Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: Celestine

week 9… celestine

It’s dark and windy today. The weather is exhilarating. People encourage me to speak more, to express myself with less reservations and hesitations. I’ve tried, I’ve tried, but I just can’t do it. I don’t think I was born capable. I have such a rigid barrier. I live inside my head. My favorite artists and musicians, I think, lived in their heads too. A lot of my favorites were/are shy and reserved (or so I’ve heard)…..

(JIMI HENDRIX)

You know that feeling that comes during an early morning rain, when everything in this world is lined up perfectly?

She thinks too much. Her mind-chatter is endless, overwhelming, disorienting. She walks, she wanders. What is reality, she wonders, when shadows are undefined and sunlight is blinding? What is reality when your friends don’t quite know your name? What is reality when life is nothing but a dream? 

He can see reality in brief glimpses. 

Whenever I feel anxious-stressed-unhappy-trapped-confused-depressed, I need to go into the forest. The forest never fails to give me a new perspective. The forest gives me a glimpse of serenity. In the forest it’s just me and these ancient trees, strong but still swaying in the breeze. 

There’s a guy, I know him sort-of, we’ve shared a few short sentences. He is the most regal person I’ve ever met. He holds his head high, he only speaks when he needs to (never when he’s asked). I only see him in this one context. I see him as a secondary character, a single-faceted human being. He wears dark and pretentious clothes.

I see people walking through tall trees, looking puny and inconsequential. 

Close Viewing: My America (… or Honk if you Love Buddha)

Close Viewing: My America (… or Honk if You Love Buddha)

Celestine Ames

 

My America (… or Honk if You Love Buddha) chronicles Renee Tajima-Peña’s journey through cities, highways and households in her search for the real Asian America. It’s a story of self-discovery told within the context of a cross-country road trip. The film explores themes of race, immigration, identity, interracial relationships, change, idealism, rebellion, and freedom.

Other than Tajima-Peña herself, the most central character in this film is Victor Wong, the strange old man who seems to have lived a very beautiful and inspired life. Victor Wong weaves the narrative together by appearing multiple times throughout the film. In Tajima-Peña’s words, “Finding Victor is like finding Buddha, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Kerouac all rolled up in one”. He’s strange and passionate, and he doesn’t live by anyone else’s standards. In the 1950s and 60s, Victor Wong was involved in the Beatnik scene of San Francisco. He was friends with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Jack Kerouac, and he served as inspiration for the character of Arthur Ma in Kerouac’s 1962 novel, Big Sur. Here are a few of Kerouac’s descriptions of Victor Wong (Arthur Ma) in Big Sur:

“Arthur came from a large family but as a painter and a Bohemian his family disapproved of him now so he lived alone in a comfortable old hotel on North Beach”

“Little Arthur Ma who never goes anywhere without his drawing paper and his yellowjack felt tip pencils is already seated in my chair on the porch (wearing my hat now too) drawing one of his interminable pictures, he’ll do 25 a day and 25 the next day too — He’ll talk and go on drawing — He has felt tips of all colors, red, blue, yellow, green, black, he draws marvelous subconscious glurbs and can also do excellent objective scenes or anything he wants on to cartoons…”

“Arthur was friendlier, warmer in a way, curious and always asking questions, more active than George with his constant drawing”

“(and here again another great gigantic little Oriental friend for me, an eastcoaster who’s never known Chinese or Japanese kids, on the West coast it’s quite common but for an eastcoaster like me it’s amazing and what with all my earlier studies in Zen and Chan and Tao) — (And Arthur also being a gentle small soft-haired seemingly soft little Oriental goofnik)”

In My America, Victor Wong serves as a link between the Beat Generation and Tajima-Peña’s current journey. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that Renee Tajima-Peña’s attitude towards life has been highly influenced by the Beat Generation. This is, after all, a road movie, surely influenced in part by Jack Kerouac’s adventurous, excited, idealistic language in novels like On the Road.

