28 March 2015
14 March 2015
I take to writing when I need to get things out of my head. The following events occurred over the past week.
Have you ever been to a Chinese funeral or a memorial service? I have not.
Custom states that when a death occurs in a Chinese family, all statues of deities in the house are covered in red paper and all mirrors are removed from the house. Joss paper is burned continuously throughout the wake. Funeral guests are required to light incense. During the wake, there is usually a group of people gambling in front of the deceased’s house because the corpse must be guarded. The gambling helps the “guards” stay awake during this vigil and lessens the grief of the participants. After the funeral, prayers are said every 7 - 10 days for 49 days. A period of mourning is generally 100 days, for which family members wear a specific colored cloth on their sleeve.
The Chinese believe that seven days after the death of a loved one, the soul of the departed will return to their home. A red plaque may be placed outside the home to insure the soul does not get lost.
I have been so angry and confused for the past week.
People handle things in such varied and different ways. Over Christmas break, my dad and I were having a conversation about pain. He told me that you can never compare how you feel pain with how someone else feels pain. We were talking about being sick with the flu or having a cold, but that bit of advice goes such a long way.
My best friend and the person I had been dating for the past 8 months, Ben, committed suicide last weekend. That’s the hardest sentence to type. Part of me feels like that is no one’s business except for his family and friends. But part of me feels like it’s important to say or type out, as a way of coming to terms with it.
Suicide sucks. I don’t think there is anyone on the planet who might think differently when it comes to that statement.
Ben was a great person. He liked to build things and write things and cook things. He kept a blog of poems and stories he wrote on Tumblr. And we had a notebook that we would mail back and forth to each other, filling it with letters and stories and drawings. I would send him things from Singapore and he would send me things from Texas. It was a magical exchange that I will treasure forever.
I went to Dallas and Nashville and Baltimore for my Christmas break. We met up in Dallas and it was truly amazing. We had a great time together—it was like no time had passed and we were no longer living millions of miles apart. I got to meet his parents and learn about him by spending actual time with him. He flew to Nashville for New Year’s Eve, and the magic continued. We cooked meals together and went on walks. We took long drives out in the country and hung out with my nephews. I showed him around Nashville and we had an incredible steak dinner.
While I was in Baltimore for my winter session of graduate school, we Skyped every day. We were together.
We met in second grade. Upon our reconnection, he contacted me via Facebook. I remember telling him that all I could think of when we were messaging was that he was this kid that my second grade teacher held by the ankles upside-down in front of the class because he had swallowed something. She just kind of shook him about. We laughed.
We began talking daily. Soon after, I started remembering all sorts of things about him. Specifically things from high school. He loved talking about high school. Retelling stories about his friends, talking about parties he went to, traveling down memory lane. I—on the other hand—did not. I wasn’t really present in high school, nor was I fond of where I grew up. But we continued talking. It was interesting to relive high school through his memories.
We Skyped, texted, messaged, and emailed about everything. I was in Singapore, he was in the States. Ben was in a tough place. But he was positive and making some really amazing progress. He was the strongest person I knew, and I was so proud to know him.
His mother contacted me about 20 minutes before my first class was to arrive for their art lesson. It’s amazing how our brains work. I compartmentalized the news she gave me and taught my classes for the day. That night, my friend and neighbor art teacher K came over and we went to dinner. Nothing fancy. We went to KFC because nothing else was available at the time. I hadn’t eaten KFC since I was in high school, so it seemed oddly appropriate. I was thankful for her company and the distraction it provided me. I got home in time to Skype with a graduate school buddy, S. She was understanding and did not make a big deal out of the news when I told her. I needed that. I needed the calm.
The next day, I woke up at 2am and read the news about his upcoming memorial service on Facebook. I stayed awake thinking about things. I thought about his friends from high school, who were also my friends at that time. We didn’t really hang out, but we had all grown up together and managed in some way or another to stay in touch through various social media outlets. I thought about his parents. I thought about his brothers and sister, and his two beautiful sons. I went to school, spoke to the school counselor about everything that was going on, taught my classes, and then spent the evening at my friend S and J’s house.
