Today we met up with our friends Jit and Srabanti in Atwater Village, the neighborhood we had lived in for over a year while we rebuilt our Silver Lake home after our fire. We became very fond of the increasingly hipster neighborhood and still enjoy going there to eat, shop and drink coffee (well, my husband David does that one!). Just a week ago our friends Jit and Srabanti moved into their new home in Atwater Village from West LA, a cultural shift that may be as big as the one from Calcutta to LA that both of them made at important moments in their lives. Jit moved to the US to study and has been working here in computer software marketing for many years now. Srabanti and he met online years ago and she moved here 8 years ago to start a life with him in Los Angeles. I actually married them in our back yard and they began a life together on the other side of town. I haven’t seen Srabanti much over the last few years as she has been very busy working and building her life here, but since then, she really seems to have thrived professionally working as a human resource manager. I remember when she first came here, we took her out clothes shopping because she wanted to blend in with people in LA. Now she dresses in cute clothes, drives a Mini Cooper all over the city, so has transformed into a proper Angelina.
I was going through the little pouch full of smaller goodies I am hoping to give away and pulled out a small enamel brooch in the shape of a maple leaf that had belonged to my mother. She had bought it (or my father had bought it for her perhaps) when we lived in Quebec, when I was a teenager. I remember enameled jewelry being quite popular there. It’s beautiful but in the over 20 years that I have owned it, I haven’t worn it once. Though I feel great affection for Canada, as we lived there for four formative years, and made wonderful, life-long friendships there, I don’t feel Canadian enough to wear a maple leaf brooch, no matter how pretty it is. I decided it should belong to a Canadian who can wear it proudly.
Today I met with my Korean friend Jane, who is one of my favorite living artists and one of my favorite people, a truly warm and radiant soul. We met over 15 years ago when I had just started working as a curator at Pacific Asia Museum. She was a volunteer helping to organize an exhibition of contemporary Korean art, but I soon discovered that she is a very accomplished artist herself and I fell in love with her work and her personality. Though she has experimented with various different painting styles over the years, her Four Seasons and Vines series have become her signature works. These series of vibrantly painted wooden squares can be combined in groups of any size to create a larger whole. Each square features gnarly lines that twist and wiggle like roots or vines across the surfaces of the squares. Though apparently meandering, these lines have been placed mathematically along a hidden grid so that no matter how the squares are arranged, the lines will connect visually and unite all the paintings. The effect is beautiful and clever, like the artist herself.
Today was officially my highest giveaway – done at 38,000 feet in the air! I hadn’t planned it this way. I had hoped to give something away before we left on our trip to Seattle for the weekend, but I was so busy getting ready for the trip – tidying up the house, packing, making sure the cats were inside, going over my notes for my lecture tomorrow – that I just didn’t have time to fit in a gift before our Uber ride came to whisk us off to LAX. I had packed some goodies in my purse so that I’d have something to give away, but I had no idea really how I would manage a giveaway while traveling. But on our flight to Seattle, just before the pilot started our descent, it gradually became clear to me.
My husband David, son Theo and I were seated in row 26 of our Alaska Airlines flight, fairly close to the back of the plane. There were three flight attendants working the very full plane and one of them attracted my attention soon into the flight. Her name was Krista, and she could have written the flight attendant textbook. As she moved up and down the aisle serving drinks and snacks, she chatted with the passengers, smiled dazzlingly, and spread a great energy throughout the plane. But it was when she came back to collect the trash that she won my heart – she had one trash bag for trash and another for recycling plastic, cans and cardboard. I had never seen recycling on a plane before and always stress out at the amount of waste that we generate when we travel. When I told her how great I thought this was, she explained that not all the passengers like it. “But,” she added, “Some passengers aren’t happy whatever you do. You just can’t please everyone.” One passanger, she explained, had got really annoyed at her because they didn’t serve chicken sandwiches. That day, she had just learned that her friend’s daughter, with whom she was very close, had died. She couldn’t understand how people could get so upset about a chicken sandwich.
