I’ve been back home for two weeks! A few things in no particular order:

My hair is happier here, but my allergies went bonkers almost immediately, and only let up when we had a couple of days of rain. I’ll put up with that, though, because I was struck once again by what first amazed me about this region: THE GREEN. Coming back at the end of May means jumping directly into the manic growing season. Everything is green or flowering or both. My front yard grew a foot while I was gone. And it was a long drink of water for the heart after being in dry crispy SoCal. Yeah, it rained a bit while I was there, but it’s just a dry place, and this thousand-year drought…the saddest thing I saw, in some ways, was all the dying bamboo at the Huntington Gardens. We helped the neighbor put up a fence over Memorial Day weekend, and they have a huge zone of bamboo in one spot along the fence line. The contrast was quite vivid!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, last Saturday I spoke at AlterConf in Seattle. It was the first time I’d given a presentation in public since my HighEdWebDev talk in 2004! THE NERVES. The worst part, really, was entirely my own fault: I got accepted maybe a week before I left for SoCal, and I was “going to” work on it while I was out of town. [nope.gif] Well, I did spend one morning at Copa Vida making notes, which I guess was helpful, but I didn’t really tackle it until, um, my first week back in the office. Thankfully I had Justin’s slides and notes to work from, since he presented on the same topic from a different angle back in March. His slide design is fabulous: mostly what I needed to do was find my own voice.

So this was interesting, having not worked on something like this in forever: I know my subject matter pretty well, so what I did was close my office door and start talking out loud. I stopped pretty often to scrawl concepts or phrases on my office whiteboard, and once the whiteboard was full, I sat down and wrote it out in Evernote. It wasn’t until I had that mostly worked out that I went back to the slides to figure out what I wanted to keep, what to toss out, and what I needed to create for myself.

I only really practiced in front of other people once: for Susan and Justin on Friday. (!!!!!) But they gave me some good ideas for things to adjust, and overall just worked on boosting my confidence. (I opened my door at one point to take a break, and Susan asked how I was doing. “I’m going to throw up and then run away.”) I was still working on the slides ON THE BUS on Saturday, and even in a coffeeshop right before going over to the venue. But for all that, I feel pretty good about how the talk actually went. Parts of my brain are still THAT WAS TOO FORMAL or YOU ARE A TERRIBLE AWKWARD DORK or DID THAT EVEN MAKE SENSE, but I just keep telling them to STFU, because the actual feedback was good. (And I will always be thankful to Ryan Macklin, who I finally met, and to Ashe Dryden, for both being such engaged listeners that I could always look at them at any point and feel like SOMEONE was listening and got it.)

As for the rest of the day: I didn’t have internet, because reasons, so I don’t have live notes. Plus also nerves. But it was really interesting, different from anything I’ve been to before, overall I would highly recommend it. Joe Larson has a good summary of the day, if you’re curious. All the talks were good in very different ways. And Anna Zocher’s very short talk about disability got me to look into my own long-term disability insurance at work. (FYI for state employees: if you sign up after the grace period when you start, there’s an eligibility form; the first two years of insurance are Own Occupation, and if you’re disabled after that, it’s Any Occupation.)

Oh: I bought a car! Weird how that’s an afterthought about the last two weeks. Long story short: it’s a Mitsubishi i-MiEV, an all-electric car, a 2012 that’s like-new, less than 10000 miles. I’ve been calling it “the bubble car” because to me that’s what it looks like. I love driving it, and best of all, I was able to get to Lakewood on Saturday, eliminating the shittiest part of taking the bus to Seattle. (Oh, Oly express bus schedule, how I hate you.) Got there and back no problem, still with maybe a quarter of a “tank” left when I got home Saturday night.

Being at DrupalCon and taking a ton of photos in SoCal got me inspired to work on my own photo site, and hopefully I’ll have something set up soon. At the moment it’s on a local computer for faster development. It’s been fun figuring out how things work, and what I really want out of a photo site, and at the same time as doing dev for converting the CMS at work to Drupal. The learning goes back and forth across the two projects!

save vs maudlin

(that’s from a tweet. when I get back to a regular computer I’ll embed it. I’m not sure I can do that on ye olde Transformer.)

I told C last night that I was working the nostalgia out of my system so that we could take a vacation together and just have fun here. And I kinda mean that. This particular trip has been all about: OMG HOMELAND. (Props to GA for the word “homeland” to refer to SoCal. “Hometown” is kinda fuzzy when you’re talking about a region, about multiple damn near overlapping towns, etc., etc.)

I thought I’d have more to say about GTA (I’m working on an essay) with this visit, and that’s true, but only up to a point. Because I’m realizing that the places I think of as the homeland aren’t really in GTA. Yeah, the wide bright streets. Yeah, Old Town’s acquired a certain poshness that seems familiar. But not so much the vibe that I wrote about in my last blog post. Jacaranda, lantana, jasmine, deodar, oak, olive, lemon.

Maybe it’s that I so often experienced it at human walking scale, and I am again now. I decided against renting a car, and instead got a multi-day transit pass. Which: best $25 I’ve spent since I’ve been here. And I’ve walked so much, at least 5 or 6 miles a day, and yesterday ELEVEN MILES. My calves!

But it’s not just that, because I had weird GTA echoes while I was in downtown. Dunno. I may have to let that simmer some more before I can really write it.

Relatedly? – Yesterday I went to Mountain View Cemetery. (Go with me.) On the one hand, when I was a teenager, I hopped the fence with Raul a few times to hang out in the graveyard. (LOL goth-ish early 90s teens. Also: “Hang out.” Snerk.) On the other hand, my great-grandmother is buried there, and I’d never actually seen her grave. It’s a lovely cemetery, lots of old (for SoCal) stones, big trees, and the staff was very helpful getting me the location of Great-Grandma Kellogg’s headstone.

Afterwards I was going to catch the bus to Eaton Canyon, but I’d just missed it, so I started walking. (Did I mention 11 miles?) I saw an adorable little house for sale…half a mil. !!!!!! And then the Little Red Hen Coffee Shop, which I felt like I’d heard of but maybe had never been to? And the reviews on Google were good, so I darted across the street.

Digression: I had seriously forgotten how absurdly wide even the side streets are around here. Then the main streets: I swear I’ve been on highways up north that were narrower.

I tweeted about this yesterday, but eventually I mentioned that I was on vacation, but from the area originally. And then I said that I couldn’t believe I had never been in before. (Because it was so delicious! Perfect bacon. Great pancakes. Water infused with lemon & mint. If you are in the area: GO NOW.) The woman looked at me and said “Your parents took you to Fox’s, right?” Which was….

Fox’s is a similar tiny joint probably a half-mile away, but on Little Red Hen is on the west side of Fair Oaks, and Fox’s is on the east side of Lake.

“Yeah, they did.” “Y’all didn’t cross the color line.”

Nope, we didn’t cross the color line. We lived in the zone where the color line was probably blurring in the early 80s; when I think really hard about my neighbors, about the places where I walked, about the houses around us, we probably lived right on the edge of the color line. But when it came to going out and being in a culture, we stayed on our side of the color line. (When we didn’t go all the way out to IHOP on Sierra Madre Villa.) We went to the breakfast joint with ketchup, not the one with hot sauce. The one with watercolor prints of lakes and mountains, not prints of Malcolm X and MLK.

I think I just gave her a crooked smile, and she shrugged, and I complimented the food again, both of us acknowledging: because racism.

With words I was brought up to believe color-blind was a thing. That you could just treat everyone equally. And at the same time

I’ve got so much going on in my head right now. The girls who threw my viola in the street when I was 12, and Edith, no more than 10, yelling at them to leave me alone, and one girl trying to choke her out. Mom calling the sheriff, and the dean, and that girl getting called in. I was mortified. MORTIFIED. I heard in high school, that she was still afraid of mom, and at the time I thought it was mostly because Mom is, well, a person of intense presence.

But now I’m connecting it to hearing a couple of black guys in my AP English class talking about being hassled by the sheriff up in northwest Altadena where they lived. (Altadena was and is unincorporated, so it’s patrolled by the LA County Sheriff’s Department.) I have to wonder if that girl’s fear was something else entirely.

I’m thinking of talking to people I know in Oly about my teen years, about the gang fight that got broken up by the police that I missed because I was working at the library; about being bused to a different neighborhood in high school (“as a black kid”, because I could definitely observe the difference between where I lived and where I was going); about being a numerical minority most of my school years. And then thinking about how I moved to such a white corner of the country, and after the initial alienation of college — which was mostly about class and money — how I’ve come to feel entirely at home there. And not really liking what that says about me. Which then feels ridiculously vain.

I do like Olympia for itself, I like the northwest for the weather, I like my town for its scale and its flora, for being able to bike to the river, for The Mountain in the distance on a clear day, for the friends I’ve made and the work I have.

But now I have some other things to put into perspective.

All of this is still pretty incoherent. (The related to GTA part? A section in the aforementioned essay-in-progress about music and race and time.) I’m glad I have the time and solitude to process it a little bit.

[I was gonna write about some other memory stuff, re save vs maudlin, but this is what needed to be said. Maybe later?]

layers of place and time

So yesterday I relocated from downtown LA to Pasadena for the vacation part of this trip.

