There’s a feeling I get when I hear the kind of birds I hear in Hollywood and smell the air there, during spring. Not on the west side. Not in Echo Park or downtown.
I had a cockatiel around the time I left the Monterey Bay and drove alone to Los Angeles. That was fifteen years ago. She flew away the day before I left my life on the Monterey Peninsula and drove alone, to make a new life in Los Angeles, in what turned out to be Hollywood. I called her Little Dave, after my dad. Maybe that’s what the birds and the smell in the air remind me of.
I had another bird, a parakeet called Ham that I brought with me to Los Angeles when I graduated college and left a small apartment in Kansas City, ten years ago. She also flew away.
Both birds were unexpected adoptions, on my part. I took over where friends left off. I haven’t had a pet since.
Right now, in Hollywood, my (featherless) partner is asleep. The windows are open, it’s sunny and I smell the dirty inland air I’ve recently been away from. There’s a little chill, but it’s nothing like up north on the Monterey Bay, where I’ve been, and where I'm from. For the most part, I’ve returned “home.” It’ll be permanent in the fall. The birds and the breathing and the memories are nice for now, though. They tie me up in the feeling that life is very short and my time with it is a special thing.
Our skin gets old, our muscles bunch up, our bones get weak and we feel tired, so I’m resting. It’s been a long time since I felt I had nothing to do, and it’s important to have time and space to feel my art life, which I guess is what happens when I have “nothing to do.” To feel my art and sharpen my language outside of the task of teaching art, which is what it says I do when I file my taxes.
I’m suspicious of how I’ve embodied those two words as things together, in the past. What the words, art and life, spoken together, seem to signify. In the economic reality I live in, that sentiment is so often right in front of me and boiled, reduced and reformed into stuff written with a curly font and printed on cheap stretched canvases sold at Ross Dress For Less. And then I see my artwork sitting in a space with other objects and if it’s not presented or photographed in the context of some kind of reach toward change or if it’s lit by incorrect lighting or spoken of without the correct amount of confidence, it is all pretty ignorable. Everything can be something in a thrift shop. Something reproduced in a factory.
In the best scenario, it comes from the viewer, the participant, the listener; the one who stumbles across something they have in them. The decision of what was or is worthwhile. Bits and pieces. The illusion of controlled value. It’s so stupid and so important. I guess it’s so important. Let’s get back to birds.
Outside my apartment complex in L.A. there are huge, very tall, old trees and they line the street. Unusual for the area. Crows have nests in them and for years I’ve fed them almonds or bits of energy bar in the morning while walking to the underground train, on my way to work. I call them all Catherine.
I’ve been seeing them everywhere lately, on the Monterey Bay and so of course I went on the internet and looked up what it means to have one as a spirit animal. (I’m supposed to find peace now and I’m supposed to open my wings and let the wind take me to new heights.) I once saw them as a symbol of things I needed to ignore; annoying things that try and disguise themselves as important. In that nutty capacity, they once served as a personal reminder to stay focused and to not be afraid.
What should I believe now? An invented symbolic belief system that I once
pulled out of my ass or the results of a New Age internet search?
In Hollywood again. Summer break. Hotter time of year, so the birds chirp alongside the hum of a couple of air conditioners in the apartment complex. It’s eight in the morning and cool enough to open windows but most of the tenants are still asleep. It’s Saturday.
This is the summer of moving our lives from here to there.
My partner has work to wrap up and I have a job up north and a mom who is newly alone after my dad, her constant companion of forty-six years, died. I have friends who are like family in both places and I’m trying to sort out my life so that I can have time and space for people, my job and my art-life. Up north I’m inspired. I love the beach air. The salt, the views, the fog, the trees. The new community I’m finding and growing within. Redwoods on my commute. Pine trees and space to view a sunset. In my hometown there are like fifty turkey buzzards that live in some old eucalyptus trees, over by the McDonald’s.
Made In L.A.
That’s the name of an annual art show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. I saw this show recently and it was good. It felt like a lot of what I wanted to become since I made the choice to identify with this part of Southern California. More than that show, I appreciated Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA’s exhibition, HOME—So Different, So Appealing that featured U.S. Latino and Latin American artists last year at LACMA. I felt more of myself with that work. Growing up poor. Working hard as an adult and barely being able to make ends meet. Struggling and taking comfort in simple things. Wanting more. Deserving more. Consideration of what home is or can be or should be. Is it where the heart is or is that just another mean trick?
