Saturday, December 4, 2010

born standing up

I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts.
- Steve Martin, Born Standing Up

I am reading Steve Martin's memoir and am enjoying it very much. Strangely, yet comfortingly, I have felt a kinship with Martin, reading about his strained relationship with his father and reflecting on my own complicated relationship with my family. Now, when I wonder why I feel like I need to "express" myself, this sentence just seems to sum it up. It's also a confirmation of what I have always dreaded, yet have resigned to believing is responsible for much of my creativity. "A-ha."

It's interesting to see that Martin was just a regular, not particularly talented guy who, like many of us, was trying to find his way, his own happiness, as he delved into the things that interested him as a boy --magic, then later comedy; and developing into the famously funny Steve Martin we know today. It seemed so easy for him to step into his destiny, while my path has seemed so arduous -- but maybe 30 years from now, if I were to look at where I am today, my path would appear just as crystal clear as Martin's journey.

In the book, Martin refers to many of his favorite entertainers, including Richard Pryor. As a kid, I had heard my dad speaking of liking Richard Pryor. I always remembered Richard Pryor as the goofy scared guy carried by Superman. It was not until I got much older that I learned that that innocent looking man was a cocaine addict, used profanity in his stand-up routines, openly talked about race and other taboo topics in America, and was a troubled soul who frankly used the transgressions against him and by him, as comic material. I also heard that he was a comic genius.

Realizing that I have never been graced with Pryor's genius, I recently checked out some of his acts on YouTube. Wow. Rarely have I seen a performer with the absolute surrender that Pryor displays. And he's just friggin' good. It's like an experience. And I'm also intrigued by his evolution starting with his cleaner, squeakier days, like on the Ed Sullivan show. Enjoy them for yourself.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

being an artist

photos by timothy mak photography

Recently, I realized that my escapist fantasies of being a full-time artist were somewhat illusionary. While my lawyer job as been giving me a lot of grief lately, I was experiencing much grief at my last music gig, as my friends chattered and laughed amongst themselves and appeared to be disinterested in my music that I had worked so hard to prepare. Ouch.

As I am accepting what happened, I am realizing that this is the life of an artist, dealing with rejection, even from those you love, all the time. Nine out of ten times, no one cares that you struggle within yourself to get on stage; no one cares that you are baring your soul as you sing the lyrics you wrote during a meaningful moment in your life; no one cares to give you a fighting chance to share your music; no one gives. And the sad part is, even if they do, I, like many artists, being so self-absorbed, may not see it.

So why would I choose to put myself in these situations, to choose this as my life? According to Livingston Taylor, musician and Berklee School of Music professor, I don't choose it -- I do it because nothing else fits.

Sometimes a lawyer or doctor will approach me and express their desire to be onstage. I'm bemused by the naivete. They don't understand that people who write, paint, dance, or
sing do so not because they want to (in spite of what they tell themselves) but because they must. Nothing else seems to fit.

You want to be a performer even though you know there are easier career paths to choose, like the steady work and health care benefits found in a big corporation. Instead, you're willing to go it alone in the cold, dimly lit world of the performing arts. You didn't choose to be here. Nobody does. You are here because you're driven.

- Livingston Taylor, Stage Performance

What Taylor says resonates with me, but I don't want to believe it. I want to believe that I have a choice and that I can have both the steady, well-respected conventional and professional job (of being a lawyer) and the vocation of my passion (of being a singer-songwriter, filmmaker, writer). However, I have to say that, as of late, it's been difficult to put 100 percent in everything I do, and I am exhausted and discouraged.

I just don't know.

Along the same topic, I would like to share about two artists/professionals I met this year that have inspired me to fight for both the professional and artistic aspirations of my dreams.

Chad Woodford (IP attorney, filmmaker, yoga instructor)
I met Chad at a Bar Association volunteer event at the SF Food Bank. As we were scooping and measuring rice to put into bags, I picked Chad's brain about pursuing his film career while working as an attorney. I found it noteworthy that he is a solo practitioner which allows him more flexibility with his schedule. Check out his documentary piece on the kids of Golden Gate Park.

Travelin' Kids from Chad Woodford on Vimeo.

I especially like his piece on the Marina, which I consider a guilty pleasure, as an East Bay-er who loves to hate on the Marina.

Marina Nights from Chad Woodford on Vimeo.

Kris Racer (Former consultant/business school student/aspiring gaming project manager)
I met Kris through my artist friends in Oakland, when he came to one of our songwriting circles and I found out that he was in SF for the summer for an internship at Zynga and went to b-school in Chicago. Impressed and intrigued with his current business aspirations but also his working singer-songwriter status, I picked Kris' brain about both the "business" of gigging, grad school, but also just career guidance, generally. Thanks, Kris!

Monday, September 6, 2010

sponsor me!

