Katara and I were interviewed to be a small part of this news report about the Korean dogs and their 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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
If you want to follow along with Katara’s growth and joyful antics, she can be found on Instagram @rescuedogkatara.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.”
There is a good chance that if you know me then I’ve probably flaked out on plans with you. It might be that I just wouldn’t even make plans with you at all, or that I half-made plans but didn’t follow through, or that I made plans but canceled (with or without obvious reason) or in a few really rare cases that I just didn’t answer the phone or show up when we had actual plans. I used to feel terrible about this but I’m just going to clear the air … it’s happened before, it’s probably going to happen again and it has to do with my own personal needs for self-care not anything I feel about you.
It’s gotten better over time in the sense that I know myself better and am therefore able to tell people in advance that I probably can’t commit to a specific time and place with solid certainty. And I’m able to better pace myself with plans so that I don’t overdo it and therefore don’t have to cancel so much on what I do commit to. Knowing myself better, I can plan better, and the result is that I flake out less than I used to. But it still happens.
It doesn’t mean I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean I don’t value your time. It doesn’t mean I don’t want your company. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with our relationship. It doesn’t mean that I thought something else was more important.
All it means is that for some reason I was unable to make and keep a plan for a specific day. This has to do with being someone who struggles with chronic, recurring, debilitating depression. Certainly in the midst of depressive periods, I simply can’t force myself to leave my house even when I want to. But it’s not just this. It’s that in order to properly take care of myself so that I don’t fall into depression, I have to be tuned into my own needs at all times. Those needs include sleep and solitude and time for creativity and downtime and rejuvenation-after-being-out time. And it makes it really hard to see too many people too often but if I’m going to be well when I do see people then it’s what I need to do.
So when I say that I flake out, what I usually mean is that I either won’t make a set plan with you even if you’re someone I really like. If I make a plan, I try to be clear that it’s a loose plan, an open-ended plan, a plan that I intend to keep but we should check in with each other that day or the day before to make sure that we both still feel like we want to keep that plan. Occasionally it means that I’ll make a plan but I’ll cancel the day before or the day of; sometimes I’ll give a specific explanation and sometimes I’ll just say that it’s what I need to do. There have been times, even recently, when I completely forgot a plan I made … I put it on the calendar but then didn’t look at the calendar. This is rare, and when it happens, I feel terrible and I apologize and I attempt to make it up because I think it’s rude and disrespectful of the other person and their time. I feel a lot better about being clear up front that my plans are loose than I do about canceling same day or not showing up.
I want you to know that I flake out on people all of the time. I do it to people I love, to people I like, to people I’m curious about and to people I really do want to meet. I do it because I overbooked, because I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, because I am too cranky, because my body aches so bad that the idea of getting myself down the stairs and out of the house is overwhelming … or because one or more of those things happened the day before and now I’m behind on my work and need to meet a deadline. I flake because it’s rainy or because I feel a little sick or because I actually just emotionally need to stay on my couch and watch TV and not talk to anyone.
I’m significantly more likely to keep plans if you are willing to come to my house or at least to my neighborhood. My ability to stick to plans decreases proportionately if you live a bus ride away, more than one bus ride away, or in a different Bay Area city. I probably won’t make a plan with you if you live elsewhere in the world unless I definitely know I’m planning a vacation, in which case I’ll likely keep the plan although I’ve been known to cancel a vacation. The likelihood that I’ll keep a plan goes up if you’re my sibling, you’re a close friend visiting from out of town who planned with me in advance, the plan is for the later afternoon or early evening, or you happen to have four legs and fur. The likelihood goes down if the plan is for really late at night, you’re a professional I’ve made an appointment with and I can just pay a cancellation fee if I can’t make it … or if you’re someone who guilts/ shames me about not keeping plans.
I used to think that all of this made me a bad friend. And I’m sure some people might think so … think it’s selfish or irresponsible or childish or whatever. I’ve come to learn that the people I want to be friends with are people that I genuinely want to be around and who are absolutely understanding when I cancel anyway. I extend the same courtesy to them – I never expect anyone to keep their loose plans with me and I’m totally okay with cancellations as needed. I love spontaneous get-togethers when we both just randomly happen to be in the mood.
