Tag Archive | The Last Bookstore

Meditation Workshop & Mixed Remixed 2017

A week ago today I happened to see a post about a meditation workshop Yumi Sakugawa was leading that very evening on campus. I looked closer and realized the workshop was happening in my building, literally just upstairs from the phonetics lab where I was sitting. As it happens, Asian American Studies and Linguistics are in the same building, so it’s not so surprising, but it felt providential. Isabelle and I decided we had to go, since Yumi Sakugawa was practically coming to us, and the stars aligned even further: our afternoon seminar ended early, allowing us to make it to the workshop on time.

The other attendees were mainly Asian American women, like at the panel with Yumi, MILCK, and Krista Suh back in May. There were a bunch of undergrads, including a film student who told us about a documentary she’s making about Yumi! I hope we’ll get to see it in the fall. There were also a couple of librarians, at least one professor, I think, and several Asian American Studies staff.

Yumi had us go around and introduce ourselves and say three words that described our current state of mind. Since it was the last week of classes, there was a lot of “stressed” and “overwhelmed.” She led us in a couple of guided meditations and read to us from some of her meditation-related comics, which I hadn’t seen before. She also talked about this taking tea and cake with your demons exercise. The idea is to face the things about yourself you’re ashamed of, or don’t like so much, or have a hard time accepting, to face them head-on and without judgment and to listen to them in personified form. While drinking tea and eating cake. So we all drew the kind of tea and cake we wanted to have with one of our demons on tissue paper. As a closing ritual, we went around the room again and said what three words we wanted to define the rest of our week and ripped up our tissue paper drawings and dropped the shreds into Yumi’s singing bowl. It was a perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening at the end of a long quarter.

On Saturday, I headed downtown for my third Mixed Remixed festival. I went in 2015 and in 2016, when I appeared on my first author panel. In the past, the festival has been at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, but this year it moved to the Los Angeles Theatre Center, a stone’s throw from The Last Bookstore. I arrived in time for the Featured Writers reading, which featured (haha) Tanaya Winder, May-lee Chai, Tara Betts, Julian Randall, and Julie Lythcott-Haims. They all read powerful work, but I particularly liked Tanaya Winder’s spoken word poems, some of which incorporated song. I was also interested in May-lee Chai’s personal story: she wrote a memoir, Hapa Girl, about growing up with a Chinese-American father and a white mother in rural South Dakota in the 1980s. It was…not a hospitable place for her family.

Next I went to the panel The Mixed-Race Conversation: Is It a Wrap?. It was moderated by Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR’s Code Switch and featured Kayla Briët, a musician and filmmaker who’s performed at every Mixed Remixed I’ve been at; Greg Kimura, former president of the Japanese American National Museum and an Episcopal priest; Tehran, a comedian whose performance at last year’s festival I did not particularly appreciate; and Caroline Streeter, a professor at UCLA. I once again did not appreciate Tehran, but setting him aside, the panel was great. The panel was intergenerational, which brought out a diversity of perspectives and was also just nice to see. The conversation ranged from the academic to the pop cultural to the personal and even to the religious, thanks to Greg Kimura. That was a voice I hadn’t heard before at the festival. I liked what Caroline Streeter had to say about our cultural amnesia, how there have been mixed race people and communities in the United States for hundreds of years and so many of those stories are forgotten. I also liked what Greg Kimura had to say about the essential role he thinks literature and the arts will play in shaping our society’s attitudes about mixed race people (among other things). And basically everything Kayla Briët said was eloquent and inspiring.

A young hapa woman in the audience asked Greg Kimura about his strong identification with the word hapa. I think she asked if he’d faced any backlash for using it, but–and maybe I was projecting onto her–I also sensed that she was asking whether he thought it was (still) appropriate for multiracial Asian Americans to call ourselves hapa. A question in this vein is what I would’ve liked to ask the panel at the LA Times Festival of Books this spring if I hadn’t had a raging headache at that session. I was thinking about the term hapa at last year’s festival too and have written about it at other times as well. Greg Kimura basically said it’s been shown that hapa isn’t a Native Hawaiian term so it’s not appropriation to use it, and he claims his identity with this word. This argument doesn’t suffice for me though. First of all, I know hapa is Hawaiian Pidgin; just because it’s not an indigenous Hawaiian word doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a meaning and history specific to Hawaii that’s been overwritten and changed by multiracial Asian Americans on the mainland. Being hapa means something to me, but I also can’t use this term without qualms.

At the end of the panel, talk turned to Trump and how optimistic (or not) the panelists were about the future. Both Caroline Streeter, the oldest panelist, and Kayla Briët, the youngest, found they could not truthfully say they thought things were getting better. They both expressed worry about the future. I was grateful for their honesty and also…saddened, I guess. We were all at a festival celebrating our mixed race identities, but we can’t forget that this is a dark time for our country.

During the longish break between the last session and the evening program, a young woman named Laura came up to me and handed me a postcard about her oral history project Mixed Feelings. Check it out on Facebook and Tumblr; there are interviews with mixed race people of many backgrounds about their identity and experiences. If you identify as mixed race, you can participate by filling out the survey! Laura and I ended up sitting together at the evening show, and she told me her project was born in the wake of last November’s election, out of her need to do something.

Kayla Briët opened the show again; I will never get tired of watching her play the guzheng and use her loop machine. There were a couple of other acts, and then actor and producer David Oyelowo accepted the Storyteller’s Prize with a moving speech about his own interracial marriage. After the show, I caught up with Maria Leonard Olsen, one of my co-panelists in the kidlit session last year. I also said hello to two other people I recognized from the mixed and queer writing workshop in years past. The workshop did not take place this year, sadly.

After leaving the festival, I walked to The Last Bookstore, since it was literally less than half a block away. While I was contemplating all the books I wanted in the SFF section, a woman with a stroller asked me if I worked there. I wish! I picked up Becky Chambers’s The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and headed home.

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal throughout the United States. It also marked one year since the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, which I wrote about a little last year before I could write up last year’s Mixed Remixed festival. It seems a fitting time to reflect on how far our country has come and how far we have yet to go.

Poetics of Location

Two Sundays ago, my friend Isabelle and I went on a walking tour of Downtown LA with Mike Sonksen, a.k.a. Mike the Poet, who recently published a chapbook called Poetics of Location. The tour began at the Central Library of Los Angeles, a place both of us had been curious to see but had yet to visit. We arrived a bit early and went inside to see the mosaics and (very colonialist) murals in the soaring rotunda. Then we joined a handful of other tour participants outside the library’s north entrance. Mike greeted us and presented us with our signed copies of his new book.

The first stop on the tour was in fact the library, but this time we used the grand entrance on the west side of the building. My favorite part of the library was the steps outside this entrance, which were inscribed with phrases in various languages (English at various stages of its development, French, Korean, Chinese, and Esperanto, among many others), as well as the digits of pi, an integral, a passage of music, and much more.

Once we left the library, Mike the Poet proceeded to regale us with tidbits about the various buildings in the neighborhood. These included the Library Tower, once the tallest skyscraper in LA; the Biltmore Hotel; and the Gas Company Tower. He made scads of movie references that I didn’t get. He also told us about the literary history of LA, reading to us from John Fante in John Fante Square (just an intersection next to the Gas Company Tower) and telling us about Carey McWilliams in Pershing Square.

The tour was punctuated by Mike’s performances of some of his own poems, as well as performances and readings by his poet friends who also came on the tour. There was F. Douglas Brown, whom I’d heard at the Mixed Remixed Festival earlier this year; the brother and sister pair Dante and Monique Mitchell; and one of Mike’s students, a high school senior.

The tour took us through part of the Jewelry District, past movie palaces and a vaudeville hall, and into the charming St. Vincent’s Court. It ended at the Last Bookstore, a famous independent bookstore I’d wanted to visit for ages, mostly to see its iconic book arches (they’re like flying buttresses!). It did not disappoint. The place was a warren of books. In the center of the ground floor, there was a low stage surrounded by leather furniture oozing stuffing. We gathered here for a last reading. Mike, Dante, Monique, and F. Douglas Brown all performed more poems. Monique’s was inspired by the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel.

After the reading, Isabelle and I wandered the bookstore for a good while. I began in the music section, where I found one of Cecil Sharp’s collections of English folk songs and the complete scores of Handel’s concerti grossi (I did not buy either). In the children’s section, I found Adam Gidwitz’s The Inquisitor’s Tale, which I’d heard a lot of great things about. So of course I picked it up. (But I’m still reading Dream of Red Mansions! Will it never end!) Upstairs, there was science fiction, fantasy, foreign languages, and much more, as well as the famous book arches! There are also galleries, studios, and shops on the second floor, including a yarn shop that was, alas, closed. Several artists’ work was exhibited in the narrow corridors. There were a bunch of painted wooden whales hanging on one wall. I particularly liked the illustrations by kAt Philbin. The artist bio said her work was reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s. I’m a Gorey fan, and I could see the resemblance in some of the pieces.

When I got home, I looked up the Last Bookstore and noticed that there was going to be a cello concert there the next day. Steuart Pincombe, a cellist with whom I wasn’t familiar, was going to be playing three of the Bach cello suites. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the concert, but I learned that Steuart Pincombe once had a project called What Wondrous Love Is This? in which he and other musicians played and sang early American music, including the shape note tunes Wondrous Love, Restoration, Ecstasy, and Russia, in a hollow square (the way shape note singers sit)! For that I would’ve gone all the way back to the Last Bookstore for the second time in as many days.