Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Morning Coffee & Writing Ritual

I've been fine-tuning my morning writing ritual since 2008. I like writing in the morning, preferably by the light of an oil lamp if it's the wee hours, and the coffee is as much a part of the process as the ink and notebook. 

Sometimes, I have tea. Sometimes, I'm in a car. Sometimes, I'm at a picnic table in a campground. Sometimes it's in a cafe. Sometimes, I don't write at all-- but that's quite rare these days. 

I call it a ritual rather than a routine because I have such a reverence for the block of time I spend making my the coffee and then writing. It helps me think. It helps me stay sane. It helps me figure things out, get grounded. It's a meditation practice. I've called the writing "morning crazy talk" and "morning dump." I go to sleep pretty excited about my morning dump. Maybe that's what helps me wake up early without an alarm: the anticipation for this rather pleasurable ritual.

There might be a few days every month or two when I do not do the morning writing, either by choice or by chance. Those days make me treasure my ritual even more.

My mode of coffee-ing has varied from making Vietnamese-style drip coffee with condensed milk, to using a French press, to a moka, to making cowboy coffee. This pourover method is the latest, and I have a feeling it's going to stick.

I take this ritual with me wherever I go. Friends expect to see me with my coffee kit now when I roll into town.  

Electric kettles only recently entered my life. And oh, how fantastic they are. I thought I wouldn't prefer them over a regular kettle, but I do. I do.

I fill it to the count of 20.

This particular kettle is in the Noble Hotel staff kitchen for NOLS instructors (and interns) passing through Lander.

This is the travel kit this time around:

- a manual coffee mill (babysitting it...)
- #4 drip cone and paper filter
- my favorite mug
- whole coffee beans

I keep a small amount of beans in the tin, and the rest in an airtight container. Freshness is key to good coffee. Along with process.

I use two tablespoons (sometimes heaping) of whole beans for an 8-9 ounce cup of coffee.

These beautiful beans are from Dark Horse Coffee Roasters in San Diego. I'd tell you which one it is, but you really should go down to your local roaster/coffee shop and check out their beans. Another favorite is Raxakoul in Berkeley.

Dark Horse has a shop in Truckee now. All the more reason to hang out in Donner Pass next summer.

So, I cultivate particularities. Such as this.

I like to fold the seams of my coffee filter so that it rests more snugly in the drip cone.
I'm not sure it actually works, but it gives me good feelings.
By the time I've gathered my coffee bits and folded my filter, the water has come to a boil.

I pour some into the cup to warm it.
I wet and warm the paper filter. I like to think it helps ease away paper flavors, and that it allows the coffee to flow through more tastily.

This process is much easier than a French press when camping because there's no need to wash anything.

I'm not sure whether the mass manufacture of these recycled, biodegradable filters uses more or less water than it would take for me to rinse out a re-usable filter each day. Thoughts?

While the water eases off the boil, I quickly grind the coffee.

I've counted the number of turns it takes. On average, it takes around 70 turns for my morning cup.

It is easiest to grind with the mill between your thighs.

Go head, snicker.
After I open the grinder, I usually take a deep, glorious whiff of the freshly ground beans. It's one of the best parts of the whole process.

I put the coffee into the cone and slowly pour in just enough hot water to soak them, watching the lovely, pale brown "bloom" appear.
When there is a creamy bloom such as this, I know the coffee is going to be good.

Once it subsides, I try my best to pour in the rest of the 8ish ounces in a slim stream, making sure to create turbulence all around the cone (more frothiness!). This part of the process can be mesmerizing, so be careful not to overfill the cone. This will lead to some over extraction or a weak cup, not to mention possible spillage.

It's happened to me a couple of times.

And then, voila. You have your cup. And it is beautiful.

My cup has a patina (stains). Please don't let that distract you from the fact that this is delicious.

Don't sip it too much too soon, though. You'll burn your tongue. And that will be sad.
I carefully take the steaming cup of coffee to my designated morning writing area, where I reverently take a few sips.

Then, the crazy talk begins.

The red hanky is there because I'm afraid of dripping ink on the table. I write with india ink of various colors. The pen is a wooden chopstick that I drilled a hole into. I wrapped it in electrical tape for grip. The notebook is from Art Alternatives.

And there it is. My mornings (mostly). I hope you create/nurture a ritual of your own that nourishes you. Maybe it doesn't involve writing, maybe it does. Maybe it involves caffeine, maybe it doesn't. What I do know, after six years of doing this, is that it feels really good to have at least a little time and space with your thoughts in the morning.

I started with just one page in a wide-rule notebook, and maybe twenty minutes. It all starts somewhere. All it takes it starting.

Further reading:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From Oakland, CA to Lander, WY

As I neared the end of a six-month position as Admissions Associate at GirlVentures, I wasn't sure what late summer or fall would hold for me. I was on belay staff (mostly in babytown) at Berkeley Ironworks, but I knew that I wanted additional work. 

I'd unexpectedly embarked on a journey as an outdoor educator when I was offered the opportunity to work a short 7th grade girls backpacking course with GV in Point Reyes. I still need to write a post about that. One experience as a trip leader was enough to convince me that whatever I did next, I wanted it to further me along the path to more such work. At the urging of my coworker Grace, I applied for a fellowship with National Outdoor Leadership School

Soon after the phone interview, I left for a backpacking trip in Yosemite. I was nervous. Nervous that I wouldn't get the job, nervous that I would. Shortly after my return, I was offered the fellowship. It took me a few days to think it over. 

There are less than 600,000 people in all of Wyoming. Lander, where NOLS is based, is a town of around 7,500. In Oakland alone, there are over 400,000 people, but Bay Area cities all blend together, so the sea of people feels endless until you drive out an hour or two.

Asian Americans. Queer/trans folks. People of color. The Pacific Ocean. The Sierra. My loved ones. My lovely housemates. My favorite coffee roaster(s). I'd be leaving them all behind. Not just venturing a few hours north or south, not just for a few days or a couple of a weeks. For a couple of months.

I decided to do it. Because I've been telling myself for years to Do what you're afraid to do, among other mantrasMaybe it's just a part of my life now to spend three months away from home.

And also, of course, there's the access to climbing. I watched and enjoyed the Lander climbing film Wind and Rattlesnakes immensely when it came out last year. The section of Core about Lander climber BJ Tilden is my favorite of the whole film.

[Edit: I also owe a hat-tip to Jared Spaulding's blog for giving me a glimpse inside the Noble Hotel and the life of a NOLS instructor based in Lander.]

So on September 10th, I packed up my car, bundled Audrey into it with me (she flew down from Portland to accompany me), and we set out on I-80 for the 1,018-mile road trip from Oakland to Lander.

We camped in Winnemucca, Nevada, at a campground I'd found called Water Canyon. We built a fire, drank rye whiskey, and wrote.

In Salt Lake City, we stayed with a friend of a friend I knew from Ironworks, and climbed with a friend of a friend of a friend I knew from climbing outside and Twitter. (The climbing community is so great about travelers.)

And then, it was off to Lander. As we crossed the vast, flat land, I repeatedly exclaimed "I'm going to Wyoming!" There was not a little anxiety in my voice, tempered with excitement. As we hurtled along the freeway with an 80 mph speed limit, the fact of my distance from California got closer and closer to reality. 

The moving-in process would have been much more difficult if I hadn't had Audrey's help with the library of books I brought with me, plus climbing gear, my typewriter, and two months' worth of clothing. It was good to be able to walk around town with a friend. When I dropped her off at Riverton Airport, it really settled in that I was alone in Lander, Wyoming.

And, admittedly, that was something I was sort of looking for. Some distance. Some solitude. Space. Time.

Over the last seven weeks, I've come to deeply appreciate life here. Smaller, less dense, less hectic. Snow-capped mountains unobstructed by buildings. This crisp air. 

"It is better to know one mountain than to climb many."

This is a Native American saying that has popped up in various places in my readings about the outdoors, exploration, and outdoor education. I want to get to know the mountains of California better. There are smaller places there, too, for me to get to know. And I want to get to know more of the United States. There is so much still to learn that the small bit of it I've known up to this point.

For most of my life, I dreamed about visiting countries on other continents and rarely considered traveling to the middle parts of the country that I was born and raised in. Those seemed less for me, and more foreign, than foreign countries. But that's changing. Perhaps this is a part of the continuing process of accepting and owning my Americanness, and wanting to have a fuller conception of what that is, what that means for me.

I'll be in Southern California again in a couple weeks to see family and friends for the holidays. I'm bracing myself for the shift back to traffic and density and cars and billboards. And then it's back to Oakland. Traffic, density, billboards. I haven't even left Lander yet and I'm already considering when I might spend time here again. I feel a pull here that is similar to what I tend to feel in other places, but it has an air of possibility and even practicality around it that other places don't.

But I haven't lived this way in that many different places. Miles to go, yet.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Walking Past Rattlesnakes

The rattlesnake lay partially coiled on the right side of the trail, still making faint sounds of wariness and irritation when Miho started hiking again. "Do you want me to go first?" Elizabeth asked as I hesitated.  I looked up at her, then promptly turned and walked past the snake as it slowly slid around the small boulder and descended the hill, making its way out of sight.

