Tag Archives: New York City

Am I blue? (pondering defeat in the midterm elections…)

Am I Blue?

A loaded question, for certain.  I awake with the feeling – a dread – that a major disaster occurred through the night, and a scorched landscape is revealed by the sunrise.  The political landscape, that is.  (OK, I’m being a bit of a drama queen, I admit.)  The midterm election results are simply disappointing at face value, but troubling at a deeper level.  Hopes of a new guard in Texas and Kentucky and elsewhere have proved fruitless, but still remain active, put on the back burner to simmer and allow the flavor to develop fully.  Disappointment in the minority group in Congress that behaved like a bratty child in the midst of a meltdown when it couldn’t have its way has been replaced by trepidation over how recklessly that same group will behave with its shiny new toy, Majority.

So what am I worried about, exactly? I live in New York City, for crying out loud!  We have marriage equality here.  Women have the support here to be masters of their own bodies.  No one has to SELL us on universal healthcare.  Diversity?  We don’t just talk the talk; we walk the walk…and we do it with a sassy groove.  Samba, salsa, merengue, bhangra, Horah, Yoruba…pick your rhythm.  We GET that our city flows smoothly through the toil of immigrant workers; and for that, we are thankful, not resentful.  We respect and revere our cathedrals, temples, synagogues, churches AND our mosques.

freedom tower

My fiancé, Ralph, and I moved to New York City for new jobs, for excitement, for new perspectives. But the political/social/cultural/economic environment here, so markedly different than the Texas model in which we had grown up, KEEPS us here.  Upon our arrival as residents rather than visitors 10 years ago, it felt as if we had been cloaked in comfort, in freedom, in promise – as if we had been handed the last piece of a large and challenging jigsaw puzzle and bestowed the honor of popping it into place.  I’ve had this conversation with many friends who live or have lived here:  New York City is a tough Mother; but she is loving and just.  She won’t spoon-feed you; but she will reveal opportunity and give you the kick in the butt you need to pursue…no matter WHAT shade of human you are.  Living in New York City, our political, social and world views finally felt in alignment with our surroundings.  Local politics, though scattered with a few shady characters right out of film noir, is generally something we worry very little about.  For the most part, in this area of the country, there really IS a “we’re all in this together” attitude.  So when we vote here, it doesn’t have the same excitement as REVOLUTION.  We vote because it is our honor and privilege; but we aren’t changing the face of politics here or upending the apple cart.  Everyone at the polls is pleasant and calm; there are no camera crews filming outside, no electricity in the air.  We smile at one another, with the mutual and unspoken acknowledgment that we are doing our part to make the political process in New York serve EVERYONE.

So why the HELL do I get so worked up at election time? Why all the petitions, the donations, the political PSAs and voting encouragement on the social media stage? Why all the teeth-gritting and politician-exposing and the twitching finger constantly on the verge of hitting UNFRIEND? Because politics isn’t the same in other parts of the country as it is here in New York City; and I worry for those I love who live in those places.  I worry for my sisters and nieces to have control over every decision regarding their bodies and health – EVERY decision.  I worry for my grandson to have the scientific research and funding to combat the serious and chronic disease that picked the lock and unpacked its sorry luggage.  I worry that my niece has the freedom to love whomever she chooses and has the legal support to protect her relationships.  I worry for the right of all the children in my life to have good, well-funded education based on SCIENCE that will prepare them for the world stage.  I worry for the freedom of my loved ones to worship whomever or whatever they wish, or dismiss it altogether – without anyone getting “all up in their (Holy) Kool-Aid” about it.  I worry for the future of my loved ones to be one of prosperity, not indebtedness; one of abundance, not scarcity.  I worry that in the face of government’s shameless trysts with Big Business, the people I love are becoming faceless.  THAT’s why I get so damned worked up at election time.  Am I blue?  Maybe it’s not so much sadness, but rather, the twisting discomfort of worry that troubles me.  That’s it – I want a color for worry.  We have red for rage, yellow for jubilance.  We need one for worry.  Am I blue?  Maybe I’m just dark maroon.

But, alas, Texas, Kentucky, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, (fill in any state here), I can’t do it for you.  It’s like being in junior high school and knowing your kid sister is getting bullied in elementary school – you’d kick the bully’s ass if you were there, at the same school.  If it were even remotely an option, I would have cast my ballot to vote out of a job your useless Governors and Representatives; but I can’t.  YOU have to vote.  YOU have to make the difference.  YOU have to hold your elected representatives accountable for representing YOU.  YOU have to pay attention to politics.  YOU have to usher in the new guard.  YOUR life depends on it.


So why is it so different here, in this city, this state, this Northeast region? Is it because the memory of immigration is still so fresh, here?  Is the history, the channel to freedom and opportunity, the Great Melting Pot, still alive, here?  Is it because the abolitionists thrived and did their great work in this region?  Is it because the labor movement triumphed here?  Maybe it’s because here, we get to see the beautiful Lady every day, standing strong in the harbor, reminding us:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame. With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

             -Emma Lazarus


I love the adoration my little loved ones hold for the Lady. We are determined to turn the wheels of politics in a direction that benefits them.  I hope that by our example, they will remember and honor the Lady’s inscription; that their world views will be driven by compassion and giving, intelligence and respect, honor and honesty.  I hope that they will soon find a government in service to THEM, a true democracy in which THEY drive, THEY benefit, THEY prosper.


And oh…Am I blue? HELL yes – Democrat blue, tried and true!!


The New York City Blackout: 10 Years Later


Today is the 10-year anniversary of the great blackout of 2003, which affected much of the Northeast, most notably New York City.  I was living in Dallas at the time and on a business trip to Hartford, CT.  As luck (or lack of it) would have it, I would end up making a last-minute trip down to New York City on that fateful day – and have one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  Here’s a light-hearted account of it all, recounted from an email I sent to friends and family a few days after returning home from the ordeal:

Thursday, August 14:

Ralph hears about the blackout in New York on the news while at work in Dallas. He thinks to himself, “Wow…thank GOD Kanani’s not in Manhattan!”

Minutes later, he receives the call from me. “Hey…guess what..I had to make an emergency trip to Manhattan today for work; and the power just went out all over the city. I think I’m trapped here.”

Some big, karmic, practical joke? Nope…but as events unfolded over the next day, one would wonder.

I wasn’t even SUPPOSED to be in New York. I was in Hartford on a business trip. One of my coworkers in Connecticut was asked to do a last-minute product demonstration in our New York office. She agreed; but after thinking about it, she realized she was not the best person for the demonstration. That’s when I entered the comedy of errors that was about to play itself out over the next 24 hours.

Cath asked me if I would take her place at the AccuMark software presentation in New York while she took over the class I was teaching to our international trainers. It made perfect sense. She knew the subject matter I was teaching; and I was used to doing last-minute, high-pressure software demonstrations for high-profile customers. Plus, a day of excitement in the city would be a good shot in the arm for me. (Be careful what you ask for!)

At my hotel in Manchester, Connecticut, I gathered my cushiony yoga mat and a bath towel, just in case the presentation ended in time for me to do a late-afternoon yoga class in NYC, then get back to Hartford for the company dinner that was planned. Though I had a rental car for the week in Hartford, I was advised by my coworkers Andi and Rodolfo to make the hourlong drive to New Haven, CT, then catch the Metro North train into Manhattan to avoid traffic into the city. It made perfect sense; and that’s exactly what I did, taking along a big bottle of water and a big bag of trail mix. (I guess that would be the foreshadowing element to this story, huh? Trail mix….as if I was going “camping” or something!)

I left my rental car at the train station in New Haven and boarded the train to Grand Central. It was a full train, loaded with people heading to New York for a long weekend before school started. I sat next to 2 teenagers who talked the whole trip about the fake ID’s they had purchased and their upcoming weekend of bar-hopping and drunkenness; how they would “beat” the system; how they had groomed themselves to look older; how they were so much more mature than their real age; how they were so cool; how they would “conquer” Manhattan. They were so IRRITATING, rehearsing their lines for the moment the bouncers asked them when they were born. Role playing. One would play the bouncer, the other would convince him they were 21. Then, they’d switch roles. I felt like turning to them and telling them how IMMATURE they sounded and how seasoned NYC bouncers were…and good luck in getting past the velvet ropes; but I held my tongue, remembering how I at their age, around 17 or so, was just as cocky and irritating…if not more so. Looking back at the weekend, I guess they never got the chance to “conquer” the New York City night scene. I guess they were the brunt of that karmic prank, too!

We arrived safely in the Big Apple. My demonstration at the office went well; but it lasted longer than expected. No way to make that afternoon yoga class. At 4:05 pm, I headed back to Grand Central Terminal. On the way, a storefront I was looking into went dark. I figured their electricity simply went out temporarily. I stopped by a sushi joint to grab some maki rolls for the train ride; but their lights were also out. I thought it strange that they were already closed for the day. No biggie. I’d grab something at the food court at the train station. On the way, I began to notice that traffic lights weren’t working. Then, I began to hear people talking…the rumor mill had begun. The whole city was out. No, the whole STATE was out. No, everything west of the MISSISSIPPI was out. WHAT???!!!!


I watched the first emotional stage of the city develop…Frustration. People were ticked off that they wouldn’t be able to get home on time. Wasn’t there a ball game on TV tonight? I thought about the company dinner I would miss in Connecticut…I was REALLY looking forward to lobster and steamers! DAMN it!


Getting home any way you can…

Stage 2…Anger. It was HOT, for God’s sake! No air conditioning! People began to pour outside from the buildings, the shops, their homes. Drivers, gridlocked and going absolutely nowhere, started honking their horns, cussing at other drivers out their windows. Working women began to cry, worried about their kids at home…across the river in Jersey, in Brooklyn. Not only were we not going to get home in time…we may not get home TONIGHT…PERIOD!


