I missed you too, Korea.

Sneaking back as a surprise was honestly one of the best things I’ve ever done. Someday I’ll tell Ara and Minshick’s kids about how I made their dad laugh by giving him a box of Halloween-themed Captain Crunch the night before his wedding and show them the surprised squeak their mom made on my iPhone X31 as I walked into her wedding pictures and their dad’s shit-eating grin to be in on it. I was so happy to be there that my heart explodes all over again every time I watch the video.

I visited DGEV, the English Village that I worked at and even though I left almost 3 1/2 years ago, it looked the same. The smells, the sounds, exactly the same. I remembered exploring the campus 5 years ago with DB and Roy Gene, moving into the new dorms as we all squabbled over room size and placement, I hugged Mi Ye, the cafeteria worker who remembered me by first AND last name and my heart felt so full. I sassed all the village guides, I drank at least 3 coffee sticks and fought through the jet lag–that flight over is still the.worst.y’all (13 hours, 50 mins ORD > SEO)—and somehow felt like I had never left.

I spent the last few days laughing, eating, reconnecting and decompressing with Camilla, Don, Nick & Meredith and Heather. FEELS 🚨 ALERT: it’s so strange to be confronted with some of the realities of being the one who always leaves. I left Washington at 18. Tulsa at 23. Arkansas at 25. Korea at 27. I’ve lived in Chicago now for 3 1/2 years and in many ways, I feel like the relationships I made in Korea were (for the most part), deeper. We all knew that our friendships were temporary. Every expat you met might be leaving next week, next month, tomorrow. Every Korean you met might be about to go overseas, or get in a relationship, or to college. We made deep, quick, lasting friends.

But I forgot to remember how that can wound those who stay. Those who see people leave again. And again. And again. The strain it puts on them to continue to reach out and be vulnerable. To share their names and hearts and to invest energy and emotion into hearing new stories that might leave again in 12 months. If you’re one of those people anywhere in my sphere, please keep reaching out. Please use technology to keep the thread between us alive with GIFs and sorrows and joys. I’ll do the same.

I roamed around Daegu and saw weird and wonderful things that were the same and different than I remembered. 2.28, the underground shopping, S., Artbox, at least 2 new Starbucks, the Bokhyeon Daiso is a massive 2-story behemoth, some favorite shops shuttered for new things, the way “Next Stop: Yangyangshi” toned familiarly in my ears.

It feels so familiar. Like I never left. And as I sit in this fancy McDonalds near my old apartment that now delivers (insert rage scream from 3 years ago) using the WiFi and chilling for 2 hours, I don’t know if I miss Korea or candidly if I miss the woman I was here.

2013-15 Korea me was a big transition time. I kind of just…up and went. I decided in January 2013 that I would go and applied and was in Korea the end of May. I met so many people that are still in my life today in the best ways. I learned what it was like to be an immigrant. A privileged immigrant, but still. What it was like to be lost, dependent on others to help you to get home. To help you get on the right bus. To kindly count change out of my palm as I cried in frustration. To survive crowded concert venues and streets with no signage and I’m so grateful for that experience.

I see too how my health (mentally and physically) has improved coming back from Korea. I’m not 100% where I want to be with my physical fitness and health but in Chicago I don’t daily hear about my body size/type or stared at for being a foreigner on a bus.

I became a performer in Korea. I mean, y’all know I’ve always been a ‘look at me!’ Performer but my first stage experiences were in the Daegu Theater Troupe. I became a manager in Korea as I led the Adult Program and the teachers in it. I feel like I became a woman in Korea and less of a grown girl, if that makes sense. I owned more of who I was, I tried more uncomfortable things INTENTIONALLY – from recently-alive octopus to stand up to flying or train-ing to places I’d never been. I went on solo trips to Japan, the Philippines, to Jeju, to Seoul, to Mokpo. I was someone’s first kiss in Korea. I felt like I came into my own more here.

