Bridget Hoida on: Down Elevator

I’ve been working on my down elevator. The sixty-second reply to: “So what’s it about?”

Maybe this means I live in the wrong town, because elevators ’round here are two, maybe three stories, tops. And clearly–with the yarn I’m spinning about what my book’s about–I need sixty-seven floors of hand-pulled dumbwaiters.

Recently, I tried to tell a friend that I had written a “family saga.” I suppose that because So L.A. tells the story of siblings, and one of them dies, I felt justified in using the words “family” and “saga” in close proximity. Thank goodness she’s a good friend. Thank the stars and the moon (and all things shiny and not made of cheese) that she’s also an extraordinary writer, well read, exceptionally intelligent and beautifully kind. Had she not been all of these things, and one of the best friends of my life, she may not have said:

“That’s not how I would’ve described So L.A. I think I would’ve said, ‘It’s about love, and it’s about beauty. And it’s about how both of those things turn out to be a lot more complicated than you (or Magdalena) might think.”

Can we pause here? For just a moment. Jaws dropped with gratitude for the enormous hearts of our friends.

Because this is why we share words (and not just our best ones). And why, if we are exceptionally lucky, when we share even our worst words, with our best friends, they can see past the saga and the melodrama and find for us a little bit of truth. A little bit of magic.

Now pretend we’re on the eighth floor. Just you and me. You’ve just pushed the down arrow and it’s glowing green as we wait for the ding of the elevator as it climbs to meet us. Look. Here it is. The doors slide open. Mind the gap. Step inside. And listen–just as the doors shut–while I say:

So L.A. is about anyone who has ever found themselves struggling to pop the beauty bubble. It reads well in that quiet moment after everyone’s left the party and you’re still standing, with a blister on your left foot, from a pair of shockingly beautiful—and fabulously unwearable—rhinestone sandals. It’s about love, and it’s about beauty. And it’s about how both of those things turn out to be a lot more complicated than we might think.

P.S. If you’re looking for the best down elevator, or up elevator too, for that matter, I highly recommend the lift of the Los Angeles Public Library, Central Branch. This particular elevator uses some of the seven million original cards from the library’s catalog and displays them in stunning fashion. Using the card catalog artist David Bunn “papered the inside of the elevator cabs and lined the shafts which are visible through a viewing window in the cabs. The elevators also display a digital readout of the Dewey Decimal numbers for each floor the elevator passes.” For the bibliophile, as well as those well versed in retro-fetishism, it’s so striking you may in fact find yourself speechless. Which is not a bad thing, especially when in an elevator surrounded by so many books.

Bridget Hoida on: Writing in Bathtubs

I was asked, today, by a fabulous reporter, what my writing method is.  “Longhand, computer, cocktail napkins?” he inquired, which caused me to pause, (deep breath) because I sincerely wish I was still as sexy as the drunken scrawl of a cocktail napkin. But writing. With kids. Is something else entirely.

When I was young(er), (read: childless & broke) I lived in a fabulous one bedroom on Dohney, just off the Sunset Strip. I was shacked up with my then boyfriend (now husband) and we believed that because we lived next-door to the couple that appeared on that reality show, Temptation Island, (hosted by Marky Mark, minus the “Funky Bunch“) that we were happening. I won’t mention that only one burner worked on that thing we called a stove, because for the most part we ordered out. But I will mention that then, writing was a process. We were broke (did I mention that?) and my “desk” of choice was the defunct bathtub in our carpeted bathroom. Yeah, the bathroom had carpet. I’ll spare you the details but to say, it had a shower (on the left side) and a claw foot tub on the right. Because we had a bed, that gawd-awful stove, an olive-green refrigerator, and a view (did I mention the view?) there wasn’t much room to eat, or write, in our 550 square feet, so I holed up in the only available space: the broken bathtub. Outfitted with over-sized pillows and a cookie sheet writing desk, it was almost fashionable. When I wrote then, I had the luxury of habit. Of method.

Before kids I could make organic, free-trade lattes. Light a candle. Call a few friends long-distance. Do lunch. Take a walk on the beach. Take a nap. Light another candle, (bougainvillea this time because peony is so passe). Burn a new CD. And then write.

When you’re paying someone, hourly, to watch your kids you have no time for atmosphere or ambiance.

You sit down in a chair –with a cold cup of coffee, if you’re lucky—and you write until the babysitter reminds you she needs to go home, NOW. And even then, you try to squeak out a few more words, another page, before the kids start asking for blueberries and their ninja costumes.

Today, my habit is the back of a Target receipt in the queue of a carpool line. My method? Stolen moments.

Bridget Hoida on: macramé bikinis (or why characters are not people)

I was at a magical gathering last night–starlight, fire-glow, sea air, and an expanding circle of plush deck chairs occupied by a few dozen striking women. As the conversation shifted focus: from Cabernet to chicken farmers; chicken farmers to iPhone apps; iPhone apps to the genetic composition of jelly fish… it eventually landed on literature.  And it wasn’t too long [insert vampires, a certain non-vibrant color spectrum, and a post-apocalyptic survival game] before someone asked: “Well you wrote a book, how much of it is real?”

It’s a tricky question, that one. Because unless you’re dealing with the aforementioned supernatural creatures or speculative geographies, it’s hard not to say: Everything.

It’s hard not to say: Nothing.

I’ve been living with this book, with these characters for years now. To say I know them intimately is comical. I know them surgically well. I birthed them in the painful, messy, magical way all bodies are brought into being. But that doesn’t mean I am them. That I know them off the page. That I’ve dated them. Held them. Or covered my screams as they fell to their death from high, rocky places.

Magdalena, the protagonist of So L.A. and I have lived in a lot of the same places. And we’re both blonde. But that’s about the extent of our similarities. Moving to Los Angeles from Berkeley was extremely difficult for me and I suppose that, in part, is how Magdalena was “born.” Perhaps I was unconsciously embodying a B-movie cliché, but I really did take my first steps on the streets of Los Angeles in a pair of Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed sundress. I wasn’t tan, I didn’t have a designer purse, and even kitten heels made my ankles wobble. It took a good three years before I felt comfortable wearing a bikini, even to the beach, but I was surrounded by these insanely beautiful women who seemed to have been raised in string bikinis and had no qualms wearing them to school. In fact, I was teaching a class at USC called “Social Issues in Sex & Gender,” and one of my students did exactly that. She showed up to class in what people from Berkeley might consider a string of macramé potholders, or maybe a dream catcher? Either way, she was wearing this extremely revealing “bit” as a dress and I was simultaneously awestruck and horrified.

Was she mindlessly objectifying herself or was she making, as she claimed, a bold feminist statement?  Magdalena has a lot of moments like this; moments where the means and the ends get confused and tangled up by someone else’s perception.