again, how you come to that conviction determines the kind of mattering.
Once I landed in California, I breathed no such higher thoughts:
my brain was in panic, bursting its boundaries. All I knew was that I
was a stray, exiled from the tribe. Banished. Adrift. Alone. As I walked
through the hot West Coast air toward my apartment, I marveled at the
pitch of my resentment and a new bristling catalyst for ambition: Why
not let my retaliation be artistic, a creative stab in the back?
Perhaps it was here, right in this very moment—the ocean breeze ruffling my hair, bougainvillea blazing in the hills, a skateboarder hurtling
past—that I found my salvation, a passionate fury that would deliver me
from myself and to myself, releasing me from the prison of a Southern
girl’s need to please.
And so, each morning, my arteries on fire, my lungs roaring, I took
this anger-junked self to work, processing photos in the photography
lab, reverse-dying fabric to be painted and collaged in the design studio,
writing short scripts for video essays. I arrived at the art department in
my uniform of tennis shoes, tank top, and shorts, stopped at noon for
a snack of cheese and crackers and an apple, left the studio for a salad
and sandwich at supper, and then returned, staying until eleven pm or
midnight, binging on cookies from the vending machine.
Sometimes, near six or seven o’clock, another graduate student named
Betty would arrive with her dog, Heidi, on a leash, having driven down
from Northridge, where she taught during the day. She didn’t come every
night, but always on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, when she could
stay for at least five hours, working at her loom, brewing pots of coffee, let-
ting Heidi sleep beside her on the cool tile floor. Often, on the weekends,
Betty and I were the only ones in the studio, I working in an adjoining
room where there were large padded tables rather than looms. Because
there were no doors between us, we’d shout thoughts to each other and
laugh. When Betty rose to heat up her coffee, I’d take a break with her.
One Saturday night, Betty leaned on one of the tables, sipping her coffee,
glancing out at the Saturday-night traffic streaming down Sunset Boule-
vard, then looked at me. “I know why I’m here. I mean, weekends are my
only free time to work on my art, but why are you here?”
It seemed too complicated to explain. “I like to work,” I hedged.
“On Saturday night?” Betty laughed.
I laughed too. “Yeah, I know. I just can’t seem to get it all done.” What
I couldn’t say was that I’d pinned my hopes on making a larger, more