It’s strange to be here with Chicago hindsight and the growth that I’ve had there the past 3.5 years–as a performer at some of the largest/most famous comedic institutions in the world, as one of the top facilitators for Apple in the Chicago market, as a certified Krav Maga instructor–and I feel at home. Chicago is my home. Daegu is a home. Lynden will always be my forever home. Tulsa is a spiritual home. Little Rock is where my tightest friend-family home is; the friends who carried me on their backs through some of the most difficult times.

So many people are a piece of home for me too, no matter where you are in the world. Minnesota to Portland to Little Rock to Colombia to Daegu to NYC to Taipei to the WA/BC border to DC to a tiny city up in Kitakami, Japan (and beyond).

Maybe Daegu will be home again someday. I’d like to teach Ara & Minshick’s kids a whole host of inappropriate English words and give them too many candies and make Don take me to weird delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants and sip dangerously tasty bag drinks at Gogo’s and have Meredith give me a black eye while Muay Thai sparring. I still haven’t climbed Apsan.

It’s been really real again, Daegu. I can’t wait until we meet again.

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I’m a student again, and not just of life.

Shame on y’all and y’alls dads for that joke. I officially started the fall semester on August 27; student ID, Apple Music discount and all! I’m doing the University of Wisconsin – Stout’s Instructional Design program online for the next 9 months. I am gestating a graduate certificate.

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“What’s instructional design?” will probably be the 2nd-most asked question I get this year after “How do you pronounce Krav Maga?” (Rhyme it with “Ahv” as in avocado and “McGraw” as in Faith Hill’s husband)

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Instructional design is formallyΒ “the art and science of creating instruction for learners in a systematic manner that leads to maximum knowledge transfer.” AKA how to create effective learning and training programs. I love facilitating and training; if the house that iFruit built had a permanent internal training role you bet I never would have left that sweet discount (and wonderful, ever patient coworkers).

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Most of the “Trainer” and “Facilitator” and “Learning and Development” roles I’ve been interested in (and interviewed for) over the last year and a half are interested in two things: can you teach? (CHECK THE BOX, MARTY) and can you create content? (Yes, but it’s been a minute since Korea). I’ve been turned down for 3 different roles in this capacity and was looking for some credibility around the making of content.

Enter Instructional Design and UW – Stout’s program. Bona fides, y’all. A program with a great reputation, solid support network post-program and one of my favorite people, Casey (we taught in Korea together), also taking it. I legit have my own mole? Sandra Oh? study buddy? to pass notes to and ask questions and get called on the carpet.

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However, I’m pretty out of practice with the rhythm of student-ing. I finally have a steady hours job, a big ol’ paper Passion Planner and yet I turned in my first assignment at 11:23pm last Sunday. It was due in 36 minutes. THIRTY SIX MINUTES. Here it’s Saturday and I still haven’t done my reading, much less drawn a t-chart (I cannot believe that is still a tool BUT IT IS AND WORKS) comparing 2 different ID models.

But as I sit here on my couch telling you this, I recognize that this is progress. Taking this program is progress. It is investing in myself. And I can be proud of that. I strongly believe that training and facilitating and finding that mix of improv and creativity and tying down principles about work and life is where you’ll find me in 5 years. And if I needed to get some content credibility to be taken seriously in interviews, well, I’m doing it. I’m stepping on that invisible bridge with you, Harrison Ford.

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I’m not the best (yet) with time managing it and my improv shows and work and eating better and working out and staying connected with important people and teaching at Titan Gym, but it’s progress. And I’m getting better. I will continue to get better. Heck, I might even have my assignment in before 10pm tomorrow.

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So if you see me with a large navy notebook with a dog sticker on it flipping pages and turning down things to figure out that I need to watch some Peter Kavinsky and gain sanity over these next few months, please buy me a Diet Coke and give me a consensual hug. It’s not an excuse to be a hermit (I am good at those), but I’m working on me and I need your help to do it. Please invite me to taco nights and shows and rooftop fireworks watching and please understand if I say I can’t.

