this is hogon living


*In the morning the light was unbearably bright, more golden and harsh than would be expected on a February day. The first light of day makes everyone look angelic; even the shadows that crease into crevices of skin herald the morning light. By dusk, light is soft and glowy, tired from its daylong shining, but the arc of the sun between dawn and high noon is a blazing trail, a space for strength and glory.


*Jasper knocked on the door to say that coffee was ready and offered to bring it to the room. Coffee sounded tempting, but the first moments upon waking, when waking is of your own accord and not out of obligation, are some of the most precious and calm. So we stayed for awhile, basking in that perfect subtle heat. 


*Later we went outside on the deck and had coffee with Jasper. He was wearing a long furry scarlet robe, with a NY Times crossword mug in one hand, a cigarette in another. He sat on the railing overlooking the panorama of trees and ocean and clouds below, his long legs resting in delicate parallel balance on the wooden railing. 



*We sat and talked for awhile, and then Jasper and I took a walk through backyard, which is probably the biggest and best backyard I’ve seen. We walked barefoot on a semblance of a trail, which was rocky and covered in brush and pines. We dodged trees and branches, first passing by an outhouse and compost area, and then finally arriving at Jasper’s humble abode, the Hogon.

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*The Hogon is a one-room wooden conic shelter built by Jasper and his father. Its roof looks like a hat worn by rice paddy farmers. The base is lined with concrete, and plexiglass windows held together by a wooden skeleton fill in most of the sides, enhanced by bright tie-dye curtains and stained glass, Jasper’s handiwork. A four-minute walk from the main house, the hogon is where Jasper reads and sleeps. The glass door opens to a writing table filled with objects from another time and place–objects that seem anachronistic not because of their existence but because of the effort taken to procure them. Typewriters and oil lamps seem silly and romantic now–a luddite’s proclamation or a self-conscious aesthetic statement. But Jasper pointed out that the lack of electricity in the hogon made these objects practical, and I never doubt his earnestness, which I have known to be true since I first met him, backpacking through the Carter Mountains on the Appalachian Trail. 


*It’s easy to paint Jasper as a caricature, what with the cigarettes and the robe and the ornate details of his hermit existence, all of which could easily be perceived as the overwrought arrangements of a crafted, romantic life. But after knowing Jasper*** for more than four years, even the most absurd affectations that seem to play into a particular trope, are natural for him. 


*Nevertheless, I’m still puzzled and intrigued by Jasper’s effort to simplify his life so selectively. Despite the missing electricity, the limited space, and the communion with nature, the stacks of books (John Updike, poems by Louise Gluck and Emily Dickinson, The Brothers Karamazov, foreign language dictionaries, Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen), the silver goblets, and the piles of clothes on the bed betray the minimalism that this kind of lifestyle could initially suggest. In an age where we’re tethered to technology and the absence of electricity is unfathomable, the act of simplification can sometimes stem from an elaborate, self-decorative impulse. Ridding oneself of modern accoutrements often seems more difficult than just living within it all, strangely enough. Do we seek out vintage objects because of aesthetic fondness for a misplaced nostalgia? Do we abscond into the woods because it’s a romantic distraction? Are we obsessed with living out ideal lifestyles instead of figuring how to live? The former is easy and trivial, and I am certainly guilty of doing so. It’s easy to confuse minimalism with luddite living, and simplicity with certain aesthetic choices. Clearing out the noise has never felt so effortful or complicated.


***Jasper was also the subject one of my very first photo assignments in college, back in 2008. During the shoot, he smoked an entire cigar until his face turned blue.

More pictures after the jump...


this is an object-based language

*I've neglected this blog, partly out of busyness and partly out of fear. Fear of writing, fear of not knowing what to write, fear that what I write may not be "right." But I've decided to let that all go, because I have thousands of words and pictures that are itching to breathe. Here we go again.


*I came back from Mendocino County last night, where I spent two nights in a sawdust-covered room on a dirty mattress. Only plexiglass and planks of wood separated us from the cold air outside, which, at night, was empty except for the squawking of the sea lions down by the ocean.

*When we first arrived around midnight, I was in a half-stupor; the darkness of the night always makes me so tired. Without sunlight, the coastal drive from San Francisco to the North Bay is reduced to a means, instead of the pleasurable end it usually is. In my somnolent state, I had left him to navigate the windy roads by himself, which he does well, silently. By the time I stirred, we were on a narrow and rocky road nestled between pine trees, guided forward only by our headlights.


*Rhododendron Drive signaled that we had gone too far, so we turned back and then turned again sharply into a barely visible opening among a thicket of trees and shrubbery. A sharp left again at the fork in the opening, and we saw towering structures that looked like the strange realizations of graph-paper geometry. In the dark, they looked ominous, like the siege towers at the borders of a foreign land.

*The house was dark, except for a string of red Christmas lights that hung vertically on the door, which reminded me of a my childhood neighbor. I had come home one day after school to see that he had painted his ivy-enshrouded door a bright red, which was so ghastly against the dark, almost medieval stones that his house was built from. He said that the red made it easier to find his way inside on nights that he stumbled home drunk. To this day, I’m not sure if that was a joke.


*Jasper was at the door and he welcomed us into the living room, which opened up into a small kitchen on the left, a dining table on the right, and what seemed to be a misplaced grand piano between it all. Instantly I felt over-stimulated, even though the room was only dimly lit by lamps. Near the foyer, cassette tapes overflowed on one shelf, stacks of books on another. The whole room was a curiosity shop, full of bric-a-brac and ornaments, the fruits of a handmade life and the long-time collection of a person who relishes things. 


*I’ve always believed that the things we choose to keep, whether in abundance or in lack, reflect the people we are and the life we want to lead. This isn’t so much a belief as a paradigm I employ to understand people, both anthropologically and relationally. Yet there is no logical foundation or evidence for this paradigm, except maybe my own love of tangible things*** and artifacts, or maybe a chronic bad habit of over-analyzing, ascribing too much significance to the trivial and banal (these are two of my worst habits, I must admit). The picture of a haloed Saturn, the kaleidoscopic prints hanging on the wall, the plastic flowers on the piano, the cat comb and the barbie comb, the wooden recorder, the plaster mask, the rocks, the mirrors, the lone dreamcatcher, the tiny buddhas–they all mean something. Each object has a memory, and even when that memory is forgotten, the object is no less important, for its forgotten arrival does not deny its existence but becomes a part of it.  I appreciated the indiscriminate nature of this household miscellany; that indiscrimination, which was probably cause for the sheer number of objects, seemed to me an gesture of baring one’s s soul, of turning a physical space into an extension of self. The messiness of it all is so raw and real, as it and we should be.



***One of the best classes I took in college was called Tangible Things, where we traced Harvard’s history through a study of artifacts found in Harvard museums. The class was taught by two wonderful professors: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (of “Well-behaved women seldom make history” bumper sticker fame) and Ivan Gaskell, a cultural historian. From quilts to girl-scout uniforms to a jar of tapeworms (other objects included: John Singer Sargent’s palette, Mark Twain’s microscope, Louis Aggasiz’s Brazilian coffee beans, Henry David Thoreau’s pencil, and a century-old tortilla chip), we examined how objects not only serve as a lens for critical historical examination but also how groupings of objects can weave together stories and questions and time periods. Anthropological examination of objects also calls for categorization and cataloguing, a process which is revealing of the way we compartmentalize and view the world.

My favorite places to gawk home objects: THE SELBY