We're Golden.

My sister departed from us one week ago today. She left us on this earth to continue this long, arduous, beautiful search through which her heart led her hands and her hands led her heart. She now knows the answers.

But I still don’t. My fingers are frantically fumbling for any tools nearby because that’s what they know to do when things are unclear and unknown. We are seekers who know that the work will faithfully reveal the answers to us. And sometimes, the answer is the path itself, and the work leads us up to resting points where we can sit quietly with our breath. But at times, the chest expands far too wide with the Whys and the Hows and it's too broad to contain. And the words get lost in this cavernous chamber. And these eyes were not made to see in the dark all of the time. But these hands were. So I extend my arms until my fingertips scrape against some rough, gritty, perceived boundary so that I can feel where I am again.

I sit with heavy shoulders and a weakened spine that cradles these saturated lungs while I taste the savory tears caught between my lips. The birds squawk articulately. We know they mourn with us. They unfurl our sorrows toward the firmament, but I'm not sure why. This grief won't dissolve. But I do trust those ravens. They know her well.

Clusters of words wrap hastily around loose sketches. Knotted thoughts. Entangled writings that will take order in some form, at some time, hopefully in this life. Emotions that have been given names that can't nearly encompass the density of what they truly are. Remembering the umber mourning doves who nested on our terrace last spring, whose fledglings realized power in their wings and left us. I wish they would have stayed longer so that we could continue watch them grow and build. They still visit us from time to time. 

run free, thy Golden heart.  Self portraits by Kelly Clark

run free, thy Golden heart.  Self portraits by Kelly Clark

Oh, Belle. I can still feel you here. Since your passing, the your wings have been hanging freely from my ears, their comforting weight sinking my heels a little deeper into earth wherein we so often found our balance. Or something close to balance. I waited for them to whisper verse to me, and they did. 

You laughed easily and loved life fully. You revered your time here. You honored the breathing, heaving world around you. And the earth loved you as it would latch onto your heels when you’d wander into the cathedrals that have been built with confident gesture and ever unfolding limbs, continually reaching for light. We’ve learned so much from them, haven’t we?

These wings. And the birds that they carry. 

Their grace, their reverence for the sun, their humble homes and their diligence in building and rebuilding their sanctuaries. From season to season, putting to use the gifts that they have been given as one of nature’s most magnificent architects. We have strived to be like them—putting in that wholehearted work to construct that thing that will shelter our loved ones. That thing that will quicken our hearts. Those things that keep us optimistic… because what is more optimistic than believing that something can be made from a something that does not yet exist, and believing in that which brings them forth into the light so that we can see them? Those things that help us shed the detritus of life from our souls. Our life’s work-- to gather it all up, and reintroduce them with our hands and mouths in ways that brings more meaning, light, and understanding to our world.

My hands remember your studio. The puddles of silver and hue. The stones that have travelled from all over this earth to find its way to your palms. Seeing your fluid hand in those intimate paintings made me want to reintroduce myself to them again. It had been months, maybe even years. (It’s difficult to gauge time these days. It might have always been that way for us. “I’ll just finish up this bird’s wing” turns into gessoing a fresh canvas because the palette we’ve mixed for that single wing surely needs its own canvas!)

This word has been wafting toward me consistently over the past week:

 
 

 

Gold. 

It’s been presenting itself in moments unexpected, and I’ve managed to capture it. I have kept it pressed up against my sternum so that it can stand face to face with Heart to prepare for the search. I’ve purchased four gold pens and my stack of gold leaf eagerly sits on the corner of the drawing table. 

Gold.

[Some things I learned about gold: Gold is pure. It cannot be mixed with other metals. In its purest form, it is dense and soft. It’s elemental symbol, Au, derives from the Latin word aurum, which means “shining dawn”, whose ancestor is the Proto-Indo-European*h₂é-h₂us-o-, meaning "glow".]  Oh, Belle, you are the shining dawn. Your light glows still in the things and people that you've left behind, as does the density to your words and the softness of your heart.  

