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day 503: the beauty is in the belly (of the curve)


After having torn open every crevice of my den, desperately seeking my w2s (and having no luck), I have decided to move on to this task instead.  In fact, I have been sitting with the idea for this post for some time now; but for whatever reason, I have failed to put pen to paper to get these thoughts down.   

And then it dawned on me.

The reason I've been a little slow on the uptake is that writing this post unwittingly closes a chapter of my life I didn't realize I still would want to have open.  As challenging as this period has been, and as scared as I was that I actually wasn't going to make it, when it was all over, I still mourned its loss.  Like when you get to the last page of an absurdly good book, and you are left curious, sad even, bittersweet.

For context, to those that don't track the blow by blow of my days - on March 16, somewhere around 4pm, I was doing two things: first, really hoping that my mom made it to the chapel on time (she was maniacally lost on the Stevenson for hours); and second, flipping out that I was about to graduate from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

And so it was.  At about 4:05 pm, the funny man in the pillow hat released me from behind this stick he had on my shoulder and I shook hands with President Zimmer who kindly bestowed upon me my diploma.

Those that know me well know that I had a fair amount of healthy stress in school.  In fact when I took the diploma from the President, I almost smirked at him (there's photo evidence of this), as if to say "I get it if this isn't for real."  And before that, at least once a quarter, a fellow student would invariably hear me say "I have other gifts" under my breath as we embarked on yet another exam.  But what I found over time is that while I certainly was never that student that skewed the curve toward the right, I was deeply seated in the belly (which is to say I did alright).

And that was just fine by me.

As I reflect on my mantra "I have other gifts", I can't help but be reminded of some of my favorite lessons from business school:

  • That people have the capacity to do so many things - and can stretch like silly puddy, both in their minds and in their spirit. 
  • That leadership seaks no boast, and is, at its best, quiet and steadfast and committed. 
  • That one conversation can make a tide of difference in encouraging a friend to hang on.
  • That women are fierce and cannot be underestimated. 
  • That goals that people have for what they will do with this education have a certain nobility that inspires. 
  • And that, while I may not remember precisely how to run Stata, I will always remember how I felt the first time a concept clicked for me, or the first time I felt the sea change where the person across from me went from "fellow student" to friend.

When we went on our congratulatory trip to Napa when this journey was all said and done, the vineyard that sat with me the most was Artesa Vineyards.  Perhaps it was because the rain was just settling in as we approached this vista of rolling hills as far as the eye could see.  Or perhaps still it was because there is a picture from that day that I will look back upon - decades from now - and no matter where the future may take us, I will smile, as surreptitiously as I did to President Zimmer that day; and I will think to myself: "What a lovely day we had together.  What lovely friends."   But mostly this vineyard will hold a special place in my heart, because of an interesting fact I learned while we were there: in order to create the lovely almost "cave-like" sensation where their winery sits snuggly inside the hill, they actually had to cut about 30% of it out. 

Yup, they carved out a good third of the belly of the curve.     And if there's anything I've learned in the past 21 months, it's that therein lies the beauty.  In all things "normal" or "average", extraordinary things shall come.  And that, my friends, was the best education of all. 

Maria Kim




day 447: the yellow books are blue

Until very recently, our lobby was flooded with yellow pages - one set for every unit in the building.  Every day (once on my way in and once on my way out), I would pass them - still sweetly, sadly and snugly set in their plastic waiting for someone (anyone) to pick them up. 

And then one day they were gone.  Like poof, kapow, just like that they were gone. 

(And I harken to guess that it was not because my neighbors ran in a flurry to grab their yellow pages, but more likely that our diligent maintenance crew filed them in the recycling bin.)

I found myself a bit melancholy over my yellow partners.  Not melancholy enough to take one for myself, but tugged anyway out of empathy, out of sadness over what it must have felt like to no longer be needed, to be left in saran wrap, alone.

And I wondered how, over the course of a lifetime, so much that was once unimaginable to live without can become irrelevant, discarded and blue.  Typewriters, books, rotary phones, regular phones, cell phones, mainframes, glasses, newspapers, encyclopedias, libraries and yellow pages.  Once a part of everyday, and now at best vintage and at worst obsolete.

And as easily as I walked past these things of inconsequence in my everyday life, or as deftly as I heralded the most intriguing among them as though antiques in my own home, I am quickly reminded of my own antiquity as clear as my own reflection.  There she stands in front of me - my own fear of losing edge and losing efficacy in my big and small world.  You see, in our work and in our life, there is always a next generation clipping behind us - with a zeal, an attractiveness, and an intelligence that can be more acute, more deliberate and perhaps more passionate than our own.  How do we stay relevant when all this newness abounds?  How do we remain hot when hotness is redefined and repioneered with every waking day? 

