John Tang

Write like You’re Writing for the Newspaper

Posted in Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 6, 2012

Writing for the Newspaper

I had an idea Turkish author Mr. Pamuk inspired: Write as if you are preparing the news. That’s how I’ve been working for the last week, trying to self-publish a collection of short stories staple bound and on computer paper. I liked the texture of the cover and the harsh feeling when the pages unfolded. I print at home on Brother’s laser printer and order my covers from San Mateo for six cents a page. Where did I get the sudden burst of entitlement to my craft, one of my friends might ask. I would have to explain the argument I had with my parents about going back to Okinawa.

I told them I was unhappy in California, frustrated no one from overseas wanted me in their country. My suspicion was that I was Chinese American well seen in the last name of the patriarch: Tang. They advised me to find an administrative position around, and I agreed with some reasoning behind it. There was no incentive for me to remain in the country. I had no sacred relationships or a job. Nor did I identify myself with the culture or the architecture. The comedy was the best thing about the country, but it brought out the worst character in me. I’m sorry, I told my parents, I’m simply unhappy. They kept to themselves eating their McDonald’s burger and fries.

I texted my friends they needed to send me the image of the cover and the inside sleeve for the magazine. I explained the Pdf files needed to be in order so the printing press could have each image together. But then I remembered you could separate files and give them instructions. I was excited for the magazine Brevspread. My brother Tim Tang did the cover. With a James Jean’s influence, he rendered an ancient stork rising out of a golden tea box holding a grenade in a calico sling. For a staple-bound magazine, I was proud of it. For some strange reason my parents believe that I am bored.

Why the hell do you want to go to Okinawa? My mom said. You don’t even know what’s out there. Goddamn it. Matthew, you’re really trying my patience.

I’m sorry…I’m wrong…I’ll find a job tomorrow.

Don’t give me that shit. She didn’t listen to me. Tomorrow, you’re going to go to the outlets and apply—wherever, to Nike, to Kohls, to Banana Republic—I don’t want to hear this shit about Okinawa. I’m not going to let you waste your money. No, you’re on a loan, Matthew.

I graduated with bachelor in English from UC Davis and a master in English at San Francisco State University, with a TEFL certificate for a hundred hours. I sat on 5,000 dollars.

Okay, I will.

That didn’t happen. I applied online to more positions in Okinawa, including a concierge position at a hotel. I quickly grew bored and wandered beside my bookshelves. I remembered an interview from Pamuk as I picked up his collection of essays Other Colors. He said he was a national writer who picked up all his skills in Istanbul. Although the country betrayed via incarceration, he held no remorse. He also said another interesting thing. Before his daughter was born, he’d write from ten o’clock at night to three o’clock in the morning, when the city went to sleep.  By morning, he said, it felt like I had prepared the news for the city. I shared similar sentiments as I finished my first collection of short stories in one weekend (this was a different project from Brevspread). Feeling its feather weight and touching its stapled spine, I felt like a newspaper boy ready to deliver then by hand. I hadwished I could be an international writer like Pamuk or Marquez, the original planter to my desires, who wrote in France, Columbia, and Mexico.

You better do something about it now. My brother Tim said. Or maybe you just didn’t want it.

If someone can just give me the platform, I’ll leap.

It was quiet. I left out the part where my mother cried to my dad, and he later came back to scold me for my romantic dreams. The truth was that we lived in Okinawa for nine years. I remember the clean architecture and the warmth, the typhoons which short-circuited the whole city and the Habu snakes which inhabit the trees and the sugarcane fields. I was ready to accept that. Keep it simple, my father shouted. Goddamn it, it’s Sunday. I didn’t disagree with the candid truth coined by Occam’s Razor. In fact, I tried to apply to my writing one sentence at a time. The context was however different. While I meant skill trade, he meant for one night.

Tomorrow, my mom came to our workspace to say. You’re going to apply to the outlets. Or how about applying to Travis School District?

It made more sense to apply for Travis School District because of my background and aspirations.

