Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Park review: actually a bike route review

I was going to schlep up to an Oakland park today but my legs are still quite sore from a recent bike ride. I'll review that route instead, and plan better next month.

The Macarthur Boulevard bike route connecting Mills College and east Oakland with downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt results from an ongoing bike advocacy effort. It's well signed in the eastbound direction, but tricky to follow on the return trip. An unsigned route continues in the direction of westbound Macarthur Blvd to Chatham Rd, which reconnects to Macarthur via Park Blvd.

Google Maps recommends jouncing six times to avoid a one-way segment of Macarthur Boulevard from Ardley Ave near 14th St. One who miraculously follows the jounces would approach Lake Merritt from Trestle Glen, a pleasant, upscale residential neighborhood. There's also a bike route sign pointing south on 14th St but leaves a cyclist to find their own way, perhaps to Park Blvd.

Westbound, I chose to ride on the sidewalk for about a mile to stick to the direct eastbound route. Still, where the Macarthur bike lane becomes available again at Park Ave, there was no legal crossing from the eastbound side sidewalk. I watched the lights and made a dash for it. You must have a good headlight at night for the following short segment: it's elevated and unlit.

This route also requires vigilance for street safety, especially after dark. It seemed abandoned at 9pm on a Saturday and I was the sole cyclist for miles. It alternates bike lanes with shared lanes.

Its hills provide a light to moderate workout without sharp bends. I dropped my chain once, as they call for frequent gear shifts, but on a weekend night traffic was light and there was a shoulder to work in.

An irresistible bonus for this route is the Mills College campus, which has multiple entrances, the most recognizable one an arching gate on Seminary Ave. From my first visit here for an excellent contemporary music concert the stillness of the gardens and fountain resonated with fond memories of my alma mater. Spend some time walking around here once you overcome the hairy route.

Happy new year and safe riding!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

More NSFW fanart on Etsy

I added to OpenSlash some humor for fellow fans.
Wolverine the Pooh, 2013
I'm looking to bring in other heroes from the X-men, so send me your suggestions. I want the original image to be charged, whether with mystery or passion, as above. Recall that my venture into fanart began as an attempt to address the shallowness of Hollywood culture which mangles canonical characters and plotlines. An image should have potential to overturn or ridicule that culture. The climactic scene in The Last Stand with Jean and Logan alone comes to mind.

On the ground, I'm surprised how trying the logistics of scanning and printing oversize prints are turning out to be. How do young visual artists handle it? I suppose it's similar to engraving, printing, and binding scores: backbreaking tedium interrupted by infuriating technical glitches. Share your printer-scanner stories here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NSFW Etsy store featuring my first drawing in 10+ years

I'm selling prints of a large charcoal drawing of Wolverine from X-men nude, for the price of production only. I'm happy to send readers the original scan for free.

I was struck by how engaged and almost feverish I felt while working on it. I had no appetite and took only one short break. I really hadn't drawn in such detail since high school. And though 15 might have been an age to obsess about a movie star, I would not have noticed a daddy like Hugh Jackman before my transition. I didn't intend to feed this obsession, but I read about his off-stage life and he seems like an exceptionally virtuous and inspiring celebrity.

From the listing:
The image was inspired by a still from the unreleased Days of Future Past starring Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine. He is seated on a couch, recovering from a fight, his chest riddled with bulletholes. One hand curls around the neck of a bottle, the other rests lightly on what could be a Japanese sword across his lap.

It reminds me of the resilience and indomitable spirit of people who suffer oppression, especially transgenders, queers, and people of color.  
Anyone else take the X-men as a metaphor for our struggle? C'mon, Hollywood, bring it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parks: Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

Tucked behind the colossal Claremont Hotel and Spa in Berkeley is Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve. I have Mondays off work, but was surprised how many walkers and joggers I met on trail here. The fire trails were wide and badly eroded in places. One might guess it's from all the dogs off leash here.

Most of the hike was moderately steep -- the loose dirt and rocks in places made descent a serious quad and balance workout. I found that near-squatting with arms free to balance saved my descent. But the appropriately named Stonewall-Panoramic trail, which connects paved streets of those names, offers great views. The first segment from Stonewall Rd might even be wheelchair accessible, but it gets too rutted after that.