Heading home by foot over the Brooklyn Bridge

Stage 3…Acceptance. Nothing we can do about it. It’s way too hot in the interior of the city. Move to the edges, to the waterfront. I made my way to the Christopher Street Pier, newly renovated in recent years with landscaping, picnic tables, paved walkways, shaded pavilions. Along with tons of other people, I found a spot on the grass and rolled out my yoga mat. Took off my shirt (now drenched), dug out my book, read and enjoyed the sunshine and cool breeze off the water. A quick call to Ralph and Mom to let them know I’m okay. I noticed city employees setting up lamp posts and generators along the piers. Hmmm…they know something we don’t. At this point, it was kinda fun. People throwing Frisbees, conversing, eating pizza and Chinese (takeout restaurants made a KILLING), doing yoga on the grass. GOD, I love New York!


Weary outside the main Post Office

About 7 o’clock, I decided to make my way back to Midtown. No electricity yet…and maybe an 8 o’clock yoga class would take place. I sure could use it right now! I walked through Greenwich Village, which was like a big street party. Grocery stores were practically giving away all forms of ice cream, which was melting quickly in the heat. Everyone you saw on the street was digging into a carton of Häagen-Dazs or munching on Eskimo Pies. Restaurants weren’t serving food; but they were taking advantage of the lack of air conditioning by continuing to sell drinks, mostly of the alcoholic variety. Maybe those 2 teenagers on the train DID get their share of libations, after all! Everyone was outdoors, in the streets…standing around, laughing, eating pizza, passing on rumors. I noticed that lots of fire hydrants had been opened; and kids were playing in the gushing water…just like the movies!

Power out across East Coast

Although yoga class was a long shot, I figured they might do it with candlelight, which would be oh-so-woo-woo! Apparently, only one other person thought so, too. I waited with a guy named Casey outside the door. The buzzer wasn’t working; so we had no way to know if class was on or not. It turned out he was a gym rat who had never done yoga before (a “virgin”)…tonight would be his first class. He asked me what it was like; and I told him how wonderful it would be; how much he would enjoy it. By 8:20, no one had shown up to let us in. Casey was so bummed that he would miss his first class. He asked me what hotel I was staying in. I explained that I didn’t have one – that I had never intended to be in the city past 6pm – that I was basically, well, trapped. He got really concerned and gave me his address, in case I needed a place to stay for the night. How sweet! How New York. That’s what I love about this city…the people. Up-front and in-your-face, but compassionate just the same. Always getting an undeserved, bad rap from the rest of us. Anyway, he was WAY too cute to spend an evening in total darkness with. Thanks, Casey-the-Hot-Yoga-Virgin, but no thanks.

Stage 4…Fear. The sun set quickly…and everything faded to pitch black instantly. You could feel the fear in the air. You could cut the distrust with a knife: it was so thick. You could barely see in front of your face. People continually looked behind them as they walked. I remembered the lamp posts and generators along the waterfront; so I made my way back downtown. By the time I arrived, most of the grassy areas were taken. Families with children, tourists, Manhattanites, gays, straights…everywhere. Thank goodness for my yoga mat!!! I set down for the evening and enviously watched the lights of Jersey City across the Hudson River. Even watched a skyscraper there burn. Strange what passes for “entertainment” when there’s nothing to do. Watched amorous couples who were thrilled by the total darkness. Too bad the moon spoiled their fun. When it rose, it was bright as a searchlight, like Cosmo’s moon in “Moonstruck” – absolutely breathtaking. As the night progressed, the air became cooler – too cool, in fact. Thank goodness for my hotel towel – a useful substitute for a blanket. I was set. I ate my “dinner” of Evian and trail mix….and I was suddenly exhausted.


Friday, August 15:

At 2:00 am, park employees came by and kicked everyone off the waterfront, shining flashlights at everyone and telling everyone to move on, the park was closed. WHAT???!!!! I was so blown away by the idiocy of it. Where in the hell were these hundreds, if not thousands of people to go???!!! A mass exodus back to the interior of the city…past all the sidewalk sleepers who had been expelled from the hotels due to fire safety regulations…to the parks and greenspaces, where there was more soft grass to lay on – where it felt safe.  How ironic it was that one of the safest places to be that night was Central Park!

News was still hard to come by…mostly rumors passed from someone’s aunt in Philly via cel phone to someone else to someone else to someone else. I needed the real scoop; so I settled down on a sidewalk near the Port Authority in Midtown. A makeshift security guard, hired to watch someone’s shop through the night, had his car radio on. The news channel. I listened for about a half hour. Not good news. Metro North would not be running the next day. My only hope of getting back to Connecticut (and then, back to Dallas) shriveled. I passed out on the sidewalk (again, my soft yoga mat saved me) until about 4 am, when I heard people cheering and clapping. The newscasters said that the lights had come back on in Midtown. LIARS!!!!

I rolled up my mat and decided to take a chance on the news, anyway. I trekked over to Grand Central Terminal, stepping over the mass of sleeping bodies outside the Port Authority – families waiting to catch the first buses in the morning to Jersey. That’s when it hit me how surreal it all was – everyone’s chance to experience homelessness for one night. Bum for a Day!!! Or worse…it was like a massive die-off, with hundreds of bodies lying everywhere. World War III. Armageddon. It gave me the creeps.


Grand Central was a bust. No electricity, no trains, no activity whatsoever, except for the long lines to the restrooms and payphones. Cel phones were still not working well…the lines jammed. Plus, my cel battery was on the blink; and I had to save any cel time for only the most important calls. I needed to be patient for a few more hours…I might as well get some more sleep. Bryant Park was just down the street. Step over more people, find a (stone) bench, roll out the yoga mat, cover myself with my towel, collapse.

I awoke to yet another surreal experience. The voice of Liz Phair singing…LIVE. Apparently, she had a mini-concert scheduled in the park first thing in the morning. It was either being televised or broadcast on radio; I couldn’t tell which. But her cheerful, folksy voice was welcome after the strangeness of the previous night. People were enthusiastic and cheered her on. It felt like we were WWII GI’s; and she was with the USO. I thought to myself, “They can bring in all these power generators for her concert…but not for lighting in the parks the night before?” Bizarre.

The guy on the bench right next to mine was from upstate New York. As I looked at him, I thought he must have looked handsome 24 hours ago….in his crisp lavender shirt and maybe a burgundy necktie, briefcase in hand, on the way to the office. Now, he just looked pathetic – crumpled shirt, severe case of bed-head (or should I say bench-head?), dark circles under his eyes, exhausted, lost. He had spent the night in Central Park and, like me, had made his way in the wee hours of morning down to Grand Central in hopes that Metro North trains were running…then fell asleep in Bryant Park. I had to break the bad news to him – that they would not be running until probably Saturday. We were both starved; and the remaining trail mix I had just wouldn’t do. I found a little, corner bodega that was selling coffee and pastries left over from Thursday morning. With the line that had formed, it took me 45 minutes to get 2 cups of watered-down coffee and 2 rock-hard Danishes. But I wouldn’t have traded them for Starbucks…they were delicious to 2 starved strangers. We broke bread together, wished each other luck and parted ways – each pursuing our own plan of escape.


After a hard night on the sidewalks of NYC

I called Mom and Ralph to let them know I survived the night; and that I was okay, not to worry. By this time, I was going home, come Hell or high water. Another important phone call to Linda Ryan, our Gerber Technology travel agent. She would become my lifeline for the next 10 hours. I couldn’t leave my cel phone on because my battery was nearly dead. We had to communicate through voicemails left on my phone in Dallas. She would try one option for me to get home, then leave me a voicemail. I would check my voicemail to find out what the options were, then call her back. She was AWESOME!

Plan A: Wait for the electricity to come on, then for the trains to get organized, then catch Metro North to New Haven. Grab my rental car in New Haven, drive to Hartford, catch my 6:40 pm plane to Dallas. WRONG! No trains would be running today, even if the electricity actually DID come back.

Plan B: Go to the Port Authority to look for a bus to Connecticut. WRONG! “Stay AWAY from the inter-state buses,” warned Linda. They were a mess. If there even WAS a bus to Connecticut, we’d be crammed like sardines onto it. And no one has bathed since Thursday morning. (That included me…and I could barely STAND myself by now!)

Plan C: Limo service to Connecticut. Yeah, right…or maybe a private jet or helicopter. NEXT!

Plan D: Rent a car from Manhattan to New Haven. Drop off the rental car in New Haven and grab my original rental car there. WRONG! No rental cars available in NYC.

Plan E: Rent a car from Hoboken, NJ to New Haven. WRONG! No rental cars available in Hoboken, either.

Plan F: My coworkers Jenni (in Dallas), Walter and Suzanne (both in Jersey) have a plan. Walter, the NY salesman for whom I did the presentation, also got trapped in the city, along with another coworker, Summer. Walter and Summer were able to get back into the Gerber Technology office and spend the night there last night. This morning, they were able to catch a Path train to Suzanne’s house in Hoboken. Walter’s wife was driving down from Connecticut to take him back home. I could catch a ride with them back to New Haven. WRONG! The Path trains were so packed by the time I got the message, that Walter’s wife arrived before I could even get to Jersey. Nice try, though.

Finally, Linda calls me with Plan G…but timing is gonna be close…REALLY close! Find a way to get to the airport in Newark, NJ. A rental car is waiting for me there; but I have to pick it up by noon. (It’s already 10:30.) Having made the trip from NYC to Newark Airport many times in the past, I knew exactly where to catch the airport bus. I run to the corner of 42nd and 8th for the Olympus bus, praying that it is running. It is. (Maybe Plan G will actually work!) They only take cash on the bus. Thank God I saved what little cash I had. I was tempted several times to grab a drink at one of the bars during the night…or buy something to eat for dinner rather than my trail mix; but something told me to save what cash I had. There were no running ATMs; and credit card machines weren’t working, either. Out of cash, out of luck!

I arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport. First stop, ATM for some much-needed cash. Then, I hop in the rental car and speed to the Interstate. Unfortunately, the way around the city was closed; and I was redirected back through Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel. That meant I had to start at the bottom of the island and drive all the way up to the top – some 200-plus city blocks – with no traffic lights working along the way. It added another hour and a half to my trip. I was pretty stressed out by now. I kept doing my yogic breathing…telling myself to “let go”…that if I missed my flight to Dallas, at least I would be in a comfortable hotel in Connecticut…with a BATH!

