Monthly Archives: March 2009

Good Omens

I’ve always really liked lying on the floor when I need to think things through. It helps me…think things through. I see everything from an entirely new perspective. I’m comfortable, but not too comfortable. And when I’m wearing blue, I’m camouflaged nicely to blend in with the carpet in case of possible attack. Zombies, horseshoe crabs…you never know who or what is out there. Apart from the truth, but the truth is pretty damn slap-happy, so I’m content to curl up and blend.

You also can’t get any lower than the floor, and so I have spent a lot of time there this year through this long and constant process of great humbling, the loss of one happiness after the other, the reduction of my ideals and years of love and work to specks in time and space that could not and did not last. I know history, why did I think it would turn out differently? And people? I utterly misjudged them. And myself. I’d like to think it stops now and I’ve figured people (and myself) out, but in my new humility I doubt it, though I won’t say I haven’t learned a thing or two! I haven’t many illusions about LSE, though I am still happy about that! And moving to London makes me want to sing (and I do). I definitely feel finished and done with LA.

I read Good Omens last night and this morning, and it restored my ability to laugh and love the world and even the people in it, and the only downside was the sadness that arose from the knowledge that I will never have a job interview like this one:

“Mr. Shadwell’s  accent was unplaceable. It careered around Britain like a milk race….” (This is just to set the stage. Here are the interview questions for the ancient, yet current, position of witchfinder.)

“Have ye all your own teeth?”
Check.

“Are ye fit?”
Check.

“How many nipples?”
Two (check).

“Have ye got your ane scissors?”
Yes!

And I’m hired! It would be almost as good as ornamental hermit…I’d read papers all day looking for

1. Witches.
2. Unexplainable Phenomenons. Phenomenatrices. Phenomenice. Things, ye ken what I mean.

I think even if I hadn’t just hit a rock bottom of sorts last night, that this would have brought me extreme joy!

Collectible horrors….

Somehow there is a huge segment of the American population that finds dogs, pigs, and babies dressed up as flowers, vegetables, and movie stars adorable. And they find sentences like “To gnome you is to love you” clever, when scratched charmingly beneath a fat plastic doll with a long white beard and red sunglasses. Gnomes gnome how that hurts my soul.

And beneath those you end up with collectible horrors like these, of which, nothing more really needs to be said. Chihuahuas are always ridiculous

A bull dog as Chinese take out? WTF? Only slightly better as a pea pod or a chile pepper. But really, words fail…

champagne…

I’ve had rather a lot, so I believe I can be held accountable for nothing below…

That said, I had possibly one of the worst days ever.  To start with. To end with, I had macaroni and cheese, champagne (purcharsed wth hedonism in mind, always a good idea), and several episodes of Black Books in the company of Celine and Sophy. And it was the best possible of all possible endings. And I am rather happy at the moment.

Still, it doesn’t quite erase the nature of the day, it just puts it into perspective. And I’m feeling rather Ecclesiastical about everything…dust to dust and all is vanity and such like…I can find nothing else to salvage the day’s lessons, the year’s lessons really. Everything crumbles, things fall apart, the center cannot hold…and etc. You spend your life building things and then they just vanish like a breath of air. It was pretty tragic when I lost faith in the current enterprise, but it wasn’t terrible. An intellectual enterprise, and really, if it falls then the few of us involved suffer of course, but it’s not the worst that could happen. Really. Some of us even deserve it. For me, it was simply a loss of happiness and enthusiasm, and I miss them but I’ve cut emotional ties. But today? Oh no, today I realized the loss, or better said ultimate futility, of my work of many years, of blood, sweat, and tears. Of all of my ideals and so many hours and the grey hairs I claim as mine, and the foundation I hoped I had help to lay, and real people who I both love, and acknowedge to be fucked already, and so…well, it’s devastating.  Of course, had it just been me building things, playing with a set of tinker toys, it wouldn’t bother me. Sadly, it wasn’t just me, this isn’t about me at all, and other folks haven’t moved on to the champagne course of fuck it all, so it’s much more tragic.

And there’s nothing to do. That’s the worst of it all. This might be the banner day when I lost faith in absolutely everything and had to start all over from scratch. I dunno, maybe it’s not that bad, I might decide in the morning…but I thought I’d write just to memorialize it in case it’s true. It’s definitely a turning point. Though a point I was already headed to.  And it’s far too much about me, drinking tends to do that. People lost their jobs today. And other are putting on the warpaint, when that shouldn’t be necessary. And something has been lost which may well never be recovered. Me? I am, quite simply, heartbroken. And I am as far as ever from seeing the way to making things better.

Carrizo Plain

I woke up Sunday morning, fell back asleep, had a brilliant dream, woke up again, made coffee. It was a bit of a late night at Allegra’s house party the night before, reggaeton and some dancing, beer and a contact high. So I treated myself, and lay in bed reading The Urban Question by Manuel Castells and maybe dozed a bit more through that, it’s heavy going. Though good for a chuckle when he starts to rumble with Lefebvre if you’re an urban planning nerd like me…

And then Bev called to say they were heading north after all, so I threw on some clothes. Jeans and a T-shirt here in the LA sunshine, but by the time we arrived in Gorman on the I-5 it was snowing.

Snowing! I love the inconsistencies of snow in Southern California a short drive from home, and the brightly capped peaks that lie to the left of the 5.

I have no proof, I took shots of the wet flakes in vain, and nothing was sticking. But Gorman is coloured beautiful with flowers,

even though the poppies and trumpet flowers were closed up tight against the weather. Wish I had that ability as well, I took this shot through my tears, they were rolling down my cheeks from the cold of the wind. Needless to say I was not prepared for snow, though I did have a sweater. We drove the 5 and then down along the 166, past row upon row of grapes, peaches, citrus trees. Past oil derricks and the weathered wood of abandoned buildings and bridges with their twisted rusted metal. And up into the hills and down again onto Carrizo Plain.

It was a day of wide expanses, a world of sun and shadow. And salt flats. And flowers.

The great San Andrea’s fault runs down through the basin, plain to the view, and if California ever cleaves in two with half of it falling into the ocean? It will crack along this line, this understated source of seismic unrest and quaking earth. It’s quite extraordinary to think you could walk along this slight cleft in the ground and never know the power that lies beneath you.

The flowers, our reason for driving, were incredible carpets of yellow. Poppies were all hiding their heads and we only saw a few clumps of lupins, but the various sunflowers?

Dancing in the wind…exuberant, short lived, glorious. As we walked up this mountainside, crickets sprang from underfoot, hundreds of them, and they sang low and sweet and from all directions. And all of this is almost side by side with Soda lake. It is filled entirely by run off from its large basin, and sometimes dries almost completely. The water leaves an eerie beauty in its wake, mud encrusted with brilliantly white alkaline salts.

Death and life once again, I find them everywhere!

The drive back homeward was full of afternoon light and storm clouds, and great expanses of rolling hills that are one of the landscapes I love best.

And one of the best shots of the year below. The Pogues were playing, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die, black hell! Hell’s ditch.” And I don’t know I disagree, which gives an enormous sense of pleasure and transgression to be out in this beautiful world and joyful, a day stolen from the world’s ravages

The sun was setting as we drove through McKittrick, and then Buttonwillow, and I caught this shot of grower owner an operated gin, cotton gin I imagine! I remember reading about them in school though I’ve really no idea what a cotton gin does…still, cooperatives make me happy, especially when the sky is rosy and their surroundings beautiful.

We stopped to eat, and then drove back down over the grapevine, the dark sky carpeted with millions of stars the way it should be. And so while I could possibly name a couple of things that could make me happier with their presence, being happy is quite enough.

Interlude

Every time I get on a plane I think how amazing it is that we can fly through the air. And I think about life, and that I am happy to have lived so well. And that I really want to live a bit longer, because there is still so much I want to do.

Today coming back into LA, the hills were an emerald green, greener than I have ever seen them. And I was able to imagine for a second that I was coming home to somewhere else, where the hills are always this green, and happiness fluttered in my stomach. For a second.

But the hills gave way to uniform lines of tracted, gridded, swimming-pooled housing, spreading for LA’s unfathomable miles, and then the suburbs melted into the ghettoes. And the man sitting next to me continued to adjust … let’s just say to adjust himself. He had been doing so since he first sat down an hour and a half before. And I realized that I am good at unseeing things but not that good, so I curled up into myself, and into the window. And it upset me, as did the hour wait for the flyaway, and somehow I lost my ‘stay away’ face, that comes and goes since I left South C for Scotland, and got seriously hit on and I just wasn’t in the mood.

