Monday, October 16, 2017

describing things

Today's Grad Methods class was enormous fun - thanks to Catherine and Katie who were introducing it.  Remember that the room is half full of creative writers, half of critical folk ... those two are poets.  We were talking about Description ... they led us in, via our reading from Mark Doty's The Art of Description, by asking us to write a description of a sound that they played us (for me, it was as if a woodpecker had been followed by a terrible snore, but it was actually an Elk Rage Grunt (just remind me never to go anywhere near a cross elk).  They had us looking at a Frieda Kahlo painting and went round the room with each of us finding a new detail; they gave us paint color cards, and made us text SF MOMA at 572-51 - ask them "send me ..." and fill in a noun that's close to the color we were each given - to be sent an image (try it!) and then to write a description of it (I was sent a Richard Misrach photo of a house evacuated for Katrina, that proved to be full of angles and triangles).  We talked about Perec and lists, and a chunk of James Wood about Serious Noticing, and Patrick Fessenbecker on paraphrase, and, yes, Sharon Marcus, Heather Love and Stephen Best on "Building a Better Description" - and they had us discuss the opening of Pound's ABC of Reading, and then discuss whatever we think the author(s) that each table was allocated would have to say about it.  And so we could get into the spirit of that, each table was given their speaking heads, their voices to ventriloquize, to hold up.  Or ... give some smart graduates a range of texts, and see where they take you ... it was a stellar exercise in bringing ideas home through practice.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

stretching out (and some thoughts on the "me too" posts. As in, me too).

LucyFur, slowly repossessing the house after Walter Gomez's departure for Minnesota (though with helicopters circling overhead right now, dropping water on what we hope is a little fire in Griffith Park, maybe we should all have moved to the land of 10,000 lakes.  She and Moth are currently in the bedroom, since we could pack them up in a hurry, should we have to, most easily from there).  I digress (and the helicopter activity seems to be quietening down) ... Lucy has always favored certain spots of morning sunshine, and even though there's a certain amount of shuffling and growling involved in asserting her rights to them, she's coming back into her tabby own.

Oh, and of course, "me too."  But this covers so many different things, from being whistled at by workmen to the cab driver who drove me off to a dark and scary destination in Greece; from a colleague in my first job who came round early on a Sunday morning to see if I "wanted any help in settling in" to those stray hands that came round from the seat behind on buses in Turkey and in Mexico; from an eight year old boy whom the 17-year old me was baby-sitting, to older and much more powerful academics in my field who Should Have Known Better.  What intrigues me much more is what we've all done in all of these circumstances; how we might have acted differently; how - in my case - my tendency to be a Nice Girl (and yes, my wanting to be liked) led me into positions of quasi-complicity that then became very hard to extricate myself from.  I could give my past self a lot of good advice about speaking up and Not Wanting to Offend.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ah, Silver Lake ...

Pi, and birds.  Why?  I don't care.  For me, this is old Silver Lake - the neighborhood that I first came to in 2004, full of funkiness and inexplicable bits of art, and some of it's still very much visible when - as we did this morning - we drive down the hill from Los Feliz and park about a mile away from the Farmers' Market (good walk, albeit more noticeable on the way back, with a backpack full of avocados and raspberries and guavas - guavas! - and dandelion leaves and green beans [ah, California]).   And this, below, is another form of old Silver Lake too - lanterns and parasols, and they stretch all the way up a shady path into this house's back yard.

But what of this Speedy Cylinder Exchange, though - and a strange set of red racks looking like coat hangers turned into a very boring art installation?  Think of this, however, not as a functional daytime operation, but as a place holder, a space holder for the carpark that this turns into at night -ready for hordes of bars and restaurants night-lifers, the influx of people who think that Silver Lake is the epitome of LA hipsterdom, the wannabe population who's causing the steady demise of mid C20th nondescript (but often still modestly lovable) housing, in favor of new blocks of apartments, condos, traffic producing residences, which will inevitably creep in and kill precisely the laid back ambience that we love(d) this neighborhood for in the first place.

Friday, October 13, 2017

another cushion

sometimes I joke that on a really busy week, on a really busy day, when most of what I've been doing is either stuff I can't really write about, or - in the case of the last few hours, would involve an account of an unimpressive volleyball game - all I'm left with is a picture of a cat or a flower.  The cats have either gone to bed or are roaming around wanting an extra late-night treat; the flowers are - well, time to go to the Farmers' Market tomorrow and buy some more.  So here's another cushion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

fall (rainbow) colors

USC does a very excellent job in putting up rainbow banners in October - quality banners.  There's such a mismatch between this celebration of LGBTQ life, though, and whatever culture of wilful ignorance and blind-eye turning led to the state of things in our medical school (just Google "Keck USC" if you don't know what I'm talking about ...).  At which point, I remember, once again, that I have to do my mandatory Sexual Harassment training - which one suppose all these offenders had to do, once, or forced or cajoled someone into taking for them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


On the one hand, two cushions in my office.  On the other, homage to Laura Kalba's new book, Color in the Age of Impressionism: Commerce, Technology, and Art (Refiguring Modernism),  which she was talking about at USC today.  It's a really terrific work of art history, visual history, cultural history - ranging from Impressionist paintings to flowerbeds, fireworks to autochromes - a tour de force of interweaving images and texts from many different contexts and in different registers - it's also extremely readable.  These bright colors, though - they're Indian in origin - at least, the cushions themselves are: dyed fragile silk, they're just starting to fray.  Some other, similar ones in New Mexico are already disintegrating into thin threads.  I'm so aware of the vivid colors in non-Western textiles, and the passage, in the C19th, of shifts in textile production, including the dye process: I wanted to hear more at Laura's talk about the international circulation of colors and fabrics in the C19th.  Not, of course, that this is exactly an unexplored area - and I was hooked by her comments about linguistic anthropology and color, and C19th fascination with what people actually saw, and how they did, or didn't, communicate this in language (color, I know, will be featuring prominently in the course I teach next semester ...).

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Outside Taper Hall - home to my office - today.  Lest you think that USC exists in a state of continual festivity, this was - perhaps inevitably - in honor of some kind of job fair, which had many besuited students standing in long lines outside employers' booths - a kind of entrepreneurial version of a Michaelmas hiring fair.  It just needed them to be holding spades and mattocks and hammers and apple trees and butter paddles and crooks and mops and milking stools and pitchforks instead of anxiously clutched resumes printed on quality paper.

Monday, October 9, 2017

reflective reading

... on my way back to the car park, after class ... Actually, we were discussing affect, individuality/commonality, are corporations people, and the boundaries between individuals and the world (or the porosity between them), and not reflection at all - more reaction, response, feeling, and maybe thought ... it was a very lively class, and nothing like the image of tranquility here ...

Sunday, October 8, 2017

back in los angeles

Colors, rather than fall colors (although in the subtle way that seasons register here, I'm sure those tree blossoms signify early October loudly and clearly).  The facade is on Western - coming back home from LAX, resuscitated by a few days in New Mexico ...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

more leaves

As promised, or as forewarned, more aspen leaves.  They're both the same pictures as every year (and hence, a recurrent celebration), but at the same time, of course different.  Because of last week's rain and wind, the trees seem a little more bare than they were last year, a week later ... but they are still absolutely spectacular.

Friday, October 6, 2017

leaves, wall

It's the obligatory fall aspen leaves shot (there may be more, tomorrow ...) - I find yellow leaves against a deep red wall pretty irresistible.  It also strikes me, having put this up on the screen, that the image manages to be scarily close to USC's colors (Pantone 201C and Pantone 123C, since you were wondering).  I'm not re-coloring to make them exactly match, you'll be shocked to hear.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

full moon with radishes

Under tonight's full moon, with storm clouds racing over it - a long row of Japanese radishes - or Daikon, hanging out to - to dry?  Just because it's a convenient place to keep one's stock of radishes?  These are outside Santa Fe's Izanami restaurant, attached to Ten Thousand Waves (where we ate on their balcony whilst the rain hurled down, and the lightning flashed, after soaking off - or trying to soak off - half a semester in a hot tub).  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


I'm not sure whether this huge cactus - part of USC's new landscaping in front of the part of UPC that faces the new Village - was intended to be offset by this very domestic geranium, but it's very effective as a study in contrasts.

opening the University Village

There's not a great deal that one can do to disguise the very fake brick, and the mechanical, Ruskin-would-rotate-in-his-grave neo-Gothic nature of USC's new University Village - but this amazing light show did its very best to mask the reality.  Eric Garcetti - Mayor of LA - may have got it right, all the same, when he welcomed us to Harry Potter's World of Wizardry (something more comprehensible, than our University President comparing what we were witnessing to "The renaissance movement of the Middle Ages.")   Sometimes I just feel very, very nostalgic for Oxford (and not just for the architecture).  Quite how we ended up being invited as some of the very few faculty among the endless tables of donors is anyone's guess, but it was a hugely fun evening (dancers! music! yes, fireworks! - though just at the end and this out-of-this-world light show) - and edible food (at the bottom of the menu: "Chef: Wolfgang Puck").  Oh, and - when an invitation says "black tie and cocktail attire," that actually means - wear an incredibly expensive outfit of the kind that you always wonder who buys and who wears, when you see them in stores.  Ah well.  We scrubbed up just fine ... it was all super-surreal, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything ... that is, perhaps, the advantage of being A Foreigner, and giving myself the excuse of anthropological participant-observer status ...

and - yes! - a colleague - Jake Soll - following straight after Eric Garcetti, and doing The Faculty proud ...

and yes! thank goodness - one or two other people whom we actually knew ... here's Dorothy Braudy, as we were being played into dinner by the USC marching band.  All of them.

Monday, October 2, 2017

on teaching on difficult days

on a day, at least, when an image of a flower, designed to show peace and solace, captured, inadvertently, the sense of a day part in focus, part not.  That is - the overnight shock of the Vegas shooting was overlayed by our campus being under lock-down, after the rumor of an active shooter - with helicopters buzzing overhead, with police sirens and megaphones, with classes disrupted as a result.  And around then the reasons for not coming to today's graduate class started to arrive by email - leaving an empty seat as a protest against the country's gun laws; feeling scared and nauseated; feeling unwell ... I fail to see how an empty seat protest in a grad class on form, formalism and style is going to effect a great deal of political change, unless one uses the occasion as one on which to launch a discussion with the whole class.  But then there was the email from another student explaining that any discussion might produce a trigger response from them, so ... so, this was all negotiated by me, but not in the way that I'd have proceeded if there wasn't the trigger problem (an unfortunate word, anyway, given the circumstances).  There's stuff that years of teaching prepares you for, and stuff that you just have to hope that years of living does ...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

a noisy game

Here's a lesson in treating what you read on the Web with amused skepticism ... So, the dominant online talkroom for women's volleyball is Volleytalk.  In the thread on today's USC vs Washington match, someone remarks - attendance 2,615!  That's not bad for USC on a Sunday!  Indeed it's not.  Only ... about two thousand of those attendees were munchkins, since there was a local schools event on campus for small people, and they were all marched in - like streams of ants, filling up the seats in t-shirts and USC headbands - to attend the game.  Indeed, they made a lot of noise - a huge amount of noise - something that, I hope, contributed to the discomfort that Washington felt, since we swept them 3-0.  This was a pretty good victory, since they are ranked way over us right now (and some of us still feel the pain of our loss to them in the regional finals in 2013).  But evidently the tuba managed to render even these diminutive screechers sitting behind me quiet for a little while ... (and then - the victory dance - visible on the Jumbatron, the players surrounded by the band ...).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

growing an avocado

This little avocado tree has been my pride and joy - or at least the focus of low-key anxiety - since March.  She may look a tiny bit droopy here, but this is just before her weekly drip-feed - I leave the hosepipe on her with a tiny, tiny trickle for an hour or so, since those brown tips to some of the leaves indicate not over- or under- watering, but the probability that there are too many salty minerals in the soil that weren't getting fully leached out.  Nor does she really grow at a leaning angle - but it's a steep hill ... (you'll note Griffith Park sloping away behind our fence).  The umbrella?  It's from the Frog and the Peach, in New Brunswick - token of some very, very wet New Jersey evening. but here strapped to the stake in order to give her some dappled shade when the sun is at its highest.  I think she's already grown nine inches or so since she's lived here - I know that it'll be about five more years before she's likely to produce edible fruit, but believe me, having an avocado tree was high on my dreams ever since I first saw one growing in a Riverside yard back in - I had to go back and check my cv - back in March 1988.  I don't know where I thought avocados came from, exactly, but it had never struck me that the answer might be from one's own garden.

Friday, September 29, 2017

driving to the Huntington

Another day, another transformer - this time on York and 56th.  It's a lively piece of work ... unfortunately I just missed the flamboyantly dressed woman who'd just walked past.  It's been a couple of years - or more - since I did this drive pretty regularly, and there's a whole different range of murals and decorations.  (I couldn't decide whether to crop the image, or not - give some blank spaces, or pack it all in ...).

