Yayoi Kusama at Marciano Art Foundation

We had to take off our shoes and/or wear plastic slippers on top of them before entering. I was wearing boots so I had to take off my boots but my husband and my daughter wore their plastic slippers on top of their shoes. It was not inconvenient but it induced a sort of reverence-cum-anxiety in me. Once inside, I was aware of this feeling while admiring the work. How much of the admiring was weighed (up or down) by this anxiety? It’s hard to tell but it was a factor. There was the sense of being in the presence of “art”. There was a sense of reverence fostered by the ritual that had preceded the viewing. ~ There was a man. Rather suddenly, loudly and with a tinge of impatience in his voice, he asked everyone in the space to move to one side so he could get the picture he wanted — two tulips angled in a certain way. Everyone complied. I’ll admit I was surprised. This is not something that would have happened in India and it was a moment of cultural reckoning. What surprised me was the way he said ‘please’, with some authority , as

Orphan Black (S5): Cosima and Rachel

I was late in the game with Orphan Black but I’m finally on the last few episodes and the last season’s focus on Cosima and Rachel is fascinating.  Ok, fair warning to those who have not watched Orphan Black. There will be **SPOILERS** ahead. **SPOILER ALERT** The best thing about the show, as many have said, is Tatiana Maslany in her multiple roles, especially Cosima Neihaus, the scientist. Cosima’s primary struggle through the show is the greatest human fear — her own mortality. She plays it stoic through much of the season, even after her break-up with Delphine who represents both lover and savior/healer. In season 5, after she finds a cure and starts taking it, her character becomes more expressive, even quite tearful. This could be retroactive grief or fear finding release but it also builds her as the “humane” scientist in contrast to the other scientists who have no tears for others. In Rachel’s case, this is at least partly literal because one eye is a machine and a tool for exploitation– including her own. “In the Odysseus, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon. Polyphemus makes a show of hospitality at first, but he soon turns hostile. He devours

Thoughts on letting go

1. From Ross Gay’s poem ‘to the mistake’, which is in his collection catalog of unabashed gratitude. “I am lecturing on the miracle of the mistake in a poem that hiccup or weird gift that spirals or jettisons what’s dull and land-locked into as yet untraversed i.e. cosmic” This made me think of wabi sabi. “Wabi sabi embodies the Zen nihilist cosmic view and seeks beauty in the imperfections found as all things, in a constant state of flux, evolve from nothing and devolve back to nothing.” (Andrew Juniper in his book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.) I crafted a neat little poem for my second book while thinking of wabi sabi. It was too neat, it talks about letting things go, and making it rough and all that, but it’s precisely laid out with every little word in place. I put it at the beginning of the book because I hope the ones that follow it will do something else, something more. 2. Living between places is antithetical to hoarding.  I’m a collector of spices, yarn, books, vintage jars and bottles.  I have spices I will never use. I will not finish my stash of yarn before I leave. An

Wildflowers in Death Valley

In the desert, we don’t know our names

It’s been eventful. We went to Death Valley and I was suitably overwhelmed by the salt, wildflowers, snow, sand and ‘lowness’ of the place. Death Valley is below sea-level and the sense of constantly traveling on land that once wasn’t land hung over me as we traveled across the miles of it. Lots has been said about the magnificence of the place — it’s all true. It’s surreal. It’s majestic. It made me sad. In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley. Yes, I reminded myself of the diversity of life, and the yellow wildflowers were coming up in many places. Apparently, there will be an explosion of them this year. Then we got stuck in the desert. We were driving to the ghost town of Ballarat and on a washed-out stretch of gravelly dirt road, our car made horrible noises and died. It was just past noon,

Transplants, Essays

A lovely short essay by David L. Ulin on the California Incline here: Transplants have to stay somewhere for a while to make it theirs. For me, the Incline has become a shabby-chic monument to this idea. Now it is closed for reconstruction, and I worry about what will be left when work is done. Will it still resemble the landmark I invested with weight, the road I drove with my children? Will I recognize it, recognize my memories, or will all that be erased? Southern California, its critics like to insist, is a landscape of forgetting, but I no longer believe this to be the case. Rather, like the Incline, it is a landscape of association, in which the connections we make, our attachments, are what render us native. And a rather hefty list of the 100 best Articles and Essays of 2014 and 2015.

Arroyo dry stream

Where I live now

Driving into a freeway is like diving—the roar in my ears, a sense of being submerged, almost drowning, and somehow, I’ve surfaced onto the right lane. I coast along, buffeted by a force greater than me, like wind, the collective will of people wanting to get somewhere. The 110 or Pasadena Freeway is also called the Arroyo Parkway because in parts it runs next to the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river and canyon, literally “dry stream” in Spanish and now after four years of drought in California, certainly dry in most parts. Being a Parkway (a road that connects to a park), it’s prettier than many freeways and more dangerous. This was the first freeway in the western United States, the first of the great American roads on this strip of coast. It’s a dangerous distinction. It was built for 45 miles per hour; cars swoosh past at 70 miles per hour. Because it opened in 1940, and because America is a new country, the Parkway is lovingly called the ‘Historic’ Parkway. Coming from a country where we take history for granted, we find this both amusing and faintly moving. We live on a hill above the freeway—Ads, my husband of fifteen years,