Childhood

Meditation 1 by Akira Ohiso

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During meditation, a memory of Alex surfaced that I have not thought about for decades.  We were bike riding at Caumsett State Park in Huntington, NY.   On summer days before the internet and smart phones, Caumsett was a destination my friends frequented to escape the provincial environs of Port Washington.  We were in the first few years after high school when those of us who were unsure of our futures took classes at local colleges (for transfer credits one day), while loitering around town on weekends. 

It was a sort of rapproachment with my parents after years where my peers took priority.   I got along better with my parents as I finally had state-sanctioned independence.  My parents let me be in many respects as I tried to make my way in the world.  As a Gen Xer, the loitering around would go into my mid-twenties.  I was directionless and reactive so I would often, impulsively, drop one thing to try something else.  But, as Douglas Copeland said, “There is no shame in impulse.”  

Odd jobs, stints in college, dead-end bands and too much depressive partying is not a recipe for success even in an unconventional way.  Even writers and artists work every day.  While some of my more mature (with a hard T) classmates were on to masters programs and starter homes, I idled, indecisively, to the sounds of Nirvana, Ace of Base and Celine Dion (if we are talking 1994).

I rationalized my anger and jealousy.  Douglas Copeland succinctly expressed my feelings at the time:

 “When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing. ”

“Depressing” is living in you parents attic surround by dusty posters of high school idols.  

I was also incapable of holding down romantic relationships.  I had girlfriends, but I always found a reason to walk away.  I let so many good relationships go because I did not understand myself.  I was mixed-race, but my public identity was to be white and fit in.  As long as my skin wasn’t brown or black, I got a pass in the hierarchy of racism.  Yellow trumps black in this case. 

I also carried generational trauma.  My mother survived an alcoholic and abusive father.  My father was a child of World War 2 Japan.  I’m only beginning to understand how their experiences imprinted on my life. 

***

Today, Ellie told me a story she heard from her hair stylist.  She took her dog to the dog park at Golden Gardens.  Her dog was not leashed and when she opened the car door in the parking lot the dog darted into a wooded area near a homeless camp.  She thought nothing of it and her dog eventually caught up with her and they entered the dog park.  Soon her dog started acting confused and drowsy and had some difficulty breathing. 

She rushed her dog to the vet where tests revealed he had high levels of opioids in his blood.  Her dog wandered over an area where people where going to the bathroom. The human feces contained opioid remnant that the dog ingested accidentally.  Her dog was treated with Narcan.  She reported the incident to a local animal program who stated they received  several similar complaints.  The unintended consequences of addiction create vertical trauma for our canine companions.

It’s been almost twelve years since Alex passed away unexpectedly in his sleep.  

Studio Without Walls by Akira Ohiso

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I’ve been wanting to get back to a regular writing routine for some time now, but, my excuse is that life got in the way.  My discipline as a writer is not up to par with my art.  I work on art everyday mostly sitting on the couch with my iPad.  It’s not very romantic, but I think of Hemingway standing at a chest-high typewriter propped on a bookshelf in his room. Whatever works to facilitate the work. 

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At this point in my career, I don’t have the finances or space for a studio, but, because I work digitally, space is not required. 

I have been moving away from my representational drawings of Seattle and towards a collage and mixed-media vocabulary.  When I had a studio space in the Catskills, I was using this vocabulary on canvas and wood panels. 

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Lately, I have been returning to exploring these styles using digital art applications.  Because I work at a rapid pace and often in a stream-of-consciousness style, the ability to find visual media and get results quickly supports my process.  The internet is an effective tool in this regard.  It’s quicksilver, a digitized me thumbing through printed matter with no discretion.  Anything and everything can be cut and pasted into a new context. 

My work is prolific so I often don’t think about what I create until I stop for the day.  When I think about my work beforehand or have a pre-conceived plan, the work often is for commercial purposes.  Commercial often means constraints about messaging.  The most honest work comes through an unplanned exploratory process where accidents and serendipity play a role.

Perhaps it’s related to my social work background where talk therapy is about open-ended questions and the space to allow exploration and new insights to develop about self.

