goodness, life, martial arts

An exciting day

Yesterday was an exciting day for three reasons: Poker, Car, Kung Fu.


it's orange! like a pumpkin!

Diminutive Roommate and I went to college together.  I get the feeling we’re going to be friends our whole lives.  I sure hope we are, because we have so much fun together.  We used to play poker at least once a week in college, and decided recently that we should start doing that again.  Sister bought me a poker table years ago, and I just got it back last week from Chinese ExBoyfriend’s household (we broke up… wow, over five years ago).

Hooray!  I got it back!  But we’ve been borrowing poker chips from them too, so I thought fuck it, I’m getting my own chips.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that you can order any number of any color chip you want.  So instead of the traditional set of 500 white, red, blue, black, green poker chip set, I got 650 yellow, orange, gray, purple and pink.  CANNOT WAIT TO PLAY WITH THEM SUPER EXCITED THEY’RE GETTING HERE MONDAAAAAAYYYY!!


Apparently entry-level automatic cars are not sold without all kinds of bells and whistles, so yesterday I custom-ordered my car.  It’s going to be a white Fiat 500 with brown and white interior and no extras (who the fuck needs a engine block heater in LA?).  It should be ready in 45 days (Is that business days I asked?  No one knows.  Apparently this is top-secret info the Chrysler factories churning these things out in Mexico aren’t telling anyone).  I’m not as excited as I should be, because I’ve been attempting to buy this damn car for weeks now.  No one at the dealerships or credit union are doing their job despite the fact that I’m attempting to buy a car at full price, and in the meantime I’m stuck in that damn deathtrap 98 Exploder that inhales gas at an alarming rate (I’m getting maybe 11mpg.  Maybe).  When the Fiat arrives I’ll lose my mind.  Meanwhile, I spent $372 on gas last month.  But fuck it!  I’m getting  a new car!  It’s gonna be so fucking cute, hahaha!

so cute


I was invited to train at a kung fu studio by a friend of mine (let’s call her Little Iron Friend- she has completed her Iron Palm training; high-fiving her is painful).  I’ve only been taking classes sporadically for six months.  I’ve chatted with the instructors, who have made it clear that they’re willing to put me on the fast track to obtaining a black sash.  I told them I’d like to earn a brown sash first, then work for black.  The head instructor seemed very pleased with that decision.  He said, “You move like a black belt.  There’s no reason why you shouldn’t earn your black sash within a year.”

fingers crossed!

I figured that meant that I would attend class without rank until I tested for brown.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived early yesterday to watch Little Iron Friend teach class, and one of the instructors approached me with a brand new, folded, shining brown sash.  He held it out to me with two hands, in the traditional style, and said, “This is for you.”  I didn’t reach out to take it; I just stared at it, and said, “What’s that?”  He grinned, and informed me that I will effectively hold the rank of brown sash while I learn all the material leading up to that rank.  This means I’ll be the highest rank in the intermediate class, which will likely cause some tension.  I’m not too worried about it; I have no ego associated with my rank, and I think most people know that.  I have one more black belt than the only black belt student in the school (that I’ve seen), and he’s uber serious for some reason.  No sense of humor to speak of.  It’s really a shame.

The point is, I have a kung fu brown sash.  And that’s amazing.  Little Iron Friend and I had dinner last night and chatted about it.  She’s a green sash, so I out-rank her now which could be awkward. I told her if she feels weird or if this starts to put a strain on our friendship, I’ll give it back and walk away. She said it’s not a problem, and we’re good.  She has a lot of respect for me as a martial artist, and vice versa, so I think we’re going to be fine.  I told her I was nervous about how the other students would react now that I technically outrank them.  She said, “I’ll stand by you.  Don’t worry about it.”  I was touched.  I’m so glad we found each other and became friends.

badness, goodness, life

The money issue

I’m feeling some pressure here.

I’ve known for a long time that I love to teach.  Teaching has always come naturally to me, much to the chagrin of Boyfriend who has gently hinted on more than one occasion, “Ok, you’re not at work, you can stop teaching now.”  It’s also common knowledge that teachers don’t make the cover of Forbes.  I will never be rich.  I will never make as much money as my parents do.  My sister will almost certainly out-earn me by a significant margin.

