15 September 2011

get off to get on

from the zine, Off the Map, by Hib & Kika

18 August 2010

permanent ephemera?

Sometime around the 1960s through the 80s, a barely teenaged kid carved his name in wet concrete throughout his North Beach, San Francisco neighborhood about 1000 times. A few decades later, a laid-off journalist spends his unemployment checks and free time staring at the ground, combing thru concrete, in search of Nikko. I read it all on-line for free here, but you can also support the writer by ordering the chapbook here.

I can't figure myself out--where do I thrive best? Am I a country mouse, city mouse? Both? Neither? I'm quite sure I wouldn't do very well without nature within breathing distance. But as this true (and to me, somewhat heartbreaking) piece reveals, stories with this  brand of graffiti and soul can only happen in the rangle tangle of a grumbly city where being alone and even strange is what connects you to everyone else.

11 August 2010

pretty ugly

Do you ever have one of those days, or months, or maybe even years, when little seems to be going the way you envisioned or hoped, and feeling knackered is the norm, and all things that life demands, from the minute to the grand, just becomes too much that life sucks itself into itself like an astronomical black hole at the blue event horizon, and in a flash that feels like an eternity, the weight that cracked your ankles starts to feel like nothing--but a really heavy nothing--and then one day, en route back to wherever you call home, you feel numb and absent to the moment but then suddenly, your turn the corner like you always do in a rather beastly end of town and there is a blinding sight so unintentionally captivating you nearly crash your car and you have to rub your eyes because now you can't trust eyes to what to tell you it's seeing, and you can hardly believe that anything could shine a light like velvety melted gold onto a block of drab row houses that you have to flip your neck around to check the source of the translucent blaze so you can affirm that, yes, wow, holy cow, indeed, it IS that sun, and you feel pretty certain that you're the only person to be so moved by, or even notice, the magic drenched over a few ugly buildings and you relish such a singular, momentary experience as if it was just made for you, little, non-descript boring you--you with the heavy nothing you carry around because you don't know any other way--and then it hits you like a pan to the head, wait, someone, people, families, live in those drab, ugly row houses that you've never cared to even notice before?

29 May 2010

hope springs eternal

Who are you? And what if you lived forever? Will your essential self change after 250 years? 500 years? A thousand? Will you hurl yourself toward self-destruction and eventual annihilation, or if given enough time, will you eventually understand Everything and eventually achieve enlightenment, nirvana? Will you evolve, or devolve? Go to war, or turn the other cheek? Say, "I am sorry," or throw downy pillows around your ego?

Will you still get light and giddy with the promise of a chocolate ice-cream milkshake, or will your tongue, after several dozen centuries of gnawing, chewing, tasting, settle in for the sour bitterness of your shoe? Once you literally have seen it all, will you become bored, or will you be comforted? Will you harbor these pangs for your beloved forever, or is fading from one another inevitable in the boundless space of eternity? Will timelessness amplify distortions and delusions of your memories, or give you enough time to remember with clarity? Once broken, how long will your heart take to heal if life isn't short, and you have plenty of time to waste?

Will you grow weary of your voice that's too deep, your face that's too pointy, or your hair that's too frizzy? Or will your imperfections become meaningless? Will you accept yourself for who you are?

Who are you, again?

Will you prize only the new, the fabulous, the novel, the defiant? Or will mundane things like little white napkins drying on your clothesline beside the lilac bush still have the power to make you pause? How about a fluttering butterfly with wings of iridescent azure? The sight of fuzzy kittens, or baby turtles? A full arc of a rainbow? A purple and crimson sunrise over vast blue sea? What will it take to stop you in your tracks?

With a never ending, who will you become?

Foto taken in our garden with analog Polaroid SX-70.

