The Light in L.A.

The New Yorker recently posted a video online (embedded above) taken from its show, which airs on Amazon. The video is based on one of my favorite pieces in the magazine: an article called “L.A. Glows,” written by Lawrence Weschler, and published in the February 23, 1998 issue of the magazine. (The issue theme was “California,” and it’s the only one of that theme I recall.) The article is here (requires a subscription).

It captures the wonder of light in Southern California (with a capitalized “S” because it is such a distinct region—as Carey McWilliams titled his book, “An Island on the Land”), and is really a wonderful read, both for the subject and the quality of the writing. For instance, it includes passages like this (from Coy Howard, and architect):

. . . when you have the kind of veiled light we get here more regularly you become aware of a sort of multiplicity—not illumination so much as luminosity. Southern California glows, not just all day but at night as well, and the opacity melts away into translucency, and even transparency.”

Ever since I read that passage I have wanted to be able to write like that. In my current work in progress, California Incline, I often talk about the sky. A lot of bloggers who give writing advice warn against overusing weather as a metaphor for a character’s mood. But when a story is set in L.A., the sky is a character. Describing it doesn’t so much reflect on the human characters, as give the reader a description of the ethereal character that hovers over the human actors.

So at different points I include short passages like these:

High clouds had drifted onshore, covering downtown; a veiled sun in a nacre sky softened the edges of the city with pearlescent light.”

Uphill, toward Hope Street, lay a fountain watched over by a bronze nude against an amber-blue sky streaked with Van Gogh clouds, wisps whipped to shreds at the ends.”

Even the sky looked washed out, threadbare blue with bleachmark clouds.”

Not quite the level of poetry found throughout the Weschler article, but I hope enough to give some character to the light.

Of course, for a cross-cultural perspective on L.A. light, you have Miami Ray Bones (Dennis Farina) in Get Shorty:

 They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.”

In  any case, I strongly recommend the Weschler article if you can get a chance to read it.

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