WhimSea! And Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret Album on Kickstarter

kat

Last week I went to a beautiful performance at The Great Star Theater, my favorite theater, to see Kat Robichaud and the Misfit Cabaret. I loved every moment of the Thursday night Whim-Sea show, and it was my intention to do a post at the time to let more people to know that they must go see it that weekend before it closed. Good intentions, and all that … all I managed to do was get a few social media posts up hoping to send people to check it out, and to share the photos that I took with a reviewer from SFist. But it’s not too late to share, because the two original songs that Kat performed were my two favorites of the night and they are going to be available on her next album, which is in Kickstarter funding right now. So, let me tell you a little about the show and then some more about the Kickstarter.

WhimSea

whimsea

Whimsea was a cabaret performance inspired by the sea so it was filled with mermaids, modern sea shanties and references to underwater-related things from olden times to pop culture. The whole thing was hosted by Kat who was the undeniable star of the show but gave great stage space to a variety of other performers.

(If you’re asking yourself is it that Kat Robichaud, yes, of course it is her because there could be no other. She did perform on The Voice where she did a great job but it’s really much, much more of a joy to see her up close and personal where she’s doing creative stage work in a way that seems so much more authentic to who she is. Not that I know her, but that’s the sense I get from watching her perform.)

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From Kat’s Instagram

In any case, I absolutely agree with Joe over at SFist when he writes,  “Her act seamlessly fuses the jazz chanteuse and screwball comedy genres that have no business working so well together.” And I agree with the two star acts he named – Carnie Asada is endlessly hilarious and Frankie Fictitious is stunningly beautiful – but I disagree with his assessment that the other variety acts were somehow not up to par. The music from Rabbit Quinn and Justin Seagrave couldn’t be more different from each other and yet somehow they worked in the same performance, separated by various acts, loosely hanging together with a theme of the sea, each lending their individual musicianship to the overall perfect ebb and flow of the night.

carnie asada

But, as I said before, Kat is really the star of the show. Her voice is amazing, and it’s not just that, it’s that she is a true performance artist. She’s funny and charming and sassy and her costume changes are fabulous (plus she supports local artists and costume designers with them). She created two new original songs for the show, both of which I fell in love with. One is in honor of David Bowie, and it has the perfect tune and lyrics to exactly express why he should be honored. The other is The Last Waltz of The Wrights, which was amazing not just for the song but for the Whimsea stage performance in which two dancers dramatically perform a rock waltz about a romantic murder-suicide. It gave me chills.

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From Kickstarter

I loved it. I love everything about Kat and her Misfits and I love everything about Great Star Theater, where they will be performing again in October for a two night show called A Very Bloody Misfit Cabaret.

Kickstart the Album

And as I mentioned, the two original Whimsea songs that I loved are going to be on an upcoming album currently on Kickstarter. It includes eight other songs from different performances. I was only able to pledge a small amount to get the music and some small bonuses but there are some awesome artistic and performance prizes at the higher donation levels … and I happen to know firsthand from my own crowdsourced funding, first through Indiegogo for Hook to Heal and now through Patreon for ongoing work, that even the smallest amount you are able to donate is truly helpful to individual artists in getting their work out there. Support amazing creative work!

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Female Veterans Surviving Homelessness Together – Low Hanging Fruit is a Compelling Play

low hanging fruit poster

Compelling. That is the word that keeps coming to mind as I think of Low Hanging Fruit, the play I saw last night at Z Below that tells the stories of so many people through the characters of just a few.

I described Low Hanging Fruit in a preview post last month, based upon a press release I’d received and what I could read about it online. As I look back on that post, I see that it was surprisingly accurate. Typically, when I see something, it differs considerably from the press release but in this case, a lot of what I felt during the play was already captured in that initial writing. This speaks to something I loved about the play – that care was truly given to each detail of the work, all the way down to the press release description. Everything  worked perfectly together – from the characters to the space to the makeup to the music selections. It seems no detail went unnoticed in the making of this play.

Compelling. I come back to this again because it is the one thing that couldn’t be conveyed in a press release. And although I’ll try to capture it here, it’s the thing that you really have to go see the play to understand. I see a lot of local events – theatre and comedy and burlesque and circus and music – and I generally find most of them enjoyable. I laugh and I think and I get inspiration … but it is rare that I find something truly compelling, see something so gripping that I am taken out of the whirling that is my mind, pause my thinking to experience the intensity of the moment – only to be filled with thoughts hours later of moments in the play. Low Hanging Fruit did that for me.

