Life: Printmaking (socially distanced, as always)

Making textures

Unofficial test prints. The first and third images are the same print in slightly different lighting. These will likely each wind up as the first layer to a two or three layer print, and so may never be seen in this form again.

I wasn’t as artistically productive as I wanted to be in 2020. While the pandemic kept me working from home for 10+ months, my job expanded to fill the time I’d reclaimed from my evening commute, and colleagues would ask for assistance regularly on nights and weekends. While there is plenty of work (my department has been notoriously understaffed), I suspect my colleagues also preferred to work constantly rather than read the same kind of pandemic news I’m reading too much of. Perhaps work was a shield against 2020’s damning news cycle.

“Doomscrolling” was my preferred method of coping – I like to keep informed AND look for patterns and solutions that may be useful – and my eyes tired from taking a break from one screen just to stare at another.

Also, angst about the election kept me from making the happy art I like to make. I can manage to find things I want to photography in just about any mood, but painting and printing require a lot more of my attitude and something closer to bravery, and I just haven’t had as much of that as I would like.

So: it’s nice to have made some acrylic monotype prints today, to have tried a new paper for this purpose, to have obtained interesting results, and to have learned something I can apply in the future. It brought me joy. We can all use more joy.

News: US Passes 20 million COVID-19 cases

This is not the start to 2021 that any of us wanted, but the awkward combination of federal indifference, essential worker obligation, and individually inaccurate personal risk assessments led predictably to this.

US surpasses landmark of 20m coronavirus cases on New Year’s Day

The US marked the first day of 2021 by surpassing the dismal landmark of 20 million coronavirus cases, as hospitals, undertakers, vaccine administrators and ordinary families struggled across the nation.

The data is wild – cases going up 237,000 cases a day in this country alone – and is what was predicted.

I went past a shopping mall yesterday, and the parking lot was nearly full. As if none of this is happening. It’s difficult to reconcile.

Life: Windy and wavy at the beach

I went outside yesterday, and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t warm, but it was good to exercise.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is a wonderful place, even on windy days. It was easy to remain masked and physically distant from others.

There are high surf warnings on through Sunday: always remember not to turn your back on the ocean.

Life: Homebound Pandemic Holiday Break

I enjoy the solstice season and taking a little time off at the end of the year! Every plan I would ordinarily make with friends and family this week is unsafe and/or not possible, and so I’m ‘making do.’ Rather than hosting feasts, treating myself to spa- or museum- days, or dining with friends in a favorite vegan restaurant, I am: contemplating fiction (after a non-fiction-dominated year); reading an amazing Alice Munro short story collection (which I love from the first page); talking rare walks that are long enough to make me ache; experimenting with another spicy peanut sauce recipe; adjusting my news consumption; re-evaluating my exercise habits; enjoying a lovely channa/palak/fresh tomato dish with fire in it; adjusting my hair color intensity; waiting for my first sweet potato pie to cool off; prioritizing my creative projects; rationalizing my sudden obsession Rumiko Takahashi’s story, InuYasha; meditating slightly more often; and wishing that so many things were different.

The weight of the year is catching up with me, and while I’ve ‘talked a good game’ to encourage others, I’m really FEELING it now.

~~~

I have a heavy-texting friend who hasn’t replied to texts all week. I’m certain it means she has boarded a plane and is socializing in some COVID-hotspot OTHER THAN the one she lives in. I’m not going to ask about it. Or comment if she tells me.

My list of first and second-degree acquaintances with COVID has been growing slowly, but not slowly enough!

There are four people I know personally who have had it. (1 in the US, 3 in Sweden), and eight second-degree “friends-of-friends” (6 US, 2 Netherlands), but from the third-degree outward the numbers get crazy.

For example: one of the second-degree contacts took on a mask-free pandemic remodeling project at her house, and after interacting in close quarters indoors repeatedly, many of those who worked on it got COVID – the architect, the general contractor, some of his team, and several of the subcontractors, in addition to my second-degree relation. And I don’t know how many people THEY infected subsequently. I don’t even want to think about it.

~~~

I was chatting yesterday with a friend who recovered from COVID, and we agreed that it’s difficult to be comfortable outside of home with the current conditions. We can’t trust others to keep us safe: some people we know take risks we find absurd, and the news has already shown us that some people with COVID symptoms and even positive tests lie about their condition in order to travel, exposing others. I’m trying to warm up to the idea of being indoors with other masked people, behaving semi-normally, but that isn’t an option on offer now, and will still require trust. (I wasn’t ready for the unmasked outdoor dining across households, and seeing that in action didn’t help! They were SO CLOSE! Yikes!)