We were about halfway through our 5-day backpacking trip along the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. We had started from White Wolf and would finish at Tuolumne Meadows. It was late July. It was hot. It was rattlesnake season. The El Portal Fire was still burning through thousands of acres though we didn't see much evidence of it in the sky. We were a group of eleven women of color from age 22 to 53, brought together by Balanced Rock Foundation for this backcountry journey, on the tenth anniversary of these women of color trips. The claim is that it is the only trip of its kind in the country.

I know that there are women of color leading other women of color on trips in the backcountry in the United States, but it seems that the Balanced Rock trip is indeed the only institutionally-led and supported one.

Maybe it's because I grew up in an immigrant household-- not only an immigrant household, but a refugee household-- that I had not considered working in the outdoors, or even backpacking recreationally. It was never in my range of vision. I didn't see it as a possibility for me. From outdoor exploration camp in sixth grade to team-building high ropes courses through college and beyond, I cannot recall a single counselor or instructor who was a woman of color.

That's not unusual, of course. Everyone has different interests, different vocations, different ways that they recreate, different places they want to spend their leisure time. The practice of carrying 30-40% of your bodyweight across long distances in remote places is understandably not commonly appealing across any demographic. And taking such journeys is far from the only way to recreate outside, nor is it necessarily a more valid way of experiencing nature than to spend an afternoon in a regional park.

I don't think everyone should go backpacking. I don't think everyone needs to try rock climbing. But what I recognize now that I think about my journey into outdoor education is that these activities were on the edge of my subconscious. Like the students I watched walk back and forth in front of the LGBT Resource Center office at UC Irvine, apprehensive about walking in. But I knew that I could walk into the LGBTRC. I saw people like me in there. And for most of my life, I didn't see people like me backpacking, I didn't see people who looked like me climbing.

The journey to finding these things that are so important now (camping, climbing, outdoor education) happened in small increments. I could say it began with a roommate in college who instigated a camping trip. She was Vietnamese American, and really really into camping. Her excitement was contagious. A bunch of us went car camping somewhere south of Orange County, along a river. We slept under the stars, cooked over fire, and, because we were in college, drank quite a bit. And though I didn't do much camping until years after that, I think of that experience as the first time I realized that camping was not just a white american thing. (There's a lot to unpack there about growing up perceiving myself as not ah-khaing, not American, associated with this as well.)

Despite a lifetime of exposure to American ideals about individualism and following bliss and doing what the heart truly desires, I am coming to understand how the smallest spark of encouragement, the smallest invitation, has a profound effect on expanding what I believe is possible for myself.

(To be continued.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

In which I get very worked up about water in California

I took a road trip from Los Angeles to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest last weekend with Di. On the way back down the 395, we noticed a Crystal Geyser plant. We were incredulous that this plant existed in a hot basin just a couple of hours west of Death Valley. Practically all we could see on either side of the highway was dry, parched grass.

Yesterday I saw a link to this article about East Porterville on Facebook, a town whose wells have run dry and who now have to resort to using bottled water. The photo for the article showed boxes of Crystal Geyser being distributed to residents.

East Porterville is on the western side of the Sierra, at very close to the same latitude of a Crystal Geyser plant.
I've fallen into a vortex of links about the drought and about Crystal Geyser in the Eastern Sierra. In 2012, the plant in Olancha alone proposed to pump and profit from the equivalent of nearly 4,000 individuals' water usage: about 120 million gallons per year. There have been concerns about this plant since it was first proposed in 1996: Corporate giants slurp up a tiny town's pure water.

That Sierra granite makes California water taste so good. Except now there's no snow on the Sierra.

Crystal Geyser is only one of many companies profiting from drying up California, in large part because "California happens to be the only Western state without groundwater regulation or management of major groundwater use. In other words, if you're a water company and you drill down and find water in California, it's all yours."

The more I read about the drought, government policy, and the bottled water industry, the angrier and more frustrated I get. The idea of allowing people to buy the best-tasting water essentially privileges those who have the economic access to buy water over the public's right to have potable water out of the tap.

I haven't been able to find any information about business regulation in relation to the drought. Is it just not being covered, or is it not happening? I imagine that the economic impact of restricting business' water use is a concern, and it is often cited that "reclaimed water" is used for corporate lawns and golf courses rather than potable water, but it just doesn't make sense to see huge expanses of green while individuals are urged to let theirs go brown or face possible fines.