Marquez said the first night he landed in the city where he studied law, he slept in a prison on bed of hay fermented from sweat the night before. He stopped writing to focus on school, when one of his friends told him to write about a riot in the city. He did and became a journalist. At the same time he continued to write short stories without royalties. I look at Marquez’s humble life and unseen events, and thought writing for Okinawa for the rest of my life would be fine.

I felt exhausted applying to fourteen different places, schools or hotels, in Okinawa. I thought about applying to Travis School District around my house, but was stopped by Pamuk’s collection of essays. The first paragraph was about the things around his desk, an essay which he wrote for Ox. It was simple infatuation for the things and their shapes and their smell. I put that in my backpack. Then I read a paragraph from a short story I haven’t completed. It was from Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Sachi, a mother, had just cremated her son in Hawaii, and she visited the spot where he was attacked by a shark and drowned. I was three paragraphs in before I knew it. I needed to disconnect from his humble pros so I could apply to the school district. I put that in my backpack. I remembered how happy I felt around literature. How it forced you to focus to have some kind of pleasure. How you were not yourself as you naively followed the character. How it required your entire being. How it warned you about how you perceived your life.

I thought the people of Vacaville needed to know about this, so instead of visiting Travis School District, I wrote about it in the Cultural Center Library.

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How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment and Another Essay

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 2, 2012

How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment

In a dream I came back to the apartment and asked my friend if I could borrow his coolant for the car. When he said he didn’t have one I told him there was one in the back. The back connected to four other tenants, shared through a cross section. The room was plainly painted in an orange coat closed to a pumpkin. The wainscoting was green as winter grass with frost. The coolant was on the ground in a tall gallon, standing beside a rake and box.

Is it all right if I borrow it, I asked.

It’s not mine.

You don’t mind if I ask your neighbor.

Be my guest.

I don’t know who my friend was. I had the feeling he was my friend on the account he accommodated me when my car was broken without any queries. He didn’t even question my intrusion to the backyard. He was tall and slim, had a diva-like attitude. He was bald and had a neatly trimmed mustache that seemed to be hard with hair gel. He left me alone to deal with my problem. I knocked on the door and appeared was Istanbul author Orhan Pamuk. He looked nothing like the man I’d seen in videos or university interviews. His hair was silver and oily. Face had a soft demeanor with the look of fierce inquiry.

Yes?

I was wondering if I could borrow your antifreeze. My car is overheating.

Oh, sure. It’s yours.

Could I ask you something, sir: Are you Orhan Pamuk?

Yes, I am Orhan.

I didn’t know what to say. I was sure a thousand of people asked about how to write very well, asked him how he’d endured his trial for desecrating the land.

Thank you, Mr. Pamuk.

He hummed and shrugged his shoulders, then he closed the door. I was delighted to have met the author and borrowed the thing which would fix my car. The antifreeze was cool and pretty heavy, probably fifteen pounds. It had a sticker of a mountain cap with a violet tone over the picture. I wondered what Mr. Pamuk would say about this: I woke up in the middle of the night and heard someone knock at the door. There was a young man holding a coolant of some kind and claimed it was mine. If it was true, I hadn’t seen it for years. Didn’t know when the last time I used it on my 94 Chevorlet. He asked if he could borrow it because his car had broken down, and I said take the damn thing, I have no use for it.

I carried the bottle of antifreeze under my arms and went back to my friend’s apartment. He didn’t answer the door. I wanted to knock harder with my fist, but was afraid of disturbing the neighborhood. Because I knew Mr. Pamuk’s house, I went back to his, with a little excitement that I’d enter his house.

Oh, it’s you again. Mr. Pamuk said.

My friend is not answering the door. I said. Could I exit through yours? I’m just parked on the other side.

He opened the door so I could enter. Already it had led me to his kitchen. The countertop was marble blue with a hint of smoke. On the right was a painting by Ciudad Real painter Antonio López Garcia of the apartment complexes in Madrid rendered in oil. An orange horizon stood from one side as the buildings cast a shadow over the streets below. I wondered if it told me the secret to where I  was. I wondered if Mr. Pamuk would say something profound about the painting I stared at.

He didn’t.

