Pathologies of Los Angeles • 30 May 2009

People aren’t afraid to merge on the freeways in Los Angeles, actually. They merge like fast little fish made smart by evolution. Especially on the weekends and at night, because it’s no longer about getting to work; and especially in June, when the cool cloudcover from the bay makes for perfect driving conditions. People deplore this town for its car-ness, and the atomizing socio-environmental catastrophe we have created here because we insist on driving. But there is something nobody admits: driving here is great. We go as fast as we like on the freeways at night, listening to trip-hop or bad Britpop, windows down, exiting smoothly on to thoroughfares made for the rich countryside that sat here 50 years ago.

The bad word on the city is that we spend absurd proportions of our income on high-end cars because it’s socially normative to drive a Porsche even before you make it big. That’s true. But also, it’s just nice to have a fast car on roads built for sport driving. At night when it’s empty out and a little bit humid from the gloom, I’ve been taking the long way home on the Sunset hairpin curves, the ones immortalized by the Beach Boys and mortal for many daredevils since. I understand that this way of living is actually a choice to do environmental violence by staying unconscious, but it feels so right! We need new bass-driven ballads for this dirty guilty pleasure. Los Angeles, I need to get over you, forget it could be good like this. I love you for the wrong reasons…

Anyway, Friday evening. Alone after-hours in the art school café, leaning back in a wooden folding chair. The dashing professor for whom I graded Ancient Greece exams years ago just trammeled through on the way to the hilltop parking lot, looking increasingly like Johnny Depp-as-historian-of-the-esoteric. June gloom, eucalyptus, sycamore and pines outside the wall of 20-foot windows before me. This morning when I taught a client about the relationship of the arches and the adductors, asking he root down in to the earth to draw some kind of strength up, he scrunched up his nose and said, “So like… I am getting this… but what would be, like, the next logical step?” Seriously? Ok, forget trikonasana, do you want to learn about a place called the pelvic floor? A few minutes later I heard myself say the words "second chakra" to a soccer jock.

Well, he asked for it. But… here’s another pathology of Los Angeles: the world of anti-form that tries to compete with the world of hyper-materialism. In my mind, secretly I used to call it kundalini gulag. The KG is the tendency in some of us to get hyper-reactive to LA materialism—the worship of cars and youth that forms the spiritual center of this town. In trying to be anti-materialistic, we buy straight in to spiritual materialism, for a yoga that’s all about feeling energetically superior. A practice that’s about coming off as the most psychically gifted, and sexually potent, and “humble” person in the room. Ok. This is still power yoga! It’s still all about proving oneself and being better than other people, just this time on a post-material level. Spinoza said somewhere in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect that there is no one more arrogant than the one who is caught up in his own humility. And this is the essence of the kundalini gulag—a display of humility that barely masks energetic elitism. Too bad you can't have aura contests and chakra-offs down on Venice beach. That would take care of all of this craziness.

I have gone in for some of the metaphysical arrogance too. Caught myself making a harsh joke about the “superficial” OCD factor of Iyengar the other day. Hmmm. Am I starting to believe the pseudospiritual pablum numero uno— that the “world of form” is an "illusion"? That lived experience is “all in the mind”? Riiiiiight.

So I’m thinking some Iyengar this weekend. Hopefully as OCD as I can find. Thing is, the class that works schedulewise is one of the only advanced sessions in the city, and it’s taught by a SCARY little German man who, with his jaunty grin and spiky hair, is just adorable enough to get my guard down before he kicks my ass. But I need to remember that there is nothing adorable about an advanced Iyengar teacher, not even this Mr. C with his funny shorts and strangely beatific expressions. I wonder how mad he’ll be at me for showing up at class with nothing but a lot of the other guy’s yoga under my skin. And under the wings of my kidneys and the eyes of my elbows too.

17 Comments

  • Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:51 pm | #

    And the cave of your sscrum…

  • Posted 30 May 2009 at 12:52 pm | #

    Uh, sacrum…

  • Posted 30 May 2009 at 1:19 pm | #

    Oh I loved this post!

  • Posted 30 May 2009 at 1:38 pm | #

    Driving in LA: I’m hoping you’ve read Didion’s Play it as it Lays.

  • Jamie
    Posted 30 May 2009 at 2:00 pm | #

    My only experience driving in LA involved riding in a taxi driven by a Mexican cowboy talking nostalgically about his horses back home and discussing the psychological nuances between man and horse. Otherwise it seemed like just a lot of traffic.

    I doubt the Iyengar teacher will be mad at you, but you could look at it from the point of view of providing the opportunity for righteous indignation. Really, you’re just providing a service.

  • Carl
    Posted 30 May 2009 at 5:33 pm | #

    Yikes.

  • (ovo)cative...
    Posted 30 May 2009 at 5:35 pm | #

    Another fine piece of supple prose, the by-now epithetical (and implausible) ‘years ago’ aside. A few q’s, though:

    1. Surely chakra-offs are possible at Venice. Are there no public lavatories?

    2. Aren’t you being overly self-critical in admitting to ‘metaphysical arrogance’? A little ‘toot-tooting’ aside, regular readers of your work I’m sure will attest to your ingenuously modest approach to ‘esoteric shit’.

    3. As you now know, ‘kundalini’ is really just the wild crackling of the self-deluding faculty of imagination and nothing for lissome, pony tailed ladies and ‘beaten leather’ (yours) boys to get all snoot-nosed coy about. So…i forget what…oh, er, I presume you prefer The Eagles to (a bit of) Pulp?

