Ladies and gentlemen, friends and comrades, countrymen!
The play of this fabulous day, the 28th of May, goes by the name of Milne Allison* Moldenhauer. Weighing in at a tiny 4 pounds, she entered the bizarre, very American metropolis that is Dallas, Texas, just this fine afternoon. Taos has a sister, now, with whom to wander the big, great, weird world.** And, no doubt, the very same big, great, weird world just got a little bit better by having introduced Milne to its crowd of crazy inhabitants.
Hellllloooo, Milne. Welcome. Let the adventures commence!
*I know, right?!!????
**I speak from experience when I say that having a little sister makes the universe a richer, kinder, more truly awesome place in which to roam.^
^But watch out, Taos: she’s probably gonna be right most of the time. And she might bite.
In the last weeks, time seemed multiplied by a feeling of no longer being there and of living Santa Barbara each day, with its fatal charm and its blandness, as the predestined site of an eternal return. –Jean Baudrillard*
In Santa Barbara (where I have, over the past month or so, been holed up in one final push to finish my dissertation) my days are a numbered bunch. They’re not usually very kind to me either. The water along the coast is still just cold enough to make the first leap in a quick and numbing experience, though indeed refreshing. The 7-year-long trajectory of my life in and out of the city is inscribed in it and as I near the end, those markers seem unusually plump with nastiness. Cloying, unpleasant moments live on corners when I might rather see them rotting, buried in the trash heap of forgotten history. And of course, there is the morning marine layer, which makes it hard to wake at an early hour. Paradise, they say. But those who say that never really lived here. Paradise is always just for the tourists.
Many of what will likely be my last stretches of time here are spent laboring in the awkward, existentially obliterating task of begging and pleading with whatever dying muse might be left to tend to the poor, the jobless, the potentially obsolete humanities graduate student.
These sorts of things do not put one, shall we say, in the mood to celebrate a merry send-off.
But nostalgia is a real jerk. He sets traps. He lets you suffer in the present only to turn that suffering with just a little bit of time into longing and melancholy, albeit longing and melancholy tinged with a certain, desperate and (usually) false sort of pleasure. And cities, places of all sorts, are ripe sites for his dangerous play. I can see him circling now, even before the departure has taken place. He’s going to make me miss it.
Do not let any of this grimly insist that Santa Barbara is some kind of awful wasteland and that I’ll be a fool when I remember it fondly (though it can be, and I will be). I do so love the beaches, the mountains that push the city toward the water. The community of scholars with whom I’ve shared the city are a kind and glorious group. It’s just not a place to which I have ever wanted to belong.
In these last days I’m doing what I can to push away both the impending nostalgia as well as the less kind and generous voices in my head and just enjoy, in the present, the slices of Santa Barbara which still buoy a resident up and make the place inhabitable: Reading on the beach. The best restaurant in the whole of the central coast, Julienne. Handlebar Coffee. Citrus trees everywhere. And a quietness, a slowness that makes the banal tasks of life just a little bit easier.
Leaving a city is always a strange and complicated act. Like leaving a lover. Even when you know the whole thing should be over, has been over for a long time, you still ache in the send-off. Maybe because you know, in the end, despite everything, you’re going miss her.
*America. Trans. Chris Turner. (New York: Verso, 1988) 72.
I am currently trying to eek out the last, resistant concluding paragraphs of my dissertation at a bar called ‘The Faculty‘ in East Hollywood (this particular section of which is apparently referred to by locals as Hel Mel because of the small collection of businesses at the intersection of Heliotrope and Melrose).
It is not lost on me that cities, as much because of the way they name their neighborhoods, their streets, their addresses, offer a kind of poetic license to the wanderer. We make our own fictions just by choosing our route through their strange and glorious linguistic ecologies. So I, jobless would-be professor, work at ‘The Faculty’ though I lack, alas, work as faculty.
Readers! I have neglected you for far too long. For my absence, I offer my regrets and apologies. These long months of internet silence can someday be counted as archeological evidence that blogs (like humans, languages and machines) cannot so easily deliver on their promises: Noise is always already in the signal, diverting, disrupting, generally destabilizing. Here we are once more though, with feeling (and a snazzy new look). So let’s put the past behind us, shall we?, and remark instead upon the present.
As a means by which to resuscitate the blog and my neglected relationship to its small pool of beloved readers (i.e. you), I give you a brief summary of my thinking on loving and wandering a city you’ve long known:
I have lived in Los Angeles for the vast bulk of my adult life and, of late, have been spending a good deal of time in neighborhoods, on corners, in buildings that I avoided, ignored or had simply forgotten for some years. Happenstance has had it, however, that some of these dormant domains in my cognitive map of the city have beckoned me back.* The eternal return of the same, I suppose, but such a return offers a nice, if sometimes uncanny, avenue of access to memory and to the ways in which it is so concretely spatial and materially present in the city.**
Spaces make the folks who wander through them aware, in exactly the haptic ‘now’, of a history to which their access is both immediate and distinctly mediated, and to the fictions (some personal, some social) on which we all ground our experience of place. At any moment a wanderer roams a space they confront in the present whatever weird and weighty remembered moments they shared with it, whatever weird and weighty stories they told themselves or were told about it. Place might well be described as the present experience of the environment thick in its presence with the past.
Here’s an exemplary gloss: I’ve had the good luck in the last few weeks to find myself on the rooftop of a building across the street from an apartment in which I used to live. From this rooftop I can see my old apartment, can map from that vantage point a spatial relationship between the place I’m standing, the apartment I lived in visible below, the other spaces of the city I have inhabited or with which I have engaged in some manner, and so on… And my mapping in turn becomes the milieu in which I make my knowledge of me, on that rooftop, looking at the Los Angeles I know and the Los Angeles I am coming to know and the Los Angeles I knew and lost.
If this sounds like philosophical jargon, it might be. But much in the muddy memories I’ve made in Los Angeles*** is linked to the ways I grew here to think about memory itself, about history, and about cities. The urban landscape, maybe all space, won’t hold memory so much as offer it as an immediate and ephemeral marking of the experience of wandering precisely where and when we wander. And all wandering (all experience) is always and only in and of the moment, or better, the millisecond, or better still the now.****
*Yes, I am aware of the ridiculous amount of alliteration in this sentence. I make no apologies.
**I did it again. See if I care! You’ll see that I don’t.
***”What? She wrote another alliterative sentence?” That’s what you’re thinking. Yeah, dude. She straight did.
****Blame the obscure poetics of this post in its entirety on Itinerant Me’s recent and intense work on the closing chapter of her dissertation. You may either forgive her (me) or despise her (me) according to your disposition and constitution. And, of course, according also to where you are, right now.