We passed the kitchen. In the living room the walls corrode an off-colored white. He owned a very old couch, which you could tell he read feverishly on it by the books that laid on the far side of the couch and the bookshelf that stood behind it. Because Mr. Pamuk was granting me this favor of passing through his apartment, I didn’t get a good look at his bookshelves, the one he restored after the earthquake.  Before I knew it I was in the foyer, standing beside the green door.

Thank you for letting me pass, I said.

Oh, it’s no problem. He said. I hope you enjoy my coolant.

It’ll only take me a second. I said. I don’t think you use the whole thing, anyways.

No, take it. I have no use for it anymore.

He opened the door wide which meant I had to leave.

Thank you.

Enjoy.

I stepped through the door but turned around. Instead of saying goodbye I had left the Turkish writer with a question.

Mr. Pamuk, if you could begin a story about a coolant how would you tell it?

–Owakari

What’s to come is my desire to become an instructor for Teach for America.  When they asked for my personal information, I wasn’t sure what form they preferred: The continuity of an essay or the direct bullet-point form of a resume. I chose to write in the former, but in the end they had you insert your personal information on their form.

My Desire to Teach for America

I first graduated from Solano Community College with associates degrees in Liberal Arts and English to suffice my General Education to enter into a four-year college. Then I received my Bachelors in English at University of California Davis in 2009 with an emphasis on Teaching and Creative Writing. And lastly I received my Masters in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing this year June of 2012.

This may be grand and marks of growth in my English discipline, but they do not entirely justify my development and desires to be a teacher, for a teacher requires leadership and empathy for the student.

With experiences of leadership, I would refer to my work experience. Specifically in regards education, I tutored English at Solano Community College from 2007 to 2008 and was a Graduate Instructor’s Assistant for an English class for a semester in 2012, where I had my own group of students, twenty students to be precise, for an hour every week. Some days I would lecture before a hundred students in the auditorium under my professor’s supervision. As an English tutor, I helped ESL students to more advanced students who were enrolled in critical thinking. I learned using the white board helps establish an objective view of texts. I broke down paragraphs and showed the profluency of content, from topic sentence to transitional sentence when diagramming an essay. I normally would write them down before the student arrived. Because repetition was vital to the learning experience, I learned patience is highly valued. The student may have asked me for the answer, but I had to refuse because they needed to possess the grammar rules at an independent level. “I won’t be there when you take the test,” I said. Some might be acrimonious to the standard, but those who were diligent and patient with themselves, the pass the test at the end of the semester, moving them one step closer to their college career. That was where I learned the most important value as a tutor: Have an optimistic outlook and high-expectations from your students.

My experience as a Graduate Aid Instructor at San Francisco State University was different, but perhaps closer to being an instructor. Unlike tutoring, where I tutored one student at a time every session, being a Graduate Aid Instructor allowed me to conduct my own class. I had learned the value of time management, a student’s motivation, and the significance of structuring a class session. The original class size was a hundred students, and every week I was given a group of twenty students who stayed with me the whole semester. Then two times in the semester I had lectured to the entire class about the craft of writing. Teaching the group is much more difficult than to the individual. The tempo is different because you simply cannot address everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in a session. I had followed the professor’s lessons and at the same time facilitate a discussion. This required structure: First, you want to engage the student. I would ask an interesting question or begin with an activity. Second, once you got their attention, you want to elaborate on the lesson plan, which I call the “study” portion of the day. Third, you want to give the students a chance to practice what he/she learned, hoping they played with the concept, by which I mean, experimented with the concept.

As I read back my experiences, it seems I have ignored the difficulty of fostering a productive classroom. I hope to clarify here that I had my achievements and failures during these times. Some students would be unmotivated in the classroom. Some students would be disrespectful by putting their feet on the desk or not showing up for their tutoring session and later emailing me asking for the answers to the test. For the disrespectful student, my goal is never to embarrass him. After class, I would ask him or her about how they felt about his or her expectations, skills, and desires. Getting at this level of their lives helps establish a rapport and finds solutions to the issue, because the problem is usually outside the classroom. In regards to managing a classroom, I had my share of difficulties trying to engage the students with a teacher-centered environment, where I lecture over twenty minutes. This method simply does not work, and I realized it rather late in the semester. The classroom environment is when the teacher lectures for fifteen to twenty minutes, and most of that time is to help set up the next activity.

