Sunday, July 29, 2012

places, part 3 (reflections on my state)

signage at one entrance to the new downtown park
the pictures accompanying this post were all taken on sunday, july 28th, 2012, in los angeles.  i stopped by the opening of a brand new park in downtown, called Grand Park, and on my way home i snapped some pics of a roving carnival that had set up in a small park area just a couple blocks from my apartment.


i have always loved to read, ever since i was a wee lad growing up in the dark ages of the 20th century (the 70's).  i love to read so much, in fact, that it is very hard for me to understand those people who do not like to read at all!  how is that possible?  i can understand not knowing how to read, but not liking it!  preposterous!  but then, maybe a draw toward reading is sort of a talent, like dancing.  with dancing, you can either dance, or you can't dance.  (i used to be a dancer--loaded with gifts here!)  perhaps reading is the same way, in that people either get reading, or they don't.  just thinking out loud.

a crowd gathers before the stage to watch a dance presentation in the park
but the thing about reading is that if you like to read, as i do, you look for good writers.  what makes a good writer?  well, lots of things, but the one thing i want to emphasize for the purposes of this post is that a good writer doesn't just say something.  a good writer, specifically, says something to the reader.  this distinction highlights one of the major differences between tweets and literature (there are many!).  one writing teacher i had in graduate school suggested that the first thing a writer needs to do before writing a single word is decide 1)who their audience is; then 2)what they have to say.  most people skip #1 altogether and just start "saying" stuff.  pshhhhh.

as you might imagine, i have no interest in twitter.

look crowded?  well, it was!  a good opening day turnout!
during the recent "shift" in my way of experiencing myself, of which i have been writing about a lot, i have been aided by several fantastic writers whose books do indeed say something to me.  i have shared one or two of these books in previous posts, and there are more of them in my shelfari.  the book that is speaking to me currently is one that i just started a few days ago.  it is called lonely, and it is written by emily white.  she calls it a memoir, but so far i find it to be much more.  in it, she writes of the difference between loneliness and depression, as opposed to loneliness being merely a symptom of depression.  she also writes of the greater stigma attached to the descriptor of lonely, as opposed to being described as depressed.  already, her distinctions are resonating with something in my own experience.

there was a "splash pool", which was a hit with the kids, natch
what really strikes me so far in the book is her saying that when she was out in the world, she was "looking for...a sort of emotional mirror, something I could hold up and see myself in."  i read over that line many times to see where it landed with me, and what i have concluded is that i only see emotional mirrors when i am alone in my apartment.   when i am out in the world i see little that reflects me.  for instance, my day in the park?  TONS of people, but none were there with me (no self-pity, just a fact--nobody was able to join me).  i saw families, friends, lovers, but no one else just hanging out by themselves.  i felt, in a way, as if i had crashed somebody else's party without an invite, but they were too busy relating to each other to even notice that i had come in.

i stayed for about 40 minutes, taking pictures and exploring the length of the park, and then i got on my bike and left to go home.  i just didn't know what else to do there.  

all of these kids had someone to play with, and if they didn't, they just played with whoever was around.  it is easier for kids that way.
in my fantasy perfect day, i would go to the park opening, and just like the kids in the splash pool, begin relating to whoever was around me.  you know, small talk, comments, pleasantries and the like.  i think i would probably even walk around in the splash pool.  but i notice very few people exchanging pleasantries in los angeles--what i observe is most people limiting their interactions to their own particular circle of people:  husband or wife, kids, friend, or even phone or computer.  generally, if a stranger tries to start a conversation with another person, it appears to me to be an awkward situation, as it was on the subway going home.  i observed an older man attempting to chat with some tourists who had not been on the l.a. subway before, and he was being quite nice--informing them of the best stations and some details of the trains, but it was all one-way--the tourists (they spoke english) only nodded or said "uh-huh".  i do understand the greater dangers of talking with strangers in a huge city compared with a smaller city, and the old man was somewhat grungy, but...small talk just seems easier in smaller towns (as it was for me in greencastle, missouri).

the paradox of all this is that while i was watching the tourist couple, it seemed to me that they were not entirely engaged with each other, even.  they were perhaps late 30's, early 40's, with tattoos, both a bit overweight and dressed in completely unremarkable summer clothing.  this made me think that they must have been more exciting when they were younger, and perhaps more excited about each other.  i did not envy them, and at that moment, i appreciated my single and solitary life; i appreciated my freedom from being stuck with someone i was once, but no longer, excited about.  maybe that is why i do not find emotional mirrors out in the world--i am not in a couple.  one does not have to be a psychology student to recognize that most couples act as mirrors for each other--even if the mirror is cracked.

i have always loved plants for their willingness to just be what they are, without fuss

and they often do it so well...
when i finally did get back home to my apartment, i was in a curious state.  the "mirror" that i saw myself in there presented me with a disturbing reflection, and it put me in a dark and strange mood for the rest of the day.  the reflection i saw showed me in a state of "loneliness", a state that i did not immediately recognize.  or did i.

the roving fair was set up that night in the park near my apartment.   the thing i love about ferris wheels is that you are in your own compartment but moving together with many people.
i stayed in my apartment the rest of the day, even though i could have gone anywhere, done anything.  i simply could not go back out in the world and be reminded of how alone i was feeling, how alone i was feeling in this city.

the paradox is that so often the people who are spending time with each other don't seem to be enjoying each other.  i suspect that many of the people who came to this fair came in order to have a distraction from the people they live with.  if i went to the fair with someone, that would not be my purpose.
i had dinner with a great friend the other night, and he suggested that i might be overlooking my own role in my loneliness, my own role in how i perceive los angeles.  i don't disagree with him--it is always easier to point the finger at something else rather than ourselves.  but i am just so tired of feeling like i am the problem.  i am a part of the problem, but just a part.  as i told him, i understand consciousness as being a relationship between the brain, the body, and the environment.  there are times when one has to just throw in the towel and change the environment.  think about a time when you finally quit that horrible job, a time when you left a bad relationship, a time when you yourself moved to a better city. it is a damaging falsehood put forth by the new age thinkers that all you have to do to change something is "think differently".  thinking differently is just one part of the equation.

ever feel fenced in by your environment?
new york times magazine writer siddhartha mukheriee wrote recently of the new science of depression.  in her article "post-prozac nation", she examines the findings that in depressed people, there may be a link between their mood state and the death of nerve cells in certain areas of their brains (as opposed to a lack of serotonin).  before i cause your eyeballs to roll back in your head, the point i want to highlight is that she wonders what role "a stimulus--genetics, environment, or stress" play in the death of cells (italics mine).

i wonder that too.  and i am willing to leave this city and go to another in order to test the theory.

in the meantime, i am grateful for the resources that are assisting me in figuring out this process, and i am grateful for great friends for simply stating what they see when they are with me.  that often tells me more than any of the books i read.  (but i ain't giving up the books!)  it makes me realize that though i need to leave this city and try a different environment, there was nothing stopping me from taking off my shoes and running around in the splash pool with everyone else.  nothing, that is, except me.

everybody's doin' it!
after all, the park is for everyone.  it says so right on the sign.


  1. that was are a true writer - honest, original, and passionate...


    1. coming from you, sher, that means everything to me. so glad you stopped by. i wish that my moving destination was closer to you instead of further. i miss you!

  2. I, too, find it difficult to understand people who dismiss reading so easily. Books are a gateway into the past, the potential of the future, and the value of ideas. Plus, they provide glimpses into other personal perspectives and views.

    Moving does that, too. You're opening yourself to new experiences and perspectives.

    1. i know how much you like, books, greg! i know some people who tell me that they get bored reading books. i tell them that they are reading the wrong books.

  3. I look forward to your posts once you get to my old home town. I can compare your observations to my memories of 25 years ago. One reason I like Chicago is that we have the small town friendliness within a great metropolis and all that that metroplis offers. Good luck on your relocation.

    1. i am sure the city will be very different from 25 years ago--and also in many ways the same! i like chicago, but being a lifelong californian, i would not want to try to get used to the weather at this point in my life. besides, i have friends who tell me that it is rather closed minded. i wonder if you have had that experience there?

  4. Absolutely not! I would say the people who say that are not familiar with the city and it's people. Young and old treat me and my partner as any other couple. The city tends to be to the left politically. The weather does occasionally suck but that actually serves to bring neighbors together. We check on the elderly during particullarly bad periods and help each other get around in the cold, slush and deep snows of winter. Also, there is nothing to compare to the sight of a fresh snowfall and autumn with it's moderate temperatures and rich tapestry of colors is amazing!

    1. i find it interesting how different people will have a completely different experience of the same city--of course the same is true of los angeles. i know people who consider it heaven on earth here. i do like your description of community though--that is something that is on the top of my list! and i do love the seasons, but i like even more being able to ride my bike year round!

  5. If you live in San Francisco itself biking the hills will pump up your quads to the extend where you may have to buy a whole new wardrobe of pants.

  6. what a lovely post
    I too can't understand 'people who don't like to read' but they are a different breed of person.

    1. thank you, michael! and yes, it is nice being different from the others, most times.

  7. How did I miss this post,Tony? Had a very busy month with 'family stuff', that's how.

    Maybe you will feel more free to 'take those shoes off' in SF, and not have to worry if anyone is looking or not.
    I believe when we live and move to any city or town, we 'buy into' what these places have to offer. In your case LA was where you wanted to be at the time. Over time, it (LA) wrapped it's 'arms'
    around you because at the time you wanted to be part of it.
    We all enable our lives in whatever we choose to do. Sometimes we get to a point when we realize that there is nothing more to gain
    by staying in the job, city, relationship.....

    I was so happy to realize the type of 'reading' I enjoyed the most a few years back. I tried like the dickens to read fiction by everyone and realized I do not generally enjoy fiction. I don't 'believe' most of it. I am drawn toward 'creative non-fiction' and 'self-help' books.

    1. not sure how you missed the opus, jim! but i know we all get busy. that is why it is so much easier following fewer blogs. quality over quantity! i agree with all that you say in your comments. the thing is that moving ALWAYS stirs the pot, and that is a good thing to do once in a while. don't know how often i will want to do that as i get older.

      as to the reading, i read a lot of non-fiction, books that have a psychological bent. memoirs, etc. i am reading more fiction, but i can't read "empty" fiction. like the films i watch, there has to be something that speaks to me, and hopefully moves and changes me. i tend to stay clear of self help books since completing my masters as i find them too reductive--they distill philosophical concepts into easy reading in order to sell books that make people feel good. i see the value, but for me, i prefer the existential challenges in life. but that is just my process! there was a period of time when self help books nearly saved my life. we all find what we need to find.

      as for creative non-fiction, i am right there with you!