The Lower Depths

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Last night two of my younger students took me out for doke-boke-ee—this sort of sweet-and-spicy rice cake concoction which is probably every single young Korean’s favorite snack food (aside from yang-shik, or western cuisine). From a distance it resembles piles of red slop, and it’s so popular that you can’t walk down a crowded street for five minutes without seeing a stall selling a huge platter of this steaming, bloody, intestine-like delicacy, where people are sometimes standing around outside, spearing tubes of mashed-up rice in a very chemical sort of sauce.

As we were eating we started playing with a Rubik’s cube, a device one of my friends was once obsessed with. After a lot of practice he could solve any cube in a few minutes or so, and I found, as I toyed with mine, that if I focused on the conversation at hand while merely looking at the cube—letting the dripping, groaning clockwork in my mind’s lower depths tackle it—I found that I made a lot of progress, as long as I kept my hands moving, even though I still wasn’t able to turn one of the sides to a single color. I described my strategy to one of the students, and she made similar progress.

Afterward these two girls took me outside, forced me to twist myself up in two swings at the same time, and then pushed me around in full view of everyone, all of us giggling in the iridescently eldritch green glow of the new apartment buildings that surrounded us on all sides.

I went to sleep and allowed the lower depths to dream up a peculiar fantasy involving one of my favored professors from college, who dedicated an entire chapter in her autobiography to me—quite a ridiculous honor—but described me, at first sight, as resembling a brown walking ankh, in response to the absurd size of my head.

This is a dream for Jungian shrink, as beyond the general awareness that the ankh symbolizes eternal life, at least for the ancient Egyptians, I can’t say what it means to me, although now that I think about it, it may have been a hidden reference to my sister, who wore an ankh for a time around her neck when she was younger. Yesterday (for hidden reasons) I had a complete breakdown, actually, for the first time since she killed herself (just over thirteen months ago), and found myself bawling as though I had just heard the news for the first time, and after months of wondering if I still even cared about her. The feelings are still there, just as strong as before, hidden beneath everything, in the lower depths.

The dream was a response to that event, and all of these words are actually a response to the artistic desert I have been wandering through for the last week, having no time to write and barely any time to read, as I’ve dedicated almost every spare moment to teaching, giving tests, tutoring, or paperwork, which I stupidly put off to the last moment for months. Now I’m paying for it.

For over a week it’s been about five hours each day of going through hundreds of these papers, grading them, noting down the scores, and then typing them into my computer. I’m guessing that I’ll finish today after five or six more hours. Back when I started there was a curious coincidence: while marking a paper dated April 18th, my sister’s birthday, a song came on my iphone which had been written about her by some of her friends, a fairly unlikely combination in the lock of time, although I probably only noticed it at all because I was biased toward doing so.

But it may have been a signal of some sort. Heraclitus says that God does not speak directly, but makes a sign; the ankh bundled up in my absurd dreams may have been a hidden reassurance from my unconscious mind, or from my sister herself, that she is still alive and well.


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