Victor also, in my mind, represents an Asian-American who has paved his own way in the new world, while still holding on to some of the wisdom and traditions from his Asian heritage. Victor is fiercely individualistic, rebellious and free-spirited. But still, he hasn’t completely shed his Asian influence. Towards the end of the film, he presents a red envelope to the parents of a newborn baby, and in doing so, he carries on an important tradition.

My America includes a good amount of commentary on rebellion, counterculture, and protest. About halfway through the film, Tajima-Peña travels to her hometown of Chicago, which brings up memories of her family and childhood. The viewer begins to see the disparity between generations of recently immigrated Asian families. In Tajima-Peña’s case, she and her siblings “were raised to just blend in”. Her parents were interested in conforming to American society, and she was interested in never turning into her “all-American parents”. She rebelled. “It was racism that defined my life. And I would never turn the other cheek as my parents had. I’d fight back”. Her siblings also rebelled, as well as a good portion of her generation. My America does a good job of capturing the sense of unity that often comes with protest and rebellion. For Asian-Americans, as well as any other minority, this sense of unity is incredibly important. As Victor Wong said, “It wasn’t until the Civil Rights movement came along that I felt like I could become part of America”. And in Tajima-Peña’s words, in reference to her own discovery of activism, “For the first time in my life, I knew I belonged in America. I felt comfortable in my own skin.”

Tajima-Peña made sure to include a diverse group of Asian-Americans in her film, drawing from different generations, locations, backgrounds, and worldviews. This was an important step to take, because it allows the viewer to see that, even within the Asian-American community, there are countless perspectives regarding the topics brought up in the film, and that all of them are worth considering. Some of the Asian-Americans that she interviewed actually considered themselves to be white, while others proudly identified with their race. Some were traditional and conformist, some were fierce rebels and revolutionaries.

Renee Tajima-Peña has accomplished something huge in making this film. My America gives the viewer a sense of what it’s like to live an Asian-American life. She presents America in an uncompromisingly honest way, providing not only her own perspective but the perspectives of many different people across the country. She unflinchingly tells the beautiful, tragic truth of America. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Tajima-Peña says, “Traveling through America can take your breathe away, but it can break your heart at the same time”.  

Week 7 Journal .. Celestine

February 14.

I’m exhausted.

February 16.

I’m exhausted.

But in a happier more comfortable way, I think. Hard to tell. I try my best to focus on the beauty and only the beauty. Nothing else matters.

A few of the things that I love about this world:

  • Women who sometimes spend their time doing beautiful unproductive things (braiding their hair, arranging flowers, buying birdseed)
  • Rain, Rain, Rain, and the millions of ways it can fall
  • The silence of snow
  • People with strange fascinations
  • Older generations with a tale to tell
  • MUSIC (what it can do for people, guitars, bands, beautiful musical souls who breathe and think and live musically)
  • Monks, sages, mystics
  • Coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, grocery shopping
  • Journals and sketchbooks and all the lessons you can learn from them
  • Sweet southern people who call you Sweetie and don’t talk about their shitty politics
  • The mysteries of the world (dreams, deja vu, nostalgia, afterlife, God, feelings and emotions, the reason behind it all)
  • Beautiful rare moments of infinity
  • Those moments (which can last for months at a time) when you feel like you’re living in a dream…. a.k.a. the strange interaction between Reality and Dreams
  • Moments of quiet reflection, in bed under the covers or outside under the stars

Week 5 journal.. Celestine

Observing the current scene.

There are three guitar cases stacked under my bed. They are all empty. The room has just been cleaned. Someone’s phone vibrates. I hear pants swishing in the hallway. I hear drawers closing and a can or a bottle falling on the floor. Roommate has her back turned. Her breathing is louder than usual. My annoyance threshold is lower than usual. Too many lights are on. She prefers it that way, therefore that’s what happens. My shoes match my dress. They’re both white and they both have holes.

Hazy Sunday… the uncertainty of reality…

Life is strange and confusing and absolutely wonderful. I can’t keep track of things. I feel unbalanced and scattered, but not in a bad way… in a very dreamy way. Almost like I’m floating. Through what? I’m not sure… but it’s beautiful and it’s serene. Reality is fluid, reality is nothing but a dream.

