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.

poke and condiments

So ... at the Wednesday Farmer's Market on campus, the falafel stall is nowhere in sight, but there is a wonderful new poke outfit, with some very tender spicy tuna, and every kind of genuine Hawaiian condiment that one could possibly dream of ...

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

radical feelism

This Silver Lake wall on the way to work?  After having been quiet and dull for a very long and disappointing time, it's burst out in color again.  Somewhere in the occasional bursts of letters - "radical feelism."  And sometimes I wish that I could get rid of my impulse to double-check by Googling, because my imagination around the phrase has been somewhat squashed by finding that it has an originator, Dallas Clayton, illustrator, writer of children's books, and muralist - is this wall by him?  He believes that, yes, we should be in touch with our feelings.  In any case, it certainly made me feel more cheerful, even en route to a shockingly over-crammed day.

Monday, September 18, 2017


A long, long teaching and admin day - and the admin part isn't over yet ... so this is to symbolize the value of having some tranquil things to gaze at en route, like this jug on a sitting room shelf in the morning sunlight.  I'd love to be able to relate it to our excellent grad class discussion about archives and libraries ... but - unless one suggests that everything that one keeps is, in effect, an item in an archive, I can't quite make the leap ...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

the happiness of sleeping cats

With Walter Gomez safely 1,927 miles away (door-to-door, according to MapQuest), Moth (left) and LucyFur (right) can lounge about without anxiety ...

... at least, real, all-house integration has commenced.  Here, they're actually only a couple of feet from each other - Moth on my sofa, Fur on my desk chair.  There's been a little bit of hissing; one bark, or at least "woof" from Lucy - but they are much enjoying their reclamation of every bit of space.  And I'm just super-happy to get uplifting updates from Minnesota - WG is having a great time, too, it would seem ...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

lights in a jar

After the emotional intensity of the last couple of days (I don't recommend rehoming a beloved cat - however necessary that might be when it comes to feline tranquility and, indeed, safety - and even if he has a most loving new home with people who already spent this summer with him) - after that stress, and with a jaw aching from tooth-grinding, and a hurting head, I was so glad to come home to the tranquility of these little lights, sitting - thanks to Alice - in a vase in the dining room.

Friday, September 15, 2017

art, various

If one's taking a cat to Minneapolis, one might as well spend a day in the Minneapolis Institute of Art - fabulous works; fabulous and imaginative curation.  Here are just a few highlights - a late C19th torchière

Hecuba, looking desperate as ever (understandably);

some glass vases;

a mirror, a frame, a strange horned candelabra ...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

walter gomez starts his new life

Walter cannot believe his good fortune.  A whole house to himself?  No Moth?  No LucyFUR?  His very own scratching post, kitty palace, a new catnip banana?  TWO people who will tender to his every whim (aka our house sitters this summer).  Squirrels outside the patio window!  

Quite how I feel after flying a cat to Minnesota - LA traffic jam; having to take him out of his carrier and carry him through security screening (hint to anyone who needs it - in LAXT4, there's no separate kitty-screening room to go to if you're TSA-approved); pulling his little Sherpa bag through miles and miles of airports - let alone the heartbreakingness of taking him to a new home, even if his people already know him and love him to bits - I'll leave it to you to imagine.  But after his savaging of both Moth and Lucy - their septic injuries; the fact of Moth nearly losing one of her pretty ears; Lucy's permanent air of aggrieved trauma; the segregation; the hissing under doors - devastatingly sad though this is for us, it is, I really think, a very happy outcome for him.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

very orange

This magnificent beast - and some friends - is blooming in a bed en route to my carpark at USC.  It wasn't until I downloaded it and enlarged it that I realized that there were three ants deep in its orange interior.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

bicycle shadows

Yes - it's another sure sign that my nose is being held close to the grindstone on campus when I start to post photos of bicycles.  But there was something very compelling about the one o'clock shadows as I scampered over to TJ's to buy a salad at lunchtime ...

Monday, September 11, 2017

pink tinted clouds

On Mondays, I teach until nearly 7 - a graduate Methods class that by tradition is always taught at this time - but there are compensations: this evening, a pink-tinged sunset as I walked towards the car park.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

the calmness of ferns

This is for everyone for whom the weather - in the recent past or the all too present present - has rendered their lives very far from calm: it's a reminder that yes, there is quiet sunshine on delicate green, out there, somewhere.  These are not our ferns (which, albeit large and magnificent, always seem to look brown and chewed around the edges), but were seen on our walk this morning round the 'hood.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

marching band

One annual perk of my appointment appears to be an invitation to one football game, and to the President's Party beforehand - a complete gamble whether one's at a table with trustees or administrators or or or - this time, the round table contained two people who'd won their tickets in a cancer charity raffle.  But almost always there's something interesting about this wild card seating, and certainly it's fun to go to the game afterwards ... I speak, of course, as a foreigner ... always keen to be served up treats of cultural difference like the USC marching band ...

Oh, yes, and we beat Stanford.  Decisively.

Friday, September 8, 2017

snake and spoon

... aka Los Angeles commuting, stuck in a line of cars on Sunset, and contemplating - well, both this spoon and snake, and a similar one, coming from the other direction, the other side of the opening in the long wall.  Why a spoon and snake?  Is it a version of the Rod of Asclepius, with the snake curling round a medicine spoon (and it looks as though the medicine at the center of the spoon's bowl, in that case, is a tiny globe)?  Google offers me nothing, which is always a happy thing, since it leaves the imagination free to ramble ...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

withered in the hand

Ever had the experience of writing an article that, secretly, you're fairly pleased with - and working your way through the final revisions - and opening a new book that just arrived from Amazon, and finding that it has a chapter on - well, not quite the same approach that you've taken to something, but, basically, the same topic?  Using, necessarily, many of the same sources.  Yes, that feeling.   Withered.

The hand belongs to Paderewski, and the statue is just outside the building that my office is in, by the Music Department.  It was some - small - consolation to come upon the disintegrating floral offering.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

a very well-merited award

Sometimes I think that NO ONE knows how much an individual deserves an award quite as much as their partner does ... in other words, someone who day to day to day has seen the hard work, the negotiations and dealings with the administration, the drafting of reports, the phone calls and the skype sessions, the budget crises, the scheduling conflicts, the people who suddenly go on leave or into retirement, the major questions, the endless minor questions ... Here's Alice, after six years of chairing Gender Studies, receiving the Splash award for - basically - inspirational service to Gender Studies - an award hereafter to carry her name.  This is, indeed, an even bigger accolade, and totally fitting for the person who has done such a huge, huge amount to set Gender Studies at USC on the path to become a full department (and hence have its own lines! its own power to hire!) after being, for years, a Program.  No one could be a worthier recipient, and I was so proud, today ...

... Splash, you ask?  The program's acronym when it got going was SWMS - Studies in Women's and Men's Sexuality - was it that? - maybe, in the long-ago past ruled by binary divides - so, well, I guess it's like a swimming merit badge ...

But.  Why is Alice staring at the ceiling of the Faculty Club?  Is there a bird up there?  Captions, please ...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


The kitchen window sill continues to act as its own, effective studio setting.  And, to re-iterate - on days when the news about DACA, and just about everything else (hurricanes, fires, North Korea, whatever) continues to be dismal, posting an image of beauty has its own valency as a form of resistance, not escapism.  Resistance, that is, in the sense of slowing down, paying attention, not being overwhelmed by the huge - because what use is one, when overwhelmed?  So here are the many petals of a white hydrangea flower.  I'll give you some Blake: "Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity ... & Some Scarce see Nature at all.  But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself."  I'm not quibbling over the degree to which a cultivated hydrangea counts as "Nature" - the point is: here it is, complete and separate in its own folded, shaded, complex, many-eyed presence.

Monday, September 4, 2017

praying mantis

Isn't she adorable?  And isn't it always the case that, when meeting an extraordinary insect like this, one grabs a camera, takes a couple of shots, and then one's told that The Battery Has Run Out - and - since I was hardly on a deliberate Mantis shoot, the subject of my attentions had retreated to her dead-leafy bower before I could find another suitable piece of camera technology. Just after I took this, of course, she raised her fore-legs into a true praying position.  She's also a preying, predator mantis, and takes care of all kinds of insects, so she's to be cherished.  Did you know that Praying Mantises - attentive though they might be to everything, especially juicy spiders - have only one ear?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

not the view one wants at dawn

This was the view from our living room at 5.20 this morning.  Do not worry - there is all of Burbank, and, er, all of flammable Griffith Park between the La Tuna Canyon fire and us.  And more to the point, there's the LAFD, who have been hard at it all day, dropping fire retardant, and water, and more water, and more water (as well as the fire fighting they're doing on the ground).  They're doing a spectacular job.  We're on a main helicopter route to and from wherever they were getting the water from this afternoon - and then there was a short, heavy, delicious rain shower, too.  But it's decidedly nerve-rattling, waking up to flames marching over the ridge like this.  It looks much calmer this evening - let's hope it stays that way.  I can still, at 8.30, hear the helicopters.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

natural light

This was natural light falling on a flower on our kitchen window-sill ... and then, later in the day, natural light was all that we had, and it faded, since we had three hours of power outage, eating dinner (tomatoes, parmesan, onions) in our bedroom, since that had the best waning light of day, and then reading by the unromantically glowing light that a Kindle and a flashlight provide ... But it's back - slightly, I confess, to my disappointment, since that means that the neighbors' noisy A/C is back in action ...

Friday, September 1, 2017


With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, there's one very noticeable side effect - my chiles have been ripening very rapidly.  There are 8 Chimayo chile plants - as you can see above - and 4 Santa Fe chiles, which are a little lagging behind in terms of ripeness.  I'm contemplating how best to enjoy one tomorrow.  Omelette, perhaps?