We dug up our favorite food-motif pieces for Mardi Gras. Read more Simone Kearney poems at PEN.org!
Gino Severini, Armored Train in Action, 1915
Frank O’Hara (via apoetreflects)
Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern.
Learning to love Phoenix: A tale of two cities
(Originally published by The State Press on Aug. 28, 2013)
The poverty in Los Angeles remains mostly invisible to the nearly 40 million tourists who visited the city last year.
Traveling for the glimmer of the Pacific Ocean, most tourists steer clear of sights of homeless on Skid Row, though it is no more than a mile or two south of some historic landmarks downtown.
On the stretch of Olympic Boulevard nestled between Pico-Union and Koreatown, there is a short Mexican man who brushes corn tortillas generously with oil and meat juices to heat them before using them to scoop carne asada sheltered under a sky of tin foil. Fixings such as cilantro and diced onions are deferred to the discretion of customers, and they can have almost as much as they’d like on a taco for only $1.50.
This is the scale on which I like to experience Los Angeles, my hometown and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country — away from the buzz of the Walk of Fame nearly 10 miles away.
When I was last in Los Angeles, my best friend and I went to King Eddy, one of author Charles Bukowski’s favorite watering holes on Skid Row. I almost always go to Dino Jr’s for a charbroiled cheeseburger in Lincoln Heights, where I grew up just 10 minutes away from Dodger Stadium.
It is easier to think about a place after you’ve moved away from it. After I moved to Phoenix nearly three years ago, the strangeness of the East Valley only made me withdraw deeper into the comforts of home.
Because most of Phoenix is so new, its towns and cities don’t have the façade of nostalgia that’s often consoling to the foreigner. A sense of time and history can be unexpectedly welcoming, as I discovered when I visited Charleston, S.C., two summers ago, with its pastel-colored homes and majestic steeples of which no building is legally allowed by city regulation to supersede.
But when I first looked at Phoenix on a map, it seemed absentmindedly dropped in the middle of the Sonoran desert, misplaced amid the aridity and impenetrable vastness of the desert landscape. If you’re traveling eastbound through Phoenix on the I-10, this fact becomes nearly self-evident. For me, there wasn’t much resembling the vibrancy of Los Angeles for nearly 200 miles, and no link to the quirk of Tucson for another 100 miles.
Phoenix became intimidating under the realization that it is nothing more than a simulacrum of the natural landscape in which it’s been circumscribed. It was hot, but the city was not warm to me. Suburbs such as Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe continue to grow, but their growth seemed measured by town homes and drug stores. Scenes of people boarding the bus or pedestrian bustle are rare, not like they are in Los Angeles.
When describing another busy city, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard says there is no reason to live in New York “except for the sheer ecstasy of being crowded together.”
I felt this ecstasy in Phoenix was reserved only for cool nights when the young on Mill Avenue or the Scottsdale crowd awake from the day of intolerable heat. Certainly, this nightlife could never be fully representative of the people of the East Valley. They are dressed up, fully cloaked in regalia meant to impress members of the opposite sex. Who they are in the daytime — who knows.
My initial discomforts were typical symptoms of a young person moving away from her parents for the first time. I also hated Los Angeles right before my move to ASU, and my affections for it have only been applied retroactively, after feeling so alone during the first year and a half of living in Phoenix.
In fact, everything I resented about Phoenix was similar in spirit to the things I resented about Los Angeles: the purposelessness I perceived in leading a life dictated by traffic congestion, the red carpet, the people who were so glib in their efforts to become the next big star and the erection of new condominiums that dismissed downtown’s hungriest residents.
Like the tourist visiting my hometown, I couldn’t move beyond my own vapid generalizations of Phoenix. But after living in Phoenix for two and a half years, I began to trust the city a little more.
When it comes to traveling, it’s important to make a home of wherever you go and to reduce the scale on which you experience a place.
By defining my time in Phoenix by small events, I was able to experience the city the way I wanted to. A few weeks ago, I ventured outside my comfort zone (and fear of drowning) by kayaking on Canyon Lake and the Salt River.
I will always miss Los Angeles, but there are places in Arizona that have become important to me, too: Boulders on Broadway, where I started my beer education and held my own in raunchy conversations, Coffee Rush in Chandler, where I write my columns every Monday and the US-60 highway at dusk, where I can see the purple mountain majesty of the Superstition Mountains to my left.
Reach the columnist at email@example.com or follow her at @ce_truong.
The lightness of learning
(Originally published by The State Press on May 22 2013)
So much of happiness hinges on our ability to find newness in the world. This summer, I traveled to four different cities, visited the Grand Canyon for the first time and nearly doubled my library by purchasing 47 books.
For me, travel and education have always been inseparable from their ability to break up the monotony of life.
“Becoming educated” has never been a goal marked by graduation dates, certificates or grades. It has always been the primary mode of engagement with the world, as one fine-tunes oneself into becoming the finest receptacle for the world’s output, acutely sensitive to different sensations, information and experiences.
While we may find that we won’t always be students and while the politics of higher level education may sicken or dishearten us, I hope that we will always put ourselves in the best position to learn.
So often we associate learning with all the things we like least about life.
Children who are physical learners are told relentlessly by adults to control themselves and are encouraged in every sphere of their lives to follow rules and mimic proper behavior.
Young adults no longer enter college enthused by the prospect of learning new ideas but mentally fettered by the demands of job security and interest loan rates.
When asked about their lives at college, students rarely seem interested in discussing what they’re learning. The conversations I overhear seem focused on quickening the learning experience as much as possible through endless partying and drinking, as if to forget that learning is meaningful. Otherwise, students are waiting for college to “just be over.”
Perhaps that’s because we’ve been learning on someone else’s schedule, so much so that learning outside the classroom feels like a chore or an impossible task.
The terms of our own education have always been dictated to us, either through legislation, tuition fees or a school bell.
What’s ironic is that for most of the year, I’ve deliberated the merits of graduate school and this short essay is the product of an intellectual and personal crisis with my own education several semesters in the making.
I’m not sure if most undergraduates considering grad school are like me, but if they are, I imagine that most are terrified of the trajectory their intellectual lives will take without the crutch of institutionalized education. If they are like me, they have a hard time coming to terms with the sense that they might actually need to be in school — that they are actually not very independent thinkers and that their minds desperately rely on constant feedback and interaction with others to grow.
As a student of the humanities, part of the appeal of grad school rests in the fact that it is an intellectual safety net. I’ve always been nervous about the kind of downward spiral my mind would fall into without the aid of teachers whose opinions I admire or classmates who readily provide positive reinforcement.
I’m afraid that I cannot kindle the fire of my own curiosity, and I’m afraid that I’ve always needed to be in school to think critically.
This summer, however, I could feel my fears subsiding with every book I opened and every new place I visited. I found that there wasn’t anything holding me back except my own sense of limitation. With enough time, patience and consideration, I could learn almost anything I wanted to. The ideas and experiences I prized most were not locked away waiting to be decoded by seasoned academics.
Because learning has always been crucial to my appreciation of life, this was a minor epiphany that became liberating. New ideas I read about never fail to stimulate me and they inform my understanding of old events, so even thoughts and ideas that become stale through the passing of time can become revitalized by new information.
If you can manage to keep yourself in a position to learn, you equip yourself with the tools you’ll need to keep your life satisfying and meaningful.
I remain indecisive and insecure about grad school, like I am in most areas of my life. But with the new semester upon us, I hope that you will savor every opportunity to learn and I hope you can feel like your education is within your control. I hope that we can be kinder and more patient with ourselves when an idea or emotion seems challenging.
I hope we can all manage to build a little space for ourselves, for our minds to wander a little on our own terms.
Jean Sénac, a poet I discovered while browsing Skylight Books in Los Angeles, talks about a lover who “restored to each syllable its innocent grin.”
I hope the ideas we encounter this semester can do that for us — restore to each moment a little more play and wonder, a little bit of sweetness to make things feel just a little lighter and all experiences a little newer.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at @ce_truong.
Tauba Auerbach, Ugaritic Alphabet, 2006