A disadvantage of recreating on a weekday is construction crews are active: a road maintenance crew filled the clean air with heavy machinery rumbles and car honks for hours. I found it odd it sounded like the same car horn sounding erratically. Still, I heard a scrub jay mimicking a hawk and numerous other birds I didn't recognize.

Most of the trail was vegetated by low shrubs with an exceptional collection of conifers including pines. The wind whirred through their leaves. I came upon the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, and further up the hill a flattened, mulched staging area with a steady breeze that seemed to originate at the Golden Gate. I wondered at the chill Pacific wind that defines so much of our climate here. Today's high didn't break 60 F, and I was alternating sweating with freezing in my sweat.

I managed to make it to a trailhead at Tilden within 2 hours. Just after I turned around, a jet plane whistled overhead and a pack of coyotes roused into a chorus of cackling and whining cries. I would not let my dog off leash here.

This could be a better day hike -- I spotted a few smaller trails that allow the intimate experience of wild lands I prefer, and Tilden is better wooded. Alas, if you're planning a visit, this trailhead will be closed for hazardous tree removal for a few weeks.

Biking: easy access from Russel St and Claremont Ave. Claremont peters out north of Russel but beware of getting doored from a parked car. 

Walking: same intersection is accessible by public transportation, just walk along Claremont to Stonewall Rd and the trailhead.

Is there a park nearby you've wanted to check out? I'll take your suggestions in the comments.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why is the contemporary classical music community so white?

I went to an evening in the series Resonance with Cheryl E. Leonard. I've been tired from the more rigorous work schedule of the school year, so I did a half-distracted self-kindness meditation before the curator of the series Wayne Grim gave a quick intro and mentioned the vastness of the sound system in that space. It was donated but cost a fortune to install and tune.

Cheryl E. Leonard makes contemporary style music using found sounds and objects. The focus of the evening was her work in Antarctica, featuring instruments made from contact mics, water mics, and mics for amplification; and local materials like penguin bones and stones.

At one point, prompted by host Sarah Cahill to describe what an abalone-like mollusk, the limpet, was, she said it was shaped like "Chinese hats". I spent the rest of the night trying to recover from this unintentional reminder of embedded racism in the classically-trained music community -- deep sadness and anger flowed through me. Why should I participate in a community whose norm silences my differences? (For those of my white readers who haven't yet had opportunity to accept, in 2,000 years of history the Chinese have sported a few different hats, and the conical shape Ms Leonard was after can be found in many east and southeast Asian communities.)

Of course the audience of 150 was all white with 4 or 5 Asians and Latinos, so I'm sure her meaning got across flawlessly. Ms Cahill simply nodded understanding and moved on.

Stereotypes aside, the complete lack of a personal dimension and motivation further distressed me: a progressive, learning institution presents a whole program of Antarctic wildlife and melting and murmurs not a word about climate change and the role of artists as agents of cultural change. It disturbed me.

My whole body ached in that chair: legs, shoulders, back. I stood up between pieces to move around but it was not enough and I still felt pain on the ride home. I regularly sit in stillness for 30 minutes and I know my usual discomforts: this was pain of circumstance.

The first piece was set up with metal fish-hook-like pendants strung across the stage. One by one, the composer, with musician Phillip Greenlief, hung home-made icicles on the hooks to drip into glass beakers. The ponderous, melodious polyphony brought me some ease. I also made a game of guessing where the light sources were because the icicles were lit blue and cast only one shadow on the projection upstage, where close-up video of the instruments in play faded in and out. As they added more hand-directed percussion to the colorful dripping, though, the sound crossed a threshold from meditation and discovery to ambient/random noise music.

Later there were rain tubes filled with sand and salt to slide back and forth and a kelp stem saxophone or kelp-ophone hissing and groaning over taped birdcalls. By the third piece I began to hear the intentional sounds as softly indistinguishable from environmental tape sounds, a woody knocking clattering not unlike cracking and tumbling ice.

I wondered why so many of the audience left after the first piece, but the Exploratorium was open and I suppose not everyone attending Resonance could resist the Siren song of 650 exhibits. Perhaps there's a more compelling explanation.

