Growing Pains

My daughter came home from the gym and said, “I saw a truck with a large Confederate flag and Trump signs all over it. Why do we have to live here? Why did you move us from San Francisco?”

I chuckled. “Actually, Mesa, AZ is more like most of the country than not. In San Francisco, we lived in a bubble. And even that place has changed a ton in the past 15 years.”

“I want to live in a bubble!” She whined.

I get it.

It reminded me of the time I came home crying after a particularly grueling day of racial taunts in elementary school. As a 100% ethnically Korean-American girl growing up in Davenport, Iowa in the 70s, life could be challenging. Each day, someone called me chink or told me to go back where I came from.

My father reacted sternly to my tears: “Caroline, life is going to show you much harder times. Don’t be weak and cry.” His jaw grew hard and his face turned red.

“Go. Wash your face.”

And we never spoke of racism again.

And I’ve yet to find the answer to the question I had: “How do you convert racists into kind human beings?”

Dr. Sei-Jong Chung

My father was a very private man. He passed away on July 11, 2019, and we did not have a service for him in Georgia, where he lived. Instead, we will have it at my house on September 12. Here is his obituary:

Dr. Sei-Jong Chung, passed away in the early evening hours of Thursday, July 11, 2019 at his home in Lawrenceville, GA. He left this world peacefully, with his loving wife, our mother Jung-Yoon Chung, by his side. As he waged a short, but courageous battle against lung cancer, he discovered a peace and joy with his family and friends he had never previously known. For this, we are eternally grateful.

Born in South Korea, he was the fifth of eight children and displayed an exceptionally inquisitive and academic mind. As a young immigrant and college student, Sei-Jong performed many odd jobs, including serving at restaurants and shoveling coal so college students could enjoy hot water. As he worked to earn his advanced college degrees, he also mentored students and Korean immigrants. On several occasions, he exchanged his skills as a technical English reader and writer for other services. It is because he possessed such expertise that we, his three offspring, were able to take Tae Kwon Do lessons and attain black belts.

After earning his PhD in Operations Research, Sei-Jong was a professor at St. Ambrose College and Northern Illinois University. As a father, he favored the “tough love” style with intentions of preparing us for a tough world. He never allowed us to believe we were victims of any circumstance or person. We were raised to believe we were the captains of our ships and that is an invaluable lesson.

During his final months, he shared with all of us the memories of the life he lived so purposefully, the people who made his journey worthwhile, and the many lessons he learned along the way.

He remains an inspiration to his family, friends and former students, and his intellect, quick wit and generosity will be greatly missed by all who knew him.



Korean Mom Quotes

Jakob Kapusnak

My mom moved in with us 11 days ago after dad passed away. My parents immigrated from Korea in the 60s. You can take mom out of  Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of mom. She has no filter and even though she always has the best intentions and is the most loving person you could ever meet, her comments can sound strange, random and even hurtful. But she’s just doing her, you know?

This morning, I was driving her to church when she shared this gem:

“You know, when I look at my children, I realize I am very old. Because they look so old.”




The Spoon


My mother arrived in America in the late 1960s from a small town in rural South Korea. She knew a little English from school, but you can imagine going from the countryside in South Korea to a small apartment building in North Carolina is not exactly a smooth transition.

My sister, brother and I were born in quick succession following her immigration. We quickly grasped the many, many nuances of the English language, especially slang. Mom tried to understand it. But the words and gestures of profanity eluded her.

One day, my siblings and I were doing something that caused her displeasure: eating with our mouths full? Fighting with each other? Getting Bs? I don’t recall. But I do remember her suddenly raising her fist in an incomplete “f*** you” gesture (no middle finger) and yelling, “Fist up!” This created peals of laughter from us and, in her frustration, she gave chase. With a wooden spoon.

The chase was thrilling. Mom and that spoon could sting. But the sight of her in that apron, her face red with anger…it was too much.

As we ran around the house – us kids laughing at the sight of our indignant mother and the epic fail of her attempt to be obscene -she broke into laughter too. Soon, all four of us were in a puddle of giggle tears.

We carried on that day in a lighter state. Life is good. Grades are grades. People are people. Poor is poor. As long as we have each other, we can laugh.


The “S” Word

Growing up as a 2nd generation Korean-American girl, I was taught that indolence (or laziness) was a crime. My siblings and I took Tae-Kwon Do lessons, violin/cello/saxophone lessons, and piano lessons during the school year. During the summer, we added gymnastics (for us girls) and sports (for my brother). My father held three jobs when he first immigrated to the United States and he still managed to earn a PhD. All of this was considered “the norm” for people who wanted to succeed. And if you didn’t succeed, well, then you were a loser, a dreg of society. If you didn’t get straight A’s, get a full scholarship to college and then make a ton of money, you were not special. You were “blah.” No one wants to be “blah,” right?

All the other 2nd Gen KA’s felt the pressure. When the Koreans got together for dinners at each others’ houses, the main conversation was which child was going to which Ivy League school.

As you can imagine, there was fallout. Someone got pregnant and dropped out of high school. Another dropped out of law school and became (gasp!) an artist.

