While my parents were living in Bombay, they acquired an ornate wood carving of the elephant-headed god Ganesha and displayed him in our apartment, more as a decorative object than as a religious icon. They were extremely fond of this sculpture (my father still treasures him to this day) and called him by his other popular name, Ganapati, or, affectionately, Gumpy, for short. As a baby, I must have seen this figure hundreds of times and developed some sort of attachment to him, perhaps because of his plump, childlike form dancing a comical version of the mystical Dance of Creation and Destruction that his father, Shiva, performs. When it came time for me, at around my first birthday to utter my first word, it was not “Mama” or “Papa.” It was “Gump.” Not surprisingly, Ganesha has been a special figure in my life, and since material possessions can often turn into obstacles, I chose to give away a Ganesha today.
Today, I stopped by the Boise Art Museum, which is hosting my Folding Paper origami exhibition. At the front desk, I met a friendly volunteer called John who was reading something very secretively under his desk. It turned out to be the Folding Paper catalog. He was a docent and wanted to learn all about the exhibition before he had to take visitors through it. I was tickled of course to find someone reading one of my publications so sneakily! I wandered around the other galleries exploring their other temporary exhibitions, which were beautifully laid out and showed a definite emphasis on material and craftsmanship. I really understood why they had been so keen to take this exhibition. I felt very impressed and honored to have an exhibition in this thoughtfully curated museum.
I like having time to think through my Giveaway and to plan something meaningful, but sometimes the fact that I didn’t have time to focus on it means that I had a good day accomplishing other things. Thankfully today went well and was busy and full, but this morning it hadn’t looked like it would go that way at all.
I don’t usually buy anything at our son’s school silent auction fundraisers. But when I saw the auction item, “Behind-the-scenes Studio Visit and Coffee with Madeleine Brand at KPCC,” I grabbed a pen and bid right away. I stood by the bidding sheet and make sure I won that prize, something I don’t think I’ve ever done for an object. Even though Madeleine’s 9am program had replaced my beloved BBC news on KPCC (one of our local NPR radio stations), I had quickly been won over by her smart and sassy style and the wonderful assortment of expert guests who she invited to join her each week. I listened to her every day while I walked along the lake, and because she had become a vital part of my mornings, I couldn’t wait to meet her in person. By the time I did, someone had told me she was actually a mother at our son’s school (hence the offering at the auction) so somehow that made her more human and less intimidating. When I showed up at her studio to meet her, I was impressed, as I had expected to be, by her warmth and wit as she moved seamlessly from news to sports to parenting stories. But when I talked with her over coffee afterwards, she surprised me by being incredibly open and friendly and interested in my world too.
We became friends after that meeting, and have enjoyed occasional walks along the lake and coffees together. When I asked her advice once about what I might be able to do in the local media with my Asian art skills and interests, she immediately put me in touch with her friend and colleague at the tv station KCET and thanks to her, I have been writing articles for their arts and culture website, Artbound for the last 3 years, something I love doing. Sadly, shortly after she introduced me to KCET, her station had forced her to co-host her morning program with a presenter who was funded by a hefty grant. This move effectively put an end to the program she had lovingly nurtured for the past few years, and although she was hurt by it, she resigned gracefully. Soon the rival NPR radio station, KCRW snapped her up and she has another terrific program with them, which I now try to catch as often as I can. Even if I hadn’t got to know her personally and discover what a thoughtful, funny and generous woman she is, I would have been outraged that KPCC let her go. I am still furious that my local radio station deprived me of a strong, smart female voice discussing news and culture every morning. I can barely stand the replacement program and, in a passive-aggressive protest/hissy fit that has now lasted several years, I have been refusing to send the station money any more.
Today was the first day of summer break for Los Angeles’ public schools, and it occurred to me that Madeleine and I are no longer parents together at the same school. That thought made me sad, because although I can still hear her sane and savvy analysis of news, culture and social issues on the radio, I know that because of the way our lives are, our paths won’t cross nearly as often. Over the years, I have learned from personal experience that women don’t always help each other professionally. But Madeleine helped me find another outlet through which I can share my knowledge and interest in Asian art and artists here in Southern California. Today, I gave her a colorful scarf from India in thanks for sharing her intelligence on the radio, her kindness and support in person, and for showing such an interest in my world.
