Are You There? I’m Here (for Lyn Hejinian)

Writer’s Note: This fictional non-fiction story is a collage and co-creation inspired by many people and art projects. The title is a reference to a line in Lyn Hejinian’s book The Language of Inquiry (page 388).  I first heard this at a reading May, 31 200o. She was reading from her book and saw me in the audience and stopped mid sentence to say, “It’s you, Hi!” She did not know it was my birthday, and gave me the greatest gift that day, seeing me.  She did this years before when she accepted me into my first official creative writing class at UCB.  I am eternally grateful to Lyn for witnessing and encouraging my artistry and showing me by example how to witness beauty in others.  This story is inspired by the amazing Cari Campbell, her lovely brother and the gift Chris Cobb gave us via his art installation  “There is Nothing Wrong In this Whole Wide World” (temporary art installion at Adobe Bookstore in San Francisco, CA, 2004).  At the end of the story you will find more about the art exhibit.  Many thanks to artists’ Derek Powazek,  Heather Champ and Superhero Journal who made their images available via a creative commons copyright licence  or by permission.  

Are you there? I’m here

Image by Heather Champ *

Her brother was visiting. They were both excited. Everything was exciting. From sitting on the couch chatting to walking to the corner store getting organic groceries. These were things they could only do in San Francisco.

When they were younger they lived near the city and their mom fed them wonder bread and all kinds of processed stuff. She tells him how her mom is finally starting to understand what it means that she lives in a vegetarian household. Now every recipe is one that can easily be substituted with tofu.  The news of his wife’s pregnancy is still new, but surely mom and dad will develop some lovely fixating habits around that.

The first day, she picked him up from the airport. This was both their hometown in many ways, so the pick up from the airport was easy-smeasy. They hung out all day together alone before coming to her house where her roommate was having a burrito in the living room and soon, her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s housemate would come over. She cracked out the special bottle of wine she was saving for one of those special occasions. This was surely one of them! She was going to whip them all up some delicious food for this good time.

collectables: heartcake by cc

He woke up early as was expected.  He was still on Minnesota time.  His sister had gone to sleep at her girlfriend’s house, leaving him her bed. Most of the housemates were away, but one was there, so he was trying to be quiet. He turned on the light though because his sister’s room was one of those San Francisco specials where the window faces a light well.  He had to go to the bathroom, but by the time he got to the door, he found it quite difficult to open the door. Maybe his sister was protective and locked him in? He started to read the books in his sister’s room. She was always a little kooky, but Christian Living and The History of Shorts were new peaks. He had read all of the History of Atari when he really needed to go. He tried the door again. Still no budge. Was he really locked in? Should he call her? Maybe she was on the way home and he could wait it out a little.

He started to go through the yoga book but just thinking about the poses made him have to pee, so it seemed best just to close his eyes, lie down and breathe. If he fell asleep would he only be dreaming about pee?  It would be so strange if he was locked in. Not only did that not make sense, it is out of character for his sister too! Up until a few years ago, he used to pronounce chamomile tea chamomile instead of chamomile. Breathing, he started to remember about the dream he had.

 you are amazing make art

How odd. He is on 16th street near Valencia and there is a bookstore. It feels familiar, though he has never been there. A golden cat simultaneously leaps over his feet and meows. He looks down to catch a glimpse. His right hand — which has swayed in reaction, covers his view.  All the books are arranged by the colors of the spines. Look for magic when you open your eyes. The mysterious fortune from last week’s take-out has to come to life and he wants so very much to jump up and down. There is a sofa in the middle of the bookstore so he sits down next to a young woman who is knitting a scarf. His sister had told him that knitting was the newest trend, like yoga. The scarf the woman knits takes after the blue section — patches of dark blue to midnight blue to electric blue to neon blue to light blue to teal blue to sea blue to blue blue blue everywhere.  Across from him he sees one of those books. It hangs off the shelf (attached by a string) and is asking for him and only him to come to it, at that very second. He does. It is an email list. Not sure for what, but it must be to the one who colored the room so his eyes could have magic. He is smiling and astonished.

He calls his sister on her cell phone.

Are you there? I’m here.

His hand reaches for the knob of the door. If he pretends it is not locked, it may not be. As he pulls, the door opens as his sister comes in.  I thought you locked me in and I have to go pee.  She smiles at him and without any hesitation, the doors in this house get jammed sometimes, they just need a little nudge.