 

I wish you would have stayed longer last night.

She came to me in a dream, and only stayed long enough to declare her new name. Phi. (Spelled Phi, but pronounced to rhyme with “free”.)

Phi.

ϕ.

The Golden Ratio.

 

 
 

 

Phi. The Fibonacci sequence. This proportion that appears in countless patterns in nature, reminding us that in her elegant imperfections, she is indeed perfect. This sequence that was and is believed by artists to attend to that which is aesthetically pleasing. Some know it as universal law.

You will ever be a part of this ephemeral sequence that we must still tread through. But we will have our dreams. Meet us there. Tell us the secrets of eternity. Tell us about these things you now know.

 

Hand in hand, we shall come forth as gold.

 

 

Leaving Few Stones Unturned

The weight of a stone holds a profound beauty within itself. Some of the stones I've collected have been formed by the steady pushing and pulling of ocean waters over hundreds of years, tumbling with the everchanging tide and storm. And yet their beauty feels effortless. I find such joy in collaborating with Earth. For me, it has been a way of combining our histories, an acknowledgment that we are made of the same stuff and that we have seen similar miracles and wars and changes and expansion. 

Will you do something with me? The next time a stone catches your eye, whether on ocean shores, or in dense woods, or on the sidewalk of a city street, pick it up. Take some time to smooth your fingers over it as if it carries the brail that will tell you its secrets (it might). Then hold it in the palm of your hand. Close your eyes for a moment, and just feel the weight of it sink deep into your palm as you absorb its history so that it can become a part of you. 

 

 
_20161214_190625.jpg
 

 THESE BEAUTIES ARE PART OF MY CURRENT SHOW, LIFELINE, WHICH SPEAKS ON THIS WEIGHT THAT CAN BE LIFTED IN TIME, EVEN IF PARTIALLY, THROUGH FAITH, WORK, AND TOGETHERNESS.

                         

 

Fighting Wars | Knighting Warriors

Homeless Nepalese children (Photo: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

Homeless Nepalese children (Photo: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)

We live in a world where families are displaced, homeless children stand on corners, lifeless ones are washed ashore, and a dark history repeats itself. A world where "home" is a word that cannot be defined for many, although they give their lives in trying to do so. Where the innocent are assaulted, persecuted, and killed because all men and women are still not seen as equal. Where the caring of our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters is seen as a burden upon the state, fathers are absent, and single mothers wish that they could give more to their children. Where slavery, murder, and rape exists, and the evil ones who defile these victims are acquitted. 

We live in a world where the value of life is compromised by the love of money and power. Where those who hold high seats ignore their oath to serve the People, and instead, choose to serve themselves. Where values are willingly replaced with fame, where children are continuously exposed to the messages and images that impair their self-love and sow the seeds of materialism, and where there is a void that is so great, that death is sometimes perceived as a better option than Life. We live in a world where hate spreads like cancer, and cancer just won’t die. In a world where this hate continues fighting, even though it knows that Love will win. 

During a protest near the CVS pharmacy that was set on fire during rioting after the funeral of Freddie Gray, on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

During a protest near the CVS pharmacy that was set on fire during rioting after the funeral of Freddie Gray, on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

My heart can hardly bear it. For my own good and sanity, I continue searching for beauty and reason, wherever they may lie, squinting to blur out the darkness when my eyes have had enough. As difficult as this life is, as often as it plays the antagonist, as unfair as it may seem at times, it is still the greatest gift of all. I did not earn this life; I did not earn myself to be born. This life was given to me, and there is still beauty here. Amidst the anguish and despair, beauty indeed lives here still. With us. And inside of us. And all this suffering – Oh, this suffering – it, too, has a way of revealing just how much love lives within us –  this heavy-on-the-bones, heart-scarring, chest-swelling, fist-clenching love that we feel for others when we witness their immense distress because we have known and we can remember for ourselves. 

