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Tag Archive for ‘Literature’

Writers in Valencia

In Stevenson Ranch, a suburb of Valencia not a half mile from my house, there is an area called “The Arts”. It was not surprising to me that builders in this area would decide to borrow some of the cache of the famous school down the street, the California Institute of the Arts. Because, really, as art colleges goes this is up there with Yale and the Rhode Island School of Design for being a top tear art school. I assure you, me who worships at the alter of post modern contemporary conceptual art am impressed every time I pass the school. I say things to myself like “Judy Chicago has taken that road” and “I might see John Baladassari at the Whole Foods” or “perhaps Roy Lichtenstein once got gas at this Shell station”. As cheesy and white bread as Valencia is, and it is, it also is home to a college that is too cool for Valencia. Cal Arts seems like it would be more at home in NYC, rather in the town with the largest number of master planned communities in the United States. But thanks to Walt Disney who built and funded the college it is here, in Valencia.

When I heard about “The Arts” area I was sure that the streets would be named for famous visual artists. Maybe famous Cal Arts professors like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson, Barbara Krueger, Roy Lichtenstein or Judy Chicago would have a street named for them or maybe famous artist alums such as David Salle,Tony Oursler and Mike Kelley might merit a mention. And, if not visual artists then at least some of Cal Arts famous graduates like Tim Burton, Sofia Coppola, John Lassater or Pee Wee Herman. I was so excited that He-weasel and I decided to take a look at “The Arts” area because even if it meant we would be living in a Master Planned community we might be able to find a house on Laurie Anderson Lane, Tim Burton Blvd. or Pee Way Way.

Alas, no such streets are to be found. Instead of being luminaries from Cal Arts the streets in “The Arts” area are named for the household names of the cannon of literature. The main two streets in the “Arts”area are Hemingway and Steinbeck. It seems that the city planners have decided these two deserve the big streets( I feel sure if Shakespeare was alive he would have had something to say about that as would Faulkner). I can, it turns out, get my clothes dry cleaned at Hemingway Cleaners on Hemingway Avenue. If I do will when I wear those clothes feel inspired to write about bulls, broads and battles? To get to Lily’s vet I must travel with her on the road of the author of “Travels with Charlie.”

Other streets in this literary who’s-who of housing include: Faulkner, Webster, Shaw, Wilde, Dickens, Burns, Frost, London, Poe, Irving, Keats, Coleridge, Emerson, Fitzgerald, Longfellow, Elliot, Blake, Carroll, Twain, Dickens, Durant, Shakespeare and Tennyson.

Sadly there are only a few streets named for famous women writers in “The Arts” neighborhood yet even those streets are marked by identity confusion. Is Bronte Street named for either or both Charlotte and/or Emily? Is Browning named for Robert or Elizabeth Barrett and which Shelley is the intended namesake? I was most sorry to see that Thomas Wolfe got a street and Virginia Woolf did not. Perhaps the builders would feel a moral obligation to create rooms of one’s own in houses on Woolf Way and the budget wouldn’t allow it so Woolf was replaced by the author of “You can’t go home again.” I wonder if that means the road is always blocked off?

There are other writer’s who are not included who seem natural namesakes for residential roads: Edith Wharton and her house of mirth; Hawthorne and his house of seven gables; Irving and his cider house; Ibsen and his doll’s house; Dostoevsky and his house of the dead( which I suppose is a little too depressing to attract home buyers) as is Styron’s burning house which would have been best located near the fire station. I suppose that E.M. Forester Road was edited out because most of the homes in these developments are lacking views.

The homes in this neighborhood are nice enough but are certainly not worthy of the kind of inspired genius of the literary icons the roads are named for. I see these homes more at home on Jan Karon Court, Harold Robbins Row, Dean Koontz Drive, Sidney Sheldon Street and Robert Ludlum Lane. However, there are few streets I would consider for their names alone. I would LOVE to be a highly talented litigious recluse on Salinger Lane. And, Burroughs Way? What a trip that would be!! I do prefer a road less traveled which makes Frost Lane a very good option for me. However, can a home that requires membership to a Home Owner’s Association, that limits which colours you can paint your house and what trees you plant, really be a road less traveled?

At first I was a bit perturbed that Stevenson Ranch eschewed the famous names of Cal Arts Alums and instead chose to name the streets for writers and then I thought to myself, “Self, what the heck are you thinking? This means that you are not the only writer in Valencia and that you are in pretty good company and if you keep at it and someday manage to get a book or two published you might even get your own street.” Maybe a Belette Blvd. or a Rouge Road? I would even settle for an alley in a bad part of town. It would seem only right that it be a street that no one would want to live on as that has been my feelings about Valencia ever since we arrived. Probably better to stick to dead writers who have never been here and didn’t have such open antipathy. That said, I feel sure if Dickens had ever had the chance to visit Valencia he might have written a sequel to “Bleak House”, “Bleak Master Planned Community”.

Vexiologist should mean a person who studies annoyances, not flags

We live within walking distance of Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park, or as I like to call it, as a way to tolerate the intolerable, “Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain“. I have never been to Magic Mountain and will likely never go unless they open a “Death in Venice canal ride” or a “It’s a small sanatorium after all allegorical log ride of awareness that we are all dying and aging and there is nothing we can do about it”, no matter how many coupons for $20 off they send me. Six Flags is filled with roller coasters and rides that people pay money in order to experience fear, terror and a sense of aliveness that only can come when facing death. I don’t need to ride the Colossus to feel existential dread. I can do it all from the discomfort of our 750 square foot apartment.

The apartment building we live in has at least six flags around its large grounds. While I am no vexiologist or marketing guru it is my hunch that these flags are intended to be archetypal and evocative and make you want to live here. There is a word on each flag and an image intended to illustrate and infer that this experience can actually be achieved in this building and the cumulative narrative of the flags is meant to imply that all your dreams can come true in, what D.H. Lawrence might call, a”domestic Eden.”

These are the kind of flags that surround my “domestic Eden”( only slightly exaggerated for your reading pleasure and to make my point):

Dine A perfect couple, or as I like to call them, Adam and Eve, sit in front of a haute cuisine plate. Eve has lifted a fork to Adam’s waiting mouth. What, no apple?
Shop Bags from high end shops fill the flag. Fig leafs, after all, do not grow on trees.
Rest Eve lounges on a beach chair soaking up the sun by the Edenic pool and adjoining jacuzzi as she struggles with the philosophical weight of good and evil.
Live Adam and Eve enjoy the gym, making their bodies even more tempting.
Love A&E; embrace shamelessly. As it’s not like anyone is watching.
Entertain A&E; and their friends enjoy the lobby/rec center as they laugh, dine and drink apple martinis.
Walk A&E; walk the streets, hand in hand, enjoying the cool of the gardens that surround the gated and secure Eden, which is tended weekly by exterminators so as no pests, vermin or snakes will intrude on their romantic strolls.
Restore Eve strikes a yoga pose in attempt to awaken her inner yogic serpent and/or lower her percentage of body fat.

Very often these flags are knocked over. They must not be anchored well. Every time I see one on its side I laugh. It seems symbolically appropriate that the messages on the flags aren’t true or real and because of that they will not stand and have been expelled from the earth. I have some suggestions for new archetypal words and images to place on the flags that might be more appropriate and might stay upright as they, in my mind, feel more accurate for what to me is an anti-Eden.

Here are my flag suggestions:

Isolation A man and woman trapped in a tiny apartment, as if in a prison, desperate to escape.
Ennui A woman surrendered to her feelings of melancholy on a fainting couch grasping a bottle of Vitamin W in one hand and a volume of Kierkegaard in the other.
Corporate consumerism Forever 21, Macy’s, Gap, and all the usual suspects that fill every mall in America have crammed their logos on the flag. False gods offering golden cows that crumble more easily than Mrs. Field’s cookies and that cannot be returned without a receipt.
Debt Bills pour out of a tiny mailbox, refreshed each day like Manna from Heaven.
Indifference Faceless neighbors walk by each other purposefully avoiding eye contact.
Theft A distraught woman makes a police report. Her order from Neiman Marcus was stolen by her neighbors.
Greed Property owner who looks like a character out of a Charles Dickens morality tale laughs smugly as he pockets overpriced rent checks.
Sloth A man and woman too tired from the demands of everyday life to take the elevator all the way down to the gym sit instead on their Crate and Barrel couch and channel surf.
Despair Dehumanized individual in “The Scream” position looks out at an unfettered view of a sea of retail where the sun never sets and the stores never close from the comfort of his spacious 5×5 patio.

Now I get that my flags would not attract many new tenants so why not go all the way and drop the subtlety and go straight for the subtext of the flags intended to attract residents.

How about these flags? No image required. The text says it all.

If you live here you will have lots of sex.
If you live here you will be wildly successful and rich.
If you live here you will be better than everyone else.
If you live here you will be beautiful and thin and will never age or die.
If you live here all your relationships will be perfect.
If you live here nothing bad will ever happen to you.
If you live here all your dreams will come true.

And, really, if they could offer all that they could easily triple the rent.

Writing in Valencia: Part Three

Remember last week’s “Writing in Valencia” post in which I told you to shut up and write? And, remember how I worried that writing about my writing might be breaking the rules outlined in “Making a Literary Life”? Ms. Carolyn See got out of her sick bed to write and tell me that I was not breaking the rules. Wasn’t that sweet of her? When I have the flu I am not likely to leave my bed except for the promise of NyQuil. The more generous than me, Ms. See wrote to me to say that writing about writing is fine “it’s that jawing that gets all of us in trouble.” So let me reiterate what I said last week with one proviso, “sit down, shut up, and write—and it is okay to write about writing.”

Now to today’s post. I know I told you last week that this weeks post would be “What is my material beyond jean, cotton and cashmere: The fabric of my life and writing.” It turns out that topic will be next week’s post. Today I am talking about voice. Not the la,la,la,la,la,do, ray, me, soh kind of voice, that I do not have, but rather the writing kind—which I think everyone has and can cultivate.

Voice is one of those things writers, would-be writers and books for writers are forever talking about—when not talking about blocks, agents, publishing and not publishing. There are countless classes, books and courses offering to help you find your voice. Before I begin telling you what a waste of time those things are let me admit I have taken a class or two on the topic only to leave more confused and bemused. I do think that there are some things in life that are best found on your own and do not require professional assistance or a weekend workshop at the Learning Annex, finding your voice is one of those things.

It’s not like your voice is so very hard to find—it is not a Leprechaun, a unicorn or a foundation that gives both good coverage and is the perfect colour. All you have to do is open your mouth and start talking and your voice is right there for all to hear (unless you are in the midst of your own Maya Angelou in her silent period kind of thing—but even the mute Maya had a voice and you do too). You use it every single day without ever thinking about it. Go ahead, say something…say anything. So there it is. Your voice has been found. Wasn’t that easy?

Okay, it may be a little more complicated than that but not much. Carolyn See offers some great clues on finding your voice. She suggests listening to yourself on the phone. Or, just plain listening to yourself. What do you say? What things do you say over and over again. What do you say to your mother? To you lover? To yourself? Listen and learn.

Carolyn also suggests that you listen to the inner voice and take note of what is going on in your mind. This skill was not something I needed to develop. All those years of analysis gave me what Jungians call an “observing ego”. What that means is I paid a lot of money to learn to pay attention to that inner voice. That may not be something you do. But, it is something you can do. Just start paying attention to what you are thinking, how you think and what thoughts you think over and over and over again. You may not think these thoughts are worth paying attention to but if you want to find your voice I would start writing them down and you will start to find not only your voice but your material.

I think the difficult part of “finding your voice” is accepting the one you have and coming to believe that it is a voice worthy of writing with. Carolyn See writes that she had hoped her voice might be the English and moral voice of E.M. Forester or the adventurous and seaworthy voice of C.S. Forester—but she didn’t—she had her voice and that has worked out pretty well for her. When I started to look for my voice I was hoping my voice might sound a lot like Fyodor Doestovesky’s. But, as I did not grow up in Czarist Russia and I was never exiled to Siberia, I found that our voices had little in common.

I grew up in Southern California and can occasion have a little bit of a valley girl lilt to my voice. I also have a voice peculiar to an only daughter of narcissistic alcoholics. My voice is the voice of a gal who attended Lutheran school and went to Hebrew school with her best friends at night and was prone to introverted introspections and who would turn friends away who came to play in favor of a book and who has an arachnoid cyst in the temporal lobe that creates an incessant curiosity about meaning and an endless desire to make lists and a penchant for pop culture with a bit of humour and tragedy to it—oh, and an undying fondness for run on sentences. And, as my parents were in the rag trade I have a hint of Yiddish to my voice that is only detected by those with an ear like Henry Higgins.

A year and a half ago, after another failed IVF, I developed a horrible condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia. It is often called the suicide syndrome because the pain is so severe that almost everyone who has had it thinks about suicide. My pain was in my right eye and it was so horrible and relentless that the many neurologists I saw all suggested I take drugs that would have turned me into a non-functioning zombie for an unspecified period of time. I couldn’t and wouldn’t take the medications prescribed yet I was desperate for relief.

I started doing all manner of crazy things that I would have never done before. I took flower essences, tried Kundalini yoga and I even went to a medical intuitive. I will not, in the course of this post, tell you everything she said. But, there is one thing this woo-woo woman, with a supposed talent for diagnosing symptoms without a Physician’s Desk Reference, said in regards to my writing: “Write like you are talking to your friends.” I was not happy to hear her advice because at the time I was trying to turn my highly theoretical graduate thesis into a probably pompous and unpublishable book for a professional audience. This may have been the only thing the medical intuitive was right about. I ignored her advice on giving up meat, dairy and wheat and completely forgot to buy the list of supplements she suggested; I got better anyways. I did, however, take her advice on writing and my writing got better too.

I have a voice and I know what it is and how it sounds. When I write and edit my work I have to read my writing out loud to hear if it is my voice or whether it it is a little off. When I write I try to write like I am talking to a friend. I try to write with my voice and I do my best not to write like a writer. The funny thing is that the writing came much easier once I quit trying to write like a writer and started writing like me.

Infinite Jest*

Today we are done being house guests. As of today, I can leave a dish in a sink, take a nap on the sofa, watch Weeds again without comment, go without a bra, and wear no makeup without someone asking if I am tired. Yet I feel sad.

It started last night when I found out that David Foster Wallace killed himself. He is the second on my list of favorite contemporary writers who has committed suicide (the first was Spalding Grey). And, after discovering that such a great literary genius has been unable to find happiness in his achievements, his family, and the resulting life that comes with being a literary giant my sadness grew.

I imagined what I was doing Friday night as he was conspiring his death. I was lamenting over my hair. I watched some news. I did a little on-line shopping. He-weasel came home and took me to dinner. And, at the same time David was so utterly and hopelessly despondent that he hung himself. I searched on line for answers on why he killed himself. Yet, there were no answers. There are no answers to this kind of question. I imagine he had suffered a major depressive episode, or suffered a horrible loss or discovered he was ill—yet I don’t know any of these things to be true. And, even as I attempt to answer the question myself I am no better resolved to the fact of it.

I thought I had put David’s death behind me for the moment, as I was shopping for shoes on Zappos and sunglasses at Bloomingdales.com, yet quite unexpectedly another kind of unspeakable sadness came in. No, not the boo-hoo kind of sad and not even sad about David, Spalding, or my Father being dead, or even my hair. Rather it is the kind of sad that feels like having an itch only you don’t know where it is to scratch–all vague and distant like. Every time I searched my psyche to try to get at it only moved farther away.

In the middle of the night as I was a sleep and I no longer was looking for the answer the answer came, it was Inkey. We came to He-weasel’s family habitat with Monsieur Inkey and we, today, are leaving with out him. I grew anxious that if Inkey’s spirit does exist and he was off wandering the neighborhood and later returned to find us gone he might not know we are we are and he might think that we had left him. Let me say in my defense that this thought was a thought that came in the middle of the night when I was not quite awake and that there had been Ambien involved.

This was supposed to be a happy day and maybe it will become one. But, this morning as we come to the end of another chapter I am aware of death and loss and the grief that results. I mourn for a man whose words I have loved and for a cat who was my constant companion for 12 years.

*Infinite Jest was the first book of David Foster Wallace’s that I read. Another of my favorites of his was Another Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Girl With Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays are also worth your attention. When I read Infinite Jest for the first time I envied the Joycian mind of the author and now I wonder if that kind of brilliance doesn’t come with an awareness that is unable to find solace in the simple things, like shoe shopping or even, in the big things, like a MacArthur Genius award.

Harper’s has put up a memoriam to David Foster Wallace in which they have all of his essays that he published with them.

WendyB
kindly posted a link to his obituary that I would like to link to here.

About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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