I remember lonely nights in my late teens and early twenties writing perplexed Bic-Pen entries in my black and white mottled composition book.  I had stacks of journals in my attic bedroom that were tossed when my parents sold the house a few years ago. 

I will never know everything that was expressed in those journals, but I do remember the identity-confused timber.  It’s hard for me to know the person I was back then because I had no identity.  Without the tools and knowledge to understand my biracial existence, I simply reacted in a white world.  I assimilated and denied any identity I was aware of.  I was a cipher, a void, an Akira-shaped hole.

Frozen Tire Ruts by Akira Ohiso

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I didn’t venture far from the apartment.   Roads and sidewalks are icy, so you look for sure-footing on crunchy snow where dogs defectate.   I took the kids to the nearby playground at St. Alphonsus Church.  It’s a destination we frequent all year round.  To walk familiar routes over and over again may seem monotonous, but there is always the chance to find novelty if you are attuned to it.  Xavier de Maistre journeyed around his room feeling that staying put was far more convenient than the hassles of travel.  As Alain de Botton said his The Art of Travel, “The sole cause of a man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

The kids enjoy walking in frozen tire ruts and seeing the water move underneath.  Their masterful ability to be present is what we lose as adults.  Adults search, spend money, attend retreats, become addictive and clingy in order to experience fleeting presence.

I am in my head a lot these days.  I seek action to avoid silence, opinions to comfort uncertainty.  Yet these are delusional tactics to avoid my 48-year old self.  To find nothing in the silence is terrifying to me.  Is there a difference between “nothing” and “nothingness?” The former may be about a deficit, the latter about abundance.  

 

 

Glacier by Akira Ohiso

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Mom died last November.  I think about her often.  The initial loss gives way to glacial loss. Time creates daily moments of remembrances; sometimes hunks of memory fall off into the oceanic abyss never to be conjured again. The mass moves, deep architecture like ballast...

Today, the snow triggers ancient memories; plastic bags over socks to keep moisture out, the Long Island Blizzard of 1978 and frostbite on the sledding hill behind the Port Washington Post Office.  The radiator in my kitchen was where boots, wool gloves, hats, scarves, snow pants and jackets thawed and dried.  I distinctly remember picking the pilly snow out of my wool gloves.  Mom would be cooking something warm and bubbly on the stove.

I walk with Ellie on 14th Ave NW.  A worker shovels snow off the roof of Ballard Market. Couples venture out to experience the rare event of snow in Seattle.  Dogs jump euphorically through powdery drifts in Gemenskap Park.

Six inches of snow in Seattle is a big deal; supermarket shelves empty out as if a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent.  The city does not budget a lot for snow management because it rarely snows on a scale that requires management.  When Seattle gets a snowstorm the city shuts down.  Bars stay opened.

The death of a parent sometimes marks a new chapter in one’s life.  For me, it has been a chance to reflect.  I am not depressed, but compressed, caring for an aging parent and three children.  My eldest is a hormonal tween on the cusp of finding friends more important than parents.  He is beginning to explore his identity, while I begin to avoid Ericksonian stagnation.  I know he wants me to be a supportive father, but it has to be different than just a year ago.   I have been resistant to adjust.  I’ve been resistant to many things lately. 

In Shadowboxes and the Round by Akira Ohiso

I walk across Market Street on 14th Ave NW.   Ellie and I are walking to Ballard Reuse, a store that resells used home furnishings.   It’s a creative exercise to browse in the jettisoned commerce of others; tubs, doors, street signs, school lockers, lights, cabinet handles, picture frames, radios, hardware, school desks, mirrors, chairs, nautical detritus, clocks, furniture with upcycle potential.  Hipster decor, cheap purchase or creative reuse for an upscale Craftsman.

I find alternative frame solutions for my work; a plastic streetlight, a drawer on its side, a wall piece with shelf and oval frame, gaudy picture frame.   I think about Michaelangelo’s Doni Tondo, a work that depicts a Madonna in the “tondi” or “round.”   

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I also think about Joseph Cornell, an artist who created found-object assemblages in shadow boxes.  He was a self-taught artist and was influenced by the surrealist movement.  Seemingly random juxtapositions, sculptural collages and poetic play were integral to his work.  He once said “collage = reality.”  He lived much of his adult life in a house on Utopia Boulevard in Flushing, Queens.  I was born in Flushing and lived the first three years of my life in an apartment on Bowne Street.  I remember mostly through family photo albums and stories.  My father photographed prolifically during my childhood.  I swear I have a memory of walking in the building laundry room with red slippers adorned with anchors.  My parents vouch for the red anchor slippers, but don’t think I could have remembered such a memory -a gossamer instance like a fragment of a collage. 

“Cornell in Window” 1972 by Harry Roseman  

“Cornell in Window” 1972 by Harry Roseman  

Years later, I would return to Flushing to finish school at Queens College where I received a BA in Studio Art.  I lived with an ex-girlfriend in an apartment building next to the Whitestone Expressway and Whitestone Lanes. The New York Times distribution center was across the expressway. She was a tough Queens girl with a thick New Yawk accent.  She lost both hippy parents at an early age and was raised by her maternal Jewish grandmother.  Her grandmother had died and she lived in the apartment by herself.  There was unresolved trauma around the loss of her parents.  She found her mother dead from a drug overdose.  She was raped at age 13 by an older kid in the neighborhood.  Neither of us had the emotional self-awareness to maintain the relationship.

These were issues I was not exposed to in a north shore Long Island suburb.  I grew up in Port Washington, NY, a cow-neck shaped peninsula facing the Long Island Sound.  In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,  Port Washington was East Egg, the “old money” enclave of Gilded Age estates.  West Egg or Great Neck was for the “nouveau riche.”  Not that drugs and rape weren’t happening, but wealth can make those things go away very easily. 

I grew up middle-class.  We were better off than some, but I acutely felt the haves and have-nots in Port Washington.  The growing “Spanish” community lived in apartments on Main Street or in multi-unit houses near the industrial areas of town.  I remember the local police moving Latino men along who were “loitering” on fences around the train station.  Most of the young men lived together and simply sat outside their apartment buildings on warm nights.  Many worked in restaurant kitchen and landscaping companies. 

My neighborhood was middle-class, but has gentrified with yuppies since.  Smaller pre-war homes with wood floors and original molding appeal to a new generation of yuppies looking for authenticity and integrity in their down-low consumption. 

The Park section is a grid of four streets: Bar Beach Road, Park Avenue, Highland Avenue and Fairview Avenue.  The grid starts at Port Washington Boulevard and climbs up a slope to Woodlawn Avenue, a street that overlooks the Sandpits.  During the summers in the seventies, hang gliders would set off from the cliff and float over the Sandpits until you saw the soft silent landing in the sibilant spray of sand.  Someone would pick them up in “the pits” and drive them back up to Woodlawn Avenue for another run.

Sand was a booming industry at the turn of the 20th century and the sand pits provided raw material for many of the buildings in New York City including the Empire State Building, the Chrystler Building, the Queensborough , the former Twin Towers and Rockefeller Center.  Immigrants from Europe worked the mines and many single men lived in barracks.  Families lived in homes with stilts.  A school was established for children.  I remember seeing rusty cars and motorcycles embedded in the sides of cliffs.  People played “chicken” and it was rumored that the mob disposed of enemies in the pits.

A large green building with conveyer belts would transport sand to barges in Hempstead Harbor.  It was a dilapidated green relic that anyone who grew up in Port Washington at the time would remember driving along West Shore Road to Bar Beach or Hempstead Harbor Beach. The rotting barges remained on the liminal unused banks of the harbor until the nineties.

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As the sand mining industry dwindled, the pits eventually were used as a landfill.  The last sandmining company closed in 1989.  In the early eighties, I attended Salem Elementary School.  The school and surrounding neighborhood was ground zero for aquifer contamination. Residents were getting sick from drinking water and one local teacher died of cancer.  Salem school and the landfill were eventually closed.  Today, it is a golf course and corporate real estate for companies.  The Sandminers Monument was erected in 2011 as weekend golfers perfect their putt.