S and J hosted my 40th birthday party at their apartment. They are awesome, passionate friends of mine that I have been so incredibly blessed to meet, here in Singapore. S is such a great person to talk to about Ben. I started to express anger a bit about the situation, asking unanswerable questions. Why didn’t he contact me? Why didn’t anyone tell me that he had taken a turn for the worse? Why did he shut me out? Why, why, why? She kept it real. She basically told me not to go down that path. She’s not a sugar-coater, but at the same time she gave me hugs and patted my arm when I started to talk nonsensicals. I walked home from her house on the damp, fresh from rain streets of Little India. I thought about Ben the entire time, specifically his facial expressions and how--when I looked at him--I could no longer see the little boy with white/blonde hair that was held upside down by our teacher.
I woke up the next day at 2am again. This time I tried to figure out what stage of grief I was in. I thought it would help if I could look at this process practically. I decided I was still firmly planted in anger, but on the cusp of bargaining. I thought about all of the unanswered questions I had. I started thinking not very nice things. I kept whispering over and over again, as I laid in bed: “This is what you wanted: attention, people adoring you, support, immeasurable love.”
He had all of those things, but he wouldn’t take notice of them. Or it wasn’t enough. Nothing was ever enough. I was angry.
Here are the 5 stages of grief:
I believe in angels and spirits. Every time someone close to me has died, they have always come back to say hello or comfort me in some way. My 3 grandparents and my friend, Pat. My experience with Pat’s spirit was by far the most phenomenal experience. After Pat’s funeral, I was flying back to Austin, and this whoosh of his spirit rushed over me—like a hug—when the plane took off. I knew it was him, because I could so very plainly see his face.
I know that sounds crazy. But it’s my way of dealing with things, so leave me be.
The last day of the week was extremely busy. For once I slept through the night. I was co-running workshops for a middle school conference while trying to attend a day of professional development. I was in better spirits. I attribute this to the interesting happenings from the day before, and that I was surrounded by awesome students and supportive teachers all day long. I also received a job offer via email. (Yay!) After our work at the conference was complete, my friend S drove me to the Tanglin Club for dinner, drinks, and relaxation. We sat outside by the pool and watched families and kids for about 3 hours. She convinced me to attend Holi with several friends on Sunday.
Saturday was another conference day. I slept through the night again. Only this time, something new happened: I woke up crying. I laid in bed thinking about how no one would ever see Ben again. It was heartbreaking. He was a really good person. He just had some big hills to get over. Why was I so far away in Singapore? Why couldn’t we help him get over these hills? Where had the hold up been? How could he have lasted as long as he did and just now give up? Why didn’t he reach out to me? Why didn’t he reach out to me? WHY DIDN’T HE REACH OUT TO ME?
I went to day two of the middle school conference. I spoke with teacher friends about whether they thought I should go to the memorial service or not, and how hard it must be to write an obituary. I even had my friend S try and describe me in 3 words. She could only come up with two: crazy and creative. I came home, sent off another cover letter, and returned emails. Then I slept.
I woke up from my nap crying again. I’ve been watching TED talks about suicide and life choices. Again: I'm trying to experience things from a practical place instead of an emotional place. I call this research, and it’s definitely part of my grief process.
Tonight I will Skype with my friend D. She went to elementary school with Ben. And I also met D for the first time in second grade. We’ve known each other for 33 years. She is the support I need now, and I’m so incredibly thankful for her.
Tomorrow is Sunday. Tomorrow is Holi: the celebration of spring.
Sunday was Ben’s favorite day. He was the only person that I willingly agreed to go to church with.
Rest in peace, my sweet man.
- denial and isolation
19 February 2015
1. Turning 40. From the time I turned 39 until June 11th of 2015, I will be celebrating my 40th birthday. I mean I had the year leading into my 40's and then the year that I was 40, which is still happening. That's 2 full years of goodness! Sometimes the celebrations have been small, sometimes they were personal in nature, sometimes they involved overcoming fears, and sometimes they were bigger, more exciting undertakings. I had a small little gathering of people I met in Singapore for a more traditional birthday party, thrown at my friend Sasha's house. It was a fun night, filled with people and drinks and food and dancing. I got my nose pierced on the street in India. And I took myself to New York City for a little 3 day adventure before heading into my second summer of graduate school. It's been a really wonderful 2 years, and continues to be. So--definitely--turning 40 was a highlight!
2. Attending an Indian Wedding in Delhi. For Spring Break last year, I decided to join some friends in India. I knew I wanted to go back to India, especially since I had a 6 month visa. Plus, I loved it so much the first time around . . . So when I was invited to my friend's son's wedding, I knew this would be the occasion to go! And it was such a fun experience! I spent part of the week in Jaipur, and part of the week in Delhi. I felt like I was at Mardi Gras. There was dancing and food, fireworks and marching bands. Everyone was dressed up and smiling and laughing. It was one of the best celebrations I have ever attended. Hands down!
3. Making a 4' x 8' Foot Equality Banner. Over the summer, I was part of a really great show called GUTSY: Taking the Fear Factor out of Feminism. I included a hand sewn banner with words on it. The words were direct quotes from students--young people between the ages of 5 and 18--who I had asked to define feminism, in their own words. I actually got some flack about this piece. But they were direct quotes, so I wasn't going to change anything. I actually think it says a lot more than people are giving it time for . . . And I absolutely love it.
4. Rowing to an Island. As I mentioned above, some of the things I have done this year were attempts at making me stronger or overcoming my fears (specifically of water, and being surround by it). My initial want for going to Borneo was to learn how to scuba dive. But upon further investigation, I wasn't ready. So instead, I rowed to an island and back. Round trip--with a 30 minute splash break--took about 6 hours. And I had a sunburn for the next 4 weeks to prove to myself that I had really done it. It was an amazing experience, and probably one of the most rewarding things I've done since moving to Southeast Asia.
5. My New Website. Oh my goodness! If I had to spend the time doing this alone, it never would have happened. I am so thankful to have found the girls behind Public Culture (thank you, Fictive Fingers). They helped me organize several years of work into an updateable and affordable online portfolio. Art + Community + Teaching: all in one neat little package! Find out more! Please take a moment and visit www.cakecrush.com. Click on everything when you get there! Make sure you see what's behind every little link . . . Enjoy!
6. Seeing Justin Timbo Live. The 40th birthday that keeps on giving . . . 4 months after I turned 40, I went to see Justin Timberlake in Perth, Australia. I had splurged on a ticket back in February, when they went on sale. I figured it was the closest he would get to Singapore, and I was right. Once I got to Perth, and into the arena, I realized I would be front row center. Now that's a concert! One of the greatest shows I've seen in a really long time . . . Right up there with Prince! Happy birthday to me!
7. Making a Woven Hut With Community. One of the most interesting groups of people that I've had the absolute pleasure of working with were the senior citizens from the Bedok neighborhood. I've never seen such energy in all of my life! We built two little magical huts together, both in a very short amount of time. Inventive, engaging, and enthusiastic! I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
8. Starting an Etsy Shop. I never wanted to do this, but I always wanted to do this. (I know, it's very confusing.) I had a hard time trying to figure out how I could be a part of the Etsy community. But somehow--within a month's time--I've managed to figure it out. I list banners, bunting, notecards, and ornaments. Most of my items are made out of felt, which is my guilty pleasure. And everything is hand sewn. I can't wait to start putting together treasuries and advertising the shop more! All in good time, folks . . . Have a peak! Shop around! Hand delivery available in Singapore, Fed-Ex shipping available worldwide. Cakecrushonthetown on Etsy! Yay!
9. Participating in Holi. I'm not into color runs or getting wet in public. But something about this experience was really exciting . . . It's the welcoming of Spring--who doesn't love that? Each person is handed a small bag of powdered dye. And someone has a hose, or a bucket in most cases. Dye goes a long way when water is involved. And red is definitely the strongest color. But what fun! Everyone wears white, and the color and water just flies through the air. Anyone is a target, and the looks you get riding home on the subway, dripping wet and colorful, are priceless. It's great fun! And my Diplo shirt has never been the same.
10. My Second Summer of Graduate School at MICA. This past summer was an incredibly fruitful 6 weeks. I went into the summer knowing that I would spend most of my time making videos. But I had no idea how I was going to do it. I had always dreamed of making videos, but never liked the idea of sitting at a computer to make art. So in order to make it happen, I made the filming part active. I had friends come into the space with me and dress me. Then they would leave, and that's when I would film the movements. The movements were based on various situations I would find myself in, while living abroad. It was a really fun way for me to get through the shooting part of the video, and it made me more excited to sit down behind a computer to see how I could piece everything together. You can see some of the videos here and here. I can't wait until the summer of 2015! More fun on the way! (This program is flying by way too fast . . . )
11. My Second Batik Made in Bali. The first time I went to Bali, I wanted to do something creative with my time there. So I researched Ubud and found a great little studio that teaches day long workshops on batik. My friend Cheryl went with me and we each spent about 6 - 8 hours learning the process and creating. My first batik project went to my sister, Kerry. You can see it here. This past year, when I made my annual Thanksgiving trip to Bali, I visited Widya's Batik again and this time I made a piece for my mom. I felt much more relaxed creating the second piece. I splattered the dye on the ends of the muslin and painted the piece much more quickly than I had done previously. I would love to start attempting to do this in my home studio on costuming projects. I found a process that uses Elmer's glue. It works great, but it's not as authentic. The search continues . . .
12. Being Part of James and the Giant Peach. I know that I waxed on and on about this project in the post I wrote a few weeks back. So I'll lay low a bit here, and just encourage you to read all about it. It was an amazing collaboration, and I was so honored to be a part of it. Request to the masses: more theatre projects, please!
13. Making Lanterns With 11th Graders. We are partially through this massive community undertaking, but we are definitely making headway. This project began in September of 2014, and I have had a great time working with our 11th graders. Taking inspiration from Baltimore's community lantern parade, we are creating lanterns to help celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday party. Lanterns are a huge part of Southeast Asian celebrations--all of them--so we thought this was the perfect combination of cultural relevance and creativity. We spent a few weeks teaching the 11th graders how to build and make lanterns. Then, in turn, they attend community events in our school's neighborhood where they teach this process back to participants. Teaching and learning, community and creativity . . . All in one project! Check out the unicorn costume lantern I am currently working on for my co-teacher, Sarah. I love it!
14. Dune Bashing in Dubai. Last February I was sent to a PYP conference in Dubai. It was a fun weeklong trip, where I got to meet several art educators from around the world (music teachers, art teachers, and theatre teachers). After the conference was over, we had about a day's time before our outgoing flight. So we spent the day in the desert, dune bashing and eating amazing foods. It was an absolute blast! I felt like I was on a movie set for Star Wars. The UAE is a magical and interesting place!
Honorable Mention: Stellar Swimming Pool Portraits. Last November, my second graders began self-portraits based on David Hockney's swimming pool paintings. We will be showing them in the library next month. They are the most interesting portraits I have ever seen. I had them imagine what they thought they looked like when they were under water or when they were just about to jump in . . . I'm really so proud of their attention to detail in these portraits and how careful they were in creating them. Not to mention, they worked really large, which is super challenging for second graders. Look out for more on this project soon! In the meantime, have a look at this interview with David Hockney.
15 February 2015
I love Bali. And Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays . . . Every year for the last 3 years that I've been living in Singapore, I have made my way to Bali for the Thanksgiving holidays. It's about a 2 and a half hour flight, so it's totally worth it.
The first year found me river rafting and batiking with friends. The second year found me totally relaxed, eating Thanksgiving dinner from a bathtub filled with flowers out on a deck above a river while watching Elf on my laptop.
This year found me almost completely alone, except for a yoga instructor and a masseuse. I had my very own villa, and I also went back to Widya's Batik Studio, where I had gone during my first trip.
