CLATTERING LOOM: nunchi, or emotional intelligence


Lighted looms hung on the walls in dimly lit Viracocha, and the large crowd chatted while settling themselves into the wooden chairs scattered about the room, ready to hear the featured readers of Clattering Loom. This reading series chooses a word that is not directly translatable to English, and each reader must compose a piece attempting to capture the essence of its meaning. The theme of this reading was “nunchi”, a Korean word that can be understood as emotional intelligence, or the ability to respond artfully to the moods of others. Curators Jonathan Hirsch and Valerie Chavez took the stage, and introduced the show’s theme and the first reader.

Before Jacob Harris read from the poetry of his late father, Richard Harris, he gave the audience a background on his father’s life, which was as fascinating as it was heart wrenching. Richard was a doctor in the 60’s who helped provide safe abortions for women and helped young men get out of the draft; during this time he produced three books of poetry. Jacob told us how his father was in a disfiguring car accident when he was 12, which forced him into constant reconstructive surgeries throughout his teenage years. As Jacob, who is also a writer, read his father’s poetry on stage, you could see the connection he had to his father and the importance of being able to share this experience with the audience, and for those few moments, we all had emotional clarity.

Next up was Chris Peck, a.k.a. Peck the Town Crier, who I had the pleasure of speaking with before the show began. Peck did a lively reading of a lighthearted poem that made the room burst into laughter multiple times, and elicited cheers after each playful line surmounted the next. A list poem containing hilarious gems of advice like “introduce a sweet cat to an old mean cat” and “throw sesame seeds at sesame street”, Peck knew exactly how to work the audience into a frenzied cacophony of laughter and squeals. I thought his rendition of nunchi was most out there, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Casey Childers took the stage and began a fast paced reading of a short story about a lady who sells sweaters. Intrigued? Casey was hilarious at reading the musings of this ridiculous character, who constantly repeated how she was a “people person” and “sweaters are a people business”, and was filled with corny jokes like “”How’s sales?” they say, and I say “Go ask a boat!””. The story expertly wove both the hilarious and often touching musings of this kooky character, who knew that teenagers made fun of her beloved sweaters and often missed her dead husband, but could still stay positive doing what she loved. Everyone seemed to bond over her eccentricities. After all, how could you not love a character who said things like “I like to think people are just a sweater away from who they want to be”?

Shideh Etaat was next up, and read from a wonderful short story about a boy named Ali. His family is very poor and his mother is dying, but instead of going to the doctor, she buys him a pair of huge coke bottle glasses that he can hardly see through because both lenses are cracked. She reasons that his sight is more important than her health, or else how can see all of the beautiful things in the world? After his mother dies, his alcoholic father blames Ali and destroys his glasses, leaving him blinded and alone. Ali leaves his home and gains a propensity for stealing, and one day spots an old man eating a hearty lunch. He thinks of telling the old man that he is starving instead of relying on thievery to get some food, but he sees another boy approach the man to sell him a trinket and the man angrily shoos him away. In that moment he begins to hatch a plan to steal the basket, and the story ends. I enjoyed the way this story delved into the concept of nunchi in its last moments, leaving the story hanging on the edge, and my feelings unsettled in a strange but intriguing way.

Sarah Griff was my favorite reader of the night. She had a magnetic presence on the stage which captivated the audience into a silent mass, hanging onto her every word. She told the story of an empath (which she deemed the worst superpower one could possess) who understands her life through the feelings of others, what she calls “the hugeness of other people’s feelings”. Sara was an expert reader, quickening the collective pulse of the audience with each heightened tone, and knowing where to pause to create the most dramatic effect. Her writing had razor sharp precision, and with badass one liners like “I was the motherfucking night in a mask” and “I was like Spiderman lamely attempting parkour”, she held me captive throughout her reading. I think she might have the superpower of nunchi.

Chiwan Choi was the last reader, and chose an untraditional storytelling style, using a loose outline on his Ipad and filling in the blanks from memory. He is Korean, and joked with us that if he didn’t do well in explaining nunchi his parents would kill him. He was a bit clunky at first as he tried to gather his bearings, but soon he got into the flow of the story, and was sent into reveries of his childhood. As he grew up, his parents stressed to him and his siblings that they needed to “learn to read a room” and always know what everyone was feeling, which they learned (strangely enough) from watching the Godfather movies. His father would ask why certain things happened in the movie, and the answers were consistently having to do with body language or tone of voice. Chiwan explained the irony of these lessons when, later in life, neither he nor his parents knew when the others had devastating news, and all kept secrets from one another because they thought someone would be reading them. It was fascinating to hear from someone who was part of the Korean culture that could explain his experience with nunchi firsthand, and I appreciated that he trusted the audience with so many personal details from his life.

Adam Stephens of Two Gallants finished the night up. Just watch this:

Unfortunately, this was the last San Francisco installment of Clattering Loom for a while, but I guarantee you will find me eagerly waiting in Viracocha when it comes home.