I'm a journalist and essayist based in Los Angeles, telling the city's story one sentence at a time. My latest book "A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia E. Butler"— a Hugo Award finalist — traces the California-born writer's early formation, through an assemblage of objects drawn from her personal archive. My 2018 book, After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame, is a collection of essays and photographs exploring Los Angeles' ever-shifting terrain.
"I Love the Way It Sounds"
From Oxford American
Some children sail off to bedtime dreams with “Once upon a time...,” others by way of “In an ancient land...” Each is an invitation, a story spinner’s device to travel to some exotic elsewhere—gentle lullabies in their own right. Yet, as far back as I can remember, I knew no better incantation to invoke an antique place as: “Let me go get down that pot...”
Said “pot” was sunshine-yellow, enameled cast iron, fitted with a heavy matching lid. As well, said pot, more a deep skillet with detachable wooden handle, was only used twice a year to prepare specific centerpiece meals. I knew it simply as “The Gumbo Pot.”
No family recipe exists on paper. Not a one. Sometimes when I reveal this, I know that people assume I’m being coy. But my mother didn’t write them down. Neither did her mother, my grandmother, nor did my grandmother’s sister, my great-aunt, who was a sorceress before the burners. I learned as they had—by repetition. Trial and error. “Guesstimates” and internal arithmetic. Sense memory nudged you forward. These women simply “got down that pot” in their respective sunny Los Angeles kitchens and, after some murmuring and some laughter—and the busy rhythm of knives chopping onions, bell pepper, and celery—someone, usually my mother, began unspooling lyrics of faded, gauzy songs sung in a language that was both familiar and enticingly indecipherable.