people too, and as one fellow teacher said to me recently, "I think I look forward to the weekends even more than the students do now."

To all my teacher friends--most of whom are far more experienced than me--do you have any wisdom to share on this subject? Any good teaching stories? Any moments of magic? I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This is not a love song (to tag-teaming interviews for TeaParty Boston)

I've been slammed with work lately, so I haven't been able to take on many side projects, but recently I had the opportunity to interview Nouvelle Vague with my partner in crime, Jessie Rogers, for TeaPartyBoston, and I couldn't turn that down.

Until this year I had always done interviews solo, but earlier this summer, Jessie and I sat down with Shore Gregory of Island Creek Oysters and ended up having an informative conversation that lasted for two hours and the better part of a bottle of a wine, and we discovered that she and I make a great tag-team. We share a sense of humor, but our respective senses of curiosity lead us to different questions, and interviewing someone as a team lets us each rest our brains and really listen to the person sitting across from us, versus scrambling to take notes and thinking quickly ahead to the next followup question. The result (we hope) can a much richer, more well-rounded piece that speaks to a broader range of readers.

Me and Jessie at Thunderdome NYE 2009 
(with our other partner in crime, Michael Young, who sometimes shoots for TPB)

In this case, we sat in for a sound check at the Somerville Theatre with the band, then went backstage to sit down with Marc Collin, the charming French frontman of Nouvelle Vague.

Note: for those who aren't familiar, Nouvelle Vague are famed for their breezy bossa nova covers of badass punk and New Wave songs and are currently touring with a bluegrassy third album, featuring stripped-down tracks like the Police's "So Lonely".

I wrote the resulting recap, so it carries only my byline, but Jessie's input during the interview helped make it happen. (She also shot all the photos.)

The reverse is true for Jessie's recent piece on Southern Belle, although in that interview I mostly listened, as frontman Isom Innis has a fascinating story and a charming way of telling it. (I also highly recommend watching the "Conditional Love" video he filmed for TeaPartyBoston on top of a building on Newbury Street -- fans of La Blogotheque's Takeaway Shows will appreciate the format.)

Southern Belle - Conditional Love from TeaParty Boston on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

"A Banner Year" in the Sunday Herald

Something funny happened today: my friend Jenna and I had stories running side by side in the Sunday Herald.

Jenna's is a theatre preview; mine is a feature story that, like many of my stories, seemed to find me.

It began with a flyer on a bulletin board. I saw it out of the corner of my eye on my way out of Flour. “I BELIEVE IN YOU,” it said.

I looked closer. The flyer offered “free advice” and “motivational banners” to “use as a reminder that you can get better, feel better, move on, learn more, have fun, or whatever it is that you’d like to do.” At the bottom were tiny strips of paper with an email address and a Web address: adviceandbanners.blogspot.com.

I took one.

Back at my office, I shared this information with a few fellow romantics; it seemed too sweet to be true, like something out of a Miranda July short story or a film starring Meg Ryan.

Then a friend of mine, Christine, received her advice and banner in the mail. It read, “WORKING ISN’T WAITING.” Hung in her house, it grinned down at us like a rainbow-colored Cheshire Cat smile, and felt just as whimsical.

The advice, however, was down-to-earth.

"Your banner says, 'working isn't waiting.' Because it just feels good to be doing something, not only because it can help you get closer to whatever goals you have, but because doing things* and being active is intrinsically good for your mental health and happiness, right now. This is really important, and I think lots of people need this reminder. Feeling like you're waiting for something sucks so much because it's passive and stagnant. I hope the banner helps you remember that as long as you're doing something, and enjoying it, you aren't just waiting for something better. And that's such a relief, isn't it?"

From the return address, Christine observed that the writer lived just a few blocks away. “I wonder if I pass them in the cafe, in the market, on the bus, and we knowingly nod to our secrets,” Christine wrote later on her blog.

I asked the artist if we could meet; I already had an inkling that I would turn this into a story, but I was also just madly curious. She agreed. 

We set a time and date for a meetup at Flour, and a funny Herald photographer named Stuart joined us. She told us her name was Samantha Kattan, she lived in Somerville, and she worked near me, as an interpreter of art at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). We even shared a few mutual friends.

Stuart suggested we go to her house to look at her art. We piled into his pickup and headed to Union Square. There, Kattan showed Stuart her art supplies, and handed me a few books
by the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, whose obsession with creating “design that touches people" inspired her project. 

She also showed us the banner on her own wall: it simply reads “TODAY.” It seems fitting for times like these, when the future is so uncertain. 

I loved writing this story and am glad it exists in the world. And I keep thinking about what my banner would read, if I were to write in...but ironically, I'm not a stranger anymore, and it would not be anonymous. 

This is always the blessing and curse of being a journalist -- you are equipped and entitled to chase down the subjects of your curiosity, to find out what others can't, and it is so satisfying, but often, you lose something of the mystery of life, too.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Were most of your stars out?

