Identity Crisis vs. Artistic License

Right after I learn about resource guarding — watching the animal behavior specialist use a dummy hand to pull a laden food bowl out from under the snout of a rambunctious lab mix — we get into a conversation about the politics of blood sports. And then, lo!

“It’s always so difficult — to intercede, disrupt culturally-inculcated rituals — especially with many practices being so deeply socially conditioned. Everything is culturally relative.”

Silence. Cocked heads. My not-so-inner anthropologist reemerges.


Driving back, the social worker turned graphic designer chuckles from the passenger seat.

“I was totally thinking the same thing. You know, about cultural relativity.”

We stare ahead at stopping traffic, our banter lost to deafening fire engine sirens.

Two fish out of water and into the fray. But still laughing.


Describing life in Los Angeles is like creating a palimpsest — by the time I visually digest some entrancing detail, the whole scene before me gets scrubbed and repainted with new characters, new life. Every single day is a photographic cornucopia. Everywhere you turn, something catches the eye; it’s sensory overload at its finest and most vulnerable. And I’m right there, taking it all in — as creator, voyeur, element — wondering how I’m adding to the portrait of humanity stretched out before me. Feeling like one of Bob Ross’ happy trees — plunked down in some vast vista just for the hell of it.

Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” bleeds out of my cracked windows. The city is grumbling awake around me: the humming cars, echoing honks, socially acceptable running of red lights — all becoming more familiar than alien.

Sunlight diffuses through the early morning, smoggy haze, curling around a Korean church cross; it glances along the church-sponsored billboard that faces a Starbucks and reads “What path is right for you?” I consider the message, sip my coffee, then smile at the line wrapping around the tiny building like a fat man’s belt around a twiggy teenager. It seems more people are considering caffeine than the messiah. At least this Friday.

The retiree I pass every morning is just leaving with his towering venti something or other; I’m earlier than usual. Soon enough, the car crawls to a stop again; a man uses an old shirt to wash himself on the sidewalk; before the light changes, he tosses it into his cart, then stoops back inside a bamboo lean-to. A street later, I turn at the 76 gas station where the attendant is buffing the pumps, then pass the crumbling Art Deco radiator repair shop. The strikingly turquoise facade of Mel’s Fish Shack assaults my eyes, and teenagers with bright shoes and leggings lean against the building, rousing slightly at the approaching school bus. Blocks past Jan Ette’s Liquor Store — the broken, disjointed line made up of figures with hardened faces — I turned down an alley, and up to the back of the office.

Where I jot these observations down in my journal, turn a page, and laugh out loud.


Journeys do have a way of morphing you into someone else; not necessarily someone better or worse than who you were. Just another iteration of sorts; someone with a bit more mileage, courtesy of some life lessons.


At a manager meeting, the President is detailing the process they had to go through years ago before one of the shelters could be built.

“Well, they had a whole team of, uh, history people who made sure we weren’t building on a burial ground and whatnot.”

I smile slightly — mentally recalling all of ghosts of archaeology projects past and thinking how odd it is that, now, I’m completely on the opposite side of the fence. And how liberating that feels.

That night, I break a juice glass, then mend it — proclaiming, “We have a new bud vase.” As the glue dries, I think about how we’re always changing; figuring out how best to function. One minute we’re someone, somewhere; the next, we’re becoming something else entirely.

Becoming whole, becoming new.


I’ve written repeatedly about how fun, strange, and bizarre moving across the country has been, and my fears, anxieties, and dreams of what will come on this coast. But it’s really just now starting to sink in that this place is our new home.

That we’re not on some extended vacation.

That my fieldwork days of wielding a trowel and shovel are over.

That this new chapter is as painfully hard to write as it is amazingly easy.

That life is as crazy as it is beautiful.

Even if it sometimes feels like everything around me is new and scary and transfixing and disturbing, it’s all part of the same world. Part of a place that I’m creating — like ripping apart Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and pasting it over part of some untitled Keith Haring drawing.

It’s all a mosaic. And it works — the subtle control and levity, melding together.

The artist in a studio somewhere, contemplating.

2 Replies to “Identity Crisis vs. Artistic License”

  1. I love reading the pictures you paint with your words, watching you grow, hearing how things are better even as they are changing once again.

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