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.