Hopefully soon the hills beneath the plane will be the ones I want. Right now I just want to run away, but it would be nice instead to be running to. Or with. Or something like that. And I dream of the LSE decision, but sadly, and on all fronts I care about, this is the time of no reply. And I have no wine.

The gaps

I discovered a small truth today. Or a big Truth. You could write reams about the meaning of truth and that’s not at all what I want to do. To me, there are simply those moments when you realize something and it’s like a glorious golden tone, a sense of rightness where everything moves slightly, settles into comfortable place.

It has been inspired vaguely by the last two books I’ve read. China Mieville’s The City & The City…soon available to those less lucky than I, this is a book I truly love. And Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends, which I really liked, and is a good read. The City is all about interstices, visibility and invisibility, cities lying both beside and inside of each other. And it gave me chills because these are things I mull over all the time in many different ways. And yet this book created a world that I have never yet come even close to imagining and that is an incredible gift. This is my first reading of course, it is the kind of book that will yield up additional meanings as I reread it I know. It inspired a sideline of my own thought, and Chabon cemented it though the cementing was a tiny sideline of his work as well.

There are no margins. When I get these golden moments and write them down, they always appear absurdly simple, hardly worthy of mention. And they are so often things I have been thinking for a long time, and never found words for, so they remained fuzzy and ill-defined. Margins, the marginalized … these are words used all the time, especially in social theory, the world of urban planning. I have used them myself. And I am sure my little truth is not new, so I apologize to others ignored in the flush of my discovery… a discovery for myself, not for the world. And I’m still exploring it, savouring it like a bar of dark chocolate, so forgive that to.

Margins only exist from the perspective of one seated firmly and comfortably in the center of their own world. These people look out and see from great distance others behaving in ways they don’t understand, and usually do not condone. In the worst case scenario they see their margins as something to be fixed or eradicated. And they always look at it with varying shades of wonder, jealousy, disdain, voyeuristic interest, judgment. And the rest of us buy into it almost without thinking. I’ve been imagining that instead of a dominant world, the earth is peopled with many such worlds, like spheres, they pile up and jostle one another, their thin membranes can overlap others sometimes, they exist in permutations of inside and outside and crosshatched shades (crosshatch comes from China, it has made me extraordinarily happy).

Some people, many people, are lucky enough to navigate worlds from early ages, but these worlds are afforded different values. Marginalization is entirely in the mind, and entirely political. For most the margins mean the underworld, the underbelly, the world of the poor, the criminal. In the States it is the spaces inhabited by people of color, the poor, immigrants, strange languages, smells, foods. The reality is that these are their own worlds of equal value if not economic or political strength. The reality I think, is that to those inside of them, their codes and beliefs and comfort levels are just as much defined for them by their surroundings as for anyone else, and their own margins just as real within them. South Central, like South Tucson, is actually a vibrant and beautiful place of incredible culture and history, though with codes and violence shaped by years of poverty, racism and eploitation. The worlds of my UCLA professors who theorized on improving the inner city, and the women I worked with who spent hours on a bus to go and clean their houses…to move back and forth between them was like a jolt, an existential disconnection. Neither understood the other, both saw completely different sides. To stand outside both but with a foot in each yielded entirely new facets again.

There are even worlds that people choose to belong to, that become as bounded as anything else. To me much of the Bay Area, for example, has always been too uniform for comfort in its own comfortable counterculture-ness, and unspoken standards of politics, behaviour, shopping, and intellectualized relationships. They seem as much wrapped inside their own place as the girls I used to know who would never have dreamed of moving more than a few miles from their mothers, being unmarried beyond 25, living a life untethered to church, hometown, family.

None of this thinking about margins is new really, the whole point of nationalistic and identity movements, the best of postmodernism, have all had the aim of rejecting the term marginal, establishing an identity and a value that is separate and different from that which dominates, yet equal to it. Ha! Never thought I’d ever use separate but equal in a positive light. In a sense it is, but in many ways it is not. The feeling of belonging, however much I long for an idealized version of it on days when I am lonely and sad, always implies the existence of those who do not belong. At its best it coexists happily and does not judge, but even then it seems to carry within it the seeds of judgment, of believing everyone else incapable of knowing, understanding, partaking. And intellectuals always seem to push it, hone it, create walls that cannot be bridged. Regular folks I know who never stay up nights thinking about these things seem much more able to cross boundaries, build friendships, find humor in misunderstandings and cultural miscommunication. It’s what I loved most about Tucson’s southwest side, and gives me faith.

