State of Mind/State of Being

MY ESSAY — in words and pictures —  about what it means to be a Californian is now up at Boom California.

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At the edge of it

I have been thinking more and more of late about how being both  an inheritor and a native of a place,  shapes the way you see and move through territory as well as how you  understand your place within it.

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Keepsakes and Souvenirs

I want to thank especially my former SF roommate, Shelley,  for spending endless hours with me  roaming around our old spaces and chasing vanished addresses in the Bay Area. I can do that for hours and hours.  I do a fair amount of this roaming on my own when I’m here in Los Angeles but it was great to have a second set of eyes and someone with whom to bounce ideas back and forth.

California, I do love you, but I have to wonder sometimes if you’re moving faster than I am.

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Boom Winter Issue 2016

All images by Lynell George

Who Is Los Angeles?

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Dana Johnson: Moments before our Interview after being circumvented. Union Station, Fall 2016. Photo by Lynell George

I SPEAK to Dana Johnson about her evocative new book,  In the Not Quite Dark for USC Dornsife. IIt’s a tough look at changing Los Angeles.

If you are moving through these changing corridors, you’ll find yourself somewhere on her pages.

From my piece:

Poetic and, at turns, unflinchingly raw, the 11 stories explore a wide-ranging Los Angeles experience: People pulled from elsewhere seeking transformation; natives sprung up from L.A.’s soil carving out life around the noise. It considers that projected dream — the West as a site of transformation — but its inverse, too: What happens when you chase a dream that dissolves each time you reach out to capture it.

The L.A. that many of Johnson’s stories pull into focus is not the telegenic region of rolling lawns, beaches and opulence. Rather, it’s a series of backdrops and situations that most Angelenos move through daily — city dwellers overwhelmed by traffic, keeping one step ahead of gentrification, at turns bewildered and humbled by homelessness.

As I consider in the piece, “one story overtakes another; some have more weight” All we can do is write our stories, our presents and pasts.

You can read the entire profile here.

Voice (28)

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“In the meantime the Bottom had collapsed. Everybody who had made money during the war moved as quickly as they could to the valley, and the white people were buying down river, cross river, stretching Medallion like two strings on the banks. Nobody colored lived much up in the Bottom any more. White people were building towers for televisions stations up there and there was a rumor about a golf course or something. Anyway, hill land was more valuable now, and those black people who had moved down right after the war in the fifties couldn’t afford to come back even if they wanted to. Except for the few blacks still huddled by the river bend, and some undemolished houses on Carpenter’s Road, only rich white folks were building homes in the hills. Just like that, they had changed their minds and instead of keeping the valley floor to themselves, now they wanted a hilltop house with a river view and a ring of elms. The black people,  for all their new look, seemed awfully anxious to get to the valley, or leave town, and and abandon the hills to whoever was interested. It was sad, because the Bottom had been a real place. These young ones kept talking about the community, but they left the hills to the poor, the old, the stubborn–and the rich white folks. Maybe it hadn’t been a community, but it had been a place. Now there weren’t any places left, just separate houses with separate televisions and separate telephones and less and less dropping by.” 

from Sula, by Toni Morrison

 

landscapes, soundscapes, dreamscapes

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“Arden” — Image Courtesy John S. Reynolds

I HAVE been so buried in duty that I’m late in posting this piece that was up over at Artbound last month, but it’s an evergreen.

There is a particular L.A. that resides in native Angelenos’ minds. They are personal Los Angeles-es — of different moods, eras, compositions.  John Reynold’s work taps into that thread of memory.  He retains it so we don’t have to work as hard.

I profiled Reynolds, a musician  and painter,  whose era of speciality, as he’d say himself,
is “the period of time between the two big wars — First and Second.”

This piece was reported over a long period of time, mostly  because I wanted to be in both of Reynolds’ worlds — the music and the art — and really understand how they both occupied his imagaination. That meant I drove to Disneyland and California Adventure where he has a regular gig as part of several of the “atmosphere” bands. As well he plays clubs and bars, theaters and back rooms across the city and country for huge swing dance followings.

But the art is something that he’s been working on quietly over the years and it evokes, visually, the music that he finds himself most happy sailing around in. It’s also a powerful trigger of memory for those of us who have watched Los Angeles move away from us.

From the piece:

Reynolds knows it can be treacherous business dealing in nostalgia. There are all manner of trick wires, trap doors and uncomfortable — “Whose nostalgia?” — truths to confront. But as a musician and painter who firmly situates himself in the landscape of history and memory, conveying a sense of home, especially in a constantly remade Los Angeles, is its own tight-wire act. The things that both located and grounded you are sometimes gone before you can make full sense of them: “You look up one day and there’s just an empty lot and a tractor.”

For Reynolds, a fifth-generation Southern Californian, history has a heavy presence. It’s palpable at every turn. It’s often a past that most people can no longer discern: It’s been bulldozed, retrofitted, rethought or stuccoed-over. That’s why his creative output, for as long as he can remember, has been dedicated to bringing those stories to the surface and rekindling unfinished conversations about place: “I guess you can say I’m haunted —  in a positive and negative way,” he reflects. “I’m sorry that so much of it — that feeling is gone — but I am glad that I can remember it.” And there’s legacy to protect.

Months ago, I visited his home studio in Glendale and got a sense of his history (he’s the grandson old-Hollywood actress ZaSu Pitts) and over the last four decades has worked in music ensembles that specialize in playing early-20th Century popular music. The mosaic of images below are from that afternoon visit (before our walk around the “ghost” houses of Pasadena).

You can read the piece here at Artbound.  And check John’s page here for info about  upcoming shows.

 

 

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John S. Reynolds at The Brand Library Art Center – Photo by Lynell George

Sunday Meditation

 

“I am forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive. But the future of the Negro in this country is precisely as bright or dark as the future of the country. It is entirely up to the American people whether or not they are going to face and deal with and embrace the stranger whom they maligned so long. ” 
— James Baldwin

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The Pivot

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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.

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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. 

Memory, Memorial & Ghosts

“Sometimes at home, after someone dies, people will ask the closest relatives, ‘How is Joe?’ It’s kind of an accident, one they will correct if they notice what they’ve said. But it’s also an actual question, acknowledging that a man does not die all at once, even when a corpse takes the place of the man. The question means, ‘How is Joe in you? How is Joe’s death going with you?’ And even, ‘Have you heard from Joe, and what does he say?’ Acknowledging the permeable borders between the living and the dead, the transmigration of souls. Dreams.”
— “Brooklyn Journals” from The Public Gardens by Linda Norton

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