Tag Archives: life

That time I had a hometown.

Stuff cool nerd kids liked in the early 2000s./Corner of my high school bedroom.

Stuff cool nerd kids liked in the early 2000s./Corner of my high school bedroom.

Sometimes there is sadness embedded in a present place. It’s too rooted in the sweeping movements of the second hand and no longer able to be the thing it was many pages of the calendar ago.

I grew up in a 1960s suburban ranch style house in the East Bay in Northern California. The house still sits on the same suburban street, but it’s now a much more expensive neighborhood with houses priced only for the very affluent tech workers of Silicon Valley.

It had a driveway, a decent sized front yard and a big backyard with a lemon tree and an orange tree. There was also a jungle of ivy along the side of the house and a lollipop tree. My parents were never very fond of the landlord, who delivered rent increase notices at Christmas, but to me he was just a slightly scary older person who left suckers in the lollipop tree on occasion. One time when he backed out of the driveway he took out the last bush in a row of front yard shrubbery. The little plant stuck to the back bumper of his car and bobbed along in the breeze as he drove away.

The things I remember about living there are very rooted in the physical space. We’d always tell newcomers to look for the house with the “bright green trim.” The bulk of the house was painted an off white color, but the almost neon green paint that framed the house really made it stick out. (Clearly no HOA forcing bland paint colors on the neighborhood.)

When we first moved in the carpet was a brown, ancient almost shag carpet. The kitchen countertops were a chipped mint laminate. In the decade plus of living there the landlord did eventually replace the counters and carpet, but he hired cheap day labor and orchestrated most of the “improvements” himself. Nothing ever quite lined up right.

Nothing quite lining up is also an accurate descriptor of my feelings about my childhood home. My parents always had some resentment toward me considering this my childhood home, but it was. Most of my growing up memories center on the place.

My departure from the Bay Area as an adult-in-training was shortly followed by my parents’ exodus from the place. I use to always make a pilgrimage to the house when I would go back to the Bay to visit friends. Strangers rented it by then, but my mind erased the foreign cars in the driveway and imagined summer nights running through the front yard grass (getting eaten by mosquitos) or days drawing chalk roads and traffic signs on the sidewalk.

My weirdo drive-by visits to my childhood home made sense the first couple years. I’d drive by and little things would change. The neon-y green trim color was toned down. The plants in front of the house were altered. More strange cars parked in the driveway. But still, this is the filter I saw the world through for so many years as a child. This was home, this was a place that made sense. Or at least I fought for it to make sense in my head.

I stopped driving by my childhood home a few years ago. I started realizing that I was assigning some sort of false sense of security and identity to a place that no longer existed. I even feel off telling people I’m from the East Bay. My childhood was there, but beyond that my family historically only dipped their toes in California. We aren’t Californians, though I am a Californian. It’s such a weird disconnect to have in the relationship between people and place; between family and individual identity.

In driving past the old rental house I was trying to have some sense of belonging or roots in a hometown of some sort. In the early years of leaving home that worked to some extent, but now I see the construct I built for myself and the functional role it filled. It did its job and then it retired. It always was someone else’s home in truth, but now it’s also someone else’s home in fiction too.

The place lost its meaning, and with it I’ve had to let go. It use to make me sad, but now I focus more on the bright points of child memory over jarring adult reality. It was there for all the doll soap operas and school lessons, the fake perfume making sessions, and the backyard burritos assembled from fallen lollipop tree leaves and blossoms. I’ll always have the memories of sunny days of running through the sprinkler, roller blading around the concrete slab patio, or having elaborately themed birthday parties. I don’t need a physical touchstone to remind me of these things – all these good things filtered out of the more expansive memory pool.

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.

The 10 Time Tunnel.

I hardly ever get over to the Westside of LA these days.  The area bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and (depending on who you talk to) some north-south street on the east.  An often flat area of the city crowded with apartments or plotted out with ridiculously expensive houses on small to gigantic land parcels.

This was the Los Angeles I got to know first and where I initially became enchanted, but now I tend to avoid the area like the plague.  After a couple years of living there it became more of a homebase than a homeland and I found myself driving out toward downtown or further north or east.  I’m not a big beach person, so this could be part of why I’m less enthralled with that part of town.  It’s also more expensive and people seem to express their road rage and honk at each other more often.

Despite my now disenchantment with that neck of the woods, from time to time I get a little nostalgic about my growing pains years in Los Angeles.  The other week I drove out to Culver City to visit Surfas.  As I drove down the 10, creeping closer to the Pacific, I was also getting closer and closer to those early days of living in the city.  With each exit off the freeway memories kept popping into the present.

I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind for awhile now that I should write some love letters (of a sort) to those exits on the 10.  I have friends over on that side of town still, and on the rare occasion when I test the kindness of traffic and venture out that way I always get this feeling that I’ve entered some time tunnel.

