I was probably 12 or 13 years old. It was summer vacation, and I was at what I jokingly called “Jesus Camp.” It was a week-long summer camp with children of the Episcopal Church from around the Pacific Northwest. On this particular night we had gathered outside under a shelter for an evening mass. To me, not being particularly religious, it was a spiritual only in that I was sharing reflective moments with my peers. After the service, the group gathered around a fire, and we were instructed to write down on a small piece of paper something that we were going to let go of. A few weeks prior I had paid my last visit to my mother’s grandfather, and in his condition he hardly knew who I was. He was weak in mind and body, admitted to the hospital, and it was clear that he was living his final days. And so, knowing that his life would soon be over, I wrote ‘Great Grandpa’ on my paper and watched it burn away in the fire. I felt grief, but also a sense of relief. I had released my great grandfather and allowed him to become a memory. A few days later I returned home, and my mother had that look in her eyes that said ‘something happened.’ I sat on the couch next to her and she said ‘Grandpa died.’ She played back an old voicemail that she had kept from him and we both cried.
Should never be late for your train because it may be the last one. That’s how you meet a white supremacist in Santa Ana and politely make conversation and bide your time until the morning train arrives. He shared his cigarettes with me as we talked about the Old Testament, his infant daughter, and the oil fields of North Dakota. (Theres good money to be made drilling oil in the middle of nowhere. A man could make eighty thousand dollars in three months and live like a king for nine.)
On my train ride to Santa Ana from San Diego to see a film premiere I saw a Verizon being robbed and many people shooting up outside the theater. By the films end I only had thirty minutes to catch the last southbound train but I didn’t know that until thirty minutes past the departure time; I was too busy dancing along the tracks.
I told him I was Jewish and asked what he thought about that. He said he didn’t care as long as I wasn’t causing trouble. I asked him what if I was black; he said the same thing. I now suppose a white supremeacist need not care about anything if he’s rich.
Barry Kimm passed on April 8th, 2014, four days before my birthday, and nine days after the death of his wife, Susan. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, the two of them dropped everything and took a road trip around the country, seeing everything they had never had the chance to, documenting their travels and taking photographs, their shared talent and passion.
Susan passed on March 29th, and Barry soon followed, taking his own life, unable to live without her. The memorial service for Susan became the memorial service for both of them. They lived as one and died as one.
The man himself never meant much to me. I’m fairly certain that he never knew of my existence, nor was I aware of him for much of my early life. As a child, the idea of my biological father wasn’t anything more than a blurry figure in the distance, static, unimposing, and unimportant. Until the young man who would eventually raise me introduced himself, the only form of fatherly love that my infant mind had grown accustomed to was my grandfather’s, and I lived the early years of my life in blissful ignorance, devoid of any notion that there might be have been someone else out there with whom I was inherently connected.
My acknowledgement of the “missing-link” within me coincided with our move across the country. At eleven years old, still afloat in the euphoric ignorance of pre-pubescence, I found myself riding shotgun in a blue 1994 Honda Civic hatchback, packed to the brim, as my adopted father steered us further and further away from everything I knew. We departed Olympia, Washington in the summer of 2003, en route to Providence, Rhode Island, a 4 day drive if your pushing it, and a journey that I would become well accustomed to.
“The church and the theater are carried within us…out of our need and out of an impulse more mysterious than our desire.” What could Baldwin mean when he says “an impulse more mysterious than our desire.” What mysterious impulse is this? First of all, perhaps we should find a definition for desire.
Desire- The fact or condition of desiring; that feeling or emotion which is directed to the attainment or possession of some object from which pleasure or satisfaction is expected; longing, craving; a particular instance of this feeling, a wish. (Oxford)
Aww yes, how could I forget. Desire is tied to the material, tethered to change and ultimately to death. Desire is enslaved to time. As soon as I have a desire for something, as soon as that desire lives within in me, so too, does death. Desire, may itself reign in the altars of the metaphysical art worlds, but it itself must have an object, and any object is subject to change. And really, although I have no affinity toward scientists, I’m sure a rogue biologist or two could very succinctly, yet methodically remind us of our desire’s baseness.
