Friday, December 16, 2005

Weekend Homework

My friend Davey the Crazy Irishman, who works at a certain hip media empire that shall not be named, had this recent enlightening exchange with me on the meaning of place and autheticity in the West, sparked by my BrokeBack Mountain review. If you like, especially if you live in the West, chew on it over the weekend and let me know what you think.


Hey, I loved your post on Brokeback Mountain. I've yet to see it myself; I rarely ever drag my ass out to the movies, and I can honestly say that I don't watch enough TV. Both of those activities have always been driven by girlfriends, and seeing as my only romantic relationship right now is with my ex in the Bay whose got another guy and I've been up to my ass in work, that doesn't leave a lot of time for anything other than weekend romance, and even that's gotta be discreet.

So with the as-dramatic-as-any-queer-triangle I've ever been complained to about bit outta the way, I wanted to address that "stranger in the west" feeling you had after the film. I totally get it myself. I grew up in Sacto. There used to be ranches in within the five miles between my parents' house and my grandparents' place. Now it's all retirement homes, cookie-cutter developments and strip malls. A week ago, I was hanging out with Mike Watt and he took me deep into Peck Park here in Pedro and pointed down into the Tarragona development, which supplanted the projects that d. boon grew up in. And in some ways, we can say, "Well, they were able to tear down the projects and put in something nicer." Yes. All well and good in the 1970s, in a way, when there was housing in LA that yeah, was pricier than the rest of the US, but not so out of whack when the rest of the country that it was ridiculous. But now anywhere you'd remotely wanna live is that way. From the East Bay to Sacto to Pedro. I mean, at least I'm in under a grand a month here in a relatively decent neighborhood in a cute apartment that could be ridiculously adorable with a bit of work. And I love it here. But I still walk outside sometimes and think, "Am I supposed to be here?" But I felt like that in Sacto. I felt like that in Austin. I felt like that in Northern Ireland in the spring. It's simultaneously so flawed and so perfect, you have to take it as a part of life, I think. Some of that's what I wrote yesterday to my ex about our relationship. Because she can't decide between me and some guy in 'Bama she's spent a couple of weeks with. And while that sounds simple, "Uh, duh, Los Angeles, cuter boy who spells better and is packing more," it's not that simple. And that's the mystery of the West, man. It's not shitty weather and provincial accents like the East or the Midwest. It's a wide-openness that requires more of a mind to get a true handle on. I realized that after seeking authenticity in Tejas. It's only that the artifice is less advanced, not that the good people are less authentic. There's a charm in that, yes, but is there a life in that? In retirement? Sure. Until then, I'm throwing in my lot with California, because I'm a pussy and can't take the cold.




What you say about “authenticity” is totally true. The feeling I get in the West is that we live on the land, not in the land. Sometimes, in California, it’s easy to feel nostalgic for more “settled places”, especially if you have roots in the South. Part of what I love about visiting Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana is that it’s a kind of attempt to re-connect to something older. When I was down in Texas and Oklahoma filming my movie last year, it was quite an experience to see these places through the lens of a camera, with a forced objectivity. I realized how much of what I thought about the South was the result of my own desires for “authenticity”. But authenticity, I’ve learned, is a frame of mind, not a place or product. You can’t buy it or move to it. You can seek out others who share your ideas, but in the end, we create our own Authenticity. I feel now that I can live anywhere. While I get an electric shock when I’m in New York that I love, and while I sometimes crave an empty space on the wide plain, it’s up to me. There is no Nirvana, just what we can build with people we love.

Like you said, I don’t want to grow old in Los Angeles. I want my cabin on the prairie or the shore someday, with my books and tinkering. But until then, we must try and create authentic space. I became involved with the gay-friendly rugby team in L.A. in an attempt to carve out an authentic space for guys to be who they are as men, in a community that teaches us and pressures us to be otherwise, from both sides. I love hanging out with the friends I made there, and with my Texas friends, because there is a little less artifice. Not that it doesn’t exist on some level, but at least we know each other well enough to call each other on our bullshit!

L.A. is famously about artifice, a studio backlot of a town that erases its history in a constant Disney search for the contemporary idea of happiness. But there is an esthetic underground as well, a counter-movement. Some of the strands you might see include the experimental art and music scenes, the crazy architectural preservationists fighting their obscure fights for history, the car customizers that take the ultimate mass-produced product and turn it into a form of rolling personal expression, the immigrant communities that graft cultures hundreds of years old into this alkaline soil; indeed all the kids that try and create public space and conversation against the grain of an entire city designed to isolate the individual. There are unbelievably authentic people here, just like everywhere else.

I have this dream of authentic places, of New York as true cultural capital of constant movement, of the South as history-drenched place of belonging. But I’ve spent enough time in these places to know that they are just dreams, dreams I might want to pick up again some day, dreams that haunt me until I spend hours after midnight on the internet searching for affordable Brooklyn apartment listings and land for sale in the mountains above Taos. Maybe I’ll follow one of those dreams, if like Ennis and Jack in Brokeback Mountain, I just can’t shake it. But for now, I’m trying to live in this world, man.



Yeah, I get what you mean in a large way about "on the land" vs. in the land, although I think that's different on the northern coast of California, and definitely different in Oregon. Oregon may be the most "of the land" place I've been in the West, and it makes sense that a lot of my friends have either moved up there or are planning to move up there. Ironically, Washington strikes me much more like Northern California.

Other than my Austin maneuver, I never moved toward authenticity, in a sense. I moved in what I perceived as its general direction with ten years in the East Bay, but I never lived on the other side of what they like to call "The Culture-Cut Tunnel." And ultimately, why would I? To be crowded in San Francisco? For the nebulous cred of Alameda County? There're only three "cool" addresses in the entire Bay Area, and they're Berkeley, Oakland and SF proper. I never lived in any of 'em, and while I felt a bit inadequate about that when I was young, why should I care? I lived in some gorgeous parts of the Bay; I lived two houses from the water in Benicia. Try that on the combined income of a store manager and a graphic designer in San Francisco and see what it gets you. Plus, the town spawned one of the greatest pop-punk bands of all time — Pinhead Gunpowder.

And that's part of what I'm dealing with with my ex right now. Her new guy seems decent, but he's stuck where he is. I don't really see him going any farther than being a freelance web designer and hanging out with his friends in Birmingham. Yet she loves me, she loves him, and she's torn between apartment life in Los Angeles (Long Beach would be an easy transfer for her) and the romance and lower cost of living of the South. But you know, when my mom moved to Sacramento (she was a nun and they sent her up there from Pacific Palisades), she thought, "Ugh. I hate this place. There're no hills." Even when she first came to America, she was in Long Beach (which she didn't care for, either) out in Signal Hill, so there was something. And the Sacramento of 1970 is much more to my liking than the sprawling mess of now. At least LA sprawl has some character, whether it's the craftsman bungalows of Pasadena, the craziness of the Strip, or the largely-ignored history of a town like Pedro — which to me, somewhat epitomizes everything about LA without being LA at all...there're crews filming here all the time, yet there're a lot of immigrants, and the ghetto parts aren't scarily ghetto. It's sort of its own little microcosm.

But I made that change. I moved to the South and came back with a broken heart and an empty wallet. There was no romance in it. I still love Central Texas. But the life you have is where you make it, for sure. My mom went from the verdant hills of Northern Ireland to the flats of the Central Valley. I've always admonished people against moves when they're depressed. Then again, I knew I had to go to Austin to learn some lessons, and I learned what I knew I was going there to learn, just not in the way I expected.



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