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Record: The Gorge And Its Skins

Over the last three years I’ve become increasingly attracted to earthy palettes and the kind of details they offer.

Recently, our family took a short excursion to the Elora Gorge about 2 hrs away from Toronto for a half day trail walk. It was early spring weather, slightly overcast and on the verge of rain. The forest in this type of season is mossy and broody, quiet in a contemplative way.

Reds were not a big part of my forest palette until I moved to the colder climes of Canada. Now they are an inextricable part of the seasonal landscape and linger long after the fall and winter. These days, I find myself seeking these tones whenever I’m in a wooded area.

I’m not sure what these textures are saying to me. Only that I feel drawn to their banal complexity and richness of detail. Maybe I am attracted to their quiet existence and natural / accidental births. It’s not a curiosity. I’m not drawn to asking questions about how they came to be. I think I’m just happy to have crossed paths with them as they are.

Record: Langkawi

Looking for a place to go on a short family vacation in Asia is about predicting the rain. That’s how we ended up foregoing a trip near my mother’s hometown in Eastern Malaysia (on the Bornean peninsula) in favour of the little island of Langkawi on the western side of the country, just a short (and I mean 15 minutes of cruising time) flight from Penang.

Before this trip, my only memory of Langkawi is a matching pair of shirts/shorts that Joanne and I had as children. I really didn’t have many expectations; I was here for the family.

Langkawi, like much of Southeast Asia is a strange mashup of all kinds of things. History inflects, erodes, builds and tears down in messy and complex ways. I always know what I’m getting-ish: the stray cats, the lizard calls, sudden rain, giant worms, glorious sunlight, simmering heat, lush foliage, entitled tourists, the noise of the street market, the smell of coconut and durian, green chilli.

But then things surprise me, like how loud and insomnia-inducing the lizard calls are, the crushed scorpion on the roadside, the cuteness of the Malay-owned B&B vs. its fierce chicken colony, how dark the roads are, a stranger dropping a starfish into our hands, the density of the mangroves, the knot in my hair after the seaspray from the mangrove tour, the ginger flower the tour guide asked me to eat…

It was a lovely little trip. Slow in pace, warm and gentle. Lots of Dutch Blitz with the family. Only a few mosquito bites. The food was mediocre so we made up for it in our 20-hour Penang stopover and ate nonstop. In short, it was exactly the kind of trip my family goes on.

Record: Golden State

Turns out Cali glow is a real thing, but California mythology is exactly that – mythology.

I went to visit some of my extended fam in-laws over the December break who live in San Fran, and had a chance to peek a preview at San Fran, LA and Murietta for almost two weeks.
Needless to say, urban textures and vegetation were my main interest after eating.

Whenever I arrive in a city whose mythology precedes it, my instinctual reaction is caution. What are truths, what are experiences, what are expectations, and what are rose-coloured lenses?

Because story and language are so fundamental to my experience of the world, I can’t help this self-awareness. “California” is a word that has become the stuff of legend. Golden as in desert. Golden as in Gold rush. Golden as in sunlight. Golden as in celebrity and fame.

As with everywhere else, mythology sustains dream, identity and belief. As with everywhere else, California is constructed from language.

So imagine me stopping to stare at a tree on the sidewalk, fascinated by the colouring, fascinated by the root structures, recognizing terrain and humidity and climate and realizing the desert is present.

What a welcome intrusion into my speculative wandering. The leaf round, the root gnarly, the tones dusty, the aloe thick. What a welcome intrusion into language. What a wonderful new language.

Desert is not an intuitive landscape in my mythologies. I am a child of the humid, tropical rainforest. But it feels familiar, and it intrigues me.

I’ll know I’ll be back for intimacy with the arid sun and the cold dunes.
I’m already pulling out the stories where sand is abundant.

Images taken on a road trip in California.

A Studio of One’s Own

I’ve been dreaming of studio space for a while now, having lost my personal workspace after moving in with my partner and our third housemate.
One becomes cognizant of how much effort tidying up requires and how nonsensical it is to tidy if one is not done when there is no designated table space to leave stuff lying around.

In short, my work life has been work quick and tidy up.

This month Abby and I (as jabs) finally took a leap and moved into a little space at Makeshift Studio. This decision was a natural extension of my personal decision to go out on a limb and spend more of 2019 working on my art instead of prioritizing community organizing and freelancing project after project, contract after contract.

As process-based workers, the two of us spend long hours together just repeating tiny little movements until our hands fail us. How can a physical space enable us to be our best and most comfortable selves while we do this work? Not only is it a reliable place to anchor my creative practice and time, the studio also offers me space to unfold in messy and wonderful ways.

Putting the space together made me reflect on the many moving parts that make up our craft. From the height of the table and chairs to the kind of tool storage we needed, every little detail impacted differently.
Co-constructing that space with another person who has different needs means that constant communication to figure out a solution that works for both of us is important.

Luckily Abby and I are not the arguing sort. We’ve been working together for too long.

As I unfold into my new studio space I am also reflecting on how much legitimacy I give my work. I find myself undervaluing or dismissing my labour far too often around my peers. Maybe I’m afraid they won’t understand, or that they have already made certain assumptions.

I don’t think a studio will change that. But at least, in a space built specifically for my work, there is no room (literally) to not take myself and my labour seriously. Space for my artist self reminds me that my artist self demands room too. I am grateful to finally be able to afford a bit of that in this season.

I’m excited to see what other confidences and questions this little studio nest will incubate. I’m excited to be inspired, to despair during production, to develop early signs of carpal tunnel while cutting deep into words and images and everything in between.
I’m excited to feel like an artist coming home.

27.

The second half of this year has been a fast-flowing river. With projects happening one after another, I found myself with very little time to pace myself in the season leading up to my birthday.

In some ways, the months I spent in Singapore felt like a semi-colon, and life in Toronto before and after were and are the two independent clauses connected to each other – related, but different. So different, in fact, that the first quarter of this year feels like a whole other lifetime to me.

What can I say about this year?

Two weddings.
Two deaths.
Two bunnies.
Two magazines.
Two new roommates.
Countless jobs.
Multiple lines drawn and redrawn.
Days on days.

I have been having so many adventures. This year of life has taught me so much about me and what life might have to offer me, good and bad, hard and soft, sweet and bitter. The emotions that bloom at every part of this journey are a tightly woven fabric I wear day to day but don’t think too much about. Sometimes I am cold, sometimes overdressed, sometimes it feels scratchy, sometimes I am comfortable and warm.

All this to say, I feel a sense of ordinariness as I slip into the next year of life. Maybe I am trying to find a medium to protect myself in from the peaks and the valleys of these days.

I have always used my birthday to consider how to grow into the next year, to set an intention and to tease out what this might mean for me. This year I find myself strangely looking backward. I consider myself somebody who is really good at embracing much of the present and future. I really try to be tougher and tender every year. Yet, when I look backward, I find it much harder to let go and have open hands. When I look back, I find myself shriveling up again into a protective ball.

Perhaps it’s because I consider my old self someone whose heart was too small and too inward-looking. Perhaps I want to redeem her by justifying her and making her better than what she really was. In that hesitation between rose-coloured glasses and dismissal, I find myself torn and immobile. In my conflict, I feel fear.

I would like 2019 to be a process of me extending forgiveness toward my past, but also nurturing the roots from that season for the possibility of new kinds of futures. I would like to be brave while turning back.