1. blowing up
I was driving to Stories to hear Michelle Tea and Wendy Ortiz read when I got stuck in a snarl on the part of the 2 that meets the 5. I’d heard that an oil truck blew up on the 5 earlier in the day, but I didn’t think traffic would still be backed up. I also didn’t understand why the traffic cones were pushing us from the 2 onto the 5.
Alberto, who’d been thinking about going with me, texted that he was going to hang out in Downtown L.A. that night, since he could get there by public transportation. Someone needs to come up with a name for that particularly Angeleno experience of basing your plans around traffic avoidance. CAReography?
I sat on the freeway listening to NPR announce the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Earlier I’d heard a report where people were chanting, “Murder, not manslaughter,” so I was surprised to hear that the jury chose neither.
I wasn’t on the jury, and I certainly wasn’t in George Zimmerman’s head, so I hold open the possibility that it really was self-defense the way we think of self-defense, as opposed to some twisted version. But I don’t hold it very wide open.
Chasing down a black kid, then freaking out when he reacted and calling it self-defense suggests that George Zimmerman believed Trayvon Martin and/or all black males in hoodies were his to victimize. That the most outrageous crime a member of an oppressed class could commit would be defy his place in the order of things. Isn’t that the story of all racial oppression as it unfolds over generations? It’s kind of like when Ollie bats Ferdinand with his paw and wonders why Ferd hisses at him. If, um, instead of standing there looking surprised and adorable, Ollie pulled out a gun.
2. i actually do have a mermaid in my circus novel, but i swear i didn’t copy michelle tea, even though i’m blogging about how i should copy michelle tea
And then I got to Stories and got myself some coffee and settled in to hear the four ladies on the bill that evening. Sara Finnerty read a really funny piece about growing up in a haunted house and having the hots for a Polish handyman. Her New York accent made it even better. Wendy Ortiz, whose tweets about themed summer reading and truckloads of submissions make me feel like a mess, read about her youth, when she was actually a little bit of a mess.
I thought, not for the first time, that the ideal life for a writer is to misspend one’s youth—do drugs, have inappropriate affairs, join a cult, get really immersed in some sort of nerdy/scary subculture—and then become an organized, productive, well adjusted adult.
I think I’ve done it all backward. I was well behaved and organized and ambitious when I was nineteen, and then I began to unravel in my thirties.
A homeless man who appeared to live on the Stories patio treated the whole thing like a call-and-response kind of deal. When the emcee introduced Wendy as a psychotherapist, he said, “I’m also depressed.” When Wendy read about being young and dumb and lonely, he moaned, “I’m one too.”
One what? Probably “a person,” I decided. He was just making the experience of empathy more vocal than the rest of us usually do.
Michelle Tea read from Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, and I remembered how much I like Michelle Tea, because she writes about young people in a way that feels so right-on that it’s completely familiar, but so full of spark and detail and truth that it’s completely fresh. I thought of my languishing YA novel. Note to self: Be more like Michelle Tea.
I spent the rest of the night prepping for AK’s graduation party. Chopping pineapple, making sangria, stringing together the letters “MA” and “MFTI” on a pink-and-zebra-print banner, because nothing says “master of clinical psychology” like pink and zebra print.
It was like two hundred degrees on Sunday, but it cooled down to ninety-ish eventually. A bunch of our friends came, and I could tell AK felt happy and proud of her accomplishment in a way that me just saying, “Hey, finishing grad school is a huge accomplishment!” a bunch of times didn’t really accomplish. They bought handmade leis and pineapples and fancy champagne, and I felt really grateful.