Friday, May 23, 2014

Daily Slowing Down

All too often, we get to the end of month or even a year and suddenly notice how quickly time flew by. Sometimes so quickly that we can’t remember what was memorable about that month or what was celebrated in that year. Instead of living like a speck on the speeding time line of our lives, we can change our relationship to time by shifting our internal clocks and perspectives.

I do not believe that time is a fixed state of being. It is a man-made convention of measurement. How we perceive time is relative to how we relate to our experiences. This has been a topic of discussion among many scientists from Einstein to modern day researchers.

“There is no single, uniform time, but rather multiple times which we experience. Our temporal distortions are a direct translation of the way in which our brain and body adapt to these multiple times, the times of life.” -Sylvie Droit-Volet of Blaise Pascal University

Ever since I was a young child, I would feel something was amiss if I just went to bed feeling like everything whizzed by in a dull blur. I also had problems dealing with the drudgery of routine. I wanted to find a way to make my day feel special.

I would do this by trying to draw a picture of an event at school, make a story that I could tell my older brother, or to imagine what could happen the next day. Donning my mom’s jewelry and my silk hanbok, I choreographed routines that combined ballet, folk dance, and disco. Engaging in acts of imagination and creativity would take ordinary events and make them feel a little more extraordinary.

I carried this practice into my adult life by recording in small notebooks images that I gathered or brief moments that held my heart and attention. The notebooks were small and fit easily into my purse, so I could access them easily. I would write down lines like “ the blue/purple markings on male ducks when they float along the harbor” and “watching the film, Cloud Atlas, while sitting shoulder to shoulder on my bed with my friend.”

“Eating jack fruit with my bare hands for the first time with my love.”

These recorded sentences were based on moments of color, flavor, and emotions. To find these quick flashes of significance, you do not have to do anything except pay attention and slow down enough to take note in your mind.

“ The black hawk sunning itself with wings wide open on the street lamp after a summer storm.”

I found that it changed the speed and beauty of my day. Knowing that I would be capturing moments encouraged me to be more awake in my daily life. A regular commute to work could be markedly different because of what you noticed along the way. A lunch break can be filled with unexpected sweetness by sharing a genuine, heart-felt conversation.

Recently, I have returned to this practice with the idea of writing down at least three moments a day. I tweet these lines, I write them down in my little notebook, and I use them as prompts when I need something to jumpstart my writing.

I feel that this practice has inspired a cycle of writing down and noticing what inspires me and in doing so, has created more situations to be inspired by. To be aware invokes spirit and spirit invokes significance to every day moment.

To learn more about relativity of time, read the article.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Weird and Glorious in Baltimore

Atomic Books
3620 Falls Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21211

Nestled in Hampden (a ten minute drive from downtown Baltimore on 83 North) is my favorite bookstore. It is a shining star in light of the cold, hard fact that independent bookstores are a dying breed. This one is going strong because of its niche market that is borderline cult classics and kitsch. There is an amazing collection of magazines that fill up two wall shelves of space. You will find some mainstream titles, but their shelves are plastered with alternative, subversive magazines and zines like Hip Mama, Bitch, Beautiful Decay. They even carry a selection of local zines by area artists and writers. It reminds of living in San Francisco during the hey day of zines when they could be found in every flavor and size in local bookstores.

If you like Japanese figurines that are grumpy, sassy versions of San Rio, this is the place to find, buy it, and order it. My son especially loves the ones you can paint yourself and the glow in the dark baby skeletons. He has this obsession with painting little figurines and Lego guys. Figurines come in many sizes and varieties, but the best ones are the mini-sized versions that you pick blindly like gumball machine trinkets. You pick a box that does not indicate what’s inside and then can trade them or collect them with friend.

There are bundles of subversive craft books as well as a hefty collection of graphic novels and comics. I personally love the movement of domestic arts with a vampy edge. Knitting and sewing are the new way to show off your spunk in style.

Atomic Books reminds me of an orderly explosion of color and toys into an adult wonderland. There are goodies for children too like little toys but also some children’s books of the alternative kind.

If you get on their email list, they will let you know of their new acquisitions and what is on sale. If you have a someone in your life who is hard to shop for, check out their store and online shop. You won't be disappointed. If you haven't figured it out already, the store is an offspring of John Waters, movie cult hero, and you can send his fan mail there too!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Charming City

Walking around my new home, Charm City, I wanted to take pictures of scenes that caught my eye. When I lived in New York, I used to carry a small silk notebook to write down what I wanted to capture to memory. Now, I can take pictures and use those images as triggering points from which to write.

Blue Moon Café: 1621 Aliceanna St Baltimore, MD 21231 (410) 522-3940.
This a place that Ronnie, my son’s best friend in Colorado, told him to go to because he saw it on the Food Network. The restaurant is a link to a past experience because it is a link to my son’s beloved friend. Places take on layers of meanings, the memories you created there, the suggestion made by someone whose opinion you value and the hopes you place upon the experience you wish to have there. Blue Moon is small, inviting and worth the wait for the innovative breakfast and brunch fare. Featuring perfected twists on traditional dishes: hashbrowns that crisp perfectly on the tongue and teeth and caramel rolls that are sinfully delectable. Because the dining space is so limited, I would suggest getting takeout when placing your order. What I have heard from others who have ate there is that when you eat there, you want to look for your Mama in the kitchen because the food is that authentic and heart warming. While I walked by, I saw the most beautiful Saturday brunch outfit on this woman. Since I have been contemplating going to fashion school, I have been more watchful of styles that seems to flatter and accent the shape of one's body. Just beautiful and effortless.

I love being by the water again. Baltimore reminds me of an amalgamation of my favorite cities: Brooklyn’s flavor and diversity, parks that echo of Central Park, the docks of Oakland and churches of the Mission in San Francisco. I grew up by the water, and I see why I need it. Seeing the water reaching back out to the ocean beyond the freighters and the industrial buildings, makes me feel expansive as if anything could happen even if it is not within my sights right now. Looking at the mountains in Colorado, I felt blocked, almost trapped by the grandeur before me.

Next to the some of the newer docks are these old docks that are falling apart and overgrown with grass. How did the grass get there? Did someone plant some soil and then the grass seeds spread? But there is real beauty in seeing how negligence still gives life. When looking back over my images notebook, I realized many things that I found beautiful were broken:
Shattered blue automobile glass
A fork that is pressed into the street
Shoes left all alone, a single mitten

I find beauty in accidents like this birthday cake that was thrown on the ground face forward. The day-glo like colors are intense against the black of the pavement. It makes me wonder what happened? Many stories form in my head.

Did someone slip and drop a cake for a child’s birthday?
Was someone pissed and decided to dump the cake on the ground?
Were they tempted to still taste the frosting? I was.

Why does breaking or destroying certain things more meaningful than others?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely and intimately personal process. I often surround myself with strangers at cafes, libraries, and public spaces to avoid this sense of isolation. During the embryonic stages of the first draft, I am plagued with questions like “What am I writing?” or “Why am I writing?” These questions can be useful in a dialogue of sorts but they tend to get lodged into the existential abyss of writer’s block. Once I am beyond the first draft, my body and mind eases itself into the solitary work of editing and revising. Later, I get stuck again after looking at the same essay for the 20th time and need a pair of eyes and ears that are not my own. That is when you hope to find a writer or a writing group that can give you insight, inspiration, and shred your work into lean articulate pieces. I know; it is a lot to expect.

I have found a wonderful surprise in my writing group. We share our writing and receive honest to goodness, sharp and useful feedback. Since we formed, we have been taking turns celebrating our successes and commiserating our rejections. Beyond the group as a whole, I have discovered many jewel like moments with each member of the group: conversations about long distance love while sitting in the sun, the sweetest cottage and greatest neighbor who gives me encouragement on long walks, a playwright who shares my passion for dance and mothering a son, and a colorful spirit who shares amazing writing advice and provides another perspective regarding the concept of living with one’s mother.

