Tag Archives: city life

Sent from my iPhone by Laura Munson

IMG_7407I haven’t lived in a city since cell phones or emails or the internet infiltrated our civilization.  So as much as I long for my inner-child Chicago city fix, especially in the deep midwinter dormancy of Montana, when I get that fix, I’m always stunned, disoriented, and frankly worried for our world. The romance of the city, the beat and brash and bravado, the sensory glut, the shiny slick, and the glorious edge…all come at me catapult.  I want to feel every bit of it.  So I fight to keep my Montana filter-less-ness.  I want to do a daring dance with empathy, staring it all down…knowing that I will have to turn away sooner than later, blur my eyes, hold my breath past remarkable stench and heart break.  Still, I ask my heart to pound in pace with city vibrato, until I have to ask my better-sense to grab the back of my neck and force it forward. Downward. Observing only my boots and the sidewalk.  You can’t take it all in, in the end, but I like to try for a wide-eyed aperture for as long as I can stand it.

I try to make that filter-less-ness last as long as I can because I want to see who we’ve become.  I want to see that screens and satellite beams criss-crossing invisibly around us haven’t wound us so tight that we won’t be able to find our way out of this world wide web, if need be.  (I sense that there will be a Need Be.)  I want to believe that these buttons we push without a click or a feel to them, are making our lives easier and our propensity to wonder about the person crossing the street, greater. I want to believe that because it is possible to know so much now with those buttons and those screens and satellite strings…that we’re using that knowledge to linger in our longing to know each other.  Yes?  To sit longer at a meal and ask an extra question of our colleague or daughter or friend. To smile on the subway, especially at sad eyes, or to meet them with our own sad eyes. To step out of the sidewalk sea and sit on a bench for no other reason than:  all of this knowledge has turned us into supreme seeking beings and it begs us to stop.  Watch.  Feel.  See.  Know. I want to believe all of that.  But sitting there on a bench, watching the sidewalk sea…I don’t.  I see people walking faster and faster and the beat driving them harder and harder.  So serious and so purpose-driven and so confident about what’s around the bend.

Last week in San Francisco, after leading Haven Writing Workshops, helping people to figure out how to write a book and how to find their voices and figure out what they have to say…I sat there on a bench and I asked myself:  How purposefully and confidently can we really walk when we depend on a small rectangle of light and its buttons and arrows to tell us where to go right and left, and when to walk straight or take a slight turn…or re-calculate. Or push in a few numbers and have a car appear that takes us where we want to go so that we don’t have to look at all.  We seem so cock-sure.  But my Montana-ness knows that it’s such a thin veneer and I wanted to cry out, “Don’t you all know how incapacitated we have all become???  How reliant?  How clueless?  Don’t you realize how fickle our power is if it depends on a cord or a battery or a plug???”  Where oh where is our true power?

Because if and when the beams stop beaming and we are released from the satellite string…nay, rope….will we look up and at each other and say, “Woah. That was a weird dream.  I dreamed I was fine.  Great, even.  But I’m not fine.  Or great.  At all.  And you don’t look much better.  Let’s not even ask each other how we are.  Let’s just be with one another.  That looks like a nice park bench. Come, let’s sit for a while and tell each other our stories. Without looking at that little rectangle of light thingy, whatever it is. Let me see your hand.  It looks tired from holding that flat ‘smart’ thing. Remember when your hand used to hold reins and gallop to the river? Or hold the plow? Or palm the seed by the light of the full moon? Was that better then? Did we look at each other more? Did we not know where we were going but for news from the next town over from a wayward traveler? Or from the way cottonwoods flank river beds across a valley? Or that the shape of a nine-month pregnant belly meant that the world around that woman needed to ready itself for another miracle?  Get the hot water boiling.  Sterilized rags.  Call the midwife?

Is our midwife named Siri now?  (At least mine has a British accent, so I feel “smart” to have a chum like her when I wander around at her discretion, muttering to myself, this is not the zombie apocalypse.  This is not the zombie apocalypse.)

Because that’s the thing:  I have to be careful not to pretend like I am above any of it just because I don’t live in the thick of it.  If Montana has taught me anything, it’s that I know I’m not above anything.  In fact, being so removed from our city civilization for twenty-seven years, often has me in a state of less-than, full-FOMO, feeling like an underconfident and yes, under-competent Rip VanWinkle.  Like when I’m in the city, I’ve been jolted awake from my own deep sleep, the opposite dream, in which I’ve been too long nestled in the cleavage of Mother Nature, going days without speaking to anyone, my only witness, the white-tailed deer.  My cell phone doesn’t even work at my house.  My wifi is fickle and so is my power.  The fireplace is not decorative.  It’s a hearth that would burn if all else failed in the way of technology, and there have been plenty of winter nights when it’s the keeper of my hope too.  And I lie there staring at its flickering coals and feeling its heat, thinking that fire is where it all started.  Fire was the initial step that humans took to what has become our giant step into our current state of things.  How different was that first spark from what happens in Microsoft think-tanks in Palo Alto?

