last days in LA

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I make it no secret that I have a fascination with American romanticism, and the photographs I take, regardless of the subject matter, are always an exploration of that sentimentality. If there were one place in Los Angeles that encapsulates all the things I'm searching for as I roam from coast to coast, it's the Griffith Observatory. Blame it on a few too many viewings of "Rebel Without a Cause" or the untarnished perspective above the angelic city: the place brings out all my maudlin tendencies.

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The lower level of the Observatory contains a star lined corridor leading to one of the galleries. In a very LA fashion, these are not images of stars or portions of rock or anything particularly astrological, rather thousands of man-made stars in the form of jewelry, pins, and an assortment of other shimmering items, both vintage and new, fashioned to sparkle. I followed a few steps behind an elderly couple, overhearing them remark on some of the more spectacular pieces. In some bizarre way, in this bizarre land, it seemed like the west coast equivalent to a country night spent star-gazing. And it was really, really sweet.

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clearwater festival

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I'm bringing back some oldies because I've been thinking about this day a lot in the past week.

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We were in upstate New York at Pete Seeger's Clearwater Festival;  Joe Purdy had an afternoon set with the Giving Tree Band backing. I've been to a lot of music festivals, I've been in the company of a lot notable characters, but I never had the privilege of standing beside a personal hero before. It's funny how things like that happen: one quick and minuscule moment can completely rattle your world. I was in the open-air backstage, watching the flurry of stage hands setting up for Amy Helm's upcoming set and up walks Pete Seeger. He was stopped by a festival official with some logistical question and I stood starstruck, three feet away, trying to maintain the conversation I was in but completely distracted by the aura of this folk giant. And then just like that, he was brisked away. It was just this brief moment that so dramatically shifted something in me. I had thought of Pete Seeger as a hero since my education in folk music began and there we were, sharing the same air. He would come back again and be taken away again, and for just that day, I got to witness a man I admired in a setting that he had passionately generated.

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That was a pretty good day.

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the green mill

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I went into a "Prophecy Room" in Kansas City once, when I was eighteen or nineteen.  There are several other people in a room with you--those waiting to hear and those waiting to tell. I sat in a chair and waited, listening to the quiet whispers of the others around me being told their prophecies. Finally a young woman came up to me and handed me a drawing of a young girl sitting under a tree with a Bible verse draping over and around and through the image. She spoke to me of all that she was feeling about my energy and said that she felt I held a lot of creativity and that she felt as though there was something in my movements, in dance perhaps, that was particularly meaningful. She got up and went to the other side of the room and I brushed her comments off--I was not a dancer. I barely bobbed my head a long at any concert I had ever been to and my arms were always folded. Even in private, there was no fluidity to my movements.

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Two more people came up to me in that room. A man and another woman and both had expressed the same feelings--that I was a dancer and that there was joy in that expression. I cynically left the room and forgot about what was said to me.

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Several years later, I met a few people that really, really loved to dance and were always encouraging me to dance with them. I would sway sometimes. Sometimes kick my feet out awkwardly or throw my hands in all directions, trying to find the coordination I'd so long suppressed. Months of these unsynchronized movements went by and slowly, I was beginning to find the beat and beginning to shed all of that self-consciousness that hinders one from dancing. I started to understand it.

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I went to the Green Mill in Chicago one night with a friend, we were celebrating and love the jazzy ambiance of the club. When we arrived, the dance floor in front of the jazz band was empty sparing a few couples that were clearly regulars--they were all dressed in their finest vintage garb and danced in a style that clearly involved practice. Every once and a while, a couple from the crowd would step up to join in some boozy fun but after a few moments, they would break into embarrassed laughter and walk by to their seats.  That nineteen year old girl would have sat at the bar and would have never even thought of joining in. But we did join. We walked right up and danced and didn't stop for the entire night. And the more we danced, the more others began to fill the floor alongside us. By the end of the night, the entire floor was covered and people were coming up and thanking us. The band thanked us. The bartenders thanked us.

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This night at the Green Mill surely wasn't what the prophets in that room were alluding to, but made me think that maybe they were on to something. Maybe they weren't even really talking about dance, rather the person I would be once I found that freedom. Maybe they didn't even know what they were talking about. 

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