If we were living in a more developed country, where both small businesses and individuals were being subsidized during this crisis, it wouldn’t be so painful, as we’d know that we were all moving toward the same goals with basic security in place. If only.

~~~

I’m wishing you safety and health as we wind up this difficult year. As I work up the energy, I’ll wish you (and all other living beings) even more good things!

Book: Palimpsest: Documents from A Korean Adoption by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom

Palimpsest: Documents from A Korean Adoption
by Lisa Wool-Rim Sjöblom
published by Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal, Canada
2019

This is a beautiful, non-fiction graphic novel about an adopted Swede of Korean origin, her life experience as an adopted person, and the corruption and bureaucracy of the international adoption industry.

Drawn & Quarterly is a great publisher, and the excerpt of this book at their website drew me in. The story is charmingly illustrated, but the subject matter is serious. Who gets to decide what the narrative of adoption is? For international adoptions, why is the story always that heroic white people saved a child from their terrible relatives and/or homeland? Why are so many children who are not actually orphaned adopted out of their families and culture?

The narrator looks into her own family history, and it takes years of effort and abundant support from her friends and family to dig through layers of lies – constant lies, omissions, and half-truths – to learn the circumstances of her birth. She illustrates and narrates her experience wonderfully, and makes an excellent advocate for adoptees.

I had to double-check my understanding of the word palimpsest: it is a document that has been erased and written over, and so may have different layers of meaning. It’s a strange Greco-Latin word, and a fitting one for the identity layers adopted people experience.

~~~

I’ve had friends who have been adopted, and a colleague who made an international adoption. My adopted friends shared their perspectives about their adoptions with me, how they processed revelations about their origins, and their desires to eventually meet their genetic relatives. (They did!) Their views were the opposite of the adoptive parent colleague, who baselessly villainized his child’s anonymous birth mother to a degree that shocked me, but which fit into his desired heroic narrative. So much of what Ms. Sjöblom wrote made sense to me because of what my friends had shared, but her story should appeal to anyone who wants to know who they are and feel that they “belong.”

Life: Actively trying to be inactive

My mother apologized a few years back for keeping me so BUSY in childhood. Her mother did it to her, and while her family was Catholic, it still felt like a “Protestant Work Ethic” problem: busy people of all ages with no time to think will be docile and have no time to sin! Business = godliness!

Being “busy” to the point of not really having a life is a difficult habit to break, and so there are self-help articles about how other cultures do it. Wrapping the idea of rest or passivity in labels and costumes from another culture feels hip and exotic.

My favorite versions of these are my various Zen Buddhist books, which encourage us to sit, breathe, and observe our thoughts. (I have a list of friends who confide that they MUST NOT, under any circumstances, be alone with their thoughts, and I honestly worry for them.)

The Dutch are hip and have a word/concept for what we in California might call “chilling,” about being in and aware of your surroundings without multitasking, which is a nice reminder that such things are possible.

Perspective | The Dutch have a name for doing nothing. It’s called niksen, and we need more of it.

Last year, I quit a terrible job in corporate middle management. I was stressed all the time, traveling once or twice a month, occasionally internationally, and work followed me everywhere: from the first email in the morning, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., until the last texts late into the evening.

~~~

My holiday time off – several consecutive days in a row! – is jarring, since I’ve been doing metaphorical firefighting for so long that moments of calm almost make me uncomfortable.

As a creative person, I need this time to unwind and think my own thoughts, yet can still feel like I need to be “busy” with work that OTHERS deem “productive,” and that will never get me anywhere I want to go.

It’s nice to be reminded that I can (with effort and practice) relax and appreciate being alive without judging myself harshly for doing so.

Book: The Lover by Marguerite Duras

The Lover
by Marguerite Duras
translated from French into English by Barbara Bray
published by Pantheon Books, NY
1985

On the paths of the yard the shadows of the cinnamon-apple trees are inky black. The whole garden is still as marble. The house too – monumental, funereal. And my younger brother, who was walking beside me, now looks intently at the gate open on the empty road.

Note: This edition of Duras’ concise novel includes an introduction by Maxine Hong Kingston, who advises us to interpret the novel as autobiographical, which I might not have done otherwise. She also observes parallels with Duras’ screenplay for Hiroshima Mon Amour, which I’ve read, and her observations gave me insights about Duras’ life.

If there was a character limit to my remarks about reading this book, I would write something like: at-risk French girl in occupied Vietnam escapes her unhappy home by sleeping with a meek older man; a dire situation, beautifully described. Unluckily for you, I can write all the words I want!

Through a series of increasingly vivid memories that drift forward and back in time, Duras’ novel tells the story of an impoverished French teen in French-occupied (colonial) Vietnam, living with her deeply depressed mother, two brothers, and a her own developing awareness of mortality. (So FRENCH!)

Our unnamed character’s life is tenuous. She wears her mother’s old, threadbare clothes; the family struggles on her mother’s schoolmistress wages after her father’s unexpected death; a sense of doom hangs over the family; her mother not only falls frequently into immobile despair, but also spoils her sons while pressuring her daughter to make up for their failures.

Her escape: to get into the limousine of a nervous, fellow foreigner, but one who is not French: a wealthy Chinese man, entirely beholden to his father, but also inappropriately smitten at first sight of this inappropriately dressed, quite underaged teen.

The novel is often (but not always) a first person narration, centering the girl’s alienation from Vietnamese culture and her own (French) family; the alienation of remote colonial life; the constraints of poverty; the scarring, emotional tensions of her household; her self-enforced emotional distance from her unsuitable lover; the pain of her mother’s exploitation; and always – always always – a sense that everyone will die and all things must end.

The prose is visually rich and lightly punctuated as the narrator moves from awkward social interactions of German-occupied France in adulthood to afternoons of being fully absorbed by illicit sex in Vietnam; from invisibility to parental approval for all the wrong reasons; forward to deaths, and backward to youth. It starts as a novel, and winds up a vivid, non-linear series of beautifully described recollections.

It absorbed me completely, and I’m glad I read it.

Life: Mysterious Notes

What the hell.

I was going to write about how I have no idea why I would have such a note in my files, because it raises SO MANY QUESTIONS.

A few hours after finding this ambiguous note, I recalled that this is work-related. Which somehow makes it worse?

During a Kaizen exercise at work, a colleague told me of their desperate quest to get information from people who inexplicably withheld it from them , and this phrase came up. I do Shingo-style Kaizens, so this sticky note was a step in the process I documented. It was honest enough that it belonged in the diagram: it was more clear than a euphemism would have been.

(The honesty didn’t get the problem solved.)

Writing: White ink on black paper

Who has black scrap paper? I do. Of course I do.

I write. A LOT. Years ago, I was distressed over how many disposable pens I could go through in a month (too many), and looked for environmentally responsible options. I switched to refillable cartridges/tubes for work and travel, and fountain pens that refill with bottled ink for home. Most of my writing now relies on no-waste refills!

The fountain pens are FANTASTIC and surprisingly ergonomic: I chose pens that are larger and easier to hold than disposable pens, and which glide over smooth papers, all without the strain of pressing down hard that normal paste-ink rollerball pens require.

Something was missing, though: nothing could beat the Uniball Signo white gel ink pens. I use them to write on black paper; I use them to write in photo albums; I use them to draw on watercolors. However, they are disposable, no refills are available, I consume them quickly, AND they dry up fast, so that efforts to stock up on them backfire. (The only thing BETTER is the Uniball Signo silver pen, but that only solves the drying up problem, and doesn’t work for all of my art needs.)

I tried to emulate my solution for replacing other pens: I purchased bottles of white ink and put them into fountain pens. Good opaque white inks clog up the fine feed, however, and I’ve had to clean the same pen every few pages (!!) while writing a long letter.

Glass pen tip dipped into Pilot Iroshizuku ink in Yama Budo (wild grape), to bring out the swirly ink channels.

Long story short: I bought a glass pen. Yes, a pen made of glass. Aside from the fact that I will OBVIOUSLY let it roll off a table and break eventually, it seems perfect: it has no moving parts, is easy to clean, and holds ink on its exterior grooves. Conveniently, it works with BOTH the thicker and thinner inks I’m testing it with.

This shows my reasonably natural writing with Higgins Super White. It’s waterproof, though my paper isn’t.

There is an adjustment to make: you need to dip the pen to add ink every paragraph or two. It’s manageable with practice.

Both of my chosen inks flow really well with it. The pen is easy to write with, even with my healthy fear of accidentally snapping it in two. (I have snapped metal garlic presses in half more than once, so I’m a bit sensitive.) It doesn’t glide AS smoothly as a fountain pen would, so it makes a little bit of noise on textured paper, but it glides well enough to write naturally when loaded with ink.

Here’s a sample on my soft German paper with the thicker ink, Herbin’s Encre de Calligraphie in blanc. It says right on the label, “Not for fountain pens,” though that didn’t stop me from trying for a while.

The Higgins ink lies very flat; the Herbin ink can be built up slightly, and is thicker and more opaque, but to my surprise, I can write finely with either one. (You can see the difference in thickness in opacity just by looking at the pen tip in the photos above.)

So: I have a solution to my disposable white gel ink pen problem! A FANCY solution. I’m delighted. I can now heartily recommend either or both of these inks on smooth, relatively non-absorbent (non-feathering) papers.

Life: Following Tangents (theme: mines)

My Cousin had an issue loading a satellite image of the Nevada desert. He showed me a glitchy version of an image that looked like the same image wallpapered across the screen. He said the land looked painted; that he wondered if what he’d seen was being censored; and he showed me a dark screen grab of what looked like an open pit mine.

My brain went down several different paths.

Satellite images of resource extraction: I wanted to know if he had also been looking at mining or drilling sites more generally, because many of them don’t make sense to me. The day before, I’d been looking at oil wells I used to pass on 101 north along the Salinas river. I’ll never really understand why the wells are where they are (it looks like many sites are high up, though I was led to believe the oil they are looking for is quite deep, so this would be making their drilling job harder, I would think.) That image happened to be on my desktop:

Via Google Satellite just south of San Ardo (Google Satellite link)

Art depicting open pit mines: there are some interesting (and extremely unfortunate) open pit mines around the world with remarkably colorful soil. My Cousin mentioned that he might have been looking at images of the Goldstrike Mine. So I went looking for images of Goldstrike, and wound up asking him if he had been looking at this geometry-themed site and open pit mine ART (you read that right) by Antonio Gutierrez:

Goldstrike Mine, Betze-Post Open-Pit mine, Nevada, Open Pit Mining Art.

Goldstrike is a gold mine in Eureka County in north-eastern Nevada. Goldstrike is the largest gold mine in North America. The property consists of the Betze-Post open-pit mine and and the Meikle and Rodeo underground mines. ” Source: Goldstrike Mine, Betze-Post Open-Pit mine, Nevada Wikipedia: Goldstrike Mine.

Art depicting Nevada bombing ranges: my mind turned to an art book about the government’s destruction of wide swathes of Nevada, including the contamination of private land, and the documentary photography project on this theme by Richard Misrach (fraenkelgallery.com). Yes, of course I have this book.

Bravo 20: The Bombing of the American West | Fraenkel Gallery

In 1952, the U.S. Navy began illegally testing high-explosive bombs on an enormous expanse of public land near Fallon, in northwestern Nevada. The land had long been sacred to the Northern Paiute Indians, who called it the “Source of Creation.” The Navy called it “Bravo 20.”

Art depicting toxic Landscapes (including mines): Another photographer based in my area, David Maisel (davidmaisel.com), has a body of work and a book called The Lake Project, which I never managed to obtain. It is one of several by him on similar themes, and includes extraordinarily vivid images of toxic waste that are beautiful and abstract. It’s painful to know what they depict, however.

His website is lovely:

David Maisel

Desolation Desert, David Maisel brings his focus to the massive mining operations in the vast territory of Chile’s Atacama Desert. The highest and driest desert on the planet, this sensitive eco-region of the Atacama is being transformed at an unparalleled pace and scale by extractive industries.

There is a great article with many illustrations from several of Maisel’s toxic landscape projects in the Design Observer (designobserver.com), so I shared this article with my Cousin, since it was also on this theme.

David Maisel’s Photographs of the Apocalyptic Sublime

David Maisel/INSTITUTE, David Maisel/INSTITUTE, David Maisel/INSTITUTE, The aerial photographs of David Maisel are often deeply disorientating. His pictures are visions of the Earth as we have never seen it and they are scarcely believable at times in their beauty and terror. Can these colors be real? Yes, says Maisel, they are.

Eventually, my Cousin was able to find the satellite image he wanted, and showed me the painted-looking ridge that had captured his attention, which is visible if you zoom into the center of this Google map:

41.2629668,-116.8163059

Find local businesses, view maps and get driving directions in Google Maps.

He is an EXCELLENT Cousin, so he both shared the ridge when he finally relocated it AND hadn’t minded the speculative, mine-and-art-themed detour I took him on. It’s good to know that my Cousin ALSO wanders through the deserts of the American West virtually.

Now I’ll wait until he starts also wandering the most remote islands of the Pacific Ocean, and take him on another tangential virtual adventure. 😀