Catapult Extra TinyLetter of the Month: Alvin Park, aspirin and honey
“And there is han . . . this Korean idea of constant injustices born from constant conquering.”
Each month we feature a new TinyLetter writer, chat with them about their newsletter, and republish one (or in this case, two) of their recent issues. This month’s TinyLetter author is Alvin Park, a Korean American writer, associate fiction editor at Little Fiction, and pretty cool guy.
Previously in this series: Sarah Mirk , Brandon Taylor , Teri Vlassopoulos . If you would like to recommend a TinyLetter to us (your own, or someone else’s), leave a comment below!
(i ) i can at least be neat walk out and be seen as clean
My brother’s girlfriend visited Portland last weekend. We didn’t get to spend too much time together, but it was nice catching up with her, talking about family and future. She considered the possibility of moving up here, which is great to think about but not something I fully believe will happen. She told me about Pepper, how she’s becoming such a talkative child.
I’ve been thinking recently about being Asian and how Korean cultures relate to others, especially Japan. Japan tends to be what most people are familiar with. Anime, manga, art, food. It’s what I tend to connect with more. It’s where I want to visit, but it’s also hard to ignore the damage it has done to Korea. The historical atrocities and ignorance that continues to carry through. Shinzo Abe , the current prime minister, who is one of many Japanese officials trying to revise history, to cover over past violences to Koreans, particularly regarding comfort women. The constant ownership disputes over small, rocky islands between South Korea and Japan.
And there is han. It’s this Korean idea of constant injustices born from constant conquering from foreign powers. It’s the weight of being wronged, by the world, by your employer, by the government, by ideas and concepts. Some refer to it as an actual physiological disease, handed down through blood. But even this is all oversimplifying.
The other night at a pizza place, I watched a young woman eat dinner with her mom in complete silence. No talking or nodding or acknowledging anything about each other. She only dabbed the inside corners of her eyes with her napkin every so often.
Whenever I see a restaurant here serve kimchi, I will absolutely order it to judge it. My mother ’ s kimchi is the bar against which I measure all kimchi. I don’t know if her recipe is even the best, but it’s what I know. In a way, I’m just tasting for familiarity, for the levels of flavor I experienced as a kid until I was an adult. Though there’s also just bad kimchi. If you are in Portland, do not get the kimchi from the Namu food truck. It is the worst I’ve ever had.
I hope You’ll forgive me a short letter. I keep on wanting to tell You, “I like you but I’m mature enough to understand that distances don’t make for relationships, so I’m trying my best to be a good friend.” I’m exhausted from having so much fun the past week with my best friend visiting, which I’ll tell You about soon.
(ii ) i’m still breathing & someday i’ll cut all the heartstrings just to save myself
I’ve adopted my mother’s jumpiness. Whenever I go home now, it’s easy to scare her in the kitchen accidentally, for her to jump and look at me wide-eyed before she realizes who I am, before she claps her hands and mock scolds me. Washing the dishes, it’s easy for me to jump when my roommate walks into the kitchen. I’ve learned to turn my body to see the kitchen entrance in my periphery.
My best friend Omair visited us two weeks ago. He was here for the whole week. I didn’t realize how much I had missed him. It’s been a few years since I saw him last. It was good to have him here. His vibrancy, his energy. My favorite thing about him is how easy it is to make him laugh, how often he makes me laugh. We spent one lazy brunch talking about everything. Relationships, friendships, humor and how we act, kids, religion. It’s interesting how much we’ve both grown, how we’ve all grown. How we haven’t changed at all.
As soon as we dropped him off at the airport, I missed him.
I dreamed of my mom dying a week ago. I don’t remember the specifics of it, but I woke up panicked and sad and I checked my phone to see if I had any missed calls or messages.
I wonder if death would fix my family. If my dying would suddenly force my father back to my brother. If my father would hold Pepper. I don’t think it would. It’s stupid to think about. But part of me is willing to try anything. Some part of me imagines a family photo where my mom actually gets to hold her own granddaughter in her lap, and I’d look at the picture and see every similarity.
The last time I talked with my parents over the phone, I was stressed. I told them about my taxes and my father told me simply to send over all my information. Don’t worry, he said, There’s still time.
I’ve been working so much and entertaining friends and I would love to just read at a coffee shop.
My memory is getting bad. There are a lot of things I don’t remember these days. I don’t remember what I did even two days ago. But I remember in college, going to a park at night to see shooting stars with a girl. I remember not seeing any of them even as she’d point and say, There goes another one.
One thing about Portland is that it’s very much an easy place to run into people or see people you recognize. It’s a city where missed connections could actually be fulfilled. I’m pretty sure I saw Sarah Jeong once at the coffee shop I normally go to.
My sleep hasn’t been great. I should head to bed. I used to be a morning person, but I tend to sleep at 1:00 a.m. these days. There must be a better way. I hope You are doing well. You’re new to me, but I already think about You a lot.
A chat with Alvin Park about aspirin and honey :
Why did you start writing aspirin and honey?
I’d never have even known about TinyLetters if it wasn’t for Mary-Kim Arnold, writing genius and general source of worldly beauties. There was something about the strange intimacy of the TinyLetter format that immediately drew me in. At the time, I think I really needed a space where I could feel like I was writing to one person. Twitter is the sort of contrast to TinyLetter. As much as I generally enjoy Twitter, it often feels like I’m yelling out at a crowd of people passing by. TinyLetter can feel more personal. It’s more like having a late night conversation with a friend.
What’s the name about?
I was doing some research on acne. I read that a mask of aspirin and honey could help to reduce inflammation and clear your skin. I liked the juxtaposition of the two as words and as physical objects. Something bitter with something sweet. The way that one can cover the other. I don’t know if combining aspirin and honey into a mask actually works, and the idea of rubbing honey on my face is kind of upsetting.
More than some other TinyLetters I read regularly, yours truly reads like a letter from a friend. It’s journalish, too. It made me wonder if you write these in the same voice you speak to friends in?
This is really flattering, and it’s definitely the feeling I try to aim for! I think the core of my voice is in my TinyLetters. I do tend to speak in scattered thoughts, and I’m often curious and questioning. I always try my best to be supportive and understanding while staying honest to myself. I think I make more jokes when I talk to friends. I’m definitely not as melancholic or sad when speaking with friends (most of the time anyway). I also tend to say “like” a lot more with my friends because I will forever be that boy from SoCal.
Have you found that writing these missives helps you write other things when you want to?
Absolutely! My TinyLetter is my no-pressure-writing space. I’m not trying to do anything special with it. I’m not hunting for likes or reblogs or any other form of self-validation marker. I just sit down and write the letters out without any expectations from myself or my subscribers. With my flash stories, I can agonize over one sentence for hours trying to work out structures, rhythms, word choice, commas. TinyLetters allow me to work on my voice, flex myself out of writing ruts, and think out loud without worrying so much about the end product. It also takes away some of that isolation and solitude so inherent to writing.
Please recommend some of your favorite TinyLetters.
Oh goodness, there are so many! Let me try to list out a few:
Virgin Wool is a constant gift of beauty. It’s honestly some of the best writing I’ve ever read. If he ever collected these letters into a book, I would be all over it.
Monet Thomas’s While You Were Sleeping is about her adventures in China. It’s filled with intimacy and softness and light.
Chloe N. Clark’s I Meant To Tell You mixes food and baking with thoughts on life. As a Taurus, I find that this is just the perfect little letter to curl up with, though not when I am already hungry.
Hannah Cohen ’s still growing combines nonfiction and poetry to just really lay it all out there. Super vulnerable, honest, relatable.