Last week, J.D. Salinger died.

A writer who was as famous for being a "recluse" as he was for writing Catcher in the Rye, Salinger leaves behind an ambiguous legacy, at least in my mind. Contrary to popular opinion, he may not have been a complete hermit -- he was downright neighborly, according to some -- but the image many of us hold in our minds of Salinger, as a brilliant man who spent his life hiding from the consequences of his own brilliance (and thereby undoubtedly undermining his ability to write something as brave and resonant as his first novel ever again), is one I think would make old Holden Caulfield feel sorry as hell.

It makes me feel sorry as hell, too. But then, I tend to gravitate toward writers who are as wildly preoccupied with living as they are with writing about life, like Salinger's contemporary Jack Kerouac ("The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars").

Or Anaïs Nin, who had as the thesis of her classic Delta of Venus the idea that truly titillating erotica "must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine."

Or Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, who told an aspiring writer at a reading I recently attended that she "has to get out in life and roll around in it" to find inspiration.

Or Dave Eggers, most recently of "Where the Wild Things Are" fame, who once wrote an incredibly inspiring essay about why he thinks it's crucial to be "doing something, trying something, even when it's corny or stupid," even when it threatens to topple you from whatever pedestal you have been placed on by your adoring fans. Because "when you die, and it really could be this afternoon ... you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no's you've said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say."

By contrast, many accounts portray Salinger as someone who purposefully turned his back on life, a writer whose life choices were wildly at odds with the openness and compassion Holden Caulfield displayed even in the face of fear and alienation, confusion and ennui. This is the Salinger I've always had in my head, and he still strikes a tragic figure.

However. Last week, my friend Jenna unearthed a passage of Salinger's that seems to suggest that my own personal Salinger might be a straw man, a literary boogeyman that serves to scare me into engaging with life even when it means facing criticism, unpredictability and "phonies." This passage -- from Seymour--An Introduction, a short story Salinger published in the New Yorker in 1959 -- suggests that Salinger might have more in common with me and my favorite writers than I thought. That in fact, he would have wanted to be remembered as we would like to be remembered when we die: as someone who did his best to live up to his potential as a writer -- and as a human being. (As Jenna puts it, "it's like he wrote his own epitaph.")
You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had know your time would be up when it was finished... I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to to both questions.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New business cards!

 I am thrilled to report that talented Boston designer Holly Gordon has recently designed my new business cards and, IMHO, did a bang-up job of it. Check it out --


Pretty exciting! Thanks, Holly. You are out-of-control amazing. Holly also did the design for the Second Glass Annual Wine Guide, which I recently helped to edit (whoops, forgot to mention that!).

And she designed the super-awesome fake mermaid tattoos we received at Wine Riot II, which I also helped with by editing the program and pouring wines for the folks from Tortoise Creek, while they seduced the entire city of Boston with their British accents and charming tales of living in the Languedoc and delicious pinot noir ("great breakfast wine"). Did I also mention that? No? Sigh. Even my friend Josh, who has of late been spending most of his time covering himself in whipped cream, was able to update his blog on this topic before me.

Anyhow, back to Holly. One of the reasons why I chose her design for my cards is that I love her point of view, and felt like she'd be able to convey mine. In fact, she recently wrote a post on her darling and well-illustrated blog that reads like a pragmatic (and admirably succinct) manifesto for Our Generation. I think it's worth sharing.
You know, it’s weird for us kids these days. We get out of school all revved up and ready for our big break. We’re told by our professors time and time again that we must find a job. Keep sending your resumes. Keep calling. We read stories about the people that inspire us – how “they” did it. Parents call on a daily basis, driven by pure anxiety, with an endless supply of tips on how to get it together.
I have a feeling my generation is going to tap out the pharmacies for anti-anxiety medication at this rate. Student loans are looming, rent needs to be paid, there is a global economic downturn – worst job market in years, and my school is already demanding statistics for my yearly salary. In this fabulous economic climate, we need to get extra creative with what we do and how we do it – a little bravery and innovation wouldn’t hurt. And those are two themes that are not recurring in the recycled suggestions of our predecessors.

My response is to weed out the irrelevant advice. A successful career does not have the same meaning that it used to. For me, a successful career involves the intense satisfaction of supporting myself doing what I love, being able to travel, having the opportunity to teach, inspire others, and to work with people who can match me in enthusiasm and challenge my ideas. Climbing a corporate ladder, one rung at a time, until I’m old and immobile is not included in my business plan. [Emphasis mine.]

So as I continually explain myself to others – I do, in fact, have a job – and yes – it is for real – I’m going to keep on working and loving what I do. I’m up to the challenge and I’m excited for what the years ahead have in store.
Mmmm. Don't you feel better? I know I do.

Thanks, Holly!