But what manner of metaphysician, who, from what brotherhood of mystics, could teach us what Baldwin means when he writes about this “impulse more mysterious than our desire.” I don’t think there is any necessity for esoteric consultation. I think that this impulse is very simple. I think it has to do with relation, and just as we have a need, and a desire to acquire and use things in this life, we also have a deeper need to transcend those things. In other words, we have a necessity to balance life with death. Simpler still: we have a necessity to create meaning. The best way to create meaning is through metaphor. Metaphor is nothing but creating a richness of relationship, between two things that betray difference. Let’s say that one day, I went to the store and bought some apples. On my way home from the store I see a homeless man and I give him one of the apples I bought. Then I go home and watch some television until my girlfriend comes home. Now my girlfriend is all like, “Whaddup?” and I’m like, “Aw, not shit really. Just chillin’. Went and bought some apples though, if you want one.” But goddamnit! I forgot that I only bought two apples. And my girlfriend sucks! So after explaining the situation to her, she freaks out and is all like, “Why’d you lie to me about the apples! Fuck a homeless raw no love!”(she’s really wound up). What my girlfriend is failing to understand is that I have enriched my life by following an idea, an idea that is eternal. I gave that man the apple because of the idea that there is a life force which transcends us. I would guess that my girlfriend is pessimistically thinking that she, the homeless guy, and I are simply stuck in each of our bodies, and thus only cruel manifestations enslaved to our desires. My girlfriend is short-sighted and selfish. And she’s hungry, both literally and figuratively.
What I am trying to say is that we choose how to look at, interpret and interact with the world. There are countless narratives we can adhere to, countless narratives well developed and otherwise, some worthwhile, some not, but these narratives are someone or something else’s narrative. That is where the story comes in. To create a story is in the hands of the individual. The narrative is that I went to the store, bought some apples, gave one to a homeless guy and then went back home. But the reason for why I gave the apples away is where the richness of the story lies. I gave the apples away because we exist on a plane with a plethora of categorizations and boundaries, like wealth and poverty, want and need; but I gave the apples away because there exists, in between the lines of these limitations, the glance of that homeless man. And we all know that homeless men have crazy ass eyes. That’s because the nodes and weird pink and red tendrils that tie his eyes to the brain in his head are the same goddamn nerves as mine, and they’re going to be the same as the children I should or should not have with my jerk of girlfriend. The relationship between the “I” and the other, the rift that exists between the two, is why human beings need religion and art. It is the “need more mysterious than our desire.”
I am very glad that Caryn read those passages from Lee’s notes before we viewed the film. Hearing Lee’s notes on his goals for the film encouraged my eye to look out for different things in the movie. I really liked having a window into how Lee envisioned the film before seeing the film. It was cool to see how how Lee had such an acute concept for the tone of the film, and you can see how that concept influenced all of the decisions that went into the film. Lee set out to make a film about the hottest day in Brooklyn, and the film looks and feels like the hottest day in Brooklyn (physically and metaphorically). Everything from story elements such as the playing with the fire hydrants to the burning of the pizza parlour, and production elements such as the incredibly loud, boisterous sound track and irregular, “dutch” camera angles sent the message that this was indeed the hottest day Brooklyn. I think this idea of starting a film with a feeling in mind and trying to use every technique available to you is an idea I would like to incorporate into my own work.
