“Get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them…”

We have one car in Los Angeles and one car in Alabama. Never the twain shall meet. So because I really hate driving Kiffen to the Arlington Exit off the 10 Freeway during rush hour so I can have the car, I have begun taking the Dash and the bus where I need to go. It’s easy, cinematic, and completely freeing in ways I never understood addicted to LA gridlock in a mini-van in the days of yore. Driving that awful mini-van with a broken side door forever sealed shut with duct tape, I often felt like I was driving a giant pinball machine of rolling cereal bowls, bottles, baseball bats and costumes, tennis rackets and notebooks, and always-always babies, then children, and then teenagers, and often a dog or two.

Is it any wonder the bus feels like freedom?

Yesterday I had a dental appointment off Wilshire near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which meant I took a bus from Echo Park. This is about 45 minutes by car from where we live now with always the challenge to find parking. No thank you. So I caught the Dash and then got off at Witmer and Union (maybe?) and wound my walking way down to 6th for several blocks and then over to Wilshire by way of MacArthur Park down past all the vendors hawking their wares on Alvarado and up to Wilshire to catch the 720.

I also downloaded MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout, so to hear this lovely book narrated in my ear while walking the streets of Los Angeles was a gift.

This is what I saw on a very cloudy misty LA day:

Murals of Guadalupe, women peeling peppers, fat sausages sizzling on open grills, bootlegged DVDs spread on canvases, mariachi music, a few hipsters dressed like Bowie as a nod to him, vats of  persimmons, mothers with hoards of children of all ages, three huge guys pushing a baby in a stroller, lots of leggings/stretchy pants on half-mannequins, a man/toy-seller who was a walking sculpture of cotton candy clouds, stuffed animals, rubber swim toys, and piñatas. (He did not know the way to Wilshire.) And the old Fonda Theatre, the Ambassador Hotel, Southwest Law School, boys playing soccer, people on the bus and on the street…and so much more.

I watched a very old woman hook her cane on the bus cord to yank it hard to request a stop. I didn’t eavesdrop because I was too absorbed in Lucy Barton’s story, but I saw so much. And it helped to ease the clinging anxiety and sadness forever at my fingertips, encroaching in my head/heart – it was good to see people out doing what they do. I wanted to take so many more pictures but yesterday was about moving fast and watching it all and trying to make it to the dentist on time.





* * *

And as I write today, I am grateful to this group of women in the photograph below with whom I’ve been in a writing group with since 1991 – not all but most of us are here, and we don’t really meet much anymore due to the tyranny of time and distance, but they are still my first readers and dear friends. And the first child in our group got married on Sunday and here we are gathered at the brunch on Monday.

writers group

And I love this illustration that of one my students wrote for me when I told him about Charles Baxter’s advice that he got from the brothers who wrote CASABLANCA.

“Get your characters up a tree and throw rocks at them.”

That’s what I intend to do today on this day of my sabbatical.

throw rocks at them



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