Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where I've been

I am going to change the order for my next subscription piece and send things out ASAP. I'm getting faster, I think.

Last night, somehow, I got dragged out to a bar with young folks and spun the whole time, making bracelets for six people. One of them was the cutest woman I've seen in a while.

After Michael recommended TEDTalks to me last week, I've been hooked: it's a great way to be inspired while working since I have to just sit still for long periods of time. He started me with Ken Robinson's talk on education killing creativity (this I listened to during laundry time). Then I watched the famous youth orchestra in Venezuela, and Jose Antonio Abreu's talk, which made me think that symphony orchestras should ONLY be manned by high school students. I remember being in high school, in youth orchestras, and it was the highest high I had in those days. THEN, I watched Benjamin Zander, and he tells the same story about the Auschwitz survivor at the end that he told us when I was in all-state orchestra under his baton in high school. I wrote my entire graduation speech about what I learned from him. Then, one of my favorite performers, Anna Deavere Smith. And two talks by Chris Abani, b/c I had been thinking about Ching-In and poetry.

See? Zero work has been done on the piece I've wanted to work on since January. Elizabeth Gilbert's topics helped me calm down a little about not getting studio work done right now. Yesterday was great, locking myself at home for a day to work. But today all the obligations rear up again. I can't bat them down for long enough to really work, in the way that truly feeds me.

Friday, February 27, 2009


I spent 12 hours w/my teacher and his wife over two days and think I finally got the hang of the general idea of the twisting. I knew I didn't have it right but also that I needed time to figure it out. Yesterday was the "AHA!" day. But it's still slow going and my teacher still has to take my piece away from me every few rows to set it straight again. I have a week and a half "off" since they're busy next week, but I'm scared that it will turn into some kind of awful disaster now that I am going to be making it on my own.

Yesterday I visited the biggest army base here and was duly freaked out. I don't think I'll ever be able to wrap my head around the military and its role in the nation state, especially in wartime; it's just too huge. But I did get to do tons of reading on the trip, so I finally finished Don Baker's Korean Spirituality. I'll type up notes and then get it back to Frank, who kindly lent it to me MONTHS ago. It's embarrassing how long it took to read. Also, I got a scan of the feature article on me in a local paper back home, and was mortified. Not flattering, which is a shame, b/c I could use good press. But they say bad press is better than none. In the meantime, I just want to make some art. Really, really badly.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Round and round AGAIN

It took six hours to get the walls of this chamber pot done. After going to a family friend's home for dinner and more work (she will help me make a garment from hanji I worked on last year), I got home and started laundry and now have to weave MORE before I go back to my teacher tomorrow for another six hours. AAGH. It's great, and I love seeing him and his wife, but my body can't keep up.

I also fear that I have a new stalker. One can never be too careful, which I forget too often. It makes me kind of sad, though. Why do people who see my artwork first (and then either meet me or don't) get so distorted in their views of me as a person? Never mind; typing that out gave me the answer to the question.

I'm going to eat chocolate all night, avoid my taxes, and work until my fingers bleed.

In the meantime, anyone in Chicago who appreciates theatre should go and sit in one for five hours:
This is my personal invitation for you to come join me for my magnum opus - the outrageous 9 Act, 5 hour monster "Strange Interlude" - the closing production of the Goodman Theater's Eugene O'Neill Festival. After three months of rehearsals we have THREE PERFORMANCES in the festival - next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 6, 7, & 8. I have just heard they are almost sold out so I wanted to contact some people who have influenced and supported my work over the years and make a special entreaty for you to come.

Almost 1200 people will get to see my unique take on this rarely produced epic - the biggest and certainly longest production of my performance career. If you'd like to come, call the Goodman as soon as possible - (312) 443-3800. I would love for you to be there and share this once-in-a-lifetime event with me. The tickets are $20 (that's $4 per hour)! Friday night we do the whole thing in one shot starting at 6pm (three intermissions), but Saturday and Sunday we start at 2pm and you get a dinner break.