And I’m actually a really good friend. If you’re my family or a close friend and you’re in a true emotional emergency, I’ll bend over backwards to make sure that you’re okay. I’ll show up anywhere, anytime, even if it means getting on a plane or giving you money to get on a plane to me. I’ll answer the phone even though I hate phone calls. I’ll check on you, I’ll have food or flowers delivered to you, I’ll stay up late or get up early, I’ll give you a place to stay. Even when you’re not in an emotional crisis, I will generally remember your birthday, invite you to my annual gingerbread party, send you the occasional checking in text message, create something handmade for you, leave encouraging comments on your social media and show up for the really, really important life events if when they start late at night in a different city in the Bay Area. And when I’m with you, I’m really with you … I’m present, I’m listening, I’m tuned in, I’m curious.
At the end of every day, I do a post on social media summing up my day. Sometimes I worry that the people I’ve flaked out on will think, “she’s so busy with these other things, why couldn’t she do something with me”. Maybe no on is thinking this at all but I want to explain in case they are … these posts are a way for me to celebrate what I managed to get done and enjoy during the day even on the days when it felt like not much got done. Sometimes I did something really fun. Usually I enjoyed really small pleasures. The posts can come across as deceiving. For example, a post that describes my day as “sunny walk, puppy time, great talk with bro, mint juleps, circus” might mean that I stayed on my couch doing virtually nothing until 4pm when I dragged myself into the shower then went and picked up a neighborhood pup, walking around the park in the sun while talking on the phone, after which I forced myself to keep plans I didn’t feel like keeping to go to the circus with my beaux where I enjoyed a mint julep. True that I enjoyed all of those things. Also true that I stayed on the couch until 4pm watching TV and ignoring the world. I celebrate those things, however small, as much as possible because I need to know that I can do something even when I stayed on the couch until 4. So it can seem like I’m doing more than I’m doing but it’s not intentionally deceptive.
Most of the things I do are done with my beaux. He gets the best of me, and he gets the most of me, because that’s what happens with primary partners. He also gets the whiniest, grumpiest, sleepiest, snappyish parts of me although I try to give myself enough space during each day to minimize that aspect when I’m with him. I like to be my best me with others when possible. And to be my best me, I need to be able to avoid plans and cancel plans and see you spontaneously and leave parties early and say “no thanks” to invitations without offending you.
A year ago I saw a beautiful circus arts show called In The Tree of Smoke at a newly-reopened historic Chinatown venue called Great Star Theatre. It was a fabulous show and I’ve had my eye on the venue and the performers ever since. There are several shows this season that look like they’ll be good, starting with Raised by Wolves, which I saw last night and have to recommend as one of the best live performances I’ve seen in a long time.
I knew that the circus arts would be great. I’m endlessly fascinated by contortionists and aerial dancers and it doesn’t take much to impress me in this area because I just find it all so enchanting. I’m familiar with many of the people who performed because I’ve seen them in several other things over the years.
And indeed, they did not disappoint. Fleeky Flanco crawled like an exquisite creature through tiny spaces and exhibited strength in hand balancing. Inka Siefker lent an air of burlesque to her unique arrow-shooting dance performance. Micah Walters sent his shoulder blades flying so far out of his back that he looked broken in that terrific modelesque manner.
There was clowning and acrobatics but my favorite of all was a mesmerizing water performance. I’m pretty sure the dancer was Rachel Strickland in that one. She swam inside of a bowl of water (reminding me of my favorite part of Zumanity) beneath red fabric that clung to her body as she was lifted into the air for portions of her act. Stunning. The whole she was sexy and funny.
But that wasn’t what really clinched it for me as a top performance among all of those I’ve ever seen. It was amazing, it was special, it was what I expected and I was as charmed by it all as I could have hoped. But it was the addition of spoken word by Jamie deWolf that took it over the top into amazing art.
Jamie shared his life story and thoughts about the world through spoken word pieces preceding every performance. Each of his pieces grew deeper into his own story, beginning with his first childhood crush, including the difficulties of life with some troubles and culminating in a piece that celebrates surviving suicidal impulse. (My favorite line in that final piece was: “Attempting suicide is the only failure that is of itself a victory.”)
His words were poetic, rhythmic, painting intense imagery in the air with breath and pounding directly into the heart of the audience in the way that only authentic slam-style poetry can do. I have seen a lot of open mic performances and poetry slams and only a few pieces have ever touched me like each one that he shared. My heart beat faster and my emotions came to a peak inside of me. I wasn’t thinking my own thoughts, which says a lot because I’m rarely so ever present in the moment.
There was one heartbreaking piece he shared about living in a bad area with his newborn daughter and always seeing a little seven year old girl in the hallway … never doing more for her, never learning her story, never even knowing her name until she went missing, abducted and plastered all over the news. It’s the story of Xiana Fairchild, abducted and murdered by Curtis Dean Anderson, a story I had actually just heard because it was the series premiere story on the new Lifetime show “They Took Our Child: We Got Her Back”. (Obviously, that’s not her family’s story, but the story of a second girl who was taken after Xiana.) The powerful poetry broke my heart and surely made us all think about the people we don’t pay enough attention to every day, about the horrors of the world and the personal mistakes we’ve made along the way even though we might not have been able to do it any differently.
Each spoken word piece, strong in its own right, was followed by a circus act that directly spoke to the theme of the poetry. The combination was unbeatable. I’d definitely recommend the show to anyone in San Francisco this month.
Oh and a shoutout to set designer Michael Murnane. My beaux commented several times on the magnificence of the set art.
Over the years, and especially recently, I’ve been offered the opportunity to participate in several podcast interviews about my work. I did do one of these several years back, when Crochet Saved My Life was first released, but all of the others I’ve said that I wanted to do them and backed out either over time or at the last minute. A recent example really brought to light for me that different people see phone calls very differently, something I knew but realized in a new way.
I was invited to do an interview with Stephen for the Yarnbomber podcast. And there was a part of me that really, really wanted to do it. I love what Stephen does, I think the (fairly new) podcast is special, it’s directly in line with everything I love about our crochet community, and it would have given me a chance to do an interview about the Mandalas for Marinke project, which is so very close to my heart.
I hesitated, because I know I hate phone calls, but then I eventually said yes. I said yes because of the part of me that wanted to participate and I also said yes because of the part of me that believes that I have to say yes to these opportunities to broaden my own world and promote the work that I’m doing. But even in that first yet, I mentioned that my hesitation was because of anxiety about phone calls. He was super nice about it and said that other people feel nervous, too, suggesting that I might want to contact a few of the previous interviewees who had been nervous too, to learn more about their experience.
And that’s where things differ for me … because I’m not nervous about phone calls per se. I know that they’ll go fine and aren’t a big deal. But nevertheless, I get anxiety about them. And anxiety is different from nervous. Anxiety is paralyzing. Anxiety is the physical stir in the body that comes from a “fight/flight/freeze” reaction.
We set the interview. I rescheduled. Then the day of the rescheduled interview, I considered rescheduling again and finally just decided to cancel. I wasn’t in a good place to do the interview. Could I have done it? Yes, of course. But it was giving me loads and loads of stress having it on my calendar. It’s not so much that there were particular fears or thoughts associated with it as just this growing, spreading feeling of dread with each passing minute closer to the phone call.
Some times in life, these things are easier than others. Right now happens to be a time when anxiety is harder for me. I’m taking medications (for asthma) that increase my body’s feeling of anxiety. So I feel anxious a significant portion of the time, not because of anything happening psychologically, but purely because of a physical response. (It’s the lesser of two evils at the moment because the meds do help my breathing, which had gotten really bad, and I kind of like to breathe.) And although I’m better now, I was in a recent small bout of major depression, so my psychological state is a bit fragile as well. It wasn’t the right time.
Stephen was super nice about it. I apologized – for canceling but also for committing when I knew I might cancel. And I wanted to reassure him that I absolutely love what he does and really appreciate the invite and want to support his work in any way that I can. (Some of this urge to “fix it” relates to previous issues I’ve had when canceling phone interviews. Sometimes people take it personally.) He wrote back and told me not to worry at all about him, that he understood, etc. And there was this line in his message that just stood out to me: “You know, this is supposed to be fun.”
Huh? I promise that it had never once occurred to me that doing a podcast interview might be fun for anyone. Never. At its best, I considered it a potentially okay experience that I would look back on fondly (from a far distance, once it was all complete), as a necessary evil for participating in my own chosen community and as something that would be good for sharing the work that I’m doing, which is work I truly believe in. So, “okay” and “necessary” made sense but fun didn’t register anywhere on my radar of what this call could possibly be.
The thought has stuck with me over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve mulled about why I hate phone calls so much but also about what one considers to be fun and what place this all has in my working life today. As for why I hate phone calls, the truth is that I don’t really know. I know that there was a time in my young teenage years when you couldn’t pry me off the phone, where anyone who called got a busy signal (because that was during the days when there were online landlines and you had to pay for call waiting so we didn’t have it), days when my dad would get up at 3am for a glass of water and realize that I was still on the phone. I know that it was this way at the beginning of high school and by the end of high school I mostly didn’t talk on the phone.
In my early twenties, going through a terrible bout of depression, I really had to struggle with phone calls. I would force myself to make and answer the important ones. And I had a couple of friends that I connected with by phone because somehow that was our mode of communication. Email was available but wasn’t commonly used to communicate and texting cost per-message money that I didn’t have. So I did still sometimes have long conversations on the phone with friends but mostly because there weren’t good alternatives. Believe me, I’d have written long letters instead of making calls if my friends had been open to the idea.
The modern world of communication works much better for me. I’m totally comfortable with texting. I love texting, in fact. I love staying in daily regular contact with the people that I care about it a non-voice way, trading information about the mundane and the special through text. And I love that this has now been supplemented with social media where I can learn more about the people that are in my life without having to pick up the phone and call them.
I don’t think that these things entirely replace one-to-one conversations. I talk on the phone to my beaux most days (although that has a lot to do with a compromise because I’m a texter and he’s a caller). And I talk on the phone to my parents and siblings because I miss them like crazy and texting alone isn’t enough. If I could instantly transport them here for occasional face-to-face conversations then I would never call but the phone call is the best option so I do it. Notably, I strongly prefer video calls to voice calls.
Other than these few people, I’d rather not talk on the phone. Sometimes the idea of making and taking calls really paralyzes me. For example, I’ve had a gift certificate for a massage for nearly a year and I haven’t used it yet because they don’t accept online appointments and it stresses me out to have to call and place the appointment. Notably, I loathe any sort of place that requires reservations but doesn’t provide an online option for making them. I take a few other calls because there are certain instances where something is significantly easier to explain quickly in a call than have to share via a million texts (typically in regards to petsitting care). When a very close friend is in a crisis and really needs the support, I’ll pick up the phone. It’s not that I can’t make and take calls. It’s just that I don’t like it.
Mostly, this works fine. Most people don’t require phone calls. But it does come up in challenging ways. Over the years, I’ve often had places require a phone interview before accepting me for a freelance writing job. In the past, I always took these, although over time I’ve come to the conclusion that nine times out of ten if they require a call then they don’t really understand what I do and we aren’t compatible for working together. I’ve also done phone interviews with people as part of my work (me interviewing them or them interviewing me) but again I’ve found over time that this is not how I like to work. Not only do I hate the phone call part but then you don’t have a written version of what was said to work with for your article. I don’t get why people would prefer a call in this case.
And this brings me back to the comment that it’s supposed to be fun. The comment really doesn’t even compute. I turn it over and over in my mind like a rare and precious gem, wondering where it could have come from on this planet because it doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. And what I realize is that it’s okay to hate phone calls, as long as doing so doesn’t totally limit my ability to navigate my world, and it’s okay, for the most part, to decide not to participate in things that require them. I appreciate every little bit of self promotion that’s offered to me when it comes to my work but I’m (thankfully) no longer in a stage of career where I have to accept every scrap on the off chance that it will lead to something that helps pay my debt down, so I can be more choosy about the way in which I work. And although there are community opportunities that it hurts a bit to turn down, like this one, I’m learning to be okay with hearing my own heart and doing what’s right for me right now.
In June I wrote about Riding Full Circle Through Depression, sharing how five years after depression stole my sense of adventure from me I was able to return to a previous desire and go horseback riding on the beach with my sister. Then in July I wrote about how I had just lost an online friend to suicide and the feelings it brought up were many and varied, ironic in a way because it returned me in some senses to the period of time when depression reigned, not so much in emotionality as in content. Life goes in circles that way. Doors that were opened are never exactly closed, and sometimes a breeze from today pops back into the past and jars them open so that they gape again until you go back and shut them a little more firmly (or ore tenderly as the need may be). After I lost Wink, my online friend, I started an art project in her honor, and through working on that I’ve returned in a way to the me that I was half a lifetime ago in high school.
Mandalas for Marinke
The art project is called Mandalas for Marinke and you can read all about it and see the amazing contributions here on my crochet blog. But what is important to share today is the process that I engage in when contributions arrive. As I first began the project, I took myself to the stationary store that I love in Japantown and picked out a few things that I knew were going to be useful for me although I didn’t know why. I got heart-shaped stickers. I got three beautiful pastel polka dotted notebooks. I got a rubber stamp that looked like doilies or mandalas and purple ink to use with the stamp. My mind flashed so briefly that I hardly noticed it on the memory of an art store that used to exist on 4th Avenue in Tucson, a store I’d visit after school with my friends, rarely purchasing anything although occasionally getting stickers to use in the friendship books that I sent through the mail to my pen pals. A brief flash, from half a lifetime ago, and it passed.
Since I started the project, my daily mail is filled with beautiful crochet mandalas, handwritten letters, occasional small gifts and lots of color. I sit down each day with the stack of contributions, opening each one and giving it my full attention, reveling in the beauty that comes not just from the handcrafted art itself but from the loving intention of each participant in the project. I hold that love in my hands and let it course through me and try to send it out to wherever Wink’s spirit may be and to the hearts of whoever may currently be in need of such love so as to avoid joining her in her fate.
Then I pick up one of those polka dotted pastel notebooks, the purple one currently, and I record the contribution in there in my own handwriting. I write down the contributor’s name, address, email, website address, social media links, the number and type of mandalas that they sent in and if they wish to be anonymous. In the front of the notebook, I keep a running tab of contributions that includes each person’s name and location, so that I can see at a glance how many mandalas have come in and from where in the world they originated.
Somehow that process of recording the mandalas in this way is important to me. It’s not just about keeping the record. I do want the record – to include information in the upcoming art show and book, to be able to contact contributors as needed – but if it was just about that then I’d write it all up in a spreadsheet on my computer where it could be easily tracked and sorted and accessed. No, it’s more than that, somehow; it’s the combination of posterity and yet fragility that comes with handwriting each contribution down into the record. It’s like a guest book in an ancient inn, with people dropping in from all around the world and leaving their unique mark on the essence of the place.
If the person who sent the contribution is from somewhere in the United States, I write out a postcard thanking them for their contribution. (I intend to do something for the people contributing from other countries down the line but for now it’s easiest on postage to stick with this.) I write it on a postcard leftover from the mailings I did when I first wrote Crochet Saved My Life, the book that introduced me to Wink and her story. It takes me back to my own depression and my own triumph over the worst of it and the early days of knowing Wink. Each postcard includes a doily rubber stamp and a heart-shaped sticker and my handwritten thanks. Simple but I try to infuse it with my true gratitude as I write each one.
After that there’s a process of photographing and tagging and filing away the mandala contributions. I take the pictures and load them into my blog with the messages from the people who sent them, preparing them to be posted in their own individual posts in the days to come. I secure each contribution together with a tag that reminds me who it’s from so that it’s ready for the next stage – which will be an art book and art show, likely in early 2016. I place the contribution carefully into a file system that keeps the mandalas flat and ready for display. I try to email the people who sent their he(art)s to me to let them know I am grateful.
Pen Pals from the Past
Until now, it had been a long, long time since I’d received daily mail, and a long, long time since I’d handwritten notes in this way. But oh how the memories have returned. Let me tell you about my pen pals and how they gave me the world when life seemed so small and desperate.
I was in seventh grade when I got my first pen pal, Melanie, and I remember being so excited because she was from Canada and at the time it seemed like such foreign, magical place. She, along with my next few early pen pals, came from a pen pal service that I discovered in the advertisements in the back of one of my favorite teen magazines. This was pre-Internet, so I had to send away in the mail for someone to make that connection for us. It cost me a dollar and a SASE (postage was 29 cents at the time, I think) and it took time.
Junior high was awful for me, like it is for so many children. There are names now to describe what I went through – bullying, slut shaming. There are books to help the teens and parents who struggle with these things and classes for the educators to attempt to remedy the impact of the cruelty of children against children. But those things didn’t exist back then, there wasn’t a name for what was happening, and it was just ugly and hard and required a resilience inside of me that was strengthened by my few close friends, my first boyfriend and those letters that came to me in the mail at the end of some school days and transported me to another land.
I became a little bit addicted to pen palling. By high school, I had discovered Friendship Books. This was how we in the world of pen pals met other pen pals. You created a little paper book and decorated the front of it with your address, some information about you and whatever art you wanted to create. You sent it to one of your pen pals, who added her art to the next page and sent it to one of her pen pals and at the end the last person was supposed to send it back to you. You could contact anyone in the book that you might want to be pen pals with. Today it’s called mail art. Back then it was just friendship books. A couple of years later I’d discover the world of zines and take the whole thing to another level still.
High school was rough for me in a way that was different from junior high. Junior high was rough on the outside – with mean people around doing mean things. High school was rough on the inside, with the mean parts of my brain doing mean things to myself in a way that it would take me another ten years to even begin to understand. I had trouble tolerating the sitting still of school, the taking in of information when my brain was already so full of the ruckus inside of itself. I often wrote letters to my pen pals in class, and I swear it helped me to stay sane.
By my junior year of high school, I had over 100 pen pals. No exaggeration. Most of them were my age and were in the United States. But some were from people older than me and some were from other parts of the world, and I’d collect the stamps off of their envelopes, soaking them in water to remove the gummy part and sticking them in a shoe box, making tick marks on the inside of the box’s lid to indicate how many had come from where. These tick marks are not so different from the marks I’m making in the front of the Mandalas for Marinke notebook, and many of the letters came from the same countries that the mandalas are arriving from.
Each day I’d get home, first from school and in later years from work (at a daycare, then an office, then a bookstore) and I’d immediately check the mail. I’d pull out the letters that were for me, sit down with them, read through each one, look at the friendship books or zines they contained and place them aside to respond individually. An individual response included my letter, of course. I’d pull out the friendship books from that envelope, decorate them and file them to be sent to someone else, pull the same number out of the files to be sent to the person I’d just responded to. I’d organize my response and fill the envelope with glitter, confetti and appreciation for the friendship that was coming to me from across the miles.
Those letters might have saved my life. They certainly made it bearable.
Yesterday and Today
I met Wink through the world of the Internet and that’s how I’ve been connected to the many people who have contributed their amazing art to the Mandalas for Marinke project. I’m grateful for the world of social media and the way that it’s made me so in touch with so many people from everywhere who can understand a little bit of my soul. But I have to say I’m also grateful that it wasn’t around half my lifetime ago because what I needed then was the intimate connection of one-on-one letters sent slowly through the mail, each one allowing me to get to know the other person (and myself) a little bit more, a little bit at a time.
When I imagine what junior high and high school would have been like for me if Facebook existed, I cringe. I was an impulsive teen who occasionally sent racy photos to the few boys that I pen palled with; I’m certain I’d have victimized myself with sexting if I’d been born a decade or so later. More than that, the world that opened to me through pen pals would have been exposed to the rest of the world I was engaged in – in such a way that I wouldn’t have been able to find or share myself with the vulnerability that those handwritten long-distance pages allowed. It’s not that today’s mode of communication is worse or bad; it’s just that looking back I’m so grateful for the difference in the years that I had, at least in that way.
And I’m grateful for the way it’s different now, even as I see some things that are the same. Returning to the receiving of mail, the handwritten recording of notes, the connection of one-on-one message-sending, the art that comes through the mailbox … it has returned me to memories that had faded into sepia tones in my mind. It has re-opened a door that was closed just slightly improperly, stuck in the door jamb in an awkward way, and it has allowed me to re-open that door, check out the room inside, be thankful now for what I couldn’t see clearly then, and perhaps close the door in a gentler way so that it isn’t stuck in awkwardness any longer.