photographs taken on the way to Murphy Ranch in Los Angeles, California
photographs taken on the way to Murphy Ranch in Los Angeles, California
In November of 2012, I left New York City after three and a half years. I’m sure I’ve told the story on here before. I called my parents one afternoon, told them I was going to quit my job to write a book, and asked if I could move into their spare room. At the time they were living in a tiny house on a tiny road in a tiny town in Connecticut. There was a little nook in my bedroom for a grey armchair and some days I would spent ten full hours writing, stopping for more coffee or more food or a quick run around my neighborhood.
I wrote the first draft of THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE in three weeks.
The story came to me immaculately, almost fully-formed, and didn’t change much during the editing process. Sure, names were swapped and the ending was tweaked but it was the same novel that found its way into my head on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.
Well—mostly the same.
I originally thought it was going to be about the Fountain of Youth. And then I thought it was going to be about time travel. But those ideas only lasted for a few minutes before I realized why Lyle was chasing Molly. Why he ran a red light to catch up to her. Why he asked her to pretend she knew him while he died in her arms.
Now there are only three months to go until my book is released. July 8th. To commemorate the date, I wanted to share my favorite line. It’s the first line I wrote and the first line of the book and it’s my favorite because it never changed. I wrote this line while driving down Nostrand Avenue. I wrote this line while watching a motorcyclist dressed all in black swerve in and out of traffic behind me. I spoke it into my phone so I wouldn’t forget it. It was the line that started everything. The line that changed everything.
There are long stretches where I don’t remember anything.
On Friday I bought cold pasta salad from the grocery store down the road and ate it in the parking lot with a plastic fork. My friend called to say hi. She said you sound better and I wondered: how did I sound before?
I parked a quarter of a mile from the museum to save ten dollars in parking fees. The neighborhoods I drove through were old and tired, small apartment buildings with peeling facades and large, oppressive gates.
I picked the wrong day for the museum. There were too many kids, too many class trips. There are two thousand children in the museum today so you can’t just stand around in here with them, I heard one gift shop employee tell one overwhelmed chaperone.
I put my headphones in my ears. They helped drown out the low hum of energy coming from the constantly excited third graders.
I wrote about museums the other week. How they offer a measure of home when you might otherwise not have one. How they become familiar; how you can almost own them. How the price of admission gets you quiet halls (usually) and priceless artwork and even more priceless solitude.
I walked through the seashells, the gemstones, the bird wing and the room of North American mammals.
Then I went outside. It was hot in the sun with an steady breeze that made it bearable.
I took off my shoes and wrote for one hour on a stone bench.
When I got up, my legs were stiff. My butt was sore.
When I got up, I felt lighter. I felt better. I felt like I’d finally done something right. In three weeks of car crashes and stomach ulcers and ambulance rides and hospital stays, I felt like I’d finally pulled my head above water.
I wasn’t drowning anymore; I’d remembered how to float.
photographs taken at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
A rough few weeks and a city settling into spring. A Saturday free of any responsibility and a jump over a low stone wall, a shimmy underneath a hole in a fence where moments before a lifeguard’s truck stood sentry. S and I slipped our way down the side of a cliff to find ourselves on a remote, abandoned beach where twenty years ago a section of houses broke off and fell into the Pacific. There’s not much left now. A few stone foundations. Sections of wall and street. S picking up sea glass and letting the fragments catch the light. Me picking up hermit crabs and remembering the two I had in college, Ender and Volcano. They died within a week of each other and I buried them side by side in emptied out jewelry boxes in a Cambridge backyard.
On our way up and out, we passed a family full of small boys. A half dozen small boys, seemingly multiplying by the minute. A dad drinking a can of Bud in a public park. A mom doling out gentle smacks on the butt every time someone didn’t mind her.
S took my camera bag and I sunk down into the dirt, pulled myself under the fence in a way I meant to be graceful, in a way that was probably clumsy and awkward.
When I stood up, one of the little boys was staring at me. When I smiled, he smiled.
“How you do that?” he asked. He was four or five, maybe.
“When you’re older,” his dad said.
We hopped over the stone wall.
I almost called back to him, the little boy still watching me—don’t worry. I don’t feel older.
But there were so many little boys. All of them in a disorganized bunch. I couldn’t remember which was which.
photographs taken in San Pedro’s Sunken City.
What I miss most are the museums.
I spoke to a friend the other day about moving to Los Angeles.
I didn’t have anybody but I had a place. I went to the museum almost every day. I sometimes didn’t even look at the art. I just needed somewhere to go and I needed something familiar.
You can make a museum yours.
You can shut everyone else out.
You can make a home in art.
That’s what I miss most.
photograph taken in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
I wrote them before I met them.
I modeled Molly on the girl I wished I could be more like. Wittier and more charming and more outwardly put-together. We shared the same unpleasant thoughts at that age but Molly is so much better at hiding that darkness. I made her real and she was real in my brain and then I moved to California and suddenly she was real in real life, too. My Molly. I invented her and then I met her, and her name was actually Molly. She’s the twenty-three year old version of the main character of my book. She’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met and not just because I knew her before I met her, not just because she was so exactly what I was envisioning. Some people say effortless, and sure, sure, she’s effortless. But what she has isn’t so easily describable.
