sights in April
Some things I've seen around Pittsburgh & thoughts about them:
1. Improv at Kelly Strayhorn Theater's Alloy Studios in East Liberty
I love improvised dance because it merges listening, embodiment, play, and intuition. It happens at a jam session with local artists Buscrates, Soy Sos, and PearlArts Studios (pictured above), on second Saturdays at The Space Upstairs (above the Center for Creative Reuse in Homewood), and by myself at home.
2. Ocean Vuong at White Whale Bookstore
Ocean Vuong spoke with Pittsburgh-based, fellow Vietnamese-American poet Diana Khoi Nguyen about his new book, his writing process, & more.
Vuong's presence is quiet & unassuming, less like a literary icon and more like the immigrant dads of my friends in the Bay Area. Some ideas he shared:
Vietnamese prosody is full of the Japanese concept "ma," moments of rest as a way to build.
Poetry is the residue of its process.
Memory is the writer's central mode, but a displacement of the present. For immigrants & refugees, remembering entails a loss of the present, where they wanted to go. To remember is to betray the sacrifices that brought them here.
Publishers tend to seek diversity in discreet lanes, selecting a handful of representatives for each identity, but this reduces diversity to a managerial enterprise.
"I'm not truly a marginalized writer, because what I write about is my center."
Fiction is a virtual reality where we get to practice care on a linguistic & ontological level.
Walking home that night, something about his words seeped into my perception of time & sparked a sense of clarity about my career, my relationship with creativity, even my lifelong struggle with body image. "Like I actually went to church," I joked to a friend. (The event happened inside a church in Shadyside.)
3. A care package from my mom in California. Featuring dried persimmons from my grandparents' tree, dried jackfruit, some extra sunlight.
4. Open mic comedy at bars in Oakland, Mt. Washington, & McKees Rocks (represented imperfectly by bathroom selfie above). A lot of comedy has a similar goal to poetry: pinpointing familiar and/or taboo aspects of everyday life and reframing them in unexpected, provocative ways. At open mics, I've enjoyed seeing how each comedian's set evolves from week to week, how each crowd brings a different energy, and how refreshingly down-to-earth stand-up is.
5. "The Alchemist of Sharpsburg"at City Theater in the South Side. Left: My friend played a character for a short scene! I played a role in the next. Right: Each audience member received a game token.
By local arts company RealTime Interventions, "The Alchemist of Sharpsburg" is a theatrical portrait and game in which the audience role-plays as a Pittsburgh local, Candra. Interweaving memories of two men, the show investigates the overlap between life & games, local myths, white supremacy, family history, and spirituality.
At forks in the plot, audience members vote on which scene to play. For a few scenes, they step onstage to act. I loved the show's playful spirit, its earnest & clever explorations, how it exudes Pittsburgh history & culture, and how it weaves the audience into the storytelling.
6. Herr's Island. Biked through the North Side, down one of the Three Rivers trails, across this bridge.
7. At my food service job in Point Breeze. Left to right: Forgot to bring a book to closing shift. April snowfall. Video rec from a regular.
8. Downtown. My sister is an architect so whenever she visits Pittsburgh, she tells me about the design & materials of buildings we pass by. Last summer she taught me to identify Roman bricks (orange in this photo). Also pictured is Sree's Foods on Penn Avenue.
9. Lotus Foods, Strip District. Asian marts are a nostalgia trap for children of immigrants. Part of my childhood is unlocked by the sight of raw fish gleaming in an aisle, complete with a bin of wriggling crabs.
Among other impulse-buys I left with a flavor packet by the brand Mama Sita's. Not only does my mom make a similar dish, pinakbet, but the label included her language Ilocano, which I'd never seen in Pittsburgh's linguistic landscape before.
10. SPACE Gallery, downtown. I attended a writing workshop held by Veronica Corpuz at an art show by Fran Ledonio Flaherty called "Deaf Brown American Mom."
My first time downtown 6 years ago, I never would've expected to walk into a gallery featuring a Filipina artist. Living in Pittsburgh has made me hyper-conscious of my race, and the reality that however limited (even arbitrary) racial constructs are, they heavily influence our sense of belonging.
Seeing art that exudes certain elements of my identity enabled a kind of recognition, a willingness to let go of this notion that my ethnic identity means I belong less in this city.
11. Squirrel Hill. Left to right: Sunflowers from the workshop at SPACE. Cooking simple things continues to be an uphill climb. Aforementioned sunflowers in a kimchi jar. Sketched from memory, a deliveryman leaving a Taiwanese restaurant in the rain.
I've been drafting other blog posts, but all of them seem stale & not super-compelling — far from the profound & polished stuff I wanted to populate this blog. This post is me accepting that if nothing else, this blog is simply a window into my creative practice — sometimes profound, anything but polished.