So I wonder:

Have we always been like we are now, just with different gizmos and the same ambition?  So cock-sure in our questions and so hungry for answers? Did we claw our way up the invention ladder to this world of technology that has become our norm, yes even in Montana, (though my best friend still has dial-up and doesn’t have a cell phone at all), and has our technology really made life easier? Has it really connected us? How do we really feel…alone in the dark with our little rectangular screens giving us answers about where to go and what to do and how someone else is feeling and what they are doing?

All week long, walking the city streets, I saw despair, is what I saw.  Emptiness.  A lot of people in comfortable, yet chic, shoes, a yoga mat slung over their shoulder, ears full of headphones, Bluetooth, earbuds, talking into the ozone.  Loudly.  I saw people looking into screens for answers, not into each others’ eyes. The conversations that came easily were with– get this: Uber and Lyft drivers…most of them new to this country and trying to figure it out too.  And thus, also looking at screens for answers—shortest route, traffic, construction.  But still, into the rearview mirror, asking me how my day was going. I didn’t tell them any of this. I told them “Great!” Like everyone else. I guess a filter can only last so long, unless you want your heart to break.

So before it did, with two more days in the city, I promised to linger longer at each table with my little rectangular notebook instead of my phone. Pen to paper I wrote what I could see and recognize about our city civilization that lasts, regardless of how we have, and will continue to, develop as a species. I asked myself:  what’s been here from the beginning and what will be with us always, besides the fact that none of us is getting out of here alive.

It was the stuff you’d think it was.  I wrote:

I believe in people’s central goodness.  Just look at the way that man helped that older woman with the cane get to her seat, and waited with her until she was settled.

I believe in our need for community.  Just look at the way this restaurant has a communal table and that it’s fuller than the bar.

I believe in our fear.  Everyone’s talking about the earthquake last night and recalling 1989.  And no one is cavalier.  “Isn’t there a way for them to know when they’re coming?” I asked.  No.  Not even Siri can tell us that.

I believe in the collective.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t we all do as my literary hero, and perhaps me too:

“The world that used to nurse us
now keeps shouting inane instructions.
That’s why I ran to the woods.”
― Jim Harrison

I believe in our ability to stay.  Hold vigil.  Keep the hearth warm, whatever that means for each of us.  The tenacity of the homeless who brave the nights in doorways with one blanket and maybe some cardboard.

I also believe in our hope.  When it’s time to take a new step in a new direction.  And it might be a surprise step.  I believe in our ability to believe that there’s something around the bend that might change everything, and it might change everything for the better.  Better being a relative term.

And I think all of these core beliefs apply to any sort of living—country, city, suburban.  But it does require us stopping from time to time, moment to moment, and removing the filter to check in on where our civilization is and isn’t.  So find a bench.  A stoop.  Some steps.  And stop.  Take pause.

I’m about to go to Morocco for a month of it.  Alone.  This is my deep bow after all these years of day-to-day hands-on mothering.  It’s also my call to action for what’s ahead—to live into it bravely and whole-heartedly.  And who knows if my cell phone or my GPS will help me navigate the labyrinthine medinas and markets and if I’ll find my way effectively across the desert.  I don’t speak Arabic, or even French.  I’m going to get by on these core beliefs.  I’ll be writing about it along the way.  I think we all need to take a giant step out of our lives and see who we really are, alone in the world, without technology.  Become disoriented and wobbly and look our fear in the eye and each others’ fear too.  I found some good walking shoes.  My daughter gave me a beautiful blank-paged journal for Christmas.  I have a good book.  I have my beliefs and I have my central goodness, which I have to believe is greater than my fear.  Just like love.  Just…like…you.

Bon Voyage.

Love,

Laura

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice.  It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana!  Click for more info.

March 20-24 (full with wait list)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year.  Still warm during the day.  Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)

E1CFA93F-DDC1-4CFA-B948-108B7E4CAF9A

***Haven Wander:  Morocco (February 2019) is full

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under My Posts

Anthropomorphizing a Boot


I have one thing in my wardrobe which feels like a friend. The truest of the bluest.
This item has been with me to most every major American city this year.
It’s been up and down steep smelly service stairways in hotel after hotel, and it doesn’t judge me one bit for my
elevator phobia.

It has kept me out of chiropractor’s offices.
It has elicted compliments and to my surprise, even did a convincing impersonation of thigh high patent leather F*** Me boots on
national television.
I am in love.

To my boots:

You don’t have a pretentious bone in your body.

You don’t go cheap for style when it comes to your better sense, and that’s:  function. 

You are kind to my L5. 

You are balancing to my sometimes weak knees when the hard questions get asked and there’s a large audience waiting for an answer with meat, grace, and wisedom.  You get me.

And so to you, my black leather Dansko boots…deep thanks.
May we travel well in 2011.
And if you’re really good, I’ll take you to Italy after the paperback book tour and introduce you to cobblestones and fields of fig trees.

21 Comments

Filed under My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

Form? Function? Does it Matter?

Form? Function? Does it Matter? It makes us stop and take a look.


Cildo Meireles, Thread, 1990-95
48 bales of hay, one 18-carat gold needle, and 58 meters of gold thread
First time on view at MoMA

I saw this sculpture at MOMA a few weeks ago in New York City.  Here’s what is written about it:

“Meireles creates sculptures and installations that tie everyday materials to larger political and philosophical concerns. ‘Thread’ is a modular cube, a form evocative of the geometric rationality of Minimalist art, but it is constructed of a material generally associated with agriculture. At one end of the wire, a single 18-carat gold needle is inserted into the cube, recalling the common expression, “Like finding a needle in the haystack.” The pairing of substances with different monetary values but that here are nearly indistinguishable visually suggests the precariousness of economic relationships, and the minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”

A pile of hay in Montana at a horse ranch.  circa right now.  Artist unknown.  On view most every day for the last 50 years.

Here’s what comes to my heart and mind:
The hay stack at MOMA was ridiculous to me, and as open as I am to receiving art and what it might teach or inspire, I scoffed at “Thread.”  Scoffing is not my usual practice at an art museum.  I am the one who walks around the piece a few times, no matter how “ridiculous,” giving it a chance to touch me.  I once watched a woman sucking her toe in an art installation in Paris for a good fifteen minutes.  There’s always something to learn or feel.  Violent aversion is better any day than scoffing.  Scoffing, yes, is a reaction.  But not one of any elegance.  It feels limited and akin to someone looking at a Pollock and saying, “My three year old can do that.”  “Yes, but your three year old DIDN’T do it,” I like to say. 

I suppose this brings up ye olde form follows function argument.  The very act of taking a tube of toothpaste– the commonplace, and being deliberate enough to put it into a museum, out of context, to inspire some sort of new relationship with that tube of toothpaste, is the kind of stirring-the-pot-of-perspective that art is all about.  But hay?  Good hay?  Do they know what the price of hay is these days?  Do they know how many people are being forced to get rid of their horses because of the price of hay?

I guess that’s what’s happened to the once art history major in me– after 17 years, I am a country girl.  Maybe that’s what I was scoffing at on some level.  I couldn’t “go” with this one.  It seemed wasteful and stupid.  Why not show a film of my farmer friend climbing all over her three story stack of hay, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, solo.  To me this hay sculpture was wasteful, or almost a mockery of farm life. 

All I could think of was this Montana friend, who works so hard to pay for and care for the hay which sustains her horses, standing there looking at this “sculpture,” and no, not scoffing.  But feeling kicked in the face somehow.  Some people don’t have time for this kind of perspective-pot-stirring.  They don’t want to see their livlihood on display; played with; wrapped in gold thread, and not orange baling twine– an example of the “precariousness of economic relationships.” Worse: “The minute needle embedded in the massive cube may call to mind the place of the individual within a larger social system.”  They know they are within a larger social system– one which doesn’t often offer much help. 

But here I am scoffing on their behalf.  Maybe I’m the problem because I need to report on it.  Truth is, my friend wouldn’t find herself at MOMA.  And most probably, this “scultpure,” wasn’t meant for her.  Hers is a different consciousness.  Her perspective gets stirred by the bald eagles who ride thermals above her while she climbs up this three story stack of hay and ties down tarp in wind storms. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t see hay as form and I don’t want to. I see hay as function.  Hard won.  A lot harder won than toothpaste; I don’t mind trying to see a tube of toothpaste out of context and receiving the lessons therein.  And even calling it art. But when I see my friend up on that hay stack, risking her life twice a day to feed forty head of horses, and never complaining about it…when I see her up there, I feel the passion and hardship of farm life.  And yes, my perspective is stirred.  Because when I offer to help, she declines.  She has her system.  I would be in the way.  Maybe then, you could say, that she has her “art.” And it’s not important that it’s witnessed.

Once I got over my initial scoffing that day at MOMA, I walked around the sculpture a few times– reminding myself that it is best to see where we are in our own way, and let go of it. There’s no real power in scoffing unless we’re going to do something about it. And really, this wasn’t one of those times. And finally, this stack of hay, erected there in a museum, was benign.  In fact, I decided that I would have liked it more if it wasn’t wrapped in gold thread and if it was missing its gold needle.  I would have liked it more if it was just the same as what stands tall in my friend’s field, waiting to be eaten, threatening to rot in its place.  Because at least in that form, it would be like an animal in the zoo– sacrificing its freedom to educate those who would otherwise never see it in the wild. 