I love y’all (even if you’re a stranger); feel free to send along tips on post-29-year-old college/life balance and let me pet all of your dogs and sip Old Fashioneds with you and sit in comfortable silence. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, who’s having a taco night soon?

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Edit 9/9/2018: homework submitted at 10:57pm. PROGRESS.

Edit 9/16/2018: homework submitted at 10:32pm. PROGRESSSSSS.

Certified 3am Protein Monster

I sat on the floor of a Holiday Inn Express in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, forking cold, well-seasoned steak into my sleepy mouth. Our lead instructor, Ivo, had explicitly told us to eat some protein in the middle of the night before our first physical test.

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Everything was in that delicious ‘just before’ moment you get, that bubble of ‘what could happen?’ We’d spent the day before knocking 4 states off my bucket list (New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) as we drove from LaGuardia to our destination an hour south of Boston.

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Let me briefly tell you about the women in this photo. The two in the backseat are Nicole and Michelle, both Doctors and the chillest marrieds ever. The woman on the far left is my training partner, Ashleyann, and I wouldn’t have wanted to test with anyone else, y’all. I love us and am so proud of our group.

Friday morning came and Ash braided my hair and we all tried to eat something as our butts were puckered in fear for the first day. Impressions mean a lot and we’d flown halfway across the country to do this instructor certification and represent our gym.

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We lined up with 18 other strangers, feeling the year and a half of instructor trainings and injuries and frustrations about to release in 3 days of mental and physical endurance.

What followed isn’t some secret society ritual, but I don’t know how to tell you how hard it was. It was exactly what I expected but also mentally harder and physically arduous. We all joked about how our other instructors told us they ‘just don’t remember’ their testing. Like when moms say ‘I forgot about the pain when they laid the baby on my chest.’ How do you not remember?!

I remember the testing. I’ve never sweat so much in my life. To the makers of Nuun tablets and Gu, well, goo, thank you. I would recommend you as official sponsors of Krav Maga Alliance instructor testing, if it was up to me (it’s not). Y’alls products truly saved me. 3 8-hour days of on/off/on/on/on/off/on/IT’S ON ON ON/off really gets to a body. If Ash wanted to troll me she’d have Tony’s voice wake me up as an alarm shouting “B’s! B IS ATTACKING GO GO GO” and it would have me fully dressed and on the Brown Line in 46 seconds flat.

You know your girl was in there taking mad Hermione notes too, going through pens and pencils like it was my J-O-B (it kind of is). When I look at my notes I remember the lecture where I discovered that I had blisters under my calluses. Isn’t the point of calluses to avoid blisters? I see the blurred ink on a page about ‘safety in warm ups’ and remember running TWENTY TWO separate 10 minute warm ups and flinch. On one of the pages it looks like a person with hand shakes wrote it BECAUSE I HAD HAND SHAKES from all the focus mitt rounds.

It was 3 days of sweat. Of grunts. Of looking Ashleyann in the eyes and us knowing we were gonna drag each other through it by the scruff of our necks if needed. Of some of the most disgusting laundry you’ve ever smelled. More sweat. Paging through the KMA manual after I accidentally taught a Level 2 technique on my first day. Eating anything at all because MY BODY WANTED IT (and frankly, had earned it). You want steak, body? I will put steak in there. You want a burger, body? Let’s put an egg on it, we fancy.

I wish I knew another way to tell you: it was tough. And we did it.

We made 18 new friends (20 if we’re counting Tony and Vinny). Look at our beautiful faces after Tony said Day 3 was complete.

There were 2 other guys from a different Chicago KMA gym, one of which Ashleyann had gone to high school with! SMALL WORLD Y’ALL; Joe & Nick, masters of their domains and I know in my cynical little improvisor’s heart that Joe must do stand up somewhere in this city and I.Will.Find.It. #artofmonkeypaws

We met Maddie from Krav Maga Detroit, who is welcome to have some adjunct training/traveling badass professorship at our gym all day any day.

And so many other people–the whole ABD family from multiple locations, you are wonderful, strong gargoyles and I’m proud to have sweat all over you and also to have bought one of your t shirts, even though I can’t teach in it.

My Oscar list of thanks is gonna get long, so pop in “Lose Yourself” because you know that was the song of the week and settle in.

Thank you to America’s Best Defense in North Attleboro for hosting us. You have an awesome facility and I’m 96% sure it’s weathered for the upcoming zombie apocalypse in that little woods nook; your people however, shine in that place and I’m so happy we got to meet and train with them.

To Soke Tony Morrison, who ran our test, thank you for pushing me/us. Thank you for letting me run Sunday warmups after my Saturday ones weren’t up to my standards. That was immensely needed and I appreciate it. We were warned that certifying instructors could be intense and sometimes difficult to testers; I’ve never been so happy to have received bad information. At all times we felt like you liked us, you wanted to see us succeed and gave us relevant, helpful feedback on our work. Thank you.

To our fellow testers: y’all fierce as HELL. There was no weak link. Everyone went hard and everyone is someone I would let sleep on my extremely comfortable couch. Thank you for the encouragement, the feedback, the laughs and the Boston food/drink recommendations we did not take because we discovered our hot tub had a jacuzzi and that was the end of ‘let’s go to downtown Boston.’ I would listen to your accents all day, every day.

Titan Gym: thank you for believing that I was a badass even when I didn’t. I’m still surprised you saw in me what I didn’t see in myself. I’m grateful for the sweat I have left and learned on your floors, the Romanian moonshine consumed in the wee hours and the students I am privileged to make run around, listen to Pitbull and grow in their skills. I promise to keep bringing you terrible puns and hearty grunts.

To Michelle and Nicole: Thank you for being badass lady doctors and my friends. Seriously, y’all are great. We teach at weird, different hours and don’t see each other a lot but this weekend I felt like we all 4 became a unit; we loved and supported even though I was scared out of my support leggings. I’m so happy to have been a part of your journey and to have seen that moment when Nicole’s eyes turned shark black and I almost lost a tooth. I couldn’t have asked for better people to have gone with Ashleyann and I and believe me when I say I would rub a lacrosse ball across your shoulders any day.

Ash: we did it. We damn well did it. There is no one in that gym that knows me better. That has seen me cry as much, sweat as much, nervously fart as much. We’ve spent hours talking and training and cleaning and I’m so happy that we went on this ride together. I’m a firm believer in arranged marriages after this year and a half. I love you and I love that you wouldn’t let me quit or run during this long season. You truly take joy in teaching and loving your students and Diamond and you inspire me to re-invest my heart in it too. I 100% love you and I am a better woman having done this with you.

This is Ash pulling apart her Gatorade plastic rings “for the turtles.” She’s the best.

My name is Alyssa Bailey and I’m now a Krav Maga Alliance certified Instructor of Krav Maga Level 1. I teach at 8am on Saturdays and 9am on Sundays at Titan Gym near Belmont & Western in Chicago, IL and dance terribly to ‘encourage’ my students during those times.

I have survived the most difficult testing of my life and the next person who asks ‘how was your vacation in Massachusetts?’ Better hope they know a 360 defense for a backhand slap. πŸ’ͺπŸ»πŸ‘―β€β™€οΈπŸ‘―β€β™€οΈπŸ’•

The KMA Way

Hair tightly braided, deodorant applied, electrolyte tablets packed.

3am wake up to eat steak and potatoes, back to sleep. Packed lunches, 3 sets of hand wraps, 2 sets of gloves. Headgear. Shin guards.

My internal dialogue is alternating between the Dune litany on fear, Psalm 91 and positive mantras like those on kitten posters.