Maybe it's all just "cool sounds" to Ms Leonard, but in my ear all the ambiguity of entitlement, access, resource exploitation, exclusion, and sharing banged through the evening. I recognize that the audience's experience of a piece has as much to do with our own emotional state and ear as with the physical vibrations in the air, and I would argue that by neglecting her own story and motivations and her hopes for her listeners, Ms Leonard had lost us before the first tinkling tones.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013

Parks: Middle Shoreline Park in West Oakland

This is the first monthly review of a park from a dayjob-working, biker-hiker's perspective. Even though I work less than 30 hours a week, I usually just want to lie on the floor of my lovely room and read or listen to the radio. Every so often, though, I miss the serenity and reality I find in natural surroundings. But in an urban environment, how can we find the time and equipment to ground ourselves?

After work today I pushed my bike off the ferry and turned west instead of east homeward.

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is a little-used but well-designed and -kept gem in West Oakland. It wraps around a small harbor next to the towering cranes that inspired George Lucas's Imperial Walkers. (I'm obsessed with container ships, but that's for another post.) According to one of the information kiosks it's actually part of a 60,000-acre wetland restoration project that is all over the SF Bay. Wetlands are not only nurseries of the oceans but they lessen the impact of tidal surges on the shore.

There's a watchtower I had eyed every time we passed on the ferry, but I was surprised to find it is wheelchair-accessible with an elevator and ramp from the nearest parking. I even got these shots of the Exploratorium (I think?) and both bridges from the free scope.

Biking: From 3rd St and Adeline, it's surprisingly long. Of course one has to share the lanes with tractor trailers. I started at about 4:50pm and it wasn't crowded but busy. I was able to stay either in the generous, marked shoulder or, where the shoulder ended, in a lane to myself. Trucks and cars passed me a few times. The park is not marked until far down the main road, but if you stay on it you will start to see signs. Watch out for one angled train track crossing.

Walking: It's definitely too far to walk comfortably. It was fun to walk around the park once I was there, to enjoy the views of the Port, vegetation, and the Bay. There are no dogs and almost no people. Good for bird watching. There are always cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Western Gulls, and sparrows.

I also passed a well-cared-for lawn area near the first parking lot. There were palms. Something for everyone?

Is there a park nearby you've wanted to check out? I'll take your suggestions in the comments.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Improv-a-day is going strong

Habits are interesting. I find as long as I give myself leeway to refuse to sit on the piano bench, a daily recording is easy enough.

There was a day I didn't like what I played enough to share it; another when I read coworker emails tearfully, reeling from the impact of a sudden mass layoff. Through Soundcloud I found others' improvised recordings, none as chaotic as mine. C'mon, post your free doodles.

After the 31st post, I don't know yet where I'll take this project. I'm starting to want to notate bits of what I find. Maybe I'll assemble an instructional book to play Muse. Post requests in the comments or comment on your favorite track.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Routine fun

I'm truly in a routine now. I work at the Exploratorium 4 days a week, and it's enough to let me rest, read, and meditate on the days off. Here are some ongoing projects:

For the past two weeks I've been doing an improvisation-a-day and posting the goodies to SoundCloud. At this point I'm doing it consistently enough that I can give myself a day's break between sessions to listen and post. I've also found some goodies at an improv group on that site, but the styles vary widely.

My last post was one of several that touch on spiritual and mental growth I've experienced since joining a Buddhist meditation center. The East Bay Meditation Center strives to be uniquely inclusive to everyone and relies on donations in an ancient multifaith tradition. They are hosting a 24-hour teaching event next month I look forward to attending. (Just the day time -- I have a routine to keep, after all.) You can find my fundraising page here and please feel free to share.

I also made a fun recording of Wichita Vortex Sutra two-tracking it. I'm not sharing it publicly because it's all under copyright, but if you would like a download let me know how to reach you in the comments below. Ginsberg intended the poem from which text came to be a holy text against war. We can make that!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Freedom from Internal Harm

Common well-wishes or blessings in Buddhism include freedom from pain and suffering and their causes and conditions, and safety from internal and external harm. Last week I realized I have access to this in a new way. It's perhaps like realizing you can take control of a dream when it goes nightmarish, but still have moments without lucidity, thinking it's real.

It's that thoughts are just thoughts. I can choose to let it go instead of growing it and clawing at it and punishing myself for it. I can let it go instead of blaming myself and making up a frightful story of who I am as a person for having had it. How could I have made such an ugly judgment of him?! I'm so judgmental -- it doesn't matter, I chose not to act on it and it's gone. I've already bested 9/10 choosing the responsible action or speech while having worse thoughts. But first one must notice that thought for what it is.

