R.O. Kwon's jade rings
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R.O. Kwon's jade rings
R.O. Kwon’s two jade rings passed down by her mother at her home in San Francisco, Calif., on May 24, 2024. The rings, passed down by her mother, remind the author of the connection she has to her ancestors. (Cayce Clifford/The New York Times)

by Amelia Diamond

NEW YORK, NY.- R.O. Kwon asks her ancestors for help. Two jade rings in particular, passed down by her mother, serve as a direct line and source of comfort.

Kwon, an award-winning author, wanted to be a Christian pastor or a religious recluse when she was growing up. She had, as she put it, “what felt like a conversation with the Lord going.” But she lost her faith as a teenager. Now, in her writing, Kwon explores the challenge of questioning long-held beliefs.

Her first novel, “The Incendiaries,” tackled religion, while her second, “Exhibit,” out last month, is about hidden desire. She wanted to write a book “centering desire, including queer desire and kinky desire,” she said, because in the past, she has felt “desperately alone in wanting as I do.”

Kwon spoke, in an edited and condensed interview, about how she turns to her ancestral jade rings for strength and the comfort of having them on while she types.

Q: Talk about the rings you’re wearing.

A: They’re double jade rings and they’re from my mother, who received them at her wedding from her mother-in-law. She had them throughout my childhood, but she only ever wore them for very special occasions, like my wedding.

Q: How did the rings eventually go from her hand to yours?

A: There are beliefs around jade for Korean people that the stone can help ward off evil spirits and illness; that it can have healing powers. My mother gave these to me when I was in the depths of a crisis with “Exhibit,” because I worked on it for nine years. She gave them to me to help.

Q: Do you feel that they have healing properties?

A: I feel better connected to my ancestors, and asking my ancestors for help feels much more available to me than asking a God I don’t believe in anymore for help. So yeah, they do give me strength.

I grew up so religious. I thought I wanted to devote my life to serving the Lord. And then when I was 17, I lost that faith. In some ways that’s always part of what I’m writing about. And I’ve thought about how, with the loss of the Christian faith that I grew up with, I’ve also lost in a key way the ability to ask for help when I’m having trouble, because I used to pray all the time.

Q: Do you ever take the rings off?

A: I do. I keep them close by and then I put them on when I especially need help as a sort of talisman.

Q: Is jade considered a “hard” stone, like diamonds, or is it delicate?

A: I’ve actually looked that up because I want to be careful with them. They’re reasonably hard, but they can definitely be carved. I’m not precious about them. I can feel them as I type. There’s something very helpful about having this physical contact that I feel every time I move my fingers.

Q: Is your hope to eventually pass the rings down to someone else, like they were passed down to you?

A: My grandmother on my father’s side, who gave my mother these rings, died a while ago, unfortunately. I definitely don’t plan on taking them to the grave.

If possible, I want a tree burial. I want to return to the soil which we’re made. Being a tree, that sounds great. And it sounds like a mythic transformation in a way that feels very satisfying. So yeah, there’s no need for jade to hang out there.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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