Friday, October 25, 2013

Ali Does Something Every Night For Six Nights In A Row ended on Tuesday night. When people ask me why I love Los Angeles, one of my go to answers is that there's so much going on here that you could do something wonderful every night and still you'd be missing about 90% of what's happening in this city. So I did something every night for six nights. Mostly these events were concerts because I love concerts because they are my dance dance dance. Anyway:

Thursday, October 17th--
We have a graduate student reading series at USC, so that's what I attended on Thursday night. Because I love feeling like our community here really is a community. Because Los Angeles is so spread out and being at USC feels nothing like being at Utah where any time any of us used to get together, it was basically all of us getting together, like 30 people in a room or at a park celebrating summer celebrating winter celebrating Halloween celebrating the free food at the department holiday party. We don't have a department holiday party at USC and I rarely hang out with more than 2 people in my program at a time because everyone lives in East Hollywood or Echo Park or Glendale or West Hollywood or Culver City or Santa Monica or Downtown or Atwater Village and it's just too hard to find a reasonable home base for everyone when people live in that many different neighborhoods that far from one another. But at least every once in awhile, we all get to come together and hear each other read. And I love hearing my friends read. Because they are so fucking talented. 

Friday, October 18th--
A couple months ago, L told me that she and C were going to see a band called Sleigh Bells the same weekend we were all also going to Animal Collective. And thus far it seems like L and I like all the same music, since we end up at all the same shows. So even though I hadn't heard of Sleigh Bells, I bought a ticket anyway. Which was hard because the show was sold out and I had to wait and do my loophole thing, which I can't tell you about because it's a secret. But not really. So I showed up at El Rey and had absolutely no idea what to expect, except that L had said that Sleigh Bells puts on a great party show. Holy. Fuck. She was completely right. That show is absolutely in the top five shows I've ever been to. Which I didn't think was possible for a band I'd never heard of. Because I knew none of their songs going into this, but I left with all three of their albums. I think I broke through some sort of wall that night. Not literally. But somewhere inside me, something snapped. In a good way. I felt like me again, really, really like me and not like an idea of me. I danced so hard. Afterward, we ate icky food at the HMS Bounty in Koreatown. And I've been listening to Bitter Rivals ever since. I drive down Vermont blasting it, falling ever more in love with Alexis Krauss. 

Saturday, October 19th--
When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts a lot because we had season tickets to their theater productions. Lately I've been missing theater a lot. It used to be my entire life in high school, and I always looked forward to the shows my dad and I would see when I lived at home. I still remember so many of them. I saw N in Midsummer last month, and that only made me want more. So a couple weeks ago, L, C, and I saw a show L's friend wrote. And this past week, I saw a show my friend K was in. It was at a lovely, small theater off Santa Monica Blvd. There were two main sections that people sat in, and it seemed like people who had come with others all sat in one section, while those of us who came alone congregated in the other section, but not too close together. There were about 5 of us in that section, spaced apart by a few seats, and by the end of the show, each of us had tears running down our face. K was incredible. And I was so grateful to see good theater yet again in Los Angeles, especially after being told so many times that theater out here is no good at all.

Sunday, October 20th--
This summer in Ohio, in Kentucky, my life was not a movie or maybe. Or actually, it was. I met A and we discovered that all this time, we've both gone through a movie that is our life, and then we went through that movie together, briefly. He made me a mix and put one of my favorite Okkervil songs on it. I've seen Okkervil play once before, in Denver, and I remember that it was one of the best shows I'd seen at that point in time. It was right after they'd released I Am Very Far. The show I saw last week was great, too, but it didn't have the power of that first show. Maybe because now I've seen Sleigh Bells and my standards for what makes an epic show are much higher. But they did play "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe." And I screamed the words. And I danced. And I smiled. And I thought of A, far away, and wished he were there with me, and knew, happily, that he kind of was.

