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    Summer Project

    Da Vinci Study

    I wanted to finish my drapery study of Da Vinci's seated figure before the end of the summer, but it looks like I won't make it. :) I could estimate that I easily spent about 60 hours on this piece. I used graphite (only H and 2H).  

    It's true, work does live on after your death. Immortality is not the stuff of fairytales. Would Da Vinci have known that five hundred years after he left this world, a girl in San Francisco would be poring over his art into the wee hours of the night hoping to understand the genius of his work?--and hoping that some of it might rub off on her.:)

    What a hopeless pursuit. But I did learn a lot by working on this piece. And for that, I do thank the master who lives on forever in his absolutely perfect work.


    Career or just a Serious Hobby

    I never told people that I'm a writer or an aspiring writer until a few months ago. However, if any of you are writers or know writers, you know that writing takes up a huge amount of time. So when people ask you to come out and join them for drinks or dinner and you're constantly saying, "I'm busy", they either think you have a boyfriend (and try to encourage you to bring him along) or they think you're up to something suspicious. For me, it's usually the latter. And then people pry, and so hopelessly you tell them, and the look of bewilderment on their faces is priceless.

    Not only do I write fantasy (, I like to draw pictures that go along with my stories. See the one above. This means that I need even more time than most writers . . . which brings me to my current philosophical dilemma of what is a job? And what do you call a career and what do you refer to as just a hobby? Is a career a type of daily habit you put yourself through for monetary gain and material satisfaction while a hobby is a regular habit you look forward to for spiritual gain and soul satisfaction?

    This isn't the first time I've been grappling with the question of what is a job? In fact, I wrote about it in this blog three years ago:

    I believe the answer lies in a balance of something in between: a career needs to be a daily habit that you look forward to for both monetary gain and soul satisfaction.

    Now, there will be people out there who would argue that monetary gain is soul satisfaction. To them, I would say, "Find a hobby."


    That Negative Chicken

    I recently went to a writing workshop where the guest speaker encouraged every writer to put away "that negative voice." That negative voice, according to her, is the voice that tells you that you aren't talented enough, that no one wants to read your story, that you'll never be published, etc. It's the voice that creeps up on you as you stare at the computer screen too afraid to pull out the words that are just bursting from your soul.

    I looked around me in that room of 15 persons and saw heads nodding vigorously. I nodded, too, but I wasn't really feeling her words. I don't have such an articulate negative voice. The negative voice in my head sounds more like a chicken.

    It started when I was little, like six or seven years old. I was with my classmates on a playground and we were comparing jokes or stories, or something like that, and I said something that I thought was relevant and funny, but it fell flat. And all around me I saw the faces of my peers turn into sneers and frowns.


    The sound wasn't coming from them, it was coming from me -- inside my head. I quickly shut up and contemplated that chicken voice. 

    This would continue through my adolescent years -- especially my adolescent years. In fact, the chicken voice would precede my own words. Self-conscious and yearning to be accepted, I was nervous each time I spoke up to say something witty, and the anxiety of it all would create a clucking chaos in my head. The result would be something like this, "And so um, like yesterday -- BWOK! Like I went back home bok!bok!BWAAAAk! And like my dog, oh my god --BWOK!-- he was like sleeping on his back and bok!bok!bok!bok! and my dog, like I said he was like um sleeping on his back..." It would be painful to even get through the simplest sentences.

    Fast forward to being an adult and writing a book -- thank god I don't inadvertently type chicken noises in my stories, but there are times when I'm speaking with my editor and trying to justify why a character does or says something that that nasty chicken voice pops up.

    "You see Drev has to say that because he's in love with Pamina but doesn't know it -- not yet." (BWOK!)

    Editor continues, "I think you should shorten it. It drags."

    (bok.bok.bok.) "Drags?" (BWAAAK!)

    "Yeah, it doesn't push the story along."

    "Okay." (bok.)

    I've never told anyone about my chicken. I had been waiting for someone to publicly acknowledge their chicken demon before I did. And then after their initial confession, I would step up and commiserate but not fully confess that I had a full blown chicken in my head. However, I recently discovered that such a situation wouldn't happen, because having a chicken in one's head is unusual.

    A couple of weeks ago I was at Aunt Charlie's, waiting for a friend to get up on stage and sing in drag when a gentleman next to me explained his difficulty with self-confidence: How he just couldn't approach men, no matter how much he wanted to. He could talk to women fine. But when it came to the unfairer sex he was at a loss for words. 

    "You ever get that feeling? When the words ... they're just stifled, like they're being blocked by something?" he asked me.

    I admit that I had had a drink and was not thinking clearly and assumed he was referring to his negative chicken.

    "Yes," I said. "I've had this problem since I was a kid."

    "Yeah, me, too."

    "I call it the negative chicken."

    "Oh, I get it. Like you're scared or something."

    "No, it's a chicken sound that resonates in my head before and after I speak, and even sometimes when I'm speaking." 

    He pulled away from me and gave me a look like I was the craziest freak he ever met. Of all places! I was in a gay bar in the Tenderloin, waiting for men of all shapes and sizes to get up and sing in drag -- and I'm the freak?!

    He raised his eyebrows, took a sip of his drink and walked away from the bar. That's when I knew that I'm one of the very few with a negative chicken. Or at least, one of the few brave enough to admit it.

    Now that it's out in public, I invite you all to tell me about your negative chicken(s). It's okay if you have more than one, we're all here to support one another. My chicken happens to be a ginormous GMO mutant.

    I'm opening this discussion for all of those who have suffered far too long in silence, ashamed of their poultry pests. Don't be shy, we'll stop the BWAK! together.


    Recovering from the plague

    I was sick for a week. It would come and go, and then come back again. And last weekend I was bed-ridden -- wheezing with dry, hoarse gasps.

    So I didn't necessarily have the bubonic plague that killed scores of people centuries before but I felt like it was death. Yes, I did. I became dramatic about it when I lost my voice and googled "swine flu" and "bird flu" and began to diagnose myself with all the symptoms remotely resembling mine. I convinced myself that I had the rare but absolutely fatal swinebird flu -- imagine a pig with wings who's blue in the face -- that's what I had.

    I'd lie in bed coughing too hard to fall back asleep and I would think back to all the other times I thought I was going to die. There were two exact times: when I was 23 and when I was 26.

    When I was 23, I was poor and in Paris. I had caught a god-awful strain of the flu that ended up swelling the insides of my neck so that I couldn't even swallow my own saliva. I had to sleep sitting up, and it was exhausting. The only way I could get the swelling to go down just a tad was to take ibuprofen. Luckily, I had a bottle of Advil (Costco size) with me and I took two pills every two hours. I think there's a warning on there that says do not take more than 6 pills within a 24 hour period. That did not apply to me since I was dying. At that time, in bed, I wore two long-sleeved shirts, a wool sweater, a wool overcoat, stockings, a pair of pants and a scarf. I wore this winter refugee outift for two and a half days until I realized I could swallow something more than liquids.

    The other time I thought I was going to die was in Beijing. I had already been living there for three and a half months when I spent a weekend in a student dormitory and had eaten something fowl. There was vomiting and diarrhea, to say the least, but what I remember most is being curled up in fetal position on the cold urine stinking tiled floor and thinking "Oh god, my life is ending next to a Chinese squat toilet."

    While I was sick this time around, I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried again -- because I was waxing melancholy I needed harsh reality stories from the Vietnam War to pull me back to what real pain was. There's a story in there about when Tim and another man from his unit are loading KIAs to be taken away and they have to haul bloated bodies. And then his friend turns to him and tells him, "Death sucks."

    Death does suck especially when there's stuff you still want to do within your lifetime. I shouldn't get so dramatic anymore everytime I get sick.


    The clothes do make the man

    Muni is a hub for all sorts: yuppies, crazies, hipsters, homeless, etc. If you live in San Francisco, then you have taken a ride on a Muni bus at some point. The 14 is especially a magnet for the psychodelics, vagabonds and schizophrenics (yes, in that order). I happen to ride the 14 most often and I'm always thankful if I get through a ride without any incident happening on the bus.

    It's a bad ride and everyone keeps to themselves except for the occasional evangelical, Jesus hating, lithium addict carrying a flea-ridden sleeping bag like Linus. Most passengers are so preoccupied with their phone to even turn their head if someone collapses on the floor of the bus.

    However, yesterday when I got on at 5th and Mission, there was a Santa Claus on board sitting near the front of the bus. I figured he ended his workday and like the rest of us he just wanted to get home and not be bothered by anyone. But I was wrong. When a ragged, dusty almost homeless person came on board and couldn't keep his balance as the bus lurched forward, the Santa Claus caught his arm and said, "Hey there, you okay?" I saw everyone who was standing turn their head in shock at this display of niceness.

    I thought it was an isolated incident, but when the bus came to Eighth and Mission, the heart of junkie town, Santa gave up his seat for a ragged old woman who couldn't keep her pants on over her hips. I thought more about who would sit in that seat after she was gone than I did about Santa's generosity. But now that I think about, that was quite generous of Santa.  And when an old man on a cane nearly fell over while standing on the bus because no one would give up their seat for him, Santa told him to hold his red velvety arm.

    Was it the clothes? I'm sure under the suit and hat there's one of us in there -- a selfish, easily repulsed, scornful being with an acerbic sense of humor. But whatever was going on, Santa stayed in character even after his workday was over. I was impressed. I truly believe it was the clothes.

    Santa got off at South Van Ness and Mission. We were all sad to see him go, especially a lithium addict who screamed out as Santa left, "God bless you and America!" Santa waved bye to him. I waved bye at Santa.