That’s it!  I thought. The reason for the scoff.  It was clear to me then. Having lived in Montana for 17 years, I realized that I am protective of wild things.  Or just rural things.  They don’t belong in museums and zoos.  The sacrifice I just described is the only justification I can think of.  As a city person in origin, I guess that I have become defensive of the country, as if it needs me to be.  And then, I scoffed at myself. Because we all know that the country does just fine on its own without some woman standing in an art museum in New York City trying to save it from art rape. It’s being raped in all sorts of ways that are way worse “crimes.”

And I wondered in that moment, if that means that I am finally at home here in the rural west.   I don’t think I was looking to find that when I paid my $20 to go to MOMA the other day.

In the end, I sat on a bench, deflated.  People were walking around the stack of hay, looking at it as sculpture.

And then, as it usually does when I take myself too seriously, the funny part came in like a MC with a hook and a hat telling me I’d been on stange too long: I felt a tickle in my nose.  That old familiar tickle that means I’m going to sneeze.  Over and over and uncontrollably so.  You see, I am allergic to hay.  Badly allergic.

And I did.  I sneezed. People avoided me like the member of the Great Unwashed that I was to them then, letting loose into my shirtsleeve.

So in that case, the hay, in whatever form it presented itself, was NOT benign.  In that case it was purely itself, whether it was wrapped in gold thread or not. 

Here are some comments on modern art.  What are some of yours?

“What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism.”
–Octavio Paz

“It is not hard to understand modern art. If it hangs on a wall it’s a painting, and if you can walk around it it’s a sculpture.”
–Tom Stoppard (British Playwright, b.1937)

“Modern art is what happens when painters stop looking at girls and persuade themselves that they have a better idea.”
–John Ciardi

“Most painting in the European tradition was painting the mask. Modern art rejected all that. Our subject matter was the person behind the mask.”
–Robert Motherwell

[Abstract art is] a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.
Al Capp (1909 – 1979)

“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
–Jackson Pollock

12 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Dog Fog

Check out my essay DOG FOG in the Huffington Post. It’s about how I’ve become a junkie for open space, cities, and what gets us to take a walk in the park. It makes me look like a big jerk at first, so here’s an example of allowing yourself to be misunderstood. Of “outing” yourself on the page in hopes of learning something and inspiring others to learn too. See what you think.

When you travel across the country, city-to-city, in my case on a recent book tour, you notice trends. Menus boasting beet/goat cheese/ citrus salad, for instance; a prevalence of duck confit, charcuterie, and mushroom gruyere tarts. The Flashdance look is back, which if you ask me, was a hideosity the first time around. Shoulder pads, which hopefully will last approximately two seconds, women in uncomfortable footwear sporting 1930s Hollywood-plucked eyebrows. Men in pink. Lots of grey. I like to call it the prison warden look, which I’ve spent a lot of money achieving quite by accident.
The truth is, food and fashion trends don’t interest me all that much. Word trends, more so (currently running rampant: authentic, sustainable, relatable, organic, and correct.) But at-the-end-of-the-day (another one) it’s lifestyle trends that get my undivided attention. This one in particular struck me sideways on this recent country crossing: city people are obsessed with their dogs. Scarily so. Either it’s always existed and I just haven’t been paying attention, or there is something amuck in urban America that begs a bit of low brow noodling.

