Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month. It's been a hard day. There's been a weight since I woke up. April really is the cruelest month. It's been four and a half months since Jake passed away, and for me, there is no poetry without Jake, and so a month celebrating poetry is a month reflecting even more deeply, even more frequently on Jake's loss. To help celebrate his life today, Southern Indiana Review posted a tribute to Jake. Part of this tribute included an interview in which I said the following in response to the interviewer's recollection of Jake's commitment to helping other poets:
He did it because he was always aware of what was good, of what he wanted, and he wasn’t shy to work just a little bit more to get exactly what he wanted. He had wicked amounts of faith in people. And it’s like his faith compelled them to be what they already were, to do what they could already do, but just hadn’t done yet. It’s almost like he saw the perfect, finished version of work, or of peoples’ thoughts, and he was always waiting for the other person to catch up, and he’d do whatever he could in his power to help them get there. It’s kind of incredible. I’ve never met anyone else as devoted to other peoples’ work. I’ve seen writers do this to themselves, but I’ve only ever seen Jake do this to other people. I think maybe that’s in part why he’s had such a huge impact on so many students and colleagues.
To celebrate Jake today, I also read his poetry. I read and re-read. Read my friend's elegy for him that I have pinned up on the wall next to my desk. Re-read Jon Tribble's review of Jake's work in the LA Review of Books. Shared all of these things with my community.

Today I also went to a poetry reading. My firecracker of a friend from my time at Utah flew out for a Red Hen Press reading at the Armory Center for the Arts this evening, and after an afternoon of working on writing with my kids at 826la, I drove out to Pasadena to hear her read at an amazing event that also included a sting trio.

The other night, I grumpily hauled my ass over to campus at 8pm on a Friday. I knew I wanted to see Miwa Matreyek perform at the Rhythms & Visions event at the School of Cinematic Arts, but I did NOT want to drive all the way down to campus, find parking, or deal with crowds. But as with most things in my life, the more I don't want to do something, the better it usually is. This event was no exception. I walked into the darkened SCA courtyard and immediately started beaming with joy. Because I'd recently made a pact with my friend, a pact I mentioned a few blog posts back: "we made a pact that this would always be our life, that we would always show up spontaneously at places and events that would blow our minds, that we would feel as often as possible that sense of sheer joy, gratitude, and amazement at how goddamn lucky we are that this is our life, that things like this happen not rarely or even occasionally, but frequently." And that's exactly what happened Friday night.

Walking up to the gates, I noticed a lot of people wearing glow sticks. I thought, those people definitely aren't coming from the event I'm supposed to attend. Then I heard music. Electronic music. Good electronic music. Like a at a night club, but a classy night club, not the kind of nightclub where they pile a bunch of sweaty drunk strangers into an already over capacity space. I turned to my right immediately after I entered the courtyard and was greeted with one whole wall of the SCI building that had come to life.

Everywhere I looked, I saw beautiful projections on a variety of "screens". Some projections utilized the architecture of the buildings, other projections appeared on suspended screens, and others transformed giant white balls into glowing orbs of digital animation. The whole courtyard became a gallery and the audience was forced to interact with and exist between the projections. I mean this literally. Every time you walked from one end of the courtyard to the other, your shadow was cast somewhere on some wall, interfering with or adding to a projection. Some pieces took the interaction aspect more seriously and used Kinect technology to grab your image and transfer it onto a screen as you passed by. Most people used these two pieces, "Full Body Scrubber, v.1," as an opportunity to play. People were dancing in front of the screen, doing jumping jacks, kissing, running, flailing about. The people themselves became part of the exhibit, not only in the image of them that was translated onto the screen, but in their embodied reactions to the artwork. Half the pleasure in these specific installations for me was watching the users fling themselves across this outdoor corridor in the darkness, under the few stars that appear in the Los Angeles sky. It was like an updated version of the campfire. A source of light and community interaction in a space of darkness. I posed in front of each installation, and my favorite by far was the one that transformed me into legos. It's been my life dream to be a lego. It's the best portrait ever done of me, if I can be so bold.
That's me! I'm legos!
Self portrait as flowers holding my water bottle.

Here are some of the other pieces that were on display:

My favorite pieces were the ones that used the building's architecture as their projection space. Two dimensional surfaces were transformed into three dimensional spaces through simple tricks of light and precise animation. The buildings came to life. In the first video in this post, bright white light is used to highlight and mimic the bricks that make up that face of the SCI building, then the entire image is stripped away, as if the whole building were just an illusion, as if bricks ceased to exist, disappeared into thin air leaving only a black emptiness. These pieces force the viewer to consider the building as material, as the physical objects that constitute the architecture in front of us, and ironically, the pieces accomplish this through digital, non-material means. Digital projection, simply images cast through the air and onto the wall, draw more attention to the materiality of space than then materials themselves do. The invisible Mediterranean Revival architecture I pass by everyday took on a new identity and surpassed its practical functionality, becoming instead a surreal space for the imaginary. Parts of the building would solidify in the projection, and would then transform, alter, float away while retaining the trace shape of the material architecture that constitutes the physical building. 

And then there were the performances. Particularly Miwa's performance of her piece, "Myth and Infrastructure." [Click there to watch Miwa's 4 minute trailer for the performance.] Miwa had actually just spoken to my Digital Studies Symposium earlier that week, and her talk got me so excited to witness her work in action that I dragged myself the 8 miles away from my house just to see it. It was worth it. This crowd of glow stick headband wearing folks... 
...sat together and watched Miwa's shadow interact with dual front and rear projections of beautiful animations set to music. 
Miwa's work is collage in the most drastic and wonderful sense. She places her own shadow, her live performance, her real body, behind a screen. The rear projection both displays her animations and captures her shadow and her movements, while the front projection casts animations over her shadow, allowing her to do things like insert real, colored images of her hands over her shadow hands to create the illusion that her shadow is breaking through its two dimensional world of silhouette into the three dimensional world in which some of her animations exist. It also allows her to turn herself into an island in which trees have taken root and to walk through San Francisco in the pouring rain alongside hot air balloons and stars.
Miwa's work compels the audience to consider what's embodied and what's animation. She integrates herself so well into this gorgeous, projected world that we sometimes lose track of where the woman ends and her animation begins. 

And really, most of the projects at Rhythms & Visions investigated this same question. The question about the material world and the digital world, where they intersect, where they depart, how they can reinforce, manipulate, and completely transform each other. What more could you ask for from art but to allow you a space in which to explore your assumptions about the spaces you inhabit and the technologies that exist all around you every day? So many of us take space for granted unless or until that space is brought to our attention, and when it's brought to our attention by something immaterial, something we cannot physically grasp, well then that's all the more intriguing. 

This piece, "Quayola & Sinigaglia," was playing as I left the courtyard. 

As I drove home listening to my new favorite Modest Mouse song, "Trailer Trash," wearing my neon purple glowing headband, I felt my thoughts drifting into a more melancholy space. I looked to the left as I crossed over the 101 and I saw glittering Hollywood. I looked to the right and I saw downtown LA, standing tall, saluting the glowing full orange moon that floated above it. I thought about where I'd just come from and all the things that brought me here, and I just laughed. This city is pulsing with inspiration. My skin is dripping with it every time I walk outside and see the lights and feel the ocean air. I can't imagine a better place to be in the entire world. This city is up to amazing things, my school is up to amazing things. How can I do anything less than amazing things here?

Monday, April 29, 2013

I have been bursting with so much energy all day that even back to back yoga classes failed to expend it all. Here's a tiny miracle story for you:

My friend teaches paddleboard yoga in Marina del Rey, so we went to the marina this morning to play around in the water a bit. I'd never been on a paddleboard, but I think I picked up the basics pretty quickly. We decided we wanted to take pictures of our adventurous yoga feats, so I reminded her that I have a waterproof case on my brand new iPhone and she went to get it. The rest happened like it was scripted. I jokingly yelled, "don't you dare drop that phone in the water." She playfully insisted, "I'm not going to drop your phone!" A guy on the dock said, "famous last words," and literally 15 seconds later she dropped my phone into the 20 foot deep marina water. 

I've been trying really hard to let go of a lot of things, my sense of control being at the top of that list. I've done a pretty damn good job. I've stopped planning out every second of my life. I've stopped arranging things more than a couple months in advance. I've put myself in some hilarious yoga positions that inevitably lead to me falling on my face. So when my phone disappeared in the murky marina, I just laughed. I mean, I freaked out a little, but just a little. Because I decided it wasn't lost. Our other friend dove to try and recover it. My friend peered under the water but it was too dark and dirty and deep. I suggested that this being Los Angeles and all, we should be able to find someone on the internet who we can pay to dive for us. So our friend called someone, we told that someone generally where we were when the phone was dropped, and within ten minutes, and for only $50, he recovered the phone. 10 seconds after he handed it back to me, I took this photo:

Because my phone still works. 20 feet underwater in a huge marina for almost 2 hours. The whole time, I made sure that I continued to smile. I made sure I only saw the humor. I made sure to remind myself that it's just an object, a replaceable [even if expensive and brand new] object, that people I love have died, that this is nothing in comparison to the roller coaster I've been on since December. My photos, my text messages, everything the old me would freak out about losing, I just let go of. I made sure to remind myself that it did no good to do anything but have hope. Committed to an outcome without being invested in the result. Some wise words a friend recently shared with me. And it made my day. Like I told my friend, "I have never been so happy to have my iPhone dropped 20 feet down into the sea." She said, "this has been a really wonderful morning, and now it's a terrible day, but if we get this phone back, it will be the best day ever." For real. This was the best day ever.

[Sorry I can't tell this story better right now because I am basically a giant ball of energy and exhaustion. Yes, I can be both at the same time. It's the 21st century. Come on.]

[[Miracle was followed by a solo delicious late breakfast at one of my favorite restaurants in Venice where the universe showed me just how much space in the world there is for me to play in.]]

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I still don't have time to do a full post about my trip to NorCal, but I got so excited planning my east coast summer trip this morning that I wanted to at least post these photos my best friend took on our NorCal adventure. Because we're going to be hanging out in Kentucky this summer and if it goes anything like our roadtrip did, I'm going to be doing the following things this summer, too, but in a more rural setting [and probably with more bourbon]:

P.S. All these photos are courtesy of my best best, whose other photos can be found here.

Road to Harbin Hot Springs
Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg
Fort Bragg. World's tiniest elephant.
Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
"This is the best day of my life" is what I said while in this position. Glass Beach, Fort Bragg.
Lagunitas, Petaluma
Russian River. Small Ali in left corner.
This is how my morning went:
I am the luckiest hot potato.
Ignore the fact that the image in this video is a FNL collage.

turns out I was a vampire myself

Thursday, April 25, 2013

First of all, I'm sitting here drinking a beer watching a television show about Football [obsessed].

Second of all, Texas forever.

Third of all,

love & gratitude

[Fourth of all, NorCal roadtrip photos forthcoming. Need to watch every episode of Friday Night Lights first.]
The only way out is through.

If my life is a battlefield, it's a battlefield at a music festival. It's a wide, gorgeous green field, or it's the desert, with infinite stages, infinite performances, infinite perfect moments, infinite people, with the constant threat of loss, with the constant threat of heartbreak, but with constant reminders that I am surrounded on all sides by love and brilliance and light at all times. As I've walked myself through the past two weeks, I've felt like a tourist in my own life, but in the most magnificent way. Like everything that has happened has been staged for my enjoyment. Like every wonderful moment is planted along this path through this music festival battlefield just waiting to be enjoyed. For instance, I live under this sky. I get to spend a weekend afternoon collecting sea critters from tide pools with newly discovered friends, and I get to drive to yoga in an ocean of color and palm trees and slightly salted air toward an evening with yet another new friend who has created a space for people like me to explore their physical and mental strength.

Here is a small tour of my battlefield:

1. To the east is Modest Mouse who played in Pomona last week. I took a night time drive toward the desert to this college town to see my favorite band of all time play songs I knew would make me cry. Jake and I bonded over many bands, but one of the most important ones was Modest Mouse. "Black Cadillacs" reminds me of driving around the suburbs with my brother. "Custom Concern" reminds me of meeting my girls for the first time in college, the girls who've been my support system through all of this, the girls I met in Jake's Copper Nickel class the semester that I graduated. "Baby Blue Sedan" reminds me of this particular night with two people who are no longer in my life, because the lyrics to that song applied to the situation, not in their content, but in their sadness, in their hopelessness, in their resigned desperation. "Life of Arctic Sounds" reminds me of measuring the distance between Littleton and Los Angeles to make sure it wasn't more than 1100 miles because 1100 miles is too far inside a car. But most of all, everything about Modest Mouse reminds me of my solitude, reminds me of the desert, reminds me of Jake, kills me, then makes me feel strong. I started sobbing during "Trailer Trash." I don't even know why. It's one of the few songs with which I have no particular association, though I always have wanted to hang the liner notes to that album, The Lonesome Crowded West, in my future office because Jake did, had them hanging there on the top of his door next to a photo of himself in graduate school. I cried harder than I've ever cried at a show. And it felt right to be there, feeling absence through the presence of this music. I remembered the time I got beat up at a Modest Mouse concert because I was alone in the front row, and I realized that that's not my life anymore, that I'm no longer willing to suffer certain types of pain for the sake of anything. I drove home, west on the 10, listening to old episodes of This American Life, an episode about people you love and hate, who you have no idea what to do with. I felt Modest Mouse transforming my DNA into strands of their lyrics, into spaces that are ever expanding inside me. It was always worth it, that's the part I seem to hide

2. I had the best night I'd had in weeks spending two hours inside an AT&T store trying to buy an iPhone 5. Due to a series of delays related to all the ridiculous bureaucracy that is a large corporation like AT&T, G and D, the only employees in the store, spent hours talking with me, setting up my phone, talking again. Never have I loved humanity more than I did that night. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but I'm not kidding. These two strangers turned a horribly anxious day into something hopeful and hysterically funny. I almost went back the next day just to hang out with them, but I didn't want to be greedy. The universe gave them to me the night before I had to dive right into yet another loss. And I was grateful for those couple hours of relief before the storm.
That's D. The store was empty. Freezing. Painfully lit. It was wonderful.

3. My zigzagging path through the past two weeks took me to Agoura Hills to spend an evening with my retired couple that I met on the airplane. They cooked me dinner and distracted me enough so that I could consume it without getting sick. They knew I needed to talk. They knew I needed to feel safe. They picked a perfect movie for us to watch, lit the wood burning fire place, and gave me a comfy chair and a blanket and instructions to cuddle up while the three of us watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The perfect movie: not too much about death, not too much about heartbreak, mostly about adventure and the surprises we never expect. They knew I didn't want to leave when it was over. They spent until midnight talking to me, sometimes about sadness, sometimes about other things, like The West Wing and how they met and good vegetarian places in my neighborhood. They sent me off with two new cactuses for my collection, a couple pieces of clothing, two movies for distracting myself, and a promise to have me over again as soon as they returned from their trip. There's something so relieving to me about being close with people who are unknown to the rest of the people in my life. These are my people. I met them myself, alone, on an airplane. We didn't become friends due to circumstance or familial relation. We became friends because I like to talk to nice people and Roberta likes to talk to nice people and we talked for 2.5 hours from Denver to LA and we decided we wanted to talk more outside the airplane. My family doesn't know them. My friends don't know them. No one else knows them. They are my safe place. They live just far enough from my house that I can escape whatever it is I don't want to deal with here, they live just enough in the suburbs that I can pretend I'm somewhere more familiar than this sprawling city by the sea.

4. Much of my battlefield is filled with small things I pass everyday that provide a context, a framework within which I exist. My almost daily walks to the Junction, my train rides to and from school, my drives east to west to see my cupcake, my drives west to east headed home. They're always filled with moonlit fog and lanky palm trees and innovative art and reminders of the natural world's existence, even in this grid of cement and asphalt and train tracks and car exhaust.

5. Even though I sometimes don't think I can bare to step outside my own skin when I'm hurting, I force myself into situations where I have to shrink myself down in a way that removes any space for sadness and allows only for the most concentrated, most committed version of myself. I've spent each Tuesday of the last two weeks doing that at 826la with my after school tutoring kids. [I've actually spent one day per week doing this since October, but these last two weeks in particular were special.] There's no room for personal tragedy when you're in a small building with 30 rambunctious children trying to do algebra and write stories. The first week, one of them gave me this sticker because she said it's the sticker that best matched my face that day [it was a rough day], and the second week, one of them, my ten year old best friend, gave me this drawing and bet me I wouldn't put it on my fridge. I cleared off a few photos and made room for her piece, photographed it up there as proof, and now she owes me three pages of writing.

6. Fellow student brings cupcakes to class. One of them mimics a hostest cupcake, my favorite childhood snack. Enough said. [Yes I switched to present tense because I want this moment to last forever.]

7. There are dreamlike phases of my walk. Like how the other night I had a dream that I was in some weird, giant metal concert hall and Sufjan Stevens, composer Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner from The National, seven trombone players, a drummer, and a sting quartet were all on a stage together and there was this giant orb floating above them and they were playing songs about outer space and the orb glowed and displayed crazy, spacey images and there were laser lights and the whole audience was like what the fuck is this because most of them had no idea what was going on. And it was a perfect dream because it was the epitome of what I imagine when I imagine my ideal musical experience. And it was a perfect dream because it actually happened two nights ago at the Disney Concert Hall in Downtown LA and I got to witness it and I got to cry through the entire performance, not out of sadness, but out of the deepest sense of awe that someone in this world made this thing and I got to be immersed entirely in it, surrounded by Angelenos who were shocked, confused, and quite happily surprised. Please please please watch this video for just a tiny taste of what happened. 
If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love Sufjan Stevens.

8. Another dreamlike stage in my battlefield was what happened the other night when we were all supposed to go to Brokechella [Cochella for us broke folks]. We ended up at the Hollywood Tower for a pre-Brokechella roof party, and we never left. N and I were the first to arrive, and before we even headed upstairs, we had a twenty minute photo shoot in the lobby because it is the most gorgeous lobby that has ever existed, we were all dressed up, and we couldn't help ourselves. A few residents walked in and out of the lobby, watching us be completely ridiculous, which only made the experience that much better. Walking into the lobby was like walking back in time, to N's favorite time in fact, and just as we were about to head to the roof, a beautiful woman who was also a remnant of an earlier, more aesthetically pleasing era walked in. We fell in love with her. We even asked her to pose with the furniture, which she kindly and gracefully did. As we made our way up the elevator, down the staircase, through the halls, and onto the two different rooftop patios overlooking the Hollywood Hills on one side and downtown LA on the other, we made a pact that this would always be our life, that we would always show up spontaneously at places and events that would blow our minds, that we would feel as often as possible that sense of sheer joy, gratitude, and amazement at how goddamn lucky we are that this is our life, that things like this happen not rarely or even occasionally, but frequently. I left my apartment earlier that evening after lunch with a long time friend and I said to N, all I want to do tonight is stand next to an open window in this dress looking out over Hollywood, sipping a glass of champagne. And you know what happened?
I did.
View looking down on the patio from the top of the tower.
At the end of the night, three of us snuck up to the highest point on the tower
and we watched Hollywood glitter behind the giant R, and we muffled our
giggles as we danced barefoot above this beautiful city.

10. This guy, who is sometimes two guys when the morning sun is just right, has never left my side, crowded and chaotic as the battlefield music fest sometimes gets.

11. Much of the past two weeks of my sometimes trudging sometimes dancing through this battlefield music festival has been spent with people whose love is so present in my life I have to continually make more room inside myself to absorb it all. Last night, in true romantic comedy fashion, N and I celebrated all this love by discussing it at length between conversations about life, the universe, and everything, to the exclusion of all the work we'd intended to do in our late night work session. We ate icing out of the jar and shared this quesadilla sitting across from each other on the couch laughing and crying and rationalizing and letting go. We watched cat videos on youtube and reminded each other over and over of the things we sometimes let ourselves forget.
After she'd gone to sleep and I'd finished my work, I stepped outside into a night of glowing fog and silence. I thought about how quiet it is here and how that's the opposite of what you'd expect from a major world city. Even in my neighborhood, which is more densely populated and closer to the urban center, 1:30am is quieter than it ever was anywhere else I've lived other than my valley. And even though there's pollution and exhaust, the ocean breathes salty and I sleep soundly in this life I've built for myself out here, far from home. It's taken all my strength and a football team worth of friends for me to get to this place, but now that I'm here, I'm staying. I made a decision one morning almost two years ago that I was going to be happy, whether I was happy or not. I fought for that state of mind and I won. When the clouds of death and loss part even briefly these days, what I see waiting behind them is what I started cultivating back then. And this battlefield becomes a playground. And fear becomes freedom. And I realize how much better off I am at this exact moment in time, how much I don't need the future because I'm surrounded every day by the miraculous present. And how that is finally, finally enough.