I learned a lot over the years, how to structure a lesson plan, how to have command of the content, and most important, how to humble yourself before your students, which includes listening to them in and out of the classroom, demanding high expectations as if they were adults, and demonstrating mastery over the content of today’s lesson plans. Working for your corporation would help me improve my philosophy as a teacher by showing great leadership and empathy for the student.

New Beginnings

Posted in Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on July 26, 2012

 I Miss an Old Flame

 woke up missing an old friend, wishing one day that I could romance her. Jahara Cachola was an old flame I knew in Guam as a distant voyeur. In this dream she was slim and an adolescent. So was I. She wore a giant pink sweater covering her waist with black pants. My imagination did all it can to replace what was hidden. She washed fruits over a sink as I came around the counter. I held her around the torso and kissed her on the cheek. I was the happiest person with her long black hair which smelled of sweet salts sat under my nose. Then something only a dream could conjure for me: Peremptorily, I don’t know why I imagined this but even in dreams, as I reflect on it now, Jahara wouldn’t call herself fat, as tight as my grip around her body was. She was confident and optimistic, with a determination of a saint and engorged in false-modesty. She smiled naturally when saying oh no or when she changed the subject that instant. Her eyes were small under the bulbous curve of her cheeks. She was someone I hoped was spoiled by her boyfriend even though she’d hate after many years of taking care of her two younger sisters she care for like a parent. I miss being a hopeless romantic, and understand the cautionary dream to mean, The pure warmth was good for life. During my adolescent years I never thought of girls in the ultimate end that was sex. I thought they were there for us to pamper and assure happiness for. In middle school and the freshmen years of high school I would daydream in classrooms how I’d stand outside Jahara’s Japanese class and with a wave of a hand and a smile I’d convince her to ditch class. Or in the cafeteria we’d sit at the round table with one of the largest group of friends, which was true, and make faces at each other, a secret language under the talks about sweltering hot bus rides and mid terms. With the accessibility to pornography on the internet or at the self-help side of bookstores, pornography has erased the good intentions men once for women, speaking for myself specifically. Then my friends teased me with the greatest truth amongst men: “Don’t put pussy on a pedestal.” I woke up this morning with the warm sensation, and in the shadow of the plastic blinds felt sad how I lost a dear friend and flame from a time that’d never return in the innocence it was conceived in. I wonder if the dream was satisfied my ardor for her would dissipate on a snowy hilltop where daydreams didn’t belong with the social milieu.

Do You Spend Time with Your Family

We officially moved into our new house. With the last of the furniture, the cabinets, the shelves, boxes of cleaning solution, and the flat screen television once in the living room, we sat in the living of our new house where we watched on the flat screen the National Basketball Association’s channel screen the replays of the Olympics, USA versus the world. My father came in the living room and fell into the arms of the couch. The sound of quiet cheers, because these were only the preliminaries, washed over their tired bodies. I heard earlier today my father cried. The house meant much to him, and when I think about the time and effort driven into the house, ten years speaks volumes of tumult and tenderness into the stucco walls. Then Tim returned from his drive to Vallejo to sell our outdated cds. Are we going to throw away the stuff, he asked me, come on, let’s go, I want to get this shit out of the way. I came outside and closed the car garage door. Earlier today, as I lifted the barbeque grill from the serving tray, the serving tray flipped and scratched the corner of my eye. Tim reminded me I could avoid a trip to the wasteland because of the incident, but couldn’t because of my ego. I told Tim as we drove in the backroads where the hills were taller and more golden and the arid touch of the air attracted more flies into the Rav4. Damn, that grill bodied you, Tim said as I lifted the wet paper towel from the mark, did you want to stay here, No, I’ll go, and later down the road I had the urge to tell him about where my pride could’ve came from, Today, while I was biking, I said to him, if I get into an accident I won’t go to Okinawa, and then look at this, That sucks. I was offered an internship to Okinawa for investment bankers. They were in search of English teachers who could teach courteous mannerisms, basic English, and methods to running a bank. The internship, however, didn’t provide medical insurance and my dad assailed me to not take a job position that doesn’t offer medical insurance. Because what if something happened to you, he would say, then it’s my ass on the line. I would live there three months without medical insurance, I said to Tim and lowered the volume on the car radio, but I won’t stifle myself, I will find a way to live there, that means working nightshift, asking help from uncle Sotero, sean-sean, and Ryan’s dad, Yeah, you should do it, What do I do about papa, I would do it anyways, I don’t feel right lying to him. It was funny. Last night I got home two hours earlier than my parents and on the History channel they played a documentary on the Godfather series. I remember Marlon Brando hold Johnny Fontane by the face and ask the question which spoke to him as well as to me: Do you spend time with your family?