I finally get through Manhattan and onto I-95 North to Connecticut. But the karma still isn’t good. Traffic is horrific. A normally 1-1/2 to 2-hour trip to New Haven took me over 4 hours…..again, eating away at my time. If I had nails, they’d be chewed up by now. If I smoked, I’d be through a whole carton by now. If I had a bottle of anything ALCOHOLIC in the car? Honey, I’d have pulled off the Interstate by now and headed to the nearest beach and been THROUGH wit’ all o’ this!!!

Thank God for Linda, my travel agent extraordinaire!!! She was so calm and encouraging on the phone:

“Kanani, you’re gonna make it. Don’t worry. I’ve made that drive from New Haven to Hartford many times. If you get the rental car dropped off in New Haven, pick up your original rental car there, and get back on the interstate by 4:30, you’ll be at Bradley Airport by 5:15 – plenty of time before your 6:40 flight.”

“But what if I don’t get out of there by 4:30? Is there a later flight I can take? Or one first thing in the morning?”

“We aren’t even GOING there. You’re gonna be fine.”

Gotta love her. Little did she know that after picking up my original rental car in New Haven, I STILL had to drive back to my hotel in Manchester, CT to get my stuff, pack my suitcase and check out BEFORE heading to Bradley Airport! (I had never checked out of the hotel in Connecticut, under the assumption I was going to return from NYC the same day I ventured out.) That was gonna be at least another 45 minutes added onto my trip. There was NO WAY I’d make it. More yogic breathing. More “letting go”.

And…more karmic “prankstering”. As it turned out, the National Car Rental office was not at the New Haven train station, as I had assumed. It was over a mile away. After several unsuccessful calls to find out where it was, I asked a bus driver, who gave me directions. Made it there. Dropped off the car. WHAT??!! No drop-off service to the train station to pick up my original rental car?! Call a cab. Wait for the cab. Get to the train station. Hop in my original rental car. Drive like a bat outta Hell to Manchester. Pop the trunk, run into the hotel. The Gerber Technology Denmark contingent had just arrived for the 2nd week of training at the Gerber Technology office the following Monday and were checking in at the registration desk. “Hey, you’re back!” they said, in their gorgeous Danish accents. “We heard you were trapped in New York!” Wow…if traffic had traveled HALF as fast as the news of my dilemma had traveled to Copehagen, I’d be home by now.

A quick “Farvel!” to the Danes. Run up to my hotel room. Throw my stuff into the suitcase.  Change out of my sweaty, smelly clothes. No time for a quick shower, damn it. Off to Bradley International Airport.

And as Linda assured me, I made it…but just barely. I was the very last person on the plane…but on the plane, nonetheless. A quick phone call home:

“Hey, I made it. I’m sitting on the plane in Hartford. I’ll be home TONIGHT.”

“I can’t BELIEVE you actually MADE it!” exclaimed Ralph.

I almost didn’t believe it myself. I’m just gonna close my eyes and breathe until I open my eyes on the DFW runway. Open these weary eyes in my OWN car. Open these happy eyes at HOME.


Grandma’s Gift: A Love of Textiles


One of the greatest things I’ve experienced since leaving the corporate world has been a reawakening of creative thoughts, time to slow down and really “see” little details around me that I was in too much of a hurry before to notice – time to again pursue creative interests that, once passionate about, I had left in a state of “hibernation”. One of the quickest of these to raise its head has been the field of textile design.

Since childhood, I have been surrounded by colorful textiles. Any child growing up in Hawaii has the same experience – these brightly-colored botanical prints following us from the soft blankets (“kihei pili”) under our infant bellies to the billowing cloth of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ cool, cotton mu’umu’us, to the crisp and handsome “aloha shirts” of our fathers and grandfathers. When these were outgrown, worn out or damaged, the textiles were recycled – pieced together in colorful, patchwork blankets and quilts. A particularly brilliant one graced the pune’e (daybed) in our living room; and I spent hours lounging there, lost in the imagery represented in each swatch of fabric. Like a riotous, fabric jigsaw puzzle, I would look for the same print design in various pieces scattered throughout the blanket. I never tired of it. Who knows, decades later, whatever happened to it; but I would give anything to have that beautiful “kihei” again, wrapping me in my Hawaiian childhood.

Here I am at my 5th birthday party in Honolulu, surrounded by my siblings and cousins, all of us aglow in brilliant, 1960’s Hawaiian-print textiles (Yes, that’s me in the blue, mosaic print and shiny hair!):

My 5th birthday party, Honolulu, Nov 1969

My 5th birthday party, Honolulu, Nov 1969

That fascination in graphic design applied to the surface of cloth was soon followed by a curiosity of the structure and construction of the cloth itself, beneath the printed design. Watching my mother stitch flat scraps of Hawaiian-print fabric into clothing that conformed to the contours of mine and my siblings’ little, sun-tanned bodies was amazing. Studying her working that ancient, black Singer treadle sewing machine – amazed at how, all at once, she controlled the stitch speed with the filigreed foot treadle, raised the presser foot with a knee lever, and used one hand to guide the fabric while raising and lowering the needle with the other – she may as well have been a wizard or a one-man band from outer space, playing for an astonished-but-appreciative crowd of spectators. I noticed the difference between those soft, cotton broadcloths and the rough, course weave of the canvas fabric my father stretched over wooden frames for his paintings and thought, “Hmmmm…”

My grandmother spent hours at a time crocheting the most intricate doilies, tablecloths, shawls and jewelry, dripping with pearls or incorporating 3D bouquets of orchids and pansies in brilliantly-colored cotton thread of the finest denier. My sisters and I loved digging through bins of her work at her tiny apartment in Honolulu; and still, the acrid scent of naphthalene in the moth balls she used to preserve them takes me back to her, and my childhood. Our house was ornamented with her brilliant throw pillows quilted in the Hawaiian style – one brightly-colored botanical design appliqueed against another, brightly-colored ground. My brothers and I slept (and drooled) on them, engaged in mad pillow fights with them, and built giant piles of them on which to land, safely, from daredevil leaps on high. And when she, probably in an attempt to keep me and my sister busy and out of her hair, cut a square piece from a cardboard box, slit it in regular intervals on all sides and taught us how to weave a pot holder on it using strips of colored scrap fabric left over from her own sewing projects, I was smitten.

That love of textiles never left me; and I followed it, willingly, through a career in fashion design, then a passion for computer-aided textile and surface design, to a late-found love for interior design. And no matter what artistic twists and turns I took, from pottery to lighting and home furnishings, the influence of textiles – particularly the structure of the basic, basket-weave pattern – always revealed itself in my work:

woven bowl

Ceramic bowl, 2001

stitched bowl

Ceramic and copper wire bowl, 2002


Paper lanterns, 1999


Wood and bungee cord chair, 2013

Living in New York City has continued to nurture that passion. I took up knitting in the East Village back in 2005 as a way to occupy myself on my daily subway ride, and to “connect” spiritually with my grandmother. About a year ago, I began practicing the free-form Japanese art of weaving, Saori, in a small, basement studio on the Upper East Side. The possibilities and offerings in this city are endless – at the tip of one’s fingers, one can seek and find classes in upholstery, shibori dyeing, portrait embroidery, lacemaking, yarn spinning, silkscreening, reverse appliquee or felting.

A few weekends ago, I stepped into a fairytale land of creativity and experimentation. Through some of my recent textile print-design work, I was notified of an opportunity to spend a weekend at the Textile Arts Center, experimenting with textiles under the guidance of Pascale Gueracague, textile designer for the fashion house of Helmut Lang. Knowing this fashion collection well for its pushing the boundaries of textile surface design and construction, I jumped at the opportunity to work with its creator and hopped on the R train to Brooklyn for the weekend.

Expecting a haughty, strict and probably judgmental European teacher, ruler in hand, ready to pounce on her hopeless and untalented American wanna-bes, I was thrilled to find instead a beautiful, young, half-French-half-American woman with a huge smile and kindness oozing from her pores. As she sat with her Mac laptop, struggling to make it “talk” to the video projector and ready to pull her hair out, I thought, “Ahhh…she’s one of us!” Little did I know that once she got the technology in sync and began her presentation of visual ideas and trends, me and the other handful of students in attendance would be completely and overwhelmingly inspired, our creative juices running amok, chomping at the bit, ready to start our weekend of artistic abandon.


But, oh, no…forget about those baubles and beads, those brilliant prints and fabulous embellishments we all brought in our backpacks to work with! Au contraire! This will be a series of EXERCISES, of “quick studies” that will challenge us to analyze a fabric’s properties and take that fabric to a completely different level, Pascale tells us. As she leads us to the table of fabrics we are to work with, we are all, at some level, disappointed, challenged, confused…no, HORRIFIED at the selections cast before us. No Gaugin-esque, painterly prints in sight. No luscious limes, funky fuchsias, sparkly metallics here. No rock star, no Disney princess, not even a Downtown drag queen would be caught dead in these fabrics. (Well, there IS this one blindingly fluorescent orange fabric – a strange, stiff, transparent knit that could only be described as “radioactive construction-worker ballet-tutu”. We all stayed WAY away from that one!) “Breathe, release, accept the challenge,” I tell myself. “Hmmm, should I pick the flesh-colored toile, the spiderweb-colored organza, or the gray-black, casket-liner satin?!”


Luckily, as it turns out, none of us have to pick at all. Pascale has chosen for us – a very pale gray crepe de Chine. We are all given a piece of the same fabric and a pair of scissors. Our challenge is to create a new fabric using only scissors; and we have 20 minutes to do so. Surprisingly, as soon as the fabric touches my skin, I am energized, excited, ready to take this on. I add yet another challenge on top of Pascale’s – to resist cutting the fabric into more than one piece and reconstruct it – but rather, to keep the entire piece intact. As if summoned by some silent incantation, I notice my creative self rising to the surface, leading me in the project. Folding the fabric in half lengthwise, I make a series of horizontal slits, cut the floating strips in the center of the fabric in half, and tie each half together in a knot:



Once our time was up, we all pinned our swatches to a large, felt-covered presentation wall and described our thoughts, our processes, and received feedback and guidance. It was AWESOME!!! I think we were all completely hooked on Pascale’s process. The weekend consisted of one challenge after another, sometimes with fabrics Pascale chose for us, other times with fabrics we chose ourselves. Oftentimes, Pascale gave us a particular method/process with which to create; and at others, we could go “wild” and create our own challenges, using whatever method/process we felt compelled to use: sewing, pressing, cutting, tying, gluing, tearing, puncturing, stretching, sanding…the gerunds here could go on and on.

