177 posts categorized "Thinking Out Loud"

January 08, 2017

Take to the Oars

OarsFor about 72 hours after the election, I found myself in a fog of fear. Fear that the needy, insecure and reckless caricature of a president, #DonaldDunce, would provoke unnecessary international conflict leading the world into war. The fog made me feel that I needed to make nice, walk on eggshells and promote peace as a zombie pacifist.

And then I realized that IF I love my country, allowing #DonaldDunce to continue without resistance is wrong. The right thing for me to do is throw away my fear and pick up my oar. Even when Pea Brains come by to respond to my expressions and say things like:

  1. "I follow you for your art, not your politics. Go back to making art."
  2. "Do you really want North Korea to have nuclear weapons?" (in response to my taking umbrage with #DonaldDunce's taunts toward North Korea)
  3. "You lost. Get over it."
  4. "Obama will be ... a bad memory ... Make America Great Again!"

And on and on ... making me feel hopeless ... causing me to wonder if I ought to put my oar away and bury my head in the sand. But you know what I have found? Thoughtful, logic-driven, well-read, compassionate patriots out-number Pea Brains. Michelle Obama stated in her final speech as First Lady: "Don't be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered."

Because ...

  1. To those who want me to go back to making art: (1) Art that incorporates political commentary (like knitted pussyhats) IS art and is protected under the first amendment and (B) I do not exist simply to provide convenient and tidy art-viewing opportunities for any one person.
  2. North Korea already has nuclear weapons. The point is whether taunting that nation questioning whether they can launch an effective one aimed at the US (as #DonaldDunce) has done is prudent.
  3. It's not a reality game show of losing and winning. It's about staying engaged with reality and participate in shaping America ... the land that I love.
  4. No matter his leadership, his calm, his diplomacy, his accomplishments, his polish ... I have come to realize that there are some who begrudge Obama and the last 8 years primarily because he is Black. And "Make America Great Again" is code for "Make America White Again." And for the women who voted for #DonaldDunce, I have come to conclude that they hate Black more than they love Woman.

So ... to those who may have been in a fog of fear like I was ... I want to say that you are not alone. We are many. We don't have to be afraid. Together, we can move mountains and cross oceans. The time is now to grab our oars and row.


December 29, 2016


For the Russian interference in the 2016 US elections as confirmed by the national intelligence agencies, President Obama officially announced sanctions today, including the ordering of 35 Russian diplomats to leave the US and two Russian compounds ordered closed. To this, President-Elect Trump said dismissively of the sanctions: "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things."

What does Trump think these sanctions are about? They ARE about trying to move on. You know ... like when a pussy gets grabbed without consent and she starts screaming at the top of her lungs for justice and the assaulter says "come on ... let's just move on."

#artdoesnotbackdown #resist


December 16, 2016

Art Does Not Back Down

ArtdoesnotbackdownAt cocktail parties and such, when I'm asked what I do, I usually say "I'm a working artist." I think being an artist is slightly different than being a working artist. As a working artist, I create art and services that enter an arena of business. I list my art or services for sale and humans who want my art give me money in order to acquire it.

In these current times, I wrestle with impulses to either restrain or express my sincere convictions and feelings. When I force myself to only practice restraint, I feel like a coward. And I wonder to myself: "Is that going to be my legacy? That I lived solely as an art careerist to sell art rather than to express art?"

The majority of the art I make has no political commentary. It's a beautiful flower ... an interesting face. Occasionally, there is art that bubbles up from within ... art that won't back down from commenting on current happenings. Reportage. And when I do, I always receive comments (public and private) that knock the wind out of me like: "That's not art. It's crap." "Shut the fuck up about politics and just paint."

I also receive comments (public and private) that strengthen me like: "Thanks for speaking up. I was raped in college and your art makes me feel not so alone." "Your art gives me strength to express myself."

I look around the world and wonder: What is my artistic responsibility?

For me, part of it is to manage the business portion so that I can keep working and selling and staying visible and afloat. But it's also to occasionally allow sincere, clever, thoughtful expressions that support or denounce things I see without practicing restraint, with faith in knowing that I am not alone. With faith in who I am.

Because if I can't allow my art to occasionally do that, and if the world becomes one that does not allow that, then what is the purpose of existing? Just to make nice nice, to look the other way, and to shut the fuck up and just paint and sell?

I'm really ok if I don't dominate the business aspect of art.

But I've come to realize that I'm really NOT ok if the business aspect of art dominates me.

November 19, 2016

Finding 50 :: The Brevity

Finding50I'm not 50 years old yet. But in a couple more months, on January 31st to be exact, I will be. I don't want to be that person who bemoans this number for superficial reasons ... the graying hair, the issues with the skin, the vision, the memory, and on and on. I mean, none of that is really any fun but when it comes down to it, I'm grateful to be alive. I'm grateful that I've been able to experience all that I have up until now and that I have a few more decades to enjoy, learn, love, and contribute. (Knock on wood.) And knowing that it's so brief, I find every single moment to be so precious.

Today I listened to an interview that Marc Maron did on his WTF podcast with David Crosby (of Crosby Stills and Nash). There was one point in the interview where David said that if in fact the concept is true ... the concept that each person exists because that person is meant to do something ... then he's pretty sure that he exists because he is meant to make music. Marc agreed.

That exchange freaked me out. I mean, there's a part of me now who thinks I'm meant to be a painter. But at any other moment in my last several decades of life, I could have thought that I was meant to be a social worker ... a magazine editor ... a fundraiser ... because I have been all of that at one time or another. Which makes me I mourn for the musician that I never became. Or the poet. Or the chef. Or the professor, or the ... on and on and on. But maybe a good way to think of it right now, as I look at life's halftime that's coming my way ... is that I'm doing at this moment, what I'm meant to be doing. And I did back then what I was meant to be doing then. Who knows what I'll be doing 5 years from now? Maybe painting still. Maybe painting while singing. Or maybe painting while singing and reciting poetry ... in a cute little dress and sassy shoes. :-)

So I guess that's why every moment feels so urgent.

There was another interview I read about when Billy Graham was asked what had been the most surprising thing for him, about life. And he responded, "the brevity of it."

The brevity of it.

I resolve to not bemoan 50. I resolve to find it with an urgency to thoroughly, deeply, stylishly, and gratefully experience it.


November 09, 2016

Peace through Stories

StoriesI've shared facets of my story many times. About how I immigrated with my family to Bakersfield from Seoul in 1974. Of the few carry-on items I had with me during my flight to America ... I had my passport and my hymnal. A book with songs that I sang growing up within my musical family ... a family that taught me from an early age that sometimes, the most difficult things to express can be done so more beautifully through music and art. In 1978 at the age of 11, after studying for an exam about American history, I was officially naturalized to become a US citizen. The proctor giving me the test was a serious old white man who I think was quietly rooting for me ... a little Korean girl who had worked hard to get on the road to becoming a Korean American woman.

There are so many beautiful stories about growing up in Bakersfield. American friends with whom I played the way little kids do ... spending the night, playing dress-up, making crank calls, eating junk food, talking about our respective crushes, singing Beatles songs.

Dark moments also existed. A bully who repeatedly slapped me on the playground during recess ... Laughing neighbors who shoveled dog shit onto our driveway ... A belligerent drunk redneck who spit sunflower seeds onto my face.

This morning, as I was digesting the reality of President-Elect Trump, I was grateful to hear Secretary Clinton, who after winning the popular vote, conceded defeat per the electoral vote, with a request for  everyone to give Trump our open minds and a chance to lead. With grace and calm. Without anger, jabs, or accusations of anything being "rigged." I was grateful to hear President Obama say that he and his team would offer the kind of support to help Trump's team transition into office as he received from President Bush and his team. Peace. Calm. Up until all of that I had cried a little but I hadn't yet sobbed. And then I heard a report about some Wall Street brokers chanting and laughing "lock her up" on the trading floor after her speech. That's when I burst into tears. It made me remember all the feelings of being slapped, the dog shit, and the slimy spit-ridden sunflower seeds.

Part of my story this morning is being mother to two millennials who are hurting. I'm hurting too. After my morning cry, I had my coffee, then I had a great run and sweated it out. I've also been texting with friends with whom a gamut of emotions has been released. It feels good to have friends who understand. And had our candidate been victorious I'm sure there would be other families and friends feeling the hurt this morning.

The invitation I made to my children is for them to join me in telling our stories as much as possible, and to help the stories of other people be heard. Stories either through art or just plain one-on-one conversations.

