Learning from Mistakes

So, I’m doing this 21-day challenge that a friend invited me to do. It’s like this Deepak Chopra / Oprah Winfrey thing that’s supposed to raise your vibration. Each day there’s a task and a meditation and an inspirational quote. Today’s inspirational quote is:

“Learning from mistakes is a great lesson for growth.”

Which turned out to be extra-appropriate for today, because today, like a dumbass, I left my purse in the back seat of the car when I went to the gym. Less than an hour later, as I was treading on the treadmill, Paul’s phone started blowing up with fraud alerts for one of our credit cards, and then for another.

We left the gym to go home and figure out what was happening. Because my purse was where I’d left it in the back seat of the car, it took a few more minutes for me to realize that the lock had been jimmied, and my wallet removed from my purse!

Thus began a gauntlet afternoon of talking to security, filing police reports and calling banks and credit card companies. One thing I learned today is that several credit card companies, even after you press the option to “report a lost or stolen card” still send you up a tall phone tree. In under an hour, the culprit traveled from spending $2000 at Nordstrom’s at the Grove to Century City Mall to spend an additional $1500 at the Macy’s… possibly while I was on hold waiting to tell Macys to block the card.

Part two of the bureaucratic saga will begin tomorrow, when I set out to replace my driver’s license, global entry card, and yes, my social security card. (I know, I know, despite the fact that it’s clearly sized to keep in a wallet, you should never keep you social security card in a wallet. I did mention I was a dumbass, right?)

So anyway –I guess this is as an amusing time as any to mention that in ten days, I’ll be taking a five-day road trip across the country to start a temporary job in Florida. It might be nice to have a credit card or ATM card on the road. And the only thing they really emphasized at the job was that, in addition to my driver’s license, I would definitely need my social security card to show to Human Resources. (No problem, I thought, I’ll just put it here in my wallet so I don’t forget!)

Learning from mistakes is a great lesson for growth!

(I also went to a screen of Little Women which I enjoyed, as any would-be writer and lover of books would.)

When It Gets Challenging

It’s a tough time of year. The weather is hot, both in the way that August is always hot and the way that portends the ever-nearing climate apocalypse. The autumn is nigh. In the way that August always precedes the too-fast downhill slope into the holidays and the end of the year.

We’re housesitting for a few days in a beautiful house with air-conditioning and a calm, well-behaved dog. An ideal writer’s retreat… but I am not being the ideal writer. It makes me feel ashamed of passing hours lacking in accomplishments, and it’s all too easy to make the mental jump from passing of hours to the passing of ones life.

I have my reasons for minimal output, as maybe writers always do. So far, 2019 has been yet another year of almosts, of promises, of feigned excitement and “contracts on their way from business affairs,” that in the end turn into nothing. Some “untruths” are no doubt innocent, others intentional — they are plentiful enough to have some of each.

So what should I be writing? I have two stories, a feature in need of a rewrite, and three feature outlines all begun, and I find myself in a state of paralysis, unable to make a good dive into any of them.

There is the pervasive Hollywood myth, that I am realizing is much the same as myths perpetuated by abusers everywhere, that there is some right choice, some story, that (if you can execute it in a way that’s transcendent) will make the relationship healthy, will make the abuser act not act like a sociopath. If you can just be GREAT ENOUGH then THIS TIME all the promises will be made good on. THIS TIME you will be pulled from your indentured servitude into the rosy future — if you can pass all the tests and reach it.

I’ve come to recognize this as the psychological fuckery it is, and I don’t believe in it anymore… except when I do. Like a seven-year-old coming to certain conclusions about Santa, I’m still like, “but WHAT IF?” What if he does exist and there are awesome presents that you get because you’re good?

So, there’s still this temptation to place an irrational weight on choosing which project to invest in, because what if one of them has the potential to be a project that CHANGES EVERYTHING and what if I choose wrong? Or, what if NONE of them will change everything, but there’s a project that will at least give me personal satisfaction, but instead I’m choosing to chase promises and pots of gold at ends of rainbows again?

At this point, either my compass is so messed up or — because it’s actually impossible for anyone to predict — I’m having difficulty even choosing what will give personal satisfaction. Which project, a year from now, will be worth the frustration of finishing a draft and realizing I need to tear it down to the bones and build it again and then again?

So here I am at a fork in the road, unable to choose a way forward, waiting for clarity.

At least there’s a pool.




Beth Ann

Beth Ann (not her real name, for privacy) is the homeless lady who lives in our neighborhood. She used to perch on a brick planter near the entrance to the parking lot until the CVS asked her not to sit there as customers didn’t like. Then she moved across the street. And then, when the doctor gave her some “water pills” that make her pee a lot, she crossed another street to a bus stop bench in front of the McDonalds. The bench is probably more comfortable than the planter, but there’s no shade of any kind, so she is in full sun for the entire day.

When I come to see her she says, “Oh hey, darlin,'” and we sit and chat for a few minutes. She tells me a little about her health and doctors’ visits now that she’s approved for Medi-Cal, what the mysterious construction site on the corner is going to be (she knows from making friend with one of the workers) and how she was born in the same hospital as Mayor Garcetti and about the time that Mayor Garcetti got our of his limo to talk to her, telling her she might want to go to a shelter for the night because there was going to be a hard rain. She told him she appreciated the advice but I don’t know where she slept that night.

When I go to visit I take a few bottles of frozen water, and whatever I have on hand for food. Today I had cut melon, a slice of pizza and some thai noodles and a Snicker’s bar. Usually I try to do something more nutritious like eggs or cheese sticks or a salad, so I added three dollars rolled up in a rubber band, and resisted the urge to apologize or make excuses when I handed her the bag.

Before I knew Beth Ann by name, I would sometimes see her reading a book next to her pile of belongings, and I’d think, if I were a homeless person, that would be me. A white woman, off by herself, reading a book. I spoke to her once or twice, maybe offered a dollar, but didn’t engage too much. The reasons seem both obvious, but also are not that easy to articulate. Maybe the responsibility seemed too much — maybe I was worried I would find out things she really needed (like a room in my house!) and I wouldn’t be ready. to go that far and I’d feel guilty. Maybe she was a reminder of the overwhelming problem we have of homeless everywhere you go or look in Los Angeles now, and I didn’t want to think about it.

But then, in the era of the NextDoor app, a woman I’ve never met in our neighborhood posted that she was starting a “Lotsa Helping Hands” calendar for Beth Ann, and that if we got 14 people, everyone could stop by only once every two weeks and we would still cover every day. And that drew me in, even though we only got as high as nine and not every day is covered. I’m really grateful to that neighbor for the rather brave thing she did, courting the ire of the NIMBY’s to make the request. When I see a Beth Ann on the bench, I see “Beth Ann” and not just a problem. Even though I still feel sad for the situation, I feel hope too, that things can get better for her.

Hollywood and Highland, Friday Night

The short Hispanic woman selling blinking plastic light-sticks from a shopping cart offers a collegial fist bump to the guy in the wheel chair selling bunches of roses from his lap, then continues down the block.

A black man, so thin he swims in his all black shirt and trousers, break dances next to an oversize speaker. Popping, locking, giving it his all, beads of sweat on his bald head when he takes off his top hat with sequined, Shamrock-green band.

At the end of the song, no one puts money in his jar. No one buys roses, or light-sticks–not that I see.

But perhaps the night is still young. Maybe at a later hour, there are buyers on Hollywood Boulevard to complement the sellers.

This all takes place on the sidewalk in front of the America Eagle, with its clean glass storefront underneath the sign that exhort in block letters: LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Next to these words, a ten-foot photo of two women, elegant and gaunt, sylphs haunting a cool green forest. Their shoulder blades jut under loose, summer linen, hinting at wings.

The wheelchair guy moves to try a different spot. The black dancer searches his playlist for a better song.

The 217 bus comes and takes me away.

I’m An Outlaw

I know there is some contention about whether there is such a thing as monthly quotas for traffic tickets, but I will mention that it just happened to be March 31 this past Wednesday, when I took an ill-fated turn down a side street near school, erroneously thinking there was a chance the universe might grant me a free parking space.

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I made the turn. Up ahead police lights whirled atop a patrol car as the cop stood writing a ticket to a kid on a bicycle. Down the intersecting side street, something else was happening, also involving a cop car. My thought was, I don’t know what’s happening here, but I need to extricate, and go pay my seven bucks at the Shrine.

The car ahead of me at the stop sign was tucked over to the right hand side, but wasn’t moving. Was he waiting to turn right? Or maybe he was about to try to park? I waited a couple of minutes and when nothing happened, I moved around him, and pulled to a stop. With a clearer view of the intersection. I saw maybe he was just waiting to turn, but something was happening in the road. Rather than try to reverse back behind him, I crossed the intersection. And then I heard the sirens.

“Are you in the habit of driving on the wrong side of the street?” Asked my friendly neighborhood policeman.
He explained–I’m not sure why–that his job is only to investigate accidents and give tickets. Maybe he  intuited that I might question whether a cop in South Central L.A. (or anywhere) might have something more important to do with his time. Apparently not, since he only investigates accidents and gives tickets. When I went around the car in front of me “half your car crossed the center line of the street”. (Note there was no painted center line.)

“I’m sure he’s just running the plates. He won’t give you a ticket,” said my carpool friend, Conor. I shook my head despondently–if all a man does is investigate accidents and give tickets, and we weren’t an accident (thankfully), well, you can pretty much guess where it’s heading.

I’ve decided that just to get my money’s worth out of the system I’m paying for with my ticket, I will try to figure out how to contest it. I believe it involves a trip to court, which sounds fairly exciting, but is probably some guy at a counter, that you have to pre-pay for your ticket in order to see. I’ll probably also cry–which I don’t look forward to. I cry way too easily, and not on purpose. You hear women talk about getting out of things by crying, but that has never been my experience. Maybe it’s because I don’t get big, luminous eyes that shine as the tears well up. When I cry, my face instantaneously gets all red and blotchy. My eyes swell up, and my nose fills with snot. I don’t think a red blotchy face ever caused a man’s heart to melt. It’s like trying to manipulate someone with your hives.

But, good writing comes out of understanding suffering. And in my life, I don’t experience a lot of real suffering. My life is not really hard–I make it harder by worrying a lot about it becoming hard, and with my career choice and my existential angst, but hell–I’m lying in bed on a Saturday morning writing this blog.

Since the cost of the ticket exceeds my parking budget that I already can’t afford, on Thursday, I decided to boycott my car, and ride the bus. There are two options for buses going to USC from near our house. There is one bus that is a straight shot, but only comes every 42 minutes and you can never trust it not to have arrived five or more minutes early and have passed you by. The other route involves two buses route–but the buses come every 8-15 minutes for most of the day, so it’s a safer bet. I’ve always played roulette with the first route, but decided that with my new, heavy bus use commitment, I should choose the more dependable, two-bus option.

And I learned something interesting about the current L.A. bus system: When I last lived L.A. and rode the bus, they had these things called “transfers” so that if you had to take multiple buses, or if you needed to –hop off one bus to go a store, then get on another to continue to your grandmother’s house, you could do that for a surcharge that wasn’t as much as the original ticket. It turns out the city abandoned “transfers” seven years ago. So now you pay $1.25 for every bus. My travel expense for a round-trip to school is thus $5.00. How do actual poor people ever catch up–ever?

On the way home, I asked the bus-driver what happened to the transfers. Apparently they felt there was too much misuse of them, too much money changing hands with the bus driver (like they couldn’t just make it part of the machine). Then he commented on how expensive it is for people these days just to do the basic things. He said, “They just need our money. It’s not really for the the people.”

Hey! That’s just how I’ve been feeling. I think that’s why I feel a flush of connection when I ride the bus that I rarely feel in my car. I look at the guy across from me asleep in his seat, and I get it. I’ve been so tired like that, and so happy to be able to sit and rest. I don’t know him, but in a vague way I can imagine his life when he gets off the bus.

I don’t feel the same connection with the hidden driver of the  Audi with the tinted glass that races by me (passing on the right) on the freeway. I can’t get into how he’s feeling. I mean, judging from how he drives, I can imagine how he’s feeling, but what I imagine doesn’t make me more compassionate.