This is a different kind of post than usual - it's a slight confession, a thank you note, and a book report of sorts, plus the standard fare.
The Slight Confession: I got back to LA Thursday morning after a rather tumultous home stay with my family in Vermont. I'd argue that coming back to LA is always a strange thing, and it's definitely culture-shock distance from frozen dirt roads, wood heat, and LA-suspicious friends. Going home was the trigger on a lot of doubt, and coming back was on shaky ground and with a "facing the music" sort of air.
The Thank You Note, with Preamble: I've always seen LA as a spiritual city. (The word "spiritual" can be tricky, but I don't know what else to use - more on that another time.) Aside from California's general reputation of New Age-iness and its appeal to seekers the world over, Los Angeles is where I first saw public altars, shrines, and memorials, and it has continued to generously feed my fascination with how people customize their idols and archetypes. The city's mind-blowing ethnic and cultural diversity, and its sheer expansiveness of its space and sprawl, make it a perfect laboratory for witnessing how different people use the objects, images, and concepts at hand to tell stories about the world they live in, and the one they come from.
When I got back to LA this time, I was greeted with three spiritually-themed gifts. Waiting for the bus as I worked my way back from LAX, I received the "results" of a Tarot card reading Hayley requested on my behalf - thank you, Hayley. Later, I went to pick up the Bat cat from Grace, who kept her for ten days - thank you, Grace. Grace read my Tarot cards, and without going into detail, she and the cards read the hell out of me. A real tough-love slap in the face, in the best possible way, and with plenty of hopefulness for the future - thank you, Grace. And in the evening, I went to visit Edythe who gave me one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen: Points of Departure, a collection of polaroids of roadside memorials by Phillip March Jones. Thank you, Edythe.
The Book Report: Points of Departure features 285 polaroids of roadside memorials in the US. Artist Phillip March Jones is a writer, artist, and curator who founded Institute 193, a non-profit arts center in Kentucky. Jones is decidedly geographical in his approach - even before the title page is a US map dotted with the locations where the images were made, with a rough line through, Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and diffusing into Georgia and Alabama, with a Texan outlier and a smaller cluster in Arizona and New Mexico. It's important to note that most of the memorials in the book feature a large cross, evidencing the Christian-centric adaptation of roadside memorials in the US. At the end of the book is an index of images by page name and their corresponding geographical coordinates. the book is a multi-faceted map of highly specific intersections of death, memory, landscape, and time - intersections which public memorials are uniquely suited to address.
In his Foreward, Thomas Meyer writes that "We're seeing, in fact, a technology that has been thrown away used to commemorate an intense personal loss that, in yet another turn around, remains immediately unrelated to its observer." Relating death to the creative source, he continues, "The shocking discovery of mortality, that we and those we love die, has been an essential creative source for humankind since prehistory. When faced with that disrupting experience our species seems to have an innate desire "to make." His sentiments echo those of French philosopher (and cinema verite "star") Regis Debray, who wrote "What gives humans access to the symbolic domain of value and meaning is the fact that we die."