There are no margins, but there are people between worlds. One of my favourite books is called La Maravilla by Alfredo Vea Jr., I read it many years ago and have reread it many times. It is what first started me thinking about these things. It is the story of a boy living in Buckeye, a tiny world of squatters and outcasts outside of Phoenix. He is being raised by his Grandparents, an old Yaqui indian and a curandera from Spain, in uneasy and strained relationship with her Catholic beliefs. The grandfather takes his grandson into the mountains with some of his friends for a peyote ceremony, and he explains to him that all of the best people, the ones most worth knowing, are found within the gaps. They belong nowhere and that gives them immense freedom to create, to love, to understand, to be. And they are of every race, nation, culture, belief … anyone is capable of stepping into the gaps.

And I have always found it to be true, much as I love so many I know who are comfortable within the confines of their own worlds. It is a lonely place many times, true. But I think it allows the space to grow into the full measure of your own humanity, to explore worlds on their own terms, to dream of a world that doesn’t yet exist. Many are born into it, but spend their lives trying to belong to one place or another, to define themselves by geography or race or class or sexuality or intellect. And that is complicated by the fact that the dominant culture has for centuries defined people as it wishes, and used that as a whip to tear down, enslave, destroy. The dominant world in this country of a white middle America is very much a myth I think, but I don’t forget for an instant that the power of media, government and corporations are propping it up with brutal force and great power.

But there is such strength in stepping into the gap, embracing it, exploring it as something not simply thrust upon you. So I reject margins and believe in these gaps, crosshatchings, borderlands, wild spaces. And exult in them.

Flowers instead of leprechauns

I renewed one of my old traditions today, when I was little I would go searching for leprechauns in the desert on March 17th. I figured if there were any in the new country, they’d be out and about on St. Patrick’s day. I still believe in the little people, but of course, I have yet to find one in Arizona.

It was beautiful. I hiked through the heady smell of desert saje and another plant I know not, amidst the calling of birds and the mad fleeing of lizards.

Tiny baby lizards, most of them smaller than my pinky finger. Hundreds of them scuttled across the sand, waving their little tails wildly. The tail serves as a decoy, it is a striking white with black stripes underneath, and they whip it above them to invite attack. Once in a botched lizard capture, I ended up with a tail between my fingers. The amazing ability of lizards to regenerate their tail, however, is one of the most incredible abilities I know of, and lizards are some of my very favourite things. Regeneration and the ability to relax completely when flipped over and their bellies are stroked? I wouldn’t mind that myself.

I went West today, and it was such a difference. Just one more reason to stay away from the East side I suppose. All the flowers I remember, and more. Not many poppies of course, but in the wash where the water table is close to the surface, there were golden clumps of them.

and evidence that there had been more, I’m not sure if I missed the height of the season, but I did miss some blooms. The penstemons were in full display though, and glorious, from afar they look like a pink haze blowing back and forth

The sage filled the air. The plant itself secretes a kind of gum that was collected and used as incense in the old missions, and smells…er…divine. Looks it too

And the phacelia filled the grasses along the wash and beside the trails the way I remember

A couple of times I followed deer trails up into the hills and then back down to the wash, I missed the deer but judging from the trails, only just. And they were incredibly heavily traveled, the volume made me think that javelina must be using them as well, but I found no other evidence…nor could I smell them. I can’t say I was sorry about that. The hillsides are covered with the gold of grass, and fiddleneck and phacelia and wild onion

I also walked amidst the mad fluttering of butterflies

And found a couple of larkspur plants, they have always been the rarest, and one of my favourites

And there were globe mallows, some tiny lupins, jewel flowers, rattlesnake weed, and many others that I did not know.

I love springtime. It is already hot of course, I stopped at the Circle K on the way home and got a thirstbuster…that took me back, way back! I forgot how nice soda tastes after a long hike. And then my dad’s birthday dinner at La Indita followed by my mum’s chocolate cake…mm. I think it is very cool that my dad, Patrick Colum Gibbons, was born today. Of very immeditae Irish descent. And he was named after my grandad, not the day.