6.0 Sin Prisa Pero Sin Pausa

Day to Day to Night
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Meaning: Slowly but surely; doing something without hurry but not stopping.

Prompt: [from Twitter] "I feel like I’m constantly worrying about the next part of my life without realizing that I’m right in the middle of what I used to look forward to."

 

For her, it has always been Seulgi.

In unknown distances, smeared ink on decorated paper. It has always been Seulgi.

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Joohyun knows she should be more okay. That’s what the world tells her. It manifests in the multiple zeros in her bank account and the hundreds of contacts in her phone. The wide, wide smiles. People. All around her, congratulating her on her newfound success, jokingly asking her to remember them when she’s even bigger and better. Faces that come and go. Ebbing, ebbing, ebbing, but never flowing.

She should be more okay. But it’s hard when you already know how lonely it can be to stand in a room with people who say they love you but don’t. Because they love Irene, they love her fame, they love the proximity to genuine companionship without having to reciprocate beyond the occasional comment on the blurb of her books. They love the possibility that they may see a flash of recognition in her eyes after a few sweet words slipped once several years ago. And she hates that she has become an instrument for them.

If there’s a wish she could make, it would be that she may find strength in herself. To stop letting herself be blown away by insincere flatteries or pulled down by faceless malice. To embrace the solitude of creating worlds full of life for people who will ask for more, more, more but look the other way as she drowns in the process of doing so.

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People can only hate you if they know your name, but if they know your name, it means that you’re already more than they’ll ever be.

Joohyun keeps every letter Seulgi sends her. They live in an orange chest (Seulgi said it’s her favourite colour) locked with a key that Joohyun carries around her neck. Neatly folded in thirds. Stacked, vertically. Years and years and years of correspondence encased in a moment of clicks and quiet shuffling. Every now and then, Joohyun takes the letters out to read them. Sometimes for hours on end.

Seulgi doesn’t know that Joohyun is Irene. She hasn’t known for nearly a decade now. Joohyun promised herself that she would keep one person, just one person, for Joohyun, and Irene could have everyone else. In the cramped sentences she pens out across pages meant for a familiar stranger, there is hope that the stories she tells Seulgi will never demand a continued existence, even if they are cut short and left without conclusion. They blossom and fade with drops of inspiration that only come when Joohyun writes to Seulgi, instantaneously, fleetingly. Seulgi doesn’t ever ask what happens next. Doesn’t beg for more.

So as Joohyun uncaps her pen to reply to the newest letter from her pen pal, she tells the other woman about mystical gardens in a lost colony where girls cry for feeling bodies that lead them to find philautia, knowing that Seulgi will reply with beautiful reassurances that the girls will find a way.

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Dear Seulgi, Joohyun writes. Tilda the Elephant silently watches the moon sink into her chest everyday, unable to call out for help.

Dear Joohyun, Seulgi replies. I hope Tilda the Elephant will realize that the moon finds her every night because it does not want her to be lonely.

Joohyun reads the letter and wonders: but how does the moon know?

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As Joohyun sits behind a cloth-covered table, brooding bodyguard behind her, she sweeps her gaze across the snaking line in the department store, all readers waiting to catch a glimpse of her face. She imagines a scenario in which Seulgi is in the line. She frowns and rips that thought out of her head.

The first fan who greets her tells her that Irene’s books are different. Joohyun asks how. He says that the emotions are strongly portrayed, the endings unpredictable. She should write more often, because she’s really good.

Joohyun silently signs his book. He asks when the next book will be out. He wants to know what happens to Joy after Wendy travels to the Land of the Lost with Sungjae. She gently answers that she is still in the process of outlining it and has to edit the manuscript once it’s done.

“Please publish it soon!” he adds in before the staff signal the end of his turn. “I’ve been waiting for nearly two years!”

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Grey clouds paint the upper half of her window when she comes across the familiar purple envelope amongst hordes of blindingly white ones. Taking care to not tear into the contents, Joohyun runs a letter opener along the closed top, admiring the tiny serrations the blade leaves on the fibers of the paper in its wake. A slightly bent corner enters her vision as she holds the opening apart slightly, a smile paints her lips. Loopy handwriting greets her when the paper unfolds onto the mahogany surface of her table, and Joohyun rests a beat to enjoy her reading with a calm mind. The words roll smoothly into her.

Dear Joohyun, Seulgi writes. Three days from the day that I write this letter will be the tenth year anniversary of us being pen pals. I must extend my gratitude for your continued honesty throughout the years.