Why dog? Why now?” …..Click here for more

2 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

My Lover, LA

chicken

My Lover, LA
by Laura A. Munson

I love my children. I love my husband. I love my mother and deceased father. Sister and brother. Every person on my Christmas card list. Two dogs, two horses, cat, and pet rat—love ‘em all. I love Montana too—my twenty acres and the hills around our house, the miles I log in them on my trusty horse, the tracks I make on my cross-country skis, the birds and trees and insects and frogs and wildflowers and mushrooms I recognize as they do their seasonal dances. I love the peaks of Glacier National Park, and I’ve even grown to love the fact that here, I’m on the food chain; grizzly bear sushi. It builds character. But what I love a lot more than perhaps I should or would dare to openly admit in a small Montana town where it’s popular to hate all things urban, and Californians as well…what I yearn for, especially in mid-January, is what I can’t get here and that’s excellence in the following: art, dining, shopping, sunshine, surf. So every so often, I sneak off to LA.
prada
I have two great friends there. Best friends. God-mothers to my children. They don’t know each other, and maybe it’s better that way because I can divide my four-day get-away between them, and basically act as gluttonous and selfish as possible. And they forgive me for it every time. Gluttony and selfishness are forgivable in two-day stints/binges, turns out—especially if you’re from Montana.
So I am picked up at LAX in a Mercedes station wagon, by one dear friend, and delivered back four days later in a Volvo station wagon, by the other– my suitcase doubled in bulk, my intestinal tract processing things it hasn’t known in a long while like foie gras and uni and cassoulet, my face a little tanned, my skin a little bare, my toes feeling sad covered in shoes again, but my hands happily around a new, fabulous purse. I take my seat on the plane wearing even huger sunglasses than last time, with a smug movie-star feeling inside—like I’ve had an affair. The flight attendants notice it. I might be famous. I’m glowing. I’ve bloomed.
Friendship is an interesting creature, especially when it’s long distance. It’s alive, but it doesn’t necessarily need your tending. It goes about life without you changing its diapers or helping it with its homework, or remembering its birthday. But then it suddenly shows up and you feel like, without it, you can’t live– you’ll have no oxygen. And then it goes, and you’re breathing along again just fine. You’ve heard people say, it’s like we just pick up from where we left off every time. That’s the kind of friends these two women are to me.
They listen to me sob and bitch about the impossible rejections of the writing life and how my husband likes skiing more than he does me, and that my kids are ungrateful, how I should have gone to Yale, should have stayed in Seattle, or Boston, or Chicago, or New York, and whenever will I get back to Firenze… These are two women who’ve loved me, combined, for longer than I have lived and probably will live. And I love them. They show up at weddings and funerals and they answer my calls; granted each of them spends a lot of time bored on the freeway.
prada
Here’s what we usually do when we’re together—and this extends past LA, to all the afore-mentioned cities, including Firenze and Paris too: We go directly to the best restaurant we can think of, order wine, and eat a long, multi-course meal. Then we go walk around somewhere edgy or gritty or shiny, but with lots of people to look at. In LA, we go to Venice Beach and mix with the Carnies, or to Rodeo Drive and try on dresses at Prada in the best dressing rooms ever (you can watch yourself in a Prada dress on a virtual runway video), or to Montana Ave. in Santa Monica (so far away from my Montana), or to Abbot Kinney or Melrose, or just simply to Mecca: Fred Segal. Once, on Venice Beach, we saw a two-headed turtle and a two-headed raccoon at the same time, and once, we saw Glen Close (who looks like George Washington in person) and Rick Ocasek (who looks like Ichabod Crane in person)—not at the same time and not on Venice Beach.
Then we go back to their houses and lie around on their outdoor futons and read Vogue or do The LA Times crossword puzzle together— because even though we’ve been New York Times crossword puzzle snobs all our east coast spawned lives—hey—we’re in Cali. This crossword puzzle is way more fun. Then we make a pitcher of mojitos and get into the hot tub nude, and talk about mutual friends—their divorces and dalliances or suburban woes. We feel pretty good about ourselves then. So we get dressed up and go out and flirt. Maybe go to a bar cantilevered over Malibu Beach (Moonshadows) or to a museum cantilevered over the hills of Brentwood (The Getty). The last trip, I went to Moonshadows and The Getty twice—once with each friend. The last time I visited LA, both of them had coi ponds.
Well this most recent trip to LA, let’s just say, there were no coi ponds. No Moonshadows and no Getty and no flirting. Why? Because these women are mothers, just like me, in their Januarys, with their kids’ science fairs looming, their constant state of chauffeur-dom, and too much goddamn sun sun sun all the time…and besides, LA is so ridiculously expensive and with the way the economy is going, who can afford a place with a coi pond. In particular, one of them is a new mother—eight weeks. And for the other, this was her weekend with her kids. Which was great. I love these kids. But I had huge sunglasses to buy!
prada
Somewhere between gathering water samples from eight beaches and NOT getting to put my toe in the water due to impending traffic constraints, and wiping up that old familiar French’s mustard-colored diaper goo, I realized that this trip was not going to be about buying sunglasses. At all. Here’s how it went down, present tense so you can feel my pain (keep in mind that in my valley in Montana, we get on average, seventy-five days of sunshine a year, and you can’t get a New York Times—except the Sunday—on Wednesday), and you can’t get an LA Times at all:

Part I
I awake to bamboo and the sounds of exotic birds. It’s pitch black and twenty-two below in Montana, but blue sky winks at me through the blinds and I think I’m at the Hotel Bel-Air—my fantasy hotel, with my non-existent but very real to me, Italian lover, Giovanni.
I burrow into my pillows and dream about my lox and bagels and my crossword puzzle. And the amore Giovanni and I will make… More important, it’s Monday—the easiest day for the crossword puzzle; like David Sedaris, I base my personal worth on the completion of major urban crossword puzzles, and today I won’t have to do it online—just good old fashioned ball point pen (yep) to newsprint!
I sit up and stretch, anticipating the walk I’m going to take later on the beach, alone, because I will be done with Giovanni by then and he’ll be off shopping for me on Rodeo Drive. Then I hear the cries of a newborn and remember that I’m in a child’s cot, in an office in Long Beach, and that I’m staying in the home of exhausted people who “miss the seasons.”
That’s okay—this is their little miracle bundle of joy and I’ve come here to visit it. Help them. Give them their much-needed break. Yeah, right.
I put on my Nike Frees, instead of my lug-soled Sorels, and try to sneak out for a walk to the beach just three blocks away—terra firma. No snow. But they see me. And I am so helpful. I am so good and kind. And loving. What a friend am I. Watch me hold this baby so “you can get some rest.”
I forget why I needed so much chiropractic during my children’s infant years. Four hours later, we go out. We’re walking to the beach. I am ecstatic. Baby starts to cry. We decide to drive. My friend has to do some banking. No, of course I don’t mind sitting in the car with the baby. I end up standing in the parking lot for a half an hour, the baby asleep, leaning against the car, face in the sun. This isn’t so bad. I’m in LA! There’s a tree with flowers on it…right here in this…parking lot…where I’m so lucky to be…standing…in the sun! A deliveryman makes fun of me. I flirt with him, but he’s unimpressed.
We get to the beach. I forget that my friend has moved from Santa Monica, and let me just say this about the Long Beach beach: It’s got a great view of some of the largest oil refineries in the world.
prada
Part II
I meet my next friend in Santa Monica, and I’m thrilled because I love Santa Monica—barefoot, wet-suit clad surfers jaywalking with their boards, the Farmer’s Market, Shutters on the Beach… We experience a movie-star sighting—a movie star I can’t stand—fingers on the chalkboard. Why do they have to wear those stupid baseball hats that say, I’m a movie star—look at me so that I can say, ‘no thanks—I’m not giving out autographs right now.’
We wait in line a half an hour to order a panini, and slowly…I begin to realize that there’s no wine list. But we’re close to my friend’s kids’ school, plus we have a parking place, so this is it. Slowly too, I begin to realize that it’s a vegetarian restaurant. So there’ll be no fancy meat in my panini. Ah….Firenze. For a quick moment, I think of Giovanni—wonder how he’s doing on Rodeo Drive.
We spend the afternoon taking water samples from beaches that we don’t walk on more than to get to the water and walk back to the car. Then we get stuck in traffic. It’s sunny, but it’s sixty-four degrees, and in LA this is freezing. It’s parka weather. My friend’s actually wearing a parka. And huge Prada sunglasses. I’m sweating in a tank top with the windows down, sporting the knock-off Gucci sunglasses I bought the last time I was in LA. At least I get to see the Malibu fire damage. In Montana when we have fire damage, it doesn’t look like you could make it go away if only you had a crane, a really good landscape architect, and a truckload of Mexicans.
That night, we have an early dinner because the water samples need to incubate.
We spend a lot of time cutting holes in a Styrofoam cooler—again, nails on chalkboard, and go to bed early.
Phone rings at 8:00 am. It’s a professor friend from UCLA who’s a famous writer/friend of my friend’s (I would be her non-famous writer/friend) and what I hear from my end is something like this: Oh, hi. Yes, my son would LOVE to accompany your son to the pre-party for David Sedaris tonight. Yep. Uh-huh. Back stage passes? Great. We’ll just drop him off at your house, and then my friend who’s visiting from Montana (that would be not Montana Ave. See: hick) and I are going to take my daughter to a pizza party in Beverly Hills. We’ll just drum up all his David Sedaris books so David can write charming meaningful notes of inspiration in them, and we’ll see you tonight.
It is everything I can do to remain cool and not brown-nose my friend’s thirteen-year-old son. I’ll probably meet David Sedaris in Whitefish, Montana—right? Isn’t he, like, really into skiing?
I can’t go into the rest of this aspect of my trip because it’s just too heartbreaking. Suffice it to say that I met the writer/friend of my friend’s on the front porch of her home in Pacific Palisades, and said something really mature like: “Hi. I’m the un-published novelist friend.”
prada

Then we dropped off the girl at a pizza party which was behind big gates that I didn’t attempt to penetrate as the un-published-novelist-friend-from-not-Montana-Avenue, and went to Shutters and had a drink or ten and the rest of the night, to tell the honest truth, was kind of a blur. Fine, base your entire self-worth on the completion of a daily crossword puzzle. Jerk. Loser. You missed out. I’m so friggin fabulous. You could water-ski behind my fabulous career someday if I’d let ya. Sedaris. Did I tell you I coulda gotten into Yale! That’s a different story. But I coulda. Just didn’t wanta.
So, it’s my last chance for huge sunglasses, and I wake up hung-over, with an airplane to catch and the little girl, who is my god-daughter, (and exceptional I may add), climbs in bed with me– not as much to cuddle, but to get to the laptop I’ve smuggled away in a drunken stupor to watch re-runs of Brothers and Sisters. She wants to do Webkinz together. I don’t even stay in the same room with my kids when they’re doing Webkinz. I feel about Webkinz the way I felt about Teletubbies and Cabbage Patch Dolls. But I lounge around with her and help her choose furniture for her weird consumerist Webkinz world. Hey, I figure, I’m shopping in LA. The tambourine table actually feels like something you might be able to pick up on Abbot Kinney.
I decide then to make a varsity decision: I’m not leaving. I’m going to have my Hotel Bel-Air fantasy. Damnit.
So I book it—change my ticket and book a room at the Hotel Bel-Air. Spend an extra hundred dollars for a room with a courtyard. Book a dinner reservation and everything. My friend is thrilled. We’re all going to be sprawled poolside for the day, sucking on lavender Popsicles, our faces spritzed with Evian water by guys in pink polo shirts and white shorts. We’ll eat dinner in their fabulous vine-covered outdoor dining room with a fire going. We’ll eat foie gras! And what’s more, her kids will love me forever—maybe even enough to introduce me to Davis Sedaris!
But the incubator was too hot and the bacteria fried, and she and her thirteen-year-old have to go back to All Eight Beaches and take NEW samples.
Uh-uh.
prada

So I spend my day at the Bel-Air, with my adorable but still EIGHT-year-old, god-daughter. She’s wearing a scarf, Jackie-O style, and her mother’s yes, HUGE, (real) Gucci sunglasses, a dress she got in yes, Paris, and Uggs (I’m wearing flip-flops because I wear Uggs every day of my life—for function!)…and we sit by the pool while she eats a nine dollar hot dog and tells me about her trip on safari in the Serengeti. Wait ‘til I tell my own kids about my trip to LA. Absolutely no elephants. Or famous authors. Or even my dear dear friend, Fred Segal. But at the Hotel Bel-Air, they do have pads of butter in the shape of swans. I have a photograph of one.
I eat dinner alone, and have drinks at the bar afterward and hang out with the piano player and request Laura, which is one of my all time most disgusting personal habits. In fact, I have a vague memory of doing the same thing the night before at Shutters.
This story ends like this: I wake up. Five hours to spend in LA, alone, on my one hundred dollar terrace. Five lovely, languishing hours on my sunny terazza…and it’s fucking raining. So I lie in my bed, surf between the Today show, Good Morning America, and the Food Network, get bored, and decide, for the first time in my life, to order porn—see what all the fuss is about. That’s right, porn, at the Hotel Bel-Air. Maybe I can find one with an Italian guy in it.
The whole experience is so utterly tacky that I turn off the television after about five seconds and decide to add porn to the Webkinz, Teletubbies, Cabbage Patch Doll list. Then I pay twenty-five dollars for it at check out, where they give me a look which I’m not going to base my entire self-worth on, but I’m not going to not either. I tip them about as much as I would have dropped on huge, non-knock-off, sunglasses because I want to be invited back.
Sometimes I wish my friends lived in Montana. And I lived in LA. And I could complain about sun sun sun. And then maybe I’d take graceful joy in dirty diapers and fried science projects in a dark, culturally barren, January place, thickly coated in snow—far away from traffic and the horrible torpor of sun and shopping and surf and fine dining. Maybe I wouldn’t be so selfish and gluttonous…and horny.
prada
When I board the plane, I do not look like I’ve seen my lover. I look like I need a vacation. Maybe in a ski town.
As we’re hovering over our white valley, the square claims of farmland, feminine S-ing rivers, masculine mountains, I have a very real attack of not wanting to return to this place. Not because of anything to do with sunglasses; not really. But because of how hard Montana is. How tough you have to be. How brave and humble and honest.
As the wheels hit the runway, the flight attendant announces, “Welcome to the beautiful Flathead Valley, Montana. If you’re here on business or pleasure, we do hope you enjoy your stay. If you live here, welcome home.” And I join the part of me that never went to LA, and never wanted to in the first place.
When it comes down to it, there’s really not much room for the silliness of the “excellent.” Not when it comes to towing your neighbor’s truck out of a snow bank, or feeding your shivering herd in twenty-two below temperatures, digging your buddy out from an avalanche, saying a friendly, “Hey, Bear” as you come around a switchback on a mountain trail, or finding Mountain Lion scat in your back yard where your children play. Whatever Bacchanalian indulgence I might crave, is just that. A craving. And when it’s met, it doesn’t last very long. And I can’t say I’m really better for it. Not really.
What I am better for, I realize, as I turn the key in the ignition and wait while the engine moans and squeaks and finally turns over, is the good coffee I had with my friend at six am, her baby at her breast; the way my god-daughter’s hair smelled as we cuddled in bed, and the way her eyes looked when she told me about the wildebeests, the way my friend leaned down at the water’s edge with her son and collected water samples. For the indulgence of friendship that picks up where it lets off every time.
And it occurs to me as I pull out to the white stark highway, with the logging trucks whizzing by, and the dilapidated old barns and abandoned businesses with permanent Closed signs, that there is power in displacement. Everyone should try living just where they least expect to find themselves. Because it reminds you where home is.
When I get to my house, I am greeted by four feet of new snow, my two dogs, and the neighbor’s dead, frozen, and half-eaten, chicken placed, sacrificial, on my front stoop.
Do you feel sorry for me? Probably not. Either way, please don’t tell anyone in the City of Angels…that way down deep, it is precisely in this mangled but beautiful offering of this exact chicken, that I find my self-worth.

prada

6 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Motherhood, My Posts, Stories

City: mind/ Country: body?

