In Which I Go to a Magic Show

On Sunday evening, my friend Isabelle and I went to In & Of Itself, a magic show at the Geffen Playhouse. Glenn Kaino, the conceptual artist for whom we created Lunar French got us tickets, since he was the show’s producer. The performer was magician Derek DelGaudio.

Before the show began, we joined the crowd milling around a wall hung with cards that read “I am a…”. The blank was filled with many different options, and the cards were arranged in alphabetical order. A sign on an easel instructed us to choose the card that represented how we wished to be seen. We stood there for a while, amused, and then I overheard the usher at the door to the theater telling someone that choosing a card was a condition of entry. We started to look a little harder. The choices ranged from “Gaffer” (Isabelle had to explain to me that that was a glassmaker; after looking the word up, though, I don’t think that was the definition foremost in the card makers’ minds) to “Flautist,” from “Nonconformist” to “Foreigner.” There was no “Writer,” but there was “Novelist.” I finally decided on “Cellist.” Isabelle picked “Well-Wisher.”

We were admitted into the theater, where another usher tore off the identity end of our cards, leaving us with “I am” stubs. She piled the cards in a neat stack. Isabelle and I found ourselves sitting in the front row of the very intimate theater. The seats filled, and eventually the usher put the tall stack of cards on the table on stage.

If there’s any chance you’re going to see this show, you should perhaps stop reading. Spoilers for magic shows? Is that a thing?

The set consisted of a wall that looked like it was constructed of gray planks. There were six windows cut into it, with different objects in each one. One contained a golden automaton whose face appeared to be that of…could it be? Frantz Fanon? It was the twin of the Pierrot figure in the moon automaton.

Derek DelGaudio walked on stage and began to tell us a story about a man playing Russian roulette. After finishing the story, he went to one of the windows and took out the half-empty bottle that was sitting in it. He peeled the label off the bottle, folded it into a paper boat, and moved the boat along the back of a chair. A light projected the shadows of the chair and the boat onto the wall, making it look like the boat was bobbing on the ocean. Then he stuck the boat into the back of the chair somehow, so it perched there. He took the bottle and did more shadow games, until at last he passed the bottle in front of the paper boat on the chair. When he lifted the bottle again, the paper boat was floating on the liquid inside of it.

Next, he asked for a volunteer who was willing to come back to the next show, which was to be on Tuesday. Somebody eventually volunteered. Then he called down the volunteer from the last show, who came on stage with a journal in which he’d recorded everything he could remember from the previous show, up until when he’d left. DelGaudio read a few words aloud from his journal entry and then sent him back to his seat.

There followed some nice card tricks. Then DelGaudio told another story–presumably autobiographical?–about growing up in Colorado with his lesbian mothers. He stood next to the window in which a brick was stuck halfway through a pane of cracked glass. Apparently someone threw a brick into their house. After telling the story, he placed the brick, which was painted gold, on the table on which he’d done the card tricks and surrounded it with a little house of cards. He asked the audience to supply the name of an intersection in Los Angeles. We came up with Wilshire & Sepulveda. Then he said the brick was now at that intersection, and he blew down the house of cards to reveal that the brick had vanished.

After the show, I did some poking around online and discovered that people had taken photos of golden bricks found at various intersections around LA. Intersections from previous shows, no doubt. I haven’t been to Wilshire & Sepulveda yet to check myself.

At this point, DelGaudio asked the volunteer who said he’d come back to the next show to leave. Before he left, though, he helped DelGaudio choose a random(-ish?) audience member. DelGaudio invited her on stage and asked her what card she’d chosen. She said, “Dapper Dan man.” (I had to look that up later. And I’ve even seen Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?.) I’m telling this slightly out of order, but DelGaudio climbed a ladder to one of the higher windows, in which lots of envelopes were sitting in a matrix of cubbies. He chose about six letters and presented them to the young woman on stage, pointing out that they were all addressed to him and had some relation written on the back such as “Dad” or “Lawyer.” He said she could pick one, so she picked the one that said “Dad.” He had her imagine some letter-writing scenarios and then finally had her open the envelope.

She slid her finger under the flap, unfolded the letter inside…and sort of curled up on herself in her chair, covering her mouth with her hand. She exclaimed, stared at DelGaudio, almost started crying. Then she read the letter aloud. It was addressed to Zoe (“my name,” she said) and mentioned a family pet and her brother, both by name. It was from her dad. Given her reaction, I imagine the handwriting must have been right. We all stared. This was easily the most impressive moment in the show. I spent a little time later wondering how it all might have worked, but not too much time. I don’t really want to figure it out. Though if I were that young woman, the first thing I would’ve done upon leaving the show is call my dad.

After that stunning bit of magic, DelGaudio asked anyone in the audience who had chosen a card because it was genuinely how they wanted to be seen to stand up. Probably about half the audience rose. Isabelle did. After a few moments’ reflection, I decided “cellist” was not actually how I wanted to be seen, so I didn’t stand.

DelGaudio began going down the front row, telling people what card they had chosen. I forgot to mention: he had moved the stack of cards from the table onto one side of an antique metal scale in one of the other windows early in the show. They hadn’t moved since. There were impressed murmurs as he got the first few people’s cards right. I waited for him to get to Isabelle since I knew what her card had been and also that she, if no one else in the theater, was not a plant. DelGaudio got to her and said, “Well-wisher.”

After doing the first couple of rows, he told people to sit down if he’d gotten their card right. Everyone in the first few rows sat down. He then continued to name the cards of every other person standing. There were probably well over fifty people. One by one, they sat down as he named the correct card. After the letter from dad, this was the next most impressive bit.

And that was the final act. Or almost. He turned back to the set, which lit up. What were once windows had become posters, and these fell to the ground, leaving a blank wall behind them. The stage floor rose up, revealing a mirror on the underside that showed us our own reflection. And that was the end.

Cable Scarf

I relearned how to knit cables over winter break and brought a pair of size 8 needles back to California with me. When one of my fellow grad students hosted an art party last weekend (think stamp making, drawing, and calligraphy, both Western and Chinese), I decided my craft project would be a cable scarf. I picked out some blue wool yarn at Michael’s and started knitting.


The scarf so far. It has a seed stitch border and a four-strand plait on a purl background.

That same weekend, I saw this piece on the health benefits of knitting! Hopefully I’m de-stressing or something. There are actually several knitters (that I know of) in my department, and my advisor told me the MIT department used to have a knitting evening. Maybe they still do.

Liebster Award

Brigid at Brigid Writes Things kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award, which is a sort of chain e-mail of the blogosphere, with the added benefit of letting bloggers discover and promote each other. It looks like fun, so I’m going to do it! (Thank you, Brigid!) The Liebster Award comes with the following rules, which I intend to flout a bit:

The Rules:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog.

2. Answer the 11 questions the nominator has given you.
3. Tag 11 bloggers who have less than 1,000 readers.
4. Think of 11 questions to ask the bloggers you have nominated.
5. Let them know you’ve nominated them through social media or their blog.

Here are Brigid’s questions, with my answers:

1. Put your music on shuffle. What are the first five songs that come up?

Keeping in mind that my iTunes library was partially decimated in the Great Hard Drive Failure of Early 2015:

  1. …well, this is embarrassing. Me playing the first movement of the Shostakovich cello concerto (no. 1) with my high school orchestra
  2. La mode en est devenue nouvelle by Transhumances
  3. Amiranis Perkhuli by Zedashe
  4. Rachuli Supruli by Zedashe
  5. Ach’aruli Khasanbegura by the Basiani Choir of the Georgian Patriarchate

Well, that skewed Georgian, but otherwise it’s kind of an accurate picture of the sort of music I listen to.

2. What’s the last thing that made you laugh really hard?

Um, I can’t really remember. That’s probably a bad sign.

3. What’s something you did in 2015 that you’re proud of?

I’m proud of the speech I gave at the Friends of American Writers awards luncheon in May.

4. What’s one thing you hope to accomplish in 2016?

Find a dissertation topic. Better yet, defend my prospectus.

5. Do you enjoy going to concerts? If so, what was the last one you went to?

Yes! The last concert I went to was An Eclectic Christmas Concert (that’s literally what it was called) at a United Methodist church in St. Paul. I mostly went to hear the Twin Cities Georgian chorus (which has no name) perform. They sang three Alilos (Christmas songs), two Mravalzhamiers (Many Years), and the chant Shen Khar Venakhi. I got to sing Christmas shape note tunes with a whole crowd of Twin Cities shape note singers. The other groups were the Metropolitan Male Chorus, the church choir, and a rock band.

6. What is one of your favorite quotes?

I’m not much of a quotes person, but I like this one from Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband: “Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable.”

7. What is the weirdest food you like?

I can’t think of anything! I feel like none of the foods I like are that weird. Here’s one, I guess: I like something I call “rice pudding” even though it’s not actually rice pudding (which I also love, as long as it doesn’t have nuts or raisins in it). You take cooked rice, heat it up, then pour milk on it as if it were cereal. Then you sprinkle some sugar and cinnamon on it. It’s a good breakfast to make out of leftover rice!

