Written by Adrine Arakelian
In Follow Her Home, Steph Cha turns the story along the streets of Los Angeles. Its past and present are key figures in her writing. She compares her protagonist, Juniper Song’s, experience of Los Angeles to Marlowe’s, the city of today to that of yesterday.
She writes, “Marlow didn’t live in a city of skyscrapers. The City Hall was the lone exception, the tallest building he knew by at least a hundred feet. It was still around, a designated landmark from another era, but its tower was quietly outgrown by a number of nameless office buildings” (106).
She does this again, calling out the Wiltern Theater in Koreatown,
“We turned right at the Wiltern, a landmark theater with an ancient marquee, a place that had seen Koreatown sprout up and around it, leaving no lot unturned” (134).
Cha refers repeatedly to vestiges of the city, the survivors of change, the benchmark to which the new blocks are measured, what it is to what it once was.
In Song’s own experience, there is her life before her sister’s suicide, and the life after, the key event around which her own life spins. Her sister’s troubles are the reason she turned to sleuthing and stayed with the danger of her friend, Luke’s request. Time passes, Song’s days go by without major commitments or life direction, the unchanging element is her sister’s suicide and Song’s feelings of guilt. These points in time stand, while the rest of her life turns over, unremarkable as a nameless office building, uneventful until now.
Cha wraps the novel around Luke’s apartment building, The Marlowe, in Hancock Park. The novel begins and ends there, twisting and turning along the way. Luke’s suspicions about his father’s affinity for a young Korean woman, Lori, are revealed to Song at Luke’s house party in the first pages of the novel. By the time we reach the end, Song sees Luke for the person he is, hurt by the choices he’s made, and no longer wishes to know him. Her best friend and only love is dead because of Luke’s family and his inability to intervene. She now has two key people in her life who have died, and both are in some way associated with her investigating.
Since Cha’s grounding of the novel in space is part of what makes it tangible, what drives the sensory appeal of it. I wondered, why locate the key moments of the novel in Hancock Park? The author, Steph Cha, lives near the neighborhood, but the location means more. Hancock Park is where the gridded streets of Hollywood begin their swerve and sway southward, where the clear lines of palm trees are replaced by the shade of sycamores. I followed Song’s trail, sleuthing around Hancock Park to find the locations that drive Cha’s storytelling.
Inspired by Cha’s Yelping hobby, this is my ode to her habit and her depiction of sun-kissed noir in LA. Hollywood’s Vine Street hits Melrose and turns into Hancock Park’s Rossmoor Avenue, Vine’s picturesque southern half. Cha doesn’t say this, but Rossmoor is a pleasure to drive, one of the few LA streets whose sweep embraces you, maybe it’s the manicured estates, the lush greenery, the curving roads after the hard light of the linear grid. Every apartment building proudly announces its claim to Hancock Park.
In this apartment district, the historic buildings hug the sidewalk, creating a narrow corridor through which you move, one of the few, in a mostly horizontal city. The Ravenswood greets you with its Art Deco lines bringing your eyes skyward, to the bright blue cloudless expanse. The mashup aesthetic that most characterizes this neighborhood would be called Art Deco château, mansard roofs with zigzag patterned stairs, a wonderful mishmash of styles. Everything is now leasing, now renting, a city on the move. It makes sense that as Cha opens the novel, Luke has just moved into his new pad at The Marlowe.
Hancock Park is a designated historic district in LA. Signs proudly announce your entrance to the neighborhood, as does the greenery and sycamore trees lining the streets with more consistency than anything else in the city. It is without a doubt the lushest neighborhood of LA, evidence of its wealth and the status of its residents. This is a well-kept neighborhood not known for high crime.
According to my friend who once worked for CD4, Councilman Ryu’s district, it is better known for the constant complaints of the homeowners against the apartment dwellers. A battle over the rights to empty streets, over who is parking cars where. In many ways, our homes bring out the most territorial and often the most petty in us. But even the apartments in the neighborhood are no ordinary set of multi-story structures.
I walked around trying to locate Luke’s apartment building, The Marlowe. Google indicated it existed. The Ravenswood is not the building where Luke is supposed to be living, but its clean, vertical Art Deco lines are characteristic of some of the eye-catching architecture in the neighborhood.
On a windswept Friday afternoon, it was just I and the hired building landscaping crews out, walking around. Though Rossmoor is a popular north-south byway, so there was no end to the rushed line of cars making their way to Hollywood or Mid-City.
I kept walking, in search of the most French-inspired apartment building, per Song’s references to the fleur-de-lis blossoming all the over the structure.
While the County Club Manor is without a doubt the most luxurious in appearance, there was not a fleur-de-lis to be found on its edifice. Though its front garden and mansard roof do their best to imitate the French chateau style.
If I had the chance to live in this place, I certainly would not turn that down.
However, it was actually the Windsor that Google identified as The Marlowe. I can’t say I was not disappointed. The aesthetic is more in line with nameless corporation does 1990s take on the French chateau. It has the bland, luxury apartment feel we see popping up all over LA with fleur-de-lis stamped all over the place for flair. Given Luke’s character, that he ends up being a disappointment and a failure as a friend, the location and lack of character of his residence is fitting. He doesn’t deserve the Ravenswood or Country Club Manor.
I’ve never done a Yelp review, so I’ll end with a Steph Cha’s style Yelp review of one of my favorite eateries in LA, a rare luxurious treat. After my amble through Hancock Park, I made a necessary sustenance detour and kept walking to LaBrea for lunch at Republique.
The space was brightly lit, with the sparkling sound of clinking glasses and cutlery. The Smiths played in the background. The light-filled interior is a mash up of an indoor atrium space and an outdoor covered courtyard. White tile gives way to white brick, with a zigzag patterned blue and green ceramic tile floor. The main hall evokes an interior and exterior space at once, with triple height, skylit ceilings and long wooden communal tables. The entryway is lined with glowing jars of preserved lemon and cloves. A delectable row of sweet and savory pastries greets you upon entry. Your eye makes its way panning across the selection, salivating at the endless and overwhelming choice of options. Other than the loud noise of the interior, how can you not love this place?
I was seated at the bar, in a slightly dimmer corner of the eatery, with a view into the open kitchen backed with night blue ceramic tiles glistened by the fire of the oven. I ordered a drip coffee, which comes in a tall silver canister, the burrata toast, and a chocolate hazelnut croissant for take-away. The burrata toast had the textural and flavor mix of crunchy, sweet, and roasted vegetables, topped with a sunny side up egg, all laid on top of cheesed toast. A delicate cherry tomatoes burst from its skin and into my mouth, with the crunch of toast and saltiness of the burrata cheese. The porous toast soaked up all the drippings, but maintained the crunch of its crust.
I went on my own and there's a luxury in eating alone, the flavors uninterrupted by conversation. I was seated at the bar in between a woman working away at her laptop, with coffee and a pastry, and a platinum blonde woman, in a sleek black dress, a vision of the perfectly coiffed diet-conscious, sipping a chilled white wine and nipping at a salad, red lipstick not even smudged from the meal. Her eyes were glued to her smartphone, the ultimate sign of a high-powered working lunch. Laptops are for the hustling younger set. If Kerouac were alive today, even he might be speaking his next book into his smart phone.
Down the bar was a male trio crowding around their tall slices of moist and creamy chocolate cake. I sat back, sipping my coffee and taking in my meal, savoring the mix of sweet, salty, melted crunch, lapping it up to the last dribble.
Adrine Arakelian is a life-long student and urban planner. She says, "I care about places and value the pedestrian experience. I process the world through words. PCC is where I started my higher education and has been continued source of enrichment."
Written by Chloe Zofia
In 2018, we put out a themed Inscape issue centered around Mary Shelley’s legendary novel Frankenstein. The issue was in honor of, and to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication way back in 1818. Frankenstein is an important piece of literature for a host of reasons, but the story especially relates to Inscape because we are primarily a staff of young writers dancing and stumbling through life lessons. Many of these life lessons are explored thematically in Frankenstein, from ambition to fallibility, family and society, romanticism and nature, to prejudice and loss of innocence. These topics we hold close to our heart, especially in times of transition, like in college.
Artist Ashley Geiger submitted three digital art pieces for Inscape’s 2018 Frankenstein-themed issue. She is an associate professor of humanities hailing from Toledo, Ohio. The three selected digital works of art paint some hauntingly surreal depictions of our 2018 Inscape issue’s guest of honor, Frankenstein. Each of the three pieces has their own individual style, yet as a series they work together as a cohesive body of work.
All three pieces are portrait-style interpretations of the Frankenstein character. Two of the images are highly textural, lending a more luscious experience to the viewer regardless of whether viewed on the internet from a screen or printed on paper. The piece pictured to the left employs color in an experimental way, with a primarily monochrome grey image, sprinkled with cyan, magenta and green bits. The result is a mind-altering stereoscopic effect, like those 3-D images they had on the back of early 2000s cereal boxes, the kind that had to be viewed with cardboard glasses boasting one blue lens and one red lens. The art is familiar, yet disorienting-- a perfect nod to Frankenstein’s overall vibe as a half person, half monster.
