The Wong San Wheels Chronicle #15: “Oh my god, being carless in LA is like having your legs cut off!”

August 19th, 2009

My friend Marc Norberg took these pictures of me in Minneapolis before I left in May.

Last Friday I did a performance… an homage to one year of being broken up with car ownership. I held a picture of Harold up to the crowd and like a jilted ex-girlfriend choked through fake tears about how much I tried to make it work with him, but he was such an old mess (at 27) he just let me down time and time again. He was also a money pit and a girl like me deserves better than having to give so much of my hard earned money to a useless piece of shit. I want to fall in love with a car again (maybe a nice Japanese model, from a good factory) but am scared of getting hurt.

This Friday I do another performance with slides on an old Kodak carousel where I’ll tell more stories of well intended green living that blew up (literally!) in my face.

There’s one thing the carless thing has really been showing me about this city– it’s really big and really spread out and there’s a whole lotta stuff in it. This morning, I caught a ride (via Facebook update) to an audition with the editor of my concert film, Tina. I caught a ride back with this guy from Craigslist (nah, don’t worry, I sussed it out, it was safe) who I bought a new laptop from. I’m enjoying these free rides about town which come as fast as texting “Need a ride from Silverlake to Weho, call me if you’re going that way”) on my phone. Finally, I put my 1400+ Facebook friends to use as a private car service!

What I’m really seeing is a glimpse of people’s lives. On their routes of life, I am a fly on the wall (or passenger in their car).

I finally got to meet my friend Rena’s two daughters when she beckoned my facebook call and drove me to the beach. she put down the back seat of her SUV up for me and I sat behind her kids. I’m thinking now, that the friends I always say I want to catch up with, I may only be able to catch up with IN TRANSIT!

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Category: i'm kristina wong, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

The Wong San Wheels Chronicle #14: One year of carless martyrdom down. how many more to go?

August 14th, 2009

The praying mantis on the bus says, “Happy one year of carless martyrdom Kristina Wong!”

That’s right kids. A year ago today, I was on the side of the 405 as my pink biodiesel Mercedes was engulfed in 20 foot flames. And I thought, “Oh my god, I am so lucky to be alive.”

I’ve made it one year without owning a car. Yes, it is possible to be carless in LA. But admittedly, it sure does help to know the city as well as I do, have very generous friends who will loan me cars in emergencies or give me rides, and also work from home most of the time and leave town half the year on tour. But yes! It is possible!

I do admit that despite the success, this has really FELT like a challenging year, but I would say that mostly has to do with the recession which hasn’t been easy on everyone. Things were escalating quite rapidly in a wonderful direction last year with the CBS showcase, the South Beach Comedy Festival, the commencement speech at UCLA, really great tours, etc. But this past year has FELT much more challenging as I watch both non-profit and commercial ventures that once supported me have had their budgets decimated. And moving by foot and by bus can sometimes make me feel robbed psychologically of control. And people in LA, they need to always feel in control.

I’ve really spent a lot of time thinking admidst what seems like apocalyptic times… “What is it that I really need in life to make me happy?” Especially with all this recession time talk of what expenses we can cut out, I’ve been looking around and seeing all the clutter that’s held me back.

So what is it I want? To perform, to have enough to eat and a comfortable bed, to have human contact that’s meaningful, to feel like I am of benefit to other people’s lives, to plunder an occasional yard sale. When it comes down to it, I’m a lot more simple than I ever thought.

I still often wonder if owning a car would at all help me “live better.” Or if the cost of “convenience” would actually hinder me. I’ve decided that I’m going to go carless for as long as possible, or at least, until I get this new show on carlessness going. I also have been getting a lot of reading done.

It’s an ongoing debate that’s been oh so great for material. (Trying to do 7 minutes of new stuff on the carless life tonight at Bang Comedy Theater in West Hollywood.)

Since my “Cash for Clunkers” post, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback. I went to the library for the first time in forever and started to check out books. It was kind of mindblowing to be able to take books from the library and not worry about having to pay for them. I have been looking at this book called “Your Money or Your Life” which I thought was just a financial planning book, but what it examines on a much deeper level than how to be rich, is to ask what is it you want to accomplish emotionally with your life. It asks you to look at the financial clutter of stuff in your home– expenses that you’ve made that have given you little to no satisfaction back and yet you hold onto them. And also it asks you to weigh your “life energy”– making the point that its not worth it to have a high paying job if you feel emotionally bankrupt at the end of each day. Or if the expenses to be at that job (corporate wardrobe, nice car to roll up in), end up eating most of your income.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the over abundance of shit we produce as an American culture. Many of the belongings we have we don’t use 95% of the time. If we lived in communities that were more inclined to sharing, we could easily find ways to share a lawnmower or a blender or bbq pit. We wouldn’t have to amass so much stuff and then struggle to pawn it off at our yard sales.

