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  • Writer's picturecherylmurfin

Day 3: Things we pass by

Updated: Nov 16, 2023


Oatmeal. What is the secret of the Scots? I make it home. I cook it in milk. I add cinnamon, honey, and butter. But it’s just not the same as the silky, flowery, beauty in a bowl that was placed before me this morning. I am obsessed; I notice I get a little tense when I don't see it on the menu . . .


But I digress.


Along with the porridge, we each found a ball of yarn and knitting needles at our places at the table this morning.


Here I should explain that part of the method of this workshop is that each participant leads a creative session, bringing to the group a short, art-based exercise to start the synapses firing and a writing prompt. Today, David, an aficionado, was up to bat.

David is an avid knitter, and for his brain tickler he decided we would knit. No small task that; only two others in the group had ever picked up needles. I watch impressed as he deftly, patiently got the non-knitters to move stitches across the needles, each digging into the challenge with determination. When I was first leaning I remember a lot expletives.


Needles clicking, coffee cups clanking, David explained why he chose knitting for our creative exercise. He wanted us, he said, to feel the "act of creating in our fingers" before we spent time contemplating the art mage that would be our writing prompt. The art in question is currently at view at Seattle Art Museum (See and link below this post).


David asked us to consider the art as we walked today. What does the art mean? What does it say? What’s the context? How does it move us? What questions does it raise for us?


I’ll be honest: I have walked right by this piece of art at SAM. It didn’t interest me. In fact, I remember thinking, “Why is that even art?” But the conversation and writing that flowed from the prompt as we walked the 10 miles from Jedburgh to Morebattle (which our devices assured us was closer to 12) moved me deeply. I felt humbled by the depth and lived experience each person brought to the discussion — experiences of lack of representation, oppression, racism, anti-feminism, anti-semitism and more.


Cow
Dressed up for the crowds in her gold earbobs.

The walking started in a light mist, chased for a time by little black rain clouds. But the rain promised by our weather apps never manifested. Along the way, we rolled through more pasture and just-planted farmland, across one busy road and by woodland stand. I found myself looking for the details of these spaces — the grass that changed in height, the black velvet hide of the single adventurous cow who stood watchful us pass as she over a stone wall, her yellow ID tags like earring bobbles. A foxhole with an entry that looked to me like a front porch. All it needed was a swing and a mint julep.


Foxhole
Foxhole with porch

Eventually, we strolled by a tree whose roots fanned out widely beneath its trunk. They looked to me like fingers digging into the Earth. Stopping in front of it for a moment, I was struck by two thoughts. First, the tree was old, older than most "historic" houses in the U.S.. And second, its fingers crossed below the rock and soil to join a wide network of roots and fungi reaching across the surrounding fields and far beyond, perhaps far enough to knit back to itself and start a second row.


Like the stitches David patiently drew from our fingers to create interlinking lines, those roots are woven to into the vast and living membrane beneath our feet, that web from which all life is sustained.


It was brief, but when I reached out to touch the tree, I felt those needles clicking. For those few moments, I felt that regenerative circle



That conversation about art continued all the way to the end of our walking today and through dinner before we each crawled off to our rooms to write down our thoughts.


I know that at least two of us grieved the lack of tubs in the rooms. We've been counting on them for achey knees and backs.


But in my dreams I found myself climbing the old tree. When I reached the topmost branch I pulled out my knitting. My fingers flew as a fall-colored scarf flowed out and down through the branches to the roots where it was pulled underneath to the dirt to join the network.


Sitting securely on my perch, wrapped in scarf, I floated in the tree's embrace. It was much better than a tub.

 

THE PROMPT

Look at the artwork below. “IF I RULED THE WORLD,” 2018, by Jeffrey Gibson, Native American, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians/Cherokee.


Consider the artist, their heritage, age, the context of the world in 2018 when the piece was created. What is this peice about? What does it mean to you? How does it effect you? Or not. You don't have to write about the art specifically, but what it brings up in you.


Here's a bit more about the materials of the art: Repurposed punching bag, acrylic felt, glass beads, metal jingles, artificial sinew, and nylon fringe, 79 x 15 x 15 in.


To see the details of the art go to its SAM page.


 

THE WRITING


Representation

By Stephen Liao


A year ago, when my ex Jamie and I were on one of our typical breaks, I got on the apps again, not looking for anything particularly serious. I met a cute boy from China - let's call him T. He recently moved to Seattle to work at a big tech company (no, not Amazon) after getting a Master's in data science.


