Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Vibrations - Yosemite Drive part 1 (preparation)

A Drive from the Bay to Yosemite part 1 - Good Vibrations (preparation)

"I love the colorful clothes [California] wears, and the way the sunlight plays upon her hair.  I hear the sound of a gentle word on the wind that lifts her perfume through the air."

There is something alluring about California.  I am not sure how many of you readers are still out there but here is the continuing rebirth of my blog.  I don't think I have ever openly stated, astute readers could guess, I was born and raised in Hawai`i.  The islands are every bit as exciting and beautiful as people have come to believe.  The state is not a flawless oasis however, as many people believe it is.  There are problems like everywhere else: homelessness, poverty, sadness.  They all mix in with the tropical beauty, the beach front cottages, and the euphoria.

I digress (Hawai`i should be set aside for a post to itself) this post is about California.  Growing up two of my favorite TV shows were "Full House" and "Nash Bridges".  The first was set in San Francisco (filmed elsewhere) and the second was filmed on location in the city.  I loved the music of the 1970s Laurel Canyon artists (CSNY, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds) and the 1960s San Francisco Bands (Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane).  I have spent many hours reading about those bands.  Movies and books recall California's beauty and mystery.  I'm not sure what it is that makes California so alluring.  Hawai`i (like California) has magical coastal highways, transcendent beaches, mountains right outside your window, and farmlands.  Maybe it's the bridges, Hawai`i does not have bridges like the ones in California.  Maybe it is the fact that almost the entire west coast is a single state.  I am not sure what it is about California but I'm hoping to figure it out by the end of my journey.  Go West Young Man.

About a year ago, I decided to move from Hawai`i to the Bay Area to pursue what my being has always felt I should be doing, writing.  As of this post I have finished my first year of graduate school in creative writing.  I am finding the gentle words on the wind that lift my spirits through the air.  I love every minute of it.  During my first semester I met some great people, thoroughly enjoyed my time, but felt very isolated in this new environment.  I spent the entire Christmas break back in Hawai`i, swimming through coral reefs and hiking through tropical forests.  In the spring semester I made more connections with my writing community and peers, finding my space in this bay area.  A handful of special people reminded me I was a part of the world and not a loner; a fact I had forgotten.  The world that I am a part of is bigger than my tiny studio apartment.

A few weeks after the end of the semester my Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin from Hawai`i contacted me because they would be driving through California on a road trip south to Texas.  Don't worry they flew from Hawai`i to California.  They had some stops planned out, Yosemite National Park being one of them.  Yosemite is where I decided to meet up with them.  This would be my first road trip on my own.  I had driven across Washington State, through Oregon, and in my childhood across parts of California.  On these drives I was always with family or friends, this would be my first drive all on my own.  I have gone on solo road trips around Hawai`i, but there is something different when you know the road will eventually loop around in a circle.  Also driving in a place I had lived all my life as opposed to the new wilderness of California is another difference.

My relatives plans were loose at best.  They were trying to schedule out stops seeing how long it would take to drive.  I was a little anxious because I was excited to see them and explore Yosemite.  A tension was building in me that they may have to change their plans at the last minute and this Yosemite trip would be canceled.  I got a text message one Friday afternoon saying "on Saturday around 11am they would be at the Yosemite Village Visitors Center. If I was still interested in meeting."  I replied "YES! see you tomorrow."  Checking the driving directions it would take about four hours from the Bay.

I stayed up late the night before, even though I had to wake up early to make the drive.  Excited for my California adventure, I wanted to make a soundtrack for my drive.  For my travel across part of the golden state I filled my playlist with California music.  The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, CSN(Y), Santana, etc.  Nine hours of music (which turned out to be not quite enough but why carp?) to take me through the land of Steinbeck, John Muir, and Good Vibrations.

Unsure of what the next day would bring I packed a heavy duffel bag with change of clothes, swim attire, things for camping, a book to read, and my little green journal.  I wished I had packed my fancy camera but I had to use my iPhone instead (not a huge loss but possibly lower quality pictures).    A snack bag with bananas, chocolate chip cookies, a cherry coke, and water for the ride.

In my time in California one of the people I have met is a Pastor named Jim.  He has given me some good questions and topics to think about.  But there was a seemingly joking question that fits this post's narrative.  He said it more eloquently but it was basically: People always talk about island fever, I wonder if there is big land fever for people moving off of an island?

I wondered if endless land instead of endless water would have an effect on me for my first road trip.  The last thing I thought about before drifting off to sleep was the excitations that California was giving me.  My road trip would be happening tomorrow.  "Close my eyes, she's somehow closer now, I know she must be kind, she goes with me to a blossom world. Gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations happening with her."

To be continued.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rebirth and "For My Grandma"

It is very nice to meet you.  My name is Ryan,
and I am grateful to you for taking the time to glance at my blog.

It has been a long time since I have posted a blog.  February 10, 2014 was my last post, you can read it here if you are interested Dave Mason - "Alone Together/Headkeeper".  I want to change the format of this blog, and this post is the beginning of a new path I hope to take.

2009 was a year of rebirth for me.  It is only fitting that I talk about that year when giving new vision and life to my blog today.  I started this blog in September 2009, my first post.  At the time I had graduated from college about a year before.  I had a series of jobs that were often cut because of funding, after all it was the beginning of the Great Recession.  In summer 2009 I found what turned out to be my first sustained post-undergrad job at Barnes and Noble.  My girlfriend broke up with me in February 2009.  My oldest cousin (they are almost like siblings to me) graduated from high school and left for college in San Francisco.  The biggest change that happened in 2009 was my Grandmother suddenly passing away.  Her passing was obviously the most difficult of all the changes.

Over the almost five years that I have written this blog there have been gaps in time between posts (as you can see by the date of my last post).  Everyday life sometimes leaves little time for blogging.  When I found a moment to write a new post I would often apologize to any readers I had left and a vow to keep going (I'm still going but there have been gaps).  I then would pick up where I left off in whatever alphabetical order I had stopped at.  If you have never read any of my posts I had been going through my CD collection alphabetically (by artist, if I had more than one album by the same artist I would do the albums chronologically in terms of release date).  My posts consisted of a little memory associated with the album and then a history/album review.

At the time I started this blog I had not been writing very much at all.  Coming out of school had put a stop to my writing and I was trying to find a way to make writing a part of my life.  Several of my friends had started their own blogs, mostly about computer animation and fashion (here is one of their blogs and another one).  I thought I would give it a try.  My goal when I started was to write reviews of Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar music or Ki Hou`alu (early Hawaiian post).  That is where my blog got its name.  Ki hou`alu translates as "loosen the key" because Hawaiians created this style by loosening the guitar strings making new notes from the traditional guitar tunings.

I was very dedicated with one post a week for seven months straight then came my first break (a month long).  When I returned I decided to refocus my blog by starting the pattern of going through my CD collection (first new start).  The pattern gave me focus and kept me writing.

In 2012 I made a decision to return to school and pursue a graduate degree in Creative Writing.  Writing is my passion, but it took me a while to figure that out.  With the school work my blog again took a backseat.  I tried a few posts here and there but there were more gaps than blogging.

When I opened up my blog today for the first time in months I decided it was time to make another change.  In the past the blog had been relatively impersonal (I wrote under the pen name "The Music Man") my profile picture was a landmark and not a picture of me.  When I did share personal details they were very distant to make sure no one could figure out who I was.  I was very interested in the stories of the music albums and did not want to detract with too many details of myself.  I am at a different point in my life now and I have learned the best way to create community and connections is by giving a little of the self to this community (even if it is a technological community out there).

For this rebirth of my blog I decided to pay tribute to someone who was and is very special in my life.  My grandmother who passed away in 2009 and also what would have been her birthday.  In a way this essay is a rebirth of sorts for my grandma as well.

When I was growing up she took care of me before I was old enough to go to school (both my parents worked).  When I did start school she drove me to school every morning and in some years picked me up after school every day.  Grandma was a strong, kind-hearted woman always giving of herself and her time to others.  She raised my mom and uncle as a single parent since they were in later elementary school.  To give you some idea of her character we had a distant family member who had graduated from Naval Academy at Annapolis, but decided to become a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.  When he did that he lost his home and job.  He was married with a baby.  None of his friends or immediate family would help him when he could not find new housing right away.  My grandma did not feel it was right to shun him for his decision.  She sought him out (he did not come to her) and let him, his wife, and baby sleep in grandma's living room until they could find a better location.  That was the kind of person she was.  She had a seemingly unwavering sense of what was right and what needed to be done.  She was always looking out for people.  If she heard I got caught in the rain because my jacket didn't fit anymore, a new jacket would magically appear in my bedroom.  Or when our roof was leaking, and we couldn't afford to fix it, there was grandma with a roofing company ready to go all paid for.  She seemed to remember everything and never held a grudge.  A very direct woman she would always cut to the chase, "Stop acting like a dummy," "What's the matter with you?" "Now that's enough," "Don't worry."

I think about her everyday, but recently a vivid memory of her came to mind.  When I was little, she would always hold out her hand when we were ready to cross the street.  I took her hand as we moved across the pavement and once we reached the sidewalk we would release hands.  Her hands were always soft even as she aged and her skin wrinkled it was still incredibly soft.
The specific memory was when I was about seven or eight years old.  We were waiting at a crosswalk in Kaimuki, I don't remember where we were going, the walk signal changed and grandma held out her hand like she had always done.  At this moment I had learned in school to "look left, right, then left again when crossing the street."  I knew how to cross the street, what to watch out for, and I felt I could cross the street on my own.  On this day I did not take her hand as we started across the pavement.  She held her hand out for a moment longer but then relaxed it.  She never asked why I wasn't taking her hand, I also don't remember if she held out her hand again.  She knew I was old enough to cross the street.  I was growing up.  As time went on I always remained close with grandma but as I aged I spent less time with her compared to my younger years when I saw her everyday.

On that night in 2009 when she passed away it was such a shock because she was healthy.  She had battled myasthenia gravis (essentially a weakening of the nerve signals to the muscles) in the past.  It started as a Class I only effecting the eyes.  She fought it into remission.  Then it returned at the beginning of 2009 but it was a Class III this time effecting her arm and leg muscles.  She had fought off this second appearance as well, getting stronger and healthier each day.  Then she went to sleep and did not wake up the next morning.  I feel that whatever it was, a sudden relapse of myasthenia or a reaper, it had to come at night when she was asleep because if she were awake she would have sent them running.

I never cried so much in all my adult life.

On the day of her funeral she really looked alive, just asleep.  I remember her hands were across her stomach, and I wanted to hold her hand one last time.  The minute my fingertip touched her skin I recoiled.  The skin was hard and rough, almost like leather.  Her soft warm hands were not there anymore.  Now what I wouldn't give to have held her hand one last time crossing the street all those years ago.

For this rebirth of my blog I choose to celebrate and remember the woman who meant and means so much to my life.  She shaped who I am as a person.  I know she is watching me from Heaven.  I believe she knows that I have and will always be holding her hand in my heart and in my memory, on every crossing I take in the streets of my life.  I love you Grandma and Happy Birthday.