Your Mission: Be Somebody

I wrote about trying out Miranda July’s new interactive public art cum messaging app, Somebody, for LA Weekly. Come along for the ride…

Though all the characters in July’s companion film find each other instantly and convey deeply important messages of love, heartbreak, and lust… in the real world, the app is incredibly cumbersome and inefficient, its messages more novelty than life changing. Still, Somebody’s quirks and inefficiencies only add to its central purpose—encouraging users to experience something surprising, unexpected, and rife with overblown, awkward emotions. In my five-hour experiment with Somebody on its launch day, in fact, I cycled through all the crucial feelings of being a tween again.

02:59 pm, by jessicalanglois 1  |  Comments

Berkeley, 1944.

Last week, my grandma gave me a packet of photocopied letters that my grandpa, Gordon, had sent her in the Spring of 1944, seventy years ago. A few months after they met, at the local ice skating rink in ‘43, she moved to Napa to teach junior high school while Gordon stayed in Berkeley to work at Cal Research (now Chevron) and study for his chemistry PhD. They exchanged letters several times a week—discussing movies, roommates, the lab, teaching, the draft—and got married back in Berkeley that August.

My grandma, Barbara, kept all of Gordon’s love letters, fifteen over the course of three months, and though she doesn’t have the ones she sent him, it’s easy to see from Gordon’s responses that she was very melancholy about her situation—away from home, thrown into the classroom with little experience (as most of us are) at age twenty-two.

My grandpa’s tone is witty and coy, writing about a tennis match in which he’d been handily beaten, about needing to improve his ice dancing skills to be able to keep up with her, and keeping up a running joke about hoping she’s not letting life (hiking, reading, grading) interfere with her sewing him a promised pair of socks (“sox”). Throughout every letter he effusively writes how much he misses her and how he longs for Friday to come, when she’ll return for the weekend.Every so often, between the more quotidian remarks, a bit of knowing, sensitive advice leaps off the page—the sort of thing that reminds me that this 26-year-old card of a fellow is the same doting grandpa who’d helped raise me throughout my youth and teen years.

Here, he tells Barbara not to worry too much about the travails of the classroom…

… that, when seen at close proximity, many things assume a much exaggerated significance. That she’ll probably look back on this and laugh, so why not start laughing now? …

I remember once telling my grandpa he was whimsical, a word I’d just learned, and he balked, saying he considered himself a very serious man. Sure, he relished heavy, serious conversations about politics, science and news, but he would also endlessly play the board game Sorry! with my sister and me, melodramatically groaning when we sent his piece home and saying “twevel” instead of “twelve,” just for fun.

There it was, on the page — that bit of whimsy — that ability to take life as it comes, to laugh instead of fret, to be playful even when the war was on, and he was struggling to develop new chemical compounds while getting sprayed with nitric acid, and his sweetheart was far away.

I’m more like my grandmother — easily worried, over-thinking things, letting dread fester. So that bit of advice, that it just isn’t that important (whatever my mind may be conflating “it” to be… a new class to teach, a looming deadline, a spilled cocktail, an awkward exchange with a friend) .. those words rushed over me like cool water. I remembered his knowing blue eyes, his constant smile, his forearms under my ribs as he taught me to swim, and I felt buoyant, weightless, for just a moment.

Why not start laughing now?

He was talking to her; he was talking to me; he was talking to us.

05:18 pm, by jessicalanglois 2  |  Comments

Came across this gem while choosing journo textbooks for the fall #AvoidingSexistReporting #ImplicitBias @womenjournos

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Throwback to 2004: #NYU’s undergrad mag #ManhattanSouth & our “I’ve got Issues Issue”

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A Woman’s Place is Painting a Mural

In the current LA Weekly, I talk to San Fernando Valley muralist Kristy Sandoval about the reactions she gets as a woman street artist, the value of public art (and who should decide what public art is), and starting a feminist muralist movement. Plus Assata Shakur, Toypurina, & Judy Baca.

01:38 pm, by jessicalanglois 8  |  Comments

Rebecca Solnit. Such a badass researcher, writer & revolutionary. #harpers #easychair

  07:41 pm, by jessicalanglois  Comments

Soundtrack Music

It’s summer, grades have been turned in, and I’m spending more time taking old school print magazines to parks, forests, and beaches to read instead of reading and insta-sharing everything on one of several mobile screens. Also jotting down more thoughts in notebooks, far from keyboards and ‘post’ buttons. I even busted out the old SLR to take photos of trips to the Bay, Yosemite, or even the Valley, and it doesn’t connect to the internet, like my phone cam.

All this sort of explains why the blog has been dead and empty (not unlike my FB, Twitter & Instagram accounts) for *gasp* a month!

But, I did write a thing for KCET’s Artbound recently that’s worth sharing — a quick profile of the L.A. orchestral soul band Kan Wakan. It’s part of a cool package Drew Tewksbury and the folks at KCET put together for the website each week to accompany their Studio A segment: a video of a live set, a video interview, interview transcript, and a written story. Lots of ways to engage and learn about up-and-coming bands.

Here’s what I wrote.

Plus, in a moment of true synchronicity of work and life, Kan Wakan’s song “Forever Found,” which I’d listened to about a dozen times the week their album came out, working out the best words to describe the sound and feel, came on KCRW as Aruna and I were driving south on the 5 with the ‘88 Rover packed with camping gear and topped with surf boards, headed for a long weekend at San Onofre State Beach. Both the band itself and a friend I ran their music by describe the sound as 1960s soundtrack music, and in that moment, it actually became the soundtrack to those blissful, fleeting moments of really, actually getting away from everything, disappearing into the sun, surf & sky.

03:44 pm, by jessicalanglois  Comments

Street photographer Larry Yust displays a censored mural at @1111accgallery (at Tarzana Village Walk)

  06:01 pm, by jessicalanglois  Comments

We Belong Together

Last weekend, Tía Chucha hosted its 9th annual Celebrating Words Festival in Richie Valens Park in Pacoima. It was the third of a cluster of springtime L.A. literary festivals, and well worth the drive from the 101 to the 170 to the 5 into the East Valley.

Here are the choicest bits from the mellow afternoon in the park, with hot-dry winds blowing across the stage and through the large square of puestos surrounding it.

1. Haikus with Yumi Sakugawa & Nicky Sa-Eun Schildkraut


At the Kaya Press & Writ Large lounge-style booth, we wrote about the heat, and then about love, on post-its, read them aloud, traded and then drew pictures of each other’s poems. Lots of people wrote about food — Popsicles, Twizzlers… Yumi wrote a poem about fences weakening & weakness being a good thing. Neela Banerjee drew my Haiku about the wind. I drew Yumi’s & she asked my to autograph the post-it picture. I think I blushed.

2. Group poery with Vickie Vértiz


She gave us prompts, lines from her own poems, and we’d write one line at a time on colored construction paper with scented markers (grape, lime), then fold the paper over and pass it around to the next person. At the end, we each had a poem. They were mostly about tater tots, some about school, comic books, and divorce.

3. Hint fiction with Daniel Olivas


By now, we had a pretty core group — Yumi, Nicky, Vickie, Daniel, Neela, plus Kenji Liu (who wrote about leaves vaporizing). We were getting better at coming up with things on the spot, less afraid of sharing with one another. Daniel read short fiction — 25 words or less — from an anthology he’s published in. The stories were pretty ghostly or eerie, almost always with a twist. Start with a good title, he told us. Vicki & I had to go through some drafts; it was hard to get the whole rise and fall of a plot into a couple of lines. The group read stories about lynchings, divided families, and missions to Mars.

4. The kid who loved to write

The was one kid, maybe 12 or 13 or so, who did almost every workshop. He made a broadside with the publish booth next door, and then came to the little literary lounge to write about longing for winter and the meaning of love. Eventually, his mom came and got him. I loved that he wasn’t shy at all, that he had things he really wanted to say.

6. Hood Sisters, RAC-LA, LA 4 Youth, Good Mexican Girl booths


I took a break from the Kaya/WritLarge booths to cruise through the square of puestos and see who else had come out amongst the community organizations, local merchants & artisans. I got vegan Mexican wedding cookies from Good Mexican Girl; talked to a young woman from LA 4 Youth about a rally coming up in front of City Hall calling for the reallocation of money from police/jails to community organizations; heard about Revolutionary Autonomous Communities Los Angeles' free distribution of fruit/veggie boxes every Sunday in MacArthur Park; got a look at the East Valley culture blog i am san fernando authored by April Aguirre of the feminist muralist collective Hood Sisters; and picked up an abalone bracelet for a dear friend’s birthday present.

5. Slow songs with Dez Hope


Back at the Kaya/WritLarge booth, a local singer-songwriter, Dez Hope, came to talk about songwriting. I was getting sopas at the taco truck for part of it & when I got back, he was playing songs on his acoustic guitar. It was hard to hear over the high winds and the band performing on the main stage, so the five or six of us listening (including the kid who wrote about winter & love, who’d found his way back to the booth) all leaned in close. Dez played a cover of “We Belong Together” because we were in Ritchie Valens park and because the movie La Bamba had inspired him to become a musician. The song was so sweet and tender, and we all swayed to the notes, and it filled up that tiny space lined with carpets and chairs and hanging bookshelves and haikus on post-its, then swept over the drying grass of the vast park, ferried on by the wind.

11:16 am, by jessicalanglois  Comments