Monday, January 30, 2012

"Tell me all your secrets in the next five minutes"

I was so happy to see Ching-In yesterday; our last meeting was well over a year ago. I was amused to imagine us both five years ago, when we met, because we are so much the same, though plenty has changed. Before I left her, she asked for my secrets, and it heartened me to know that I have a friend who can ask for such things. I had none to share. I'm so fully burrowed into one corner of my life that I am not even aware of my own secrets most of the time. After our shared meal, she asked about the state of my heart. I said, "It's closed," and we had our usual conversation about how hers is perpetually open and mine, not so much. She reconfirmed my plan while we talked about New Mexico. I may be a hermit now, but everything flings wide open in May. Until then, I am content to be buried in this manuscript.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Children, color, books, chilling

[A book I made last summer at Velma's.] Upon Frank's recommendation, I watched "A State of Mind," a documentary film that follows two girls, 11 and 13, as they train for the North Korean Mass Games. It was unnerving because it was hard to marvel at the results of the intense training of tens of thousands of young people while considering the agenda behind such training. Beyond the choreographed gymnastics and dancing, though, I was struck by a fleeting glimpse, zoomed in, of the giant (something like two football fields in size), changing "picture" in the stands behind the performance's main floor. I knew they were people, but then I saw they were children, and they were not simply waving colored placards and turning them around, but opening and closing books that were pages of colors. The concept is so pure, and execution perfect, but I cringed to think about what it takes to synchronize 20,000 children with huge color books, and what the punishments are for error.

Books without words are very powerful.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Digging in

I am not as brave or experienced as Jami, but I am surprisingly happy about being back in the muck of my manuscript, making hard edits. For my entire life, I have resisted and despised revision. Really and truly. But now, I am able to to face the mess and attempt to organize it. It is not as painful as I feared. At least, it's a very different kind of pain. Sometimes, when I get to a place where I have to make huge structural changes that will definitely cause big pieces to topple off the shelves and some shelves themselves to slide to the floor, I stand up and walk away. But then I come back. It's amazing. I come back!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Again and again, starting over

None of the days in this month have been going according to plan. All broken up, gone awry, plans made and broken, unexpected surprises that pop up, being pulled this way and that. This morning, I rearranged all the drying, coated hanji, in keeping with regulations of this building, since hanging things on a line looks too much like laundry drying, and that is an eyesore to the neighbors, and so on for a million more characters in the contracts. Boring. But I am a big rule abider so I only let the sheets flap in the wind for a couple of days.

I realized that I ONLY feel okay not working if I am working. HA! So, if I want to watch TV or a movie, I feel anxious the entire time unless I have something in my hands to keep them busy. This is what I did on Sunday night. Last night, I got to have a long speed reading session and finished Vivian Gornick's Fierce Attachments. I liked what she said about work, while mentioning her ex-husband:
Stefan knew more about work than I did but not, I think, much more. He was tormented by the discrepancy between his painterly ideas and his ability to execute those ideas on the canvas, and he dramatized his torment endlessly. He would crash about in the studio, smoking, cursing, throwing paint on the canvas, but not, I suspect, thinking hard about the problem before him. The knowledge that work is patient, sustained labor--no more, no less--was not wisdom he had as yet taken in very much better than I had.
I get tangled up, too, with the "patient" and "sustained" parts, but every day is a chance to learn those things all over again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Celebrate 2012 with comics!

[I bet that people who don't make books also feel this way sometimes.] If you'd like to get comics like this (they won't be on the back of a hotel notepad, I promise), reproduced on paper and sent in the mail to you, sign up for a new subscription series! To honor a new year that I insist will be better than last year, I will mail one new comic every month. You can choose to participate for a year, or just half a year. As for the content of these comics, I can't say until 2012 happens to me, but here's a look at some prior work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stinky Sunday

I was determined to use up the rest of my kakishibu. It's best to do when alone since people generally hate this stink. I like it in the way that I love any kind of alchemy, the magic of one thing turning into another. The messy and smell are inevitable.

I thought of Tatiana Ginsberg's paper bowls as I used up the last bit.

I like this method better than brushing, since I am impatient and don't mind getting my hands dirty.

Though they get so messy after that last step that I never manage to get the camera into them until I am all done. Hanging outside, waving at the snow. My body is crumpled and temporarily incapacitated by the floor work but I cooked to try and cover the smell. Now that I've eaten, I can get to the next scheme, a new subscription series of comix! More to come.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

(Not excited about today's) snow day!

