Rosel Kim

The people I’m drawn to are curious about the world and others around them,” she tells me. “As a natural introvert, I can be a bit passive and worry about speaking up when I really should. I’m fortunate to have friends who are principled and remind me to check and use my privilege.

Her name is Rosel Kim and she’s from Korea via Vancouver. She presently lives in Toronto, where she works as a lawyer. I first made her acquaintance in Lyon, where she was completing her last semester of law school on exchange at Université Jean Moulin (Lyon III). Around the same time, I happened to read a poignant article she penned for Guts Magazine, in which she addresses conversations with her mother. Committed to promoting diversity in her daily life as well as the legal profession, Rosel was named one of CivicAction’s DiverseCity fellows in 2017.

Her favourite feelings? Eating an ice cream cone or biking on a warm summer night where she can feel the breeze on her face. When she visited New Orleans, she fell in love with Chris Roberts-Antieau's feminist and whimsical art. I inquired about what she finds romantic, to which she replied, “I think someone wanting to spend their time with me and giving me their undivided attention is the most romantic of all, since we live in an age of endless choices and sources of distraction.”

It’s rare to receive undivided attention these days. This reminds me of Rosel’s work for Precedent on Lady Bird and the statement of principles. “To love something is, indeed, to pay attention to it,” she states. “It’s true that requiring lawyers to write a statement alone won’t end systemic, structural racism … But writing a statement could lead the profession to collectively pay a little more attention to the issue. And, just maybe, that attention could lead us to a profession that is more equitable. She quotes the American philosopher Cornel West: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

Keep reading to discover what this dynamic woman is paying attention to.   ///  

RS: Where can we find what you've created?
RK: Most recently, my writing has been featured in Precedent and The Puritan.

RS: Any upcoming projects?
RK: I have a new personal essay coming out this fall, on travelling as an Asian Canadian woman, in a journal exploring experiences of hyphenated Canadians - Living Hyphen magazine.

[Note: Living Hyphen magazine defines their aim as redefining the mainstream through short stories, photography, poetry, and illustrations. They uncover “what it means to be a part of a diaspora” and examine “life in between cultures, as individuals who call Canada home but with roots in different, often faraway places.”]

RS: What volunteer work have you been doing?
RK: I've been working with a group of committed leaders from the Korean Canadian community on trying to continue the only culturally Korean long-term care home for seniors in Toronto called The Rose of Sharon. It unfortunately fell into receivership a few years ago, but we are trying to ensure our community stays involved in the future of the home. [Here's a recent CBC article about the home.]

RS: So how have your political views shaped your work?
RK: I still mess up all the time, but when I get asked to do something, I ask myself: am I really the best person for this? Or am I taking up space of someone else who deserves and should do this instead?

RS: And you love Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
RK: It’s just so uplifting and inspiring to see a young person who is devoted to her community and so passionate about social change become a representative! I learned what Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's favourite lip colour was when I was scrolling mindlessly through my Twitter feed (as we do...). I went and bought it later that day. Capitalism has this seductive way of making you think there is a shortcut to achieving the intangible and immeasurable success and essence of those we admire. I have to remind myself (much too often) that being a good person is a lifelong process, not a purchase or a fundraising campaign (though those things can be a part of that process, no doubt). Some days, that reminder gets me down more than others.

RS: Writing has been a constant in your life. What authors shifted the way you think about things?
RK: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, Maggie Nelson and Jenny Zhang. In no particular order. I also recently read my first James Baldwin book and I take it as a moral failing that I haven’t read any of his work until now.

RS: What’s the role of language to you?
RK: Language is the imperfect tool with which we are simultaneously reaching out to others and reaching in within ourselves. Sometimes we focus so much on having ourselves understood by others that we forget the other is speaking to us, trying to be understood as well.
I became preoccupied with the idea of perfecting my English when I came to Canada,  since I thought that would solve all my problems and the angst I felt "inside" at home or "outside" at school and in the world. I also became fixated on learning French for this reason.
It took a lot of unlearning and critical race theory to understand that my otherness is deeper than mastering a language, but that’s a conversation we can have another time.

RS: Tell me what you like about Derrida.
RK: This is a very "arts undergrad" thing to say, but I'll share anyway: when I learned about Derrida's "différance"  - a combination of "difference" and "deferral" (in meaning) to illuminate that language is and will always be opaque - I experienced a feeling closest to an epiphany. No matter how many words I write or pour out to someone else, a part of me will remain unknowable and unreachable - and that's not a failure, that's just language. I still love words and reading will always remain a pleasure in my quest to understand - because what is being human if not striving and failing?

RS: Why do you say you're a typical Virgo?
RK: I am extremely critical - something I am trying to be aware of and tone down. For a long time, I felt like anything artistic I tried to do was a failure, because I felt it was all just bad or mediocre. I still have the tendency to think this way, but now I try to remind myself that just being able to devote the time to my own thoughts has intrinsic value. I try to share more of my work-in-progress with others, because it always leads to a strengthened connection/interesting conversation at the very least, and that's valuable to me.

RS: What are your thoughts on social capital?
RK: Joan Didion said that writers are always selling somebody out. In this age where our social capital depends so much on our "brand" and our content on social media, I think about how we may all be trying to sell someone out for the sake of our own timelines. Sometimes I catch myself trying to "view" an event in my life through an Instagram filter, thinking about how it will be memorialized. How do I preserve the self and our core, and how do I respect my own boundaries to ensure some parts of my life remain mine only? What's more important - sharing my story and being known, or knowing what integrity looks like to me?

RS: Your jazz piano teacher told you something that stuck with you. What was it?


RK: That there is no such thing as a “wrong chord”; you are just half a key or a key away from the right one. I find this a very helpful reminder when I (too often) feel scared to begin something new and make that inevitable mistake; I'm just a step away from finding the chord that will work.

RS: I love that! What’s something people never believe when you tell them?
RK: I’m a very, very clumsy person, which is not very apparent when I meet people for the first time. I try to lure them with my veneer of cool professionalism until it's too late and they have to pick up all the things I inadvertently drop around them.

RS: What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
RK: Two recent things I've done that were the scariest things at the time were: learning to drive again after not doing it for a long time, and travelling to a new place by myself. Last year, I tacked on a few days of solo travel to Riga and a stopover in Reykjavik after attending a friend’s wedding in Stockholm. I remember feeling terrified before I got on the boat from Stockholm to Riga, but I ended up having a great time and meeting wonderful people on the way. Basically, anything new and unknown to me will be the "scariest" thing in my mind until I do it. Thankfully, as I get older, I'm learning that confronting and actually doing those things (through encouragement from others and some tears...) effectively removes the fear. 

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