To Know a Lot

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on June 15, 2012

To Know a Lot

I didn’t get any kind of work done. Instead I procrastinated watching someone play video games. The player had a moniker by the name of Nitujo. She was played an old game I remember buying when I was only eleven years old. It was Mario 64, the first game on Nintendo 64, popular in its time, as every child had a copy in Okinawa, Japan and the United States of America. The objective of the game is to save princess from Bowser, a giant turtle-like behemoth, with sharp teeth and with the ability to breathe fire. But to get to Bowser, you must first find fifty stars to unlock the door in the castle. In the first stage, the player was phenomenal. As Mario, she hopped, jumped, and dash across the landscape, avoiding walking bombs, innocent turtles, and walking brown-mushrooms. Her actions reminded of the late Bruce Lee, who claimed that the problem with styles in martial arts was that they lacked continuity. He was specifically referring to Japanese’s Karate. I considered the Cantonese martial artists a master of his craft. And I saw that in Mario: Continuity. His movements were as if he had controlled the world, or that the world revolved around him and not as modern thinkers have it, that we revolve around the sun. I wanted this continuity. I wanted it applied to my daily works. I didn’t know how to achieve this. But at least, I have a meaning for genius: A continuity in his performance.  Rereading what I’ve written, I’m surprised the definition doesn’t fit in with the modern standard of genius: To know a lot.

At the Pizza Joint on Ocean Ave.

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 21, 2012

At the pizza joint on Ocean Ave. David asked the owner if he could post a flower on their window. The owner said of course, while David’s daughter, Ana, said thank you. Ana wore a lavender cotton shirt and plum-colored sweat pants. She also brought her scooter and helmet, and carried it. Out of kindness David wondered where possibly the best place to post a flyer. Her daughter went further into the restaurant, in fact, to the very end of the spinach-green wall.

“That’s too far,” David said. “No one’s going to see that.”

At the entrance he already strips of tape lain out on the edge of the window sill. He palmed the flyer down against the window, took a strip of tape and stuck it on the flyer. Ana did the next three, one for every corner.

“Thank you,” she told the owner, a blond older woman, with harsh skin, and spoke Italian softly, when addressing the chefs. She wore a dark blue flannel sweater and sweatpants.

“That’s no problem.” The owner said. “You’re very welcome.”

“We appreciate it,” David followed up.

“Could I ask,” she said, “what’s it for?”

“My daughter’s school is having a carnival.”

“That sounds wonderful.” The owner

“Okay, thank you,” Ana said, strapped on her helmet.

David and Ana opened the glass door as a tiny golden bell rung above their heads. They left the pizza joint, Pizzeria Sophia, on Ocean Ave. The lights were romantically dim, highlighting the peachy-hues and spinach-green off the walls. It was filled with marble tables and leather seats, with all the amenities, from napkin dispensers to parmesan cheese to powdered pepper. On the window, in blue and white, the flyer read, Come one, come all, friends, families, to Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School.