I make the the drive between Los Angeles and the Bay Area often (which I recognize is also environmentally problematic). Along the way, there are long stretches of dry, dusty land displaying signs that say things like "Congress-Created Dust Bowl," "No Water = No Jobs," "Water = Jobs."
Image source
From reading Cadillac Desert, I've gathered that agricultural operations in California should never have grown as immense as they have. While the Central Valley has incredibly nutrient-rich soil, California doesn't have the water to support huge export agribusinesses (which aren't sustainable even when there is sufficient water).

Water in California is complicated. The majority of the us live in a desert, but we do not live or do business as though we are. This drought is not our first wake-up call. Whether we're going to answer in any meaningful ways is yet to be seen.

What the report about East Porterville made me realize is that the small rural towns without immense political and economic capital are going to suffer first, while our populous urban centers will be able to keep putting off the very real consequences of this drought for some time. We get to think about this drought in the abstract, when it is not at all abstract.


Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower came up in our conversation on the roadtrip, as it often does when talking about California and drought and climate change. The book's starting point is just 10 years from now, and we were dumbstruck by how easily we could imagine the world looking the way Butler describes. More on that in another post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Visions. Are. Legendary. // Circus Returns to National Queer Arts Festival

On Friday, June 20, Topsy Turvy Queer Circus returns to the Brava Theater as part of the National Queer Arts Festival. Thanks to the overwhelming demand for last year's show, another performance has been added; there are two nights now instead of one.
I'm housemates with a performer and the amount of work that is going into this thing is no joke. Rehearsals, travel to rehearsal spaces (finding rehearsal spaces!), sweat, tears, exhaustion, endless stretching, training, choreographing, costume design-- these performers are working hard.

The acts last year ranged from flat out physically incredible to poignant to playful to jaw-droppingly hawt (and often, some combination thereof). Tidbits from last year's show:

Tickets are available on a sliding scale basis ($15-20) here or via the links below. 

And if you, like me, made a critical online-ticket-purchase error
last year, fear not-- no more drop down menus in this year's ticket buying process!
Topsy-Turvy Queer Circus: Visions. Are. Legendary.
India Davis and Indi McCasey

Brava Theater
2781 24th StreetSan Francisco, CA 94110

Friday, June 20th at 8pm: Buy TicketsSaturday Matinee, June 21 at 2pm: Buy TicketsSaturday Night, June 21 at 8pm: Buy Tickets

I just double checked my confirmation email. Yup, I bought a ticket for the right show. Phew. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

American Revolutionary at Laemmle Pasadena this month!

In 2010, I was fortunate to become connected to American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs as a transcriptionist. I got to listen closely to quite a bit of raw interview footage as well as interviews with some of the people whose lives she's touched in her long, long involvement in civil rights and community organizing in Detroit.

I missed the Los Angeles premiere last year because I was in the midst of my transition from LA to Cambodia to Oakland. I finally had the opportunity to see the film when it came to the Bay Area as a Gala Presentation for CAAMFest 2014.

Having done quite a few hours of transcription, and knowing that it was only a small portion of how much footage there was in total, I have a new depth of appreciation for the amount of work it takes to produce such a film. I enjoyed recognizing some of the bits that I'd transcribed, and was astounded at how much is left on the cutting room floor. 
Before my involvement with the documentary, I had little awareness of Grace Lee Boggs beyond knowing vaguely of her from the Blacklava "roots" shirt on which she appears alongside Philip Vera Cruz and Yuri Kochiyama (I got to share some Asian American history with the Executive Director of GirlVentures recently when I wore the shirt in honor of Yuri Kochiyama's recent passing). 

American Revolutionary provides a glimpse into her early life and her journey, the evolution of her ideas, but still left me with similar questions that her autobiography Living For Change left me with, this yearning to get a sense of who she is beyond the theory and practice of activism, her emotional life. I don't think she is intentionally evasive to those questions, though; she has been a student of philosophy all her life, centers her thoughts around activism and the theories behind them, and her discourse is framed around that. 

And ultimately, perhaps that is what makes her such a compelling subject-- the thoroughness of her commitment to social change, that she seems to live and breathe movement, that she seems constantly consumed with gathering and synthesizing ideas to create revolution. It is a way of being and way of living that I respect deeply; by the amount of critical and community acclaim the documentary has received, I am one of many. 

If you are in the Los Angeles area and didn't get to see American Revolutionary at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest, see it in its theatrical run June 20-26 at Laemmle Pasadena

Friday, March 21, 2014

Vote for the First Female Mr. Hyphen!

