O, Pioneers

O, Pioneers: Dana Johnson explores the remaking of L.A.’s historic core

In her latest collection of stories, the associate professor of English explores a wide range of experiences unique to the City of Angels.

via USC Dornsife

By Lynell George

Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.

 

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Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.

Writer and professor Dana Johnson was reminded of that prickly coexistence on a recent afternoon. Wandering into Union Station, she found it a-swarm. Not teeming with commuting Bunker Hill suits nor the downtown Arts District’s new guard, but rather the entire lounge space swallowed up by a buzzing film crew: cables, lights, scrims and steel barricades. “You can sit,” a disembodied voice rebuffed all in approach, “but don’t move.”

She made a beeline, into the courtyards at the edges of the station. Stashed in a hidden corner, Johnson happened upon a small bronze plaque commemorating the terminal’s 50-year anniversary in 1989: “Through the portals of this historic edifice have passed the great and near-great.”

Johnson’s fiction has long examined those edges — animating the “near great”; the L.A. that isn’t in the foreground, the one that is too often asked to sit, but don’t move. That’s the L.A. she moves through every day on foot.

“I get a notion. An image. A line of dialogue,” she said. “Or maybe it’s just a feeling I want to explore.”

To read more about Dana Johnson’s story collection click here

 

Image via USC|Dornsife

State of Being: Envisioning California

 

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via Boom Magazine

by Lynell George

“I could remember everything about California, but I couldn’t feel it. I tried to get my mind to remember something I could feel about it, but it was no use. It was gone. All of it.”
—Richard Hallas from You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up1

Gold Underneath the Street 

For months now, I’ve been at the time-bending task of emptying out my family home, breaking down history as if it were a set.

It’s my childhood home, not the first, but the one we inhabited the longest. Moving through rooms, closets, and overstuffed drawers, I’ve unearthed all manner of lost treasures: pocket watches, maps, deeds to homes long razed. This house, I realize, became a nest—not just ours—but one made up of artifacts of generations of family members: Bibles and Sunday hats, old wallets still filled with gasoline “Charg-a-Plates” and oxidized pocket change, a cache of antique cameras still spooled with film, and a river of photographs documenting their journey west.

A few weeks back, making my way through the old kitchen, I put my hand in the dark recesses of a cabinet stacked with crystal water goblets, luncheon plates, and not one but two ornate turkey platters to find the most fragile porcelain teacup and saucer—once white with scalloped edges, a hand-painted small cluster of oranges at center. Beneath the fruit, in plainspoken yet fine-brushstrokes, unscroll the letters “C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A.” Whose tiny cup was this? My grandmother’s? My great aunt? My mother’s? Who purchased this souvenir? Who thought to save it? To protect it? I wondered. How had it survived so long, so dusty and delicate?

 

To read more at Boom, click here

Jumping Time

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Intersecting with people, place, memory and history

by Lynell George

via LMU Magazine

What are we supposed to do in life and how do we figure out how to do it? Those are questions that even if answered today will likely be asked again tomorrow, especially when economic plates shift. For the past year, Los Angeles writer Lynell George has been talking with L.A. artists about the fault line between seeing the path of one’s life and staying on it. We asked her to tell us what she has seen and learned.

Sometimes life really does take you to a new place, and that has its analog in art.
— Elizabeth Alexander

Against my better judgment, late last spring, I found myself corralled onto a panel — an uncomfortably solemn affair that carried the weight of a wake. There was no body lying in repose, only a symbolic one: the world as we had known it. There we sat: three journalists who for much of our busy careers had reported wide-ranging stories about the lively arts — books, pop culture, fine art, and music that crossed borders and genres. We’d been gathered to sort through shattered infrastructure — not just the art world’s. As journalists, we would be turning over the detritus of our own.

ll in flux. I was no expert. Nonetheless, we waded deep into the murk: market crash, vanishing job categories, lost homes, fractured partnerships, both professional and personal. Half in jest — but only half — the moderator turned to me and lofted a question: Because I’d been focusing on long-form “process stories” about artists and the long trail of their working lives, he wanted to know if I might have anything — “anything at all” — optimistic to offer. . . . .

As a journalist who writes about people who make elegant, jaw-dropping leaps — creatives who ultimately conceive beyond-category art, music and food, or design vibrant community landscapes or networks — I see many who seem to share a key trait: the ability to pivot, to “see in the dark.” The darkness in this case is uncertainty: blind turns and difficult passages that we all must navigate at some point to find our way to the next phase, chapter, summit. Why, I wondered, are some better at the pivot than others? That facility begins with feeling comfortable in the space of the unknown.

to read the full piece  at LMU Magazine click here 

 

Letting Go of Green Lawns …

All this past summer, I kept hearing Joni Mitchell’s voice in a loop way in the back of my brain,  murmuring about the “hissing of” summer lawns. That tell-tale sprinkler spray haunted me.  By the end of October, I’d swapped in “browning” for “hissing” as the lyric cycled through.  But my long morning walks told me something else about how important that green grass was to some.

Here’s my brief reflection — in words and images — that went up in November at Zócalo Public Square

by Lynell George | Zócalo Public Square

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“Here, it was two stories and a lawn, two stories and a lawn, two stories and a lawn”
– Carolyn See from The Handyman

Sometime during the last-blast furnace heat of September, as I made my turns on foot around my San Gabriel Valley neighborhood, I began to take careful note that the term “conservation” was widely open to interpretation.

Evidence was everywhere. Street to street, lot to lot. Each week, I’d push a little farther outside my core neighborhood, comparing and contrasting.

Many residents let their square of lawn “go”—in a come-what-may fashion that seems optimistically to believe that brown will one day be green again.

Others chose to take matters into their own hands. I watched early-adopters embark on elaborate, months-long transformations, removing turf, transporting earth, tarping lawns, designing intricate new ground cover—not wanting to gamble on the vagaries of Mother Nature. As weeks passed, I’ve been taken by the range of improvisation among these remade yards: blasts of color and texture, hay-yellow patches, haphazard rock gardens, dirt and dandelion weeds.

 

to read more click here

Claudia Rankine on White Blindness, The Black Body and the Freedom to Live

By Lynell George
via KCET | Artbound

On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.

While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.

To read the entire interview with Claudia Rankine click here.

Going Back Home

Photo Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

Photo Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times

By Lynell George
via Los Angeles Times

Landfall: Return to New Orleans

By late August, I was daily monitoring weather maps two time zones away. I watched how a “tropical system” gathered force, how it garnered enough ferocity to be granted a name. Katrina looked serious, even from 2,000 miles away. But my family, as always in moments like this, downshifted emotionally, ran a checklist, stilled potential chaos.

My mother, a New Orleans native, made phone calls from Los Angeles. The list included blood ties and friends she considered extended kin. She was the one entrusted with keeping tabs, the point person. She knew the storm rituals: Baton Rouge. Waiting it out. Or that telltale “eh” — a push of air through the phone’s mouthpiece so full of hubris that you almost felt it: “I ain’t going nowhere.” Even no plan was a plan.

When the hurricane made landfall on Aug. 29, I was staring up into the television screen floating above my newsroom pod. It was over — the anticipation part. This other part — the horror-show part — that was new. I was trying to make sense of what I was looking at, that sheeny murkiness where the street should be, and peeking through, only the very tops of trees.

Read the rest of “Landfall” here.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Writes Across Landscapes

By LYNELL GEORGE
via Los Angeles Times

AS A writer, Ferlinghetti himself eschewed the Beat label, but it was his City Lights that provided that essential infrastructure for the voices (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso) who would go on to embody and define the movement.

All the while in fragments of time, he wrote himself — poems, novels, plays — and with the publication of “Writing Across the Landscape” and “I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955-1997,” we learn what a prodigious diarist and engaged personal correspondent he’s been over that great wash of time as well.

— from my review now up at LAT

This week I write about two new books that look back at the career of Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1960-2010
Edited by Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson & I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955-1997 Edited by Bill Morgan is now live via L.A. Times. Click here for the rest. L.A. Times.

Upstairs at City Lights -- By Lynell George

Upstairs at City Lights — By Lynell George