If you are unfamiliar with "Strange Interlude" (beyond Groucho's aside to the camera during "Animal Crackers") it is the story of Nina Leeds and her three lovers whom she manipulates to great comic/tragic ends. This is the play where O'Neill had the "brilliant" idea of having his characters speak their inner thoughts directly to the audience (hence the double length). This Freudian gem won him his third Pulitzer Prize in 1928 and has not been seen since the '80's (for good reason - no director in his right mind would take this on, therefore it's the perfect impossible task for me.)

I have taken certain Neo-Futurist liberties with the script to add extra levels of stage reality: O'Neill's famous stage directions and character descriptions, the actors' comments on the show, and the full acknowledgement of the audience throughout this preposterous play. The cast of five is awesome: the amazing Neo-Futurists Joe Dempsey and Dean Evans, the brilliant Merrie Greenfield (in the role previously held only by the likes of Glenda Jackson and Lynn Fontanne), the hysterical Brennan Buhl, and my favorite new Chicago actor Jeremy Sher are perfectly cast. I promise the show to be a wonderful mesh of horrifying and hysterical, often at the same time. And don't miss one of the funniest sex scenes ever staged!

For over two decades I and The Neo-Futurists have been proud members of the Chicago experimental theater community (along with Oobleck, Curious, Goat Island, 500 Clown, and others), and this is a unique opportunity to celebrate our work. I will be at all performances so say "hello" during one of the intermissions. If, for whatever reason, you absolutely cannot make it next weekend but would still like to see what I've done with the show, let me know and perhaps you can sit in on one of our final rehearsals this week at the Neo-Futurarium.
I hope you don't miss it,
Greg Allen
Founding Director, The Neo-Futurists

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

One free night

Finally! One evening to work when I'm not totally sleep deprived or otherwise incapacitated. I had two successful meetings today, bumped into a couple colleagues at the Fulbright office, and managed to get one monkey off my back for at least a couple of months in regards to being a studio technician. Though I love the idea that someone would think that I could engineer and manufacture a huge hanging hanji sculpture, I don't do that kind of work so that other people can slap their names on it.

Over an early dinner w/the Buddhist nun (I haven't seen her since last year), she asked if I had met anyone. I mentioned a few people, but they apparently didn't count b/c they weren't Korean. I said that Korean men aren't interested in me and she blamed it on my intelligence. Later, after telling me that I will be helped by both God and Buddha, she stopped on a corner to buy me a back scratcher b/c she said it's the most important thing for a single person to own. Complete hilarity. I have never not been able to reach all parts of my back. I'll save it for when I lose my flexibility.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Long starved, recently noticed

Ching-In's new poetry book is out, but she also has a couple poems online at Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and did an interview with poet Ralph Angel online at ARTSblock.

I woke up after having wild dreams about fighting w/a man who pulled my flash drive out of a computer in the middle of my printing out a 5-page rough draft of a poetry assignment. I was so angry. Then I saw Ching-In's blog post and I realized that I haven't read good poetry in TOO LONG. So it was nice to be able to get a little tiny bit this morning before I slog through piles of work.

Coffee on Monday

Julie bought me this pen on Valentine's Day b/c I was so excited to be reunited with what I called my wedding giraffe: I had this exact same trinket as a keychain for years in Chicago after getting it from Anju's wedding pinata (I didn't trample that many children for it, I swear). It adequately describes my mood lately. This weekend was packed. I got my boots and shopped like a maniac with Chunhwa, who is brillz - I have totally found my shopping buddy here. She found me some gorgeous pieces after we tried on nearly everything in sight. I found out that I am not capable of spending any less than 5-6 hours with people at a time. It's very trying on my homework schedule, but I can't get it down any shorter than that. Yesterday I had tea and dinner with Ben, who found a gorgeous restaurant - all this beautiful woodwork and trees indoors. And the Cabernet Sauvignon was perfect.

I've gotten through over 3/4ths of my spinning and unwinding, but the remainder is problematic for boring technical reasons. In the meantime, my social calendar has kept me from my homework, which is to weave several more rounds on my piece here. I'm also still behind (as I have been for months) on language study. My tutor has a student and thought we would be able to help each other out, so today I met Michael, who is working on this amazing project in London. Instant love! He is a huge dreamer, a gyopo from Germany, unabashed in his passion and love of Korean culture, who is going to be a total mover and shaker. Bright energy, positive, hopeful, smart, hardworking, and well-connected. I haven't gotten enough sleep lately so I took coffee with him after lunch, while he showed me his plans and I explained the papermaking process to him. It would be great to figure out a way to be part of the festival, but I think that just helping each other out with info, contacts, and brainstorming will be fabulous.

I'm still feeling incredibly grateful for my job this year. And wishing I could clone myself to get all of the work done.

Friday, February 20, 2009

This ride is really fun

Hillary rocked my world today. Wow. I was so proud of her, and impressed, and excited about her new gig. I laughed out loud when they played Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man when she walked out onto the stage. That piece had always embodied MEN and male energy for me, in a ridiculous flaunting way. She gave a lecture on women's empowerment, which was of course appropriate at the largest women's university here (and apparently in the world. But don't quote me on that; I heard it from her). Then there was a Q&A, which was embarrassing to me b/c it was mostly questions about love, marriage, balancing family and career, life choices, going to a women's college, and being taken seriously by male heads of state. There was only one question on policy. But I suppose it's to be expected in this country, at this school, which still grooms women to become ideal wives.

What struck me most, besides how freaking AMAZING she looked, was how happy she seemed. No, more like, how she has gotten to a really good place in her life and career. She is so good at what she does, so skillful, so articulate, so intelligent, so good at hearing what people say and responding directly and elegantly, so poised, so comfortable in her own skin. It made me realize that my frantic mad grasping could be toned down a little, b/c I don't have to worry about getting there NOW. I'll be lucky if I get there when I'm in my 60s. But it gives me so much to look forward to - all the growth, adventures, incredible challenges, heartbreak, maturity, and coming out the other end with a brilliant smile. Even if it's all just part of the game, she plays it so well that I don't care. I just love being around smart, passionate, good-with-people people.

Granted, today was like one huge Oprah session (she even said that she felt more like an advice columnist than a secretary of state), but she still handled it like a pro. We even got to gawk at the Korean female astronaut in the audience. She spoke directly to the things that matter to me and where I am now, telling us to do what we love, what gives our life meaning, when we worry about what contribution we can make to the world. I waited over two hours for her entrance and spun paper the entire time. Right on track.

Afterwards, I had a fun lunch w/Esther and Stephanie, both Fulbright researchers, and then tea. Esther ran off but I got super quality time w/Stephanie (while spinning and undoing my entire day's load of 80 cords) and then we shivered off to dinner. I had a late but lovely phone convo w/Chunhwa's friend Ashok and now I am, again, overflowing. Perhaps it IS all written, that this is how things will go for me (I even got a call before the town hall mtg started from my joomchi teacher who wants to include my work in a traveling show). Whatever it is, I'm not complaining.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I never got off the ride

And it seems to be spinning nearly out of control. But I'm staying calm. I cut down all of my paper for the new batch I need to spin this week and made piles. My goal is to do one fourth every day. That would be 80 and I think I'm down to 2 minutes per cord...almost 3 hours a day? Bad news is that the last three sheets seemed thicker, so I wonder if that will screw up the entire piece. I'll spin one to see how it compares to the regular cords, do the rest if the difference is not dramatic, and keep the piles segregated until next lesson.

Today was my girls only day. Boram is briefly in town from her residency and we had lunch and tea and chocolate cake, and ALL were very good (the cake especially). We had lovely conversation about what we've been doing, and about how to thrive and survive as artists. Then I met Katherine so that she could introduce me to her shoe guy. I'll find out on Saturday if he is shoe GOD when I pick up the boots I've owned since I was 18. I am so o o o o excited about that. She was very patient as I ranted over tea while spinning paper, and then took me to a fabulous Tibetan / Indian / Nepalese place for dinner. I am going to drag every single next date to this place from now on to drum up business.

It was so satisfying to process everything that's been going on for the past few months with these two friends. I feel like I just had six months of therapy in half a day. I'm overwhelmed by the rapidity with which my calendar is being booked, and how densely packed the days are, but that's why I stayed up until 1am last night cutting these words out of washi I made in Japan a couple years ago. As a reminder to be grateful for the flood.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Men should do this"

[320 1-ply cords, 160 2-ply cords.] Apparently it's not just making paper that falls into the male domain. My teacher thinks that jiseung also is best done by men b/c it requires so much strength. I disagree, especially when it comes to hand strength, but I still need work on my cross-legged foot clamp strength. I got blisters after working for 5.5 hours even though my teacher had to take my piece from me constantly b/c I was pulling so hard that the whole thing was turning into a round bottom instead of a flat one. He should have just made me undo it; I would have been fine with that. Instead, I'm going to have a bottom that is constantly fighting me. And guess what this bottom is for? A traditional container that you pee into. Yes, it's lacquered before it's used.

The crazy part of my homework is that I have to cut down, spin, and undo the SAME AMOUNT that I did for today! AGH. Another week of spinning while socializing. So much for trying to do more language study. My papermaking teacher came to our lesson today, and I don't know how he does it. He's a father, a husband, a first son (who just took his mom in for back surgery), a businessman, and a papermaker. I see that wonder why I can't manage a few vocab words and grammar points a day. It's killing me that I can't get my subscription piece done and that I can't even read at the end of the day b/c my eyes hurt so much from working.

I just want to make a little tiny bit of art. Instead, I have to settle for bleeding fingers. I didn't sign up for bloody fingers, but it's bound to happen: my teacher was bleeding all over his and my pieces today. If the master is bleeding, it's bound to happen to the student.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reasons I don't study

1. I set up silly photo shoots with leg warmers on my arms b/c I don't have arm warmers.
2. I try to figure out how to spell "Hillary Clinton" in hangul so I can explain to the Buddhist nun tomorrow over the phone why I have to postpone my trip to visit her at the temple: I have to go to Hillary's townhall meeting down the road on Friday.
3. I read Josh Ritter's lyrics and love that he is still doing so well and making great music and being a kick-ass songwriter.
4. I buy and deliver dark chocolate to Hyesun and then sprawl all over her floor as we advise each other on our confusing lives.
5. I agree to lunch w/Ben, a US soldier, which leads to errands, an art exhibit at a palace during the changing of the guard, and tea where the birds keep hopping onto our teacups. [This counts as doing homework b/c I unraveled cords during lunch and tea and he helped. I let laypeople unravel but they can't spin for me.]
6. I verbalize the Spanish that I type into translation engines so that I can fully appreciate the AMAZING and beautiful gifts that Elizabeth sent to me from Mexico before she flew over the ocean to Europe for her new life. My heart still aches b/c I don't know Spanish yet. But it will happen before I die, I swear.
7. I rearrange a flight so that I get almost a week in Jejudo in April, which scares me: is that too much time? Is it a good idea to run away to an island for a week right before a big exam?
8. I write a recommendation letter for Boram so that she can go to a residency on another island (in the Atlantic) once she's done with her year-long residency on this island (next to the Korea Strait).
9. I blog.

At this rate, I will bomb this language test in two months. I have to try to study a little bit every day. I'm going to do some reading right now. Really...

Monday, February 16, 2009


Um, I think I just registered for an exam in April. I couldn't do it on my own b/c I don't have IE (I really wish that Korea hadn't gone exclusively in that direction back in the formative years of internet. I can use every other browser but that one). So much for the spring quieting down. April will be total madness! A conference on the big island, a language exam that I am going to simultaneously study for and not study for, and then a visit from Tam! She booked her flight today!

Uhoh. February is almost over, isn't it?? Living fully is great, but it makes time go way faster than I'd like. See the black post supporting the tree in the back? I could use one right now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I'll never be well manicured

I was looking at my friend's nails the other night and feeling jealous that I can't ever have fancy ones. I gave that up when I got serious about the violin, so it's actually physically impossible. Before I went to the papermill, I did one hand in silver for one night just to get a fix and then undid it.

I have to admit that I am now so tired that I can't see very well so I'm not very coherent. It is less than 12 hours before my Korean tutoring session and I am officially a very bad student. I haven't done my homework and haven't gotten new textbooks and haven't reviewed anything I learned last week. All I have is a new list of questions about new vocab. Including a word that my parents' friends are using about me that is similar to "chemical-free."

Yesterday was fun but a little too much socializing and shopping and being out for me with back-to-back dates with two people at a time. Conclusion: spinning paper while drinking alcohol does not prevent hangovers. I got about 4 hours of sleep and then had a marathon date today that involved royal tombs, a chicken museum, two meals, endless wandering on foot, and way too much to drink. But it was fun. Even though I should swear off alcohol now for a few months to recover.

[To clarify, I always use the term "date" loosely for a wide range of social obligations, meetings, and so on. So, lunch with a girlfriend followed by errands and shopping and coffee and meeting her brother fits that category, as does dinner and drinks with a soldier and building mate. But it is highly possible that today I hung out with a single man for more hours than I sleep in a night. I could be wrong, but let's hope not.]

Friday, February 13, 2009


That is the title of the next series. I have that, the materials that I already prepared in my motel room weeks ago, but no TIME. B/c it requires sewing. And I can't sew when I'm spinning.

I ran errands like a fiend today in the POURING rain. But now I know the place down the hill is totally going to be my print & copy shop - I spent less than 50 cents there and was treated like royalty, green tea and all. I love customer service in this country. I met an old friend from elementary school - she was born in Korea but spent 3 years in NY while her dad was on business - and her 5-month-old son. The last time I saw her was nearly 10 years ago, when she was still in school. Now she's a wife, a mom, and a radiologist. I had no idea how much her time in the US affected her and shaped her values. In some ways, she is very American. It made me think a lot about in-between existences on a continuum that supports an endless combination of life experiences, though most are invisible to each other.

Then I met a much newer friend for tea and dinner in the same neighborhood, which is also where my parents lived nearly 10 years ago. I was amazed at how well we were able to communicate in our non-dominant languages. She told me that I have a new fan b/c of my hanji video. I LOVE new fans. Then she asked me to explain my piece where I'm hanging from a football goalpost. That was much harder to explain in Korean than my messy dealings in love. I gave her a hanji book and made her a hanji bracelet on the spot. Seriously, it's just as good as being a magician.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do I really want this?

I'm reluctantly pulling together another residency application that has to be postmarked by Saturday. But my social calendar dictates tomorrow - before 1pm. What kills me is that I've applied and been an alternate three years in a row. This is one I've always wanted. But right now, surrounded by strips of paper to spin, a subscription series to conceive and execute, textbooks to buy and study, and research to do, I have lost all perspective. I wonder, as I reformat all of my documents to fit A4 paper and choose a new tactic (applying as a visual artist rather than a new genres artist), if I still want it badly enough to lose some sleep and run around like a crazy person tomorrow. Do I still want the colony circuit? Most of me says no. But then a little part of me still drools over the scenery.

Being sleepy doesn't help me make this decision OR slog thru the app (which, of course, this year has gotten a little more demanding). I guess it's back to the cutting and pasting. The slide list being easier than the essays.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Complete indulgence

Left blue: before lessons. Right blue: what I learned today. Knot of cords: what I spun today. Homework: that, times 20 ... no, probably more.

I considered doing a photo shoot of me trapped under all the paper I made last month while commuting to my first jiseung lesson today. Well, no need, since I now have NO TIME for such antics. I have a week to cut down, spin, and unwind twenty huge sheets of hanji so that I can start a real piece. The paper is 72 cm x 144 cm, so it's a LOT of work. The good thing is that my teacher fine tuned my technique (heel to ball or ankle to thigh, rather than heel to heel) so maybe my sciatic will be less tortured. Maybe.

[Terttu asked about the size of the screen I used to make hanji and I said, "oh, about 63 x 93 cm," and she said, "wait, you're talking centimeters now??" The thing is that I still function very much in the English system, and haven't come close to making a metric conversion. NONE of those measurements or numbers mean anything to me: inches, Fahrenheit, pounds, it's all virtually meaningless to me. I don't function in a numbers world. Just the other day, I checked the outdoor temperature online and wondered, "if it's 42 degrees outside, why am I still so cold with my thermostat at 30 degrees inside??" I finally realized that I was mixing scales.]

I arrived early today so I decided to kill time at the Techno Mart, looking for electronics. After being quoted ridiculously high prices, I went downstairs, where I immediately spotted a Lush store and promptly spent all the money I would have on overpriced camera accessories on hair products instead. I also got yellow freesias for my teacher; my first cut flower purchase! Now that I'm living alone, I'm finally forced to do things that I usually am able to 1. avoid 2. have someone else do for me or 3. get detailed instructions on beforehand. Near home, the taco stand people recognized me b/c I had a roll of hanji under my arm. I love being hanji lady in the hood. On the scenic route home, I made more dates, and am now worried about how I will balance being a highly social creature who has to catch up with friends after a month away with being a devout student who has to sit on a floor cross-legged for hours on end with strips of paper.

But this is the most important thing, and it's not about me: Ching-In will be at AWP this week in Chicago! I canNOT believe that her book is already out! Time flies - I met her when she was doing massive edits on it in Vermont in January 2007 before it was picked up, and now it's a real live book! I am mad proud and sorry that I can't get my hands on it sooner. Here is her schedule in Chicago, so you can give her the huge hug that I can't from here.

Or, you can just tag along while Jami is still on HER book tour. I adore my writer friends. If I wasn't such a paper geek, I'd totally be a groupie.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

At last, before carpal tunnel sets in

FINALLY! I'm calling it a cut. It's here, on Vimeo, and on my website. My work is done for now. In between, during all the waiting for upload and other time-consuming tasks related to getting this cut and public, I've overstrained my hand muscles even before I meet my jiseung teacher tomorrow. I'm making little gourd/pod objects to use up my "bad" paper and for practice. My dinner date cancelled on me so that might mean that I have no excuses left on the errand front: finding mailing tubes, figuring out how to pay my phone bill w/o a physical bill that was never in my name in the first place, finding consumer electronics peripherals, and getting language textbooks. No wonder I hate my urban life.

BUT! Terttu made the first cut for Yale grad school, which was such great news to get, and yesterday I bumped into Melissa and Dion in the middle of a huge crosswalk, which was random and timely, since I had wondered if she was back in country - apparently she's not really, and flew back to the US today after a quick week in Seoul. Oh, and I finally figured out yesterday that I meant to say sickle instead of machete all last month. It's all the same to me: big knives that could dismember me.

Time to get dressed and see the sky after being a computer zombie for so long.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Everything all at once

I've been editing video for days now and dying to get it to a place where it can finally go public. It has been a much more positive editing experience than the first time around, and I'm lucky to have editors in both Seoul and NYC helping me, so it should be done and on the web in 24 hours. I hope.

I went back to my Korean tutor today. It was painful, since she said that I have to start systematic study w/a textbook. I am SO not in that mode anymore and don't particularly feel like getting back into it. It's like having a huge portion of my brain being held hostage. I did reduce my sessions to 1x/week. I still feel like I might be taken away at any moment to who knows where for more research, so it makes me reluctant to commit to more than that.

A shipment of 100 sheets of long hanji arrived today so that I can start my jiseung lessons on Wed. I really want to finish a few pieces before I meet my new teacher, but I'm not sure how feasible that is. I'm also still sorting out my half studio at home and half in the studio...the situation is weird. If I got more natural light at home I'd move it all here. But a large part of me doesn't want to bother for another couple of months to accommodate my research.

Meanwhile, I've gotten three double yolks out of my last eight eggs. The first one was my first ever. The other two happened tonight after a nap. I'm not sure what to make of it. So I'm going to work on jiseung until it's time for my interview w/the local paper.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Scrubbed down

[I love nighttime fires. My teacher worked two nights in a row building a new cooking station.] I took a wee nap b/c the business of sorting out my sordid past has been snatching some sorely-needed sleep time [omg I did NOT mean to alliterate that much]. I woke up today feeling stir crazy and grimy, so I rushed out the door on a mission: the baths + a haircut. It was the best thing I could have done for myself. I never sauna alone since public bathing to me is a communal thing and a ritual that I always do w/my mother or friends. But I wanted to be fresh and shiny after everything I've been through. It was my first scrub by a completely naked worker. I was laying there thinking about how much I will miss affordable scrubdowns. But I won't miss feeling guilty about how cheap it is. After being born anew, I walked into the adjacent hair salon for a cut. The hairdresser was my mother's when she lived in Korea about ten years ago, so she's really good to me. She even insisted that I stay and eat lunch.

