My story

Observe the flower, not the idea of the flower

Jiddu Krishnamurti used to say this, time and time again: Observe without any motive. Remove the screen of ideas. Observe the flower, not the idea of the flower.

Robert Smith photographed by Aline Giordano © 2018

Kenneth E. Bruscia writes that ‘songs express who we are and how we feel, they bring us closer to others, they keep us company when we are alone. They articulate our beliefs and values.’ I agree. Music has played a big part in my life, my wellbeing and my ability to manifest my identity, because listening to and making music is a political act.

In the early 1990s, I created a music fanzine with friends and fellow students. Privy to intimate interviews and press conferences, I stood transfixed by the brashness and humane presence of Courtney Love; I sat with Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth as he checked our fanzine out; I watched and listened to Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic addressing journalists in Rennes (France) in 1991. This piece of popular music history is now featured in the book entitled ‘Cobain on Cobain’, edited by Nick Soulsby (2016). You will find my account of the interview in the chapter: ‘Racism, sexism and nationalism are driving us toward ignorance’.

Over three decades, I interviewed and photographed many artists and bands. I interviewed Metric, Willy Vlautin, Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, David Bazan, Built To Spill, Robin Proper-Sheppard of Sophia, Mike Hadreas/Perfume Genius, Simone Felice, Dan Mangan, the late Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit, to name a few. I photographed artists and bands such as Patti Smith, Daniel Johnston, Laura Marling, Jarvis Cocker, The Waterboys, Sonic Youth, Suuns, Fugazi, The Cure, Nirvana, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Mogwai, Clem Snide, Sigur Rós, Beirut, Clem Snide, The Flaming Lips, John Grant, Okkervil River, Xavier Rudd.

For a more personal account about me, here are some extracts from various personal writings, including my journal.

In 2016, I enrolled on a course at Schumacher College entitled ‘The Right Livelihood’, a concept which I think of as a combination of life calling and ethical livelihood. It was at the College that I started reading E. F. Schumacher, Satish Kumar, Joanna Macy, Pema Chödrön and Jiddu Krishnamurti.

‘In the autumn, the cohort gathered for the first time on Dartington grounds, where Schumacher College stands. As an exercise we were told to spend a morning with a tree, on our own: go out there, find a tree and come back for lunchtime. I walked around the Estate. I saw this oak tree from the footpath and knew that it would be my companion for the morning. It was a simple enough exercise. I would sit under my tree and meditate until lunchtime. But I listened to The Cure instead.’

I grew up engrossed in the music of The Cure. The emotions in the songs resonated with my teenage discomfort of being. The music of The Cure is linked to my brother, who used to play the cassette ’Seventeen seconds’ in mum’s car on our way to school. It was like an invisible gift, unspoken of, an unconditional gift in lieu of love. I lost my brother when I was 21. Loss has shaped me: The loss of significant people like my Korean birth mother but also the loss of my native culture.

‘I read Korean novels and Korean scholarly work. In the novels, I am moved by the subtext of intergenerational rupture, which is usually associated with the loss of one’s ancestral/native tongue. These authors bring to me how it feels to be Korean in a vivid manner.’

I was born a Korean but the socio-geo-political forces of the time turned me into a French citizen when I was flown to France to be adopted aged 11 months. The circumstances of my birth remain unknown to me to this day. Some of these authors have given me, through the text, what my Korean mother and her mother could not give me verbally. That newly acquired cultural knowledge found its way into my writing, my Gestalt psychotherapeutic work and now my coaching work.

‘I remember my psychotherapist suggesting that I tried a different kind of writing — not crafted like my stories, but rather, those first words that come to mind. I acknowledged the suggestion, but I wasn’t going to lay bare that easily. Too much to read in that kind of writing. But one day, I did what my therapist suggested and shared with her what I had written.’

I experienced, first-hand, the therapeutic power of writing – a type of writing also called process writing. I have used it ever since. Sometimes only a couple of minutes are enough to clarify an emotion or to bring a need into awareness.

I read a lot. I find books therapeutic. The therapeutic dialogue is mediated by the book. It is the process of interpretation that is therapeutic. Of course, one book will not impact two people in the same way.

‘I have just finished reading ‘No One Writes Back’ by Jang Eun-Jin for a second time. I get a sense that the actual story is no longer the main focus. The second time round I was able to enjoy the book differently. ‘Enjoy’ is a terrible word to use here. Jihun story is about loss and how one adapts to new situations – how one lives on after the unbearable has happened. But there really is something very humbling about that second experience: I am able to be with the protagonists in a more authentic way. The story-telling isn’t about the story any longer. The transaction has shifted. It is the telling and the relating to the other that stands out for me.’

Popular music is the lifeblood of my existence. My passion for The Cure and rock music in general has been a constant resource. These songs speak of human loss and give us a glimpse into our humanity. They have sustained me in my life and continue to do so as the world and loved ones give way around us.