And then I met Erie. Molly’s best friend, a blond California girl with a tendency to hide her emotions behind her home screen and an infectious laugh and an easy, open smile.
In real life, her name wasn’t Erie, but that might have been too weird.
My first book, THE HALF LIFE OF MOLLY PIERCE, comes out in four months exactly.
I’m at once ready, terrified, overwhelmed, ecstatic.
Here are some photographs of the real Molly Pierce. The Molly I envisioned. And her best friend, Erie.
photographs taken in Santa Monica, California, where the Erie of my dreams was born and the Erie of the real world currently lives.
The beginning of March is washed away in thunderstorms and flash floods. My brother and his wife visit from San Francisco and the hail comes through the canvas roof of the restaurant, splashing in our coffee and covering us in mist. I take a video of rain rushing down the streets of West Hollywood—rivers of water six or seven inches deep, the gutters too clogged with coffee cups and garbage to accommodate the flood. It starts and stops on a dime. I have to work in Santa Monica that afternoon and when I get there everything is grey but dry as a bone. Hardly a fifteen minute drive but it hasn’t stormed here yet.
So suddenly it’s spring, sort of. The season arrived loudly, announcing itself in strange weather patterns across the country. This morning the sun is out and the ground is spongy and I don’t want to leave my apartment. March, March, I keep saying to myself. The first monosyllabic month we’ve had in half a year. It feels simple and welcome. And I’ve always liked the letter M.
Like we’re supposed to all group together and fall into place and walk somewhere with purpose. Here’s to March—let’s use our feet. Left foot, right foot. Let’s get somewhere good.
self portraits taken in Los Angeles, California.
The weather in Santa Monica is unpredictable enough that when I pick the sisters up at their house it’s sunny and blue, and when we get to the beach the wind has picked up and our hair blows around our heads and pretty soon we’re freezing, my fingers so numb I can barely hit the camera’s shutter button.
It feels lately like everything is on the brink, like there is some cliff to fall off, some airplane to dive from. Not in a bad way. The beach, too, feels changing. Winter recedes and spring pushes her way toward the coast. I lug a brand new tripod over a few hundred feet of sand and check behind me every once in a while to make sure I’m being followed.
A sensation of waiting. A long period of stagnancy followed by something huge.
But what’s going to be so huge? What’s the turning point?
It’s not this beach, but even this beach plays a part. It’s not this job—temporary and trying, long and unsatisfying—but yes, maybe even this job plays a part. It’s not these people but they have their roles, squatting down on the beach and blowing sand off a crust of pizza so they can finish the whole box.
I’ll let you know when I fall. It’s hard to predict these things but it feels like it’s getting more inevitable.
photographs taken in Santa Monica.
It’s only seventeen minutes from Santa Monica to the Pacific Palisades but it feels wholly separate from Los Angeles, a hidden corner of the city flanked by mountains and greenery. It feels otherworldly—a place where your cell phone loses service and the cars thin out and it seems like there are only two roads, the one that brings you in and the one that will take you out again.
It’s been a strange week (do I say that a lot?) and feels stranger still driving along with the ocean to my left and my phone chirping out directions to Alana’s house. I don’t know what to expect. It feels like I never know what to expect. Will this be easy, will this be hard? Will this be a waste of time? Will this make sense? Will anything ever?
Alana and her mother live in a small, peaceful complex with brick driveways and orange trees growing flush against the houses. I get lost immediately and try to dial Alana’s number. No service. Later they’ll ask me what provider I have and laugh, like—that thing won’t work here. When I leave, Alana tells me the exact spot on the road where I’ll have service again. I pay attention, and she’s right.
A paper sign on their front door requests souls in, soles out, so I leave my shoes on the welcome mat as I step inside. It’s my first time in their home and I’m instantly struck by the light. Almost every corner of every room is lit up by a warm wash of sunlight that pours in through windows wrapped in the thinnest, gauziest curtains. The living room is filled with texture and deep colors. The dining room table sits low to the floor with scattered pillows for chairs. Alana finishes a kale salad. Gina sits on the couch with her laptop.
This isn’t the first time I’ve photographed Alana and the whole time I’m there it is effortless. We’re at ease with each other. She jokes that she’ll turn into me one day; I joke that I see so much of myself at her age. She’s nineteen and beautiful. She doesn’t even try, just turns her face to the camera and lets me capture her. Every shot is usable. Even the ones that aren’t great.
When I leave, the road that brought me in turns into the road that pushes me out. I keep my phone on my thigh. I keep the ocean on my right. I wonder, for the hundredth time that afternoon, what am I doing and what will it get me? But with no way to know the answer to that, I roll down the window. I do my best to let the questions blow away with the salted breeze.
photographs of Alana taken at her home in the Pacific Palisades.