a girl in her city, watching the sunset

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Mostly in the following I work out some shit about my body and return to the theme of fucking loving los angeles

I have a new body, as you have heard.  It’s been entirely replaced.  Re-fitted.  Re-sized?  I don’t know.  I think I’m in nearly or the same size in jeans as when I left in ’04.  This a big difference (maybe as much as 50lbs, but I have no scale.)

When I expressed worry I was dropping weight too quickly, one of my doctors said that as long as I wasn’t disordered about the whole thing, not to worry.  (He inquired to my eating style, my exercise, etc. and was inclined to think my head was on properly.)   “Your body will do what it needs to do.  You might plateau at some point.  Maintain the healthy things you do now even when reaching that level.  You’ll lose weight until your body wants to stop.”  (or, mostly that.  ish.)

On a somewhat theoretical note here:  I don’t differentiate me/body.  I’m all together.  I think philosophically this lines up with Merleau-Ponty but I can’t be sure of that.

Before L.A.,  I was ungainly and awkward and I did a very fine job of hating myself.  Before, I did not smile the way I do here,  which is to say – at the slightest things.  (More on this in a subsequent post).  Now, it’s grins a million; I’m confident, I can shrug shit off.  (Ok not totally everything, but that’s mostly to maintain my humanity.  Really!)  Before, that part was cut off from the rest of me, held captive by a misanthropic egomaniac.  (With the full force of those words.  Really.)

I had been conditioned to repeat to myself that I was a liar and a fake.  The only truth was from his perpsective; and that everyone I knew as my friends were really calling and emailing him to tell him what I fool and embarrassment I was, how I made up stories and told lies.  “You write fiction, it’s only normal, but you fictionalize everything, and everyone knows you’re not trustworthy.  You just remember things wrong.  You have to trust that I’m doing what’s best.”   (Of course without doing this last thing, I was intentionally subverting his dominance and fooling myself that I was in any way submissive.)

I’m no longer beset by jealousy: I’m happy for others’ happinesses.  Things are good.  Things will continue to be good.  Which isn’t to say I’m blitzed being pollyanna-ish.  I’m not. I see the dark corners too, I get tired, I don’t like some things, I am not unrealistic.  But here on my own?  I’m ok.  I’m not perpetually looking over my shoulder, wondering what’s coming to hurt me.  And, fuck, this is L.A., where it’s supposed to be scary and shit.  It’s not like that.  I don’t flinch walking past police cars.   I don’t dread the phone ringing.  People who talk to me in the market, or at bus stops or in cafes say really nice things.

Somebody once told me (maybe more than one somebody?) that I had gained weight when I did, the way I did as a defense mechanism, a manner of protecting myself from those times when things weren’t secure.  When there wasn’t much money.  When there was no certainty.   I have no idea, for real.  Part of me kind of buys into that.  Part of me thinks I sat around a lot and was depressed often and very sick for a long time.  But now I don’t know.  My way of life in LA (until ’04) involved a lot of walking, even when I had some wheels.  Now it’s imperative and I hoof it at least 5 miles a day.

Let me say this: I love women of size.   My fuckmates and playmates in Austin are/were beautiful women who sized in the 20s (or did).  I love/d their bodies.  I couldn’t figure out why I hated my own, when it was similar to their lovelies.  Why were theirs ok and mine wasn’t?  I tried to care about and for my shape with some academic precision.  The logic of it should have threaded through to my own heft.  Why was my size 20 or 22 or so so fucking dreadful.  I tried to lose weight.  I went running, I counted calories.  It didn’t work. Nothing budged.  I was told I was obsessing and thereby diminishing my focus on him.  He told me I was self-absorbed.  He told me I was insecure and was therefore unlovely.  “If you would just accept and love yourself the way [the other woman] does, I’d find you attractive.”

I don’t know how to answer any of that.  I don’t know if it matters.  Some would say it does, that solving those riddles is verily imperative or something.  But I can’t figure out the reason it would be.  It seems, to me, that it’s enough that I know the ground beneath me now.  It seems to me that it would be enough to know who I am where I am and what I’m doing.  Or even not the last thing.

