California has a rich dystopian literary tradition, one that I secretly admire and, in fact, invoke on the pages of So L.A.
In So L.A, California may not be a literal paradise lost, but the protagonist certainly is. Magdalena favors feeling over historical accuracy, or what most people call “the truth.” In her mind, her feelings are her truth and her misremembered moments are the basis and, dare I say foundation, upon which she builds her life. She’s an incurable nostalgic in that she wishes for a past that is so idealized that it probably never occurred. This makes her frustrating and overly dramatic, but it also makes her very human. Because she, like many people, is struggling to find zero interference.
For example, how, in 2012 with Facebook and Twitter, texting and instant messaging do you turn it all off and find your present? Peggy Nelson questions this extensively in her recent article, “The Tragic Speed of Modern Life.” And like her, it bothers me that modern cluture has seemingly been reduced to a three minute interaction. It bothers me that “facts” are so easily procured. What happened to endless hours of road trip car rides arguing about song lyrics? I vividly remember, as a Didion character might, one of many road trips with my brothers in the back bench seat of our family’s faux-wood paneled station wagon. Undoubtedly the pop-up tent trailer was anchored securely behind us as we towed our way up the northern California coast to Humboldt, Gold’s Beach, Honeyman or Florance for vacation camping. On such road trips we’d play license plate bingo and sing, loudly, along to the radio and while I swore I heard:
“Billy-Ray was a Preacher’s son, /And when his daddy would visit he’d come along,/ When they gathered round and started talking, / THAT’S WHEN Billy would take me walking…”
my brother was adament it was:
“COUSIN Billy” who would “take me walking.”
Do you see the potential narrative (mis)truth in that? How you have two different stories? Two different moments, meanings, truths? And not to mention the beauty of not having a cell phone in which to dial the radio station and demand the “truth” (or at the very least a replay).
But now we have smart phones. And you can bypass the DJ, the radio station, and the ensuing conversation about lyrical integrity entirely. Today you can just Shazamm the song and have the “correct” lyrics in your face in less then five seconds. And this: Breaks. My. Heart.
Joan Didion, the queen of the misremembered moments, might be able to offer some solace. She might be able to remind me “what it was to be me,” and I cling to that potential fiercely. In fact, I am forever, fondly, and absolutely enamoured by the way she spins a yarn so that it shrieks of truth.
I tell what some would call lies. ‘That’s simply not true,’ the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event…. Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters…. How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook…. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.
-Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”
I’m scared, as I suspect many writers are, that technology is taking away our “misremembered moments.” Because it’s not just music, it’s how heavily documented our lives are too. I fully expect my kids to rewind their iPhone videos of me and say: No way, mom, right here, at 0.32 seconds you SAID we could wash the dog after we went out for Pinkberry. I mean how the hell do you argue your way out of that? And even worse, it moves to the page. Unless you’re writing something speculative or fantastic, etc. you’d better NOT put your character in tortoise Dior sunglasses from the winter 2009 line because as any idiot with a computer can check, Dior didn’t do tortoise that year. I’m being glib with my “examples” but I think you can understand what I mean. On or off the page it breaks my heart and I hope the reader will see the satire in So L.A., I hope the reader will stay with me long enough to get to the “Director’s Cut.”