The community blog on honest places and faces.
Old red bled into brown everywhere around me and lantern tassels, incense smoke, and fern fronds swayed to the tempo of the erhus and flutes on the temple intercom. I heard Taiwanese dialects bouncing off all the open space two stories below. On every side, bare beams, ornate eaves, and carved banisters connected praying towers dedicated to different deities. Cicada song came in waves and one gecko announced himself from somewhere behind ceiling tiles. Sometimes, wooden chips indifferently spelled out fates on marble floors.
I was indoors, and I wasn’t. Through two doorways and across a balcony, I made out an uninterrupted square of the green outside, standing even higher than the temple. I lost myself in solitude for an hour and my sweat cooled in the shade. I refrained from leaving the memory as bytes instead of emotion and when I rose from my meditation cushion, the impulse to force this into being an immediately shared moment had subsided into butterflies of disbelief that a year and a half after landing on this island, I could still be using the words “new,” “first,” or “favorite,” when so much of what I fell in love with hadn’t changed any.
When I find shade in this country, it is sleepy and timeless. The sun is warm and wet. Always, the cities and villages offer their own blends of smells that disappear quickly like plum rain showers but feel as old and certain as the buildings I find them in. Daily life has become hyperreal as if color-graded and film-scored into being. It’s the same emotional and physiological impact, but on simple walks to the cornerstore or on train rides out of town.
Loose hours are reality painted. I fall over myself trying to engrain in my memory the truths a crosswalk embodies, impossible conversations between buildings and haze, or moments I hang suspended between strangers I know everything and nothing about. The moments exist in full. They’re weightless, unrushed, accompanied by more friendly detail than my five senses can completely sort out. All at once, smell, taste, sound, touch, and color are more than the sum of their parts. I become speechless, the period at the end of a sentence, processing the magnificence of what a few simple building blocks have created in front of me. Am I alive? I think so, but every time the world meets me where I am, I’m met by another brand of beauty that makes everything before it seem dim in comparison.
I can’t pinpoint the coming or leaving of these moments any more than I can say where home begins and ends. In these sacred spaces, is it the place, the people, or whatever holds them together that removes the friction from the mundane? For the past year and a half, laundry has been prayer, buying soap is profound, and waiting for traffic lights to change is an exercise in oneness. Often the sheer miracle stops me where I am, and I’m laughing because it’s the only thing left to do.
Back when I kept calendars pasted everywhere, I thought that having nothing left to ask for was agony, but I’ve found that in suspended pockets of time it becomes the greatest gift. How could so many truths fit into one moment when only conversations ago, question marks were smothering me into submission? How many more times can fear be cleared from the room, its smoke dissipate, and I realize it’s not a room at all but a panoramic view of what my intuition has been aware of all along?
First, is the pop. From the other end of a gallery space, through a cafe window, or plastered across a brick wall as I round the corner. The composition tells me immediately where to look and it feels good to, even before the subject is apparent. In the lines and in the color, there’s something loose and moving, even when there isn’t.
Second, is the zoom-- my favorite part of the conversation with the art. I’m summoned, and the resolution comes into focus, emerging at walking speed. Two steps ago, my eyes only knew where to move. Two more steps, and shadows start flirting with highlights. Details emerge. Foreground separates from background. I savor the approach for the vague forms I only get to see once before closing the distance.
Here comes the subject, then, and the medium announcing itself. Closer, and the strokes appear. The order and organization. They’re there no matter how fast the work was made. Now, the subject starts interacting with the way the artist has laid down lines, and where they’ve laid them down. It says more than the subject matter itself. Punchy negative spaces, or something left unpolished in the corner, minimalist forms leaning up against sharp detail. My initial reactions start to blend with the artist’s message, then with my impression of the artist as an individual. I draw closer, even, and stay still to absorb the last of the details they’ve offered.
How many minutes pass while I watch foreground and background tug at one another, or all the happy accidents in the composition reinforcing the more intentional lines? Enough of them, I suppose. But here’s where I want more. Sometimes, that’s asking too much. Sometimes, it’s just enough.
The artist has left one last layer to process. The details matter more than one might think. Read past the decoy subject, they’ve hinted. There was something in the gray areas, missed. Or something legible in the unintelligible. A very deliberate placement of color that meant everything, or one bold contradiction hidden out in the open. It’s then that I believe I’ve received closure, enough jigsaw pieces to just barely understand. But right as I walk away, my head finally pieces together the four corners and fills in the rest of the puzzle by itself. That there, is closure.
If community is where humans infuse space with honesty and vulnerability, home is where they find each other. Liann works to capture this metamorphosis of place through mixed media and her writing.