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alex

letters from near and far

On The Move from LA

July 11, 2020 • By

Here I am, at the park across from the apartment where I’ve lived for two years, waiting on a blanket for a friend to get here and help me with this cronut and this muffin while I wait for my apartment’s property manager to give me the heads up that there are no longer people meandering through my apartment, judging the wall of whimsy that hangs over the couch.

I’ll be leaving this one-bedroom, the birthplace of the 15fiftyfive dinner parties, at the end of the month, driving and camping across America for two weeks, staying with family in North Carolina for a time, and then moving to France for a year to study for (and, ideally, receive) a Masters in Tourism at the Sorbonne.

(I say all this with the practiced pragmatism of the COVID-19 era where all plans are subject to change, and any existing plan is pronounced with a silent but capital-A *Asterisk*, knowing full well there exists a likely timeline where I end up living in North Carolina for a year, freelance writing and brewing beer, because the US decided to shut down every border in every direction without advance notice, nullifying all visas, passports, postcards, and streamed versions of The Trip.)

With that, I’ll also be leaving my job of five years as a senior producer on a daytime talk show.

It’s a lot to take in, especially when all I want to do right now is eat this cronut.

Mostly, I feel good. Sometimes, I panic. But that passes. Ice cream helps.

I’ve thought about this decision from a few different angles. The creative one (I can write stories from most anywhere, so an apartment in Paris seems okay), the interest one (given the tour company I got the chance to help launch in Rwanda, and volunteering at wineries in France, international tourism has been in my purview for a minute), the language one (you mean, I could speak French instead of just studying it?), the wine one (settling the eternal box v. bottle debate), the distant one (I miss her), the television one (I will miss it, and the kind, ambitious, weird people with which I’ve had the pleasure to work), the financial one (an exchange program of words for nickels), the flaky layered pastry one (I don’t like them, but maybe pastry immersion will help me overcome that aversion), the lack of Griffith Park one (binging now, while I can), the culinary one (I think I’ll learn to make sauces), the a year-is-a-lot-of-time-when-you-think-about-it one (it is a lot of time, when you think about it).

I’ve said I’m never not surprised by the difference a year makes, but I’ve said that within the relative comfort of knowing more or less where I’d be in a year. Now, I don’t know what next July will be like, what I’ll be doing, or where.

It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of studying tourism when the world is shut down. It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of becoming a better writer by leaving behind a job in which I wrote constantly. It’s far from a sure thing, this idea of not knowing what the next year will bring when I had a contract telling me exactly what the next year would bring.

But despite all that, mostly, it feels right and I feel good.  

I’m ready to put in the work to see where this all goes. With plenty of ice cream along the way.

Sincerely,

Alex

P.S. Here’s that cronut I talked so much about, evidence that I am already meeting flaky pastries half way.

IG

I like Los Angeles a lot. Like, a lot a lot. 

… but despite that deep affection (and, at times, unrequited love), this is my last month here for a little while. It’s a fool’s errand to sum up 14 years in a single Instagram post, so I’m not going to try. From meeting Kia on Day 1 at UCLA (and eventually telling him I’d never have clothes as fancy as his) to hiking with DLV and Megan this morning and sharing a cronut with Sarah this afternoon, these first few chapters here in Los Angeles have been thoroughly satisfying, complete with flaky crusts and filling friendships, and now, a cliffhanger (there are more details in the letter linked in my bio, if you’re into that kind of thing). To the friends, coworkers, and trails that have made my first stint here in Los Angeles such a treat, I thank you.

I owe many of you emails and phone calls and park beers, and we’ll make that happen over these coming weeks. Mostly, though, I just want to say thanks.

And I sure will miss Los Angeles a lot. Like, a lot a lot.


letters from near and far

We’re The Ones Who Change

July 2, 2020 • By

Of the memories I have of my closest junior high school friend Jason – the friend with whom I rollerbladed aggressively and watched Brink on repeat and first talked about girls  – two stick out. 

The first is sleeping over at his house, not just because it was the first time I had ever done so with just one other friend, but because it taught me two facts of varied importance: one should always knock when older sisters have their boyfriends over even if the television is on and you can hear the television so you think television must be being watched attentively, and that there was a Zorro series from the 50s that predated the movie I loved growing up. 

On whether I learned the second from interrupting the first, my memory is less clear.

The second thing I remember is seeing him when I came back home during the summer after my first year away at college to have my wisdom teeth removed. During day two or three of my recovery, when I could walk but couldn’t run, because I would soon enough try running and marvel at just how distinctly I could feel the throbbing where each tooth used to be on every footfall on the paved roads of our neighborhood, we headed over to our high school. 

Just a year removed from our senior year, the school felt smaller, less imposing. We laughed a lot, and we talked, having more to catch up on than I expected because we hadn’t actually hung out that much since our freshman year of high school, when our academic paths had started to branch but afternoon bus rides and weekends spent building skate ramps kept us close.

Why, I had asked, did he think we stopped hanging out? Clearly, at least, it was clear to me, in that moment, and in our hometown, we still got along great.

We all kept hanging out, he said. It was you, he told me, who had stopped coming around. You went off with other people.

I was the one who’d changed.