The good news: I booked tickets last night for a little vacation next month to Berlin and Amsterdam!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


As someone who grew up only knowing about tigers in zoos, it's strange, still, to imagine that they lived in the mountains in Korea but are gone now. The photography in this book is lovely but either the translation or the original text or both are difficult to stomach. There is a tendency towards flowery and poetic Korean that sounds awful when rendered into English. And this one is so pro-Korea that it's embarrassing. But there is still plenty to be gleaned.

Yesterday I had my first eye exam in years and was relieved to learn that everything is fine and I don't even need a new prescription. It was awful not to be able to read or use the computer or do any hand work b/c of the drops, which made me realize where most of my life occurs, between six inches and two feet in front of my face. I'm re-reading (skimming, actually) Annie Dillard's The Writing Life to soothe some of my recent panic mixed with depression about the progress of my book. I'm waiting for two edits and don't want to make changes until I see those notes, but I know there is So Much Work To Be Done. But ever since the fall, if I'm not working on that book, I feel like I am doing nothing whatsoever. I don't like that feeling.

One of my readers yesterday noted something funny. She said, "You write exactly the same way that you think!!" She said the detail was overwhelming, and a sign of mental illness if you didn't know me, yet the same trait helps me do important research. I'm relieved that my words match my brain, since I'm not sure that that is true of everyone (I assume this mismatch comes from poor writing education, which I assume comes partly from the fact that it is a very hard thing to teach). I thought about how much I have been trying to censor and edit on this blog, and how hard it is, and how it depresses me, since what comes out feels like a drugged version of what is in my head. I am the same way in my personal correspondence, and haven't figured out how to temper it. It goes like this:

Friend: "Greeting! Update. Appropriate answers to questions. Closing."
Me: "Incredibly excited greeting!!! Avalanche of personal information and updates. Followed by more TMI. And a blow-by-blow description of some random recent event that any other person would not even have noticed. Effusive closing, ten pages later."

Okay, that is slightly exaggerated. But I always feel guilty whenever I press send, and worry afterwards about how this friend will likely not want to be my friend anymore. But when I try to edit out most of it, it sounds like me, drugged. I still haven't figured it out with my closest confidantes, but I will have to figure it out soon with this manuscript.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Invisible hands

I haven't been making lately, which is part of the crazy-head-ness, so I started to carve a portion of block yesterday, but stopped after I lost too many pieces of letters (like that red bit of an R that I tried to glue back in). I'll clean it up today.

I got a faboo package today from Eric (a painting is in that delightful pink tape and bubble wrap). I also got a book that Stefan had recommended, Things Korean. Something new and engaging to read! And attractive.

Here is the pic of the old shoe, made of straw. Also sometimes made of paper. Made, of course, by hand. I listened to the most recent installment of This American Life, about how our beloved Apple products are made in China. It's very good. A guy who was obsessed with Apple products went to visit the area in China where most of them are made, and what he learned was pretty icky. The part that struck me most was about how quiet the factories were, not even the sound of machines, b/c labor costs are so low that they try to make people make everything by hand that is possible. It's the kind of thing that will inevitably depress you, just as I have been depressed by the glorious album undun, by The Roots. Making art out of horror is a miracle of sorts, though I still wonder if there is a next step.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

These times that were those times

Yesterday, in the middle of a long haul (now that we are back into a new year, the application cycles have all started up again, and took me by surprise), I got a lecture. I get these often, because for as long as I have known, I have asked for them and thought that they were good for me. But this time, I thought to myself, "I already KNOW all of these things." Of course I am frustrated with where I am in right now and will be for a while to come. But there's an end in sight, and I am doing my best to build the right kind of life for myself. It doesn't look pretty from day to day, but there's a trajectory.

Last weekend, I watched "Who Does She Think She Is?", a film about women who struggle with the balance between being artists and having a family (plus all of the other crap that women are expected to do). The documentary itself is not a great piece of filmmaking, but the message is clear. It reminded me of being in contemporary art history class years ago. Even then, the Guerrilla Girls seemed dated. But now I realize that nothing has changed. Or at least, very little. Maybe a percentage point here or there. Which then reminded me of a friend who admired my NOT being part of the Art World. And then I read Ronnie's recent post, which made me even more sad. It's hard for me to articulate, but I will try.