I am going to swim a mile (or .5 more) for women with cancer. Here's my schpiel...before I change it 100 more times. You can donate and read the most current version here (click "Finding a swimmer" and type "Underwoman" for swimmer).

Hey! I am committed to raising $500 which provides emergency financial assistance for rent, utilities, and groceries for one Oakland woman with breast cancer. If 50 of you donate $10 each, I'm good to go!

I'd like to think of this as "sponsoring" one Oakland woman with cancer. In addition to or in lieu of making a financial contribution, I also invite you to pray for this one woman, for whatever she is going through, though we don't know who she is now.

I think we all know at least one special woman in our lives that has battled cancer -- for me, it's been my friend's mom, my co-worker, and a college student from church. I feel privileged to have heard their stories and to know them. I also found very sobering this column by Tammerlin Drummond (Oakland Tribune columnist) about recent state cuts to cancer detection programs for low-income women.

Take a read:

I swim on Saturday, October 2 at 12 noon. Holla!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

at the end

Today I have been contemplating the concept of the weekend. I haven't had a weekend off in the last three months or so. While most of them were filled with working in the office, there were some where I still had to be "on" for non-work-related weekend family trips and wedding festivities.

Last weekend was the first one I had "off" -- I went on a hike with my college buddies and made sure to have a lot of time to myself afterwards. But true rest still eluded me.

And then another week descends on me...
Each day and night is a negotiation of whether we will be getting more stuff done or more rest. You plan date-time with yourself this weekend. There are some tasks you'd like to get done: clean the bathroom, catch up on e-mails with friends, look at your expenses to better budget your finances.

We get to Friday evening, but it's still not your time -- it's time to go to a musical and catch up with an old friend till the wee hours of the morning.

We get to Saturday -- time to buy a gift for and go to a friend's bridal shower. After that, you say, you will have all the time for yourself.

The bridal shower runs into early evening. You're driving home and wonder whether you still have the energy to keep the date you had planned for yourself -- ramen noodles on College Ave. then a screening of the film "Winter's Bone" playing at the Shattuck.

You are determined to keep the date with yourself. And you go.

Saturday's over -- drat, didn't get to the weekend tasks. At least the temptation to do work at this hour is completely out of the question.

Sunday comes. You wake up earlier than usual. Unlike most Sundays, you had prepared to have a little downtime before you go to the church worship service; no attempts to do any of your tasks before going to church, like you usually do.

You eat a hearty breakfast of peanut butter and jelly toast with the intention of going to the local pool to get some laps in after church. You will exercise outside, dang it, you tell yourself. It's summer.

You go to church. You do not socialize with your friends afterwards. This is your time, you remind yourself. You get home. You feel like reading a magazine before you head to the pool. You do it. Then you look at the time and make sure you have at least 1 hour to do your laps.

You change into your bathing suit before heading out. It's cold, you think to yourself. And I think I might be on the verge of getting sick. Is it a good idea to go to the pool?

But you push yourself to go. You drive to the pool, pay the $5, march into the women's locker room, take your clothes off with your bathing suit on already, don your swim cap, and you force yourself to go into the cold shower to rinse off. You step out into the pool area. The sun is shining and the breeze isn't too bad. Some quick stretches, some pacing between the lane you have decided to swim in, and the cabinet with all the kickboards and buoys, and you insert yourself into the warm salty water. And you stroke.

20 minutes in, as you turn your head back and forth to breathe, and you see the blue sky and sun-drizzled scenery, you are smiling inside. You cool down kicking with the kickboard and you feel like you've made the best decision of your life coming here.

You're back home and you toast some bread with cheese, cut open an avocado, and rip off a tin of sardines. You cut an orange into slices. You realize that you eat out almost everyday and relish this opportunity to make your own simple lunch with fresh fruits and not have to transact to have this meal. You make a pact with yourself to swim and make a fresh meal afterwards every Sunday.

You wash the dishes and you have an inner dialogue with yourself, or rather, between your husband self and your wife self.

Wife: Dear, are we still going to go to your co-worker's party this afternoon? It's been such a great relaxing day. Let's stay home.

Husband: I haven't decided yet. There were some things I still wanted to do before going.

Wife: You still haven't cleaned the bathroom sink. It's disgusting.

Husband: I told you I'd get to it this week.

Wife: You're not going to work, are you?

Husband: No (hesitantly). (then more confidently) No. Just wanted to organize around the house a bit. I think we should buy a new vacuum cleaner.

Wife: And we have to plan our vacation. We are going to have a vacation.

Husband: Don't worry. I'm not going to let them persuade me to stay.

Wife: We have to get out of here, lest you feel tempted to go to the office.

Husband: I know, dear.

Wife: (softly) I hardly see you. This is the first time in a long while that we've actually spent time with each other.