Afterword

For this vignette, I tried to practice clarity of images. At times, most times, I think so much about philosophy, the placement of things, a legato voice, so on and so forth, I forget the simple basic craft to unfolding action, the essential skill to creating a movie in people’s mind. John Gardner in The Art of Fiction says the mistake that amateur writers make is logical assessment of images. You can’t write: “David asked if he could put flyers, when he closed the door behind with his daughter.” Well, you can write that, but the lines is easier to follow if you write, “As he closed the door, with his daughter behind him, he asked the owner he could post a flyer on their window.” That’s still a bit jarring, but the gesture is easier to follow.

Immersion into Astor Piazolla

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 20, 2012

Why not immerse yourself in your work? That includes entertainment, for your consciousness is the last filter before mental digestion. In my studio apartment in San Francisco Astor Piazzolla played on a Panasonic docking station, about the size of computer speakers. It was hollow and brash. Instead I removed my ipod and plugged my earphones into the machine and into my ears. The space between my thoughts and song was like no other. At first images and gestures suddenly bloomed in my mind. Something between a boxer and Spanish dancer. I was listening to Mr. Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” The boxer and the Spanish dancer didn’t take any form; those were just the words to describe my impression. But they never left me. They took shape once I was able to follow the melody in the violin; in my experience, like how the intervals moved from one note to another, also did the Spanish dancer moved with her shoes of flaming tongues swinging my heart into places. Or the famous boxer Ricardo Finito Lopez. As he raises his gloves before the bout jumps at the drop of a hammer on a golden bell, he steps cautiously towards the center of the ring, waits patiently in front of his opponents, finds openings, aims, and then leaps, landing the leading foot, which by then would land a blow on the jaw (very similar to the Filipino sensation Manny Pacquiao). When the contrapuntal movements between piano and violin, my Spanish dancer finds fight with men’s heart in the auditorium while my boxer pivots around his opponent. I find comprehension in the imagination.

In the Presence of Something Great: SF Radio Tower

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 15, 2012

I was in the presence of something great. I once heard Mary Gaitskill explain as she recalled an undergraduate reading of Franz Kafka. Although she didn’t comprehend the text, she knew she was in the present of something great. The same could be said here. In the photos of Twins Peak (one side, mind you), I was in the present of something great although I didn’t understand its purpose then and there. The winds were harsh. The cold air stung my face. But the sun was there to keep my body warm as I climbed through tall bladed grass, red rocks, hard dirt, and yellow flowers.

If only I owned one of those neat cameras, that dramatizes the depth of the world, today would’ve been a good time to own one; so the photos to come are not rendered up to cinema’s standards. But nevertheless I had a good time walking on a side of San Francisco no one seemed to care for—especially tourist, students, and the saddest of them all, locals who lived here since their childhood. What a breath of wonder they had right in their backyards!

Just a warning to those who might hike there: I had the luxury to blaze the trail. You might find two hills that give you an overview of the city, from the Academy of Science’s clay rotundas to the bustle of Mission Street, from China Town to David’s Cross, but maybe your goal is to be under the Radio Tower. Well, you must trust me: Everything is connected. There is a trail or a street that connects San Francisco together; that’s one of its beauties. To get under the Radio Tower, you have to climb the guard rail close to the aqueduct—the one heavily fenced in with rusty barb wires—if you climb it, follow the cement path and you’ll be on the main street sooner or later that’ll then take you to the tower.

As I stood on the nameless hills, I despaired a little. I yearned to be in the presence of something great. I saw the Radio Tower crown the mountain, with its cross-like figure, red and white colors, the satellite dishes trimmed around the body as well as the head like a jeweled embroidery of a Russian tiara. How’d it be if I was underneath it? I wondered, as the winds brushed against my face, and I sat down on the slope. Even fellow travelers with their large backpacks backtracked when they gave up, saying to me: “If you want to get to the Radio Tower, you need to go back around. See, over there, is Sutro Heights, and the tower seems to have a mountain all to itself. From what I can tell, there isn’t a safe path. I thought I could finish over there, but as you can see, you can’t.” The young Japanese man continued on his way up the nameless hill, while I continued to stare at the tower and climb down the nameless hill. My goal was to finish the hike by touching the guard rails. At the guardrails, I then saw in the direction of the Radio Tower a cement paved way and a very narrow dirt trail. If I just jump the guard rail, I thought. Wonderlust filled my heart, and I jumped the guard rail and ran down the dirt trail. I found the main street, which spiraled upwards to the Radio Tower.

