Sunday, February 26, 2017

Family Shrink

I wake up around 7:30am and there is a slight drizzle outside. I’m meeting my uncle, my dad’s older brother, for breakfast at 8:30. The last time I saw him was at the Taiwanese National Psychiatry hospital where he works. Usually I pick my words like a cat tip toeing across a fence when I speak to him.

I get to the Pancake House and he is already there at a table waiting for me. He’s wearing a collared shirt tucked in to his slacks, on his wrist is an old Seiko he’s worn for decades.

“Hey Uncle Tony.”
“Hi Daniel!” he says extending his hand out to me smiling broadly. “You look good!”

“Thank you, how are you doing?”

“I’m doing well, just enjoying a short vacation with your Aunt.”

“How come she couldn’t join us this morning?”

“She’s busy meeting up some old church friends.”

“How long have you guys been in town for?”

“Just 2 days, staying until next Thursday.”

“Are you still working in Taiwan?”

“Yeah at the same hospital you came to last time.” He had let me go into the restricted psych ward and it was a little bit like a scene from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The patients milling aong the long hallways would turn to him when we walked by, give a nod, and say “Hello Director”.

“I thought you were going to retire?”

“No, just a few more years and I think I’m going to move out here to the states. The air is much better and I would like to just work out in the garden.”

The server comes by and takes our orders.

“How are you feeling these days?”

“I’m okay, pretty much clockwork: painting and coaching. I was a depressed for a few months recently, but I think smoking weed helps with the anxiety.”

His brow furrows for only a second. “Didn’t California just legalize weed?”

“Yeah, would you like to try some?”

“No, no, no” he says laughing, “An old man like me shouldn’t be messing with that stuff.”

“I think you would enjoy it” I say half jokingly.

We catch up and talk about family and the things that have passed. The server brings us our food. He asks about my art and how things are going. I tell him that he should visit my studio before he has to take off.

“I would love to stop by, would this weekend work?”

“I can’t this weekend, I’m flying out to Vegas in a few hours, but any time next week I’ll be in.”

“What are you doing in Vegas?”

“A friend of mine is thinking about investing in some property out there and I’m just going along for the ride.”

“Do you gamble?”

“Yeah, too much. You?”

“Only once in awhile.”

“How long have you been practicing art now?”

“It’s been about ten years.”

“Time sure does go by fast. I’ve been looking at your new stuff, what’s it about?”

“Just something new, moving towards a more abstract style.”

“Well, I’m quite enjoying it and would love to see them in person. I’m proud of how far you’ve come along and hope you keep pursuing your talents. You’ve always been a very smart boy, if not a little rambunctious when you were young.”

“Thank you.”

“Your maternal grandfather was an artist right?”

“So is my mom.”

“Must run in the family.”

“Yes, I’d think so.”

“You know your father was quite an illustrator and designer himself before he had to work for the family business.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“There are good and bad things about being an artist and having such an open lifestyle.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s wonderful that you’re able to create your own little worlds and explore modes of thought, but you have to be careful.”

“Careful about what?”

“Well, I’ve had many creative patients become to caught up in the worlds they create and they lose a real grasp on reality.”

“I don’t think I’m that crazy yet.”

“I think you’re far from crazy, you just seem to be stuck on the past quite a bit. Just remember to have a balance to your life.”

“It’s a hard thing to do.”

“Yes, it’s not always easy. Are you still smoking cigarettes?”

“No, I stopped a few months ago besides when I drink.”

“That’s good, I didn’t quit until I was in my 40’s. Girlfriend?”


“You don’t want to be married?”

“Not really, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have to give up a lot of what I want to be with someone. I enjoy being selfish right now.”

“You don’t want any kids?”

“I would like kids, but I don’t think you necessarily have to be married to have them.” He seems disappointed when I say this, but I may just be projecting
. “It’s not like I have a real problem meeting women, just keeping them around.”

“One failed relationship, leads to another.”

“Even more reason to want to be alone.”

We finish our meal and make plans for him to visit next week. I have always enjoyed our conversations together despite my own hesitations about talking to a shrink. As we pay for the bill and say goodbye I wonder what he really things about the way my life has turned out. I drive back home to grab my bags and order an Uber to the airport, leaving for one of my least favorite places in the world.

Monday, November 28, 2016

8 Days (팔일)

Ghosts in the Studio (스튜디오의 유령)

I don’t particularly get along with people for long periods of time. I am pretty choosy about the people I spend my time with because most people tend to annoy me after about an hour. It’s probably the leading reason I can’t seem to keep a relationship for longer than a year. I’m not sure whether it’s because other people are boring or the other way around, I have never spent much time trying to figure it out. I don’t engage much in small talk or banter, unless it’s a situation which brings me some sort of social benefit, but I think that’s most people. I think that’s why Hak and I get along so well, we don’t really have to talk to figure things out.

Hak lands late Friday afternoon and is planning on staying for 8 days. I pick him up at the airport and he is wearing black boots, jeans, and a t shirt. “The weather here is much nicer than Seoul” he says as we drop off his bags at my house. Our first stop is the studio. I have gotten most of the essential materials, but tell him we will stop by the art store first thing in the morning tomorrow. Some friends stop by to say hello and we head out to a swanky little beer bar across the street from Dolores Park. There is a girl there who I used to see, but it’s nothing that a few drinks can’t fix.

We take a bar brawl down through Valencia to my favorite haunts: Elbo Room, Skylark, and finally Casanova. Me and Hak break off from the group and head over to Panchitas for some papusas. I can tell that the travel is catching up to him so we say goodbye to the group and we head back home for the night. We wake up on Saturday and go straight to work. The next week goes by like clockwork. Breakfast, studio, lunch, studio, dinner, studio. 

Quarter life Slump (분기 생활 슬럼프) 29x24 Mixed Media on Canvas

I ask Hak if there is anything special he wants to see, “Maybe the Golden Gate Bridge?”

“No, no. I didn’t see the Golden Gate Bridge while I lived here. I just want to hang out and paint.”

It was the answer I was hoping for. Although we live in different countries and speak different languages, our lives have taken very similar trajectories. We are both single and in our 30s. We have taken blue collar and menial jobs in order to survive. We don’t seem to be able to hold down steady relationships. But we are free in a way that most people are not.

We pick up where we last saw each other in Korea. The pace we work at is set to hectic. We are intending to finish 8 pieces during his stay, one complete piece for each day. I’ve always seen the way we work as improvisational jazz, a layering of distorted scales and vibrant color palettes, layered style over style until we deem the piece complete. Gesso, house paint, pastels, charcoal, acrylics, and oil paint. It is a constant flux of creation and destruction, building up and tearing down.

Exile (망명) 36x24 Mixed Media on Canvas

“How are things going back in Korea?”

“They are good. I’m going to apply to grad school this winter and I'm going to quit my bartending job. I want to dedicate my time fully to painting.”

“No new girlfriends?”

“No, sometimes girls try to talk to me at the bar or leave their phone numbers. I’ve just started to tell them I’m gay so that they leave me alone. What about you?”

“No, I don’t really have time right now, but my Mom bothers me about it every time we talk. When she asks when I’m going to have a grandchild I just ask her what nationality she would like.”

Man from Seoul (서울 출신의 남자) 36x24 Mixed Media on Canvas

We head out to burritos for like the 10th time. Afterwards we stop by Hak’s friends place in the Tenderloin. A____ is a young painter still in school and has lofty dreams of moving to New York after school. His studio is like many artist studios I have visited in the Tenderloin, drenched in stale cigarette smoke, rows of empty liquor bottles, and a kitchenette doubling as a work space. He rolls up a joint and passes it around. It is a place that dreams are made and crushed, some place both Hak and I have been before. The young artist’s studio is a lonely and sacred place filled with uncertainty. We talk about life and art and school and the people we know.

“Just stick with it and you’ll be okay A____.” It’s the same advice I’ve been given a million times.