What honesty? Joohyun questions. She knows she writes occasionally about missing her parents and being disappointed in her friends, but everything else contained within the four corners of her running hand’s fancy is of unexisting worlds and temporary imagination. There is no honesty, she reasons. There is only her distraction from something deep within herself that she wishes not to acknowledge.

Writing is like an extension of your soul, a journey to find parts of yourself from past lives and alternate universes in an attempt to feel more whole with a rapidly approaching, undeniably finite end. In your words, I can see it. I can see how lonely you are, Joohyun. The multiple representations of yourself that you search for have not yet found you and you feel like you’re left to fend alone in a world where others want you to be exposed, constantly. But you must trust yourself, Joohyun, Seulgi writes. You are the one who wields the pen.

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She stares at the ten words on her computer screen and wills the rest of the page to fill up. Even with the months spent brainstorming with her publishers and countless conferences attended overseas, Joohyun still has no idea about what will happen to Joy, nor does she have any energy to invest in what does. Despite the attachment she has towards the characters and the world and the various adventures she had initially planned for them, the writer feels exhausted even thinking about the letter J in Joy after the countless emails and letters asking her the exact same question she cannot answer. A trip to the Bahamas doesn’t help. An impulse purchase of three designer bags doesn’t help. Nothing helps, and Joohyun starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with her writing abilities now.

You must trust yourself, Joohyun, Seulgi had written. Except Joohyun has spent months doubting whether she is still writing for herself or for the expectations imposed upon her. There’s so much she wants to do and so much she cares about, but conventions say she can’t do whatever she wants whenever, so she’s stuck in a dark and quiet study trying to squeeze out fragments of dwindling plot devices for meticulously-named characters as her mind wanders to other ideas of great potential that are not at all related to the task at hand.

Dear Seulgi, Joohyun writes. I would like to meet you in person someday. Perhaps you can explain to me then how I can wield the pen without letting it whisk me away from this world I inhabit.

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The first complete draft of her manuscript is due within seven months, but Joohyun is still stuck in the brainstorming process.

She just wants to stop. She wants to put down her pen and never look at a word processor ever again.

A sticky note with hurriedly-scribbled notes hangs off the side of her laptop screen—yet more ideas to be pushed back until Joohyun finishes her work-in-progress. A notification dings on her computer: it’s junk mail. Joohyun sighs. With the one thing in her life that used to drive her forward suddenly becoming burdensome, there is no longer any purpose to what she does. She’s a lost satellite without a celestial body to revolve around; she’s floating aimlessly to vast, unending nowheres without anything to reel her back in.

Dear Joohyun, Seulgi writes. We will meet when Tilda the Elephant embraces the moon and crying girls leave the garden. Slowly but surely, she assures. Slowly but surely, you will find your pace again. Until then, hold on tightly, no matter where your pen takes you.

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Joohyun meets with her friend Seungwan after days spent locked in her house, trying to get anything down on paper. Perhaps she needs a little push from elsewhere. Perhaps Seungwan is secretly a brilliant writer whom Joohyun just didn’t notice as such during their college years.

No such luck. Seungwan is still absolutely useless when it comes to creative writing.

“Hyun, trust me, you could bull your way through those few hundred pages, and your readers will still eat it up.” Seungwan swirls her boba pearls around in her cup with a thick blue straw. “You’ve got a natural affinity with words and storytelling. You’ll be fine.”

Except that writing itself is a craft and no one can snap their fingers to produce thousands of words, magically. Joohyun wants to create something that she is satisfied with, not just something that will appease her readers. She finds herself being pulled back and forth by the evaluations they leave her, and there’s no way she can win by listening to everyone and implementing all their ideas. Ultimately, it’s her story and she needs to take charge of it, but the spark is gone and she’s on a time crunch. Not that Seungwan would know. Seungwan got to inherit a multinationally successful audio equipment conglomerate at the young age of twenty-three, around the same time that Joohyun was excitedly kindling the premise of her current trilogy, wondering if she should inform Seulgi, her pen pal of five years at the time, of the contract she acquired and the pen name she would use.

“It’s not that easy, Seungwan.” Joohyun dips a cookie into her tea before letting it sink to the bottom of her cup. She’s not really feeling the snacks at the moment. “I released the first two parts so quickly, consecutively, that people have high expectations for this one. Given the long hiatus.” She glances at her friend. “Gotta end on a good note.”

Seungwan laughs. “Since when have you, Bae Joohyun, been timid about your writing?” There’s a pause as Seungwan takes a sip of her drink and carefully swallows the contents. “You’ve produced nothing but stellar material ever since we met in high school. You even got a grant to attend some prestigious workshop back in college because several professors recommended you.”

