Of heat waves

Record summer heat hit Los Angeles this week. So did a handful of small earthquakes.

I felt the first, shortly after 11 at night. I was sitting on my porch, lap-top open before me. The blue-grey glow of its screen fell on my face and flickered when the earth shook.

Such moments in LA are not so much common as part of the small cadre of miraculous phenomenon that pepper a life here. I love this about the city. That the earthquake or the record heat can become something of a skin on you. It belongs, is yours, but sometimes you catch it in a particular light and it still manages to be strange, other.

Such ecologically and geographically grounded markers of what it means to be living in Los Angeles, at this particular moment in time, emerge from the smooth surface of the quotidian and ask that you take note. And we do.

The nights in the middle of the heat waves here are spectacular. Arms and legs exposed to the breath of the city, all signs of the pacific snuggling against its border crushed by barometric pressure, we gather. We meet on porches and in parks, in backyards. We are slower as we walk. Our speech loses its affect. We have trouble performing ourselves with the weight of the heat pressing upon us and so are less able to guard against the world, against others.

I was once walking in the Marigny in New Orleans in deep August. It was very late at night and so muggy hot that the music spilling from open windows seemed, literally, to hang in the air. This week, nights in Los Angeles have felt like  that–thick, sticky.

I love a good heat wave in the right city. I love when the weather, or the shaking earth beneath, changes us, sharpens a moment, shifts the spaces we inhabit just enough to make them new.

On "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris"

I am teaching a course this summer on junk. I consider the term broadly. So does Thierry Bardini, whose exceptional Junkware was the inspiration for my syllabus, in a round about sort of way.

Yesterday my students and I discussed Julio Cortázar’s “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris.” And, may I say, this story is absolutely wonderful.

Cortázar is deceptively inviting to teach. His bizarre, perfectly wrought short stories beckon because you know, for the most part, that students will adore him and the dark and complex, surreal worlds he produces. But his work, because of his nearly unparalleled erudition and critical, formal radicality, can sometimes produce classroom conversations that are difficult to direct.

It’s always, though, worth the effort.

And besides, when the main character in the text you’re teaching has the peculiar problem of vomiting up baby bunnies,* you’re guaranteed to engage your students. You’re also guaranteed to take great pleasure in re-reading the work–again and again and again.


*If this isn’t an exceptional metaphor for all kinds of things, I don’t know what is. Why it hasn’t made its way into popular lexicon is beyond me. Think about what it could offer to our thirsty ears: “Oh man, Alli sure is vomiting up the proverbial bunny.”