I can count on one hand the options given to art students for a viable career in their field. And most of them are completely out of reach for most students. So how do you opt out of a system that you already bought into? When I was a grad student, I read an article in the journal of the College Art Association where an established (male) artist talked about how ridiculous it was that art students are not taught that there is so much more out in the world besides the Professorship or Blockbuster Fame. Art is not the only field guilty of this disservice to their students (since a Ph.D is no guarantee of an academic job), but it's the one I know. I recently helped a friend with a cover letter and was shocked. This friend received an MFA from one of the most prestigious programs in the country, covered in ivy, but was unable to compose an acceptable cover letter. Later, I tried to recall when and where I learned how to write cover letters. I remember toiling over them for countless job applications, but don't remember who taught me. Do students even learn how to write a business letter anymore? [I definitely remember learning that in secondary school.]

After I finished grad school, a former classmate asked to see my artist CV, since she had no idea how to put one together, having only written job resumes. I was horrified, thinking, "Didn't we just get master's degrees in art?" but then realized there was no coursework that covered this basic skill. I only learned how to write a CV after working in an arts organization where I saw hundreds of them on a regular basis. So there's the gamut: my alma mater, ranked something like 600-something, and then my friend's, ranked number one or thereabouts. Are doctors and lawyers and businesspeople sent out into the world after completing a very expensive education without any basic survival skills or knowledge of how to build their careers? Doubtful.

I'm now actually way off point. What I meant to say is that what Ronnie discusses, in terms of her life, seems actually to be meaningful goals that people used to value. But now the sane, grounded people have been sent away to the periphery, told they are not useful, valuable, or good enough at maintaining the status quo. That kind of constant criticism of your worth really gets to you, and then if you are a woman on top of it, good luck coming out the other side. Women apparently only start to feel good about themselves by the time they reach their early fifties.

All of this to say, that's why I live this strange, easy-to-criticize life. I opt out when I can, manipulate the system as best I can to suit my needs since I'd otherwise be mowed down, and try to stay sane and ethical by connections to those who live out in the boonies, respect their place in nature (as well as the place of water, soil, critters, and the like), and take good care of their dogs. Well, there are other people who also keep me afloat, wonderful and compassionate people who live in the city or don't have pets. Thanks to you all.

Friday, January 06, 2012

One mountain after another

That was a Korean saying my tutor taught me, about how once you scale one challenge, there are always more to greet you. So true.

I finished up another edit of my book, which I will print tomorrow to deliver to my most say-it-like-it-is readers: my sister. She's a fantastic film editor, and I think that experience has helped her get good at editing in general. Yesterday, I had my first physical in a long, long time. I left with my sore arm from a booster, feeling relieved and excited to be back in the fold of privilege. I still haven't gotten used to having health insurance, and feel often as if it will be taken away from me at any minute. But for now, wohoo!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Bright, wind, cold

Yesterday, I wanted to take a walk but opted to spend the entire day learning to crochet. Then I thought I'd walk today, but it's cold and windy enough to keep me inside. All I managed was a visit to the post office and then a trip to a Big Bank. After learning about mandatory arbitration in "Hot Coffee," I actually read the new contract I was sent for one of my accounts. Sure enough, there was an arbitration clause. I was surprised to see that I could opt out of binding arbitration by calling or "seeing a banker." I figured a walk to the bank and human interaction would be better for my health than punching in a million numbers on the phone.

[It really has been an uphill battle for YEARS. I always thought that if I could knit, I couldn't crochet. I'm so glad I'm over that hump.] The banker had no idea what I was talking about. I explained arbitration to him, and then he went to the assistant manager. I heard her say, "She went to college," [true] and "Isn't arbitration court?" [false] and then they both came over to question me and then admit that they were clueless. He called someone who said that the banker should have gotten an article about how to deal with this kind of thing, which he hadn't, and he had no way of accessing that article. Instead, he was given an email address to send with my opt-out request. He sent it, and intended to print me a copy, since the Big Bank would not send me any kind of confirmation, but then his email was rejected. Apparently, he wasn't allowed to do this, and told me that "see a banker" actually meant "telephone banker."

Hm. I read the contract in the beginning where they explain which terms will mean what for the rest of the 70-something pages, but there wasn't anything equating a live banker to one on the phone. Also, how does anyone "see" someone on the telephone? Anyhow, I did my bit to educate him about how biased arbitration is (in favor of the Big Bank), and then came home to leap through the phone hoops. It's not as much action as I wish I could make, but it was something. Now that I've gathered the momentum to take action, and am tired of compiling my book's bibliography, I'll attempt that walk again.