#424: Concentrated Intensity

Purple jacaranda petals on woodland floor with spots of sun and dappled light.
The Huntington, San Marino, CA

I’m typing this in the air back home from Los Angeles, where I was teaching at Antioch MFA’s summer residency. In the closing circle yesterday someone’s mention of learning from the program’s “hundred teachers” (i.e. both faculty and students) rang bright and true. In the seminar and workshops I led we reflected not just on our work but our ingrained beliefs about “good” writing; I sat in on as many talks and readings and graduating student presentations as my introvert battery would allow; had lunch and coffee chats in the dappled-shade courtyard with folks from so many different backgrounds; got my copy of Same Bed, Different Dreams signed by guest lecturer Ed Park who, fun fact, was one of the first people to read an early draft of These Days way back when (and was generous enough to meet for coffee to chat about it).

I could go on! Instead I plan to spend the rest of this flight poking at dormant story ideas, looking to see which bears want to wake.

In some ways this LA trip was an echo of my architecture workshop last July in Slovenia, another period of concentrated intensity. I just realized I never posted my photos from the actual workshop itself – I’ll try to throw those up soon. But no repeat trip this year for Julia and me as we’ll likely have our hands full with Impending Baby. (Registration, by the way, is now open for the 2024-25 year of Building Beauty.)

Just launched, too, is the website The Christopher Alexander & Center for Environmental Structure Archive, which aggregates documents, photos, publications, and more from Alexander and team over the course of half a century. Lots of iceberg tips there, as with many a research archive. I can only imagine how huge of an endeavor it must be to organize such a body of work.

Speaking of research archives: I had a free day last week for Juneteenth, and I used it to visit The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens (which: yes, yes, YES – insert Vince McMahon meme). Just an ideal mix of indoor and outdoor, cerebral and visceral. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the Huntington has Octavia Butler’s papers (and bummed to learn that I’d missed their recent conference by one month, and their major exhibition of her work by seven years). I guess that’s one thing newsletters are for!

Speaking of libraries, I’m super proud about this recognition: The Many Masks of Andy Zhou is on the shortlist for the 2024–25 Panda Awards, an annual book award voted on by students and teachers at international schools all across China. I’m currently emailing with a librarian there about the possibility of an author visit in Shanghai next spring, and I believe one or two you Sunday Letter readers might also teach at these schools? If so, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Let me know if you have a favorite botanical garden or arboretum near you. I’m starting a list!