There’s one wonderful tactic I’ve discovered to get around town that I want to share with my fellow carless siblings. I put updates on Facebook telling people where I need to go and at what time and leave my number. I’ve gotten two rides like magic. I was in Little Ethiopia and needed a ride to the beach. Bam! I walk out of the restaurant and in ten minutes, my friend calls that she can come get me because she was already headed there. The 21st Century carpool.


Category: The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

Carless in LA, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #13: Always Tell the Truth, but never tell it on the bus…

August 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I found out what it was like to be the crazy lady on the bus.

A woman at the bus stop was making conversation with me. She started by complimenting my heart shaped sunglasses. I decided to turn off my ipod shuffle (which was playing MP3s from T. Harv Eckler’s “Secrets of a Millionaire Mind”) and make conversation with her. After all, I am supposedly going through this carless martyrdom to create a show about my carless martyrdom. This discussion with this stranger was all part of my “oral history gathering.”

She told me she’s going through a divorce and her husband is taking the car. I explain to her that I used to have a pink Mercedes that ran on vegetable oil but it caught on fire on the 405 and I decided to go carless because of car-owning phobia and also because I travel the world half the year so no need to own a car.

Then she tells me that she’s a student a UCLA. And like the overcompensating egomaniac that I am, I volunteer my story: “Oh yeah? I went to UCLA too! And last year they invited me to be the commencement speaker at the English Department graduation!”

And then she shoots me “the look.” A look I’ve often given to other people on the bus.

It was the “THIS BITCH IS OUT OF HER MIND” look.

Can I blame her? I’m this messy haired Asian girl with heart shaped sunglasses, pulling around a suitcase filled with VHS tapes (I’d just come from converting them into DVDs at the SAG Building), yet somehow she is to believe that I’m a world traveller? I’m listening to self help recordings on how to be a millionaire (not that she would know this), I’m talking about my pink car that ran on VEGETABLE OIL, my car ownership phobia, and how I was once the commencement speaker at UCLA… and worst of all, I’m telling her all this ON THE BUS.

Why does the truth always sound like complete horseshit when told to you by a stranger on the bus?

I wasn’t sure if I should keep talking at that point. Because any more truths about my life would only sound more crazy given the setting of the moving bus which already implicates unreliability and insanity in the truth teller.

“What do I do for a living? I’m a PERFORMANCE ARTIST!”

“What’s my next show about? Cats! Pick-Up Artists! And Cat pee!”

“I made a yoga bag out of my old pants!”

I sat quietly in my seat, awkwardly waiting for my stop to come up, pretending I was distracted by my Ipod shuffle so I wouldn’t have to talk more. I gave her a sloppy wave goodbye as I exited the bus. I don’t know why I did this, perhaps to further add to the illusion of my insanity.

So ok. We can’t trust every thing we hear from a stranger on the bus. Can we trust what we hear from a stranger on the plane? Can we trust what we hear as it comes out of the mouth of a stranger standing next to his pimped out ferrari? Can we trust what we hear from an established corporation with large buildings and thousands of employees across major metropolitan cities…. Like AIG?

I thought that I could trust the hipsters at Lovecraft Biofuels to sell me a good car and make good on fixing it so that it was safe to drive. I thought, Why would eco-hipsters lie and swindle me? But they did.

Can we trust any stranger in transit who tells us something?

And the most important question of all…

Why do I insist on overcompensating for my lack of car by offering up laundry lists of my previous achievements to complete strangers on the bus who are probably in the same situation as me?

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Category: The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles

Making Out with Kristina Wong #1: Turning an old Pair of Pants into a Yoga Bag

August 2nd, 2009

I’ve been re-reading a couple years worth of old blog entries where all I seem to do is pine about work, how I’m trying to get more work, or how I’m recovering from work… and I’ve decided I need more creative stuff to share on the blog.

Now that I have a sewing machine, it’s time to start a new series of blog entries where I make new things from old things! I’m calling it “Making out with Kristina Wong” but if you have a better suggestion for a title, I’m open to change.

Today! Turning an old pair of pants into a Yoga Bag! (Or tripod bag or cue stick bag…)

From this:

To this!

After what I thought was my brilliant idea alone, I discovered there are quite a few tutorials for making yoga bags from old pants online. But my yoga bag uses the existing leg, belt loops and back pocket of your pants to cut down the sewing time and is a very easy project for beginning sewers!

One pair of old pants (I used old cordoroys. You can use any pants with belt loops and a backpocket. Even pants with no loops and a pocket can by used but you will have to make modifications.)
Straight needles
Sewing machine (you can handsew this project but it takes a lot longer)
Needle and thread
Good scissors
Chalk or marker

Time: Less than 2 hours (with food and bathroom breaks)

Step 1: Select a pair of pants to transform. Make sure your yoga mat can comfortably slide from the top of the waist through the entire leg of the pants.

These pants have been with me since high school! I think they were actually pants that belonged to my aunt. I loved these old cords, so much so that I wore a big hole in the ass that even my patching and pinning efforts could not save. I’d been holding onto them for years trying to figure out how I could save them.

You can always make the legs more narrow, but you can’t make them more wide, so if your pants are too narrow, you will want to find a wider pair.

Check and see how easy it is to slide the mat in. Some material is “too sticky.” Wool pants may get stuck to your mat. Also, check for holes in the fabric of your pants. A hole along the buttcrack is ok (hey now!), but a knee hole will need to be repaired before you do this project.

Step 2: Cut the pants in half so there are two separate legs. Cut a generous seam allowance on the leg you will use for sewing purposes.

It doesn’t matter which half of the leg you use. I chose the side that was less worn out. I chose to cut the zipper part into the half I will use for the yoga bag to give me a generous seam allowance. But will trim it off later.

Save the other leg, you’ll use that fabric for creating the strap and drawstring for your yoga bag.

Step 3: Put the yoga bag in the pants (in the waist down) and trim the leg from the bottom. Pinch the top of the tube to get an idea of how much you will need for it to close. Cut the bag about 3″ past the mat.

Save the leg that you cut off to make the bottom of the bag. If it’s too short to make the bottom of the bag, but you should have enough fabric on the other leg to make a bottom.

Step 4: Sew a giant tube that will accommodate the yoga mat.

Turn your leg inside out. Use pins and mark off a straight line from the top of the waist that meets the inside seam of the pants. Sew from the top of your pants to meet the existing leg tube. Save the fabric you cut off to create the bottom of the yoga bag.

Because of the way pants are cut, the fabric may have a curve to it, or will not match the other side evenly. So you will have to pin and sew your tube so it will have a few ripples in it. These ripples are very unnoticeable once your bag is done.

After you have created the tube, trim off the excess fabric and turn the tube inside out.

Step 5: Create the strap for the yoga bag by using the other pant leg and cut a long rectangle about 4″ wide and as long as your pants length.

This will need to be a long strip, so I recommend cutting along the backside of the pants, not the seam. You will end up with part of the back pocket of the pants.

Step 6: Fold over the fabric, ugly side out, and sew along one side, then turn it inside out, save it for later.

Step 7: Create the drawstring for the yoga bag by cutting a 3″ wide and approx 25″ long rectangle, fold along one side, sew it, then flip it inside out. Save it for later.

Because this narrow tube is going to be tricky to turn inside out, I recommend using part of the pants that are not seamed. The fabric in the front of your pants before the pockets is ideal.

Step 8: Cut the bottom of your bag.

I used a plate that had a slightly larger circumference than the hole at the bottom to draw a perfect circle.

(In hindsight, I realized I should have used a square shape since circles are difficult to sew for beginning sewers like me)

Step 9: Pin the circle into the opening. Also pin the back strap in (it should be inside the tube) since you will sew this in also. Sew your bottom and strap in.

Remember, the back pocket of the pants will actually be used in the front of the yoga bag, so you need to align the strap so that it covers the front pocket of the pants. Also align it so that you will not later sew the top of the strap over a belt loop.

Trim the excess fabric and turn your tube inside out!

Step 10: Hand sew the top of the strap to the waistline to become another belt loop.

Some sewing machines can handle a lot of layers of fabric, but mine couldn’t. So if you are able to get your machine to sew this, all the better. I sewed where my pins lay.

Step 11: Sew front pocket closed.

I used little asterisk stitches to keep the front pocket closed. Sewing the front pocket closed prevents the strap and weight of the mat from constantly pulling the pocket open.

Step 12: Weave your drawstring through the belt loops. Tie it closed! You have a yoga mat bag! Namaste!

Now let your mat and new mat bag collect dust while you avoid yoga class for several years like I have!


Category: buy nothing year, clothing reconstruction, crafty, sex is unnecessary when you have yarn.

Carless in LA, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles #12: Cash for Clunkers?

July 28th, 2009

Watch out world! I’m throwing down 62 clams in the month of August to buy my first LA Metro bus pass. I’m thinking I’ll wear it around my neck in a plastic laminated necklace like the abuelitas do and push my granny cart filled with groceries up and down Sunset Blvd. I actually don’t know that I ride the bus enough to warrant owning a bus pass. I have to ride the bus 49 times next month to make the “bus ride buffet” ticket worthwhile but I’m home for a full month (for once) so I thought I’d live it up.

Things are getting super busy here very fast. Summers tend to be “downtime” for me. I’m seeing crazy things happen in my line of work. I was in talks with New World Theater at UMass Amherst to bring Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 2010. Then just a month later, New World Theater had their funding completely cut off by the university! This is pretty ugly as this institution has been around for 30+ years.

I did get a very huge break a few months ago with a MAPFUND grant to develop my new “CAT LADY” show but I haven’t been able to secure a premiere venue or NPN co-commissioner. It’s not that the interest isn’t there, it’s just that every theater on earth is watching their budget. There’s a definite and palpable slowdown in the arts.

So I’ve decided that rather than wail and flail in panic, I’m going to use the money that I had set aside for a car to invest in a new computer and a video camera. And I’m thinking of turning part of the living room in my new Silverlake House into a set that I can shoot different shows in. I’m long overdue for a tech upgrade, I’ve been using the same laptop for five years! And it’s really hot and slow. So look out world, not only will this lady be rocking a bus pass but also a video blog!

I will admit that I’ve been looking at ads for cars. It’s really tempting to buy one. To be able to get to West LA in one hour as opposed to two. These ads are misleading though… this “Cash for Clunkers” thing is so dumb. How is it a 5 year old car can qualify as a clunker but my Mercedes that caught on fire on the 405 couldn’t? Bleh, forget it.

Quite a few of my creative friends are complaining about going broke this summer and I’ve mentioned several times in my blogs how it’s hard to not get sucked into poverty mentality when the news and all your friends are dragging the sky down around you. I find myself having days where I’m like, “Oh god! It’s over! I give up!”

I’m losing sympathy for my friends going who complain of being broke. Their standards of broke are “first world broke.” I have a friend who is a sex worker and says she’s having “survival sex” for money and yet owns a laptop, cell phone, and car. I have another friend who owes me $500 and he’s had months to pay me back, and he calls me from his cell phone to tell me he has run off to New York City (for a vacation).

If you are broke, suck it up, grow up, and deal with it. Because nobody with an IPhone is a victim of anything.

People keep asking me for help with getting money to do their art. The requests were at first flattering because it really felt as if they regard me as successful. But now theses requests have become kind of irritating, like I’m some kind of magic fairy that can say three things to make things happen. If you go way back into my very first blogs, you’ll know, I’ve been at this game for YEARS and only started to make a full time living at it in the last four years. And if you know me well enough, you know it was REALLY REALLY UGLY when I was first at this.

I see people I haven’t seen in a while and the first thing they say is, “Hi Kristina! Can you help me get grant money?”

(“Yeah. Nice to see you too.”)

Is there a sign on my head that says: “My name is Kristina Wong and I can show you how easy it is to get money because I have nothing better to do?” I mean I try to be supportive of people but I feel like that generosity gets taken advantage of.

People asking me to lead them to “magic grant money” irritates me one three levels:

First, I spend 20 hours (if not more) a week doing work related to generating income for my art (that is not my actual art) and most people aren’t willing to put up the BS of arts admin. Even when I’ve taken the time to explain to people how it all works, they either don’t apply for the grant that I just walked them through or ask me to repeat the information to them as if the explanation will become somehow easier. My biggest pet peeve is when they ask me to send copies of my grants so they can play mad libs with them, as if we weren’t doing completely different projects.

Second, I probably make the same amount as many of my artist friends “who are always broke”– the difference is that I manage my finances differently. A lot of my broke friends would not be broke if they just learned to not spend money on stuff they don’t need or buy so much stuff on credit. So it’s not that I have more money than other people, I just allocate my money differently when I get it.

And third, there is no “magic grant money.” Like any other thing that’s earned in this world. Money for your art is also earned, not thrown around to random people like a sweepstakes prize.

So my artist friends going broke but texting away on your iphone… do you need a bail out? Here it is!

NINE Cash for Clunkers Tips for Creatives going Broke who keep asking me to help them with money:

1. Run Away
If you can’t get a job and your career is not going anywhere, sublet your place, give up your apartment, sell your things, and run off to an artist’s retreat where you can live for free. Unfortunately, most of them don’t pay you to be there or accommodate kids. If you can’t get into an artist’s retreat, move in with your parents and be their “loser” 30-something kid who writes screenplays in the basement. Nobody will judge you if they can’t see you! Yay! You just freed up $400-1000 a month in rent!

2. Get someone to burn you a bootleg copy of The Secret and watch it over and over again until you sound possessed.
I am critical of The Secret (ie “The Unofficial Orientation Video for New Angelinos”) because it does place much too much emphasis on material wealth. But hey, it’s Metaphysics for Dummies! There is a critical third step to the process of the Secret that people often forget– ACTION. So stop complaining that nobody sent you $100 after you watched The Secret and start taking action. (And taking action does asking me to lead you through the short cut to money. Because I only know the long route.)

3. Sell your car and get a bus pass.
If you really need money that badly, get over your “I need my car” bullshit and get rid of your car. Cancel your insurance. Cancel your AAA membership. Cancel your gym membership (because the city streets just turned into your gym). Yay! You just freed up $500 a month plus whatever you got for your car.

4. Find something less expensive to replace your drug habit.
Get money. Get stoned. Can’t remember where your money went. Get money. Get stoned. Can’t remember where your money went. Why do broke people still have money for pot? Here’s a suggestion of how to get high instead. Put on a Bob Marley cd, then run around really fast backwards in the hot sun without water, then try to recite poetry, then get a friend to say “whoa, that’s brilliant” at every line. Yay! You just freed up $50-300 a month.

5. Don’t be a bottom feeder.
If you ever done movie background work, you’ve probably met “background lifers.” The people who only talk about doing extra work and getting more extra work, and yet, still think this will lead to something bigger. If you get too obsessed with the stones lining the walkway, you’ll never get to see the inside of the house. Sometimes the “hunting and gathering” way of the artist life prevents us from thinking about the big picture. So think from the top down. Think beyond survival.

6. Drop your $$$ scene study class and take creative classes at TeAda Camp instead. I’m teaching and am a student in at TeAda’s summer camp for adults that’s super affordable for creative people who want to expand their skillset on a budget. You can take classes in movement, voice, acting, improv, yoga and writing for as low as $10 a class. They are drop-in classes so you don’t have to commit to months and months of training. The classes are cheap as hell and a good alternative to that overpriced overhyped stuff offered all over LA. Yay! You just freed up $200-400 a month (depending on what pyramid scheme acting school you were previously enrolled in.)

7. Kick the deadbeat to the curb. (Several times in the head if necessary.)
Are you in a shitty relationship and giving the guy/girl money/ free rent/ food on top of it? Say good- bye! This one is especially for my creative lady friends who are with men who can’t take care of themselves and freeload off your generosity. You deserve a partner who can take care of him or herself and therefore, can support you when you need it. You are not a rescuer. You are not a social worker. You will find better. I’ve kicked a few deadbeats to the curb myself and never looked back. Yay! You’ve just freed up 200 lbs of dead weight!

8. Manage your money between several different checking accounts.
If you are an artist working for yourself, the worst financial thing you can do is pile up all your income into one checking account. You should not pay your rent and your director out of the same account. You should not deposit your big grant check in the same account that you pay for food. I recommend two accounts– a business account and personal account. And have two separate credit cards for business and personal expenses.

Figure out what your personal budget is each month to live. This amount should be your salary and every month write yourself a check from the business account to the personal account in this amount. Even if this means you have several checking accounts with a $0 balance, you will at least get into the habit of managing your money and treating the work you do as a professional.

Ideally, you should have several accounts. (This is something I am still trying to organize in my own life.) You should have a business account, a personal account, an education account (for paying for things to further your learning and growth), a splurge account, an investments fund. There are other methods for breaking these accounts up. When you get money, get in the habit of dividing money in each of these accounts. Yay! You are saving towards retirement!

9. Stop buying shit.
Use the library, wear things twice, make new things out of old things. Make presents for your friends. Our economy is a mess and we’re told to save money by not buying things, but the only way the economy will move is if we buy things. What gives? Run away from the need to buy stuff that can be borrowed, bartered or made! I was going to buy a VHS to DVD converter to convert my analog archives to 0′s and 1′s but found out there was one I could use at the SAG Foundation for free. Yay! I just saved $150!

Presents I made for my friends’ kids.

There! Now stop asking me to help you get money. Or at least have a real conversation with me before you ask. I just helped you get lots of money. If you need more help, I’ll be at the bus stop waiting for you to give me a ride to the next big thing!


Category: artist life., kristina is so bitchy this week, losing my mind in los angeles, property mogul, the secret, The Wong Sans Wheels Chronicles, veggie oil car, vision

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