We drove to the poppy fields in the middle of the week, knowing most of them would be dead in the heat and drought of early spring but both needing to get out of the city, feeling the strain of working from home creeping up on us. We left in the late morning and there was no traffic getting out and away, the scenery quickly changing from cityscapes to brown, dry desert mountains.
We haven’t spent a day together since we both lived in New York, so many years ago now, but it felt easy slipping into the old routine of thrifting and photographing and taking turns talking too much about our current set of woes.
The poppy reserve was sadly brown and empty, little yellow buds closed up against the sun. But across the street—on private property, the old women running the ranger station told us—there were north facing hills covered in bright orange blooms. We drove up a dirt road and parked behind a line of other cars that all had the same idea as us. Over here, a small chunk of the landscape was an almost-too-good-to-be-true wash of color.
We took turns lying in the spaces between the plants, careful not to trample anything. On the way home I pulled a beetle out of my hair and let it fly out the window.
It was exactly the right amount of color and light and desert sun to recharge and reboot. I went to sleep exhausted, seeing orange when I closed my eyes.
photographs taken at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
(and across the street)
model is Jaimee of Coast to Coast Vintage
The past two days I’ve been miserably confined to the bed or the couch, struck down by either a stomach bug or mild food poisoning (You’ve got a weak stomach, my mother says on the phone from San Francisco, distracted and not really giving a fuck, we both do. Are you pregnant? OK, we’re going to Muir Woods. I’ll text you later). It is painfully beautiful in Los Angeles, eighty degrees and impossibly sunny. I want to go for a walk or a hike but I haven’t eaten anything except a banana in 36 hours and I know that would only get me so far.
My neighbor waters the plants outside my apartment once a week. She wears a straw visor, black shorts, a white tee shirt. She gets my windows wet and she waters all the plants for far too long, a silly amount of water. She waters plants that don’t need water. She waters the leaves of trees. She waters the day after it rains.
She talks to me a lot about my cat. How come you don’t leave the window open for him? How come you don’t take him outside on a leash? How come you don’t buy him a pet door? I try and leave only when she is not outside. Otherwise I’m stuck for hours.
On Sunday I leave for San Francisco for just a couple nights. Until then—finishing a round of edits for my second book and trying to land on something to eat that doesn’t make me feel nauseous.
I used to be very interesting, my neighbor says to someone outside my window.
Sometimes I feel the same way.
photographs taken in my apartment in Los Angeles.
some shots in my apartment last night, waiting for the handyman.
Los Angeles, CA.
Knee-deep in edits for my second book. Last night I wrote for so long that when S finally got home he looked to me like a paper-thin cut out, something I dreamed up.
It was later than I thought, but I feel like that’s always the case.
I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and just lying, eyes open, for an hour or two.
So I’m tired- but at least everything seems like it’s leading somewhere meaningful.
An alarm has been going off somewhere in my neighborhood for the past half hour. I notice it when I turn off the movie I rented, the movie that made me cry three and a half separate times, the movie that left tissues littered across the hardwood floor of the apartment I love and hate in equal parts.
The other day we took a train to downtown, emerging in Union Station like proper tourists. We walked the few short blocks to Chinatown and ate lunch at a southern restaurant squashed into a grocery store with a hundred different kinds of sodas. I got a glass bottle of birch beer, something I haven’t had since I was a kid. I remember the very first time I ordered it. I had never had it and wanted to try. The adult I was with discouraged me and said – What if you don’t like it? I’m not buying you something else if you don’t like it.
I ordered it anyway and I remember being so apprehensive holding it- why is it clear? why is it called beer? what if i really don’t like it?- and then I did like it, very much, and felt like I had won some small battle. We ate pizza and when I drank it now I tasted pizza and felt seven years old, already questioning whether I should not try things because I maybe won’t like them.
Then by some silly small coincidence S didn’t want his soda, wanted something fancier like the rest of us had gotten.
Go go go, I said. Get something else.
These small small gifts of privilege- the money to try another soda if you don’t like the first, the novelty of a train ride into a part of your city you rarely go, a sandwich stuffed with sweet potato fries and mushrooms, new headphones for Christmas that block out that annoying alarm that is still sounding, somewhere- I try never to take them for granted. Because I know they are like a dozen small gifts lined up one after the other and any day, they could vanish. So I write them down for another time, make them last as long as possible. Stretching out for days, reaching me now, much later- the novelty of carbonation and real cane sugar in an old fashioned glass bottle, cold and cloudy from the fridge.
wherever you are, know that i adore you
no matter how far, well i can go before you
and if ever you need someone-
well, not that you need helping
but if ever you want someone
know that i am willing
photograph taken in Los Angeles, lyrics by Damien Rice
happy birthday, S.
Lately I’ve been drinking tea without honey, waiting weeks to do laundry, clearing space on my walls to hang vintage maps and watercolors. February arrived without announcement, the first day slipping through my fingers and the second day productive and good, a new coffee shop and little sleep, old photographs and leftover macaroni salad. Today a phone call with my agent, a new idea that may or may not hold water. The Rookie Yearbook Two finally being read, cover to cover next to me on the bed. Dreams I can’t remember and a trip that seems too far away but that I don’t want to wish closer- I need time to slow down for a while. I have a lot of things to do and this year is already unfair. One month gone in the time it took to unpack a suitcase.
Last night we drove to Silverlake to see a band I’ve loved for fifteen years. It seems lately I’ve been reconnecting with the favorite musicians of my lifetime, people who sung me to sleep when I was tripping my way through college, people who reminded me that not all lost loves were great. The people who were there for me when friends weren’t. And they so often weren’t.
We sat in the back of the venue in a small group of theatre seats that shook when you walked on them. It was cold and I left my jacket on and I felt about eighteen or nineteen again, when someone first set up illegal music sharing networks at my college and I downloaded albums with weird, confusing names like Team Boo and The Execution of All Things and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and From a Basement on the Hill.
These were my secret records, listened to with headphones and volume turned low as my two horrible roommates slept just feet away from me. These were the records that would guide me through the eternal pain of the next three or four years. I never found my groove in college. I was continually slipping, catching myself, losing my grip again and starting from scratch.
Last night the openers were loud and we rolled napkins between our fingers and stuffed them into our ears. Outside it rained and the roads were slick and shiny when it was over and we were both tired and didn’t talk much and I thought about our songs, the small collection of noises we’ve written together and played together and sometimes fought over and sometimes abandoned.
I think they have it figured out, I said. I think they’re just really happy.
And it’s what I want for myself, what I’ve always wanted. A life measured in creative output, a year defined by a thing I made and worked hard on and am proud of for various selfish and non-selfish reasons. A decade stacked neatly on a shelf in the form of three or four books and two or three albums and photographs taken in new, beautiful places and anything else I think up on the way.
That is what I am trying to do now, with this. That is what I have always tried to do.
(the band was Mates of State, and they were lovely.)
& now, for something completely different-
my band The July’s entry into NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest.