The Art of Questioning

“Open-Mind”

Is your mind in a state conducive to seeing anew? To seeing what it did not see maybe just moments ago?

We use the word “open-minded” to describe a person who is often able to entertain new ideas without so much emphasis on needing to be “right.” The jury can be out-judgement suspended indefinitely- even uncomfortable ideas that threaten aspects of ourselves can rest in the spaciousness of an open mind. 

What if more of us could find ways to enter this open-minded state more often? To have a loose and relaxed stillness about us that is receptive to the gentle fluttering of incoming ideas?

What I think is not who I am. These words and ideas I write do not belong to me. I have control and lack control. I know and do not know. 

This is the space that exists within each of us. We are capable of a surreal level of inner flexibility. 


Swallowed by the Whale

Early in the morning, I turned on a less favored laptop and the start screen reflected an inaccurate time considering it was early morning. Later, after writing for some time, I got up for a break and walked to the kitchen to see the oven clock reflecting the same inaccurate time I’d seen earlier. There is a lot of humor and entertainment for me in these sorts of occurrences. I like not trusting time. When we can genuinely find ourselves questioning a mechanism that as a collective we have learned to let guide our mental processes, it shakes the ground we walk on a little. It’s a way to elicit a more open-minded state of being that is highly conducive to experiencing creativity.

If I can’t trust time, then where the heck am I? Who and what am I? 

*Poof!* Your mind awakens a little and realizes that you had long before been swallowed by a whale and have been living inside of it. You stand up and though you are blind to what’s outside of the whale, you empty your mind and feel for answers. How is it that despite being there all along, you only just feel the ground beneath you shaking for the first time, now?? 

You were part of something bigger.

Self-imposed Earthquakes

When you question yourself, your experiences and beliefs, you are questioning past conditioning that has been integral in shaping your current perception of reality. You are in effect creating an earthquake in your being. 

“Earthquake 1/3”
(“Maybe I do not know what I’m talking about.”)

Living life with an open mind is like living life balancing on one leg. With two legs planted, time stands still and we feel safety and security in our firm rooted stance. However, we are not moving forward-we are not growing. When we achieve the state of an open mind, we are in effect lifting one of those planted legs as if to say, “Maybe I do not know what I’m talking about.” A lot of the attitude towards the process of growth boils down to this question: Do you see yourself wobbling as a sign of weakness and, therefore, something to be avoided? In other words, are you not able to see past your immediate feelings of discomfort in the moment? Or do you see your instability as the flexibility needed in order for you to take the next step to expand your world? 

What if we asked a question, and then loosened up on our expectations of an answer. Maybe the answer will come, and maybe it won’t. Maybe soon, maybe not. Maybe before the answer comes, we will cease to ask that particular question. This idea, alone, tells me that there is an art to asking questions. There can be beauty, acceptance, and a great wonder in the asking. Maybe even growth itself is mostly achieved in the asking, rather than in the answering. 

This being said, a mind active in constant questioning leaves little room for else. A lot of critical thinking skills we learn in compulsory education encourages positing questions and following through until we reach the answers. What if we built upon this ability by further training the mind to:

1) Be more mindful of the intensity and tone in which we ask ourselves questions

2) Stop asking questions when we decide to; and 

3) Not ask questions expecting (or feeling a sense of entitlement to) an answer more often. 

In other words, what if we practiced wondering?

“Wondering” is a less intense version of questioning. It is not as disruptive or distracting. It also doesn’t consume our full attention with the kind of urgency that often accompanies many questions we may have. “Wondering” feels like a peaceful, gentler way of approaching uncertainty. 

I don’t have the answers, and sometimes I’ll observe myself in the act of questioning not actually expecting to ever get answers to the questions. I ask particular questions to get myself to a slightly different space.. to shift the ground I walk on purposely. My mind is able to wander as I engage in wondering. 


The Birth of Surrealism

Surrealism was born when our minds awoke enough to perceive and give attention to imagery that we’d been conditioned to ignore. It wasn’t invented, it was merely perceived and validated by enough people for the first time. 

“Earthquake 2/3”
(“Seeing anew.”)