The last few months of my life have been fairly chaotic. There have been several curveballs thrown my way and I seem to always load up and swing at nothing but air. Hak’s visit is a welcome reprieve to my daily routine and the anxieties which plague my mind. When we paint together, all I really focus on is the next move, the next painting. A culmination of all the skills I have acquired and have yet to learn. It is a familiar place, a place I am comfortable, the need to produce under restraints and a tight deadline. It feels good to know that I have an art brother who’s going through the same exact things as I am across the sea.

5 Days Left to Go (떠난지 5 일 남았습니다) 36x24 Mixed Media on Canvas

We head out to the MoMa, we visit the De Young, and we stop by several gallery shows. Friends, family, and collectors stop by and say hello at the studio. We eat more burritos than I am happy to admit and the work comes fast and easily. We talk about the work during breaks, about the composition, layout, and balance. We talk about things that we intend to do or sometimes we just do them. We stop when we need to and we smoke too many cigarettes.

I’ve come to realize that there are no easy ways through life. As I grow older and life continues, there are only more responsibilities and more constraints. Life becomes a fight between work and personal life. And the older I get, the only certainty is death. A life of memories only dictated by what you put into it. The painting will be made no matter what, good or bad, it is the process and the time in between that really counts.

The week passes by quickly and soon enough the week is up. We stop by the studio one last time. We touch up, measure, sign, and name the paintings. We head over to Hak’s favorite Thai place in the Tenderloin for our last meal. I’m just glad it isn’t Mexican.

Flower Curtain (꽃 커튼) 30x24 Mixed Media on Canvas

“Did you enjoy your stay here? I’m sorry that we didn’t do more fun stuff.”

“It was the perfect trip, I did everything I wanted to do.”

We go back home and he packs up his stuff and I drop him off at the airport. I tell him I’ll try to sell the paintings as best I can, but you can never really tell with these things.

“Don’t worry about that. The paintings are good.”

“I’ll try to take a trip out to Korea next summer.”

“Ok. Thank you for everything Daniel. I will see you soon.”

The Artists in the Studio (스튜디오의 아티스트)

When I get home, the house is filled with sounds of celebration. My brother has invited friends and family over for his birthday and there is a feeling of warmth and comfort. It feels good to be done with the long week of endless painting. I have a flight to catch myself later that night and I settle in to some whiskey and banter. I hug and chat with friends, some who I’ve known for my whole life and it makes me happy to be in their company.

It might be the whiskey talking, but I feel overly sentimental and have a conversation about my personal life with a friend, something which rarely happens.

“What happened to S_____?”

“Nothing, just didn’t work out.” I pause for a moment. “Sometimes people just want different things. I love her to death, but it’s just not the way things were meant to be.”

“I thought you guys would work it out, you seemed to want things to work out. You’ve never tried particularly hard in relationships, until it was with her.”

I don’t know how to particularly reply to so I just say something stupid like, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

Waiting in Ambush (매복에서 기다리고있다) 48x36 Mixed Media on Canvas

I tell my brother “happy birthday”, grab my bags and a friend drops me off for my redeye. I have another whiskey at the airport bar and barely make it through takeoff. I wake up in a different country, in a different timezone, as a different person.  I make my way to my childhood home and say hello to my parents. We go visit my grandma who’s been in the hospital and not feeling too well. It’s nice to just sit with her while I write this story and reflect on the last few weeks. We don’t speak much, but I know that she likes it when I just sit around with her. She asks if I have a new girlfriend.

“No Grandma, no new girlfriend.”

“What happened to the last girl.”

“We’re still friends.”

“Well, then just forget about it.”

“Ok I’ll do that.”

“You should have a kid soon.”

“That’s not just up to me.”

As I’m sitting here writing this story I get a phone call from a number I haven’t seen in a long time. I step outside and answer the phone.

“Hello Daniel.”


“How are you?”

“I’m in Taiwan, visiting my family. It’s nice to hear your voice.”

In 8 days, so much of life has changed.

Flowers in the Mouth of A Beast (짐승의 입에 꽃) 48x36 Mixed Media on Canvas