The answer, to me, is not simple.  But I believe it's what happens when you stop worrying about your own obsalescence and you realize that learning and growing and relevant-making doesn't idle as you age, it reinvents.   And that as we flow from this half of our life to the next, we realize our gifts are equally in imparting old school to others as it is in absorbing new school from them. 

We are each, now and forever, students in this walk around the sun.  And the smartest most shiny among us are the ones that get that from jump and then keep on getting that for a lifetime to come.  It is all too easy to feel lost as our lives get more innovative.  But it is undeniably amazing to find ourselves despite these innovations, and to know that it takes all kinds, born of all generations, shadowed by all fears and fired up by all passions to make this world go round.

The yellow books may be blue, but they had a great run.  And for me, though I love my smart phone, there is nothing more romantic than the risk of a typewriter - knowing that every letter is a chance and every word thoughtfully chosen.  And it is because I have grown up amid tools of a specific creation that I think the way I do and that my voice can remain relevant.  And when my reflection stares back at me wanting to knock me off my square, I will dust myself off and remember that we all have a brilliance within.  We just need the courage to get it out.

Maria Kim


day 422: all 102 pounds of her

I am sitting in the living room, fatigued from the day - not because it was particularly rigorous, but because I seem to have caught a bug that's inching up my body temperature and has robbed me of my voice.  And it is in this somewhat heightened feverish state, that I find myself eerily alive, very aware of the good and bad of my body and the relative health of my mind. 

And so I sit, aware, vaguely melancholy and swishy - like the sounds of a water bed when you first dive in, and I reflect on the sweetness of sorrow.  In fact, this past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a memorial celebration of life for a dear friend's grandmother - a beautiful matriarch, whose loss of life weighs heavily on our hearts, but whose freedom to let her spirit ascend to whatever the new world is brings joy to us as well. 

As I reflect upon that ceremony, the tipping point for me was watching the son-in-law speak.  This is a man whom I've known for the last 25 years more as a "dad" type, rather than as his many other roles - husband, son-in-law, historian, family man and friend.  As he stepped to the podium, he quickly regaled the story of the past 50 years - his own lens into the sweet bookends of his mother-in-law's life - from the day she ran in step with a fleeing bus to sneak a chicken salad sandwich through the sliver of the window to her young daughter en route to university (all 102 pounds of the "cutest woman he's ever seen") to her centennial birthday - and all the moves, the family, the holiday, the church, the community, the gardens, the smorgasboards, the giving, and the love in between. 

And as he chronicled this life - this life of the mother of the woman with whom he has chosen to live, to age, to fight for and to grow, I realized that we all - no matter whether we're 100 or 1 - have no idea the imprint we are leaving on the lives of those around us.  I would purport perhaps even my hero did not know the full extent to which he loves and respects the life of this woman who has given life to his beloved.  And perhaps it was only in her passing and in the contemplation that that loss provoked in each of us, that he recognized - block by block, age by age, the hope that was made possible because his mother-in-law was who she was.  A sassy, intelligent, independent, artistic, generous, benevolent, beautiful, stratospheric, transcendental love.  And in loving his wife, he slowly and certainly recognized the love he has for the woman that brought her to this world. 

All this to say I may be cloudy in my head as my flu strikes deeper, but make no mistake I am clear in my heart.  And what I learned from this day is that the most lovely among us love not only who we choose, but all those who made that choice possible.  And their recognition and celebration of that truth is a beautiful, precious and precocious thing.

I love and I love all those who make that love possible.  And to my friend the father, the husband, the son-in-law and the man, I thank him for teaching me that our hearts can be stretched over the moon and back.  And that we can love all 102 pounds of our first lovely love, and all bodies and souls and moms and dads and men and women who made that love possible.

Maria Kim


day 398: the unbearable senses of being

I have been struggling with this post for several weeks.  Typically an idea will sit on me like a nudge.  I don't have to beckon it forward.  It just kind of greets me like a sweet memory when I least expect it.

In this case, it just hasn't been the same.  I have had to airlift this one out of me like some Operation-esque surgical experiment.  And in retrospect, I would imagine that the reason the idea for today's post has come out of me kicking and screaming is because ...

I have a case of the holiday blues.

Now don't get me wrong.  By all standards, my holiday was fine.  Great food, an intimate family gathering, all the basic staples.  But I was lonely, like the kind of lonely you get when you want to open a box not for the sweater or other form of holiday kindness that might be inside, but for the moment - that brief, elusive moment when you tug voraciously at the paper with a child's enthusiasm for joy - where you hope that the contents of the box might fill you up in another way.  A kinder way.  A way of filling you with the thing you feel when you trim your tree whilst tripping over the people and abundance in your life, when you tumble upon each other like leaves raked after a heavy autumnal fall.  When you fall into each other and for each other and with each other again and again.

