Bridget On: Berkeley Fog

“When I was younger, and lived in Berkeley…” how is it that so many of my stories begin this way, these days? Maybe it’s because the fog is finally lifting… that post-baby-crazy-partum stage of teeny tiny diapers and toddlers and four-year-old tantrums, followed by losing the lost tooth of a panicked seven-year-old and then one day it just burns off and you’re sunning in Palm Springs, childless with girlfriends, and making reservations to jet to foreign cities because the babies are not babies anymore. When you look in the mirror of their faces, you catch a glimmer of your younger you. You smell the wet leaves of Oakland in unwashed pre-teen hair, you hear three bars of a long forgotten song revived now, and all mashed up into something different, but still the melody remains. You can tap it out on your thigh while driving with surfboards attached to the top of the car because, finally, you can dive into the kelp, close your eyes to the salt surf, and know, without a doubt that no one will drown.

 —

When I was younger, and lived in Berkeley I spent my summers half-nude at StrawStrawberry Canyonberry Canyon. It wasn’t radical. It was Berkeley. Everyone was half-nude and on days when then sun shone through the fog hard enough to force it to lift, we all walked up the curvaceous streets of Centennial Drive and spread out on sheets and patchwork quilts on top fields of clover-flowers. Our textbooks heavy, with wet matted pages from the splash of someone’s pony-tail still dripping from the pool, were forgotten as we stretched and stared into the green canopy of Monterey Pine and acacia. It was here, next to the public pool, at the very end of summer, when I was younger, and still lived in Berkeley, that I read my first novel. First—let me clarify—novel written by someone I not only knew, but by someone I knew more than “in passing.” First novel written by a friend. I was still young enough to have firsts, to have endless end-of summer days that stretch half-nude beside public pools and carefully collated paper manuscripts, double-spaced and secured with brass-colored brads.

 —

The memory winnows.

I, more than most, understand this.

But when I was younger and lived in Berkeley I had no idea how quickly the fog could set in. On Tuesday your tied up in bikini strings and then Thursday’s fog wisps in from across the bay and the air loses its clover green and instead smells like the early flue of Autumn’s fire. The memory winnows, the mind rearranges, but somehow my younger Berkeley self remains.

 —

I remember, it was space heater cold in Berkeley, when I wrote a handwritten letter to my first novel friend. I sat at my desk in an all-girls cooperative, and I struggled to find the words to say how huge I thought “this” all was. Page after careful page of words strung together by my first friend who knew how, and I had no idea how to say, how to mark the enormity of it. So I wrote something grand in my imagination and on my page, in the letter that I carefully tucked into the bulk of the manuscript’s pages I wrote, “You did it! You actually wrote a real novel!” I hopefully didn’t use two consecutive exclamation marks, but I was younger so chances are I most likely did. Because I needed there to be unbridled exclamation! Just as I needed an envelope and not, say, a chlorine-stained margin to hold the words.

This same friend recently sent me the first chapter of the next novel. Or maybe it’s the first chapter of the same novel. (Who knows why, but with novels it works like that sometimes.) What I do know, was while I read it, from the lime backyard chaise aside my saline filtered swimming pool, with only palms to look up at, and a lap topped dot-doc attachment, I remembered Strawberry Canyon and the brads that held those delicate first novel manuscript pages together. Because once upon a time we were all younger and living in Berkeley, and the fog, even from the ocean adjacent streets of Southern California is lifting.

Bridget Hoida on: Misremembered Moments

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.”