Analog Life (& Letters)

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.).

There’s nothing like print

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

Troubling Calm

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.

“Take what you want/need”

“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 …”

To read the whole piece click here:

What it means…

“I have described New Orleans as a city of feeling …” writes Sarah M. Broom in The Yellow House 

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If you’ve been following this blog for sometime you know that my ancestral roots are dug deep in Louisiana. New Orleans is a pin on my map,  but the New Orleans I grew up spending time in most every summer of my youth had little to do with the place that lived in most people’s imagination. As Broom points out, people often have a visceral reaction when you merely utter the words New Orleans. Sometimes it isn’t even an actual emotion they name; it may just be a sound.

This is why Broom’s book so hit home. On so many levels.

In The Yellow House, she explores her hometown — New Orleans East — “across the bridge” from the one that’s  minutes-but-worlds away from the New Orleans of the of gas lights and music and all-night reverie.  Of the French Quarter she asks: “How had one-square mile come to stand for the entire city?”

“The East” lies at best on the edges of  imagination, but Broom somehow knew at a young age, that she needed to secret away details about the her home — The Yellow House — the life that filled it up, and the ground upon which it precariously sat.

“I was still writing everything down as I had learned to do in high school. In the Yellow House, especially rote detail as if by doing, I was making things real, findable, fighting disappearance. I could collect evidence.”

It’s another August and it’s about the time of year that my family would be readying the suitcases for that trip east, to visit my grandfather and the rest of the family who remained rooted somehow in that uncertain ground.  It seems fitting that Broom’s book would arrive this week in keeping with tradition. It took me away, back there. I’m still walking around listening and looking chasing my own ghosts.

You can read my review of Broom’s far-reaching exploration of erasure and belonging here  at latimes.com Arts and Books.

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My Advanced Reader’s Copy: So many deep insights, indelible quotes

Thank you, Ms. Morrison

MY WORLD — and possibilities — would not at all be the same  without Toni Morrison.

This is not an understatement.

Here is my appreciation for the Los Angeles Times of her life, themes and influence.

Thank you, Ms Morrison.  I am forever grateful.

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There is nothing like print 

The Curious Tale of “Linda Taylor”

FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, I reviewed Josh Levin’s deep-dive into the real-life figure behind the moniker “Welfare Queen.”  The book goes all kinds of places one wouldn’t expect.

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From my piece:

In its early chapters, “The Queen” is as much about Taylor’s duplicity as it is the detective’s need to break out of his own workaday tedium and make his mark in a deeply segregated and racially charged Chicago. It also illustrates the concerted efforts of a network of journalists, cops and politicians who sought to make a quick-sketch of Linda Taylor, a figure who could be held accountable for the city’s, state’s and nation’s raft of troubles in a climate of inflation and recession.”

 

You can read the rest here.

261 Columbus Avenue

THIS IS probably one of my favorite corners  to stand on on the planet.  Crossing Columbus Avenue, facing City Lights Books & Publishers.

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Over the weekend, City Lights’ co-founder, the poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, marked his 100th birthday and there was much noise and celebration throughout North Beach and beyond.

I have been visiting the store since before college, I would guess. Dragging friends along to wander among the many floors of books, later to pose outside under the signage. But always what was the most magical thing about this place was happening upon its founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, walking along Columbus or holding forth in one of the sunny cafes. This store is one of the important points on my personal map. I wouldn’t be who I was without it.

I wrote  piece for the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section that ran yesterday about both Ferlinghetti and the store’s legacy and impact. You can find it here.

I know what it means …

A FEW weeks back, I received a  voicemail from a friend who was on a desperate search for crawfish. He knows all the same Louisiana spots that I know, so I was at first confused by the phone call. I was on my way to a conference and prepping my final notes in the car so admittedly I was distracted. But I kept listening. When he got to, “My usual spot on Arlington and Vernon is gone!”

That snapped me to attention.

He kept repeating: “It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

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The remains of the New Orleans Fish Market

There are places we frequent and then there are places that define us—places that make neighborhoods truly neighborhoods for us. The New Orleans Fish Market was mine.

It was plain and worn around the edges, but you knew they would have precisely what you needed. Plus you got a little taste of “home: People asking about the Saints, carrying on about “Your people and ’em” and of course, “So, when you going home?”

I have been shopping at the New Orleans Fish Market for decades. And before that, I followed my mother into a Louisiana Fish Market that was just a little further down the street, on the north side, if I recall correctly. It had a little yellow shingle sign that lit up at dusk, but most of all I remember that it would bring New Orleans back to my mother.

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“It’s just rubble. Like fresh rubble. Like this just happened.”

This was an essential stop for her to get the proper ingredients for her gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée. No other market had the proper crab or shrimp. Sometimes she would have special items flown in (Creole Cream Cheese). I know for my mother, having this market an easy ten minute drive from our home meant that she wouldn’t ever be *that* far away from New Orleans.

It was the fact that it was so specific and specialized and that if you were “in-group” or at least in the know, you knew to stop there. You also knew that if you didn’t have time to get over to Pete’s to get your hot links, the Fish Market stocked them as well. They knew that sometimes you needed to grab everything at once in a pinch. Save extra steps.

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Mel Melcon via L.A. Times

 

Word is that the business owners are looking for another spot. I know a tearful group of folks have been posting on their Facebook page wondering what happened. With the holidays coming up and gumbo season in full swing, I know there will be plenty of patrons who will be as slack-jawed as I and my friend Darryl were to here this news.

I had to see it with my own eyes to believe that it was true. And even still, I can’t.

Missing New Orleans in Los Angeles, for sure.

It wasn’t just a building, it was an extension of a community. It was a hub and a place  for Southern families to reconnect. I wasn’t born in the South but the South lives in me. This was a place to nourish that small but significant part of me. That home inside of home.

 

 

 

After/Image at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

BOOK FESTIVAL time is upon us. I will be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books next weekend signing “After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame.” 

Both days, I will be at the Angel City Press booth (#119 near Tommy Trojan).  You can find me on Saturday from 12pm to 2pm and  on Sunday from 2pm to 4pm. Please come by and say hello.

On Sunday afternoon 4/22, from 12:30pm to 1pm,  I will be in conversation with Karen Tei Yamashita and Geoff Dyer on the topic of “Photography & Narrative” moderated by David L. Ulin. It’s free, but to reserve your tickets click here.

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Grammy Love for Otis

IMG_3916THIS WAS incredible news!  The in-depth essay I researched and wrote for this beautiful box set,  won  the Best Album Notes  Grammy yesterday.  I am still over the moon, especially because it was a project that set its larger goal as getting all three nights — and all sets — of Redding’s run at the Whisky A Go Go  that April 1966 in pristine listening shape for the world to hear.

Redding was poised to take the next big step in his career and looked at L.A. as not a stepping stone but a launching pad.  These recordings reveal his enthusiasm, prowess and charm.

Here’s a little more here about the set.

And this from the LAT about the Grammy win.

 

 

L.A. to LA: Home Sweet Home(s)

I’VE WRITTEN some here about my summer trips to Louisiana  and just how and why New Orleans became part of my yearly ritual as a child.

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The old luggage tag from my mother’s old train case.

It wasn’t, however, until I was fully grown that I understood  just how significantly New Orleans had marked me —  both inside and out. Nor did I realize how much it mattered within my being.

Consequently, in the last few years,  after a very long time away, I have been trying to make up for lost time. An editor and friend of mine had a conversation a couple of years ago that finally (just a few weeks ago) worked its way into an essay.

The piece went live this week on Zòcalo Public Square. You can read the piece here.

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One of the first streets my early forebears lived on in New Orleans