Bridget Hoida On: AM Radio

When I was a grad student at USC, Fran, Wally, Ko’kmo and myself were somehow able to convince the indie radio station to take a rest from their vinyl spinning and let us talk literature for one precious hour a week. Because we were young and slightly pretentious, we called it Marginalia, and before our hourly broadcasts we would meet up at Brandy’s, a dingy cocktail bar attached to the South Los Angeles Radisson. There we’d have a drink or two, and gorge ourselves on whatever was free: meatballs, dried-out carrot sticks, deep-fried cheese… as long as you put enough sauce on it (and no matter what they were serving, it was always the same strange marinara-ketchup with a hint of ranch) it went down okay and complied completely with the L.A. grad student budget. After the drinks, and the occasional notes (on post-imperial British Literature or the influence of samba on the poetic precursors of Neruda) we’d jaywalk across Figueroa and find our place in the station.

And the station was always divine.

Run by Barry, a too-hip for everyone’s own good station manager (who I perpetually pissed off by spelling his name: Berry, like on post-its and such,) KXSC (1560 am) was the kind of place you want to take your high school ex-boyfriend just to prove how cool you were now and how he tragically missed out… You know, the boy who left you for the girl who wore safety pins in her denim jacket and had doc martins that she spray painted to resemble Goya’s sad dog, herself. I mean, hell, since we’re speaking honestly here, I suppose it’s fair to admit I would have left the high school me for that girl too. Or maybe rather, I should have left the high school him for her myself but later, at the station,  where the walls were covered in unknown band stickers, the chairs swiveled, and the headphones changed your life, that boy was forgotten. Because there’s just something about being locked in a booth, live, when the red light clicks on and it’s just you and those glamorous headphones and your words loud as they smack against the air. Because you could say anything and somewhere in a car with a broken tail light, no tape deck and nothing but AM, someone was listening. Someone–in addition to Wally’s mother who was a regular caller– was making a left while hanging off our every word.

I’m sure now, that set lists are in live-stream and podcasts are downloadable, that there is some odd and awful way to track, verify and chart the demographics of your listening audience, but back then, when Wally’s mom used to record our shows on grainy cassette (that I still have archived in the bottom drawer of my desk, with no real way to hear them) we believed we were speaking to everyone. Radio was magic like that.

Last week I was invited to return to radio. This time as a guest on Barbara DeMarco Barrett’s Writers on Writing.  I didn’t have headphones or a swivel chair, but it was still just as brilliant as I remember, minus the garage band stickers fashioned from Sharpie and the dipping sauce, of course: Audio Link to Bridget Hoida: Writers On Writing (Bridget begins at 24:01)

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.