Native Language

Barbara Baxley in The Savage Eye

Barbara Baxley in The Savage Eye

THIS COMING Thursday, I will be doing a short reading at the beautiful little oasis of a spot in Frogtown (Elysian Valley) called Clockshop, as part of a summer series of readings/travelogues and films titled My Atlas.

I will be introducing a pretty incredible though not-often shown film — The Savage Eye shot over several years, in the 50s by Haskell Wexler, Helen Levitt and Jack Couffer and directed by Ben Maddow, Sidney Meyers and Joseph Strick — and reading a short piece that was inspired by the film.

Any regular reader of this blog will know this spot has been a place for me to take a deeper look at L.A. — my home — a place that too often slides by our window (if we’re not in gridlock) at 55 mph-plus. In that time we’re suspended on an overpass or creeping ever-so-slowly toward our destination windows up, the city is being remade — over and over and over. What’s it like to grow up in and live place that constantly dramatically shifts? Disorienting? Dislocating? In the past, I’ve written about how important it is to commit your “personal city” to memory because it won’t always be there. Just recently, I finished a piece about how we Angelenos talk about locations as if they are something like a set of nesting dolls — instead of referring to what is there, we refer to what once was.

For all sorts of reasons of late, I’ve found myself wandering even more, through quiet, early-morning L.A. Through emptied-out, in-the-margins L.A. I’m trying to record bits and pieces of that old city — in notebooks, in essays and now in photographs — odd remnants that have eluded “redevelopment,” city blocks that have somehow slipped through the cracks and regulations. Precisely what I’m looking for, I couldn’t tell you. So many of us here are wandering, traveling, looking for something we can’t quite articulate. But often I know it when I stumble upon it — a lonely pillar of someone’s past dream, a faded fragment of a promise scrawled along a wall. Something that tethers us, something that makes the earth feel not like sand. Something that has eluded destruction or disaster — like the flourish of a freehand X on a map: “I was here.”

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2 thoughts on “Native Language

  1. Yes this city changes faster than most. It’ s quite amazing. The world too, including people and their ways of communicating, and even how they behave, is changing faster too, I think.

    • I think that’s really true, Steve. I was just having a similar conversation with a friend last week about just basic civility and how it seems to have vanished. To the point that when now someone does something that’s polite, I’m shocked but grateful. And I’ll tell them so.

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