8. What book has made you cry the hardest?

Hmm, this is hard. I’m not a big crier. Also, my memory for this sort of thing is not great (see: laughing). I’m pretty sure The Book Thief made me cry. Also maybe I’ll Give You the Sun? Tell the Wolves I’m Home?

9. What was the best day of your life?

I don’t know if I can point to a single best day of my life. I’ve had some really excellent birthdays, which included some combination of things like surprise gifts/gestures, singing Georgian songs at an outdoor table at an okonomiyaki restaurant in Sawtelle, impromptu shape note singing under an arch, really cool concerts, cover art in my inbox, and more. (To be clear, there was no single birthday that involved all of these things.) There was the time I went to the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, had dinner with author Rachel Hartman, and did karaoke with a bunch of linguists, all in one day. I’ve had some good days!

10. What fictional world would you love to live in (or at least spend some time in)?

I’d like to spend some time in the world of His Dark Materials, cutting into different worlds, like Lyra’s, with the Subtle Knife (preferably without losing two fingers). I think it’d also be really fascinating to visit the world in S. E. Grove’s The Glass Sentence because different parts of Earth exist in different time periods. I’m not sure I’d actually want to live in either world, though. Maybe only if I lived in a nice quiet corner.

11. If you could meet any author (living or dead), who would it be?

I would like to meet the real Lemony Snicket. But since he’s essentially a fictional character, how about Madeleine L’Engle?


Okay, I’m not going to nominate 11 people. I’ll do 3. They’re all very cool people you should check out!

Artist, tiny house builder, and now grad student Miyuki, whose amazing illustrated posts are at Hey Miyuki!

Linguistics grad student (sound familiar?) Andrew, who blogs about words, activism, and more at [ə bla.ɡə.baʊt̚ ɡɹæd.skʊɫ]

Teacher and traveler Madeline, who writes both heartfelt and hilarious posts about her life in China at Madz Goes to China (I highly recommend “Richard’s Last Thanksgivukkah”!)

Obviously, none of my nominees have to participate. But if you want to (or if you’re reading this and I didn’t nominate you but you still want to participate), here are 11 questions:

  1. What is one of the most interesting places you have traveled to?
  2. What is a book you read for school (any level) that you really liked/appreciated?
  3. What’s something tasty you cooked recently?
  4. How much do you like snow?
  5. What books are on your nightstand (or equivalent) right now?
  6. What is one of your favorite U.S. cities and why?
  7. Which language other than English do you speak the best today?
  8. What is one place you haven’t been to that you’d really like to visit?
  9. What is a musical instrument you don’t play that you wish you did?
  10. Do you have a favorite/most long-lived stuffed animal? What kind?
  11. What is a skill/craft you’d like to learn someday?

Thanks again, Brigid! And again, anybody can answer my questions if you feel like it.

My Hapa Story

Family Portrait

My family (Photo credit: Dorothy Kunzig)

This post is a submission to the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s #myhapastory project. You can submit your own story here

I was born in Washington, D.C. to two economists. My mother was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Minnesota. Her parents were from Guangdong Province. My father was born and raised in Minnesota. His ancestors were mostly from Germany and Sweden. For the first nine years of my life, I lived in Maryland, where my best friend was also hapa. We did French immersion and soccer and Suzuki camp together.

Then I moved to Minnesota, where all my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived. I had roots there. My maternal grandfather had owned a Chinese restaurant in downtown St. Paul. My paternal great-grandparents had had a farm in West St. Paul. I can still visit the spots where these places used to be.

I spent my teenage years (not so) secretly writing fantasy stories and playing cello in a lot of orchestras. I didn’t have any close Asian-American friends, but that didn’t matter to me. I did experience the occasional unwanted question (“Are you half?”) or incident that vaguely bothered me (like not getting invited to the Asian table at All-State Orchestra camp).

In high school, I started studying Mandarin in addition to French, despite the class being at the same time as orchestra. (I needed a Time-Turner, but instead I…had no lunch period.) My mother’s side of the family speaks Taishanese, not Mandarin, and I never learned it. But over the years, Mandarin has helped me understand more words in Taishanese.

I went to Swarthmore College, where I studied linguistics, French, and Chinese. I joined the Swarthmore Asian Organization and a group called Multi, and my senior year a new group called Swarthmore Hapa started to form. I wrote papers about the representation of Asian characters in U.S. children’s books and mixed race identity in Francophone literature. I also discovered and fell in love with contra dancing and shape note singing.

Now I live in Los Angeles, where I’m a Ph.D. student in linguistics by day (and sometimes night) and an author of children’s fantasy novels by night (and sometimes day). I used to call myself half-Chinese, but now I call myself multiracial, Chinese-American, hapa. One day, I hope to publish a book about a girl like me.