Finally, the being v. doing falls into place, but it is not as a factor of being in chains.  Freely, I chose to be myself.  And I stake my life on it, staying in Los Angeles on 12 January instead of going back to Texas.  And as a matter of course, I walk miles a day.  I no longer eat any starch.  (I was bidden to eat potatoes and fries and bread and noodles in order to maintain stability.  That without those carbs, I would for surely be depressed.)  Often, I drink a bottle of wine at night, after work.  Oh! And?  I tell people about how my day was at work without fearing it will make them think I’m ugly or unsexy.  And my body is entirely different.

It bears repeating, for posterity, that I have lost a lot of weight.  Upon my arrival, I know (nearabouts) what I weighed.  I wore an 18 or a 20 — if I was lucky I could manage 16s.  (Like used and thriftstore 16s sometimes could get worked-into.)  The belt I had brought in my luggage broke before the middle of February.  I had over-used it.  And by that time, I was on the smallest notch.  By the end of January, the jeans that came with me on vacation didn’t fit mostly at all.  I kept wearing them.  And then the belt broke.  So I got a pair at a thrift store on Fairfax for $3.  That day, it was a huge sum to lay out on something that wasn’t food.  But they fit.  For two weeks.   And I realized I ought to get another belt.

Today I’m on my way out of 12s.  If I get to shop tomorrow, I will try on the 12s 10s.  I won’t understand this.  I saw my reflection today.  It’s not the same as from before.  I think I don’t hate it but not to do with the size.  To do with who I am.

I don’t think the rest of me is altogether different.  But I’ve uncovered my being. I am friends with joy.  I say good morning to people as I walk past, the bus drivers on my commute know me now.  Even the crossing guards at Union Station (where I transfer from bus to train on the way to work and train to bus on way home) know me already.  “Have a good weekend!” said he who holds up traffic in the morning.  (I say thank you to them every time I cross, too.)  On Hill St in the morning and Spring St in the evening, I look up at these old and giant and beautiful buildings and I smile.  All of it is glorious.

I whisper my gratitude to this City day after day.

In this city, my very –ness is untrammelled.

I’m on the left  (That’s with the Pixie on Olvera Street)  (11 Jan 2012)

Me on the first of April 2012. Fairfax & 3r


The day I didn’t want to go to the Getty – 11 January 2012

Pixie and I met up for lunch on his end of town, at Philippe the Original.  We’ve known each other online for 3 years via NaNoWriMo.  Somehow, and I think it was through the main irc channel, it came out that my novel was set in Los Angeles, though I was not (any longer.)   We chatted throughout the event.  Then we chatted on IM.  For the intermediate.  Until he bought me lunch at Philippe’s.  And I was explaining to him, again, what was wrong in Austin

And again, he was not unforthcoming with his advice, which can be summarized thus

Fuck him and the horse he rode in on.  What’s in it for you?

Which, fairly, was Pixie’s challenge to me in September.  Or August.  One of those.  I  had bought into the promises that shit would be different if I came back.  But it wasn’t different after the first two or three days, maybe a week.  And I was convinced that it was me.  I wasn’t good enough, trying hard enough.  They told me if I would just be better, I would do better.  I had tried to understand, make myself understand.  These are the people who professed to love me.  But they told me over and over again that I would “be prettier if…” or reading/listening to her wax on about how great the two of them were together and him sneering at me for daring to feel left out.  I wasn’t trying hard enough to be someone else.  Someone who didn’t care that she wasn’t interesting or attractive.  I was so beholden to being honest, but he always told me I made everything up, that I lied to everyone, and all our friends knew it, and told him so.

It was all my fault.  And stop thinking that he’s wrong, he’s always right.   (And if if I didn’t think he was right, I wasn’t submissive enough.  I wasn’t trusting enough.  I was leaning upon my insecurities and not fixing my mindfulness upon his needs/wants/whims.))

So Pixie had just come out the other side of the flu when I got to L.A.  He did me a great service by meeting up with me for lunch and walking Olvera street.   He had someone take our picture.

We had a good time together, it was great to be in person with him, he’s smart and snappy and witheringly honest.  I like him a lot.  But Pixie couldn’t make the trek up to the Getty with me this time around.   “But if you’re staying, we can do it another day.”

I think I was pretty sure by then that I wasn’t getting on the plane the next day.   My body was both heavy and restless  as I made the 90 minute ride from Union Station to Westwood, where I would  hop another bus up Sepulveda to the Getty, which is always free.  (You pay to park is all  No admission.)

The bus from Westwood was a bit heartbreaking,  through my old haunts.  We were on the Sunset side of North Campus.  I used to go on marathon-training runs here, from the time I was in school, in these hills, down that road.  The ride really  isn’t altogether long from Westwood and Lindbrook  to Getty Center Drive.     Half the riders disembarked at that stop.  Like they had all planned to go with me?  I don’t know.  I walked across Sepulveda.

I don’t want to be here.

It’s on the itinerary.

It’s in the plans.

I took all the right buses and at all the right times.  I have planned three or so hours for this visit, and then back to meet up with Uncle Abduction after work, we’re getting In-and-Out tonight.   Dutifully, I wait for the tram up the hill.  Smooth as ever, it glides into its dock and I get on, but I do not sit down.  It’s not worth it to pretend this is anything approaching comfort.  I’m here on principle.  I have to see this place.  It holds some of my secrets.

When I was at school, my last term was practically devoted to the 16th and 17th Century in Europe.  I had a viciously early morning art history course, MWF.  I can’t remember the professor’s name.  I could probably chase it down.  Probably.  But i have no idea if it matters whether I remember his name.

Wait let me go back some more.

One of my first weekends in Los Angeles, easily within the first month or six weeks of moving there, I visited the Getty Center for the opening weekend.  A friend who went to UCI arranged for it, the parking, at all that.  (Back in my day, it was only $5 to park, not the $15 today.)  Anyway.  I don’t think I went there in a car many times.  (But I love public transpo.)

Right so the first time I went, I was a budding history/art history major and I was sure I would love fucking fucking everyeverything there.   There was one work that had me stuck to the spot.  Stunned.  I took it in for a long time.

Once upon a time someone had asked me:

What the hell with the benches in museum galleries?  What the fuck are they for?

I was gobsmacked.

Me:  Well, what if you want to look at something for a good long time?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a seat?
Them:   Why would you look at something so long you’d have to sit down?
Me:  We can’t have sex anymore.

One of the paintings I couldn’t shake (and it wouldn’t shake me) was this litlle beauty called Portrait of the Interior of  the Church of St Bavo, Haarlem,  by an artist called Saenredam.  When we got the gift shop that afternoon of that first visit, I found a print of the painting on posterboard.  I bought it for $5.  It was a huge amount to me then.  (Funny how some things come back around.)  The print joined me all over the world in subsequent years.  But it wasn’t all that long later that I was taking that Dutch Baroque art history class (the early morning one (it was probably at 10 and I’m a dramaqueen))  and the professor required each of us  give talks on one of a selection of paintings  that originated in 16-17C Holland that were in L.A. area museums.  And I had first choice.

And he was there.  My beloved Saenredam, the portrait of a church.  At the top of the list, or near the top.  I didn’t care whatever the fuck else was on it.  I would spend then next some few weeks reading in Dutch and German.  I would study five or ten or twelve or who cares how many other painters to figure out what the fuck with this guy and what the fuck with this painting.  I learned how many brothers he had, who was his maestro.  I looked at church interior portraits until I dreamt only of them.   Friends would drop me off at the bottom of the hill at the Getty center and retrieve me three hours later.  And I would stand in front of that painting the whole time.  What hadn’t I seen?  What element of this could I further research?  What questions had we forgotten to ask each other, me and this church interior, me and this humpback from Holland four hundred years ago.

I won’t rephrase my paper here.   I gave a stellar reading of it to my class, a crowd of visitors and a handful of professors other than mine.  I smiled when I had finished, but I smiled toward the framed work, too.  I stayed and looked at it another ten minutes, missing someone’s bit about a Rubens that I supremely hated.  They moved on to pretend to care like I knew I could in all honesty.

My professor came round and stood next to me.  We took in the Saenredam painting.  I didn’t say anything.   He took a while but he did.

— That was quite a fine bit of research you gave, you know.
— I couldn’t stop.  I just love it so much.
— It shows.

I did well in his class, and my senior essay or interdisciplinary thesis (or whatever it fucking was) was a particular thrill.

And then, there I was at the Getty, on a Wednesday in January, too many years hence.  I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to look at any other thing.  Just that one painting.

The Getty have on display an amazing cabinet, a new acquisition.

I try to take pictures of it, ringed in rope so you can’t breathe on it funny.  It’s lovely.


I don’t know.  I keep trying.

It’s all stutters.

I turn away from the cabinet and find some tiles on the wall that are really quite something, but I can’t get into it.  I care about it.  I do give a shit about it.  This is what I love about the world, this is why I studied history and art history, this is where I find the reality of the worlds.  But my heart is not in this.  By which I mean the gusto with which I tend to embrace art museums, or books on the 16th Century, or anything to do with the Thirty Years War or Lucrezia Borgia.

I force myself up the stairs.  That day my knee hurt, it hadn’t bothered me since I landed.  Today I’m weary, this is a huge decision.  It’s on my body.

While I can remember minutiae about the Saenredam painting, I can’t pull from 8 years ago to find my way to it.  It takes a few laps through the galleries to spy it, but I have to find it.  It’s here.

It’s not in the same place.  I don’t mind.  And then I glimpse it, across the room, from the entry side.  I’m wearing boots with heels that crack against the hardwood floors.  There is nothing gentle about my approach to stare at this work.   The reverence I  offer is  entirely in my gaze.  I am in some ways purified before this painting, as I’m sure in some ways I profane it, my lengthy absence from these museums I’ve visited.  My prodigal return, avering that I would, could I, fuck the sidewalks of this city.

For a while I lose the time.

I don’t know where I went then.  Yes, I’m stressed out beyond reclamation because I do not want to go back to Austin.  Yes, it seems like a sheer cliff, deciding to stay here.  But I can’t tell you how solidly planted I am, rooted.  If not before this painting of a church, housed in m kind of cathedral, maybe it’s me there, on a Metro platform.  Or over here, in my old apartment building.  On the beach watching the sunset, smelling the Ocean after I put my hands to the water.  There are a hundred thousand places I could be in L.A. and I am myself in all of them.

Like nowhere the fuck else.

I have to break away from the painting at some point.  I’m full from it, my vision is full; my head is so full. I have promised the Moth a something from the Getty store.  I make rings around it, though, picking up a this thing or that thing, carrying it around, putting it back.

If I get her something right now, I am defeated, defeating.  It means I’m not coming back, that this trinket, this postcard, this whateverthefuck it may be, it will be all we have to remind us that I visited Los Angeles in 2012, do you remember that?

I don’t want to be a visitor.  While I have spent a week as a tourist, this is not my aspiration.  This is not my completion.

I travel back to Westwood to wait for Uncle Abduction.  I camp out at Peet’s.  At some point I use the loo, and let another woman in (it’s a 2-er, but there’s a key), and I explain that I have just decided to stay in L.A. after visiting for a week.  She throws her arms around me, kisses my cheek and says

“Welcome home!  You’re a Lady in shining armor!”

I don’t know what to make of this, but I build out my resume in the next hour or so, and start looking for work.

St Bavo

9 January 2012: Sweetbest Reunion, Catharsis and Courage, my love.

I saw her first, she was looking the other way, but I could tell her by the tilt of her head, the way she held her hands up, her shoulder-width stance in those fantastic boots.  Her silhouette.

I planted my suitcase on the platform, stood still and waited, out of the way of the other off-boarding passengers. I waited for her to turn this direction, to see me seeing her, and when she did, the world immediately became watery in my vision.

I tried to cover my wobbly mouth, but it was more important to put my arms around her, slight frame though she has.

Since we were 12 we’ve been this way, there are things about bodies that don’t change. I’m bully and triangular. Even when I weighed 80 pounds less than now, I’m broad-shouldered, have wide hands and I could probably cause serious damage to a china shop. She, while maybe wreaking some havoc with her (alleged) clumsiness (she was a ballerina, after all, she has to be clumsy), she is still some amazing kind of fine; she’s delicate. Her hair is shorter than when we last knew each other.

It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but filling my eyes with hers, deep warm beautiful dark brown.

In the one flash of our embrace, we erased a 20 year gulf. Chasm? Absence.  The longing I have had for this friendship never ceased.  I couldn’t replace her with anyone.

I had contacted her moth (mother) through Facebook when I knew I was coming to visit L.A.  Sweetbest’s moth provide her own email address, and I wrote to her, asking her to forward to Sweetbest.  She did.  When I read the first words from her in so long, I shook.  I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to see me, she was glad for me.  We arranged the day and time of our reunion, on a train platform in Tustin.  And when that Monday afternoon finally arrived, I wore the prettiest thing I had packed—packed just for the purpose of wearing when I met her.  A pinkredpurpley shirt and a wrap skirt of patches of saris.  My purple doc martens.  It was colorful, intended to convey my gladness.  I was bulkier then than I am now, these months later, all the walking, the abject poverty, the diet I managed between tight money and illness (I’ll get to that subsequent to this post.)  But that day, I was as big as I’ve ever been, and she didn’t care, made no comment on my size, but took me as I was, who I am.  We talked, we held hands, we sat hip-to-hip with each other on a bench near a Starbucks, drinking coffee, she bought me a pastry that I nibbled.  She was the same and different at once.  She was all beautiful everything, but so tentative.  Her hesitancy struck me.  Wasn’t Sweetbest the bravest girl ever, when she was?  (More on that later, too.)  She could offer me encouragement to be brave myself, to take on Los Angeles and leave the Austinites.  She could provide strong words and yes, do, and her support was incredible, but altogether credible.  This is the woman with whom I grew from girl to adult.  For all anyone could offer me, her words were the most treasured things.

She treated me to dinner in her town.  We blissfully supped on delightful rich Italian food, a good wine she knew well and we talked, oh.  That which I keep close to my memory, that which stays with me when I’m lower is her soft beautiful speech, her strong back as she walks.  She and I made a pinky power  promise over our entrees: Never Again Apart.

Remembering this is hard, in a way.  Because I want to be near her all the time we can.  I made some inquiries as we ate as to tattoos shops on the drag near we were.  I was going to emblazon upon my inner arm, inside my right bicep something to memorialize this reunion.

It would be scylla’s tattoo.  (I’ll get to scylla, she figures into this, too.)  But not in scylla’s Chinese characters.  I wanted the words scrawled.  It’s a tiny part of a tiny poem by William Blake.

Kiss the joy as it flies

The whole poem:

he who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy;
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternity’s sun rise.

There’s some serendipity in this, as the inside of my left bicep is tattooed with a pair of wings.

My friend, who went by the handle scylla, was beset with major depression.  She fought hard against it, she worked hard to maintain her tenured position as a librarian at a university.  She was the inspiration (nearly solely) for my going back to work after having been on disability for 6 years.  She was a good friend, we understood each other’s words very well.  I found out the day before I met up with Sweetbest that her death was ruled by the coroner as suicide.

Scylla and I had long discussions about suicide.  She was tormented by the thought of doing it for years.  She had attempted in her 20s and had learned a lot by the time we were friends (she was in her mid-40s then.)  We spent hours together in chat online.  One Sunday we laughed as I had babbled at her for the entirety of 10 hours.  We had read a book together about suicide.  Together we celebrated the words of the poet Douglas Dunn, that Jamison included at the end of the book.

 ”Look to the living, love them, and hold on.”

We elided this phrase when talking with each other.  She would say, “h, look to the living.”  I would say to her:  “scylla, hold on.”  She would reply something like, “holding as best I can.”

But she lost her grip.

She had become gravely ill, not to do with mental health.  She had idiosymptomatic gastroparesis.  She couldn’t digest anything, hardly could drink and she was in a lot of pain.  She overdosed on a lethal combination of meds, said the autopsy.  It was intentional.

I love her still, in ways that no one else will likely experience.  But that’s ok.  It’s hers.  She will have it for as long a I am.

Sweetbest has my heart, too.  (Other people are in my heart.  There’s plenty of room.)

But Sweetbest is has a memory (and relics) from time I don’t recall without fog.   Her reappearance in my life, our sharing of each other –so previously unfathomable—is  now  the fabric of my days and nights.  I look forward to her huge toothy smile in my view.  I look forward to the way she holds her hands by her face.  I love this woman with historical goodness.


Scylla’s tattoo.  Happier times for her, playing in the sand on an east coast beach.


My freshly inked reinterpretation.  Happy times for me, the day I re-met Sweetbest.

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