June 21, 2015

Daddy's Girl

Grammy, Grampy, Uncle John, Uncle Dick, Aunt Ginger, and my dad in 1950

I love my father, despite the unspeakable horrors he allowed to happen to me and my sister as kids.

I love my father, and I think he loved me, once.

He was loving early in my life, but also could be incredibly scary. He'd yank me out of bed to confront me about some crime my mother had accused me of after he got home from his second job. He'd snatch me out of a church pew and drag me back into the vestibule to wag his finger at me and tell me to calm down during mass, because I'd been fidgeting – or, more likely, bouncing my leg up and down, a nervous tic I still have today. He never considered that something might be causing that anxiety in me at such a young age. He just knew I needed to be disciplined.

Church became so distressing that I started fainting there, so much so that my parents had me tested for epilepsy. After two different EEGs and several visits to a neurologist, Dr. Marasigan determined that the fainting (and convulsions) were just a stress reaction.

Despite the fact that my father would tell my mother and sister, "Sandi's not bad – she's just misunderstood," he would still subject me to some pretty severe punishments. I can't imagine what I could've done that was so horrible as to earn a raw wooden board with my name carved in it, used for spanking and stored in the ceiling beams of the basement. It stared down at me from up there as a threat, perhaps an intended deterrent. But I never really understood what I'd done wrong anyway, so there was no way I could change my behavior to avoid the splintery paddle on my bare bum.

It was also in the basement that my father said to me, many years later, "Don't make me choose between you and your mother. Because I have to choose your mother." After all, he'd already chosen my mother once; he hadn't chosen me, exactly. My mother's pregnancy with me had come as a surprise, only six months after she'd given birth to my older sister. But it never felt like I had been a pleasant surprise; it always felt like I had been a mistake.

And my father, the good Catholic that he was, used to say that he would take as many children as God would give him – that is, until God gave him me. After that, he was done. He'd had enough.

I'm not sure what kind of kid my dad wanted, or thought he would be given, but I guess it wasn't me.

Regardless, he tried to be a good father. To him, that meant being a good provider. He worked two jobs my entire life, stopping at home in between for a quick half hour dinner. His only day off was Sunday. He worked late Friday nights. He mowed the lawn and shoveled the sidewalk and kept the car running and did my mother's chores, which often involved getting a bucket full of soapy water. He was so indentured by my mother that he tried to joke his way through it, often saying "Yes massa" in a totally racist blackface slave impersonation.

My father's Catholicism is probably what kept him with my mother. After all, he'd chosen to share the sacrament of marriage with my mother, and he took that seriously. No matter how crazy she acted, or sick she became – no matter how much she lashed out at him or at God, and then came crawling all over him, begging for his affection – he wasn't going to break the covenant.

But for some reason, he had no covenant with the child who shared his genetic material. There was no promise made to the spawn of his procreation. And he wouldn't – or couldn't – protect me from the woman he'd chosen to be my mother, who turned out to be erratic, volatile, violent, and incredibly mentally ill.

In August of 1994, right before my sophomore year in college, my father sat me down – again in the basement – and said, "I think you should find somewhere else to sleep...for Thanksgiving, Christmas, summers..." It didn't come as a surprise, after he'd disowned me two summers in a row, saying things like "The daughter I once knew is dead." To be honest, it was a blessing. I'd been looking for a way out of that house for at least a decade. But symbolically, it was devastating.

My dad visited me in college a couple of times, but only while my sister was still there too, a year ahead of me. My senior year, after she'd graduated, my parents refused to come to Parents' Weekend, even though I was performing the lead role in a play. They almost didn't come to my college graduation. I didn't know until that morning whether they'd be there or not.

My father never visited me in New York City. I don't think it ever occurred to him to. I always kept a mental list of places where I'd like to take him, but I never had the chance.

And now, eight years after our last phone call on his birthday, today on Father's Day, I feel so terribly fatherless. I don't even know if he knows that I live in California now.

Over the years, I've tried attaching myself to my friends' fathers, but nobody's really been able to become my dad. And at nearly 40 years old, I still need a dad.

Both my father's brothers have passed, and I am now without uncles, too (not really knowing any of my mother's brothers, and not really wanting to have anything to do with her side of the family). I can only assume that my treasured godfather has passed, though I don't really know and don't know how I would find out. He was an innocent bystander in this whole thing with my parents, but unfortunately got caught in the crossfire. And I wonder who'll walk me down the aisle if I ever get married.

My father gave me away a long time ago.

I know that at this age, many of my friends (and now, my cousins) struggle on this day because they've lost their fathers, who were taken from this life too soon. I've lost my father too, but he's still out there, and he is – by choice – childless. He turned his back on both of his daughters. And he'll live out his remaining years all alone with the woman who always wanted him all to herself.

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June 18, 2015

Photo Essay: The Surprising Secret Life of the Zipper

It's taken me a while. They said it would. But I'm finally starting to find my fellow misfit toys.

I thought I was the only one who'd want to tour a zipper factory. I was surprised my boss approved the idea and let me put an event together.

I didn't do it for the money. I did it because I wanted to tour the zipper factory, and I was too embarrassed to ask for a tour by myself.

I figured I'd sell five tickets. But at least then, I'd be with five other people, rather than all by myself.

But you know what? Thirty people bought tickets, and another ten people added themselves to the waitlist. And some of those people were way more excited to step into U-CAN Zippers' facility than even I was.

And it turns out, zippers are one of those things in life that you take for granted, but have a fascinating secret life.

U-CAN has a dye laboratory where it concocts custom colors for the tape, teeth and sliders – because no colors of zippers are naturally occurring.

Even white zippers have to be whitened from their natural cotton color (which is more of an off-white). And besides, U-CAN does more than a dozen shades of white (and as many shades of black).

Almost all the zippers that U-CAN manufactures are for apparel, but some are also used for bags, and even furniture coverings and car seats.

As fashion dictates zippers can be either a colorful embellishment...

...or a utilitarian fastener.

The tape that holds the teeth comes on these giant bobbins...

...and the wires that make the teeth are ready to be unspooled, and fed into one of the factory's many machines.

It's loud in there, and while walking through, you may encounter a cloud of paint fumes, or tiny pieces of debris flying through the air as the zippers get formed, sliced, and spliced.

Some of the processes have become automated with more modern machinery, requiring less staff...

...but this is still a pretty handmade process...

...requiring at least the watchful eye of someone standing over the machine...

...ready to unclog the bottlenecks...

...and feed the sliders into the hopper.

The equipment is more reminiscent of a film projector than a sewing machine.

The process of the teeth being added and joining together with a slider is mesmerizing.

Some customers order batches of one length of cut pieces, but if they need various lengths, they might just order one epically long zipper and cut it down themselves.

There's a surprising amount of variety available in the zippers offered – not just in colors (though rainbowed, swirled and marbled are not yet available), but also in material (copper, plastic, nylon), finish (nickel-free nickel, antique) and size of the teeth. The biggest one they offer is a 15 gauge, but most of them tend to be more like a 5 gauge.

It's hard to imagine a zipper that big appearing on a piece of clothing. Then again, it would've been hard to imagine a zipper at all, if you'd only ever fastened your clothing with buttons, snaps, and laces.

The world constantly surprises.

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June 17, 2015

Keep on Looking

I've always had a photographic memory. Early in my acting career, I found myself memorizing what the script pages looked like and then just reading them in my mind. If other people lost something, I could tell them "Oh I saw it on the corner of the desk" or "It was sticking out from between the seat cushions," and they would marvel.

It's not surprising, then, that I would become a photographer. Taking literal photos of things and places helps me remember them, putting a kind of sealant on the snapshots of my mind.

But my mind has changed a bit lately. I'm becoming more forgetful. I've always been one to leave my belongings at a restaurant or on a bus or in the back of a taxicab – be they keys, sunglasses, earmuffs, or umbrellas, oh, so many umbrellas – but it's getting worse. Earlier in the spring, I lost a car key. How do you lose a car key? And because it happened on a day when I'd carpooled with someone else who was driving, I had absolutely no clue when the last time I had it was. I couldn't remember if I'd locked it in my own trunk, or if I'd had it at any point during the day. Because I have no pictures of it in my head that day, I'm convinced that I dropped it somewhere inside my car, and I just haven't found it yet.

But I keep looking, especially after calling every place I went to that day, each of which turned up nothing.

Every time I use my spare key with the red strap instead of the lost one with the purple strap, I feel the pang of something lost – the worst kind of pang, when you don't know when or where you lost it.

I'm trying to forgive myself for this loss, because it's probably not my fault, exactly. I'm getting older. I'm still recovering from being rear-ended over a year ago. I'm under a tremendous amount of stress and duress. I'm still adjusting to new medication which may or may not affect my memory.

There are lots of things I'd rather not remember, so I was OK with a little memory loss, if it meant that I didn't have to face some of my past trauma, or that I could easily get over new traumas. I was OK with it, that is, until I lost a check.

That is, until I lost two checks.

Losing an item of some sort is generally more about inconvenience, with some monetary impact. Losing money is about losing money.

Both of the checks were signed. Both of them were for a job. One check was to the order of me – my payroll, amount to be determined. I could replace that one; I would just have to wait for it. The other check created a significant amount of anxiety because it was blank, but signed. If I lost that one, anyone could've put their own name on it in any amount, endorsed and cashed it.

Oh. Shit.

My mind had captured a picture of it in a drawer in my apartment where I keep such things, but when I rifled through that drawer, I couldn't find it. I sifted through the drawer's contents probably four times, looking inside my own checkbook and repeatedly empty envelopes, between the pages of notepads, under the receipts and gift cards and foreign currency that tend to collect in that drawer. Nothing.

I checked every other place in my apartment where I might keep important paperwork. I opened the kitchen drawers. I checked under the bed and in the covers. I tore apart the inside of my car, with the hope of finding my lost car key if not the lost checks.

Remembering that I'd recently tidied up my apartment and thrown some things out, I convinced myself I'd thrown the checks out too. But just in case, I kept finding new places to look: the underwear drawer, the coffee table books, the pile of freshly laundered towels. I kept thinking about how my mother would always tell my father I did and said all these horrible things, and upon my denial, tell me that I must've blocked them out in some kind of dissociative amnesia. I've never been exactly sure of my own reality.

I thought I was haunted for a very long time, until scientific evidence seemed to indicate the ghosts were coming from inside my own brain. But when something goes missing, I can't help but wonder if it's the ghosts poking at me, playing with me to see what I'll do. The poltergeists are a mischievous sort, aren't they?

I don't know what kept me looking, but I kept looking for those checks. I needed the money. I needed to feel like I could be responsible enough to hold onto two measly checks. I didn't want to have to admit failure. And every time I looked, even when I didn't find something, I felt like I was at least doing something. I'd eliminated a lot of places where those checks were not hiding.

Or had I? As I started running out of new places to look – which became increasingly ridiculous in likelihood – I returned to the same locus, guided by some trace of geotagging left from my brain's image.

I kept checking that damn drawer.

Finally, after a day focusing on work and people and creativity and productivity, I returned to my apartment, with that sinking feeling of what it was missing. There were no checks here, where they should be. There were no checks anywhere. They had simply disappeared from my possession, and from my memory.

I checked the drawer for what I decided would be one last time. I yanked the drawer out of its cubby, and the envelope with the two checks was in there, crammed into the back of the cavity, crinkled hard into the corner, probably from my repeated openings and closures of the damn thing. I'd misjudged the architecture of the small mirrored side table that it was set into, thinking the bottom of the drawer was also the bottom of the table, and that if something had worked its way to the back of the drawer, it would fall out and onto the floor, like so many socks and t-shirts have done in my dressers from long ago.

Not so.

A minor example at best, but this incident reminds me that I have to trust myself. My instincts are rarely wrong. At times, I find myself thinking that I should be more brave or resilient or less sensitive or delicate, but usually it turns out that my intuition is pretty spot-on, even if it has to be validated the hard way. Sometimes I'd rather be proven wrong than proven right.

So, in this case, crisis averted. Two little pieces of paper and the envelope that held them were found. My efforts paid off, and I was right to keep looking despite my repeated failures.

Now if only my car key would decide to show its face one of these days....

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June 15, 2015

Photo Essay: A Fairy Tale World of Sculpture, Tile and Glass

There are some places in this world that are just unbelievable. They must be a figment of someone's imagination, or a dream, or a manifestation. Even to see photographs of them, and read first-hand accounts of visiting them, it's hard to imagine that they're real and not an art project, or an experiment.

I suppose artist James T. Hubbell's complex in Santa Ysabel, California is a bit of both. And that doesn't mean it isn't real.

It's hard to define Hubbell's artwork as anything but "Hubbellesque."

He's not bound by medium – expressing himself through wood carving...

...mosaic tile...

...stained glass...

...and mixed media paintings, all of which are expressed in his mid-century home and studio, the first of the structures in the complex to be built of locally sourced materials.

He's also been a sculptor since he was a teenager.

But this is not a sculpture garden, per se. This is not a museum.

James actually lives here, with his wife Anne.

Here they raised their four sons, including Drew – now principal architect at Hubbell & Hubbell, in partnership with his dad, who provides the artistic vision for their architectural creations.

At the Hubbell home, the art is in the environments, each structure its own sculpture...

...each sculpture a component of the larger compound, and a larger vision.

The complex has been built slowly, over time, over the last 50 years – whenever they had the money, and whenever they were inspired.

Each building has its own character...

...and purpose.

The chapel, built in 2009, provides an even quieter place for contemplation... the already serene mountain retreat.

It's also an example of James' outreach to the community: 13 students constructed the chapel under his direction...

...providing opportunities for artists and non-artists alike to contribute something to this crazy world of his.

The more modern structures like this one tend to exhibit more embellishments, more colors...

...and more reflections.

Some of the earlier structures appear more earthen...

...rising out of the ground in textures of brick and clay and sandstone... mysterious figures from the netherworld also rise up, and look on.

The Hubbell boys eventually got their own bedroom, under a red clay big top...

...with interior and exterior designs so whimsical...'s as though they came off the page of a fairy tale.

This structure was spared during the devastating 2003 wildfire that destroyed many of James' art pieces and severely damaged much of the property, which they rebuilt over the course of four years.

The Hubbell home is not open for public visitors because it is a private residence, but it's also very much an active art studio...

...for James himself, and for the various artisans in his collective who help realize the vision of his designs by cutting glass, laying tiles, and erecting new buildings.

It would've been easy to plow this remote property to build whatever they wanted on top of it...

...but instead they've retained as many of the original, natural elements as possible...

...working around trees and boulders and the natural curve of the landscape.

Now that the Hubbells have successfully rebuilt and recovered from the wildfire, they are once again building anew...

...transforming their landmarked home estate into the headquarters for the Ilan-Lael Foundation...

...a non-profit that provides onsite artist opportunities, education, and outreach.

Currently working out of a makeshift office in a converted studio...

...the foundation will soon have its own headquarters within a U-shaped cluster of buildings around a central courtyard, which can also host classes, daytime retreats, yoga, etc.

Until that time, the only way to see this magical wonderland is to attend the Hubbell's annual Open House event, this year on Father's Day June 21. Visitors will have free rein to wander and photograph the property (with the exception of a couple private spaces like bedrooms), and may even meet the Hubbells in person.

You have to see this place to believe it. You can compare it to folk art environments, or a permaculture commune, or even Middle Earth, and in some ways, it is all of those things. But still, it is ultimately Hubbellesque: there's nothing like it anywhere else.

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