Our writing group just celebrated Rachel’s birthday at Bacaro Happy Hour, and we found some warm hugs within the very cold evening. Rebekah was there briefly before she had to attend another event, so she is not photographed yet. As we drank and nibbled and laughed, I thought this is the opposite of feeling lonely as a writer. Rachel with her beautiful rosy cheeks, maybe from the tequila shot, said that she loved how writing allows us to take our experiences especially the darker ones and transform them into writing material. It is true. No matter what we experience, grow or regress from, we find fodder for our art. I remember one time smashing commitment jade rings into a fine almost white powder on the sidewalk. It felt so final, so completely necessary to destroy what they stood for. I remember a side thought of being surprised that jade could turn into powder. Then adding a mental note: add this image to pool of ideas for a future story.

Right now, in this morning, with my shades drawn and having only stepped out once to walk my dog, I feel so grateful for the memories that I created with this group and to find the words to record and share them.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

First Snow

A few days ago, it was so bright out at 6 am that I thought I has slept through my alarm. It was snowing and had been snowing throughout the night. I love that feeling of excitement and surprise that I find with each first snowfall of the year. On our morning walk, Peanut started walking around with her mouth open like a snow plow, then it got stuck in her nose, which made her very angry.

That same night, I talked to my friend out in San Francisco. I told him that it was snowing. When he was growing up near Salt Lake City, he had a big window that looked out into the yard. Jeremy and his brother often peered out this window in anticipation of how much snow would fall that evening. I too had a window like this one. When I was growing up in Maryland, my cousin, Hae Jung, and I would gaze out the open window while standing on my bed. Our upper bodies would be dressed in winter gear complete with scarves, hats, and mittens over our pajamas. Tasting the new snow and trying to catch it with our tongue, we would laugh quietly so as not to get caught. Jeremy told me that the sense of anticipation is what fills you with wonder and hope.

Children make magic out of snow. Tristan made this snow frog last year. How many windows have caught the eyes of little children looking out beyond the glass to the snow? I am sure it is countless. Snow is a reminder that beauty can appear out of a familiar landscape. That the same roads and sidewalks we navigate on a daily basis with confidence and complete knowing are different and suddenly require caution and inspire appreciation.

I feel like right now with the holidays approaching and the weather getting colder, it is not an easy time to be alone or down. I know some people have lost loved ones around this time of year and many painful as well as joyful memories layer the holiday season. It makes me feel grateful for the family and friends that I have close by.

But to be honest, it has been hard to stay afloat above all the busyness and anxiety that comes around this time of year. Lately, I have noticed that I often forget to have fun and fill my days with carefully wrought plans as if by doing this, it will somehow guarantee my safe passage through life and inevitable change. Maybe that is why I started dedicating more time to my blogs again. I have been busy traveling and preparing my writing for publication and thought that the blog practice could slip into the background. But I have noticed that writing the blogs changes me. It keeps me aware of what happens throughout my day with an eye of curiosity and possibility. This awareness to witness my day without rigidity is what makes me happiest. In that way, writing about my life and the reflections that appear is like the snowfall. It brings attention to what is occurring in the moment and hope for what will come.

“When we live in a state of knowing, rather than unknowing, we’re living in a fixed state of being where we can’t experience the endless unfolding of life, one thing after another. Things happen anyway – nothing ever remains the same – but our notions of what should happen block us from seeing what actually does happen.” Bernie Glassman

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Halloween Stomach Flu

On Halloween morning, I woke up to my 11-year-old moaning, “Uma, uma” (Korean for mother). Because of jet lag, I wanted to see if he was just talking in his sleep. Both my son and I are major league sleep talkers. While fast asleep, I used to scream whole strings of arguments in Korean to the dismay of my non-Korean lovers. Just last week, Tristan cried out in his sleep, “I know sex is disgusting but…” and then his body nestled back into his plum colored duvet and started snoring lightly. But this morning, it was a cry from the bathroom, the toilet to be exact, where he was pouring out his digested dinner from his mouth.

After he threw up, instead of feeling better, his stomach knotted up in pain. Then for the first time in 3 years, he asked me to rub his belly. This really woke me up. I truly believe that this gesture of having your belly rubbed is an act of faith and trust. The trust comes from a childlike belief in magic; the type of magic that allows you to equate the touch of a loving hand with instant healing. Then there is faith that having your mother that close to your ailing body will create a sacred vigil of sorts and bring relief.

When I was four, I had a severe case of chicken pox. I could not stop my compulsive scratching, so my mother slid her special silk gloves onto my hands to keep them still or to dull my sharp nails. I remember begging her to sit next to me and pray (maybe to Buddha and Jesus?) for my itching to go away. As she whispered her requests to her God, it felt as if a cool mist covered my itching and made them tolerable for a moment. My mom still talks about this request. As a mother, I realize that it must have given her the same wave of bliss that I felt when I rubbed Tristan’s belly.

So I rubbed his belly with some castor oil and citrus lotion and sang him the song that my mother sang to me and her mother before her. It goes like this and mind you it is a translation. Literally it says, “Go down go down (the pain) and go away, your pain is just a fluke and mother’s hand is medicine.” It repeats in sing songy fashion that matches the rhythm of the circles on the belly.

When I was a child, I was happily wrapped up in the warm gesture of a belly rub from my mother’s soft hand. Now I see that it is also a gift it is to the mother who is rubbing her child’s belly.

Below are pictures from last Halloween. Tristan was Reno from Final Fantasy 7. I was Chin-Lee from Street Fighter.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Discipline and Joy

There are two things that I strive to do almost everyday: write and exercise. The inclusion or exclusion of these two activities completely affects my mood and mindset for that day.

The writing spectrum is broad. Anything from writing in my journal, collaging images and words, starting a first draft, or snipping an older piece into a finished draft is considered to be a valid attempt at working with words for that day. My newest journal is a large book-bound sketchbook that holds both journal entries and collages. I absolutely love it because the pages are made of thick acid free paper, and I no longer have to cross reference collage work with my journal entries. Yes, I used to do this to clarify some meaning in case it was not understood in one medium without the other.

Writing is such a lonely thing. Writers know this, and we can choose to embrace it or stop writing. But there are ways to gather forces in this loneliness in between the solitude required for this practice. Recently, my writer’s group extended our lovely fingers and imagination into meeting once a week for sit down writing sessions. We meet at random cafes, talk for about 5-10 minutes then we shut up and write. Sometimes the sound of the pen scratching out plays, and keyboards clicking away at new stories and essays makes me feel like I am going to jump up and start whooping. It is the sound of creation, of honoring what we promised to give ourselves in that moment.

We get so much done that each time we walk away in a daze of wonder and confusion. I ask myself, “How did this happen?” I have a wicked case of ADD and often have a hard time working on one thing for more than half an hour. I think the magic comes from the synergy of being able to sit in the same space to do what we know will sustain us for that day. The sit down sessions are a container, a witness for this type of creative action. It is pure joy.

Starting this blog has helped me not only honor my writing and share it, but it has made me pay attention to my experience and interactions. I listen carefully and see where threads of images, ideas, or sparks will take me.

Erich Fromm wrote in the book, The Art of Loving:

“First of all, the practice of an art requires discipline. I shall never be good at anything if I do not do it in a disciplined way; anything I do only if ‘I am in the mood’ may be nice or an amusing hobby, but I shall never becomes a master in that art… one’s whole life must be devoted to it, or at least related to it.”

“It is essential, however, that discipline should not be practiced like a rule imposed on oneself from the outside, but that it becomes an expression of one’s will; that it is felt as pleasant, and that one slowly accustoms oneself to a kind of behavior which one would eventually miss, if one stopped practicing it.”

I am trying to do this: to find joy in the practice and discipline instead of getting in my own way or obsessing about the finished product. With this said, I also want to be a master of writing.