Monday, February 24, 2020

      It has been a pure joy to host Literary Readings as part of my residency here at the Beach House. 

      As a writer I often long for good literary events such as Readings by some favorite fiction or memoir writers. Los Angeles' Writing  Community is widely spread out and made of up many, micro-communities that don't often come together to see, hear, and support each other.  When I applied for the Beach House Residency I knew, as part of my community events, that I wanted to organize Literary Readings––give California-based writers a beautiful venue to read their work, and give the Los Angeles community of writers an opportunity to spend two hours of a late afternoon weekend not only in a spectacular location but in the company of fine writers and moving stories, which (with the exception of one) all take place in California and have strong connection to a Sense of Place. 

      My final Literary Reading at the Beach House will be MARCH 15TH, SUNDAY AT 4PM. PLEASE JOIN US to hear LOU MATHEWS, RON DOWELL, SUSAN BERMAN, SANDY YANG, and MICHELLE LATIOLAIS read from their work. 
      Each of these writers has moved and inspired me, each one brings a unique, at times funny, lens in which, their often flawed, and lovable characters navigate through the complex place that is Los Angeles––California. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Sometimes writing is impossible. I can sit in front my page and change semicolons here and there, delete a word here and there but nothing else seems possible. Today was such a day.

Instead of spending another 30 minutes in front of a page––I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes in order to make myself get up from my chair and stretch or walk up and down the stairs a couple of times––I decided to go for a walk.

Most days when I am here, at the end of the day I go for a walk on the beach, north, to the jetty and back. It is around a 40 minute walk, long enough to feel a shift in my mind and body, long enough to take in my surroundings. 
      Last week, I ventured out on on a cold California day with a strong wind that disoriented hundreds of seagulls and pushed up against the crashing waves. The beach was empty, except for a person with what looked like all her belongings, taking shelter underneath a boarded-up lifeguard station, and a few people walking close to the water as the sun was setting through the thin fog on the invisible horizon.  I came upon a dead gull; its wing like an elbow stuck out of the wet sand. The other seagulls didn't seem to notice and each went about their business making their way through the wind. I thought of Chekov's play, "The Seagull," I thought of oil spills that killed sea life, I thought of what the dead bird might represent if it were a symbol. The sun had disappeared and twilight emanated a dark, barely violet light. The flecks of people scattered on the beach were distant shadows   as I pulled up my hood turned toward the parking lot.

But today the beach is a different landscape. The receding tide has left millions of tiny seashells, pools of water, islands of sand, rocks and shells softened by time and sunlight. Today the wind is a welcomed warmth on my skin, and the seagulls, like myself, are bathing in it. My imagination and memory are ignited in a myriad of ways. But what struck me the most is this image I was able to capture:

Monday, January 27, 2020

Good morning Santa Monica Writer in Residence Community,

I am thrilled to have been chosen as a Writer in Residence at the Annenberg Community Beach House.

Along with spending time working in my office in the historical Marion Davies Guest House I can enjoy this very special time––winter at the beach.

We had our first event on Saturday the 25th of January––a Literary Reading in which I invited four California-based authors to read their work. The commonality of each reading was that their stories all took place in California, and specifically Los Angeles.

I am fascinated with Place and the effect it has on individuals––this love of a Sense of Place is carried into my literary taste and my own writing.

The characters in fiction and non-fiction that are the most compelling are always the ones who are affected by their surroundings. The air they breathe, the time of day, the season, the smells, what their eyes see and the sounds they hear will impact the way they walk, talk; it will impact their actions, their wants and desires.

A Sense of Place is 90% of how I start my writing; in other words, the seed of the beginning is more often than not anchored in Place. And I mean, specifically, anchored in Place; meaning it is not a general statement like: he walked on the beach. But specific details of the place conveyed through the senses which will bring the reader into the world of the story or chapter.

This particular California coastline intrigues me and brings to light an array of memories from my childhood when I visited America and this coastline for the first time, coming from Paris, France––my native country.
Through the eyes of a child; a young Parisian girl, in 1978, the California coast was a magical, limitless landscape and with its beauty, also, came poignant and surreal scenes one would notice if she spent a lot of time on the beach, as the characters in the novel I am working on here during my residency, do.

Friday, December 13, 2019

"We're going to need a bigger [boat] truck..."

Hi Santa Monica.
How's everyone doing this holiday season? Me, I'm in hibernation mode, avoiding as many people as I can (within reason, one has to get groceries, and when one goes, one has to answer the solicitous Trader Joe's employee who wants to know just what you're going to do with that dinky bag of trimmed leeks).

It's a common misconception that people (like me) who avoid large gatherings of humanity "don't like people." I like people just fine. I even (gulp) love some people. What I don't like is crowds. And yes, a crowd is a what, not a who, because a crowd is what happens when a group of individuals becomes so large that you lose track of where one person ends and the other begins, when beings cram and shove and stuff themselves into a maelstrom, or a melee, or any other chaos word that starts with m. Am I being dramatic? Well, sure. But you've seen those horrid black friday videos, right? You know what a crowd is?

This is why you'll find me hibernating. Because the holiday season means public places are more crowded. I'm really not sure why this is. Maybe it's because people are consuming more and the easiest way to consume is to leave home. Or maybe every single person, right after thanksgiving, gives birth to another whole person; a fully grown, impatiently driving, canned goods aisle space taker upper. You don't have to take my word for it, just try a grocery store parking lot anytime after 3pm and see what happens.

In addition to the pulsing hordes on sidewalks and in shops, I'm hibernating because I just finished a big project. It's almost a week since I shared my culminating performance with folks in the Sand & Sea room, and in that week I've found it challenging to handle some of life's simpler tasks. Don't get me wrong. I've gone to work. I've gone to get coffee. But I've felt less equipped to feel, well, crowded-- or maybe more accurately, I've felt less equipped to take up space, myself. I don't want my body, voice, or any fiber of my being to participate in crowd-ening. I want to be invisible, I want to disappear. And I'm seeing now that this is taking a dark turn. But don't worry. This treatise on extreme introversion isn't a cry for help. It's just a whisper request to be hidden, for now, and maybe through the rest of the year.

Am I alone in this? I don't think so. The end of the year finds lots of folks presenting annual reports, showing up for peer reviews, doing all sorts of stock taking. So on top of the shocking accretion of people in CVS, there's an added layer of self-examination, or self-awareness, or just "how am I doing-ness."

So I present to you the following: let yourself experience what you need to (again, within reason, and with some endeavor of civility toward your fellow people-- that Trader Joe's cashier REALLY needs to tell you about the best chickpea recipe, really!). If you can sit somewhere quietly, under a blanket or under a pet or under a lap top playing an endless loop of your favorite crime procedural, then do it. And if you don't have the privilege of a few nightly hours of peace, then take the 5 minutes you'd normally spend scouring the internet for in-law gifts, and use it to watch a puppy video, or listen to a favorite song, or just hang out in the bathroom pretending to fix your hair.

My final office hours are this weekend. And unlike a Whole Foods parking lot, the Beach House is a lovely, quiet place this time of year. Please feel free to stop by and talk art, or talk holidays, or talk least obvious methods of hiding at a family gathering.
be well :)

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Thank You Note ...

to the people who came to my show, the people who texted or direct messaged because they couldn't come to my show, the people who listened to me talk about this show for the past few months (and longer), and to the person who provided the very first kernel of inspiration: my heat-rash mottled, sun-sick, angry girlfriend.

For those of you who didn't see the show, you all know the name of its title character by now: Graham Canyon. It's really just a sound-alike joke, a typical punny drag name I said while hiking through the Grand Canyon in the summer of 2018.

We've all been there. No matter what the activity, no matter what the relationship. We've all been in a position where a friend wants to stay longer at a party where you don't know enough people and the ones you do know aren't so compelling. We've all been on a too-long drive or a winding hike with the end never quite in sight, while our travel partner seems totally unfazed by the meandering, or worse, enjoying it. And if you've never been there, maybe you've seen it: a couple at the batting cage or the mini-golf course where one seems to be an infuriating combination of adept and peppy while the other whines and drags a bat or club across the plastic blades of astroturf.

In the summer of 2018, my girlfriend and I took a road trip through the southwest. Both outdoorsy types, we decided to hike from the North end of the Grand Canyon down to Ribbon Falls and back. It is and always will be one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever been on. And in all honesty, I felt one hundred percent great in my body one percent of the time. My girlfriend, on the other hand, got so hot on the way back that dark red bloomed in circles on her ankles and calves. She got so hot that her whole face, normally a complexion I'd classify as "milky vampire," turned closer to one of those honeybaked hams you find at every holiday party. She got so hot that when I asked her some inane question, trying to keep her spirits up, she said, "I can't talk right now, I just need to keep going."

Sometimes you're too hot to talk. I get it. I mean I don't really, because I'm never "too" hot. And while "too cold" is something I am frequently, the solution for that is usually to chatter constantly while jumping up and down, so it's more of a celebratory, if not manic, situation.

I happen to love hiking in silence, so I took the cue and let things be quiet for a while. But at a certain point, when we started to climb back out of the canyon, and the air got thinner, and the dirt got looser, and our feet were starting to feel like wet sacks of flour, I figured I better think of something to say to keep up morale.

Another twenty minutes of silence and climbing passed before I mumbled, "What do you think of a drag king named Graham Canyon?"

She laughed softly, still not turning around. And that, ladies and gentlemen and neither and both, is how the character was born. And on Saturday night, almost two years later, Graham got to meet Santa Monica.

I still have one week left at the Beach House, so if you were at the show and would like to come and chat about it, I'll be at my office hours next Sunday. And as always, I'm here and here and here (that's twitter, ig, and my website, respectively).

There will be another, proper thank you coming soon. For now, I have to get to sweeping all the bits and pieces of papier-maché in my studio.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Mostly Paper & Glue

There's a room in my home that currently smells like the inside of a kindergarten classroom. For seven days a week, anytime between the hours of 2 and 11pm, I sit, stand, and crouch in that room, surrounded by the scent of aging newspapers, crafting glue, and stale black coffee. I'm in there so long, I go noseblind. The way campers get used to hair that smells of campfire and stale sweat, I go numb to the musty shreds of the LA Times, to the gallon of white goop in a bucket, to the coffee I made four hours ago that never seems to give up the ghost.

If you know me, you've heard me talk about the show I'm putting up in two weeks: The Legend of Graham Canyon.  And if you know anything about it, you know it requires (because I made myself require it) some pretty massive set pieces. Set pieces I'm making. Making with papier-maché. Why did I do this to myself? I ask myself that almost hourly. It seemed simple, when I first had the idea: a one person show with just three set pieces, each of them papier-maché. How "bespoke," how "handmade." That's how I sold it, anyway; to the selection committee, and to myself.

The thing about papier-maché is that even when it's good, it looks 87 percent coocoo. And that's when it's finished. Here I am mid-process, wading through paper clippings and old shoe boxes, questioning my sanity. Here I am in a room that looks straight out of an "I Love Lucy" episode. In fact, I'm not convinced there isn't an episode like this: in which Lucy tries to convince Ricky she needs a housekeeper, in which she enlists Ethel to haul trash bags up from the basement like a pack-mule, in which Lucy ends up ass deep in a living room full of rubbish, wailing and keening over the hijinx gone awry, Ricky emitting his signature squawk-laugh.

Of course in the gentle universe of 1950's sitcoms, Lucy always got what she wanted (except, of course, becoming "part of the act"). The set up could be a zany garbage fire, but the resolution would always be love and cleanliness. Here I am in 2019, and I can't seem to make it past the set up. I'm stuck in the first ten minutes of my own sitcom, trapped in sticky, chicken wire loop. The phrase "hairbrained scheme" doesn't even begin to cover the mess I've made. I'm knee deep in crumpled editorials and ribboned, undecipherable panels of "Drabble." My hands, forearms, and sometimes forehead are covered with what looks like gray, opaque scabs, the remnants of newsprint and adhesive.