Thematically and content wise, I thought this film was especially remarkable. It dealt with broad, often discussed topics like hate, love, and racism in a refreshingly honest and nuanced way. There isn’t an obvious distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, and we get the idea that “the right thing” isn’t as easy or simple as we would like it to be. This film talks about the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in a way scarcely found in white public school history classes (at least in my experience). The movie promotes the fatal and threatening idea (to those in power that is) that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were not adversaries, weakening the civil rights movement by standing in opposition to one another, but instead they were both men with the same goal in mind: equality and equity. The film shatters this mythological dichotomy with a trash can when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria. This action illustrates how the ideologies our minds would like to think of as mutually exclusive can at times be one in the same. When Mookie throws that trash can he is committing an act of “violence” (I put violence in quotes because actions are only labeled as such when they appear to compromise the institutions in power) which Malcolm X would call self defence, in an action of such altruism that white liberals would have you associating it with Martin Luther King Jr. before you you could spell PRIVILEGE out loud. This message that the ideologies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are not mutually exclusive is brought home when a picture of the two men smiling together is shown before the credits.
For me traveling to Indonesia was about finally discovering apart of my life that I hadn’t had access to before. It was my first time traveling outside of The United States. The sites, the smells, the weight of controlling every moment that happened to me while away from home. I can’t thank my family in Indonesia enough for helping me discover this untapped part of my heritage.
I was able to walk the streets of Jakarta amid the hustle and bustle that makes up the busiest traffic in the world. I got to shop in malls where I bargained for knockoffs and picked out gifts for loved ones. I ate copious amounts of seafood almost every other night, too. We went to my families favorite restaurants, including Korean BBQ, Chinese food, delicious Italian, and even Pizza Hut. I woke up at the crack of dawn to Muslim calls to pray, while my Auntie’s doted on our every need for the day. They taught me that sitting around the dining room table for hours, just talking, was a day well spent. They laughed at my every “ooh,” and “ahh,” as I saw things I would never have seen back home in Washington State. I got to attend a beautiful Holy Matrimony of my gorgeous cousin, Yoanne. I got to watch my Aunties rush to alter dresses for the celebrations, and make every thing absolutely breathtaking.
I got to meet one of my grandmother’s sisters for the first time. That enabled me to see my grandmother again, her smile, her strong hands, and her endless capability to love, sing, and dance once again. Sometimes it was almost hard to look at my Oma Dina, because her similarities to my grandmother were so distinct. It wasn’t just her physical appearances and mannerisms but also her love of family, and will to stay up half the night partying her night away with her loved ones.
I saw my grandmother allover Indonesia, not just in my family members. She was the breeze that hit us in the moonlight walking on the beach. She was the lantern I set off into the sky in Bali. She was the feet of every swept away dancer that sashey’d across the dance floor. Her memory was in the song “Over the Rainbow” that played by a small band in front of our picnic table on the beach. Her memory continues to carry throughout Indonesia, not just in my heart. I found her once again, memory untainted by Alzheimer’s, living on in the soul of Indonesia.
Thank you to my dearest family in Indonesia, and especially to my grandmother for the trip of a lifetime. To me, being Indonesian means that above all else, enjoy every moment of life, and spend it among the people you love.
a brief memory
i wanted to be sure to reach you
to reach you i wanted to be sure
to be sure i wanted to reach you
outside it feels like a street of ghosts. i expect to see you waiting for me, so fully that even though you are not here you are still as vivid as the people walking by, who do not seem that real to me anyway. footsteps are isolate shards, sharper and wetter than the bodies making them. it is hard to imagine these walkers have life and purpose apart from this moment. they appear for me to see and dissolve after turning the corner. the wet cement shimmers with light from store signs and street lamps. rain drops spark orange in puddles. i know you are coming to get me but i don’t know when.
inside the girl who pours my drink tells me she doesn’t like sad things. she is steady bright and warm and asks me what i think about the cold weather. i try to swallow all of my drink before it too becomes cold. i sit by a window so i can see you. i do what i often do while waiting to do something else, write a to-do list. call storage unit, olympia job, quit seattle jobs, wash clothes, church of bones, straighten thoughts, paint more, stretch more, do jaw exercises, buy cheese and bread, daytime moon, honey mask, new insoles.
you are here sooner than expected. i thought i would see you standing across the street, but you pass in your car and park on the corner.