Crenshaw-La Brea-Fairfax/Washington-La Cienega-Robertson-National-Overland-the 405

It’s an almost exactly chronological backwards trip into the far dusty corners of the memories of my Los Angeles existance.  The exits west of the 405 I’m a little less nostalgic about because I’d generally take streets to get to parts of Santa Monica or Venice.  And yeah, I’d probably cut the beginning of the “Westside” off around La Cienega, but the Fairfax, La Brea, and Crenshaw exits were also part of my Westside living experience so I’m including them too.  I’m using Westside as a loose and personal concept more than a hard and fast geographic outline.

So I’m going to start off with my very earliest flickering memories of Los Angeles and then get off the 10 at Crenshaw and time travel my way backwards, exit by exit, to those very first forays into that beautiful, crowded, polluted, diverse, segregated, delicious, rich, poor, historic, engaging place that is the city of Los Angeles.

Hipsters and the NRA

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how I have a lot of hipster-style leanings and I tend to want to go to hipsterville locales.  Despite this, I have a hard time proclaiming myself a hipster.  In a Catch-22 way declaring you’re not a hipster but love hipster style or have always been into hipster style somehow makes you doubly a hipster.  (Best hipster joke: Why did the hipster burn the roof of his mouth eating pizza?  He ate it before it was cool.)

At the heart of negative feelings about hipsterism is a disdain for ironic usage of stuff and a lack of authenticity.  The problem I have with calling myself a hipster is that I am actually fully in love with things old.  My 1960s-ish hipster glasses are cool because they look old, not because they are so uncool they are cool.  I pay my rent and feed my face thanks to history.  I’m in painful depths of debt because of studying history in college (undergrad and grad).  If my closet has vintage and my favorite places to go are old buildings, it’s not because I’m trying to be cool, but because old crap is my preferred way of life.  I’ve just lucked out that retro is so in right now, which makes a lot of old leaning styles more accessible.

So I don’t live a life of irony, I live a life that is authentically me.  That’s pretty much been my M.O. my entire life, and I’ve taken plenty of slack for it, so I’m just going to enjoy that what is me and what is hip decided to cross paths in my 20s.  The only thing that’s really changed as an adult is that I have more freedom in making choices in what I purchase and where I go at any given point in time.  I’d say my style has changed because I can actually go out and purchase old clothes and I’ve realized that particular decades look better on me.  I wear a lot more 1950s and 1960s style stuff because it looks good on me, not because it’s trendy or ironic. (On a side note, can we kill the word ironic, along with literally and interesting, because these words have pretty much become so overused they’re meaningless.  Everytime I use the word “interesting” I feel so lazy and disappointed in my vocab choice.  Though maybe to everyone their own since someone told me they thought awesome was overused and I love awesome.  Awesome is an awesome word.)

Now this all sort of leads to where I wanted to start in the beginning.  I have an NRA poster in my living room.  Now, to modern day readers this probably conjures up images of guns (whatever your political inclinations are then determines whether it’s a small child shot down at an unjust age or a bad ass looking hunter exercising his amendment rights).  But to me, NRA = a love for things 1930s, an admiration of President Roosevelt, and an interest in the politics of the time.  Because to me NRA means National Recovery Administration.

I had some hesistation about sticking this up in my living room.  I don’t expect non-history people to have any association with NRA other than the often maligned/often celebrated group centered on gun issues.  But it’s a cool original poster that makes me think of my favorite decade to study (and also makes me think of the Shanghai Lil musical number from Footlight Parade – all good things).

There is also a tiny part of me that thinks its pretty cool to have an inside joke on my wall (the inside being all the people into early 20th century history).  I’ve already confused one non-history person, who was concerned I was a big National Rifle Association fan after seeing the poster in one room and an outline of Texas in another room.  It’s the 1930s and where my brother lives – no guns involved at all.  Does my pleasure in confusing people make me a hipster?  It doesn’t matter because I love my old timey poster and the warm fuzzy history feelings that it conjures.

I might be a food hipster though.  That I might agree with.

How a show full of poo jokes motivates me to be myself.

At various points in life I thought I wanted to be a writer, a journalist, an actor, a film director, a history professor, and an archivist.  I think I spent like two weeks (hours?) thinking I’d want to be a computer engineer like my Dad when I was in the single digits age range, but maybe this is just hazy memory and I’m filling in the blanks with something that sounds nice.

In various unofficial capacities I’ve done a little bit of everything on that list (aside from computer engineering).  If you want something badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen in some form.  It may not pay your rent, it may not be the ideal dream situation you thought up in the first place, but if you’re so into a particular thing you will make it work in some fashion.