English is my second language, so I don't always know the idioms and phrases that apply. Let's just say that the more I do, the more work there seems to be. I'm on a time-wasting errand, I'm chasing a big wild bird. That guy who pushed the rock up the hill has nothing on me. Did he spend hours tearing sports pages by hand? Did he try to make a giant sombrero out of box scores? I didn't think so.

Don't get me wrong. I'm blessed with work, and can't wait to share these massive, stupid creations with the world (or 50 people in Santa Monica). But until that day-- December 7th, 7pm, Sand & Sea Room-- you'll find me in the back of my house, making a 5 foot tall cactus out of Bill Plaschke columns. At least there's a little black and white portrait near the byline. That way every few inches, I see a smiling, goateed face looking up at me. And that's enough, for now.

if you see a small person made almost entirely of paper and glue around the beach house, say hi.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Mountains, Bodies, Art

Good morning, Santa Monica

Have you been to the mountains, recently? Temescal Canyon? Skull Rock? Have you braved the eastbound freeways and gone to the *cough* big boy mountains in the San Gabriels. Just kidding. Santa Monica mountains are like, so cute. 

But let's be real. People who aren't from here don't always associate the mountains with Los Angeles, which is odd, because you see them when you fly in. You really can't miss them. And what makes them even more special? They're free. Yes, in addition to the beach, a visit to the Griffith Observatory, and just sitting on a bench by the Echo Park Lake watching beautiful, creatively dressed 20somethings walk by, the mountains are right up there with LA's best free activities.

One of the other things I love about the mountains? You find all kinds of people there. You find all ages, all races, and all gender expressions. You also find all bodies-- which is another form of diversity we often forget, especially when it comes to activities that are deemed or (god forbid, "branded") athletic in nature. As a light skinned POC (which I believe fashion agencies are now calling "ethnically ambiguous"- groan) with a wiry frame, I move through life with a significant amount of privilege. I don't often find adult clothes that fit me, but that's the worst of it. Once I discovered the boys section at thrift stores, it was pretty much smooth sailing. 

How did I get here? More importantly, why:
because the mountains, bodies, and art, are inextricably linked for me; especially now, while working on The Legend of Graham Canyon. 

A long run or hike in the mountains is a solitary, physical roller coaster. At mile 7 you might feel like the strongest person alive, at mile 10 you might feel like you're in abject misery, and at mile 14, you might suddenly feel lighter than air. Also, it's completely self-imposed-- no one asks me to do it, and with the exception of folks on the mountain, who have been known to see a stranger climbing and shout "good work!" as they pass by, no one is going to give me praise for doing it. Yet there I am, putting one foot in front of the other, because it makes me feel at home in my body, like I'm using it for what it was made. 

Equally important to note : many bodies are made for the mountains. For those able to put one foot in front of the other, there are hikes; for those that walk with aid, or are wheelchair mobile, there are still a great many overlooks and campgrounds that can be reached by car; there are several ways to be in nature... 

Yesterday, while climbing Mount Baldy with my girlfriend, we saw bodies who hadn't yet gotten their high school diploma, we saw bodies who definitely had AARP memberships, we saw legs that looked like olive garden breadsticks and legs that looked like kings hawaiian rolls... (does using bread as analog take some of the stigmas and value judgements out of body shape? or at least make the different shapes sound warm and delicious?) 

Why am I here? Again, my time in the mountains is linked with my art practice. I can walk for hours in the mountains, hoping to reach a peak and hoping not to get lost. And when I make art, I sit alone for hours, toiling on a project no one assigned, and maybe no one will see, and again, hoping not to get too lost -- to arrive at something I can show others, something visible above the morass of my other creative projects. I rearrange the same five words, I spend hours making a giant papier-maché cactus, I sometimes have fun and I sometimes feel like I'm pulling my intestines out like a ribbon, inch by inch. But I keep doing it, because it makes me feel at home in my brain, like I'm using it for what it was meant to do.

So that's me. Today. 
If you wanna talk more, come see me at the Beach House, or get at me on twitter, or instagram
and if you absolutely need more
have a good week, everyone