general endeavours

my decade

I have this one very clear memory. It goes like this:

It’s 2017, and I’m standing in my first apartment in Poland. (Technically it was my second—but the other one was temporary, more of a hotel than an apartment, and this one was my first proper one—arranged and rented by me, not my employer.) The place was this tiny studio apartment a block away from the Square Market, on the last floor of a decades old building that had no elevator, and where each step on the building staircase was at least as tall as two, maybe three, of the regular steps in my apartment building back home. (Trekking up those stairs was quite the feat, and so was trekking down, but that’s a story for another time.)

I believe the place was a whopping 23 square meters of usable space in total. The landlord had turned it from a studio into a “one bedroom” apartment by putting up a wall to split the living room in half—the wall was actually half-wall, the upper part being a partition glass that didn’t do much for privacy but did wonders for lighting and making the space feel larger. I didn’t need the privacy anyway; I was on my own.

Now, then: this apartment was the first place I ever lived in where I could put things up on my wall, which now was any of the walls. (There was that one time, back when I was younger, when once I somehow managed to get the OK to put up a poster on my bedroom. It was a Naruto one, out of all things, and it fell on top of me one night while I was asleep. I don’t think I ever put it back up after that.)

And so I did, I put up a bunch of posters, and in this memory I was standing in the living room-slash-kitchen half of that tiny apartment. Like so:

general endeavours

Except it was nighttime, and looking at that My Decade poster hit me—which decade of mine had passed too.

general endeavours

My favorite song of Jessica’s, in a sense, has always been Big Mini World. Certainly back then, and largely because of what it said (mainly in the English lyrics, but the Korean one as well).

It was extremely rare at the time for Jessica to ever talk about her time under her previous group—Girls’ Generation—and her previous employer—SM Entertainment. This post isn’t about any of that, but for the sake of context, debuting as a Korean idol and achieving the level of success and fame that their group did would inevitably come with its share of nigh traumatic experiences—not least of which if you find yourself on the ‘other side’ of a lose/lose situation when you, hem, ‘leave’, your group, under that company, at that point in time.

I always got the impression of Jessica as an extremely private person at the end of the day—she’s always been very good at her job, and that involved a separation of public and private that she seemed very keen on maintaining. So for her not to go too deep into the matter from a personal perspective once all was said and done wasn’t necessarily a deviation from the norm, and it was certainly no surprise; even despite the extenuating circumstances that made a certain silence even more understandable.

The cool thing about this song in the first mini-album she put out, Big Mini World, is that it was not written by Jessica. As in, at all, no credits for the lyrics, and it’s the only song in that debut mini-album that wasn’t. It’s one of only a handful of songs she ever goes on to put out where the lyrics are not written by her.

How appropriate, then, that it says so much.

Something completely related: Jessica’s (ex) groupmate, Taeyeon, has talked about her own reason for not writing her own songs. She hasn’t talked about it much, but in 2017, while releasing solo music of her own: “This leads the interviewer to ask a question as to why [Taeyeon] stopped writing songs, despite proving it to be a success. According to Korea Portal, Taeyeon says that she is already very sensitive in showing and expressing her ideas, emotions and thoughts to her songs. With this, she prefers to keep her writing skills to herself as she wants to keep her thoughts personal.”

I don’t think I need to elaborate further. But I will say this: there’s an inherent dynamic in being an artist where people will read into your art, and therefore (they believe, or intend) into you. It’s not something exclusive to art, but it’s quite the phenomenon there. It doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter what you want; it will happen. Taeyeon might say she’s only making things up when writing a song, but between Taeyeon saying that and someone looking at the song looking for meaning… Well. I understand her past hesitance, because exploring deeply personal things through your art—especially in such cases where you are tying your whole ass name, career, and very existence to it—can be… tough.

People were always going to read into anything any of them ever put out.

That being said, Jessica and Taeyeon, in case it’s not yet clear, are two different people. Shocking, I know. Where that revelation is particularly relevant here is that Jessica maintains a very different artistic profile to Taeyeon’s as well. Her penned songs tend to be seen as more on the superficial side, and, personally? I’ve always found that a bit genius. Particularly when making the package that ends up including things like Big Mini World.

Or things like the last pages in the My Decade album:

general endeavours

general endeavours

It’s hard to express how monumental these were. It’s one of those, ‘you had to be there’ type of things (or a ‘you’d need hours of explanatory context before we’re able to even start hitting those emotional notes’ type of thing).

2017 was the tenth-year anniversary of Jessica’s debut as a kpop idol under her prior group and employer. A tenth anniversary for pretty much anything is a big thing, overall but particularly still in the kpop industry, but for Jessica it’s safe to say that the experience was a little bit different. While her ex-groupmates were free—and encouraged—to celebrate their full journeys (not lingering too long on how many of them were there for most of that journey), when it came to Jessica… Well. On her seventh year in that shared journey, she ‘left’ the group. So the anniversary by nature comes packaged into it also being the three-year anniversary since ‘leaving’ the group—three years and still existing in a bizarrely publicly contentious position surrounding it all.

And see, the thing is? Jessica never talked about it much. This is part of what’s always made Big Mini World stand out to me, and why it makes so much sense that she’d only ever put it out without writing it. Beyond that, she doesn’t own the rights to her image during those all those years under SM Entertainment—so there are hard limits on what’s possible as well, contractually, even beyond the fairly tangled ‘personal’ position she ultimately ended up in.

And so 2017 makes it ten years since 2007.

And here’s the thing: I’m a fairly private person. I am careful with what I say, in part to keep people from reading into things and reaching the likely wrong conclusion that they know me when they don’t. If I want to mean something when I say it, I will say it like I mean it—not like someone might try to read between the lines to grasp for. If I don’t want to mean it, I won’t say it.

(But I might explore it through art, mightn’t I.)

And so it was 2017—it’d been ten years since 2007, and My Decade had landed me in my own apartment in Europe, far away from the traumatic experiences that that year in many ways stands as a starting checkpoint for.

And today I’d been cleaning papers out from my apartment and found so. much. paperwork from 2017 and earlier. Dozens of documents—health checks, contracts, applications, visas, permits, travel tickets, leases, payslips.

In 2017, My Decade had me alive, independent, and beyond reach of so much shit. I’d achieved a level of success nary any of my peers ever had and ever would. I’d lived so much more than many of the dark years would’ve ever let me even think to imagine, and so much was in my grasp. I was free of so much.

Whenever I think about that memory, I always come to the conclusion that that moment still remains as one where I most felt proud of myself in my life.

I remember how weird it felt to be hit by that, standing in that living room. How emotional it made me, the echo that hit me when I looked at that poster and music went through my mind. How wild it was, to find myself having discovered so much more of myself than any of my selves in any of those years prior would ever have imagined possible. We always fall into the trap of thinking we’ve reached the final point in knowing ourselves.

No, in 2024, My Decade has me alive and independent still. Beyond reach still. I’m earning ten times as much as I did in 2014 (I know, I just sorted through the papers), and by so many measures I’m more successful than most any of my peers.

Soon it’ll be my 7-year anniversary here, and I’m also about done.

The key thing here, the real key thing, is that ultimately, it’s me who can decide if enough is enough.

And just like there was in 2007 and in 2017 both, there’s still a big, big world out there. I didn’t write the words and I’m not singing the song, but it echoes still.

#life endeavours