Drawing From Life


It started with showers At fourteen Renato Umali so disliked bathing that he began tracking how much time he spent at it. As a competitive cyclist in high school, he kept charts to document his progress. In college, concerned by his growing Burger King consumption, he logged his visits and what he ate, along with his sleeping patterns, car-related statistics, and a rating of his day on a one-to-five scale. When a girlfriend complained that they were not spending enough quality time together, Umali tracked how they spent their time and rated that, too.

Umali, now thirty-two, continues to track many elements of his life. He can tell you how many eggs he ate last year and how they were prepared (forty-six eggs eaten scrambled versus forty-four in fried rice), which restaurants he frequented most often ($215.45 spent at Beans and Barley), whom he talked to (his neighbor and friend Sarah led the list for the second straight year), and where he slept. The practice culminates in the Umalis, a tongue-in-cheek awards ceremony.

Although Umali's tracking can seem like eccentric navel-gazing, the filmmaker/musician is earnestly intrigued by the projects and insists they do not interfere with his life. "In fact," he says, "it enriches it." The quantitative part is easy, just some quick entering on an Excel spreadsheet. But the qualitative entries are more meditative and enjoyable: "They force me to think about the day and really remember what happened."

Every year he tries to add one new element to his tracking journal. This year it was shoes. At the end of 1999 it was a project called "I Learn Something New Every Single Day," for which he takes a daily digital self-portrait and combines it with one sentence about the most important thing he learned that day. Whether looking disheveled in his apartment or blinking into the sun outside a coffee shop, Umali stares unemotionally into the lens. In addition to showing his physical growth, he also hopes to pinpoint moments of emotional growth. "I've sometimes wondered, When did I get the values I have? That is, when did I know that racism was bad; when did I become anti-capital punishment? I hoped, and still do, to try to capture such major changes or discoveries within myself."

A music major in college, Umali cites seemingly unrelated influences, ncluding John Cage, Scrabble, and baseball. "I loved baseball cards as a kid. You can look at a fourteen-year career and tell so much about how a life was just by the numbers," he notes. Like baseball, Scrabble is also about ance played on a grid of order. Umali competes in Scrabble tournaments leg d says his journal keeping has influenced his wordsmithing: "It has refined my mind to think about letters and words and helps my brain store stuff in a particular way." And it's beautiful, he adds, intoning vowel dumps like poetry: "Eulogia, aioli, oidia, zoeae."

The beauty behind the information he collects is part of what compels Umali. He finds it reassuring to so clearly be able to watch life's ebb and flow. And though he's pretty certain he will not find it, he still enjoys trying to pinpoint happiness. "If I track consumption, such as going out to eat, social events, and then correlate that with my mood, ostensibly it should indicate what makes me happy." But he laughs as he says this, and the sound of it admits both the futility and the charm of his undertaking.


Masayoshi Nakano, an engineer for Hitachi in Tokyo, began taking daily walks after retiring at age seventy. Mornings were devoted to the diverse tours through the Musashino, a wide, historically rich region that is dotted with towns stretching from western Tokyo to the mountains. Afternoons were spent creating intricate maps depicting the walk. In the bound pages of the journals in which he drew, he also noted shrines, temples, rivers, and other significant sites. Like Bonsai gardens, the books were miniature re-creations of real landscapes.

The practice was a way for Nakano to more deeply understand his roots, says his daughter-in-law, Emiko Nakano. "He thought he was bred by the nature of the Musashino area, and so he wanted to know about it," she says, adding that "this is a very Japanese way of thinking," referring to the belief that a place can have a direct impact on a person.

Nakano based his walking routes on a two-hundred-year-old map, preferring to visit streets and sites laden with the past. He spent time at the library and in the offices of shrines, furthering his understanding of the landmarks he visited. He only returned to the same place when he had questions about it.

Nakano continued his practice for almost a quarter century, finally abandoning it at age ninety-three, when his eyesight began to fail. He filled about forty books with his meticulous notations and the small black-and-white photographs he glued in. Although they were not intimate by many standards, they provided distances and facts not very different from what we might find in a guidebook. But to the elderly engineer they were personal, because they were based on his subjective perceptions. And that was their undoing.

Finding little value in them beyond their making, he burned all of them except for one completed book. It is hard to imagine the destruction of the intricate maps, the years of work, the complex memories and knowledge he surely built up during that time. But Emiko says her father-in-law never made any pretense of being an artist. "His curiosity was strong," she says, "but he did not fixate on things."

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment