Natalie So

Natalie So is a story editor, writer, art director in San Francisco, CA
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01    Nature

There’s a hill a couple miles south of where I live—Bernal Hill—that I try to walk up at least once a week. This year it’s been unfailingly green, thanks to the rain, and I’m still trying to adjust to the color after a whole year of mostly dry, golden grass. Seeing San Francisco from above—a 360-degree panoramic view—is all I need to remind myself that this city is home. I find that a literal change in perspective helps to create mental or emotional changes in perspective.

02    Object (old)

I’ve had an orb-shaped Philips alarm clock for a couple years now, but it’s only recently that I’ve realized how crucial it is to my sleep and waking cycles. I like that I don’t have to use my phone to wake me up—I need space apart from it. The alarm clock also has a sunrise simulation function, and it doubles as a reading light. Its multiple gradations of brightness help ease me into the first moments of consciousness, which I generally despise.

03    Object (new)

I keep thinking about this flimsy pink netting (the kind that contains fruit at Asian grocery stores) that my friend draped over his bedside lamp to change the color of the light in his room. It created a lovely pink glow on the walls and on the sheets. Outside the night sky was a deep, dirty blue and the glow of the street lamps enveloped everything in amber and tungsten. The mixing of the pink light with the yellow, and the white of the snow reflecting it all—somehow the room, at that nocturnal moment, was perfectly lit—and all from this unassuming scrap of netting!

04    Surprise

The first week of March I dyed my hair for the first time in my life—from Sharpie black to a metallic denim blue first, then to the color of silvery lichen, or Spanish moss. For such a drastic change, I was surprised by how much I still felt like myself, and I was surprised too by how little I cared about what other people thought of my hair. It was a strangely pleasant reminder that I possess some kind of untouchable core—that even when I grow old and my skin sags and I lose all my teeth, there will still be a part of me that remains the same. I guess some might call that a soul.

05    Encounter

Over the phone I interviewed a 16-year-old kid who is a refugee from Nepal. He’s a boy scout, loves Drake, and puts flaming hot Cheetos in his ramen. For the past couple of months I’ve talked to dozens of immigrants and refugees for a project I’m working on, but there is something special about talking to teenagers: they are deep in the process of becoming, steeped in an innocence that tries to disguise itself. Self-consciousness is only beginning to emerge. Their world is so affecting and sharp.

06    Night Out

My best friends moved to Oakland at the start of the year, and now we have a standing date every Thursday: trivia night at the New Parkway Theater, which is a small, zany, independent theater in downtown Oakland. We always share a gigantic bowl of popcorn, which we season with garlic powder, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and nori (yes, this theater has all of these seasonings on hand). The trivia competition itself is a mostly silly, non-serious affair, which is how I like it. This is almost always my favorite night of the week.

07    Day Out

I wandered through Chicago on a snowy day, and one hour before closing time at the Art Institute of Chicago (discounted tickets!), I found myself unexpectedly in a room full of prints by Latin-American artists—Carlos Cruz-Diez, Helio Otitica, Manuel Espinoza, Gego, Leon Ferrari, Lygia Clark, and Lygia Pape. The exhibit was called “Abstract Experiments.” The artists were all new to me, and I was so moved by how much emotion could be contained their lines and colors and geometries. I was so grateful for that discovery and the brief, bright communion I experienced with the art that day.

08    Time Alone

I have lived alone for three years so “alone” is the state that I emerge in and return to daily. But only this year have I really felt the alone-ness of living alone, because over time my friends who were also my neighbors have moved away. When I think of time alone I also think of the time I spend in transit: on planes, waiting in airports, sitting in cars. When I am in between places, the alone-ness is always amplified.

09    Time With A Friend

I stayed with some new friends in Chicago, and we cooked a Thai vegetable curry for dinner, which is a dish I have cooked now in at least four states—it is a dish to share with friends on cold nights. Then we just sat around the table talking, which is my favorite way to spend an evening. The next morning continued with a communal breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and talk of poetry and art and the like. I find that when I travel now, I mostly just want to connect in some meaningful way with other people, rather than see sights or go out to restaurants.

010    Movie / TV / Book

movie: Take This Waltz by Sarah Polley. I read the screenplay too. Painful and searing and good.

TV: Legion, 555 (a strangely satisfying Vimeo series). My company’s first produced Amazon pilot came out this month: The Legend of Master Legend. Another Amazon pilot I loved and wanted to binge on right away: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The writing is brilliant and hilarious.

books: I read poetry & plays in the morning and on my lunch break. Fiction before I sleep. Nonfiction while in transit.

fiction: How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (highly recommend), Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill (intelligent, irreverent, wry), Dubliners by James Joyce (I read “Araby” on repeat).

nonfiction: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, Attached by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller.

poetry: Made Flesh by Craig Arnold (a favorite. I love “Hymn to Persephone” the most), The Devil’s Tour by Mary Karr, The Need to Hold Still by Lisel Mueller.

a play: You Got Older by Clare Barron.

011    Creative Act

The first hour of every day begins with making coffee and writing three pages of whatever is on my mind (“morning pages”). I am rigid and unrelenting about this routine, even when I travel. Perhaps creativity is any attempt to access what is beneath the surface. I choose to begin the day by disarming myself, making myself vulnerable to myself.

I think of this quote by the artist Anne Truitt: "I am always, and always will be, vulnerable to my own work, because by making visible what is most intimate to me I endow it with the objectivity that forces me to see it with utter, distinct clarity. A strange fate. I make a home for myself in my work, yet when I enter that home I know how flimsy a shelter I have wrought for my spirit. My vulnerability to my own life is irrefutable. Nor do I wish it to be otherwise, as vulnerability is a guardian of integrity."

 

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Bernal in the morning

Bernal in the morning

Bernal at night

Bernal at night

pink lights

pink lights

silver hair

silver hair

Lygia Pape

Lygia Pape

Lygia Clark

Lygia Clark

poetry

poetry