With these dark events that cloud our reality, I ask myself, How appropriate is it for me to claim my own time to make art? How appropriate is it for me to allow myself to be swept up in the whirlwind of my “struggle” in resolving a painting, the “stress” in preparing for a show? How appropriate is it for me to be funneled into the rush of the NBA Championships? I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not only appropriate, but even necessary, because these kinds of activities keep the idea of potential in our eye line. In taking part, we keep this optimism alive, in the Spirit of humanity and in all that is possible. 

 

Making Art.

Creativity is the practice of seeing the potential in something, in anything. It is believing that there is a way to make things better, and taking part in the process of making it happen. It’s the outward working of an inward faith toward a chance that there is something greater taking shape, and trusting that this Faith, as verb and as noun, will endure. It’s the voice that reminds us, “There is something important happening here, and I have not walked through this fire in vain.” It’s making beauty, and putting more of it out there in a world whose darkness can shroud the abundant beauty that is here for us to see, and feel, to absorb, and to remember. As our dear friend Brother Jesus Hernandez said: 

The artist has the imagination to create a better world

and then to escape to it.


And might I add, “… and invite others to escape with them.” Creativity is the proof that potential and optimism are alive and well. And this is surely something this world needs more of, wouldn't you agree?

Reaching higher and back to roots.

Reaching higher and back to roots.

 

Making 3's. 

(How about, like, 11 of them?)

This is equally as important. At a time when gentrification continues displacing communities, families, and artists throughout the Bay Area and beyond, the heart of the Golden State Warriors activates a spirit within us that reminds us that we are capable, resilient, and that we can find our strength in our fight, and in our numbers.

[Note: The Warriors took home the 2015 Championship, but before then, it hadn’t been since the spring of 1975, when they swept Washington in the Finals. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Vietnamese families are swept out to sea. They fight for survival, fleeing from a communist Vietnam, with the hope of drifting toward freedom.]

1975: LEFT: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS. THE WASHINGTON BULLETS IN THE NBA FINALS (VINCENT MAGGIORA, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)  1975: RIGHT: A CARGO NET LIFTS REFUGEES FROM A BARGE ONTO THE SS PIONEER CONTENDER FOR EVACUATION FROM THE FALLEN CITY OF Đà Nẵng, VIETNAM. it took EIGHT HOURS TO LOAD SOME 6,000 REFUGEES ABOARD THE SHIP. (AP/PETER O'LOUGHLIN)

1975: LEFT: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS. THE WASHINGTON BULLETS IN THE NBA FINALS (VINCENT MAGGIORA, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE) 
1975: RIGHT: A CARGO NET LIFTS REFUGEES FROM A BARGE ONTO THE SS PIONEER CONTENDER FOR EVACUATION FROM THE FALLEN CITY OF Đà Nẵng, VIETNAM. it took EIGHT HOURS TO LOAD SOME 6,000 REFUGEES ABOARD THE SHIP. (AP/PETER O'LOUGHLIN)

The Golden State Warriors are among the remarkable community-oriented, socially-active leaders of our San Francisco Bay Area, and have been put in a position to elevate the community at large. Some of us watched as they fought back to win from a 23-point first-half deficit. We watched when our MVP returned from a knee injury, only to grow hungrier, and score 40 points on his first game back. We witnessed their coronation as the Western Conference Champions, marching them into the Finals by the sweat of their brows and the fire in their bellies.

But we also watched with heavy hearts while some of the Warriors’ confidence wavered, causing hesitation and panic which resulted in a several losses. I sat on the edge of the couch, with my hand on a swollen heart, quietly repeating to Steph and his teammates:

Just remember who you are. 

It is just that simple. But not so simple after all. 

I thought, if they could just remember who they are, they could find their rhythm again. That’s the thing about excellence. It is so grand, that it sometimes has a way of taking on this role of being superhuman, so that mistakes somehow become intolerable to us. But this divine excellence is also contained in part within humanity, and we are all but perfect. If we could just brush off the dirt from our glistening shoulders with our scathed palms, and remember who we are at the core, revisit that which we know to do, recount the inherent gifts that we’ve been given, and recall this Will that will set it all in motion to take us where we hope to go, this is all we need to know.