Due date for the first journal entry today. Really need to get into the habit of writing in here more often, and not just for class
Elaborating here on the final memory (sounds ominous) from my previous entry. I lived in the town of Coupeville on Whidbey Island for some twenty-something years; most of my life. I developed a propensity for evening walks along a specific route some years ago, to cope with the stress a world issues class was causing me, if I remember correctly. I really liked that teacher, though.
Went out on this walk one evening about a year and a half (-ish?) ago. It was raining, and quiet; ideal conditions. Sitting on the bench in the park, staring at the gray sky through the trees above, I was suddenly overcome by an inexplicable clarity; a lucidity of thought. I sat for a long time, timidly beginning to accept things I’d been erstwhile ashamed of. By the time I got down to the Coupeville wharf (a customary stop on my walks), I was ecstatic with this unfamiliar, cosmic perception. I ambled around the docks late into the rainy night, laughing uncontrollably, chattering quite willfully to nobody (for that is who was present), and otherwise showing every known warning sign for the onset of dementia.
I was far from caring how crazy I must have seemed, though. Others’ perceptions of me, my perceptions of myself, and every disaster or accomplishment in my life seemed so blissfully, perfectly small; so distant and unreal. Nothing mattered and it was so beautiful!
I should note that I was not abusing any substances prior to this experience, nor did I receive any good news or even have an abnormally pleasant day. Part of why it is so strong in my memory is that it’s the happiest and freest I felt in many years and I have no idea why.
Nearly every walk I took after that night, I looked back upon [that night], wondering, questioning. This, I think, will be the starting point for my project this quarter.
I think I was eight when I found the little red book with an old fashioned girl on the cover, an art style that reminded me of the girl with the umbrella on the salt packages. I’d never seen the book before and it was in one of the corners of a trailer we didn’t use for much.
I decided that I wanted to try and read it to myself. Something I had never before tried to do. I loved books. I had been learning to read. But I had never read anything by myself before.
I took the book with me out into the sunny day outside and went to the little field of tall uncut grass where I liked to hide and make paths to play in. I made myself a nest in the grass where no one could see me and I curled up to try and read the book.
The first few pages were missing, so the first story in the book didn’t make much sense. I read it anyway, and then I read the rest of the stories in the book. I read the entire thing through in one sitting, I think. Everything made sense. I loved reading. It was almost easy by the time I was done, I think.
Later when I told my mom about it, I found out that I had pronounced one of the names wrong in my head. My mind had turned Jerry into Jury.
For a long time, whenever I read that name, especially in that book, it would jury instead of Jerry.
I was so proud of myself, for reading that book. It was my little private corner and secret.
I loved that book and that patch of grass. That was the first book I ever read to myself, and it started my love of reading to myself. A little while I read an unabridged unedited version, I think, of the first Nancy Drew book. It was the longest book I’d attempted to read and I stayed up all night reading it.
It made me proud, that I had read a book that long. It made me confident in my ability to read longer, more complicated books.
I read a lot of the Nancy Drew books. I read some of the Box Car kids books. I read a lot of books. It didn’t take long for me to move onto to books from the YA section. Those were mostly romances. I don’t remember reading a lot from the YA section at my library because their collection was either all romance or all dark, depressing, and violent books.
I moved on quickly to adult novels. I like romances, especially romances that were mixed with other things, like mystery or adventure. Those are the books I remember most from my young day of reading. Those days before I was twelve.
My parents read me Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels when I was nine. Then Jennifer Crusie novels. We read a lot together, and I read a lot on my own. Some of my favorite memories of childhood are about reading, or writing, of being outside. There are fewer good memories, I think, directly involving other kids. At least other real kids. There were a lot of good memories involving fictional kids. I devoured books and I thought of myself as a kind of Matilda without the terrible parents.
My mother tells me every once in a while that I didn’t like learning new things in front of people. Apparently when I was learning to walk I would go into the corner by the couch alone and try to walk on my own. I’ve always enjoyed the parallels of my wanting to learn alone.
Learning to read by myself was one of my favorite moments connected to reading when I was little.