Beyond the obvious relevance to the subject matter to our 2018 theme, the textural qualities of these images suited the Frankenstein character wonderfully. In the first image pictured above, the digital manipulation creates a sort of metallic quality. The surface of what appears to be metal is glistening in the way that a thin layer of oil shimmers when floating on water. The result is mysteriously holographic. Like Frankenstein, the materials depicted in these three works of art tantalize the viewer’s imagination, tickling their curiosity without revealing specifics.
“Although I possessed the capacity of bestowing animation, yet to prepare a frame for the reception of it, with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles, and veins, still remained a work of inconceivable difficulty and labour. I doubted at first whether I should attempt the creation of a being like myself, or one of simpler organization; but my imagination was too much exalted by my first success to permit me to doubt of my ability to give life to an animal as complex and wonderful as man.” --Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, Chapter 4
Oftentimes with both art and literature, it is what remains unsaid which can most delight the audience in new and unusual ways, as opposed what is overtly stated. In the case of Ashley Geiger’s three digital Frankenstein-themed works of art, the mystery is as alluring as it is perplexing. Are they dyed linen, etched metal, holographic, 3-D film, or “intricacies of fibres, muscles and veins” like the monster himself…? Here at Inscape, we take pride in showcasing artwork that dazzles the mind as well as the senses. It is for this very reason we decided to select artist Ashley Geiger’s three-part digital series.
Chloe says, " I'm submitting a piece I wrote for Inscape entitled "Why We Chose It." It's about why a specific submission was accepted by Inscape, in this case, artist Ashley Geiger's three-part Frankenstein digital art series. Our readers might enjoy an insight on the "why" behind our accepted submissions."
Written by Cassie Wilson
Somebody once told me that my face was the prettiest thing about me. That my body wasn’t enough. Somebody once told me that if I worked out a little more and ate a little less I could be pretty enough. But enough for what I asked myself? Somebody once told me that losing the weight would be the greatest accomplishment of my life. That if I shrunk myself down to smaller size that I would float across the street with a god like happiness that would burst out of my body, sun rays that hit windows with reflections of rainbows and light on a warm summer's day. And I asked myself how being smaller could amount to such a feeling? Somebody once told me that being fat was my worst characteristic. That my stretch marks were flaws etched into my skin as a remainder of why I wasn’t worth it. And I wondered to myself how being fat, could be the problem?
Somebody once told me that when I lost the weight everything else would melt away like honey in hot tea and I would be happy. And so when I lost the weight and the weight in my head still pressed hard like mountains of snow inside a blizzard I wondered if maybe I just hadn’t lost enough? Somebody once told me I just needed to tone some more and lift some weights and loose the excess around my waist, that would do it. I could be happy. So when I shed the pounds and built the muscle and still the weight in my head pounded like bricks in concrete being set in stone not able to lift from place, I wondered, if maybe my body just wasn’t built for warm summer days?
After I lost the weight I was left with a version of myself I didn’t recognize. I found myself inside my bathroom, feet against chest, ready to unlearn all the parts of myself that shrunk me. For my birthday last year I was given Nikita Gill's book, Wild Embers, poems of rebellion, fire and beauty. Gill writes about the the process of "unlearning", how to dig yourself back up from the rubble of your own making, from the self negative statements and all the somebody's who told you you weren't worth it.
In Nikita Gill’s poem, “Unlearning”, she writes:
"Womanhood is rich with unlearning. How to unlearn the way you hate your body, how to rebuild your spirit after the supernova of love finally bursts, how there are a million new versions of you hiding under your skin.”
When Gill references the "supernova of love" that bursts and beams, she is talking about the breaking point. The knees against chest, the aftermath of a self critical crock pot, the main ingredient: self-loathing. She refers to this moment as a burst of love because when you hit this point, the point when you just can't go on any longer, it's the moment you say to yourself: I chose me, because I matter. And that is the first time in a series of self destruction that you chose yourself instead of your crock pot. When I stopped listening to somebody’s and just finally chose me, that promised god like happiness that bursted and beamed and made me float, came and I was shocked to find it wasn’t from losing the weight. At 23 years old the greatest accomplishment in my life was gaining and not losing. Gaining love and acceptance and forgiveness and I feel heavier and I am worth it.