This never bothered me because I was going after (and I now do for a living) what I love.  I love to teach; I can’t help it.  And for that I will be not-wealthy (and potentially poor) for the rest of my life.  It’s not the worst thing in the world by a lot, but it is a shame, and it’s starting to bother me.  Discussing finances with friends recently has painted a depressing picture for me.  Suddenly I am not the one with the healthiest savings account.  In three or so years, I have become the lowest earner.  I’m at the bottom of the heap of people I love.  I’m genuinely excited for them, but their fortunes cast my own financial situation in sharp relief.  Starting today, I will always be poor compared to them.  That’s a depressing thought.

aaaaand there's the problem

I’ve made just one really fatal flaw in my life so far: I should have gone straight to graduate school after college, but I listened to other people who said, “You should try out the working world, you can always go back to school.”  I’ve spent the past four years in jobs I disliked (and occasionally hated), slowly clawing my way back toward academia until grad school is back within reach.  I regret not going straight to grad school.  I regret listening to others instead of listening to myself.  I knew what I wanted, and I let it get away.  It’s going to take a lot of work to get it back.

I need to get over it, though.  I have everything I want (except more spare time, one less job, and one more degree).  Things are good.  I’m about to get a new car.  I’m happy.  My friends are good.  My family… a bit of a mess right now, but that will change with time.  I need to focus on my future, and get where I’m going.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus.

goodness, humor

Germany, you sneak…

Being an art history major is pretty fun sometimes.  It turns movies like The Da Vinci Code into a comedy (except for the part where all the evil Vatican people are meeting in that giant wooden room, and there in the background is a super cool painting that’s been lost to history: The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio!  Someone in the props department did their homework 🙂

check out that awesome highlighting!

Anyway, it’s fun to see art pop up in weird places, especially when its used in bizarre ways.  Like all those rappers (and people in their entourage [what a catch! Check out “Xscape” last album cover, LOL) I see with that “praying hands” tattoo; do they have any idea of its origins?  I think they’re all under the impression that it’s just a set of thoroughly Christian hands (which is true).  But that’s not all… at all!

yes, that is the contemporary pope being eaten by a demon from hell in the lower left

Around 1500, a German Renaissance man named Albrecht Dürer was getting famous by freaking people out with his woodblock prints of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  He did a whole series of these, and they’re all pretty crazy.  He was a painter who established himself with these super scary prints and his fine technical abilities as an engraver.

Around 1507, he was commissioned to paint a triptych for some wealthy dude in Germany.  This was totally common at the time; rich people would commission paintings of saints and contemporary popes and shit to gain favor with THE LORD, and basically buy their way into heaven.  Hax.  Anyway, Dürer, like any good artist, did some sketches before dedicating himself to this project for two years.  One of the studies was of a pair of praying hands (“Betende Hände” in German) to be used on one of the guys in the painting who watches Jesus’ mom, Mary, get assumed into heaven (like a dust bunny into a Hoover).

the original

the original

Recently these hands have been used on some inexplicably non-sequitur stuff (skateboards and t-shirts come to mind).  But my favorite medium that these hands show up in has to be the loads of less-than-classy tattoos, often to demonstrate faith in Christianity (this guy keeps similar company), prayer for the death of one or many loved ones, belief in zombie Jesus, or that you might be a giant douche bag who has no clue that you’re wearing a sketch done by a Renaissance era German engraver.

These hands are so popular, they’re reproduced in just about every tacky medium you can think of: little gold pendants, creepy bronze statues, ugly crystal knick-knacks, and fucking mugs.

original image file name: gold-iced-out-rosary-cross-praying-hands-bead-necklace

What if one of Dürer’s other studies for that painting had skyrocketed to fame instead?  Like this one of some very pleasant looking feet.  Can’t you just picture those on your grandmother’s bookshelf under the “Footprints in the Sand” poster?

tickle tickle!

badness, family, martial arts, work

Fat, not “FAT”

My mom’s mom was a model, and not just any model, an Adrian model.  Adrian Adolph Greenberg was a huge designer of women’s gowns used commonly in big Hollywood movies during the 1930s and 40s.  My mom used to be a clothing model for tailors and designers; “I was a perfect size four,” she would say.  My dad’s family has a history of natural athleticism, from college basketball, hurdles, swimming, etc.  My folks were both quite handsome in their hay-day.

Adrian made some classy shit

My sister and I have turned out to be what I’m going to call pretty good looking athletes.  I’m pleased with my looks (but wouldn’t call myself beautiful); Sister, on the other hand, is pretty much a knockout when she’s all dressed up (if she stands up straight).  It was a given that every year in school, we would do some sport, and excel in it.  I was captain of my middle school soccer (we lost almost every game) and volleyball (we made it to state!) teams.  Sister kicked everyone’s ass at cross country, and was so competitive (about everything, in truth) that she threw up before half of her races, most of which she won.  I’m a talented martial artist, a quick learner with a sharp eye for form.  I ran a mile the other night no problem; Sister could run three before her knees start to hurt.

