Sunday, May 24, 2015

Women of a Certain Art: Leslie Li

My friend, Leslie Li.

We met in the 1990's, probably because we both attended Hedgebrook (a women writers' colony) and as the literature curator at The Kitchen I wanted to do an evening of Hedgebrook writers.  She had published her novel, Bittersweet which she read from that night.

Years later Leslie left NYC.  For Vermont.  During those years came Enter the Dragon, 3 adaptations for children of Chinese folk tales.

Leslie returned to NYC, her center of gravity, and published a memoir, Daughter of Heaven:  A Memoir with Earthly Recipes.

And now she is a film-maker.  Chronicling the life and career of her mother and her mother's sisters, Kim Loo Sisters:  Portrait in Four-Part Harmony, which is Leslie's meditation on the nature of America, identity, race and gender.  Her project's website:

Leslie's latest interview, with Jolin Yang,

The Kim Loo Sisters:

A Letter to My Reader (Whom I Assume is Reduced to n = 1 Because I Never Write, I Never Call ...)

Dear Reader,

Yes, it has been a long time.  I would not blame you if you thought me dead.  But, I am not.  Just dormant.  Waiting for winter to be done, the snow to stop falling, the yard to look more like something that resembles an emerald rug than the pelt of a mange-ridden piebald cat.  This is the rarest of rare days -- the middle of a 3 day weekend where I do not have to do anything for anyone else, go anywhere, or be on time for anything.  I am making the most of it -- taking my internal temperature, discerning what I need in order to get done all the things I must, and 1/3 of the things I'd like to.

I understand David Letterman has retired.  I also understand he was a fixture of the pop culture firmament for 33 years.  In that time I've maybe paid attention to him for 60 seconds.  And it simply hasn't mattered:  not for him, not to me.  Three decades is a long time to be blissfully ignorant of anything, but I am realizing every day that it is probably the rule, not the exception.

I have rounded the bend of functional youthfullness to early old age.  There are days when everything but my eyelashes hurt.  I panic as I make conversation with someone I'm certain I've met but can't remember their name or the circumstance of our meeting.  Everything that I embark on I do with hopeful optimism that I'll be around long enough to see it reach maturity or bear fruit.  I am the tired swimmer trying to make it to a far shore.

In the meantime, between the duties and obligations, between the crises and the accidents, there are the interludes of joy, frissons of creation, and weekends like this when time conspires with me in the delusion that I still have enough of it to do whatever I want.

And what I've wanted is to clean my office and my house, a cleansing ritual as I begin the last stage of dis-assembling my friend Fred Ho's life.  Last week I (and others) packed, sorted, and inherited many of his possessions, those things which embodied him.  We'll return in June to finish, as much as one can finish packing up a life, in order for the new owner of the apartment to move in.   Hundreds of decisions -- what's kept and where and for how long? what's sold?  given away? destroyed?   Only after those questions are answered will the work resume of building an organization that will carry on his professional legacy.  This is nothing I ever imagined doing I've told others -- not for him, not for any organization, not even for myself.  I've made this process a priority through the end of 2016.  Were I 40 perhaps I'd stay longer but the time I've got remaining is shrinking; and my ability to fulfill my own ambitions in this last quadrant of my life has shrunk, too.

This quadrant is one where you are acutely situated between the poles of life (grandchildren?) and death (of parents, friends, siblings) and either pole will exert its necessary and strong pull when they emerge.  And that's not even factoring in the show-stopping nature of debilitating illness.  It is hard to imagine, much less admit to oneself that the degree may not be completed, the Times may not be read, and the surplus weight which makes all physical life harder is weight that I own forever.  But, that may be what happens.  In fact, it's more likely than ever before that that is what will happen.

Which is why these indulgent weekends mean so much to me.  I am playing (slowly) my record collection.  I started with Frederick Delius, and am now listening to Taj Mahal.  Maybe I'll find Hindemith and Average White Band today.  All part of a conversation with my past.  Adieu.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Africa/America: Blood Drum Spirit

For your pleasure:

David Bindman, saxophone
Wes Brown, bass
royal hartigan, percussion
Art Hirahara, piano

When You Can No Longer Remember Shit ...

... make shit up.

As I see it you either turn 60 or you write a truthful memoir, but you can't do both.  Because after 60 (or after chemo and radiation or post-partum or terror or other life-changing extended sleep-depriving events) you simply don't care that much for accuracy.  You can't, it's an unattainable goal like having the body you sported at 20.

At first, this truth-bending shocked me and I would run down the street chasing some sentence that just popped out of my mouth, like, "Back in 1995 I was working for General Eclectic," hoping to tackle it and smother the inaccuracy before it embarrassed me.  And then, when my knees started barking and my hip throbbed in tune to the universe, I stopped and thought, "Who cares?"  Who cares if the year and the employer are wrong?  I'm tryin' to make a point here, people.  Whatever that was.  I don't lie with nefarious intent, I simply have decades of memory to sift through and sort out and stuff got mixed and matched in my head and if I waited for my internal fact-checker to get back to me the people I'm talking to would be gone, asleep or dead.

So, onto haiku and aphorisms, scrupulous truth be damned:

Spring in New Haven
Now that the snow has left us
bereft of complaint.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Keeping a Resolution I Swore I Wouldn't Make

Judging from the grades I make in my math classes I'm not particularly good at Logic.  Common sense I think I've got in abundance, but that other stuff (flutter of hands, rueful face...)  You see, we went to visit some friends in Poughkeepsie this weekend past.  It was combination housewarming and observance of the death of a guru, complete with meditation and a shrine and communion.

I have what I'll delicately called a perverse relationship to the spiritual arts -- I avoid them.  In posts past I confessed to years ago in Brooklyn having a yoga teacher who loved me despite the fact that I Hate Yoga.  Hate.  It.  And yeah, don't tell me it's good for me.  I know that.  What with this colossally shortened hamstring I'm sporting these days I can barely get down a flight of stairs, but you'd have to put a gun to my head to do anything about it except a few stretches and making Cuthbert drive me everywhere.  But, as I've often written, I digress.  (Embarrassment will do make you do that.)  Anyway, Dear Reader, you'd be proud of me, I meditated.  Really.  I felt things I ordinarily would not have which while not always pleasant was interesting.  All good.  We drove to the hotel to sleep.  Just before climbing into bed I ate a few apricots.

And that's where my troubles began.  I woke up the following morning with a food processor dicing chicken bones in my gut.  Not enough to deter me from eating breakfast, mind you, but enough to know that I'd better get home.  So we called our friends just to say "so long and thanks for all the hospitality" and got invited over for tea.  About 1/2 hour after arriving at their home I was pleading to lie down.  I slept and slept and slept.  Awoke, drank some herbal medicine, rattled around a bit, slept some more on the couch and then shuffled through the apartment to throw up in the toilet bowl.  Spent an extra night in Poughkeepsie in case of encore.

Here's where the un-logic comes in:  Meditation = puking your guts up.  Oh oh.

Since Sunday I've barely eaten, mostly out of fear of which end and at what velocity will the food come out.  And slept of course.  I'm sticking to bland food and juice until then.  Usually when I'm as stressed out as I am these days I'll eat anything.  Just put a piece of wet sheetrock on a plate in front of me, and it's gone.  No problem at all.  But these days I'm giving food the side eye.  Which is fine since I dropped a couple pounds that I sure don't need.  Whether I'll continue when my stress = binge eating gene reactivates is unlikely, but for now it'll do.

All this to say that I am all kinds of tired.  And the great David Carr has died.  Namaste.