It took me a year and a half to lose the weight and I ended up losing what made me beautiful to begin with. I lost the passion I had for writing and the way I loved the freckles on my skin and the curls that dance on my shoulders. I lost the smile that used to light up my face when I laughed and how I could dance and not care if my body moved with a fierceness that was not afraid to take up the space that I deserve. So when I sat with myself a sum of a number lighter I realized the only weight I needed to loose was the hate and shame and self loathing that society's somebody's had mounted on me like rider against horse, guiding me to all the wrong places. And I asked myself why I ever started listening to somebody’s.
“How each one is born from suffering and agonizingly, unlearning what others want you and your body to be, finding moments and seconds by metaphors in everything that make you feel good make you feel how you are supposed to feel.”
When Gill writes that some of the best parts about ourselves are "born from suffering and agonizingly" she is referring to the parts about us that learned to stand up and fight. To choose our own warm summers days. The prettiest thing about me was never my face and fat is not an insult. Fat is a word used to try to discredit the amount of space a woman deserves to take up. I am enough and so is every other woman ever called fat because fat is and never will be a negative aspect of what makes up a person. Since when did fat become a word thrown around to discredit a person’s soul and spirit and wholeness. What others want me and my body to be is not a problem, but a note to be thrown in a suggestion box of nobody gives a fuck. My god like happiness came from my “feel good metaphors” that were and are warm cookies in bed and a chocolate milkshake after dinner and me telling me and anyone else: I am here, I am enough, and I will not shrink the space in this universe that I deserve.
Gill finishes her poem writing,
“Reiterating them till there is finally understanding and accepting, inside your very soul the only thing that truly matters is how often you say on your journey, ‘This, all of this, is for me.’”
This life is mine and I will never apologize for taking up more metric units again because the problem was never the number. The prettiest thing about me is and will always be all the things that make me heavy. My stretch marks etched in my skin are my triumphs over hardships and the nights I spent unlearning the parts of myself that told me to listen to somebody’s. My waist encompasses the length I’ve spent working on me, for me, because I matter. My weight will never define my self worth and fat will never be an insult. When Gill writes, "This, all of this, is for me" she is referencing this journey of life for the individual. It is personal and unique and important and yours. How you live your life, learning or unlearning, is all your own, there isn't a need to take suggestions from bystanders who think their suggestions could amount to the absolute beauty that is your spirit and soul. So the next time somebody tells me I am fat I will thank them for their consideration in noticing the home I’ve built for myself in a body that carries my spirit and soul.
Cassie Wilson is a student at Pasadena City College majoring in English. She says, "I won't ever stop talking about the relationship between ourselves and our bodies. It's such an important topic and I hope that with my own experience I can create or inspire some positive change in the way we treat, talk, and view our bodies."
Written by Jiarui Ye
The air tastes like salt and sweetness. Walking in the dry air of Southern California usually gives me a strong urge to sneeze from the pollen (thank you, spring), but not today. When someone asks what I think of the term, desert, it can sometimes be deferred to thinking about someplace similar to this one. I find that interesting, since we have plentiful water in the city. However, heading more inward into the state, the more we see a change in scenery and suddenly, this place is no longer the City of Angels but rather, the City of Death, more specifically, Death Valley.
I had begun my journey in Pasadena, California, and head onto the 134, to get to the 110. I soon switch gears, heading North on the 14 freeway, passing through Palmdale and the famed Red Rock Canyon Park. 90 miles later, I split off near Red Rock Canyon Park to head into deeper forest for the reaming 70 miles. Once I arrive, it's quite an ordeal to get inside. There are no gas stations in sight, an act of kindness to the trees, protecting them from fire hazards. The looping trail is long and windy, tourist destinations at every stop. There is so much majesty in this place.
(If you prefer not to drive, there is a great shuttle service that takes you through this trail.)
And then, there, in the middle of the desert, I see an amazing salt reserve. I was shocked —this was the Badwater Basin. A major facet that draws much attention to Death Valley. The scenery is amazing. For those of you who don't know what a Badwater Bain is, imagine a world of snow but with no ice. White landscape - but no water in sight.
I begin to feel deeply connected to nature while in this Death Valley place and I think of the novel, “The Desert,” by John C Van Dyke. These majestic views are what make the connections between Western society and depopulated utopian. Throughout the novel, there is no mention of different individuals; no one is separated from nature, instead they are nature:
“It’s just him with his art connoisseur’s eye and the shifting sunlight across the desert landscape.”