Thursday, September 28, 2017

westside night

One of the many rewards of going over to the Westside for dinner (after a long day, but one in which a much loved and valued colleague's retirement was celebrated) is seeing elements of the everyday which aren't one's own, personal everyday.  These plants grow against a white-grey wall; they look vaguely like (but obviously aren't) seaweed - and this is just a small segment of a whole long stripe of them, seen by street-light with a touch of moon.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Having a C19th horse as one's shower curtain, the arch of the bath alcove serving as a stable door, is, of course, a nod to my equine past.  But there's also a strange, knowing form of surveillance at work. I've turned round to confront that eye here.  A horse rolling its eyes, showing the whites, doubtless tilting its ears backwards as well, almost certainly is about to raise a hind hoof to kick you, or it's going to lunge forward and try to take a chunk out of your arm with its long yellow teeth.  I'm taking no risks.  But seeing that eye in the mirror, as I do every morning or evening, as I brush my teeth or wave a mascara wand in the direction of my own eyes - then it seems more conspiratorial, less adversarial; then it becomes an emblem of a need for watchfulness.  It's hard to regard that side-glancing eye in any comfortable light, however ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Help us defend DACA

Some of the signs on the railing outside our University Church.  Rally in support of DACA there this Saturday at 10!

Monday, September 25, 2017

today's class had some extraordinary guests ...

Today's graduate class - in a compulsory Methods course for all incoming grad students in English, under a rough rubric of Introduction to Criticism and Theory - was a pretty special occasion.  The class is more or less half Creative Writing PhDs, half Critical Track - in fact, slightly more official creative writers that critical ones, and some of the so called critical track people are creative, too ... So I've been making sure that they see themselves as a genuine cohort, not as creatures of different species - and that we all think about creation and criticism as being intimately interwoven.  To that end I invited in three colleagues to talk about their work, and the integration of their research, reading, critical exposure on their writing practice.  To be able to have David St John, Robin Coste Lewis, and Danzy Senna all at the same time in a seminar is a rare and inspiring treat; to have them as colleagues is something very special.

So David took us through an intellectual trajectory that passed from studying with Gayatri Spivak, through his passion for Italian cinema (and it emerged that we share a love of early Bertolucci - I must tell him about the time I saw 1900 - in early release - projected onto the white wall of a co-operativa room in a Florentine suburb), through a life-long knowledge of and love for the central Californian coast - which in turn merged into a consideration of the role of Robinson Jeffers, and Edward Weston and Charis Wilson, on his work.  Then Robin talked about studying Sanskrit, as part of her desire to know where race as performance came from - taking the historical construction of race back to its origins; about Woolf; about the ability that poetry has to conflate ideas into a single line - a single word; about poetry as an art of silence; writing about things that aren't easily articulated; about poetry's power to surprise its writer.  And Danzy spoke about how her latest novel, New People (and read it, if you haven't done) is about three different geographies, three different times - the time of the Culture Wars at Stanford; Jonestown in the late 70s, and Brooklyn at the moment before gentrification - moments of transformation, when things were on the cusp of serious change.  Our guests spoke about memorable texts that had influenced them or that they were reading now - like Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's The Mushroom at the End of the World, and Kevin Quashie's The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, or - going back to the 1930s, George Schuyler's Black No More.  They answered all kinds of questions.  They conversed.  They joked.  

You should have been there.  It'll stay with me as one of the most memorable classes I've - in a very loose way - been responsible for, ever.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hollywood door

Waiting at the lights on Hollywood Boulevard - some mock-Renaissance carvings and gargoyles, and reflected palm trees (en route to see Battle of the Sexes - at this stage of the semester, a feel-good movie is called for - 100% recommended).

Saturday, September 23, 2017

an empty street

A rare sight - not a car to be seen (including our own).  Just one thin white line stripe in the middle of the road.  Hardly de Chirico, but nonetheless, empty.

But.  Why was it empty?  Because we all had to get our cars off the street so that people could film a commercial for a Mini Cooper (- tucked in, here, to a neighbor's off-street parking, in front of a dog walker with his five little charges.  Absolutely not coincidentally, the neighbor is a film maker (her husband is a screen writer).  The curious thing is that white stripe.  When Alice went out to pick up the paper very early this morning, there were four or five of them stretching up the street.  Whether they didn't look quite right on film, or what, I don't know - but an hour or so later there was just one of them.  I don't think our house will probably make it onto your TV screen because of our array of trash cans in front of the garage, although they did seem to have moved them around so as to try and hide them.

Ah, Los Angeles ...

Friday, September 22, 2017

animal pyramid

... another in my occasional series of Los Angeles transformer boxes.  This one is in Highland Park, en route to the Huntington.  I do so love the opportunity for street canvases that they set up - and this one is particularly endearing in both motifs and color scheme ...

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Given the terrible excess of moisture that too many places have suffered recently, it seems frivolous to celebrate the fact that it was falling this morning.  But this is parched and brown Los Angeles, and so I'm allowing myself to be very happy at these raindrops.