Sunday Drive: Haunted Shack Gardens 

THIS SUNDAY DRIVE was both spur of the moment and serendipitous. I’ve been curious about the artist Shrine’s magical compound. There was an open studio event in the SGV on Sunday and I got lost in the details, in the best possible way.

I’m still floating on the mood.


The Pivot


make room for chance

PROFESSIONALLY, I’VE been traipsing after artists for quite some time. Not just shadowing them, but listening,  watching and chronicling.


Over time, I’ve found myself most drawn to those who seem to make unexpected leaps; pivots that might look like unimaginable next-stops in the artist’s evolution.

It’s a part of the creative process that artists don’t always talk about aloud — the “it’s just the way I work”-reflex of seeking or problem solving.

Sometimes a resolution can be happened upon quickly. Sometimes a fix might leave the seeker at some vague a fork in the road. Other times, that path chosen might lead to what might appear to be a brick wall or disaster — but really it’s a beginning. And they must keep going.

Those who master this art of feeling comfortable in uncertainty and begin trust the process of traveling through the dark can unlock places inside themselves that they never knew existed. Breakthroughs often mean just that — a shattering of the old on the way to the new — and it’s trusting that the road to those new territories will come, but they may come with bumps and ruts and consternating switchbacks.


trust the dark and your dopeness

A month or so ago the editor of LMU Magazine approached with a question about “success”

What are we supposed to do in life and how do we figure out how to do it? 

We had a great talk which had me circling back to some artists that  I have kept in close touch with over the years, and about how much of their “success” has been shaped by chance — more specifically the serendipitous moments that have been the gift of those encounters.

As well, I revisited an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with a  writer freind about how much of our ability to live a fully open creative life is about learning that when adversity  happens — and it always does — that learning to how to mindfully pivot is essential  How to land and roll is the key not just to the next creative pursit  but survival.

From my piece:

We want to map a plan — a life — that’s what both our conscience and the culture tells us; a life/plan that nudges us toward “success” and ultimately a precisely articulated and fully realized you. The trouble with this premise is that what we already know too often obstructs what we might come to know — if we’re open to it. That’s the juncture where chance lies — and where serendipity — and often the greatest possibility can step in.

We think we can outline a foolproof strategy, one that keeps us on track, moving forward, but things break, sever, snap and shatter all of the time. Plans fizzle, promises are broken, things fall apart. Both life and the language we use to describe our derailments and defeats tell us that.

Planning, however, doesn’t stave off the inevitable detours that present themselves: There are moments when patterns are broken for us, and moments when we choose to break them. What happens when we walk into that void, that open question, is the first step toward the unknown and where faith and chance can take us.

As a journalist who writes about people who make elegant, jaw-dropping leaps — creatives who ultimately conceive beyond-category art, music and food, or design vibrant community landscapes or networks — I see many who seem to share a key trait: the ability to pivot, to “see in the dark.” The darkness in this case is uncertainty: blind turns and difficult passages that we all must navigate at some point to find our way to the next phase, chapter, summit. Why, I wondered, are some better at the pivot than others? That facility begins with feeling comfortable in the space of the unknown.

What I’ve been learning as I dig deeper into the project is that all this shadowing, listening, chronicling is finally adding up to learning.

To be continued…

You can read the rest of the essay  here. 

new year, new journey

IMG_9224IN THE last few hours of 2015, I made my way up a familiar winding hill into Altadena. The main road up to Zorthian Ranch is lined with single-family homes with sumptuous and busy gardens set back from the road. Suddenly though, as the rise gets steeper, your ears pop and you realize that you’ve attained some very real altitude. You are now  out of gentle, rustic suburbia and are now snaking up into the wilds.

I turned onto the cut-out and drug across the dirt path and parked my car. In the distance, I could see the profile of the NOMAD and I realized that this would most likely be the last time I’d get this beautiful view of Dominique Moody‘s  mobile workshop in the form of a residence.

I’ve been following her process for a few years now. I’ve watched the NOMAD go from a blueprints, to conceptual model, to a beautifully appointed residence which will now allow her to move through the world and interact with her surroundings.

We had a light brunch and talked about what awaited her on the open road.

Her first stop is Joshua Tree, where she will continue to tie up lose ends,  but most important, will make a visit she’d been intending to for years. The artist Noah Purifoy has been one of her important influences. An assemblage artist as well, he worked with found objects that also (like Moody’s work), force the viewer think twice about what we define as “throw-away.”

What’s in store for her, she doesn’t know just yet. And that’s the goal. This first step  however was a necessary “conversation” she had to have. This first pilgrimage is a way to connect with the impulse and memory of an important “spirit guide.”

I’ll be checking in on Moody in the coming weeks to see how this trial run is going and where serendipity leads her creatively.


-all images by Lynell George

Greetings From the Coast

LAST WEEK, I met up for dinner with my friend Victoria who wanted to make sure we checked out Las Posadas at Olvera Street. It was my first full day back in Los Angeles after a very immersive trip to New Orleans. We had a leisurely dinner and talk about all manner of things Los Angeles. And then the procession passed by —  the air fragrant with frankincense laced with accordion and brass and voices. Later we happened upon the remains of a piñata and the scent of spicy hot chocolate.

It felt good to be home. It’s become a state of mind that is more difficult for me to locate lately. But there was something about the weather and the ritual and the conversation that conjured a feeling that felt familiar and calming.


Union Station Passenger Terminal, December 2015. Image by Lynell George

What capped off our night was a lovely moment of serendipity. Here we were, two L.A. daughters making our way across the plaza, talking about holidays past and present and sort of struggling to find the words to talk about absence. When we look up, just across Alameda, we see something out of the ordinary — the facade of Union Station in a wash of ruby and emerald lights. Elegant and transporting in its own way.

As it turned out, they’d just flipped the switch the moment we’d emerged from El Pueblo. When I had disembarked the Metro earlier that evening, the station was lit as usual, crisp ,clear white light. I had wanted to come back and photograph the tree. But this?   I couldn’t have wished for a better way to re-enter the city.  Thank you Metro.

And Happy Holidays to you all from the Coast.


“all the possible directions”


“I felt the sensation of each of the directions I mentally and emotionally turned into amazed at all the possible directions you can take with different motives that come in like it can make you a different person — I’ve often thought of this since childhood of suppose instead of going up Columbus as I usually did I’d turn into Filbert would something happen that at the time is insignificant enough but would be like enough to influence my whole life in the end? — What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?”

― Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans
Born March 12, 1922

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.”


LAST WEEK, in just the space of one day, I was reminded both how big and small Los Angeles can seem.

My morning had started with a quick trip up into the hills of Altadena to meet up with the artist Dominique Moody. I’ve been following Moody for over a year as she began work on a large-scale assemblage piece that she defines as a “mobile work of art.” IMG_3082
More on all of that soon when my piece goes live, but in many ways this new phase will allow Moody to use the very landscape she travels through as both medium and canvass.

She’s rounding the corner on completion, so in order to tie up the last bits of reporting we found a corner of time to meet. I had an ulterior motive, I also wanted to take her by a another artist-designed home project I’d stumbled upon. We made the quick commute east and I left my car just feet away so we could have the sensation of walking into this wonderland sunk in the middle of sleepy, otherwise nondescript SoCal stucco-and-bungalow residential street. She was taken by the textures and the colors and the resonances and echoes she has seen in other works much like this (like my earlier Mosaic House visit).

As it so happened, the home is the landing pad of the artist Shrine, whose work has been a familiar recurring motif at outdoor festivals and events like Burning Man and Coachella. I had just happened to stumble on it last year while on a neighborhood walk. IMG_3089Magical, truly. A collision of color and bouncing light. Spires of tile and bone rising out of the spot where most homes would be fronted by an apron of lawn.  We stood transfixed. Looking at swirls of old crockery; doll heads and twisted metal. And in what feels like more meaningful synchronicity than fleeting coincidence, Shrine has a piece — the Empire of Love Shack — in exhibition that just opened last weekend at the California Folk Art Museum on the Miracle Mile. Like Moody, Shrine’s materials are reclaimed from the landscape — all manner of toss-asides and repurposed bits and pieces. IMG_3091
What were the chances? Two artists whose work echo similar impulses, but who travel within distinctly different creative circles — yet live an easy ten minutes away from the other.  The odds, I learned, were a lot smaller than I would have ever guessed.

I went took the long drive across town to take a quick peek at Shrine’s “Love Shack” at CFAM yesterday –this photo doesn’t do it justice … I will be back. With Dominique.


The Café Effect


I’M POSTING this because, coincidentally, I’ve been in a back-and-forth with another writer friend who can only write when there is a lot of noise — a lot.

I’m about 180-degrees the opposite in my orientation. Also I am known for working in the famously chaotic newsroom bullpen environment with ear plugs AND noise canceling headphones to block out even the most minute distraction. But this week the New York Times’s “Well” blog reported about a recenlty published study that suggests that I might going about it the wrong way — that working around a just bit of ambient noise can actually enhance your productivity. The post ties this research to the launch of a new website, Coffitivity, which brings the chatter and hum of café society to your own home…

From the post:

In a series of experiments that looked at the effects of noise on creative thinking, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had participants brainstorm ideas for new products while they were exposed to varying levels of background noise. Their results, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, found that a level of ambient noise typical of a bustling coffee shop or a television playing in a living room, about 70 decibels, enhanced performance compared with the relative quiet of 50 decibels.
A higher level of noise, however, about 85 decibels, roughly the noise level generated by a blender or a garbage disposal, was too distracting, the researchers found.

Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor of business administration at the university who led the research, said that extreme quiet tends to sharpen your focus, which can prevent you from thinking in the abstract.

“This is why if you’re too focused on a problem and you’re not able to solve it,” Dr. Mehta said, “you leave it for some time and then come back to it and you get the solution.”

I’m not quite convinced. I can only make a café stop when I am at very particular stages of the writing process — fine-tuning a piece, making notes as I begin research on a project, trying to free-assoicate, dream up what’s next — and sometimes that does indeed come from what’s filtering in via ambient conversation and observation. (The flow of Coffitivity’s background noise doesn’t contain any discernible words — rather it is rumbling murmur — some giggles — so what of the serendipity and synergy of a real-life café experience — the creative gains that occur with real interaction — even if it is eavesdropped.) So, I’ll keep my patterns as they are: I’ll roam around in the chatter in my head until it is time to be out amid the back-and-forth of the world’s.