Just remember who you are. 

It’s the coming together as a team to defend something worth defending. It’s the grasping onto potential and claiming it as our own. It’s the way these Warriors light up that court with the fire that spreads through the Spirit of the People, and with the confidence that a long-awaited change is coming. It’s witnessing their fight, and fighting alongside them, whether on or off the court, stirring up that Warrior fight within us, which transcends the arena and weaves its way into our lives, reminding us that we can and that we will. We all have been downtrodden by naysayers (both the haters who surround us, and those pesky discouraging voices from within), who will strive to fuel that self-doubt, and continue to poke and prod and test our Will. And this is when we learn what we are made of. And whether we are made of mud, Klay, or iron, there is still space to grow into more. There is a potential to be realized here.  

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson now reign as the cornerstones of the Golden State Warriors, but not long ago, before splashing into the league, their potential was questioned by many, and neither of them were highly touted. Could this be where the fight is born? When we are compelled to prove to ourselves that we are good enough, and that we deserve more? When we also feel the need to make a statement to both those who unjustifiably crown themselves as judges over us, and to the ones who have marched faithfully with us all along? 

The highly inspirational triumphant tales of the true underdog ignite a flare within us, and this is enough to give me permission to be enraptured by the NBA Finals, with the Warriors leading this fight, on their battlegrounds in our belovèd Oakland, California, who stands firm, even as an underdog in her own right, fighting beside her bretheren and sisteren cities all across the globe who have grown fatigued from the racism, violence, hatred, and poverty that they face in their neighborhoods. By bearing witness to the success that has come from these whose capabilities were once heavily debated, we are reminded that there exists an opportunity to fight the worthy fight. 

The world can be a wearisome place, but if we can just learn to believe in this significant fight wholeheartedly, through hope and habit, we will see that here in the center of this tempest lives the potential, possibility, and strength that has been waiting for this moment to burst forth.

 

Making Promises from Potential.

There is a beauty in the way that talent and will has opened that window for so many, even if just by a sliver, to offer a new space in which we can use these gifts to begin building something new, necessary, and beautiful. This will that finds fulfillment in the work itself, and scans the horizon for the open meandering roads that it may lead to.

There are stories of exceptional young athletes, and many of their stories, though few heard, have pressed heavily upon us, leaving deep imprints that only an unyielding strength can leave. Some of these athletes came from a destitute life of bitter struggle, where their sense of home is whittled down to a place to sleep, after the chaos of day has simmered, and the coming of night often does not guarantee quiet, but instead, brings about another fight for survival. Some of them help raise their younger siblings out of the motels that they call home. Some have mothers who wander the streets as addicts and prostitutes, broken women who are unable to cope with the reality that the fathers of their children have been sentenced to a life in prison (some guilty, and some innocent, made guilty by a flawed system). And yet, these young ones continue fighting because they have faith that life can be better. These are among our true Warriors - the youth who have sprouted hastily into men and women because Life needed them to become the strong oaks that they are. 

Many of these children are children of color, having been driven from home to home, heaving from the cold, contrary winds, from abuse, and from a broken system that cannot adequately assist them. Because they suffer from such strenuous home lives, most of them have learning disabilities and have a difficult time focusing, which results in their significant troubles in school. (Why would math homework even be a priority, when Sister is hungry and crying because Mother has gone missing again?) Although some possess the utmost inherent athletic ability and character, they grapple with the handsome challenge of proving to universities nationwide that they deserve a higher education and a spot on the roster. Out of this trial, we witness a different kind of fight being born - an extension of the fight they've come to know so well ...

This resplendent, astounding fight.

 This pressure that refines them into the diamonds they were born to be. 

 

*The word diamond derives from the ancient Greek ἀδάμας – adámas, which means “unbreakable”. 

Yes. You were and are. 

Yes. You were and are. 

For most of their lives, these youth have fought for survival, sustenance, and safety, and now they have stepped up and through a threshold that offers them an education, a chance to live life on their own accord, and some space to build a better life for themselves and for their loved ones. We’ve witnessed their confidence thicken, ushering them into manhood, as they take the necessary steps to reinforce the tenacity that had them dominating the field to begin with.