Last year I had the pleasure of watching Sean win $2,000 for Tuesday Night Project. This year I hope to see Allison grace the stage as the first female Mr. Hyphen, and win $2,000 for That's What She Said!
In less than 24 hours the voting for Hyphen magazine’s Mr. Hyphen will be over. This is the last chance to get your votes in and support me into becoming one of the top 5 finalists to have a chance of winning $2,000 for Pearl Girls Productions’ That’s What She Said Webseries. Not only that but I would be creating new possibilities with being the first female Mr. Hyphen in the history of EVER!
Please vote, share the links with your networks and let me be YOUR Mr. Hyphen 2014!
You can vote here:
And here. Just click on the link and LIKE my video to vote:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bishop, Again. Buttermilks. Delicious.

It's a happy place. Went with a bunch of folks from Bridges Rock Gym. Such fun. Such frightening topouts. Such hilarity that I find myself in a dubstep-y climbing trip video.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

JTreeTweetUp 5 // Dayshots

During my first JTreeTweetUp in 2012, it was below thirty degrees both of the nights I joined the group. Our water froze in our tents. Thankfully, this past JTreeTweetUp had much milder weather (as well as some generous sponsorship from FiveTen and GoalZero). 

Some very belated photos from the trip:

This bee found its way into my friend's can of coconut water... then into her mouth. She spat it out, and after it dried our for a minute, flew away. Lucky bee.

At the top of the Thin Wall formation at Real Hidden Valley.

Cute baby joshua tree. 

Ramsel onsighting White Lightning.

Kelly pulling one of the hard moves on heady The Cornerstone.

Kelly at the top of The Cornerstone after his triumphant (had us all holding our breath) onsight.

Final dawn at Hidden Valley Campground.

Ivy ready to go home.
I did a lot of top-roping this trip, but I lead a couple of climbs on pre-placed gear, and red-pointed Butterfingers, which made me happy enough to finally buy my first cam. Hmm, I wonder whether Metolius would be interested in sponsoring the next JTreeTweetUp... Only 11 months to go!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Chapbook Was Born // earth things

In the final days of 2013, I was able to keep the vow I made to myself about making a chapbook every year, forever. I made this vow in 2010. I violated the vow in 2011. 2012 and 2013 have been kept. Three of four so far. Hopefully the ratio only gets better.
earth things, December 2013
Though it makes me a little nauseated after having just expended a lot of energy to complete earth things, I can't help thinking already about what I will put together for 2014. I haven't even taken the time yet to really sit with this collection that I've made.

At this point, I think it is safe to say that putting together a chapbook has become a part of my writing process. After posting so many pieces over a period of time, whether it's a year or several, it feels necessary to make something cohesive out of the mess. One of the initial reasons that I began making chapbooks was that I was reading poetry at various spaces often, and I liked the idea of putting together something that people can walk away with.

The process of making Tracing Steps helped me work through the writing I did about my experience traveling to Cambodia for the first time, interacting with being in the "motherland" as a member of the diaspora, and the reality check the experience gave me about the idea of home.

The process of making of cities and lovers was a way of thinking about moving away from LA, all the things I'd found here, all the things I'd be leaving behind. "drifters (perhaps not)" is a piece about my mixed feelings about being someone who simultaneously wants to build community while also being in different places often. And it was also a sort of love letter to LA. There are many love letters to be written to LA.

A lot of the feeling behind earth things came from a period of writing I did back in March 2010. It was around that time that I really began to embrace trying to grow things after the early college experiments. I had a photo album on Facebook called "Do you believe in magic?" that was dedicated to photos of my plant babies and sproutlings. Since then, I've spent more and more time with dirt and growing things and thinking about my relationship with the earth, our relationship with one another, how to create balance, how to grow. The pieces in the collection were written over the last few years, and edited most fiercely in the 24 hours before printing.
Copernicus, my late-night editing assistant.
After having already put together two chapbooks, some of the logistical concerns for earth things were lessened. I think I stalled a bit on completing the collection because I was dreading the formatting part. The editing happened in earnest when I let go of attachment to creating a new aesthetic for the book and let myself stick to what I found worked in terms of font/size for previous chapbooks.

A few notes if you're looking to create (a half-page 5.5"x 8.5") chapbook:
  • Your final page count should be divisible by 4 to ensure full use of both sides of each sheet.
  • Size each page to 5.5" wide by 8.5" tall, adjust margins to .25"
  • CreateBooklet is what I use to put the document into proper PDF printing form. Saves me the headache of trying to figure out what page goes where.
  • It can be based on a theme, or a time period, or anything you want, really. Mine are thematic because that's how my brain works. 
  • Printing and laying everything out helps.
  • Taking time between editing sessions (days, weeks, months) also helps.
  • Do not underestimate the power of a glass of wine and a soak in a hot tub.
Excerpt from earth things, available at a price of your choosing ($7-12 suggested):
Happy new year.