Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A book saved by a book

I was so stuck today, but finally got unstuck and started to work again on my manuscript after reading a tiny bit of Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country: "If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Muddle puddle

[Brandenburg Gate] I wonder what it would be like to live up that high. And to be green.

Even though my sister's film was called "Una Noche," I kept forgetting that while watching. Because SO MUCH can happen in one night, or one day.

My mother loved this piece in the Pergamon. The amount of goodies in there was staggering. It was the first time I wandered around a museum and wondered what all of these artifacts did at night when no one is around.

Keeps growing! Today is rainy, a big contrast to yesterday. I spent time yesterday corresponding in Korean, which always means brain gymnastics. But getting immediate responses from those I really enjoyed meeting and working with was worth all the spelling and grammar checking. In 2009, I insisted that I could never exchange emails with Korean professors. Now it's no big deal. I take it for granted that I can touch type in Korean, but when I think about it, it's a small miracle of my circuitry. It's a relief to know we can continue to learn new things, at any age.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


The winter is cold in Europe. Here, I don't think we can call this winter.

The three on the left have never left Cuba. Here, in Berlin, they experienced their first winter, and said it was very cold.

How do we all fit together in the world?

The squirrels have been tearing away my hanji that was outside, left to air, so it's either gone or tattered. So I finished the job and ripped up the rest. I'm not sure if I want to feel grateful to the brazen rodents for their uninvited interventions. I will know once I'm done sewing these pieces together.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


My body must have been adamant that I stay on course, because I have fallen back into my time zone and it was almost instant. In Berlin, I would wake up at 1:30am and not sleep for six hours and be miserable because I couldn't do any work.

When I visited the Pergamon, conflicted about the massive excavations taken to Germany, I realized that though I certainly appreciate architecture and grandiosity, I am decidedly attracted to things on a much smaller scale. I like to make those things, too, even though some people would prefer that I work larger. But I can't get over the details. I love tiny details.

Last night, I talked with my fourth reader for my book, and already, she has identified enormous blind spots in my writing, view, research, all of it. I am so grateful for her feedback and candid comments, but it scares me because that means there is another giant overhaul looming. The other struggle being that I came home and all I wanted to do was MAKE stuff. But I have to get back to the book. But I feel so crazy if I can't do just a few things. Please? SO. This morning I tried to sweat it off, when I found something on the ground, waiting for me on the path to the gym. It was a pinned batch of dyed hanji that I thought was lost forever, as of weeks ago. !!! I am still grieving for several LARGE sheets of the same that flew away while I was gone. But that these tiny ones came back to me, what a sign. Laid on top of a beautiful sample of paper from Lisa Harkins, one of my students from last year (flax + kon'nyaku + indigo + kakishibu = yumyumgorgeous).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Across the pond and back

That was an intense, whirlwind trip to Berlin, full of highs and lows, plus real winter cold. But after all the drama, I came home thankful for the chance to support my sister's film and learn more about my family and myself. Sometimes you can only figure this stuff out through long flights, endless walks, horrid jet lag, and drinks every night.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's that time

I had to lay out my manuscript last night because there was no way anymore for me to visualize its structure on one tiny computer screen, or in my jumbled head. I'm working towards an impossible deadline, but am determined to get this to my fourth reader before I leap off this continent tomorrow.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A practice requires practice

That's what I learned yesterday. I mean, that's what I was reminded of yesterday morning. The rest of the day was like a friend fest, which was a well-deserved break from my edits. I started with lunch and a cupcake run with an old friend, and then visited my favorite printshop to say hi to Vijay Kumar, and pick up prints. I was pleased to see one of his students working on etchings that she made on crocheted paper. Years ago, I had experimented with etching onto knitted paper, and gave Vijay a sample print to use in his classes. Carolyn took to it and started to crochet her old prints on eastern papers. When I saw her, she had just sent a panel through the press alone. I asked her about her process and was delighted to find out the ways she had improved on my original idea with Vijay's help, to address technical issues. She happened to have an exhibit up at the shop, so I took a look and was excited that almost all of her crocheted prints had sold. I bought the last one so that I could use it also for my classes as a sample. Vijay always encourages this kind of sharing, and I was excited to have inspired other people. [Vijay has a retrospective up in Ohio until May!]