    4. Usualy, you’re the one to ‘worry’, but today it’s me. Promise that you won’t overdo it at Kraftwerks Benz? If a kidney pops into the recently created space between your hip-flexors and your lats and ploughs like some down market Vin Diesel into the old vagus nerve then, for sure, those new contacts will pop out and trajectorize right into the BKS puja portrait…So, you know, please drive carefully.

  • Posted 30 May 2009 at 6:10 pm | #

    UnFUCKING real. The teacher was wearing an all-black T-shirt that had a small bronze epithet printed between the shoulderblades. “Biscuit Enterprises. We toast you.”

    I was toasted allright. No sacrum caves, but did you know the buttocks has a spine of its own?

    The chakra-offs were for Carl.

    More later about Didion and esoteric shit. If you’re in LA, Tereza’s trunk show is today.

  • e&sj
    Posted 31 May 2009 at 4:10 am | #

    Hello from Koh Pangan –
    I enjoy a good Iyengar talking to and Mr. C is outstanding as there is a dryness with wryness and slyness that makes for good vrittis when concentrating on the evanescent form.
    And indeed you have 3 tailbones.

    The one aspect of Iyengar (and the same holds true for Astanga in a completely different way) is that old organic chemistry rule: “like likes like”. Some of the practitioners are as dusty as an old copy of “Finnegans Wake”. But what the hey, we are all just trying to ameliorate Samsara just a bit and if thats how its going for ‘em now, more Power Yoga to it.

  • charusheela
    Posted 31 May 2009 at 6:30 am | #

    hey ovo, are you saying it’s all “real?” like in —- well, time? i thought real meant ==well, iternal. or something like that. adorable little men teaching you butt language in tabula rosa fashion. don’t you just love being an elitist. driving around la at night with the window down and the song playing on your cd. the night breeze trickling through your chrakas. sweet.

  • boodiba
    Posted 31 May 2009 at 11:02 am | #

    We have a traditionalist gulag in NYC and I’m on the wrong side of it! But, Kill the Buddha!! I say. Kill him 50x a week if you have to.

    And it’s funny but it never occurred to me until I got home from Goa in March that a new appreciation for straps would be deemed Iyengar corruption, but of course it would! (by the gulag).

    What would happen if you threw a dinner party composed of a third Kundalinini gulag, one third Astanga vegan yoga police and one third Tony Robbins motivational speakers??

    (If you decide to try it I want to fly out there just to observe).

  • Posted 1 June 2009 at 5:39 pm | #

    Some peeps just don’t appreciate the struggle to sync words to experience.

  • Posted 3 June 2009 at 7:57 pm | #

    I haven’t read Play it as it lays. Just got it from the library though. She is amazing, so much so that I overlook the bad politics. I’m always amazed at her perfection of the craft.

    My book group—which I always skip (last month it was all 800 pages of some Trollope novel???)—is reading American Purgatorio by Haskell now. Another So-Cal novel; and NYRB calls it “the most Buddhist American fiction of our time.” Not exactly a recommendation. But I’m hungry for some So-Cal literature right now… June gloom makes me all nostalgic for the present.

  • Posted 3 June 2009 at 7:59 pm | #

    Uh, so I have been so preoccupied trying to plan this dinner party that I forgot about my blog.

    I think what’s going to happen is this: the KG are going to be really impressed by the Tony Robbins speakers’ fancy cars, and will end up leaving their jobs at the juice-bar and working for the Tony Robbins crew in high-pressure sales. Meanwhile, the vegan ashtangis will go home early to scrub their bathtubs, which need to be prepped for the weekend’s big event: oilbath.

    As for righteous indignation (which I definitely provoked: “Now this is my most advanced class and ff you’re not very experienced in Iyengar yoga then [clenching fists, looking toward heaven, rasping monstrously, “WHY ARE YOU HERE??”) and whether this is all “real”… it blows my mind to consider that these give-the-monkey-a-typewriter instructions (“take your armpit to Montana; the armpit is moving toward Montana”) correspond to real experience. But there was some lecturing on the “general level of mindlessness of the body” as if those of us who do not have an interior experience of the spine of the buttocks are just stupid. Could it be? Well… it did finally occur to me exactly what the “cave” of the sacrum is and what monster lives in there. Ahem! The whole experience was much more unpleasant than the rest of my everyday life, and it did NOT leave me curious about whether I’m capable of “experiencing-as” on those terms. However, it was also one of the most hilarious experiences ever on the level of culture shock and getting my mind blown. It’s nice to be the fool. ESJ, I can see you liking Mr. C.

    I can see me liking him too. I keep considering going back… to see if it’s still so hilarious the second time.

  • Posted 4 June 2009 at 12:19 am | #

    Didion’s politics are so dense and have been evolving for sooo long neither “good” nor “bad” goes very far. Probably the best way to even get what they are is around a dinner table. (In this domain, she reminds me of BHL on the French side.) Besides, as you already intimated, what counts is how, at least for my money, she’s the best one around when it comes to American prose.

  • Posted 4 June 2009 at 12:47 am | #

    Oh my god, you know her? Admittedly, I sometimes want to deconstruct her work (the way that the only character in Year of Magical Thinking without a last name was the house boy who cleaned up after her husband’s death… all those kinds of details), but you’re right that a lot of things have changed since the 70s.

    BTW, your new website is GREAT.

  • Posted 4 June 2009 at 12:36 pm | #

    I gave the wrong impression. I don’t know her. It was a supposition on my part. Thank you re: website.

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