I’m not saying all this to stroke my own ego.  Athleticism and good looks are my family legacy.  So when a mother approached me asking, “Why do you think it is that my child is so fat?” I’m thrown for a bit of a loop.  What do I say?  Should I be honest and say that her child has demonstrated that she has a propensity to be lazy, probably due to all the extra weight she carries around, which, in turn, causes her to be lazy?  That being fat is a cycle that’s tough to break out of, and that she did the right thing to sign her up for a martial arts class?

if Elvis did it, it must be awesome

Well, that’s what I did.  I was kind, and honest, and encouraging.  The mom smiled and nodded, and agreed with me at every turn.  Then she left, and apparently wrote a scathing email about how I called her child fat, and that she and her child will not be returning to the school because she feels judged and unwelcome.

Where do I begin?

No one wants to be fat, but some people are.  Fat is an adjective, like blue.  It applies to things (and people) that are fat.  Fat was a noun that became an adjective.  It happens all the time within many languages.  It’s not a sin.

I understand that it’s a hot-button word.  Coming from a thin, athletic person, I understand that it may come off as an insult.  But let’s be clear: calling someone fat within the context of a discussion regarding health and fitness is not the same as calling someone a fatty.  It’s simply vocabulary that states a fact: some people are fat, and should lose that extra fat in order to no longer be fat.  It’s very, very simple.  There is no extra meaning attached to the word ‘fat’ coming from me.  Any and all baggage attached to that word originates solely on the receiving end of that word.

At what point did the word ‘fat’ cease to be an acceptable adjective for overweight people?  What do they think all that weight consists of?  Hint: It’s FAT, not overweight-ness, not big-boned-ness.  It’s the noun that became an adjective.  That’s it.

Jessica Simpson is not fat, she's just not a skeleton anymore

This mother was right to worry about her child, who is seriously overweight (also known as fat).  When the child stands up after sitting on the floor, the motions resemble exactly what an old football coach with no knees left does when he breaks a huddle.  At age 5, that’s just unreal, and totally unhealthy.  I hope she gets her child checked out by a doctor to make sure it’s not a thyroid problem or something.

Bottom line: I care about this child’s health because this child is fat.  Not a fatty or any other mean name, just fat, and that’s not healthy.  If a mother (who is also overweight) asks me about her overweight child’s health, but doesn’t want to hear that her child is fat, she needs to ask different questions, or talk to someone who:

A) Doesn’t give a shit about her child’s well-being.

B) Will lie to her face, and tell her that her child is healthy, normal, and has nothing to worry about health-wise.

C) Doesn’t have a clue about what a normal child’s body should look like.

So why did I bother mentioning my totally awesome pedigree, all those handsome, athletic people in my family tree?  Because the underlying problem here is that I don’t know what it’s like to be fat.  I mean, I was a fat kid until around age 4, but I was totally unaware of it.  As a result, I’m on the outside of a discussion that I will never be welcomed into because I “don’t know what it’s like.”  Similar to a whites’ opinion on black issues, a thin person who has never been fat apparently has no right to talk about fat people–even when prompted.

UPDATE: August 29th, 1:14pm
I read an article in the LA Times today entitled “Does Obesity Qualify as Child Abuse?”  Yikes.  So that’s pretty extreme.  But kids don’t control what they eat, parents do.

It occurs to me now that the mother in question wasn’t only insulted in a protective-parent way, but was also probably harboring some guilt.  A child doesn’t get fat because she’s eating three square meals a day and getting plenty of exercise, it’s because the parents are potentially not doing a stellar job with her food intake, and making sure she’s active enough.  When she mentioned that her child took swim classes, I asked, “Does she do all the exercises?”
mom: I don’t know, I don’t stay to watch.
me: I noticed that I had to encourage her constantly just to keep her from slowing down in the middle of an activity.  That happened a lot during class today, so she may not be participating in every activity in swim class either.  She may not be getting as much exercise as you think.”

This woman was not abusing her child.  She was trying to get her to do athletic activities, and asked me for some (apparently unwanted) advice.  She wants her child to be healthy, but she could lost 40lbs and be healthier herself, so what kind of lifestyle change does she really expect from a child if she can’t do it herself?

goodness, life

My Los Angeles

People chuckle when I call Los Angeles my hometown, but that’s how it feels.  Being raised here makes it feel small, even cozy despite how spread out everything is.  Nothing feels very far away, even though getting anywhere usually involves between one and four freeways.

It’s a difficult city to get to know, not only because it’s so spread out but because it’s so unpredictable.  Nice neighborhoods become rundown, unsafe and unkempt within a block.  The border of Hancock Park, a neighborhood full of multi-million dollar mansions, started just one block north of where I was raised.  But two blocks south of my house was a park where we would go to play during summer days, and where drug dealers would meet at night.  Two blocks south of that is Pico, and Los Angeles High School just to the west.  I used to run on their track in elementary school, and one afternoon we got trapped on campus during a lock-down; there had been a gang-related shooting on campus.


My parents did a good job of making us understand that there was danger around without allowing us to feel threatened by it.  I wonder sometimes how they did that in a city like LA.  It probably helped that the LAPD Chief Willie Williams (the first black LAPD Chief) lived next door to my family for a short time while I was six.  When asked by the LA Times why he chose to move there, he said something about “the neighborhood’s green lawns.”  Mom had a good laugh when she read that, and went outside to turn on the sprinklers that morning.  A small detail of two or three body guards would pick up the Chief every morning.  My mom would occasionally send me or my sister out with a gift of Girlscout cookies (we were both Brownies).  Once I gave one of them a drawing of a badge tucked into his hip next to his hand, thumb hooked into his pants.  He told my mom I was already an accomplished artist if I was drawing details instead of people at age six.  I remember my mom telling me about that, and realizing it was a genuine compliment.  And not just that, but a real compliment, from a total stranger, who was an adult AND a police officer?  I must have been glowing for a week.  Mom said my drawings always had the subject falling off the page.  She was right, and seemed really proud of me for that, which in turn made me feel really good about myself.

frame that shit (approximate reproduction)

My folks (especially Mom, who had also been raised here) educated us about Los Angeles at every turn.  She would take the scenic route to wherever we were going to point out local landmarks, who used to live in which house, what “used to be there,” and her personal memories of the city.  She’s known in our family for saying stuff like, “This is why people come to Los Angeles,” or “This is why people came to the west coast,” to which my sister once responded, “I’m pretty sure all these palm trees and the Hollywood sign weren’t here for the pioneers to see.”

goodness, uncategorized

I <3 pumpkins

look at 'em all, just waiting for a hug

Of the few things that have my undying (if inexplicable) love, pumpkins are near the top.  They’re just the best.  I love picking them up and feeling how surprisingly heavy they are.  I love putting my ear against them and knocking to hear that deep, hollow donk donk.  I love feeling the little bumps and imperfections on their skin, and examining them for inconsistencies of color so I know which side sat on the ground while the rest took on sunlight to turn that warm, sometimes dusty, sometimes vibrant shade of orange.  No two are exactly alike.  Pumpkins might be the friendliest squash/plant/food/inanimate object on the planet.  I want to hug them all.  I want to touch them and make faces.  Want to live on a pumpkin patch, eat pumpkin pie, and name all the pumpkins everywhere for the rest of my life.  October is my favorite month, Halloween is my favorite holiday, pumpkins are my favorite everything else (sorry Boyfriend).

you can hear the pumpkins smiling

So HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT PUMPKIN PANCAKES?!!  I’ve completely dropped the ball here.  There are so many ways to enjoy pumpkins (mostly by eating them).  Time to investigate!

INVESTIGATION SUCCESSFUL!!  Holy shit, look at all the pumpkin recipes out there!  I might actually have to learn how to cook shit, because some of these sound amazing:

Pumpkin Cheesecake– I don’t see how this could possibly go wrong.

Pumpkin Chili– This might be for believers only.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup– This is a no-brainer.  If butternut squash can be made into soup…

Pumpkin Stew– Get this: you put the soup ingredients in the hollowed-out pumpkin, and bake the whole thing for two hours.  Then you serve it in the pumpkin, which would presumably then smile at you throughout the meal for being such a mad genius, and turning its body into an edible cauldron.  WIN.

hey look, it's me!

Grilled Pumpkin– So simple!  Why didn’t I think of this?!

Pumpkin Beer– Ok, so I’ve tried this, and it was gross, but I have faith that out there somewhere is a delicious version of the funk-in-a-bottle I experienced.

Fried Pumpkin Blossoms– Eating the flowers before they get a chance to become pumpkins?  Ludicrous!  (but now I want to try it)

Pumpkin Cornbread– Ok well no shit this would be fucking delicious.  It would just be a happier version of scrumptious cornbread.

badness, goodness, life

Obama, Osama, O-Lama

The Dalai Lama visited Los Angeles yesterday; I wish I could have attended his talk.  As much as I’d like to feel that every life is precious, I have to say that Osama bin Laden’s death feels like progress.  I’ve read that he had declared that his goal was to “wage war on the West.”  That’s it?  Fighting?  What a terrible goal!  How do you know when you’ve succeeded?  When bearded men marrying women half their age and treating them like property is the norm in the “west?”  I don’t get it.  Bad plan, Osama.

shit just got real


Poverty = death = tattoos

that shit is forever

I have only one relative with more than one tattoo, and minimal regrets about them.  He has good taste and I like most of the tattoos he’d gotten, so I was shocked to hear that he wanted to get a portrait of his grandfather tattooed to his arm.  My knee-jerk reaction: “Wow, that’s ghetto.”  Tattooed Cousin: “What?!  Why is that ghetto?”

I love my cousin.  He’s a smart guy and a good person, so when I saw how bothered he was when I blurted out my (admittedly harsh) opinion, I figured I owed it to him to give it some serious thought.  The following is written in the language of huge generalization.

It starts with poverty.

People of similar economic status live among each other

Whenever I look for an apartment, I’m struck by the fact that at the end of the day, I’m exchanging money for safety.  Apartments in Koreatown, Compton, and Crenshaw are cheaper than apartments in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu.  In order to live in what I would consider a safe neighborhood, I must pay more money.  Poor people are therefore more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods.

The poor stay poor

Everyone in the neighborhood is in similar economic straits.  They can’t afford to send their kids to a school where everyone gets their own books, or personal attention from the teachers.  Some don’t finish high school as a result of the terrible school environment.  They can’t afford higher education, so the kids who graduate high school don’t go to college.  Instead they get crap jobs with crap pay that doesn’t cover basic costs like rent and bills.  It’s a cycle of poverty = lack of education = poverty.  Some find some escape through alcohol and drug abuse, resulting in the occasional DUI (eventually resulting in the death of the user, or innocents caught in his way).  There seems to be no way out without joining the armed forces (where they may die in combat), or breaking the law.

Poverty makes for a shorter, harder life

A percentage of the neighborhood turns to crime as a last resort.  They arm themselves.  A gang is formed.  Rival gangs pop up nearby.  They kill each other and are hunted by the police.  Innocent people get killed during burgalies, hold ups, drive-bys, etc.  The rest of the community are now a group of impoverished people living among criminals because they can’t afford not to.  They are trapped by their own circumstance in a cycle of poverty and danger that lowers their life expectancy based solely on their geography.  In addition, health insurance is a luxury most cannot afford.  Preventative medicine is non-existent, so people die younger than they need to.

Collateral damage

As a result of all of these circumstances, poor people are very likely to know more than one person who has died in their life, often far too young.  Ritual commemoration surrounds the death of loved ones.  Decals are placed on cars.  T-shirts are printed.  Tattoos of the dead are seen as a genuine gesture of loss and love.

But everyone dies

Why don’t rich people get tattoos of their kids who die in car accidents, or drown in pools, assuming they love each other just as much as the poor?  For the middle-to-upper class, tattoos are not accepted as a civilized form of expression of any experience or emotion, death and grief included.  The constant reminder of the dead is not necessary to demonstrate a sense of loss.  In fact, the tendency by the poor to constantly remind themselves and others of their beloved dead is seen as a callous, somewhat selfish and attention-seeking gesture.  Grief is viewed by the poor as a public experience, but is decidedly private in more privileged circles.

Is it the sense of community that causes this?  Rich people have the luxury of complete independence.  They don’t depend upon each other for survival, while the poor may need to borrow a neighbor’s car to get to work, or loan money to a friend so he can make rent.  For the poor, death is a group experience because everything is a group experience.  For the wealthy, a WASPy, reserved attitude is the most acceptable response to just about everything

even after you die... it'll still be there

SPOILER: Tattooed Cousin got the tattoo recently, and it looks amazing.  I mean, it looks ghetto, but portraits are some of the most difficult art to pull off, especially in a tattoo medium.  His is really well done.  I guess another qualm I had was that there’s nothing worse than a bad portrait tattoo.  I guess I was a little worried it would turn out to be a fucking disaster (see pictured).  And that shit is forever.