Monday, October 21st--
I'd wanted to see Animal Collective live for a really, really long time. But I never seemed to be in the right city for the right dates. So when I finally had tickets to their show in LA, I was psyched. And the stage looked amazing. And I knew that visually it was going to be trippy and awesome like the Colorado hippie in me loves. But I think there was something wrong with the sound the other night, because all I heard was musical soup. Which is tasty, but not exactly what I'd wanted or expected. I still got to dance a lot, though, and look at crazy visualizations and a stage that looked like a mouth throwing up rainbows. So that was nice. And at least we got to take the train to and from The Wiltern. A show is always 10 times better when I don't have to find parking before I can enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 22nd--
I've seen Starfucker like four or five times at this point. And I will keep going to every show they play near me for the rest of time. If the photos above aren't enough of an explanation as to why, then you and I probably won't see eye to eye on a lot of things. The first time I saw Starfucker, I really knew nothing about their music other than that a friend from undergrad whose musical tastes I trusted once told me she was going to see Starfucker. And I remembered the name, and when they came to Salt Lake City, I bought a ticket. Tickets were only something like $5 because they were playing at Kilby Court, which is a converted old garage across the street from my SLC apartment in the Granary District. It was 2010. I had just gotten dumped two and a half weeks earlier. It was cold as fuck outside. I rode my brand new bicycle around the block over to Kilby. And I danced so hard with about 75-100 teenage LDS kids, because that's who frequented shows at that alcohol-free, all ages venue. And it was AWESOME. I started listening to their album constantly. Eventually I started listening to the song "Holly" on loop. My second year in SLC, I named the facebook album full of my photos from that time after lyrics from that song: anyways the sun still shines through. And when I moved to LA, I named my first Los Angeles facebook album after lyrics from that song: LA/LA hasn't killed me yet. Technically, those lyrics come before the other ones, but not much in my life happens in order anyway. So. When I saw Starfucker here last March, it was right before I was supposed to go to Berlin. Right before my breakup with the same goddamn person. But even though my breakups with R seem to constellate around Starfucker shows, I've somehow managed to keep Starfucker free from upsetting associations. I listen to them and I dance. I speed down the 101 freeway and I blast their music and I dance in my seat. I go to their shows, again and again, and I dance and I play with the balloons and the confetti that they always release now that they play bigger venues. And I'm always impressed. This past show was the first time I've seen them without a corresponding breakup/breakup type experience nearby. MTV filmed this one. Everyone ended up on stage by the end. I rode the train home at midnight. My clothes clung to my skin. Sweat everywhere. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mid-semester update [or, like, later than mid-semester update since I apparently can no longer keep track of time]:

Carrying on, like usual. Still loving every little thing about Los Angeles. Like the fact that it looks like spring all year round. And the fact that I can grow jalapeƱos in my front yard in October. And I can sit outside in the courtyard of the library on campus and meet with my students. And I can ride my bike to and from school every day in the same shorts and tank top as always.
My one red jalapeƱo. It was the spiciest [read: most delicious].
The street I live on.
The canyons.
Seeing my best friend in Midsummer.
The most beautiful, perfect stage I've ever seen.
Every time I walk through my front gate and down the path to my bungalow,
I feel so much peace.

It's rained once all semester. And on the day[s] it did[does] rain, I can sit inside with my littlest creatures and find calm in my work and in planning my adventures.
From left to right: Phillip [Seymour Hoffman], Pink Marfa, Ghost.
Ghost [with a tiny little Marfa in the background. Rest in peace, tiny Marfa].
My Boogsie.
This scratch map I got that makes me feel like I've got a hell of a lot of
traveling left to do.

And when it doesn't rain, which is always, I can walk to my junction and read and grade and people watch at a billion different coffee shops. But of course I'm a creature, too, of habit, and I don't like change. But I do like making myself look like Godzilla in the bathroom of Intelligentsia.

Six more weeks left of actual classes. One week [almost] of Thanksgiving break, during which I will venture back up north, as I do at least once every semester, to see my brother and my sister. Brother doesn't know I'm coming, though. Sometimes you just gotta show up on someone's doorstep with a bottle of whiskey and have hope that they won't turn you away. Oh, and I've decided how I'm going to use Ghost Ticket to Berlin. I am flying to a tiny island in the sea in December. I am staying through the new year. Malta. Don't ask me why. It's not a secret. I truly do not know what's calling me there. Maybe something about it being two letters off from "Marfa." Maybe because it's an island. Maybe because of Malta Kano in Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. But it came to me one day that I might go to Malta with my ghost ticket. And since I spent last New Years on the other side of the world, why not do it again. Why not make a habit of it, really. No question marks.