 

 

Week four.. Celestine

Would you like directions to the source of my mind chatter?

Are you an unhappy soul?

Reality and dreams…..

Solitude vs. Society

Blue is the color of my mother after a few glasses of wine.

I might base the female character in my story on that girl from the coffee shop in Sedona. She was passionate, she was beautiful, she was strange. My conversation with her was brief and mostly on the surface, but still, two years later (I think), I can picture her so clearly in my mind. She made a big impression on me. I wonder why the male character is coming to me so readily, but the female character is still such a mystery? I’ve even started to wonder if I should include her, since (so far) her character is less inspiring to me. But I’ve decided that I am going to, because I love the idea of him and her being parallel characters. They have some of the same thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc. I’m also excited about making to two characters ALMOST meet a few times, but never actually run into each other.

Male character… I’ll talk a lot about his perception of reality. I’ll draw inspiration from that time in my life, about a year ago, when I felt like I was going crazy. When I worked at that chocolate shop and when reading Fight Club made me FEEL like the main character in Fight Club, and when I felt incredibly alone, and when I could hardly carry a conversation or function as a normal human being. That was a crazy horrible powerful time in my life (lasted about 2 or 3 months, I think) and I took a lot away from it. It taught me a lot about the fluidity of reality, and how

  1. Not everyone experiences reality in the same way
  2. Your perception of reality can change depending on all kinds of external circumstances

Since that time in my life, my perception of TIME has been shattered. Completely shattered. I want to attempt to describe some of this in my story.

I just found the section in my last journal that was written during that strange confusing time. Here are a few things that I wrote..

These days I’ve been dreaming so much that I am constantly getting reality and the dream world mixed up. And by constantly I mean CONSTANTLY.

Monday morning and the sun is so bright. Perception of time has been erased, let go of, reformed, turned to shit, screwed with. Oh what a life, oh what a dream. What is reality when your voice echoes when you speak, when the world seems like it’s spinning, when you see what you hear and you smell what you see? What is reality when shadows are undefined and sunlight is blinding?

I DID NOT play much music this week, not much at all. But I pretty much forgive myself, Mon-Tues-Wed-Thurs I worked and felt very weird and scattered. Also reading Fight Club put me in a strange state, + stress from my first few days at work, + my whole concept of reality is shifting, nothing feels 100% REAL anymore. What the fuck is reality?

I feel like the narrator/main character of Fight Club. I haven’t been sleeping much. Reality doesn’t feel real. It seems like nothing exists, like all of this is a dream. Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. How long is this going to last? Probably until I quit this fucking job.

Celestine .. Journal 3

He sleeps but he doesn’t dream. He sleeps for the whole night and for half of the day. He leads a gentle life. He is shy and unassuming, and he lives with a horrible case of crippling self-doubt. He pays attention to the world, more than most others. He notices when new graffiti pops up in the city. He takes pictures with his drugstore camera and hangs them up beside his mattress. He notices married couples. He feels pity, with a hint of jealousy. He spends his days roaming the street, noticing the world. He notices the sun and the moon. He notices the silhouettes of trees when 6 o’clock approaches. He notices the cracks in the sidewalk. He notices the endless, listless, anxious flow of traffic. He notices the way that people look at him. Some smile sympathetically, some avert their eyes quickly. He almost always makes eye contact with the human race. 

I’m at caffe vita. It’s 2:23 PM. I’m on my second cup of coffee. The barista, saying goodbye to some customers on their way out, said “Have a good night. I mean, have a good day.. Have a good year!” I LOVE people who have no perception of time! Lately, for me, time has been losing its meaning. I don’t pay attention to it anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary. Does time exist? Probably not. I’m well on my way towards my goal of completely disregarding the field of time. I want to forget that time ever even existed. So what if I drink coffee at 9PM, eat breakfast at 3AM, go to sleep at 4AM, wake up at 1PM (as I did today), walk through the woods till 7PM, eat lunch at 8PM, then dinner at 9PM, then breakfast at 10PM… I want to get rid of all the clocks in my life. I want to live according to my own internal clock, not society’s clock. 