And he wasn’t wrong. Afternoons of bus rides and skate ramps turned to track, cross country, and musical theatre at the charming point of puberty when, as I’d learn from my background role in Fiddler on the Roof, I resembled a Son physically, but with my baritone voice, I sang the choral parts of a Father.

It stung hearing him lay it out like that, my breaking from a group that stayed the same, because I don’t remember having that much agency. It was not how I remembered it, but memory is funny. 

Not until a recent screenwriting session did I remember I had in fact written a Parks and Recreation episode (a “spec”, as it’s called, which serves as a writing sample) called “The Racist Law.” In a month that has included reading a book about racist laws, signing petitions about racist laws, and taking actions against racist laws, the kernel of my writing history stayed hidden away in my mind,  unrevealed. I didn’t remember it all – it took me going through my old scripts and seeing it right in front of me, laid out on the title page, to remember it. 

But that interaction with Jason is something I can’t forget, a deep reminder that as much as we want to be the sun our galaxies revolve around, that’s not how the universe works. We are always changing, growing, getting better, getting worse. 

It’s just that the change is not always laid plain before us. One small choice begets another, one small change begets another. Without a frame of reference or a guide, we might miss the signposts and just keep on our merry way, changing all the while.

In some respects, it’s become simpler to track our changes in direction with social media. We can see at what point we set out for something, and check back once it comes to pass. Matthew Cherry’s tweet about becoming an Oscar winner was a Babe Ruth moment, calling the shot as he prepared to hit it. Or, even more dear to me, my friend Kara’s tweet about writing musical theater, and how she marches steadily forward, project after project, changing and improving and honing the vision. We set out the change we’re looking for, we affirm it, and we become it. 

That’s why when we see people who remind us of our past selves, it’s easier to make the connection for ourselves. They hold up an image of us that, even if we have to squint to make it out, we recognize in time. Though it’s not always true, however,  that we extend that same grace back to them, remarking about others, “Oh, how they’ve changed,” without fully knowing why they decided to bleach their hair, get an MBA, or come back to the job they’d been trying to leave for years.

So often though, I have missed that change happening even as I lived it. It’s why Jason’s comment stung in the way it did. That’s because I am, for better or worse, with myself, every day, and the change accumulates imperceptibly, like pressure in a volcano, resulting in a decision we feel coming – moving cities, ending relationships, pivoting careers, baking a ne wind of pie – even if externally all seems calm, unchanging.

In that way, decisions don’t come from nothing, and as I trace backward, as I’ve been doing recently to see how I got to a forthcoming choice, as well as thinking about how I got here and where I go, the change becomes more pronounced.

While it hurt then to think how my own changing might have ended our friendship, the friendship likely didn’t falter just because of my newfound penchant for musicals. Who’s in our orbit, and who we orbit around, changes. We’re all changing all the time, bleached hair and MBAs and all.


letters from near and far

Beginning Again

June 21, 2020 • By

It’s been a little while. I hope you don’t mind me writing to you again after taking a small break. A lot’s been happening, and I’ve had a lot on my mind, and I’m sure you’ve been thinking about a lot of the same things, too.

Like, for example, apple crisp.

I baked one today because I had a few dozen tiny-to-small apples that didn’t seem worth the trouble to cut up and eat with peanut butter as is my normal late afternoon snack. They kept arriving in the produce boxes, and I kept putting them in the refrigerator, and a few dozen apples seems like a lot of apples for one person to have just lying around. So, wanting to do something with them, but not knowing what, I started peeling and slicing, peeling and slicing, and then artfully dumping them in a 9×13 baking dish. I tossed together an oat-y crumble topping and stuck it in the oven, being mindful of the hot oven door as I put the dish in, and again as I pulled it out, as one should, as one is told to do, and sometimes, as one learns the hard way.

And I looked at my right arm, where I used to have a visible, almost three-inch-long scar from the time I pulled out a metal tray from the oven at the bakery at which I used to work. I didn’t pull the oven doors all the way to the side, so the tray got stuck and I lost my balance, and my forearm met with the lip of the tray, and was burned. 

In the first few days after, I was painfully aware of my mistake. The wound bubbled, and blistered over, and because there weren’t really any band-aids fit for the job it felt like I was constantly fussing. Soon, though, the wound healed, and though unsightly, I couldn’t feel the pain any longer. I was still aware of it, of course, and the real possibility of that type of pain, and that type of burn, every time I went near the oven. Then, the scar, the reminder of that thing that had happened, was just that: a scar. Now, a faint nothing, and it’s just me, hoping for my forearm’s sake, that I stay present enough when tending to the oven that I don’t make that mistake again.

But while the scar is gone, I remember the moment. The shock of it. The details. It’s certainly a bit of history that doesn’t serve me to forget. And maybe if I could change it, I would, but it’s happened, and the pain’s been felt, and it seems generally best to avoid that kind of pain, because pain is hard to forget. So, if this once-pro, now-amateur baker can pass along anything to you, it’s be mindful, and know that even because you’re wearing oven mitts, you might still get hurt, or you might hurt someone else. 

Even if it’s an accident. Even if it’s not your fault.

Because accidental or intentional, the pain is real.

So if someone else is hurt, or hurting, I hope you listen to them. And if someone’s community has been hurt, or is hurting, I hope you listen to them, too.

Especially if there’s something you can do to help them not hurt anymore.

Because even if the scars go away, they’ll still remember the pain.