I became an elementary school teacher and writer. This is maybe one rung above being an artist. Maybe. It could be one rung lower. I don’t know. Ask a Korean. Anyway…

I’ve known a few people who committed suicide because their outsides didn’t match or meet their inside expectations. These were really good people and it scared me, because I could relate. So I studied yoga and meditation. The idea of just “being” resonated deeply. Feeling calm and peaceful feel really good. Isn’t this why people work so hard to attain their goals? To feel good in the end?

Yet, I had this conflict: I still wanted to DO something. I wanted to be “successful” at what I pursued and I wanted to feel at peace at the same time. Is this possible? How do you simultaneously work really hard at something and feel that “just being” is enough?

I’ve come to realize that there is nothing wrong with ambition, as long as it aims to help others. And working really hard toward that aim provides all the contentment one could want in reaching one’s goals. The surrender part replaces the expectation part (of accolades, awards, bonuses, fame, etc.)

As one yogi says,

“We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back and let go.”

(Gates and Kenison, Meditations From the Mat).


So go ahead, burn brightly! But remember to surrender.




Father’s Day


Summer School. Day Five.  12 students. Ten more days left. Our days together are so few and there is so much to do.

Kids are like mirrors. I am always learning from them and they show me things about myself. They help me be better. Today, I was teaching them how to use Word: how to open it, type in it, save , change fonts, etc. We were making Father’s Day cards and the fact that one student’s father just went to jail was not lost on me. “If you prefer to write a card to your mother or grandparent, that’s fine.” She chose to make it for her father anyway.

“What if I need to write it in Spanish? My father can’t read English.”

(Taken aback): “How do you communicate with your dad then? How do you talk to each other?”

“We say, ‘How are you?’ and simple stuff like that.”

“OK, Type it in English and we will translate it to Spanish when you are all done.”

Several kids nodded and resumed typing. I continued walking around, helping, realizing the chasm within their families.

One student asks, “Mrs. Wipff, are you going to call Anthony “honey” too?”






Leonard Chang!

justifiedI had the very good fortune of interviewing Leonard Chang.

Award-winning author of several novels, FX’s “Justified” TV Show writer and his motumblr_inline_n9ubdnRcV91qbjnfast recent autobiography, Triplines, he shared his writing process and advice for other writers.  He is currently at work on another novel, The Lockpicker, due out in 2016.

What inspires you and what is your writing process when writing novels?

Perhaps this might be a circular answer, but writing actually inspires me. When I write a scene or a story or a character that suddenly *clicks*, whether it gets at something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, or a character does something surprising and delightful to me, or any kind of confluence of the creative forces as I’m trying to make a story coalesce — when it works, I feel an incredible sense of… I don’t know, joy, or maybe even a hint of transcendence. It’s what Kafka has said, and which I’m sure I’ve talked about before: for the him writing was the axe breaking the frozen sea within us. Of course not all writing does that — and getting to that place is arduous, painstaking work, but when it happens I feel like all the pain was worthwhile, and I want to keep doing it…

My writing process for my novels is very, very simple. I get up early and I write a few pages a day, and then do other things until the next morning. The pages accumulate over time, and then I rewrite these pages over and over, sometimes starting over from scratch. I keep doing this until the novel is finished — it can take years. I’m not being facetious — it really is this grueling. It’s all about stamina.

How did you get into writing for a TV series? Was it something you’ve dreamed of doing? What would you advise wanna be TV series writers to do?

I’ve never dreamed of writing for a TV series, but certainly have dreamed of being able to write all the time, which is essentially what I’ve been doing since I became a professional writer. For me, writing TV is just another kind of writing. It all comes from the same place. And I got into TV writing the same way I got into novel writing. For novels, when I read everything I could and found I wanted more, I began writing books for myself. For TV I watched shows like The Sopranos and The Wire, and hungered for more, so began trying to create my own shows. However in TV there’s a lot more to the business that just writing, and I needed to understand all facets of TV production, which is why I had to begin staffing on other shows to learn. I’ve been lucky to work on excellent shows with superb people. As for breaking into TV there’s no one way — every writer you meet in TV has a different story about how they broke in. Often it’s through a mentor, through a lower level writing assistant job, through the TV writing programs, or through a different medium (film, novels, plays, etc). My only general piece of advice is at the very base level of all of these is being a great writer, so that’s the factor you can control. You need to write so well that everyone who reads your work will feel like they’re missing out if they don’t ally themselves with you.

Describe a typical day at work for “Justified.”

“Justified” has ended (we aired our season finale a couple months back) but for me a typical day looked like this: I would get into the office at around 5:30 AM. I would spend a couple hours writing various things, sometimes Justified scripts, sometimes other things. I’d then watch the previous day’s “dailies” — the footage shot yesterday. I’d read through yesterday’s writers’ room notes, think about the issues we’d be talking about that day. The writers’ room would start around 10:00AM, and I along with eight or nine other writers would continue “breaking” a new episode — basically discussing at length the current story and state of the characters, laying things out on a whiteboard — and then we’d finish around 6:00PM. I’d then do a little more work, and then go to the gym. I’d get home by 8:00-ish and spend time with my partner (she is also a writer but works at home) and we might watch TV and hang out, and then I’d pretty much crash by 10:00PM. All this changes if we’re shooting an episode I wrote, since our writers were always on set for our scripts — those were long days and nights.

Thank you for your time and attention, Leonard!

For more Q&A, check out his blog:

Readers, click on the book covers to purchase his books. They Ah-mazing!

Here is his author’s page on