The possibilities of what a Western desert could do opened up the possibility of of its beauty. The elements of Death Valleys are changed by this and the lush picturesque background is holds is discovered. Contrary to typical sand dunes, the Badwater Basin is a beautiful white sea that draws individuals in like bee to honey. The long winding roads of the desert lead to nowhere and are filled with the sandy remnants of eroding rocks. Twisting round and around, the roads are a symbol of the convoluting decisions in our lives surrounding us, but inside - only peace.
From the world’s lowest point to the beautiful white pools that litter around the hiking paths, many people - including myself - are filled with child-like awe. The scenery assimilates into the natural background and it is so hard not to stop and bask in the beauty of the Basin. Traveling to these places provides something that city life cannot: the welcome of salt to an open wound. The welcome of this Badwater Basin into the deepest parts of ourselves - the love and the hate - the interconnectedness of it all - and finding yourself stripped beautifully raw with openness, all from the salt and sweetness.
Jiarui Ye is a travel writer and a student at PCC majoring in business and finance. She says, "She enjoys theology and politics when she isn't traveling or taking photos."
Written by Kaylin Tran
Community; noun, often attributive
com·mu·ni·ty | \ kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē \
// the international community
Clifford Larson’s short essay is one of the more rare finds in Inscape’s recent issue of the 2019 Fall Common Book—it certainly stands out amongst the other skillful works of poetry and short fiction. “California Sensibilities” is a bittersweet piece about Larson’s personal experience moving across the country intertwined with references to Helena Viramontes’, Under the Feet of Jesus, a book about a migrant family working in California, and a quote from writer and scholar David Ulin, "thinking about California is thinking about struggle, and a sort of 'brothers in the ranks' while enduring the struggle." Having been uprooted from South Boston with no warning, he struggled with his solo move to southern California.
His writing is eloquent yet simple, casual, and honest; it’s an entirely relatable piece with a certain amount of finesse that elevates his style of writing.
He describes how he “literally showed up to California with $4 in [his] pocket” and had to survive off the free meals he received at work—three months’ worth of sushi, to be exact—to get back on his feet. Ironically, it was because of his struggles that he was able to survive, some might even say succeed. His grit, his determination to survive in a foreign environment consequently lead him to discover that his co-workers were enduring similar hardships.
He’d met other people who were California transplants from Mexico, Canada, Europe, Russia, etc., “but all of us [were] in California because of the possibilities we’d imagined.”
In reference to Ulin’s idea of the California struggle, they endured it as “brothers in the ranks,” much like how the migrant workers in Viramontes’ novel had to develop trusting relationships to survive their hardships together.
The parallels between Larsen and the migrant workers reveals how universal and necessary a sense of community truly is. Larsen isn’t Latino or Hispanic, but he still relates to their struggle to survive. It takes more than hope and ambition, and it certainly takes more than self-motivation. It’s important to establish connections with others, to develop a sense of camaraderie amongst the strangers who become your family. It’s about creating a community with a group of people who make you feel like you want to succeed, not that you have to.
This is what Larsen attempts and properly communicates in his short essay. The universal message of connection and support is what he and the migrant workers needed for future success. He mentions the startlingly bittersweet reality of his situation:
“I knew that someday I’d get out, but like Viramontes’ characters at the end of her book, there’s no telling what will happen to them. There’s hope, yes, but sometimes that’s not enough.”
It’s this struggle that truly represents the Inscape branding and aesthetic, the message that our publication strives to capture.
“Inscape is the unique inner nature of every thing and every person: the eclectic, the human, the becoming, and the unexpected—a compost of imagination and inquiry.”
Larsen’s story is a shared part of the human experience. It’s human nature to have a sense of belonging, to want to succeed. His candor exposes the raw reality of what it’s like to struggle. More importantly, he emphasizes that it’s a widely-shared, universal concept that anyone and everyone has a shared understanding of.
Moreover, he becomes a transformed individual; his confidence and self-realization blossom after he finds the strength to become something greater than what his provided circumstances would have entailed. He embraces the unexpected—his sudden move to California, the similarities between him and his co-workers—and manipulates them to become his successes.
His determination to succeed propelled him, but his community is truly what gave him the strength to prosper.
“We need each other—we need a community. In a sense, I’ve found a community in these books.”
Kaylin Tran is a journalism major at Pasadena City College. She is the assistant blog editor for Inscape as well as a staff writer for the PCC Courier. She hopes to work as an editor at a digital magazine.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.