You can learn the plot of the story from my earlier review, so I won’t repeat that here, but do want to note that a surprising number of themes and issues and metaphors and experiences were conveyed in the short amount of time that these characters took the stage. Four of the characters are female veterans, and we learn about different experiences that happen in wartime, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the return to life afterwards. Some of these experiences cross generations, as hinted at but the Joni Mitchell music and folk songs early in the play that harken back to the struggles of Vietnam War. Some of these are unique to this generation of soldier, and more unique still to the experience of women in the military. As Cory tells her story of sexual assault at the hands of her superior, I immediately think of a recently Viceland Woman episode about the epidemic of rape among women in the US military. Her story is one story and many stories.

In addition to (and within) the multi-faceted layers of the military story, the play conveys stories of homelessness – stories of addiction, of the red tape of trying to get help from the VA, of prostitution, of childhood abuse and abuse in adulthood, of runaways, of women who are mothers and daughters, of PTSD and generalized trauma and flashbacks and wanting to remember and wanting to forget. Each of these women have their own ways of dreaming about a better future while fighting for their immediate survival.

The women live together in an encampment they’ve created for themselves, for women only, veterans only, to stick together because there is “safety in numbers”. They are a family of sorts, a family caught in the kind of high stress environment that leads to dysfunction. Through various scenes we see the utmost tenderness and care between them, and we also see terrifying violence amongst them. You can see that they hate to have to need each other and hate what they see in one another that is a reflection of the self but they love that they have one another and share a compassion for one another born out of similar experiences and needs.

low hanging fruit

Heather Gordon, Cat Brooks, Livia Demarchi in Low Hanging Fruit. Photo credit: Mario Parnell Photography.

I can’t say enough about the talents and skills of each of the individual women who play the four veterans. They embodied their characters so well it is difficult to believe they were ever anyone else off that stage. Each unique, each sharing her story in her own way, each so powerful.

The character of Canyon, the teenage runaway who comes to stay and causes some friction amongst the group, is an interesting one. In the first half of the play, she is adorable and you can’t help but feel for her. As time went on, I began to find her character saccharine and got almost annoyed with her naiveté, a story that didn’t ring true for me as I mused upon the young teenage girls I’d known in similar situations. Then her character takes a turn and the whole thing makes sense again. Well done. And I have to note here something I should have said at the beginning – actress Jessica Waldman has a stunning crystal clear voice that opens the show with song.

The lone male character in the play, a young pimp, brings another dimension to the narrative. The play is about the women and their lives and relationships; but women’s relationships rarely exist outside of the stories they have intertwined with men and so this character’s small role is a critical one. And although his own story is never addressed, one has to wonder how he came to be where he is as well, a man among women who could easily be his mothers and sisters.

The play is captivating. But it’s not always easy to watch. My heart raced many times. The characters yell with passion, the sound effects get loud (appropriately, rightly, like in a movie theater where it has to be this way and it makes it impossible for you to think of anything else). A police shooting scene caused a change to my heartbeat and breathing, too  poignant amongst the news of today, too real. This is what makes the play compelling.

And thankfully, this is broken up with occasional humor, with music, with dancing. Interludes of slam poetry create pauses in the story. The poetry has its own gripping depth but it changes the pace of the play and makes the intensity more bearable. In these moments I could catch my breath, as one imagines a homeless women must catch her own breath throughout the day in those pockets of safety and necessary laughter. I could look around the theater and notice that the space for the play (an underground theater) worked perfectly and the characters worked the whole space, moving off of the main stage and towards the audience without ever breaking the fourth wall. I could notice the details in the makeup, scars important to the story that looked real even from a few rows away. And then I could be drawn back into the intensity of the story, having had a little relief, well calculated by the playwright in bringing the story to the stage.

Compelling.

Low Hanging Fruit runs through July 30, 2016. You can go see it:

Thursdays and Fridays @ 8pm

Saturdays @ 2pm and 8pm

Saturday July 30 ONLY @ 2pm

Sundays @ 2pm

Consider attending on Thursdays when you can arrive early and learn about a Bay Area organization helping with issues related to the play (a different organization each week). Learn more about this in my original preview post.

TICKETS

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Low Hanging Fruit … A Play by Robin Bradford

JulianGreen_JessicaWaldman-Photo_by_MarioParnellPhotography

I’m excited to have the opportunity to see and review a play next month, and I thought I’d share a preview with you here from the press release for the event.

Low Hanging Fruit

3Girls Theatre Company (3GT) presents the San Francisco premiere of Bay Area-based playwright, Robin Bradford’s Low Hanging Fruit, which tells the compelling story of four homeless women struggling to survive on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. All military veterans, the women face nightmares brought on by their combat experiences and cluster together for quasi-safety in a small tent encampment they’ve nicknamed “The Taj Mahal.”

Low Hanging Fruit is a response to the dramatic rise in homelessness among women who have served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The play focuses on the aftermath of war as seen through the lives of four homeless women veterans struggling to survive on the streets of LA. The term “Low Hanging Fruit” refers to a person that can be persuaded or manipulated with little effort, suggesting that the individual is on the bottom, the easiest to reach.

Interspersing traditional dialogue with slam poetry and music, Bradford’s play catapults the audience from the present lives of the homeless characters into the devastating memories of their lives as soldiers. The play draws our attention to the shameful treatment of our returning vets and more specifically to the returning women, who are not often the subject of post war dramas. Living in a tent encampment under a freeway in LA are: Cory (Heather Gordon), a lesbian with physical as well as emotional battle scars; Maya (Livia DiMarchi), a Latina poet who dreams of a better life; Yolanda (Cat Brooks), an African American prostitute, drug addict, always looking for her next “hit’;” and Alice (Cheri Lynne VandenHeuvel, reprising her role from the LA production), an African American mother hen who watches carefully over her brood.

These women have created their own encampment under the freeway with a handmade cardboard sign that reads “Taj Mahal.” Shared military experiences equals trust in their world, and they respect one another enough to exist semi-peacefully. That is, until Cory befriends a 14 year old runaway named Canyon (Jessica Waldman) and invites the girl to stay with them at the Taj Mahal. This immediately tests relationships, pushes boundaries, and raises painful memories. Cory, in particular, who is desperate to make a lasting connection with Canyon, relates a story of war that is truly horrifying, involving not only foreign enemies, but also a commanding officer, thus shedding a light on the vile treatment that some women have faced in the military.

The play doesn’t try to explain why these veterans are homeless: it’s simply a fact given our society’s acceptance of homelessness in America. There isn’t outrage, no character rallies against the poor treatment of the returning women soldiers, but rather they accept it. It is this acceptance that makes the biggest statement. Watching these women struggle, fight, and cling to some kind of hope for themselves, we are watching the reality that perhaps no one cares, or cares enough. In the absence of societal action, these women draw strength, love, and empathy from each other.

As the play moves forward, and each character is faced with possible life changes, whether it’s Cory’s budding relationship with Canyon or Maya’s hope for getting off the streets and taking her friends with her, “Low Hanging Fruit” never relents from its central message: there is always hope, even when it seems the world doesn’t care. After serving in combat, too many of our veterans return home with varying degrees of trauma and literally fall through society’s cracks. This play seeks to open up conversations about what happens after we say “thank you for your service.”

The play premiered in LA in 2014 and went on to present month-long runs in North Carolina in 2015 and Michigan in 2016. It plays at Z Below in San Francisco from 7/6/16 – 7/30/16.

Community Nights

I am thrilled to see that there are community nights associated with this event. Four different organizations will be featured, so people attending the play on those nights (each Thursday, at 6:45 pm) can learn more about our important local San Francisco organization. There will be donations accepted for these organizations throughout the run of the play; they aren’t asking for money but instead for the things they really need to support the community.

Thursday, July 7                   North Beach Citizens, requesting new socks / underwear and other gently used clothing

Thursday, July 14                 Compass Family Services, requesting hygiene products

Thursday, July 21                San Francisco Suicide Prevention, requesting tea

Thursday, July 28                 Coalition on Homelessness, requesting blankets, socks and diapers

Play Schedule

July 6 – July 30, 2016

Previews: Wednesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 7 @ 8pm

Opening Night: Friday, July 8 @ 8pm

Thursdays and Fridays @ 8pm

Saturdays @ 2pm and 8pm

Saturday July 30 ONLY @ 2pm

Sundays @ 2pm

TICKETS

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From Life on a Dog Meat Farm to Life in San Francisco: Katara’s Story

I had written this awhile back for guest posting on another blog but it never got posted there so I thought I’d just go ahead and share it here:

katara 9

Katara is a two-year old Tosa (Japanese mastiff) mix who has a funny sense of humor, prances around like a horse and runs around excitedly tossing her toys in the air every single time she re-enters her San Francisco home. You might not have guessed this about her during her early days, though, when she was stuck on a dog meat farm in Korea, listlessly curled up in a too-crowded, dirty cage and awaiting her fate on the dinner plate.

katara 8

Katara was one of many dogs that are bred for meat in South Korea, one of only two countries in the world where this is still a legal practice. The sad part isn’t just that she was going to be someone’s food but that the practices in raising and killing these animals are horrifying; the lives they live up until their deaths are devastating and they often die by electrocution, hanging or beating. You could see the sadness in Katara’s eyes when she first came to the attention of the amazing humans who are working to rescue these dogs and end the dog meat trade.

