Getting Out the Ukes

Filipino musicians
Nick Vengua playing guitar in Mauro Ibarra’s band. Uncle Mauro (on trumpet) used to be in the Philippines Mail Blues band, named after a local Filipino newspaper.

Will playing the uke make me a better artist or writer? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Getting out the ukes sparks only happy memories: my father at his happiest, hearing old tunes, the good feeling of learning to play a song (even if you were a lousy player), meeting up with uke freaks on the beach. I took my dad’s ancient ukulele out of its canvas case today (had to dust the case off) and tuned it. It still has its original strings, which are decades old. The varnish is nicked and worn from years of my dad’s playing, both at home, and in various bands.

old ukulele
Dad’s old uke. No brand name; with his ukulele instruction book. Photo by Jean Vengua

Also took out my Kamaka uke, and tuned it, only to find that one of its bakelite tuning heads was cracked and needs to be replaced. Now what? Time to get the chord charts out again? While I’m at it, perhaps I should tune dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar, too. But that’s harder to re-learn. My fingers ache, just thinking about it.

Kamaka ukulele
My Kamaka ukulele. Photo by Jean Vengua

I kind of miss playing music, and it’s difficult to get back into it after a few years. But I hear that music is good for the creative process, and good for you generally. I seem to remember feeling as though tuning and playing my uke felt sort of like tuning my brain. And it made me listen better, pay closer attention to sounds, colors and shapes, and language in a different way. So maybe if I play a little bit, every day…



Songwriting/Artmaking Routines #musicians #artists

Photo of Aireene Espiritu by Aki Kumar. 

A few months ago, ACE, the nonprofit that I co-chair held a fundraiser featuring Filipina musician and songwriter Aireene Espiritu with her band The Itch. It was a great concert, and we hope to work with her again in the future. In the meantime, I came across a really interesting interview with her (by Prasun) in Songwriting Routines, in which Aireene discusses how she writes music, her minimalist lifestyle, and how she survives as an artist. She comments:

I make time alone a lot because it takes so much energy to first of all put yourself out there and all the things that you do to book gigs. Then you perform, and then you have to meet with the people afterwards and all that takes a lot of energy and I’m exhausted at the end of the day.

I make sure I make have a lot of time to myself. I think that’s part of also giving up, making time for friends and family sometimes. I’m trying to be better at it, but it’s still hard when you just want to just sit there and stare at the wall.

As a visual artist and writer, one can learn a lot from artists in other disciplines. My own routine is probably even less “routine” than Aireene’s. Basically, I do my art and writing between freelance editing gigs and nonprofit community work. The problem for me w/this kind of lifestyle is finding time to deepen one’s art practice — rather than just get the time in whenever one can. Just sitting and staring at a wall can sometimes be deeply creative — seriously. I’ve heard that, as an old Russian proverb goes, “morning is wiser than evening,” but unfortunately I’m not always that wise. What’s your routine, or do you have one? How does it weave in with your other work and responsibilities?

Today: Rethinking Haptics

Doing a little yoga. The rain has stopped.

Re-thinking the whole haptic drawing thing. Or rather, returning to the initial concept, which was, for me, drawing as meditation. Just staying with the line, and with whatever moves it along.  Today, that was Brian Eno’s “Thursday Afternoon.” Using my favorite tool, a faulty felt-tip brush pen. Faulty, because a little old, so you can’t predict how it will work. So I just stayed with it. “Thursday afternoon” wanders, and sometimes disappears. You have to listen with full attention. What emerged was a kind of tentative maze that I followed and followed. And I thought of the two (real) mazes I’ve walked in life: one at the Episcopal church on Russian Hill in San Francisco, and the other at Earthbound Farm in Carmel Valley. Drawing like this releases one from the economic pressures, the matrix within which most of my projects–whether editing, painting, or academic tutoring (my part-time job)–exist.

I’m still working on promoting my editing site.

And will soon put up a call for submissions on Local Nomad.

Now, work.

Then . . .


Looking at / listening to…

Looking/Reading Stephen Vincent’s Haptics: A Novel, pub. Xerolage.
Listening to and looking at Kitundu’s objects/art/sounds

Assembling: the jigsaw puzzle of a research essay. For this, I am reading (among other things):
* News for all the People: The Epic Story of Race in the American Media (Gonzalez & Torres)
* Floating Lives: The Media and Asian Diaspora, Cunningham & Sinclair.
Doing the laundry