It makes me wonder about how the validation of something by the masses occurs. Before anything can be validated, it needs to gain mass awareness first. Surrealism has been described as a movement in the arts in the 1920s in which artists strove to unite their conscious and unconscious realms of experience.* I can imagine that it was embraced by many artists of the time since it was about getting in touch with the sleeping parts of ourselves which hold the key to much of our creative powers.

Intuitively, I can relate to this idea as I have a collection of my own unique experiences with creativity. When I am communing with creative forces, I feel a fluidity in my being-a kind of openness and receptivity. It is no longer a weird idea for me to admit that being an artist is like being an instrument. Whether I am writing or painting, a part of me has learned that it must step aside and kind of melt into the background. I might illustrate this as taking a mask off, or putting a new one on. Either way, the ground that I find a sense of security in, metaphorically speaking, shifts and I experience a wobbling in what I believe to be real. The experience of creativity happens in that surreal wonder-land that the mind awakens into.

Art and the Receptive State of Mind

The art of questioning (the act of asking questions in a certain non-demanding manner) can be a gateway to a more expansive and receptive state of mind. It is ostensibly the act of self reflection and self observation, but with significant creativity-enhancing undertones.

Are you chasing external things that you have put your trust in to give you that deep rooted happiness you sense is possible? Or are you chasing the state of mind you have experienced from time to time, that lets joy in? On that same note, are you the body that experiences sensory input in this world? Or are you the consciousness that perceives the sensory input? If you are the consciousness, then are you the consciousness that is here in waking life reading this? Or the consciousness that strips itself of the body and bathes in a dreamy surreal world each night? Is it possible to be both? ..Or even more than the sum of our realized parts?

Don’t think too hard, just wonder about it with me. Let’s stand on one foot together calmly, in no rush to plant the other foot down. 

“Earthquake 3/3”
Are you the body that experiences sensory input in this world? Or are you the expanding consciousness that perceives the sensory input? Is it possible to be both, and more? 

*https://www.britannica.com/art/Surrealism

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The Mind’s Home

A fence had an opening in it, leading to a field full of giant apple-like fruit. They had sturdy reed-like stems and some reached just below the shoulders.

In an unfamiliar place, with nothing but the clothes on one’s back, won’t life be too hard?

Before the question could formulate, the answer came- a radiating warmth.. coming from where, who can say? The light in the distance? Not exactly. Somehow, the strange fruits radiated the warmth. Holding on to that warmth, the questions and fears subsided, and truth sat there-in a glorious stillness and everglow.

We all are responsible for building our mind’s “home.” Like a physical home, a mind’s home is the state that your mind can return to that is a warm, loving environment that allows one to just be. You are not in any resistance to what is in your life when your mind is at home. It’s the one place that offers the deepest acceptance of who you are and whatever you may be struggling with. There is only love and acceptance there. The mind’s home enables the body to fully relax and un-tense itself. In doing so, it can then begin to make space for the new by letting go of the old. It is a place of recalibration, reset, and regeneration. You are always enough when your mind is at home.

How can we make a great home for the mind? When building anything-physical or conceptual-we need tools.

Self-Compassion

Maybe it is unfamiliar to think of compassion as a tool, but I continue to be humbled by its power. It is essential in creating the foundation of the mind’s home. It is not a bonus “nice” quality we can work on when we have time. A good character, healthy relationships, and personal meaning in life all stem from one’s capacity for compassion. We may all be created equal, but our capacity for compassion is where we differ greatly. This is because compassion is an ongoing practice. It is like a muscle-it only strengthens with use.

Compassion is tricky. Many of us believe we are compassionate and are told we are compassionate, but actually we still have a long way to go in grasping what compassion looks and feels like-especially self-compassion.

Cultivating self-compassion is about choosing to be honest with ourselves and learning to see ourselves more objectively. How many times have we wronged ourselves? When something didn’t go as planned or we ended up hurting others, how do we respond to ourselves internally? Do we have the courage to face the rawness that exists after acknowledging we’ve done something wrong? Or do we choose pride or victimhood to shelter our fragile ego?

How about the mind that hangs on to a sense of guilt? One that has learned to live in a world of mental and emotional self-punishment.

Or maybe we are a perfectionist in many ways holding ourselves to an incredibly high standard- this alone keeps us from even attempting to do things because we are almost certain we will disappoint ourselves. Is there such a thing as a warm and loving “home” for a mind consumed by fear of failure?

How many ways are there to be unaccepting of ourselves in any given moment?


Resistance

I love reducing life’s complexities to root sources, because it simplifies everything. I see resistance as such a root source to a lot of strife in life. Resistance is both a physical experience and an inner experience- both our mind and heart may pull back at us when in resistance. It is one component of a binary language applicable not only to the artist trying to paint from an inner place of authenticity, but every human being attempting to listen to their heart. (The other component being the inner “yes” tug or flutter.) When there is resistance, there is a hardening of the body-like a blockage. In order to move forward, though, we need to soften up again and get rid of any remaining blockages.

Although I am quite new to it, I can already see that breathwork is a great tool in getting rid of such remaining blockages. Actually, I had recently experimented with a breathing technique called, “4,7,8.” When I’d practiced it for the first few times, I found myself envisioning a red heart-shaped balloon inflating on the inhale, being tied shut during the hold, and then released into the sky on the exhale. On the evening of that same day, as I sat and ate dinner on the lanai, I looked up and happened to see a real red heart-shaped balloon floating off into the sky.

This sort of happening is seen outside of the physical body, but I still “read” it in the inner binary language as a “yes.” There is something  more to this simple breathing technique, I felt. So I decided to illustrate it experimenting with a new chalk-art drawing style.



It’s been suggested to repeat “4,7,8” breathing technique four times in one sitting.

Building a Self-Compassion Practice

Up until recently, I didn’t have the words to describe how watercolor painting has changed me as both an artist and human being. What has made itself more clear, is that for me, watercolor is a method for practicing self-compassion. Let me illustrate this idea by sharing a painting experience I had just the other day.

At a recent urban sketching meetup, I sat and listened inside as I simultaneously observed and acted on the outside. I was at a table of complete strangers, yet I felt a connection there.. the love of self-expression in the form of drawing and painting united us all.

I sensed more reservedness in one young man-he was pushing his limits of comfort in being there, drawing in front of us all-the vulnerability he was forcing himself into made him very uncomfortable, but he was pushing through so bravely.

A couple others were in a flow working very meditatively on simple line patterns exhibiting a sense of comfort, enjoyment, and confidence as if they were simply washing dishes.

Another young man was working on the most intricate of detail inking a bird he’d seen on a hike in the mountains. He went into a state of concentration so deep he appeared completely merged with his work.

This being my first drawing meetup ever, I felt both excited and nervous. However, when I began to open my sketch book and pick up my pencil, I noticed something inside of myself.. SPACE. Despite nerves and this and that, I could distinguish a considerable amount of space inside me that I could work with. I finished my sketch relatively quickly, and then prepared my paints by premixing some colors.

Unlike other paint media, with watercolor, you cannot layer too much before the beautiful transparent effect is lost and/or colors become muddled. It is easy to get in one’s head about how difficult it can be, but in doing so you defeat the whole purpose of painting and art itself, really. So, as I pick up the paint brush to put down my first stroke, I revisited that place of space I’d felt earlier and summoned what I wanted: joy. And it bubbled up as if on command. There I was surrounded by strangers, all of us self-conscious and vulnerable to some degree, all pushing our previous known limits just a bit more and I had managed to make space inside myself for joy.

That was the most powerful part of the experience, and that was before I had even put the paint brush on the paper. I had already succeeded.


The best part of creating a self-compassion practice, is that ultimately we are not judged by ourselves or others-that’s the whole point. When we eliminate a lot of the fear of how others may see us and the fear of failure or not living up to our self-inflicted standards, then what is left? SPACE. And in that space, we can conjure more pleasant things like joy, gratitude, peace, and self-acceptance.

Building Belief

A lot of fear seems to be rooted in two major uncertainties: Am I safe? Am I loved?

If we don’t believe we are safe or loved, we cannot reach our potential and life will be full of suffering. What I often meditate on, is the fact that these two uncertainties are really only answered with belief and not fact. Afterall, even if we are safe, it doesn’t prevent life from happening. And even if people say they love us, it does not prevent complications in relationships. So what we are really struggling with in life, is our perception of reality-of how others appear to feel-and our ability to build mental resilience in response to the inevitable changes life presents us with. Have we made a good “home” for our mind to go to?