Husband: I know, dear.

Wife: It's like I'm living with a robot who doesn't really care for me.

Husband: I do, darling.

Wife: You know, you don't have to do this.

Husband: I know. And it's just temporary. And it's good for us - it provides us stability and the resources to do things we enjoy, go on vacation, eat well...

Wife: But you're not happy right now. I can see it.

Husband: It'll be over soon. It will be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

something missing

My way of taking a break lately has been catching up with current pop culture, i.e., Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Taylor, Twilight... I finally decided to watch some of Beyoncé's more recent videos. I actually liked some of her songs and was curious about what the videos were like.

My song rankings:
(1) Halo
(2) Sweet Dreams
(3) Diva
(4) Ego
(5) Single Ladies (Grammy's Song of the Year...really?! I feel like I'm taking crazy pills - isn't she just chanting with a whistle sound in the background and the catchy chorus repeating?)

My video rankings:
(1) Sweet Dreams (love her attitude and dance moves - I would ignore the beginning)
(2) Halo (sweet)
(3) Single Ladies (yeah, yeah, yeah)
(4) Ego (kind of boring, but at least, she sticks with one line of thought that seems to fit the theme)
(5) Diva (too many costume changes - lack of focus).

After a while, I was, of course, mesmerized by her beauty. But I felt a little sick, like having too much candy, and too much perfection. She's too beautiful, too talented, too much...
Naturally, with her overly sexy presentation, I also felt like a peep show patron.

Being the old fogie I'm becoming, I longed for the old days of R&B when, yes, the divas were always self-indulgent and looked at the camera too much, yet they seemed less so compared to the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga today. And I know I'm sort of comparing apples and oranges (00's pop v. 90's hip hop)...but it was interesting nonetheless to think about what I missed about the so-called divas from my youth.

Back then, they were trying, but they weren't perfect. And it was alright. They were real people with real emotions and flaws, real bodies, with a more fun and relatable mix of class and chutzpah. And you wanted to be on their side, not worship them. And yeah, sometimes they were cheesy and a little horny (i.e., I was afraid to admit to watching their videos as a middle-schooler), but you loved them anyways.

Below are some of my favorites. What I love about these songs and videos, is that they just tell a story. No massive budget for people to do 10 million costume or set changes. Just the storyteller (singer), her emotion, and some good dancing/hanging. Accordingly, I think the choreography and visual storytelling in these videos are much more compelling than what's popular today.

A Mary J. Blige favorite of mine. Admittedly, there are multiple costume changes in this one and could be a precursor to the pattern that is so pervasive today. But I love some of her raw expression here. Another favorite is this one - if you don't feel anything after watching it, you have no soul.

This Salt N Pepa/En Vogue video opened my 14-year old eyes when I first saw it. What a song. What a video. On another note, what ever happened to women rappers?

Saved the best for last -
Monica exemplifies the wonderful mix of down-to-earthness, cuteness, strength, sexiness, and class. She's also very beautiful and elegant but doesn't shove it down your throat. This song and choreography are the best!
(*dedicated to Lei Lei)

Monday, February 8, 2010

young love

Meet "The Xx."

This is one of many bands being showcased at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music conference/festival in Austin this March, which I will be attending from very start to finish. (I'm totally stoked.) Thanks to SXSW, I have become acquainted with and fallen in love with this lovely band. I want to listen to them when I wake up and before I go to bed, and just about all the hours in between.

They are pure, refreshing, youthful, and their minimalist arrangements inspire me to write naked truth and beautiful music.

Did you ever have a period in your life that you felt exemplified you the best? I've always been quite fond of my 15-year old self - slightly awkward and still finding my way, yet very bright, disciplined, and unafraid to be who I wanted to to be. This band's music has awakened in me an inner celebration of the spirit of youth that gives a damn in a quiet, unjaded, and courageous way. They make me believe anything is possible.

Here is my current favorite of the album.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Your Hands

This week was really hard. All around - personally, at work.

Things were going well...and they are still. But lately, I've felt much disappointment and longing in some of my friendships to the point where I can't hide it anymore.

I long for human connection, but am sometimes so hurt by it, whether it be from from the insensitivity of it, the withholding of it, or it not being the way that I had hoped, to the point where it takes all of me to still put myself out there and I just can't.

But I see how necessary it is for me to experience the ache of putting others before myself, to sacrifice, to let things go, and to do it all with a joyful heart. I see more clearly how oblivious I'd been to that same grace shown towards me, and I am thankful for this process, and especially God's faithfulness, as much as it hurts. Knowing this has helped me keep it together.

However, I am just as grateful, if not more, for last night, when, at a very dark moment, I received an e-mail from my sister checking in with me and telling me that many times when she heard this song, she thought of me, and wanted to share it with me.

And I was finally able to cry.