Lately my biggest pet peeve is people talking about what they “really want” and how the world is keeping them from doing what they’re really into.  I try to think up exceptions to this.  Like, say your dream is to be a skydiving champ, but you can’t afford to go skydiving on a regular basis.  But the more I think about it, the more I feel like a person who wants it bad enough will figure out how to earn and save up the money to do it.  It’s all about owning the choices we make and deciding what we’ll sacrifice for the things that really matter to us.

It’s hard to admit this to yourself and the people around you.  It sounds nice to have ambiguous creative goals or lofty career aspirations.  And sometimes it’s hard to figure out what it is that you actually want.  I mean, I don’t think we always know what we’re willing to jump out of a plane for, and that’s where the hang ups are – suspended in mid air, awaiting some kind of landing.

I’m in the process of reevaulating stuff.  As I get older a lot of my earlier wants are still hanging around, but a few other to-dos jumped on the list that are jostling for higher ranking on my life list. I don’t yet know which goal is going to come out on top and serve as my parachute to keep me from splatting on to the earth at a zillion miles an hour.  It’s kinda scary and kind of liberating, but mostly I’m trying to take it as motivation to flex some muscles that’ve been sitting on the back burner.

Watching Workaholics is incredibly motivating.  This might seem like an odd statement for a show with a lot of juvenile humor.  AV Club summed up the jist of the show with: “Workaholics is…about the extended adolescence of post-college life, where an unchallenging first job and the proximity of close friends ease the transition into the real world.”  And in the interview one of the creators really nailed it by saying they “try to be smart in the dumbest way possible.”

The first half of season one isn’t all that great, but it really hits its stride by the end of that first season.  Hilarious.  Originally I was gonna write about how much I relate to this show, even though their biggest demographic is teenage/young adult boys and I’m a closing in on 30-years-old female.  I’ve got a soft spot for any show that privileges buddy relationships over other relationships, they make references to pop culture I grew up with, my first years in LA centered around hanging out at my dude friends’ apartment, I’ve worked an office job just to pay rent, and growing up as a kid in the Bay Area I used to film skits with my friends.

That last point is the motivational point.  The creators of the show spent a couple years making their own videos as Mail Order Comedy before Comedy Central saw their work and funded Workaholics (and even before that they were the kids in school who wrote and filmed their own material for nothing more than their own gratification).  That shit takes motivation, perserverance, and work.  So even though this is a goofy show with a bunch of teenage boy jokes, the guys behind it are hard workers who figured out what they wanted to do and kept at it until something stuck.

Now, not every hard worker is going to see their goal realized with a Comedy Central show (and that’s definitely not my personal goal), but it’s admirable and sorta warm fuzzies to see a group’s determination and work pay off.  The characters they play on the show are ridiculous people, but what Mail Order Comedy achieved professionally is basically a stellar example of “if you want it bad enough you’ll make it work somehow.”  Talk all you want about what you think you want to do, but if you’re not actually doing it or actively sacrificing for it, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what you think you want.

And nobody’s want is any better than anyone else’s want.  It’s hard to not let outside judgement cloud your goals – I am swatting away doubt flies all day, erry day.  If your want is to write skits centered around dick jokes and share them with an audience, that is awesome, because you figured out what you want.  Now, time for me to figure out what my dick jokes are.  I’ve been watching way too much Workaholics (and like a dozen other shows) and not working on my own Workaholics-esque goals.

(I also thought about writing how I intitially dismissed Workaholics and how this show is a great example of why you should never say you don’t like something until you give it a real try.  Man, serious life themes from a very unserious show!  My favorite kind of stuff. (And also why I sometimes still think about heading back to the ivory tower, land of making everything have meaning and piling on the bullshit.  Apparently I am just a crap fan all the way around. (Like how that Sorceress character I wrote as part of an online RPG in junior/high school lived in a tower and now I think about working at a metaphorical tower and maybe life and art have some weird parallels. (Okay, too many tangents.))))

Ancestors, childhood, and abortion.

When researching genealogy, documenting siblings of direct ancestors and the siblings’ children has proven very helpful in finding clues to the whereabouts of my direct ancestors. Though researching the many siblings in large ancestral family groups is also often an old timey reality check. My modern self starts all enthusiastic about tracking down the husbands, wives, and children, only to realize that my ancestor’s sibling died at 10 or 8 or 15 or 1. One of the saddest things is realizing that some families lost half of their children before those kids even had a shot at adulthood.

As a history person the news isn’t surprising. I know that people died young of all sorts of diseases and accidents and general tough living, but seeing it in your own family, giving names and lives to these individuals, makes the statistics people. It makes me realize how lucky we are in the U.S. in 2013. Yeah, people die of curable things because our healthcare system isn’t, erm, optimally run (totally different topic), but when I think of all the families I know with living children – well, this sure isn’t rural Tennessee in 1798!

It is a rarer tragedy when children get sick, and the families I know haven’t lost half their brood to disease or other causes. This makes me think about how our attitudes toward childhood and children are shaped by the expectation that children will make it to adulthood, and how this might inform modern day attitudes toward abortion.

I recently watched a couple documentaries on abortion. The fervent anti-abortion protestors standing outside clinics were most often portrayed as religiously motivated. I have no doubt that religion plays a major role in many individual attitudes on the subject, but the religious fixation of the anti-abortion protestors made me wonder less about biblical rationales and more about other cultural factors that play into American attitudes toward abortion. You don’t have to be super religious or non-religious to have an opinion on the subject. Separate from religious views, how might a modern day American’s worldview impact their attitudes on abortion?  Is it possible to separate religion from the issue?

Retrospect is often shrouded in a glowy halo. Not everyone I know loved childhood, but I think the general American cultural attitude privileges childhood as some sort of sacred phase. When you privilege the phase of life known as “childhood” as something special, memorable, and innocent, it seems worse to deny this phase to any cell with potential to become a human being.

So though vocal anti-abortion advocates cry foul in the name of religion, could more mild opinions be shaped by the value we place on childhood and optimistic beliefs that our modern medicine can solve the woes of childhood disease and award everyone the opportunity to grow to a fulfilling adulthood? Is it harder for modern Americans to accept that sometimes a fetus that doesn’t develop properly or is impeded by incurable disease has no fighting chance?

And this is not to say that the death of children in any time period is ever an easy thing (my great great great grandparents Thomas Crutcher and Nancy Holt each wrote a mourning poem when their son died in 1865), but I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to accept and mourn death with our overly optimistic rosy lenses – visions of cute children playing in the pages of Toys ‘R’ Us ads and in new clothes for the first day of school override images of infants hooked up on life support systems in the few months before they pass or (in abortions based on choice and not on medical conditions) children put in the adoption/foster system or children kept and not given the developmental support of their peers due to poor financial or emotional environments?

The history of American childhood, abortion, and death and mourning are not my specialties, so I could probably use some more reading before coming to any sort of real conclusions, but I do know enough to at least ask questions and wonder.

(As an aside, I’ll also note that I’m super impressed how old some of my ancestors got – 70s, 80s, even 90s!)

Me and Los Angeles.

I have over a dozen posts sitting unposted and partially written in notepad files in my Dropbox.  Time for some fall cleaning.  Here is one of the more finished posts:

I listen to Camera Obscura because it puts me back on a train in England. Sheep. Little green hills. The feeling of going.

I left my heart in San Francisco, but found a new one in Los Angeles.

My Los Angeles is not the same as their Los Angeles.  I realized that one of the things I love most about this place is that it it is ultimately mine.  Even though I share it with others and our experiences intersect like circles from a Venn diagram, there is always that part of me that doesn’t touch anyone else.  Just me and LA.

I think I finally decided I was an LA resident when I flew back from my parents house with a carry on bag packed with the favorite books of my childhood.  A lot of my stuff is in a crawlspace at my parents’ house in a city I never really lived in.  It’s left there for the day I “settle down,” if there is ever such a thing.  There is still a lot in the crawlspace, but those books are the most valuable things from teenagedom, because they are conduits of ideas and places that I existed in at that point in time.

I finally became a grown up here.  I put nails in walls and hung pictures on them.  No more posters and scraps of paper taped on walls.  Though it took a juvenile move to get me here.

At the end of college I moved down to LA without a job and with only enough savings to pay for a few months of rent.  It was just as the recession got going, but I was unaware of economics and blindly and foolishly optimistic.

A quickly dwindling bank account added too much urgency to my job search, and the only position I could manage to get in a timely fashion was the exact same type of job I did in the summers between high school and college years.  I hoped working as a receptionist at the marketing company would be my foot in the door, but instead I got disillusioned by the size of egos.  The office was up in a high rise building, physically held up by steel and architectual engineering, but figuratively held up by inflated measurements of self worth.  Answering phones and serving coffee to Hollywood types was mentally unchallenging and it soon became clear that these were not my people and there wasn’t any other place for me at that company.

For sanity’s sake I enrolled in an MA program and planned to hold out at the company for just a bit longer so I could squirrel away extra money for school.  It was both fortunate and unfortunate that two months before I planned on quitting, the company laid off about a third of its workforce in order to do some downsizing and restructuring.  I was bummed not to have the extra cash in savings and to be robbed of my chance to quit on my own terms, but also relieved to not have to deal with the tedium anymore.  That summer I had the opportunity to reestablish my worth as a living human being, so in the end things all worked out.  I was relieved.

And like any relationship, my relationship with the city is fluid. I’m still not sure if it’s going to dump me in the next couple months, or if I want to work hard enough to fight to keep our relationship alive.  What is that saying about ships passing in the night?

———-

As a postscript: Since I wrote this post I found out that I’ll probably be here for another year at least.  The romance continues.