“What possessed you to write a book?” I am most often asked, the reference to “possessed” always accompanied by a smile. “Possessed,” though, holds most of the answer, as the daunting prospect of writing a novel eventually gave way to my growing need to exorcise my demons.
My life was following the lines of a well-drafted script, the author of which was unknown to me. Perhaps it was my religion, or my Korean-American upbringing, or even my adopted notions of Confucianism, that made me stay the course – study hard, work hard and believe I would be rewarded some day. In short, that was the plan – an abridged description of the male, Korean-American, Presbyterian dream.
Then my life ran into 2008, the events of which unraveled all of my hard-earned history.
The sudden death of a dear cousin, the financial crisis in the credit markets and the collapse of the real estate market were all events that took turns strangling me emotionally and financially. Criticism of the once venerable rating agencies and the nation’s hatred toward bankers, so clearly communicated daily in the presses, suddenly made my resume useless. One year took away the five I had worked at Moody’s, the four I had toiled as a securitization attorney at Brown & Wood, and the two I had spent, up till that time, at HSBC.
Many things I had worked so hard for, that I had given up so much for, didn’t seem to matter so much looking back from 2008. My near perfect attendance record in elementary school, my unblemished report cards, my acceptance to a magnet high school, my graduation from a top 10 liberal arts college, my graduation from a top 5 law school – they meant nothing. The only statistics that mattered were the number of people I was supporting and the bonus I was to receive for 2008. One was unbearably large and the other obscenely small.
And, yet, I still could not speak. I don’t know whether it’s as true for the “typical” Korean-American man, but for a Korean man, at least, and particularly if you were Christian, you did not speak these things. You were the pillar against which your family leaned, you were the voice of reason and wisdom, you were the proponent of hope and kindness, a harbinger of a better life to come. You did not cry – unless your parents died – you did not complain nor even fathom that something was beyond your reach, you did not worry and you did not rest, for the day you rested you could be blamed for not having tried hard enough. In a word, you were supposed to be the Rock – you were supposed to be Peter, when in your own private life, your own personal world of suffering, you were more like War With Pigeon’s protagonist Simon, or his love interest Catherine.
And so the words fell, silently from my lips to the page, so that I could speak in a manner that was acceptable, in a manner divorced from my own personal life, but in a manner that would exorcise my demons. I needed to speak in this way, to preserve my sanity while still maintaining those elements of my Korean-American self that I considered important. I needed to make sense of a life that had been upturned by the events of 2008 and maintain a record, so that I would never forget the key to life – the last of seven keys referenced by Simon in my novel, War With Pigeons.