Don’t despair, have patience!

Ten Things I’d rather do than Write

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on March 8, 2012

Things I’d rather do than write: (1) Watch The Office on the laptop on the internet. (2) Eat a full meal with brown rice and two pieces of spam on an oily paper plate. (3) Eat four more pieces of spam because I ran out of brown rice. (4) Look for music on the internet and play it until it ends and replay it; by the second time I’m already on a different webpage. (4) Prepare my lecture on creative writing so I didn’t look like an idiot come Tuesday afternoon. (5) Read my favorite authors randomly off my bookshelf or my backpack. (6) Read one of Rilke’s letters to a young poet and encourage my future imaginary student to do the same, and prepare for Tuesday’s lecture on creative writing. (7) Find the submission date for my thesis online. (8) Change the themes on my WordPress, sometimes in a solid black and white scheme, sometimes quirky like the model for Esquire magazine. (9) Check on the internet for update from my favorite rap musician, hoping something novel has come out. (10) Think about what hasn’t been finished on my imaginary island that existed somewhere above Australia: The Nibui Island.

Have I grown Deaf to Things?

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on March 8, 2012

When was the last time I walked around without music, in silence? Even in high school I rode the bus with a cd player and watched the flowers flow to the rhythm of hiphop; then eventually I’d give my attention to the artist as if I wanted to be him. Have I forgotten Things, in the Rilkean sense, has music, too? Have I lost the innocence to pay attention to Things, the dreams they’ve rendered for us? It makes me sad to believe I don’t listen well enough, not with the precision of a poet like Rilke—the master and close friend of mine. Today I walked home from San Francisco State listening to a rap artist by the name of Copywrite. The man had amazing sense of cadence and precise lyrics about his family and those who oppose him in a battle rap cipher. When I came home I unplugged my ear phones and put the ipod on the table. My studio apartment was so open even though it was about half the size of a car garage and filled with books and furniture. While I plugged in my laptop, I also pulled out a book I forgotten since this morning: Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letter’s to Cezanne.” They weren’t letters addressed to the painter, but they were his thoughts on the painter through letters to his wife, friends and publishers. I read a passage that lifted me from my seat: You must live in your work. I thought, When was the last time I wrote genuinely, when I wrote with necessity? I came many more passages in the letters that had beautiful renderings of life, of the rain, the greenish yellow of the flower’s petals, so on and so forth; and the Rilke’s renderings made me thing: When was the last time I rendered an image? With my thirty minute walk back home, I should have a room full of Things. But I didn’t. I grew ashamed at my artistry. I had forgotten Things have voice, and I only needed to do was listen to them well to live inside my works.

The Problem with Hot Chocolate

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on March 6, 2012

The Problem with Hot Chocolate

There was a coffee house on Irvine St. by the name of Tart to Tart that sat in front of the Bart tracks. When I’d lose my mind in the small studio beside my home owner’s car garage, I would drive to this coffee house for coffee, depending on my purpose, whether it was for my personal gain or for school. Most times I would stop to render characters and pay attention to the clothes people wore, the clock hanging over the entrance, the students who come here with their laptops and sometimes the occasional group of older men and woman that came from a bar. This week in particular I had thesis to turn in. But I really didn’t care for it, thinking I’d tell my creative writing students tomorrow: The only thing school really taught you was how to push shit when you really didn’t want to.

The coffeehouse was filled with students, from the back to the entrance, under the dim orange lights and slow ceiling fans. There was a group of students sitting at a round table, and I thought, why don’t I practice rendering a camera shot from group to individuals. Or what about rendering that bearded man with a large, silver-rimmed headphones from Sony? Why do people tend to walk away from his table? Or eavesdrop on that conversation about Filipino men who always wore their button shirts down? She told her blonde friend they were pretentious and conceited and if they could carry mirror in public places they would: “Then I’m like, mom, I can’t date a Filipino.” There was so much to render in the coffeehouse. On a night like this, I needed a small cup of coffee but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome with unsteady hand and unfocused thought, and then deprived myself of sleep because it was already 9:30 PM.