“That’s back then,” Joohyun weakly retorts. Thinking about how confident she was a mere five years ago, comparing it to how tired she is now—it makes her feel even worse. “I’ll have you know that writing abilities can be stagnant, too.”

“How stagnant can it possibly get? You’re always writing something new. It’s not like you use the exact same structures over and over again in all your stories.”

Joohyun doesn’t tell her that she hasn’t published (or written) enough stories to determine that. And she most certainly doesn’t tell her that she’s not writing anything new, because there’s now only six months left until her manuscript for the last installment of the trilogy has to be turned in, and any time not spent on thinking about, breathing, or living Joy’s predicament until Wendy and Sungjae return is time wasted.

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Dear Seulgi, Joohyun writes. My pen is stuck in the ground, and the ground is impossibly frozen. Tilda the Elephant has no arms and the crying girls are now lost.

Dear Joohyun, Seulgi writes. The ground will thaw soon, and then, we will meet. The moon will always return and the shape of the garden will not change. But the ground will not stay frozen forever, Joohyun. I promise you that. Spring will come to you, in time.

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A little, tiny, itty-bitty puff of creative smoke permeates her mind when Joohyun is about to eat dinner. Violently shoving her hot soup aside, the writer sprints to find the nearest pen and paper, hoping to jot down her thoughts before they disappear on her. After a few seconds of frantic scribbling, turning the tiny rabbit-shaped post it note in different positions to get as much down on the paper as possible before flipping it over, Joohyun sits back with the realization that her mind is blank again, although she’s grateful that she managed to give her whirlwind notions a concrete form before they vanished. She looks down at her sloppy, hasty writing:

‘call force: sr couple; journey up then disappointed, go down and find big dog god no. 3; bribing? begging? blind date? (comical) = correct path, discovering/learn to manage powers = turns out unknowns about her abilities; couple help out and’

It ends there. Joohyun isn’t sure that she’ll know what the heck she means to do with this, but it’s better than nothing, so she’ll take it. Her phone rings to indicate a new call, prompting Joohyun to stare longingly at the post it note (which she carefully tucks into a notebook nearby and mentally reminds herself to check again later) before heading back into the kitchen to answer whoever is looking for her.

“Unnie, are you available on Saturday?”

Joohyun blinks then walks over to where her agenda lies open on her desk. Sooyoung chatters away with someone as the writer flips through the pages to answer her.

“Well, technically yes, but I’ve got a manuscript that’s due in—”

“Good!” Sooyoung exclaims, cutting Joohyun off from making any excuses. “You haven’t forgotten that it’s Yerim’s birthday soon, right? She told me to invite you to her party.”

“Park Sooyoung,” Joohyun says exasperatedly. “How the hell am I supposed to know your girlfriend’s birthday? I’ve literally only met her twice in person. The first time wasn’t even when she was dating you yet.”

“Well, now you do,” Sooyoung quips. “But please, you know she absolutely adores you—”

“She’s always making fun of me for being an old lady—”

“—and there are going to be a lot of cool people there—”

“—I hate hanging out with random strangers, you already know that—”

“—plus, Seungwan unnie said that you’ve been stressing way too much about that weird Percy Jackson successor trilogy you’ve been writing—”

“—it’s not about Greek mythology! How many times do I need to tell you to actually read my goddamn books—”

“—so Yerim thought it would be a good idea to introduce you to a really hot date; I think her name was Kang Seulgi or something like that…”

Joohyun stops arguing with the younger girl at the familiar name. “Kang Seulgi?” How many Kang Seulgi’s could possibly exist in their country?

“Yeah.” Sooyoung’s voice sounds weirdly muffled. “You know her already?” Joohyun thinks she hears Yerim squealing in the background, followed by a loud crash, but she ignores it. “Seulgi isn’t someone you’d know. Totally different circles.”

“Well…” Joohyun replies, unsure of what to say. “It’s...just a pretty name.”

“Whipped already, I see,” Sooyoung teases. Joohyun clenches her jaw in annoyance.

“Fine, I’ll go. Just text me the details later.”

“Thank you, unnie! I’ll see you then.”

Sooyoung ends the call before Joohyun has a chance to say anything in return. Moments later, her phone buzzes with a new message relaying the time and location of the party, which seems to be at some high-end club. Oh well. Joohyun puts her phone away and heads back to the kitchen to eat. Half of her soup is spilled and what remains is cold. Grimacing, the writer goes to heat up what she can salvage and mindlessly wipes down the table, wondering if that Kang Seulgi is her Kang Seulgi.

