Friday, June 29, 2007

The Windy City.

I had the fortune of attending the Willow Creek Arts Conference, where I left v. much inspired. It's always great to know that there are other free spirits out there who share your interests and even outlooks on life.

The stage was decorated like this.. a bright sunshine-y day:
I inevitably got distracted while looking out the window:
An unabashedly large auditorium:
And then there was Chicago. As we were driving to the city, through different parts of Illinois, I couldn't help but notice the details. From trimming on various buildings to lamposts.. The top left I sketched while driving. I probably shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist.

I developed this fascination for rooftops. I can't explain what it is - the shapes - I couldn't help but notice them. I'm a California girl. We have McMansions and track homes. Proper roofs and stray bunnies.. what new, strange place was this Midwest?
We ate and played tourist. Laughed and laughed at Second City. Ate again. Made an appearance at the Cubs game. The one with the big brawl that resulted in two suspensions. Ate some more. At Wrigley Field, famous for the manually updated sign:
Chicago has some of the most amazing architecture I've seen. From gothic to art deco, modern to pomo, the skyline is breathtaking. There are honeycomb towers familiar to Wilco's Yankee Foxtrot fans and buildings of the Mies van der Rohe persuasion. We went on an architecture boat tour down the river and saw the Sears Tower:
And my personal favorite, the Chicago Tribune tower. I'm the nerd on the boat who actually took notes.
Now, if only I could get used to the humidity and blustery winters, I'd pack up my bags in a heartbeat. Au revoir!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Homeward Bound.

I followed a homeless man today. I hadn't intended to; it just kind of worked out that way.

It began as a friendly neighborhood jog. I headed out of the house around 9pm, and it was dusk at best. One of those glorious summer nights where daylight seems eternal, and there's not a cloud in sight - a rarity for San Francisco. As it was relatively late, I ran my usual abridged route down Irving, a mile or so and back. Enough to burn off the Milka squares I had just consumed. There was still a glimmer of light in the darkening sky, so I veered a sharp right.

I have this secret spot that I escape to that I haven't shared with very many people. By day, you get an amazing panoramic view of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and the Financial District to the west. From time to time, I go there to clear my head, and it does the trick. I can't think of a better remedy. I felt the sudden urge to see the skyline by night. I couldn't resist.

Fear is normally not an emotion I associate with this place, but it was my first time there at night. Being a relatively isolated area, I suppose I could have been dismembered and stuffed in a trunk without anyone noticing, but it's a good neighborhood and I'd rather not think about that. I followed the dirt path up and that's where I saw him.

He was a bearded man - more Cuban dictator than Colonel Sanders - and with him was a striped shopping bag. He seemed in a daze and plodded down the dusty wooden steps the moment I arrived.

I inhaled the cityscape, marveling for twelve seconds. Then I re-assessed the possibility of dismemberment and proceeded to race downhill.

As I neared the bottom of the steps, I noticed the man again. He was a block ahead of me but seemed to be going in my direction. I wondered where he had come from. Did he come here every night, wandering as he pleased? Did he see what I saw? Was this place his lucid haven? I imagined a day spent in Golden Gate Park and lunch on the Haight. Or maybe that's too cliche. Perhaps there were other nomadic friends. Did they travel in packs? He seemed alone.

With each block, I neared home. I had a final destination and a cozy Victorian to call my own, with scalloped trimming to boot. But was he nearing, or was he leaving? To what, from what? Perhaps this was his home, just not in the physical sense as parochial Americans perceive it. And just like that, he disappeared down a side street, a solitary silhouette walking into the horizon. I imagine he was headed down to the Mission district, both coming and going.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Write Stuff.

I have this friend who likes to probe, to ask difficult questions that I'd rather not answer. I try to ignore or change the subject or play the oblivious card, but he sees right through it. And before I can hang up the phone, he'll guilt me into a response. I simultaneously appreciate and resent him for that. I'll have my opinions neatly packaged in my mind, and then he'll come and strip away all the wrapping paper with one clean tear. Simple questions. Questions I should be able to answer, but questions that nevertheless put me on the defensive. It’s as if I’m being shoved off the high dive when I don’t know how to swim, and I'm splashing around for any floatation device that will keep me surfaced. Sometimes I just want to cover my ears, brandish an ink Uni-ball pen, and scribble a response card because things make the most sense to me when I write.

As a writer, people automatically assume that I journal. I do not. I avoid journaling at all costs, and I do this subconsciously. When faced with the option of winding down and gathering my thoughts, I simply allocate my mental resources elsewhere: that email I forgot to respond to, the pile of Economists and New Yorkers strewn beside my bed, season three of The Office to catch up on. I cannot journal because it is too personal, and what I write offers a glimpse into my thoughts but stops short of being vulnerable. I find that the only time the words will flow is when I'm lying in bed, about to go to sleep and too lazy to grab a pen - the graveyard of ideas past. For when I journal, I'm left with a jumble. Random topics littering a once pristine page. Imperfection; a mistake.

I’ve tried to diversify my approaches. Just this weekend, while on the El following a Second City show in Chicago, I attempted to master the art of meditation. I had never tried it before, but I imagined it to be a channeling of focused energy. I had taken a couple of yoga classes in college, and I used to skate competitively. While it had been years since I stood atop a podium, grinning brace-faced into the camera with medal/trophy in hand, buried deep inside me lay the blueprints of focus and resolve. Mental determination. Extract and release. I choreographed hand motions and everything.

What it comes down to is this: I want to learn to fail. I want the imminent possibility of failure to be okay. I want this because only then will I learn to take chances. And that’s a hell of a lot better than sitting, waiting, wishing.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Pen Is Mightier.

People underestimate the power of the written word. Take an introductory English course, and you’ll hear every writing-related cliché in the book. Even Sean Connery (or Alex Trebec, rather) of Celebrity Jeopardy fame attests to the power of the pen. What most men forget when gift-shopping for their significant others is that it's not always about the amount swiped away from their CitiBank rewards accounts. If they just realized that a well-written card oft speaks legions more than flowers or dare I say it, chocolate would, maybe there would be more couples in the world. Regrettably, cards have become an afterthought.

My family is guilty of this. On occasion, I'll receive a couple of hastily scribbled lines, usually reiterating the words already printed inside the card. In place of the Happy Holidays already emblazoned on the inside, a relative will write a very enthusiastic "Merry Christmas!! Love, the Kim family," double exclamation point for added emphasis. Or my personal favorite, an entirely blank card not even adorned with a signature - yet another addition to the ongoing Christmas card stash. The art of card writing has become homogenized into two liners, much akin to the HAGS! and K.I.T! of yearbookdom.

And then there are the repeat offenders. While I may over time receive a sprinkling of cards from my parents and certain relatives, my brother has never put pen to paper, at least not for me. Following our childhood years when we would fight tooth and nail (more nail than tooth) and kick each other from the top of the staircase, my brother and I have since abided by an unspoken hands-off policy - possibly a twisted manifestation of the concept of truce. Dating back to as long as I can remember, we have hugged exactly twice. And so, it was a complete shock when in addition to a simple, sophisticated wallet, I saw what suspiciously resembled an envelope. As I ran the paper through my fingers, it occurred to me that this was not a mere slip of receipt paper. I felt cardstock, folded cardstock. And as I gingerly tore open the envelope to examine its contents, inside was.. well, I’ll let the words do the talking:

To Erika,

Happy Birthday! You have officially reached a new milestone: OLD. Time to hit the "she-jeep."*

Your brother,

Yes, Mr. Connery, the pen is indeed mightier.

* Translates to 'marry' in Korean.