Now the only way is through *insert kitten poster* πŸ’ͺ🏻🐱

#InstructorsOrBust

Mom.

Flowers have always made me think of my Mom. Any city, state, or country I’m in–I take photos of flowers and send them to her. If there’s a photo of a flower in my phone, I’ve sent it. Beautiful, fragile, smells good (or not at all), vibrant, weird, defiant; I’ll always associate flowers with her.

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I’ve been home for Mother’s Day once since I was 21. 22 I was in Morocco, 23 in Oklahoma, 24 in Arkansas, 25 I was actually home because I was in that transition 2 weeks before Korea, 26 & 27 in Korea, 28-30 in Chicago.

I remember as a kid that we always tried to do something to surprise our Mom. Countless sloshes of Lipton tea on the carpet trying to sneak up the stairs, flowers we’d cut out of her own flowerbed (lovingly frowned upon, but allowed because it’s the thought that counts) and trying to quietly clank dishes we as we attempted to make an edible breakfast.

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It’s strange to think of where my Mom was at 30. 3 kids (9, 6 and not-quite 3) and somehow keeping us all fed and clothed and the house in order and still kept flowers alive. Now that I’m 30 I realize a thimbleful of the sheer force of will and emotional labor that takes–and I say that as someone looking in, not someone who has lived through it.

I get frustrated at my own proclivity for laundry procrastination–I can’t imagine raising a 9-year old curious, sports-loving boy, a 6-year old bookworm who regularly stole all the batteries in the house to read books by flashlight under her blankets *raises hand* and a 2-year old who ate 97% Cheerios for breakfast-lunch-dinner (the other 3% was just milk in a glass). I would have had leashes on us in 30 seconds.

Balancing us and Dad and her own life and parents and groceries and church and cleaning house and a dog must have been hard. I never saw it though. I can break into tears at the mere thought of an Olympian ‘chasing their dreams’ commercial on NBC, but I don’t really remember my Mom crying often as a kid. Except for when I broke her mixing bowl trying to get my whole head in it to lick the bowl. That was a bad one.

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I outgrew my 5’3″ Mom in 5th grade and figured that was the end of looking like her. My coloring is my Dad, my height is my Dad, my humor is my Dad’s. If you see a picture of my Dad, it’s so clear. There was no hospital mix up. It’s harder for me to see my Mom in me. Other than our eye color (#teamhazel), there’s not as much physical resemblance as my other sisters have. She is small and rocks things with heels & pink & ruffles and I wear a size 11 shoe and own so many sweatshirts that I might/probably/definitely have a hoarding problem.

But sometimes I see it my actions rather than my body. I see my Mom in me when I do that laugh-so-hard-I-can’t-breathe-and-might-need-to-step-out-to-pee. I see my Mom when I grab someone else’s plate as I clean up. I see my Mom when I do a job until it’s done, even if it’s a gross/boring/mindless thing. I see my Mom in how I fold shirts and towels and socks. I see her in how I cook food or throw tupperware haphazardly in the cupboard and shut the door to not see the disorganization. I hear my Mom in every harmony I sing and every time Fur Elise plays anywhere–in an elevator, on a ring tone, in a store.

Sometimes I buy flowers for my house and it feels like a piece of her is here. I made spaghetti tonight and I could hear her telling me to shake in more dried onion. I’ll put on makeup and hear her imploring me to put a little color on my lips rather than just chapstick.

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It feels selfish to say I miss my Mom when I know I’m the one who leaves. I see my Mom 2, maybe 3 times a year if I’m lucky, and that is 100% on me and my itchy feet. But despite my choices, my Mom is always there at the airport (except when I surprise her). She is always going to pull my head onto her lap and run her fingers through my hair, no matter how grown I am. She is thoughtful and caring and tough in ways I will never know.

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There’s a lilac tree under my Mom’s window. It used to be in the flower mound at our old house, and that smell will always be home and Mom to me. There’s a lilac tree down the street from me in Chicago, on the walk home from the grocery store. I forgot about it until today. Spring is a little late in Chicago, what with it still snowing less than a month ago.