Would these individuals have fought with the same persistence and heart had they not endured the kinds of trials they've faced? My guess is “no”. 

These struggles, although hardly welcomed, are necessary in building the character that tenderizes the Compassion within us, this Love that can sometimes be hardened by the horrifying condition of the world. These overbearing internal, external, socio-political, economical, physical, emotional wars are all too real, and it is this need to create that helps align our spines to keep us moving forward with the hope. 

Creativity has a way of bringing the community together with a shared agenda, with our eyes fixed on a simple and important goal – to triumph in materializing our ideas and desires, one iota at a time, into our reality. It offers another solution, another way of thinking, another path, another life to those whose Will will take them there. Its reason is long-lasting. Its hopes are to bring those intangible dreams to matter and to enlighten a dark world with a beauty and intelligence that lies within us.

Whether it be creating a greater sense of self-worth or community and team-mentality, creating a home, creating a family, creating a future, creating more healing and progression, creating art, or creating peace, this act of creating is our promise to being proactive in crystalizing this optimism into a substance that adds beauty, worth, and fulfillment to this life, even if to just make it more bearable.

 

Ride on, Warriors. 

We are nearly there. 

 

To all the Warriors out there: Remember who you are.

To all the Warriors out there: Remember who you are.

This Sacred Gift

As the year comes to a quiet close, I sit across from my twelve-year-old niece, Trinhity, as she patiently works on her study of a kingfisher. This memory is one of many that I will store in my mind and heart, this moment when her fervor for art blossoms so much so, in fact, that she walked out of her bedroom at 7:00 am this morning with drawing book in hand, and drew for about an hour before she realized she hadn’t brushed her teeth. (No judgement, here, young lady, I empathize completely.) It takes me back to when I received my first art set that came in a heavy plastic ultramarine blue suitcase, complete with color and graphite pencils, a glossy paperback “how to draw” book, and a watercolor set. That suitcase made me feel like a legitimate artist, even at nine years old. In my best handwriting, I wrote an essay that I titled “I want to be an artist when I grow up”, mounted it on cardboard, and kept it in that suitcase.  

I am thankful for these things and many things. But, recently, I realized that there is one treasured thing that I have in my life, a thing for which I realized I may have never given proper thanks. This precious thing that can be shared and inherited. This glorious thing that enables us to relive our joys. This extraordinary thing that allows us to spend precious time with those we love, even after they have passed on. This significant thing that imparts wisdom upon us as we refer to the lessons we’ve previously learned. This special gift that we often take for granted.

This gift of Memory.

I was recently invited by the Alzheimer's Orange County to take part in a collaborative project, for which I was to choose one painting that was made by an artist in the Making in the Memories class, a program that provides persons with Alzheimer’s disease an opportunity to express themselves through art. I was inspired by a painting called Only There by Dr. Justin Call, a Salt Lake City native who grew up marveling at the beauty of his Wasatch Mountains as he would ski the slopes, later finding his calling in pediatrics, child psychiatry and psychoanalysis.  My task was to create a piece of my own in response to his painting.

I was drawn into its stillness and its movement - the earth above, strong and still, beneath the surface, a fluid and ever changing substance, much like this substance that we call Life. I thought about how the painting might describe what Dr. Call experiences in his day to day life - the ebb and flow of memory, the divergence and convergence of moments passed, the sparks of a familiar feeling and the fading of something once known.

I spent some time with Dr. Call at his residence. And as we got to know each other, I wondered how much of it he would remember. Born in 1923, he witnessed a time when talking movies, bubble gum, sliced bread, and M&Ms were invented. The Great Gatsby was published and Babe Ruth sets the home-run record. T-shirts, bikinis, and ballpoint pens were introduced. He lived through the Great Depression and WWII, and a time when Ann Frank went into hiding, the Golden Gate Bridge opened, Social Security was enacted in the United States, and Superman first appeared in comic books. And I wondered how many of these moments he remembered.

We discussed our common desire and need to understand human emotion and behavior, and the ways in which these feelings can be harbored and expressed. For him, his early psychiatry practice allowed him to better understand these emotions, and later in his life, he would begin making sense of these feelings through painting. As I studied his piece, I wondered about his very specific marks, where they all came from, where their roots led, and which of the windows in his mind he looked through as he painted them. These marks felt like they were very carefully considered, even if by the marks themselves, that each knew its purpose, existing to serve as a foundation for the mental image of Dr. Call’s beloved Wasatch Mountains. A confident smudge of red-orange, a strong stroke of deep blue, a gentle fleck of radiant red, all surrounding a mountain peak that stands proudly among the glorious landscape that has rooted deeply and lives on in his memory.

My life's work touches deeply on spiritual understanding, family history, and inherited memory, and I could not imagine what my life would be like without this gift, without the ability to reference moments passed and lessons learned, faces known and connections made, curiosities fulfilled and things discovered. So as one cycle ends and another begins, I take this time to honor all the memories that I've collected in my years, to give thanks for them, and to treasure them as the sacred gifts that I've been given. 

Only There by Dr. Justin Call, watercolor on paper

 

** May this blesséd new year bring us an abundance of loving, soul-soaking memories and cherished moments to cradle in our palms and press dear to our hearts. Moments that we can reach back into, and smooth over our skin to relive its enduring warmth. This is my wish for this upcoming year and evermore. God bless us, every one. **

 

Always with Love, Trinh

Hôm Nay, Hồn Này (Today, These Souls) have made home right where we are.

SAIGON, 1975 – 

Grandmother and Grandfather rushed the children out of the house and out onto the docks, with the hope that one of these boats could take them away from the bombs that ravaged their neighborhood. After arriving at the docks, Mother and her cousin were sent quickly back to the house to pick up more food, but as their motorbike turned the corner, a tank rolled onto their street from the other end. The trip back to the docks was a blur. As the family boarded the boat, their only plan was to live. Uncle Hưng was also sent back with another cousin, but they took a different route. They never made it on the boat.

[ This is a photo of my uncle, Phan Quốc Hưng. Born July 25, 1956. Missing 1975. I found the photo along with a wealth of old documents in my grandfather's suitcase which my grandmother kept under her bed. I did not discover this suitcase until after she had passed. ]

Meanwhile, my father was miles away from shore, serving in the Republic of Vietnam’s Navy. When his ship caught news of the communist invasion, they rerouted, and he would never again step foot onto the soil of his homeland, for in moments there would no longer be a South Vietnam. A son was forced to leave his parents and his ten brothers and sisters behind. He was the first of his clan to arrive in the Americas.

After settling in refugee camps in the Philippines and then in Guam, my parents’ journey brought them to Pennsylvania where they met. In 1978, I was born. In this sense, I was born out of the war. Perhaps not to the degree as those who were born in the refugee and labor camps, but through some divine intersection of life’s details, I was born.  But unlike these, this is a war that I do not know except through the answers found from the curiosities of my own heart and the willingness of those who will relive the time to help me understand. The same war that stripped my parents of their freedoms was the same war that gave me mine. It was this war that generously afforded me the opportunity to live my dream openly, and to freely find salvation in the pursuit of truth. These are one in the same.

This 30th day of April marks the 40th year anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the birthplace of my mother and my father. It is a day when our country is remembered and Her stories are honored and shared. And though tears stream in mourning for our fallen loved ones (this, of course, includes our beloved South Vietnam), they also flow with immense gratitude for those who fought for our lives, for these lives that were spared, and for this life that we have been given to tell Her story. History. This story. 

Hôm Nay (Today)

Now here we are, having made our home right off of Interstate 405 in Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam. Bà Ngoại remembers the boat from which they witnessed their country dissolve into the horizon of the waters that saved them - this little boat that drifted aimlessly for days before being rescued by the United States Navy. It was marked “405”.  We have come full circle.

Hồn Này (These Souls)

I have been handed the humbling, daunting, and and awe-inspiring task to peruse through the rich information provided by both the Vietnamese American Oral History Project  and the Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive of the University of California, Irvine, and recount these stories. My duty is to find what inspires me and make work that will help bring a visual art component to these important textual and textural stories. (Good Lord Almighty, is this real? Is this my life? Is this the "job" that I have really been given? *sigh*) Our team is currently developing a show for the community called VIETNAMESE FOCUS: Generations of Stories.

For this show, I've begun working on a project which I am calling “Quiet”. It is a piece which intends to bid peace, but the process has been grievous and burdensome, and a peaceful practice it has not been (not at this time, at least). It has called for the quiet space in which I’ve worked, in reverence of these lives lost. The quiet that came before the storm that funneled so tightly around our people. The quiet in which they walked, treading on dead leaves and the detritus of life around them. The voices that were made to quiet in the jungles while hiding from enemy forces. The quiet in which they prayed to their God and to their Ancestors as they pled for their lives and the lives of those they loved. This quiet that heavily drapes over us when we gather to mourn the departed. The quiet in which prayer flags billow. This quiet in which I write this because there are some things that at this moment, the letters can express, and a painting cannot, things for which, in this moment, the written word gives time, but the spoken word might not.

[ Quiet (in progress), ink on voile, 9 x 144" each sash. One of the funerary rituals in Vietnamese tradition is for the family members to wear white sashes upon their heads to signify their relationship to the departed. ]

This piece is composed of the faces of those who fell alongside their Sài Gòn - those whose ashes have been scattered among the ruins of war and still mist the air we breathe today. As I work, I peer into their eyes with grief in knowing that these eyes did not live to see freedom come. These are not just stories, or photos, or units contributing to the more than 2,000,000 lives that were taken by the monstrosities of this war, or the hundreds of thousands who went missing and whose stories were never given a definite ending. They were real people -- individuals who had dreams, who loved and were (are) loved, who weren’t given more time to contribute more to this life.

This is the burden of empathy and compassion, the weight of a love for those whom I’ve never met, whose suffering I can never fathom. This is for the ones who loved their country and died in the struggle toward the freedom into which I was born. Their deaths are keen reminders that Life and Freedom are fragile, and perhaps a reminder to live this life to its fullest capacity because this is the precious gift that we have been given.

A fist extended strong and high to those who have survived the struggle, to those who are in the midst of the struggle. You are not alone. To those who have yet to overcome the struggle, we shall overcome. To those who have died in the struggle, rest ye in peace.

 

*Listen here to the interview that I had with 89.1 KPCC, a series produced to commemorate the 40th year anniversary of the Fall.
  Read about our exhibit here in OC Weekly and also in the OC Register.

A Good Life Was Lived

My grandmother visited me in a dream last night, less than one week after her passing. As I struggled to balance a stack of newspapers in my arms, she walked out to meet me on the front porch of the house in which my mother was raised. I dropped the papers, and wrapped my arms around her waist, lifting her. She laughed. I thought, "She lives!", and I felt bad for having gathered her obituaries because there she was, living. And that's exactly it. She continues living. Thank you for the reminder, Bà Ngoại. Looking forward to our next visit. Shall we meet in the garden? Your hoa mai is blooming one blossom at a time, and your soursop is ripening quite nicely. 

Cecilia Trần Thị Kim Trân
November 13, 1927 - November 3, 2014

To our beloved Great-Grandmother, Bà Ngoại, Mother, Sister, Trần Thị Kim Trân:

The name Trân reminds us of Trân Châu, which means “precious pearl”. And that is exactly what you are to us. Precious. And we are so blessed to have had you in our lives and to have witnessed so much of life’s beauty while standing beside you. Your name, Kim, means "gold". You have been the rock of our family, the corner stone, and your love, pure and golden.

Your life began in Kiến An during the time when fall was transitioning into winter, on the thirteenth day of November, 1927. Born to Ông Bà Trần Văn Hóa, you inherited the loving and compassionate heart of your faithful mother and father. You followed in their footsteps, and beginning from a very young age, you had already developed such a great love for humanity. When you were a little girl growing up in Kiến An, your parents built a children’s shelter in the back yard, and named it “Nhà Thiên Thần”, or “The House of Angels”. You cared for those babies with such affection and wonder. And here we are today, gathering as fall is once again transitioning into winter, after the first rains of the season have fallen. We come full circle as you return to the House of Angels that God has prepared for you.

You are the sister of seven brothers and four sisters, a family of twelve literary, musical, creative-thinking, intellectual, driven, and devout individuals. You were raised in a God-revering household, and with four brothers who have served in the priesthood, and two sisters who have devoted their lives to God’s work as sisters of the Church. You were one seed of God’s very special crop, and what a bountiful life you have harvested.

You were blessed with a devoted marriage to your loving husband, Phan Văn Học, a man who loved his people, loved his children, and adored you. What a gift it is, that the time has finally come for you to be reunited with him and your third son. From this devoted love, sprang your ten beautiful children – your five beloved sons and five beautiful daughters, twelve grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, all of whom have taken on your likeness in our own unique ways. We know how much you loved all of us, as you would remind us how you kept each one of us in constant prayer.

You will live on through us. We will preserve these precious memories, and try our best to live life with the courage, the vigor, the faith, the gentleness, the kindness, the patience, and the love with which you had lived your life. You are loved by so many, because you had so much love to give, and you gave it so generously. You lived a life of gratitude, fully embraced the joys of life, and led by example. When we speak your name, when we care for one another, when we carry on your traditions, when we witness those first blooms in your garden and eat of the fruit, we will remember you.

Through your life, we have witnessed:  

The power in God’s forgiveness.
The beauty in God’s grace.
The strength in God’s love.

So, although we gather here today to mourn the ending of your presence here in this life, we rejoice with God and all His angels, for His beloved child has come home.

This is a joyous occasion. A good life was lived.

Read Vietnamese translation by my mother, Phan Ánh Huy.

 

We Are Warriors

The Warrior. The fight of the Warrior. The flight of the Warrior. The height of the Warrior. Foresight of the Warrior.

For the past few months, these reoccuring themes have found themselves taking their stance all over the pages of my sketchbook, marching upon the studio walls, and charging into some of my recent work, such as in this piece and this piece. The theme came about when I, beside a few of my loved ones, found ourselves in the midst of combat, these wars we were determined to overcome. Out of the inspiration drawn from their great strength and perseverance, and the need to find bravery somewhere within those timid, fearful places of my own, the Warrior Spirit became increasingly present.

With hearts swelling with courage and with eyes set on victory, we find that there are a few key things that the Warrior must face, and learn, and relearn while in battle. Of these, here are two that I think are among the most important lessons, also perhaps the most difficult to remember:

Only through necessity do we find hope (for there is no need to hope for the things that we already possess).

When circumstances draw us to our knees, weak and pleading, we are forced to dig much further into our Core to pull to surface that strength that may have lain dormant for a time (for in favorable conditions, this tremendous strength is not needed).

 

View the collection of works made especially for this cause here

 

With the Warrior Spirit stirring, I thought about all of us who are all striving to victor over our own battles, and it saddened me to think that far too often, I am unable to do as much as I deem sufficient to help alleviate the strain for others, especially when these aching knees struggle to stand in their own fight.

Then, Life answered right on time, just as always. I was given an opportunity to contribute to the Golden State Warriors Community Foundation. (And, yes, what golden Warriors we all are.) Moreover, the day that my work was confirmed for this show was exactly one year to the day since my last benefit show. Life's confirmations never cease to astound me. I was reminded, once again, that I will always be able to give as much as I can with what I have, according to my ability and circumstance, and more importantly, my will to do so. And that, itself, is sufficient.

In hope, in love, and in courage, may we continue marching beside those with whom we fight, making our way to gather with those who are awaiting our arrival.

And these are also plenty.