Not to say thoughts can't be wonderful; like dreams, they bring joy and innovation as well. But usually I want more awareness and knowledge that allow responsible choices. So let me realize when a dream is a dream, a thought a thought, so I can choose. The relief and clarity I now have are worth every sitting meditation, every moment of receptive listening practice.

It's not instant freedom, but after the first time you fly out of a nightmare, you know you alone have control.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Daily recordings now on Soundcloud

To celebrate my reunion with my piano, for a limited time I'm posting short selections of improvisations. On the right navigation bar, scroll down to "More where that came from" and hit "SoundCloud Recordings." They are all simply titled "Pianon," where n is the number in the series.

The first one is probably more typical of what I do, the second a poke at A major tonality, the third a splash in the octatonic. If you have comments or suggestions for future improvs, this is probably the only instance where I welcome them; write below or in the comments option on SoundCloud.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Marina Abramovic's Reddit "Ask me anything"

Reddit showed up well after I'd lost my fascination with crowd forums. I stumbled into this "Ask me anything" thread while researching this month's action on Congressional representatives. (They are home; please call and visit them.)

I read all her responses. The more I read, the more they reflected a profound, non-denominational stillness and wisdom that resonated with what I find in Buddhist meditation practice. It was so inspiring to connect radical performance art with my spiritual journey of the past five years.
poiein: You said that “The hardest thing is to do something which is close to nothing, because it’s demanding all of you.” What is the closest thing to nothing you have ever done?
Abramovic: Completely surrendering to my migraine attack when I could not move or open my eyes, just let pain take over. 
I continue to believe my experience in the sadism/masochism community gave me initial access to so much that I value: courage, trust in myself, willingness to use the control I have, ability to discern control that was mine or not. It was my initial experience of controlled deviation from my own mental habits and conventions. Although I now choose meditation and mindful daily practice with abstinence from BDSM and sexual relationships, I accept those past experiences with pride.
saintdada: Marina, when you are having a bad day what do you tell yourself/ what keeps you going?
Abramovic: I'm not attached to bad day or good day. We always know after the rain the sun will come. It is a law of nature. When it is really, really bad day, I take a long bath full of Kosher salt and baking soda, soak for 30 minutes, and I feel better. 
Classic! We accept that sometimes reality is painful, and practice discernment where it's so painful that we care for ourselves and each other to recover. We have confidence that the pain was real and that recovery is possible because the capacity for wellness remains within each of us, without exception.
zoebokany: Have you ever doubted yourself? 
Abramovic: In my emotional life. Never in my artistic.
walmartsushi: How do you come up with an idea for a performance piece? How do you flesh it out? How do you think about communicating the meaning of a piece? 
Abramovic: I only pick up the ideas who I am afraid of or who are disturbing or who I have never been in that territory before. Ideas who are nice, friendly, or I like them I do not choose because they are too easy. It's very important to create high standards for yourself, no matter what. My ideas come from life not from studio. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

McCrea's piano moving: a composer's review

I've never reviewed a piano moving before.

This was the first one I've ever watched. Despite having had this piano moved three times since I bought it in 2007, I've managed to avoid being present for any of it until today.

On moving day, I waited for the phone call. And waited. Noticing caffeine jitters at 11:30am, I microwaved meal food and started on a bowl. Then the phone rang. They would be at the starting place in 20 minutes; I covered the bowl, hopped on my bike, and zipped to Rockridge.

My friend, the house owner who has been keeping my piano since I started traveling, had left his affectionate black lab in a harness, but it was easy to entice him into the closed yard. I sat nervously with him moment after moment, getting up to look every time I heard truck engines or doors slam. On the fifth or sixth trip into the house I saw the boldly marked Piano Mover truck in the driveway and awkwardly stepped onto the stoop to greet the movers. I felt small, flimsy, on borrowed property.

Two of the three men worked quickly and with the quiet grace I'm used to seeing in rehearsal. Greg, the maestro, communicated in piano-moving code, single words and brief phrases to coordinate lifts, tilts, and props like dollies and carpeting pieces. In a single breath he noted and dismissed the thickness of the piano. Then, the piano was in the air, resting on a roll of carpet on its smallest edge.

Then it was on a dolly and down the steps in a blink. My breaths were long in wonderment and terror. My body felt exactly as it does during dissections, when I cut and when I witness cutting.