katara 7

Adam Parascandola was on the ground working with Humane Society International to shut down the farm in Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea where Katara was living, if you can call her existence there a life. He told me that she was such a sweet girl when she was there but that she was subdued and probably depressed.

katara 6

Humane Society International is working with other organizations to shut down these farms, rescuing the dogs and working with the farmers to transition them over to agriculture farming such as rice farming and growing blueberries. Katara’s farm was the third to be shut down and all 114 dogs were brought to the United States. Katara came to the SF SPCA in September, and I’m told that for nearly two months she remained subdued, generally refusing to go for walks and not seeking out the comfort of humans.

katara 5

I began my search for a dog in late November, although I told myself that I wasn’t going to get a dog until after the new year because it was completely impractical. Ha! I knew the second I saw Katara’s sweet droopy face on the SF SPCA website that she was the dog for me. I kept returning to the website again and again, always captured by the expression in her eyes. I hadn’t set out to rescue a dog from Korea. I didn’t plan to get a dog that drools excessively. I wasn’t even particularly looking for a short-haired dog. She was none of the things I thought I’d want in a dog, really, and yet she was perfect. After a few weeks of eyeing her on the website and telling myself to wait, I could wait no longer; I had to go meet her and as soon as I met her, I had to bring her home.

katara 4

Katara bonded to me immediately, and she seemed to know instantaneously that this was home, but it took a little while for her to really get “warm” with me. She was sweet, but she wasn’t necessarily warm. She liked to be in the same room as me but not too close to me. And although it took me a couple of weeks to realize it, at first she would just acquiesce to whatever was happening or whatever I wanted. It was easy to miss this signal of anxiety / stress/ doggie depression, because she was such an easy dog, doing whatever I thought we should be doing. It was only later, when she began to give me signals about what she actually needed or wanted (affection, space, food, bathroom, playtime) that I could see how in the beginning she didn’t know how to identify or express her own needs. She had never had her needs met before; she went to the bathroom inside the cage where she lived and was underfed at the whim of humans. SF SPCA did amazing work with her while she was there, really bringing her out of her shell, but as great as the place is, it’s not a home, and it took the safe, loving space of a home for Katara to flourish.

katara 3

And flourish she has … every day we go to one of a few parks in the neighborhood, where she walks around off leash like she owns the place. She eagerly approaches other dogs for play; she especially loves Newfoundland and Pitbull breeds because they enjoy the same kind of body-slamming rough play that she does. However, she also loves little puppies and is astoundingly tender with them in a way that almost brings tears to my eyes every time. Katara is much shier with humans; she’s never aggressive but instead slinks down as low as possible and backs away when people reach out their hands. This is going away with time as she’s coming to learn that humans here in San Francisco are often bringing her treats and almost always bringing her affection.

katara 2

Katara has learned to tell me what she wants and what she needs. She likes to sleep in, rather than heading out to the park right away. She prefers lamb treats to peanut butter ones. When her sensitive tummy caused her a really bad night, she woke me up every hour on the hour to go outside; and I was so proud that she knew where to go and how to get me that I didn’t really mind getting up so often with her. She has a favorite store where we get her treats and she’s been known to plant herself in front of it and refuse to move if we don’t go in; while many may see this as annoying behavior that must be changed, I see it as a great sign of her confidence and ability to assert what she wants. I don’t let her run roughshod over me, but I do have a massive respect for her unique combination of adaptability, agreeability and growing assertiveness.

katara 1

She’s only been home with me for a couple of months, but it feels like life could never have existed without her. There is nothing that gives me more joy than taking her out to play. The enthusiasm with which she approaches other dogs is infectious. She has a funny charming horse-like gait, she likes to do somersaults, and although it’s gotten better with time, she doesn’t always know how to approach other dogs to initiate play so she has a funny little approach that involves stamping her feet and lifting up one paw. She cracks me up; and it’s not unique to me because I see everyone at the park laughing joyfully with her as well.

katara drool

Of course, this is a dog with a long, complicated history, so not everything is perfect. Her sensitive tummy issues may never be resolved, although we’re working on them diligently. And she is so bonded to me that she has separation anxiety. She’s learned to be alone in the house for a few hours, but when I try to have other people walk her or keep her at her place for an hour, she vigilantly looks for me and shows obvious signs of stress. She’s found her person and doesn’t ever want to let me go. The funny thing is, when we’re home together, she doesn’t usually want to be right up close to me. Although she cuddles sometimes and enjoys interactive play with me and accepts doggie massages, she usually prefers to sit at the opposite end of the couch and at night will move to the loveseat to sleep alone. She wants to know that I’m right here at all times and also wants to define her own space.

katara nose

If you want to follow along with Katara’s growth and joyful antics, she can be found on Instagram @rescuedogkatara.

 

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How to Shake Budget Blues By Increasing Your Income

Personal cash management is based upon simple concepts. To establish financial security, over the long term, income must balance with outgoing spending obligations. Operating in the black is tolerable for a time, but debts and deficiencies ultimately come due, so positive cash flow must be achieved, or financial fortunes falter. When balance is achieved and financial stability carries-on, income and outflow move in harmony, providing for household needs, without personal sacrifice. Unfortunately, the system falls out of balance, at times, when income lags behind expenses and debt obligations.

If your personal financial circumstances become unsustainable, there are two ways to stop the bleeding. On one hand, curbed spending slows the flow of cash, but another option exists for ambitious earners. Instead of pulling the plug on spending, you may choose to grow your income and financial resources to support spending, without making cuts. The choice is yours, but a blended approach works wonders for some struggling families, working with limited resources.

If your cash flow slowdown appears temporary, or you are not committed to the idea of expanding your workload, various loans are available to ease short-term financial pressure. For sustained rewards, however, it pays to explore earning possibilities, which offer learning opportunities and job satisfaction, as well as extra cash.

Income Opportunities for Earnest Workers

Expanding your earning potential calls for thinking outside the box. While there are conventional avenues available for making extra money, a creative approach may open interesting employment doors. Additional work within your field, for instance, is a natural fit, extending the skills and practices with which you’re familiar. But what about working in a completely different discipline? The challenge and variety of earning added income may result in more than a supplemental paycheck, so don’t underestimate the possibilities.

Moonlighting – More than ever before, productivity operates on a 24 hour clock. Mobile possibilities and an increasingly remote workforce enable people from all fields to do business at any time during the day or night. Likewise, production facilities run full schedules, keeping operations in motion during day and night shifts. As a result, moonlighting opportunities are available for workers, who pick-up extra shifts outside their normal working hours.

Consulting – Experts are in-demand, so turning your knowledge and experience into extra income is a realistic possibility. Before offering services within your industry, it is important to check with your primary employer, ensuring there are no conflicts of interest. Consulting cash is accessible because the learning curve is slight, harnessing abilities you already possess. It never pays to step out of bounds with your current employer though, so do your homework before promoting your independent services.

Education Adds Earnings – Employee compensation doesn’t always exactly match-up with credentials, but most of the time, qualifications align with income potential. As a result, advancing your salary may call for ongoing education. In some cases, employers are willing to foot the bill for certification and degree programs, so ambitious employees should investigate employer education programs. Even without an employer-sponsored direct path, adding skills translates into marketability, increased mobility and opportunities for promotion.

Make a Change – Workers are paid according to what the market designates a position is worth. If you’ve reached the earnings ceiling within your present work role, it may be time to change jobs for higher take-home potential. A lateral move, to a different company may offer better salary, benefits, or room for advancement. If the grass isn’t greener with an alternate employer, however, taking-on a new assignment may be the fastest track to prosperity.

Plot Your Course – Ambitious corporate employees recognize a particular path to wealth and financial security. By changing jobs regularly, on a stepped, upward trajectory, for example, professionals climb the corporate ladder faster than staying with a single company, for the long haul. If you are committed to rising quickly through the ranks, make deliberate financial moves, to consistently grow your salary over the course of your career.

Self-Employment Without Income Constraints – On the opposite end of the spectrum, from a corporate representative, self-employed workers have unlimited earning potential. Though facing challenges tied to striking out as independent, self-employed professionals own their personal output – and the financial proceeds it generates. Employees, on the other hand, often relinquish intellectual and creative rights as a condition of employment. Self-employment isn’t for everyone. In fact, many fields don’t support independents, with prohibitive capital costs and competition keeping small players out of the game. If your entrepreneurial spirit is stirring, however, a self-inspired venture may offer the increased earning potential on your agenda.

There are two ways to bring personal budgets in line: Spend less and/or earn more. While restrained spending and discipline making purchases are certainly sensible financial moves, adding income also helps fortify cash flow and stabilize household budgets. In order to maximize earning potential and bring home more money, use professional skills and education to advance your career earnings. If your personal spending calls for more money than you make at your current job, retraining or a change of profession may be required to elevate your salary potential.

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Day One of 2016: Dogs and The Moment

Today is the first day of a new year. Usually I find it to be a reflective time, a time to look back and assess and look forward and plan. But I was so immersed in today that I didn’t really look forward or back.