If being downtown was like being in a place that felt familiar and totally alien, this last day and a bit has been….


But that’s a cop-out, because downtown was overwhelming. This is different.

Today I went up to Altadena, and I got off the bus not at the library where I was going to meet a friend, but at my old bus stop from when I was in high school. Some of the big trees are gone, some of the small trees are bigger. The house across the street with the old woman with the pit bulls who watched us when Dad went to the hospital (and never came back) is a different color and has a two-story addition in the back.

The orange tree in front of my house is half-dead, and whoever bought the house isn’t really taking care of it. The yard’s gone wild, the paint is peeling. But the railings on the stairs up to the front porch are the same. I almost went to the front door, because I could see a truck parked in the back at the end of the driveway, and I almost just walked up to the rose garden in the side yard, because the roses were in bloom. But there was a big group of Jehovah’s Witnesses doing their routine, and I felt shy and anxious. So I kept walking.

When I got to the end of the block, the smell of the deodar cedars — I’m assuming that’s what it was — hit me all at once. It flooded my whole face. All the memory, not anything specific, just full-body sense memory.

A few months ago, I found out that a house in that neighborhood had been built for and lived in by Saul Bass, which was neat to discover. So today I took a picture of the front, because all the pictures I saw online were of the interior courtyard, the part I never knew existed.

I saw my sister’s best friend’s house, and as I went to take a picture of that, an old Volvo drove through the shot. That was exactly the car they owned when we were kids, Mrs Mieselman’s car.

And then I walked into the library parking lot, like I did every time, from when I was old enough to walk the few blocks to the library. They’re having the Friends of the Library book sale this weekend. And that too was a full-body sensory memory, the parking lot full of folding tables and boxes and books. I could see my mother picking out stacks of romance novels to take home for a dollar a bag. I almost just sat down and cried, not out of any particular emotion but maybe all of them at once? Instead I walked through the aisles of fiction outside, into the lower level, and up the stairs to the community room.

Again: the smell of that room. And layers of memory. (I played Glenda in a tiny production of The Wizard of Oz when I was 10 or 11. That stage is still there; the curtain is still the same color.)

Little details: they’ve cleared the shrubbery out of a corner and put in benches. They took out the hydrangeas. The stair railings and carpets were different.

And then as I was about to dive into looking through the books, I turned to see someone I haven’t seen since I was in college, and then only very briefly — although at least then we made up for a dreadful falling out that happened our senior year of high school. We had made arrangements to meet up, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise.

But. I hadn’t expected the delight. Hugs and grinning and we wandered around the library a bit, again things the same and things different. Talking and walking. I hadn’t realized how much I missed us being friends. We wandered all over, had lunch, and after a while it wasn’t even so much catching up — although plenty of that! — but just hanging out, like when we were 13, but completely not like when we were 13.

I guess that’s what it is: I’m feeling parts of myself that I had forgotten, and experiencing them in visceral ways, sensory ways, while still being who I am, which is as different from then as this place is different from then.

in SoCal, no longer of SoCal

The obviousness of inequality is grating on my soul. I’m not saying anything new or particularly insightful here, but holy moley the fancy hotels and condos, the expensive cars, and then 2, 3, 5 people curled up asleep or hunched over in wheelchairs or just standing and staring into space. One stupid art-couch in a boutique window could house a person for a year, I’m sure of it. What the everloving goddamn is wrong with society.

And man, at the same time, I’m sitting at the fancy hipster coffee counter in a converted open warehouse space, drinking a $6 mocha, and enjoying it. Enjoying the music, the taste, the ridiculously good-looking people working the espresso machine. I had a tiny gelato (OMG BLOOD ORANGE) from a little place in yet another in-the-middle-of-revival building (arcade?) yesterday, and on the same block stores that advertise buying gold, but with the dirty half-faded sign in Spanish.

So there’s a part of my head that’s reveling in urbanity, holding the contradictions in perfect balance, aesthetically appreciating all the things about the city: what’s different, what’s like I remember. And there’s a part of me that’s just: nope nope nope nope. [noptopus.gif] The part of me that’s acclimated to a smallish Cascadian city, I guess.

I’ve got another day or so in downtown LA before I relocate to Pasadena for the rest of the trip. We’ll see what that’s like. Downtown was always terra incognita to some extent: we came downtown for specific things, museums usually. (I’ve half a mind to make a trek out to the Natural History Museum.) But Pasadena/Altadena, that was HOME. You know those places where you can close your eyes and even though it’s been a decade or two decades, you can see them perfectly 3D in your head? That.

:deep breath: