Three year anniversary.

This is the three year anniversary for me and my current apartment.  It’s the longest I’ve lived in the same place as an adult.

Part of me wonders if I should be disappointed that my old wanderlust was replaced by moving and shaking of a career variety instead of a new-city-new-neighborhood variety.

But everytime I ask that question I say no.  I like who I am and where I am and I feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile.

Everytime I help researchers find what they need, whether they are 10 or 65, I know I’m in the right place.

Yesterday I helped middle school aged kids locate online resources for their National History Day projects.  One student was researching a mid-20th century TV program’s impact.  She was incredibly articulate about her subject, though her mother said multiple times that they picked a “light” topic this year; as if there was some unspoken need to excuse the choice of a pop culture topic.

She didn’t need to excuse her students’ project, especially to me.  Everything is important.  Everything has meaning and value.  It’s all connected in the domino run that is life.

When I first moved to Los Angeles I went to AAA and asked them for all their Los Angeles maps.  I cut them up so the maps fit against one another where one ended and the other began.  I wanted to master the roads and freeways – as a child of the suburbs I was programmed early on to view places through windshield glass.

I don’t have any LA maps on the wall anymore.  There’s still uncharted territory in my mental map of the city, but this is home.

I’ve found my corner.  I feel a mix of delight and disgust that I’ve settled into my routine and that I like it.  I am right where I am suppose to be – at least in this very moment.

The sublet room I lived in when I first moved to Los Angeles.  Full of someone else's furniture and not very well decorated, but what was important made it on the wall.

The sublet room I lived in when I first moved to Los Angeles as a 21 year old. A tiny box of a room right off the living room.  It was full of someone else’s furniture and not very well decorated, but what was important made it on the wall.

Veterans and Academics

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines in the 1950s.

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines when he was stationed there as a Navy Seabee in the 1950s.

I would never think to tell anyone that I come from a military family, though both my parents, my grandpas, and my brother all served at some point.  I’m the only non-veteran in my immediate family.  I interned at a defense contractor for a summer, but that’s about as close as I’ve been to the military industrial complex.  My parents were out of the Air Force by the time I was born, so I didn’t experience a military brat childhood, so I think that’s part of it.  Though I didn’t live through that lifestyle, I can’t say that the American military hasn’t had an enormous impact on my life.

My parents first met on a military airplane going to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.  My paternal grandpa met my Grandma while he was a Navy Seabee in Southern California in the 1950s, and my maternal grandpa met my grandma when he was stationed in Japan in the 1950s.  So, if it weren’t for the military I wouldn’t exist (two generations over).

None of my military family were lifers – if anything it seems like the military can be something you do because you need a job, because you want to get out of the small rural town you grew up in, because it’s a direction to go in other than college – basically, the military is a source of opportunity and possibility.  I can’t speak for anyone, but that’s what it looks like from my outsider perspective.  I respect the individual contributions of veterans and I appreciate what the military offers to our increasingly degree obsessed American society.

I’m pretty much an academic, with all the voodoo mojo jargon writing that goes along with it, and I professionally serve a very ivory tower community.  I don’t discount the value of the academy, but I do get frustrated at elitism and exclusivity and find that contemporary American society’s privileging of excessive credentials is fueling an educational industrial complex.

I don’t believe in intellectual elitism, but I’m unfortunately starting another masters degree in January, and I still haven’t discounted the possibility of eventually going back for a PhD of the history variety.  I’ve already got enough degrees and educational certificates to wipe an ass after a pretty sizable dump.  So I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but I’m also in a place in my career where I don’t feel like I have the power yet to change the system and I think having an arsenal of letters after my name will help.  You have to fully understand the system to affect lasting change (=how I sleep at night).

Enough ranting – in belated celebration of the contributions of veterans past and present, here is a gallery of my maternal grandpa Donald Hickman’s photographs from his Navy Seabee time in the Philippines in the 1950s, complete with captions he handwrote on the backs (where applicable):

Roadside: Lake Murray Lodge, Ardmore, Oklahoma

Lately I’ve been cleaning up my digital life and trying to give my files some semblance of order. Through the process I’ve been reliving a bunch of trips via old photos.

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge is really, really close to where my Grandma and Oklahoma family live, though I didn’t visit until 2012. I think my great grandpa Aubrey Hickman worked on building some things at Lake Murray through a WPA program, but I haven’t found the paper trail to confirm it yet.

Supposedly Lake Murray Lodge (built in 1949) and a group of cabins from the 1930s were going to be demolished to make way for building a new lodge.  I haven’t kept up on the story and I’m not sure what’s still there, but I do know that I fell in love with the little old 1930s cabins and aspects of the 1949 Lodge while I was out there.

There are newer cabins still open for rent, but we stayed in the old Lodge because when we planned the trip the cabins were already all booked for the weekend we were out there.  The rooms were really dated, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, dated just means a place has character to me.  The bathroom tile was so great I actually took photos of it.

When I go back through these photos of Lake Murray I imagine these places when they were brand new, when a family from 80 years ago got to take a summer vacation and stay by the water in their very own cabin space.  Beautiful lake views through big windows and screened in porches.

Sadly the only cabin denizens when I visited were wasps, but there’s still some magic in these old wood and glass boxes:

Why I’ve been MIA: July.

Home in the Sierra Nevadas

Home in the Sierra Nevadas

My appreciation for the outdoors is really thanks to my college friends Jess and Kate. I’ve always thought of myself as a “city person” and most of my outdoor adventures in the past happened as a result of someone else’s planning and burning desire to tromp through wilderness. Basically Jess and Kate and other associated friends took me outside, put me on a trail, and made me realize that nature is awesome and that there is nothing wrong with doing your business in outhouses (or bushes), dirt, and encounters with all the non-human creatures that exist in the great outdoors.

Kate was brought up as a summertime mountain gal and her family is awesome about sharing the beautiful space they have up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. To get to their place you take a ferry across a lake and then hike in 4 miles. I always find it a little challenging to explain the place to others. They have a very established site with structures, outhouses, and showers. It’s somewhere between cabin and campsite, depending on which pillow you lay your head on at night.

Sallie Keyes

One of the Sallie Keyes

Before I went I was a little skeptical that this was my dish, but I was hooked after going for a week a couple years ago. I’ve been back twice since and when I need to go to a mental happy place I think of the blue-green of Sallie Keyes Lakes or the smell of trees after rain, or the water spray from motoring across Florence Lake in a boat.

There is something really nice about being detatched from electronics and focusing on your surroundings, including people. Conversations around a fire, reevaluating the definition of warm at Warm Lake, realizing how big the universe is, and appreciating existence. Ahhh.

Being outdoors also makes me aware of my own physicality and individual agency. You really have to own the choices you make while climbing mountains and choosing trails because you can’t call anyone up to come pick you up if you overexert yourself or get too far out for your own good. I climbed a mountain last time I was up there (Mt. Senger, what up?) and that was something that I use to think was out of the range of my abilities. It was one of the most challenging physical things I’ve ever done, but food tastes better and sleep is sounder afterwards.

My only real chicken-out situation was sleeping alone at Al’s Camp,  or rather, taking a short nap before staying up all night because holy crap didn’t that splashing in the river sound like a bear coming over to see if I had snacks?! I turned on my flashlight and waved it around and made a bunch of noise and was a general idiot. I didn’t see any bears, it was probably a raccoon or a deer or something. Having a fantastic imagination when you’re alone in a dark, foreign place is a terrible thing.

Some people have friends that get them into drugs, excessive drinking, or shenanigans that get them put in jail.  Thankfully I have friends whose version of getting high is climbing a 12,000 ft. mountain.  I think a big part of me will always be a city girl, but I had my eyes opened to something I never would’ve initially sought out on my own.  Thanks guys!

Happiest Place on Earth.

Happiest Place on Earth.

MIA.

I’ve been out of town, out on the town, and mentally preoccupied for most of the summer, but I’m still sorry I’ve neglected you blog.

I went off the grid in July for a refreshing trip up into the Sierra Nevada mountains.  A lot of people take gorgeous sunset pictures, but for me the prime nature image is of trees silhoutted by a night sky dotted with stars.  I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere with low light pollution so it seems amiss to say I miss the night sky, but every time I see it away from the city I become intoxicated by the depth that it makes me feel.

Then I was up in the Bay Area for an unofficial high school reunion that I somehow thought was a good idea to organize after watching Workaholics  and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.  I got a bit of a bad attitude about it right before it happened, probably as some kind of preemptive defense in case  it fell flat.  But luckily it was nothing but success!  A crap ton of high school friends showed up – even more than RSVPed.  I think we collectively expected it to fail, but we all still really like each other and get along, which makes me think there is some sort of miraculous mojo to the class of Kennedy high schoolers I was lucky enough to end up in. (I have one of those on-the-cusp birthdates where I could’ve been old in my class or young in my class and my parents chose to send me young – thankfully! As another side note my Mom always likes to say I was born 40, which is one of my favorite parental compliments.)

Most recently I was back out in Palm Springs for a friend’s birthday.  Unlike earlier this year when I had the pressure of a conference presentation and a looming illness, this time it was all pleasure.  It was pretty much a 24/7 poolfest in an airbnb rental house and so ridiculously fun I don’t know how to cram it into words yet.  I’m still distilling last weekend’s experiences.

In between all that there’s been a lot going on at work and my personal life has been a circus with very fantastic friends and very interesting new additions to my future relationship experiences fictional short story compendium.  There are also still some echos from earlier this year that I should damper the sound of, but sometimes (in my imagination) they sound too good to ignore. (Definitely one for the poetry and short drivel blog.)

I’m reading Bernard DeVoto’s The Course of Empire for a reading group at work, and I’m definitely going to have to work through some of those thoughts here.  I’m also going back to school starting in January (cue simulatenous cries of joy and despair).  If there’s one thing I am a rockstar at, it’s going to school.  Too bad it costs lots of monies.  It’s an online program and all my computers are too old and weak sauce to be able to meet the program requirements.  I’ve had my current computer for 8 years and I kind of want to invest in another machine to get me through the next decade, but I don’t really have the funds for that so I’m torn between severely cutting back on groceries and working on that aspirational anorxeia or tossing some more borrowed money onto the loan pile.  Ok, I’m getting a little too bitter and stream of consciousness.  More travel photos/experiences/thoughts and genealogical explanations to come, now that fall is on the doorstep and my fingers are at home to tap some more words against the keyboard.

The 10: Crenshaw

Ok, so maybe when I set out to write about my relationship to the 10 and the Westside of LA and how it’s all chronological, maybe I should’ve left off Crenshaw.  But I think the Crenshaw exit off the 10 has a lot to say about why Los Angeles is appealing to me, even if it’s not the Westside, and my Crenshaw tales aren’t my first LA experiences.

First and most importantly: Earlez’s Grille.  Where I (a whitasian, but mostly white looking person) went up to a counter in a restaurant staffed by African Americans and Latinos (in a mostly African American neighborhood) and specifically ordered a “playaz punch.”  Because Yelp told me it was a deliciously delightful sugary drink.  The cashier looked amused as all hell, handed me an empty cup, and gestured behind me, noting that, “The fountain drinks are over there.”  And yeah, I looked behind me and there was the playaz punch in all its artificially pink glory, next to a tank of lemonade and a coke machine with the usual suspects.  So really all I needed to say was that I wanted a small drink.  Whoops, live and learn.

The most important thing about Earlez’s Grille (sadly temporarily closed at the moment, but in the process of moving further south down Crenshaw to make room for the metro Expo line) is their veggie dog with veggie chili and a side of seasoned french fries (I think my playaz punch expectations were too high.).  One of the owners was also on site the first time I went and he came over to my table and asked what we thought of the food.  Not much is cooler than actually meeting with an owner of an establishment you’re patronizing.

In the context of this trip down the 10, this experience sums up three of the most important things about the opportunities Los Angeles offers:

(a) Food adventures, because at the heart of why I love Los Angeles is a veggie chili dog or some weird flavored ice cream or vegan nachos at 2am.  LA tastes great.
(b) The chance to put myself in neighborhoods and situations that are completely foreign to the context I grew up in.  I don’t generally consider myself all that outgoing, but I occasionally have near masochistic streaks of wanting to feel uncomfortable and challenge myself to see how much I can make myself look like a fool.
(c) Talking to people who are connected to the places you visit.

I’ve felt comfortably uncomfortable in all sorts of LA neighborhoods, I’ve eaten some great food, and I’ve talked to a bunch of people, and that is what makes me happy.

The 10: Los Angeles becomes less of a wasteland.

Before we go for a drive on the freeway, here is some background on my evolving LA relationship:
My very first foray through Los Angeles was when I was around 8 years old.  I “saw” it from the freeway as my Dad drove the family down to Disneyland.  Despite living in LA since 2008 this is still the last time I went to the happiest place on earth.  I remember liking the tea cups and getting lollipops shaped like Mickey ears and getting the crap scared out of me on a very dinky roller coaster I didn’t want to go on.  That’s about it.

The next very brief visit through Los Angeles was a trip to UCLA right before applying to colleges.  My Dad was again in the driver seat and I mostly remember UCLA looking preppy and my Dad giving a homeless woman $5 at a stoplight.  I also visited UCSB that trip and at that time the UCSB campus and area pretty much kicked UCLA’s butt in my mind.

Despite my newfound UCSB dedication and love (that’s where I ended up going to school), while I was in college in Santa Barbara I went down to UCLA to visit high school friends.  I still didn’t feel particularly enamored of the city, but really all I saw was Westwood.

Freshman year of college one of my closest UCSB buddies decided she wanted a weekend in Los Angeles for her birthday.  We spent most of the time in Venice Beach and Santa Monica.  Kind of funny we went to a school on the beach and we drove further south for more sand, but my friend is much more a beach person than me and I guess beach culture in Venice Beach is a special kind of beach culture of its own.

My true appreciation of Los Angeles really first flickered while I was in England.  I studied abroad in a program with a bunch of other UC students.  One of the students went to UCLA and we became friends through our mutual love of food based adventures.  I told her my stereotypically Northern Californian perspective of Los Angeles (a negative one), but she was convinced I would love the place if only I gave it a chance.  I’m pretty sure the great food in LA was part of that argument.  I was skeptical, but I told her ok, I’ll be more open minded when I get back to the states.

I got my chance to be more open minded at the end of college.  Back in the lovely beachy town of Santa Barbara (or more properly Isla Vista, the student community next to UCSB) things started to feel a little constricting.  I still loved school and had a great time with friends, but after a year gallivanting around Europe I needed some more adventure.  The Santa Barbara area is gorgeous, but it felt too rich and too small.

At this point in time my friend’s sister had recently started going to med school at UCLA, so all of a sudden we had a place to crash at the end of the 90 minute drive down the 101 to Los Angeles.  We started heading out to LA once a month to volunteer with a program called Reading to Kids.  We’d head down south on Friday afternoons, hang out around the Westside, and then go to the outskirts of downtown LA early Sunday mornings to read and do book themed crafts with elementary school kids.

After Reading to Kids we’d play tourist, and I think it was around this time that I ran across Grand Central Market.  Grand Central Market’s a big food market with stalls and small restaurants nestled inside the ground floor of a historic building in downtown LA.  It’s been around town since 1917 and I’m a sucker for anything old, especially if it involves food.  (When I start to feel food obsessed I just compliment myself on my great caveman survival instincts, because a passion for food has got to say something good about your priorities for existence, right?)

Los Angeles became the place of escape and adventure that Santa Barbara was not.  It was exactly where I wanted to be.

I looked on craigslist for open rooms.  Graduation was nearing, I had no job lined up and absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself, other than the fact that whatever I was going to do was in Los Angeles.  It was a combination of being more familiar with the Westside and finding a good priced apartment with some recent UCLA graduates that led me to Culver City.  My foray into escape and adventure had begun.

(P.S. I recently stayed up way too late for the first time in ages because I couldn’t put a book down.  The giant bags under my eyes today are thanks to Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While you Were Breeding.  Her tale of her travel and man escapades after getting out of a 6 year long relationship when she was 26 hits way too close to home (RIP LDRC), but in a good too close to home way. (Like in a I hope I have some international escapades in my future way.)

The tale of my relationship with Los Angeles is slightly incomplete without talking about how my relationships with the people of Los Angeles fit into the physical landscape, but this is all a little too fresh to go Newman-style on that part of my city experience.  This is mostly just a super narcissistic tale of my relationship with Los Angeles.  You and me city, you and me.

I do have another project which will remain buried in my hard drive for years and years (and years) from now that involves fictionalized short stories based on (boy) relationships I’ve had throughout my life.  I’ve written an introduction (about a boy I obsessed over in kindergarten) and one set in an apocalyptic future (because the last few weeks of undergrad can feel really apocalyptic) and they are pretty cathartic.  If there are still blogs in 2050 I might share these then.  But for now – Los Angeles off the 10!  Next exit: Crenshaw.)