Then I met Terttu for tea in the park, homemade cookies, and story swapping about the joys and frustrations of teaching. After visiting ICP (where she's teaching a book/photo class), I took her on a walking tour of Koreatown and we split a pastry before I hopped a train to NY Central to browse more handmade paper that might work as a substitute for hanji in my classes and talk to the paper dealer about hanji sales. I smiled when I overheard him tell another customer about how there is no such thing as rice paper and that it is actually a derogatory term--his was an explanation I had not yet heard. I had just refrained from making my own explanation in the printshop because I wasn't in the lecturing mood. But I'm glad someone made that speech yesterday! One person at a time, we will slowly erase that dreadful misnomer, just like we have made strides away from calling people "oriental."

Because I love talking to paper people about paper, I left in a grand mood and walked to my favorite organic vegan place to meet two other old friends. We hadn't all met together since last year in California (when we used to all live there), so it was a treat to catch up over such good comfort food. Life has changed a lot for all of us in the span of a year, two of us switching coasts, and it was reassuring to share stories while eating mashed potatoes. We even splurged on pie.

I'm contemplating a gratitude practice, and inadvertently launched it with the latest autobiography I picked up: Helen Keller's The Story of my Life. I'm trying not to make comparisons, like how I should be grateful for my sight and hearing (which I am). Rather, I am completely riveted by her descriptions of early childhood and that intense desire she had to express herself and learn, and how that is such a natural instinct in children. Not everyone gets the right teacher, of which she was well aware, but the ones who do, fly.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A turtle, it seems

I am three artists away from getting most of the major edits added into this fourth edit of my manuscript. Then I can scan it in its entirety to see how the new version hangs together. THEN I can choose photos and placement. THEN I will be where I thought I was going to be a month ago. I feel like I work and I work and I've traveled an inch.

But in the meantime I have been able to see friends (in person!) and will get to do more of the same at the end of the week. It's hard to tear myself away from the computer because I feel so behind, but it feels solid. It's not as flimsy of a book as I feared. Meanwhile, a new friend shared this with me, which I think is fantastic. Feel free to contact her with any suggestions for her work.

Monday, February 06, 2012

All in

I am always an abysmal failure at documenting the workshops that I teach, but it's really the last thing on my priority list while in the teaching zone. But I was able to capture an aunt and niece team in the process of texturing a big sheet of hanji. They were both so good with their hands; an ease and pleasure to work with. Class went well, and it was a luxury to teach this workshop in two days rather than one, which I had done last year. I've never seen so many students make so many jiseung cords! Impressive.

I had a great talk over the weekend with the one person in the world who understands the challenges of doing hanji research and ambassadorship in the U.S., and she reminded me that the student/teacher relationship is often misunderstood. She said, students do not necessarily need to feel indebted for life to their teachers (this was how I grew up to understand things and it's a hard paradigm to shake) because it is also a great privilege for teachers to teach students. And that was a welcome thing to hear while in the midst of it. I was surprised and humbled by how many students came from afar to take the workshop, and by all the permutations of possibilities that exploded over the weekend in terms of what they learned, synthesized, and transformed through their personal exploration.

This was a great way for me to start the workshop season, since I had enough time and head space between demos and instruction to take notes for myself on how to improve the flow, my samples and handouts, and the effectiveness of various methods of explanation. Even though it will take me another 24 hours to recover from the effort, I'm grateful for the privilege.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Show in Dallas

Whoops! I forgot to say that this show opens tonight. I get to show some work I haven't ever shown, which is a treat. Hope they are making merry as I belatedly post.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Halfway, round four

This edit is difficult, but I took a break yesterday afternoon to start prepping for the workshop I'll teach this weekend. I guess this is how regular teachers feel when it's time to start school again each year. I dread the energy suck and anxiety but also am looking forward to interacting with new students about something I care about. I forget that I care about what I'm teaching b/c it makes me so crazy, but I was sitting here with my four stacks of paper, thinking about how I am doing this as a service. Writing a book has lots to do with ego, but besides that obvious point, I am doing this b/c I think a big hole exists that this book can fill. Not entirely, but it would be a good start. I am in the midst of some major structural changes, and I have had moments of laughing out loud at my readers' edits. I am working from two sets at once, since each reader has her own strengths, and also because the calmness and objectivity of one view balances the exasperation of the other. I have a major tangle to work out today, past the halfway mark. I still have a big stack of uncovered stories to add, but I'll be better at writing them the first time around now that the structure is taking shape. Meanwhile, I have no idea what is going on in my sketchbook.