Challenge: Play with texture and “motion”. Rough-cut circles, sanded to fray the edges, plus a zigzag stitch on the sewing machine, creates both stationary and “moving” layers of texture. This would be fun to dance in:


Challenge: Experiment with layers. I wanted to play with layers both at the main visual plane, above the main visual plane…and even beneath the main visual plane. I sandwiched 2 pieces of somewhat-transparent fabric together and stitched parallel rows across the entire surface to create texture at the initial visual level of the fabric. To add more texture ABOVE the initial visual level of the fabric, I cut small pieces of the fabric and stacked/assembled them into 3D fabric “roses”, attached with embroidery floss:



And when, as a soft and feminine dress, its wearer passes the light of a window or doorway, the fabric reveals yet another, surprise level of texture – small pieces of the fabric “floating” between the two sandwiched layers, caught in the parallel rows of stitching:


Challenge: Use the same fabric as before, but go in a different direction, using textures and layers, to transform it from soft, feminine and delicate to something harder and more “threatening”. Free-form, black zigzag stitching on two, sandwiched layers of flesh-colored fabric, then scissor-snipping and sanding to rough up the edges, creates a slightly ominous, “botched-surgery”/“Frankenstein” effect:


Challenge: Tackle the freaky, DayGlo orange knit. Pascale encourages us to “sit” with a piece of fabric for a while – touching it, observing it closely, manipulating it with our hands to identify its innate qualities and characteristics. It was stiff-but-stretchy, bold in color but delicate in transparency…a very intriguing textile. I noticed when I pulled it in the bias direction that it began to curl inward or, by contrast, expand outward. It reminded me of an unusual sea creature – a coral or anemone, a sea fan or manta ray. At the sewing machine, I pulled it on the bias while stitching darts across it surface. To my astonishment and delight, it began to take a new and unexpected shape – a prehistoric, “living” creature, ready to attach itself, at just the perfect, stylish angle, to the head of some eccentric, Downtown fashion maven:

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Pascale models an amazing, iridescent, sequin-encrusted jacket she designed. Once we have gotten over the shock at its beauty and detail and ended our photo-taking frenzy, she explains that she used iridescent gift wrap from Party City, had it sent to India to be made into sequins, and had the sequins sewn all over the base garment:

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Challenge: Explore non-traditional materials and incorporate them into a sculptural textile. An avid “dumpster-diver” who has rescued many a “treasure” from a municipal-landfill grave (see wood chair pictured, above), I immediately head for the trash bin. Lo and behold, someone’s plastic, take-out salad-bowl lid calls to me. A quick rinse, a few snips of my scissors, some tearing of fabric, and some quick finger-weaving result in large, “sparkly” medallions – “Les Miserables”-style embellishments for the hem of a voluminous skirt in blood-red, duchesse satin:



Challenge: Experiment with quilting in a different way than usual. Since poly batting is usually only used for loft and softness but never actually seen (since it is sandwiched inside 2 outer layers of fabric), I wanted the handler of the textile to actually SEE the batting. I sandwiched it between 2 layers of transparent fabric, a pale gray organza. After stitching my design for the quilted area, I hand-trimmed all the excess batting away, then continued to stitch the 2 layers of organza together with parallel rows of stitching. For additional texture, I shredded one side of the textile and left the other intact, creating a “jellyfish” effect:



With light passing through the translucent fabric

Challenge: Use only waste material to create a textile. As many of us in the workshop spent lots of time shredding fabric to create “fringe”, it occurred to me that on many fabrics, the selvages (the lengthwise edges of a woven roll of fabric) are naturally “fringed”. In addition, on the production floor, all these selvages are cut away (not used in the final garment) and discarded. I gathered up lengths of selvages from the various fabrics we had been using in our quick studies throughout the weekend, reveling in their varied colors, widths and textures. I stitched them together, stacked one upon the other, to create a fun, colorful and highly-textured fabric that Pascale thinks would make a great, Chanel-style jacket:


Challenge: Manipulate a striped fabric by incorporating the striped design into something new and unexpected. Pascale purposely had us work with solids the whole weekend, in order to concentrate on the structure and construction of the textile, rather than the surface graphic design. For our last challenge, though, she now wanted us to use a striped shirting fabric, giving us the opportunity to manipulate the visual graphic, as well as the structural qualities. I imagine the bright red stripes yearning to escape the staid, conservative fabric; so with a few slices to release every other stripe, then restitching the resulting gaps, my stripes leap from the 2D surface into a 3rd dimension, capped off with a knotted end to give them weight, movement and “life”:



As our last day came to an end, no one wanted to stop. We were, as Pascale put it, “in the zone”. That’s the best place you can be as an artist or designer, with ideas swirling in your head, a cooperative and cohesive energy flowing between you and the other participants, a feeling of “oneness” with the materials you are handling, and an overwhelming sense of well-being. For me, I was also overcome with a mix of love, sadness and gratitude. Having lost my grandmother earlier in the year, this weekend connected me to her talent, her teaching, her love. My parents and siblings and I engaged in so many great discussions during and after our loss of her; and one of the common threads (no pun intended!) was the way in which immortality manifests itself through one’s teachings. We all learned from her and were inspired by her in different ways. For me, it was her textile arts – her gift to me. What greater gift can someone give to you than a lifelong passion? Mahalo nui, Grandma! I felt you next to me all weekend!

Dedicated to Rose Mary Ku’ualoha Mahelona, 1929-2013

Me and Grandma, Dallas, 1999

Me and Grandma, Dallas, 1999

Those darned, post-holiday blahs…

This is one of the times of the year I like the least: post-Christmas, post-New Year’s Eve.  It’s always so anti-climactic and dull.  The fabulous, candlelit holiday parties remain only as photos on your camera-phone and wine stains on your carpet. Glittery, shining Christmas decorations are banished to dark closets and a year of accompanying families of dust-bunnies under the bed. The homey, comforting aromas of cinnamon and apples, roasted turkey, gingerbread and warmed brandy are too quickly replaced by an undoubted, extra “wiggle” around the waist, and by buttons and buttonholes struggling in desperation to reunite. Torn-and-crumpled, colorful-and-metallic wrapping paper, ribbon and bows choke the recycling bins; and, most shocking of all, the the cheery, red envelopes in your mailbox are quickly replaced by greetings from Visa and Mastercard. It’s “show me da money” time! Quite plainly, this time of year just sucks!

In NYC, the post-holiday blahs are particularly a let-down. No longer is the Empire State Building illuminated in its party dress of red-and-green. The Macy’s windows are boarded up while the mechanical-wonderland displays are dismantled into an eery collection of puppet heads, arms and legs cast into storage boxes. The millions of strings of twinkling lights, though still up, have gone black, leaving the awful impression of a city wrapped in barbed wire. The tourists in their childlike wonder have been replaced with the grumpy, daily commuters, unhappy to be back at work. Most depressing, though, are the piles of discarded Christmas trees, stacked like dessicated corpses, on the sidewalks. It’s enough to drive a Manhattanite to drink. (But alas, the Sugarplum, Toasted-Gingerbread and Spiced Red Apple martinis have all been taken of the menu!)

This Christmas was the first Christmas I spent away from my family in Dallas, which was odd and a bit melancholy. Luckily, Ralph and I were cheered and comforted by the visits of his children and grandchildren to New York City. We put up a Christmas tree for the first time since moving to the city 7 years ago; and little Jackson and sister Emily helped us decorate it. We sipped hot cider and frosted Christmas cupcakes.  Nothing makes the holidays sparkle like the laughter and wonder of little kids! When they all left to return to Texas, we missed them terribly; and the post-holiday blahs began. If it weren’t for the remaining glitter we keep finding on our floors, clothes and noses, I’d really be down in the dumps! (And I’m sure as heck not taking our Christmas tree down until I’m absolutely shamed into doing so! I can see me now, sneaking it out to the curb under cover of darkness in March or April!)

I’m digging in my heels, determined to hang on to the holiday season as long as I can. I seek out the last holiday displays left standing; and in a city so commercial that it’s already marketing Valentine’s Day (!), I’m shocked when I actually find one: the 29th annual “Wreath Interpretations” exhibit at the Arsenal Gallery in Central Park. I rush over as quickly as I can; as the exhibit is nearly about to come to a close. This yearly exhibit is a celebration of the wreath, ancient symbol of renewed life through the winter, but with a “twist”. Local artisans create stunning wreaths from non-traditional media, which are displayed on the walls of the old Arsenal building and offered for sale to the public. If there’s one thing that can absolutely lift me up and make me hopeful again, it’s surrounding myself with the creative spirit of others. Whether it’s artwork, gourmet cooking or live performance, (did I mention we took in 4 Broadway shows PLUS the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in the space of 12 days?!), it’s the best medicine for me. “Wreath Interpretations” did not disappoint. Here, I discovered beautiful, quirky Christmas wreaths made from unusual materials as varied as chopsticks, plush toy animals, cooking utensils, antique clothespins, champagne corks, dollar bills, etc. My favorite was a large one made from used paintbrushes, the bristles of each caked with dried paint in a myriad of colors. I walked from wreath to wreath, taking in their beauty, imagining the artists creating each work, wondering from where they drew their inspiration. It was just what the doctor ordered.

I make one last pass by the paintbrush wreath, intensely drawn to it, and wondering what lucky dog forked up the $800 for it before anyone else could. Not that I’d dare spend that much money on a wreath recycling old paintbrushes; but its creator has definitely inspired me. I smile and nod my head in gratitude at the wreath; and I decide right then and there that I’m going to embark upon a new, creative activity – something I have yet to explore. Refreshed and with a big smile on my face, I pass back through the grand, old building with its creaking wood floors and its grand, crystal chandelier, back out into the cold, grey sky hanging heavily above Central Park. My creative juices begin to flow; and I’m thinking ahead to the weekend. I’m reminded that I’ve always wanted to take up the art of weaving.  Visions of warp yarns and weft yarns dance in my head…and I’ve completely forgotten I was in the midst of those darned, post-holiday blahs.