And tonight is the last in a series of 6 nights in a row in which I did something each night. Updates about that wonderful shitshow of a life [week long] plan forthcoming.

*     &     *

Here are some things I've been thinking about as the semester, as the fall, as the year progresses:

I moved to Los Angeles in large part to run away from winter. And I succeeded. And I love it. But. Sometimes the sunshine and heat in the midst of what should be impending snowfall [if I were home, if I were other home ((SLC))] makes my insides feel like static. Which, in case you're not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, is a bad thing. I was talking to my students about this the other day, and I decided that it bothers me not because heat and sunshine bother me, but because it makes it truly feel like summer. And I love summer more than anyone I know, but when it's summer and then school starts, and then get it gets fall-ish, and then it gets summer again, it makes me feel like time is moving backward. Or not moving at all. Like there's no difference between last week's 80 degrees and the two weeks before school's 80 degrees. It's October. My blood knows it. My blood made me buy sipping chocolate mix at Trader Joe's but the sun's too hot to let me enjoy it yet. Halloween is coming. Usually I'd be bracing for hibernation. I don't know what to brace for now.

I'm realizing that the hardest part of this process of heartbreak, at least now, six months later, is admitting that I was wrong. Since I was 14, I've been writing this narrative. I used to tell it to myself over and over. It was a way out. It was a road to somewhere different than where I felt I was trapped at that age. It was a narrative that appropriated every love story I'd ever heard of unrequited love of years of back and forth, finally ending in togetherness. It was Ginny telling Harry that she always knew eventually he'd love her. It was Ross and Rachel in her apartment after she got off the plane, it was Big and Carrie in Paris, it was Derek and Meredith in a hallway, pick me, choose me, love me, it was JD and Elliot realizing that they were already always in love, that song with all the clapping playing in the background where are we going/have we gone too far? This is embarrassing to admit for a few reasons. One is that you now know just how much trashy television I've watched [I've watched all the best television, too, so don't judge me]. Two is that you now know how deeply I incorporated fictional romance into my being to the point where my life couldn't possibly turn out any other way than my fictional characters' lives did without severe mental rupture and a lot of personal reckoning. Well, here I am. At personal reckoning, in the midst of severe mental rupture. I was wrong. I was wrong about the person I've loved for 11 years. I was wrong about our future, about fate, about this love being something other than unrequited. I was wrong to have faith. The faith I always held onto no matter what. Faith that feels like a fucking joke now. Like holding onto it even a second longer would be the equivalent of swallowing a vat of rat poison, of hugging a radioactive something, of falling asleep in a pool of acid. The story I've always told myself isn't real. It's one thing to say this. It's another thing to feel it. It isn't real. And it's all I gave myself. And so... nothing. I'm starting over. It feels like it's from scratch, but I know it's not. I know I've built an entire self between then and now and I know that self is everything even without my partner. But my entire story, if it doesn't end like I always thought [and now it never will], becomes negated. Not only will it never be, but it becomes as if it never was. Because if that whole time I thought I knew the ending, and the ending turned out differently, then that rewrites the plot points for me, reweighs their significance. Weight. Nothing. Story. Nothing. Love. Nothing. Self. Rebuilding. The story I always thought I could write about this, the real story, one on a page, not one in my head, the story he helped me outline when he walked me through the meanings of attack decay sustain release, and I saw the narrative of our [at the time, fictional] downfall. I have to write that story now. When I told him I wanted to write it back then, after all the explaining, smiling at each other, holding each other in my kitchen in Salt Lake City, I told him but I can never write this story, because this is the story of us not working out. This is the story of our relationship falling apart. So it'll be a story I'm never able to write. Fuck me for tempting fate, is all I have to say about that.

I moved to New York when I was 18. My brother moved to New York when he was 18. I moved to California in my 20s. My brother moved to California in his 20s. I miss him.

I bought this watch the other day. I've only ever owned two watches that I actually wore. And eventually I decided it pained me to have time ticking away like that, right on my own arm. Like I was complicit in it or something. So I decided never to wear a watch in my whole life. But then I found this watch. And all it says is NOW, and what more could I ask for? I wear it every day.

