Christine Hyung-Oak Lee on Exuding Grace and Equanimity Despite Challenges

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee on Exuding Grace and Equanimity Despite Challenges

An interview with Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, from The Write Stuff series:

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee has a memoir, Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember, from Ecco/Harper Collins. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Zyzzyva, Guernica, The Rumpus, The New York Times, and BuzzFeed, among other publications. Born in New York City, Christine earned her undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and her MFA at Mills College. She lives in Berkeley. Her novel, The Golem of Seoul, is forthcoming from Ecco/Harper Collins.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

Before my LASIK surgery, my surgeon asked that very question. I said, “I write.”
He asked, “What do you write?”
After a pause, I said, “Words.”
(I was on valium for LASIK).

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Getting enough sleep. I’m not an insomniac; I just have a small child.

If someone said I want to do what do you do, what advice would you have for them?

Never give up.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I do. Writing makes me happy, and I get to do that fulltime.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

This hamster having an existential crisis:

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My grandmother is one of my favorite ancestors; she experienced both extreme wealth and extreme poverty (in that order) throughout her entire lifetime because of the Korean War. She exuded grace and equanimity despite challenges. And was a lady to the very end.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I admired Helen Keller when I was 10 years old. She couldn’t hear or see, and still overcame her disability to the best she could. I wanted to be a writer.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

I love being in the wilderness. I’ve been out in the wilderness for a week. I leave all my worries at the trailhead, and walk forward with my bare necessities strapped to my back. I get to see sunsets and sunrises—and even though I don’t sleep well out in the wilderness, I feel very empowered being out in the elements. I’ve seen deer and elk and even a bear. It’s amazing. The mosquito bites, however, are not amazing. And I would not want to do it alone.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Hells yes, I would. I’ve been to strip bars—and know the moves. I would wear a feathery boa. However, I would not be able to pole dance.

How much money do you have in your checking account?

No one ever makes or possesses the right amount—you either have too little or too much.

What’s wrong with society today?

Racism. That’s why Trump is president. That’s another thing wrong with society.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

Amlodipine, triamterene, and Zoloft. The first two are “old people” meds for high blood pressure. The last is my happy pill.

What is your fondest memory?

I have many. But I do remember one afternoon at the age of six when my mother and brother were napping. My father whispered, “Want to go have some fun, just you and me?” He took me to Sea World. It was one of the few times I remember doing something fun together, just him and me.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

It’s not hard to fall in love. So I fall in love a lot. I can’t even count.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Tuition-free college education in the United States.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is something you create from your heart. It is necessary, because the best things come from the heart and that very spontaneity and delight and pain reaches the user/viewer/reader of your work. We all need that feeling of connection and understanding. It makes the world better and kinder.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

I gotta share my moves? That’s for me to know and very few people to find out!

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on an essay about my postpartum depression. Also my novel, The Golem of Seoul, out in the next year or two from Ecco/Harper Collins.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

The writing I most admire is the kind of writing that leaves nothing on the table.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

I would like for BART to have more stops, and for it to reach the entirety of the Bay Area.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Yummy food. Then going home to soft pants.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

I used to have two wiener dogs. They grew to an ancient age—one was twenty years old, and the other was seventeen, at which point their skin quality diminished. They gnawed each others’ scabs.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

With 50 words I can write a Facebook comment (Hey, I’m more a novelist than I am a short story writer). With 50 dollars, I can buy 15 bags of Doritos.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Tuberose. Lemon. My daughter. Coffee in the morning.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I’d like to visit North Korea. But I’d also like to come back home safely. Can the expenses cover my safety?

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