[Bungee jump off the main drag on the way to the mill.] I'm constantly surrounded by people, both close family/friends and strangers, who INSIST on feeding me. They are always crazy concerned about me eating well, a lot, and on time. It's completely counter to the culture I come from. I told the hairdresser that I felt badly for eating so much food and she said, "NO! I feel at peace now that I've fed you." I don't think I look particularly starving, but I suppose I have always attracted people who enjoy feeding me. Granted they are all women, which is a whole other study.

After seeing JL for a bit, I headed home to deal with the video. I had my sister look at it and she gave advice that made me groan. LOTS more cutting to do. No wonder it's called a rough assembly. But it was encouraging: she said that my camerawork has gotten way better, to the point that it looks professionally shot. GLORY BE!! I never thought the day would come. I had always considered myself a disaster behind the camera, any camera. But I made a concentrated effort to get better (secretly) and it's paying off. The biggest step was getting over the "I suck" mentality that came from being in 5th grade and being picked to be in the photography class, which was only for good art students, and then being bad at it. My art teacher was highly disappointed with me, which of course spells sheer horror for me. Disappointing teachers is my worst nightmare.

My sister had another terrifying suggestion: to make a doc on Korean papermaking. AAAGH! For now, I just have to get through this pot of tea and tackle these edits.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Still high

That's the dam at the north Han river near the mill. Not totally frozen but there's a lot of ice.

I did tons of editing today on what I consider a quite hilarious video of me making hanji. It surprisingly was less painful then when I edited the first time around. Despite not being able to find mailing tubes to send hanji calendars to paper people back stateside and wasting an hour walking around the city trying to find a stationery store, I still got a lot done today. Of course, I found out tonight that it wasn't enough: apparently I have to do TWO midterm reports for Fulbright and I only did one. The best part is that the other can only be done on IE and I have a Mac. I hate when applications are only supported by a browser that not everyone has!

But that's besides the point. B/c I am still so happy, and it scares me. Tonight was fun - Frank did a great job presenting, and then I got to see lots of people at the reception and catch up w/fellow researchers. I even survived the climb up the hill back home, giddy, and tackled the remaining editing thanks to JL's card reader. I am starting to prep already admin-wise for my return in the summer, but at the same time prep for my interview w/a reporter of a local paper back home in NY in a couple days.

My papermaking teacher said that in Korea they calculate age/time in kilometers: life goes by at 20 km/hr in your 20s, 30 km/hr in yr 30s, and so on. I felt like I got a free ticket to the slow lane while I was in the country - time was truly suspended there - but now I'm back in the fast, fast lane.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


My teacher's daughters made these one day. I think they are amazing. The charcoal is real.

I'm back in Seoul, and feeling so much better about my place. I did lots of cleaning and laundry today. I still have a ways to go in terms of figuring out a way to make it work for me, but I'm hopeful. I had lunch w/Hyesun at a place close to where we live so now I know a good place to go for simple broth. Which was perfect for today, a grey day that threatened to rain but then didn't.

Yesterday: finishing up a stab binding, doing final pictures and goodbyes, and then the long trip back to the city b/c there were lots of stops along the way. One was nice: my teacher took me to see the North Han River. One was less nice: being stuck in the car with his 8 and 10 yr old daughters for 1.5 hours in the basement parking lot of a hospital while he slept in the waiting room - they were running late upstairs. Meanwhile, the girls were pushing every conceivable button in the car (and navigation systems here also have a karaoke function, so I got to hear them sing a song about a cat over and over) and yelling for their father out the window. I was afraid the whole time that the car battery would die but didn't stop them from playing with the lights and windows b/c I felt just as stir crazy as them. It took me way back to days when my dad would watch my sister and me when my mom worked weekends at the hospital.

We finally got to the jiseung teacher's apartment and then, of all places, went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner. The story on this new teacher is both wonderful and tragic. He's a 3rd generation jiseung master - the pieces he showed me were impeccable. Insane, really. Like he said, there is nothing he can't make out of paper. But the sad thing is that there will be no 4th generation: both of his children were killed in their 20s in a car accident. He and his wife survived, though she sustained severe injuries. He used to turn down offers to teach abroad, wanting the craft to first take off in Korea, but now he sees that it would benefit everyone for him to bring more attention to his work. I'll see him next week to start lessons. I would love to bring him and his work to the US. But that's all far off. For now, I have lots of work to do. A lot of being present to be.

This story was the one that started the bonding process w/my papermaking teacher back early in January while we were feeding a fire to steam trees. I had actually looked for that jiseung teacher in the summer when I got to Korea, on a completely different lead from a neighborhood friend of a family friend. But when we got to the market where he had kept shop, we were told he didn't work there anymore b/c his kids were killed in an accident. I just figured it was a dead end and didn't think more of it. I also thought at the time that he made hanji dolls, not that he spun and wove. But when my teacher at the mill started telling me about his jiseung teacher, the story came out and it sounded eerily similar. Same guy.

I still have piles and piles of work to do, but managed to get more photos up after zipping through my midterm report for Fulbright. I added photos to the big set of everything at the mill here, but streamlined (since I would hate to go through 300+ photos) and made a small set of just me at the mill. Videos are still on the to do list since I have to edit them, but it's worth the wait!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


[Youngest son, tallest female, oldest son, second oldest son.] Back in my Seoul apt, still unpacking. But it was GREAT. 1,000% the best month I've had in a loooooong time. It is overflowing like mad.

And I just got hooked up tonight w/a NEW teacher in the city. My ride home, an old old family friend, said that I looked brighter. Her husband said, "what? she's skinnier? And she said, "NO, I said, BRIGHTER."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I'm not sure why I continue to plan days or expect things to go as I imagine. I thought today would be nice and calm, just finishing up a book, making wheat paste, and taking final measurements of equipment. I didn't realize that revealing my bookbinding prowess was going to stress all of us out. I finished the book this morning for the father, but then he kept asking about the French link exposed binding I did for his son, so I made him his own. He watched the whole time and actually sewed two sections by himself. But I hadn't brought my PVA and the paste wasn't strong enough for the lacquer-treated paper. Then, he suddenly brings in a HUGE stack of sheets and tells his youngest son to cut them down - they had been cut down previously, but the edges weren't straight, the paper wasn't square, and nothing was the same size. I had cut down 100 sheets last night for the book I bound, but was not about to touch this stack.

Needless to say, the son was unhappy about the task. And my teacher wasn't able to finish teaching me a stab binding b/c I was at the mercy of his father. It's just as well - I got cranky when he told me to cut down sheets from one of my best batches of paper for a stab binding. I hate stabs. Maybe that is too harsh. But I have never been fond of them, and now I'm going to have a huge one with paper I'd rather have used for installation or costume work. But then he showed me a really cool paper nail technique and picked gorgeous oiled paper for the covers, so I'm calmer about it and hopefully will do it justice tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have all my gift books done for the family and workers here. The second son arrived recently and has started pulling paper. Kind of a prodigal son story but kind of not. He's actually the best of the four at making paper, but he hadn't been interested in working here. I don't know why he's back; he hardly speaks. But he looks just like his father. Makes sense that he would have his papermaking talent, too. Today was kind of amazing, seeing three brothers in the mill - one helping me, another at the vat, and another at the drying station (the 3rd son is not in the business; he's in the city w/his family). Later, I walk outside and the mother is picking through garbage b/c she thinks that people throw things away that shouldn't be - she pulled out a toy and laughed as she played with it, saying, "this is fun! Why trash this?"

It's spring weather. I'm sure the cold will return. But for now, I see all this ground beneath me that was ice for the last month. Or cement remaining from the footprint of the former mill. Tonight I pack. Tomorrow I finish up the binding frenzy, and we'll hit the road after lunch. I'll have dinner w/my teacher and his teacher (and hope that I remember how to behave; I haven't met a new Korean person for a while) and then my mom's friend will drive me and my heavy load of paper goodies back "home." I haven't spent enough time there for it to feel that way. Working all day at the mill, working all night at the motel, and laying in bed reading Barry Lopez on artic mammals feels much more like home to me.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Having an intangible heritage holder watch your every single move from the very start of making a book of beautiful paper he has had sitting around for a long time is bad for my nerves. Suddenly, what was so easy and fast w/crap paper from my batch becomes 10 times scarier when it's really good paper and the papermaker is about 5 inches from the book you have started to bind.

Today I learned how to spin thread from bark. It's ALL about the feet.

Tomorrow is my last full day. Time to run home for my last bits of this and that.