The dog never barked. I thought I heard his steps on the other side of the wooden gate after the piano was already out of the house. I let him back in, bid him farewell, and biked home. I had barely caught my breath and finished my lunch back in the house when Greg knocked.

The front steps were steep. A side entrance had too many narrow turns.

Once they crossed the bottom concrete steps, it was shoulder strength. They used a roller like an upside-down dolly to smooth each lift, step by step. That smallest edge had to land squarely on each step or risked spilling. Every tilt that wobbled sent air rushing into my lungs, my heart clenching. My attention frequently returned to my face: mouth gaping, then smiling, then gritting teeth; eyes wide.

At the top step they popped it onto a dolly and prepared for the easy part. I complimented them for the impact the  performance had on me. My room is immediately adjacent the front door, but there was another series of hiccups fitting the cups under the wheels. If it wasn't perfectly centered it would pop out from under the piano's weight, sometimes shooting some distance from underneath. After many lifts, the mover on his belly popped it under the trouble wheel.

Greg tried a few of the keys while I was recovering from the nerves of the whole experience.

Before today I honestly had paranoid images of the stairs splintering under the weight and even my floor giving way. After they brought up my bench and were on their way I tried the middle movement from Mozart's a-minor sonata K310. I feel solid now.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Zero-cost light shelf

All that orchid repotting left me with a few too many pots and plates so I salvaged some more wood and sawed, drilled, and screwed:

The sandwich panel was pre-printed with lovely goldfish. I didn't bother cutting or drilling into either panel, so they're both resting on cross beams. It has the potential to be a heavier duty shelf with the addition of braces or extra crossbeams. I like how short and open it is so as not to obstruct natural light.

The orchids seem happy enough and some of them got a watering. It's a bit cumbersome soaking them in a bucket one by one, but I suppose not much different from care of one or two plants.

I used a large needle, thimble, and screw to open holes in the bottoms of the soda bottle pots. More wildflower sprouts:

I'm allotting a sizeable chunk of my last paycheck to move my piano back in. Everyone seems shy to play the one in the hallway... Also I enjoyed a dual video monitor for engraving One Journey, so I'm on the lookout for a discarded computer monitor, which would fit nicely on the laptop bench.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Vertical garden with orchids

I'm still prototyping vertical garden pockets. In the last post, you saw the apparently empty pockets. One set of Napa Valley poppy/Evening Primrose/Wild Blue Flax seeds are sprouting:

I installed a new row, this time with two pairs of screws in drywall, and outfitted them with orchids from a friend's personal collection and rescued from other friends.

I removed the bamboo and plastic rods that give orchid flower spikes their artificial erect position; they're epiphytes so they don't need to be tulip-shaped. This way they can expand across and out from the wall.

Most Americans I know have trouble keeping orchids in bloom. This is part personality mismatch, part misinformation, and part poor commercial design. One of the orchids was seated in the typical plastic root cup inside a sealed pot full of extra mulch and moss. There was an inch of stagnant water at the bottom when I got it. No wonder it had lost its flower spikes and the leaves were starting to turn!

I think orchids will be perfect for pocket gardens because they require the occasional minute-soak, drain quickly, and spread over vertical surfaces.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Sustainable materials bedroom, a diy adventure

An artist's home studio is both refuge and inspiration. Since moving into my new home I've busied myself suiting it out. I loathe buying new things and love tinkering with my hands, so I've scavenged materials and prototyped for hours. 

Here's my favorite so far, inspired by this amazing outdoor vertical garden project in San Paulo. I found a torn couch cover in our free box. I had already gromited webbing to the wall, no easy task on the old angled drywalls. I cut and sewed pouches, keeping the original seams on the lip, and sewed them to the webbing with a found spool of fishing line.

I'm still experimenting with the sag that pulls the webbing toward the center -- the couch cover had some straps attached so I might add another row using those. I'm thinking about adding one more on the bottom for a heavy pot. For now, I'm waiting for wildflowers to sprout from seed. Friends will be contributing more plants and I'll be scavenging fir bark for orchids next!
At first I made pouches too deep to monitor the pots easily, then too shallow except for the narrowest water bottles. 
Finally I settled on this 1/3 fold, still using the original seams for the long edges. 
I know garden soil isn't the best for indoor potting, but I'm experimenting with drainage and minimal watering for the moment.