I’m an active, conscious student of compassion. The road in front of me stretches out for as far as the eye can see, and each day I’m still here, I intend to push forward. I know that my art and the stories I’ve yet to write can only come alive through my persistent study and practice of compassion- it is the foundation for my art.

Maybe over time as we build a nicer home for our mind, we will start to see the beauty in that which is still unfolding and becoming. We can see what isn’t there yet, but potentially can be in any area of our lives. And even if joy doesn’t always bubble up on command, we can learn to at least not resist what still remains unwritten or unfinished.


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Hi, Boris!

On a recent plane ride back home the cabin was dark and most passengers were trying to catch some zzzs. But for me, an idea had come to mind earlier that morning while waiting for our delayed flight, and it was the juicy sort of idea that feeds you as you pursue it.

“No, Boris doesn’t look like that..”

(scribbles)

“Now that looks right-ish.”

“Hmm, but something is missing..”

(more scribbles)

“There. Hi, Boris!”

♦♦♦

Don’t settle, and yet don’t pass judgment.. only discern.

This is how I would express in words what I practice repeatedly these days as an artist both in life and on paper. It’s also the perfect reminder for me as I think of all the potential this new year holds. Ever since discovering the power of discernment, I’ve been able to peel off layer after layer of old thought patterns and learned behavior that haven’t been serving me. It takes a lot of mindfulness and effort, but little by little reality shifts and aspects of myself seem to shift as well.

Between the “ah-ha” moments in life when everything feels right and makes sense, there is a lot of blank canvas. Of course, who doesn’t love progress? It’s not that difficult to feel good when you make progress. It is much more of a task to learn to patiently abide in the spaces between progress.

How does this look like for me in the context of doing art and being an artist?

Well, anyone can do art, but it takes repeated effort to BE the kind of artist that I aspire to be. I want to live with the above-mentioned flexibility that lets me remain open-hearted between brush strokes. If we spend our energies feeding into mental narratives of self-doubt, worry, making excuses, perhaps some finger pointing, and unreasonable expectations of ourselves, then we don’t give ourselves the permission and proper conditions we need to grow.

When I can look at a scribble without passing judgment, and only discern what looks “right-ish” (or perhaps that nothing looks right-ish) and know it simply in my being, I succeed in keeping my mind and energy serving me.

There is a process to everything, and at present, I choose to believe that with effort, there can always be room inside us to celebrate it. We can be both engrossed in something and not take it too seriously.

I’d love to ask past creatives about what heart and mind they would bring to the paper or canvas. In order to superhumanly persist at something for the better portion of one’s life, what would the heart and mind of that person look like? I imagine such a heart and mind would be in alignment and take action from a congruent space where a person’s unique energies are free to flow.

In this world, all heartfelt-action will not look the same, and only some people’s heartfelt-action will be understood, celebrated, or perhaps admired. That is just the way it goes. So, whether you are raising a child, tending a garden, starting a business, or drawing a pig, remind your mind that it is here to serve you.

May the new year bring us all closer to more heartfelt action and authentic being. Cheers!

 

 

 

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The Gift Exchange

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The Gift Exchange

A year ago in November, as I was walking back from the library under a long line of monkey pod trees on Kapiolani Blvd, a story popped into my head. It entered quite effortlessly although a bit jumbled-like a folder full of disorganized files. After I got home, I sketched it out and “file” by “file” every small element made its meaningfulness known to me in the flow of the process.

The main character looked like my little sister Suki from childhood wearing the same light blue nightgown and having distinct shaped hair. Her posture-unsure of herself-wasn’t an accident and wasn’t just her posture, it was my posture, and was to represent the struggle shared by many souls in this world trying to awaken and step fully into their truth. Every step is unfamiliar, you are unsure, and you have a thirst for a kind of support and reassurance that the world cannot quench.

Due to personal circumstances at that time of my life, I was made ready to step more fully into my own truth: that I am an artist. Why was it so hard to get here? Why is it so hard to come alive? To really wake up? I don’t know. But there is an overflowing amount of joy that seems to self-generate simply by my living my truth. The world is my ball of clay to fiddle with. And it’s not about the end result, it’s about the joy you feel holding that ball of clay and entering into the creative process.