So I ordered a glass of hot chocolate for two dollars and twenty cents. I saw the concessionaire (I say that because I didn’t believe he was a baker) used a steal pitcher and heat the milk in the barista’s steel rod. In couple of minutes the milk was steaming from the surface. He poured the whole thing into the glass, leaving a eight of room for me to sip. It was sweet and a little bitter from the dark chocolate. The warmth put me in a dreamy state as I looked for a table close to an electric outlet. Maybe I needed to practice transposing long-hand into type.

Everyone hung over their books and laptops and notepads, in little clusters like dandelions. I peered all the way to the very end where there was an old oak table, the surface beginning to fade away and all you saw were dark spots, scratches and pen-doodles of cartoon cats. There were two people sitting there. I didn’t think they were a couple until I asked if I could sit here and the girl kissed the boy on the lips slowly and rubbed his bearded chin, and said, “Go ahead. It’s alright.” She wore thick plastic frames and her hair was short under the hood of the sweater, while the boyfriend wore an orange and black San Francisco winter coat and matching baseball cap and shoes (which were canvas and orange).

I turned on my laptop, and while I waited for the screen to change from Microsoft XP into the backdrop of James Jean’s acrylic painting of a shoe maker, a heavy usage of gray and maroon, I began drinking my glass of hot chocolate. The warmth hasn’t changed since I first sipped it, nor did the bitterness changed. By the time I finished loading the beautiful desktop, I was halfway into the glass. As I tipped the glass to my lips, I could see the dense powder of dark chocolate at the bottom. I was drinking it quicker than I’d preferred. I had to ration the sweetness for the evening.

There was a girl sitting beside the wall under the framed photographs of the streets of Italy. She was Filipina according to her soft hair and the dark tone of her skin. She wore a blue-and-white striped sweater, loose-fitting, with tight jeans that caught the contour of her thighs. I remembered last week a young Caucasian joked with her, poking her with his elbow, smiling, and playing with her hair, as she seemed to enjoy it, playing along. He was with her tonight, wearing the same clothes he wore last week, a hooded sweater, athletic shorts, and a Boston, Celtics headband. His triangular nose was well-defined and had little brown dots. I had to render their relationship accurately? What gestures displayed affection? When were they able to disconnect, through their eyes—the hardest angle for me to render. More important and lastly, is it me who values their relationship or is it how each person value one another?

By then my glass of hot chocolate was down to the last quarter. I was growing tired from even trying to write the bra strap that could be seen through the Filipina’s sweater. I wondered: Should I buy a second glass so I can sit and study this couple? But that would never give me the strength to get into their minds, because for now, I’ve only been rendering their appearance in a positive light (for I believed they were having fun in light of each other’s company). Imagine all the beauty the man developed for her over the week. How he has grown used to the appearance and was now in a stage where he saw her soul, her values:

Alex met Elaine Rodriguez at Tart to Tart last week near the entrance. She was cute, darker than the usual Asian girl, but nevertheless, had the dark silk hair that flowed off her shoulders. She had neat soft cheeks that lifted her small eyes. She was reading a large textbook on psychology. Alex needed to type an essay, but his Mac laptop was running dry. He pulled out the cord from his backpack and tried to weave the cord around her, where he bumped into her little Converse red shoes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“It’s alright,” she said. “Are you trying to plug that? Here let me help you.”

She brought the plug all the way to the electric outlet between two tables filled with students and their laptops.

“Okay, thanks.” He said. “I have a friend at SFSU who studying psychology. So, are you reading Freud’s iceberg.”

“No, I’m passed that. That’s like lower-level undergraduate.”

–I’m tired. So let me bring it to an ending we could all rejoice over good fortune: The young lovers lived happily ever after. Sadly for me, there wasn’t enough chocolate to partake watching these young lovers.