LIKE SO many of us I have been trying to figure out ways to manage my new reality. I miss convening with friends near and far and moving about the city, state and country.
I’ve watched many of my friends and colleagues attempting to close their socializing gaps with a rigorous schedule of video conferencing. (I’ve even had to do some of it for my reporting activity in the last few months). But nothing really replaces face-to-face. And for long-stretch conversions, I prefer the phone. (Something about the screen feels distancing to my head.).
Very early on when California went to “Safer at Home” regulations, I began writing letters. I pulled out old stationery and my pens and just tried to find my old correspondence voice. It took awhile. Letters are different from texts and emails, they have a different feel, flavor and pace. They should anyway…
I wrote about this for the L.A. Times a few weeks back. Here’s the piece
IN THE EARLY DAYS, of our “shut down,” I was asked to file a report from my corner of the region. The world had changed so abruptly and I am not clairvoyant, but I kept looking at what was right in front of me until the words circled and un-scrolled. Here’s a piece I did last Spring for LMU Magazine.
“Days before everything turned inside out, when I still had access to the full stretch of my old world, I attended an opera based on science fiction author Octavia E. Butler’s prescient novel “Parable of the Sower.” Fittingly, the story is set in a 21st century dystopian Los Angeles — a city ravaged by long-term drought and upturned by grim social disorder. Butler, who was born and raised minutes from where I now live, shrugged out of the label “seer.” Rather, she often spoke about how one can read the future just by being attentive to what’s outside the window. “Learn from the past,” she warned. But, too: “Count on surprises.”
Learn to read the cycles, Butler knew.
Of late, Los Angeles has been at its most impossibly lush: The mountains and their contours aren’t hidden by a scrim of haze. The sunsets bloom paint-box vivid — ribbons of lilac and blush pink. The air offers a perfume of new blooms — jasmine, citrus, sharp lavender. And now, with so much at a standstill — no conversations in the street, no rush-hour car horns blasting — nature is at the forefront.
This beauty, in other instances, would be comforting, but each day the world outside the door feels more threatening. How can these spring days be so dazzling, and yet they don’t quiet the sense of unease? They underscore it.
Since early March, with the arrival of the novel coronavirus, the sense of unease and sadness that I, and so many others, have been swimming through is as novel as the pathogen itself. Its slow approach is something we can neither hide nor run from. It’s a force we can’t even see.
Silence has become a shelter. I’ve begun telling people I know and love that language has not caught up with the expanse of my emotions; my feelings are too new and seem to occupy some unexplored territory of both place and self.
I am a journalist, so it is often difficult for me to take a break from the news. In these weeks of sheltering, I cook to radio analysis. Over coffee, I keep scrolling, absorbing stats, reading charts, hitting share buttons to disseminate best-practices advice. But the more information I have the more it feeds anxiety — the “what ifs” and “if onlys …”
FALL IS here just about, though the temps are still spiking into the high 90s. It’s typical L.A. Indian Summer. That’s why I had an early-morning visit this week with the artist Dominique Moody. She’s been taking her artist’s residence on wheels on short trips around Southern California. It’s a tiny house, but one built by a trained assemblage artist. Both portrait and theater, Moody’s Nomad is the product of a series of serendipitous encounters that very early on took root in her imagination.
I wrote about her for KCET’s Artbound not too long ago. She’s almost ready to take the first of her longer journeys.
Here are some quick moments from my visit in Altadena.
“If we’re not careful, culture work will become a luxury like a vacation home. Just as a democratic nation benefits from a large, secure, and informed middle class, so too we need a robust creative class. Painting a landscape or playing a jazz solo does not guarantee that an individual will become nobler or more virtuous. But a broad-based class making its living in culture ensures a better society. This book is about why they are worth saving.”
— Scott Timberg. from “Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class”
We’ll be in Larchmont Village on Thursday discussing the shifting landscape of the arts.
Bring your stories.
A FEW months back, I’d heard word about a spot opening up in Chinatown that was going to bring a little bit of New Orleans to L.A. It got my hopes up, but I also knew to be sure to be a bit measured with my expectations. We’ve been disappointed before. Frankly New Orleans is difficult to get right — the accent as well as the food.
Slipping into Little Jewel back in August, I saw from the start that this was going to be different. Strikingly so. Since then,
I’ve been following the evolution of this market/deli and rendezvous for the last six months.
For many transplanted New Orleanians it’s already become a freeway-close home away from home.
“Shakespeare describes memory as the warden of the brain, but it is also its courtesan. We all remember the parts of the past that allow us to meet the future. The prototypes of the lie — white, grievous, practical–make themselves known when memory is called to answer. Memory usually answers back with bullshit. Everyone likes a good story, especially the one who is telling it, and the historical facts are generally sullied in the process. All men mean well, and clearly most people who set out to tell the truth do not lie on purpose. How is it, then, that every warm bar stool contains a hero, a star of his own epic, who is the sum of his amazing stories?”
— David Carr
from “The Night of the Gun”
Woke up and it was still true…Heartbreaking.
NYT obit here.
IN THE last few years, I’ve been taking copious notes: Written and photographic ones. I didn’t have a project in mind when I started; it was, instead, a conversation I was having in my head with Los Angeles — the lost city. Some of these thoughts/notes I’ve begun to explore more formally, and they are now making their way out into the world. You’ll find a piece here at Zócalo Public Square. It’s about place and memory and what connects us to a place we call home.