Stone Man

While hunting he’d often look into the horizon. He would do this while fishing, and cooking, and eating. He would sit and stare for so long the people in his village began to call him Stone Man. He did not mind.

Stone Man was building a boat. He wouldn’t tell anyone where he was building it, just that he needed to borrow this knife, that hammer, or so many feet of braided rope. One time he was gone for three days straight. The elders prepared to go look for him. Not out of concern for him, but for the tools.

They assembled, grumbling a choir of “This is the last time I let him borrow my…” It was not an easy search – he was strong and fast when he wanted to be, and he knew the nooks and crannies of the island better than most. They found his camp on the morning of the second day. It was on a narrow beach of a thin backwater that connected to a sort of delta, and then the ocean. There was a half-heartedly constructed fire ring and a pile of food he’d brought but not eaten. Stone Man was nowhere to be seen. The search party fanned out around the camp and collected their belongings from where he’d abandoned them. They had turned to head back to the village when he breezed into the pond at the rudder of a twelve foot catamaran, lashed together with rope made of bark fiber and oars carved from drift wood. He tied the vessel up carefully, and rushed to pack his things and join the group for the return trip to the village.

He slept early that night, then rose before the sun the next day. He packed food and water for eight days and left his village with his customary lack of goodbye. One night at his beach camp was all he needed to stow his gear and check all the lashings holding the boat together. On the morning of the longest day of the year, he shoved off from the beach and pointed his prow in the direction of The Three Sisters – they still sat chatting in gray sky of the early morning.

On the seventh night there was a storm. He clutched his remaining food and water barrel to his chest to save them from the greedy waves. In vengeance the wind tore the oars from their hooks, and after the storm sank back into the water, he drifted.

Stone Man floated without direction another five days. After his water ran out, time slowed to a crawl. When the heat of the sun managed to stop it, to attach time directly to his boat so it could neither advance nor retreat, Stone Man felt the air bear down on him. He cursed the sun until it cursed him back. It raged, crawled under his skin and burned his eyes from the inside out. Time, or the sun – he couldn’t tell which – whispered to him that if he had loved one person in his tribe, that person might have stood up at his departure and said No, please don’t go.

The Wind and the Sun may not have been finished with him, and Time certainly wasn’t, but the Tide took pity and delivered him back to the island.

His villagers found the catamaran on the beach. Stone Man was almost dead.
He crawled back to life. It took him a long time to shake the weight of his near death. Someone would come to push boiled vegetables to his lips a few times a day, but he couldn’t hear or smell them. It was several days before he could properly open his eyes, and when he did he saw with vision of a newborn baby. Light played against his dried out irises, and shapes resolved slowly.

Stone Man’s hearing was the first to recover fully. He was fascinated by the voices of those around him. The brassy tone of the elders, the green sound of the children, the sharp yet measured tone of the parents. Even after his long recovery, he marveled at the delicious pure taste of rainwater. Of shade. Of soft fur rubbed against his skin. He smiled at everything.

They said to him, Stone Man, you went all that way and almost died, and only traveled in a big circle. Why do you act so happy? They asked because now he talked to everyone and had many friends.
To this he would just stare past the horizon and say nothing, and the people would shake their heads and to themselves say, Some people never change.

The people did not know that Stone Man actually had succeeded. The storms and time and dehydration had blown him to an entirely new island. When he looked to the horizon, he was looking towards the island he’d left. It lay over there, and he knew that if he looked long enough he’d end up there again, so he’d just shake his head after a second and chuckle. To his son one day he would say, I am happy because the horizon is much closer than I thought.


A Night with Clara C

At the beginning of December I had the opportunity to see what a rising pop star looks like when I got a press wristband for a sold-out Clara Chung concert at The Loft on UCSD’s campus. This was one of the Loft shows where people line up an hour before-hand at the door. That kind of fan dedication could be surprising, especially if you’ve never heard of Clara C before.

“Sunshine out your ass lyrics”

The show was officially a release concert for her album, Art in my Heart. The album is about Love – not just crushes and stomach butterflies, although there is a little of that. Clara sings about a universal love with a capital L, one she’s probably learned about when she goes to her internship and teaches children with autism. Her music is catchy enough to stick in your head after you hear it, and her videos on Youtube reveal her quirky side. A friend of mine good-naturedly described her songs as having “sunshine out your ass lyrics,” and I liked the phrase. Her music can be a bit saccharine at times, but not unpleasantly so.