16 April 2010

painting painted turtles

To anticipate spring, many of us tend to look for the green shoots of crocuses and daffodils, or to tree buds bursting open and the return of migratory birds. But a wonderfully reliable and lesser known sign of spring in some regions are when the vernal pools return after the first heavy rainfalls. An army of ritual breeders--salamanders and wood frogs--mate like mad and lay their gelatinous egg masses in communal deposits in these ephemeral pools, nearly all at once. Tiny thumb-sized peepers start their annual whistling concerts around the same time. Painted turtles and bull frogs literally defrost and emerge from their frozen state from under leaf litter and moist layers of mud. Dragonfly and fairy shrimp larvae start wriggling in the shallow waters.

I love watching painted turtles poke their heads out of the watery puddles and climb onto fallen tree logs. They, too, are sick and tired of the cold New England weather. Who says turtles are slow? When it comes to finding the sunniest waterfront real estate on the pool, these suckers are fast.

Image: looking up from the bottom of a pool at the colorful underside of a painted turtle swimming on the surface. I know. It looks like I painted turtle roadkill.

11 March 2010

remembering everything but the thing

Do you have a memory that has no context, and therefore makes very little sense, and yet the moment is as vivid as if it happened yesterday? (If so, feel free to share!)

Background p butter foto taken from this site here.

09 February 2010

my apologies

I have recently received complaints in the form of threats that I have not been prolific enough lately on this site. This probably is true, and I am sorry and will strive to improve this. So, in the interest of blog productivity, I've come up with a list of reasons why I have not been as productive:

  1. My home was swept out to sea and washed up on the smooth shores of a remote island.
  2. The remote island turned out to be the exposed belly of a Giant wading in shallow waters of a Giant beach.
  3. I got distracted building a survival raft made of Legos, Lincoln Logs and cheesesticks.
  4. We got kinda hungry so the raft is not working out so great.
  5. All our time is spent crying, swimming and un-cramping our legs.
  6. On really sunny days, we get caught up in 8-hour hallucinations while floating on our backside.
  7. We are recovering from 1st degree sunburns on our frontside.
  8. Daydreaming about land is a 24-hour a day job.
  9. When you're a person, it's very time-consuming to befriend sharks whose food chain has been destroyed by people.
  10. It is a bit dark and cold inside the stomach of a white sperm whale who goes by the name Toby, or Moby, or something like that. Oh, who knows. I can't remember. I've been busy with stuff.

24 January 2010

Tracks from top to bottom: White Toed Mouse (& tail drag), bird wings flutter, Raccoon on porch steps.

To survive winter, some animals like birds, whales and senior citizens migrate south to warmer climes. Others stay put and adapt by thickening their fur, cacheing their food, or slipping into a comatose dormancy. A few go into deep hibernation whereby little could awaken them: if your luck brings you beyond the doorstep of a hibernating groundhog, shake him like mad and he's apt to just hang like a limp furry lump... breathing just once every 5 minutes. Others, like bears and teens, go into torpor and stir only to eat, poop, or snuggle with their boo. Most of us, and most wildlife, must keep hustling and bustling. Should you take a snowy walk in the woods, or nearly anywhere after snowfall, you may not see a lot of furry wildlife above the subnivian layer, but signs of their wild party will be plenty right atop, and most wonderfully, right under your foot.

18 January 2010


In 1968, over one thousand black sanitation workers in Memphis took their place in civil rights history by walking off their jobs and going on strike for better pay (above the poverty line) and safer working conditions. The sanitation company had been dismissing the workers' heath concerns for years, and routinely denigrated them and refused to pay their wages. When two workers had been crushed to death by heavy industrial machinery, management did zip in response. This was the deep-south, and discrimination and subhuman treatment against blacks at the water fountain and on the job was the rule of the day.

Along with several other civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. helped rally these workers into a labor union, and incorporated into the civil rights movement the unequivocal demand for labor and economic justice. And so it was that the heart and soul of the civil rights movement was a fight on behalf of the working poor. Without economic justice, the "freedom" to eat at the same restaurant, or go to the same hospitals or schools, as whites would have been meaningless.

While the workers' were gaining support from grassroots labor organizations, the city of Memphis, its mayor, its city council, and many of the residents opposed the workers and Dr. King's message of equality. Dr. King's last speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop" was made to the Memphis sanitation workers only one day before he was gunned down outside his Memphis motel room.

And the last lines of this short but empowering speech were chillingly prophetic as he fearlessly addressed his compatriots' concern over violence and for his safety in Memphis:

When I left graduate school and started working with the immigrant poor, I had the opportunity (an initiation rite, really) to watch the story of this critical sliver of civil rights history in the documentary film, At the River I Stand. To me, I could not have understood the civil rights struggle without knowing the stories behind the sanitation workers' struggle for economic equality (and the fight of others like them around the country) and to understand Dr. King's profound devotion to agitate for basic human and civil rights for all people. I was both humbled to tears as well as galvanized to affirmed commitment. To sustain the energy to keep working on behalf of economic and social justice, I turn to this historical documentary every few years and it helps feed my fire. These days, many of us still seem to need this refueling.


Above is a one minute clip of the end of Dr. King's fearless and empowering speech. If you want to listen to the 5 minute speech in its (near) entirety, you can find it here. You can read about the sanitation workers' fight here.

12 January 2010

know doubt

Ever have one of these days?

08 January 2010

two thousand and ten

A polished cement floor in the lobby of a contemporary art museum. There is also a wall there, at least 25 feet high at its peak, pasted with old newspapers, and displays an installation of about fifty framed colored mirrors of different sizes. The  high wall and expanse of mirrors are striking the first time you see it, but not so much in subsequent visits. The cement floor beneath, however, swirls with irregular and accidental patterns, and with it's own dull shine, hazily reflects the colors from the mirrors, the shoes of visitors, and even the amber of the sun setting in the sky outside.

Cheers, everyone, to a new year of taking delight in the space under our feet.

18 December 2009

life is a chair of bowlies

Here are some wabi-sabi bowls made in the studio, fresh out of the kiln, waiting to be filled with hot, hot soup, or cold, cold ice-cream. There are few things that we use on a several-times-a-day regular basis, over and over and over as we do the vessels we eat, drink and nourish ourselves from. I still remember bowls in the kitchen cabinet from when I was a kid--a mish mash of cheap bowls and platters from the good will of neighbors and Goodwill itself--that have made a significant imprint on my memory from the sheer daily use of them back then. The mere sight of a 70's era Corelle bowl or saucer sitting in a second-hand store today brings me right back to my mom's Vietnamese-Californian garlic and cilantro kitchen, and my childhood.

When I began working with clay and ceramics my first year in college, I also discovered the loveliness of eating from a vessel made by hand, my own hands. Like many things lost to the Industrial Revolution, hand made pots were cherished and celebrated before machines started churning them out of molds. Handmade ceramics go back millennia to Ancient Japan and Iran, even Vietnam (with the finest clay from the Red River Valley), and today, are a revered art form in those countries. Unlike the visual perfection of Chinese ceramics, Japanese and Vietnamese ceramics look to the heart to create. To watch a master Japanese or Vietnamese potter quietly, fluidly, intensely work on a piece, throwing, trimming, glazing, firing, is witnessing a skilled technician who is also totally in tune with the mud of earth, the origin of pigments, the quality of fire, and the Buddhist philosophy of compassion, flow, and appreciation. There is no artistic pretension. A teacher once told me, if you like your art to turn out exactly as you had planned and envisioned, don't do ceramics. But if you can take delight in the totally unexpected and imperfect, this is for you.

It is for me, and for my soup.

11 December 2009

The number strongest and most frequently found in nature.

The number of films you can sneak-watch in a theater before getting famished.

The number of tries it takes, on a good day.

Photo taken at a utility pole 3 minutes from my front door.

03 December 2009

marcescent leaves are falling

Right behind me is the concrete jungle of an inner city neighborhood:

a bus stop pole,
a deserted bench,
a set of traffic lights,
a box of abandoned clothes,
a crushed empty soda can,
and to the right,
a cracked, paved parking lot