A few minutes later, when all the trash had been cleared away and we were beginning our descent, Krista got on the intercom and announced that Anna, one of the other flight attendants had successfully completed her first flight with Alaskan Airlines and had done a great job. That did it. I had brought a pair of earrings with me – a simple pearl-like sphere that looked a little like the pearl earrings I noticed she was wearing. I didn’t have anything to wrap them in, so I was trying to fold them in a piece of paper when I noticed David calling her over to take the last of our trash. He indicated the piece of paper I was holding, thinking that was trash. No, I explained. I actually wanted to give her something. I launched into a description of my Giveaway project and told her I thought she’d been really wonderful, especially when she had acknowledged Anna on her first day. And I handed her the folded piece of paper containing the earrings. It was a slightly awkward moment and other people were watching, but again, Krista was gracious and thanked me for the gesture. She looked genuinely touched and didn’t seem to think I was being weird. When she had gone back to her seat, the woman sitting across from us said, “That was really cool.” And for the rest of our descent, she shared with us that she had been part of a pay-it-forward chain on a toll bridge in San Francisco for a while, that she had moved to Seattle a couple of years ago with her family, that she’d been away from her two little kids for the last week and couldn’t wait to see them when she got home. Julia also told us some of her favorite places to go with kids in Seattle. We landed and said our goodbyes to the lovely people we had just connected with on our descent. Though we were safely on the ground, my spirits remained at 38,000 feet.
For as long as I can remember I have felt physically a bit awkward and uncomfortable. As I child I wasn’t very good at sports. I was super-flexible and could bend back into the crab (or yoga wheel), do the splits and other bendy feats, but I’ve never had much strength, nor have I been able to run for any length of time. It always hurt my joints. Growing up, I often felt out of whack, and visited chiropractors and conventional doctors for various joint problems. They usually told me I was double-jointed and one told me that I was so loose now that when I grow old and my peers all have arthritis, I would finally be normal and be able to run marathons. I never bought that theory.
Two years ago, I had a bad pain in my left hip and it was becoming hard for me to walk and do yoga. A friend pointed out to me that hip injuries during yoga are actually common in middle-aged women, so I was very worried I would have to give up yoga. I thought I’d better see a chiropractor about it. I talked to my friend Cheryl, who is a retired chiropractor and can’t treat me any more, and she recommended a colleague, Theresa, who has a practice just around the corner from our house. I had to drive there, because my hip hurt. But it’s LA, and that’s normal here!
Theresa is a wonderfully warm, engaging woman, with large brown eyes that emanate intelligence and care. She spent an hour with me asking me about my physical condition and having me perform a few simple exercises and movements, after which she explained confidently that I have ligamentous laxity syndrome, or LLS. Whaa? I had never heard of this. But when she explained it to me, all the issues with my joints and physical discomforts over the years suddenly made sense. My ligaments are too loose, which means that although I am very flexible, which is useful in yoga class, this is not always a good thing. Our ligaments, the tissues that connect our bones to each other, are supposed to be fairly tight so that they limit the range of motion of our joints, thus creating normal joint stability. I don’t have that stability. This explains not only my looseness, but also the reason why running has always hurt, because my knee, hip and ankle joints were not being adequately supported each time my feet pounded the ground. It also explains why I have to crack my wrists, shoulders and back so much – they feel out of alignment and they often are. On the one hand it was a little scary to know I had a syndrome, but on the other, I was relieved and even excited to finally know what my problem was. Theresa explained to me that I would have to work my muscles harder to support the joints, to take over some of the burden the ligaments were supposed to carry. And in yoga, she explained, instead of dropping 100% into a particular pose (like a forward fold, which is extremely easy for me – I can usually place my palms flat on the floor with knees unbent), it was safer and better for me to go 80% into the pose and then engage my muscles to hold the pose. This would strengthen my muscles and help prevent further injury.
After a few months of work with Theresa, my hip healed, which was a huge relief. What was even more valuable about my visits to Theresa and this diagnosis was that around this time, my son Theo was starting to contort himself into strange positions to try to crack his back and wrists and make many of the odd, awkward movements that I’d made as a child – and still do now. He is very flexible and hates running too. It suddenly became clear to me that Theo has inherited my “syndrome.” I’m not happy about this fact as I know how uncomfortable he must be, but I am glad that I know what it is and what he can do to protect his joints. He has already started seeing Theresa, who is as warm, caring and good at communicating with him as she was with me. In fact, he had been having trouble with his back this week, and today he asked me if he could have an appointment with Theresa, the “chirocracktor,” as he calls her. Fortunately she had a slot free and we went to see her and have her give him an adjustment. I wanted to give her something to thank her for helping me and my boy (and also David, who has seen her for other issues), and ideally something pretty connected to joints somehow. I had a lot of trouble finding something that fit that description, so in the end settled for something pretty – an Indian silver ankle bracelet. Well, the ankle is a joint, so can I have that one?
Today, we had an unexpected family playdate with Theo’s best friend Lucca and his parents, Suzette and Manuel. Theo and Lucca have known each other since preschool so neither of them can remember a time when the other wasn’t in his life. Over the years, despite attending different schools for the past 5 years, they have built up a strong friendship by attending weekly karate classes together, going to summer camp together, and having the occasional playdate, when they build cushion forts, play with Legos or video games, all the while chattering and giggling – for hour after hour. They are both only children, so in some ways they are like brothers, but they have not argued once in the 7 years of their friendship, so in this respect they are not like any brothers I know.
Over the years, I have been very grateful to Suzette for being my partner in facilitating this friendship, as well as increasingly being a friend to me too. Suzette and Manuel are hard-working architects and work together in a firm in our neighborhood, but they live miles away, so we rarely have a chance to socialize with them. However, whenever we get together, I am always impressed by Suzette’s creativity. At Lucca’s 10th birthday party, a Harry Potter party, many of the details – owl goody bags and golden wands – were designed and hand-made by Suzette. Every Halloween, Suzette puts together spectacular costumes – the were dressed as fruit last year, Lucca was Pinocchio (complete with a Gepetto puppeteer attached like a backpack!) the year before, and they were all Lego Ninjago minifigures before that. And today, Manuel proudly showed us pictures of Suzette’s exquisite tile work designs on some buildings they had designed and built in East Los Angeles. I know quite a few other parents who are incredibly creative with their kids’ parties and costumes, but not while holding down a full-time job. In this, Suzette is truly extraordinary and I have nothing but admiration for her boundless creativity as an architect and parent. Today, at dinner together at one of our favorite little restaurants in Little Tokyo, I gave Suzette a pair of turquoise earrings I had made a few years ago. The earrings can’t compare with her spectacular creations, but they are my way of thanking her for being such an inspiring fellow mom over the years and for working with me to make sure our boys – and the rest of us too! – enjoy their precious friendship for many more years to come.
This morning, I sat with a group of parent friends at the coffee shop after school drop-off listening to our good friend Eric recounting his heart-wrenching experiences at Mt. Everest’s Base Camp in Nepal. He had gone with his best friend Tom and a team of filmmakers to shoot a documentary about the evolution of Base Camp from a remote outpost to a small tent city busy with climbers from all over the world. Eric had finished his part of the filming, had made his way back to Kathmandu Airport, and was just about to book himself on a flight home when the earthquake struck. Though he was unhurt, he soon learned the tragic news that his friend Tom had been killed when the devastating avalanche tore through Base Camp. Determined to retrieve Tom’s body, Eric made his way back up to Base Camp with a Nepalese helicopter crew, and a day or so later came back with his friend in a bag by his side. While arranging for a Buddhist cremation and ceremony for him, he witnessed death, destruction and chaos in every direction in the aftermath of the quake. He also experienced incredible kindness shown to him by strangers in Nepal, people who often didn’t have much themselves, yet went out of their way to make this American stranger a cup of tea or give him a place to sleep.
No one can come home from such an experience unchanged. Eric, the most intrepid of all my friends for sure, is used to taking risks, like riding dirt bikes, hiking for days under grueling conditions with the toughest of athletes, and taking photographs high atop rugged mountains. A talented photographer who has shot some of the world’s most spectacular scenery (http://www.epop.com), he has never been one to shy away from danger. But what he experienced in the past week or so has been beyond scary and dangerous, and the feelings he has brought back with him are more complex than his friends back home can truly understand. Happy to see my friend back safely today but saddened by his heart-breaking loss, I wanted to give him something that might be relevant to his experience and perhaps somehow help him get through this painful time. I chose a string of Buddhist prayer beads that I was given in Japan over 20 years ago. I don’t know if Eric ever prays to any higher being, but perhaps the beads will be comforting if he feels the need to seek answers or consolation somewhere beyond this realm.
A migraine devoured my day today. It started as a headache in the mid morning, but I knew it had bigger plans. I did what I could to try to keep it at bay – lying down for nap, using a heat pad around my neck and drinking lots of warm water, tricks that have worked in the past, but not today. Just before lunchtime, the throbbing in my neck and the sides of my head was telling me that the pain was here to stay. I tried to eat the lunch David had made but was feeling so nauseous that I couldn’t stomach much. Over the course of the afternoon, I moved from our bed to Theo’s bed to the couch, hoping to have the magic nap that would release my head from the pain and my stomach from the nausea. But, though I was able to escape the pain for a few minutes at a time, every time I woke up, so did the pain and wooziness. Half way through the afternoon, there was a knock at the front door. David was out helping a friend in need, and Theo was watching videos and isn’t allowed to answer the door. So I heaved myself off the couch and staggered to the door. “Who is it?” I asked in a feeble voice. “It’s Susy,” came the gentle reply. Phew, a friendly voice – not a stranger trying to sell me something or get me to sign a petition or give money.
I let my friend in and though I was pleased to see her, I was barely able to crack a smile. I explained that I had a migraine and she instantly understood my pain. She too has suffered many migraines; in fact just a few weeks ago, she’d had one caused by a vicious stomach bug. I invited her to join me on the couch, where I lay back down and we caught up for a bit, until I had a couple of coughing fits and asked her to do the talking. She told me that her son Luke was out skateboarding near the lake with his friends. He’s 12 now so can be more independent, which makes her life as a single mother much easier. She had been able to spend the morning at the flea market, one of her favorite pursuits, acquiring things, she joked, as quickly as I’m getting rid of them. She showed me a lovely blue ring and some metal bangles she’d found for next to nothing, and then told me about the latest article she’s working on. Susy is a world-class journalist who used to write for the Times in Paris. Here in Los Angeles, she writes for USC’s alumni publications, and covers many fascinating topics from housing for the homeless to music to science.
At some point in our conversion, I must have drifted off. Susy sat patiently as I dozed and, when I woke up, she offered to make me some tea, which I drank thankfully. Before she had to leave and get back to her article, I wanted to give her something for coming by and being so caring. I’d given her a book before (January 19), but today I wanted to give her something more personal and pretty – the sort of thing she might enjoy finding at one of her flea markets, so I gave her the third pair of earrings that I’d created out of my one pair a few weeks ago. She put them on right away and they went perfectly with her dress and hair, which she was wearing up in loose, romantic bun. Shortly after she left, my nausea got the better of me, and I ended up in the bathroom. The tea had stirred things up, and my body had decided to expel whatever had been messing up my system. I began to feel better, and only have a headache now as I write this. Thanks to a surprise visit from a dear friend, I felt cared for, I managed a nice Giveaway, and I was able to purge myself (I hope) of the bug that had tried to destroy my day.
This afternoon, for the second time in the same number of weeks, I ran into Jane at Target. She was with her teenage daughter and pre-teen son, who immediately scattered to the shampoo and LEGO sections respectively. We grabbed a few minutes to chat while her kids were happily occupied. This is not Jane the animator to whom I gave a pot of mint on March 13, but another incredibly talented English woman who also happens to be called Jane and happens to have worked as an animator. Since I’ve known her, she has been working as an art historian and also as a maker of extremely adorable soft toys called Socklings, which she has written about on her blog (http://janegottshandmade.blogspot.com). I have been unable to resist her Socklings, the cutest little alien-like creatures made from baby socks and have purchased a few from her over the years at school fairs. (It was one of these little creatures that I gave up to my son Theo’s friend Samuel on March 16).
I think it was probably at one of the school fairs where I first got chatting to Jane, and we have had many chats over the years. Although we don’t know each other terribly well, and have probably never had a single long conversation, I don’t think we’ve ever indulged in small talk. Instead, in all our brief exchanges, she’s always had something fascinating to say about art, politics, education or even the business of toy production. Today at Target, in about three minutes, she shared with me some valuable information about the alternative school her daughter is attending, material I am now storing carefully in a mental file labeled “Theo School Options.” She also mentioned that she had started reading my blog and had noticed I’d written about her Socklings. At that moment, I knew I couldn’t let her leave without giving her something. I had in my purse I had a ring made in Africa from recycled telephone wires. I’d bought it at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art on a recent visit and had loved the fact that it was recycled and that the its design resembled a beautiful Celtic knot. I gave it to her because I thought she would appreciate the cleverness of the craft, but afterwards I realized that telephone wires can symbolize communication, and the Celtic knot, with no beginning and no end, is said to represent the interconnectedness of life. My encounters with Jane may be short and sweet, but I come away with the warm, reassuring feeling of having connected with a similar soul.
There was a little girl called Zoey with a Y.
She had hair like gold and a twinkle in her eye.
When I asked her what she’s into, she said her friends and school,
She said she likes her mom too. I agreed. She’s pretty cool.
She was crazy for her dog Coffee and other animals too.
She said she wants to work with them – maybe at a zoo?
Perhaps she’ll help save a raccoon one day or possibly a possum.
When I asked how to describe her, she told me to say “awesome!”
Last week she’d been home sick, with a fever every day.
I thought I’d try to cheer her up with a Giveaway.
I pulled out a sparkly little ring and put it in her hand.
She said it looked like a portal into another land.
She put it on her finger and drove off with her mom.
A weary little ten-year old, happy to go home.