Book 4 of 2019: Chronicles of Old Los Angeles by James Roman

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A history/ tour guide for LA, chronicling the city’s foundation, it’s violent beginnings, and the inception of Hollywood all the way to the present day. Far from comprehensive, Chronicles of Old Los Angeles delivers twenty four concise chapters on the sordid history of La La Land.

I really enjoyed this book. Roman doesn’t get bogged down with every detail of LA history. He skips to the shimmer and scandal in true Los Angeles fashion. Chronicles is an excellent introduction to Los Angeles History.

Some highlights:

  • California’s first attorney general, Edward J.C Kewen attempted to shoot the opposing lawyer during a criminal trial, ended up shooting a spectator and causing the jury to flee.
  • Henry Huntington birthed LA’s enormous sprawl by buy cheap real estate, installing a station on his Pacific Electric Railway and profiting off the communities that grew around the stations.
  • The Warner Brothers missed the premiere of The Jazz Singer, the first talkie which would cement their place in history, to attend a funeral. Sam Warner, chief proponent of talkies, had over worked himself in the weeks before the premiere and died the night before.
  • West Hollywood spent decades as an unincorporated area, separate from Los Angeles and Beverly Hill, mostly to skirt the law. Operating under the authority of LA County meant that gangsters like Bugsy Siegal and Mickey Cohan could run their speakeasies and gambling operations without the city police breathing down their neck. It also meant that the LGBT+ community could live their lives in relative safety at a time when homosexuality itself was a crime. Weho was the site of the first known gay rights group in the US, The Mattachine Society. They later elected Valerie Terrigno as the first mayor of West Hollywood and the first openly lesbian mayor in the US.

Los Angeles is a fascinating city. Chronicles of Old Los Angeles is a great starting point for those who want to learn more.

Things I Like

With everything happening in the world, my depression seems less like mental illness and more like a reasonable response. However reasonable, being sad doesn’t often serve me. It’s not fun. So here is a list of five things that make me happy. In no particular order, these are things I see every day that make my world a little bit better.

  1. Podcasts

I listen to podcasts every day. They’re a great way to make menial tasks, like driving, dog walking or cleaning the apartment, entertaining. Currently, I am working my way through the archives of Hello From The Magic Tavern, an improvised comedy podcast about a Chicago man who becomes trapped in a world of wizards, elves, and shapeshifters who basically only take the form of talking badgers. It’s DEFINITELY fictional and not proof of other dimensions. It’s also hilarious. Other great podcasts include My Brother, My Brother and Me (a comedy podcast where the McElroy brothers give terrible advice), The Adventure Zone (these same brothers play Dungeons and Dragons with their dad), The Art of Process (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo interview creative people about how they make their art) and everything on the Escape Artists network (weekly short stories of fantasy, science fiction, weird fiction and YA fiction). Whatever you’re interested in, someone has made a podcast.

  1. My Kitten

His name is Orange Sherbert and he’s currently trying to murder my shoe laces. My neighbors found him and his sisters in the dumpster behind our apartment: small, scared and covered in fleas. We bonded almost immediately. So suddenly, despite our finances, a one bedroom and my roommate’s allergies, we had a cat. Sherbert is the best impulse decision I ever made. Against all odds, he’s happy and healthy, with all his vaccinations and a recent neutering. He runs to the door when I come home. He meows and natters when he sees the neighbor cats or his food dish or a red dot. He walks across my laptop and snuggles with me early in the morning. He’s staring at me right now, probably waiting to bite my fingers. I love him so much.

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Sherbert on my desk
  1. My Bed

I swear I am not getting paid for this post. I bought a Casper mattress last week and it’s changed my life. For nearly five years, I’d slept on an Ikea mattress on the floor. It was never super comfortable but recently it became a torture chamber. Casper has been advertising on my favorite podcasts for years so I knew it would be inexpensive, easy to return and delivered. I got twin XL mattress, base and bed frame for less than $800. It’s amazing. I actually get up feeling rested, allowing me to actually get to work on time. You spent a third of your life asleep. Get a mattress that you love.

  1. My Desk

My Desk is easily the most beautiful item I’ve ever owned. It’s green and weathered, topped with reclaimed wood. I found it at the Melrose Trading Post, a weekly flea market benefiting Fairfax High School’s extracurricular programs. I haggled thirty dollars off the original price and a sweet old man named Ziggy delivered it the next day. I put it next to my window. I can see the tops of buildings, a few trees and squirrels on telephone lines. Every day, I strive to live up to my desk.

  1. Singing

I wrote 50 words about how much I liked candles and then a song came on shuffle that I needed to sing with. There are a lot of songs like that, where I have to stop whatever I’m doing and sing along. I’ve been singing since I was a little kid. I can carry a tune, but I am no great talent. Part of the joy of singing is that I don’t have to be a great talent. I can just do it. I like the sound of my own voice and the way the words seem to lift up to the sky. Whatever wrong note or mistake comes out of me disappears into the ether. Music connects me to people I’ve never met and loved ones I’ll never see again. Music inspires me and I love to be a part of it, even if it’s only belting along to the radio.

The world is hard. Remember the simple joys that help you through it.

Book 3 of 2019: The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

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I read this book with a small child. It concerns a blue fish, the titular Pout Pout fish. Through out the story, Pout Pout is admonished to smile and be happy, while he insists that he is “A Pout Pout fish, with a pout pout face,” destined to “spread the dreary wearies all over the place.”

SPOILERS:

After pouting all over the ocean, he meets a beautiful fish who “instead of saying “hey” … plants a kiss on his pout and then she swims away.” Pleased, Pout Pout Fish declares he’s been wrong all along, that he is in fact a “kiss kiss fish,” and proceeds to smooch the entire ocean.

Yikes.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First, this book was published in 2013 so somebody should have caught these issues. I kept waiting for someone to ask the Pout Pout fish what was wrong or tell him that he’s still liked, despite his melancholy. No such luck. One fish literally says that pouting is a “unattractive trait”! That’s right, kids! Fake a smile or no one will ever love you! Maybe he’s a pout pout fish because his “friends” keep insulting him for the way his face looks!

Second, where’s the consent? Don’t smooch without asking, children, no matter sad they look. It was such an easy fix. Beautiful fish could have easily said “maybe you’re a kiss kiss fish.” Pout Pout agrees to experiment and decides she’s right. Boom! Now your kid’s book is about how you can improve your spirits through friendship and affection, rather than the origin of an aquatic serial harasser.

Third, I don’t like the message that physical and romantically coded affection will save anyone from depression. Pout Pout fish literally has a pout pout face. It’s the face he was born with. Can he change the connotation and be a kiss kiss fish with help from those who care about him? Sure, but it takes a hell of a lot more than non-consensual smooches to get over than hurtle.

The Pout Pout Fish does have its charms. The illustrations are bright and engaging. The prose is lively and bright, with fun, tight rhymes. It’d be great if children weren’t tiny sponges who can soak up all sorts of wrong messages if you couch them in clever words and charming images. I can’t recommend The Pout Pout Fish, but I’ll probably pick it up again, considering the kid is obsessed with it.

Book 2 of 2019: Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

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There are three excellent reason to pick up Art Matters.

First the message: Art matters. Ideas have the ability to change worlds, both the surrounding society and the ones that exist in each individual human. Art allows these ideas to flow freely and spread from one person to another, without the two ever having to actually meet. Gaiman writes with crisp simplicity of the journey of creativity, personal and global.

Second, Art Matters is small enough to fit into the back pocket of standard American jeans. This may seem like a frivolous concern but it’s absolutely essential when picking an emergency book. Art Matters offers the best practical advice for literally any circumstance, lifted from Gaiman’s 2012 Make Good Art commencement address. What to do when your husband runs off with a politician, when your leg is crushed and eaten by a mutated boa constrictor, when the IRS is on your trail, when your cat explodes, or someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid.

SPOILERS: You make good art.

It’s a simple message but it’s worth remembering, especially when you’re suffering from doubt and hunger and considering hanging up the thing that gives you the most joy or meaning.

Third: Chris Riddell’s illustrations are charming. They feel personal, like drawings you made with your friends when you were supposed to be learning Spanish or Algebra, passed around for your own benefit and amusement.

There are more reasons but it would save a lot of time if you just picked up Art Matters for yourself. It’s only 100 pages, it won’t wear you out.

New Journal Day!

Journals

“Keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.” Mae West, Every Day’s A Holiday, 1937

I’ve been keeping a journal since the second grade. Before anyone gets impressed, journaling was required by every teacher between second and eighth grade. We were meant to jot down a few thoughts at the beginning of the day or class period, primarily to practice our writing. Fortunately, I was convinced from an early age that I was a very important historical figure and so saved nearly every piece of paper with so much as a signature. I have my barely legible second and seventh grade journals, filled with angst and spelling errors, in my Hollywood apartment. My high school and college journals, slightly more legible with less angst and more pornographic sketches, remain tucked away in my parents’ home. They are the only things I’ve forbidden my mother from throwing away.

A journal allows the writer to know themselves. Because I viewed my journals as historical documents, I tried to be as honest about my emotions as possible. There are so few places in the world you can be 100% honest, which is taxing but probably for the best. In the days of teachers checking my progress, that honesty got me in trouble but I’m so glad it did. Not just because the fallout was recorded in that same journal but because now, I know what made me angry 16 years ago. I know what I was reading and watching, what I was writing, what gave me joy, the people I loved and the people I loathed. I can open up a page, read a date and say “I’ve been dealing with this for years and here is what I’ve learned and how I changed.”

In addition to keeping record of the past, journaling allows me to work through the present, the thoughts and feelings that I barely understand myself. In November of 2017, I started tracking my activity, along with how meaningful and pleasurable I found said activity.  By keeping up with this, I learned what activities made me happy, what activities caused me stress and what triggered my Depression. Depression lies. It tells me that I am useless, lazy and I am incapable of happiness. Thanks to my journals, I have empirical evidence of the opposite. I can use this evidence to combat the symptoms of mental illness and react before my triggers consume me.

With so many benefits reaped, is it any wonder that I have very specific journal tastes? In the early days, I used any notebook that crossed my path, usually with the stipulation that it should be green. In my tweens, I liked smaller options that I could carry in my pocket, in case of sudden feelings. Now I prefer large sketch books. Lined paper is no good for doodling and, if I’m honest, my handwriting does not lend itself to rigidity. Ideally, my journals are black hard covers, though in 2016 I bought a purple one on sale. Obviously, the more pages the better. I intend to start ordering my preferred brand in bulk, as the most recent experience was way too stressful. I called ahead to two separate stores to see if they had what I wanted. The second claimed to have multiple in stock, but I had to wait half an hour in store while they checked the back, only to discover an error in their system. I ended up purchasing a soft cover sketch book but it’s more important to have a journal than the perfect journal.

If you currently journal, keep at it. If you don’t, why not? A few words a day, a few words a week are all that’s required to make a difference. Extend yourself beyond your own mind and get to know yourself through the page.

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Please enjoy this gratuitous picture of my cat, Orange Sherbert.

Book One of 2019: Pet Sematary by Stephen King

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A young doctor, Louis Creed, moves with his family to rural Maine where he discovers an ancient burial ground with the ability to resurrect the dead.

Sometimes dead is better.

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. His work has terrified me since I was a child with television and movies like IT and The Shinning, though King disavowed the Kubrick film. In the forward in the 2018 audiobook, which I consumed in my car, King considered Pet Sematary to be his scariest book. For me, that honor goes to Misery but a tale of resurrected children going after their parents with scalpels is nothing to read before bed. I listened to the audiobook, read by Michael C. Hall (Dexter) which upped the creep factor by about a thousand.

However, if you’re just reading Pet Sematary for creepy cats an children or iconic lines delivered in the thickest Maine accent then you’re missing out on King’s real genius. Pet Sematary isn’t about a problematic Indian burial ground (I get it was written in the 80s but yikes) that resurrects pets and people as homicidal zombies with knowledge of their victims’ deepest fears and secrets.

[Spoilers} Pet Sematary is about death and the terrible price people pay when they try to ignore it.  Louis’s wife, Rachel, developed an extreme phobia of death after witnessing her older sister’s long illness and eventual passing at the tender age of eight. She refuses to attend funerals and becomes enraged when her daughter is introduced to the concept of mortality via the pet semetary. Her son’s violent death in a hit and run forces her to confront death again in horrible immediacy. Her husband’s refusal to accept death results in Rachel’s demise at the hands of her resurrected son, possibly his own. King posits that the burial ground itself caused the deaths it undid, but the entire plot could have been avoided if the characters just accepted the inevitable deaths of their loved ones. Or if the Creed family had installed a perimeter fence around their highway adjacent properties.

Either way, Pet Semetary is an exciting and spooky tale, definitely worth a read and re-read. I will definitely see the film adaptation in April.

And now, The Ramones