Wandering the City

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After making a bucket list of things to do in the city, I finally went out and crossed a few off the list.

We meandered around the design district, searching for the museum of contemporary art. After circling around a few times, we realized it’d been in front of us the entire time. The space wasn’t what I’d anticipated; it was open, garage-like, with three moving art exhibits. I’m not usually the biggest fan of contemporary art–sometimes it strikes me as something devoid of skill–but these pieces weren’t like that. They were meaningful and thoughtful. The artists were talented. We drifted from one exhibit to the next, oohing and aahing at the pieces, from massive rug-like designs made of plastic fingers to portraits painted on metal.

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Afterwards, we headed over to a grilled cheese restaurant, where we ate bruschetta, downed two beers, and ordered a savory bacon-and-grilled-cheese sandwich. The sandwiches were, as I always say, nom-tastic.

I like to imagine that this particular neighborhood is where the hipsters come to roost. Vintage shops litter the streets. Walls are decked out in murals. Quirky sculptures greet visitors in repurposed homes. It’s eclectic, artsy, old but welcoming. We peered into a few shops here and there, visited a coffeeshop-meets-bookstore-meets-bar. Then we dived into a pie shop for apple streusel and ice cream. (Our pie slice was massive).

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Once we devoured the pie, we wandered around and found a wooden swing by some murals. They were occupied by three girls who posed and puckered for pictures for what felt like forever. In the meantime, we looked at murals. My favorite featured a mandrill meditating-floating above a pink sprinkled donut. I pretended to meditate atop a greyish block in front of the mandrill. After what felt like forever, the girls posing on the swing finally paused to move and look at their photos. I leaped onto the swings. We swung together.

It was hot. It was humid. But after leaving the arts district, we drove to visit the bridge, a city landmark, and walked across. I’d never driven on it, only seen it from afar, but today we got up close and personal. We walked on the hill, towards the bridge, onto the walkway, where we could see downtown.

“That’s where we spent the majority of our relationship.” He pointed out to a cluster of buildings.


As we drove home, the sun set. We talked about ridiculous things, as per usual. And for a moment it felt a little like the summers during which we’d always drive downtown.

Comics, Atrocities and Literary Parallels

A few days ago I finished Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, a book about Hiroshima written by survivor Nakazawa Keiji.  His survival, as a child, was miraculous–he had stood behind a cement wall, which somehow protected him, which then fell against a tree, which then prevented the wall from crushing him. Despite everything he went through, from poverty to shame to stigma, he went on to depict the horrors of the atomic bomb in manga-form.

The author’s baby sister born during the atomic bomb. Autobiography of Barefoot Gen, Nakazawa Keiji

Sometimes I marvel at humanity’s incredible capacity for cruelty. It isn’t to say that all of humanity’s terrible–that isn’t true, there is a lot of kindness and goodness–but at the same time, just, well, wow. Trips down history lane tend to reinforce this belief. Ironic, since history’s written by its victors and you’d think they’d want to portray themselves in the best light possible. But between these moments of kindness, of peace and progress and beauty, are undeniable pockets of cruelty you couldn’t even begin to imagine. From mass genocide to strangely cruel punishments to war to sheer greed, it’s alarming what people are capable of. And this cruelty–it’s from the ground up, too, it’s not just victors from high-up who wield power that are evil, but neighbors, too–family, friends, people you thought you could trust.

I think of Art Spiegelman, author of MAUS, who depicted his father’s survival of the Holocaust in comics form. As a child, Art had fallen down and his friends had left him behind. Upon telling his father, his father says that until he’s spent five days locked up in a room with others with no food, driven to the brink of desperation, he does not know the meaning of “friends”. When I read this, one of the first pages of the book, I was confused. Then it quickly dawned on me–ah, yes, the Lord of the Rings-esque brutality that brews beneath the surface of humanity: that’s what he’s referring to.

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“Then you can see what it is, friends!” MAUS (pg. 3), Art Spiegelman

If I were in some sort of literature class on comics–and I was, but I no longer am–I’d start drawing parallels between Spiegelman’s MAUS and Nakazawa Autobiography of Barefoot Gen. I will anyways. Both depict the horrors during World War II, with one taking place in Germany, the other taking place in Japan. Both stories are told with a combination of text and visual form–in this case, comics. But whereas MAUS is Art’s depiction of his father’s stories, Nakazawa’s stories are his–he had gone through the horrors first-hand. Even so, both descend into depression after writing their stories.

There aren’t many ways you can effectively communicate these experiences without alienating the audience. With most people, they cannot stomach reliving–if only as a third party–the reality of these atrocities. Even with the removal provided by time, space, distance, mental-acrobats, glass museum displays, it can be difficult to (literally) face history. But that’s what makes their use of comics genius. It’s easy, as a viewer, to look at comics, to listen to a story ballooned through speech-bubbles. Comics offer a cartoonish version of reality, where things are distilled into visual and mental palatability. Possible downsides: it doesn’t accurately convey the horror, waters down the experience. But I’d say that Spiegelman and Keiji succeed in toeing the balance between depicting their experiences while keeping the stories, well, “audience-friendly.” Relatively, at least–they’re still horrific.

From a personal bookish perspective, both are really good reads. Not sure if the Autobiography of Barefoot Gen is online, but MAUS I and MAUS II are (I’ve linked to the pdf for MAUS). If you ever get a chance to read any of them, I’d recommend it, especially if you’re interested in history, WWII, comics or memoirs. Or if you’d like to get a glimpse of the realities of those who lived through these atrocities, hear the stories of these survivors.

Trying My Hand At Handlettering

Bought a calligraphy pen yesterday–now my sketchbook’s filled with inspirational cliches, looping around looking wobbly and vain.

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Before the pen, I was using plain ol’ watercolor brushes for text. The effect is okay, but hardly calligraphy-esque–the font edges aren’t as sharp, and there isn’t as much variation in the lettering thickness. Here are some illustrations pre-calligraphy pen:calligraphy
Now, I’m starting to combine calligraphy with watercolors. Still working on the lettering. It can be a little tedious, and every little hand-wobble’s recorded in ink, but it’s fun.

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