half n half (the coffee of university)

note: slightly anachronistic. text was written a month ago, and I hadn’t gotten around to editing and completing until now

Will the human heart ever find satisfaction in its current situation? Just a month ago, in the whirlwind of final projects, exams, and meaningless assignments, all I wanted was some respite from endless deadlines. Now, I’m back at home. I miss some extent of the structure of that life and satisfying sense of victory upon completion of a (meaningless) assignment.

As I’m sitting in my stuffy, under-air-conditioned room that reminds me of high school nights and a younger, more naive version of myself, I just wanted to write a bit before I lose this fleeting sense of nostalgia and introspection.

This past year of college was exhausting but soul-lifting. I feel weird and self-aggrandizing saying this, but I’ve come so far from where I was last year. It’s hard to internalize just how much I’ve grown as a human being. Most importantly, I’m more sure of who I am these days than I ever was in the past. I’m still trying to establish my own metric for meaningfully judging what it means to be a ‘good human.’ How do you measure kindness, love, self-growth, worth as a human being?

In June of 2017, I was living and working in Philly. I was sleeping sporadically, living each day passively. That summer, I learned how to slow down and make time for myself. I visited art museums and sat in the corner stealthily sketching stony-faced busts (literally carved from stone) in my 8 by 11 sketchbook, walked with no aim around the city at night, grew an affinity for gazing at sunsets from obscure rooftops, and made plans for myself by myself.

How to practice self compassion? And compassion for every being? How to live? To live without gripping fears of whether I’d amount to anything meaningful on this earth, whether I’d add value to someone’s life? To live without self-doubt impressing every step I took? To live without neurotic lapses of thought into the future, a place so foreign and abstract that there was no feeling outside of fear? Becoming ok again was a matter of just living. Just going through each day and getting out of bed. Some days were shit, and some days were ok. But as I went through the motions, I was able to collect big and little beams of light. Maybe on a magical Thursday, I was overwhelmed with how beautifully and radiantly the evening light bounced off the city’s skyline. The next day would be a thunderstorm in the brain, but then Saturday would bring a kind smile from an acquaintance. An intro to Buddhism class I took this past semester helped me learn to be ok with this arbitrary ebb and flow. Although every aspect of life is ungrounded and wildly random, I keep my footing by keeping my caprices in check and shifting my viewpoint, from a victim of the world to a simple actor in this play.

An amnesiac of time. With minutes, hours, days, and months, the little good things would stack up. As I added all these experiences in my backpack of life, they were like little papers of light–they stacked up on top of the raw, visceral loneliness, pain, whatever lay at the core. And in moments of darkness, I referenced my records of light and remembered the inconsequential, yet beautiful things that made me glad to be alive.

So often, when I reach small milestones, I’ll look back and wince at my regret. Why couldn’t I let myself live? Why was I so unhappy for such a disproportionate portion of this time? Why did I become mired in the small upsets of daily life, in the bits that ended up not mattering? How could I become so caught up in my own web of discontent? Why did I never feel full? And how do I become whole from here?

One of the most important things I’ve learned is to be explicit with gratitude. Nobody owes you anything. Really. Any kindness that’s ever shown towards you is something that another human has taken time and thought out of their day for to help you and boost you up in some way. To me, that’s the closest thing to magic that we have in our small, humble, human lives.

“we all go through the same things, no one cares. life is full of shit, so go do whatever you believe is best.”

All in all, this past year was good. I wanted to share this vlog I made (can you believe I actually followed through on this?! :D) which isn’t entirely representative of my life as a student…but such is the awesomeness of youth. Every day is wildly different!

Advertisements

woodcut

woodcut_headerwoodcut_video_stills

Intro: This past semester, I took an intro to printmaking class at university. Wanting to capitalize on expensive art resources like risograph printers and printing presses, I figured printmaking was a great way to learn an unconventional and entirely unfamiliar medium of art at relatively low cost (well I still pay tuition…)

The first class project was a woodcut print. We decided to center our sketches on the theme “balance,” decided through a very democratic, pain-staking voting process within our 11-person class. This project spanned about 6 weeks, and we were required to make an edition of ten (i.e. ten of the same print).

Interesting side note: to resize store-bought paper, it’s part of the woodcut tradition to tear the paper (as opposed slicing it with scissors or blades).

Process: Bought woodcutting blades and blocks of wood (surprisingly expensive). Finalized preliminary sketches. Made a sketch onto actual block of wood. Spent hours thinking of color separations and how to partition out my color layers. Weeks of carving out each color layer on the same block of wood. Used exacto knife for more detailed sections and clean lines. For each color layer, I inked up my board with relief ink. The process was pretty tedious, as I had to make sure the board was clean and contaminant-free. It’s close to impossible to be rid of all the little chips of wood left over from the carving stage. But these insidious little pieces create an uneven surface while asserting pressure from the press, so often times, the area around these tiny villains won’t print. Finally, the cleaning process at the end of class is a whole other gamut. I’ll just say that I had to leave at least an extra 30 minutes in order to make sure all the painting breyers and paints were cleaned up thoroughly (with vegetable and baby oil).

Artist statement: 

What does it look like to be sated, in the heart, in the mind, in the soul?
My subject matter is relationship between human and nature. Hasui Kawase, a prominent landscape artist in Japan during the 20th century, it is clear that nature is an irrevocable backdrop to the human experience.
In Buddhist teachings, the world is characterized by the ‘three marks of existence’: impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anatta). Recognizing anicca means seeing the ebb and flow of life, the wearing of mountains, the cycle of birth and death, the flux of highs and lows. It is a rare thing to find a feeling of clarity and inner peace. My purpose here as an artist is to archive these fleeting moments in an honest way.

Overall, I really enjoyed this project. The slow, meticulous process of physically carving into wood is surprisingly meditative and cathartic. Furthermore, this form of printmaking challenged my ways of thinking and my indecisive bent. Clearly, the physical removal of material is a very binary decision. Either the wood is there or it’s not. Once a decision is made, it’s final and completely irreversible. For decision-paralyzed human beings like me, this is an art process dreamt up from a nightmare. I had to heavily discipline my old mushy, draw-as-many-confusing-lines-as-possible-to-abstract-my-drawings ways (see preliminary sketch) and be a cool-headed + decisive bean.

Some of my favorite woodcut artists include Hasui Kawase.

kawase_morning
Late Autumn in Lake Yamanaka. source
kawase
Wisteria at Kameido. source
hasui
Hayama at Iyo. source

I also love this woodcut of Grinnell Glacier by Todd Anderson (think of the crazy color separations!!)

grinnell_glacierTA1
Grinnell Glacier. source

sketchbook

art_history_sketchbook

Last semester, I was lucky to fall into an art history class called “Architect and History.” I added the class after hearing that the professor, Lothar Haselberger, was going to retire after the fall. Even though there were some sleepy classes, and I have only foggy memories of some of Haselberger’s slide decks, this class was one of the most interesting, perspective-widening ones I’ve taken at Penn. The class is structured around lectures, readings, and excursions. Every Friday, we visited different buildings situated in and around Philly, and the professor would share the historical context and interesting architectural elements of that particular building. As a student stuck in my campus bubble, I rarely make the time to explore the city, and even less so to examine the architecture of its buildings. These excursions were truly gems–a quirky way to get to know Philly and learn a bit more about its history.

I think the mark of a good class is one that changes the way you see the world. Since fall, I’ve started looking at the world differently, trying to understand the difference between simply looking at and truly seeing buildings and their architectural elements, cultural significance, and historical context. The professor’s passion for art history is genuinely inspiring and infectious, and it communicates through all his lectures, excursions, and presentations.

This is the kind of class that I want to comprise my undergraduate education. It truly embodies the value of the liberal arts. For an engineering student like myself, this class has been a welcome breath of fresh air amongst my highly technical classes, where I sometimes struggle to immerse myself in the clear-cut, analytical content. I see more clearly the links architecture has with the technicals of engineering but also the pure, unadulterated artistry of it. Professor Haselberger has encouraged me to think more critically, analyze more closely, and be more creative in my view of the world.

oslo photo journal

Oslo is the last segment of my spring break travels. Happy heart happy stomach…the city is very metropolitan and urban, a sharp contrast from the coziness of Stockholm. This modernity is especially reflected in the architecture. Scandinavian design/art/architecture is quite renowned, and I hope to research more about these things!

A7D57950-063C-49DA-9498-07ABD4C234F9
Mall complex by the water

5B218236-37B3-415D-8779-E2A006758F89Processed with VSCO with a1 presetE6A795DB-33BB-4F96-A48B-CCE210820529

This (above) is the Oslo Opera House. The building is a collection of diagonals, with glass lining the facades. To the side, visitors can walk up the slope created by the slanted facade to a beautiful outlook of the water. On the slope, I spotted a child playing in the snow with his father. I had to capture this moment, in an attempt to remember the contagious happiness I felt from watching this kid. My friends and I all trekked up the slope, with only a few casualties on the slippery spots of the snow. As I got to the top, I was laughing and trying my best not to slip with my friends. It’s this simple moment that I remember the most.

I hadn’t stopped to fully appreciate this spring break trip with my friends until this point in time. I’m not sure I can fully describe it, but I was overcome with a feeling of thankfulness and simple lightness of the heart. Did that make any sense? What I mean is my heart felt full, and this arbitrary experience is one that is imbued with meaning and kinship for me…

Perhaps this is travel’s allure. I am fascinated by the way places on the map can carry specific, ineffable feelings and experiences. These locales have memory.

5CF807B7-A53B-425D-8FC6-F751CDFADF63Processed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with a3 presetProcessed with VSCO with a1 presetProcessed with VSCO with a1 preset

I am so thankful I got to experience this spring break in an eye-opening, heart-filling location with my friends! Until the next adventure.

stockholm photo journal

Timestamp: March 5-7

Two months later, I am finally sitting down and reflecting on Spring Break. I can’t remember much about Stockholm to be honest. The city has a quaint, old-city charm. I stopped at almost every alleyway to take a picture because I have a strange enamorment with small, cozy spaces, especially those created by warm and colorful streets. Reminiscing already…a small Asian girl clad in 5 layers of puffy clothing, stomping through the streets of Stockholm in her oversized snow boots and floppy black beanie…twas a good time.

Please enjoy the warm colors and sights of this city!

Processed with VSCO with a3 presetProcessed with VSCO with a1 presetProcessed with VSCO with a1 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset

As a side note, traveling with a large group of people has taught me the magic of compromise, understanding, and kindness…

pitter patter, big and small matters

IMG_5831.JPG

Hello friends, faculty, and web-wizards! I’m about to be hit with finals season, but I’m coming up for air to let the interwebs know I’m alive and (reasonably) well. Even though school gets overwhelming and still disproportionately commands my state of being, I have become better at detaching and separating small matters from big matters. I’ve learned to pause. .

and soak in the things that I value, like thoughtful conversations with humans I find so lovable and interesting, or nice weather that is rare and non-native to Philly.

I’ll be holding myself accountable–here are things that will be broadcast from this blog in the upcoming month (after the travesty of finals passes):

  • process of my woodcut print
  • process of my intaglio print
  • spring break travels: stockholm and oslo photos
  • reflections from my Buddhism class
  • architecture sketches from LAST SEMESTER (over 4 months ago…)
  • a vlog (eventually. this can be considered a *reach goal*)

slow saturday hanging out with laundry hamper

laundry.jpg

Trying to live slowly because time is passing by too quickly. It is 2pm and brightly disorienting. The sun makes me sleepy. I just had brunch with my friend at White Dog Cafe, and the food was delicious, but it was a mistake to eat solely waffles as a meal. My laundry is done, and my folded clothes are sitting on my bed, dissipating heat and waiting to be neatly tucked back into their respective locales inside my closet.

… fast forward …

It is 12:35am, and I am listlessly sitting in front of my computer screen, indecisive about which homework assignment to work on tonight…wasting time…I have receded from weekend fun these past few weeks to catch up on schoolwork. I feel like I barely get by, living by the seat of my pants, deadline to deadline. Yesterday was the first computer science diversity summit at Penn. With the rest of staff (I’m a teaching assistant for a CS course), I attended this event, unsure of what to expect. I walked out with a heavy, hopeful heart. Heavy because fellow peers’ accounts of sexual assault, microaggressions in the work setting, and TA misconduct at office hours made me so deeply upset. Hopeful because there are people who genuinely care, and that’s why this summit is happening in the first place. The base level of decency as a human being should be simple acceptance and inclusion of others. That’s why I’m always so disconcerted when people go out of their way to antagonize and alienate other people.

The summit left me with a lot of think about in terms of how I can be more encouraging and engaging with my students in my recitation, practice inclusivity, and be mindful of the unique experiences of underrepresented groups, experiences that I’ll never fully know or understand the pain of.

On a slightly related note, I usually stray away from being political or involved on the activist front. Navigating these spaces of complexity and deeply rooted pain is daunting to me. I feared I’d say the wrong words, that my speech wasn’t “PC” enough, and I doubted my singular actions as one tiny Asian girl human could make a tangible difference. But I want to change that static mindset. So what if I slip up and don’t sound very PC? Or don’t serve as the perfect model in the activist sphere? Any speech, any attempt at advocacy for others is worth more than doing nothing. I feel quite lucky to have been incubated from many of the experiences I heard during the summit on Friday. The least I can do is lend an ear, a thoughtful head, and a voice to those who might need it.