Made in L.A. makes me think of the few friends I have who actually are from Los Angeles. I think of what it means to “set up shop” as an artist and a writer in a space with so many others from other places, doing similar things, which is how L.A. is. What was it to me? How did I grow here? Do I have a reason or a right to claim ownership? Why do I need to?
Like my time in Kansas City, I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made in Los Angeles, that I will hopefully have for the rest of my life. But as we all plugged along, as I graduated from college, worked a full time job, took public transportation, sat in a car in traffic, paid my bills... I found myself so tired and without time to maintain the flame underneath the sense of wonder I arrived with. Without the salve of awe and the comfort of money, I found myself drained. Drained by local travel, by the collective dream, constant celebrations, collective exhaustion and collective shattered-dream-shards that I couldn’t help but feel hovering above the streets as energetic flotsam stating defiantly, aggressively and repeatedly, “I love it here. This is home.”
Dear L.A., it’s not you, it’s me (it’s kind of you). Dear friends who stick up for and defend this town that I once used as a tool to wedge myself out of a limited life, I so admire your stamina, devotion to your vision and authentic love for this city of angels.
I’ve been spending more time than a forty-something-year-old woman should spend with her mother, lately. My mom doesn’t like seagulls at all. Says they’re dirty and ugly. I like them a lot. I like the sound of them and I like the way they look. If I go to the beach with a bunch of old bread they hover above me and catch the bits I throw at them while airborne. That’s goddamn cool. In the morning they sit together on the roof of the Jack in the Box, enjoying the sun. Also cool. Seagulls don’t give a shit about the concept of home, quality of life or how they fit into the world of art. Or do they? Maybe that’s why they live at the beach.
I used to see a few at Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing. A “census-designated place” with boats and a power plant and a graveyard that I’ve passed in one capacity or another my entire life on a stretch of State Route 1 that goes from Monterey to Santa Cruz. These days I drive through it twice daily. Once in the morning, and once at night.
In the morning there are so many of these elegant birds where there used to be one or two. The sky is pink as the sun rises, and although I leave for work earlier than I’d like, it’s true magic to witness them waking up in a landscape like that. It shimmers. Their long necks reach out like brush strokes, moving.
Often times there is traffic because people who work very hard picking and sorting vegetables arrive on the farm fields along the way, and I’m not unhappy because it gives me time to drive slowly through the slough and it’s familiar. It’s wondrous and when I’m there I’m reminded in another way that I am home.
This, like everything else, is from the internet: "It is not commonly known that the fluttering wings of the hummingbird move in the pattern of an infinity symbol – further solidifying their symbolism of eternity, continuity, and infinity. The prime message of the hummingbird animal totem is: 'The sweetest nectar is within!'"
The first time I stayed in Los Angeles I was eighteen. It was at my friend who is like family's childhood home and there were crystal humming birds that her mom, who was alive then, hung from the window, creating rainbow reflections on the wall in front of the sofa I slept on. There was a wind-up clock that chimed on the hour. There was a hummingbird feeder in the yard. I'm sure it's still there. That home, that family and the city itself gave me a good feeling. Excitement. Ambition. My desire to someday make a life in L.A. was confirmed during that visit. Little did I know I would live in that very home for about four years and that I'd turn forty while living there.
My friend's daughter, who is also my friend and family, lives there. It's her home now. She loves L.A. and has roots there. She thrives there and that makes me happy. I'm sure her grandma, the one with the crystals and the clock, who also loved the city, is pleased by how things worked out and to this day, when I see hummingbirds, I think of her and that house.
This weekend I'm attending my 28th high school reunion and yesterday I found out that a childhood friend recently passed away. She was someone I wasn't in touch with, at all, and now I can't stop thinking about our days on the Monterey Bay, as teenagers.
What was is gone. What was is new.
I drive past our old middle school when I make my way to my new art studio. I've been painting every day in the same city where I attended high school. I'm engaging with my community as an artist, a teacher, a worker, and a local citizen at CSUMB Salinas Center for Arts & Culture in the city where I saw my first non-animated feature film (Grease). I attended the Peninsula Pride celebration. I recently made a cat zine that people looked at while enjoying wine and kombucha in the sculpture garden of the Monterey Museum of Art where it is now The Year of the Woman and I'm specifically choosing NOT to attend an opening this weekend at the Thomas Kinkade studio on Cannery Row. My artwork is going to be showcased alongside my studio mates at a local art event called the West End Festival. I have no idea what to expect. I'm also teaching art to teens in the Silicon Valley, where I was born.
The sweetest nectar is within! Home is within. Home is where the heart is / Art is / Infinite. Or am I "... like a bird, [and] I'll only fly away." Anyway, I'm glad to be back. Home.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.