Next is the "closet" rod corner. I literally picked up the telescoping white metal rod from the curb after a house cleaning. I'm banking on the molding holding most of the weight, with a few screws in studs to keep it from rolling away from the walls. The lower wood rod was much more difficult. Without studs anywhere near the work area I had to use L-braces and plan on hanging only small, light things there.

By the way, molly anchors did not play nice with this wall. It's entirely possible I estimated wrong on the wall thickness, but it was not smooth tinkering. In the end I stuck with wood screws. 

Speaking of which, I scavenged wood scraps and learned to use the saw angle tool to assemble (unassemble, adjust, and reassemble) this pedestal table. It's a bit wobbly, but the perfect height for me to work on the laptop without discomfort! Whew, it was a challenge and now I check out every piece of wood furniture with interest.

Next update: acoustic panels and piano homecoming.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Zimmerman acquittal and action for an end to racism

Helicopters cut over Oakland's downtown from Saturday night protests to a rally yesterday afternoon. But shout as we may in unison or on bullhorn, truth and reconciliation arrive on stealthy feet, in homes and schools, tapping individual by individual.

The trial was not enough. It revealed offensive flaws in law and in our criminal justice system. It revealed an even more urgent need for a national dialogue about the state of racism. We can't keep pretending we're not afraid, that we don't stereotype, or that our actions place one another at deadly risk every day.

Before President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, his team orchestrated a nationwide grassroots action to measure and activate community concerns. As a health care worker I spoke up in a town hall meeting about health care. It was a powerful act of vertical civic engagement we need to extend now to address racism and the disrespectful treatment of firearms in America.

I am writing my representatives requesting this action. I urge you to do the same: lwv.org

Monday, July 8, 2013

CDs for pickup

Moving into my new home, I took my CDs out of storage. I don't need these physical recordings. If you would like to have them, please comment! I'm in downtown Oakland.

While I'm here, I'll mention that I haven't had a space of my own this big since my residency at Millay. In contrast to residency, I have little control over the ambient sounds that arise.

Next to my room are a quiet street, a noisy street, and the front door and corridor and one housemate's room. I haven't managed to sound-dampen the door or wall yet, so nights can be more interesting than my sleepy face has been accustomed to. Yet as a new member of a close-knit collective house, I've instructed myself to be patient. Notice the sounds that arrive and how they impact me. Notice the mutual respect and esteem of housemates, and the impact of that.

Sound is so much internal.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Metropolitan Museum Concept Map

While my aunt and uncle were visiting, Mom scored free passes to the Met.

I got the idea of making a concept map before I went, knowing that, as at the Exploratorium, there would be far too much to see in a visit. Again and again, I was struck by the presence of beautiful craft. How many farmers toiled, soldiers risked their lives, merchants schemed to assemble the civilizations that drove and supported such art! Perhaps with the exception of ancient pottery from modern-day Japan.

I was delightfully surprised to find the Cyrus cylinder was on display there ahead of its tour stop at SF's Asian Art Museum. I was stilled by the age and significance of the small clay piece, and after moments of regard, bowed to it. It wasn't crowded but there were always clusters of people around it, mostly Arab or Central or South Asian.

I didn't bother with the audio tours (or really any self-guided materials) when I decided to seek out the collection of musical instruments, so I spent half the time being weirded out by the lack of sound. Of course touching the instruments was prohibited. Most of the collection was behind glass. I was extremely amused by the "archaic" Javanese metallophone with nipples on rectangular keys because it's a hybridization of the gamelan instruments used today. Bunga means flower and daun means leaf, the traditional names for round and rectangular keys.

Speaking of craft, I lashed together some scraps from around the house: 

Why let professionals have all the fun? This is my approximation of a Balinese penjur pennant. I've been feeling the need for some extra love and kindness for my family, so while visiting Mom's house I put this up. Send the well wishes!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Awareness and the US Farm Subsidy

As a composer, I'm in a period of perception where unintentional sounds can be delightful and provocative music at almost any moment. Often I find myself looking around for the source of interesting sounds, task at hand forgotten. It's a wonderful state, and I'll be working to capture some of it to share with you on SoundCloud this summer.

This is similar to another awareness practice, around the global significance of one's daily choices. When I consume or witness consumption, I often wonder where the resources came from: corn in a tortilla, noodles in my soup, potato in a compostable fork. I try to buy local to reduce energy waste in transport, but often local farms are the most wasteful. Current Congressional attempts to reform farm subsidies underline the irony that our resources waste our earned income.

You can find great graphics about it at the EWG Farm Subsidy Database. My attention is also drawn to the irony of the "ruin" US food aid brings to farmers in devastated regions because of existing rules that prioritize shipments of domestic produce over buying what's available there. Surely in the original democracy of the time, our voices count? I've been writing to my reps. It's easy to find yours.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Open letter to my representatives in government

You can write yours too! Many reps have forms on their websites instead of an email address. Go to lwv.org for details.

Dear Mr President,

I continue to be impressed by the way you handle distractions from real issues. I support your continued attention to the shame of Guantanamo; controlling and regulating lethal weapons; and keeping efficiency and renewable energy options high-priority. I support your use of all executive powers to work around an extraordinarily obstructionist Congress and unjust campaign finance system.

I care about issues according to their impact on the world and people, not in proportion to media coverage. Your administration's candid acknowledgment of the impacts and limits of the drone program is a sign of your genuine commitment to virtue. I am writing to my representatives urging them to support your initiatives. Congressmembers' extraordinary truculence requires extraordinary means. I urge you to engage firmly with our priorities in your final term and beyond.

Qian Li

Monday, February 25, 2013

Creations from Gender Reel festival

As I mentioned in this post I gave the audience at the opening night of Gender Reel art supplies. Here's what I salvaged from their hands.

 Those little dangly bits on the sides of my pants were these (below) which an author taped to me. They themselves were torn strips of rubbing from a vent on the floor.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Journalism in China, again in the news

Yowzer. Since I whined about the poor quality of journalism in China no effective and innovative organizing had caught my ear. Until this: press freedom row erupts over censored editorial.

The British Telegraph reports: "Yesterday hundreds of people converged outside the Guangzhou newsroom of the Southern Weekend in a rare street protest. Photographs posted on social media showed demonstrators carrying signs calling for 'free press, constitutional government and democracy'." Interviews also illuminated the incident on PBS Newshour.

Following the awkward and mysterious succession of Xi Jinping to the highest rank in Chinese governance, small moves to straighten crooks in power and to narrow internet access blew up with an otherwise unremarkable order to replace criticism with a Party-cheering editorial piece in a regional newspaper. What's more, lay people supported the journalist strike and authorities invited them to return to work without persecution for protest. Capitulations like this perk up the most jaded of China watchers, but what about Chinese citizens?

Despite the paper having been allowed to go to press "as normal" today editors still fear reprisal from the government for statements to foreign reporters. What can we do to support press freedoms and legal treatment of dissidents?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A lesson from Buddha

In Buddhism we learn to bypass the pendulum of suffering and satisfaction with equanimity for life's ups and downs. Just two blocks from my Buddhist meditation center an SUV honked at me and sped down a fork in the road. After the usual series of large-speeding-vehicle close shaves on my bike, it frightened and angered me so much my only relief was in fantasizing about shooting electric pulses to shut down his computer system, stalling the car. By the end of a half hour meditation, I wished him love and safety in sincere compassion. I had found a gentle kindness toward myself which spawned kindness toward everyone around me. If only I can balance survival instincts with compassion in my everyday life.

I have an older friend who looks a generation younger than he is. He sheds his suffering and ecstasy by exploding them instantly from his body, keeping his vitality and a light heart. For those around him, though, the unfiltered expressions pass anguish from his body and heart to theirs. Perhaps this is the old "drama" I've criticized before. What can this teach me?

He is teaching me that bottling up my emotional responses to fit my standards of appropriate behavior and of identity harms me. At the same time, I have to be mindful about the solution so I don't simply transfer the harms to empathetic friends around me. This brings us back to my experience of kindness.

If we can feel unconditional kindness (love, compassion, or any other name) toward ourselves, then we can extend it to those around us and still the pendulum of suffering. We need to confront the barrage of distraction: money, information, relationships, household, judgment; in order to return to our fundamental selves. Self care is a growing value. Identity, though, can be a distraction itself, putting up barriers and drumming up defensiveness and judgment. Buddhism and many other practices offer generosity as a solution.

It's not generosity as reason, e.g. giving to this needy organization fits my ideals, but as instinct. That same empathy that shakes me up when I'm near my explosive friend gives me peace when I can share my security and kindness with others.