I stopped under the lilac tree this afternoon–which must have just recently bloomed–holding all my groceries. It’s perfectly the same. Exactly the same shade and smell. There was a plump purple bunch just above me. I pushed on my toes and closed my eyes and felt a raindrop from the earlier storm roll down my cheek as my nose touched the blooms and my whole body felt like I was home. Sitting under my Mom’s window, feeling the Washington rain and my heart wanted her near.

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If you are with your Mom today, squeeze her tight. I know I’ll get to FaceTime mine and hear that some of these aforementioned memories aren’t fully formed or that I gave her too much credit.Β My Mom is gorgeous, a dynamo, a force. She is short and beautiful and tough and loves her 3 grand babies and is cute as a bug rocking her bluetooth headphones.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I’ll love you forever and like you for always.Β I’m probably going to go stand under that lilac tree with my eyes closed, loudly sniffing until the owner sends his pet duck (yes, you read that right) out to shoo me away.

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Good feels.

It’s Western Washington summer weather in February in Chicago. 55 degrees, intermittent rain, just a whisper of wind as I sit here on my porch post-gym.

The last few days I’ve been looping a new song, “Wildfire,” by SYML. It came up randomly on a new music playlist recommended for me by Apple Music and damn, did they hit me right on my cute lil nose.

In good time, you’ll come to know

When you release, when you let go

You can find yourself where you belong

You’re not a curse, you’re not too much

You are needed here, you are enough

And nothing’s gonna hold you down for long.

 

Lately I’ve been feeling adrift, unfunny, uninspired, unwanted, undesirable, listless, without a path, hunting, searching. That’s not to say that people haven’t loved and talked and reached out to me. It’s how I’ve been feeling even with those things.

I’ve done a lot of walking in the past few days. The weather has been beautiful/snowy/wet and something about walking in rain and snow and this song has been healing my heart.

It sounds weird to type this but it helps to think about sitting in front of myself and saying the words. I grew up knowing there’s power in words and something about doing this is working.

Rain and the right song at the moment I need it most from a Washington artist. Seems right. Feels good.

🌧🌲✌🏻

Why I’m Not Scared Of Turning 30 Today

“Are you calling this your 30th or your second 29th?”

“Say goodbye to the best decade of your life!”

“Welcome to your dirty thirties–its all downhill from here!”

Y’all. This is some serious garbage. I’m as proud of turning 30 sitting here in the middle of Chicago’s Christkindl market surrounded by gluwine and sauerkraut as I was to turn 10 and go to Black Angus and get a steak (medium well; don’t worry, I’m better now).

Ending/beginning a decade is something to celebrate. I think about wide eyed, 20 year old ORU me and I look down at myself–purple black lipstick, wedges, gorgeous dress–we’ve come so far, baby.

My spheres of influence and love include people who are of different sexual orientations, races, nationalities, genders. I have voted with my heart in elections and firmly call myself a feminist. I stay too far from home but love hugging and cooking and sitting by the fire with my family.

I’ve lived in 4 states, 2 countries and haven’t been home for a Thanksgiving since I was 18 (although buy me a ticket and get a girl some green beans) but I have Thanksgiving every year with friends who open their homes.

I’ve loved and been loved and cried and laughed and eaten some of the weirdest, most wonderful foods with people who were gracious and had language barriers and still had open hearts for me.

I’ve followed dreams to Chicago and studied improv and sketch comedy at storied places and grown up with one of the best companies in the world and one of my coworkers got me an Edible Arrangement because I work with the best people.

I have tried and succeeded and failed and LIVED. I’m proud of me.

Plus I’m wearing a new thong I bought for my birthday (no, you may not see it) SO BOOM. Bring it, 30.

PS my roommates surprised me after seeing Star Wars with a cake and ice cream and a balloon and I love them. VIVA 30!