                       There Is Nothing Wrong With the Whole Wide World                      * Art Installation by Chris Cobb * Photos by Derek Powazek (red-orange, green), Heather Champ (close up with sign) and Superhero Designs (blue)

Related: Both this story and the art installation was originally created in 2004. The incident did happen, but there was a creative non fiction filter applied to it. You can imagine for which parts.

Curious to learn more about Chris Cobb’s magical installation?
Interview by McSweeney’s
Video by KQED Spark
NPR Audio Interview

Rainbow of Books : A FLICKR Stream of more books by color!

To Lyn Hejinian: You are amazing. Thank you for the inspiration, then and now. May you be dance in the arms of love and delight.


Taking the Zanskar Vow: The Gratitude Project

I have been a little slow posting my November Art every day projects- but they are happening. And even more delightfully, projects are brewing, bubbling and multiplying!

Yesterday was one of those SF specials- it was warm outside, the local pool was open, the lifeguard let me swim 5 minutes beyond the close time, the sky was magical, and I brushed up close and personal with humbleness and gratitude  several times. What a wonderful way to be alive!

Magical Sky November 3, 2010

Earlier in the day I went to a new cafe on Valencia Street and posted on Facebook something to the effect of geez, $2.25 for coffee, really? I am paying for the atmosphere.  To this one friend commented about – get ready this is a mouthful- direct trade green coffee beans- and escalating prices which are translating to higher prices in US cafes. Another friend respectfully wrote, “In Bali with this amount we can feed our family for a day…. Lucky you Kirthi

To be honest, I am still grappling with how to take this all in. One thing for sure, I am thankful for the reminder that the price of my cup of coffee translates into much more in another country. How this will effect my choices other than supporting direct trade, I am not sure. In the now, right now, I am humbled and honored to be to be part of a world that extends beyond my local neighborhood and arms length experiences.

Last night was the opening night of the 3rdI San Francisco South Asian International Film Festival.  Most every film in the festival is inspiring and yesterday was no exception. Last night was a double header- starting with Terrie Samundra’s beautiful short film Kunjo. This film is quite powerful and evocative and tells a story not often told- that of rural to rural migration and how this affects a community, especially children. What we learned at the Q/A was that this film was shot in the filmmaker’s family village and the process of making the film was just as important as the final product. Translation: Terrie spent 2 1/2 months in India and worked with local non actors to workshop and develop the script with the community. I am paraphrasing here, Terrie has a more  detailed account on her website, but I wanted to take a moment to pause on the collaborative intent of this narrative production and the earnest desire on the filmmaker’s part to empower the people the story was about.

The next film was Frederick Marx’s Journey from Zanskar. Set in Zanskar, a traditionally Tibetan region of northern India, the Zanskari culture and Buddhist practices are dying out. It is a poor region. For children to get an education that connects them to their culture, they must travel to villages far away. At the heart of this documentary are the questions, “How far would you go to save your dying culture?” and  “What does it mean to separate a child from their family to give them a better life?” This film documents the difficult journey of the Stongde monks, 17 children aged 4-12 and handful of parents who travel from Zanskar to Manali in hopes of securing an education. On one hand there is the astounding physical difficulty of the journey and on the other, the amazing presence of love between the parents and children and ultimately the confrontation of what must be sacrificed for a better future. In its more subtle notes, this story reminds us strongly about compassion, the gift of education and the radiance of humanity.

An audience member asked Frederick to give us an impression of how the kids were years later. Although Frederick stated that how the kids felt was something he could never fully understand because it was not his experience, he did tell us one thing-  some kids say they cry all the time because they miss their family and that they are also full of joy to get an education.

How do you hold both of these things in your hands? Perhaps as an exploration that is not a dichotomy.  And as for if this will lead to a better life, one of the monks Geshe leaves us with this offering….will they have a better life? I don’t know. But if I believe they will, there is less worry and less suffering in the now about what may be.

The Stongde monks are now building a school in Zanskar so kids do not have to be separated from their families and so they do not have to make near death journeys for this promise of the better life. People can donate money that goes towards education or take the The Zanskar Vow an invitation to make your own commitment to make the world a better place. You can send your vow to the folks at the Saving Zanskar website and they will be updating the website soon.

My vow? I will live my life with gratitude and help chronicle stories of gratitude. I do believe in the ripple effect, one vibration at a time.

The Gratitude Project: Jazmin’s Story


What will you do to make the world a better place? What are you grateful for?