But dammit, I opened the box and it was empty.  And I felt the weight of its emptiness especially hard this year.   

Perhaps in an attempt to create noise in the space of this hole, I have taken it upon myself to reintroduce music into my life.  And in a vaguely spiritual way, with my earbuds in and the world around me, I have begun to see everything as though a movie, with my own soundtrack running in the background. 

But like we talked about in day 5, watching the world in this way can also be a bit rough on the senses. I began to watch the vignettes through the Halsted 8 windows and would be struck - with a much more acute reaction than I care to admit - by the images that ...

passed. me. by.

The buoy of a toddler excited to grab a piece of morning cake from her dad's hand.  The swagger of an elderly couple with the woman tugging her partner's coat by the bum.  All lovely pictures, like the kind that you'd find in photo frames to suggest the memories you too might capture.  And I wanted to lasso them, clip them to my coat like my mittens when I was little - as if to say "you too shall be mine." 

So, here's the thing.  I think it's normal to be funky blue during the holidays (at least sometimes).  That's bound to happen especially when our eye for desire and hope and fun and life is perhaps always bigger than our stomach for it.  The trick is not to hole up with the lonely, not to completely plug into your own universe of sound and taste and thoughts.  But to also and equally plug into your real world of noise and friendships and new and old and move from the unbearable senses of our being to the beauty and the world so rich to bear. 

Yup, lonely ain't got nothin' on me (or you).  Let's get up, go at it again, read on, click into, plug in, unplug, show up, and say yes.  That's what I am setting off to do, on this fine New Year's Day. 

How about you?

All the best to you and yours for a 'to the moon and back' new year.

Maria Kim

p.s. For those paying close attention, we are clearly beyond my original end date for this project.  (It was to have ended with my 40th birthday and, well, we're now officially past that milestone.)  As it turns out, I have quite enjoyed this ride and have found that the practice of writing has pushed me to open my eyes more to the flaws and the flawless around me.  And I find it beautiful, inspiring and frankly note or post-worthy, so if it's all the same to all of you, I think I'll continue doing this thing until it fills me no more.


day 356: duck, duck, goose, goose

The other day I went to my first spinning class in a long while.  To be truthful, the notion of spinning has historically gotten on my nerves.  It doesn't seem normal to willingly let someone scream at you to ride faster and faster, and climb higher and higher - all in the name of cardiovascular fitness. 

In this particular class, there were tv's mounted to the wall that were showing the mountain ranges of Sedona, the blissful vista of some beautiful nature state where I was to imagine I was riding.   A leisurely picturesque ride, with wind at my back and sun on my cheeks like true marigold.

The thing is - because I'm not much of a rider, the ride didn't feel good.  And because the guy was yelling at me in that part Richard Simmons, part drill sargeant kind of a way, the ride didn't feel good.  And so what did I do?  I rode (with perhaps not as many turns of the resistance thing as I was supposed to) with my head dragging.  Not looking up at the vista with the mountain ranges and the borderless sky, but looking down at my shoes, my pedals, and the punctuation of the ground. 

And when I looked up, what did I see? 

Five ambling geese crossing the street on my tv vista. 

Five geese that I would have nearly rambled over had I not looked up.

And in that moment I realized, this is what I do.  In the face of a new hill to climb, a new vista over which to triumph, as proud as I may be that I am sitting in that seat, all too often I have a tendency to look down.

To get lost in the rhythm of putting my own feet, one foot in front of the other.  To fail to look up, to neglect to mind the gap between me and a few errant geese.  And insodoing, I lose so much along the way.  I lose the eye of a stranger or the warmth of a dear friend who in my weakest of moments is looking on, rooting for me, squeezing her shoulder as if to squeeze my hand in good luck. 

And as I pedal on my own errant walk to my next birthday, let me look up, let me be careful of the trappings and geese along the way.  And let me be hopeful - gloriously hopeful.  Inspired by the sunshine and the clouds and the marigold and the vista, because so much, so much, so much is on the other side of that day.  Flatter bellies, new stories, more courage, less bags (and lesser baggage), new family, big love, sweet travel, misunderstandings, more forgiveness, great food and greater and greatest hope. 

We are always pedaling towards reinvention - sometimes as slow and methodical as geese, and other times as rapid and skyward as spinners.  And we can do so with the gusto and the chin up that comes with being open to what good may ascend.  We can do so if we so dare. 

That is my birthday wish for myself.  And as I pedal onto my next chapter, my next hope, I will toast to what's possible, what's tomorrow and what's on the other side of the road.

Because the geese (and my spin coach) would have wanted it that way.

Maria Kim