In Retrospect

 

Reading journal entries from last year, and my, oh my, how things have changed. Thirteen months ago, I lamented joblessness, the friendzone, ghosts of friends past, nihilism and more. Topics of this blog would crop up regularly–what I was doing, what was up with the name, was it even worth posting on? I’d feel bouts of intense doubt over having started yet another blog (I forget that my photo blog was still up at the time)

15: WHEN LIFE is grey and routine you find a way through the parking lots. skip skip skip- to imagination land
18: when everything crowds out your senses/makes you stumble and cry, you miss the parking lots. skip skip skip: this time to nowhere.

Needless to say, things have changed. This summer, I’m working at a place I like with co-workers I like while doing tasks I like (as a writer!) My relationships haven’t changed drastically, save for some here or there (understatement). Nihilism is no longer something that hangs over my head like a blinding white cloud on a maddeningly slow summer day. And this blog has somehow transformed itself into a pulsating creative outlet on a bustling writing community that I’m happy to have joined.

I also feel differently this year than I did last year–less angsty, less nihilistic, less rambly and sleepy and sad. You know the kind of tiredness that washes over you when you’ve been on the road for too long and the sun’s beating down on your neck? when time hovers wiggly in the air, making heat waves of exhaustion? That was last summer.

This summer feels more like morning coffees, co-worker chit-chat, snuggles post errand-running, city explorations. It feels like every summer redoing itself to get things right, just right, this time. It’s summer 2015 balancing out work-and-life, summer 2014 knotting relationships together, summer 2016 erasing its own sense of meaninglessness. 

Night Out

The streets were bright and packed, a hive of buzzed affluent energy. Sidewalks were filled with girls tottering around in heels and guys in button-downs. Like college, essentially, except older and larger and less fratty (but maybe not).

Went out last weekend for the first time in a while. Despite the wait and warmth and fuzzy bar-hopping, the vibes were good. We laughed and danced and sang at the top of our lungs, drinks in hand (when they weren’t up in the air). The DJ played Humble by Kendrick Lamar; Mr. Brightside by The Killers, a party favorite; obscure rap songs with beats I tried to find while swaying in the sea of dancing bodies.

Comin’ out of my cage, and I’ve been doin’ just fine

Gotta gotta be down because I want it all

– Mr. Brightside, The Killers

The party ended somewhat abruptly around 2. Birthday girl best friend had partied her way ad nauseam–literally. By then, we’d all found our groove and realized, perhaps simultaneously, that hey, this is fun, we should do this again and with each other. As Mars wrote in her caption:

Things got wild. Things got cute. Let’s do it again.

City Respite

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light and shadow

To escape the city, venture deeper into the city; a necessary paradox when surrounded by people, crowds, movement and noise. Many weekends I’d escape into Center City, where I’d burrow myself in a coffeeshop or bookstore. Though I’d remain constantly surrounded by people, it was a way of finding solitude, an otherwise rare beast on the urban campus.

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Summer Rain and Cigarettes

Cigarette smoke makes me think of China. I remember the way it’d fill up the room in my Uncle’s absence, then stay still, holding its breath for several hours. In the streets, in the markets, in the restaurants, there they’d be, the cigarettes clutched-clasped-dangling between people’s fingers.

Last summer we got caught by Mei Yu. The plum rain. The constant downpour of gloom that cooped us up at home. Monsoon season? I asked. No, responded Wiki: the East Asian Rainy Season.

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So I cut my hair. I painted. After the rain, I ventured outside in some grey oversized sweater (so poorly underdressed in a city where women tottered around in heels over broken concrete and construction) to photograph people, strays and the occasional chicken.

Chaos Until Dawn: The Butterfly Effect

Sometimes I feel tired in looking back, but I’m not sure why. There’s a videogame my boyfriend and I just started called Until Dawn, a survivalist horror drama game where, based on the decisions you make, you carve out the characters’ fate. In one portion of the game, the therapist, Dr. Hill, goes:

The past is beyond our control. You have to accept this in order to move forward. Everything you do, every decision you make from now on, will open doors to the future. I want you to remember this. Every single choice will affect your fate, and the fate of those around you.

I imagine the game creator had an epiphany while contemplating The Butterfly Effect, which the game hinges heavily on. It’s a part of Chaos Theory, The Butterfly Effect–the scientific notion that tiny changes, however minuscule, can “change the course of the universe forever” (Thanks, Urban Dictionary).

As Until Dawn writes, “a tiny butterfly flapping its wings today may lead to a devastating hurricane weeks from now. The smallest decision can dramatically change the future….Your story is one of many possibilities.”

Even though it refers to the game story, it echoes of our own lives, our own stories. We write them as we move forward, sans game programming.

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.