A wonderful comment showed up in my inbox this morning. Apparently Camus had his own questions about living in the city or in nature. I’ve just located a used copy of the book, “Summer in Algiers.” I’ll include an excerpt below. I’d love any other suggestions that have to do with this subject, because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with where they live. I hear so often from people, “I envy your life. All that open space.” And I agree– open space is under my skin and engraved in my being. And yet so many Sunday mornings I wake up longing to go get bagels and coffee and a paper at the corner deli, and walk around. Pop into an old record store or a gallery, or catch a matinee at an indie theater. But then even as I write that, the loon that flies over every morning of summer bugles, and I can’t help but smile and feel grateful. It doesn’t have to be here or there. Home has to be inside. This I know well. Stegner’s “The Angle of Repose” is all about this. But it does seem true that life in nature is so much about the body. And life in the city, so much about the mind. E.B. White’s book of essays when he moved from NYC to the city comes to mind too: “One Man’s Meat.” Feel free to add to the list.

“The loves we share with a city are often secret loves. Old walled towns like Paris, Prague, and even Florence are closed in on themselves and hence limit the world that belongs to them. But Algiers (together with certain other privileged places such as cities on the sea) opens to the sky like a mouth or a wound. In Algiers one loves the commonplace: the sea at the end of the street, a certain volume of sunlight, the beauty of the race. And, as always, in that unashamed offering there is a secret fragrance. In Paris it is possible to be homesick for space and a beating of wings. Here, at least, man is gratified in every wish and, sure of his desires, can at last measure his possessions.

Probably one has to live in Algiers for some time in order to realize how paralysing an excess of nature’s bounty can be. There is nothing here for whoever would learn, educate himself, or better himself. This country has no lessons to teach. It neither promises nor affords glimpses. It is satisfied to give, but in abundance. It is completely accessible to the eyes, and you know it the moment you enjoy it. Its pleasures are without remedy and its joys without hope.”– Albert Camus

I would add that: nature has its lessons. It’s just that it doesn’t care if you learn them. Therein lies the lesson of humility.

3 Comments

Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Dry Cleaners

Sometimes I wonder how living in a place where there’s no traffic, or noise (except for the neighbor’s rooster and occasional hail), or a Gap for that matter, for seventeen years, has changed me in my participation in the collective We. For instance, I take pictures of myself with my cell phone when I am in the city because I can’t believe I’m a part of so much energy and percussion and living and dying and breathing. I rubber neck the gargoyles on the upper floors of buildings– so much art everywhere created by so many creative minds. I crash into people on the street because I can’t keep my eyes off of a street musician, even though I’m late for a meeting. I talk to the cab driver.

The last time I was in NYC I needed to do some dry cleaning. I asked my friend if she knew of one nearby her apartment where I was staying. She said she didn’t know; she didn’t use dry cleaners; she’d take a look. Then she called me a few hours later. Turns out there’d been one across the street from her building for the last ten years and she’d never noticed it.

“My god—where I live, I notice when a letter is out on a sign,” I said.

“If you did that in New York city you’d go crazy.”

And I started thinking about noticing. What we weed out to keep our sanity. Out here, it’s probably something like road kill. If you noticed all the road kill, you’d spend your day in tears or mildly nauseous. Or what hangs on laundry lines. Because around here you can tell a lot about what’s going on in someone’s home by what they’ve hung out to dry. Or maybe the amount of Going Out of Business signs.

And I also started thinking about what we get used to too. What we accept into our daily lives as “normal,” as a form of survival. The ones that always hit me hard in the city are the people asking for money in the streets. Not emptying my pockets for them. Especially when you say “I’m sorry,” and they answer with a “God bless you.” How do you get used to that? Or worse, how do you weed that out? How do you live with a healthy inner filter and still practice compassion and empathy and not go insane, especially in the city where you are sharing so much with so many? How do you not get hardened? I’m asking, because I’m wondering. And I’m wondering if life out here in rural America has done something for me, or not, in the way of empathy. I think part of what has me believe I’ll never live in a city again has to do with the fear that I’ll lose my empathy. I’m sure that’s a silly thought. But it’s worth asking.

But even if I do move back to an urban or suburban setting…one thing is for certain: I’ll never get used to those weird manequins at Old Navy…
<

13 Comments

Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts