Dear Los Angeles,

At first I thought I ought to write something heightened and romantic to celebrate our six-month anniversary. It would be a vulnerable comeuppance, full of all the six-month sentiments I have developed for you in our time together. I thought I should go to a place fitting for this sort of letter, taking my quill and pen to the ocean, for instance, to write to you from the very edge of the continent. Or I could bring my pencil and notebook to the gardens at the Getty and tell you about art and flowers. Yet the more that I thought about the atmosphere for this letter, the more I realized that the most appropriate setting is right here, in the bedroom of my little, messy apartment, full of the every-day noises that are slowly becoming home.

Right now there are six of us living in our three-bedroom apartment, which is quite a change for the girl who used to live alone with her cat, slowly degrading into a life of crochet and watching library movies on her laptop computer. Four of us are legally bound to our place, and the other two are here for the summer, completing internships before they return to their respective institutions of higher learning, both in the South, where it rains. I would not have mentioned the South, except that it rains. I miss rain. You would not understand, Los Angeles. It has been so long since I have smelled the earth.

Right now the closest thing to rain is the sound of E’s shower in the next room. There is also the faint movie mumblings from the living room where M and J are flattened against the couch, watching the TV, and there is the periodic clank of dish and spoon as G washes the dishes. I will never get used to the noise of our little house, nor your noise, Los Angeles. Over my bedroom balcony waft in the noises of the second largest city in the U.S. (I mean you, you fat, fat city) — the distant freeway, the chatting pedestrians on their evening walk, the passing sirens, and the nightly helicopter hover, which I like to pretend is the news instead of the LAPD spotlighting its latest criminal’s rise and fall.

For a while I would miss home at these moments, and I still do sometimes. I miss the kids playing in the lot next to my dad’s auto repair shop, above which my family lives. I miss the dank, musty basement smell of the shop, and having my dad make his living right underneath our home, just a staircase of 12 steps and three rooms away. I miss the quiet evenings and the settling of summer — the stars in the corn fields and the country drivers, my church and my cousins, and the people who have known me longer than I’ve known me, the people who know me because they knew my grandparents. I miss the hospitality, the neighborliness of it all, in the place where all the Thrift Store Owners know me by name.

Do you remember, Los Angeles, a few months back when I left you for the first time in three months? And do you remember how hard it was for me to come back to you, how I cried all five hours back on the plane, and I wondered why I was coming back — why I had to leave my parents and my niece and my nephew and all the comfort of being known? D was busy that week, and I felt so very alone, surrounded by thirteen-million people, coming home each night to this little apartment with a few roommates that I only just met. I think this is what they call culture shock, a thing I only mildly experienced when I moved from Minnesota to Arkansas for college. But after that initial breakdown, things got better. They really did. I think I came to the decision that I was here, with you, and here I would stay. Perhaps I needed that last goodbye, that last purge of what it was like to be a child.

At D’s encouragement, I have recently begun reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It has been so very long since I have read a book. I think I’ve been afraid of falling back into my girlhood, where I would hide in my room, reading stacks of books, instead of making friends. It is a lot harder to be an obsessive reader when you have a job. I’m only about 100 pages into the first book, and oh, how I’ve cried. I know, I know, it’s a little early to start crying, but Tolkien has just introduced one of the major themes of the book: Home. Frodo is speaking with Gandalf, and he is first realizing that there is a large and courageous journey he must take, and that no one else is going to do it for him.

He has never left his home, the Shire. He tells Gandalf, “I feel that as long as the Shire lies behind, safe and comfortable, I shall find wandering more bearable: I shall know that somewhere there is a firm foothold, even if my feet cannot stand there again.”

I read this after I got off the phone with my mother, after I told her I will not be able to make it home for the Clipperton Family Reunion in August. High gas prices have made it nearly impossible. This is the first Clipperton Family Reunion I have missed in my life, ever since I was 6. And I will be 26 next month. Mark my words, Los Angeles: If you do something to prevent me from going home for Christmas Eve with my family, going to Grandma’s church for the same Christmas Eve service I’ve attended since I was born, I will up and quit my job and move home.

You cannot ruin 26 years of Christmas, Los Angeles. I do not care how big you are.

All my love,

Ann

Promises, Promises.

March 23, 2008

Ann has just parked her car on a street parallel to Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. She is going to a thrift store to purchase a few more dishes to use for the Easter Feaster she is hosting the next day. She has just gotten her hair cut, the temperature is in the mid-seventies, and she is feeling relatively good about her appearance and about life.

Enter Young Gangsta Gentleman in a pimped out, black car in the Starbucks parking lot, which Ann is cutting across to arrive on Fairfax. Young Gangsta Gentleman is sitting in his car, listening to music with the windows rolled down. As Ann approaches, he glances out the window, stares at her, smiles, flexes his massive tattooed muscles, adjusts his backwards cap, shines his gigantic gold cross necklace and calls out, “How you doin’… Baby?”

Now, Ann, being of the somewhat quiet and intellectual sort, usually blows off politely ignores guys who not only drop “g”‘s from their verbs, but also give her pet names. Some examples from her Arkansan past include “Honey,” “Sugar,” and “Sweetie.” Up until this point, she has never heard “Baby,” except when she and her boyfriend are being facetious.

But on this particular afternoon, Ann is having such a good day that she stops, turns toward Young Gangsta Gentleman, smiles, and exclaims, “WON-der-ful!” with palms up and head tipped back toward the sunshine.

And then she keeps walking.

Now what, you may ask, caused Ann to respond in such a delightful manner?

Saturday felt like a day I’ve lived before. The sun was out, the weather was AMAZING, and the freedom of a Saturday fell on my shoulders like the sunshine. I got my hair cut, I went to some new thrift stores, and I went grocery shopping for items to create a special Easter Feaster meal for a group of terrific friends who came over today.

As I was driving on Venice Boulevard, the day suddenly felt like a moment I’ve lived before. It felt exactly like an evening I spent in Mexico seven years ago where this boy I’d just met and later dated showed me his first little step of affection. We’d talked on the drive down to Mexico, and I had a giant crush on him, but I wasn’t sure what he thought of me. One night our whole group was walking back to base camp from a Mexican restaurant, and this boy caught up to me and walked beside me the whole way. He gave me a piece of gum, which is still my favorite gum to this day, and the wrapper is glued in my journal from March 2001. That was the beginning of something very sweet, and very special. That is why this exact memory hit me with its overwhelming deja vu while I sat at a stoplight on Venice Boulevard seven years later with my windows rolled down.

The only real contact this boy and I have anymore is through Facebook, and even though nothing came of that, I still remember how full of promise it felt to be his pursuit.

Saturday felt like that: Full of Promise. I am finally feeling healthy even though I’m constantly exhausted, and I’m starting to explore more and develop favorite things about this new place.

L.A. is a harsh city. Once you start loving it and feeling at home and feeling like you belong, it will turn around and bite you in the assembly line. But perhaps people stay here because it’s called the City of Dreams, and we all know that dreams can also be crazy and scary and baffling. So, in the midst of all this complaining I’ve been doing about being here and how difficult it is and how my perseverance has endured some heavy testing in the past few months, let me tell you, some of the things I have heard and seen and felt since moving here have left me speechless. Here are a few things that I’m LOVING:

1. Getting to know my old friends better and making new ones. I LOVE being around creative, ambitious people and am honored to call many of them my friends. So many people have shown me true kindness since I arrived, and I am very thankful.

2. The writing inspiration that a city provides, especially in a place that is supposedly the creative capital of the world.

3. Walking to Whole Foods grocery store on my lunch break to eat fruit and nuts for lunch and sit outside, in my patch of sun, on their huge wooden bench to watch people walk by. (Yes, my eating habits are beginning to turn slightly granola… there are just so many good foods here that are all natural, and the fruit here is like candy.)

4. Getting involved in a church again, which I plan to do much more now that my health is returning to me.

5. Being young in a big city with my whole life ahead of me…. and the beach five miles away while I still look fabulous in a bathing suit… white pasty skin and all.

LOST and Savers

January 9, 2008

Today the job search continues.  Next week I think I will just go up to the Santa Monica area and scout and drop by a few of the places where I applied that didn’t specify “No walk-ins.”  This morning one of the relatives I am staying with told me that I don’t need to be anxious. “The right job is waiting for you,” he said.  Last night when I got home, I shared with the relatives that I’m the type of person who is very focused and likes to know what she is doing when she is doing it.

Yesterday I was feeling anxious, so I indulged in two things that always make me feel less anxious: purse shopping at a thrift store and watching several episodes of a favorite television show on DVD. The purse shopping I did in the morning, on my own, after spending about three hours at Panera searching for a job via the internet while intermittently playing Scrabble on Facebook. D took me out to Chick-Fil-A for lunch the other day (what a guy), and we drove by a giant thrift store called Savers. Yesterday I decided to return to Savers, thus widening my radius of daily activities. I tried on some clothes but found that Savers is a little expensive for a thrift store. In fact, I probably have the money-saving savvy to find similar items brand new for the same price or less by shopping end of season sales (I’m little, so I generally have good luck finding extravagantly cheap prices in my size, especially in shoes). If I would buy anything at Savers, it would have to be exceedingly unique and a perfect Ann-item. I found just such an item in a beautiful needlepoint purse. I forgot to bring my digital camera to Panera with me this morning, but I will try and remember to take a photograph of my new bag for my post tomorrow. It was made somewhere in China, which really isn’t that remarkable, except that it was probably sold in China as well. The tag brand name is written in Chinese characters. It’s super cute and very much my style.

In Savers, a woman about my age was ushering around an elderly woman (probably in her eighties) who was blind. I noticed them when I was flipping through the skirts, but didn’t overhear their conversation, so I didn’t realize that the woman was blind. When I was looking at the purses, they were behind me perusing a rack of jackets. The younger woman was enthusiastically describing a soft, cream-colored jacket to the older woman. She guided the woman’s hand to the jacket, and the woman touched it, murmuring at its softness. “This is so much fun,” the older woman told the younger woman.

After that I went to D’s house. For Christmas 2006, I bought him the first season of LOST. It has taken him this long to watch it, probably because I have scared him away a little bit through telling him all about how he’ll get addicted. I’ve never before encountered a more addicting show. Let’s not mention here how many classes I skipped that week I watched the first season a few years ago. After D and I were done with the first four episodes, three of his roommates watched the first disc, so we are all at the same point today and can watch the second disc together. I’m excited. Even though I don’t have a job yet, people have been encouraging me to savor this time of unemployment. The relatives reassured me of it yesterday evening. I’m welcome to stay there as long as I need to.

I am so very thankful for the people in my life.

On Saturday, friend MS and I went thrift store shopping in Mankato. I wasn’t feeling too well — coming down with a cold that has had me lying down for the past day — but MS said he wouldn’t go if I didn’t, so I took some medication and decided to tough it out. My trooper tendencies were profitable indeed. I couldn’t buy a whole lot because 1.) I am moving and can only take what fits in my car and 2.) I am saving money for that big moving trip. But I did buy a few nice things:

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This lovely sweater is brand new and reminded me of a cheaper something I might find at Anthropologie. Obviously cheaper because it was only $3, but also because it doesn’t quite have the unique, one-of-a-kind look that Anthropologie’s stuff has. So, I decided to add a little class to it:

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I bought a bag full of vintage buttons off of Ebay a few years ago for $2, and they have served me well in embellishing many-a garment. They did not disappoint me this time either.

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I’d also like your opinion on the color of the sweater. I’m considering tea staining it to give it more of a muted color. I’m just not sure if the pale pink will work with my already pale skin tone. What do y’all think? Tea stain or no?

I also found this lovely Marilyn Monroe-style dress that was quite the jackpot.

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It’s bright red velvet and so lush — the photograph doesn’t do it justice. And even though it was probably originally sold in the late ’60s, it still has its tags:

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I have some altering to do on it. First of all, it is floor-length, a length which drowns short people like me. So I am going to cut it off at the knee. Also, when I was first looking it over to see if it was a good purchase (it was $15 — a little pricey for thrift stores, but if I had bought this in a vintage clothing store rather than at the Salvation Army, it would’ve been more like $40-$50, at least in Minneapolis), I found this horrendous add-on:

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It’s a mangled little bow on the ties. Last night I removed the bow with a seam ripper while lying in my sick bed, watching Project Runway. The bow was badly, badly made, as were the eye hooks that someone sewed on. I doubt the dress was made with these eye-sores. The eye hooks bunched up the fabric. So, I removed all that, and because I don’t feel comfortable wearing a halter dress if it’s just tied on, I’m going to add yet another vintage button. I’ll show off the finished product when it’s done.

I also bought a furry hat for while I’m here in Minnesota, but I’m thinking I might use it for a new masthead photograph, so I’ll save it for a later date. It’s super cute and oh-so Girl From the North Country.