In life we have roles, and I was always playing out numerous ones like daughter, sister, wife, teacher, and friend, but in the midst of all that I wasn’t living my truth. It’s a very spiritual feeling that is difficult to describe aside from the special kind of “knowing” you just experience directly from the heart. It’s not like I’d never heard the saying that you should “follow your heart.” I think a lot of us do. However, I now feel a kind of pull that suggests that true authenticity means aligning one’s choices and actions more fully with the heart. It isn’t enough to follow it in its general directional pull, we can aspire to merge with it to really “satisfy” our unique nature and constitution. What that looks like for me-an artist and storyteller-is always going to be different from what it looks like for others on different paths, but what is the same is the bravery it takes for us to hold fast to our respective truths in a hyper-stimulating world of endless influences.

Line by line as I scrambled to illustrate this story in time for Suki’s birthday last December, I held tight to that truth and watched myself really surrender to the creative process for perhaps the first time. It used to be about working hard, but now it’s about working hard to surrender. We are not our thoughts, or emotions. We are our nature: the language of the heart and soul. We need to listen to that language and become fluent in order to really grasp the capacity we all have to give of ourselves in the most meaningful way. It is my intention for the “If souls could talk” visual narrative series to attempt to touch on some of the universal symbolism of that language.

We are now in the midst of the “season of giving.” It can be a synonymous time with feeling that we aren’t giving enough, and sensing that the amount we really want to give is sadly beyond our capacity. This year, let’s not feel that way. May we all find joy and thanks in being ourselves and knowing that that is enough <3

 

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Omm Inspiration

Today my sticker pack “Mindful Mermaid” came out in the LINE app creator’s sticker shop! There are several different color tailed mermaids, a shark named “Norman,” and their statue friend “Omm.” Check them out!

I remember sitting down to draw Mindful Mermaid and wondering what friends to give her. A shark companion felt right, but something was still missing. I found myself giggling as I was experimenting with Norman the shark’s gums and teeth. I think in that moment when I felt a kind of endearing feeling, my family’s dog Wei Wei came to mind, and his very distinct sitting posture. He became the main inspiration behind Omm the statue.

♦♦♦

When I heard my parents had taken in a second dog, I was overjoyed and spent the days leading up to his arrival as if a niece or nephew were about to be born. Wei Wei was his name. Someone my mother knew was trying to find a new home for him since she traveled a lot and couldn’t give Wei Wei the love and attention she felt he deserved. So my mother-who comes from a lineage of animal lovers and rescuers-decided to take Wei Wei in. Besides, Charlie Bear-the family’s goldendoodle-had been a big hit. Picture a teddy bear, add curly golden locks so thick they almost hide his eyes, and a lush plum nose. Wouldn’t a second be like icing on the cake?

When I walked through the door and was greeted by Charlie and Wei Wei for the first time, I had to stop in my tracks. Something shifted inside me. “Hey.. wait.. so THIS is the new dog??” I think I said. In all honesty, I thought he was one of the ugliest dogs I’d ever seen. Why would my mom say yes to THIS dog? Had she met him first before saying yes?? A lot of questions came to mind, but I eventually pushed them aside because what was done was done. Wei Wei was already here.

Of course, someday when I get a dog I wouldn’t get a dog like Wei Wei, I’d get an adorable one like Charlie.

This is the internal narrative I had with myself at the time. And I’m QUITE sure I wasn’t the only one in the family with such thoughts.

Fast forward years later. I don’t think anyone in the family even remembers how it happened, but Wei Wei had somehow grown on EVERYONE. He was given a distinctive human voice and we’d narrate his thoughts. My youngest sister would zip him up in her jacket like a baby kangaroo. And we’d all tilt our heads when imitating his reaction to hearing the word “popcorn,” his favorite treat. My oldest brother’s daughter considers both Wei Wei and Charlie her brothers.

At some point I had started hearing a voice inside me saying I wanted a dog, but not one like Charlie Bear..I wanted a small “ugly” one like Wei Wei. I wanted the big bug eyes, underbite, cow chin, and awkward sitting posture with legs strewn to one side. Wei Wei had changed me, or brought something out in me. I don’t exactly know. And despite being oceans apart, Wei Wei’s spirit (and Charlie Bear’s too!) is definitely alive in me today <3

From Left: Charlie & Wei Wei, Omm, My sister Min carrying Wei Wei

Me & Wei Wei 

Charlie Bear’s nose <3 

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ROAMoChan: Paris

It’s 3:29 AM and I’m up communing with my favorite early morning sky. I did so in Paris as well, only those times I was perched on top of the toilet seat with the bathroom door sealed so as not to wake Suki. As mothers get up at all hours for their infants, so too do creatives make themselves present to incoming inspiration =P

One of my quiet internal simmering hopes for this Paris trip was to be exposed to the lives and works of creatives from the past. More than just seeing a painting of theirs, I wanted to see artists’ studios, gathering commons, and walk the streets that inspired Chopin, Fitzgerald, Monet, Van Gogh, and more! So many artists found themselves living in the “City of Art” even for just a brief period of their lives, and here I had the chance to go with my artist sister to see what kinds of inspiration still lurked on those old streets.

However, upon meeting up with Suki in Paris, our own little shared world  came into being and those simmering hopes took a backseat. Suki and I entertained each other with plenty of goofiness as seems to be the trend in our sisterhood. Plus, being greeted multiple times daily, “Bonjour madame,” gave me happy goosebumps, as did many run-ins with street musicians using their gifts to spread the love. Actually, among my siblings I am known to burst into original song when the mood is right.. and the mood was often right in our Paris world.

The last portion of one phrase from such a jingle: “Someone’s a Little Crazy and That’s Ok with Me,” became very useful in processing all the foreign encounters we had. For example:

“Oh, you gotta open these train doors yourself.. (and that’s ok with me)

“French people don’t readily smile so much..” (and that’s ok with me)

“This museum directory is inaccurate..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Hmm, this towel wasn’t clean..” (and that’s ok with me)

“It appears we bought the wrong train ticket..” (and that’s ok with me)

“The hot water ran out..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Oops, we missed our stop..” (and that’s ok with me)

“I don’t know how to say…” (and that’s ok with me)

“Wow, it costs a whole euro to use this tiny toilet..” (and that’s ok with me)

Paris, like any travel destination, was an opportunity to practice life.

♦♦♦

One thing I’ve come to love deeply about watercolor painting is that it asks the painter to take joy in spontaneity by remaining in the present moment being a creator in a state of receptivity. It is like keeping one’s composure whilst navigating through a large moving crowd of people. Little openings reveal themselves only when you are already there in that very moment looking for what is next. Somehow you can harness its unique properties to blend and flow where other media would not, and create an atmosphere like a memory or fragments of thoughts. It asks you not to premeditate too much, and bring a flexible open heart to the blank paper..with a willingness to go with the flow.

Eventually, there is a ‘final product’ and you put the brush down. But as a mentor artist from my teenage years said, “The real art is not the finished painting, it is the process. When you are done painting, the art is over.” Now, through watercolor, I finally understand what he meant. The message is no different from those who have said that one’s life is a work of art. With what mind do you wake up at 3:30 AM from a loud neighborhood rooster’s crow? When impatience besieges you when the many lines you stand in each day move slower than usual? When other people want to share their perceived problems with you?

As with watercolor, in life we are all co-creators. As the day unfolds, no matter how tightly we’ve constructed our schedule and repeated our intentions, something greater unfolds that we are merely a part of. To cultivate the flexibility and willingness to roll with life’s punches and learn to see the little openings that appear out of the apparent chaos is real life magic. The end product is always just a shadow indicating the real presence: the heart and mind behind the action.

All an artist really is, is a finder of this magic.

I am deeply thankful for the many opportunities to roam the globe this year and learn to see my perceived world through watercolors. Also, I am grateful to have shared these roamings with very special people. This entry concludes my ROAMoChan 2018 travels (I think).

I don’t know what I will paint next.. and that’s ok with me~

Boat on Monet’s lily pond; Giverny,  October 2018

“La Pie” (The Magpie) by Claude Monet; Musee d’Orsay, Paris

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ROAMoChan: Stockton

My husband and his family immigrated from a small village near Canton, China when he was just a toddler. They settled in Stockton, California and soon put their green thumbs to work.

Every time we come for a visit, we step into his parents’ world of mysterious child-size hanging squashes, medicinal herbal soups, and more than a handful of surreal happenings. The answer to a not-quite-formulated internal question might fall as an object in the closet. Or as you sit and drink your morning coffee, the bitter melon vines in the backyard might call to you from a homemade apparatus held together by old internet cables. “Hmm, I think I need to go outside,” is the magnetic message you receive daily.

Dreams of my high school orchestra days are induced by an eccentric night-owl neighbor tossing a baton and playing the French horn on his front lawn.  And on a morning jog right as I think of how the subtleties from those dreams spawn and intermingle with more subtleties, I pass by the street sign “Inspiration Dr.”

This place is not just any old random place.. there is so much going on. The pile of freshly cut cucumbers and loofahs that greet us on the kitchen counter each morning is evidence of this. This place is like a library for the avid reader and writer. But instead of books, there are tiny surreal happenings that occur right before your eyes during the unfolding of each day.

Like when I walked under the peach tree days after all the peaches had been picked, wondering if one or two had been missed. I did this a few times, to no avail. And then as if Nature wanted to impress me, today I found one almost in plain sight-perfect in size and shape; untouched by bird and bug.

After getting older, no one ever asks what kind of magic power I would like to have anymore. So I hadn’t thought about it much. I think I’d like to make fruit appear in a meaningful way for people. Like, after they wake up and go into their kitchen they suddenly notice a large mango sitting in the middle of the table. Or on a seemingly unremarkable day, they open the refrigerator door and are greeted by a bowl of delicious lychees that wasn’t there the night before. And in either case, they feel like how I felt when I found that peach.. a startling gift that shifts the ground you walk on just a little bit.

I feel as though it’s like a Narnia kind of existence for me here. The closet opens for me (and even answers my unasked questions). Fruit materializes with a mind of its own, and large dangling squash are encapsulated bundles of light-you can’t help but feel their divine presence. There is a different sort of gravity here.. and of course it’s very fitting to have discovered this right in the family’s backyard!

Inside a delicious ripe fig~ Stockton, August 2018

 

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ROAMoChan: Berkeley

I rolled my little red suitcase from the BART station all the way to the hotel wearing my sister’s Duluth marathon sweatshirt. I’d made sure to bring it on this trip so I could return it when I saw her the coming Sunday. My short trip to Berkeley was about seeing her and my other sister as well as celebrating. Celebrating what? I told everyone I was celebrating my birthday, as it was the weekend right before it, but in actuality I was celebrating something else.

In our culture it’s acceptable-even expected-that we treat ourselves extra well and do something a little out of the ordinary to celebrate our birth and life on our birthday. You won’t be criticized for being selfish and because of its engrainment in our culture, it will force others to be nice and extra cordial to you. It’s the perfect umbrella to be shielded by, once a year.

I was celebrating something our culture doesn’t readily have a name or structure for understanding. There are just “symptoms” that would suggest powerful internal growth. Over the past few years, I’d begun to see the world in a different way although it did not directly result in taking specific actions. As nice or compassionate as people may have told me I was, a part of my heart was still closed. Now, I understand better what part was closed. I closed the area that I had come to believe would cause an inconvenience to others. It was the part that the material environment had guided me to sacrifice for the greater good. The same environment that painted the first picture of the meaning of that very powerful enigma: love.

In Berkeley, the hotel staff greeted me with surreal smiles. The placards in front of the receptionists at the check-in counter were enlarged student ID cards each introducing the name, major, and an interesting fact about the person. I’d chosen a hotel called “The Graduate” hotel. The nice young man whose placard revealed he was a psychology major who likes long walks through the forest, offered me a glass of champagne. The hotel happened to be celebrating its 90th year in business and would be providing free champagne for the whole week.

A mysterious world unfolds itself when one learns how to take full responsibility for one’s life. All validation must come from within. Only inside, is a person truly themself. A great paradox exists in that innermost place of our being. It’s the place where you are a receiver and must learn to discern what is noise and what is not. (No one can do that work for you.) And though you are listening to yourself, you are greater than yourself.. like watercolor.. the painter attempts to let go enough to let colors, water, paper, and the magic of the ether merge. It can become a meditation of setting intention, letting go and losing control.

I plopped down on the couch in the hotel lobby with the champagne and watched the bubbles steadily float to the surface of the glass. I felt the celebration inside me. What a strange new world. Self-love breeds self-validation and the permission the soul needs to come alive. If there is such a thing as a second birth in life, then perhaps I really was celebrating my birthday.

Graduate Hotel complimentary pencil

Painting hanging in Graduate hotel lobby~ Berkeley, July 2018

 

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ROAMoChan: Vancouver

In the last week of June I was in Vancouver, Canada on a mission to help a friend settle in after just having moved there with her family. The bonus was the third tomodachi in our friendship was also able to fly over with her family too, so our strategic gathering doubled as a reunion trip like the ones we used to have annually back in our 20s. I’m writing about that trip now, in August, a time when I’ve found myself roaming in the same garden daily, and in the company of little people once again.

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Children-like seeds- are the smallest versions of their someday-selves. They are in their most condensed and “potent” forms. They know exactly their likes and dislikes, regularly display raw, unfiltered honesty with themselves and towards others, and understand many subtleties that many big people no longer grasp. Though they appear small and fragile, they possess a mysterious resilience that is often underestimated.

And yet, don’t they all thirst for attention =D They need parents and others to validate what they do. “Do you see me? Do you see what I made?” And, “Please look! No, look longer and more closely!” They are all learning to feed their own souls, and need a special kind of loving attention to do so. They don’t need your creative ideas or humorous jokes, those are just a bonus. What they really need is that special look in your eye. The kind that seems to fill the entire room and radiates directly into them-like the sun. It’s the look that infuses another solid brick into the inner supportive pillar they are constructing. Trust? Love? Warmth? Whatever you want to call it, I sense that it is what is needed now that will eventually become the source of inner conviction later in life when we must learn to make the transition from seeking validation from others to self-generating it from within.

All the little people in my life are still very small and thirsting for that special kind of attention. And, they remind me in their open-hearted growing selves that all the wonder and dazzlement we could ever seek is in the eye of the beholder. Children in the act of simply being themselves, demonstrate the joie de vivre that so many adults lose in the forest of grown-up land. One of the many blessings of parenthood must be the constant reminder of this when one catches a glimpse of pure joy streaming from their child’s eyes.

As we attempt to teach them our version of love, they in turn infuse us with their version of reality. The flexible companion to a child has one foot in the child’s reality and one foot in their own-practicing the art of leading and being led in a seamless flow.

From a restaurant in downtown Vancouver~ June 2018

 

 

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ROAMoChan: Singapore

Norman and I found ourselves in Singapore for a week in January thanks to genuine interest, some free time, and hot plane ticket prices. We stayed in the most obscure little loft apartment in a very convenient area. It was so small, we didn’t see the entry (a single glass door) even when we were standing right in front of it. It was a perfect little cubby-hole abode for a pair of travelers like us.

We took turns being jet-lagged (ok, it was mostly just me), and during my solo time, I’d put on my earphones and listen to some Joe Satriani while sketching in my watercolor field journal. I knew I’d be turning the paper vertical, after just one day taking in the abundant green growing in and around Singapore’s city buildings.

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I was born into a fast-paced world. To the authentic “me” that has struggled to maintain my own pace amongst all the busy-ness, even travelers and vacationers seem so busy. My natural disposition is to be that person who says, “I’m fine with whatever works for the group,” and “hmm, let’s see where this current takes me..” Because on the inside, what makes me come alive is less about material particulars and more of an intrinsic nature.

Maybe while out, I’ll see a random brick that speaks to me. Then I’d probably start hearing stories in my head and feeling the inner me weaving new fabric made of future-present-past inklings, daydreams, nightdreams, and thoughts that are always floating around. This kind of thing (inspiration?) is what bubbles up constantly and me being an artist at heart, cannot feel content until I express whatever it is on a blank sheet of paper. This is my inner “digestive” cycle. My subjective experience of life has largely been one attuned to this creativity cycle as it has given me a thorough kind of fulfillment in life that is difficult to articulate let alone find a substitute for.

I imagine any kind of expression of one’s authentic self will be of a creative nature and have healing properties. It’s not the case that some people are creative and others are not. It’s just some forms of self expression (like painting or playing an instrument) are more recognizable to the masses and shareable than others.

When I meet people, there is a kind of excitement stemmed from a curiosity as to what makes them come alive. Whether the conversation will move in that direction or not keeps things interesting. When it does though, I can often tell, because their eyes light up and their energy dances. It’s one of the coolest discoveries we can make, and it doesn’t require the purchase of a plane ticket.

Singapore at dusk, January 2018

 

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