Putting aside politicians and politics, I have experienced firsthand that by telling real stories about my everyday life, I (radical-feminist-heterosexual-married-immigrant-agnostic-with-Christian-upbringing-mother) can feel bonded and close to a person whose facets are different than mine. Not in a "let's become best friends and braid each others' hair close" but the kind of closeness that develops when we relate to the tiny universal truths of being human.

It's through sharing stories and conversations that I think our diverse citizenry will remain closer to peace, and farther from war.


October 31, 2016

Trick or Treat :: An American Love Story

HalloweenIn August 1974, my family and I landed on American soil. Bakersfield is where we would settle and I started public elementary school in Bakersfield. First Seibert, then Stine. And eventually onto Actis Jr. High then West High.

Those early months in America were a culture shock. I wasn't in Seoul, Korea anymore! Lots of challenges and tears ... and lots of goodness and love. In the month of October, just two months into American life, I was told that if I put on a costume and went door to door, I'd be given free candy. And that's exactly what I did with my two older brothers. Every door we went to, we were greeted by delightful people who gifted me with milky ways, snickers, tootsie rolls, suckers, smarties, jolly ranchers, and on and on.

Most of the night, we just followed a group of American kids and piggy backed on their utterances of "trick or treat" and just opened our bags. But at one point we got separated from that group and when my brothers and I went to a door and rang the doorbell, the adult who came to the door said "What do you say?" My brother Jinil and I were speechless. We hardly spoke English and we didn't know what to say. But my oldest brother Jim must have taken note, because somehow, he pulled those syllables out of thin air and said "tttt-rrrick ohhhrrrr ttt rrreee ttt." And the candy came, with smiles and wishes for a Happy Halloween.

It's the night when I proclaimed: "I love America."

I love America still. I love the magnificently diverse stories that make up this land. And I think that in spite of the differences we have, it's through telling my story with honesty and transparency that I continue to develop bridges of friendship with people. And it's when I actively listen (rather than dismiss) the stories that others are willing to tell (no matter how different they are to mine), that those bridges become strong pillars of peace and understanding.

Wishing everyone a happy Halloween. If you want to.
Jenny (aka skeleton cat girl)

October 07, 2016

Really Feeling What I Really Feel

FeelingsI've just started reading The World According to Garp by John Irving. This little passage occurs in the first chapter of the book, as we learn about the character, Jenny Fields, the strong and independent mother of protagonist, T.S. Garp.

As much as I'd like to say that I've been strong and independent like Jenny Fields all my life, I've frequently been hesitant and uncertain, like the character trying to figure out if it was ok for her to come out of mourning. For most of my life, the question of how I feel was never one that I even thought was important to ask.

Some years ago when I entered therapy for the first time and explained about a specific problem to my therapist, I was asked: "So Jenny, how do you feel about that?" I was stumped. I responded back, "How do I feel??!! Why would anyone want to know about how I feel, least of all me?!"

When my problem became acutely painful, I asked my therapist with tears rolling down my face, "How do I get over my sorrow?" And he said "You do exactly what you're doing ... which is allowing yourself to really feel what you really feel."

Part of me thought "What will others think?" Another part of me thought "Aren't I wasting time, indulging in my worst self, by allowing myself to wallow like this?"

What I learned in therapy and what I keep learning outside of therapy is that really feeling what I really feel is another way of being really honest, without being preoccupied with what others think about how I feel.

And incredibly, the more honestly I feel, the more honestly I move forward to whatever next feeling is ready to land in my psyche. That is, when I let myself honestly feel sad, I find I let content come in when it's truly ready to replace sad. Honest timing. No phony wallowing. No dishonest exaggerations of exuberance. No badgering the feelings of others. Just really feeling what I really feel. 

October 04, 2016

Conversations. Cliff notes. Clichés.

ConversationsRight when our conversation was getting really deep, really good, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a smiling face of a person who handed me a slip of paper and then walked away. I opened the slip to read a cliché ... something about dreaming big, choosing happy, shining bright. It was an art retreat that we were all at ... and I ended up putting that strip of paper down somewhere, collected my train of thought, and got back to continuing my original conversation ...  

In college, I took an upper division writing class where we read many works by Fredrick Nietzsche. It was challenging not only to read the original works but also to write something meaningful every week and present the writings to the entire class. There was one session when a student presented his essay that basically boiled down the reading to this: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" To which, our professor called foul. He said that he would not permit our papers to present clichés (or highlights from cliff notes) as our arguments. He said we had to work harder, think critically, and open ourselves to being challenged by one another as we presented our original analyses. We were expected to astonish one another.

In this day and age, especially during this political season, clichés abound. Conversations are rare ... conversations that reference rigorously researched data, history, thoughtful analysis, and most of all, imagination.

I'm almost 50 years old. I've already been raised. I've already been brought up. I have developed my point of view. We all have. And no amount of clichés will change that. I keep thinking about what journalist Bob Woodward recently said in an interview ... which is that ... even if no one reads it, it is the journalist's responsibility to keep writing, keep thinking, keep analyzing, and making available to the world, the most rigorously researched thought pieces.

Because when I (with my unique upbringing) find myself in a good conversation with a person (and his/her unique upbringing), it will be our ability to reference such quality thought pieces and to honestly share our unique points of view that help us understand and accept each other better. Astonishing.


September 29, 2016

A Prayer for Owen Meany

OwenmeanyThis is one of the my favorite passages from the book, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

It's a book that delves into the topic of The Vietnam war, but also topics related to friendship, baseball, love, and faith. It does this as deeply as an author might feel allowed to do, when the particular literary pond for the story is 543 pages-deep. Certainly a deeper pond than those that I wade in in this modern day ... where I wake up in bodies of water so shallow that the liquid feels evaporated before the sun fully rises. Simple sentences everywhere that boil down complexities within 4x4 inch graphics that bottom line it for everyone. No need for critical thinking or in-depth journalism or robust discussion about the ironies, the wit, and the true conundrums of life.

Yesterday, I heard a podcast about research that points to how contrary to the popular notion that  stating our intentions out loud and publicly might help make that intent come true, there is research that points to the opposite. That is, when a person states that "In one month I am going to become healthier" that the brain sometimes tricks that person into thinking that just by having expressed that intention out loud, they actually think they ate healthily and took brisk walks around the block. And because of this phenomenon, the research shows that the person who declares a plan out loud has a less likelihood of doing anything to make that plan come true, compared to the person who just does the plan and declares nothing beforehand.

This particular passage by Irving presents so many non-simple facets with that war ... including those who protested it. Which makes me think of modern times ... and how our brains trick us into thinking that by declaring that "I am against" or "I am for" X, Y, or Z, that not only do we not do anything in support or against it, but that just that lofty utterance can add fuel the fire for the opposite thing to happen. 

I also heard an interview with journalist Bob Woodward who points out how shallow our ponds of discourse are really getting. And that as a journalist, even if he spends any time feeding the simple sentence platforms, it is the responsibility of journalists and writers and thinkers to continue doing in-depth work and presenting deeper ponds of thought ... regardless of whether a single person steps foot in it.


September 20, 2016

Anna Karenina x 3

AnnaI have not yet read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. It's been on my list of things to read ... but it just hasn't made it up to the top yet. In a short story by Haruki Murakami, there is a protagonist who actually ends up reading Anna Karenina 3 times. She does this in an effort to combat her insomnia and with each reading, she picks up totally different nuances that she didn't pick up in her earlier readings.

This situation ... where we humans consume content but are unable to fully notice or fully remember what we've consumed ... has really bothered me. Like there's SO much content. Can I ever come close to conquering it all?! 

My book-loving friend Lorrie was recently telling me that she's been re-reading some of her favorites from the past ... Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, etc., just to see how she would react to them now in this different season in her life. When she told me this, I thought ... "Wow ... imagine that ... going back and re-reading and re-experiencing loved books from the past rather than trying to race against the clock to conquer the never-ending amount of content ... from classics to contemporary.

So maybe I won't ever get to Anna Karenina. Maybe I'll allow myself to remember that I'm a human, not a robot ... and enjoy the process of just interacting with content rather than conquering it. And if I do ever get to it, maybe I won't notice some things until I re-read it. And maybe I'll be able to focus on the best parts of the book-reading experience for me ... the feel, the smell, and the wonder of life-affecting words on real paper. Used hardcover edition whenever possible, please. Tell me, is there anything more wonderful to hold than that?

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