Clara Chung

It’s tempting to believe that once an artist catches his or her break, the rest is easy. With my press wristband, I got to see that even though Clara C definitely has had her success, she still works hard. She does have a manager, but Clara C is her own producer. She used every second of her sound check, juggling the various instruments she was to play that night and having the tech crew tweak every setting until it was perfect. This extreme attention to detail is the mark of a not just a musician who loves her work, but a dedicated entertainer.

Clara took the stage to wild cheers from the predominantly Asian crowd. Then, she smiled and joked her way through some pre-show technical difficulties. After watching her spend so much time in the sound check to avoid these very problems, the calm positivity she showed while the she and the crew worked out a solution was all the more remarkable. The rest of the show was a sweet progression of upbeat lyrics and happy chords from her guitar. She broke out her keyboard-harmonica (it’s a real instrument, I promise) and used a loop machine to lay down a clapping rhythm line for one song. The crowd loved her, especially one young man who named every song on her album to win a five dollar gift certificate to Tapioca Express. Clara gave him a hug along with the gift certificate, and he looked like he was ready to marry her.

Clara stuck around after to show to take pictures with anyone willing to stand in line. This ended up being nearly everyone who came to the show, and she smiled and signed autographs for over two and a half hours. I managed to ask her a few questions afterwards, while she hurried around the Loft helping to get everything packed up.

Steve: Do you feel famous?
Clara: No. [As if it were a silly question] No matter how big this [gestures to the stage, drumset, instrument bags] gets, I’m always going to be me.

S: It’s hard to believe you’ve only been doing this for a year or so.
C: Yeah, it’s been FAST. Lately I definitely have a lot less time to myself.

S:Like during nights like this.
C: [laughing] Like now. No, I knew what I was getting into tonight.

S: What made you decide to devote yourself to music?
C: Have you had the same group of friends your whole life? I did. I was supposed to go to UCLA, and I was going to go there with all my friends. Everything was all set up, but then my admission got rescinded. So I got into UC Irvin at the last minute.
If I hadn’t gotten in there, I wouldn’t have gotten in to music. I would have gone to UCLA with all my old friends, and they were the ones who told me I shouldn’t do music. That’s really hurtful, and it kept me from pursuing music. But starting at UC Irvine let me meet a whole new group. They encouraged me to follow it.
**

And with that she politely excused herself to pack up some more stuff. It was close to one in the morning, and she still had to drive home to Los Angeles, where she had more shows lined up in the coming week. I hope they went well, and that Clara eventually makes it big. After all, not rooting for her would feel a bit like not rooting for Love. And maybe that’s her not-so-secret ingredient.

Clara’s YouTube Channel


Lessons in Style from Ryan Doyle

Yeah, I can run up that wall

Ryan Doyle is probably the first person to look at the east wall of the Magnetic Recording Institute and think, I’m going to run up that. If you recognize his name, you’ve seen the YouTube videos of him jumping over stuff and making flips and corkscrews look as natural as walking. He takes movements usually reserved for the gymnastics floor to sidewalks, walls, and stairway rails. What he’s doing is called parkour. It’s based on getting from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, thus running up walls rather than taking the stairs.

Red Bull flew Ryan Doyle out from Liverpool this February as part of his Art of Motion tour. In the tour, he’s trying to tap into a part of parkour that often gets out-glammed and overlooked: the fact that everybody does it differently. Each person’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses are unique to their body. Also, the things a person is able to do are specific to the environment they’re in.

On campus, Ryan was absorbed by that influence of the environment. As we walked around and talked, he was usually only ever half-involved in our conversation; the other half of his attention was constantly measuring gaps and wall textures and calculating his next line. When I asked him about what got him into parkour, though, he tuned all the way. He has kind of a boyish face and light brown hair, but when he really talks about parkour his demeanor is all pro.

Jackie Chan, the Father of Parkour

Doyle talked about watching Jackie Chan movies when he was a kid. As parkour developed, what people were doing on the streets reminded Doyle of what Jackie Chan was doing in his movies. Doyle told me, “Jackie Chan is always running away from people. He’s so good at martial arts and all he ever does is run away. And the way he integrates his environment in to his choreography, that’s parkour. When the French started doing it in the nineties and said they invented it, I said, ‘Bullshit, that’s Jackie Chan.’”

The fact that Ryan Doyle’s gateway into parkour was martial arts makes it tempting to compare him to Jackie Chan, or any other famous martial artist. But the way Ryan moves looks nothing like Jackie Chan’s choreography, or anyone else’s. Doyle firmly believes that innovation is critical to parkour; if everybody is trying to copy each other, parkour would be boring to do and watch. But since how it looks depends so much on who’s doing it, he describes parkour more as an art than a sport.

Sometimes it’s the small stuff

In addition, there are different aspects of parkour, not all of which are necessarily acrobatic. “People always think about the flips because those look the coolest, but maybe that’s not your style. Flips and absorbing big impacts are always what people always want to see, but that’s the stuff that kills your body. You can’t be doing that stuff all the time if you want to be able keep doing it.” The point was illustrated when Doyle front flipped off the fountain in Price Center. At least a dozen people stopped in their tracks pulled out their phones to record it.


Suburban Couch Surfing

Mooch Much?

A body greeted me from the foot of the bed. Veins bulged out of his neck and his eyes popped out grotesquely. He was a rubber Halloween decoration, of course, but in that fuzzy moment between dreaming and waking, I wasn’t so sure. After I remembered where I was, I picked up my toiletry bag and headed for the bathroom, where I made myself at home as much as possible. I then helped myself to the refrigerator and turned on my laptop, ready for another day at my friend Josh’s house.

I’d already stayed at his house for close to a week, enjoying his brother’s bed while he was backpacking across Europe. My truck was parked outside, and behind the front seats were my duffel bag and a box of soap, hair gel, basketball shoes, and other necessities. On Wednesday I was due to move to another friend’s house for another week.

A few weeks after I graduated high school, my family moved from the Bay Area to Orange County, at least in theory. I qualify that sentence with ‘in theory’ because I haven’t quite made the transition yet. I’ve managed to spend most of my last two summers staying at my friend’s houses in the Bay Area. In doing so, I’ve become a practiced moocher. So far, at least, I haven’t noticed any grumbling on the part of my generous mooch-ees. I’m lucky to have the kinds of friends that can tolerate me spending extended periods of time in their house, and even luckier their parents have a similar hospitality.

21 and no job? It’s ok mom, Science has a name for me 🙂

But there is something else at work here, a generational phenomenon. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett is a professor who has done a lot of research on the way teens develop into adults. What he is studying can be seen in each of my friends’ houses every summer, and on college campuses across the nation. In fact, if you are reading this, you are probably going through the stage of life at which Arnett has directed his research – a stage he calls emerging adolescence.

The reason I even want to spend time in the Bay Area is that many of my friends come home every summer. This will change as we enter jobs and internships that will further our careers, but we still haven’t settled into those just yet. We still depend largely on our parents, although we are legally adults.

Our parents are able give us this kind of support because they work. Hard. Experiencing the depth of my friends’ parents’ generosity has hammered that notion home for me. Many 18-25 year olds go to school instead of work, and those who do work generally don’t make enough to pay rent, food, gas, insurance, or medical bills. Though no longer minors, we don’t bear many of the responsibilities that adults do.

Are you an adult yet?

In a NY Times article (August 18, 2010) discussing Arnett’s findings, Robin Marintz Henig lays out five checkpoints that mark a teen’s progression into adulthood:

  1. Completing school
  2. Leaving home
  3. Becoming financially independent
  4. Marrying and having a child

While such defined benchmarks are always problematic, they nonetheless seem logical enough to guide a discussion.

The first benchmark, completing school, raises many issues that are at the heart of Arnett’s research into emerging adolescence. A hundred years ago, ‘school’ might have meant as little as learning to read and basic arithmetic. Young people entered the workforce young, and stayed there. Many were faced with each of the rest of the ‘milestones’ to adulthood around decade before our generation generally does.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 had much to do with slowing that progression. It kept those young people out of work in school. This created a new generation: the adolescent. Teenagers were not children anymore, but they were by no measure adults. The meaning of ‘school’ shifted to include twelve grades. Developmental psychologists had to create the term ‘adolescence’ to adequately describe this new stage of youth.

Now that a four -(or six-, or eight-) year education has become more and more crucial in order to secure a well-paying job, the benchmark ‘finishing school’ is difficult to define. Some 18 year olds enter the work force full time directly after high school. However, many individuals choose to remain students until their mid-twenties. This keeps them dependent on their parents, and shelters them from many adult responsibilities. Even if they don’t attend a university, many emerging adolescents live at home to save money before they move out on their own.

What should we call me

I run into this phenomenon every time I try to refer to people my age. We’re not adults, and teenagers doesn’t apply to us anymore, even to individuals who are 18 and 19 year olds. Sometimes I use kids, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Arnett’s proposed term for 18-25 year olds, Emerging Adolescents, works well to capture two traits that he has found to characterize people of this age group. According to his findings, we are optimistic that our future will be bright, but at the same time not entirely sure how it will become so. In some cases, this leads to a dread of the ‘real’ world, and anxiety over learning how it all works.

Sound familiar? If he’s not right on the money, it seems like Arnett is pretty close to what’s going on with people our age. Sometimes it seems like we’re sprinting forwards with our heads down, knowing that there is a destination without knowing how to get there. Sometimes it seems like we’re floating from one wave to the next, craning our necks at every crest to try and figure out where to swim to. And sometimes it’s nice to just kick back and see what’s new on Youtube.


Finding Punk

The ringing in my ears is making me write this.

Hand-painted on the middle of an exposed rafter over the tiny stage in Che Café are the two words, “I PROMISE”. Under those words, punk rock is happening with vigor. For such a small space, the house’s sound system is almost offensively loud. Highs, lows, mids… Well, they’re in there somewhere, but the thirty people standing in front of the stage don’t care much. Many of them are about to get on stage themselves and be part of this thing they call punk rock.

The words painted above the stage are appropriate. Performance, on any scale, is a promise. Tonight, it will be a loud promise.

I PROMISE painted above the stage

Lifesupport, Linkletter, FLEX, The Bogarts, Hear The Sirens, and TANTIVE-IV are the bands performing. The singer/bassist from Linkletter jumps around the most, and I’m amazed that he’s able to hold onto his guitar, avoid kicking the drum kit and guitarist (they’re that close), and get back to the mic on beat and in-key. The Bogarts are confident and sassy. Hear The Sirens, the band I came to see, are very, very good.

Billy Joe giving the middle finger

Hundreds of miles away in Las Vegas, Billy Joe of Green Day recently dropped twenty two f-bombs in a ninety-second drunken tirade at the I Heart Radio Music Festival. The festival has been touted as a shining corporate symbol of all that the hit-hungry super-star-worshipping music industry has come to be. And maybe Green Day is now a little too much the posterboy for punk-gone-pop to mention in the same sentence as Che Café.

Unless. Unless it were to say that once, millions of Itunes downloads ago, Green Day played on this very same, tiny stage.

So, other than scale of audience and production value, what separates a Green Day concert from the punk rock happening in front of me?

The reading room just behind the stage floor is filled with anarchist literature, dozens of issues of a magazine from Wisconsin called Razorcake, and sunken couches. The room certainly feels like punk rock. “Stick it to the man” is the cliché that readily comes to mind; importantly, so does saying “fuck” whenever the fuck I feel like it.

Hear The Sirens is here tonight as the last stop of a state-long tour promoting the release of their self-made EP, Renegade. Look, rebellion right there in the title. But there’s more here, and it’s not just the badass sax cruising through the last chorus of the first song, Last Call Love. In the song Reason To Run, another promise arises in the lines “Well you can find yourself tonight/Or just leave town the easy way.” The song is about struggle, often without end. But the promise in these lines sounds familiar to me.

I’ve been to a lot of open mics and I’m no stranger to performances attended primarily by the performers. After about the tenth time cheering supportively when someone with a mic in their hand said, “I’ve never been up here before” or “I just wrote this an hour ago,” I realized something. When people go up on stage, they aren’t promising to be good. They’re not promising to be funny, confident, or original. They’re promising honesty. And that’s a promise that each and every band tonight clearly made. They make it with every chord, every snare, every screamed chorus, and the ringing in my ears tells me they’ll keep making it even if someone pulls the plug.

Che Cafe