Doggie Day

katara rescue dog

It was mostly a day filled with dogs. I’ve got my own pup now, Katara, and I’m watching Golden Retriever Lucy for a few days. Between the two of them, that’s more than 150 pounds of dog, dogs that are usually used to having my undivided attention, so it required a lot of focus and energy, but it was also pure joy.

katara rescue dog

Katara really just gives me so happiness. I love watching her play. I love watching her enjoy life. I love watching her try new things and explore her world and learn what it’s like to be in a loving, safe environment. She came from such a tough beginning and she’s doing so amazing now even though she’s only been with me a short time. I’m sure it helps that we’re basically together 24 hours per day and she’s come to know that she can trust me.

I took her to the park first, where she was able to play off-leash with another pup. They were well-matched in size and play style (a rough body-slamming kind of style) and had so much fun. She has this ridiculous horse-ish gait that just looks so amusing when she plays. Cracks me up.

golden retriever lucy

Then we picked up Lucy and met up with my beaux and all went to a different park together. I’d forgotten Lucy’s ball and she was so irritated with me because all she wants to  do is play ball. Luckily we found one for her at the park and all was okay :)

Later the two dogs and I went back to the first park and had more play. It’s odd how that can end up taking up so much of the day, but by the time you get there and back and play and do that two or three times, the day has been filled!

And Other Things

When we came home from the park the first time, I went back out and ran some errands. I bought some hair dye. I’ve been dyeing my hair for more than fifteen years, and I rarely see my natural color. I hadn’t dyed it in quite awhile and actually see my regular color now. It’s fine, but it’s not what I love, so I got some more dye to make it more what I’m used to after all these years! I didn’t actually get to the dyeing part yet but the box is here and ready to go :)

I picked up a burrito. Okay, two burritos. And let me tell you, no one my size should eat two burritos in one day. I’d gotten the second one in case my beaux wanted something but he didn’t. So I had the first one for brunch and the second one for dinner. And that’s not an exorbitant amount of food but burritos are heavy and it’s definitely more than I usually eat. I have this theory (that I probably picked up somewhere along the way) that you tend to look like the food you eat. People who mostly eat celery look fit and lean. People who mostly eat meat tend to look like meat. And let me tell you that right now I feel like I look like a lumpy overstuffed burrito. Not in a hating-myself kind of way or a self-critical kind of way; just in a tummy-feels-like-it-should-be-in-pajamas-not-jeans kind of way. I have a bunch of farm food so hopefully tomorrow I’ll have the energy to actually prepare some of it!

furniture pet bed

Furniture Pet Bed

I did a few things online today. I have a lot of work and writing I want to get to but I probably won’t do much of it until I return Pup #2 on Monday. In the meantime, I caught up on some emails and social media. I also ordered a bed for my pup; an adorable pup bed that looks like her own couch. It was a complete splurge (although it was bought with a gift certificate my bro generously gave me for Christmas) but I couldn’t resist. It looks cute and will be a better place for her to sleep than my bed but still luxurious; and it looks a lot better in my home than a bunch of blankets on the floor, which is what she’s currently using.

word of the day

Finally, I really enjoyed sharing with others about my Word of the Year, particularly as it applies to crochet. The word is heartbeat, which just means so many different things to me, in life and in crafting. It relates specifically to my creativity work and my new book, Hook to Heal (which received an amazing first Amazon review). I posted this on Instagram as my first #crochetquestionoftheday for 2016 and received some really amazing comments about other people’s words and intentions for the new year. It gave me a lot of great feeling to look over those and connect with my creative community in this way.

crochet365

I also decided to join in on #crochet365, which is a daily photo challenge. It’s actually the first one I’ve participated in, which is odd because I’ve seen and promoted so many of them over the years. Who knows if I’ll end up posting every day but I think it’s a great thing to aim for and it will hopefully inspire me to take more unique pictures from what I typically take; it’s always good to break out of a rut in small, easy ways.

Overall, it was a good day. Tired but in a good way, happy, and mostly present in the moment. I didn’t do any reading today, although I’d like to and might do some before bed. I watched a little TV (caught up on Project Runway Jr. and watched some Drugs Inc.) I texted with my family, missing all of them so much since we all parted after Christmas. Good things. All good things.

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The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Gnor

Today’s post is a follow-up to my preview of the International Southeast Asian Film Festival. Last night I went to one of the feature films, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Gnor. It was a powerful, touching film that was really well-done – informative and inspiring. And I loved the Q&A with filmmaker Arthur Dong.

Trailer: The Killing Fields of Dr Haing S Ngor from DeepFocus Productions, Inc. on Vimeo.

The Killing Fields

So just to start I’ll explain that the film is about one specific survivor’s experience of The Killing Fields, a period of systematic torture and genocide that the Khmer Rouge inflicted about the Cambodian people in the late 1970s. The story of The Killing Fields came to the attention of many Westerners in the early 1980s when a film of the same name was released. Others learned about it more recently from the news; in 2009 the Khmer Rouge Tribunal began to investigate the crimes against humanity that occurred during this horrific time.

Dr. Haing S. Gnor

Dr. Haing S. Gnor was a doctor in Cambodia who was a victim of The Killing Fields. He was tortured, he lost most of his family, and his wife died in his arms when she was seven months pregnant with their child due at least in part to the starvation they were going forced to endure. He escaped with his niece and came to America.

Through a series of circumstances, he was asked to become an actor in the film The Killing Fields. He hadn’t intended to become an actor – a career that isn’t a high-status career in Cambodia. However, he was able to share his story and the story of his homeland through this work. He won an Academy Award for the role and went on to do many, many speaking engagements to educate people about his story and about what was going on in Cambodia.

What many people who saw The Killing Fields original film didn’t realize is that there was no happy ending. The Khmer Rouge was ousted but that was followed by Vietnamese control. Death, devastation and the effects of the entire situation continued after the Khmer Rouge fell apart. Dr. Haing S. Gnor educated others about this.

In 1996, Dr. Gnor was murdered outside of his Chinatown, Los Angeles home. He had continued to live there despite his financial success, in large part because he was involved in helping the community living in the area. Gang members were convicted of his murder, which reportedly was a robbery gone wrong, but there remains some suspicion to this day that Gnor was really killed because of his activist efforts to speak out about what was happening in Cambodia.

The Film

The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Gnor

This film depicts the entire story. It shares Gnor’s story as part of a larger story to continue educating people about The Killing Fields and the impact of the entire experience on the Cambodian people. One of the things that we learned was the Cambodian word “kum“, which describes a particular mindset of the Cambodia people. Dr. Gnor wrote in his autobiography:

“Kum is a Cambodian word for a particularly Cambodian mentality of revenge – to be precise, a long-standing grudge leading to revenge much more damaging than the original injury. If I hit you with my fist and you wait five years and then shoot me in the back one dark night, that is kum . . . Cambodians know all about kum. It is the infection that grows on our national soul.”

The film is based on the autobiography and there is narration directly from the book. The film also incorporates archival footage from the era, some of which was documented by the Khmer Rouge for propaganda, film footage including footage from The Killing Fields, and modern footage of Dr. Gnor’s niece and a smily friend going through his possessions. Additionally, animation is incorporated geniously into the film. Some of the darkest scenes are done in animation, and this makes it possible to watch them while still retaining dramatic effect. It was a smart choice by the filmmaker.

Filmmaker Arthur Dong

filmmaker arthur dong

Arthur Dong is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and it was great to have him there for the Q&A last night, because he was able to provide additional insight into the making of the film. He shared that he actually hadn’t known much about Cambodia before beginning this film. I hadn’t known much about this region at all, and I had never seen The Killing Fields, so it was somewhat of a relief to hear that he also hadn’t known much, even though that’s also a tragedy. In any case, he had read the story and was so moved by it. He believed it would make a great film and he wanted to use his story telling capabilities to share this story.

I was really touched that he also shared that he had some residual cultural guilt that motivated his interest in making this film. He is Chinese American, and he shared that during the late 1970s there was a big movement towards embracing the pride in this culture, a movement that was prevalent here in San Francisco where he lived, and a movement that he was a part of. He went to China in 1978 for a visit, as one of the first tourists allowed in without a guide. He had no idea of the Chinese involvement in what was happening in Cambodia at this exact same time. He didn’t learn about this until he learned Dr. Haing S. Gnor’s story, and as he has shown the film around, he has learned that many, many other Chinese nationals do not know about this. He wanted to share the story to help heal the global world.

Researcher and Filmmaker Asiroh Cham

The Q&A also included Asiroh Cham, the researcher who really did all of the groundwork to make this film happen. She shared some terrific background information about the process, such as how the archival footage needed to be tracked down. She also shared a bit of her personal story, with parents who had survived the Khmer Rouge, and how the Dr. Gnor’s story hit home for her as she worked on this film.

Asiroh Cham also had a short film featured at this film festival called My Name is Asiroh Cham. She was interviewed about her work here.

I-SEA Film Festival

i-sea film festival

Arthur Dong shared that as a filmmaker, these types of film festivals can sometimes start to all feel alike. He travels from city to city and while he’s grateful for the opportunity to screen his work, he doesn’t always get the opportunity to see what other people are doing because of the nature of participating in so many film festivals. He also shared that as soon as he looked at the lineup for this film festival, he knew that he needed to take full advantage of the opportunity to see what was here; he had just seen Chanthaly before his film aired. He shared that the folks running this film festival did what he believed to be an amazing job putting this lineup together. Based on what I was able to preview online and the viewing of his film, I would agree. It’s a film festival that shares a terrific amount of culture and history, giving a narrative voice to the people who have lived through a variety of circumstances that we in the western world often don’t understand. This festival was put on by the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network.

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International Southeast Asian Film Festival

The International Southeast Asian Film Festival (I-SEA Film Fest) is happening in San Francisco this weekend (Friday, November 20 – Sunday, November 22) and I was lucky enough to get the chance to preview some of the works online. There are some brilliant films here, and some that are just plain beautiful, so it’s something I’d recommend to anyone with an interest and availability.

This video is a montage of exquisite clips of the films

Schedule

The festival begins with an opening night gala at ATA on Friday. The films themselves (9 features, 22 shorts) will be shown at New People Cinema on Saturday and Sunday. (There’s a charming tea shop in the same building, along with unique shops, and you can find more fabulous shopping across the street in the Japantown mall, so plan to make a day of it!) Some of the screenings include Q&A with filmmakers and panels. See the full schedule here.

This is a longer introduction to the films

Some Film Thoughts

As mentioned, I was so lucky to get the chance to preview some of the work that’s showing this weekend. I won’t give away too much but wanted to share some thoughts and impressions on a few of the films I saw. I saw several of the feature films but I thought I’d tell you more about a couple of the shorts:

Cambodia 2099

This is one of the shorts that is playing as part of the Modern Love Shorts (with Q&A) that happens on Saturday at 4 pm. It’s directed by Davy Chou, a French Cambodian filmmaker, and is described as a 20-minute subtitled film where “On Diamond Island, the country’s pinnacle of modernity, two friends tell each other about the dreams they had the night before.”

There was something really engaging about the way the film began with a panorama of an everyday urban landscape. What I loved here was that we heard speaking, which we understood through subtitles, and there was music playing over the speaking. Something about the blending of this worked for me, although it’s hard to express why in words. The music contrasted with the landscape and enhanced the meaning of the words.

From there it goes into the two friends talking about their dreams, a simple conversation between two guys sitting outside together, but one that expresses the intangible camaraderie of two young male buddies who speak vaguely about big philosophical questions (“what is it like in 2099? I don’t know, but different”) and nightmares rooted in history while still joking casually. It captures the reality and everyday essence of youthful friendship in the context of the larger world.

There is love and politics and social issues and it’s all based in the lives of two average people so that the meaning of it becomes more graspable.

A Daughter’s Debt

hmong documentary

This is one of the films from the POV shorts collection that includes a panel discussion on Sunday morning. It’s described as “one of the first films to discuss and explore women’s issues in contemporary Hmong culture. Three generations of Hmong- American women share their experiences of bride purchasing, polygamy, and commodification in this intimate portrait of struggle and hope.”

This is such an intense story. It begins with the filmmaker relating the story of her mother’s rape, the community turning a blind eye to it, a rape that resulted in the girl’s birth, and her mother’s choice to move out of that community and raise her alone. This story of her birth led her to want to learn more about the community she came from and what it means to be a woman in this community. Through the lens of her story, and the story of her cousin who grew up within the community, we learn about this shadow side of the culture.

So powerful.

And also I think relevant for people living in the Bay Area. A large number of Hmong refugees are settled in the greater Bay Area and, yet, they aren’t visible to the average San Franciscan, so this film can be educational in a number of ways. It’s a bilingual film primarily in English.

More Films

In addition to these two shorts, I watched a couple others and some of the feature films and I’m planning to see at least one more. What is great about a film festival, including this one, is that you get such a range of styles in the films. In this one, there’s everything from Big Gay Love, a romantic comedy shot here in the US, to Chanthaly, a dark film from Laos dealing with terminal illness and ghosts, to The Look of Silence (the only one of these I haven’t seen yet), which is a feature-length (Indonesia/Denmark) documentary about surviving the 1965 Indonesian genocide.

More About The Festival

“The Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network is commemorating the 40th anniversary of US military involvement in Southeast Asia by launching its inaugural San Francisco International Southeast Asian  Film Festival. The selected films seek dialogue with local and international communities, drawing connections between wars then and now, overseas and on our streets. The films — ranging from horror, experimental, documentaries and more — embrace diverse topics including gender identity, love and modernity. The group previously ran the San Francisco Global Vietnamese Film Festival in 2012 and 2013 and this year is rebranding as I-SEA and branching out to include films from all over Southeast Asia and its diasporas.”

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