We went out a few times. He was younger and had the usual quirks of a Chinese Zillenial whose parents were wealthy enough to send them to an international school. (On one date, I patiently waited while he agonized about which sneaker to get at the Louis Vuitton in Bellevue.) I didn't mind because he was cute and sweet, for the most part.

One evening, he invited me to his trendy apartment in Westlake. He made a complete dinner for me - mapo tofu, eggplant and ground pork, and tomato-egg stir fry - his grandma's recipe. It was lovely.


Afterward, we watched a crappy horror movie about the dark web. The format was interesting enough - it was in a faux-found-footage style, as if we were viewing a Zoom call from a laptop. The execution, however, was dreadful, with your typical friend group of twentysomethings getting murdered one by one.

This is where T. interjected - "This is so fake. You always see the Hollywood agenda." He said it was artificial that one person of each ethnicity would be in the friend group. The leads were white, of course, but one friend was Black, another was Asian, and so on. The red flags were streaming across my mind's eye like crimson banners. He said it obnoxious that the filmmakers dared to contort their pristine artistic vision for a C-movie thriller to kowtow to the woke liberal mob. (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)

I wasn't totally surprised. T told me how, while he was in grad school at the University of Florida, he dated a Trump lover who warned him against the liberal elites. (This MAGA boy was Latino, oddly enough.) I also remember my time as an English teacher in Taiwan. The kiddos I taught could not believe I was American but still looked like them. To them, Americans meant blue eyes and blond hair only.

I told him, "Look, I know you're in the majority in China, but growing up in America, I almost never saw people like me in TV and movies. I'm glad we're seeing more representation now."


In the '90s, I remember the Joy Luck Club and All-American Girl (starring a young Margaret Cho). Still, beyond that, American pop culture was a desert devoid of Asian American representation. This was especially true for Asian males, who were non-existent in the parallel universe that Hollywood conjured up, save for mewling nerds and imported Hong Kong martial artists. Even then, they were not allowed to have romantic interests, like when studio execs infamously axed a kiss between Jet Li and Aaliyah at the end of Romeo Must Die. (Yes, it's a movie based on Romeo and Juliet.)


"But it's so unrealistic and pandering," T. said. "If you want to show people of other races, show them in groups. Like a group of blacks or a group of Chinese. Not one of each together."

I was getting heated. "That might be true in some areas of the country, but where I grew up in California, that's totally possible. It can't be fake pandering if it's normal for some people - like me." I told him about going out on weekends with my friend Sam (of Mexican and Irish descent). We might go to a bar in Hollywood (ironically) and meet up with his friend, a white girl he worked with in a production, and her boyfriend, a Black actor, and party the night away.


In T.'s mind, this was impossible, an aberration, a fever dream concocted by a cabal of socialist studio execs. To me, it was life. I got mad. "White people are not the default Americans!". I nearly rose off the couch, shouting. "White people are not the default Americans!" I repeated. He shook his head, saying it was sad how culture wars have divided the country unnecessarily.


I'd like to say that I stormed out in righteous indignation, but in reality, I was conflicted. Not about the Fox News bullshit he was spouting off on, but about whether it was worth trying to change his mind about it. Clearly, growing up in China, where Han Chinese form 90% of the population, gave him a limited perspective on diversity. He didn't know the discrimination experienced as a racial minority. He was also sweet enough to make me dinner. Oh yeah, he was also hot.


We watched the rest of the movie, made out, took our clothes off clothes. After that night, it was mostly inertia that caused us to drift apart rather than decisive action, as is often the case in online dating. He went on a trip to Hawaii with his friends. I started talking to Jamie again. When he messaged me after he came back, I ghosted him.

I'm not proud of it, but when I looked at my phone and weighed the pros and cons, I couldn't summon the energy to reply.

"Mehhh - not worth it." I shut the phone off.

 

Ideas

By Cheryl Murfin

The discussion

gave rise

to ideas

most of which

I first thought

impossible

and so

resulted in

deeper consideration

turing

looking at

all angles

which led to

the idea of

eliciting input

from great thinkers

who have

practiced the art

and produced

many prodigious works

some of which

were induced

to be written

by a simple idea

that provoked

a big reaction

which sparked

a whirl of words

which triggered

connecting thoughts

which evoked

deep ruminations

on the themes

engendered by

their much

tickled brains

which in turn

said to

their hands

“Go.”




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