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Dear Seulgi, Joohyun writes. Sometimes, I think that I understand worlds tucked away in the yet unbloomed buds of fully-formed half-thoughts. But when I pluck their flowers, they crumble and disintegrate as if what I had thought to be auspicious paths to my literary longevity are merely hollow disillusions. It disheartens me, Seulgi. My promising garden grows one flower and that flower cannot blossom.

Joohyun has managed to finish two chapters. She should have at least twenty more. But twenty is so daunting and two is so insignificant, indistinct in the face of those looming presences. A trembling in her hand as the incoming email preview from her agent asks how far along she is. She closes the laptop.

Dear Joohyun, Seulgi writes. The flower cannot thrive solely because it grows in a perfect environment. You must be patient with it and let it reveal itself naturally. Slowly but surely, Joohyun. Slowly but surely, it will bloom.

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She prepares a pair of heels found in the yet unexposed collections of Yongsun’s newest line of products. Her ex-roommate specifically reminds her that they are limited edition and aren’t to be posted online until they are officially released. Joohyun promises seven times before she is allowed to leave for Yerim’s party, hoping that the younger girl (whom she doesn’t know too well) likes designer shoes.

Flashing, coloured lights in a dark, open area. The writer winces at the booming bass and rumbling vibrations running under her feet, up her hunched frame, as she peers around for the staircase that will lead her to the room in the text message Sooyoung sent her. Apparently Seungwan will be there too. At least Seungwan will be there.

People jostle against her in hazed movements, and Joohyun furrows her eyebrows at the unpleasant contact. Soon enough, she sees Sooyoung chatting with the bartender at the bar downstairs, so she makes her way over to the taller girl. Sooyoung doesn’t notice her until Joohyun half collapses on the seat next to her, energy depleted from fighting her way through the crowd.

“Oh, unnie, you’re here!” Sooyoung gives her a sloppy hug and knocks on the counter to order a drink. “Hey, buddy, a Long Island Iced Tea for my friend here. She’s stuck in her house all day and needs something strong!” The younger girl turns to Joohyun again. “How’s that book coming along? Did they find Zeus?”

Joohyun presses the tips of her fingers into her temple, feeling an ominous pulsing come to surface. “I told you that it’s not about Greek mythology.” She glances at the drink slid her way with a slight smile, almost pitiful, and stares at the deathly concoction. “I’m doing what I can with it, but I’d rather not talk about it.”

Sooyoung shrugs nonchalantly but grabs the drink, sloshing some of it over the sides of the cup, and pulls Joohyun up. “C’mon, I’ll show you where our room is.” She throws back the remainder of the tequila that Joohyun hadn’t noticed next to her and slides a few bills under the glass. “Yerim is looking forward to your present.”

“My present,” Joohyun mumbles as the feisty brunette drags her upstairs. Sounds like something Yerim would say based on what Joohyun knows of her.

The room is only a bit brighter than the main area of the club but the drunken laughter is what makes Joohyun’s entrance feel jarring. She sees Seungwan amiably chewing on what seems like beef jerky as Yerim eggs on someone Joohyun doesn’t know to blow bubbles into a drink through three separate straws, two for her nostrils and one for . Joohyun bites her lip and looks elsewhere.

“Irene unnie!” Yerim screeches and smiles when she spots the older girl standing awkwardly near the door long after Sooyoung has seated herself by her girlfriend’s side. More specifically, Yerim smiles while eyeing the bag in Joohyun’s hand.

Joohyun pulls the corners of her lips up awkwardly and passes the present onto the birthday girl, letting her know that she can’t post pictures online until the product is officially released three weeks later. Despite her tipsy state, Yerim seems to understand and thanks Joohyun for the gift, squealing something about loving expensive heels and perfume.

“Oh!” Joohyun stops in the process of turning around to look for a seat and faces Yerim again. “I was going to introduce you to someone!”

The writer scans the room full of unfamiliar faces. “Oh yes, Sooyoung briefly mentioned that.”

“Seulgi unnie!”

A sharp-looking woman perks up from the drinking game she is engaged in and cranes her neck to look at Yerim. Joohyun watches her and she jogs over to the happily giggling blonde. “What’s up, Yerm?”

Yerim lightly grasps Joohyun’s wrist to bring her forward. “This is Irene unnie! The super famous author I was telling you about.”

An apologetic look from Sooyoung notifies Joohyun that this is Yerim flexing her connections and that this woman—Seulgi—probably doesn’t know that she’s Bae Joohyun, not Bae Irene. This is further confirmed when Seulg

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hyunseulrene
Given the phrases I have left, I'll mark the collection complete after 26 chapters and add on any extras with that status maintained!
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