A try to take a yoga class every week, though lately I have been missing out because I’ve either been under the weather or under work pressure. Today, after a week of ups and downs, I need to stretch and breathe and take care of myself – not just my body, but my psyche too. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit for “union” and has the same root as the word “yoke,” as in the yoke that connects an ox to its cart. For me, in order to practice yoga, I have to start by disconnecting, before I can connect. In order to get to a class, I have to pull my head and my body away from my computer and whatever I’m working on. I have to change from my regular clothes and put on my stretchy yoga gear and I have to walk away from my home, as I rarely manage to practice in my own house. Once in the class, my placing my mat on the floor, I am creating my own space to practice, symbolically removing myself from the rest of the room so that I can center myself and focus on my practice.
Today was a good day, a calm and kind day, a day of gentle but powerful connections. It was my father’s birthday, his 77th. I called him and had a sweet talk with him on the phone. He lives in England, many thousands of miles away, so I don’t see him much, and his memory is very shaky, so it’s hard to have normal conversations with him. But today, though he may not have remembered or cared that it was his birthday, he was clearly grateful for the call and spoke with more clarity than I have heard from him in a long while. He also asked me how I was doing and listened carefully, sending me via the phone the love, warmth and “I believe in you” reassurances that only a devoted parent can. I thanked him for always having done that for me, as it has always given me great strength. After I hung up, I lay on the bed and let myself cry, glad to have had that precious connection with Dad once more. I no longer take those for granted.
Today I met with my Korean friend Jane, who is one of my favorite living artists and one of my favorite people, a truly warm and radiant soul. We met over 15 years ago when I had just started working as a curator at Pacific Asia Museum. She was a volunteer helping to organize an exhibition of contemporary Korean art, but I soon discovered that she is a very accomplished artist herself and I fell in love with her work and her personality. Though she has experimented with various different painting styles over the years, her Four Seasons and Vines series have become her signature works. These series of vibrantly painted wooden squares can be combined in groups of any size to create a larger whole. Each square features gnarly lines that twist and wiggle like roots or vines across the surfaces of the squares. Though apparently meandering, these lines have been placed mathematically along a hidden grid so that no matter how the squares are arranged, the lines will connect visually and unite all the paintings. The effect is beautiful and clever, like the artist herself.
Today, I visited the exhibition of a friend who I was meeting for the first time. Trang T. Lê is an artist and in the course of writing about her work for KCET Artbound, I studied her paintings closely and then talked to her over the phone. Through this process, I began to feel connected to her, and she to me. We became friends. Her work, a series of paintings called Threads, is an exploration of connection – our connection to others and to our selves. In her paintings, she tracks a single thread back and forth across the canvas, simultaneously unraveling and weaving together delicate strands of vibrant color. As the thread reaches the far edge, it turns and starts back to the other side, sometimes running parallel across the composition, but in places straying to the left or right, sometimes crossing over other threads. Her Threads series is highly meditative and has helped her paint her way through emotional pain, using a meticulous, repetitive approach to heal wounds caused by the unraveling of relationships in her own life.
The symbolism of threads is very profound. Our lives are indeed like threads woven or bound together in families and communities, and sometimes knotted tightly in marriages, jobs and other commitments and contracts. When the weave is strong and when knots are tight, we feel safe and strong. But when they unravel, we reel and totter and question the value of our single thread, forgetting that our thread strengthens others too. Rather than isolate, we can rebuild, reweave, re-tie, rebind. Trang’s exquisite paintings reminded me of this lesson. This morning I found some beautiful silk threads that I was given on my first trip to Japan when I stayed with a kimono-maker’s family in Kyoto – my first real exposure to Japanese art and culture. I unraveled the strands and knotted them firmly at the ends, added a glass bead that also contains a thread pattern and gave it to Trang in thanks for creating such beautiful painted reminders that we are all connected.