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Golden State 2017


editor's note > Lisa Locascio > Golden State 2017

California has the curious distinction of occupying the cultural imagination at a chronological remove.

In honeyed Beach Boys past and neon Blade Runner future,

the dream of this state promises novel predictability, a quotidian nouveau. For all its subdivisions and startup money, Cali has never lost its frontier bona fides. Maybe it’s the scale of the landscape, or the indomitability of the sunshine, which increasingly seems to be the last vestige of American optimism. Each of us must decide frontier at which to gaze. The twentieth-century dream that calls German tourists West on the Hertz package deal that includes a Mustang convertible and a slate of stops up and down Highway One? Hale Thorp’s log house? Or the still-halcyon future, in which our Golden State is promised to lead the resistance?

Before I moved to Los Angeles, I dreamed a long time about California. In the first photograph of me here I’m about six months old, in my dad’s arms, Big Sur a green smear behind us. I wear a poofy pink parka onesie, he aviators; it’s indubitably the Eighties, and we are in the decade’s capitol region. Sixteen years later, my family spent a spring break in L.A. and San Francisco, checking out colleges I wouldn’t attend. In Hollywood I met up with a much-older penpal, my favorite band’s videographer, who took me to see Before Night Falls at the Laemmle Sunset 5. We scandalously held hands throughout, but that was it: my dad was our ride to and from the movie and waited out our pseudodate in the bar at the Chateau Marmont. That was 2001, a year after Mulholland Dr. made it clear to me exactly what the city had to offer. I wanted all of it.

I went to school in New York City, where I liked to pick fights with people about California. They all seemed to hate it, especially Los Angeles, where I wanted so badly to live. “The thing about L.A.,” I insisted with the hauteur of someone who had never lived there, “is that if New York is a luxurious black Town Car, L.A. is a flaming orange Lamborghini. Stupid, and loud, and fun, and unashamed.” So of course I fell in love with a classmate of Angeleno vintage. When I visited him in the summers he took me to Westside Chinese restaurants with long white tablecloths and pearl carpeting and backyards set with oblong jewel-like lap pools. He had grown up in Hancock Park, attended Palisades High, and later lived with his mother on Abbot Kinney. I wouldn’t understand the absurdity of the commutes that shaped his childhood until long after we broke up. Only then did I, too, finally get to live in the amalgam I had so long wanted, a chimera of the orange-scented whirligig at California Adventure, sexy-sweet violet dusks, and inky, electric dark movie star nights. Every morning featured the return of that inimitable, purely penetrating light. My hero David Lynch had written about L.A. sunlight what I came to feel about the whole state: “It fills me with the feeling that all possibilities are available.”

My seven years in California took me from Niland’s Salvation Mountain to Humboldt Bay, which I cruised on Madaket, the oldest operating ferry in the United States. I drank banana rum cocktails on Malibu Pier and celebrated Thanksgiving in Stinson Beach, wowed by the preponderance of independent bookstores in Marin County. Weekdays I drove or rode the L.A. Metro to the universities where I taught, climbing the hill up to my apartment in the purple gloaming that never lost its magic. I won a scholarship to attend a writing conference in Mendocino and returned three years later as faculty, convinced now that the Golden State was my destiny. When my insomnia acted up, the only thing that could soothe me back to sleep was a California guidebook, oneiric journeys that came true as I visited General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, the ruins of the Llano del Rio commune, and the kelp forests off Monterey. As Mae Van Norman Long put it in her 1926 novel The Canyon of the Stars, “California has driven me quite mad with its beauty.”

I’ve come to regard the fundamental diversity and lush invention of literature of and about this place as its unifying feature; the Golden State has always been simultaneously where we come from and where we’re going. So maybe it makes sense, given the vagaries of time on the Pacific standard, that in this book you will find a lot of wayward fathers, lodestars of a kaleidoscopic and evolving notion of the Western Family immortalized in one of our grocery store chains. Parents and children at war and in love, unflinching penetration of the mysterious self and the other, and a singing joy of place expressed through rich humor and powerhouse language.

I am skeptical of the notion that it is possible to separate fact from fiction, to have one without the other, and proud to include both in these pages. In California it’s always a little messy—that line between reality and invention. Last year I was bidden back Eastward. As I pulled onto the 405 North out of Santa Monica, and, an actual orange Lamborghini merged in front of me, my whole dream of L.A. made real, and escorted me up the 101 to Santa Barbara, until the freeway curved away from the ocean and it, too, left me.

I write these words from Connecticut. It’s a nice place, rich with trees and cool, humid nights. Thunderstorms, nnow. It’s hard to get used to the abundance of water, the fact that the desert doesn’t open up around the car when I get outside of town. It’s hard, frankly, to feel like I’ve left at all. Inside me is a California space, tall and slick like trees in rain, spiky as a cactus, wet as the ocean, a place I will never leave.

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Golden State 2017

Lisa Locascio is publisher of Joyland Magazine and editor of the ekphrastic collaboration magazine 7x7. Her work has appeared in The Believer, Bookforum, Santa Monica Review, n+1, Western American Literature, Tin House online, and many other magazines. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University. Bios of 2017 contributors are here. The first three editions of our annual California anthology was previously known as California Prose Directoy: New Writing from The Golden State. Previous editions are details here.

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