&c &c &c:
Brought cupcakes to my babskies today. I think we're all completely exhausted
 at this point in the semester, so I opted for treats and a documentary instead of a
discussion and a new assignment.
I only turn on my television once every one to two weeks to watch the shows
I've recorded. And of course I turned it on a few nights ago. And of course this is
what appeared on the screen. Win Butler in all his impending album release glory,
singing with that voice that only reminds me of how heartbroken I still am.
M tells me, lean into the heartbreak. And in my head I say, yes but not so far that
I fall in. Arcade Fire is one of the harder ones to hold onto in this process of
letting go.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Thursday at 826la East, we had a chapbook release party for the book the kids in this year's after school tutoring program wrote over the course of several weeks. They imagined creatures, gave details, developed plot, edited, and the people at 826 put all their stories into a book. At the release, some of the kids got up and read their stories to the rest of us. Some of them were super nervous, but also really wanted to read. You could tell. They were proud but didn't want to show it. Were shy but wanted to share their accomplishments with their friends and tutors. I was nervous for them. In the first session, two of my girls, J and V kept telling me their hearts were pounding and this made my heart start pounding. I knew they'd do great, but I could just feel their nerves and their pride, and it overwhelmed me. In the second session, D, the girl I work with most frequently, the girl who has become a friend to me over the past year, 11 years old, a fucking firecracker like no other girl I've ever met there, she read her short piece. The chapbook takes its title from the last line of her story: He Can't Stop Time Because Time Flies.

She floors me. D does. He can't stop time because time flies. I have never come up with a line as simple and perfect and true as that in my life. And she didn't even want to write a story! Every day it was a struggle to get her to put pen to paper. But I practically begged her, because there is something so epic inside that tiny person. She looked like Michael Jackson up there in her fedora, turned sideways toward the mic. Some of the kids had the tutors sign their chapbooks, kind of like year books, and in D's I wrote: I am so proud of you. You know you my girl. After a few minutes, she went to read what I wrote, put her book down, started to grab her homework, looked at me and said, "I know I am."

I don't talk about 826 much on here, which is strange because it's a huge part of my life. Every Thursday, I drive from campus after teaching freshman writing, I drive to Echo Park to tutor elementary school students. I think I don't talk about it because it feels like a separate part of my life from everything else I do. But I realized on Thursday that that couldn't be farther from the truth. What happens at 826 is the kind of thing that made me who I am. When I was asked in a questionnaire last semester why I volunteer at 826, I said something about how the kids inspire me. And that is 100% true. But that's not really what brought me to that place. I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I've been taking inventory, reconciling my past with my present heartbreak, trying to find where I am in the mess that's left. No matter how terrible I felt last semester, no matter how many times I bailed on yoga or on seeing my friends, I never skipped an 826 tutoring session. And here's why:

I volunteer at 826la because I never had friends growing up. I don't say this to elicit pity. I didn't care that I didn't have friends. I mean, I cared, but I got so used to it from such a young age that I let any negative feelings about the subject drift toward the background of my thoughts. I was an anxious kid. I was always thinking my house would burn down. In addition to my parents, two other adults helped raise me: my grandmother, who lived with us, and my babysitter, who spent every week day with us until I was 6 and my grandma moved in. When I was 9 years old, the only two people to sign my yearbook were my bus driver, Sue, and my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Leslie. I had a best friend who was my neighbor, but she was a grade younger than me so I never saw her at school. And she was always in charge in our friendship, so it was less like a friendship and more like a competition in which I always lost but never fought for anything different. If we played t-rex & velociraptor, she always got to be the velociraptor. If we played jungle cats, she always got to be the black panther or the leopard, whichever one was more desirable to both of us at the time. On swim team, she always had faster times, always made it to State. I made it to State once in 6 years. She never signed my year book.

