Today I drove up to Valencia to buy a used desk I’d seen listed on Craigslist, because this is how you acquire office furniture if you are a nonprofit. The girl selling the desk was a theater student at CalArts, and it wasn’t until I pulled past the school’s always-empty security kiosk that I realized how long it’s been since I was on campus.
I loved CalArts, but I wasn’t that involved in campus life, so I was surprised to be hit by a wave of nostalgia—the museum-y smell, quiet hallways, friendly receptionists. I even found myself thinking, Actually, it doesn’t look that much like an ugly 1970s hospital.
I realized that I was wearing the exact same shirt that I wore to orientation in 2000—almost the same outfit, just substitute tan corduroy pants for light blue ones. I concluded that I probably need a new look. I’m not even sure if cords and bandanas-on-the-head were cool in 2000.
But then I happily flashed back to other CalArts routines: listening to Colin make jokes about zapping to it (I worked for a company called Zap2it) in the computer lab; reading old issues of Elle in the library between classes; sleeping in the library between classes.
I wasn’t the best student.
Then I flashed to spring of 2002: I was walking uphill toward the back entrance of the main building. My thesis was done. The giant contact high that is CalArts graduation was a couple of weeks away. And in my head were three characters: Felix Ketay and her two roommates, Crane and Robbie. Just puttering around, not doing much yet.
Mostly I was keeping myself amused—I always start stories in my head when I’m walking to the mailbox or sitting on the toilet (that’s normal, right?). I was also excited to be thinking about writing something that would not get torn apart in a workshop with CalArts-style insults like, “This piece seems to be all about the seduction of the reader.” (Me, in my head: But I want to seduce the reader.)
I was surprised when those keeping-me-entertained-on-the-way-to-class characters hung on all summer as I wrote them into various scenes. I was even more surprised when the scenes added up to hundreds of pages. I joined a new workshop at Writers at Work to try to make the hundreds of pages into an actual novel. You know, like with a plot. Slowly, I learned two skills that I had managed to get an MFA in writing without acquiring: plotting and editing.
Four-ish drafts and seven (really? yeah, seven) years later, the characters in my head are a book called Lilac Mines. Which you can buy, actually, if you are so inclined. If you like queer people or small mountainous towns or ghosts or if you ever felt troubled that pieces of our history—of all of our histories—got buried, and maybe like your identity suffered a little for it.
And if you are in L.A., you can see me Friday night at Skylight Books, where I’ll do my best to seduce all my potential readers.
Where: The Promising Series at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont, L.A., CA 90027
When: Friday, June 5, 7:30 p.m.
Who: Cheryl Klein, Raquel Gutierrez, Orlando Ashley and Scott Turner Schofield
Websites: http://www.skylightbooks.com, http://www.cheryl-klein.com