 

Writing American Cultures Essay .. Celestine Ames

 

In reading Melanie Curran’s essay entitled “Lived-In Experiences of Architecture in New Orleans”, I was struck not only by Curran’s stunning use of language, but also by her ability to personify and give meaning to the various forms of architecture in New Orleans. Before reading this essay, I hadn’t really thought of the buildings that I’ve lived, worked, and learned in as significant aspects of my life. I didn’t have much of an interest in the history of these buildings, or the small details that make them unique. Curran, on the other hand, seems to view the buildings in her life almost as living, breathing entities. She places quite a bit of importance on the stories of the buildings that she encounters.

            Curran’s writing style is breathtaking and artistic, even when describing something as matter-of-fact as architecture. Her poetic language gives the essay a certain amount of color and depth that it might not have had otherwise. I was struck by lines like “Conversations melted into walls and doors” (pg. 224), “The back door swung at the mercy of the wind” (pg. 227), “I grew permeable to the feeling of living in living buildings” (pg. 227), and “a dreamy fictionalization of a real place” (pg. 227). In her essay, Curran displays her very special talent of writing in a poetic state of mind. In addition to the writing style, I absolutely loved the structure of the piece. It seems to me that the essay came together in the same way that a collage might. The piece isn’t very organized, which I actually appreciated quite a bit.  A few pages are devoted to each architectural structure that Curran lived in or had experiences with while she was in New Orleans. But other than that, there isn’t much structure to the piece. It almost feels like a series of vignettes, each tied together by the common theme of New Orleans architecture. This gives the essay a nice contrast with the rest of the pieces in the collection, most of which were told in a more traditional way. I was amazed by Curran’s ability to piece together what felt like fragments of memories and experiences, into a cohesive and enjoyable essay.  

            While the majority of the essay centers on Curran’s personal experience, she also takes a few opportunities to comment on the way that architecture can reflect the state of a culture as a whole, and how this relates to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. On page 223, Curran relays her belief that “by rebuilding structures, [volunteers] were helping to give back to the city the very structure of its culture”. Evidently, Curran places quite a bit of importance on the buildings that hold a place in our lives and hearts. And she has found a way to help with the rebuilding of New Orleans culture in her own way. “I realized that I want not so much to rebuild houses, but to build the stories of houses through the lens of architectural ethnography” (pg. 224).

 A good illustration of Curran’s writing style, as well as an overview of what her essay is focused on, can be found in this passage on page 225:

 

“A Mathematical Approach to Determining the Lived-In Character of Architectural

Experience

 

For every building, there is an equal and opposite abundance of life being lived. Washers, dryers, ceiling fans, and air conditioning units are all whirling at speeds relative to the pace of personalities. Cracks, creaks, leaks, and bends are all dismantling at ratios determined by a factor of X. The value of X derives from usage of material amenities by tenant, multiplied by intensity of light bursting through south facing windows, supplemented by forces of nature encroaching on said building, divided by occupancy and sanded down to the wood grain and number of children brought up under the roof before it was patched in 1997.

Using such calculations, it is understandable that the amount of passion, dreaming, sexual desire and routine dwelling within the physical walls of buildings leads to “lived-in” characteristics that take effect in the architectural context. I will be exploring such characteristics of vernacular forms of architecture in New Orleans unearthed during my fieldwork from February to May 2012.”

When reading this passage, I was especially struck by the first line in the second paragraph (“Using such calculations, it is understandable that the amount of passion, dreaming, sexual desire and routine dwelling within the physical walls of buildings leads to ‘lived in’ characteristics that take effect in the architectural context”). I thought that this was an incredibly beautiful and inspiring line, and it gave me a new appreciation for all of the buildings that I’ve lived in, worked in, learned in, or had any sort of connection with. It’s fascinating to think of the history of these buildings, the connections that others have had with them, and the stories that can be told about them. I think it’s important to preserve these stories, and Melanie Curran does a wonderful job of preserving a bit of the history of buildings in New Orleans, as well as her own personal experiences in them. 

Celestine Ames .. Week 2 Journal

For project..  2 main characters. Both unnamed, probably. Both very strange and eccentric. One is stable and happy, the other is very unstable. Go back and forth between the 2 characters. Will they meet each other at any point? Not sure… Maybe not. 

Here I am in this vaguely familiar town with these vaguely familiar people. I worry, I worry, I worry my days away. Music keeps the abyss at bay. 

I look at the stars and I disappear.

WHO IS THE SAINT OF THE 21ST CENTURY?

His life has never lived by anyone else. I can see that he sees the world differently. I showed him my heart, he examined it closely. He criticized its size, shape, color and consistency. Going to hide in this hole, heavy with heartbreak, heaving with sadness. 

Put down your phone, America! America, please wake up from your Reality TV Dream!

Some people look to the moon for guidance, some look to the sun, some look at absolutely nothing. Reality is subjective, don’t you see? Winter’s window shows me what I want to see. 

He relies on others for his sanity and stability. He’s a beautiful mess. 

Is this really reality? 

The air is cold but she’s not feeling bitter about it. She walks through the city holding a coffee-filled mug, feeling more self-conscious than usual. It’s starting to get dark. The trees are silhouettes, now. She looks at these silhouettes, and she looks at the moon, and she looks at the single star in the sky. She doesn’t look at the people that she passes by. They look at her, though. Everyone looks at her. They marvel at her beauty and her strangeness. You could tell by looking at her that she hadn’t owned a TV in years. You could see that she spent her life dreaming, never in black and white. You could see that her life was nothing but a kaleidoscopic dream. 

 

Celestine Ames .. “Bob Israel”

I’ve always been attracted to the eccentrics of the world. I’ve always been fascinated, even infatuated, with the artists and the poets and the musicians, those who don’t take cues from established societal norms. I see these people as visionaries. Growing up in a small town of about 2,000 people, I didn’t get much exposure to these kinds of people. I knew they existed… I had read books by Jack Kerouac and Henry David Thoreau, I had seen films and heard music from the counterculture movement of the early 1960s, I had seen old pictures of family members in their prime and wondered why their compelling eccentricities had vanished. I had very few opportunities for first-hand exposure in my tiny town, but there were a few exceptions. Over the years I’ve had encounters with some incredibly inspiring people.. well… inspiring to me, as someone who has a deep affection for those who deviate from the norms. To others, these people may be viewed as lost souls. These are people who live in caves, people who actively practice Chinese medicine, people who write constant poetry. To me, these people ARE poetry. Poetry leaks out of their pores. They can’t help it. The way that they speak is rhythmic, frantic, prophetic, musical. One of the most influential of these eccentric visionaries, so far in my life, is a wild-haired man named Bob Israel. He’s one of the craziest people I’ve ever known, in the best way imaginable. I used to see him almost every day, roaming the streets in a way that seemed aimless, but for all I know, he could have had some greater purpose that far exceeded anyone else’s understanding. He probably did. He seemed to be in a deep meditative state while he was walking. He walked incredibly slow, slower than anyone else I’ve ever seen. It probably took him at least an hour to walk one block. At frequent intervals, he would suddenly stop walking and turn his head to the sky, dreamily pondering the clouds. Bob Israel played piano. That’s how he made enough money to live comfortably (sort of). I don’t remember how I met Bob Israel. I’ve known him since I was very young. He knew that I loved music, and he knew that I played music. Every time I ran into him on the street, he would talk to me about the beauty and the importance of music. He was overwhelmingly passionate. And his passion was overwhelmingly contagious. After our conversations, I would walk home, stealing constant glances at the clouds, humming and listening to the music of the world. To me, Bob Israel is the definitive eccentric artist. He doesn’t live according to anyone else’s standards. He spends his life inspiring those who are open to what he has to say. His life is poetic and passionate. It was Bob Israel that made me realize that I want to live the life of a passionate artist/poet/musician/writer. More than anything, I want to inspire others with the copious amounts of inspiration that I get from the world around me.

© 2022 Eye of the Story
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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