Every Thursday lunchtime, I volunteer at my son Theo’s school helping the kids sort their lunch trash. In Theo’s first year at the school, I was part of a local environmental group. For Earth Day in 2010, we launched a volunteer program at the school to help reduce the waste created at lunch times from a whopping 168lbs a day by sorting lunch waste into recyclables, landfill trash and liquids. The school’s mascot is the dragon, so we called our new recycling group the Green Dragons and we have a sorting station near the lunch tables where kids can volunteer as Green Dragons and help other kids to recycle. Early on, we estimated that we were able to cut the volume of waste down to about 60lbs, but more importantly, with this system in place at the school, the kids are now used to the idea that it’s good to recycle. Not all of them bother, but that’s fairly reflective of society as a whole.
Green Dragon Mascot drawn by Theo
As the parent who runs the Green Dragons, I am responsible for recruiting other parents to volunteer at the trash sorting station – not the most glamorous job at the school, as it often requires digging plastic bottles and other recyclables out of the trash cans and rinsing out hummus and yoghurt containers. Hey, as Kermit the Frog would say, it it’s not always easy being green. However, I do actually enjoy getting grubby with the kids, seeing know how kids other than my own behave and interact. And, when I’m there, I also get to work with Edwin. Edwin is the school’s plant manager. He worked at the school years ago, but had lost his position because of a short-sighted cost-saving move on the part of the school district. I remember hearing of the legendary Edwin when we first started at the school, but didn’t meet him until a couple of years ago when he was given back his position, much to the delight of the school staff and students.
Edwin is no ordinary plant manager. As well as looking after the facility, he also looks after the kids. He knows all of their names and engages with each one of them as they come running up to the table to leave an apple they don’t want on the share table, or to throw some plastic wrappers into the trash. Even if the kids have been sent to help with trash as a sort of punishment for some schoolyard misdeed, Edwin makes Green Dragon “community service” fun. He chats with them, teasing the cheeky ones and keeping the rambunctious ones in line. I even enjoy being a Green Dragon more because of his cheerful personality and the easy manner he has with kids. The other week I found out that Edwin loves to draw. I had a notebook with the title “Gratitude” on the cover and some related quotations peppered throughout it, perhaps something he can use for sketching figures when he has a free moment. I didn’t realize till later that the notebook was also green, the color that caused us to meet. I certainly feel grateful towards Edwin for making it easier and more enjoyable trying to be green.
Since late last year, I’ve been aware of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was released in the US in October 2014 and has become a huge best-seller here as people battle with their belongings. Kondo is a Japanese de-cluttering expert who has taken the world by storm with her almost mystical approach to organizing stuff and purging ourselves of things we don’t need in our lives. Her attitude is ruthless but kind at the same time. She believes that our belongings should “spark joy” in our lives, and each of them should have a place that they can call home. Without a home, an object sits on a surface and becomes clutter. If our belongings don’t make us happy – like that beige sweater that was never flattering or the books we know we’ll never actually read – we should get rid of them. But before that, we should thank them for their service. In her method, which involves getting rid of what we don’t need and then organizing what remains, she sees no place for storage bins or other organizing tools. If we only have what we need, we will have plenty of room to house it all.
One of her main rules is to purge in one go, and not create “maybe” piles for belongings that might be allowed to stay. She argues that once the purge has been done, good habits can take place. She might not approve of my daily giveaway approach, but then, my goal is not simply to get rid of stuff, but also to focus on the people in my life. However, because she has such a simple, respectful and magical approach to stuff, today, in her honor, I adopted her “organized purge” approach to some of my drawers, going through undergarments, socks and t-shirts and throwing away those items that always bother me a bit and those that I never seem to need. I filled a plastic bag full of these and headed for one of the yellow Planet Aid Clothes and Shoes bins close to our home (http://www.planetaid.org). Thanking the items I used for their service and the ones I hadn’t used for their patience, I dropped the bag into the bin and hoped that some of the items might “spark joy” in the lives of a recipient half way across the world.