My hope for the holiday weekend was to get a lot of writing done for a little side project that I am working on . . . I kept thinking, private villa: what else would I do? Yeah, right! Do you know how much fun it is to have your own tiny pool? And to be able to schedule a massage or yoga whenever you want? Or take a shower outside, in the rain? I was completely spoiled, and felt like I was living in an upside down, mixed-up world.
The first night I was there, I got in touch with a teacher I met during my second visit to Bali. She runs creative classes in Ubud for community children. And she had recently moved the studio to a new space. It was in one of those really cool dome-style tent structures. She had invited me to a bowl-playing performance. It was super interesting and completely out of my comfort zone.
Many people know that I do not relax very well (or at all) . . . So when I was told that we would be laying on our backs in the dark listening to the performance, I got a little concerned. How long was this performance going to be? Will there be bugs? What if I fall asleep by accident?
It turned out to be really interesting. And so light, airy, and spatial sounding. It's kind of hard to explain, but have a listen! You can even hear all of the chirping bugs outside! It was magical! And, yes, there were bugs. A cricket was on me for the entire performance . . .
When I got back to my villa, my Thanksgiving dinner was ready to go. Talk about amazing! It was incredible . . . The food at this place was just spectacular. And the staff was so friendly! They even organized a wonderful Gamelan performance. Just for me! Two music performances in one day! (Love Bali, LOVE!)
The next morning I woke up to a beautiful, frothy latte by the pool. I wrote for a couple of hours before heading off to my batik appointment.
I don't know how much you all know about traditional batik. But it is an all day affair. It takes anywhere between 6 and 8 hours . . . Maybe even up to two day trips, to complete a piece. Mine take about 8 hours because I'm less fussy about how things come out. I let the batik do what the batik is gonna do . . .
I loved being back at Widya's studio. There are so many animals around that I tend to get distracted easily. I didn't ask where the cow had gone that was there before. I'm pretty sure he became a meal . . . Or several. But there were bunnies, purple and pink colored baby chicks, dogs, and koi.
I loved that this hen found it necessary to sit on her babies to keep me away from them. I didn't know that hens did that . . . But every time I went near her, they would scurry under her for protection.
The most tedious and time-consuming part of batik is waxing the drawing onto the muslin. My goodness it takes forever! I tend to be a color girl . . . So I will generally do whatever it takes to get me to the colorful part. So I tend to speed through the wax process. (You might see some drips in that picture above.) Finally after a few layers, I was ready to add the color.
I really liked the design I chose this time. It was Ganesha, but I switched up the background. I combined a honeycomb pattern with giant palm fronds. And then attacked it with color.
I splattered dye onto the ends where the design wasn't, the tops and bottoms of the piece.
Here's a quickie video of the acid bath and boiling water that the piece goes through after it has completely set in the sun.
I loved how it turned out! My mother was the recipient of this piece for Christmas. My sister received the last piece I created at Christmas 2012. Just look at that purple!
I ended up getting back to my village just before a light rain began.
I went to the house just above where I was staying to visit their pigs. They were quite talkative, so I had to see what all of the chatter was about. I'm telling you: one of these days I will get a pig or two!
Due to rain, I spent the rest of the evening in my space. I worked on writing and drinking coffee for the next couple of hours. It was perfect.
On my last full day in Bali, I woke up really early so that I could go into the village for the market. I hate shopping and malls, but markets are completely different. I could walk around at markets for hours at a time. I love all of the colors and the foods and items for sale. Lots of the items that I took pictures of are used in religious customs as offerings.
After my early morning visit to the market, I decided to go on a walk around the village. I spent about 2 hours walking around taking pictures.
It was such a gorgeous day and I was completely surrounded by green and beauty. More days like this, please!!
And that was it! My Thanksgiving weekend was over . . . Generally speaking, it takes me two blogposts to cover Bali each Thanksgiving. But since the bulk of what I did was write, walk, and eat marvelous foods, I felt the pictures could do more for this post in one take then spreading it across two.
In case you are curious, here are the links to my other Thanksgivings in Bali.
Up next? A countdown of creative happenings from 2014 . . . Enjoy!