I never knew how to connect to other kids. One day, a new girl at school was left out because she didn't have a jump rope at recess. I had two jump ropes at home so the next day I brought mine and I brought my extra one for her. She looked at me and said "no thank you," and went off with the other girls. I think I still have this issue to an extent. I lack something necessary to make a good first impression on people. And kids are so fickle that I never stood a chance back then. But that's not the point. The point is this: Adults were my only friends. Not all of them, by any means, but a few of them. My babysitter, my grandma, my bus driver, the lunch ladies, my 2nd grade teacher, my 7th grade teacher. They saw something in me that kids my age [I include myself in that category] couldn't see. And I lived off their attention and their support. I didn't need much. I was a shy, quiet kid [yeah, I know that if you know me now you're probably laughing at the idea that I used to never say anything to anyone, but it's true]. The adults in my life sustained me until I found my fellow outsiders in the theater department in high school. The adults are what kept me going. I wanted to impress them. I wanted them to feel like their admiration of me [or whatever it was], was for good reason. I can feel this with some of the kids I tutor. Not all of them, of course. Most kids are good at making friends with other kids. And even the ones I've bonded with the most, they have friends. Or at least it looks like they do. But they seem unsure, sometimes, about their place in the world. And some of them want to be grown up so badly. And when D asked me to sign her chapbook, I instantly had a flashback to when I asked my bus driver to sign my yearbook. Something I haven't thought about since I was a kid. I read what she wrote back then over and over again. It wasn't much at all. It wasn't even inspiring. But it was written proof that I had a friend who actually knew my name and was willing to put the effort into writing a few words just for me. D is a tough girl. She always says she doesn't care. She can be disobedient. She acts out. While she was writing her story for the chapbook, she and I weren't getting along too well. But when I saw her final story printed on the page in the chapbook, my name in the last line, I knew her aggression toward me recently was all show. And when she looked me in the eye and said, "I know I am," I knew suddenly and immediately exactly why it is that I do this. If I can make even one kid feel less alone, I feel like I will have started to repay the kindness of the adults who did that for me. This isn't about "giving back to my community." This is a selfish endeavor, as I believe most volunteering is. I owe something to the universe, and 826 gives me a way to pay up. In the mean time, I fall in love with these kids, they pull me out of myself so I can stop sorting my life out for just a few hours, so I can stop accounting for where I went wrong. And I get to re-learn long division again, which is kinda cool.

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Saturday, L, C, & I hit up an Echo Park coffee shop for tasty foods and beverages before driving a billion hours down to "the OC" to look at tiny sustainable houses in a giant parking lot. And it was THE BEST. It was called the Solar Decathlon and it's hosted by the US Department of Energy. According to their website, this is their goal:
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Students designed and built these houses. STUDENTS. There are a lot of rules for the competition, but one of the major ones seemed to be that the houses could only be up to 1,000 square feet. I live in a very tiny apartment in Los Angeles and I'm obsessed with design and efficiency of space, so this whole thing was incredibly exciting for me. I took way too many photos so that someday, given the opportunity [read: $$$], I can merge a lot of these design ideas together into one perfect space. My best friend and I have been talking about wanting to buy land somewhere someday so we can have a little farm and a designer CSA. And what better house to build on that farmland than one that is entirely sustainable and beautifully designed? So that was all in the back of my mind as I walked up and down the epically huge parking lot in the middle of something called Great Park, somewhere in the massive "OC."

Click here for a gallery of all the different houses. There were 19. The Middlebury house was my favorite because of it's amazing living room/kitchen/dining room open floor plan. And the colors and materials in that space were so cozy and inviting.

Anyway, here are the rest of the photos I took, not in any particular order because it would take me too long to go back and categorize each of these by their respective houses. Mostly I was just interested in the aesthetics of the designs and the materials the students used. Reclaimed wood is maybe my favorite material in the world.
These are actually at my house. The mini versions of the two mid-century
modern chairs pictured above.

After a long, exhausting few hours touring tiny sustainable houses, we went to the food trucks. There was a bacon food truck. So I ordered all the bacon all ever all.
Cinnamon rolls wraped in bacon covered in cinnamon and sugar.

And after all that, the drive, the house looking, the bacon, we drove back to LA, took a 20 minute break, then went to see a play in Glendale written by L's friend. It's about the widows of coal miners in West Virginia. It was... intense. If every Saturday were like this, I'd have the fullest life, but I'd also never get anything done.