Mind the Gap

This morning I opened Twitter and saw that John le Carré had died.

I don’t know how to talk about this.

He wasn’t John in our house, but David—his given name. I grew up alongside his grandchildren in California, fellow offspring of English parents who had come to LA to work in film and stayed to raise families. Those eight children formed a counterpoint to my existence as an only child; a reassurance that I’m not the only person who pronounces certain words with a different vowel emphasis, or who feels like she needs to have a foot in two countries at once to make any kind of sense.

They’ve also become external sources against which I can confirm my experience of my parents. As dementia alters the way my father moves through the world, I’m more and more attached to the people who knew him as he was before. I don’t believe I’m capable of fully expressing the kind of remarkable and loving man he is and was. I need witnesses.

At 81, the majority of updates my father receives from friends and family are about death.

He and David were eight years apart in age, two patrician Englishmen dual-wielding charm and intellect. They delighted in each other’s company whenever they crossed paths at parties and family gatherings. We’d receive Christmas cards from David’s house in Cornwall and my father would send cheeky handmade bookmarks in return (although, to be fair, he was exceptionally generous with his bookmark-gifting. This week alone I’ve talked to three people who have them sitting visibly on shelves in their homes or offices).

I’ve always had a hard time bridging the generational and international gap between my parents’ worlds and mine. So often, when I go to try and explain my family to my peers, they don’t know the first thing about the people I’m referencing. It feels alienating and strange. Whenever a friend or relative in the UK passes, it feels like losing a fragment of an impossible world I got to be part of as a child.

I remember David taking us to a Chinese restaurant in London where I ate crispy duck with plum sauce for the first time. There was a fountain running down an indoor staircase and everything felt glamorous and grown-up. I’ve never had duck that good since.

I feel strained and strange because the public grief sits at odds with my own experience of this man. It’s not the intimacy of family, nor is it the distanced attraction of fandom. It’s something tangled around the fact that David and my father were of a type, and his death points at something looming in the mist of my future.

The loss of creative people is complex. If we have nothing to do with a creator in person, then our grief is often more to do with the loss of potential future output—the books unwritten and songs unsung. But we are not our work. It is a part of us, but not the whole of us. Certainly no substitute for the love we give—or are unable to give—to our children. No shortcut to understanding our innermost selves, or what we meant to the people who loved us.

The one cult hit my father played a hand in writing is so far from what I want him to be remembered for—but sometimes it’s the only thing I can point to that might help a stranger understand what he means to me.

There is so much about his life that is improbable, delightful, complex. I can’t recount his escapades without feeling like I’m trying to brag. He came of age in the midst of Britain’s satire boom, bucked familial expectation to travel halfway around the world, and ended up touring America as a stage actor and writing movies in Hollywood. Each time I think I know every celebrity anecdote in his arsenal, he surprises me with another.

I can’t tell so many of the jokes he told because my Yorkshire accent is abominable.

How am I going to tell anyone about who he was if I can’t tell his jokes?

The news of David’s passing shakes me because I realize there will be no pageantry of this scale when my father goes, but there will still be some kind of reckoning between what he represented to other people and who he was to me. I’m grieving for my friends, who have lost a father and grandfather, but I’m also grieving this dwindling thread to a place that made me; to something I cannot hold.

Night Owl

I’m lying in the dark, brain whirring. Too much Borges before bed.

There’s a dog baying at regular intervals somewhere down by the river—a canine foghorn. There are crickets, and the wash of cool night air already filing the room. I’m on the edge of going under when I hear the faintest echo of a Great Horned Owl.

It jolts me awake. Ears pricked. Eyes wide. After a moment’s hesitation, I climb out of bed, unlatch the window, and slip into the garden.

There’s no moon in the sky—just a riot of stars, all dull amber and icy blue. I pause, the night chorus seethes around me and then: the owl. Resonant and distant. A warm, mournful sound from the end of the drive.

I pace the gravel in the dark and I am eight years old, flush with the freedom of having snuck out after bedtime, certain I am running away to go on adventures only to stop, as I do now, at the edge of the road. I am wrapped in the scent of pepper trees and dust, soles pricked by scalloped oak leaves. The owl sounds again, but it’s across the street, lost in the tangle of houses that was once an elaborate bed and breakfast.

I remember hovering on the edge of this curb, young and dreaming, aware that everything in the dark was held in a kind of suspended animation. A sacred in-betweenness. I wanted to go further, perhaps even knew that I could, but I was too enthralled with what was here. Every time I’d walk back to my room, or whatever part of the property I was nesting in at the time, and return to bed, as I will now.

Perhaps that was what I came looking for in the dark. Not the owl, but the reassurance that slipping out would still grant entry to this surreal and weightless darkness. Would let me pass my former selves in the drive, circling farther and farther from the cradle, always coming home before dawn.

Ojai: Talk of the Town

It feels strange to cross these streams here, but my Hometown Self and my Professional Self got together and gave an interview to my friend Bret Bradigan about being in Ojai and what I’m working on right now and how I’m thinking about communities and support for artists these days and some other stuff. You can listen in via this handy embedded player:

Incomplete list of links to things discussed:

Bret also publishes a local magazine called Ojai Quarterly, which I did an interview for last…winter? I think?

Oh, November 2018. Two years ago. Ha. Cool. Wow.

Anyway, there are some things to read and listen to! (I still don’t know if this blog is the place to be sharing these, but I’m throwing everything at the wall for now and seeing what sticks.)

Time Travel

This morning I woke up in my childhood bedroom and now I can’t stop thinking about time travel.

In her memoir Yes, Please, Amy Poehler talks about her belief in the phenomenon. Not in the fantastical Marty McFly sense, but in the “I just caught the last line of a song I used to love and suddenly I’m eleven again in the back of a bus driving across Death Valley” sense. Sometimes we seek it out, other times it catches us unawares. The fruit of this practice is a sense of cyclical, mutable perspective.

In this room I am and am not my eleven-year-old self. I see her contextualized through a different side of the prism, sharper from some angles and less accessible from others. The built-in desk I’m sitting at right now, with the mirror in the back and the two squeaky drawers and the carved channel for holding pencils, is a DeLorean in its own right. I remember filling it with childish renditions of animals in colored pencil, pouring my angsty teenage heart out into endless text documents on an iMac G3, coming home from college to stare at the photos taped to every surface.

The entire experience of being home is like this. Every artefact. Every tree. Every item of clothing. The layered richness of memory is so thick that I find it hard to look at or think of anything else. I shed my guise of being a self-made woman and become, instead, a stack of vellum sheets.

Such a reveal and a relief to see that I have roots. That I come from somewhere after all and it’s here.

Thanks, Infos, Travels

First off, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who came out to the Zine Symposium and braved the musty stench to chat, browse, buy comics, and generally make my weekend totally awesome. It was a great experience and has me really excited to get going on a number of new projects. Pictures will probably materialize in the next couple weeks.

On a connected note: the Symposium was such a success that I’ve actually sold out of Baggywrinkles No. 2! I am a) mad at myself for not printing more in the first place and b) completely thrilled in spite of a. This was a completely unexpected turn of events, but rest assured I’ll be getting it reprinted as soon as I can. Orders for the single issue and the Combo Pack will stay open on PayPal, but just be aware that there will be a 2 week delay on those shipments. My sincerest apologies for that, but I’ll be out of town for the coming week and won’t be able to tackle the printing until I get back. If you’re in Portland, there are several copies still available at Reading Frenzy downtown, so if you can’t wait I’d say that’s your best bet.

In featured Portland events, I’ll be dancing as a finalist in the Portland Blues and Jazz Dance Society’s Annual Strictly Blues competition tonight at 10:30! The venue is at SE 6th and Alder in Lenora’s Ballroom. Admission is free for first-timers, there’s a lesson for newbies at 8:30, and the dancing goes until 1am! Nothin’ to lose there. The lineup is going to be fantastic and I’m utterly thrilled to be dancing with such rockstars, so come out and see us strut our stuff!

Finally, I’ll be going home to Ojai for the next week or so to get some concentrated work done on Wherefore (that autobio graphic novel project about dual citizenship and cultural identity I was going on about all the time a few months back). I’m behind on my goals, so getting out of Portland will be a good impetus to power through a lot of a pages. As a result, I’ll be off the interwebs for a bit, but rest assured, updates will resume very soon indeed!

Thanks for checking in, and I’ll see y’all in a week!